Friday, August 31, 2012

Do you know who you are?

We have all read in scientific books, and indeed in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is.

This quote from G. K. Chesterton opens the first chapter of Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places by Chuck DeGroat. I started it this morning, and several points have already hit me -- hard. I think this is going to be a wild ride!

Instead of adding my own commentary, I'll simply let them find their own target:
  • "Identity erodes as ordinary people lose themselves in their personal Egypts. If you stick around Egypt, you lose your true story, and sooner or later, you'll come to believe you are a design flaw" (DeGroat, page 22).
  • "Are we not all slaves?. . . As free as we might imagine ourselves, each of us continues to wrestle with the 'old self' (Colossians 3:9), parts of us that have never left the slavery of Egypt for the flourishing we are made for" (DeGroat, page 15).
  • Another quote from Henri Nouwen followed Chesterton's: "But now I realize that the real sin is to deny God's first love for me, to ignore my original goodness. Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on a destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father."
  • DeGroat went on to explain this quote in light of Calvin's "total depravity" doctrine. We are all a mess. "But Calvinists also believe that God made the world --and us-- good, in fact very good (Genesis 1:31). We can only grasp the doctrine of original sin if we first grasp original goodness" (page 20).
  • He explains Nouwen's quote: "Sin's real devastation is in it's strange capacity to erase our memories, to cause us to forget our noble origins" (page 20).
I can definitely relate to those "desert times,"  which is one thing that drew me to this book. And I'm also fully aware that those desert times have brought me closest to God. I've come to understand myself and God better. But the big a-ha, and what I think might be a theme in the reading of this book is that I don't really have to understand myself better. God already knows.

As I was reading this morning, this song from Jason Gray sprung to mind. Doesn't it fit perfectly with the thoughts from this first chapter?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


image from cathdew

When my kids go back to school, I try to ramp up to my "back-in-gear" mentality. This year, I even made a list of things I needed/wanted to do in these first couple of days when my kids would be out of the house all day.

The List


I had grand ambitions that I set specifically with Monday and Tuesday in mind.
  1. Sort mail and organize my grandmother's papers -- or at least set up some file folders so I'd have a good system going forward.
  2. Clean my closet, which has become an unfortunate mess and a general dumping ground for those things with which I don't want to deal.
  3. Write several book reviews and blog posts.
  4. Write some thank you notes.
  5. Clean out bathroom drawers and closet.
When Monday ended, I felt as if I had gotten nothing done. What happened to all those empty hours? Tuesday those hours before lunch did stretch out, but I also felt unmotivated, yet not motivated to do things like sit and read either, so I was unproductive and uptight.

What really happened?


When I thought about it (unmotivated Tuesday morning hours aside), I realized that I had not really done "nothing." Much of what I did took time and mental energy, yet was not measured by bags of clutter that I could give or throw away. Instead of taking clutter out of my house, I put love into the hearts of those around me.

Is this nothing?

This is the way I spent some of those "non-productive" hours on Monday and Tuesday:
  1. calling a friend and catching up
  2. sitting and watching a movie with Mimi for an hour
  3. walking the dog and connecting with neighbors
  4. beating the school-supply rush, which meant heading straight to the store as soon as Amanda got home Monday
  5. sitting with my children while they did their homework to help and encourage
  6. taking Amanda to the orthodontist (which took 3 times longer than it should have) 
  7. talking to another friend
  8. preparing dinner for my family

I still have time this week to "get things done," but today I need to go to the store; I'll see Mimi; I'll probably be sitting at the table helping with homework again; I'll walk the dog; I have lunch dates I want to schedule, and I'm going to. I'm probably going to feel like I've done "nothing."

Though my closets may not be clean and I can't cross these items off my list, I'm going to try to remember that people aren't "nothing." They are something -- something big.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

So Many Books, So Little Time

I love being a book blogger. Truly.  I enjoy reading, and I know I'd read whether or not I "had" to, but this responsibility (privilege??) insures that I always have a book on hand ready to go.

Lately I've been getting a lot more unsolicited books, and the ones from this month actually look great. I know I won't get to them all, but I have the freedom to pick and choose, since I didn't specifically request them. However, there are a few that I did request that I should read this month for sure:
Other unsolicited goodies that I don't know how I'm going to find the time for, yet definitely want to:
This post is linked up to What's on My Nightstand at 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ch-ch-ch Changes

Kyle is in 3rd grade this year. Other than the fact of him being firmly a "middle grade" student as opposed to a young elementary kid, not much has changed. He's ready to go. I expect that we'll have a good year.

Amanda is a different issue entirely. You are now looking at a young woman: a full-on teenager, a high school student. 

She is ready to go as well. I know she has some nerves, but for the most part, she's looking forward to tackling high school. She's committed to starting off on the right foot with schoolwork, knowing that now that she's in high school that every grade counts. 

Early in the summer she decided that she wanted to buy a plain backpack and decorate it with Sharpie markers. I have to admit that I didn't really see her vision, but in the last few weeks, it's come together really beautifully. I think it's a great representation of who she is. She's talented and creative and she has vision. When she's committed to something, she follows through with it. The fact that she didn't give up and saw it through, and the fact that she's paid attention to things like the straps being decorated as well gives me hope for her high school career.

**This is not finished. You can see in the picture where it's on her that the top part is filled in more. She still has a bit more to do, and in fact didn't want to take it today because it wasn't finished, but it was finished enough, so I encouraged her to do so.  That reminded me of another thing about her that I need to be careful not to forget. Though she seems to have it all together, she's got some insecurities. She knows that she's going to be judged, and she wants to put her best face forward.

Who wouldn't like this girl?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Summer of the Sandwich

Neither of my kids are big sandwich eaters. They'll go in phases, with Amanda's recent lunchbox faves including peanut butter and Nutella or fluffernutter (or a combination of all 3). Kyle also recently ditched the jelly on his PB&J for some reason, and lost interest in sandwiches in general.

And then last Spring we met Terry at his office, and he took us to Jimmy John's for lunch. Kyle went on and on about how good it was. And that renewed his love of the sandwich. I stocked up on lunch meat and let him use a hot dog bun instead of "normal" bread so that it felt more like a sub, and that became his go-to lunch.

Enjoying beignets from the cart next door while waiting on our sandwich

I wonder if the fact that we've been watching Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America has anything to do with it??

When we went to Portland on vacation, we actually visited the Big A** Sandwich Food truck that was featured on the show. We had to try the sandwich with roast beef, cheese sauce, and french fries. Amanda decided she wanted that one, and the rest of us found our picks at other food carts for variety. I opted for a very smoky roasted chicken and spinach sandwich on a flatbread with a homemade garlic mayo. It was gooood.

Terry definitely won the extreme sandwich award. He was drawn to the grilled cheese cart, where he ordered the hamburger that had a grilled-cheese sandwich on each side for the bun.

Kyle still salivates over Jimmy John's, Subway, Schlotzsky's, and even the sub sandwich that I picked up at the supermarket one day when we were on the go. We tried out a new Cuban restaurant that just opened nearby, and he was quite excited to have the Cuban sandwich. If it's called a sandwich, his eyes go wide and he grins with anticipation.

I'm hoping that this love of all things sandwich will continue, at least as far as lunchtime goes. He's even said he'll take bologna or turkey or ham in his lunch at school, but I'm not sure that will stick. I'm going to try, because the I like the lunchbox to maintain some variety.

Is it just me -- or do your kids go in and out of sandwich phases?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Doing What Must Be Done

by mhartford, used with permission
We've had lots of rainy days this summer. We got some more of those Texas-sized storms this weekend, and it reminded me that last month we were having a virtual monsoon one morning. One neat thing about a good rainstorm is that it's fun to watch. As I was doing that, feeling so very thankful that I didn't have to go out anywhere, I heard the rumble of the garbage truck. I changed my viewpoint from the back yard to the front to watch those men at work.

Honestly, I was surprised that they were out in it. It was the kind of rain that not even an umbrella can protect you from. If you have to dash from your car to a building, the umbrella might keep your head dry, but the blowing rain will get your legs and arms wet. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that the garbage men were just wearing regular clothes -- pants and T-shirts. I guess I imagined some sort of rain suit. But no. It was their job -- rain or shine, hot or cold -- and they were doing it.

Since April, I've been dealing with a lot with my family, helping to care for my grandmother in her old age since my mom, her primary caretaker, was battling her own fight with cancer. People keep telling me that I'm doing a good job. That they can't believe how much I've been doing. But really, I'm just doing what must be done. I'm doing what any of you would do in similar circumstances, and what I know many of you have done. You've cared for colicky infants, children born closer together than you intended, children with special needs (or very average needs for that matter). You've helped friends who are in crisis, you've continued to show up at work or care for your children or serve the Lord when your life has been turned upside down by death or divorce.

I'm sure that doing their job under extreme circumstances gives those garbage men some stories to tell. I'll admit that my circumstances have gone beyond ordinary, but as I seek to care for my husband, my kids, as well as my mom and grandmother as well as doing all those things I do, I know that I've been given a story to tell. I've changed for the better. I'm learning to act on what is truly important.

For my mom, her battle is over. She did what she had to do. She fought as long as hard as she could. Longer or harder than any of us would have, I think.

I haven't written much about any of it. I was too busy doing to capture my thoughts and record them, but I hope to write a bit more about it to preserve the reality of now, because they are already being distorted by memory and circumstance, and I know that will only happen more as weeks and months and years go by.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kids' Picks, August

Amanda (almost 14) read the City of Bones (Mortal Instruments) sometime last year. I think that the books look pretty weird and slightly creepy (Right? What's with burnished gold chest guy rising over the city?), and I'm not sure what they're about exactly, but she likes them. She re-read the first one recently and after not being able to get the next books at the library or Half-Price Books, she was happy to find some used copies at decent prices at Powell's when we were on our vacation, and she has devoured the 2nd book (a chunkster) and is partway into the 3rd one less than a week later.

I asked Amanda about content, and when pressed she said that there's some kissing and "yearning and burning." I asked who she'd recommend them to, and she said, "I don't know. Everyone. Probably girls, not boys. People who like books."  Clear as mud?

After thinking more she said, "It's fantasy, sort of I guess. And it's funny. Not funny all the time, but some of the characters say funny things."

Kyle has been continuing his love affair with the Hank Zipzer series. I love watching him get involved in the books and hearing him chuckle aloud while he's reading. His most recent is Day of the Iguana, and he said it's one of the best ones he's read.

This month, he's also been enjoying some Garfield comic compilations that we had around from Amanda's comics phase. Between Garfield and Hank, Kyle did a lot of reading during our downtime on vacation and not a whole lot of playing of the Nintendo DS. I'm astounded that he's truly become a reader.

Have your kids had a lovely reading summer? Have they made any new novel friends? Find out about what kids are reading all over the blogosphere at Kids' Picks the 2nd Tuesday of each month at 5 Minutes for Books.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Maybe you CAN go home again

There are several types of vacations -- the visiting family sort, outdoorsy recreational, kid-focused, city glamour, beachy relaxation. I've enjoyed all of these over the years, and the one from which I just returned, ended up combining several of them.

We weren't really visiting family, but we were going back home. We lived in Portland for almost four years, and during that time it was home. Amanda was born there. We didn't mind the ever-present drizzle (yes, it truly rains 9 months of the year). We traversed the entire Pacific Northwest, enjoying apples, blackberries, skiing, books, and more.

It always comes back to books, doesn't it?  Last year I wrote about my favorite bookstores in the cities in which I've lived, and reflecting on it made me realize that after 10 years away from Portland, I still missed Powell's. I knew that, but until visiting there on our trip last week, I didn't even realize what I was missing!

When we lived there, I was going through a cookbook phase. I had quite a collection, and I loved browsing the cookbook section. If one that I purchased didn't meet my needs, I'd just sell it back on my next trip to further feed my habit. I bought novels too, of course, and non-fiction bargains that I stumbled across. Powell's has rooms and rooms of discoveries.

The store is so big, it needs a map! Kyle loved helping us find our way.

I wasn't reviewing books then, and now that I am, buying books for myself doesn't hold much appeal. While Terry browsed the sports and finance sections, I happily stayed occupied in the children's/YA room. This area was the size of a small independent bookstore in itself, and it was really awesome. I know that I bought Amanda a few Dr. Seuss books when we lived there, and I probably found some board book bargains as well, but since we left there when she was two, I didn't understand what Powell's truly had to offer children and teens. It was amazing.  You can read about what I found there in my Mailbox Monday post at 5 Minutes for Books.

Amanda and I both loved this cover on a mass market paperback copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society (look in the middle of the bottom shelf in the photo above). I'm not sure if it's a foreign version or what, but it's pretty cool. We also looked at the traditional covers and talked about the white-washing of Sticky, and looked at the new versions in which it was corrected.

As we were browsing the YA section together, she was looking for John Green books. I didn't think she had read his books, but I found out she's familiar with him through his YouTube channel.

I told her that I had copies of two of his audiobooks: The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines, which was one of the books on her list, in addition to Paper Towns. I remember An Abundance of Katherines as having a lot of bad language and more mature teen behavior, so in spite of the fact that I found it a pretty delightful book, it's not one I'd want her to read.  When I reviewed The Fault in Our Stars in February, I even mentioned that I had hoped I could pass it on to Amanda, because it didn't seem quite as mature until one plot twist at the end. I said there that I decided to wait until she was in high school.

Well, now that she's asking and is about to start high school, I told her that she could listen to that one. She wasn't thrilled because she fears it will be "too sad" since it's about cancer kids, but since I've read it and loved it and find it mostly appropriate enough (I must let go sometime -- I'm trying), and we could discuss it, I told her that she should start with that one. I might re-listen to An Abundance of Katherines, but I've told her I think she should wait on it. I will be on the lookout for a good used copy of Paper Towns (which we couldn't find at Powell's), and I'll read it first, which won't be a sacrifice at all.

The combination of the awesome selection, finding books for both kids and having some good chats brought up by the selection, made the hours we spent there so special. But it was the nostalgia that pushed me over the edge. I so vividly remember years of pushing Amanda around in her stroller while I browsed.

This bookstore trip was one of the highlights of a very nice family vacation. Is that weird?