Monthly Archives: August 2010

Thankful Blogging

Since I entered Bloggyrealm last February, I’ve been introduced to a world I had never before known. Yes, I sometimes read blogs, but they were blogs about my friends’ kids or random links a friend referred me to. I was never much of an internet surfer-girl. And I certainly was not much for social media. I begrudgingly got on Facebook, because I worked with high school kids and knew it was the best way to connect with them and understand their inside jokes. But I didn’t like it.

When I told my brother, Jason, that I was thinking about starting a blog, he giddily declared that I could not have a blog without a Twitter account. Come on. Seriously? But I did it. Because I do whatever my brother tells me to do.

What I’ve found is a land of beautiful: Thoughts, photos, humor. And mostly, smart women…because they’re everywhere.

So here is my Thankful Tuesday tribute to some of the blogs (which all happen to be women…I can’t help it) I most love and am most thankful to have found in my new internet life.

  • Surprised by Joy — Caroline is thoughtful, readerly, in love with her friends, Wendell Berry poetry, and full of beautiful food ideas. I love to just scroll through her blog to find photos of the food she has loved into something delicious.
  • Tout Est Des Roses — I secretly want to be Sara’s friend but I will never be cool enough. In her “About” section, she declares how she pretended to be Josephine March as a child. In my secret land of best friends, everyone dreamed of being one of the March girls and can shout out at any moment our favorite Little Women lines: “Jo, how could you? Your one beauty!” Not only does she have good taste in childhood novels, she is homeschooling her kids in a way I find fascinating (“Slow Parenting,” anyone?) and teaching them to love books. She hasn’t used paper napkins in three years and she has a lovely sense of style. Again, way too cool to be my friend.
  • Visiting Tout Est Des Roses will take you over to Kacia + Robot: The Blog, where Kacia, proprietor of Coconut Robot on Etsy makes custom baby booties that you will drool over, wooden baby name tags and other lovely baby goodies. She is Adorable and her blog is about “life. love. dreams. art. God + me.”
  • Elizabeth Esther is funny, smart, the mother of a large brood, and is a recovering Fundamentalist. Her stories of faith are difficult but hopeful and her stories of motherhood are full of humor and joy. I think she’s great.
  • Rachel Held Evans has already been mentioned here. But I will say again that I’m thankful she’s writing. Her book Evolving in Monkey Town is going into its second printing and I understand why. She is using her voice with gentleness, integrity, and honesty and, in doing so, is drawing in a growing audience of disenfranchised young Christians longing to find someone who speaks their language: a commitment to a critical examination of the Christian faith and justice.

Those are a few. Enough work for you on this Thankful Tuesday. Hope you hop over to one of these little gems and find some thankfuls yourself. Let me know what they are.





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Sweet Monday

Forgive me. I try not to be your typical mommy blogger, going on and on about the adorableness of her child. But, tonight, after a lovely weekend away with my two guys, I can’t help but tell you that I think my little boy is about as sweet as the cupcakes with sprinkles he and I made for my birthday. (He can’t stop talking about those cupcakes.)

So, I’ll make it sweetly short.

Saturday night, I lay next to August in a room he wasn’t used to after he’d woken himself up from a bad dream: “The clown has scary eyes,” he’d said. (Is there anything scarier than a bad clown dream?) He wasn’t falling asleep after fifteen minutes of my best bedtime songs and I told him it was time for us to lie still and be very quiet. I guess I’ve been his example of what to do when you’re lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. I’m constantly playing with his hair when it’s bedtime, smoothing it from the part over to the ear. He took a cue from me and as I lay beside him, he played with my hair: those little fingers sometimes yanking, but mostly just combing it down over my face. I was thinking: I only have ten years before he can’t play with my hair again until I’m on my deathbed. Enjoy it.

Today as we left the vacation home of Chris’ great aunt and uncle, who are leaving soon to do some work in China for for a few months, I said: “Have fun in China!” All the way from the door to the car, August called out, “Nice to meet you! Have fun in China! Nice to meet you! Have fun in China!” He, of course, has no concept of China, whatsoever.

In the car on our drive home, I offered August a ziploc bag full of grapes. About halfway through his snack, he cried a little and tried to communicate something to me he couldn’t quite get across. “It’s hot honey!” he said.

“What? Oh, your grapes taste like honey? Yeah, they’re sweet. So they taste like honey,” I said.

He thought about my reply for awhile but wasn’t satisfied. He took another bite, yelled, then said: “Mama, the honey is hot!”

Chris was our interpreter of the toddler mind at that moment and realized, “August, is the grape sour? The sweet tastes hot?”

Yes, August was satisfied. “Sour?” he asked a few times, mentally installing that particular concept in his brain. Sour: when the honey is hot. Of course.

Tonight, my husband read August a story before bed. The page they were on said: “When you catch a fish, you make a wish.” Chris said, “August, do you know what a wish is?” He didn’t know. “It’s when you imagine that something wonderful happens. What do you wish for?”

August said, “I want to catch a fish in the water.” (My father will be so happy to hear that.)

All done with the mom gloating. Go have a lovely Monday. Stay away from hot honey.

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Get thee to the back of the plane!

Oh yes, I travel with my son. In fact, with all four of his grandparents living from 2,000 to 3,000 miles away from us, my two-year old has been on at least 15 flights (and I’m not counting return flights). Sometimes, when I consider such a number, I’m dumbfounded. I think I took my first flight at around 10 years old and that was a 45 minute long one from Amarillo to Dallas.

My son’s first flight took place when he was 7 weeks old and my pediatrician said it was safe enough to tote him from Philadelphia to Amarillo to meet his family. I was sickeningly nervous. I barely slept the night before. But, I took a deep breath, pulled out my Hooter-Hider, kissed my husband goodbye, and happened to sit between a large group of firefighters on their way to a conference. Did I breastfeed? Heck yes. Did my baby cry? Yep. Was I mortified? I little. I hate making people feel anything other than bubbly love for my presence. And in the midst of rolling eyes and judgmental stares, I knew I was in a new place in my people pleasing life. I was a mom. And it had to be more important to get make sure my boy loves his family in Texas than please strangers on their business trips.

Thus began my career as an in-flight mother. Since, I’ve had plenty of lovely moments on planes: kind souls who do all they can to entertain my child, who grab bags for me, who let my child repeatedly kick their legs. I’ve also had plenty of unkind looks, sighs, and advice. Nothing is more annoying than everyone in the world knowing exactly what is wrong with your crying child (and assuming that you, his main caretaker, has no idea). Yes, babies cry. And in a perfect world there would be an airline just for babies who cry and toddlers who kick. But, alas, we all share the same planes.

Today, USA Today ran a story that 60% of fliers would prefer there be a section of the plane designated for young children. Though the article says its not financially probable, I’m not entirely opposed to the idea. I’d be happy to be surrounded by other stressed out parents who are worried about the noise their own kids are making, as opposed to being forced to meditate on what Jesus said about praying for my enemies while the lady in the seat across the aisle curses my son under her breath. But, this post in XX Magazine has a point when its author says if we segregate families, where will we draw the line? Next, will people want a section for “the fat, the chatty, the rude, the smelly,” she asks. “Perhaps the airlines recognize that once you begin excluding the ill-mannered, there won’t be anyone left to fly.”

So, until they start kicking us out, I’ll be the lady in the back, hiding out with her two-year-old, hoping no one wants to sit by me.


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Loving the City

Yesterday I looked at an apartment I adored in Sausalito, a beautiful, quaint little fishing town across the Bay from San Francisco. It’s a drive across Golden Gate bridge. It’s a ferry ride.

I’ve mentioned a few times here that we’ve been in a bit of battle to stay in our apartment in San Francisco. The battle has come to an end and we are officially moving out this October. So, now I’m in full apartment search mode, looking for a place where we can comfortably grow our family and struggling with what that means. See, I’d like a bigger place, where we could have another baby, where two beds could fit in the second bedroom, where I wouldn’t have to worry about how to carry two accidentally asleep children to the house when the car is parked blocks away. Those are city problems and I’m sure we could solve them by moving to another, less intense neighborhood. It’s just that the neighborhoods we can afford are not necessarily exciting to us.

One of the things I love about the friends I’ve made here in San Francisco is that they all seem to have a beautiful commitment to seeing this city flourish, a commitment to giving their children a picture of the world that is diverse and filled with all sorts of people and beliefs. They are committed to loving the broken of this city, not hiding from its brokenness.

I did not grow up in the suburbs. My city was not big enough to have suburbs. But I did grow up on the comfortable side of my hometown, rarely entering the broken places, the frightening places. When I was in high school, I became friends with a girl whose family moved regularly in and out of pieces of my hometown that I had never known existed. Though my parents worried, I became her ride to and from school and church events. I waited for her outside of her flea ridden, non air conditioned (in the 100 degree Texas summer) home on the North side. I sat outside on her front steps while a little girl with lice in her hair talked to me about why her daddy had locked her out of her apartment that afternoon. I remember hearing a voice in my head say: Remember this.

I heard that voice several times after, every time I encountered poverty. While I played soccer with children in a village along the Amazon River. While starving, strung out street children ripped bread from my hands on the street in Nairobi. And now I hear it, walking with my son in my neighborhood, past the church where the homeless wait for their 5:30 pm sandwich distributed by the priests.

Sometimes I despise myself for what I’m not doing for the poor. Yes, I can give to charities. Yes, I can teach August by example to look the homeless man at the park in the eye and say hello. But I also have to protect myself and my son. I can’t be stupid. And, I’m not one of the saints I so admire who has given her life to rescuing the addicted on the streets or the children in homes without a meal. My brother began and runs a ministry in my hometown that seeks to love and meet the basic needs of the children on the same side of town where I sat beside the little girl with lice in her hair. I’m incredibly grateful that Brooks has given his life to do something most of us cannot do.

Which brings me back to Sausalito. It’s a perfect apartment. Chris and I would sit outside in the evenings and stare out over a stunning view of the bay. August would have carpet to sit on his room and space for his toys. I’d do laundry whenever I want! We’d also be living in the suburbs. We wouldn’t be walking past the 60 lovely elederly women from Chinatown doing Thai Chi together every morning at the park. We’d miss the vast diversity of kids at the park whom August digs with in the sand. We’d miss the sounds of city life.

Are we all called to the city?  I have loved my experience of the city but I’ve never felt comfortable in it. It’s difficult. I love walking everywhere but I also love living among trees and quaintness. I’m a small town girl and I want to be able to shoo my kids out the door and into the yard while I cook dinner. What does that say about me?  At some point we decide whether to follow our needs and our finances to the place we’re comfortable.

Are the families who remain simply the strong who are fully committed to loving their neighbors and raising their kids to know and respect every kind of person? Or do they also really love living city lives? I imagine they love the city and long to be part of its healing.

So what does it mean if I’m not sure I love living in it? What does it mean if I want to be part of its healing but don’t see myself in it long term? Am I weak? Is it a failure to make a decision like where you live based mostly on what makes you comfortable? Is there even an answer to that question?


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Birthday Thankful

On Sunday, I turned into a 31 year old. And just as if the Lord had been waiting all summer to open up the clouds for the sake of my official entry into the rest of the 30s, it suddenly became summer in San Francisco. Just like that, while the rest of you were buying fall clothes for your offspring’s off-to-school shopping, I put on my shorts and forgot (whoops!) to wear sunscreen. Ahhh. Here’s what I’m thankful for:

  • Facebook birthday wishes. Seriously, isn’t it amazing what a birthday on Facebook can do for your self esteem? Who cares that all those people got a reminder when they logged on that you exist and are celebrating! What matters is every individual “Happy birthday!” from each random study partner in your sophomore History class. It feels good, I tell you.
  • My friend Jamie gave me a birthday call and reminded me that it’s been ten years since my heartbreaking 21st birthday, when I and all my friends in college were too busy planning and carrying out New Student Orientation at HSU (from 6 am to midnight) to celebrate. I think I had time that day for a 10-minute cry in the bathroom. But, you know what I best remember from that day? My friend Lex Robertson gave me a card with a monkey on it (or was it an ape?), with the written inscription: “I only want to see you dancing in the purple rain.” Lex, you probably had no idea I remember that, but today I’m thankful for you and for Prince. (Honestly, I’m thankful for Prince everyday.)
  • Eggs Benedict. This is my favorite breakfast of all time, which my husband faithfully makes (homemade hollandaise sauce, my friends) for my breakfast in bed every birthday, Mother’s Day, and super-emotional-Micha-day. Sunday I did not get breakfast in bed because we spent the weekend on a retreat with our church, but you bet I got it for dinner and ate it watching Mad Men.
  • Remember how I said it was a summer day Sunday (and today!)? When we got home, we grabbed the quilt, walked to the park, spread out in the grass. I sipped a latte, ate a pastry and took a nap while the boys played around me. Is there anything as good as listening to your son and husband play while you fall asleep in the sun? I’ll answer that: No. There’s nothing as good.
  • I took my cartilage piercing out of my ear. It’s been 13 years since I helped convince my hallway of freshmen dorm friends to go to the Piercing Pagoda and the mall and do something Crazy! 13 years later, I’ve thought of taking it out several times, but it was sweet to me, this gentle reminder of my friends and my giddiness about life when I was 18. Last night as I went to bed, my ear aching for the fourth night in a row because, even 13 years later, those piercings just hurt sometimes, I said to my husband: “Why shouldn’t I take this thing out?” Christopher, having never liked the thing in my ear, said: “There are no reasons you shouldn’t.” (He tends to be straightforward.) And I realized, shockingly, that he was right. It was good to take it out today. It felt like a step toward…adulthood?

So, it probably wasn’t your birthday this week, but I’m sure you have a few thankfuls in you. Please share.


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The Prayer of the Hearth

So the book on my bedside table (if I had one…I should actually say: the book on the floor) is The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal. (This is where I give a shout out to my friend Kristen for the recommendation.) I’m four chapters in and in love with this book. Esther de Waal is a laywoman and mother of four who writes and lectures on Benedictine and Celtic Christian spirituality. In short, she’s my new favorite.

Though at four chapters in I can’t give you a clear summary, I can tell you that de Waal is writing about the power and vibrancy of the Celtic tradition of Christianity. When Christianity (mostly monasticism) entered Celtic life, the people’s prayers and way of praying grew out of an already existing canon of songs and poetry. Celtic Christianity embodies the physical world in a way I’ve rarely seen and the prayers that de Waal discusses in this book are beautiful not simply because their poetry is lovely but because they’re based around the very mundane parts of regular life. Just what this SAHM needs. (I’m hoping there’s a prayer for funky diapers somewhere in this book.)

The spiritual world was made physical for these believers because they gave themselves constant reminders of the Trinity’s presence in their lives. For example, the day would begin with three splashes of water on the face as a kind of prayer, a physical reminder of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (47). I keep thinking how beautiful it would be for me to begin to incorporate such reminders into my life: Tapping my toothbrush three times, stirring my oatmeal three times, snuggling my son three times…

One of the prayers I keep coming back to is the prayer of the hearth.  Each night before bed, the woman of the home had the task of smooring the fire of the hearth. This was a kind of ceremony on behalf of her home, a time of prayer to ask protection over her husband and children. Here’s how Esther de Waal describes the process:

The embers were spread evenly on the hearth in the middle of the floor and formed into a circle with a small boss, or raised heap, left in the middle. This circle was then divided into three equal sections with a peat laid between each section, each peat touching the boss, with was called the Hearth of the Three which formed the common center. The first peat was laid down in the name of the God of Life, the second the God of Peace, and the third the God of Grace. The circle would then be covered over with ashes sufficient to subdue but not extinguish the flame in the name of the Three of Light. Then the woman would close her eyes, stretch out her hand, and softly intone the following prayer, which opens:

The sacred Three
To save
To shield,
To surround
The hearth,
The house,
The household,
This eve,
This night,
Oh! this eve
This night,
And every night,
Each single night.
Amen (47-48).

I love the simplicity of this prayer. It’s not asking much. In fact it’s more a reminder that the Trinity is already surrounding, shielding and saving the home. It makes sense to me that it’s the mother who is praying this prayer of protection: She’s the one with the giant list of worries; she knows what could happen on any given night if her home is not kept safe.

I love that a prayer was so beautifully incorporated into the necessary act of smothering the fire at the center of the home: where food is cooked, where warmth is found, where the family gathers. And I love the idea of nighttime being the moment when I stand before God on behalf of my husband and son and ask for protection on “This night, / And every night / Each single night.”

So this is my question for all of you (non mothers, please share as well!). What is your “Prayer of the Hearth”? What reminds you to pray for your family and when does it usually happen? Do you have a “hearth,” a center of your home that could serve as an altar of sorts on behalf of your family?


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Why (Not) to Have Another Baby

Yesterday I received my new copy of Real Simple in the mail. The first night with a new Real Simple is a kind of ritual for me. I start at the front with the “New Uses For Old Things” section (Which always drive me crazy. I mean, come on, do I really need to use an old sock to wrap a wine bottle? That said, I can’t stop reading it.) and then I usually skip to the recipes at the back. (I save the articles for another day.) But last night, I was feeling adventurous and found myself reading an article by Rebecca Walker, author of several books, and daughter of novelist Alice Walker, about how she “[let] go of her big-family fantasies” and accepted her one-child home.

I was drawn to “My One and Only” because I know of a few women who are unsure of whether or not they want to have a second child, or who have been struggling to conceive. I thought, maybe this would be an encouragement.

It wasn’t an article about the desire to not have a second baby and it wasn’t an article about difficulty conceiving. It was complicated. And it was heart breaking.

It didn’t break my heart because Walker’s family decided not to add another child into their life. I have great respect for every family’s decisions regarding the amount of children they should have. I fully support a family’s decision to raise only one child. In fact, studies have recently proven that only children are thriving in their homes and even in their social lives. (For proof read Lauren Sandler’s cover story for Time Magazine this past July.)

What bothered me was how Walker came to her decision. Why is she not going to have more children? For one, she’s forty and doesn’t want to push her body. Of course, that’s fair. Then there’s the issue of money. She recites a conversation with a friend about his child’s private school education, all $32,000 of it per year. Yes, she says, there are good public schools and we wouldn’t have to send our children to private schools, but… She then goes on to make the assumption that that such a number “represents” the cost of adding another child into their life.

Her final reason? Her husband’s desire that they don’t. It’s her husband who is home with her son while she writes and travels, and he makes it pretty clear for her: “It wasn’t fair to ask him to do more child rearing,” she says. Understandably, he has “his own ambitions and time-consuming dreams.”

So, Walker ends her article with a paragraph that made me ache, not because her reasons are not legit, not because I have any right to criticize her husband’s desire to work or their family’s decisions about finances, or her understanding of her own body, but because what I heard in her voice was a broken woman, mourning something that she longs for desperately.

“I decided to give my dream child up,” she says. “I imagined saying good-bye to her (or him), as though I was putting the baby up for adoption. I pictured the new parents arriving at the hospital, watched them park the car and walk, excitedly, up to the revolving door. I couldn’t run to her and take her home myself.”

All I could think as I read those words were, “Why?!” You’re forty, this is your last shot! Put your body through it! Find a nanny! Don’t write for three years!  (The books will still be in your brain when your baby gets to preschool.) There are ways to raise your child without dishing out tens of thousands of dollars for education. People do it all the time! This is your life, sweet woman! I kept thinking, does her husband understand? Does he get what his decision is doing to her?

What Walker didn’t say is that those reasons are not deal breakers for everyone. She was making a decision about her priorities. We all do. If we all waited till we had $32,000 per child per year, few of us would ever go for the first kid. Some of us put our careers on hold or we find a way to work and get help with the children. What bothered me about her article was that she didn’t come out and say that. What her article said is: This is what I have to do because it’s appropriate.

I know that’s not fair of me. I know I can’t fully understand the depth of the reasons Rebecca Walker mentioned in her article. But I know what it’s like to long for another child, to long for a family that feels complete. A friend of mine recently told me she knows she needs to have one more child because when her two boys are outside playing together she keeps looking for the third.

If Walker’s words were meant to demonstrate some gained wisdom derived from her loss, I didn’t buy it. She, being a strong, independent woman, would probably resent the fact that she came across as bullied by her husband, broken and sadly succumbing to the rules our culture has given her about money and about career. I just found myself wanting her to know there’s another way…

Because no one should have to give away a child she never had the chance to discover.


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