Thursday, March 29, 2007

Musing on the News

A couple of news bits in the paper today caught my eye:

  • San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has voted to ban plastic bags from supermarkets. Woo hoo! A small step in the right direction toward ridding our world of this evil. Of course I don't know if that means they've banned just the handled plastic bags they use at the checkout or if that includes those fantastically frustrating produce bags.
  • Oprah has chosen Cormac McCarthy's book The Road for her latest book club selection. If you look at my list of current reading on the sidebar, you'll see it there. I'm trudging through it based off a recommendation on Marcus Goodyear's blog. I say "trudging" because it's depressing material - the world has been burnt to a crisp and this father and son are hiking south to the ocean in hopes of... well, I don't know what. There's not much to hope for in the world McCarthy paints. I can't read this at night; I have enough apocalyptic night terrors as it is already. And my daytime schedule allows for little reading. So it's slow going, but I hear it's worth it. If you can find a copy at your library after Oprah's announcement maybe check it out. And then check out something more upbeat like one of the Shopaholic books to go with it for balance.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mega Cooking

I can't stand cooking. Next to grocery shopping it's my least favorite chore. And to me it is a chore. Laundry is tedious, cleaning a pain, but cooking is downright troublesome for me. Not that I'm a bad cook. I can make most recipes turn out fine. I just don't enjoy doing it. Or planning it. Or shopping for it.

Then at the Hearts at Home conference a couple weekends ago I heard a speaker talk about the benefits of freezer cooking. So I picked up the Freezer Cooking Manual, browsed through the recipes, and made a list of chicken recipes to try. I found chicken on sale (though not the deal Llama Momma found) and bought a bunch of packages.

Saturday I cooked. For four hours. Since I was only doing single recipes to see what my family likes it wasn't nearly as efficient as it was supposed to be. At least that's what I'm hoping. In four hours I only put away four entrees and four sides. The idea is to spend 8 to 10 hours and get 30 entrees put in your freezer. The problem is I still don't like to cook, especially not for 8 hours straight. But I guess those 8 hours would buy me a month of no cooking. So maybe it's worth it. If I could just work a little faster and maybe with a friend.

I'm not giving up on it yet. Eating from the freezer could be my salvation. In fact it actually saved my exhausted body on Saturday night. We had frozen pizza.

Friday, March 23, 2007

To My Not-So Timid One

"When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever."

from Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne

Happy Birthday to my favorite six-year-old!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Our Furry House Guest

This is Guiness. He was my sister and brother-in-law's dog until they moved away into a pet-free apartment. Now he lives with my parents. BUT... when they travel he comes to stay at our bone-and-breakfast. Since my girls keep begging me to get a dog, I look at this as a symbiotic deal: my parents get free dog-sitting and we get a "pet" on loan (kind of like being a grandparent - all the fun without the long-term hassle).

We've done this before. So he knows us and we know him. We know that our backyard is his playground and a quick walk to the corner will usually get the job done. And we also know that once our children are in bed he'll be looking for extra attention from us big people. He knows he'll usually get it.

He's honestly a great dog to have around. And I'm not a dog-lover. This time around he's here for a total of two weeks. I think my girls will really cry when he leaves this time, after all, he is kind of like family by now. And I'm starting to think we're almost ready to have a pet in our home (besides beta fish - we haven't gone back to try a third time yet). The girls really do take good care of him.

The real reason I think it might not be too bad to actually have our own dog? I don't mind the late-night walks before bed any more. And it's only March, so it can be pretty cold out there at 10pm. But those walks have gotten me to slow down, even for just five minutes. I get to breathe deep the night air and gaze at the stars. I begin to unwind and soak up the silence.

Sometimes the early morning walks are even better. The sun is just peeking over the horizon when we go out and the chortling of birds is pretty much the only sound. I savor the continued peace of daybreak, the calm before the chaos.

Having a dog around has introduced me to a new exercise in "being still" and finding brief moments of solitude outdoors.

(Btw: I'm not saying I want to do this every morning or night, in case A Musing Dad reads this).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

March Pampering

Indoor Gardeners
This time of year gardeners begin to map out their plans, start seeds and look longingly out the window at the ground waiting to be tilled. Encourage those green-thumbed ladies with this houseplant care kit centerpiece and flyswatter gift combo. This theme required very little manual labor to give our hardworking team a much needed break.

Houseplant Care Kit
one wire basket
pair of gardening gloves
garden trowel
plastic spray bottle
gardeners hand creme/lotion or wash
plant food spikes
packet of peet pots
small green plant
tissue paper

Tuck two sheets of tissue paper in bottom of basket. Arrange items in basket, beginning with larger items in center such as spray bottle and flower pot. Tuck taller items behind these such as plant spikes, trowel and gloves. Place in center of table.

Fly Swatter Gift

Our speaker's topic this month happened to be anger. Suddenly the fly swatter gift became a more comical addition to our tables (an anger management tool?). We found these cute ones at IKEA and really if they were just ordinary fly swatters they might not have worked as well. We used a cute flower-tipped clothes pin to attach a verse card to the top of each flyswatter. Then all we had to do was put one at each place at the table.

For more ideas like these and other information on creating inexpensive gifts and decorations, check out the new book, Pampering Gifts: Crafting a Ministry of Treating People Well For Less.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Dumb Injury Stories

It seems a lot of people have them. But some of us have more dumb injury stories than others. My most drastic (to date) was the injury I got last summer. I was trying extra hard to reach an itch on my back. Extra hard. Then suddenly I felt/heard a pop in my shoulder. Instinctively I grabbed at my shoulder and pushed to see if I'd dislocated it. Nope. I was so relieved. The next day it ached a little, kind of like a pulled muscle. Then the next day it hurt a little more. By the time I went to see a doctor a week later (after hauling furniture outside for a garage sale and regularly swimming laps at the pool) I couldn't even use that arm. The tendon was torn. That graceful incident took three months to "heal". I'm still working on regaining strength in that arm.

Well, this week I fell down our basement stairs. Luckily I had my hand on the banister and was able to catch myself before I went more than five stairs down. Fortunately it wasn't my right arm that born the brunt of the fall. I caught all my weight by hanging on with my left hand. I ached that day, but not much.

Guess what? It hurt more the next day and more the day after that. And now I'm noticing all those same symptoms from before (I hate the fact that I know what a torn tendon feels like). My range of motion has decreased, applying pressure with that arm hurts. But I'm not going to the doctor yet. After all, what are the chances of tearing a tendon in the other shoulder less than a year later?

Am I in denial? I don't know. I do know that I wish I could have more glamorous stories to tell about my injuries. Like I got hurt while skiing or sky diving. Or maybe I slammed into the catcher while sliding into home to win the game. Only one problem: I don't ski, sky dive or play softball. Do you think maybe if I lived a little more recklessly I'd be more fortunate?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Contentment Part 2: Cosmetic Contentment

It's been a long time since my first post on contentment. Maybe I've been more content since then...but probably not. What go me thinking about it today was a haircut appointment. You see, I've never been totally satisfied with my hair (well, maybe once). It is fine and limp and doesn't always do what I want it to do. I keep trying new stylists and new 'dos in an attempt to find that elusive "perfect style". Now, this is not something that consumes me. I rarely go for a haircut more than every two months and I'm usually willing to just live with it. I just wish it could be better.

What does this say about my contentment with my looks? I'm not entirely sure yet. But it does make me more cautious in my judgments of other people who are in pursuit of some physical "ideal". I used to consider plastic surgery an affront to the Creator. He made us the way we are and He didn't make all of us the same. To change one's face or body in an artificial way seemed to say what God made wasn't good enough. My old views would allow for exceptions on the basis of physical pain/discomfort and disfigurations, but that was it.

Like I say, now I'm not so sure. What made me change my mind? I colored my hair. I fell prey to cultural norms that say graying women are in their fifties or sixties. I wasn't content with letting nature follow it's own course because it seemed a bit premature. Here is the shocking discovery I made when I decided to use a color a few shades lighter than my naturally very dark brown:I looked better. People were complementing me all the time on my hair and only half of them realized the improvement was due to the color not the cut. Even men who aren't prone to giving complements were praising my hair. Weird!

So I had to rethink things. Would God have made me in a way that was less than ideal? Yes, I think that is a very real possibility. People are born every day missing limbs, having debilitating deformities and other physical traits that set them apart from the "norm". Are they less touched by the Creator? I would say not. Then is it okay to seek to improve oneself physically? And to what extent? Does this relate to our ability to be content in every circumstance?

"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life."
Proverbs 16:31

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sunny, 55 Degrees. A great day for

playing in the snow?! Yup. While out driving yesterday, we saw two young boys happily playing in a large pile of snow. We've had so much snow and cold in recent weeks that despite several days of spring-like warmth the ground is still somewhat frozen and those big mounds made by snowplows are remain pretty big.

My girls spent most of the afternoon out riding their bikes, drawing with chalk on the driveway and climbing in one of our smaller trees. My husband took advantage of the warmth to go throw a couple of rounds of disc golf (too mushy on the course for us to join him though). In fact, it seemed like most of our fair city was drawn outdoors by the hints of spring yesterday.

But these two boys fascinated me most. I was kind of jealous. I don't ever remember being able to play in the snow without being all bundled up and freezing my nose and toes. Yet there they were: no coats on, enjoying a sunny, warm day, building things with snow.

I hadn't noticed any snow before I saw those boys. Then I began paying attention. They hadn't found the lone snow pile in Naperville. There were others. Sure most of them were dirty, but they were there, largely being ignored by walkers and bikers, kids on swings and slides. We're all quick to rush onto the next season.

One thing about our culture is the penchant for the newest, latest, greatest things to come on the scene. But maybe sometimes it's good to savor the last bits of the old things, the old seasons, before they're gone, before we're just reminiscing about how it "used to be". In another few months we'll be missing the snow, but we still have the chance today to see it and touch it and enjoy it.

Now if I can just find a carrot and that old top hat...

Friday, March 09, 2007


I've recently begun reading Ruth Haley Barton's Invitation to Solitude and Silence. It seems especially appropriate for the Lenten season since I'm more in the mode for reflection anyway. And I'm finding that Barton has a lot to say that speaks to my life. She shares how in the midst of a hectic and busy schedule as a mom, church staffer and seminarian she found herself floundering spiritually. When she finally sought the help of a spiritual director, this is how that director summed it up: "Ruth, you are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear".

That image has stuck with me. I'm in much the same boat. Busy with home and work, church and hobbies, I rarely take time to sit unless I'm reading or eating. And those things don't bring an inner stillness.

So I've been starting to practice silence, trying to learn to still my body, my thoughts, and perhaps eventually, my soul. In that practice a new image surfaced that describes my current inner state: a boat, unanchored and adrift in open water. Oftentimes recently I've found myself wandering my house, lighting on one task briefly, then drifting on to another. My days sometimes lack focus and purpose. The unsettled river water keeps the boat drifting. All the more reason to continue practicing silence. My soul needs that settling. And in some ways I don't think the concept is not too much unlike the idea of fallowing that L.L. Barkat has suggested on her blog.

Is your soul anchored? Or are you adrift?

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf." Hebrews 6:19-20a

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Homemade Chalk Boards

I've been wanting to share this new project for a while. I created several small kitchen chalkboards, for myself and for birthday gifts. They were very easy and lots of fun to make. And if you make your own chalkboard paint they're also quite inexpensive.

To create them I took a 2'x4' sheet of hardboard and cut it into 5 1/2"x 7 1/2" pieces on a table saw (actually A Musing Dad cut them down. I mostly watched). Then A Musing Dad helped me round the corners using his router and I beveled the edges slightly using a sander. You don't have to do the rounded corners and if you don't have a saw I believe hardware stores offer a cutting service where you give them the measurement and they cut it for you (don't know if there is a fee involved). So fear not if you don't have big power tools. You can still do this project.

Next you'll need to mix up your paint. You can find formulas on the internet under chalkboard paint, but the basic idea is you mix up colored acrylic paint (not latex), with powdered tile grout and a glazing medium (used for creating faux finishes). I only worked on small areas so I didn't mix much at a time. It works well to mix it up in an old margarine container because then you can seal the container between coats. This way the paint lasts up to two days.

Now paint your surface. I only painted the front of the board with chalkboard paint because the surface of the back is just too rough. I found a painting sponge to work better than a brush. The brush leaves too many marks. Let it dry for at least a half hour. Then sand with a fine grit sand paper to remove any extra bits of grout and recoat. When you're finished, rub across the surface with a piece of chalk to "prime" it.

I bought small plate stands at a craft store to stand them on. As you can see from the photo you can also paint terracotta pots for labeling windowsill herbs (or just for using as a small container or pen holder).

For more ideas like these and other information on creating inexpensive gifts and decorations, check out the new book, Pampering Gifts: Crafting a Ministry of Treating People Well For Less.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Repeat After Me

Over the past few days I've been learning the truth of an old Russian saying I'd forgotten: "repetition is the mother of learning" (of course in the Russian language it's a much more lyrical saying, but it's still worth repeating in English). I've seen it's value in more than one area:

Math: believe it or not, after only a few short days Little Miss History is becoming much more proficient at her subtraction facts. It just took a lot of drilling over and over and over, but enough repetitions and it began to stick.

Scripture memory: I've only got one verse to go and I'll have gotten all of Deuteronomy 6 down. My secret? I carry laminated verse cards in my purse. Then when I'm out and about I pull them out. Stop lights are good times to read them over. Then while driving I just repeat them out loud over and over until I get to the next light. Second-hand benefit? My kids end up learning along with me, whether they want to or not. They're a captive audience.

New skills: There's nothing like doing the same action over and over again to learn a new skill. For example, Musing Dad took Little Miss History skiing a couple of weeks ago. This is an annual tradition for them. Good father/daughter bonding time. This year after a 2 hour class with lots of up and down repetition on the slopes LMH had actually gotten the hang of really skiing, turning both directions and slowing down if she needed to. For further practice she and Musing Dad took the fast lift up and did a few runs down the green hill together, up and down. But then Musing Dad took her up and let her go down on her own while he did a couple of black runs on his own. Musing Mom's reaction when she learned this afterwards? Musing Dad, repeat after me: "I will not send a seven-year-old down the ski hill alone. I will not send a seven-year-old down a ski hill alone. I will not...".

Friday, March 02, 2007

Happy Birthday, Musing Dad!

Yes, it's Musing Dad's birthday today. I hope he realizes that he's one of the luckiest dads around. After all, how many dads get their own boy Polly Pockets for their birthday? He's guaranteed hours of fun playing with the Uber-princess now (at least that's what she's hoping).

Today is a virtual holiday in our house. Musing Dad was wise enough to take off work (especially since the girls have a break from school). We've already showered him with gifts and have plans for dinner at Famous Dave's tonight. Between now and then Musing Dad is allowed to do whatever he fancies. He's thinking of repairing our broken garage door opener, which is a fitting enough way for him to spend his birthday.

A little about Musing Dad that makes him so lovable: he loves Jesus, wrestles honestly with tough topics instead accepting everything he hears by rote, and works harder than anyone I know at whatever project he's given (except maybe painting because he just doesn't like to do it). He's a brilliant guy and a handyman to boot. In our nearly eleven years of marriage he has built and repaired hundreds of things: rolling appliance cart for our pantry/kitchen, pinewood cars with our girls and a beautiful wood shelf for me, among them. He's replaced lights and plumbing, done drywalling, and has probably tackled every kind of home repair project possible.

So raise a hammer in honor of Musing Dad! Happy Birthday, hon!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Math, Math, Math

Ugh! Little Miss History is having trouble learning her math facts. And I have no idea how to effectively help her. We do flashcard drills. No dice. We try worksheets. No go. I set her up on the computer doing games and problem sets. But she doesn't get it.

This is reason number two why I haven't considered homeschooling my children (beyond the summer months). My daughter has no desire to be taught by me. I have no idea how to reach her. We both end up incredibly frustrated.

Here's the thing: she's got to learn them. I'm not sure she even understands that part. She works her hardest to just get through the drills or worksheets, but never puts any effort into actually learning. And she also doesn't seem to get that it's just a matter of memorization (which she's good at). She constantly counts in her head instead. It's slow, but she gets to the correct answer and as long as it's not a speed drill then she's fine. Guess what? At this point in the school year it's all about speed.

The thing about this is, she's a bright girl. Most things come easily to her. So actually I'm glad she's hit a wall as early as second grade. It's easier to figure out how to work at learning now than to suddenly face it in high school or college. At least I think it is for her. Just not for me.