Fat Fridays: Memories

I’m going to tell you a story about my high school PE teacher (physical education). When I was fifteen years old, my family moved from the island country of Haiti to the tiny bush town of Bethel, Alaska, up in the freezing artic. I enrolled in the local high school as a junior. My previous two years of high school had been done through correspondence courses and a couple classes taught through a little mission school in the North of Haiti. I had not done well with correspondence courses and was significantly behind when I got to Bethel. Because of this, I had to enroll in a lot of freshman classes. Classes like Freshman World Geography, an Environmental science class, and PE. I had not taken any PE classes in years and for some reason, the counselor who made my schedule decided to just get it all over with. So, my first semester at a real high school I was enrolled in PE/health and in Teamsports. Because of the way they did the schedule, this meant that on Mondays I had two PE classes in one day, and the rest of the week I had PE every day one week, and then next week I would have PE alternating with health every day. This meant I was in the gym every day, under the mercy of Mr. Power. Yes. That was his name.

Mr. Power was one of those legendary teachers that everyone was a little afraid of and everyone behaved for. I don’t know if he was ex-military, but he LOOKED like he was ex-military and he ACTED like he was ex-military. Every PE class we did calisthenics, all of us in our assigned spots on the gym floor. Then we did running. Then we would learn, in great detail, how to play a certain sport, and then we would play. Very competitively. He graded on a winners/losers scale. When we did running tests, first place would get an A, second place got an A-, third place B+, etc. I ranked somewhere in the C- range. It was not easy to get a good grade in this class. It also didn’t help that half the girls basketball team happened to be in my Teamsports class, all of them very accomplished athletes. I was the one who was always picked last for teams, and occasionally, Mr Power would pull me aside and send me into the hallway with the top girl athlete from the class so she could give me extra practice on how to swing a bat or catch a ball. (I was not athletic, I was coordinately-challenged, and stuck out in the classes like a sore thumb). The only good thing about Mr. Power’s level of discipline in the class was that at least no one out-right mocked me or made fun of my extreme lack of skills. He didn’t tolerate that kind of behavior. 

Teamsports was a one-semester class and I ended up with a C in the class. Yikes. I was an A student. This was not good. I still had one more semester of PE/Health to get through, and my PE grade in that class was also a C. Finally, I found out about Mr. Power’s extra-credit program. If you stayed after school every day for two weeks and ran two miles every day, he would raise your grade an entire letter. But you had to run the full two miles. No walking. If he caught you walking then you had to start all over again at day one. (Ask me how I know this.) 

Frankly, it sounded too hard. Not feasible. But, I had a friend who was running to get her grade up and somehow I got roped in to running with her. (Thank you Terry Murphy!) 

Let me stop and explain for a minute. We were in Bush Alaska, on the tundra, in winter. We ran inside the school building, through the halls. This was acceptable. We knew how many laps we had to make to get our two miles. We were not the only ones running. The wrestling team would be running through the halls, other sports teams, kids who just wanted to run to keep in shape, other kids trying to get their extra credit as well. The high school was a pseudo-community center. Kids stayed late for clubs and tutoring and a bunch of other reasons. I think when I was a senior I never left the high school before five pm every day. 

So, I ran for two weeks. Got my grade up to a B. I needed an A. I ran another two weeks, but somewhere around day seven or eight, Mr Power caught me walking for a second. So, then I had to start all over again and run another two weeks. And then, my friends were still running after school, and I ended up running more. One day, in the spring, I happened to be in the gym, getting ready to run (just for fun) and Mr. Power walked in and saw me. “Esther Picazo! Are you running? Just because?” and then he smirked at me and walked off in a very self-satisfied manner. And I was mad, cause I still didn’t like him or his teaching methods, and it was embarrassing to admit that he had caused me to take up a healthy habit. But he had. The only reason I started running was because he basically forced me to. 

I continued to run after high school. I took a running class in college where I had to run three miles a day. I was never a star athlete or competitive at any level, but it was a form of exercise I had learned that I could do, and I enjoyed it. 

Looking back, years later, I have had an off-and-on relationship with exercise. But, there was always that knowledge in the back of my head that I COULD exercise, and once upon a time, I had enjoyed it. And I have to admit that I owe that completely to Mr. Power, the teacher that made me run. And I am grudgingly happy that I was able to have him as a teacher. 

The Power of Worship

I started off this morning feeling off-balance. Unresolved conflicts. In the middle of a battle with myself as I try to adopt healthier habits. Children not as happy as I’d like to see them. The overwhelming amount of projects I need to do in my house. A dull February morning, the sunrise trying to push away the gray, but not quite managing to do so. The feeling of not having it all together. 

Then my fifteen year old came downstairs, dressed in cheerful pink, and turned on some worship music on her phone. I found myself singing along. And almost right away, I felt Hope returning. Jesus is good. He is on his throne. My life is in his hands. 

There is something about worship that recenters your perspective. As I write, the sunshine suddenly gets brighter, I can see more blue peeking around the clouds. My little boys are playing cheerfully. I feel a bit more confident that I can handle whatever this day hands me. 

The kids are memorizing Psalm 100. Every morning on the way to school, we practice our verses. It’s a good way to start the day. Though sometimes, I’m not paying enough attention to the words we are saying. 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

    Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Worship does not change your circumstances, but it shrinks them back into perspective. Instead of me standing alone in a pit, it’s me holding the hand of my Father God as we navigate a bumpy road together. 

Come, Let Us Worship our God, Let us kneel Before the God our Maker, For He is Good and his Love Endures Forever. 

Fall Nights

It’s been a good day. A day to notice little things. 

This evening I heated up some soup for my supper. On Sundays I make a big noontime meal and then the rest of the day everyone fends for themselves (Ok, we help the three year old out, but that’s about it). I try to have sandwich makings or bagels or leftovers or something simple people can snack on. Today I heated up the homemade chicken soup which is more like chicken stew, it’s so thick, and two of my girls joined me. We got out the pretty colored bowls of mismatched shapes and sizes that always cheer me up. Sat at the big wooden table my husband made. 

After eating we moved back to the living room, the center of the home in winter time. My teen was playing the part of dj, selecting music off her playlists for us while she read her book. 

Some kids were gathered around the coffee table, having an interesting debate about how to draw animals. 

Another child was sitting on the couch with the dog, also reading her book. The puppy sleeping on the floor close by. 

Another child crawled into my lap and after a couple minutes of rocking in the old chair, she was out. I sat there holding her, enjoying my domain. 

Right now life feels a little crazy. Holiday plans are getting shifted, age-long traditions are being paused. Our country still doesn’t feel stable. I try to avoid thinking about the outside world as it seems out of control and bewildering. 

And so, it feels like a gift, to be able to just sit and see my immediate space. My home. The solidness of family. To feel the peace around me. Belonging. Purpose. Mission, as we try to raise these kids to adulthood. 

As we head into Thanksgiving this week, I’ll get started with the thankfulness now. I am thankful for fall nights, in my home, with my family. 

I Am Rich

I love the sounds of my house. A couple minutes ago I was sitting at the piano, trying to sight-read through a fairly simple Chopin piece I had never seen or heard before. It was slow going. Adagio. I wasn’t really focusing on what I was doing. Honestly, I was just killing time, waiting for my kindergartner to finish his workbook. Right now all the kids are waiting for him to finish his workbook. I told him that when he had finished his school work (workbook and read aloud a story) then I would go down to the store and buy our traditional bags of Candy Corn (and for all you haters out there, we happen to think candy corn is awesome!!). Every October I put out some ceramic pumpkins on my mantle, fill them with candy corn and the kids get to grab some after school is done, or chores, or whatever hard task is in front of them. 

Anyway, I was playing the piano, waiting for David to finish his workbook, and I started just listening to all the sounds of our house. 

We started a fire in the wood-burning stove this morning. The stove has a little fan that blows warm air into the room. It is a soothing white noise. We also have a large fish tank in the living room whose water filter sounds like a little waterfall. We need these soothing sounds. They counterbalance the sound of teenagers hurling themselves down our wooden staircase as loud as they can. And the sound of the three year old talking to himself as he plays his little imaginary games. I have one teenager home this week because her school is shut down for Covid. She loves music and carries her phone everywhere with her, sharing her very eclectic music choices with the whole family. 

You can hear our dog barking outside, faithfully protecting us from any random person walking down the sidewalk. The occasional car drives by on the street in front of our house. You can occasionally hear a siren rushing past on the main road which is only a block away from us. 

The kindergartner has a chronic whistling habit and the eleven year old is constantly humming. And Chopin continues to plunk along in the background. 

There is so much life tucked into the walls of this home. 

(Time lapse)

So, I just got back from the store, candy corn has been bought, pumpkin candy dishes are now full. 

When I pulled up to the Family Dollar, I saw two apparently homeless people, a man and a woman, in the alley behind the store. By the time that I left the store and was heading back to my car, they had settled themselves on the back steps of the store’s delivery entrance. They had bags of belongings and some fountain soda cups from a nearby gas station. They looked dirty and the woman looked like she was crying. But they weren’t trying to make eye contact with me, and I had nothing to offer them. No groceries in my bag, just candy corn. No cash in my wallet, just a bankcard. No words to share, my innate shyness balking at starting a conversation. I remembered that I had supported one of our homeless shelters this past weekend by shopping at their thrift store (thank you Ma’am, your purchase has just helped us feed ten people!), and I just hope that this couple will make their way to the shelter by evening and take advantage of this ministry in our city.

I climbed back into my car and drove back home. And once again, I felt like the blinders had been ripped off my eyes. A glimpse at my true reality. My home, a beautiful mansion. My children, costly jewels, unmeasurable treasures. My life, a dream come true.

And the noises in my house sound like a beautiful symphony. The chaos is simply an outpouring of joy. I feel like the richest woman on the planet as I survey this ramshackle house of mine. 

And my prayer becomes, make me a blessing.

God, you have blessed me, show me how to bless others. 

The Perfect Day

Today has been one of those “Perfect” days. The kind where nothing overly impressive happens, you just feel connected with the goodness around you. 

We slept in this morning. Eight o’clock! Amazing! If you have a house full of small children, eight in the morning is late! 

We lazed around in our pajamas, reading books, kids playing busily. And then, sometime around eleven the kids gave me a list of things they wanted to do: go to the library, go to the park. 

Not till we get our chores done. 

So, we divided everything up and the house got clean pretty quickly. I put on my new cover for my futon couch and pulled a couple chairs from other parts of the house so I could have a living room with furniture again. (Got rid of the couches a while back, and haven’t been in a rush to put things back together again.)

I made a menu for the week and then went shopping and stayed within my budget. (Not sure why, but that is always So Satisfying!) And I bought some flowers to put on my mantel in the living room. 

The weather today is about ten degrees cooler than it has been the past month and suddenly my kids are willing to play outside again. And other neighborhood kids have emerged from their air conditioning as well and so I have a yard full of children all happily playing together. 

This coming Monday is a holiday so I don’t feel as pressured to get everything done immediately. 

My washing machine is busily doing it’s job. By Monday I will have a big mountain of clean clothes to fold and sort and put away.

One of the neighborhood kids was talking to me earlier, he’s new, never been in my house before. He looked around. 

You know, this place kind of reminds me of a mansion. 

I was startled and then laughed.

Well, it’s big, but it isn’t very fancy like a mansion. 

And I sit in my old, faded worn chair in my living room. The walls need painting, the trim has never been painted or finished in any way, still showing the marks of over a hundred years of use. My bookshelves are over-run with books. The floors have also not been finished in the past one hundred years, and my kids skating and scootering and shoving furniture all over the place has done nothing to improve their appearance. 

But things are tidy. There are bright flowers, the soothing sound of water bubbling in the fish tank, the hum of a fan. Silence. And then thunder as a horde of children run down the stairs and out the door. The sun is shining in through the windows. My fridge and pantry are full. I’ve run all my errands. We have plans to play at the park after supper. Tomorrow we get to go to church. 

Yes. It is one of those “Perfect” days. 

And it occurs to me, that most days have the potential to be perfect. It just takes an eye to see, and a heart to be thankful.

“The Peace of Wild Things”

I am sitting by the lake, I’ve been watching my kids swim, but they have now moved on to playing prince and princess and are concocting some elaborate make-believe game. I only have the three youngest with me. My husband and five of our kids left at 4am this morning to go hike a mountain. I don’t expect them home till late tonight. My other two daughters are at their grandparent’s house, in town, a short distance away. It has now been twelve days since we left Knoxville on our vacation, and it has taken about ten of those days for me to finally be able to just relax. We still have a couple more days before we head home and I am thoroughly enjoying the wonderful feeling of doing nothing except some light household chores and watching my children swim in the lake. 

 

It’s been a different kind of vacation. State mandates mean that we can’t go shopping or go out and be around a lot of people. We have seen basically just a few family members and had them do our grocery shopping for us. Aside from a day trip to the beach, we have just stayed in our little cabin and enjoyed the lake and the woods. And it has been wonderful. 

 

My restless husband has been able to help his Uncle and Aunt with a remodel project, my teen girls have hung out with their grandparents and the little ones have practiced their swimming. 

 

My brain has had time to process. Relive, rethink, reassess. And finally, it has just quieted down. I’ve read some good books, done “adult” coloring where there is an inspiring scripture and then a ton of elaborate details to color in. Not something I do often, but I find when I am coloring, the analyzing part of my brain shuts off, and I’m just thinking about staying in the lines, and what color should I use next? It has the same effect for me as playing scales on the piano, or re-reading a favorite book. Occasionally, I will stop coloring and just think about the verse. Meditate. 

 

We don’t get to do this every year. More like every two or three years. But I am glad for these times. 

 

As my brain has quieted and I have rested, I find myself getting ideas again. Getting excited about projects. I am even starting to feel excited about homeschooling some of my kids. I am plotting out schedules, and thinking about books to read and papers we will write and discussions we will have. Spelling charts for the second grader. Homemade calendars.

 

And this is the difference between stressed-out me and healthy me. The ability to dream and be excited about the future. 

 

I remember in the flurry of having lots of babies, I went for years without having any dreams. I was too exhausted. Too overwhelmed. The future was too far away. I was just surviving today. This moment. This minute. This second. 

 

The past months have been that for me. Survival. 

 

And it’s good to feel that quieting down. To feel like the ability to dream is coming back. 

I even told my husband that one day, when all the kids are grown, I want to get a giant fluffy dog. Like a St. Bernard. Or something like that. He immediately pointed out that big dogs are expensive. And I pointed back that all the kids will be gone and I will have money to spend on a dog. 🙂 He’s not over-excited about that dream….yet. I’ve got some time to talk him around. 🙂 

 

Here is a poem I found.

 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Wendell Berry

Listen

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Today, I am thankful for nature. For God’s creation. For the beauty he created that provides rest to all people, believer or not. It is one of his gifts to humankind. 

 

And I’m thankful for the time he has given me to just rest. 

Big Siblings are the Best

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I did not grow up in a large family. I had one brother. He was and is a good brother. I’m thankful for him. But, my kids like to point out that I have no idea what it’s like to have multiple siblings. They usually bring this up when I am asking them to have more grace, more patience, for their younger siblings. You only had one brother! You have no idea!! And yes, they’re right. I can’t fully empathize. 

 

Right now, I am thinking about how fortunate my younger children are to have so many older siblings. 

 

I am sitting in my room, and earlier, I heard my 16 yr old in the kitchen, patiently showing the 7 yr old how to make a quiche. My 19 yr old buys books for her siblings for Christmas, always trying to get them excited about a new book series or author. She also bought a plane ticket for her 11 yr old brother so he could go visit her and spend some one-on-one time with her. My 18 yr old has moved into his own place. He regularly comes and picks up his younger brothers to come over and play video games, or his teen sisters to come over and hang out. My 14 yr old  is always picking up the 3 yr old for a cuddle and maybe a tickle fight. The 11 yr old helps the 5 yr old learn how to play Minecraft. 9 yr old sissy helps 7 yr old sissy pick out a special outfit. 

 

I can’t imagine anything better for the self-esteem of a child than to have a household of older siblings who give them special attention and help. 

 

It reaches to the spiritual realm too. Today my 9 and 11 yr olds got baptized. My heart is full. And there was a special joy to hear my 7 yr old declare that one day, she was going to get baptized too! She wants to be like her big siblings. And her big siblings are worth emulating. 

 

I have proudly watched my older children lead the way. And I hear the younger children being influenced. One day Mom, I’m going to go to college like Anna!…Maybe I might try going to a Bible College, like Levi did…When I’m big, I’m going to be a helper in VBS, like Ruthie!

 

No. My family is not one big happy party. We have fights, irritations, upsets. Sometimes one sibling doesn’t like another sibling for a period of time. Sometimes a child just needs a break from everyone in the family. But, right now, I am just aware of what an awesome influence my older children are on my younger kids. And I am thankful. 

 

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

 

To all those moms who have suddenly become homeschooling moms against your wishes and feel overwhelmed and frustrated…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To all those moms who have been homeschooling all along but have suddenly lost all their support systems, friends, playgrounds, libraries, co-ops, extra-curricular classes…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the moms whose children are long grown and have left the nest, off building their own grown-up lives…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the Grandmas who have not only launched their own children but are now involved in the next generation of children…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the moms whose children are not here, lost in miscarriage or premature death…Happy Mother’s Day. 

 

To the moms who became mothers through a different route and who love their children fiercely, Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the women who say they aren’t a mom, but whose lives have heavily influenced a child, Happy Mother’s Day. 

 

To the Brand New Mom who feels like she is drowning in sleepless nights and never-ending feedings…hang in there, things will change…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the moms who are struggling with their teenagers, despairing of ever having a good relationship with your child…I’m praying for you…Happy Mother’s Day. 

 

To the moms who messed up and are now trying to make things right…keep trying…every relationship is worth mending…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the mom who loves her children with all her heart, but feels like she has lost track of who she is as a person…you’re still there and you’re worth finding again…Happy Mother’s Day.

 

To the mom who is watching their child face health battles…our hearts are breaking with yours…Happy Mother’s day. 

 

And to my Mom, thank you for loving me. You’re the best. I wish you Happiness and Joy and Peace. 

These are a few of my favorite things…

I have decided that in consideration of my current mood and state of mind, this post needs to be devoted to things that I am thankful for. 

 

The other day, my husband stopped at the store before coming home from work to get some cheese that I needed for our meal. When he got home, he walked in the room and handed me a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, and a loaf of French baguette.  He was pulling out all the stops, in an attempt to comfort me after the very trying day I had been reporting to him, via text, throughout the day. 

 

These tangible comforts were much appreciated. I arranged the flowers in a pretty bowl and put them on my desk and they continue to be a bright spot for me. 

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Another bright spot is that my three year old is finally potty training. Yay! It was self-directed, which always seems to work best. He took off his diaper and announced to me that he didn’t need it any more. (I have not found this diaper yet. I have no idea where he put it, it has not showed up in our yard or in the house, I’m hoping he magically just decided to throw it in the trash.)  I jumped on the opportunity and put him on the potty, he went, and we have been on the potty training wagon since. He’s actually doing pretty good. Not too many accidents. Here he is, being snuggled by a big sissy. 

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Let’s see…we got bikes for the kids and have spent several evenings across the street in the bank parking lot that is right in front of our house, watching the kids ride. A couple neighborhood kids have joined in the fun. We adults sit right in the entryway to the parking lot so that any car that wants to enter to go to the ATM machine has to wait for us to move, and during that time we can yell for all the kids to get out of the way. (We do this in the evening when the bank is closed and the traffic into the parking lot is very low, one or two cars max.) 

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I’ve been paying attention to how green Tennessee is. It’s a special, light green that is very soothing and comforting. I am constantly amazed at how much color in nature can cheer me up. I am forever thankful that God decided to settle us in Eastern Tennessee. Life is good when you can just look outside and see green grass and trees. I took this picture on a rainy afternoon. 

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Hmm.. I continue to take pleasure in sitting down at my piano and playing favorite songs. It is also fun to hear my kids pecking away, creating their own songs, trying to work out their favorite melodies. Music is a gift, and this old piano, complete with dents and scratches is the perfect addition to our family. Kind of like an overgrown dog who patiently lets the toddlers climb on his back and pull his ears. 

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So…that’s what I’m doing today. Trying to purposely look around and find things to be thankful for. It’s a helpful way to keep yourself from falling into the Pits of Despair or some place similar. If you are looking for something  to do today, I recommend walking around taking pictures of things that make you happy. It’s a good exercise. 

 

Last Day of the Year

It is the last day of the year. Last blog of the year. Last post of the year. 

 

Every time we have a “last” we always feel like it should be extremely profound. Well, it’s the last day of the year. I’m doing laundry today. We’re going to clean the house. I’ve got to do a bit of grocery shopping. This evening we’ll have some pizza and the teens are going to have some friends over to watch movies. On the surface, none of that is profound. It’s very mundane. 

 

But, let’s dig a bit deeper. I’m going to spend the day taking care of my family and my children and our home. It’s a good family. It’s a good home. I am very blessed to be able to have this family. In fact, I would say that puttering around my house with a bunch of children is kind of along the same line as being the curator of a large treasury. My sole job is to keep the diamonds polished and make sure the gold is lined up just right. So, yeah, it’s actually a pretty profound way to end the year. 

 

I’ve been trying to do a little reflection, think back on the year, what stood out? I was looking at my blog posts for the year…glancing at the titles, what did I write about this year? I think if I needed to sum up the year, I would say it has been a year of going deeper. A year when I was able to spend time thinking about issues, people, books, politics, how does all this fit with Jesus and the Bible…I was able to engage with these subjects and go a bit deeper instead of skimming along on the surface. For an introspective introvert like me, who tends to live inside her head, that actually made it a really great year. 

 

It’s been a year of not hiding. Sharing my thoughts with others. Giving real answers to the “How are you doing?” question. That’s been a challenge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a blog, hit post, shared on FB, and then gone into a complete panic. Wondering if I should just erase the whole thing. DELETE! DELETE! Please know that I have not shared lightly. It has often been a major victory for me to hit the POST button. 

 

It has been a year of Overwhelming Grace. Looking back at all that has happened this year, the main theme I see is God granting strength and patience, endurance, provision. His hand always tightly wound up in every single detail. 

 

It’s also been a year of Seeing. Seeing the beauty in the every-day moments. The sunshine hitting that tree just-so. The dark clouds forming that geometric pattern. That tiny wildflower hidden in the grass. The kindness of a stranger at the store. The rich community feeling while standing in line at the bank. It’s kind of been like turning on the light switch in a dark room and realizing that you’ve been standing in an art gallery all along. Who knew all this beauty was just sitting here, waiting to be seen? 

 

It’s been a year of slowly blossoming friendship. Getting to know some of you much better online. Getting to know some of my old friends much better as we’ve carved out time to just be together. And realizing that all these friendships have always been waiting right here, it just took me making it a priority to seek them out at a deeper level. 

It’s been a good year. I am thankful. 

My blessing for all of you for this next year comes from the Bible, Numbers 6: 24-26:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you;  The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”