Friday, March 27, 2015

1. What We Found While Trimming Bushes

So the eggs belong to a Mockingbird -- a trifle loud, a bit aggressive, all told not my favorite bird. But a nest and two eggs! John is thrilled.

2. And John Is Kindhearted (If a Tad Competitive)

Ainsley brought me a precious drawing with a big red heart and "I Love You" written on it. John was not to be outdone. Minutes later he handed me this:

We overlook grammatical errors when the message is this sweet.

3. Planning Your Summer Around New Years Day

When my kids were in pre-school, teachers would approach me right after Christmas wondering about our plans for the following year. Not plans for the new year that had just begun. Plans for the upcoming school year. Upcoming in nine months. I always scratched my head about this, until I tried changing schools and realized that the rest of America has next year planned before we turn the page on this year.

Well, I think I've officially joined the ranks of the pre-planners. It's still March, and our summer is scheduled. Deposits have been sent. One bathing suit has been purchased. It's all good -- swim team and family vacations, music camp and youth ministry trips. But March. Wow.

(Note to fellow swim team members: The $70 Speedo tank suits are on the sales rack for $20 right now).

4. College Tours

Tim will go on his first college tour this weekend. Gulp. Enormous gulp.

6. A Near Miss

When you spy your blonde-haired daughter with a pair of scissors and a dustpan full of flaxen locks, your heart might skip a beat (or three) When you realize it was Barbie, not Ainsley, who got a makeover, you breathe a deep sigh of relief. And then you just might stand back in amazement at how hip Barbie looks with her trendy bob.

7. John At Play

7.  My Parents Zoomed In and Zoomed Out.

A nice dinner, a few games of chess, hours and hours of Ainsley sitting next to her grandmother playing dolls, reading books, generally prattling on and on. So sweet, so very, very sweet. Ainsley went up to Oney and started kissing her arm over and over again, and my mom started to cry. There is something miraculously, beautifully healing about the love and affection of a small child.

A blessedly uneventful week. No one sick. No daunting projects. Easter break looming just ahead. It's all good.

Head over to the other Kelly's to add your Quick Takes. Kelly writes about faith, homeschooling, and raising kids with and without special needs. She's honest and funny. This is just a glimpse of what she shares.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Mundane Can Not Be Ignored

Something from the archives:

Over at In the Heart of My HomeElizabeth Foss continues to unwrap mission and motherhood and vision. Her last point is one that hits close to home with me. Of her entry into the online world, Elizabeth writes:
I watched as women built social network platforms, broadened horizons, and took full advantage of all the internet could offer to further a ministry and build community and encourage creativity and even provide some income for a family. I remembered when I made a decision to be a mother at home nearly a quarter century ago. It wasn't even a decision! I had no regret leaving the professional world behind to stay home with my baby. But this? This online world? It crept in and became big in my life before I really recognized it for what it was.

I found myself chafing. I wanted to be working on my book. Instead, I was plodding through college algebra. I wanted to be researching moving my blog to Wordpress. Instead, I was filling out the teacher, parent, and counselor portions of the Common App. I wanted to be writing a blog series on the The Mission of Motherhood. Instead, I was struggling to oversee a home renovation for which my husband had long planned. I wanted to commit to a speaking engagement. Instead, I knew that I was needed at home (and on the soccer field) because Mike would be traveling. I was frustrated.

Both in real life and in my virtual world, I see exactly what Elizabeth is talking about -- women pursuing opportunities and doing neat things. Sometimes, I admit, I chafe, too. I struggle with the fleeting thought that I've been left behind. I scratch my head, especially, at women who are younger than I am, have more children that I have, maybe they're expecting another baby, maybe on top of all that they're homeschooling and somehow, someway they manage to write books and travel to speaking engagements.

I can't seem to get the laundry done or keep the pantry filled.

And then I blink my eyes, and my priorities come back into focus. My priorities. Not theirs -- not yours. What's under my roof isn't necessarily what's under yours.

And what's under mine?

I've got a five-year-old who got off to a rocky start in kindergarten. All those pesky g's and p's and b's -- who came up with these and why do they all look alike? After a pow wow with his teacher, I fully recognized our school experience with this little guy is going to be 180 degrees different from our experiences with Tim and Kolbe.

He needs me every day.

I've got my first high schooler. He knuckles down to four and five hours of homework most nights. Now we're adding basketball to the mix.

For very different reasons, he needs me every day.

I've got a fifth-grader who faces unique challenges and who also runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle as the wheel who rarely squeaks.

He just doesn't seem to need me every day.

I've got a three-year-old who looks at me and asks, "When will I be a grown up?" I tell her, "Not anytime soon, sweetie pie." She wants to have tea parties and build tall tippy towers with her blocks, and (to the total delight of her mother) she suddenly wants to rocked to sleep at night.

She needs me every day.

Then, of course, I have a husband, a man who lays his life down for us every. single. day. A man who stays up late and gets up early, a man who painstakingly has the older boys help with every job around the house, a man who carts one of the little people every time he goes out the door.

He needs me every day.

I married relatively late in life (at 33), and I birthed Ainsley really late in life (at 45). I had Tim, my first, when many of my friends were having their last. Tim's early years were marked by hours and hours hanging out in our backyard with other moms. When this crew of little boys all went off to school, some of my friends went back to school themselves. Others resumed careers they had put on hold to raise children. As for the Dolins, well, we were just getting warmed up. The result is that most of my friends (not all) have lives that look very different from mine.

And I don't have a single regret.

I sat in bed reading Frog on a Log to John and Ainsley, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the little girl with pigtails sitting on my lap and for her rapscallion and totally charming brother curled up on my right.  John was the miracle we had pretty much given up on. And then -- boom! -- along came Ainsley. (Yes, kids, that's how it happens. Watch yourselves, now).

A bunch of my friends finished a half-marathon a week or so ago. Years ago I might have spotted the pictures on Facebook and felt a wave of envy. Look what they did! Why can't I do that? But at this stage in my life, gosh, I'm just so proud of them, thrilled with their accomplishments, happy they're out there running races and supporting one another.

This could be a sign of maturity. I could be growing in detachment. Then again, perhaps I'm just tired. I recognize that I can't juggle as well as some women. And as I approach the half-century mark, I'm (mostly) at peace with this reality.

In the very best sense of what Elizabeth captures, I realize that we are in an intense and crucial stage with our family. I need to be present. I need to put first things first. Some of these are mundane, boring tasks -- chores, really -- but for this family to grow and thrive, the mundane cannot be ignored.

This morning I washed and dried the fabric for the pajama pants Tim will be sewing in Lifeskills Class. I helped John fasten the belt he still struggles with. I made sure Kolbe had his Chapstick, and I tucked the last two of the good cookies into his lunch bag.

A thousand details go into family life.

One of the oft overlooked details is taking care of me. And I am totally with there with Elizabeth who, as an older mother, calculates how old her youngest would be if she, like Barbara, were to die at 62. A year ago I learned I have the early, early stages of the bone disease that has brought my mother so much suffering. The good news is that there is so much that I can do to keep it at bay. The bad news is that I'm doing absolutely none of it. Zip, zero, nada! First things first means taking care of the person who is taking care of everyone else.

Six years ago we received the wrenching news that our neighbor -- a 43 year-old mother of ten  -- had died in her sleep with her nursing five-month-old baby lying next to her.  We don't know how many years we'll have, but as Elizabeth wrote, "I don't want to spend those years living inside a screen, distracted, disconnected..."

And as I mull and type, mull and type, I hear the sounds of a riot breaking out just feet away. It seems John has absconded with the last plate of ribs. Note to John: Beware of Tim. You don't take food from a growing teenage boy.

I'd best go practice what I preach.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saint Patrick's Day Parade

Last year parade day was hovering around 48 degrees with a biting drizzle. This year we should have worn sun screen -- 84 and not a cloud in the sky.

Either way, lots of fun and free candy.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seven Quick Takes

1. So I'm doing Forty Bags for Forty Days. If Lent is designed to be a time of spiritual purification, it can also be a time of physical purification. Year after year, my Internet friends inspire me with their efforts to rid themselves of their physical baggage right along with their spiritual baggage. Since we've just moved, what better time to attempt the purge?  I didn't start until nearly halfway through Lent, and I'll hit forty early this week. Yay! 

2. On this subject, click over to Rachel Balducci's and check out her review of The Magical Art of Tidying.  Rachel writes:

The gist of the book is this: don’t decide what you want to get rid of. Decide what you want to keep. When you go through each space, take it all out (which is exhausting and a giant mess) but then when you put things back you really are committed to only keeping what you really want and need.

Rachel claims she was in despair over the state her closet and pantry. We have always known her to be truthful, so we will accept this in good faith. But in the many years I've known her and the many times I've been in her house, I've never actually seen evidence of this; in fact, I've never spied a single thing that wasn't tidy. Maybe she does hide things well (but very, very, very well, and, honestly, I'd like to learn her secrets.)

I read the book, and I do like the idea of keeping only what you love. The author gets a tad weird in thanking her belongings for serving her (or something like that). As I've been purging, I found myself, like Rachel, thinking about the memories associated with these things and praying for friends or thanking God for good times past.


3.   Here's a leftover picture from Valentine's Day. Since John began to talk, when I have said, "I love you," he has responded, "Love you more!" Sweetest thing ever. I zipped into a department store to return something and found this on clearance. Had to buy it.

4.     In terms of frustration, shorts shopping for Ainsley is one step removed from bathing suit shopping for me. To understand why, please read this, an article that details my experience exactly. In An Open Letter to Target, Steph writes: I was irritated because the crotch was the longest part of every single pair of shorts offered in the toddler section of your store.

She nailed it. I am happy to report that I found cute, decent, affordable shorts at Walmart. I am typically not one to sing the praises of Walmart, but there I found the above shorts. The key, I'm finding, is to buy clothes early, early in the season. In another two weeks the racks will be picked over.

5.   Over on Facebook, someone posted "Shopping with kids run amok" or something like that. This picture reminded me of the night we took the gang of four washer and dryer shopping. When John tired of the riding mowers, he ambled over to the outdoor furniture and hid in a massive bin of pillows hoping to scare unsuspecting shoppers.


Much to his disappointment, he caught just one person, a good-natured employee who (thankfully) was more amused than frightened. Never a dull moment.

Been there, drug that.

6.    Tim's been hard at it working on piano pieces. Love this blurry shot:

7.    Kolbe and his friend Lawrence rocked the science fair.

We spent Saturday evening at the Regional Fair. After evaluating the projects, the judges put a "You're a Winner!" sticker on the winning projects so that participants stick around for the awards ceremony. Of course, you don't know what you've won. We were all thinking the boys got a respectable Honorable Mention or something like that. Well, the announcer breezed through the Honorable Mentions. And Kolbe and Lawrence fist bumped. She moved on to third place, and Kolbe and Lawrence fist bumped. Second place and they fist bumped again. Amazingly, they won first place in their category and third place in Best of Show! Their camaraderie and excitement was neat to see.

8.   Random picture of John from his pirate play:

Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum now hosts Seven Quick Takes. Her family is inspiring, and her blog is both intelligent and funny. Check it out!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Five Favorites

1. So we have jumped slowly into Math U See thanks to my generous friend Rachel (who gave me her materials) and my generous friend Holly (who showed me how she uses them). Time will tell, but our initial foray leads me to believe this will help John understand value a little better.

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His first assignment was to build the number 572. He grabbed his squares and quickly built a five, a seven, and a two. So I showed him that the five is, in fact, five hundred and that the seven is, actually, seventy. And he seemed to get it. Plus he liked it. And then he and Ainsley built houses with the blocks.
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2. So I've long known that I'm a sucker for educational materials. I also love pretty much anything manufactured by Melissa and Doug. Combine the two, and I could get us in deep financial trouble. I want this:
Don't you want one of these?
John told me the other day that he can't tie shoes. Of course he can't. He hasn't had lace up shoes since he outgrew his precious blue Keds around age two. It's all velcro, velcro, velcro. So I'm dying to buy this until I reflect that it's essentially this but a price tag:

3. Ainsley's teacher told me to work on telling time, so I'm dying to buy this:

Melissa & Doug Shape Sorting Clock

But it's not whole lot different from this:

which we already own.

4. I did buy this:

Product Details
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And hopefully it will help John with his addition facts.

5. Finally I have to absolutely rave about The Story of the World. HT: Mary at Better than Eden. I had a tiny image that Blogger doesn't seem to like. Anyway, no time to fight with Blogger because I usually don't win!

The Story of the World is an audio CD series.We spend a fair amount of time in the car, and listening to this is time well spent. The kids l-o-v-e it, and I mean all the kids. Entertaining and educational. Love it.

Click here to add your Five Favorites.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Out of the Rubble

So I think we are emerging from the rubble-haze-pick your metaphor for the chaos that has been The Move. I'm not quite sure why The Move was more than I bargained for, but I think it boils down to this: Life doesn't slow down, not one little bit, simply because the Dolin family decides to move. 

That and we have a lot of stuff. More than I imagined. Much more.

As for the pace of life, here let me offer you two snapshots: Chaotic Week A and Chaotic Week B. Beginning with Chaotic Week A, we faced:
  • Final move out of the old house.
  • Jury duty.
  • Closing on old house.
  • Spirit Week at school.
And then we moved on to Chaotic Week B which offered:
  • Stomach Bug, Part I (which erupted 24 hours before the arrival of the new washer.)
  • John and yet another fever episode.
  • The Science Fair.
  • Stomach Bug, Part II (which erupted 24 hours before the arrival of the new dryer.)
Really, I just think there should be a basic law of nature -- just as immutable, as predicable as the laws of gravity -- that ensures no family comes down with the stomach bug while any remnant of an ungraded science fair project remains under the roof. If there's so much as a bar chart lying idle on the printer, a glue stick yet to put away, the agent of misery and mayhem aught to pass right over.

And Spirit Week and jury duty in the same week? No. Just no.

This was my first go at jury duty. During Voir Dire (yes, I know I've just impressed you with my vast knowledge of law), the judge asked potential jurors if anyone had pressing business matters to attend to. One woman behind me told the sad, sad tale of a house fire that had broken out just days before. She was busy sifting through the rubble, dealing with her insurance company.

No sale.

She was on the jury.

After that, I didn't have the gumption to haltingly raise my hand and say, "Your Honor, ummmm, it's Spirit Week at my kids' school . . . " This judge could not have been nicer, but I'm guessing she was wholly uninterested in just how daunting a task it is to unfit four kids for Hero Day or deck out the whole clan in red, white, and gold. If a house fire didn't cut the mustard, Spirit Week wouldn't either. I kept my mouth shut.

It was DUI case, and when the attorneys asked if anyone had been a victim of a DUI, I did my best Arnold Horseshack imitation with arm raised high saying Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me! Me! 

No sale. 

So I was on the jury. My main goal was to fly under the radar, say as little as possible, and do whatever I could to avoid being foreman of the jury. We couldn't decide on a foreman -- in retrospect, this was a telling bit of foreshadowing -- so we drew names. What can I say? Should have played the lottery. It was my lucky week. 


Now six people who can't agree on a foreman aren't likely to agree on a verdict. Dedicated foreman that I was, I penned a polite missive to Her Honor, The Judge, stating that we were a hung jury to which she more or less replied that's nice, get unhung.

Easier said than done. We talked and talked and talked and reviewed video and testimony and talked some more, and essentially no one was giving an inch.

Meanwhile, I was only half-way listening to our deliberations because the hour was getting late, and I was expected on the other end of town for the closing. The closing had been pushed back to 5:00, and everyone involved knew I might be late. The judge said we'd stop proceedings at 4:45, but the wheels of justice do indeed turn slowly, and it was 5:20 when she excused me.

I sprinted to my car and pulled onto a street that had the longest light in the city of Augusta. My lane would get a green light just long enough for a single car to turn left. A. single. car. Everyone would inch forward, and the light would turn red for another interminable wait.

I was quickly becoming unhinged.

About the house closing.

About the hung jury.

About the fact that the case was supposed to wrap up on Wednesday but now was headed into Thursday.

About the house full of boxes.

And the kids and their costumes.

And the washer and dryer we had yet to order.

About 101 issues -- the serious and the trivial -- swirling around in my head as I sat in gridlock praying, fretting, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel.

For about the twentieth time in two weeks, I thought to myself, "I'm cracking. I'm cracking. I'm cracking."

I had texted that very message to a friend a few days earlier as we finished the packing and moving. As we hunted through box after box trying to find this or that missing item. As our internet access faded in and out and the kids couldn't finish homework and we waited six! blinking! hours! for the Comcast guy who no-showed. As the fish pond out back worked and then didn't work and then kinda worked and then we spotted the fish at the surface, and they seemed to be gasping for breath.

I began to feel that I was gasping for breath.

And there I was w-a-y late for the closing and traffic was at a stand still and the jury was hung, and we would be headed back to the courthouse for another round of deliberations.

Cracking. Cracking. Cracking.

As I sat at the endless light, two startling thoughts came to me rather suddenly. First: If you say you're cracking often enough, you just might do it. And second: There is nothing you can do about most of this. 

I couldn't unsnarl the traffic. I couldn't bring about agreement among the jury.

And it was suddenly okay. Totally and completely and supernaturally not just okay, but good, really.

I went from absolutely frazzled to perfectly calm in an instant.

I was forty-five minutes late for the closing. They saved me a pen and a huge stack of papers. We went home to our mostly unpacked house and sorted out the costumes for the next installment of Spirit Week. I picked out clothes suitable for court.

The following morning the phone rang at 7:15. It was the courthouse. The defendant had pleaded after I left the courtroom. The kind woman on the phone thanked me for my service and told me my check would be forthcoming.

I did the happy dance.

The following week was Science Fair Meets Stomach Bug. Rather gruesome as these things go. Seventy-five percent of my children were hit hard. And, yes, the bug arrived the day before the new washer and three days before the dryer. Yippee!

But we survived.

I am not cracking. True, I may never move again. But I am not cracking.

Life has its share of traffic jams and hung juries -- both real and metaphorical ones. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we can't change most of them. God is on the throne, so it's probably just fine for us to step down.

I have often reflected that hope is an action verb, not a noun. We think of hope as something we "have", but it's really something we do. For me, this usually involves a conscious decision to dwell on what is good and true and of good report. 

Come and see what the Lord has done. He has done amazing things on the earth.