Monday, April 28, 2008

Wanderlust and St. Augustine

A lot of our extended family is traveling right now. I am not jealous at all . . . okay maybe just a little. My brother, just returned from Japan, is now in California taking in the majestic sequoias (did you know that is one of the only words in the English language that contains all five vowels?) with his wife and baby daughter. My folks are with friends basking in the desert beauty surrounding Tuscon. My in-laws are at the ranchero in the gorgeous mountains of Mexico. I am coming off of a homework marathon of three days watching gloomy, cold April rain slide down the windows.

I credit my parents with giving my brother and me the bittersweet gift of wanderlust. We took our first family vacation in 1980 and have been traveling ever since. I'll have to write some other time about that first trip. Even though I was only 7 years old, the details are burned into my brain and memorialized by my Young Author's Conference award winning book Bobcats, Thunderstorms and Me. It's hilarious, and the title hints at just a few of the misadventures we had on that camping trip to the Badlands of South Dakota.

So today, I will enjoy the sweet memories of trips gone by and be thankful for them. And as I scale mountains of laundry and contemplate countertop landscapes of dishes, I will meditate on the words of St. Augustine:

"People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thought on a Rainy April Day

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. -- e.e. cummings

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Moment in the Life

I don't usually write “cute” mommy stories, mostly because my kids are not cute. Oh wait, my kids are the most adorable children since the dawn of humanity, even more darling than yours! Actually, I haven't posted many since I don't want to reveal that saccharin sweet side that every mom has (even if I keep mine well-hidden). I also know that these types of stories are sweet to parents and grandparents while friends and extended family politely nod as they inwardly die of boredom. But just in case you get the wrong idea that I think deep thoughts or read great literature all day long (actually I think Mr. Wonderful-still waiting for a new moniker-used to think it was “watch Oprah and eat bon bons” – but it's really “watch Man vs Wild or Shark and eat peanut butter cups,” but ANYWAY . . .)

While I was locked in the closet, I mean working on homework, I heard the most blood curdling, horror flick shriek coming from the girls' room. I leaped over piles of (clean? dirty?) laundry in an (almost) single bound (actually it was more like scaling Mt. Everest) to go see what the trouble was. Bear was shaking and about to dissolve into a puddle. Bug was on top of the dresser with his footie jammies unzipped and stepped out of. They are green so he looked like a goofy superhero – “It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a frog!” So he's on the dresser half-naked, dancing to the song “My Baby Hippo” with his big white belly hanging out, but this is not why Bear is screaming. “A spy-doo, mommy! A spy-doo!” The “spider” turned out to be an ant of microscopic proportions (yes, I had an ant in my house, so what?!) The ant was smushed. The day was saved. Now I must go. The Frog Man calleth.

Flotsam Jetsam

If I were pressed to say what one activity I find most relaxing, it would be beach combing. Living in the Midwest, I don't often get the opportunity anymore, but when I lived in the Cayman Islands, it was one of my favorite pastimes. It's totally addicting! I would walk the beach with a friend or my dog and my eyes would be constantly scanning the sand for a glint of sea glass, a sea bean from Africa or some other flotsam. I found bottles, pieces of roof tiles used only in Europe, driftwood in unusual shapes and sea glass of all colors including cobalt blue and lavender. Hearing a tropical storm whip the palm trees and pound rain on my windows only excited me because I knew that the next day, the beach would be littered with all kinds of new treasures. And each beach had its own specialty. Old Man Bay on the north side held Caymanite and rare shells, while the eastern shores were where the magnificent finds from afar washed ashore. It was on these stretches of sand that the idea of flotsam and jetsam first penetrated my brain.

Some very astute observers may have noticed the “Flotsam Jetsam” tag on some of my entries. Normally the terms flotsam and jetsam have somewhat negative connotations, a sense that they are debris and detritus left from a storm or shipwreck. But I witnessed that after the storm or the wreck, all kinds of treasures can be found and this is what led to my Flotsam Jetsam Journal.

Believe it or not, as much as I like to write, I have never been one for journals. I have friends who have diaries, prayer journals, gratitude journals and don't get me started on scrapbooks! I have a Flotsam Jetsam Journal. I turned thirty right after going through a pretty crazy eight years that stripped me down to the very core (I'll perhaps share that story some other time.) As I reflected on my life and legacy at that critical juncture of turning thirty, getting married and being a new mom, I happened to read a book by Frances Mayes called Swan. It's a pretty good book, not totally earth-shattering, a mystery novel written by a talented writer no more, no less. One of the main characters, however, kept random journals that were later found by her kids and it sparked my imagination. Here's a part of what I wrote as my first entry:

“I turned 30 two days ago and for a while now have been obsessed with leaving a legacy. Of course the greatest legacy I could ever leave is the one I myself was given which is a knowledge of and relationship with Christ. That is my greatest hope and prayer for my dear Bean and any others yet to come. . . [little did I know!]

This, however, is a legacy of a more mundane sort. I love to collect quotes, clippings, odds & ends, bits & pieces, ideas and “jottings.” For a while these have been collecting in “paper boxes” in grade school, file folders, binders, flotsam & jetsam in drawers, purse bottoms, pockets and crummy notebooks. So this journal is a new attempt at “organizing” all the clutter into a single place. The idea is not to be too organized, though . . .” And so was born the Flotsam Jetsam Journal.

So the entries tagged "Flotsam Jetsam" are just my way of marking the miscellaneous ideas that have come from this source, and in doing so, I guess this blog is an extension of the FJJ and a way of sharing some of the little trinkets I find after the storms on the beaches of life.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

National Geographic and the Ambulance Man

I have had a life-long love affair -- with National Geographic. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved poring over those glossy pictures and imagining the thousands of adventures that hide between the pages. I have also never had a subscription to National Geographic. My ninety-six year old grandfather does, and he passes his copies on to me. When I was younger, this bothered me; I wanted my OWN. But now, I like that connection we have had since I was a little girl. (Back in the 1930's, Grandpa had the opportunity to buy a lifetime subscription for $150. That was a lot of money during the Depression for a farmer/carpenter, so he wasn't able to take the deal. National Geographic sure would have been the losers!)

One of my most favorite recent articles is "Pakistan" from the September 2007 issue. Not only did this article offer a fascinating and succinct history of the country, but it profiled a man from Karachi named Edhi who runs a charity that helps children, women and the extremely poor. He has a crib in the street outside of his office door with a sign that says "Don't Kill Your Baby" where he receives about ninety infants a month. Edhi also scours the streets for the dead and dying so that he can offer a dignified death and burial. Imagine a city where human life is so devalued that dead poor people are just left in the gutters! He refuses to accept donations from organizations or government sources as he wants to be beholden to no one, but his most poignant quote was about not even accepting car rides from anyone. "I travel by ambulance, in case someone needs help along the way."

I thought that this was a beautiful picture of how we should travel through life -- as if in an ambulance looking for people who need help along the way. And it reminded me of what Jesus once said when people were grumbling that he hung around with the "wrong" kind of people, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Meditation on Salad

We've been trying to do a little spring downsizing of ourselves here at Mustard Seed House with varying rates of success. Toward that effort, we have been consuming quite a lot of green leafy things and bits of plants previously known only to bunnies and "hoggers" (Bean-speak for woodchucks). Now I love a good salad, but frankly, all the parts that make it "good" are all the things that make it bad for you! I hate that! As I was contemplating the irony of salads, I recalled one of my favorite quotes from a very odd and intriguing book called The Debt to Pleasure by John Lancaster. Let me preface it by saying that as much as I am Franco-averse, I am even more passionately an Anglophile. British = Better, except in the areas of dental hygiene and some cuisine. In the case of salad, we Americans have inherited the horrid English version as described below:

". . .a few melancholy slices of cucumber, an approximately washed lettuce (iceberg, naturally), which appeared to have been shredded by wild dogs, two entire radish heads (served whole, presumably to avoid the risk of their proving edible in sliced form), a pale and watery quarter of tomato, the whole ensemble accompanied by a salad cream that at least had the virtue of tasting 'like itself' -- that's to say like the by-product of an industrial accident." (page 145, attributed to Captain Ford, 1846).

Go eat your vegetables!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Refiner's Fire

My dear friend A. shared this story with me. I'll share it with you, as it has been a great encouragement to me.

How is silver refined? The silversmith places unpurified silver into a small cauldron and then lowers it into the hottest part of the fire to burn off imperfections and impurities. Knowing that if the silver is burned too long, it will be destroyed, a bystander asked how the silversmith knew when it was time to take the silver out of the fire. He replied, "I stand by the entire time and remove the silver when I can see my reflection."

"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver . . ." --Malachi 3:3

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly

So maybe thrillers about the imminent demise of the world as we know it are not your "cup of tea." Well, how about a book about someone who can only blink one eye? Actually, a book WRITTEN by someone who can only blink one eye.

However, before we go any further, there is one point that must be clarified. I will continue to count "French bashing" as one of my many hobbies. My positive review of this book changes this fact in no way, no matter how un-Christian it is of me to be Franco-averse. I have been a student of history far too long to let slip my steadfast conviction that "Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion. All you do is leave behind a lot of noisy baggage." (This quote is attributed to everyone from Schwartzkopf to Churchill, but who cares? It's true!) If you have any doubts as to the veracity of the overall crumminess of France in all areas besides w(h)ine and cheese then Google "French military victories" and hit the "lucky" button. So far, I think the score is France-zero, the world-17, but who's counting. . .

I feel so much better now. I always find it cathartic to write off an entire nation of people in one tiny paragraph, hop onto my high horse and ride into the sunset! (And Mr. Wonderful thinks I'm sarcastic.) So how does one transition gracefully from caustic to charitable? I'll have to ask Ann Coulter, oh wait, she's always just caustic. . . . Ok, Ok I'll stop right now. Period.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby is such a great book , that it deserves a better introduction than the one I gave it. It is truly an inspiring and life affirming memoir. Bauby was the editor-in-chief of the French version of Elle magazine when he suffered a rare and usually deadly stroke in his brain stem. Upon awakening from his coma, he discovered that he had Locked-In Syndrome which is exactly what it sounds like. He was fully cognizant and aware, but completely trapped in his body only able to blink his left eye and turn his head a little. He "dictated" this book by having someone read through the alphabet and then blinking at the letter he wanted transcribed. While this book may not be Les Miserables in length, its strength lies in the simple beauty and buoyant humor of Bauby's prose.

With the sharpened view of his single eye and the forced contemplative nature of his condition, Bauby looks back on his life with a razor focus. He hones in on friends, acquaintances and family and explores the fleeting nature of life. Some have criticized this work for not being a "complete" memoir. The Diving Bell does not start out, "I was born on . . . ," and Bauby does not delve into the fact that he was apparently quite a womanizer and playboy, a domineering figure who ruled his magazine with an iron fist. I don't think this is a fair criticism as this memoir does not purport to explore every facet of the man's life. I would offer that, in fact, when he found himself "locked-in," Bauby was distilled down to his very essence and stripped of the extraneous trappings and labels that others saw. This book is that reflection.

I saw a little of myself in his tale. We are all trapped in a "diving bell," those things that weigh us down, threaten to crush us, defeat us, suck away our lives -- that physical part of us that is consumed with temporal cares, the fleshly side of our natures. Yet, all of us are spiritual beings, that when connected to God, can rise above the circumstances and experiences of life. We can become new creatures and be reborn like the butterfly.

Sadly, I don't believe that Bauby came to true salvation before his death in 1997. His book, however, is a lesson to everyone about the buoyancy of the human spirit, about humor in the face of darkness and about the celebration of the simple pleasures of life. As Bauby says, "If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere."

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Last Jihad

Are you as interested in politics and the next election as we are? It is non-stop political coverage around here. We have seen every debate, town hall meeting, speech, sound bite and video clip. We have viewed all the analysis, listened to the banter on talk radio and watched The Soup . . .oh wait, not a political show. . . I mean O'Reilly Factor. This trend is mostly due to my husband's (formerly known as Mr. Wonderful) intense interest which has taken our house by storm. This is a humorous role reversal for us, since now I am the one saying things like, "Not another debate! Can't we just watch The Bachelor-London Calling, pleeeaaase?" (So far, I like Noelle & Amanda!)

All this to say, whether or not you are interested in politics, the election or the fate of the world as we know it, you might enjoy a book series I have been reading. Yes, I am a reader of epic proportions. Wait, that came out wrong. I am not of epic proportions (although I could stand to lose a few pounds!). Ever since I read Frog and Toad Are Friends in first grade, I have been a voracious reader. (I used that line in my essay to get into library grad school!) Now reading is like breathing to me. So there will probably be quite a few "book reviews" on this blog. Here's the first:

Right now I am reading the series by Joel C. Rosenberg that starts with The Last Jihad. These are amazing geopolitical thrillers, that have caused some critics to call Rosenberg a modern-day Nostradamus. In these meaty and fast-paced novels, he has "predicted" the fall of Saddam, airplane attacks on Washington D.C. and the death of Arafat. The way they tie into current events and global politics is eerie as they deal with Biblical End Times prophecies (which does not really become overt until the third book). Rosenberg has given me a very interesting lens through which to view world events as they unfold.

Besides the fact that they are superbly written and have heightened my interest in global crises, the main reason I am compelled to mention these books is that they have changed how I live my life. This afternoon I am digging a bunker in the crawl space and organizing my stockpile of food. Just kidding. But they HAVE changed my life. Maybe we are in the "End Times," maybe not. But either way, I want to live my life with an eternal perspective. I want what I do each day to count for something. Maybe I will "just" wash dishes, do laundry and change diapers today, but if I do those tasks with the attitude that I am building into my family, serving others and being a blessing, then these very acts can take on eternal significance. And beyond my mundane chores, I want to break out of daily routines and stultifying doldrums to view the opportunities around me for reaching out to others. None of us know the number of our days, but I want each one I have to count.

The Last Jihad series in order:
The Last Jihad
The Last Days
The Ezekiel Option
The Copper Scroll
Dead Heat

On April 10, 2008, Joel Rosenberg hosted a conference in Jerusalem celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel's nationhood called Epicenter 2008 . There were some very interesting speakers, and you can view all of the video from "gavel to gavel" at the Epicenter link above. (His introductory speech is particularly good.)

God bless and happy reading!

New and Improved Mr. Wonderful Coming Soon

Mr. Wonderful has informed me that he does not like being called Mr. Wonderful. He thinks I am being facetious. Who me? Sarcastic? Never. . . So stay tuned. We'll get you a new handle, good buddy. Ten four. Over.

Also, on a technical note, I will eventually figure out how to create expandable posts with a "Read More" button so the page is not so long. Bear with me. I am an HTML newbie.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mustard Seed House

My house has a name. I've loved naming things since I was a little girl. Anything was fair game. Animals -- real & stuffed. All of my model horses. Family cars -- Bluebell, Penny, PJ (Puddle-Jumper) and Tanya (?!). Giving my children names rich in meaning and import has been one of the greatest joys of my life. And ever since living in the Cayman Islands and seeing spectacular homes with names like "Sea Grape House" and "Kailypso," I have wanted to have a named house. But named houses are generally rather pretentious, and our house could be called a lot of things, but pretentious is not one of them.

Mustard Seed House is a little house -- about 1000 square feet. There are five of us sheltered in this small space. My girls, Bean and Bear, share a bedroom which is not so bad, but my son, Bug, sleeps in the laundry room. Or should I say, we do laundry in my son's room, er, the "multi-purpose" room. And we literally live in our living room, all five of us all the time, except when Mr. Wonderful is out in The Lair.

The area rug that was in the living room when we bought the house has migrated out to the garage, as has Mr. Wonderful's rabbit-eared television from his high school days, an ancient wooden office chair from my grandmother and an old table from my other grandmother. And don't forget the Cubs pennant; we are eternal optimists, if nothing else! This cozy tableau is situated right next to the cat box and bins of hand-me-down clothes, and it is where you will find Mr. Wonderful when you have scoured through all the other vast wings of the house looking for him. I guess, every guy needs his own space.

But I digress. Why is this blog called Mustard Seed House? Well, like the paths in my brain, the answer is a little complicated, convoluted and difficult to follow. But I'll try to do my best leading you through my meandering thoughts.

First of all, I don't want to live with an ungrateful spirit. My grandfather lived with a much larger family in a 12 x 12 log cabin with a lean-to kitchen and an uninsulated sleeping loft for thirteen years in MINNESOTA! They would sleep under horse blankets and wake up with snow covering them. ("When I was your age . . .") Who am I to complain? If we stay in this house forever, I'll still probably live better than 95% of the people on earth. So the mustard seed is a perfect metaphor and reminder to me that my small house holds huge potential. Potential in my children. Potential in my marriage. Potential to bless others and each other. Potential to grow into something beautiful and strong.

It is apropos that I stumbled across the mustard seed metaphor in a recent article. One of my favorite items inherited from my great-grandmother is a small mustard seed pin. Apparently mustard seed jewelery was all the rage decades ago, much like the WWJD phenomena a few years past. The allusion is, of course, to Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." That's the kind of faith that I want to foster in my home. Faith that can move mountains and do the impossible.

So welcome to Mustard Seed House, where a little faith goes a long way. As I sojourn here, I hope you'll join me for the journey as I look to grow my faith, celebrate the little things and find abundance in simplicity.