Athletic Mom

As much as I adore this new little person at our house, the loss of freedom that his arrival introduced is also a reality. I love to stay at home, and my friends have absolutely blown me away with their willingness to haul school children, buy groceries, and pick up after me in general. So don’t think I’m complaining–I have no reason to.

But the fact remains that two months ago I could dance out the front door with my purse and a water bottle when I had to go to town, and I could grab my bike and cruise down the road when I felt in need of the wind on my face. Now a trip to Safeway means multiple bags and a car seat and a soother and scheduling it just right so I don’t have to stop for a nursing break halfway through.

It’s easy for me to start thinking of all the things I can’t do anymore. So when Tim asked me to take a vehicle into town for an oil change this week and suggested that I take the electric bike along and use it to do my errands, I jumped at the chance. It would feel like old, independent times, I thought.

After dropping off the truck, I tucked Quincy into his front carrier,  squirmed my backpack onto my back, and hopped onto the bike. I could almost pretend to be one of those slim athletic moms if I firmly refused to think about the library’s  American Girl doll protruding ungracefully out of the backpack, and my long skirt blowing in the wind. I relished the fresh fall air and the feeling of escaping from prison and pretended to be someone else entirely.

Today I had to take another vehicle in for an oil change. Naturally, I loaded up the electric bike, baby carrier, and backpack, along with my purse and diaper bag and a car seat for Quin. We dropped off the van, and I buckled and snapped and wiggled around till we were set. Off we rode through the town in the bright sunshine and chilly wind. Hello, athletic mom vibe.

My delight continued in Safeway when I discovered even more good deals than I was planning on. Milk for $1.57/gallon! Two gallons plopped into my cart. Hamburger for $2.29/lb! Eighteen lbs joined the milk. Caesar salad dressing was cheaper if I got three bottles, so I did. Oh, and I had forgotten we needed mayonnaise.

Not until I got to the checkout did I remember the skinny little gray backpack I had to transport all my treasures. I made a good effort, but hamburger insisted on spilling out the top, the dressing didn’t fit anywhere, and I could hardly lift it all anyway. I found a helpful person to park my cart in the refrigerator and sheepishly biked back to pick up the van. I’m a mom of five, a mini van driver, and a buyer of large cart loads of groceries.

So long, athletic mom visions–I liked you while you lasted.

Happy Saturday

I love me a misty fall morning like this one. After a crackly dry summer, any drop of moisture feels like a gift straight from heaven.

Why is fog so much more beautiful than smoke? It looks a lot the same.
I love the tangled, overgrown look of a late summer garden.

This squishy little guy has firmly established himself as king of the household in the last three weeks. He’s such a dear that no one questions his position or begrudges him his rights.

Somehow you just don’t argue with him.
We still fight over who gets to hold him.

As sweet as the first few weeks with a new baby are, I’m happy about moving on. I found it absolutely delightful to wash some windows yesterday and cook a meal all by myself this week. Taking a break from housework always reminds me how much I love it. I know, that undoubtedly makes me a terribly boring, plump, old fashioned person in a calico apron. Not really my dream. But if you come visit me, I will serve you a cup of coffee with real cream and fresh berries from my garden (if you come at the right time) and you might not notice.

Sometimes I find it difficult to reconcile the happy, beautiful things in my life with all the suffering going on around the world. How is it that I’m free to enjoy fat, juicy peaches and garden ripe tomatoes when people are fleeing for their lives? Why do I get to rock my perfect baby while another mom watches her boy fight cancer? How do I still find things to be unhappy about when I’m as rich as a troll?

I don’t have good answers to my questions. But I love what @hannah_gracia has to say in her beauty highlight on Instagram. I can’t say it so well, so I’ll let you go read it for yourself. And if you have some answers for me, I’d love to hear what you have to say, too.

I guess I didn’t have anything profound to share this morning. I mostly wanted to say hi.

Have a lovely weekend!

Quincy Reed

Big changes took place at our house last weekend. Meet Quincy Reed. He arrived on the scene Friday morning, weighing 9lbs 8oz.

He has bright little eyes and plenty of personality.
After a long night, holding our healthy baby felt like a dream.
Covid rules meant no sibling visits in the hospital, but Tim brought them in for a glimpse of their little brother through the window.

It’s difficult to describe the sweetness of the first few days with a new baby. We are being well taken care of with yummy hand delivered meals and lots of offers for all kinds of assistance. Community is an amazing thing.

I’m loving having built in help this time around.

Breakfast makers
Dishes girls
Laundry ladies
And no shortage of baby holders, of course
Or baby bathers
“I can’t believe I actually have a little brother.”
This is how Quin feels about Monday morning after a busy night.

No doubt we will plummet back to the earth any minute. The bills and sibling rivalry and dirt and piles of work didn’t go away while were in the hospital. But let me hang onto the bliss of a tiny human that I can comfort completely for a couple of days at least.

Giveaway Winner

Hello everyone! Our book winner is the first person that commented on my book review directly on WordPress. But she’s showing up as anonymous, so I’m not sure who she is. Can you let me know, please, anonymous? Thanks to all of you who participated!

Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings Book Review

If you follow Shari Zook’s blog, Confessions of a Woman Learning to Live, you probably know that she has a book being released this summer. You probably also know that it’s one you don’t want to miss.

I had the privilege of joining Shari’s launch team and reading Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings early. It’s one of those books that grabs you and turns you inside out. In it, Shari shares the hard life lessons she learns as a wife and mom. From the pain of loss through miscarriage and fostering, to the horrors of severe postpartum depression, to the challenges of being a pastor’s wife, Shari has seen a wide range of experiences. She writes about these experiences with stark honesty and grace. Some chapters were hard for me to read, like the one on depression. I’ve been mildly depressed, I think, but this is something else again, and thinking about it makes me want to crawl under the bed and stay there just in case it comes for me next. Her vivid description of what goes on in a severely depressed person’s mind gives me far more empathy for someone who is fighting such a monster.

I loved the chapter on mentors, thinking of the older ladies that I know who have allowed life to soften and teach them. The ones who take the time to reach out to us younger ones with encouragement and hope shine like stars.

One of Shari’s sons turned all their parenting theories upside down, and she and her husband had the humility to see that they needed outside help. They sent him to a camp for a while, at the same time taking in foster children. I love the picture of reaching for help while also helping someone else. Sometimes we forget that we can help and be helped at the same time. It’s too easy to put people into categories as helpers or needy and forget that we are all clawing our way through life together on the same level. The times when we require a hand to lift us out of a pit do not make us any less of a person or any less capable of guiding someone else to firmer ground.

Shari writes about the value of girlfriends. It’s only in the last few years that I have discovered the goldmine to be found in friends, so I loved reading her thoughts. A personality like mine finds it easier to retreat and not bother anyone, but relationships are so worth the work and vulnerability they require. A good friend who will listen to me whine on a gloomy winter morning, laugh with me over the funny things our kids say, discuss books and ideas and dreams, and tell me what she’s making for supper is worth fighting to keep.

Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings isn’t a fluffy, easy, feel-good kind of book. It doesn’t contain formulas for how to raise well-balanced children or have a solid marriage. Instead, it opened my eyes to what a needy, helpless creature I am, and that it’s ok to recognize it. I realized again that I’m not impressing God by trying so hard. This excerpt about the value of honesty with each other gives you a peek into the book:

I often feel that I owe it to God to be a success story.

I tell you the truth. The greatest heartbreak of Christian womanhood in my time is isolation, when we are so busy keeping our smooth images intact that we don’t even notice we are imprisoned behind them. We may be lonely and inadequate and terrified and empty. But ooh we are looking good.

Solitude is what kills us.

Perhaps there are less painful ways to connect. But for me, the breaking of my self-sufficiency is where Christ meets me in his redeemed community. Neediness connects me to other people, who are fighting their own private battles. Failure to hold life together opens me to bounteous, unforgettable resources that I can never access when I am going all DIY.

Am I so afraid of the real Christians all around me who are doing it properly instead of desperately winging it? Am I the only one? Will it ruin everything if I admit my sin? That the pastor’s wife can’t manage her children or behaved like a terrible mom today or wants to die sometimes on dark nights?

And I notice I feel better. Clean. Open. Renewed.

I had a difficult time choosing an excerpt to share because so much of the book resonated with me, and I want to share all of it. God is there, in the beauty and in the grief. He is there when we succeed, and He is there when we make a terrible mess of things. It’s ok to admit it if we are falling. In fact, that’s really the only way to get back on our feet.

Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings will be released in July. I would like to give away one copy, so comment and share this post to get your name in the drawing. I will choose a winner on June 2, so share away until then. Tag your friends and let them know they don’t want to miss this book. You can also preorder your own book through Amazon.

Spring Fever

Spring fever has infected us. We’ve discovered that traveling only a short distance south takes us into warmer territory and lovely scenery. Spring has arrived at home, too, but ragged piles of dirty snow still fill the north-facing ditches, and the larches are still bare. Also, mud covers everything from the driveway to the garden to the van to the kitchen floor.

So, we’ve been hunting for bluer skies and greener grass.

We did a neat hike close to Coulee City, WA, a couple of weeks ago. Walking through a canyon is different from climbing a mountain, but very pretty.

Between Coulee City and Grand Coulee. Such loveliness in the middle of flat farmland and rocky wasteland.

We love the Minnehaha climbing rocks in Spokane. They are right across the river from a small airport, and the guys like to watch the airplanes take off and land from the rocks. We have a bunch of mountain goat climbers, while I pick my way carefully up the rocks and yell at them to please be careful, and why on earth don’t you just find a good spot and sit down when you reach the top instead of dancing around by the edge of the cliff? I haven’t found any gray hairs yet, but I know they are forming.

Watching planes from the climbing rocks
Minnehaha Climbing Rocks
Poking around in the Spokane River

And this last weekend, we took two days to go to Hells Gate. We found the history fascinating. Lewis and Clark spent 6 weeks in the valley there with the Nez Perce tribe, who took care of them and helped them regain their strength after a harrowing 11 days on the Lolo trail. After that, they built dugout canoes and followed the Clearwater River to the Snake River, and followed that to the Columbia River. We drove along the Snake River for quite a while, and I kept imagining how it must have felt to drift down those mountain-surrounded waters with no idea what was around the next bend. They probably didn’t need roller coasters to give them their thrills like some of us do now.

Driving along the Snake River
On Lewiston Hill. The cities below are Lewiston on the Idaho side and Clarkston on the Washington side. The Snake River separates them, and the Clearwater River converges with the Snake in the town.
Tim spotted a mountain sheep on those craggy cliffs. We stopped and watched it for a while.

We also took the time to visit Palouse Falls on this trip. How would you like to come across this while exploring a river for the first time?

Palouse Falls

In other, more exciting news, our baby is a BOY! We are absolutely thrilled. We wanted a boy so much that we had to be careful not to bank on it. Because of course a girl would have been wonderful, too. But Drew finally gets the brother he’s been wishing for for so long, even though there will be twelve years between them.

The singing birds remind me that seeds need to be planted and mulch needs to be raked aside.

A lovely day to you!

Quiet Days and a Baby

Snow is falling outside this morning, and the light is gray. It’s cozy in the house with just my lamp shining and my French press and empty coffee cup beside me. I drink only a tiny bit of coffee these days, so that tiny bit is precious indeed.

I would prefer to advance to something besides cozy, though. I’m ready for warm air and green things and flip-flops. Anyone else?

I just checked on my camera roll, and last year on March 6, I was able to clean out my tulip and daffodil bed. I found one lonely little purple crocus on March 13. Maybe I can survive three more weeks of stony gray skies and unfriendly air.

Three weeks ago my baby put on her new gray and red dress, packed a peanut butter and jam sandwich in her sparkly pink lunch box, and danced off to school. I feel a little dazed. Almost 14 years of having at least one little person with me all the time isn’t an easy habit to shake. But it’s hard to be sad when her smile is so big.

I can sit down and sew a dress from start to finish with almost zero interruptions. I can listen to an audio book or podcast with no one shouting “Mo-om!” the minute I hit play. I can eat chocolate without sharing. I straighten the couch cushions and sweep the floor and it stays that way. 

Of course, the silence is short-lived. They come clattering home with growling stomachs and things to say, and the house is full of backpacks and boots and lunch boxes and snacks. I drive them to music lessons and have them fold laundry and wash dishes and quiz them for their social studies tests. I read them bedtime stories like The Elephant in the Garden and Mama’s Bank Account. They are still mine for a little longer.

But I came here to tell you that this little interlude of quiet days will be short-lived if things continue as they are. In August, Lord willing, we will be welcoming a new little person into our family. We have run the full length of emotions, from shock to excitement to overwhelm to delight.

We are back to thinking about cribs and car seats, baby clothes and names. Makes us feel like we are 21 again, fresh-faced and full of ideals. Except for the ideals part. Life has a way of smashing our little theories and answers and showing us that we don’t know very much at all. We don’t have any grand ideas about how well-behaved and properly trained this new addition will be. We just hope for healthy and strong and happy. We are less sure of ourselves, but hopefully a little wiser.

A happy Sunday to you and yours. I hope you have a warm place to be and something to be excited about today.

Love and Pain

It’s 3 am. My jaw is aching too much to sleep, so I’m perched in my favorite chair with a blanket and heating pad until I can take two more little white Tylenol and (hopefully) go back to sleep. The windows are peering at me blackly. It’s frightfully cold outside, which is uncommon for Washington. Our winters are way too long and gray, but usually the weather is gentle and fluffy and dreary. Snow and snow and more snow, but not much of this snapping, biting cold.

I’ve been slinking about the house with a rice sock clutched to my mouth a good deal these days, pouring blended soup and yogurt and fruit juice down my throat and longing for taco chips and carrot sticks and a good strong cup of coffee. 

I’ve always been so pleased to have missed out on the infamous wisdom tooth removal that most teens have to endure. But the other day my dentist issued a decree, and I meekly made an appointment for the right side of my mouth. Apparently teeth that have been happily in place for 12ish years do not like to give up their positions. The dentist pulled and wrenched and pried with no success, so he resorted to drilling and chiseling my tooth into pieces, stopping now and then to add more anesthetic because I could feel the drilling quite sharply. Thankfully the dentist and his assistants were kind and apologetic and tried their best to be gentle. I finally crawled out of the office on quivering legs, minus two teeth and plus a lot of gauze. Last week we repeated the performance on the left side. Again, I crept home, shaken and battered and watery-eyed, to huddle on the recliner with an ice pack.

I hate pain so much. I despise depending on pain killers and limiting my activity because a paper tells me to. But those wretched teeth are gone. I’m happy about that. And I’ve been able to sit and read guilt-free quite a lot. This is a rare treat.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I would dearly love to say something profound about love. Instead, I’m whining about pain. Maybe I should begin again.

Or maybe not. Pain and love are intertwined and inseparable. There is no way to love without inviting pain. But thankfully tooth pain isn’t necessarily involved.

This might be a good day to say that I’m so thankful for a good, solid husband. I don’t write much about him for some reason, probably mostly because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing and getting myself into trouble. If I admit that we have our problems, someone might think I’m complaining about him, which I certainly don’t want to do. If I act like everything is perfect, I risk hurting people who don’t have a happy marriage at all. And anyway, I would be telling a lie.

But I do have a good man. I don’t worry about whether he will come home at night, and I know that the things he says will be the plain, unvarnished truth. I can depend on him to keep his word and show up when I need him. He provides for us very well, and I almost never have to worry about finances. He requires obedience and respect from our children. He remembers passports and carries the boarding passes when we fly because he does a better job of keeping things in order. He makes me laugh when it’s the last thing I want to do. In short, I would be lost without him.

There’s something comfortable about knowing each other for long time. I know better than to clip my fingernails in his presence or serve him rewarmed chicken, and he knows better than to discuss delicate subjects with me late at night when I’m tired and unreasonable. I know that a good morning flight will cheer him up so much that I happily wave him out the door, and he knows that I need a little space to read or take a walk alone now and then.

We argue and hurt each other sometimes, because we are both very human. And always there is the cold fear of losing someone when you love them very much. Love is a risky thing. You can’t lay your heart out for someone to handle without a good deal of danger. 

Again, I’m so grateful for a happy marriage. And I’m thankful for the love that has been extended to me by so many others in my life. I hope that one day I can love fearlessly and boldly like I want to. Because even though I know how important it is to be vulnerable and take the risk of loving, I still find myself shrinking in a cowardly way sometimes.

I hope you have someone to love and someone to love you this Valentine’s Day.

Holiday Hello

It’s that funny week between Christmas and New Years. Children home from school, 2020 reflections occupying our minds, motivation for 2021 slowly creeping in. We had some fun company for a couple of days, but they are gone now.

We haven’t had heaps of snow yet this year. That’s changing today.

I always breathe a sigh of relief when the holiday season is over, and we can get back to regular schedules. I’m excited about emptying out cookie containers and sinking into the winter blues. Or I should say I’m excited about starting over in a clean new year, with hopeful goals and fresh perspective.

I don’t know why I have such a sad feeling every Christmas. Is it because the wild joy that I had this time of the year when I was 10 is now my responsibility to create for the little people in my life? It’s more work than I thought. Is it because a little part of me misses going home to the old and familiar that isn’t the same anymore, now that we are grown and changed? Maybe a therapist would tell me that it’s due to a couple of really painful holidays when I was an adolescent/young teenager. Maybe it’s simply because I don’t like making Christmas cookies.

All the things that aren’t right in the world stand out in sharp focus to me over Christmas time. Strained relationships, broken families, missing friends and family members, loneliness, and grief stand up and wave their hands in my face and blind me. The cheer and lights feel like a hollow mockery. All is not right with the world, and we are acting like it is.

But one evening shortly before Christmas this year, a bolt of understanding hit me. Jesus came to this world, not because things were happy and going well. He came because the world was broken and hurting.

Of course, I’ve always known this. The world was full of political unrest when Jesus was born. The Jews were longing for deliverance. People were sighing for things to change.

But Jesus didn’t fix the political situation like the Jews were hoping. Instead, his job was restoring man’s relationship with God.

And that’s what I suddenly realized I’ve been missing. Jesus might not be fixing all the problems in the world like we think He should. But He is working at drawing people to Himself. He is Hope in the most hopeless of circumstances, Redeemer when our hearts are full of sin, Healer from the wounds of living in this world.

Someday, the wrongs will be made right. Until then, we can spread Jesus’ love and celebrate His birth, whether we belong to the love-everything-about-the-holidays camp or the grouchy, overthink-everything camp.

We rejoice, not because everything is going well in the world, but because Jesus came to mend our hearts.

Goodbye till next year!

The Right Weapons

I wish I could just disappear until things simmer down a bit in the world.

I’m far too sensitive to get very involved in political discussions. I listen to the news a little bit here and there, but I feel skeptical of everything I hear, so it doesn’t do me much good. Sometimes I feel guilty about this. Maybe I should invest the hours of time it would take to sift through all the words and pick out what is true and what is not. But then again, I’m not sure I have the emotional energy for it. 

I’m not indifferent to the wretched shape the world is in, though, and I often wish I knew how to salve the wounds of the people I meet or the right words to say to bring peace. As if an obscure little Mennonite lady could do that–I know I can’t.

I understand that politicians need to defend their ideas and keep a certain degree of tension between parties. I don’t understand why some Christians feel compelled to prove that their ideas and theories are the truth, and that those who disagree are stupid. If one side would stop talking for a second and listen to the concerns of the other side, they might discover that we aren’t so far apart after all. Not all conservatives are sitting on a pile of guns ready to shoot people, and not all liberals are going around killing babies (I know these aren’t the only big issues). Both sides are accusing the other of gross sins. If our primary goal in life is to glorify God, how can we get so distracted over proving that our viewpoint is correct? How can we let families split and relationships disintegrate just because we have to be right?

The truth has a way of revealing itself slowly over time. Perhaps we are all blind in 2020.

If things are really heading in a scary direction in America, aren’t we going to need our fellow Christians more than ever before? How will we face a crisis if we are busy fighting about which political party is more like Jesus? Wouldn’t our time be better spent making sure we are close to Jesus ourselves and loving our fellow humans?

I listened to a friend give a talk about homemaking the other day. She talked about making our homes a refuge. The world is a harsh, cold place, but our homes don’t need to be. She told the story of Betsie ten Boom in prison, making her prison cell a cheerful place in spite of the tremendous odds against her. She arranged the bedrolls and coats and hats beautifully, to turn a terrible place into a welcoming one. Such a tiny thing, but so encouraging to her fellow prisoners. I felt inspired to go home and do everything I can to make my space a warm, safe haven–a place to relax from the pressures of the outside world.

It’s difficult to focus on making nourishing meals and cleaning under the couches when turmoil swirls around us. It’s much easier to point out all the things that are wrong with our neighbor than it is to work on the selfishness and pride in our own hearts.

We could be on the right side of the battle, but doing more damage than good because we are fighting with the wrong weapons. People ready to fight and argue are a dime a dozen. People who refuse, and meet evil with love, are rare indeed.

It may sound simplistic and ridiculous, this idea that making our hearts and homes a cozy, safe refuge could combat the tension around us. But what could be more healing than a peaceful place with doors wide open to the hurting? The break-down of a nation often begins in the homes.

Always, we need to be ready to speak up and defend Jesus and the downtrodden. But a political party? Maybe there is a time to be silent, at least avoiding inflammatory arguments on social media. The more a thing is talked about on social media, the bigger it becomes, even if it’s being discussed negatively. For sure we need to be very, very careful of our words. Shaming people is so damaging.

We can’t sit blindly by and do nothing. But our actions need to be chosen very carefully, or we will become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If Betsie could fight the despair of World War II from a prison cell, surely I can do my part from my little house in the turmoil that is 2020. Even if it isn’t perfectly clean, and our meals aren’t always top-notch, it can be a place of love and peace and healing.