Monday, September 29, 2008

My Woes are Such Little Woes

I was sad to miss the Cold Stone Creamery Make-A-Wish event last week (they were giving out 3 oz. ice creams for a small donation with proceeds going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation). Sad, first, because I love ice cream. Sad, also, because I would have enjoyed doing a small part to encourage the Make-A-Wish Foundation, since they did a large part in blessing my brother's family. However, the nearest CSC is a half hour drive away and by Thursday evening (it was three specific evening hours), there was just no way to slip off for an hour and a half trip to get ice cream.

So, I kept the Chili's St. Jude's fundraiser day, today, in the back of my mind. Today, all of the profits from Chili's went to the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Like Cold Stone Creamery, Chili's is not exactly down the street from our little country estate. It would have been grand to plan a family dinner there, but I knew that was highly unlikely.

Thankfully, my MS had a horrible rash on his leg, necessitating yet another doctor visit. When I called to make today's appointment, I was informed that our doctor was scheduled at the other branch (which just happened to be the same town the Chili's is in). I agreed to drive to the other office and we received a 9:45 appointment. Since hubby was home from work, YS was able to stay home.

MS has a bad case of poison ivy, not impetigo. Apparently, the scratch, which we thought resulted from a fall from his bike, was really a linear scratch from the ivy plant. When ES heard the news, he said MS had followed he and his friends out in the woods and had wandered off the path despite ES's warnings. Great. Oh well, another bottle of medicine.

The appointment went quickly, so it was only 10:30 when I arrived in the Chili's parking lot to discover they don't open until 11. Shopping with MS is never a great prospect, but I decided to risk it. We headed to T.J. Maxx to look for some hoodies for ES (who has now suggested I take them back because he probably won't wear them - he wants hoodies from Hollister).

Our lunch was interesting. It didn't seem like anyone around even knew that it was a special day at Chili's. Another blogger mentioned that there were two radio stations urging people to come out at their Chili's. At this one, the girl who led us to our seats didn't even remember that this was the St. Jude fundraising day.

My MS decided that he wanted mac & cheese and french fries. That is, until the waitress had left and he was impatiently waiting for the food. Then, he decided that he was getting a cheeseburger (can you tell that we don't take these boys out much?). I tried to explain that we hadn't ordered a cheeseburger. In the end, he ate maybe four or five bites of the macaroni and one third of the fries. Since I had finished my soup and salad, I decided to help him eat the fries. I added ketchup (because I wanted to dip them) and from that point on, it was as if I had poured poison on his food. He didn't want to eat them, insisting that he only likes ketchup on fish sticks not fries. I pointed out that only three fries were touching the ketchup, so chances were great that he could snag a ketchup-free fry, but he would hear none of it. At least he drank all of his chocolate milk. And, instead of getting vocal about wanting to go, he decided to merely lay down across the seat and pretend to sleep (I can deal with that) while we waited for the bill. Still, I think I would have preferred a date with my husband at Chili's instead of a date with my 4 year old.

This afternoon, I then took my ES to the doctor's office to have some blood tests. He continues to struggle with unresolved stomach issues, despite attempts to alter his diet. Tomorrow he begins a new medication, used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (I'm sure he'd much rather I blog about his Rock Band prowess, instead of his digestive system) and he will see a GI doctor in October.

Of course, when I sign on to blog, I often check on the Care Pages/Caringbridge sites and blogs of others first. Thanks to the blogging world, I have regained perspective. Yes, I may have lost the photos from one day of a birthday party, but another blogger may have lost all of her photos from the last few years because her computer crashed and she hadn't backed them up. Yes, we are in the doctor's office enough that I'm ready to embroider our initials on the waiting room chairs, but our medical issues are all trifles compared to the battles many are engaged in. We still have a gaping hole in our ceiling downstairs, but our house remains livable and the damage was really minimal considering what could have been. And if many of those others can continue to put on a happy face in spite of their mountains compared to my molehills, then I should count my blessings.

And so, I'll end with what my MS asked me to blog about tonight (too funny). He said, "Mommy, I want you to write on your blog tonight about how fast I went on my bicycle when we went to the park this weekend." It was, indeed, a highly unexpected blessing. He had been begging to bring the bike (instead of the wicked double stroller which allows me to get the most effective workout, but causes him to feel like a baby). I was skeptical. I figured the boy would be stopping every few feet to look at a new bug or leaf or dog, etc.

He shocked me good. That boy cooked around the trail. Most of the time, I had to yell to tell him not to get so far ahead that I couldn't see him. He even rode his bike up almost all of the steep hill, then we put his front wheel on the basket of the single stroller and walked down the hill. He did stop for two dogs, but we kept the visits brief. I didn't fare too bad for a work-out, since at times I had to run to keep up with him. I guess we'll be passing our double stroller onto another needy mother at the crisis pregnancy center (whenever I'm heading over to that town next). Hopefully, she'll reap as many blessings from that stroller as I have over the past few years. Hopefully, her life will be full of tiny woes, not big ones.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

You're Not Two Yet, Buster!

We had a lovely, quiet family party for my MS. I took photos of the coral snake cake. I took photos of the presents before they were unwrapped. YS tried to help by bringing the presents onto the porch and nearly missed setting them on the cake. He was also intent upon opening the presents for MS (something MS would have objected, if ES had given YS the chance - he was doing basketball guarding moves, I think). I took a few short videos of MS opening his presents with glee.

The cake was quite tasty. My husband always prefers my homemade butter cream icing to the store-bought kind. Since I used two cake mixes, I made only one batch of the butter cream and colored the chocolate tub frosting with black food coloring (it did indeed darken in the refrigerator and was very black). I did run out of the yellow frosting (I'm not a good judge of quantities of various colors, I guess), but decided it would be an imperfect snake with a red and black striped tail.

After the sugar high from the cake kicked in, we headed outside in the hopes of running off their energy. My YS was playing in the sand table. I had found a small outdoor table of perfect height at a garage sale for only $4. While I was thrilled with the great deal, it also marked a death knell of sorts. Every time I return from a garage sale, I explain that I stopped because I am hoping to find a small table to put under the boys' Rubbermaid box of sand (the previous plastic table was broken back in May, during ES's birthday party). My husband is breathing a sigh of relief. I guess my garage sale days are over now.

Along with the sigh of relief, however, we are also groaning with exasperation. The revival of the sand table brought an additional death knell, when YS stealthily located, grabbed and submerged my digital camera into the sand box. We have tried to download the party photos and videos, but it won't work. I have sent off an inquiry to the manufacturer to see if there is any way to get the images off the memory card.

I also had taken another photo to share on my blog. It was a horrifying picture of MS's leg. You would be hard pressed to believe me when I say that it actually looks worse than my legs did in my recent rash documentary. But it is true. He had a scrape on his leg. It began to look red. Then it began to look blistery. Now it is violent red, blistery and itchy. He couldn't get to sleep tonight. We are wondering if it has turned into impetigo. So, surprise, surprise, we are off to the doctor's office again tomorrow morning.

My hubby is calling the Dr. tomorrow to request an additional antibiotic, since his sinus infection returned after he completed his other antibiotic (the one which produced an excemous rash on his elbows, knees and limbs - yah rah!). YS is also on an antibiotic, at the moment, because of a cold (I was worried it would go into croup, but it hasn't yet). So, we are surviving, but the camera may have to be buried, along with all photographic evidence that MS turned 4 and developed a horrid rash! This, too, shall pass.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Only Way I'm Giving My Son a Snake!

This will have to be a short post. I have mucho work to do tonight. This weekend, my MS turns 4. The list of things he wants is ENDLESS - basically, everything he sees on TV, minus most of the girly toys (although he is coveting the Barbie pool, because he wants to put his "toadies" in it).

Side note: ES is pushing our buttons by complaining that he never gets anything (this from a boy who just purchased Rock Band, with half the cost contributed by his parents). In fact, when he purchased Rock Band, we assured him that within two weeks he would be clamoring for something else that he perceives as a "must have." One of his close friends recently got a 118 inch television (although tells me that the largest television available is a 103 inch Panasonic Plasma TV) . Then, this week, the same friend was given a $1000 moped/motor scooter. It was so frustrating to watch ES, green with envy, as his friend offered to "trail him" (give him a ride) on the scooter (I would have thought trailing him meant ES pedaling his own bicycle behind the friend on the scooter! Ha!). So, this week has been replete with conversations about why "things" don't bring fulfillment.

Back to MS. His resounding request has been for a pet snake. Not a chance! My husband suggested a mouse, since they are timid and would probably not bite if handled excessively (which is certainly what MS would do!). If they didn't smell and I knew that I would never be required to have anything to do with the care and keeping of a mouse, I might agree. But, I didn't. No way! My suggestion is a fish to replace poor short-lived "Scooby-Doo." We live in my husband's grandmother's house and he regales me with tales of all the cages which used to line the hearthstone when he would come to visit here, bringing all of his pets. At this point, I'm up for a fish. That's all.

However, when I asked MS what kind of cake he wanted, he said "a snake cake." Now that, I can handle. So, tonight, I will be busy frosting (and figuring out how in the world to wrap for storage) a coral snake cake (he is very specific). I baked two cakes in my bundt pan this week and have them in the freezer. I made the black, red and yellow frosting yesterday (although, of course, the red looks a bit pinkish and the black is dark grey). I keep wishing I were more of a professional at this, like Amber, Amy, Dawn (see Sept. 21st post called "Surprise") and others. I'll do my best. I just hope a photo of my final product doesn't end up here, (a very funny site) although, the subtitle says "When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong," so I'm probably safe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Just the other night, my husband and I were sitting on the porch after a satisfying dinner. It was peaceful. The boys were happily playing in the living room (one with trains, the other two a game of Croc on the computer). I expressed my gratitude for being able to live here right now. I revelled in that contented feeling of being able to stay home with my boys and avoid the rat-race of hectic life which overcomes so many families. Time to read books and play outside in a place which often feels like year-round-camp to me. Half-full.

This was what we discovered this morning:

I shouldn't make it sound like this took us unawares. We noticed the leak in the basement ceiling last week and were trying to determine where it was coming from - the toilet, the sink or the tub in the bathroom upstairs. We had called a plumber, who was scheduled to come out this morning.

This is an old house. Since we have moved in, we often feel like something goes wrong on a daily basis. Half-empty.

Although, surely it is more realistic to say something goes wrong on a weekly basis. (H-F) Leaks aren't something new. We had one in the upstairs ceiling the first weekend our whole family moved in. In fact, simultaneous with that leak, the well went dry and we had no water to use in the house. (H-E) In order to flush our toilets, we had to use buckets of water transported from our neighbor's house (not exactly a stone's throw away). However, no one was sick or vomiting in the midst of that crisis. (H-F)

This morning, the plumber arrived and assessed the damage. He asked me to sit down (that can't be a good sign). I had asked if he could perhaps do something to secure the ceiling after he was done. He replied that he couldn't touch it. (H-E) He added that he wouldn't have even been able to get in and do the work today if that ceiling hadn't caved this morning, since he's not allowed to cut through wires to get to a job. (H-F) We don't have a furnace in this home; the heat comes through the ceiling. Even if there hadn't been wires in the ceiling, it would have cost $200 in labor to have the plumber tear down the ceiling to get to the problem (again, H-F). Final damage to our checkbook? $900 (H-E)

Not to mention, tomorrow we get to enjoy the visit from an electrician (same reliable guy who came after the storm a few months back). I'm sure he won't do the work gratis. (H-E) However, I did find a coupon in a flyer which will save us $69 for the service call. (H-F) Then, we must have the ceiling replaced. (H-E) In the meantime, we're thankful for good weather so we don't really need to turn the heat on, as the ceiling hangs perilously from those wires! (H-F)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Couldn't be a Tastier Way to Get Fiber

I try to start my morning with a fiber-filled bowl of cereal (take care for today, though - hubby returned home from a trip to Walmart, bearing Entenmann's chocolate covered donuts, so sadly I skipped the fiber). My favorite is Quaker Oatmeal Squares. However, when trying to get my MS to join me in a bowl, it always proved challenging (YS, on the other hand, always clamors for a bite).

Then, I discovered Fiber One Oats & Chocolate bars. They taste like a candy bar and pack in 35% of the daily value of fiber. MS will eat the peanut butter version as well, but he prefers the oats and chocolate bars.

If you want to try one for free, head here. You have to sign up for an e-newsletter, but you can always unsubscribe at a later date if you wish. They will send you a free sample of their new cereal (I tried the Caramel cereal, but didn't like it) and a free sample of an oats & chocolate bar, plus a booklet of coupons. I found this deal at MoneySavingMom. Hey, with our tremendous medical bills lately, I could use all the advice I can get. Now, if only eating extra fiber would eliminate all need for doctor visits!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Power of Voice

My YS is just starting to really acquire more words. At meals, he will say "meat," his favorite part of the meal. Outside, he will pick up his brother's toads and say "toadie." When he wants to go down the slide he will come and petition me with "up." Moreover, at night, when I ask "Who wants a song?" he now replies, "meeee," just like his brother.

When my ES was little, we didn't own a camcorder. We borrowed one a few times to take limited videos. I do remember his little voice, even if we don't have many recordings of it. Of course, we cherish the ones we have.

For his third Christmas, I had purchased small frames which allowed you to record a message. ES diligently made one for each set of grandparents. He also made an adorable one for his dad. He said, "I wuv you, Daddy, because you pway (play) wif me. Yowr the best daddy in the wowold (world)." My husband kept it on his dresser and we often listened to his little voice.

I was devastated one afternoon (I think he was 7), when I discovered he had figured out how to tape over the recording. He had replaced his sweet childish tones with the horrid sounds of pretend farts! Even though I can still hear the sound of the recording in my head, we will never be able to replicate that.

We did finally purchase a camcorder shortly after he started school. We often marvel when we watch one of our home videos from the Christmas of his first grade year. At that point in time, he was crazy about the ridiculous show called "Ed, Edd, and Eddy." (Think childish version of Beavis and Butthead) He was a very spirited child. He literally bounced around the room saying crazy things in his E,E & E voice, like "Beware of the mutant hot dogs!"

When we went to visit my parents that year, my mother would look down at ES and quietly say, "I'm sorry. I can't hear you or understand you until you stop talking in your Edd voice and talk in a normal voice." He still would lapse into it from time to time, because that was his modus operandi.

Thankfully, over time his boundless energy has become more contained. However, he still tends to pick up phrases and use odd voices. He went through a phase where every time something happened to someone (say, ketchup exploded out of the container or something), he would respond with a sneering "Owned, Neeee-Neeee-Neeeee!" This became such a frequent sound in our house that YS actually learned to parrot "neeee" before other normal words. Oh, how proud ES felt (Mom, not so proud).

I can't really describe his present form of crazy voice, except to say that every comment ends with a sort of "sneering" quality. MS often tries to sound just like him. When ES's friends are over, they will comment on how MS sounds just like ES.

The other night, I had put a load of laundry into the dryer before signing on to blog. When the clothes were done, I crept into ES's room to hang his t-shirts and jeans in the closet. He must have been dreaming. All of sudden, he batted something away from his face and said, in his typical sneering voice, "Get off me, freakin' kitty!"

He has a friend who has recently acquired a small kitten and I know that the kitten has scratched him a few times when they were playing with it. When I told him about what he said in his sleep, he cracked up. Now, he continues to repeat this phrase to make me laugh. He did a similar thing back when I created the funny Jib Jab video of the boys dancing. He would come up behind me and burst out with a staccato "Jib Jab!" At night, long after he had been sent to bed, I would hear from his room, "Jib Jab!"

Oh, how that boy makes me laugh. Unfortunately, I can't always laugh about his behavior because of the two parrots ready to follow him. I don't think anyone else would find it humorous if MS were to see a classmate trip and then say, "Owned. Neeee-Neee-Neee!" So, inevitably we have to establish word control in our house (not to mention that ever confusing task of attempting to teach empathy). Still, I know we will look back and fondly remember our first son for his pet phrases and odd voices! How I wish we could make a tape recording (alright, I'm dating myself - a cd) of his various voices and phrases over the years. Wouldn't that be an interesting sound track to play at his wedding? Perhaps I'll greet him after the wedding with, "Married! Neeee-Neee-Neeee!"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hassled, but Successful at the BMV

Our auto insurance coverage was destined to increase if I did not secure a current Indiana driver's license before the end of this month. At my first trip to the BMV, I was told that I didn't have sufficient documentation and that I had to provide an actual Social Security card. Due to my pack-rat nature (I'm doubting this is mentioned as a benefit in the A Perfect Mess book), I had lost my SS card. We can be quite sure that I didn't throw it out. Unfortunately, we can't be quite sure where, in my perfect mess, I put it.

My new SS card arrived this week (just one week after my 10 minute visit to the IL Social Security Office). Friday is the only day when the BMV is open and my husband is home to stay with the little boys. I put YS down for his afternoon nap and MS down for quiet time and headed to the dreaded BMV. I entered with a shoulder bag full of documentation (birth certificate, copy of a Target credit card bill, copy of my Target credit card pin number, marriage license, expired passport, and SS card - I left the SS yearly statement at home, since it was deemed "insufficient evidence of my existence and personhood.")

I entered with a hopeful, but skeptical, view. There were only two customers in front of me (three actual people, but the man directly in front of me had brought along a translator since he only spoke Spanish). Was I surprised when the clerk stepped away from the desk numerous times to confer with other workers while assisting the man in front of me? No! Was I surprised when I received the same reaction? Yes, despite having braced for this.

I handed her my documentation as she asked for it. When I presented the credit card bill, she stated that they could not use that because although my name is on the document, my address is not. I explained that every credit card we own is in my husband's name, except for this one Target account. However, my husband pays our bills on-line, so bills don't generally come to our home address. At this point, I displayed the pin number confirmation letter, which clearly bore my address and matched my credit card number and credit card name. (My husband even works for a bank, yet we don't receive bank statements by mail, so I couldn't provide this when they suggested it.) I think the clerk went into the back room and huddled with other BMV bureaucrats two or three times before finally returning with a clearly disgruntled manner, begrudgingly admitting that they would accept my documents.

I took the written exam (can you believe with two toddlers who have loved trains, I missed the question of what a circular sign stands for - I kept looking at the blank circle and thinking, "but railroad signs have the criss-cross on them." At home, my hubby reminded me of a song on one of the "I Love Toy Trains" videos, which says, "when you're out and about in your mom and dad's car and you see the round sign with the R and R ..." Oh yeah!!!) and passed it. I took the vision exam (very worried here, since I have been having some difficulty with reading fine print lately and sometimes reading gives me a headache or blurred vision - horrid symptoms for a reader) and passed it. I took a typically dreadful picture (my husband says you can tell what I think of the BMV). An hour and a half after entering, I left the BMV with my IN license.

Hallelujah! I am done with the BMV until I have to renew the license in 2013. If for some reason we have to get new plates or something, I'm sending my hubby.

Book Review: Shopaholic & Sister

This is the Sophie Kinsella book which my mother first recommended to me. I have to admit, when she first mentioned the Shopaholic series, I thought "why would I be interested in a book of that title, since I'm the complete opposite of a shopaholic?" However, she did mention that in Shopaholic & Sister, the two sisters are not alike and to that aspect, I could certainly relate!

As I read this book (yes, it was the first in the series that I had to physically read since our library didn't have the audio version - oh how I missed hearing that British accent - so much so that I researched and discovered there is an audio version at my mother-in-law's library, so perhaps I will plan a visit and ask her to check it out), I had to wonder what it would be like to read this book first, instead of reading the series in order. It does stand alone, but I think there would be such a great benefit to already being completely familiar with Becky Bloomwood Brandon's character. One of Sophie Kinsella's greatest achievements is that this character is so well drawn that her readers feel that they know Becky. In fact, sometimes I have "Becky moments." These are moments when my brain goes off on a tangent of fancy which is highly unrealistic but very fun to indulge in for the moment.

This novel begins with a typical Becky moment. She and her newly-wed husband, Luke, are on their year-long honeymoon trip around the world. They are doing yoga and she is being instructed to clear her mind (ha - impossible). A wandering merchant ambles by selling jewelry. True to form, Becky haggles in her mind for a moment and then dashes off after him. In the process, she manages to run right over the hot coals in her bare feet. Everyone is impressed with her enlightened achievement. I loved it. I could just see it happening.

As she returns home from the honeymoon, and faces the music for all of the miscellaneous purchases she has made and shipped home, she discovers some disconcerting new developments. Her father has a long-lost daughter that he was not even aware of. Her best friend, Suze, is now a mother of three and has a new best-friend (one who can relate to her motherly trials). Luke has returned to his work-obsessed nature and is completely focused on a new account. Becky is determined to forge a relationship with her half-sister. Unfortunately, the two of them couldn't be more different.

This brought to mind my own relationship with a sister who is quite dissimilar. Although Dawn is not a shopaholic (she is a Salvation Army officer, so her salary really doesn't afford that as an option), she is the sister who is totally put together, trendy, and the one who, in thinking of others, will often fail to recognize any cost involved. For example, she sent a birthday present to my MS by next-day air so that it would be sure to arrive on his birthday! We weren't even expecting a present. A card would have sufficed and he really wouldn't have noticed if it arrived on the day or a week later.

By contrast, I am the typical skin-flint (if I drank coffee like Becky's sister, I would probably try to make two batches out of one serving of grounds). I get a tremendous charge out of finding clothing at thrift stores and garage sales. I keep receipts, like trophies, of my frugal accomplishments. And, it would be fair to say that relatives look forward to gifts from my sister far more than they look forward to gifts from me.

At first, Becky is totally baffled by her frugal, penny-pinching sister. Then, she is determined to create a bond despite their differences. Eventually, the differences begin to anger her. When she believes that Luke wishes she were more like her sister, Becky decides to change her ways, with the help of her sister. Only problem, her sister wants nothing to do with her.

Sophie Kinsella certainly knows how to build tension. She introduces little conflicts steadily until you are certain of impending doom. She also does a fine job of reeling the reader in for the next installment. I am looking forward to reading (or listening to) the next in the series, entitled Shopaholic and Baby. If you've never tried this series, and are up for a good laugh with an engaging and endearing character, then you must meet Becky Bloomwood Brandon (boy is she lucky she married a wealthy man).

Friday, September 19, 2008

What a Deal! What a Sandwich!

I keep telling myself, every Thursday morning, that I will NOT sit down and look at the paper. I have been intending to spend this one morning, without kids, busily working on one of my novels. The first few Thursdays were replete with excuses - my doctor appointment (I would have rather been writing than taking two shots to the tush), ES at home, urgent errands to run.

This week, I spent most of the "writing time" reading the beginning of the novel and revisiting where it is heading. But, I must confess, I did read a smidgen of the paper. I had failed to eat breakfast before shuttling the boys off to school (it was picture day - no, I did not allow MS to wear a Spiderman suit - but he did wear a Spiderman t-shirt), so I spread the front pages out to read while I ate.

In the first section of the paper, I happened upon a small advertisement for Domino's Pizza. They were holding a special promotion of their new oven-baked sandwiches. Between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Thursday, they would offer a free oven-baked sandwich to anyone who brought in a pair of pants, shirt, skirt or dress to be donated to Goodwill.

In my last visit to the library, I actually saw a book condoning the benefits of being a pack-rat (now there's a book I must read - A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder). Perhaps this was just such an occasion. Indeed, I had an extra pair of pants and top to spare (intended for the consignment shop, but certainly worth the exchange).

They offered four different sandwiches: Philly Cheese Steak, Chicken Bacon Ranch, Chicken Parmesan and Italian. Every one of them looked mouth-watering, but I chose the Chicken Bacon Ranch. It was PHENOMENAL - large, tasty, toasted, gooey. I only wish I could have passed this deal on to my readers. It was a very brief window, wasn't it!

I actually was thinking to myself, "When can I have one of these again?" I will admit, their normal price of $4.99 is a bit more than I usually pay for my fast food sandwiches, but it was a large sandwich and probably equivalent to two of the cheaper sandwiches elsewhere. It took all the will-power I could muster, to save a tiny bite for my husband to try. He enjoyed it, too. I bet he would select the Chicken Parmesan one, though, because it had tomato marinara on it and is probably less fattening (I tried to search for nutritional information on their website, but the sandwich is new and the stats weren't available yet). I think I'd like to try the other three.

So, now, I'm trying to rationalize this. Let's see: if I faithfully spend at least three hours of my Thursday morning diligently writing my novel, then I should treat myself to an oven-baked sandwich from Domino's. How does that sound? Expensive, I know! For goodness sake, I'm already spending an arm and a leg just to have the boys out of the house in a great social, learning environment one morning a week. Still, maybe I could afford one once a month. (The other thought is to try to figure out how to match this same great taste by making one myself at home - Hmmmm...)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wisdom from a Writing File

Today, while browsing in one of my writing files, I discovered a scrap of paper with quotes from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. This is a book I highly recommend. Somehow she manages to provide insights into writing alongside insights into spiritual living. She is brutally honest and transparent. She makes me think and she inspires me to work harder at writing.

Here are a few of her thoughts:
(On getting outside of ourselves)

"To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own a$$ - seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one."

(On God's perspective)
"I heard Marianne Williamson say once that when you ask God into your life, you think he or she is going to come into your psychic house, look around, and see that you just need a new floor or better furniture and that everything needs just a little cleaning - and so you go along for the first six months thinking how nice life is now that God is there. Then you look out the window one day and see that there's a wrecking ball outside. It turns out God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you're going to have to start over from scratch."

(On the wealth of life's conflicts)
"That's one reason you write. Your child and your work hold you hostage, suck you dry, ruin your sleep, mess with your head, treat you like dirt, and then you discover they've given you that gold nugget you were looking for all along."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Rants Justified

I really don't have time to read the newspaper. I prefer to snatch my news in bits over the Internet waves, but I have been spending more time in that pursuit since I signed on to receive the Sunday Indianapolis Star (somehow the deal includes Thursdays, too). Now, I'm feeling a smug sense of justification!

Last week's paper (I think this was the Thursday one), had a brief little blurb titled "Police: Applicant offered bribe." In reading it, I had to chuckle. It seems a 50 year old man offered a $500 bribe to an examiner because "he had been trying unsuccessfully since July to obtain a valid license." Apparently, the man forgot to bring his fishing license for further identification - ha! No, really, I hope that his failure was a reflection of poor driving skills and not merely bureaucracy. Although, my husband did inform me (after reading my rant last week) that here in Indiana it is called the BMV, not the DMV because it is the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. I suppose that is why they have to drag individuals through all the bureaucratic hoops! Their employees are all bureaucrats!

And, my other rant about Indiana (remember my rant about rural people dumping trash on our beautiful property instead of cherishing the pristine countryside?) was not merely a private problem either. In the Sunday, Sept. 14th, Indy Star, I read an article about the "Tons of trash pulled from White River." Apparently, over 1000 volunteers gathered last Saturday to help clean up the river. This is the brief listing of some items they extracted from the river:

  1. a motorcycle

  2. a refrigerator

  3. socks

  4. a car seat

  5. lawn furniture

  6. a cooler

  7. a door

  8. a paddle boat

  9. half of a canoe

  10. a parking block

  11. a shopping cart

The article says that last year the cleanup, filled a 40 - cubic- yard trash bin with at least 3 tons of metal recyclables and 260 tires. I'm trying to understand this. Here's what my mind is seeing:

Moe: Hey, Joe! Want to have some cold fish tonight?

Joe: Yeah, that sounds like some good vittles. How we gonna manage that?

Moe: Well, here's my idea. If we push our fridge into the river, we're bound to have cold fish tonight, right?

And was the motorcycle driver parking at the parking block? Is he responsible for the shopping cart?

I have firm ideas about the "half of a canoe." You see, several years back, when my parents were living in South Dakota, we drove past the front half of a car. It was such a curiosity we had to stop and read the sign. I believe it said, "Just Divorced! Wife got her half!" I'm sure I snapped a photo. Knowing me, I probably still have it downstairs somewhere in one of my boxes of stuff. And on someone else's blog, they're probably ranting about darn pack-rats!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Review: The Triple Chocolate Brownie Genius

There's something so appealing about a brand new book at the library. The pages are crisp and clean. I wonder if anyone else has even checked the book out yet. Of course, if the title has the word "chocolate" in it, that makes it extra appealing! I had to check this one out. It turned out to be a quick, easy-to-read, chapter book.

If there's anything lazy, fun-loving Michael doesn't like, it is a know-it-all. Yet, after eating an entire pan of his mother's triple chocolate brownies, that is exactly what he has become. His new found intelligence isn't winning him any friends, either. In fact, he might just lose his position as president of the student council, if he doesn't find some way to silence his inner genius.

If I could get my son to try it, he might even enjoy it. It features a male protagonist in middle school who doesn't aspire to be a genius - sounds like just his cup of tea, right? I enjoyed the fact that it even included a mild dose of Shakespeare! At only 151 pages, I think I'll have a good suggestion for his next free reading assignment.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Book Review: Amelia's 5th Grade Notebook

This was a quick read. I suppose I picked it up because it had Amelia's name on the cover. In addition, it is peppered with illustrations (always a plus for a book for kids). It would certainly appeal to girls between the ages of 8-12.

Presented in notebook style, Amelia writes of her adventures through an entire year. She includes the things she loves and hates about each season. Also included are stories about a Valentine mix-up, participation in a wedding, a jump rope contest and a science fair project. The book was colorful, fun and easy to read.

Book Review: Stories from the Heartland

This sound recording was produced by the Storytelling Arts of Indiana, the Indiana Historical Society and WFYI Productions. It contained four stories told by professional storytellers. The first, by Bob Sander, entitled "Always in Trouble ..." was a humorous account of some of the mischief he managed to get into while growing up. The second story, by Stephanie Holman, called "Taste of Fall ..." told of the time her father took her and her sisters in to the town of Bloomington on a wagon bearing their cider press, so they could provide free sample of fresh apple cider to folks in town. It was delightful, listening as they discover that it is a college football weekend and they continue to make their way in, despite the numerous car traffic surrounding their horse and wagon. The third story, told by Celestine Bloomfield, "Traveling South ..." was about the experiences of a black family traveling south to visit relatives. She recounts the memories of the difficulties they experienced and the racism she didn't even understand. The final story, "My Uncle Norman ...", was told by Lou Ann Homan, and recounted her childhood dream of growing up to be a professional ice skater. Her "uncle" Norman allowed her free entrance onto the skating pond, along with many of her friends.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

9/13/08 - Childhood Cancer Awareness Day

Coleman Larson's mother, Peggy, shared these moving sentiments a few days ago, when we as a nation were remembering the innocents lost on 9/11/01. Her words are so stirring, I felt I had to copy and share them here, instead of merely directing you to their page (some don't wish to sign up for Carepages, a necessary step). She wrote:

September 21, 2006. A plane crashed through our lives as we listened to Coleman’s doctor say “We found a tumor”…the breath was knocked out of us, I felt like a spectator watching with my hand over my mouth...watching everything around us crumbled like the towers. Our son was under attack.
We’ve been on our own “floor” or “hijacked plane” for almost 2 years now. Our future is uncertain. We’re picking up the rubble only to be knocked down again and again. We try to stay as positive as we can, (we TRUST GOD is with us) and I know we aren’t supposed to, but we can’t help it- the fear is there. It’s real. We watch the hell Coleman goes through with treatments. It’s like watching repeats of the planes crashing over and over again…time after time…as he fights on.We watch kids around us, in the same ‘burning building’…other parents with the same look of shock in their eyes. We don’t even have to speak words- we KNOW what they’re feeling. We have a bond with them much like anyone who goes through a tragedy together.Seven years ago the nation was hopping mad (myself included) that such horror could come to this country we love…. So many innocent lives were lost; so much taken away from us. I’m hoping our nation and political leaders will realize we’re still under attack. Cancer is a terrorist that doesn’t care who you are, where you’re from, how much money you have, it’s going to strike. It’s just as horrific and merciless as the terrorists were on that awful day. It’s crashing into people’s lives, attacking their world as they knew it. It's taking lives. It’s destroying carefree childhoods, destroying bank accounts, destroying family time, destroying any ‘normalcy’ it's victims once knew.Too many children in our country are crumbling. Families are left standing in the quiet ashy aftermath of this monster, wondering in disbelief what just happened in front of their eyes, and where to go from there.I’m praying we finally take a stand and say "we aren’t taking it ANYmore." Childhood cancer is unacceptable! One new drug for pediatric cancer in the past 20 years is unacceptable. Only 3% of all cancer funding going to pediatric research is unacceptable. We need to fight back!!! We’re banding our own war on this monster, but we can’t do it alone. We need an army.

There are ways you can help which will cost very little of your time or money. You can eat out at a Chili's restaurant on Sept. 29th (all proceeds go to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital). You can click here to sign the petition. Or you can simply visit and watch one of six videos. For each video you watch (and you can repeat the process as often as you like), a quarter will be donated (by a large corporate sponsor) to the Children's Cancer Research Fund. So, watch a movie. Sign a petition. Go out to eat at Chili's. Spread the word.

Here's a photo of me, wearing my gold Childhood Cancer Awareness pin. I have pinned Amelia's treatment photo pin onto my purse because the little boys kept pulling it off my shirt whenever I wore it attached to clothing (ah, the lessons you learn with littles).

Most importantly, pray for children who are in the battle against cancer. Pray for children who have yet to be diagnosed with cancer. Pray for the families who have lost one of their sweet little ones to the ravages of this disease. And, thank God for every day you have with the ones you love - they are a gift and the days are also gifts!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Living Intentionally

While reading Nicholas Sparks' memoir, I was jolted by the death of his mother. She was finally getting a chance to live out some of her personal dreams (riding horses), when a tragic accident ended her life unexpectedly. She was only 47 years old! I stopped the CD. I had to digest this fact. 47! I'll be 47 in four years. His sister died at the age of 33. I've already been blessed with a decade more than that.

Of course, since contemplating this, I have been noticing obituaries in the Sunday paper (I only recently started getting the Sunday paper because I missed the coupons, but find that I end up reading the whole thing, even when I don't really have time). It was like I was receiving a news flash: people sometimes die in their 30s and 40s! Then, Amelia's friend Mariah died at the age of four and again, I found myself dwelling on what should be apparent - death can come at any time, for me or my children.

I deeply desire to live more intentionally. I want to savor the moments I'm being given, but I also want to make sure I'm focused on the joys instead of feeling driven by the responsibilities. I mean, think of it, if for some reason God chose to take me at age 47, my children would only be 5, 7 and 15. Who knows what tomorrow holds?

As I was viewing another of Coleman Larson's video clips (those twins are so adorable), the background music reinforced this thought. The lyrics were: "I'm going to live for today. I'm going to follow in Your way. I'm gonna let my little light shine like there's no tomorrow." I don't want my goal to be just getting through another day. I want to look back and really say that I lived these days.

If I pass away and I haven't pursued my dreams or made my life count or made a difference in someone's life, who will be to blame? It will be me. So hold me to this! I want to set goals. I want to make baby steps towards accomplishing them. I want to make as much of an imprint on the lives of my children as I can with each and every day I'm given. (I think ES is going to do what he can to make his days count as well - at least, he agreed to give LEAP a try! We'll see how that goes!)

It brings to mind a great song from Chris Rice's "Smell the Color 9" album called "Life Means So Much." (In heading to his web-site to look for the lyrics, I realize that he has some newer albums I'm going to have to request for Christmas!)

Life Means So Much by Chris Rice

Everyday is a journal page/Every man holds a quill and ink/And there’s plenty of room for writing in/All we do and believe and think/So will you compose a curse/Or will today bring the blessings/Fill the page with rhyming verse/Or some random sketchings

Teach us to count the days/Teach us to make the days count/Lead us in better ways/Somehow our souls forgot/Life means so much/Life means so much/Life means so much

Everyday is a bank account/And time is our currency/So no one’s rich, nobody’s poor/We get twenty-four hours each/So how are you gonna spend/Will you invest or squander/Try to get ahead Or help someone who’s under

Teach us to count the days/Teach us to make the days count/Lead us in better ways/Somehow our souls forgot/Life means so much/Life means so much/Life means so much

Has anybody lived who knew the value of a life?/And don’t you think giving his own Would prove the worth of yours and mine?

Teach us to count the days/Teach us to make the days count/Lead us in better ways/Somehow our souls forgot/Life means so much/Life means so much/Life means so much

Copyright 2000 Clumsy Fly Music (ASCAP)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Book Review: Three Weeks with my Brother

One of the best blessings my parents ever provided were siblings. I count myself very fortunate to have grown up with four other children in our home. The only thing which could make this blessing richer would be if we could strengthen our sibling bond even more as we age. While growing up, we moved every two or three years, and my siblings were the solid consistency I fell back on time and again. Our shared lives provided many of the stories I cherish. Those are the same stories my nieces and nephews clamor for, whenever we are together. Tragedy has pulled a few of us closer together, but it has actually pulled a few of us apart as well.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I love reading memoirs. I get to eavesdrop on someone else's stories. Of course, I often lean towards memoirs of authors, since I enjoy writing. One of my favorites would have to be Stephen King's memoir, On Writing. I mentioned before that when I read that book, I actually read funny bits of it out loud to my ES, who would laugh along with me and then request the stories again the following evening.

I stumbled upon this memoir by Nicholas Sparks and am so grateful that I did. I was looking for another book to listen to while driving (all these doctor visits are killing us financially, but I can't complain about the extra time I get for listening to books on CD). Nicholas Sparks, well-known author of A Walk to Remember and The Rescue (surprisingly, the only two of his books I have read), wrote this memoir with his brother, Micah, after going on a three-week trip around the world. It looked appealing on three levels. First, it was a memoir by an author. Second, it was about world travel. Finally, it was about brothers.

These brothers share such a tight bond that they could travel for three weeks and not grow weary of each other or end up in some sort of argument. Nicholas attributes some of their closeness to a tactic his mother introduced after a fight when they were kids. She asked each child to volunteer up three things their siblings had done for them that day. My father would use a similar tactic when we fought, usually requiring us to come up with TEN things we liked about the sibling we were presently seething over. I suppose the daily questions caused the Sparks children to be on the lookout for answers during the day. If that could significantly bond my boys together, I'd be willing to make that a nightly ritual (having them list THREE, not TEN!).

If my sons manage to have the kind of relationship with their brothers that Nicholas and Micah share, they will indeed be greatly blessed. However, I wouldn't wish a similar childhood or the depth of family tragedy which I'm guessing did far more to strengthen their bond. Stories of their childhood are interwoven between descriptions of their travels.

From the very first chapter, I knew I was going to enjoy the book. Nicholas begins by explaining life in his own household with five children. I laughed because the issues felt so familiar (even though I don't have five, our chaos levels sometimes explode). I teared up as he described the isolation of his mother, as she cared for the three of them in an isolated country house while her husband worked and pursued schooling. Early on, he managed to flesh out the characters so that I really wanted to know what happened in their lives. And, plenty happened - poverty, moves, injuries, mischief, success and death.

Although the destinations in their travels weren't necessarily places I would have chosen, the descriptions were interesting and often comical. I remember tiring of our numerous visits to cathedrals when I was studying with Wheaton-in-England. Nicholas and Micah felt the same way as they were inundated with lectures on "jars and bowls."

But far more interesting than the travels, were the descriptions of their family life and the adventures they had as young boys. I find myself wanting to go back and read the novels Nicholas Sparks has written, in the order they were written. I want to see where his life experiences spilled out into the pages of his novels.

If you are a fan of Spark's books, or are interested in reading about a close sibling relationship forged by years of wandering and a fair amount of trials, then you really must read this book. The narrator did an outstanding job, but I sought out a print copy so I could view the photos (I had a feeling there were probably photos). The book itself doesn't hold many tips for would-be-writers, like King's book does, but I did find plenty of this information at Nicholas Spark's web-site, Plus, it was fun to read about the process of writing this book, in addition to the answers to frequently asked questions about the book.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Can't the DMV in IN be more like the SSO in IL?

Yesterday, I drove over to my in-law's house with the two little guys for a brief visit. We arrived in time for dinner and left after lunch today. The purpose of our visit was two-fold (and selfish) - 1) to give Grandma a chance to see her grandsons and 2) so Grandma could watch the two little boys while I headed to the Social Security Office to secure a replacement SS card. Due to my father-in-law's ill health, they really don't need the chaos which our visits usually provide, but Grandma is always gracious and welcoming anyway.

I was expecting the same kind of run-around my husband and I have received every time we have gone to the DMV here in Indiana. We are beginning to think they sit around the back room sharing stories of how they frustrated yet another citizen. I can hear them now:

Joe Worker: Ah, it was great! The guy pulled out all kinds of documentation - his license, his birth certificate, his passport, his marriage license. I was beginning to sweat, thinking I wouldn't have any last card to play. But, just at the last moment, it dawned on me. I was able to turn to him, with my longest face and request his IN fishing license.

Jane Worker: So, tell me, what happened? Did he have that on him, too?

Joe W: Of course, not. He looked like he was about to explode. It was priceless!

Instead, it actually went like all the visits to the DMV back in DeKalb used to go when I needed to update my IL Driver's license. I walked up to the check-in window and announced my purpose. I was handed the number 48. I sat in a chair with a handful of others surrounding me (perhaps 8 other people in the chairs). A sign informed me that they were serving customer number 46. After 5 minutes, my number was called.

The blond woman behind the counter greeted me with a smile. I handed her the replacement SS card form, all filled out. I clutched my fistful of every possible documentation they could request. She typed in my current address, then paused to inform me that I could have gone to the SS office there in Indianapolis.

I smiled back and explained that my husband was worried it would be in a bad part of town and I would have had to take my two toddlers with me. Instead, we managed to visit with Grandma and I was able to come to this office alone. She assured me that even with the drive, it probably would have taken me longer to visit the SSO in my own area! (Does she know about IN? Are there certain states which are encouraged to be a law-abiding citizen's worst nightmare? Does every Hoosier have to drive to Indianapolis in order to handle this business in person?)

She then requested ... my driver's license. I handed over my IL license. She punched in more data and then handed me a form and said I could expect to receive the card in the mail within two weeks time. She even said, "Have a nice day! Hope Grandma enjoyed her time with the kids!"

Total visit: 1 trip. Total time in office: 10 minutes. End result: Smile. Now, I wonder if I should look into getting an Indiana fishing license. After all, who knows if the DMV here will be satisfied with my official birth certificate, my official IL driver's license, and my official SS card?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Did We Survive With One Bathroom?

A friend of mine just left a message on my Facebook saying that she was thinking about the time my family lived in a little house next to The Salvation Army Irving Park Corps building. Her big question? "How did you all fit in that little house?" It is, indeed, a valid question.

A few years ago, I attended the 20th year reunion of my high school class for Schurz High School. It wasn't really my reunion. Because my family moved in my senior year, I did not actually graduate from this school, but graduated from a school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where I knew very few individuals (I spent most of my time reading and sitting through study halls!). Years later, when I discovered the Classmates website, I could only bring myself to sign on for Schurz. When reunion time rolled around, it just happened that my friend Nata Z. was in charge of the reunion and she encouraged me to come. As I headed home, I took a few minutes to drive by our old house. Only, our old house was no longer there. They had torn it down and increased the space in the corps' parking lot.

Way back when we had moved into that little house, my family was reeling because we couldn't believe we had been moved from the Midland Division in St. Louis to the Metropolitan Division of Chicago. This was the only move where my parents allowed us to engage in a "pity party" (we went to a local toy shop and were each allowed to pick something out). I remember laughing when my sister informed me that we had received moving orders. It wasn't funny in the slightest, but the significance of the news caused me to erupt in nervous laughter (followed by many nights of tears). We were devastated, but once we had made the move, I think every one of us held a little dream that we could continue living there forever, despite the size of the house.

We were a family of seven. What's more, two were adults and three were full-fledged teenagers. During our first year in the house, my eldest brother, David, was a senior in high school, my brother Mark, was a sophomore and I was a freshman. It WAS a small house, but not too bad. It had four small bedrooms. My parent's bedroom was on the main level across the hall from mine (oh, the drama that went on in determining room assignments, since I received the absolute best bedroom of all - to myself), my sister had a small room upstairs and my brother Mark shared his nook of an attic room with my baby brother, Tim. My parents turned a small area of the basement into a room for my brother, David (it was just below mine and I can recall numerous times stamping on the floor in an attempt to get him to stop singing along with music while listening to headphones!).

I don't really remember feeling like we were living on top of one another (of course, these were the years I spent practicing my instrument for six hours a day at the corps building next door, to the point where my brothers called me "metallic lips"). But, I do remember the horrible bathroom situation. How did we survive with just one bathroom?

My father instituted a bathroom schedule for the mornings. I don't remember what number slot I got. I just remember not really getting my slot all that often. You would think that teenage girls would take more time in a bathroom than teenage boys, but in our case, you would be dead wrong! I was a very low-maintenance teenager. I didn't condition, blow-dry or curl back then. Lucky thing, too, because David would often rise and slip into the bathroom before my time started. When I would knock on the door, he seemed oblivious. My brothers were good-lookin' dudes. All the girls in the division seemed to be interested in them. Could I go back and blame my own lack of suitors on the their stolen moments of my allotted bathroom time? Possibly!

I must have had at least some time, because I do remember french braiding my hair in there. I think there must have been a mirror on the sliding door to the shower and I would turn the vanity mirror in such a way that I could actually see the back of my head as I braided. Still, I can remember lots of times running next door in a panic because I had to use the toilet and someone was, inevitably, already in our ONE bathroom. So, there is her answer! We survived because our corps building was right next door and we often used it as a second home location (for bathrooms and practice rooms).

Now, I spent this morning cleaning my house and am actually feeling a tiny bit envious of that house. You see, we have four bathrooms in this house. This would be fantastic for a family with three girls, but a family of three boys makes this insane. There are three bathrooms on the ground level and one in the basement. It would be nice if the boys would limit themselves to the use of just one, but they tend to use all four! Thus, instead of cleaning up a bathroom used by boys, I find myself cleaning FOUR bathrooms used by BOYS! Insane!

I had already planned to write a post about frustration with bathrooms this week. Rhonda just beefed it up by causing me to reminisce a bit. I had even clipped this photo (the step stool by the sink has a textured surface, so I usually put a hand towel down). My boys seem to be incapable of keeping their shoes on when they are outside. I try to explain why this is a problem, but they just don't get it. At least this time I was able to point to visible evidence of MS's treachery!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Decisions: To Leap or Not to Leap

Today we received a letter from the middle school. Apparently, ES has been "identified through test scores, grades, teacher rating scales and other criteria as eligible for participation in the LEAP program." We must return a form, by Friday, with our signature indicating whether ES will or will not participate in the program.

I must admit, I feel torn here. As I read the letter, I knew what my son's reaction would be before we even mentioned it to him. It says LEAP students participate in some differentiated activities. They are required to complete a special project (I believe it is student-selected). They participate in things like Math Pentathalons, Spelling Bowls, etc. I know my son. If it even remotely sounds like more work than the average kid is expected to do, then he will want none of it. Furthermore, it says these students participate in the Young Hoosier Book Awards program. I have already outlined the warm, cozy feeling he has towards reading (NOT!). Perchance, they might even ask him to read more books than his classes already require. GASP!

Indeed, I mentioned the letter, in passing, this evening and his only response was "LEAP is for NERDS." Ah, what wonderful attitudes are oozing from my progeny (note: that's "progeny" - children, not "prodigy" - genius!) I haven't even had a moment to really discuss it more fully with my husband (although, I'm pretty sure he will want the final decision to be left in the hands of ES). I don't know that I trust the great 12 year old's wisdom in this matter.

Yet, I will say, that I wouldn't want him to feel too much pressure to perform academically, either. It is such a fine line. If he is not challenged enough, school becomes boring and misbehavior is a greater temptation. However, if school becomes overly-challenging, then all the fun of learning is lost in the stress and pressure. Participating in gifted activities would bring him in contact with others who value the use of their brains (his term, nerds), but he's special to me whether he's "gifted" or not. Allowing him to choose, seems important since it affects the intensity of load he will carry. But, at the same time, there are times when a parent must push a child to excel, even when they would rather coast. He didn't want to join the middle school band (despite his love of music), yet he has come to appreciate our insistence in that area. I just don't know how we should handle this opportunity.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Big Brother, Little Brother

On Thursday morning, when I was out and about searching for snakes, I stopped by the Good Will thrift store. Since I was alone and thus, able to browse and concentrate, I decided to look through the books (dangerous activity!). I do TRY to limit my book purchases, but I get such a thrill when I find a loved book from the past or a book I enjoy so much that I want to own it (regardless of the fact that I could easily check it out from the library).

What's more, I get an even bigger thrill out of my MS's reaction when he discovers that I bought him a new book. That boy LOVES books. This time, he was not only thrilled, but also obedient because I used it as a bargaining chip (I would only get the book from the van and read it to him after he had stayed quiet and still in the bed for at least fifteen minutes - if he can manage the quiet and still part for 15 or 20 minutes, it almost always leads to an out-cold part!). He asked if it was a book about frogs or snakes or Spiderman. It wasn't, but I still knew he would love it.

The book was called Big Brother, Little Brother, and I felt compelled to buy it because two of the pages within the book made me smile and think of my little guys.

He did indeed love it. I hope we read it lots of times before they outgrow the picture book stage. The other book I purchased for him will have to wait. I found a copy of Kate DiCamillo's The Tiger Rising. I had read this book to my ES when he was 7 or 8 and he really enjoyed it. I can't wait until MS is old enough because I'm sure he will love it, too.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Miracle Story

I approach every doctor appointment with a great deal of trepidation. I've never experienced a "routine doctor appointment" without anxiety levels that exceed the charts. My recent dermatologist visit was case in point. After reviewing the results of our short-term effort to address an itching problem (benzoyl-peroxide wash, bar soap wash, steroid cream application, covered by layer of Vaseline), the doctor seemed dissatisfied. He hastily ordered blood work to test my thyroid levels, hormone levels, and several other things and then, offhandedly added "we will now treat this with two shots of steroid to the buttocks."

The minute I heard the word shot ... (no, rewind, that wasn't singular, it was PLURAL, and where? in my BUTTOCKS??????) I began to reel. Really? You're going to do that now?? "No," he explained, he "wouldn't be doing that, but his assistant would." Oh joy. I promise I didn't begin hyper-ventilating, but it wouldn't have been out of the question.

You see, I have a life-long fear of shots. No, let me clarify that. I have a life-long fear of shots and medical situations. I often begin my visits with doctors with an explanation of the root of my fears so they will understand where I am coming from and so they will know to anticipate my insane squeamishness! At my first gynecological exam in DeKalb, the doctor actually looked at me and said, "And what doctor do you plan on using when you decide to have children???" (indicating that it wouldn't be him).

So, is it a miracle that I endured the two shots to my buttocks yesterday? No! They weren't even as bad as my mind anticipated. The miracle story of the title of this blog post is the one that explains why I agonize so much over shots. It explains why I've always believed in some grand purpose to my existence and why I grow disillusioned when my life doesn't seem to be fulfilling any kind of grandiose vision. And I have carried this story since the age of three.

In March of 1969, my Salvation Army officer parents had four children under the age of seven. My oldest brother, David, would have been 6-1/2 and Mark, would have been 5. I was approaching 4 and my sister had just turned 1. In the wee hours of a Sunday morning (of course, it had to happen on a Sunday morning!), my parents headed to the hospital with me and my sister (and must have brought my brothers along). We were having difficulty breathing and they admitted both Dawn and myself to a room. My sister was diagnosed with pneumonia and I had what they termed "double pneumonia" (affecting both lungs).

Given the urgency of the situation, my parents hadn't had any time to make alternate arrangements, so my mother left my father with us and headed off to the church to perform the start of the Sunday morning service. My dad intended to stay until my mother returned and then he would head off to preach the sermon and end the service.

However, before my mother returned, things took an awful turn. I was hooked up to machines monitoring my vitals. My father was seated next to my box (I'm assuming a ventilator) and was praying for me. I have been told the story numerous times and have often shared the testimony of my miracle. I don't remember a thing, but I know the details because it is an integral part of "my story," the story of me and what led me to become who I am and even probably who I will be in the future. I only recently learned that my sister was in another crib across the room.

As my father tells the story, he was praying for me. Struggling to understand what was going on and gripped with love for me, he pleaded with the Lord for His protection and intervention. Suddenly, the machine alarms sounded and workers began to flood the room. I had stopped breathing. He could tell that things were seriously wrong. It was as if I had died and they were trying to resuscitate me. They removed the cover over my cot. They held a knife over my ankle and began to cut into the vein (I later learned this was necessary because they can't cut into the wrist veins in such a small body). I believe they were planning to inject something to attempt to re-start my breathing.

My father explains that during these moments of prayer over me, the focus of his prayer shifted. He realized that I was a gift from God and that He could not ask for my life but only for the grace to accept whatever God willed. In that very moment, I sat up and asked the doctors what they were doing. One minute I was on death's door and the next, I was asking for an explanation.

So, early on, I learned a variety of lessons from that life imprint. I learned that children are a gift for whatever length of time the Lord gives. I learned that God must have had some further purpose for my life because He spared me when He could have taken me. I learned that my father trusted in God enough to let me go, if need be. I learned that God still performs miracles. I learned that I should share my miracle because it might encourage another Christian in their walk. And so, very often, at an early age, I would stand during testimony time in our church services and share the story as I knew it (second hand, but still my story - and a powerful one - of God's love and God's purpose).

However, I also learned to fear shots and to psychologically agonize over any medical interventions. My parents informed me that I was in the hospital for eight days and in those eight days I received 64 shots! SIXTY-FOUR! I remember my mother telling me that my body was small and after several days they had to administer shots in the same locations I'd already received shots. It was like I was a human pin-cushion.

I don't remember the shots. I don't remember the hospital. I don't remember double pneumonia. However, I could regale you with stories of the further ramifications of my ordeal.

For example, the year we took a group of kids to a clinic for our camp physicals. It was crowded and when the nurse came to take my blood-pressure, I was standing in a doorway. I fainted and slumped to the ground - just over the squeezing of the blood-pressure cuff.

Another time, my mother had taken me, my sister and my baby brother, Timmy, (who was probably five - which would have meant I was 14 or 15) to get our shots for school. Dawn and I stood arguing over who would go first. Finally, Timmy pushed past us and took his shots. He sat in a chair sucking his lollipop and waiting for us to finish. My sister and I both ended up fainting. There was my mom, hovering over two girls with their heads pushed between their legs, trying to revive after the torment of getting shots and Timmy just enjoyed his lollipop.

I know my mother dreaded taking us to the doctor as much as I dreaded going. At another visit, I was told to bend down and touch my toes. I bent at the knees and touched them with ease! Ha! Then, the doctor touched my sister and she winced, proclaiming in her defense, "I have sensible hips!" Going to the doctor never got easier.

When I decided to head to the mission field after college, I seriously dreaded all of the shots I would have to endure. I remember a nurse giving me pointers on the gamma globulin shot (which is also administered in the buttock). She explained that the problem is when the thick liquid (yes, she told me how long and thick the needle had to be in order to give the injection) sits in one spot. To avoid the typical soreness, the key was to rub the heck out of the buttock as soon as the shot was administered. I had to walk from the clinic to work and continued to rub my sore bum regardless of what the passing motorists must have thought!

Yes, I am a case. Of course, I put off having the blood drawn (even though I could have gone to the lab today). Hopefully, I'll have it done when the little boys aren't with me. No need to create trauma in their tender psyches (as I did when I screamed at the shot in my toe to remove a wart last spring - the nurse said, "Oh my, we weren't expecting that!" - meaning, my reaction! I should have said, "Well, yes, I wasn't expecting that!" - meaning, the shot!). I can promise you I'll be looking away. And I'll be praying that the Lord's will doesn't include my continuing to get these steroid shots and blood draws on a regular basis. Perhaps the itching isn't really so troublesome after all. It is a miracle I ever had kids - and three, by c-section, no less!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Tomorrow night there will be a StandUp2Cancer special airing on ABC, NBC and CBS. On Coleman Larson's site ( Peggy mentioned that "this year 12,500 children will be diagnosed with cancer. 1 in 5 will not grow up." On Julian Avery's site (Julian is one of those 1 in 5 statistics), Mimi requested urgent prayers for another victim of childhood cancer: Cole, like my niece Amelia, is from Wisconsin.

Tonight, in checking in on my niece, Amelia, who is a leukemia survivor, I discovered a news clip which aired in her area last night. The clip spotlights Amelia's Make-A-Wish Trip to Walt Disney World. You can view it by going here and selecting "Sick Kids Wish for a Trip to Disney World," from the Top Stories list. She is absolutely adorable. It was fun to see my bald baby brother (shaved in solidarity and to raise money) and his family featured on the news. For more information on Amelia's participation in the walk to raise funds, visit her page at

To give a glimpse of what the cancer world is like: Last night, Amelia was featured on the news. Today, she attended her friend's funeral and stared at the little white casket. I'm so glad Amelia survived, but I'm also proud that her family continues to stand in the gap with other families who are in the battle against cancer.

Disclaimer: Bathroom Post Ahead! Don Your Gas Masks!

My first son made the art of potty training seem like a breeze, and a pleasant one at that. I felt guilty sharing his exploits with other mothers when I heard them moaning about how long it was taking for their son or daughter. Of course, I understood how lucky I was. I even understood that his training had fairly little to do with me (although we did allow him to watch and verbally walked through the steps pretty much from the time he was born). He began walking at 9 months and at 10 months would bring us a diaper when he was dirty. Of course, we were blown away by this and attributed it to his natural "genius." (No, he is not a member of Mensa!)

At one and a half, he was standing naked in the hallway, when my husband recognized the familiar stance. He yelled. I ran to get the bucket. From that point on, he never went pee-pee in a diaper again. He would ask for a diaper when he needed to do the other business and would head off to his room to lean over his toy box. If I came to check before he was finished, he would say, "Go 'way, Mommy!"

At two and a half, he caught a parasite called "Giardia." In the throes of Giardia's deadly terror, he begged for a diaper and I simply told him we hadn't time and plunked him up on the toilet. From that point on, he never wanted a diaper on. He only wet the bed one time, on a night when he was extremely exhausted. Thus, we never tried pull-ups. We never offered rewards. We never agonized over a minute of it.

Enter son #2. He will be four years old at the end of this month. He is one of the brightest toddlers I know (who knows, maybe he is Mensa material?). But the boy would not potty train! Plus, he has always seemed to save the majority of his business for night time. Even when he was much littler, I found I had to purchase special extra-absorbent diapers for the nights. I couldn't count the number of times he played the "I can't go to bed 'cause I've got to poop" card (otherwise known as the "Get-Out-Of-Bed Free Card"). The whole business of potty training has seemed like an endless power play with this child.

Unfortunately, it has also been laced with some parental anxiety because he has been fraught with constipation ever since we began this battle. A few sympathetic parents encouraged me by sharing that their son also was a late trainer with constipation issues. Some suggested that the constipation might go away once he is completely trained.

Viewing the fourth birthday on the horizon, I couldn't bear the thought of buying another package of size six diapers. So, I explained to him that when this package was used up, I would no longer buy diapers for him. He could either go in his pants or go on the toilet (to which he would always reply, "Mommy, I'll go on the potty when I'm as big as B------ [his older brother, who is 12]! )

No-D-Day (No Diaper Day) came last night. I sat him on the potty and informed him that as soon as I heard a plop, no matter how small, he would get a tattoo and we would have to talk about what he wanted as a "poopy toy." We had given him a small Spiderman figure to play with for ten minutes each time he successfully went pee-pee and he called it his "potty guy."

He produced the smallest plop imaginable and I pretended it was the most impressive thing he had ever done. He chose a frog tattoo and had to run show every member of the family. He asked me to buy him a snake for his "poopy toy."

So, this morning, after dropping both little boys off at pre-school/PDO, I headed off in search of a snake. Not a live one, mind you, but one he would relish playing with for 10 minutes after each success. I found three rubber snakes at Dollar Tree. (His favorite book right now is I Need a Snake, by Lynne Jonell, about a boy who asks his mother for a pet snake, but ends up creating three pretend snakes.)

As soon as he was ready for bed, he felt nature's call. It was, once again, the paltriest effort I've ever seen, but it provided the requisite sound. He selected a goldfish tattoo, in honor of Scooby Doo, who died this afternoon of unknown causes. I then produced the "poopy toy(s)." MS was jubilant. He danced with them. He pretended they were squeezing his arms off. He whipped them in the air (this could be trouble). His mantra for the entire ten minutes was "I love pooping in the toilet, 'cause I love my poopy toy!"

As the timer dinged, signalling the end of his allotted toy time, he handed the three snakes back and I told him to head to bed. I knew full well this would be a late night (good thing he gets a nap on school days). Sure enough, nature called again, two more times before he headed to bed (plus I counted at least 5 potty trips before he fell asleep). What did we feed that boy for dinner???

Thankfully, the second and third efforts were of worthy size for the prize! Still, I began to be a tiny bit fearful of just how much he had stored up inside. Thus, after the final success, he was told it was too late in the evening for play time and promised his ten minutes with the snakes tomorrow morning (once he has success for a week, he gets the toy indefinitely). I'm guessing he'll dream of snakes tonight. Moreover, I have a feeling we're going to have a pretty crappy day tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

God Has it Under Control

Tonight, as I tucked my MS into bed, he asked me about his cousin, Amelia. He said, "Does she still have the cancer in her body?" I told him that the cancer is gone now. Next, he asked how the cancer got into her body. I didn't really know what to tell him. I reminded him that sometimes we breathe in germs and they make our bodies sick (although, he wouldn't be able to understand that Amelia didn't breathe in cancer and she didn't get it because she forgot to wash her hands before eating). Then, I told him that Amelia has a little friend, Mariah, who is still fighting to get the cancer out of her body. I explained that she is so weak right now that when Amelia visited her last week, Mariah could only raise her thumb as a way of saying "yes." We said a special prayer for both Amelia and Mariah and then I left the room.

I was deeply saddened when I logged on tonight and discovered that Mariah lost her fight against cancer. Of course, my little guy was up again before I knew it and wanting to be rocked. As I held him close and rocked him, I sat thinking about Mariah and Amelia ... about their friendship. I thought about my sister-in-law, Mary, and how many times she went on to Mariah's website to speak words of encouragement to their family.

In one of Mary's recent posts, she had expressed her frustrations because both Mariah's mother and father would be able to be by Mariah's side 24/7. Many of us assumed that she meant that Mariah's father lost his job. I don't really know all of the details (although Mariah's family expressed that he didn't entirely lose his job), but I know that my father wrote to encourage them that the Lord had a purpose, even in the change in the job situation.

This made me think about how I experienced this very lesson in my own life. When my ES was in kindergarten, I taught an evening GED class two nights a week. I enjoyed this job and really wanted to keep it. However, I also wanted to have another child and knew that in order to do so, we would need the insurance that a full-time job would provide. Thus, I signed on as an individual assistant at my son's elementary school. I worked that full-time job and still kept my GED position (hoping that after another child came along, I could leave the full-time position and maintain the part-time one).

My second son was due in 2004 at the end of September. At the end of my summer GED session, I headed off to CBLI with my ES, embracing the rest and relaxation it would provide before a stressful fall. I had not really asked for much time off. I think the doctor advised me to inform my employer that I would require at least three weeks to recuperate from the cesarean section surgery.

When I returned from CBLI, I received a message to call the GED office. Over the phone, I was informed that another teacher had requested my class (it was close to where she lives and she was hoping to increase her hours). I was told that they felt that my absence from the class would be detrimental to the continuity of the class and therefore, they were giving my class to this other teacher (side note: this was a drop-in class with very little continuity amongst the students and several nights I sat alone, reading, wondering if any of my students would show up).

I remember feeling so helpless. There was nothing I could do to dissuade them. The decision had already been made. The other teacher had already been told she would have my class. It was entirely out of my hands and I felt so disappointed. This was the job I wanted to keep. I wanted to stay home with my baby and merely leave him two nights a week. But suddenly, that was no longer an option.

Now, as I sat rocking MS and looking in on YS as he slept in his crib, I realized what a blessing that detour was. I was planning on travelling the map I had laid out. God sent me on a detour. If He hadn't, I don't know if we would have had my youngest son. I didn't welcome the loss of that job. I mourned its loss. But, now I am grateful for the chance to entirely focus on my MS's birth. I had three short months at home with him and returned to the full time job for the spring semester.

Although, it was hard to leave my MS to go back to full-time work, my husband was able to care for him most of the time. When we were both at work, my MS had a fabulous care-giver, Lisa, who lived half a block away from the elementary school. Since her own children attended the school, she often showed up at school with my MS in tow. It was such a treat to get to see him.

Now, I am not working outside of the home at all. I spend almost all of my time with my boys. At times, it feels like the wrong job. However, I am confident that this is exactly where God wants me to be for now. I'm glad He has given me this job, even on the days when I'm pulling out my hair and screaming bloody murder. (For example, take the day last week when ES caught several bees and trapped them in the ant-farm, then set the ant-farm on the counter in the garage. MS took the ant-farm down to look at the bees buzzing around in there. He walked off and a few minutes later, I looked over to see YS holding the tiny cap and several angry bees buzzing around him. It was a miracle that neither one of us were stung. Let me tell you, there was a fair amount of screaming that day!) I'm so glad God has it all under control! Good thing He's not counting on me to keep it under control!

Book Review: Something of Value

Prior to starting my blog, I noticed an advertisement for a memoir writing class. It met for six Tuesdays at a nearby library. My husband and I agreed that it would be great for me to try to attend this class, not necessarily because I've always wanted to write a memoir of my life, but more because I desperately needed something to focus on apart from my all-encompassing job of caring for my family. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. One Tuesday, my husband was called in to work, which meant I couldn't attend the afternoon class. Another Tuesday, I was ill and another Tuesday the little boys were ill. I believe I only attended two of the classes (thankfully the price had been right - free - so I didn't lose any money based on my lack of attendance).

At one of the class sessions, I met a woman named Carlene Crum, who had already written her memoir and was in the process of getting it self-published. This was inspiring and, although we didn't really talk much, I felt encouraged by meeting her. Imagine my surprise, when I noticed her book in the recent releases section of the library.

Carlene's book is entitled Something of Value: A Mother's Spiritual Journey with a Special-Needs Child. The title reaffirmed my own beliefs that every child is of great value despite their ability or inability to give anything tangible back to society. I was eager to read the story of the Crum's brain-damaged son, Ben, whom they cared for over a 17 year period.

My favorite part of the book was when Carlene discussed her new understanding of the kind of love God has for each of us. She explained that she couldn't fathom the depth of love she felt for her child. She wrote:

"I noticed that I was filled with love for Ben who had nothing to give to the world, so to speak. It was immediately obvious that he was totally unable to administer any self-care ... not to mention accomplishing something for others. Yet, I never tired of loving him. Then the light bulb in my mind turned on. This is God's kind of love!"

Carlene and her husband recognized that God had a purpose and a plan for them in their son's life. They continued to cling to belief in His love and provision. They grew spiritually as a result of the journey which life with their son provided. Moreover, in the last sentence of her book, Carlene, identifies the "Something of Value" not as her son, but as God. She wrote, "God was, is and always will be the Something of Value that we gained while our son Benjamin was with us."

My great disappointment with this book was that I wanted to be pulled into the story first and then the lessons. Sadly, the story itself is presented in only a limited light. The driving focus, rightly or wrongly, is on the Scriptural truths which became apparent in their lives as they cared for their child. I am sure that others will glean encouragement from this book. A reader who has struggled with the difficulties of caring for a special needs child will certainly feel a kinship with the author and the story of her growth.

I guess it makes me think about witnessing strategies. Some people are constantly in the process of preaching sermons to those around them, in the sincere desire to draw the other person into a closer relationship with God. Others live their lives, befriend others, tell their story and allow others to draw their own conclusions. I am drawn to the story of others.

I'm not averse to hearing Scriptural support for God's hand in our lives. Yet, I wanted to say to the author, "Show me your story, don't tell me the verses that you learned." I am glad this woman took the time to set down what she felt the Lord wanted her to share. I am glad that she included photos of her son at the end of the book (I felt more connected through the photos than the words). I can't imagine what it must have been like to walk in her shoes with the constant demands of caring for her son (and I complain about getting only a few snatched hours away from my perfectly healthy little guys - for shame!). I just wish I could have tried her shoes on by reading her book.