Friday, November 28, 2008

The Day After Thanksgiving

All is peace and happiness here, at least for a moment - I thought I'd record it just in case I forget later that peace actually does happen around here. More often than not, if I were honest with myself. Some things that have brought peace with them:

The rain has passed, the sun is out - I can see the bright pink spot of the 8 year old girl next door as she swings back and forth.

The boys and I rebuilt their enormous toy castle for the first time in two years, and they are growling happily at one another in their best English accents. Besiegers have shown up, and they are brave men dealing handily with them.

My fridge is full of leftovers that are calling my name.

Dinner last night was wonderful - quiet and full of good food, including a spectacular bird created by Husband. He is earning the title "Master of Turkey" the hard way.

Tomorrow we might gather enough energy to put up the Christmas tree - the earliest ever in this house. Why not enjoy it for an entire month?

I spent 1 1/2 hours on the phone with my 88 year old grandfather last night; he's getting a little frail but still has a mind like a steel trap. We talked about everything from politics to Hannah Montana to random bits of family history. He revealed that his uncle (a man I've never heard of before) worked around the world for the precursor of Bectel, and once offered him a job in Venezuela. Who knew? If I had six months to sit and listen and write it all down, what a book his life would make. True of anyone who is cruising towards 89 I would bet. It was so good to hear him the same as ever.

I also talked to my aunt and cousins, and heard my aunt brag about her older daughter for what must be the first time in over 20 years. My cousin has been through a rough time, and now is working and succeeding and has found some measure of peace. I could hear the joy in her mother's voice like I've never heard before. It was beautiful.

All is well with us - hope all is well with you. Blessings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fabric Gift Bags

I've been debating what to do about gift wrap this Christmas. I love Christmas wrap, I love wrapping presents - especially with expensive, glossy wrapping paper. I actually volunteer to wrap presents for my mother in law every year, just to get a few more boxes in. But all that trash on Christmas morning really bothers me. As much as I love the wrapping up, the bags and bags of paper headed straight for the trash is not a good thing.

So I searched a while online and came up with this: Lucky Crow fabric gift bags. I just ordered them today so I can't swear they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping so. I'm sure there are those of you out there on speaking terms with a sewing machine who could make these at home. I am not, so buying these bags instead of making them is required. Oh well - since they are reusable, I should recoup the cost in a year or two (I like really, really expensive wrapping paper - did I mention that?).

If these are a flop and children cry under the tree Christmas morning, suffering withdrawal from gleefully ripping paper, I'll let you know. Otherwise, until you hear different, these work for me.

Astronaut

This is my favorite song by The Lads:

When I grow up
When at last I find I'm a grown up
When I cannot climb any higher
What will I be

When I grow up
When I've finished school and I have to go
When I've learnt the things that I've got to know
What will I be
4,3,2,1, blast off!

Astronaut
Wouldn't it be fun
Flying in the sun
And on to Jupiter and Mars
Heading out to Pluto
Flying in my spaceship
Going anywhere I want to go

When I grow up
Will I want the things that I want today
Will they be the things I'll need on my way
What will I need

When I grow up
When I've done the things that I tried to do
Will I be someone to look up to
What will I be
4,3,2,1, blast off!

When I grow up, will my dreams belong to me
When I grow up, what will I be
Will there be hope for me
Does anybody know, which way to go
Cos I want to know

Every time I hear this song I get goose-bumpy. The thoughts of my boys growing up, as well as thoughts about what have I done since I was in the place where I dreamed of my future, always makes me wonder. Where will they go? What goes God have for them? Will they listen, and follow, or will they run away, as I did for so long? I want to teach them to ask God to give them the plan for their lives, and to not rely on their own wisdom. But yet I send them to the best school (in my mind) to receive the best education, so, presumably, they can “make it on their own” and “do what they want with their lives”. There are so many contradictions in my actions as a parent I’m surprised the boys don’t complain of dizziness.

And in my own life, where am I? Am I someone I would want them to look up to, to follow? When Paul says “look to me and you will see me imitating Christ” – isn’t that what we’re supposed to tell our children? And do they see it? Most of the time I don’t think they do. They can see me love them, see me put my needs before theirs, but what else? Not much, I’m afraid.

There’s so much I want them to learn, and so much of it involves altering my own behavior to teach them how to live. It’s hard, this parenting thing.

Grace that is New Every Morning

Every night I go to bed thinking “God, I did today but I don’t think I can do tomorrow.” And then I wake up and His grace is there, and it is sufficient for me, and it is new that day and carries me just far enough – just to the end of where I have to go that day. I love that I’m at this place – where I have to wait for His grace and am never disappointed. Somehow it feels much stronger than feeling I could race on and on without stopping (all on my own dime). Perhaps that is because He is much stronger than I am …

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thankfulness

Michele has a thankfulness list up, and since it’s the season, here’s mine. We’re going with Michele’s theme of small, nice things to be thankful for, on the premise that you already can guess I’m terribly thankful for God, my husband, the boys, the dogs, Ecclesia, blah blah blah. I am immensely grateful for:

My iPod and its cute little player I keep at work
My Nikon
The boys’ school
New York Bagels that are still warm when you buy them in the morning
Jonny Quest reruns
Robbie’s music at church
Houston restaurants
Whataburger breakfast tacos
The fact that Husband is cooking the turkey again this year
Boys big enough to bathe themselves
Instapundit
The sunshine today
The few pairs of shoes I own that don’t hurt
Not having gained any more weight for 6+ months
Sleeping in on Saturdays while the boys watch TV
TiVo
James Lileks
P.G. Wodehouse
My cleaning lady
Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
My bed: the most comfortable one in the world
Kate, Michele, Elizabeth, Sarah, Liz, Tony, Missy, Nina, Meg, CC, JMom, MoziEsme, and Jen
Online CLE
Amazon
Toasted English muffins with butter and peanut butter

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Gift of Forgiveness

Sometimes I think that, in order to understand the amazing nature of the gift God has given us in sending Christ to die for the forgiveness of our sins, you have to know what it feels like to not be forgiven. Not only did Christ’s sacrifice take our sin away and enable us to be in relationship with God, it also took away the crushing weight of the knowledge that we were not forgiven. I’ve learned the hard way, from very personal experience, that when you wrong someone and then own up to it – when you apologize – and forgiveness isn’t forthcoming, the weight is almost too much to bear. You feel that you, personally, cannot be made right – that you are broken by your sin and cannot be mended. The relationship is also broken, for to look into the eyes of someone to whom you have apologized and know that in their heart they can’t find forgiveness inalterably changes a relationship, if it doesn’t destroy it completely. The mistrust that the lack of forgiveness creates – the fact that both of you (the unforgiven and the unforgiving) question each others motives and fail to trust one another – is a heavy burden. So not only do you know that your wrong is bigger than their love for you, but you are forced to forever question their love from that day forward. The pain that the lack of forgiveness creates is so great – how great is our God that He has spared us from it forever!

Random Aside

I served Communion at church last night, and I have to say that repeating the words “the blood of Christ shed for you” 100 times or more is cathartic, to say the least.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book List

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, one of the greatest museums for kids on Earth, is writing up great booklists for kids on a variety of subjects. They add a new topic every month, and divide things up into age groups. This month the subject is the Middle East; here are just a few of the dozens of excellent books on the list:

Keating, Susan. Saudi Arabia. Mason Crest, 2003.
Khan, Rukhsana. Muslim Child. Albert Whitman, 2002.
Kummer, Patricia. Jordan. Children’s Press, 2006.
Kummer, Patricia. Syria. Children’s Press, 2005.
Laird, Elizabeth. A Fistful of Pearls and Other Tales from Iraq. Frances Lincoln, 2008.
Losleben, Elizabeth. The Bedouin of the Middle East. Lerner, 2002.
Matthews, Mary. Magid Fasts for Ramadan. Clarion, 2000.
McCoy, Lisa. Qatar. Mason Crest, 2002.
McDaniel, Jan. Lebanon. Mason Crest, 2003.
Metha-Jones, Shilpa. Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Crabtree, 2004.
Minnis, Ivan. The Arab-Israeli Conflict. Raintree, 2003.
Mobin-Uddin, Asma. My Name is Bilal. Boyds Mill, 2005.
Monroe, James. Djibouti. Mason Crest, 2002.


Check it out and enjoy.

Unplanned Vacation

Well, I'm back. No, I haven't been to some exotic locale, but then again I haven't been home languishing in bed with the flu or anything like that. I've just had a bad case of LIFE, and it's taken me this long to get back to the computer and start posting again. Part of it is that I started a new job on the 10th; it's actually back to an old job, in a way, but new this time around. To be more clear: I'm back at work full time at the company I was with for 5 years as an employee and 2 years as a part-time contractor. No posting from work, and no offence but the boys are way more interesting than the computer and my tired thoughts at the end of the day. Now that I know that, I'm going to try to plan out posts a little better, and maybe even submit some to post during the day while I'm at work.

While you're waiting for me to have profound, interesting thoughts (yes, I've been waiting for that for 38 years) go over to Wordless Days and check out the profound, interesting photos.

Happy Saturday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Recycling Myths: Fact or Fiction?

Popular Mechanics does a great job debunking 5 common myths about recycling.

The bottom line: yes, Virginia, recycling is good for you.

HT: Instapundit

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

No, I'm not about to write about the books; instead Elizabeth has tagged me with the unpleasant task of writing about high school. Ewwwww doesn't even begin to cover it. Well, here we go:

1. But What Were You Like? Dorky, just like now. I was a day student at a small boarding school in the middle of the woods. I didn't have to work incredibly hard, but I didn't like to do much other than study so I guess I had a lot of free time. I was painfully shy as well.

2. Prom Dreams. God is very good. Of all the humiliation I suffered in high school, prom was not one of them. We had 100 guys and 50 girls at school, so prom wasn't really going to work out very well.

3. Wildness. A little of everything stupid, just like most high school students. Some of it might possibly have been illegal. Really I was just warming up for college - I did a little of everything bad, just so I could go to college and say "of course I do that" and get myself into exponentially more trouble.

4. Car. Nope, not until college and my precious Louise - a 1984 blue Subaru wagon. In high school I lived next door to school and town was 1 1/2 miles away. We walked. In -20 weather, we walked quickly.

5. Fashion. Quirky is the polite word for it. I had some bad hair, but usually only when I gave into the idiotic urge to get a perm. At least I was terrifically skinny. Fashion is hard when you live in a town of 3,000 people in the middle of the howling wilderness and the weather dicates long underwear several months a year. You want to look good, but you don't want to die, either.

6. Education. I liked almost all of my classes, but for mostly social reasons I was dying to get to college. The education part of high school was the best part for me.

7. Employment. I worked summers at a swanky clothing store, where despite the fact I spent every dime I earned on clothes I still looked like crap. Go figure.

Like I said - it was bad. I hope y'all don't have nightmares ...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wordless Days

Is back - please check it out.

Anyhow I Love You

Husband has been singing this song to me for close to 19 years, without actually having heard it himself before:



As I've said before, I grew up a little nervous. Not just about God, but about most everything. Due to a whole bunch of circumstances I won't go into right now, I'm always a little afraid of being left. Husband is the most patient man in the world; he knows my irrational fears and he quietly reassures me that

"Just you wait until tomorrow when you wake up with me at your side and find I haven't lied about nothing."

Listening to him tell me he loves me is a balm to my heart. Not only that, loving him and being loved back, building that trust together, has helped me accept the love that Christ has for me.

Thank you God for my loving and gentle Husband!

More on the Election

My candidate lost on Tuesday, as I'm sure you're aware, but I have been suffused with the most overwhelming peace since I woke up Wednesday it's been unbelievable. It isn't a peace based on circumstances; it has to come solely from Christ, and for this I am unimaginably grateful. I was meditating on the most obvious passage that came to mind, from Philippians 4:6-7:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

I made my request to God: I prayed for this election fervently. And although I don't think my request was granted (although only God knows) I have this transcending peace all the same.

This is so stunning to me - this gift, and the fact that I am able to receive it. Four years ago, had President Bush lost to John Kerry, I have to say that peace would have been the last thing I sought. Instead I would have relished my righteous anger, simmered myself in vitriol, and refused to accept any consoling peace from Christ. I can't say that I have made a huge journey of faith in the past four years, but it is comforting to realize that, as often as I stumble and fall, sometimes I do get a little farther forward.

Praise be to God, from whom all blessings flow.

Living with Mystery

Two of my very favorite quotes are from St. Augustine:

"God is best known in not knowing him." - De Ordine (II, 16)

"Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe, that thou mayest understand." - In Ioannis Evangelium

Like all children, the boys ask "WHY" a lot. When it comes to matters of faith, I can't always answer them. So I struggle to give them what answer I can, and then try to teach them that a little mystery in life is a good thing. And that a little mystery in faith is an even better thing - because if we knew it all, what would be the point of following Christ? It's a hard lesson to learn as a child. We tell them in all other aspects of life: "go and find out", but sometimes in faith we have to say "wait and someday you may know - or you may not - but you must believe anyway." As I've grown up I've become more comfortable with knowing there are some things I can't understand, but as a child to be asked to live with a mystery is like being asked to put the Hardy Boys down before the last chapter and never know whodunit.

How do we teach our children to wait and live with mystery? How do you teach children to be as accepting of Christ as the most devout Buddhist is of the world, and yet as curious as Rikki Tikki Tavi?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On the Election

I'm going to stick with my time-honored tradition of saying "Amen" to someone who writes better than I do, and point you here to read "how I feel" about the election results.

"Legal racial segregation was prevalent in America within living memory, yet we appear to have just elected a black man to the position of maximum honor, authority and influence in the country. The manner of this political victory is important, as well. This was not some prize bestowed upon him, and Barack Obama didn’t just buy a winning lottery ticket; he out-smarted and out-worked both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. It is healthy that the American political system gathers the energies and talents of those who feel excluded into the nation to change it, rather than pushing them away from the nation to oppose it."

Toys for Christmas

This year we're not actually shopping for toys. Yes, you read that correctly. The boys have so much, and it seems that every new thing, no matter how asked-for and exciting, is quickly put aside, broken and forgotten in the face of markers, drawing paper, wooden blocks, Legos, and sharp implements with which one can dig in the dirt.

So no toys this year. No batteries. Although, perhaps, a trampoline. Husband and I are in violent disagreement on this one, but the boys are fighting on my side, so there may be a trampoline.

What exactly do my kids play with that I would recommend?
  • Real, big Legos. The kit Legos get lost - you miss one piece and the whole thing's a wreck. The boys prefer the big Legos, so they can make anything they want.
  • Big wooden blocks. They last forever, your mom doesn't get mad when you draw on a couple - they're great.
  • Toy soldiers. Need I explain why?
  • Digging tools. You may not have enough mud in your backyard to want to buy these, but we have a good amount, and the boys' enjoyment of it has made me cast aside all plans of landscaping to get rid of it. Which is cheaper. And more fun.
  • A knife. Well, this is true only for One, but he received a Swiss Army knife last year and has had a great time whittling palisades for the front porch. Again, helping me out with those landscaping solutions: I don't have the heart (or the time) to take down the palisade and plant flowers in the porch flowerbox instead of sharpened sticks.
  • Paper, markers, tape, scissors. The possibilities are endless.
  • Weapons. Although the boys frequently make their own weapons, ready-made swords and shields are always popular.
There. All you need to keeps boys from 2 up busy all day long. It works for me, it will work for you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Humor

Because I can't take this day any more seriously than I am already, here's a little nugget of fun from Drudge:

Nudist group wants clothing-optional polling site.

Go ahead. Click on the link. You know you're laughing right now.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Courage

From Praying for Grace, via Mary Ellen Barrett.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tony Hoare: February 4, 1938 - October 2, 2008

Tony Hoare was a bank robber turned screenwriter, who died at 70.

"... on leaving school he went to London in search of excitement. He found it as the member of a gang of bank robbers. They were never very successful. After a job in Warrington they repaired to a nearby pub but their southern accents immediately gave them away and they were arrested. Although a terrible driver, Hoare was the getaway man. He could reflect that he made far more money writing about crime for television than from his own crimes."

One of My Favorite Places

Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis is one of the best places on Earth. Over 100 acres of art, scattered throughout a beautiful natural setting - it's not to be missed.



This is One's favorite piece. When he was 18 months old we took him to visit and he stopped dead at the sight of this one. I wish I knew how to use the scanner, because I actually caught him with the film camera, one foot trailing behind him as he stood overwhelmed by this thing in front of him.

If you're in St. Louis, stop by. Especially with kids. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

21st Century Slavery

What can you do to stop it? Check out these 33 different ideas at the Call + Response website.

Think it doesn't happen here? Unfortunately, you're wrong. According to Slavery Map, here's just one incident that happened here in Houston:

"Maximino "Chimino" Mondragon and 8 other traffickers worked with Walter Alexander Corea and his son Kerin Silva to smuggle over 120 women, mostly from Central America, into the Houston area and force them to work in brothels. Lorenza Reyes-Nunez, aka "La Comadre," was involved in the trafficking and forced abortions upon women who became pregnant. The others involved include Maximino Mondragon's brother Oscar Mondragon, half brother Victor Omar Lopez and the wives or ex-wives of the Mondragon brothers, Olga Mondragon and Maria Fuentes. They are from El Salvador and Honduras."

Slaves were traded in open markets in Galveston before the Civil War -- Galveston was called by one author the largest slave market in the New World -- now 50 miles inland slaves are trafficked through the US's 4th largest city.

You don't have to fly 1/2 way around the world to stop slavery: it's in this country too. You can help wherever it is; please get involved. It's not just that there are 33 things you can do -- it's that there are 27 million reasons to do it.

Call and Response

Halloween Fun

We had a great time last night for Halloween, and the boys were, as befits the children of a very dorky woman, archaeologists. They wore these nifty shirts:
along with khaki shorts, hiking boots and floppy hats, and they carried all manner of tools in very cool belts. They were comfy and enjoyed themselves immensely, their candy hoard is now threatening to take over the butler's pantry entirely, and they've used their tools to dig a large trench in the backyard:

Meg and Marcus joined us for the fun; we had pizza and then Marcus kept Husband company on the porch while Meg and I chatted and walked up and down the street with the wild, running "Petrie" brothers. We gave away 12 bags of candy to all manner of costumed children; only one group all night hadn't bothered with costumes. The whole block was in on the fun (as it usually is); our next door neighbors had great spooky music and their usual graveyard:


All in all, a good time was had by all.

Rating Books by Age

There is a movement in the UK to "band" children's books by age: 7+, 9+ and so on. A website has been established by authors, librarians, teachers and parents in opposition to this trend.

Our local Barnes and Noble organizes the children's section by age, as most bookstores do. Amazon allows you to search by age as well. This seems to be much the same thing, although I agree with the opponents to banding on the idea that having a big "7+" sticker on the front of a book deters older children who may still enjoy the story, far more than how a bookstore shelves its books.

Honestly I don't think parents need this kind of additional information to help their kids choose books. Sure, it would be easy to say "okay honey, you go buy anything you want as long as it's banded under 10+", but that's just lazy parenting. I've never bought a book (or a toy or a movie) for my boys asked for without examining it first, and I've never needed a big age sticker on the front of a book to be able to tell if it was appropriate or not. If I'm on the fence and we're in the store, I make a promise to come back and get the book or buy it online after I go home and do additional research - I've never had a freak-out over that, although I have compromised - on a wet, rainy Saturday, perhaps - and agreed to buy another Hardy Boys now, and research the new book later on.

Age banding isn't the way to go because it could discourage children from reading "young" books. More importantly it doesn't work because it substitutes another person's judgment for that of a parent. Discouraging parents to do their homework and pay attention to what their children are interested in is an unhealthy recipe indeed.