There's an organized person somewhere deep inside me, and she's trying to get out.

I'm pretty smart. For the most part, I can figure out pretty much anything if I just set my mind to it. Problem is, I can be incredibly dense when it comes to knowing how in the world to go about setting my mind to certain things.

This is an amazing book. It's not a book of organizational techniques (although there's a lot of great stuff along those lines, too), but a book about how to start thinking well about organization.

The first chapter filled me with hope--the first time I'd ever had any sense of reasonable hope for this area of life. Certainly, there have been times when I was sure that through sheer willpower I could force myself to stop being myself and become somebody who is capable of being organized. About once a week, as a matter of fact. But reading this book sparked the idea that maybe--just maybe--the person I actually am can learn to organize her home and her life.

Ms. Morgenstern's story was uncannily familiar. Right-brained artistic-type, always losing everything, the epitome of disorganization. When she described wandering for four hours through the parking structures of Chicago O'Hare, trying to remember where she'd parked a friend's car, my mind flashed back to my own experiences wandering aimlessly through Biola's parking lots, and the sickening thought that maybe the really important thing I was sure I'd forgotten at home... was the car. Thankfully, I'd only walked a few yards of the trek home before it occured to me that I couldn't possibly have driven to school while leaving the car back home.

Anyway, she sounded a lot like me, only maybe a little worse. But then one day, tired of spending 3 hours packing up for a jaunt to the beach with her baby, she organized her diaper bag.

The system worked, she applied it everywhere... and the rest is history.

So the first chapter was very encouraging.

The next chapter... not so much.

You see, she says the first step is evaluation. Obviously, you need to know what you want to change, and why. But you also need to take stock of what actually does work for you. That way you won't waste energy on needless change, and more importantly, you'll get a better idea of what makes a system really workable for you. Besides, it's encouraging. If you can organize one thing, you can organize anything.


Only one slight problem.

I couldn't think of anything.

She said this step was indispensable. You can't go on successfully without it.

I contemplated long and hard, but I couldn't come up with any answers. So I decided to move on anyway, futile though it might be. I admitted to myself that I couldn't remember ever having successfully organized anything other than chord progressions, and kept on reading in the snippets in the snippets of time between diaper changes.

As I unloaded the dishwasher, I was mulling over the ideas about activity zones in rooms, and wondering how they might apply to my kitchen.

Cramming the spatulas into their too-shallow drawer, I realized what a constant source of frustration this was. Surely there's a better place for them. That drawer was positively useless for anything other than... oh... say... flatware, maybe.


So I quickly moved the flatware from the deep, narrow drawer next to the stove, and arranged it in the wide shallow drawer in the island between table and sink. It fit beautifully. So much better than that too-narrow drawer in which it had been wudged. And just the ideal location, too. The spatula's fit neatly into the old silverware drawer, with room to spared. Right next to the stove, too!

Oh, the bliss of rightness! Like composing, there was a sudden rush of ecstasy as I realized that solving one aspect of a situation caused a dozen others to fall perfectly into place. It was like music.


It was just like music.

And I realized that if I can organize sound, I can organize space.

The process is identical.

So is the thrill.

So is the beauty and the peace.

It's really low on the list of priorities, but you know what I'm most excited about? Coming up with a system for keeping track of all the musical ideas currently scrawled on scraps of paper throughout the house, and finale files sprinkled through the hard drive. But that'll be awhile. There's a lot of laundry to do, and a lot of cabinets that explode when you open them.

In the meanwhile, though, the inside of the boys' wardrobe is a thing of beauty, I've freed up the wherewithall to organize our own wardrobe (not to mention finding homes for the collection of decorative baskets cluttering the linen closet!) and my soul is very happy.


It's been a good news, bad news sort of day

The good news is that I'm becoming very adept with the featherweight carpet steamer. Very, very adept.

Dadder some?

In honor of Andy's birthday, I decided to make his favorite mandarin pork roast. Thus it was that when he came home from work (surprisingly early--his trig class was cancelled) he was greeted by the savory aroma of smoke, and the sweet sound of the smoke alarm. And some rather obnoxious music, because apparently my tastes are rather too eclectic for Pandora to make any sense out of. And a really, really hot house. Nothing to do with the smoke, mind you, it's just that it's still warm outside, and I had the oven on, and this Arizona girl really doesn't notice heat below 100 degrees.

Anyway, there was quite a frenzy of door-flapping, in a desperate attempt to get the smoke out of the house so we could shut the windows and turn on the air conditioner. Finally, we remembered that there really is a reason why they always put a little fan over stoves, the little fan made everything all better, we turned on the AC, and Andy lay down for a much-needed nap.

As I assembled the glaze for the pork roast--which, by the way, is NOT burnt, and which I'm sure will be quite yummy despite the lack of rosemary and soy sauce and perhaps one or two other items that never made it onto the shopping list because surely every well-stocked kitchen always them on hand--Nathan discovered Andy's Gatorade on the counter. Gatorade is very important around here, since Andy is not from Arizona, and does not do well with heat. I have high hopes that many disastrous bouts of heat-sickness may be averted, now that we've realized that Powerade is not, in fact, the same thing only cheaper. At any rate, Nathan pulled his father's electrolyte-replenishing fluid down off the counter, unscrewed the cap, drank some, and offered the bottle to his brother. After taking a small sip, Isaiah thought we should offer some to Dadders.

"Dadder some? Dadder some?"

I assured him that Dadders had already had some, but that I was very proud of his thoughtfulness. I left Isaiah to finish off the Gatorade, and went back to my fruitless search for the soy sauce.

Just as I'd given up, and was deciding how much salt and sesame oil to use in its place, Andy came tearing out of the bedroom, covered in the Gatorade so lovingly foisted upon him by his dear son.

And I thought the whole thing was so funny, I simply had to blog about it that very minute.

I do hope the roast isn't burnt.


one year and one day

...since I met one of my very favorite people in the world. And oh, I love her.

Happy birthday, Tembo!

ACM Review: Cool Springs Records

Don Marsh Presents America’s Choice 30
Publisher: Cool Springs Records Franklin, TN

We'd just been talking about how we really wanted to get some good worship music collections to listen to around the house and in the car, so I was excited at the opportunity to review these CD's for Active Christian Media.

As the name would suggest, this two-CD set features 30 of the worship songs most popular today in churches across the nation.

There are some really wonderful songs on here, and it's a great way to keep your mind focused on God throughout the day.

Musically, however, I was a little disappointed. Great songs, and well performed, but the arrangements were not ideal for the medium. The songs are performed by a large worship team, singing in unison.

This type of arrangement is probably the easiest way to facilitate congregational participation in a live worship service. When everyone in a large group is singing the same thing, it is easy to follow along and join in, even if you have no musical background. The unison serves to help draw everyone into a common experience.

In the context of a recording, however, I found the same format rather isolating. Listening to the CDs, I was aware of a rich communal experience... of which I was decidedly not a part. I could sing along, but even then, there was a sense of being the odd one out. Everyone was singing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place... and so for me to be singing along, much later and far away, felt like something of an anomaly.

Strangely enough, this isn't nearly so such a problem with recordings of soloists, or groups singing in harmony. If everyone is singing something different, and it all meshes together into a unified whole, there is a sense in which there's room for me to sing along, in a different time and place, and still be a part of the same whole. Even if I don't sing along, my aesthetic experience of the relationships between the vocal lines is a vital part of the song.

For instance, God of Wonders (You are Holy) is one of my favorite worship songs. Singing it in unison in the midst of a large congregation sends shivers down my spine, and even in a recording, the Newsboys' rendition never fails to draw me in. By comparison, the unison recording on this album rather fell flat.

There was one song, however, for which the format worked perfectly. Blessed Be the Name is an excellent song taken loosely from the book of Job, expressing the firm commitment to join with Job in blessing the Name of the Lord, regardless of experience. In this case, the music was perfectly suited to the powerful, emphatic words. And because the song was not about emotional experience, but about a commitment to stand firm in the face of fluctuating experience, I could truly participate as a listener. I may not be able to join them in that particular experience of singing together, but I most certainly can join them in praising the One who remains constant through all our varying experiences.

I was a bit startled, though, at the saxophone's gleeful entrance at the end of the song. It struck me as rather out of place with the tone of the song as a whole. I'm not quite sure whether this difference of opinion is musical or theological.

All in all, the collection is very uplifting, but musically speaking, perhaps not ideally designed for home listening. And indeed, I think their main purpose with this project was actually facilitating live worship services for congregations without access to live instrumentalists. This collection, as well as the America's Choice Kids set, also comes in a split-track format.

I'd give it three and a half stars out of five.

(In case you're new to this blog, my name is Elena Johnston, and I'm a mom of three positively adorable toddlers, and ever so blessed to have an amazingly supportive husband who helps me carve out snippets of time to compose, read up on the philosophy of music, and write about my kiddos' antics on this blog. I recieved a copy of this album in exchange for the review, through Stacy Harp, who does a fabulous job of hooking up bloggers with great new Christian media.)



Doing laundry with someone else is always an interesting experience. Everybody does things differently, and by observing a person's laundry habits, you can learn such fascinating little tidbits about his or her soul. It was such a surprise, for instance, when I found out that an otherwise easygoing friend actually irons her underwear. It seemed so out of character... but of course I understood her character a lot better after finding that out about her.

Anyway, Nathan helped me do laundry today.

He spot treated all my cleaning rags.

Who'd'a thunk it?


Just Google it.

Some information is really hard to find. Even on the Internet.

How to get from Brea to Whittier on public transportation would definitely fall into that category.

Back in high school, a camp roommate was incredulous when I told her what my parents did. Why would anyone spend 20+ years translating the Scriptures into an obscure language? Why didn't the just download it off the Internet?

Today, the MTA website was down, and I had to resort to google to find a bus schedule.

Unfortunately, the first, and only really relevant, site that came up was a message board. A snarky, and mildly indignant response to the poor, hapless schmo who'd posted a request for information on bus schedules.

"Just google it, stupid."


There is a post.

Buried under the one about lists. About out new surveillance system.

And I can't figure out how to get it out from under the other, slightly older, post.

Of course, if you use a feedreader, you already saw that post.

And come to think of it, if you don't use a feedreader, and you read more than a handfull of blogs, you really should. It's great. Just one website to check, and you know which blogs have been updated since you last looked. You can even just read all the new posts right there. It's great. I use bloglines, and I love it.

But in any case, I'll do my best to keep my new posts popping up in an orderly, dignified fashion.

And really, it's a good discipline for a procrastinator like me.

Must finish all posts in the order in which I start them.



The List

I had a list.

It was an important list.

I know I put the list somewhere.

I'm sure of it.

I clearly remember putting the list somewhere, and thinking to myself what an absurd place that was to put a list.

I wish I knew where my list was.

It was an important list.

Eyes in the back of my head

We bought a security camera.

Oh, the bliss.

It provided us and the kids with hours of entertainment, before we set it up. And as we set it up, surrounded by three cranky wuggies, vying for our attention, it provided Andy and I with a fabulous context to work through lots of communication and anger management issues.

But now that it's actually set up, it provides us with peace. Sweet, sweet peace.

You might well ask what exactly we have in our home that is so valuable that we just can't rest without a security camera.


See, when bedtime rolls around, Isaiah never wants storytime to end. But he knows that he can lure us back into their bedroom by screaming at the top of his lungs, as though in mortal agony.

As soon as the door opens, there he is, grinning from ear to hear, holding out his favorite Curious George book for us to read.

This strategy might not have worked, except that it meshed so well with his brother's.

Nathan didn't like for the excitement of the day to end, either. And HE knew that he could always get us to come back in by pulling his Isaiah's hair. Or pinching him. Or biting him.

Whatever the case, Isaiah would scream... and we would have no idea what had happened, or who was at fault.

Last night, I finished up reading to the boys, and kissed them goodnight. No sooner had I shut the door, when Andy came tearing down the hallway from our bedroom. Nathan had been caught in the act, before Isaiah even had a chance to scream.

I watched from the TV set in our bedroom, as swift justice was administered... much to the bewilderment of our firstborn. Then Dadders pointed out the camera in the corner. Everybody waved to Mamma, and Mamma called out friendly greetings in response. It was all very fun and exciting.

Then Dadders kissed them goodnight, and joined me in watching our very own reality show.

The wuggies continued waving to us periodically, but Nathan was still a little slow on the uptake. Andy had to go back in twice more.

After the second time, Isaiah slowly and patiently explained everything to his brother. Most of it was in their own little twinspeak, but we did pick out the words "cam-ra" and "mamma," as well as much gesturing toward the little device in the corner.

And then we were priviledged to witness the dearest little reconciliation scene, where Nathan expressed his remorse over his brother's owies, and told him how sorry he was, and that he loved him. There were many hugs and kisses.

It is so much fun to watch them interact with one another when I'm not around. I knew they were close, but I guess I didn't know quite how much.

Fun times, fun times.

And I do believe the reign of terror is over.


Share and Share Alike

Nathan (who fell off the bed and bit straight through his lower lip) is just fine. The doctor (who takes our insurance after all) said that it was sealing up quite nicely, and there was no need for stitches.

There was, however, need for examining and poking said lip. This wasn't fun for our poor little guy, but he was a good sport.

There comes a time when enough is enough, though, and when this time came, Nathan tearfully announced that he was ready to be done with all this.

"Brother's turn?"


Greetings from Cow-town

We're having a wonderful time here in Vacaville with Andy's extended family, following close on the heels of a great week in San Diego with Wheatstone, and a fabulous day with my family.

All in all, the time here has been wonderful, thanks in no small part to the little wooden train set we bought on the way. Best investment we've ever made. In lovely, tastefully decorated homes, where no toddlers normally reside... it is very important to make sure that there is something around that is even MORE exciting than the china display. And for that, nothing less than trains will do.

But alas, train privileges have been temporarily suspended, the dreadfully dire consequence of sister-bashing. This was the cause of much weeping on Isaiah's part, but really, I think it's hardest for me. Because I'm the one who has to keep him away from the china.

Nathan would be upset, too, I'm sure... but he and his Dadders are en route to the hospital to get his lip stitched up.

The excitement never stops.

Anyway, all this to say that we will resume our regular posting schedul...



Oh be careful, little eyes, what you see...

From a notice regarding community pool rules:

"In addition, any member of management that observes residents horse playing or mis-behaving while in the pool area, will be asked to leave immediately."



We nixed all our plans for a crazy, busy summer. Somehow cramming it all in just didn't seem like the best way to prepare for the inevitable chaos of the semester. We decided to take things at a slower pace, just focus on learning to live well. We decided to carve out lots of time for growth and development, for both of us as individuals, and also as a couple. A tranquil, idyllic summer, carefully orchestrated so as best to lay the foundations needed to weather the difficult times to come.

Which is why we've been running from conference to conference, constantly on the road. Umm... yeah.

Actually, it is. Really. Because Wheatstone Academy is just exactly the place to be if you're looking for soul growth. It's a summer program for high schoolers--but unlike any summer camp I've ever heard of. It's the sort of summer camp where you bang your head against Plato, with the help of real live Plato scholars, who, for some reason, want to spend their summer talking to high schoolers. Where you struggle valiantly to sit through hard lectures on epistemology and philosophy of science and historical mathematics.

But it's not just a geeky academic camp, it's also a place where you read the Bible, and think hard about it, surrounded by really smart people who love Jesus with every fiber of their being, and trust Him enough to let you grapple with your toughest doubts. And I really do mean surrounded... last week, the students were outnumbered by faculty and staff.

It's also a place where you go mountain climbing, and listen to excellent music, watch movies and live theater, and stay up til all hours talking and laughing...

In other words, it's a place where you get a taste of what it's like to really live to the fullest, pushing each part of yourself toward a richer manifestation of the image of God, deeply integrated into a powerful community of believers.

Of course, they're only actually paying Andy to come for one evening each week. Eat dinner with the students, give a talk on the nature of mathematics as a liberal discipline, answer a few questions, go home. And of course, we really couldn't afford to do anything more. There's money to be earned, bills to be payed, classes to take, GRE's to study for....

But more importantly, much more importantly, our souls need refreshing. What good does it do us to be on a fabulous trajectory with carreer and grad school and financial stability, if somewhere along the way, our souls fall apart?

So we've been just hanging out there as a family. The first week, Andy felt like he needed to be wholly present from the beginning until his talk, to catch the logos, so to speak. So the kids and I stayed home, and then went up for the day on Thursday. Last week, though, we all squished into a dorm room, ate in the cafeteria, and Andy and I traded off watching kids and listening in on lectures and discussions.

And so it is that our idyllic, restful summer involves an absurd amount of travel, hither, thither, and yon. Last week we were at Vanguard, and next week we'll be at the University of San Diego. And we'll have to take a look at our schedule, because I sure hope that we aren't driving up to Sacramento before the end of the conference. Alas, we planned our family vacation while we were still intending the summer to be far to busy for Wheatstone, and thus much more flexible. Ironic, don't you think?

This week I'm home with the kids, but Andy's at a conference for his normal, school-year, pay-the-bills job, and I'm coming to the conclusion that single parenthood is for the birds. It's well nigh impossible for one person to create a family all by herself. The wuggies, of course, cannot really contribute to our being a real family, all they can do is need it desperately. The relationship between Andy and I forms an almost palpable matrix in which the kids are embedded and upheld. It's easy to take for granted when it's there, but the absense leaves a gaping hole. Oh, how I would hate to do this long term.... I'm simply not enough. And never could be, not really. We'd survive, of course, but not thrive. Because however strong I could be, I could never have a deep, interpersonal relationship with myself. I could never be a family.

But for now, we're having fun. Last night, we all piled into bed together and watched opera snippets on PBS. And today we spent the afternoon and evening with the Koch family. And tomorrow Marcy is going to pick me up from the mechanics, so that the kids and I won't have to spend the whole day at McDonalds waiting for them to finish fixing the AC. Thank God for friends.

And even though I'm never entirely alone--how can I be, when Andy's not here to watch the kids?--still, a strange solitude infuses everything. And that can be a very good thing indeed.

For a few days.

Mostly because I'll be very glad indeed to see him again on Friday.