on candletime.

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I didn’t really say much this year about candletime, the made up season where we light candles every night to fight the darkness of November. But we are still celebrating this year, despite the challenges of a kid who wants to blow out the candles and a cat (Mike read a bunch of stuff online about cats who set the house on fire so he was extra worried this year).

Next week we will start Advent and we will put up our tree. There is nothing like the warm glow of Christmas lights to fill the heart. But for now we sit in November and we light candles. For now, it is enough.

we ache in secret, memorizing.

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“November for Beginners” by Rita Dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
memorizing

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

yallfest 2014.

I went to YALLfest a few weeks ago with some library friends. If you didn’t click that link I will tell you that YALLfest is a young adult literature festival in Charleston, SC. I had never been before but a friend was organizing a trip and it seemed like too much fun to pass up.

I got to see so many authors I love (seriously, look at this list) and was inspired by their stories and their passion. I love young adult literature and it was fun to be around so many people who feel the same way, to watch the tweens and teens as well as the adults who were having just as much fun as I was.

Two things were particularly lovely to me that day. The first was a tribute to Walter Dean Myers by Varian Johnson, Ellen Hopkins, Nikki Grimes, Coe Booth, and Kwame Anderson. It was a huge honor to hear them talk about him and about their work. Nikki Grimes read a poem from one of the characters in Bronx Masquerade (but not actually from the book) and watching Kwame Alexander listen to it–he was amazed and excited–was a pure pleasure.

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The other big thing that happens at YALLfest is the smackdown, and I don’t know what happened in other years, but this year there were readings from childhood writings, games, some silliness regarding picture book authors trying to break into YA, and of course Libba Bray’s band Tiger Beat.

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My favorite moment of the event was something from the smackdown they called the “First Line Medley” where several authors read the first lines of favorite books. There was just something beautiful to me about the way a line would catch on in the room and the crowd would respond to it – the big ones, of course, like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars. But there were others I didn’t know (or couldn’t guess) and those were just as wonderful to hear, if only because it reminded me of what a good first line can be. If the ones I already know and love are like a worn welcome mat, the ones I was less familiar with felt like an open door inviting me to explore.

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(Ann Brashares is on the left! ANN BRASHARES. AND SHE WORE JEANS.)

It was a great gift to be in the company of so many readers. I came home with long lists of books and a renewed sense of the place of YA literature in our culture. I hope to go back next year, and you should come, too.

the prodigal daughter returns.

The first Sunday I went back to church, I felt tender and bruised, like I was not sure what I was doing. I felt tears about to spill over more than once. I still have a lot of questions about my place there, but I was ready to try.

I have never in my life dreamed of missing church on a regular basis, and then I did that, and then it turned into a whole lot of church I was missing. It was an empty space in my life, but it was nice to sit with that ache for a few months, to let myself feel the absence of the people and the rhythms of Sundays.

Atticus was so excited that we would all be going to church together, and asked about it several times. You are coming too, Mama? As we pulled into the church parking lot, he cheerfully called from the back seat, We’re home!

I’m not one to believe very much in signs but even I was like, Ok, I get it. We’re home.

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two books I finished.

I don’t have a whole reading roundup but I have finished two books and then I abandoned The Goldfinch after wasting a bunch of time on it so I thought I would go ahead and write these two up to get myself back in the reading groove.

Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity by Dianna E. Anderson (via NetGalley)

As someone who lived through the 90s True Love Waits purity culture, I agree with a lot of Anderson has to say in this book. There is a definite need to reframe the discussion around what it means to pursue purity in relationships – it is so much more than kissing dating goodbye or just saying no. I liked how Anderson challenged those ideas head on and offered tangible examples of how purity culture harmed many of us by sending damaging messages. However, I thought the book had a few key weaknesses that diminished my enjoyment of it overall. It’s positioned as an alternative to many others that are aimed at teenagers, and there were parts that did speak to teenagers, but other parts of it were speaking more to those of us in our 20s and 30s who experienced purity culture, and there were a few parts that I thought were speaking to those of us who work with teenagers. Because of that, it did not feel as cohesive as I would have liked. I also thought that her conclusions, which mirror many of my own conclusions, were not explained as well as they could have been. I wished she had done a little more work on the front end to bring the reader along with her, mostly because I feared that she hadn’t done quite enough to convince a skeptical reader (although maybe that wasn’t her target audience? That ties in with my earlier confusion about who the book might be for). Finally, I have to say that I had to raise an eyebrow at all of her stories about couples who waited and then had terrible sex. I understand the point she was making, but I felt like that was just as bad as the stories I heard growing up about girls who had sex and then got pregnant and died. Despite her constant refrain that waiting is an okay choice, too, I didn’t walk away feeling as if she really believed that. The book was strongest as it talked about rejecting shame, a strong message for all of us. In the end, I would recommend this to youth leaders who are interested in finding other ways to talk to their students about sex and who are thinking about what pitfalls to avoid.

Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar (via Blogging for Books)

In contrast to the previous book, I think this one knows exactly who its audience is: people who are experiencing a crisis of faith and who need help figuring out the next step. Mike and I could have used a book like this a few years ago as we navigated many of the steps that Escobar talks about – breaking away from old ideas and trying to forge a new identity. I found the first part of the book a little bit dry as she talked about the stages of faith but the second half that focused on rebuilding was soothing and encouraging. Our faith should live and grow with us, and when it feels as if it is lost, it would be nice to have a guidebook like what Escobar has written here. Mike and I worked out many of these stages on our own or with the help of our community, but for those who aren’t so lucky, I recommend this book.

I received copies of these books from the publishers but my opinions are my own.

a poem for sunday.

This poem was read just before we took communion this morning, and this evening I told Atticus that this was my favorite part of the day. I love being able to take communion with him. He gets shy and serious, a little bit determined. This morning he was concerned: every time the pastor mentioned wine, Atticus whispered juice. He wanted us to know that he cannot drink wine and we had to reassure him that there is grape juice as well. (This is not a big theological statement on our part. Our church offers both and he tried the wine once and didn’t like it so we are sticking with juice for now.) He also asked about the people who didn’t come to the front. That made this poem so perfect, as it gave words to the things we want him to know about the Lord’s table and the welcome that we can find there. It is the place where I feel most welcome at church these days, the grace of bread and wine (or juice). I am always happy when we can share that as a family.

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“And the Table Will Be Wide” by Jan Richardson

And the table
will be wide.
And the welcome
will be wide.
And the arms
will open wide
to gather us in.
And our hearts
will open wide
to receive.

And we will come
as children who trust
there is enough.
And we will come
unhindered and free.
And our aching
will be met
with bread.
And our sorrow
will be met
with wine.

And we will open our hands
to the feast
without shame.
And we will turn
toward each other
without fear.
And we will give up
our appetite
for despair.
And we will taste
and know
of delight.

And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
And everywhere
will be the feast.

Source for the poem.

on swinging.

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“The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

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One of the quirks of my wild boy is that he has always preferred what he calls the “baby swings”. He will run and jump and climb most anywhere, but he has not wanted to get on a big swing. I find it baffling, but I was happy to go along with him until recently when I could not really lift him up into the baby swing anymore. I am too short and he was getting too heavy, plus his shoes were always getting caught and falling off when I tried to get him out.

I told him I thought he was just getting too big to go in the baby swings, and he took it well. My guess is that he knew it was time but just needed a reason to make the switch. He’s asked about it a few times and I reminded him that we are moving on now that he is almost four. He’s been fine but it does feel a little bit like the end of an era. The baby swings at our park are down the hill away from the rest of the playground equipment and it is weird to think that we are done going over there, even if it is time to move on.

Today I pushed him on the big swings and was delighted to swing so high. I recited a few lines from the poem above, just as my mom did for me. Despite the chill in the air, I felt his enjoyment and mine mingle together my and the common grace of the moment warmed me to my toes.

(The picture above was from Tuesday, which was considerably warmer. He took his shirt off and ran around after that picture was taken. He was kind of mad that I made him leave his shirt on today. And his coat. I’m so mean.)

on the doxology.

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At our church, we sing a non-gender-specific version of the doxology. This is my preference, and it is the one we have been singing with Atticus since he was very small.

However.

We tend to go to the early service at church, the one with less liturgy and more wiggle room for kids. Because of that, he hasn’t gotten a lot of doxology reinforcement there. At Grammy’s church, they sing the doxology the old-fashioned way. Predictably, Atticus has decided he likes Grammy’s version better than Mama and Daddy’s.

This is fine, of course. He has to find his own path to God and his does not have to look as gender non-specific as mine. As a boy, I doubt that he will experience those dynamics in the same ways that I do. I don’t make him sing it my way. Because he is three, though, he gets upset when I don’t sing it the way he does.

I have a deep desire to prove myself right that working with middle school students has helped to break me of. It is pointless to argue with middle school students, and I have learned to say, “Ok,” sometimes rather than disagreeing about something that is less important than my relationship with a kid. I try to save the disagreements for the big stuff.

This is why I stay silent when Atticus sings the doxology these days, or, if he insists, I sing it like they do at Grammy’s church. The language matters to me, but what matters even more is that Atticus takes in the message, that he knows the God we are singing about. I find that I do not wish to argue about the doxology, no matter how dear its non-gender-specific words are to me.

atticus recommends.

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There is an adorable show called Tumble Leaf on Amazon Prime that Atticus started watching this summer. I don’t know exactly what Atticus likes about it, but to me it is warm and gentle and funny in ways that a lot of kids’ shows aren’t. It features Fig the Fox and his best friend Stick (a caterpillar). Each episode has them discovering something in the Finding Place and then using it throughout the episode. They are science and outdoor oriented and I love their playful sense of adventure and use of language. It captures the way the world is new and exciting for small people.

The small person who lives here thinks Fig the Fox is the greatest and the small person’s parents aren’t tired of the show even though there is only one season, which we have been watching for months. I haven’t heard much chatter about it but Atticus loves it so I want more episodes! Plus it is pretty dang cute. I have been meaning to post about it since this summer and I am glad to finally have a reason to recommend it.

wordless wednesday.

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Yesterday we took Atticus on a walk and fed the birds. The whole afternoon was golden just like this. Also I am bad at the whole wordless thing.

on reviewing the day.

When we sit together at dinner, we go around and say our favorite and least favorite parts of the day. I got the idea from someone who was talking about simple ways to do the Examen with children, and Atticus has responded well to talking about good and bad things from the day. I think that it is good for him to hear more specifically about the parts of our lives that he doesn’t see, both highs and lows.

Sometimes Atticus is too tired or hungry to do a very good job of talking about his day, which is ok. Sometimes he uses that time to confess that he got in trouble at school (which we usually already know about). I like it best when we ask what his favorite part of his day is and he says, “Right now.” Me too, buddy. Me too.

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atticus recommends.

Atticus wants you to know that right now his jam is “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams. When we listen to it (which is all the time) he makes a slightly mean/intense face.

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(Mic in one hand, air guitar with the other.)

Presumably this is how rock stars look. Seems legit.

I hope you will permit me a little mushiness: We taught Atticus this song over the summer at the pool, and singing and dancing to it in the pool was a precious and fun time for me. Holding him in the sunshine as he practiced his swimming, I could not help but feel that these are the best days of my life so far. Like all public educators in NC, work is really challenging, but my home life just gets better and better. We sing this song at top volume in the car and we jump around and sing it in the house, and I love it every time.

Sometimes we discover new things with Atticus, but sometimes he helps us look at old favorites with new eyes. Atticus and I think you should turn on “Summer of ’69,” crank the volume up, and play some air guitar. It will do your soul good.

a poem for sunday.

No family story today, I am afraid. But I have been thinking about this poem lately so this seems like a good time to post it.

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“At the End of Life, a Secret” by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Everything measured. A man twists
a tuft of your hair out for no reason
other than you are naked before him
and he is bored with nakedness. Moments
before he was weighing your gallbladder,
and then he was staring at the empty space
where your lungs were. Even dead, we still
say you are an organ donor, as if something
other than taxes outlasts death. Your feet
are regular feet. Two of them, and there is no
mark to suggest you were an expert mathematician,
nothing that suggests that a woman loved
you until you died. From the time your body
was carted before him to the time your
dead body is being sent to the coffin,
every pound is accounted for, except 21 grams.
The man is a praying man and has figured
what it means. He says this is the soul, finally,
after the breath has gone. The soul: less than
$4,000 worth of crack—21 grams—
all that moves you through this world.

on keeping a straight face.

This morning I heard that Atticus got in trouble at school for lying. Apparently he took a book to his cot for naptime even though no books are allowed, only lovies. When he was asked about it, he lied and said, no, there was no book in his cot. His teacher knew better and he got in a little bit of trouble for it.

Obviously when he told me this story, I laughed. Because I am terrible at that particular part of parenting (it is so hard not to laugh) and because of all the times I have read books instead of sleeping and also because it is a dumb rule. I fully believe that he should be held accountable, but I can’t help but be a little bit proud. We are doing okay if he is sneaking around reading books, right? I hope so. At the very least he is picking up on our values.

Atticus said, “It’s not funny, Mama.”

“You’re right, buddy. You need to listen to your teacher.”

And then I had to look away so I wouldn’t laugh some more.

atticus recommends.

Atticus recommends that you read The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. He can now pretty much recite it along with the parents and other various adults who have read it to him over the past few weeks. It makes him laugh every time and jump on the bed with excitement.

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Especially when the adult says, “Boo Boo Butt!” Atticus thinks that part is hilarious.

Atticus was not paid to endorse this story, his endorsement comes from a genuine enjoyment of making the adults in his life say silly words.

on cosleeping with the baby.

We got a cat for my birthday. His name is Neville, after the real hero of the Harry Potter series. I had told Mike that we could try to have another kid if he would let me use the name Neville for a boy. He got me a cat instead.

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Neville follows us from room to room, is wildly affectionate, and is incredibly patient with Atticus. Somehow Mike picked out a cat who seems more like a dog. Well-played, sir. We are still not getting a dog.

Now that Neville is used to our family, he has free reign of the house at night. This usually means he ends up in our bed. The good part is when he sleeps between us and it reminds me of the sweet parts of cosleeping with Atticus: how I liked having him so close and knowing he was safe. Plus, Neville does not need to breastfeed.

But Neville’s new nighttime trick is to take over my pillow. We are currently in a protracted battle over this. He does not take Mike’s pillow, nor does he try to bathe himself while sitting on Mike’s head. I am well aware that I am going to lose, but I am not sure what that is going to look like. Will I have to permanently sleep on the couch and give Neville my spot? Will I get used to having him sleep on my head? Will we have to move out and just let Neville have the house? Cat owners, please weigh in with your advice/experience/commiseration.

on the flu shot.

I got my flu shot a couple of weeks ago, and Atticus got his last week. The very nice nurse tried really hard to get him to do the mist, but we had not prepped him for the mist so he said he wanted to do the shot. We all learned a very important lesson about making sure he doesn’t watch the needle going into his own skin because that was the worst part. I guess that is just a difficult thing we all have to learn, because I don’t think I could have gotten him not to look. He was brave even though it hurt and he got ice cream afterwards.

Today Mike got his flu shot (I think this is the first year we have been three for three) and he took Atticus with him. When I talked to them later, Atticus told me that he held Daddy’s hand and watched the needle even though Daddy did not. Apparently both Atticus and the nurse did not feel any pain, though Daddy had a different story. I did not get a report on the ice cream but my hunch is that they had some.

on voting with a three-year-old.

I took Atticus to vote this morning. On the way into our polling place, I reminded him that he was going to push the buttons for me and I needed him to listen so we could get our voting right. He declared, “I’M VOTING FOR BATMAN!” Perhaps Batman is the hero that North Carolina deserves, but not the one it needs right now, as he is not on the ballot this year.

It is fun to watch Atticus take in new situations. He stuck close until they gave him the sticker, then his excitement won out. But he reigned it in when he realized it was time to push buttons. I was prepared for the possibility that his “help” might mean that everyone in the room was going to know who exactly I was voting for as he repeated it loudly. But he did great – I had him push the screen next to the name that started with whichever letter, and he was careful to do them all right. He even helped compare it to the list that I brought in. After we were done, I thanked him for helping me vote, and he said, “Why do YOU get a sticker?” Fair enough.

Then he said, “Wait, we did not vote B for Batman!”

We might wait to teach him about election results another year. I don’t want him to think that Batman lost.

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on seriously miscalculating.

When I was a little girl, we had an Admiral Ackbar action figure at our house. Looking back, this makes no sense. The two Star Wars action figures we had were Luke Skywalker (sure) and Admiral Ackbar (wait, what). Because of that, Admiral Ackbar is my favorite character and I have taught Atticus to love him, too. When he is on screen, Atticus yells, “Mama! Admiral Ackbar!” Attaboy.

After Atticus picked out his Darth Vader costume, he wanted to designate costumes for the rest of us as well. He insisted that I had to be Leia. Because I am a girl. We had some hard conversations about this. I argued that you can pick any kind of costume you want and also that I find Leia to be boring and he was firm in his belief that girls have to dress as girls. Finally, one glorious afternoon, he agreed that I could dress as Admiral Ackbar. Oh, sweet victory!

(You may have noticed that I did not, in fact, dress as Admiral Ackbar.)

After he conceded, I immediately went to my computer to order myself an Admiral Ackbar costume. Here’s the problem: such a thing does not exist.

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I don’t understand it either! Admiral Ackbar is the best.

So if you were wondering how I picked my costume for Halloween it came from pure desperation. Obviously I could not be Leia after all that stuff I said, but I did not really want to be anyone other than Admiral Ackbar. Instead of ordering a costume I had an intense DIY session. It took me almost a whole month to make the Death Star based on these directions. I hadn’t done paper mâché since elementary school, but I was driven by stubbornness and a need to save face in front of my child. (I have found these to be important parenting skills.) Mike was really unsure about this project but I used that opportunity to say things like, “I find your lack of faith … disturbing.” But the truth is that I was unsure about it, too.

In the end it worked out great and was worth all the trouble when Atticus ran up to me and yelled in his Darth Vader voice, “I live on you!” before we gleefully blew up many pretend planets in our neighborhood.

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Were you also wondering about Mike’s outfit? He was torn between his love for Atticus, who wanted him to be a stormtrooper, and his intense hatred of wearing costumes. Last weekend he started to worry that he was going to disappoint Atticus so I told him to go buy a Star Wars t-shirt. When people asked Atticus what his daddy was for Halloween, he said, “Daddy is the title!”

(Nerds.)

on taking a sad song and making it better.

Today is my mom’s birthday! For her birthday we took her to see Paul McCartney. He was in town, he was her favorite when she was a girl, and the Beatles are the greatest band of all time. You can’t say no to seeing a real live Beatle in your town.

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The show was awesome. I guess it would have been better if he played every single song that I know, but he did play 39 songs so I can’t complain. (Seriously, though, he played for three hours. Made me think maybe I should be a vegetarian.)

Here’s what I have been thinking about the past few days: I grew up with a lot of Beatles/Wings songs so of course I know them deep within my soul. Like most of the people in the audience, I sang along as much as I could, belting out “Hey Jude” and “Carry That Weight” completely unselfconsciously. That might sound like no big deal except that I am a terrible singer. I haven’t felt unselfconscious about singing in church (the place I regularly engage with public singing) since my youth group days, when a boy leaned over and said that if I couldn’t sing on key, I shouldn’t sing at all. But on Thursday, there was some kind of special McCartney magic that made it possible for me to join in without the usual hesitations.

I was swept up by the music in a way I don’t think has ever happened at church, where I have so often felt I had to perform in a certain way or have a certain kind of experience or reaction. It made me grateful for the gift of simply being able to sing along with songs I love.

Thanks, Sir Paul, for all the fun. (And for singing the Happy Birthday song. How did you know it was my mom’s birthday?)