5.02.2016

Ladybugs in the Garden


Violet's Daisy troop had a ladybug release! They used some of their cookie money to buy ladybugs to contribute to our elementary school's garden. Ladybugs are my classroom theme, so of course I had to get in on the action. We even got to take a few home that were too reluctant to initially leave the bag - hopefully they will make a happy home in my vegetable garden.



5.01.2016

Be Overwhelmed


Usually being overwhelmed has a negative association. It is easy for me to feel overwhelmed this time of year. I'm overwhelmed by the mountain of tasks I have left to accomplish with my students, even as the calendar ticks steadily down through these last 20 school days. I'm overwhelmed by the end-of-year parties to plan, teacher gifts to buy, volunteer presents to make, boxes to pack. The garden needs maintaining, the pantry has still not started stocking itself. My children inexplicably continue to need snacks and baths and books at bedtime.

But overwhelmed can be flipped over, taken out of its defeatist connotation. It can also mean to affect strongly. And affect in a good way. You can be overwhelmed with love, overwhelmed with joy. Perhaps not when doing the snacks-bath-books dance for the 471st time, but it is possible. It requires a bit more intention. You have to pay attention, look down and really notice what is around you. Allow it to affect you instead of just brushing past it on your way through the to-do list.



At church we've been going through a series on joy.  We can find joy in adversity. We can find joy in knowing God is with us, taking care of us, shepherding us daily through the valley of the shadow. And we are also called to take joy in his creation. Psalm 148 says "Let every created thing give praise to the Lord." We can find His joy in everything: twinkling stars, wind and weather, scurrying animals, even children. The challenge is in creating the space to do so, making the time to look down and notice, look up and marvel. 

I've been doing my best to find at least one small moment every day that has allowed me to take a breath, look around and marvel, be still and know. It's ironic when your to-do list includes "be overwhelmed by God's glory" but sometimes I have to be that intentional about it. And you know, once I start looking for it, it's always there. Sometimes I see it in Violet's face - that unadulterated joy of peddling through a tunnel of green light. Other times I steal a moment to wander away while the children play within earshot and their happy giggles become a fitting soundtrack as I spot that first ripe strawberry.


The Bible says "let everything that has breath praise the Lord." And God, in His infinite wisdom, created our bodies to do just that. In Hebrew, God's name is Yahweh, but it is written without the vowels. And the consonants that are left are the sounds we make as we breathe in and breathe out. The very act of breathing is to say God's name. It is the first thing we do when we enter into life on this earth; it is the last thing we will ever do before we see God's glory in death. We speak God's name. Our bodies, our very beings, praise Him. And if that's not cause to be overwhelmed, I don't know what it.



4.19.2016

Things Big and Small

Sorry about the crazy eyes, Tatum! Thanks for the party!

We recently had the joy of celebrating the marriage of some good friends at a rocking party. (All weddings should take place at distilleries... it makes for a rather good vibe.) And at this said wedding, I had the great pleasure of meeting a lovely new lady whom I hope will become a very good friend. I'm already intimidated charmed by her grace, resilience, thoughtfulness, humor...

Lukas and this lady (who shall remain nameless until given permission to publish.)
Tatum, the groom and my brother-from-another-mother, gifted us this book at the wedding as a thank you. Not only are the illustrations delightful, it is spot-on when it comes to explaining the nearly-religious experience of the Swedish coffee break known as fika. There are many things the Swedes get right - Ikea, paid family leave, candy... but fika might just top the list (although 18 months paid maternity leave is hard to beat!)

Drink up, people!
 Post-wedding, pre-back to real life in the 'burbs with our kids, we decided to brunch. After many recommendations, both from locals and the internets, we decided on the Silver Skillet based on its proximity to our hotel and (more importantly), the fact that it came highly regarded by Matt's food idol, Alton Brown. As we stand there in line, I kid you not, who gets in line behind us? Yep, Alton himself. Oh, we tried to play it cool. We totally did not get a third cup of coffee hoping to time our departure to his. We definitely did not linger in the parking lot hoping he would walk our way. But the stars in our eyes aligned when he did indeed come our way and I basically accosted him with a request for a quick picture. He was clearly in a rush but graciously obliged. Oh, and we totally brought home a whole lemon ice box pie. And then hid it from the kids so we didn't have to share.

Where do I know that guy from...?
We wrapped up our weekend by planted our garden, finally. The kids might be slightly obsessed with digging in the dirt now.

The garden is back!

4.10.2016

Spring Break - Here, Fishy Fishy

Seahorse met some seahorse.

Spring break, day two. We woke up, got ready, and walked to breakfast on our way to the Tennessee Aquarium. Other than being rather chilly, there were no problems. I forgot how much I love this aquarium. I know the Georgia Aquarium, just down the road (literally next door to our new church building) is billed as being the world's hugest, most luxurious, most amazingest aquarium in the history of aquariums (oh sorry, that was Trump) but Tennessee's is nothing to sneeze at. I think it is actually more accessible and set up in a way that makes it easy to see everything without being overwhelmed.

We started with the river building, which features otters (they weren't doing anything) on the top floor before you wind your way down the dark ramps to see the various fish exhibits. Violet was once again in manic mode, wanted to race her way through everything on a quest to... get to the end? I really couldn't figure out why she was in such a hurry. 


There are alligators back there...

We made it through and switched to the ocean building, which brought you to the top floor into the "touch a sting ray" pool and the butterfly garden. Both girls got to hold a butterfly! This building also holds the penguins, which was really fun. First grade does a huge unit on penguins every year, so it was fun for me to see these guys up close. They really are amazing swimmers, and the exhibit was partly underwater, letting you watch them dive and leap.

Taller than a penguin... barely!


Finally, the live versions!

At lunch, we played pictionary. I drew this and told Violet to guess what it was. "It's a penguin!" she said. "Or... a volcano."

We had planned to go to the IMAX movie after lunch, but neither girl was really into it, and Annie was heading dangerously close to naptime meltdown. So we cut our loses, took another stroll over yesterday's bridge, then headed back to the hotel for some R&R. The nice thing about our aquarium passes - they let us in and out all day. So once everyone was rested up, we headed back and did the ocean exhibit all over again. A good thing too, since Violet rushed us through the first time. This round we arrived just in time for giant manta feeding. It was bizarre! Shrimp would come sailing down into the water and the mantas would shoot up the window and then sink back down, catching the shrimp against the glass and swallowing them. Talk about up close and personal! The sea turtle was feasting on an entire head of lettuce as we watched. Then we headed to our IMAX, which Annie and I ended up spending in the lobby (she's just not ready for 3D IMAX movies quite yet).

After the movie, we followed up on a recommendation made by some random dog walkers we passed at one point the previous day - dinner at Boathouse. It sits right on the river with great views of whatever happens to be sailing by. Alas, it was a rather stormy evening, so there wasn't much action on the water, but we enjoyed dinner and made it back to the hotel before the rain started, so... win!

Lunchtime!

A little sea salad for this big guy.

Last night in the hotel!
Our last day in Chattanooga, we packed up, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Ruby Falls. We figured this would be a good way to wrap up our trip and wear out the kids before we threw them back in the car for the ride home. Before we planned this trip, we were on the fence about Ruby Falls. It's dark. It's a lot of walking. Was it going to be too scary? But seeing Violet race through the dark caverns at Rock City convinced us she would handle it just fine, and she did. Annie, on the other hand, was in full clingy mode and insisted on being carried almost the entire way. By me. Try as he might, Matt could not convince her to take a turn in his arms. She lasted to the waterfall itself, then totally fell asleep on me during the return trip. Exhausting! I swear she's gotten heavier in the last few weeks. I was sweating by the time we made it back to the entrance!

The lights! The majestic music! Cheesy touristy goodness!
If you can get past the commercial touristy aspects, it's a pretty cool place. Some guy, drilling into the earth hoping to build an elevator down to some caverns, hits a hidden pocket of fresh air. He jumps down the shaft, crawls on hands and knees for hours in the dark through an 18-inch tall passageway, and discovers an underground waterfall! Had he started his elevator drilling just six feet over, he would have missed the pocket altogether and Ruby Falls would be unknown to this day. It's rather amazing to think about. Also, who has the guts to crawl through the dark for hours into the unknown? Not I, said the sensible school-teaching mother of two. No thank you. But it does make for a lovely end to our little spring break journey to Chattanooga.

View from the top.

Spring Break - See Rock City

Who is ready to see Rock City?

Spring Break! Spring Break! The blessed reprieve from work, a chance to literally stop and smell the roses, the gathering of a breath before diving deep into the fourth quarter sprint to the finish line. If you're a teacher with small children at home, and the children are being good, it's a happy preview of the glories of the coming summer off. (If the children are being bad, well, it gives you ample time to line up your schedule of day camps.)

Many spring breaks are utilized by the mister and I to take a break from the kids. The first time we ever left Violet overnight was a spring break mini-vacay to Serenbe. Then there was the spring break we used as an excuse to celebrate our ten years of wedded bliss at the Grove Park Inn. (We tried hard to justify another trip there this year... maybe in another decade!)

But as the kids get older, it is becoming easier to take them along on our jaunts, and I suppose it's not entirely fair to always ditch them for our own fun. So this spring break we decided to let them in on the action and planned a three-day getaway to Chattanooga. I know, Rock City versus the Grove Park Inn, definite downgrade right? But before you roll your eyes, I have to say how pleasantly surprised I was by this city to our north. I used to live in Dalton, just a stone's throw from the Tennessee border, so Chattanooga has never seemed like a destination. We'd regularly hop the state line to go to the mall. But it was perfect for our little family of four. 

Our first stop, on the way into town, was Rock City. I've been within spitting distance of this tourist destination many times (growing up, there were company retreats held just down the road on top of Lookout Mountain) but never actually visited. Say what you will, but I found it utterly charming! The kids were ready to get out and run around after our car ride, and this place gave them the perfect opportunity. Violet was eager to lead the way, and would have happily brought us through the entire attraction at a jogging pace. In fact, the entire trip was pretty much just her asking if it was time to move on to the next thing - the excitement for her was less in what she saw, but how quickly she was able to get there. (For Annie, the entire trip was pretty much just convincing me to pick her up. Girlfriend oscillated between fierce independence - pushing the stroller herself, jerking out of my grasp - and complete potato sack of noncompliance.)

This girl led the way!


Fat Man Squeeze!



But back to the delight that is Rock City. We were fortunate to get there before any school groups showed up and ran through the entire place with hardly an interruption. If you've never been, you follow a path over and through various natural rock formations, entertained along the way by cheesy gnomes doing whatever it is gnomes do. The path eventually leads you to a lovely lookout spot that will inspire you to grab your children by the backs of their shirts lest they lean too zealously over the railing. Had Annie not been on the verge of naptime meltdown, we probably could have gone through the entire park again, based on the breakneck speed Violet led us through the first time, but we decided to call it while everyone was still relatively happy and we headed to our hotel to check in and chill out.

Look out!



After exploring the hotel, we headed to an Italian restaurant on the river for dinner. We explored the little park next to the restaurant, then discovered a walking bridge that spans the river. It was filled with families, joggers, puppies and it was the perfect way to cap off the day, enjoying the sunset over the water. It was nice to be able to let the kids go and allow Violet to push the stroller without fear of fast-moving cars. What a lovely city! Everything looked very clean, very safe, definitely family friendly. Day 1 for the win!


3.29.2016

Easter


It was a lovely Easter. We started at church, where we celebrated not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also our last Sunday in our current Buckhead location. They were so serious about it, they started tearing the name off the building at the conclusion of the service. Out with the old, on with the new! It was bittersweet. The service itself was lovely, featuring baptisms, a choir (we never do that) and Matt on the guitar that I helped him drill holes in the night before so he could install an amp pick-up. 

New location = new name. See ya, Buckhead!
Big girl got to hang in the service with me.
Then it was home to see what the Easter Bunny left and have an indoor egg hunt, thanks to the yucky weather. The girls didn't seem to mind, though. Violet declared Easter her second favorite holiday, right after Halloween (can you figure out what those two have in common?) I got exactly zero decent pictures of the two of them in their cute dresses (um, Costco for the win!) because they were far too occupied with stuffing their faces with candy. All the grandparents came up to celebrate the day with us and it was lovely to see everyone. We kept it low-key, just the way we like it.


Dessert. Very patriotic, don't you think?

3.28.2016

Itsy-Bitsy Spider

Do you ever get the feeling someone is watching you?

Today in the shower, a bleary-eyed 5:30 a.m. post-holiday Monday, I randomly happened to look up as I was shampooing my hair and noticed a rather large black spot on the ceiling above my head. This black spot had eight legs. And it moved. My least favorite type of black spot ever.

I should pause in my story at this point to let you know that this is not my first experience with spiders above my shower. When we lived in our shack in Midtown, our tiny bathroom was home to entire legion of daddy long leg spiders. They would hang out on the ceiling directly above the shower. Then as the steam would rise, their little legs would give way and down they would come onto the unsuspecting human below. I would spend the first 10 minutes of my day filling a cup with water and hurling it skyward, splashing the ceiling, trying to hit the spiders and knock them into the tub where I would promptly douse them with a glug of water, drowning them as quickly as possible and sending them to their drain pipe graves.

I swear those suckers would dive bomb me on purpose. I had nightmares of them vindictively climbing out of the drain to get me. It was horrible. (We also had a rat, but that's another story.)

So, with that history in mind, you can imagine my thoughts on this Monday morning. I watched that black spot like a hawk, craning my neck and contorting my body to try and get through my shower routine without taking my eyes off the spot. I calculated the odds of it falling into the shower (100 percent) and looked around for anything I could use to defend myself. Let's face it, there's not a lot to arm yourself with when you're naked in the shower.

Slowly it started crawling away from me. I risked closing my eyes to wash my face, and opened them just in time to see the spider cast off from the ceiling, dropping a gasp-inducing two feet on his web, two feet closer to me. (To be fair, we have really high vaulted ceilings in the bathroom, but still.) I tried not to throw up at the daddy long legs flashbacks and only started breathing again when the thing slowly climbed back up to his upside down perch. I turned off the water and grabbed my towel, only to catch him dropping again! Thoroughly fed up with this display of gymnastics, I hightailed it out of the shower and retreated a good ten feet from the drop zone.

I took my eyes of the spider for maybe ten seconds, just enough time to grab my moisturizer, and when I looked back up (ya'll, I'm going to need a neck massage) the thing was gone.

GONE!

On trembling feet, with quaking heart, I tiptoed back to the shower. Taking a deep breath to steel my nerves, I ever so slightly pulled the door open...

There is was! In the shower! Right where I had been standing not a minute before! IT WOULD HAVE LANDED ON ME. You guys. I can't even. I feel like there are tiny legs crawling on me even as I type this. Can you feel them? There on your back? GAH!

So, happy Monday folks. Four more days until spring break.
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