Friday, July 30, 2010

The Nice Game

I tried something new yesterday, and it worked.

You know those deepest moments of desperation that give birth to the greatest ideas? This new idea came from that place. It probably was also an inspiration from the Lord, since I had just breathed a prayer of, I don't know what to do here, please help.

You know summer has been a challenge for me since we returned from our road trip. I just don't feel up to taking the kids out every day, plus it usually costs money to go anywhere, plus I really have things like Facebook and blogging cleaning and laundry, yard work and dinner, that require my attentions at home. Not to mention it's just not worth the effort to herd bickering children who enjoy playing hide 'n' seek in the clothes racks. So we don't get out all that often.

About the only outings we have taken in the last six weeks are grocery trips, library visits, and doctor appointments. It's amazing how a doctor visit can take up an entire four hour radius.

And the big kids are getting squirrelly from being at home so much.

They seem to tirelessly run the bases between yelling about invasions of personal space, nagging about all the transgressions of the other, playing so well together I fear for the structural integrity of my house, and complaining of boredom.

Today at the end of the orthodontist appointment, something snapped inside me.

She was deliberately keeping him from getting in the car as I made the next appointment while holding a fussy baby on my hip. Apparently this was in reaction to him throwing things at her, which was in reaction to her telling him to shut up and leave her alone. Which was a general reaction to her sense that she should be the only star in the universe, which theory by his very existence he invalidates.

I've tried spanking.

I've tried timeouts.

I've tried lectures and consequences and calling it out every time it happens.

Yet it keeps happening. What's a mom to do? I feel like they are the ones that need to be expending some effort to improve the situation, as opposed to me yelling and them getting mad.

So today in the car, I told her she needed to think about three nice things she can say to him. When we got home, she wrote them down. Then she wrote them in a nice note and gave it to him. Then she read it to him.

"I'm sorry.
I can [play] video games with you.
I can have fun
and listen to the most annoying Tom and Jerry songs with you."

I then gave him a chance to say something nice about her.

"I forgive you."

And I told them to hug.

And they started giggling, and the anger in the room dissipated. Vanished like smoke.

Her final consequence was to do something nice for him before dinner. She pulled out the art bin, made a tiny box, filled it with sparkly perler beads, gave it to him, and before I knew it the two of them played happily for an hour.

Also to combat the boredom, I capitalized on the moment to transition into cleaning mode. I started giving instructions. As each child finished a task, I would give them another. Then I would turn to the other child and give that one another task. In short order, they had brought down laundry, cleaned the main floor bathroom, picked up and vacuumed the main floor, mopped the kitchen floor and cleaned off the table. They even emptied out trash. I am totally geeked at the success of this day.

Because I am not the master of diplomacy, this Nice approach does not come easily for me. I get so mad at the bickering I tend to want to break it out of them with brute force. But this momma with 8+ years hard experience learned a new trick today:

DEFUSE anger with kind words.

How hard is it to stay mad when you have to hug someone and the two of you can't figure out which one needs to turn so you can face each other? Or how to stand so one's nose is not in another's armpit?

I got to try The Nice Game three more times throughout the rest of the day, with varying degrees of success. I found out that not all the bickering can be strictly categorized under "unkind words" which makes it a bit weird to say, "Say something nice to your brother."

Yet I count my discovery a success.

I was getting tired of yelling all the time.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Happy Accident

As I was cleaning off my back porch yesterday, I also did some garden maintenance. I checked the agrilife extension recommendations for what to plant around here and when, and found out it's time to say goodbye to my spring babies. So I cut down two of my tomato plants that weren't producing anyway, and potted some still-small brethren that have been living in milk jugs all year.

Of course then the kids got out there in the yard with me, too. And then it started to rain.

Finally! Something to fill my rain barrel! Or at least half fill it. The kids also loved getting muddy. Surprise.

Do you remember my watermelon patch? I have been wondering how to tell if a melon is ready. I heard to check the underside for a white spot, and the stem for signs of browning. The big melon in my patch of seven has been showing zero signs of readiness. Then yesterday, it showed the ultimate sign of readiness.

During the rain, Rooster picked up a terra cotta saucer full of rainwater and showered it on the melon. Then he dropped the saucer on the melon. Oops.

Have you ever heard the expression, "Split like a ripe melon"? That melon split open six ways from Sunday. It was ripe, all right.

Have I mentioned it is a yellow melon vine?

Fortunately for Rooster, he did not receive the beating of his life the melon was sweet and perfectly ready to be harvested. In fact, had we waited much longer, it may have split open on its own and been sacrificed to the ants and other melon-loving critters in the garden.

The Captain was so excited he immediately took a time-out from work to cut it up. The kids then took the rinds to my freshly swept porch and gnawed off the rest of the flesh to their hearts' content. The rest was savored with dinner.

Just a taste of golden summer wonder.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mostly Awesome

I heard something the other day that hit me between the eyes and has haunted me ever since. For quite some time I have had a sense that I'm missing something in my personal spiritual journey. Check this out:

"The threshold of your willingness to sacrifice on God's behalf will also be the threshold of your capacity for spiritual growth."

Hm. So, if I'm not growing spiritually, perhaps I haven't had to sacrifice enough lately.

Just like that, the challenge is laid down for me. My life is generally pretty good. Most of my problems are the kind of problems people have when they don't really have problems. Does that make sense? I find myself griping about whiny kids, fatigue, and housework. I struggle with escapism through too much reading, TV, and time spent on Facebook. Those aren't real problems, those are small chances to ask God for help. But since I can mostly handle those things under my own power, I don't ask.

From an early age, I have had a pretty good opinion of myself. I know I am not perfect, but I am okay with my flaws. Usually when I make mistakes, they are either honest mistakes or I had a good reason for doing it the way I did. Not so often do I acknowledge that I was simply wrong.

Recently I came to identify this feeling as a sense of being mostly awesome. A few months ago, I found myself sitting on the couch confessing to my parents that I had lost my secret belief in my mostly awesomeness, and it has left me confused, lost, and discouraged. I have missed feeling mostly awesome, because it's the thing that helps me get through all the other challenging stuff that life has sent my way.

When you have a good reason for everything you do, it is hard for God to fit into your life. Even if, like me, you have mapped your life according to God's directives. If you live in the belief in your constant right-ness, you become your own highest authority. In the end, my mostly awesomeness left me still feeling empty. Then it just left me.

This is the truth: I am not mostly awesome. I am not actually awesome at all. On my best day, when I feel good about all I have done and said, I am still a small-minded human stumbling through the world.

But other words also echo in my ears.

"Amazing Grace,
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
was blind, but now I see."

I realize the awesomeness I've been missing is not my imagination. Nor is it inappropriate to claim. Nor is it gone. I have simply lost sight of its source.

Apart from God, I have no good thing.
Apart from God, I do no good thing.
Apart from God, I am no good thing.

Every good thing I have and do is the result of God working in and through me. By the grace of God, the awesome feeling comes from being in right relationship with God, from being content that I am where I should be, doing what I have been created to do.

"The threshold of your willingness to sacrifice on God's behalf will also be the threshold of your capacity for spiritual growth."

This statement, ricocheting around my brain, offers me a key to growth: willingness to sacrifice on God's behalf. My action plan becomes to search through my life for areas in which God is asking me to sacrifice, to trust him beyond where I can reach. It's a little scary, but I'd rather have the awesome back than continue to live the comfortable, vaguely directionless life.

Dear Lord, please help me work through my fog, my funk. Show me where I need to sacrifice more. I miss the awesome feeling of being right with you, and I am ready to reclaim it again.

Monday, July 26, 2010

All's Fair in Love and Bread

My snazzy friend Madame Holly casually hooked me up a few weeks ago with a ziploc bag of nondescript goo, and a sheet of instructions for Amish Friendship Bread.

I had heard of Friendship Bread, but never before been the lucky recipient of a bag of starter. I can't imagine why, as this kind of thing is totally up my alley. However it happened, Madame Holly wins the distinction of being the first to share the love with me.

She is also the kind of person who is totally up my alley, as she turned around and asked me for a return batch of starter. I love anyone who is cool enough to play with and share dough starter, yet not afraid to admit to having somehow lost track of her own.

Each batch of Friendship Bread starter bubbles and grows on the counter for 10 days before baking day. On baking day, four new starters are created, and the rest goes into dough that makes a lovely sweet coffeecake kind of bread. I am now bubbling third-generation starter on my counter. I have given away 3 loaves of bread and 7 bags of starter. I have also eaten about 5 loaves of bread mostly by myself. This weekend alone I ended up baking three days in a row.

Good glory, this stuff makes a lot of stuff.

As I looked at the recipe, I couldn't help deciding ways to modify the recipe to make it less decadent. It's what I do. So I cut the amount of sugar in half, substituted fruit puree for half the oil, and used a small box instead of a large box of pudding. The first time I used banana puree and banana pudding. It tasted like an elegant variation on banana bread. The second time I used vanilla pudding and peach puree. That was my favorite so far, but I adore peaches so I'm not surprised. The third batch included mixed-berry puree and a full cup of frozen blueberries and dewberries, resulting in a blueberry muffin taste with lots of crunchy seeds.

It took me almost three weeks, but I finally returned Madame Holly some starter yesterday. As I was discussing my fruit-infused variations with her, she told me she googled other variations and came up with ways to make it more decadent. She's terribly cool like that. Once she mentioned chocolate chips, there was nothing for it but to try it myself.

I went home and whipped up a batch using white chocolate pudding, white chocolate chips, almond oil, and 1/2 cup of finely chopped almonds. I served it up warm for dessert, topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce. Great day in the mornin', talk about a sugar rush!

Thankfully, today brings on a bit of a lull in my bread-venture. I have three more starters to pass out, and five loaves of bread to distribute somewhere. It could be to my own tummy, but seriously. I put a lot of work into maintaining this fine physique, and moving over to bread from 3 Musketeers as my 4pm treat might upset the balance.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I didn't know she was listening

"Does God get upset that we praise the flag instead of Him?"

This was the burning question on her mind tonight at the karate studio.

Eight year old Boo has now been studying taekwondo for six months. She has graduated to the second belt level of nine on her way to a black belt, and earned two of the three stripes necessary to graduate to the third.

As with many other things, I never know how much she is picking up. After having a month off, she has complained a little about going to lessons twice a week this summer. I tell myself it's just because it interferes with potential pool nights, but secretly I am waiting for the inevitable moment when she balks completely and refuses to be taught any longer. I wait for it because she went 0-for-3 with Creative Dance, Tumbling, and Swimming between the ages of 4 and 7.

She has now completed six months, longer than any of the previous activities, and to be honest her complaining seems a little half-hearted. My hopes are rising that she might stick with this one. The instructor has warned me that she may not be on track to progress through belts the most quickly of any of her students ever, but that the real successful students are simply the ones who persist. I love this instructor.

I love that the ATA Martial Arts brand aims to teach the whole person, not just a single discipline. The instructors constantly drill the kids on respect, loyalty, setting goals, being considerate, and several other admirable character qualities. They say sir and ma'am, bow to the ATA Flag painted above the mirrored wall before entering and leaving the drill area, and shake hands with their opponent before facing one another.

As a further part of educating the whole person, I have tried to show Boo the connect between taekwondo and real life, and between what the teachers teach and what God teaches. For example, this month's targeted trait is setting goals, and I have casually rambled in our moments alone about how we make plans for our lives, but always say, "if the Lord is willing" because we keep our hearts open to where God might be leading us. Conveniently, our pastor just touched on this verse from James a week ago, which helped me verbalize that connection.

Then tonight, apparently out of the blue, she thought to ask if God might be offended at something she was learning at the studio.

This coming from the child who sits through every lesson in church, school or taekwondo while examining her fingernails, swinging her feet, and/or puffing air up into her bangs. She exudes boredom. But apparently she has been listening, and putting thoughts together all on her own.

At dinner shortly after class, we had a chance to explain how bowing to the flag is not praising it; rather, it shows respect. We acknowledge that God is the ultimate authority in our lives, but we also are to show respect for parents, teachers, church leaders, and anyone else in a position of authority over us. Respecting our elders does not mean we don't also respect God's leadership. We explained that the flag represents all the teachers of taekwondo through the centuries, without whom the discipline of martial arts would not be what it is.

I don't know if she got it, but at least she said, "Ooohhhh" as if she did.

My heart filled with wonder at this exchange. She is independently thinking, about what God has to do with what she is learning! I get so lost in the mundane moments of life, that sometimes I forget my end goal: to raise children who choose to live their lives with Jesus' forgiveness, and to use their resources to do the work God leads them to do.

In moments like this, I catch an accidental glimmer that despite losing sight of the big picture, we are indeed on the right path, moving in the right direction toward our parenting goal.

Thanks to God, the author and perfecter of both my faith and hers.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Backyard Bounty

Time for a little gardening update!

We have reached a stage I now call "Death of Summer", a hot lull between our two growing seasons. I have given up on the lettuce and am pretty sure the tomatoes have given up on me for the next six weeks. This morning I pruned the tomatoes back and tied them up; if I can keep them alive until the end of August perhaps they will take off again.

I think that for the first season of gardening we have done fairly well for ourselves. We definitely don't have what you might call fertile soil, but I'd be more inclined to label our experience a learning year than to leave it with this sucks.

Today my gardening helpers spent a little time outside with me collecting what we could from our garden. Lulu tasted the largest of our seven watermelons, and we decided it's not quite ready yet.

Boo has been bugging me for weeks to pull up the carrots. They probably could have gone longer, but the watermelons are seriously hogging that box so today I gave in. We have five or six finger size specimens that will be part of our dinner tonight!

We found some tiny orange eggs neatly attached to the bottom of a carrot leaf. Boo informed me those are ladybug eggs, and that means we need to get some aphids for them to eat when they come out. Yeah, what do I know? But I have to say to that, NO.

I did put the leaf with the eggs back in the watermelon patch, hoping maybe hatchling ladybugs eat the bad bugs off of watermelon plants.

Then I thought I had seen a bean on Rooster's lima bean plant (the one he brought home from preschool), so next we turned our attention to that. To my surprise the kids found another, and another, until they had collected two big handfuls.

To my greater surprise, I examined the beans more closely and figured out they are not lima beans at all, but something resembling snow peas. I wasn't sure what to do with lima beans, but I know I like snow peas! This is a revolutionary piece of information, for now I know that sugar snap peas will do well in cooler times, but these will continue to thrive into the hot part of the summer.

The jalapeno plants are still acting finicky, but this week 15 flowers finally turned into three baby peppers. My goal is to get to the point where I have a dozen ripe at the same time, so I can try my friend Hollis' stuffed jalapeno recipe. I also fantasize about homemade salsa, but I'll have to get some of my big tomatoes producing first.

The artichokes continue their long, slow development. They supposedly take six months to mature, then produce fruit for six months. I've got four plants, all planted at the same time, that all seem to be growing differently. The big one now has leaves about 15" long, and I think they will come along eventually.

Gardening has been a good stretch for me this summer. I really enjoy getting out there every morning for about 15 minutes to check and water all my babies.

Every success gives me courage to reach further. I now have 7 cantaloupe plants growing indoors in anticipation of planting at the end of August. I also started red, yellow and orange sweet peppers this morning. Looking forward to adding more goodness to the soil in my garden boxes, stocking up on pesticides, and starting round two in about a month!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Perfect House

After I mow my yard, my shoes are just covered in grass clippings. The other day I decided to spare my house the mess (I do, after all, spend my days removing grass, sand and other outdoor debris from the entries) and left the shoes outside my front door.

Next time mowing day came around, I went outside, sat down, and prepared to put on my shoes. Living in Texas, I know the rule about shoes left outside:

Always check your shoes for scorpions before putting them on.

I picked up the first shoe and shook it out. Other than a few grass clippings floating to the ground, nothing came out. I looked inside. Nothing. Just to be sure, I pulled up the tongue and peered way down into the toe.

A very surprised toad blinked at me.

In my own surprise, I shrieked and threw the shoe.

Then I recovered and started laughing. I retrieved the shoe, said hello to the toad, and pulled him out. He was HUGE! I do not know how he snuggled himself down into the toe, but he nearly filled the whole thing. How on earth did I not feel his weight when I picked up the shoe? How did I not see him on first or even second look?

I imagined the exchange from his point of view.

The dude has been out catching flies all night under my porch light. The light goes out at 4am, the bugs go away, and he looks around for a place to spend the hot Texas summer day. He spots the shoe, tries it on, decides it is a nice fit. He goes to sleep, feeling safe.

Suddenly, an earthquake hits! With no warning at all, he is violently shaken to and fro. A moment later, a pair of giant eyes peers at him, followed immediately by a loud noise. His house sails through the air, stopping abruptly as it hits the ground.

The thing with the giant eyes pulls him out and shows him to its young. Hands, hands everywhere. Finally he pees on a hand, gets dropped to the pavement, and hops to safety under the nearby jasmine bush. Whew! Disaster averted!

After we had a good chuckle about the surprised toad in my shoe, someone thought to ask, what's in your other shoe?

I don't know! Let's find out.

To our continued amusement, there was another, slightly smaller (but less surprised) toad, braced way down in the toe of the second shoe. What a trip! We pulled him out, admired him, and placed him under the jasmine bush where the first toad had gone.

Just for fun, I left my shoes outside again after mowing. We have found at least one toad in my shoes every night this week. Who knew stinky, grassy, leathery shoes would be so attractive to our clammy, bug-eating friends?

The nice thing about finding toads in your shoes is that you don't have to worry about scorpions.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

And I thought I wanted to Homeschool


Is summer almost over yet? Because I don't think I've had a useful thought since May 28. And I need some quiet time. I'm supposed to be writing some Bible studies and I can't seem to put together two intelligent thoughts.

The first three weeks of summer vacation were supposed to be vacation weeks, and I enjoyed every minute of them. I loved our road trip, seeing family, and being together with my own.

Then we returned home, and I am so sick of crabby children bickering, hitting and throwing things, rolling eyes and sticking out tongues at one another. They probably need to get out more, but I cannot reward their behavior with outings, they simply aren't fit for human company! The extent of our world is the library and Grammy's pool.

I have developed an echo. As in, every time I correct one of the children, the other one chimes in something to the effect of, Yeah, and you know what? So that I am obligated to turn around and chastise that one for parenting over me.

In seconds a small episode of eye rolling and toy throwing can escalate into a huge altercation with everyone shouting, everyone completely pissed off at everyone else, and at least one person crying. If we are really lucky, we'll draw Work From Home Dad out of his office to get in on the What the heck is going on out here? action.

Am I talking? Can anyone hear me? Because I know I just said Shut Up!!!! in a shockingly terrible tone. No one should ever say that to their children, yet I have been driven to it just to make a point of how wretched it is to hear the Yeah, and you know what? from the peanut gallery every.single.time I get into discipline mode!

Summer vacation is the annual event that drives me to my knees, knowing I do not have it in me to handle it without God's help. I hate to admit that, so I understand if you quietly judge me from over there. Before I had kids, I would have told you the job of a mom is to be there for her kids. This week, I would tell you the job of a mom is to get enough away time that she can enjoy her kids when she is around them. Right now it kind of feels like I'm drowning in childhood.

This past Sunday, Ma & Pop Burdine's anniversary, we all went to church together. I brought my camera because I thought it might be nice to catch us all in our Sunday clothes.

Unfortunately, when I picked up my dear firstborn from Sunday School, she was in a state. Apparently she was playing a game with a prize at stake, and won the game only to lose the prize because she was accused of cheating. When I asked her if she possibly might have been cheating, she replied, "I have no earthly idea" and proceeded to literally cry me a river at the unjustness of it all. Uh huh. I am a fount of sympathy.

So much for a nice family photo. Let's just say the photo shoot wasn't going so well anyway. But oh, the pathos in the puffy eyes and long face.

As if it's not bad enough, Princess Tidy Bowl has added a new, very fallen, word to her vocabulary. It's not No! but it's close. And that one is probably coming any day.


This usually accompanied by shrieking and hugging the object in question and running away with it as fast as those chunky little toddler legs will carry her.

The last two days have been full of her shrieking to have her way. I adore this little daisy of a child, and I may have amnesia, but I just don't remember #1 or #2 shrieking their way through the mine! stage. We have actually started calling her (because she doesn't have enough nicknames) Little Shreekaboo, so named by Miss Boo. And so appropriate. Holy something, that shriek hits a certain frequency that turns my fingernails inside out.

Eighteen months old. I am so glad we have not hit the terrible twos yet. I can only imagine how much fun that stage is going to be, now that our little angel has discovered boundaries to her world.

Between Evil Eyes McGee, King Pouty Pants, and the Little Shreekaboo, I am not getting much brain time. In a downward spiral, I try to escape the chaos via a little web surfing. As I ignore the chaos, it goes in its own direction, grows, and explodes all over my house. I get run down because it seems all I ever do is yell at the kids to stop fighting, and clean up the chaos that they create.

This is not my idea of living victoriously.

I realize I have several remedies at my fingertips to manage this chaos. It just takes being vigilant all the time. I get frustrated because once I sweep the kitchen floor, I really expect it to stay clean. Yeah, right.

My (surprisingly) favorite part of this summer has been the realization that my misgivings about homeschooling were so strong I had to take them as a sign that I am released from going down that road right now. I was starting to feel suffocated by the last week of school, and since mid-June when I let the idea go, I have been eagerly looking forward to August 23, the first day of school for now two of my children. Rooster is enrolled at a four days, half-day kindergarten, but I am so looking forward to those 16 hours each week.

I really do want to do some fun things with the kids in the weeks of summer we have remaining. And those weeks will go fast, as we will have family visiting through most of August leading up to school. But it's only going to be with help from above that I can begin each day with anticipation instead of dread.

Now if I could just get some momentum on those Bible studies, life would be grand.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Love Never Fails

Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.

The Captain's parents completed 40 years of marriage last weekend. What a thrill we had, to be in town and able to share that with them. To celebrate, the in-town children treated them to a magical evening at our finest local dining establishment, The Republic. Everyone present agreed that we felt transported to another time and place, outside of our normal lives.

On a personal note, I wildly anticipated this evening for two facts alone: steak, and a night out without the kids. The magic that occurred above and beyond that was pure bliss.

We celebrated them for the present. We raised a glass in joyful anticipation of the future. And we inquired about their past, reminiscing with them about people, places and events of their lives together. The look of wonder that shone in their eyes throughout the evening as we honored them, that for me was all the validation I needed that we had truly gifted them with something special.

[Love] is not rude,
it is not self seeking,
it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.

Love never fails.

We honor those who accomplish milestone years in marriage. Do we assume they have always been deeply in love? Or that life has always been ideal for them? Do we assume today is the high point of their relationship, or that this milestone signals completion or perfection?

Of course not!

We all know that every relationship is full of ups and downs, times of plenty and times of struggle. Surely there have been times of warm fuzzies and times of cold shoulders. We heard last weekend about the ins and outs of a relationship that was stretched and warped at times by two individuals working in their own direction, in their own strength, to preserve the union for their own reasons.

But the evidence of time tells us that despite the challenges, the antipathy, the disappointments and the wounding, there have also been enough love and laughter, commitment and compromise to cover the gaps. The evidence shows days, months, years and decades of choosing this relationship.

The evidence shows how God can use two imperfect people to show the world that He can be enough. As these two spent their second decade of marriage meeting Him, then learning how to bring Him into their relationship, they grew in their understanding of Him, of each other, and of His intentions for relationship.

Through spiritual growth, they learned the meaning of unconditional love, of commitment, of the strength of relationship that comes out of knowing and being known.

Now we see but a poor reflection
as in a mirror;

then we shall see face to face.

The above quoted selections are taken from the Bible, the book of First Corinthians, chapter 13. This passage provides a lyrical yet practical directive of how to treat our loved ones. Yet we can all admit to having failed in our attempts to love others perfectly by this standard. I think that more than a set of rules, these words tell us God's standard in His love for us.

In our best moments, we dimly see the extent of His love. We see the benefits of being patient and kind to another, we understand what it means not to envy, not to boast, not to be proud. If, in our best times of love, we protect, trust, hope, and persevere with one another, then we are able to imagine that a perfect love from our Maker is even better than that, all the time.

But in our failings with each other, we also see what God must be like. Sometimes we are rude, and self-seeking with one another. Sometimes we are easily angered and we do keep a record of wrongs. (What? Yes, it's true). And in those times, where our needs are not met by the ones who love us, we know there is another Who loves us, to Whom we should be looking to meet those needs.

The standard of love set forth in these words is so high we can only aspire to reflect it poorly, like an ancient, distorted mirror. But it also gives us a certain freedom. It allows us to fail in our relationships and yet grow.

We grow in our attempts to reflect love better.

We grow in our ability to forgive the other for not loving us perfectly.

We grow in our understanding of what God's perfect love looks like.

And we grow in our desire to seek and hold on to that love, the one that sustains us and will never disappoint.

The celebration of God centered marriage is the celebration of God's perfect presence and perfect love, in the lives of two imperfect people.

We are so blessed to have this model, not of perfection, but of four decades of God's direction, forgiveness, and grace, in two lives that touch so many.

Jim and Dawn, may God continue to bless you both for many years to come.

Oh, and p.s., I think that for two imperfect people, you are pretty close to perfect.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Parenting First

I possibly should have named her Trouble. She's just too cute for her britches, that one.

Lulu will be 18 months old next week. She has already shown a predisposition to noting things that are out of place, unlike either of my previous darling children. She will gasp and point at anything on the floor, and shout at it until you pick it up. This includes the times when Rooster falls out of bed during the night and continues sleeping on the floor.

She loves to put toys in a basket, or laundry in the dryer. She rearranges the dishes in the dishwasher as I am loading it. She comes to get me whenever the big kids are fighting with one another.

When I bring a cloth to the high chair, she smiles and holds out first one hand, then the other for cleaning. She gasps and points at her bowl that has fallen to the floor, then the puddle of milk leaking out of it. Uh-oh!

I confess, I do not know what to do with this child of tidiness and order.

This morning I got the pleasure of another parenting first. In eight years of diapering, I had yet to experience this one.

Lulu had been unusually fussy and needy all morning. That's not saying much, because her fussing is very manageable. But finally in exasperation I said to her, Do you need a fresh diaper? and checked her. I decided that wasn't the problem and turned away for a moment.

Next thing I knew, she approached me dragging a bag of new diapers. I took it from her and pulled one out of the bag. She smiled and giggled (always the sign that I finally understood what she wanted) and laid down on the floor for me to change her. Sure enough, that diaper was wetter than I had thought.

When I was finished, I pulled her skirt back on and stood her up. She picked up the old diaper (I always roll them into tight little bundles), carried it to the trash can, put it in and closed the lid. She then came back, dragged the package of diapers back to the box, pointed and shouted at them until I put the package back in the box.

I kid you not.

I was thrilled at the appearance of the Cleaning Fairy, but she and I both still struggle with keeping up with the messes we make. I'm starting to think the Whip Cracker has arrived on the scene. Maybe there is hope for this household yet.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Writer's Block?

I have so many ideas of things to write about. I know I do. I could make a list of potential post titles. But I think I just have too many other things to do this week, to justify sitting here and wrestling with some of those thoughts.

I always get a chuckle when I read fellow bloggers' apologies for not blogging. Seriously, like the blogosphere will suffer if I fail to shine the light of my presence on it for a day or three.

Yet here I am.

Posting has given me purpose in each day for more than two months now. I have learned to spot the stories in each moment, sometimes to the point that I am overwhelmed with more post possibilities than I can hold in my head between having the thought and finding my notebook so I can jot it down.

Incidentally, if anyone is already thinking of what to get me for my birthday in October, the answer right now is more notebooks. I am forever losing track of one or two, then finding them later and mining them for ideas. The latter part is cool, but the losing track part... well it's hard to write down ideas when I can't find the paper. Enough said.

Back to this week. The clutter monster has been kicking my butt during summer here. The kids are home 24/7, the Captain is home 24/7, and my focus is just not up to it. Last night I stayed up late, but I spent the time rearranging my page and going through photos instead of writing.

I kicked back at the clutter monster a little today and it was awesome, but I need a few more days like that before I can really feel I have earned the right to sit down and just talk about a few things that have been on my mind. I am so eager to share some areas of personal growth, but my victories ring hollow if I share them at the expense of losing ground.

So I declare a blog-holiday for a few days while I handle a few personal details. It's not really writer's block, more of a logjam that requires wrestling the details before sitting down to talk about them.

My blog hero Emily has been wrestling her own details for the last several months as she has been working on a book manuscript. If you get bored waiting for more stories of my little world, I suggest you visit her corner of the blogosphere, chatting at the sky. I promise you will enjoy your visit, and may even feel refreshed by the time you leave.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Is Anybody Listening?

Lately I've had a bit of a hardware malfunction with my Mac Mini. My fabulous wireless keyboard is kaput. It is probably entirely unrelated to the fact that Boo dropped her entire Zubber Factory on it last Friday afternoon, but since it has not worked since that precise moment, I am forced to draw the conclusion that it might be related after all.

The mouse on my computer still works, and I have all my favorite sites bookmarked so I can still surf the web. I can upload photos, check my email, check out what everyone's up to on Facebook. But I can't really say a whole lot.

Fortunately, my studly computer guru husband has already ordered me a new keyboard and loaned me a laptop to use in the meantime. Hence my ability to speak to you for the last few days. However, last weekend I found myself essentially tongue tied, observing my favorite cyber places, limited to listening.

I learned something about myself during those five days.

I learned that my primary love of Facebook and blogging is not so much to keep up with the world, as it is to talk about myself. Mm hmm, yeah. I know blogging is essentially a narcissistic activity, but I tell myself my readers need to hear from me. That they look forward to hearing every word I say.

There is much good to be found in blogging. Personally I have found it a chance to refine my thoughts, improve my skills, and to document my story. But I think that in our world of instant publishing, when any of us has the ability to speak our every thought to the masses, we have developed communication fatigue. Sure, we can subscribe to be notified every time a friend posts a thought, but do we really take the time to read and interact with it all? We're so busy talking, we don't have the mental capacity to really listen.

There is much good to be found in listening. In scouring my friends' Facebook pages, I could look at what everyone else was talking about. In reading back posts on my friends' blogs, I had time to meditate on the moments of their lives. For five days, I was so limited to listening that I couldn't even tell my friends I was reading their words. Before long I found myself composing messages to them in my head, instead of my usual inner monologue of trying out phrases and thoughts of my own to express.

When I finally got access to a keyboard back, it took me the better part of a day to make the rounds of my friends' cyber homes and leave them little notes of encouragement. And by the end of that day I felt so refreshed and uplifted myself, that I realized again the power of words.

Thanks to those of you who have complimented and encouraged me in my writing, I am inspired to keep blogging. But I have been reminded to take a wider role in my personal mission of using words to encourage. I have been reminded to stop and listen to what everyone else is saying, to notice them and interact with them where they are. And I have felt very blessed by the privilege of hearing what's up with everyone else.

Is anybody listening? With God's help, I hope I am.

Friday, July 2, 2010

My Wild and Wonderful Firstborn

I have an announcement to make: The Cleaning Fairy finally showed up at my house! Wahoo!I am so thrilled, enough time has passed since the beginning of motherhood that my offspring are starting to develop the ability to help me control the chaos that swirls through our home.

Last week on mopping day this vision suddenly appeared and offered to do the job for me. I thought I was dreaming, but it was real! She had also brought her assistant, who helped with vacuuming. It was awesome.

I wish I had the energy to wrangle this pair 24-7, because they have a tendency to create chaos more than repair it. But I'll take the bits and pieces that come my way as hope that an orderly house exists somewhere in my future.

At the age of eight, Boo continues to demonstrate a keen interest in critters: warm or cold blooded, and even bugs. Here she shows off a giant cave cricket she found near the country house. I am convinced she has a future as a veterinarian, herpetologist (reptiles) or entymologist (bugs). This is convenient considering we live in the same town as one of the premier vet schools in the nation.

I love that she has such a keen interest in anything science related. I had thought to school her at home for third grade, and one of my reasons was to help foster this interest. I don't think we are going to home-school after all, but I think we will still do lab experiments and science projects whenever possible.

I am so proud of how this young lady has matured since beginning second grade. Three weeks into the school year, she had the lovely distinction of being the first of her friends to get braces. For anyone wondering, I would NOT recommend orthodontic treatment for an active seven year old. We thought it was a necessary evil because the shifting teeth allowed room for new adult teeth to come in, but after having gone through it, I am still not convinced the benefits outweighed the frustrations. I guess I'm glad we did it, but I feel like I added stress to her childhood that maybe didn't have to have happened.

In the course of this treatment we learned another way our firstborn stands out in a crowd. She will NOT be getting something like NINE adult teeth. I have seen the x-rays, they are definitely NOT forming, and apparently they should be by now. Suddenly I started hearing statements like, "Oh, yeah, the Burdine side of the family has a genetic tendency toward missing teeth...." and "See, I still have some of my baby teeth."

Awesome. I guess I had heard it a long time ago when we were dating, but I assumed it was a recessive gene and that my super awesome teeth gene would kick its butt when the time came to make babies. I was so wrong. Nine nonexistent teeth! Now I'm thinking we'd better start a hedge fund (I have no idea what that is, but the name sounds right for what I want) just to cover dental expenses for my children.

However, about that orthodontic treatment, I have to say, I have never been less thrilled to get so much for my money.

The first eight weeks of braces, we were back at the orthodontist six times to repair broken appliances and reposition brackets. She never really got any momentum going on the treatment until after Christmas, when the doctor made the statement, "I don't know, she could have been done by now if we hadn't had so much trouble at the beginning."

Yeah, that really made me feel better. Because I was truly about to have him remove everything and forget the whole thing if we had any more instances of knocking off brackets on the car seat, the pack-n-play, or simply pulling the thing out of her mouth because she was incessantly playing with it with her tongue. If you are going to treat a child, the appliance had better be child-proof.

Anyway. At least he never once charged me extra. And after that visit, we never had any more problems. In fact, everything happened the way it should: the palate was spread, and the teeth just to the right and left of her front teeth were given space to come in. But still. I am going to think long and hard before allowing this treatment on any of my other children.

The last week of school, after eight months of maturing through this process, I took her in to get the brackets removed. The doctor looked at them, grunted approvingly, then turned to me and said, "I would like to put two more brackets on those new teeth to move them so the teeth next to them can come in."

Are you kidding me???

My heart breaks for the road yet to be traveled by this wild and precious child. Because, did I mention? In addition to the whole missing teeth drama, this was just round one of braces for her. She will get to do it again in another five years or so.

But in that moment, she was my hero. She took it all in stride, shrugged off the disappointment, and moved on. We waited a month, went on vacation, and came back trying to have a good attitude about what was to come next. And I totally forgot the appointment last week, as I mentioned a few days ago. So, after eight more days of waiting, today was finally the day.

And I remembered to take her.

And today's comment from the doctor? "Yeah, we'll just do these two brackets, then we'll make her a retainer, then she'll be good to go for a few years. I hate retainers, but..."

Do you ever hope there are extra special prizes somewhere for the moms who have to make their kids do things that are good for them, even though nobody really wants to go through it? I so wish I could have spared her any pain at all, but it was within our reach to prevent teeth coming in way out of position, so how could we knowingly not take preventive action?

So the cost breakdown went like this. $1350 (pretax money, thankfully!) for two brackets and a palate spreader, monthly checkups included. Extras, for no additional charge: at least 8-10 (I lost count) emergency repair visits, three replacement brackets, spreader repair, spreader replacement. Three phone consultations when I was at the end of my rope. Two more brackets, not part of the original plan, plus monthly checkups. And now, a bonus retainer. All included in the price. For the first time in my life, I wish we didn't need so much added value for our investment.

Boo complains her fair share about these braces. I find it challenging to stay positive, because I want to complain for her. She believes she deserves rewards after appointments, in the form of McDonald's or Littlest Pet Shop toys. And I find myself agreeing with her, wanting somehow to soothe either her pain or my conscience.

Despite this, however, the character development I have seen in her through this process is priceless. She has experience now in being patient with something. She has a frame of reference for delayed gratification, for working through discomfort, for being responsible about personal hygiene.

Believe me, she still has a long way to go. I'm actually glad about that, because it means I still have a job. But I am proud of how far she has come.

Now if I could just find a way to grow her character as it relates to getting along with her brother. Because seriously, the two of them are killing me with their bickering and carrying on. But that's another story.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It was Killer

Wow, I can't believe it's July.

I also can't believe I broke my personal dr appointment scheduling rule, "Never make a doctor's appointment for a Monday or the first day of the month. You, girl, will never see it coming."

Boo is getting two more brackets put on her teeth today. We already forgot to go last week because the 11:45 time of the appointment was just a little too late to just get up and go in the morning, but a little too early to recover from the fact that I forgot all about it between the hours of 9:30 and 1:30. I hope we remember to get there today, because I am so ready to move on with these bad boys and hopefully get done with them by the time school starts.

Today being Thursday, I am compelled to mention food. To celebrate his birthday last week, the Captain requested shrimp. I totally stressed out because he wanted to do a shrimp boil but I have zero experience with such things and because I couldn't find any live shrimp. Come to find out this is because live shrimp is a seasonal item around here, and this is not the right season.

Not to mention something is dumping toxins in the Gulf and we may never have live shrimp as a regional specialty again in our lifetime. But worrying about that is trouble that really should not be borrowed, because I have a feeling it will be about as bad as we all fear. My heart and my prayers go out to those for whom that trouble is already becoming reality.

Anyway, for birthday shrimp fest, I compromised by purchasing frozen shrimp from the other side of the world (that should be far enough away, right?) and attempting to brew up a batch of Killer Shrimp broth. This holy grail of shrimp dishes is inspired by a restaurant on a rooftop in Marina del Rey, CA by the same name, the recipe for which we have been trying unsuccessfully to recreate for ten years. The Captain has always stipulated that if we could get it right, he would be tempted to open a restaurant here in cowboy country.

For most of the day, I stressed myself that it didn't smell right. But in the late afternoon, the Captain got involved and started researching suggestions for what I could throw in the broth to bring it to its happy place.

Magically, right about 5pm, we stumbled upon the right formula. I could tell because the Captain's face suddenly relaxed as he breathed in and murmured, "Ahhhh...." The secret ingredient ended up being ************, but liberal handfuls of spices and garlic didn't hurt either.

You know how free I usually am with my recipes, right? I would publish this recipe, but then we wouldn't have anything to open our fantasy restaurant with. So you'll have to order a batch of broth from me instead!

On that birthday night, I was so pleased that Killer Shrimp made a successful appearance. We served up bowls of the cajun creation with loads of spongy french bread for dipping. I even had the presence of mind to dress the table with a red and white checked tablecloth, candle light, and bottles of cold Mexican beer.

I suppose the sense of satisfaction I feel at finally working out the formula is actually increased by my sense of how close that batch came to disaster. And to know that after ten years of experimenting, I now hold the combination in my hot little hands? Killer.

Happy birthday, Captain. May we have many more to share together.