Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How VBS is Saving My Life

Well, it took a day or two, but I got the directions for the pancakes up. I realize it was only like two sentences, but I started the post in the morning and had to leave the house before I got it finished. This is VBS week. It has been a great week so far.

On Monday, I showed up to see if there was a way I could help. I know, after all that saying how I needed a break, I felt a little guilty and like I should do something to contribute, if only for a couple of mornings. There wasn't any pressing need that anyone was aware of when I checked beforehand, but our pastor said that if I showed up, there would likely be something I could do. But when I arrived and one of the directors asked me if I could help in the kindergarten room, I said no. I actually said that I would rather take my three right back home than be in a classroom with twenty like my middle child- nothing against my middle, just that there were twenty (this could be a slight exaggeration, I didn't count). I think she was slightly alarmed by my strong reaction, or maybe I was just that uncomfortable saying no, but there ended up being work for me in the kitchen. What a wonderful place to put me! However, my sweet friend Ami, who lurks around here on occasion, had seen my post about my need for a respite and ended up bumping me out of the kitchen and off the hook completely! I got several errands done, and enjoyed the silence!

Yesterday, I didn't have a car, so our very kind neighbors, the very same neighbors who let us live in their house rent-free while we try to get on our feet, picked Amabel and August up and brought them home. I spent the day doing a little unpacking, organizing, and tidying. Elspeth was a good little "helper." She followed me from room to room and wore her fleece butterfly costume from last Halloween. She always flutters around like a butterfly anyway, but she was super sweet without siblings to squabble with, and that little lavender hood with the heart shaped antennae sticking straight up made her look more like a fairy than an imp- it's all in the presentation, you know. I was amazed by how much I accomplished in one morning. Oh, how I miss dropping my children off at school!

Today, I had a car again. I had kept Elspeth home yesterday because she can be a little bit of work to get acclimated to a new environment, especially a mommy free environment. Dropping her off today confirmed yesterday's decision to leave the transitioning to me. She did alright eventually, and then I was able to run off with a friend for a coffee. My sister-in-law had shared a Barnes and Noble gift card with me. She's a first grade teacher and gets lots of little presents; and because she is quite generous, sometimes the presents trickle down to me. So, thanks to sweet Katie, I was able to get my friend and I both a coffee and a sweet treat. And we, as homeschool moms and wives of men who have weird work schedules, enjoyed what may well be the last chance to have a real conversation for quite a while.

And tomorrow, I have another coffee date with another sweet friend! Hurray for VBS!

I think we all would agree that it is hard to be served. You know what they say, "it is easier to give than to receive." And the past year has really forced me into the role of recipient way more than I am comfortable with. But judging from my shameless freeloading this week, I may be learning that lesson. Or, at least, that's what I tell myself to keep myself from feeling too guilty! But with this much needed break, I feel like I've won some undeserved honor, and this post is my acceptance speech, and a thank you to all who made it possible. To Ami, to my neighbors, to Katie, to all the sweet ladies keeping my children in their classrooms and feeding them snack (hurray for a break from making the morning snack!), to all the teenagers running recreation and telling stories and helping with crafts, pretty much to anyone who is doing anything that I would be doing this week, a humungous (virtual) hug and great big grateful "Thank you!"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Polenta Pancakes with Warm Berry Sauce

When my friend Jessie mentioned putting the wild raspberries she picked with her family to use with pancakes, I felt inclined to follow her lead. I am not sure if she made a sauce or put berries in the batter. I really wanted to make a sauce. After a search in cookbooks and online, I found this recipe on foodnetwork.com. They were amazing. We were already talking about who we could invite over to enjoy them with us next time before we even sat down at the table (we taste while we cook). I have one advantage over most of you, I think. My mother-in-law always buys me amazing cornmeal when she visits the Smoky Mountains. She has been to some really cool old mills and has twice brought home a sack of cornmeal for me that has been ground in front of her on a hundred year old millstone. The recipe may work just as well with Martha White, but I was glad to have my mother-in-law's gift on hand for this.

Pancakes
1 1/2 c. coarse ground cornmeal
2c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3T sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted

Sauce (I just used 1 1/2 c. each of raspberries and blueberries)
1c. raspberries
1c. blueberries
1c. blackberries
1/2c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2T cornstarch
1/4c. cold water

Directions
pancakes (note the "let rest for one hour" part):
-whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. fold in eggs and buttermilk. stir in melted butter. let rest for at least one hour.
-heat griddle to/over medium and make pancakes. keep pancakes warm in 200 degree oven.
sauce:
-combine berries, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
-in a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved. add to sauce to thicken. stir until smooth and let simmer 2 to 3 minutes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hope and a Future

For years I have avoided the idea of the "grateful journal," even though I knew it would probably be a good thing, particularly for someone like me who tends toward the melancholy- although, I also tend toward the hyper spastic. (What do they call that? Manic? Not me!) Anyway, I avoided it because Oprah advocates it, or at least she did, and I have a huge problem with Oprah. So my loathing for her has kept me from doing something I know I could benefit from because I don't want to do anything she thinks is good. How dumb is that? Beyond dumb is what it is. Okay, so lately what I have been doing is sort of tromping through the Psalms at a snail's pace- "tromping" because I just sort of thud through looking for something helpful. As I have shared, for a while I have just been weary and heavy hearted. And I am in good company in the Psalms. David is all about some woe. But last week brought everything from flat tires and multiple rejection letters in the mail to the tragic death of two people our church community had been praying faithfully for, both entirely too young to be leaving this world, one only two days after entering it. And I don't mean to pretend that the last week was the start of the heavy heartedness, I just mean that last week really really stunk.

So last night I was reading Psalm 92, again actually because I couldn't remember my place (which shows how really studious I am being...), and then I found my place and realized I was a couple of Psalms ahead and read Psalm 96. So, on the one hand, I got "It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night."(Ps. 92: 1 and 2) which I quite grumpily realized I had already read and felt quite contemptuous toward the psalmist as my morning had been spent at the funeral of an infant and did not seem to have anything to do with "steadfast love." And on the other hand, when I gladly left that Psalm behind, I got "Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens." (Ps. 96: 1-5) Hmmm. Seems like the psalmists are really pushing this whole declaring business. From day to day? In the morning and by night?

But what really caught me was the "worthless idols" part. The only comforting things you can think of when someone dies are things like the resurrection to come and that that person is with the LORD where "sickness, sorrow, pain, and death are felt and feared no more." I have thought a lot over the past two days about how hopeless these deaths make me feel, and yet also how much more hope and comfort we have as Christians than any other poor mother or sister or wife or friend has when she loses her beloved. Any other god is particularly worthless in view of death. And that makes me want to declare our God's glory. There is still the problem of death. There is still the problem of sadness and sorrow and suffering. But the only hope in light of those things is the faithfulness and steadfast love of the LORD, elusive as it seemingly can be.

I am not saying I am going to start a "grateful journal." Whenever I hear someone talk about "an attitude of gratitude," I want to punch them in the face. Let me just be clear about that right now. And there is really nothing to be grateful about on a day like yesterday. And yet, somehow there was. Somehow the LORD was gracious to me and gave me comfort. He is our King. And he has beaten death. He is risen and is reigning now and makes all things new. And that offers us amazing hope- even in spite of tragedy -hope that many people do not have. And even though I am still sad and heavy hearted over these tragedies, and even over the comparatively minute tragedies of unemployment and car problems and the prosperity of the wicked and, most recently, the forlornness of a young homeless girl I saw on the side of the road today, I rejoice with the psalmist and all the earth because the LORD reigns and "he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He shall judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness." (Ps. 96:13) And I just thought I'd share that.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Just Don't Even Read This.

So that last post wasn't quite as popular as I thought it would be. I really hope I didn't sound smarmy. I just thought I'd instigate this discussion as it seems to be something all moms have to think about. But it made me realize I am on a different page than a lot of moms. I see that some of y'all have great ideas on how to get your children involved with you. And I remember that we did that a lot at one point. For example, my children regularly helped with baking and cooking. What Sarah said about it being important to get them involved in the life of a home so that when they get out of the home they aren't clueless was a great point. And I love that my friends are loving their children in this way, and enjoying them throughout the day.

Sadly, I think I have been so overwhelmed with life over the past year that it has gotten to the point where I am just trying to get through the day, and I enjoy very little about my children or much else, for that matter. So maybe I am unable to properly instigate these conversations because I am not functioning on a normal level. With George being gone so much all the time, and with the loss of the car, and with the commencement of our family's experiment with homeschool, I have been with my children alone from dawn to well past dusk almost every day. There are certainly sweet moments of relief when a family member watches the kids for me, but for the most part, I have been with my kids, without relief, for more than I can handle. No mother's morning out, no school, no nights out for me and George (Well, we went out twice in May. That was really nice!), no overnight trips to the grandparents', no helping hand with suppertime or bathtime or bedtime or any other time, no neighbor friends that they can just go play outside with and be occupied with for a while. I am weak. I know many people could handle it better than me, but I am just not handling it well. We use the TV way more than I would like. And somehow, no matter what I do, I can't get them all in bed before nine or ten. So, that's a lot of hours on the mommy clock. And I can barely get myself together to do what needs to be done, let alone bring the children in on it and make it a family affair. Of course, that is not always true, some days we still bake cookies together or take George to work so we can have the car and do fun stuff around town. But lately, to be honest, I just want my children to go away. Please understand, I love them more than anything, but I just need a break. A nice, long break. And that's why I am so glad that I didn't sign up to volunteer for Vacation Bible School! It sounds terrible, I know, but I just didn't know if we'd still be here back in the spring when the sign up sheets were going around. Of course, we are still here. At the time, I thought I could probably jump in if we were still here. But now that it is one week away, I am thinking that it will be better for my family if I just let our sweet church family take care of my children for a few days.

Blogging during this time is very strange for me. I feel like my circumstances are very unusual and I am not quite able to think about things like I normally would. I have less patience all around, and I just feel flat out exhausted and defeated. On the other hand, I don't want to sound like I think I am unique, that my life is just so much harder than anyone else's or that no one can understand what my life is like. And then, there is the truth of the matter that is, many people really can't completely understand. I try to spell it out sometimes, but I feel like it just comes across as whiney. George loves those "funny" video clips where people are busting or getting smacked by some sort of flung object- real life slapstick, if you will. I never really process that like he does. He looks at the screen and says, "Wow, that would really hurt!" and I just sort of have to think about it and think "well, yes, I suppose it would." There is something in me that doesn't naturally sympathize with the physical pain that someone else is experiencing. Even when I think about it, I still can't really imagine, not the way George can, and it only occurs to me to think about it because he is "moved" (to laughter) by it. I am not sure if this has something to do with me having a high threshold of pain? Maybe it's from lack of my own mishap on motorbike or massive sledding hill? Anyway, I think there is the same idea with people's emotional pain. Some people look at someone else's sorrows and say, "Wow, that would really hurt!" And some people have to hear that and look again and think about it, but still can't really incarnate the way that others can. I am guilty of that very often. I have had to learn to take the steps to break down someone's situation, which is really what I'm doing to myself when I write about my frustrations. I think "why do I feel this way?!" And then I have to go through and figure it out to make sense of it. But I don't want to weigh y'all down with the stresses and emotions of all of this. Yet, on the other hand, I don't want to pretend it's not happening and do the thing I can't stand, act like I don't get frustrated or sad or fighting mad. I don't quite know what to do....

And I have to leave it at that, because I really don't know what to do. It's a weird time for me to be blogging. And the "pretty funny" part to the title of my blog has long been a misnomer. Right now, George has his first morning off in months, I think. And what is he doing? He took the kids out of the house so that I could just be in the house without having to referee arguments or fix snacks or read stories or bark orders. I really have become a meanie too much lately. And I think that is the hardest thing about wanting your children to go away- they know you want them to go away. I am extremely grateful that their daddy is able to step in today. It's been a very hard thing to decide, daddy needs to be at work so our family can eat, but daddy needs to be at home so our family can have peace. George recently opted for peace and quit one of his jobs- the janitor one that is 50 miles away and pays $1.50 less an hour than his other job. Right now, he has more been given hours at the Home Depot (they have more to give during summer) and we hope to hear good news soon about another part time job he interviewed for a few weeks ago. Things could be getting better, you know? We just got our stuff back, George could get this job. I don't know. It's very baby-stepish though. It's not at all like I had thought it would be. All of this time we have been waiting, this fourteen months since graduation, this whole year now that we left seminary housing, I have thought there would be that phonecall, then that interview, then that second interview, then the big move- like Exodus or something. This is more like after the exodus when everyone is wandering around. And reading may be about as exciting as reading those law books from during that time (my apologies to God and Moses). But people who really know Scripture find all kinds of cool things in those books. Perhaps I am finding cool things and don't even know it?

I leave you with ambivalence. I'm frustrated. I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful George will get this other part time job, yet frustrated because a part time job is not a solution to our financial or occupational issues. I'm grateful for relief in that George is going to be home more for the next few days and that we have retrieved our belongings. I'm frustrated that after all of this time, it is just "minor" relief and provision instead of the major breakthrough I was hoping for. I am frustrated with myself for being frustrated. I am frustrated that I am not enjoying my children more. I am hopeful that George being home more will give me some relief. I'm frustrated with the Lord for seeming to be sitting this one out. I'm hopeful that he is orchestrating amazing things and it is just because I am finite and faithless that I don't see it yet. I'm frustrated with this post. I don't like it at all. But it's real. And that's something. And I did tell you not to read it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

"Look at all your helpers!"

You hear it every time you check out at the grocery, don't you? "Wow, you have three helpers!" "Are y'all helping Mom today?" Wouldn't it be great if it were really true? What if the children really were helpers? Some kids are. I am blessed to have more help than many, but I still long for the days when my children will be even more capable and reliable.

I've had this conversation a lot lately with moms in all different stages of parenting. I have some mom friends who have teenagers and babies and their teenagers are given a lot of responsibility with their younger siblings. They rise very well to the challenge- even enjoy it, from what I can tell. I have a lot of friends whose oldests are only three or four, but still they crave responsibility. Is this a characteristic of the oldest? Do they have a natural inclination to want to be in charge? It seems true to my experience. Not that they are necessarily bossy, just that they want to make things happen. On the other hand, Elspeth appears to want the same things. I know it's not a girl thing, maybe it's just a how-some-people-are thing. It's definitely not a how-Abby-is thing.

Amabel and I actually went through sort of a rough patch where I felt like we were butting heads a lot. It seemed like a constant power struggle, which is really rough when the one who is supposed to be in charge really doesn't want to be in charge and is painfully insecure (who could she be talking about?). I struggle with that, with having to be in charge. And when I know I need to be and I do all the work (for me it is a lot of work) to make a decision and a plan and then someone (perhaps a five-year-old?) comes along and tries to usurp that responsibility, to change the plan, to tell me what to do, I get really really upset. There are other people who can do this (sisters, mothers, friends), and that's tough too because I know that the person is much better than me at being in charge, but when it's my home and my children (the only places I assume the position of CEO), it's not for them to try to take over. It's the sort of thing that makes me crazy, but I really don't know what to do about it. Not what the post is about though, sorry. My children trying to take charge is another thing, because I can look in Scripture and see that I have a God-given authority. For some reason, God saw it fit to make me the mother of Amabel, August, and Elspeth, and put me in charge of them. George backs this up. He sees fit to leave me at home with them all day and go out into the world. Two pretty weighty votes of confidence back me up every day telling me I can do this, that I must do this. It was really hard for that season that my oldest did not seem to appreciate that God-given authority (quite frankly, I did not appreciate it either, but I knew I couldn't leave everything up to a five or six-year-old), but over time, she has learned to be humble and respectful. I think much of the problem was remedied when she started homeschooling. I have several possible theories as to why this was the case, but I really don't know for sure. Age? Environment? Consistency?

Whatever the reason, things go pretty smoothly around here these days. (Well, in this regard, at least.) I have been told a lot by other mothers that I really have a blessing in this daughter who is so willing and able to help. Yet, I remember when her desire to have something to do was there, and there seemed to be no way to really channel it properly. When I talk to moms with younger kids, they indicate this same trouble in their own family. How do we let these eager children help out without creating more work for ourselves, whether the work be with trying to deflate their ego or redo the tasks they want so badly to do but are not capable of yet?
I had a friend who let her girls help sort laundry. My feeling about this was that the laundry would likely need to be resorted, and if something was missed, could ruin the clothes- so basically, that this was no help at all. I let my children carry their plates to and from the table, but some children would spill food all over the floor, creating more work for mom. I have some friends who put their oldest in charge and rebuke their youngest ones if they do not respond to their older sibling. I am still in the phase where I have to remind the oldest that the younger ones are not required to respond to her and not to tell them what to do! So basically, things that work for one family won't necessarily work for all families, but perhaps y'all might like to weigh in about the ways you let your kids help out. It doesn't matter if they are two or twelve or twenty, someone would probably like to hear your ideas. That someone is me, for one. And I will go first.

I like Windex wipes. And damp paper towels. And Swiffers. Arm my girls with any of these, and they are busy and happy for at least thirty minutes. Even a two-year-old can wipe a window clean- or cleaner than it was, and that's something. I used to ("used to" only because we don't have them since we moved) let them color all over our sliding glass doors with those Crayola window markers, and the clean-up was as much fun as the art. When our friends were in town this winter, we ended up with four children arguing over damp rags- everyone wanted to wipe down the tables! In the end, everyone got a rag, and it was like Annie's orphanage around here- only the singing was happy. And as long as you don't have lots of porcelain knickknacks (please tell me you don't have porcelain knickknacks), almost any child can be trusted with a Swiffer. And how much of a pain is cleaning the baseboards? It's good fun if you're a kid in my house!

Amabel is just now vacuuming. This could be old or young to begin this task, I don't know. But August very much envies that she is "allowed" to vacuum. She's not very good with sweeping and he's not really able to make his bed, so we have a long way to go, but every little bit helps. Away from home, Amabel is also an excellent help with pushing strollers or grocery buggies or even running to another end of the store to grab something off a shelf. August amazes me with his chivalry. I rarely have to ask him to hold doors or let others go first.

Well, those are just a couple of examples of how I employ my children to help out. They really want to be doing something helpful and grown up, and I can always use a hand around here! We have never had "chores" or "allowances" because none of that really suits the personality of our family. I pretty much just ask my children to do something when it needs to be done and they do it (though sometimes after complaining and/or discipline). There are a few exceptions, I expect them to regularly put their dirty clothes in the laundry, put their dirty dishes in the sink, and make their beds (August daily wrestles with his down comforter, so this, as anything, requires recognition of how much they can actually do and patience to meet them where they are and encourage them for their efforts). However, I have to remind them of these tasks more times than not. But I know lots of people have more orderly and consistent ways of doing things. I hope they will share and get us thinking.

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