Monday, March 30, 2009

Inspiration on (training) wheels

I feared the worst. It would probably take my cautious daughter until the end of summer, if not longer. And then over spring break, she went from trepidation on training wheels to riding a mile to school – on two wheels!

Abby is on the quiet side of quiet, sometimes quick to learn things, but on her own time table. She excels at caution, which is good when I need to trust her around the house. It’s not so good when she expects to fall and get hurt, so wants every inch of her body padded!

This past week, her training wheels made quick work of getting bent to the point that they were worthless. She started to get the hang of balancing with them off the ground. Then one day she insisted, OK, Dad, yessssss, let’s take them off. In a sassy, grumpy sort of way. She took off around our cul-de-sac, on two wheels, without a parent or a problem. I was shocked.

Two days later (yesterday), she begged to go ride again. This from the girl who had to be coaxed to ride her bike just one month ago.

She figured out how to start on her own. How to stop on her own. How to suddenly weave around up and down driveways, which I’ve been unsuccessfully encouraging her to do for a year. How to ride faster than a snail.

She went flying through a mud puddle on accident, and laughed. She did it over and over, laughing out loud every time (is this my cautious daughter who doesn’t like dirt or bumps that much?) I smiled in pride and disbelief as she rode more quickly and confidently than I ever imagined. Oh, and the elbow and knee pads? Never once did she use them this week.

She’s ridden her bike to school twice this year, and walked about 100 times. Today, she wanted to try the whole mile on two wheels. And she did it.

She took some baby steps a few days ago, and then discovered a whole new realm of independence and confidence.

Sometimes I see the inevitable coming, and I fear that I’ll never make it – a new semester’s schedule, moving my family, job transitions, economic unknowns. But maybe fearing how hard it’s going to be is foolish. I’ve been reading in the news how recessions give rise to huge increase in entrepreneurs who try something new out of necessity. They discover it’s better than they thought, often sticking with their small businesses even when the economy picks up again.

A little worry is okay. But my worst fears rarely come true. In fact, a lot of good often comes of those things I'm afraid of. Watching Abby step out and grow up in a matter of days this week has given me a lot of hope to look forward with less worry. I see that being stretched might take me places I never dreamed possible - maybe even quicker than expected, and laughing along the way!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dis/content - more thoughts

I've been wrapping my thoughts around the things in my last post - dis/content - for months probably. Since I wrote about it the other day, I've been trying to articulate them, piece them together. The more I think about it, the more optimistic I feel, actually. In jumbled order, here's what I'm thinking...

From John - Be content, but not apathetic. Too often, we confuse contentment with indifferent stagnation. To be content is to be satisfied, but not emotion-less or ambition-less.
content - satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.
apathetic - having or showing little or no emotion, not interested or concerned; indifferent or unresponsive

I have a dream. Actually, had one a few nights ago. I was facilitating a parenting class (?!) and this is what I told the parents. "Expect less of yourself, and more of your kids." Later when I was awake, "expect more of God" added on to that. Dad alluded to this thought in his comment - I need to make my expectations realistic, considering where I'm at in life, with little kids and a fledgling career.

Don't forget that I might be already realizing some of my dreams and ambitions - today! Dina wrote about this a while ago too. My dreams from a few years ago were to have a strong marriage, to be a mom, to excite my chemistry students about learning, to get to know my neighbors. I'm actually do all those, and pretty well! And more than any of my write a book or save the world dreams, I first and foremost want to live in love with John until death parts us. I don't want to let tomorrow's dreams cloud the fact that I'm living many dreams today, and it takes a lot of work and ambition to do the wife, mom, teacher thing.

Maybe just "being" today is preparing me, or someone else, for living those dreams. If I were to write a book someday, or teach teachers, the years of experience now are imperative. I don't really have much to say yet. I can begin to live my ambitions without even leaving today's usual work/play. I might even discover that my dreams change as I am just being. Or maybe I'm not the one meant to realize the dreams anyway. Maybe it's my kids, my students, my husband. By being the mom, teacher, wife today that they need, they can be the one to change the world. Don't let it be just about me...

The balance is still plenty foggy to me. But maybe I'm onto a content path to ambition. Or an ambitious path to contentment.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Words will fail me to articulate this thought, but I'm going to try...

One of the virtues that I aspire to most is contentment (see my simple life and inventory control). I want to be thankful for what I have, not always longing for more time, clothes, space, money. I work at and pray for contentment in my selfish self and covetous kids on a daily basis. It's one of the few things I do every day, actually!

And yet I find myself thwarted, or at least torn, by the presence of discontentment. No, not just that I want "more", but that in some situations, an attitude of discontent seems to be a powerful necessity. Maybe a better word for it is "ambition".

Discontent - or ambition - is a powerful driving force. It drives entrepreneurs to make something better, doctors to find a cure, educators to teach a new generation in a different way. Ambition for a better job in five years drives me to go above and beyond at work now. I dream about teaching in third world countries, or writing a book about marriage and more, or working on education reform in America. I will not come close to any of those if I sit here contentedly on my butt.

I admire those who live content with their home, family, and job. But I also admire those who have worked tirelessly for reform in medicine, education, even church - never content to settle for the status quo.

How do I go about pursuing contentment, and yet act on my ambitions at the same time?

What's the balance???

(Those aren't rhetorical questions - I really want answers!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Workout buddy

I’m not much for working out with a friend. Even with my match-made-in-heaven John, we part ways at the gym. For me, exercise time is when I get some intense and much-needed alone time to recharge.

But today a workout buddy that I couldn’t refuse busted her way in.

Rachel (two-and-a-half) was in a sour mood, and requested a pass on our trip to the gym. I decided to give in just this once, since I could do most of what I’d planned at home, albeit with her underfoot. So much for recharging, intense, and alone.

Then as soon as I started my warm up jumps, she joined in.

Even on the single-leg hops, holding on to the sofa.

I got hot, and took off my extra layer of wind pants. She took off her tights. She’s kind of inspiring I guess, in a cute sort of way.

I pointed out that my red shorts matched her red skirt. She ran to switch her red shirt for a white one to match me.

I did some push ups. She got right down too. But of her own admission, hers were more booty raises than push ups. “I look like a fwog,” she said.

I did step-ups on the sunken living room step. I had 5 lb. weights, she wanted the 3’s. I gave her the teeny collars that hold the weights on the dumbbells instead.

She ran and finally got her gym shoes on. “I want you to do more exercise with me, mommy.”

Time for a shower. My anti-shower kid wants one too. And her clothes must be piled up just the same (carefully haphazard) as mommy’s.

Kids are copycats, though often I wish that mine weren’t (they copycat my flaws!). But in that copying lies a powerful gift too – that they might occasionally pick up on some good habits, and that I feel loved, special, worth copying. Hopefully they’ll learn more than just jumps and push ups from me.

I still need that workout alone time. But every so often, having a teeny workout buddy is really sweet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'Tis the season... go a little crazy!

For as much as 10 months out of the year, I mostly love my stay-at-home mom mixed with college teacher lifestyle. But, let me tell you, it's not all as glamorous as you might think.

Every March, I get a nifty little paper in my mailbox at work asking what I would like to teach during the summer and the fall. It sends me into a tailspin of planning, worrying, dreaming. As if I know what will be going on around my family in December!! On top of that, us part-time teachers don't find out what we're teaching in August until, say, the week before school starts. Every year. So why I must be pressured to decide now, I don't know.

You'd be surprised how many things come into play for this decision every single year. John laughs at me because I agonize over the same variables, every single year. What do I have time for? What classes are available? Who will watch the kids, or get them to school? Will we still be able to afford health insurance? Will the taxes or time outweigh the benefits? Will we have another baby or not? Add onto that all that we are starting to plan and save towards John graduating in a year or so. I make a giant spreadsheet full of dollars, hours, classes, weighing each of a half-dozen options. March 2006. March 2007. March 2008. March 2009.xls is in full force.

March also happens to be the time of year that I'm mid-semester and trying to keep my students motivated. It's warming up outside, and I am attempting to be outside as much as possible, yet not get too worried that the fence needs to be painted and the siding power-washed. Summer vacation plans are shaping up (for those six glorious weeks I'm not teaching), and so and (camping) are absorbing lots of online minutes.

It's a perfect storm.

So here I am ranting to myself. Why? 1) Just so you know the grass isn't really greener over here. 2) With so much going on, I wish I had more time to write. 20 minutes carved out today, finally. 3) At our house, uncertainty is complicated by the fact that is seems to give rise to dreams and possibilities. Good and bad, I guess.

As I pray for peace in the craziness, while still moving forward, two thoughts come to mind this week. Maybe you'll connect with them too, when your little world goes through jumbled crazy seasons.

"Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." Philippians 4:6-7

"A person is not old until regrets take the place of dreams." (from the green tea cap of the editor of Shape magazine)

I'll write again during the next 20 minute lull between spring storms!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I've moved a lot in my short adult life - Champaign for three years, Bloomington for a year, Madison for two years, Gainesville for two years, and now Champaign for four whole years. I'm reminded this week why that is sweet and yet bitter.

As I walked through the grocery store on Monday, I ran into a couple of girls who I've met over my years here, and we caught up, oohed and ahhed over how big the kids are. I recognize the clerks, I know the brands, I know where to find my favorite foods. Seeing people I know around town is a wonderful side effect of being kind of permanent. It takes a while, but it's oh so sweet!

Yesterday, I heard that one of our neighbors is terminally ill. She's got a little dog that the girls love to pet, and a driveway that they love to run and bike on too. Two years ago, she was the picture of glamour, hardly looking a day over 70 (80-something in fact). We've lived in our current place for two years now, and we've gotten to know the neighbors in our tiny cul-de-sac. Many (most) of them are over 80 years old. Getting to know them has really been great, a whole demographic I rarely interact with otherwise. But almost all of them have gone from fairly healthy to struggling with major health issues since we moved in. Even though I know that they are older, and it's how life goes, it still hurts a little bit of my heart to see them going downhill so quickly.

Only when you stick around somewhere for a while do you find friends and become a part of the community. But only when you stick around do you lose friends and feel their pain.

Permanence is bittersweet.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Spring around the corner?

Winter isn't quite over. It's been long, and cold, and cloudy. Ironically, I've noticed during the last few weeks that the deadest time of year is the end of winter. Everything that had half a mind to die is long dead. The snow (at least hear in the "south") is gone. With the greenest part of the year just around the corner, things are looking their dreariest. But I take enormous comfort in knowing that spring will be hear soon, if not on March 20, at least looking like spring by April - with daffodils, tulips, green grass, and leaves.

Why can't life be a bit more predictable like that? Sometimes, things seem like they can't get any worse. And then they keep getting worse. Usually, I have enough of my optimist father in me to hope and pray and look forward to deadness bursting into life. Spring must be right around the corner, it can't get any worse, right????

Sometimes it is OK, with the barren times finally giving way to great stuff - like winter to spring.

But sometimes people die. Jobs are lost. Hopes and dreams are squashed. Injustice prevails. Life doesn't go in nice 3 month season cycles. Argh.

Sometimes things don't work out. And strangely, that's a big reason why I keep pursuing a God who alone has the power to set things right in the final "end". Knowing that He's big, just yet merciful, and keeping an eye on us keeps hope alive in me.

Out of the leaves yet un-raked from fall, little daffodil leaves are popping up in my front yard.

I'm comforted by those little signs of life - my inspiration to keep hoping and praying for some day when winter gives way to spring once and for all.

Free for the asking, apparently.

I have a smudged up little white board in my kitchen, where I jot down a running list for next shopping trip. It's my valiant effort at not making 5 trips to the store every week.

Apparently, word got out. I always tell John, well, if you need chips for lunch, just write it on my board, and they will magically appear (once they go on sale!). He's got a request in for gin currently.

Well, Abby figured the system out the other night at dinner. I had her write PEZ up there a few days before, because I owed her some. But she jumped up and added to the list while we were eating on Wednesday. And added. And added. We just cracked up laughing. Fuzzy picture below...

On the one hand, it's nice that apparently everyone (you included now!) knows where to go to get stuff from me. On the other hand, maybe there's a reason that we don't always get what we ask for. If John did, we'd have liquor and Ruffles but no garlic with dinner. If Abby did, we'd have triplet babies, plus several cars, cans, puppys, and kittys.

Two great inventions that keep my life sane: "Sorry, not happening." And erasers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hanukkah in March

Wrong season, wrong holiday, I know. But the title of the children's book caught my eye at the library: Just enough is plenty by Barbara Goldin. Yeah, I want my kids to know that, I'll check it out. Never mind that I missed the "Hanukkah tale" subtitle.

So it's Jewish holiday education at my house this week, as we read about a family celebrating the holiday where one day's worth of oil miraculously lasted eight days. Just enough turned out to be plenty. This Polish family had no money for presents that year, yet shared their few latkes with a stranger who happened by on the first night of Hanukkah. They worried when he showed up, but welcomed him gladly in. "We can stretch the 'just enough'", Mama whispered...[to her worried family]. "We're poor, but not so poor." The stranger got plenty to eat and a bed for the night, and left them a surprise gift at the end. They'd have plenty to share for a while.

I found Poland on the map with my girls, and I might try my hand at making latkes for the first time later this week.

But more than geography and cooking, this week it's on my mind that our family - maybe even led by their mama - would find ways to stretch our just enough into plenty. I've said over and over during our many years of grad school (equal to our years of marriage!) that somehow we've always had "just enough". For which I am very thankful. But the sweetest compliment to me would be to hear my little girl say to her mama, like Malka at the end of the story, "I'm glad you're so good at making just enough be plenty."

What are you doing with your just enough?

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:38