Friday, December 30, 2005

yet another online toy

If you're a compulsive list-maker like me, or maybe even if you aren't, Wists is a terrific new toy. It's designed for shopping, but you can use it for anything on the web that has a picture. It becomes your own bookmark list with pictures (and tags, if you want them.)

You sign up, pick a username, and then add a bookmark button called "Add to Wists" to your bookmark bar. Then whenever you're out browsing the web and run across something you like, click the "Add to Wists" bookmark. It pops up another screen and you click on the picture you want to add to your Wist. It creates a bookmark to the original site, and gives you space for a title, description and keywords (also known as tags.)

Tags are great, because you can use them to create sub-lists with their own page. So I've started several lists that I've wanted to make ever since I started a blog, only this process is so much easier. You can even create badges that update themselves as you add items. So I did just that. Only because Blogger doesn't allow Javascript in the posts, you'll have to wait until I have time to add them to my template. Meanwhile:

First off, my list of things that make me laugh as I've run across them on the Internet, like the lightbulb salt and pepper shaker above.

Next, my small start at a list of beautiful handcrafted things that I've seen on the web. This is my idea box for when I need a new project (for those days down the road when I'll actually have time to work on projects!)

Finally, the list I've wanted to put together for a loooong time: chapter books for new readers. There are tons of good picture books and early reader book, but as any mother knows, once your child really starts learning to read on their own, there's never enough good books to keep your kid occupied. My eldest son, now seven, reads books as fast as I can beg, buy or borrow them. I have several dozen more recommendations to add to the list when I have time... my only hope is that someone with a just slightly older reader will return the favor! ;-)

I've also started lists for craft supplies online and my favorite books... but I've barely made a dent in those. So many lists, so little time... and to think, I still haven't actually DONE anything besides make breakfast and play on the computer today. Guess it's time to get some dishes washed...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

mmmm, theology

I love theology. I know, it sounds dorky, doesn't it? I'm allowed to love chocolate. I'm allowed to love my husband and children. I'm expected to love good movies, good music, good friends. I ought to even have a beverage to claim as my own, be it Izze or the beer from my favorite microbrewery, or the ever-addictive Diet Coke.

Provided you know that I'm one of those wacky born-again Christian weirdos, I'm also allowed to love God and love church and love either hymns or choruses (though people still look at you funny if you claim to love both.) I'm allowed to love Sunday school, I'm allowed to love worship, I'm even allowed to love interpretive dance... (though I never really have managed to love interpretive dance. Sigh. Always room to grow.)

But theology? Dry, dusty theology?

Daniel's mom got me a book for Christmas off my Amazon wishlist. Poet and Peasant / Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey. And while I was at my parents' house for Christmas, I even got a few hours' time to read the first third or so of the book.

Admittedly, this book is hard to read. It's written by a scholar of Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic (as well as Old Syriac and several other languages, from the look of it) and he is trying to state his case to other PhDs.

I'll be the first to say that I don't understand half of his reasoning. I studied (and failed!) Greek in college. But after wading through the argument stage and getting to his conclusions, I'm loving this book.

This Mr. Bailey grew up in rural Arabic culture; his parents were missionaries. He says the reason that we Westerners don't understand (or don't fully appreciate) a lot of Jesus' parables is because we interpret them from a Western mindset. And how can we not, since we've (most of us) never known anything else?

He then goes on to explain several parables in Luke. The first one he talks about is the Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16.

This parable has bugged me and bugged me ever since I really started to read the Bible. Why does Jesus make an example out of this guy who cheated his master? How am I supposed to apply this story to my life?

I've pestered many pastors and scholars and Sunday school teachers to no avail. Bailey is the first one to explain it in a way that makes sense to me. Do I know if he's right? No, I don't. But what he says has the ring of truth, and it makes the story so cool.

OK, first if you haven't read it recently go here and read it, and then come back.

Done? Good. Now here it is with the first-century Palestinian context, so far as Bailey can reconstruct:

The owner hears reports from the town (which operates like an extended family... everyone knows each other's business) that the manager is being wasteful with the owner's resources. He comes home and fires the guy on the spot. Not "give me an account of your stewardship" but "give me the accounts": turn in your books NOW, because you're through.

According to prevailing law, the manager could have jailed the steward, and/or had him repay for his wastefulness. But, being a kind and loving owner he simply fires him.

Now the newly fired manager is humble enough to even consider farming or begging as occupations, but decides those things won't work. He comes up with a risky, radical plan.

Nobody knows he is fired yet, but everyone in the small town will know it soon. So, before word gets out, he gets all the debtors together. In all likelihood the debtors are tenants who are farming the fields owned by the master (land owner), in exchange for a set amount of the goods produced with his fields.

The ex-manager tells them (or implies) that the master has decided to be generous and give them a tax break. You owe him 1000 bushels? quick, make it 800. You owe him 800 gallons of oil? Quick, make it 400.

The tenants don't know what is going on or there is no way they'd go along with it; there's no way they would go along with a plan to cheat the master and end up in jail (and/or without anyone willing to rent fields to them). See how boldly the ex-manager says "my master"? They think that the master arrived home in an expansive mood and that the manager arranged for special Christmas bonuses for all of them.

So they change the books together, quickly, and the tenants all go home rejoicing at what a kind and generous master they have. There's partying in the streets, everyone's drinking a toast to the health and generosity of their loving master.

Meanwhile the fired manager gathers up the books and smugly hands them to the master - who, as he looks at the books and the manager's face, immediately knows what's going on.

The master now has a choice between going back out into the streets and saying to all the partying tenants "look, it was all a big mistake, I just fired this guy" - so that he and the manager would both be the jerks, the bad guys, the wet blankets who completely destroy the party...or the master can honor the last-minute changes in order to keep the goodwill of the tenants and the honor of his own name.

What was the shrewd manager praised for? Not for being deceitful, says Bailey, but for risking everything on the kindness and generosity of his master. The "shrewd manager" was a shrewd judge of character. He knew he could get away with this and that the master would keep the tax breaks on the books. The manager was, and would evermore be known as, the local hero who arranged the generous tax break from the generous master, just before he was fired.

The manager risked everything on the kind and merciful character of his master, and THAT is what he was praised for. Isn't that so cool?

Bailey had a lot more to say about it (and about verses 9-15, which he makes a case for moving to the end of the chapter) - but that's been the thing that really stuck with me. Such a deeply satisfying 'answer' to that parable. I find myself astonished again and again at the shrewd manager's complete trust in the master's mercy and kindness. How do I (how should I) "risk everything" on God's loving kindness? What will that mean for me? As of yet I don't know.

And I'm amazed by the fact that Jesus continually chose such unsavory characters (smelly shepherds, nagging widows, half-breed Samaritans, conniving managers, etc.) to drive home the truth of God's trustworthiness, his love, his patience, his kindness. After all, if God can show mercy to them, perhaps there's hope for me as well!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

a love of dingbats

I have a lot to say on the subject of Christmas, but I fear it will have to wait until after New Years, when it will be hopelessly after-the-fact. Oh well...

Meanwhile, as my sister Kim already blogged about, I made handwriting fonts for her family for Christmas. Since she put up samples on her blog, there isn't a lot left to say here...

...except for the dingbats. I think dingbats are my favorite part of the fonts I make - they're the frosting on the cake, the chocolate chips in the cookie.

Uncle Dale (with Kim's help) got six or eight face icons, all with different facial hair to match his current style or mood. Kim created about fifty little cats, dogs, flowers, squiggles and other fun. Princess Leia had several different sizes of emoticons. Gark had upside-down emoticons. Emidala and Tobi-wan didn't include any extras, but Emidala had a doodle on her page that I included, and Tobi-wan put smilies inside his letters.

LittleD and Baby Buzz were too young to participate. Which means I get to make them all another font in a few more years, hooray! It's a fun challenge to try to re-create someone's handwriting. And because our whole family now has the fonts, we can even email each other in our own handwriting. Silly, but fun!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

first ornaments

When my mom and dad were first married, they didn't have a lot of money. Mom was in college and Dad was in grad school. For their first Christmas, if I remember the story right, they didn't have a proper Christmas tree, they had a houseplant in their tiny college apartment which they dubbed a Chanukah bush. It held their ornaments, which (owing to school expenses and meager incomes) weren't many. My mother made Christmas ornaments that year - Christmas carolers out of cardboard egg cartons.

I wasn't impressed with them as a kid. They weren't shiny or iridescent, they didn't flash or wind up or sparkle or glow. But now I'm amazed that she squeezed that much personality out of a disposable egg carton. Now, 40 years later, this caroler hangs on my own tree, slightly battered and having many of its joints re-glued after certain twins-who-shall-remain-nameless have desired and obtained it, several times, by means of their newly acquired skills of chair-dragging.

Ten years ago, Daniel and I were newly married and living on missionary salary. Having just made a large down payment on our "new" trailer home, we didn't have a lot of money. Unlike my parents, we had the benefit of a slightly battered hand-me-down plastic Christmas tree. (For that matter, living where we do, we could have had our pick of 'real' trees - were it not for Daniel's allergies.) I handmade our tree ornaments as well - pasta angels.

Slightly battered, and having its joints re-glued several times for the same reasons as mentioned above, the angel hangs on our tree still this year, not too far from the Christmas caroler. They are certainly not the most beautiful ornaments on our tree; they are not the ones that our guests comment on, but like the Velveteen Rabbit they have, in many ways, become Real to me.

If these ornaments both survive another twenty or thirty years, they will be passed down to another young couple who, we hope, will be learning that Christmas can be a joyful time even without a lot of money to spend - learning that they can celebrate angels and carolers, and the birth of the Messiah - with a handful of scraps and a bit of glue. Learning, perhaps, that it was the poor "wrong side of the tracks" shepherds who got to kneel first before their Christ. Learning that it is, in many ways, entirely appropriate to celebrate the King of the earth with scraps and glue.

Monday, December 19, 2005

second chance

We had a nice 'hnow day' on Friday. We all went outside... very briefly. Neither of the babies could walk well in their heavy winter gear. Bubbie was content to sit on the sled and eat snow from his mittens as I pulled them around the yard, but Mac hated having mittens and boots and hood on, quickly got cold, and demanded that we go back inside.

we did have time to spy a really fun snow fort under our big fir tree, where Papa's plow truck had built walls and the snow-covered branches made a sloping roof. And it's already made for us! I'm itching to go back outside and play in it with the big kids, but that will have to wait until Papa has some time off, and that doesn't happen when it's snowing.

The big kids stayed out for awhile digging tunnels and knocking icicles down, and teasing Mac through the window. As the photo above clearly shows, Mac was happy to be back inside looking out.

With the big kids outside and the little kids watching their antics, I went back to making shrinky-dink snowflakes. I tried clear shrink stuff this time, and was delighted with the results. They're about 1-1/2 to 2" across when shrunk (about life sized here on my own computer screen, though your results may vary according to your monitor settings.)

It's probably a good thing I sent out the white snowflakes with the packages I already mailed, or I would have judged them 'not good enough to send' and I'd have made a dozen more, I like the clear ones so much better. Now I want to make a hundred clear ones and turn them into a garland... someday when I have more free time.

Maybe that will happen when my snow-covered, red-cheeked kids can all get their snowpants off by themselves and make their own hot cocoa. Of course, by that time I hope to be outside playing in the snow fort with them... at least some of the time.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Hnow day

School was cancelled yesterday, and today was a planned vacation. Our snow day (Mac and Bubbie say, "Hnow! Hnow!" as they point out the window and bounce on their toes) wasn't school for BigE or Chickie, but it sure was for me: I learned (or re-learned) lots of important lessons.

I learned that the window quilts we hung make great hiding places for toddlers.

I learned that the joy of having a snow day can evaporate quickly, and that kids can start major wars -- even before 9 am.

Fortunately, I have a grandma who loves us and each year sends us a gingerbread house kit. The timing couldn't have been better.

I learned that kids might not decide on their own to go out and enjoy the snow, but that when essentially forced outside by a tired and crabby mother (whose overstimulated and oversugared toddlers won't nap) they actually have a wonderful time.

I also learned that I have forgotten how to rest, to slow down, to enjoy a 'snow day' or a Sabbath. Instead of suiting up Mac and Bubbie and enjoying a Hnow Day together, I tried unsuccessfully to get a normal Thursday workload done. I tried to back up our computer files, tried to do dishes, tried to do laundry. There is always work to be done, and I always feel like I need to be doing it - instead of trusting God and resting.

Papa, having plowed since 5:30 AM, came home at 3 and took Bubbie for a plow ride (and nap) at a neighbor's house. Mac fell asleep in my lap and forced me to rest and reflect for awhile.

Today, God has given me another chance at a Hnow Day. Mac and Bubbie woke up at 5:30 again, excited to see Papa off for another day of plowing. I did dishes last night after the kids went to sleep, so I'm hoping that I can learn to rest with my kids today.

Monday, December 12, 2005

out with the soap flakes, in with the snow

The mad scientist returns, with more failed attempts at soap dough. It's too late to make it for Christmas now, so we're hanging it up for the year.

I tried microwaving bars of soap to soften them, instead of grating them.

First attempt: added 2 tsp water, 1 tbsp glycerin, 2 tsp shortening.

Second attempt: added 2 tbsp glycerin.

Third attempt: added 1 tbsp shortening to the 2nd attempt.

All three attempts managed to be crumbly and sticky at the same time, as shown above. Perhaps in January we'll try again...

To console ourselves (and since we were too sick to attempt baking day), Chickie and I made shrinky-dink snowflakes, starting with a hexagon about 4" wide, and ending up with something 1 to 1-1/2" wide, as shown above.

They'll make nice presents - Christmas ornaments - but I need to keep Chickie from claiming all of them as her own.

We also made paper snowflakes awhile ago, now hanging in our front window. The other morning it was fun to see their early sunrise shadows on the wall.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Deck the Halls

'Deck the Halls' is one of my favorite Christmas carols musically... singing the 'Fa la la la la, la la la la' is just so satisfying. And I do love decking the halls with boughs of holly. Or at least decking our mobile home with cookies and a plastic tree and lots of twinkly lights.

But it's such an empty song. These past few years it seems like it's entirely too appropriate for my feelings about Christmas: it's all about the lights, about the gifts, about the cookies and the songs.

Not that I'm opposed to lights and gifts and songs, of course... in their proper place. Like cookies and fudge, these things should be secondary; I shouldn't be filling my mind with the 'empty calories' of decorating and wrapping and buying and baking... and having no room for contemplation and worship like Anna and Simeon... no room for 'pondering in my heart' like Mary.

Last year as part of my contemplation, I rewrote the words of the carol to be a hymn. I gave it to a few friends of mine. This year it ended up in the hands of the music committee at church, and our church is going to sing it this Sunday. So I thought I'd pass it along to everyone in Blogland. You're welcome to copy it, use it, and share it as you wish, so long as you don't make a profit off of it (see Creative Commons license below.)

Deck the Halls (rewritten)

Angels, bring the joyful tiding
          of Immanuel, hallelujah!
God with man is now abiding:
          our Immanuel, hallelujah!
Unto you is born a Savior:
          Glory be
          unto God,
          peace on earth!
Peace to all who find God's favor
          through Immanuel, hallelujah!

Shepherds, leave your ninety-nine,
          for Immanuel, hallelujah!
Here's a Lamb that you must find
          our Immanuel, hallelujah!
Wake the city with your praises
          Glory be
          unto God,
          peace on earth!
God's own Lamb has come to save us:
          our Immanuel, hallelujah!

Simeon, your wait is ending
          for Immanuel, hallelujah!
Anna, at the altar bending
          to Immanuel, hallelujah!
Come and find your heart's desire:
          He is born!
          Come and see
          Christ the Lord!
In your arms hold the Messiah:
          The Immanuel, hallelujah!

Sing, ye saints of every nation
          to Immanuel, hallelujah!
We have seen the Lord's salvation
          through Immanuel, hallelujah!
Come and worship Christ the Savior
          Glory be
          unto the
          Lamb of God!
He is crowned the King forever:
          Our Immanuel, hallelujah!

(c)2005 Kelly (Weaving Major),
Creative Commons License
Lyrics above are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

...This year I've had a very hard time being quiet before God or meditating on the Advent of Christ. My mind is full of presents and twinkly lights and to-do lists and musical productions. I'm contemplating making some changes next year. We may not decorate the house. We may not even give presents. But I'm torn. I'm unsure how to preserve the magic and wonder of Christmas for my children, without destroying it for myself.

I have a feeling the answer lies somewhere in simply slowing down, in being still. In being, like Anna and Simeon, continually waiting and worshipping - not just having it on my list of things to do. How to do that as a mother of four little kids? I'm not sure, but I'll keep asking God about it, and keep trying.

Monday, December 05, 2005

molecules, lights, cranks and water

shadow-boxing with molecules

We went to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry over our Thanksgiving break. It was a free admission day. We had a blast, despite the huge crowds (next time we'll pay the admission and hope for a quieter time!)

Above is BigE (and Bubba and Chickie) with his favorite exhibit, a rear-projected computer "molecule" that interacted with your shadow. You could move or 'cut' or hook together the molecules, which seemed to be afraid of your shadow.

conducting her own orchestra

Chickie liked the demonstration of how white light is made up of different colors. She is still not convinced that colors really do create white light, but she really liked having a whole rainbow of shadows to play with.

Mac and Bubbie liked turning cranks, listening to telephones, and playing in the water at the Idea Factory.

Well, we ALL liked playing in the water, because there were air-powered water cannons so that you could squirt targets... and the targets made lights light up, and gears start turning, and plastic balls got bounced into the stream of water.

Even with little kids, the museum was definitely worth the trip-- a real treat for our small-town kids! But next time, we'll pack our own lunch instead of eating at their high-priced cafeteria... and I think we'll pack some dry clothes as well.

Friday, December 02, 2005


When we were all together for Daniel's Dad's funeral in October, Daniel's brother from the West Coast brought along a Sudoku book. The Midwestern brother and his wife were hooked immediately. I held off from temptation, with nine kids (four of them mine!) and at least ten grownups in the house... but at Thanksgiving there was just our family and Granny, and sometimes the Midwestern brother and his wife... and their Sudoku book.

My own father, as it turns out, is also into the Sudoku craze and has written several Sudoku puzzles himself, including the one above.

Midway through solving my first puzzle, BigE (also known as MathBoy) sidled up to me and asked to help. He understood the puzzle almost immediately and enjoyed it, but the process of solving one was a little long and complicated for a first-grader.

Enter "Kidoku." I scribbled a 4x4 puzzle on a notecard for BigE, using only the numbers 1 thru 4, and he was hooked. Chickie wanted some Kidoku puzzles as well. They spent much of Thanksgiving working Kidoku puzzles and critiquing my puzzle-writing abilities.

When we got home, they asked for still MORE Kidokus. So I made some more, this time on the computer. (Excel spreadsheets, as my dad discovered, make a great place to write Sudoku puzzles.) And I played around a bit with the solution grids just to understand the geometry (which is a lot simpler for a 4x4 grid than it would be for a traditional Sudoku grid!) It's been a long time since I've done any math playing. We've all had a lot of fun.

Now I'm writing up a few pages of "Kidoku" puzzles for BigE's first-grade class, for their self-guided math center. BigE promised to user-test all of the puzzles personally.

Chickie's also begging for some for K'garten, so I have a hunch I'll have a lot of explaining to do to two teachers.... especially the K'garten teacher, who still has them practice counting every day. I'm hoping to convince her that this could be just one more fun way to get a few of the kids (who perhaps already know how to count) to practice writing out their numbers...