Friday, December 31, 2010

The Tyranny of "Should"

I should buy something since I used their bathroom.
I should attend that event, even though I don't feel like it.
I should spend more on his Christmas gift.
I should wake up at 5am so I can pray/exercise/get to work early.
I should wear sunscreen and floss daily.

Sometimes "should" is rooted in etiquette or social convention. Sometimes it's about health and safety. Sometimes it comes from others' expectations placed on you (rightly or wrongly). And sometimes it is your own expectations for yourself (again, rightly or wrongly).

Sometimes I feel bombarded and burdened by "shoulds." Whenever I say or think the word, it's like a weight coming down over my shoulders. And it makes sense that the word just plain feels bad. When we say we should do something, rather than "I want to" or "I get to," it basically means "I don't really want to," and we are burdened with the pressure of unwanted obligations. In the past tense--"I should have..."--it means guilt, and we are burdened with regret.

I want to escape from the tyranny of "should." This means not agreeing to things I don't really want to do. This means letting go of self-imposed pressures. This means deciding if other-imposed obligations or expectations are valid and important to me, or not.

My new year's resolution this year is not to blog if I don't feel like it. I love having this blog to share funny stories, memories, thoughts, etc., and interacting with the wider community of bloggers and readers. But a certain schedule or weekly quota for my blogging is a self-imposed pressure that I am choosing to free myself from.

Blogger and literary agent Rachelle Gardner had a great post the other day about new year's resolutions and how we all make them and break them, and she's gotten to the point of not even caring about it. She realized that our resolutions are really less about things we want to do (or should do) and more about what we want to be. To use her example, when we say "I want to lose ten pounds this year," what we are really saying is "I want to feel better about myself" or "I want to look good to other people." So why not focus more on the root desire in the first place? You might find that there are many things you can do to embody that desire, and that it doesn't come down to one action that you can cross off a list or mark "pass" or "fail" next Dec. 31.

Last year, my resolution was to read the Bible more. Since "more" is a very loose criterion, I guess it could be said that I succeeded technically, but not really. The root desire behind that resolution was to be more authentic and personal in my faith. I work in Christian publishing, I go to church weekly, and my beliefs and values are often at the forefront of my mind and conversation in our home. But to be honest, I haven't invested a lot of time over the past few years in quiet, personal, deep devotion--and I miss that, because whenever I do, I really do feel closer to God and strengthened as a disciple. I might be more successful in that desire if I focus on the value of faith and discipleship, rather than on the "should" of "I should read the Bible more."

Rachelle suggested asking yourself, "How do I want to feel?" and thinking in terms of adjectives, rather than verbs or nouns. I want to feel calm and unburdened, not filling up my time and draining my mental/emotional tank with things I don't really care about. I want to focus on what really matters to me. This will probably (hopefully) involve blogging, scrapbooking, picture-taking, Bible-reading, volunteering, giving, etc. But because I want to. Not because I should.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Project Life (Christmas Week!)

Woo hoo! I'm celebrating because a) this Project Life encompasses the Christmas holiday, which was so fun, of course, but also b) because this is the penultimate Project Life installment, and I am glad. I've enjoyed the weekly linkup on The Mom Creative, but it has also stressed me out in some ways I don't need. So, I'm letting it go. But as for this week...

Monday 12/20: The stage is set and waiting--animals, shepherds, wise men (even though they didn't come until later), and even angels--all holding their breath for the arrival of the holy family! I've really enjoyed having this Advent calendar to count the days with Kate.

Tuesday 12/21: No picture. I don't remember what I was up to, other than getting so eager for the holiday vacation!
Wednesday 12/22: Matt and I spent two hours assembling Kate's play kitchen. It was a parental rite of passage, and we were very happy with the results!

Thursday 12/23: The office was closed today, and I spent the whole day cleaning, straightening, grocery shopping, repainting the trim in the bathroom, and other household things that needed to be done before the parents came for their holiday visit! I also enjoyed being at home for Sesame Street, which I never am! I tried to get other stuff done while Kate was enjoying her show, but she wanted me in the room, enjoying it with her! (Here's how rough we look before showering and dressing!)

Friday 12/24: Christmas Eve! See my whole Christmas recap post here, but the main celebration of the day was brunch and presents at my in-laws' house. I love Kate's little corduroy jumper, patterned tights, and curlique hairbow, and the love with which Daddy is watching her open that present.

Saturday 12/25: Christmas Day! More presents and family time at our house, and the main event was Kate's new kitchen. Here she is with the pots and pans we gave her, and the little wooden food items that came with the set. So cute! I wish it would actually get her to EAT broccoli and carrots. (Veggies are still verboten, apparently, though she's eating a little more meat now.)

Sunday 12/26: Still enjoying my parents' visit, I tried a new recipe for dinner--the "Entertaining Angels Pork Medallions and Carrots." It was the winner of author Rachel Held Evans' "biblical womanhood recipe contest," in conjunction with her forthcoming book about trying to live out the Bible's commands for women a la A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. The meal was indeed a winner!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas 2010

We had a great Christmas Eve and Day and hope you did too!

We started our celebrations by heading down to Granna and Opa's house (Matt's parents'), where my parents, Matt's brother Andrew, his wife Alexis, and Alexis' parents all gathered as well. (Matt and his brother both had the wisdom to marry only children--simplifies the holidays!)
We took pictures with Nala and Popi (for their New Year's card)...
... and with Granna and Opa (just because).

My MIL always sets a beautiful table, and we enjoyed a delicious brunch!
After the meal, we opened presents between Matt's side of the family. Granna and Opa gave Kate a stuffed Elmo, a tea set, and several outfits. She has gotten so good at opening gift wrap, she had a blast with that, cheering for herself when all the wrapping was off the box, even before opening the box itself!
Aunt Alexis (a reading specialist by trade) gave Kate two fun books, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!and A Bedtime for Bear (Bear and Mouse). Kate loves to read, and has definitely been enjoying those new books!

Kate and Nala being cute...
... and roughhousing with Popi.
I love Kate's tights, I've just gotta say.
After driving back to our neck of the woods (Kate's only nap of the day being on the ride home!), we went to Christmas Eve service, then came home to get Kate in her jammies, put out milk and cookies for Santa, and read The Night Before Christmas.

Christmas morning, we were so excited for Kate to see her new kitchen! I didn't take any pictures of her first seeing it, but you can see here how she is enjoying it, along with all the accessories the rest of us gave her--the tea set from Granna and Opa, the metal pots and pans from Matt and I, and the food and shopping cart from Nala and Popi.

Then Kate checked out the rest of her stocking!

And then we opened the rest of our gifts!

Popi made a cute coat rack for Kate.
After our traditional breakfast of egg sausage casserole, we went out and played in the snow on this wonderful white Christmas!
I hope you all had a very merry Christmas, and enjoy this (hopefully quiet and lazy) final week of 2010!

A Big Girl Kind of Day

We're having a big girl kind of day.

Kate is:
  • drinking very well from a big girl cup (no lid or spout).
  • napping (unhappily) without a paci
  • wearing "big girl panties" (cloth training pants) and learning to identify when nature is calling.
Mommy is:
  • enjoying some extra time off work this week
  • working on a Christmas recap blog post
  • asking every five minutes, "Kate, are you wet or dry?"
  • feeling very anxious about the whole potty training thing.
  • trying to be a big girl about the whole thing :0)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Gift of Peace

CandleThe worship music ended, and the pastor walked out and sat on his stool, from which he usually did his preaching.

He folded his hands on his lap, and just looked out at the congregation.

People grew uncomfortable, and quickly felt compelled to fill the silence.

“Good morning!” one said, thinking maybe the pastor wanted the congregation to greet him first. Others chimed in, but the pastor said nothing.

“You feelin’ alright, Preach?” someone asked with a chuckle.

“Short sermon today?” another person quipped. The laughter and chatter of the congregation filled the pastor's silence.

Personally, I was grateful for the silence, which was being marred by the good-natured heckling of the crowd. It had been a crazy morning. I was sick and stressed. My daredevil toddler was getting rowdy in the bathroom and fell hard on her cheek. I considered just staying home, at least until time for worship at the church my husband pastors. But I needed this time to myself, where I could worship anonymously and unselfconsciously.

I craved a moment of peace, to relax the tension in my body and mind, and bring my thoughts to God. The pastor gave us just the gift I needed (as a sermon illustration to demonstrate the difficulty of waiting patiently), but many did not recognize the silence as a gift. They felt uncomfortable and sought to fill the time with words, jokes, and nervous laughter.

Quiet moments can be rare between all the responsibilities and distractions of life, but they are even rarer because we don’t recognize them when they do happen and cherish them for the gifts they are. When we find ourselves having to wait somewhere or somehow stuck with “nothing to do,” we fill the time with chatter or a game of Sudoku on our iPhones, rather than simply resting and allowing God’s peace to rest within us and renew us.

While many people have to work on Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas (and some on Christmas Day itself), and you may be bustling between family members' homes, hopefully today will offer some quiet rest for you. Even if the Christmas music is playing and the children are wearing out the batteries on their noisiest new toys, the pace of life will be slower and hopefully you'll have time to just sit and be.

Take time for solitude. Take a moment to step back and be still, be silent. Watch your family play and let the joy wash over you. Welcome the Prince of Peace into your home and cherish the gift of peace that he brings on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas.

This post is adapted from my post this week on The Pastor's Wife Speaks.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa's Little Helpers

The other night, Matt and I assembled Kate's play kitchen that she's getting for Christmas. It took the two of us two hours to get it together, but it was really a good experience (as far as complex toy assemblies go) and kind of a parental rite of passage! (Matt at first thought we should do it Christmas night for the "full experience," but we're glad we got it done the other night and stashed it in the guest room until after bedtime tonight.)

 It came in about 37 pieces, with a hundred screws and things, but I have never seen such well-packaged supplies and instructions! Usually all those screws would just be in a bag all jumbled together!
 It was really pretty easy, overall, and we were so impressed with how solid and strurdy this thing is!
Last step: putting the cabinet latches on! (Last step, at least, before we realized that the very first thing we did was backwards--the bottom piece, that light-colored groove you see, should be toward the back. We were able to just take that off and put it back on correctly without too much trouble, though--thank goodness!)
 All done! We're so excited for Kate to see it!!

Unfinished Posts

Happy Christmas Eve! Can you believe there is just one week left in 2010?

Looking at my unfinished "draft" posts, I find that there are nine (NINE!) posts that I started in 2010 and just left hanging. Some, I wrote practically the whole post, agonized over it, and still didn't feel good enough about it to post. Some, I merely typed in the title and pressed "save," just to remind myself to write it at some point later on.

So, with just a week left in 2010, let me share with you those titles. See if any pique your interest. Leave a comment and I'll try to finish at least the one you're most interested in by the end of the year!

A Gentle, Quiet Spirit
The Tyranny of "Should"
If You Like Pina Coladas
Nana's House
What does your child's name say about you?
Sitting in Church
Does God Move?

So, what do you think?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lessons from Nana

You may recall that my mother's parents both died earlier in 2010. I feel bad that I wasn't blogging back when my father's parents died in 2002 and 2006--I worry my various posts about Nana and Grandpa this year suggests greater love or greater loss than I felt for Granny and Grandad several years back. But, the wounds are just fresher, of course. I feel especially for my mom this first Christmas without her parents, especially Nana, who followed her husband of 73 years in death much too quickly.

Today would have been Nana's 92nd birthday, and in honor of that fact, I thought I'd share these valuable life lessons she taught us--products of Depression-era thriftiness and her own creative resourcefulness.

1. If you didn't sweat or get your clothes dirty, you can wear them again the next day.

2. You can repurpose empty margarine tubs (or just about anything else) by covering the brand logo with a pretty scrap cut from wrapping paper or a greeting card.

3. If you are getting in the shower immediately after going #1, you don't have to wipe. (I never follow that one, but I think of her whenever I break that rule.)

4. If you don't have any pockets, your sleeve and your brassiere are excellent places to keep a tissue on hand.

5. Everything in moderation. I vividly recall having to pick just one of each color M&M out of the jar. That way, you only ate seven drops of heavenly goodness and had to be intentional about it.

6. Give kids choices. This one is echoed in every parenting book or magazine I read, and I first recall seeing it in action when Nana would ask whether I wanted the white cereal bowl or the red one, the yellow dinner plate or the orange one. (The logic is that if the child has control over some part of the decision, she is less likely to freak out at the parts that are nonnegotiable.)

7. Keep the spark alive. Nana's favorite story to tell about me as a child was how I once saw her putting on lipstick just before going to bed, and I asked why she would do that. "To look good for Grandpa," she told me, and I definitely didn't get it. (This is definitely one I have let slide since Kate was born. Sweatshirts are much more common sleepwear these days than satiny nighties. Alas.)

What lessons did you learn from your grandparents?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Project Life (Dec. 13-19)

It's Christmas week--woo hoo! I don't know why I'm so excited; I guess just the joy of celebrating with Kate and other family members, and having some vacation time to relax at home. Nonetheless, I've been acting like a little kid lately, counting the days and eagerly awaiting the start of our celebrations.

Last week was full of holiday preparations, of course.

Monday 12/13: Kate's newest game is taking a handled box (or this purse I let her play with) and saying "bye-bye! bye-bye!" and leaving the room. Then she'll run back into the room and do it all again. It's so cute. Just like Mommy heading off with her briefcase. (Love this pic, too. What a sweet smile.)
Tuesday 12/14: I love to use my crock pot to prepare easy dinners, but sometimes even that isn't so easy when you have to prepare a lot of ingredients in the morning, prior to putting them in the pot all day. So, my busy-mom trick is to chop any ingredients that need chopping the night before, and measure out the spices, and have all that in the fridge ready to go the next morning. I can easily dump in the tupperware, plus any canned goods or rice, before leaving for work. (This was "easy paella," from a recipe in Parents mag.)

Wednesday 12/15: I was so proud of myself for ordering my Christmas cards early, but then I didn't address and send them until now--ten days before Christmas!

Thursday 12/16: A member of our church who moved away (Kate's "birthday buddy," in fact, since they share a birthday) sent Kate a gift, and while I kept it under the tree for a while, we decided to let Kate open it early. She's getting the hang of tearing open wrapping paper--I know she'll have fun Christmas Eve and Christmas morning!

Friday 12/17: BTW, the gift from sweet Miss Cindie was the Tickle Monster Laughter Kit, the book Tickle Monster (by Josie Bissett, apparently of Melrose Place fame) packaged with the fuzzy tickle mitts intended for the parent/reader, but Kate loves to wear them herself! We've read the book at least a dozen times already--she loves it!

Saturday 12/18: Cookie baking!! I don't do a lot of baking at Christmas, but I like to make and decorate cutout cookies, since they are the most festive-looking. I used royal icing this year, rather than my usual buttercream frosting. They are nice and smooth and shiny.

Sunday 12/19: The church had its annual childrens' Christmas party, at which Santa comes and brings gifts for the kids. Kate and the other toddlers/preschoolers got Sesame Street alphabet puzzles--a perfect choice!

I hope you all are having a great Christmas week!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Life in Ornaments: Kate

Yesterday, I shared Matt's life in ornaments, and the day before, mine. Now it's Kate's turn--all two years of that life!

I was 36 weeks pregnant at Christmas 2008, and one of my oldest childhood friends searched high and low for a "parents to be" ornament for us. She found this sweet little bear, and I marked the details on its feet. You can barely see it in this photo, but instead of a metal hook to hang it, I used some yarn from the baby blanket I was crocheting for Kate. I never finished it because a) I ran out of yarn and couldn't find a matching skein and b) because I got a bazillion blankets as shower gifts and didn't really feel she needed another!

Christmas 2009 was Kate's first Christmas, and at 11 months, she was arguably much more fun than Matt was at his first Christmas (barely 1 month old) or me (at six months old). We rightly suspected that we wouldn't get too many "baby's first Christmas" ornaments because people outside our family would think "now, is this her first or her second? Hmm..." So, we just got one from each set of grandparents, which is just perfect!

Wanting to get ornaments for Kate that reflect what was special about her year, I got her this sweet giraffe to honor her many "raffis."
And of course, I had to get an Elmo ornament. Abby would have been even better, but the lavender gift under Elmo's left foot is labeled "to Abby," so I guess that works! She loves it, and it definitely commemorates her Elmo-obsession that is such a part of our lives right now.

Can you believe this weekend is the last one before Christmas? I'll be doing a little baking, wrapping my last couple gifts, and just enjoying the season. I still get excited like a little kid about Christmas--mainly because I look forward to seeing Kate enjoy herself as only a little kid can.

What Christmas preparations are you doing this weekend?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Life in Ornaments: Matt

Yesterday, I shared my own life in ornaments--a few of the special ornaments that mark certain occasions or periods of life to cherish.

Today: Matt!

Matt was only a month old at his first Christmas in 1980. His Grandma and Grandpa gave him this little bell, inscribed with "1st Christmas 1980," and I thought it was so sweet, we hang it from this special little hanger as its own decoration, rather than on the tree.

Matt's preschool ornament is his face on a jar lid, marked "St. Mark's, 1985" on the back. (I would have featured my own classroom-made preschool ornament yesterday, but it's the one sentimental one I persuaded my mom to keep on her beautiful "brass and glass" tree. It is a bright green, felt circle about 7 inches across, sequins glued on one side with the finesse only a 4-year-old can have, and a cute picture of me on the other.) Matt's is much less gaudy.

Around that same time, Matt's family moved to Denver. They skied a lot in those years, and Matt got this little Santa-on-a-ski-lift ornament. Matt's mom had a tradition of giving the boys an ornament specifically suited to that year's activities and events, which got even more interesting as Matt and his brother got older and started doing more cool things... marching in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! Matt played his tuba (excuse me, sousaphone) through Herald Square in 1995, a very cool claim-to-fame and the focus of his special ornament that year.

In 1999, Matt headed off to Butler University in Indianapolis.

During college, Matt worked three summers for Mountain T.O.P., a missional youth camp where kids serve poor families on the rural and impoverished Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. Matt's mom gave him a "manual labor Santa" ornament each year to commemorate those summers. The first year was Santa with a shovel, the second Santa climbing a ladder with a paintbrush, and the third a fireman Santa, recalling a lightning strike and fire at camp that year. Matt says that one takes on new meaning now, after the church fire.

In 2003, Matt graduated Butler, writing his senior honors thesis on premillenialism and the book of Revelation.
Matt returned to his hometown of Nashville to attend Vanderbilt Divinity School, where he met moi, and we fell in love over milkshakes at the local malt shop, hoping our ears wouldn't get in the way. Just kidding. Mickey and Minnie are just metaphorical. The Red Door doesn't serve milkshakes.

We got married in 2006, and Matt has continued to serve in congregational ministry.

Who knows what the next years will bring?
I don't, but I know that tomorrow will bring Kate's life in ornaments! (considerably shorter than ours!)

What is your most memorable childhood handmade ornament?


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