Saturday, December 26, 2015

'Tis the Season

What happens when you eat a blue ring pop in the car on the way to Grandma's on Christmas Eve-
you have to brush your teeth and your tongue and your lips before you go to church.

Peace on earth-Kai got a train set for Christmas.
The big kids enjoyed playing with it just as much as he did.
Kai didn't want to go to bed that night and when he woke up the next morning, that was the first thing he wanted to do.

Con looks cranky.  I think the milk straws from our stockings were better than her face indicates.

Zeke wanted Hot Wheels tracks and a marble maze.
He got both.
Boy, oh, boy!  Those were his words regarding the marble maze.

Chilling with Dad

Opening gifts with Grandma 2

A huge 6 foot helium filled shark balloon from Uncle Jared.
(Helium not included.)
Some how I got no pictures of our Christmas Day and Christmas Eve with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.  Always lots of food and lots of laughter.  Rule #1 for our future events might be "Don't put your rear end in a pirate's face." followed closely by Rule #2 "Don't put your rear end in a pyrex dish."  There was a bevy of gifts including a yarn ball and a yard ornament that may have prompted Grandma 2 to make remarks about giving people the bird.  But then again, my mom got a pot clip that also caused Grandma 2 to make remarks about a roach clip.  Good times!

Pretty Princess got left at our house so on Saturday, Conleigh just had to play.
Grandma was the first "victim."

Followed by Dad.

Guess we're going backwards.
From earlier, the decorating the tree pics.
Kenson was so excited to put the angel on the top.
It's a tad crooked but it's perfect.

This year's tree is an interactive one.
D put on the lights and I put on our yo yo garland and our gum wrapper garland and then the kids did the rest.
Most of the ornaments have spent half a day or so in one place, with some kiddo rearranging them by the afternoon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On My Bookshelf

The absolute only good thing about Kai's recent refusal to go to sleep on his own for naps and bedtime (and to take 30 minutes to an hour to fall asleep) is that this carves reading time into my daily schedule.  I've been reading about a book a week for a while now which is pretty darn good when you consider my current distractions.

Here's the latest four.

I cannot say enough good things about this book.  Stevenson is a lawyer who has spent the last 20 years working exclusively with prisoners on death row.  His stories of specific cases are thought provoking and provide real insight into the humanity of the people who are on death row.  I especially loved how he encourages us to ask the question if these people are really throw away people or not.  For us in Nebraska, this read is a timely one given that we have recently banned the death penalty.
Another WWII story but not just another WWII story.  Unusual setting and unusual main character .  Not my favorite Holocaust book but still interesting and engaging.

I really enjoy Dallas' storytelling.  That's really her style: storytelling.  Her latest book features a midwife accused of murdering an infant.  It wasn't my favorite book of hers but still enough intrigue and interest in the characters to pull you in.
Think National Treasure meets The West Wing.  I haven't read anything by Meltzer before.  This took a bit to get going but once it did, it was kind of a wild ride.  More of a thriller than I usually read.

The big kids and I have been continuing to read a chapter book together at night.  The most recent three were

For those who know me, it's no secret that I adore Harry Potter.  I've been debating about reading this because I wasn't sure if my anxiety kiddo could handle it.  I talked myself into after reviewing it and thinking that the book really only had scary parts at the end, where Harry and friends really learn that Voldemart, the evil guy, is back.  However, just the knowledge that Voldemart was really too much for my one kiddo.  We ended up not reading the last 3 chapters together because of that.  All three loved the magic though.  Nothing sweeter than coming out in the morning and see your kids with blankets over their shoulders, arguing over who gets the broom, and trying to play Quidditch.

This isn't the exact one we read but we just picked an abridged version from the library.  No real reason other than the big kids were getting theater tickets to The Wizard of Oz for Christmas so I wanted to make sure they knew the story.   They especially liked the twist of the story which was that we don't need someone to make us a certain way, that often we already have inside of us the things we need.
We actually have on chapter left of this.  I loved hearing Zeke beg me to take it with us to Grandma's for Christmas so we could finish the book.  If you have never read Homer Price, it's kind of a hidden gem.  Homespun adventures mixed with some witty humor like a pet skunk who helps corner some crooks and a giant ball of string contest that involves a clever woman.

Monday, December 21, 2015


Thin.  Like a faded and worn piece of fabric.  Washed and rewashed.  Threads stretched bare.  So thin that light seeps through and an ill placed finger might just go right through it.  That's been me the past few weeks.

If I were a dragon slayer, this week's dragons would include an eight year old who acts more like a sullen, sulky teenager and a two year old who acts exactly two.  Throw in a five year old who has also been less than easy and a nine year old who might also fall under that same heading.  We've had issues connected to food, issues connected to sass, issues connected to defiance, and issues connected to not obeying.  The two year old has refused to fall asleep on his own for more than 6 months and still does not sleep through the night.  Another one of the older kids has suddenly been waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to sleep in our room too.  My anxiety kiddo has been having tummy aches which have only confirmed my belief that something is not right with her gut, be it from anxiety, from a parasite, from an allergy, from something.

It's easy to feel like you're not the mom that your kids need you to be.  When their behaviors tank, you wonder if there is some other way to parent that would perhaps be better.  If only I yelled less, if only we teamed better as a husband and wife, if only I were more available, if only I were more organized-you can create quite a list of things you wish were different.

It's easy to wonder if you are enough because quite honestly, you don't feel like you are enough.  You feel pretty inadequate.  How can one person do right by four little people all of the time?   Putting out fires and playing whack-a-mole with problems leaves a mom feel that way.

I guess the adage "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." holds true.  My flesh is definitely weak.  And tired.  And frustrated.  And tired.

Yet God says "I picked you.  I picked you to be the mom to this child, these kids.  You.  I picked you."  It's the same message He said to Mary, as the angel announced the Divine birth.  He picked Mary, not because of her righteousness or her heritage or her mothering ability.  He picked her because of her willingness, because when she had just received the surprise to top all surprises, her response was a humble willingness to believe and accept what she had been told, a willingness to be the mother God believed she could be, to say "I am yours."

I'm not sure she could possibly have understood what being the mother of God would really involve.  I suppose in some ways, that's probably a good thing because if she had known Jesus would become a traveling preacher known for tangling with the local religious leaders, whose actions would cause her and her sons to question His sanity, I'm guessing she might have said she wasn't qualified.  I'm guessing if she had known how the story would end, with her son dying a criminal's death, crushing the hopes of so many who thought He would surely deliver them, I'm guessing she would have taken a pass.

The crazy preacher man for a son, the horrific death reserved for really evil men, those had to make her feel like she had perhaps somehow failed at what God had called her to do.  Maybe because in parenting, like so many other things, we measure success by performance.  We become so focused on the outcome we forget about the heart.  There is no doubt God wants us to love our kids in a way that is kind, compassionate, forgiving, and protective.  There is no doubt God desires for our kids to grow to know and love Him, for us to place such importance on those things that they are at our very doorposts and at the heart of our home.  But God chose Mary and He chooses you and me not because of our own behavior and our ability to orchestrate success but because of our willingness.

He knows our weaknesses.  He knows we are stretched thin, that we get cranky, that we our imperfect people trying our best to love imperfect kids.  He sees past all of that and instead says "I pick you, not because you are perfect but because you are willing."

If nothing else, make me willing to love my kids in endless ways.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jesus

"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them."

Zeke's preschool class shared the Christmas story at their program.
Zeke was a star.
Kenson, who is currently all over idioms and double meaning words,
was quick to point out that Zeke would be the "star" of the show.
Kenson thought that was hilarious.

Stars, wisemen, the baby...
why not turn your dog into a shepherd?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sweet Treats

Christmas is the season of goodies and sweet treats.  (Just ask my oldest two who attended their 4-H Christmas party where each of them one the guess-how-many-candies-are-in-the-jar game and walked away with 129 pieces of candy each, plus the regular candy prizes for Bingo.)   We usually make a variety of goodies to share at the holidays.  I always try to have a recipe or two the kids can help with so that they have some investment in the gifts they give their teachers.  This year, the kids help make M and M Party Popcorn and Peppermint Patties.  I've never made the popcorn mix before but peanut butter and white chocolate mixed with the salty hint of crushed corn chips plus M and M's, popcorn and peanut butter sandwich cookies sounded hard to beat.   The peppermint patties I have made before.  I press mine into a pan and top with the chocolate rather than forming them into patties; that just saves on time.  The best part?  They feature a mystery ingredient:  mashed potatoes.

I also made Saltine Toffee, which I have made and love.  It is seriously the easiest, yummiest stuff!  I've seen recipes floating around calling it Christmas Crack because of it's addicting nature.  The last recipe I made was a new one to me for Chewy Chocolate Meringues.  This recipe used egg whites like a traditional meringues but they are chewy rather than crispy.  They feature dark chocolate, dried cranberries, and walnuts.  I subbed out pecans for the walnuts.  I can't say I was overly impressed.  They were good but I wouldn't say they would make my top ten list of cookies.  Maybe if they had had more cranberries or pecans.  It seemed like you couldn't really taste either.

So what's in your goodie bags this season?

Conleigh assembling our treat boxes for our teachers.

Completed boxes

M and M popcorn mix 

Satline Toffee

Chewy Chocolate Meringues

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The King, the Maiden, and Doubt

My favorite Christmas story, apart from the original, has to be Soren Kierkegaard's A King and the Maiden.  This parable of a king who loves a common girl is a beautiful retelling of the Gospel, of a God who pursues out of love, of a God who does not want devotion to be based in obligation or fear, but rather who desires devotion to be natural and organic, an outpouring of true, relational love.  

"Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him? 

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal. 

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers. "

And so Christ came near to us, as a vulnerable baby who would become a man.  The Creator reaching down to His creation.  It's that part of the Christmas story that makes me disagree when I hear people say that all religions are similar and that all roads lead to the same God.  The truth is Christianity alone is the only religion that contains that element.  No other religion tells a story where the deity lays down his godhead to become less than what he already was.  It is what makes Christianity unique, wholly different than the truths of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism.  

Faith in that story is a bit of a tricky thing.  It's easy to say and harder to live.  It's easy to love because it is tradition but harder to embrace when traditions lie in pieces and the bottom is falling out of the world as you know it.   It seems like sometimes people who choose to believe the story are assumed to be perfect in their faith, never doubting and understanding always.  But the reality is the people who believe this story in the most authentic way are actually those who believe in spite of their doubts, not in the absence of those doubts.

From our church service this morning, an artistic monologue on faith and doubt.  Perhaps not your usual advent message but somehow it seems like if we want people to really love the story of the King that we have to start with the basic idea of what it really means to believe, doubts and all.  


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

That Time of Year

My kids are nuts for Christmas right now.  Unfortunately, that seems to be rubbing off into all aspects of life.  Zeke yesterday yelled from the bathroom, "Mom!  I just went poop and it looks like a candy cane!"  Perhaps we could not be quite so excited...

Then on the way home from school, Zeke started asking the big kids how Santa got into our house.  Kenson was the all knowing older brother who explained that our roof has a very thin pipe that Santa uses, that Santa pokes himself with a needle and squeezes all the air out, so that he can slide down it.  Conleigh then interjected that Santa was plump and full of blubber.  Kenson continued that Santa then pumped himself back up with air and put a patch on to cover up the hole.  Kai was not going to be left out because he actually knows what a hole is and is somewhat fascinated by holes of all kinds, from belly buttons to holes in the dirt to holes in clothes.  He grinned like he knew exactly what the big kids were talking about and added emphatically, "Hole!"

Ending with a cute kid pic as the two little boys enjoyed the snow on Monday morning...