28 April 2014

as if this were the last time

Ellie woke up at 6:20 this morning.

I nursed her, then slipped her back into the crib, hoping to have at least half an hour more to myself. No luck. We soon landed on the couch, Ellie jabbering happily as she looked out the window. I was cranky. Not only had she woken me up before my alarm, which usually goes off at 6:30, but her chirpy wiggly presence also made it impossible to have my devotions. (If I tried she'd either shriek so loud I couldn't concentrate, or try to rip the pages out of the Bible.) It was not a good start to the day.

But what if this is the last time I get to do this?

Sometimes I am trying to grade papers or do heavy-duty research, and I'm just getting into a groove when Ellie decides that now would be a good time for me to read her a book. She comes over and pulls on me, wails despairingly, drips tears everywhere. I really don't want to close the computer. This is an important project, Ellie! Why can't you read the book by yourself? I don't think it is necessary for me to get down on the floor. I could ignore her crying and soldier on with my work. She'll get over it.

But what if this is the last time I get to do this?

Psalm 16 says, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance." Currently, my boundary lines include a crucial responsibility to my child. Responsibility that trumps all the others. I was challenged, this morning, to believe God's word: that these are pleasant lines, and that His gift to me is beautiful, even when it seems inconvenient.

And Ellie is not an inconvenience! She is part of my inheritance today, a precious body and soul who may be the only baby we ever welcome into our family. It took a long time for me to get pregnant. I have no idea if I'll be able to conceive again, so I usually consider her, and my experiences with her (from early wake-up calls to reading The Very Busy Spider for the millionth time), as one time events. I try to treasure them accordingly. I cannot count on having more babies, and say to myself "Oh well... even if I ignore her now, I'll make it up with her younger siblings." Of course, that would be an awful thing to say even if I knew that we would have ten more kids, but still!

Remembering that I cannot take Ellie for granted helps me to push aside my own desires and happily take her up on my lap once again.

I ended up praying and reciting Scripture to myself as I cuddled my little girl on the couch. God used that-- of course-- to completely change my attitude towards her. Older moms never tire of telling me that time zooms by, that she'll be graduating from high school before I know it. Well, it's true. I'm not going to spend these short years lamenting Ellie's failure to adhere to my schedule, or her propensity to interrupt my other work. She is my most important work, and I love her more than sleep or tidy research or a quiet cup of coffee.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away . . .
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom . . .
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
(Psalm 90)

25 April 2014

Weekend linkage


Ellie can walk! She doesn't always do it, and usually not when you ask her to, but she can go almost the whole length of the house now.

This week she opened one of my supplement bottles, ate dirt while I worked in the garden, and called 911 on my cell phone. Oh, help.


So many many many links this week.

To make you laugh: Haagen Daaz's stracciatella commercial, the grocery bag scene from Portlandia, the Honest Toddler's reward chart for daddies, and a great one from Wondermark.


Interesting WSJ article on why online retailers still use catalogs.


This is titled "The Unbelievable Way One Woman Gave Birth." I suppose that refers to the laughter that surrounded her delivery. But I think it also refers to how excited the couple was to have a fourth child, and I find it very sad that people would consider that "unbelievable." I grew up in a conservative part of the country, in a church that loves kids, in a family with five awesome siblings, and I still can't get over the fact that a vast section of America considers two children to be the "responsible" number.


This song makes me happy.

In other musical news, Lady Gaga on the organ.


"The Depth of the Problem": a cool but discouraging infographic on just how deep the Malaysian airliner's black box might have gone.


What We Et:
Swedish meatballs + quinoa + green salad
Fish and vegetable curry + brown rice
Roast chicken + mashed potatoes + broccoli with bacon
Pita + spicy meat and chickpeas + cheese, lettuce, avocado, etc
Sausage and rice skillet (with broccoli and balsamic vinegar)

19 April 2014

Weekend linkage


Jared: How old do you have to be to run for president? Maybe I'll become president.
Me: But I will get you in trouble all the time for saying crazy things.
Jared: That's true. We will need an entire damage control PR squad for you.
Me: Pretty much.
Jared: No interviews, babe. Just smile and wave.

Jared: Are you going through raisin withdrawal?


When she isn't wailing for raisins, Ellie is dumping out her toys, removing her shoes, and making friends with cute stray kittens.

(Speaking of cute things, look! Baby Prince George! I'm not sure why I love British royalty so much, given my libertarian bent, but even if you can't stand ye olde monarchy this baby is straight up adorbs.)


Rejection letters sent to successful people . . . don't give up!


"How To Marry A Gilbert Blythe." So sweet and funny and true. (In literary terms I believe that I married a combination of George Knightley, Mervyn Bunter, and yes, good old Gilbert.)


Cool (and entertaining) artsy things: a Korean artist who creates dreamscapes in her studio, lost objects turned into whimsical characters, and Google features inserted into old masters.


I don't know if you've heard about the kerfuffle surrounding Brandeis University and Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Brandeis invited her to speak, then disinvited her due to campus protest. She is strongly outspoken against fundamentalist Islam, specifically in its abuses of women, and has received multiple death threats because of this (I read her remarkable and provocative book Infidel last year). Here's a post on her reply:
What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. 
And a post at Huffington about three wider points surrounding the controversy.


What We Et:
Sausage rice casserole from the freezer
Taco salad + ice cream brownie sundaes
Italian stew + quesadillas
Chicken fruit curry + basmati rice + asparagus
Spaghetti squash lasagna + green salad

Also, a funny bit on food that hipsters should calm down about.

14 April 2014

courage to speak

Mrs Cecil Wade, JS Sargent
I don't think many people would describe me as reserved. On most topics, I am happy to express myself at great length to anyone in the vicinity. Yet one subject always silences me. Not because I fear offending someone or because I have some scandalous opinion that would rock my companion's boat  . . .  I'm just afraid that I will say it wrong.

It's when I want to express my affection for or encourage someone. I clam right up.

I can't manage to articulate my love, and this frustrates me, because of all the things I could say why must it be these words, the words that could really strengthen another person's heart, that stubbornly remain inside?

A few months ago I mentioned this problem to a friend, and she encouraged me to dig a bit deeper. Could I find out why I struggle this way? I thought that perhaps I could. I mulled over it, and mulled again, and here's what I came up with.

I am not a particularly mushy person. I feel things deeply, but I tend to spoil tender moments by laughing. Since my typical demeanor is more Marilla Cuthbert than Anne Shirley, I fear that if I do try to articulate softer feelings, I won't be taken seriously. How can I persuade the other person that I mean what I say?

Also, I gravitate to sarcasm and understatement, which distance me from what I'm saying. Compliments make me squirm-- I tend to ward them off with a light-hearted remark. When it comes time to compliment someone else, I have to leave my verbal safety zone and say something straightforward, not wrapped in layers of irony. Since I derive comfort from sarcasm, sincerity is decidedly uncomfortable. It's risky.

Another risk I take, of course, is of being misunderstood. As I mentioned above, I feel deeply but hesitate to reveal my feelings, because what if they don't come out exactly right? Will the other person get what I'm trying to tell them? I understand poor J. Alfred Prufrock's dilemma:
It is impossible to say just what I mean! . . .
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
               “That is not it at all,
               That is not what I meant, at all.”
Whenever you talk about relationships and emotions you have the potential for injury.

So maybe that helps to explain why I avoid expressing affection: I am scared. Of not being taken seriously, or of not having sarcasm and silliness as a backup, or of saying things awkwardly and either hurting myself or others.

I've thought about this and in the past months I've heard God speak through his Word and through other people. I have been thoroughly challenged to step forward in faith. He calls me to use my gifts to build up His people and to communicate love in this world. I can speak and let his grace work through me, and not be afraid that I'll mess it up, because it's God who ultimately encourages us, loves us, and establishes us in his peace.

11 April 2014

Weekend linkage


Yesterday morning Ellie hit two important milestones: she figured out how to climb stairs (though not how to come down) and how to walk, i.e. with more than two steps at a time (now she toddles sideways like a baby crab).



From The Atlantic: "The Culture of Shut Up."
These cycles of pearl-clutching followed by either abject sorrow or banishment are of course driven by news outlets looking to score a few hits or viewers by drumming up controversy.

But they’re also driven by us, as viewers and readers, all of us part of the culture of shut up. It plays out in the defining down of “hate speech” on liberal college campuses and in the defining down of “anti-American” at conservative conferences . . .

Yes, it’s in some ways a natural response to being more connected to one another; we’re just in each other’s faces. But it’s also dangerous. It narrows the visible spectrum of ideas. It encourages people to be safe and cautious and circumspect when we don’t want people to be safe. We don’t want people to be afraid of saying something interesting on the off chance it’s taken the wrong way.

From The Economist: "The Homeschool Conundrum." This centers on the Romeikes, the German homeschooling family currently taking refuge in Lexington, Kentucky. It's not as much of a conundrum as talking heads like to think. Anyway, an interesting article contrasting Germany's fear of "different" with America's tendency (thus far) to err on the side of individual choice.
Americans assume that most parents try to do what is best for their children. That can be an uncomfortable principle (there are some daft parents, among them Lexington on a bad day). But the alternative—the presumption that the state knows best—is worse.

The quickest way to peel apples. I don't think my husband would be okay with this . . .


This also made me laugh: Kid Snippets does a weight loss infomercial. "Is it gwuten fwee? Ohhhh yes it is!" Honestly, I find everything that Kid Snippets does completely hilarious, from the cooking show ("Today we're going to add some crazy stuff") to the math class ("Do you get it NOW?!") to the sick baby ("So you fed her the flower cookies?") to the presidential debate ("I'm the smartest because I can make my ears talk all by themselves").

Aaaand I just spent way too long on their channel.


Daily dose of squee: baby elephants learning to use their trunks.


What We Et:
Chicken pot pie with GF biscuits + fruit
Peanut lime chicken stirfry + brown rice
Stuffed zucchini + roasted potatoes
Pesto pasta salad (with sausage, tomatoes, peppers, and olives)
Tuna potato topped casserole
Chicken shawarma + pita + tzatziki

If you count less than seven meals, it's probably because we ate leftovers (typically on the weekend), or had dinner at someone else's house, or both. ;) 

07 April 2014

here's to listening

Last week I assigned my students a particular type of expository essay; it was meant to be a reflection on some "mundane" aspect of their lives. I wanted them to explore it a bit, and see how significant it actually is. I especially wanted to get them thinking about how everyday objects and actions are connected to deeper realities (you know how G.K. Chesterton was always turning bits of chalk or cracks in the ceiling into miniature philosophical treatises? something along those lines).

Anyway, I typically send them essay examples written by previous students. However, since this was the first year I've tried this assignment, I had to write an example myself. Here it is. :)


this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart with me (in my heart)

-e.e. cummings

Two individuals may eventually have such similar desires and views, even similar memories, that they seem completely unified across astronomical distances. Though this e.e. cummings poem describes the bond of romance, that bond can also spring up in fortunate families. I have had such fortune. There are six of us children, raised by two (remarkably forbearing) parents. Now our thoughts often diverge, especially as most of us have launched into adulthood. Yet the views we still share run deep, and our interlocking memories run deepest. Funnily enough, many of them come from the radio—the magical pipeline of drama, music, and news still weaving itself through our everyday.

I call it funny because the radio doesn't turn heads anymore. It does not strike us as particularly significant, as we have grown used to it in the background and the internet has superseded it in many ways. Among the shiny furnishings of modern life, who would choose the radio over laptops or phones? But consider the revolution incited by radio waves. Suddenly we had orchestras and baseball games in a box. People did not have to play the piano themselves in order to hear Rachmaninov; they could enjoy all sorts of entertainment that formerly required tickets and travel. They did not have to wait for the next day's paper to hear about political goings-on, either; with speech floating on air, they could immediately hear what was going on at the other side of the country, even the world. Think of FDR's “fireside chats” during World War II, how a worried wartime nation valued that direct communication.

What about today? What did the radio offer me and my siblings as children, and why do I still love it? Back in the nineties, the internet was nothing, and though we had television, there was something special about the radio: the imagination it demanded. Like television, it provided an immediate connection to the world at large, but it did not spoon-feed us the images. We had to think.
For example, I remember hurriedly finishing our post-dinner chores so that we could listen to Adventures in Odyssey, a weeknight radio drama for children. The memorable characters with their hilarious mistakes and heartwarming apologies, not to mention their crazy voyages in the science-fiction “Imagination Station,” made for endless entertainment. Then on Saturday mornings we turned up the radio again for Ranger Bill: forest rangers facing off against everything from rattlesnakes to radioactive deer. We had fertile imaginations ourselves, and these long-running storylines only stoked our creativity. Ours is the type of family that speaks in references and quotations—unless you have shared our history you probably won't understand half of our conversation—and oh, how those tales have stocked our supply.

Of course we had music. This was my mother's preferred background noise: not the admittedly silly radio dramas, but music. (Her actual preferred background noise was silence. Since her six hooligans mysteriously refused to comply, quality music sufficed, even when it involved electric guitars.) This too shaped us. Not only did we speak in story references, we also started to sing constantly. I was never much for memorizing lyrics, but my brothers were whizzes at it, and if I couldn't memorize I could hum. We harmonized as we built Lego castles and mowed the lawn and drove to church—when we are together, we still do.

The music I want to hear over my own radio now that I am a mom is almost 100 percent classical, for a variety of reasons. In the first place, I have one small child. After growing up with a passel of siblings, something has to fill the quiet. In the second place, well, I have one small child! She can cause enough chaos on her own (even if she doesn't generate much noise as she does it). The order and beauty of classical music grounds me when I am contemplating a floor covered with baby toys. In addition, as my baby grows up, I would like her to absorb that order and beauty on a regular basis. So much creativity, such fascinating history, awaits in the concertos and symphonies aired on the radio. I want her mind to be wrapped in it too. So we tune in to Tchaikovsky almost every day.

In the car I crank pop hits. Nothing like a little Top 40 to balance the heavy-hitting orchestral suites.
NPR is actually our usual fare on road, and often in the house too. I grew up with NPR. I remember my dad listening to Car Talk as he did projects around the house. He was listening to All Things Considered when he picked me up from ballet class in the afternoon. On weekends he did impressions of Garrison Keillor, the host of Prairie Home Companion, or we danced along to Celtic music, or we scratched our head over opera on weekend afternoons. When we heard programs together, we had something to talk about; even if we disagreed with what the program said it fueled thought and conversation.

So this last bit, the news and talk radio, I listen to partially for sentiment's sake. Apart from that, I listen because it exercises my noggin. Those radio personalities introduce me to new things every day. Though they deal in facts, not the fiction of the dramas we soaked up years ago, facts can inspire my imagination too. Especially since I cannot see the people, places, or events under discussion, I have to employ my brain to fill in the images. In that way I become a participant in the program, which I prefer to sitting passively in front of a television screen. As this noggin of mine is frequently occupied with grocery lists and diapers, I relish the chance to expand its scope. I have always believed in the importance of education. Politics, history, philosophy—four years after graduating from college, the radio lets me keep learning, even in the middle of everyday life.

In fact, that's one of the best things about the radio: it happens “in the middle” of things. I can have music in the background without taking time to play it myself. I can turn a dish-washing session into a history lecture with the push of a button. Because these things happen so easily, not only for me but for the other members of my family, we still have that fuel for discussion when we see one another. Even when we live hours apart, we can hear the same programs. The radio that drew us together after dinner almost twenty years ago continues to foster our connection.

What a person hears certainly shapes what he thinks. It shapes what he remembers, too. As that one person carries his memories and thoughts forward, consider how he might also carry the memories and thoughts of others, simply because they have heard the same things. Surprisingly often, in our family we heard those “same things” on the radio. Mundane as it is, I still see it as a bit of a magic-worker, depositing the larger world in our kitchens and living rooms and cars. Here's to listening.

05 April 2014

Weekend linkage


My favorite thing about Ellie right now-- apart from her pigtails, and her exuberant love of dirt, and the fact that she sleeps for eleven hours at night-- is that she just started cuddling.

She has never been one to lay her head down or give hugs. But suddenly in the past week, I would pick her up and she'd softly burrow her little nose into my shoulder, actually relaxing in my arms. It is the sweetest. I hope she doesn't stop.


"A Fight Is Brewing": you've got to read it to believe it. Identical twins who can't talk to each other, but who-- separated by the ocean-- make some of the most innovative beers in the world.
As Jeppe sniffed from a bag of Sorachi Ace hops and tasted a new beet-and-licorice-infused beer straight from the fermenting vat, my mind flashed to Mikkel doing the exact same thing across the world, at de Proef — the twins mirroring each other, with an ocean of resentments and recriminations between them.

While we're at it, another interesting NYT foodie article: "Can Anyone Save French Food?"
Suddenly, two years after opening, Verjus is drawing a substantial number of local diners. But hardly any French cooks. “The system in France is that you spend your first nine months washing lettuce in the basement,” Perkins says, comparing that to the autonomy he gives his staff. “I get these guys cooking right away, and the French just can’t take that freedom.”

History lesson of the week: the 1974 attempt to kidnap Princess Anne, and the seven men who tried to protect her.


I've been enjoying this song:


Where everyone in the world is migrating.


What We Et:
Lemon garlic chicken + apple poppyseed slaw + potato salad
Macaroni and cheese (with chicken, mushrooms, and broccoli) + ice cream (Ellie's birthday!) 
Oatmeal pancakes + applesauce + sausage
Chicken stroganoff  + basmati rice + sauteed vegetables
Italian meatloaf + mashed cheesy potatoes + green beans
Roast chicken with pesto + quinoa vegetable pilaf
Spinach bacon quiche + mashed potato pancakes
Chili + cornbread muffins

I do love food. Which is why I'll never be skinny.