A Time of Quiet

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Psalm 85:9-11 (NIV)

I’ll be away from the blog for awhile as we prepare for the celebration of Easter. While we wait for the joy, we’ll be doing things to quiet our spirits and make ready for the greatest miracle of all time.  Sure…the historical event happened more than 2000 years ago, but the work of the cross happens every day!

How do you find quiet in your busy days? Where do you find the peace you need to have a clear mind and an open heart?

So Much to Celebrate!

On Saturday, we gathered with family at our little brick house to welcome the first day of spring.  As my boys get older, I am always looking to build simple traditions that emphasize the two things that we value most: God’s presence in everyday life and our family.  Truly celebrating the change of the seasons is one way that we remain mindful of the beautiful, amazing, intricate design of God’s mighty hands.  So we had a little “shin dig” to thank Him for all the promise of this wonderful season.

The boys took their “decorating” very seriously as we covered the sidewalk and steps with pretty chalk doodles to welcome our guests.

To start, we enjoyed a bell pepper flower with Ranch dressing.  I snitched the idea from the February issue of Parents…

…but the idea for the bird’s nest cupcakes was all mine.  I’m a great copier of cute ideas, but it’s rare that I have a fresh idea of my own.  I’m sure someone somewhere has made nests from chow mein noodles, but for now, I’m going to believe that they are an Erica original.  True or not, they looked cute and tasted yummy!

Happy Spring!

Getting Ready!

We are praising God for sun, blue skies, and chances to get dirty!  The last couple of days have been positively gorgeous.  Low to mid 60s, lots of sunshine.  After a swift but decidedly gloomy winter, spring is a very welcome visitor in our household.  Yesterday afternoon we all headed to our little backyard to do some digging and raking.  I had the job of collecting…well, um…”presents” from our Labrador.  You know what I mean.  To prevent any accidental messes, I devised little “booties” for our small boy made from plastic shopping bags.  I call that impromptu recycling!

My hubby transplanted the Sweetheart Cherry tree that he gave me a few anniversaries ago.  It was growing rather oddly to find more light, so we put it in the sunniest patch.  Not being experts, we are both praying for the poor little thing’s survival.  Anyone know about helping the transition?

We are giddy with the promise of longer days and warmer weather.  Tomorrow we’ll celebrate the official start to this pretty season, but the sweet posies in the yard are beginning the celebration already!

Spring Break: Saturday and Sunday

Spring Break comes to a close.  My primary goal was to clean the whole house.  I would call it a success.  Our attic still needs a lot of work.  We’re trying to make half of it an exercise area.  The other half is already a home office, but it is totally out of control.  But I’m not going to dwell on the negative!  Every bit of our living space is clean and happily organized (happily, not perfectly).  My in-laws visited yesterday, and my parents stopped by today.  I always feel wonderful after having people over.  I feel like I can really enjoy my home when it’s clean and full of the people I love.

As I sit here at my computer, I am noticing that at almost seven in the evening, the sky is still light–despite a few clouds.  Daylight Savings robs us of the lovely morning sunshine (our eastward facing bedroom positively glows in the a.m. sunlight), but I do appreciate the lengthening evenings.  I wonder what it will do to our nice little bedtime routine.  We’ll see.  We’ll go with the flow.  I have a feeling that everyone will call it an early night after being up late gabbing with Grandma and Papa!

 By the way, my husband’s parents were here because they are giving us their dining room table.  Whoo-hoo.  Good-bye to our $25 yard sale find!  Last night, Mom G. reupholstered the seats with a beautiful fabric that I had chosen.  It’s an almost army green with a wonderful sheen to it, and it is detailed with dark brown twiggy, leafy things.  I’ll take a picture later.  Then it will make more sense.  Anyway, it’s been a fun, highly productive Spring Break.

 Five Random Notes to End the Week:

 1. I’m a happier person when my house is clean.  I feel in control.  I can focus on the present.  Focus on the fun of two amazing little boys.

 2. I’m reading The Wizard of Oz.  I’m delighting in all the things that are familiar (because I’ve seen the movie a zillion times), but equally delightful are the surprising difference.  What fun!

 3. Friday was my monthly La Leche League meeting.  Every month I leave with a new commitment to being a better mother than I was the month before.  LLL has helped me grow so much, in so many ways.

 4. Mom & Dad arrived home from the state high school wrestling championships.  They brought home chocolate.  Oh yum.

 5. Yesterday, I stared at fabric for about 45 minutes, and I still haven’t chosen the material that I would like to use for my couch pillows.  I just don’t know what I want!


Spring Break: Thursday

Nothing renews my enthusiasm and reminds of my imperfections like trying something new.  As children, we encounter new people, places, and tasks almost every day.  We learn new skills and experience new flavors, sights, and smells.  Fortunately, the world is a big, complicated place.  Even grown-ups can run into new things almost daily if their eyes are open.  New words.  New faces.  New designs.  New foods.  But actually learning a new skill can be really difficult for an adult.  We are used to feeling a sense of control, the comforting sense of accomplishment that comes with doing a job we’ve had for years or a hobby that we’ve been nurturing since childhood.  We don’t always embrace our mistakes as learning opportunities.  We don’t recognize falls as opportunities to learn how to get up. 

So in order to keep the childlike ability to accept the mistakes that come with learning (and just for the fun of it!), I love to give new things a try.  For a few years, I took violin lessons (a childhood dream), but the time and expense became too much with two little boys to care for and a doctoral program to complete.  I’ll get back to it someday.  But I love to make music, so in the beginning of February I joined the church’s bell choir.  I confess: I’m not entirely new to hand bells.  I played in a “two girl” duet in the sixth grade.  We only stayed together for a few months, but I learned the basics and enjoyed the music.  Being part of a bell choir has some of the attributes of being in a singing choir.  The sense of teamwork and collaboration is wonderful, but if you’re singing alto in a typical choir, you can miss a note or take a big breath during a particular bar and the piece won’t suffer.  Your fellow altos cover your absence.   That’s not the case in a bell choir.  No one else is responsible for my “A.”  I can’t count on my neighbor to remind me of my entrance.  So the nervousness factor is escalated, but the ethereal twinkle of a bell choir is so uplifting and the energy of the music so contagious that I can’t help but enjoy myself.  The rehearsals are a lot of fun.  The hour flies.

And here are a couple of photos of another “something new.”  My hubby and I took a brief necklace-making class at the Knit & Crochet Festival in February.  I love that the focal point is a vintage clip-on earring.

Spring Break: Wednesday

Ah!  The weather.  After the snowiest February on record (not an exaggeration!), these mild days of early March are a welcome blessing.  Snow is still lining the streets and sidewalks, but two days in the low 60s will put an end to the dirty reminders of record snowfall soon.  We’ve walked.  We’ve taken the tricycle for a spin, and tonight, we’ll fire up the grill.

After picking up Big Brother at preschool, the boys and I drove to the library where we enjoyed our very first outdoor picnic of the year.  PB & J, cottage cheese, and bananas at a picnic table (the very table featured here) seemed like just the combination to welcome a season of picnics.  We loaded up on books and a few craft DVDs for me.  The library has a fun selection of books about spring, Easter, and even a few Irish folktales in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Now at home, the hubby and the kids are hanging out while I grade some papers. 


Spring Break: Tuesday

Hooray!!  A clean bedroom.  I could sing!  I could dance!  When my preschooler came in the room after I had run the sweeper and removed the garbage bag this afternoon, he said, “Wow!  It’s pretty.”  That’s right, my boy!

The master bedroom is the most difficult room for me to keep clean.  I spend most of my cleaning time on the main living areas, and our bedroom is always last to receive care.  I want to change this pattern.  My husband and I deserve a tidy, pleasing room that can be a kind of peaceful refuge.  Our baby shares our room, and when we were preparing for his arrival in the summer of 2008, I chose soft greens, yellows, and cream shades for the curtains, bedding, and other decorations.  The effect is a clean, cozy look, but no color scheme can maintain the atmosphere that I desire when laundry takes over and clutter gets the best of me. 

I took the advice of Mindy Starns Clark (The House that Cleans Itself) and created a devotional corner–a place to spend time in the quiet and stillness, a place to speak to and listen for God.  I have my Bible, my journal, and some other books there.  A couple of pillows and a throw made by my Grandma make it a pretty spot.

Spring Break: Monday

I took a Taekwondo class today.

I began studying Songahm Taekwondo when I was fourteen years old.  My practice of this martial art started as a way to exercise and to make friends.  I did get a lot of exercise, and I found my best friend.  But there’s more.  For me, Taekwondo was never about becoming Bruce Lee or impressing people with impossible feats.  Instead, it was about personal challenge, pushing myself further than I imagined I could go.  Initially, “pushing myself” meant finding ways to step outside of the shyness that had seized me since childhood.  Later, I was challenged to see myself as more than the bookish girl that everyone else saw and to acknowledge a new self…a “me” that could face physical challenges and meet them.   I came a long way.  Both in personal growth and technique (though nowhere near Bruce Lee).  I reached my goals as a student of Taekwondo and a trainee instructor.  Then, life moved on.  I went to college, got married, headed to grad school in New England.  I graduated, moved back to my home state, and continued with more grad school.  I had two babies.  And all the while, I looked for ways to stay connected to Taekwondo.  Why?  My friends had moved on to other things.  Obviously I, too, had moved on in big ways, but something about Taekwondo stuck with me.  I like who I am there.  In my work and my personal life, I push myself intellectually and emotionally on a regular basis, but I can easily forget about my physical self.  I can ignore my body, forget to rest, forget to provide healthy fuel, forget to stretch and strengthen my muscles.  Most importantly, I can totally forget the close tie between physical and mental well-being.

In today’s class, I was frazzled.  I’ve been feeling overly stressed for weeks.  I thought that I could set those feelings aside for 45 minutes, but I could not focus on my techniques at all.  My head was all over the place.  My instructor recognized my distracted state-of-mind.  To close the class, he led us through a quiet exercise during which we had to focus visually through a large plastic ring.  I never quite achieved focus, but gradually, I became aware of my body.  I could feel the tension in my shoulders, and I realized that I was taking tiny little sips of breath.  No real, deep breaths at all.  I was afraid that my classmates would hear me breathing!  I remember times in my past when physical and mental were tightly intertwined—when I was studying Taekwondo regularly, when I was pregnant, when I was giving birth!  These were the times when I was more present.  I had focus.  I was listening to my body and responding to its needs…just as I would respond to the needs of a newborn baby.  I’ve stopped doing that.

“Songahm” means pine tree, and the forms (known as “kata” in other styles) are based upon the growth of the pine from seedling to majestic tree.  Nice image, isn’t it?  Having quite a few years of Taekwondo under my belt (pardon the pun), I should be a solid, mature tree, but today I learned the importance of being willing to go back to being the seedling…if only to take the time to contemplate the factors that create the grown pine.  What does it mean to be grown?  Growth equals health, right?  How is health maintained?  Does growth ever stop?  I could learn every form, every technique; where, then, would the growth and learning happen?

Driving home, I listened to Christian radio as I usually do.  One teacher was talking about spiritual growth, the need to move on from “mother’s milk” to the food of mature Christianity.  The image of milk versus solid food returns several times in the New Testament.  I thought about how, too often, I have rested on the work of my past spiritual growth, failing to push myself toward greater understanding because I’ve become comfortable in knowing “enough.”  Well, no more of that!  Whether I’m looking at a physical, intellectual, or spiritual task, I don’t want to be the kind of person who rests on “good enough.”  I don’t want to get by on tiny sips of breath.

Spring Break

Perhaps the greatest perk of an academic life is Spring Break.  Now, my Spring Break looks nothing like the skin-flashing, beach-bumming events of MTV fame.  I’ve never been that kind of a gal.  Spring Break, for my family, is the contemporary version of Spring Cleaning.  My friend, Liz—who seems to be infinitely wise about all things home and family—once mentioned that the concept of Spring Cleaning is antiquated because we no longer have to wipe down walls to remove the build-up of a winter’s worth of indoor fires (fireplaces in every room, coal or wood-burning stoves, even night after night of oily candles).  No more washing of heavy draperies.  Yes, the soot-factor is decreased, but also the really heavy-duty window treatments are no longer in fashion due to style changes and more efficient windows.  Today’s lighter choices are far easier to clean, and they don’t soak up the pollutants of our environments to the same degree.  I say all this only to return to the fact that I love Spring Cleaning, and I’m using Liz’s wisdom to give myself permission to not scrub down walls, polish mirrors, or launder all of our curtains.  For me, Spring Break and the subsequent Spring Cleaning are a chance to usher in the freshness of a new season.  I’m praying that as I bring in some new fabrics for spring-y pillows and some seeds for planting (indoors), I may also bring in a new perspective and a new resolve.  As bags of charitable donations and plain old trash go out, out goes the frustration and gloom that slipped in under the door (despite the funny contraption that my husband put on the bottom of the front door to prevent a draft).  I’m not a gloomy person.  No.  But in the last few weeks, I have become very frustrated—okay, angry—with our recent housekeeping break-down.  A four-year-old, a 19 month-old, a dissertation-finishing husband, and my own laziness, coupled with that dangerous throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air attitude, have created quite a mess around here.  No more of this.  Spring Break has arrived, and I will conquer the dust bunny factory and clutter circus!

This shot was taken last year at a nearby flower show, but it seemed like an appropriate banner for the starting line of Spring Break.

Five Random Notes to End the Week (Inspired by “Five Random Things” at  Art Asana)

  1.  Preschoolers really know how to have fun.  The wait for the museum to actually open brought out singing, dancing, and impromptu make-believe all around us.  I want to find joy in moments of waiting.  I want to find fun in ordinary tasks.
  2. I enjoy the familiarity of movies that I’ve seen many times.  Julie and Julia might join my list of favorite movies to watch until they wear out.
  3. The Olympics were fun, but it felt good to go to bed at my normal time all week.
  4. I did one-on-one conferences with my students this week.  I feel like a good teacher during these sessions.  I also feel a little bit like an American Idol judge.
  5. All week I kept thinking, ‘next week I’ll have a clean bedroom.’  I hope it happens.