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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: Resolution Overload

 photo ResolutionOverload_zpsc36a0efe.jpgIf you've been on Facebook at all in the past week (and you know I have been), maybe you've noticed it. "It" being the over-abundance of self-improvement tips and blog posts and encouragements, all allegedly pointing us in the direction of a happier, healthier, smarter, more organized, more faithful, more prosperous New Year. "It" makes me want to pull the covers over my head and stay in 2014 forever.

There is nothing wrong with setting goals, dreaming big or choosing a life focus. The good Lord knows that my life could use some focus. But being inundated with suggestions about how to be a better me actually results in a more anxious me. Here are just a few of the things I could do to make 2015 the best. year. ever.

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I'm not devoid of goals or completely unwilling to make changes in my life. I think that the key to me succeeding at New Year's resolutions or life goals or whatever you want to call them is to decide what's really important to me and what activities will support that. 

#slaydebt photo Home-Page-Book-Graphic-text_zpsbfd4c6bb.png#slaydebt photo Home-Page-Book-Graphic-text_zpsbfd4c6bb.pngMy focus for 2015 is to get our home ready to sell. By this time next year, I want to be able to confidently put a "For Sale" sign in the yard.

So the two things I am committing myself to this year are completing the 52-Week Organized Home Challenge (done in just 15 minutes a day!) and reading my friend Cherie's new book, Slaying the Debt Dragon, which I'm counting on to inspire me to get our finances in sell-and-move-ready condition, too.

Sure, there are plenty of other goals I could set -- health goals, career goals, even recreational goals. But I know myself. I can overload myself with good intentions, then end up frustrated and stuck where I was in the first place because it was just all too much. Or I can choose one thing that I really want for 2015 and take a few concrete steps toward achieving that. The other thing I can do is ask for your help. Check in with me from time to time about my progress. Encourage me. Gently keep my feet to the fire.

Are you setting goals or making resolutions for 2015? If so, what are they? And how can I help you make 2015 the year you want it to be?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Late night thoughts on grocery shopping on Christmas Eve eve

Almost the last thing I wanted to do at 10:30pm was go to the grocery store. But it was December 23, Christmas Eve eve, and I was bound and determined to lay in the supplies for Christmas day before Christmas Eve.

It had already been an expensive day. New brake pads (4 of them) on the van, an oil change for Annie's car, the last of the Christmas gift purchases -- all of which were more or less planned for -- and then the totally unexpected need to replace Annie's one and only pair of eyeglasses when they accidentally broke in a moment of horseplay with Charlie. So I was determined to spend wisely on this trip.

That meant I sat down ahead of time to update my Target Cartwheel and match up coupons to as many things as I could. By the time I hit the Target parking lot, it was 10:30pm. Here is what went through my head:

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  1. Thank God Target is open until midnight tonight. 
  2. Stick to the list, Amy. Stick to the li--ooh! Gingerbread houses (Note: Restraint was victorious)
  3. Oh, we do need bananas. And ketchup. (Victory short-lived)
  4. 5 people with two weeks home for Christmas break? This is gonna be expensive.
  5. Merry Christmas to me -- I'm buying the pre-made veggie tray instead of making it myself. (For the record, I was going to clean, chop and assemble it myself, but the only celery I could find was a seen-better-days package of organic celery. You can't have a proper veggie tray without celery.)
  6. Wow. The key to shopping on Christmas Eve eve is coming late at night. There's practically no one here. 
  7. I'm not buying hot dogs. Robbie will eat 5 in a day and then they will be gone.
  8. So many 2 for $5 deals. Did I mention this is gonna be expensive.
  9. I will buy one bag of "good" bagels and one bag of Market Pantry bagels.
  10. Ding! Ding! Ding! Doing the happy dance here! Spiral sliced ham for $1.99/pound, minus $1 per pound with my coupon, minus 10% on the Cartwheel, minus 10% for the Red Card + Rx Rewards = spiral sliced ham for about 80 cents a pound! Let's buy two!
  11. Yes! The last box of sugar cookie cutouts. Bake and decorate. Perfect! I wonder if that's on the Cartwheel?
  12. Crappy cereal as Christmas gifts...brilliant! 
  13. Seriously, all the hash browns are gone? Yes, I could make my own, but it's Christmas. See #5.
  14. Chocolate chip peppermint slice & bake cookies?! That must have been what Beth did for her party.
  15. Don't forget the dog food.
  16. Orange juice. Better write "do not drink" on this when I get home or it will be gone before Christmas morning.
  17. Can beef jerky be a stocking stuffer? 
  18. Almost finished. Just need to find the hashbrowns, oh! and batteries. Duracell 9 volt. I have a coupon for that.
  19. Why are batteries so flipping expensive? 
  20. Where did all these people come from and why are there only 2 checkout lanes open?
  21. Coupons, Passbook, Cartwheel, pharmacy rewards, Red Card. It's like a game.
  22. I win! Took $50 off my total. 
  23. It really might be easier to push this cart home than unload it into the van only to unload it from the van to the kitchen. 
  24. Where are my keys? And my phone? Maybe shopping while exhausted isn't a great idea.
  25. Midnight. Whew. Closed down the store. I sure hope that someone is awake at home to help me carry all these in and put them away.
  26. I am DONE. I will not set foot into a store until sometime next week...oh crap. Forgot I need one quick thing at Walgreen's. I'll make Mike go. 
  27. Bet this might make a good blog post.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I know it's just hair, but I still might cry.

I was wandering Target last night (a perfectly acceptable Friday night activity) when Annie sent me a text. It was a brief conversation:
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It was not one of my most open-minded moments, but her hair -- her natural-grows-out-of-her-head hair -- is so pretty. Dye her hair black? My mind immediately went to a pasty-white-faced girl wearing a safety pin through her ear and black combat boots on her feet. 

Honestly, look at this senior picture Mike took of her: 

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I know I'm terribly biased, but I think she is beautiful and her hair is just gorgeous. So why in the world would she want to go and dye it at all, but especially why would she want to dye it black? 

She had an answer for that:

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It was late, pushing 11:00pm. I didn't really have a good argument other than "because I said so." It is only hair. I was too tired to argue and figured in 6 weeks she will be 18 and technically able to make her own decisions anyway, barring "my house, my rules." And I'm trying to be less of a control freak. So I waved the white flag of surrender:

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And because I'm still a work in progress on the whole control freak thing:

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A mother can hope, right?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Where would you be?

I feel like I am losing my mind. But really, I'm just losing my stuff. I've tried the prayer to St. Anthony:

 photo StA_KeepCalm_zps355c1098.jpgTony, Tony look around.
Something's lost and can't be found.
Please help me find...

Either St. Anthony is sleeping on the job or he's trying to teach me a lesson about taking care of my things. I have cleaned out more than one closet with no luck. So now I'm here enlisting your help (and hoping that at least one person who reads my blog is psychic).

Where would you be if you were...
  • one black El Naturalista clog with cute swirly white stitching 
  • one silver Dr. Scholl flat 
  • my favorite pair of Vera Wang jammies (from Kohl's) that my husband bought me for Christmas last year
  • the security card that lets me into my office building (don't worry boss, it's been gone a while)
  • a cute little vintage-looking Santa pin that I swear was on the counter next to the refrigerator
  • 3 green mini bungee cords that are used to hang stockings with care
  • a red cardigan sweater that will go perfectly with my "Believe" bling holiday shirt
  • the "bit" part of my Fitbit Flex that somehow got separated from the charge
I'm serious, give me some ideas where these things might be. What is the strangest place you've ever found something you've lost? 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

To be young and in...fatuated

I should have known I was in trouble when, at 11 years old, Charlie told me there was no way he could be a priest. "Why?" I asked. "Mom, do you really expect me to live without a woman for the rest of my life?!"

Fast forward four years and we are -- well, he is (Mike & I are just occasionally intervening observers) -- in the girlfriend zone. Charlie loves to be in LUV. Sometimes the speed at which he barrels into a relationship scares me a little bit. I don't mean in the physical sense. We've had plenty of conversations about "S," as Robbie calls it, but Charlie is emotionally all in when it comes to teenage romance.

So far, his taste in girls has been very good. Both nice Catholic girls. Both good students. His first girlfriend was super sweet and had a dad who is a police officer. I told Charlie he was either going to have to marry her or wait for her to break up with him, neither of which happened. We were all fairly traumatized by that break-up. Robbie still talks about Girl #1 and how much he liked her.

 photo Charlie_Ameliah2_zps1b05fcf6.jpgNow there is Girl #2. They met at church -- yay God! -- and go to different high schools. It seems like Charlie enjoys being "free" during the day at school. The extent of the "dating" has been a couple of PG-13 movies, a Butler basketball game with her parents, hanging out at her house, and lots of text messages. His current girlfriend has got him playing marathon games of Hanging with Friends, so that makes me happy. The fact that she makes him want to go to church, if only to see her, is also a good thing.

Charlie and Girl #2 have been dating for somewhere around two months and Christmas is just around the corner. So what did my lover-of-girls want to give his sweetheart? Well, he started thinking about a giant teddy bear. Sweet, though a little cliche. I suggested a photo of the two of them in a frame. It's inexpensive, personal, and she can re-use the frame for a picture of her and her next boyfriend. You know, just in case.

He wasn't on board with that idea. Then he said that Girl #2 loves the TV show "The Office" (score another point for Girl #2), so he thought maybe he would give her the ENTIRE SERIES on DVD. In addition to being young and infatuated, Charlie is also a bit delusional about how much things cost. Did I mention he doesn't have a job and will be working off the cost of this gift in dishwashing and laundry?

Needless to say, I sent him back to the drawing board, where he and Girl #2 came up with what they determined to be the PERFECT gift for each other. Anyone care to guess? I'll give you a's cheesy, but as Annie declared "it's so cheesy it's sweet."

Couples sweatshirts.

 photo BeautyBeast_zps1cd2f731.jpgAs the kids today say, "I can't even..."

Just thinking about it and how excited Charlie was (for me) to buy this gift for Girl #2 makes me smile. Do you want to see the sweatshirts? Of course you do!

Girl #2 is a beauty. But Charlie a beast? Only if you are talking about his ferocity on the soccer field, or more likely his table manners.

Truthfully, the sweatshirts make so much sense for how Charlie views the world, romance included. He wants to someone or something. He's a person who needs people and I love that about him, even if that means he probably won't be a priest.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who made this mess?

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For the past few years, I've been attending weekly meetings of a group for recovering control freaks, fixers and people pleasers. It's been a slow but steady path and from time to time I can look at a situation and see how much I've changed (and sometimes how far I still have to go).

Earlier this week, I made plans to go straight from work to the meeting. I arranged a ride home from school for Charlie and told Mike he would have to pick Robbie up from school. Annie had rehearsal and would be driving herself home. That's it. Easy peasy. Until...

We had a Thanksgiving pitch-in at lunch. Seriously some of the best southern cooking I've ever had (My contribution? Apples & caramel dip.) and there was plenty leftover, including home made mac and cheese. I knew the boys would love to be on the receiving end of those leftovers...and, if I'm really honest with myself, I didn't want Mike to order pizza for dinner because we are on a tight budget until payday.

So I told Mike that I would meet him at Robbie's school to hand off dinner. Then I would go on to my meeting. Only, when I got to the school, Mike wasn't there. He was still a good 15 minutes away. I went in, picked up Robbie and called Mike.

"I've got Rob. I'll just meet you at St. Luke's on 86th Street and then I'll go on to the meeting." He agreed.

Robbie and I arrived at the St. Luke's parking lot at 5:48pm. I had 12 minutes to get to the meeting on time, which was kind of important because I was supposed to lead the discussion.

5:50pm. No Mike.

5:51pm. My phone died so I could no longer track where my husband was using the "Find my iPhone" app.

I could feel my blood pressure rising and my jaw setting itself in "angry" mode. I took a deep breath and thought to myself "I cannot change this situation. There is no point in getting upset." I was pretty proud of myself for that.

Mike arrived somewhere around 5:56pm, although I don't know exactly what time it was because I'd given up staring down the clock. He took Robbie and the dinner and I sat in the parking lot trying to decide if it was worth showing up late to the meeting.

As I considered the option of arriving late, not totally happy with Mike for making me late, I heard a friend's voice in my head (not really, Mom), asking what was my part in this situation.

So I asked myself that. "What was my part in this debacle of a plan?"

It didn't take long to recognize that it was really all my part. There had been a plan in place that would have taken me directly from work to the meeting without having to stop for anything. Who changed that plan? Me.

Mike is completely capable of picking up Robbie and making dinner for himself and the boys. We could have eaten the yummy leftovers for dinner the next day. But I was both trying to be nice (hello, people pleasing fixer) and to control the situation (control freak!) by devising the leftover drop off/kid exchange plan. Mike teases that I am addicted to chaos. Looking at this situation, he might not be wrong.

I smiled to myself, even laughed a little, as I came to the realization that this mess was all my fault. So, I may not have come far enough to not create the situation in the first place, but I have grown enough to recognize how my actions led to the outcome. That gives me hope.

(And yes, I still went to the meeting and it was worth it.)

Pre-holiday reality check

 photo Keep-the-Happy-in-Your-Holidays_zpsa03b2a4d.jpg About two weeks ago, my one remaining freelance writing gig came to an abrupt end. With no warning, my client told all of us writing for him to stop. I was counting on the weekly check from that job to finance Christmas this year. Then a few days ago, we got a rather big bill in the mail that I wasn't expecting. I could feel the anxiety begin to set in. It seemed like the perfect time to read the new e-book Cherie Lowe, aka The Queen of Free, asked if I would review. The book is called Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: 21 Ways to Save Time, Money and Your Sanity this Christmas Season and is available via download for $1.99.

I'll admit that reading books about saving money and budgeting ranks in my mind right above going to the dentist. But, frankly, I was looking for someone to tell me we could have a great Christmas season without spending a lot of money. At 122 pages, the book was a quick read.

Keep the Happy in Your Holidays is broken down into 21 tips, beginning with a pledge to make it a debt-free Christmas. That's not a hard one for us; we operate on a cash-only basis. From advice on what is really a good deal on Black Friday (Tip #4) to creative ideas for gifts that cost $5 or less (Tip #11), the e-book is full of practical ideas for a variety of situations and scenarios related to the holiday season, including gift giving, travel and even wrapping presents.

My favorite tip was Tip #9: Cultivate a Culture of Contentment in Your Kids. I want my kids to have happy memories of Christmastime and I don't believe that money = memories. Cherie offers these suggestions:
  1. Begin with a thankful list (instead of a list of wants).
  2. Conduct an ongoing discussion about wants and needs.
  3. Invest in your child's faith.
  4. Serve together. This is on my list of to do's this holiday season.
  5. Ask for or give experiences. Maybe Grandma would like to pay for a few months of piano lessons?
  6. Set limits. In our house, Santa brings 3 gifts and a stocking and mom & dad give 1 gift for each kid. We've done this since Annie's second Christmas, so our kids are used to it.
  7. Reflect what you want to see. Cherie writes "If we are worried, hurried, or frazzled, we shouldn’t be surprised if they [our kids] are too. If we are consumed with our desire for the next big thing or are constantly dissatisfied, then they will be too."
Nowhere in the book does Cherie tell you what to do. She gives suggestions and examples of strategies that worked to help Cherie and her husband pay off $127,000 in debt in just four years. The e-book includes several free printables, including printable gift tags. She also does a nice job gently circling the reader back to the real reason for the Christmas season. 

Readers of Keep the Happy in Your Holidays also get the introduction and first chapter of Cherie's book, Slaying the Debt Dragon, which tells the Lowe's story of battling their mountain of debt and the lessons they learned along the way. That book will be available in bookstores in early January 2015.

How to get the books:
  1. You can get both Keep the Happy in Your Holidays and Slaying the Debt Dragon on Amazon. If you use the links in this post to make your purchase, I'll get a few cents from your purchase. 
  2. Beginning December 1, if you pre-order Slaying the Debt Dragon (available in paperback and e- book), you'll get a copy of Keep the Happy in Your Holidays for FREE.
To learn more about the books and hear what others have said about them, visit the book website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From grump to grateful

When I woke up this morning, it was 10 degrees outside. Windchill brought the "feels like" temp down to -8. I was crabby at the thought of getting out of my warm bed and put it off as long as possible. 

After hitting the snooze twice, I reluctantly got out of bed -- only after I checked my email and the local news websites to see if, by some grace, school was canceled or delayed on account of the cold. I sleepily walked to the bathroom and started the shower, giving the water a few minutes to warm up. I grumbled to the boys to get up and get moving. I told them they HAD to wear long pants and sweatshirts today. 

I got in the shower and dared the water to wake me up. It wasn't just my body that was awakened as the hot water streamed over me. My attitude got a wake up call as well.
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I realized that I have a warm bed to crawl out of (and yes, to stay snuggled into). I have a warm house to wander in, waking sleeping people each morning. I have three wonderful children to argue with me about weather-appropriate clothing. I have a hot shower to step into. I have a job to go to that not only calls me out of bed but that pays for my heat and water and other things.  

And I have a God to thank for my many blessings, including the blessing of a new perspective to start my day.


Monday, November 17, 2014

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without...

thanksgiving photo: Garfield Thanksgiving 62c7e04a.jpgThanksgiving is a favorite holiday around here. As Charlie said tonight, "all you do is eat and watch football, how could a day get any better?" It's still 9 days away, so to pass the time I've made a list of all the things that make Thanksgiving Thanksgiving in my book:
  1. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sitting in jammies all morning long, watching the parade and hollering at the kids randomly. "Garfield is coming! Right after this commercial (and the next and the next and the next). Who wants to see Garfield?"
  2. Black Friday ads. It doesn't matter that I will have checked out the ads online several times since mid-November. There is nothing like paging through ad after ad of deals so good even sane people consider heading to the stores at 3am. My favorites are the Target and Kohl's ad, but Walgreen's is usually a place for some good deals, too.
  3. Green bean casserole. If it's not the original recipe from the can of Durkee's French Fried Onions, it's not green bean casserole. 
  4. Falling asleep to football. I like to watch football. Really. But I like a nap during a football game even more.
  5. Cranberry relish. This is new on my list of must-haves for Thanksgiving. Growing up, cranberry sauce always came out of a can, bearing the telltale ridges of the inside of the can. Yuck. But Mike's mom introduced me to cranberry relish made with whole cooked cranberries and little bits of orange zest. Delicious! 
  6. Fat pants. My brother-in-law taught this to my kids. Either wear or bring with you big stretchy pants for post-meal bloat. And if Mom wants to take pictures of the family, better do it before dinner when everyone still looks decent. Otherwise she will get a picture of people in a varied assortment of sweats, sleepwear and perhaps even old maternity leggings.
  7. Spending time with family. In the 21 years that Mike and I have been married, we have only not been with extended family once. And that's the way I like it.
What makes it Thanksgiving for you? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Oh the places you'll sleep

For the past month, I've been getting up at 5am a few times a week to get Charlie to the high school for basketball try-outs. When I drop him off at 6am, I head on to work because going back home would be a waste of gas. Some days I go inside and get the day started. But sometimes I don't. Instead, I crawl to the back of the van and take a nap.

I've never really minded being short (5'3") and my height -- or lack of -- is a benefit for back of the van snoozing. If I lay on my side and bend my knees, I fit quite nicely on the bench in the 3rd row. I set an alarm on my phone and cover with one of the blankets I keep in the car in case I break down on a freezing day. You would be surprised how well I can sleep like that.

Today was not a car-napping day. But my butt was dragging and the thought of taking a nap was enticing. Finally at lunch I closed the office door, turned off the lights and crawled under my desk. Like the back row of the minivan, the space under my desk is perfect for SPN (short people napping). Apparently this is known as "pulling a George Costanza," from the TV show Seinfeld.

I got to thinking about all of the non-traditional places I've slumbered:
  1. In the back row of the van 
  2. Under my desk during lunch 
  3. On the floor of the dolphin pavilion at the zoo (Girl Scout field trip)
  4. Sitting up at the coffee table with my hands resting on the table top waiting for my nail polish to dry.
  5. In a sleep study room
  6. On a massage table -- probably not so unusual
  7. In the movie theatre (Mike said I fall asleep in the last 5 minutes of good movies)
  8. In the driver's seat of the van during afterschool pick up. I woke up when a teacher knocked on the window after all the other cars had left the lot. 
  9. In the awesome "egg" chairs at the Indianapolis Central library. Every. single. time. Those things are like a womb -- warm, dark and cozy. 
  10. Shhh...don't tell my priest...but I may have nodded off once or twice during church.
  11. And more than once, sitting on the couch, computer on my lap, mid-blog.
Funny, I can sleep in all those places, but for a long time the one place I couldn't sleep was my own bed. But since I've started using a CPAP machine for my sleep apnea, my chronic insomnia is nearly a thing of the past. 

If I had a sleep bucket list, I'd love to take a nap in a tree house (one of those awesome creations on TreeHouse Masters), on a hammock under big leafy trees in a forest, and in the JW Marriott near Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Ok, so I've done that one, but seriously, it was the best bed and comfiest pillows I'd ever had the pleasure of sleeping with.

Where is the strangest/funniest/coziest you've fallen asleep? What would be on your sleep bucket list? 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What I learned from walking the labyrinth

Earlier this week I met a woman who is a labyrinth designer. A labyrinth is a circular path that is intended to give you a place to reflect, contemplate and otherwise be quiet with yourself. Walking a labyrinth can be a calming exercise, a spiritual experience, or annoyance if that's not your kind of thing. When I went on my first silent retreat, I thought the labyrinth wasn't my thing.

It seemed cliché, a forced activity and kind of pointless. As I walked the grounds of the retreat center, I avoided the labyrinth like it was the dentist. Yet on the last morning of the retreat, I found myself walking toward the maze. I decided to give it a try. While I wasn't struck by lightning bolts of revelation, I did learn a few things from the experience, things that I think are life lessons.

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1.  Patience is a requirement. I expected there to be twists and turns in the path and that was ok. But once I got to the center, I was frustrated to find that to get out, I had to walk the path in reverse. Sure, I could have just walked out, but I'm a rule follower and not finishing "correctly" didn't seem right. Patience is something I'm working on. I want answers, I want a plan, I want results and I want them now. But walking the walk provides lessons and experiences I would miss if I just rush through.

2.  It's important to keep my eye on the path. Several times, I looked up and away from the path -- toward the sound of a bird, to nod at another person, to look over the wakening grass and trees. When I looked back down, I was momentarily lost and confused, unsure if I had stepped into another "lane" of the path or if I was where I was when I'd first looked away. I'm not a great goal-setter. (See "patience" above.) In walking the labyrinth, even though I knew where I wanted to go -- the center -- I still had to keep watch to make sure my feet where taking me there.

3.  Even good things can be a distraction. I stopped to look at a tree blooming with pretty little purple flowers, then again to turn my head toward a busing of birds suddenly calling to each other. Once I stopped just to feel the sun on my face. When I returned my focus from the labyrinth, I was momentarily unsure of where I was. Good things. Facebook. A movie. A nap. They all can be good, but they all have a way of derailing me from where I want to be. It's ok for me to indulge from time to time, but I need to be aware of when my path has room for those distractions.

4. The path is not straight. Sometimes the path brought me so close to the center only to lead me far away again. But I persevered and made my way back. Of course, perseverance was easy when I was sure of my destination. Life isn't always so obvious. But I learned from this experience that if I keep my life's destination set on God, then no matter where my path takes me along the way, I will find my way home.

5.  The center is the sweet spot. When I reached the center of the labyrinth, it seemed the sun was focused right on that spot. I stood for several minutes, bathed in the warm, golden light, thanking God for the "reward." I wonder what other sweet spots I have missed because my eye was drawn away from the path?

6. Never enter a labyrinth when you have to pee. Honestly, I wrote this because a.) I did have to pee while I was walking the labyrinth and b.) I wanted to lighten this post up a bit with some humor. But now that I think about it, there is a message about taking care of myself and my needs in order to reach my destination. Maybe that need isn't always a bathroom break. Maybe it's the need for some daily quiet time or the need to spend time with friends and family (the need for community). See, even after time has passed, the labyrinth is still teaching me things.

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? What was your experience like?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

It smells like yesterday

 photo smells-like-yesterday_zps38d7fa3c.jpgWhat do you remember from your childhood? Or your college years? Or a home you once lived in? I have memories that are visual; I can see in my head what my bedroom looked like when I was in the 3rd grade. I can remember experiences -- scenarios as they unfolded so many years ago and how I felt about them. For me, the most powerful memories come as what I call "sense memories" built on notable smells.

Today I was walking down the athletics hall at Charlie's school. All of the sudden I smelled the locker room area of my own high school. The smell was a combination of musty and bleach. It wasn't unpleasant; in fact it was kind of comforting, connecting me to a happy time in my life. 

Earlier this summer, Charlie got in the front seat of the car. Immediately, I was greeted by a scent that took me a moment to recognize. Soon, the memory formed in my head. I was smelling Drakkar Noir, the cologne that Mike wore while we were in college. If I closed my eyes, I could see myself snuggling in close and burying my nose in the sparse hairs lightly sprinkled across Mike's chest. I breathed in deeply and smiled at the at memory. I could see my fingers tickling across his chest, my...WAIT A DAGGONE MINUTE! 

I snapped to, realizing that this woodsy citrus smell wasn't coming from the chest of my husband of 20 years. No, this scent was coming from my 15-year old son who was sitting in the car next to me. Aw heck no! I couldn't have my son wearing cologne that drew me back to his father's room in college.

Thanks to a well-timed pitch from a PR company who offered a free bottle, Charlie now wears British Sterling H.I.M. Private Stock cologne.

Another scent that transports me in time is pipe tobacco, which conjures up memories of my Grandpa before he gave up the habit. Pipe smokers aren't very common these days, but if there is one within 20 feet of me, I'm six years old on my Grandpa's lap again. 

You would think that given my round shape, I would have olfactory memories tied to food -- cakes baking or Thanksgiving turkeys, maybe. But I don't. I wonder why that is? My poor kids will probably have memories triggered by the smell of burning food

Do you have any memories that are triggered by certain smells? What are they? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Life after cable TV

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A few months ago we made the decision to cut the cable cord. Mike wasn't working, we had some medical bills to pay (we always have medical bills to pay), and we needed to trim the budget somewhere. What we were paying for cable TV didn't seem worth what we were getting in return --  8-10 channels we watched regularly and 192 channels that we could care less about.

ESPN and all its affiliated sports networks were really what kept us from making this decision sooner. When Charlie was 5 years old, he introduced himself to a neighbor, saying "Hi! I'm Charlie and sports are my life." Not much has changed, so we were a little worried that the withdrawal of the 24/7 sports channels might be like taking water away from a fish. But Charlie was already busy with summer conditioning for high school sports, so we reasoned that he wouldn't have much time to be watching TV anyway. 

The first day that Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network were not available, you could have told Robbie that the world was ending and he would have agreed immediately. But we were already Netflix subscribers and decided to add an $8/month subscription to Hulu Plus to our entertainment options. Hulu has eased the loss of the DVR. Most of the shows that we would have DVR'd in the past -- Parenthood, The Middle, Castle -- are available on Hulu, ready to be fired up when we are ready to watch them, as long as its at least one day since the original episode appeared. And while we don't have ESPN, Hulu has an ESPN channel that offers highlights, feature stories and classic "best of " games, so we don't feel too sports deprived. 

We get all the local television channels and their bonus companions -- Channel 6, 6.2, 6.3, etc. I was pretty surprised to see all the shows we can find on the local TV. There are even a couple of throw-back channels where you can catch classic shows like "Emergency!" and "M*A*S*H," shows of my childhood. 

I will admit, it's not all sunshine and lollipops. We are able to watch the Colts on local TV, although it does seem like the TV reception wants to act up mid-game fairly often. We can still watch the game; we just have put up with a few blips and pauses here and there. 

I miss the Food Network, although "Chopped" and "Cutthroat Kitchen" are available on Netflix. And while TLC has a channel on Hulu, they only offer short clips of episodes, not full episodes, so I'm left wondering about how the plans for Jessa Duggar's wedding are coming along and how Kody and his four wives are getting along on "Sister Wives."

When Robbie is crabby, he defaults to "And we don't even have cable TV!"

The upside of ditching the cable? Besides saving $150 a month, that is -- there are some nights that our TV doesn't get turned on at all. We read, tool around on the internet, do laundry and dishes (gasp!), and even go to bed at a reasonable time. 

Mike recently began working again and Charlie and Robbie began a campaign to bring back the cable. But we are standing firm. I'm hopeful that at some point, the cable companies will come around with an a la carte pricing structure where you can choose a dozen channels you want and will pay for. Until then, it's free channels, Netflix and Hulu for us. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Things they should tell you before you get an iron infusion

 photo Irontitle_zps32fad272.jpgAbout three weeks ago I had an iron infusion. I'd been feeling crappy for several months -- low energy, crazy tired, easily out of breath, and eating ice like it was something made by Hershey's. I knew my iron was low. I switched to a different kind of iron supplement, but I just could not get on top of it.

I asked my family doc to test my iron levels. She said no. Why? Because she'd told me to check in with the hematologist last spring and I didn't do it. So, off to the hematologist I went. He decided I needed a rapid fill of iron and the way to get that was an infusion.

I didn't know much before going in for the infusion, just that it would take about six hours and that there would be WIFI available (I asked about that specifically).

If you find yourself in the position to be getting an iron infusion, here are some things you might want to know ahead of time:

1. Where you are going. My appointment was at 8:15am. I went to the infusion center attached to the only office I've ever seen the hematologist in. I knew there was trouble when the gal at the registration desk started tapping away at her keyboard and clicking on her mouse, scrolling through several screens before she said "Oh, we have you scheduled at our downtown location." Fortunately, she was able to call and let them know I was on my way and they were able to hold a spot for me.

2. You can bring a lunch/food with you. It didn't occur to me that in six hours I might get hungry. The nurse who checked me in did show me the snack stash. And lucky for me, my friend Beth works at the downtown location and offered to bring me lunch.

3. You should hydrate well so it will be easy to find a vein. Three sticks and two nurses later, we found a good one. Credit goes to the first nurse who called for reinforcements when she was having difficulty.

4. They are going to have you mainlining Benadryl, which will knock your "I'm going to work on my laptop through this" plans right out the window. I called to ask about WIFI because I intended to make the infusion center my office for the day. Have laptop, will travel. It was a good strategy until they hung a bag of Benadryl and sent it free falling through my veins to ward off any allergic reaction to the iron solution. I was mid-email with someone and had to tell her that I would either be signing off or sending incoherent emails. Benadryl via IV might as well be vicodin. Add a blanket and a comfy chair you have the ingredients for one awesome snooze.

5. You're going to feel incredibly humbled to be sitting there for your one-time treatment, surrounded by people whose bald heads and germ-free masks give away the not-so-secret that they've been here many times before. Infusions are infusions, whether they are iron or chemo. Most of the people in the infusion suite that day were patients getting treatment for cancer. Many had family members with them and bags packed that said they knew it was going to be a long visit. I did a lot of praying, thankful I was there for a one-time fill-up and asking for healing and peace for those around me.

6. You will wonder why you didn't do this sooner. It takes 3-4 weeks for the iron to fully take effect, but one day about a week after the infusion I realized it was almost 3pm and I hadn't eaten any ice yet that day. Ice had become a staple of my diet (craving ice is a symptom of anemia), so much that I regarded Diet Coke as merely a vehicle for crunchy frozen bits. Not craving ice meant I was drinking less Diet Coke. My need for daily naps (either under my desk during lunch or as soon as I came home from work) began to ease up as well. I'm not still 100% nap-free, but I only nap 2-3 days a week now. And I'm feeling much more human overall.

The hematologist is hopeful that this iron infusion was just a tune up. Now that my tank is full (or should be, anyway) the iron supplements should be able to keep the anemia away.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Because I have too much else going on...

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Sometimes I'll sign up for an event or activity when my calendar is oh-so-full and I think sarcastically to myself "Oh, yes, let me do this because I don't have anything else going on." Tonight, I signed up to participate in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), committing to publishing one blog post per day during the month of November, because I have too much else going on.

Too much laundry. Too much Facebooking. Too much helping with homework and making dinner. Too much catching up on the latest episode of Parenthood or Castle. Even too much sleeping going on. My life is full and busy and I'm happy...but...I miss writing the stories that allowed me to connect with so many of you to begin with. 

The other day at work I had an opportunity to sit down, uninterrupted for several hours, and write a story about an amazing woman and her fight to recovery from spinal cord injury. My fingers were dancing over the keys. My mind was racing ahead to the next sentence. My breathing was quick and I swear I could feel my blood coursing through my veins. I felt alive and I remembered what a natural high writing can be.

So I'm taking the NaBloPoMo challenge and committing myself to the discipline of writing every day. I'm not making any promises that every post will be  fabulous, but I do promise to not waste your time. I promise that what I write will be worth reading, even if it's only to let you peek in a bit at who I am so we can get to know each other better. I'm sure to ask for your feedback or opinions so I can get to know you better, too. And I welcome your suggestions about what to write. I've got ideas, but I'll admit that a commitment of 30 blog posts in 30 days (yes, I know that I'm already behind by one) seems a little overwhelming to someone who has mostly been out of the habit of blogging.

So, happy NaBloPoMo friends! And happy reading.

Monday, August 25, 2014

SURVIVOR! 42 years! #SisterhoodoftheTravelingPinkSweater

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This is my friend Mary.

Mary is a 42-year survivor of breast cancer. That, of course, is not how I got to know Mary.

Mary was Charlie's preschool teacher when he was 4 years old. Then she babysat for my kids one summer. When she was changing jobs, I helped her with her resume. And from there, we became friends.

She is funny and sarcastic and like a member of the family to us. And, most importantly for this post, she is tiny enough to fit into the pink sweater.

I am blogging tonight as part of the #SisterhoodoftheTravelingPinkSweater, a project that brings awareness to the cause of breast cancer.

Through this project different bloggers will wear (or style) the vintage pink sweater that Mary is wearing. It once belonged to the first resident of Riley Towers in Indianapolis!

Back to Mary. She was just 21, a newlywed, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She said her cancer was caught at the earliest stage the doctor had ever seen. She underwent a radical mastectomy and was cancer free. I asked Mary if she ever thinks about her own breast cancer.

"It was such a long time ago," she said. "I almost forgot I had it."

Maybe you know someone who fought breast cancer. Maybe it's something you can forget. Maybe  you think Mary is just too fashionable to be ignored. Read on...

You can be a part of the #SisterhoodoftheTravelingPinkSweater project in several ways:
  1. Visit the #SisterhoodoftheTravelingPinkSweater website and read more of the stories that have been contributed.
  2. While you are at the website, make a donation to the Pink Ribbon Connection, a local organization that provides underserved women emotional support, bras, wigs, prostheses, and education needed during breast cancer diagnosis, care and recovery.
  3.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving that Mary -- and thousands of other women -- are still here today despite their breast cancer fight. Then say a prayer of remembrance for those who found their cure on the other side of life.
I'm pleased to introduce the next woman to enter the #SisterhoodoftheTravelingPinkSweater, my friend Nikki Capshaw. She is a single mother of three, a certified medical assistant and one of the hardest-working people I know. You can learn more about Nikki at Domestically Single.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's a big year around here.

'Tis the season for back to school and at our house that means two major milestones. This is Annie's senior year and Charlie's freshman year of high school. Honestly. I'm not sure I've settled into the reality of that quite yet.

I'm not at all melancholy about it, although I will own up to thinking "how did that happen already?"

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But I'm so excited for them. Annie is knee-deep into college visits and SATs and senior privileges like eating lunch on the lawn and red polo shirts. Charlie has spent the summer working out with the soccer and basketball teams, has earned a spot on the JV soccer team and may or may not have already asked a girl to homecoming. 

 photo a389d3ee-5894-4360-af16-7645dabc5d9e_zps553eeaa3.jpg I'm so enjoying watching them becoming the people they were born to be. They are both such good kids (not without fault, surely). I look at this picture of them -- taken on the first day of school on Friday -- and I can't help but feel a swelling in my chest. This is really a fun stage of parenting for me to be in. I'm clueless about enough that they can tease me, but I'm up front and honest about enough that they can trust me.

Letting go of my control freak tendencies has been something I've been working on for the past year or so. That's coming in handy while parenting teenagers. I have confidence in the way we've raised them and in their ability to make good choices -- something I remind them to do, thanks to my friend Ann. That's not to say that I don't make use of the "Find my iPhone" app to keep an eye on them from time to time.

They are not going to the same high schools. That's really no surprise to me. Annie's school fits her perfectly. Charlie's fits him. They are only in high school one year together, so we will manage. (Would someone please remind me of that in about 3 or 4 weeks when having 3 kids in 3 different schools seems like an overwhelmingly crazy idea?) While I think it would have been fun for them to be at the same school, I know we've chosen the right school for each of them.

As I was walking the dog yesterday, I stopped to talk to a neighbor who'd just moved his son into a rental home for his sophomore year of college. We talked about how quickly the kids have grown. I could close my eyes and see Annie, at 17 months old, running through our then-empty home on move-in day. Charlie wasn't even a glimmer then.

And now, here they are. High schoolers. A senior! and a freshman. I didn't even see it coming. Gosh. I love these kids.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I survived 6-hour Ebola

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I survived Ebola, the 6-hour kind.

Ok, it wasn't Ebola, but about this time yesterday, you couldn't have convinced me otherwise. It started unassumingly enough in the morning at work. I felt like junk. Fatigued. Achey. Then after a light lunch of yogurt and blueberries, the egg burps arrived. I hate those, all their foul-smelling, nasty tasting, sulfuric disgustingness. So, then I felt like junk and smelled like rotting eggs. 

After work, Annie picked me up to take me to parent orientation night at her school. On the way, she said "Mom, did you fart?" 

"No." I wasn't about to tell her that smell came from my mouth, not my butt.

She dropped me off and I chose a seat in the middle-ish of the room. Despite the air conditioning, I was sweating buckets and kept dragging the back of my hand across my forehead to wipe the sweat away. As I sat listening to the principal and other administrators address the parents of returning students, I wished to heck that I had chosen a seat way out of the way of other people. The egg burps kept coming and I kept my lips tightly pursed together, not wanting anyone to wonder if I was sitting there blatantly flaunting flatulence. The more I swallowed the burps, the worse I felt.

After the presentation, I was more than ready to go home. But, I was catching a ride home with another parent and there was an information fair to visit. I stood in a few lines, feeling my stomach bloat by the minute, desperate for some water or, better yet, my bed. I took a sip from the drinking fountain and prayed that my ride was ready to go. 

"Oh, I need to do one more thing," she said. I hadn't let on that I was feeling rotten, so she had no way of knowing. "Sure," I said, as I spied some peppermints in a bowl. I grabbed one, thinking the mint would settle my stomach. That is when everything went, well, Ebola-riffic.

I put the peppermint in my mouth and immediately that pool of saliva that comes right before you throw up made its appearance. I ran to the bathroom, hit the first stall and didn't know which end to put down. I opted to sit, having had plenty of experience breathing through nausea when I was pregnant. As I practice my best "please, please don't let me throw up" breathing, my liquified insides drained. And then, it happened.

There was no breathing through this nausea. I tried to get up and swing my head to the toilet, but the result was a very art deco-ish swirl of vomit that coated the side of the stall and the wall behind the toilet. I could only think to pray that a.) there was no one else in the bathroom and 2.) that I did not have diarrhea or vomit dripping from my clothes. 

Thanking my lucky stars that my clothes had been spared attack, I got some wet paper towels and cleaned up what I could, though the result was no where near "clean." I left washed up as best I could, went out to alert the school staff that cleanup was needed in stall #1 and prayed that my ride was ready to leave. Thankfully, she was. 

I worried about getting sick again on the way home. I didn't mention anything to my friend, feeling bad that I was going to be placing my germy self in her car for the next 20 minutes. Instead I tried to make conversation and was silently thankful that my friend is a nurse, in case something unspeakable did happen.

I got home, dropped everything and took myself straight to bed. Which is where I stayed for about 3-1/2 minutes before I was assaulting our own toilet. And that's how it went for the next several hours. Time was a blur. I couldn't fall asleep, but I couldn't read or use my phone. I don't believe I have ever been that deliriously sick in my life. Eventually, I gave up trudging back to bed after getting sick and instead laid on the bathroom floor. 

By 1:00am, the torrent of bodily fluids appeared to be over. I awoke this morning feeling like I'd been run over by a garbage truck with a head that felt like it was in a vise. I called in sick to work and spent the rest of the day sleeping with intermittent periods of answering emails from work. 

And now, 24 hours later, I'm bravely attempting a baked potato, watching Cinderella on DVD, and sharing this story that you probably wish you hadn't read. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

If you buy a kid some school supplies

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If you buy a kid some school supplies, he's going to be super excited to open them.

When he opens them, they are going to be spread all over the family room floor.

When they are spread all over the floor, you'll tell the kid to put them in his backpack (not a new one because we just bought this one last year, doggone it).

When he puts them in his backpack, they will be all safe and ready for the first day of school (which isn't for another 15 days) until...

The kid decides he needs to take them out of his backpack so he can use the backpack to take with him to SkyZone. You'll tell the kid to put the school supplies back in his backpack and find another bag to take to SkyZone. Then you will leave for work, not being wise enough to tell your spouse that the kid should not, under any circumstances, take his backpack to SkyZone.

So of course, the kid takes his backpack -- filled with $857 worth of school supplies (so I'm might be exaggerating a little) -- to the Boys & Girls Club with him and then to the club's field trip to SkyZone.

And...say it with me...LEAVES. THE. BACKPACK. THERE.

Yes, the backpack that was filled with school supplies. The backpack that was supposed to stay safely on the bedroom floor for another 15 days.

I'm going on a field trip too. To the liquor store.

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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How did the adulteress get in here?

The scene: A desperately-needs-to-be-cleaned-out Toyota minivan

The characters: An 11-year old boy in the backseat. A 40-something Mom driving.

The boy: "Mom, what is The Adulteress about?"

The Mom: "What did you say?"

The boy: "The Adulteress. What's it about?"

The Mom -- mentally canceling cable television, wondering what bad Lifetime movie he'd been watching, making note to check the older kids' Google histories and otherwise getting worked up that an 11-year old would be asking about a trollop: "Adulteress? Where did you learn that word?!"

The boy: "My Picture Bible."

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