Friday, April 29, 2011

Museum and Arch and Tornado oh my!

When I took Hannah to St. Louis on her coming of age trip, this is what we saw from the top of the arch.

And this is what Hannah looked like.

It was May 2001. She was 10. I wasn't quite 40. I turned that momentous age on a day many of you may remember - September 11, 2001.  When I took Faith, the view had changed, as had the security measures we endured to enjoy that view.

It was April 2006. Faith looked a little different 5 years ago also.

And one year later, I turned around and took Elizabeth.

At The Magic House

When I first made that drive with my oldest, Mary Grace's trip seemed unimaginably far in the distance. She was 2 1/2. She's 12 now - will be 13 in September. And she has taken her trip.

 When the kids were young, Lou and I became aware of the tapes pictured below. A parent was encouraged to listen to these with their preteen as you drive to somewhere the two of you can just have fun together. On the way you talk about all the changes that were coming.

I used the word "tapes" on purpose. That's what they are because that's how old they are. As I listened to them again with Mary Grace, I was pleasantly surprised at how relevant they still were. Of course, texting, facebook and the like weren't even mentioned because they were non-existent. But the basic challenges we all face were covered, from the physical changes we all have to go through, to the emotional upheavals that come - in large part because of a lot of those physical changes. This format of listening to Dr. Dobson introduce these topics, and then discussing them has worked well for our family.

We spend the majority of the drive time with Dr. Dobson, and the rest of the time (2-3 days-ish) having fun. We've done different things with different kids. Obviously, Lou took the boys and they did boy stuff. The girls and I have done a variety of things:

Gateway Arch
Cardinal ballgame
Magic House
City Museum
Watching movies in the hotel

It's really not so much what you do. It's just hanging out together. Mary Grace and I will forever talk about the hour we spent in the food court of the Galleria Mall with 50 bajillion other shoppers during the tornado warning the Friday night that the tornado hit the airport. We'll talk about the arch, and how I'm glad I don't ever have to ride up in those little cars again. And we'll talk about the City Museum. It has more tunnels and passageways and slides than you can imagine. I'm ending this post with some pictures from our time there.

It's really not so much what you do. It's who you're with. And I had the privilege of being with each of my 4 daughters on a special trip at a special time of their life. What gifts from God they are. I am thankful.

Yes, I was crawling through these with her.

You had to crawl up this to get to the long slide

Next week: Back to normal Follow Through mode. We are going to Hawaii at the end of May. I want to get some materials together to present to the family - both for educational purposes and to build excitement. (nerd alert lights are flashing)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This Will Come as No Surprise

This will come as absolutely no surprise to my kids. Mom is waxing poetic. This time, in chalk.

I follow John Piper (who, besides preaching, loves and writes poetry), on Twitter, and he alerted me to the fact that April is National Poetry month.  When I jumped over to their website to see what was happening, I saw "30 Ways to Celebrate." I'm all about celebrating, so I clicked there. One of the suggestions was to Put a poem on the pavement. At first glance, I thought that sounded lame. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. My next thought had to do with how much of a nerd I really am - only nerds want to go around writing poems on sidewalks.

The only pavement/concrete areas I really have connection to or ownership of are the ones at our home or at Lou's office.  Obviously, there's more traffic at a business and if I'm going to take the time to pen poetry on sidewalks, I want it to be seen. So, off to Bolivar Family Care Center Mary Grace and I go.

Prior to chalking, I checked in with our office manager. His acknowledgment (humoring) of my idea concluded with the joking comment, "Just nothing questionable!" Hahahaha...

"Oh! (hahahaha), Of course not! One of the ones I'm copying is "Trees." You know - one of  the most famous poems ever!" And with that reply, out the door I went.

Mary Grace was waiting for me with our poem book and chalk. I picked out a sidewalk that was very visible to people as they walked in the clinic, and opened our book to "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer. (Joyce, fyi, was not a woman. Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) was an American writer, deeply religious, and died a hero's death at WWI's  2nd Battle of the Marne.)

I was finishing writing those famous first two lines of his poem,

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree

when I glanced at the third and fourth lines:

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed 
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

Oh, good grief. I had forgotten about those lines. I love those lines - so beautiful. But I could also hear our manager's "joking" words. I wondered if that little example of  personification was a little too much for the sidewalk at BFCC...Now what to do? To ensure that I wouldn't be banned from future chalking adventures, I decided to leave them out. Sidewalk poetic license?  I had to make it right here, though. It's just not the same without that verse.

Mary Grace added the tree to our creation. With that, we were ready for poem #2.

"The Sun," by John Drinkwater was slated for the other sidewalk. I had never read this one before. I was glad to see the sun out that day so I found a poem about just that. It was short and fun.  As I was beginning to write this one, a man walked by and said, "My 5 year old likes to do that too."

Oh, Hahahaha...Lots of laughter today. And, as I was writing "The Sun," some friends came out of the clinic and of course, wondered what we were doing. We had a great time visiting with them. They were very supportive our our little poem party.
John and Pat Bayer and Mary Grace
Then, back to our work. This one took no time for me to write, and Mary Grace embellished it appropriately.

See that last line?   "I'm happy!"  That's exactly how Mary Grace and I felt as we stood there surveying our work.  We hope that our unexpected brush of poetry on these sidewalks brought a smile to some faces, and joy to some hearts.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Follow Through Friday - Martha Stewart

Well, you never know until you try.

I had seen a picture months ago of a table in Martha Stewart's home, Skylands, that I thought might work in my family room. I had pictured it in this one open corner of the room. It's been in the back of my mind since then, so to get it out of the back of my mind and into reality, I made it a Follow Through.  Here's what I said I wanted to do last week.

I want to set up a table in my family room that's patterned off one I saw on Martha Stewart's site. First, I have to find the picture, then I'll set it up. How's that for specific?

I found the picture. And I still like it.

I love that it's a round table. Love the stools. Love the urn with the flowers. And love, love, love all the books. They just beg you to sit down and learn something. Seeing the picture again made me want a telescope also.

The only thing I have around the house that is part of that picture? Books. Ok, well, necessity is the mother of invention. Let's see what I can do to achieve a similar look.

I found a drop leaf table with rounded edges. Not bad. Nothing close to the urn, but I had actually forgotten that it was in the picture at all. Somehow, I had replaced it in my mind with a globe. Love globes. I am a globe and map freak. So, check that. And I already had in mind the books I wanted to put on it. I have nothing close to the beautiful tablecloth, so I went to the linen closet to see what could possibly work. A quilt?

I put something together in that open corner that, well, we just didn't like. Once I set it up, we all felt a little crowded, and I hadn't even put any chairs around it. (That's funny, I don't remember thinking it looked crowded in the picture on Martha's blog.) Well, my family room is big, but it's not as big as hers. The crowding is really the main issue, but my substitute that I tried for a beautiful tablecloth is not good - and not ironed. But I was just trying to get a feel for things. So, here's what we put together.

The mix, the feel, the crowding is not good for the Harris clan. But you never know until you try.  And all was not lost. I found those inspirational pictures, which made me smile. I found them on her blog, which you can access here: Martha Stewart.  It was fun to take a break and get lost on it for a while.

Speaking of taking a break, I'm going to do that with my Follow Through. I'm taking my youngest to St. Louis next week, and won't be here to post. This trip is actually a follow through of sorts. I was supposed to take her last spring, but it would get postponed for one reason or another. So, nothing new next week, but in two weeks, I'll report on our "I'm about to be a teenager so I listen to some Focus on the Family tapes on the way to St. Louis with a parent" trip.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Two Words and a Walk

"I'm about to crack." Those were the words I said to a dear friend when she called about 8:10 this morning.

Today began like most days. Out of bed at 5:45 a.m.ish, to the laundry room to start a load of Mt. Neverest, and then, to my chair with my coffee to spend time with God. Since it's April 13, I turn to #13 in this book.

Incomprehensible. I need that reminder today of how big God is. God speaks to me through Job 5:8 especially.

"If it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him."

I can take my cause, my world, my feelings, my schedule, my children, my marriage, my time, my heart, my hopes, my dreams, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, to him. Appeal to him. Lay them before Him.

Because I need help. I feel overwhelmed. And sad. I can tell right then that today will be a battle for joy. I'm going to need to preach to myself today - a lot. I keep reading. The scripture for today is from Luke 16. It's about a shrewd, albeit dishonest, manager. How ironic. I'm feeling like a failure in managing my household. What's God saying to me? I wrestle, read, pray, "Show me you, God. I'm laying my cause -me-before you. Help me. I'm appealing to you." Wrestle, read, pray.

The noises start filtering down from upstairs and I know the girls are up. My time in the Word comes to an end.
Battle. Battle. Battle.

The late start Wednesday morning routine continues. Lou is making pancakes. That right there, a husband who likes to cook, who is making breakfast for the family should shake any feelings of sadness. Nope. I hate this! I have absolutely no reason to be anything but happy and thankful. Battle.

At 8:10, the phone rings. I hear a dear friend's voice say, "Do you have time to ride today?"
Nope. But then it occurs to me. Lou's home. He can see the kids off. I don't really have time to ride, but I could go walk right now. I can walk, get back, and get cleaned up before we need to leave for Springfield at 10 for Mary Grace's violin lesson. My friend can go with me, but being the sensitive soul she is, says, "Would you rather be alone? Sometimes when I'm about to crack, I need to be alone."
No, thoughtful one, girl time would help.

It does. She listens. She talks. Both encourage my battling heart. As I reflect on that time with her, these verses come to mind.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. I Thessalonians 5:11

And we walk. 50 minutes worth. It feels so good. I haven't been able to exercise lately, which is a downer as well as a downer producer. Exercise starts those endorphins flowing. I'm feeling better, stronger. Thank you, God.

For your Word, my friend's words, and a glorious walk. 
You heard my appeal. 
You have equipped for the battle.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Follow Through Friday on Saturday - Easter

Whoops! Time crunch this week. Reasons exist for my lateness, but that's going to be the topic of a future post, so we'll delve right into the topic at hand. My follow through task from 2 weeks ago went like this:

Next week: Easter is one month away. Every year, the day after Easter, I tell myself that I'm going to emphasize this holiday more next year.  I have my wreath out (see March 9 post), but otherwise, I have nothing celebratory around the house. And I have no special plans for Easter week. This week, I'm going to work on making the house more Easter centered and I'm going to plan Christ centered activities/readings for Easter week.

Well, because of my little April 1 prank, Easter is now a short two weeks away. Between now and then, David has 5 golf matches, Faith has 2 track meets, Elizabeth has 5 soccer games, and Mary Grace has 2 soccer games and 4 tennis lessons. She and I are also going to squeeze her "I'm about to be a teenager" trip to St. Louis in. Add a couple of more non sports related events on the calendar,  and we only have the potential for everybody to be home for 3 evening meals in the next 14 days. (That kind of hectic schedule is also fodder for a future post.)

So, what will our Easter emphasis look like? I'll list them for you and then briefly comment on each one.

nice fingerprints

1. Resurrection Eggs: These have been around a while, but we still enjoy them even though my kids are older. Each egg contains an small item representing a significant event during Jesus' last days on earth. There is a related scripture reading with each. Once a day, starting this Wednesday, you open an egg, read the scripture and discuss the symbol. Obviously, it's best to do this when everybody is home.  Thankfully, the entire family being together at least once in the day is not completely shot for us because we already have a set breakfast time in place. The kids have to be at the table every school day at 7:20 for breakfast. I'm a loving tyrant about this. They may be half asleep some mornings, but they are there. I try to read to them a short passage from the Bible. We'll just take a brief hiatus from the book of Daniel, which we are in right now (remember the writing on the wall story? Yikes.) 

Food for the body. Food for the soul. But let me be honest here (not that I'm not always honest, just need a little emphasis). I often still feel a bit awkward initiating this reading time and actually doing it. And sometimes I wonder about its effectiveness. But then I remember
Isaiah 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
So, awkward feeling or not, I try to do it anyway (most days) praying God will cause it to take root in my kid's lives. Maybe, if you've been wanting to try some kind of similar reading, the Resurrection Eggs this Easter season could be a launching point.

2. Saturday Night before Easter Reading Party: How about that catchy name? This is something brand new for us. Lou came home from his Bible Study with this idea. Tom Sneed, of cutting down tree fame, has started reading through the Bible with his family on Saturdays. They set aside 1 hr and take turns reading the Bible out loud to each other, just as you might read any story out loud. The Sneeds have found it very meaningful and powerful. Out of discussions surrounding this practice, came Lou's idea. The Bible Study families will come over, and for 1 hour, we will read through a gospel, which culminates right where we are - resurrection. It'll be interesting to see what kind of discussion comes of this. An hour is a significant amount of time to sit and listen, so we'll be letting the kids know (I guess they do right now) what's going down so they can psych themselves up.

I'm sure food will be involved on some level. And if weather permits, we'll probably set up a flashlight egg hunt. If your kids are too old for traditional egg hunts, try one in the dark. Parents, after banning kids to interior rooms,  will hide the eggs while it's still light outside. When it gets dark, the kids are turned loose with flashlights to hunt. We've done this with a big group, and it is great fun.

3. Easter Sunday: Sunday morning service with its atmosphere of celebration is the grand finale. In times past I have cooked a special meal for lunch, and other times, we've gone out. I haven't decided which we're going to do this year. Always, though, I make a cake in this lamb mold.

A small reminder, but a reminder, none-the-less of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. 

As far as my house being decorated for Easter, I haven't done anything new. I have my Lent wreath, which I absolutely love, prominently displayed.

It's been good to describe its meaning to everyone who comes to the house. 

I also have these crosses.

 Lou made these from the trunk of 2 of our Christmas trees.  I had read about that somewhere and asked Lou to make it happen. The one on the right is my favorite. We discuss how the Christmas tree, the symbol of the birth of Christ is used to make the symbol of the death of Christ. He was born to die. Another something to remind us. To constantly remind us.

This season is busy. If I let myself, I could almost be bummed that we weren't doing more to help us focus. But I'm not going to concentrate on what we are not doing, but on what we are doing. And what we are doing is good. And isn't good, good?

Next week: I want to set up a table in my family room that's patterned off one I saw on Martha Stewart's site. First, I have to find the picture, then I'll set it up. How's that for specific?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Number by Reading

Psalm 90:12 says the following:

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."

Here we have a call to not squander the days we've been given. I think about how I use my time a lot, but that doesn't mean I don't waste some of it. But if there's any time I could point to in my 21 years as a parent that I would say I have definitely not squandered, it's the time I spent reading out loud to my kids.
I've read.

and read...

and read...

and read...(Sorry I broke the pattern. I couldn't find a picture of just reading to the 4)

and read. Ask Lou about Mary Grace's bangs.
Looking pretty exhausted in those last couple of pictures. There's a reason for that - I was. And I must admit, I didn't always feel like reading to them. Now, just looking at these pictures, seeing us all snuggled up together, I'm very glad that reading a story and then reading the Bible was our nightly routine. And exhausted or not, we did it. We always ended with the Bible because we wanted them to go to sleep with God's word being the last thing they heard.

I began yawning less during that nightly reading once we passed the days of reading the same favorite books over and over. While those were precious times and I've saved all of their favorites (like Sue Roweton - who has a great blog post over just that subject. Check it out at: Sweet Nostalgia ), I totally prefer where we were in that last picture posted above, and where we are now - reading stories where the kids beg, "Please don't stop! Just one more chapter!"

And because I'm just as in to the story as they are, I usually acquiesce.  Mr. Popper's Penguins, is just one example of the children's books I've come to love. However, I didn't read Mr. Popper's Penguins as a child.  In fact, I'd never heard of it until I started homeschooling and was introduced to Sonlight.
Sonlight is a literature based curriculum, which has, as an integral part of the curriculum, Read-Alouds. Now, of course, a parent knows they should read out loud to their child. And I was doing that. What Sonlight did for me is give me some amazing, quality literature that I'd never heard of. Why I didn't read these stories when I was young, I couldn't tell you. I don't even remember ever hearing of Newbery Medal and Honor books. (Embarrassingly, when I was young, I had heard of Harlequin Romances - definitely not amazing, quality literature.)

A few of our favorites from Sonlight have been:
Johnny Tremain
Carry on Mr. Bowditch
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
The Wheel on the School
The Endless Steppe
Cheaper by the Dozen
Man of the Family
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Understood Betsy
Banner in the Sky
Betsy and the Emperor

Some great truths and life lessons are introduced and more easily understood in the context of an engaging story. With the internet, we are also constantly looking up places and ideas mentioned that we aren't sure about. And I cry at the sad parts. I don't know how many times I've read Charlotte's Web.
I know what's going to happen. But the response is always the same when I read the following.
     But as he was being shoved into the crate, he looked up at Charlotte and gave her a wink. She knew he was saying good-bye in the only way he could. And she knew her children were safe.
      "Good-bye!" she whispered. Then she summoned all her strength and waved one of her front legs at him.
      She never moved again. Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.

I cry. And I'm granted the opportunity to begin gently teaching my children about grief before a great grief happens. And that applies to anger, honesty, love, loyalty, bravery, treachery, deceit, etc, that are woven throughout different stories.  Great stories, no matter what age they are written for, summon all the emotions that make us human.

And ones worth reading inspire us to be better people. Even as I type this, I'm wondering why I have stopped reading to the older ones. We all still love a story. We all still need to be inspired to be better people.  I now only consistently read out loud to Mary Grace. In fact, this post was originally supposed to be about the book we just finished, Number the Stars. 

I had made some notes about certain passages in that book that I wanted to expound on here. But once I started writing this post, it kind of took on a life of its own. And, after writing this, and reminding myself of the great benefits of reading out loud to my kids - no matter what age you are or they are - I'm thinking we might just have to start that habit up again.  Not sure what that would look like practically, but I know it would be worth the time and effort to make it happen. I'll let you know if that becomes a reality.

In the mean time, Mary Grace and I will read.  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is next on our list. I'm sure I'll make notes in its margin also. And I'm sure both Mary Grace and I will say, more than once,  "Just one more chapter."

*In looking for pictures of Lou and me reading to the kids, I found some honorable mentions.
A little blurry, but I love this one

In the Oakland house where we brought 5 out of the 6 home

At YMCA of the Rockies

Hannah - always willing to help

Lou's grandmother and Elizabeth

My mom and Mary Grace

Lou reading to a room full of cousins

Me and Elizabeth

Friday, April 1, 2011

Follow Through Friday - Out of Control

What a week! I'm not really sure what came over me, but my Easter planning/decorating post from last week took a back seat to a new idea in the mind of this get-after-it girl. I finally listened to my oldest girl, Hannah, who's been after me to change the space I spend the most time in - my kitchen. Our cabinets have been in sad shape for quite some time. I decided I had had enough! So, out came the paint, my favorite paint brush, and my "you know work is getting done" shirt.

Could I paint at least half the kitchen in a week? The first week of spring sports, where every night we are at some event? I just told Lou, "The family is on hold. The laundry, meal prep, and the taxi service are all up to you. You guys will need to fend for yourselves.  I'm painting!"

Here's the half I tackled.

The cabinets have seen better days. Especially the ones above the dishwasher. All that steam has taken its toll.  And I decided it was time to really take a chance. Just tired of playing it safe! I'm ready for some color. Something different! After looking through a ton of colors, we decided to go green. You all thought avocado green was just for the 60s and 70s. Well, let me tell you, it's back! At least at our house.  Here's the final result!

Can't wait to tackle the rest of the kitchen. Who knows what this week is going to hold. But for now, this family is not only going green, we're seeing green! Fun!

Next week: I will actually do what I said I was going to do last week - so please refer to my March 25th post. When I saw that my Follow Through occurred on April 1, I couldn't resist putting a little wink in my words. I hope some of you were starting to raise an eyebrow when I said I told Lou they all had to "fend for yourselves." And we could never pick this green because we had avocado green appliances in our first house, which we lived with for 8 years. We are not fans. So, if you could hear my voice right now, you'd hear me say, "April Fools!"