Monday, March 31, 2008

She ASKED!

Natalie this morning: "Mommy, may I please get out my violin and try playing along with my Animusic show?"

After scraping my jaw off the floor I agreed. She didn't do much more than rosin the bow but I was thrilled that she thought of it all on her own and wanted to get it out. What a difference from the little girl who told me, "No, I don't want to get my violin out any more" just a few weeks ago.

A friend who is a few years ahead of me in the Suzuki program wrote me an email this morning full of good encouragement and advice:


Trust me if it seems it is going perfectly for everyone else they are not being completely honest. We nearly quit when we were starting out. There were lots of tears and I felt like a failure. Now my kids are both doing well and we have a better relationship because of it. For some reason my second child was easier. Personalities certainly can play a part. My first child is a perfectionist and what I was reading as resistance I finally realized was fear of not doing it right. Well, duh, I thought, of course you won’t do it right. You will never do it right if you don’t try it. Where did she get her perfectionism? Hmmmm. Both my husband and I are fairly driven—could that be it? I made quite a few changes to my approach and I think some of them worked. I discovered that I was trying to fix too many things at once and likely driving my kid crazy and perhaps into despair!

One thing I did was to work on one goal at a time. If we were working on hand position I had to bite my tongue and not say anything about the bow that was going crazily off the highway or the scroll that was pointing at the floor. This was very difficult for me. Surprisingly eventually all the issues still disappeared (well, there will always be something).

Another thing I did was let the child be the judge if she did it right.

One other thing I concentrated on was to keep my mouth shut and if my child made an honest attempt even though it wasn’t perfect we stopped at the number of reps we had decided on beforehand then cheered.

Something that really works even now is for me to watch for something we have been having trouble with in the past (like getting that C natural) and say “wow great C natural” I noticed it surprises them and she tries to get it even better next time.

A book I like that [one of the teachers] has recommended is by Edmund Sprunger, Helping Parents Practice. I have read some aspects of it several times.

Natalie is very young, and I imagine will get physically tired easily. My children started at 5 years of age and I know our practices weren’t longer than 10 minutes at first. I could see how a couple 5 minute sessions might be useful for very young children.

You have a strong music background. I am trying to think if this would be an advantage or disadvantage. I think it will be an advantage later when she is playing Vivaldi. I don’t know about now though. I only had some basic piano training, the rest of my training is in the sciences.

Another thing I remember about the early times is that it seemed everyone seemed to be comparing children to each other. Especially in book 1. This should ease up as people’s lives take different twists and turns. Each child is different, each family is different. Sometimes there were things said in lessons that would be different than group. You and your private teacher are considered first priority. You and your private teacher know Natalie and what she needs best. I would consider [her teacher] very detail oriented, I bet you are too. Maybe Natalie is as well! You may have quite a perfectionist triangle! This could be good in the long run….could make it difficult in the short term. I am not a psychologist believe me. I think I know all the teachers pretty well. For all the different styles they have of teaching, each one of them has the child’s best interests in their hearts.

Erin, I hope this letter does not offend. I know you didn’t really ask me for advice. I have tried to help other new parents in various ways over the years and certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers. Some people say it just helps to hear that others have had this problem too. If even 1 little tidbit or comment helps it could be the turning point for you. Or get you over the hump. There will be more humps trust me but hopefully none as hard as the first big mountain.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Apple-Pecan Salad

One of our small-group families brought this salad to share for dinner tonight. Although I am not a big fan of either apples or pecans, especially in salad, I LOVED this one! It was absolutely amazing. So I got her to share the recipe with me and I'm putting it on my blog so I don't lose it.



Apple Pecan Salad

Mixed greens (hers had a lot of romaine)
¼ cup pecans cooked for 5 minutes at 350 degrees
2 gala apples cored and sliced (very thin)
1/3 cup cranberries
Blue cheese to taste (dry, crumbly cheese)

Dressing:

¼ olive oil
1 TBSP Dijon mustard
3 TBSP frozen apple juice concentrate
3 TBSP apple cider vinegar

Community

Emmanuel Lutheran Preschool hosted its usual "Preschool Sunday" and today they added on a community breakfast before the service. Our family went to the breakfast since Natta was singing in the service and I must say, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Going to a fellowship function at another church really makes me aware of the gift that we have in the fellowship of others. We did not know these people at all, yet every one was warm, welcoming and friendly. Neighbors chatted with neighbors. A kitchen crew with all ages represented flipped pancakes and fried ham. Teens joked and laughed with retirees as they washed dishes. Older kids helped watch younger kids, whether they were siblings or not.

At our church we have every income level represented. College students without a nickel in their pockets wearing torn jeans hang around after the service and chat with the local Pediatrician and the plumber. Kids who homeschool, kids to go to St. Mary's school, kids who go to Logos and kids who attend public school all play tag together in the parking lot after the service. Stay-at-home moms chat, swap recipes and set up new play dates each week.

Although our primary reason for attending church is to worship, the time with our community is so precious, I can't believe how I take it for granted. Today I was reminded again how wonderful it is to get to fellowship each week with other believers.

Here is a little video of Natalie's song, for the grandparents to enjoy. :)

The Times, They Are a' Changin'

Yesterday I watched Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1939) with my daughter. I watched so I could fast forward the scary parts and also so we could discuss the story and enjoy it together. The thing that struck me forcibly was how childlike Snow White seemed.

Photobucket

Not only did she seem younger than later Princesses but she was imminently helpless. When lost in the woods she fainted from fright and needed the help of her animal friends to lead her to the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs where she begged them to take her in and care for her. She promised to keep house for them in exchange for their male protection.

Since I have seen quite a few of the Disney fairy tales, I began to notice what interesting sociological observations I could draw from noticing the details and characters of the the various Princesses, not as they appear on the thousands of merchandised items at Wal-Mart, but as they appear in their original incarnations, representing an idealized form of the women in our society at the time they were created.

Cinderella (1950)

Fast forward eleven years and we have Cinderella, her hair neatly cut in a 50's bob. She still acts happily domestic (although granted this is part of the story) and avoids any kind of self-initiation until assisted by her fairy godmother.





Sleeping Beauty (1956)

Aurora too has the fifties' feminine charm. She's soft and sweet and waits patiently for her prince to come. I notice that she and Cinderella are growing up a little, however. They have more mature bodies and voices.



The Little Mermaid (1989)



Unfortunately we don't have another Disney Princess for another thirty years until Ariel comes on the scene. In that intervening time we experienced the feminist revolution and women found their voices in society. Some would argue that they became less feminine but they also found that they had thoughts and opinions of their own; they had voices and would not longer sit quietly by. Both Ariel and Belle reflect this drastic shift in society's thinking.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)



Belle is her own person: she has hobbies and interests of her own and doesn't seem incomplete and single-faceted without her prince. When confronted with fear in the woods that would have sent poor Snow White into another fainting spell, Belle instead acts calmly and resourcefully, worried more about her elderly father than herself. She accepts a prince who appears less-than-perfect then finds out there is value beneath appearances.



I think Belle is my favorite Princess. She still acts completely feminine and appropriate. She is beautiful but she doesn't moon around all day dreaming about her prince to the exclusion of all else save housewifely-ness. She likes to read and learn; she is curious and compassionate.

Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas represents the most radical shift away from tradition and the first non-European-fairy-tale Princess. Unlike her more timid best friend, she is absolutely fearless, she's strong-willed, almost to the point of being preachy. Her "Prince" instead of being someone to moon about becomes someone to teach, to inspire. The roles have definitely shifted, from the male being the protector and salvation to being almost inferior to her intense lessons on environmentalism.



In order to offset the harshness of her personality, I suppose, Pocahontas has the most mature woman's body Disney has done. She is also the first character to be based on a real person.



Although her character is not nearly as likable as some of her Princess predecessors, she represents equality, both in gender and race. She refuses to be dominated in any way, either racially or in the sense of gender. In many ways, she more accurately portrays the era when the movie was made rather than the time that the real Pocahontas lived. The real Pocahontas converted to Christianity, moved to England and married John Rolfe, having her son while she was still a teenager.

Another interesting thing to note is the fact that both Ariel and Pocahontas have to rebel against their overprotective fathers in order for anything in the plot to happen. If they were good, little obedient daughters they would stay home, do nothing and we'd have no story. In both cases the daughters' choices turn out to be the right one. I wonder what message this sends out, or rather what commentary it makes on today's teenage culture.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Esmeralda shows a fascinating side, not even being a Princess at all but rather a gypsy, an outcast of French society in that era. She too is dark skinned yet still beautiful. She too is fiery and refuses to bow to the whims of male society even though historically it would have been more accurate. Still she is a fictional character and can therefore be anything Disney wants her to be.



Mulan (1998)



Mulan rejects the expectations for her placed by society and goes off to war in order to spare her ailing father the ordeal. To me she is another example of the break with the traditional female role.



Disney Princesses provide role models for many thousands of girls who watch and love the shows. In the past the message was that a girl needed to be a fourteen-year-old white girl with a single-track male-oriented mind. It would not do to be too intelligent or so unfeminine as to be brave or a risk-taker. Today girls are encouraged to be brave, smart, academic, unique and resourceful. It is okay to have a different color of skin and live in one's own society.

No longer does a woman need to be a sort of life-long child, moving from the protection of her family into the care of a husband with no more ambition in life than to become a household maid and offspring-producing machine. If a woman chooses to find a prince, keep house and have children it is because she wants to do it, not because it is the only option open to her.

But there is a trade-off. Our society has lost some of the innocence of former years. Pocahontas looks like a Swimsuit Model. No longer do stories end in "Happily Ever After." Real life has crept even into our fairy tales. Pocahontas' Prince gets shot and leaves on a boat to England at the end of the story. Ah, well. So it goes. If the trend continue I suppose next we'll have a story about the Greek fertility goddess, Aphrodite.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Apologetics

Having chatted for years with people who hold many different ideologies and beliefs, it is becoming more and more obvious to me that Christianity often appears in a bad light to people who may not have much exposure or people who had a bad experience which left a bitter taste in their mouths. I find this extremely sad since the basic core of the religion, Jesus Christ, is so good. Like C.S. Lewis, I find the best way to deal with these issues, both in my own mind and on paper ends up being a kind of systematic apologetics, defining the core oppositional tenets and then addressing them in the manner that I have worked out in my mind as making the most sense. Although one post cannot hope to address every objection to Christianity that exists in the world today, these are the few that have been foremost in my own thoughts lately.

1. "I don't like Christianity because it basically teaches that I am an evil person going to hell."

First of all, let me make a comment on this statement. This person is coming from a standpoint that religion is invented by man and this particular religion creates its own fear-based advertising. In a sense, if Christianity were an exterminator, it feels the need to go into houses to plant thousands of cockroaches in order that its services might be needful. This person has the attitude that their house was just fine pre-cockroach and that both the cockroaches and the exterminator are not necessary.

If that in fact were the case, then they have an extremely valid argument. Who would want their house littered with unnecessary vermin just so they can call in an expensive an annoying serviceman to clean them up? There is a big problem with this line of reasoning however in that it has a faulty premise. If the Bible is true (note the "if". If it is not, then their premise is correct and there is no need for my apologetics. For now, we are assuming it is, rather than the reverse. More on the reverse later.) then God exists and is Holy, Perfect and Pure. Anything not perfect in any way is therefore sinful and cannot exist where God is. The Bible teaches that we're created to keep fellowship with God. We are in a sense incomplete without Him. But we have this problem of sin, the very problem that our objectionist so fervently dislikes.

The Bible says this: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:17 KJV

Taking the analogy a step further, it is more correct to say that the exterminator is there BECAUSE our houses are full of roaches. He did not put them there so He'd have something to do, to meddle in our lives. Rather we put them there by our complete inability to be perfect in every way. And rather than changing His own nature to accept the faulty (roach-filled), He instead made a way that the roaches could be disposed of and the houses made clean so that the fellowship could be enjoyed together in perfect harmony.

2. "I cannot accept Christianity because Christians are so narrow-minded, bigoted and intolerant."

This one is trickier because it is based on the actions of human beings who may or may not be following the teachings of Jesus in the way He intended. Sadly to say, we Christians are a bunch of good intentions but not a lot of follow-through. We may have our sins forgiven but for some reason we seem to be pretty good at making a whole bunch of new problems. Added to that is the fact that for however many billions of Christians there are in the world there are also the same number of opinions on what it exactly means to live in the way Jesus taught. This fact in no way changed the actual teachings of Jesus, but when overlaid upon the modern backdrop of today's society, each small issue has a number of interpretations, just by virtue of us being human. Every ideology in human existence has as many facets as people who subscribe to it and just because Christ is infallible does not necessarily mean His followers are. Christianity is not even about that. It is about cleaning our souls up in such a way that God is finally able to fellowship with us. We get our houses clean for a guest who is coming but our guest does not insist that we suit his or her exact needs, wants, temperament and conversation while he or she is there. We do our level best to be a good host but we're aware that some type of interpersonal altercation may occur during the course of the visit. In the same way, we allow Jesus to cleanse our lives from sin and even take over our proverbial houses but it doesn't change the fact that we are human beings who mess up from time to time, disagree and in other ways tarnish the name of the very Person we claim to represent. For this reason I apologize for my fellow religion-mates and myself. We certainly do a poor job of representing Christ sometimes to the watching world.

The other side of this argument is that in some ways, my atheist friend is correct. Christianity espouses certain standards that differ from popular culture. We follow a God who has set forth certain rules about how we humans ought to live and behave and it is our job to choose to follow them or to reject the whole deal. I happen to believe the reasoning for these rules is less about being harsh and arbitrary and more about being a loving, caring parent, but the fact remains that these guidelines to exist and they are not optional. I may not like all of them but they come with the package. I choose to accept the package, not in fear of judgment, but in love of a Parent-God who actually has my best in mind all along. I teach my children boundaries such as staying on the sidewalk (which is not optional) not because I want to hamper their style or arbitrarily squash them but because I care enough about them to keep them safe from harm, in this case sudden and painful death from a speeding car in the road.

Although I'd like to get into a few of the common controversial ones here, I am using up my time today where I need to be studying, so I am going to stop for now. Maybe in a later post I can expound on what I mean by this.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Video Memories

I was going through old videos today and ran across this one. It was taken last summer at the River Cabin. Such fun!

Beat Box Baby

Philosphizing and Forgetting a Quiz

This morning I felt about as chipper as melted butter due to that happy and wonderful monthly occurrence that reminds us women that we are indeed lucky members of the female gender. After the kids were up and going, I went back to bed.

The trouble with being in bed is that you have way too much time to think. After my experience with pregnancy I should have invented a modern equivalent for sliced bread or something, I had so much time to think. Today reminded me of the same, except this time my overactive brain was chewing away on Natalie's violin practicing. Some of Miranda's early blog entries have been extremely helpful, in the sense that she went through a frustrating time with her oldest daughter and getting the ball rolling in their family, just as we're having. Also her daughter is very stubborn, just like a certain little girl I know. Here are some of her most relevant comments:


Friday, November 14, 1997
Erin's Violin Blog 3

... Erin has found daily practising with mom to be a big let-down after all the excitement and stimulation of the other children at the institute, and the bonus of grandma's annual visit. Practising is too much like work. She'd rather look at books or play on the computer or draw. I've grown tired of the tussle every day, trying to get her to practise. I tried really hard at first. I did everything I could to make practising fun and exciting. We took the violin on vacation with us and practised at campsites. I did my best to build the expectation of daily practise. But it has been so hard. And she resists so creatively. She really misses the peer-group exposure she had at the institute. I've almost given up. If I meet resistance, I just forget it. I think we'll have to make another fresh start. Maybe after Christmas. In the meantime, I just try to keep the violin part of our lives. We keep working on our bow-hold and violin-hold and left-hand positioning now and then. The tape still goes on every day. But I am frustrated.


Saturday, December 13, 1997
Erin's Violin Blog 4

I am trying to completely re-think both my motivation and my approach in teaching Erin. If I were to give myself advice at this stage I would say:

1. Remember that I am not primarily trying to teach the violin. I am trying to grow a capable confident human being with a good spirit.
2. The most important thing learned in the first year is that it is normal to practise every day, that the violin is as much a part of life as brushing one's teeth.
3. Pre-schoolers love repetition because it reaffirms their sense of mastery. They may regret mastering a task if it means they have to leave it behind and take on something new. Review old tasks not just because this consolidates learning, but because they enjoy the sense of competence. I think I push Erin too quickly to the next task once the first task seems okay. It must be frustrating for her to not get a chance to enjoy what she can do easily.
4. The issue of control is important. Erin is at the age where she is learning to separate herself from me and assert her independance. (More on this ten years from now!) Without turning some constructive control of the lesson or practice over to the her, the only way she can assert herself is by refusing to cooperate ("I'm tired, I need a rest") or by intentionally doing a shoddy job. I need to find constructive ways of giving a sense of control to her.
5. I need to remember that I am doing a fine job teaching my daughter, regardless of tangible progress on the instrument if I am continually and thoughtfully re-evaluating my relationship with her, enjoying the process of watching her learn, keeping the whole child in perspective, rather than just the music student, and learning from her in the process.

Sunday, December 28, 1997
Erin's Violin Blog 5

...

Still, I believe I am doing this for the right reasons, and I am committed to making it work. I will make it work, I WILL make it work, I WILL MAKE IT WORK!



Obviously Miranda is as stubborn as I am (wonder where our daughters get it?). These entries speak volumes to me because, unlike my life where the future stretches out blankly in front of me unseen and fearful, her life has several years stacked on top of these entries. Ten more years, in fact, have rolled by for her and her daughter has developed into an amazing young lady.

So this morning as my mind chewed on these thoughts, rolled them around and digested them, I hatched some new schemes. We need to make violin playful and fun and suited to a three-year-old rather than a fifteen-year-old. I haven't come up with anything solid yet in terms of a workable strategy, but I believe my thoughts are finally leading me in a positive direction, away from paralyzing frustration and toward more open horizons.

I have to say that I LOVE, LOVE Suzuki and his theories and methods. I love approaching a child this young with a disciplined study of music. How else would I be lying here completely reassessing my parenting styles and method of approaching my willful daughter? Being willing to try something new and potentially risky in terms of failing increases our chances for personal growth in astronomical ways. For me, something with this level of interpersonal intensity (with Natalie first and foremost, but also with Hubby, teachers, extended family's opinions etc.) risks failure and I am amazed at myself for even attempting it.

During the course of the morning I was so busy thinking and getting up every ten minutes to help the kids with different things, I completely forgot about my class. It was not until 11:05 (the time I needed to drive away) that I realized I was still in pajamas, the kids were not dressed, the house was a wreck and I had not studied for my quiz. It was back to reality with a bang! Natalie rose to the occasion by helping me get everyone into some kind of clothing in record time then hurry out the door and into car seats. I dropped the kids off with Hubby and hurried into my class only a few minutes late, took the quiz (I think I did a decent job, thanks to meticulous homework preparation) and at last got back home where I could eat lunch and relax.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blogging Obsession

I just discovered NaBloPoMo and I think I'll give it a try. As an obsessive blogger anyway, it should not be too much of a stretch. Heck, I have only missed one day the entire month of March anyway!

Learning and Exploring

Hubby made a calendar for Natalie and put it on the fridge. She has been driving us crazy asking us, "What are we going to do today?" We figured she could go look at her calendar herself and find out. We also hoped it would give her a sense of security to know what is going to happen. Her least favorite times are when we stay home and play with toys or watch movies. She has such high social needs that she would happily be going somewhere all day every day. She looks at her little calendar in order to find out how long it will be until she gets to go to preschool again or until Daddy will take to to play at the indoor play land with lots of other kids.



Reading and Writing







Math

I was so impressed when this came home from Preschool yesterday. She is not just learning her numbers but making one-to-one relationships and even learning to add.



Exercise and Friends

We had some free time during the afternoon so we decided to go for a walk and enjoy the spring sunshine.



We met up with a neighbor girl who was outside playing too. She and Natta had a ball running around together.





Music

Look at that face! For some reason she didn't want me to take a picture at that particular moment.



Imaginative Play

The desk makes a great house!



Their favorite toy right now:





Edited: Lest I portray myself as incredibly pushy and obsessive-compulsive about my children's education (or worse: bragging, which I am most definitely not), I'd like to explain the motivation behind this post. I have been reading the blog of a mom who uses unschooling with her kids and she has inspired me to notice how the ordinary, everyday activities that my children do have such educational value. In no way am I pushing my three-year-old and my one-year-old towards anything like a formal education. Natta goes to preschool twice a week because she needs that kind of social interaction to be emotionally healthy. We started violin with the understanding that the first couple of years are more of a playful dabbling than a serious pursuit of formal instrument study, although she has surprised us with her progress.

So this post was simply a compilation of pictures representing an "aha!" moment where I realized that my children are learning so much about the wonderful world all around them which includes words, numbers, notes, people, imagination and themselves.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Progress

This morning I got Natalie's violin out without saying anything and began playing the "Monkey Song". As usual, she followed me to see what I was doing. I asked her if she could play the Monkey Song too and she affirmed that yes, she could and wanted to play it four times. We got out her counter and we took turns playing it with perfect left-hand posture until she had played it four times. Then we put the violin carefully to bed. That turned out to be a positive because since she pretended to put her violin to bed, we were also able to discuss that it would not be good for her violin to sleep too long but would need to get up and play more songs pretty soon. She agreed but then she said, "But that means I have to play it some more and I don't want to." That kid is too darn smart!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shoe-Up, Shopping and Reflections on Parenting

This morning we had a half-hour of play before we needed to finish getting ready for Preschool. I was quite pleased with Natta's response to getting ready. Although she needed help getting out of her shirt, she asked politely for it and did the rest herself.

Seth, in the meantime, had gone over to the shoe-rack and came back with Natta's pink Converse, a recent Easter present from my mom. With his usual insistent grunt, he asked to be lifted to the couch and have the shoes put on him. I complied, slipping the too-big shoes onto his feet, the toes sticking out comically. "He looks like he has clown shoes on," I commented to Natta.

"Yeah," she agreed. "He's playing dress-up with shoes. He's playing shoe-up."

We drove through the spring snowstorm to Preschool where her field trip today was to Ferdinand's Homemade Ice Cream. She could hardly contain her excitement as she followed her teacher into the classroom to get ready to go.

After dropping her off, I didn't feel like driving back out of town so I took Seth to the mall to use another bit of my Starbuck's gift card, left over from my birthday. I discovered that I was in good company there. The mall was full of moms with babies and retired people mall-walking, pacing swiftly up and down with iPods and water bottles in their hands. Inside of Starbuck's, I found it almost entirely full of moms, escaping the cabin-fever of their houses and watching the snow fall.

I purchased my usual Grande 2-pump white mocha and I headed out again, this time toward Michael's. Since Seth walked, our pace was slow but enjoyment ran high as he explored and drew the attention of all of the passing mall-walkers who commented on how cute he was. We at last arrived at Michael's. I had ended up carrying him most of the way and I gratefully deposited him in a shopping cart since my back had begun to ache. We toured the aisles at Michael's, getting new ideas for the house and future craft ideas. Happily I pictured my craft supplies once again out of storage in our new house, my sewing machine set up and my children well-supplied with activities. I cannot wait!

By 10:15 I was pooped and didn't have time to get all the way back to the house before coming into town again for my class. I took refuge with Hubby (illegally) in his office. His boss is unreasonably picky about this type of thing so we did our best not to advertise our presence for the hour that we were there.

I have been doing some serious thinking lately about Natta's violin instruction. After talking to her teacher again yesterday, I have come to the conclusion that this teacher simply is not a person I will ever enjoy working with. Her attempts to listen to my concerns about Natta's practice motivation and lack of enjoyment resulted in just another lecture about the necessity of practicing every day; her lesson plan for this week includes a bunch of "new" activities that she had already introduced last fall and forgotten that she taught us. I've decided I won't let this whole thing drag me down but will just let Natta enjoy the review and being able to do the activities well.

This first year before Natta really finds her footing will be the hardest, I hope, then things will get smoother as time goes along. Success is its own motivator and she is still so new at doing this she has not experienced the sweet taste of success yet and the thrill of performing a piece well. One thing that her teacher and I completely agree on is that we need to move at a very slow pace for now. We have enough different games and technique activities that we can hopefully stave off boredom so we aren't really pushing for new abilities but instead attempting to firmly establish excellent posture and technique.

Hubby and I have decided on a radical new motivation approach as well. Instead of telling Natta that she must practice and attend classes or lessons, we have left it completely up to her. If she doesn't want to do it, we don't do it. Of course her teacher doesn't approve of this plan at all, but I know Natalie's personality. When pushed to do something she balks and everything becomes a fight, with her dragging her feet. Even the psychological trick of "two acceptable choices" doesn't work since she sees right through it. Instead we have opted to try handing control totally over to her. So far, a week into the experiment it has worked better than I ever hoped. She took two days off from practicing, just to test and see if we meant it I think. Then, with the slightest bit of prompting, she has enthusiastically gotten it out and practiced her exercises and even chose to go to group class, something she has resisted adamantly the past few months. I am so proud of her choices.

I hope to turn over a new leaf in handling Natalie. I feel as though the last several months have been one mistake after another in dealing with her intense personality and curious, intelligent nature. Several times, when stressed about something else I have lost my temper with her which upsets and frightens both her and Seth. A couple of times I have punished her when she did something wrong due to confusion over unclear expectation or when she was scared of something. When I finally figured out WHY she had acted the way she did, I felt terrible over my hard-nosed response to her.

Starting from today, I have resolved to step back and think before reacting to her, to expect the best of her and to give her a chance to do the right thing before I get in the way by expecting her to mess up. Also, as I constantly have to remind my perfectionist self, I need to pick my battles. I think a part of all this is managing my own life in such a way that I keep my stress level to a minimum, by keeping my house tidy and keeping up on my homework so I don't get so overwhelmed. This morning I tested my resolve by laying out very clear expectations for Natalie in getting ready for school then helping her be successful in keeping them. We only had one hiccup when she rudely demanded her socks but I reminded her that I help polite little girls and she quickly added a "please" to her request. She remembered to say "please" after that for the rest of the morning, which was a surprise as I have tried unsuccessfully to get her to ask nicely for things without being reminded for a long time now.

I feel like we have taken baby steps in the right direction. I am hopeful for more progress and improved parent-child relationships in the upcoming months, even while we're dealing with the stress and trauma of moving houses.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Mouse in the House

This morning while I was taking a shower, I heard my children playing hide-and-seek in my bedroom closet, a favorite and not-often-allowed activity. I smiled to myself as they took turns hiding behind the closet door, peeking out and giggling with each other.

After emerging from the bathroom, clothed and brushing my hair, my daughter followed me down the hall, causally announcing, "Mommy, there is a mouse in your bedroom."

WHAT?!?!?! A mouse? A stinky little furry, creepy vermin of a mouse? In my bedroom where my children had been playing? My nose wrinkled at the thought. I pictured the little scurrying mouse that we had found last summer in the River Cabin. Hubby had been there to rescue me that time. This time I was on my own.

"Can you show me?" I asked the question as calmly as I could. If there was a mouse in there I was going to find it and remove it. I don't know if I could bring myself to kill it or not. But it would be gone from my bedroom in any case.

My small daughter led me back into my bedroom and stooped at the foot of my bed, pointing. I peered around her curly head and burst into relieved laughter at what I saw. There, sitting benignly on the carpet was the control for the electric blanket, a small, gray, oval-shaped device with a cord coming out one end, looking, to her three-year-old eyes exactly like a computer mouse. She picked it up and laughed with me. "See? A mouse!"

Animusic!

My daughter, looking for a movie to replace her beloved Pocahontas (deemed too scary for now) has spent the morning entranced by Animusic a computer-generated performance of these hypnotic animated instruments "performing" original midi tunes designed to showcase the creator's robotics. I guess the idea is kind of cute, but I find myself wishing for a little more musical development...they make about the same level of statement as elevator Jazz. I suppose the whole performance would be incredibly meaningful if one were to take some kind of mind-altering chemical and watch it in a dark room with lots of colored strobes. (Just kidding about the drugs, by the way.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Resurrection Sunday

I am happy to report I did not need to buy pants to wear to Easter this year! :) (See last year's blog post for the complete story). Our family wore yellow. I had a yellow sheer-layered dress, Hubby wore his plain yellow shirt, Natta had a cute new outfit that I found on clearance at Ross and Seth had the most adorable yellow vest with a navy blue tie.

Church seemed REALLY long. We did a lot of special music so we got there at 7:30 and didn't get out until 12:30 after the second service. Our patient kids got to go to Children's Church twice. although our pieces didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped (do they ever?) it was such a treat to get to play again. Even more was the feeling of being wanted and appreciated for the abilities and training we do have. I had to battle old memories all morning but I kept them at bay and managed to enjoy myself in spite of them.

After church, we had a special Easter Dinner with Mom and Dad. They had planned to come to second service at our church but there was a mix-up (involving me sending the email containing the name of our church to Dad's work where he'll inconveniently receive it Monday morning) with the directions so they met us at home after church.

Hubby and I made pork-chops with artichoke garnish and all the fixins: potatoes and gravy, rolls, green salad, fruit salad, pickles and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Whew! Our poor children were falling apart by 2 o'clock when they finally got to take their naps. Exhausted, I fell into bed for a while and then went to campus to study for the rest of the night.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Celebrating

Hubby got his first paycheck with the big raise today. For quite a few months now, his boss has been pushing to have Hubby's job re-classified. It finally went through and he got his first increased paycheck this weekend. (I guess we technically got it yesterday.)

This re-class is pretty amazing. Hubby has been doing some pioneer streaming video work that is totally cutting-edge. He is putting videos of classes on the web, and not just videos, but high-quality videos with skip functions and intelligent software to load them automatically.

We really feel the favor of God on him at work. Although he is doing an excellent job at his work, he has had to take time off here and there for my poor health, which is something we were afraid his boss would frown upon. Another miracle is that the University re-classed his position not just from today but retro back to last July and are going to give us the lump-sum difference. We feel so amazed and blessed. In this time of uncertain economy, Hubby just got a 15% raise with this re-class. I am so proud I could burst my buttons!

We celebrated with a nice family dinner tonight. Usually we scrimp by sharing plates, not getting drinks and skipping dessert. Tonight we splurged! We each had steak, we got nice drinks and we even got something special for the kids. Oh yeah, we also got a chocolate dessert! Whoa!

Natalie, in her usual pushing boundaries phase right now had to be taken out to the car twice, unfortunately. I will be SO glad when she decides it is time to be sweet and obedient again. Seth on the other hand won cuteness points from everyone there by smiling and munching rice and bits of chicken. He recently learned how to drink from a straw so he was thrilled to practice his new ability. He sampled the dessert, spreading chocolate all over his chin. Natta loved the dessert too, opening her mouth wide like a baby bird.

After dinner we went shopping for my sister's birthday present. Today is her 20th birthday! She has left the teens behind forever. I remember my 20th birthday as being quite meaningful that way. She celebrated by taking a trip to Chicago with her best friend. Since she just got back I have yet to hear how it went but I hope to talk with her soon.

All in all this has been a pretty good day. The only drawback was that I did not get any studying done. I had intended to study all afternoon but I fell asleep instead. For some reason (dog was coughing, neighbor played music all night, I had nightmares and it was cold....) I didn't sleep last night so my body decided that this afternoon would do. Oops! I guess tomorrow after Easter dinner will be homework time.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Woes of a Suzuki Mom

I think I can truthfully say that I have never encountered anything quite like being a Suzuki mom. On the one hand we parents are expected to be involved in the process, to go to lessons and classes, to help our young children through each practice time and supervise every note played, at least while they are this young.

On the other hand, we are expected to sit back to "trust the teachers and the method", to be hands-off with anything to do with how the process works or how the children are taught. I am finding this dichotomy extremely difficult to deal with. First of all, I love the method. I have studied it and I love how well it works. In fact I am sitting here right now listening to the Book 1 CD and enjoying the nuance of the notes being played for the ten thousandth time. I am committed to the process and drive my daughter cheerfully an hour two times each week to Pullman and back for lessons and class. Hubby and I oversee daily practice times.

Yet I find myself in conflict with her teacher because I mentioned that Natalie doesn't like to be touched (she doesn't). I wrote a long email to her teacher with some frustrations that I would have liked to see addressed, including the fact that Natta hates to be touched. My thinking was that her teacher might see fit to work with her a little extra when it was necessary to mold her hand position and perhaps allow her to do something herself first and see if she could do it rather than grabbing her right away and making her mad over and over.

Instead the teacher wrote back that if I was unwilling to surrender trust then I should withdraw her from the program and teach her the flute. I was a little shocked by this response as she was basically saying that she wasn't going to change one whit. She has trained in this program with the most professional violinists and has successfully taught hundreds of students via this method, so she doesn't need advice from an incompetent non-violinist such as myself. To give her credit, she did ask to sort this all out on the phone, since she communicates so much better face-to-face than in writing. Although I'm sympathetic to that, I personally communicate so much better in writing that if we talked face-to-face it would end up with her explaining till she was blue in the face and me drooling on the phone. We'd hang up with me still not satisfied or even able to get anything like my point across.

I think I am seeing the solution, though. I need to sit down and shut up. I need to forget my years of training and pretend I am as musically knowledgeable as a thumbtack so I can just absorb the wonders of "Twinkle" and the "Monkey Game". Yet somehow I still need to be intelligent enough when we get home to somehow cajole my stubborn, intelligent daughter into practicing just the way the teacher wants, including grabbing her hands and forming "houses" out of curved fingers and "banana thumbs" on the neck of the violin.

Although I'm sure the teacher and I can work out our differences, the whole process of being so involved yet not contributing any input is one that I will continue to struggle with until she is 100% independent in her practicing. This is one of those times when I would give a lot to have one of those laid-back, anything goes personalities to just let the issue slide and not get so stressed out. Why did I get dealt such a perfectionist detail-oriented personality anyway?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Day

First thing this morning I lost my temper with my daughter. :(

Apologized and took her to Preschool.

Studied Math, did a load of laundry and watched Seth.

Went to class. Took Quiz.

Went home and put the kids down for a nap.

Took a big dose of migraine meds and layed (laid? lay?) down. Watched an old episode of MacGyver.

Got up, cooked dinner. Broiled steak, mashed potatoes, veggies, grapes. Chicken nuggets for the kids.

Later tonight went to a show called Dancers, Drummers, Dreamers (like STOMP). We took Natta and she LOVED it! She danced around just like the dancers at intermission and during the blackouts between scenes, she stomped her feet to make her new shoes twinkle in the dark, causing the audience to laugh. During the performances she sat still and good for well over two hours. Amazing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Odd Feeling

We went to LFF's annual Passion play tonight. This year's play was a good one, at least compared to several of the previous years. It was the traditional story in a modern setting, a bit allegorical. Jesus was a defense attorney named Joshua Carpenter and he ends up taking the accused's place and getting the death penalty. A well-done story, great sets and lots of enthusiasm as usual.

It was a strange sensation to go back to a place I practically lived at for twelve years, the only thing in my day-to-day life that stayed constant during the years of moving apartments, changing roommates, shifting jobs, getting married and growing up. In a way, walking through the door felt exactly the same as it had every one of the last 3,000 times I did it. Yet at the same time it was completely different because I am a different person than I was. Instead of wondering who I was going to talk to, I was focused on keeping an eye on my baby who walked by himself, wandering aimlessly through the lobby, his red hair attracting the attention of every passer-by.

Watching the show brought so many memories, some painful, some tender. It was at least fourteen times I sat in that orchestra pit nervously on opening night, just like tonight. Sometimes I was in costume, sometimes just in musician's black. Each show brought new friendships. Each one meant sacrifices in schedule, in school, in the time I invested with my parents and sister. Each one is a memory I still treasure. Watching the musicians I tried to forget the hurt of rejection from a few and instead focused on the friendship of most. I know each of these people so intimately, have had dinner at their houses, babysat their kids. Yet they could have been just so many strangers, members of that other church we don't attend. Yes, it was an odd feeling, an intense emotion for just attending a simple Easter play.


Edited: It WAS really fun to get to talk to friends I don't see very often. I wish we could have stayed longer and talked to more but Natalie had had an accident in her clothes and was wearing Seth's pants whereas he had dumped his bottle all over HIS clothes and it was an hour past their bedtime. So we split soon after Hubby procured his 17th Annual Living Faith Fellowship Easter Ranger Cookie.

Wambs

In the Valley, Spring comes all at once. In one week the trees leaf out, flowers appear everywhere and grass turns green. Up here on the Palouse, however, Spring comes like a timid visitor, hesitantly, throwing a soft green mantle over the fields before anything else happens. That is where we are now. The wheat fields, still showing rotten snow in shady spots, slowly turn each day from brown to bright green, so slowly, in fact, that they almost don't catch your attention until suddenly one day you awaken to the fact that all around you things are green and you wonder how long it has been that way.

The kids and I drove to the farm at Colfax today, the farm that belongs to my best friend's parents. We picked her up on the way and headed out to see the new baby lambs. Natta, whose "L" sounds still come out as "W" chattered on excitedly about the "wambs" we were about to see.

We entered the barn slowly, carefully. Two ewes bleated their welcome and there, hiding behind one of them were twin white lambs, shaky on their spindly legs. The other ewe had not had her's yet, but she obligingly allowed us to pet her any way. Natta was delighted with the babies, trying to feed them hay and laughing at their wagging tails as they nursed.

In spite of the spring, the weather felt chilly so we hurried inside, enjoying the warmth of the stove as we thawed out in the living room. S's mom produced a few grandma toys, among them a tractor and some play animals, so the kids were immediately happy. They loaded the trailer up with all the plastic animals and had the tractor haul it around for probably two hours. Seth discovered a latch on one of the cupboards whereupon he spent a solid 40 minutes figuring out how it worked.

We chatted over cups of hot coffee until it was time to head home. After one more visit to the wambs, S and I picked up fast food on the way home. I dropped her off and drove through the pale Spring sunshine toward home, my sleepy children still munching french fries.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Can't Get Enough

A very excited Natalie climbed into the Brown car at 8:55 this morning. At last, after ten whole days without it, she got to go to Preschool again. To top off her cup of happiness, today was her day to bring snacks. Last night at Wal-Mart we'd procured some packages of crackers and cheese and some Oreo dippers. I hoped the other moms would forgive me the sugar. I added a bottle of apple juice from our fridge and we were set to go. I went for the fun aspect of snack rather than the nutritious today.

Natta had big plans to talk to her friends and Teacher Marnie. As we drove across town she noticed every school bus and happily re-lived her past field trip where she got to actually ride on a real school bus! We got to the Lutheran church and piled out of the car. Now that Seth can walk, Natta and I each take one of his chubby hands and we walk across the parking lot in a long row. It makes my mommy heart jump when I see my two little people holding hands across the lot; they are just so doggone cute!

We got to her classroom and dropped off her snack in the designated area. She put her Nap (blankie) in her cubby to await the end of school and she immediately found a new toy in the play area. Teacher Marnie wisely rotates toys in and out so there is always something fresh and exciting. Her class is preparing to sing at church in a couple of Sundays, so she is busy learning the new songs. She also has a new kid in her class who is Chinese. She gets to help him learn English along with her class. How exciting! New friends are always fun while a friend from another culture offers opportunities to learn about different languages and customs.

Tonight Natta asked me if she could go to Preschool tomorrow. Unfortunately since tomorrow is Wednesday, she won't get to go. Next fall, we're thinking seriously about letting her go to Preschool five days a week since she is doing so well there.

It was a happy, tired little girl that I took home at lunchtime, along with a half-empty jug of apple juice and three leftover Oreo Dippers. As I tucked her in for her nap, my heart melted at the sight of her big brown eyes and wispy curls. I'm so glad she loves her Preschool.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Wearin' o' th' Green

Since Green is my favorite color, I love it when St. Patrick's Day rolls around because not only do I get to wear green but everyone else around me wears green too! (I'm glad the Protestants --such as myself-- around here loosen up and wear green as well. It would be such a disappointment if they all wore orange as my Dad says they should.)

This morning I emerged from the shower after instructing Natalie to get dressed. I'd forgotten to tell her to put on a green shirt though. Seth ended up in a green striped polo because it was the top garment in his drawer and I got lucky. I'd forgotten that it was St. Patrick's Day until I logged on to check my email and Google was dressed up with shamrocks. So I told Natta that her pink shirt would have to go and she needed a green one. In her eyes I saw the protest rising, ready to argue that she'd picked the pink one out herself and she darn well wasn't going to change it. Hurriedly I began to explain. Today was St. Patrick's Day and we were all wearing green just for the fun of it. Her eyes darted to Sethie to see if he was wearing green. He was. She next eyed my green shirt up and down as if to see if her argument for pink was actually going to fly. Her expressive face showed her thoughts the minute she decided to go along with the green-wearing and she began struggling back out of her pink shirt, which she'd happened to put on backwards and inside-out anyway.

We dug through her drawer and unearthed a green shirt. Next I put a ponytail in her hair with a green rubber band. She smiled and admired herself in the mirror. But her green shirt story did not end there.

As we were coming home from my class and lunchtime, she asked for a drink of water. I had a fast-food cup with a straw so I handed it to her and she immediately tipped it up, dousing the front of her green shirt. She sent up a howl and insisted on changing it the second she got home. Since she doesn't own another green shirt, that one went into the laundry and out came the pink one. This time she got it on the right way out but the flowers were still in the back, with the tag standing perkily up under her chin. After a good laugh, we turned the shirt around and admired her beautiful PINK St. Patty's Day shirt.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes...

This morning, the morning of Palm Sunday, it was snowing. Spits of snow and gusts of wind made us pull our winter coats tightly around us as we hurried out to the car for the early service of church. We have been going a bit late in order to skip the introductions and announcements and go right to "dismiss the kids for nursery." I feel like this is a bit of a cop-out but it doesn't bother me enough to stop doing it!

After church we stopped to talk with some of the musicians regarding rehearsals this week. Hubby and I are on for special music for Easter Sunday next week so we're finalizing our plans and setting practice times. I don't remember if I wrote in my blog (I think I did) that we have been asked to coordinate special music at church and also perform from time to time. What an honor! We were thrilled. So our first shot is next Sunday and we're doing a flute/guitar piece. Fun!

After church we worked on our music and took the kids to Pizza Hut for lunch as a treat. I got a salad bar which turned out to be a rip-off but the pizza was good. Seth practiced using a fork to spear his bites. Every time he got one on the fork he'd break off into happy giggles which set the rest of us laughing too. Natta colored pictures, ate a whole slice of pizza and tried the peppermint at the end. She hated it and spit it back out into a napkin in a pink, sticky mess. Guess you never know till you try it! She had thought it would be sweet like a pink candy heart, I think.

Coming home, the sun shone and the weather was so warm I wanted to shed my coat. After sitting here on the couch for a couple of hours, though, it is back to being gray and windy. I got the guitar part re-copied for Hubby and he took off to his office to practice it for a while, so I am sitting here debating on taking a nap or finishing my math homework for tomorrow. Classes start back up tomorrow and I cannot wait. I decided Spring Break was a dud this year. It's back to work and school with great joy for me and Natalie.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reading and Writing

Thanks to the influence of her Preschool friends, Natta has decided she needs to learn to write her name. She came to me the other day asking what the letters were. I showed her and she went off by herself to practice. That night when I put the last of the toys away I saw this:

Doodle Tray with the letters N, A, T, T, over and over

Her sudden interest in letters showed up in other ways as well. Yesterday in the car she asked me, "Mommy, are we on D street?" In fact, we were.

This morning she asked Hubby, "Daddy, what does this say?" He replied that since she knew her letters she ought to figure it out herself. Studying the word written on the side of her toy car she started with R, U, S...

"What does that spell so far?" Hubby queried.

"R-r-r-r, uh-uh, s-s-s" she began then the light went on and she said, "Rusteez! Lightning McQueen says 'Rusteez' on him!" As far as I knew she hasn't done that before, although we have worked a lot on sounding out letters.

Her world is opening up around her as letters give their secrets and resolve into words. I remember when this happened for me at the same age. Stores in town suddenly had names as I looked at their signs. Books no longer were just pictures but were full of stories. I love the look of wonder in her eyes as she discovers something new and exciting to read.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Beginnings of a Bad Day--VENT VENT

How does she do it? Natta manages to push my buttons immediately upon waking and continue throughout the day. Every day. How is it that I can have one kid who is patient and kind and gentle and nice to others, who is smiley and happy all the time and the other kid who is demanding and impatient and drives me crazy all day long?

This morning she woke up calling, wanting and expecting Daddy. No matter that he is at work EVERY DAY at this time. She was disappointed to see me, which feels so lovely to a mother. Seth wasn't awake yet which she of course worked hard to rectify by talking loudly and coming out of her bedroom at the most agonizingly slow pace, the speed she uses for getting ready for bed. He immediately woke up too. She demanded her milk, spilled her cereal and when her brother tried to share his blankie she threw it in his face. I think she is bored and has cabin fever. But she still does not get away with being mean, to me or to her brother.

Right now she is in time-out awaiting judgement. I think I am the one that needs a time-out. I am SO ready for Spring Break to be over. I have had the most miserable, boring week imaginable. Send me back to school and all my activities please!

To top off my morning, my laptop is dead again. GGGAAAHHH!!! Third time! The first time the motherboard died. The second time they replaced the power cord. I have to say, I will never, ever buy a HP Compaq laptop and I recommend against anyone else getting one. My sister has one and it works fine but I wouldn't risk it.

The rest of my day involves being in the house with Natalie and another visit to the Chiropractor which means more pain and soreness. Can I just go to bed now and wake up tomorrow morning?

Edited Later: The power cord had come loose from the adapter so lappy is actually not dead. False alarm! Whew!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When you want to make a good impression

Embarrassing moments always make for funny stories and as I topped off a load of laundry this morning and started the washer, one of mine came back to me in vivid detail.

I was fresh out of college and teaching music in a small, rural Washington school. Hubby and I were still dating although it must have been around the time he had asked me to marry him because he was living in the house on Garfield Street rather than the Northwood apartment. I was over at his place hanging out, although for some reason he wasn't there at this particular moment in time. I was being a giving, serving and dutiful girlfriend and tidying things up for him although before you get too impressed be aware that my real reason was to impress my future husband with my housewifely skillz. I did want to bless him, but you know how those things are. A really big dose of him being impressed with me wouldn't hurt at all. I was a bit full of myself, a real school teacher with a salaried job (not hourly) ought to impress anyone and to top it off I could whip out a load of dishes in nothing flat.

As I was tidying, I found some dirty laundry and tossed it down the stairs to the waiting washing machine in the basement. (Now I have to put in a disclaimer here: Hubby was one of the tidier bachelors I have ever met. The laundry I found was no older than a day and the rest was neatly waiting in a basket downstairs. Some guys who get to college would actually drown in dirty laundry and unwashed dishes given the time, but not Hubby.) As the laundry sailed down the stairs, I thought how much BIGGER of a blessing I could be if I actually washed it rather than just throwing it down the stairs. So I clomped down the stairs after it and loaded it into the waiting machine, along with a nearby basket of dirty clothes. I added soap and started the load, happily confident that my rating on the cool girlfriend scale had just jumped at least seven points. Maybe eight.

Whatever we were doing that day I forget but I was around when the load got finished and I completed my conquest of high score on the wife-meter by remembering to throw everything in the dryer. I clomped down the stairs again and opened the washer.

Horror flooded over me as I began lifting the items out of the washer. Men's underwear, white T-shirts and socks were all a tender shade of pink, the color of candy conversation hearts. Frantically I pawed through the washer until I found the offending item, a dishtowl that was an arrogant red; it stared insolently up at me as if to say, "You want to show your boyfriend how cool you are? Yeah right."

I wanted to cry. What would I do? My first thought was damage control. I could bleach the load. I took out the dishtowel and put all the white stuff in with bleach. After a load (where was Hubby, you ask? I have no idea, but I know I didn't tell him. Yet.) The load finished. i ran downstairs and pulled items out. Still a lovely pink color. Added to this was a forgotten dark item resplendent with bleach streaks. OH NO!!! I'd bleached something out now too! My wifely meter had lost the few points it had and was now sailing into the negative!

I looked around the basement. A box? A trunk? I would not admit to the incident. Let his roommate get blamed. Or I could actually hide the pink stuff. He'd never miss a few pairs of socks. Then my conscience pricked me. I could not actually be dishonest, much as I really, really wanted to at that moment. I'd have to 'fess up. Surely he'd understand. Being male, he likely dyed every other load of laundry pink himself so it could not be THAT bad, right?

Dragging myself back up the stairs, I went in search of my betrothed and found him. I related my story and showed him the offending pink underwear. Unlike the thoughts that ran happily through my head of him giving me sympathy wife points or an A for effort, he asked me to let him do our laundry after we were married.

WHAT?!?! I would not even be given probation? It must have been the bleach job. Oh no! Now my future wife-point-earning capacity was severely limited. I was so ashamed of myself. I offered to buy him some more T-shirts but he said he'd needed some new ones anyway.

A few months later we were married and Hubby got a much humbler wife. My fantasies of being a perfect wife and housekeeper dashed, I meekly allowed him to do laundry for quite some time, the sting of my humiliation never far from my mind.

In the years since, the memory has faded. Hubby now welcomes my help with the laundry and we still don't sort our loads, we are just careful never to buy red towels or socks. After the years of being so sick, I know I am not even close to being a superwife but it doesn't matter any more. I do my best and gratefully accept help when I need it. But still once in a while it comes back to me, my great laundry misadventure!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Money Down the Drain

We moms are funny creatures. When little people enter our lives, our priorities irrevocably alter and we end up doing the most unusual things, things that I never would have predicted I would be doing when I thought about my life from the lofty perspective of an all-knowing college graduate.

This thought struck me tonight as I allowed my son to suck on my tube of Chapstick then tenderly wipe it on my lips in imitation of my daily usages. It was only later that I thought how weird it was that I actually enjoyed the experience, just because of the look of sheer delight on his baby face as he helped Mommy put on her Chapstick.

My thoughts wandered back over my day. Never would I have predicted that I would enjoy a messy house so thoroughly, opting to use my time sitting on the couch reading "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" to my three-year-old daughter rather than tidy the piles of clutter collecting like colored snowdrifts on counter tops and behind chairs. They are still there now happily waiting for me as I think about the feeling of closeness Natalie and I shared as, like my mother before me, I snuggled with her and shared the magic of reading.

Who would have thought that I would opt for the most expensive grocery store in town to shop tonight just so my children could ride around in the grocery cart with the plastic car on the front? Is this how we mommies tell our children that we love them, by driving to the other side of town in order to purchase the PINK sucker rather than the blue one?

Tonight we stopped by the mall. I treated myself to a cinnamon-sugar pretzel with cream cheese frosting and found that it was no sacrifice at all to share bites with my family. Natalie got her BIG bites and Sethie opened his mouth like a baby bird for his share of cinnamon-sugar sweetness. I found myself smiling when the clerk at the Pretzelmaker counter gave me four shiny pennies back from the purchase of my pretzel because I anticipated the look of delight as I presented the pennies to the two small people next to me. There exists a device at the mall, scientifically called a "Hyperbolic Funnel" but Natta just calls it a drain. You set the pennies in a slot and let go so they whirl around in ever-tightening circles and eventually land in the center and slide out of sight. In my normal sane existence this is something I would never have wasted time or money on but in the parallel universe of Mommy-World, this drain holds endless fascination and fun. I find myself saving change just to give to my kids so I can watch the wonder in their eyes and hear their giggles as they put yet another penny down the "drain".

Yep, we moms are an odd lot. I sit patiently watching "Pocahontas" over and over and when asked what movie I'd like to watch I notice the gleam in a pair of small eyes and reply without hesitation, "Pocahontas, of course!" I singlehandedly keep Chicken Nugget manufacturers solvent and cheerfully invest in McDonald's toys.

I alway knew that becoming a mother was a miracle. What I didn't realize was that the miracle actually occurs in the transformation of my own heart from someone who loved my own ways to someone who loves two little people so much that putting my money down the big drain at the mall changes from a foolish activity to one of abundant love, the stuff from which memories are made.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ouch!

Seth got his first big bump today, thus initiating him into the ranks of little-boyhood out of the protected world of babyhood. He fell off the front steps onto the sidewalk and landed on his face. Oops! My poor little guy...

My Job

So far I haven't talked much about the place where I work. That is mostly due to the fact that when I was hired I signed so many HIPPA and Privacy documents I felt that if I talked about it at all there would be some sort of Privacy Police that would swoop down on my head and cart me off to solitary confinement.

Still, many of you have asked about my job, so by keeping details out and changing names, I think I can tell you a little bit about what I do on Friday nights.

I work for an organization called Opportunities Unlimited that provides services to developmentally disabled adults and children. The Friday night group, called "Living Our Lives" or LOL for short is only for adults. My job title is "Therapy Tech" which means I interact directly with the clients and assist them during the group session. Several Techs and I together take a group of up to ten clients into town for a time of social interaction. It almost always includes dinner, whether fast food or sit-down and often some kind of activity. After the three-hour session, we drop the clients off at home, do some paperwork and head home ourselves.

One of the most unusual parts of the nights for me is driving the bus. It isn't a full-sized bus so I don't need a CDL, but I am the only Tech over 25 so it automatically falls to me to be the bus driver. The first time I drove it was the day the roads were as icy as a skating rink, causing my blood pressure to rise significantly during the trip around town.

The clients themselves range in ability and age, but all are mobile. Many of them cannot read which makes ordering food for a group of 12 quite the adventure. The care they show for each other is touching as they help each other read the menu, order and pay; of course we help everyone too.

One of our favorite destinations is a local coffee shop where we order sandwiches and play board games. "Connect 4" gets the most popular votes, but checkers ranks near the top as well. We enjoy just hanging out and talking, something that I normally take for granted but which these adults, who cannot drive, read or be without supervision, often must do without.

The sessions often don't go as smoothly as we'd like them to. An ongoing problem is the fact that the clients would prefer to pair up into couples and spend time cuddling and holding hands. Part of me, sympathetic to the fact that they rarely get to see one another, wishes they had a time for dating. Another part of me sees the trouble it can lead to and I put on my stern schoolteacher face and remind them that OUI is not a dating service.

Another problem is the slowness with which we do things. By the time all of us order and receive food it is nearly time to go home, no matter if we had another activity planned. Or we'll be doing an activity such as glazing pottery at Wild at Art and it will be time to leave but no one wants to clean up and go but they would rather continue their artwork.

These end up being trivial annoyances however under the fun of just getting to know the clients. For the most part, they are a group of fun-loving, honest, sweet people who I am blessed to get to be with. All of them have had to endure ridicule and discrimination at one time or another and one of the goals of our group is to increase positive community interaction. Not only do we teach the clients appropriate public behavior but we also expose community members to a disabled person who acts politely, pays his or her bill, leaves a tip, etc.

All in all, my favorite part of the evening is the ride home where we share our lives with each other. The clients ask about my kids and tell me about their roommates, pets and caregivers. One lady had a dog who died a few weeks ago. Another had a dog of the same breed as Piper and she always asks about her. All of them are grieving right now for the woman with Downs Syndrome who recently passed away. Not only was she a friend and one of their number but she reminds them that time on earth is short and we never know how long we have. Their comments are not only profound, but as they comfort one another I have been touched by their heartfelt sympathy and care for one another and their acceptance of life. It is rare that I hear someone complain. Rather they talk about Special Olympics or their new roommate. They anticipate holidays with the joyous eagerness of children but in the next sentence they express the unexpected wisdom of an adult who has seen her share of heartache and loss yet still can bravely look life in the face.

Each week, as I brace myself to go to work on a Friday night, my body tired from the week and the inconvenience of the evening hours, I wonder if it is worth it for a measly $40 a month. But as I come home again, I find that another little part of me is changed forever, not from being with disabled people, but from being with friends.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Best Age Yet

Hubby did GREAT this year! He surprised me with a party where my parents and my best friend and her hubby met us at Applebee's for lunch. Mom made me a gooey chocolate birthday cake. Best of all, Hubby gave me a fishing rod. The rod itself is not so significant as the fact that he cared about my desire to learn to fish and to spend time out-of-doors, an activity he would prefer to avoid. I'm so grateful and so blessed that he cares about me so much.

I am told that 31 is the best age yet (read comments on the previous post). I hope so. I look forward to this year with enthusiasm and a little bit of fear, just my usual fear of the future. Life brings changes and they aren't always good ones. For the most part though I am an optimist and I hope this year brings a renewed vigor, a new feeling of settledness and a new purpose in our lives. So here's to my 31st year. :)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Coincidences and Good Timing

Yesterday I received a birthday card in the mail from Grandma J, Hubby's grandma. In it was a birthday gift in the form of a check. Of course I was so blessed since I am not technically even one of her granddaughters but a granddaughter-in-law. Eagerly I went over things in my mind I could get with the amount. Nothing really came to mind so I decided to wait and let the perfect thing come along.

At work last night, my client decided she wanted to stop by the Goodwill store. Together we browsed around the store and there, tucked in between a silent television set and an oversized stuffed dog was this darling little antique Singer sewing machine. It sat demurely in its cabinet, a vintage electric machine, one of the earliest electric models. At an antique store it would have sold for several hundred dollars even if it did not work. The tag said that this model did in fact work fine and the price--I looked closer--the price was the exact amount of my birthday check!!! I had sighed to myself on originally seeing it as I knew I would never spend the money it took to purchase such an item even though I would love to have such a lovely antique.

It was with great excitement that I dragged Hubby to the Goodwill store this morning to pick up the little sewing machine. I picture it in our new house as it might have looked in 1920 when the house was built. What a wonderful birthday gift; it happened to be just the exact right price in the exact right place at the exact right time. I love it when that happens.

Here is what the machine itself looks like. This isn't mine; mine is set into a table with a flip-over lid that makes an extra-wide table-top and it is electric, not hand-crank. But the gold lettering and decorations are the same.

Photobucket

It looks something like this:

Photobucket

Friday, March 7, 2008

Dad

This post is about my Dad, since it's his birthday today. Happy Birthday, Daddy!

He grew up on a wheat farm outside of Lapwai, Idaho, the second of four children. Grandma Doris tells me he was a mellow child and that Seth reminds her a lot of him when he was little. If his older brother didn't torment him, he was content to play on his own, quiet and peaceful. From an early age he loved mechanical things, such as the toy tractor that he and his brothers rode around the yard.

As a farmer's son he learned to work long, hard hours from an early age. Like most farm boys he was only about 12 when he learned to drive, helping to bring in the harvest using the big grain trucks pulled alongside a creeping combine to collect its load of wheat. He learned to fix the vehicles and motors used on the farm, sparking a lifelong hobby of restoring used cars. His first project in high school was a Model A, then later a Corvette.

He tells stories of life on the farm, getting into mischief with his father's shotgun, games outside with black powder and singlehandedly putting out a beginning field fire by throwing himself on top of the circle of flames before they could grow big enough to be a threat.

With his brothers and sister, he rode the school bus into town every day to school in Lapwai, which is on the Nez Perce Reservation, so of course many of his classmates were Native Americans. In a small town school, everyone plays football and Dad was no exception. At 6'3" he was an imposing figure on the field although he says he didn't like the running. He attained his height early, telling stories about being denied admittance at the movie theater for the child's price when he was 12 because he looked older. He did well in school; as a senior he was elected President. After graduating he spent four years at UI, where he met my mother on a blind date arranged by their mutual roommates. Pictures of them show him with a 70's Foo-man-choo mustache and his black hair worn long like a style reminiscent of Ringo.

He and Mom moved to the portion of the family farm on the Camas Prairie, below Craigmont, Idaho. There they built a house and farmed for seven years before he decided it was time to stop farming and move in to town. I think he wanted more independence from his father, an issue I too struggle with. I suppose every child has to find the place where they have autonomy yet still maintain the bond of blood.

It was when Dad still lived on the farm that he and Mom experienced spiritual revival. They both dedicated their lives to serving Christ wholeheartedly and were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Mom tells me of their water baptism in October in the Clearwater River. They really must have been on fire for Jesus! Together they led a youth group of high school students for several years. Some of those farm kids in that special youth group still keep in touch with Dad and Mom and many are still serving the Lord.

They moved to Lewiston when I was four, twelve years after Dad's high school graduation. He got jobs teaching at a Christian school and working as a mechanic on pea-harvesting combines, but his heart was for ministry. When I was nine, we moved to Fresno, California in a leap of faith so Dad could attend seminary to become a pastor, a dream that never came to reality as my mom fell ill shortly after my sister was born. For her sake he moved the family back up to Idaho to be close to family and friends and went back to work in a plumbing shop and as a combine mechanic.

He still found ways to minister, however unofficially it looked on paper. I remember him bringing home young people who were down and out so they could stay and get back on their feet. One memorable Thanksgiving he drove to the grocery store and with the money from his own wallet bought a huge Thanksgiving dinner and took us with him to deliver it to a needy family that he had heard about. Tears come to my eyes even now every time I drive by the seedy motel in North Lewiston where the grateful family received his generosity that day.

He arranged for our family to be a host home for Japanese college students studying English in hopes that we could witness to them. Our first student, Katsuya, did in fact receive Christ and keeps in touch with our family, calling himself my Japanese "brother". Over the next four years we had more than 20 students who lived with our family and experienced a Christian home.

I think if I could describe my Dad in one word, it would be generous. He never has enough money because he is always giving it away. He sees needs around him all the time and does what he can to help. He fixes people's cars for free. For twenty years the neighbors on either side of him were single women with health issues (on one side) and old age (on the other) and he uncomplainingly mowed their lawns and raked their leaves each year. He makes sure that my sister and I have cars that run and as you know he has helped us with buying a house. His terms on the investment of this house certainly don't do him any financial favors but they will allow our family to get ahead in a way that otherwise would have been impossible for at least ten years.

Several years ago, frustrated with his non-challenging job he looked for one with a better fit and landed at a manufacturing plant where he has the official title of "maintenance" but instead what he actually does is use his inherent talent for mechanical engineering to build machines and robots that increase production and provide better ergonomics for workers, winning him several safety awards and recognition from the national company. Always the inventor, he uses his creativity and innate knowledge of Physics to come up with the most amazing automatronics for his workplace.

As you can tell, I think my Dad is a really cool guy. Still mellow and quiet, just as he was when he was a child, he isn't the type to be the life of the party. He has his lovable quirks, too, like the fact that "chick flicks" are his favorite genre of movie and the way he insists that a natural substance like an onion will cure all bodily ailments, or at least the common cold. But I think the things I admire the most, like his faithful care of his family and his heart to help others, are the things which are his true legacy, the ministry which will resonate far beyond himself. Added up, he has touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people, not from a pulpit as he once dreamed but from his own two hands and the willingness of his heart to get his hands dirty and bend his back to help someone else who needs it. From those acts of God's love, he has been able to preach a gospel that extends far, far beyond the reach of any pulpit and into the hearts of the people he sees every day. Good job, Dad!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Thank God for those!

Holding a large manilla envelope in my hand I pushed open the door to the waiting room, past a typed sign that read "No Cell Phone Use". The receptionist greeted me warmly, taking my envelope which held a sheaf of papers, all of my introductory paperwork which they had sent home with me to expedite the process of my first appointment.

It had been more than two years since I had seen a Chiropractor and I hoped this lady would be good at her job. I had been to several others in the past, doctors who shuddered when they looked at my back, using words like "scoliosis", "sciatica", "twisted", "so much arthritis for how young you are" and "out of alignment". I hoped she would be able to do some pushing and pulling on my back and some of the searing pain would go away. Before I was halfway into the "Best Dressed of the Oscars" in People Magazine, the receptionist called me back to the usual small room with an adjusting table. In short order the doctor entered, a boisterous woman in a polo shirt who called me "hun" and did not stop talking the entire 40 minutes of treatment. It did not take her long to discover that my back was a mess and she sailed in with enthusiasm, explaining muscle groups and bone names with a speed and ferocity that left me dizzy. She started near my tailbone and worked her way north until she hit the worst spot, THE SPOT that has always had some element of pain in it ever since I can remember. I remember lying in bed as a child of five tossing to find a position that did not hurt THE SPOT. Well, she hit this spot with the force of a sledgehammer and I just about fainted, it hurt so badly. I actually cried. Now it has to hurt pretty badly for me to cry. I didn't cry when I broke my toe. But after a few minutes as my protesting muscles relaxed, the most wonderful sensation spread over me. She had somehow shoved those unyeilding vertebrae into place and my body responded with gratitude. The residual soreness barely registered compared to the previous pain I had felt all day, lifting Sethie in and out of the car.

As I left the office, I walked on clouds. Although I know it won't possibly stay in alignment so soon, I enjoyed the few precious hours of reduced pain. The very air seemed brighter. Tonight my dumb back returned to its usual state of subdued agony but the memory of that feeling lingers. I hope for long-term improvement, as far as it goes. Realistically it will get to a certain point and still be tilted, twisted and tweaked at funny wrong angles but perhaps she can help the ongoing pain be low enough that I can exercise more and stay healthy.

I discovered tonight that I am not the only family member in pain. Sethie, throwing back his head in a deep giggle revealed all of his pink gums and there on the upper left side was a large soft swollen spot and dark purple bruise. Poor little guy! No wonder he refused all food today! In prompt Mommy fashion, I stuck my finger into his mouth and felt his other molars to determine the status of each side. On the bottom right, to my astonishment, I felt the small sharp point of a new tooth. Its twin above it felt equally pointed. Two molars had come through! With hesitation, I felt the left bottom, taking care to avoid that horrible swollen bruise. Sure enough more tiny barb poked my finger. This child had cut all four molars at once, one of them getting stuck. I shuddered to think of the pain he must have been in all week and I hadn't thought to look for molars since he barely had four teeth in the top front. He had not even cut his eye-teeth yet.

I did the usual Mommy-freak-out routine and hurried to call the pediatrician over the swollen bruised gum. Horrible scenarios involving infection and dangerous fevers flashed through my mind but the doctor's office was closed for the night. I grabbed my trusty lappy (which came back yesterday, yay!) and began googling furiously. Almost immediately I read that it is called an eruption cyst and is nothing to be concerned about. Phew. I administered Tylenol and cuddled my patient baby. In a few days or weeks the stubborn fourth molar will come through and he will be through the very worst of any teething pain he can possibly have.

I see this as a blessing since he will be able to chew so much better once his molars come in. For now, though, he is pretty miserable, drooling buckets and refusing to eat anything tougher than pureed bananas.

There is a line in the Princess Bride where Westley, in his brash wisdom, tells Buttercup that "life IS pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something." I think of that now as we frail humans try anything we can think of to alleviate our aches. Yet we still go on and life is still beautiful and full of wonder. I feel even more hope as I look ahead. Seth will cut his teeth. I will get my treatments and do my stretches and exercises so we both will feel better as time goes on. For now, I'll take some Ibuprofen and Seth gets his Tylenol. Thank God for those!

Because There Are Stripes of Sunshine on my Carpet

It's A Beautiful Morning Outside

Beautiful - beautiful morning outside,
Bright with the sunshine and glows in the sky.
Birdies are singing and dewdrops are falling:
It's a beautiful morning outside.

Day after day in this wonderful way,
Nature is showing its wonderful face,
With sunshine at mornings, and cheers every where;
It is morning again in this world.

I was eager in heaven to go on a stroll;
It was mother who who showed me this wonderful world,
With radiance and sunshine and glory to all;
I forgot the heavens the place of my soul.

Now that I am grown up a man in this world,
I will sing to the glory of God's given love.
I will look to the sunshine for youth and for joy,
For sunshine brings morning to all.

Parmanand Mahabir

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Flying Fish, Fighting Fish

The other day Hubby found the sad, stiff remains of our fish Nemo, under the violin case on the table. In protest of me cleaning his bowl and filling it to the brim with water the other day, he had made a flying leap to freedom and his doom. Before Natta could begin to grieve, I assured her it was not a big deal and that we would go right away to get a replacement fish. This satisfied her three-year-old mind. One fish was as good as another to her and she anticipated the trip to the store.

We first tried Wal-Mart where where we had purchased the original Nemo. Although he was a silver danio not a delicate saltwater clownfish, he still bore the name proudly. We discovered that Wal-Mart had discontinued their fish so we were out of luck there. Undaunted we planned a future trip to a pet store. Since this was the location of a previous field trip for Natta's preschool class, she was absolutely thrilled at the prospect, her delight undimmed by the recent demise of her previous pet.

Today at lunch while I went to my Calculus class, the three other members of my family descended upon the pet store in search of a replacement Nemo, which will be summarily christened Nemo II. They decided on a fighting fish this time and Natta picked out a red one. He was purchased and left the pet store in a plastic cup, ready to come home and live in our bowl.

He sits there now, in his cup waiting for the water to acclimate. I think he'll like being part of our family, safe in his nice bowl with no other fighting fish nearby to eat him. The kids, who love to watch the fishy swim around his bowl, will enjoy this new, bigger red one. A small part of me is always sad when a pet dies but in the long run a fish is just a fish.

Monday, March 3, 2008

He's DA Man!

I noticed on Google's homepage that today is Dr. Alexander Graham Bell's birthday. I've read some about him in the past and he has my profound admiration. He isn't just Mr. Telephone. In fact, he accidentally invented the telephone while attempting to manufacture a device to assist the deaf. That was his life's work, teaching deaf people and working to improve communication. I love him for that. (Note: please see comments for other perspectives besides mine as I did not have the whole story straight. I'm not too connected to the Deaf community these days and my apologies go out to anyone my views might offend.) He had a high level of respect for those with disabilities and observed, in a day and age when many of the disabled were literally thrown away, that they were worthwhile people and worth getting to know, worth educating and worth communicating with.

The coolness does not stop there but he discovered a way to transmit sounds over a wire, thus inventing a device that has improved communication for all of us. The irony of this historical fact is that hearing people took the device and ran with it; now the telephone is still something that frustrates communication between Deaf and hearing people.

Maybe if more of us worked to improve communication with all kinds of people, especially those some see as throwaways, we too would discover something that benefits the entire human race.



Wikipedia Article on Dr. Bell

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hubby put the "For Sale" sign away

The little things, the symbolic things, mean so much in a life where I want to be settled and things seldom actually are peaceful. Having a "For Sale" sign in front of our house is like a sign of insecurity. I means we're changing our lives again, putting ourselves out on a limb and hoping "each time that the next leap will be the leap home."

Why do I long for a settled home so badly? Is it the blood of my farmer ancestors coursing through my veins, the ancestors who knew the value of the land, the stability and assurance that they belonged as they stood on the solid earth that they owned and farmed? It took care of them, that land. They fought with it and it possessed them. They belonged to it, the land under the sweep of pale Idaho sky. Does an echo of their soul still live in me today as I stand here on rented land in front of a temporary house longing for a home?

According to some, home is where you hang your hat, where your rump rests. I have made a home for my family in many different places. Each one was a home, a warm place where we gathered together every night, bowing our heads to bless our food at dinner. Yet something inside of me feels unsatisfied, as if I know that we could be somewhere else next month, praying around a different table. There is a part of me that longs to be planted like the fields of wheat that my grandfathers tended. I long to put my roots down deep and grow secure and solid. Yes, I love to travel, but I love to come home.

Once again we're moving. This time will we be moving home? For the first time in fifteen years, I have a glimmer of hope that this can become home. Maybe this time I can unpack the little special fragile corner of my heart that has for so many years been shut away from the dust and debris of temporary places and let it take root and flourish. Maybe now I can begin recording the height of my children on the wall, a practice I have avoided in the last two houses where the precious markings would need to be left behind after just a few short months anyway.

My soul treads lightly, fearing disappointment yet again. But hope, once it has sprouted grows wild like morning glory and tenaciously refuses to be uprooted and thrown away. It still puts out cautious tendrils into my heart, little vines of longing as I plan and dream of a place where I will live and stay and make a home.