Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Ten: The Memory Palace

Dad and Lydia sledding
Christmas break almost always involves a marathon reading of at least one book, a can't-put-it-down, block-out-the-family, full on obsessive read.  I started and finished The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok in about 36 hours with breaks for skating, sledding, eating, and sleeping.

The Memory Palace is a beautifully composed memoir about the relationship between the author and her schizophrenic mother, complete with the complex range of emotions you would expect from a difficult family relationship-- fear, anger, guilt, hope, and love.  Bartok writes without an agenda.  She tells it like it is and lets the readers decide how they should feel about mental health care, homelessness, and her mom, along with the various family relationships.

In addition to the story line, Bartok interweaves her own artistry and uses the building of a "memory palace"-- the construction of artistic images that trigger powerful memories otherwise lost by brain trauma or plain old forgetfulness -- in order to structure her memoir and explore vivid and important events on the timeline of her mother's disease and her own growth and relationship with her mom.  It is both heartbreaking and redemptive.  A beautiful book.

I also received Wild by Cheryl Strayed for Christmas from my dad-in-law, and with any luck, I'll read that over the next few days as well.  I think this completes my goal to read ten books for 2012, especially if I count a few poetry books I didn't review here.  I ended up not reading a couple of the books on my to-read list but read others instead, which I suppose is to be expected.  I liked having this list in the back of my mind for the year, though.  It was good to have some goals and expectations for myself for the year, even if I didn't meet them all.  Maybe on a quiet evening in the next few weeks I'll set another goal list for 2013.

Lyd in her Disney dress-up gown
Christmas was such a blast this year, with many lovely gifts given and received.  The kids are particularly enjoying a wooden train table, an American Girl doll (I bet you can't guess who got that), and Star Wars figurines and spaceships.  Brandon has been playing his new guitar whenever he can, and I've been sporting a new pair of cowboy boots, something I've wanted for years.  It was particularly fun to see how excited the kids were about giving the gifts they picked out for people this year.

Our Florida family arrives today in Akron, and we're all excited to be with them for the next week or so.  I took Lyd ice skating for the first time yesterday, and we hope to get Granny, Kelly, and Macy out on the ice rink this week if we are able to make it happen.  It was a magical hour and a half with her, laughing and falling and spinning and falling, and falling.  And falling.  :)  I was worried she would get discouraged right away because it was hard for her to even stay up let alone make forward progress, but she is so determined and pushed through, and by the time we were ready to leave, she was skating without holding on to me or the rail, even trying to do a few spins herself.

We've also gone down the big sledding hill a few times now.  I'm grateful that we got a good dumping of snow.

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is linking up with old friends, and last night we went out with the Stalters and Newmans for pizza at Luigi's.  As Nikki said, it was as if we picked up our last conversation right where we left off years ago.  Today, I met up with friends from high school for lunch, and it was just like old times... except for all of the mortgage/job/kids talk ;)  I guess we're adults now.  I'm glad we were able to get together.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Days 17-21: Run, Run, Rudolph

The last week of advent before Christmas got a little scrambled up, but there were plenty of highlights. 

Elvis's Christmas program was on the 18th.  Lydia finished off an antibiotic for strep on Monday and by Tuesday morning, she had it again, so the rest of the Wells family stayed home while I took E to his program.  Unfortunately, my kids seem to have gotten my stage presence instead of Brandon's.  Elvis spent the entire Christmas program in the front row of the risers pouting and mouthing "mama," which looked so sad.  I thought if he could see me, he'd be okay, but nope.  I don't think he sung any of the songs, and sadly, he also didn't say his line in the play, just like last year.  He knew it, too.  Poor guy.  I hope both Lydia and Elvis are able to conquer whatever fears they have about being in front of an audience. 

We took the kids to the Buckeye Express Diner in Bellville on Wednesday this week, taking the longer way home to see Christmas lights, thereby killing the hypothetical two birds with one stone.  If you haven't been to the Buckeye Express Diner, you should make a point of it the next time you're driving on I-71 between Cleveland and Columbus.  Great burgers, good french fries, homemade applesauce, and you get to eat in a TRAIN!  That was clearly a highlight for us.

The kids and I also wrapped the gifts we bought last weekend.  Aside from a couple of special gifts for the boys, all of the wrapping is done, and I think all of the gift-buying is done, too.  I can hardly wait for Christmas giving to begin, there are so many things I'm excited about.  It's going to be a sweet Christmas for the Wells family.  Brandon's gift arrived in the mail yesterday, and I can hardly wait for him to unwrap it.  He's going to love the lifelong supply of Hanes underwear.

Thursday evening was our almost annual White Elephant Christmas party.  We had about 22 people or so (I'm not real sure because I put two 18's into the gift number bag), and "Das Boot" made a return, along with a pinata, a Russian hat, and a pocket chair.

Brandon and our friend, Bill, finished the microwave installation on Friday, the kids played in the first snow of the season, and I had coffee with one of my best friends, made some truffles and presents for family gifts, then hung out with some girlfriends down the street afterhours.

It's been a good week, albeit with its usual random interruptions of whininess and complaining from the peanut gallery.  My threats to return Christmas gifts just aren't meaningful enough to demand good behavior.

I can't promise a post between now and Christmas, and we've actually done all of the advent activities on the calendar already (today was supposed to be make and wrap presents, but that's done, so I think we might make some paper snowflakes instead).  So, if I don't post again before Christmas, please have a jolly one!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent - The Third Candle: Joy, Mary's Candle (Poem)

“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” – Luke 2:19

You wouldn’t stop
moving, pushed against
my ribs, and I pushed
back. We exchanged
our first conversation,
just my skin between
your hand and mine.
We spoke our first
nursery rhyme, sang
our first hymn. I breathe
every memory—not
of visitors or gifts but
what happened before,

after, in between. You
were hungry. I moved you
to my breast. You slept
on my chest, your head
beneath my chin,
every part of you new.
I never knew you better,
touched your toes and eyes
like you were ever mine,
your breath milk-sour,
hovering like incense
in the air.

Advent Day 15 & 16: Gifts

The kids went Christmas shopping for their family members on Saturday, and what fun it was to see what they picked out for each person and the thought they put into gifts they thought each person would like!  I was impressed at their ability to focus on others, especially in the toy aisle, where there are so many temptations to shop for themselves.  They were so excited to go shopping in the first place but initially talked about getting toys for themselves, so we discussed how Christmas isn't about getting presents, it is about remembering and celebrating Jesus's birth, and one way we do that is by giving gifts to each other as a way to demonstrate our love for one another.  It's amazing how often I forget this and get "wrapped" up in the buying and exchanging of gifts as an obligation because that's what we do, instead of an opportunity to show love to someone.

Sunday morning, I helped with tech stuff and read part of the Advent program with two of my friends.  The third candle of advent is joy, and in light of recent events, it was strangely appropriate for us to talk about joy.  The Holy Spirit moved in miraculous and mysterious ways, in the advance selection of music chosen by the worship leader, in the third candle narrative, and in the pastor's sermon.  If you want to hear John Shultz talk about joy in the midst of this dark season, listen here.

Sunday's advent activity was a "mystery," at least it was when I put the calendar together, but it turned out perfect; we celebrated Christmas with my mom's side of the family.  Our gift exchange and gathering was a great time filled with laughter, and I got some really fun(ny) stuff.  The kids had fun chasing my uncle and aunt's cats and dog around the house, and I'm thankful for my family's generosity to us and our kids-- they certainly don't have to buy gifts for our kids but they do, and of course they loved opening up their presents!

And Brandon is home.  Ah.  Yes.  Finally.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent Day 14: Pajama Movie Night, Waiting out the Darkness

Tonight I made a big bowl of kettle corn and two mugs of hot chocolate with two big marshmallows each, started the first fire of the year in the fireplace, and piled onto the couch with my three beautiful, marvelous, remarkable children who know nothing of senseless rage unloaded onto the spirits of their peers, to watch The Lorax, who speaks for the trees.  The kids got up off the couch to dance when music came on, and then the trees, well, they grew from their tiny seeds into truffula saplings, hundreds of them with soft, pink tufts, blossoming happily ever afters to the tune of "Let It Grow."

Earlier in the movie, though, the Onesler cut down the trees, at first with an ax and then his brothers zoomed through the forest with their cutting-down machine, and one by one the truffula trees fell until the hills were dark and empty.  The Lorax could only speak for the trees and grieve.  And grieve.  And grieve. 

So helpless. 

"We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." (Rom 8:26)

We are seven days away from the turning of the solstice, seven days left of this gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of light.  And then four days later we remember and celebrate the birth of the Light of the world, the Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty One, the Lamb of God.  Right now, we wait and wait and wait. 

Words feel so weak and weightless in the presence of darkness, and yet the same Light, Shepherd, Prince, Lord, Lamb, God also called himself the Word.  Truth.  Good news.  He delivered to us his word, gifted us his spirit, and the fruit of his spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are not the fruits of the enemy (and darkness and evil are the enemy) who robs us of joy and pours out terror and grief, who lacks all control, who is violent, who takes matters into his own hands, wields his power over the helpless and tries to evade justice.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Come, O come, Immanuel.  Be with us.  Come, God of Light and Life and Truth, and speak.

Reposting -- because I so badly want the darkness to pass away.

"Advent: The First Candle"

In November, our lips trembled
with the breath of winter etched
in frost across the windows.
We gazed at dawn’s arrival
casting bands of icy glitter
on brass and copper oak leaves
holding tight to frozen branches,
as if they could stop the turn
of seasons, suspend the spin
of Earth around the sun, but
nothing can slow this orbit
toward the solstice. Oh, Christ,

the prophets spoke about a day
when darkness would pass away.

Shadows broaden, days shorten.
We’ve waited the way I watched
my garden for the reddening
of tomatoes, the fleshing out
of vegetables, how I’ve held
my swollen abdomen, the fullness
of time a season, a month a week
a day an hour away. Now,

we unravel pine swag garland
and drape it on the mantle, melt
a candle, send a signal in a flaming
flicker, hope hot enough to kill
the darkness
. Here comes the turning
of the solstice, here comes the night,
the star, and then the etching
of a few more minutes to stand
in the slow burn of frost,
the gradual stretching of the light.

A Year of Wells 2012 Photo Book

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent Day 13: A Special Treat

Public Service Announcement: Tonight's post is written with chocolate and merlot, preceded by a chocolate chip cookie, potentially followed by more chocolate. And more merlot.

I'm not sure why tonight beat the snot out of me. Maybe several weeks of whizzing about has finally provoked the over-tired toddler in me to throw a tantrum.  After I picked up the kids from their respective child care locales, we grabbed a hot-and-ready pizza from Little Caesars and darted home to eat in a hurry before Lydia's basketball practice.  After last time, there was no way in heaven or on Earth I was going to wrestle Henry into captivity for an entire hour in the gym, so while Lydia practiced, the boys and I went to Hawkins to pick up some groceries (yay, no grocery shopping tomorrow!) and to cash in the advent activity for today-- pick out a special treat.  We visited the delicious Hawkins bakery and bought two iced sugar cookies for Lydia and Elvis, a spritz snowman for Henry, and a chocolate chip cookie for mama.

Let. Me. Go!
Lyd had pictures tonight, too, so there was no avoiding bringing the boys back into the gym for the remainder of practice.  I should've gotten Henry a bigger cookie, ("Stillwell, angel, have another chocolate bar!") because he gobbled up the spritz snowman before I could say, Frosty the Snowman had to hurry on his way... which is what I wanted to do, hurry on our way.  Henry tried to escape but I was too fast for him and found some Thomas the Tank Engine video through the YouTube app on my phone, which pacified him long enough for practice to end.  Then, it was standing about with a 30-pound squirming worm in my arms and a 5-year-old clinging to my pantleg like I asked him not to five THOUSAND times while we waited for every girl on the team to get her picture taken.  On the way to the car, Henry kept squawking, "AWK! AWK!" so I let him walk but forced him to hold my hand, which he hated and did the wet-noodle-collapse-on-the-asphalt trick.  I picked his arched self up, which he hated even more, and tried to put him in his carseat, but it's hard to bend a U-shaped body back to a sitting position.  "Sit DOWN!  Mama's gonna lose it in a minute, Henry!" I squeaked.  All three kids laughed at me.

God, I love parenting.

Then it was home to take the fastest bath on the planet-- in fact, I'm not sure the boys got wet at all-- and then to bed to bed to bed!  Yay!  The older two were out before I headed back down the stairs, but I don't think Henry stopped singing and talking to himself until almost 9 p.m. He'll be buckets of fun tomorrow. 

The tantrum-throwing, over-tired toddler in me could've crawled underneath a crocheted blanket and watched a romantic comedy, but tomorrow is trash day, and thank God I saw the Hawkins plastic bag on the table because I would've forgotten all about the bags of eggs, sausage, bacon, and yogurt just waiting to spoil in the back of the kid hauler.  Trash can on the curb, groceries in the refrigerator, sticky spot on the floor grabbing my sock every time I walk past the silverware drawer.  Oh. Well.

I unloaded the dishwasher but turned off the light in the kitchen before I could notice the sink still full of dishes from this morning. But I had to flick the switch back on to find the wine and chocolate.  Don't worry, I was careful to shield my eyes and then dashed away again.  I'm safe now in the living room away from those oatmeal-crusted bowls and those lipstick-stained coffee mugs.

I thought about the laundry briefly, but blogging about advent seemed like a much better use of my time, even though I don't think Henry is going to be wearing any pants tomorrow. 

All of this to say tonight was one of those nights that makes me want to quit. All things. Am I absolutely insane to think I can do this AND take classes toward a master's degree?  I can't keep all of *this* (waving arms frantically, the universal symbol for utter chaos and disorder) together as it is.  Yeah, I see you --  o.O  -- stop looking at me like that.  We serve crazy here every night.

My advent calendar could've ended December 19-- all I'm anticipating right this minute is the end of work for 2012 and the beginning of agenda-free Christmas vacation.  That whole waiting-to-celebrate-the-birth-of-baby-Jesus-God-with-us-prince-of-peace thing is totally overrated.  Okay, not really.  I just want to see my husband for more than a couple of hours before he takes a plane to another state, to disengage my alarm for two whole weeks, to shift into a slower pace of life instead of this frantic running all the time.

And all I really want for Christmas is to think only about family, friends, love, joy, and peace... and to indulge in tasty food and good wine.  Bring it, Advent.  Bring. It. On. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Day 12: Deliver Cookies to Neighbors

When I got home from work today, Brandon was busy with our friend Bill installing an electric outlet and hanging a couple of cabinets in the kitchen, in preparation for an over-the-range microwave Christmas present from my in-laws (yeeeeeee hawwwwww!).  Never did I imagine in my pre-married life that I would be so excited about kitchen upgrades, but time and time again I prove that you really can find bliss in new appliances. 

The kids and I took another crisp walk around the neighborhood, this time to deliver our gingerbread cookies to neighbors, along with our homemade cards.  Henry loves to walk by himself and now yells, "ALK! ALK!" if I even attempt to carry him anywhere.  I wouldn't mind this one bit since he weighs nearly 30 pounds now except that he fights holding my hand and thinks it's really funny to try to run into traffic.  This is especially exciting at night wearing non-reflective clothing.  Praise God, nobody died running into traffic on Morgan Avenue tonight, and no one had to swerve off of the road to avoid a marching toddler.  And, our neighbors got their cookies.

Look what a nice job my husband and Bill did on the cabinets!  Someday, we'll take out all of the old ones in the rest of the kitchen and put in new ones like these.  Someday.

I finished one Christmas project tonight, although I keep thinking of others that it would be fun to make something for, but sorry nameless ones, you'll have to wait til next year, or your birthdays, or another occasion.  It is onward to the other other homemade Christmas gifts.

Tomorrow night is basketball practice.  Dread.  At least this time, I know I don't have to be there for the full practice and can take Elvis and Hank somewhere else.  The bad news is that it is also picture night, which means I'm sure to forget some key component of the uniform, or forget to pull Lydia's hair back into a ponytail, or forget about practice entirely and get a frantic call from the coach about it fifteen minutes before I put the kids to bed.  Egads, I better make sure the reminder on my phone is operating.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Days Ten and Eleven

Package Christmas Cookies, and Open a Christmas Book

We made an unplanned trip up to Great Mom-O's house last night, so we took care of yesterday's advent activity when Lydia got home from school today.  We prepared our cookies from Saturday for delivering to neighbors and designed a few cards to go with them.  The plan is (spoiler alert!) to deliver the cookies tomorrow for our 12/12/12 advent activity.


I was home with Hank and Elvis today because Elvis has croup and an ear infection and Brandon worked in Cleveland.  It was nice to get a few household chores done while taking care of the kiddos.  I made a yummy vegetable soup, roast chicken legs, roasted carrots, and steamed broccoli.  The kids opted out of the soup-- I think they've grown tired of soup-- but oh, it was so good!  I am already looking forward to lunch tomorrow.

I got a little more work done on Christmas presents today too aaaaand I ordered my books for my first semester in the MFA program. That's right, folks, Sarah is jumping on the MFA train at Ashland, in nonfiction. I'm excited and nervous about whether I'll actually be able to keep up. We'll see how the spring goes.

Before putting Henry to bed, we opened up a new Christmas book, The Nutcracker, which we read together after I laid Henry down in his crib. Don't tell the kiddos, but I'm hoping to track down a Nutcracker to wrap up for Christmas morning, so if you know of a place near Ashland to get a nice one, I'm in the market!

That's all for tonight, friends.  Two weeks until Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Day Nine: Go to the Festival of Lights

Tonight's Advent activity was yet another very good reason to have a daughter.  I intended for the whole family to go to the Festival of Lights on campus, but it ended up being just Miss Lydia and me, and it's a good thing -- that program is long!  Since Lydia is six and goes to bed around 7:30 on a school night or 8 if we're really pushing it, we had to abandon the concert about half-way through, but it was just lovely.  Girls were made to enjoy and celebrate pretty things, and to do that together, well, sheer delight.

Festival of Lights, Ashland University 2012

Me and my darling
I spent a good portion of the afternoon Christmas shopping, and I'm real close to being done. Just a couple more gift exchange presents to buy and I think I'll be set.  I did realize this evening that I have the Jacobs in Brandon's family confused, so I suppose it's a good thing I didn't buy something for the wrong Jake.  :-P  By the way, that whole bit about it being better to give than to receive?

Totally true.

I cannot WAIT for Christmas once again this year, to watch my loved ones open up their presents.  My little ol' heart just bubbles with joy, and who can get enough of that?

Advent Day Eight: Make Christmas Cookies

We spent yesterday morning and afternoon catching up on our Advent activities from earlier this week, including coloring Christmas pictures (see "Don't Color Christmas Pictures").  We drew some Christmas pictures and made a few Christmas presents in the process.  I'm dying to post pictures of these gifts, but I don't want to give away the surprise.  So I'll leave you in suspense until Christmas!

While Hank was taking his nap, Elvis, Lydia, and I worked on Christmas cookies.  It took me about 20 minutes to locate Granny's Christmas cookie cutters, but after digging past the twenty varieties of cooking oil and multiple bags of brown sugar, there they were, behind the ice box.  :)  I love spelunking in Granny's pantry.  You never know what you'll find, for instance, not one but TWO jars of imitation banana flavoring.

Anyway, the kids and I cutout gingerbread cookies for yesterday's advent activity.  Sorry for the delay posting, for those of you sitting on the edge of your seat day-by-day waiting for the next Wells family advent update. *Crickets*  Wait, no one is anxiously anticipating my daily updates?  What?!

Last night, I spent several hours with my mom and dad decorating their *new* Christmas tree that I got to pick out as a surprise for Mom.  We discovered as we were setting up the old one that half the lights were out, so I went out to get more lights and came back with a "life-like" tree.  Can we just call it what it is: a fake tree? 

We also watched I Don't Know How She Does It with Sarah Jessica Parker, which was like watching my life, without the high-paying investment job and trips to New York.  It was entertaining.  I really enjoyed the time with my parents. 

Tonight's advent activity should be fun.  I'll update later!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent Day Seven: Watch Polar Express

This evening's event was perfect for the kind of day we had.  Lydia and Elvis both stayed home from school, and Lydia tested positive for strep, so it was an ideal evening to watch one of our favorite Christmas movies.  We drove up to my mom- and dad-in-law's house this evening for the weekend.  Henry cried the entire four-hour one-hour car ride.  But we made it, and upon arriving Hank acted as if he had just spent an hour sitting quietly in the car, not screaming.  I have no idea what got into him, but it left me on edge most of the night.

I put in some prep work tonight for tomorrow's activity.  I just realized I left all of my cookie cutters at home.  Boo.  I'm sure Rhonda has some floating around here, though, not to worry.

I'm planning to spend some time with my mom tomorrow evening, decorating her tree and watching a movie or something like that, but I'm afraid I might still be coming down with some cold, or I haven't effectively warded it off with garlic and honey and it's just lingering, waiting for my defenses to really drop.  Garlic and honey, don't fail me now!

Advent Day Six: Don't Color Christmas Pictures

I intended for the kids to color Christmas pictures last night for Advent but, well, it didn't work out. 

Last night was Lydia's first basketball practice.  She had fun, and I'll refrain from going into all of the details about chasing Henry up and down the hallways, blockading him from trying to run onto the basketball court, laughing at him as he threw a mini tantrum on the floor, and restraining him while he screamed and cried in my arms because he was tired.  I also won't mention how the parent meeting was supposed to take place at 7 but the speaker didn't show up until 7:25, so I could have darted out with both boys until it was time for the parent meeting instead of trying to manage the over-tired infant in the peripheral vision of all of the other parents with their perfect younger children sitting so obediently by their sides, or the other parents who have one perfect child, and that perfect child is on the court practicing, or they left their crazy 19-month-old at home with someone else.

But never mind all of that.  The most important thing is that we did not color Christmas pictures, and we had to color Christmas pictures because we're supposed to do something every day if the calendar tells us to, every day, otherwise the whole Christmas experience will be ruined!  At least that was Lydia's take.  Unfortunately, Lydia is learning a lot about disappointment this Advent.  Our Christmas dancing didn't meet her expectations, our Christmas walk was cut short because Elvis needed to go to the bathroom, and now, oh, now there's no Christmas coloring! 

My daughter is just like her mother.  I can see exactly how she sets up high expectations for an experience and is almost inevitably let down because other people didn't quite cooperate with what she had in mind.  She is holding others responsible for her degree of contentment and happiness, and that's a dangerous pattern.  She's a pretty reasonable gal, so I've been putting her various disappointments into perspective-- she still danced and sang with daddy even though Elvis didn't want to, we still went on a winter walk and also ate at Pizza Hut (double plus bonus!), and the reason we did not have time to color pictures was so that she could go to basketball practice. 

Sometimes we have to choose between joys, and sometimes, even if the situation isn't quite what we had in mind, we need to choose to find joy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Day Five: Take a Winter Walk

Today's advent activity is supposed to be "Take a winter walk."  It is at least cold enough today to call it winter, but I'm a little bummed that I put this on the calendar before looking at an extended forecast.  It would be much more fun to do this with snow.  I think it'll still be fun, since by the time we get home it'll be dark out.  I thought about taking them into the woods with flashlights for our winter walk, but maybe too scary?

I love to walk outside in the winter and don't do it nearly enough.  Get all bundled up in your coats and hats and mittens, and then breathe in the cold, crisp air.  Ahhhh.  Maybe we'll sing some Christmas carols as we walk, too.

I suppose I should figure out what we'll eat for dinner after our winter walk.  It might be a Paleo-cheat night at Pizza Hut.  Lydia has another Book-It gift certificate.

Here's a poem from Robert Frost about a winter wood, from the Poetry Foundation's site:
By Robert Frost 1874–1963 Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Day Four: Write a Christmas Wish List

We all put together our Christmas wish lists tonight, and then sent our crew to bed at 7 p.m.  Everyone was quite tired and cranky this evening and should benefit from the early bedtime.

We made wish lists, too, but no need to post those.  Lydia's is so much more precious. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent Day Three: Dance to Christmas Music

Welp, not all advent activities can be as romantic or successful as the rest.  I woke up this morning with an ugly cold that landed me on the couch most of the day, and advent activity #3 was supposed to be "dance to Christmas music." This isn't so appealing when your head is pounding.

Lydia had her heart set on dancing to Christmas music tonight, though, so for a little while we played some music and she danced around with Henry.  It was shortlived.  The night turned into a movie night.  We watched Elf and one of the ABC Family Rudolph shows (the Happy New Year one) before Brandon brought out his guitar and strummed a few Christmas songs for Lydia to dance to.  She was by far the one most interested in dancing tonight and couldn't get Elvis off of the couch to dance with her.  The night ended in multiple-kid meltdowns and early bedtimes. 

Can't win 'em all. 

I failed to report on the Ashland Poetry Workshop this weekend - it went very well!  The workshop was laid back and enjoyable, and I think the group appreciated the feedback and discourse.  I had a great group and a handy list of guiding questions to direct our review of each other's poetry, and that helped me quite a bit in leading the group discussion of work.  The experience was energizing instead of exhausting.  I look forward to running a workshop again sometime soon.  If you know anyone looking for a poetry workshop instructor, I know a gal.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Day Two: Read a Christmas Book

Each year, opening the Christmas boxes releases magic in our house. The homemade ornaments, treasured angels and globes, snowmen mugs and dishes, candles, Christmas lights, stocking hangers, wreath, and so on cause eruptions of "Oh! Look at this!" from the kids, and honestly, from me, too.  I find myself picking up ornaments and carrying them in my open palms like birds, to nest in our artificial tree for another year.  Even the tree and its rusting hooks and plastic pine needles shed on the carpet brings a grin of nostalgia for my parents' house, illuminating Christmases past in my mind.

One of my favorite Christmas box delights though is our Christmas books.  We've collected many Christmas stories already, some inscribed and others given from preschool parties or Borders' going out of business sales.  Holly Hobbie's "Twas the Night Before Christmas," addressed to one Sarah Marie Fugman from my aunt and uncle Rich and Connie Hess on Christmas 1983, emerges as a family favorite every year. You can almost feel the heat of love radiating off the pages.

When we moved to Ashland in 2007, I began writing a Christmas book for our family, in a green velvet book with a jeweled cover.  At the start of December, after unpacking the Christmas decorations, I usually sit down and read through the previous years and then record the activities of this year.  After Christmas, I usually write a summary of the holidays before putting the decorations away again for another year.  It's my favorite Christmas book to read.

Our "day two" for Advent was "read a Christmas book."  Lydia read us "Let It Snow!" first, and then she read "Room for a Little One" to us, which was given to her on her first Christmas by my uncle and aunt Pat and Arlene and their family.  It's a beautiful picture book I could read over and over again.  We concluded with a read from an advent storybook that has a short tale each day about Benjamin Bear's magical journey.  And then it was off to bed!

Does your family have any Christmas books that have stayed with you for many years?

Advent: The First Candle (Poem)

In November, our lips trembled
with the breath of winter etched
in frost across the windows.
We gazed at dawn’s arrival
casting bands of icy glitter
on brass and copper oak leaves
holding tight to frozen branches,
as if they could stop the turn
of seasons, suspend the spin
of Earth around the sun, but
nothing can slow this orbit
toward the solstice. Oh, Christ,

the prophets spoke about a day
when darkness would pass away.
Shadows broaden, days shorten.
We’ve waited the way I watched
my garden for the reddening
of tomatoes, the fleshing out
of vegetables, how I’ve held
my swollen abdomen, the fullness
of time a season, a month a week
a day an hour away. Now,

we unravel pine swag garland
and drape it on the mantle, melt
a candle, send a signal in a flaming
flicker, hope hot enough to kill
the darkness. Here comes the turning
of the solstice, here comes the night,
the star, and then the etching
of a few more minutes to stand
in the slow burn of frost,
the gradual stretching of the light.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent Day One: Make Hot Cocoa

December 1: Make Hot Cocoa

I loooooove hot chocolate, but the mix stuff leaves a horrible corn syrup aftertaste in my mouth and frankly gives me the McGurgles.  It made me so sad the first time I tried some after our diet change.  So today, we're trying paleo hot chocolate.  I grabbed this recipe from Easy Paleo.  I thought about trying to make these paleo marshmallows, but egads.  Too much work for me.  I'll be whipping up some whipping cream instead.

Paleo Hot Chocolate
3 TBS Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 C Full-Fat Coconut Milk (we're using almond milk instead)
1 C Boiling Water
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 TBS Organic Honey
1 tsp Cinnamon

Directions: Add cocoa to boiling water and stir with a fork until completely dissolved (this step is important if you do not want chunky hot chocolate). Add cinnamon and honey to the hot mixture. Finally, stir in the coconut milk and vanilla. If necessary, heat for 30 seconds in the microwave.

I'll report tonight about how this recipe turns out. Today is day one of the Ashland Poetry Workshop, so I'll be sneaking the hot cocoa treat in sometime this afternoon, hopefully.

This recipe is AWESOME.  I would recommend a little less cinnamon next time, but overall a success.  Delicious!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Epistrepho: A Definition

Transitively to turn to to the worship of the true God
to cause to return, to bring back to the love and obedience of God 
to the love for the children
to love wisdom and righteousness
intransitively to turn to one's self
to turn one's self about,
turn back to return,
turn back,
come back.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Advent Calendar and Writing

The Advent season starts December 1, and I'm nipping at the bit.  I love this season.

The kids and I made an advent calendar that I stole from Pinterest (gah. one more addiction to battle.) and combined with our Nativity story books.  Each day has a different activity on it for December leading up to Christmas. 

I kept them rather small scale and unambitious because this is such a busy time of year for us, with Brandon working out of town nearly every day through December 20.  I didn't want to become frustrated by the activities, so we're going to do things like watch Polar Express, drive around to see Christmas lights, make hot cocoa, buy Christmas presents, etc. 

Coming up with the activities actually helped me to plan out the holiday season a little bit better than I might otherwise.

In the poetry world, I've been trying to write poems out of the advent wreath with its various meanings and themes.  From various Google searches, I've compiled this info: the first candle is the prophecy candle, primarily Isaiah – represents hope or anticipation of the coming Messiah.  The second candle represents love – Bethlehem candle, representing the manger, John the Baptist.  The third candle, the pink candle, represents joy – Shepherd’s candle, Mary. The fourth candle, purple, represents peace – Angel’s candle, the Magi. And on Christmas Eve, the white candle is lit – the Christ candle, life of Christ – purity.

I have two solid poems out of this project, the first more directly advent-ish than the other, but even if I sway from the prompt, I'm writing poems.  These kinds of projects make me think and help me stretch, so I'm not just waiting for inspiration to strike.  Sometimes inspiration is slow.  Like I'm late to work and trying to get three kids into winter coats and hats and boots but they aren't interested kind of slow.  :)  Amazing how motivated they are to leave the house when it's to play.  So that's what I'm doing for my inspiration - playing in poems.

On another note, my hearing seems to be coming back (hallelujah!), but tomorrow I have an ENT appointment just to see if they can determine what caused the hearing loss in the first place, and what I can do to prevent that from happening again.

This weekend is the Ashland Poetry Workshop.  I am teaching my first workshop.  I'm both excited and terrified.  I have a plan to reduce the terror, though, so there's hope.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling

We are home after visiting with family for the last few days, an always lovely time at Thanksgiving.  I'm grateful for family being so close and being able to spend time with both sides.  And, can you say leftovers?  Yum.  I'm on carb-overload.

I love coming home to a Christmas decorated house.  It's warm, welcoming, cozy, and peaceful.  And sometimes quiet.  This afternoon we watched The Grinch (the unanimated version), played Sorry, and folded laundry.  Now we're watching The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and next on the list is the first Harry Potter - I think the others are all too frightening for these little people.  Maybe next year.  Henry is still napping.  Dinner is marinating.  Brandon is traveling and should be home tonight.  Oh, weekends!  May you never end. 

The coming week is a hectic one, with Brandon working a lot and me working a lot, several evening commitments, and some health issues I'm trying not to worry about.  Since Thanksgiving I haven't been able to hear out of my left ear, a problem I think started on Monday night when I was running with ear buds in.  After I ran for about 30 minutes I got off, and like sometimes happens, I had this hollow crackly sensation in my ears for the rest of the evening.  Normally this happens to me when I run in the cold outside, not while on a treadmill, but it usually fades away after a couple of hours.  This time, the crackling persisted through Tuesday and Wednesday, gradually turning into a fuzzy ringing until Thursday morning, when I woke up totally deaf in my left ear. 

When it didn't go away the rest of the day and continued into Friday morning, I went to the ER in Akron.  There's no sign of infection or blockage, and I still can't hear, though I do have some crackling again instead of just silence, ringing, and static.  I'm taking steroids and Mucinex to try to clear up any unseen blockage or reduce inflammation, whatever might be causing the hearing loss.  I plan to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor this week.

As usual, googling any health issue ultimately leads to cancer.  Every health concern you could imagine has some rare chance of being cancer, I'm convinced.  So I've stopped googling symptoms, except to see about any home remedies for stuff. 

Probably it's nothing but music too loud on my headphones while running, and hopefully it'll just go away.  Any constant off-ness in the body results in relentless thinking about what could be wrong, though.  Worry leads me to worry leads me to worry even more. 

I'm not sure it'll be fine, but I'm sure it'll be fine.  In the meantime, I will play Sorry, watch movies, cook dinner, do laundry, hang out with friends, and wait for my husband to come home as if it doesn't feel like I am wearing earplugs, and rejoice that it is the holidays.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crazy Jesus Parables and Dead Pigs

Lately I've taken to listening to the audio Bible on YouVersion's Bible app in the mornings as I exercise or as I'm getting ready for work.  I have been out of spiritual practice, so since I'm exercising regularly, I figure coupling my physical exercise with some kind of spiritual exercise is a wise move.

I'm listening to the Gospels right now because it feels like it's been a while since I listened to stories about Jesus or read anything about Jesus.  We're real good at talking about the behaviors expected of Christians and the rules and regulations to live a more Christian life, because that's the stuff we have control over to some degree, and man, we love rules.  But the Gospels are bewilderment, mystery, magic, confusion, frustration, rebellion, storytelling, crazy faith, epic failure.  The epistles are a bunch of friends who come around regularly to nudge you back on the right path. Jesus is the model for how his followers should look in contrast to societal norms, and it's a certain kind of crazy awesome weird.

I'm reminded of this as I listen to Jesus tell stories to his disciples, as I hear the narrator tell stories about Jesus healing people, about demons driven out into a herd of pigs and about pigs dashing off a cliff, about how scared people were, how they asked Jesus to leave their region but the healed man asked to go with Jesus, and how Jesus told him to stay and tell people about God's mercy, and I imagine how angry the farmer must have been to hear his 2,000 pigs were dead because of Jesus, how hard it is to see past our own griefs into the miraculous.  That herd of pigs seems to follow me throughout the day.  Do I rejoice that Jesus healed a man or am I angry that he took away my profit this season?  I don't even have a herd of pigs, what am I talking about?  What is my herd of pigs, my prized possession I would never sacrifice, not even for another man's life?

The Holy Spirit must use some circumstances, people, places, or creatures to carry off the demons in our lives.  Lots of country songs talk about how a song can bring back a memory; I wonder if the opposite is also true.  I think some people are put into our lives in particular seasons, and maybe without knowing it, they carry our demons away, through a conversation or interaction, they carry away whatever it was we were struggling with.  Our burdens are cast away with that person.

This morning, I listened to Jesus tell a bunch of parables about Israel.  The one that stuck with me throughout the day goes like this: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation" (Matthew 12:43-45).

After Jesus drove out the demons in the possessed man and sent them into the pigs, he told the man to tell his family how much the Lord had done for him, about the mercy that was shown to him.  And he did.  He filled the empty places that were left by the demons with the fruits of the Spirit, spreading the story about how a Man came who cared for him so much that he drove a legion of demons out from inside his spirit, who carried away the terrors that possessed him, who ordered them away and restored him to himself, a fuller version of himself, one absent of impure spirits and filled with the spirit that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Imagine what it would have looked like for the man to have returned to his family without this miracle story.  To resume his every day life, whatever that might have looked like.  To leave his soul wide open, swept clean and vacant for whatever other demons might come to dwell there.  It's a dramatic portrait, like a foreclosure in the country, grasses and vines swallowing a house, slowly gripping its foundation and crumbling the concrete that held it up. Without regular maintenance and the presence of people to take care of the structure, all things degenerate and are consumed, governed only by the laws of nature.  It isn't enough to kick out the demons of our past.  Something better needs to move in.

I've carried the story of the impure spirit around with me today.  It lodged in my heart as a reminder to do the daily maintenance required in order to keep the ugly out and invite whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable in.  Daily I send out the demons to drown with the herd of pigs.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ambition and Contentment

What is it about the human spirit that itches the inside of us and drives us to look beyond where we are right now toward some blurry-eyed future, probes us to keep climbing and reaching for more, to keep creating, inventing, dreaming, brainstorming, vision-casting, striving and risking in spite of the joys and possibilities all around you in your present circumstances?

It's been a few days or more since I've sat down to write something.  After a little while of not writing, two things happen. The first, I don't miss it.  I slip into the routine of daily life like a favorite pair of blue jeans, usually wearing my favorite pair of blue jeans, and I cook and clean and garden and fold laundry and think about making homemade Christmas presents.  It's wonderful.  It's immediate.  They are dozens of moments to savor.

The second reaction after not writing for a few days or a week is this anxious twitch in my brain.  Sometimes it is flicked to life by the joys of the day, a thought or meditation or prayer, a realization, a moment with my children or husband, and I dance with excitement for a pen or the quiet of an evening in front of the computer so I can get it out.  But there are other moments when anxiety wells up.  If I'm not writing, I won't have anything new to revise, and without anything new to revise, there's nothing sharpened and tuned to a finished version, nothing to submit to journals, nothing to be rejected or accepted, nothing to be published, nothing to be recognized, nothing to add to a growing resume of publications.  But to what end is all of this?  To what end, when the anxiety detaches the writer from her life, from her family and friends, and leaves her carefully studying her own accomplishments?

It is so difficult to put a stopper on personal ambition in the presence of contentment.  Ambition is a buzzing fly around my picnic lunch.  I just want to enjoy my italian sausage and watermelon. 

And yet.  And yet.  I love to write.  I love to utter whatever notion fluttered through and landed for a spell so someone else might read it and feel something, experience something, have that tight part in their chests softened a bit.  I want to be used to touch people's souls.  Is that too much to ask?  Coupled with the actual writing is wanting that writing to be read, and that rubs shoulders with pride and recognition, then vanity and arrogance.

How do you buttress yourself against conceit and vanity while still pursuing your dreams and goals?  How do you stay humble enough to receive grace to share truths eloquently?  How do you push forward with enough drive to achieve your goals but with enough restraint to avoid sacrificing your family along the way?  It seems like there is a constant need for reflection and assessment: how are the kids?  How is my husband?  What self-care am I doing?  When was the last time I saw my friends?  How much of my time is spent wondering when I'll receive my next acceptance/rejection?  How fully have I invested in navel gazing lately? 

On the other hand, it is the buzzing fly of ambition and curiosity that has provoked men and women throughout the ages to create and consider objects of wonder and stories of life that touch the hearts of men and women throughout the ages. Is it wrong to want to be a part of that legacy?  No, but I do not want to neglect the legacy I leave my family in the process.

Someone buy this gal a set of weights and measures.  I got me some balancin' to do.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Flavor Enhancement

One of the benefits of cutting down or eliminating added sweeteners to food and eating mostly natural ingredients is that everything tastes better.  It isn't necessarily that the food itself changed, but the palate that is receiving the food is cleansed and ready to taste fully whatever it is that it is about to consume.  It isn't a carrot anymore, it is carrot PLUS, chicken PLUS, broccoli PLUS.  What disguised or dulled the senses before has been removed and now we can taste the full potential flavor of the food. 

It has been a while since I drank a Pepsi.  I used to drink Pepsi daily, even through the time when I was pregnant with Lydia (that could explain her energy levels).  I love Pepsi.  It is by far the superior beverage above all other carbonated beverages.  I would choose it over sweet tea and for sure over water.  Oh, sweet nectar of America! 

But Pepsi has high fructose corn syrup, an obvious added sweetener, and we cut that from our diets back in January.  A few months ago I was working a weekend conference at the University, manning the check-in table, and it was quiet.  All of the other tasks had been done, and it was just me. Alone. With a vending machine filled with Pepsi products.  Mmmm, Pepsi, I thought, and started to fish around in my purse for a dollar and a quarter.

I shimmied over to the vending machine and looked around.  No one was watching.  No one would need to know.  Twenty ounces of glorious syrupy soda would emerge from the vending machine into my eager, waiting hands.  I put in my money and the robotic arm retrieved a Pepsi from the top row, dropped it down the plastic tube to the bottom where it clunked against the doorflap.  I reached out for it, twisted off the cap and heard the k-shhhh of cold pop fizzling.  I took a sip and grimaced.

This was not at all what I expected.  Where was the rush of sweetness, the refreshing sizzle down my throat?  This was sticky and dried out my mouth after I swallowed; the aftertaste was terrible.  I rubbed my tongue against the roof of my mouth and tried to work the taste away.

It seems that not only does ingesting healthy foods bring out the powerful flavors of the good, it also strengthens our ability to taste how wretched the artificial and the processed really is, that its fast-and-easy benefits are far outweighed by its lack of quality and sustenance.

The more I ingest the real, the true, the pure, and the lovely in life (food, time with husband, time with children, working in the garden, laughter, friends), the less inclined I am to indulge in the false, the artificial, the impure, and the ugly that try to disguise themselves as virtuous and satisfying.  If I find myself faced with temptations, lust, anger, jealousy, fear, or insecurity after eating well for a long time, immersing myself in the things of God, his good word and his good people, listening for the Holy Spirit, then the bottled-up and processed gunk tastes bitter in my mouth.  I don't want anything to do with it.

Sure, after a while maybe my tastebuds would numb out to the high fructose corn syrup again and I'd actually like Pepsi, crave it, need it every day or else, but do I want to be ruled by this artificial happiness, this fast high and sudden plummet into lethargy so I need it again and again, more and more to achieve the same level of satisfaction?  No.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." - Psalm 34:8

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Elliptical and Tonight's Work of Writing

It's one of those writing nights where I spend about a minute or two typing out clever sentences and then hold down the backspace bar until the page is white again.  It's also the night of a thousand saves as I open and close new and old drafts of poems and essays. And the night of genre confusion as I try to twist an essay into a poem and realize the poem I just started should be an essay.

Also, the night of the social media newsfeed distraction and the seventeen different faces I can make at my webcam without actually pushing out pictures to my Twitter profile.

It's time to face the facts. Tonight, I am completely and utterly without inspiration.  Seven hours ago, I had this spark of energy to generate some good details and descriptive language in a revision of an essay, and I really, really, really wanted to work on it right then, right when the words were fresh on my mind and the excitement about it was bright. But I was at work at the time, and tonight was trick-or-treat night, and the husband is out of town, and dinner needed to be prepared, and children needed to be bathed and put to bed and by then, well, this. This happened. This final last distraction of the night because I am determined to hit four posts in October before the month is over and without back dating the entry. 

I love this place where I can just type and sometimes find an answer or a revelation and other times it's just me playing, me running the treadmill or riding the elliptical.  I'm not going anywhere, but I'm covering such a great distance.

Speaking of the elliptical, this morning I listened to the first six or seven chapters of Matthew while sweating on the elliptical.  I can't remember the last time I read through the gospels, instead defaulting to Paul, James, or Peter's letters or the Psalms and Proverbs for some quick and straightforward(ish) answers.  But the Gospels are rich with metaphor and puzzle, they are ripe with relationship.  This morning, I thought a lot about Jesus being tempted by Satan and how, in the story, Satan waited to start chatting with Jesus until after he had fasted for forty days. Thoroughly exhausted and empty of sustenance, Jesus gets this from Satan, "Hey son of man, ya hungry? Make these pebbles bread."

All kinds of temptations come when we're weary. We're tempted by the quick and easy filling, the fast fix to our emptiness.  It's hard to resist temptation, harder still to see the source of the hunger in the first place, to cure the disease instead of just managing the symptoms or popping pain killers instead of identifying the source of the pain.  After Jesus resists Satan and Satan wanders off to wait for a more opportune time, Jesus eats real food and is satisfied.  He finds a source of true sustenance instead of the shortcuts Satan proposed.

I thought about these things while the British man in my smartphone read to me from the Gospels as I climbed the stairway to nowhere.  And now I've thought about them again, cycled through the circuit and worked a few different muscle groups.  Tonight might have felt uncreative and uninspired but sometimes you have to just keep climbing, exercising for the sake of the burn, and save whatever scraps and segments you can from the spent time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Eating Good Food

So I started a catalog of all the foods we love to eat so that I don't have to keep googling recipes I've had before.  I'm cooking-dumb when it comes to common food preparations, like how to make chicken broth or how long to roast chicken, things like that.  The list isn't very long yet because I'm trying to build it as I cook rather than sit and backlog all of the great meals we've eaten, and since I know that I'll have to look up every.single.recipe as I cook every.single.meal, well, the catalog will grow daily.

I've noticed a trend with most of these dishes that I'm sure you'll pick up on, too.  We really like food, all food, prepared with minimal ingredients, quick and easy, sauteed, steamed, or roasted.  It is important to have garlic on hand at all times.  Preparing food from scratch and making things that serve as substitutes for pre-packaged and processed food is an extremely satisfying endeavor.

Our natural food fetish is starting to bleed over to our healthcare. I started to feel a sinus infection coming on the other day, but instead of rushing to the medicine cabinet, I googled natural sinus infection remedies and got this fine site:, which gave me all sorts of tips about preventing and treating colds and sinus woes.

So much of this stuff is tried and true old school treatment of ailments and diet.  It's simple and common sense.  I think we resist this stuff because it's often harder and slower than what we're offered over the counter and off the shelves.  Just like pretty much everything else in life, what comes easy isn't always the best choice in the long term.

So, eat your good and healthy and simple and natural and whole foods, drink, and be merry! :)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

That Isn't on My 30th Year Goal List

It's been a while since I checked in on my 30th Year Goals.  Ever since the summer residency my reading and writing efforts have been unimpressive.  Besides a draft of an essay that probably won't ever see the light of day because it's so bad, I've written one poem and a short lyric essay of about 750 words. I've started about half a dozen books, some from my "read ten books list" and then others that have been recommended, but lately all I want to do after the kids go to sleep is hang out on the couch with my husband and watch movies or listen to him play the guitar and sing along.

Part of this is because I've been exercising in the mornings before work, and the wake-up call is early.  By the time the day is over, I'm just plain done with anything that requires brain activity.  I'm rather sure if I picked up a book I'd fall asleep within the first five pages.  Exercising at the gym wasn't on my 30th year list.

I expected weekday writing and reading to drop off with the kids in soccer and implementing date night again, but I had hoped that the weekend reading and writing would ramp up, since my weekend evenings are now husband-free.  Instead, I've watched a lot of romantic comedies. That wasn't on my 30th year list either.

I think the next time something comes up (like laundry or dishes), I'm going to let my husband/boss/friends/church/family know that I'm exempt because it wasn't on my 30th year list. Sorry! :) Of course, neither was sleeping, so maybe my body will pay attention if I tell it to stop spending 1/3 of every 24 hours doing nothing.

The good news is that I'm not in a binding contract with my 30th year list of goals.  They are goals, not vows, after all.  I also wrote the list in January, and it's amazing how much changes in the course of ten months.  I didn't know that Pruning Burning Bushes would be published this year or that I would be trying to schedule readings from it this fall.  If I had known that, I might have added something about my book to the goal list.  I also didn't know that we would become such foodies, losing weight and feeling better in 2012.  Can I retroactively add goals to the goal list so that I can check them off?  Absolutely! 

In general I feel good about the status of my goal list for 2012.  We're making progress in most areas, and the areas I'm not are at least on my radar or in "continuous improvement."  We have a ways to go in the credit card debt area but we have a plan, at least.  Bible study and daily quiet time looks more like frantic random prayers on the treadmill, spurts of conversation with the Holy Spirit in times of stress and thanksgiving, and the occasional deep breath appreciation of nature/family/seasons/life. 

The marathon or half-marathon idea is eliminated from the list; I laugh just reading it.  Sometimes you have to approach your goals realistically within the framework of real life in order to find balance.  I don't aspire to be a marathoner, and my guess is that it is hard to be a marathoner plus anything else.

I am glad that I didn't say "write 12 good poems" or "write 6 publishable essays."  I've surpassed 12 poems, though who knows if any of them are any good.  I'm close to six essays, maybe seven if I count the really bad one that won't ever see the light of day, and I'm way beyond that if I include the short essays and articles I've written for a few different blogs this fall.  This makes me feel better about myself but it also makes me wonder if I shouldn't have had a higher goal in mind.  Meh. I think instead of raising the bar in quantity, I can spend the rest of 2012 working on quality.

This has been a great exercise this year. It's something I've kept in the back of my mind, and having a place I can refer back to in order to see how I'm doing has been really handy.  It's helped me to keep perspective when I don't feel like I'm accomplishing much besides living, which should be enough, anyway.  I think that contentment and ambition don't have to be mutually exclusive.  It's possible to strive toward goals and be content, and whether ambitions succeed or fail should not shatter that contentment, especially when there's so much around us to be grateful for.

Things Left on the 30th Year List:
  • cut our credit card debt in half (unrealistic at this point in the year, but pushing forward anyway)
  • blog once a week (average isn't too far off)
  • incorporate Bible reading and prayer into daily life more
  • read ten books (eight down? I think?)
Not too shabby.  Maybe I can take the rest of 2012 off once I finish my reading list. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Paleo Parenting Update

It's been seven solid months since we dramatically changed the way that the Wells family eats, from a primarily grain-based diet (cereal for breakfast, sandwiches at lunch, pasta/rice at dinner) to a more fruit, vegetable, nuts, seeds, and meat focused diet, with an emphasis on food that is not processed or packaged.  If it comes in a package, we can read the name of the ingredients on the package and know where it's coming from.  It's called "Paleo" because it's supposed to be closer to what our pre-packaged, pre-GMO ancestors ate.  It isn't so much a diet or weight-loss strategy as it is an attempt at living healthier lifestyles.

We kickstarted our food change by following a detox-type diet for 30 days - the Whole30 Program - which we found out about through one of our friends.  The Whole9Life is a cool concept worth reading about, too.

BW and I knew, based off of the positive impact it has had on us, we would keep on eating this way as much as possible, with the occasional cheat and indulgence, but it seemed almost too much to ask to get the kids to skip peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, mac and cheese, and pizza, their four main food groups.

We started with breakfast because that was easiest.  They like eggs well enough, and when we discovered paleo pancakes, well, breakfast became a piece of cake... er... paleo pancake.  Throw in some bacon or sausage frequently and the kids are set for breakfast.  The default bowl of cereal is history.  Henry, our squishy Paleo baby, typically eats scrambled eggs with turkey, kale, or spinach in 'em and a banana.  The older kids almost always have eggs and meat, and if they are still hungry maybe a banana or an apple. 

Dinners were the second beast.  Our kids (except the Paleo prince) balked at all things vegetable for quite a while, unless it was broccoli (with cheese), carrots (coated with honey), or potatoes (with sour cream, cheese, deep fried, or french fried).  They whined.  They sometimes cried.  They sometimes didn't finish their food.

Just the other day I marveled at our three children at dinner.  On their plates: grilled chicken, roasted carrots (no honey), steamed broccoli (no cheese), and a cucumber/tomato salad.  There were no complaints, no pouting, no whining, just eating.  And asking for more!  It was amazing. 

I never thought we'd get to the point where they would stop asking for candy and sweets as a snack or begging for the gut bomb foods that dominated their lives before, but here we are.

Lunch has been slower going, but I think we're just about there.  Lydia seems to have a more sensitive stomach than Elvis, and white bread especially seems to give her a belly ache.  She gets this now, and so she's suggested a few things for her lunch.  Instead of packing a PBJ sandwich, Lydia usually gets something with peanut butter - either celery or sliced apples - or if no peanut butter, a couple of slices of turkey, plus a couple of other add-ons: grapes, banana, raisins, greek yogurt, sweet potato chips, carrots, etc.  We try to pack her stuff we know she'll eat or let her pick out what she wants us to pack.  It seems to be working out well.

It might just be that Elvis is getting older and maturing, but I also think that his diet changes have affected his behavior and his ability to pay attention and listen at school.  Since school started he has "stayed on green" every day.  This is a big change from last year.  In fact, last week he OPTED OUT of the "good listener treat" that is given at the end of each week to the kids who stayed on green all week long.  As a reward, he had a "banana sundae" for lunch - banana with peanut butter, plus strawberries and blueberries and some honey.  He was one happy little man.

I am really proud of my kids and the choices they are making.  It seems to be true that the more we incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into our family, the more they seem to get it.  We aren't psycho about it (I am going to order a pizza tonight, after all), but we want them to understand that, like everything else in life, we have a choice -- whether to eat healthy and feel good, or whether to eat something that tastes good but might make us feel icky later, and knowing that, to indulge or abstain.  Sometimes we indulge and love it (fair food!), and sometimes we choose to skip junk and wait for the good fuel.

So far, so good.

Here are some foods that we eat a lot and places that we refer to frequently for recipes:

Sweet potato fries
Paleo pancakes
Roasted carrots ( - love her stuff)
Roasted chicken
Baked sweet potatoes
Grilled anything
Steamed broccoli
Guacamole (awesome with the sweet potato fries)
Avocado salad
Avocados straight-up
Lots of salads with veggies and chicken or turkey on top
Roasted butternut squash mmmmm
Kale chips
Sauteed spinach or kale
Sauteed peppers and onions
Sauteed apples or homemade applesauce mmmmm

and more, of course.  Usually I just google "Paleo +" whatever I am wanting to cook in order to find quick and easy meal solutions with what I have on hand.  The greatest thing about eating this way is that most of the food prep is quick and simple food prep that brings out the natural flavors in foods.  The trick is to find the things that you can return to over and over again -- for us, sweet potatoes are a must on our shopping list, and so are bananas and eggs -- figuring out what staples are going to replace your defaults from before really helps when dinnertime rolls around.

We love eating this way, and not just because we feel (and look) so much better, but because food actually tastes good this way.  Once you've killed your need to add sugar to everything, suddenly your tastebuds can actually taste the natural sweetness in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and so on.  And they are way more delicious and satisfying than any added sweetener.  We also have the added benefit of knowing exactly what it is we are ingesting.

We'll keep working on the lunches and let you know what we come up with.  There's a few websites that have been referred to me recently with some lunch options for kids that I'm excited to look into more - Paleo Parenting, Eat Like a Dinosaur, and NomNomPaleo all have some great lunch suggestions. 

Feel good and enjoy food! :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Life with Kids, Diet, and Exercise

I like to challenge myself occasionally to see just how much we can jam into a few hours or a few days and still survive.  In order to prove to myself that I can and WILL continue living life with three kids and a husband away for the evening, I think, "Hmmm, what would my husband/mom/mom-in-law think I was crazy for trying to do on my own?" and then I take a deep breath and yell, "Kids! Get your shoes!"

I will not be held hostage to the house because it's too much work to do anything else, especially to go to a friends' bbq.

So tonight when I got home and it was raining (YES!  Rain!  Soccer practice cancelled!), I decided to first take advantage of the awesomeness that is the Ashland YMCA and its free child watch program from 5:15-8:15 Monday-Thursday and get a little workout in before we headed over to the bbq we had initially bailed on because of E's soccer practice. 

Before leaving I steamed some broccoli and cut up some strawberries, and then for fun I thought, hey, we have some kale that needs to be used, I'll make kale chips too!  (This is the part where a friend at the party might think, hey, I didn't see any kale chips, and I'd say, hey, hang on a sec, I'll tell you why.)  While Elvis and Lydia chowed down on some sliced apples and peanut butter and Hank gnawed on an apple... gagging occasionally because he jams the whole thing in his mouth... I preheated, boiled, sliced, and prepped my delicioso goodness. 

I always forget that sea salt is more granular and packs a bigger punch than table salt.  That's kind of an important detail when you are making kale chips.  The kale crisped up real nice like, but oh. my. salt.  Inedible.  Even though I tried to eat them again when we walked in the door an hour or so ago and nearly died choking on a piece.  Henry watched me with silent concern.  Tears, hacking, sneezing, coughing.  Salt.

With steamed broccoli, sliced strawberries, and no kale chips in hand, the kids and I raced off to the Y. Oh how I love to sweat.  I worked my tail feathers off on the elliptical for 30 minutes and then wobbled around to a few weight machines before calling it a day. 

I am new to the world of afternoon exercise.  I am used to getting up around 5:15 a.m. to work out or waiting until after the kids go to bed.  I am not used to a) it being light out and b) having people see me as I bust a move on the elliptical, and by busting a move I mean red-faced, sweat and snot dripping, hair stuck to my forehead move busting.  Hot.  Really, really hot.  It can't be a pretty sight.  In the future, I am going to remember that a 5:15 p.m. workout means more people in the wellness center and that I will also need a shower prior to leaving the building.

Because I am new to afternoon fitness, I did not bring deodorant. Or shampoo. Or soap. Or a towel.  I did bring a change of clothes, so there is that.  There's hope for next time.

Onward, smelly, sweaty mommy!  Onward to the bbq!  Among this group of friends, we have the most kids and the oldest kids.  A couple others have some infants, but we're the crazy people with the crazy kids who touch everything and run and knock things over and beg for more chips and lemonade and who are denied chips and lemonade and who pout and cry about chips and lemonade until it's clear that the chips and lemonade were a bad idea and now it is past our bedtime anyway so let's GO.

I really like trying to make it to things like this because I love these people and enjoy conversation, but I am not always sure whether our kids are a delight or an annoyance, and I am terrified about them being an annoyance.  I worry whether they are behaving well enough to not wear out our welcome, but I also want them to have a good time.  I don't want them to be those kids or for us to be that family.  Here they come! Ah! Run away!

It's partly due to the fact that we have some kidless friends and by default kidless friends don't have to deal with kids all of the time, so I just expect them to be overwhelmed by my herd.  This expectation launches me into overdrive parenting.  Behave so these people will keep wanting to be our friends!  I want to whisper to the kids.  This is probably unnecessary; I don't think our friends think we're the crazy parents with the crazy kids.  I think they think our kids are kids, hyper, silly, goofy, lovely kids.  But that doesn't stop me from the paranoia that our kidless friends are going to say adios to the Wellses because they don't want to deal with our little people anymore.

The bbq was quite nice, and the food was AMAZING. The grillmaster did a phenomenal job on some pork loin and chicken in particular.  The kids managed to enter and exit the scene without breaking or spilling anything, and Henry only whined and squirmed most of the time.  I left too late, which compounded silliness with sleepiness, but Henry conked out quick when we got home and the older two were asleep shortly after that.  Deep sigh.  Silence.

School has started, indeed, and with it the nine-month sprint to accomplish the next goal.  On the agenda for the weekend: the first soccer games.  Stay tuned.