Bringing Spring Indoors: Forsythia Artwork

I love forsythia.  I love how it brightens a hillside with bursts of fresh yellow after a long, gray winter.  I love the way the word sounds as it rolls off my tongue. 

Forsythia.  Forsythia.  Forsythia. 

Go on.  Say it.  It has a nice ring, doesn't it?

I love forsythia so much that while driving the other day I pulled to the side of the road when I passed a wild bush of those sprawling golden flowers and broke off several branches with my bare hands and the strategic aid of a nail clipper that I found in the compartment where we keep our spare change and other dodads like golf tees (my husband), chap stick (me), and a gnawed stick from a lollipop (kids, I'm looking at you.)

Those branches are now trimmed and adorning my dining room table.  It's indoor sunshine.

Moreover, it reminded me of the adorable craft that my little one recently brought home from school.  You could duplicate the project easily:

Simply select a piece of construction paper, draw a framework of branches, and glue small, crumpled wads of yellow tissue paper to the branches. 

Voila: forsythia!

Besides, the one thing that might be better than actual forsythia is hearing your three-year-old saying forsythia

That definitely has a ring to it.

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The Case for Spontaneity

During office hours yesterday, several students dropped by to discuss their upcoming speeches and projects.  After answering questions, reviewing drafts, and offering feedback, I always check in personally.  How's the end of the semester looking for you?  How are you holding up? Are you doing alright?

I ask because I care.  I ask because I know what it feels like to be under the gun.  Right now, in fact, I'm mildly convinced that I've contracted mono, or Lyme disease, or some other energy-sucking illness, but it's likely just the byproduct of having three young kids and juggling extensive end-of-the-semester grading.

The finish line is in sight, but there's still some distance to travel.

Yesterday, I finally took the advice that I've been giving to my students.  Make sure that you take good care of yourself.  This is hard stretch of the semester.  Get some rest so you can finish strong. 

I made my afternoon as easy as possible.  After my daughter's dance class, I picked up a pizza instead of rushing home to cook.  In fact, I didn't even return home.  Instead, almost as if the van piloted itself, we ended up at local park where the girls and I ate our pizza slices off of napkins that I found in van's glove compartment. 

After cleaning up remnants of half-eaten crust, I stretched out on a picnic table bench, squinting into the sunshine as the girls played tag on the playground.  Although such a simple deviation from the norm -- just changed dinner plans and an impromptu visit to the park -- breaking free from my regular routine made me believe that I could carry on, that I could make it.

For a while, I stopped thinking about the essays waiting on my dining room table and the emails in my inbox.  I relinquished the mental gymnastics of planning and plotting how I was going to tackle the items on my to-do-list and calendar.

Instead, I attempted to meld into that bench and blend into my surroundings, which lasted roughly two minutes before my daughters noticed that I had gotten comfortable and invited me to join their round of fish-out-of-water tag.

I played that, too.  It's a hard stretch of the semester, after all.  It's important to get some rest -- even in the form of pizza, park benches, and tag -- and finish strong.

Image compliments of Shea Donato (

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How Frozen Should Have Ended

Perhaps you're over Frozen

Perhaps you've identified a series of synonyms (hands off!  don't touch!  put it down!) because the last thing you want to accidentally say in front of your children is "let it go," even if you mean it literally, because you know that when linked together, those three words will trigger a Pavlovian response of exuberant warbling and incorrectly improvised lyrics, especially when the song reaches the bridge, with the one exception being the line about frozen fractals that somehow everyone, even a three-year-old, can nail word for word.

Yes, even if Frozen is dead to you, your day will be better if you take three minutes to watch how the movie actually should have ended.

"So... you're saying we should lock her up alone in the castle until she's safe to be around?"

"What?  That's not what I said.  That's a terrible idea -- no!"


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Insert the Gospel

There might be an area of your life that appears to be dead right now.  Perhaps a friendship has dissolved.  Perhaps a marriage is strained.  Perhaps a prognosis is grim, a dream is unreached, or a longing is unfulfilled.  This situation -- whatever it is, whether it's large or small -- tugs at you.  It whispers that it will get the best of you, that it will win.

But today is a day when we celebrate resurrection.

During a powerful message that I heard a few weeks' ago, my church's youth pastor noted that even during painful or challenging circumstances, we can insert the gospel into the equation and rest.

The premise, of course, is that the gospel is power.  The gospel changes matters.  The gospel, this Good News of Jesus' all-sufficiency, does stuff.  It heals the lame, cleanses the leper, provides for the widow, comforts the afflicted, creates a way when there is no way, protects us when we're surrounded, brings dead things back to life, and redeems.

The gospel isn't trite comfort.  It's not a band aid being offered for a puncture wound, or a wad of chewing gum to plug a gaping hole when our ship is sinking.  No, the gospel is infinite and powerful, holy and unrelenting, effective and essential.  We can insert this gospel into our circumstances and rest.

I took this picture of the sunset last night from my front porch.  We have a God who paints the sky, who causes every new day to dawn.  This God, he knows us. 

And when we're known by God, we can be real with God.  He already knows where we stand.  He knows whether we're running on empty, coasting in neutral, teeming with anger, discouraged by failure, or full of faith.  Regardless of how we feel, we can ask God to enter our equations.  Insert the gospel.  Rest.

On this day especially, we remember that God still is in the resurrection business.  We can dare to wait with expectation.

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Reader Survey: The Lowdown on Peeps

Title: Reader Survey: The Lowdown on Peeps

Subtitle: What's your opinion of these nearly glow-in-the-dark confections?  Love them? Hate them? See them as an annual guilty pleasure?  Fess up and share: are Peeps Easter delights or edible frights?

The Good in Good Friday

Growing up, I never liked the idea of Good Friday.  Perhaps it was due to the name, which didn't seem accurate.  What could be good about nail pierced hands, a crown of thorns, and a cross?  Was it even permissible to be happy on a day that commemorates a crucifixion?

I think about this day differently now.

Within the last 24 hours, Brooke colored on the kitchen table with a pen, leaving behind permanent scribble.  Reese's carelessness resulted in a Google search on how to remove gum from a microfiber couch and berber carpeting.  They've nagged.  They've bickered.  They've gotten under my skin.

Yet, even during their most annoying moments -- moments when behaviors and attitudes are unacceptable, moments when they're deliberately disobeying, I wouldn't need to think twice if they were put in harm's way.  I'd step in willfully.  I'd risk my own well-being to save them from harm.

As a parent, you know this.  Deep in your heart, you've looked at your children and felt the brunt of this sobering realization: you'd die for them.

That's the heart of God.

God knew we were in harm's way.  Our sin had separated us from him, and he willingly risked his own well-being for our good.  Knowing that the cross would serve as the bridge to connect us again with God, he chose death.

This is good news.  It's not pretty.  It's not budding tulips, fluffy chicks, and pastel eggs as we're apt to distill Easter, but it's good in every sense of the word.  A holy good.

Yes, the day is named appropriately.

Originally posted April 22, 2011.  Resurrected for today.


On Cleaning, Growing Tulips, Getting Dirty, Eating Smores, Watching Golf, and the Birthday Season

Typical of weekends, the particular one we just experienced came to a close before I could get my bearings.  Yesterday morning I woke amazed (and a little distressed) to find that I've been flung into another new week. 

Let me take a moment to catch up and share some recent happenings with you, stream-of-consciousness style.

1) House Rental Season (spring edition) is upon us.  As I've written before, as homeowners in a university town, we periodically rent our house to alumni who are visiting for a special event, like graduation, or football games, or in the case of this past weekend, an exhibition football game where the team breaks in half to play itself while over 70K fans, all of whom have been deprived of football since the fall, come to watch. 

Preparing for a rental entails extensive cleaning, which ultimately means that my house was gleaming.  (Note the use of past tense here.  We're once again back in our house with our three children, which automatically implies that surfaces no longer gleam.)

2) Things are growing.  On Sunday afternoon I strolled the yard on my daily tulip hunt.  Yep, they're coming.

3) Days of sunshine make you realize what you're missing when it rains.  Friends, we were spoiled this weekend with two days that epitomized what spring should be about: beautiful blue skies, warm sun, and light breezes.  Once we returned from the rental, the girls played in the yard and made a happy mess of themselves, which solidified our decision that it was high time to start a campfire in our fire pit and roast marshmallows.

I've come to the conclusion that one should never bring clean children to a campfire -- only dirty children -- as it's inevitable that marshmallow will end up smeared on somebody's clothes.  And face.  And in their hair.  And, in the case of my five-year-old, inside their ear, which really seems to demonstrate a special talent.

4) I appreciate Smores more each time I eat them.  This sentiment can stand alone without further explanation.

5) I love watching golf on television.  Don't judge.  Don't tell me it's boring and slow.  I already know that it's slow, and sometimes I need boring.  This weekend was the Masters, and I loved listening to the hushed announcers with their pleasing British and Scottish accents.  I loved watching the innovative camera angles as we're flown in an aerial view over Augusta National.  The lush greenness!  The azaleas!  The fact that Bubba Watson won the green jacket again!

Oh, yes, I can handle this kind of boring as a backdrop to my Sunday afternoon and evening.

6) There are three more weeks of the semester.  Four, if you're including finals week.  Not that I'm counting, but I have roughly 300 more pages of student essays, 56 more speeches, 66 student blogs, 33 final projects, and 56 final exams left to go. 

But I'm not counting.

7) The Kramer family birthday season is upon us.  My oldest daughter turns nine today.  Nine years old!  Obviously, this has unfolded day by day, yet a part of me is surprised by the fact that I've been mothering this long.  Another part of me feels every day of it, all 3,285 of them.  What a ride it has been.  What a blessing!

By this time next month, we'll have celebrated the birthday of my husband and my other two daughters, which means that I'm going to hang a "Happy Birthday" sign and leave it up for the next four weeks to account for this massed influx of spring births.  (Once and done decorating, my friends.)

Wishing you a glorious day!

Augusta National Golf Course pictures compliments of Robert Du Bois and Torrey Wiley, respectively (

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He's Not Overwhelmed

Several Sundays ago, the youth pastor at my church preached an amazing message.  I'm still mulling over his words, especially on this nugget, which I'll paraphrase for you: Jesus never got overwhelmed by anything he faced.  Instead, he overwhelmed it.

Such a difference!  How often do I let mountains in my life overwhelm me?  I cannot forget that Jesus wasn't overwhelmed by disease and sickness, or hardship and trials, or sin and death.  He overwhelmed those very things by his presence! 

If you're facing an overwhelming situation and feeling hard-pressed on all sides, remember that the Jesus who disrupted a funeral procession to return a son to his mother is the same Jesus who intercedes for us today.

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The Adventure Waiting to Happen Right In Our Neighborhood

I have a suspicion that spring has tricked us.  Last week, we were graced with two promising days of sunshine, but since then we've descended to temperatures in the upper 30's and low 40's coupled with dreary rain and wind.  (Even as I type, I wear a blanket wrapped around my shoulders.  I can't shake the chill.)

That being said, my family recently has discovered something, or more aptly, somewhere.  It's a small path just a few minute's walk from our house that leads through woods along a shallow creek bed. 

I can't divulge more information regarding its location, though.  It's a secret.  My oldest daughter is intent on keeping it this way, with the exception of sharing its whereabouts with a select few neighborhood friends who have either proven themselves trustworthy or who appear sufficiently directionally-impaired, and thus, would be unable to accurately convey directions if interrogated.

As for me, I'm just amazed that this place exists.  It's less than five minutes from the house where I've lived for nearly eight years.  What else don't I know about my neighborhood?

I hadn't known that braided vines dangle from the trees, creating an ethereal vibe like I've wandered into a Tolkein forest.

I didn't expect that the make-shift bridge my husband erected with a single board would draw out calm, encouraging leadership from my eight-year-old as she coached her younger sisters to watch their steps.

I hadn't remembered how kids could be enthralled with being outside: touching moss, inspecting spiky jaggers on a bush, listening to a bird's call, or overturning rocks in a stream bed in hopes of finding a fossil.

I feel like Mary in The Secret Garden, as if we've discovered something that's been locked away.  I'm not the only one; yesterday, my oldest stood at the window as rain dripped down the screen and said, "I want to go back to our path."

I understand.  So does my husband, who was the first to discover the trail and since has returned multiple times with pruning shears to carefully clear a walkable route.  "This is what childhood should be about," he noted.

Explore on, kids.  Explore on.


What's Trending: Pinpointing Those Little Things You Love

As I type, my two younger daughters are in the bathtub, splashing and singing the Frozen soundtrack.  It's such a common sound in our house (the Frozen soundtrack more than the splashing) that it's easy to tune out, just like banal elevator music.

But something makes me listen intently for a moment.  A few years from now, I won't be hearing these sounds.  I like these sounds.

I wonder, what else is trending in my household?  What other actions and noises and sights are so common that I too easily overlook them?

Well, each time either my husband or I come home, the kids instantly freeze when they hear the garage door opening, shout HIDE!, and scurry into hiding spots as if they were cockroaches and a light had been turned on.  Then, while Joel or I set down our bags and hang up our jackets, the other parent nonchalantly announces, "I lost the kids again," to start the seeking process.  Nobody ever seems to tire of this.

My three-year-old cannot articulate consonant blends.  "Pre-school" becomes "p-cool."  "Star" becomes "tar."  "Sparkly" becomes "parky."  Given this, it's not uncommon for her to say, "Mommy, I made a parky tar at p-cool today!"  (I don't want her to grow out of this yet.)

Whenever we're in a public restroom with one of those high-octane, excessively loud hand dryers, this same child shrieks in crazed delight and stands underneath, her hair whipping across her face, like it's a shower of hot air raining down.

My two younger daughters arrange food on their plates according to size and then assign the individual pieces names and identities.  "This one is daddy, this one is mommy, this one is me..."  Then, they bite off the heads, but never with malice.

Eventually, I'll forget many of these small details once they fade from daily life.  They'll be replaced with new behaviors and practices, but today I wanted to capture a few for posterity.

What's trending in your household?  What do you want to remember long after it's gone?  Is a child adorably mispronouncing a word or phrase?  Do you have a silly ritual?  I'd love to hear!

What a Little Fresh Air Can Do

As the sun sunk toward the horizon yesterday, my kids played in the backyard with the neighbors.  Oh, friends, it was a glorious display of play: uninhibited digging and running and gathering and exploring.  I loaded the dishwasher overcome with the sweet realization that even their shouting is much more pleasant as it wafts into the house from a distance than when it's coming directly from the room where I'm sitting.

This is what a little fresh air can do.  It shifts perspective.

Nearly all the work that I do on a daily basis, beyond the time I spend in the classroom, involves paperwork and being on the computer.  There's a continual ebb and flow of paperwork (distribute, collect, evaluate, return) and email (check, read, respond). 

Progress is made, of course, but it's mostly indicated by a check on a to-do list.  I think this is why I long for visible progress in other areas in my life, why I take such simple yet profound pleasure in manual tasks like cutting the grass, painting a room, or organizing a closet.  This was once one way; Look, now it's another!

So, yesterday, when the sun was still warm before dinner, I walked through the yard gathering sticks, raking leaves, and cleaning winter debris.  My husband started a fire in our fire pit and we burned brush.  Somehow, as the leaves crinkled and branches smoldered in the fire, I saw life with more clarity.

I wasn't racing the clock, or staring into a screen, or striving in any way.  The physical movement, the sunshine, the dirt under my fingernails, the smell of overturned earth -- all of it -- felt like a gift from God, a reminder that spring arrives, that newness comes, that winters do end, that progress is made.

This is what a little fresh air can do.  It encourages the soul.

Continual confinement within the walls of the house and the cooped-up absorption with small, indoor matters is forgotten when I'm plotting the garden, or noticing the breeze in my hair, or reminding my three-year-old to not jump head-first off the swing set, versus jumping head first off the back of a couch. 

I'm pretty sure that getting outside makes me a better mother and a calmer person. 

This is what a little fresh air can do: everything.

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