Saturday, August 31, 2013

Things I Learned in August

Linking up with Chatting at the Sky again this month for a miscellaneous roundup of lessons I learned...

1. You should show your excitement instead of playing it cool, because you never know what will happen when you do. After visiting my brother earlier this month, the boys and I went to spend the day with a dear friend of mine, and our route took us to the Valley View Ferry--the oldest continually operating ferry in the country.


I'd been across once before, but the boys had never seen a ferry of any kind. So that morning, I rolled the car windows down, and when the friendly operator said, "Good morning? How are y'all doing this morning?" I said, "Great! The boys have never been on a ferry before, so we're excited!" He then invited them to get out of the car and drive the ferry. And I don't just mean he let them sit in his captain's chair long enough to take pictures--I mean, they were sitting and turning the wheel and the next thing I knew, we were traveling across the river! Made our morning. So fun.


2. Kohl's has really amazing customer service. I bought a pair of Reebok running shoes last month to replace a pair that were several years old and had worn through the lining in both heels. Unfortunately, the new Reeboks proved to be really uncomfortable; they had less cushioning than the pair they were replacing! But since I'd worn them outside once, I figured I wouldn't be able to return them. Still, I knew Kohl's had a really liberal return policy, so I decided to check with their customer service department just in case. I immediately got the response that yes, I could return the shoes, even though I'd worn them a few times, no problem. So I did, and got my money back. No questions asked. How generous is that?

3. Electric burners get hot really quickly. I turned one on a few weeks ago and then noticed it wasn't sitting right. I figured it couldn't be that hot yet, so I stupidly used my index finger to try to push it down into position, and promptly got maybe the worst burn I've ever had, a giant blister on the pad of my right index finger. OW.

4. My new favorite ice cream flavor is Turkey Hill's "Double Dunker." I bought it for Elijah's birthday because of its irresistible description that included three of my favorite additions to ice cream: coffee, cookie dough and Oreos. Mocha ice cream with cookie dough bits and crunchy chocolate cookie streaks? Yes please. (For the record, their straight up Columbian Coffee flavor is also excellent--and with chocolate chips thrown in, makes a satisfying, much cheaper substitute for Starbucks' Java Chip.)

5. You really don't need shortening for a successful pie crust. I didn't have enough to make my usual recipe, so I gave Smitten Kitchen's "All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Crust" a whirl. It was indeed "really flaky"--and now I know I don't have to go out of my way to find the expensive non-hydrogenated shortening I was buying just for pie crust.

6. If you are going to cook bacon in the oven, for heaven's sake, don't turn the temperature all the way up to 425. Or if you do, don't set the timer for 15 minutes and walk away. Is there any kitchen mishap more tragic than charred bacon? I learn these things so you don't have to. (I am, however, a HUGE fan of cooking bacon in the oven. I hate standing over a skillet of bacon, babysitting and flipping, yelping at painful grease spatters, repeatedly having to add more raw bacon and then wash my hands again.)

What did you learn this month? Check out Emily's post for a whole slew of other bloggers sharing lessons learned in August.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 296

"The best remembering ends in praise. Remembering that you were lost, then found, is cause for rejoicing. Remembering that you were wounded, then healed, calls for songs of loudest praise. Remembering that you hungered and thirsted once upon a time makes even a crust of bread and a cup of water a banquet."
--Leigh McLeroy, The Beautiful Ache (175)

Remembering and praising God for a few of this week's gifts:

5530. Jude "hiding" under the covers with Clifford--"An' you dint see me!"
5531. bruschetta salad
5532. a long phone chat with my brother
5533. Steve able to go in to work late and take Elijah to school when I was sick
5534. Jude so sweet and easygoing when I felt terrible

5535. a fantastic Kate Morton novel to read while lying around all day
5536. 7-Up
5537. jasmine rice
5538. feeling like a new woman after a shower
5539. illness being short-lived

5540. Elijah enjoying kindergarten
5541. the assurance that He will work/did work even the mistakes I made from ignorance in a past job for His glory and His children's good
5542. my new niece!
5543. her early arrival meaning I will get to see her before Thanksgiving
5544. the early arrival of a friend's new baby boy

5545. a phone chat with a dear friend
5546. the smells of cinnamon-y things baking
5547. sweet, generous friends babysitting so Steve and I could go on a date
5548. a shared bowl of Pad Thai
5549. big band dance at Centennial Park, opportunity to try our our new moves :)

5550. an opportunity to catch up on a heart level with a friend
5551. a man at church being moved to tears by the gospel during his Scripture reading of Luke 18
5552. freezer filling with fresh fruit
5553. accidental alliteration (--see what I did there? haha, such a word nerd)
5554. a friend's perseverance in hard places testifying to His worth and trustworthiness

Monday, August 19, 2013

Six, and so it begins...

Dear Elijah,

Once upon a time I thought I'd write you these letters regularly. I was going to sit down every year, if not every month in the beginning, and compose an eloquent, moving letter, full of your growth and my love and bits of everyday life.

I think if you search the archives of my blog, you might find one other letter, written when you turned two. There are a lot of things I thought I would do. The mother, and the writer, I always imagined myself to be have so far turned out to be very different from the reality...

And now you are six. We took pictures outside our back door before we left for your first day of school this morning, and I didn't have to coax a smile out of you. You couldn't wait to strap on your new backpack; you anticipated what I would say after you got dressed and proclaimed for yourself how handsome you looked in your uniform.

I walked you into your kindergarten classroom, and as I helped you unpack your supplies and took a photo with your new teacher, I was astonished at the difference between this day and the first day of preschool. A year ago, you were clingy and anxious, tear-filled eyes begging me not to leave you in a strange new place. Today I was amazed at the calm, confident, excited little boy who grinned for pictures, gave me a big hug and cheerfully waved goodbye.

I wasn't quite the cliche of the choked-up mom who drops her baby off for the first day of school, then runs out to her car and cries, but my mind and heart were a tangled jumble of emotions. I am not sorry to see you grow up; five has been my favorite year yet, ever so much better than the newborn stage or your toddlerhood. You are fascinated by this, since your daddy and I have both expressed it to you, and frequently ask us to tell you again: "Why do you like it best when I'm not a baby?"


Because, son, I love to see the pride on your face when you show me your newest Lego creation. I love to marvel at your insane sense of direction in the car, at your ability to assemble models made for kids twice your age, and wonder what God might do with this spatial intelligence of yours.


I love your tender heart, your deep desire to please your daddy. I love that slow grin, a sweet mix of shy modesty and thrilled pride, that spreads over your face when I kneel down to your level and affirm something great I've seen you do. I love it when you spontaneously thank God for the beautiful day, when you thank me for dinner without prompting, when you exclaim, "God is helping me obey!"


I love sitting next to you and having you look up at me and smile for no particular reason, your brown eyes crinkled up. I love your affectionate touches, and let's be honest, I do love your lavish, sometimes-absurd compliments. There's nothing like stepping out of the shower and hearing, "Mama, your hair looks pretty!"


I love your obsession with numbers, and the way you work carefully, methodically, determined to do it exactly right--though my heart hurts when I see my own perfectionism magnified in your quickness to get upset with yourself over one tiny mistake. We can blame your dad for some things, like stubbornness, but I'm sorry to say I have to take all the credit for your unwillingness to do anything you can't do perfectly, immediately and easily.

I love your love for books. I pray God molds it and grows it into a love for His Word and a lifelong enjoyment of learning. I love hearing you sing songs you've heard once, repeating nonsense syllables instead of the actual lyrics. I love those sweet moments when you encourage your brother, when you share with him, when you make him giggle.


So no, I don't miss the beginning. I enjoy dates with you, conversations with you, far too much. I am excited to see who you become.


And yet, my excitement is mixed with regret, for today feels monumental, this huge point of no return. You will of course be home on weekends and holidays, and every morning and late afternoon and evening--we aren't shipping you off to boarding school, after all. We can even change our minds and homeschool you, if at some point we come to think that would be better. But from now until you leave our house, your life will be dominated by school. In other words, your early childhood years are officially over.


It just feels, in a weird sense. A whole chapter has ended, and I am full of guilt over all the ways I've failed these last six years. My stomach feels faintly sick at the thought of how much has been lost: how much time I have squandered, how many opportunities I have missed, how much I could have done, but didn't.


I pray that our compassionate, merciful Father will restore these years that the locusts of my selfish sin have eaten, that He will bring beauty even in the face of my failures. I pray that my weakness will mean you know how often repentance is necessary and how desperately we all need a Savior.

No one will ever accuse me of being Super Mama, but I'm comforted by Ann Voskamp's recent reminder that you do not need a Super Mama--you need a mama who needs (and has!) a Super God. And so I pray most of all that as you grow into a handsome, bright, funny, sweet young man, you will also grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. I pray that when you fail, you'll fall on His perfection; I pray that when you're hurt by others' failures, you'll fall into His compassionate arms. I pray that you'll know His love, that you'll be changed by His love, that you'll love others with that kind of love. And I pray you will know how very much your messed-up mama loves you, sweet boy. I love so many things you do, but mostly I love you because you're mine. Because you're irreplaceable Elijah, God's gift to me and to the world.


Multitude Monday, Take 295

" seems like that's what God is saying to us, over and over. 'What can I do today to remind you again how good this life is? You think the color of the sky is good now, wait till sunset. You think oranges are good? Try a tangerine.' He's a crazy delightful mad scientist and keeps coming back from the lab with great, unbelievable new things, and it's a gift. It's a gift to be a part of it."
--Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines (234)

Still counting gifts this week, thanking God for...

5503. Jude sitting at the front door in a toddler-sized rocking chair, watching the hard rain
5504. His extreme patience
5505. the fact that even though our tomato plants look dead, they are still somehow producing fruit
5506. health insurance with free well visits
5507. healthy, strong, growing boys

5508. Elijah's best bud bringing him a birthday gift
5509. grace to clean up puke
5510. Ed Welch's biblical wisdom and practical, encouraging insights
5511. late night writing time
5512. illness surprisingly short-lived

5513. 65 degree mornings! in August! in Tennessee!
5514. friends' testimonies of His faithfulness
5515. plane tickets I was watching came back down $100!
5516. Jude and Elijah dancing with each other while Steve and I practiced
5517. a zoo date with Elijah

5518. giant tortoises
5519. the beauty and diversity of His creation
5520. ice cream cones
5521. His mercy and grace toward disappointing people like me
5522. the physical strength to work and play

5523. a new photo of my Compassion-sponsored child (who's hardly a child anymore!)
5524. my own thyme and basil right outside my front door
5525. the ability to satisfy my boys' bottomless bellies when they're in growth spurts
5526. His compassion, so utterly beyond what I show to my children
5527. momentum, ideas, passion, plans

5528. this sweet, silly face
5529. no anxiety or apprehension on the first day of school--just the excited grins of a boy eager to start kindergarten

Monday, August 12, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 294

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" (Psalm 100:4)

5463. a body that can feel pain
5464. ice cubes for a burned finger
5465. being born in a developed nation
5466. men in my life who love, support, protect and respect me, rather than exploit, abuse and oppress me
5467. boys helping me make zucchini lasagna

5468. the way Steve loves God with his mind
5469. free cards, free prints from Shutterfly
5470. Facebook reminiscing
5471. first bruschetta pizza of the summer
5472. iced coffee

5473. fresh, juicy peaches
5474. a bike for Elijah from craigslist for $15
5475. late night writing time
5476. His promise to preserve me to the end
5477. sweet fellowship with a friend

5478. shoes from Zappos for Elijah, cuter and cheaper than what I looked at a few months ago
5479. beads of water on the cut end of zucchini
5480. a donut date with my favorite five-year-old
5481. preserving my father-in-law's life through a heart attack
5482. the advances of modern medicine

5483. this handsome guy, the hardworking brother of whom I am SO proud

5484. the opportunity to see him graduate from Lexington's fire academy and celebrate with him
5485. Mom finding the brown socks Elijah needed for school
5486. time with my family
5487. a ferry ride across the Kentucky River

5488. sweet gentleman operating the ferry who invited the boys to get out and drive the ferry

5489. several hours with my dear friend Laura, who lives near my brother

5490. getting to meet and talk with her husband
5491. our boys hitting it off and having fun together all day

5492. a whole houseful of sweet kiddos, interrupting us often

5493. this fascinating, provocative old episode of This American Life
5494. a carseat cover that's removable and washable
5495. Jude only throwing up once, immediately feeling better
5496. Steve doing so much of the dirty work of cleanup
5497. Tim Keller's sermon on Exodus 14

5498. the beauty and wonder of the gospel
5499. the ways it is foreshadowed in the Old Testament
5500. six years with my firstborn son

5501. the delightful big boy he has grown into
5502. grace that covers all the ways I've screwed up mothering him

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Lake Erie Anniversary Getaway

Steve and I have been married eight years of marriage last month, and thanks to my parents, we got to celebrate with a little overnight getaway a couple of weeks ago! We left the boys with Grammy and Pops and boarded a boat in Sandusky, Ohio, for an "Island Hopping Day Cruise."

Our first stop was Kelleys Island, home of the largest prehistoric glacial grooves in existence. We rented bicycles and rode out to see the grooves, but we were only on the island for an hour and a half, so we didn't have time to do much else.
 Then it was on to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. We grabbed lunch at Put-in-Bay Brewing Company (highly recommend their Walleye Bites appetizer!) and then visited Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial.

The weather was absolutely perfect and we enjoyed gorgeous views from the top of the monument. 

After our cruise back to Sandusky, we ate more fish right on the bay and then drove to Lakeside!

I went to church camp at this beautiful little gated community every summer while I was in high school--in fact, it's where God captured my heart and drew me to follow Him--and returned as a counselor for two summers in college. I hadn't been back sine 2002, and Steve had never been there, so it was such a treat to return to this place of so many sweet memories and show my husband around.

After checking into Hotel Lakeside, we took a walk down to the pier and then walked along the shore, admiring the cottages and flowers and the sunset. 
The next morning, what could we do but head straight for The Patio? Lakeside, you see, is home to the best donuts in the history of the universe. The End. Oh, they were even better than I remembered. After breakfast, we rented a tandem bicycle and rode all around town, visiting my old stomping grounds and seeing places I'd never noticed or explored back in the day.

Steve was so patient to listen to all my stories!

This is WoHoMis, the lodge where we stayed. Oh, the memories...from making "window silhouettes" on that second-floor porch, to waking up every morning to the sounds of the guys blasting Pure Funk from the third floor...I could go on. I won't, because it would mean nothing to all but about three people :)

 Before we left, we had to stop at The Patio again, because not only are their donuts amazing, they also have fabulous ice cream. And ice cream is basically a vacation necessity for me. Sadly my favorite flavor, Tons of Turtles, no longer exists...but my waffle cone was still delicious.
 Lakeside is just a couple of miles from the Marblehead Lighthouse, the oldest continually-operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, so we drove there next.

 It was another gorgeous day, so we toured the little museum and climbed the 77 steps to the top.


 After visiting the lighthouse, we decided to swing back through Lakeside and grab lunch at Sloopy's. We tried their Meatball Supreme pizza, which has won national awards, and it lived up to the hype. So, so good. Here's my handsome date making his "I will humor my sweet wife but I am really not thrilled about having my picture taken right now" face :)
Then it was time to head back to my parents' house and see our boys. So, so thankful for parents whom we can trust to care for our kids and who are willing to serve us like, so thankful for a wonderful husband and the opportunity to spend time with him, enjoying uninterrupted conversation and having fun.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

How We Skipped Training Wheels (or "Why We're Sold on Balance Bikes")

We get a lot of strange looks when we take the boys for bike rides. And people are often confused when Elijah tells them excitedly, "I have pedals on my bike!" But after a summer and a half, with one kid riding a big-boy bike and the other just about ready for one, we are 100 percent sold on the balance bike concept. We've skipped training wheels in favor of a method that just makes more sense.

Last summer, when we were shopping for our almost-five-year-old's first bicycle, we heard about something called a balance bike. As far as I can tell, a company called Strider sort of pioneered the concept, and I learned a lot from reading and watching videos on their website. The idea is simple: training wheels give a child a false sense of security. They essentially turn a bicycle into a tricycle, and tricycles don't teach anything about balance (not to mention they're pretty unsturdy if you really get going fast--a blooper-esque video of tricycle crashes on Strider's site was painful to watch!). Kids feel confident tearing around with their training wheels, but when it's time for the wheels to come off, everything is different and panic sets in. 

Instead, why not teach them to balance *first*? Why not let them learn the hard part gradually, at their own pace--and then add the easy part, the pedaling, once they've conquered the tricky part? Then, as the founder of Strider explains in a promo video, "There's not this big step, this big leap of faith where all of a sudden they have to be riding. At the first inkling of insecurity, they can just put their feet down." Brilliant.

The balance bike concept made a ton of sense to us, but we didn't want to shell out $80+ for a Strider bike. Instead, we bought a regular 12" bike on craigslist, and Steve removed the pedals. (The chain wasn't removable, so Steve wound it up carefully and taped it to the frame of the bike, out of the way.) 

Elijah started out as most every kid does on a balance bike--they simply walk slowly, straddling the bike. Eventually they feel comfortable enough to sit down on the seat, and then they learn to make it go a little faster. That's about as far as we got last summer, since he didn't have many opportunities to practice. 

This spring, when we got out the bike again, Elijah quickly began balancing. He'd get going fast enough that he could lift his feet and coast a bit, or he'd pick up his feet coming down a little hill. After only a month or so, he was ready for pedals.

I can just imagine what a nightmare taking off the training wheels would have been with our hyper-cautious oldest son. Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth. But with this method, Elijah was able to figure it out bit by bit. We did have some weeping and gnashing when it was time to add pedals--but it was pure frustration, not fear. Elijah had been going so fast with just his legs to power the bike that he was frustrated to have to slow down and learn to pedal. Figuring out how to *start* pedaling and take off was kind of tricky. And it's exasperating to accidentally pedal backwards and wind up violently braking! Also, he may or may not have inherited some unfortunate character flaws from his mother and may or may not be exactly like her in that when he cannot do something easily and perfectly the very first time, he doesn't want to do it at all, ever. Aaaaanyway... 

So there was a bit of a learning curve, but within a couple of practice runs, he conquered the pedals. It was amazing to see how quickly and easily he took off. And there was no running behind him, holding the seat; there were no terrified cries for Daddy not to let go, no crashes and falls. Just the big grins and giggles of a boy supremely proud of himself and his new skill.

After last summer, we were convinced enough that we wanted to get Jude started a lot earlier. He was too little for us to just remove the pedals from a regular bike, as we'd done with Elijah; the great thing about actual balance bikes is that they sit lower to the ground and are incredibly lightweight, making them easier for toddlers to handle. But we found a Chicco balance bike for about half the price of the Strider bikes, so Grammy and Pops gave one to Jude for Christmas.

Jude followed the same pattern as Elijah--really hesitant and reluctant at first, then walking with the bike between his legs, finally sitting, and then zooming away. We were blown away by how quickly he learned to balance and got comfortable enough to pick his feet up off the ground! By mid-May, he was amazing us by coasting like this for several seconds:

At only 2 1/2, Jude is great at balancing and able to go pretty darn fast on his bike. He loves to have us push him so he can balance and go fast without using his feet--if Steve is on rollerblades, he can use just one or two fingers to push Jude while the little guy does all the work of balancing! He's actually just about ready for pedals himself.

All in all, we are *really* pleased with the balance bike concept in general and with Jude's Chicco balance bike specifically. We highly recommend this approach to bike-riding, rather than training wheels!