Thursday, September 30, 2010

Completely and Hopelessly...

...indecisive!

I've been having fun tonight getting my October header and layout ready.  But I have one small problem:  I can't decide which background to use.  

Normally in situations like this, I would have a quick consultation with my in-house design expert, and he would help me decide; but at the present time, he's lying horizontally a few feet from me and...well...his snores aren't telling me much.  I keep going back and forth, but not landing...so I'm going to post these options so that when Jeff looks at my blog tomorrow, he can then tell me which one I should use!  :)

Option A:

Option B:

Option C:

Option D:

Option E:

And Option F, which is the current background on the blog.  I would post a screen capture of it, but The Powers That Be at Google just informed me that I have used up all my free storage space for photographs, so I need to purchase more.  Well!  We'll see about that.  

I would go ahead and buy the storage space now so I could be a perfectionist and post Option F along with the others, but I'd really like to ask my resident computer expert first, and...well...you already know what he's doing.  :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blagging

What do you call it when your blogging is lagging?

Blagging, of course!

Whatever it's called, it's what is happening to me. Usually, I make time to blog, neglecting more mundane duties for the sweet pleasure of sitting down at my computer and making text appear; recently though, I've let other responsibilities crowd out my blogging time.  I can see why writers always wish for more time to write!  It's not from a lack of desire that I haven't posted more.  As a matter of fact, I'm eager to write more, to share the pictures and stories of these never-to-be-returned days; I'm particularly excited to post about my dad's retirement reception.  But the only thing I've done towards that end has been to download the pictures, and that just happened a few minutes ago.  So for tonight, all I can do is share a few photos...then go to bed, hoping that somehow, I'll discover 25 hours in my day tomorrow.  :)



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Time Is Short...

...and words are few,
a video will have to do!
video

We've been having more issues with our internet connection (or rather, our lack of internet connection), so my blogging has been enduring an enforced rest.  With the few minutes of time I'm allowing myself to blog tonight before I take my weary self to bed, I simply want to record another example of the creative way Jeff cares for our boys.  This isn't the first time Jeff has figured out an out-of-the-box way to bathe--and entertain--them.


These boys are so blessed to have such a fun daddy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Careless in the Care of God


~ I took this picture of birds feeding in our backyard - I think it was during the winter of 2007

This weekend has reminded me that, truly, I'm an introvert.  It's been WONDERFUL, but all the people contact has completely zapped my energy.  I don't mind though; after all, what better outlet to spend my energy on than people?

In the midst of it, I do feel God's strength and provision in specific, reassuring ways.  What a comfort to be "careless in the care of God!"

I'm thankful for:
~ an incredible friend, Kathy, who coordinated the reception for my dad,
~ ALL the people who helped out, in ways large and small
~ my niece's son, Christian, who showed tenderness and compassion to Josiah after he got (minorly) hurt
~ my brother's family who made the trip down from Pennsylvania for the reception and spent the night here with us
~ late night conversations about anything and everything
~ cousins having so much fun together
~ a husband who says, "sure, you can go take a nap; I'll handle things"

As I launch into a new week, filled with familiar activities and unforeseen challenges and a never-ending to-do list, I want to cling to this reminder of God's all-need-supplying love, so that I can remain "careless in the care of God."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fans. Big Fans. Faithful Fans.

We've been having some issues with our computer--or rather, our Internet connection.  It's eye-opening to realize how cut-off-from-the-world I feel when forced to go even a short amount of time without checking email or blogs!

But this interval of computer trouble had an unexpected benefit, in the form of an endearing moment involving my dad.  The phone rang this afternoon; and when I answered, his voice said, "I thought maybe you would want Mother to come up and keep your boys so you could come down here and get on the Internet and blog."  I laughed a little (was he feeling so deprived already, even though my latest blog post had been posted just a little over 24 hours previously??), but in all seriousness I appreciated his offer--not just because I was grateful for my parents' willingness to help out in that way, but more so because it showed how much they value my blog.  Besides Jeff, my parents are my biggest fans, not only with the blog, of course, but with all of life.  They've been that way for years, and I could write pages about how they showed their support to me in all my various endeavors during my growing-up years (and since then).  But even though I'm all grown-up at 34, I still care deeply about their opinion, and the fact that both my mom and my dad eagerly read my blog--and miss it when I don't post--means so much to me.

Not only are they right at the top of the list when it comes to my biggest fans, I want to return the favor by being their biggest fan, too.   It's easy to be their fan.  I'm confident that it's well-documented in this blog how close and special the relationship between the eight of us (my family of six, and my parents) is.  I don't want to present a false appearance though:  our family has its share of dysfunction, just like every family.  But the more I see and hear about the incredibly deep pain and heartache that so many families go through, the more grateful I am for the life I've been given.

As president of my parents' fan club :), I'm excited about an event that is coming up in just two days:  a retirement reception for my dad.  The planning process has been helped along by so many people, and I definitely don't have the full weight of it on my shoulders; but it has required an extra amount of my time and attention this week.  Between that and our Internet issues, I feel like the blog has suffered a little...but oh well. Life goes on.

To end with, my latest recipe at The Foodie Spot is something that everyone in my family (especially my dad!) is a huge fan of.  I wish I had one with a tall glass of milk right now.  Yum.  Maybe I'll dream about it tonight.  :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

This One's Too Short, This One's Too Noisy...

This morning, it dawned (pun intended) on me that Jeff slept in four different spots last night--all within our house, of course.

First, he fell asleep on the little couch in our living room.

Then, he came up to our bed and slept there.

Next, he left our bedroom when I told him he should.  And why should I tell him such a thing?  Because Shav, dear little Shavi, who has been doing much better with sleep than he used to, had a relapse last night and cried and fussed terribly.  I didn't mind being up with him, but I figured that Shav's crying didn't need to disturb both Jeff's and my sleep...so I told Jeff, "Why don't you go sleep somewhere else?"  :)  When I came downstairs this morning, I noticed that the pillow on the big couch was rumpled, and the blanket was lying abandoned on it...so that was spot #3.

But where was Jeff?  Josiah and David were downstairs in the library; but when I asked David if Daddy was down there, I thought he indicated that he was not.  So I started looking through the house.  Had he gone back to our bed?  No.  Was he in Tobin's room?  Nope.  Josiah and David's room?  Not there.  One of the bathrooms?  Negative.  I checked the doors to see if he had gone outside to pick peppers and pray.  Both doors were locked, and the alarm system was still on, so he obviously hadn't gone out that way.  I headed downstairs to check the garage, thinking maybe he had somehow snuck out in the Jeep to go climb Mole Hill or something (although "sneaking out" with the Jeep is a misnomer since when you use that noisy vehicle, you lose any element of surprise whatsoever).  If the Jeep was still there, then where in the world was Jeff?  The thought literally flashed through my head that maybe the Rapture had happened.  :)

And then, I peeked into the library - and found him - asleep on the guest bed there, just the top of his head sticking out from under the covers.  That was the fourth place.

In this regard - and only in this regard - Jeff has something in common with Goldilocks..except she only tried out three sleeping places.

:)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TTT - That's Heaven?!



It's been ages (Josiah, my literalist, would correct me and say, "No, Mom, you haven't even been alive for ages.") since I did a TTT post.  I just haven't had my ears tuned into my boys' conversations...or my pencil ready to jot down their comments before they slip my mind.  But this past week, I did happen to notice--and write down--a few things that David said that made me smile.

********

Take a little Bible knowledge and a little scientific knowledge, mix them in the brain of a five year-old, and this might come out:  David asked, "When Jesus goed (he still needs to remember to say "went") through the clouds, did He get wet?"  I wasn't sure what angle to use in my response so I employed the classic you've-got-me-stumped-but-I-don't-want-you-to-know-it response.  "Hmmm, that's a great question!" I answered.  "What do YOU think?"  This answer is second in popularity only to the profound, "You'll have to wait and ask God when you get to heaven."

********

Speaking of heaven...

We just finished reading The Jesus Storybook Bible together (and I loved it, by the way!); and when we got to the last story about John's exile on the island of Patmos and his vision of heaven, I opened the book to that page and read the title, "A Dream of Heaven."  David took one look at the picture and burst out with an incredulous, "That's heaven????"  It was obvious from his voice that he was keenly disappointed; clearly it didn't even come close to his expectations!  He was mighty relieved when I (laughingly, I couldn't help it) explained that it was actually showing the island where John was imprisoned.  And yes indeed, heaven will be far better than that!

********

Check out Mary at Not Before 7 for more Tiny Talk Tuesday.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sometimes Summer Lingers

Isn't "linger" a beautiful word?  I've decided that I should use it more often.

On second thought, I think I should live it more often.

Sometimes summer lingers.  Like this year - here we are, about to enter fall; but except for slightly cooler temperatures at night, there's hardly proof that the season is about to turn.  As I sit in my rocking chair and type this, my window is wide open, letting in the peaceful night air; and I can hardly believe we're nearing the end of September.  Some years, we've had a fire in the stove by now.  Some years, it's too chilly to have the windows open, even during the day.  Some years, we've pulled out jackets and sweatshirts and put away shorts.

Not this year.

I savor this.  This extra inning of summertime, this abundance tacked onto the end of rich July and August.  I don't mind the thought of winter coming because that, too, has its unique delights; in fact, the only reason I'm sad about winter's approach is because I think there's no way we'll have such a wonderful winter as we did last year.  Despite the feelings of many locals around here that there was exceedingly too much snow last winter, I loved every bit of it; and if I had my way, we'd have as much, if not more, snow this year.  But in this part of the Shenandoah Valley, snowfall like that is not normal; and I can't imagine that we'd be so fortunate as to get it two years in a row.  And so, I'm a little sad.

But winter is still months away; and when late September days are still warm enough to sweat in, it's hard to think too much about winter.

This afternoon, I took a little walk out to the garden, camera in hand, to see what there was to see.

The flashy cayenne peppers snagged my attention first.  They may be small, but they are bright - and multitudinous!  Jeff has canned bunches of these, but hundreds (thousands?) remain on the plants.  Any of you who live nearby, would you like some?  :)

The tomatoes haven't slowed down much.  Even though the vines look half dead...

...they still produce profusely.  I keep thinking I'm going to can some more, but when will I find the time?

Oh well, even if I don't get any more put up for winter, at least these run-down scraggly vines are providing nourishment for us (since we eat some fresh ones nearly every day)...
...and fun for bare-chested boys who reach for them to eat them straight off the vine.

I found a watermelon still growing in our garden...

...and a little baby cantaloupe.  With this wondrous extended summer, will it have time to reach maturity before frost comes nipping?


One portion of the garden looked like fall had come:  the corn.

No longer green and limber, the stalks and leaves were mostly brown; and they crinkled and crackled in the wind.  No longer sweet and juicy, the kernels were dry and hard, the cobs worthless except to be thrown to the goats or chickens to be gnawed or pecked.

The neighbor's field, which lies between our garden and the patch of forest in the distance, lies bare, stripped of its luscious rows of corn.

(photo by David, cropped and edited by me)

Our scrawny corn still stands, a rattling reminder of summer's fullness.

(photo by David)

We should cut it down, and we will - eventually.  But for now, it lingers...

...just like summer.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The House


~ I took this picture of our home tonight - Sept. 19, 2010

It's been five years.

Our neighbor Wilma reminded me of this tonight as we sat on our driveway and watched our children play badminton in the evening light.  Five years ago today, we moved into this home.  What a wonderful day that was!

And what a wonderful five years it's been.  Although we didn't literally build this house, we have built a home in it, continuing the tradition of lovingly raising a family that my parents began in it.  During these five years, we have experienced life, in all its richness of varying emotions, in this space marked out by these brick walls.  And while we've been here, the Lord has built our house, so to speak, by doubling the number of our children!

Happy anniversary, dear house!  Thank You, Lord, for the blessing that it's been to us; and thank You most of all for Your presence in it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

While Humans Sleep

Night falls.

Quiet.
Dark.
Peaceful.

Humans sleep.

Toy animals awake.

Don't believe me?  Just take a look at what I discovered in the doorway of Tobin's room a few nights ago when I suddenly flipped on the hall light around midnight.
Recognize these fellows?  Maybe a closer look will help.
Why, it's Hermie and Milt and Antonio!  What are YOU doing on top of that gate in the middle of the night?

On second thought, don't answer that.  Maybe I don't really want to know what you're discussing so secretively.  Could it be...

~ Hey guys, follow me!  I know where they keep the chocolate!
or
~ Wormie's asleep.  Wanna smear shaving cream on his cheeks and see if he wakes up?
or
~ The coast is clear.  Come on, and let's make our get-away before anybody finds us.
or
~ Where's that giant they call Tobin Bear?  He's the one who stuck us up here, and we can't figure out how to get down!  HELP!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

And Then My Bubble Went POP!

As a prelude:  Josiah wants it to be known that while he and David and Tobin and Jeff were playing mini golf tonight (Josiah's choice for his Family Night activity), I was using the scorecard, not only to keep score (Josiah was the winner with 54, Jeff came in second with 62, David got 89, and Tobin got the course maximum of 126)  :), but also to scribble notes for this blog post.  That amused him, and he thought it needed to be written down and included with this post.  The scorecard itself, with all my messy, nearly illegible ramblings, will soon be thrown away.  :)

I made the mistake of getting on FaceBook last night.

I'm not on FB, as I've mentioned before; but Jeff is, and he's always very willing for me to sign on through him so I can take a look around and see what's going on with people.  (Just to remove any suspicion that might pop up in someone's mind:  I never do this because I'm worried about his activity, or I don't trust him, or anything like that.  I trust him completely.)

So last night I was on it; and as I clicked from one person to the next in the random spider-webby way of FB, I dealt with my usual thoughts.
~ Oh, she's married?  That's great!
and
~ Wow, look at their kids; they are so big!
but also things like
~ How sad that this person has allowed drinking to be such a big part of his life.
and
~ Oh no, look at that immodesty.  That's shocking.  How can women who claim to be followers of God be so careless when it comes to modesty?

All of those reactions are part of my customary gamut of thoughts when I spend time on FB; but last night as I continued to click around on various people's profiles, I became sadder and sadder.  It seemed like almost everyone I looked at had gone through a divorce...or had babies out of wedlock...or had walked away from God and were living a very secular lifestyle...or had some kind of major difficult issue in their lives.  The thought that ran through my head in a perpetual cycle was, "This is not how it's supposed to be."

I want to be very careful about how I write this because I do NOT want to appear as a self-righteous, compassion-lacking, holier-than-thou snob who pats herself on the back for her good life while spitting on those who lay trembling in the dust around her.  Nothing could be further from my intentions.  I am well aware of a few things:  first, I was only seeing a tiny snippet of people's lives last night on FB, and the impression I was getting of their spiritual condition (as well as their general life condition) may not have been accurate.  Second, God is all about redemption.  He steps into the piles of pig manure that we accumulate in our hearts, and He transforms them.  He can take the young, unwed mother of three who spends her financial assistance from the government on cigarettes and beer, and turn her into a radiant, self-disciplined, Godly woman.  Not only CAN He do that, He LOVES doing it.  Third, the heart-sins of pride and selfishness and anger and greed, etc. are ugly, hateful things to God.  In His years of walking Israel's soil, Jesus came down much harder on the Good Religious People than He did on the "sinners."  Fourth, "there, but for the grace of God, go I."  I have no right--and no desire--to throw stones.

Long before Brandon Heath ever sang it, my beloved friend Maggie Arellano was praying it during our prayer walks together in San Diego:
Give me your eyes for just one second,
Give me your eyes so I can see...
Last night, I felt like, for a short window of time in a very minor way, God gave me His eyes.

It nearly crushed my heart.

As I read black and white letters on the screen and as I gazed at pictures of the faces of people we know and love, my eyes swam with tears and I literally felt sick to my stomach.  So much pain.  So much loneliness.  So much brokenness.  So many injuries.  Such slow healing.  So many scars.

This is not how it's supposed to be.

What grieved my heart the most last night were the families that had shattered--families that we had known years ago.  Families that we saw arrive for church every week, smiling faces, mom, dad, handsome sons, cute little girls.  Families that ate in our home.  Families that prayed with us.  Families that reached out with us to other hurting families.  Children of those families with such promise, such beauty, such innocence, such zeal, such purity.

And then--how does it happen?--a bomb drops, mom and dad decide to divorce, obviously major issues have been there for a while before it's public knowledge, the children have seen and heard and sensed things that have unsettled their world, long before the divorce is final.  There is no way to go through that without ending up scarred.

I don't know what that feels like.  Ever since I was old enough to have a clue about marriage and divorce, I have thanked God that my parents were committed without reservation to their marriage.  I never had to worry about them breaking up, and I realize how rare that was/is.  Even rarer is the fact that my own husband's parents weren't divorced, so he and I have a huge advantage since we both have the example of long-lasting parental marriages to guide and shape and inspire us.  So admittedly I am not speaking from firsthand experience, and maybe I shouldn't speak at all?  But I can imagine how our boys would feel if anything happened to our marriage; and that gives me a tiny, blurry glimpse into how divorce might feel from the inside.

My intention was not to camp on the divorce topic, and I want to repeat my earlier thought about God being a huge fan of redemption.  No matter the suffering and trauma, He can bring beauty out of that.  I truly, truly believe that.  Why?  Because I've seen it happen.

But what really stood out to me last night is that my life, though it sometimes feels demanding as I care for four little ones as well as strive to meet the other responsibilities laid on me, is an amazingly good life.  I live in a nice little bubble, and I like my bubble.  The people I associate with, the friends I'm closest to, even the blogs I choose to read, are by and large very nice little bubbles, too.  I can open the door of my bubble and let these other pleasant bubbles float in because they're all so nice.  Sweet.  Happy.  Striving to please the Lord and live by His standards.  It's so nice.  They encourage me.  I try to encourage them.  We're nice.  Really, really nice.  I'm insulated in my bubble, and...

...it's nice.

Jeff is less insulated than I.  He gets whopped in the face on a regular basis with the fact that we live in a fallen world and there are hurting people all around us.  Sometimes he gets banged in the head so hard that he comes home and tells me about it.  "This person is teetering on the edge, and I'm trying to help, but it doesn't seem to be working, and why did God bring this person into my life if I wasn't going to be effective?  What more can I do to help?"  or  "There was a customer in my chair today who's been married for 22 years, and suddenly his wife decided to leave him, and he's reeling and doesn't know what to do, and my heart breaks for him."  He hears the stories, sees the faces, knows the pain, and realizes that this world is so dreadfully fallen and there are casualties all around.

I realize this, too, of course; but my life is constructed in such a way right now that it's not in my face.  Not until I sit down and click around in FaceBook however.

One of the things that struck me was that the bad stuff was not "out there."  It was "in here."  Here among our circle of friends, here among the people who worshipped with us on a regular basis, here among the people to whom we had poured out our hearts, here among the people with whom we felt as close as to a biological brother or sister.  Not only was it "in here," it was also (in many cases) a consequence of sinful decisions.  The things that were grieving my heart so deeply weren't about people being killed in a car accident or someone's child getting cancer or a family being the victims of criminal activities or a natural disaster causing huge amounts of damage and loss of life.  All of those are undeniable tragedies, and I am not trying to diminish that suffering in the least.  Not at all.  But the specific sorrow I felt last night was for people who had, at one time, been following the Lord, living life according to His principles, growing spiritually, getting their earth-lives together, focusing on the eternal, making a difference in the lives of others...

And then?

What happened?  Why did they turn their backs on that?  I want to speak to each of them.  Gently, quietly, lovingly, urgently, "remember the height from which you have fallen!  Do you want to change?  Do you want to start over?  Do you want to let God transform you and make you new?  He can!  He wants to!  He will!  Please, please, please let Him!"

My voice feels weak, and I'm not sure they'll hear me.  What can I do?  God, what can I do to be Your instrument to reach these hurting ones?  How can I fight, not against these dear ones, but against the dark forces of evil that would love nothing more than to snuff out their lights?

Into my mind comes a post I wrote only a few months after I started blogging.  Prayer as Hospitality was a new concept for me at the time; but now that my heart aches so deeply for old friends near and far with whom I would love to sit down for a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart you-can-cry-on-my-shoulder kind of talk but who live too far away to make that possible...now I realize that yes, prayer is a form of hospitality.  And what's more, it's a tool.  Even more, it's a WEAPON.  As God brings various individuals and families to mind, I can go to war for them by using the weapon of prayer.  I am not as powerless as I felt last night.

I also fight by:
~ pouring love into my children and filling them up, as much as I can, with the fruits of the Spirit
~ showering them with hugs and kisses and words of affirmation
~ making the daily decisions to do the difficult things:  be cheerful when I get up in the morning, keep my voice light and even in spite of my rising frustrations, deal unselfishly with interruptions, peacefully attend to my children's needs even after I've tucked them in for the night and I'm eager for a break
~ doing everything I can to point them in the direction that leads to heaven and to establish their feet firmly in that path (I KNOW each person makes their own decisions in their relationship with God, and I'm under no illusion that I can MAKE my children follow Him...but I want to be faithful to do all that I can to protect their sweet young hearts at this stage of their lives and prepare them for a lifetime of serving Christ)
~ dying to selfishness in my marriage
~ putting Jeff's needs above my own
~ respecting him, building him up, being his biggest fan

Sometimes I fret because my sphere of outreach seems so small.  I'd like to take on the world and change it...but instead I'm changing dirty diapers.  Don't get me wrong:  I love and cherish this phase of life and my role as a stay-at-home mom.  There is NOTHING I'd rather do.  But sometimes (often!) I wish I could do this AND save the world.

But right now, right here, in this tiny speck of earth, I will fight evil by gazing deeply into Shav's eyes as I give him his cereal and I will speak joy and peace and patience over him and into him.  I will punch the forces of darkness in the mouth by not impatiently rushing Tobin as he meanders up the hill from David's soccer game to the car; I will strive to become like a little child and let Tobin lead me into wonder and amazement.  I will deal a harsh blow to Satan's legions as I tenderly pour affirmation and love and respect into my second-born, even when he imitates his little brother's whiny voice.  I will skillfully shoot arrows into the forces of evil as I pause to listen attentively to my first-born and give him the respect that his eight-year-old young-manhood needs.  Now, while my boys are still here at home, I will wrap my arms around them and squeeze them tight, knowing that these are golden years.  As I love them, Satan cringes, and the Father rejoices.

Speaking of the Father... the other thought that I puzzled over last night was, "How does God tolerate this?  How can He bear to see the state of His creation, the people that He loves so very much hurting and broken and sin-stained and degraded?  How can He take it?  How can He allow His heart to be so trampled on all the time?  Why doesn't His holiness cry out, 'ENOUGH!'?"

The answer is simple:  love.

Consider these verses:
Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed...  (Lamentations 3:22)
and
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.  (Ephesians 2:4-5).


We are not consumed.  Me, in my nice little bubble, too often comfortable and oblivious to the slaughter of souls in the world around me--I am not consumed.  The newly-single dad who's trying to pick up the pieces of his life but keeps cutting his fingers on the jagged edges as he reaches down to gather something up--he is not consumed.  The prodigal daughter who cut off ties with home and squandered her wealth and her body on foolish living--she is not consumed.  All those who cry bitter tears and angrily think, "This is not how it's supposed to be!"--we are not consumed.  Each of us can be saved.  Each of us can be made alive with Christ.

Because of His great love...

It's all because of Him.

First Day on the Job

For months before he retired, Dad said he wanted to help in our homeschool. 
To be honest, when he first brought it up, I thought he was just tossing ideas around and wouldn't really follow through with it.  ;-)
I was wrong.  He continued to talk about helping to teach my boys; and when he even started telling other people about it, I realized he must be serious.
Yesterday was his first day on the job.  He made his way up the hill extra early before supper, found his seat in the rocking chair, and helped Josiah and David, each in turn, with math and then with handwriting.  The fact that he, a doctor with typical doctor's handwriting, is helping them with handwriting is the height of irony.  It falls squarely in the Do As I Say, Not As I Do category.  We teased Grandpa that we were going to have to buy a handwriting book for him so that he could practice, too.  :)

After the big boys finished their work and everything was graded, Grandpa turned his attention to the next scholar in line and read stories to Tobin on his lap...and I, having most of my children so constructively and happily occupied, peacefully made the salad for supper.
I'd say Grandpa gets an A+!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

You Might Be a Mom If...

...you really look forward to your lunch of left-overs from the previous night's dinner...but you have to reheat it in the microwave three or four times because as soon as you heat it and think you'll have time to sit down and eat it, someone needs you and you're called away and the food gets cold again.

...you've learned the Mom Trick of drumming up enthusiastic responses in your children by using the term "special."  "David, I have a special job for you!  Will you be Grandma's special helper and carry this pitcher down to her house?" said in a slightly excited, mysterious voice achieves much better results than "David, take this pitcher to Grandma's."  In the same way, asking Tobin in a high, cheerful voice, "Do you want to wear these special wood gloves?" comes across much better than the "You can't go help Daddy with the wood unless you put these on" statement that is likely to elicit a tinge of stubbornness from the two-year-old at your feet.

...you've ever opened your refrigerator and discovered that your toddler has put a Winnie the Pooh bib on the third shelf, right next to the eggs and butter.

...when in a public place, you find yourself repeatedly doing a head count - 1,2,3,4 - just to make sure all your children are still with you and safe.  When you pay attention, you realize that you actually do this approximately every 27.3 seconds.

...your idea of arm exercises is carrying your baby...and a really good workout occurs when you lift your baby in one arm and your toddler in the other...your legs get exercised, not just by the constant running after children that you do, but also by the underdogs you give your children on the swings.

...you can't rest easy until you've tiptoed around to all your sleeping children and checked on them one more time before you--finally--lay your weary body down in your bed.

...your heart aches from the beauty of it all.







Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What the World Needs Is...

...more grasshopper babies???  Apparently so.

I'm no entomologist, but I'd say this amorous couple has babies on the brain.
Although we often see grasshoppers around here during this season of the year, I haven't looked at one closely for a while - have you?  Now that I take the time to inspect them, I realize that they actually look like aliens from outer space.
Regardless of my repulsion, they obviously find each other sufficiently attractive; and even though I find them severely lacking in the cute and cuddly department, I do stand in awe of the Creator God who can think up and make such bizarre creatures.

Of course, in their {bug} eyes, I'm the one who's bizarre.

* Photo credit goes to Jeff, who discovered these loveBUGS hiding out in his hot pepper patch a few evenings ago.

Monday, September 13, 2010

You Were Right, Mark Twain

"I can live for two months on a good compliment."  So said Mark Twain; and the longer I live, the more I see the truth in his words.

Receiving a compliment brings a smile to my face, joy to my heart, and lightness to my step.  It energizes me.  I can be dragging along, wishing that the kitchen full of dirty dishes would magically clean itself; and then out of the blue, Jeff casually remarks, "You're a good writer."  Suddenly I discover energy I didn't know I had, and I'm flying around the room happily scrubbing pots and pans and wiping down counters, tasks that have nothing to do with the compliment Jeff gave me.  Regardless, his compliment was the fuel that got me going.

Or if Jeff says, "You and Josiah have the same kind of humor, you're really good at making him laugh," my willingness to patiently love and tenderly deal with the bedtime I-can't-wait-to-get-these-kids-into-bed-but-they-keep-popping-out shenanigans soars.

One time during supper, Jeff told us about a conversation he had in the barbershop with one of his customers.  Jeff was thinking of my eight-week menu plan and told the man, "Davene knows what we're having for dinner on Tuesday five weeks from now."  The man replied, "Really??  My wife could sure learn from that!"  On hearing that, I was determined to be even more prepared with menus and grocery lists, and thus eliminate the stress that can come from those homemaking tasks.

Here's a recent compliment from Jeff that meant a lot to me.  I love to learn the "secrets" of family living from mothers with large families, because if I can figure out how they handle their eight or eleven or fourteen kids, surely it will be easier for me to handle my four!  After a particularly noisy, tempestuous time with our boys, I was remarking to Jeff, "I think moms of large families have to learn to just let all the noise and crying roll off them like water off a duck's back."  He simply said, "You already do."  I thought, "I do?  You really think I do?  Well then!  I will!  I can do this!  I won't let the crying (that happens every day around here by some child or another...that has, in fact, happened daily for the last eight and a quarter years) get to me and raise my blood pressure.  I'll stay calm.  Jeff thinks I do it, so I will!!"

It's not just compliments from Jeff that feed me, of course.  Even a casual conversation with a stranger can have that effect.  When the waiter in Golden Corral, for example, says to me, "You have the best kids!" it gives me more patience when David is head-down under the table and I have to remind him to sit in his chair and Josiah is asking for someone to go with him to get dessert and I haven't even eaten two bites of my dinner and Shav is making a royal mess on the floor around his highchair with all the food items he's tossing overboard and Tobin is trying to hold his cup ALL BY HIMSELF but forgot that when drinking from a cup with a straw, you're not supposed to tilt the cup or it will spill...  The waiter's offhand comment gives me new lenses to look through, and suddenly I think, "Yeah, they are pretty great kids after all."  :)

These thoughts were rolling around in my head tonight because today, at Josiah's orientation for the Shenandoah Valley Children's Choir (which I will write more about soon, I hope, because it was so amazingly wonderful!), I was so bountifully "fed" by two conversations with people who read my blog.  The first was with Sandy, who years and years ago, taught, along with her husband, my junior high Sunday school class.  That's some history, all right!  Now that I'm all grown up, here I am blogging, throwing words into cyberspace, not knowing that she and her daughter occasionally take time to sit down and click on Life on Sylvan Drive and read those scattered words and see the pictures that show my view of life and learn the nicknames that we give our boys.  (I loved it when they referred to Tobin as Tobin Bear.  It makes it feel like they're part of the family.)  :)  Sandy said, "It's a treat for us to do that."  Really?  A treat?  How honored I am that she would feel that way.  How humbled I am that she wants to know me in this way, that she peeks into my life and finds something worthwhile here.

And then, as Josiah and I were walking out to the van, Evan stopped me, smiled beautifully, and introduced herself as a blog reader.  "You read my blog?"  I thought in surprise.  But I just asked, "How did you find my blog?"  Through her friend Emily, as it turns out.  What a small world.  Again, I was honored and humbled and encouraged and uplifted and filled as a result of Evan's kind words to me.

As I was telling my family about this over our supper of spaghetti this evening, Dad said, "It gives you extra incentive to write, doesn't it?"

It certainly does.  Oh yes indeed, it certainly does.  Thank you, Sandy and Evan, for touching my heart today.  If Mark Twain is right, I should be able to live for four more months, just because of your kindness.  :)

~ For fun, here's a picture of Tobin Bear with a little friend who came to visit recently.  When I saw them like this, I couldn't help but think of another time when Tobin stood and watched from a window.  Such sweeties! It's tough to have to be inside when big kids are outside having so much fun and doing so many exciting things!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Sanctuary

~ My dad took this picture inside Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, before my cousin Matt's wedding.

Did I see Jesus today?  Did I behold His power and glory?

Did you?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Flashbacks...or, David as a Two-Year-Old

Recently I've been trying to find some extra minutes to spend on a never-ending project:  organizing our pictures on our computer.  Our regular computer plods along like a donkey with too-heavy burdens swinging from its sides:  it eventually gets where it needs to go, but the slowness of the ride is apt to drive a person crazy.  Jeff tells me what percentage of our computer's storage space is used up by my pictures; and although I can't remember the amount, I know it's astonishing.  And so I resolve to organize, delete, label, do everything I want to do before Jeff transfers the picture folders into other storage options.  Being a perfectionist in this area, I can't bring myself to say, "OK, have at it.  Just transfer the pictures to a disk and be done with it.  I'll sort through them later."  No, I must have them in perfect order before this occurs.  It takes a while, but Jeff is patient with me.  And our old computer plods along...

The good thing about this is that it is incredibly fun to look through old pictures and be reminded of how things were even a few years ago.  The boys have changed so much.  That isn't profound or original or surprising, but it is oh-so-true.  They've changed SO MUCH, to the point of it being a little bittersweet to even see the old pictures and watch the old movies.  I'm so glad we captured those moments, but could we please just go back and relive them?

I've finished the 2007 folder, and found some videos of David that made me smile...and made my heart ache...and made me laugh...and made me sigh.

First, this is David in January 2007; he was one year and nine months old.  Of course, I think he had impressive rhythm skills for being so young!  :)
video

This was taken two days before David turned two years old.  I'm so grateful that we have a record of how he {so cutely} said the name of each family member.
video

I thought David would never get around to talking.  His "everything" word was "ah-dah," and he used it for...well...everything.  But finally, just before he turned two, his tongue was loosed, and speech began to pour forth.  This video of him talking was taken on May 5, a few weeks after his second birthday.
video

David knew his letters at a very young age.  Even though he didn't say much, he was very good with all the letters; and we even joked that he would be reading and writing before he would be talking.  :)  In this video, he was two years and one month; and he had no trouble matching the letters to their appropriate place on the chart.  He's so smart...
video
...and cute...
...adorable...
...huggable...
...lovable.

A sugarlump of sweetness!

Friday, September 10, 2010

I Saw a Snake...

...and I didn't freak out.  Well, not much anyway.  Maybe just a little bit.  On the inside.  On the outside, I was pretty calm.

This is huge for me.  HUGE.  My (strange, disproportionate, irrational) fear of snakes is well-documented in this blog, so for me to react even somewhat normally to seeing a snake is a major victory.  Maybe it even falls in the category of "Miraculous"!  :)

It happened on Monday--Labor Day--a day of beautiful, sunny weather, just right for a little family outing.  After tossing around various options, we decided to hike Mole Hill as a family.  Despite growing up just a few miles from it, I had never climbed Mole Hill before; and although I've heard Jeff talk about his excursions there, I wasn't familiar with the terrain and the length of the hike.

But we set off optimistically, with our child-carrier backpack that we planned to use for Shav.  I thought Tobin would love the chance to walk and climb and explore and be a little adventurer.  I knew we weren't in a hurry, so if it took him a long time to hike up Mole Hill, it would be fine.  No pressure, no stress, no rush.  Just a nice, peaceful hike with the family.

We set off, with Jeff carrying Shav in the carrier on his back.  I was the cows' tail, bringing up the end of our procession with Tobin close by.

Almost immediately, Tobin asked to be carried.  What's up with that?  Here was his chance to roam freely, and he wants to be carried?  "Oy," is what he says when he wants to be picked up; and "oy" is what I was thinking.  Oh, vey!  How are we going to handle this?  He's much too big and heavy and the climb is much too long for me to carry him in my arms the whole way.  We should have brought the Snugli for Shav and let Tobin use the carrier, but it was too late at that point.  What to do?

Jeff and I were trying to convince Tobin to walk, and Jeff had come back to where Tobin and I were lagging so that Tobin could hold his hand.  We had just completed the hand-off of Tobin from my hand to Jeff's when I saw it.

In the middle of the path, in some grass, exactly where Tobin had just walked, was a snake.

It was so directly in our way that I'm certain that Tobin either stepped on it or extremely close to it.

Just typing this makes me shiver.  It also makes me want to jump up and turn on all the lights in the room so I can look on the floor to make sure there are no snakes lurking about.  What was that about disproportionate, irrational fear?  ;-)

By the time I saw the snake and managed to squeak out, "SNAKE!", Jeff had already gotten Tobin part of the way up the trail; and he told Tobin to keep going, up to where Josiah and David were.  Tobin didn't really make it that far, but he was far enough along that I wasn't worried about him being in danger.  The other reassuring thing is that I could see immediately that the snake had a green stripe down its side; and although I don't know much about snakes (and don't have any desire to learn more!), I was fairly certain it was a harmless garter snake.  Although, as I've written before, I'm not sure how any snake can really be called harmless.  ;-)

At this point, I was thinking that the snake was almost certainly not poisonous...and of course, we weren't going to kill it...and wasn't I doing a good job of dealing with the situation?  There was just one problem:

I was on the other side of the snake from the rest of my family, and I had to get around it somehow.  How to do that?  Get a running start and jump over it as fast and high as I could?  Go off the path into the woods (where there were probably more snakes slithering along) to get around it?  Turn around and go down to the minivan and sit in it until the males in my family finished their hike?  ;-)

Fortunately, My Knight in Shining Armor was there to lend confidence to me, and I think he even said something encouraging, although I can't remember what.  I was able to make a (rather wide) detour around the snake, and then on up the path I went.  My heart was beating a little extra quickly; but in all honesty, my reaction was the most sensible, sane, laid-back response I've had to a snake since we've lived here.  Do you think God arranged for that little ol' snake to be there in the path, just so I would be confronted with it and realize that it wasn't as dreadful as my mind has imagined all snakes to be?

I came home feeling rather good about all of this.  Then I made the mistake of googling "garter snake" so I could make sure that what we saw was one of them.  That was an awful decision.  I could not handle seeing image after image of various snakes, stretched out, coiled, big, small, close-up, far-away, and on and on.  It was horrid, and I began to feel sick.  I did the only sensible thing I could do:  clicked the "x" and got off that screen as fast as I possibly could!

Is it any surprise that for the next two nights, I dreamed about snakes?

For the record, we didn't see any more snakes on the hike...it seemed like a long and hot climb to the top, especially because I was carrying Shav in my arms for most of the way because Jeff was carrying Tobin in the backpack carrier...but the best part was plopping down on the ground--after I checked carefully for snakes, of course--when we finally reached the summit (that makes it sound really high, doesn't it?  it's not) and resting while Jeff peeled some peaches he had brought along in the pocket of the carrier.  He handed them to us, one slice at a time, and the sweet, juicy goodness refreshed me tremendously.

Oh, the other best part was passing the spot where we saw the snake and making it all the way back to the minivan without seeing our little slimy friend enemy.  ;-)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Modern Luxuries

As I traveled up to northern Virginia two days ago, I had lots of time in the car to think.  For the most part, Josiah and David were quietly occupied in the backseat with books; and both Tobin and Shav slept for part of the drive, going and coming.  That gave me time to contemplate all kinds of topics.  Like...

Isn't it amazing that some of the biggest dilemmas we face are all a result of the abundance and freedom and luxury in which we live?  If we had lived one or two hundred years ago, or if we lived now but in a different country, we would probably not ever have to deal with the challenges that seem so pressing in our modern life.  For example...

How much time and energy have I exerted, trying to figure out what to do with all our stuff??  I consider my family to be fairly frugal and not overly concerned about material possessions; but regardless, our closets and dressers are filled to overflowing with clothes, our bookshelves sag beneath the weight of our beloved books, the boys do crafts and write on papers that pile up, their toys seem to reproduce at a staggering rate.  I do not know what to do with all our stuff.  And this is not a unique dilemma:  no, in this day and age in this country, the accumulation of stuff is an epidemic, necessitating the building of more storage units and the writing of numerous books and articles on home management.  Not only are there tragic (shocking!) stories of people who actually filled their homes with so much clutter that they perished in the debris, but there is also a terrible amount of stress that we deal with daily, just because of all our stuff.  This is a direct result of luxury.

Or here's another example:  the abundance of food that we have in this country, resulting in a huge (no pun intended) problem with obesity.  The pioneers didn't have to worry about dieting; in fact, at times, they were just grateful to have anything to eat.  Countless people around the world right now never have to give a second thought to whether to follow the South Beach diet or Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or the Cookie diet (what??).  They don't have to think about the strategy of using a smaller plate so you'll eat less...or leaving a few bites of food on your plate to keep from consuming those calories...or chewing slowly so your body will think you're full sooner.  They don't have to try to figure out how to fit a gym membership into the budget...or time for exercising into the schedule.  How much anxiety is expended in our country because of food choices and weight battles?  Another direct result of luxury.

On a different note, we even live in unprecedented luxury when it comes to the Bible.  Never before have so many Bibles been so readily available to so many people.  If I counted the number of Bibles here in our house right now, I'm sure I could easily get to 50; and that's not even taking into account the incredible resources online that I can access with the click of a mouse.  When I think about the history of the Bible and the people who literally gave their lives for it and the people who right now are living in parts of the world where religious freedom is nonexistent and who would dearly love to have a Bible of their very own, I am stunned by my own lack of gratitude.  I realize, too, that many of the arguments that we spiritually-minded Americans engage in are only possible because of the luxury we have.  Take the KJV-only debate:  does a Christian who lives in China and has never had a Bible care which version is placed in his hands?  Or consider the whole which-church-should-I-go-to quandary:  when Charles and Caroline Ingalls (and so many other pioneers) lived close enough to a town to actually participate in worship services, did they say, "Oh, they're Calvinists.  We can't worship with them."  Of course not!  Apparently, we think our luxury gives us a license to argue and bicker and debate the most minute points of theology.

All of these dilemmas (what to do with stuff, how to lose weight, and which church to be a part of) are a very real part of my life these days.  I'm humbled when I realize that the fact that I even have these dilemmas shows just how luxurious my life really is.

Meanwhile, as I ponder these perplexities, I also stop to appreciate other little luxuries I'm blessed by:

~ a spontaneous picnic lunch in the backyard on a beautiful fall(ish) day

~ putting flannel sheets on the bed for the first time in the fall (well, it's almost fall)...I can hardly wait to go to bed tonight!  :)

~ being able to go to the store and buy cilantro so I can make this recipe, even when the cilantro that we planted in the garden shriveled up and died  :)

I am so blessed, and as I think about that tonight, I feel the weight of it.  What I tell my boys is true:  with privilege comes responsibility.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I've Discovered...

...that acts of service, without words of affirmation, can feel like condemnation.

...that Zane Alexander's advice (that I first read in the days immediately following Shav's birth) is really hard to follow.  In his book Good Lovers Make Great Parents, he writes:
 Start your survival program by refusing to "should" yourself to death.  Refuse to tell yourself that you ought to do such and such.  For one week refuse to say or think the word should....Next, refuse to set up any goal for yourself as a parent other than survival...Your only goal is to survive one day at a time.
...that it's far easier to extend grace to others than to give it to myself.  (Your laundry has piled up terribly, but instead of working on it this morning, you cuddled on the couch and read stories to your boys?  Oh, well, that's fine!  Your children grow up so fast, and the laundry will always be with you.  It's good that you focused on time with them this morning. - easy to say this to someone else, hard to accept it myself.)

...that even a "little" thing like excema on my hands can be incredibly discouraging.

...that even when I feel like I've got "failure" stamped all over me, His compassion never fails and His mercies never stop.  But I do have one question:  if I've already gone through today's allotment, can I tap into what's waiting for me tomorrow morning?  I still have over seven hours left in this day, and I'll be in a heap of trouble if I can't find some extra dose of grace by which to be renewed!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Some Friends Are Like That

On my agenda for today was a long-anticipated, worth-the-long-drive-with-four-boys trip to The Other Virginia.

No, I'm not talking about West Virginia.  The Other Virginia is Northern Virginia.

I tell ya one thang, Sonny, us real Virginyuns down here in the Shenandoer Valley are diff'rent than them thar city folks.  But we shore loves 'em anyways.  They can't help it they've gotta live up thar in the North, bless their little hearts.

Now let me suppress my countrified self (sometimes it slips out when I'm not lookin') and try to speak properly again so I can explain that one of my college roommates lives in the wilds of Northern Virginia, on the outskirts of D.C., and today she hosted a gathering of us five women who lived together during our last two years of college.  I could not have asked for a better group of roommates from college days; they were wonderful then, and they're even better now.  I eat up my time with them with a spoon--and always wish for more.
And now, thirteen years removed from college graduation, the next generation is being brought forth:  Dori and Maria are both pregnant, and Jackie just gave birth to sweet baby Nyah.
Despite having a new baby to care for, Jackie opened her home to us and warmly welcomed us for our informal reunion.  After lunch on her back patio, we walked a few blocks to get to a small creek, a wonderful place for our children to expend some energy.  Did you know they have criks in Northern Virginia, right in the middle of the 'burbs?  'Cept they don't know what they're talkin' 'bout and call 'em "creeks."  Speakin' of don't-know-what-they're-talkin'-'bout, what in tarnation are 'burbs anyway?  Is that somethin' you study in school?  Like nouns, adjictives, and 'burbs?  Or maybe it's someone who can't talk right trying to say birds?  Like "we gonna go burb huntin' after chores today"?
Speaking of children, between us, we have seven boys...and one girl.  Little Nyah needs some company, I think.
You know how, with some friends, you can go for months without seeing each other or talking, but once you're together, you pick up easily without missing a beat?
Some friends are like that.
You know how, with some friends, when you're together, time zooms so fast, and it seems like you've only had time to blink and say hello...and then suddenly, four hours have gone past and you have to get ready to leave and say goodbye so you can avoid the rush hour traffic...and you think, "But there was so much more I wanted to ask and say!  We've only scratched the surface!"?
You know how, with some friends, you have so much history together......and even when you don't talk about it, you all remember how someone attempted to break into your house and how you nervously armed yourselves at night with kitchen knives and hairspray bottles...

...and how the washing machine flooded the basement, ruining boxes of a certain elementary education major's precious children's books...and how the garage door broke, and you tried to fix it...and who you dated (or wanted to, but didn't...or did, but didn't want to)?
You know how, with some friends, your relationship can survive the stress of living in very small quarters...
...and each having her own milk (because you thought it would be too much trouble to share and divide the cost equally because, oh dear, someone might drink more than others) in the very small, very overcrowded refrigerator...
...and each having her own dishes and bread and cereal and everything in the very small kitchen in the college apartment?
And how, with some friends, you can learn to laugh about the fact that one roommate was always on the phone (back in the days of one landline in the apartment) talking to her boyfriend in California and nobody else could use the phone...
...and one roommate's room was so messy that no one wanted to share a room with her (and how could she find any of her papers anyway?)...
...and one roommate left cups of hot tea all over the house and boiled eggs and chicken legs on the stove all the time?
You know how, with some friends, you always feel welcomed and loved and safe, no matter how vehemently you argued in college days about the Trinity and women's roles and the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Some friends are like that.
Yes, indeed.  The very best friends are exactly like that.