Tuesday, July 31, 2012

the water's fine!

I don't remember learning to swim. Truly, I don't. I was one of those "brother/sister threw me in and I figured it out" stories. I do remember swimming lessons every summer. They were in the morning at the Lawrence Municipal Pool. It was usually still dewy and cool, and we would jump in quickly. There were sometimes storms and lightning. Then we would have to clear the pool until the lightning stopped. But if it was just raining, we kept on. I took lessons every summer for six or seven years. The final level was pretty crazy, now that I think back on it. We had to jump in fully clothed with jeans, remove our clothes while treading water, and tie our jeans into a knot to use to help rescue someone who was drowning. We had to tread water for five minutes. We had to do the dead man's float for ten minutes. We had to do four pool lengths of each of the strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, sidestroke). I doubt I could do any of that anymore! But I was and am a proficient swimmer. I have no fear of drowning unless I am sucked into a very strong current.

One of my very few early-early childhood memories is of being at the pool with my mom. I assume we were there because my brother and sister wanted to swim. She would hold me close and walk around the waist-level water. I would float in her arms, falling in and out of sleep. I remember it was warm and the water noises were very soothing.

For all these reasons and more, I love going to the pool now. I love boating and being out on the lake and ocean, as well. But something is special about the pool. I was so excited at the beginning of this summer because Vicki Jo is old enough to go to the pool and really have a few hours of fun before the sun tires her out. Before we moved from Topeka, in the nasty armpit of a heat wave, we were going three and four times a week:

Topeka has a couple of very awesome aquatic centers. Going there invariably made my day better. I would race home from work, throw on our swimsuits and slather on sunscreen, and speed to the pool. It made me feel like I was seven years old. All day long I would be fantasizing about jumping off the 5-meter platform. Jeff would get a hot dog, some Cheetos, and a Mountain Dew and we would split our naughty snacks before going home to eat dinner.

When we moved to Nashville, I was confident that a major metropolitan area would have dozens of these kinds of neighborhood pools or municipal aquatic centers. Sadly, I was wrong. There is a wave pool, and there are YMCAs, but there isn't something like what I had as a child: a gathering space for swimming and fun as a part of the city's recreational bureau. Someone at church mentioned the pool that used to be in Centennial Park (Nashville's huge, central green space west of downtown). I learned the rueful history of a magnificent city pool that closed rather than be integrated in the 60s. And I realized we had moved to the South.

Ronald, our church's custodian, who is also African-American, told a story this morning about how he used to wash houseboats out on Old Hickory Lake to make money as a teenager. He blew me away when he got to this point in his story: "And I couldn't swim." What!? You washed houseboats, were on the lake every day, and you couldn't swim?

Then, I went to my office, sat down at the desk and turned on the radio, and heard this podcast about how American minorities struggle to learn how to swim and have the highest child drowning rates. It was so sad for me because I was immediately aware that one of the issues has to be lack of access. If there isn't a cheap neighborhood pool within walking distance to go and hang out in the summer, how will you learn to swim?

To me, this seems to be a basic public safety concern. Our society's children should know how to swim, if they are able. I view it as essential for my child to learn those skills. She will certainly take lessons when the time comes. And hopefully, she will want to do it because she loves being at the pool, out on the lake, or taking a dip in the ocean. I want her to feel comfortable and safe around the water. I want that for all children.

Monday, July 30, 2012

larry the cucumber

Those who have spent any time in a church nursery will be familiar with the fantastic Veggie Tales.  It's exactly what it sounds like.  Anthropomorphized vegetables that act out and tell Bible stories.  Strange, I know.  But kids LOVE IT.  The silly songs, the simple morals at the heart of the stories.  I know children who have learned way more about God's love for them through Veggie Tales than any other medium in church.

Larry the Cucumber is one of my favorites.  I especially love the part he plays in the retelling of the story of Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel.

I thought of Larry when Jeff's mom gave me a bag full of cucumbers from her garden the other day.  You can only get so far eating cukes on salads and as snacks, though.  I decided to try some pickles.  Jeff's stepdad has been raving about his special pickle "recipe."  There's not much to it, but it's a great way to have pickles at the ready if you love sour stuff like me.

Here's the method:

Start peeling and thinly slicing cucumbers, layering them into a quart-size mason jar until it's about half to two-thirds full.  Add 1 T salt and equal parts vinegar and water.  I also cut up a bunch of dill from our CSA box and put it in there for flavor.  Put the lid on and shake shake shake.  Put them in the fridge and enjoy.  The best part is you can just keep adding more cucumber slices as it gets lower - perpetual pickles!  We've been eating them on pulled pork, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, and just as a snack!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

something new and thrilling

One part of my ministry in my new appointment includes children and their families.  I have worked in a classroom before, and also been a children's pastor, so this was nothing too new or daunting for me.  I love being around children.  Their frankness and playfulness delight me, and sometimes I feel it is much easier to speak and be with them than it is with adults. 

Since Vicki Jo's birth, I have also been drawn into the Montessori method of creating environments and approaching development. 

I knew, from some research, that Maria Montessori had developed a spiritual formation approach called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  Her collaborator, Gianna Gobbi (for whom the fabled Gobbi mobile is named), is largely responsible for organizing and cataloguing this approach, along with Sophia Cavalletti.  Here is a good webpage about the genealogy of this amazing way to allow children to discover God inside them.

Gobbi, Cavaletti, and Montessori were, of course, Roman Catholics.  That is not my particular tradition, and so some of the details of the curriculum do not make sense in my context.  What to do?  How to incorporate the Montessori ideals of beauty, learning first through the hand, and having meaningful work?

And then I found Godly Play.  Dreamed up by an Episcopalian priest named Jerome Berryman (a Kansan!), this approach modifies and builds on Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to make sense in a Protestant environment.  And trust me, dreamy it is.

This is a shelf of materials for telling Biblical stories, wondering aloud together, and working to develop a language about the God of grace that already resides in each child. 

I am deep into reading his work and preparing to slowly implement this method with the children in my care.  We will do our wondering and working on Wednesday evenings together.  Expect regular updates as I figure out what I'm doing, collect materials (like everything Montessori, Godly Play is heavy on specific items), and collaborate with children.

I will leave you with this quote from Teaching Godly Play:  "For example, when children prepared for their first communion they harvested the wheat and processed through the school, carrying it tied in small bundles with ribbons.  They then ground the flour and stamped the rolled-out dough they had made with a personally chosen Christian symbol.  Finally they baked their personal communion hosts to be consumed on the grand day when they first participated in the Holy Mysteries."  (p. 24, describing how Montessori helped children prepare for their first communion at her school in Barcelona).

Monday, July 23, 2012


The seller of the house we bought included a very nice perk:  all appliances except dishwasher.  (And microwave, but I hate microwaves and haven't had one since 2009.)  The washer and dryer are old but reliable, and the fridge and stove were brand-new, stainless, and beautiful. 

Isn't my pup so cute?  I'm biased I know.

After we did some initial work running new electrical wiring, we installed a new plug for the stove and moved it.  This took about two weeks, during which I was entirely oven- and stove-less.  So, all meals were either cold or grilled.  I was so ready to have my oven back. 

Finally, we got the stove plugged in, and I cooked my morning eggs for the first time in weeks.  That night, I wanted to roast a chicken.  I turned the oven on to preheat.  Twenty minutes later, it still hadn't indicated that it was hot.  I opened the door, expecting that hot cloud of air that puffs into your face.  Nothing.  It was cold inside.  Seriously?

Turns out the bottom heating coil is broken.  It's not hard or expensive, but we are in the midst of so many other renovations and such around the house that it just hasn't been done yet.  So now my options are:  cold food, stovetop food, or grilled food.

Considering this is the hottest summer in a long time across the whole nation, it's not such a bad thing.  I don't love the idea of a hot box competing with my AC on a broiling evening. 

We have begun an amazing new program with local farmers where we receive eggs, cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables every week.  I will post more about this at a later date, because it deserve a whole discussion of its own.  We received a 2-pound pork roast last week, and I decided to make pulled pork out of it.  Here's what I did:

Pulled Pork
2-3 pound pork roast
1 onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 T paprika
1/2 T salt
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t dry mustard
pinch cayenne pepper
2 T honey
2 T cider vinegar
1 C chicken stock, plus more as needed

Put all ingredients into a Dutch oven and bring to a boil.  Drop heat to a bare simmer.  You want the temp to stay around 200 degrees.  Let it cook for about six hours.  If the liquid level gets low, add more stock.  After six hours, test the meat - does it shred easily with a fork?  It's ready.  If not, leave it for another hour.  When it's done, remove the meat onto a cutting board.  Pull it apart with your hands or two forks.  Drop the meat back into the cooking liquid and serve as is or on rolls.

I served the pulled pork with a vinegar slaw (1/2 head shredded green cabbage, 1/4 C sugar, 1/4 C vinegar, 1 T salt - toss and let it sit for awhile) and a warm potato salad:

1 lb small potatoes, boiled until tender and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 t honey
1 t dry mustard
2 T cider vinegar
1/3 C olive oil
1 t salt
dill, if you have it

Whisk together honey, mustard, vinegar, salt and dill.  Slowly stream in olive oil while whisking to create an emulsified dressing.  Toss the potatoes with half the dressing while they're warm.  Let them sit for half an hour or so, until ready to serve.  Toss with the remaining dressing. 

Yum.  The pork, cabbage, potatoes, garlic and honey all came from Middle Tennessee farmers.  That makes everything taste extra-delicious to me.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

the salad days

Everyone always says that stupid cliche, "Marriage is hard work."  I wanted to disbelieve it because it's a stupid cliche.  Unfortunately for me, it's true.  When the work seems too hard for you, I have a piece of advice.  Look back at your wedding photos.

You'll remember why.

Friday, July 20, 2012

i don't have the answers

Warning:  this post is sad.  If you don't like real feelings, you may not want to read it.

This might just be a sucky day.  My child woke up screaming, we had a thunderstorm roll through and soak the laundry I had hanging on the line, I heard the ultra-upsetting news about the Theater 9 shooting, and I found two German cockroaches in the bathroom.  This was all before 8:00.  Things can either only go up from here, or I just need to fold my tent and go back to sleep.

We are having a bit of a crisis in terms of childcare.  As I've written before, Vicki Jo had been going to an in-home care provider since she was about ten weeks old.  She went three days a week, Jeff took her one day a week, and I have one day off per week, so that was mine.  It wasn't perfect, but I loved the fact that at Sonya's house, there were four children plus my baby, ranging in age from little little to eight years.  There was lots of love and lots of outdoor time.  It also had the happy effect of kind of limiting my workday, as Sonya was pretty firm on her hours being eight to four.  So, those were my hours, too.  If we had to come back for an evening meeting (as was often the case), Vicki either came with me or stayed with her dad, depending on his work schedule.  The preferred option was always for her to be home in the evenings.

When we moved, we had the great good luck of finding a place in the daycare center at the church where I'm appointed.  This is very serendipitous for a number of reasons:  I get a significant discount as a staff member; Nashville has wretched traffic in the morning, so the fewer stops, the better; and I'm right here in case anything should come up.  I figured the transition would be pretty seamless for Vicki Jo, since she was used to being out of the home and with another caring adult during the day. 


The first day, we went in the classroom, found her cubby and got all her stuff in place, and then I sat her down with some toys.  She cried and cried and cried.  She clung to me.  She looked at me with glowering accusation in her eyes.  You would think this child had never been away from me for more than two minutes in her life.  I finally tore myself away, came up to my office and shut the door, and cried and cried and cried myself.  What a way to start the day.

The teachers said she was fine after a few moments, but when I came back to get her that afternoon, she looked weary and upset.  I found out that she had not taken a nap.  I mean, she had not slept for one minute for the last eight hours.  Vicki usually still takes two naps a day, anywhere from half an hour to two hours each, at home.  She passed out in her carseat before we even got out of the parking lot.  She was cranky that evening, and she went to bed early.

The next day, I hoped it would be better.  It was worse.  Piercing screams at dropoff.  No nap.  Exhausted, frantic evening.  Early bedtime.

I decided to give it a couple weeks, and then we would re-evaluation our options.  Not that we really have any.  We are in no financial position to have one of us stay home.  We are in reduced circumstances from my previous appointment, so we can't even really afford any of the good in-home providers.  I had no idea how good we had it with Sonya. 

Today marks the end of that two-week trial time.  This morning?  The same clinging, crying child.  Yesterday?  Still not a single second of sleep during the day.  Vicki Jo seems incapable of sleeping with other children in the room.  (At Sonya's, she had her own room for napping.) 

I am at wit's end.  There is nothing wrong with this daycare provider.  They are an excellent, highly-rated center with a well-trained, loving staff.  My child just hates it.  At least, she hates it when I'm there.  For all I know, she is all sunshine and flowers after I leave.

Another issue is how the classrooms are broken out by age and ability.  Vicki is now approaching sixteen months, and is still not walking.  I'm not really concerned about it, except that there are three criteria for leaving the infant room at daycare:  baby must be off the bottle, feeding herself, and walking well.  Vicki hasn't had a bottle in months, has been feeding herself even longer, but won't walk.  So, she's in a room with lots of very little babies, and I think she may be bored.  She is used to being around older children all day.  I can't do anything to force her to walk, but it's just another way this may be a mismatch.

Like I said in the title, I don't have the answers.  I don't know what to do.  All I know is, I can't continue to drop my screaming, angry child off every morning and have her fall asleep in the evening before I even get to spend any time with her.

Sorry for this being so gloomy.  I did warn you, though.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the low shelf

[This post submitted for Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now.]

At long last, a low shelf!

I feel so ashamed that I would call myself a Montessori enthusiast and yet, Vicki Jo has not had her own low shelf up until now.  Our last living space was not ideal for our life together, and I didn't want to buy more furniture only to move it.  We are finally moved, she has her own room, and the three necessities to me were:  a floor bed, a low shelf (or two!), and a low table and chair.  We have the first, we now have the second, and we will soon have the third.

Rather than buy one, Jeff made one for us and I painted it.  It truly could not have been easier.  I read in Michael Olaf that the shelf was to be four feet in length, 12.5 inches tall, and 11 inches deep.  I cheated a little so that we could use one board, and decided that it would be a simple 4'x1'x1' rectangle.  Jeff bought one 12' 1x12, so that we could have a little room for error.  He sawed it into the proper lengths and screwed it together using a few L-brackets for added strength and stability.

I covered it with some leftover brown paint.  If we wanted to be extra-fancy, we could have sanded and stained it.  The list price in Michael Olaf is $185.  We made this shelf for about $25 - the board cost $22, and then whatever else for screws, brackets and paint. 

I'm trying to keep a variety of interesting work on here.

 Clockwise from top left:
*Napkin and felt square to practice folding
*One rhythm stick (lost its partner!)
*Object permanence box and ball
*A variety of balls that Grandma bought for us ("ball" might be the favorite word right now), for throwing, rolling and chasing
*Circles of varying size, color and texture for sorting and matching
*A little Schleich kitten she loved and wouldn't let go of at the store
*An old doorknob.  I have no idea where this came from, but it has been a favorite for nearly a year.  Vicki Jo loves turning the little lock.
*Good old-fashioned ring stacker

Do the trays look familiar?  I got them at an estate sale several months ago!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

the time we bought a house that sat on a dump

No hyperbole in that post title.  We literally bought the town dump.  Here's how it went down.

Our house was built in 1930, and the structure itself was largely untouched since then.  Lots of updating and finishes on the inside, but no foundation work, no additions, no remodeling, not even new siding since about 1960!

We decided to put on an addition almost immediately to make the 933 square feet somewhat more livable for the three of us and our four-legged mammal.  We hired a company called H & H.  Ray is the owner, and Steve works with him.  They are very old friends of Jeff's family and they go to church with us.  Good people.  They set to work as soon as we closed on the house.  Our hope was to have the addition largely done before we even moved.

Building code for our historic district requires concrete footers for any new construction to be 18 inches deep.  H & H decided to do more like three feet, just to be on the safe side.  They got the backhoe in the yard and started digging.  And then the glass started surfacing.  Shards of glass.  Then whole bottles.  They were popping up literally everywhere.  We took a closer look at these bottles.  They were old.  Very old.  So old that most of them didn't even have threads for screwtops.  They were corked or capped.  They say hilarious things like "Milk Weed Cream" and "Listerine" and "Full Half Pint."  They are all different sizes and shapes and colors.

 They kept digging.  The bottles kept coming.  They had to get down below this layer of infill to have a solid surface to put our foundation down.  They finally hit something solid at about six feet.

The number of bottles that came out was more than just household trash.

 My guess is that our house sits on what was a dumping group for the neighborhood.  Our backyard has the lowest hollow of the block, and I wouldn't be surprised if a creek or small stream ran through it at one point.  Before regular trash collecting and landfilling, people typically just buried or dumped or burned their trash at some place in the vicinity.  Apparently that place was our backyard.  After eighty or ninety years, it all disintegrated except the glass.

My first thought was, "If the backyard is six feet deep in buried bottles, is our house on shifting ground as well?"  But our inspection had revealed no foundation cracks, no troublesome settling, nothing.  The floors tilt slightly, but it's nothing alarming and is completely along the lines of what is to be expected in an eighty-year-old home.  Our plumber had to do some digging in the front yard for a new water line, and he said it was totally solid and even difficult to get through the soil in the front.  So I'm satisfied that our trouble is just in the back yard.

I have to say, I just kept waiting for them to start pulling skeletons out of there.  It was a little creepy at times.  But innocuous thus far.  And I think we may even make some money off selling these bottles on eBay!

Friday, July 13, 2012

new friends

All three of us are adjusting pretty well to our new life in Nashville . . . including Vicki Jo.  Here she is with her fan club at Vacation Bible School:

Looks like she inherited the Grammer/Starnes curse:  the shocking ability to make friends and influence people in any situation and under any circumstances.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

a start

We have begun our foray into creating a Montessori toddler space/bedroom! We just bought our first home and we are so thrilled that Vicki Jo can have her own bedroom at last. I have begun with the bare bones of our space, with more to come as time and money allow.

We have a full-size mattress on the floor, tucked tightly into the corner.  Until we have the room completely safe and secure, she will keep sleeping in her portable crib.  I'm a bit nervous about the transition to the floor-bed, but we have been practicing climbing onto and off of it, so I know that she will be safe if she does decide to venture off.  Eventually a low shelf for toys and activities will run along the wall where the crib is now.  Jeff is in the midst of making that!

Where the unused TV is sitting (you can only see the very top of it) will be the care of self area.  We need to get a small table and chair, put up a mirror, and perhaps even start a toilet learning area right there.  I know it's optimal to have it in the bathroom where she will need to learn to go eventually, but we have literally zero space for an extra potty in there.

To the right in the photo above is the real secret to any good Montessori-inspired space:  closet and storage space!!  We will use this for clothing, supplies, toys out of rotation, diapers, etc.

This is where the reading corner will eventually go.  We are going to make or buy a small library-style display bookshelf, where all books will face outward.  We also have a sweet family heirloom child-size rocking chair that Jeff's grandaddy made for his first Christmas in 1983.  Vicki has just become fixated on climbing into it and rocking!

Sorry for the poor quality of the photos - they are just iPhone quickies.  Check back regularly for progress updates!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

in which i talk politics

As a person who (unbelievably) has a sphere of public influence (just see my post on jury duty!), I usually try to stay away from politics in my discourse.  I certainly have strong opinions, and I have a feeling I know what the priorities of Jesus would have been, but someone wise once said that when God starts hating the same people you hate, you're casting God in your own image.

But all this rhetoric about health care just has me itching to talk it over a little.

I don't think the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, or whatever) is a sure thing.  I'm surprised and pleased that the SCOTUS came down like it did, but there are still miles of political road to go before we sleep (i.e. the sideshow that is Congress these days).  I also think that a single-payer system is the only way we will ever begin to address the issues of skyrocketing medical costs.

The last church I served was in a really good spot financially.  (Contrary to popular belief, churches are not typically drowning in extra cash.)  They could afford to pay for insurance for myself, Jeff, and then our child.  They paid all premiums.  We had to meet a $3000 deductible per year as a family.  No copays.  This is an insanely good deal.  On my full package breakdown, the church was paying nearly $22,000 a year to keep all three of us insured.

Part of this high dollar amount has to do with pastors, their health problems, their median age, and the depth of the pool to which we belonged.

When we moved, the insurance situation changed a bit.  In my new conference, all premiums are paid for me.  I have the option of buying insurance for my family, and it is rather exorbitant.  To cover Jeff and Vicki Jo will be about $525 per month.  Then we have a $1000 deductible as a family to meet, and even after we reach that, we still pay 20% of pretty much everything. 

I am 27 and healthy.  I could lose a few pounds, but take no medications and have no chronic health issues.

Vicki Jo is admirably healthy and has only been to the doctor for her well-child exams and some shots for the past year. 

My husband has moderate Crohn's disease.

Crohn's is a painful inflammatory condition afflicting the intestinal tract.  There is no cure.  There is sometimes not even effective management of symptoms.  At 28, he has been through a roll call of heavy-duty corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories, opioids for pain management, sedatives for the endless colonoscopies, and more.  He is expensive to keep healthy, and he must remain insured. 

The medications come with their own side effects and problems.  His joints creak, his sleep is terrible, his appetite is sporadic.  When taking steroids, his face puffs like a chipmunk. 

Jeff is an insurer's nightmare.  He is the reason we need a single-payer system.  His high needs must be balanced by a giant pool (a pool as large as our nation) of relatively healthy people.  Of course, our nation has chronic health issues, but not on the scale of Jeff's Crohn's.  We need every single healthy 27-year-old like me to jump in and offset the cost of his illness with our hardiness. 

I can hear it now.  "But why should I have to pay for someone's else's problem?"  Jeff did nothing to "earn" his Crohn's.  There is not much he can do to help it.  It may not be fair to help shoulder the cost for it, but it's certainly not fair that he suffers with it.  I guess my answer would just be what my mama told me:  Life's not fair.

I am only one person, and my family is just one of millions that is struggling with the cost of staying healthy and keeping the access that we need.  I don't have all the answers, but what we have now ain't working.  I'm game for a change.