January, and thoughts.

I don’t know how to absorb all the wonder that is a new baby. I’ve really given it my best try five times now, and still the time slips too fast and change happens in a dizzying way and I’m left with a heart full of a love and a memory that is too full of holes to catch and hold so many moments. So many amazing moments.

Like watching her chest rise and fall in sleep.

Like seeing a twinkle emerge in her eyes as she recognizes us, smiles at us.

Like seeing her tongue quiver, mouth open wide in a newborn howl of protest.

Like scooping her up and having her immediately settle just because I am who she wants.

Like just feeling her near me.

I try to soak it in, breathe it deep, memorize it forever. This is the great Wonder of the World that I will see this year, after all, and while millions of others ogle over the Eiffel Tower and the Wall of China and Rockies breaking majestically from endless plain, only I will see her perfect yawn as she stretches awake in my arms at sunrise. They don’t make postcards of that moment. It’s just here, tucked into my heart, slowly becoming the fabric of a deep bond we’ll have forever.

*****

I think these thoughts as we settle down to sleep, we three who share our bed. I squeeze her just a bit, acknowledging the end of yet another day in her life, never to be had again, thankful I got to share it. He sighs and turns into his pillow, turning away from whatever burdens linger after a day of work, and I think, not for the first time: It’s the end of yet another day in his life, too, that will never be had again. Did I share it enough? Did I treasure it enough? His mother’s heart holds those sweet memories of his sweet yawns and cries and smiles, but is my heart treasuring these days of side-by-side hard work, of Daddy-kisses on princess cheeks and happily being hero to two waiting sons at the end of a grueling day and cradling fussy babe even though his shoulders are just as burdened as mine? Am I noticing the new creases near his eyes, the sprinkle of gray that’s not such a sprinkle anymore? Do I smile a bit as I fold a pile of undershirts and socks, maybe not so cute as those newborn sleepers, but belonging to an equally wonderful person? Do I just breathe in him and the way the bed sinks to his side and the lingering scent of shampoo on his pillowcase and just the solidity of him being here?

Suddenly I am on the adventure of a lifetime, taking in Wonders of the World all day long.

*****

New rhythms that are so gentle, legato, harmonious, they simply slipped into place without much effort at all:

A Circle Time of sorts each morning after breakfast. Long moments spent singing hymns, memorizing scripture and things, practicing what it means to hear Jesus, praying for what is on His heart. Reading out loud chapter after chapter of beautiful new Puffin Classics we got for Christmas. Hurrying through chores to get outside where they will run and chase and build for long stretches, leaving me with a new baby and a sweet toddler to read to and sing with and maybe, just maybe, get a shower? The sun stays so much longer all of a sudden, and so our afternoons stretch just enough to allow quiet book work with two delightful boys. Dinner is as simple as possible, made mostly from food I’ve prepared and tucked into the freezer, and for the first time ever, I’m sticking to simple. No “oh, since the soup is done, I’ll just make this new bread recipe and a pie or two while I’m at it.” No, just soup and quiet and practicing priorities for this season. It’s all good.

*****

Several afternoons, I’ve even gotten to slip out for a quick walk. Sometimes I do so with my head down, pounding my feet on that pavement as quickly as I can, trying to get all I can out of a mere 10 minutes. But sometimes I make the mistake of looking up — and the walk abruptly ceases. Who can absorb the beauty of a January day? I find them breathtaking.

*****

Stopping to see beauty certainly is aided, in my life, by cultivating an awareness of beauty in general. The children and I are having our thirst for beauty fed by poems from this book — a gift from my mother this past Christmas. I have written before about how in over my head I feel with poetry, but much to my astonishment, my children don’t seem to need to understand the meaning, or know what makes a poem a poem, or any such thing. They just listen, smiles dancing in their far-off gaze, as the words make music and magic. They, inevitably, beg for more.

Here’s a favorite —

(This sort of thing — taking a picture of a field, reading poetry with the kids, listening to Bach Violin Sonatas on a sunny sub-zero morning — this is “mother culture” for me. It’s self-care. It doesn’t even require that I get away or spend a single cent. Our Shepherd is very capable of finding fields and streams in the season we’re in. He restores our souls.)

what december looks like here:

I am waiting for a baby.


(Taken 10 days ago!)

But I am also trying to just enjoy this favorite season of the year, noticing the way certain things have become Christmas in our little family:

Enjoying our first December dinner with the flicker of candles in Advent wreath, reading the first of 24 little books telling the story of Jesus, and followed by a viewing of The Nativity Story (and cookies!)

Making cookies, and being sure to have a variety for tree-decorating night!


(Rum logs — add 1/2 tsp salt! –, Pepparkakor, and Chocolate Crackles. Coming soon: Peanut Butter Balls, for my favorite guy.)

Getting a tree, as soon as we can. Dashing through rows (that makes it sound tidy — not quite!) of trees, finding the “right” one. We don’t agonize too long: The right height, not prickly, a little bit wild. Done, settled, bring that baby home!

Music playing, softly each morning, more loudly during cookie decorating, and just plain old loud while tree-decking. I love filling the house with the sounds of Christmas, which for us have become Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Luna Moon, The Cambridge Singers, The Nutcracker, and (when Ryan’s not home — he doesn’t get the same warm fuzzies as I do!), Sandi Patty.

A growing collection of books to read all month, which I put by the tree this year. I have it in my head that I will sit by that tree with a brand new baby, doing nothing but reading books to my other sweet babes. Even without that new baby, I’d say the arrangement is working out just fine. I am so happy to just read out loud while they eat it up.

There are so many favorites, but this year I’m being asked to read The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree on repeat.

Meals that aren’t fancy, but certainly feel that way when you add candles and a bit of holiday prettiness. It’s amazing how easy it is to linger a bit longer when there are cookies to pass around as the candles burn low. December forces a quick and complete embrace of short days and cozy evenings — things we’ll cling to long after the holiday bins have been stored back in the basement.

Corners of the house that the kids can almost arrange themselves, so familiar are the decorations and arrangements. Oh, I have to have a really good reason for changing the location of anything from year to year!

Anticipation that doesn’t have to be taught. It only takes a few Decembers to realize that these cookies, these songs, these books, these moments — they are special.

what I’ve been up to

Bible Study

Last year, I purposed to memorize 52 verses. I made a plan, wrote out fresh 3x5s, and got to it. Near the end of the year, I was feeling a bit…wandering. You know that feeling? Like you pull out your Bible and sit down with your coffee and just — BLANK. But you know what? God wants to speak to me. He wants me to hear His voice. He wants to strengthen me according to His Word. The inspiration may ebb and flow, but taking in truth is never in vain.

All that to say, in November, when I read this post by my sister, something about it was alive to me. I took that as the Holy Spirit speaking, and those verses became my study plan. I wrote them down in several versions. I chewed on each part. I determined to not just gloss over super-familiar verbiage and instead leave no rock unturned in my search for food. It really was the Lord speaking to me!

Since then, I’ve done a few short reading programs using YouVersion’s app on my phone. I bought a cheap composition notebook and have been copying down verses I’m memorizing and meditating on (besides my usual journaling, which is just a must in my life!) I’ve kept several different Bible translations at my fingertips, eager to hear familiar passages in new ways. God has been speaking.

MuTu

I’ve mentioned here before that after Fiona’s birth, a nagging issue of diastasis recti became impossible to ignore — or, at least, detrimental to ignore. I have no idea how long the problem had been growing, but after her delivery, it was painfully obvious that my muscles were no longer doing their job of protecting and holding my insides. It was time for a game plan.

For four solid months, beginning immediately after her birth, I began following a program developed by Julie Tupler. I wrapped my stomach day and night and faithfully did the best I could do check off my daily exercise. The awareness and strength I developed during those four months was very significant. The simple tips she gave — how to get out of bed, how to stand, how to simply breathe — in ways that would help and not hurt me were extremely valuable.

Four months later, having done the same thing day in and day out with not much change in sight, I decided to try out another program that my friends had begun, MuTu.

For anyone suffering from a very severe diastasis recti, I would highly recommend beginning with Tupler. It is gentle, it is clear, and it is healing in a very deep, steady way (in my personal experience; I have absolutely no professional expertise!) However, beginning MuTu was just what I needed to keep me on the straight and narrow: variety, activity, and consolidated to one chunk of time each day. Some of the exercises I skip, because thanks to Tupler, I could immediately sense too much strain on my connective tissue. I went through MuTu’s 12 week program and finished last spring. Throughout the summer, I kept up a bit of exercise each day, although I fell completely off the wagon in August, due to our lives’ busyness. No worries: the beginning of a new school year meant finding a new place for my 30-40 minutes of exercise to fit, and it’s been working since. I feel strong and I know that starting the morning with a high-intensity workout means more energy for the rest of the day.

Vitamins!

At the end of the summer, articles started flying around the internet about super-flus and viral epidemics. I was glad for the reminder to beef up our vitamin intake! I asked a friend for some recommendations, and we’ve been taking Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and a probiotic each morning (with extra C as needed for a boost!) This past week, a few kids were down with a fever, so it certainly isn’t a guarantee for no sickness (but then, nothing is!)

Reading

I finally made myself a reading list for the year. I have until September to complete it, and I’m way behind, but I’m more on track than I would have been! I like to read. But it takes effort. Half the effort, for me, is just having a book to read! So far, lots of books not listed have made their way into my chair-side stack, but I’ve crossed off a few. My favorite read in a very long time? John Adams. Fascinating. Challenging. Inspiring.

What are some of your favorite books?

Netflix

And the only reason more books aren’t crossed off is because I’m also completely into
tp://www.cbs.com/shows/blue_bloods/”>Blue Bloods. I’ve skipped a few episodes here and there, due to content I wasn’t digging, but for the most part, I really enjoy this show. I like the characters and stories and just the strong Dad and family vibe. Yay for a portrayal of men who love integrity.

(You know I write this with fear and trepidation. Because, of course, after telling the world I like this show, you just watch — it’s going to all take a dive and turn into something I’m embarrassed to have ever seen. Ha!)

Easy Cleaning

E-cloths and Norwex enviro-cloths: pretty much the only thing I use anymore for anything. Throw in a toilet brush and vacuum cleaner, and you’ve pretty much summed up my entire cleaning arsenal. Stains on carpets, fingerprints on glass, grease on stovetop, grime on walls… So simple and easy. And not dangerous. However, I did finally try out my friend Renee’s dish wand trick for the shower, and I’m a convert. Dawn dish soap, white vinegar, and tada — you can scrub your shower while taking a shower. Works for me!

What have you been up to?

some favorite children’s books

Reading is a really special thing. Learning, loving — it all happens so rapidly when there’s a little one tucked in the crook of my arm with a book in front of us. It’s a favorite thing to do at our house! I was asked about some of our favorite titles, so I wandered our house and checked the bookshelves this afternoon. These are some that caught my eye — books that have made frequent appearance in the last 8 years, or were enjoyed immensely and are already being asked for again (chapter books!)

Thanks to the internet, libraries are so much easier for a stay-at-home mom to use. I always have running lists of books to borrow, and max out my “hold” permission regularly! So I hope that after reading my list here, you’ll leave some titles for me to try out!

with my babies…

Good Night Moon

Litte Fur Family

Moo Baa Lalala

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear

Mommies Say Shhh

for winter days…

The Hat

Bear Snores On

Flannel Kisses

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Owl Moon

just for reading…

Caps for Sale

Ten Red Apples

Little Bear’s Trousers

Beatrix Potter’s books

Frog and Toad

The Biggest Bear

Hairy Maclary stories

The Brave Cowboy

Papa Small

Patsy Scarry’s Big Bedtime Storybook

James Herriot’s Treasury for Children

A Glorious Days

A Children’s Garden of Verses

A is for Annabelle

favorite just-for-fun read-alouds

Little House books

All-of-a-Kind Family

Moffatt books

Chronicles of Narnia

Rascal

The Saturdays

for devotion and inspiration

The Jesus Storybook Bible

The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories

Hero Tales

With Daring Faith

Shadow of the Almighty (making our way through!)

*****

Would you like to share a list of your favorite titles? Comment here, or on Facebook, or leave a link to your blog post! I love new books!

december’s story: grace and peace

I can’t believe we’re halfway through December, and oh-so-close to Christmas.

It’s all Christmas, all the time around here. If Beatrice isn’t making up songs about angels and shepherds, boys are pounding out Christmas duets (duets! Yay!) on the piano, or Fiona is touching ornaments. Or I’m slipping to my room to wrap one more present— or make that one half a present, someone is pounding on my door.


December 1st Christmas movie, though I can’t remember for the life of me what it was.


celebrating our first Friday post-CFA with a lazy breakfast


sleeping under the tree


mornings like this.


performing with almost 100 voices and instruments in a beautiful Christmas cantata

Snow sure helps the mood along, and for some magical reason, it’s gently hanging over the edge of our roof right out the window in a way very reminiscent of frosting on rum logs. There is lots of outdoor play before breakfast, because somehow, jumping out of bed and pulling snow gear on over pi’s is just the most fun. (And it buys me time, since I can’t seem to make cookies and have breakfast thought through.)


early morning, after our first significant snowfall


Jameson has made all of the rum logs this year completely by himself


pepparkakor


preparing cookie gifts

We are watching Mary’s slow trek as she waits for her baby to be born. We do our best to read one little book each night from our Advent calendar. And this year, we’re sneaking in a bit of this book here and there — a whole week behind, mind you, but pressure is not very Christmasy, so I’m doing my best to not feel any. Today we read about Isaac, climbing a long road with wood on his back, a shadow of the Child of Promise who walked a long and dusty road for me. I’m blessed, blessed, blessed to hear the thoughts my boys share, the connections they make. William especially seems quite enamored with this whole typology thing, realizing that all of those stories were pointing to Jesus. And I get to be right there, watching that realization dawn. What a privilege.

This is a month made for Jameson, my gift-giver. Suddenly, he is busily hiding secrets and scurrying to prepare a surprise. He generously finds $1,000 guitars that he thinks I should buy William. (Ha!) He is in his element. Saturday, when William was at work with Ryan, he took advantage of the 20 minutes it took for me to lay the girls down for naps and found paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling. After being stunned by that beautiful surprise, he then made coffee and set out a whole little “coffee date” for him and me. He beamed with love. Today he gave me the gift he’d made me and put under the tree: a little “Meery Christmas” garland. Insert mother heart bursting right here.


snowflake surprise


afternoon date with this boy


my Christmas gift this year

Then there’s quiet William, who made me a card two weeks ago and tucked it away for Christmas, but seeing Jameson’s gift giving (“I’m just so bad at waiting, Mom! I want you to have all of my presents right away!”), he decided to pull his out, too. Simplest, sweetest, “I love you, Mama” card.


cutest cards


moments to tuck inside my mama-treasure-box, i.e., my heart

Are you kidding?, I think to myself. How could anyone possibly be as loved as I am? Let alone someone as grumpy and ornery as me?? Is this real? Are these little boys really smiling that big at me, their hearts in their eyes? Is this little girl really climbing up to plant a random sweet kiss on my cheek with a whispered, “I wuv you so much, Mama,” in my ear? Is this baby really laughing and dancing and wanting me to know that I’m her world?

If it feels too good to be true, it’s because it is. It’s grace, a gift. I know what I deserve — I look that ugliness right in the face many times a day, and it’s ugly. There’s an equation here that just doesn’t seem to balance out: How can I have a life of blessing, of gifts, of walking with God? I could never seem to do a good job balancing my checkbook, but even with my enormous lack of accounting talent, I can see a serious discrepancy like this one. Maybe you don’t think it’s that serious, look at my life and see a good person who tries hard. But I know. I know the discrepancy. I know the selfishness and self-seeking and jealousy and pride that fights to have its way moment after moment. How can a heart like that then receive blessing?

Jesus.

That’s it. That’s the only way to justify the account of my life. For someone like me to walk with God, to know Him and love Him and know that He loves me — it’s Jesus.

So I open that handmade card with 6yo scrawl, I feel those arms around my neck and see bashful eyes full of love, and my soul feels more than just full. It feels grace.

“Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled

Reconciled.
Justified.
Balanced.
Paid in full.

Waking up to morning after morning of new mercy.
Too good to be true.
God is like that.

november: snow, apples, thanks, books

from yesterday:

The snow flew today. It didn’t land, but it will, soon. I thought I wasn’t ready for winter, for cold, for the longness of it all, but when I woke this morning to hues of periwinkle and silver and rose — where yesterday it was all kelly and brown — I was smitten all over again.

*****

I happily drove home with butter in my van — butter that started as grass growing in a field 20 miles away, eaten by cows well-cared for, faithfully milked, never chemically assaulted or added to. I mixed in flour and sugar. Jameson and I cut locally-grown apples, he clumsily but determinedly mimicking my actions, proud as his hands learned the movements. We’ll eat pie tonight. It may be all we eat, at this rate, but it’ll be good.

*****

We listen to this play list as we slice. William colors a portrait of George Washington, and we talk about “those days” and all together — this November sky, these apples, that flute — it makes me breathe slow and deep and smile.

*****

Last week I took out the remaining fall decorations: pilgrim figurines and their stories. We recited Psalm 100 this week, remembering those familiar paths of praise and thanksgiving. And we recounted the story of the people — people like us, with natures like ours, whose bodies felt hunger and cold and loneliness and despair just like ours — who persevered through great difficulty and at the end gave thanks. Homes burned, men imprisoned, fleeing to a strange nation, selling all to travel a harrowing ocean-journey, braving shadowy fears and very-real impossibilities, watching half their numbers breathe their last, and then waving bravely as their last chance to just give up sailed back across wide waters. And through it all, thankful. Because God. They were not perfect, but neither am I. In this is the greatest challenge to me. In their raw humanity, they could have grumbled (example: Jamestown), but no. Instead, they gave thanks.

Pause.

I think it’s safe to say, I tell the children, that we can probably be thankful on our bad days. Because God. Isn’t that what makes knowing Jesus miraculous? That we are set free from the slavery of reaction, and grace is poured into our hearts that we might live by faith?

*****

I have some favorite Thanksgiving books that I thought I’d share. I like the content — some simple, some bursting with interesting facts. I like the drawings. It’s a story worth knowing by heart and setting as an example. Principle, faith, gratitude: I want to be like them when I grow up.