Monday, December 14, 2009

A La Mode Christmas Tour

Christmas Tour of Homes with The Nester

Merry Christmas one and all! Today is the Nester's Christmas Tour of Homes party and I simply can't abstain from anything with the words "Nester" and "party." Last year I was feeling all excited about my holiday decorating. This year I am more tired than inspired but I am joining in nonetheless. Here we go...

The tree.

It is fake and was cheap and obviously not that pretty. But it's easy. For me the important part is the tree decor. These unassuming trinkets are very sentimental as they are a combination of ornaments that our parents gave us when we got married and ornaments my own children have made over the years.

I especially love my topper. Blondie made this little cardboard angel when she was 3 or 4. I always cry when I take it out of the Christmas bin. I love its giant blue eyes and sparse yellow yarn-hair.

Coffee filter glitter-angels and thumbprint snowmen grow more precious every year.

My mantle is not Christmasy at all save for this lonely star. I didn't get around to the garland part like I did last year.

I did, however, put up this window garland again. I love it.

But not as much as I love all of these handprint decorations the kids made with their toddler hands at pre-school in years past.

My Nester-inspired ragamuffin garland I made last year.

The entry-way is kind of fun. Our advent calendar, Christmas cards, stockings, and more kid-made decor.

We're trying to keep Jesus at the forefront of Christmas...but truth be told there were Toys 'r Us circulars here earlier this morning. Sigh.

I love this sweet handmade reminder that He's still the center, chaos and all.

The kids drew these manger scenes today. Here's Blondie's:

As you can see Brownie's rendition of the nativity is more "layered": Joseph brought a present, Jesus has a Christmas tree, there are various locks and entrances into the stable, and if any of the manger participants become bored they can play putt-putt.

Blondie and Brownie were working on a lovely holiday mural...

Until a certain two-year-old chalk thief sidled up, hoarded all the chalk when they weren't looking, and "ruined" their pictures.

He deserves a lump of coal for all his naughty-ness...but he would probably just eat it or smear it on the walls.

Clearly if there's a theme in our house this year, it's one of "keepin' it real"...especially with these three always-stirring creatures.

Merry Christmas from our humble abode to yours!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'98 Ford Windstar

Before I had kids I said I would never drive a mini-van. Never. My snobbish and idealistic younger self envisioned a Volvo cross-country {navy-blue} or some sort of savvy SUV. All of which makes my current vehicle so ironic and laughable.

As we prepare for a big driving trip, I've been thinking a lot about the Windstar.

Purchased used 6 1/2 years ago from a trusty colleague and paid for within a few months, we figured it would give us extra room for the soon-to-be family of 4. It would simply be an intermediate vehicle we'd drive for a couple of years until we upgraded. Later I looked up the van in Consumer Reports only to discover that the ratings were less than hot. Far less. I wondered if we'd made a big mistake.

The paint on the bumper and fender became peely after a while, much to the embarrassment of my children who should be too young to express vehicular shame. But they have finally stopped asking when we will get a new van.

The short version of the story is this: a van we had only planned to keep for a short time, that should only have lasted a few years, has chugged along for more than twice that long (that's about 65 in Ford Windstar years) with only one repair.

Strange but I have come to love this van and the loyalty it's provided my family. I jokingly say it's "built God tough." There's no reason it should still be running. But every month it does, every month we have not had to go buy a new one, I'm thankful.

Moments of slight embarrassment still sometimes show up unannounced, but I'm pretty good now at swatting them away. Moments when I hope that others don't define me by my van. Usually I don't care but every now and then that before-I-had-kids mentality takes over and I want to crawl under the van instead of in it.

The day will come, maybe soon, when I'll have 4 doors instead of 3, when I'll wave goodbye to upholstery stains and the rogue french fry lodged in the ash tray. And though I'll be thankful for a new and improved ride and probably sit up a little straighter in the driver's seat, I'll always be grateful for the odd and humbling provision of my '98 Windstar.


Taking a little detour {and because these days I'm not posting terribly often and I don't want to forget this}, I have the BEST gift suggestion for any new moms or soon-to-be moms in your life. Enter The Padalily...

Mom-invented by my BFF, Lily, this super-stylish and comfy pad simply velcroes around the handle of the cumbersome-to-carry infant car seat. This way you can carry it in the crook of your arm without bursting a blood vessel or getting a hernia. I can't believe someone didn't think of this sooner but for Lily's sake, I'm glad they didn't!

Seriously people, I had one of these with my 3rd child and I couldn't believe the difference it made. It was so nice to have both hands free to hold the other kids' hands or to tote the many bags I'm always hauling around.

I give one to every new mom...and you should too. {But not to any mom's I'm going to give them to.} Right now, Lily is offering a special promotion: 20% off and free shipping with the code, OCTPAD. Now get shopping! The mommy-arms will thank you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pollyanna I'm Not

{Cupcake and toddling cousin helping one another out on a Thanksgiving hike.}

The best way to get your eyes off yourself is to put them on someone else. That's the sort of Pollyanna-esque stuff my mom used to tell me regularly. As a moody and narcissistic teenager, I was hardly appreciative.

I am well-intentioned at kindness but have come to the painful conclusion that I'm short on follow-through. It does not come naturally for me to just pick up the phone and find out how you're doing. I want to be that person but the older I get, the less I enjoy talking on the phone. Apparently, I've become a word-hoarder.

Come dinnertime, one of my kids is likely to ask me a question, only to be met with a blank stare. I think to myself, It's 5:00 and I've simply run out of words. As Emily said in one of my favorite posts of hers, The pressures of motherhood smoked the introvert right out of me. I wanted to shout hallelujah, relieved to know I wasn't the only former social butterfly who longed to retreat back into the chrysalis.

I'm not a complete Scrooge. Sometimes I do call, take over a meal, write a note, or send an e-mail. I care about people, just not enough to care about myself less. I am stingy with my time and energy and while I wear many hats, Mother Theresa's is not one of them.

Is it painful to admit the ugly truth about myself? Terribly. But it's also freeing. And if you know anything about 12-steps, admitting you have a problem is the first.

I've long wondered how my heart can beat as that of a humanitarian but my actions fall startlingly short. I cry when I watch the news, I want to go on every relief trip I hear about, I long for a time when I can volunteer for great causes. I rationalize that this season of my life doesn't allow for grand acts of service...but it feels like an excuse.

Over the summer I began praying a simple prayer that God would use me in the lives of others. I know my first line of charity is my family but I longed for more. Be careful what you pray. Sometimes our prayers may be answered long after we quit praying them.

I won't go into any specifics. Even if I did, you wouldn't be impressed. I haven't adopted a child or saved a village or halted abuse. There have simply been moments here and there when I've stepped out of my comfort zone to do something seemingly inconsequential and God has seen fit to bless it. My default setting is still to not pick up the phone or initiate, to let someone else fill a need that I don't have the energy or confidence to fill.

But I finally get what my mom was talking about all those years ago. Most days I'm tired and overwhelmed by the day-to-day, prone to be depressive and insular, protective of the wee bit of "me" time I'm allowed. Yes, I care for children all day long yet my own selfishness continuously taints my service even to them. Thankfully, in the rare moments that these eyes shift to the needs and concerns of those beyond my walls, the personal mountain of worries seems negligible. Perspective returns. I am blessed.

So mom, you were right. I'm just a little slow to learn.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Coastal November

Eyes filled with joy tears as my sneakers skimmed across the firm, wet sand. I gazed across Atlantic sea and beheld a million diamonds dancing atop the surface, sun reflecting off the aqua surface. November coastal breezes whisked away the sweat before it could seep through my clothes, as if Nike had invented some sort of Dri-Fit beach air.

The kids played bocce with Nana and Poppy while I ran along the coastline, my mind free to dream and let go and reflect. Overwhelmed with surprise and gratitude, I ran and smiled, my tears the natural overflow of a leaky heart.

I never was one who snooped for my Christmas presents or tried to get the low-down on my birthday. For me, the best gifts are the surprise ones. Anticipation is great but serendipity is better.

So when my parents called out of the blue and invited us to the beach for four days, I started packing immediately, for fear they'd change their mind. I don't know why two adults would choose to forgo days of golf, quiet, and kid-free relaxation but I didn't ask questions.

Family, memories, gratitude...four days of unexpected and undeserved goodness. Giving thanks came a week early this year, a beachy appetizer for this week's main course of turkey, dressing, pie and even more family.

Wherever you are, may your Thanksgiving be one of blessing, joy and unexpected goodness.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Once a Runner

I started running in the 7th grade when I was 12 years old. That was 24 years ago.

I went out for the track team because one of my best friends said it would be fun. Unfortunately, my BFF quit after a week and I was left on the team shy and alone, unable to run even one lap around the track without walking.

At less than 5 feet tall and somewhere in the 70 pound range, I was nearly blown off the track by the Oklahoma winds. I ran the entire season in navy blue Keds and bobby socks, finishing last place every race. My parents, loyal and impervious to shame, came to each meet, enduring the comments from nearby spectators:

Look at that poor girl. She's so slow. And her legs are like twigs. Oh look, she's waving at people in the stands...and smiling...while racing. How old is she?

I can't tell you why I stayed with it. As a puny and awkward non-athlete, running was hard for me. But quitting was even harder...and so I stayed on the track.

I'm glad I did. I became part of a team. I became "a runner." And when you're in 7th grade, identity is everything.

My track coach encouraged me to run the next fall. Thankfully cross-country proved to be better than track. With a field of 50-150 participants, I was no longer dead last in every race.

As the seasons rolled by, I kept running. By my sophomore year I was actually decent, though hardly a standout on my 5A state championship team. I proudly wore a letter jacket with track and cross-country badges. My parents sacrificed so I could get a team state championship ring...which now fits my pinky. And at 36, I still wear my silver necklace with the runner pendant I got when I was 16.

Because once a runner, always a runner...if only in spirit.

I owe a lot to running. Running taught me discipline, exemplified by thrice-weekly 5 a.m. runs as a high-schooler. Endurance as I ran barefoot with my teammates for over an hour in the sand bars of the Arkansas River. Dedication. Determination. Focus. Perseverance. I could use a little more of those virtues now. As a mom of young kids, every day feels like a marathon.

Running gave me life-long friendships {reconnected through the magic of Facebook} and opportunities for leadership. It gave me a place to belong during those tenuous teenage and college years. It was and still is part of who I am.

Best of all, running gave me my husband of 14 years. I met him when we were 18 on our college cross-country team. That was 18 years ago and he is still handsome and fast.

Since then I've endured injuries, pregnancies, surgery, physical therapy, and apathy. I've run half-marathons and not run for years at a time.

Today I'm a runner, thanks once again to a friend's invitation. Months ago she said to me, Let's run. You've been saying you want to get back out there. Let's do it together. After a 5-year hiatus, I felt much like I did in 7th grade: insecure, puny, and awkward.

Three to four mornings a week I'm out the door before light. I don't do a lot of mileage and I haven't raced in years. These days, I'm content to simply run. It feels good to lace up my sneakers {I traded in my Keds for Nikes years ago}, sweat, watch the sun come up, and chat through labored breathing with my faithful running partner. In the midst of this crazy season of my life, running is the calm, the thing I do that's just for me.

Seemingly random events can set our course. I owe a lot to that 7th-grade invitation, inconsequential though it seemed...a gift granted 24 years ago that keeps on giving.


{Title of this post is also the title of a book by John Parker . Wanted to give credit where credit is due.}

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oh Yes She Did

Twenty-five years ago I dressed my younger brother up like a girl. Hair bows, make-up, pink skirt, the whole nine yards. It was one of my favorite pastimes. I find comfort in the fact that he now is a manly man, a devoted husband and father who loves sports and flatulence. Thankfully, his cross-dressing was simply out of submission to his older sister's bossy and manipulative ways.

Recently I found solace in my brother's normality because Blondie did this to Cupcake.

The girl dressed the boy up like a girl, complete with smeary lipstick and purple eye-shadow.

Who loves the camera?

I don't think I've ever told Blondie that I used to dress Uncle Aaron up as a girl. Clearly she inherited the makeover gene. As I've said before, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Opportunity Cost

My economist husband enjoys using terms like "sunk cost" and "economies of scale" in our regular conversations. Such language is usually met with a rolling of the eyes. Supply and demand curves don't thrill me, much to his chagrin.

But sometimes his economics jargon comes in handy. Every now and then one of his classroom concepts hits so close to home that I want to stand up and applaud.

In this case, the credit goes to John Start Mill, the classical economist who came up with the theory of opportunity cost. I'll explain in a minute. {Believe me it's all related.}

I haven't blogged in two or three weeks. My unintended bloggattical is merely a symptom of this season.

Between homeschooling and making sure Cupcake doesn't burn down the house while I teach, I am spent by 1:00. Too many people and too many tasks seem to require me for completion.

On any given day I want to pretend run away. When I leave for the store my husband says, "Call me when you get to Mexico." We laugh as I pull out of the driveway but we both know he's half-way serious.

I'm not alone of course. I'm simply one among the multitude giving voice to the struggle of the everyday.

Lately the simmer of trying to balance it all has cranked up to a rapid boil. I am often paralyzed by too much needing my attention all at once. The immediate takes precedence and anything that can wait does exactly that.

I want to paint the hutch, so desperately needed for inside storage, that sits in my garage. I want to put away summer clothes, clean out, give away, restore order, write a little, and help others. The chocolate drool stains on my furniture glare at me every time I walk past. I would flip the cushion but I already have.

The non-urgent simply has to wait.

I feel justified in my desires for order and peace. But when I survey the land with brutal honesty, I am left with one painful conclusion:

I want to own my time. I want to make time sit down and obey...but it won't listen, much like my 2-year-old. There is a time for everything but time itself is not mine to subdue.

And this brings us back to our economics lesson.

Opportunity cost: the value of the next best alternative forgone as the result of making a decision. (Webster's)

My example: The opportunity cost of homeschooling is that laundry doesn't always get done in a timely manner or at all. The opportunity cost of having young children at home is a less than orderly household. The opportunity cost of making ends meet means that economist husband teaches extra classes and is gone much of the week.

{And I am thankful. For employment in uncertain times, for the time with my children at home, for a million blessings I could list right now.}

We make decisions that we hope will benefit our family both now and in the long run but the opportunity costs are time and resources for other things that might bring about "visual peace," more room, time for ourselves, and time for others.

I used to work full-time outside the home. The opportunity cost of a fulfilling career and extra income was eventually {for me} too much stress and missing my kids. Now that I'm home full-time, the opportunity cost of being here is missing certain elements of my career and having far fewer dollars.

I doubt that John Stuart Mill ever considered opportunity cost for modern-day moms, both those in and out of the home. But I consider it every day.

There is a season, an opportunity for most everything. Seasons don't last though. A new one arrives and we celebrate. It persists for a time and we endure. It changes, finally, and we welcome another. Sometimes we're glad it's gone. Sometimes we grieve, forever, that it will never return.

Lately I've been less than celebratory over this particular season. I want endless opportunities and no cost. I begrudgingly endure, complaining my way through the laundry and the mess and the tantrums. I'm tired of my own whining.

My soul longs to trudge through with grace and gratitude.

Recently, I pondered a passage that I've heard a hundred times, ancient words considered anew as a welcome salve for this season's irritations.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

a time to change diapers and a time to get a shower ,
a time to teach pronouns and a time to eat chocolate. {SAHM translation}

Words to live by. Apparently John Stuart Mill wasn't the first to articulate opportunity cost...

Class dismissed.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Today I decided that I am in the business of crumbs.

There are the obvious crumbs of course. Bits of toast, Cheerio's, and Cheez-It's swept up several times a day. There are also odd, misplaced crumbs such as the rogue piece of popcorn I found in my bedroom yesterday or the half-eaten granola bar beside the toilet left by someone who decided to snack while they sat.

There are crumbs that have nothing to do with food at all. Toy crumbs, for example, like microscopic Legos or a Polly Pocket stiletto, the arm of a plastic T-Rex or the vinyl whiskers that fell off a miniscule cat.

While doing laundry today I discovered yet another classification of crumbs: laundry crumbs. Laundry crumbs add insult to injury for a laundry-phobe like myself. They are the little articles in the basket that sift to the bottom amid the larger items like t-shirts and jeans...tiny bits of my family's wardrobe that live to torment me. Sport socks for toddler feet, kid underpants, and tiny t-shirts. Much like a bag of potato chips, laundry crumbs sink to the bottom of the bin so that I am forced to reckon with the lot of them all at once.

Today was one of those days where I actually saw the bottom of the laundry bin. As I unloaded the dryer, I marveled that 52,174 items of clothing managed to sneak into just one load. One toddler sock is harmless enough but when they ban together, it's like some sort of evil laundry monolith sent from the devil.

As I stripped duvets and unrolled pillowcases from the kids' beds, more crumbs hit the floor. Plastic palm trees, a rock, a Barbie shoe. It's as if my children expect the Apocalypse and want to have some secret junk stashed away while the rest of the world goes up in flames.

The crumbs never end. But as I began to ponder their significance, I realized that crumbs tell us a lot. What do archaeologists do? They study crumbs. They dig up the scraps and fragments of former civilizations. Everything we know about history, we owe to crumbs.

So what would our crumbs say about us? I wondered. {Besides the fact that we have too many socks.}

From the laundry crumbs, one can assume that tiny people live here. From the table crumbs, one can gather that we like cookies. A lot. From the Lego appendages and the crayon shards under the sofa, one might guess that the tiny people are creative. From the paper crumbs, the tucked-away letters and journals, one would even learn that we have loved and sinned and suffered and been restored. That we still struggle...but we are not without hope.

In our crumbs, I see provision.

And so today, I celebrate the crumbs in whatever form they take. To sweep up tiny morsels and be grateful for cookies, to put socks in drawers and bless the tiny feet that fit inside them, to place Lego's in plastic bins and delight in the imaginative play that happens here, to reflect on our story and give thanks for redemption.

Here's to crumbs.
Linked to "Tuesdays Unwrapped" {Chatting at the Sky}

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Celebratory Thursday

Today was an unschool-homeschool day. We had planned to go to the apple orchard in the mountains but the forecast was hot and muggy so we postponed our trip to a day that's more Fall-like.

My kids, however, had anticipated a field trip all week. So I decided we'd make today one of those homeschool days that I intend to have but never do. A day of baking cookies and playing games. A day of real-life activities that teach, engage, and promote blissful togetherness.

We stayed in our pajamas. We baked 6 dozen of the best chocolate chip cookies ever. We did not brush our teeth until late in the day...which is gross, of course, yet a luxury by kid standards.

It was, in a word, fantastic. The kids loved breaking out of their pencil and paper routine. I loved being one of those cool hands-on moms. Cupcake loved getting in on all the big kid fun and eating unhealthy amounts of cookie dough.

He even celebrated the day by learning to undress himself, diaper included. I discovered him naked and full of glee. {I am quite sure this new-found independence is going to make my life increasingly difficult but all the more blogworthy.}

He's wearing nothing but cookie here.

I learned something today. It's something I already knew...but more in theory than in practice. Intentional spontaneity. These little ones are growing up before my eyes. Moments race by like wild horses. I can grab hold and enjoy the ride or stay safe and live with regret. By nature, I tend to do more of the latter.

Yes, math and writing are necessary parts of life...but a day off every now and then will not relegate children to a life of ignorance and squalor. They will not remember every day of multiplication and phonics rules; they will {hopefully} remember the occasional days of cookies and pajamas and monopoly.

When I reflect on my own childhood, the days of school and homework all run together in a monotonous flow of routine and drudgery. But I still remember the excitement I felt when my dad announced we were going to see a late movie together one Sunday evening...a school night. How delightfully scandalous.

I remember when he took all four of us out of school for an ENTIRE week to go to Washington, D.C. for a presidential inauguration and all the free festivities and attractions our nation's capital had to offer. I was a sophomore in high school at the time. {And I do remember being more than a little behind after missing a week of genetics in biology class...not that any of it matters now.}

I remember my very patient mother giving me free reign in the kitchen to make cookies and messes. I remember watching TV movies together while picnicking on a blanket in the carpeted living room. As it turns out, much of the best stuff I remember is the stuff of spontaneity and togetherness. Stuff that typically wasn't allowed. Stuff that was free or nearly free.

I want those little-big things for my own kids. Though it sounds simplistic and even cliche, I'm learning that little things make big impressions...and hopefully lasting memories.

My kids told me it was one of the best days ever. It was for me too.


I also learned that 3 sticks of butter in a batch of chocolate-chip cookies is worth every single calorie.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Lately I've felt like this photo. After going through difficult seasons of drought and pruning and feeling stuck forever in the dirt, I've enjoyed freedom and beauty and the sun on my face.

In the midst of stress and busy-ness and still-tough circumstances, I have felt a oneness with my Creator and enjoyed the glorious perspective that comes from peace. Seasons like this are precious. For every moment He allows me to rise above my no-good self, I'm crazy grateful.

But this world is broken and glory is fleeting.

Just as I am feeling extra-radiant, the rapid fire of one harsh element after another pummels my blooming self. Nothing earth-shattering. Just a series of everyday-variety scattered storms not even on my radar only moments before they touch down. Suddenly I am a withered, near-unrecognizable version of my former self, face-down in the all-too-familiar dirt.

People push buttons. I react with uglyness, even if just on the inside. My inner monologues are eloquent and harsh and put offenders in their rightful place, this heart going from pure to punitive in 2 seconds.

My eyes gaze upon a pretty picture and the contentment I've striven so hard for vanishes in a cloud of envy and idolatry, this contented spirit going from have to have-not instantaneously.

I do for someone again and the joyful love and service I'd just grabbed hold of spirals out of control, colliding head-on with resentment and I-deserve-better-ness. We need some respect up in this place, I want to scream.

No longer beautiful or flowering, I can't believe I fell so far so fast. I want to kick the dog but we don't have one. I'm tempted to pull out sad coffee house tunes and wallow in maudlin melody.

But I know there's only one road back to the wondrous place I've just toppled from. A road whose well-worn path these calloused feet have traversed countless times.

Humility. Confession. Repentance. Praying for more water, more light, even more pruning...though I wince from the pain every. single. time. I beg for grace and strength and supernatural to rain down life abundant.

This withered soul clings desperately to the hope, the good and perfect promise, that mercies are new every from ashes propping me back up to my glorious place in the sun.


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