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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Things turn up in the most unlikely places

What is one place you would be surprised to find me (besides a Zumba class -- that is NOT happening)? If you answered "a NASCAR race," give yourself a high five. You're right!

And what is one thing you would not expect to find inside a NASCAR race car (which, by the way is a palindrome -- racecar spelled backwards is still racecar)? If you answered "corn," you are either very good at guessing or you know a little something about the fuel used to power NASCAR.

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Why do I care? Well, because I've never been to a NASCAR race -- including the Brickyard 400, which takes place at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If I had a things to do in Indiana bucket list, attending a race at IMS would be on it. So when the Indiana Corn Marketing Council gave me chance to snag two free tickets to the Brickyard 400 in exchange for educating myself -- and you -- about the use of corn in NASCAR, saying yes was not too difficult.

Back to the corn. No, NASCAR drivers do not weight the back end of their cars with sacks of dried corn. No, the winner of the Brickyard 400 does not munch on an ear of corn in the victory circle, though that would be kind of cool. NASCARs are powered by ethanol, a type of gasoline. Ethanol is made from corn, which is a renewable source of energy and one that can be obtained without threat of international violence. In fact, Indiana is a key corn producer and home to 12 ethanol plants, which produce 1 billion (with a B) gallons of ethanol a year.

NASCARs run on Sunoco Green E15, a 15% ethanol blend. And during the Brickyard 400, which takes place on July 27, NASCAR will turn 6 million miles driven on E15. That's a lot of miles and a whole lot of corn. Driver Austin Dillon will start the Brickyard from the 17th position driving in the #3 Dow/Mycogen Seeds Chevy.

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You don't have to be a racecar driver to use ethanol. Flex Fuel cars, including Mike's former and much missed Chevy Suburban, run on ethanol blend gasolines. Most Flex Fuel cars run on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline). Even unleaded gasoline contains 10% ethanol. You can tell if your vehicle is a Flex Fuel car by the (corn) yellow gas cap.

Be sure turn up on the 4th Frog Blog Facebook page tomorrow. I'll be posting pictures and observations from my first NASCAR race. If you're a NASCAR-going veteran, feel free to leave some tips for me here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday's Child: Monkey Do Project

I've had a thought for a while to blog about certain non-profit organizations that are important to me or that I think are doing good. I've decided to try posting once a month on a Friday. I'm calling this "Friday's Child" because the childhood poem says "Friday's child is loving and giving." I am happy to feature the Monkey Do Project as my first "Friday's Child."

When I was a sophomore in college, I participated in a mission trip to the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky the week before Christmas. The small group I was with packed and delivered food baskets and other items, which was the only Christmas many of the families we visited would have. I remember driving past boarded up, ramshackle houses that I would have assumed were abandoned except for the fact that smoke was trickling out of the chimneys. We visited a family with two boys. Their mother sat in a chair and graciously accepted our offerings while the boys looked on. There was no myth or magic of Santa there.

My most vivid memory from that trip was packing up stacks of flattened cardboard boxes and transporting them to the house where two elderly brothers lived. I would guess they were in their 70s. They lived in one of those surely-this-is-abandoned houses. They invited us in and the living room was dark. Everything was dark, except for the bedroom to the right. We all crowded into this tiny bedroom -- the two brothers, seven or eight volunteers, and the brothers' tiny dog with paralyzed back legs. He propelled himself around with the help of wheels harnessed to his back . The brothers -- they had names that I've forgotten -- explained that in the winter, they closed up the rest of the house and lived only in the bedroom because that's the only room they could heat, nodding to the wood stove in the center of the room.

The brothers offered us a seat on the one twin bed. They took turns sleeping in the bed. Whoever didn't get the bed slept in an old recliner. We glanced at the bed with its dingy gray sheets that clearly had not been washed in a very long time and politely declined their offer.

They thanked us for the cardboard and that's when I noticed the walls...covered in flattened cardboard boxes to keep out the wind. We had carried in with us their winter's insulation. Soon, we left and I felt ashamed. Those two brothers offered us what they had -- a seat on their bed -- and we turned it down. We in our sturdy jeans and warm winter coats deemed their gift unfit.

It's a lesson I'll never forget and it's given Appalachia a place in my heart. So when my friends Jackie and Crystal said they made a pledge to use their Monkey Do Project to fill a food pantry in Appalachia -- this one in West Virginia, I knew I wanted to help.

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The Organization: The Monkey Do Project is a registered non-profit that focuses on the most distressed areas of Appalachia, defined by the US government as the poorest regions in the country. Monkey Do works as an outreach to partner with groups, churches, organizations and other non-profits to provide for the most basic needs of people in those areas.

The Problem: Summer starvation. Most children in this region of the country get two meals a day at school. During the summer, school is out and so is the children's opportunity for breakfast and lunch.

The Pledge: The Monkey Do Project is partnering with a food bank in Clay, West Virginia to help fund their summer food program. This program is designed to help replace the two meals a day kids get at school - for many of these kids, those are the only full meals they get in a day. Two previous drives organized by Monkey Do have made a great impact on the ability of the food bank to meet the needs of the area.

How You Can Help: Give. Donate what you are able through the secure giving form on the Monkey Do Project website. Pray. Jackie and Crystal and others involved in the Monkey Do Project know the power of prayer. I ask that you pray for the people of Appalachia and for the success of the Summer Starvation/Fill the Food Bank project. And if you want someone to pray for you, there is a place you can leave your requests on the Monkey Do website, too. 

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Thanks to the Monkey Do Project for the photos above. Those are actual photos of the Clay, West Virginia food bank when Jackie & Crystal visited last fall. Since then, Monkey Do has worked to keep the shelves of the food bank stocked.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The 7 refrains of motherhood

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I like to sing. I'm not good at it, but I like to do it anyway. My repertoire pretty much consists of church songs and show tunes. This morning when I woke up, I didn't awaken singing. Instead, I woke thinking about the refrains of motherhood.

Like the refrain of a song -- "Let it go! Let it go! -- the refrains of motherhood are those things I find myself repeating over and over again, day after day, year after year.

As I thought about them, I identified seven refrains of motherhood.

Don't touch. This is one of the things we tell our children from their very young years. Don't touch...the things lining the shelves in the store, the hot stove, my Diet Coke. As our kids get to their teen years, "don't touch" takes on a whole new meaning...drugs, alcohol, and again, my Diet Coke.

Be careful. These words of caution start out as physical admonitions, encouraging our kids to be careful when crossing the street, climbing a tree or jungle gym, swinging a baseball bat for the first time. Slowly, they morph into words that are meant to guide our loves to make wise choices for themselves, to protect their hearts and souls. And when they set out, car keys and shiny new driver's license in hand, for that first solo drive, "be careful" again carries it's most basic and urgent message, the one that says "please come back to me in one piece."
Great job. One of my favorite parts of being a mom is the feeling of that heartswell when one of my kids does something good. It was a swell I felt at their first steps, the first time they rode a two-wheeler by themselves. Even better is the joy we feel when we see them include someone who is sitting alone or give up something important to them for the benefit of someone who needs it more. As parents we don't keep that swell within. We rush to our kids, wrap our arms around them, and tell them "Great job!" Sometimes we use different words, but truly, the refrain is same. Great job, indeed.

Do it now. This is one of the exasperated refrains of motherhood. Nothing is so maddening as having to repeat myself several times, waiting for one child or another to move on a request I've made or a directive I've given. Old family folklore has it that my mother-in-law used to reach the end of her rope, particularly when stalling about homework was involved, and shout in a maniacal voice, "Do it now! Do it now! Do it now!" I may have sputtered the same words once. Maybe twice.

Be nice. It's really one of the most basic things about being human. Be nice to others. Treat them as you wish to be treat. When our children are little and are greeting a new sibling or are playing alongside another child, we often gently tell them "Be nice." As they get older, the direction can sometimes be more complex, even harder to follow. "Be nice" to people who rub you the wrong way. "Be nice" to the mean girls in the school cafeteria. "Be nice" to the kids who other kids might make fun of you for being nice to. "Be nice" to the one who broke your heart. "Be nice" to the teacher who you think is mean. "Be nice" to yourself.

Go ahead. Our jobs as mothers, as parents, is to hold our children's hands while they are little...and sometimes when they are big. At some point, though, we let go, nudge them forward and tell them "go ahead." We say it as they take their first teetering steps, as they push off for the first time with no training wheels. We say it as they get on the school bus or they stand in front of the class to share their project. When our children are reluctant or fearful, we might want to swallow those words, to save them for a better time. Yes, sometimes "go ahead" are two of the scariest words we can think to say, but we know they are words of love. As the mother of new driver and a child just a blink away from college, I know the loving terror and joy of this refrain.

I love you.  All the other refrains of motherhood are really just alternate ways of singing this one. If the only refrain my children remember is "I love you," I will have done my job.

What are other refrains of motherhood do you find yourself singing? 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I want for Mother's Day

Today my husband posted this query on Facebook:

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I feel really bad that he thinks his ideas never go over well. I always feel loved and appreciated on Mother's Day. I always look forward to opening the card marked "To My Wyfe," which is signed "Love Your Huzzzzzband" and includes a York Peppermint Patty. The cards from the kids, which Mike generally picks out, are spot on. 

I don't want Mike to stress out over Mother's Day -- maybe because I don't want to be required to stress out over Father's Day. So, honey, here are some things to keep in mind when you are trying to decide how to acknowledge Mother's Day.
  1. Sleep is good. Very good. Sleeping in and taking a nap later if I want to are always appreciated.
  2. Not cooking is good. This is a win-win situation. I don't have to cook and you and the kids don't have to eat what I've thrown together.
  3. We have more time than money. Spending money kind of stresses me out. Ok, it stresses me out a lot. But we do have time. I would thoroughly enjoy some kind of family activity, even if it's watching Annie's play or going to Charlie's soccer game or working in the yard or going for a walk. 
  4. I don't need more stuff. Well, I need shoes, but you're not allowed to buy those for me unless I'm with you. So please don't feel the need to buy something that requires wrapping.
  5. I will admit to being a control freak sometimes and I'm working on that. But one thing that I would love to control on Mother's Day is the television. No ugly animation. No ESPN unless it's something I want to watch. I'm envisioning Food Network and chick flicks. 
  6. Donuts. From Long's. 
  7. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Pick a room, any room, and have the kids pick it up. (Sorry kids!)
  8. A foot massage. You can tell Robbie to do it. 
I was hoping to make this a 10-item list, but I've got 8. Maybe some other folks can suggest #9 & #10. Or, as the television show said, 8 is enough.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

They said the F word. I said nothing.

 photo F-word_zpsefef1b15.jpgThere I was, minding my own business, soaking up free WIFI at a McD's, biding time until I had to go pick up my daughter. About 20 minutes and one large iced tea into my solitude, a group of 20-somethings seated themselves two tables over from me. They were loud and they were vulgar.

Every sentence was peppered with the F word and the B word and the S word. I'm not a stranger to those words, but I don't use them often. Or proudly.  But these "kids" were flinging them around without remorse as though they were saying "very" or "heck" or a thousand other more polite and intelligent-sounding words.

I wondered if the young family I'd heard sitting behind me earlier had left the restaurant. I hoped they had. And I sat there wishing these profanity-prone hipsters sitting four feet from me would just shut up and go away. I opened my Facebook page and mused with my fingertips when such vulgarity had become so commonplace, so mainstream.

What I wish I would have done, what I should have done, was stand up, walk over to the table and asked them to not use that language. Not so loudly. Not at all.

But I didn't. I didn't because I feared what they might say, already imagining the red embarrassment climbing up my neck and across my face. I feared what insults they might hurl in my direction. I didn't because I worried that after I'd said my piece, I would feel compelled to pack up and leave and I didn't want to go just yet. I had things to do, time to spend and I had been there first.

I didn't say anything because I allowed the people-pleasing anxiety I carry to take my mind to scenes of them following me to my car, threatening me, hurting me.

I wish I'd said something. It wouldn't have saved a life. It wouldn't have conquered a great injustice. But maybe it would have made this corner of the world for that moment on this night a little nicer place to be.

What would you have done?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I am content

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This past week we've been on Spring Break. Tomorrow the kids go back to school and Mike & I head back to work. And I am content.

It's such a peaceful feeling. I'm really grateful for the time we spent as a family, but even more grateful that I am in the calm, rested place I find myself.

We didn't have an extravagant Spring Break. We visited my father-in-law for a couple of days and visited two college campuses for Annie. We spent one night in a hotel and spent 4 days at home.

There were times that I logged onto Facebook and saw people's vacation photos from tropical locales and felt a twinge of jealousy. But I didn't go there. Instead, I chose to "sit still and allow contentment to come to me." (Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert.)

So what's made me content?
  1. A deck of cards. I bought a deck of cards from the hotel gift shop and since then we've had hours of fun sitting around a table playing Crazy 8s and War. Best $2.97 I ever spent.
  2. Rain. Annie & I got caught in a torrential downpour during one of her college visits. It was wet and inconvenient and memorable. Whether or not she chooses that school, we'll always be able to remember that day we got soaked in St. Louis.
  3. Laundry. Ordinarily laundry would not be a source of contentment. But I spent the past 2 days doing load after load of laundry. The result? We are heading back to reality with clean clothes and matched socks and boy, does that feel good.
  4. Sleep. What a difference being rested makes! While we were on a schedule during the first few days of Spring Break, the past 4 mornings I had nowhere to be, so I slept in until 9:30 or so. Love that little luxury. 
  5. Cooking. I know...who am I and what have I done with Amy? Honestly, because we have been home with no place to be, I've had the time to plan a menu and cook. Nothing fancy, really, although tonight I did make some pretty yummy roast cauliflower. 
  6. Love. I got to spend this week with people I love doing nothing special in particular (ok, the college visits were pretty special), but sharing space and time. Life is good.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

These movies will change your life (or not)

Until five days ago, it had been several months since I'd seen a movie in a theater. But last week I saw two new films. The first one, "God's Not Dead," came highly recommended.

I knew it was in the theaters for a short time. So I picked the kids up from school one day last week and headed to a matinee. I'm not sure what I expected. Annie was convinced I was trying to orchestrate a conversion experience of some sorts. About 10 minutes into the movie, Charlie leaned over and whispered, "Mom, this is going to be one LONG movie." 

Why do Christian films have to be so bad? The acting was ok. The script was mostly heavy-handed and predictable. The bad guys were almost unbelievably jerkish. One thing that really bothered me about "God's Not Dead" was the negatively stereotypical portrayal of Muslims (controlling and violent) and Asians (defiant of God and singularly focused on success).

Annie said "That movie needed a comic relief." And she was right. Maybe that's what "God's Not Dead" needed -- to not take itself so seriously.  "Mom's Night Out," another Christian film I've had the chance to preview, got its point across without smacking the viewer upside the head with the Bible. 

Would I see "God's Not Dead" again? Probably not. Am I glad we went to see it? Yes. There was one particularly moving scene when a woman with dementia had a haunting moment of clarity. That scene was one of the things we talked about in the car on the way home. After I acknowledged the film's drawbacks, I asked the kids what they thought about the messages in the film. We talked about the old woman's assertion that sometimes the devil lulls us with an easy life so that we don't feel a need to turn toward God. Even the next morning on the way to school, Robbie brought up the movie and we had another discussion about things we had see on the screen. 

Did "God's Not Dead" change my life? No. But it might change yours. I've talked to several people who felt very moved by it. Maybe you will be one of them. 

The second movie I saw this week was "Farmland." This is a documentary, set to make an appearance in a limited number of theaters in May. The movie profiled six young farmers and spoke of their commitment to their family farms, their industry and to bringing food to America. It answered questions about corporation farming, pesticide use, organic farming and animal cruelty and raised questions about public policy and the future of agriculture in America.

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Watching "Farmland" made me want to hug a farmer. Honestly. It also made me think about where our food comes from and where it will come from in the future. The average age of today's farmer is mid-60s. So who is going to run these farms and grow our food when those farmers retire or pass away?

"Farmland" also gave me an appreciation for the amount of work and faith that goes into farming. The planting, the watering, the tending, the praying for good weather, the harvesting. It negates the image of farmers as country bumpkins and showcases how intelligent -- book smart and field smart -- these people are.

I have to admit to having a long-held crush on farmers and the lives they lead, so maybe it was easy for me to find myself enamored of this film. That's a possibility. Did "Farmland" change my life? Hmmm...I'm not sure exactly, although it did make me think differently about where our food comes from and how that might (or might not) change in the future. Will it change yours? Maybe. Visit the Farmland website to watch the trailer (not shareable here) to see for yourself.