The Family

The Family

Thursday, January 31, 2013

For When You Don't Have the Answers

Don't let anyone fool you.  Parenting is tough.

There are days, like the past two, that make me want to throw my hands in the air and throw a tantrum of my own to the chorus of : "I DON'T KNOW, I DON'T KNOW, I DON'T KNOW."

Because I don't.

Like yesterday when the weather looked like it was about to get scary bad right as I was leaving for work. Our babysitter could sense my anxiety and told me she would be more than happy to drive up to campus with me and keep the kids there for a few hours.

I wavered - if I do then Mattie might never get to sleep, Jack will probably be bored out of his mind and I will be seen as that nutcase, overprotective mom. But if I don't do it and there is that tornado warning that the forecasters were saying was imminent, what then?

I knew I would be in a panic.

So off we all went to campus only to be soaked to the bone from the blowing monsoon by the time we made it into my office and then having the ominous predictions die away within minutes.


Or today when Jack made that trip to the dentist he's been dreading, and we found out he had cavities. I knew as much because I've seen the spots while brushing his teeth.

Now Matt and I have to decide if he is going to have all the work done the dentist is recommending. I don't want my child walking around with a mouthful of rotten teeth, but some of this stuff seems extreme.

Add to that Mattie's massive meltdown in the buggy at Target about an hour later. The meltdown continued as she flailed in my arms while the sales clerk tried to talk to me and it seemed like 1,500 people were in line behind us staring.

Then there are the guilt trips about the multitude of decisions.

Did I make the right choice? What will happen if I do? What will happen if I don't? Why can't I be like so-and-so? Am I screwing up my kids? Should we just leave all this stuff on the conveyor belt and make a dash for the car? Should he be eating that Pop-Tart after what we learned today?

On and on they go.

I know turning those questions over in my mind does no good. I know that worry is futile, but knowing that fact doesn't seem to prevent it.

There are many decisions no book or 12-point instruction manual could cover. Two months from now these decisions facing me will be long forgotten in the wake of new doubts and confusion.

I'm also fairly certain I'm not the only parent that feels like I have no clue some days.

Several years ago a teenage girl in a church group I participated in was relaying some advice her mother had given her the night before. Her daughter had been complaining about the way her boyfriend's dad treated him and her mother wisely said to her in response: "Sometimes Courtney, parents just don't know."

It wasn't the answer her daughter was looking for, but the truth of what she said hung in the air.

I've thought about that statement many times as I've wavered with decisions. It's not the answer anyone wants to hear, but when it's true, it's best to admit it.

So for those days when like me you just don't know, maybe a tantrum isn't required. An honest answer to yourself and others in the form of I just don't know works fine.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

February Posts

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
                                                                                    -St. Augustine

I'm not sure there's another quote that so aptly describes what this blog is all about.

I spend a lot of time writing about reading and travels we take together as a family.

That's why I've decided to devote the month of February to blogging about places I long to see and things I long to do.

It's something I've been thinking about for a while and can't wait to share my travel wish list.

I may veer from the list a few days in February (we've got a couple of fun days planned I hope to share as well), but for the most part, I'll be dreaming about distant places through the pages of this blog.

Won't you join me?

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Books

I recently finished two books entirely different in scope and content.

I was able to take a peek on Amazon at the first, "Building the Christian Family You Never Had: A Practical Guide for Pioneer Parents" by Mary E. DeMuth, before purchasing it. After reading this line from the preface, I knew I was at a point in my life where I needed the advice a book like this might offer:
"Pioneer parents are people who grew up in homes they don't want to duplicate."
While I grew up in a home where we went to church, there was a lot of volatility and dysfunction underneath the surface. It's gotten worse as time has passed.

I underlined so much while reading this book. Much of it struck a chord. There were times I felt the advice was conflicting. Other parts hit a nerve. Some portions were painful to think about in the context of dealing with my own parents. And other parts I can't say I agreed with.

DeMuth's advice on making destructive vows was powerful. She titled the chapter I Won't Become My Parents - Resisting the Urge to Make Destructive Vows. I can't tell you how many times I've made these types of vows only to find it cripples me in my ability to parent or to lead the kind of life I find meaningful.

DeMuth offered these wise words:
"Vows can be a stimulus for positive change when the vow aligns with the pattern God is establishing in our lives. But a vow that is made to calm our fears, to bolster our confidence, to justify our anger, or to take upon ourselves the work that is really God's area of responsibility is a vow that will cause frustration and lead to defeat."
Ever since reading that I've been trying to release myself from the destructive vows I've made throughout the years. Ones that begin like "I'll never _________," "I will always ____________," "I won't _____________."

There's a lot I've put into those blanks that I have no control of, and reading this helped me think more about how to avoid making promises that can't be kept.

I also needed to hear her thoughts on forgiving while still being cautious around certain people.

It's not forgiveness I struggle with. It's how to navigate a relationship, and what to allow my children to do and not to do, with someone who insists that nothing is wrong when things ARE terribly wrong.
"I equated forgiveness with reconciliation. But forgiveness is a one-sided act in which we choose to forgive another person. That person, though, has freedom to receive that forgiveness, shun it, pretend he or she doesn't need it or insist nothing wrong was done worth forgiving. Reconciliation involves two people admitting their mutual sins and forgiving each other, whereas forgiveness involves only you."
 She follows up several chapters later with this:
"One truth that is hard to accept is that sometimes our obedience to the Father will cost our parents. Oswald Chambers acknowledged this hard truth: If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the sting comes in.
The other book, Ernest Hemingway's "In Our Time," is not a conventional novel. It's a series of short stories, interspersed with chapters that don't relate, or don't seem to relate, to the stories themselves.

Several of the short stories focus on a character named Nick Adams. They occur at different points in Nick's life and don't follow any logical connection, yet the language and depth of each is hard to stop contemplating.

All of Hemingway's characters seem to have one thing in common: they are unhappy. Hemingway has a distinct style that makes you feel that unhappiness in a troubling and often uncomfortable way.

He deals with suicide in one of the stories. If you know anything about Hemingway, you know that the author himself committed suicide in 1961. Who knows if he was contemplating it that many years before, but there is a sense that even then it could have been on his mind.

No matter the heaviness one feels in relation to his characters, it's hard not to want to read Hemingway. That's probably what makes him one of the greatest American writers.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Old Alabama Town

It's been a while since my traveling companions and I have been anywhere. I haven't been in a mood to travel great distances the past couple of months: part burn out and part saving up for some upcoming spring trips.

But today was a beautiful January day to walk a few blocks back in time with my children in our state's capital with a visit to Old Alabama Town.

For anyone that's read this blog before, you know I often forget my camera at important moments. Today was no exception. I left it sitting in our kitchen. All photos posted today are courtesy of always-trusty Google images.

The drive to Montgomery is about an hour for us, so we headed out the door early and were back home before the postal carrier's afternoon drop-off.

Jack was pleased to see a playground immediately upon arrival.

It took us about 2 hours to take the actual walking tour. It probably would have been quicker, but we stopped and let Mattie play in the rocks multiple times. There are tour guides available to walk you through the entire experience, but it's easier for us to move at our own pace.

My favorite was the print shop. I once worked at a newspaper, so I enjoyed the timeline about Alabama's oldest newspapers. According to the list on the print shop wall, Alabama's first newspaper, the Centinel, began printing in 1811 in Mobile.

Jack liked the cotton gin. For more than 100 years, cotton WAS the Alabama economy. One of the signs in the gin did point out that this was both good and evil.

This man greeted us in one of the homes and gave us a quick history lesson. Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to keep Mattie from climbing on things to pay much attention.

We also toured a tavern that was constructed between 1818-1821. That's almost 200 years. Now that is some amazing history!

I must admit I'm more of a U.S. history buff than a fan of state history. In fact, I remember hating Alabama history class in both the fourth and eighth grades. I would have to say that what I read and saw today was probably my favorite Alabama history lesson.

It cost us only $10 to take the tour. Children 5 and under are free, so I was the only one that had to pay.

After the tour, we ate a delicious cafeteria-style lunch at The Farmer's Market Cafe. This place alone was worth the trip. Fried chicken, potatoes and gravy and the cherry cobbler were some good Southern treats, not to mention the nice folks that carried my tray and were so helpful to a momma toting a toddler.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Whatever Happened to the Milk Man?

Did anyone else have a milk man growing up?

Ours came on Saturday morning.

He brought us milk, chips, onion dip, cottage cheese and a host of other things. I, for one, would love to see the concept of the milk man make a comeback!

The topic of the milk man started last night when I asked Matt to pick up some onion dip. He had no clue what I was talking about.

I'm still not sure how he didn't know what I meant by onion dip (who doesn't love onion dip?), but alas, he found some.

When we were eating dinner tonight he asked if he got the right thing.

That's when I began to reminisce about the Barber's onion dip our milk man would deliver.

When I mentioned that we once had a milk man, Jack asked the obvious question.

What's a milk man?

After an explanation, Matt asked the next obvious question.

Whatever happened to the milk man?

Walmart was my reply.

When in doubt, Walmart is easy to blame.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I know what it's like to be afraid.

Fear has been an unwanted companion most of my life.

About 10 years ago the panic attacks started. Just when everything in life seemed to be going well. Go figure.

I still get them from time to time. It's usually in the middle of the night, and I wake up and IT'S there. Cold, raw fear. Nothing explainable other than a sense of doom.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to me then when I see it in him. You think I would know how to handle it or would be able to offer better advice, but it often confounds me when his fears take over.

Like tonight when I told him about possibly having to do something he is afraid of. The tears came fast and before I knew it he was practically screaming.

He woke up his sister.

Anger boils up, and I send him to his room. Only he doesn't make it halfway out the door when he stops and says he's sorry, and I tell him to climb back into bed with us.

When he's calmed down enough to listen, and my frustration has subsided, all I know to do in that moment is hug.

Then we talk - about fear and trust and bravery and faith.

The initial fear passes for the night.

But when the time comes to do this or anything he's dreading, the fear will rise up again.

Will I handle it better when it does?

Can I let him be afraid and encourage bravery without frustration taking hold of me?

Can I be the mom that guides and teaches him how to navigate the scary waters when some of the same agonies plague me? 

Questions like this remind me of how little I actually know and how much I still have to learn.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Wonders of the Night Sky

The first time I looked through a high-powered telescope was last night.

It was A-MA-ZING!!!!

I don't spend as much one-on-one time with Jack now that Mattie has come along. So, when I saw the e-mail this past week about "Astronomy Night 2013," I knew this was our chance.

Getting Ready to Go!

We spent much of the night gazing at the moon, the stars and Jupiter.

I wish I had pictures of the massive telescopes in the field, but we were asked not use flash photography because it would mess up everyone's night vision.

Before our star-gazing began, there was a quick presentation on constellations, along with some hot chocolate, Milky Way candy bars and Moon Pies.

There's something about being outdoors on a cold winter's night looking up at the sky. It definitely beats pondering that same sky in the summer when all the pesky mosquitoes are swarming about.

Seeing the moon's craters and its brightness through those telescopes left me with a sense of awe. And when I saw Jupiter I was nothing less than giddy.

Jack was enamored as well. He kept going on and on about how "cool" it all was.

I hope if nothing else, this post will inspire you to find a good night this winter season to bundle up and ponder the majestic heavens with your children or anyone willing to brave the cold along beside you!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fishin' and Swingin'

Days of rain and too much indoor time this week left us in need of fresh air.

Sunshine and cool temps led us to a state park that is within minutes of our house on this beautiful winter day.

Jack divided his time between the playground and fishing with his Pop.

My dad had to cut the line after Jack hooked a nearby tree.

All Mattie wanted to do was swing and then swing some more.

"How do you like to go up in a swing,
      Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
       Ever a child can do."
-From The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson

These swung as well, and round and round she went.

We also saw some signs of wildlife:

Deer tracks

 And a snake skin

When you've been inside all week, spending an entire day outdoors lifts the spirits of young and old alike.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This Time Around

I'm taking the plunge and going to read Faulkner.

Not only Faulkner, but Hemingway and Fitzgerald as well.

I'm reading works by all three authors as a part of the course Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner through Yale. I've  mentioned before the free classes that Yale University offers through it's website. This is another of those.

Except it's not a literature class as one might expect. It's classified under American Studies.

Oprah once said people "turned on her" when she chose one of Faulkner's works for her book club.

If you know anything about any of these three authors, you'll know why. They can be dark and heavy on the soul.

I read Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" a number of years ago, and the unhappiness of the characters was keenly felt.

Because these great writers can add new meaning to emotional suffering, I know better than to try to read all the books in a row. After each book I'm taking a break. I need to finish the Game of Thrones series. I've also got a new book from Sally Clarkson to read in between to lighten my heart and spirit.

I went through the lectures in the previous courses quickly, but because I want to read all the texts that go along with this class, and because of the necessary breaks I'm taking between each book, it's likely to take close to a year to finish this one.

Going at your own pace is just one of the many benefits of free, online learning I enjoy so much.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Bow for Every Occassion

It's likely you've heard a lot about all the shades of gray.

But what about pink?


Or blue?

 Or all the colors in between?

If you have girls, you know all about accessories. It didn't dawn on me before I had Mattie how many different hues of pink or blue exist or the importance of matching hair accessories for every outfit.

I was a boy mom for almost four years before she came along. I knew a lot about dinosaurs, sharks and trucks, but didn't have much of a clue about all things little girl.

Not only is there a color for just about everything, there's also pattern and size to consider.


I'm happy to report that all the bows she's acquired so far have come from Matt's sister. She's probably the best I know in the accessories department.

The only thing I bought hairwise were these barrettes a few weeks ago from Target. She's beginning to pull the bows apart, and I wanted something less dressy to keep her bangs out of her face on days we are at home.


Did I mention she's not even 2 yet?!?!?!

Friday, January 11, 2013

While They Are Little

I wonder how long this latest Netflix movie will sit on the counter before Matt and I are able to watch it? It took us about three weeks on the last one and about two for the movie before that.

Maybe, three years from now, I'll finally get to watch Eat, Pray, Love or the 300 other movies on our queue.

The laundry is piled so on the couch tonight there's nowhere to sit. This happens at least twice a week.

There is usually something, or a whole bunch of somethings, strewn about the house. Something else ALWAYS needs to be cleaned.

These may sound like complaints, especially to someone without young children in the house. But for those of us with little ones running about it's just reality.

I've come to accept that while my kids are small, there's a whole lot of things that will go undone.

I don't want to rush through these years.

I don't want it to go any faster.

I don't want to look back and see only a blur.

I don't want to look back and say thank goodness those days are over. 

I do want them to be little and innocent as long as possible.

I do want to stop what I'm doing more often and take the hand Mattie reaches out for me to hold.

I do want to play hide-and-go-seek more with Jack and let him take more videos with my phone and then laugh along with him as he cracks up watching himself.

Sure, I'm dead tired most days and feel like I'm hanging on by a very thin rope others, but that's just another part of reality when your children are little.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Do The Right Thing

“Happy are those who act with justice and always do right.”
                                                                            -The Divine Hours

I often wonder how my children will understand righteousness in a world where so much is wrong.

I often wonder how I myself can cling to it when it feels like this world takes so much out of me on a daily basis.

Case in point: Yesterday, about 20 of us sat through an active shooter training session to try to prepare us for the unthinkable. I was sick to my stomach the entire time.

Add to that the lies people tell, the things they do that make no sense or are unethical and you've got yourself one stressed out, angry and confused person this evening.

Am I alone in feeling like I am sitting in the seat of the scoffer too often?

I thought us adults were supposed to have it all together, right? At least that's what we think and are lead to believe as children and even later as teenagers.

I certainly am not trying to boast. I am as far from perfect as they come. I know my flaws as well as anyone: too high-strung, judgmental, angers way too easily, can curse like a sailor, worrier - that's just to name a few.

It's just that deep down I delight in doing what is right. I often fall short, but I feel compelled to try to play by the "right" rules.

It’s not always easy. Quite the opposite is true. The older I get, the more I realize that doing the right thing is often the hardest thing to do. 

But there are those who do it.
I recently witnessed an unselfish act, one in which the person benefiting might never realize what was done for him. I feel blessed to call the giver of this gift my friend. She willingly sacrificed something she deserved for his benefit.

I see it in a brother that seeks to care for his sister and who gladly does things all day to try make her happy. I see it in their hugs and how he always takes the hand she reaches out to him.
It was evident last Christmas when a complete stranger showed up at my door with the wallet I didn’t even know I’d lost until that moment.

It was in the words of a guest preacher who spends his life giving to others in need through multiple non-profit and outreach organizations that seek to help men and women with serious addictions.
It was there in an e-mail sent before Christmas from a colleague asking us all to chip in for the three women on the maintenance staff.

It was there in the $600 we collected for them.
That's because sometimes, when we veer from our wants and desires, or give away money we might have intended to use for another purpose, or take time we don’t think we have, or step out of our comfort zone and look foolish in front of others or say what should be said even though our voice and hands are shaky, all in the name of righteousness, it just might make this world a more bearable place.

Cliche I know, but how else do any of us learn to do the right thing? It takes effort, guts, values and a whole lot more.

So on this day when it felt like the wrongs kept piling up, like David I must remember:
"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."
                                                                          -Psalm 27:13

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Poems and Other Books

In the stillness of winter we will read.

And we will read books worth reading along with works of poetry.

The poems of William Butler Yeats, Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and many others are included in these books of prose.

I cannot adequately describe how much Mattie loves the pictures in "A Family of Poems." When I say the word 'poems,' her chubby legs take off to her room, and she reaches for the book that sits on her shelf.

We've spent almost every day since Christmas looking through the book naming the animals. She pretends to read it to Jack and me, and sometimes to her stuffed animals, just as a young Caroline Kennedy is doing in the picture on the cover.

About a year ago I decided to learn to read poetry. I was fearful I wasn't up to the challenge. I discovered that the silliness and simplicity of children's poetry was a good way to start.

I quickly learned that the key was repetition. The more I read the poem, the more I got the feel for the rhythm and cadence.

It didn't take long before I was checking out anthologies from the library to read aloud to the children.

I've since fallen in love with poetry. So much so that I've decided to include a reading at the beginning of each day's class I will teach this spring. Even though it's not a literature class, I hope to instill in my students how the power of language and vivid imagery found in poetry will be worthwhile to mimic in their presentations. It also wouldn't hurt for them to sometimes think about including lines from well-written poems into their speeches to help solidify key points and themes.

I think Caroline Kennedy says is best when she describes poetry this way:

"Poetry captures the most fleeting moments and makes them last forever, or describes the tiniest creature and makes it huge. Poets express our deepest emotions and ponder life's biggest questions in just a few lines that we can carry with us and bring to mind whenever we need them."

I was thrilled she included some of her mother's poems in both editions. One of the poems, written in 1953, about a month after Jackie and Jack Kennedy were married, gave me goose bumps. Most women are enamoured with their husbands and have grand images of their greatness as newlyweds, but her poem expresses something deeper.

Here are her words:

He would build empires
And he would have sons
Others would fall
Where the current runs
He would find love
He would never find peace
For he must go seeking
The Golden Fleece
All of the things he was going to be
All of the things in the wind and the sea.

Remember, he wasn't elected president until 1960. She knew his path, as I think he did, so many years before it became history.

In addition to the poetry, Santa dropped off "Madeline" and "Madeline's Rescue" for Mattie. 

This past summer I read a book called "The Marriage Plot" that mentioned this classic story. I had never heard of it, but as soon as I googled the title, I knew these were books for us.

The original story, first published in 1939, has already become one of my favorites.

The first sentence reads:

"In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."
I can think of only a handful of opening lines that read quite as well.

And it's not just books for Mattie.

Jack is into "Lord of the Rings."

Had I known anything about the books before we started, or that "The Hobbit" was going to be in theaters this Christmas, I would have begun with it. All I knew about the books was the popular movies, which I'd never seen. We began reading "The Fellowship of the Ring" around Halloween. We finished it shortly after Thanksgiving, watched the first movie, and all Jack has been talking about since are Orcs and Frodo and Gollum and Aragorn and Gandalf.

We are currently reading "The Two Towers." Once we finish the trilogy, we'll go back and read "The Hobbit," - the book which apparently started it all.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ode to French Bread

Have you ever received a gift so unexpected and delightful it brought you to tears?

Here is the box.

It arrived this morning via FedEx. As the FedEx delivery man pulled off, I pondered what I could have ordered that needed a signature.

As I opened it the scent of bread hit me.



What is Poilane you ask?

Only "France's premier baking dynasty."

Four loaves of it. Five if you count the two in one package.

I ran to find my phone. I had to call my mother-in-law. I sent the address to Poilane for her to pass along to her stepson and his girlfriend before Christmas. They were going to be in Paris, and I'd just read an article about Poilane in The New Yorker.

"They have to go," I kept telling my mother-in-law. "They have to eat some for me."

 I couldn't believe that they would send me bread all the way from Paris.

Turns out they didn't.

It was my mother-in-law.

I had gone on and on about it so that she went online, e-mailed the company and found out that they ship to America a few days each week.

As she told me all this I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being known and understood.

What a gift!

Jack and I began eating the gargantuan whole wheat loaf right away. I've eaten bread directly from the oven that wasn't this fresh. And this was shipped overnight from Paris, mind you.

As we sat and ate we pretended we were in Paris, at 8 Rue du Cherche-Midi. I told him stories of how when his father, grandmother (my mother-in-law) and I were in Paris almost nine years ago, I couldn't get enough bread to eat. Every morning for breakfast I would eat all of mine plus his dad's and that of anyone else that was with us that hadn't finished theirs.

I told him of how I would buy loaves from bakeries or street vendors all over France, and I would walk around eating my hard, french bread all day long.

We never ate the bread at Poilane when we were there because we didn't know the place existed.

Oh Paris, I long to see you again. 

I long to visit Poilane myself as well as traveling to that small French town where I ate the best quiche of my life. I went back for seconds, then thirds.

Thank you Lauren Collins and The New Yorker for the profile piece on Poilane.

Thank you Poilane for the best bread in existence and for shipping overnight to an American girl.

Thank you to an attentive and giving mother-in-law for sending the children and I, on this day, a taste of Paris.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

CSA Wednesday

Today was the last pick up of the season for the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program we participate in.

Here's what we got:


Broccoli and Cauliflower

Sweet Potatoes