Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pyro-Mom, Pyro-Sons

It really shouldn't surprise me that my ES loves fire. He even chose the word "pyro" as part of his e-mail address. Moreover, he has a knack for starting them. When I took him to an afternoon Indian seminar at Russell Woods Forest Preserve once, he was the only individual who managed to get their fire started by just using a flint and some sticks.

I, too, was quite fascinated with fire when I was growing up. However, I also developed a healthy fear of it. At one point, I had convinced myself that I was going to die in a house fire and I wouldn't go to sleep. My father did his best to allay my fears and pray with me before bedtime for a while.

I know that inability to sleep occurred when we were living in a house in Alton, Illinois. What I don't recall, is whether or not the disturbed sleep came before or after I first singed my own bangs off. My bedroom at our house in Alton was on the lowest level and my window above my bed, looked out over the ground of our front yard. In a moment of sheer brilliance, I decided to get a paper lunch sack and fill it with toilet paper. Then, I put my head out of my window and, looking down at the bag, dropped a lit match into it.

There are several amazing things about this scenario. Of course, it is amazing that I merely managed to singe off my bangs instead of blowing off my head (of course, I didn't add a flammable substance to the fire). But, even more amazing, is the fact that I tried to head to the dinner table as if nothing had happened. I guess I was still in the throes of that "sheer brilliance" which sometimes overtakes my brain, because I was shocked when my parents noticed the singed bangs and the pungent odor coming from my head. Isn't burnt hair the worst smell in the world?

This week, we got a chance to catch a whiff of our own, thanks to our MS. ES had begged to build a bonfire. All three boys were down by the fire with their Dad while I was preparing our supper. I noticed ES pushing MS aside and yelling at him. Then, Dad came over and seemed to talk to him further. He had gone too close to the fire, trying to roast a pretend marshmallow on a stick, and had singed off his bangs.

I had already shared my paper bag story with the boys previously. As we ate, I remembered another story which brought the power of fire home to me in my formative years.

I had been hired to babysit for Danny. Danny's mother explained that his supper was in the oven and his green beans were boiling on the stove. I gathered up two hot pads, in either hand, and bent over to pull the meal out of the oven. Apparently, a burst of air from the oven leaped out and caused the flames on the stove to jump. My hair immediately ignited and my hands went up to my head. Danny was watching the whole thing with a look of horror. It must have been a quick flash and then I was patting my head all over with the hot pads.

I called my parents and they brought my sister to watch Danny while they rushed me to the emergency room. The doctors informed my parents that if I hadn't been wearing my hair up in side french braids, my entire head of hair would have been gone. As it was, I had to apply a thick white cream to my face every hour (something about the burns going into the layers of the skin). The cream absorbed the blackened bits and turned dark gray. I would wipe the darkened cream off and re-apply fresh cream.

This wouldn't have been too bad, if I hadn't had to go to school. But, I remember having to apply the cream at the beginning of one period and head to the restrooms to remove the graying cream from my face by the end of the period. Total embarrassment for a teenage girl! I think the embarrassment factor (although this particular incident wasn't necessarily my fault) carried far more weight than any admonition to "never play with fire!"

Even if I fail to get MS's hair cut this week, I doubt he will ever reach embarrassment level. Boys seem to wear such marks as a badge of honor.

By the way, in Britain they call bangs their "fringe." I toyed with the idea of titling this post "We've Managed to Singe our Fringe!" But, last night I discovered how many extra hits Michelle Kemper Brownlow has received at her blog due to the Octo-Mom reference, and thought Pyro-Mom had a good ring to it as well.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Keep Me from Snap Judgements, Arrogance, and Easy Answers

I want to write tonight. I don't want to write tonight. I want to write because writing has always been beneficial to me. It helps me sort things out and just getting it down somehow lightens the burden. I don't want to write because I am afraid that I have really "left the building" and my depression will be the one tapping the keyboard.

I haven't discussed my battles with clinical depression often, here on my blog, but it is a fact of my existence and has been ever since I lost a baby prior to ES's birth. But, let's face it: depression is depressing. And writing from the pit of depression can be a downer for the reader and the writer.

Then again, there are so many individuals who have great insights to share with the world. Many of these same individuals have struggled with bouts of depression. Is there a correlation between sensitivity to life's lessons and sensitivity to emotional angst? I don't know. I'm guessing there is.

Anyway, here's what I have tonight (while trying to channel a positive me, instead of the reigning negative me).

This afternoon, I was thinking back to a family I babysat for when I was a teenager. We lived in Chicago and my sister and I had literally gone around the neighborhood knocking on doors to see if they had children and might be needing a sitter (perhaps this is why I keep wanting to walk over to the retirement condos up the street - on the golf course lots - to solicit a babysitter for my little guys? I'm guessing they have rules against such solicitation).

The little boy's name was Danny and I believe he was about 18 months old. His father had a slight limp, I remember. The dad worked full-time and the mom was a stay-at-home mother. They hired me so that they could go out for dates occasionally. I did love the little boy and felt genuinely connected to the mother (though I can't remember her name). I remember that she invited me over once, when I wasn't needed for sitting, and shared her homemade crumb coffee cake. It was delicious and I begged her for the recipe. (Perhaps, I will remember to share another vivid memory of an experience with Danny tomorrow. It was one I just shared with my boys at the dinner table this week after MS singed off his bangs!)

I can remember thinking that Danny's mother must have a wonderful life. At one point, she sewed a sock monkey for me (in exchange for a night of babysitting - because she knew I collected monkeys). She gets to play with her adorable little boy and bake yummy treats and take care of her small apartment. Of course, I was a teenager then!

Today, as I sat outside tending to my children's every two second needs, I was thinking back to this family and repenting of my snap judgements, arrogance and easy answers. You see, after a year or two, the mother informed me that she was leaving. She was divorcing her husband and leaving her son, Danny, in his permanent custody. She tried to explain to me what prompted these actions. I know I heard bits of her reasoning - she felt like she was suffocating, it just wasn't enough for her, she had so many other things she wanted to do with her life. However, I was reeling. I couldn't fathom how a mother could walk away from her little boy.

Anyone who is a parent, knows how easy it is to provide snap judgements, arrogance and easy answers before you have children. I was a compendium of knowledge on what other parents should or should not be doing with their children. I am pretty certain many others have had a host of knowledge in parenting which they wish they could share with me. Indeed, I have received my fair share of easy answers from others (whether or not I have received as much as I passed on, only God can weigh that one out).

Tonight, I'm begging forgiveness from Danny's mother (it would really be a God thing, if she were to stumble upon this minor blog). I felt such harsh judgement back then. I never even paused to think that I had never walked a mile in her moccasins. True, my concern was equally prompted by thoughts of Danny and his father, but now I know how easy it is to create answers when we are not really a part of the equation. I'm sure both choices had negative ramifications - staying and parenting her child or leaving and pursuing her personal goals.

Now, having prefaced all of this with a warning that my inner serotonin deficiencies might be taking the reins, I must assure you that I am not planning to leave my husband and sons (despite the fact that those thoughts feel more welcome these days than they may have ever felt before). I'm just processing this fact: If you offer an easy answer to another's conundrum, chances are pretty strong that you haven't fully understood the exact nature of the issue (including complexities your life has yet to encounter). So, my prayer for tonight is "God, please come bear my "mother load" and keep me from snap judgements, arrogance and easy answers, too!"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review: The Wednesday Letters

I stumbled upon this book while in Walmart browsing . It was late in the evening and I had no whining children with me. I had intended to read another few chapters of John and Kate G's book about their 8 children - twins and sextuplets - like I had last time I shopped at Walmart alone. Alas, that book was gone.

This book looked interesting and it was billed as a "New York Times bestseller," so the next time I was at the library, I picked it up. Perhaps it is just me. I seem to be having trouble getting into books over the last few months. I'm fine once I'm midway through, but the first half feels like plowing snow. I thought I could blame this on a heavy dose of multiple non-fiction titles which I have been trying to tackle all at once (they are all compelling, but I seem to pick them up and put them down and pick up another - at the moment I am concurrently reading one on depression, one on premenopause, and another on mothering, plus I have one on Omega-3 waiting in the wings). However, I found this novel followed the same pattern.

I thought the first half of the book felt a bit stiff and stilted. The characters didn't really jump to life for me. The conflict didn't tug me in. I read the first thirteen chapters in about six different sittings. However, once I got to chapter 14, I read the last half of the book in one sitting. I still believe the characters could have been developed more fully, so that the reader felt more of a connection and concern for them. I still think a more involved explanation of the characters and setting would have strengthened the first half of the book.

However, the best part of the book truly is in the second half. Once you reach that point, you begin to piece together more of the background story. You begin to enter into the really compelling part of this book - the lesson of the strength of love and the power of forgiveness.

I found myself wondering if I had what it takes to write a letter to my spouse once a week. I doubt my spouse would want me to write him a letter each week (he prefers face-to-face interaction). If I did, I certainly wouldn't send them - although it wouldn't be a stretch to think that I would keep the stash of them.

I know when my first son was born, I decided to keep a journal addressed to him, with the intent of sharing it with him when he was older or when I was no longer around. However, even though I enjoy writing, I didn't manage to keep up with the task. His journal is short and the two little boys don't even have any journals addressed to them. I'm afraid if I started one for my MS, it would be repetitive entries of "Today you are driving me insane. I don't think you can be quiet for one moment's time. I am really beginning to hate my name because you use it incessantly. I love you dearly, but deary, could you give me some space!"

Hopefully, my blog will serve those purposes that my journal couldn't. However, I doubt I will drop any big secrets or tales of family trauma here. Things like that would have to be reserved for private addresses and even then, I wouldn't know whether it would really be beneficial for my sons to read something like that later in life.

It would be interesting to hear whether any of my readers follow through with this sort of thing. Do you write a journal to your children or regular letters to your spouse? Do you reveal things that you might not share otherwise? Do you have a special place that you store these letters? Even more interesting, has anyone ever stumbled upon secret letters of this sort and gained a glimpse into someone else's life?

I do recall finding a scrap of paper in one of my mother's books one day when I was a pre-teen or teen. I remember reading it and feeling like I was violating her personal space, reading something she had not written with my eyes in mind. I'm quite certain she wrote with nobody's eyes in mind. She wrote to vent her frustrations.

This particular scrap outlined a day when my father was late getting home from the church office. She ended up feeding us kids (were there four or five of us at the time? I don't know?) and not even eating anything herself. She was feeling the weight of shouldering the intense mother role (something I can now relate to quite clearly). At the time, though, I think I realized for the first time that we were quite a handful and steering our boatload of children wasn't exactly a grand job.

Am I glad I stumbled upon that paper? You bet, because now I can look back on it and acknowledge that my own mother struggled with her mothering role as well. My own mother also wearied under the constant driving needs of small children. And, even better news, she weathered the storm. We all survived. Some of us even flourished. This was another thing I took away from Jason Wright's book: Without God in the boat, helping us weather the storms and manage the forgiveness, we might literally sink.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday: The Roundabout

I apologize, in advance, because this post will be lame. Hubby tells me it will be lame because I'm calling a nearby stretch of road one of my favorite things. I predict it will be lame because I am nursing a horrid headache this evening and can't take anything because I am going for a fasting blood draw tomorrow morning.

I had an annual physical/medication follow-up appointment on Tuesday. It was in a town a half hour's drive away. I love any reason to head to this particular town because shortly after we moved here, they removed a very hectic 4-way stop sign intersection and replaced it with a British style roundabout. It was a wise move indeed and has greatly improved the flow of traffic there. But, I don't really love it because it is practical. I love it because it is British!

I must be fairly vocal in my raving about how much I love driving on this roundabout (even though I never drove a vehicle when I was over in England), because the other day my son mentioned that their wrestling bus went on the roundabout and he almost told all the other guys how stoked his mom gets whenever she gets to go on that road. Perhaps, my love of the roundabout (and all things British) is lame, because, note that ES said he "almost" told the guys about it. I'm guessing it would have been too embarrassing to admit his mother loves a road because it reminds her of Great Britain.

However, I will shout it from the mountaintops (or at least from my blog). I love driving on this roundabout. It gives me a giddy feeling inside every time. (I did feel a bit idiotic, however, when I exited my vehicle and stood on the sidewalk to snap a photo of it!) I just say it provides further appeal for visits from my British friends. After all, not everyone in the States can say "Do come for a visit! If you're feeling homesick, we can drive over to ********* and go around the roundabout."


If you are unfamiliar with how a roundabout works, or would like to see better pictures and images than I have to offer, you must head to Wikipedia. According to their article, the first roundabout wasn't British, after all. It appeared in Paris. Then, one appeared in New York (no way, I never knew that!) and finally arrived in Britain five years later. If you want to see a really wild roundabout, go here. That one wouldn't make me giddy if I had to drive through it; however, I would still be giddy because I would actually be in jolly old England.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

May I Have a Side of Character with Those Wrestling Skills?

Spring is definitely here and wrestling season is over. Tonight, ES had a wrestling awards ceremony. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that hubby also had a work related dinner. Thus, I ended up taking the two little boys along (much to ES's chagrin). I'm sure I'm more sensitive to their disruptions than others (I hope). They did better than I expected, but not absolutely silent and still through the whole ceremony (what would I have to do? tape their mouths? drug them? make them girls?).

A little girl stood near the boys the whole time, fascinated with their antics (such as, crawling around and under the chairs, playing with their special toys, jumping off the chair, crying and saying loudly "Don't pinch my jeans, Mommy!" - that was YS).

After MS tried to introduce her to his dog, she asked me why they didn't have a REAL dog. I tried to quietly explain that I have my hands full with them. They will get a real dog when they are older. Then, she offered MS one of her own dogs for the total sum of $1.00! Believe me, he was game! I had to explain to him later that she most certainly did not have her Mommy's permission to sell their dog for $1.00.

I have mentioned before, how impressed I am with ES's wrestling coach. He is firm, but loving. He was completely understanding of ES's stomach issues and yet acknowledged that he wasn't about to go easy on him during practices, for the morale of the whole team. When a member of the team brings the team down in any way, the entire team works extra hard at the next practice, thanking the responsible (or shall we say, irresponsible) teammate.

This evening, at the end of the ceremony, the coach teared up as he described how much he appreciates working with these boys. He also informed the parents, while apologizing if this offended anyone, that before every meet, they huddle and say a prayer. Then, he called all of the 8th grade wrestlers up to the front. He invited all who were interested to join him in praying a prayer of send-off for those 8th grade wrestlers. To watch my ES in the huddle, with his arm on another player's shoulder was truly a blessed sight. The coach even offered his assistance to any parent having difficulty with one of his players (hmm, I might have to take him up on that one day).

I also learned that ES has a nickname. Apparently, he was christened with the nickname "Sunshine" at the start of the season last year. It must be his blond hair and his cheery disposition!

Here is a photo of MS and his dog. He calls him Max and carries him everywhere now. I am really quite grateful for this new attachment, since previously his strong attachment object was a wrapped mummy decoration from our Halloween boxes. One day, I allowed him to take his best friend, the mummy, with him to the park. Another mother just couldn't get over it. She came over two or three times to discuss the attachment object. Of course, it is made more humorous because as he swung the mummy in the swings, the mummy's head came off. This didn't seem to distress MS in the slightest. The other mother commented, "I suppose it is just like an American Girl doll."

"If, perhaps, less pretty," I added!

Will the coach still be around when my MS and YS get to middle school? I sure hope so. If he is, I'm guessing they'll find some interesting nicknames for my middle son, no?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Word Flubbing

I must admit, I am usually the one flubbing words in this family. Everyone looks at me and just laughs at some of the strange things that manage to pop out of my mouth. Of course, at the moment, my mind is running blank for an example of MY ineptitude with words. I like to claim that my brain merely runs too fast for my mouth to keep up. Hubby and ES like to claim that I have early Alzheimer's!

This afternoon, at lunch, hubby provided me with a fun laugh. He was reviewing an advertisement for a new family fun establishment called "Snapperz." They offer the usual things: bowling, laser tag, and a bungee trampoline. Suddenly, he said, "Oh, ES would like this! They have a 24 inch climbing tower."

I couldn't resist. I immediately said, "Boy, that'll be pretty challenging for him at twenty four inches!"

That is the kind of thing I usually come out with, not hubby. Thankfully, he was able to laugh at himself as well.

Then, this afternoon, MS asked if he could go outside to play. I didn't really feel like going out, since YS was napping and it is only 50 degrees out. As he was pleading, he argued "I'm an outside boy. In fact, I'm a PLAYBOY!"

This time, I kept my chuckles to myself. Perhaps I should suggest that the "playboy" attempt the "24 inch climbing tower" at Snapperz!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This is Why They Tell Parents Not to Blink

This post is for my mother. It is a joint "thank-you for the wonderful Christmas gift" and "look what your amazing grandson can already do!" For Christmas, YS received a Thomas the Tank Engine puzzle game. It included 26 paired puzzle pieces, one for each letter of the alphabet. This quickly became one of his favorite toys and he insisted on carrying them around everywhere.

At first, he was fixated on three key players: G - Gordon; T - Thomas; and J - James. But, we soon noticed that he could identify almost all of the letters. Then, he found our set of magnetic letters.

He was still one just 2-1/2 months ago. As much as I wish for days away from my small children, they just won't stay small for long. Yesterday, YS wanted to take his nap in my bed, lying on Daddy's side. How could I say no? He was all cuddled up under the covers, with Sleepy Bear tucked under his chin, his two fingers upside down in the roof of his mouth, and his hand clutching his "black steam engine."

He fell asleep moments after I crawled in next to him. I, on the other hand, could not sleep. I spent the entire time watching him, loving his sweet, funny cowlicks, those precious fingers and the sucking sound they make, and his adorable face.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday: Ronald, Dopey and Woody

I must thank Peggy Larson for bringing these favorite things to mind today. I'm so glad that she is continuing to post updates on Coleman's CarePages site, because she always makes me smile. Today, she mentioned niggling regret at having taught (no, wait, she said her husband taught) Caden the little ditty about "I see London, I see France, ..." Now that he is going to pre-school, she's worried he will repeat it.

Immediately, my mind travelled back to when ES was a toddler, and our only son. He had a few favorite things back then (he would never admit to them still being favorites, but I can claim them as such). Two were hand-puppets of Ronald McDonald and Dopey:

He acquired the cute Ronald puppet at his first McDonald's birthday party (since they served a cake, I remember bringing gingerbread train cookies for each guest) when he turned 3. I believe I bought the Dopey puppet from a thrift store in DeKalb. I have a penchant for collecting puppets under the assumption that some day I will have a puppet ministry. Alas, the only puppet ministry goes on here at home and more often than not, it is hubby doing the voice-overs.

Along with Ronald and Dopey, my husband would do a special voice for a Toy Story Woody Doll which ES received from our dear friend, Beth. I would post a photo of Woody; however, he has recently passed on to the Great Trash Bin. You will have to look here.

It was one of the dolls with a pull-string and he said "Yee-hah, Cowboy!," "You're my favorite deputy!," "Reach for the sky!," and "There's a snake in my boot!" Sadly, last year, the boys came up with a new game called "Throw Woody up the stairwell as many times as possible to see what will happen." He was decapitated and despite valiant sewing efforts could not be revived for future law enforcement. If he could have, he would have instituted the new law of not throwing toys in the stairwell!

Anyway, my husband was fabulous with these characters. They each had a distinctive voice and personality. They would often fight (I suppose that was hubby's way of introducing an only child to the concept of sibling rivalry). But, Woody was the one with an impish personality. Alas, Woody taught our ES a made-up ditty which went like this:

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Poopies are stinky,
And so are you!"

He was already attending pre-kindergarten at the time, but I never heard any reports from his teachers. Then, one Sunday morning, as we were sitting in the third pew from the front of the sanctuary, moments before the service began, ES stood up on the pew, turned around and recited Woody's poem. Let me tell you, I was certainly glad that ES wasn't a pastor's kid (like I was while growing up) and I was even more grateful that I wasn't a pastor's wife!

Having written up a post to explain why these two puppets are among my favorites, I'm hoping that they will resume making more regular appearances in our home. The boys love it. I did stealthily manage a video clip of hubby interacting with the two little guys and Ronald and Dopey. But, I have promised hubby I will not post it here on my blog!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Beauty With or Without Hair!

It was wonderful to read the news on my niece Amelia's Caringbridge page about Saturday's St. Baldrick's event. Last year, there were 48 individuals who participated in the shaving ceremony. This year, over one hundred people participated. Amelia (while not prepared to go completely bald again, as she was during her leukemia treatments), cut off her long locks to donate to Locks of Love.

Here is the photo they posted on Amelia's page:

I say she's a beauty whether she's bald, in a bob or long curls. If you would like to, you may view a video of the proceedings there in Green Bay. My baby brother, Tim, is the one holding the microphone for the kick-off cry of "Start your razors!" He'll always be my baby brother, even though his oldest child is in the double digits and his youngest is a cancer survivor. I'm sure ES will always feel that way about YS, since they have the same 10 year age gap.

They surpassed their goal ($20,000) and managed to raise over $40,000 for Childhood Cancer. What a great day it was for raising money and awareness for the battle of childhood cancer. However, my sister-in-law, Mary, did mention another family reeling from the aftermath of cancer. Sarah Aberle is no longer battling cancer, but she left behind a husband (a cancer survivor) and five young children. Please say a prayer for this family as they enter this journey of grief.

If you would like to get involved in weekly efforts to support families in the midst of crisis, feel free to visit the Cole's Foundation website. Tim and Mary were privileged, this past weekend, to meet with Aaron Ruotsala, the father of Cole (a three year old who passed away eight weeks after his cancer diagnosis) and they have been touched by this ministry of support.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Review: How to Raise a Child with a High EQ

I must admit, it was my ES who drove me to pick up this book. It doesn't matter how intelligent your child is, if he doesn't play nice, others will not like him. Granted, I realize many of my worries and concerns are knee-jerk reactions to fundamental boy behavior. My husband often reminds me that boys often show their love for one another by teasing. He has yet to convince my four year old of the validity of this theory, but I think to some extent he is correct that teasing does somewhat come with the territory.

However, I still worry about my sons. I want them to be compassionate, sensitive individuals. I don't want them to be sissified or girly, just willing to get outside of themselves for enough time to understand where the other person might be coming from. When boys laugh at another boy's misfortune, it seems uncaring and rude, not strong and masculine.

It took me quite a while to plug through this book (I think I renewed it seven times). I read it simultaneous with a few other books and the other books always drew my attention more. Plus, I am discovering (as I have with other parenting books) that if you are interested in reading a book to help you improve an aspect of your child-rearing, it is usually because you value that particular characteristic. If you begin with a foundational value, you are probably already implementing many of the ideas which will be suggested.

However, I would still say this was a fairly helpful book. The author, Lawrence Shapiro, PhD, is well-known for his various therapeutic games. He provides numerous examples of fun ways to nurture your child's emotional intelligence. He offers a listing of helpful software games your child can play (although, since the book was published in 1997, I'm sure there are plenty of updated games to be found on the Internet).

Here were a few of his pointers that I took to heart:

  • Raise the bar on your expectations for considerate, responsible behavior.

  • Teach your child to practice random acts of kindness (this was reminiscent of the great tip I gleaned from Nicholas Spark's memoir, when he recounted how his mother always made them share one nice thing that each sibling did for them that day).

  • Commit your family to service projects.

  • Encourage and model optimistic, realistic perspectives. (now there's one I can work on!)

  • Teach the child to see problems as something outside of themselves.

  • Develop a problem-solving atmosphere (this included some good words to teach and play with: is/is not, and/or, some/all, before/after, now/later, same/different, good time/not a good time, if/then, might/maybe, why/because and fair/not fair).

  • Have them rate their own performance.

  • Teach them to break large tasks into smaller bite-size goals.

The main thing I carried away from this book is the importance of expecting and requiring more. Shapiro keenly observed that we, Americans, tend to give our kids more, yet ask for less. If we want them to grow up with strong relational abilities and skills like, persistence, diligence, ambition and self-motivation, we must raise the bar and model what we hope to see in our children.

I think my favorite section in the whole book was the last section devoted to the power of emotions. When the author began to write about assisting a child who has experienced some form of trauma in their life, I thought of my own ES, but I also thought of Caden Larson, who is dealing with the trauma of losing his twin brother to cancer. Anyone who is interested in assisting a child who is dealing with a significant loss or trauma would benefit from reading this final section. Children don't have the arsenal of tools adults have to deal with trauma. The games suggested by Shapiro can benefit every child, but would certainly be of great benefit for a child who has experienced something unusually intense.

I'm guessing that my kids are doing fine in their emotional intelligence. What is probably needed is a stronger sense of character. In society, our pre-teens are encouraged to be tough and heartless. Typical MTV fare offers up shows devoted to put-down battles and the glorification of scars earned while attempting extreme stunts. Their language is full of words like "owned," and "loser." What a battle we parents have to nurture concern for fellow man and high standards of integrity.

My husband grew up on the stories from the volumes of Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. When we tried to share them with our ES, he considered them out-dated and preachy. I can't silence society's mantras. Even if he doesn't spend time watching MTV, he will pick these things up at school.

My little boys are ripe for the Uncle Arthur stories right now (we have two volumes). As for ES, we will have to continue to raise the bar when it comes to considerate, responsible behavior. We will have to clearly communicate our values and commitment to strong character. And, I'm sure we'll have to keep praying hard for God's help as we encourage our sons to grow into the productive, compassionate, strong individuals we want them to be.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday: Sprecher Root Beer

I'm hoping to keep this post short, since we are a house full of sickies and I've succumbed as well. Thankfully, a visit to the doctor today, clarified that it is not strep throat, but just a bad virus.

Ever since I became pregnant with my MS, I have avoided pop (soda, as some of you call it). I found that when I try to drink it again, the taste is too syrupy-sweet. The one pop I still indulge in, on occasion, is root beer. Now, I don't think I would give in for root beer, if my options included only A & W (which is great when you drink it from a mug at the restaurant, not as satisfying from a can) or Barg's. I could easily pass. However, I have fallen in love with a root beer brewed in Wisconsin (yes, Kyle, God's country).

For years, my husband would come up for the last weekend of CBLI, and we would find someone to keep an eye on ES at the camp, so that we could go out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. The first year we tried a sit-down restaurant across the street from the McDonald's in Antioch, IL. The meal was average. The following year, we headed out, intending to go to "The Vault." I remember eating at this restaurant with my family when we would go to camp to pick up my older brothers.

We never made it to "The Vault." As we drove off the campgrounds, we noticed a quaint little restaurant right on the same country road the camp is on, in Camp Lake, Wisconsin. I can't remember the name, and it did change owners at some point. Alas, this past year, it was gone entirely. It was a remarkable restaurant. The food was fantastic. The room felt cozy and intimate. And the root beer? Well, the root beer was outstanding. It was Sprecher Root Beer and the only time I drank it was during those anniversary meals (never saw it in IL).

Imagine my glee, when I noticed a sale on Sprecher Root Beer at the Menard's in a near-by town. I drove over and picked up four cases. Of course, I had to ask how in the world they came to be selling the stuff in Indiana, when I had never found it in Illinois. The clerk kindly explained to me that the Sprecher Brewery is right next to the Menard's headquarters up in Wisconsin and that is why they carry the brand for occasional sales. Hallelujah!

Last night, I was sitting down to my frozen spinach pizza and had to pair it with a glass of fine Sprecher Root Beer. So, if you are ever in Wisconsin, be sure to try a bottle. It is made from pure Wisconsin honey direct from the combs. It is the best root beer I've ever tasted, and my all-time favorite pop!

In writing this post, I discovered a web-site, called Root Beer World, which lists all of the 1000's of brands of root beer available. Good grief, even if I tried five new root beer formulas each year, I would never be able to say I had tried them all and declared one the best of all. Still, I find some of the names off-putting already. Who would want to try beer brewed by "Squatters" or "Scuttlebutt"? I'm stickin' with Sprecher. Let's just say it "speaks to me!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good Game! Good Game!

Back when we lived in DeKalb, my ES participated in AYSO (the American Youth Soccer Organization). We made it a priority to attend every game. Of course, this was easier back then, minus the two little boys. Now, we try for one of us to attend every home wrestling meet, but we miss all the away meets and even some home meets.

I know how important it is for children to have family members rally behind them when they compete in a sport. Personally, I cringe every time I have to go to one of ES's meets. I want so badly for him to do well. I worry so much that he'll get hurt and I'll watch the whole thing go down. I worry about the girl on his team (yes, there's a girl and no, I don't understand for one minute why a parent would want/allow their adolescent daughter to compete in the sport of wrestling). But, it is nice to be able to say, "You did a great job out there!" when you've actually watched him compete. Especially nice, when he pins someone!

Of course, at the end of the meet, each team lines up and does the standard good sportsmanship move, slapping hands and saying, "Good game. Good game." Or are they saying "good meet!"? I'll have to ask ES. I'd think that would be really bad, if your daughter were on the wrestling team and all the guys are slapping her and saying "Good meat meet!"

Tonight, I'm looking for a virtual good sportsmanship line. After putting the kids to bed, I left for the grocery store with a specific list of deals and my coupon wallet. Returning home to the occasional snore, cough and bark of my guys, feels like standing alone in this sport of frugal shopping.

Here is what I purchased:

I paid $29.99 for these 27 items: 1 frozen pizza, 4 bags of pizza rolls, 4 packages of salmon fillets, 1 package of chocolate chip waffles (I think hubby thought the sale would include the Eggo Whole Wheat Waffles. No such luck, but the kids might consider it lucky.), 4 half gallon jugs of milk, 3 packs of yogurt ($1 each after coupons), 1 package of bologna, 3 cans soup, 3 packs of fruit rolls, 2 canteloupe and 1 container of deodorant.

That is a GOOD GAME! Woo-hoo! The receipt itemized my savings as $15.00 in coupon savings (thanks Kroger for doubling coupons which are .50 or less!), and $39.86 in Kroger Plus Card savings, for a total savings of $54.86. However, I must add that I probably reaped even more savings because the pharmacist made an error on my husband's prescription last week. When I went to pick up the corrected prescription, the pharmacist apologized and put $10 worth of savings on my Kroger card (which was removed from tonight's total before the tax). Their error. Score one for me!

Like any serious competitor, I was analyzing my performance on the way home. I think I may have had a coupon for the Right Guard, but I forgot to look for it. Drats! Still, feel free to slap my hand (or leave a comment) and say "Good Game!" since everyone here is snoring through my victory. Hey, you can even say "Good meat!" if you want, since those frozen salmon fillets truly are good, healthy meat!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

And the Art Goes On

MS is killing us with his art obsession. We might as well buy stock in Georgia-Pacific, Elmers, Scotch and Crayola! This is what our dining room looks like on a daily basis:

How can I complain when he's turning out sculptures like this (one is obviously a spider, the other he declares to be a bug box):

After many futile attempts to snap a self-portrait (to update my profile), I have decided that I should merely hire MS to draw my portrait. It couldn't possibly turn out worse than this (and I doubt he'd give me double chins!):

If only he could allow some of his father's obsessions (cleanliness and death to clutter) to rub off onto him, we might survive. At this point, it looks doubtful. Hubby has provided MS with a box and informed him that all of his art (and any paper he intends to use again) must be housed in this box or it will be thrown into the recycling bag. I'm thinking we need to remodel our home, so as to provide the child with his own studio. Yet, he still insists that when he grows up, he's going to be Spiderman! Oh Spiderman, save me from the clutter that is your art!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday - Travel Sewing Kit

I'm sure it would be hard to imagine a person feeling sentimental towards a travel sewing kit. It sounds goofy to me even. I'm not a seamstress, by any means. I can patch things, when necessary, but not very well. I did take Home Economics in middle school from the teacher whose name I'll never forget, Ocean Weaver. However, the blue wrap-around skirt I produced from that class is the only piece of clothing I've ever made.

So, what makes my travel sewing kit so special? It was made just for me. I believe it was a gift from my sister-in-law, Becky, for participating in their wedding, back in the summer of 1989. I have used it faithfully, ever since. Proof positive that I use it often? I have lost the small scissors which are usually found in the right hand pocket. (I know that I take this sewing kit with me to CBLI each year. I haven't seen it since then, so perhaps it was misplaced in the travel toiletries or such.) The left hand pocket contains a measuring tape and a seam ripper. The kit doesn't close perfectly anymore, because it is usually chock full of scraps of embroidery thread from various cross-stitching projects. It is definitely a well-loved item.

These photos are, again, horrible, but at least I was able to get them from the camera. I dropped the camera after taking these photos and the lens wouldn't close. I was having dejavu and praying that I wouldn't be camera shopping again so soon. Thankfully, with a bit of fiddling, I was able to get it functioning again. Whew!
Thanks again, Becky! I still love it, twenty years later. (BTW, my brother must still be one of her favorites, 20 years later, because they are expecting their sixth child around the time of their 20th anniversary!)

I-Pod Touch Raffle

If there's one thing I have not ceased hearing about since Christmas, it is the I-Pod Touch. One of ES's friends received one and ES is now convinced that life can only be rich and blessed if he is able to secure one of these for himself. (Am I filing this away in "Arguments for Home Schooling"??) For the record, I am dead-set against it.

Do I really need to explain my sentiments? Remember, this is the same boy who received a camera cell phone for Christmas and then walked onto a frozen pond, nearly killing himself, and absolutely killing his phone. Not to mention, I'm not keen on the idea of his having access to the Internet on a portable instrument away from our sight (believe me, I have enough to supervise already!).

However, wouldn't it just be amazing if I WON an I-Pod Touch, for myself, and then offered to let him borrow it for supervised visitation??? Ha! O.K., I'm not really thinking I'll win this little wager, but I will have to explain the receipt from my entry to my husband. (I've noticed that since I left the "paid" workforce, I tend to spend more money than ever on charitable causes.)

If you want to participate in the festivities, and render my chances even more remote, every $10 donation towards the cause of bringing Jacob home to the Van Nice family will receive one entry for this I-Pod Touch raffle. I learned about this cause from the source of another cause close to my heart. My friend, Renee, at Life With My Special K's, is also in the process of raising the necessary monies to bring home their Down's Syndrome daughter Kellsey from an orphanage in Eastern Europe. She mentioned their fundraiser on her blog and I decided to give it a shot.

These families are especially eager to get their kids home as soon as possible. Two Down Syndrome girls at the orphanages in Eastern Europe died recently from the flu. Please consider participating in these raffle fund-raisers. Now, for information on the raffle to raise money to bring Kellsey home:

Maybe, instead of an I-Pod Touch, you're hoping to win a cruise. We're not really cruise people, so I'm waiting for Kellsey's upcoming silent auction. Remember, even if you don't win (and you have to bear with a life not quite as rich or blessed as the kid next to you - smile), you are making winners of these children who are waiting to join families who can love them, provide for them, and treat their illnesses!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

We're in this Together

Never underestimate the power of the simple knowledge that someone else is experiencing the same frustrations!

ES has four meets this week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday (all day). This morning, my husband asked if he could let ES sleep in an extra ten minutes if I agreed to take him to school. I groggily agreed. By the time I got the boys in the van, it was fifteen minutes before the tardy bell.

His middle school is in the next town over, about a ten minute drive, on a normal day. Alas, today was not a normal day. No, this morning, Mr. Farmer, decided to drive his large John Deere all the way from our small town to the neighboring town which houses both the middle school and the high school. At 7:50 a.m. On a school morning. At 25 miles per hour. On a 55 mph stretch. The only route to the schools.

Had I been the only one on the road behind Mr. Farmer, I'm sure I would have been seething with frustration. Instead, I was stuck in the middle of a train of about 100 cars (o.k., maybe not 100, but as far as the eye could see), all wondering why Mr. Farmer couldn't have waited ten more minutes to make his drive from one town to the other. Thankfully, it ended up feeling humorous. Moreover, nobody was hurt, just late (you know how impetuous teenage drivers can be).

Saturday, I intend to be "in this together" again, only it won't be a hardship or a frustration. My sister-in-law, Mary, added this note from the President of Give Kids the World (a charity striving to brighten the lives of children who face life-threatening illnesses) on Amelia's blog last night:

"All of us at Give Kids The World Village are getting ready for our Founder's Day celebration on March 7. Four years ago we started a tradition... encouraging everyone to "eat ice cream for breakfast" to help us celebrate. Whether you were a guest at the Village, share your time as a volunteer Angel, send Wish Children here as a Wish Granting Organization or are one of our treasured partners, you are a special part of our GKTW family. We hope that on March 7, you will start your day off with ice cream and thoughts of the thousands of precious children we have served."

I can't afford to finance a table of ten for their Black and White Gala ($2000), but I can enjoy a bowl of ice cream with my kids on Saturday (don't tell my hubby) and send up thoughts and prayers for the many children who are battling life-threatening illnesses. Ice cream and a sense of not being in a trial alone ... both brighten our days! Oh, and chocolate, too!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Loose Tooth to Entrepreneur in One Week

Sold to Mom to the tune of $1.00!

MS has discovered another passion. He has been making books and art. Not just any books or art, mind you, but pop-up books and art.

As I picked him up from preschool today, his new teacher said, "Man, this boy loves art. He wanted to spend the whole morning making crafts. He even wanted me to help him make a pyramid on the paper. Does he have an older brother?" (Sadly, his old teacher, who could attest to the boy's love of all things related to tape, glue, paper, paint, etc., moved to FL two weeks ago.)

I explained that he did, indeed, have an older brother, but I was quite sure he didn't get any of his artistic passion or creativity from watching his brother (who spends most of his time annoying MS with endless nicknames or playing the drums). She did get a good chuckle over the fact that we have gone through six rolls of Scotch tape since the new year, thanks to MS's passion for art. Thankfully, those were rolls I had managed to snag for free from Walgreens!

This afternoon, he created the above masterpiece. I know my photos don't do it justice, (especially given the fact that he chose to use a yellow marker!) but it is midnight and I'm throwing this post together rather haphazardly. When I asked for his explanation, he informed me that it was a scarecrow, two mummies, and Spiderman, walking in a field. Then, he looked up and said, "You want to buy it from me for $1.00?"

Who could turn down their own son's art? Did Picasso's mother finance his budding art at a young age?

I remember ES going through a phase like this when he was in kindergarten or first grade. He would draw a page full of pictures and give them prices of 10 cents to a dollar. He said he was selling tattoos. Boy, he hit the jackpot with us. Although, I often agreed only on the condition that the tattoo be positioned on my belly, or some other place I thought co-workers wouldn't discover it! (This wasn't as easy as it sounds, since part of my job included taking my assigned students for group swimming twice a week, during that year!)

I doubt you can read what he wrote at the bottom. It says, "FR DAD AD MOM FAM T------," which translates, "For Dad and Mom, from T----." He's gonna fill that wallet, I think!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Good Laugh

I like monkeys, but even I found this a bit creepy! Good thing I already have some chimps of my own. Last night, I was trying to find cheap tickets to take ES to see Stomp here in Indy, but alas the cheapest I could find would set us back $125! We've seen the video. Neither monkeys nor Stomp gettin' our money these days.

Thanks for a good laugh, Catherine!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

If Only I Had a Little Girl - If You Do, Check This Out!

I still have occasional moments, when my heart hungers for a little girl. Today, this may have been brought on by an ES who cannot stay away from lighters and flammable aerosols! But, viewing this two and a half minute You Tube video of a new children's book out by Neil Gaiman (author of Coraline - a movie in theaters now) really brought it home. It has such a gentle lyrical quality (appropriate since it was written for a singer, Tori Amos, to celebrate her pregnancy) and is so refreshing to hear it read by the author (with his British lilt). He fleshes out the deepest hopes we have for our children.

Now, perhaps I need to write a testosterone-driven version and market it to the same publisher. Ha, my name linked with Neil Gaiman! As if.

Still, I know what I'd call it: Firecracker Boy. It would be a prayer (not to vague ladies, but) to God (ah, right there the publisher might reject it) asking him to protect the Firecracker Boy from the mirage of immortality, the wounding of coy girls, the pit of selfishness, the costume of faux-manliness, the slippery slope of dishonesty, and the trick of false fulfillments. Ladies of darkness and ladies of light wouldn't have a prayer of protecting my firecracker boys! I'm convinced they need the protection of Almighty God!

For more information on how Neil came to write this book, and how he finally agreed to share it with the masses, go here. Thanks John, at Grasping for the Wind, for leading me to this fabulous video!