Thursday, October 30, 2014

Making Time to Serve

I pointed out in my book, The Other Side of Charity, that an adopted mother once told me I needed to learn how to "receive" rather than "take."  What she also said at that time (that I did not put in the book) was that the next book I wrote needed to be about giving rather than receiving - implying that I had a lot to learn about the topic.

Her words left their mark.  They were hard to hear, and I have pondered how to learn the first side of charity in the five plus years that have intervened.

Recently, I have felt the tug and pull of the Spirit-through various blessings, scripture readings, and conference talks-whispering to me that one obstacle I face in becoming charity (rather than just "developing" it) is time.

I have been diagnosed as a type "A" personality - no surprise to those who know me, I'm sure.  Among other things, this means I am obsessed with time efficiency, and have goals for my time at all times.  I probably get more done this way, but I may be missing "the better part" as the biblical Martha was in her being busy and troubled about many things (from the New American Bible, not King James).

I often have "service" to-dos on my lists of things to do.  Of course, caring for my children (how thrilling it is that I can now say that in the plural form!) is always a given, maybe a visit to a ward member, or sharing what I understand the gospel to be in some fashion.   But with goals and objectives and an obsession with time, there is little time for anything but my agenda.  I have good things on my agenda, but it is still my agenda.

What I have been sensing is the next step in my spiritual development is actually quite scary for this type A-er: I need to do less.  Perhaps, as a wise spiritual leader has counselled me, half as much as I have done previously.

In the spaces that such a non-agenda leaves, I will have more time to serve.  Service in the sense of it being a way of life - to respond to the Spirit, to listen to a friend, to help a neighbour.  And to enjoy my family more, giving more of myself as I play with my children and be more present for them and my husband.  Perhaps, in losing my agenda, I'll find a better one.

And so, with this maternity leave, I am maintaining my cleared schedule so I can learn what it is like to have space in my life for a non-agenda.  For work colleagues and friends, please accept my apologies in advance - I will not be able to meet previously-held expectations.  As I recalibrate my life and what it is filled with, I am hoping I find time for the better part.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Second Time Around

5 days old
Newsflash: Ingrid Elisabeth Toler was born last Thursday, October 16 at 8:10 a.m., at a lanky 23.3 inches and 7.4 pounds.

A dear friend once said that being the mother of two is the beginning of motherhood with a capital "M."  I'm beginning to catch glimpses of that truism, but the beginnings of mothering #2 were certainly easier.

Compared to the 42 hour labor, including two hours of pushing, to bring Gideon into the world, Ingrid required a mere 14 hours and 2.5 pushes.  Last time involved two trips to the hospital, including a planned, peaceful walk to the hospital and unplanned nightmarish walk back (totalling 5 miles) and an amazing, empowering active labor of seven hours.

Instead of fighting our way to the hospital, this time around, we opted for a home birth.  We figured there was nothing that the birth centre did that we couldn't do at home, so we thought we'd save ourselves the hassle and enjoy the peace and tranquility of our own home.  It turned out to be an excellent choice for us.

While the main event is much more peaceful, prepping for a home birth is much more involved.  We prepared by purchasing a birth pool from the Birth Pool in a Box people and a yoga ball from Argos, preparing a big box full of towels, candles, essential oils, buckets and other practical items necessary to welcome a baby, practicing hypnobirthing, and booking private midwives.

Home births are much more common in the UK versus the U.S.  The National Health Service (NHS) will routinely inform women of their choice to have a home birth (for women with low-risk pregnancies) and even provide two midwives to attend the birth.  My wonderful midwife from Gideon's birth, Ona, had recommended it to me. I was out of the catchment for a home birth through my hospital, St. Mary's (meaning an ambulance couldn't get there in time), so booked a private pair of midwives once I discovered insurance could cover them.

It was a bit of a scramble at the end to start practicing hypnobirthing (more in another post), book the midwives, and purchase and practice blowing up the birth pool, but we were finally ready by 39 weeks (full term is 40 for the uninitiated).

I was *really* hoping for a double birthday on the 8th, but that and then my due date passed, as did a false alarm after a beautiful weekend with Lance at home.  By Wednesday the 16th, I had not only finished the home, but had gotten my wedding ring cleaned, the storage room cleaned, my email inbox completely cleared out, and Gideon's wooden bus fixed - to do items months or even years old.  I ran out of things to do and just started enjoying myself - I went swimming with Gideon and Marianna, got a nap, wrote a few work emails, and contemplated tinting my eyelashes as labor gently started.  Lance was coming home early naturally, so I made dinner and we watched Nacho Libre.

Marianna came home and we had her pack up Gideon for the neighbours while Lance blew up the birth pool, got a fire going, and lit candles.  I attempted sleeping in-between "surges" (a hypnobirthing term for contractions) with my rented TENS machine strapped to me for a bit while Lance rested on the couch.  We then shifted to the nursery's double bed, as the birth pool took up most of the space in our room.  Later, I took a bath.  Throughout the night, my surges were fairly stable at 8 minutes apart and lasting over a minute each.  I knew from Gideon's labor that if I were to walk around, things would pick up quickly, but I was attempting to reserve strength for the end and allow Lance and the midwives to sleep.

At 5:00 a.m. I began pacing and singing with Lance, and my surges quickly picked up in frequency (5 minutes apart) but diminished slightly in length.  Lance called the midwives at 5:45 a.m., and I got into the now-filled birth pool for active labor.

I had a hard time temperature-wise in the pool preventing me from truly getting into the hypnobirthing "zone," but the water plus Lance's application of pressure points, steady breathing, and a couple of calls to my mom were big helps (especially the calls to my mom, who sang to me the song she used to sing to me at bedtime and which I now sing to Gideon and Ingrid).

The midwives arrived at 7:00 a.m. and before long I was surprised to realise that I was about to go into transition.  I needed Lance in the pool, and quick!  At about 7:50 a.m., I had three very different-feeling surges, and at the end of the last, I felt the urge to push quite strongly.  I resisted, continuing my breathing, and then the midwife said the baby's head was visible.  I reached down and felt it.  Amazing - "It's a baby!" I cried.

Again the urge to push was upon me, but with an unmistakeable burning sensation that told me to use "downward" breathing and again resist the pushing urge.  The baby's head was out, and the midwife said that she was attempting to wriggle out and turn.  Another simple urge to push, this time heeded, and she was out.  "We have a baby!" I cried over and over again as Lance and I exulted over our latest addition.

Other than the long night labor, it all happened so quickly that I had little time to reflect.  But the birth was what I had hoped for - peaceful, brief (for me!), and at home without complications, proddings, or a painful (and unnecessary) journey to the hospital.

It took me a couple of days to get over the sleep deprivation and feel like a human being again to realise the full significance of the event, but by day three when I cheated and let our little one sleep on my chest after the early morning feed, I was deeply and hopelessly in love.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Nesting instincts have reached fever pitch in the last two weeks, and just in time.  When we moved into our empty garden flat in May, Lance and I determined that we would take our time filling it with things that we loved instead of defaulting to IKEA.  Our deadline was baby girl's arrival.

Well, yesterday, the day after my due date, I finished my last move-in project: sewing the cushion (with piping and a zipper - be impressed!) for the chair pictured above.  I'm so grateful baby girl declined fulfilling my birthday wish to meet her and defied the full moon last Wednesday so that her goal-orientated mamma could finish what she started.

In addition to furniture acquisition - a combination of antiques and IKEA - nesting, get-the-house-done projects have included painting the piano, piano bench, and high chair; having a friend recover the piano bench and chair above; replacing a hinge on the piano bench; installing a light fixture from a 1930s fish factory in our room; getting a vintage bed-side lamp working with a proper plug; installing a mirror, hooks and moving a shelf up in our shower room; finding antique frames for family pictures, printing the pictures in sepia tones, and then having matts cut to fit; framing our diplomas for the office; framing prints I purchased at the Louvre 15 years ago for the kitchen, installing a mirror in the nursery bathroom; sewing the hearth cushions pictured below; adding birch branches to our silk cherry blossom stems (stems and IKEA pot pictured above saved from our wedding 5 years ago); sewing and then adding piping to the deconstructed, recovered chair; sewing a new liner for the trug; sewing a topper for the piano; and, Friday and yesterday's project, sewing a cushion for the deconstructed, pink chair.


Pictures of our "reception room" included here; the bedroom, office, kitchen, and nursery will be saved for another time.

View of the "reception room" from the kitchen.  Yes, I purchased the IKEA island, and love it. French late 1700 Windsor chair purchased from Sudbury Antique for £30.

Our au pair bravely re-painted our furniture (I couldn't do the fumes for such long periods), and she recruited the Elders to help.  Turns out one of the companionship was an expert in furniture restoration, so the piano turned out rather nicely, I think.  Didn't look so great before (it's sounds beautiful, however); now I love it.

See the "place holder" for a baby girl family photo?

I got the idea for recovering this chair (but in reverse) from the chair pictured below.  Chair was £50 from Sudbury Antique Market, fuchsia velvet fabric was £50, and recovering it was £60.  £160 compared to £550 for the chair below is not bad, and I like ours better.  It's mahogany, an antique from the early 1800s, and has a bit more character.  

Lance didn't want a "hutch" so we compromised and got this writing desk.  I've put our fine wedding china on display where the books are suppose to go and filled the drawers with silverware and nice linens, and Lance has taken over the writing desk portion.  £140 at Sudbury Antique market; I think this is now my favourite piece in the home.

IKEA clock, handmade hearth cushions (notice the cherry blossom theme?), chest from the late 1800s from Sudbury Antique market (£50), custom-made trug with hand-sewn liner.  Mango wood trays atop the chest are from my trip to Thailand in 2003, rug was $120 purchased in Orem, UT in 2005. 

Yes, that's the U.S. Constitution - a gift from ConSource in 2005, and my beloved antique rocker purchase by friends for Gideon's London shower, a faux lambs rug, and our home's biggest eyesore and favourite baby thing, the Mammaroo.  Table is custom made with repurposed wood from the early 1900's with a matching bench and mis-matched antique chairs with a John Lewis "antique" world map vinyl topper and IKEA lanterns atop.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Small Wonders

He didn't paint the flower, but he'll pull his chair right up to the easel so he can draw with his pencils.

When I was little, my mom kept "journals" of all of the little things we did that were cute - small things that only a mother would notice and know.  My siblings and I now treasure these mothering memories.

As I was speaking to my mom the other day, I was telling her the little, adorable things Gideon has been doing lately.  As she chuckled, she urged me to record them.  

They are small, but any mother is going to know the joy such small wonders bring to their life.  So in these last few days when Gideon is the only little one capturing my attention, here's hoping you enjoy the latest "news" from my toddler's life:

* Gideon's favourite way to make us laugh is to close his eyes--while eating, walking, or reaching for something.  He'll screw up his face and squint his eyes closed and then try to carry on doing whatever it was he was doing.  I don't know where he got this from - perhaps from watching us pray - but it is so very cute.

* To cure his whining/fit habit, we have capitalised on his budding vocabulary by asking him "what do you say" when he begins whining for something.  He then responds by completely changing his face into a sweet little angel face and saying "peese!" (for please).  It's pretty much impossible to refuse his request at that point.  He's now begun saying "peese" when he wants anything now without encouragement - much  preferable to the previous whining.   

* Gideon wants to interact with everyone, especially strangers.  He will "strike up a conversation" with his little "ahs" and be persistent till he gets a response.  Sometimes, I have to make the stranger aware that my son would like to "talk" to them.  He will also go up to strangers in a crowded lobby (including an airplane, train, or lobby) and want to touch them, "talk" to them, and generally get to know them.  The other day we were in a cab and he politely but persistently said "ah" until the taxi driver acknowledged him and talked to him.  They became pals by the time we finished our journey.

* The most recent addition to our family, our au pair, Marianna, will blow kisses to Gideon as she leaves.  Gideon has started to kiss the air in return.

* Gideon will regularly and without prompting close open doors, drawers, and cupboards, including the baby gate into the office.  I hope he hasn't inherited our combined OCD!

* He can "read" on his own for twenty minutes or so.  When we read with him on our lap, especially the scriptures, he will often follow our fingers along the words for 10-15 seconds.

Here he is "drawing" with daddy.
* After spending all of Sacrament Meeting (our church's first meeting where the Lord's Supper of bread and water is passed) on what is left of my lap, I allow him to go up to the stand to sit with daddy for the closing song.  A week ago Sunday, he began to head towards the podium stairs per usual, then looked back at me sheepishly before heading out the door in a fit of very loud giggles.  I had to chase him before putting him on the stand to sit with dad.  He then sat on dad's lap and "sang" very loudly - I'm sure those sitting on the back pews could hear his howling.  

* I try to take him swimming as often as possible, as he *loves* the water, squeals with delight each time he sees any, and somehow instinctively knows how to move his arms and legs in the right direction.  Last week, after our post-pool shower, he pulled the stunt below, and would have crawled naked into every single accessible locker had I let him.  This time, I couldn't help from giggling.

*  Gideon loves to "help" in any way that he can.  He will hand Marianna her pillows as she makes her bed, and will help Lance push my trundle under the bed (we sleep in daybed and trundle that becomes a king-sized bed by night and a couch for the "library" by day) in the morning with appropriate grunting noises.  He will also look out for big jobs he can do - for instance, the other day at the dentist, he pulled off the big empty water canister from its rack and hefted it with his grunting noises across the room before attempting to pull the rest down.

* I have consistently prayed over the last few months that Gideon become as independent as possible before this next baby arrives, including and especially feeding himself.  It seems like this prayer has been answered, as Gideon now essentially insists on feeding himself, demands real silverware (especially forks), and has pretty much mastered a method of holding the utensils in a way that allows him to eat even porridge.  I'm a very grateful mamma, as I can now cook dinner while he eats.

* Vocab words include, in some kind of chronological order, "dog," "dada," "tweet," "quack," (see the pattern?) "mamma," "up," "get down," "sit down," "car," "kitty cat" (pronounced titty-tat), "all done," "shoe," "button," "please," "up, please," "aqua" (easier than water), "OK," "uh-oh," "no," "hi," "by-bye," "Marianna" (pronounce Manana), "tea" (yes, he loves herbal tea!), "more" (me), and today's acquisition, "pizza."  I'm sure there are more, these are just the ones he frequently uses.