Friday, November 30, 2012

Finding Autumn

Autumn isn’t really a brilliant season on the farm this year.  A summer’s-end drought too early curled green leaves into dried brown husks before offering them up to the winds.  

The more resilient oaks fan only marbled pale yellows mixed with olive and brown, their stretching trunks wrapped high and round with hints of crimson painted on sturdy cords.

This is one of the things I will come to miss most at this time of year—the Thanksgiving trip up north to Michigan, a two-day’s drive through fields and mountains, wide open farms and dense rugged wilderness…through Autumn, itself.

While we journeyed far north last year, this year’s circumstances didn’t make such a trip possible.  So, on Thanksgiving Day, our family filled every seat in our mini van and journeyed a mere hour away to find Fall.  

We didn’t have to search hard, not really. Over this hill, deep in that valley, beside the dried-up lake with its cypress knees jutting high out of crawfish pocked mud.

And then, there it was in patches.  Radiant. Back lit by the high afternoon sun, gently tousled by a breeze, like a horse shaking out its mane to show off a multifaceted beauty that can only be perceived in movement.

We scooped up the gold offered for free, the already fallen pine cones, just starting to open for winter’s feast.
We “surfed” in high-pile leafy carpets as yet untrampled by little feet and, after a rather frightening encounter with a large alligator sunning himself at the water's edge, took the road more traveled down through the forest with its peek-a-boo canopy.

It wasn't the same as the fullness of Autumn up North. (It never is, is it?)

But it satisfied a heart's longing to catch a glimpse until another year when a true gathering together is possible once again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Instill a Healthy Attitude About Exercise in Our Children

Day one saw three excited children hurtling down the quarter mile, winding gravel drive that links our corner of the farm with my in laws' place.

That excitement lasted maybe fifteen seconds before my four-year-old son, Emerson, put on the brakes and turned puffing with hands of his hips to complain.

"My knees hurt."

Imperfect mother that I am, I actually frowned and rolled my eyes heavenward before my heart caught up with my brain to force a grin and speak words of encouragement over him.

"It's okay, Emerson," I said, jogging past him.  "Keep going.  It'll get easier.  You can do this!  C'mon, catch up!"

Seconds later, he passed me up, then stopped a few feet ahead...again.  Same complaint.

My Emerson is solid and strong like an elephant, completely unlike the light and airy bird that is his twin sister, Amelia.  Then, there is their older brother, Wyatt.  We call him our "gazelle," the competitive one always powering ahead to the blue bird box, then passing up his mother and sister on the run back to the house so he can sit at the finish line and heckle us "slow pokes."

If any one of my children wasn't built for distance running, it's Emerson.

When husband and I decided it would be a good idea for our family to run in the Louisiana Kids' Marathon, I expected this child to have the most trouble with our new running program.

I was wrong.

Almost three weeks into the "training" that will see our family run the full 26.2 miles over nine weeks that the super men and women will run all at once in mid January 2013, I'm learning that my daughter is the one who needs the most encouragement.

Emerson has learned to compete with Wyatt.  No, he never wins, unless big brother stops, distracted by beauty, to pick up red leaves freshly fallen on the drive or is suffering from a cold.  Still, the rivalry between brothers is there, always leaving Amelia and me in the dust.

Ever slow, she is the child most unsure of herself, the one who stumbles and falls when her attention wavers and who craves those positive, verbal reinforcements to constantly propel her forward.

She is also the one who wants so desperately to be like me, especially in this.

Unlike the boys, she never leaves my side unless tired or distracted by a leaf, a pretty rock.  Even then, she catches up and reaches up for my hand.  And so we run, hand in hand, side by side, my long legs slowing to match her shorter, double-time stride.

"I'm exercising! Just like you, mommy!" She grins at me, this vision of boyish femininity in pink tutu. I squeeze her hand and grin back, a mirror separated only by the wrinkles of time.
Our daily run finished, I slip off my running shoes to find they have been displaced by hers, tiny pink sneakers lined up atop the olive green bathroom scales where my shoes have rested for the past two years.

Instead of fussing at her to put them in the cubby where they belong, I quietly sit mine on the floor beside hers.

How can I complain? This is the only mother she ever remembers knowing, the one who has routinely exercised five day a week on the upstairs treadmill since Spring 2011.

She'll tell you why mommy exercises, too.  "To stay healthy for us."


Growing up, exercise was always about losing weight, about the number on the scales. 

When I was much younger, my mother did aerobics, I assume before my brother and I awoke each morning or while we were at school.  All I remember is her white sweatband and the over-sized laminated book demonstrating each exercise in black and white simplicity.  On the front cover was a bright picture of a woman with big 80s hair; a black, skin-tight outfit; and striped, hot pink leg warmers.  Even then, I hated that woman's broad-smiled perkiness and taught figure.

By college, my mother had measured off the circumference of the empty field next to our house, the one designated for summertime baseball games. Together, we spent many happy evenings walking in circles.  But the damage had already been done.

I equated exercise with punishment for being born with genes predisposing me to a tummy that hadn't been flat since the fifth grade.  Exercise was just a reflection of an eternal fight to look like someone I could never be and to always be unhappy with who I was.

In front of the mirror, I still struggle with this definition and God's vision of me as "wonderfully made."  But some words like 'losing weight' or 'fat' never cross the lips of anyone in our house. My struggles are my own.  I refuse to pass them on to my daughter, at least not without a good fight.


This marathon we're running together that takes over two months to run a measly twenty-six miles--it won't impress most people.  But that's not the point.  

For Emerson and Amelia, the point is the "jewelry," the medal at the end.  For Wyatt, it's winning.

For their mother, this is about demonstrating not only in my own personal actions how to take care of the fleshly temple God has given me but to also let my children demonstrate those choices with me by running alongside...or ahead, or behind.

It's about learning by doing, starting early to instill a healthier definition, a different attitude in their malleable minds so that one day, taking care of their own temples will be something that comes naturally even without a mother's nagging voice reminding them to make "healthy choices." 

Friday, November 23, 2012

For the Tech Savvy Child: The Beginner's Bible App

My husband owns a first generation I-pad, a gift from a friend who was trading up.

To date, the only apps we've bought have been two 99 cent Angry Birds games.  My two boys love them, and there's just something about using a slingshot to propel a willing bird at a thieving green piggie.  Then again, their love of the game could be that they're only allowed to play on weekends or Thursday nights with daddy on the way back from ESL class.

While I love the angry eyebrowed flock, I've wanted to expand the apps for my children by offering them an app that focuses on their interaction with the Bible without making it seem like school.  The problem is there are not many Christian based apps out there for children who can't read thus far.  And honestly, I can't see my kindergartner enjoying MacArthur or any other commentary.

Recently, Zondervan released a Beginner's Bible App based on for I-phone and I-pad. 

Our household purchased Zondervan's The Beginner's Bible long ago for our children who quickly fell in love with the quirky looking people in the illustrations.So, this interested us.

The app uses those same stories, same illustrations while a narrator reads them aloud.  I liked that the words lit up on the screen as they were being read so the children could follow along and begin to correlate the written word to the spoken word.  While I was ambivalent about the very basic 2D animation on each page, my children liked that some of the illustrations moved a little bit.

The bad news is you can't just pay once and download the entire app.  You can purchase the Bible app in $1.99 packets that include six stories at a time.  Along with the six stories, there are also three coloring pictures, two puzzles, and one game, one activity corresponding to each story.

The coloring pictures seem to be the favorite, but only because of the "magic paintbrush," which reveals the artist's coloring of the image.  They truly love this.  But, none of my children has bothered with the other paint colors because the app doesn't give them the ability to change the width of their paintbrush strokes, and even my kindergartner easily grew frustrated at his inability to stay in the lines.  The coloring pictures would also be better if they did not stretch to the edge of the I-pad screen, which causes my children to inadvertently exit the program all too often.

The one game that comes with each packet is also simple enough for my four year olds but not really challenging enough to keep their attention for long since there is no way to "level up" and work towards a higher end goal.  For instance, in one game, you fling apples away from the serpent in the tree.  In another, you throw flies out the window.  Fun, but for only so long.  The "instructions" for each game remind me a lot of Angry Birds, with just a simple screen showing an image of what to do with your finger.  The problem? None of my children could figure out what to do even with the image instructions.  A simple sentence would have helped mom figure it out easier.

The puzzles are simple nine-piece drag and drop puzzles.  My four year olds have been putting together 24-piece puzzles for over a year now, so a 9 piece puzzle isn't too much of a challenge.  All three children do enjoy them, but it would be more challenging if they could have levels of difficulty, where they could choose to put a 9-piece of 24-piece puzzle together.

When you download the first six stories for free, it shows the other packets available for purchase to entice you to buy them (and to let your children know there are more stories available that you haven't purchased--sigh).  I know the whole point of an app is to make money, but I would rather Zondervan just charge $4-$5 for the entire Bible versus making me keep go back and pay $2 for each six stories.

After a month, all three of my children (ages four and six) are still using the app, mostly for the puzzles and magic paintbrushes. I enjoy that they have a Bible-based option on the I-pad.

I do recommend this app for very young children (ages six and under).  It's fun. It's Biblically sound.

I simply think it's a little pricey at $2 per six stories and that the Zonderkidz team could make the app even better if it made the activities have different levels of difficulty so there was a challenge and not mere repetition of the same activity over and over.  I would also like to see them add some sort of "quiz" feature to test children's knowledge of the information of the story.

**I have not been paid for this review by Zondervan.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Offering Thanks Through Sorrow

Everyone keeps asking what my family is doing for Thanksgiving.  Are you going anywhere?  How many family members are gathering together?  How big is the turkey? How many desserts will there be?

I fumble over myself, almost embarrassed to explain that there won't be a grand Thanksgiving dinner spread across my mahogany stained table.  Yes, there will be turkey, but cold and tucked inside dinner rolls as sandwiches.  There will be no labor-intensive pans of dressing or overflowing bowls of mashed potatoes filling the house with nostalgic aromas of Thanksgivings gone by, no cranberry sauce made from scratch.  Instead, there will be a salad of fresh lettuce straight from the garden and who knows what else.

My head unconsciously ducks as I reveal the reason for our simple meal. "We're going to have a picnic at Percy Quinn, a state park a little over an hour from here."

My listeners shake their heads politely.  Some express surprise; others change the subject to what they are doing instead.  All have plans far more intricate than mine.

Our family did this once before when I was in college--taking off for a State park.

Last weekend, my mother stated she just was too tired for Thanksgiving this year.  Her shoulders sagged a bit with the telling.  In the long pause, I read more than her words said.  Her son, my brother, and his wife won't be here.  Her daddy is no longer with us.

In short, there is no need for the large meal when our family is planted around the country, unable to come together until the end of the year.  And yes, there still is the tiredness

I understand where it comes from.  I feel it, too.  More emotional than physical, it still feels like both. And so we agree to go back to the park, to revisit this memory of simplicity.

For our family, the months of November and December are like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, swinging wide and high to sadness, then seeming to pause there before barreling down the arc and up again to the other side towards joy before pausing again and repeating itself.

This cycle of contradicting emotions defines the Thanksgiving / Christmas season.

With my brother and his wife along with me and husband celebrating our wedding anniversaries during these months; with the pausing to give thanks for the year's many blessings and the birthday of our Lord Jesus--it is a most celebrated, joyful time that our home looks forward to with great anticipation.

Yet, it is also the most painful time of year.  Just five years ago this November, our family's patriarch, my Grandfather, died.  Last December, my husband's Maw Maw left us to spend Christmas in heaven.

And yesterday, we buried my husband's Aunt Lisa--a beloved aunt, mother, sister, and friend.
Although this is my husband's blood, since my adoption into the family by marriage twelve years ago, it is mine, too.  It is my children's blood.  And so, I grieve with heavy heart.

My sorrow is not so deep for her who is no longer bound fast by strong cords of physical suffering but for her two still-young daughters, for her husband now left alone.

The oldest daughter just slipped a wedding ring on her hand less than a month ago.  We celebrated together at that wedding, another mixture of joy and sadness in this season.  It is a blessing she has a help meet.  It is the youngest I worry about the most, the one who has yet to really find her way in life, is still a free spirit searching for a place to land.

But even through this sadness, I listened yesterday as family around the tables circles round and voiced audible thanks--for happy memories, for each other, for those little mementos of a young mother's love of her daughters yet left behind.

Funerals are a paradox like that--sounds of weeping and laughter, heart's pain at the separation from the one beneath the flowers mixed with heart's joy from the knitting together with those left behind.

This is the only way to truly live.  We allow our hearts to open to those around us by embracing the living and those still alive in our hearts. Then, there is never a time when there is nothing to be grateful for.

Only with tender hearts can we give thanks.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to Look for the Double Blessing

You know that coat in the back of your closet? The one you haven't worn in years but can't bring yourself to throw out because you could (theoretically) wear it again someday?

Or maybe it's a dress, a shirt, a pair of pants you've hung onto for a decade or more in hopes (or dread) that it might fit again.

What if I told you these weren't just pieces of fabric that others might classify as old, out-of-fashion, hand-me-down, worthless.  What if, instead, you looked at them with labels such as blessing, gift, ministry?

Even more importantly, what if you truly believed that even hand-me-down clothes could have a God-ordained purpose?

In my heart, I do believe just that.  Everything has a purpose.  All things work together to the glory of God, towards His eternal plan.

The problem is sometimes I am guilty of unconsciously believing that what I consider insignificant and not really useful, God does, too.  Without really thinking about it, I place everything I see, own, or do on a mental chart, each piece ordered in a hierarchy of importance.

The old coat? Box of my daughter's sparkly rocks from the driveway? Stack of children's watercolors from the month? These all get categorized as Unimportant.

My shelf of completed Bible studies? Photo albums? I-phone? Important.

Receipts for the IRS? Birth certificates? Wedding ring? Teaching files? Very important.

Perhaps you're like me and those things, actions, ideas considered to be insignificant or unimportant, we simply overlook.

Yet, what God has been teaching me over the past year is that it's the small, insignificant pieces of life that can hold the most value.

The way to bless others doesn't have to be big, flashy, or front-page news.

To bless others and to be blessed on a daily basis requires us to seek out the small, the seemingly insignificant parts of life, to follow that still, small voice, and to inject Christ's love whenever and wherever.

To bless and be blessed might come from something as insignificant as taking the time to help an old man find a two liter bottle of root beer in Wal-mart. Or of lingering on the phone an extra five minutes with a friend who just needs to talk.

Or, it might come in the form of an old coat.

This past Thursday night, I experienced such a blessing from being able to pass along a few coats to a group of new refugees in my ESL class. The week before, I had asked my church family for help.  Two men offered their gently used coats, and I added them to the few I had found at the thrift store.

I expected to be a blessing to my new guys.

What I didn't expect was to learn that the middle aged refugee I had been teaching all year long, the one whose job is to wash up to five hundred cars a day---he was the one who really needed a coat with a hood to keep him warm this winter. Unbeknownst to me, he had already made his request to the church's pastor a few weeks before.

Although he also was unaware of the specific need, my brother in Christ had given just such a coat--with a hood, the perfect size for this man.

There are no words to communicate how proud my student was of his new coat.  This usually quiet man kept coming to me and giving me thanks when all I had done was deliver the blessing.  I was so very blessed in seeing God at work through something small.

It was humbling and heart warming at the same time, the thought that an idea that we thought began in our own heads began in the mind of God who then warmed our hearts to give.

I know what it is to bless and to be is a chance to see the fingerprints of God in daily life.

Since the birth of my twins, I have been blessed a thousand fold by others' passing along their children's clothes and toys.  I have learned to prefer shopping at America's Thrift over the mall, to be grateful for a closet full of my fashion-savvy mother-in-law's hand-me-downs.  And I have learned how to both receive these blessings and to pass them along to others.

It's what I've come to call a "double blessing," being blessed by the gift and then being blessed by the giving of it again.

It makes me wonder what other blessings we have received are just waiting in the wings to be passed along to another, to bless again.

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Children's Hero

By tonight, most of America has now wiped Veterans Day from its mind as we plod through another nine to five work week. 

My mind continues to dwell there, especially in this week just following the presidential election.  Perhaps it is because I am concerned about this country.  Or maybe it's simply that I feel guilty at how easily I find it to turn my back on all thoughts of our veterans and their sacrifice, like flipping a light switch.

I am guilty of taking for granted my freedoms, for not being thankful enough for those who have served my country.  Yet, it's not because I am unfamiliar with their sacrifice.  My problem comes from being so familiar with sacrifice that it can easily become commonplace.

I grew up with a father who had a shoebox full of black and white images from Vietnam, a few depicting a young man not yet my father, his unwrinkled face sporting a dark moustache and toothy grin as he held a machine gun as large as my car's front seat.  I still have a hard time imagining my father flying an airplane or wielding such a large weapon.

On my upstairs dresser sit portraits of both my World War II veteran grandfathers in full uniform.  I sat for hours with both of them, listening to what they wanted to tell me most--war stories, sadly, most of which I have forgotten.  Although both men are now gone, the images I see each day are of men in their youth, full life ahead of them, children yet unborn.

Even as a child, I knew sacrifice for one's country wasn't just something done in the past but something that must be continued in the present to protect our nation. 

That present included sacrificing my mother's sister and their family as they traveled the world with her spouse, "Uncle Elton," a chaplain for the Navy.  Our visits together once or twice a year were always packed with laughter and love, always ended with tears and the pain that comes from love stretching over the miles.

Now that I have children of my own, they, too, are growing up with a knowledge that sacrifice for one's country is a calling, is just an ordinary part of life.  Like me, they will likely struggle to really appreciate that sacrifice because it is so near.

My children know that Grandaddy fought in some war years before they were born, but to young minds, the present is more important than the past, easier for them to grasp, imagine, hold in their hands and hearts.

The concept of a soldier's sacrifice lives vibrantly in their minds through their Uncle Johnathan, my brother.  As a chaplain in the Navy, Uncle Johnathan (along with Aunt Liza) can't always be at their birthday parties, can't "just come over" as Emerson and Amelia still often ask him to do. 

To my children, Uncle Johnathan is their hero.  He is mine, too.
I give thanks that in this day when so many people let us down that it's almost expected, there still exist real heroes with hearts devoted to God and lives given in service of our country.

May God richly bless them.

Images: Poster for Wyatt's school last week and a painting door prize my mother won at that celebration.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Best Way to Begin the Christmas Season

My children already have Christmas smiles, the kind that melt your heart, that light up not only the whole face but the entire room as well.  Any mother will tell you such smiles are as beautiful as any museum-quality gem and as contagious as laughter, inviting the world to linger and share in their joy.

The beauty of this smile is that it is fueled by a Christmas joy, one that has nothing to do with talk of Santa Claus, sugary treats, decorations, or visions of gifts they would like to personally receive. 

Instead, the joy of Christmas has been glimpsed in three red and green paper shoe boxes lined up on our dining room table, three boxes that contain nothing for us.

While we have participated in Samaritan's Purse and their Operation Christmas Child ministry in the past, this is the first year all three of our children are old enough to really get involved in picking the items for their own boxes.  

Even the dreaded weekly shopping trip turned into a celebration as we marched our very conspicuous empty boxes into Wal-mart.  The children literally bounced up and down the aisles, searching, choosing, seeking to figure out how much could fit inside.

No, a Barbie's legs were too long.  So was Tinkerbell.  The pink sparkly pom poms did fit, but took up too much space that could be used for the bouncy ball, glittered hair clips, and necklace/bracelet set.  
The tie-dyed socks squeezed around the lenticular puzzle, a yo-yo, and a couple matchbox cars.  Then there was the play-dough, Angry Birds stickers, lollipops, toothbrushes, and t-shirts.

At one point, my excited Emerson ran straight up to a stock-lady, his words tumbling over themselves as they told about him buying gifts for a boy and Amelia buying gifts for a girl, both who would get no Christmas presents to remind them that Jesus loved them.
It warmed my heart to see his uncontainable joy at being able to spread the true meaning of Christmas, of Christ giving of Himself for us, of us giving of ourselves to others around the world.

The wonderful news is that this ministry opportunity is open for everyone.  It's not too late for you to pack a shoe box, too, and impact the life of a child this Christmas season.  Operation Christmas Child National Collection week is next week, November 12 – 19, 2012.  To find a drop-off location near you, visit this link.

And the absolute coolest thing?  While you can just use the usual labels on your box, this year, Operation Christmas Child has made it possible to track each shoe box's journey through "Follow Your Box."  By making a $7 donation online to cover shipping and handling costs, we were able to print out special labels with a bar code.  As the box travels, Samaritan's Purse will scan that bar code and send us an email, telling us its destination.  

The children and I are all excited to learn where God will cause those boxes to end up! 

Even as I write this, I know from past experience that as the season gets into full swing, my focus will waver at times from Christ's birth.  

But before the pink aluminum tree comes down from the attic, before the annual family photos are stuffed into cards and envelopes, before the Christmas songs shuffle in the CD changer--this, this seems the perfect way to begin to the season.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A New Place to Gather Together

On my front lawn, a flock of seventy six Canadian geese have already turned South for the winter.  Their loud honks resound through the double-paned glass, announcing webbed feet's return to earth for a breakfast in our hay field.

Closer to my threshold, frost kissed yellow lantana have already withered into brown death while a liberal salt shaker of leaves brightens my gravel driveway anew each morn.

The seasons, they turn ever so quickly.  

Even when I am watching the calendar like an hourglass, when I think my senses are focused, watching, alert...still, I close my eyes to summer and awaken the next dawn to the inescapable presence of autumn surrounding me.  I breathe it into my lungs, feel its dewy coolness reach deep within every exposed pore of my skin.

These are the changes I can prepare for, the ones marked in the Farmer's Almanac.  Then, there are those changes I know will come but just can't really plan for until they are upon me.  Sometimes, these are the ones that are bittersweet.

When we moved into our new home in July of 2010, my parents loaned a small table and four canary yellow 1950s era chairs, the perfect size for two year old twins, a four-year-old big brother, and this mother.

For almost two and a half years, the intimacy of daily life has revolved around that little table more than any other place in our home.

It is there that I taught my Wyatt how to read, to form his letters, to color in the lines.  It is there the children and I gathered each day to give thanks for breakfast and lunch, read the Word of God together.  We danced wild, happy, giggling circles round it, painted enough watercolor masterpieces on its surface to paper the entire room.

We lived, we loved, we gathered there.

But come August, it became obvious that our family had grown beyond what a 29" square table could accommodate.   

Now at six and four years old, the children's art projects, books, schoolwork, cups, plates, utensils--they overlapped, covered, infringed upon--we simply did not fit anymore.

This table that had long brought us together was now causing division, bickering.

And so, I began my search for what I have now learned the industry calls a "gathering table," a name, a God-incidence, that still makes me smile.

This past week, we have gathered anew around a larger rectangle, this one counter height and with more than four chairs so even our six foot tall daddy can join with us. 
Once again, the children and I pull out the paints and pencils, books and paper, working separately and together in the same space.  I have even begun to teach the twins how to read just as I did with their older brother at the smaller table in this space two years ago.

Like every change, this one, too, means letting go.  Yet, it is a choice to live in the past or to embrace the present and celebrate life, joy, and family.

We choose joy.

Images: The morning after we moved into our new home--July 6, 2010--and present day, almost 2 1/2 years later.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Evenings are Not For Ourselves

When husband comes in from a long day at the office, I know the thing he'd like to do most is flip a switch and turn himself off, just focus on something, anything mindless for a half hour or more.

Before children, he could do just that.  Each evening's routine involved him shelving the wingtips and exchanging the decorative hangman's noose, crisp white straight jacket, and knee-high black compression tubes for threadbare jeans, a t-shirt, and white Hanes socks.

I cooked supper while he collapsed in his easy chair before an old episode of MASH or a football game.  With a chilled can of Dr. Pepper in hand, he simply disappeared for a half hour.

Now with twin four year olds and a kindergartner, disappearing is not an option.

The children go outside most evenings ostensibly to play, but I know what they're really doing--watching, waiting for daddy to turn the corner of the driveway and make his way across the hay field to them.

Mommy is expected to be here always.  But Daddy?  He is special, the much-awaited one whose coming is celebrated by squeals of delight.

Long before husband turns the knob to come inside, he has been mobbed.

Even from the kitchen, I can hear those knock-down bear hugs and loud clamoring for attention, for the chance to tell daddy something about the day first

These short spaces between our days and our nights no longer belong to husband or to me as individuals but to each other as a family.

And so, the five of us gather most nights of the week around a home cooked (or at least can-opened / defrosted / reheated) meal where we take turns sharing the best and worst  (or "baddest" as the twins call it) things about our day.

We speak aloud our joys and those parts we wish had happened differently, our successes and our failures.  While one good and bad thing is required of all, some days, a whole list tumbles out across the table.

On one particularly hard day, Amelia stopped my more-than-one-thing bad list, saying, "Uh....that's enough."  The good days, though, are filled with little ones struggling to find a worst part to their day.  When that happens, Emerson always says, "The baddest thing today was that I didn't get to go to the fair."

Then, in that short space after dinner but before bath, book, and bed time, my six foot plus man folds down to little people size.  In this three foot tall world, he gives horsie and piggy-back rides, races die cast cars, plays hide and seek, puts on or takes off a pile of dress up costumes, or referees a board game.

My children's faces have glowed especially bright this past week as they've laughed at daddy's inability to play a new game from Emerson's fourth birthday party.

It has been an absolute riot to watch two boys try and set up the hardest layout possible for their father, then their sister climb on daddy's shoulders for a bird's eye view of a valiant attempt to aim and fire three rubber birds at a tower of plastic wood and pigs.

Misses are met with taunts from the boys while direct hits on the plastic green pigs are met with uproarious celebration.

I know it would be so much easier for him to just say, "Daddy has had a hard day.  Go play with your brother and sister."  It would be easy to just sit them before a Charlie & Lola or Veggie Tales video or to even simply hand over the Ipad with the electronic version of Angry Birds.

But this?

This is a choice to invest in one another, to invest in family, to invest in joy.