Thursday, December 31, 2015

Good Mothers Don't Feel Like This, Not Apologizing

Blog Pause Day 6:  Welcome to the final day of the 2015 Blog Pause!  Today, I'm sharing two of my most favorite posts from the past year -- ones that both speak deeply to me even as I reread them.  I hope you enjoy.

Good Mothers Don't Feel This Way (and other lies we tell ourselves)


In the span of time it took me to shower this past Sunday morning, my children erected a village of paper plates, red Solo cups, strips of paper, and Elmer's glue on our kitchen table.  The village had distinct rooms, walkways, and an elevator system.  By the time my hair was dry, my children had scripted a backstory for the small plastic figurines who populated the scene.

It's the same kitchen table that's marred with scratches from years of use, Sharpie marker scribbles from the four year old, and a piece of Scotch tape that's become one with the tabletop and remains affixed no matter how often I scratch at it with my fingernail.  This particular day the table also was crusted with Play-Doh and a dried white streak that, when in its more viscous state, had probably been yogurt.

My family ate lunch after church around this very table, our plates and cups precariously close to the edges so we didn't crowd and collapse the village which, according to my children, was ready for expansion.

As I chewed my food with my plate nearly on my lap, I had one thought:

I won't miss this.  I really won't miss this -- not a table that looks like this, not the urban sprawl of plastic cups and paper plates, not this mess that spontaneously crops up every single day.  (Continue reading here.)



Don't Apologize for the Life You're Living 

Before I left for work last Friday morning, my husband casually mentioned that two of our friends, a young couple who had attended our church before graduating and moving to Baltimore, would be arriving that evening and visiting for the weekend.

He thought this was a reminder.  I thought, "Wait, we have house guests coming tonight?"

Then there was a slew of other thoughts: how I'd need to move the massive heap of winter clothes that I had piled on our guest bed and haven't had time to sort, how I should change the sheets and set out fresh towels, how I probably should vacuum and make some effort to tame the tangles of Legos and Barbies and balls and stuffed animals and crayons and craft projects and crumbs that had overtaken the kitchen and family room.

Fourteen hours later when our guests arrived with hugs and bags and greetings, the house was in a worse state than it had been in the morning.  Our friends didn't seem to notice or care.

I'm ten years into parenting, and I'm still learning that I don't need to apologize for the life that I'm living. (Continue reading here.)


Wishing you the happiest of New Years!  I am so grateful to share my words -- and parts of my life -- with you, my dear readers.  Thank you for following along.  Praying God's richest blessings -- awareness of His presence, peace, and love -- for you and yours.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I've Been There, Race Day, and DIY Love

Blog Pause Day 5:  Welcome back for the fifth day of the 2015 Blog Pause, and thank you for joining me as we revisit a few favorite posts from the past year.  I'm particularly fond of today's three selections.

First, I share a motherhood fail that reminds us that we never know what someone else is thinking when they observe us in our worst moments.  Second, I reflect back on my last race.  (Have I told you that I'm doing it again?  Yep, we're signed up for this May's races in Cleveland!)  Finally, I'm scratching the DIY itch with one of my favorite projects from this past year.  Enjoy!

I've Been There, Too.  Oh, I've Been There.

On Saturday morning I took my daughter to her gymnastics practice at the local YMCA.  Since she's a kid who primarily moves through the house by flinging herself over furniture, the prospect of having a legitimate tumbling opportunity thrilled her so much that she counted down the days during the weeks leading up to her first practice.

Let me tell you, the girl was ready to roll.  (And cartwheel.  And flip.)  As we left the gym after her initial practice, she showed me the participation stamp her instructor had marked on her hand and offered an excited play-by-play of every apparatus she had used, even though I had watched the whole time.

So, the next week when it was time for practice, I was caught off guard when she declared that she wouldn't do gymnastics, dug in her heels, and refused to get out of the car.

I could tell you that I handled the outburst gracefully, demonstrating an admirable blend of patience and savviness that deftly showcased the wisdom I've gleaned from ten years of parenting, but that would be a lie.  By the time we entered the gym, fellow YMCA patrons, both parents and children alike, were staring at our spectacle, awkwardly observing an unexpected showdown between my daughter, who had morphed, Hulk-like, from a pleasant seven-year-old into an unmovable object, and myself, who symbiotically escalated into an unstoppable force who spat out mono-syllabic utterances like: You. WILL. Go. To. Your. Class. NOW.  (Continue reading here.)


2015 Cleveland Marathon Weekend

During every race, I reach a point when I swear that I will never do this again, which makes distance running surprisingly similar to childbirth.  It wrecks you when you're in the midst of it, but then you're the recipient of a reward (a baby! a free banana and a medal!) and somehow your mind forgets the suffering and you think, that was a pretty amazing.  (Continue reading here.)


Waking Up a Sleepy Nightstand

Over five years ago while eight months pregnant with our third daughter, I stripped and refinished our entire bedroom suite, a collection of mismatched pieces gathered over years and places.  I gleaned two bits of wisdom from that experience.  First, I discovered how painting old furniture can give it new life.  Unifying all our pieces in black looked amazing, especially given the previous mishmash of finishes.  Second, though perhaps more tangentially, it solidified my belief that you should never underestimate a woman who is nesting.

While I've always liked the black finish, this summer I decided to freshen up one of the bedroom pieces: my nightstand.  Before I fill you in on the process, let me first give you some sneak peaks of the finished product below.  (Continue reading here.)



Wishing you a wonderful day.  See you tomorrow for the final installment of the 2015 Blog Pause!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Small Rituals, an Activity for Kids, and a Gentle Nudge

Blog Pause Day 4: Welcome back to the fourth day of the 2015 Blog Pause!  Each day we're revisiting three favorite posts from the past year.  

Today's sampling of posts cover range from practical to heartwarming.  First, there's a glimpse into a nightly ritual that I never want to forget.  Second, I offer you a practical craft for you and your children.  Finally, I share how a gentle nudge can make all the difference between awkwardness to community.  Enjoy!

Same Love, Different Expression

Today, I'd simply like to record a small ritual -- a moment that ends every day in our household.  Each night when I tuck my younger daughters into bed, I sing a special I Love You song, one that I remember my parents singing to me.  And each night, my youngest cups her hands on my face while I sing, and she sings along with me.

We sing this nightly duet, the two of us, her sweet face just inches from my own, her sweet voice offering the daily reminder, "You're my mommy, You're my mommy, and I love you," and those sweet little sticky hands searching my face, touching my hair, and otherwise wheedling into my personal space.  We won't always sing this song to each other.  I already see it as I sit on the edge of my ten-year-old's bed each night.  (Continue reading here.)


Glass Gems + Nail Polish = Kid-Friendly Refrigerator Magnets

If I were to chronicle this winter season in a journal, this would be today's brief entry: Day 75 of winter. I forget what grass looks like.

We're worn thin with indoor activities; my girls have colored, painted, Play-Dohed, puzzled, and board-gamed themselves into the ground.  Still, winter hasn't let up, and we need fresh activities to keep ourselves occupied during the long hours indoors.  If you're in a similar situation, let me share a craft that should occupy your kids for an hour.  (Continue reading here.)


We Sometimes Need a Nudge

It's the third week of the semester, and my students and I are starting to feel more comfortable with the routine.  I sense this because each morning when I walk into the classroom, there's now a quiet hum of conversation between them.

It didn't start this way.  On the first day when I entered each new room, ready to distribute the thick stack of syllabi I carried in the crook of my arm, the students had been sitting in silence.  As a general rule, I have no qualms with silence if it's calming or contemplative.  But silence in a classroom on the first day of the semester rarely conveys that pleasantness; it's instead tinged with a mixture of awkwardness and tension.  (Continue reading here.)


See you tomorrow for Day 5 of the 2015 Blog Pause!

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Timed Miles, Stinging Cold, and Unplugging

Blog Pause Day 3: Welcome back to the third installment of the 2015 Blog Pause.  Each day we're revisiting three favorite post from the past year.  

Today's selections share three life lessons that I've learned.  First, don't be afraid to try new things -- even ridiculous ones, like the time my husband signed me up to run a timed mile at a college track meet.  Second, the cold doesn't sting as much when you're prepared for it.  Third, there's great wisdom in remembering to unplug for a few minutes.

On Running a Timed Mile for Purposes Other Than Gym Class

I'm relatively positive that every American, if they're not personally doing so, knows somebody in their 30's or 40's who is training for some sort of race.  Whether the distance ranges from a 5K to a full marathon, running seems to be a new version of the early-to-mid life crisis, just healthier.


Races are common.  Races are normal.

But at the start of each indoor track meet at the university where I teach, there's an opportunity for members of the local running club -- people who appear otherwise perfectly rational -- to run a timed mile.  This isn't exactly a race.  It's a track meet.  It's filled with college athletes in their university-sanctioned uniforms who resemble gazelles as they run casual warm-up laps at paces faster than some people can sprint.

A few weeks ago I joined this scene and put myself on the line quite literally.  Yes, as an almost 37-year-old mother of three, I stepped up to the starting line to run my first ever timed mile at a college track meet.  (Continue reading here.)


The Cold Stings the Most When You're Not Prepared for It


Yesterday I found my missing winter gloves on the floor of our minivan.  After leaving the house bare-handed for every outing during this past frigid week, I've gained a new appreciation for keeping bundled. 

It's easy to fall into a bad habit of not bundling yourself, though.  In the early morning when I leave the house with my work bag -- an over-the-shoulder carrier that's so crammed with paperwork that it triggers the "fasten seatbelt" signal when I set it on the front passenger seat beside me -- I forget that I should layer up with my scarf and hat.  When I leave the house to run errands with my kids, my focus shifts to making sure they're appropriately clothed (and wearing two shoes, preferably matching) than ensuring that I'm good to go.

It's a bad habit, especially because the amount of time necessary to prepare myself is negligible compared to the amount of time I'll suffer the negative consequences of not preparing.  (Continue reading here.)


Unplug for a Few Minutes

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. 
(Anne Lamott | Salon, April 10, 2015)

Like all past summers already have and all future summers eventually will, this summer draws to a close.  Last week's meetings and increased activity in my email inbox signaled that the end was near.  On Monday morning when I walk across campus to my first class of the fall semester, the deal will be sealed: summer living will be over.  (Continue reading here.)


See you tomorrow for Day 4 of the 2015 Blog Pause!

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Breaking the Silence, Carrying On, Sipping and Savoring

Blog Pause Day 2: Welcome back to day two of the 2015 Blog Pause as we revisit some favorite posts from the past year.  Today we look at three reminders.  First, to be the one who breaks the silence.  Second, to carry on, even in our weariness, by lifting our eyes to the hills.  Finally, to sip and savor.  Enjoy!

Be That Student Who Breaks the Silence

When I prepare my materials at the front podium before class starts, I sometimes think that my students forget I can hear them.  Over the years I've unintentionally overheard many conversations.  Most are benign, like small talk about lunch plans or loads of homework or the weekend's game.  A few have been self-incriminating, like confessions of not reading the day's assigned chapter or nursing a rough hangover.


But over the years, what I've increasingly heard from my students as I'm checking my rosters and pulling up PowerPoints in the minutes leading up to class is silence.  (Continue reading here.)

Carry On, Weary One.  Carry On.

Last night I tossed in bed well past a respectable time to fall asleep, unable to quiet my darting thoughts.  Those same thoughts replayed the moment I woke this morning, lodging themselves into my early morning consciousness.  Later in the afternoon when I squeezed in a run before dinner, it hits me that I'm weary.  Runs normally invigorate me, body and soul, but with each step I felt increasingly worn out.

As I ran, my eyes were drawn upward to a mountain ridge ahead.  That's when new words cut through the weighty soundtrack of my cares and concerns.  I lift up my eyes to the hills; where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.  (Continue reading here.)

Sipped and Savored

Sometimes I become disoriented in terms of time -- not just misjudging the hour of day, but also miscalculating how I'm situated within a given month.   I'm shocked by the fact that we've reached the middle of October.  The middle of October!  How has this happened?

In my mind, fall has just begun and the semester has barely started.  In reality, however, leaves already have turned colors and the semester, rather than being in its infancy, is wrapping up its eighth week of classes.  (This faulty internal clock also likely explains why, despite spending 37 years on this planet, I feel like I'm in my 20's and assume that the 90's were just ten years ago.)

But back to October.  (Continue reading here.)


See you tomorrow for Day 3 of the 2015 Blog Pause as we count our way down to the New Year!
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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Not Measuring, Needing to Know, or Noticing Stickers

Blog Pause Day 1:  I love celebrating the pending New Year by first looking back over the past one.  For these final days of 2015, I'll be culling some of my favorite posts from the past year and sharing three each day.  Today, we revisit three "nots" -- not measuring, not needing to know, and not noticing some (ahem) child-generated vandalism.  

 Enjoy -- and thank you so much for joining me this year!

The Benefits of Not Measuring

Several miles into a recent long training run, my cell phone battery died, not only leaving me without any music (my running playlist -- a mixture of 80's dance music, motivational movie soundtracks, and worship songs -- is fondly titled "Holy Epic Dance Party"), but also without any indication of how far or how fast I was running.  The reassuring voice that regularly speaks through my headphones with half-mile updates on my progress and speed fell silent, and I continued listening only to the steady tread of my feet on the pavement.

When I returned home and my husband asked how my run went, I didn't know how to answer.  I couldn't calculate the exact distance I had run.  I didn't know if I had sustained a good pace. 

How was my run?  Well, I had gone out and done it.  (Continue reading here.)


We Don't Always Need to Know

While in college, I once sketched a flow chart to help me better understand my social life. 

Really. 

Overthinking is my thing, a peculiar disposition to make sense, diagnose, and infuse meaning into every circumstance around me.  In its best manifestation, I remember details and observe nuances that others might miss.  In its worst form, my thoughts (and my shifting emotions about those thoughts) hijack my internal balance.

In light of this, if you're a fellow overthinker, a muller-over of everything, remember this:  (Continue reading here.)
 

Why, I'd Never Have Stickers (#Transparent Tuesday)

A few months ago I noticed a car in a parking lot.  One of its back windows was covered with stickers, an inside job perpetrated by some child who clearly never wanted to have a direct view of any scenery.

In that moment, I silently congratulated myself on the status of my minivan.  I really did.  Our van certainly wasn't clean, but come on, it wasn't wallpapered from the inside with stickers.  Have some pride, people.  Stickers just don't go on car windows.  Not on my watch, at least.  (Continue reading here.)


See you tomorrow for Day 2 of the 2015 Blog Pause!

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Merry Christmas!  I hope that this day fills you with warmth and wonder as we celebrate a miracle: Emmanuel, God with us.

God with us.  It's almost impossible to grasp the depth of this seemingly simple statement.  God -- the all-powerful and all-knowing creator of the universe, came to earth to be with us -- the perfectly and wonderfully messed up people that we are.

It's too good to be true!  It's absurdly beautiful!  God came to earth to ransom mankind, and He is still with us today.  No greater gift has ever been given.

Wishing the merriest of Christmases from my family to yours!  (And as we count down to 2016 over the next six days, join me daily as I share a few favorite posts from the past year's blog archives.  Thank you for reading, as always!)


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Easy Christmas Decorating. (Don't toss those Christmas cards prematurely!)

I have a confession: I didn't send Christmas cards this year.  Somehow, this annual festive task fell through the cracks.  Now that I've reached Christmas Eve Eve Eve (that's fancy talk for December 22nd), I've accepted that I won't be sending cards in the mail

With my conscience pricked on this topic, I've actually been contemplating Christmas cards quite a bit.  (Friends and family, we still love you!)  I enjoy seeing pictures of growing families and reading greetings from old friends.  Plus, some cards are so lovely that it would be a shame to throw them away.

So, don't throw them away.  If you receive a beautiful card, consider decorating with it for Christmas.

Over the years, I've slipped a few nice Christmas cards into frames that already are on display around the house.  Friends, this is ninja decorating at its finest.  The cards can stay in the frames all year long; I simply shuffle them to the front (and the regular pictures to the back) during the month of December.



Of course, many of the Christmas cards you receive likely are printed pictures of the sender's family and children.  I'd avoid framing those to prevent uncomfortable moments during Christmas gatherings: "Um, can you please explain why you've framed a picture of my family on your powder room wall?"

That's just awkward.

Instead, opt for the regular greeting cards, which you might even purchase yourself once they've been reduced for holiday clearance.  This snowscape greeting card, for example, will grace my Christmas decorating next year.


Merry Christmas -- and, of course, happy decorating!  (As for me and my own Christmas card distribution practices, there's always next year...)

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Three Ways to Enjoy Christmas Even More

Christmastime is here, along with the last-minute hustle and bustle to purchase gifts, plan meals, attend gatherings, and keep children (who seem perpetually high on Christmas-induced excitement and treats) from entirely glazing over and melting down.

If I can find a minute to spare, I feel a deep longing to slow down and stop rushing.  I want be enjoying these preparations, using them to settle my heart and quiet my soul, not just dashing all the way only to relax once the crumpled wrapping paper has been picked up off the floor.

This past weekend, I experienced three separate moments that (quite unexpectedly) helped me prepare my heart and kindle Christmas spirit.  If you've been careening toward Christmas like I have, I highly recommend them.


1) Host without caring what the house looks like.  On Friday evening, old friends from New England texted that they were traveling for the holidays and would be passing near our town.  Without a second thought, I immediately invited them to not just drop by for a quick hello, but to stay the night.

I'm so glad they said yes.  An hour later, they and their four daughters arrived in our driveway with a flurry of greetings and hugs and suitcases and you-can-sleep-in-my-room offers from my girls, who were thrilled to have a new playmates for an impromptu sleepover.

I didn't have time to clean -- or plan a meal, or set out fresh towels, or even care to do those things.  We simply opened the door, and that was enough.

Truly, your hospitality is enough.  It's more important that the state of your home.

2) In whatever capacity, serve.  On Saturday afternoon, my family and I rang the bells outside of Wal-Mart for our local Salvation Army.  It hadn't been my idea.  My mother-in-law had heard that there was a shortage of bell ringers, so she volunteered us.

To be honest, we had plenty of other things to do with our Saturday afternoon, but we dutifully bundled up the girls, donned our red vests, and took our stations outside the automatic doors where welcome gusts of warm air periodically would blow toward us from the industrial entrance heaters.

Despite my initial reluctance, at some point during our two hour shift I realized that my heart was as warm as my feet were cold.  (Which means that my heart was toasty warm because, baby, it was cold outside.)


Perhaps it was witnessing the generosity of donors, or wishing strangers Merry Christmas, or hearing my kids hum snippets of Christmas carols as they rang the bells, or looking upward at the first snowfall of the season when light flurries briefly graced the sky.  Perhaps it was all of this combined, those small festive moments that suddenly made the pavement sidewalk somehow feel like it was a bit of sacred ground.


3) Give yourself permission to rest.  The older I get, the more I recognize my need to pull back periodically, especially during hectic seasons.  There is nothing wrong with this.

Yesterday afternoon when we visited my in-laws, brother-in-law, and nephews after ringing bells, I browsed through a magazine while I lay in front of my in-law's fireplace.  I was so warm, so cozy, so initially aware that the din of conversation from the adults and noises from the kids were blurring farther and father into the background, until I was aware of nothing at all except stretching and realizing that I must have just fallen into a coma right there on the floor.


It was utterly delightful.  When I re-entered the festivities, I brought a better version of myself because I was rested and recharged.  Yes, my friends, take a moment this week to step back, curl up, or doze off.  I completely give you permission.

This Christmas season, my prayer is that you're blessed with the best kind of unexpected visitors, moments to serve, and delicious little pockets of rest.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This Is How You End a Semester

For the past several days, I've been immersed in the process of ending a semester.  Eleven years ago when I was a novice in academia, I glibly believed that ending a semester would be quick, matter-of-fact, even.  (Ah, young grasshopper...)

After twenty-one semesters at the helm of a college classroom, I now know that ending a semester rarely is as quick or as matter-of-fact as I'd like it to be.  There are hard decisions regarding students who hover near the cusp of two grades.  There are passionate pleas from students who suddenly want extra credit despite not diligently attending to the regular credit for fifteen weeks.  There's the potential for backlash from students who are unhappy with their grades, even though they're the ones who earned them.

Although I've only experienced student backlash in numbers small enough to be considered statistically insignificant given the thousands of students I've taught, I'm often vaguely nervous as a semester draws to a close.  I scan my inbox warily for the subject line: "Final Grade."  I can recall a few of the more personal and painful end-of-semester skirmishes in great detail, in fact.  If I dwell on them, a sickening sensation rises up within me as if I'm experiencing them afresh.

But not this semester.

For all intents and purposes, this semester seems to be wrapping up smoothly.  Matter-of-fact, even.  I graded final projects from home one day earlier this week, which means that I procrastinated in highly productive ways.  (Floors vacuumed? Check.  Dishwasher empty?  Check.  Laundry folded, bookshelf straightened, bathroom sinks cleaned?  Check, check, check.)  For the remaining days, I stationed myself in my office where there is notably less opportunity for cleaning.

The efforts have paid off.  At this exact moment, my final grades are uploaded.  (And, as a bonus perk, my house is looking pretty good.)

I've received a handful of polite and easily handled grade inquiries, my favorite of which was when a student emailed to ask why he didn't receive full credit for participation.  After I supplied an answer, he wrote back, "Well, I can't argue with that.  Thanks for clarifying."

"Can't argue with that."  That's my boy.

This is how you end a semester.



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Thursday, December 10, 2015

This Day in December

Today I met with the students from two of my classes for the final time, and tomorrow I'll say goodbye to those enrolled in my other two courses.  One week from now, I expect that final grades will be uploaded.

It's the typical routine that brings a semester to a close, but I've noticed something different this time around -- namely, I'm not quite as tired.  I've managed a healthier work-life balance this semester, a feat that has eluded me for the past few years.  Granted, I still faced a few weeks when I feared I was drowning in essays and might never reach the bottom of the stack, but those weeks passed.  I felt tension, but not all 15 weeks were characterized by it.

This is a good thing, friends.  I highly recommend this having-school-aged-kids phase of life.  Not only has it opened the afternoons for me to work uninterrupted, but I also discovered that school-aged kids have the capacity to turn into small elves who decorate for Christmas even if you aren't supervising.

For example, my ten-year-old hung our stockings.


She also draped random strings of indoor lights around picture frames and mirrors, which adds a tacky dorm-room vibe to our d├ęcor, but I'm systematically editing that part of the picture. 

There's evidence that these kids of mine are nicely settling into a new era -- a Capable-of-Doing-Stuff era.  I had been grading speeches; they had been decorating.  All of us had been entirely content, busy with our own tasks, which then creates opportunities for a few more moments like this:


And this: 


(On a side note, have I told you that I've decided to become a tea drinker instead of being a person who merely likes the idea of tea?  This decision resulted from careful, systematic thought about the benefits of having a beverage ritual.  And the fact that someone gave me six boxes of tea and I didn't quite know what to do with them.)

Wishing you little sips of refreshment this day in December, my friends.

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