Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hanging out with Allie

Alex is honing her raspberry blowing techniques. Now it mainly consists of glomming onto your face with a spitty mouth and blowing.

And here's one more video for the true Alexandra aficionado, of her doing nothing in particular. I'm sure my mom will find it highly engaging.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Aunt's House

Homes are important to me. There's my parents home, where I lived my whole life and where my parents still live. There's my grandma's house, where I spent nearly every holiday growing up. And there's my Aunt Cin and Uncle Stan's house, one of my favorite places. My uncle died when I was in college, and my aunt sold the house years ago. Last night I laid in bed worrying that in 20 years I wouldn't remember all the little details that meant so much to me as a child. So here are all the little things that made that house my second home.

My aunt and uncle lived in Parker when it was still "the country" and Denver metro still a finite entity. We would drive out to their home in the country nearly every weekend (I think - one doesn't keep close track as a kid). On clear nights, we'd lay on their front lawn on blankets and look for shooting stars and satellites. On Saturday afternoons, we'd mosey up their dirt drive to offer carrots to Wilbur, their neighbor's horse. And on summer days, we'd play in their free-standing pool in the backyard.

My favorite room to remember is their bedroom. On nights when my parents would stay up late talking with my aunt and uncle, they'd tuck Tara and me in their big bed. They always had a large stuffed animal on the bed that looked like some kind of monster. I can't remember it's name - Dilbert perhaps? - but we loved it. On either side of the bed were my Uncle Stan's stained glass lamps he'd made, navy blue and white, on dimmer switches. As a kid, the dimmer switches seemed like magic. I remember running my finger over the switch like a talisman. They also had an electric blanket - truly, it was a magical bedroom. I remember the sweet feeling of drifting off to sleep in their cozy bed listening to the sounds of talking in the living room with my sister's warmth beside me.

My Aunt Cin had little magical things hidden all over the house. In the living room, there was a display cabinet full of tiny glass miniatures, each compartment with a different statue, a little mouse in this one, a little bear in that one. My aunt loves beautiful things, and so they were scattered around her house, from the embroidered towels in the bathroom to her china hutch in the front room. For some reason, I also vividly remember a basket full of wooden apples that sat on the living room floor. I would stroke the basket and long to bite into the deep red of the fake apples.

In the hallway hung a quilted picture my aunt had made of their home. It showed Willy, their collie/shelty, it showed Wilbur peeking over the fence, and my favorite was the little quilted pool. In the kitchen, it seemed there was always lemonade or iced tea to drink and magnets on the fridge from my aunt and uncle's travels in New England.

The basement is where us kids often played. There was a pool table, and I loved putting the pool balls in the pockets and watching them wind their way through the inner workings of the table (it had a clear side you could view the balls through). My uncle's stained glass studio was in the basement and he'd take us in to show us his latest projects. And on long afternoons when I didn't much feel like playing pool, I'd play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego on their computer (which is why I know where Reykjavik is).

Late at night, my parents would bundle us up to make the drive home. I'd sink deep into the car seat and peer into the dark pine trees - sure that their were wolves out there that would just love to have a little girl for a midnight snack.

I realize that reading about all these disparate elements probably doesn't seem highly interesting from an outside view. But it reminds me of how it's so many little things that make up a home - simple things like the iced tea in your fridge to the embroidered towels in the bathroom. It reminds me of the wonder of the world through a child's eyes, and it excites me that I get to create a place of warmth and wonder for my daughter, just like my aunt did for me.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Bodies: A Means to and End or Our Master?

As I've been thinking more about these thoughts, they've led me to what I think is my conclusion:

Our body is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

It seems like a simple premise, but I think we (I) often get things muddled up. When, as I said in the last post, our attention to health and our bodies becomes the focus of our lives, it can become our god. And when it becomes our god, it is no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself.

Just to get all spiritual on you, Paul viewed the body as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

So often I hear the introductory verses of this passage to justify physical training, without mentioning the last verse, which is the clincher. Paul sees the point in physical training: Not to have the body of an Adonis, but to make our bodies our slaves - so that we can do the work that God has for us. But so many of us in our physical training and quest for health aren't doing it to make our body our slave - so that we can fulfill our purposes - but are making the body our master. We are making it an end in itself that absorbs all our time, energy and thoughts. 

For me, this becomes less theory and more direct application when I think of setting my ideal body weight - the weight at which I seek to stay to be healthy. With my ideal weight, I have to ask myself, what is my end? Here's some options.

Hot Bikini Body Let's be honest, a lot of people set their ideal body weight where they think they will look hot. And I have done this myself. But setting my weight to optimum bikini-age is making my body an end in itself, not a means to an end. 

Pleasing Your Spouse It's not wrong, though, to want to look good. It's a God-given desire that can go awry, but in it's purest form is a desire to bring joy to our spouse. In this way, having a hot bod is a means to an end and not an end in itself. But - and here's the big but (no pun intended) - when setting our ideal weight do we honestly have our spouse's delight in mind or our own or society's vain idea of what beauty is? 

If I truly seek what my husband finds beautiful, it is different from what society tells me. If I followed pop culture, I would lose an additional 10 to 20 pounds to gain that boyish figure that is so popular. But, as it turns out, my husband likes women, not boys. He also likes a happy, contented wife. A Size-Two Amber is not a happy Amber. It's a body-obsessed, quick-to-anger Amber. (Trust me, I've been there.) So I, happily, stay a little more padded for my husband's good and my own good. While I'll never be on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition (not that I would want to, blech), my husband is delighted with me, which is the reason God gave me beauty in the first place. I always have to remember that my beauty is for the purpose of delighting my husband - not myself or anybody else. 

Playing with my Family Another end to which my body is a means is enjoying and engaging in life with my family. I want to be able to chase Allie around the house and hike mountains with Mike. So I set my body weight where I can comfortably do those things. It's not the same weight as if I wanted to run a marathon, but luckily, that's not an end to which I aspire. (Not that there's anything wrong with it if you do, as long as you don't become slave to your body.)

Work to my Best Ability Another end my body serves is to work - to provide and care for my family. If I am tired out, stressed out or not sleeping well, my body isn't serving its purpose. And, ironically, this can happen because I've not paid enough attention to my health or because I've paid too much attention to it. Like Paul, we beat our bodies to serve our purposes, not to serve it as our master.  

It might seem like I'm being awful redundant, and I am. I am preaching to myself, as it's something I constantly need to hear. My body is not an end in itself. My purpose on this earth is not to sculpt my abs to look good in a swimsuit. My abs are here to serve me so that I can bend over and pick up Allie 400 times a day and face with strength all the many things God has prepared for me to do each day. My body serves me. I don't serve it. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Time!

Kristin Chenoweth: Who are you wearing tonight?

Alexandra: My great-grandmother Thelma's pearls and my great-grandmother Dorothy's purse.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Very Cute Day

Today, Allie killed me with cuteness. First she wore these red Dorothy slippers, hand-me-downs from the Egger girls. (And those are Haylie's tights, if you want to know.)

Then  she played dress up with my hats.

I tried to get her to play in the snow today - we got about five inches overnight - but she decidedly disliked the snow. I think there was too much of it so she felt uncertain walking in it. Then this afternoon, she fell down our stairs from the very top step to the third step from the bottom. I was standing at the top of the stairs at the time, and it was horrifying to watch my little baby flip over backward, hit her head and neck on the stairs and flip over again. I ran down and caught her at the bottom. My adrenaline was pumping so hard that I was panting and my heart was beating like I'd run a marathon. Allie doesn't have any signs of a concussion and seems to be fine, other than one eye being puffy and red. I was so distraught that afterward I climbed into her crib with her to play, so I could be near to her. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Outside My Window

Outside my Window... There is deer scat absolutely everywhere. I think our front lawn is a deer night club. Each day I wake up to new piles. And of course, there's nothing more tempting for Alexandra to pick up and eat than nice round deer scat which looks awful similar to chocolate chips.

I am thinking... of nothing! Whenever I do one of these it's because I can think of nothing to write about and I feel guilty only posting videos of Allie. (I'll still post videos of Allie, but with the pretense of all these words beforehand.) 

I am thankful for...Our friends at church who know us and care about us. For my husband who just built me an extra shelf in our laundry room and shelving in the garage.

From the kitchen... Oy vay. This last week has been madness. Just a hint: I had cream gravy three times, and I wasn't even visiting my grandma in Texas. Most of our meals have been catered or bought out the last week, and I'm ready to get back to normal. Tomorrow I'll be making Liz's recipe by way of Krista: Cranberry Chicken. I've heard it's so good it can even tempt my red-blooded brother-in-law away from red meat to chicken.

I am wearing... This one always sounds so creepy. But I'm game: hand-me-down jeans, sport socks and a striped T-shirt. But I did watch Project Runway last night. Vicarious fashion.

I am reading... Africa Trek, about two Frenchies who walked from the Cape of Good Hope to Jerusalem. I keep having to skip all the bits about violence in South Africa. I've stopped several books this year already because of violence. I just reached my lifetime quota of anecdotes about human violence. I'm done. I only want to hear nice things about babies and ducks the rest of my life. And speaking of Africa Trek, I officially don't know how to spell "Africa." Every time I have tried for the last several weeks (which is often, in my line of work), I spell it "Afrika."

I am hoping... That we can find a new church home with our friends soon. New Life is giving us free lunch the next two weeks in a row. They know the way to my heart - free food!

I am hearing... My husband cooing over pictures of Allie. He is smitten. Almost every night, we spend 30 to 45 minutes talking about how cute Allie is before we go to sleep. Do other parents do this? Are we just especially obsessed?

I am creating... Nada! Unless you count money. I am "creating" money working each day. That's gotta count for something. I have come to the firm realization that I don't like creating physical things. I don't like using my hands. I like telling other people to use their hands like this, "Hey, Mike - go refinish my fireplace!"

Around the house... Baby boots, teddy bears, nail guns and hammers. We're soft with a hard edge around here.

One of my favorite things... Maple brown sugar mini wheats. "Hi, my name is Amber. And I'm addicted to mini wheats." (Really, I believe a firm 35% of the total calories I've ingested over the course of my lifetime has been in mini wheat form.)

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week... Write a report on a malaria net distribution, brainstorm ideas for motivational posters for my workplace, attend a training webinar on some new software for work, watch tomorrow's episode of the Bachelor, repent from watching the Bachelor, and try out New Life and greedily gobble up their food.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you...

I'm thinking of becoming one of those parents who makes their kids become an accomplished dancer, singer and ventriloquist by age two. Also, Allie wanted to show Haylie how much she loves the shirt she gave her. But she didn't want to smile for the photo.

Here is a video thought I am sharing with you...

My mom taught Allie this new game in which she tries to catch bumble bees in her mouth and eat them. Yum, yum.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kisses on Skype

Allie called out for "Boppa" several times today, so I let her reunite over Skype tonight. She wanted to give them many kisses.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend Update

I was looking back at what we have done the past five Valentine's days in a row - go to Estes Park - and feeling like we needed to blow this joint and head out of town. But, alas, it's been too busy a week and weekend to get free. But we have still had a very nice Valentine's week/end.

On Wednesday, we went to Texas Roadhouse, courtesy of Mike's parents, where Alexandra learned the beauty of cream gravy. On Thursday, Mike brought me flowers and we had a catered feast from Garden of the Gods Gourmet, including scrumptious spinach-artichoke dip. (Courtesy of which, I may have eaten two cups of cream cheese single-handedly in the past three days.) On Saturday, my parents came down to see us, which was the best Valentine's gift Allie could have gotten. She was so happy to see them that she spent the first thirty minutes sitting quietly in their laps. (Something unheard of in this household.) She truly loves her grandparents, and I only wish we lived closer to all our family so she could see them more.

In the afternoon, my parents made my week when they watched Allie for a couple of hours so Mike and I could go hiking on our own. I learned how out of shape I've become. But we also discovered a new trail I haven't been on before that wasn't ravaged by the fire, which was so refreshing.

Then today was our church's last meeting together. Sitting there listening to the worship and seeing all the people around me made me realize how much this place has grown to mean to us in the last four years. Several people (myself and Mike included) got to share how the church has impacted them, and it was a very encouraging time. I was reminded of how we were all brought together for a short period of time, but in that time, so many of us were changed (I was healed from my bitterness toward church), and now we are able to go out and give that blessing to others. I wanted some memorabilia from the church, so I took this video of our worship today. I can spot so many people in the crowd who mean so much to me.

After church and lunch, we went with our small group to Casa Bonita in fancy dress. Allie wore her new dress from Grandma Van in honor of the spring temperatures.

It was perfect to go someplace silly after a heavy morning.

Allie loved the waterfall and running around and exploring. She didn't love Black Bart's Cave - too scary for her. We took Allie's first western photo with our friends the Emelanders. The first of many, hopefully. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Warrior Princess

Alexandra's new favorite toy, courtesy of the ring wraiths.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First Snow and Gummy Bear

Yesterday, we had our first sizable amount of snowfall in a long time, so Alexandra got to experience the fluffy white stuff. Now she loves pointing out the window and saying, "snow." (You can hear her say it in this video at about 0:28, though it sounds a lot more like "no.")

One of the things that makes Alex happiest in life is listening to the Gummy Bear Song. For a time, I didn't let her listen to it because she'd throw tantrums if she didn't get to listen to it continuously. Then a few days ago, I decided to reintroduce Mr. Bear because she loves it so much and to train her to be OK with only watching it once...Many tantrums later, the Gummy Bear is once again banished from our home. Here is one of the last times Alex got to watch it. Rest in peace, Gummy Bear.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Change and Church

I wasn't sure what to write about, so I decided to look back at what I wrote about 5 years ago today...The answer was nothing. I didn't start this blog until March five years ago. So I went for 4 years ago, and what I found was kismet. Four years ago on February 8, 2009, I wrote a grumpy post about how Mike and I wanted to find a church and how it was hard.

In the comments of that post, a friend of mine invited me to a church she and her husband had been attending. We visited it the next week, and have been going there ever since. It had everything we had been looking for - a community in which people really knew each other and were involved in one another's lives. Fast forward four years, and we've still been happily attending this church that we now consider our family, where we lead a small group, and where Mike is a deacon.

But last week, it was announced that our church is closing and merging with New Life Church. If you know anything about New Life, then you know that our itty bitty church merging with it is comparable to a tugboat merging with a Carnival Cruise Ship. (It has 10,000 plus people.) The one thing I told Mike when I moved to the Springs was, "I don't want to go to a megachurch." So it's kind of funny. :) 

Mike and I aren't sure what we're going to do. We'll give New Life a shot and see how that goes. (New Life is actually reserving a primo-section for our church so we can all sit together in their ginormo auditorium!) Mike and I definitely have a sense of loss for our small tight-knit community. But we know that there is good ahead of us too. 

It was actually a comfort to go back and read what I wrote four years ago. I was yearning for community, and God answered that prayer through a comment on this blog. Now we once again face uncertainty. But the God who answered that prayer four years ago is still God today. Life is always changing, one way or the other, but I'm reminded of the words of Psalm 139:4, "You hem me in—behind and before."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Our Little Goofball

Today, Mike was cleaning out our furnace room, so Alexandra got to rediscover her bouncer. These videos perfectly portray her zest for life and laughter.

Comparative Parenting

"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.'” Luke 18:9-14

When I was pregnant and when Alexandra was an infant, I read a lot on parenting, being the conscientious rule follower that I am. I got some good tips that helped us a lot in Alex's first months. But I stopped reading much on parenting because it left me feeling...icky. Now that I have some sleep and time between me and parenting conversations, I realize what it is. There's a certain self-righteous, comparative pride that seeps into so much discussion on parenting. 

To some degree, comparison is inherent in any conversation on parenting because you are talking about behaviors that you want in your child vs. behaviors that you don't want in your child. But in my experience, so often what starts as useful wisdom on parenting can morph into something like the Pharisee's prayer in Luke 18: "God, I thank you that my child isn't like those other children - unruly, rude and undisciplined. My children take consistent naps and eat only organic vegetables."

OK, silly example, but the Pharisee's prayer sounds eerily similar to many parenting conversations. Rather than starting from the premise of the tax collector, "Dear God, what in the world am I doing? Have mercy on me, a parent!" We exalt our superior parenting techniques above others, "confident of our own righteousness." 

As I see it, one of the biggest problems in this culture (besides the insidiousness of self-righteousness) is the concern with how others perceive us. In many of the conversations (whether it be in books, on blogs, on discussion forums, or in person), the focus is on how we are perceived as parents by other parents. I've read many a statement like this: "When I go out with my daughter, everyone marvels at how well behaved she is, and they talk about how lucky I am to have an "easy" child. But I know that she's like that because of the choices I've made as a parent." 

While we should rejoice in hard-won triumphs in parenting, there is a definite sense of superiority and competition in the sentiments. And I wonder how easy it is for this to morph into a motivating desire for others to see what good parents we are. Some sources I've read even seem to fear parents into certain techniques, lest others see that they run a lax household. Rather than being motivating by a desire to please God in our parenting, we slip into legalistic fear-based parenting in which how others perceive us as a family is paramount. It reminds me of the 1950s stereotype of a family that might be rotten at the core, but looks good from the outside.

So what is the answer to openly discussing parenting without falling into self-righteousness and being motivated by how others perceive us? I think it's a good dose of grace, freedom and love in our communications. Of course, we have to compare techniques to decide what path we think is the best for our children. But if we do that in a vacuum, without the freedom we have in Christ, the love we are to show one another, and the grace that we all desperately need, then we may end up sounding like the Pharisee. 

(And, as a parting treat, if you aren't familiar with the inflammatory nature of parenting discussions, especially in online forums, watch this little nugget from 30 Rock which is pretty accurate.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Busy, busy

I haven't had much to say lately (or rather, I haven't had time to put into words what I have to say lately), so I've wanted to substitute words for pictures. But these days Alex runs from the camera and video camera, so it's hard to catch any interesting shots of her.

She's been busy, busy, busy, running around, exploring and touching everything. She must burn 20,000 calories a day. We think she's been getting bored with her two introvert parents at home, so we've been taking her exploring in Lowe's and Sam's Club and Walmart, which she just goes nutty for. Here's a short video of her exploring in the backyard today. (You can hear her say, "no, no, no" to the camera, letting me know her displeasure at being filmed.)

She's also busy working on lots of new words. "Bumpa" for grandpa, "mo" for milk, and "bawa" for water.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Derek Gordon, Called to Serve

Here's an interview I did with one of Compassion's employees who helps make our CIVs happen. CIVs are things like water projects, medical interventions, and skills training. Derek's a very intelligent and talented man who is humble in his desire to help other people. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday

As you know, if you know me at all, I don't care about football. But I do care about dressing my daughter in cute outfits, and thus even I can enjoy Super Bowl Sunday. Today I discovered Alex's hair is long enough for a ponytail. Big day. Usually she won't allow a bow or rubber band in her hair for more than 3 seconds, which is why she looks like Terry McDermott most of the time, but she can't actually feel the ponytail to pull it out. This opens a whole new world for her mother of putting ribbons in her hair.

We're going to make a big pot full of spicy meatballs and bring them over to a friend's to watch the Super Bowl. We'll most likely play Plague and Pestilence instead of actually watching any football. What are you all up to?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Feeding the Giraffes

Alexandra got to feed the giraffes for the very first time. She was pretty excited.