Monday, December 17, 2012

Living with Answers

It has taken years for me to settle into my skin, but as I do I find joy.

Approaching my 28th birthday means a step into being happier with who I am and that much more free of all the qualities I may not be destined to be.

I find I'm always struggling to answer certain questions.  Should I work or should I stay at home with my child/ren?  How do I reasonably achieve balance in my very hectic life?  How can I preserve and nourish my faith in environments which don't appear designed to do so?  And often my focus on these questions has me tormented to levels that I will likely find laughable in my 30's.  Or at least I hope there's some sort of positive take away from it all. Because if not, that's a lot of fruitless torture.

In 2013 I want less searching and more responding to the answers I've already been given. Answers like...

I know that the likelihood of my husband and I being happy with each other rises and falls on whether the dishes are clean but will appear as something else... like our ongoing argument on whether it is dish towels or paper towels which are the superior option for cleaning our kitchen.

I know if I miss Mass and find excuses to busy myself away from Reconciliation my soul feels so very dark.

I know that on any given day regardless of my job description, I can still make innumerable happy choices to read one more book to my son, to encourage him to laugh, and to help him form habits of a healthy mind and spirit--by picking up his blocks and saying excuse me after he fake burps at the dinner table in front of our guest.

I don't need to ask what the perfect job is for me or where it will lead me.  But I do need to write.  It is my charism, no matter how untrained or unread or unwilling.

I know that sacrifice is a good thing, something I need to embrace and resist much less.

I don't need to ask for the perfect way to be a wife.  My husband has told me over and over again.  He wants to engage in deep conversation, question the cosmos, argue, debate, reach for truth.  That answer has been in my hands for years. And I think he said something about playing one or more of those XBOX games too.

I already know how painful it can be to be an introvert, how uplifted I feel when I am making soup, and how alive I am when I know that the people around me are cared for and loved.  I know that a walk around the block is better than any long held intention to reclaim a runner's body and I'm aware that if I don't take the trash outside and leave it rather in our garage, gangs of mice will overlord that place where we use to park our cars and of which I now have sweaty nightmares about.

Living in response to the many answers already provided is sometimes just no fun .  Actually, that's why, despite the torture, asking the questions is such an easier task.  Responding to the answers means fixing the shoddy paint job in the bathroom which has my proverbial signature all over, working on the blasted budget even when I'd rather take a Saturday nap, and pulling out the video camera to capture whatever it is that this life is right now.

I have faith that my soul will find rest in Christ.  In responding to what is at my feet, He will shed light on what I need to know when I need to know it.  And in the end, I can at least say I took out the trash.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Matters Most

I step up. This platform feels stiff. I am weary of another surge to get in shape but start by cue of lunging mechanics. Music whispers clamor within my ears.

I watch below me the blurring of my black and bright pink tennis shoes as they swish back and forth past each other, swallowed into the grips of the treadmill. 

I press my finger hard into the green arrow and move in place faster, urging my mind toward decisions, to do lists, projects, and books read, unfinished, untouched.  My body balances itself.  My knees ache from time spent away from exercise of any form.  My feet clumsily stomp in the direction of clarity.

Gentleness bubbles up to my brain.  It washes over my intensity. I close my eyes and reclaim myself.  I pace steady and breathe methodically.  Airy ringlets of my hair find my face and land on my open mouth.  My stomach turns as I remember my power.  I twist my hips and open my posture.  I pierce the space in front of me with my searching eyes.

I’m terrified I’m not living this one life in wild pursuit of what matters most. 

My arms lengthen.  My speed picks up.  My stride widens and my legs reach far in front, glide happy far back. My freckles dance on my exposed arms. I feel alive.

And this is the answer to my prayers lifted. The littles. The stringing of moments and breathing gratitude for all that’s already here.   

The harmony of chicken noodle soup. The way my sink washes white after its bath in Soft Scrub.  My heart beating into a song.  The sparkling of my wedding ring under high lighting. My son’s imaginary bat’s random disappearances.  The warmth of a scarf. The taste of pumpkin bread and the communion of family. The opportunity to serve my husband with a glass of water, a peppered egg, a kind response. Also, my freckles.

God made me a thinker. To enjoy life amid unanswered questions is a tenuous task.  My seriousness sinks as I breathe into simplicity, as I spring forward for the beauty of this life’s surface.

To think, to question, to pursue a higher good, a better stage as mother and teacher and wife—this is all good, but it can never overcome the tenacity of a life well lived in the physicality which surrounds us.

The laugh of a friend.  Fall’s generosity of color: gold, cherry red, tangerine.  A game of Scrabble. A glass of wine for no particular reason.  The cool walk through a dark night downtown.  Huddling around a bonfire.  Bruschetta spooned upon broiled bread. Front porch conversation.  Candles humbly glowing in the corner of church. Light sprawling fierce on hardwood.

I’m in pursuit of what matters most in this one wild and precious life

Me patient with my son’s potty training. The pause before I speak. The cleaning of my car before my husband murders me. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Quick Takes

There will be nothing deep or moving or inspirational or vulnerable or anything like that in here.  Just in case you thought I had both guns blazing, fully loaded for an emotional blast. Nope, not here. Not now at least.
Yep.  These quick takes are void of serious thought because all the serious has been sucked right out of me.  This new job has me exhausted on so many levels. It's insane. And yet normal as new jobs go, I guess.

It is never a good idea to bring your two year old to work with you.  Never.  He just wasn't able to keep up with my sophomores. It was disappointing.

My husband has been in London for the past two weeks.  I would like to think that I do fairly well in his absence.  When his business trips take him away from home from a Monday to a Friday--well, those are easy.  In fact, I get some stretch room.  I do a little extra thinking, pondering, writing, scheming in his absence, the introvert that I am.  That did not happen this trip.  Every day during this absence I've wished so badly to talk with him, to laugh with him, and to feel that camaraderie of husband and wife lording over serving their child. But, vent session over, he's coming home this weekend!!! I'm thrilled. I even used three exclamation points as if to trump any protocol on grammar/normalcy/theEnglishlanguage. See. I did it again. That excited.

The library keeps calling me to let me know books are being held for me.  I got what you want. I keep ignoring the library like the clingy ex-boyfriend that it is.  I got what you need. 

Oh, except for starting Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts which is quite the pleasant surprise as far as post-modern Christianity and authentic voice are to be had.  Have you read it?

Thomas's language has exploded. I can't believe all I hear from him.  He asks so many questions, is using an array of prepositions, and has a sense of humor.  Every day is a delight! We engage in mini-conversations, as contorted they may be.  I love having evidence of how his brain, his memory works. This is the part of parenthood I dreamed about when I was pregnant. This little inquisitive person stage is absolutely my favorite. 

I love our after dinner walks.  My brain needs a reboot [or three] when I get home.  I've been switching up our routines here and there to create more order, peace, and happiness in our home.  Walking, or some form of outdoor outing, is making its way into prime time. 

My son is quite the gentleman what with all his proper posture and all.

My dishes are calling.  

Happy weekend to you!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Twenty four hours, give or take a few, has cut the melodrama from my working mom home with a sick kid  charade.  It was yesterday that I received, amid a reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, a pink slip from the attendance office decorated with a scrawled "Your son is very sick. Please call..."

In typical Ashley fashion, passing the baton-o-teaching to the substitute was difficult. I had to beat into submission all those content details which would not have a chance to surface that day.  I had to veer my class into a path of moderation, just enough 'English' to earn a happy check mark in all things public school holy.

The pediatrician's schedule was packed to the brim.  So was her partner's.  My conversation with the receptionist ended with this note:

Me:  "I know I've been to the Urgent Care center, but could you explain where that is to me?"
Receptionist: "Sure.  Just turn right onto Primrose, and you will see the Turner Center behind..."

My brain's fuzzy remembrance of this place was legitimized five minutes into our visit.  And if it was legitimized five minutes in, at the two hours and fifteen minute mark it was carved into stone and placed, retroactively, next to the Ten Commandments as some sort of bonus necessity of soul survival.  Thou shalt not murder.  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.  Thou shalt erase all memory of the Pediatric Urgent Care from one's memory in order to preserve one's sanity.

While redundant to mention there were sick kids everywhere, let me mention this: there were sick kids everywhere in that waiting room, the majority of whom fell into the following categories a.) unsupervised b.)  b.) had a poopy diaper  c.) wandering aimlessly or d.) unsupervisededly wandering around as if to promote a trail of poopy diaper stench to circulate waves of disgust throughout the room for randomized, lingering intervals of time.

My sensibility to relinquish control fell into place yesterday. Or it was yanked from me.  Not sure which one. Regardless, it's this loss of control which reminds me what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a mother.

What a powerful prayer to live out, as mom or dad, a string of interruptions---lovingly.  Honestly, I've fought it since I kissed Thomas his first unspoken hello.  I have days, sometimes a whole week, wherein it's a happy task.  Those chunks of willful, consistent selflessness seem to come in longer, stronger waves as time edges forward.

But it is still difficult to give of myself--without excuse or hesitation or sighs or a mind doing the dishes in the kitchen while playing puzzles at his side.  This loss of self, however, is a gift of the greatest kind.  Less of my towering righteousness and pride, less of my clutch on autonomy, less of my isolation--it builds bit by bit a vessel of peace, somehow, within me.

Thomas was curious about our nurse when she came into the room. He asked her, "Doctor?"  In interpreting for her, I coached him to use her name first and then ask her the question as a sentence.  Chunked into parts, he repeated, "Irma, are you a doctor?" He looked curious as she described her role as nurse.  A few minutes later, the doctor did come through the door, and as clear as could be from Thomas came, "Are you a doctor?"

Even a two year old knows the equation for feeling better.  Doctor = Medicine = Happy.

I trust in God's doctoral plan, his beautiful design for me as a woman.  I was formed to love and care for children, to be both interrupted by them amidst my gathering of good and encouraged by them in their happy finding of it.

Today I write here and smile awkwardly at the laptop as I finish this blog post thinking of all the very un-poopy-diaper-on-a-random-kid-who-just-touched-me kind of relinquishing of control.  Today was a happy loss of control.  Time slowed down and ushered in some gentleness this morning.  Cleaning. Choosing positive thoughts.  Play-doh party wherein I was gifted with a "birthday cake". Probing Thomas's mind.  And a 101 of Puzzle Heaven, instructed by Mr. Thomas who insists his one rule is that we "do it together."

Yep, that's what I'm thinking too.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Am Not an Island

There have been seasons of my life when I've allowed a mixture of pride and introversion to isolate me. That island is no more.

When we are put in a difficult situation and find ourselves instinctively reaching out for the rescue boat, this reinforces, by grace, that our ultimate purpose in this life is anchored in our connections with others.

One of the [five] classes on my schedule is taught by myself and two other teachers in my [tiny] classroom.  I was a hair shy of losing sleep this summer because I was anxious about co-teaching with just one individual. Now, I light up when I see my co-teaching peers step inside my room. The necessity of allowing less of me to make way for a greater good of more help for our students--it's wonderful!

This new role is presenting opportunities for growth I didn't anticipate.  Meeting new administrators, teachers, students, and parents has my mind frantically processing new ideas, new emotions, new connections.  I'm going deep into my well of empathy.  I'm reshaping some previously held notions about what it should look like to teach reading and writing.  I'm penning a new definition of "good disciplinarian."

Of course I call my mom and make myself vulnerable for advice with my husband and reach out to friends.  But I'm seeing this immersion into the unknown is a liberating kind of existence... which says to me things like: take risks, embrace opportunity, go where you are no friend, daughter, or wife.  The open-mindedness required of me and this output of growth has me giddy about more experiences which could kick me out of my comfort zone.

I am not an island. I am not perfect. I am not always right.

And I thank God that in the past two weeks I've seen those windows of perfection, righteousness, and isolation shatter and fall before my eyes.

What a beautiful sight!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Time for Growth

I remember an aerobics class so challenging [for me] in college, it paralyzed my abs for three days afterward. When I was in that class, I would go delirious from the combination of difficulty meets exercise balls which had me looking altogether awkward, confused, and out-of-shape.

I've been either training for or working in my new position as teacher within a new school for the past two weeks.  The growth required of me has startled my immune system into freak out hibernation mode; I've been sick for over a week straight.  And let me say something to highlight the true meaning of sickness in relation to my job.  There is little more important in working with students than quick mental response which is the one thing exactly which decided to hitch-hike its way out of my sick body over a week ago.

I'm growing in a number of ways.  In just the past week, I've requested one-one-one mentoring for co-teaching, teaching ELL students, and new ways to discipline.  I've felt the heartache of missing my former staff and students, and I've been intentionally receptive in gleaning advice, humor, and camaraderie from my new staff.  I'm finding new ways to think of how my husband and I divide our duties and our times, respect each other's responsibilities, and keep grounded in what's important.  I've ushered in humility and silenced myself so that I could think outside the box of what has been and explore new ways to teach, connect, learn, and operate in all my roles as a woman.

This move to a new job was important. But that has little to do with how easy or difficult it has been.  Sometimes, we must take risks for what we value and forge ahead into the unknown.

The familiarity of our former lives beckons us back into safety, and we can waste a lot of time and energy in that mode.  As parents, husbands and wives, daughters and sons, and so forth we must plant our feet firmly where we are and allow great depth to happen there.

There is a time for everything: celebration, sadness, weeding, solitude, companionship, love, mourning, joy.  Right now growth is my season, and I'm not longing for all the other seasons that will surely, unquestionably arrive later.  I'm cognizant that, just as I look back and cherish my time of support, ease, and happiness at Sparta School District, I will also one day look back to this "new job" time in my life and smile at how wild and wonderful it was to grow so very, very much.

*Photo courtesy of

Friday, July 20, 2012

Quick Takes

I can't put into words my adoration of Downton Abbey.  That's why, when perusing Hulu Wednesday night in an attempt to numb myself to sleep on the couch and finding that the second season of Downton Abbey was available for viewing, I forewent words and squealed a loud, foreign sound similar to that of a teenage girl finding One Direction serenading her at the front doorstep.

Watching Downton Abbey has me yearning for a different sense of womanhood.  The love story of Matthew and Lady Mary wound by the allegiance to unforgiving virtues whispers in my soul a conversion to greater modesty, respect, and poise.  The show has me searching for new heights of femininity which I will likely follow up with a copious amount of reading and pithy actual change in my daily living. 

This morning, after debating whether a trip to Lowe's deems a shower necessary or not, I made an impulse decision to jump in the shower. I figured I could be quick and that I didn't need to secure/confine/white jacket my son in order to do so in peace.  However,  there was a silence when I stepped out of the bathroom, one that had me searching through the house in nothing but my bath towel.  While I should have been concerned about a possible neighborly sighting due to many opportunities for window exposure, I was focused on Thomas's safety...and the can of white paint which I spent thirty minutes trying to open earlier with every conceivable tool in our house.  A toddler has a way of sniffing out smashing impossibilities or excavating ancient paint cans their mommy has unsuccessfully attempted to open.  I spotted a splash of water on the entry room rock floor and my eyes shifted up to see in split second motion picture fashion an open front door, a garden hose gone wild, and a blur of a toddler wearing nothing but his diaper and a grin. 

The actions which followed were horrifying.  Me hiding behind a wall and hissing begs at Thomas to retreat inside.  Me sprinting to my room for clothes.  Me sprinting back to the living room because my bra was where I had left in that night I watched Downton Abbey wee into the night.  Me sprinting back to my room for clothes, 2nd attempt.  Me running out of the house to chase down a toddler, my eyes darting arrows of frantic madness and yet also thinking, "Do I have clothes on?" as a neighbor drove by and I politely waved so as to retain a semblance of normalcy.

This escaping toddler incident illuminates the stark contrast between me dreaming for a supremely feminine life and me celebrating a shower which doesn't invite chaos into my home.

Oh, and that 1st QT about me numbing myself to sleep.  No worries.  That was just because my husband was out of town.  He's back now, so there won't be any more willful adherence to television marathons.  Instead, we do this routine where I tell Paul every detail of my day, and the new evolution of my goals, and the progress on my project list and so forth until the point where I ask Paul a question and he musters a "huh?", "yuh", or a "hmm", and I decide I should stop talking and go to bed. 

Earlier this summer I posted about the ridiculous mantra all or nothing.  I'm still trying to put this into practice because I think, in appropriate instances, it can be a very healthy mindset.  My happiest moderation find has been taking a stroll around the neighborhood after dinner.  I don't put on a sports bra or tweet my mileage or push myself to a heart rate of any extreme.  The fresh air and the quietness is enough to reward me for an action so minimal.

If you haven't checked out Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary, the hostess of Quick Takes, you should.  She's equal parts helpful and hilarious.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No Excuses + An Imagination = Happy Parenting

It was the toothpaste incident that did me in today.  I had just decided that I wasn't being totally productive or wildly motherly and that I needed to get my butt in gear and stop moping around about Paul being in a different time zone ... and stop fretting the fact I haven't had access to my new classroom yet... and so on with slimy excuses for today's sub-par performance as Mommy when I walked in the bathroom and found a toothpaste bath in the sink.

A plastic toy figurine which closely resembles a bull and a gummy pink ant Thomas "earned" at Chuck E Cheese's last Saturday night were having a toothpaste hangover.  How I had missed Thomas sneaking around, with his very logical fascination of switching over to "adult" toothpaste, I just don't know.  Whenever the shenanigan, I had to save Bull and Helicopter [Thomas's name for the ant; I kid you not] from their fate of suffocating white.

And when I said the incident "did me in" I don't mean to be misleading.  You know, "doing one in" sounds like a shutting down, tuning out, or a big scream fest of, "YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! SERIOUSLY! I'M GOING CRAZY IN THIS HOUSE!" Yeah, luckily, it was none of those things.

Instead, a new level of determination found its way to the surface of my thoughts. 

As a teacher, I've heard every excuse in the book from students, parents, and teachers.  Teachers complain that Student A plays too many video games and Student B never does her homework and Student C is going to fail this class and just take summer school. It's easy as a teacher to listen in and nod an agreement, throw in some sympathy, and even add to the conversation with a similar frustration. I've done that many, many times. The problem is that in focusing in on so much negative [the majority which can be grounded in a degree of truth] is that in doing so we are prone to lose an inexcusable amount of time and energy which would be better spent creating solutions. Understanding our realm of power and control liberates us from grasping why others' aren't better utilizing their own. We must immediately follow our statements with action: Change a policy. Try another approach. Be honest. Schedule a conference. Ask good questions. Research. Model.  Preach less.  Utilize every minute.  

As a parent with just two and a half years under my belt, I'm finished re-learning the necessity of not allowing excuses.  I'm over being stuck on reasons why I'm not XYZ or doing XYZ.  I refuse to let myself slip into a land of only ifs.  [Only if I was a) creative b.) thrifty c.) extroverted  d.)  the type of Mommy who pins projects on Pinterest AND actually does them]. I don't want to miss one more minute of my son's life to an excuse-ridden type of partial presence. So, I'm allowing no more excuses.  At the first sight of the little energy-sucking thieves, I'm popping back with a, "So yeah. You're right. Now what are you going to do about it?"

Parenting is tough stuff, but I've recently acquired a skill which transforms me into something of a pro in the finesse of mental toughness. My imagination. Well, I'm working on it at least. Thomas watches on in awe of my Imagination Apprentice role, likely because he knows his Mommy typically operates on the imagination level of a squirrel.   He harbors excitement as I work out an impromptu dinosaur family sketch, tell another "Once upon a time there was a little boy named Thomas" story while I cradle him in my arms, and awkwardly participate in vague imaginary enterprises where I see invisible things in our house and quickly convince Thomas they're really there before I lose interest.  

Imagination is critical in parenting.  The entertainment of child element is helpful for starters.  Yes, stuffed animal meetings, naming of toys as if your life depends on it, and other nonsense you so desperately wish you had a script for is all very good for the health and well-being of your growing little mini-me who is gaping at the horror of you pairing Hellicopter and Spider as playmates when you should know dang well they don't go together, Mom!

But even greater, an imagination is of paramount usefulness in life, something even more than the decree of No Excuses! When we say we won't let ourselves grow weary in our roles as employee, parent, Christian, spouse, or ____________ [fill in the blank] and so won't allow excuses, we have to spur on our imaginations to fill in that gap.  Our imaginations must provide for us a vision of a five year old, a joy-filled marriage, a size 4 pair of jeans strutting its stuff into work, and for me as of late, a garden with an upswing of things more so living than dying.

I'm thinking this equation of No Excuses + Imagination (in the vein of: this stuff I'm doing is really, actually working even when it doesn't feel/seem/look like it) should day by day allow for happier parenting.  I was having a good time already what with all my V.I.P invites to Thomas's room for jigsaw puzzles and reading to an audience of carefully lined up dinosaurs, witnessing Thomas ask strangers, "What your name is?" and hearing him follow-through the conversation with info about his name as "Thomna", but I'm wanting something better than just a good time. 

I want to be what I saw in my Mom the other day when she visited us.  In asking her some question or other about Dad being on the road for a week as a truck driver while she was at home with four little ones and listening to her warm response about truly enjoying all the time she had with us and seeing the honesty in her eyes when she said it, I sensed that's a little different than me consciously holding back from screaming things like, "YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! SERIOUSLY! I'M GOING CRAZY IN THIS HOUSE!"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Trimming Down

A little over a week ago a storm offered great relief to the stifling string of hot temperature days.

It also brought a limb down from one of our two huge beloved front yard gumball trees.

This image at first stole my breath. Then, in the midst of the tail end of the storm, our neighbor and Paul side by side sawing and stacking branches, it offered a chance for me to further appreciate the kindness of those both to the right and to the left of our cozy lot. Later, as I surveyed the [previously unseen] rot and rippling effect of damage at the center of the tree, something told me that we were dealing with an issue much greater than 60 mph winds or a limb which was torn in a way that would require professional help to remove it correctly.

There was something bigger here. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but that knowledge was at the pit of my stomach even after Paul met with the tree removal crew and held high hopes the tree would be largely saved.

Two days ago, I watched through the generously clear windows of our living room as the crew quickly and fiercely trimmed, hoisted, sawed, and hacked my charm of a tree into the most pathetic eyesore I've ever seen. Thomas and I, shocked, watched the neighbors drive by gawking, eyes enormous as they held onto their steering wheels and remained just conscious enough of the road as to not completely drive off into the ditch.

I won't show you that side of the tree. It's so bad I don't have the heart to take a photo of it.

Here's what we see just off our porch, a sight we're told "will look much better in two years".

It was as I expected. Something was wrong, and it needed to be fixed, amended, tended to in a way that would, for now, drop our property value, transform our yard into --what's this???-- a sunny spread, and make us also gawk and hold onto our steering wheel as we pulled into our driveway from the street.

The tree was damaged long ago.  Its center never grew properly.  For years it continued to branch out, bear fruit, and offer a sense of comfort, protection, and let me tell you Heaven for the residents who have chronologically shared ownership of this house.  Although it appeared strong, bold, and healthy, it was only a matter of time before its mangled core gave up and let its weight down.

My response to this tree episode has been a mixed bag. As if I don't think about death enough, this further entertained my anxieties about mortality. The trimming of the tree has also had me pondering what sin can do to the center of our lives and how even when we bear copious fruit afterward, that damage can still bring us, or parts of us, down. The tree has helped me remember that life can be so often confused by the security of physicality, even when that physicality comes in something not artificial like that new purse or stylish pumps, but even in the purity of a beautiful tree. And in a simple straightforward response to the tree, I've got field guides on my mental list of buy this next! I want to walk the streets of my neighborhood and be able to know each tree by name in light of a greater hope to be more attentive to both the people and things which have been entrusted to me.

Sometime last week in between the moment of "Oh my, a limb fell down" and the day of "Oh my gosh, there goes our tree, Thomas!" some gratitude came to settle in my heart.  I welcome yet another way to accept Jesus's message to travel lightly, to cast off our belongings, and to simplify our lives in light of a greater joy than the false security of material possessions.

If Paul and I were tree geniuses and we had chosen to look past the great shade and beautiful green stretches of the gumball tree, we could have taken note that the tree was leaning to the left.  We could have ultimately addressed the problem before the problem addressed us. However, either scenario would have ended similarly: a trimming down.

Life is just the same. I can choose to take note of a call to simplicity, trimming down for the long term mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health of my soul. 

Or, I can wait for the storms of this world to rip me from my core.

Monday, July 9, 2012


This morning I decided to nestle a project in between the mindless laundry sorting and the also mindless dish duty.  I pulled our overflowing "Look Book" from the shelf in our sun room and plopped down on the carpet for business.

I had been in the zone of housewifery, and so the concept of sorting and stuffing previously ripped out magazine pages into the binder appeared nothing more exciting or spirit-lifting than tossing one of Thomas's toys back into his room for the one millionth time since he's been born.

And at first it wasn't.  I went about it like I do with most of my housework: moving appendages, responding to Thomas in interim sessions, and thinking on autopilot about what we've got to do today come Hell, high water, or a heat index of 108. But then I ran across those scones I forgot I had so longingly torn from the pages of Southern Living... and the recipe for apple-butter I had requested and had been granted from a co-worker...and that girl's lavender room that I swore to myself I would recreate should I ever be blessed with a sweet little baby Anderson girl.

I thumbed through the binder after mentally crossing off the task of revive Look Book. Brightly colored toss pillows on neutral sitting room furniture.  The perfect pot roast.  A plan for making the most of a small garden  space. The how-to for emergency kits.  Creating an inviting space for guests. Variations on our already white kitchen.  Creative lighting. Backyard sprawling lounges edged by gorgeous greens.

I felt sparks of creativity ignite inside of me, and I felt a tangible sense of gratitude for all things creative Paul and I have found a way to make time for.  Namely, we've cooked a lot. We're great at taking up space side-by-side, and finding some sort of tandem rhythm, even if it is typically me playing sous-chef to his authority.

But when I put the Look Book back in its spot on the shelf, I went right back to work.  Without those little details of laundry, dishes, wiping off the counters, there's just no room for creativity.

Today, there was no hoisting of chandeliers or ripping open of fun packages shipped from Ikea.  I didn't finally decide on a paint color for the laundry room and hightail my creativity-igniting-self over to Sherwin-Williams, slap down my ripped out page from Southern Living, and declare, "I want your Eggshell White. I want it now. And I won't take no for an answer!"

Today, I made appointments to fix the Vue's front windshield [cracked by a suicidal bird over 6 months ago] and the side panel [which chose to jump ship earlier this year on a particularly windy drive I made across the state].  I looked up how to remove a decal from a mailbox properly. I organized my Google Drive.  I walked through Lowe's researching project prices and looks and made decisive mental notes: 1) I know next to nothing about plants 2) That is unacceptable.

The only physical evidence that my creative genius is making things happen in our home is the thirty-nine cent cover I screwed into what was an uncovered electrical outlet in Thomas's room.  I don't know what kind of light that holds to building a tree house big enough to house a sleepover, designing a guest room fit for the Queen of England, or making eight variations of a scone just because, but I'm guessing it's pathetic.  Just as pathetic as it would have been for me to be whipping up a batch of scones while Thomas plays Operation with the gaping hole in his wall.  

Well, that's life.  Sometimes, we get piles of pathetic and sometimes we get crazy freak flags of creativity.  

Tomorrow, I'm planning on getting all pathetic up in this joint for the second day in a row.  I've got a date with that decal, and I'm not going down without a fight.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Quick Takes

Our 4th of July was a turn of events I should really share with you.  For now, I've got this deceiving photo that would make you think that the day was a grand parade of relaxation and joy. In reality, this photo documents the brief moment of the night when we weren't entrenched in what will be referred to as "that one time the Andersons made us do all their prep work for those [insert expletive] tacos."

Just to explain why my sister and I are sporting our Americana gear on the streets of my neighborhood, we all had to take a walk around the block due to the intensity of Independence Day Taco Night 2012. That, and the insides of our home were still cased in smoke from those homemade tortillas.  Our walk was just another way to offer entertainment to my neighbors who are collectively two generations up from us and often worry through their windows when we let our toddler run around nearly naked in the front yard or do things like this, flaunt our American heritage in broad daylight. 

I'm in the thick of a reading frenzy, and I'm not sure how to back myself out of the 12 holds I have on my library account. Unfortunately, I can't keep up this pace when I'm busy whipping up lesson plans and grading student essays, particularly at the beginning of the school year when I make a clean cut from summer.  The 1st week of August I will perform the shortest walk of shame ever. The twenty feet from my car door to the library drop box, with several unread books cradled in my arms, I will mourn and curse the close of summer. 

Here we are in Target. Rather, here is Thomas in Target playing with one of many toys he is allowed to "test" but not take home.  I offer this photo as public evidence that I can sometimes lack creativity as a mom. Case in point, this week alone we've climbed through McDonald's play place [but didn't eat there], visited Barnes & Noble's Thomas the train table [and didn't purchase a book there], and perused the aisles of Target [only to kindly put back the tested toys].  

This morning I met some Catholic moms at a nearby parish for Mass and the Holy Rosary.  While I'm not shy by any means, I'm very introverted, and meeting new people can be so exhausting for me. That exhaustion can also be compounded by factors like the size of the group, intense personalities, and the likelihood of my  toddler ingesting a foreign object while I'm mentally cradling my introverted need to crawl back into my cave home for processing time.  However, this morning wasn't any of those things.  It was wonderful.  

I reorganized my office closet this week. Wait, no. That's completely wrong. Let me start over. --- I organized my office closet this week.  I also took before, during, and after photos to share but have now decided against doing so. Here's the thing.  You could look at the after photo and be really excited for me that I was able to create such a great system, but really you would just walk away horrified with the image burned in your memory of my before photo, a poster child of organizational neglect and abandonment.  

To satisfy your curiosity, yes, I did find random objects in my previously one-hot-mess closet.  Highlights of randomness include: a rogue animal cracker, a coin purse somehow glued shut, two sets of kid paints of which I had not one remnant of remembrance buying, a card I wrote out to a friend a year ago and never sent, a chopstick, and a baby bottle nipple. The coin purse was one of the biggest scores during that project session.  After I cut it open, pennies spilled forth, a coincidental and yet offensively disappointing tip for taking care of business around the house. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Stay at Home Steam of Consciousness

We really should get outside before it gets too hot.  Well, I haven't had breakfast really, but I don't feel like eating. Did I get Thomas's laundry done yesterday?

"Thomas, do you want to go have water time outside?"

Maybe I shouldn't put a swim diaper on him today.  I think they may be too small.  I thought I bought a size last year that should have lasted for two summers.  His butt cheeks do hang out.  So, I guess they are too small.  That could be why all that pee ran down his legs yesterday. Well, I'm not buying him new ones.  He can just wear regular diapers. I'll have to pry a disintegrating mass of bulge off his bottom, but I'll deal with that later.

I guess this outfit will do for him.  He's going to get it wet anyway.  Maybe I shouldn't even dress him.  Well, it is kind of cool out there, and maybe Brandy watches us through her private fence.

"Mommy, I wanna color."
"Okay. We can color."

I should get some coffee.  Or write my to do list.  We don't really have anything to eat today except those quesadillas we've been eating for two days now.  If I need to buy groceries I should probably get in the shower, but I don't want to shower because then I'll just have to shower later after I mow the yard during Thomas's nap time.

"Mommy. I color this page."

Oh shoot.  I need to get on that daycare application.  I think I have to get Thomas into the doctor's office so he can get approved to be with the other kids. Heck, who knows if all those other kids are safe.  Like I can think about that right now.  Okay, coffee, that's what I need.

I should just take it easy this morning. I never do that.  I can sip coffee and read one of those books Paul put on my Kindle yesterday.  Yes, that sounds great.  Thomas, you're choking me.

"Thomas, you're choking me.  Get off my neck."

No, I can't rest.  There's too much to do today.  Hmm.  Is there? I haven't written my to do list yet.

"Thomas, what a pretty color! I love.... what is this?.... yeah, green-yellow. I love green-yellow, don't you?"

I can't believe I haven't lost more weight this summer.  I really should have gone to boot camp this morning.  Or I could have opted not to eat that cookie for breakfast.  Hey. Time-saving strategy. Let it slide.  Thomas is putting stickers in his belly button.  I probably should do something about that.  Oh, what the heck.  It's not hurting anybody.

Oh, my phone's ringing.  I recognize that number. Library.  My books are in.  Okay, my day is saved.  Once I get us outside and start working and then we do other stuff I haven't yet figured out.... we will go to the library.  I'll be able to think once we're out there. He's coloring the carpet.  Oh Lord.

"Thomas!!!! Stop.  What are you thinking? No. No. No. We don't color the carpet."

Oh man.  Now I have to Google how to get crayon out of carpet....

..... So, 18 steps.  Yeah, no biggie.  18 steps.  Okay. Hmm. Maybe, I can do that after having a heat stroke attempting to mow the wild prairie in my backyard in 100+ degree heat during Thomas's nap.

Oh look! Nathan posted a photo of Thomas on Facebook!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Four Year Anniversary Post

Some can say, or feel they can say, what death is like.  Generalizing all my references ranging across "back from the dead" eye witness accounts to the harrowing words of Dante's Inferno, I've gathered this is what death might feel like:

I lie there. I'm peacefully aware that there is now separation from my soul in the spiritual world and my body in the physical world.  People surround me. I can hear their voices and see flashes of their faces searching for me, but I do not respond.  A white light glowing overhead seems to call me from my stupor.  

I'm dying.

Wait, no. I'm at the dentist's office.

Angels welcome me to Heaven's gate. [Beyonce's voice is heard somewhere above my head, streaming from an XM radio station.] Jesus strolls through the golden streets on his Segway to check out who's on the scene.[Image inspired by humming from the equipment behind me.] I'm on stage surrounded by my screaming fans [screaming drill] for an all out, no inhibitions, dance craze madness [thank you, nitrous].

I'm terrified of the dentist. Maybe I watched Little Shop of Horrors at the wrong juncture in my childhood. Whatever the case, this little experiment of Me + Drugs + Making Parallel Heaven and this Dental Hell of Mine = Peace thing would only work as the cheap trick that it was for so long before I would have to turn to another focal point. 

So, I imagined that my husband was at the side of the chair with me, holding my hand.  I thought about all the things that are tied up in the simple act of us holding hands. 

A solitary tear escaped the corner of my right eye, rolled down my temple, and buried itself into my hair that lay on the stiff, plastic chair. 

Today, I am celebrating four years of life shared with my husband! In these past four years, I've learned so much about love, what it is and what it isn't. I've witnessed clashes of passion and pangs of disappointment, memories unfolded and frustration dissolved. I've received gentleness, compassion, forgiveness, and truth. 

Most of all, I've been given an intimate understanding of what it means to receive Christ's love.  My husband, more than my Mom, my friends, or my sister, knows deeply my faults and failings [as well as all my lovely attributes].  My husband sees and knows such a fullness of me, and yet he holds my hand. 

Some can say, or feel they can say, what marriage is like. 

My marriage hasn't been a walk through gumdrop forest where my husband says, "Sweetie Pie. Look up! There's a unicorn flying across that rainbow!"

I won't tell you what marriage is like.  Maybe you are prancing around gumdrop forest.  I will say this. I'd take all the conflict and difficulty and fear-inducing visits to the dentist's office this world has to offer if it means I get to hold my husband's hand through it all. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nap Time Tricks

I'm loving my time to work and play at home this summer. Mainly, it has been busier than I anticipated. It doesn't require the same kind of effort that I gave to the school year. In some ways it is easier, like when I allow myself breaks to build block towers with my toddler or to sit and soak in the moment of my son transforming yet another object in our home into a weapon, shooting at me while I guzzle coffee.  In some ways though, the stamina it takes to be an at home mommy AND get stuff done has put me to the test.

It's been well over two years since I gave birth to my son, and I'm still learning life can be wildly interrupted and still be productive and fun. It's the code of children all over the world to splice into Mommy and Daddy's work flow and schedule.  There's a lot of flexibility and understanding and patience that comes with two years practice, but being at home full time means a complex web of relaxation and erratic bouts of extreme home makeover as soon as toddler finds fascination in his book or banana.

By far and large, there is only one thing I dread when I think about being with my toddler all week, just he and I. It's not spilled milk or relentless piles of toys finding their way into my sun room.  It isn't ridiculous nonsense banter between us. I'm more than okay with all of that.

I dread the ten minutes after he has fallen asleep for his nap.  The house is so quiet.  So quiet. I peek into the master bedroom and see the soft lighting and carefully made golden comforter, and it calls me like a crack dealer in an alley. 

As a child, my siblings and I would have the chance to stay with Grandma and Grandpa Heitkamp for a couple days during the week kind of visit. On more than one occasion, I witnessed my Grandma taking a mid-day cat nap.  I spied her curled near the cast iron stove on what was likely the most uncomfortable [and cheapest] spread of carpet known to man.  As a child I couldn't figure out how she could possibly wake up, without an alarm, from such a short nap. Looking back I feel like if I had been her, I would have worried that more than twenty minutes would have either set me on fire or sent me into the chiropractor for a back realignment.

If I say yes to the Crack Dealin' Comforter, I black out for two hours.  I can't do short naps, long naps, or any variety of naps.  So, here are the cheesy tricks I've developed to utilize in those ten minutes to make sure I don't say 'yes' to the allure of my bed:

1. The Timer
As a time management strategy, this can be used anytime. However, at the nap time dip of energy, I see it as a way to negotiate a compromise with myself.  I do one "rotation" at minimum.  If I am so absolutely exhausted that I still feel like taking a nap after the rotation, then fine.  However, I've never had that happen.

Here's how:  Set your timer for 25 minutes.  Get to work in one area of your home.  Do everything you can to clean/work in that area for 25 minutes. Do not touch your cell phone, laptop, Kindle, etc. for any reason until your timer announces that you can rest for 5-10 minutes.

* I used this method during the school year when I was exhausted at the end of the day but knew that I had even more work to do after Thomas went to bed. It works like a charm!

2. The Frog
To "eat the frog with breakfast" means to tackle your most dreaded task 1st thing that day.  When in teaching mode, I tried to stick by this rule as a means to get the energy and enthusiasm started in the morning.  However, while at home, I've found it is necessary that I eat another frog at nap time.  For me, I like making life at nap time feel like a new day, once again.

For a reference point, sweet Betty Beguiles wrote about her experience using this method. Check it out.

3. The Question
This method is equal parts silly and simple. I merely ask myself a question to get my lazy butt moving in the right direction.

Who do you admire? Imagine what he or she is doing as you're contemplating the easy road.

My question always changes, considering what inspiring person I've studied or met as of late.  Today, my question was: "What's Ron Clark doing right now?" [He's not taking a nap. That's for dang sure!]

What's your trick for creating energy when you are most in need?  I would love to hear your tips!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Not My Thing

There I was, standing in the kitchen, sobbing while my shoulders moved up and down methodically when I said it. "You don't understand. This [insert dramatic motion of arms signifying what was in front of me] is not my thing!" That, and then I went back to more tears.

My husband smiled.  He and I thought of those words I had just said and a montage of gifting disasters played out in our minds: the Christmas ties, the Springfield Boathouse incident, the money clip, the Bones Exhibit-lessness. This day would go down in the history of our marriage as yet another day that I missed the mark for making a special day special. As soon as he unwrapped that KitchenAid toaster oven, I knew I should have flicked the frugality angel off my shoulder the day I searched the aisles for that elusive, perfect gift. Because that elusive, perfect gift sure as heck wasn't a toaster oven.  The hesitant look on Paul's face said it all. Bless his soul.  He has had to work on perfecting that look for over four years now.

Next week Paul and I are going to, I hope, dine somewhere special and clink to four years of marriage, four years of delving deeper and deeper into understanding selflessness is not our thing!

Paul never had to say what he was thinking as a response to my bold proclamation of "This is not my thing!", but there was no need.  I can read my husband's mind from time to time. It's one of those super hero powers no one told me I would inherit after loving someone for five years. We both knew my proclamation was total rubbish.

Setting up surprises and picking out the perfect gift is not my strength.  And while I would usually say that life is a lot about playing up your strengths and not worrying too much about the rest, that's not how marriage works. Marriage weans us away from our selfishness. Sometimes it's sweet and gradual like water wearing down rock. Other times it feels like we've been in a head-on collision, paralyzed, wondering in our beds what's next.

Paul doesn't care to open the perfect gift, but he is just like each and every one of us.  We desire to see our worth affirmed:

       * Daughter, you are worth so much that I'm willing to welcome your anger if it means I'm able to get this message across to you.
      * Son, you are worthy of my time. I'm exhausted from work today [and you don't know that], but I'm going to teach you how to play Chess tonight since you've been nagging me to do so for weeks now.
      * Co-worker, you are worth so much to me that I refuse to gossip about you.
      * Friend, you are worthy. I don't know how to help you like I feel I should, but I'm here to sit and listen and not leave until I hear you laugh.
      * Neighbor, you are worth so much to me that I will do my best to remember all these elaborate dog stories you keep telling me each time I visit. And that's a lot of dog stories. Like, seriously, there is no end to these dog stories.
      * Student, you are worth more than you know.  I will teach you wholeheartedly every day, every minute, even when you've made it clear to me you don't care.

Here's what my thing is. Seeing the good in people. Knowing their worth. Affirming it.  I'm not sure if I'll ever miraculously pull off a surprise for Paul without a hitch. But I will fight to affirm his worth [even when it makes me uncomfortable or takes a lot of energy or it feels like I've done so with no happy results one hundred other times] and to allow no excuses to get in my way of figuring it all out.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Paul wasn't thinking about the validity of my statement, "This is not my thing!" On second thought, having been with my husband for four joyful years, I would like to take another guess at what was going through his mind in the moment of silence that followed my statement where he smiled and then wrapped me in his arms.

I bet he was thinking, "Yeah, well toaster ovens aren't my thing either!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Why, Mommy?"

I had just told Thomas, my two year old, that we would eat chocolate cake but that we would share: one plate, one glass of milk, one fork, one piece.

I opened up the fridge and grabbed the container of milk. As I shut the door, I heard my son ask, "Why, Mommy?" with his head tilted to his right and his palms facing up and out beyond his shoulders in that universal stance of questioning.  I stood at the counter smiling at his look of query. Oh, happy day!

He has no idea what this means.  Maybe, even, he's like the rest of us---big people, adults---who think things so often, the line between said and unsaid is fuzzy.  Maybe he has been thinking Why? for quite a while now, but I know this is the first time I've heard it.

So, what does this mean? Why am I thrilled about this simple two-worded question?

1. You remember Discipline Reform School, or whatever it was I referred to it as? Well, that's going great and all, but I'm still at home with a toddler, one whose unrivaled fight for independence and authority is not quite an equal match to his entry-level vocabulary.  The use of that simple word why means another outlet for preventing and diffusing frustration. I try my best to explain to him why he shouldn't touch the flame or spray me with jet-force blasts of water, but I'm so happy that, if I forget, he will remind me to tell him why.

2. All knowledge comes from questions. Well, duh. We all know that. But seriously, pinch my slap happy teacher self!  For the nerdy, lit toting educator that I am, this day, the day my son started asking "Why?" is more significant than all those benchmarks in his neglected "baby book".  Forget the day his first tooth pushed through his gums or the day he rolled over unto his back. This is the real stuff! 

Good thing he's not quite old enough to ask, "Mommy, why have you eaten 1/3rd of that birthday cake you made for Daddy?"

Friday, June 15, 2012

All or Nothing

I've been working out regularly for four weeks now. I don't have blow your socks off results to share.  Maybe at the start of summer break I envisioned sharing declarations to family, friends, and bloggers like: "I dropped 5 pounds!" or "I've lost 2 inches in my waist!" or "I can karate chop a tower of 10 cement blocks with my bare hands and warrior brain power!"  Alas, no such news to share.

Since working out once a day, doing anything from sweating buckets onto my toweled mat in the hot yoga room to taking a leisurely after dinner stroll with my family around the block, things are changing for my 27 year old body.  I see definition in my arms and legs. Putting on my clothes in the morning doesn't prompt me to make that frowny face at the dresser mirror anymore. And I finally saw a lower number on the scale this week, but it wasn't anything to scream about.

I do feel great! I think clearly, feel happier, and have sustained energy for the entire day, and especially on those days I drag myself to boot camp in the wee hour of six a.m. to bathe in public humiliation.

The quiet rhythm of being summer time at home mom is teaching me a bit about life. Foremost is that life is definitely not 'all or nothing'. Far from it. It's a good thing too.

I can be an intense individual. I have long touted the mantra 'all or nothing'. This past year at work I tried my best to be that all. In many ways, my hard work paid off greatly. At the close of the school year, I walked out the door and turned back to see a vision of me feverishly working and enjoying every single minute of it.  'Being all' feels really great. Knowing we have reached the peak physically, spiritually, emotionally, professionally, financially, and so on--that's what many of us strive to do each day.  The best mom. The most frugal shopper.  The girl at work with the most adorable, jealousy-inducing wardrobe. That parent who would rather be six feet under than give her child so much as six bites of non-organic food.

Go for it if you can afford it. I can't.  When I came home from my feverish work of teaching, I was quite amazed. I had let things go, to some degree.  My refrigerator contents pathetic. My discipline with my toddler lacking. My body weak. My photo albums... wait, I have no photo albums...oops. My weeds taking over the yard to such extent I saw their plot to kill all my plants and then strangle me.

The quiet rhythm of being summer time at home mom is teaching me to be gentle with myself. I wake up. Drink coffee. Sigh at the to do list. Then choose a good attitude and pick a few big things to tackle each day.  I will win no plaque, award, or standing ovation at the close of this summer for my noble work here at home because I'm busy doing a lot of those things that sit in between All and Nothing.

We can't let ourselves exclaim things like: I just don't cook. My body isn't built for exercise. I would buy cute clothes, but I just can't keep up. I would never ever ________________. Our marriage is total crap [okay, just really don't say that one]. 100% or die! [woah! craziness!]

To think less, do more, and be excited about whatever the results--this is my new aim. I'm enjoying my morning time doing that funky sumo squat move in unison with my YourShape trainer. I'm liking the pain of the army crawl across the gym floor before the gain of being able to brush my hair in the morning and saying silly stuff in my head like, Dang girl, you lookin' buff! I'm really liking this feeling of getting my butt off the sidelines to join in the race, even if it means I'm well behind that obnoxious winner in front.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Life of a Toddler

My plan this morning was to share with you how much I treasure my son, Thomas. I wanted to sketch out my joy in seeing my toddler learn, play, and grow.  I planned to post a proclamation of happiness for motherhood.

So I set to work detailing in my mind all the things I've noticed in Thomas lately: his sense of family and of home, his frequently uttered phrases [like "Hear that?" and "Where'd Daddy go?"], his newly found affection for disc jockeying his keyboard dance parties, and his mature ability to clean and organize beyond the anticipated capacity of a two year old.

And what better way to show you how much fun it is to be a mom than to let the joy of my son speak for itself? I grabbed my cold cup of coffee, placed it on a coaster in his bedroom and unzipped the video camera out of its case.  I hit record and let Thomas do his thing.  He told me that the "T" letter block had a turtle on it and that  it means "ME!".  He fiddled with a kitchen clip and hurt himself, then asked "what's that?" when he noticed the flashy device in front of my face. I watched behind the lens as he used his practiced manners and followed the dance instructions the camerawoman asked of him: hip shaking, hand clapping, spin around the room and escalating joyous screams kind of dancing.  He smiled. Waved to Nana and Papa and gave a sweet bye to "everbody". 

I placed the video camera aside and got to work.  You know the work I'm talking about. Real life stuff. That stuff no one is about to like on Facebook or retweet on Twitter because it's just the ordinary, the necessary, the ever unfurling scroll of To Do. 

I planned the day, washed Thomas's breakfast mess off the table, put away dishes and made another cup of coffee.  Thomas and I took yesterday's yard work to the recycling center.  We came back to the house, and I gave the backyard a good stare down before throwing myself at it like a rabie infected dog on man flesh. And if you think that analogy is disturbing, you're nowhere near prepared to see my backyard.  Well, what was my backyard until said crazy attack.

While I ripped, pulled, weeded, cursed, tossed, crammed, snapped, clipped, dug, and wrenched from the ground, Thomas saw to it that the yard was properly watered.  Clothed in nothing but a Nemo swim diaper and a pair of Nike sandals my son found a heavenly level of fun with a water hose, a cracked water table, and a bucket.  In between tossing what I unearthed from the corner of the yard, catching my breath, and wiping my brow, I would peer between weeds to see Thomas shaking the hose upward in slow motion with his eyes squinted toward the sun, tongue out happily, and belly thrown forward, totally uninhibited in his crafted backyard water park.  

I was walking toward our back patio for a sip of my coffee and just then thinking that this image was what I should be sharing with you, not the filtered reality of video.  Yes, this was the good stuff--this very real image of my son's diaper so soaked with water and his face so happy from water and this joy from me witnessing it in... and then that's when I saw it: his diaper soaked with water trickling and his face not looking so happy anymore and then back to the diaper, the diaper which trickled water... but not water. 

Poop alert.  Poop alert. Poop alert sounded like a gong in my mind.  My eyes bulged. Thomas's smile dropped. My eyes continued to bulge and I could think of nothing more intelligent to utter than "Poop. Poop. Oh my gosh. That's poop down your leg."  Which was the decidedly worst thing I could have said to my two year old who chose to do the right thing and grab his diaper to effectively keep watery poop in.  As he grabbed, a river of waste streamed down his leg.

I jumped into action, pleaded him to stand firm in his spot, pried the diaper of his wrinkly butt and then hosed his little naked toddler private body parts like the step-in poop pro that I was. Poop everywhere, sure, but I was in charge.  

He stood now, giggling at the water and the poop and his nakedness in sight of neighbors who had likely gathered at their windows either from my vine ripping induced cursing or his water park poop fiasco. 

See. Life is so much fun with a toddler. It's also, at times, a lot of poop.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Letters of Love

I woke, no alarm needed, in the stiff twin bed of my brother’s room to the dark morning and reached for the folder of letters.  My back timidly rested on the wooden headboard as I quietly remembered each word addressed to “Dear ?”, reading back through each memory recorded in writing which brought me to this moment poised on the bed, pen in hand.  On that hopeful morning of my wedding day, I wrote one last letter to him, this one with a decidedly chosen “Dear Paul salutation. Happiness filled my heart as I finished out my beautiful gift.

For several years preceding that day, letters to my future husband were my anchor in the ever shifting landscape of singleness from the ages of 16 - 22.  Proclamations of faith, hope, and love were scrawled between faint blue lines.  I wrote to persevere in chastity.  I wrote for a remembrance of the single life. I wrote to plan for details of the future.  Mostly, I wrote as an act of love.  

My husband’s reaction to this grand  romantic gesture left much to be desired.  In fact, in the three and a half years we’ve been married, I’ve received  a grand total of: “they were really great.”   

For the first three years of my marriage, these letters to my future husband, apparently unappreciated by the husband at hand, served as some nagging note of unfinished business.   At moments when that green folder of carefully hand-written letters should have been far from my mind, I’ve seen it as some mental post-it note of disappointment for marrying a man who just didn’t get it.  Why was it that he couldn’t muster up more words of appreciation?

Lately, I’ve truly realized, it’s me who just didn’t get it.  

Getting “it” means loving your spouse for who they are, not who you wish or hope or plan them to be.   In some ways, Paul happens to be that mysterious man I addressed during late nights when my heart was aching for a companion.  Just as I had written in the letters, we do cook together, walk together, and make plans together.  But, luckily, he’s much more than “Mr. ?” ever was.

I could not  have predicted my husband’s drive for success or his appetite for technology, his dashing date coordinating skills or his common sense parenting. In my writing, I didn’t mention someone who would teach me how to problem solve or show me how to listen. I didn’t envision a beard or the large laugh or the oldest child in a family of twelve. I didn’t write to someone about his teasing, his zest for knowledge, or his spirited story-telling.

The vocation of marriage requires much more than some delicately crafted letters.  Marriage is messy and complicated and downright frightening at times. Clinging to a vision of desired perfection can be quite damaging.  Furthermore damaging is cornering our spouses into boxed-up versions of want we think they should be.  

My letters of love are now in the working of my hands as I make the bed, the finishing of a project started, the midday text message to say hello, and in the changing of a dirty diaper sans complaint.  My words of love are now in the cleaning of my car [before being asked], foot massages, savory steak and potato soup, the bottle of wine for two at home just because, and the problem-solving sessions at the dinner table.  My ever-forming letter of love  is in my playfulness, my tenderness, my forgiveness, and my patience.

Letters to my future husband “were really great”. They were sweet, kind, and something of a fierce kind of love. However, they were much more about impressing Paul with proof of my love than they were about actually loving.  And actual loving must be tailored to fit the actual person.  I’m happy to know more of my husband than I did on that morning when I was huddled on the bed, protective over the surrendering of my words, thoughts, hopes, and plans.

Words can be beautiful, but they must be paired with even greater, grander doses of action.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Quick Takes

Yesterday, Thomas and I visited an Asian market in town to buy ingredients for pho bo.  As I tightly squeezed past customers I tried my best to not appear as an intruder.  Because here's me, flipping over bags, bottles, cans, packages, thinking Where's the English? and generalizing everything as I made my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th laps around the tiny store: Okay, Noodle Aisle, Sauce and Oil Aisle, Candy Aisle, Seafood and Things I REALLY Don't Recognize Aisle. I was so disoriented from the missing convenience of being able to read that I couldn't tell basil from ... well, I just couldn't find the basil.  

Thomas likes to say no.  He draws a strong sense of authority from it.  However, as I've recently enrolled him in Discipline Reform School, I thought I could quench his thirst for command in a more tasteful manner. And so I bring you a book we've checked out from the library twice now.  
Check it out.  Your no-toting toddler will figure the rest out. I promise.

Recently, I've been thinking about my view on friendships and how I generally let my social anxieties and introverted streaks take over too often.  Being a good friend isn't about personality type or tendencies though. It's an integral part of our life's experience. So, maybe I need to do some rethinking.  Let me ask you--What makes a good friend?

We visited Silver Dollar City last Sunday. My son was thrilled about this.  And I was too. But I just want to get one thing straight:
1.  I got pregnant three years ago
2. My equilibrium is forever off
3. And now my toddler asks that I join him in rides that spin in a twenty foot diameter under relentless, all-seeing heat of the sun where I cramp myself into a contorted position specifically designed for suffering, sweating, and under-the-breath swearing as he yells and hoots and hollers a special kind of happiness because Mom's in the backseat of him bouncing, jolting, and seeing a vision of her unbalanced equilibrium induced vomit hitting the pavement four feet below. Yeah, that.

Other than that, it was an awesome day, especially the part where he fell asleep in my arms on the train, likely exhausted from dragging Mommy unto rides and bouncing in frogs.

Summer started two weeks ago.  I've just been sitting around, watching Ellen, painting my toe nails, and eating bon bons. Um, NOT! Okay, I've had a leisurely cup of coffee [Read: I drink bottomless cups of coffee], I read and play with Thomas almost anytime he wishes, and I've had the time to rip up my string cheese abs at boot camp, but it's been super busy here too.  In fact, I've had a few moments where I've looked at my summer project list and thought: Not. Enough. Time. ACKKK!  

This morning I created my vanilla extract starter as suggested by Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa.
Put a dozen vanilla beans in a bottle, fill with vodka, and wait a month--so says my cookbook. We'll see. I'll put it under taste tester inspection in July.

Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Worse First

What? No, this isn't my 5th cream puff drizzled with chocolate! Who told you that?
I don't know a specific name for the uppermost abdominal muscles, but whatever they are, I felt their aching presence in the shower today.  See, I was doing this new exercise fad where I partake in kung fu like moves in the shower at high velocity. The water expedites the muscle growth. Okay. Not really. My muscles hurt because I slightly leaned my head back to rinse off my shampoo suds. Had there been a fly upon the shower wall, that fly would have seen a oh, holy goodness look upon my face.

Those muscles also hurt later when:

I picked up Thomas 
and when
I coughed
and when
I sat up
oh, also
When I coughed again

Boot camp is working. I've been twice. Yesterday, my arms [the area I pointed to in questioning, Paul says are my triceps] were so sore after our circuit training I felt a slight pain as I brushed my hair. 

Last week was a week of taking a step back to assess myself within parenthood, job performance, my vocation as wife, and the care of my body. It was both humility and hope.  Raise your hand if you too have been doing some self-assessment, seeing an area of needed improvement, and making plans for some positive change. That's great! Let me applaud you! 

And now let me warn you.  It is going to get worse before it gets better.  

Case in point, the 1st day of Mommy Discipline Reform School last week, my toddler, Thomas, was in time out at least a dozen times. I felt pain knowing he felt confused about why mom was without her coddling nature.  I felt I had done so much damage not being consistent and firm with him so many times.  Each day Thomas was better until Saturday when Daddy and Mommy were tried as a team through a whole toddler behavior obstacle course.  We were put to the test with each broken rule, whine, sneaky move, and tantrum.  I didn't recognize Thomas that day.  However, we all know kids are smart enough to make sure their parents mean business. We do. Thomas knows and has been increasingly well-behaved and all the happier because of it.

And second case in point, this self-indulged public humiliation I've signed up for at 6:15 am with people who wonder if maybe boot camp isn't exactly fitting my "needs" as I huff, puff, wince, and altogether look frightened through the gym room workout rotation.  [Ouch. I just laughed at my misery. More ab pain.]  I've been working out for a week with a little hodgepodge of: running, walking, cardio via the Kinnect, vigorously weeding [Yes! There is such a thing. You haven't seen my yard.], and as you've already been told, boot camp. My pants were not made from the same fabric as shared by the young ladies of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, ever meeting whatever size requirement I'm currently sporting.  Nope.  In fact, since I began working out my pants feel tighter, my arms appear rather more pathetic, and the digits I'm staring back at on my scale, neither higher or lower than they were two weeks ago, are startling at best.

Good things come out of hard work.  Things will look up. A new strength will take shape as I've seen so many times before in myself and others.  This abdominal pain which immobilizes me from doing so much as a handful of crunches today, it's a welcoming billboard to Strenghton, Strengthopolis, St. Strength City, Strengthfield, Strengthview. Take your pick. I'll race you there.  Well, tomorrow. My abs hurt today.