Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shivering Leaves

Our air conditioners are drying on the front porch.  Their corresponding windows, vacant and screenless, exhibit a surprising clarity on this drizzly day.  Brown- and yellow-tinged leaves shiver on their gray branches, whose lichen-kissed bark drips droplets along with the quilt of rainclouds overhead.  Beside a drenched brown log and autumn-touched bush, a bench invites me to sit and contemplate life - a tempting offer if it were not quite so wet.

Just a few days ago, dry dust whirled here and there as the sun baked everything in sight.  Now, pools of water stand in low-lying areas and the air itself seems to sigh refreshingly.  Such extremes in so short a time!  It is commonplace for our life, too, and I hazard to say for yours as well, my friend.

So, take a moment and imagine yourself somewhere that rejuvenates you.  Close your eyes if you have to or take a deep breath and let the tension in your shoulders slip away.  Perhaps we're on a rocky ledge overlooking rolls of mountains and a little lake nestled among the vales.  The first sunrays shoot up in the horizon and reflect across the lake's surface.  Or perhaps we're watching waves splash white foam on the beach.  Water, smooth as silk, touches our toes and then quickly recedes.  Or perhaps we're on a Greek island, licking tiramisu icecream in a cone and clutching a crinkly brown bag of meaty pistachios for the ferry ride back to the mainland where we'll roam through winding streets and savor the delight of stumbling upon ancient remains sprinkled about Athens.  Or where would you be?  What imagining restores your soul when you are tired or lonely or in need of a break?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hidden Squash

For four days, Joseph has chanted, "Macaroni and cheese, please."  So, I finally made his favorite for lunch - macaroni and cheese.  Toss out the blue box; I use a from-scratch recipe.  Perhaps it sounds gross, but Joseph's macaroni and cheese is loaded with hidden yummies that are also nutritious for him.  Pureed yellow squash cooks into the cheese sauce, while I drain the semolina pasta wheels in a colindar.  Then, fluffing tuna with a fork, I stir that in along with those wheels.  The macaroni and cheese dish bakes for twenty minutes, cools, and sits upon a plate waiting for Joseph.

"Mmm... that's good!" Joseph says, with a noodle sticking out of his mouth and cheese smeared across his chin.

If I had served yellow squash and tuna on the side, he would not have touched it.  What my toddler doesn't know will not hurt him!  (Yes, Jenny, I know you're cringing and gagging over the tuna part, but at least it's hidden!)

It reminds me of taking medicine as a child.  Or sucking on a lush lemon.  Or chopping a strong-scented onion and feeling like its juice is pouring from your eyes.  Or slicing a paper cut across your fingertip when shuffling through papers.  Or sizzling your skin on a hot dish when you forget those trusty hotpads.  Or pounding a hammer on your thumb, which was out of the way a moment ago.  Or smacking an elbow so hard your fingers tingle all day.  Or...  Perhaps I've relayed enough painful experiences.

Albeit difficult, it is rewarding when we look for the positives in any situation.  Even when nursing wounds and a prideful heart ashamed, it is better not to dwell upon how silly we feel.  Have you recently felt the head-rising rush that accompanies an awkward situation?  How did you turn your blush into a flush of laughter?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bare Toes

Gray sweatpants, with dark blue side stripes, and a sweater jacket alternating thick stripes of mint green, tan, white, and brown cover Ezra's brown jumper.  Tiny red and orange stripes amidst the brown peer out from under the jacket, whose hood hangs loosely about my baby's face.  Little toes dangle.  Russell lovingly places cozy-looking Ezra into the backpack carrier.  My husband is so gentle with the boys, but he is a terrible dresser!  At least, I think to myself, he will be warm.  And, with a quick kiss, my boys are out the door.

For a few sweet moments, I am not bouncing a baby on my lap until my arms ache, sopping up spills from the floor, piggy-backing my toddler while my bones protest, enduring the cries associated with teething and disciplining, scraping lunch off chair legs and walls, picking up dropped toys, smelling fresh spit-up on a newly changed pair of pants or shirt.  And yet, in the silence, I dwell upon soft feet and hands, lavendar-smelling hair recently washed, quick smiles and wide eyes, ready laughs and made-up songs, pattable bottoms and bellies waiting for a raspberry.  Even though I cherish the minute amount of time I have alone, I find myself missing the joys of parenthood and anticipating the many unsavored ones to come.

There are so many times in life when we want a little peace from what we have, only to find that we want nothing more than to have it back again.  What in your life exhibits such a mutable dichotomy, friend?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Startled Awake

Being a mother has heightened my ability to suddenly wake up in the night.  Certain sounds - a muffled cry from the crib, a rustling roll from our toddler's room, a loud creak centering from who knows where - seem to switch my eyes from closed to open so quickly that I feel a little dazed.  Often when that occurs, I have not a chance of getting back to sleep.

My baby has an ability to sleep almost anywhere and in nearly every position.  However, there are times when he, too, is startled awake.  One moment, Ezra is asleep on some soft surface; the next, a little head pops up and large eyes seek out the offending noise-maker.  Usually the offending noise-maker is Joseph, my two-year-old.  Perhaps he's "do-do-do-ing" in his own song while marching and waving something shakeable.  Other times, he's whizzing past the play pen, foot-falls slapping the wood laminate like little thunder claps.  And often, he pushes a loud truck or train by the baby's head and chances to emit a whistle or honk at just the wrong time.

I'm usually good about keeping Joseph quiet when Ezra sleeps, but sometimes it's a huge task.  At times like these, I often need a double dose of patience.  So often, I feel as if my bottle of patience is nearly empty.  But Ezra is quite patient.  Instead of crying at the startling, he often smiles or plops his head back down to doze and dream some more.  Or, he's so amazed at what his older brother is doing that he wants to join him in the chaos.

For me, listening to the sing-song voice of my toddler and seeing my baby's gum-gaping grin remind me of life's jumbled joys.  It's hard to contain excitement that is bubbling over.  Such joy necessitates sharing!  So, fellow adventurer, what joy bubbles over for you?  Even when you are startled awake, how have you turned the experience into something grand?

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Dry Wind

Brown grass crunches underfoot; a dry wind tumbles crinkling leaves across the yard; tired tree limbs groan from the lack of moisture.  Days like this give me a glimpse of life as an ooey gooey chocolate brownie with semi-sweet morsels hidden inside.  And such a day it is - inside a baker's oven.

No, I'm not baking today.  But even on days I do not bake for my family, I dream of delectable desserts to create and savor.  My husband would say that a person craves sweets during moments of distress, perhaps he's right.  My days are often sprinkled with a little stress here, a little strain there - perhaps as one plate slides under another and creates rippling mountains on the earth's crust, so too do my ideas often collide with my toddler's ideas and those of my baby.  With three very different needs to fill, a mommy can feel slightly chewed by the end of the day (and for me that is literal).

So, I look out my windows and watch the wind whistle across the parched ground.  And, sigh.  Then I remind myself that the cool rains will come.  I will one day see how the sacrifices I make to focus more on the needs of my children than on my own often selfish wants, really do make a difference.  I can use some of my talents now, sharpen new ones, and hold on to the others until they are needed.  Too often, I want the rain now; but a sweet drenching is a gift given during the time it is most needed.

And you, friend?  When have you felt sunburned by the world?  What balm would soothe your current disposition?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lonely Little Luminary

Late last night, my sandal-shoes and I were treading down the blacktop with a foil-covered, cream-colored bowl of recently roasted pumpkin seeds.  Warm ceramic radiated in my hand and I sighed.  Then, a flash lit pink a distant cloud high above the mountain's sleeping form.  At first, I thought I was dreaming or that the day's busy-ness was getting to me.  But - alas! - another soundless sunburst bubbled into a brilliant blush and then deflated, disappearing almost as soon as it had formed.

Turning my head to scan for more thunderheads, a scintillating star grasped my suddenly vacant view.  My husband would probably tell me that it was a planet, not a star, since it shone so brightly.  Nevertheless, it's singularity struck me.  No other dazzling dots poked through the night's draped veil - save the happy moon.

As it often does on a moonlit walk, my mind wandered.  I strive for independence and often cringe when I need help with something.  But, my son Joseph reminds me that we are born with an inherent and very strong desire to help.  If I do not allow Joseph to help when he wants to, he is hurt and upset.  And so too with us adults.

If we assert ourselves and don't allow others to walk with us in this life, then we're going to be like that lovely, but lonely little luminary.  Likewise, we have to give what we want to get.  Unless we break down the barriers of doubt that linger in our souls like sucking leeches, unless we dare to share our scarred and bruisable hearts, unless we take the step that everyone around us dreads, we're going to continue spirally into ever-expanding singularities.  Personally, I have experienced enough singularities watching Star Trek Voyager!

And you, friend?  Is there an area in your life that needs pruning so that you can more fully experience life with family and friends?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Peeled Pumpkin

The last pumpkin of the season has been pierced, parched, peeled, and pureed.  Now it sits in neatly labeled cups in the freezer and awaits a glorious return as a chocolate-bottom pumpkin pie or cake doughnuts or spiced muffins.  All of it, that is, save four cups worth of that fluffy flesh.  Those four cups will make two pies, which I am about to make.

While I was squishing seeds away from the gooey meat in the hollow of the pumpkin, my glistening hands came upon one seed starting to sprout.  The thinly unfolding green shoot still clung to its sheath.  It reminded me of my sons.  When we take day trips to hiking trails or harvest festivals or favorite stores, my husband or I encase Joey's hand with our own.  His is neatly tucked in our palm, just as our eyes rove to protect him and Ezra from any potentially harmful encounters.  If we are hiking on a rocky trail, both boys are safely caravanned in backpacks; if we cross a busy road, we scoop them up in our arms and hold tightly; if we venture to a playground, we linger nearby in case their steps become uncertain.

I know we will not always be able to protect our children from the harms that float as dandelion fuzz about this world.  But by taking the time to prepare them, they will grow into something greater because of our love and care.  Young men with a heart for making positive impacts in the lives of others will benefit the world.

What are you doing, friend, that touches someone else's heart?  How can you use today to paint a smile on someone's face?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Moonlit Radiance

I live a double life.  I first found out when I was eleven or twelve.  Coming out of the physician's office, I saw for the first time trees' leaves rustling in the crisp breeze and wisps of cloud set just so in the dazzling blue sky.  The clarity which this new world held was so intense, I did not know what I had been missing before I got my glasses.

Tonight, I hiked to one of the highest hills in the county and followed the expanse of mountain that stretched up and down the valley.  The moon captured my gaze.  And, as Clark Kent removes his glasses to become what he truly is, I pocketed my own and watched the moon's boundaries melt into a radiant haze.  I entered an Impressionist painting without taking a single step.  There were no poppies smeared across the subtle hill, no towering poodle-puffed trees, no unidentified characters about which to dream.  Instead, a breeze smoothed my naked eyes with raw reality.  Crickets' clicking chorus strummed louder than before.  Brutus's big black paws crunched leaves with more ferocity.  Frogs croaked more intently from the trees silhouetted against the twilit sky.

And then I did something I haven't done for a long time.  I walked home without my glasses.  I followed the blurred fence and tree lines, walked with careful steps as the moon lit my path, and allowed other senses to divulge the secrets of this realm.  It's amazing how such a simple endeavor can bring the fringes of fear into the periphery.  But, I bolstered my faith and kept walking, knowing not the path's rise and fall under my feet, but the hopeful beacon of home's porch lights that loomed ahead.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fabulous Sleep

In anticipation of a fabulous sleep, I am about to take a shower much-needed after a day of spit-up, green-tinted Ezra poo, and perspiration from walking around the town of Edinburg.  Our spring mattress has been sagging, my back has been aching, and my body has been groaning for the last month or so.  Life's adventures change one's frame, I've found, my friend.  And so, a new mattress my husband acquired today - driving onto the gravel with his red truck and boxes strapped to the back.  At the sound of his return, I peered out the window with longing eyes.  It was not yet noon and I had a whole day until that delightful moment when I might go to sleep on the non-spring contents within those boxes.

Now, though, it is time.  How I love anticipation!  I remember it when we would go on vacation: suitcases or day-bags packed, clothes laid out the night before, snacks prepared and placed just so; or, when Christmas would settle: an Eve service by candlelight at church performed, food and memories shared at a family party, giddy girls tucked in bed with sighs for morning's sun; or, even now when tendered coupons cut the price of a shopping trip in half or more, when a prayer is answered beyond my imagining, when I receive longed-for news from a well-loved friend.  Those bubbly billows of anticipation set my mind sailing onto a journey filled with hope and guided by faith.  It's such a joy to experience!

And so, friend, what sends bountiful butterflies into your belly?  What happenstance has given you hope?  Dare to inspire others with the beauty in your life.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kazoo and Granola

The aroma of honey-vanilla granola, which cools on a wire rack in the lowly-lit kitchen, wafts through the house. Although it's still a little warm, I have already sampled the granola's tender crunch and finger-licking sweetness.

"Do you want to try some?" I say to my toddler.

Joseph smiles. "Yeah!" he says. And, with a quick taste, "Mmmm... that's g-o-o-o-d!"

Then, he bounds off to find a kazoo and zooms around the room in laps. The kazoo sings, while the baby naps. It always amazes me that the baby can sleep through Joseph's day-to-day adventures! And Joseph only has two volumes: loud and louder. Though he doesn't have the athletic grace or creative genius that Gene Kelly had, Joseph definitely has the endurance for his own "Singin' in the Rain" masterpiece. Every day it changes: different footwork, varied tones, new movements. Yet, every day it amuses. And when Ezra isn't snoozing, he looks up from his ring or rattle and, in awe, gazes upon his brother's impromptu performance.

What brings utter joy to your life, friend? What paints that beautiful smile across your face?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Check Your Steering

Tendrils of hair stick against Ezra's head, which moments before was pressed against the car seat's patterned pad while he dozed. Now, alert eyes peer all around the store as my sons and I shop for milk, freezer containers, salad, foil wrap, bananas, cereal, semi-sweet chocolate morsels, and heavy whipping cream. With one hand, I hold a basket containing our goods; with the other, I cling to the tail of Joseph's bear backpack (to keep him from running off) and push the stroller in which my baby rides in luxury.

But instead of running off, Joseph is content to help steer the stroller left past pop-tarts and cheerios, right past jello pudding and whole wheat flour, and straight ahead to the produce department. I announce the direction moments before we turn and Joseph is quick to adjust. At first, I fear roving into him or running over his foot. I try to force the turn, which only makes for bumps and wobbles. Then, I let go of my control and allow my toddler to help guide the way through the store. The difference is immediately perceivable and the ride smoother for Ezra.

My life is the same. I try to be in control of everything and make the pieces go into place even when I know they will not fit. When I relinquish my way and allow God to take over, my heart is happier, my shoulders less weighted, and my thoughts unknotted. It's so hard to let someone else help, but when we check our steering and trust others, life is a whole lot easier.

In what way is your life easier because you have trusted others?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Let Water Wash You

Water splashes across the kitchen sink. My little two-year-old grabs the bristle brush and scrubs the stainless steel, while droplets spray his nimble hands and focused face. Joseph loves to help. So, when he sees Mommy washing dishes, processing peppers into puree, and spooning semi-sweet chocolate and pumpkin into a baked pie shell, he naturally wants to help too. Thus, the familiar scooting chair legs, as mentioned in a previous post, and a toddler taking his place as Mommy's righthand helper become a quick commonplace.

Then, he grabs the sprayer! "Ooohhh, M-o-m-m-y! What's that?" And, as if in answer to his query, water sprays everywhere. Joseph's smile widens and his eyes light up with that sense of discovery. And, before I can grasp the knob to turn off the water, Joseph dunks his head under the stream of water running from the faucet.

My son is soaked. Whenever he attempts to help wash the dishes or scrub the sink, it ends the same - dripping wet. But, I have found that messes are required in life.

In fact, if I didn't make messes I would never learn anything! In order to throw a pot on a wheel, you have to get your hands in the wet spinning clay. In order to make a yummy chocolate-bottom pumpkin pie, you have to make pie dough and puree pumpkin - both of which are quite messy! Less visible lessons are that way too. In order to cultivate the fruits of the spirit, we have to dunk ourselves into the messiness of life. Only by being refined can we harbor that hope of eternal life.

What about you, friend? What mess coats the walls or even ceiling of your life?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sale Price

"Farmer in dell. Farmer in dell!" sings Joseph, a smile spread across his face.

Singing isn't just an interest for my two boys during the day. Tucked in bed, the night-light aglow and good-night kisses still fresh on his face, Joseph loves to sing himself to sleep. Ezra, too, as much as he can. Mostly, "la-la-la" or "hmm, hmm, hmm" emits from the room, but Joseph throws in random words that he knows.

As adults we do that too. It's always fun to try singing along with a tune and then discover the true lyrics in print. Actually, it's sometimes scary, too, to ascertain the true meaning behind the rhythms we so enjoy. Perhaps that's why I have steered to Christian rock. The messages are uplifting and the words are actually ones I would want my children to sing.

It reminds me of a pair of shoes I bought a month ago. They were on sale, looked great, and felt good. I even had a coupon to take a percentage off the sale price. So I did the sensible thing and bought them! But, when I got home and wore them for longer than the initial try-on, I discovered that the insole on one of the shoes kept creeping up the back of my heel. What seemed to be a fabulous deal really wasn't.

There are so many times when I want the easy way out - the sale price, so to speak. Do I really have to whip egg whites until they stand in high glossy peaks for good angel food cake? Do I really have to exercise to keep in good enough shape to chase my toddler around the house? Do I really have to practice declensions and conjugations to be able to read Latin and Greek? Do I really have to (fill in the blank with something tedious for you) to (fill in the blank for an end result that you love)?

Of course, the answer is always "yes!" In order to live life to the full extent that I want, I need the self-discipline to persevere through what I may not want. I cannot always go for the sale price or the easy way out. What about you? Share your fill-in-the-blanks above. How do you work hard and for whom are you doing it?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Odd Concoction

Lime juice, chocolate syrup, brie, penne pasta, and peach yogurt are the ingredients swiped up by hands eager to learn the art of cooking. Joseph is making breakfast in a large saucepan. A wooden pasta spoon stands at the ready. With wide eyes, this animated toddler lifts the lid and peeps in upon his simmering sauce. Not done! He shuts the lid with gusto and busies himself at finding more interesting boxes and containers from the recycle bin.

Such odd concoctions are quite commonplace each day, especially around mealtimes when I'm busy at the stove, sink, or slicing board.

Preparing food is such a joy! I'm thrilled that my little boy is also enthralled with the process. While whipping a sauce or kneading dough at the counter, I usually hear the scrape of chair legs across the floor as Joseph scoots a make-shift stool to my side. His head pops up above the counter and little fingers fly - as if he's morphed into an octopus. Flour spills into the stainless steel sink, salt sprays across the countertop, oil oozes down the cabinet door, dough plops upon the floor. My attention focuses so much on my two-year-old that a sudden whistle alerts me to the boiling water in a kettle or a snapping pop reminds me of the bacon sizzling in the skillet or rushing water motions me to the overflowing pitcher in the sink. Cooking is chaos in my house while dishes pile high, towels used for cleaning up messes create a haystack upon the floor, and trinkets seized by little hands dot every surface around the room.

One day, I'll be putting final touches on a delectable dessert, sumptuous soup, or other lip-smacking delight and I'll wonder where those little fingers went. Right now it might be an inconvenience to take twice as long to make a meal, but in no time at all my little boy will no longer pop up beside me while I work. Eager hands and a hopeful heart Joseph donns. I pray that with patience I can help Joseph keep both while learning self-discipline. I pray that with grace I can teach Joseph to clean up messes as much as he makes them. I pray that right now I can enjoy each hectic moment so that when these times are no more, I can re-play the sweet memories they will yield.

What is at hand for you, fellow adventurer? Perhaps you're dreading something or blissfully enjoying life. What even mundane task can you create into a splendid memory?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Utter Exhaustion

Red eyes overwhelmed by lack of sleep greet my gaze in the black-framed mirror. Cupped hands splash cold water over my face and then dab-dab-dab away the drops. I sigh. Then, tossing down the towel, I turn away from my reflection.

Little Ezra's waking grunts and cries beckon me to the nursery, where his hungry lips seek his morning sips at five o'clock. His contented nuzzling is interrupted by fast-paced footsteps falling on the wood-laminate flooring. Joseph is awake. He is a two-year-old whirlwind, whose turbulent adventures leave me spinning in his wake. At breakfast, banana-pancake-making becomes a juggling act as jars and spoons, bowls and boxes seek higher ground and cling fast to window sills or fridge-top as a way to find shelter from those fast-grasping hands. Lunch takes hours to prepare as I chase Joseph from kitchen to living room and back again while his gleeful wees dance in time with the potato-masher swaying in his hand and jiggling colander half-set atop his head. And this while holding baby Ezra, whose ability to sit himself is just in its infancy.

After a brief reprieve after noon, when smiling Joseph dreams beneath his bedcovers and little Ezra plops down upon his own mattress while his lips suck at air, I gain an unexpected moment of silence in the house. Hmmm... Laundry? Dishes? Should I finally wash the floor? Is that the exercise bike calling me, with the shower close at hand? Perhaps I should get a head start on dinner? Or a nap?, my body pleads! By the time I check two or three things off my mental list - sorry body! - the ever-familiar cries of a hungry baby redirect my attention.

And then... fast-paced footsteps falling on the wood-laminate flooring. Joseph is awake! And whatever speed he moves during the morning hours, after his nap that speed is doubled. So quick and fleet, Joseph seems to fill multiple locations at once: jumping on the sofa's cushions and grabbing bowls to fill with cars; sipping water from my cup and clicking lamp-lights on and off; hugging brother in his walker and splaying books across the rug; scribbling colors across his easel and squirting tooth paste all about; dumping paper in the toilet and grabbing milk cartons from the fridge.

When the day ends with both boys in bed for a blissful night-time sleep, utter exhaustion seems as marrow in my bones. The day's chaos reels over and over in my mind so as to stiffle the quiet of the room. Every nerve feels hyper-stimulated and completely confused with a sudden lag in constant motion. I sigh.

Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I laugh. But, I always thank God for the daily rediscovery of life's fullness. Living thankfully from one adventure to the next is a choice I make, whether I'm wiping spit-up off the floor, reading a child's favorite book three times in a row, re-organizing dresser drawers, cooking a grand Grecian meal, creating a washable-paint masterpiece, helping to design a Dr. Seuss-esque building from smooth wooden blocks, or scraping playdough from the whites of nails.

What adventures fill your life with thankfulness?