Saturday, July 24, 2010

blog backgrounds

recently, i discovered the world that is "blog backgrounds." 
this has been a dangerous discovery.
i was pretty happy with my happy little bird on my background, but then tonight i looked at my blog and the pretty little bird was gone.
in its place was something very plain.  i don't even remember the color.  pink, i think.

and this would not do, because if i remember correctly, it wasn't even a pretty pink.  it was an anemic pink.  and who wants an anemic pink background for their blog?

not i.

so, i went to the cutest blog on the block website, where i was completely overwhelmed (even though this is where i got my last blog background), and then i did a little blog background googling.  and i discovered shabby blogs.  i think i tried nearly all of their backgrounds on my blog.  but i was so picky! 
one was too perky.
another too dark.
some of them i wanted to like because of the titles (french linen, sleeping porch, poet and painter, daydream believer).  some of them i thought i would like until i actually put them on my blog, and then i hated them.  i ended up choosing fairy forest, which was actually the first background i tried.  i don't even know if it is my favorite background.  but i had to STOP.  because i was getting obsessive.  and fretful.  and suddenly the process because arduous rather than fun.
i wonder how many times i changed my background tonight.
at least?

i wonder if the process of choosing a blog background actually deserves an entire blog entry all to itself. 
probably  not.
but tonight...
it's all i've got. 

oh.  one more thing.  tomorrow, at revolution, i am supposed to bring a symbol of something beautiful that i've seen, because we are finishing up the renditions series with a conversation about beauty and justice (i just totally stole that wording from the revolution fb page.  is that copyright infringement?).  i am not even at home to pick something out, because my home is very un-beautiful right now as matt is, probably right this second, ripping up my kitchen (while i engage in inane activities like blog background hunting).  what should i bring?  i might take in my new journal. it is still wrapped up in its crinkly barnes and noble bag, but every once in awhile i peek in the bag.  i can't actually write in it until i finish the one i have (which is very close to being complete).  i do think my new journal beautiful.  Here's what it looks like. 

what do you think? 

actually, here's what i would really like to know: if i were to ask you to show me a symbol of something beautiful that you  have seen, what would you show me? 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TOS Review -- Travel Kits

For my first "official" homeschool product review I chose to read the e-book Travel Kits: A Simple Way to Bless Others by Donna Rees, which is available for $12.45 from the TOS Store. When I excitedly told Amélie that we were going to be using our first homeschool product for the year, she gave me a wry, not altogether happy look. School??? It is summer vacation! I can't say that she was exactly thrilled. However, when I explained that the premise of this book was to help come up with ideas for fun activities to do in the car, my often-antsy daughter decided that, perhaps, using this book wasn't going to be so bad after all!

Unfortunately, I didn't get this book before we went to Omaha earlier this summer. Fortunately, however, we do spend a lot of time in the car. We go to visit my grandparents every week, and even though the drive is just 40 minutes long, sometimes those 40 minutes are l.o.n.g.--especially when I have two whiny kids in the backseat! Once I started reading this book, I knew that my days of listening to backseat whining were, thankfully, numbered!

Travel Kits offers its readers a clearly-written, interesting, and extremely practical peek into how to entertain everyone from kids to adults on trips across the country or across the town. I am the type of person who excitedly jumps on board for some creative idea to do with my kids, and sometimes I even make it through the planning stage, but I often get bogged down in the creative idea's execution. Rees explains the process of creating a travel kit so cleverly and clearly that I sailed through the planning, preparing, and executing stages almost effortlessly!

First, Rees helps her reader think of creative, fun ideas for kids (and adults!) to include in the Travel Kit. She recommends several types of stores to visit to find fun items like hats, card games, gag glasses, and even shoestrings! I went to the dollar section at Target one evening and filled my cart with inexpensive, yet fun and creative items. On our weekly trek to my grandparents' house today, Amélie opened up a dry erase board, and Jack opened a little package of tiny plastic police officers and firefighters. After an initial fit from Jack (for some reason he thought there would be a superhero in the package??), both kids quietly played with their new toys the whole time. I was impressed!

Rees also suggests picking a hobby your child might be interested in, like performing magic tricks or knitting, and checking out an instructional book from the library to accompany a package of supplies. I think that for our next long trip I am going to provide Amélie with a book on origami and a stack of origami paper. We may only get paper airplanes whizzing through the car rather than origami cranes, but she will at least have fun trying it out!

Travel Kits also does a great job of explaining when and how to present the gifts to be included in the kit. The entertainment value of a gift can be stretched out even before it is given if you announce that the next gift can be opened once a chapter in a book is finished or a speed limit sign is spotted. Rees suggests some creative ideas on how to wrap the gifts for the travel kit and offers some fantastic suggestions on how to pack up the travel kit itself. I think that I am going to have a backpack for each child ready to go before we head out on a journey. I plan on keeping a stash of wrapped gifts and then pulling out an appropriate number of gifts to give them based on the length of the car trip.

Rees also provides links and names of multiple resources for families to refer to when creating their own travel kits. She includes links to printable games, maps, and puzzles, and she even added a page with links for the official tourism websites for each state! I plan on utilizing this resource next time we travel to a different state, or even as we travel within our own!

As I mentioned on my tryout review, I am not a huge fan of e-books (although, I must confess, I just bought a Kindle due to my sister-in-law's very bad influence), but if I would just take the pages shuffled loosely and dangerously in the file folder they are now in and punch holes in them to go in a binder, I think I would feel better about Travel Kit's status as an e-book. Other than the fact that this book is electronic rather than printed, I loved all of this book's creative and practical ideas. I am definitely going to keep this book nearby to refer to before we go out on a short trip or a long journey.

Bon Voyage!

If you want to read more reviews of this product written by other Crew members, just click here.

Disclaimer: I was given this product free of charge for review purposes. All views expressed are my my own, and I received no other compensation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

a meditation on the compost in my backyard and the one in my soul

This is a slightly modified version of an essay I read at Revolution on Sunday....

I am slightly obsessed with my compost. A few moments ago, I trekked out in the steamy heat to the Darth Vader-looking compost bin beside my house, and I dumped in a fresh bucket of rotting food. Sometimes the discarded food looks almost pretty. Some days I have bright green watermelon rinds, purple-stained onion peel, or bits of green and red strawberry hulls. Today, though, the food I dumped wasn’t really that pretty at all. There were brown egg shells, white cauliflower stems, some slimy peach pits, and a few yellow, wilting parsley leaves. As I stood over the bin and emptied my bucket, a sour smell arose from the bin’s acrid depths, and gnats and flies, disturbed from feeding on the rotting carnage, buzzed in annoyance around my head.

I suppose I can’t say that my experience of dumping compost was particularly pleasant, but it was immensely satisfying, and it was also comforting, for reasons I didn’t fully understand until a few weeks ago when I spent a little time meditating on my compost obsession.

Compost, as I am sure you all know, is rotting organic matter. It’s the stuff that is discarded, ugly, smelly, moldy, decomposing. We may serve compote to guests, but we certainly don’t serve them compost, even if we could grace it with wilting parsley. Most of us stuff our compostable food down the garbage disposal or scrape it off of our plates and into the trash. Some of us, though, are slightly obsessed with out compostable food, perhaps because we feel some affinity to it.

Compost is, to me, a bit of a miracle. The bacteria present in the rotting flesh of a bruised strawberry can nourish next year’s strawberry patch. The vitamins in those discarded green edamame pods will break down into rich, black dirt that will make next year’s tomatoes that much sweeter. I know this, which is why, every couple of days year-round, I lug out wilted spring greens, bright watermelon rinds, orange pumpkin shells, and the leafy tops of winter root vegetables. And then, in the Spring, I watch as Matt tills the compost into our garden.

It’s amazing, really. Our trash becomes a treasure. This year, with the rotten food we have tilled beneath the ground’s warm surface, we our nourishing watermelon, cantaloupe, sugar snap peas, peppers, tomatoes, basil, lettuce, beets, beans, sweet potatoes, eggplant, and onion.

This is life. Extracted from death.

I feel such affinity with my compost because my soul is just like that compost. It is life. Extracted from death.

The compost bin of my soul is even more unsightly than the Darth Vader version we have in our back yard. It’s ghoulish, really. Monstrous. There is so much that is rotten that I have tossed into that my soul’s compost bin.

Honestly, I don’t want to tell you what is there. If I tell you, you might not want to visit my garden. You might assume that the garden of my soul is as wretched and putrid as that very same soul’s compost bin.

But if I don’t tell you, then you won’t truly understand the miracle that is compost. You won’t understand how something so rotten can become so beautiful.

Let’s open the lid and poke around a little.

Almost daily I toss in some insecurity and impatience and snarkiness. Sometimes I dump in a lie or a handful of pride or a sprinkling of gossip. There’s some big stuff in there, too, that is going to take awhile to break down. There’s the mold of perfectionism I continuously try to press myself into. Many days I wonder if that one will ever really break down into rich soil. There is also a large pile of ugly things I have said and ugly things that have been said to me. Then there are some things too painful to talk about here, really. If you dig deep enough you will find more grief and shame than I really care to sift through.

It’s ugly in there.

But here’s the thing: I can take that putrid mess, and I can dump it in my trash, where it will then go compost in a landfill, but it will not nourish anything but the trash around it.

Or, I can take that compost in all of its rottenness and ugliness and stench, and I can work it back into the soil of my soul, where it can nourish my soul and become something beautiful. I choose to believe that God, as the gardener of my soul, will help me till the soil and tenderly nourish the fruit that is all the sweeter for the garbage that has mixed with the sun and the rain.

Today, I invite you to visit my garden. Feel free to poke around in my compost, but also please enjoy the ripe offering I hand you, the sweet fruit nourished not only by the sun and the rain, but also by the tears, the sadness, and the shame. And when you go home, take care of your own rotting compost. Work it into your soul and into the souls of the community surrounding you, and know that you and God can turn all that is bruised, rotting, and ugly into something truly beautiful.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

the mindfulness project

In church on Sunday Matt outed me (although I don't know that anyone noticed).  I am starting a mindfulness project.  I am horrible at being mindful.  Ask my kids how many times a week (OK, a day) I lose my keys.  Ask my husband how many cups of coffee I misplace.  Ask me where my head is at any given minute...and chances are I don't know. 
It drives me crazy.  There's a good chance it drives my kids crazy.  Matt is very kind, but deep down I know that some days he would like to strangle me with my key chain (metaphorically, of course).

I know everyone is doing a project.  There is Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project.  There is A. J. Jacob's The Guinea Pig Diaries and The Year of Living Biblically.  Then there is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  And, of course, there's the book that started my project-reading craze, Julie and Julia.  Then there are zillions of little people like me starting their own little projects.

So, what I am saying is that the last thing this world needs is yet another year-long project.  And I am aware of the fact that I am perhaps a bit cliché for doing this.  But I'm doing this for me, and if my idea is tired and old and cliché, so be it.  I'm not even entirely convinced I'm going to blog about it.  This little project may best be kept under wraps and in between the pages of my journal.  I haven't decided yet.  But I have decided, at least, to introduce you to my project, and if you have any ideas or thoughts, please feel free to offer them. 

Here's the plan: I am going to take on a bit of mindfulness each month and then I am going to research it, live it, and write about it.  Here are my ideas so far (in no particular order):

Journaling (I do think this will be my first month's project.  I already journal, but I would like to be more consistent, and I think I might do better with mindfulness if I sort of reintroduced myself to myself.)
Eating (I would like to learn to savor my food rather than snarf it.)
Relationships (i.e., being totally present with the people I am with and not writing a blog entry while listening to Matt talk about his day.  Not that I am doing that this very second.  Nope.  Not me.)
Keys/Putting Things Away (this should gift me with at least 30 extra minutes a day).
Prayer (I am the queen of distractibility when I am trying to pray.  I can go from prayer to my to-do list in approximately 3.5 seconds.)
Yoga (Namaste.)
Meditation (Inhale...exhale...)
Nature (not sure what this one might involve--staring at trees?  studying flower petals?  spying on ants?)
Affirming thoughts (One day I listened to myself talk to myself, and I decided I wasn't a very good friend to myself.)

I realize that is only 9 months worth of being mindful.  That's where you come in!  Any other ideas?  In what other areas could I focus a month being mindful? 

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Daybook Entry...

Outside my window. . .I see my towering corn with ears just about ready to pick, the cheerful faces of my sunflowers, my brightly painted rain barrel, a very large and ominous-looking bug, weeds.

I am thinking. . .that I wish I were as cheerful as my sunflowers, as hardy as my corn, as carefree as my kids, as mellow as my dog.

From the learning room. . .there is silence. 

I am thankful for. . .the earthy joy of my garden, the pure love of my kids, the beautiful hearts of my true friends, the rich soul of my husband.

From the kitchen. . .I am anticipating tomorrow morning's planned pesto-making.

I am wearing. . a black tank top and blue jeans.

I am creating. . .an essay to read in church next Sunday.

I am going. . .to have a busy weekend!  This afternoon I need to pick up my raw milk order.  Tonight is a VBS program.  Tomorrow is a house-warming party.  Sunday is church and then a barbecue with some of my favorite people.

I am reading. . .Anne Lamott's novel Blue Shoe.

I am hoping. . .to get the bedrooms finished this weekend.

I am hearing. . .the classical station channeled in through the baby monitor.

Around the house. . .much to do!  Weeds to pull, revamped bedrooms to finish organizing, laundry, etc, etc, etc.

One of my favorite things. . .Sitting on the porch with Matt after the kids go to bed.

A few plans for the rest of the week. . .(I am now repeating myself) Finish those bedrooms!  Finish my essay.  Make pesto.  Maybe buy a bike?

Here is a picture thought I am sharing. . .

These are last year's tomatoes, but soon--very, very soon--those 7-foot-tall tomato plants in my backyard are going to be sharing their prolific fruits with me.  I.can't.wait.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

blog walk and a quick life update

Hello, again!  I truly meant to write a "real" post this past week, but life has just been nutty!  We are in the process of taking our bedrooms, turning them upside down, shaking them, and then rearranging them in different places.  It  has been an adventure!  Actually, what has happened is that we have painted and carpeted the attic, and we are in the process of moving our bedroom up there.  Then Jack is going to get our old room and Amélie will keep her room, sans Jack's toys.  I'm very excited to spread out a bit.  Of course, the big question is if the kids will actually sleep in those rooms.  We just bought Amélie a day bed with a trundle because we have a feeling that Jack will be snuggling up next to his sister for awhile yet.  The tearing apart and reorganizing is taking more time than I anticipated, but that's the way it always is, isn't it??

Here is this week's blog walk for the TOS Homeschool Crew.  Enjoy!

1. King Alfred Academy
2. Confessions of An Organized Homeschool Mom
3. Curriculum Reviews from Oak Creek Farmhouse
4. I Can't Decide
5. My Life on A Taffy Pull
6. Losing My Tale
7. Made in His Image
8. Serenades and Solace
9. Our Village is a Little Different
10. SisterTipster's Tell'n It!