Saturday, December 31, 2016

Community, pomegranates and 2016

This year I realized my (old) definition of community was always going to let me down.

I thought that community was formed by a property line, a zip code, a curriculum, a job, a cause, a common interest, or a religion. And while those are broad versions of community--in themselves, they were not the kind of community I'd heard about from the pulpit, the kind of community my heart craved--a place and people of welcome, safety, love and inclusion. 

I spent the spring months of this year preparing my mind and home for a next (now) school year. I read lots of great books and articles that inspired me. So much of that has shaped our school year this year. There was one book I had seen frequently recommended, and so I checked it out from the library. It was a book written by an award-winning public school teacher. I never expected that that book would bring about such clarity and healing.
"The real truth is that the 'friends' falsely mourned for their indifference were never friends, just fellow networkers from whom in fairness little should be expected beyond the attention to the common interest." (p 54, Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto)

"Communities are collections of families and friends who find major meaning in extending the family association to a band of honorary brothers and sisters. They are complex relationships of commonality and obligation that generalize to others beyond the perimeter of the homestead. When the integration of life that comes from being part of a family in a community is unattainable, the only alternative, apart from accepting a life in isolation, is to search for an artificial integration into one of the many expressions of network currently available. But it's a bad trade! Artificial integration within the realm of human association--think of those college dorms or fraternities--appears strong but it is actually quite weak; seems close-knit but in reality has only loose bonds; suggests durability but is usually transient. And it is most often badly adjusted to what people need although it masquerades as being exactly what they need." (p 66, Dumbing Us Down, Gatto)
Just like I lived 40+ years before trying a pomegranate (until this year), I walked this planet with a false hope and false beliefs of community. Now I get it. No matter how beautiful the neighborhood or how small/big the church or how comprehensive the curriculum or how long you've been on the job or how noble the cause, the essence of true (pulpit) community comes from one place--the heart.

This year's word community gave me lots to think on.

There were places and people I hoped in, who really were only paying attention to the common interest or joined by a common ground. In light of this new definition, I have new peace. The people in and with whom I found real community, it was through the heart.

I am thankful for all the people in my life who handled my heart (and my family) with tender, loving care. You were the ones who cheered us on from the sidelines during Lanie's diagnosis, a hectic school year, and a new path. You were also the ones who prayed for us and over us, gave us food for the pantry, and were present when the walk felt lonely. And it goes back further than this year. Solid, authentic friendships. Thank you.

Community means a lot to me. It always has. I was just looking for it in the wrong places. I should have started with the heart.

Friday, December 30, 2016

End of year, 2016

2016 was full, for sure. I'm thankful for the challenges that were fertile ground for all God has done in my life. I'm thankful for this year--and it wasn't an easy year--but it was a fruitful year.

I answered end-of-year questions. Some answers:

Unexpected joys: teaching; the Ancients class; tea party Tuesdays; hospitality.

Single best thing: Tuesdays, redeemed. It is a true delight to get up on a Tuesday and enjoy the day with my kids. It is a delight to schedule a leisurely tea, read poetry, and visit with special guests on a Tuesday. We have the teas about once a month--and special guests have been Anita, Suzanne, Amy, and Michelle and Nadiya. Tuesdays, redeemed also meant a home focus. That day reading on the couch last spring when Erin asked if school could always be that way: us on the couch, going at our own pace, enjoying the time together--such a moment I never want to forget. So happy to be home. (I noticed a huge increase in photos as we transitioned into the new school year chez nous.) 

Influential reads in 2016: Red Sea Rules by Robert Morgan, The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson, The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst, The Life-Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I read a lot of other books this year, but these are the ones I'll want to read again and again.

The best use of time: Pouring into my kids, home and friendships. I'm so happy for this year at home with my kiddos. I'm grateful for the people in our lives, and the new friends we made this year.

I ran into a mom of a former student at the store today. What a sweet blessing to wrap up this year. Her hug, her smile, her words. Thank you, God, for all the good things. 
January--a new year, a snow storm, good bye to Rudy
February--home focus, and Stitch Fix
March--a visit from Joe and Stephanie, a new oven
April--my dad turned 80
May--bow shooting, the zoo, sushi, co-op end
June--Lanie got baptized
July--lots of swimming and fun with friends
August--five years here, minus a mailbox
September--tea parties, butterflies
October--great friends
November--gatherings, knit!, homeschool love!
December--goodbye to Jane, Erin turned 10, holiday performances

I hope the year was good to you! Very best wishes for 2017.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


I got to work video on Christmas Eve at church. We had attended services the night before, so I knew what to expect--but the lights and song moved me anew and I smiled most of the night away.

Kathy's hug. Her love language: words of affirmation. She inspires me. And she told me how I poured into her. I found out she is gluten free too, and invited her to a Tuesday tea sometime. That woman--a true force for good.

Texts with Christy. She makes me laugh. Her Christmas photo of the bed stairs for her little dogs. And her commentary on their intelligence.

Shane's comment how we actually were able to drink a full coffee before the kids came down Christmas morning. They're still young enough for delightful squeals, and I was thankful that we can still give gifts that require assembly. Lanie made me a jar of popsicle sticks where she wrote meaningful statements on them about us. I loved the music all day; warm fires; peaceful atmosphere; rest and reflection.

I do wish my parents had sent me to music lessons. Even though my kids have been through many years, I only remember a few points and terms from flashcards. I asked for a ukulele for Christmas, and Shane surprised me with one. I told him I purchased a book with Christmas songs for the ukulele a couple of months ago with the hopes I'd get one. I jumped online to learn about the instrument yesterday, as I suspect great things are expected of me. We had some laughs: Shane's imitation of me playing the ukulele; amused dreams of playing the instrument for the worship team; and my wonder of God looking down shaking his head saying, "I didn't give you a musical gift, girl. What are you thinking?" And my desperate plea, "Lord, bless these hands!" Next year, Lanie and I both wished aloud, "We'd like cellos!" Oh, can you imagine!?!

Erin wanted a Christmas feast, likely inspired by the rich imaginings in Christmas-themed books we've read this month. I bought a duck because it seemed exotic compared to our usual fare. Some Chinese 5-spice, garlic, orange and other things made it the most flavorful wonder that no one was disappointed. I made Brazilian cheese rolls from tapioca; mashed potatoes, broccoli and salad. Dessert was vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate sauce and whipped cream--topped with crushed candy canes. Shane snuck back for more when no one was looking. Candlelight on the table made this almost ordinary meal seem extra special--and the feast was in the eyes of my ten year old. Her love language is definitely gifts, and this night (though she mostly ate clementines and rolls) was a gift.

I got to talk to Tracey for well over an hour. It was wonderful. My dad stopped by to drop off some gifts from my other sister. All unexpected.

Shane's laugh when I wore the Fitbit and ran laps back and forth through the kitchen. (My neighbor's husband calls it the Fatbit.) I haven't met my goal of 8,000 (daily) steps, but it has sent me notices to get off the couch and move around more. Now I pace a room when I talk on the phone or brush my teeth. Looking forward to a hike next week.

A photoshoot for a friend the day after Christmas. Her beautiful family. What an honor to serve her.

I love feet shots!

(I did not get in a photoshoot for our family yet this year, despite several mental plans to do so. I also did not get a newsletter written, or Christmas cards out. There's still time to get happy wishes out for the New Year, and I'm aiming for that. Loosely.) 

Christmastide. The time from Christmas Eve until after New Year's Day. This week, now, a much needed step back from the busy. Building in quiet, to reflect upon the past year, to face the past and call it by its name to face the present and future, to consider the new year and ask what I want of it, and what God wants of me. Taking a mini retreat to refresh, and restore.

Shane is on a second day sick. I joked with him that he looked like the crazy emoji that has one eye open, one blinked, and tongue hanging out. Except the open eye is bloodshot red and oozing. It's kinda creeping me out. He got a good hot lunch today, a hot fire and hopefully some good rest.

I'm so thankful for friends and family who come by here IRL and URL. You make our lives full of color and love. So grateful for all you dear people.

Now, back to work. Looking ahead to a new year in 66 Books, a new schedule for the video team, and getting back on track to routines.

Monday, December 26, 2016

And still counting (9823-9868)

my Christmas miracle
the scarf my dad crocheted in the Tunisian pattern

a crochet date on the calendar of the new year

a mug of hot cocoa with him
and groceries to give him on his way out
his blue eyes
his weathered and old hands
hugs with Linda

baskets delivered
my church
a January line up on the blog
a ninth year through the Bible
knitting hats with Erin

creamy, sweet coffee
familiar roads
a tea party with a new friend
turned play date in the basement
green gifts for the neighbors

Advent readings on the couch with Erin
Lanie's hugs throughout the day
coffee in a mug
Jeneane's spread of cookies on the kitchen island
that she is a sister in Christ

cinnamon flavored coffee
a foggy Christmas Eve
familiar faces of team at church
a sense of belonging
oatmeal raisin cookies

the glow of Christmas lights
clean clothes
a full fridge

good neighbors
the gorgeous blankets my dad made
socks on my feet
sweet gifts
good sleep

a feast for four
a chat with Tracey
unexpected gifts
packages that still require some assembly

this house full of love
the difference here makes

Christmas Eve book opening

goofing around

THIS GUY! Direction reader, gift assembler, heart throb--those readers! Swoon.

We made a feast for four in the dining room.

My big girl who wanted to selfie with mama. Not saying no to that. I love her!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Day story


Outside my window, a Christmas Eve fog is settled over the yard, wrapping around the trees, lifting up the captain's bell. A soft patter of rain. A sleepy world.

Giving thanks for this season. It's been a blur since Thanksgiving ... Jane's death ... Erin's 10th birthday ... Christmas prep at home and for the video team ... schooling ... a next year focus on 66 Books ... a busy rush and it went too fast. But thinking long on family gathered together, and cinnamon scented pine cones, of twinkling Christmas lights, Christmas music and movies, great reads and holiday performances (we saw A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker). Counting blessings and sipping away at Comfort and Joy tea, the crackle of fires heating the home, my husband's arms, this time with my kids.

In the school room, we've been reading an advent story, knitting hats by the fire. December took us with a whoosh and rush. Determined that post-Christmas we'll schedule in plenty of quiet and focus.

From the kitchen, last Tuesday a December tea with a very special guest and her mother. What a precious privilege to host them! Cinnamon orange tea, cinnamon sugar donuts, chocolate donuts, peanut butter blossoms and pecan pie bars. There were clementines too. No holiday cookie baking here this year for neighbors or friends. We purchased ferns and Christmas cacti (I had to Google that), and Lanie and I went local to deliver the festive fronds. (I kept some for myself as well. Cindy was big on gardening and plants. I remember she came over here one time and commented on my lack of plants in the house--as in not one. In that time, it was enough to manage what I had to manage, but this year, I admired these plants so much that I built room for a few in our home. Plants are good for the heart.)

I don't want to forget this time with my dad. I thought for sure I wouldn't get to see him before year's end because of inclement weather and ice on his driveway. I wept for days. He surprised me with a visit last Wednesday at the house. He showed me the scarves he had made and I admired his work--the Tunisian crochet stitch (lovely!). I even talked him into giving me a scarf. I have ordered a 14" Afghan J hook so that he can come by soon and teach me the stitch. I don't want to forget the look on his face when I packed him up with oats, butter, raisins and clementines so he could skip the trip to the store. I don't want to forget his excited emails as he also anticipates seeing us again to crochet together. I don't want to forget the look of his hands as he showed me the stitch. Oh, his slow shuffle as he walked into my house. His hearing aids. His softened voice. His catching breath. I love my dad. This visit, a Christmas prayer answered.

I am reading a few over break. I promised Lanie I would read The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester. Also reading Christie Purifoy's book Roots and Sky, and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. On last pages of Bartholomew's Passage by Arnold Ytreeide and Christmas Remembered by Tomie DePaola.

I am hearing the tumbling hum of the dryer. I am so thankful for working appliances. Clean dishes and clothes. Heat in the house. A full fridge. I am thankful for comfortable, meaningful, familiar things, and the people I get to enjoy this life with.

Around the house, a sleep-in morning (bet that won't be the case tomorrow!). Tidying up for rest this week. So much busy, that I just want to bake a batch of cookies for my kids. Enjoy the delicious scent of a fire. Snuggle under a blanket. Read. Knit. Study. There's no place like home.

A view of my favorite things
hound dog by the fire on her new bed

Erin's sweet friend--instant besties

confetti balloons because double digits

family field trip

ballet with dear friends

Christmas break play dates

peanut butter blossoms and chocolate kisses

these ferns--frosty leaf lovelies

a season of advent mystery and delight

kitchen help for mini donuts

table for five--tea party Tuesday

the scarf my dad crocheted from his odds and ends yarns--a perpetual hug

At the table, tonight's Christmas Eve nachos--a favorite. Erin requested a feast this year for Christmas day, so I hope to decorate the home and table with festivity and beauty. I bought a duck to cook because it seemed so exotic compared to our typical chicken or beef dinners. I think on the fullness of beauty we saw in ballet and theater, the music and decorations these weeks, and a feast seems like such a decadent end to a season and year. A celebration. Christ came to save the world (!) because we're all a hot mess. #truth

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.


Monday, December 19, 2016

And still counting (9783-9822)

evanlaar's yes to 2017
a skate night for Erin and friends
sitting with Becky

heat from the woodstoves
pinks in the sunrise
home, sweet home
good words for the new year
cards in the mail from people we love

the video team people
hot oatmeal in a mug
a new tea
Anita and David
Dad and Linda

his day off
shampoo on sale
a break from classes
Comfort and Joy tea in a mug

a holiday performance of a favorite read
a family outing

lasagna for dinner
the sound of ice raining
as I'm covered and warm in bed

opportunity to pray into someone's darkness
book reads (and reads to be) with friends
the gift Zoe gave me
a carpool load of kids
Lake and Lodge coffee pods

Ceal's hugs
The Nutcracker
Kathy's hug

seats with friends
snow on stage
peanut butter blossoms
a pretty dress for Erin on her birthday
Marshall's mom

Neil's yes
the precious privilege to enter someone's grief

Friday, December 16, 2016

The end

This year has had enough ends. From our cat dying, deciding not to return to co-op, a friend dying, a silent slipping away on a last day of a place I gave my heart ... I think about ends. I think about friendship ends, and moving-away ends, and out-of-sight-out-of-mind ends, and family ends--like when we lost Grandma Jane, or that glance across the table at my dad, that kiss goodbye on his cheek as he left Thanksgiving day; I shushed the voice that questioned in my heart, "Is this our last? Can this hold me through the years without him?" Even David and I saw our end as dementia tightened its grip on him.

The ends.

As ridiculous as it seems, sometimes I don't want to finish a book because I don't want it to end. Friday night, I wrapped up our reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I fell in love with his language, his imagery, his message. I loved his darkness and his contrasts. Several times in the reading aloud I pushed through tears, like when Marley came to warn Scrooge, and not his warning about the three ghosts to come, but his warning to NOT WASTE LIFE! Or when my breath caught as Scrooge sat in brief, piercing reflection of the carolers he had passed by, or considered his own inability to reward one with a smile or kindness--something so easy and free. This cold, lonely man who seemed beyond redemption's reach, but whose heart was touched and warmed and changed.

Isn't that a real message? Don't waste your life! Don't harden your heart! Christmas redemption can change a life and the lives after that. So getting to the last page, I steadied my voice as I read one of my favorite books this year, if not of all time. The period ahead, that last period, and the white space beyond The End.

"... and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!" Stave 5, A Christmas Carol

I closed the pages of a last literature reading for the calendar year, a year that started in January ancients at co-op and ended in December Christmas at home, by a fire, on the couch, with Erin.

This book! And the illustrations by P.J. Lynch, love!

There's no place like home.

We went on a family field trip today to see a performance of A Christmas Carol. Walking into the venue, we joined a stream of school students and were ushered along like part of the group. But Shane had a stop to make, and I noticed off to the side there was a woman checking tickets. I took ours to her and she scanned them.

"What school are you with?" she asked.

"We aren't with a school," I answered. She looked puzzled and lost and not sure what to do with us, at first, until I added, "We homeschool."

"Oh! Then go through those doors and someone will direct you," she said.

And we went through the doors and were taken to quite possibly the best seats there. (Thanks, God!) Love.
before the show and before all my tears
The second the opening lines began, tears streamed down my face. For nearly the whole performance. Even talking to Shane later of a scene, I started to cry, and he looked at me like I'd lost my mind. This season, tenderhearted.

In many years past, we'd drive to the city and sit in on a holiday performance at the orchestra. Last year, I felt like it was an end of a time. But ends are tender transitions to new beginnings. And this year, a fabulous production and the four of us.

Considering community in these last weeks of 2016, with a 2017 word waiting for the clock's strike to usher in the new of a new year.

God bless us. Every one.

Monday, December 12, 2016

And still counting (9748-9782)

coffee with Becky
phone chats with Christy
heat from the fireplace--so good!

a mouse sighting, capture and release
morning texts with Ivette
good neighbors
a friend in Ann
peppermint cocoa at Trader Joe's

read alouds
hugs with Lanie
blankets in the house
peppermint milkshakes at CFA

Christmas trees strapped down on car tops
catching a stranger's eye and exchanging smiles
weekend reds
a table wrapped up as if it were a gift
catching up with a neighbor

yard ornaments (a neighbor's!)
a movie (A Christmas Carol) of a fast favorite read 
Christmas music in the house

that man of mine
little cocoa mugs
Jeneane's Christmas tree photos
a cross on the corner
the poetic prose of Charles Dickens

two cakes in the oven
a hug with Casi
candy canes
her happy birthday
her joyful, enthusiastic heart

she loved all the balloons

Happy 10th, Erin!

a store with gluten-free pizzas!
this girl--bestie

Monday, December 5, 2016

And still counting (9727-9747)

family together
hugs and love
somber awareness
the welcome embrace of home

a bow for Jane
beautiful skies
advent mystery
Fridays with Julie
a Saturday word

and the repetitious confirmation
Becky P
Dave L

Charles Dickens
the art teacher
a duck
Erin's request for a Christmas feast

his red, plaid, wool jacket
a coffee date