Monday, January 30, 2012

Time For Three

The first time I saw Steve all spiffed up in a suit my knees went weak, my toes went numb and my eyes were locked in batty-lash mode.
I went to college with one clear decisive plan: study hard, graduate and get a job. 

Then, Mr. "I can change a tire and wear a suit" came along and I realized that my plan was flawed.

Can you blame my sheer lack of willpower to resist a down-home farm boy who isn't afraid to jump out of a tractor and into a suit to take me to a musical or the symphony? Sometimes you just have to admit that your plans are flawed or lame or both. So, I ditched the flawed lame plans and married the country Calvin Klein.
Eleven years and five boys later I still get weak-kneed when I see him in a suit!  And, when I see my little men all dressed up, my heart falls hopelessly in love with them, too!

Knowing that we shared the dream of raising our family on a farm in the country, I proposed to Steve that we take our dreams a step further and incorporate as many opportunities as possible for them to become well-rounded children.  Opportunities that would include trips to the city to enjoy art, music, architecture, world cuisine, etc.  I want our boys to get a taste of life experiences outside of what is familiar to them.

There is beauty in the fall harvest, yes, but also a beauty in hearing Handel's Messiah for the first time or viewing Van Gogh's Sunflowers and recognizing their transcendent value

He agreed. Mostly because I'm bossy, but also because he's smart. Oh, and well rounded too, I might add! 

Last weekend, we put some wheels on those plans and took the boys on a quick trip to Wichita to hear the musical trio Time For Three play with the Wichita Symphony. It was amazing!
First, we had a nice dinner.  I was escorted by Benedict to our table, seated by Andrew and delighted by all five as they listened intently to their father as he tutored them in the ways of chivalry.  This is Steve in teacher mode. (Preach it, honey!) Let's just say that in that moment the batty-lashes were in full force. The lesson may have been just a tad over Charlie's head, thus the expressions of confusion.
The boys were on their best behavior. I'm pretty sure it was painful for them, but, oh well. No pain, no dessert.
They did engage in some mild thumb-wrestling while Steve was in the restroom.  I let it slide, 'cause I tend to be very forgiving when they are clean and their hair is combed (and when I have wine in hand, of course.).
Then, we went to the concert.  
And, it went something like this:
We arrived just in time, which meant every good seat was taken. So, we sat in the balcony where there was literally no oxygen and every one had beet-red cheeks and a few nearly passed out.
We tried to give Charlie his bottle in hopes that he would fall asleep, but he was on high-alert, and felt the need to sing along with the Orchestra. Steve graciously volunteered to take him out for a walk.

After intermission Henry decided to ditch me and left with dad to go back to the hotel. George fell asleep, and Benedict, Andrew and I enjoyed every last note of the performance. 

Ben's Favorite:  Blackbird by the Beetles
Andrew's Favorite:  Hungarian Dance by Brahms
Mom's Favorite:  Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
 Time for Three played for over 15,000 Wichita area students last week.  
If you ever have the opportunity to hear them in concert, go for it! You won't regret it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DIY Recorded Stories

"The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." 
        -Dr. Seuss, "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!"
There is something so special and so wonderful about books, especially children's books.

We have gathered a great collection of children's literature from bargain bins and garage sales to every major book seller on the planet, and best of all from Grandparents who love and support our cause for reading.

The boys' bookshelves have been upgraded three times since the birth of our first-born.  I had planned to snap a pic of their monster bookcase, but was halted at the threshold of their bedroom door by a very big sign which said,  
Okay, that's only partially true.  I couldn't get the door open because there was (I'm just guessing here) a pile of dirty laundry, a plethora of swords and helmets, basketball shoes, wrestling gear, and yes, books barricading the door.  So, sorry to disappoint, but there will be no personal photos of our children's library today.

However, here are some fine substitutions:
An apt portrayal of my imaginary nursery/children's reading room. Minus the horrific ottoman. I'm envisioning one covered in yellow toile with a pleated skirt, please.
A reading loft.  Perfect with a pair of cozy chairs, fluffy pillows and many, many blankets. This would be a pretty simple add-on to our trailer house, don't you think? One must dream big on the farm!
In a perfect world this would be me, rockin' a killer dress and heels with amazing hair, calmly climbing the ladder to grab that perfect book for the perfect lesson I'm going to teach to my perfect little students, who you can't see here, but go ahead and imagine that they are clean with neatly combed hair and bow ties. May I also add sitting up straight and paying attention.  

Don't gag.  If you lived on the dusty plains with 5 gritty (yet wonderful) boys, and hadn't washed your hair since forever ago, your dreams just might resemble mine.

As much as I love books and love to read, I don't have as much time to read to my little ones, especially Henry, as I would like to.  And, when I'm busy teaching the older ones, there are times, I'm know, when Henry isn't in the mood to entertain himself.
So, I decided to let him choose his favorite stories, and told him that I would create an audio accompaniment for each story just for him.
Yay! He Likes It!!!
I would like to share with you how I made my recordings. If you don't have a Mac computer at home, I am sure that your operating system provides some options that would be compatible with the ones I used on my computer.  Here's how I did it:

Before you begin, there are just a few things worth considering:

Don't forget to signal the page turns: I like to use bells, piano notes, whistles, a honking horn, the possibilities are endless!
Add "life" to the story: Sometimes playing classical, jazz or bluegrass music in the background can add life to the story.  Just be sure to use instrumental only.
Don't be afraid to speak in different voices! My kids love it when I speak with a British accent, Southern draw or high-pitched tenor.  It makes the characters come alive!
Be sure to begin with the title of the book, author and illustrator.  I also like to add something personal like points of interest in the book, notes on the author, when you first heard the story, etc.

1.  Use "Quicktime" as your recording software.  You can download it for your Mac from the App store if you don't already have it. Or, if you are using windows, you can download it here.

2.  Once in the program, simply go to File and click on "New Audio Recording."

3.  When you are ready to begin recording, click on the play button.  When you are finished recording, click on the stop button.

4.  At this point, you may want to save your audio recording to your music files.  For me, this is i-tunesGo to "Share" and click on "i-tunes."  When you open your i-tunes files, you will see your story listed as "Audio Recording #1." Just highlight it and re-name it the story you have just recorded.

5.  Now, you have begun your very own library of audio recordings that can be easily accessed, synced with your i-pod, or even burned to a CD for sharing.  

Audio Recordings Make Great Gifts!

I recently decided to begin a collection of audio recordings for my sister's children.  Since they live in Switzerland, and we don't see them very often, the stories provide a great way for us to stay connected through a medium which interests both of us - books!
To make the CD's into gifts, there are endless creative options that can make it special.  If you are crafty or into scrapbooking, just think of your CD as a mini-scrapbook.  I don't scrapbook, but I have a thing for paper, and often find really cute pages in the clearance isle at Hobby Lobby. 
Just cut the paper to fit the lid case.  Then, decorate as you please!
I found a photo of my niece Elisabeth in my files and thought it added a perfect touch!
The cd labels are from Avery. has many templates that you can download and personalize. I actually just took a page of my favorite scrapbook paper and photocopied it onto the label with my printer! Then, to make it personal, I signed it with my handwriting, instead of typing.

Up next for Henry: The entire "If You Give a..." 
series by Laura Numeroff.  His top 3?
1.  If You Give a Pig a Pancake
2.  If you Give a Mouse a Cookie
3.  If you Give a Moose a Muffin

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pasture Sledding 101

What are your most fond sledding memories from your childhood...or adulthood (sledding is not age discriminate)??  Was it meeting neighborhood friends at the first sign of snow to scope out the slickest spot on the block? Or, perhaps you grew up in a town so small that no one had to make an announcement - frosty flakes meant main street stores closed their doors and everyone knew exactly where to meet.  

Or, maybe you don't have any sledding memories because you live three minutes from a beach.  In that case, dry your eyes, you can always come fulfill your dreams by visiting us during a blizzard!

Growing up in the country, and living there presently, means that sledding is one of the most exciting blessings of winter (for the kids, of course).  And, since we live where there are no trees and no hills, we go pasture sledding! What's that, you say??  
Pasture sledding usually involves three things:
1.  A tractor, four-wheeler of other small off-road vehicle (we use a Razor).
2.  Something to "sled" on of course!
3.  A long, sturdy piece of rope.
Our sled of choice just happens to be the hood of an old grain truck.  If you're ever driving along in the country and pass by a farm with some junk in the yard, just remember, 
One man's trash is another man's treasure...
That's it! That's the hood of Ol' Blue.  It's the ultimate sled, man!  Poor Henry, he needs some ski goggles too.
The Razor is perfect in the snow, picking up speed, and turning just sharp enough to sling-shot the passengers. 
Checking for casualties.  

This was probably the best day of Stella's life.  She's a wonder dog, really. A chicken expert.

What I personally love most about pasture sledding is that it brings the family together for some good old fashioned fun.

There's nothin' finer than a farm dad sledding in his coveralls.  I think we could start a trend in winter sports apparel.  What do you think? Not so much? Okay.
Our skilled repairmen.  How many farmers does it take to tie a rope? 
Once the girls got a chance to pull the guys, we had a little bit of technical difficulty - the rope was being uncooperative and kept breaking. The guys thought that it was because we were taking the turns too sharp. I think they thought wrong. But, thanks. You're always welcome to share your thoughts and feelings with us any time, boys!
Then, they kept trying to tell us to slow down.  Bossy, bossy.
Why don't you just let us show you how it's done???

Can you blame a girl for wanting a driving dangerously after having weeks of cabin fever? Bum, bum, bum, another one bites the dust. (Or, in this case, snow.)  If you don't know that song you should feel sad for about 10 seconds that you didn't grow up in the 80's. If you're curious, you could look up the song on You Tube.  It's by Queen.  Maybe you shouldn't look it up. It probably has a bad message, and I didn't know it back then.  I was a bit clueless in my youth.
Some frozen little bandit stole my beloved stocking cap.  That's not gonna keep me off of the sled, no sir.  A scarf engineered into a snow busting head dress. Just call me MacGyver. Sorry, more 80's.
And that, my friends, is pasture sledding.  A good dose of family fun.  What the landscape lacks in contour and grandeur, it more than makes up for in the provision of wide open possibility.  What do you think?  Want to give it a try??

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Getting Back on the Wagon ~ Begin Again

To begin is for everyone, 
     to persevere is for saints....
            ~St. Josemaria Escriva
It's been a while since I've written about anything related to the spiritual life.  But, the theme of perseverance has been drifting in and out of my attention lately. Perseverance in work, in prayer, in goals and resolutions.  (I've just opted for beer and basketball instead of writing.)

Today, I was cleaning up my picture files and I came across this shot of my son, Andrew, from last football season.  His perseverance in tackling the ball carrier was amazing - none of us on the sideline could believe it as we watched him leap into the air and pull his opponent to the turf.  Our perseverance in the spiritual life is similar, every day as we offer our very best efforts, grace carries us, and amazing things happen.  Amazing like heaven.
Yesterday I announced to our son, George, "George, we fell off the wagon today with our gluten-free goals, so tomorrow we have to get back on."  To which he replied, "Mom, I didn't know we were on a wagon.  When did we get on a wagon?" To which Henry chimed in, "I don't like gluten-three. It's yuck." 

I don't like gluten-three either. 

Slipping off of the gluten-free wagon wasn't my only short coming yesterday.  There was morning prayer - I overslept. Bills to be paid - failed to read the sticky note reminder.  Oh, and the calm, kind tone of voice - I'm still trying to find it.

Some days the one thing that doesn't work out or get accomplished turns into two and three and four, and pretty soon all of the dominoes have fallen and the recollection of the day is not one of peaceful order but of ruin. Utter ruin.

A couple of years ago, as we sat on the front steps of our church, my spiritual director shared with me two simple words, words that have resonated with me each and every day since then:

My skull is oh-so-very thick. I should be a stunt woman in my free time.  Really.  My mind travels down one road, the one paved with good intentions, but my will, my actions sometimes shift into reverse, pulling me in the opposite direction. The inner conflict often leaves me parked in the state of self-pity (inner whining), which is actually fueled by pride.  Pride = thick skulled.

Then rise the confessions of St. Paul to my conscious, his words spinning around in my spirit, over and over again: "I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15)

Personal disappointment, in myself, feels overwhelmingly lonely. I've let my children down, my husband, my friends. I've let you down, too, Lord.  Pride can be so gripping, tempting me toward hopelessness and self-pity, to look down, rather than up. But, Christ didn't suffer on the cross so that I can pout and whine and berate myself.


Humility, the antidote for my TSP (thick-skulled pride), isn't always the glamorous road, but it's certainly the higher one.  Humility recognizes that all of my efforts, determination and desire for the good in life only have merit when they are acting in cooperation with grace.  My will wants a rah-rah squad to cheer me on to heaven - affirmation, accolades, approval, admiration - those things that make us feel our faith, feel good about who we are, feel successful.  But, my intellect knows that it's who I am in the presence of ONE that matters most.  He's not keeping track of my accomplishments nor my shortcomings.  He desires for me to depend on Him rather than myself, to keep going, to not give up, to begin again. And, again. And, again.

At night, after baths and teeth brushing, family prayer and story time, it's time to tuck the boys in.  This is my opportunity to go to each one of them and tell them of all the good that I saw in them that day, and the encourage them in their weaknesses and failures.  But, it's also time for me to offer my own apologies for a poor temper, lack of cheerfulness, or inattentiveness to their needs.  Their response is always the same, always perfect: "It's okay, mom, I forgive you. Tomorrow we begin again."   

Tears roll down my flushed cheeks and I exhale, resting in the embrace of their consolations.

Choosing our Lord over and over again, each and every day, in the littlest things is not so easy. Talking to God instead of talking on the phone, embracing the stillness and quiet moments of the day instead of drowning out the demands with i-tunes.  Reading scripture instead of Facebook. Finishing the undone tasks around the home in loving service to my family instead of watching movies and eating my preferred buffet of snacks.

It's like rocket science for me, sometimes, to wrap my mind around the truth that the simplest little offerings, like getting up early to pray, arriving at my appointments on time, controlling my tongue, forgiving and letting go of grudges, doing without so that someone else my have, these acts, when lived freely with love, have more merit than any worldly accomplishment I could ever achieve. And, yet, choosing them, acting upon them each and every day, is often more difficult than the tallest goals I have ordered for my life.


Yesterday, and it's ruins, are behind me...
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 

Today, because of You, and for the love of You, I will begin again.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12–14


Monday, January 16, 2012

Like Father, Like Son

Every once in a while someone will ask me, "Do you ever feel outnumbered being the only girl in a house full of boys?"

The honest answer is, "Yes, sometimes."

Of course, it would be nice to see some pink around here, somewhere other than the medicine cabinet or my pajama drawer.  And, I wonder what it would be like to hear the sing-song of a delicate voice rising over her basket of dolls, filling the home with sweetness. 

But, as you know, boys engineer their own "special" sounds (ahem). Go ahead, scan your auditory files. The one marked boys. Mmm Hmmm. Do you hear what I hear?? They rev up their trucks (love how the spit flies on that one), have an array of exploding, crashing and firing audibles and unabashedly use their armpits as noise makers. I'm pretty used to it all by now. And, in a strange way, while I enjoy a good bit of silence in my day, the home feels quite lonely when they are gone, without their "creativity" echoing off of the walls.

I'm never bothered by the question concerning the absence of a little girl in our family. Mourning the fact that I do not have another female to unite forces with is a little bit like telling Michelangelo that the sky in the Sistine Chapel is a little too blue, or suggesting to Paula Deen that she put a little less frosting on her cupcakes.  My family is God's masterpiece, and every day I get to savor it!  

One specific aspect I just love about the boys is observing them, in their day-to-day activities and discovering the traits that they have clearly inherited from their wonderful father.  (They have a few of mine too, but I'm not here to discuss their mastery of the eye-roll or the speed at which they can consume anything chocolate.)
This little pleasure truly hugged my heart a few weeks ago, when I captured a couple of moments between Charlie, our nine month old, and his dad, my thirty-something year old. (He, He.)
Steve often connects with the boys through teasing.  And, in his opinion, it's never too early to start.  After holding Charlie for a while, he set him down in the snow to see what he what he would think of his new frosty environment.
As you can see, he wasn't impressed!  Actually, he wasn't cold or wet, but royally miffed that his dad had put him down for just a moment.
This might be a slight glimmer of his mother here, my "Are you kidding me?" look. 
Then, he locks eyes with his father, and for a moment hope is restored.
With papa creeping closer, the tears begin to dry.
Scooped up out of the winter and into daddy's arms, and out comes the smile.
Good job, daddy! You got me back!

I found it funny how in the next few moments I was able to capture a couple of shots of this adorable duo, and how similar their expressions appeared to be:
Hmmm, what would this one be?? Mystified? Surprised? Relieved?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Splendid Silent Sun...

I am a tree lover. Not a tree hugger - just to be clear.

Ask my children how much I love them.

When we lived in Kansas City, our trips to various parks or the Arboretum were often filled with leaf collecting and identification, tree climbing and gazing at the changing shapes and colors throughout the seasons.
Running the trails lined with canopies of shading beauties was a retreat for my mind and soul.  They had a way of  taking me into my favorite Jane Austen films, the characters strolling shady lanes contemplating life and love. So, too, is The Lane - Anne Shirley's most precious place to walk with friends, find inspiration or to be alone. My secret joy was to discover fellow landscape lovers in their yard tending to their trees or flowers. Stopping to visit with them was always an education filled with insightful tips and advice. 

I miss it all so very much.
Five hundred miles across the state, the landscape is very different.  On a clear day you can see for thirty miles, no hills, trees or smog to obstruct the view.  Any cluster of trees most surely marks a homestead or what was once a flowing stream or river.  The sandy soil, blistering winds and intense heat combined, do not play gracious host to lush and abundant foliage.

I am learning, however, that when you are taken out of the "abundance" the eye, as well as the soul, become more sensitive to glimpses of beauty wherever it can be experienced.
In the absence of trees, I have witnessed the vast expanse of magnificent sunsets that from horizon to sky, display a brilliance of colors indescribable. And, if that were the supper for my sights, dessert most certainly would be served in the stars.  Not intermittent specs in the sky, (my view from front porch suburbia), but a blanket of shimmer, patterns of bright outshining the dark.  Without the competition of streetlights and smog, they are just what God always hoped we would see and enjoy. Beauty in unexpected places.

Give me the splendid, silent sun. ~ Walt Whitman