Friday, September 2, 2011


It has taken me awhile to post this.  I wrote a poem, and it honestly kind of embarrasses me.  First, I don't really write poems.  I'm not a poet.  Second, it rhymes, and I don't think poems are really supposed to actually rhyme anymore.  Plus, it's kind of sing-songy, which I know is worse.  Plus, it's a poem on whimsy, and I'm pretty sure a poem on whimsy should be fanciful enough that it wouldn't want to rhyme.  Finally, I used a very cute whimsical font when I wrote the poem, and Blogger, which apparently does not value whimsy, translated that font into tragically unfanciful letters. 

But I'm sharing my rhyming, sing-songy fabrication of a poem here anyway, because I have this notion that sticking my neck and risking the fact that you might want to chop off the head that spewed forth this poem might be good for me.  It might make me more whimsical or something. 

Actually, the poem came about partly because I sit upstairs in my attic for 30 minutes every day in blessed solitude, and I feel like I need to churn out something (anything!) to justify real-live time alone, and it also came about because someone I respect very much told me she thought I was whimsical.  And this very non-whimsical-feeling-stressed-out-Type-A-perfectionist nearly leapt out of her chair and tackled the poor woman with a giant, quite possibly unwhimsical, hug.  Whimsical, I repeated to myself.  She thinks I'm whimsical.  So instead of sitting up in my attic daydreaming about myself as whimsical, I wrote about what whimsical feels like to me...should I someday actually achieve whimsy.  (And really, those last two words seriously damage my chances of every truly being whimsical.  "Achieve" and "whimsy" should not link together in the same sentence.  Ah well.  A girl, even one who feels as non-whimsical as myself, can dream.)


Whimsy is a flowing dress
a scent
dark hair blue eyes.

Whimsy sits out on the deck
sips wine
no mask no guise

Whimsy loves to sing and dance
is free
voice, body fly.

Whimsy and creative meet
join hands
reach, brush the sky.

Whimsy loves to garden
dirt between her toes

Whimsy loves with passion
like poetic prose

Whimsy walks in beauty
with grace
in her beautiful mess

Whimsy walks in peace
in hope

that her life will bless.

Friday, August 12, 2011

play on words


disembodied from spirit, passion, love

con(n)stricted to the convex of soul outside of life

Monday, August 8, 2011

thoughts on living simply

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 1

I’ve been thinking about living more simply. But it’s hard. For example, I am sitting upstairs in my bedroom. This is what I see:

An unmade bed. A sheet on the floor at the end of the bed. (I guess I was a restless sleeper.) The Three Little Pigs. Poems for the Very Young. A package of baby wipes. Three crumpled baby wipes that I used last night to wash my face. Six books scattered on the floor by the bed (Reluctant Pilgrim, The Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, The Pale King, The Joy of Less (HA), Surprised by Hope. Two more books sitting catawampus on my desk (All That is Bitter and Sweet. Unconditional Parenting). Two magazines (hand-me-down Mary Janes Farm). A megaphone. A glass of water. A bottle of water. A can of half-frozen La Croix lime-flavored sparkling water (my post-workout treat). A Quik Trip lid and straw. An overflowing trash can. A dusty bedside table. A split-open smoke detector. A bag of cough drops. A charger for Matt-only-knows-what. A stray sock. A sports bra. Clothes from two days ago. My half-empty coffee cup.

It sounds worse than it is.

No really.

I have to say that, because as I write I am filled with utter, horrific, paralyzing shame.

And now I have to backpedal really really fast and make you like me again and tell you that my downstairs looks better than this room does. I think there are a few dishes in the sink, but I wouldn’t be mortified if my mother unexpectedly waltzed through the door. Right now, though, I am hidden up in the attic. I only come here to sleep and to write. When I come up here to go to sleep I am too tired to clean it up. When I wake up in the morning I am too tired to clean it up. But honestly, based on the mental gymnastics that go on in my brain when I write, I am surprised I haven’t convinced myself that I need a pristine workspace and that I haven’t spent all of my writing time cleaning up. That says something, probably.

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 2

It doesn’t look quite so bad in here this morning. I threw the dirty babywipes in the overflowing trash can on my way out the door yesterday. I also carried down my water bottle and my water glass and my coffee cup and my can of sparkling water (I have a fear of dehydration, it seems). Because I had written about the cough drops being up here, I even remembered where they were last night when Amélie asked for one. I have a new half-empty coffee cup up here at my desk this morning, plus a half-eaten omelet which will, most certainly, be completely eaten by the time I finish my 30-minute writing stint. Everything else is pretty much as it was yesterday, except that the books, while still on the floor, have adjusted their positions a bit based on where I tossed them after reading last night.

Thoughts on Living Simply: Day 3

I think I am imprisoned by my clutter. It seems that way, anyway, since I can’t get beyond actually writing about it.

Again, everything is pretty much positioned as it was on Day 1 and Day 2. Our puppy Leia just found a bottle of Tylenol that was buried someplace, though, and she is now using it as a chew toy. And yes, I am aware that it is a very bad idea to let the puppy chew on a bottle of Tylenol, but taking it away involves taking responsibility for where this bottle of Tylenol should actually go. Besides, she kind of looks like she might have a headache. Tomorrow I do know that one of the books on my desk won’t be here anymore, because it is due at the library. At least, I hope it won’t be there tomorrow. What are the odds I will remember to go to the library today?

Here’s what I don’t get: if I love order so much, why do I have such a hard time attaining it? If my life is ever-so-much-more peaceful when my environment is orderly, why is it not orderly???

One time I was staying at this one place, and I’m not going to tell you where I was, but let me tell you about it. I had someone wake me up at 6:00 in the morning so that I could take a shower. I actually had to check out my shower items, which was annoying, but at least they were all together and someone knew where they were! I took a shower, got dressed, put on makeup, fixed my hair, and then I straightened up my room before heading to breakfast. The room was not attractive, by any means. The walls were bare, and I remember that the comforter on the bed was a sickly shade of pink. I had a small wooden desk and a chair, and my school books were neatly lined up on the shelves above the desk. Every morning I would make my bed, straighten the shelves, and then take a deep breath and look around the room with peaceful satisfaction. It took me approximately 3 minutes to clean up that room, because my possessions were so few, and I could not believe how the timbre of orderliness in that room struck a chord of peace within my soul. Then my day would begin, following the schedule posted on the giant pad of paper at the front of the common room, and while my days there were not easy by any means, the fact that I had a sparse, neat room to return to at various points during the day helped tether my soul to a peace I am certain I would not have felt otherwise.

So the question is this: why don’t I live like that? Granted, I stayed in this place only 10 days, and there were many things I need in my daily life that I didn’t need there. I didn’t do the cooking. I didn’t do the cleaning. I didn’t have kids at the time. I didn’t suddenly take up a new hobby there. And granted, by the time those 10 days were up I was nearly clawing at the door to get out, but I don’t think that the reason was because I had been staying in a clean, organized room.

Some days I literally gaze into the distance and fantasize about that place. Many days I wish I could bring that place here (minus the sickly pink comforter on the bed). Why don’t I? I think—I know—I am too attached to my things. Some reasons are valid. Some not so much.

We have these friends. They are Amish. Well, technically they are not Amish. They are Germanic Anabaptist Brethren. Or Anabaptist Germanic Brethren. Or something like that. They look Amish to us (minus the fact that they use buttons instead of pins, which in my mind is a wise alteration). They live in a simple house. They wear simple clothes. They don’t drive cars. They don’t have TVs or cell phones or laptops or game consoles or, actually, any electricity at all. The first time we met them was in the spring at the Kansas City Food Circle. We bought some eggs from Maria, their 15-year-old daughter, and her eyes were pools of peace. It was remarkable. It made me a little squirmy inside, because I wondered what she saw when she looked in my eyes. I longed for the peace in her eyes to reflect back into the anxiety of my own. We signed up for their CSA, partly because Amélie is obsessed with the Amish, partly because we thought that maybe if we ate their food we would somehow swallow their peace. I don’t think, however, that there are special peace vitamins in their beets or tomatoes or peppers. What I think is that their uncluttered life clears space in their heads and hearts and souls for an uncluttered, peaceful soul. They have found, I believe, that to find God and to find peace they need to clear a path. On the other hand, I begin each day longing for God and for peace, but along the way that reception gets all broken up, and I lose God and lose peace in the static of my email, my cell phone, my Facebook page, my things (and then more of my things).

But I don’t think I would look very cute in a bonnet, so becoming Amish isn’t an option for me. Besides, I don’t know how to sew, nor do I know how to eke out a sustainable existence. I don’t think those 9 quarts of salsa that I jarred last Sunday would keep us alive for long come winter.

So what do I do? How do I let go of the chains of my stuff that I drag with me everywhere I go? How do I simplify? Where do I go to detox from my addiction to stuff and technology?

Maybe I should start with one thing. One piece of physical or emotional clutter.

Here’s what I came up with for this week:

One piece of physical clutter: give away or throw away 10 items a day

One piece of emotional clutter: check facebook/email 10 times a day (this mortifies me, btw, that 10 times is actually an improvement. I almost didn’t post it here. I am really bad about walking by my computer and sweeping my finger across the touch pad to spend a minute or two checking in with people and finding out what they had for lunch or what book they are reading or what funny thing their kid just did. I don’t know that I technically spend that much time on FB, but if nothing else it distracts me from what I was originally doing, which then can lead to more distractions, which then…you get the picture.)

So what about you?  How do you get rid of physical and emotional clutter in your life?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Communion: I Serve You in the Love of Christ

I felt a tap on my shoulder, startling me from my reverie. It was a spring Sunday morning. Matt was upstairs helping with the kids. I was sitting alone in my pew. The service was winding down, and it was time for communion. As I was sitting in that pew, with my head bowed, I probably looked the part of a pensive, meditative worshipper. But I was not praying. I was staring down at the spiral bound notebook in my lap. The tap on my shoulder was so startling because I was afraid I was going to get caught, and I immediately sought to conceal the small book in my lap. I had not been jotting down sermon notes or composing a pre-communion prayer. Instead, I had been scribbling out my to-do list, a list that spanned laundry and homeschool prep and long-overdue emails and housecleaning. As I stared down at my completed list, I felt overwhelmed and a wee bit panicky that I was sitting quietly in church rather than ticking something off of that list.

The tap on my shoulder had distracted me out of a meditation more tellurian than sacred.

When I glanced up, my guilty eyes looked into those of Geo, one of our pastors. She was not tapping me on the shoulder to reprimand me, however. Instead, she was asking me to help with communion. I had never helped with communion before, but of course I nodded my head yes, stuffed the notebook into my purse, and followed her up the aisle.

We had been attending our church for two years, and I walk up to take communion nearly every Sunday. But as I was a bit nervously standing there next to Geo, I could not remember for the life of me what I was supposed to say as each worshipper dipped the bread into the cup.

I leaned over and whispered, “Um, am I supposed to say something?” She looked at me (and I imagined that her look was incredulous, but I am pretty sure that I was actually imagining the look), and she whispered back, “I serve you in the love of Christ.”

Got it. I can do that, I thought.

The music began, and I saw and heard, from this front-row vantage point, the creak of pews, the whispered “excuse me’s,” and the silently exchanged smiles of my community as they swept up the aisles to receive communion and then as they walked back to their seats, all of them quietly engaged in a holy ritual that I have been a part of for years but that I had never had the opportunity to observe in this way.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I said quietly to each worshipper as they plunged their bread into the cup.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I said as I looked into the eyes of my dear friends.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I said to people with whom I had never exchanged more than a friendly nod or a shy “hello” at the coffee table.

“I serve you in the love of Christ,” I whispered as I squatted lower to meet the outstretched hand of a child.

“I serve you in the love of Christ.”

I walked back to my pew, and my heart was full of worship and wonder.

The ritual was so simple.

And the words, while rooted in a sacred tradition, were not magic.

But there was something mystical about it. Something holy. Something that softened my duty-driven heart and shifted its perspective.

I still got out my to-do list when I got home. But something had changed within me. I felt a little silly, but it seemed that if serving my church family in a rite as simple as communion could feel holy, then what about the simple rites I perform for my own family?

As I wash and fold laundry…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I pick up discarded toys and stray shoes and abandoned artwork…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I chop vegetables…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I wrap my son in a hug…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I stop what I am doing to look my daughter in the eye and listen to her story…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

As I abandon my to-do list to sit on the porch with my husband and exchange our souls…"I serve you in the love of Christ."

And the next week communion was that much sweeter and more meaningful to me as I walked forward, took the bread, dipped it into the cup, and heard the host softly say to me, “I serve you in the love of Christ.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

Read for the Heart--TOS Review

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.  Victor Hugo

If you know me at all, you know how much I love to read and how important it is that my kids love to read as well.  I have three favorite parts to my day: 1.) when I do read-aloud time with Amélie during our school day.  Right now, for example, I am reading the Newbery-winning book, Moon over Manifest, and I can't wait for that time each day to read to her to see what is going to happen next.  I also love it when she reads to me--at the moment she is reading Encyclopedia Brown, and neither of us is very good at solving those mysteries!  2.) when I read to Jack before his nap.  At the moment he is obsessed with The Three Little Pigs, so I read it  Somehow the story is new to him every day, and his enthusiasm for the story can't help but be contagious.  3.) when we read books to the kids before bed.  Jack picks out a picture book, and Matt is reading through the Little House on the Prairie books with Amélie.  We also find minutes during the day to read, and honestly, if I could spend my whole day reading I would.

Needless to say, then, I was thrilled to receive the book Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families by Sarah Clarkson.  I have wanted to buy a reference book for good reading materials, because honestly, when I get to the library, I am sometimes both over- and underwhelmed with my choices.  This book has definitely helped me narrow down my choices and pick out some treasures for us to read.   

This book is not just a list of books, however; it is also a heartfelt and convincing challenge to read to our kids because of the reading's importance in our lives.  Clarkson's words at the end of the first chapter echo the words of my own heart: 

"I read to live.  Every book I've read and every story that has made itself a part of my imagination has taught me something about what it means to live life well.  I'm passionate about reading because I'm passionate about life.  Great stories influence the way I live in the here and now."

That paragraph nearly makes me cry.  sniff.  sniff.

Obviously, I am a wee bit passionate about reading.

And, not to tell you what to do or anything, but you should be passionate about you and your kids reading, too.  According to Clarkson, "Less than one third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, [and] 15- to 24-year-olds spend only 7-10 minutes a day on voluntary reading, [yet] spend two to two and a half hours per day watching TV" (32-33).  Scary.  Very scary.

There is hope, however, and if you don't know where to begin in introducing good books to your kids (or even if you do, but love to have suggestions) then this book is for you!  You can find suggestions for books in the following categories:
  • Picture Books
  • The Golden Age Classics
  • Children's Fiction
  • Fairy Tales and Fantasy
  • History and Biography
  • Spiritual Reading for Children
  • Music, Art, and Nature
Each entry provides a brief summary of the book as well as an appropriate age level.  There is also an appendix in the back with award winners and some of her favorite books. 

This book is available for $17.00 from Apologia.  You can even check out a sample chapter and the table of contents.  This is my last review for the year, and honestly, I think this is a case of saving the best for last.  Out of all the things I have reviewed this year--and there has been some great stuff--I think that I will probably glean the most value from this book. 

If you would like to see what my fellow crewmates are saying about Read for the Heart, check out there reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go Trybe--TOS Review

As a homeschooling mom, physical fitness has definitely been a concern of mine.  Amélie doesn't have an official "Physical Education" class, nor does she have "recess" time.  I put "Physical Education" and "recess" in quotes, because while those are not official parts of our homeschool day, we try to spend a lot of time outside playing or walking our dogs, and she has had PE time with some of the homeschool-related activities we have done this year.  Even with those activities, however, I have wondered if that time is enough.  I was excited to try Go Trybe, because I thought this might be a nice supplemental activity to the exercise-related activities she does on a day-to-day basis.

I have to admit that when I initially looked at the program, I wasn't sure how interested Amélie would be.  It is not that I thought that the program was low-quality; in fact, I was impressed with its depth and span of activities.  However, we got this membership right on the cusp of Spring, and I figured she would rather spend her time outside than in front of the computer doing workouts.  Instead, I found that while she still spend plenty of time outside playing, she chose to use some of her free time doing Go Trybe fitness videos.  She truly loves them, and I have honestly considered joining her. :) 

The energy and "fun" level in the Go-Trybe videos are wonderful.  Kids can scroll through several options for warm-up, cardio, strength, and flexibility videos that they can then save to go back to later if they want to.  Amélie saved some videos, but she usually enjoyed making up new sequences of workout videos each time she logged on for some variety.  The videos include a fitness instructor as well as kids doing the exercises.  The fitness instructors are energetic and knowledgeable, and they also include other learning aspects in with their exercises.  For example, on some videos the instructor counts the exercises by counting by 5's, and another video counts in Spanish.  I like this multi-learning approach.

In addition to the workout videos, students can learn nutrition information as well as receive motivational inspiration from athletes and other "fit" stars.  We used this aspect a bit, but Amélie enjoyed the fitness videos the most.  She also enjoyed earning points to dress up her avatar.  With each video you watch or nutritional quiz you take, students can earn points to change the outfits of their avatar.  I don't know that a new outfit for my avatar would motivate me, but it certainly seemed to motivate my 7-year-old.  :)

Right now, Go Trybe is running a great deal.  You can try out Go Trybe free for a day by clicking this link.  If you decide to stick with the program, you can get a year's subscription for $19.95, which I think is a great deal.  Personally, I think this program would be great especially during the winter months, and I think that once cool weather hits again, I will renew my subscription so that Amélie can have a fun, heart-pumping exercise program to do during those days we are stuck inside. 

Take a peek at what my fellow crewmates are saying about Go Trybe here

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a free subscription of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yesterday's Classics--TOS Review

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be—
I had a mother who read to me.
—Strickland Gillilan

This quote is listed at the top of Yesterday's Classics website, and I must say these words strike at the heart of my beliefs about reading to my kids and my own memories of my mom reading to me.  I was excited, then, for the opportunity to review the e-book collection of Yesterday's Classics, because I want to expose my kids to as many good books as possible, and here was an opportunity to download 225 of these wonderful books!  I could hardly believe my good fortune!  I don't have room in my house for 225 more books, so I was thrilled to download them to my Kindle. 

Yesterday's Classics is a company dedicated to offering quality, literary works that may be out-of-print or hard to find at a bookstore or even a library.  These books are well-written and engaging, and as their website states, they strive to "incorporate text of high literary quality, use story to engage the reader, cultivate the moral imagination, awaken an interest in the out-of-doors, furnish heroes worthy of emulation, and stimulate powers of observation." 

I was incredibly impressed with this company because their beliefs about books match my own, and if they match your ideas of what good books are as well, then I think that you should check out this company!

Here is what you can get:

You can download all 225 books in either Kindle of ePub format.  These books are in 22 different genres, including Children of the World, Ancient Greece, Science, Fairy Tales, and Shakespeare.  If you were to download all of these books onto your Kindle or other reading device individually, it would cost you over $600.  However, now through May 31st, you can download all 225 books for $99.95.  If you want to try out this program, you can even download a free copy of The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch. 

I do know that you can find some of these books online for free, but based on all of the other books available in this collection, that would not deter me from purchasing these books.  Also, I have to include the disclaimer that I am head-over-heels in love with "real" books, and merely have a platonic relationship with e-books.  Still, I believe that e-books can greatly contribute to the quality of one's library.  And sometimes, they just make life easier.  We are leaving for a camping trip today, and since Amélie has been reading, on average, a book a day, it is going to be a lot easier to let her read some of those books on my Kindle rather than loading our already weighted-down van down with her (and admittedly, my) books!  ;)

Take a peek at what my fellow crewmates are saying about Yesterday's Classics here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I was provided a copy of this product for my honest evaluation. I was given no other compensation for this review.