Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Daring Chick and the Delicate Chicken

At Easter time, two-and-a-half-year-old Livie got a toy baby chicken from her Sunday school teacher. It was about two inches tall and looked to be made of the synthetic fuzz on pipe cleaners.

"Be careful," I told her from the driver's seat on the way home. "That chicken is very delicate."

Not understanding the word delicate, and being totally smitten with her chicken, she assumed it meant something like precious or special. Before we reached home, she was cooing to it over and over again, "I love this delicate chicken. This chicken is so delicate to me."

Jeff and I have derived endless amusement from this. Because while our big girl Sophia is the most daring girl on the block, scaling trees, jumping off sea walls, and diving into surf, Livie is afraid of heights, going down new slides, walking up hills, having her diaper changed in our SUV's ample trunk, and many other things. One day, when she was refusing to climb up some 18-inch-high toddler park structure, Jeff said in aside to me, "That's our delicate chicken."

I've read lots of parenting books, so I know that you're not supposed to label your children: "Oh this is my shy one, and this is outgoing one," etcetera, especially within their earshot. But I have to tell you, my kids are so opposite of one another that they label themselves. They don't need me to tell them that one is brave and one is cautious. It's obvious even to Livie. And she's not living up to some assumption I have about her, either. She came out of the womb like this.

I also know that you have to let your kids be who they are. I believe that the oft-quoted Proverbs 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.) means that I should help my children grow into the best version of their natural bent. But some situations take more wisdom and discernment than others, as we try to bend them toward their strengths and away from their weakness.

Like taking your Delicate Chicken to the Orange County fair. Friday is Dollar Ride Day, so last night we paid our fortune to enter, bought a twenty-dollar ride card, and set out to get us some thrills. Our Daring Chick Sophia was ready for action, and Jeff and I decided to "help" Livie overcome some of her fears, because we saw them as an obstacle to enjoying the evening.

First item on the agenda: a family ride down the thirty-foot high Euroslide. What must the other fair goers thought of us, as we took our shrieking toddler up the steep ramp to the top? I managed to sit down with her in my lap, flash Jeff a what-are-we-thinking-smile for the camera, and sluice down with Livie clawing my forearms all the way. At the bottom she hopped up and said, "I liked it. But I don't want to do it again."

Next on the agenda: the petting zoo! Bizarrely, Livie has never been afraid of animals. She loves dogs, goats, sheep, and will wrap her arms around a horse's head at the local stable if allowed. So goat feeding seemed a good confidence-building activity. Unfortunately, just as I was snapping a picture of her, a baby goat chomped on her index finger and wouldn't let go. She had a purple bruise and a swollen digit. All daring adventures were pretty much shot from that point on.

Sophia spent the rest of the evening whooping it up on the dragon roller coaster, running the kids' obstacle course, and riding the sky-way with Mommy. Livie watched, hands over her ears to block out the carnival machinery sounds, and occasionally waved at her big sister.

In one last moment of madness, or perhaps frustration, just before we left the carnival area, I dragged Liv up the smaller kids' version of the Euroslide and made her go down just one more time. She clutched me so wildly that a kindly fellow fair goer had to help me turn her around to a sitting position with his muscled and tattooed forearms.

So what is the moral of the story? I'm not sure, actually. But I will say that this morning I asked her what her favorite part of the fair was, and she said, "Going down the BIG slides."

And I will also state for the record that when Jeff and I point to her and say -- out of earshot -- "That's our delicate chicken," we believe delicate, as she does, to mean something like precious and special.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On the Right Road

I have a very poor sense of direction. It's so bad in fact, that when Husband and I are on vacation in an unknown city, and I begin to "feel" that we are going the wrong way, Husband says, "Oh good. We must be on the right track."

My spouse also believes that while driving and in doubt of where to go, or perhaps when not paying attention, I will simply take the path of least resistance, in the form of right turns (as opposed to left turns, which require a green light). Of course, by now, an Orange County native, I've got lots of established routes and freeway knowledge, but I still often find myself missing exits, or calling friends for directions when I'm lost in an unfamiliar part of suburbia.

Recently, I've realized that I must do this fairly often. Because my youngest daughter Livie, who is not quite three, has started calling out from the back seat, at random intervals, "Mom, are you going the wrong way?" Usually, I'm not. But sometimes I am.

The point is, my daughter, too young even to ride a tricycle, has lost her trust in Mommy's driving.

Besides the obvious humor in the situation, it made me a little sad to think of my little Livie, powerless in the back seat, stuck in her five-point-harness, wondering if Mommy is steering us all wrong.

As some of you may have read in previous blogs, my six year old Sophia wrote me a song on my birthday. The line in it that broke my heart is "I know I can trust you." I don't think there's anything a mom wants more to hear from her child. As a woman who believes that I am loved by God, I want so much for my kids to get that too. And I know that statistically, children who have trustworthy and kind parents are much more likely to believe that they have a loving heavenly Father. So I take my job of being trustworthy very seriously.

In fact, when the kids are scared, or when they look at me sideways when I tell them to do something that sounds like a bad idea, I'll ask them, "Do you trust me? Would Mommy tell you to do something that wasn't safe or good?" Usually it works. Usually, they do trust me.

Parents who believe in God can't help but see parallels in the relationship between themselves and their kids, and God's relationship with us, his children. I'm no exception. I sometimes feel like the kid in the back seat, strapped into a vehicle that's going down an unknown and possibly dangerous road. I look at God sideways. Seriously, God, do you really think this is the right road?

I believe in those moments that his response is, Amanda, do you trust me? Usually it works. Usually I do. And ultimately, I know God is a better driver than me. Lots, lots better. So I fasten my seat belt. And I hope this is one road my girls choose to follow me down.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Coffee Cozy

Isn't it lovely when you can combine two things you love? Some of my favorites: eating dessert and talking to a friend, swimming in the ocean and hanging out with my husband, working out and eating veggies (ha -- just through that last one in to see if you were paying attention!).

This weekend I did a project that combined two great loves: coffee and sewing. Sort of. Hubby gave me a wonderful book for my birthday (I subtly pulled up the page on for him) called Pretty Little Patchwork. I saw it in a Beverly's craft store and had to have it. Project Number One for me was what the book called "perky bird coffee jackets" but I prefer Coffee Cozies. So much chicer and greener than the cardboard sleeve from Starbucks! I shall keep it in my purse from now on.

These were so fun and quick to make. The hardest part is deciding which funky fabric to use. For one of my BFFs, I did a turquoise and orange combination, and for me, a blue, pink and green. (NOTE: the green here is my favorite fabric ever, by Anne Marx for Free Spirit. I buy a yard whenever I find it.)

Hubby says I will lose my Cozy within a week. This is quite possible. But then I can make a new one! Meanwhile, if you have a birthday coming up, let me know and I'll make you one. I can do hearts, flowers, apples, cupcakes -- not just birds. I also sell them for $12 if you're looking for a funny little gift for a girlfriend. Happy caffeinating!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Miracle in the Trash Bin

Here goes my last shred of dignity: I'm making money off my neighbor's trash.

If you are one of my neighbor's, kindly stop reading now.

In our condo complex, we have a community dumpster, and within the trash enclosure we often find goodies. And I mean really good goodies.

Here's a list of just what I can remember:

1. a teak floor lamp
2. a man's beach cruiser bicycle, missing the seat
3. a Weber barbecue, with plastic cover
4. a folding bookcase
5. a Mission style, solid wood end table
6. a folding cart used to shop at flea markets (more on this in later blogs)
7. three metal Tonka trucks, the big vintage kind
8. a child's wooden school desk
9. a power jigsaw

I'm not sure why these things are placed here. It's actually against our association rules (along with lots and lots of other things) to leave things outside of the dumpster. But I assume it is a kind of slacker generosity. Too lazy to sell the items or donate them to a tax-deductible charity, the neighbors instead offer them to the men who occasionally troll the neighborhood with a pickup truck loaded with used items. Little do they know, they actually are donating them to the Keep Amanda Home with Her Children Fund. Most of these things my husband and I have dragged into our patio under the cover of suburban semi-darkness, listed them on Craig's List, and sold them for cash within three days.

I feel slightly guilty when the buyers call.

"Is it in good condition?" they ask.

"Yes," I honestly answer. But I wonder what they'd think if they knew, had they been in my trash enclosure 24 hours earlier, their new barbecue grill would have cost them nothing but their pride.

Only twice has this practice of ours actually been truly embarrassing. Once was when my daughter's friend saw the school desk in our backyard, and said, "Hey, my sister threw that in the trash yesterday." The other was when our next door neighbor looked quizzically at my husband as he rolled by on the beach cruiser -- seat now replaced. Apparently, it was his old bike.

Perhaps my mind works a little abnormally, but I can't help but feel blessed beyond measure by my garbage. In the last year, the ten households that use our dumpster have thrown away nicer things than most people in the world have ever owned. And since we are, like most single-income families these days, are on a tight budget, we resell items on e-bay and Craig's list to help make ends meet.

My six year old recently asked me, "Why are you pulling things out of the trash?" and I answered, bizarrely but truthfully, "Because God is providing for us in the dumpster." It's almost eerie sometimes. One day, Hubby and I had discussed a part we needed to fix our upstairs toilet (in a month that our "home improvement" line in the budget was already full), and the next day, we found the exact part, still in the packaging, sitting next to the trash. So I guess I'll take bizarre minor miracles over dignity any day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fruity Baby Blanket

One of my favorite ways to sew is without a pattern or even a clear idea of what something is going to look like when it is finished. This often has bad results (more in later blogs), but is always fun to do. Yesterday I finished a moderately successful seat-of-my-pants sewing experience that I wanted to share.

My friend Karen is expecting her third baby girl this summer, and while I'm sure Karen has lots of pink blankets in storage, I wanted the last baby to have something new and unique, too. Karen is a beautiful, peaceful, Godly woman, and also a painter and paper artist, so I wanted the baby's blanket to reflect her a bit. I decided to make her a Fruits of the Spirit quilt ("The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control." Galatians 5:22). I had once made a set of wooden blocks with a tree and the fruits painted on them for another baby girl in my life, and I thought it would work equally well in fabric.

The verse was free-form machine quilted in turquoise thread, and I machine appliqued wool felt and vintage chenille to form the tree using a free-form stitch for a sketched look. Then I machine quilted grass, and a few felt flowers for good measure. Topped it all off with some vintage cotton rick-rack and I think it came out quite cute!

The Parable of the Lost Hairbrush

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin." ~Luke 15:8

[This parable was spoken by Jesus, to assure those listening that no matter how many people love him, he still desperately searches for those who are lost, and rejoices when even one person repents and turns to God. Isn't that a beautiful, awe-inspiring truth? So forgive me friends, for the bit of fun I shall have with it below. And thanks, Tris, for being on the other end of the line.]

Suppose a woman had a favorite hair brush, which she shares with her six year old daughter, and that daughter left the hair brush lying around the house. Suppose the woman finally hands the daughter the brush and says, "Take thee this hair brush and put it back in its drawer," but instead of doing so, the daughter takes and loses the brush somewhere between the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom.

Does not the woman turn all the lights on, sweep the house, dump out all her purses and beach bags, search through the kids' backpacks, empty out all the bathroom drawers, and still not find it? And when she does not find it, does not the woman go out in public several days in a row with very big hair, because she will not buy a new hairbrush when she knows the old and perfectly good one is somewhere in her house?

And when four days have gone by and she has still not found it, will she not call a close girlfriend and weep over the phone about what the lost hairbrush represents? That it is among many other lost items this week, including a new pale pink toddler's Croc, a Joann Fabric and Craft 40% off coupon,her almost-three-year-old's docile personality, and possibly the woman's sanity?

And will that friend not reflectively listen? Will she not tell the woman that her hair looks great all frizzy and big? And will they not find comfort in their common -- if slightly silly -- trials and laugh. And ultimately, will the woman not say, "Rejoice with me, my friend, for thanks to you, I have found my sanity."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Roasted Beets and Round Table

Here's an obvious observation for today: eating crappy food is easier than eating good food.

I ponder this as I eat my lunch. In my bowl is a Romaine lettuce salad with goat cheese and roasted beets (I roasted them myself yesterday). On a napkin next to it is a slice of left-over Round Table pizza, soaking the paper with RT's unique orange grease.

Over the last few years, I've been inundated with nutritional information: not only in the news and in documentaries my husband keeps buying at the flea market (Supersize Me, Fast Food Nation), but also from speakers in my mom's group, and finally, professionally. I'm currently editing a book for a local nutritionist who connects eating well with spiritual health. All this input has added up the conviction that I really need to fuel my body for maximum Mommy performance, and I need to fuel my family well too.

Now as I am grocery shopping I've got this kind of list: whole grain, no pesticides, no sulfates, no corn syrup, less sugar, low carb, good fats, less sodium, more magnesium, leafy greens, organic dairy. I see red X's on half the stuff in the store. And may I also point out the obvious that the red X foods are way cheaper than the green light foods? Also, the red X foods carry a greater likelihood that my kids will actually eat them. So it's a lose-lose for me at Ralphs these days: if it's good for my budget, it's bad for my family. If it's expensive and healthy, it will probably go to waste.

Yesterday we checked out the new fresh grocery section in the Target at the District in Tustin. And I succumbed to all the Xs. I bought hot dogs, cheap white hot dog buns, half a dozen boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (which was on sale for 69 cents). How fun would it be if I could just buy food my kids love all the time, I thought.

Now as my kids munch away on their barely-better-than-Happy-Meals lunch, I sit here with my healthy salad, and my left-over pizza. I see the joy on their faces, and I think Maybe I should lighten up a little. Because giving them junk food occasionally says "love" to them. Come on, they're never as happy as when they are ear-deep in a piece of chocolate cake (see above). This isn't going to hurt them a couple of times a week. As for me, my lunch suddenly looks well balanced: not in the sense that a nutritionist would say, but in a "I'm doing the best I can" kind of way. Leftover pizza: cheap and yummy! Beet salad: loaded with antioxidants! Let's call it a win-win.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hip to Be Square

I have a brother who is 7 years younger than me and a professional musician. This relationship affords me lots of good things, but most notably, the frequent opportunity of being the least cool person in the room.

Last night I saw him perform with one of his bands in a local club. Even in the absolutely cutest outfit I own, accessorized with vintage cowgirl boots my other and also cooler brother bought me, I walk in the room feeling like the stank of responsibility is on me. I'm surrounded by knit beanies, tattoos, short skirts and high heels. Here I am: a married, church-going, mother-of-two QUILTER from Irvine, sitting with my parents, yawning because it's past my bedtime. The corners of my squareness are so sharp, it might be dangerous for those around me.

From my square vantage point, at least 10 years removed from most of the audience, I feel there's an interesting clarity to my vision. For one thing, I notice that all the girls are dressed alike. They don't realize it, but they are: some permutation of either short skirt or short shorts, a loose blouse (most likely off one shoulder) and either ankle boots with heels, or pumps with heels.

I can also imagine that each girl is wearing the second or third outfit she tried on, because once her friend showed up to give her a ride, and she saw what the friend was wearing, she had to make at least one adjustment. Which is why they are kind of paired up in the way they are dressed: one in the aforementioned shorts while the other is in the short skirt. (I say this not a bit condescendingly, because I know my crowd has our own uniform too: bermudas or jeans, over-priced t-shirt, flip flops, Starbucks cup, stroller. Not quite as sexy...)

I wonder if they see me (do I stand out the way I think I do)? Or have I become invisible? There was a time that in a room like this, the whole point for me would have been to get noticed.

Which brings up another, more cheerful thought: I have reached the end goal of this 20-something scene; or at least, my own 20-something goal. Which was: get noticed, get a boyfriend, eventually get a diamond from said boyfriend, get married, get house, have kids with said boyfriend. So now I'm not at all feeling old and passed over, but rather, quite successful.

And meanwhile, I'm also not too old to enjoy the music, which, frankly, rocks. To learn more about the coolest member of my family, follow this link: I really think Jameson is a genius, and I say that without bitterness even though he won't let me sing backup. (He says my bedtime would be an issue.)

If you ever want to remember what it felt like to be 26, give me a call. I could use someone to sit with that isn't my mom (no offense, Mom).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This is My Song

I'm a lucky, lucky gal. To date, I've had three songs written about me. My dad, who's a great singer and guitar player, wrote a song for each of my brothers and me when we were born. My husband also wrote me a song back when we were dating (don't worry, Sweetie, I'm not going to publish that one).

But my favorite by far is the song my six year old daughter Sophia wrote out for me, music notes and all, for my birthday today. It's so charming, especially in her kindergarten phonetics(see above). This is shameless, but it's my birthday, and I'll brag about her if I want to. It's titled, in her spelling, "o Mthr o Mthr." I've translated it below.

O Mother O Mother
What would I do
without you
O Mother O Mother
You are like stars in the sky
you love me
you know me
I know I can trust you
O Mother O Mother
you are a bird in the sky
and that is why
I love you

I've heard it said, "I wish I were the person my dog thinks I am." Well, I hope to be the person my daughter thinks I am! Isn't it humbling, mommies, to see that with all our mistakes, they still know they can trust us?

Now, someone out there, remind me to read this again when she's sixteen.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Two-Minute Vacation and Other Mommy Realities

Yesterday I blogged that my husband gets the raw end of the deal in our family: less creature comforts, less time at the park, less time with un-cranky children and wife. But I also promised to make a case for the hardships of the mommy. Honestly, I know which argument will win out. And I don't really even want to take a side in the battle of the sexes anyway. But let's just take a look at the downsides of motherhood for fun, shall we?

Yesterday I said that I haven't been to the bathroom by myself since 2004 (year of my firstborn's birth). That's a slight exaggeration. There have been times when I'm out on a date with my husband that I have had solitary stall time. There may have been a dozen times at home when all stars have aligned (one child is zoned out in front of the TV, one is with daddy) and I have got to shut the door. But in general, I usually either have an audience of one, or a small person banging on the door outside. Even so, some days, that's the only time I sit down, so I don't even mind so much.

I also wrote that I do a lot of thankless manual labor. Too true, my sisters. While my husband completes a project at work , gets a review, and possibly even a raise for good job performance, there are a thousand things I do every day that no one notices until they don't get done. And kids love messes. My youngest is never so happy as when she has just dumped out a whole bucket of potting soil and then tracked it through the house. The home is a never-ending spin cycle, and no amount of tips from Real Simple magazine will make it otherwise. To sit down in an uncluttered living room, or to see kitchen counters cleared off when we are not expecting guests: these are the fantasies of the stay-at-home mother.

But I have decided that the number one challenge for me as Mommy is the constant interruptions, not just of my activities, but even of my thoughts. Here's a profound (I think) illustration. When my daughter was two years old, following the popular wisdom of today, she got two minute time outs. I would set her up on a mat in the living room, and go set the timer in the kitchen. Then I'd start to busy myself with a task. As an entire sink full of dishes would go from clean to dirty, I would think, "Wow, I'm sure getting a lot done for some reason." Then I'd remember the timer, glance up, and see that there were still 15 second remaining.

Do you say what I'm saying, friends? When you become a mother, 90 seconds without someone asking you a question (Mommy, does God go to the bathroom?) or making a request (Mommy, can I have my 95th snack of the day?) feels like a long time to be alone with your thoughts! Ninety seconds! Incredible, fascist regime efficiency becomes the norm with a mom, because necessity dictates that anything you must finish, must be finished lightening fast.

This constant contact with your children has a great impact on your brain as well. At first you might call the phenomenon of saying "umbrella" when you mean "toothpick" breastfeeding brain (there is some research to suggest that hormone imbalance from nursing causes Alzheimer's like symptoms). But two years later, you refer to it simply as "mommy brain." I think the interruptions have more to do with it than sleep deprivation. A few years ago, an Ivy League study showed that people who stopped the flow of their work to frequently check e-mails temporarily lost IQ points as a result. Imagine how many IQ points I have lost in the last six years, when I can't even complete a sentence in my own head, let alone out loud on a telephone conversation.

There are days I watch Husband walk out the door,and think, "What I wouldn't give for a 20-minute commute with a cup of coffee and my own choice in radio stations." There are days when Husband comes home from work and needs some "transition time" when I want to say, "Dude, you just had 20 minutes alone in the car with ESPN radio. That's all the transition you're going to get. Now go get that naked kid off the table, while I go to the bathroom by myself."

So, the two-minute time-out vacation. Some days I live for those. The good news is, as they get older, time-outs get longer (one minute for every year they live). The bad news is, they get less frequent (which shows, I guess, that the timeouts are working). But as I implied yesterday, my life is so full of fun, touching and serendipitous days with the kids that being at home with them is really the only choice I feel I could have made. I'll save the recounting of those heart-melting moments for another, more mushy blog. For now I'll just say that truly, the uninterrupted life is not worth living.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Less Fortunate One

Whenever I'm feeling a little sorry for myself, I find the time-honored tradition of remembering the less fortunate does a lot to right my perspective.

Today, I decided the Less Fortunate is actually my spouse.

Here in Southern California, today we finally emerged from the June gloom, and are enjoying temperatures in the upper eighties. This was the day we decided to take my SUV in for some repairs. So the girls and I got to drive around in "daddy's car." Problem: Daddy's car has a broken air conditioner. And black interior.

As I was driving around accomplishing my little errands, I watched as my daughters began to wilt in the back seat. By the time we were five miles from home, they had tomato-red cheeks. I had really bad hair and sweat dripping down my back. To make matters worse, Toddler kept asking me questions, but I couldn't hear her over the roar of the wind while the windows were down.

When we got to our destinations, in my haste to extricate myself and the children from the Flying Fireball that is the car, I would yank the key out of the ignition, only to have the keyless remote fall into two pieces onto the floor.

"How does Daddy stand this?" I asked the kids more than once. They may have answered me, but I couldn't hear them. They may also have been passed out.

Some background about our car situation: For years, the Flying Fireball was our better car. At that time it was new, had AC, and power steering, which made it a vast upgrade from Husband's five-speed pickup truck. We finally bought husband a new SUV, and within 18 months had a second baby, so I got the SUV, still in absolutely pristine condition, with trunk space for the double stroller. Husband got demoted to the Flying Fireball. What made it worse for him was that he knew the girls and I would soon trash the SUV. He wrapped every possible surface in protective plastic coating and, for the first month, flinched every time I got behind the wheel.

Poor husband. Today's heat wave brought his sacrifice into a new context for me. I began to think of how many other ways my life is easier/better than his. For example:Most days, I get the girls at their best, in the morning when they are fresh for a few hours (or perhaps only one hour, depending on a number of factors). Husband gets them when they are exhausted, hungry, and need to be bathed and put to bed. Every morning, I get to see my handsome husband walk out the door, smelling fresh and looking dapper; while in his last lovely view of me, I am still sporting yesterday's mascara under my eyes, and mismatched pajamas. And after he works hard all day, he comes home to me smelling as delicious and looking as sexy as any woman would who has spent the day swishing a brush around a toilet, and being outnumbered by tiny, loud human beings.

Today, he sat at a desk, while I sat in the shade and buried Toddler's legs in the sand. I'm not saying motherhood is easy (read on tomorrow, my friends, for that side of the debate), but while he is still sporting a first-class farmer's tan, I'm already bronzed (at least from the plunging neckline up) from days at the pool.

True, I daily and usually thanklessly (sorry, sweetie) do the job of two manual laborers, and I haven't been to the bathroom alone since 2004. But I'm still getting the better end of the stick. I feel inspired to try to make his life a little better, or at least keep the car a little cleaner.

And next week we're getting his AC fixed.

How Much More?

This is the closest to a journal entry I have written on my blog so far. Which is funny, because I don't actually journal. It's long, and possibly self-indulgent, but I'm sharing, in the hope that it will bless someone out there.

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend a Lifeway conference at my church, where famous Bible teacher Beth Moore was speaking. Her teaching was very powerful. She spoke on the Lord's prayer. And though this this is one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament, her take on it was very fresh. Luke 5:11 says, "If you fathers, even though you are sinful know how to give your children good gifts, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him."

How much more? That was the theme. How much more could forgiveness heal my soul? How much more does my Father have in store for me? How much more could I get out of this day? A lot, if I truly ask God for my daily bread instead of asking what he plans to give me many years from now.

I got to attend with three of my very best friends, and go to lunch afterward. Four moms who rarely get to sit down, let alone lunch in a restaurant that doesn't serve in plastic baskets was such a treat. We took some time to talk over what we've learned. One of the things I shared was that I finally feel that I am trusting God to provide one day at a time, rather than worrying so much about the future.

When lunch was almost over, I got a call from my husband. He had his head in the refrigerator, hunting for some chicken legs that we were supposed to prepare and bring over to his parents for dinner that night. While on the phone, he found them: they were in the trunk of my car, along with about $20 worth of other raw meat, all forgotten the day before in my hurry to get to the conference.

As silly as it sounds, when I got that call about my forgetfulness, I almost felt my weekend was spoiled. The check for my celebratory lunch now seemed exorbitant. The thought of the worship CD I'd just bought my friend made feel guilty. The $20 in waste made me feel sick to my stomach.

That night, I came home and blogged about 10 things I was thankful for that day. Instead of being the uplifting discipline I meant it to be, the second half of my top 10 list instead became a compulsive diatribe about how I had left all that meat in the trunk. The only profound thought on it was number 10: I'm thankful for the fact that losing a bag of groceries doesn't mean I can't feed my family.

When I woke in the morning, I was ashamed of myself -- how could worrying about that meat be the lasting impression I take away from this amazing weekend? I deleted the blog immediately.

As I made my coffee, something occurred to me. Why was I still thinking about this mistake? Was my husband mad at me? No. Was God mad at me? No. Instead I realized what I felt was not guilt, but fear. I watch our budget so closely, that the idea of losing money by accident made me feel afraid.

A big emphasis of Beth's talk was to "tweet" to our Father. Just pray out our little concerns and desires. Just talk to him like he's in the room. Here's what came out of me:

"Father, do I really think your provision for my family is going to be threatened by my $20 mistake?"

Relief immediately flooded me. That one rhetorical question acted as confession, and resolution both.

It's not that I have little faith. It's just that fear is an addictive stimulant, and all addictions die hard.

Also, the fear lies to me. Though I know that God is ultimately our provider -- which means I am safe, not always comfortable, but safe -- the fear tells many any little misstep makes me unsafe. That morning I realized that feeling in control is a way I cope with being afraid; mistakes threaten my illusion of control.

How much more do I have to grow? A lot. Thankfully, my Father is only a tweet away, and he's so very willing to remind me what the truth is.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Strong Tower

This week I bought my daughter a shirt with a picture of marshmallow Peeps on it that said, rather cleverly, "Where my Peeps at?"

She had to explain its meaning to her Grandma: "Grammy, it means, like, 'Where are all my girlfriends?'"

I really wish they made that shirt in my size. 'Cause y'all, I really love my peeps. Tonight I got to spend some quality time with three of the quality women in my life, along with about 3,600 other ladies at the Lifeway Convention at Mariners Church, featuring Bible teacher Beth Moore.

About 20 minutes into worship time, we were singing about God being a strong tower, our safe refuge. I was overwhelmed with a few thoughts at that moment.

In the last year,these friends have faced the kinds of circumstances that would make a woman feel anything but safe: financial crisis, upheaval in major relationships, betrayal, heartbreak, and a child diagnosed with cancer. And each of them has faced those circumstances with integrity, grace, transparency, and above all, faith. And tonight, they were worshiping their Father, confirming what I have seen displayed in their lives over the last 12 months: that the love of God is real, sustaining, and bigger than their life circumstances.

And I was reminded that God has provided for them, not always with resolution of their circumstances. He has given them Himself: a strong tower, a loving Father, a rock amidst stormy seas. I have prayed for them, too meekly, too infrequently. But God has answered in a much bigger way than I would have planned.

So where my peeps at? In God's capable hands.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Neither a Lender nor a Borrower Be?

As in many other things in my life, I'm a bit of a disorganized quilter. I see the big picture when I start a project, which is another way of saying that I don't carefully read the directions. As a result, I often end up running out of something in the 11th hour -- when the stores are all closed. I'm also accident prone, so I'm likely to cut something wrong, and as Murphy's Law for Quilters states,"The value of any piece of fabric is directly proportional to the speed and ease with which you will ruin it." (I didn't make this up; you can read the entire "Law" on I always make mistakes in the fabric I have the least amount of, and that which is now discontinued.

When I had a Tall Mouse Crafts in walking distance, my last-minute supply needs didn't matter so much. But the store closed, and then I had children, so I'm often in the middle of a giant mess, kids at my feet, when I run out of thread. Or turquoise wool felt. Or autumn leaf cotton. Fortunately for me, I have a dear quilting friend within walking distance. So...she gets my late night, Sunday evening, and early morning SOSes. She sincerely doesn't seem to mind, but here's something I've noticed: She never has to borrow anything from me.

Now, quilters are givers as a general rule. They give away over half of what they make, and they're almost always willing to open up their fabric cupboards and give out scraps. Sometimes they're even grateful to see their fabrics getting used. But still, lately I've been feeling embarrassed and guilty. (Not enough to stop doing it...) I would feel much more comfortable if these supply bail-outs were mutual.

Tonight, as I was writing this, I had to pause to make dinner, and halfway through my casserole prep, I realized I was out of chili powder. What was worse, the chili powder I last had in the pantry was some I borrowed from another neighbor, who buys all her spices at Costco. I swallowed my pride and called her anyway; when she wasn't home, I borrowed some from yet another neighbor, a lovely woman from Mexico. All she had was the truly Mexican variety. The result: casserole too spicy for my family to eat.

As I scraped the leftovers down the garbage disposal, it began to dawn on me that there is a consistent issue going on here. Both in cooking and sewing, (1) I'm likely to glance over the instructions rather than read them thoroughly. (2) I usually make a list at home of what I need before I go shopping for fabric or food, but then just as often I leave the list on the counter at home. (3) I'm so budget conscious that I almost always buy only what I need, leaving little room for error and making it necessary to replenish supplies more often. (4)The people I'm close to buy way more than they need, enabling me to be a serial borrower.

I'd love to say that this revelation will be followed by action steps toward improvement and change. But I can't say that they will. I've run it by the Chili Pepper Neighbor, and her suggestion is to just accept my Serial Borrower status, and chose not to feel guilty about it.

While I ponder that possibility, I will console myself with the knowledge that I am willing to be a lender, as well as a borrower, against the advice of Shakespeare. So fellow crafters, come on over. If I have it in my supply closet and you need it, it's yours. You're doing me a favor; you're making space for something new I'd like to buy. Same goes for my pantry and my refrigerator. But I'm sorry to say that I'm fresh out of chili powder.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All Hail Imperfection

When I first started quilting nearly 11 years ago, I was drawn to the traditional. I poured over books on pioneer quilting, the feed sack fabrics of the 1930s, and pictures of Amish black quilts with bright colored stars and perfectly pointed triangles.

There was something so appealing about the rich heritage of quilting, and I wanted to do it "the real way." So I bit off way more than I could chew: huge projects with lots of little points, which I sewed on a 1950 Singer Featherweight borrowed from my mother in law. Or I chose patterns with tons of tiny appliqued pieces, and to top it all off, I hand quilted them. (I should mention here that this was before I had children.)

Early in my quilting education, I learned that the Amish custom was to purposely put a "mistake" in every quilt -- a color out of order in the pattern, or a pieced block upside down, for example -- to remind them that only God is perfect. "What a cool concept," I thought when, I first read that.

But halfway through an early endeavor my thoughts were more along these lines: "Those stinking, smug Amish! Who has to put mistakes in ON PURPOSE???"

I soon learned that one of quilting's prime rolls in my life was to show me how perfect I wasn't. The first project I completed was called London Roads, and it was only as I was wrapping the completed quilt for my boss's baby shower that I realized no one was getting to London on my road; an entire row was upside down. On project number two, I cut out the backing fabric two inches too narrow, and crooked, and was forced to piecemeal it back together on the diagonal. That one still rankles a little.

The mistakes go on and on. There isn't a single project I have finished that I haven't seen an error in. The difference between Quilter Me ten years ago and Quilter Me now is not in the number of errors I make, but in how I feel about them. In the beginning, I usually found the mistakes when I was all finished. Then I said naughty words, and my husband would ask if perhaps I should find a hobby that required fewer sharp objects, less precision, and no math.

Today, I often find the flaws while they are still fresh, and whether or not I go back and fix them depends on a number of factors:
1. How much time will it take?
2. How much money will it cost?
3. How much do I want to get this over with and get on to my next project?
4. Is this a gift for another quilter, or a layperson that will never notice the error?
5. Do I know where I last saw my seam ripper?

Honestly, 7 out of 10 times, I let the mistake lie. And when I give the project away, I don't apologize for it or point out the mistake. There are a lot of quilters who are more fastidious than me, but I've decided if I'm going to stick with this hobby that gives me so much satisfaction, I better give myself some grace. I just don't have it in me to do "perfect."

So the Amish had something after all. Because though my quilts may not point others to the perfection of God, they've made me more at peace with the imperfections in myself. I'm swearing less. I'm enjoying it more. My husband isn't hiding my rotary cutter or trying to talk me into taking up lawn bowling. And we will both live to see me complete another beautifully blemished project.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bikini Bodies

When I began this blog, I really had no intention of writing everyday, but as a close friend observed, clearly, I needed an outlet. At this moment, I am blogging in my kitchen, where the floor sorely needs to be swept, dinner needs preparing, and Hubby will be returning from work in one hour.

I also had the intention to write about sewing and crafting primarily; perhaps I will tomorrow. Again, I clearly needed an outlet. Because today, I need to write about body image.

And I need to start by talking about my daughters' backsides. Like most moms of young children I know, I love my girls' little bottoms. Especially in the summertime when they are bright white with brown legs attached like the Coppertone girl from the 1960s. They are so cute and round! The girls know it too, and they are quite fond of their own touchies, too, as evidenced by the fact that I catch them shaking them in the mirror often, doing what they call "the booty dance." (Okay, I probably taught them that word. I'm not proud of it!)

Now, I am not incredibly fond of my own rear end. (Shocking I know. Most women love their bottoms... ha ha ha.) It tops the list of body parts I would like radically altered, barely winning out over the runner up: my thighs.

I was at the pool with the kids in late spring and had what I have decided was quite a shocking thought. As my eldest ran toward the pool, I thought, "Man, if only I had that butt and those thighs."

This thought was immediately followed by, "My gosh, she's a six year old! I'm a mother of two in her mid thirties!" Isn't it crazy that the figure fed to us as the most desirable is actually that of the pre-adolescent little girl? I've watched the other mommies at the pool (come on, you know you do it too), and even those who are most in shape do NOT have those kinds of legs and bottoms.

I shared this thought with my best girlfriend, and she noted that it's no wonder pedophilia is so rampant if we are sexualizing the bodies of little girls in the media. I don't know if pedophilia truly is on the rise (though I'd guess it is), but I thought this was a profound observation. Not only is our culture asking the impossible of grown women, it may be, as a byproduct, making little girls objects of desire.

It could be the two Oreo Double Stuffs I ate an hour ago talking, but I'm going to try very hard this summer to bare my mommy body at the local pool without apologizing for it. Yes, I could do with a little more Pilates. But in the meantime, I think I'll start with a booty dance. Would any of you ladies out there like to join me?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Old Glory

I married into a creative family. Mother-in-law is an awesome seamstress (from quilts to drapes to clothing to handbags). Father-in-law works with wood, restores antiques, and builds model boats. Sister-in-law April has worked in interior design, dabbled in paper making and is now a fabulous chef. Sister-in-law Kari is a landscape designer and gourmet baker in her own right. Brother-in-law Cody is an engineer. Husband Jeff is an architect and artist. I, well, I'm a dabbler in anything with fabric, glue, construction paper, pipe cleaners -- whatever -- so I fit in. People always tell us that we should somehow go into business together, but one of the only times we have all truly collaborated recently is on our entry for the Balboa Peninsula's annual Fourth of July parade float.

Our rewards have been slim (I think one year we won twenty bucks for a local burger joint, and another year five dollars towards ice cream). But we're still basking in the glory of our accomplishments. This year, half of the Anderson family was away for a wedding, so it was the first in several years that were absent from the event, and as I'm missing that creative family time, I thought I'd take a moment to reminisce.

The two years that our entries were victorious in the prestigious "wagon" category, we were up past midnight working away in the garage like so many cobblers elves. The men typically are our engineers, specializing in all the cardboard, Exacto-knife, and duck tape construction; sometimes they also incorporate spray paint. Meanwhile, the women use construction paper, Sharpie marker,felt, fabric, ribbon, and tinsel.

One year, the men managed to turn our Radio Flyer into a tall ship complete with cannons, after our then three year old said she wanted the float to be a pirate ship. Kari and Cody, who couldn't make it, still contributed by christening her "The Balboa Buccaneer" over the phone. My contribution was the Jolly Roger made red, white and blue, with flags in place of crossbones.

Our second award-winning float, also our daughter's idea, was a cityscape of the Big Apple, in honor of Aunt April's two-year stint in New York. Grammy sewed our eldest a Statue of Liberty costume; I made a Styrofoam torch. Aunt April made all the taxis with little American flag toothpicks coming out their windows.

Next year, we've got big fish to fry. In all previous entries, only one granddaughter has been old enough to ride. By next year,my in-laws will have four granddaughters. Wouldn't it be cool if they all could ride? I'm thinking patriotic mermaids on papier mache rocks? Or maybe they could all wear Daughters of the Revolution costumes sewing one big flag like Betsy Ross. These might not work as baby number four will be about 8 months old. I better keep thinking. In the meantime, we'll continue to enjoy past glories.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Come On, Feel the Noise

There are lives I can imagine without children, but none of them have the same laughter and noise.

Someone gave me a folk-art painting once with the above inscription on it. I thought of it just now as Hubby and I have collapsed on the couch on this Fourth of July, our kids upstairs lying silent and sunburned in their beds. Today was a day with lots of noise, and lots and lots of laughter. My girlfriends, my husband, my parents and I smiled until our faces hurt.

We spent the morning in a neighborhood patriotic parade, where people line the streets to watch us wheel our kids up and down in wagons wrapped in red, white and blue crepe paper. My eldest was part of a scooter brigade: her Daisy Girl Scout troop, all decked out in red and silver tinsel. There was a high school drum core in front of us. It was total madness, utter silliness, and oh, so much fun.
Then we had acrobatics and water races in the pool, followed by barbecue lunch with way too many people – but all of them our dearest friends -- jammed into our little kitchen. We found one dad happily eating alone on the living room sofa. He looked almost crestfallen when we found him a kitchen chair so he could join us in our rowdy meal.

Anyway, we’re exhausted, but feeling so satisfied.

I hope that even if I had a different life, a life without my own children, I would have been to that parade, tied red bows on my blue flip flops, and fed people homemade chocolate ice cream and fruit skewers formed into an American flag like I got to do today. I wonder if I would still be that woman without my girls to inspire me. I’m grateful that at this moment, their noise is still ringing in my ears.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Good Man

The mother of two little girls who are both under the age of seven, I already think about their wedding days -- all moms do, I think. And I'd like to state for the record that their father and I agree: if you don't want a big, traditional wedding and want a nice, inexpensive elopement, we're fine with that. We'd just like to be invited.

Eleven years ago today, I married my college sweetheart in a big traditional wedding: white dress, church, roses, champagne, cake cutting -- the whole princess package. I was just days away from turning 22. When I look at our wedding pictures, I first think, "Wow, I was skinny," and secondly, "Wow, we were young!"

My friends have heard me say this a lot before. I don't know how in the world I had the wisdom to choose this man; I was only 18 when I met him! I thank God for it. And I pray my girls will also get to marry a man that has brought them the same sense of safety and happiness that my husband has brought me. In case they want to read this someday: here are my top four favorite things about my husband, and qualities I hope they'll find in theirs.

1. Integrity. I can trust him. He's not going to lose his temper or slack off at work, cheat on our taxes, spend money we don't have, be unfaithful to me or generally do something that's going to jeopardize the health and safety of our family.

2. He's so stinking funny. We fall asleep laughing several nights a week. He keeps the girls in stitches. And he's the first person that taught me to laugh at myself.

3. He gives me the space and support to find fulfillment in my life, both inside and outside our home. If I have a ministry that I feel called to, he's the first to say, "Go for it!" He will watch the kids, offer me sound advice, and anything else it takes to make that happen. (He will even let me blog about him, though he is a much more private person than I am.) I hope I do the same for him.

4. He is still a hottie.

So happy anniversary to my sweetie. I hope our daughters pick a good man like you.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Message to the Mice

This is a message to all you mice out there in my neighborhood, and especially those of you who are living in my walls.

I don't want to hurt you. You are fuzzy and cute and remind me of Gus Gus in Cinderella. I like your furry faces, twitchy noses and beady eyes. I am not crazy about your wormy little tales though.

You cannot live here in my house. This you have proven by your extreme lack of manners, including the way you opened that entire bag of unpopped popcorn in the pantry, and ate one of my toddler's granola bars without asking. Her last granola bar no less! You have also pooped in the kids snack basket. These things I cannot abide.

I have already been forced to harm two of your kinsman, and I shed tears for them.One perished quickly. The other I fear did not fare as well, since I was compelled to use the apparently not very humane sticky traps after the peanut butter went missing on the other kind, the trap still unsprung. (The man at Ace Hardware looked at me as though I were a monster when I bought the sticky traps. I'm sorry, but I refer again to the pooping in the snack basket incident in my defense.)

Yesterday, I caught one of your baby brothers in the living room. He was not much bigger than a quarter, and I scooped him up in a quilt. Toddler and I put him in a bug catcher and fed him taco shells. He pooped. Toddler thought perhaps we should dress him in little clothes (she was also thinking of Gus Gus I assume). We set him free in some bushes. Please, little mouse. Do not come back here.

So, to sum up: we are lovers of animals here. But we are also lovers of good hygiene. And we want our clean, health conscious friends to be still willing to come over here. If necessary, perhaps I can direct you to one of my neighbor's houses: maybe one who isn't fussy about smells and has pet food lying around. So good luck to you, mice. Don't let the door hit your little wormy tails on the way out.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Freedom

July is my favorite month. I was born on the 15th and was married on the third. And I love the Fourth of July. It's festive, there are no presents to buy, and you basically spend the whole day in your bathing suit eating barbecued food; by the end of the day that suit is looking a little tighter, just in time for warm clothes and fireworks.

I also love the concept of celebrating our freedom as a country. This spring I celebrated Passover with a close friend's family, and throughout the Seder readings, they thanked God over and over again that they were able to live in America as free Jews. What a blessing religious freedom is, probably more appreciated by my Jewish friends than my Christian ones, because their persecution is much more on the forefront of our consciousness in the U.S. than that of the Christian church.

In the last couple of years, I've thought a lot about freedom. When I was a teenager, what I wanted out of life was to be happy. In my emotionally tumultuous twenties, I thought a lot about how much I wanted peace. Now in my thirties, in the still fairly new hormonal stability that comes when you've finished bearing children, what I want most is to be free.

I often joke about being a compulsive person: I compulsively finish projects, compulsively decorate for holidays, compulsively answer e-mails, etc. But in reality, the act of doing something because I am emotionally compelled to do so is something I really want to get away from. Especially as a wife and mother: I want to relate to my family in a way that is free from baggage. I don't want to feel or not feel, do or not do something because of the way I was raised, something I wrongly interpreted from my childhood, or some subconscious guilt that I'm barely aware of.

I especially want to be free from fear.

Postpartum with my second daughter, fear was an emotion I felt nearly all the time. I've worked through it, thank God -- and I mean that sincerely, not casually. One of the ways I did that was to learn how to really believe this Bible verse:

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." Galatians 5:1

Raised in the church, a good kid in Sunday school, I didn't get the power of this concept. I got that God wanted me to be good. Now I get that God wants to see me free. He gave me free will. He made me free to love him or not love him. He gave me his Spirit to help make wise choices. He gave me the freedom to choose what is good and right, even though as a human being I've inherited a broken spirit and a broken world; I don't have to "compulsively" choose to do anything. As all Christians believe, he gave me freedom, ultimately, even from death. But he also wants me to be free in life -- to claim freedom for its own sake!

For me, trusting that God is good makes me free. Trusting that he loves me no matter what makes me free. And believing that in Christ I am a new creation makes me free (2 Corinthians 5:16).

I read somewhere once that if life were a multiple choice test, what we saw our parents do make up choices A and B. My parents being awesome people in their own right not withstanding, I want to see past my first two choices. I want all the options. And I pray my girls learn to see all theirs as well.

So leading up to the Fourth of July, I thank God for my freedom. And I thank God for himself, the giver of the greatest freedom there is.