31 December 2007

Boredom is the Mother of Creativity...or something like that

Day 9 of Christmas vacation, on the fourth day of rain:



"Look, Mama! That's me and Max playing! See, I put a hat on one so it looks like me, and we're playing with blocks. Can I eat two Hershey's kisses so it looks like we ate them? Papa! I have something to show you but you have to close your eyes! Hey, what can I use to make them look like they have legs?"

[side note to Aunt Wendy: She's wearing the outfit you got her for the third time in less than a week. I guess she likes it.]

26 December 2007

December at our House

Busy, busy, busy, as I'm sure everyone else was. Here are a few pictures of our Christmas.

We got to a few Christmas markets in early December. The one in Kaiserslautern is just the right size for an afternoon.






Last week was Katrina's holiday program/party at school. The kids sang about 10 songs, then decorated gingerbread houses.





And then, there was Christmas morning in our jammies and Christmas afternoon in our, um, safety goggles.








School doesn't start back up until January 7. This morning, I scheduled one playdate for Friday, and later today or tomorrow morning, I'll try to line up a few more. I like that we decided on just relaxing at home for a bit, instead of another trip, but Katrina needs social interaction like we need air. Thank goodness a number of her friends are also staying close to home for Christmas. Enough for a different friend to come over probably every day until school starts up. Maybe we can be the ones to give some parents a break...especially the moms with deployed husbands. But it's not really altruistic; parents of only children know that in some cases, taking care of two kids CAN be easier than taking care of one. Let the playdates begin!

14 December 2007

04 December 2007

Puppy Love

Katrina has marriage plans. She's going to marry Max. This year, that is. Since she entered preschool at age three, her groom has changed each year. When she was three, a dashing older man named Josh (age 5) introduced the concept of a long, loooong engagement. All the little ones were paired off within the first few months of school, apparently. The teachers were a bit mystified. Tragically, the engagement was broken when the groom-to-be moved at the end of the year.

Last year, an engaging young towhead captured Katrina's affections. The friendship was mutual, if rocky at times. When they first met, Michael was a sweet and mild-mannered little boy who's chief quality (other than his undeniable cuteness) was that he would do anything Katrina asked him to. Alas, over the course of about nine months, he started standing up to Katrina. Their relationship had ups and downs...clashing games of "let's pretend" ("I want to be a princess!" "I want to play superheroes!" "WAAAAAH!"); moments of absolute agreement ("We don't WANT to leave the playground!"); and the always fractious relationship between the girlfriend and her boyfriend's other friends ("I don't like Aidan. He bosses Michael around." Too bad irony is lost on four-year-olds.). And then, just as her relationship with Michael grew distant (they were preparing to move)...

Luke entered the picture. An energetic Star Wars fan with black hair and gorgeous brown eyes, Luke was Katrina's foil in numerous Star Wars games. For awhile, Katrina's after school posse of Luke, Ben, and Michael spent a half-hour or so running wildly around outside the school. Katrina was always Princess Leia, and the boys took on various good guy or bad guy roles. This year, Luke moved on to a different kindergarten. He's still around, and before Thanksgiving, the two had a playdate. In which their chief occupation was nagging me to let them play Lego Star Wars on the Xbox. (Me: "But you haven't seen each other in a month! Why don't you play together for a while before I turn on the TV?" Them: "Is it time yet? Can we play Lego Star Wars now? How about now?") But by switching schools, Luke has lost his place in the hierarchy of Katrina's affections.

Now, it is all about Max. The son of one of my husband's co-workers and now a classmate of Katrina's, Max and his parents have become good friends and sometime traveling companions. In fact, while we were discussing potential travel plans for the Thanksgiving break, Katrina interjected with, "Where's Max going? I want to go with Max?" And so we did.

That lengthy history is just an prequel to the true purpose of this post, which is to post a short pictorial series entitled: "Puppy Love, or the Love/Hate Relationship of Two Only Children at Age Five." [Confidential to my brother: No claims are made as to the quality of these snapshots, or of the eyes open or closed. :) ]









Not to worry, though...a little rest and some German cartoons on the hotel TV can do wonders.

30 November 2007

Budapest: Ways of Seeing

What adults see while walking along the Danube River on a hazy November morning:




What kids see: giant maple leaves on the ground. Better collect them all and carry them as long as possible!





What adults see in beautiful St. Matyas church:


What the kids remember: the skull of a saint. And in the display case beside it, a foot.




What adults see while climbing up steep Gellert Hill:



What kids see: "Mama! My legs are tiiiirrreeedd! Are we to the top yet???"



What this adult thinks (worries?) about on Thanksgiving: "My daughter won't have memories of turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving! Oh, the bad parenting!"

What the daughter says: "Last year I ate turkey and then threw up. I never want to eat turkey AGAIN!"

What adults think at the Italian place on Thanksgiving night: "It doesn't feel much like Thanksgiving."

What the kids think: "Cool! Pizza!"

19 November 2007

Holy Places Are Dark Places


"It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives sin because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the Cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied."

--Oswald Chambers

After a number of years, I have come back to reading My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (that link is to a version with "updated" language; my copy has the original text, first published in 1935, but compiled from talks Chambers gave around 1915-17, according to the Foreward). It's challenging. Chambers strips away the warm fuzzies that we often wrap around the gospel. No sentimentality for him. The way of Christ is difficult, and all-consuming--or should be. The love of God does not overshadow the justice of God. Chambers' God does not say, "there, there, dear, we all make mistakes sometimes." Justice requires payment, forgiveness exacts a price, and the price is "the rending of His heart in the Death of Christ."

I am reminded of my absolute favorite C.S. Lewis book, Till We Have Faces. Much lesser known than his Narnia books, Faces is a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, in the voice of Psyche's ugly half-sister. Doesn't seem like the myth would have much in the way of spiritual fodder, at least of the Christian sort, but Lewis does it. One of the images? concepts? that stays with me from this book is the contrast Lewis creates between the old goddess worship and the "new" Greek gods. The goddess the main character grows up with is a shapeless, smooth black rock, fearsome and bloody. She demands blood sacrifice. Her ways are dark and mysterious.

In contrast, the Greek gods are clean and tidy, with sharp angles and recognizable faces. They do not smell of blood and darkness. They do not inspire fear or demand too much.

"Holy places are dark places," says the ugly sister.



In my experience, many Western Christians like our religion clean and tidy. God is our Father, Jesus is our buddy, the Holy Spirit...well, the Spirit is in us, but let's not get too crazy about it. We soften the hard edges of sin and justice and the bloody sacrifice that was the Crucifixion. We see the Bible as a blueprint for life; we gloss over things that are not clear to us, that shake our comfortable certainty.

In other churches, I've seen names for children's choirs or Sunday School classes like "Jesus' Little Lambs," and I'm sure to the modern mind it conjures up cute images of furry animals cavorting in grassy fields. But that's not what Lamb of God is meant to convey. In the Lutheran liturgy (and the Catholic as well, I believe), we sing "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us." Jesus is the Lamb of God, because Jesus was the blood sacrifice for our sin. Lambs were routinely sacrificed under Old Testament law. So I wince when I hear children in the church being called "little lambs." (One could argue, I suppose, that the reference is to Jesus the Good Shepherd, but, still...)

By nature, I think, we don't like mystery. We want to know with clear certainty. We forsake the murkiness of blood and sacrifice for pretty gold crosses. We forget that God is not squishy and sentimental, that his love and his holiness are/were in conflict, that only the mystery and the heartbreak and the bloodiness and messiness of the crucifixion could bring us into any kind of relationship with him. And it was long ago and far away for us, so it is easy to leap over it to the resurrection, to the clean lines of theology, to Acts and Romans.

But, still. At the center of the Christian faith is that mysterious, shapeless darkness, smelling of blood and fear, howling with evil, abetted by indifference, with jeering, wild faces all around. Because of our darkness. Because of God's love, hard-edged, sharp, and ruthless.

Relentless.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

14 November 2007

Random Randomness--Now with Amoxycillin!

We had a long, glorious autumn, but this week the gray of late fall/early winter began. Gray skies, gray rain, gusty winds, browned trees, even snow flurries today. I'm hoping for a colder winter than last year, when we had one measly snowfall of less than an inch. Because the alternative is four or five more months of gray.

After the excitement of Halloween, we're back into the routine. Or as routine as we can get when germs are stalking us. Katrina is fighting off another ear infection with a 10-day round of nasty antibiotics in large doses. The doctor even apologized for prescribing 10 ml twice a day. But there was no higher concentration in liquid form, and Katrina is still too young for pills but large enough physically to need the higher dose. So far, we've had only minor rebellion, nothing like last time she had this stuff. She has about four more days to go. That means four more days of glorious protection from all of the other little buggies being so generously shared by her classmates. Meanwhile, Jon and I both have been coughing and coughing, oh, and coughing some more. I've gotten somewhat better, and Jon seemed to be on the mend but now the stress of a business trip has worsened it again. So, I'm not really a fan of this time of year.

In other news, we had the first conference of the year at school a few weeks ago. No surprises, really. Katrina is starting to read and knows about 6 sight words, all her letters and sounds, and can count to 39 on her own. She's also working on addition.

The part of the "report card" outlining her social and other nonacademic skills was kind of interesting. Teacher comments on "works independently": "Well, she CAN work independently..." and we finish the sentence in unison, "but she doesn't WANT to."

We were also not surprised that Katrina does not choose challenging work on her own. She's a perfectionist, that one--typical of an only child, and I suppose, of the child of two parents with perfectionistic tendencies. She'd rather do something she knows she can do well/perfectly. Plus, she came home from school one day distressed that the teachers wouldn't let her play with play-dough during work time, but made her choose "serious work."

The only thing that the teacher is a bit concerned about is Katrina's gross motor skills. She can't skip yet, and she has difficulty hopping on one foot. (She also hasn't yet mastered pumping her legs on the swing--she gets the rhythm of the legs but doesn't put her body into it enough to propel the swing higher.) Apparently, having trouble skipping and balancing can be a sign of vision or hearing problems. Both were checked and found normal at her last physical, so I don't think that's the problem. No, I think the poor child just inherited my poor coordination.

She can run like the wind, though. Which is more than I ever did. So maybe there's hope!

It was kind of confidence-building as a parent that what the teacher observed matched up with what we know about Katrina. We know our child, we knew most of her strengths and weaknesses before we walked in. And the nice thing is, after two years and beginning her third at the same school, her teachers know her well, too. I don't know that she'll have that kind of advantage after she moves on to elementary school. Though, not being the shrinking violet type, Katrina will make herself known fairly quickly wherever she is.

We're starting to look into schools for next year. There are a few private schools in the area, in addition to the school on base and the German school. I checked out the British school (set up for members of the British military stationed here, but open to other nationalities, as well), and I was impressed. The teacher/student ratio is much better than the schools on base, which are essentially public schools. As a contractor rather than a military member or government civilian, Jon is not entitled to use the schools on base free of charge. As a part of him working here, however, his company will pay Katrina's tuition. This gives us much more flexibility than we would have otherwise. The base schools--which are average to above-average public schools--actually charge a much higher tuition than the private schools we've looked at so far. And the private schools have 12 to 15 kids per class, rather than 20 to 30. To me, the class size alone is a compelling reason to go private.

Of course, also by virtue of being a contractor, we don't know from year to year whether we'll be staying or not. Uncertainty R Us.

And that's about it for the random news here at Haus Gross. Tune in next time to hear Katrina say, "Mama, when are we going to take a walk where the graves are?! I never get to go there!"

31 October 2007

Happy Halloween!

The beginning of the evening...




After trick-or-treating...



A good time was had by all...except maybe the pumpkins.


30 October 2007

This Is Why I Read Blogs

Katrina is not the easiest child to parent. She is not easy-going. She is not particularly flexible. Like Jon, she has clear, detailed expectations of how things should be. Like me, she is impatient and easily frustrated. Don't get me wrong, she's also got a lot of stellar qualities. When she's good, she's very, very good...but you know the rest.

But you know, sometimes I get impatient and frustrated (see above) that tears, whining, and even screaming ensue if some little detail does not live up to her expectations. In fact, managing Katrina's expectations is an essential part of parenting her effectively (or, really, of surviving the day without tearing out my hair).

Unfortunately, one cannot always predict the unpredictable. Last night, Jon made fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. One of Katrina's favorite meals (mine, too). The gravy didn't get as thick as usual, though. After Katrina took her first bite of mashed potatoes, the gravy spilled out of the little well in the middle of the potatoes. It spread across part of her plate. Mind you, it didn't actually flood adjoining food. It just escaped its bounds. The crying, it began. And the annoyance, it began. We had to talk her down so that she could eat HER FAVORITE DINNER.

The best part is, she ate everything on her plate and then asked for more potatoes and gravy. And when the gravy AGAIN did not remain where she wanted it? More tears. Followed by eating that helping and again asking for more.

And about that time, I flashed back to this post on Dooce's blog, which I read mere hours before the Great Gravy Flood of 2007. Skip the first few paragraphs if you're in a hurry, but do not miss the lollipop story. I laughed and laughed, because I have been there. I've felt the tension as I wondered if some small change of plans would be accepted or lamented with a wailing that would put professional mourners to shame.
You know the cliche...it's funny 'cause it's true. Not for every kid, but certainly for mine. And Dooce's. And THAT, ladies and gentleman, is why I read mommy blogs.

23 October 2007

Shifting Gears

Jon taught me how to drive a car with manual transmission when we were in college. We've owned manual transmissions ever since.

There's a moment when you shift from one gear to the next--clutch in, shift gears, let clutch out while pressing the gas pedal--when the car seems to pause. You can feel it in automatics, too. When the car isn't in one gear or the other. The engine is still going, of course, but the momentum is lost, just for a split second. You could be preparing to speed up or slow down, but you haven't done it yet.

That's about where I am right now. In the middle of shifting gears. In the space between.

When Katrina was born, everything else fell away. This hungry, demanding, squalling creature took over both day and night. I gladly let everything go except the imperative to love and care for her. Because of her nature and mine, I found the job all-consuming for a long time, perhaps longer than high-energy, highly organized moms would. For a while, I fit in editing and writing projects here and there, but my rose-colored vision of mommy writing on the computer while a quiet, contented child played at my feet never came to pass. (Go ahead and chuckle; I'll wait.)

When Katrina started preschool, I started to try to lose weight. I went to the gym at least three times a week, and that combined with the peace of doing various errands by myself (plus a little blog writing) filled up those three hours a day.

I'm still going to the gym, and all of those other things to keep the household running. And if I let it, I can fill even those additional hours with this and that. In my time-management-challenged world, tasks truly do expand to fill the time I have. I can take a long time to peruse labels in the commissary, take an extra half-hour during lunch to finish reading just one more page, and stay on the Internet long enough to read "just one more" thing. And then it is time to go pick up Katrina.

But I do not want my days to be aimless, idle. I now have the gift of time, and I want to use in purposefully. I've thought of re-starting my freelance business (which would be a bit more complicated to manage here in Germany than it was in the U.S.), or of trying to write a novel, or any of a dozen things. But what keeps coming to the top is a desire to help. I'm not sure with what, though. I have a few ideas, too many, really. There's a crisis pregnancy center here. There's Fisher House. There's a score of things I could start up at church.

I haven't made a decision yet. It feels more important than it should, I think. It has the feel of remaking my life...or even starting anew. My prior life fell away naturally, easily, while I held my daughter close to my heart for hours at a time. Not so easy is figuring out what to to with my hands--and time--now that they are free.

18 October 2007

"D" is for Disconcerting

Every week or so, Katrina brings home a bunch of papers from school, all of the worksheets she's completed. I was going through them this morning, and one of them reminded me of how, uh, unique my little girl is.

Oh. look, they worked on "D" last week.




Wait, what's that?



I wonder what the teacher said when Katrina came up with that. More importantly, I wonder what she thought. Or maybe I don't want to know.

Our conference in November might be interesting.

15 October 2007

Just Trippin'


I didn't mean for that Angry Whopper commercial to stand at the top so long, but life got in the way. The weather has been outstanding the past two weeks, and we have taken advantage of it.

The Friday before Columbus Day weekend, we decided on the spur of the moment to join some friends on their long-planned weekend trip to Disneyland Paris. Jon secured a hotel room for us at noon on Friday, I quickly packed, we picked Katrina up from school at 3, and drove off. It was a good decision. The weather was beautiful, much better than when we visited in July.

And the park was all decked out for Halloween.






As you can see above, we traveled with some seriously cute children. Katrina and three boys. They all got along well, for the most part, and the three families separated and came together as our interests crossed. The boys were all much more into the rides than Katrina was, but she managed to visit her old favorites and even try a few rides she refused last time.



And at Disney Studios, we found something that highlighted one of Katrina's true talents.



Yes, the "scream machine" from Monsters Inc. It kept both her and her friend M amused for about a half hour. She outscreamed the mild-mannered M, though. No one was surprised.

And, this past weekend, I went on a girls trip to Cheb, in the Czech Republic. Well, at least that was the original plan. One of us (not me, thanks to an early-morning reminder from Jon) forgot her passport. We tried to get her through with her military ID, but just got turned around for our troubles. The Czech border guard was very friendly, but matter-of-fact. "No passport, no come into Czech," he said sympathetically, before he motioned us to turn around.

The German border guard on the way back into Germany was not so friendly. "Passport into Czech is normal," he said. My friend, in the driver's seat, answered yes, she knew, we just forgot it. And we thought that was the end of it. But no, the guard apparently needed to bully three American women that day. "I could call the military police and make a report! You need your passport!" he ranted. Later, all of three of us agreed that at that point, we wanted to see him call the American MPs and make a report. Because all that happened was that someone forgot her passport. It's not like we made a run for it. We tried, on the off-chance that the military ID would suffice. When told it wouldn't, we just turned around. Ah, well, hopefully the guard relieved his power-trip needs and was more civil with the next car.

But the adventure didn't end there! No indeedy, when it rains, it pours. Our forgetful friend urged us to drop her off at the hotel and head back to Cheb to shop at the Asian Market there, as we had planned. We decided to do just that, if only to see if it was worth it to our friend to try to come back. After about an hour strolling through booths of near-identical knock-offs of various designer labels, we headed back. We pulled out our passports at the German border. My friend handed them to me, I took mine and handed hers back. And that's the last we saw of my friend's passport.

We spent Sunday morning searching the car and retracing our steps to find the missing passport. Now WE were the ones calling the MPs. But no luck. So we headed back home.

And I checked my purse about every hour to make sure my passport was still there.

01 October 2007

Because Someone Said I Was Getting "Too Literary"

For your viewing pleasure, the terribly high-brow use of English for a new product here in Germany.





You don't really need a translation, do you?

27 September 2007

Songs of Lament


There's a song we hear a lot, but only on German radio. On German radio, it's currently in relatively heavy rotation. I haven't heard it at all on AFN (American Forces Network). It's not hard to figure out why.

Dear Mr. President,
Come take a walk with me. ...
I'd like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly.

What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street?
Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep?
What do you feel when you look in the mirror?
Are you proud?

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye
And tell me why?

Dear Mr. President,
Were you a lonely boy?
Are you a lonely boy?
How can you say
No child is left behind?
We're not dumb and we're not blind.
They're all sitting in your cells
While you pave the road to hell.

What kind of father would take his own daughter's rights away?
And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?
I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
You've come a long way from whiskey and cocaine.

Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
You don't know nothing 'bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
Oh

How do you sleep at night?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Dear Mr. President,
You'd never take a walk with me.
Would you?

--"Dear Mr. President," by Pink (feat. The Indigo Girls)


It's no secret that I vote Republican and voted for the president. Some of the lyrics in this song are cheap shots (what, Clinton had no homeless under his watch?), including pretty much all of the second verse. And needless to say, I don't agree with many of the things Pink is so angry about.

But every time I hear this song my heart hurts and tears come to my eyes. Partly because the melody is beautiful and mournful. It's simply a lovely song. But also because you can feel the pain and heartbreak in the refrain. People are crying out for justice, for help, for someone to listen to them. Mothers are crying at night. Families are broken. The world seems so very dark.

But the question to the president in this song, and I think, to the leaders of the nation in general, is not "What is your plan for getting us out of this?" At least, that's not what I hear when I listen. The questions this song really ask are: Do you care? Does injustice trouble you? Do you know what we're going through?

It's obvious that Pink believes the answers to these questions are "no." No, the president doesn't care. No, he'd never take a walk with her (of course, I wouldn't want to take a walk with someone who just wrote a song insulting me, either).

But would any other political leaders and presidential wannabes walk with her or answer those underlying questions differently? Of course, many would say they would, at least during election season. But I'm not convinced that very many of those who call themselves "public servants" truly would listen to someone who's not powerful or in a position to donate to their campaigns. Despite her harsh words, I think Pink asks some valid questions, not just of Bush but of those who are and who would like to become our leaders.

------------------------------------------------


Perhaps you'll find this an odd juxtaposition, but "Dear Mr. President" reminds me of another song. The context is different, but the underlying questions are the same.

You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt
Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said
Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath
While You're up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then
Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You're up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can't see what's ahead
And we can not get free of what we've left behind
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led

And so You've been here all along I guess
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get.

--"Hard to Get" by Rich Mullins


My favorite Rich Mullins song, as I've mentioned before. In a crisis of the soul, what does the singer want to know about God? Do you care? Does injustice trouble you? Do you know what I'm going through?

Songs of lament, both of them. Songs of angry questions, shaking your fist: Do you see? Do you know? Do you care? Wrong is being done! People are dying and you stand by, seemingly unmoved! Help us!

---------------------------------------------

When I was in college, I took a course on religion and modern culture. I was fairly outspoken as one of the few practicing Christians (or admitted ones, anyway) in the class. One of my classmates did a presentation on some song that she deemed was anti-God--or anti-religion, anyway. She nervously warned that some might find the lyrics offensive. I did not. I found them to be strikingly similar to some of the Psalms, and said as much. (I remember the speaker being shocked that I wasn't offended, and me being shocked that she thought I would BE offended. I don't, however, remember what the song was.)

The format, the questions, even the anger and cries for justice--from Pink as well as from Rich Mullins--I find strikingly similar to some of the less-quoted Scripture passages.

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

--Habakkuk 1:2-4


It's the question of evil. Why does God allow evil? Why does he allow good people to suffer? The standard Christian answers have to do with free will, original sin, and the devil. And those answers may somewhat satisfy us intellectually. Until we actually face suffering, until we are exposed to war, to poverty, to injustice. And then all of the theology in the world does not mend our broken hearts. And so we cry out. We cry out for justice, for understanding, for help. We cry out to a seemingly unmoved Power: Do you see? Do you know? Do you care?

One of the reasons I am suspicious of pat, tidy answers, especially within the Christian church, is books like Habbakkuk, like Job, like parts of the Psalms. I believe the Bible holds the truth, and with C.S. Lewis I believe that Christianity offers the best explanation for why the world is the way it is. But the Bible doesn't hold all of the answers. Sometimes, it just asks the right questions.


Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
redeem us because of your unfailing love.

--Psalm 44:23-26

18 September 2007

Why I Never Needed to Use Drugs


My dad used to yell at me. Frequently. I could never figure out why. There I was, just reading a book, and all of a sudden, someone's screaming at me.

At least, that's how it seemed to me. To my poor dad, I had been ignoring all of his reasonably-toned attempts to get my attention. Yelling my name from just a few feet away was the last resort.

I'm not sure he really believed I didn't hear him the first 10 times. So, Dad, the truth: I really didn't hear you. Because I wasn't actually sitting in the living room. I was inside that book (whatever the book was at the moment), and everything around me had long ago faded away.

Because that's how it is with me. If a book is engaging, well-written, and tells a good story, I just climb right in. I lose any sense of my eyes taking in the words. I'm just there, wherever there might be. (And truthfully? It doesn't even have to be that well-written. It does have to better written than Dan Brown, though. I just can't get more than a few pages into The Da Vinci Code, no matter what the best-sellers list says.)

Sometimes people who don't read much say admiring things to me about my reading, like reading is some virtue I have cultivated. It's not. It's just a thing that grips me. That lets me escape. That relaxes me. That gives me something to do when I'm bored. That brings excitement to an ordinary day. That shows me beauty, or darkness, or humor.

I've just finished re-reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books. There are six of them, each the size of large doorstops. And as sometimes happens when I'm in the grip of a fictional world, the narrator's voice seems to run in the background, even when I'm not reading. Not like someone's narrating my life, I'm not as quirky as all that. No, it's more like a murmur, like I'm half in my world and half in the book. Like the book is going on without me. I can see why some writers either don't read similar works or don't read at all when they're in the midst of a writing project. After a good six weeks or so in Gabaldon's world, I could probably write in her voice.

The escapism part is why I mostly read fiction, and why I don't read a lot of highly literary, er, literature. I can and do enjoy nonfiction, but if I can't get lost in a book, if the world doesn't fade away within a few minutes, I don't feel like I've had my reading fix.

If I don't have a book in progress for a few days, I get jittery. Something's missing. I read magazines, but they're just not the same. If I can't get to the library, I start looking at the books on the shelf. Are there any I haven't read yet? Any I wish to revisit? Because I need a book, and I need it now.

Sometimes my reading interferes with my life and my relationships. I run late to places because I just needed to finish a few more pages. I'm annoyed with my daughter or my husband because they have the gall to want my attention just as I hit a particularly good part. Dinner is late and the ironing undone because "just a few minutes" stretched out to...well, till I could drag myself away.

And it does feel like dragging. Or waking up suddenly from a particularly vivid dream. I'm groggy, and my mind moves slowly, still half caught up in another time and place, and coming back to reality only gradually.

So people who know me well know better than to admire the fact that I read a lot. They know how this addiction affects me, and they're not impressed.

In fact, sometimes they even yell at me.

11 September 2007

Of Mitochondria, Tesseracts, and Nephilim


Madeleine L'Engle died last week, at age 88. I don't remember the first time I read "A Wrinkle in Time," probably because I've read it so many times. But I followed the adventures of Meg and Charles Murry through the "A Wind in the Door" and "A Swiftly Tilting Planet." I actually liked the latter two better than "Wrinkle." I didn't find "Many Waters" until I was older--it was an unexpected treasure.

As an adult, I've dipped into a few of Madeleine L'Engle's memoirs, and her book about writing is simply beautiful.

But hearing of her death reminded me of her Murry books. I identified with both Meg and Charles Wallace, feeling myself rather a misfit, not quite being able to figure out the social complexities of my peers. Quite apart from the intriguing mix of fantasy, science, and spirituality in the books' plots, the Wrinkle in Time books showed the younger me that not fitting in was survivable. Poor, misunderstood genius Charles Wallace had it much worse than me...and Meg grew from wild hair, braces, and spectacles into a beautiful, confident woman with a husband who adored her.

Plus, you know, between the two of them, they saved their father, each other, and the world. Pretty good for a couple of social outcasts.

I think I'll see if the library has the L'Engle books. I'd like to visit with the Murrys--and with Madeleine L'Engle--once again. If you haven't read L'Engle, I invite you to do the same.

06 September 2007

Kindergarten Kid



Katrina started kindergarten on Tuesday. She's attending the same Montessori school she has for the last two years, but kindergarten is a full day, from 9 to 3. She was very excited to start school, to be the "big kid" helping the little ones--one of the characteristics of the Montessori multi-age approach.

And she does look big. An early-summer growth spurt took her right out of "little girl" sizes and into the next size bracket. The one with styles geared more to precocious preteens than to giggly 5-year-old princesses.

I didn't think I was going to be all emotional. After all, she's been going to preschool since age three. But I did get a little teary--after she gave me a cheery peck on the cheek and hurried into the classroom to see her friends. Because time is getting short. Those long days with a baby or toddler at home, the ones that stretched forever (often not in a good way)...those are over. The long afternoons at the playground, walking in the woods, staying just a few minutes longer...those will be more rare. She skipped into class with a smile, and just like that, 13 years of schooling began.

I read somewhere that for parents (particularly stay-at-home ones) with young children at home, the days are long but the years are short. I understand that now. Now, we are entering a time when the days are short--my time with Katrina per day just got cut by three hours. But somehow, I don't think the years will be any longer.

26 August 2007

No Greater Love Has a Man Than This...

I was talking to the mom of one of Katrina's friends at the playground this week. Her husband is getting ready to deploy to a not-so-dangerous place. For the first time, he'll be gone over the holidays. But, she said, considering the number of years they've been in the military, this being the first holiday seperation is pretty good.

"But, listen," she said, "how this deployment happened."

Her husband sits side-by-side with another officer at work. One day, their commander came around. "We need one person to deploy to [a not-so-dangerous place] for about four months," he said.

The co-worker looked at the husband. "He has a wife and kids and I'm single," he said. "I'll go."

A few days later, another announcement. "We need a guy to deploy to Baghdad."

The single officer looked at the husband. "He has a wife and kids. He can go to [the not-so-dangerous place]. Send me to Baghdad."


You know, the sheer repetition of "support our troops" can get old. Until you have contact with them and their families every day. Both of these men deploy in the next month. Whatever you think of the war, pray for them, and all of the others. These are quality people.

24 July 2007

Mom's Decision Trees

When Grandpa was visiting last month, Katrina and he were "doing art" at the kitchen table. Katrina wanted to write letters and then play post office and deliver them, and somewhere along the line, she wanted Grandpa to draw her something. Fresh from teaching a class on business practices in Frankfurt, Grandpa gave a lively explanation of a decision tree, sketching the boxes and arrows on brown construction paper as he talked. And Katrina listened to every word.

Recently, that construction paper decision tree came to mind. If I had the technical and graphic skills, I'd put this entry into a real flow chart, but alas, I do not know how. So you'll have to use your imagination.

Decision Tree #1: Mama, My Tummy Hurts!

Question from Mom no. 1: Does it feel like you have to throw up?
Answer: No ==> Go on to next question
Answer: Yes ==> Let's get to the bathroom--QUICK!

Question no. 2: Do you have to go potty?
Answer: No ==> Go to next question.
Answer: Yes ==> Then go potty, please.

Questions no. 3, 4, 5: Are you sure you don't have to go potty? When was the last time you went? This morning when you woke up?
Answer: (Answer doesn't matter) => Go sit on the potty and just try, please. (and the really savvy mom acts surprised when this solves the problem.)

If tummy still hurts:

Question no. 6: Are you hungry?
Answer: No ==> Go back to question 2.
Answer: Yes ==> Let's go get a snack (or breakfast/lunch/dinner).

If none of the above helps, try to remember the last occasion and quality of child's poop. Then push fiber-rich foods and/or give Metamucil-type medicine prescribed by doctor. Distract child from tummy, if possible, and breathe sigh of relief when she stays in bathroom for more than two minutes.


Decision Tree #2: Mama, My Ear Hurts!

Question no. 1: Are you sure?
Answer: Yes ==> Call doctor, get appointment, get antibiotics.
Answer: No ==> Wait until she complains about it again, usually within a few hours. Then call doctor, get appointment, get antibiotics.


Katrina is now taking Zithromax. Again.

The End.

18 July 2007

Five Years Old


Dear Katrina,

You turned 5 on Sunday, a day that must have seemed anticlimactic to you after your birthday party on Saturday. Papa mentioned that you actually, truly didn't turn 5 until sometime shortly after midnight here, since you were born round about 6 pm Eastern Standard Time five years ago. I had to laugh at his detail-oriented brain. But I think you also have his attention to detail, so maybe you'll be interested in that bit of trivia if you ever read this.




Yesterday afternoon, you wanted to sit on my lap as you watched TV. Your head rested just below my chin, and your legs stretched almost the length of mine. Your feet reached the top of my feet. I told you that, once upon a time, your whole body fit on my chest and stomach. Even I find that hard to believe, and I'm the one who remembers it.

At five, your personality is already well-established. Looking back, I can say with certainty that it was established when you came into the world. Determined, gregarious, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, observent.

I've told you so many times, "You have a sharp eye," that you now say it about yourself. It's true: we recently went to Rheinland-Pfalz State Fair, and while walking down the street, with a parade going on beside us and people all around us, you pointed upwards and said, "Look! Somebody lost a balloon!" At least a block ahead of us, high up in a tree, a blue balloon was indeed caught. It took us a good few minutes to see it ourselves.



What I often think, but don't say, is that you are a force of nature. When I watch you run, full-out, I think that nothing can stop you. When you demand something, and jump up and down and scream when denied, it's just "the dark side" of the determination and passion that marks your character. And I pray that your Papa and I can help you channel those intense feelings in positive ways. Because if we can, with God's help (and only with God's help), you could truly be a force for good when you grow up.



We've had some difficult months this year, you and I (and sometimes Papa, too). As you've gotten more articulate, you're also more capable of talking back, of taking on a tone of disrespect, of being outright defiant, and usually about what I think are small things. And yet, you're also still young enough to go into a full-on tantrum when pushed too hard or when you're tired. Our personalities clash, sometimes, my darling, but not in the way you probably think. Because in the moment you think I'm the meanest mom in the world and you the most put-upon child. But I feel my wavering, my wish to give in to you to keep the peace. And my secret admiration that you have the gumption to stand eye-to-eye with an angry adult and stand your ground. I don't have that kind of natural determination, dear heart. You are teaching it to me. You probably wish you weren't, though (for despite my wish for peace and quiet, giving in could be disasterous, for both of us).

Ah, but when you're happy, the world lights up. You've taken to saying "Mama, I love you," at random times, out of the blue. I think it's your way of maintaining a connection when you're unsure of yourself or me, or when you want to talk but have nothing much to say. You've also become more physically affectionate since you've gotten older. Now that you know how to sit still once in a while, you're more amenable to hugs and kisses. I'm certainly enjoying more cuddle time.



Maybe it's just mother's bias, but there is something about you...some spark that I don't see in most other children. When you're at your best, you draw others in...adults as well as children. You want to share your enthusiasm with everyone around you. I suppose that is a mark of your outgoing personality, but you do seem to end up leading your friends (and random kids you introduce yourself to on the playground) into whatever pretend adventure your creative mind dreams up.



And you do have a creative mind. Your current obsession is Star Wars, with a healthy dose of princesses thrown in for good measure. You are Princess Leia or Queen Amidala or Aurora. When you're not a cat or a mouse, that is. You love to be read to, and ever since I made a story up to kill time waiting for you to finish in the bathroom, you periodically ask me to "read me a story from your MIND, Mama."

And how can I forget the sheer number and variety of questions you ask in a day? You may not want to narrate what you did at school, but you sure want to know where the water goes when you flush the toilet, why God is a spirit, how sausage or houses or flour or paper is made, what animal the meat on your plate is from, why Rapunzel would marry "the bad guy" in the newest Shrek movie, why bad guys are bad, and why and how people die. Both practical and philosophical, you have demanded to know on a number of occasions exactly when Jesus is coming back and why doesn't God talk to us like he talked to Moses in "The Prince of Egypt."

Your teacher says you're a happy child, and a confident one. I hope that confidence stays with you. I think it will, for I recognize the same combination of optimism and confidence in your Papa. Your teacher also says you have a "boy brain," which I found hard to believe given your refusal to wear anything but skirts and dresses, perferably pink. But looking closer, I agree that you are a girl of action, much preferring hands-on experience to sitting still at a desk. You also seem to have an affinity for numbers over letters. You're already beginning addition and subtraction, and asking you to count something is a sure-fire way to capture your interest. And your many questions about how things work sound like a little scientist in the making.



In the fall, you start kindergarten, which is all day here. I worry that it will tire you out, that all day is too much. But you will probably thrive, as the oldest in your Montessori school and eager to help your younger friends. September is just the start of your all-day school experience, and the end of weekday afternoons spent on the playground or at the library or at a friend's house. We'll still do those things, but time will be shorter.

I remember little about my own younger childhood, but I think you will remember much more. I hope you'll remember a few of those long, sunny afternoons running around the playground. I hope you'll remember the picnics, the pool, the hugs, the strawberry patch, the dinosaur park. I hope your preschool memories are hazy in that wonderful way summer afternoons are hazy. I hope you'll forget the times I'm impatient with you or lose my temper. I want your memories to be good.



Just after we moved here, when you were three, we walked a trail through the woods near our house. You broke into a run, and I watched your ponytail bobbing and your little arms pumping as you ran ahead, eager to see what was coming up next. I thought then that that sight would become a familiar one, and I was right.

Mama and Papa will always be behind you on your life's trail. Just don't run too far or too fast, baby. I'm not quite ready to let that little ponytail bounce out of sight.