Friday, July 20, 2012

Kids' Day 2012

It must have been ten years ago or more that we were gearing up for the late spring/early summer dash of Mother's Day-my birthday-Clint's birthday-Father's Day when Lauren asked, "Mom, when is Kids' Day?" When is Kids' Day indeed? A good question. We considered the calendar and decided upon July 20, as July is a pretty sparse month in our family as far as birthdays and other celebrations go. Since that inaugural year, we have celebrated Kids' Day every July 20.
Just like Mother's Day or Father's Day (in our house, at least), Kids' Day means the kids each get a gift and they don't have to do any jobs. We usually do something special for dinner too.
This morning, thanks to a very late movie, Lauren and Jonah slept in (and Jared too--but he didn't have that excuse!), so I had plenty of time to drink some coffee, read my book, go for a run, make monkey bread, and take a shower before they woke up.

Looks yummy, doesn't it? Thanks, Mom, for the pan!

Jonah digs in

Just the thought of Kids' Day makes Jared giddy with excitement!

Ok...or maybe it's just the presents...

Before the opening...

And they open...discovering what's inside

Jared made me a thank you gift as soon as he woke up
And the playing commences
 Yup, this is Kids' Day. Since this morning (well...actually...they didn't wake up to eat their breakfast till almost noon), we've gone on a fun trip to Target to return Jonah's Legos (would you believe I got him a set he already has? That's a sure sign of Too Many Legos), then home to finish construction. Now they're playing and I'm scheming up a special dinner. And blogging, of course.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: The Weird Sisters

A few weeks ago, I was in Traverse City, so of course I had to go to my favorite bookstore in the entire world (Horizon Books--have you been there?) (their children's section is particularly amazing). I like to save money, that's certainly true, so I do most of my book buying on amazon or at used bookstores, but when I go to great indie bookstores like Horizon, I feel compelled to at least buy something. This time, I limited myself to just one something, this book by Eleanor Brown. She's a new novelist; in fact, I think this is her first one.

So, here's the premise: Rose, Bean, and Cordy are sisters, daughters of a professor of Shakespeare at a prestigious midwestern university, where they have grown up memorizing passages, bantering with bardic quotes, and reading all the time. Their mother is dreamy and somewhat absent-minded, their father is obsessed with Shakespeare, and they really don't have much in common at all. Oh, and their names aren't actually Rose, Bean, and Cordy; they're Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia. Shakespearean heroines, of course, and while their life paths don't completely follow their centuries-old namesakes', there are certainly some similarities. Rose desperately wants to find true, romantic love; beautiful Bianca is often bombarded by suitors; and Cordy is beloved of most everyone who meets her.
None of them are married or have families, and as the novel begins, all three find themselves at loose ends and heading back home. Also, their mother has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, so they come to care for her in their various ways. The biggest problem, though, is that while these sisters love each other--they are family, after all--they don't really like each other very much. Rose comes off as judgemental and bossy; Bianca can be careless and cruel; and Cordy's free spirit seems a lot like a childish refusal to accept responsibility. But serious illness can often act as a crucible, and by the novel's end, the sisters must come to terms with themselves, each other, and the bonds of family.

It's a solid first novel, overall. One of the things that Eleanor Brown has done exceedingly well is her use of first person plural point of view to tell the story. I haven't seen that done but one other time ("A Rose for Emily" by Faulkner), and I imagine carrying it through in all its complexity for an entire novel must have been quite an undertaking. But that part was flawlessly done. Speaking of flawless, the characters aren't. If there is one issue I have with the novel, it is this, I think: all of the sisters--and their parents too!--have serious issues. None of them is wholly likeable. Of course, this also makes
them human, but I like to have at least one principal character that I like, and I got frustrated with each of them in turn. I did, though, really like some of the ancillary characters: Father Aidan, an Episcopalian priest, had just the right mix of kindliness and spunk; Dan Miller, a coffee shop owner, was a great listener and full of wry wit; and the indomitable librarian, Mrs. Landridge, was keen-eyed and perceptive.
Lots of great details of midwestern setting and scenery; that rings true. Ms. Brown's details about the mother's battle with cancer are vividly detailed (the afterword revealed that she had first-hand knowledge; her mother had also fought breast cancer). And of course, the idea of a family that loves, loves, LOVES books like I do is always appealing. The novel's depiction of the idiosyncracies of family life is realistic, as are its reflections on being true to yourself. All in all, I'd give it 4.75 out of 5 stars, I think.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I keep a book of great quotes? Have been doing so for years. Anything I come across in my reading that strikes me as profound, witty, well-phrased, or hilarious, I write it in that little book. Here are the two I pulled from this novel:

She never managed to find herself in these books no matter how she tried, exhuming traits from between the pages and donning them for an hour, a day, a week. We think, in some ways, we have all done this our whole lives, searching for the book that will give us the keys to ourselves, let us into a wholly formed personality as though it were a furnished room to let. As though we could walk in and look around and say to the gray-haired landlady behind us, "We'll take it."

There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell oruselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: Heaven Is Here

I first heard about Stephanie Nielsson this spring, when a dear friend at work came running into my classroom as I was leaving for lunch waving an insert from Sunday's newspaper. (Maybe it was the day after Mother's Day? That would make sense, but I don't remember.) "Kir, you have to read this," she said. "You're gonna cry." Hmm. Them's fighting words! I'm a girl who doesn't cry for much. Choked up, I get; actual tears, rarely. Maybe three or four times a year, tops. She opened the insert to the right page and wiped a few stray tears from her own eyes. "I can't stop crying," she admitted, and I hugged her in sympathy, but this lady is a crier and I am not. I was sure I'd be immune.
Still, just to be safe, I stayed in my classroom for lunch and read the article about Stephanie Nielsson's forthcoming book, which details the story of her flaming brush with death and her remarkable recovery of health and spirit.
Let's just say it's a good thing I stayed in my room.

That evening when I got home, I put her book on my Amazon wish list. A few weeks later, I opened it for Mother's Day. How did Clint know? He's so smart! :)
I waited for the right moment to read it though. After thinking about what happened in my classroom when I read the article, I was pretty sure I'd spend most of my time reading the 300+ pages of the book in a similarly wet state--not a place I like much at all. Gives me a headache.
Finally, I felt like I was in a sufficiently fortified emotional state to take the plunge (I was at the in-laws) (always a good place for a messy sob-fest).

Here's the premise, for those who don't know her story:
Stephanie grew up dreaming about the day she would get married, like many girls do. She spent some time in college, but really, all she could think about was finding the right man and settling down in the perfect house to raise a family. Her parents were a wonderful example: a devout Mormon couple who had raised nine children, who were happily married and invested in each of their children and supportive of their endeavors. When Stephanie met Christian one summer while she was in college, she knew immediately that he was the one. It took him a little while to figure it out too, but they married soon and began to raise their family.
Christian's job took them to New Jersey, and it was difficult for Stephanie to leave the support of her family in Utah, but they encouraged her to start a blog as a way to keep in touch. She did, blogging about her faith and her family (they had two children by now, girls), as well as her ideas about how to create a happy and beautiful home and lifestyle. Soon, Stephanie's blog had thousands of followers.
When Christian got a job offer in Arizona, they eagerly took it. It wasn't Utah, but it was close to his family and certainly closer to hers. The book continues through the birth of two more children, centering on the deep devotion Stephanie and Christian shared and the delight they took in being parents of their happy, healthy children.
Knowing that since he was a child Christian had dreamed of flying (he once ate birdseed hoping it would help him grow wings), she bought him flight lessons. Christian was elated, and he soon got his pilot's license. One Saturday afternoon, he and Stephanie flew out to visit his parents' ranch. His friend Doug flew with them, a veteran pilot, as extra support. The flight out was perfect, and they spent a few happy hours at the ranch. On the flight home, they crashed.

Stephanie was burned on 80% of her body, and when she awoke in the hospital, three months had passed. She couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't understand what had happened. The rest of the book is the story of her survival, a survival that could not have happened without the strength of her faith and of her family. As she suffers through multiple surgeries, skin grafts, dressing changes--all part of the slow, painful process of recovery--she also suffers through mental and emotional torture. She was once a very beautiful woman; now she cannot bear to lift a mirror to see her face. Finally, she agrees to see Christian again, certain he will be repulsed by her. And it takes her a long, long time to agree to see her children, fearful they will have forgotten her--or, worse--run screaming away from her when they see her. Through all of this, it is her family that sustains her, her faith that supports her.
By the end of the book, she returns home and recreates her life, learning how to cope with further surgeries, limited movement, constant pain, and the stares of strangers. And, of course, the fact that the face and body in the mirror are nothing like the Stephanie she once was.

I didn't cry, although I was fully prepared to. It may have been the place, but I think it was because after reading the article, I knew what to expect, and instead of finding her story sad this time around, I found it inspiring. Through her ordeal, Stephanie learned a valuable lesson that she has, with great pain, shared with her readers: beauty is of the soul, not the body; God is all-powerful all-knowing, and He has a plan for everything, even when the world is very dark; a loving family is a strong support in times of trouble. Reading this book has reminded me to slow down and create peaceful, simple moments with my family. It has reminded me of the great power of prayer. It has reminded me that I need to work on cultivating my inner beauty instead of the outer, for that will fade. And it has reminded me how very, very blessed I am to have life and health and to be surrounded by my unbelievable family.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: The Apothecary

Of all genres of fiction, I think I most prefer children's literature, and here is why:
1) The stories are closely plotted and studded with densely developed characters. I think young readers are less tolerant of hypocrisy in their characters than adults are. They want to get right to the action, and they want the characters who create it to be real.
2) The setting is usually richly drawn without superfluous detail. Everything is intense and finely described in children's literature. I don't know if it is because the authors want to teach their readers a bit about the wider world or if it is less consciously done than that, but I have found it to be true.
3) Food is often described in rich and glorious mouth-watering detail.
4) There is often magic or hints at the unreal, which I fervently enjoy.
5) The endings are most usually happy ones, which I also enjoy. Who wants to spend 250 pages growing to care about a character only to have him die or lose everything? Not me!

So, for these and boundless other reasons, I was quite happy to get sucked into the world of The Apothecary a few weeks ago. I had a sneaking suspicion when I bought it that the author, Maile Meloy, might be related to another author, Colin Meloy (who wrote Wildwood--have I told you about that one?), whose novel I greatly enjoyed. I still don't know if they are related for real, but they are siblings of greatness in the authorial world.
Here's the story: Jane Scott is only daughter to two writers who work together writing television shows. Jane thinks her life is perfect, especially after Japan surrenders to the Americans, but then as time passes, she notices that her parents have begun to have hushed conversations, they look strained, and one day two men in a black car tail her as she walks home from school. It is 1952 now, and her parents, blacklisted as suspected communists, take Jane and flee to England.
Jane hates to go. England is drab and cold and rainy, nothing like sunny California, with strange customs and rules she doesn't understand. But then she makes friends with Benjamin, son of the strange apothecary, and her world becomes very strange indeed. For Benjamin's father is not just any apothecary. He is a member of an ancient and secret society, one devoted to the preservation of a very old manuscript, which he gives to Benjamin to keep safe before he is taken captive by evil people.
Benjamin and Jane, with the help of a clever pickpocket, find their courage and their belief tested as they protect the manuscript and foil the plans of a group determined to unleash a horrible weapon on the world.
Along the way, they learn some magic and have many adventures, and Jane begins to like England and consider that she could be happy there.

This novel has all of the above mentioned qualities: exciting action, well-rounded characters, beautiful settings, and plenty of magic. I also heartily approved of the illustrations introducing each chapter. This book appeals to readers of all ages, serving as more than just an escape from reality: it also teaches about secrets and lies, trust and loyalty to friends and family, and the importance of believing more than what your senses tell you: allowing for the possibilities.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

If there is a book everyone should read, this book is it. Especially people who live in America. Especially people who watch TV or listen to the radio or have an email account or like to stay connected on one of those social networking sites. Especially people who have children. Especially people who are busy. Okay, that's got to be you, right? At least one of those especiallys.
This book is a frightening book, but it is also a beautiful and hopeful one--or it can be.
Ray Bradbury first published the book in 1953 (he just died, did you know? 91 years old, and he still wrote every day), and it was meant then to be cautionary. Today, it still is, but it is also eerily prophetic.
This is the world he created: Nobody reads anymore. In fact, if a person is caught reading, he is turned in to the firemen who come to his house and burn it down, with all the books inside. He is then arrested and taken to an asylum, for surely a sane person wouldn't do something as pointless as read a book. Instead, most people spend their time with their Seashells in their ears. These are little portable devices that keep people tuned in to their favorite radio broadcasts. Some people even leave them in their ears while they're sleeping. Another favorite way to pass the time is watching shows. Most people are addicted to television, which they watch in their living rooms on huge screens that fill the wall or--if they are really rich--that fill all four walls. If they buy a special converter box, they can even interact with the shows. People drive super fast on the highway, nobody walks anywhere anymore, nobody talks about anything of consequence, parents don't communicate with their children, and schools are a place where kids learn just enough to move them out into the work force where they can perform mindless jobs. Crime is up, suicide is up, and apathy is up. A war is coming and nobody even knows why or cares what will happen.
This is Ray Bradbury's future. Doesn't is sound a bit like our today?

And yet, in an interview he gave for the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book, he said America hasn't become this troubled yet. There is hope, there is a movement for change. And this is where I find optimism in this rather dark book.

Yes, it is depressing to look around today and watch people texting instead of talking, to think back on an evening and consider I've spent more time looking at a screen than I have spent looking at my family's faces, to shake my head at the apathy of the youth. But in this novel--and in real life--there is more than just the hopelessness. The hero of the novel, Guy Montag, is a fireman who has never questioned what he does. He is a fireman just like his father and grandfather were firemen. But once he meets a young girl who is exactly unlike everyone else, a girl who wanders outdoors and thinks about the smell of leaves and the man in the moon, a girl who challenges Montag to wonder about those things too, he begins to change. Or truly, he begins to realize that he has already begun to change. For he has a secret: hidden in a vent in his house, this fireman has exactly that which no fireman should have--he has books.
And when Montag begins to read the books, when he begins to open his eyes and look at what life has become, he longs for change, for meaning.
This is why I really love this book (aside from the sentences, which are long and twisted and beautiful). For every apathetic, technology-addicted person I see around me, I know that there are also a few--as there are in this novel--who love the world, who look about them with clear eyes that are wide open in wonder, and who write and think and sing and believe and create. Because of these world changers, the future is never as bleak as some think it is. There is light, and they make it.
Read the book.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A New Addition

So, you know Jonah has a great love for animals, right? Especially the reptilian kind. He's had Squirt, the three-legged Bearded Dragon, for a couple of years now, and we love her dearly. As strange as I find it to admit, it's true. I have as much affection for a lizard as I imagine I'd have for a puppy or kitten. So anyway, Squirt is wonderful, but Jonah isn't the sort of person to be happy with the wonder of something he's had for awhile. He craves newness, excitement (something we're trying to curb, as we think it speaks of discontent, but that's another story).
Awhile ago, he started campaigning for another reptile, a ball python. I hear python and I think killer snake, but he assures me they only grow to be about 4 feet. That's about 3 feet and 11.99 inches too long for me. I put my foot down and refused, absolutely refused. It's my house (ahem, sorry Clint, but you get the garage and shed) and I'm not about to welcome a snake into it. I told him he could have one when he moves out, but I might never visit him.
He pouted awhile and seemed content to let the "I need a new reptile" phase die out.
But then a few days ago, the desire returned. Mysteriously, this happened right after he went to the pet store. Hmm...Anyway, this time, he wanted something much more palatable: another lizard. But still, we wanted him to prove that he could afford it and care for it and find space for it.
So, we did what we've always done: challenged him to research the pet he wanted, finding out all about its habits and diet and habitat, and present us with his proposal.
A few days later, he came to us with a list of notes. This is the gist of what he said (or at least what I got out of it):
A basilisk lizard is the pet I want. It grows to be zzzzzzzzz long and it eats crickets. It comes from zzzzzzzzz and likes zzzzzzzzzzzz habitats. It needs a tank zzzzzzzz big and damp substrate. I'll need zzzzzz lamps and zzzzzzzzzzz to put down for the substrate. It's made out of coconuts. I'll need to decorate the tank, but I can do that later when I've saved up more money.
We asked him why he wants a basilisk lizard; he said he wants one because "they're so cool" (as if all lizards aren't cool in his mind) and later he added this: "Plus, when I become a herpetologist, I can say I had a Jesus Christ lizard."
Yeah, that's right: this lizard can run so fast, it looks like it's walking on water.
So, the next day, Jonah and Clint went to the pet store and this is who they came home with:

Jonah says that judging by its anal pore (how does he even know this?), it's a male. When Jonah brought him home in a brown paper bag, he brought him right over to the couch, where I was sitting with Jared, who had been feeling rather sick. He opened the bag and we peeked inside to see JC peering at us. Jonah reached in to try to pick him up, and he went crazy, skittering around in the bag.

We worried a bit that he was going to be too skittish to handle for awhile. Jonah got his cage set up within a few hours and put him in it. Now, just 24 hours later, JC seems right at home. He likes to hang out on his leaves and just look around. Jonah has already handled him, and he's been quite calm perched in Jonah's hand.

The only one who isn't happy to meet him is Squirt. Jonah showed our new addition to her before putting JC in his new tank, and Squirt closed her eyes and then crawled into her hide, leaving her backside and silent tail hanging out in reprimand.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: The Magician's Book

One of my earliest reading memories is this one: It was summertime and I was seven or eight. My best friend, Christi, and I spent hours constructing an elaborate fort, draping blankets and sheets over a structure of chairs and card tables. We decorated our haven with lamps and plump pillows, maybe a few stuffed animals for company. When my mom came down to check on us a few hours later, we were both reclining against pillows at opposite ends of our fort, sucking our thumbs, reading. She shook her head and left us alone. I'm pretty sure I was reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the Chronicles of Narnia, and Christi was reading another. I devoured those novels as a kid, reading them on my own many times and listening in rapture as my third grade teacher read all of them to us, contorting his voice to give each character a unique personality.

When I saw this book at the bookstore, I knew I had to get it. Here's the back cover blurb: "Enchanted by the fantastic world of the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, Laura Miller returns to C.S. Lewis's classic fantasies to see what mysteries Narnia still holds for adult eyes--and she is captivated in an entirely new way. She travels to Lewis's home in Ireland, unfolds his intense friendship with J.R.R. Tolkein, and explores Lewis's influence on contemporary writers such as Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Franzen, and Philip Pullman. Finally reclaiming Narnia for the rest of us, Miller casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation, and the portal to a lifelong adventure in books, art, and the imagination."

Well, of course that sounded exactly like something I needed to read, especially as I've long been contemplating a trip to England, and I'd heard that Tolkein and Lewis had met at Oxford and cemented their friendship in various pubs. Sounds like another great excuse to visit the Isles.

The book was, in all honesty, a bit disappointing in a few ways, despite several memorable and redemptive bits.

The one thing that irritated me more than others was Miller's frequent reminders that she had been shocked and appalled to learn, as a teen, that the Narnia she had loved as a child was actually filled with very intentional Christian symbolism. Miller, although she had been raised as a Catholic, found Enlightenment and Liberty in her teens, so this apparently-somewhat-subtle embedded message from Lewis was quite distasteful to her when she discovered it. She felt betrayed to learn that her favorite world from childhood was just a cover for a Christian sermon.

I got it the first time, her disgust. But she kept referring to it repeatedly, especially throughout the second of the three main sections of the book. While I understand that this revelation is integral to her own belief system and also that she needs (perhaps) to justify the Chronicles' efficacy to her fellow atheists, it still felt a little overdone.

Other than that, my only other major beef was her failure to deliver more of the connection between Lewis's Irish home and the setting of the novels. I thought, since the back jacket mentioned it, that there would be more about her travels through Ireland searching for Lewis's inspiration. There was some, sure, but not much.

Those few parts, though, that irritated me are not enough to make me write the book off entirely. Miller has much to say about the relationship between Lewis and Tolkein, a rather mismatched pair, I think, although they were certainly united in their interest in Nordic folklore and myth, in the mist-shrouded mysteries of ancient Britain, and in newly created worlds. Aside from those passions, though, they seemed to be opposites. Lewis was friendly and talkative; Tolkein was reserved and quiet. Lewis was quick to mix lots of the things he loved into his work (observations from his nature hikes, classical mythology, Nordic motifs, stuff from Arabian Nights, etc.); Tolkein spent years creating a fully-developed new world, a creation entirely of his own making with complex languages, politics and customs, even its own myths. Miller talks about how the men enjoyed meeting together with other literary friends to read from their work, and how much Lewis loved to read parts of his writing aloud for others to critique. Also, he loved to hear about Tolkein's Middle Earth, and it was probably because of his persistence that the books were ever finished and published. (And Tolkein, on the other hand, hated the Narnia books and refused to read most of them, believing them silly and too slipshod in their construction and dedication to sub-creation, the idea of creating an entirely new world in words.)

Miller also talks about the value of exposing children to good books at a young age so that they can find new worlds and explore them, learning at the same time about themselves and the world they live in. She talks of how much she loved books as a child in this way: "My material life often seemed to be nothing more than the drab and shadowy interludes between the hours when I could read and retreat to an interior realm furnished with the fabulous treasure I had scavenged from hundreds of books. I sometimes wonder if this kind of inward-turning, inward-dwelling, probably unhealthy temperament is acquired or inherited" (42). I think of the pleasure I get in losing myself (still!) in the world of any book, and I know exactly what she means. It is reassuring to be reminded that I am not alone or (entirely) odd because of this ability to get lost so easily within printed words on a page.

Miller also talked about stories and how they grow in change in time, acknowledging that in borrowing from the mythologies of many cultures, Lewis created his own mythology that children (and adults) have believed in for more than half a century. From there, she talked a bit about how we acquire language, and I found that bit particularly fascinating. Consider this: "Our brains, it is thought, have an innate response to languages that employ this structure [a universal grammar, a common structural basis for all human languages] and we are particularly attuned to it during childhood, when we learn languages quickly and easily. An infant's babbling sounds like adorable nonsense, but it's really the evidence of a powerful information processor assembling itself, rifling through sounds and sequences of sounds and figuring how all the pieces fit together to form meanings." How crazy is that? I know!

So, like I said, I found much to admire and some to roll my eyes at in this book. I appreciated the critical background Miller brought to the book, the wealth of information she consulted to recreate Lewis's life and mind, and the obvious love she still has for the Chronicles of Narnia. It is reassuring, I think, to learn that the books I loved so much as a child--so much that I'd rather read them than play with my best friend--are of value to the literary world and more than just a few hundred pages written to entertain (and proselytize) young readers.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Better Marriage

This weekend, Clint and I attended our first ever marriage retreat. Funny to think that after 17 years of marriage, this is our first, but there you have it. It was sponsored by our church, and we weren't sure what to expect; in fact, I had to do a bit of dragging and guilting to get him to go. There are so many things he likes to do on weekends, things like hauling firewood and playing with his new lathe bits and (ahem) cleaning the basement. That last is one thing he really, really loves to do. It warms my heart, actually, to see how eagerly he volunteers weekend after weekend to clean the basement. Sometimes, I just have to tell him no, but then the next weekend he commences his begging anew. So then I give in and let him clean it.

Okay, truthfully, the retreat was surprisingly funny and inspirational, even though right now, we're doing what we usually do in the evenings: I'm blogging or reading and he's watching a movie on his computer. But still, there have been moments of wonder--and a few small steps forward in our relationship because of it. Here are some tidbits of wisdom to ponder:

1. In case you didn't already realize it, I will tell you firmly again that women's brains and
men's brains are fundamentally different. They want different things, they speak different languages, and they operate on different settings. Both husband and wife need to realize and recognize these differences.
2. Women need to understand that their husbands, especially after a day's work, want nothing more than to do nothing. They can happily do nothing for hours. If we ask them to do something and give them an option, they will say no. Of course they do not want to do something; they want to do nothing.
3. Men need to understand that their wives don't want huge, extravagant declarations and expressions of love on major holidays. What they really want is frequent, simple acts of kindness. These small acts take just a little time--leaving the husband more time to do nothing when he's finished--and can have tremendous reward.
4. Men should also understand that their wives need and want to talk to them--and to feel like they are being listened to, not just heard. Wives do not air their grievances because they want their husbands to solve them; they just need to air them.
5. Women should understand that their husbands want--more than anything else--for their wives to apreciate them and support their dreams. When your husband shares his dreams with you, you should support him and encourage him, not tell him all the many reasons those dreams can't or won't come true. If your husband isn't sharing his dreams with you, that's a bad sign. It means you've shot him down so many times, he has given up on sharing what is most important to him with you.

It was an inspirational and moving retreat as well because so many of the participants--over one-half, maybe three-quarters?--had been married for more than 50 years. At first, I wondered what they were even doing there. Shouldn't they be teaching us?

But as I sat and talked with them (and thanks,, for this great photo!), I realized that inspiration and learning go hand in hand. They may have come to learn something new, for sure. But I think they also came to remember why they got married in the first place, to remember all the joys and struggles they've had, and to remember with others how integral God is in a marriage that lasts. For me, their presence was blessing and inspiration. I don't cry often, but as I listened to Art and Marian (and others) talk about all they have experienced in their many years of marriage, I sensed a love that, precisely because of those joys and struggles, has become strong as stone. They truly are, as Scripture says, no longer two but one flesh. As Clint and I traveled home afterward and talked about what we'd learned, we took one more step toward that oneness that transcends the physical and the emotional levels we have already attained--and moved toward the spiritual, the divine wholeness of marital union. I am so blessed to have been his wife for 17 years already, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us in the next 17, and the 17 after that as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tough Love

Today was a first in many ways. Not the first time I've had all three kids out of sorts with me; that happens quite regularly, at least every Saturday when I pull out the list of housecleaning chores they need to help me with. Not the first time I've had to speak sternly with them; they're kids, after all, and prone to mischief as much as any others. And not the first time I've had to take the first two to task for school-related issues.
But this afternoon was the first time I've fought two battles in which I felt like I had the losing side, and I know I should not have.

Let me backtrack a bit, and break it down from the theoretical to the real.
It all started yesterday afternoon. Lauren caught me as I was paying bills (one of my least favorite things to do) (and to make it worse, just before she came to talk to me, I encountered two serious errors in my reckonings...ugh), and she had that look on her face that, for a parent, hints at trouble to come. She opened with a wheedle and it nothing much improved after that opener. Maybe I was angry about the bills and thus in a bad frame of mind for her request anyway, but when she asked for permission to skip school tomorrow, I snapped a negative and refused, really, to listen to her reasoning.
She tried to tell me it was a half day, that they probably wouldn't do anything important in class, that we had let her stay home the half-day before Thanksgiving. I told her no again.
Today, she came home from school with the news that she had talked to all of her teachers, and they had confirmed that they truly weren't doing anything in school tomorrow; they gave her tomorrow's work too. She asked again to stay home, this time clearly prepared for more serious verbal battle.
Again, I told her no, explaining that since we let her skip school the last time, I have felt guilty, that we had made the wrong choice, that it was not her place to judge whether a school day would or would not be productive, but that as a student going to school was her job, and she had to go.
She told me she likes to argue; I told her I hate to argue.

Then I got a phone call from Jonah's teacher. He and another student turned in reading homework that was exactly the same. She wanted me to talk to him and find out what happened. At first, he didn't admit to anything. Then he told me that he had finished his homework, set it to the side, and the other student began to copy it. I asked Jonah if the other student asked to copy it, and he said no. Then I asked him if he had known the student was copying it, and he said yes.
He didn't believe me when I told him that letting someone copy his paper is cheating too. There was a lot of silence from Jonah; that's how he processes his anger or frustration or sorrow. He doesn't show any emotion at all, just shuts down.

So now, Jonah still won't really talk to me, and I'm not sure he believes that he did wrong. Lauren will be going to school tomorrow, but I don't feel confident that she buys my reasoning. I'm worried that she's unconvinced that attending class is important, whether she thinks it is or not, whether she likes the teacher or not.
I know I did the right thing, so I'm not sure why I still feel doubtful about this whole enterprise.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I bought this book for Lauren for Christmas because I wanted it for myself. This is the glorious thing about having two teenagers who like to read, you understand. By using Christmas as a valid excuse, I can, with very little guilt, triple my regular book purchases. (Because I have to get myself a few Christmas presents too, of course.)

So, I got this one for Lauren, pretty sure she would enjoy it about as much as I would. And I selflessly let her read it before I did.

The story begins with a girl named September standing at the sink washing a teacup. She is thinking about how lonely she is, and about how she really quite hates the teacups. And her amiable dog. And living without adventure. So, when the Green Wind stops outside her window, riding the back of a Very Kind Flying Leopard, and extends his hand in invitation, September steps out the window and follows him into Fairyland.

September accepts Fairlyland as it is, with its various delights and problems. Soon after her arrival, she agrees to retrieve a witch's spoon from the evil Marquess, who has taken control of Fairlyland and imposed many rules, such as 1) no iron of any kind is allowed, 2) the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays, 3) aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragword Stalk, and several more.

Soon September collects some friends (such as a Wyverary named A-Through-L, whose parents were (obviously) a Wyvern and a Library (and his siblings are M-Through-S and T-Through-Z, of course) and a Marid (rather like a genie) named Saturday).

I loved this book for its beautiful prose, its wry humor, and its magical descriptions. Let me show you:

September did not even wave good-bye. One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.


No one may know the shape of the tale in which they move...Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.


A-Through-L looked pityingly at her, his blazing face scrunched up in doubt. "September, really. Which do you think is more likely? That some brute bull left my mother with egg and went off to sell lonemozers? Or that she mated with a Library and had many loved and loving children? I mean, let us be realistic! Besides, everyone says I look just like my father. Can't you see my wings? Are they not made of fluttering vellum pages? If you squint you can even read a history of balloon travel!"


"This is for washing your wishes, September," said Lye [a soapy simulacrum, of course], breaking off another of her fingers with a thick snap [don't worry: she's soap; it doesn't hurt her]. "For the wishes of one's old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is, not everyone can tell when they ought to launder their wishes."


She certainly did not see Death stand on her tiptoes and blow a kiss after her, a kiss that rushed through all the frosted leaves of the autumnal forest but could not quite catch a child running as fast as she could. As all mothers know, children can travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.

Did I mention each chapter begins with an illustration?

I really can't explain exactly everything that makes this book is so delightful. You'll just have to trust me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: Notes from a Small Island

I picked up this book at a used bookstore (that's becoming quite a refrain of mine lately), not sure whether I'd like it or not, but determined to spread my bookish horizons a bit and stop reading so much fiction. Plus, "visit the British Isles" is on my list of things to do, so it seemed a logical choice.
I could. Not. Stop. Laughing when I read this book, and I couldn't decide which bits to share with you, so I picked a few of my favorite excerpts and typed them out here. As I was typing and thinking of you reading, I found that perhaps--taken out of context--these excerpts may not be as funny to you as they were to me. That is why you must borrow the book from me and read it for yourself.
The author is American, but he lived in England for almost twenty years. Now, he is planning to move back to the States with his family, but first, he needs to say goodbye to his home by traveling the length and breadth of the island. On his journey, most of which is taken either on foot or by public transportation, Bill Bryson visits some of his favorite towns and some he has never visited. These are some of his observations.

On London, Queen of Cities:
It has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theaters, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world.
And it has more congenial small things--incidental civilities, you might call them--than any other city I know: cheery red mailboxes, drivers who actually stop for you at pedestrian crossings, lovely forgotten churches with names like St. Andrew by the Wardrobe and St. Giles Cripplegate, sudden pockets of quiet like Lincoln's Inn and Red Lion Square, interesting statues of obscure Victorians in togas, pubs, black cabs, double-decker buses, helpful policement, polite notices, people who will stop to help you when you fall down or drop your shopping, benches everywhere. What other great city would trouble to put blue plaques on houses to let you know what famous person once lived there, or warn you to look left or right before stepping off the curb? I'll tell you. None.
Take away Heathrow Airport, the weather, any building that the architect Richard Seifert ever laid a bony finger to, and it would be nearly perfect. Oh, and while we're at it, we might also stop British Museum employees from cluttering the forecourt with their cars and instead make it into a kind of garden, and also get rid of theose horrible crush barriers outside Buckingham Palace because they look so straggly and cheap--not at all in keeping with the dignity of her poor besieged Majesty within. And, of course, put the Natural History Museum back to the way it was before they started dicking around with it (in particular, they must restore the display cases showing insects infesting household products from the 1950s); and remove the entrance charges at all museums at once; and bring back Lyons Corner Houses but this time with food you'd like to eat; and finally, but most crucially, make the board of directors of British Telecom go out and personally track down every last red phone box that they sold off to be used as shower stalls and garden sheds in far-flung corners of the globe, make them put them all back, and then sack them--no, kill them. Then truly will London be glorious again.

On Chopsticks, Which Are Evil and Awkward
Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites, and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back three thousand years, haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?

On Women's Shortcomings when It Comes Time to Pay for Things
Men, for all their many shortcomings, like washing large pieces of oily machinery in the kitchen sink or forgetting that a painted door stays wet for more than thirty seconds, are generally pretty good when it comes to paying. They spend their time in line doing a wallet inventory and sorting through their coins. When the till person announces the bill, they immediately hand over an approximately correct amound of money, keep their hands extended for the change however long it takes or however foolish they may begin to look if there is, say, a problem with the till roll, and then--mark this--they pocket their change as they walk away, instead of deciding that now is the time to search for the car keys and reorganize six months' worth of receipts?

On Things You Only Enjoy If You're Old and British
There are certain things that you have to be British, or at least older than me, or possibly both, to appreciate: skiffle music, salt-cellars with a single hole, Marmite (an edible yeast extract with the visual properties of an industrial lubricant), Gracie Fields singing "Sally," George Formby doing anything, jumble sales, making sandwiches from bread you've sliced yourself, really milky tea, boiled cabbage, the belief that household wiring is an interesting topic for conversation, steam trains, toast made under a gas grill, thinking that going to choose wallpaper with your mate constitutes a reasonably fun day out, wine made out of anything other than grapes, unheated bedrooms and bathrooms, erecting windbreaks on a beach (why, pray, are you there if you need a windbreak?), an dcricket. There may be one or two others that don't occur to me at the moment.
I'm not saying that these things are bad or boring or misguided, merely that their full value and appeal yet elude me. Into this category I would also tentatively insert Oxford.

At the End:
...and in the center of it all, obscured by trees, our wonderful old stone house, which itself is far older than my native land.
It looked so peaceful and wonderful that I could almost have cried, and yet it was only a tiny part of this small, enchanted island. Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain--which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad--old churches, country lanes, people saying "Musn't grumble" and "I'm terribly sorry but," people apologizing to me when I conk them with a careless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, tea and crumpets, summer showers and foggy winter evenings--every bit of it.
What a wondrous place this was--crazy as all get-out, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farlegh Wallop, or a game like cricket? Who else would have a constitutional form of government but no written constitution, call private schools public schools, think it not the least bit odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, seat the chief officer of the House of Lords on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy? ("Please, Hardy, full on the lips, with just a bit of tongue.") Who else could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, Salisbury Cathedral, double-decker buses, and the chocolate digestive biscuit? Wherever else would I find a view like this? Nowhere, of course.

Exactly, right? I have nothing more to add. You may borrow this book, certainly, but make sure I have it back before I make my journey. I'll need to read it again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sweater Makeover

For some time now, I have been hunting assiduously for new cardigans. I have a couple, and Lauren most generously shares hers with me, thereby doubling my cardi-tunities, but I still need more! It's winter, you see, and my classroom temperature varies between a brisk 60ish to a balmy 80ish. Why don't I just adjust the thermostat, you ask. Ask away; I laugh at you and ask you to come visit my school. Adjustable thermostats weren't invented in the Pleistocene Age when my school was built.
Thus, Mrs. G has to be prepared for ever-varied temperatures. We adjust by opening the window, and that works sometimes, but I need to be able to shift from Antarctica-garb to Bahamas-garb very, very quickly. That's why I need more cardigans, you see? It just won't do for the teacher to be divesting herself of a pullover sweater mid-lecture. Strange and embarrassing things might happen.
So then I had a thought one day last week, and it really was a brilliant thought: Why not give a pullover sweater a fresh new look--and make it INTO a cardigan? I'm sure you were thinking the same thing.
I poked around a bit on the internet and found a few tips and ideas. Some of them were purely awful, but some were quite helpful indeed. And I had just the sweater to try it out on.

I bought this sweater a few years ago and got some good use out of it. I love the color and the feel of it, but alas, it hearkens back to the days when silly people (like me? really?) thought it looked cool to let a bit of the belly hang out between shirt and pants. (I've borne three children; nobody wants to see that stuff) (don't know what I was thinking) So, it has been sitting in the closet for a few seasons. The most helpful website suggested marking the middle with tailor's chalk and then sewing two straight seams 1/4" away from the center. I skipped the tailor's chalk step, preferring to wing it (okay, total honesty here: I didn't mark it because I don't have any tailor's chalk, but I freely admit it sounds like a very helpful thing!) (plus, the poor sweater had been folded in my closet so long that there was a pretty permanent crease down the middle anyway), but I sewed those two seams so that once I cut up the center, the raw edges wouldn't fray too much.
Then, taking a deep breath that tasted a little like desecration, I put my scissors to my sweater and began to cut. I was afraid, reader. I was afraid that I was taking a pretty useless sweater and turning it into a totally useless sweater. But then, as I cut and cut, a heady feeling of creative power consumed me. I laughed triumphantly as my scissors slipped to one last ringing close, as I reached the neckline of my no-longer-a-pullover.

Once I made the cut, I zigzagged the rough edges, deciding that finishing the edges this way would be best because it would leave me with more fabric for the front.

Then, I simply folded each front edge to the inside, pressed it, and straight stitched it. Now it was time to decide how to polish it off. I tried it on and posed in several ways for the mirror, but the message each time was the same: "needs a little something more."

I had some ivory grosgrain ribbon, maybe about an inch wide, but Clint and Lauren emphatically put the kaibosh on that idea. I agreed: too old-ladyish (sorry, any old lady readers--no offense intended!). Then I found a small stash of buttons. I have no idea what I bought them for, but I had a total of ten white buttons. Perfecto!

But then, after looking in the mirror a bit more, posing and smiling a number of very proud smiles, I decided to add a row of buttons to the other side (unfortunately, Clint had already taken this picture--and I did that bit of sewing in the car on our way to a delicious Ethiopian meal in Ann Arbor). I am pretty proud of myself for this one, not going to lie.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

First Shadow Box

When Jared talks about his friends at school, he usually talks about boys. He likes to play with Isaac and Brandon and Coby. But at least one girl always makes it into his daily litany: Rachel. And it would appear that he is as dear to her as she is to him.

A few weeks ago, Jessica, Rachel's mom, told me that as they were discussing her upcoming birthday, she asked Rachel to name all the girls she'd like to invite. Rachel started listing and then broke into tears. "Rachel, what's wrong?" Jessica asked. Rachel, sobbing, said, "Can Jared be a girl, just for one day? I want to invite him too!"

I'm not sure whether I'll subject Jared to the indignity of wearing one of Lauren's preserved fancy dresses (although Lauren and I would dearly love to dress him up), but I definitely needed to make this girl a special present.

I had bought some shadow boxes a while ago at IKEA after reading one of my favorite blogger's posts about the shadowboxes she makes (here). And I've just been waiting for the right project. I know Rachel's two favorite things are doggies (her dog Gus makes me want a dog) and pickles. So, after dreaming of ideas all night, I sketched out this plan this morning.

Then, I measured my space and sketched the design onto watercolor paper and then began applying paint. The painting on the left is the background, and the one on the upper right will be cut out.

And then, since I just can't say no to sketching over the paint with my lovely Micron pens, I did a little bit of that, which helped add some of the details I missed with my paint brush. Cutting out the girl and her dog was somewhat frustrating, but when I switched to my new (and very sharp and shiny!) embroidery scissors, things improved significantly. I wonder if maybe I should get a craft knife for cutting like this...Hmm...

After I cut out the Picklish Dream, I added some very fine glitter around the edges to make it even more dreamlike.

Then, I added some dimension squares to the back of the girl and her doggy so they'd pop right out. The trailing thought bubbles were a last minute idea. I used a hole punch to cut out the circles, then bored two tiny holes in each one and threaded them on silver thread (does it make you think of the Pensieve in Harry Potter? me too!) and ran the thread from pickle to girl.

And a closer picture so you can read the text.

Hmm. Maybe I should invite myself to the party so I can watch as she opens it.

Now, on to my next project: bow ties, I think. Why not?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Throwing in the Towel

I'm a perfectionist about many things; I know that. Bath towels have to be folded in fourths the long way and then in thirds, coffee mugs are arranged in a certain order in the cupboard with handles facing out, the socks in my drawers are neatly rolled and then organized by color. As are all the hanging clothes in my closet (not the rolled part, just the color-organized part). And spices are organized by type: sweet and savory, then seeds, spices, leaves, etc. I won't talk about my craft area; I think you get the picture.
Lately, I've realized I need to give up on some of these closely held foibles. For one thing, I need to delegate more of the daily housework to the kids so that I can have time to get other jobs done, those "mom's-truly-the-only-one-who-can-do-this" jobs like paying bills and organizing all of my books by color. Counting chocolate chips is also an important task that I shudder to consider passing off on someone else. Plus, I often bring school work home with me. I just need more time to do these things.
So, on Monday, I babystepped my way toward that goal of finding more time: I let go of a job, telling Lauren and Jonah that I would no longer be both the cook and the bottle washer in the family. I will still make dinner, but I'm leaving the cleaning of dishes in their hands.
Of all the jobs to relinquish, this was an easy choice. They've been helping me in the kitchen for years, so they know how to wash dishes to my (ahem, exacting) specifications.
But tonight, after the third night of their solo dishwashing endeavor, I am suddenly taken back to the days of my own childhood, when my mom threw in the towel and expected Ilona and I to wash the dishes together. As I listen from the other room to the arguing, the frustration, the petty picking they're doing, I remember--with a little bit of fondness actually--some of my cat fights with Ilona.
At the time, I thought having her for a sister was hellish. She always borrowed my clothes without asking, often trying several things on and then she would leave them lying on the floor. Yes, offensive I know. And then there was the abuse. The nightly leaps she made from her bed to mine, when she would sit on my chest, locking my arms uselessly at my sides with her knobby knees as she tickled me or (the most unspeakable of horrors) unspooled a long strand of saliva toward my mouth, sucking it up only at the last minute. I was helpless before her assaults, always the victim.
And of course, there was the uncanny way in which she always managed to call "clearing," which was patently the easier dishwashing task, leaving me with washing, which was always hot and involved hours of scrubbing furiously at blackened pots.

All of these memories trickle back into my brain as I listen to my children squabble in the kitchen, and I wonder what agony I have unwittingly set in motion for them as I try to salvage a few minutes of time from my day to write out my thoughts. Plus, I'm thinking that if only I had just washed the dishes myself, they would have been done in half the time and without any arguing. I tell myself I'm teaching them a lesson, and I have to admit that even though Ilona did torment me remorselessly, at least she provided me with realms of material for stories.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The First T-Shirt

Just to recap: yesterday, I bought these four pieces of knit fabric to make some t-shirts or some such happy shirty-ness. Why? Well, for one thing, I could always use another gray t-shirt (I only have about 10 or so) (keep in mind, scoffers, that some are long sleeved and some are short) (and a few have stuff printed on them) (like Edgar Allan Poe's head made out of ravens!) and the stuff I've seen at the store lately has been much less than thrilling.

So, Saturday night after I got all my jobs done, I looked around online for tutorials and free patterns for t-shirts. I thought about buying a pattern while I was at JoAnn, but I hate pattern prices (sure they're always 40% off, but 40% off 17.99 is still more than I want to pay for a t-shirt pattern). Plus, you're probably thinking, you're never guaranteed a perfect fit. What if the pattern is wonky? Yes, my thoughts exactly.

So, I did what I had planned on doing in the first place, and what many of the websites suggested as well: use a shirt I own and like, lay it out on the fabric, and cut around it, leaving a seam allowance of about 1/2 inch. Before I started cutting, I tested the stretch of the fabric, making sure I cut each piece so that it stretched the right way (side to side, of course).

Cutting the front and back were pretty easy. I cut it on the fold so I wouldn't have a seam down the middle. Then it was time for the sleeves. It took a little maneuvering, but I figured it out and cut them.

Then, as I was about to start sewing, I realized the sleeves were probably too short, so I cut two more, adding about 1-1/2 inches to each sleeve, just to be safe.

Then it was time to start piecing it together. I used a stitch that looks like a serger stitch, zigzag with straight stitches on both sides, to make the seams as tough as possible. Plus, I had read that a regular straight stitch is not good for knits as it doesn't let it stretch very well.

I sewed the shoulder seams first, then attached the sleeves to the shirt, then sewed up the sides and along the underside of the sleeves. That was the easy part. Then I needed to figure out how to finish the neckline.

I looked at several of my own shirts, and I decided that a rough curled edge would be the easiest finish for my first t-shirt. So, I measured the length of the entire neckline and cut a strip about 2" wide to that measurement. I folded the strip in half and ironed it, but it wouldn't hold the pressing, so I just winged it.

I started out sewing the folded edge to the inside of the neck, stopping after a few inches to look at what I had done because it seemed like I was doing it backwards. But I played around with the part I had sewed and it seemed right, so I kept going all the way around. When I finished, I excitedly called everyone in to see the finished product.

Clint fingered the finished edge and said "Hmm." I was thinking the same thing, so I tried it on. Sure enough, my first moment of doubt had been a correct impulse. I should have sewn the trim to the outside of the shirt.
Angry with myself, I now had to decide whether to just live with it or do something about it. Of course I couldn't just live with it. I shrugged and cut the trim right off, then cut another strip and sewed the folded edge to the right side of the shirt. No doubts this time.

Sure enough, it was the right choice. I liked it so much, I decided to use the same finish on the sleeves. The fact that the edges kept rolling while I tried unsuccessfully to press the edge under twice so I could sew it the traditional way had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on my choice. None. None at all. And the bottom hem? I'm just gonna let that baby roll.

So, here's the finished shirt. The neckline might be a little lower-cut than I had intended, but I have to wear a cami under it anyway because the fabric is pretty thin. I am pretty pleased with it and eager to get started on the next shirt. Maybe the gray, I think. I have an idea for dressing up the neckline on that one just a tiny bit. And I'm saving the ivory for my last shirt because it feels really nice. It has some rayon in it, I think, so it will drape really well. I haven't figured out yet what I'll do with it, but I'm thinking about a banded bottom so it blouses out a little and something ruffled at the top. Not exactly sure yet. Maybe sleeveless? We'll see.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Let's do a little math, shall we? Say you have eight siblings and each of them is married; say each of those couples has 2.7 children. That's a lot of people. Now say your husband has six siblings and each of them is married; say each of them has 3.4 children. That's a WHOLE lot of people. We decided several years ago that we would rather spend our money on things like really sharp cheddar and absurd amounts of the best chocolate chips we could find, so we don't buy presents for all of these family members. Instead, I make each one a birthday card.

They tell me they like them. That makes me happy because I really like them. And what's more, I really like making them. I try to make large batches of cards at a time when I have a free weekend, so before we went back to school last week, I made cards for all my January and February birthdays. Here is a sneak peek. And for those of you who are expecting a card in the next few months, I apologize for spoiling the surprise, but I really wanted to share.

This is for a pretty fantastic gymnast:

This is for a little drama queen:
This is for a very serious little boy:
This is for the best daddy in the world:
This is for a guy who's had to make some pretty drastic diet changes lately:
This is for a newly married girl who loves to sing:
This is for her very manly husband:
This is for one of the most obsessed outdoorsmen we know: This is for a sweetheart of a boy who reminds us of Jared:

New Wardrobe

Every few months or so, I look at my closet and sigh a very sad sigh. I feel like I've been wearing the same old clothes day in and day out. Clint always assures me that I always look great all the time, but he is a man with one eye constantly trained on the bank account, so I don't really trust him. Usually, this very sad sigh can be soothed by a quick shopping trip. I buy a new skirt or cardigan or shirt, and I'm cured of sighs (at least about my closet) for a few months. But whenever this discontent is paired with a newly rekindled passion for sewing, I am in serious trouble.
You're probably nodding sagely right now, expecting that I'm in trouble because I go to the fabric store and buy way too much fabric I'll never use, but that's not really my problem (I do that anyway--but I DO use the fabric, although I usually buy more yardage than I need. That is a different story, though. Not related to this issue at all). No, the problem is that I still do go shopping at my regular clothing-store haunts, and (here is the problem part) I can't find anything I like! Tragic, I know. (Clint hates to hear about this part, I can assure you.) I walk through the stores, fingering fabrics and peering at trims. I turn shirts inside out to look at the stitching. And then I look at the price tags. 24.99 for this? I mutter. That's crazy. I could make that.
And somtimes I do. I have made plenty of aprons and skirts and purses. I've even made a couple dresses. But this has usually been where I've drawn the line. Venturing beyond the boundaries of that comfort zone has been far too dangerous for me to consider.
But this time, as I looked in dismay at my closet, I realized that the real problem is shirts. I'm sick of all of them. I have a plethora of pants and far too many skirts, but I need more shirts. So this time, I stepped boldly forth into the unknown. I have decided to make myself a shirt or two.
So, I went to JoAnn today and found four different knits: a gray, an ivory, a heathery pink, and a gold/white stripe. And all but one on the bargain table, I might add.
Then I came home and got all my jobs done: packed away the Christmas decorations, commanded my slaves (ahem, children) to help me clean the house, and graded all my papers. Guess what I'm going to do tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Importance of Things

When I told my English students yesterday that today would be show and tell day, some of them groaned. "I don't like talking in front of the class. It makes me feel like I wanna puke!" they complained. I ignored them, as I usually do (the complaints, not the children), and continued explaining that they needed to bring in an object that represented someone or something significant in their lives; they were going to use this experience to write a reflective essay later on this week.

They shuffled out of the room when the bell rang, leaving me to wonder what they might bring in for show and tell the next day.

This morning, as they drifted into the room, I heard one student ask, "Is today show and tell day?" and I groaned. I've had years like this before, where a class just doesn't put much effort into anything, and nearly every student shows either a cell phone or iPod or a classmate as a best friend.

I let myself begin to doubt them, so I was therefore unprepared for the depth of today's experience.

I began by showing this pewter pig.

My brother Thad got him for me when his 7th grade class went on a trip to Shipshewana. I don't remember if he got gifts for any of our other siblings, but he brought this little guy home for me. He's tiny (the pig, that is): maybe as big as a baby's fingernail. I carried him in my pocket every day for years, a talisman that reminded me I was loved. I seem to remember carrying him in my pocket for my first job interview, but I'm not sure if that's a true memory.

After I shared, students began to volunteer to share. A couple of girls shared about how their hockey teams had won medals or they had gone to an elite sports camp. One boy showed his baseball trophy. Then, a boy walked up to the front with a picture of his junior high baseball team. After he introduced his topic, he began to get choked up. As he wiped away tears, he told us why that season was so memorable: it was the last season he got to play with his friend, who died that fall in a car accident.

Next, a girl shared a picture of her family when she was young, saying it was the last picture taken before her parents divorced and the family was shattered. Another girl shared a picture of herself with her father, saying he had died soon after. A boy shared a book his grandfather bought just before he died of leukemia, and his grandmother had just recently given it to him to keep. On and on the stories unfolded, stories of love and loss and moving on.

They were not all sad stories. Three students brought in musical instruments (two guitars and a bassoon) and we listened to mini-concerts. A few more talked about athletic achievements. One girl said she really just wanted to live in a van in her mother's driveway when she grew up: the rent would be cheap and she could mooch meals off her mom.

But even the funny, silly stories had an emotion in common with the sad ones. As we shared and laughed and sometimes brushed away tears together, I think we grew closer as a class: we learned that there is pain in the world, there is death and sadness, and it doesn't matter whether you are at the top or the bottom of the teenage social food chain--or somewhere in the middle--tragedy can strike just as randomly as joy can, and by sharing with each other and learning from each other, we learn a bit about ourselves as well.