Monday, September 24, 2007

Book Reviews and a Request for Recommendation

Books on my nightstand of late:
Mitten Strings for God, by Katrina Kenison
This is a great book which fleshes out ways to live more relationally, more in tune with the needs of your family, less busily, and less in reaction to the pangs of culture. It led to some helpful discussions with Doug on issues such as when to start "little league" with our boys, the role tv has in our family, encouraging imagination in our kids, looking for hidden treasures in our daily life, making the most of our time together, and more. I loved this book, but don't go to it to deepen your theology. It's a bit vague and Oprah-ish in that department- which didn't bother me since I wasn't going to it for that purpose, but thought it necessary to clarify that point so its title didn't mislead you. There are lots of jewels to be gained nonetheless. Doug nicknamed this book "Soft and Gentle." ;) Thanks for the recommendation, Missy!

Harvest of Hope, Stories of Life-Changing Gifts by Kay Marshall Strom
I totally dig those "gift catalogs" where you can buy a goat for a family to help them have nourishing milk, give them offspring they can sell, etc. I've always wanted to know where the money actually goes. Does my money actually go to a goat or just generally to the organization? Do our small gifts actually make an impact on anyone? This latest IV Press book successfully answers these questions and more. While the author mentions several organizations, she specifically targeted Partners International for her search. She went all over the world and wrote everything from the logistics to how the gift-giving logistically happens to how a specific person's or family's life was changed. She reports the positive impacts and the challenges. I've loved learning how the gift multiplies itself for other deserving families as the family receiving the gift has to pay back the loan, how they start to make enough money to actually be able to send their children to school, how that family gets has a positive connection with the local Christian church through the operation, how the operation is led indigenously in each local town. I can't wait to get my new catalog in the mail and consider how it will guide our Christmas gift-giving.

Mothers Together by Ruth Bell Graham and (Ruth's oldest daughter) Gigi Graham Tchividjian
What a gift it is to read the everyday thoughts of these two famous mothers. I enjoyed the aesthetic look of this book and its short "devotional" style writing. There are real journal entries, poems, essays, and letters. Some are humorous, some touched my heart after a long day with the kids, all are encouraging. This is a fun book to read when you need it most... it's light and easy book, meant to be read in snippets. My only complaint was when Gigi mentioned how hard it was to get her house tidied up so that her housekeeper could clean. I don't mind that she has a housekeeper, but I don't want to hear how hard it is to prepare for her!

I'll soon be in need of a new book. Any recommendations for me??

Favorite children's' books from our last trip to the library:
Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi
I've known of this book for many years and was so excited to read it with my son. We ALL loved this short explanation of how pooping is native to every living thing on the earth. (I think Doug and I laughed the hardest.) How could I not like a picture of a circle of animals, all facing outward, with their unpolitically correct but accurate bowel movements underneath them?

Snow Family by Daniel Kirk
Daniel Kirk has such fun books. This is a cute tale about a little boy who finds little snow boys and girls who need snow parents. Kirk delivers his cutsie, sing-songy poetry amidst his delightful illustrations without disappointment.

A Family of Poems by Caroline Kennedy
I am illiterate in the poetry department so I appreciated this recommendation from Nina. This is a great starter book for kids and parents alike. The collection is divided into chapters such as "Silly," "About Me," and "Animals," along with Kennedy's sharing of how they used them in their family. Watch out for a few poems obviously geared for older children... such as "Elephants, Anonymous" which quotes "He tears a man like an old rag and hangs him in the tree." Yikes! As a whole, it's a fabulous collection I hope to own someday.

A Truck Goes Rattley-Bumpa by Jonathan London
There is nothing glitzy about this book, but I love it anyway. It's a fun book about trucks with happy and simple illustrations. And Justin loves it, which is the main point, right? He's always asking for "Twuck Goes Wattley-Bumpa!!" so of course I should mention it here.

The Moon Might Be Milk by Lisa Shulman
Does anyone else out there have a hard time suspending reality? If so, reading this book might be an appropriate next step for you. On the order of Henny Penny (but with a much more positive ending!), little Rosie goes on a quest to find out what the moon is made out of. She starts among all her animal friends and they all end up at Grandma's house. I won't tell you the ending, but I will say that the last page is a recipe for "Gran's Sugar Cookie Moons." My little moon-lover Justin and I tried out the recipe today and it does in fact work! We had so much fun applying the end of the book. The cooking process took him out of his whining mode.

And lastly, I need your recommendations! Nathan's first birthday is fast approaching... October 30th. As I mentioned earlier, we have a tradition in our family of presenting a book to each child on his birthday. The book reflects some personality trait we noticed that year, some way we want to encourage them, a way we saw them grow or develop, or the like. Just inside the book, we will write them a love letter telling them why we chose the book and ways we love and appreciate them. Will you help us come up with the prized book for Nathan this year?

Some information that might be helpful about Nathan:
He'll be turning one so I'd like it to be at least somewhat age appropriate-- board book would be nice but go ahead and shoot me recommendations of picture books that apply. He has an older brother. (A book about brothers or being the younger brother perhaps?) He took a long time to warm up to food and now he's all about food. (A unique board book about food?) He's a really fast crawler and loves to move. (Something about movement of babies?) He smiles shyly and giggles at other baby's faces both in picture and in real life. (Maybe a simple little book with baby faces?) My husband adds, "He has acid reflux, is there a really good book about spitting up?" Maybe we could sit it next to the poop book. He loves to swing, loves to look at cars from the porch swing, and loves to laugh at his big brother.

Any ideas for Nathan's book?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reaching for the Moon

Justin is fascinated by the moon. This fascination has been going on for months. He's always searching for it and often finding it way before we do. For his birthday last spring, we bought him "Papa, Please Get The Moon for Me" by Eric Carle. This gift started a tradition for us... every birthday we plan to buy a book for each child as their main birthday present. The book will reflect something significant in their year, some emerging aspect of their personality, etc. And then we'll write them a letter in the front of the book. We love the push to think thoughtfully about our child and the vision of their reading all the ways we saw how they are special throughout the years. What a collection they will have... both of great books and of our love letters. We hope it's a simple keepsake they'll treasure for years to come.

Tonight, we couldn't find the moon as we played outside after dinner. As I was getting Justin ready for bed, we found it... a small, low, sparkly crescent we viewed out his window. I picked him up and we paused cheek to cheek, staring at our end-of-the-day prize.

Justin: "I want to touch it."
me: "Let's reach for it!" (quoting Eric Carle's book, all to familiar to him by now.)
Justin (while reaching): "I can't get it!"
me: "Do you know how you can get to it? You can ride in a special airplane called a space shuttle. It flies way up high in the sky. Then you can get to it. Would you like to do that some day Justin?"
Justin: "mmm (yes)... and then I want to come back down."

Oh, good. I'm so glad!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Have to's and want to's
This post about knitting is so beautiful--- makes me want to go knit something!!! It's been so long since I held those clicking needles... since before Justin was born. I knit scarves for all the women in our families all the way to Banff and back! I think I drove a total of 2 hours the whole trip. I was so content in the passenger seat clicking my needles, imagining my makings hugging the necks of these women. Little did I know, on the return trip I was carrying our first born son. Perhaps all that clicking was spurred on by my first motherly instincts to nurture.

Oh there are so many things clamoring for my time, have-to's and want-to's. Isn't it dreadfully hard to decide how to spend time?? Perhaps knitting will rise to the top of the list as the cool winds of autumn approach our front door. Will I be content to sink into the time it takes to relearn this craft? Should I be?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It Is Finished

Almost. Just one more coat of paint on the crown molding and baseboards in 2 rooms- and we're officially finished with all the major house projects. I know I keep saying this, but it's really true this time!

The little boys and I just returned from a long weekend to grandma's (aka "Beep Beep") house where I participated in the baby shower of a dear friend and former coworker. In addition to getting some quality Beep Beep and shower time, I was also able to get some "out of town" work done. It was a full but fun few days. I return exhausted but grateful for all the experiences. While we were gone, Doug finished hanging the crown molding and baseboards in the kitchen, hallway, and master bathroom.

I await the return of my beloved from his long day of work (at his "real job") with a little background music, toys all over the floor, a grocery list needing starting, a calendar that needs at least a quick gaze, a wee bit more unpacking, and a desire to stretch my writing muscle. This blog has been such a refreshing practice for my mind and heart. It's calling my name right now and I'm grateful to concede.

Today I write a quick "thank you!" to my precious and industrious husband who has worked so hard in every way on our home long before we inhabited its walls and several months after. Thank you, Doug. Thank you for having vision that transcended the tiled-ceilings, smallish living areas, cracking walls, overpruned cotton-ball-on-a-toothpick-trees, limited kitchen, brass faux-ribbon drapery pull backs, and so much more. Where we now abide has plenty of leg room and plenty of space to play and rest. We can comfortably house guests for day and/or evening, all the while enjoying the noise barriers between living spaces and the boys' rooms.

Our impossible dreams of an open layout (in a 1920's bungalow), a "chop and see" where I can work in the kitchen in close proximity of the boys' playing, an extra bedroom for guest or office, a large front porch, a flat exit from the back of the house to the backyard... all a short skip to the "main street" of our urban-style culturally-mixed neighborhood... have become a reality.

The personality of this space continues to unfold. Just last week, Justin discovered that our front door was metal... something unknown to us... and excitedly used it as a new home for his letter magnets.

I'd like to insert here: "we did it!" But we both know that would be a massive joke. Had it not been for the generous help from friends, family, and students (who are like friends and family), we would still be demolishing walls, pulling up staples from the hardwoods, measuring for cabinets, and relieving ourselves in Ziploc bags (will expand in another post if interest presents itself). And we both also know it was the Lord who kept us asking for forgiveness when we were short with each other after long days. It was He who helped us know when to persevere with the house projects and when to throw in the towel and have a "family fun" day. It is He who continues to deepen our vision and desire to learn and live in this, our corner of the world, well.

But writing "a post for God" feels way to much like a slogan on a bad "Christian" tshirt. And so I write to you instead.

I'm grateful for you sweetie. I'm grateful for your hard work on the house. Your gifts in building are one in a million. But your gifts in husbanding and daddying are inestimable. I'm grateful for the ways you were present with us during this whole journey. And I sink into all the days the Lord has ahead for us.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Being In The World But Not Of The World

Justin and I have started to attend a 10 week long music class called "Music Together." I first heard of the program from my college roomie and dear friend Kara, who is very musically inclined and was a teacher for Music Together for a few years.

Our first class was last Thursday and it was so much fun. The music is so rich with flavor and possibility. The teacher was so engaging and encouraging. Justin spent half of the time staring with amazement and wonder. The other half was spent dancing around the room, laughing, and looking for the bathroom. (For some reason he was fascinated with the bathroom, anyway...) I loved watching his concentration, loved observing that he's more into gross motor movement than fine motor. And I loved being there with him, both new on this musical journey. The program emphasizes parental involvement... that he'll learn more from me than from the teacher. Fabulous! I had an excuse to dive in, be silly, and try new things. Doug's keeping Nathan during that time so Justin and I can have that time alone together. I'm really excited about learning and experiencing music in new ways with him.

I'm also excited about being in a regular group with other kids and their Mommies, where we are all invested with our resources, time, and mutual interest. This opportunity seems like such a breeding ground for new relationships with families in Asheville with whom I otherwise would have no contact. I am filled with hope and anticipation in so many ways. I have so much to learn and so much to share as well.

The teacher sent us home with our Music Together packet, including a cd of all the music we will listen to in the class. After we returned home, we listened to the songs and relived the fun we had. We also heard new songs that we will experience later in the class. One of the songs was titled "The Earth is Our Mother," and was about taking care of the earth. While I am much in favor of being good stewards of the earth, I don't feel comfortable personifying it, as this song does. In Sunday School, Justin has been "learning" or "exposed to" the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den. We've been talking about it a little at home. I felt a little like Daniel, being asked to bow down to a "god" who wasn't my God. I realized there was no way I would feel comfortable singing about the earth like it was a spiritual being, and no way I would feel comfortable teaching Justin to do the same. However, in no way did I want to be disrespectful, holier than thou, divisive, or annoying in any way. What was I to do?

I emailed the teacher and told her how much we enjoyed the class, how much I could see Justin benefiting from the class even here at the beginning, how excited I was, etc. (think: gracious, gracious, gracious, was the goal.) I explained briefly how the song made me feel uncomfortable because of our differing spiritual beliefs for the reason above. I also told her that I didn't want to be disrespectful in any way or disrupt the tone of the class. I asked her to let me know when she would be singing the song in class and we would quietly leave the class early that day or come a little late. I was open to other suggestions.

My excitement for the class was quickly replaced by fear and trepidation: how would she receive my email? I felt like I was suddenly fast forwarded to Justin in first grade, my emailing the teacher about some similar issue. It felt like the potential beginning of such stress... wanting to be hopeful and excited about our involvement in the world while simultaneously feeling the awkwardness of not wanting to be of it, and wondering how would this play out in all the details. I so did not want to put a damper on our new relationships and new journey in the world in any way.

Thankfully, this story has an amazingly positive ending. The teacher promptly phoned me to talk further of my concerns. She was so respectful and so accommodating. She at no point made me feel uncomfortable for our beliefs and concerns. She helped me come up with a plan to take Justin to the bathroom with me during that song--- something he enjoyed-hilarious- and something that shouldn't affect the tone of the room. AND we won't have to miss much of the class at all, another one of her thoughtful concerns. She also said that after 1-2 classes of being exposed to the song that she would play it without the words, explaining that the best thing about it was the opportunity for experimenting with the drums. She wondered if I felt comfortable participating if the words weren't sung. I shared that I would love to be a part of it if the words weren't sung and thanked her for her thoughtfulness. She expressed her utmost appreciation for my involvement in the class. She even troubleshooted with me about how to help transition Justin back to the "real world" after the class... an unrelated question/concern about which I had emailed.

Not only did my encouragement for our involvement in the class return, but it was accompanied by increased excitement and vision for being involved in our children's (Lord willing) public school experience. True, we are years away from that experience's birth. But, my heart and mind long to be nurtured with real vision, passion, purpose, and hope in preparation for that season.

I know that every such future experience will not necessarily go the same way, but I'm taking a few principles learned from this one and putting them in my pocket:

1- Teacher-types love parental involvement more than they love cookie cutter parents who agree with everything they say and do. I shouldn't assume that they will hate me, as my people-pleasing tendencies might pronounce. In actuality, if I'm not a jerk about it, in all likelihood these teachers will probably be encouraged by my thoughts and participation all the more.

2- The Lord really is with me and doesn't like to rake me over the coals just for fun. I know this in my head but it was good to experience it in real life. And I long to remember that He's with me even during a story with not as good as an ending, as I'm sure will happen at some point.

3- These are issues worth dealing with for the sake of many values significant to our family. These folks in the class are worth a little bit of finagling and discomfort on my part.
a) I need to learn from them. I've found that many folks in our town who do not put their faith in Jesus like our family does actually have more of their lives in line with Biblical principles than many of us "churched" folks. The areas that immediately come to mind are: living in the moment/not worrying about tomorrow, not being busy, being supportive and connected to their family members, being good stewards of the earth (for different motives than ours but I can still learn much from them nonetheless), having hearts and lives more bent towards social justice especially in issues of loving the poor and race, and so much more.
b) Jesus is the only real giver of life and we long to be vessels through which the Lord reveals this truth to others. I want to be available to let the Lord use our family to love on them and share this Truth as doors open.

The best way to learn is to dive in, so here we go!