Friday, September 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Books

So I'm proceeding with great alacrity through Choosing Gratitude. I'm finished with the chapters and have the 30-day devotional left.

I've talked about how I know I'm approaching this with prejudice. I bring a lot of baggage to the table and then read through that lens (while simultaneously mixing metaphors). Once or twice I think NLDM gets it: "like every other sanctified character trait, it does nothing to make us more loved and accepted by God" (p.69); "no one should ever make you feel as though gaining victory over your hardships requires acting like they don't exist, as if refusing to speak about them or make reference to them will cut off their blood supply" (p. 145).

But I get the feeling that's what she wants us to do, shove down the "bad" feelings and "offer the sacrifice of praise." At one point she says if we don't "give thanks" we'll never be right with God. I can't find the quote right now but she uses the word "never." The context might be more if we do it half-heartedly we'll never be right with God, but it gives off the feeling of if we don't do what she says, we won't fit into her definition of what a Christian is.

Because sometimes a halfhearted "thanks" for something trivial triggers a more sincere thanks for something bigger. Or, starting half-heartedly is better than not starting at all.

I also really get the feeling like she thinks "gratitude" is a destination we'll arrive at. She does finish off with a glancing reference to our continual sanctification, but following her 30-day plan isn't going to help me arrive at a place of perfect gratitude where I never complain again. Because I'm a human being. Sometimes things bother me, or I'm hurt or grumpy or in pain and I need to share. or vent. or whatever you want to call it.

In fact, I find when I'm complaining about something absolutely trivial or ridiculous that I am most able to laugh at myself, step back, and be thankful for what I have. Like that comedian clip where he talks about being on a plane and freaking out that the wifi doesn't work (a commentary on how we as Americans are spoiled rotten) (google it if you haven't seen/heard it; it was going around FB awhile back). First-world problems and all that.

But at the same time, if it's bothering me, it's bothering me. If my wrist hurts, I know it's not cancer and it'll be over in a day or two, but it still hurts. I can't pretend it doesn't, and I can give thanks that I have a wrist, and health insurance, and not a bigger problem, and lots of hobbies that bother my wrist to give me carpal tunnel in the first place, and splints to wear at night, etc. etc. etc., but the truth is it still hurts. And I want your sympathy (which may be a curious side effect of social media, that I can announce my trivial pain and elicit your sympathy, but I digress).

At one point (p. 129) she refers to the "stigma of social motherhood," which really makes me think she lives in a bubble or doesn't get it. Maybe in Fundystan there's a stigma, but a single mother doesn't need our stigma but our grace. Our sympathy. Our love. Is there a stigma to single motherhood? I guess in her world.

Right before the 30-day how-to, she offers a "p.s." saying she struggled with publishing a book telling us to do something she hadn't arrived at yet. But I say, none of us arrive there. There's an ebb and flow to life; there's seasons of joy and ones of despair; we're never going to "arrive" until we arrive in heaven. Sometimes I complain. Sometimes I give thanks through gritted teeth. Sometimes I raise my hands in praise to a holy and wonderful God who loves me in my sin and failure (not just loved enough to die for my sins, but loves me now). Sometimes I'm frustrated and grouchy, sometimes peaceful and grateful.

The truth is God loves me through all of that. He uses my complaining to show me how to turn it around to gratitude. At least I think so . . . I'm not going to wallow in my grumbling, but I'm also not going to beat myself up that I have a negative thought or two.

Twice now people have mentioned One Thousand Gifts so I would like to get that next.

I'm also re-reading Grace Based Parenting. It's fantastic and if you are a parent and haven't read it you should. Grace doesn't leave at the foot of the cross. It can be a lifestyle; when NLDM uses "grace," I hear "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." in my head.

I think I'd get arrested for violating copyright laws if I quoted everything I wanted to from this book. One part I really love and that really helped changed my perspective is where he talks about Proverbs 22:6 - the "train up a child" verse.

Looking at it through our 21st-century lens, we see (and I've read in other books), the idea that if we make this kid do what we think he should do and what we want him to do (or what we think we can justify the Bible telling us we want him to do), he'll be an awesome Christian when he grows up. Kimmel points out "The 'train up a child' part has an interesting usage when you break down the Hebrew text. The expression 'train up' is used in other Hebrew literature to describe a maneuver that ancient midwives used to cause newborns to begin the sucking impulse" (p. 111). He goes on: "The writer is saying we should use childhood as an opportunity to build a clean and healthy thirst for life that God has uniquely designed for that child." Because "in the way he should go" could be translated "train him up his way." Kimmel: "One of the most accurate English synonyms for derck would be the word bents. This is how the same word is translated in Psalm 11 referring to the bend of a bow."

He then explains when making a bow, the bow maker works with the bend of the wood rather than against it (pp 111-112). So we know our children and their strengths and gifts and "[this] also means that we should study them enough to know which natural bents they have that push them in the wrong direction. They might struggle with [list of negative personality traits] . . . We can't make these liabilities disappear, but we are to raise them in such a way that we account for them and give them tools to help process them properly."

To me this means not snapping "no whining" when asked for a snack or a drink by my child who is helpless to get it him/herself (another of Kimmel's points); it means being aware of what Sam's grumpy triggers are and helping him recognize to and work to give him tools to deal with those emotions; it means not just rebuking, correcting, punishing, lecturing, or just plain yelling at Kate and her impulsivity and button-pushing, but giving her the tools to be a more agreeable child.

Hopefully. Prayerfully. Not just paying lipservice to "God made her this way and He has something great for her," but knowing her and her bents ("good" and "bad") and teaching her (by words and example) to rely on God "for [His] power and help." (I struggle with this with Kate more than Sam because, well, I don't know. She's a girl and I know what it's like to be a girl and not a boy, or because she doesn't fit into the prissy, mild-mannered girl definition society like girls to be, or just because.)

So now we come up against the primary problem of writing a post about this book: it's all so good. It's not what I came from ("My family's early relationship with Jesus was less about His love for us and more about His disappointment in us. This notion, of course, led my family down the on-ramp to legalism." [p. 128]). It's not what I thought parenting would be. But it is hopeful and encouraging ("You may feel extremely inadequate and fragile in key areas of your life, but God comes alongside you in those very areas of weakness and carries you through with His grace." [p. 21]).

As I'm reading, I think, "that's a great quote, I should put it on facebook" and then seven paragraphs later realize I'm just quoting the entire section. So I tell you again: read it. Get your own copy, because I tried loaning mine to my sister and immediately regretted it and wanted it back. So you can't borrow mine.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pumpkin: Snickerdoodles & Muffins

The other day, my sister-in-law put on facebook that she'd seen a recipe for pumpkin snickerdoodles and was packing for a trip or she'd make them. I thought about them almost non-stop for two days and decided to try making them without waiting for her to test them first.

First, I did some research, comparing the recipe I found online (everyone seemed to go back to this one) to the snickerdoodle recipe in my Cookie cookbook (a gift from the same SIL). These are called the Best-Ever Snickerdoodles, and the truly are the best snickerdoodles, ever.

I took a picture of this step but it was entirely pointless since I don't know enough about the science of baking to know why one called for baking soda and the other baking powder; I did add 1 tsp cream of tartar since in the post from Recipe Girl (the recipe I printed) she mentions adding it the next time she made them.

First I made them with my little Pampered Chef scoop:

These I didn't flatten with a glass as RG suggests, they were still cold from being chilled and didn't spread much.

Next I used the medium scoop to make the whole thing go faster:

and I flattened those.

My verdict: eh.* Just, eh.

I wouldn't say they were good but they weren't exactly bad, either. They didn't have much pumpkin taste at all and I think the cream of tartar made them dry and gave them a weird aftertaste. Or maybe they're just a dry cookie, or I baked them too long. I baked three sheets (about 3 dozen) and then tossed the rest of the unbaked dough since a) I was hot and wanted to get out of the kitchen and turn the oven off and b) they weren't good enough (in my opinion) to give away.

I used the rest of the can of pumpkin for muffins:

These turned out really, really good: very moist, which must be from the extra 1/4 of pumpkin in them (this recipe calls for 1 cup of pumpkin which is half a can, so I usually double it or have half a can of pumpkin in the fridge until I throw it out. Since the cookies used 3/4 cup, I just put the rest of the can in the muffins).

I'm curious to see how Andrea's pumpkin snickerdoodles turn out. I have a recipe from my mom for "Old Bedford Village Pumpkin Cookies" and they're just so yummy and pumpkiny so maybe I'll add the sugar-spice coating from the snickerdoodles to the pumpkin cookies and see how that works out. But I'll wait for a cooler day to do that.

*Update since I wrote this yesterday: the cookies seem to be better after being in a tin (with some muffins, I had too many muffins for one tin) for a few days. They are moister and more pumpkiny; funny aftertaste is slightly reduced. They're still not the spicy, snickerdoodley pumpkin perfection I was hoping for.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kate on Multi-tasking

"It's hard to dance and vacuum."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Stuff

I've been clearing a lot of junk out of my house which is leaving more room for me to add new stuff. I think ultimately I'm ending up with less stuff or at least things I really like as opposed to lots of stuff that is driving me nuts.

Anyway. Here's the apothecary shelf now:

I used flat black spray paint on the lids. I also used the black paint on this cake stand and love how it turned out (you can kind of see it, the 'earthworms' jar is on it).

And a wreath I made after my sister showed me this picture (the black ribbon one, #7)(oh my gosh I just noticed there's a link for the tutorial. Going to read it now):

OK, looks like the original came from here.

No, I didn't make a tutorial. Because all I did was tie a bunch of ribbon on a wire wreath frame I found at AC Moore. I cut the ribbon to 6" but if I do it again I'll cut it longer and make square knots. So basically I did it nothing like the original, since I used three colors, a wire frame, and only did one crossover on my knots to give it a random look. I guess this was more inspiring, but she used fabric.

I did get black and orange ribbon to make a Halloween one so maybe that'll happen and I'll take a picture.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pumpkin Harvest

I saw this pattern in the Keepsake Quilting catalog and thought it would be great to get and make adorable fabric pumpkins.

Then last week, this was posted at the Craft Catwalk at Embellishing Life. Or maybe One Pretty Thing. Or maybe Stumble. I can't find where I found it. But this is the tutorial I used to make these:

It's kind of addictive. I want to make a few more with that mustardy paisley fabric but I was playing around with sizes before I cut up any more of it.

You know, because when you keep a half yard of fabric for 4 years and don't do anything with it, it's important to hang onto it a little longer.

Another fun thing I've been doing instead of folding laundry is printing labels from the interwebs and modge-podging them on jars. I saw a jar on a stand at TJ Maxx with a "essence of bat breath" label on it. Cute, I thought, but I can get this $2 jar and do my own. None of these jars below is the $2 jar because once I started finding labels, I decided to do a whole apothecary shelf.

Here are sites where I found labels:

Amazon (OK, not a graphic, but I right clicked and printed)

And there's another one but I'd have to get up to try to find it. I'll add it if I can find it. It's where I got that little read and white one that says "deadly nightshade."

Basically I just googled "vintage labels," "potion labels," "poison labels," etc.

I can't wait to make more. I'm going to paint the lids black and fill them with random things, probably not edible stuff because I think the labels will come off. I might try to seal them or something. or not. I might find a new thing to obsess over.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Consignment Stores

Alright, I didn't want to keep you waiting.

I think what it ultimately comes down to is the area I live in is kind of, hmm, how should I say it? unfashionable? Because I hear about people getting good deals at consignment stores and I like consignment stores, but every time I set foot in one around here I get aggravated by what a hunormous waste of time it is.

First of all, the stuff on the racks is poor quality. All of it. I am willing to look, but pilled sweatpants and streched-out target t-shirts are not what I'm in the market for.

Secondly, there's the price tag on these worn-out clothes. I can buy new sweatpants at Old Navy or new t-shirts at Target for less than what the places around here want. So even if it was something I wanted to buy, I don't want to pay that price (for crying out loud, if you're willing to look, you can get things at Gymboree for 3 or 4 dollars. I mean, if we're looking, why not do it in a clean, organized, pleasant-smelling store?)

And the straw that breaks my camel's back is that I never make money from consigning clothes. Remember those pilled sweatpants? I'm not bringing in pilled hanes sweatpants. And they're not taking my stuff .

Last week I took two handle bags of stuff to Lots for Tots. I left with 90% of what I took in and $13. So I guess I had 13 more dollars than I began the day with, but I had to pay a dollar toll. Both ways. The good part is the place is two doors down from Hobby Lobby so I could wander around finding things to spend my consignment haul on before I got it.

I wonder (but am not really willing to test my theory with a day trip) if closer to Boston the things in consignment stores get nicer. I'm so blessed to have a friend who gives me masses of hand-me-downs for Kate, and for everything else I guess I'll stick to shopping sale and clearance racks when I have a coupon for an extra percent off.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just Some Random Thoughts

I worked 4 days this week and it occurred to me that that hour each day that I work must have been the time I would have otherwise dedicated to blogging. It (the job) is super-easy, as I thought it would be, and I walk away thinking, "I'm good at that."

It's weird in a way. I think I'm good at a lot of things, but something about not getting any external affirmation for housewifery is difficult for me. No one's giving me a high five or a paycheck for cleaning the bathroom (even though I'm good at it), and for the most part no one says "thank you" when I'm finished for the day, like this little boy's mother does when I'm heading out the door. So even though I haven't had any kind of formal evaluation from the organization that hired me, I feel a sense of affirmation from being from professional setting and doing something that I'm good at.

Also getting dressed in decent-looking clothes every day helps me feel less schlumpy.

Yesterday I was a little tougher on the child, having him sit for longer periods, asking for eye contact or signs, and having him clean up, and he spontaneously waved "bye bye" to me in the middle of an activity. That was a nice unprompted social connnection.

I cooked every night this week - 5 days in a row. Do you know what that means? Leftovers until they're gone.

I would like to acquire some gourds and decorate for fall. Also I want to try to make a burlap wreath for our front door but am concerned it will take more than the 8.5 minutes I want to dedicate to it.

Since I'm working I can't go to the Ladies Bible Study at my church. Well, I guess technically I could go to the evening one but I have a hang-up about going out at night (and my kids have issues with it, too) so it's not an actual option. I did get the book, though, despite some apprehension . . . the last book I read by Nancy Leigh DeMoss triggered a anxiety-filled season of shame and sadness that not only was I now aware of the things she was telling me to do/not do, I was also not following her directions.

But that was before I knew God loves me.

(coming back to this after 12 hours . . . where's that train of thought?)

Anyway. So I approached this book with some apprehension. I am praying for an open heart and mind but also a discerning one; there's too much "do this to be right with God" in the world I came from. I'm afraid she's going to miss the point and say "be happy because you're supposed to be!!" and suggest the repression of all emotion she deems "negative."

The first red flag came in the introduction: "Nancy leads you, step by step, through those select Scriptures and insights that are your journey into heaven-sent joy." Did you see it? I bolded it for you. "Select Scriptures" sounds suspiciously like "proof text" and we all know proof texting is the quickest way to form a personal opinion about an out-of-context verse and then impose that opinion on others like it's God-breathed Law.

Second red flag also appeared in the introduction: "[when asked a question] Dr. Gruden responded, 'Honestly, I don't often become discouraged. I continue to see evidence of God's work in my life and the lives of those around me, and I am simply overwhelmed with thankfulness to Him' (italics added)." He may genuinely not feel discouragement, but most people do. To me this answer reeks of "I'm so holy and if you were, you would not be discouraged either. My holiness has helped me rise above normal human emotions."

Several years ago, I read The Blessing of Skinned Knee (it's pretty remarkable). I still pick it up from time to time. One thing that really stood out to me was in Chapter 5: The Blessing of Longing: Teaching Your Child an Attitude of Gratitude. "Jewish tradition encourages adults to say 100 blessings of gratitude a day. To fill a blessing quota this huge, you have to be vigilant about looking for things to be thankful for." She talks about observing this ritual by being thankful you woke up, that your "tubes and passages" are open so you can use the bathroom, etc. I never counted, but this encouraged me to be more aware of how much there is to be thankful for, even when "nothing" is happening.

This mindfulness of thankfulness led to me changing my attitude in the middle of the night when woken by one of my children. I'd be staggering down the hall thinking why is this child waking me up?! and then stop that thought train and say, "Thank you Lord that I have healthy children who can communicate their needs."

So maybe on top of my skepticism and fear of this author, I think, I'm already working on this attitude of gratitude, is there really much more to learn? "Not that I have already attained," and all that (look at this version). Each day before I open the book I pray again for my heart to be soft and teachable, for my critic radar to be turned off.

I was going to finish this up with a rant about consignment shops, but I'll save that for another day.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?

The tragedy fell out of the clear blue sky. It's always there in stories of that day, what a beautiful day it was.

You remember that, don't you?

I was in my second week training with Building Blocks. First thing in the morning we had a meeting at the office and as I was leaving I heard one of the supervisors say, "all the top floors are on fire," but it meant nothing to me until we got to the first house and I heard from the mother that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

As I drove to the next house, I listened to the radio in stunned disbelief. We (I was following a veteran BB employee) were pretty amazed and rattled at the next visit; they had the television on and were good friends with the family of one of the pilots of one of the planes. If I remember correctly, they had us leave early so they could be with their friends on their farm.

Our last house also had the television on, and at that point there was a lot of confusion and speculation. I still didn't have a clear picture of what had happened and when; I knew I was not able to call Craig and so wanted to be home with him and hold him (we were married not quite a year then). The fear of what had happened and the uncertainty of what might happen next really distilled for me what was important: my family. I was unspeakably grateful that I had the prospect of going home to him when I knew so many were in shock and only beginning their grieving.

I can't believe it was ten years ago. My life was in such a radically different place then; we were newlyweds and were not even thinking about children. Although I wasn't touched personally (or even once-removed, as in, knowing someone who knew someone who died) by the tragedy, I feel a quiet, hollow place of grief for what happened that day. In an "America the Beautiful" book we have, there's a picture of the WTC site as it was at the end of the day on September 11, 2001.

who more than self their country loved

and mercy more than life

I get choked up trying to explain what it is to my children; we haven't yet gotten into the bigger aspects of what it represents, what impact it had on America, why we take off our shoes in airports. But it will be part of our conversations, not just today but as time goes on. It is so important to remember.

Ten Years. A Decade. Where were you?

(I thought I had set this up to auto post yesterday. Did you watch the memorials? I think the new memorial at Ground Zero is a lovely commemoration.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

In Other News

::I've been reading Marley and Me. It is significantly better than the popularity of the book and movie led me to believe. But it was at the used bookstore so I picked it up. It's very well written, funny, and moving. And I cried so very much at the end.

::I made a little scrapbook/guest book for my in-laws' 40th anniversary and remembered how much I love to scrap. I haven't scrapped in awhile . . . last year I had a couple friends who'd come over and scrap on Friday mornings; we were pretty regular through the fall but we slacked off in the spring. Since I have a job, we might do afternoons . . . but I think it's important to my mental health to set aside some time to scrap.

::I bought three new OPI nail colors. I don't know which to use first. Light my Sapphire, Overexposed in South Beach (Kate's pick), and . . . something about black cherry.

::I sold Kate's toddler bed on Craigslist for $40. It's the first time Craigslist was good to me.

::Sam was sick on the third day of school and had to come home early. I hope it's not a sign of how this year will go.

::I cleaned out my car. I vacuumed beach sand off the floor and pulled snow boots from under the seat. Maybe I should try to clean it out on a more regular basis.

::My left wrist, which got the steroid shot, feels significantly better than the right wrist, which did not. Thanks to a vasovagal reaction, I have to wait a few weeks to have the right one done.

::The brochure for Merrimack continuing education lists two blog-writing courses. One was about planning the focus for your blog and storytelling in about 400 words. It made me think: people think these things through? Then I threw the brochure away.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Before You Even Ask

Last week at this time I wasn't looking for a job. Today I got a part-time gig.

It's one hour a day, five days a week, working in-home with a child diagnosed with autism. I did this for two years before I had Sam. While I don't know if I could ever go back to a classroom to teach (what with the hours, the parents, the administrative issues, and the planning and correcting), this is something I can do again. Especially these hours. Morning kindergarten is 2. 5 hours; Target is not hiring people for two hours a day.

In fact, if I was looking for a job to pay the bills or keep us solvent, I wouldn't look twice a job offering only 5 hours. I imagine it's hard to fill a position offering only 5 hours. And trying to find a job that offers only 5 hours . . . well, no one does that. They look at you like you're crazy if you ask to work one hour a day (I guess).

So. I wasn't looking. I didn't know that option was out there. Craig's cousin (and my friend) has kept in touch with Building Blocks and was telling me last week about a possible placement they called her about and would need someone to watch her youngest if she took it. That ended up not working out, but later that day she e-mailed me the link for an ABA/Floortime specialist position in my town.

So, I worked on my resume (with some non-help from my husband) and sent it over the holiday weekend. They called yesterday and said they wanted someone to work in the morning; I went in this morning to formalize it. I keep saying that they are as excited to find me as I am to find them. It's really perfect for me . . . fits right in to my "free" hours, no outside prep or anything, something I'm pretty familiar with and confident doing, and (dare I say?) easy. Even if it's difficult, it's over in an hour. Building Blocks did 2 or 2.5 hour sessions. And for them, I have exactly the experience and availability they were looking for.

I thought we'd make it through this year, with Kate in morning kindergarten, and then next school year I'd (hopefully) be able to work as a substitute. I've had a sort of unformed prayer for the last few months: "Please Lord. Let us catch a break somewhere. Give us some relief from this seemingly never-ending financial tension." I assumed the answer would be that Craig's work would pick up and his commission checks would go up.

But this answer . . . I so thankful for all the pieces that were in place for this opportunity to work out for us. Thankful for a Father who loves me and knows how to give good things; who knows what we need before we ask (oh, read it in this version).