November 2011


We’ve lived here for almost eight years, and our home is beginning to show the weary signs of sheltering us. We’ve raised three boys under this roof, and there’s been, let’s say, the odd nick or scrape. This week I’ve been dealing with the accumulated Ross damage that our poor house has had to bear. This is one of the window ledges in our kitchen. I believe it bore the brunt of a Star Wars light sabre at one time, and has the scar to show for it.

I’ve resisted dealing with these scrapes for a few reasons. We live in a beautiful, old farm house. The kind that has wood trim and ornate mouldings everywhere. The people before us had painted all the trim a kind of high gloss, milky white colour. Quite lovely, but my concern was that I’d have to repaint all the trim and, you know, that would be a lot of work.

But then, I thought, why not try to just cover the bruises? That would take much less time, if I could only find the right paint colour to match. After a few trips to Home Hardware, I found the colour I thought would work – Dairy White – and had them mix a small can for me. It was perfect, or as close to perfect as I could reasonably expect.

So, all week I’ve been walking around the house with my little can of paint and one of the kid’s paint brushes … dabbing Dairy over the gouges and scrapes and chipped bits that have been waiting for some attention for so long.

I can’t tell you the joy this brings me! I feel like the house is happier. It’s like I’ve kissed and bandaged all her little owies and now we are both giving little sighs of satisfaction.

There are some bigger jobs that we are going to tackle in the new year. Things that involve tearing and cutting and rebuilding and redoing, with words like gutting and ripping out featuring predominately in the planning conversations. The guys are getting quite excited about it all. Sounds painful to me. Like, going into battle or something.

For now, I’m quite happy with my little can of paint.

Sometimes I feel like Time is a relentless enemy. I really don’t want to fight with it. I want Time and I to be friends. I try to organize it. I try to harness it, to conquer it, to contain it. (Doesn’t sound very friendly, does it?) But, for all my attempts, it just … carries on. Mindless of my flailing and wailing and pleas to slow down. And reminding me, always, of all the things I didn’t get done and that I intended to do and that I still need to do. At least, I tend to focus on the undone rather than the done.

Time and I have a complicated relationship.

Millions of dollars have been made selling time management books and programs. And busy mom calendars. And pretty daytimers with inspirational quotes on every page. I’ve read some of them. Tried some. But, really, mastering time is a constant struggle for me. It’s something I have never really made peace with. I’d like to be more productive, I guess.

I begin the week with a plan. My goals may be clear. My intentions honorable. But by Monday afternoon, often, the schedule is shot. Something has come up, or broken down, or a child is sick, or a task took longer than expected, or any number of things may have happened to throw the schedule out of whack. And, much as I would like it to be different, the minutes and the hours and the days pass, whether I am following my plan or not.

There’s really no such thing as a time out.

November is almost over. Soon, the holiday season will begin in earnest. I really want to treasure the time December will offer my family. I want to enjoy the hours, spend them well, invest them in my family and my home. So, I’ve made a few decisions. December rules, if you like, for the Ross home. Well, really, only one rule.

December will be declared a math-free zone. No one will have to do a math lesson for four weeks. Unless he wants to. Which I can say, with complete certainty, he won’t.

Instead, we will finish some of those books that we started. And start some more. And bring out the sketch books. And the journals. And we’ll spend some time on those websites I bookmarked at the beginning of the year. And we’ll watch that documentary on C.S. Lewis and finish that Canadian history dvd. And maybe we’ll do some of those Christmas crafts I pinned on Pinterest. And we’ll decorate the tree, and do some baking, and play outside. And Carter will practice his reading and his writing, and Colton can study science and history to his heart’s content. And Tyson can learn some new Christmas carols on his guitar, and write songs, and maybe knit some toques for his friends. And we’ll do a little cleaning and a little resting every day.

And maybe, somewhere in those minutes and hours and days, I’ll have some time to do a little school planning for January and the months following. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll try to spend some time on that little book that has been tumbling around in my head. (So many of you have encouraged me to give it a try. Thanks!) And I’ll attempt, again, to organize and schedule and tame the time that is coming up.

But I know, already, that while we will definitely do some of those things, we won’t do them all. And the time will pass and the math will begin again. And a new year will bring new challenges and new goals, and some things will get done and some won’t.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven …

Ecclesiastes 3:1

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I do love my blogging time, though. And this is my 300th post. Cool.

Wow. It’s hit Canada, too. All week I’ve been bombarded online by Black Friday BUY, BUY, BUY messages. I’ve spent time on book seller websites, and homeschool resource websites, and the apple website. And I have to say, I’m feeling the pressure. Like, if I don’t buy today, I’ll be missing out on … something? Even wordpress is offering a Black Friday deal. If I update my blog to a premium template, I can have free custom something-or-other for a whole year. And, I’m considering it, even though I don’t know what it is.

And to add to the pressure, Christmas is just around the corner and I haven’t given a thought to what to get for the boys.

Isn’t marketing just one of those things that gets your blood boiling? It can be so in-your-face, but it can also be so insidious. Sneaky and tricky, and it bugs me that, try as I may to market-proof myself and my family, we still fall for it. Because these marketing guys are good. They get paid a lot of money to be good.

I tell my kids all the time to: like what you like, and be true to who you are, and don’t fall for the advertising crap that makes kids want this or that in this or that cool colour. I love it when my kids are counter-culture. It makes me happy that my son … my weightlifting, guitar-playing, carpenter-wanna-be son … also knits. Just because he likes to. And I love that they think thrift stores are cool, and they don’t care about the labels on their shirts, and one loves Bon Jovi and another loves U2 and another thinks John Denver is the greatest. I love that my middle son is asking me for more history books to read, because he is finding it so fascinating. And I love the conversations I have with all of them about all of the things they are interested in.

And you feel the same about your kids!

And so don’t you, like me, just want to shout at those unscrupulous, high-paid marketers … leave my kids alone!

But it’s everywhere. And we fall for it. I mean, I fall for it. And this is about the worst time of all, this pre-Christmas season.

We’ll do our best to combat it the best we can. With hot chocolate, and Christmas music, and the constant self-reminders that it is about peace and a baby and a manger. About love and good will and sharing and faith.

And I’ll try to find the most meaningful gifts I can for my family and I’ll try to ignore the buy me whispers that will attempt to seduce me. And I’ll try to remember that, like all things simple, it is about the be-ing, not the buying. But it is a challenge, isn’t it?

Lyndon has an aunt (her name is Vivian), who is an amazing cook. She’s the kind of cook who always has something, orange cookies or sugar cookies or yummy squares of some kind, in the freezer. Just in case.

Lyndon grew up with Viv and her husband Shelby and the cousins. They went to church together, had potlucks and Christmas parties and other gatherings over the years. But he couldn’t remember ever really sitting down and having a good visit with her. Until this summer. Isn’t it funny how that is? How you can know someone forever, but not really.

This summer there was a family reunion. Lyndon’s family. And everyone was supposed to bring goodies to help out with the eating part of the reunioning. So Aunt Viv brought some of her cookies and some squares. And she packaged them, wrapped in plastic wrap and tucked into used cereal boxes, and in tupperware containers, and in a very cool, old, green, ice cream pail. Granny’s ice cream, from a dairy that used to be in Regina. Very cool.

So Lyndon and I were sitting with her, visiting, and I went on and on about how cool I thought the old green ice cream pail was, and how I had an old purple ice cream pail that I’d found in an abandoned house once, but it didn’t have a lid. So I’d washed it out and now it sits on top of my kitchen cabinets. But how cool, I said, that you still use this old green one.

Yes, it’s held lots of goodies over the years, said Aunt Viv.

And then she gave it to me. And of course I was embarrassed and I felt silly and bad for how I’d gone on and on about it, until she felt like she had to offer it to me. But she insisted, and she said she had lots of containers at home, and if I liked it that much I should take it. And she even put leftover cake in it for me.

So now I have the green ice cream pail. And when I make cookies I put them in there and pop them into the freezer. Just like Aunt Viv.

And it makes me feel good, connected. I love that I am using something in the same way that she used it. Very cool.

My husband works hard all week. He crawls out of bed at 4:30 every Monday morning to go and do this …

 

I don’t get to send him off to work each morning; I can’t welcome him home in the evening. Monday mornings, when that alarm goes off, I manage a sleepy drive safe, or a have a good week, and then he’s gone, surrendered to the world of power poles and grumpy supervisors and hotel rooms. And my widow week begins – children and school and … life.

And then he’s home, both of us tired from our days. And I walk into his weary arms and he nuzzles his face into my neck and breathes deep. And he says, almost always, that it is his favourite perfume. The smell of coming home.

And that is how we begin our weekend. The not-long-enough-time before he has to leave again.

And it’s why we go for breakfast together on Saturday mornings, and it’s why I say no to some weekend things, and it’s why we try to sabbath on our Sunday afternoons.

Because it’s never enough time.

Blogging challenges me. It challenges me because it is so easy to drift into fake.

Blogging is a part of me. It’s words on a page, with maybe a picture or two. But it isn’t all of me and it isn’t all of my family. I can choose the words and the pictures, and I can spell check and edit and take out the photos that make me look fat. And then I can present, all neat and tidy, a little package of five hundred words or so about my men and me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love blogging and I try very hard to blog honestly and transparently. I pray about it, even. I’m just saying that it is a challenge.

Part of the challenge is that my family is not perfect. Imagine that.

Yes, in this fantasy of mine, the mother plans her meals ahead of time and serves them, hot and nutritious, to a family that is appreciative. Mmmm, could I have some more of that bean curd casserole, please. And the children are polite and respectful of each other. And they share willingly with each other. And when Christmas approaches, the compassionate little souls come and ask their parents if they could forego presents this year and instead donate money to the homeless. And then, because that was so much fun, they decide to do the same on their birthdays. And they homeschool with joy, perhaps even doing two lessons of math a day so that they can finish early in the year in order to spend a few months in the mission field. And the parents encourage and support and affirm the children and, oh my, it is a thing to behold.

The reality, though, is somewhat different. While bits and pieces of fantasy family surface now and then, reality family is, well, more real.

The reality is that in my family, Mom struggles with her impatience and she forgets appointments and she starts things that she doesn’t always finish. And she gets tired and doesn’t always get the dishes done at the end of the day. And sometimes, well, lets just say Chef Ichiban has provided a meal more than once. And Dad, bless his heart, gets tired, too. And he struggles to work and provide and fix broken things and still have a little fun once in a while.

And the children, amazing as they are, are not perfect either. They don’t always choose good behaviour over bad. They forget to use their manners and they sometimes say inappropriate things in public. Like, asking (loudly) if the person waiting on us is a man or a woman, ’cause it’s really hard to tell, Mom. And sometimes they argue, and they bug each other when we are traveling until the parents say things like, if I have to stop this car you are going to be sorry, and they shove things into their closets when they are supposed to clean their rooms, and they really like getting presents at Christmas and on their birthdays.

Yes, we are real and messy and broken and grubby, my men and me. I think that maybe God planned it that way. So that, in our family, we could all practice living our lives in the real world. Because it is a little broken out there, too.

It’s twenty degrees below freezing and the boys have a houseful of friends for the weekend. What to do? Well, if you are from Saskatchewan you grab all the snow pants and mittens and toques and scarves that you can find, and you get out the quad and the calf sled and a snowboard or two and, presto, an afternoon of fun!

Weekend fun. Friends. Laughter.

I was struck, this weekend, by how they are all growing. Not just my kids, but all of them. Clayton graduates from high school this year. Katja has grown into a beauty, tall and gorgeous and sweet-natured. Michelle is becoming a confidant young woman. And Brandi, who gives the best hugs and says I love you so freely.

And my own three. Tyson, tall and strong and maturing into independence. Colton, stretching up beyond his older brother. (I saw him without his shirt on the other day. What are those welts on your back, I asked. And then I realized they were stretch marks!) And Carter, always at the end. Racing to keep up. Just happy to be included with the big kids.

I watched Tyson, Colton, and Clayton Sunday morning, three almost-men, as they served the Lord’s Supper to the church. Standing tall at the front. These three who have grown up together. Friends.

And I am happy that, big as they are getting and mature as they are becoming they can still spend an afternoon sledding and tumbling and pushing and laughing.

For a little while longer, they are still my kids.

Our boxes are  ready to go. We will take them in to church on Sunday and then, I think, it will really begin to feel like Christmas. We may even get out the tree and the decorations next week. We will definitely be hauling out the Christmas music.

I love the new feature that Samaritan’s Purse has implemented, where you can make your box donation online and then print out a tracking paper to tape to your box. I’m hoping we’ll hear back on where our boxes end up this year.

And, to kick off the season of giving, I offered a book giveaway yesterday. Thanks to all the women who responded. I will be sending Wonderland Creek to Debbie. Hope you enjoy it, Debbie!

 

In the novel Wonderland Creek, by Lynn Austin, the main character, Alice Grace Ripley, is a person to whom I can sometimes relate. She loves to read. She loves to read so much, in fact, that she is missing out on her life and on the real world around her.

Set during the Great Depression, Wonderland Creek is of the Christian Historical Romance genre, which is not typically my favourite style of book to read. Austin does a commendable job, however, of blending romance, history, and a touch of mystery to make this a book I enjoyed. Alice is a believable and sympathetic character, and the mystery element adds enough suspense to keep the story moving.

Alice has just lost her job and her boyfriend. At loose ends, she seizes the opportunity to deliver some donated books to a small library in the mountains of Kentucky. Once there, she finds herself caught up in events she doesn’t understand and with quirky mountain people with whom she has a difficult time relating.

Something is wrong in the little town of Acorn, Kentucky, and Alice is called upon to help sort it all out. Along the way, she also sorts out her relationships, her ideas of God, and her sense of who she is as a person.

I enjoyed this novel.

This book was provided to me for free from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Giveaway

If you think you would enjoy this book,  just leave a note for me in the comments section of this post. I’ll draw a name at random from those who respond, and announce the winner tomorrow morning. You may leave a comment any time between now and then. I can’t wait to pop Wonderland Creek in the mail for one of you.

And thanks, really, for reading my words. I love writing them, and I am honoured that you read them.

We were on our way home from Regina, almost at Moose Jaw, and the boys asked if we could drive through McD’s to get a drink and whatever for the rest of the drive home. Sounded good to me, so we did.

Hey, guys, I said. Why don’t we pay for the food that the people in the car behind us order. That’d be kind of fun, wouldn’t it? They were game, so at the payment window, I asked if we could do just that. Carter was nervous. What if they’ve ordered, like, a thousand dollars worth of stuff?

Turned out the car behind us had a single woman in it and all she ordered was a large diet coke. But we payed for it and then the boys went into spy mode, peeking through the back window to see what her reaction would be. She’s smiling, Colton shouted. Carter couldn’t stay hidden and popped up to wave at her.

I was having so much fun, I drove right past the next window. The one where you’re supposed to actually get your food. Which meant I had to endure the humiliation of backing up, and the you idiot look from the kid who handed me our drinks and muffins.

Anyway, it was so much fun that the kids now want to drive through and do the same thing every time we go to the city. Sure, I said.

Which all led to a great discussion about Acts of Random Kindness, or ARKs as the boys call them, which is one of the things we are trying to do in our Year of Kindness. Carter was concerned that we were just giving something away to a stranger. Would that really have any kind of effect on her life? ‘Cause we didn’t even talk to her or anything.

You saw her smile, said Colton. It had an effect.

And Tyson brought up the give a man a fish thing. He’d like to participate in more teaching than feeding kinds of things.

But maybe you are teaching something about love when you ARK somebody, I said. Maybe that lady was nicer to someone else because you guys did something nice for her.

So much fun.

And, while we were in the city, we picked up the rest of the things we needed for our Samaritan’s Purse shoe boxes. Also much fun. I especially enjoyed shopping for the little girl box. (We’re doing one little girl box and two little boy boxes.)

And that’s the way our Year of Kindness project influenced our day.

Stay tuned, because December is going to be great. Lots of Secret Santa kinds of things to come. And, we are going to choose a Compassion child to sponsor. Probably a ten-year-old boy, for rather obvious reasons. We’ve not sponsored a child before, so I’m excited about it.

May you have a day of shared kindnesses. Blessings abundant.

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