4 November

Another phone post tonight after a day that was just one of those days. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good, it was just kind of indifferent. I was sore, John was cranky, the children spent time cleaning their rooms and playing independently of each other, my husband touched up some paint and worked on installing baseboards. The weather was cold but not particularly noteworthy. Later I taught lessons which wasn't fun considering cello is an instrument that is played seated and sitting is a "pain" for me right now.

Anyway, after all that, I went to make this post and was thinking, "What will I write about?" Four days into the month and I'm already a bit unprepared. Well, not totally, I just don't have photos ready to go. And then these words of Blessed John Paul II, in his Letter to Artists, came to my mind: "All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece."

As a musician, decent amateur photographer, and dollmaker, I do consider myself an artist. But even when we are not artists, or just don't feel like it, or a particular day didn't seem to offer any inspiration at all, we are still crafting our lives. I know I've written about this some time ago, somewhere, but I can't find it right now and can't add links from the phone app anyway. But it's something I've thought about a lot over these last 11 years of spending most of my time raising my children. Crafting our home, making mindful decisions in my parenting, all of this is part if crafting this life. I'm not at all sure I've reached "masterpiece" level yet, but I'm certainly trying.

I firmly believe that being conscious of how we live, having the goal of a life lived as a masterpiece to strive for, is a very beautiful and worthy endeavor.

Here's to another day spent working on that masterpiece.

4 November

5 October



After my most recent post, one of my long-time readers commented that she sensed things were pretty "full-on" for me right now. She went on to say, "Whatever struggles you are feeling I'm always so moved that you are able to frame things through beauty's lens." This comment was so moving to me. Over the nearly seven years I've been writing here, that's been my goal. I have had a lot of struggles over these seven years, along with a lot of ordinary days, and plenty of joys, too. But my goal has always been to infuse things here, and in my real life, with some beauty and grace. (Sometimes easier said than done.)

In the last six months, things have been more stressful than they ever have been. First with my husband's (now ongoing) unemployment, and the events of baby John's birth. For the most part, I stay pretty upbeat. Only a very few people -- my sister, my husband, and actually my biblical school teacher (and now, you all, ha!) -- really get to know the full extent of my fear and worry and stress. (Note: if you know me in real life, I'm still not likely to open up a lot about this. Since you know me, you know I keep things pretty close.)

At my class this week, my teacher this year handed back our year-end exams from last year. I'm in my fourth and final year of my program, and my class had the pleasure of having the same teacher for second and third year. Over those two years, I became pretty comfortable with being honest in the reflections that were part of our weekly homework. Over that time, I was able to express some things in writing to my teacher that I wouldn't ordinarily express. When I looked at the comments my teacher had written on the back of my exam, this is what I saw:


So fitting, right? I've heard it said that what we are named is our vocation (this is one reason I name my children very carefully), and I guess I shouldn't be surprised that mine would be! Sometimes I can be too caught up in being sensible and reasonable, and can forget that everything -- hardships, ease, life itself -- is by the grace of God. So, all that to say, yes, I've been struggling, and yes, I have, and will continue to, try to infuse this time with beauty and grace as much or more than any other.

Fast forward to last week when I was asked to participate in the blog tour for Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Although this book was co-written by my friend Elizabeth, it's new to me. (It's just been re-released.) It's a wonderful book of simple devotions, organized by the days of the year. It's just what I needed.

small steps

The month of May has reflections on the theme of grace, and I was asked to use one of these as part of my post today (again, so fitting).

Think: "Think of what is above, not of what is on earth."
 - Colossians 3:2

Pray: I am weak, Lord. I am stubborn, impatient, selfish, and vain. Pour forth your grace to relieve me of my weaknesses. Help me grow strong in virtue.

Act: Think of at least one small flaw in your personality that you tend to make excuses for ("Oh, I've never been a patient person!"), and resolve to work on it with God's help. Decide on a consequence for weakness (doing some small job for each infraction, for example), and then follow through with it.


Sometimes I'm all too aware of my faults and do nothing about them. And often, something very small and very concrete like this is just what I need when things have been tough.

I've been so happy to have the chance to be a part of this blog tour and to discover a book that will be a source of blessing and grace for me. I'm also very happy to say that I have the opportunity to introduce this book to one of you, as well -- I have an extra copy from the publisher for one of you! Please leave a comment for an opportunity to win!


(If you'd like an opportunity to win a complete set of CatholicMom.com books, be sure to check out the "Five Minutes Alone" contest.)

6 August


I usually hate August. I mean, I didn't start out having such a strong opinion of it. Way back, almost 15 years ago, when my husband and I got engaged, we chose an August wedding date.

Last year I wrote a post about August that I never published due to the intense lethargy I was experiencing (I seem to do that often in August). I'm going to share most of it below, in italics. 

This August is starting out a little different. A little bit outside of time, with a newborn. And of course, there's no return to work after a summer off for my husband. He's here most of the time right now. I never knew I'd be saying that unemployment was a mixed blessing. 

He's going back to school in a few weeks, to learn new skills and start a new career. It's overwhelming and scary and exciting and sad all at the same time. (This is a man with a doctorate in a field that he can't find work in, afterall.) As I say below, this time will pass, and things will be new. There is always hope: hope that September will come, that new opportunities will present themselves, that there is goodness and kindness in this world. And by hope, I don't mean empty optimism. I mean real hope, confidence that despite bad days and hardship, the end of the story is a good one. 

{Photos in this post are all from this year, not last year.}




swimming lesson


The other day, I saw a comment somewhere that read, simply, "I love August." It was in reference to the garden harvest this time of year. But reading it made me realize something: I hate August. Seeing someone profess their love for the month gave me the permission to admit my hate for it. It was freeing.

It wasn't always the case. It used to just be one of those summer months. Summer not being my favorite season, but special and delightful in many ways. There didn't seem to be anything remarkable about August, one way or another. We chose to have our wedding in August almost as an afterthought. I wanted it to be in June but thought it might be cliche. So we sort of randomly picked another summer date. Now I kind of wish we'd gone with "cliche" June.

August for me now carries all kinds of weird feelings. The heat is sweltering, the landscape dry. School starts too soon. The transition of my husband being suddenly gone for 14 hours a day, usually six days a week, is harsh and callous. To say I make this transition poorly would be a laughable understatement.

Years ago, shortly after I'd begun blogging here, February rolled around and lots of people started complaining about how hard February was, how unjust that the shortest month should feel so long. At first, I tried to play along like I "got" this. But really, I didn't. I don't hate February. I never did. Actually, I love February. 

But, as it turns out, I do hate August. It comes roaring at me, like a crazy locomotive, each year at a faster and more intense pace. I find myself being short with my children, resentful of my poor husband (whose transition to back-to-school is already chaotic enough), grumpy, bitter, and listless. For years, when I used to keep this blog up more than I do now, I'd suddenly take weeks off during August, unannounced. I'd retreat from friends, fight with my sister, hurt my mom's feelings. 

What am I going to do about it? I don't know. It doesn't seem as simple as just coming up with a formula. I think it's something I need to reflect on, and gradually turn over, like soil. 

I will tell you that I've been trying this year. One day when my kids seemed to be possessed, and I seemed to be possessed (fights, scolding, fights, scolding), I decided to break the cycle by taking them to the movies. I have never taken my own children to the movies before. So we went to see "Brave". Another day, I surprised them with little Lego sets. 

I've been trying to keep fresh flowers in the house. I've been going easy on dinners. Salad has been popular, and hot dogs. I've been reading to them a lot. I've been trying to say "yes" whenever I can. 

James starts soccer next week. Elisabeth starts a new year-round swim team soon after. The heat of August will pass, September will come. I know this.

I still hate August. But these little things helped. They reminded me, it's not all bad.

23 July





from our tree

sweater sleeves




before dusk

right foot

left foot



Some pictures from the last couple of weeks. 

I want to thank everyone who left such kind comments and sent loving and sweet notes about the arrival of baby John. We are slowly getting settled. Baby John (what we all seem to call him, like one word) likes to stay awake for long periods of time and just nurse. Right now, that means I'm not getting much else done but that's OK. My job right now is really caring for baby John: "keeping him alive," my husband jokes. He's a healthy babe and everyone is smitten, of course. 

Today he is a month old, which of course I can't believe -- but then, I can at the same time.

I'm doing better each day. My c-section recovery has been smooth, though of course I'm not back to "normal" yet. (But I have stopped googling things like "how long does c-section pain last?".) I've been thinking a lot about my experience. I think I had both an advantage and a disadvantage going into my c-section because of my other three unmedicated, midwife-attended births. Because of them, I don't have the feelings of failure or regret that I know some c-section moms experience, not knowing if things could have gone differently ("if only...."). I knew it was so necessary, and I really felt no fear or anxiety about it. 10 days ago I had an incision check with the OB who did my surgery and she said she really admired my composure and grace that morning, faced with a surgical birth that I hadn't expected to have.

On the other hand, because of my three previous births, I do know what I missed, and of course there's disappointment there. It's been hard to express that, and I haven't really wanted to discuss it too much with very many people. I'm pretty private, which may seem surprising since I write in so public a space, but I usually keep my most personal feelings pretty close to my heart and only feel comfortable discussing them with my husband, sister, and a couple of my closest friends. I think sometimes people think I'm distant because of this, but I have learned that I need space during times of stress or transition. Really, I'm pretty at peace with my experience, but I do have a little bit of sorrow, too -- I think just because things went a way I never expected, and thinking about my uterus being cut open kind of makes me sad, especially with my background of natural births. But overall, I do have a lot of acceptance and I think over time the sorrow will fade.

Those of you who have been with me for a long time know that I originally started writing here, almost seven years ago, when I had severe postpartum depression. I began writing and taking photos as an outlet, hoping that it would be useful to my recovery process (it was, I think). Several years later, when Fiona was born, I was acutely aware of the possibility of having PPD again. My dear friend Kyrie and I even started a blog specifically about our experiences as PPD survivors with new babies. Things were much better for me after Fiona's birth and despite some blue moments, it went pretty well. This time, because of all the disruption that we experienced, I know that I'm at a greater risk for PPD again, and I'm trying to be very aware of it. One thing you hear people say again and again about PPD is that no one talks about it. My observation is that people do talk about it, but unless you've experienced it, it's easy to sort of gloss over that ("Oh, that sounds tough," and then move on). When you are on the other side, facing emotions and even physical symptoms that you never could have imagined, you wonder, Am I the only one? 

Anyway, I'm once again trying to focus on good self care, and a lot of awareness. Though you probably can't always prevent PPD, I do think that self-care is vital, and being very aware can help you catch it much sooner. I'm optimistic, because of the amount of help I've had after this delivery -- particularly with my husband being home right now, and my sister having been very supportive and available, and because I have a number of close friends in the local birth and breastfeeding communities -- that the mostly steady place I'm in right now will continue.

Thank you to all of you who continue to visit me in this space. Your presence and support continues to be a gift!

20 May

buds in snow

Hi friends. Many of you have, by now, heard our bad news via the Uncommon Grace Facebook page. My husband learned in March that his contract at his current job would not be renewed for next year. Almost right away, another opportunity fell into his lap. It was a seven-week interview process in a new career field. We felt optimistic and hopeful the whole time. He breezed through the entire interview process until the very last step. We still don't know what happened, but it was not to be. Since then, the reality of the situation -- of facing unemployment while preparing for the birth of our fourth baby -- has hit us hard, and we are reeling. 

plum blossoms, in april

Everyone says these things ultimately work out. To keep our faith. We've been inundated with career tips, some helpful and some less so. He's looking at different options, applying for what little is out there in teaching (so very little), researching alternatives. I'm trying to think of things I can do -- with a newborn and three homeschooled kids. An overwhelming prospect. (Perhaps something online. Probably not anything craft-related.)

I know, at the end of the day, we will be "OK", although I'll admit that some days, I don't exactly know what "OK" even means. Sometimes I feel a sense of peace (like right now, which is why I'm even able to write today), and sometimes I am struck with such overwhelming anxiety that I feel absolutely paralyzed. 

plum blossoms, in april

My husband has had a long road of career disappointment. He seems to be one of those honest, hard-working people who never "catches a break". The proverbial hamster wheel, I guess. It's hard to see how some people seem to have success thrown at them while others work hard their whole lives only to face disappointment again and again. 

The pictures are of our plum tree, last month. The blossoms were destroyed by snow a few days later. This week, our cherry trees finally bloomed. I meant to go out and take some pictures of them, but looking out the window right now I see that they have all faded. They're so ethereal, like anything in life, I suppose. Things come and go, opportunities appear and fade, and we just have this one life. It's all so big and important, and never easy. 

Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers!

10 December

not a single snowflake

Yesterday we watched the sky expectantly, waiting and hoping for the promised snow to appear. My husband's evening gig was canceled early in the day in anticipation of the storm. But it never materialized. All of the waiting, expecting, and hoping amounted to nothing in the end.

As the day progressed, we were all feeling crabby and out of sorts. The lovely snowy afternoon spent putting up some of our decorations, listening to music, and drinking hot cocoa that I had been envisioning all week didn't happen. My husband took a nap, the children were otherwise occupied, and I was left thinking about my own expectations. 

I was thinking about the things I do, the things we do in our family, during this season, and asking myself (in a moment of self pity) why we(I) even bother. I sullenly thought, "I'm the one doing all the work and I'm the only one who seems to care, anyway." And then, just as quickly, I realized that I do all of this for the same reason I do anything for my family. So that they will have a foundation when they are no longer in my nest. A foundation of faith, a foundation of family, a foundation of celebration, a foundation of seasonal rhythm and observance. 

advent candle

When I think about the human beings I hope that my children will be, and I consider the things I can do to help them grow into those people, it can seem remarkably intangible and definitely overwhelming. I realize I've opened the door onto a very big subject, one that I can't fully tackle here in this post. But I think the lesson from yesterday for me is that even the rituals that can sometimes feel like a lot of effort, when carefully and thoughtfully put into place, really make a huge difference, whether it seems obvious at the time or not. 

advent weeks 1 & 2

In the end, we did all sit down to a supper of waffles, whipped cream, and fruit. We prayed together around our Advent wreath. The things that really mattered were there. Things are not always idyllic around here, and I do have to adjust my expectations. But I feel that the framework is here, and my family are all working and growing and thriving within it. 

15 November

Today was a gorgeous sunny day. I did spend a lot of it feeling chilled, though, after sitting under air conditioning (on a 40-degree November day?!) during my class this morning.

I'm trying hard to finish these two sweaters in the next week. It was also my goal to get some long-finished knits photographed and posted here this month. I'll try to start on that for Monday!

In general, I don't like how hectic this month has been feeling. I really need to find some balance. It's not even the kids' activities—swim team is less than 10 minutes from our house, soccer has ended, and piano is only once a week. It's other, random stuff that keeps popping onto my to-do list and it needs to be pared down. I don't like spending more time out of the home than in it. So, balance, balance. How to achieve it? I have a feeling that the type of quiet, home peace that I'm seeking may be, in some ways, a thing of the past as our family grows into this next stage of activity. I know we'll never again be solidly in the days of little ones, when things were much simpler and sweeter. But I do think that my setting boundaries on the amount of activity and flurry is good for everyone, even of we can never recapture those slow days.

15 November

5 September

I wrote a post a couple weeks ago about August, how hard it is for me, how I finally realized that I just hate it. I didn't end up posting it because I was feeling too sorry for myself about it being August in the first place. But can I just say right now, August is over! And I couldn't be happier. Just turning the page on the calendar was a relief to me. And the weather, while still hot, is not as unbearable. And we're finding our rhythm a little bit again.

I can never not live in the West.

On the subject of family rhythm, some things have changed for us there. Long ago, two houses ago, before Fiona was even a dream, I wrote about our bedtime rhythm. I believed strongly then, as I do now, that chronic sleep deprivation in children is a real problem in the world these days. At that time, when I had two small children, very few classes and activities to take them to, and a husband who worked a lot (but not as much as now), I felt like putting them to bed early was vitally important to both their health and my sanity. 

Today, things look a little different. James is now older than Elisabeth was then, and in addition to her music lessons and occasional classes, we've added year-round competitive swim team to the mix for her, as well as soccer for him. I am right there with all the parents and "experts" who bemoan the loss of childhood and the overscheduled child of today. And (even bigger for me), I am really selfish and protective of own time. I'll gladly fill up a day spontaneously but I dread having things that I "have" to do. 

But it (finally!) occurred to me that, as homeschoolers, we are not locked into any schedule in the same way that families who go to school are. I realized, in a very freeing way, that it's OK for us to have a later dinner, and a later bedtime, if my children don't have to wake up at 6:30 in order to catch a school bus. So now we are eating dinner at around 7pm and the kids are asleep at about 9:00. This would have been a blasphemy to my old way of thinking, but these days, I'm grateful to have shaken away that more dogmatic perspective. I think it's so easy as parents to perceive one "way" as being "virtuous" and anything different to be "wrong". I've certainly done that about a lot of things, and I'm sure I continue to do so in more ways than I even realize. 

I think as mothers, too often we find ourselves in the trap of comparing ourselves, our families, to others. But why do we do this to ourselves? It's true that comparison is the quickest way to fall short. We all know that, I think, but it's so easy to think that someone else must have it "right". In the end, we have to remember that we only have to do what's right for our own families, and that might be really different than what another family needs, for so many factors: time, schedules, biorhythms, temperaments. We all need to seek a place of balance, and that's hard to do, but it's freeing, too. Instead of comparing, and fretting over whether we are doing something right, we can find that place of balance for our own families. And that's where the peaceful, joyful, felicitous family moments reside, rather than a place of anxiety.

I feel like we are at the point where we can say "yes" to more afternoon activities because we aren't locked into a daytime schedule. As I type this, it's just past lunchtime, and my kids are all playing outside, enjoying unstructured, happy childhood time. Since they get that time during the day, I am branching out, in a way that feels a little bit new to me, to letting them do more things outside the home. And I'm so glad I am. They seem happy and balanced and relaxed. It's been a good thing for us.

So it begins. That's James on the far left (red t-shirt).

{Also. The pictures here (sorry, more phone pictures -- I really am hoping to get back to my "real" camera!) were taken last week at James's first-ever soccer practice. I never set out to do the whole soccer thing. But oh, man, I really like it! He is so into it, so excited, and I'm amazed by how much I enjoy sitting there at the field during his practices. So, yeah, I guess I'm a soccer mom now.}

I want to talk about towels





I haven't been here in ages. I could talk about the progress on our house, or about the scorching heat followed by fantastic rain last week (followed by more heat), or about swimming and other summer niceties, or about the nasty summer colds four out of five members of our house currently have, or the fact that my husband is out of town and starts work on Monday (8-hour-a-day band camp until school starts in August, which really won't be eight hours a day because of set-up, clean-up, drive time, questions, paperwork, phone calls....), and how we've discussed before that his return to work at the end of the summer (now so much earlier due to marching band and an earlier start date at his new school) gets me down every year. 

But I really want to talk about towels. I don't know why, but I just want to.

I think proper beach towels are an absolutely necessary part of life. Maybe it's because we always had separate towels for swimming when I was growing up. But I really think they're a vital necessity.

My mom gave me a cooler, reusable picnic placesettings for four, some crystal candlesticks, and four beach towels for my bridal shower gift. It was actually a fantastic, creative, and useful gift (even though I hadn't registered for any of it -- bridal registries are another topic I can [and have] go on and on about, but I digress).

Two of the towels were ordinary large beach towels and two were super giant beach towels, like blankets, almost. We still use all of them. For a while, after we had kids, the big ones were Mama and Daddy's towels and the ordinary (but still big) beach towels were Elisabeth's (then Elisabeth and James's). Four years ago, we forgot to bring our beach towels with us on a trip, so my husband ran into Target and picked up four more. They must've been an anomaly because I have never before or since seen such large, heavyweight beach towels at Target. Since he got two identical blue ones and two identical green ones, they transitioned into our swimming lesson towels for the next few years, which were the key years in developing my obsessive swimming bag ritual. The kids would use two matching green towels one day, and two matching blue towels the next, all summer, ad nauseum. I washed the towels every night and folded them, ready for the alternating days. 


Last year, we lost one of these towels and Fiona really needed to be worked into the mix, anyway, so I bought six great big beach towels on sale from Lands' End (which really has excellent sales, by the way. I have gotten $15 coats there, too, that would normally be five times that price). I still continue with the same ritual, with the older towels being used for Mama and Daddy, or for extras at swim meets.

Why did I feel like telling you all of this? Why did the silly details of my obsession with beach towels need to be my first post after such a long break?

Maybe it's because controlling the swimming bag, and keeping the towels completely orderly, is my way of having control amidst the chaos of summer, when everyone and everything seems to be exploding every which way, and which seems particularly important this summer, when we've gone through a lot of transition and haven't really settled into our new home.


Maybe it's because, like everybody, I want to be known and understood, and this crazy little habit of mine is a way for me to tell you something about me, about the quirky things that matter to me, in their small way.

And maybe it's because, like I wrote almost three years ago, this towel ritual of mine is love. It's one of the many small ways that I love my family. I feel like it's important to say that it's not just a way that I show my love to them, as if love is some intangible concept that requires a kind of external scaffold to make it present. I don't believe that, because I think love is an action. It's something we do. It's something we choose. We love our families, in all the ways we can, the best we can, for as long as we can. We mess up. We leave the dishes in the sink too long, we lose our temper over something stupid, we forget their piano lesson. But we keep on loving them, in all the small ways that are our ways.

Also, my family isn't even aware of my towel ritual, except in some peripheral way, because they always have towels in the bag. It's not like, "Thanks, Mama! Now I can see your love for me because you made sure there were towels in the bag!" This work and love of mothering goes unseen and unrecognized. Almost always by our children, and sometimes even by our spouses. There are so many days, my friends, when I would so love a gold star at the end of the day -- either because it was a really good day, or a really bad one. I would love some acknowledgement and appreciation. As I know would you. Sometimes, every once in a while, I get that. But mostly, I don't. Mostly, I keep on loving my family in my small ways, hoping that it's enough, that I'm enough, that it will all add up to something beautiful in the end. 

I want you to know, you who are reading this right now, that your quiet and hard work is something beautiful. That your silly little love rituals, whatever they are, are enough. That pleasure you take in them, the ways you love your family, the hardness of the everyday, these things matter. And they do add up to something extraordinary. No matter how flawed you are -- as a human being, as a parent -- what you are doing is valuable. 

And that's why I wanted to talk about towels today.

21 April

Oh, my poor little neglected blog. I have a milestone birthday to write about, and will, but for now at least wanted to pop in and let you all know how I'm doing. 

In the last 5 weeks, I've had three visits to the hospital and two surgeries for my kidney stone. It doesn't seem like a kidney stone should be that dramatic, but this one apparently was. There was a slight complication with my second surgery and I'm still not feeling that great. Hopefully by the end of next week, when I get my stent out, things should start to look up.

with lucy



Also, we lost our Lucy-dog on March 24. The grief I've experienced has been beyond words. In fact, I find myself speechless, even 4 weeks later, about what or how to express it. She was the most faithful, gentle dog, and it just makes my heart ache to think about her.

Finally, it looks like we are moving at the end of May! Such a bundle of mixed emotions there for me, too. I'm so excited about our new house, the potential there, about having a place of our own again after renting for the last 8 years. But it's always bittersweet to leave behind a place where you've lived and celebrated and struggled and just known so well for a long time. I love our current home's open floorplan, its ample storage (so many cabinets and cupboards all over this house), its huge yard, its old, tall, tall trees, and the wide open feel of the neighborhood (made possible by wide streets, large lots, and only one-story houses). I will also miss its convenient proximity to highways.

I will not miss having only two bedrooms for our entire family of five. I will not miss having no fireplace, the basement that floods when it rains, the tiny dining area, paying rent, a cantankerous property manager.

I'm scared and excited and nervous. And I can't wait to share our new space with you!

In the meantime, there is a 10-year-old in my house (?!), there's a bit more recovery for me, oh-so-many plans, and packing, and summer dreaming to do!

See you soon, friends.

31 December

Here we are, right at the end of one year, waiting to ring in the new. I am, as always at this time of year, full of so many things I could tell you, I should tell you, I would tell you if things weren't moving forward into the new and out of the old so quickly.

I could tell you about the end of our Advent season, special new traditions, successful craft projects, and our Christmas celebration, as well the celebrating we're still doing here in a quiet way even as everyone else is winding down. I should tell you about the few handmade gifts I managed to make, the many I didn't, the things I still hope to complete in the next week. I would tell you about a second tooth lost on Christmas Eve, a 15th tooth lost on New Year's Eve, and a final farewell to diapers in between. 

So many things I always want to get to on this blog in this last week of December, that I never seem to be able to. 

finishing out 2011

the end of 2011

Because really, I'm here, quietly knitting on the couch. Playing game after came from that tall stack -- some new, some old. Gazing at the tree, cuddled under blankets, not going anywhere if I don't have to. Except to bundle up into the car to look at Christmas lights -- just one more time, and again one more time. We're still listening to the Chrismtas music; we're still singing it in church on Sundays, too, and will be for two more Sundays. And I'm so thankful for that, because I don't want to say goodbye to this time of year. In the end, it's so much preparation, both the intentional keeping of Advent, and the work to be ready to celebrate Christmas for two short weeks. Two weeks, outside of time, where only joy and gratitude exist. We wait for -- long for -- this time all year; for me as a Christian, this seems to parallel the waiting and longing we have for the real joy that Christ, in an infinitely mysterious way, brings with his humble stable birth so long ago.

the way 2011 is ending

Anyway, I'm wishing you, my dear friends, the most joyous, prosperous, blessed 2012. We'll have so much to talk about in this coming year -- about life, craft, art, and whatever else comes along. Thank you for being here with me this year, I can't wait to share the next one with you!

with blessings on this eve of the new year,



8 December

Here is a post I wrote a couple of days ago and just didn't get the chance to publish, thoughts about celebrations, in honor of St. Nicholas Day. Excuse the photos. Every year, my children wake up a bit earlier than the previous year, and this year there was nearly no daylight at all. I miss the days when they woke up at 8:00(!) every day!

st nicholas1

When Elisabeth was born, we were the only people we knew who observed St. Nicholas Day, at least beyond a cursory nod and some candy in the shoes at Sunday school. So we made it our own, in a simple, special way. I've realized over time how important keeping things very, very simple is for my children, and for my own sanity. I think it's easy for parents to want to go all-out with everything, including lavish celebrations of every major and minor holiday. The risk with making every event more extraordinary than the last is, of course, burning out -- and missing the opportunity to experience something truly meaningful. 

(Although I do know several families who do the majority of their family gift-giving on St. Nicholas Day, in the European tradition, and that's not what I'm really talking about -- I mean more the pressure to make every major and minor holiday a huge production, which is exhausting and can make us feel like throwing in the towel altogether!)

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So, St. Nicholas Day doesn't have to rival Christmas in terms of gifts and traditions and amazement. You don't have to use special shoes, or fill them with lots of gifts, several varieties of fruit and nuts, and lots of different decorations. My children love the predictability of our small celebration; we've been doing it the same way all their lives and they love that. There is one gift (a new nativity-themed Christmas book) for each of them, and chocolate coins in their shoes. And there is plenty of wonder and delight and excitement and joy. 

st nicholas3

Last weekend, as our Advent stockings were getting underway and I was laying in bed with stomach flu, I was reminded again of the advice I have shared with so many other mothers: Could you do it if you were sick? If your child were sick? If you were traveling, or if you had house guests? Could you do it if you moved to another state, or another country? Would you want to?

Traditions change and evolve, and sometimes you find that they go away without much fanfare at all. Certainly the answer to each of these questions doesn't have to be "yes" before deciding to begin something new (or no one would ever begin a new tradition). But they are good things to ponder. 

I really believe that when we keep things simple, when we really get down to the heart of why we do them, then they become a part of us, not a burden. And that is exactly the kind of celebration I hope for -- for our family, for each of my children as they grow into adults, and for my own soul, too.

{This year's chocolates with their lovely religious images came from Emmanuel Books, and I plan to continue getting them there! As Molly said, they made exactly the kind of difference we hope for in this season.}

29 November

29 November1

I sat down to the computer without a single idea of what I want to write about tonight. Sometimes, that's the reality of it. We took the animals in for their shots and exams tonight, and it was expensive, and then James started throwing up. I've been feeling tired all week, and no end seems to be in sight. 

29 November2

But then I realized, all month I've been keeping track of things I'm grateful for. Here is a sampling: 

My many lovely friends, both near and far, those I know well in person and those I've never met face to face.

Just enough money to pay our bills. Just enough.


Hot showers.

The class I'm taking.

The kindness and generosity of my beautiful blog readers!


My beautiful, sweet, wild little family.

My car. (As silly a thing as that is to say, and as expensive as it feels to us right now, it's so nice to have room for all of us and all of our gear, and a bonus is to have something that doesn't feel embarrassing to be seen in!)


My mother-in-law.

Time spent with those I care about.

Lunches packed the night before.

My mom.

Being caught up.

The internet.


My husband.



That small houses are easier to clean.

Michael Jackson.


My siblings.

My across-the-street neighbor's Christmas lights that I can see from my bedroom.


My cello students.

My sewing machine.

My helpful eldest child.

My tender son.

My independent littlest one.

My life.

So much to be grateful for ... what are some of the things that make you pause to give thanks?

25 November


These few days between Thanksgiving and Advent are a somewhat odd, undefined time in my mind. It's almost as though I don't know where I am in time! Everything seems quiet, still, even autumn seems to be tiring out and ready to give in to the next season. 

I'm excited. I feel prepared, happy, busy. 

The card in the above image arrived in the mail from Amy. I don't think I know a lovelier person or better photographer. It seems cliche to say this, but so much collective attention gets paid to division, conflict, cruelty, and cultural sloth. But the mere fact that my path has crossed with Amy's tells me that there is less to worry about than the media would have us believe. There are beautiful people with creative, positive ways of looking at the world in every city in the world. 

That is a very heartening thought, indeed. I'm so grateful to know just a few of you remarkable people!

22 November


I'm about to admit something that I have a feeling may ruin my "image". That's funny to me, of course, because I am who I am, and I'm also obviously the person who crafted whatever "image" it is that I have. (Also, I am being a little bit facetious.) But here goes:

We love Michael Jackson. Our whole family, we just love him. When he died, I was shockingly depressed about it. I was also newly postpartum and fairly vulnerable, but my reaction to his death surprised even me. The week after he died, I wrote this post, and a lot of it was about my feelings about his death (also, the speeding ticket, the dawdling in the pool locker room, and the 2000 stitches per inch of work on my niece's sweater were also real anecdotes). Kyrie called it my "Michael Jackson post". 

Anyway, we love to watch Michael Jackson videos on YouTube (my kids' favorites are absolutely Smooth Criminal and Beat It, while my husband likes the album Off the Wall quite a bit), and sing and dance and generally have a lot of fun with it. 

Right now as I type this, my husband is playing Michael Jackson songs on the guitar behind me. And that is more what I wanted to write about, Michael Jackson being my long-winded introduction.

There is something intangible and kind of magical about being a musician or an artist. It's so hard to put into words, even for a person who has experienced it for many years. But there is a sort of "can-do" attitude in the fact that we can pick up instruments and learn Michael Jackson songs and play them together in an impromtu jam, or the way many of us in this (blogging) community jump in and make incredible pieces of art -- with fiber, textiles, all kinds of media! -- and the photography, too! I look at the photos on so many blogs and all over flickr and they are better than lots of "professional" photography that I've seen throughout my life. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, embrace art! Embrace being an artist! It is something you will have with you all your life, wherever life takes you. Art is one of the very few, very real legacies a person can leave behind. For me, this always seems especially clear when I hear Schubert's 4th Symphony. I don't know why, but everytime I hear this particular piece of music, composed nearly 200 years ago, I am blown away by the fact that something so "old" still has such deep resonance and relevance. So much so, that people devote their lives to developing the skill to be able to perform it. (Life as a classical musician is a bit odd in that way, because most classical musicians don't play music of their own creation, but are rather the conduits of those who have gone before. Which is amazing to me, such evidence of the true value of art!)

Whether it's Schubert, or Michael Jackson, whether it's textiles, photography, or food: remember, you are an artist. I believe that we were created to create. And that is something huge, and beautiful, indeed.

(PS: Two of my real kindred friends, Martha and Kyrie, have released an ebook of knitting patterns today! Check them out!)

19 November

Friends, friends! Another day I forgot to post until a few minutes to midnight! 


In the midst of a chaotic day, I had a moment of pause as we packed up two grocery sacks for our church's food bank. I'm glad that we have the means to help others whose need is even greater than our own. 

Tomorrow night, a real post. Before midnight. xo

12 November


{unrelated photo of Mr. Popper's Penguins}

Tonight I had the opportunity to visit with a friend I only get to see for about four hours every two years. Saying goodbye is always so hard. There's always so much more to say, especially when you share so much.

I realized afterward, while driving back home, something kind of surprising and profound. I'm 33, almost 34, and I have to say how much I really am loving my 30's. I honestly don't feel as young as I did even four or five years ago. But I realized that this is more than made up for by the fact that I know myself so much better. This is going to sound cliche, but at 10 minutes to midnight, I can't really think of a better way of saying it: I am more myself now than I have ever been. It could be that my relationship to faith has changed and deepened, especially in the last couple of years. It could be that I know my own faults and weaknesses better, which allows me to be more honest and humble. It could be that I know better what I want out of my life ... and it's not the things I thought I wanted when I was 17 or 23 or even 29. I know I'll continue to grow and change, but what I'm kind of amazed by is the fact that my focus becomes clearer, more directed, more precise as time goes by. 

I love that I know myself better now than I ever have. I love that I have people in my life who help me realize this. 

So much to be grateful for.

PS: I love to hear from you! I've been responding individually to all my comments this month ... please don't be shy! Join the conversation! xoxox

10 November


On this eve of Martinmas, the feast of the saint who cut his own cloak in two to share with a beggar, I have so much to reflect on in terms of gratitude.

Six days ago, I very shyly posted something I would normally hesitate to discuss publicly. It's maybe a bit gauche to share one's financial struggles with the world. But I had this strong feeling that I wouldn't be able to write authentically for the entire month of November if I wasn't honest about the thing that has been most on my mind lately. And I thought to myself that it was a bit of an elephant in the room, knowing that many of you must have faced (or are facing) something similar.

The response has blown me away. Your comments, your honesty, your willingness to be a little bit vulnerable. And then, in the days that followed that post, friends reached out in prayer, others sent gifts, relatives have given to us even out of their own tight budgets. I was able to get two new Lands' End coats on sale for less than $20 apiece. Another coat has been given to us. I feel like extravagant generosity has been poured out on us from every direction. 

I am standing here in awe, gratitude, and humility. I have never been so amazed or thankful. 

{Also, waffles with fruit compote are a delicious, affordable dinner, that feels like a treat to everyone.}

4 November


{unrelated photo of tea with cream! gasp! so very un-English of me, I know!}

I've been a bit gloomy (and very stressed) lately, and I have decided to talk about it. I try to be pretty honest here -- obviously, the purpose of this blog isn't complaining, so I don't write about every single bad thing that happens, but I value candor, and I know from your comments and emails that you do, too.

This fall, our family has found ourselves in the worst financial situation we've been in for many years. Right after my husband was hired for his new job, the school district made cuts to teachers' salaries. He really loves his new job, but his base salary is less than it's been in a while, and at his last job, he had a lot of little extra things that added up to a pretty decent amount of money for our little family. I am completely optimistic that things will improve somewhat drastically next fall (for a number of reasons -- some changes we can make in our insurance, the fact that my husband will be eligible for some student loan forgiveness after having taught for 5 years in low-income schools, the fact that his extra-duty band director pay will go up a bit, and hopefully the base salary, too). 

We've never been rich. We're a family of five with a public school teacher's salary. It's not the way to riches. But we've been gradually more comfortable. This fall, real worry has set in for us. I fret about things, anyway, but it's even worse when we can't buy our kids coats and don't know how we'll pay for food and gas for the month. We make just enough too much to qualify for any "help". And our parents, too, are just keeping up in this economy. 

It's a frustrating place to be, but at the same time, I know we're not alone in it. I don't have any answers. But I can tell you, we had our favorite yellow dal for dinner tonight, a meal that is cheap and so delicious. We are having friends over for dinner tomorrow and I realized I can make another Indian-inspired meal for them that will cost us next to nothing (we already had all the ingredients in our pantry and freezer except the coconut milk). 

One day at a time. This is a lesson I know I need to learn. Today we have food enough in our bellies, and gas in our car. Today we are comfortable and safe and warm. Today we have everything to be thankful for.

Somehow this verse (Luke 12:27-31) just keeps finding its way to me. These words, spoken so long ago, are exactly what is meant to be said to me, and perhaps some of you, today. I hope you find comfort and hope in them, even if this lesson is as hard for you as it is for me. 

Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.

1 September

{This was yesterday's post -- my thoughts turned toward the new beginnings of September -- but I couldn't post it yesterday because my camera software was corrupted and had to be reinstalled, and I couldn't find the disk until today!}


So, it's the first of September. I can hardly believe it! August zipped by in a flurry of chaos and adjustment, and this September promises to bring many good things. I'm thinking back to a year ago, when my husband was in the midst of the worst of his illness. We didn't know what the future would bring and I tried to distract myself from the unspeakable fear. A year later, things are so much brighter. What a difference one year can make!

morning reading

I wrote a "back to (home)school" post last week that needs some editing and tweaking before I publish it, but today I want to write a little bit about rhythm, something that I know is on the minds of many during this time of year.

roly poly

grasshopper observation

Rhythm has become a bit of a buzzword around blogworld. People talk about it and think about it a lot. For some, it's kind of become synonymous with a schedule of sorts, for others, it's a way of consciously structuring the things that repeat in their weeks -- whether the things that need to be done (errands, shopping, baking), or that they want to get done (art projects, hikes, etc.).




I wanted to propose another way of thinking about rhythm.

For me, rhythm is the way a family's days "go" at a given time in their lives. It may be quiet and inward, it may be wild and boisterous. It may be oriented toward a season or holiday, it may be free-form. But, to my way of looking at it, it's not imposed or structured, but develops organically over time, and shifts happens subtly. It's like realizing that you've fallen into step with your walking companion -- serendipitous, happy, natural. Though there have been many times where I've felt it necessary to institute a schedule to our days, it never works for the long term. I believe that's because a schedule can never take into account all the various things that really make up our family's unique rhythm.



Sometimes a rhythm is necessarily dictated by things that are scheduled, like this summer when we were swimming three hours throughout the day. But most often, for us, it's the smaller things, like the way my children are playing (together, and separately) at the moment. The things we are enjoying eating, and therefore, their preparation. The creative outlets that pull at each of us. 


I could not write down a "schedule" to what our rhythm looks like. It's not a "breakfast at 8, tidy up at 8:30, stories at 9, outside at 9:45" type of thing. And yet, we do find that there are things we do every day, in roughly the same order. And it shifts over time, with the seasons, with the things we have going on. Naps happen at roughly the same time. We all need time to read and relax and be quiet, to work on projects alone or together, to care for our home. 


This fall, we are trying something a little bit different for "schooling" than we've done in the past (more on that in my upcoming "back to (home)school" post), and I want to find a way to gently work it into our days without disrupting the good rhythmic elements that are in place already. I know that we're finding our way into a new rhythm right now, anyway, as autumn approaches (100 degrees today, but in the 70's by the weekend!), as we continue to adjust to daddy's new work schedule, as preparation for Halloween begins to be a part of our creative consciousness. So, I guess I'm not too worried about how adding some schooling back into our days will be. At first, it's going to be one of those "scheduled" things that the rest of our rhythm will move and stretch itself around. And my hope is that on the best of days, it will become part of that daily rhythm, that breath of our family's life together.


I'm very much interested in reading Amanda's new book, The Rhythm of Family, which I think must touch on what I've written here, because ever since this post nearly five years ago, I've felt that her way of looking at rhythm was similar to mine. The book hasn't found its way across my threshold yet, but it will soon, I hope. :)

I've been doing this for two weeks, and I love it. It's a way to briefly jot down my impressions of the day, without giving it too much thought, without laboring over it like a blog post, or editing what I say for others to read on Facebook or Twitter. It's just a little bit of my own memories of our days. And it even sends reminder emails, so I've not missed a single day. Such a simple way of recording these days of ours, and their unique rhythmic ebb and flow.

And finally, feeling such gratitude tonight for the health of my mother-in-law, who had a medical procedure today, for my best friend's sweet new baby boy, and for my brother, who will tie the knot on Monday! (Oh, and that my children don't have any squeamishness about insects.)

{Edited to add: I do feel that intention is so very important in family life, but I also don't believe that deciding to myself "Wouldn't it be nice if our days went like this?" and then writing it down makes it our family's rhythm. If that makes sense. This is meant to share my ideas about rhythm, not to criticize those who use the term to mean more of a schedule! In some ways, it's just semantics. Whatever you call these things, we all have both natural patterns to our days, and things that we need to schedule.}