Friday, December 26, 2008
(I made this same decorating decision a few years back, and now recall telling Leon that if I ever had the idea again, he should tell me not to do it. He didn’t. And so, we have tinsel.)
Here’s what I was thinking: With a toddler in the house, obviously we parsed down the typical ornaments on the tree. I thought adding a bit of sparkle would make up for the rather naked bottom half.
And, it really does look nice.
Tinsel is just … not very Gretchen-y.
It’s difficult to explain. When placing tinsel, it seems (as I've been told) that you really can go insane if you attempt to apply it in any sort of uniform way. (Reference Grandpa Bill, who apparently – according to family lore – would painstakingly hang the tinsel strand-by-strand. I’m not saying he was insane, but he was a … strong personality.)
You have really got about 2 options when it comes to hanging tinsel:
1. Applying the "No-holds-barred, glob and throw" approach; or
2. Discovering (and then being “okay” with) a half-way process somewhere between crazy Grandpa Bill and lobbing globs of silver gloop onto your tree.
I want desperately to achieve option one – but knowing that my globs just won’t look careless and effortless enough, I instead go for option 2. However, I struggle with the implied “walking away” part of that option. Instead, over the course of many long, winter nights I find myself going back. Going back. And back, again. Trying to organize my tinsel into a more disorganized and whimsical look.
I believe the definition of crazy is something about repetitive behavior. Great. Merry Christmas.
Here's the heart of the problem that is tinsel: you never “fix” just one strand. Oh no. Instead, one strand leads to another branch that needs just a little help, and suddenly 30-minutes have passed by, and you’re standing there in front of the tree (which, even with all of your rearranging actually looks not one stitch different than when you began) covered in tinsel strands, and feeling a little … crazed.
Ugh. Back to insanity again. Not good.
But maybe I need to look at this differently.
After all, Christmas morning has come and gone; the presents are in their comfortable, unwrapped heap under the tree—and I am (going out on a limb here) guessing that no one noticed my tinsel’s lack of even distribution. Let’s see; learn and apply …
2008 was the jumbled puzzle box year. Only in our case, someone threw all the pieces in the air and we are still trying to find the ones that disappeared under the couch, … beneath the area rug, … into the fireplace.
It’s been a jumbled up year. A good year, don’t get me wrong. Just jumbled.
Maybe tinsel fits that new approach. Maybe being comfortable with globs is something I need to do. … Perhaps I need to embrace the tinsel, and let go of the insane need to carefully manage, apply, distribute, and orchestrate … In the end, there’s something awfully glorious and unfettered about those globs. And something truly powerful in just letting them be.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Last year, even as a rather rotund pregnant, bed-rest lady—my Dad and I achieved a whole new level in our Thanksgiving culinary expression. We’ve been honing our skills for 10-years now. I’m not sure who is the chef and who the sous-chef in our cozy pair; that pretty much depends on whose selected recipe we are working on at any given moment.
Anyway – it was a triumph. And I can’t wait for this year. I start my planning early, and devote time to menu development and even centerpiece, linen, and place card theme.
Yup. I’m dork. Love it!
But I am looking for menu insight.
Here was last year’s menu – and I am currently working on this year’s, with the goal of it being ready at the end of the weekend.
The big difference, 2-turkeys.
I order my turkey from Mannino’s Market in Cottleville, and they only go up to a 24-pound bird. Even Straub’s in STL stops there. And with our guest list, I need at least 30-pounds, plus Leon loves leftovers and we will have family in town, so I really want 35-pounds.
That’s a lotta bird.
But the question before us: do we do the SAME recipe on both, or go a little crazy and do something really fun with the second?
Okay – back to that menu:
- Roasted Brined Turkey stuffed with citrus, garlic and herbs (yum-OOOO!)
- Citrus Turkey Gravy (a recipe of Liz Gaunt, preparred by her mother-in-law that was awesome, awesome, awesome!)
- Wild porcini mushroom, chestnut, and sausage dressing (note to self: don’t be a hero this year and try to roast and peel your own chestnuts, OW – I have no fingerprints left – go buy at Straub’s)
- Martha’s Mashed Potatoes (yum – a staple, and a must-do because Leon has a deep aversion to any sort of “weird” potatoes. Remind me to tell story about our first Thanksgiving and Gret’s fancy potatoes … it involved herbs and gruyere)
- Brussels Sprouts and Almond Creamy Casserole (a delicious recipe from my dear, dear friend Krista – amazing and I don’t usually LIKE Brussels sprouts!)
- Trinity Lutheran’s Cranberry Relish (small country parish, nuff’ said)
- Balsamic Roasted Sweet Potatoes (this is the recipe that never ends. Over the years, we have halved it, and halved it again and still could feed a small brigade; I am done with this recipe. Its departure opens up a coveted slot for some other noble veggie to claim … hmmm, see the poll in the margin!)
- Herb Cheddar Biscuits (a MUST do – courtesy of my Martha Stewart Living 1999 magazine … yummmmmm)
- Dollar rolls (yes, the cheap brown-n-serve, I love 'em and therefore they earn a spot amongst all the fancy sides!)
- German Chocolate Pecan Pie (this replaced my standard Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie, which I think needs to make a return because it’s my personal favorite … although, according to my notes from 2007 it was a keeper – and yes, I keep notes in my cool monogrammed recipe binder that Leon got me from Williams Sonoma (yeah!). It has a whole section for recording holiday menus … triumphs as well as failures … hmmm… what to do)
- Traditional Pumpkin Pie
- Rolling Meadows Vineyards White Niagara
I am going to bring back some sort of delicious sweet potato dish. I have a recipe for a sweet potato gratin, but Martha also just released her famous sweet potato spoon bread ... I also found this recipe for a Potato Mushroom Pie that looks to be amazing ... Decisions, decisions!
But here's where I would love ideas:
- A bird recommendation
- A new veggie pick (see the poll, and you can check the recipes out at http://www.marthastewart.com/)
- And any great, must-do, must-have recipes that you think I should add.
I actually haven’t put any of my Thanksgiving recipes onto our family recipe site – call me evil …. Hehehehe … I just really want to be that great-great-great-grandma whose herb cheddar biscuits just can’t be replicated beyond the grave.
You know? The stuff from which true legacy is made.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Anyway, it’s a great site. http://www.retropresident.com/ Check it out.
And with the presidential election over and done, and the “transitional” government in motion—it’s a perfect place to reminisce about all those candidates who have fought the good fight, and faded into the dusty pages of well-worn U.S. History texts. Here, the candidates of yesterday lie in stealthy wait to besiege some poor high school junior faced with that most horrifying tool of torture: the names and terms quiz (my former history students should be groaning right now … )
Maybe you still “Like Ike,” or think that “Four More Roosevelt Lucky Years” sounds like just the ticket. Perhaps you are or were and initial-fan of RFK, JFK, LBJ, or—to lose the rhyme pattern there, just good old FDR.
Some of us still long to commemorate the obvious winners like Regan, Nixon, Ford, Truman, Clinton, and Carter (hmm, no editorializing here). Other more sensitive souls may wish to pay homage to the underdogs —the man (and in some cases woman) nobody remembers. But hey—he ran for president, which in theory suggests Udall, McGovern (can a name be more positively presidential?), Humphrey, Goldwater, Chisholm (female), Landon, Muskie, and Hart weren’t exactly slouches.
Looking through the pages and pages of t-shirts at this kitschy site—some that honor legends, and others that recall nobodies—you find the brilliant campaign slogans, and concerns of years gone by.
And I can’t help but wonder how posterity will define this last marathon season of campaigning, slogans, stumping, and mud-slinging. We’re in such a rush these days either to define our own greatness, or boast others failures that I think the pundits and political prophets believe they can determine how future generations will define all of this.
And it’s refreshing to be reminded of that as I poked around the site.
Retro President: Fashionably nostalgic official.
Hmmm. That’s a humbling legacy for anyone, I would think. And I guess it reminds me that true presidential greatness is a mantle earned with time, and bestowed by the future.
As for me, I think it’s an “All the Way with Adlai” tee for Dad, and maybe a Kennedy Onesie for Syd this Christmas.
I wonder if they have any William Jennings Bryan gear. They should. I believe he once said: “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”
I wonder if he said this before or after he ran for the White House 3 times? Good man. Good man.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
With its sights: long, lingering walks backlit by tall shadows cast by the end-of-summer sun. Bold hues presented against bluer skies than you can even define. Heaps of uniquely orange-colored, oblong harvest (with a little child perched atop the bounty!). Homes outfitted with a sense of exuberance, color, and warmth. Rows of vines empty of all but the last lucky bunches of sweet grapes that escaped the vintner's clip. Faces lit by the glow cast from an outdoor fire.
With its tastes and its sounds: Crisp apples. Succulent pears. Crunchy leaves. Sweet-savory molasses treats, pumpkin breads, and robust flavors of roasted squash, and cauliflower soups. Tangy stews and bold chilis. New spices and herbs complement fall as sage, marjoram, savory, and rosemary replace the cilantro, basil, and thyme of summer.
This year, I am definitely savoring each moment. Last year found us worrying over Sydney’s birth; me on bed-rest; Leon stressed. It was difficult to notice leaves changing, and we certainly didn’t find time for pumpkin hunting, backyard fireside meals, canning concord jelly with friends, or bringing out those favorite sweaters.
This year has been robust and lasting. Our little family is enjoying it immensely. And we even had Halloween to enjoy with not-just a “childlike” zeal, but with a happy, smiling, wiggly little lovebug.
I wanted to simply share a few of my favorite fall recipes, including a new one for Pumpkin Banana Bread … so, download George Winston’s, Autumn from iTunes and spend time mulling the quiet lead into the crush of the holiday season.
Pumpkin Banana Bread – a fresh take on a classic
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cooking oil
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup water
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
½ cup mashed ripe banana
¾ cup chopped pecans (optional)
1. Grease the bottom and ½ up the sides of two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans; set aside. In a very large bowl, beat sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
2. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Alternately add flour mixture and water to sugar mixture, beating after each addition just until combined (never over mix your dry ingredients!!) Beat in pumpkin and banana. Stir in pecans. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans.
3. Bake in 350 degree oven for 50-to-60 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clear. Cool in pans for 10-minutes, remove. Cool completely.
These next recipes link to our family recipe wiki ... enjoy!
Bistro White Chili – Perfect for a fireside meal in the backyard with family and friends.
Chewy Molasses Cookies – Think of those delicious Starbucks’ treats, grab your favorite fall blend and enjoy
Hearty Country French Stew - Great for an afternoon of slow cooking.
Next up, I am trying a cauliflower and chantrelle mushroom soup – and will certainly post if it turns out as yummy as it appears in the magazine, and I also have a recipe for a pear, apple, and cranberry cobbler. Leon doesn’t love apple, so … I may need to find some other willing testers here at home!
At any rate, whether you bake, cook, or order your fall goodness from a local haunt, enjoy your autumn. Be nourished by the season, and bid farewell to the last evidence of summer with calm and joy – be at rest for the hibernating season to come. …Onward and Upward!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
In fact, this particular table has featured prominently in my “theory of youth ministry”, which I have shared in countless places over the years from district publications to, most recently, the 2008 LCMS Theological Convocation in St. Louis this past August. More on that some other time … Suffice it to say, this is one gem of a table.
My dad’s parents were two of the best people I have ever known. Grandma and Grandpa Staude were the epitome of quality folk —and I was blessed to really know them throughout the first 22-odd years of my life. The table that I am immortalizing through this post is their kitchen table; a rescue from an old diner in St. Joseph, MI, complete with the requisite Formica top and stainless steel accents. For many, many years, this little table was nestled warmly in the window nook of my grandmother’s home—the window side so tightly set against the wall that only the smallest of grandchildren could comfortably shimmy into those seats for a meal. And the color? That’s the best part. The color of the accompanying chairs reflected something of my grandfather’s boyish glee and silly side: a garish pink. Think Grease, the Pink Ladies; the color of 1950s ice- cream-parlor-pink. Fabulous chairs.
Every morning when we would visit, my sister and I would wake to eat breakfast with Grandma and Grandpa. There was a toaster to operate, devotions to read, and stories to share. We colored at that table. We helped dry dishes washed clean in my grandmother’s enormous farm-styled kitchen sink (original and not a Pottery Barn-esque knock-off). I remember cooking grilled cheese sandwiches for my husband and Grandmother after he had proposed, and eating them sitting around that table. I remember making a strawberry pie to feed my family while we were there trying to decide what should happen to the farmhouse after my Grandmother died from cancer. It’s a meaningful table.
And for the past 10 years since her passing, it has been stored in the quiet recesses of my Aunt and Uncle’s barn. This is a table that needs more than quiet dust motes for company! First in a soda fountain shop, and then as a centerpiece for a family as my Dad and Aunt grew-up, and then as a place for quiet devotion as my Grandparents would begin their day with prayer before the sun—this is a table for life. And for my grandparents, life meant that it was a place for laughter, too.
I am a firm believer in the importance of these necessary, rooted things. This table is more than just a possession, an inanimate, material thing … it is part of our family. It is a gathering place, and as such it represents many things that are good, real, important, and lasting.
My Grandparents pink table has come out of its storage space. It now holds a place of tremendous honor in my sister’s kitchen, which you can find in a rambling 100 year-old home in downtown St. Joseph. She just moved there with her husband, my two nephews, and sweet niece. In this enormous home that once housed a mayor of the city, my Grandparents silly, bright, and impossible Formica pink table holds a place of honor.
This weekend, I visited Katie with my daughter, Sydney and my best friend, Kathy, in tow. And the first evening we were there, we gathered elbow to elbow around the table for dinner. And the next morning, we gathered for coffee, playing with the babies, and laughter. And then for lunch. And then to work on homework with my nephew. To drink wine late into the evening. And watch the sun in the morning light. And to talk. And laugh. And be. I found myself sitting back from the scene, thinking about how totally happy I was that this odd little table had found its place once more.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
"You're such a Pollyanna."
We used to make kind fun of my old work friend, Jim with this slightly snarky statement. In response, he proudly framed an album cover from the 1960s record of the Disney movie soundtrack. You see, Jim didn't have any problem whatsoever being considered kind, generally positive, and well-known for being inclined to see things on the bright side.
"You're such a Pollyanna."
When did that phrase become a negative thing; an uncomfortable, "who wants to be a Pollyanna," expression? After all, Pollyanna is just a silly, happy, naive girl, right? Maybe.
When I was a little girl, I loved the Disney movie, Pollyanna. I loved the hair bows and terrific dresses, to be sure. And like most youngsters, I cried at the end. I remember worrying that Pollyanna would never walk again, and wishing that they would make a Pollyanna 2.
Well, enter adult perspective, where "being a Pollyanna" is somehow construed to mean that you are a sappy, glass-half-full type. I hadn't actually watched Pollyanna for many years. I didn’t go out and rent it or anything, but was led back to this compelling story through the magic of 9-million TV channels and free Showtime for a year.
Tonight while channel surfing - we saw it was on, and with my mother-in-law, who is visiting for a few days, decided we had to watch it. Leon seemed just a bit skeptical (he had never seen the film!), and became even more so when we casually explained that in the end of the movie, this sweet little girl would come crashing out of a tree and be paralyzed because the dolly she won at the town fair – oh by the way, she’s an orphan and her parents were poor missionaries who couldn’t afford her a dolly and instead gave her crutches – fell from the roof, which she was balancing on because her mean old aunt made her sleep in an attic bedroom and had not let her go to said fair in the first place.
Why on earth he found this troublesome is unclear. …
Still, we watched it. And oh, it was so nice to immerse in the 1960 Disney attitude. To consider what a difference one person can make; to be struck (as a new parent perhaps in a fresh way) by the importance of learning from a child; to enjoy the total cheese-factor of the premise. And yes - I did cry at the end, and rejoiced (and yes, clapped like a child) as Harrington Town became "the Happy Town," and with adult understanding realized that, yes - Pollyanna would probably walk again, and even if she didn't - well, that wasn't the really the point of the film anyway!
Modern day applications from Pollyanna certainly abound.
I won't go on and on about our cynical world. The world has always been so. We are just a little louder about it now. And I won't wax on about the need for seeing the best in people, playing the Glad Game, or the importance of considering the Happy Texts in Scripture. It's enough to suggest that watching this sweet family film, from an entirely different era, provided me with a wonderful simplicity of perspective with which to start another week.
And maybe, I'll have steak and ice cream for breakfast tomorrow - just to keep the nice feeling alive.
Be happy today!
(And if you have time, take a gander at this clip, which actually talks about the whole concept of being called a Pollyanna!)
Friday, September 26, 2008
What a world we now enjoy. I am watching the debates live at CNN.com, sharing my responses via the live feedback application, IMing with Leon (who is texting from Camp Wartburg where he is at a junior high confirmation retreat), updating my Twitter, and now posting to my blog. And I can't help but wonder, with all this communication, all this message sending, is there listening amidst the noise?
No more is communication linear, certainly. And really, it never has been. But there’s something going on in terms of the weight of the messages that can be sent in proportion to the messages that can be received, encoded, and responded to.
If, as James Carey suggests, “Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed,” what a reality we are simultaneously inventing and transforming every moment?
Complex. Mutli-layered. Communication free of the constraints of geography was invented with the telegraph. And communication free of the constraints of time, free of forced focus, and free of interruption is now the reality of online, digital, webby sending and receiving.
But I do wonder – how are we transforming the receiving? I can send messages simultaneously via multiple media. But I can still only receive with one mind. I wonder how much is lost as so much content is sent – but only so much can be truly received, considered, and answered.
Oops. I am tuning out the debate. Better go. Can’t listen with just one ear ;-)
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
And although the temperature is still a steamy 85 degrees, some of the leaves have started to fall, and an auburn hue is blushing the edges of smaller trees. We love the fall in Missouri. The Midwest is unpretentious in its natural beauty, and that suits us.
Currently, I am reading (and I would go so far as to say savoring) the new novel by Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife, and I encountered a passage that spoke to these reflections – and beautifully, the narrator is talking about Wisconsin, and in fact – an area near Milwaukee, where Leon and I started our life together, and this lends even more meaning to the words:
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Said simply, it is a feeling of complete.
Picasso’s coffee in hand. The smells of delicious concoctions from the sweet shop tempting us; we strolled along unhurried and unburdened. Being greeted by name as we wandered past our long-time salon created that comfortable, casual sense of being among your own. Joining Papa and Grandma for a glass of wine at their familiar, favorite family-owned Italian restaurant was effortless and meaningful all at the same time. And hearing Gershwin’s Concerto in F on the radio coming through an open apartment window; well, that just added a certain sense of class to the entire stroll along the street.
All of it combined to blend a perfect chord.
And I just can’t express how solid, eloquent, and necessary it all felt to this rookie, uncertain Mom, new employee, slightly overtired spouse, and almost-middle-aged woman.
We all need moments of melodic margin in our lives, and tonight was that necessary, normal, unsolicited space I needed.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
There's just something about generations ... I've been waiting to share this beautiful little clip for some time - we shot this footage while in Colorado this past July to visit Leon's family.
I finally have a wonderful new home computer, where I can play with all of my videos!
Here, Leon's grandmother, "Nanny" Jameson, meets her great-granddaughter for the first time. We think it's just a beautiful moment. Nanny is in her "mature" 80s. We love her tons and enjoy her so much!
Saturday, August 30, 2008
But there was more to my present and it arrived yesterday – my brand new, Brett Favre Jets jersey.
That’s right. I wanted one, and despite my husband’s mockery of mommy’s silly interest in this item, my darling daughter got herself online and ordered one for me!
I’m not a Green Bay fan, even though I lived in the great state of Wisconsin for four years in my early teaching career. And I’ve not been particularly interested in Brett, until recently that is.
When Brett decided he had changed his mind, and wanted to return to the career and game he loved – I decided I liked this guy. People make mistakes and people change their mind – and I rather admire someone who is willing to admit that and - quite realistically – take a risk of having a terrible season and being totally blasted by the sports media.
In some ways, I suppose he has the proverbial “nothing” to lose, and in other ways, he stands to lose a great deal. Interesting.
So, this season, with the exception of the one game where the Jets will play Denver and I am required in the interest of keeping peace in the home to wear my pink (that’s right, pink!) Champ Bailey jersey, I am rooting for Brett Favre. Not necessarily the Jets ;-)
Silly? Maybe. Probably.
But I am sorta excited to see how the story plays out. And I really like this jersey – it matches my hair color and eyes …
Friday, August 29, 2008
Tonight I am camped out on my sofa, with a really superb glass of merlot and my favorite Chinese takeout, waiting to watch the acceptance speech of presidential candidate, Barack Obama. I am exceptionally geared-up for this speech (and if you are stridently opposed to Barack, just let me share my blog! Thanks!)
And – truth be told - I am not ashamed to admit that I am very much excited by the “moment.” After all, I can’t name a time when I have seen 85,000 Americans of all colors and ages gathered and truly excited about being part of our great process. The former American history teacher in me, who always harped on her students to get involved, believe they had a voice, and genuinely encouraged them to “participate! participate! participate!” is pretty jazzed about what’s playing out in Denver tonight.
Yep. That’s right. I am engaged and enthusiastic to see tens of thousands of Americans gathered together to engage in the political process. I am proud to be an American and I refuse to be jaded, cynical, or mean-spirited about it. (I am also fairly bright, and aware of the issues and well-read on both party platforms … so before judging me too harshly or deciding I am some naïve, poorly informed voter, think again ;-)
Yes. I love the process, the debates, and the well-mannered challenge. Back in college, I started out as a Poli Sci. major. As a classroom educator, I loved teaching students the finer points of U.S. History and watching them engage in the passion of our history and our politics. I loved teaching anything prior to 1963. Would you like to know why? Because after that time, a deep, jaded, cynical, doubt crept into the American political spirit – and we haven’t shaken it yet. But something is stirring.
I love being an American. And I love the varied depth of our people. Campaigns at the grassroots are powerful, and expansive, and engaging, and – frankly – fun. And in just a few moments, an unlikely candidate will accept the nomination for one of our major political parties riding the wave of grassroots support. It’s remarkable. He is the first African American candidate – and listening to a pair of young black men speak on a street corner in New Orleans two days ago, it struck me that – Republican or Democrat or Independent – I am proud of our people, because it’s about time.
Next week, the energy continues and I will tune in to the events in Minneapolis with as much vim and vigor. These few weeks of politicking are my Super Bowl, you might say. And at the heart of it all, for me, is a profound respect and appreciation for our democratic ideal. How excellent to participate.
A few thoughts ...
“It is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.
That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night and a promise that you make to yours, a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west, a promise that led workers to picket lines and women to reach for the ballot.
And it is that promise that, 45 years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.
The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustrations of so many dreams deferred.
But what the people heard instead -- people of every creed and color, from every walk of life -- is that, in America, our destiny is inextricably linked, that together our dreams can be one.
"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."
America, we cannot turn back... not with so much work to be done; not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for; not with an economy to fix, and cities to rebuild, and farms to save; not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend.
America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone.”
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The expert (at least I assume he was such …) cited research to suggest that people experience massive mood “upswings” when they take time to simply engage in pleasant (dare I say, simply polite?) exchange with others.
How very American to make something that’s really about others to be all about self …
But the author discussed how making the choice to be happy and to smile, speak a kind word (not just brush past the Cub scout selling entertainment books in the strip mall parking lot, but actually stop and say hello and ask him about his troop) makes a difference for you. And, as we all know, certainly for the other.
In a keynote address I recently heard, Thom Schultz discussed the Gospel truth that the only thing that really moves people, breaks down barriers, and heals all hurts is unconditional love.
Now, do I love the green grocer, the old lady at the curb, the cub scout?
I guess I should, eh? Love my neighbor and all that … but I am telling you, taking the time to do this changes people. It changes you! It leaves you with this sort of weightless happiness in your chest, and the sense that the world is perhaps not as awful as some would have us worry.
What makes me sad in this, is that lately – the encouragement to do good to others, love my neighbor, and live as a Good Samaritan has come largely from secular sources. Unfortunately, right now (particularly in the LCMS) there seems to be a predominance of sneery, sarcastic, jaded attitude that is sort of tiring me out!
While I love the new U.S. Cellular ad, for example, it makes me sad that the world is being uplifted with the message of “We believe” in … what? CELL phone coverage? Really? Mobile phone coverage? That is the force that changes the world?
The Christian church has much to say about the "let’s all be nice and feel good about ourselves" mantra. Again, it’s so American to make something that is actually about the other, and more than that about our God, to become all about the “me.” The truth is, there is something in a smile. There is something in the smile of a Christian. Something in the kind word. The helpful tip. The welcoming attitude. The unexpected gentleness. And it’s a great deal more lasting than “more bars in more places." (I'm mixing my brands, but you get the gist.)
So: if you haven’t been particularly thoughtful to a stranger, if extroverted exuberance is just “not your style”, if you feel more caustic than called – take up the challenge to try out a different tactic this week.
Because there is Something in a smile that can change the world – and beautifully, it’s absolutely not about us!
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
What awesome, amazing women God has put into my life. Wow. I am so humbled by your thoughts and moved by your encouragement ... In truth, we need to share, and be honest, and speak our words of doubt AND share our words of affirmation to one another.
There is a scene in Desperate Housewives, and while, OKAY, I am NOT addicted to Sydney's A.D.D. medication, this scene with career Mom Lynette sharing her struggles has always stuck with me ...
"we need to tell each other this (meaning our struggles) stuff" ... And indeed, we do.
Take a look:
Monday, August 4, 2008
That's not to say I have shunned the unknown; in fact sort of the opposite is true. I've taken some pretty risky, stupid, brilliant, insipid, random, and all-together inspired choices over the last years. I won't go into those here, or anywhere frankly, (what did my good friend, Florian recently call all of this cyber-relating ... a Soul Striptease ... Yeah, well - not for this girl!) but I've always taken my risks while keeping the known firmly in view; easily within reach. Diving into the deep end with the side of the pool close at hand and a big pair of floaties on my arms. I'm smart, if nothing else, about the long term.
Sydney's introduction into my life has me reshaping all sorts of preconceived ideas about life, self, success, and identity. And control. I am daily recognizing my absolute lack of any real control and it's all a bit unnerving.
It's sort of painfully obvious and therefore embarrassing (but hopefully none too surprising) to admit that it has taken a 6-month old Baby Girl to start ridding me of pretty deep seated selfishness, pride, and ego ... but it's true. Even typing that onto the screen has left me staring for a moment at a blinking cursor.
(I mean, do I really want to say this out loud? Hopefully, I am not alone.)
I am constantly processing, analyzing, reflecting on, and redefining conclusions about myself, which is –admittedly – a pretty self-involved thing to be doing. In the midst of all of this, however, the clarity of my own lack of control, and the life's work I seem to have made out of my prolonged, stupid, selfish pursuit of control, has been as brilliant as lightening.
One of the big pieces that constantly comes into view is the daily process of letting go.
Being a mom, and uniquely being a working mom, brings with it a daily surrender of self. Now, I can just picture stay-at-home, single career moms sort of considering that remark as the penultimate justification for my decision to leave Sydney every day for 9 hours. ... And maybe that's part of it. But I have to speak from my perspective ... it’s all I know.
In all truth, being a working mom means - if you are doing it "right" (and what is that, anyway?) - pretty much zero time for self. ... And most days that's okay. But some days, it's hard. And it's upsetting. And you want to be selfish and claim time for yourself; just an hour or maybe just 10 minutes. Or you want to point the finger at your spouse and tell him to make more money. Or you are ticked because you can’t shake the worry of guilt because you like your job, and the personal opportunity it offers for connecting you to some lingering remnant of “who you used to be.” Or you find yourself irritated because no one seems to notice how hard you are working each and every day to be 100% top-notch at the office and at home ... and just how mind-numbingly, bone tired you are at the end of another day of all of striving.
And at the heart of it, you know all of your annoyances are really borne, not out of the reality of your situation, but out of your sinful, insane self. The finger points right at you - you can't blame anyone at all ..
Over these last 6 months, I have never been far from the reality that surrender is what is required to be – at least marginally – “good” at parenting. I think about it all of the time. And achieving sort of a zen-contentment with it all is my daily supplication. As a mom. As a Christian. As a centered, in-tune person ... It is absolutely not "about me." It's not entirely about Sydney, either - trust me, the last thing I want is to raise her coddled and spoiled. It's all about choices, God-blessed and directed daily living. Choices to let go, to give up your sense of self to be a better mom, wife, and - frankly - just a better YOU.
There's balance that must be struck ... in control because you grasp with total clarity your absolute lack of it. Filled with a defined purpose and identity, while surrendering your own right to claim any such thing. Learning to give and give and give, without expecting one iota of return, and realizing that claiming that attitude yields MORE in return than you could have ever manipulated on your own.
Letting go to find more than you ever could have contrived to create.
So, that's what I am working on ... while I work at the office, while I work at home, while I love my Church through my vocation, while I love my husband and daughter more than I can say ... Trying to control my ability to let it go ...
We'll see how it all works out.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I once heard someone say that it's misleading to tell people that you don't "spend" time, but instead you "invest" time ... An investment yeilds more of what was invested. And you can't gain more time no matter what you do. "No," this wise person said, "time is a limited commodity. And we spend it." Sometimes frivolously; often thoughtlessly; rarely wisely. For our little family, we spend our together time fully and completely. We draw every possible value out of every last penny ... er, second ... of time! I love that about us.
As a working mom, I have been living for my weekends with my precious daughter and loving husband. It's been a busy, busy summer with servant events and national youth workers events and all that those events bring ... but now, the insanity is over and "life" should (in theory) be hitting something of a routine.
Huzzah for routine!
This weekend was - what I found myself calling - a vacation weekend. We didn't go anywhere "special", but from Friday afternoon, when I finally hit the door after a week spent editing down at KSDK (fun! but long!) and we made a big pitcher of margaritas, ate one of our fave dishes - toasted walnuts, olive oil and four cheese raviloi (I know - totally doesn't go with margaritas, and we totally didn't care!) - and watched TiVo'ed episodes of The Office, the weekend was a time for our little family to immerse itself in love and nurture and laughter and play!
Saturday morning, Sydney and I walked to our neighborhood coffee house, while Leon played tennis with his buddies. We swam lots in Grandma and Papa's pool and even BBQed on Sunday evening. Leon and I enjoyed wine country with a group of friends celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary. ... We danced in the kitchen with Sydney. We had family tummy time (Bailey, too!) ... I read an entire novel (boo! total terrible ending, but until then a great read!) We planned our vacation for the next year and went over our schedules.
From start to finish, it was a wonderful, relaxing, vibrant weekend.
You know that Switchfoot song that says, "this is your life, are you who you want to be?" Well.
What energy this full, big, loving, fun, relaxed weekend gave me. Monday morning? Bring it on!
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Usually, each year, I watch "A Capitol Fourth" on PBS, and if I don't watch it live - I TiVo it. (Yes, I am one of those dorky people, I suppose.) And each year, I make my impassioned, "Next year in Washington" toast - of course, I haven't made it there yet ... but one day, I will watch the fireworks from the lawn of the Capitol and wave my Stars and Stripes, embarrass myself by dancing to old time artists who probably ought to have retired years ago (and actually, probably did, but have been lured out to play once more for the forgiving crowd gathered in D.C. ... this year, it was Jerry Lee Lewis), and shed a tear, or two, or twenty as the Marine Corps band plays Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," and the Boston Pops takes a backseat to the fireworks with its bold performance of the 1812 Overture.
This year found Sydney and I celebrating without Leon - he was on his way home from an uber successful youth servant event. So, we decked out the house, and loaded up enough gear for 20 infants and their moms, and spent the day at Grandma and Papa Staude's house with my sister and her family. Sydney was outfitted in a flag dress, complete with a Fleur de lis bib (I felt this to be the most obvious choice, given how the French assisted us with our victory all those years ago ... see ... a dork ...)
What a wonderful moment (for me at any rate), as we made our own "Stars and Stripes" and debated how best to place the blueberries so as to make it "look like" we made stars, and took notice of the flag out front to get our "strawberry stripes" just right, and talked about why people from England are called British ... We talked about George Washington and "I cannot tell a lie" and the Revolutionary War (boy, I bet that kid was wishing his Auntie wasn't a former history teacher!) ... but it was wonderful, really.
Happy 4th of July!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The Class of 1993: (from left) Matt Peters, Amy Edinger, Brenda Barbieri, Christine Walsh, Matt Kramer, Erin Trinklein, Jon Frecks, Amy Linnenman, and Gretchen Staude
Monday, June 2, 2008
In the course of this early AM daily grind, two decisions are made to which I am paying more and more attention as these two decisions seem to predict the day that follows.
First decision: how to get to work?
Am I in the mood to get there quickly – eschewing scenery and willing, even, to spend a few additional, treasured drips of petrol for the faster route? Well then, it's 94 straight up to Interstate 70 and into the heart of the city for me.
OR do I want the moderate route, but shorter mileage? Do I feel okay with starts and stops and patient enough to wait through traffic lights? Well then, Page extension across to 1-70 and into the city via 40 – complete with the beautiful view of morning sun cresting the trees along the edge of Forest Park.
But perhaps, I am looking for the "total experience" – in which case, take the above route, but exit at Kingshighway and wind down Shaw towards my South City destination – taking in the stately townhouses lining the outer limits of the Botanical Gardens, admiring the commitment of the early morning joggers and taking stock of the neighborhood, wondering what it would be like to live “in the city” in a place like this.
Each route is different and my willingness to select it seems to say something about my frame of mind as I begin the day. It’s a simple choice – but a telling one.
Second decision: what to listen to?
Most people don't know this about me, but I actually dislike being asked about my “favorite” music – or really my favorite anything for that matter. It all depends! Most mornings, it’s NPR. I like listening to NPR. Like most Americans who enjoy the programming, I enjoy being informed, but - again like most Americans who tune in - I secretly like to feel smart. And NPR is smart radio. So on many mornings, it's Steve Inskeep for me … news with Carl Kassel … etc.
Other mornings, it’s NPR at the top of the hour for the news from Washington and then it’s a mad channel surf through pop radio – with the top 40 turned up loud and vibrant. And let me tell you, I've given some fantastic pop performances behind the wheel of that MINI!
And sometimes it’s a favorite CD, carefully and deliberately selected before I leave the house – Josh Groban or Amy Grant or Harry Connick or Preservation Hall jazz or … And there’s doubtless a method to the madness of these choices as well.
And some days. There is just. Silence.
I can’t help but notice how these two seemingly innocuous, routine decisions have a fortune cookie like prescience about how the day unfolds. I’m left wondering, could I make a different, deliberate choice to force the day? Let’s say I am feeling stodgy and direct (natural choices would be NPR and the direct route to the office), could I force upbeat and whimsical (electing for let’s say an old CD from the 1990s and the Shaw Blvd drive)?
I don’t think it would work.
Maybe it all means relatively little. But it’s been an intriguing pattern to “just notice” … and I doubt I am alone. Basic choices influencing basic attitudes. Not necessarily a “new” concept here, but fun to consider.
Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I rode my bike and listened to folk tunes?
Monday, May 26, 2008
Life, as we’ve known it, has become much, much different. In no small degree, Sydney’s advent into our lives has actually given us the permission that we needed to just slow down a bit and take it all in … it being the proverbial “moment.”
Missing the moment is a hazard of living I guess. Certainly life as a teacher followed by life working at the YMO contributed to a sense of rather frantic living – constantly pressing, planning and preparing for the next momentous occasion. As a child and as a student, I was forever waiting for the next big project, holiday, class outing or special event. As a teacher, I lived life bell-to-bell, break-to-break, and lesson plan-to-lesson plan. My professional life over the last six years has been gears up toward the enormity of the National Youth Gathering. So, in my new context of parenthood and professional life, it is a pretty novel experience to being living life recognizing that (and I don’t mean for this to sound pitiful) this is pretty much “it.” Waking and living and working and playing and caring and cooking and laughing and … this is LIFE.
And, is it wrong to say this so boldly, I like it very much.
There are moments when I am giving Syd her evening bath, or chopping veggies for some yummy dinner concoction, or simply enjoying the evening (like I am now, clicking away on my keyboard while Leon stretches out and watches ESPN) and I stop – breathe – and take “it” all in. This living of life in ordinary moments. And I think, “Wow. I like it very much.”
And so as a new week begins and our first real holiday weekend as a young family (and yes, I know that Easter was tucked in there … but we were still too foggy headed and sleep deprived to appreciate it much) draws to its close, I think Leon and I would say: it is indeed a wonderful life and we like it, very, very much indeed.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Sure, back when we were kids the ice cream truck was exciting enough. Deep in the heat of summer, you would hear that alluring bell; run to your room to scrounge your pocket change together and then indulge in a syrupy sweet bomb pop, or an orange dreamsicle, or those really tasty strawberry shortcake bars and – if you were like most kids – you enjoyed every sticky faced moment of sugary bliss; but then you grew up and moved on to more sophisticated ice cream treats. And the neighborhood ice cream truck with its clanging bell and music-box soundtrack was forgotten.
Well, like so many other things these days, Leon and I have reevaluated our “oh-so-grown-up” attitudes toward the neighborhood ice cream truck.
Before I get to that, let me just say that today was an absolutely show-stopping day. I woke up with the birds at 5AM, but was content to dose with a sleepy smile on my face until I heard Miss Sydney at 6:45AM. (Actually, truth be told, I was waiting to hear her. Saturday mornings have become family snuggle time, and I honestly just could not wait for her to wake up. I know, I know – someday SHE will be the one waking us up at 6AM for cartoons and cereal, but now it’s my eagerness that wakes me up early!)
Finally, I heard it – just the hint of a nerfing around sound – and we were able to enjoy snuggle time, smile time , genuine happy, babbling, let’s-bother-daddy time.
And the day began.
The best part of the morning was packing up our gear and heading to our local nursery, Daniel’s Farm. We love Daniel’s. We buy all of our plants there: our herbs, our hanging baskets, and in the wintertime – our Christmas tree. It’s a family run farm with 15 greenhouses and we enjoy the owners, who always work the counter and are generous and willing to put up with me and the lists of odd plants that I bring with me, most usually discovered from garden plots I find in MidWest Living.
Sydney and I went to Daniel’s together. She “rode” in her snazzy front carrier. Sydney is very much into smells and colors these days – so the herb house was awesome fun, and she also proved a great help in selecting the pansies we took home. Hauling our treasures out to the truck, a kind older woman took pity on me with my pull-cart, infant, bag of soil, car seat, full-tray of herbs, diaper bag … etc. Her help put a smile on my face and convinced me yet again that people are often far kinder than we dare to imagine.
We headed home. Sydney napped. I gardened.
The day progressed, one content moment after another; nothing fancy or spectacular, just peaceful, calm and infinitely memorable.
Early evening found us enjoying a family walk at Laurel Park. We stopped and watched a family flying a kite and listened to the laughter of the man and his daughter. We caught up on our feelings, worries, concerns and joys … and when we heard the clang, clang of our younger years, Leon dashed for the truck to find his baggie of spare coins and we hailed the ice cream truck, picked out our familiar favorites (wow, prices have certainly gone up!) and our walk became this awesome combination of new family centeredness combined with yesteryear memories. It was pure bliss – those sticky fingers, I even managed (no surprise here) to drip orange dreamsicle all over my shorts! We laughed our heads off and discussed the finer merits of the modest offerings of the ice cream man (the menu hasn’t changed much in 20 years) and considered what a completely terrific Saturday evening we were having: ourselves, our baby, a beautiful park, our new stroller and the ice cream man.
Talk about enjoying the simple life.