Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Not What I Was

This beautiful artwork was created by the very talented Julie Chen.
Please visit her store and gallery here.

I ought to speak with ever increasing love.
But I am not what I ought to be.

I wish to exude patience.
But I am not what I wish to be.

I hope to be an excellent ambassador of Christ.
But as of yet, I am not even what I hope to be.

But by the cross of Christ,

I see that love means sacrifice, even to death.
I see that patience means waiting long—very, very long.
I see that excellence means perfection in all things.

And I see I have fallen short by all accounts.

There on my knees at the cross,
Wrecked by what I cannot do and have not done,
Christ Jesus offers an exchange.

For my failed “ought-to be,” He crowns me with love.
For my lost “wish-to-be,” He lavishes patience.
For my striving “hope-to-be,” He declares, “I have done it.”

And because I rest in this great exchange…

I am not what I was.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Confessions of a Creative Punctuator

Considering most of our friends and family don’t tweet, I decided against mailing a #hashtag Christmas letter.

And yet I face another challenge: Written communications, electronic or print, pose a great challenge to the highly expressive and animated communicator!

My favorite and most abused
 "faux" punctuation.
I was recently pounding out an email when my husband, Kurt, chided me for my overuse (and abuse) of certain punctuation marks…as well as “faux” punctuation : )

On behalf of all animated communicators, I defended the practice.

He proceeded to make his point by reading my drafted email…out loud.

With all the intended expression of the exclamation point (!) he shouted the words preceding it.

He paused dramatically at every ellipsis as if to say, “wait for it...”

He threw his hands and fingers in the air for an over exaggerated demonstration of the “air quotes.”

And finally, every time I had used a : ) (which is not technically punctuation even though I think it should be), he forced his face into an animated contortion.  His eyebrows arched so high they almost disappeared into his former hair line. Bearing all his pearly whites, he stretched an agonizing smile across his face--resembling a spasm more than a smile.

And when a "man of few words" puts on a show like that...well...suffice it to say, he made his point. : ) 

I can't apologize for my “digital abuse” of certain punctuation! I can only offer my sincere regret that I did not get his "punctuation demonstration" on video.

It may have gone viral...at least among our friends : )

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Christmas Card Conundrum

We received our first Christmas card in the mail last week and it reminded me how much I LOVE receiving Christmas cards!

But sending one can be such a conundrum!

First, there is the highly volatile matter of the photo. I want a family photo to convey the peace of Christmas time and the joy of family. But what I’ll settle for is a photo where everyone is facing forward...and no visible bunny ears.

Last year, it occurred to me around December 18th that we didn't have a presentable family photo. Then suddenly, I had a brilliant, last-minute idea! We’d all wear stocking hats (concealing my bad hair); and I’d print it in sepia (disguising our mismatching outfits); and we’d use our undecorated artificial tree as the backdrop (an outdoorsy feel to complete the deception).

I dug through the stocking hats, and found four. The fifth was actually a ski mask with the eye holes in the back. Mission accomplished.

I cropped the picture nice and tight, but couldn't completely crop the curtains without loosing half of Spencer’s face.

This was the result.

The Christmas Card Deception 2011
This year we’re aiming a little higher in the photo department. But there’s still the matter of the Christmas letter!

I wanted to print the letter on the back of the photo (I Snapfish), but since there’s so little space for a proper update, I’m considering writing the whole thing in hashtags…even though I don’t tweet.

It might look something like this...




What would your #hashtag Christmas letter say?

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Being Thankful When the Glass is Half-Empty

Winter 2010. Who is that masked man?
Don't know for sure. One of my boys.

Some might call me a “glass half-empty” kinda girl. And I can’t deny it. I am certainly bent in that direction.

When a school activity theme dictates blue Jell-O for snack, I can’t really get excited. Know why? Because I’m too busy filing through my mental index of laundry cleaners to determine which one best removes blue Jell-O from white shirts.

And when it snows in November it’s hard to think of anything but the five months of winter weather ahead.

But I've had some practice being thankful in my “half-empty” moments.

For example, if the glass is half empty, I’m thankful there’s only half the mess to clean up when it spills.

And when 4 laundry cleaners fail to get blue Jell-O out of a white shirt, I'm thankful I have an extra cleaning rag.

So when it snowed on Saturday, and I’m staring down at least 5 months of winter weather, I came up with a few reasons to be thankful even in the “half-empty” moment.

I’m thankful for snow in November because…

1. I’m now in the mood for Christmas music.
2. No more sweaty summer hat  (Not to worry. Bad hair days can be disguised with a stocking hat).
3. I can skip exercise on the days I shovel snow.
4. With all the snow pants, hats and gloves in the dryer, there is more room in our storage closet.
5. I love four-wheel-drive.

To be honest, because I’m all about being honest, I had a hard time coming up with those. Would anyone care to add a few more to the list?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sender's Remorse

My proposed "unsend" button
would replace the straight arrow with
the iconic "left-curving arrow."

You've heard of buyer’s remorse--that sick feeling which plagues a consumer after the big purchase.

As you might have guessed from reading previous posts, I’m a cheap, tight-wad. So I rarely (dare I say never?) have buyer’s remorse.

However, I have often suffered from Sender’s Remorse.

You know that sick feeling after you've sent an important email and realized that every time you meant to type the word “propose” you accidentally typed the word “purpose.” And since you’re such a stellar speller, spell-check gave you the big green light and you sent that email off into cyberspace with no way to reel it back in.


Or how about the instant after you hit “send” when the little hourglass indicates it’s taking two nanoseconds to deploy your personal musings to another inbox. In that fleeting moment your glance at the “To:” field and notice that you have not sent the email to your sister but to a local business owner.


We can send a man to space and retrieve him from space, but we can’t retrieve electronic words from cyberspace? Where are our priorities!?

Oh that they would invent the “unsend” button. If you can “undo edits” and “undo formatting” and “unlike” and “unfriend” then why, oh why, can’t we “unsend” with just the click of a left-curving arrow?

Have any big electronic “oops” moments you want to share? I’d appreciate the chuckle…and the company.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Growing Gratitude and Generosity

I was milling around the fourth grade classroom trying to give off that I’m-a-nice- substitute-but-don’t-try-to-pull-anything-with-me look. It was serving me well as the only sounds were the squeaks and scratches of markers and pencils.

With only a few weeks of school remaining students were putting the finishing touches on their individual yearbook pages. There were pages detailing their likes and dislikes, goals and fears, handwriting samples and illustrations. And sprinkled throughout the pages were thought provoking questions like this one:

What would you do with a million dollars?

I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade-self would have written, “I’d buy a lifetime supply of K-Swiss shoes, 3,000 Cabbage Patch Kids, a Swatch Watch with 465 hues of interchangeable wrist bands and an underground swimming pool.” Then all would be well.

But what would would be the heart's desire of a fourth grader in 2012?

Peeking over the shoulder of one boy I read, “I would buy all the video games in the world.”

I smiled and nodded knowingly. Oh the bliss of being able to choose from $1,000,000 worth of video games! Mario and Luigi would practically be family!

Weaving my way between desks I stopped beside a girl who’d attended another school where I had subbed earlier in the year. I remembered her mostly because her little sister was adorably chatty, while she seemed quiet and sober.

Little Sister freely rattled off details of their situation. They were living in the domestic violence shelter, and their mom was looking for a place with a fence so they could play outside. I hated to imagine what had brought them to that place, but since she was attending school in a different part of town I hoped they’d found that place with a fence.

Curiously, I peered over her shoulder to see what she would do with $1,000,000. In her best cursive she had written, “I would buy food for all the hungry people.”

I would buy food.

No wish for lunch with Taylor Swift.
No blathering about Justin Bieber paraphernalia. 
Not even a wish for a plastic Swiss time piece.

What would make a fourth grader want to buy food for all the hungry people? I could only assume she’d been one of them.  

My heart broke and then was strangely instructed:

Generosity and gratitude grow more quickly in the soil of need 
than in the suffocating overgrowth of abundance.

It’s a sweet blessing when all we “need” is a few more video games or a plastic watch.

Most of us lack nothing necessary. Sometimes, I can’t even conceive of a gift to buy my own children. When that is the case, as it is for most everyone reading this, gratitude and generosity must be modeled and cultivated repeatedly.

But I suspect that in the barren place of need, generosity and gratitude grow unhindered by the entanglements of abundance.

If you’re looking for a way to model and cultivate generosity and gratitude, come join a whole bunch of people for “Feed MyStarving Children.” Check out the details here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Altering Appearances

Norman Rockwell's "Girl at Mirror"

To be perfectly honest I thought childlike innocence would be lost before fourth grade. With all the pressures to look a certain way—to have the right clothes, shoes and brands—how does a child go through five years of school without succumbing?

But there she was looking all confused about the daily writing prompt.

If there was one thing you could alter about your appearance, what would it be?

I watched her extremely chapped lips and chin form the words, “I don’t get it.”

So, in my teacher voice I explained the words “alter” and “appearance” for the whole class.

The question is asking, ‘If you could change one thing about the way you look, what would you change?’

She furrowed her brow and looked at me again to see if I found it absurd. Then she asked, “What if you don’t want to change anything?”

Now, you might think this girl just didn't want to complete her writing assignment. But that wasn't the case. She is a high achiever who likes to do things right, which was exactly why she was asking about the question she “didn't get.”

For a moment I considered coming up with some alternative question just so she would have something to write about. 

But I didn't.

How many times in my life have I heard a girl, or a woman for that matter, say, “I don’t want to change anything about the way I look”? Exactly never.

Until that moment.

So instead I told her, “Just write that. ‘There is nothing I want to change about the way I look.’”

If it wouldn't have freaked her out I might have added this plea: “Sweetheart, don’t merely write it in your notebook! Write it on your heart so that someday when a magazine or a commercial or a boy or a mean girl tells you otherwise, you can file through your memory to the day you knew there was nothing about your appearance that ought to be changed.”

Do you remember a time when you could honestly say, “There is nothing I want to change about the way I look”?

Psalm 139:14
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Teacher or Student?

Substitute teaching in fourth grade is proving to be an emotional experience. One day I can hardly keep from laughing (see previous post). The next day I could almost cry…but not for the reasons you might think.

According to the lesson plan we read Chrysanthemum. It’s the story of a mouse named Chrysanthemum who loved her perfectly beautiful name…until she went to school. Everyone made fun of the fact that she was named after a flower. In fact her long name didn’t even fit on her nametag!

At the teacher’s recommendation I handed out a photocopied picture of Chrysanthemum. Each time someone in the story made fun of Chrysanthemum’s name the students were to crumple a corner of their page.

As you might have guessed, by the end of the story there had been so much fun made about Chrysanthemum that each student’s paper was completely crumpled into a ball.

Then the students were instructed to flatten out their papers.

No wrinkles allowed.

Flat as they were when you got them.

Several looked worried. Especially the perfect, performance-oriented girls. Some students dug out  their rulers to try and straighten the mess while others ran the paper back and forth over the straight edge of their desks.

Finally, one boy observed his futile effort, looked at me and sighed, “It’s impossible.”

The girl next to him ran her fingers over her page and lamented, “You can still feel them.”

Yes. Exactly. The point was made.

Words that hurt are impossible to retrieve. Even an apology is only as good as sliding a ruler over a wrinkled paper to straighten it out. While it might be a legitimate and sincere apology, the hurtful words can still be felt.

As I was making the point to the class, my throat tightened. I recalled the infinite patience I seemed to demonstrate at school and the short-tempered snapping I was doing at home with my own kids.

I was reminded that even words aptly spoken in the wrong tone can hurt. And my night time apologies and bedtime kisses, however sincere, were little more than an effort to smooth out wrinkles—to retract words and tone already spoken.

Turns out there’s a lot to learn in fourth grade…even for the substitute teacher.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Solar System Song

There’s something about little boys that just makes me smile, no matter how ornery they are. Maybe it’s because I have three of my own.

Whatever the reason, I find myself smiling again after a week’s worth of fourth grade science.

In learning about the solar system there is just so much to remember. For instance: Is Jupiter made of matter or gas? How many moons does it have? Is the planet hot or cold? Well, to enhance our learning, a musical genius wrote a little song and posted it on youtube.com.

Music and rhythm make learning facts a breeze. And since I am a huge fan of learning through song, I played “The Solar System Song for Kids” for my class.

In a melodic tone that mimics a lullaby the artist sings these words: 

I am the Sun.
I’m a burning ball of fire. 
I’m very big indeed. 
Life on Earth depends on me. 
I am the Sun.

How clever. I congratulated myself on the use of technology in the classroom.

As the song progressed down the line of planets I continued to pat myself on the back for figuring out how to use the Smart board. But the self-congratulatory back-patting was interrupted by a rustling of students and the startling lyrics…

I am Jupiter. 
I’m a gas giant.

A gas giant?

I glanced around our room. Two boys sat upright in their chairs for the first time that day. They eyed each other as if to say, “Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” They muffled their snickers with both hands just in time to hear the next phrase: 

I have the biggest moon.

It almost put them over the top.

With shoulders shaking, one boy crammed his face into the fold of his elbow to stifle his laughter. The other boy leaned expectantly toward the Smart board waiting for the next juicy lyric. While they regained control they made eye contact with almost every other boy in the class as if to silently sing, “Do you hear what I hear?”

And just when they thought they’d heard it all, a big blue planet sang:

I am Uranus. 
I’m an icy gas giant…

Oh my.

At that point, I feared I may laugh out loud myself. Their faces were contorted with happy disbelief at the lyrics being touted as learning. 

As the song ended they scanned my face for any trace of a sense of humor and begged to hear it again. In the interest of time, I declined.

And let me tell you, I don’t know what else they will remember about the solar system, but I’m certain of this: there are at least eleven fourth grade boys (as well as several girls) who will never forget that Jupiter is not made of solid matter but is instead a “gas giant.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Blue Flowers Redeemed

My blonde pigtails wiggled in sync with my rhythmic coloring. I was hunched over my Kindergarten artwork—an imperfectly arced rainbow which sheltered six flowers, each corresponding to a color of the rainbow.

Intent upon the finer points of drawing petals, stems and leaves, I shaded each flower—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. As I was falling in love with my sketch of rainbows and flowers, Mrs. Miller walked behind me and declared flatly, “There is no such thing as a blue flower.”

I turned to look for an explanation, but she was on to observing the next table.

No such thing as a blue flower? My face reddened with embarrassment. I filed through my scant mental index of flowers—rose, carnation, daffodil, tulip—and discovered, she must be right. I could not remember ever having seen a blue flower.

I grabbed my purple crayon to disguise my ignorant mistake and colored over what was previously blue. Mrs. Miller would be pleased with my correction, but the picture looked imperfect to me. A flower for every color of the rainbow—except blue. Red, orange, yellow green, purple, purple. I disliked the picture. I could only see the flaw of my disguised “ignorance.”

That statement rattled around in my brain for many years. No such thing as a blue flower. Had God skipped over blue when he had been painting all the flowers on that third day of creation? I had truly never seen a blue flower. Still, I kept my eye out for one.

Each year around Memorial Day I saw plastic blue flowers, and as though I had knowledge that no one else possessed I silently declared, “Those are not real. There are no such things as blue flowers.”

But then one spring I exited a super-store through their garden center. And there on the corner of a table was something that caught my eye. I picked up the thin plastic planter to see if it was real. It was planted in real soil. The soil was dripping with water. And out of the soil grew a vibrant stem laden with blue flowers. I fingered the tag and read, “Blue hyacinth.”

Poor Mrs. Miller. She had never seen a blue hyacinth. My instincts of a flower corresponding to every color of the rainbow had been right. And God had not skipped over blue. But whenever I see a blue flower, I think of Mrs. Miller.

Until yesterday.

After spending five days in Dallas, Texas at the MOPS Convention, I returned home to a dining room table adorned with paper airplanes trailed by banners attached with yarn and staples. The banners read, “Welcome home, Mom!” And in the center of the paper airfield was a vase, filled with pink, yellow and—look there—blue flowers.

As the fleet of paper planes swirled around the blue flowers and me, I put my arm around Levi who was nearest to me and said, “Thank you so much! That makes me feel really special.”

Levi looked up at me with convincing incredulity and said, “That’s because you are special!”

And with his words the blue flower was redeemed.

A blue hyacinth, a forget-me-not, even a colored daisy, carnation and mum, no longer conjure up thoughts of ignorance and embarrassment. God has redeemed the blue flower.

To redeem is to recover, to exchange, to convert.

Though long buried under myth, the truth is recovered.

Shame is exchanged for affection.

And the blue flower is converted from an emblem of embarrassment to a symbol of love and redemption.

Redemption is the work of Jesus Christ as God tell us in Isaiah 61:3:

to comfort all who mourn, 
  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes, 
the oil of gladness
    instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

His redemptive work displays His splendor— even in the smallness of blue flowers.

This small story of redemption points to a larger one. Where do you see His redeeming work?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Cooking Short-cut

Spoons not required.

You certainly know there are plenty of things I love about summer (see last post)!

But last week, as I contemplated standing over the stove, hot steam billowing in my sweaty face, I grumbled, “It’s too hot to cook.”

I know some of you love summer cooking. Your basting brush and grill tools beckon you outside. With the grill as your canvas and a side of beef as your medium, you create a fire-roasted masterpiece, which you will photograph and post on facebook.

But I’m no grill wizard. I used to think when the flames died down the burgers were done. Doneness was confirmed by the blackened edges of the burgers. Doesn’t Burger King flame broil their burgers? How come theirs don’t look like hockey pucks? I have only recently graduated to grilling hamburgers with an edible result.

Others of you have carefully tended a beautiful, weedless, chemical-free garden. Your knowledge and perseverance have yielded organic vegetables of every hue and variety. Bursting with flavor and color, your red tomatoes, orange peppers, yellow squash, and green beans grace your vegetable steamer. That power packed rainbow of chopped vegetables fuels your family with the all the vitamins and nutrients of an entire bottle of Flintstone Chewables!

Alas, my green thumb is nearly as pitiful as my skill at the grill. Now, if there were a market for crab grass, then I’d have something to write home about!! But my “Fourth of July Tomatoes” are still small and green though it is August. And despite daily watering the orange peppers have yet to bloom, the yellow squash never sprouted, and even the hearty Zucchini plant was broken off by the wind.

So, after assessing the heat index, my capacity for grilling, the state of my vegetable garden, and the fact that all three boys must be coerced or bribed to eat vegetables, I took a little short cut.

I served ice-cream for lunch.

Three big scoops for everyone, including me.

The only steam billowing in my face was the cool blast from the freezer as I shut its door. There were no burnt edges or flames and no one had to be coerced or bribed to finish their lunch. I even healthy-ed it up with a generous garnish of sliced banana.

The best part was that I didn’t even feel guilty. Instead, I congratulated myself on that little time-saving, energy-conserving, peace-keeping stroke of genius.

And I heartily recommend it to anyone who needs a little break from the heat of summer cooking.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Hair Day

Swimming. Sand. Sunscreen. Sleeping in. Staying up. Fishing. Biking. Boating. Hiking.

Summer fun abounds.
But perhaps the thing I appreciate most about summer is a little something that makes all those activities even more enjoyable—my hat.

In the Midwest the wind rolls across the plains like a freight train and the sun’s rays, unobstructed by foliage or timbers, bear down on fair skin.

In that turbulent climate my hat stands as a beacon of steadfastness and sanity. Atop my head it saves me a ton of hair-fixing time by simultaneously performing these various functions:

¨    Hair product: My rebellious cowlick, which no amount of hair gel or blow drying can tame, will finally submit to the all-day pressure of my hat.

¨    Barrett: Those wispy side hairs —you know the ones that curl ever so slightly toward the face and look so lovely on celebrities. But on regular people, with average hair, they just look like hairs that never grow long enough to fit into the pony tail—because that’s what they are.  Yeah, those—my hat keeps them tucked up, out of sight making me appear more “put together.”

¨    Pony-tail holder: In a pinch, the adjustable band also functions as a pony-tail holder.

¨    Sunscreen: It shades my pasty-white, cancer-prone skin from harmful UV rays and doesn’t sting my eyes.

¨    Sweatband: It’s gross, but true. The hat absorbs the sweat of the day, which also contributes to taming the cowlick.

¨    Accessory: In a juvenile attempt to feel fashionable and young, I bought the bejeweled hat with a little bling-bling on the fleur de lis. Can you imagine my fashion quotient when paired with my unwashed jeans! It’s breath-taking…for more reasons than one!!

This summer I’ll avoid the strain of a “good hair day” and the shame of a “bad hair day” by enjoying the benefits of a “summer hair day” compliments of my hat.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Remote Control Recycling

The fierce snake is leashed.

The school year came and went as fast as ever. This was the first year all three boys were in school. Because it was so monumental, I decided to memorialize the last day of school with a little celebration—a gift for a job well done!

But as I was thinking and shopping, no good gift ideas came to mind. In fact, I was a little disgusted as they lack nothing! They have a room full of toys that rarely get played with. Why? I asked myself. I looked around the room and noticed no less than 6 remote control toys. Then it dawned on me!

They don’t need more toys, they need batteries!!

So, for a small fortune I purchased AAA, AA, C, D and 9-volt batteries.

Kurt and I spent the better part of an hour replacing batteries, scraping off corrosion and testing them out. Unfortunately only three of the six remote control toys worked even with new batteries. (Don’t be fooled by the leash on that remote control snake in the picture. He’s not going anywhere! Not even with fresh batteries.)

The good news is, we managed to get three working—one for each boy.

When I picked the boys up from school on the last day I proudly announced that I had a small surprise waiting at home.(I had to qualify it with “small” because if I didn’t they’d get the crazy idea that we were going to Disney World or buying a fishing boat…and that would be no small surprise!)

At home they sat on the couch, eyes closed and hands outstretched. I placed in each of their hands a new book (snore), a baseball (you can never have too many) and the revived remote control vehicle.

You might have thought I hung the moon. A trio of smiles sprawled across their little faces. They loved it! Even thanked me, unprompted.

It was a very rewarding kind of “recycling.”

Perhaps next year I will revive the Nerf-gun fun by purchasing new suction darts.

Any suggestions on reviving other toys? 

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Evolution of Family Game Time

It all started with Peek-a-boo. I repeatedly covered and uncovered my face with blankets and burp rags until one day, as drool trickled out of our firstborn’s smile, I realized family game time had been established!

Peek-a-book gradually gave way to finger plays like Five Little Monkeys and Pat-a-cake. But they definitely loose their charm after 472 sing-songy verses.

A caricature of my "game face."
When, our toddlers were beyond chewing game pieces I introduced them to “A sweet little game for sweet little folks”—Candy Land. That colorful candy lined maze which leads to a confectionary dream land, the likes of which could make Willie Wonka blush.

Unfortunately, I did not realize the speed of play would be like trudging through the Molasses Swamp. Just as one child would near the end of the maze and come gloriously close to Cupcake Castle, he would draw a “picture card” leading him all the way back to Candy Cane Lane. Sweet victory had slipped away from one player, and for the other player, delirium continued indefinitely.

I got clever after a while and took to stacking the deck—arranging all the picture cards in order to avoid the tears…mine and theirs.

When the sugar high wore off and good sense returned, I purchased that entertaining teacher of life lessons, Chutes and Ladders. That’s right kids, if you mow the lawn, you’re going to the circus later! But if you break a window you’ll be dumping your piggy bank. Take out the garbage and get a banana split! Pull the cat’s tail and end up with a bloody head.

It’s really an introductory course to the school of hard-knocks dressed up as child’s play.

Instead of stacking the deck, I found myself tilting the spinner to avoid the infinite climbing and sliding.

But then came that marvelous day when UNO made it’s debut at family game time. It’s not terribly sophisticated, but it was a game we could all play, even enjoy. Plus, there is a definite end to the game…unless the kids insist on “going for second and third…and fourth…”

This week I realized family game time has taken an inevitable turn.

The games have moved outdoors. More often than not I get knocked out of Knock-out. But from the sidelines I can still referee and monitor fair play.

When I glanced out the window today I saw the three boys with their ball caps and gloves playing catch. It occurred to me that family game time had come full circle.

They were playing without me.

I was not initiating the game, not cheating to control the outcome, not poking my eyes out in boredom, not explaining winning strategies, not monitoring fair play and not playing.

For a brief and precious moment I relished the display of brotherly cooperation and enjoyed family game time as a spectator.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rescue the Perishing

Avian Rehab Accommodations
We live in a hunting community, where the pheasants are thicker than Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds. Dead, wild animals adorn the walls of nearly every home and commercial establishment within a 250 mile radius. Beasts with four feet, fins, or feathers are all considered “trophies.” And little boys grow up longing for the day they will bag their own beast and hang it on their wall.

I have three of those little boys, and as such, no moving creature on our acreage is safe. Armed with all manner of weapon, sling shot, homemade bow and occasionally the bb gun, the boys prowl through trees and grass hoping to eliminate the pests that dig holes in our yard, eat our garden and haplessly present themselves as targets.

Last week as they were on the prowl, a young robin fell victim to the little band of hunters. Having been instructed by their father not to shoot song birds, they were immediately alarmed and began to assess the bird’s health.

Lo and behold, in the vigorous hunt the bird’s leg had been severed at the “knee” or whatever you call it on a bird. Amazingly he was still alive.

Seeing his suffering, the boys dropped their weapons, and immediately went into rescue mode. I first noticed the carnage when my three little animal EMTs came pounding up the deck stairs with our neighbor boy toting the bird-gurney—a cardboard box taped shut at the top. They ran into the house, grabbed a screwdriver and before I could ask questions they proceeded to stab15 holes in the top of the box for ventilation.

Exploding with excitement they relayed the story, as all good hunters do.

Then they opened the box. There, was the traumatized, one-and-a-half-legged bird.

As I peered into the box, I noticed a loose bird leg sliding around in the corner of the box. Naturally I inquired, “What is that!?”

“It’s the leg from a black bird that was already dead! We’re going to put it on the robin… because a little hop is better than not being able to walk at all.”

A little hop…? “How are you going to do that?” I probed.

The four boys looked at each other, then at me and questioned, “Glue?...or maybe tape? Can you sew it, Mom?” I confessed I could not.

My little hunting party, turned EMTs, were now attempting to craft a prosthesis for their prey turned patient.

To hasten his recovery the little crew retrieved two vacant birdhouses from the garage and nailed them together making a sort of aviary condo. (see picture).

They relocated the bird to its new surroundings despite the squawking. My youngest stroked its little head and the squawking ceased (out of fear rather than comfort I suspect.) Noting the bird’s silence, my youngest whispered, “See, he trusts me.”

Oh certainly!

I am sad to report that before the scheduled prosthetic surgery, the bird passed. Upon hearing of his passing, my middle boy lamented, “I knew we should have fed him something else!”

Alas, we rejoice that he is well and whole in Heaven. And I personally rejoice to know that my little hunters do have a little heart.

This post is linked up to The MOB Society's "Let's Hear it for the Boys!" Thursdays.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Friendship is Born of...Blogging?

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:
What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
~ C.S. Lewis

The quotable Lewis summarizes what has been fleshed this blogosphere and in real life conversations with my real (as opposed to virtual) friends. I have been delighted by every comment and conversation! It only fans the writing flame inside me.

Following is a list of moments when friendships have been born or nurtured, where you and I have said to one another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

I discovered my friends have served unrefrigerated shredded cheese not only to family, but also a multitude of guests; packed the same cheese stick in a school lunch for three days in a row; strengthened stomach and immune system by serving pot roast left on the counter over night; and eaten spinach AFTER the expiration date on the package! *Gasp*

Flying in the face of the FDA regulations, each of these offenses resulted in…no sickness.
(I’m not recommending this, I’m just saying it’s happened to the best of us : )

It turns out most everyone wears clothes more than once without washing in between. One true rebel against excess laundry even requires her kids to abide by the same policy.

One dear friend, who is a much better parent than I, said she has also drowned out the dinnertime clamor with medicinal music blasting from her ear buds. She claims to know others who have as well. Reveal yourselves at once, I say! Let us all be friends!

So far my mother is the only one who has confessed to using the time saving spot-mopping method. It occurred to me I probably learned it from her and should give credit where credit is due.

Sometimes we need the assistance of our upper elementary aged children to figure out how to double or halve the fractions in our recipes or to preset the radio stations in the vehicle.

Most of us have learned never to say never when it comes to using electronic devices as “babysitters.” Judge not, lest ye be judged!

Not surprisingly, no one has admitted to bleaching in the buff…but, I know you’re out there. Perhaps you haven’t had the chance to try it yet.

Thanks for reading, my friends. I adore every conversation, comment and “facebook like.”

Thanks for giving me permission to be real!

Your comments and confessions make me giddy! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Knock Before Entering

My shower curtain, bathroom rug and black Yoga pants all testify against me. Even my brand new, spring-green, clearance (thank goodness) shirt mocks me from my closet.

I should NOT be using bleach!

Regardless of how careful I am, how far I stand from the washer when pouring the bleach, how far I hold the spray bottle from my body, I still, always, without fail, manage to ruin some non-white fabric with bleach.

But alas, I have no other option! The five of us share the same bathroom. Need I say more?

I must bleach!

I have ventured to the world of non-bleach and “green” cleaners. I’ve heard about the silver-laced rags which cost as much as 30 gallons of bleach, and honestly, I just don’t trust them. I’m no scientist, (and if I were it’s quite possible I’d have a different opinion) but nothing says “germ-free” like the overwhelming smell of bleach. Though it may produce a headache, you can bet your ibuprofen that it won’t allow the reproduction of any living organisms.

So today, with the fabrics of my life accusing me and the dirty bathroom taunting me, I implemented an unconventional solution. I threw the shower curtain over the rod, removed the bath mat, locked the door for privacy and…well, let’s just say I didn’t bleach my clothes.

There. Problem solved. Unconventional? Yep. Too much info? Maybe. Workable solution? You bet! Sustainable plan of action? Time will tell.

But for now, I will shelve the spendy silver-laced rags, and “green” cleaners because the extremely affordable bleach comes straight from the table of elements. Which, by my logic, means it’s straight from the earth, and I will go about my cleaning au naturel.

Dare to share your unconventional problem solving methods!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dearly Departed

What a ridiculous luxury—a portable DVD player. (Pfff!) I doubted I’d ever use one since I’d vowed long before I had children that I would never use the screen as a “baby sitter.”

Never say never.

Accurian Dual Screen Portable DVD Player
(Accurian? Now there’s a name you know and trust.)

Today we gather to eulogize our beloved traveling companion, the Accurian Dual Screen Portable DVD player. The ADSPDVDP (as it will heretofore be called) was born in China, but imported to the US in a Radio Shack freight box.

For almost five years it served as a herald of familial peace. On innumerable road trips, The ADSPDVDP brought relief to irritated parents as gleeful squeals replaced monotonous complaining with just the touch of its power button.

No one can deny the tenacity of this little electronic device. It repeatedly attempted to load hopelessly gouged DVDs. It endured the excruciating heat of summer from inside a vehicle where the temperatures rival Hell. It withstood the sub-zero temperatures of the South Dakota winter which frosted its screen. It did not even succumb to the beating inflicted by the occasional flailing toddler.

However, for the last two years its function was sporadic. Each time the power was connected we held our breath until the familiar blue screen gave way to the FBI warning on every DVD. Various rubber bands, electrical tape and a band-aid from the first aid kit sustained it through its last few months. But time, heavy usage, and extreme temperatures took its toll.

Tragically, all efforts to extend its life failed.

It was preceded in death by several power cords which were slammed in the car door; its power button whose function we cleverly circumvented for several years; and its identical twin whose speakers failed upon its first usage.

It is survived by its case, a host of scratched children’s DVDs and five grieving humans who are hesitant to road-trip without it.


No obligatory blog question today. Please join me in a moment of silence.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Stroke of Genius

Some days I feel like a total imposter, faking my way through everything. Hoping my kids don’t discover that they can probably school me in a timed race of multiplication facts. Coaching courtside, praying they don’t ask me to demonstrate a lay-up. Wishing I wasn’t the only willing pitcher. And since poor pitching allows for little batting and fielding, the game is usually over before it begins.

But then there those occasional days when I feel like an absolute genius.

Today was such a day.

Our local radio station airs a daily trivia question that anyone with access to a search engine could answer correctly. Today, without the assistance of Google, we called with the correct answer and won a 2 liter bottle of Coke.

My kids think I’m a genius.

On the way to school we did a little home-school. Technically, it was probably car-school. In an attempt to stifle the nagging questions of why we don’t own all manner of motorized outdoor toys, I found myself lecturing on the concept of a home mortgage to my captive classroom. Surprisingly they listened with rapt attention. I suspect they were less interested in the 30 year pay-back and more fascinated by the fact that banks “give” people money. Unfortunately car-school ended before I got to the part about paying back with interest.

But on the upside, I sounded like a genius.

Later, during a fierce round of UNO I found myself explaining to my six-year-old why playing a wild-card on a green-card to “change” the color to green wasn’t a winning strategy. Though I thought my tidy explanation was a stroke of genius, it was without effect. He was oblivious, and we let him play his wild on green and change the color to green.

I let him feel like the genius.

As the supper hour drew near I was whipping up some soup that called for a pound of sliced mushrooms. Problem was I bought whole mushrooms. Slicing that many mushrooms would take far too long. My hungry brood was already clamoring for food and I was long past abandoning the meal plan. What was I to do?

And then, as if it was a revelation from God, I retrieved my egg slicer from the depths of the utensil drawer and sliced those mushrooms in under two minutes! Booyah!

I am a genius.

What’s your stroke of genius?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Time Saving Tidbit

My kitchen floor bears the marks of a week’s worth (uh…perhaps more) of meal preparation and consumption.

A virtual culinary mosaic of spaghetti sauce, flattened peas, scattered oats, even what appears to be a dehydrated sliced strawberry. Is that asparagus? When did we have asparagus last? 
Unfortunately a full-on floor mopping is out of the question. That kind of undertaking requires at least an hour—10 minutes of prep time to clear the floor of furniture, large non-disposable items and children; 10 minutes of shooing the children out the door, or down the stairs again, with the instruction “Do NOT walk on the wet floor!!” Then there’s the 30 minutes of sweeping and mopping, or scrubbing and scraping, depending on how long it’s been since I last undertook this chore. Finally, 10 minutes to dry.

Do the math. That’s 60 minutes until the highest traffic area of your house is once again usable. Who has that kind of time?

I know it has to be done, from time to time. But we all have personal preferences and tolerance thresholds which dictate how much time should pass between those times.

But today, I don’t have the hour. So I choose to spot-mop.

If you’re new to my avant-garde “time saving” methods, I’ll briefly explain the spot-mop method:

  1. Sweep the open areas of the floor and remove the marbles, playing cards, crayons and stray game pieces from the pile of sweepings for sorting on a different day. Discard the remaining debris.
  2. Wet a rag, sponge or even a shirt sleeve in the case of a true time-saving emergency.
  3. Step into the entry way to your kitchen and slightly cross your eyes. The most glaring and visible spots will become evident through your blurred vision.
  4. Scrape, scrub or wipe depending on the severity and age of the spot.
  5. Continue steps 2-4 until your floor appears clean through your blurred vision.

This entire process should take no more than 5 minutes.

And now you have 55 “extra” minutes in your day to spend as you please.

You’re welcome.

What will you do with your “extra” 55 minutes?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Parental Prescription

On my book shelves I have no less than 10 parenting books, so I feel like I’ve read a lot about “good parenting.” Unfortunately, good parenting isn’t about what you know, it’ about what you do.

Before you think I’m being self deprecating, let me tell you, I’ve tried a heap of all those recommendations. But sometimes, they simply don’t work for me.

Since necessity is the mother of invention, I’ve had to invent some...shall we say...unconventional methods which I use only in my direst parental circumstances.

Take for instance the late afternoon.  There’s something sinister and uncanny about the late afternoon—after nap, school and snack but before supper. Whether it’s the effects of fatigue or hunger, for either the children or me, I don’t know. But around 4:30 squabbling, complaining, and equally desperate pleas for justice and food begin to sound like so many nails on a chalk board.

As all my parenting books and even The Good Book recommend, I try to respond to each request with patience, gentle constructive words and consequences that fit the crime. But sometimes, when my breathing becomes rapid and shallow, I have to pull out my “behavioral inhaler” as I call it.

Just like an asthmatic sometimes needs assistance breathing, so does a mom fixing supper. When the sizzling of browning burger is accompanied by multiple children clamoring for a pet fish, tattling on a sibling and suffering from “starvation,” it’s time to lay down your spatula and take a big draw on your behavior inhaler—your iPod.

Insert ear buds, crank the volume just enough to drown out the afore mentioned cacophony, and let your heart and mind be soothed by music—the language of the soul! You’ll still see their lips moving and know they’re breathing. You’ll still feel tugging on your arms and know they’re nearby and safe. You’ll still see the child holding the empty fish bowl with a demanding look in his eyes. But you’ll hear none of it.

Ahhh, breath deeply!

With each successive song your vital signs will return to normal range, the children will lose interest because of your pleasant but unresponsive face and supper will be served, possibly with a smile.

I realize this merely masks the underlying problem, but several minutes of musical medicine may be the perfect prescription for that vexing hour.

What's your unconventional parental prescription?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Conservation Confession

Confession time.
The outfit. Day three.

I wore these jeans and this shirt yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that. Yep. Count ‘em. That’s three days in a row. And I’m not above wearing them again tomorrow.

It’s one of the benefits of working from home and since “work from home” jobs don’t generally come with benefits like 401Ks and health insurance, I use the word benefit in the most professional way.

It’s not really gross, it’s…conservative.

I’m conserving water, soap, time, electricity, wear-n-tear, and labor. It’s a mutiny against excess laundry as Jen Hatmaker might say (I love that phrase, “a mutiny against excess,” but Jen Hatmaker coined the phrase in her book “7,” which I have not read. However, this is my attempt at a bibli-blog-graphy).

The key to pulling this off is to purchase forgiving clothes. The design on my shirt is a symphony of shapes and colors camouflaging even the most egregious coffee spills. I didn’t own it when I had spitting babies, but I’m confident it would have disguised even sweet potatoes and squash.

I’m rockin’ some jeans have that really hip “look-kinda-greasy-but-I think-it’s-the-in-thing” look. So when you abandon the kitchen towel and use your jeans, or someone who is knee-high to a grasshopper thinks your jeans are a tissue, you’re really just upping the cool-factor and becoming increasingly fashionable as the days wear on.

I’m not advocating slobbish-ness. It’s hard to respect yourself when you look and feel disgusting. And if wearing the same outfit for three days makes you feel disgusting, then don’t do it! Choose self-respect!

But if you can handle it, and odor isn’t a factor, then by all means, Friend, save yourself some work and join the mutiny against excess laundry.

Don’t leave me hangin’ out to dry. Tell me I’m not alone in my…uh…conservation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Born to Run? Probably Not

I recently read Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. In it he tells the stories of ultra-runners who race for 50 to100 miles at a time. I was baffled and inspired by the feats of human determination and endurance. Never one to bite off more than I can chew, I am now considering signing up for a 10K race. However, it is dredging up some mixed emotions based on my race history, and so I’m torn. Should I or shouldn’t I?

Perhaps I should explain.

After bearing and nursing three sons, I decided the only way to regain some semblance of health was to take up running (I use the word “running” loosely. The term “jogging” or even “shuffling” would also be accurate).  The “Couch to 5K Running Plan” seemed to be a good starting point. I wasn’t exactly starting “on the couch,” but the last time I had actually run, I was screaming at my run-away toddler as he exited through the automatic doors at Wal-Mart.

Turns out a 5K is actually three miles! Wow. Didn’t know that.

I followed that plan religiously. And after…a really long time…of consistently laying down three miles of tennis shoe rubber on the treadmill, I proudly signed up to run my first 5K.

I finished the race and didn’t die.

With invincibility coursing through my veins and two months to train, I set my sights on the next race. The 10K.

I was so invigorated I bought a new outfit. It was like planning for prom, only instead of a dress, I bought black workout pants with a slimming vertical line down the sides and a matching dry-fit shirt. I completed the ensemble, of course, with new running shoes and accessorized with ear buds. I totally looked like a real runner!!

But apparently my cute new outfit had, infused me with a tiny dose of competition. The truth is, a person of my running caliber has no business competing with anyone but herself. Not only that, my training plan had labeled the “6 mile day” as “race day” so when I arrived at the starting line, I had never in my life run six consecutive miles. So what possessed me to think I was going to “compete,” I’ll never know.

I eyed all the participants and spied an easy target, or at least one I could keep pace with. Surely I can beat the lady pushing the stroller. Sure, she looked super fit, but she was pushing a stroller filled with 25 pounds of toddler!

With my super cool running get-up I looked as if I belonged at the front of the pack. I let Stroller Mama out of my sight for the moment, made my way to the front and toed the starting line.

Bang! The race had begun. With the wind in my face, music in my ears and all those distracting wispy bangs slicked into a pony tail, I settled into a race-pace shuffle. I felt light on my feet. I can do this. And then maybe 400 meters in, Stroller Mama passed me.

No problem. I’ll just keep her in my sights.

By the one mile mark, I’d completely lost her in the distance.

At that point my good sense returned, and I decided to compete against myself. Just finish the race, Shauna.

It was a run-out-and-back kind of course so there was a turn around point. A lot of runners were on their way back towards the start (which was now the finish) while I was still pushing forward. Keep going, Shauna.

Perseverance and determination pushed me forward, albeit at a snail’s pace. At last, I reached the turn-around point. Half done. Gotta do it all again.

My intense focus on oxygenating my muscles was broken when one of the race coordinators drove his pick-up towards me. I was slightly alarmed and a little embarrassed when he hollered, “You’re doin’ great!”

Then he added, “Is there anyone behind you?”

“I don’t think so,” I gasped.

Then he proceeded to retrieve all the race markers behind me and each one in front of me as I passed it. My blistered feet begged me to ask for a ride to the finish, but my pride silenced me.

Miles 4, 5 and 6 were grueling but at last, the finish line was in sight. The time-clock had been taken down and the registration table cleaned up. However, a boy with a stopwatch called out my time as I staggered across the finish line.

To my great astonishment, the whole ordeal lasted just a smidge over an hour. Definitely the top of my game!

But I was last. Dead. Last.

When I reached the award pavilion, the names of the first three finishers in each age group were being announced. I grabbed a bottle of water and took sips between each gasping breath. The bagels and bananas were pretty well picked over since most had already cooled down and eaten their post-race breakfast. In fact, by the time I arrived I’m pretty sure Stroller Mama had already collapsed the stroller, buckled the toddler in his car seat and headed home.

Then I heard my name… sort of. “Shauna Let…Let…Let-tell-lee-yer??”

I wobbled around to face the announcer. He was holding up a “bronze” medal.

Apparently there were only three female participants in my age group.  

Flabbergasted and partially horrified, I forced a smile on my sweaty red face, and willed my shaking legs to take me yet another distance to the front. Still sweating, huffing and puffing, it was clear I had just finished.

I received my medal with feigned dignity, thanking God that no one could differentiate between a face flushed with embarrassment or one reddened by overexertion.

As the crowd disbursed, my embarrassment subsided, and a sense of accomplishment took its place. I finished.

I inwardly giggled as I headed for my car, toting the only medal I have ever won.

Since I can only improve, I’m considering trying again. Anyone with me?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Microeconomics: A case study in resource and risk management.

I hate wasting stuff.

I have been known to combine all our left over paint and use the “new color” for freshening up a bedroom. It was mostly the “light colored” paint so it wasn’t too wild. And I was able to legally dispose of 4 emptied paint cans, which freed up some space in our storage room. Paint was not wasted, money was saved. Reduce, reuse and all that.

I can also unashamedly excuse my indifference to couponing with my diligence in not wasting. I estimate it takes hours of my time to save small amounts of money, so I’d rather just try real hard to not waste the stuff I’ve already purchased.

So you can imagine my dilemma when, after returning from the store, I accidentally left a $9 bag of shredded mozzarella cheese in my hot vehicle...all day long. That’s right. The largest bag of Italian goodness for sale at Wal-Mart now barely identifiable as shredded, berating me from the conspicuous hideout of the front seat of my vehicle.

I took the bagged blob into the house for inspection.  To use or not to use? That was the question. This decision would require logic. By my logic, warming milk produces cheese, so warming cheese ought to make it…well…cheesier!

After a frightfully short deliberation, I said to myself, “That’s gonna be some cheeeezy pizza!”

So with complete disregard for the FDA’s food storage recommendations, I bet my family’s health on a $9 bag of cheesier cheese. I crumbled the blob, spread it over pizza and baked it at 425* hoping the heat of the oven would kill anything the heat of the day had cooked up!

Twenty minutes and 425 degrees later, I retrieved from the oven the cheesiest pizza in my culinary history. Neither the cheese nor the $9 was wasted. Supper was saved, the family was fed, and we all lived …happily ever after.

Have you ever gambled at the table of food freshness? Obviously you lived to tell about it…so do tell!!