Fall, my Favorite Time of Year

'Fall' photo (c) 2010, Danielle Tsi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Fall is my favorite season.  Perhaps it’s because all the routines of old seem fresher.  Cleaning dishes while looking at a cold, wet sky seems right somehow.  Folding laundry when the air is crisp and the towels are fluffy warm feels like home.  The tradition of going to the Fair feels more exciting than Christmas.  The cinnamon rolls, the corny dogs, that enormous slice of pizza.  They all wait around the corner.  The blue ribbon jams and jellies, the photo with Big Tex, the ride on the carousel.  They are here waiting for me, and will be again next year.  Even though we go to the Fair, year after year, eat the same foods, and go to the same events, they always seem fresh, like I’m experiencing them for the first time.

Perhaps Fall is my favorite because it feels like the beginning of something, the way every morning feels full of possibilities.  I don’t know if it’s because school has begun anew or because the air seems to have slugged off its weight into cooler temperatures, but the sky is charged with the electricity of the new.  I find myself wanting to make resolutions, to finish off old projects, to ring bells that announce the coming of our Lord.  It is now that God seems more real to me, more tangible, even if only in the smell of charcoal smoke.  To me, Fall comes to remind us that He is here and will make all things new, starting now.


Reading Lately

Because the little one no longer naps on me, nor takes long naps, I don’t have as much time to read, but here are a few things I have been reading lately.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman  The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This was described to me as “Harry Potter for Adults.”  And it definitely is for adults.  I was actually a little taken aback by how much cursing, sex, and violence was included, but I am, of course, a self-admitted prude.  The story goes like this: Quentin Coldwater is a senior in high school, brilliant, about to interview for Harvard, yet he is not happy or excited.  He always feels like there is something more.  Enter a strange chance to take a strange exam that turns out to prove him a Magician.  He quickly gives up his old life to begin anew at Brakebills.  The magic here is actually not very magical.  It is about hard work and rules and repetition.  And perhaps why this book fell flat to me.  Though the students here do end up doing amazing things and venture out to fantastic (in the true sense of the word) places, I just didn’t really care.  There was nothing here that made me long to stay in this world.  We see the world through Quentin’s eyes, and they are eyes of dissatisfaction.  There is another book in this series, but I think I’ll skip it because I don’t really want to spend more time in this version of the magical realm.

Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth

These are the next Hunger Games if you want to put it in YA terms.  These are the first two of a trilogy, and though not as poignant and relevant as the Hunger Games, it’s still a good, thrilling ride.  Ted and I listed to this as an audio book, and I have to say that the reader’s voice fit the character perfectly.  Tris Pryor lives in a future version of Chicago where everyone is separated into five factions, based on values: Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless.  She has grown up in Abnegation, the faction that prides itself on being selfless, only she thinks she is no good at being selfless.  Fortunately, when a member of a faction turns sixteen, they can choose to remain or choose another faction.  Which will she do?  You’ll have to read it to find out, but it’s a fast-paced story with a teenage romance written in a way that I would have loved when I was twelve, and a pretty fascinating and imaginative future Chicago.  It’s worth the read, and I’m excited to pick up the last volume in 2013.

O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling by Jason Boyett

I purchased this book because the subtitle is what I often feel like, and I thought it would be good to read someone with a similar faith journey to mine.  And boy, was it.  I loved this book for its honesty, humility, and … I feel like I need another “H” word, but instructiveness will have to do.  Boyett not only tells you his journey, but how he has used doubt to his advantage and what practical steps he takes to not go over the edge.  A must read for doubters and those who want to understand them.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson  242/366 At Home - Bill Bryson

The “Short” in this title must be sarcastic because I don’t consider 512 pages short.  I have been working on this book for over a year because it is that kind of book you can read for a while, put down, and take back up and enjoy right where you left off.  Bryson takes us through the history of home and houses, room by room, using the rectory he now lives in in Britain as an example.  He goes into the purpose of each room and quite frequently takes the tangential opportunity to talk about the history of the spice trade in the kitchen, or the history of electricity in the drawing room.  All of it is fascinating and told in Bryson’s pleasant, witty prose.  But I’d skip the chapter called The Study, which has nothing to do with books and everything to do with those creatures who might eat them.  Yes, definitely skip the chapter on rats and other household vermin, especially when reading at night before bed.  You may encounter a brief bout of insomnia.  And I may be speaking from experience.

Why I Love the Doctor

Doctor Who

Those of you not familiar with the BBC television show might be asking, “Doctor Who ?”  Well, exactly.

I was first introduced to this show through a co-worker and was directed to watch an episode in Season 4.  My first reaction was, “Huh?”  It was campy yet serious, silly with gravitas.  I didn’t know what to make of it, so I ignored it for a while.  Then I decided to watch it again and discovered that other actors were playing the Doctor and the companion.  I thought, “Wow, this show jumped the shark for sure.”  Little did I know that this is the show’s 50th year and the Doctor has had countless companions and 11 Regenerations.  It is a story that goes on, and has basically become a staple of British culture.  I was intrigued.  Ted and I found out that all the current seasons were available for streaming on Amazon Prime and just as Henry was born, when we needed something to occupy our minds for long nursing sessions and late hours, the Doctor entered our lives.

For those of you who don’t know: the Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space in a blue police box called the TARDIS, saving the universe in small ways and large while rocking some (mostly) great hair and witty banter.  Did I just lose some of you?

Well, why do I love this mad man in a box?  He is one of television’s most interesting characters: He’s mysterious and downright silly, compassionate and wrathful, dashing and nerdy.  And a Christ figure to boot, and I love me a good Christ figure.  Let me make my case for Christ (teehee) with the caveat that I am not claiming the Doctor to be a perfect approximation of Christ; no character can fit the person of Christ exactly, but I love seeing pieces of his image displayed wherever I can find them.

  1. The Doctor is God-like, able to literally be resurrected after dying (called regeneration in the show).  He transforms lives with compassion, daring, brilliance, and never in ways you would expect.
  2. He is pretty all-powerful, but he needs to be in relationship with others (called companions).  They become his friends, his heart, and sometimes his conscience.  Sometimes he needs them to keep his mercy in check.
  3. Part of what’s great about the doctor is who he chooses to surround himself with.  The companions he chooses are so very ordinary.  Rose is a 19 year-old shopgirl.  Donna is a blustery middle-aged temp who never quite made life to be what she wanted.  Amelia Pond is the lonely little girl in need of a rescuer.  He loved these companions because he saw strength in their weakness; he loved the wonders of their smallness.  Interestingly, the most successful of the bunch, Martha Jones, a self-assured medical student, was perhaps the least loved (though she was loved, but not in the romantic way she desired).  She already had a path for her life, and wanted the Doctor on her terms and not his.  Perhaps that is why she is also the only one who willingly leaves him.
  4. The Doctor has such an appreciation for all the mysteries of the universe.  For example, when he comes across a werewolf, he doesn’t run in horror, but exclaims, “How beautiful.”  I love that he sees beauty where we would only see monsters.
  5. What I love best about him, is the way he really sees into people, and that for the moment they have contact they are changed, electrified that there is hope in the world.

And that is why I love the Doctor and am eagerly awaiting my mad little Christ figure on Christmas Day.

Here are some clips of the 10th Doctor (my fave!) so you can see a bit what the show is like.  Spoilers are included, but they won’t make any sense to you if you haven’t seen the show.

A Day in the Life of a Stay-at-Home Mom (at least this one)

I always want to know what other stay-at-home moms are up to, so here’s what I did yesterday.

6am – Alarm goes off.  Realize that the baby did not cry out in the night at all, and I had a full night’s sleep.  But this does not stop me from promptly changing the alarm to 6:15…and then 6:30

6:30am – Pump 4 ounces of milk and stick in refrigerator.  Baby also wakes up, but he likes to chill out in bed for a while before we get him up for the day.

7am – Up for the day.  Nurse and read a morning book.

7:30 – Breakfast.  Banana and toast for the boy.  Sausage and toast for the mommy.

8am – Clean kitchen while baby plays drums with wooden spoon on the floor, the dog, and then mommy herself.

8:30am – Baby is fussy, so we decide to put him down for a nap.  Mommy finishes getting ready for the day.

8:45am – Baby is asleep

9:00am – Baby is awake.  Like for real awake and not going back down.  Works out anyway cause we need to leave for 9 month check-up appointment.  Change diaper, dress baby, and head out the door.  If it were a Monday or a Thursday, we’d be heading out to the gym for a workout.  And other days we might be out for a walk or off to the library.  Today, the destination is the doctor.

10:15am – Leave doctor’s office with half-silly, half-upset baby (shots ya know).

10:30am – Nurse and watch Upstairs, Downstairs (upstairs, actually.  It may not be Sesame Street, but he’s too busy with other things).  Baby plays with his upstairs toys, which he thinks includes the swivel chair, the stepping ladder, and a measuring tape.

11:30am – Lunch!  We both successfully eat lunch at the same time!  First time that has happened in a while. I usually eat an appetizer (something to eat with one hand), then wait to put him down for a nap so I can eat.

Noon – Throw a load of laundry in the washer.  Vacuum the kitchen and baby’s room while baby alternately wrestles cord and chases vacuum while yelling at it.

12:30pm – Play time in the kitchen and nursery.  I play a little with him and then get out my computer to start working on blogs while he plays quasi-independently.  So that’s what we do for a while.  He plays.  I type.  We play.  He plays. I type.  The cycle continues.

1pm – The baby seems tired (crawling over to me more frequently, the tell-tale rubbing of the eyes).  I put him down for a nap.

1:02pm – I realize that I have not turned on his sound machine and the Glass Doctor is coming to repair our windows from the hail damage in 20 minutes.

1:03pm – Sneak in room to turn on sound machine.  Baby’s eyes are droopy, but the floor boards are too and creak all over the place.  Sound machine on and baby wailing that I’ve disturbed his privacy.

1:05pm – Baby back asleep.  He was tired!  I continue to write, call the tax office to check on homestead exemption status, input receipts into budget software, exchange emails, and back to writing once again.  Keep vigilant eye on front door, so I can get to it before the Glass Doctor rings the door bell and wakes up the baby.

1:30pm – Baby coughs, and stands up in crib.  I think he’s up for good because 30 minutes is his average nap length, but he’s back down….for the count!

2:00pm – Baby wakes up for real.  Makes silly noises, so I know he can stay in there for a bit until I finish what I’m doing, and take the opportunity to pee without baby trying to move me out of the way so he can drum on the toilet lid.

2:15pm – Nurse baby and read a book.

2:30pm – Back to blogging/playing with baby.  Mostly reading books he brings me and smiling at him when he looks my way.  Just a side note: the V-tech Learning Walker is awesome.  We would probably go run an errand at this point, but Glass Doctor is still here and I need to stick around so I can pay him.

3pm – Fold laundry while baby plays with Hank-Dog and a trash-can lid.

3:10pm – Baby decides he wants to help with laundry – i.e. – he is upset about mommy doing something that does not involve him.  I put him on the bed with me where we do the laundry and he plays with plastic hangers.

3:20pm – I attempt to put the laundry away, but Henry screams when I leave.  Laundry to be continued later.  Wish Glass Doctor would finish so we could go somewhere for a change of scene.  Instead, we make our way to the nursery for more play time!  We run through the songs he likes to sing, read another book, and have some Baby crawling Mommy like a mountain time.

3:45pm – An impromptu call from the grandparents who want to come over for a quick visit.  Hooray!  Henry loves his grandparents.  They will be here soon.  Until then, more mountain climbing.

3:47pm – Wow, that was fast.  They’re here!  We play with his basketball hoop and sing songs and dance with grandparents.

4:30pm – They leave and baby seems tired (lying down on the ground), so I put him in the crib for a quick rest or nap (whichever happens) while I eat an afternoon snack.  I look at laundry pile and decide to chill out for a bit instead.

4:55pm – Baby is up and it’s time to nurse again.

5:20pm – Finish folding laundry and put away while baby plays in his room. At least that’s how it starts.  There is a reason women are multi-taskers — we have to be.  Baby “helps” me fold laundry while we sing songs, and I try to keep him from leaping off the edge of the bed.  Ultimately, we stop folding laundry because he wants to be held.  So I hold him as we dance to family folk music.

5:45pm – Dinner! Carrots and asparagus, which baby seems more interested in smashing with his hands than eating.  Ends up eating half a piece of toast and a string cheese.

6:00pm – Daddy’s home!

6:30pm – Mommy and Daddy eat while Henry plays in the kitchen.

6:45pm – Pack up the pack n’ play, the baby, and our Bibles for small group Bible Study.

7:15pm – Arrive and let Henry play for a bit with the other kids

7:55pm- Nurse and put Henry to bed in the pack n’ play in a spare bedroom

8:05pm – Henry awoken by unnamed deliriously screaming child.  I get him and try to keep him entertained for the rest of the evening.

9:00pm – Back home and put the baby and myself to bed.

10:30pm – Baby coughs and wakes himself up.  But he goes back to sleep in 5 minutes.  Wondering if I’m in for a long night but am consoled by the fact we had a good day.

And of course, throughout the day, I’m playing alternating soundtracks of Pandora stations on my phone because a girl needs her Wheels on the Bus, Adele, and Showtunes stations providing the music to live out the day.

Mimi’s Quiet Book

When I was little, my grandmother made me a Quiet Book to play with at church.  It had different textures to feel and different activities for fine motor skills.  I only played with it during church and so it has survived.  My mother decided that Henry also needed a quiet book made with love.  And massive amounts of creativity.  I just want to show off what a great Mimi Henry has with pictures of his Quiet Book.

Thanks, Mimi!  – Love, Henry

Rule #4 Buy a coloring book for yourself. No…seriously.

I’m not a good relaxer.  It’s a skill I’m still learning. My husband, Ted, is my teacher — the Obi Wan Kanobi to my Luke Skywalker.  I will sit down to watch a show and end up filing important papers.  My idea of a relaxing afternoon is to reorganize the pantry.  He will say, “Stop.  Just enjoy the day.”  And I will say, “I’m trying.”  The inevitable response is “There is no try.  Only do.”

So, it turns out that I need to find something that I can “do” to relax.  This is where the coloring book comes in.  Do you remember lazy afternoons sitting with your favorite coloring book, choosing precise colors and letting the scene fill in before you?  Those were the days when I knew how to relax.  The days when I was 7.  My favorite coloring book was of ocean scenes because I wanted to be a marine biologist.  Didn’t every little girl of my generation want to be a marine biologist after watching Free Willy and drooling over Jonathan Brandis in SeaQuest?

But as I grew older, I put the coloring books away.  They were for kids, or so I thought.  Well, not anymore.  I got the idea of coloring again from listening to a 9 Thumbs podcast where Rachel Held Evans mentioned that she colors adult coloring books (and no, it’s not what you’re thinking) to relax.  Well, I thought, “I’ll give it a go.”

And I love it.  I don’t get to do it very often (stay at home mom, remember), but when I do, my whole body becomes calm, all the tension from my shoulders passes down my arms and through my fingers pressing down just the right amount to create the perfect shade for that fold of dress.

Some of my handiwork

Other people sew or craft or scrapbook, but those activities are too adult for me.  When I color, I can relax like when I was seven, dreaming of swimming with dolphins and marrying science fiction TV geeks.

Rule #3 Liturgy

Common Prayer

This has been a trying week for the Howard household.  Ted got sick on Friday, the same day my father-in-law had a heart attack.  On Monday he had open-heart triple bypass surgery.  (He is doing just great now, by the way, way beyond how the average person recovers).  On Tuesday, Henry got sick and the roofers came to our house to bang on it for several hours to replace our roof that was severely damaged in a hail storm this summer.  Today, Friday, I am sick with whatever Henry had and a nice migraine on top of that.

Some weeks just suck.

But there is a way to see past that into the goodness and hope that belongs to a corner of every day.  That way is liturgy.  I don’t come from a high-church tradition, and frankly, was taught that we didn’t do liturgy because we want our words to come from the heart.  But there are days when I have no words.  Days like Monday when my husband was scared out of his mind that he might lose his father.  Days like Tuesday when I wasn’t sure how I would make it through the day.  All those days when depression takes my words away.  Days when I know the words are somewhere in my heart, but I can’t reach them.

I have come to love liturgy because it puts those words in my mouth again.  Sometimes, most times for me, when I don’t know what to say to God, I say what thousands of other Christians have said before me.  I say the words of hope and love and goodness that have been passed up from the centuries. I say simple prayers: “Help me,” “Forgive me,” “Have Mercy on Me.”   I say words from a book like Common Prayer (a version of The Book of Common Prayer that Ted and I like to use).

Or I say the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.  I say it over and over again until the shapes of the words in my mouth become my mouth, and the sounds they make become my sound.  I strive to let these be the words that rule my day, seeing the vision of hope that God whispers in my ear.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.


Rule #2 Say No

I think we hear this advice a lot.  Don’t overcommit.  Don’t hang around people who bring you down.  Don’t say yes just because you want to impress someone else.  Good advice, but not exactly what I’m talking about here.  If anything, my previous post is advice to yes to situations, even if you don’t feel like it.

When you are suffering through depression, many times what and who you need to say “no” to is yourself.  If I’m having a particularly horrible, no good, very bad day, my thought process might go something like this: “Henry is really fussy today.  I don’t think he’s teething, needs a diaper change, needs feeding, etc.  That must mean he hates me and I’m a horrible mother.  What could have possessed me to think that I could do this.  I’m too overwhelmed.  I’m worthless.  I should just go off and eat worms.”  And so on.

I have to say “no” to this kind of thinking.  It’s harder than you might think.  When you’re depressed, you get a little glimmer of satisfaction in thinking this way about yourself.  It makes you feel justified that you are having a bad day.  Depression makes you count all circumstances as if they were you’re own doing.  Some of them may be, but for the most part, I had to learn that I might have a crappy day and it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

This may seem like common sense, but as a new mom struggling with post-partum depression, and doubt, severe doubt as to if I really can do this thing for the rest of my life, it’s something I have to force myself to do.  In a way, it’s easier to fall back into the old line of thinking, easier to feel those same horrid feelings.  They are comfortable even if they are horrid.  And sometimes it feels good to think that maybe I could just go off the deep end and not have to worry about any of this anymore.  But if I am able to stop myself, if I am able to say no, I can see that the day is full of possibilities, good and bad, and I can interpret them however I choose.

Today, I choose to say no to horrible, no good, very bad days and replace them with merely crappy ones.  Some days I can hope for more.  I hope for days of joy.  Days of seeing Henry’s smiling face and not feeling like I’m failing him.  Days of listening to Henry’s cries and knowing that I am simply his mom and that is good enough.

What do you do to conquer the depression?

Smiling Henry filling me with joy

Rule #1 Make Yourself Go

I am an introvert.  I like being alone with my thoughts, inside of books, resting my voice.  I like being alone — except when I’m depressed.  When I was deep into the depression, I couldn’t stand being at home alone. The silence of our creaking house was too much.  The space for dark thoughts grew wider.  Of course, Henry was with me, but he’s not the greatest conversationalist.

He sure is cute though!

At first, other people came to me.  My friends visited for play dates.  My mom frequently lunched with me.  My sister came to hang out every Friday.  Friends my parents age came over to talk.  I welcomed it all.  But then it stopped, and I was alone again.  I realized that I had to venture out, which was difficult to do.  I couldn’t stand being alone, but I also did not want to be in social situations (how’s that for a catch-22!).  But I did it anyway.  Even when going out seemed like more of a hassle than staying in.  I set up play dates with friends.  I started to visit others who couldn’t leave their homes.  I joined the Y.  I’m starting with a MOPS group next week.  I’m volunteering.  It has gotten to the point where I’m out more than in.

But that’s what I need now.  Being around people makes my alone time more precious, so precious that I don’t want to fill it with anxiety about the future or thoughts of how messed up this world is (even though I know that will always be the case).  I also love seeing Henry interact with other people and objects.  It’s good for us both, even though I don’t always feel like it.  Sometimes, you just have to make yourself go.

How adorable is this kid!

List #5 Reasons I love Our Neighborhood

1. I’ve at least exchanged names with several of our neighbors because they hang outside on their front porches (like we do!)

Our family hanging out on the front porch!

2. Instead of regular hoodlums, we have rogue knitters.  They hit the library poles hard.  And look at that tree!

Rogue Knitter handiwork

3. I live within walking distance of said library.

4. I am surrounded by beautiful old, historic homes.

Can you believe I only live a block away from this?

5. My street is a combination of homeowners, renters, and apartment complex dwellers.  What an interesting mix!

6. We have block parties!

7. I’m within walking distance of a great little cafe.

8. We have huge trees.

9. The homeless men in our neighborhood do not collect cans in shopping carts.  They collect them in jogging strollers. (I should ask them where they got theirs.)

10. We have a fabulous elementary, middle and high school.  And yes, this is DISD.