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Our Family Read-Aloud
  • The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
    The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
    by Daniel Pinkwater
I'm Reading...
  • Your Five Year Old: Sunny and Serene
    Your Five Year Old: Sunny and Serene
    by Louise Bates Ames
  • Book of Days: Personal Essays
    Book of Days: Personal Essays
    by Emily Fox Gordon
  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League International Book)
    The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League International Book)
    by La Leche League International
  • Gilead: A Novel
    Gilead: A Novel
    by Marilynne Robinson


Empty time is not a vacuum to be filled. –Harry R. Lewis

A little over two years ago when I had just gone back to work—back to work as in a salaried, scheduled, signed-on-the-dotted-line position in a school—I arrived home to find my favorite parenting magazine in the mailbox.  Anticipating a cup of coffee and some gentle mental stimulation, I carried the issue of Wondertime into our apartment and dropped it on the kitchen table.  One of the titles on the cover caught my eye and my heart sank:

The Unhurried Child

I am not exaggerating when I say that it took more than a year for me to open the pages of the magazine and confront that article.  I carried the issue back and forth to the gym for a few months but never took it out of the bag.  With the best intentions, I tossed it into my carry-on bag every time I flew, into my backpack for every weekend away, into my tote every time I headed to a coffee shop for an hour or two of reading time.  I moved it around the apartment, from the pile of reading material on the coffee table to the decorative piles and baskets of magazines and books on various other pieces of furniture. 

I wanted to read that article, I really did. I was certain that the ideas contained within would fit with my hopes and goals for our family.  But when it came to actually opening the pages and moving my eyes over the words, of absorbing the ideas and challenges found in The Unhurried Child, I was a complete coward. 

I was like an addict, unwilling and incapable of looking myself in the mirror.  Somehow I knew that opening up to those pages would put me face-to-face with the questions that would have been eating at my heart if I had not been so adept at forcing them back down below the surface. 

Was I living a hurried life and raising a hurried child

Probably.  When I finally read the article, Catherine Newman’s description of our practice of hurrying children through the day, through even their leisure time, hit close to home.  While I have never felt like we were overly scheduled, having more than two commitments a day when you have young children sets anyone up for those moments of hurrying and nagging, of interrupting the child’s play and process, of valuing the clock and its numbers over almost all else.

I knew that this reading would force me to evaluate my choices.  And it did.  It was a more gentle push than I expected (Thank you for that, Catherine). This reading and a series of events and longings and discussions and other readings have lead me to the place I am in this year, a place of working with intention at limiting our obligations and providing more time for WJ and for our family that is free from the pressing need to move on to the next thing.

But it is not easy and I am often weak.  I am sitting here looking at a pile of registration forms for extracurricular activities for the winter sessions and I am overwhelmed. It seems very easy to make the wrong decisions.  I know that I do not want to break our commitment to going slow but the possibility of missing out on something sits like a miniature me in a red devil unitard on my left shoulder.  And I am fretting.

What would WJ really enjoy doing with the time we have?  How much is too much for a five-year-old?  How much is too much for our family?  Which of these activities are ones that will feed a passion growing in our child?  Which will meet the needs he has, strengthen those places where he needs to grow?

Piano, drama, soccer, karate, dance, swimming…  I’ll let you know what we decide.  I am hoping with a great hope that our choices will be made with slow and unhurried in mind.

How do you decide?  What guidelines do you keep when choosing activities for yourselves and your children?


Half spent

It was with a great and deep sigh of relief that I squeezed into the pew on Christmas Eve.  Surrounded by three generations of my own, I clutched a candle and settled in to listen to the lessons and to sing the carols and to watch for the Light coming into the night.

Concentrating on the words of the carols especially, after this prompting by Emily at Chatting At the Sky, I was struck by a phrase from an old, old hymn. As we sang the end of the first verse of Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, these words tiptoed into my ear, “…amid the cold of winter, when half spent was the night.”  

I was feeling that way.  Like the night was half spent. 

The first part of the night was busy.  It was harder than it needed to be, no doubt, despite our efforts to keep it under control.  We spent our Advent weeks, trimming and trimming, both trimming in preparation for the celebrations—the tree, our home, our hearts—and also trimming in the sense of cutting back and limiting. 

The culmination of this preparation was the annual trip to the airport.  As we drove out of town, I felt accomplished in our well packed but not overfull bags, in our timeliness and preparedness, in our settled spirits. 

But the hand patting my back in eager congratulations was my own and this is the point in most stories when the heroine meets the challenge that shows her air of achievement to be just that. 

My particular challenge was a baggage checking line that stretched the length of the airport and back again.  WJ and I arrived at the airport more than two hours before our scheduled departure.  And we missed our flight.  The four Continental employees working the kiosks could not keep up. 

Standby became our word for the day and we stood and sat and walked and waited in Terminal A as flights arrived and left again without making room for us.  It was ten hours and at least twice as many games of Go Fish before we called it quits and summoned Dave for a ride back home.  He arrived quickly, a true knight in shining armor, with a plan to drive the sixteen hours to my parents’ home.

We grabbed his bags from our apartment and a few spare items for WJ and myself, as our suitcases had miraculously made the flight that we had missed and had arrived in the Midwest well before lunch, and the family set out together for a different kind of adventure than the one we had planned.

Half spent was the night.  Half spent was the night and half spent, I felt, was all I had to offer when I squeezed into that pew on Christmas Eve.  But that is the thing about Christmas.  The baby is not born at the beginning of the story or at the end.  The Light doesn’t enter as the heroine slips the completed Christmas cards into the mailbox just in time to pass out homemade cookies and whiz through airport security.  Nor does the baby come into the picture when the trimming and the driving and the washing up of a carsick child in a roadside restroom have left everyone completely depleted.  Christmastide is a midway point, coming after some waiting, some successes and failures, but well before all hope is lost.

So I breathed a sigh of relief as we all leaned against each other amid the cold on Christmas Eve.  Relief that I have made it this far and relief that there is more to come.  As we lit our candles and lifted them high in the dark of the nighttime church, I welcomed the Good News. 

Happy New Year, by the way, and thank you for reading the first part of our story of slowing down.  I hope you will be taking things slow with us as this year progresses.  It is only half spent.


Merry Christmas


Take heed

Even when you are trying to take things slow, you can do too much.  I thought I was being discriminating but there are signs that I have let the season get the better of me.   This is a shot of WJ in the car at 11:10 AM.  One too many late night; one too many party; one too many sugar high and subsequent crash.  The poor little guy couldn't even stay awake on the way home from church.

My task tonight is to look over the calendar for this week to see what I can subtract.  Will you join me?  Cross a few things off the list even if they aren’t finished?  An obligation that might not be that obligatory? 

Let me know what you subtract.

*This post is part of SteadyMom's 30 Minute Blog Challenge (18 minutes!) 




There is time today for baking.  My mother’s shortbread recipe, which is not really hers but Mrs. Brennan’s.  Shortbread has always meant Christmas in my childhood home.  As we light the second candle of Advent this week, it is a good time for making preparations, for making shortbread.

WJ and I made a batch of shortbread a few months ago, even though it was not Christmas or Advent, because I had left a stick of butter on the counter for over a week and it was beginning to haunt me.  My mother always says that shortbread is better if the butter is a little rancid, which makes most of my contemporaries cringe.  When that butter on the counter caught my eye, however, I knew its fate was a small batch of Scottish cookies.

WJ climbed onto a stool next to me as I cut cookies that day. “How did you learn to make shortbread?” he asked, stretching the word “learn” magically into two syllables for emphasis.  “I learned to from my mother,” I replied.

“And did she learn how to make shortbread from her mother?” he asked.

I explained to him that this was a complicated question.  My grandmother did make shortbread but really Mrs. Brennan had taught both my mother and my grandmother.  Mrs. Brennan, I told WJ, was a wonderful friend.  She and her big Scottish family lived in the basement of the house my grandmother rented when my mother was young.  It is a brilliant story of women supporting each other, of strangers becoming family, of a community finding room for those just arrived.

As the beater turns the butter and sugar today into fluffy goodness and as I slice the sheet of delicate dough into the most perfect diamonds I can manage, I am thinking about this season of waiting, of watching my mother make shortbread, of the work of preparing both heart and home.

I am thinking about the stories we tell in this time, the stories I hope WJ will feel a part of and find a place in

Each night in Advent before he lights the candles at our table, WJ prays the last sentence of our mediation for the season.  Teach us to live as children of God.  At quiet time he gathers the nativity set together and carries it off into his room to tell the story of Mary and Joseph and a baby quietly to himself again and again.

 Those months ago, after pulling lightly browned cookies from the oven and sharing them together, WJ said to me, “Maybe someday I will have a child and when I make shortbread my child will ask me, How did you learn to make shortbread?  And I will tell him, I learned it from my mother and she learned it from her mother, and she learned from a woman from Scotland who lived in their basement.

I hope so. I hope so. May all of these stories be yours.

*This post is part of SteadyMom's 30 Minute Blog Challenge (26 minutes!) and is also linked to Chatting at the Sky's Tuesday Unwrapped.