Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pottery Painting

Tucked in the Eastside Marketplace in our little town is a tiny shop filled with paintbrushes, bisqueware, pictures, sketches, bead jewelry and ceramic tiles in colorful profusion. It reminds me of the cluttered, messy classroom belonging to my 8th grade art teacher. Everything in it prods the visitor toward creativity and right-brained explorations in color and texture.

Last night my friend called, announcing that her family was going to this shop, Wild At Art, where her boys would paint cocoa mugs to use this winter. She invited us to come along and paint our own cocoa mugs and we gladly agreed!

We each chose an unfinished mug, grabbed brushes and chalky glaze on a palette. The kids were a little confused that the glaze color didn't represent the final tint, but they happily painted away anyway, their pieces resembling the randomness of a crazy quilt as they experimented with stamps, sponges, stickers and polka dots. Hubby and I had a little more of a design in mind with ours, but we didn't get a lot of time to work since we were constantly interrupted by Little Mister dipping his elbow in the paint or Curly Miss asking for the 47th color on her palette.

All in all, we felt quite pleased with out creative efforts and we're looking forward to next week when the pieces will be fired and ready to bring home. Stay tuned, I'll post pictures when we get them back!


Photo Credits, another pottery painting shop in IA!

Monday, September 28, 2009

City Bus Adventure

As usual this morning, Curly asked me what we could do today. I told her she could choose, curious as to her response. She picked playing at the indoor playland a mile from our house and to make it even more of an adventure we decided to ride the city bus there.

We caught the bus and the kids delighted riding it around the streets of our quiet town. We made it to the little mall where the playland was and I stopped for a Starbucks on the way in.

Curly was disappointed that no kids her age were there, but it wasn't long before some showed up, to her extroverted delight. We played for an hour and a half, then treated ourselves to Mongolian Barbecue for lunch.



On the way home I discovered I'd missed an important detail of our bus schedule: lunch break. We waited at the bus stop for twenty minutes, then when no bus showed up, we realized we'd have to walk the mile to our house.

A glorious fall day with the sun shining and the temperature a good 78 degrees made a walk sound nice, although I wasn't sure how Little Mister would do. He chugged along slowly but steadily and I carried him on my back twice, Curly taking a turn with the backpack. We finally made it home, taking about 40 minutes to walk the whole mile.

I made a mental note the next time we do a bus trip to take into account the driver's lunch break in planning our return journey! Such is small-town life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Want to Watch This.

I can't wait to watch Ken Burns' new miniseries on National Parks. I've watched his "The Civil War", "Baseball" and "Jazz" so I'm anticipating fascinating stories, spectacular scenery and all of the personal narratives that make Ken Burns' films so special.

The series airs today, hopefully on a channel our bunny ears receive, or I'll have to wait until the DVD comes out. It's the price we pay for choosing not to have TV. Since there is only something I really want to watch about once every two years, I'd say it's worth it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Own Beautiful Bokeh

blurred city lights at nightA memory stands out in my mind, riding in a rocking, swaying Greyhound bus late at night. I was on a college band trip and the day had been a long blur of travel and diesel fumes and doing a show on an unknown field in a drippy, rainy stadium. The grass had been soaked, our wool uniforms clung like soggy sponges and I remember the hours of stress walking around a new place fearful of tripping over a half-seen curb I didn't know was there. Still, I loved marching band and I loved travel, but after such a day my eyes felt like they were falling out of my head and at last in the darkness of the bus I took my glasses off and leaned my head back in my seat with a tired sigh.

When I opened my eyes again, I sucked in a quick breath because out of the rain-splattered windows, a scene of heart-stopping beauty confronted me. The city lights blossomed into colored flowers, expanding in ever-widening circles, overlapping, meshing color and running into one another like a ruined watercolor painting. The spattering rain only made the scene more interesting, adding another layer of color-trapping depth.

cityscape in bokehSince then, I have often sneaked a quick view of the world with my unaided sight, enjoying the relaxation of detail blending into form; with the absence of sharp edges color becomes everything while depth and shape no longer really matter. Every light becomes a wide circle, shooting rays and stars into the colors around; every object flows into the one next to it with a fluid softness. The scene becomes a wash of blending, fading, contrasting colors.

While poking around the internet today I discovered I'm in good company, enjoying my own personal bokeh. This Blind Photographer uses his unique sight, much like mine to frame and find his photographs, often fascinating studies of focus and depth.

shoulder with tuxedo and flower with background of bokeh treesI'd never even heard of Bokeh until a year of so ago when friends who are amateur photographers began posting pictures with strings of blurred, colored shapes, the result of Christmas lights or cityscapes or the sun filtered through the leaves of trees. I remember the emotional familiarity I felt the first time I saw one of these fairyland images, so much a part of my own secret watercolor world. How often have I left my glasses at home, like yesterday, wandering the familiar paths of the park, letting the green of the trees filter dizzying beauty into my soul? To me, the backgrounds of these photos look the most familiar, not the crisp, sharp foreground subject.

Somehow the acceptance of bokeh as art gives me immense satisfaction. The exploration of color, of texture and composition without the hindrance of sharp detail somehow resonates with me in a very personal way, that the way I see naturally becomes something beautiful, something thought-provoking rather than something shameful or wrong. It's not "out-of-focus", an accident, a mistake or lack of skill. It's "bokeh", artistic, observant, thoughtful, beautiful.


Photo Credit
Photo Credit
Photo Credit

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Keeping Walgreen's In Business

b100_0677

Baby Bear's dry, dry, dry, scaly, flaky skin has been a bit of a challenge for this white mama. While his lil black self is cute as all get-out, his skin's also so dry it's coming off in patches. Of course I'd prefer that my baby keep his skin, so I have gone on the rampage, hunting and gathering in Walgreen's, Wal-Mart, the Food Co-op and my own bathroom cupboard, collecting moisturizing products to attempt to turn him back from an alligator into a little boy.

b100_0670

Whenever I change his diaper, I pull out a jar of something and begin rubbing it into his elbows, knees, shoulders, head... while he smiles and giggles and enjoys the massage. So far the Aquaphor seems to work the best, but the coconut oil definitely smells nice.

Escapism

clive owenWhile waiting for a certain call from a certain social worker that may or may not come, that may or may not bring good news, I've been escaping. Old BBC mystery crime dramas seem to be the choice this week.

Four shows, each two hours long, each a classic Whodunit, each starring Clive Owen. Combine this with some Gardettos and how can you miss?

Second Sight tells the tale of a hotshot police inspector, Ross Tanner, who's slowly losing his eyesight and trying to keep it a secret so he doesn't get canned. Despite the fact that every crime drama or cop show uses this theme for at least one episode, this one carries it through the whole season and actually works it pretty well, keeping the slush (and the ESP) to a minimum. I was only disgusted with the certainty that he would lose his job if anyone found out; realistic, but frustrating when he could obviously do the work just fine, solving one complicated crime after another.

clive owen and tom felton in hide and seekThe show provides an interesting peek at some well-known actors "before they were" such as Tom Felton who plays Draco Malfoy on all of the Harry Potter movies. Even the secondary actors did a good job, though and the plots were the usual British crime drama level, a notch or two above American shows. I enjoyed the twists and turns, as the audience is invited along with Tanner to solve the mystery and to try to beat him there, which I'll brag and say I did once or twice.

clive owen in second sightI think my favorite aspect of each show is how the writers had Tanner turn his disability into an asset rather than a hindrance, forcing him to think about the situation from a different perspective and giving him insight he normally wouldn't have paid much attention. In my experience, this is exactly the benefit people discover who have a disability. A new angle, a deeper level of thought, greater care. In talking with friends who have disabilities these results, while not exactly outweighing the inconvenience of diminished sight or hearing or chronic pain, still add an interesting side effect to what others might consider wholly a tragedy.

So in keeping myself from thinking, I'm finding myself thinking. Just along different lines. I follow several disability blogs (Patricia E. Bauer being one) and I have found myself pondering this week what it would be like if everyone in the world thought about life in the practical manner that looked not at disabilities but at abilities. People with Autism would have jobs who wanted them, doing tasks suited to their temperament and care for detail. Those in wheelchairs would be greeted at restaurants and conversed with face-to-face rather than stares and a quick comment to a companion. And Tanner wouldn't have to worry about losing his job when his supervisor found out he was going blind.

Photo Source

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Day As An Unschooler

Yesterday Curly had a wonderful day filled with learning all day long. In my mind, this is exactly what unschooling should look like, although Hubby and I don't have the energy to do this much every day. If we did, Curly would be thrilled.

In the morning, Hubby had the kids. He pulled out freezer paper for an oversized coloring project and let them free-color whatever imaginative things they wanted. Curly has finally decided she wants to color inside the lines after years of random scribbling. So she drew pictures of Mater tow trucks and sunshines and people with thought bubbles, then colored them bright colors. As I suspected, it was not lack of ability to color within the lines, but rather lack of desire because she is quite proficient despite never doing so previously. The two kids and Daddy also baked peanut butter cookies together, learning to measure and mix and of course taste the result!

Hubby also did a math workbook page with her, which she loves, and had her read aloud to him from an easy-reader book about butterflies, sitting snuggled together on the couch. She is about a first-grade level, I'd say, but she's not a voracious reader and only does it when we ask her, so it's not very often. I hope she decides to read for pleasure on her own at some point, but part of me is relieved she doesn't read as much as I did at such a young age since I think that contributed largely to my current eyesight problems. I remember my parents fretting about the amount I spent reading and whether my glasses were harming my eyes, but back then I ignored them and read for hours anyway. I was an addict. So far it's not the case with my daughter; given the choice of activities she's much more likely to choose a toy or her coloring.

Before he left for work, hubby did a few minutes of violin practice with Curly as we've discovered lately that a few minutes repeated several times a day goes much better with her short attention span than a prolonged practice. There will be time to build endurance later. When it's quick and fun, she asks to do it rather than dragging her feet.

At rest-time while Mister took a nap, Curly did PBS computer games, both fun and educational.

When Little Mister awoke, we went to the park to meet three other homeschool families from church. The kids played pirate ship and the moms yakked. I think we all enjoyed the fresh air and exercise, as well as the social time. Although this was our "recess" there was no bell, no lining up and it lasted about three times as long as a recess at school might last. Plus, every kid was included and had friends as well as watchful moms preventing unwanted rough play or bullying.

We left the park in time to come home and fix dinner; while I cooked the kids listened to Bible story tapes. Those hold fond memories for me as I remember many happy hours of listening to the same tapes as a kid. We also went over the first two sentences of the newest memory verse: 1 Corinthians 13. Curly likes to dance around or climb on the couch while learning memory verses, making me suspect she has quite a bit of kinesthetic learning style in her makeup. Sitting in a desk all day certainly wouldn't do anything for that!

After dinner I had to leave for a Chiropractor appointment and a meeting with my boss, so Hubby had the kids again; it's unusual for him to have so much time with them in a day and he said he was tired by the end. I can't imagine why! I think they mostly played in the basement with toys and with the Wii. Their imaginative play lately has revolved around the play kitchen. They fix dinner for us or each other or the stuffed sheep that lives in the basement.

When I got home, Hubby had to go into work for his evening shift to make up for the time he takes off in the mornings. He says he loves going in to work when no one is there. He's a night-owl and no one bothers him, so he accomplishes more off his to-do list than at any other time in the week. He does so much with the family that we both have to remember to make sure he gets some time to himself each week, to hang with friends or read his many theological tomes he carries around in his backpack.

I put the kids in bed and after the long, busy day, they crashed immediately. I reflected on the amazing amount of learning that went on during the day, happy busy kids absorbing the world around them, not in set school hours but in the real world. They didn't just learn reading or memory verses or math, but kindness to one another and to friends, the value of imagination and curiosity, or the pleasure of making something with their hands. In music Curly is learning to push through difficulty or fear of failure to learn new skills. A gentle encouragement to try, try again is enough to spur on her natural ambition and the look on her face when she accomplishes a skill she thought was impossible is priceless!

Some of the things I love about learning at home in this easy, relaxed manner is the way we can enjoy the emerging skills of our children without forcing them into the "right way" box. For instance, if Curly wants to color outside the lines, she is able to do it without anyone telling her it's wrong or that she's bad. As her mother, I know her well enough not to confuse desire with ability and I enjoy her creative artistic pieces rather than scolding her for not doing it the "right way."

Another development this year is the closeness that has formed between the siblings from being together during the days. When Curly was at Preschool, she learned from the other kids that only kids her own age were worthy of her friendship and she began to scorn her little brother. Now that her social groups involve kids of every age all playing together, she values her brother as a friend and ally instead of a cootie.

I don't know if we'll homeschool as a long-term plan. We only did it this year because she wanted to learn to read and the kindergartens wouldn't accept her since her birthday is after the cutoff date. But it's working so well this year, it may continue longer than I thought. I know Curly would love school, she's such a extrovert, but right now she is as happy a kid as I've ever seen simply doing what we're doing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Left Behind

I worried for months whether to enter my quilt in the fair. Something might happen to it... Then when I finally entered it, I forgot to go pick it up at the appropriate time when the fair ended. I find it highly ironic after fretting for such a long time that I would actually forget to go get it and it got packed away in the fair office with other leftover remnants of forgotten entries. Hubby picked it up today and it sits accusingly on my dining room table.

Intentionally vague here (sorry about that) but not such good news today. It's highly possible we'll be waiting quite a long time more before Baby Bear comes home. I feel surprisingly peaceful. Another drop on the roller coaster and the ride's not over yet. So I hang on and close my eyes so I won't see the next sharp turn and stomach-churning drop.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Prayer

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation ....

Lately in our family Little Mister has taken upon himself the duty of the prayer before each meal. At home, at friends' houses, in restaurants... actually anywhere we consume food that needs to be blessed he is available to do it loudly (read: top volume):

DEAR DEEEEEE-JUS, Fank Oooo for dis FOOOODDD. In DEEE-JUSSES name, AMEN!

No, I am not ashamed to be a Christian. It's a good thing because every single diner in the Cafe Lopez Mexican Family Restaurant was aware of it the other night. But every single diner also smiled at us tenderly and resumed eating their rice and beans without comment.

Sometimes we need the two-year-olds.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fair-y Pictures

rainbow block-patterned quilt hanging in a display with several other quilts

First, my quilt. I was surprised to find that it had won a red (second place) ribbon in its category. It's possible there were not many quilts in that category because I don't feel that it was award-winning quality, but maybe the fact it was hand-quilted and my first attempt gave me bonus points.

Still, it was fun to have it displayed and fun to actually have an entry in this year's fair since I haven't entered anything for fifteen years.

Little Mister picking his nose in front of the model railroad

Some friends and I took our kids through the exhibits. Little Mister pauses to dig for gold rather than enjoy the trains, but overall they were loving the train exhibit.

Mother crouching by a stroller feeding a baby with a bottle

Moving in a herd with this many children meant we went very slowly with many stops. Here S pauses for a few moments to feed a hungry little person.

Little Mister holding a blue balloon

For the most part the free balloons ended up being the highlight of the day. They got quite a bit of play, then one flew free into the pure blue sky, one popped on the grass and one tangled with a poky pine tree. Thus ended the balloons.

Curly and a friend each holding a blue balloon

They sure were fun while they lasted, though.

crowd of women and children walking through the animal barns

Walking through the animal barns, the kids were surprised how loud the sheep sounded.

crowd of children looking at a sow and piglets in a pen

And how bad the pigs smelled!

 two children looking at rabbits in cages

Bunny rabbits crouched in cages while curious children poked fingers through the bars. I have always pitied animals who are shown at the fair. I'm glad it only lasts three days.

three children pet a soft brown bunny

Petting a live bunny was a delight. Little Mister loved the bunnies and the ducks so much, in fact, that I kept losing him when he would wander back to them.

children climbing a tree

At lunch we took a break under some shade trees.

curly eating a corn dog

Curly, finishing her corn dog for lunch, watches a balloon soar into the sky. A fun morning at the fair. Tonight, the carnival!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorry, GG!

One of the primary reasons for the existence of this blog is to feed an ongoing stream of Goomba-related pictures and stories to the grandparental figures. Lately I've been neglecting this important duty in favor of opinionated personal rants.

In penance, here are seven brand-new today, hot off the presses Gommba pictures and they even include peanut butter! Can't get any more real than that.

closeup of curly miss

closeup of Little Mister

closeup of curly miss

closeup of Little Mister

closeup of curly miss

closeup of Little Mister

closeup of curly miss

Then, to highlight recent accomplishments, Curly showed her prowess at naming musical pitches and writing correct fingerings in anticipation of next week's Suzuki class.

sheet of music with fingerings and note names written in pencil

To keep Little Mister out of her hair while she was doing this, I took him in the bedroom where we built a Pioneer Village, complete with Native teepee.

lincoln log houses and barn and teepee

What I Want to Read

Hubby emailed me a book recommendation by Internet Monk, a blogger he often reads. The book, Jesus Girls, is a series of essays about growing up in Evangelical Christianity. It sounds real, irreverent (not of God, but of God's slightly confused and often misled people) and hysterically funny. From Internet Monk's review:


Of course, the main benefit of the book is that it is women doing the talking for a change, and not just talking about the three approved topics of submission, parenting and being a good pastor’s wife.


Oh just a minute, did you see that? The three approved topics: submission, parenting and being a pastor's wife. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

*deeep breath*

Ok, back to the quote.

No, these are women telling us all what it feels like to have male teachers in Christian schools say it’s your fault boys are looking at your chest. (Oh yeah, I’ve heard that one plenty of times.) These are women talking about the dark side of evangelical dating and the pure weirdness of the Stepford-esque seminars on marriage many evangelical young people are put through. (”Always let the man pick out what you will be eating….”) These are women talking about the quiet time Olympics (a phenomenon that has impacted my family deeply) and the experience of making up a fictitious testimony for the applause of youth group audiences. (Ahem. I’ve been complaining about this for years, and now I have proof!!)


I love it! Reading this is going to be like reminiscing about my own days shooting rubber bands into the hanging chandelier at church and flying paper airplanes made out of the the bulletin off the balcony.

****EDITED TO ADD: If you read the book review over at Internet Monk's site, be sure to take a look at the comments. There are women coming out of the woodwork to give their thoughts on living in the evangelical church culture and while I don't always go for the anti-evangelical rants, I sure found some kindred spirits posting there today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's a Mom to do?

As usual when I bring up my dissatisfaction with being solely a Stay-At-Home-Mom, I get a variety of responses, from encouragement to pursue a career and fulfill my own dreams at whatever cost to the polar opposite philosophy that a Christian woman has no business doing anything outside the home at all and ought to be happy and content filling her role as a wife and mother.

I'd like to clarify a few of my own thoughts on this issue; like anything that matters it's complex and the conclusions drawn by each person vary widely. Disagreements seem inevitable; even on the interpretation of scripture within a similarly-believing group of women the variations are enormous. So these are only my thoughts for my own life. I'm not preaching a sermon here or telling anyone how they ought to be living. I'd love to hear reader comments, but please don't be offended or flame me since I am judging no one's life but my own.

Feminism and the Mother

Here's my first shot of controversial fireworks. I think Feminism actually has done a lot of good for this country. In my view, although the traditional nuclear family presented in the 1950's looked flawless on paper, it didn't play out quite as well in real life.

In general women held the role of second-class citizens. Mothers warned their daughters, "Don't be smarter than the boys. They don't like that." They were expected to be expert maids, nannies, laundresses, dishwashers, cooks, tutors, seamstresses, decorative sex objects and organizers for their families but for the political or academic nature of things, they were told "not to worry their pretty little heads." Women were often put on a pedestal of virtue, trained to exhibit a high level of self-control and never to reveal any inner feelings or inclinations apart from her expected narrow role.

I've heard the statistic of today's high divorce rate cited time and again as a proof of the failure of Feminism, the eroding of morality and the Family in our country by the militant Feminist movement and the cultural norm that sends young women the message that it's all right to abandon their families in order to try to achieve their dreams or worse, that they have a new masculine responsibility to contribute financially to a family's well-being they ought never to have to assume.

In some cases I suppose these gender-reversal errors occur and the few times they do happen are enough to send Christians to their prayer closets in a tizzy, weeping for the moral decay of their nation. Realistically, from a God's-eye view, I imagine the perspective is a little different. God hates divorce and has stated this clearly in the bible. But God was also able to see every one of the hidden dysfunctional crimes committed in secret back when women belonged to their husbands and could not leave them, the abuse, the neglect, the harassment. God could see the Priests and Pastors who told these women that they had no choice but to stay married; that to leave a husband, even a dangerous, threatening one was akin to adultery and would brand her forever with the Scarlet Letter in society's eyes.

How much have we really declined in encouraging women to speak out? In bringing skeletons out of our country's closets do we really represent a decline or is it possibly more of a cleansing, a bringing the dross to the top where it may be skimmed and purged. Only God knows.

I do know that the second-class woman of a century ago is not the Biblical ideal for the female God intended. Nor is the insecure, chauvinist man who needs to keep others in their assigned places below himself the representation of Christ that a Christian man ought to be.

Feminism certainly has its problems, like any new movement, but overall I appreciate living today where I as a women have at least a fair chance of being treated as a human being rather than a living poster of Betty Crocker. Still, it confuses the lines of what it looks like to be a Mother in today's culture. Rather than debate the ethics of staying home versus working, I'd like to retreat one step farther and look at the Biblical role of a Mother and Woman and explore what it means to be female. Only when those roles have been established is a solid guideline given for proper expression in daily choices such as choosing a career.

The Proverbs 31 Woman

I've told my husband, poor guy, that if I hear one more sermon or women's Bible Study on the Proverbs 31 Woman I am going to scream. Feminine behavior, it seems, gets driven into the ground using old King Lemuel's "Virtuous Woman", usually by men who have no idea what it's like to walk a mile in spiked heels, if you get my drift.

It's been used both as a crowbar to force women into the size-4 mold of Victorian virtue and as a rallying cry by frustrated women who insist that it's not actually unfeminine to own land, to make decisions or to enjoy higher math. I've even heard it taken so far as to teach women that to be a "good" Christian wife, you have to keep a garden.

To me the Proverbs 31 Woman isn't so much about specifics as it is about doing your best with what you have. If every woman was supposed to own land, then those who have no money or head for math would be out of luck. If every woman was supposed to garden, then ladies with brown thumbs like myself would never please God. Instead, the message seems to me to be this: If you have a garden, garden well. If you buy land, use wisdom. If you sell cloth, get a good price and use upright business practices. If you care for children, care for them well.

Servanthood and the New Testament Mother and Wife

I have asked myself over and over what it really looks like to live a life devoted to Christ. Everyone will tell you his or her version of it and it's possible that it looks different for every person. At some point in the discussion, however, the idea of servanthood always comes up. To be like Christ is to serve those around you rather than yourself. But this again looks different to different people. Some insist that you need to be fulfilled as a person in order to give your best to anyone else. A burned-out mother is not the best mother she can be. To a point, this makes sense. Others point out that only with abject self-sacrifice can servanthood truly be reached. Christ increasing and us decreasing means exactly that: us decreasing in every way, pouring our lives out like water from a clay pot. The other camp reminds us that there needs to be something there to pour and a dry pot can't give water to thirsty people. Some say this fulfillment comes from God alone, gleaned from precious moments of quiet time while others say it actually comes from ministry and service, the more we pour, the more satisfied we are and the more we have to pour.

While such discourse may be interesting, it still doesn't answer the questions: "Should I only stay home or may I have a career?" or "If I must have a career/job am I out of God's will?"

To me the answer lies back in the Bible and like the previous section it comes from looking at the heart rather than the circumstances. What does the Bible really say about being feminine? What does a good Mother really do?

Paul's letters speak at length about how a functional family is supposed to work and the role of each participant. But he is intentionally vague on the nuts-and-bolts, which makes his instruction both timeless and a bit frustrating. A wife is supposed to support and respect her husband. Does this mean she is to cook him a good dinner every day and keep his house clean or does it mean she needs to affirm him in his job? I say it depends on the husband. A chef might not need or want his wife to cook dinner, for instance. I think the issue goes deeper than steak and potatoes. God wants a wife to see her husband as worthy of her respect. She is to relate to him as a person who deserves her highest praise, whose shortcomings don't result in emotional castigation but who is becoming every day more of the godly man he is supposed to be. I think the way that plays out could take a hundred different forms and still be right. The woman who thinks her husband is a total idiot, who makes decisions for the family over his head, who treats him rudely or selfishly is the one out of God's will, not the woman who gets take-out after a long day.

A mother too is not necessarily the woman who stays at home following her children around waiting on them hand and foot. A good mother takes responsibility for her children and nurtures them in the creative footsteps of a God who nurtured the word into being. She makes sure they are well fed and clothed, that they are taught the things they need in order to relate to others and God and that they are set on a path to take responsibility for their own lives. Some mothers do these tasks herself; others delegate them, but the point is that they get done.

Biblical Culture: Extended Family and Wet-Nurses

To continue the thought from the previous section, I don't see how delegating motherly tasks makes a mother less in God's eyes. In the culture of the patriarchs, a mother was surrounded by helpers. Maids, nurses, grandmothers and siblings all lives together under one roof (or tent) and shared the task of caring for children and household. It is only in our egalitarian American pride that we insist mothers cannot be good mothers unless they do it all alone. It's okay to ask for help, as long as the ultimate responsibility for the well-being of the child entrusted to the mother's care is not compromised or abdicated.

With this in mind I don't see how it's possible to preach either for or against being a Stay-At-Home-Mom. The Bible is full of career women, from Deborah the judge to Lydia, the seller of purple cloth in Acts. God also strongly teaches servanthood and responsibility for your family.

Man Looketh on the Outward Appearance

Ultimately I see it as a heart issue. A woman who feels called by God to a certain career should obey the call and God will provide her a way to make sure her family receives the nurturing they require, whether providing her with extra strength or with help, it will work. If a woman is called to provide that care herself then she should do it with a glad heart and work unto the Lord. That is where I find myself right now.

The thing that I don't like to see is people who take a single situation and insist it's the only way to live a righteous life. Women, as well as men, ought to examine their hearts. An honest appraisal of motives and an invitation for the Holy Spirit to examine her heart will bring out telling results. A woman who stays home through laziness or timidity may be less in God's will than someone who works a career with joy, takes care to ensure that her family is well-cared for and who trusts God with all of her heart. Conversely, a woman may be stepping on the heads of her children to attain worldly success instead of giving up her own desires to care for her family. It depends on the heart, like most things in Christ's kingdom.

The decision to work or stay home rests between a woman, her family and God. Both choices are fraught with danger, spiritual and natural and both open a woman up to criticism. But to return to the Feminist's empowerment of women, it's actually a very powerful woman who can stand up to the opinions of those she respects and do what she knows God has called her to do. The responsibility and blame rests not on her husband's shoulders, not on a pastor's shoulders, but on the slender feminine shoulders of the woman herself as God created her to be, an independent, free-thinking woman who has chosen herself to be the woman who is strong enough to serve those around her in whichever way God has gifted and called her.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Puddleglum's Answer

As a professed atheist for a good portion of his life, C.S. Lewis fell into the role of Christian apologetic with the greatest of ease, tackling questions that he himself had once asked. One of the main assertions made by the anti-religious involves religion existing purely in the minds of its followers; that God, rather than existing uncreated exists only as an imaginary protector and rule-maker, an arbitrary being collectively created then worshiped by the ones who seem to weakly need such a protective being to exist.

Having chatted with atheists I notice many of them seem to have a sense of pride and self-worth to be able to handle life on their own, to eschew the crutch of religion and to stand up and take life's hits all on their own. God, heaven and all of that are simply imaginative playthings for those poor deluded souls who need something to lean on in order to make it through.

Lewis, of course, believed and preached such self-faith resolutely during his atheistic days, so when Christianity finally dragged him into the fold of the faithful, it was natural that he wished to answer the problem.

It's in The Silver Chair that he does so most succinctly and beautifully, if you can see through the veneer of a children's story, that is.

In the story, the Witch holds the prince, two children and a marsh-wiggle captive in her underground kingdom. As part of her attempt to enchant their minds and ensnare the prince whose land above (Narnia) she hopes to overthrow, she uses a sweet, enchanting green powder in her fire, a soothing, sleepy music and a long speech in which she tells the captives how the "real world" exists only there in her underground lair. They made up the sun, describing it as a lamp, the sky is a mere figment and even Aslan, the Great Lion (a Christ-figure in the books) is nothing more than a cat with extra features.

Puddleglum, the marsh-wiggle, responds with what is almost certainly one of Lewis's best answers to the assertion that the elements of orthodox Christianity are merely made-up inventions and empty imaginative traditions and story-myths.


"'One word, Ma'am,' he said... 'One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."


Lewis himself, as outlined in his biography, Surprised by Joy, actually came to Christianity through the back-door of myth and fairy tale. Rather than detracting from religion, Lewis found that the ancient myths, the Norse hero-stories and traditional fantasies were so beautiful, so glorious that they actually opened his eyes to the idea that something bigger, grander, more splendid existed than the mere mundane humanity with which he was surrounded. As he searched through spiritualism, the occult, eastern religions and mysticism, he found that the only thing with any substance to match the awe that existed in the old myths was Christ Himself.

Psalm 19 (New International Version)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On Growing Up

Admittedly I have a voracious tendency to overthink things. I bog myself down in "what-ifs" until I am spinning in absolute circles and don't know which end is up.

The most pronounced of these mental morasses is my career, or lack thereof.

Almost ten years ago (!) I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Music and danced blithely off into my first half-time job as a band teacher convinced I had found my calling and determined to change the world. Instead I let a kid lose the school's electric bass at a basketball game in the Tri-Cities. I also lost a kid on a band trip. It turned out she'd gone to her aunt's house without permission and 'fessed up before I called the cops.

Needless to say I wasn't re-hired. The next year I landed a full-time position teaching music to 145 kids who didn't want to be there. I should have known better. After a year of being used as the punching bag for the administration and wrangling a Junior High pep band that sounded like they were playing candy slide whistles, I decided I'd had enough of teaching band.

I took a nice, safe secretarial position in the Special Ed department at the university where I managed the library and was paid to read every book in it, the better to recommend them to the teachers I supported. I also got pregnant with my first child.

That fall I failed to find a day care that met my rather high standards and also found after a summer off that I could not stomach leaving my 8-month-old daughter for full days any more. We decided to take the pay cut and I began the adventure that is a Stay-At-Home-Mom.

To supplement our income, I've babysat, I've done graphic design, I've worked for university professors and I've even volunteered in return for barters. I briefly contemplated getting a second degree and even took a calculus class, mostly to prove to myself that I still had what it took to do it (I do, I got a 102% overall) and that giving birth twice had not sapped whatever brain power I might have once possessed.

But I cannot figure out what to do in the future. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. The other day Hubby and I were talking about wanting lots of kids. He casually mentioned the words "housewife" and "next 20 years" in the same sentence. I just about choked on my tongue. "I am NOT a housewife," I snapped. Anger rose in me like bile. I am just between jobs, I told myself. Extended maternity leave. I recently had someone tell me I am "unemployed". I wanted to smack him.

Yet, I adore my kids. I adore spending every day with them. I love the close relationship we have and the way I can give them healthy lunches. I tell myself that my sacrifice is for them; it is because living my life in the equivalent of mental oatmeal is not my ideal of earthly bliss. Now I'm homeschooling which brings an entirely new set of challenges and rewards. Is this what I am actually supposed to be doing and like Mr. Holland I will discover that despite my kicking and screaming I will someday realize this is the only gig I could ever love?

So many women aspire to be stay-at-home mothers. Many of my peers never wanted anything more than to marry and raise kids. I never understood or sympathized with them. Yet here I am, the traditional housewife, wandering around in my slippers with a half-drunk cup of coffee at my elbow, planning my days around loads of laundry. If God intended this to be my lot, why did He put inside me such a drive to do something more, the ambition to have a career, the constant need for mental challenge? Sitting at home supervising naptime day after day I feel trapped, more caged than our fluttering parakeet, yet the direction toward freedom seems obscured by the fog of future children, the children of my heart who need my nurturing, loving care, the giving of myself beyond what I have to give until my tired body succumbs to crippling age and I am no longer able to do anything I once dreamed.

Perhaps my discontent is just that, a last shred of selfishness that must be wrenched from my heart before I can be truly happy pouring my life out for others. Is this how I am really called to change the world? Through the intimate, daily touching of tiny lives entrusted to me as a mother? It is possible that it is what I may spend my life doing. It seems right now the only path that does not crush those tender lives under my care, yet to wholly relinquish all my former hopes and ambitions, to embrace this path forever seems as unattainable a goal as changing the color of my eyes. To say this is my dream life is to insert a false veneer of a colored contact lens and try to be someone that is not really me. Yet to give up my own life for the sake of serving others is the highest attainment of the Christian life, or so it has been taught me from the earliest memory. I think I never realized before just how difficult that really is, how deep of a sacrifice life can really demand from us if we're willing to give it. Yet the alternative, one of sacrificing my children's ultimate best in order to fulfill my own dreams is not one I am willing to contemplate. Why is there no middle ground? Why must it be either me or them?

I have no answer.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Divers

In spite of the fact that my children live landlocked in a sea of rolling wheat fields and have only once seen the ocean, Curly Miss has an ongoing love affair with scuba divers. I think this originated with the dramatic diver scene in Finding Nemo and had slowly blossomed in her mind until she is firmly convinced that she wants to learn to scuba dive when she gets older.

This morning the kids and I walked calmly through the Fall sunshine to the bank downtown in order to cash a check. Because their favorite toy store is right down the street from the bank, the kids begged to go there, play with trains and get a new Playmobil toy. I gave in, smiling as Little Mister grasped my pinky finger in his chubby fist in preparation for crossing the street.

"It's green, Mommy, can we go?" Curly sang out, nearly dancing with impatience. I felt a little like a border collie herding my goombas safely down the street and into the colored cacophony of the toy store.

Once there they headed to the train table as if drawn by a magnet, but Curly soon tired of the trains and headed to the Playmobil aisle where she drooled over a 12" whale and a pyramid complete with a Sphinx. I followed behind her, raining on her parade with announcement that no, we could not get the $43.99 set. Unperturbed, she settled on a single figure, a scuba diver toy. Of course Mister needed one too and we ventured back out into the sunlight with cardboard boxes of treasures in our hands.

Treating ourselves to Greek Gyros at a nearby downtown shop, the kids spent their lunch hour opening and assembling all of the minuscule pieces of the divers' equipment. Happy chaos reigned as tiny pieces were lost under the table then retrieved. At last both divers were outfitted and as we walked home, Curly chattered happily about taking her diver into the bathtub where he would reenact the Finding Nemo drama in exhaustive detail.

I made them boats out of plastic tubs intended for jam and my two imaginative scuba divers postponed their nap/quiet time by taking a bath. Sometimes scuba diving takes priority over the more mundane parts of life like a nap and at age 2, the bathtub makes a quite acceptable ocean.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tutorial: Alternate Text

What is the difference between these two pictures? Take a good long look.



my kids posing for the camera in the kitchen

Give up?

The top photo shows two silly goombas posing for the camera in my black-and-yellow kitchen. The bottom picture shows the same thing. But to a person using a screen reader to read my blog the first photo might either be skipped entirely or say something like "photo number eleven-seventeen" whereas the bottom photo would say succinctly "my kids posing for the camera in the the kitchen". Why would it say that? Because I told it to using an alternate text tag when I wrote my post.

Having used screen readers on and off for years when my eyes get tired I can't tell you how aggravating it is to have the thing rattle off the number of the photo because that is all the information it has about a picture. It makes me wonder what the picture is about, how important it is to the story and why it was posted. Frustration immediately rises because a vital piece of the puzzle is completely missing. Of course, I have the luxury of going back later and looking at the photos, but a person who is blind, for instance, relies entirely on alternate text to understand what the photo in a post or article might be showing. It takes a mere ten seconds to type a quick description of a photo and ensure that someone using a screen reader can enjoy your blog because they know what the photos show.

Here's how to do it:

If you load the photos directly into blogger, type the description of your picture here between the quotation marks. It looks like this: alt="my kids posing for the camera in the kitchen"

screenshot of blogger editor with the alternate text tag circled in red

If you use photos uploaded to a different source, you can add it to your image source code like this:

screenshot of blogger editor showing html with alternate text added to an image

That's it!

It's such an easy little thing and most people don't know about it, let alone take the time to do it.

Hubby works for the University of Idaho and he told me the web programmers there recently held an "Alt Tagging Party" to ensure that every image on the immense UI website has an alt tag so it's more accessible to people using screen readers. Previously, about 80% of the 5,000 or so images on the site had been tagged, which is significantly better than a lot of sites. Still, I wanted to throw a celebration! It shows that the word is getting out there regarding web accessibility.

Tutorial: Changing Sizes of Pictures in Blogger

In the past week I have noticed a couple of people who asked how to make their images the correct size in a blog post. There are several ways to tell blogger your picture is too big. (As a side note, the absolute best way is to re-size photos before you upload them and save them as an optimized .jpg using software like PhotoShop. However, most of us are in a hurry or don't have PhotoShop so we want them to magically become the right size right there in our blogs.) Here are two of the ways to do it.

First Way: HTML and Pixels

screenshot of blogger editor with html tab selected

Make sure you're using the HTML editor. The basic code for a picture that's already uploaded somewhere else on the web (such as Flickr or Photobucket) is shown above and you put the address of the image between the quotation marks.

screenshot of blogger editor with code added

This adds an image to your post at whatever size it uploaded.

full-sized sample picture of Little Mister

If your blog is only about 450 pixels wide, like mine, it will cut the side of the picture off.

screenshot of blogger editor with the image source source code and width and height set to 300 by 400 pixels

You can force a change in size by adding this piece of code to your image: width="" height="" (Practically, it doesn't matter which one is first, although to have "good" HTML I'm sure it matters. Personally, I am all about what works. If someone who knows better wants to dispute this in a comment, please feel free to enlighten us!)

Write the pixel size you want in the quotation marks. I usually size my pics to 400x300.

sample picture contorted with incorrect pixel height

Make sure you keep the correct proportions and don't get the width and height backwards or your picture will appear contorted!

screenshot of blogger image uploader

If you use the blogger picture uploader you can select the size and blogger will automatically re-size your picture.

screenshot of blogger image editor with automatically generated code.  Height and width circled in red.

You can still change the size in the blogger code by finding the height and width pixels and changing them.

sample picture showing the correct size

In this way you can get your picture to be the exact size you need. Remember, you cannot re-size it to be LARGER than the original uploaded size or it will appear pixelated and blurry.


Second way: Quick and Easy

For those who don't want to mess with code and want a quick and dirty way to change the image size, here is an alternate method that works just as well.

screenshot showing blogger editor with compose tab selected

Once you have your photos uploaded onto your blog, go to the "Compose" view.

screenshot showing picture selected

Click on your photo to select the one you want to re-size.

screenshot showing picture being resized

Click on the corner of the picture and drag it larger or smaller. You will notice that blogger automatically retains the correct proportions and also displays the pixels as you go. (If you check the code, you will notice that blogger has changed it for you.) Once you're done, you can publish your post with the pictures exactly how you want them.

sample picture showing the correct size