Shrove Tuesday

I didn’t even know what Shrove Tuesday was until we joined a church seven years ago that acknowledges the day with a pancake supper.  Now I can’t imagine missing it!  The church uses Shrove Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras) as a wonderful tool for teaching children (and adults!) about Lent and how we prepare to experience the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  Being far away from the annual supper and “pancake fling” (such fun!), we decided to have our own Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper in our new home.

The following link does a nice job explaining Shrove Tuesday:  http://www.faithclipart.com/guide/Christian-Holidays/origins_of_shrove_tuesday.html.  In our version of the celebration, we enjoyed pancakes, sausage, little doughnuts, strawberries, and iced tea.  We played with Mardi Gras beads.  We talked about the different ways that people acknowledge Lent, and we decided as a family to continue our Lenten tree tradition and add some acts of charity this year.  I find Lent to be a particularly exciting time for teaching children about our faith.  It’s bursting with potential lessons!

 

 

Epiphany

Every year, I wish we did more with the celebration of Epiphany.  We always wait to take down our decorations until the full 12 days of Christmas have passed, but I felt like we were missing an opportunity to look at the story of Jesus from a different angle.  Since we didn’t spend Christmas in our new house, it felt good to do more celebrating and more telling of that beautiful story on 12th Night and Epiphany.

Because the little guy fell asleep on the actual 12th Night, we merged all of our activities into the day of Epiphany.  (Maybe we’ll get it right next year!)  During the day, J and I baked a Three Kings Cake.

We had dinner (spaghetti and salad), and after clean-up, we all headed to the livingroom for our “undecorating party.”  We put on the Christmas music for the last time.  The boys didn’t hang around for all of the undecorating, but we gave them some specific tasks to complete.  They removed the ornaments from the tree and carefully placed them in a box for me to wrap and store.

All the lights, bulbs, greenery, and other goodies were removed, but our nativity scene stayed in the big front window.

We talked about the wisemen following the light to find the Messiah, and we went out to the driveway to make our own journey to the manger.

We carried our ceramic wisemen and their camels along the lighted driveway to their proper place next to the stable.

Talked about how Jesus was a surpise –an “epiphany”– in many ways.  He was a tiny baby, not a warrior.  He was in a manger, not a palace.  I loved, loved hearing the boys’ thoughts on these great mysteries.

We closed the evening by putting out straw for the camels in the childrens’ shoes.  (An idea borrowed from Emily.)  Charlotte doesn’t actually have any shoes, so we put out her teddy bear slipper.  The boys thought this fact was hilarious.   We awoke the next morning to a tangerine and a Matchbox car for each boy.  Charlotte received a hair bow.  Lots of fun!

Thinking of Thanksgiving

It felt strange to celebrate our first major holiday without our families.  We received a generous invitation to dine with new friends.  What a sweet offer!  But having just closed on our new house, we wanted to give thanks in our very own diningroom.

(Please pardon Miss Drooly.)

After dinner, we went back to the rental home for apple pie and some Skype time with family.  My sister-in-law took this picture of her younger son “Skyping” with my boys.  Celebrating Thanksgiving in our new town and new house was joyful, but what I would have given to jump through the computer screen into the arms of the people I love!

A Stop on the Tour…

Blog tour, that is!

I’m excited to share with you MomSense: A Common-sense Guide to Confident Mothering by Jean Blackmer.

First, let me tell you a little about MOPS, the organization responsible for this publication. “MOPS” stands for Mothers of Preschoolers.  MOPS International is a Christian-based organization that serves mothers of children from birth through kindergarten by providing informative speakers, a chance for conversation and friendship, mentorship from experienced moms, and refreshment.  I don’t just mean coffee and doughnut holes.  MOPS offers a chance for refreshment of the spirit.  A rest.   I attended my first MOPS meeting on the same day that I received an e-mail asking me to participate in the 2011 Blog Tour.  Weird coincidence?  On to the book…

Ms. Blackmer’s book is not a hard-hitting text for a child development course.  You probably will not find yourself shocked by a completely new, astounding revelation.  Instead, it is a cup-of-coffee-with-a-good-friend kind of read.  It’s a I’ve-had-a-really-hard-day-and-I-need-to-know-I’m-not-alone book.  Instead of feeling your jaw drop at pages and pages of revelatory information, you will be nodding at the familiarity of Blackmer’s observations and anecdotes.  Any revelation will not come from the content; it will come from YOU, inspired by the author’s warm tone and her ability to draw you close and expose those shadowy places in your heart where you beat yourself up, question your worth, and feel certain that everyone is better at mothering than you are.  This book does have the potential for epiphany if you dive into it as a tool for self-reflection, not an instruction manual.

MomSense isn’t meant to be prescriptive.  This is not the kind of parenting book that tells you how to parent.  You won’t find tips for diapering, breastfeeding, or making the perfect tuna noodle casserole.  MomSense isn’t that kind of book.  It doesn’t ascribe to a particular parenting style, and in that, the book becomes accessible to mothers in all their wonderful variety.  But because of the potential breadth of audience, readers should be prepared to take what fits and leave the rest (good advice for most decisions regarding the raising of a family).  More about that later.

So if MomSense isn’t a how-to-parent book, what is it?  Jean Blackmer makes good on her title; the book guides you toward confident mothering, not just going through the motions, not just accepting what’s good enough.  She points readers toward a loving, mindful mothering that comes from a place of certainty in one’s place of authority in the home but a humble willingness to learn.  Authority and humility — now that seems like a good mix.  Blackmer reiterates the need to openly acknowledge our weaknesses and see them as places for growth.  The author won my heart when she advised and repeated that moms find the humility to apologize to their children.  In doing so, they model the healthy practices of apology and forgiveness.  In my own mothering, I have seen the value of saying I am sorry when I do not use my voice kindly or my hands gently.  I expect the same from my kiddos.

Early in the book (page 39, to be exact), Blackmer offers an anecdote that is, for me, the essence of her concept of confident mothering.  Here, the author uses the story of “Ben and Betsy” to illustrate values-based parenting.  Basically, if your parenting decisions are made in response to pre-selected, shared values, you can be confident in the choices you make.  In other words, principles that drive your family’s way of life can be the road map for the daily choices we all face.  For instance, if you value quiet evenings, drop a few extracurriculars and choose a novel to read together as a family.  If you want to emphasize physical fitness, cancel your Netflix membership and redirect those funds toward the YMCA.  See what I mean?`

The very accessible “Ben and Betsy” story and other real-life anecdotes (including great ones from the author’s own experience) are the strength of MomSense.  They succeed in welcoming readers, saying “you are one of us, and we aren’t perfect.”  I find the early segment on critical thinking and decision making less strong.  On one hand, this section serves to define “MomSense,” and the author’s careful, sensible attention to these rather academic ideas does well to elevate the call of motherhood to the status of any other career.  I truly appreciate that!  On the other hand, the issues were necessarily watered down for the style and length of the book, making me feel like the book was trying to be something it is not–a sort of literary identity crisis–at the risk of losing my attention and making me question the author’s intentions.  Luckily, the book came to life when Blackmer launched into Section 2.

Section 2 makes up the bulk of the book, and this section outlines some of the characteristics that many of us wish to bring to our mothering.  Patience, respect, calm, joy, and love are among some of the qualities of note.  The segments are filled with stories, tips, and questions to probe reflection.

The book closes with Section 3.  This section steps beyond the rather private, internal world of mothering to the external reality that we are not alone in the process…or we shouldn’t be!  Blackmer discusses the relationship between a mom and her husband or other parenting partner, and she goes on to reflect upon the value of friendships.  She does not hesitate to acknowledge God’s partnership in meeting the challenges of parenting. The entire book touches upon snippets from the Bible to encourage moms and an overarching faith-based focus, and this section in particular rings with the sound of scripture and Biblical principles.

So let me get back to the “take some, leave the rest” concept.  Because the book uses stories and quotations from real moms, there is the risk of “butting heads” with one of those real moms.  Please don’t allow that to turn you away.  My husband and I have chosen to parent our children in the vein of Attachment Parenting (kind of a hybrid version, I admit).  One of the stories was a breastfeeding success story.  Yay!  I teared up and cheered aloud.  I even read the anecdote to my husband.  On the other hand, I was so sad when one couple chose to let their child “cry it out” in one example (page 42).  I actually had a physical reaction to the story of a mom who was trying to get her daughter to go to bed.  The child pounded at her mother’s bedrooom door, screaming for her momma.  The section was about consistency.  I’m for consistency, but I would never be consistent in that manner.  No.  I would have chosen a different approach and been consistent in my own method.  Reading the story, my stomach clenched, my face flushed, and my palms got clammy.  I almost put the book away, but I stopped myself.  I reminded myself that this book is not the end-all be-all answer.  What my husband and I value simply does not align with what the mom in the example valued.  That’s okay.

I don’t know what kind of reader you are, but I’m the kind of gal who keeps favorite books  at hand for frequent reference.  I re-read many books many times but rarely in full.  This will be one of those books that I keep around for a reminder.  Despite some differences of opinion, MomSense: A Common-sense Guide to Confident Mothering lifted my spirits and renewed my belief that I’m up for this most rewarding and blessed assignment–being my kids’ mommy.

I would love to hear how your own “MomSense” has come into play in your life.  Do you recall a time when you just knew what was right for your child?  Jean Blackmer emphasizes that our MomSense is a combination of heart and education and experience.  What inspired you to make the decision?  Information?  Someone else’s opinion?  A gut reaction?

If you aren’t a mom, think how you’ve seen “MomSense” at work in others or how you’ve felt a kind of quiet wisdom inside yourself.

When you comment, you’ll be entered to win a copy of Blackmer’s book.  One entry per person!  Comments will close on Sunday at 11:59 pm.  Thanks for participating!

Change

{Written yesterday.}

Right now, it’s a little after 1 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon.  My three-year-old fell asleep across my lap as I nursed my three-month-old.  Then the baby fell asleep, so while I snuggled her in the crook of my arm, I managed to reach over the little man and grab my laptop.  These are skills I never imagined I would have prior to motherhood.  With the laptop balanced precariously on my knees, let me tell you a little about my life before anyone wakes up.

If you’ve been visiting my blog much lately, you know that my family has gone through a lot of change lately.  A lot.  Most of these changes have been positive (when I have my rosie glasses on).  My husband got a job, one that he has been preparing for his entire adult life.  The job is in a setting that is truly ideal for him.  We’ve been embraced by his co-workers.  We’ve found a new church with lots of wonderful families with children near the ages of our kids.  I’ve met moms who have been warm and friendly.  We are in a climate that is hot but beautiful, and we are in the process of buying a house that we love.  Both of the boys are happy in their new schools.  Blessings abound.

But change is hard, even when it is good.  We miss our families terribly.  I miss having lunch with my mom, chatting with my dad, running over to the in-laws on the weekend.  I miss scrapbooking Saturdays, card parties, our old library, and our church family.  I even miss our pediatricians’ office.  How weird is that?  I miss my La Leche League group so much.  {Girls, if you are reading this, I wish you were here!}  I miss my vegetable peeler; I know that’s very silly, but it was a really great peeler.  Honest.  I miss my knitting book.  I miss ALL of my books.

So if I’m feeling the pinch of all this change, just imagine how it feels if you are only three or six years old.  Nothing seems to be the same.  Our bedtime routine feels different.  Sleeping through the night has turned into many, many wakeful moments at all the wrong times.  These moments often come with unexplained tears, and I can only imagine that these are tears of sadness, frustration, and even a little fear.  One night–absolutely exhausted and about to completely lose my patience–I said to my three-year-old, “Everything feels different now, but what is still the same?”  He paused, then said, “God made me.”  Yes.  I immediately thought about my post from a few weeks ago.  I was surprised by J’s answer.  I hadn’t prompted him to think spiritually on the matter.  I certainly wasn’t in the teaching frame of mind at 4 o’clock in the morning.  I was nowhere near the “God has a plan” frame of mind when I was snatched from my sleep by an unhappy preschooler, but J’s quick answer cleared my head and brought me back to something I’ve been considering for awhile.

I know that not everyone who reads this blog shares my faith or practices it in the same tradition, but stick with me.  I often think that in calling my little family away from our extended family at this point in our lives, God is calling me to rely on Him.  To find in Him comfort, connection, strength, patience, and stability.  He wants me to trust Him.  I’m not expected to understand or even like it all, but I need to trust that He has a plan that is better and more fitting than my own agenda.  That’s hard.  I spend all of my time planning and dreaming.  I’m always browsing the internet for the next graduate school program, the next course I can take, the next book I can read, the next organization that I could join or start or research.  I forget to live and be.  Life might be totally willy-nilly, but God made me.  He made me with a purpose; He made me with love.  Those concepts don’t change.  I can feel free to dig in and be still in the present without fear of the future.

A not-so-great picture of my attempts to make our new rental feel like home. I love autumn!

A Promise and a Celebration

On Sunday, we asked for God’s blessing upon our little daughter.  We promised to guide her and to raise her to seek God.  I pray that she will have an open heart, that she will ask good questions, that she will come to know Him and love Him.

Pretty scrapbook paper, fabric on clearance, and some gorgeous roses made quick, inexpensive table decorations.

(Thank you, Aunt Patty, for the lovely cake.)

30 Day Challenge (and a look at some baby gifts)

June 1st began the 30 Day Challenge set up by Jessica at a wonderful blog called The Macs.  I have pointed you to Jessica and her sweet family a couple of times before.  While this blog can be heartbreaking, it is also a great encouragement and an inspiration in my faith journey.  The 30 Day Challenge is a commitment to begin each day (June 1 – 30) in prayer and Bible study with the hope of beginning an intentional, meaningful connection with God that will bless each day.  For me, taking this challenge was about inviting the kind of reciprocal relationship with God that I’ve always wanted.  I want to worship Him, not just ask for things.  And I want to listen.  To quiet myself and just connect.

So I’ve decided that my “time” will be first thing in the morning.  (Please sleep in, little boys!)  But knowing the mornings don’t always go as planned, I am going to snatch any moment I can.  I realize that the “snatch method” isn’t really what the challenge is about, but I refuse to be a perfectionist about this.  My perfectionism has ruined too many genuine attempts at good things.  I will be working through the Proverbs and journaling about the verses that resonate with me.  I will be praying for the other people taking the challenge, my husband, and my children during these 30 days.  I’m excited!!  Anyone want to join me?  It’s not too late!  I encourage you to check out Jessica’s blog.  Leave a comment here if you are ready to spend some daily time in study and prayer this month.

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Baby Stuff!!

Some sweet blankets, sleepers, mits, and a hat from my wonderful in-laws.

Aunt Patty didn’t hide her “blue” guess!  Ha Ha!  I share her guess, so I’m sure we will get lots of use out of these soft outfits.

Much needed towels and washcloths from my parents.  Mom also painted three darling little pictures.  I can’t wait to show you photographs soon.

My sister made this cute, cute bib.  I love the fabric SO much.

Can you believe this blanket???  I know my sister put much love and care into this soft, sweet blanket for Baby.

Looking back at Easter weekend

We had a happily busy weekend.  I can’t believe it took me until Thursday to get back here to share our comings and goings. 

We began on Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) with our annual “Maundy Meal.”  I made up a plate similar to the Seder Meal, and we talked about how the different foods remind us of Jesus and all the ways (the Exodus, the passover, etc.) that God has taken care of His children through history.  This year was particularly fun and meaningful because our older son had a lot to say (He usually does!).  After dinner, we went to church, and I prepared for an evening in the nursery since the Maundy Thursday service is quite solemn and challenging for little kids.  So, I prepared a simple craft and an Easter story.  I forgot to download the picture of our craft!  But I’ll just say that my son drew the cutest last supper picture.  I will keep it forever!  Since no other children joined us in the nursery, we slipped into a side door of the sanctuary to catch the end of the service.  I’m so glad that we did.  The purple vestments of the church were quietly taken down and replaced with black cloths.  As the lights continued to dim, my husband and another man in the church carried in a cross, rested it in front of the communion table, and draped it with a black cloth.  When all was dark and silent, our pastor sang “Were You There” a cappella.  It was a moving moment, and I am so glad that my son could witness it (the little one had fallen asleep).  He asked lots of questions, and my heart delighted in hearing how much he has learned and how greatly he’s grown since last year.

On Friday, we had a quiet day.  At noon and at 3 o’clock, I reminded the boys of the events on the cross on a Friday long ago.  At about noon, we flipped through magazines, looking for pictures that remind us of Jesus.

(You may be wondering about the s’mores ingredients at the top right.  Well, our five-year-old very confidently explained that it reminded him of the story of the five loaves and two fishes.  I see, I said as I hid my giggle.  I will never look at a s’more the same way again.

Saturday was all about fun!  We took a trip to the natural history museum with some of our extended family.  What a joy!  The boys (all five of them) were so well behaved.  They had a great time exploring the dinosaurs and the other animal displays.  The igloo in “Polar World” is always a favorite, too.  Afterward, we headed over to my parents’ house for some egg coloring and a general good time with Grandma, Papa, my sister, and my brother-in-law. 

And then we reached the highlight of the weekend…Resurrection Sunday!  I wish I could say that I had a truly spiritual Easter experience, focusing upon the precious gift of our Lord’s sacrifice and the miracle of his resurrection, but in truth, I spent a lot of time scrambling around, trying to keep boys seated and quiet during church, trying to keep egg dye off of clothing, trying to allow our fellow worshippers the experience that I was missing.  But I did have my own sort of spiritual moment–an intense feeling of gratitude, an appreciation for the precious gifts of my children and my family.  Now that the hustle of a holiday weekend has gone by and the treats and small gifts of the day have been stashed away, I can finally stop and reflect upon the truth of this most holy time of year.

Do you remember our Lenten Tree?  It is bursting with color now.  I love how the tree becomes a record of our state of mind and heart over the weeks of Lent.  There are plenty of prayers for patience, for wisdom, and just as many prayers of thanksgiving recorded there with snips of ribbon.  We are in a challenging but hopeful time.  My hubby is busily spreading his CV all over the job market.  We are praying for God’s provisions for the coming year as our jobs wind down for the academic term.  We are watching our kindergartener finish up his first year of “real” school, wondering if he has learned enough and matured enough, wondering if we will be able to return to the school that we’ve come to love.  Or will be starting a new adventure, in a new place?  Only God knows the plan.  I just can’t wait for Him to share it with us!

Lenten Tree 2011

You may recall our Lenten Tree from last year.

The tree is back!  I’m loving it even more now that our older son is growing in his awareness of “talking to God” and what it means to get ready for Easter.

I don’t know the true origin of the Lenten Tree, but we borrowed the idea from our church’s tradition.  I placed a few twigs (Thanks, Dad!) in a pitcher, and this year, I set the pitcher on a swatch of purple fabric, the color of the Lenten season.  On Ash Wednesday, when the tree first graced the center of our table, the branches of our tree were bare.  They were colorless and lifeless.  As the season progresses, we will fill the branches with colored ribbons to represent different kinds of prayers.  For example, red is a prayer for forgiveness; orange is a prayer of thanksgiving.  Blue is a prayer for peace, and a pink ribbon means that you are praying for wisdom.  We are using nine different colors.  As we grow closer and closer to the celebration of Easter, the tree becomes full of color.  By the time Easter arrives, it is bursting with new life.

I love how the tree is a direct reflection of the changes in the natural world around us.  In early March, the ground is dormant.  The world is still brown and gray.  But each week, we see the plants awakening; we see more color and sunshine.  Especially with a late-April Easter this year, spring will truly have sprung when the time comes to celebrate.  The tree makes the link from natural life to spiritual life so evident and accessible for little ones.

A wonderful blog friend (and real-life friend), Emily, has been contemplating praying with children at her blog, Watkins Every Flavor Beans.  At this point in my young family’s development, the Lenten Tree is a great way to pray together.  I tie a ribbon as a kind of record of a prayer that I’ve just prayed or have been meditating upon all day.  For the boys, we consider the very act of tying the ribbon to be a little message to God, a way of saying “Today I’m thinking about courage” or praise or patience.

This post is listed as part of today’s “Nature Table.”  Take a moment to check out all of the great ideas listed there.