Saturday, December 29, 2007

Today is a quiet day at the Vynes. After a few overnights with fun friends, we're tying up loose holiday ends. Buck dug a hole, lined it with natural fertilzers from our goats and chickens, and planted our Christmas tree. On the spur of the moment at the garden nursery, he decided we'd start a new tradition this year- planting Christmas trees along our driveway. One pine down, fifty more Christmases to go.

I haunted a few stores today to catch a few beautiful ornaments on clearance to give as teacher gifts next year. I stumbled upon a pattern for my handmade gifts to make with the children for next year which makes me very happy. I also spent one of my gift certificates at Borders on a delicious new book. I'll let you know about it when I find time to steal away, snuggle up and read.

Pooh Bear lost a tooth while I shopped.

Buck recruited the boys to work on smoothing the terribly bumpy gravel driveway. He says it's been much like Tom Sawyer, because all of them wanted a turn to shovel and drag the 350 pound roller up the hill.

Those of you who know me might be very surprised that Buck and I gave our children a Wii (and tv) for Christmas. We didn't have any type of game system until now, because I felt it distracted from the great outdoors and fresh air. However, I understand the Wii will be something a bit physical to engage in with company on cold and rainy days and for parties. All the children's bikes have been assessed and properly repaired to balance the appeal for outside. It's as hard to keep up with the right sizes of bikes for four children as it is keeping them clothed properly in coats, jeans, and shoes.

Off to put the ornaments away and prepare for the rootin' tootin' Deerlodge New Year's Eve Extravaganza.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The World is Watching

May God's justice come in the sacrifice of your life, Bhutto.
Here's what I'm seeing outside my window. Pooh Bear's wearing a pink sparkly cape of fabric, white apron, purple shirt, lime green pants and socks, and clashing ruby red slippers (of course). Her outfit reminds me of the Asian students in my college exercise class. Pooh's hair is tossled in it's usual mess, pulled back into a long ponytail, and covered with a brand spanking new hot pink bicycle helmet. The helmet still contains the instructions packaged on the bill. She's just fallen off her newly gifted requisite purple and pink bike and is collecting the contents of the gold basket which she has hanging from the handle bars. The basket contains a stuffed black dog, a Hawaiin lei, and a can of hair mousse. I'm not exactly sure what her plans are. I may never know.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sundry Thoughts On Christmas Day

Family visited. Christmas story read. Presents opened. Husband and children playing merrily. Turkey stuffed in the oven. Listening to The Bravery while I clean up the spoils of plastic, twist ties, wrapping paper and scrape up breakfast cinnamon roll mess. The drummer in that band reminds me of Mike Budd. The sound makes me think of The Cure. I wonder if they grow old gracefully.

Today I have all the time in the world. I'm thoughtful about how I'll do things differently next year, so it doesn't seem such a whirlwind. I am a little disappointed in myself that we didn't do handmade gifts in Santa's Workshop this year. Instead we finished the school semester well and traveled to visit family. In the past I let the academic schedule go to fit it all in, but my brood can't afford the distraction if we are to stay on track.

Last night, I stayed up late watching Charlie Rose. He interviewed Rev. Peter Gomes.
I confess I don't know much about him, but to me, his words were profound. He encouraged us to remember the opposite of fear is compassion. He spoke of how so many people are ruled by fear. They order their day by fear. It crossed my mind that over these holidays I dreaded something in particular and how thoughts of it overshadowed and invaded a good many of wonderful experiences. I let my fear get in the way. Gomes suggested something revolutionary- that facing our fears, even gaining understanding of the people or circumstances would build compassion.

Don't get me wrong. I am not a fearful person. I often do and say things which take guts. However, anger is much more my weakness. I've come to know that if I dig deep enough, generally fear is behind the anger. If I'm outwardly mad because something of mine is wrecked, then deeper still is that feeling of "Doesn't anyone respect or care for me the way I need them to?" If I don't get my way, I may pitch an ugly fit, but inside silently cry, "Love me enough to give me what I want!" In the calm of most days of this abundant life, I see clearly that both these demands for respect and love exceed human capacity. Only the One who made me can wholly offer me these gifts of love and respect perfectly, and I've only to receive with open hands and heart. This concept requires resolve to comprehend in the heat of a difficult moment. If I can stop demanding perfection unable to be given, then I can move into compassion for the other person involved at the end of my disappointment.
I can let go of my fear, my need and contemplate the true need of the other person. Gomes nailed it for me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Note to Self

I just finished reading a story to my children, The Bat Poet. It was a lovely read with parallel stories about the intruiging habits of wildlife and the creative writing process. I decided to make a note to myself here. I feel inspired to write when I read excellent work. When I look over my own writing pieces, it's those I've written while when under the influence of beloved authors to which I return. Not rocket science, but I want to remember.

This simple observation may cause me to scour the shelves for rich literature to devour, so that I might plunge myself into another writing project. It's been awhile since I've been lost in a world of books. However, it would be difficult to justify the self absorbtion. I may have no choice but return to my busy and attentive life otherwise. Balance of both may be the key, but I haven't mastered the equipoise yet.

Yesterday, Peace and I had a showdown of sorts concerning a writing assignment. His text outlined the assignment expectations quite clearly, yet he allowed his will to get in the way of understanding. His "I don't want to do this" stood wide-legged and shoulders squared in the doorway of his made-up mind. So, for a long while he feigned incompetance and sent jabs and barbs my way. When he asked for help, he became sarcastic. Peace dug in his heels deeper and deeper until it was time to take his sister to her Keepers of the Home (something like Girlscouts) closing ceremony. Peace wanted to stay in the car and pout, but I asked him to come in and watch as his sister got pins on her sash for accomplishment. He sulked but acquiesed. Buck came in and took the ruffled Peace under his daddy wing. By the time of our Christmas party following, Peace humbling came to me and asked to begin again. Apparantly, Buck had pierced the hard shell of his heart. One thing I like about my family, is that we can always ask for a fresh start, day or night. It's a monastic principle we learned years ago and put into practice in our home.

This morning I pleasantly started from the top with Peace on the unfinished work from yesterday. The Bat Poet reading mentioned above stemmed from his halted writing assignment. He chose the topic about creativity's role in the story, but got nowhere during our showdown. Offering to read the story aloud to everyone became a gift from me to Peace, letting him know I was on his side again. I stopped once early in the reading and announced, "This quote might be useful in a paper on creativity." and he ran over to me with a pencil to mark it. He picked up on my hint quickly and trumpeted me to stop to mark a passage he noticed next. Time and kindness always win which is another note to self.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The last several days I've heard and carefully have been mulling over these Advent words from Isaiah 9:6. You'll recognize the first from Handel's Messiah.

For a child will be born to us,
a son will be given to us;
and the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace

Some versions add a comma between the two words Wonderful and Counselor. Some versions do not. Is it wonderful counselor? Or Wonderful. Counselor?

In the original Hebrew language Wonderful is a noun which suggests a comma should be present. Full of wonder. The meaning is closer to "a thing of wonder". A God of wonder. Even these explanations fall short in a way, because we are talking about the person of God incarnated into Christ sent to dwell among us who is full of wonder. I get goose bumps thinking this over.

I think about the fullness of time as well from Galatians 4:4
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.

Time, not in moment of God's whimsy, "It's seems like a good day to do the Jesus thing."


Time briming over like when a small child is learning to fill a glass of water for herself. Full like a mother's heart watching her first grade son perform the lead role in the school play. Stuffed like someone who has eaten the most delicious meal. Overflowing like gulps of water pouring out the sides of a mouth after a long run outside on a hot summer summer day. Crowded like a public swimming pool in 101 degree heat. Loaded like a convertable T-bird in the Christmas parade of beauty queens from the county fair. Energy bursting like the starting line up of nervous horses at the gates for the Kentucky Derby.

I feel something of that fullness of wonder and time just now, and it is a thing of beauty.

A few days ago Peace yelled crossly from the kitchen, "Mom! Come in here now! And I mean it!" I flew like the blustery wind into the kitchen to find Peace grabbing towels from the bathroom and shoving them around the flooding dishwasher. Of course, Buck had left for work 15 minutes before, so it was completely up to me to figure out what to do next. And I am not a handygirl.

I opened the diswasher door and water still kept pouring in buckets onto the floor. My husband installed new flooring in the summer, and I grimaced at the prospect of it being forever ruined. I reached under my sink to turn off the water. By this time, all four children stood watching stunned that I had managed to stop the problem. Tater proclaimed, "Mom, you fixed it. I didn't know you could do that."

"It not fixed, bud. we won't be able to use the water in the sink," I snipped back at him. I have been far too impatient for some days now.

I called Buck on the cell, and the children followed me to the garage. "True, just find the dishwasher breaker and turn it off. Then you can use the sink."
"I would if I could open the breaker box!" I grumped at Buck while I stood on the goat stand fiddling with the impossible latch. Tater shoved his way up to help me undo the black button to the grey cabinet. He found the word "dishwasher" typed next to number 14 and flipped the switch. We plodded back into the kitchen and I turned the water back on safely. Fortunately, I couldn't bite off anyone else's head, because the breaker trick worked. Next, I threw the sink rug outside on the sidewalk and a boatload of sopping wet towels into the washer.

My kitchen isn't set up to hold six people's dirty dishes except for inside the dishwasher, so I've been breaking glasses right and left as they plummet from the tiny drying rack. I feel irked waking up to countertops covered with dishes drying from the night before. Eating out or eating junky doesn't work for me either. The situation demonstrates to me my poor character, because something so mundane as not having a dishwasher puts me even more on edge. Friday, when the servicemen come to install my new appliance, this particular test will end with poor marks for me.

It's Advent for goodness sake, and I'm moody. Certainly not penitent and mostly not preparing my heart to recieve the Newborn King of Kings. How short I fall. I look for the day when I am not bent out of shape by ordinary disappointments of leaks.

It's long past time to begin homeschooling this morning, but I had sense enough to grant my children the freedeom to fly kites instead in the unusual and gray sky. I seek to center myself a little for this new fragile day of washing dishes by hand with thoughts of Advent calling me to something higher and more difficult- becoming the person I want to be. The unseasonably warm temperatures war with the North Wind to blow back in frost and wintery weather to our home on a country hill. The battle reflects my insides. Perfect for flying kites.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mabye You're Planning for Christmas but not me...

Rainbow Pinata
Ruby Slipper Paper Napkins
Dorothy Paper Cups
Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow Paper Plates
Green Emerald City Castle Cake
Yellow (Brick Road) Tablecloth
Rainbow Punch
Full on Dorothy Costume
Red Jello Tin Man Heart-shaped Tins
Felt Squares for the Yellow Brick Road

See a trend yet?

Sculpy Lollipop (Guild)to be made into ornaments
Slipper to be painted with sparkly red paint
Horse to paint in many colors
Tin Man Heart Sugar cookies to decorate
Glinda Magic Wands
Paper plates to make into lion faces
Coloring Sheets of Flying Monkeys

Catching on?

Toto Baskets lined with light blue gingham to catch crafts
Glinda Bubbles
Themed Stickers

Coming to you yet?

A certain movie and music

Yes, Saturday is Pooh Bear's Wizard of Oz birthday. She turns 7, and Pooh Bear is about to bust with sundry party favors strewn all over my house.
Nothing like a ginourmous angry red pimple on the chin to utterly rob a woman of her self confidence.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Yesterday my family attended the funeral visitation of a dear friend's mother. Since we attend a rather informal church, finding suitable dress clothes in the closets of my children proved to be harder than a snapping turtle shell. "Why can't I wear my long sleeved superhero shirt? It's clean." "But I don't have any black dresses which match my ruby red slippers." "How about this orange t-shirt, Mom?" Seriously.

On the trip, Buck and I inquired of the children if they ever remembered seeing a dead person. "I know I have, but I don't really remember.", Peace answered. I asked if anyone was afraid to which Pooh Bear replied, "In an Odyssey story on tape, one of the character's grandma dies and says she just looks like she's sleeping. So, I'm not scared at all."

When we arrived at the funeral home, Buck gave the solemn behavior speech. And it worked. My children behaved like gems. They sat and charmingly chatted with all kinds of people inside and ran around like crazy men outside entertaining my friend's active seven year old son, Joseph.

Joseph asked anyone who would give him the time of day to explain just exactly what his grandma was doing in heaven at that very moment. When it was my turn, I mentioned I knew about lions and lambs lying down there together and the horses in Revelation. I told Joseph, "Do you suppose she's riding a white horse or petting the furry mane of real lion?" Pooh Bear told him she thought his grandma was having a fun time walking on streets of gold. His mother suggested Grandma might be swimming with all kinds of shining fishes which excited Joseph to exclaim, "And I bet she doesn't even have to come up for air."

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Pooh Bear approach the coffin alone, and she softly spoke. She stroked the grandmother's fingers. Pooh Bear explained later, "I was wishing her to have a good time in heaven and smelling the wonderful flowers."

Birth and death feel so very sacred. This particular sacred life ended with a daughter holding her mother's hand in her palm and the other gripping an oxygen mask hovering over her mother's face as the elastic had become unbearable. The mother gently whispered, "Let me go." to which the daughter nodded simple consent.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Away in an awesome manger

The Nativity story is a cornerstone of the Christian faith but can be a big hurdle for a bunch of skeptical New York teenagers.

By Garrison Keillor

Dec. 05, 2007 | I got to teach Episcopal Sunday school last week, a rare privilege, and it was in a New York church so the kids had plenty to say. Teenagers, and if you expect them to sit in rapt silence as you tick off points of theology, you're in the wrong place. They made plenty of noise, and not much of it about religion. Some of them seemed to be on a faith journey that was heading away from the Nicene Creed toward something cooler and jokier, some form of animism perhaps, the worship of cougars and badgers.

I like teenage noise. (It's the quiet brooders like me you have to worry about, right?) They let me say my piece -- God prefers honest doubt to false piety -- and then they said their pieces, and what shone through was a sensible anxiety about the future and the fact that they care a lot about each other. You could imagine a confirmed agnostic hanging out here just for the warmth and conversation.

We sat in a sort of triangle, two couches at a right angle, a line of chairs, a window looking out at the snow on Amsterdam Avenue, and talked about the rather improbable notion that God sent Himself to Earth in human form, impregnating a virgin who, along with her confused fiancé, journeyed to Bethlehem where no rooms were available at the inn (it was the holidays, after all), and so God was born in a stable, wrapped in cloths and laid in a feed trough and worshipped by shepherds summoned by angels and by Eastern dignitaries who had followed a star.

This magical story is a cornerstone of the Christian faith and I am sorry if it's a big hurdle for the skeptical young. It is to the Church what his Kryptonian heritage was to Clark Kent -- it enables us to stop speeding locomotives and leap tall buildings at a single bound, and also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Without the Nativity, we become a sort of lecture series and coffee club, with not very good coffee and sort of aimless lectures.

On Christmas Eve, the snow on the ground, the stars in the sky, the spruce tree glittering with beloved ornaments, we stand in the dimness and sing about the silent holy night and tears come to our eyes and the vast invisible forces of Christmas stir in the world. Skeptics, stand back. Hush. Hark. There is much in this world that doubt cannot explain.

(I might have told the kids that when you use the word "awesome" to describe everything above mediocre, you're missing a word for Christmas Eve, but I'm not their editor either.)

New York is very gaudy at Christmas, and the Santa Clauses on Fifth Avenue swing their bells with style, and the store windows glimmer and the city at dusk is ever magical, but all New Yorkers know that loneliness is a part of life and can't be extinguished, not by entertainment or pharmaceuticals.

I walked around the city that Sunday night -- two homeless people were camped on the steps of a Lutheran church on 65th, in the midst of grand old apartment buildings, and the opera crowd was wending toward Picholine and the Café des Artistes for the lobster bisque, and on the uptown subway we all sat and did not stare at the crazy old man boogeying in his sleeveless T-shirt and singing incoherently and watching his own reflection in the glass -- and how 17-year-old kids should mesh New York with the Nativity, I was not able to tell them. God prefers admitted incompetence to fake authority.

But explaining the universe to them was not my job, only to love them, which I do, utterly. They are brave and loyal and funny, heading out into a world that is not forgiving of mistakes, that will try to pummel them into submission, that is capable of awesome cruelty and deceit, but here they are. Emily Dickinson said, "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else," and if she, who spent most of her adult life in her bedroom, could feel that way, then think how it must be for the rest of us.

A day in New York can show you such startling sights, including a band of doubting teenagers clustered in church on a snowy morning, that the birth of the child in the hay seems not so impossible after all, even appropriate, even necessary.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

-- By Garrison Keillor

Hat tip to Almost

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

more parenting thoughts

A year ago, I became more aware of troubling issues in my home. It seemed there was never a moment of peace with my children, and I could not get anything done. I began to evaluate the situation, and it broke my heart enough to finally make a change. As much as I'd like to consider it something else, I was living selfishly. As awful as it sounds, I believed my children were in my way instead of part of my way. I examined my agenda, my goals,and yes, my dreams. One by one, I found a way to streamline what is most important to me, and though it was incredibly painful, I let go of the rest for the sake of my family. I was simply doing to much. For example, I cut down on exercise time. I stopped calling and hanging out with dear friends. I seriously limited attendance to interesting support groups, conferences and workshops. My standard answer to "Will you lead or be part of this project?" even though I'm the perfect one for the job is "No, ask me next year." It is next year, and the answer is still mostly "No", because my children would suffer. They need focused attention and time being enjoyed by their mother, not the lie of quality time. I've noticed my husband also cutting back and being with the children in a child centered way as well though his work keeps him more than busy.

I wonder how much people think, "What a shame, True. You'll lose yourself if you don't take care of you first. What will be left of you when your children leave?" But the truth is, I haven't lost any of myself. The more I press into intentionality with my children and husband, the more I become the person I've always wanted to be. Less grumpy and irritable, though there are certainly days I'm horrid. Less stressed. Less judgemental. Less of a task master. If I'm not always in a rush to get somewhere for myself, there's no cause for being short tempered with my family. I hear folks proclaim, "I don't have time to relax." Honestly, too much "me time" did not create relaxation. It created more stress on everyone.As for the question, "What will be left of me when my children leave our home?" I believe I'll be a person I can love without so very many relational regrets.

The bottom line is that I still do the things I love but with greater purpose- I write, train, garden,read, create, hike, dance, and teach- though with less frequency.

Here's a quote I read this morning which sums up my thoughts.

We need to be humble enough to admit that we tend to be "problem allergic" because we tend to live selfishly rather than redemptively. We want regularity, peace, comfort, and ease. We want to be predictable and unencumbered. the problems that our teenagers (I'd say any children) bring home are an intrusion on our desires and plans for our lives. We tend to get angry, not because they are messing up their own lives, but because they are messing up ours. We get captivated by our own plan, and we tend to lose sight of God's. We begin to think of our children as agents for our happiness, rather than remembering that we are called to be God's agents of growth in godliness for them. So in times of trouble, we angrily fight for our dream instead of happily doing God's work. If we are ever consistently going to see problems as opportunities, we need to begin with humble confession of our selfishness to the Lord.
Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp