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MidSummer Shorts

Welcome to another edition of Seasonal Shorts, a roundup of random observations from the trenches.

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Every night I play a little optimistic game with myself and put leftovers into little tupperware containers, even though I know it’s a 90% probability that no one is going to eat that food again. I label the container with the date I put it in the fridge, but I could just as easily be realistic and write “Throw away Tuesday 7/26” instead.

You know all about this and probably have some sort of similar practice. But have you ever realized that lotion is the leftovers of the bathroom? I recently cleaned out my bathroom cabinets, and I realized that I had enough lotion to keep me moisturized until 2035. I’ve built my collection in various ways: pressure sales at cosmetics parties, random gifts, and the fact that I purchase a new small bottle every time my hands get chapped in the winter.

So I threw out the oldest ones and resolved to try to use up my remaining stash before buying more, and meanwhile if you have any issues with dry skin, I am totally here for you.

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I had to change the sheets on a top bunk two times this week. I have a love/hate relationship with bunk beds. Three of our kids are able to sleep and play in one room thanks to the magic of elevated beds, and I don’t take that for granted. But changing sheets on the top beds is just the worst. It’s not just the logistical impossibility of securing a fitted sheet onto a mattress while you’re sitting on it; it’s getting onto that mattress in the first place. Is there anyone else out there who would rather walk across a floor strewn with Legos than ascend a bunkbed ladder?

I’d think that the pain of going up and down the ladder would be a deterrent to getting out of bed multiple times an evening. But I’d be wrong; somehow the same children who need to visit the ER for a single ant bite can scale these treacherous rungs with the agility of monkeys.

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It’s one of life’s little quirks that a child develops the ability to say the words “It was an accident,” way before he or she develops the moral character to feel guilt over telling bald-faced lies.

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Recently I inquired on social media about a support group for people whose kids love to tell jokes, and I was gratified by the show of solidarity from other parents of preschool and early-elementary children. Now I’m on the hunt for more supportive communities: People Whose Kids Want to Craft with Glitter. People Whose Kids Want to Eat Lunch Every Day. People Whose Favorite Podcasts All Take a Break in the Summer. People Who Thought Ruby Might Win Season Two of GBBS.

Y’all, I’ve got some crosses to bear.

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(not sponsored content, despite prominently displayed brand name)

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I recently read my old post entitled “Abby’s News Feed,” which was my version of what it would look like if Abby had Facebook at age six months. That was February of 2010, and it was a throwback to simpler times.

I thought it would be funny to write a similar post, imagining what Nathaniel’s Facebook feed would look like, as a commentary on the way social media has evolved. It began like this:

Nathaniel uploaded three photos from Instagram.
Someone Nathaniel knows commented on a photo of someone he does not know.
Someone Nathaniel met in the NICU shared an article: “BREAKING NEWS: DONALD TRUMP IS LITERALLY THE WORST.”
Nathaniel has been added to three LuLaRoe party pages.
Nathaniel’s friend shared a picture of his paper cut.
Nathaniel’s friend shared an article: “TOP THREE WAYS YOU WILL PROBABLY DIE IN THE SAFETY OF YOUR OWN HOUSE.”
Nathaniel’s friend posted a video of a cat lip-syncing “Despacito”

And at that point I despaired for the future. Dear Facebook, what have we become?

***

We spent a whole day with some friends last week. Between us we had eight kids in my small house, but it was one of the most pleasant and productive days I’ve had in a long time. Why? Because there were TWO ADULTS tag-teaming the parenting and household duties, all day long. I cooked dinner while my friend changed a baby’s blowout (Friend of the Year: it was MY baby’s diaper). She supervised the kiddie pool while I fetched water from the kitchen. And in the quiet of the nap hour, the big kids played and we sat on the couch enjoying pleasant conversation.

If it wasn’t for the whole polygamy thing, I’d say those Sister Wives people are kind of onto something good.

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That’s it for today!

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The Great American (Mom) Baking Show

The Great British Baking Show is one of my recent Netflix obsessions. In the show, amateur bakers gather under a big white tent, take their places at individual workstations, and work under tight time constraints to produce professional-quality bakes with names like “Apple and Cinnamon Kugelhopf,” “Kouign Amann” or “Spanakopita.”

The recipes and challenges are intense, but the setting is idyllic: outside the tent, animals graze in the rolling English countryside. Inside the tent, the environment is soothing: pastel colors, color-coordinated professional-grade equipment, friendly Union Jack bunting, decorative collections of teacups.

In other words, it’s the exact opposite of my baking experience. In my world, the bakes are simple and the environment is where the challenge lies.

Lately I’ve been brainstorming how it might look if someone were to option a “Great American (Mom) Baking Show.”

Here are some sample challenges in various categories:

Bake: no-knead artisanal loaf

Challenge: In this entry level challenge, bakers will be required to follow an unfamiliar recipe with the Daniel Tiger television show and an informative podcast playing at a high volume in the baking area.

Bake: two pans of brownies from a box mix

Challenge: Bakers are given a three minute head start, after which five baby monkeys will be released into each baking area.

Bake: birthday cake 

Challenge: Bakers must create a cake and decorate it in the theme “Chronicles of Narnia,” to delight a five year old, using only ingredients and decorations available at the local grocery store. $10 price limit on all purchases.

Bake: dessert bars

Challenge: Bakers must follow a recipe discovered on Pinterest. Away from the tent, the judges will tell the audience: “This challenge will test the Pinterest-savviness of the bakers. Will they read all the way to the bottom of the comments beneath the original recipe post? The comments contain crucial information– when the food blogger writes “t,” she actually means tablespoon, and that an important flavor agent is listed in the ingredients but not mentioned in the step-by-step instructions.

Bake: breakfast muffins

Challenge: Bakers will be assisted by two children, ages four and two. They must be actively engaged for the entirety of the baking process.

Bake: quick bread

Challenge: Bakers will be required to follow an unfamiliar recipe while navigating a series of interruptions: taking a child to the potty, cleaning nail polish out of carpet, troubleshooting a lost Netflix connection, extracting a perler bead from child’s ear, taking a phone call from a friend in crisis.

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Additional challenge for all bakes: Bakers will be required to clean their own baking stations, restoring them to order within the allotted time.

Meet the Judges:

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry– exacting yet courteous, these two judges from the original baking series can be counted on for maintaining quality control.

Ron, age three and a half– notorious for his capricious taste, this judge has been known to throw perfectly good food to the floor if it does not meet his approval. He appreciates a good white bread, but has an eagle eye for crust, “burnt” pieces, and vegetables hidden inside muffins.

Everyman Dan, AKA Dear Husband– the Paula Abdul of the GA(M)BS, this judge can always be counted on to eat his whole mini portion and smack his lips appreciatively.

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Start your mixers–

Ready, Set, Bake!

Encouragement for the Job That’s Never Done

 

I spend my days doing the same work, over and over again. (See: sweeping crumbs, feeding children, folding clothes, et. al.) For years I’ve told myself this is my cross to bear; the aspect of my vocation that makes me deserving of extra sympathy and/or commendation. I’ve looked forward to some far-off future season when I can get some work that is less open-ended.

I’m beginning to realize I’ve been thinking about it all wrong.

Here is what (I think) is actually true: No one’s work is ever done, and satisfied people are the ones who have learned to embrace this reality. They don’t fight against the recurring aspects of their daily work, they enjoy the cycles and rhythms, they find pleasure in the doing, not just the having done.

I’m a million miles from mastery when it comes to actually putting this theory into practice. But I’ve been trying to keep this perspective in mind as I approach my own daily work, and now that I have this concept in my head, I find that I’m running into it everywhere. (I take this as a sign that it’s really, really time for me to learn this.)

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Exhibit A: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work

It began almost a year ago when I read Kathleen Norris’s small book entitled The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work.’ In it, Norris pointed out that repetition of mundane tasks is not the particular bane of mothers and homemakers, it’s the work of being human. We make our beds, we brush our teeth, we wash our faces, we fill our stomachs. To neglect these basic tasks merely because they keep needing to be done is not a sign of liberation, it’s a sign of depression. A healthy perspective embraces these tasks as the liturgy of the everyday, as daily opportunities to develop habits of worship, diligence, humility, graciousness, service.

Exhibit B: The OB/GYN

Early in my pregnancy with Nathaniel, I sat in the exam room for an extra twenty minutes or so. The doctor finally arrived, delayed because he’d been attending another patient who was having her baby. “You just caught a baby five minutes ago?” I marveled. “Well, I didn’t do the catching, but I was there,” he clarified. “So, sixteen weeks! How has your nausea been?”

What better end product than helping a woman deliver a healthy baby after nine months of careful care and attention? And yet, there was no time to revel in the job well done; for every woman delivered of a baby, there were ten more lumbering down the corridors waiting for their turn. In this moment, I began to realize maybe I wasn’t the only one whose job kept resetting to zero all day long.

Exhibit C: Learning to Love What Must Be Done

I’ve just recently discovered Mystie Winckler’s work (thanks, Catie!), and it’s been resonating with me in a major way:

Perhaps there is actually glory in repetition, if we had the eyes to see it…Life is not only full of, but built with and upon, repeated actions and processes, change upon change.

The fact that housework is repetitious, then, is actually an opportunity. If we are what we regularly do, then every day we have the opportunity to become a person who cares for her possessions, a person who serves others cheerfully, a person who offers hospitality to herself, her family, and her community by such simple acts as making beds, doing dishes, and cleaning bathrooms.

Learning to love what must be done is not only 1) knowing what must be done, and 2) learning why it must be done, but also 3) feeling affection for and delight in the what and the why.

Exhibit C: The Greatest Chef in America

Just yesterday I (finally!) finished an audio book called The Soul of a Chef, which ended with a long profile of Thomas Keller, widely regarded as the greatest American chef at work today. Here’s a man on the top of his world, still finding great satisfaction in the tasks that we’d assume are now far beneath him.

At the bottom of Thomas Keller was a capacity to absorb himself absolutely in the mundane tasks he performed daily. It began, apparently, at the Palm Beach Yacht Club under the watch of his mom, Betty, as he made hollandaise sauce daily…Every working day, for two years, he never tired of it. On the contrary, he reveled in it; it was the high point of each day. He never took the Hollandaise sauce for granted.

It was never perfect, he never mastered it; if he ever had, the task would have become monotonous, if not unbearable. But instead, he pursued the perfect Hollandaise sauce with relentless intensity, and to this day, he will tell you that he still derives great pleasure from classical emulsion sauces…and that he likewise derives great pleasure from all the tasks he repeats daily.

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I love that last idea from Thomas Keller because it is such a reversal of what I’ve been trying to do. Joy is found in the pursuit of perfection, but not in the attaining of it. As long as you’re in process, there’s room for improvement, for creativity, for innovation. There’s something inspiring about the idea that even when I am doing a good job, there’s always a way to make it a little better.

I’ve been writing about the same goals since I started blogging: hoping to be more organized, more healthy, a better mom, a better homemaker. But I’m starting to realize that the fact that I’m still striving in all these areas isn’t a mark of failure; it’s a sign of life.

Guilt Free Kid TV for the Summer: revised & updated for 2017!

I love pinning those “Screen Free Summer Fun” lists as much as the next person. I know all about audio books, library baskets, sensory play, 48 things to do with masking tape, letting your kids be bored, playdates, water play, kid chores, and busy bags, and all the things. But some most days it seems like we can do all of the above, and it’s only 2:30 and the hottest part of the day is still looming before us. I’m raising the white flag of surrender: summer screens are just going to happen in our house. But that doesn’t make me like the idea of my kids sitting in front of the TV watching Ninjago until their brains are literally oozing out of their ears. (Because, of course, there is no middle ground.)

But wait! I’ve found a new system, though, that has helped to redeem TV time in my eyes. If you’re a conflicted, guilty TV mom like me, maybe this will be helpful to you, too:

guilt-free kid TV for your summer

Here’s the simple rule: weekday TV is Mom’s choice. There are so many things available online that are educational, or that can broaden my kids’ horizons in some way. (It can be expensive to travel or buy tickets to cultural events, but kids can taste these other worlds through videos and television!)

On their own, my kids wouldn’t usually make these wholesome choices, but when it’s Mom’s pick or nothing, they will usually cooperate. Sometimes they are not interested in what I’ve picked and they’ll drift into the other room (which is fine), but 98% of the time, they stay to watch… AND they like it!

(On the weekends, they get to pick what they watch. It keeps us all happy!)

Obviously, your quality picks will vary based on the ages of your kids (mine are 0-7) and the interests of your family. But to get you started, here are some of the titles that are in my regular rotation. I’ve labeled where we find them: (Y) YouTube, (N) Netflix, (P) Amazon Prime. I have only included things that my kids really enjoyed, unless otherwise noted.

Special Mentions: These began as my wholesome picks, but my kids loved them so much they became year-long obsessions with our whole family.

The Okee Dokee Brothers: Two fun-loving buddies go on adventures and write songs along the way. Joe and Justin travel down the Mississippi River (Can You Canoe?), hike the Appalachian Trail (Through the Woods), and ride horses along the Continental Divide (Saddle Up). For each adventure, you can watch the movie AND listen to the CD, which features all the songs from the video in full tracks, plus a few more. (DVD specials are available on Netflix, individual music videos can be found on YouTube, and CDs are free to listen through Amazon Prime music.)

The Piano Guys YouTube Channel: We actually discovered this duo in the fall, but they deserve a mention here. Like the Okee Dokee Brothers, the Piano Guys produce both video and audio content– each a delight in its own way. The music videos are beautiful and artfully produced, and many of them (kid favorites, all) are really funny as well. Top requests in our house: Cello Wars (a Star Wars parody), It’s Gonna Be Okay, Me and My Cello: So Happy Together, and Mission Impossible (Piano/Cello/Violin) ft. Lindsey Stirling. (Videos available on YouTube, CDs free to listen through Amazon Prime. Check out Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson solo albums as well!)

(30 minutes later, I’m coming back from my YouTube tab because I couldn’t stop clicking through all. the. videos. Seriously, these guys are so good!)

The Arts:

Cooking:

  • America’s Test Kitchen (P)- straightforward recipe preparation, equipment reviews, and explanations of the science behind cooking. Only one season is free to stream on Amazon, but the DVDs of all seasons are great if you can get your hands on them at the library!
  • Weelicious cooking channel (Y)
  • The Great British Baking Show (N)- a family-friendly competition show with no yelling and low emotional intensity.
  • The Great British Baking Show Masterclass (N)- After you’ve enjoyed watching the contestants on the regular show, watch Paul and Mary show you how it’s really done.

Science/Nature:

  • Zooboomafoo (P)- this earlier show by the Kratt Brothers is the one my kids prefer.
  • Bindi’s Boot Camp (N)- I’ve only watched a few minutes of the first episode, but this competition show hosted by Steve Irwin’s daughter looks like it might be cute!
  • Magic School Bus (N)
  • Moody Science Videos (Y)- These entertained my friends and I through many rainy-day recesses at our little Christian school. They’re a little slow-moving, but full of interesting visuals and information and told from a Christian perspective.
  • Rock the Park (N)- two friends explore various National Parks
  • There are TONS of animal/nature-themed documentaries available on Netflix and Prime, depending on your kids’ particular interests and sensitivity level. (Many have ratings, which is helpful.) A few we have enjoyed recently on Netflix are Growing Up Wild, Baby Animals in the Wild, and 72 Cutest Animals. These can be a bit anthropomorphic, but otherwise cute.

Classic/Educational Kids’ TV:

  • Silly Symphonies (Y) – classic Disney animation with classical music scores
  • Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood (N) (P- more seasons available here)- the Neighborhood of Make-Believe is creepier than you remember, but your kids won’t mind, and everything else is super educational! This might also give you new ideas for topics to pursue further– my kids loved the Stomp episode and we watched tons more footage of their performances on Youtube another day.
  • Reading Rainbow (P)- I started my kids on Season 1 and it was too retro, even for their tastes. I’m going to try again this year with more current episodes and see how it goes.
  • Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck, et. al. (Y)- my kids go bananas for these classic cartoons, in all their non-PC glory.

Miscellaneous/Just for Fun:

  • The Boxcar Children (N)- a sweet animated version that is very faithful to the book
  • Going on a Bear Hunt (P)- animated version of the book
  • Wallace and Gromit Complete Collection (P)- this cheese-loving clay man and his faithful dog won’t teach your kids much, but it’s very low-tech and slow moving: good, calm TV fun!
  • The Busy World of Richard Scarry (P)- old school and gentle
  • Exercise: when your kids need to move but it’s hot outside, try YouTube- search “how to dance”, “yoga instruction”, “ballet class”, or “exercise” and see what comes up! Adding “for kids” will also help refine your search and (hopefully!) keep it appropriate. (My kids also enjoy dancing along to all the dance videos I mentioned above, so try that, too.)

(Obvious note, just in case it needs to be said: I recommend closely supervised use of YouTube, even YouTube Kids! Many videos require you to watch ads before the video will begin. Our Apple TV automatically plays the “next video” after the video we’ve chosen is completed; a computer will usually display recommendations for “related” content. These can expose your kids to content that is not appropriate, or that is Just Plain Weird.)

There are several maybe-interesting titles that I’m planning to try out, so I’ll try to update this list as we explore new things throughout the summer. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear YOUR suggestions!

Texas Hygge: Danish Wisdom for Summer Survival

I’ve read it on the Internet in at least three places, so it must be true: one secret to why Danes are so happy is the concept of hygge (say it: HOO-gah). Loosely (and inadequately) translated “coziness,” this idea evokes images of nubby blankets, hearty soup, a crackling fire, candlelight, and long conversations with family and friends. Rather than gritting their teeth and seeking merely to endure the long, frigid winter, hygge enables Danes to “lean in” to winter, turning it on its head and making it a season of warmth, light, and joy.

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(Google image search)

Here in Central Texas, we have very little need for hygge of the nubby blanket variety. However, I’ve been thinking about the concept a lot lately as we approach summer, which is our own never-ending season where Nature does its best to kill off the human population by way of extreme weather.

Everyone here loves summer right now, when we’re ready for school to get out, when it’s warm enough to go to the splash pad but not so hot that your eyeballs hurt when you get into your parked car. But in about three weeks, local sentiments will shift and everyone will settle into hating summer, hating the heat, hating Texas, and dreaming of the mountains. The hostility typically lasts until after Christmas, and this is the point where I think we could use a little hygge, because half a year is too long to live with that kind of negativity.

What would hygge look like in the Texas summer? Don’t even think about blankets or hot chocolate or you’ll get a heat stroke. But there are plenty of ways to lean in to the simple pleasures of summer time–enjoying the season not just in spite of the heat, but because of it.

Principle #1: Don’t fight the limitations of the season

Danes don’t bike to work in February; Texans don’t in August. There are other times of the year that are MADE for hiking, picnics, garden weddings, zoo visits, music festivals, and outdoor recreation of any kind. But unless your enthusiasm for jogging is coupled with an enthusiasm for waking up at 5 AM, you’re just not going to enjoy it in the summer. STOP TRYING.

Summer days are for staying indoors, so plan accordingly. Join an air conditioned gym, get a season pass to local museums, invest in some board games and art supplies, plan to organize all your junky closets. It’s hard to want to stay inside during the balmy winter and spring, so shut-in summer is a great time to get around to all the work and fun to be found inside your four climate-controlled walls.

Principle #2: Indulge the senses

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Wake your senses out of their summer lethargy with some simple sensory pleasures. Summer tastes like popsicles, grilled corn on the cob, peaches, watermelon, ice cream, margaritas, fresh salsa, and iced tea. Train yourself to notice the sensory delights that come with the heat: smells of sunscreen and citronella, cool water during an evening swim, bright colors of beach towels and pedicured toes, sounds of happy shrieking children playing in the sprinkler. There is much to enjoy in the summer (and fall) months if we can only look beyond the obvious sensation of “I’m hot.”

Principle #3: Escape

In Denmark, everyone who can escapes for weeks at a time to various Mediterranean destinations during the winter. Similarly, summer vacation is a great time to chillax in Wisconsin, Siberia, or other cooler climates, if your budget and work schedule allow.

Not everyone can escape in the literal sense, and this is where your local library comes in. “There’s no frigate like a book,” says Emily Dickinson, “to take us lands away.” And what better place to camp out and read than a building that your tax dollars pay to keep at frigid temperatures?

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Any book that captures your imagination will do the trick (Check out the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide or follow Leslie and me on Instagram at @windowsandmirrorsblog for ideas).  But if you’re especially oppressed by the summer heat, try picking books that help you escape to the cold! Here are some titles to get you started:

  • The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. These cozy mysteries are set in Three Pines, Quebec, which is the perfect small town except for all the murders.
  • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Keep reading through These Happy Golden Years and you’ll get to the scene where Almanzo and Laura take weekly rides in his cutter in temperatures as low as eighty below zero.
  • Anything by Jack London if you’re looking for something cool and gritty
  • In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe it’s always winter but never Christmas, until Aslan shows up!
  • The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. A British couple moves to rural Denmark so he can take his dream job working at Lego. She’s a freelance writer who spends the year trying to figure out why the Danes are the happiest people on earth.
  • Take your kids along for the ride with anything from this list of snowy day picture books from Read Aloud Revival.

Principle #4: Stick together

It can be tempting to get so hunkered down into your own survival that you forget about the community around you. But essential to the concept of hygge is not just being cozy, but being cozy together.

So when you take a day trip to the children’s museum, ask some friends to come along. Organize a snow-themed summer book club. Sign up to participate in a local VBS. Go hang out at the splash pad immediately after an early breakfast. Chat with your spouse on the back porch after the kids are in bed. And the best bonding happens through shared suffering. So if you must tour the Dallas Arboretum with your kids at 3 PM in August, at least do it with a friend, and you will have a vivid shared memory that you can laugh at together for years to come.

Summer is coming, and you know the heat will be here to stay, so you might as well cozy up to the idea and go all in.

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SIDEBAR: As I talked about this idea with Stephen, we agreed that since “hygge” is a thoroughly Danish term for this cold-weather concept, we needed to come up with an American English word for the summertime version. Stephen suggested using the word CHILL. I think it’s brilliant, because it is a term that already includes both the physical and emotional components of this attitude. So there you have it!

Introducing Baby Nat

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Hooray, Caboose is here at last!

A few weeks after Jem was born (this was four years ago, in case you’ve lost count), I realized that for the first time since I was seventeen years old, I had no names in the queue for a future boy baby. It had been so long since I had come up with a name from scratch that I feared I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I’d be one of those desperate moms in the postpartum unit flipping through the baby name book for last-minute inspiration.

(Yes, you read this correctly…these thoughts came to me while I was holding a newborn. What can I say, I like to think ahead.)

We’ve fallen into a pattern as we’ve named our children: Stephen likes names from the Bible, I like names from literature or history.  It’s been a helpful set of parameters to help us narrow down our choices and pick names that are full of meaning for both of us.

So although I was searching for a new boy name with some intention, my final inspiration came unexpectedly, as I was in the middle of reading a mediocre novel about twin brothers separated at birth.  The only important detail about this book is that one of the boys was named Nat, and about halfway through the book it was as if a light from heaven illuminated the name on the page.  Seriously, it was as magical and as certain as the moment that Jacob Black laid eyes on Renesmee for the first time.

Nathaniel, of course!  But not because of that silly book, which shall not be named, but (How had I not thought of this earlier!?!??) after one of my longest-standing literary crushes in one of my most beloved books of all time: Nathaniel Eaton from The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  And even more specifically, this line, which makes me swoon every time I read it:

(SPOILER ALERT)

It had been Nat from the beginning, she admitted now, and with that knowledge came a sureness that she had never known in all the last bewildering year.

It was not escape that she had dreamed of, it was love. And love was Nat.

Stephen was not convinced at first (he couldn’t get over the Nat/gnat homophone), but he came around eventually.  How could he argue, after all, when I had imprinted on the name, AND when there is a Nathanael in the Bible?  (He’s a good namesake, too: he is the disciple “in whom there is no guile” who demonstrates humility, repentance, and faith in just a few verses.)

For Nathaniel’s middle name, we wanted something strong and theological, naturally. We settled on Owen, after the English Puritan John Owen. (Since the one flaw of The Witch of Blackbird Pond is its unsympathetic portrayal of Puritans, I felt like this was a good way to make amends.)

Among people who care about such things, Owen is regarded as a great thinker and passionate theologian, relentless in his pursuit of spiritual growth and understanding (His most famous work is entitled The Mortification of Sin.). So, not a bad role model at all.

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At the Gospel Coalition conference in April, we found this first-edition copy of Owen’s Works at a rare books display.

Nathaniel was born on March 2, which is Texas Independence Day, and in 2017, which is the year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. All in all, we couldn’t be more pleased about all the symbolic weight piled on our last-born.

To be a guileless sin-slayer, Texas proud, committed to the ideals of the Reformation, whose cornflower blue eyes sparkle with mischief and humor. That’s all we ask, Baby Nat; the rest is totally up to you.

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He’s tired just thinking about it.

(Baby name junkies: You might also enjoy Why Her Name is Abigail, the last question in Baby Sam FAQs, As in Finch, not as in Halpert (why we named him Jem),  and It’s a Girl! And Why We Named Her Leah)

Taking note: life-givers

I’ve been feeling pretty grouchy lately, so Anne Bogel’s annual midwinter linkup has been especially timely. “Most of us know what’s killing us,” she writes, “but few of us pay attention to what’s giving us life.”

This was an exercise I needed today, when my grievances were ready on my tongue, but thoughts of my (many!) blessings were on the back burner. So, without further ado:

Stephen. I’m so thankful for his flexible schedule and his willingness to pick up my slack around the house. He plays with the kids, gives me chances to put my feet up, makes my ice cream and coffee, and generally tolerates my late-pregnancy complaints without comment.img_2201

 

Parents. I know that I COULD get by without having my parents and in-laws close by, but it’s so nice having them in and out of our regular routines. My mom and dad pop in and out, giving me company and diverting the banshees, and Stephen’s parents have been especially helpful to help watch the kids while I go to my frequent doctor visits.img_2475

 

The kids. So this one is tricky, because they’re also the ones driving me to the brink of insanity most days, but it would be completely dishonest not to put them on this list as well. Just when I’m starting to unravel completely, I’ll catch Abby and Jem deep in some imagined game together, I’ll overhear Leah singing to her baby doll, or I’ll spend time with some other kids that make me realize how much I DO adore my three the best of all!

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Now, much less significant, but noteworthy just the same:

Bitmoji. Leslie introduced me to this personalized emoji keyboard– since I am no longer capable of expressing myself with actual words when I’m engaged in text conversations, I appreciate the breadth of emotions that are now at my fingertips. My favorites are the ones that are grumpy and snarky (as you can tell), and somehow using these to vent my frustrations DOES make me feel better.537c5254-2a40-40c4-ac68-3679863b9084

 

Bedtime. You know what’s amazing about bedtime? It comes around, even on the hardest days. Just knowing that 7:00 WILL arrive helps me to persevere through midday slumps. (7:00 is when the kids go to bed, which is the start of my relaxing hours, and then 10:00 is my OWN bedtime, which is also a moment when I hear the angels sing.)img_3114

 

Instagram. I have had conversations about this, so I know I’m not the only one who does this. When I’m grouchy I like to scroll through my own pictures, to help me remember how sweet my life really is.img_3115

 

The Boppy wedge. I could never deal with those giant wraparound pillows that some people swear by, but this tiny wonder makes all the difference between an amazing and backbreaking night’s sleep. It’s small enough to carry with me at all times, whether I’m just going from right side to left side, or all the way to Wisconsin.

 

Leah’s new obsession with “doing the dishes.” Not only is this one of those moments that reminds me how cute she is, it’s a way for her to be happy in the kitchen while NOT being in my arms. And she only dumps giant cupfuls of water all over the floor *some* of the time.img_3116

 

Weekly non-stress tests and doctor visits. Once a week, I’m instructed by a medical professional to sit alone in a room with a book and swooshing ambient noise for thirty minutes. Yes, please!  I just wish I could figure out a way to maintain my luxurious prenatal care regimen even after Caboose is born so I could keep up with the relaxing and also not be pregnant any more.

 

Getting dressed. I went into detail about this in a previous post, so I won’t belabor the point again, except to say this: the pleasure of facing the day in a thoughtfully chosen outfit is matched only by the pleasure of changing into (my husband’s) soft pajamas in the evening.

 

(Like time hops? Check out my January lifesavers from last year!)

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Winter Shorts

I know I told you I was seeking space for quiet contemplation and soul-serenity this January, but last week I did the opposite of that: I went on vacation with my family. As in, Stephen and I took all three of our kids on an airplane, and we flew to Wisconsin for a long weekend with my family to meet my newborn nephew. It was not restful, but it was loads of fun! And it gave me new appreciation for our balmy Texas weather and for the convenience of a single-story home. (Seriously. Just putting up with the cold is one thing. But the gear! Keeping up with all those hats and gloves and boots would make me lose my ever-loving mind. Hats off–or on– to you insane people who live in places with more than three days of winter!)

But did I mention we had a great time? The kids played in the snow, danced to live polka music at a restaurant, took in the kid-friendly signs of Milwaukee, and doted on their little cousins. I soaked up time with my family together; as more kids come along, it’s harder for us all to get together, and even keeping up by chatting on the phone is challenging. (Does anyone else have this trouble? How do people keep in touch??)

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We’re in the final-weeks countdown of waiting for Caboose. This has so many implications for me right now, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it all, but here is one: I feel exhausted and whiny all the time. Here is my best defense against being a completely useless blob on the couch: Dress in real clothes. Feeling especially tired or listless? Dress up even more (leggings and dresses or skirts look great and are as comfortable as pajamas). Every day, without fail, I put on fresh clothes (jeans or dresses–not yoga pants, at least not for me), and put on makeup and jewelry. This sends a very powerful signal to my body and my brain that this is a day to be a person, not a potato.

Not only does this simple practice guarantee an improved mental state for myself, it sends a nice message of respect and kindness to the people who have to look at me all day. I have never, ever forgotten this story I read years ago in Almost French (a highly recommended memoir):

Rushing to the bakery to get a baguette and croissants, I chuck on an old, shapeless jumper and my warmup pants, which I’d rediscovered at the bottom of a wardrobe when we were packing up our place at Levallois. Catching sight of me, Frederic was appalled.

“Warmup pants?” He’s never seen me wearing them before.

“What’s wrong with that? I’m only going to the bakery.”

There is a second’s pause. Frederic’s eyes implore me. Finally, he manages to speak. “But it’s not nice for the baker!”

I know that many, many people can pull off athleisure apparel and a great mental attitude at the same time. Carry on, friends! But if you struggle with feeling dumpy and unmotivated, you might give jeans and lipstick a try.

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Here’s a little snapshot of some other pertinent trivia:

What I’m reading: The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice  Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein. I’m literally on page one, so I can’t say much about it except that with a title like that, how can it NOT be amazing?

The Glory of Christ by John Owen. Full confession: I am reading a revised and abridged version and it’s still plenty challenging for me.

(ICYMI, bookish friends, Leslie and I have slowed down with posting on our book blog, but we’ve kept our Instagram account hopping! Check us out @windowsandmirrorsblog if you like to talk books!)

What I’m watching: Stephen and I are watching The West Wing while we fold laundry at nights these days. We’re only in season one, but we’re hooked! It’s unashamedly partisan, but if you can get past that, the story and characters are interesting.

My kids are drifting aimlessly in their TV watching now that Jake and the Neverland Pirates has been taken off of Netflix. TBD on where they’ll land next, although I’ve nixed several of their suggestions.

What I’m listening to: My non-contemplative home leaves me on sensory overload most of the time, and I’ve found that most music only adds to the noise for me. I’m gravitating toward very simple instrumental arrangements, which fortunately I can find in pretty good quantity on Amazon music.

Just in the past few days I’ve enjoyed a few episodes of the podcast Off Camera, which I’ve heard recommended a number of times. They are long, in-depth interviews with celebrities. Quite interesting, although your kids might learn some new words if they happen into the kitchen at the wrong moment.

I’m trying to listen to Daily Audio Psalm every morning. I’ve tried lots of daily Bible podcasts, and so far none have stuck. There are several things I like about this one, but the host/reader closes out every episode by saying “I love you.” I haven’t decided if I can live with that or not.

And, of course, I remain a devoted consumer of anything produced by or featuring Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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What have YOU been up to, lately?

January: Time to Rest

When I was seventeen, I heard a talk on rest that I think about every year around this time. The speaker celebrated the busyness and beauty of the Christmas season, with all its decorations and activity and sights and sounds. But after all that fun, she argued for the importance of giving our eyes and minds and souls a time of rest. So in her home, the garlands, the festive dishes, the mini villages of fake snow, the tinsel and the trees give way to a spare, clean atmosphere: white dishes, jelly jar drinkware, white candles, empty shelves and mantels, simple melodies played quietly.

After a festive December, January can feel slow and cold and boring. But, like all seasons, it comes with its own special (although less flashy) gifts: time and space. Those dark, cold evenings are perfect for long conversations, self-reflection, reading good books by a crackling fire. January is for soup and deep thoughts, slowly simmering.

I’ve always loved this idea, in theory. But.

“Rest” and “quiet” are lovely ideas, but I’m finding it harder to make them materialize in a space that is also home to three children– I’ve got a big girl making laps around the house in her roller skates, tiny Playmobil and Lego pieces strewn around like confetti, and a two-year-old permanently affixed around my neck like a heavy scarf that I can’t take off. And before I can set the table with my simple dishes, and cozy candles, I must first remove a day’s worth of school supplies, art work, water bottles, and goldfish crumbs.

And yet, I am not ready to throw in the crisp, white towel on the notion of a January of rest and peace. Because I know that as much as I love the idea of rest for my physical senses, all the white plates and piano tunes in the world will not calm a soul that is in turmoil. And this soul-peace is really what I am craving.

So of course I’m doing my best to keep the house in order. But just as importantly, I’m trying to cultivate deeper habits of peace: spiritual disciplines, mindful media consumption, a few optimistic new routines, responsible bedtime.

Anyone else have tips for finding peace amid the Playmobil?

Food for Thought

We’re down to the final weeks of 2016, which always gets me in the mood to have deep thoughts– thoughtful reflections on the year that is passing, hopeful plans for the year to come (although with another baby on the way, I’m definitely continuing my “non-resolutions” approach to the new semester).

The big theme I’ve kept coming back to over the past few months, and the practice I hope to develop even more thoughtfully in this new year the habit of mindful input.

As a culture, we’re very in tune with the connection between our physical input and output– when I eat X, I feel Y; when I avoid X, I can accomplish Y. We wear our food preferences as proud badges of identity: I’m a foodie, I’m paleo, I’m gluten-free.Our “splurges” on a piece of holiday fudge or a festive cocktail are carefully considered and compensated for accordingly in the next day’s workout. We make no apologies for snobbery- who wants to be the one on the record defending processed, non-organic, artificially flavored so-called food?

Striving for purity in my food intake is not actually high on my priority list (because, Dr Pepper, among many other things). But I’ve found the comparisons helpful as I’ve grown increasingly convinced of the importance of taking more responsibility for the diet of my mind.

Information is so readily available, it’s easy to go days and weeks without ever having to feel “hungry” mentally- I’ve snacked on social media feeds, clicked on articles about parenting and politics, listened to that podcast that everyone was buzzing about, watched that show that Netflix recommended, skimmed the headlines on my news app, read the book I snagged on a Kindle deal, glanced through thousands of pins and photos like so many handfuls of M&Ms. Having a smartphone in my hot little hands is like being at a 24-7 party buffet for my mind. (There are nourishing options on the table, of course, but who ever gets past the Chex Mix and mini sausages?)

If I think about it that way, it’s no wonder my brain is simultaneously overstimulated and unsatisfied. One of the most influential things I read this past year was Alan Jacobs’ article “Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction,” which, ironically, I stumbled upon in my Facebook news feed.

Jacobs cautions: “[The church] cannot allow our habits and practices to be determined by the massive multinational corporations that control our technologies, and have their own agendas for how we use them, agendas that care nothing for the development of true personhood in Christ.”

Related is the admonition of Paul in Philippians 4: “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy– think about these things…practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Peace. Wholeness. A mind– well nourished, thoughtfully fed, is a mind at peace, just like a body fueled by a moderate, healthy diet.

It’s not as simple as saying, “I need to read my Bible more, get a dumb phone, and not watch the nasty stuff on Netflix.” It means paying attention to the balance of everything I take in, and monitoring my own reaction to each element.

What kinds of articles are encouraging and uplifting to me, and which make me feel discontent, unsatisfied, or perpetually guilty? (Sometimes it’s Christian writers talking about contentment that make me feel the worst!)

What podcasts, feeds, or playlists energize my creativity or calm my mind, and which ones just add to the noise in my  house and in my head?

Am I taking time to read long articles that challenge my thinking and my practices?

Am I making space for reading books–not just easy fluff, but a good variety of ideas, styles, and themes?

And while everything I consume will not be not overtly “spiritual” in nature, am I keeping a balance, and filtering everything through the lens of truth?

And when I do want to veg out, do the shows or apps I spend time with leave me feeling truly rested, or kind of gross and hung over?

The goal of all this is lofty– continuing “the development of true personhood in Christ,” as Jacobs put it, remembering that I am not just a consumer and screen-watcher, but a whole person with a soul to be fed.

So now I’m praying and planning for 2017 to be a year of nourishing, rich soul food. And I’m trying to start right away– I’ve got a stack of good books waiting for me beside my favorite chair (and I’ve found they’re especially delightful with a bowl of ice cream in hand!).

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