Go Together

My daughter Maggie will be baptized on Sunday.

She will don a white robe – which she thinks is weird, step into a heated pool of water – which she thinks is weird, and confess before a church, many of whom she barely knows (which she definitely thinks is weird) that she has trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior.

But that part isn’t weird?

The world at large would say that believing in a man as your Messiah and Savior who was executed in typical Roman fashion over two thousand years ago for alleged crimes against the state, believing that he is God and that He actually places His spirit within you and grants you as co-heir a place in an eternal heaven IS THE WEIRDEST THING EVER.

And the most shockingly beautiful.

Face it. Christianity is definitely weird. Or it is until that moment your disbelieving mind suddenly begins to realize that yes, what the Scriptures say are more true than the skin stretched across the back of your hand, more true than the pull of gravity against your foot.

Maggie felt this stir of conviction in her heart during Vacation Bible School this year. She reluctantly indicated so on a response card.

Reluctantly, because Maggie is a wee bit prideful. She told me there wasn’t a box that indicated her true desire, which probably was “Believe in Jesus and be left completely alone about it because then I’d have to admit to someone other than myself that I’m a sinner.”

She’s a lot like her momma.

Sweetly enough, Maggie’s friend Sawyer had checked the same box on her response card. But Sawyer’s sweet, quiet spirit was intimidated by the idea of what would happen next – a visit to The Pastor (cue the scary music!). And Maggie’s more prideful, arch spirit was fighting against the necessary surrender and humility of presenting herself as a sinner in need of a Savior.

It was a dilemma. Both girls seemed frozen and resistant. Did this change the beauty of what was happening in their hearts? Not one bit. But did we need to find a way to move them down the discipleship path? Absolutely.

So Sawyer’s mom Ashley and I talked about it. And we decided they could do it together. All of it.

God’s work is calling and saving. Our work is responding and submitting. And they had, individually, in their hearts. But at that point, both of them had fleshly inclinations they had to confront. As we all do. For one, timidity; for the other, pride. And rather than give them the seemingly insurmountable task of facing that battle alone, we turned them toward each other and whispered, Fight it together. 

Maggie and Sawyer meet together with Pastor Stacy Reed to discuss their new faith and plan for their baptism.

American Christian faith instruction is often presented as an individualistic, vertical act between that person and God, alone. But is that actually how we were made to practice our faith? We practice our faith in community for a reason. To encourage, to hold accountable, to support, to help carry the burden. So why not in this, the most critical of all faith moments: the conversion.

Go together.

Sawyer and Maggie’s history extends further back than just this experience. In the same church, on the same dais, on June 15, 2008, both infant girls were dedicated to God. dedication

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You can barely make out the Cook family on the left of this picture.

The Christian service of baby dedication acknowledges God’s sovereignty not only over the child, but also the parents. We were presenting our children before God and His church, not to show off, but to humbly ask for grace and wisdom in carrying out our responsibilities as parents. We also prayed that our baby girls might one day trust Jesus Christ as Savior for the forgiveness of sin.

And that day has come!

We were only acquaintances then, the Prices and the Cooks. We stood together that day, never dreaming that ten years later, in almost the same month, we would stand together again with these same girls, in this same church, as they both declared their new faith, the very faith we had prayed for a decade earlier.

Both girls, in walking the journey together, have helped the other as she hesitantly approaches the Father.

And why shouldn’t there be hesitation. Everything in the fallen world wants to work against the transformative power of Christ in us. Our own pride or fear or whatever will hold us back. And that’s where the beauty of friendship comes in. And shouldn’t that be the most deeply held hope for friendship? That in going together, you spur one another onward in the pursuit of truth?

sawayer and maggie

So celebrate with us, friends, as we welcome these little ones to answer Jesus’ eternal invitation: Let the children come. 

Home · Life · Uncategorized



Annelore “Annie” Klara Grüb Shrable, my grandmother, passed away Sunday night August 7. She would have been 88 on Thursday the 11th. My cousins contributed memories of Granny Shrable, and I had the honor of weaving them into this. There aren’t enough words to encompass her whole life. If I tried, I would have to tell you about Granny’s childhood under Hitler in Nazi Germany. But the thing was, Granny barely told us about that. So, this eulogy is the world through an Annie Shrable grandchild’s eyes. Boy. We were the lucky ones.

Shrable Family Reunion 2015: Annie, her 9 children, and everyone who came after that

I am one of Annie Shrable’s twenty-two grandchildren. You’ll notice [in the funeral program] we are honorary pall bearers. We will not carry her casket today. We will carry something just as precious, though. We will carry hearts full with memories of a woman who, in a million small ways, built a life a continent away from her birthplace, in a hillside home vastly different from how she had been raised. I often wonder about the thoughts that went through her head as she crossed an ocean. She had one child in her arms then. But could she have ever dreamed that one day seventy-three people – child, grand, and great –  would call her some version of the word mother? And though we carry her today, she has carried us in infinite ways.

She carried us as new babies. Bringing your baby home to meet Grandma Shrable was very special. She loved to hold and sing to each one of the babies. And though we might have called her Grandma, or Grandma Shrable, or even Granny, we NEVER got fancy and called her something like Grandmother. She wasn’t into fuss or frills. She let us know if she hated our haircut or color, or whatever trend we were sporting. When she didn’t approve of what we had done, or said, she’d push those lips together and shake her head.

She kept some of us while our parents worked; others of us knew her through vacations and long summer visits. Those were sun-soaked days of softball games in the yard, watermelon under the trees, grandpa mowing the lawn too short and grandma fussing at him, visits to milk and feed the cows, shooting turtles in the pond , trying to catch glimpses of calves being born, watching her get worked up over televised Razorback games or Cowboy games or even just Wheel of Fortune, playing Password with her, getting beat at Bible Trivia, sniffing her signature Sand and Sable bottle of perfume, swatting flies on the front porch and playing with the ever-present kittens, going through the closets that connected and thinking we were in a secret portal instead of just her winter clothes, letting us put rollers in her hair and drive matchbox cars on her back. Or at Christmas time – there was never a year that her tree didn’t sport multi-colored lights and silver tinsel. There was never a year we weren’t given all the sugar cookies we could ever hope to eat.

She carried the food! Her kitchen was never high-end. Sometimes she acted a little embarrassed by it. I don’t think she ever understood that to us, it was the most beautiful place on earth. In a house where the door was never locked, and you never had to knock or ask permission to come in, she often greeted you from her seat by the stove, sometimes waving that odd little knife she used to peel thousands of potatoes for endless bowls of potato salad. She peeled tomatoes from her garden. She always took the skin off to make them easier for us to eat.


She gave her seat up during meals, though, when the men would eat first while the women waited on them. We never thought this was strange, having grown up that way, but bring in a new boyfriend or girlfriend and you were reminded just how weird it was!

There was always a meal to look forward to. Now, she didn’t know, on that long journey across the ocean, that the meal would often have to have its neck wrung and its feathers plucked by her own hands. But by the time we grandkids came along, she wasn’t focused on catching chickens anymore. She was focused on packing that deep freeze as full of frozen treats as an ice cream truck. I will never, my whole life, forget the groan of the heavy freezer lid being opened over, and over, and over again. Fifty years of giving her grandkids sweets and treats and candies and desserts. This sweet tooth got her  in trouble in the last few years when she was supposed to be on a diabetic diet. There were many times one of us would catch her with something sweet and sticky, and she’d just wink.

She carried herself to church each week – once on Wednesday and twice on Sunday. We know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, but in a world with a loose faith practice, she taught us about discipline and respectful observance. She also taught us that chicken fries best on Sunday.

She carried twenty-seven years’ worth of Viola school children on her little yellow rural-route bus. So many of us have grand memories of riding along with her. It was fun when you weren’t actually going to school. Every Friday, she would let students run into the convenience store in Gepp and get a treat, maybe a sucker or a Slush Puppie. She even paid for the kids on her route who never had money. No one ever went without when Annie Shrable was around.

She shared all she had. Her food, her money, her opinion (her opinion a lot!). She was a strong-minded woman, and she raised a legion of strong-minded people. But she taught us to love one another. She did it through loving us. She never forgot a birthday. Her cards came promptly to all seventy-three of us. In fact, my daughter turned ten just one month before Granny died, and she still received a birthday card with printing that was distinctly Annie Shrable’s handwriting.

She loved us in ways we are just now realizing as we grow older and are able to understand. I mentioned the sugar cookies earlier. My cousin Mindy shares,

“Some of you may not realize, but those little iced sugar cookies in the metal tin lined with waxed paper were very time consuming to make. The temperature of the chilled dough needed to be just right. She would sit in front of the oven to make sure they didn’t turn too brown, batch after batch. The secret to the perfect icing, she told me, was in the scalded milk. I think it was more than that, it was her. Just like the way her pie plate made the strawberry pie taste better. The same way her grater made the cole slaw just perfect, or how her metal pan with the sliding lid made the chocolate dessert perfection.”

These artifacts are what we think of when we think of Grandma.  The table. The cookie tins. The chair by the stove. The deep freezer.  The school bus. However, they are nothing without the spirit of the woman who turned them into instruments of love, instruments that in her strong hands raised each of us to feel very deeply a love that has marked us for a lifetime. Let me end with this final story. Mindy, who rode Grandma’s bus all her years in school, tells of a day the bus got stuck in deep mud. Granny unloaded the kids one by one and carried them to dry ground.

On her back.

As she has carried each of us.


Kitchen Reveal

I fell in love with my current home before it ever hit the market. So when it did, my heart lurched and I begged my husband to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE buy me this house.

FullSizeRender (3)Unfortunately, a sudden organizational restructuring at work left us in limbo for months and months. I waited with baited breath for the news that the house had sold to someone else.

It never did. This home patiently sat through months and months and dozens of showings to other buyers until the day came we could sign a contract.

It’s all a very magical story full of God’s provision, but you’re not here for that. You’re here for the kitchen reveal.

Ah, the kitchen. One of the problems with this home, probably a deterrent to several interested parties, was the dark and dated kitchen. The previous owner had done what she could, but her attention was on updating so many other areas that she just hadn’t gotten to the kitchen.

old tile IMG_3340

The original oak cabinets were well-built and sturdy, the appliances were newer, and the Corian countertops and glass mosaic tiles were more recent upgrades, but altogether the look was muddy and uninspired.

I woke up one day four weeks ago and knew THIS was the day I would begin my kitchen remodel. I was tired of being uninspired. I had several limitations though. My budget was only $500. I could not replace the floor or countertops. I had hoped to hire out all of the cabinet work and get new doors, but this too proved to be overbudget. I wrestled with practicalities and then accepted the inevitable: I could have a new tile backsplash, but I would have to paint the cabinets myself.

I posted five different pictures of possible paint/tile combinations on Facebook. It was, by far, my most popular post ever. No one could reach any kind of consensus 😉 But a friend, Allison, suggested a two-tone approach. Dark on bottom, light on top. And my imagination ran from there.

This swatch has long been an inspiration piece for me:

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My look is cottage modern, with a mix of slight shabby, metallics, mattes, and textiles. I spent some time considering all this, and then we dove in.


Demo began mid-April. My cousin Brandon has some tile work experience, so I hired him to remove the old glass tiles. He swears they were installed with concrete. In fact, we had to completely replace the drywall behind them. This added two unexpected days of work and a lot of stress, but we persevered.

I decided on a Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations kit: https://www.rustoleum.com/en/product-catalog/consumer-brands/transformations/cabinet-transformations-light-kit. I had used this kit in its dark variety in my laundry room, and I was very pleased with its ease of application and durability. I used the remaining dark paint for my bar/peninsula, and I bought the light-base kit for the rest of the cabinets.

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This was a multi-step process. Erin removed each cabinet door or drawer and unscrewed all the hardware, hinges included. I deglossed each piece. This removes any residue that might impede full bond coat adhesion. In some cases, I did a little sanding, but my doors are 25 years old. They had dried out and were receptive to paint. After cleaning/stripping each, I painted two or three coats of the bond (color) paint, allowing each coat to thoroughly dry and harden in between. DO NOT RUSH THIS. I used three coats on all fronts and facings.

After all the paint had cured, I applied the decorative glaze. It too comes with the kit. The glazing took some practice. I ultimately applied it with a dry paint brush, then removed the excess, being sure to leave it where it could highlight edges. I also liked how it pooled into corners. If I applied too much glaze or if the stain darkened the white paint too much, I just wet a cloth and wiped it back off. Easy peasy.

Once the glaze dried, I very carefully applied the top coat. This protects the painted wood and makes it washable.

All that sounds simple enough, and as far as technique, it was. The problem was life. I didn’t have hours and hours on end. I worked mainly in the evenings, which stretched this project well over three weeks. I also chose to do my painting in the house so that I didn’t have to deal with gnats, heat, or humidity. Unfortunately, I DID have to deal with dog hair, mess, and children flying through my workspace.

But I’m so tickled to announce: I FINISHED!!!! WOOOOO-HOOOO!!!! And I love it.  Wanna see?

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I encourage anyone on a tight budget to consider doing the work herself. Take your time and use proper techniques, but don’t let the idea daunt you. I found great joy in working on my beloved house with my own hands. My children watched the kitchen transform through the work of their dad and me. It won’t be a memory soon forgotten. I’m happy to share my tips, hints, and strategies. Now get painting!


The Manna Moments

I’m working through Priscilla Shirer’s study Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath. With a focus on the early Israelites and God’s rescue of them from Egyptian slavery, readers are asked to parallel their own enslavements. And as God delivered manna to the rescued-but-wandering Israelites during their 40-year trek through the desert, we are asked to ponder our own manna moments.

I didn’t think I had any. And then I remembered. Being a SAHM had its desert moments. For me, at least. And then there was the manna moment.

Don’t misunderstand – I am grateful for every day I was privileged to stay home and care for my children. I had the choice, and exercised it, for eight years. This is a luxury and gift I won’t ever esteem lightly. But I’m a driven, type-A goal-setter. Tending the tiny-tot population is anything but. Our days were continuous stretches of waking, sleeping, feeding, cleaning, wiping, and re-directing. And while I will never discount the beauty of the snuggling, kissing, dancing, rocking, teaching, tending, and singing, staying at home grew stale for me.

It did. And for those of you who feel me on this, it’s okay to say it: It. Got. Old.

There was a moment when Maggie, my third child, was two years old. I was in possession of a stair-stepped crew of beautiful blonde tots, all potty-trained, all sleeping through the night. They were confident and trusting. They were grounded, well-adjusted, funny, and astute. And one of them could read. I had conquered every mountain I knew to conquer. I was ready for something more nourishing for my soul. I felt like I’d been subsisting on the same thin pablum I’d fed the babies, and I was ready for some meat.

Actually, I felt like I was starving. Starving to use my brain, my talents, and my gifts in challenging ways. Starving for a new direction. Starving to be part of a team of adults with a clear and steady purpose that aligned with my values.

But I knew in my heart that I needed to wait on the Lord. I knew that any time given outside of my home needed to be a calling.

Waiting, knowing you have a destination ahead of you, but not knowing when you’ll arrive, is hard. Knowing that you are loved by the Lord of the universe, but that He is biding His time before acting on His promises, is harder.

But then came the manna. Manna, as you can imagine, is strange and unexpected. In the Exodus account, the people are grumbling because they had obeyed God, but were “dying of hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.” Exodus 16:4

We learn that the manna is good for that day’s needs only. It cannot be stored, except during the Sabbath, during which they are instructed to gather nothing. God had heard their complaints, knew of their hunger, and was providing on his terms, not theirs.

In that way, the same manna moment happened for me. I stood, ready for something suitable to satisfy my hunger pangs, but I knew it needed to be on God’s terms, not mine. That’s when blogging and writing for a local magazine rather fell into my lap. From 2010 to 2012, I learned how to blog. Some were fumbling attempts and should probably be forever deleted from my blog history, but some were not. I experienced such founts of inspiration. The words flowed, and they blessed, and they saved me.

Those two years did not turn into forty years. Instead, they ended rather abruptly the day I collected the largest piece of manna ever. I was called by my then-pastor and asked to consider working for our church.

I never sent out a single resume. I did not network. I did none of the things that I would have recommended to others looking for careers. I just walked out and collected enough manna for the day. And God provided.

I will forever remember that period of time with a gush of emotion and gratitude. The writing fount more or less dried up when I was delivered into my dream of a job. Every once in a while, I can string a few words together that seem to work, but my focus is on church ministry. It is all-consuming, so between it and my family, there is very little time for writing. But I don’t need it the way I once did. It was manna, that as the sun grew hot, melted (Ex 16:21).

But oh, this promised land of abundant blessing. I can only give thanks.

If you are local to my area (and you know if you are), then join me starting mid-February as I walk through Breathe:Making Room for Sabbath with a group of women. Message me at erinandkristi@yahoo.com for more information.

Marriage · Parenting

To My Son

Warning: If any of you breathe a single detail about this post to Ethan, I am going to egg your car.  So there.

Last week, at bedtime, as I pulled up his sheet and dimmed his lamp, Ethan had this to share with me:

Mom. I don’t think you kissed dad enough when you were trying to have a baby. If you had kissed dad more, then more of his DNA would have gotten into you and then into me, since you made me. But I guess you didn’t kiss him enough, because instead of being dark and beefy like dad, I’m blonde and skinny like you.

I have laughed and laughed and laughed over that. And then I remembered this unpublished blog draft. I wrote it during Ethan’s first season playing Kiwanis football, last fall.  Enjoy.

Dear Ethan,

You should know, I fell in love with your dad on a football field. Our first “date” was to his intramural flag football game at college. From my spot on the sidelines, I watched him twist, spin, pivot, leap, and juke. All that was impressive enough, but then I watched him run.

Oh. Boy.

And now, fourteen years later, you have strapped on your first set of pads and football cleats. How did we get here?!? I asked your dad – Did you ever, in a million years, see football as both your son’s passion and surprising talent?

Uh, no. You have a musical, writing, public-speaking mom who can’t navigate the hallway without a new bruise. You and I have always resonated, sharing a flamboyant heartbeat for being loud and being heard. Our currency has always been language, and we’re big spenders.

You and your quiet dad, on the other hand, got off on shaky footing. He has loved you, cared for you, provided for you, but has often looked wistfully for the parts of himself he may have planted within you. Your blonde hair and blue eyes came from me. Your pale skin and impish chin – again, me. Your tendency to cry…*cough*…me. So far as we could tell, you got dad’s double-crown, and that was it.

Until this past year. Suddenly, you have a stat-loving brain and steel-trap memory. You’ve started rattling off numbers and sports data that takes us by surprise. We let you have your own Fantasy Football team, for which you drafted on your own, and you’re winning all your games! While none of this is going to necessarily lead to a career or even a fulfilling life, it has all been a hidden side of you breaking forth in fanfare and awesomeness.

And dad’s digging it. For years it has felt like all we did was reproduce a male version of me (that’s not a problem, by the way); but lately, we’re seeing what happens when two people search hard for a complementary mate. Dad needed height, and I had it.  I needed speed, and dad had it.  See how basic that is? But what if that’s part of what we’re meant to do, seek a person to strengthen those parts of us where we may be lacking?

So, I made your legs beautiful. But dad made them fast.



Photo by John Krueger, Used by Permission
Parenting · Writing

Texting: A Better Kind of Talking?

Before you read this, I want to affirm a few things: I love face-to-face conversation. I am not a techie. I don’t love gadgets. I encourage connecting interpersonally. I have real-life relationships with all my Facebook friends. I have a minor in speech communication. I am all for talking.

There now.  Go ahead.

My 10-year-old son has begged  to download a texting app to his tablet for months. Finally, he and I agreed on some rules.  Namely, he can only text me. He cannot give his number out to a soul. He must hand over his tablet at any moment for full inspection. He must have no expectation of privacy. On and on and on. By the time I was done being a shrew, he had completely lost interest and gone out to shoot baskets.

So, it startled me when I received my first text from him. I was on a trip with his dad, and I do a good job of forgetting I even have kids when I travel (this just shows how much confidence and surety I have in their grandparents!). When his sweet little note came through telling me about his day, I was tickled pink that my boy and I could talk over so many miles. Even better, he wanted to talk to me.photo

One moment stood out, though.  I asked him if he was minding his grandmother.  He wrote back and asked “What does “minding” mean?”  I was taken aback (and not only by his appropriate use of quote marks).  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve issued that general proclamation over my brood: Mind your father while I’m gone! Mind the babysitter. Mind your Nana. I always assumed they could decode from the context (and my strident tone of voice) just what I meant.  But now I realize, if they don’t even know what “mind” means, this goes a long way in explaining their rotten behavior!

It also struck me that in all these years of hearing a word he doesn’t understand, he’s never bothered to ask what it means. But in the thoughtful moment of writing, he did. Our house is a flood of noise: piano practicing, impromptu Rock Band parties, barking pets, screaming sisters. Even I, an extrovert in love with speaking and receiving words, am overcome by the din of noise and find that sometimes I never, ever want to talk again.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all if my kids are overcome too and are tuning me out.

So maybe, just maybe, our future important conversations need to be done in written form. Perhaps we will quietly sit in a circle, each of us on our own devices, as Erin and I silently text to them the facts of adolescent development and the birds and the bees. I can see how, in looking down at our screens, the blooming blush of embarrassment will be safely hidden, and maybe some swallowed-down questions will worm their way out.

I dunno. Maybe it’s a horrible idea. Maybe it’s brilliant. I just know that yesterday, my son’s texts to me were funny, endearing, and very well-played. His un-impressable father kept saying in awe, “Who taught him to text so well?!?”

One caveat. I was in the middle of something and thought that I had received a text from my husband Erin, not realizing it was from my son Ethan (I glanced too quickly). I was happily conversing with my spouse, in spouse-y fashion, when all of a sudden the text said “Why are you being weird? Am I talking to mom or dad right now?”




My Favorite Child

My kids have never asked me which of them is my favorite.  They’ve never accused one another of being the favorite.  I’m impressed by their restraint.  I routinely charged my parents with the crime of loving my brother Seth most.  (I still do!)  Really though, I just think it’s because my kids don’t have any concept of favoritism.

Erma Bombeck, whose columns set the mothering world on fire decades before Mommy Bloggers became a dime a dozen, taught me the bulk of my mothering values.  And she says this about favorites: “All mothers have their favorite child.  It is always the same one: the one who needs you at the moment.  Who needs you for whatever reason – to cling to, to shout at, to hurt, to hug, to flatter, to reverse charges to, to unload on – but mostly just to be there.”

That came to mind tonight with a very strange situation with Emily.  We arrived at the ball park for Maggie’s first tee ball game, and both Emily and Ethan jumped out of the van, grabbed their ball gloves, and ran off to find some action.  Ten minutes later, I scanned the crowd and saw Ethan where I expected to see him – in a thicket of boys, playing catch.  Emily was harder to pick out.  I found her moping around the playground.  This was the theme the entire one-hour game: Ethan with one set of boys or another, and Emily, off by herself, kicking rocks and looking miserable.  This was not the same girl I’d brought to the park.

Maggie’s game wrapped up, and I collected all the children.  Emily ignored every word I said, or at best, snarled in response.  When her sister, who’d been awarded the game ball, danced around showing it off, Emily actually shot daggers at her.  “Mom, she’s BRAGGING” she wailed, then burst into tears.  And this did not change, not the entire ride home.  No matter what I said, no matter how I reminded Emily of her awesome homerun the night before, no matter how I explained that we joyfully cheer for one another’s successes, this tense situation remained unchanged.

I put Emily in the bath and took a parenting time out.  I could tell something bigger had happened here, and I knew I needed to back up to the point where our pleasant evening changed.  And then I knew.  In a flash of parenting wisdom, I understood completely.

“Emily,” I said, easing down next to the tub.  She wouldn’t look at me, just stubbornly wrung out the washcloth over and over.  “When we got to the ballpark, did you run and look for someone to play with, but didn’t find anyone?”  She stopped wringing.  “But Ethan found a ton of boys and fell in with them.  And they wouldn’t let you play, right?”  She nodded, just the tiniest of nods.  “And then Maggie had a really good night and got a lot of attention.”

“Yes.” Her eyes welled up.

This wasn’t about being left out by her brother.  This wasn’t about something good happening for her sister.  This was about the difficulty of being Emily.  And of being in the middle.

IMG_5944Emily goes to a precious private school, but she’s in a very small class with five other students.  Only two of them are girls.  She loves this class, and these students, but it has left her with a tiny peer group.  She is introverted, so I don’t know that being in a large school will change things drastically next year, but at least she will know more people.  Big brother Ethan, on the other hand, goes to public school already and has found an easy familiarity with students from all grades and classes.  He is a stand-out kid.  Whether due to accomplishment, or pure flamboyance and volume, Ethan will always stand out.  And his extroverted nature will always find him smack-dab in the center of a crowd.

Then there’s Maggie, the little sister.  She is a small person with dimples and winsome eyes.  It’s hard not to love her.  And somehow, she just attracts attention.  She also plays the Baby Card, big time.  And she’s a Talker.  Bigger time.  Emily loves her, but she finds Maggie’s ego too big for the room they share together.

I surmised all this in an instant.  I tipped Emily’s face and very simply said, “I know it’s hard. Ethan and Maggie will always get lots of attention.  But I want you to know this: no matter what, I will always see you.”

With that, her tension broke.  Huge heaving sobs gave way to wet, grateful hugs.

And in that moment, for that moment, she was my favorite.  Because she needed me.  And I, at least this time, was there for her.


The Poetry of Motherhood

In college, I was asked to film a few spots for the local television station.  Vortex, the Literary and Art Journal of the University of Central Arkansas, had just been released for 1998, and someone thought some of the pieces needed to be performed and filmed for a wider viewing audience.  (Already, it seemed, people had stopped actually reading the printed word).  I had been having some success with competitive forensics (speech and debate tournaments), so I got the invitation to record poetry by UCA’s Joy Berry-Parks.

Therein began my infamous run with oranges.

One of her poems, written while staying home with her toddler, is situated in the moment of eating oranges with her child.  This is the end:

Thoroughly juiced, you sit cross-legged,
Absorbed in your third orange.
This is sweet! you say, overcome.
I know, I know —
I have tasted these years fully. *

It aired over, and over, and over.  From then on, a bunch of the sales guys I worked with at Acxiom would pass me in the hall and say, “Was it sweet, Kristi? Was it sweet?”

I was smiling about that today when I remembered another Berry-Parks poem, one I didn’t recite on camera but instead recited during a reception for the Vortex release.  At the time, as a young twenty-one-year-old, I didn’t understand it, but now, here in the madness of mothering two daughters, it is making so much sense.  It helps explain the turbulent turn my relationship with Emily has taken.

I think my small, sophisticated daughter lives in a maturity far beyond her six tiny years.  She is sensing and observing me in ways I wouldn’t have expected from her for another decade.  And I think the tension between us is simple: she is cut very differently than I am.

I am certainly no celebrity, but I’m still a very public figure.  I blog about my family; I write in a local magazine – about my family.  I tell our stories; my stories; her stories.  I have an out-front, completely extroverted personality.  And I make sure I’m heard.  I’m not loud, but I am indeed forthright.

My little opposite cringes at all I embrace.  She’s introverted; she prefers solitude and silence; she is not gregarious.  The cloud of people I float within repels her.  She is put off by the flash of my smile and the public embrace I am fully ready to offer.  She wants her space, and she wants me to herself, in a quiet way that I don’t often manage.

My son adores sharing me with the world around us.  He feeds off the energy in the very same way I do.  Likewise, my baby girl Maggie is quick to point out people she thinks I might know in the grocery store so I can wave a friendly hello.  But Emily, oh, not Emily.  She’d far rather duck and hide behind the deli counter than make small talk with yet another person commenting on her long blonde hair or asking her about school.

And while most daughters will seek at some point to differentiate themselves from their mothers, Emily is already quite different.  So I’m learning how to protect her from the clanging noise that surrounds me.  It is my job to help her hold onto anonymity (which she prefers) while also gently teaching her how and when to step outside of her personal space.  We’ll work these kinks out.  I am just overjoyed to finally, maybe, understand the forces at work here.  It would be so easy to write it off as insolence, to try to punish the occasional “bad” behavior.  But I will not do that.  I will work to understand this gorgeous gift of a girl, a girl turned so differently than I.

So, if you have a minute, read Joy Berry-Parks’ Armistice.  I didn’t understand it fourteen years ago.

I understand it now.

We chose sides like enemies in gym class –
Mother and I.
She took for her own: the color red,
Laughter, flash, hair rollers,
Her beauty pageant ribbon and small-town-princess photos.
All the shining things: Silver, chrome, and mirrors.
Winter.  Cleaning.  The smell of bleach on hands;
Floor wax, furniture polish, fingernail polish.
I surveyed what was left: what was unimportant,
Useless to her, I embraced:
All the browns – books, bronze and copper, dust.
Matte, not glossy, please.  Dusk.  Fires.
Laziness.  Speculation.  Philosophy.
Salinger, Updike, and Nabokav,
And the time to enjoy them, while the laundry’s stains set.
A friendly chaotic life, apropos of nothing.
I stood in the shadows she threw;
My life was the  negative of her own,
And I hated the glare she put off:
Her laughter too loud in my ears,
Too colorful, too bold, too much.
She swept through her life like a storm cloud;
I watched from my refuge for clearing skies.
She raged, I waited.
She has begun to fade now
Like those wildflowers in hellacious shades
That grew, and grew, along the roads she walked
As a girl, attracting every male eye.
Picked, and pressed, found by chance
Years later, in all their muted glory.
I have opened our life like a book
And found her there, like that.
She is letting her hair go gray
That was buffeted weekly, it seemed,
On the shores of approximate youth
By the tides of Miss Clairol.
It has been years, I realize, since I saw her in red –
That flare, that stoplight, that she loved.
She is stepping back, into my claimed shade.
I see her raucous laughter differently
In this light.
I think she was as terrified of the power
Of her beauty then as I was later on.
I think she used what she had to get out.
And I think she must have been puzzled, and a little afraid
Of me – book lugging, tree climbing, insolence personified
In a package that mocked hers at every turn.
She got her bluff in early on me, though,
And 23 years takes note of what ten could not.
I am beginning to see the color red 
In power, and energy, and love, and will;
And I am wearing her scent,
Sometimes – and I am watching less,
I am raging more…
For her, for me, for the daughter I will be anathema to.

*At Home, by Joy Berry-Parks, 1998

  My daughters.  May I never be an anathema to them.


Adventures in Gluten Free Cooking

My Favorite Shelf

I’m not one for trends.  In fact, I deliberately avoid anything that smacks of trendiness, even if “it” is sane, rational, and wonderful.  But I’ve finally grown curious about this gluten-free lifestyle.  Recently, I saw a recipe on the side of my steel-cut oatmeal box.  The idea of it sounded delicious today: If I take my favorite oatmeal and do the right things to it, I could make Gluten Free Toasted Oat Cookies.

But something didn’t go quite right.  Maybe there was a misprint in the recipe?

Right here – do you see it?  Three sticks of butter.  I’m a trusting sort, so when I read 3 sticks unsalted butter, I obediently unwrapped three sticks of butter and dropped it in my skillet.

This meant that instead of toasting my two cups of oatmeal, I boiled it.  In butter.

Somewhere in the middle of the boiling process, it hit me: this three sticks thing could be a mistake.  It probably is a mistake.   In between dropping scalding butter on my foot and wrestling Maggie out of the jaws of the dog (again), I found the 1-800 number on the side of the oatmeal box.

I was connected to a most unhelpful woman.

No, she did not know if it was a misprint.  She didn’t seem to really care, either.  I tried to explain that I was doing my best to drain three sticks of butter from a panful of oatmeal, but she didn’t sense the desperation.  She dug around a bit (maybe a filing cabinet? the wastebasket? her purse?) and finally declared that she could not say for sure if a misprint had occurred.  And that was all she said.  I hung there, waiting for a polite apology, a suggestion, laughter, but nothing. 

I finally said, “Could you find out if it was supposed to be three tablespoons of butter and get back with me?”

She sighed.  “No.  I’m afraid that no one will call you back.  If it’s an error, you can wait and see if we print a new box.”

World’s. Best. Customer. Service.

So, my butter-soaked cookies baked oddly.  The first batch burned.  The second batch is still stuck to the pan.  But the third batch is really, really good.

I just don’t see me trying recipes off the sides of boxes anymore.  We’re sticking with Chips Ahoy.  Bring on the gluten.


High Jumping into Adulthood

This was Back-to-School week for most of my fair state.  The occasion gave rise to one of my favorite uses of Facebook: the obligatory First Day Back pictures.  As an aside, these are much better than the obligatory feet-in-the-sand pictures when people visit the beach.  If you’re guilty of posting those, just stop.  I didn’t go to the beach this year.  I can’t handle it.

In the First Day Back pictures (or for those of you like me who forgot and instead passed off Second Day Back pictures), I saw squeaky clean kids with fresh hair cuts holding new backpacks and lunchboxes, flashing gap-toothed grins or barely-there nervous smiles.  The newly-minted kindergartners beamed.  The junior highers looked like they had basted themselves in a marinade of bravado and attitude.  And the senior highers looked on the verge of rolling their eyes, if they posed at all.

I loved all of them.

What I noticed over and over were the parental comments: Oh, I can’t believe she’s growing up.  Shouldn’t he still be in preschool?  How do I make time slow down?

Do I ever understand that lament!  Any parent with a heart full of love does.  That particular longing is why we have cliches like “make time stand still” and “put a brick on that boy’s head.”  But we don’t really mean that, do we?  Instead of seeing each day as a chance to grasp at the little boy or girl we once had, our focus should instead be on crafting that child into the adult he or she will one day become.

And trust me, you want your child to grow up.  And let me tell you why.  I was watching a heart-wrenching TLC show about Nicky Freeman this week, spilling drip-droppy tears all over my shirtfront as I witnessed this 40-year-old man in a ten-year-old body.  He reminded me of my eight-year-old Ethan in many regards: the knobby knees, skinny legs, affectionate hugs, the way he sits on his mother’s lap.  I realize that his mother wants the world to understand that Nicky’s life, despite his limitations, has value, and that it has added so much to her life.  I agree.  The love wrapped around those two made me choke with tears.  The way Nicky thanked the geneticist studying him by crawling into his lap like a small child wrenched my heart.  The way Nicky rode piggy-back on his younger (but normal-sized) brother’s back, and the tenderness with which the bearded younger brother treated him, touched me deep.

Nicky’s mother has profound love for her child, and receives profound love from her child, but I’m sure she’s consumed with worry for his future and his care.  Nicky, blind and mute, has attained most of his potential.  Now middle-aged, he is a perpetual child, and while we crave the child-like affection our children offer us and we yearn to hold on to that, doing so is unnatural.  Growing up into a productive, happy adulthood where our children can care for themselves and others is the goal.  Sure, your adult-sized son may still want to sit in your old lady lap one day, but hopefully he’ll eventually get up and go home.

We all want our children to grow, both in stature and in opportunity.

So I look at my son and consider him.  He blesses my heart everyday, with his chipper attitude and zany sense of humor.  He may be rather slobbish, and forgetful, and lazy, and LOUD, but there’s no boy more loyal or loving toward his friends.  There is no boy more kind.  And in spite of himself, I think he’ll achieve great things.  I want to equip him to do that, instead of holding him back within my smothering fear.

In fact, as I ponder his future, I’m pretty sure he’ll turn out a lot like this guy:

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Just a couple of weeks ago, Ivan Ukhov, a high jumper from Russia in the 2012 Olympics, stood the chance to win gold.

But something unfortunate happened, something that seems to happen to my Ethan in one form or another every day of his life: Ivan lost something he really, really needed prior to his next jump – his shirt.  Unless he wanted to pin his number to his bare skin, his singlet was pretty necessary.

How do you misplace your shirt?  I can just imagine Ivan’s mother in the stands, or watching from back home in Russia, screaming at the television, “I TOLD YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN, YOU FRUSTRATING CHILD! KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON AND YOU WON’T MISPLACE IT!”  She probably turned to her husband, smacked her head and said, “ой! When will that boy ever grow up?”

Ivan finally grabbed any old t-shirt, pinned his number,  and went on to compete.  Mr. Scatter Brain eventually took gold.  He gives me great hope for my flighty, golden-haired son.  If Ivan can manage an Olympic gold, my child can at least manage second grade.

I hope.

If you’d like to watch Ivan wander around looking for his shirt, click here.  It makes me laugh every time.