Gazing Upward
  • Reading and Writing
  • January22nd

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    I introduced  you to my new blog site and then abandoned you, didn’t I?  I had good reasons. I promise. Like devouring all 3 books of The Hunger Games trilogy in 5 days (plus another 3 books I’ve been wanting to read.) And planning Carter’s 4th birthday party.  And redecorating Grace’s room which is now shared with Carter. But alas, I know you don’t want my excuses. So I’ll just give you the updates.

    First of all, some book recommendations.  A few weeks ago, I finished Stella Gibbon’s novel Cold Comfort Farm.  It’s light, humorous (as in giggle out loud funny), and endearing.  It was published in 1932 but was made into a movie somewhat recently.  I can’t wait to see how the characters are portrayed in film! If you want an “easy” and uplifting read, pick up this novel.

    I mentioned The Grace Effect in my giveaway post.  It’s exploration of Ukraine and the result of societies dominated by communism and without (authentic) Christian influence, along with the narratives of his adoption of daughter Sasha, were difficult to read and enlightening at the same time.  Ironically, I was reading it alongside Francis Collins’ The Language of God which also offered apologetics and inspired me to understand my faith and convictions in more grounded, practical, and logical ways… which in turn strengthened my beliefs.

    Enter The Hunger Games which begins with a post-America totalitarian government and a people virtually without hope. I recognized the unintentional theme in my reading and gave some time to putting together a big picture of God and the world. It’s easy to take our faith for granted when God is  allowed to be a part of our lives.  Picturing my life without religious freedom, and thinking of the dread that a communist or totalitarian government would bring, I realized how thankful I am to be an American.

    And back to this intense and page-turning trilogy…I could not put it down! I have since gotten Scott hooked.  After I finished the last book, I had become so invested in the characters that I remained in a Panem daze for a couple of days before I was able to snap back into reality.  Believe the hype…read these books!  They also offer a mature and realistic perspective on love, as opposed to so many current books which convey love as selfish and lust-based. The first movie comes out in just a few weeks. Who’s going to see it??

    Are you wondering how I found time to read so many books this past month? Well, let’s just say that I had a messy house and piles of laundry to tackle when I finished my literary blitz.  With energy coming back in my 2nd trimester, I guess I felt the need to catch up on all the reading I slept through over the last few months.  It was quite enjoyable.  And my husband was quite patient with my lack of domestic productivity.

    On to house projects.  While we’re planning to begin an addition soon (we’ve decided we may wait to get our lot sold first), there is no way the nursery would be ready before June 16th.  And Carter had reached his wit’s end regarding his teeny tiny room.  In fact, for the past few weeks, he hasn’t even slept in there but preferred to sleep in Grace’s room.  Scott and I had discussed having the “littles” share a room and making Carter’s room into a nursery, but I was intimidated by the costs and vision for redecorating a coed room.

    Then I made a great discovery!  After finding this picture on Pinterest…and drooling over these striped drapes, I visited the blog which had posted the photo.  I found a talented decorator from Texas who provides internet consultations using inspiration boards for a very reasonable cost!  Here are two examples of her boards:

    I had to send her room measurements, color ideas and dislikes, photos, pics of furniture staying in the room, whether I like DIY projects, etc. And then I could pick which level for her to shop in (ie. Low end=Target and Overstock; Medium end= Home Decorators Collection, West Elm; High end= Restoration Hardware, Layla Grace). I told her a blend since I have expensive tastes but love to accessorize with lamps from Target, etc.

    Amanda would email back and forth with questions and ideas, and then she put together a virtual room via inspiration board. She also sends links to purchase all the items.  Many items she found for me, such as lamps, drapes, and wall prints, are from Target or Etsy.  We bought Serena and Lily bedding but even got it discounted from a local store.  This help was just what I needed to get a vision for the room and then save time by buying what I wanted/needed instead of spending hours shopping and searching and ultimately overspending.

    I’ll post pictures when the room is completed, but I’m waiting on everything to arrive.  A hint of what’s to come…the color scheme is navy, chartreuse green, and coral (with most of the coral being on Grace’s side.)  And we ordered these beds from Restoration Hardware since Carter has been begging for bunk beds.  They’ll be separated into twin beds for at least another year, but Carter is satisfied just to know they’re coming.

    I can’t wait to see the room completed. And the kids are beside themselves with excitement. I’m also pumped to have a little place for the baby. We were going to just put the crib in our room, but that’s no fun to not have a place for baby’s clothes, decor, and fun items. After all, this is my last chance to enjoy a nursery. I’ll post pics of it too when done.

    I’m off to apply a second coat of white paint to Carter’s dresser.  Hope you’ve had a great weekend!

     

  • January2nd

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    Call me sentimental. Or old-fashioned. Or perhaps habitual.  The simple truth is… I’m a lover of traditions.

    Many traditions are tied to holidays or special occasions.  So as our first Christmas and New Year’s Day with a child approached in 2008,  I suddenly felt pressure to nail down the practices we would hold for years to come.  For some reason, I thought I had to have it all figured out from the get-go.  Adding to some family traditions which Scott and I had celebrated since our childhoods, we had begun to establish some new traditions after we married.  Scott assured me that we could add in family customs throughout the years. After all, would our 11-month-old even recall his first experience of traditions? And isn’t it fun to discover and establish new rituals throughout the years?

    Reading through Noel Piper’s beautiful and practical book Treasuring God in Our Traditions (a book that I return to often for ideas, direction, and encouragement),  I was reminded that “our celebrations are occasions to look back and remember what God has done in the world and in our lives.” (Piper, p.64)  Piper, wife of renowned author and pastor John Piper,  also shares this great quote from Milo Shannon-Thornberry: “Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”

    Now that our children are at ages where they can understand, communicate, and contribute, new traditions have been springing up.  And it’s so much fun!  Ever since getting married, Scott and I have entered each new year with a planning retreat.  Well, I say “retreat” with a liberal meaning.  The first two years, we got away for a couple of nights to do our planning and evaluating.  During the last couple of years, our “retreats” occur on our living room couch after the kids have fallen asleep.

    We originally got the idea from our pastor and his wife who have been doing this same planning every year. They even shared a basic outline of topics they discuss and evaluate. Scott and I elaborated on the outline and have covered everything from dietary/health goals to financial plans for the next year to marital goals.  We not only establish goals together but also make lists of our personal hopes and plans.  For example, I often make a list of books I want to read. Or hobbies I want to pursue. Friendships I want to rekindle. Or habits I want to build. We generally cover these topics: health/physical, marital, family, spiritual/ministry, career, hobbies, social, personal, and financial.

    Making a list of anticipated expenses, whether in housing repairs or vacations, we are able to prioritize which item needs attention first. So we end up being on the same page when those expenses come down the pipeline.  We’ve made goals of weekly or monthly dates, reading a marriage book each year, and other relational issues.  (And I bet all you parents of young children can guess which topic we annually address and vow to give time and intention to! 🙂 )  We’ve even included goals as silly as vowing to eat a green vegetable at least twice a week (we just aren’t vegetable lovers).

    I’ve never really been one for making resolutions. But our planning retreats are helpful in leading us to reevaluate our desires and plans vs our actual activities and pursuits.  We know that we will fall short of our goals and lists, but putting them on paper helps us be more intentional.  And it’s always fun to look back on past planning lists and see how God has worked.  Last year, I smiled as I reviewed  some of our dreams from years past.  From completed adoptions to my first published article, I giggled at the fulfilled plans which once had seemed like distant possibilities.  We have some plans and goals which remain constants every year, but reviewing them reminds us that they are priorities.

    Yesterday, in celebration of the new year, we sat down with our kids to help them determine their own goals and plans for 2012.  Carter’s top two goals were: (1) to learn how to fight bad guys, and (2) to not be scared when the toilet flushes!  He also decided he wanted to learn how to read a book all by himself.  Caroline hopes to study ballet, master English, and win Super Mario Kart on the Wii.  Grace declared she would be potty-trained, learn more ballet, and learn how to write her alphabet.  Their plans are not deep or even remotely spiritual.  In an effort to divert them from focusing solely on themselves, we encouraged them to set a goal of memorizing a  new Bible verse each month and to find a project to serve the community.  But it’s a start.  Next year on New Year’s Day, we can whip out the list and see what they have accomplished.  I also hope that they will take this tradition as an opportunity to trace what God has done in their lives and the community throughout each year.

    I have to confess that I failed my parents yesterday in not carrying out their own tradition of years past…making black-eyed peas and rice on January 1st.  But I must remind myself, it’s never too late to start a new tradition or bring back an old one.

    I’d love to hear what traditions you celebrate with your own families.  I should have posted this before New Year’s to garner ideas for this holiday, but we can print them and save them for 2013.  Whether it’s rituals for birthdays, Easter, Advent, or any other holiday/occasion, feel free to share how you make the celebrations special.

    Happy 2012!

  • November8th

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    I found these sweet devotionals last week and had to share. Sweet Dreams Princess and Goodnight Warrior, by Sheila Walsh, provide a precious nightly ritual which includes a brief Bible story, a related devotion, and then a prayer, praise, or promise. While the devotions aren’t very indepth or original, the wording is age-appropriate and captivates my little ones.

    Just a warning that both books are almost exactly the same in that they have the same biblical stories. But they cater toward boy or girl (oops, sorry….warrior or princess) in the devotion part. The author had my son at the word “warrior.” I actually like this format because I can read the story just once to both kids, and then I can spend special time with each one on the devotion. It’s a great way to wind them down before bed and bring their thoughts back to the God who loves them. The difference in the content of their prayers is amazing.
    Oh, and a fun little bonus….the warrior cover glows in the dark!
  • September13th

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    Last Friday, I was feeling a little blue. I wasn’t sure why. I think I was simply exhausted. The littles had had their first day of school, first ballet class, and first soccer practice. Caroline had a couple of doctor’s appointments. Scott was (and is) working long days to prepare for an upcoming trial. I finally realized that if I don’t want my wheat allergy to continue progressing toward full-blown Celiac Disease, I’m going to have to suck it up, say goodbye to some of my fave foods, and go gluten-free. And let’s face it, I hadn’t spent good quality time with the Lord. It wasn’t a horrible week. In fact, it had been pretty good. But I was dead tired.


    Enough about my own issues. My day was not unlike the days many of you often endure. We’re living through a challenging season. As high as our calling is as servants, wives, and mothers, it’s still difficult at the end of the day to smile and consider our job well done. Sometimes, it seems that we’re never done.

    So back to last Friday. All three kids were at school. After working out, I thought I’d check out the new used bookstore in town called “2nd and Charles.” And to my great delight, I found these:

    Two novels by Steinbeck, one of which I’m currently reading but could not find a good hardcover copy! (Sidenote: East of Eden is fabulous! And I’m only 7 chapters in.)

    One of my pleasures in life is reading. I read everything from mysteries and current bestsellers to biographies and Christian devotionals. But my favorite genre is classic literature, and preferably 19th century lit by British authors. I know…I sound pretty snobby. Or nerdy. Or both.
    But I digress. Back again to Friday when I discovered this treasure. This is the cover of The Grapes of Wrath, this particular edition published in 1967. I am convinced they had this book shrinkwrapped in plastic because it has no discoloration or foxing on the pages.

    Isn’t the dusk jacket beautiful? And this is the what the hardcover looks like…just like my mom’s copy! My mom has shelves and shelves of books that I have read or hope to soon read. And her copies are just beautiful. So I developed a habit of scouting out rare, old, or eye-pleasing copies of the books that I adore.

    I also found this copy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

    Beautiful illustrations fill the pages.
    After the I left the bookstore, I wondered if my sudden joy was sinful. You know what I mean…. material possessions filling me with giddiness when really I should be relying on Christ as the source of my joy and vitality. But the Lord spoke to my heart with a reassurance that many things in this world He provides for our happiness. After all, He gifted the writers with their creativity and eloquence. He blessed the musicians with their talents and melodies. He created the coffee bean from the beginning of time with the knowledge that a savory cup of coffee could comfort and rejuvenate just as He desires. Perhaps He literally meant it when He inspired the verse, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” At 6 am in the morning, a sip of coffee makes me believe it. 🙂
    I recalled the passage in Lamentations 3 about His mercies being new every morning. And I wondered if just maybe God presents some of his mercies in the form of “happies” that uplift our spirit and energize us enough to take the next step forward. As long as we understand that He alone is our bread of life, we can partake of the minor joys of life with gratitude and delight.
    For me, a Pumpkin Spice Latte, a glowing sunset, a sparkling glass of wine, an antique novel, an enticing read, a yellow tulip … all these things are little “happies” that can lighten my day within seconds. This book, which I uncovered in a London antiquarian bookstore years ago, intrigues me with its history and personalization.

    Leo V. Quimby…Belfast…Christmas 1881, From Sister Annie.

    This is the oldest book I own. And sometimes I’ll open the cover and stare in wonder at the the calligraphic writing, just pondering the personality of the being whose hands one beheld this literary work. What was his home like? A modest cabin or a glorious castle? How large was Leo’s family? Was Annie a true familial relation or a devoted nun? Or a forbidden love to the receiver of this holiday present? Isn’t it fun to imagine?

    Sometimes I lose myself in the magic of the object. And I am thankful that the Lord created such gifts. Because they’re a temporary diversion from the arduous task before us. A glorious and noble task, but one that demands attention, commitment, energy, love, prayer, and sacrifice. And aren’t you glad that God has such forethought, such innovation, such LOVE that He would create and inspire daily joys that can deliver a smile to our weary faces? I certainly am. So I do not feel at all guilty for bouncing out of the bookstore with my newfound literary treasures. Their beauty and literary flair gave me the umph to continue persevering. It was then that I realized my need to increase my awareness of everyday surprises and beauties that God may be orchestrating just for us. For our pleasure. For our enjoyment. For our inspiration. And sometimes, on those frustrating, hair-raising, or simply blue days…for our sanity. God is good…all the time.

    What are the little happies that make you smile?

  • May11th

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    Sorry for the lack of posts….I’ll get them going again. 🙂 Still no updates on our paperwork except that our approval (that is 2+months late) is supposedly coming this week or next. It’s been a very difficult wait. But we appreciate all of your prayers…Caroline needs them more than us.

    On a different note, a college friend asked me to contribute my Top 12 to a great site called “Domestic Ease.” Click here to read my top 12 ways to kickoff Spring, and have fun browsing the site. Great ideas and articles!