Friday, February 25, 2011

Story Bible Moms: There Were Three in the Bed and the Little One Said...

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

Although not one of the more conventional "wedding verses," this was the scripture passage read at our wedding. Or course, I really like it. I think it really highlights some of the best parts about being married. Being a stay at home mom, I have gained a new appreciation for the first line, about having a good return for one's labor. The truth is (and all the parents out there know this one), practically no one tells you you're doing a good job parenting. You might get the random criticism from a stranger at the grocery story, or dirty looks from people who think children should be seen and not heard (did those people ever have children?!), but praise for a parenting situation well done is few and far between. Enter your spouse - the one person who knows what it is you're dealing with, and can offer you some appreciation and support.

As newlyweds, the bit about two keeping each other warm in the bed made me giggle. But five years and one (almost two) kids later, I see the wisdom that the old preacher was getting at when he said this. Yeah, this is literally true (the bed really is warmer with two), and true in other ways too. But the metaphor goes beyond this. Life is warmer with two than with one. It is easier to weather life's storms, to keep out those cold blasts of misfortune and trouble, when you have someone to snuggle up with.

And the last line of this verse is the most enigmatic of all: "A three strand cord is not easily broken." So far, we've been talking about two, and suddenly, there's three. The obvious thing, and definitely true, is that with God in your marriage, it becomes stronger, closer, and better than with just the two of you. But lately, I've been thinking that there's another kind of addition that makes a family stronger and closer: children. Even if it's a simple matter of presenting a unified front when it comes to "eat your peas," or something more complex, like all sitting down together to say night time prayers, the three of us are stronger than two.

However, I will say that while two in the bed is warm, three in the bed can sometimes be crowded, and in anticipation of a fourth strand to our cord, Hannah has been demoted to a sleeping bag on the floor next to Mama and Daddy's bed for her nighttime wanderings.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mountain Mama

Even though the forecast called for rain on Friday, we decided bet against the weatherman and take a "hike" to Laurel Falls in the Smoky Mountains. We won the bet: no rain, just a nice cloud cover that kept the temperature warm, and kept all the other folks who take family outings on Friday mornings away. "Hike" in quotation marks because it was really a very slow walk up and back on a paved trail, which nicely accommodated our stroller. All the same, it was a lovely day, and a beautiful destination.

The thing that made this outing unusual is that, apparently, pregnant women don't do this very often. Or at least, that's the impression I got from the stares everyone on the trail gave me...and the comments the vocal minority chose to add to those stares.

I know that there are athletic moms out there who faithfully exercise, jog, run marathons, all while carrying a baby. I'm not one of those moms. My favorite exercise is to try to get myself out of the couch after I have slouched down so low it takes a crane (or Jonathan) to lift me back out again. In spite of my very good intentions, exercise and I are not very good friends.

However, when I was pregnant with Hannah, I took this to an extreme and never left my couch-cushion prison. The summer before Hannah was born was our only summer in Cody, Wyoming, and we missed so many wonderful opportunities to explore nature at its very best. While we took many scenic drives around Yellowstone and the surrounding area, we never ventured out to camp, or walk the trails, and even our non-athletic picnics were limited to two. What a shame! I vowed that this would never happen again. So when Jonathan suggested this trip to Laurel Falls, I tied on my tennis shoes and packed the picnic basket

My favorite part of the whole walk was the looks of our fellow walkers. I think anyone who has been pregnant knows the kind of looks I'm talking about - where people, some discreet, some not so much, stare at your belly. Some people are thinking, "Is she pregnant? Surely she's pregnant. I don't want to say anything about being pregnant, because what if she's not pregnant." Some people are thinking, "Aw...a new baby on the way. How sweet."

The looks I got on the trail ranged from, "Wow! That woman is actually doing this. I'm not pregnant, and I'm about to pass out." to "That person is plain crazy." to "Did you want to go into labor in the middle of nowhere?!" Actually, most of those comments were actually spoken to me, but the wordless looks said as much.

Each person we passed added a little to my sense of empowerment. I got off the couch! (Without a crane or Jonathan's help!) I went on an outing - outdoors! I kept my resolution to still do things, even though there's a bun in the oven! So what's next? Another "hike"? Camping? Walking to the end of the driveway to get the mail? The sky's the limit!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Story Bible Moms: If Love is Patient, What is This Emotion?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Have you ever heard about the exercise where you remove the word "love" from this passage and replace it with your name? As in "Siobhan is patient, Siobhan is kind. Siobhan does not envy, Siobhan does not boast, Siobhan is not proud." This is an admirable devotion, and worth doing. The point of it, I think, is to make us realize how far we have to go if we are to love one another perfectly. Yep...that far.

I get as far as "Siobhan is patient," and I feel so overwhelmed that I usually stop. Patience is not my strong suit. In fact, I am really, really impatient. With so many things: waiting for water to boil, traffic lights, people who don't put on their shoes quickly enough (you know who you are). But I'm impatient with real stuff too, like the nine impossible months it takes for a baby to gestate. Why so long?! Or the years it takes to pay off a mortgage. I mean, why can't we just have infinite amounts of money and pay cash for the house? Wouldn't that be nicer all around?

Last week, my mom came to visit. We had a wonderful time. She and Hannah are great friends, and they did everything together. (The morning after Mom left, Hannah looked around and asked, "Where's Gwamma? Did she have to go home so Gwampa wouldn't be sad?") Mom's visit coincided with an especially intense period of potty training, and she remarked on her last night here that she felt like she'd spent the entire trip in the bathroom. Tell me about it! I feel like I've spent the last six weeks in the bathroom, somehow garnering enthusiasm for the littlest drips and drops in the plastic potty. And boy, has it tried my patience!

But I've been thinking, and realized that's a rotten attitude to have. After these weeks of learning have passed, this is going to make my life much easier. No washing and folding diapers (until June), no planning my laundry around the weather so that I can hang said diapers on the clothes line (until June), no endless unbuttoning of pants (until June). Isn't being happy that my child is learning a major life skill much easier to stomach than the results of diaper usage? Somehow, the surprising well of patience I discovered when Hannah was learning the ABC's or to put on her own shirt did not translate to this experience. But seriously, this is much more important that those.

On the other hand, if "love is patient" is a quality to which I aspire, I think it goes the other way, too. Because I love, I somehow, deep down inside, have the ability to be patient when it really counts (or at the very least, appear to be patient on the outside). I did sit in the bathroom for hours at a time. I did clap and cheer for every drip and drop. I did produce an appropriate amount of enthusiasm and perseverance to impress on Hannah the importance of this endeavor.

So while Hannah is learning about wet and dry, I think I've learned a lesson too. Maybe I can't take a 2000 year old piece of poetry that people read at their weddings and turn it into a platitude about potty training. "Siobhan is patient" is just not true most of the time. But "love is patient" is absolutely true. Love is the only reason I have any patience at all. It is love that allows any of this to happen. If I did not love Hannah, I wouldn't care about this potty business. If Gwamma did not love Hannah, she would not spend her vacation sitting in the Rubber Duck Bathroom, but would be doing something more enjoyable. So maybe it's not us at all...maybe it is, in fact, all about love.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pottery Barn Ballerina Canopy is So Cute!

This tutorial has (finally!) been completed, and can be found in all its glory here. Several weeks ago, we got a Pottery Barn Kids catalogue in the mail. These usually go right in the recycle bin, but since we've been planning on painting the girls' rooms, it was especially interesting. In fact, it was teeming with inspiration. A few days later, Jonathan and I had both dogeared the thing, having spent, if not hours, at least many minutes pouring over the pages, both together and separately. Being far too frugal to consider buying anything from Pottery Barn, this was an "idea only" search, which proved to be fruitful. Last night, I had finished my library book, and didn't want to read anything on our shelves, so out of desperation, I plucked the good old Pottery Barn Kids catalogue out of the pile and started going through the worn pages yet again. And I came across a real jewel, something that would look stunning in Hannah's new Pink Princess bedroom: this beautiful pink canopy. Yes, I know she's really a ballerina, but she even has a crown on her head, so who's to say that she can't be royalty as well? We've been talking about putting something fluffy around Hannah's bed. However, Jonathan and I are both quite adamant that the fluff not resemble mosquito netting (like so much of it does), having seen the effects of malaria on the children of areas where this is an actual problem. Nothing about malaria or mosquitoes or netting seems whimsical or child-like to either of us (especially Jonathan, who actually slept under real mosquito netting when he lived in Africa. By the way, this was out of necessity, not because he wanted to feel like a princess.) All that aside, I was completely enamored by this canopy. For one brief moment, I thought we might even splurge on this...until I saw the price tag of $150. Seriously, Pottery Barn?! In utter disappointment, I spent the next 10 minutes studying the catalogue photo in great detail, and finally decided, "I'm going to make one of those myself!" The reason I'm writing about this on my blog is this: now that I've told someone besides Jonathan about my plan (thank you again, 8 faithful readers!), I'll have some actual motivation to get it done. And hang it up. And take pictures. And maybe even write a tutorial. Hey...this sounds fun, doesn't it? So keep your eyes open for a lovely princess, uh make that ballerina canopy, coming soon!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Un-Valentine's Day

Siobhan and Jonathan celebrating our engagement
with some kind of crazy Turkish cocktail in 2005.

Do you love to celebrate Valentine's Day? I don't. If you've been following my February posts, which have been loosely heart/V-Day themed, you might remember that the only heart decorations in our house are the ones I made a couple of weeks ago. My "bah humbug" attitude extends beyond home decor, however, and into the entire realm of this holiday. Let me tell you why.

Have you been watching TV sitcoms this week? They've all been about Valentine's Day, or more specifically, romantically inspired plans going all wrong? In a sitcom, when it's happening to someone else, and everything is resolved in 23 minutes, the whole thing is really funny. When it's your life, and some things are never resolved, not so funny!

When Jonathan and I started dating, we took Valentine's Day very seriously (maybe because we were both so thrilled to finally be able to celebrate the over-hyped holiday). For a couple of years, we went out to expensive, "romantic" restaurants, usually Italian, which were overcrowded and had special (read: more expensive) menus just for the occasion. If we weren't really poor students without jobs, this might not have been such a big deal. As it was, Valentine's Day became not only a financial hardship, but really quite a lot of pressure.

Our visit to Ephesus.

After one especially memorable dinner at a fashionable Italian restaurant, where they sat us by the door and refused to offer us another table even after we asked (cold), and the waiter did not approve of our choice to abstain from wine (colder), we decided to eat in the next year. That was nice, but still a lot of work.

So from then on, we have purposely NOT celebrated Valentine's Day. Sometimes, Jonathan comes home with a nice card, which I feel guilty about because I don't have one for him. This year, we decided that since the Halloween candy is finally gone, we will celebrate V-Day on the 15th with some discount candy.

We did, however, go out to dinner last night. This had nothing to do with February 14th, except for coincidence. Rather, it was to celebrate our wedding anniversary, which is in November. Yeah, you read that right. But we were married on Thanksgiving weekend, and turkey does not make for a very good anniversary dinner. So we decided to celebrate our anniversary on the day we got engaged, which is sometime in January. It suddenly occurred to us that January was gone, so we finally made it out last night, for what was a very romantic anniversary dinner, which just happened to be on Valentine's weekend.

Eating some really good Turkish food, name unknown, which was one of the highlights of the trip for me. (Yeah, I'm that much of a foodie that cheese bread trumps ancient ruins and being proposed to.)

Since Jonathan proposed to me in Ephesus, we went to a Turkish restaurant, which had no pre-Valentine's Day crowd, wonderful food, and pictures on the wall of places we remembered visiting on our trip. It also cost less than $30. No accordion player, no wine, no pink cards. Instead, we had shish kabobs, baklava, and Turkish tea in those wonderful little clear glasses. And we had a wonderful time!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Story Bible Moms: Mashed Potato Soup

Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. Proverbs 15:17 (NIV)

Have you ever read the book of Proverbs? It's full of pithy little sayings, one after another, with few apparent connections. Some of them are really well known: Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Prov. 13:24. (My opinions of this verse will be saved for another day.) Some are downright weird (although they might be true): Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. Prov. 11:22.

But there are some real gems of beauty and wisdom tucked into this little book of the Bible, and one of my favorites is this verse about humble vegetables served with love being better than an extravagant feast served with hatred. I think I like this verse so much because I know that it's true. I'll bet you know exactly what I mean. Think about a meal you have had where there was stony silence, or awkward small talk, or no one would quite get to the point of how they were really feeling. You couldn't think about the food, even if it was good, because you were so caught up in the emotionally charged atmosphere around the table.

Perhaps you can remember a holiday meal, a Christmas dinner or someone's milestone birthday, where people have spent all day in the kitchen preparing a huge feast. The table is set with the best tablecloth and the china and the real silver. There is an enormous spread of food. Everyone sits down to the table, but the afternoon has already been too long. Maybe Aunt and Uncle had a spat about whether or not watching the football game was a good idea. And Junior is unhappy because he'd rather be playing video games. And you know, your sister is being don't think you're going to speak to her for the rest of the night, even if it means you can't ask her to pass the butter. Grandma tries to get everyone to talk about something innocuous, like the weather, but it just doesn't work. Everyone just shovels down all that good food so they can hurry back home.

Now think about the simplest dinner: mac and cheese from a box, or frozen pizza, or yesterday's leftovers...nothing special or fancy, but the whole family was there, conversation was good, and everyone was just happy to be spending some time together. There is laughter and everyone lingers a little at the table, even when all the food is gone.

When Jonathan and I were very, very newlyweds (think weeks after the wedding), I was attempting to make mashed potatoes for supper. By a slip of the hand holding the milk jug, they turned into mashed-potato-soupy-mess. I was so disappointed, and supper was ruined, and it turned into one of those things where I sat on the kitchen floor and cried. After much persuasion from Jonathan, who insisted that he liked potato soup (which he does not, by the way), it came out that although I wished I hadn't ruined the potatoes, what I was really upset about was an upcoming exam, and moving to a new state, and for goodness sakes, we'd only been married for a few weeks, and it was all rather overwhelming!

I don't even remember if we ate those potatoes, but I do remember what a relief it was to have someone's shoulder to cry on. How much it mattered that someone loved me, even if the dinner turned out bad and we had to dig in the couch cushions for $2 to eat at the pizza dive down the street. That love trumped a perfectly executed meal. Incidentally, "it's not about the mashed potatoes" has become a proverb spoken often in our household, meant to clarify that whatever stupid thing I'm acting upset about is just a front from something else that's actually bothering me.

Old Solomon had this one right on the money, didn't he? It is so better to have a small serving of vegetables (or Easy Mac) where love is, than pull out all the stops, roast the fatted calf, and sit around the table glowering at each other.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Made the Cheap Valentine's Bears...

Last week, I was pondering whether I should spend money on store bought Valentines for Hannah to give to her friends, or should I spend time to make little stuffed bears out of fabric scraps for free. Thanks to your comments and my determination to be cheap, I opted to sew the bears. Here they are!

For those of you who wonder exactly how long a crazy project like this takes, and even more importantly, exactly where does a mother of a toddler find this time, here's the breakdown:

Cutting and sewing: one nap time

Turning and stuffing: one episode of American Idol plus the PBS special on Fannie Farmer (by the way, also the amount of time it took Jonathan to paint the dining room)

Embroidering the faces: Mary Poppins (this included stopping to play with the bears once Hannah unglued her eyes from the dancing penguins long enough to realize that Mama was sewing enough bears to build a Bear Tower!!)

Cutting and stitching the hearts: one bath time

Attaching hearts to bears: one episode of Glee

So total time: probably less than 6 hours. Unintentional revelation: I watch a lot of TV.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Valentine's Day Garland

Maybe you've already noticed... In honor of Valentine's Day, I decided to dedicate the month of February to all things pink, red, heart-shaped, and to do with love. The idea for this came a couple of weeks ago, when a friend told me that she has boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations, but nothing to put up in their place for the next decoration-worthy holiday. I realized that I'm in the same boat. Valentine's Day is not my favorite holiday (and that story is for another day), however, since Hannah came along, I find myself caring a good deal about holidays and traditions that I haven't given a thought since I was about 12. So I did some rummaging, and found a set of heart-shaped cookie cutters, and these became the basis for my new (and only) Valentine's Day home decor.

To make my garland, I raided my felt stash and found every scrap of red, pink, and white I had. I even snuck a couple of contrasting colors in there for good measure. I traced around my cookie cutters for nice even hearts, which I am not capable of making on my own, even with the tried-and-true 2nd-grade-fold-the-paper-in-half method.

Then I arranged the various sizes and colors into cute layered stacks.

I stitched these together, and even tested out some of the fancy stitches on my sewing machine that had been, until now, uncharted territory.

Finally, I hot-glued the finished hearts to a long piece of ribbon. I used 1/4 inch ribbon only because in college, I thought that was the coolest thing since sliced bread and bought about 1000 spools of it in every color - which I am still trying to use up. If I were going to go get ribbon especially for this project, I'd use wider ribbon - at least 1/2 inch.

Then I desperately dug through the closets, trying to find things that were red and pink to make a nice display on the mantel. I have a lovely hand-painted plate with pink flowers that my mom gave me last year for my birthday, but even though Jonathan and I both remember seeing it since we moved last fall, neither of us could locate it. I had to settle for an orange plate instead, leaving nothing red or pink on the mantel, but at least something from the same side of the color wheel...

All in all, not a bad beginning for a recent Valentine's Day convert, right? Hannah, who is very interested in shapes, thinks the whole thing is swell, and that's good enough for me!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Original Art for Hannah's Room

To complement Hannah's newly decorated pink bedroom, we created some original art to hang on the wall. The idea began when my mom suggested that Hannah help Jonathan paint. We didn't think that sounded like a good idea, but did think that Hannah could contribute to the decor.

So I got some blank canvases from the craft store, and Hannah set to work using the acrylic paint colors I used to make the princess castle mural on her wall. I prepped the canvases by painting them a uniform green for the background.

One canvas was covered with Hannah's hand prints, which I helped her make.

The other, she did entirely by herself. This was a joy to watch, as she painted what she identified as a ladybug, Winnie the Pooh's honey pot, and a piece of toast with butter. Now that is priceless modern art!

By the way, if you look closely at the wall behind Hannah, you can see Jonathan's latest painting project - two-toned green walls for the dining room. The chair rail went up yesterday, and it looks wonderful!

Princess Castle Mural

We did it! We finished painting Hannah's room. It is indeed a girly-girl room, complete with pink walls and a princess castle on the wall. It was a lot of fun, and looks really cool. Here's what we did:

Jonathan painted the walls. Hannah and I helped by staying out of the way, except for our photo op.

Then, I traced the outline of the castle on the wall, using an overhead projector and a pencil. The design is some clip art I highly modified, using my super-high powered graphics program, Paint. The original castle was tall and skinny; I made it much wider because I wanted it to take up as much of the long wall as possible.

To keep the lines straight, I used my big quilting ruler and a level while tracing. This is what it looked like when I was done:

Then I painted it. (Yes, I did it myself. Yes, I'm pregnant. Yes,I used non-toxic acrylic paint that was approved by my doctor.) The last time I did this was in Hannah's nursery, and I used a sponge brush, which left a texture on the wall which I didn't really like. This time, I used a small paint brush. This required two coats of paint, but the finish was smooth, and I was really pleased with the results.

(Here's the sponge brush nursery, in case you wondered.)

This was kind of a top-secret project, not because Hannah didn't know something was happening in her room, but because I didn't want her to see me writing and/or painting on the wall and get any ideas. So I finished it this morning while Jonathan and Hannah were out of the house. She was pretty excited when she saw the finished product. She even knocked on the door and looked in the windows, trying to see the princess inside.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Story Bible Moms: A Change of Heart

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

Let me tell you about a change of heart I had this week. Hannah broke something, and it was of the "I'm going to take this apart" variety, definitely not an accident. To say that I was unhappy about it is an understatement. I was downright mad. And I told her so. Want to know what she did? She came over to me, gave me a hug, and said, "I'm sorry, Mama. You not be sad anymore."

Well, I felt my heart a-changin. In that instant, with a two-year-old's sincere apology ringing in my ears, that heart of stone I'd had just minutes before melted away into a heart of flesh. All I could do was return Hannah's hug and forgive her. (Although to be completely honest, I'm still not happy about the broken item and all similar items have been retired to the closet.)

Isn't the verse from Ezekiel like the ultimate change of heart? What would it feel like if you had a heart of stone and God took it and gave you heart of flesh in its place? It kind of makes me think of When the Grinch Stole Christmas, how the Grinch's heart started out two sizes too small, and then grew three sizes. I've always liked the part in the movie where the heart gets so big, it bursts through the frame. Like he suddenly has so much goodness in there, it's too big to contain. I think that's what it would feel like if we had the heart that God means for us to - too much goodness and love and caring to keep it in, so it would just go bursting out all over the place.

That doesn't happen very often, does it? It's kind of easier to keep our nice little hearts in their containers, tidy, private, and unassuming. If we all went around bursting out all over with love, wouldn't that make us a pretty spectacle for everyone to see? But that's exactly the way that God means for us to live our lives. We're supposed to love each other that much. We're supposed to be full of joy and goodness, to the point of just radiating it out to everyone else. What if God took your heart of stone? What would that mean for your life?

Want to know why it works? Just like Hannah's hug and "I'm sorry" changed my heart in an instant, so does our "I'm sorry" change God's. Because - and you know this, moms - that little voice doesn't un-break our stuff, but it sure goes a long way toward making everything all right, doesn't it? And our sincere prayer to God may not undo the things we've done, but as a parent, God hears us with the same love that we hear our own children.

What if this was your prayer this week? "God, change my heart of stone to a heart of flesh." What do you think would happen in your life? Let's try it out, and see...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Overachiever or Just Cheap?

Last night I was looking at some sewing books, just to see what I could see. I found a pattern for some very cute felt animals that were intended to be egg cozies, but with a little imagination and some pink hearts, could be lovely valentines for Hannah's little friends. Or maybe some tiny stuffed corduroy bears, also with pink hearts, would do the trick nicely. What a fun project, I thought.

So I told Jonathan about my plans to whip up a dozen tiny animals, and did he think the corduroy bears or the felt mice were cuter?

"Are you seriously going to make those for everybody? Isn't that a little much?"

Hmmm... Is that a little much? Here's why I don't think so (and I gave Jonathan a 30 minute rationale until he told me to quit talking and just write about it):

1. In the world of craft blogs making a dozen tiny animals for a cute project, and posting said animals for all 8 of my devoted readers to see, seems like a perfectly normal thing to do.

2. Since the local craft store was out of felt this morning, I eliminated the mice. On the other hand, I have at least three yards of brown corduroy I inherited from my grandmother (which means it is at least as old as I am) just begging to be made into tiny teddy bears.

3. And the most compelling reason last: because I already have the materials on hand, and "real" valentines cost money, the bears cost less than traditional paper valentines - even the most basic, generic kind. The only cost is a little of my time.

So the question is, if I show up to the Valentine's Day party next week with a dozen hand made tiny corduroy bears complete with tiny pink hearts, do the other moms think, "Gee, Siobhan, if you have so much time on your hands, why don't you just offer to watch my kids while I take a nap." Or do they have any idea that the real reason I come bearing bears is because in spite of the modest amount of time I spent at the sewing machine - which I enjoy, by the way - I chose the bears because I'm cheap?
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