Monday, July 28, 2014

Feeling priceless...


I knew something was up when I came down every morning for breakfast, and I'd find something like this picture above. I'd open the cabinet for cereal bowls, and a packet of our old love letters to each other would fall on me. And they were in chronological order. Each day, I'd get a new packet with a letter on top. So you can't blame a girl for being a little suspicious, but I just figured he'd planned a special date night or something.

Nope. I came home from a girl's night out on Thursday to a husband who informed me that he'd packed up the kids, and I needed to pack for myself because we were leaving for a surprise getaway the next day. It'd been a hard week, y'all. Between potty training Ben and some sort of low grade intestinal bug that has gone through the family, I admit that I was most excited when he first told me about the prospect of not having to make it through Friday with the boys. I didn't care where we were going! :)

We dropped off the boys at my parents' house, and we kept driving west. He finally admitted we were on our way to Asheville. There were roses arranged by my mother hiding in the back of the van that he took out when we got to our hotel.


He had dinner reservations at the Biltmore Inn. The view from our window of the mountain vista was amazing, and the food was excellent. But that wasn't all he had planned. As we were finishing up dinner, he started talking about how much he wanted me to understand that I was priceless to him. I wasn't just priceless to him because of what I did every day but because of what I meant to him just for me.


Then this wonderful man pulled out a letter. By the time I got to the end of it, I had figured out what he was up to. I burst into tears and said, "But you don't have to do this! I am happy with my ring. I really am!" He pulled out the most gorgeous diamond solitaire that I've ever seen. By the time he finished reciting our wedding vows from memory, I'm pretty sure that the other two women within earshot were also tearing up.

There was more to the weekend than that. We went to the Biltmore, and we attempted a hot air balloon ride (that got cancelled twice), and I spent some very welcome time in the giant hotel tub with a book. I heard about all the trouble and thought and prayer and time that it took for him to make the decision to do this for me and pull it together. He went to so much trouble and expense. And he did it in such a way that I wouldn't be able to talk him out of it because I didn't feel worthy of the gift.

All of this got me thinking about how I view marriage and even how I view my relationship with God. The Bible uses marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his church. We are His bride.

This verse came to mind this weekend:

"The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but he will rejoice over you with singing."- Zephaniah 3:16-18

There were years during infertility when I felt like God was in the middle of giving me a crash course in tough love. I figured that He figured that I needed some serious work on my character, and so the best thing He could do for me was make it hard and unpleasant so I could grow. During that time, my brother gently rebuked me once. He said, "But Ellen, don't assume that God only wants to give you hard things. He is a GOOD God."

I feel like I still take that attitude with life, even though those years are behind us. It's hard for me to sometimes accept that God rejoices over me. He wants to give me good things. Flawed me. Me that yells at my kids and doesn't fold the laundry enough and is far more selfish than I'd like. And it's not like he doesn't know that about me. He's known me for years, you know. So if He knows me that well, doesn't He know that I barely deserve a crust from His table and not the lavish blessings I've been given?

I feel the same way sometimes about my marriage. David is so good to me. So, so good. And he tells me often how much he loves me. I want to believe it, but there's a part of me that says to myself, "Yeah, I know he loves me, but I sure don't know why. Hasn't he figured out how flawed I am yet? I've given him ample time to see it."

But here's the thing. We've been married for 13 years. The rose colored glasses are off. He HAS seen me at my very best and at my ugly worst. This isn't like when we were dating, and he didn't know all this yet. And yet he chooses me anyway. He chooses to treat me as priceless anyway. He chose to give me a lavish gift because he wanted to make a powerful point about how much he values me.

I need to let him rejoice over me. This weekend, I did. And I realized all this because it was a little hard for me to let him. But if I hadn't let him, I would've stolen his joy. Is that how God feels when He wants to take delight in me, and I say, "I don't know how I feel about this. You know that I don't deserve it."?

Anyway, Cinderella is back on potty patrol, but she's still on cloud nine (despite the poop she's scrubbed off the porch today). And she's going to let herself stay there however long it takes to come down. Not because she deserves it but because she is loved anyway. A lot. By her husband and her God. And that's amazing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer minutiae...



The budget might not have had bike money this summer, but thanks to a sweet friend that had a bike sitting in her shed, this is my view from the couch during nap time. Now to just clean it off and pump some air in those tires. I'm looking forward to family bike rides this fall. Seth and Evan can leave us in the dust when we're walking.

Seth and Evan are both on a neighborhood swim team this summer. Mimi and Pop Pop have a great pool, and they're sponsoring them. Seth is the youngest in his age group, and the first meet, I was just praying that he'd make it to the end of the pool without needing to be rescued. He didn't know any of the strokes when the summer started, so he was behind compared to the kids who'd been doing this for a couple of years already. Well, now it's July, and he amazes me. He can swim freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly with the rest of the pack. I'm so glad we did this, but it has meant a lot of evening trips to the pool. Practice was what they both needed though, and this has been a great way to get it.

I've discovered a new beloved author this summer... Elizabeth Enright. I started with "The Saturdays," and I've been hooked ever since. I read everything about the Melendy family, and then I moved onto Gone Away Lake. Enright knows how to do stories about exploring abandoned houses. Didn't you always wish you could stumble upon one of those with really fascinating stuff inside when you were a kid? I know I did. Anyway, now that I've exhausted Enright, I have been trying some other series about families with lots of siblings. "The Penderwicks" are alright, but they're not the Melendys. 

I'm into school planning mode. So far my most inspired plan involves putting together all the science experiments for Apologia astronomy in individual plastic bags, ready to use when we get there. I want to do the same thing with some of the hands on activities from the Story of the World Book 2 activity guide. I also want to make a memory work binder. David has promised to help me with some of this in the evenings.

I'm also trying to finish up a few things with the boys this summer before another school year starts in the fall. Seth is sitting with me and the timer and his penmanship book most days lately. He only has to work for 10 minutes, so I'm not hearing any complaining. I'm also planning on letting them listen to the last few chapters of SOTW 1 and orally narrate with me, and then I want them to go through the whole thing on CD again at night before September. Big plans, big plans... I'm betting it won't all happen. :)

It's been overcast and cool today. We lazed around, read books, and I made banana bread. (Seth wants more breakfasts that don't involve cereal, so I decided to oblige him.) Evan pretended to be a bird in our backyard, and Seth and Ben looked at him through the wrong end of the binoculars to make him look small. I named him our "yellow tufted green bird" since he was wearing a green shirt. Apparently he made his habitat in a tree, and Seth got a lot of nature photos of this rare species. :)

Friday, July 11, 2014

First thoughts on Ambleside Online...



This summer, I've been dabbling in using Ambleside Online. I've got two years of actual homeschooling under my belt now, and I am more willing to slash and burn without guilt if a book list or curriculum doesn't look like just what I'm looking for. ;)

When I first looked at Ambleside many moons ago, my initial thought was honestly, "I am not interested in a curriculum that's designed to be cheap." It was a turn off that most of the books were so old that they were out of copyright. Because it was so cheap, I thought that that was the goal, and it is not our goal to homeschool on a shoestring at the Suburban casa. Just because a book is old doesn't mean that it's quality literature, and just because a book is new doesn't mean that it's bad quality. (I like 19th century women's Christian fiction, but that is for it's curiosity value, not because it's well written. :) I will gladly pay to get quality curriculum, so I didn't think AO fit us.

Then there was the "I don't have a clue how to really use these book lists. Isn't there more?" factor. The website confused me initially. Also the best way to get a lot of the books was online, and we had a single desktop computer in the kitchen.

This year, I was given an iPad for my birthday, and school was so much less stressful to me that I decided I wanted to just print off the Year 1 book list and try doing some of the readings with the boys. I crossed out Our Island Story because I am happy with our history curriculum. I crossed out the Bible readings because I'm happy with the resources we have for that. And then it looked more manageable. :) One of the things that attracted me to Year 1 was that I have a vintage copy of "Fifty Famous Stories Retold" that I found as a child in an old trunk, and it has made many moves with me over the years. And I also wanted to find a way to get in "Paddle to the Sea".

So I've been reading to them while they've been eating snack in the afternoons. And I've been surprised at their positive response. We read a lot of books, but I don't think it's my imagination that they're engaging with these stories more than average. I suspect it's a combination of the short length and the richness of the stories. They often clamor for more when I'm done, but I now know about intentionally spreading it out to give them time to mull over what they're hearing and to let them live with a story longer to make it more a part of them. I usually don't give in.

I read the story of Polycarp yesterday, and after I finished, Seth immediately said, "Wow. He was really brave." We had a short talk about martyrs and the early church, and it could tell that he was mulling it over.

The day that I read the first Parable of Faith about the caterpillar and the bird, I was almost in tears when I finished. I read it all in one sitting, and the boys sat still and completely quiet through the whole thing. They asked questions afterward. They were really listening.

At this point, I am sold. I want to keep going with Ambleside into the school year along with our history and science readings, and I'd like to learn how to schedule some of my own books in a more Charlotte Mason way. I suspect that doing more AO planned by CM experts will give me a better sense of how to do this on my own one day.

So if you're interested in AO, but you're waffling because of some of the difficulties and misconceptions that I had, I'd encourage you to give it another look. Just dabble a bit. It's not the big commitment I thought it might have to be, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how rich the readings are.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

From the beach...




I'm typing this on my iPad at a McDonalds near the family cabin. I can see a few palm trees from my window, and this table looks like a surfboard. Thankful currently for a shower, the ability to dry my hair by opening both van windows, and free wifi. :) Oh, yes, and for my iPad. I will probably never love our iMac, but I definitely have a love affair with my iPad. 

I was talking to my neighbor the other day, and she asked where David was. I told her we weren't seeing him as much because he's doing a lot of trial preparation. She gave me this look and said, "What? You're having a trial separation?" She misheard, but then we both thought it was kind of funny. A trial is separating us, so I guess it's true in a way. Sigh.

He hasn't had a big trial since I was pregnant with Ben, so none of us are used to it anymore. The boys are older now, and they definitely notice when he's not around as much. That's hard for him. We sat them down and talked with them about what he does and why. We also talked about being a team and working together to make this tough time better. I think Seth and Evan really get it. They're trying to be helpful with Ben and make life a little easier for me. They're really growing up.
  
We got a great deal to go to Great Wolf Lodge at the end of May, and David couldn't go. We knew that was a big possibility, but we decided to get the deal anyway. My dad went with me, and Ben stayed with my mom. The boys and I loved it, and now I know this is the kind of thing we should really do again. But that means that with this trip, we'll have been having a lot of fun without Daddy lately. It's better for him in some ways if we do go off, but it still feels a bit weird.

Seth has learned to paddle on this trip. We're using a flat plastic shovel as an oar, but he's really getting the hang of it. He likes seeing if he can paddle against the wind and current, and he's really proud of himself when he makes headway.

I found some fun toys for Ben's birthday at my favorite thrift store down here. He really likes Hess trucks, and I got a good price on one I think he'll love.

We went to our favorite beach pizza place last night, and the we fed the turtles in the pond behind it and walked the beach. As usual, they all got in and got soaked. I got wise to that this time and brought along some plastic bags and a beach towel. I think that all moms of little boys should keep at least one plastic bag in their purses at all times. :)

And now nap time is about over, and I'll head back down the road, listening to the Jars of Clay hymns album with the windows down, knowing I'll drive up to see salt and sun kissed boys playing by the water....

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stitch Fix.. Take 2



I ordered my second Stitch Fix box recently. In this fix, I asked for a couple of cute dresses and some short sleeved tops. They sent me five items, two dresses and three tops.

I was pretty impressed with the box. A lot of the items were close calls for me. Also, I liked a lot of the details and styling of most of the clothes, even if I didn't think they looked perfect on me. For instance, with the maxi dress on top, I liked the style, but I thought the blue around my hips basically made an arrow pointing to my mummy tummy. I also didn't like that the shoulders were my skin tone. Now, though, I know that this style of dress is worth trying on in the future.


I liked the scalloped detailing on this dress. The color blocking was nice. I thought the waistline was awkward, and I wasn't sure how flattering it was. The friend who took these pictures thought I should've kept this one.


If I didn't already have a couple of mint shirts, I would've probably kept this one. I loved the polka dots. I didn't like that I had to wear a camisole under it. It wasn't quite as flattering as I would've liked.


I didn't think I would like this one when I pulled it out of the box. I was so wrong. Great color, flattering fit. It isn't like anything else in my closet. The sleeves can be worn up or down. It feels like quality fabric. I decided to keep this one.

The blue sweater below was also a close call. I liked the cut a lot, and it fit right. I already have a cardigan almost this color, and at $48, I would have to have been convinced I would wear it a lot. I wasn't. I also thought it looked like it was a material that would pill easily.


I was more pleased with this fix overall than my first one, though I think I like the shirt from my last fix a little more. It's possible that having a style Pinboard linked to my account helps them fix me more effectively, and I like that I can give detailed feedback about each individual item in my fix. Once again, I only kept one item.

I spent a couple of frustrating afternoons shopping this spring without finding much of anything that I wanted to bring home. I hate wasting that time and looking at all my unattractive lumps ands pooches in a fitting room mirror. This service helps me bypass that experience to some extent. It feels worth it to me to do this once in a while, even if the clothes (even at the "as cheap as possible" setting) are more than I'd spend at Target. Often I can't find much that fits me well at Target anyway. :)

If you're considering using Stitch Fix, please consider using my referral link. I get some credit toward the clothes if you do. I really hope that it works out as well for you as it has for me. Getting the box in the mail is so fun. :)

If you'd like to see my first fix, click here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

13 years...


Today is our 13th wedding anniversary. We celebrated this weekend, so I can smile with amusement about how today has gone.

I woke up early because Ben lost his passy, and I didn't go back to sleep. (Yeah, we really need to do something about that. Later, later…) The highlights of my day included a nap on the couch and a shower while they watched "Curious George."

David rushed in the door, shedding his suit coat as he headed upstairs to put on the tan button down short sleeve shirt that he wears every Monday night for Cub Scouts. I informed him that my plans to make a nice balsamic chicken and rice pilaf for dinner turned into chicken marinated with Walmart brand Italian dressing, regular rice from the rice cooker, and frozen green beans.

The boys made animal noises while "eating" their rice. I then scraped rice off the floor while David ran around getting together the things he'll need to host an end-of-year ice cream sundae party for 7-year-old boys. I suspect there will be little-boy-eating clean up in his future as well.

And then I gave him a kiss, told him "Happy Anniversary" again, and sent him out the door. I'll be taking Ben and Evan to the first swim team meeting of the year pretty soon.

I wondered as I put dishes in the sink what Beyonce would do on her 13th wedding anniversary. And then I realized that the odds of her actually having a 13th wedding anniversary aren't that great.

So I think we still win. :)

Friday, May 09, 2014

Un velo...


I think it's finally and fully spring, maybe even summer. Our local weather has been hesitant about warming up and staying that way. We've had a few warm days, then cooler, then warmer again.

But the last two days, the door to our screened in porch has stayed open. Little boys have run in and out, looking for shovels, begging for bandaids for fingers covered in dirt. They've explored while I've watched from my typical post at the kitchen sink window. I've puttered around, putting away junk that's collected outside, making our outside space something to live in again.

And I'm dreaming of a bicycle. :)

I've been pregnant or nursing on and off for so many years that a bicycle just didn't feel like a priority. David got one, and we put a baby seat on the back of it, and he has taken the boys for many short rides. Most of the time, it feels like someone still needs to hang back with a stroller for our youngest, so even if everyone else takes a bike to the Greenway, Ben and I still tend to hang back. We're not quite there as a biking family yet.

But as part of trying to embrace the baby stage ending (my success in this is partial at best), I'm allowing myself to imagine what it would be like to have my own bike. We live in a city. I live an easy biking distance from a lot of stores. Our favorite thrift store and a grocery store are literally across the street from our little neighborhood. The library would be a stretch, but I could do it if I really wanted to. I could even bike to the houses of some friends without a problem. Where I live is ideal for biking.

So I'm lusting after a city bike with a cushy seat and a big basket for my groceries or some books. But maybe something that could still give me some speed on a tree lined Greenway trail on the perfect spring day for a picnic date.

Maybe it's time to feel the wind in my hair again. This bike won't come with a sparkly blue banana seat like it did when I was 10, but maybe I can close my eyes and imagine that it does.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Style challenged...


All my life, I've been style challenged. There are women who are born with an innate sense of style. They can walk into a store and somehow instantly hone in on the two best items of clothing that will look best on their body, buy them, and walk out. They accessorize with ease. They have the gene.

I was not born with the gene.

I was also taught to buy clothes mainly on sale and/or as cheaply as possible. This might work sometimes, but it mostly meant that I ended up with a closet of clothes that didn't go together no matter how hard I tried.

So I gave up. I was young and thin, and I figured that I couldn't go wrong with the occasional dress (it goes together because it's all one piece, right?), jeans, and t-shirts. I decided that it showed how deep I was that I didn't care about clothes. I had better things to think about… like Austrian economics and my part in Britten's War Requiem. Right? Hmmm.

I got by with this for awhile. The church that I grew up in had no dress code. I wore jeans and even yoga pants on Sunday mornings. My favorite church dress code was when we lived in D.C. So many people in that church (Sovereign Grace) wore jeans on Sunday mornings. It was awesome. I loved it. (I dream of Pajama Day at church where everybody rolls up in their sweats. I would be so happy.)

And then we moved to Raleigh. I had my second baby, and then I had my third. I gained and lost weight. I gained years. And I ended up in a Bible study and a church full of women who look put together, aka "even if they're wearing jeans (which is too rare), it looks like they know what they're doing when they put an outfit together with them."

So where does that have me now? I'm not 25, and I'm no longer thin. A girl can only take so many times of strangers asking her when she's due (when she's not) before it starts to affect her confidence. And trying on 5 different styles of t-shirt in multiple sizes and not coming up with a single one that doesn't hug that mummy tummy doesn't help either.

I know, I know, my body made these babies, and I should be thankful. This is a little bit about the extra pounds around my middle, but it also isn't. I'm mainly tired of feeling like I don't fit in in a world of more stylish women. It's holding me back from reaching out (even though I know it shouldn't). I could change churches and Bible studies, but that would be super shallow, and I'm sure the problem would follow me, even if I found a church with more laid back style.

So I'm diving in. I know about research. I can do research. So I'm pinning outfits, and I'm following "Ain't No Mom Jeans." I've ordered my second fix from Stitch Fix. (Here's my first.)

Lesson number one that I learned: the power of the light sweater. I'm always cold indoors, but if I ever had anything to cover my arms in summer, it was either a white or black cardigan from Walmart. For real. You see that pile of cardigans on the shelf below? Over half of them were bought in the last 6 months. They're helping me mix up my plain shirts just a little bit.


Lesson number two: accessories are my friends. My sister-in-law harassed me into buying a light gray scarf. I'm still figuring out how to use it, but it was a good buy. She got me that red statement necklace you see above. Now I'm on the hunt for more like it. :) A pair of earrings and a necklace make me feel like I tried.

Am I doing this out of self defense? Some days it feels like it, honestly. This is one of them. But some days it feels good to think about myself. Ben is going to be 3 at the end of August. Evan just finally learned how to buckle himself into his car seat. (That shouldn't be a big deal, but it's huge in my world. I'm only buckling one child into the car. One.) My life (on some days) has a little bit of margin in it that I haven't seen in years. I can think about myself and what I look like a little more without the wheels coming completely off the bus.

So I am. It's nice. :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It doesn't take much to be their hero...

It's a gorgeous spring day here. The grass is so green that it looks Photoshopped. :)

We got a some school done that was on my agenda, and some that wasn't. (I congratulated myself when I didn't rush them to finish up a puzzle of the U.S. that I'd forgotten I even had.) "Look, Seth, what is this state? Where does it go?"

When the wiggles were making me start to grit my teeth, I decided to take a break and head to Durant nature park. They ran pell mell through the woods like little puppies to get to the playground. This is the first year that Ben hasn't needed to be carried all the way, and it's the first time that Seth has read the trail signs without help.

You want to be a hero to your boys? Call to them as they play pirates in the woods, and tell them that they're getting "old Mcdonalds" for lunch. Better yet, have their baby brother tell them. Much cuter. And then watch them run for the van.

We hit not one, but two parks today. We ate at Annie Wilkerson and listened to the birds sing. Seth found the end of the fairy trail and told me about all the fairies he'd met and their homes. Evan picked up the flowers of a sweet gum tree and asked the naturalist there to identify it for him. We got some memorable, hands on nature study!

I texted David while we were there. "Thanks for working so hard to make it possible for me to be with our boys. We're thriving."

We are. :)


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tenebrae and other misc. musings on Easter...

 Our first year doing an Easter tomb garden… Just a little grass seed and potting soil, et voila.

The roll dough is made and in pans in the fridge. The homemade ice cream is in the freezer, chilling, and the boys are upstairs noisily washing the sticky stuff off their bodies from licking the bowl. I'll make the green bean casserole tonight, and I'll put some jellybeans in a few plastic eggs and make up little Easter baskets. The Honey Baked Ham lies in state on the second shelf of the fridge. ;) Tomorrow we'll dress in whatever "church clothes" look most decent and head out to Easter service. (I'm finding out that I'm not the only one at our church that doesn't buy new clothes and do up big, elaborate baskets for Easter. And I'm grateful for that. Those things steal my joy and appropriate attention from Jesus, and I'm glad I'm not the only one.)

So this Easter, we decided to try and find a tenebrae service. My sister-in-law, Terri, really enjoyed the one that her church had when they lived in Minnesota, so I thought it was worth a shot. The problem is that evangelicals don't seem to do this kind of service routinely, so it was tough to find one. I asked around, but there was nothing close. Then I overheard a mom talking about her church at the playground,  and it was St. Marks Methodist near us. I asked if they had a Good Friday tenebrae service, and they did! Community Bible Study met there when Seth was a baby, so I knew a little bit about the church.

The service was exactly what I was hoping for. The choir sang "I Believe" while they stripped the chancel. This meant covering things with black cloths, taking off altar cloths, etc. It was moving to me, especially when someone took the vestments from around the minister's neck. It hit me that without Christ, we don't have the church, we don't have the people of the church, the ministers, the parishioners, etc. The other pieces didn't mean as much to me because those aren't a typical part our worship, but this felt a little like somebody coming up to our pastor and taking his Bible and microphone and telling him to leave because he had nothing to say anymore.

Most of the service was simply reading through the parts of Christ's passion from the book of John, and as the pastors read, they would pause and put out one of the many candles in front of them. At the end, the sanctuary was dark and quiet. One pastor took the tall candle out of its stand, walked away, and then there was a loud sound to symbolize the earthquake when Christ died. He brought the candle back, and it was left lit, alone, a tiny light in the middle of the dark room. We all followed the ministers out, and then he read the last passage, locked the sanctuary, prayed and then went out silently.

Evangelical Christianity has a lot of wonderful things about it, but I think there may have been an over reaction against symbolism and liturgy during my childhood. I know that symbolism can be empty, but that doesn't meant that it always is. Sometimes it is beautiful and meaningful, and the Bible bears that out in many places. I also wonder if, through concern that many mainline/Catholic churches focused too much on Christ's sacrifice to the exclusion of His victory, evangelical churches threw that baby out a bit with the bathwater as well. It seems like we almost never dwell on His sacrifice.

All that to say, I'm discovering something new to me (though tenebrae has been around since the 5th century) that has enhanced our understanding of Easter this year, and I'm thankful for it. A tenebrae service may become an Easter tradition for our family.

"He is risen!" And all reply, "He is risen, indeed!" :) 


 Easter mantel… found the printable on Pinterest :) 


Sealed sanctuary until Easter morning...