Saturday, April 28, 2007

Not Quite Montessori

It's supposed to be good for young children to work with activities that build concentration, attention to detail, and fine motor skills.

So just think how much D1 must have learned while stuffing an entire mini-can of playdough through the filling hole of a water gun.

"I put my playdough inside! It rattles! It doesn't come out."

And just think how much DOB must have learned taking it all out again with a toothpick.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Some days you're the British, some days you're the 'gator

DOB used to have an away message to this effect, long ago when we were just another name on each other's IM Buddy lists. After some time, I found it was an allusion to The Battle of New Orleans, a song from a genre of music with which I was as yet entirely unfamiliar. Anyway, I deduced that the away message meant that some days you were bound to lose no matter which side you took.

Yesterday was a British/'gator day. Articles of advice to young mothers will say lovely things about how when everyone is having a bad day you should just let the dishes go and do something fun with the children--take a walk or read a story or just have a nice snack and take a little nap. All good advice. Only some days it just doesn't work. And those dishes always come back to bite you, anyway.

The day actually started deceptively well--dishes done and laundry going and an hour of contented work with playdough while it poured rain outside. But then the rain let up a bit and I had the bright idea of going outside to splash in puddles. Come now, this should be Mother of the Year material in Toddlerland, right?

We found everyone's coats and everyone's boots and the umbrella and everything else, and then we put them all on, and then we managed to get through the door without anyone falling down, and we had just made it down the street to the next house when D2 announced "Stinky!" and "Falling down!" and began heading home to get changed.

This is not typical behavior for him, so I figured I had better comply while he was willing to help with the process. So we went home and I changed him and we got all ready to go again, but something during this time set D1 off, and when we went outside she Did Not Want To Be There. Neither coaxing nor threats were of any avail--she simply sat and wailed while D2 now happily splashed through the puddles.

I figured it must be hunger and fatigue, so we went back inside and changed out of everything and fixed lunch, which they ate, and then hopped down to play. For some reason I was by this time very, very tired. So I sat and got tireder and tireder while they, refueled, got wilder and wilder. I finally mustered up the energy to read them stories, but they just squabbled over sitting in my lap. Finally I put them down for sleep and retreated to the other room, figuring a good nap would do us all good.

But a good nap was not to be had that day. D1 and D2 danced on their beds and uttered jokes in an incomprehensible dialect and laughed uproariously and threw things across the room. So I sat in their room so they would go to sleep, but though they lay still for quite some time, sleep was not to come. And D1 needed to go potty every ten minutes.

Finally about two o'clock everything grew quiet. I had just enough time to doze off when I heard D2 crying. They were awake, and showed no signs of having rested enough or of going back to sleep. I was more tired than when naptime started. I tried to settle them down by reading to them, but they just fought more over lap space. I tried to interest D2 in duplos, his favorite toy, but he sat on the edge of the bin and it collapsed under him, whacking him in the head. We had a snack, which was well received initially, but eventually led to more grief when the preferred food items ran out.

So I gave up on trying to fix things. I sat and tried to muster up the energy to think about dinner and ignored the fact that they were very happily constructing a mountain out of coats, carpet squares, and library books. They begged for supper early only to throw most of it on the floor. They finally went to bed and I tried not to think about the great personal cost at which I was making their lives so miserable and failing so utterly to train them. (This effort at not thinking about it greatly aided by DOB, who brought home Harvey to watch.)

Fortunately not all days are like that. Today we had a much-enjoyed art project which resulted in a charming card to take to a birthday party tomorrow. We went to the park and stomped in the puddles for a glorious hour--just in case I was in doubt, D1 shouted, "I am having a good time!" They ate lunch with hardly any trouble and sat happily during story time and went right to sleep at naptime. And they're still asleep.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Big Back Yard

This is our back yard: small, muddy, and mosquito-infested. But I'm starting to know its little quirks and see its magnificent possibilities.

Since a large part of our homeschooling philosophy (and for that matter, life philosophy) involves spending time outdoors, both in active play and observing nature, I want to make the back yard a good place to do that. What we lack in money, muscles and space we will have to make up for in inventiveness. Fortunately we have no shortage on that.

First of all, the lawn is just not big enough for a full game of football. So if we nibble away at it here and there, it's no great loss. That swampy spot in the back end of the property, with the thicket of shrubs just past (in the neighbor's yard, but he shows no interest in cutting them) is a favorite haven for birds. We can dig that away to make a real pond, and next to it work on growing a small meadow of other bird and butterfly-friendly plants.

The pond should improve drainage in the rest of the yard, and will provide some extra dirt to heap up a little mountain for the ducklings to climb, and later run, up and down. It can go over near the back left corner of the property, which being a shady spot and supplied with some old stacks of cement blocks and bricks, and a good pile of clay, already serves as a sort of open-air playhouse. Planting a screen of tall grasses there will make it feel cozier, and eventually we can build a little stepping stone trail that winds through the yard, around by the pond and the bird meadow, and back into the little playhouse corner.

In the back right corner we can put in a quick-growing climbing tree (and dig up more dirt for the mountain) and all along the fence and patio can be narrow (someday perhaps raised) beds for growing vegetables and berries. Somewhere, someday, I want to find a spot for a bean tent or a sunflower house. And somehow I've got to find a way to camouflage that compost bin.

That should leave enough yard for a game of horseshoes or croquet, while attracting all the birds and bugs (except mosquitos!--I continue to vow biological warfare against them) to keep our little naturalists busy for years.

Yes, it will take years to do all this. But a girl's got to dream sometime.

Note: My own imaginings have this past day been greatly enhanced by checking out A Child's Garden, by Molly Dannenmaier.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Transplanting Weeds

Yesterday I thought it was about to rain, so we stayed in the back yard instead of venturing to the park. The ducklings, naturally, were drawn to the mud pile like worms. I planted the six parsley seedlings that survived an infancy under my care, in hopes that they will do better in the open air. We also planted sunflower seeds, because sometime in your life you simply have to try planting sunflower seeds.

I showed the ducklings how to make "soup" out of various leaves and flowers from the yard; our yard is a diverse ecosystem that supplies many tasty possibilities. Then I worried about whether I play with them too much. (Yes, friends, there are no limits to the possible variations on mother guilt.) Maybe I should leave them more to develop their own creativity with undirected play. Then again, why should I have to miss out on the fun? As long as I play nice, I think I should get to play, too.

Anyway, once they had caught onto the idea (D1 is all for any activity that involves pretending to cook and eat) and I had built them a stove out of bricks, I tried redirecting myself by considering the patch of bare clay that lies at the border of our yard. It needed something growing on it; on the other hand, given my track record, it hardly seemed worthwhile to risk a plant for which I had paid good money.

All I needed was some sort of ground cover--and then I noticed the little purple flower groundcoverish weed that grows all through the yard and into any unnoticed part of the flowerbeds. The very thing. So I transplanted a dozen or so little clumps of it. If it dies, it dies. If it lives, the spot will look much less slimy and I will know it's capable of supporting life.

It did start to rain, and I took the ducklings inside and got them all cleaned up, and even gave them baths and put them in clean clothes (which I do not usually bother to do--if God meant little kids to be clean, he wouldn't have made them out of dirt), and looked outside and realized the rain had stopped as soon as we had come inside. But we really needed to do the laundry and dishes anyway. Nice weather is very bad for the housekeeping.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Raspberry Crisp

“Raz 97” scrawls in grease pencil across the lid of the jar. Which means it has been nearly ten summers since the day when these particular berries were mashed into a pulp and squeezed into this jar.

If you’re a moderately frugal person, you read up on the Consumer Reports list of how long food keeps, and you try to use it up before it passes the date, and if it doesn’t, you regretfully throw it out and recycle the container.

If you’re a true, deep, dyed-in-the-bone tightwad, you look it over carefully, and then you smell it cautiously, and then you put a tiny finger in and taste it, and if you don’t fall ill immediately you come up with a clever dish in which it can be artfully disguised. My mother, who studied just enough microbiology to approach aging leftovers with a scientific flair, taught me the art and science well.

The raspberries pass. We will have raspberry crisp for supper.

Ten years ago means I was eighteen, living at home, working part-time and studying law more for my own amusement than any impressive goals. Grandma would still be living in her little trailer next to the house, and Aunt Dee’s car would be parked outside while they played a game of Scrabble, the door propped open to catch the breeze.

Raspberries are the high summer fruit. Strawberries still taste of spring, and even the early apples hint of fall. Raspberries come when summer has settled in to stay, bold and warm as the July sun. The long grass would have been turning golden, and the pheasants would have been calling the lonely, haunting note that I thought, when I was very young, was the noise time made when it passed.

I wonder what inspired the canning of a quart jar of raspberries in the first place. Our raspberry harvest was seldom impressive. We had planted them in reclaimed pastureland, and the pasture did not give up so easily. If you wanted to pick berries while the day was still cool, you had to brave the slimy, yard-long grass to coax the berries off their stems. (Raspberries must always be coaxed, never yanked. If you have to yank, they’re not ripe yet.)

Usually the berries we did get we turned into freezer jam, or into Raspberry Lush, a concoction of almond cookie, cream cheese and whipped cream that left one with little more to hope for. A few might be made into canned jam, but canned raspberries lose their brilliance.

This jar barely hints at the gleaming red of ten summers ago. It offers up a lump of burgundy goo, only the seeds still identifiable. Raspberry seeds persist when all else gives way. It is sweet, very sweet. The crisp will need no extra sugar.

Who did can this jar? It came from my sister-in-law. She and my brother were practically newlyweds still, living in the most charming of little newlywed apartments. She was learning life on the farm and must have helped with some of the canning that year. Then again, grease pencil is not the most precise mechanism for revealing handwriting, but there’s something about the hasty scrawl that suggests my mother’s cooking. The men are hungry: get the food on, girls.

I am getting the food on today: roast, mashed potatoes, salad, vegetable, dessert. Alone in the kitchen, unless I have a toddler volunteering to wave the potatoes under the water, I tend to cook one-pot meals. But something about a Saturday makes me want to pull out all the stops. Really, it’s not so hard; it just makes a few more dishes.

Perhaps somebody found a good deal on a flat of overripe raspberries and there was already plenty of jam that year. Perhaps it was canned in a spasm of concern over Y2K or general societal chaos that might imperil the freezer. Anyway, these berries were mashed and canned and here they are.

A long way these berries have traveled to get here. They moved with my brother and his wife across the country; moved with my brother and his wife and three children halfway back, to where we were living in a newlywed apartment that was in no way adorable. Then they've moved with us three times. My brother moved back into a house in a bright new subdivision that took the place of the empty fields and overgrown trees next to the house. I left on a summer afternoon and I am still gone.

Somewhere I have a recipe for crisp topping, but I never look at it. The recipe is part of my instincts, like the right way to pick raspberries. I adapt it to what is handy and the quantity of berries. It turns out just right, which didn’t happen so often ten years ago. Perhaps in some way my mother and grandmother and great aunt, who have left their own kitchens behind, give me a little nudge now and again to help me get it right.

I was not so wrong, when I was a little girl, to think the pheasant’s cry was the sound of passing time. Every sound is the sound of passing time. Everything is always being lost to us forever. Tonight we will have the distilled essence of ten summers for supper. My toddlers will smear it on their faces and pajamas, and then they will go to bed.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Deep and Deeper

Some years ago I was sorting through the ideas floating around my brain, and was disturbed to discover that my Christian faith was not my most deeply-held belief. Not even close. I could imagine abandoning it long before I could imagine abandoning, say, my passion for individual liberty and economic freedom.

This bothered me, as it seemed to me that religious beliefs ought to be the most important, certainly more important than political beliefs, but I could see nothing in particular to be done about it, so it sat in the "Perplexing Things" file for a decade or so.

While reading through a fascinating series on design and creation by John Mark Reynolds, I came across this article on ordering ideas. Suddenly it clicked. Christian faith was not the core of my beliefs because it simply couldn't be--it requires understanding of a complex historical record, faith in some rather difficult doctrinal points, and above all divine revelation. It's not something you can just instinctively know. Instead, it depends on deeper things in the soul, beliefs with which it resonates, questions which it answers.

Some beliefs we can change comfortably as evidence demands; others we can hardly change without losing our minds. For me, the most fundamental core belief, the one which it would break me to renounce, is the significance of everything--most especially, the importance of every individual human being.

This leads in a fairly straightforward sequence to a deep commitment to individual rights. It leads in a slightly more complex sequence to a faith in a spiritual realm, a personal Creator God, and thence to God as revealed in the Bible and through Jesus Christ, who died for all. (And by the same token makes me always uneasy around strict Calvinism.)

No doubt because it is so fundamental, and likewise so instinctive, it is also the point at which I feel most vulnerable. I can't prove every blade of grass matters, or even that every person matters. It is where I start, not where I finish. So when I read secularists blathering on about how material existence is all there is, I get, briefly, nervous. Maybe they're right. Maybe everything is meaningless. Their case is tidy and neat.

But, as Chesterton points out the best, it is simply too small, like the lunatic who is convinced that everyone is conspiring against him. He can explain all the relevant phenomenon--this person smiling at him and that person ignoring him. It's perfectly rational. But it's still entirely wrong. The world is not, cannot be, so small as they imagine. If it was, I could not fit inside.

I am curious as to what other core beliefs are out there. Reynolds listed his as a faith in reason. DOB's most core belief is in a just order. What is yours?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Complete Randomness on Sense and Sensibility

I always find the title difficult, because nowadays, a person with sense and a sensible person are precisely the same thing. I think it was sensible that meant the opposite when Austen wrote, and thus Marianne is the sensible one, but I always have to look it up and even then I'm not quite sure. Perhaps we should rename it Sense and Sensitivity, and then it would be all clear. For another hundred years.

In the Emma Thompson version, the picture of Marianne on the cover looks simply dreadful, but her hairstyle is actually quite fetching in the movie. I don't know why they caught it at precisely the wrong angle for the front cover, but then the front covers of movies usually bear little resemblance to the insides. Generally they show a scene that doesn't even occur in the movie, and would completely contradict the plot.

I haven't read this book nearly as many times as I have the other Austen books. It's quite sedate after watching the jazzed-up plot for the movie. In the book, Marianne takes damp walks on several successive evenings, catches a slight cold which worsens through neglect (over several more days) into a bad fever. Colonel Brandon watches in silent dismay. In the movie, Marianne takes one long walk in a downpour, Colonel Brandon hauls her in unconscious, and she immediately succumbs to a life-threatening illness. I think Marianne would like the movie better, but Elinor would prefer the book.

After all, only in the book can you revel in lines like: "They had in fact nothing to wish for, but the marriage of Colonel Brandon and Marianne, and rather better pasturage for their cows."

DOB, who often asks to watch Austen movies with me (no envy, ladies, he's mine), thinks right now that he likes this one the best. I think it does have a plot that ought to appeal to a decent man, since the quiet, decent men get the girls by being quiet and decent men. However, my younger brother once dubbed it "Stupid and Stupidity"--but he sat through it! So you never know. No one gets shot.

Jane Austen's heroines are getting terribly young. Sixteen and nineteen! And Marianne thinks it impossible that a woman of twenty-seven can ever inspire love. Well, people live longer nowadays, but I suppose the opinion of sixteen-year-olds on the advanced state of decrepitude that strikes by thirty has not really changed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

International Diplomacy and Potty Training

On Sunday we were having a friend with small children over (husband out of town) and invited along a college-age couple who were visiting church. The conversation turned, inevitably, to potty training, a topic on which all of the parents present were weighing in with considerable passion and eloquence.

"Great," I could imagine the young couple thinking, "This is the fate that awaits us. Get married, have kids, and be unable to talk about anything more interesting than potty training."

People who think discussions on potty training represent an intellectual backwater have simply never potty trained anyone. Potty training is a task of diplomatic intrigue on the level of persuading the despot of a third-world country, armed with an unlimited supply of bombs, to lay down his arms and enter peacefully into the family of nations.

Our friend was discussing her imminent plans to potty-train her son, who is two months younger than D2. This led us to discussing the possibility of me potty training D2, which I insist will not occur until he is five, even though he runs into the bathroom saying "Potty potty potty" and sits down. Still I will not.

But then, her daughter potty-trained at two in a week. D1 and I have been working at this for nearly a year and a half, and three is looming close, and we are not done. Oh, we've been very close to done for a long time now. But like the race between Achilles and the tortoise, we never seem to be able to cover more than half of the remaining distance. Closer all the time, but never there.

Sometimes I wonder if people claiming to be done are just using semantical sleight-of-hand. In the potty-training-in-a-day book, it defines being potty-trained as being able and willing to take yourself to the potty when you need to go. Well, in that case, she was potty-trained a year ago. But I don't consider a child potty-trained until I never have to pull out a spare pair of pants, and that day, though I know it will come sometime between now and college, still seems exceedingly distant.

So, am I willing to consider having two rogue states running around the house? I am not. Especially not given the propensity for imitation, which tends to run far too much in the wrong direction. D2 will just have to remain a colony until the international situation is more stable.

Friday, April 13, 2007

All Creatures Great and Small

D2 had been spending the last few moments before Bible reading observing the "amuls" out the back window, most particularly a doggie. He's at the stage where kids learn a new word every four waking hours, but I think he went over his average today. (New words heard: "kite," "sky," "fun," "animals," "applesauce," someting indecipherable about birds, and of course lots of that old favorite "bubos," which being interpreted is "duplos.")

When he sat down for Bible reading, he chattered on and on about the doggie. In fact, he uttered that same word non-stop. I reconciled him to the idea of Bible reading by pointing out the possibility of finding doggies in his picture Bible, so while DOB read Mary and Joseph down to Egypt and back, we spotted every doggie from Creation to King David. You might not think there are many doggies in the Bible, but since D2 still happily classifies all largish quadrupeds as doggies, we could impress all the sheep and donkeys into service, too.

But unfortunately Bible reading had to come to an end sometime, and then it was time to pray. And still the refrain of "Doggie, doggie, doggie" would not cease.

"Would you like to pray for the doggies?" DOB asked him.

"Yeah," he said.

"And I will pray for the cats!" D1 added.

DOB assented and began to pray.

"You can pray for the rabbits," D1 interrupted.

"What about Mama?"

"Mama can pray for the bears."

So in addition to our usual petitions for family, friends, and the pastor's trip to "Othopipia," we spent a few moments in earnest prayer for animals wild and domestic. Especially doggies.

Killing Things

Someday I'm going to give up on gardening. This year I started four flats of seeds--two of herbs and two of flowers. The only trouble is, we really don't have a sunny window where they can sit. So I kept them in the basement, bringing them out to the back patio on days that were warm enough.

The trouble is, I'm really not good at taking care of anything that doesn't scream when neglected. Sometimes they got left out overnight. Sometimes they got left in the basement for days on end. Sometimes they got drowned in thundershowers and sometimes they didn't get water at all. Sometimes the kids dug their dirt up and used it to make mudpies.

It's a wonder that even the parsley has survived. The sweet williams are done for, I'm afraid, but I'm still hoping a few basil and coneflower plants will pull through. If I don't forget them again.

So my hopes were pinned on the seeds I had planted straight in the ground, on a benign and sunny day in early spring (and the package said "Plant outside as soon as ground can be worked"). Then it frosted and frosted again, and I did nothing to cover them because I couldn't think of what wouldn't blow away. But when the weather warmed up again the little seedlings still stuck up bright and green.

On Wednesday night, on the way home from church, we started noticing odd patches of white. Sure enough, the terrific rainstorm that had hit during the church service had been a hailstorm here. With children still fussing in their carseats, I dashed out in the dark and started raking an inch of ice pellets off my tender little plants.

They do still look alive, but I'm not sure until I've seen them actually grow some. They hardly seem to have the nerve to do that anymore.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A long ramble on feminism

I was filling out an online survey on parenting ideas last week (if you're a mother of small children, you might like to participate), and encountered the question, "Can you describe feminism in a sentence or two?"

Blithely I typed in, "Sure," and continued with the survey. DOB, reading it over, suggested it might be better to respond in a more serious tone. After all, it wanted me to declare whether I was one or wasn't one.

Dear me.

I don't know.

But I "don't know" not in an "I am ignorant on the topic" sense, but in an "I know far too much to side with anybody" sense.

Do I support women being able to vote, own property, and practice law? Most certainly. But that's a definition of feminism almost too archaic to count.

The modern form of feminism is sort of a twisted form of patriarchy--they both think men are the Superior Example of Humanity, the partriarchs just think that women should bow to this superiority, while the feminists think that they should turn themselves into men. Do men work ridiculously long hours and neglect their children? Then women should, too. Do men engage in casual sex? Then women should, too.

Even complementarians seem to me to harp unduly on men and women as separate camps of people. Men and women are different, yes. But the only difference you can really count on holding true is that women have the equipment for bearing children and men for begetting them. This is not just a petty biological difference, of course--producing another human being is one of life's most profound acts, and the outworkings of this distinction colors life from infancy to death.

But it's not a simple distinction. Once you move past the biological facts and start generalizing about abilities and roles, the generalizations (like almost all generalizations) start being wrong. Women on average might be more nurturing than men, but not all of them. Men on average might be more interested in abstract reason and higher math, but there are plenty of women who love calculus and plenty of men who threw their algebra books across the room.

My mother complained about how my dad, with his masculine, one-track mind, would weed the garden in happy oblivion while the children committed clamorous crimes a few feet away, but now DOB complains about my happy oblivion while the children howl. Apparently one-track minds don't only travel on the Y chromosome.

So when someone actually gets so far as trying to define a particular role for a particular gender and say wives and husbands must relate to each other like thus, or we should raise our little boys and our little girls to do this, I never quite can see that far. Marriage is a complicated dance, and who leads or follows is much less significant than whether they're dancing to the same tune. And neither men who harp on submission nor women who harp on independence are listening to the music at all.

Children need to be raised to be people, first; boys and girls both need to learn to be brave, kind, generous, hard-working, appreciative of beauty and willing to get their hands dirty. Only girls wear dresses in our culture, but other than that, I'm quite happy to have my children play however they like, and I smile just as broadly when D2 picks up a baby doll and changes its diaper and when D1 asks to hear the book about trucks for the sixth time. Or vice versa. Forcing kids into or out of gender stereotypes is not what parenting should be about.

As for what women should do with their lives, they should do what they want to do, what they're good at doing, what's important to them. But like anyone, they should consider other people around them before they decide. Children might need their mother even if their mother doesn't need them all that much. A husband might need respect and a good dinner even though he's being a jerk. The Christian ideal is not about serving ourselves, after all, but about serving others--and that still applies to women as well as to men.

I don't like the word feminist because it splits the human race in half. Neither women nor men are more important or necessarily all that different. But we don't need to force them into being the same, either. Women in general and men in general and boys in general and girls in general are only the vaguest of abstractions; what matters is the particular man, woman, boy or girl we have to do with.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

W is for Wagon

I've been working on a picture alphabet book for D1, since she always wants to know what letters go with people's names. Pictures of "M" for Mama and "P" for Papa and so forth were easy enough. For letters where she didn't have any close friends with appropriate names (and I'm picky, it has to be the most common sound of the letter, too) we used family pictures of appropriate objects. Like this "W" for "wagon."

Some of these required special efforts--we don't customarily take a picture of housecleaning, but we needed to illustrate "V for vacuum." That was the third letter she learned, because she kept finding it among the scattered Scrabble tiles and thinking it was an "A." I had to explain it with the first thing that came to mind. A violin no doubt would make a prettier picture, but then, we don't have a violin.

Now I have everything except for a picture of an insect for I. (That letter had me stumped for quite awhile until I had the bright idea of googling for "Words that begin with I.") I am going to begin giving the book to her one page at a time. I'm pretty sure she'll like it, as a picture album if not as an alphabet book. And I figured I should do some alphabet things with her before she figured the whole thing out on her own, or I'd miss all the fun.

Jesus and the Fish Fry

This Sunday's sermon was on what is one of my all-time favorite Scripture passage, John 21. Passion Week is over; the Resurrection is over. Everything is over. And the disciples go fishing.

I've seen commentators make out from this that the disciples were somehow slacking off on the job and returning to their old way of life. Not sure what's up with Jesus, guys; let's go back to work. I disagree. No other group of humans has gone through such a tumultuous week as the disciples had, with death turned to life and eternity shaken and the world turned upside down. But if I ever did have such a week, I can tell you where you'd find me after it was all over: at the kitchen sink, washing the dishes.

Sometimes when the heart and spirit have had all they can bear and more, the body needs to take over for awhile. You need to work until it hurts. So, I think, the disciples needed to do something hard, something familiar, something that would give their minds time to sort through all that had happened. They went fishing.

Jesus, who knew them not just as a detached omniscient deity, but as a friend, knew they would be fishing. He is waiting for them, on shore. He greets them with the same little trick of a miracle he used when they first met, like an old joke between friends. Once again they have fished all night and caught nothing, once again Jesus fills the nets with fish as morning breaks.

Here is none of the flash and show of signs you would expect from a resurrected God; here are only the homely miracles of fish in the nets and a fire lit on the shore. Jesus, his deity confirmed forever, is standing by the barbecue, wearing an apron.

No doubt our spiritual needs are the greatest, and it is those Jesus came to fill. But he also knows that we cannot feel them so acutely as we can feel our tired feet and empty bellies. So he starts there, even with his oldest friends. First, we eat. Then we can talk. Here is our God; here is the one who puts every meal on the table and every fish in our nets; here is our friend.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Pictures

This looks like a picture from a nursery school with a ridiculously high dress code for teachers, but actually it's us enjoying the booty from our egg and carrot hunt. They had sidewalk chalk inside them this year, but as it was too cold to go outside, we tested them on black paper. Chalk is certainly a low-sugar surprise, but a messy one.

Also, if you don't often check the other blog, you really should pop over and see what we did with the dyes from our Easter eggs. D1 and I had way too much fun.

Below is our resurrection scene, constructed on Friday afternoon during naptime from mud out of the backyard and fabric scraps tied on clothespins. A soldier stood guard over the closed tomb on Friday and Saturday; although D1 certainly did catch some of the excitement over Jesus being alive, she was also very concerned about where the soldier had gone on Easter morning.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday Thoughts on I Peter

The Christmas season seems more contiguous than Easter. You can spend the whole month building up to the big day. Whereas before Easter the joy of Easter coming is always tempered by the knowledge that Good Friday must come first.

If we were the ones having the baby we might see Christmas differently. I'm sure like any new mother, Mary's anticipation of holding her new son was tempered by her anxiety over the suffering she would endure first. Joy comes not in spite of suffering, but because of suffering.

In his first epistle, Peter applies this theme to us. The book has the feeling of a general's speech before battle. Gear up for action, men. Prepare to take some hits. But Peter takes it beyond the merely human response to trouble.

There are two human ways to respond when we are treated unjustly. One is to fight back, which at least does something about the injustice, but so often we overdo and trigger a reaction and injustice piles upon injustice beyond all human remedy. Or we can suffer in silence, but while this may be good for our souls it does little to set the world aright.

Here, indeed, we need Divine intervention. Only God could find a way to set us right both within and without. Through Christ's suffering, He restored all things. Christ did not just endure, he overcame.

Now, Peter says, we too can suffer like that. Not just a stoic endurance of what cannot be helped. Suffering that is itself a power. Meekness that wins the battle. Kindness that conquers.

Whatever small injustices we have to face let us participate in the one Great Injustice, when God took the sins of man. As we receive the grace to face curses with blessing, hardships with joy, we see from within the power of that last moment when God suffered death and defeated death forever.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

April Fools' Day

The weather seems to have pulled an April Fools' prank on us and reverted to early spring, after convincing us that summer had already arrived. I just hope my seedlings survive.

We had our monthly church potluck, er, fellowship dinner, on April Fools' day this year. Naturally this required special preparations. I made up two big pans of meatloaf in muffin papers and frosted them with garishly-colored mashed potatoes. This was heartily disappointing to the preschoolers, who had finished all their noodle casserole so they could have a cupcake, but highly amusing to everyone else. I think I really did initially fool everyone except the ladies who caught me microwaving them before the meal.

As for our own ducklings, D1 thought the "cupcakes" were the greatest thing ever. She will be disappointed if she ever has a real cupcake. D2 loved the meat but was skeptical of the food coloring in the potatoes.

DOB has this idea of a sort of reciprocal prank dinner, where the main dish would be meatloaf disguised as cupcakes and dessert would be cupcakes disguised as meatloaf.

The quality of an April Fools' day prank reflects several factors: amusement, of course, but also how uniquely suited it is to the recipient, lack of any serious harm, and as far as I am concerned, ease of setup. The best prank is one that takes only a few minutes to do and has everyone--or at least me--laughing all day.

With that in mind, two of my all-time favorites date from when I worked in an office. One was sneaking on to my boss's computer when he was out of the office and modifying the "Autoreplace" feature in Word so that when he typed certain frequently-used phrases they would be replaced with apropos substitutes. (His name, for instance, would be replaced with his office nickname, "The Machiavellian Mind," and our chief opponents would become "The Evil Empire.")

Another one came after our landlords had spent most of the month of March working on the plumbing in our bathroom. They had not warned us in advance of this project--we just came into work one morning and found the toilet in the kitchen. Since we had only that one toilet for twelve people, the situation was desperate and we all ate lunch out a lot that month. It had finally been repaired just a day or two before April first.

So I got in early and put an "Out of Order" sign on the door.

Read about more April Fools' jokes at Life in a Shoe.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Travel photo

The Queen of Carrots, as an M&M, tours Greece along with her luggage. The chocolate rabbit is a decoy so that people will not eat her.

Get your own M&M. HT to MM-V.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring in the Backyard

This is the first year I've felt we truly had a back yard. In our old neighborhood, one road swooped so close to the other that our house had two front yards. A front yard is a tolerable place to grow tulips and watch the world go by, but it lacks the cozy homishness of a back yard, as if you were still in the house. Not that our back yard is private by any means, but still we are freer to be our composting, mud-slinging, diaper-drying selves than out front. Out front the messiest thing I feel comfortable with is popsicles. (And even so, I'm never doing grape juice popsicles again.)

I hope the mosquito-larvae eating bacteria will continue to hold the bugs at bay so that we can continue to enjoy it, since last year, even after we moved in, I couldn't stay out back longer than two minutes. That's how long it took me to get two mosquito bites, and I refuse to voluntarily subject myself to more than two mosquito bites a day.

The ducklings have discovered mud. That icky, cold, scary stuff of a few weeks ago has turned out to be a lifetime supply of playdough, free for the taking. D1 will spend hours baking with it--not mud pies, generally, as pie is a dish I seldom make, but mud pizzas and bread. The dirt around here, despicable for growing things, is wonderful mud, firm and smooth and holding its shape when it dries. I foresee entire cities of mud bricks growing out of it in years to come.

As for me, I am hanging out diapers again--and after a long winter they desparately need some time in the sun. This morning D1 was so insistent that they could finish up the job of hanging out the cloths by themselves that she sent me back inside. I worked on the dishes for a few minutes and came back out to check on them, only to discover that they had decided to use the cloths to wipe down their picnic table with water from the iced tea pitcher I had just started.

The patio is a dangerous place. The whole big backyard, with its lack of a fence and presence of a pond, is too much for me to let them play in unsupervised just yet. But surely the patio, right outside the kitchen, is safe enough while I dash in and work on supper. Well, it is perfectly safe for ducklings. It is considerably less safe for my projects. The sheets out drying weren't meant to be used as a tablecloth for a mud feast, and mud in general is not to be confused with the potting soil in which I am starting seedlings.

Spring is here and dazzling me again. Long ago, when I lived in Olympia between the mountains and the sea, my boss learned of my interest in DOB and commented, "He lives in Ohio? It must be love." But when I first visited Ohio, it was in April and the redbud trees were blooming and the green, green grass was full of flowers. There are real, live violets in our lawn (and I never saw a violet before) and I just learned the black birds with the shimmering blue heads that love to bathe in our little puddle go by the mundane name of the Common Grackle.

Never mind about heaven. I have not been good enough to deserve one spring morning of tugging dandelions out of the flowerbeds. I'll enjoy it thoroughly all the same.