November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving on the Farm

For the past four years, on or around Thanksgiving we have journeyed to Chester, IL, to spend Thanksgiving on a farm. For three of those years I hoped to return and prepare a reflection blog post about how much I enjoy the farm, the special friendships we have made with people on the farm, and the sense of warmth, acceptance, and belonging we feel when there. 

That post has never happened. Last year, I did not even mention our farm trip on my blog, though I reflected about a new time sucker to my life

This post has never happened in large part because it's difficult to sum up how much we have enjoyed our time at Knapp Centennial Farm. We look forward to this time out in the country, to watching Nash run around and be a farm dog, and to seeing good friends. 

The farm belongs to the Knapp family, and we know a Knapp (now Smith) because Laura is married to Pat, the pastor Lindon worked for in Alabama. Pat and Laura have been really special friends for six years, and they have been tremendous encouragements to us during all kinds of difficult situations. 
So when they insisted we join them for their annual Thanksgiving celebration with Laura's extended family at the farm (which, conveniently, is less than 90 minutes from our house), we thought it would be fun. It is fun, and every year Laura's gregarious family has welcomed us back with increasing levels of enthusiasm. 

This year, while there was no lack of enthusiasm, there was a serious lack of nice weather. It rained all day Thursday, and eventually the rain turned to ice and snow. While we had hoped Levi would get to try out his new walking skills all around the farm, we were stuck indoors all day. Poor Nash had it the worst. We won't go into that. He was very displeased with us. 

Though the weather did not cooperate, we so enjoyed our time with the Knapps (and when I say "Knapp," I mean everyone who was there, whether or not they ever held that last name). It's always fun to hear people "ooh" and "ahh" over your kid, and the Knapps are nothing if not enthusiastic. It made us feel very good! 

And it is always a joy to see Pat and Laura. Laura definitely possesses the Knapp expressiveness, so if you ever have good news you want to share with someone, tell Laura. The result is so gratifying. But don't think she won't tell you the truth straight up when you need to hear it. One of my favorite moments from Thanksgiving was when she came upon a few clueless novices trying to hack through a game of  Scrabble and pronounced, "You've really screwed up this board. This is NOT how it should look at all." She gave them a few pointers, shook her head solemnly, and went on her way. 

And Pat can ask, "How are you doing?" in a way that will bring you to tears, and then he will listen graciously as you pour out your heart to him while he ensures all the leftover turkey meat gets off the carcass and into storage. Then he will offer a bit of encouragement that helps to put things in perspective and remind you of the truths you were about to forget. Not that this happened, mind you...

So despite the wintry mix, we had a nice Thanksgiving. And I got a hat out of the deal. Laura put her fabulous knitting skills to work before Thanksgiving to make a slew of hats for those who would be at the farm. She gave me the very last one. The hats seemed to be a big hit because everywhere you looked, someone's head was topped with a brightly-colored yarn. 

It's a blessing to have friends who will rejoice with you, listen with you, speak the truth to you in love, tell you how beautiful your child is, and keep your head warm. For those kinds of friends, I am incredibly thankful.

November 24, 2010

Why My Husband Amazes Me.

In honor of Thanksgiving and in the spirit of thankfulness, I wanted to dedicate this post to celebrating Lindon. When you spend so much time with someone, it's easy to forget how amazing that person really is. I see Lindon so much and experience his strengths so consistently that I am guilty of forgetting just how special he is.

How special is he, you ask? I will give you a short list of reasons why my husband amazes me.

First, Lindon is funny. He makes people laugh and puts people at ease with his humor. This is a wonderful quality and one I often take for granted, but he has a fantastic gift for making people smile. Lindon laughs often and finds humor in everyday, mundane life situations. I need this because (believe it or not) I tend toward the serious end of the disposition spectrum. It's easy for me to take myself too seriously, fret over perceived slights, and stew over pending doom and gloom. Lindon can diffuse my brooding and help me laugh at myself and life. He fills our house with merriment, and I am so thankful for this. Then there are the times when he unwittingly says something absolutely hilarious. These are my favorite moments, when he just shows the inner workings of his brain without realizing it. It's those moments when he's being funny - and in a way, quite vulnerable - that I find so precious.

Something else I love about Lindon: He's so handsome!
Second, Lindon loves and serves our family well. Anyone who spends most of the day at home with a child(ren) knows how exhausting it can be. This exhaustion can be exacerbated when you're looking for the elusive call and waiting to here from search committees. Yet Lindon does not complain (much). Moreover, he quietly serves our family by grocery shopping, cleaning, running the dishwasher a gazillion times each week, and doing it all with a generally good attitude. What makes all of this even more spectacular to me is that sweet Lindon is an extrovert, meaning he is recharged and re-energized by interaction with other people. Yet he gets very little of this in his current situation. But still, he doesn't complain.

Third, Lindon is an amazing father. His zeal for Levi is a joy for me to watch. Hearing Levi's laughter echo through the house as Lindon plays with him is so satisfying. While so many fathers don't seem to know what to do with their children in infancy, Lindon has exuded competence and ease with Levi from day 1. This is a huge relief to me because often my dealings with Levi have been far from easy and competent. I rely heavily on Lindon for confidence in my parenting Levi, and I am so proud of the way he loves his son.

Next, Lindon is a hard worker. Let's just say this now: school is not Lindon's favorite thing in the world. He will be the first to admit that he is not hard-wired to thrive in a classroom setting. Nonetheless, in May, Lindon completed his Master of Divinity degree from Covenant Seminary. With a full course load, this is a four year master's degree. Not only did Lindon complete this difficult program (Anyone else who is not preparing for PhD work learn two languages in their master's program? Anyone?) in four years, but he kept a respectable grade-point average and earned considerable scholarships every year. He studied his butt off for his classes, submitted himself to the shellacking that is my proofreading, and plowed through the mountain of assignments time after time after time. He took good notes, paid attention in class, turned in his assignments on time, and worked HARD.

And during the summer when Lindon had a break from classes, he worked to make our house lovely. In four years, Lindon renovated the sunroom, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. He painted every room in the house, worked on the house's exterior, and added a deck on the back. These projects were very difficult, and some of the stuff Lindon did was new to him. But he undertook every project with great care and attention to detail, and our home now looks amazing because of his hard work. Yes, there are a few things that need to be finished, but that's ok. I know they will get done.

And the last thing I will mention in this ever-growing post is that my sweet husband loves me well. Frankly, I can be a difficult person. I can be moody; I get frustrated easily; I quickly become critical and judgmental of those I love the most; I berate myself for not living up to some unattainable standard. I lack courage and confidence and need help trying new things. Lindon sees all these things (and has helped me see them, too) and persists in loving me anyway. He gives me confidence when I lack it, counters my criticism with grace and truth, helps me relax when I am moody or frustrated, and patiently puts up with me. He helps me laugh at myself and helps me celebrate how God has made me.

So, Lindon Lee, I am thankful for you. You love me well and serve our family so well with your blend of comedy, drama, and fearlessness. Though you are currently underemployed, I believe in your tremendously. Your gifting for ministry is apparent, and I have every confidence you will find a call where you will not only serve well, but thrive. Thank you for loving me and loving Levi and emptying the dishwasher.

November 23, 2010

Not only the gospel of God but our lives as well...

There are several archetypal blog posts that are so cliche I try to avoid them at all costs, but whenever I mention them, it's because I am about to venture into cliche archetypal blogging territory. This time, it's the "don't you wish your friends were as great as mine" blog post. In my hyper-critical opinion, blogging about how you have "the best" friends who "have always been there for me" and "know me like no one else" and "[insert inside joke here]" is really, REALLY lame. Like, I-will-never-read-your-blog-again lame. Also, I need to put down in writing now how much I despise the phrase "I love us!" when used to describe a photo of you and your friends. Now that this pet peeve is public, I expect a family member will use this caption on several photos of me in the next few weeks.

Ok, rant over. Now on to my cliche hypocrisy
On Sunday Lindon and I had lunch at the house of some friends. This was a celebratory lunch, and most of our closest St. Louis friends were there. We celebrated two birthdays and one adult baptism, three fairly big events. The mood was jolly, but there was also lots of poking fun, fervently discussing theology, arguing, and spilling drinks. For his part, Levi made a spectacular swat at a beer that ended up all over the carpet.
Because of the demands of feeding and chasing a near-toddler (for every beverage he swatted there were six more begging to be attacked, not to mention the furniture he sought to damage), I did not get much time to actually visit with my friends. But for not being able to visit much, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the different conversations going on around me. Savoring these interactions and feeling a sense of belonging even when not engaged in conversation made me appreciate these friends all the more.

While I don't want to gush too much here, these friends do know me well and have indeed supported me through some hard, discouraging times. They can speak difficult truths to me without making me feel threatened, and we pray for each other in such a way that makes us deeply invested in one another's lives.

And we all love to sing. So after lunch we opened up the hymnals and sang together. Yes, there were enough hymnals to go around, another reason I love this group. This might sound to you, dear reader, like the cheesiest activity imaginable, but for me it was a precious gift. Doing something you love is a joy. Doing it with people you love is an even greater joy. While choosing songs to sing contributed to its share of debating (my best friends are an opinionated bunch!), it was so lovely to hear our voices raised (a capella and in four-part harmony, no less!) in song. And when someone suggests a song(s) to sing, it says something about him or her, offering a glimpse into what that person holds dear.

The whole afternoon was so sweet. Often I thought of the passage in I Thessalonians where Paul tells the church, "we loved you so much that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us."

My St. Louis friends are people with whom I have shared the gospel of God. All of us are in St. Louis to prepare for sharing the gospel of God in various ministry capacities, but along the way we have shared our lives as well. The bonds that have developed are deep and rich. Sharing one's life with others can be frightening, to be sure. Allowing others to see your mess is disconcerting. But it is through friends and in the mess that the gospel of God can sometimes shine brightest.

I am thankful for these wonderful friends with whom we have shared our lives. As Lindon and I wait and hope for a call, it brings me tremendous comfort to know our friends are waiting with us, praying with us, and singing with us.

November 19, 2010

Because he IS his father's son, after all...

Warning: Gratuitous baby story follows.

In the Fowler family, one of the stories that has made it into folk lore (for multiple reasons) is the tale of Lindon aggravating his mother by cracking his knuckles. It goes a little something like this:

Lindon's mother regularly chided her littlest blond child to quit cracking his knuckles. He got his revenge when she visited his second grade class (poetic license there; I don't exactly remember the grade) for parent visitation day. As she sat in the back of the class with the other parents, Lindon turned around, made eye contact with her, and, one by one, cracked his knuckles while she watched helplessly.

Fast forward 25ish years to yesterday. For the past few weeks we have tried to teach Levi to keep his precious little hands off of things that are breakable and/ or dangerous. Mostly the usual electrical outlets, picture frames, computer keyboards, space heaters, etc. Since "Levi, get your hands off of that right now, mister!" is a bit long, we've truncated that rant to "no touch." We probably say it 70 times a day. 

Wednesday I had a writing gig that came up suddenly and had an urgent deadline, which meant I spent concentrated amounts of time on the phone regardless of what Levi was doing. While I did not mind if he squawked in the background while I conducted my interviews, it really did not work for me to keep saying, "Levi, no touch!" while trying to listen and type. Levi must have figured this out because during my last call of the day I spied him out of the corner of my eye lounging in front of the space heater. I turned to him and mouthed the words, "No touch!!" He looked straight at me and smiled. Then, without breaking eye contact, he reached that little hand back and began stroking the space heater. I mouthed more emphatically, "NO TOUCH!!" complete with raised eyebrows and a wagging finger. Levi stopped stroking for just a second. Then he burst out laughing and returned to stroking the space heater.

It's not a great feeling to watch helplessly as your son does something he really ought not do. But it's also hard to be too mad at this little face. At least, it's hard right now. Certainly Levi whittle away at my sympathies over the years, just as his father did for my mother-in-law.

November 13, 2010

Notice anything different?

Ok, ok, ok, there is really nothing much to notice. But I hope there will be soon. Namely, better photos, and maybe more of them. Today I took a quick class on how to take a better picture. My church offered it as part of its annual arts festival. Photography really interests me, but my eye lacks the training to capture a good photo. I hoped that taking a basic class might help me gain some understanding of what makes a good photo and how to take more of them. I definitely left inspired and decided to try out some of my new wisdom on my favorite guinea pig: Levi.

One of my goals for this class was to get some tips to snag better photos of my kiddo. Really, I should spend more time with my camera and manual in order to better understand how the thing works. But the more information I have, the better chance I feel I have for capturing Mr. On The Go. 

The instructor's biggest point - the one prefaced by "If you take nothing else away from this class..." - was to shoot with sidelight rather than front light. So I tried to eschew obvious light sources and go for natural side lighting. It helped that today was a cloudy day, so I was able to snap better photos, even indoors. 

The next concept for better photography was to incorporate texture into one's photos to help the eye differentiate what it sees. Also, the instructor emphasized shooting from lots of different angles, not just shooting at eye level. I love the look on Levi's face here, and the fact that he's sitting on his book. Plus, the carpet texture adds interest. 

There is nothing particularly good about the photo below, but Levi is crinkling his nose and exhaling, a trick he learned from Grandpa when my parents were in town. Levi is now primed and ready to blow his nose next time he gets a cold!

This photo demonstrates why I need to know my camera better. I must snap fast before the little hands get to me.

I like the lines in this photo: the white trim, the coffee table, and the door. Lines are good, as I learned this morning. 

This is a bit of a fail photo.

This shot is closer to what I wanted in the photo above. I hoped to catch Levi sticking his mouth on the edge of the baby gate. Of course this is't a prize winning photo, but I like the contrast in the grid on the gate with the beige background and Levi's blue shirt. Also, his expression kills me. Perhaps I should find a new photography subject who isn't so adorable. Levi clouds my objective opinion of my work.

After the camera again. 

Levi is also cruisin' for a bruisin' with Nash the Wonderdog. Sweet Nash is oh so tolerant of Levi's pounding, pinching, and poking, but I think the poor dog is losing patience. We often find ourselves intervening when Nash lets out a warning growl. I don't think he would actually harm Levi, but we also don't want to find out. 

Such a cute kid! 

Any of you photographers have advice you would like to add? 

November 11, 2010

Thursday Seems Like a Good Enough Time for a Weekend Update...

What a weekend! I still cannot believe my precious child is one year old. My parents came into town to celebrate with us and to celebrate Lindon's birthday, which just happens to be the day after his son's. Poor husband. I hope that throughout the rest of his life he is not the day-after-afterthought birthday.

But back to Levi. He was a sport through the birthday celebration. He enjoyed the attention and loved playing with his gifts almost as much as he enjoyed playing with the wrapping paper and gift bags. The much-anticipated birthday cake moment, however, was quite anti-climactic. Apparently Levi was so tired of eating and being in his high chair by cake time that the cupcake with the candle held no appeal for him. He did not humor us in the slightest. After thrice throwing the cupcake on the ground, Levi finally won, and we let him get down and play with some tissue paper.

Levi's opinion notwithstanding, the pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream cheese frosting were really quite good. I ate far too many of them. At least they were healthy.

Not surprisingly, for the past week I have reminisced a bit about what I was doing one year ago. Throughout the weekend my parents periodically asked me, "One year ago on this day, what were you doing?" I remember most of the week of Levi's birth in tremendous detail.These are not always happy remembrances because going four days past one's due date is not fun. At the time I thought I was fine, and I really did my best to keep a good attitude. But in retrospect, it was a hard week.

Same goes for the few days after Levi was born. I was too determined to not whine about my newborn to admit how difficult those first few days actually were. But they were hard. I really, REALLY am thankful for the difference one year can make. I am also thankful for the amazing support I had during those first few weeks - my parents, my in-laws, friends, and of course my fabulous husband. He has helped me tremendously during the past year, and I am so thankful!

In the aftermath of our celebration weekend, we are back to life as usual. Levi continues to be cute and sweet and active. I work. Lindon seeks a job. We eagerly anticipate Thanksgiving festivities at the Knapp farm for the fourth year in a row. And I eagerly anticipate another chance to make pumpkin spice cupcakes!

November 6, 2010

To my son Levi on his first birthday

Dearest Levi:

One Day
It's hard to overemphasize how dramatically you have changed
One Month
my life. The moment your dad said, "It's a boy!" at 7:00 p.m., on November 6, 2009, and I thought to myself, "This baby has big hands," and the nurse placed you on my chest, is a moment I will never forget. In that instant a new love began coursing through my veins the likes of which I had never known. 

Because of you, I am a momma, and that is a role I cherish, a role you first gave to me. Since that moment you have redefined my life in both big and small ways. My tolerance for pain and grossness has expanded; my ability to function while sleep deprived is way better than a year ago; I have more patience thanks to you, and my life has more joy than I ever could have imagined because you are in it.You continually find new ways to make me laugh and challenge my ideas of how life might look.

Two Months

Three Months
And Levi, on your first birthday, I can say with confidence that I have high hopes for you, dear son. I hope and pray that one day you will claim the promises of Christ that we now claim on your behalf. My hope is that your easy laugh will echo through our home for countless birthdays to come. Despite the fact that my momma instincts want you to never, ever experience a drop of pain or heartache, I know that there is no use wishing these things away from you or trying to create a problem-free existence for you. Instead, I hope that when the ugliness of this world confronts you, you would not flinch, but would look beyond it to the hope that Christ is indeed coming back and will redeem every heartache, disappointment, and grief.

Four Months
Five Months
I hope that you always know that your parents love each other and love you more than words can say. I hope you see your family members as gifts, fallen and broken thought we might be. Son, I must tell you again what I've been telling you since the day you were born. Your mother is deeply flawed and will undoubtedly make horrid mistakes in raising you. Thankfully you will not remember much of your first year because my response to you has not always been loving or pretty. But I hope to get better, and I hope that God will use me and your dad in your life in wonderful ways, despite our sins and failings.
Six Months

Seven Months
Happy birthday, dear son. Thank you for being such a sweet, easy-going, and joyful baby. Thank you for the life and vibrance you have added to our home.

I have high hopes for you. Hopes not based on your inherent goodness or my wonderful mothering skills, but on Christ's love, finished work, and promises.
Eight Months

I love you so much.

Very truly yours,

Nine Months

Ten Months

Eleven Months

November 3, 2010

Finishing Projects

Last week, we began (FINALLY) putting the finishing touches on some things around the house that were years in the making. In the ante-blog era of the Fowler's life, Lindon decided to do some projects around the house. He talked about it for a few months, and I agreed it would be a good way for him to spend his summer (in reality, summers). He wanted to start with our sunroom, which I thought was fine, since we spent so much time in there anyway. Then one day while I was at work I got a phone call. It was Lindon.

"Be careful when you come home," he said. "I tore the walls off in the sunroom."

And with that unceremonious start, our summers of projects began. Most of the projects were completed in the normal course of business, but the sunroom was one project that just seemed to drag on forever.

In good home remodeling fashion, as Lindon renovated, he sometimes created new problems. Case in point: our sunroom flooring issue. When we moved into our house, the sunroom floor was carpet squares. But once Lindon had insulated the room, framed it in, and drywalled, those squares did not quite fit.

Levi and Charlie the Little will serve as our models for this point. Notice that dark line by Levi's right knee? That's a gap between the carpet squares. And guess what curious little boys like to do with those gaps? Play with them.

Charlie the Little was a bit chagrined on Levi's behalf by the gaps in the carpet squares that he observed (like the one behind him on his right in this photo). He found them quite stressful, as did Lindon, who could hardly be in the sunroom without noticing all the gaps.

But now! Now we have new carpet, and it is just lovely.  No gaps here!

While we were making changes to make our lives easier, we decided our loverly sunroom would serve us far better as the office instead of just a nice sitting room. As we prepared for Levi's birth, we just thought we would live in this house until we moved after graduation. We assumed Lindon would have a job waiting for him, and after graduation we would head out of town. That did not happen.

So finally we stopped to reassess Levi's living quarters and how poorly the roomed functioned as a bedroom and office. So the sunroom is now the office, and Levi's bedroom is just a bedroom. More photos will come of this later. 

It amazes me how quickly I become accustomed to a certain set of circumstances and don't stop to reevaluate them. Clutter which starts out as a temporary state easily turns into a regular fixture on the counter because I stop seeing it for what it is. Once Lindon and I shook off the stupor of life as we knew it, we noticed so many possibilities for beauty and order in our house.