Thursday, April 30, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday: Memorial Music Box

Way back in 1994, I was hungering for a baby. We had been married for four years and I was approaching the age of 30. My husband was in graduate school and I had just finished a very stressful first year of teaching high school. As I look back on all these details, I understand my husband's sentiments a bit more; however, at the time, my desire was too intense to share his apprehensions. After many long discussions, he finally agreed to try.

From the moment I saw the positive line on the pregnancy test, I was a bundle of nerves. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt that I had pushed my husband into something he wasn't ready for. (Of course, this wasn't really new territory for me, because our wedding was actually postponed once due to his fear of commitment apprehensions.) As badly as I wanted a blue-eyed baby boy, I didn't want to create friction in our marriage.

When the pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I was devastated. I had begun bleeding one day, while at school. I finished teaching and called my doctor. After a quick exam, I had an ultrasound and was able to see the tiny heartbeat of my first baby. The doctor informed me that he was heading out of town the next day for a ski trip, but that I should give him a call if the bleeding increased at all.

Sadly, I ended up in the ER later that November night and my doctor performed a D and C. The pregnancy, from beginning to end, had been quite traumatic and I second guessed so many things (not bundling up enough and catching bronchitis, carrying a heavy box, the doctor's desire to "merely take care of things" before heading out for a ski trip, etc.). My grief was overwhelming.

Several books I read, suggested that the intangible aspect of miscarriage heightens the difficulty of grieving. Others find it difficult to recognize your loss as significant because they have never really seen your child. Many individuals who experience miscarriage find it easier to grieve when they have something to look at as a reminder of the child's existence (even if that existence remained unseen, in the womb). So, to ease the pain of my empty arms and heart, I purchased this memorial music box:

It seemed perfect because it is a small boy building a snowman and it plays "Silent Night," with that perfect line of "sleep in heavenly peace." I also gave my miscarried baby a name, calling him Colin James. I cross-stitched a memorial piece for him as well, but I lost it (if I had been blogging back then, I would have surely snapped a photo the moment I finished the piece).

Less than two years later, in May of 1996, I used this cherished memory box as my focal point when I went into labor with my ES. Of course, ES knows all about Colin and his music box. I purchased a special music box for ES, as well. ES's music box was knocked over and broken a time or two, but we still have it (a Noah's ark theme). Then, when ES entered his train-fixation-phase, I found an adorable train music box for him.

I suppose, I really should be on the lookout for a music box for MS. I have one for Colin. One for ES. The train one could actually be for YS now, since he loves trains. Any suggestions on what I should look for? a Spiderman music box? a puppy music box? an artist music box?

Thankfully, Colin's music box has turned out to be as resilient as ES's music box. Earlier this week, MS and YS had been sent to their room. All of the music boxes are in there (am I nuts, or what?) up on tall cabinets. Colin's music box was on top of a chifferobe next to MS's twin bed. Somehow, they managed to knock the music box off the top and break it. I glued it back together this afternoon and snapped my photo.

I have moved Colin's music box to the living room (still not safe from my destructive boys, but, like the tea pot, I want to be able to look at it). At least now, I will know that I have a picture of it. It remains one of my favorite things and it did indeed help me through the grieving process.

My sister, Dawn, also had an intuitive understanding of what might be helpful for me during that sad time. Within days of the miscarriage, she sent me a large package. It contained a highly-huggable stuffed monkey (I have collected monkeys ever since I was seven), a book and three videos (to divert my mind).

We ended up both being pregnant with our first-borns at the same time. I may be on the cusp of having a teenage son, but she is now on the cusp of having a teenage DAUGHTER! Perhaps, I should send her a care package now. What would YOU put in a care package for a woman whose daughter is about to enter the teenage hormone zone?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Review: The Chemistry of Joy

Here is a chicken or egg dilemma: I am wondering if I have been reading too much nonfiction and that is causing brain mush or if the brain mush has been causing me to read too much nonfiction! The concrete fact is that I wish to find some solution to the physical, mental, and emotional problems which have been plaguing me.

I don't want to begin each book review with a disclaimer, but I do feel led to clarify that the only book I approach as the ultimate guide to wisdom and guidance is - the Bible! All these other books I have been reading are merely more caves I am willing to search in for clues to the mystery of my experiences. There are nuggets of truth in many of these books, but I don't take any of them to be the truth in entirety.

Moreover, even the Bible (which I do consider to be ultimate truth, i.e. "inerrant") fails to provide me with a concise paragraph to addresses the particular issues perplexing me. I can find camaraderie in the Psalms as David struggles with depths of despair, but I won't find an outline of steps to follow to overcome my clinical depression. Each of us are unique creations and God must work in us and through us from a wide array of directions (the Bible, prayer, community, health concerns, rocky relationships, books, music, etc.).

This book, The Chemistry of Joy, by Dr. Henry Emmons, is subtitled A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom. I make no bones about the fact that I am a Christian. I am not looking for Eastern wisdom to aid in my approach to the clinical depression I am fighting. However, when you are knocked to the floor so often that you are not sure if you can ever get up again, you begin to be willing to hear out every offer of assistance (even the ones you know may be selling you down the river with a healthy dose of snake oil).

It is obvious that I read from a biased perspective every bit as much as authors write from a biased perspective. So, it was no surprise to me that I felt most comfortable with the western science applications. However, I can't say that I didn't see myself (and other people I know) clearly portrayed in some of the Eastern paradigms.

I would agree with Dr. Emmons, that we are both spiritual and physical beings and therefore, must pursue both spiritual and physical healing. Dr. Emmons breaks his advice down into three steps: 1) Understand Your Brain (including discussions about brain chemistry, the pros and cons of medication, nutritional elements, and physical activities. 2) Know Your Ayurvedic Type (Air, Fire or Earth). 3) Discover Your Buddhist Emotional Type (Fear, Anger, Self-Deluding or Adrift). My favorite section? The one dealing with the human brain and how it responds to medication, certain foods, exercise, breathing patterns and sleep patterns.

I could certainly relate to many of the patients which Dr. Emmons outlined. I have had my own difficulties with medication (he talked about how medications will frequently help initially but then wane in their effectiveness and leave the individual in a deeper pit than before). I fully believe in "the close connection between food choices, weight, depression, and brain chemistry" and I've experienced the "vicious cycle" where our choices make us feel worse and the worse we feel, the harder it gets to make healthy choices (p. 47).

There were several valuable resources in the book. Dr. Emmons provides lists of various foods which boost serotonin levels, dopamine levels and norepinephrine levels. He suggests nutritional supplements to try. He discusses the benefits of regular, adequate sleep (oh, I struggle with this one, even though I know it would benefit me to improve my sleep habits) and focused breathing. Furthermore, he validated Dr. Leaf's proposition that our thoughts direct our attitudes and thereby, our emotions and actions.

I was thankful that he didn't at all advocate dropping all medical intervention in favor of meditation, happy thoughts, strict diet and exercise. His introductory analogy of a doctor treating a heart patient was helpful. Any cardiologist worth his fee will treat a patient by pairing medication with diet and lifestyle changes. Dr. Emmons approach to depression is merely one which integrates the role of medicine with the role of diet and lifestyle changes.

The goal of the three suggested steps is to "restore your body's natural balance and energy." This is what I found most appealing. This is what I'm after. I desperately want to restore my body's natural balance and energy. Being depressed feels very much like being off-balance. As much as I would like to find a magic diet or the perfect lifestyle plan to cure what ails me, I believe I will have to continue with the medicinal intervention as well.

So, I'll keep taking my meds (both for the depression and the high cholesterol). But, I'm certainly going to also give an improved diet and various nutritional supplements a try. I've been increasing my exercise (always difficult when you are on-call with small children). Unfortunately, I can't say that I've been making progress on the thought detox front - if anything, my thoughts were highly toxic this week and we are all dealing with the fallout as a result.

I won't return the book on The Omega 3 Connection until I read it. Still, it would be nice to find a thoroughly absorbing, well-written fiction book to read. After all, I'm getting a little depressed by reading so many books on depression. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Knock, Knock - Latest Bedtime Diversion

The other night, when the little boys were "supposedly" going to sleep, I heard YS's little voice piping up, "Knock, knock!" This, and laughter, was all I heard. I knew MS was already asleep.

It reminded me of the time when ES was 2 or 3 and we were browsing in the toy section of a store. Suddenly, ES began laughing to himself. When I asked what was so funny, he began, "What if Elmo were .... and Cookie Monster ..." I don't remember, but it was a whole story he had created in his head and he was greatly amused by his creation.

The next day, I overheard YS with Daddy at the computer, on the Pingu site (if you move your cursor over the penquin, you'll hear his brassy "knock, knock"). I figured, "so that was where the knock, knock sound originated."

Alas, no. I discovered it goes deeper than mere repetition of a sound heard on the computer. Apparently, MS taught YS this joke:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wanderlust Lingers - Paris Anyone?

My blogging friend, John Ottinger, has published this article at about his recent trip to Paris with a group of home schooled students. It tells the story of a sculpture he happened upon while in the Montmarte section of Paris (in the comments section, I believe someone even offered the coordinates for a google street look). The sculpture arose out of a science fiction story that John was familiar with. He gives a brief synopsis of the story and a photo of the sculpture.

It has been quite a while since my last visit to Paris, shortly after I graduated from college. Now, I want to go again. First, I will read this story. Then, I will begin praying for a miracle. If my prayers actually result in a trip to Paris (or England, where I can then take the Chunnel over to France), I will use this as a life lesson for my MS, who is presently trying to wear us down by requesting a dog, oh, say, a hundred times each day.

Today, at the park, we encountered a woman walking her dog. MS tugged on the dog's tail and said, "You know this is a good dog, because ... look ... I'm pulling on her tail and she isn't even biting me." Perhaps, I need to work on a video documenting a hundred reasons he isn't ready for a dog.

I tried incorporating his immaturity into a bedtime story (quite subtly, I might add) the other night. It was a story about two little boys who begged and begged for a dog but their room was a tornado strewn mass of clothing and toys every day. These clever lads realized that their actions might alter the outcome, so they kept their room clean for one month. Their parents were in deep awe (this word choice was especially helpful in telling the tale, since MS has decided that "quicksand" is really called "deep sand" and that we have loads of it near the creek beds) and purchased these boys the dog they desired.

The following morning, MS made his bed and pushed all the clothes on the floor over to one corner. Then, he asked me to help him clean his room. When told he must clean it himself for it to hold any weight, he pulled me into the room, and with a grand gesture, highlighting his efforts, he declared, "Now we can get a dog!" Yes, that boy's gonna need a lot of prayers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday - Can Scraper

It feels like I am scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one. It is not really a favorite, but more of an oddity or curiosity. This is an item which my husband brought into the marriage. I believe he told me he received it, free, in a package of stuff he had ordered by mail. It is a can scraper.

For the life of me, I've never seen another one. I've looked in specialty cooking stores. Not. a. one. I'm pretty sure I know the reason for its rarity. You can fulfill the same purpose with a spoon. Of course, it is not quite as thorough as this can scraper, but, if I ever lost this utensil, I doubt I would be traumatized. Still, we do use it quite regularly.

It was funny, as I was transferring the photo, I was messing around with editing options. I loved how the black and white image actually made the plastic semi-circle part look brand new. After years of using this utensil to pull out the dredges of tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce, the tip has taken on an orange hue.

The only kind of identification I could find, were the words "Hong Kong." How helpful is that?! Hubby doesn't remember what company sent this little gem, but perhaps somebody from Hong Kong will remember manufacturing it - ha. Tell me, have you ever seen this utensil before in your life?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Culture Just Beyond My Backyard

Given the fact that I was 5 months pregnant with my youngest son when we moved to this home on family farmland outside of Indianapolis, I really haven't had many opportunities to travel into Indianapolis. We've gone to the Indiana State Fair, the Indianapolis Zoo, and the Indianapolis Children's Museum for years because we always vacationed in this house every August. We even ventured to Noblesville, back when ES was a toddler in an intense train-love phase.

Apart from those visits, the trips to Riley Children's Hospital for pulmonologist appointments, and one theater performance at the IRT with my reluctant ES as my date, I really haven't ventured into Indianapolis on my own. Now, I am deep in the throes of wanderlust.

My name, Wendy, means "the wanderer." My parents named me well. I love to travel and experience different things. These past few years, I have felt like I have been trapped in a cage (a cage with a stunning view, but a cage nonetheless). The duties of parenting my small children have kept me close to the home front, unable to wander much.

The other night, I had the tiniest taste of the culture just beyond my backyard - o.k., a ways beyond my backyard - and I am thirsting for more. I read in the paper about a writing series being offered at the Indianapolis Art Center. The fact that the lecture was free was the real clincher for me and I'm sure my husband could hardly deny my request to attend. The Clowes Lecture Series began Monday night with a session entitled, "No Rules, No Map," by David Shumate (Marion College's poet-in-residence).

My husband's normal routine on a Monday evening includes exercising between 5:30 and 7 p.m. I didn't wish to infringe upon this, so I informed ES that he would be responsible for the little boys from 6 to 7 p.m. Of course, he had plans as well (more fort fun back in the woods, despite the recent rainy weather), but he and his friend dutifully returned by 6. As I drove out of town, I dropped ES's friend off at his home.

The directions weren't challenging at all. We have driven along Indianapolis' 38th Street before. However, I was completely unprepared for what I found when I turned left off of 38th Street and onto North Meridian.

I am always a bit leery when driving down 38th, because the neighborhood is fairly dangerous. Several years ago, we almost cancelled our annual trip to the State Fair because there had been so many murders down in that area. Houses are boarded up or burned out. Local businesses sport bars on their windows. Destitute individuals hold signs begging for money.

Within one block of turning that corner, I entered the North Meridian Street Historic District. It certainly is "One of America's Great Streets." The homes on this street were awe-inspiring. I had a hard time driving because I wanted so badly to stop and stare. Even though I would never want to live in one of these homes, I am still grateful that this architectural magnificence has been preserved. How they have remained so pristine and beautiful, merely blocks away from slums, is a mystery to me.

You really must take a look at these homes yourself. I tried to bring up a web-page from the Indiana government, revealing the historic background, but that site was temporarily unavailable. However, if you visit the Meridian Street Foundation site you can actually click on the right hand corner for a video tour of these incredible homes.

I know there will be future visits to this street. There's no way in the world, I'm keeping this a secret from my big and little men. Plus, I intend to do more research before we explore this area in depth.

It feels like the first day of school. Here I have sat in this little farm town, unaware of the splendours of culture awaiting in Indianapolis. Who cares that it takes 40 minutes to get there, I've found a new world to explore and it still feels like it is close to my backyard.

The lecture was held in the library of the Indianapolis Art Center (which, I discovered, offers free admission). David Shumate was unassuming and funny. I truly expected there to be more people in attendance. I even wondered if my fellow blogger, Catherine, would be there - alas, she wasn't, unless she came incognito. He encouraged the small handful of us to write intuitively, from the heart rather than the head.

I appreciated his quote from William Faulkner, describing what makes great literature enduring, saying that "it always deals with the human heart in conflict with itself." My heart seems to always be in conflict with itself, so I must at least have the experience to write, even if I lack the expertise.

Of course, some of his insights were obvious mandates to the writer. He emphasized the importance of being attentive to everything around you. He encouraged relentless reduction, removing anything extraneous to what has to be said.

Still, many of the images he evoked were helpful for rethinking about the process of creation in writing. He likened writing to "diving into silence, to stir up the pool of language." He compared imagination to walking into a closet and trying on someone else's clothes. Rather than feel the paralysis of a blank page, he suggested thinking of a blank page as a long-lost lover ... someone who knows all your secrets, therefore, you must be fully honest.

Another paradox of the practice of writing was touched on when he said, "You must be enthusiastic about writing a bad poem [piece] - perfect the art of messing around." This was very freeing for me. At the beginning of this year, I began to notice several bloggers whose posts are always polished essays. As much as I long for that in my blog, I feel the constraints of time. Plus, I am pulled by a simpler desire of writing tidbits merely to keep family and friends aware of what is going on in our lives. If time were much more at my own disposal, I would write two blogs; one for information and newsy events and one for polished reflections about life and literature. For now, I stumble along, using this blog as a way to keep myself in regular practice of the art of expressing myself through writing.

On the flip side of the bad piece, David Shumate encouraged writers to consider silence as the standard, the most sacred. Therefore, we should make sure that our words are more valuable than the silence. He advised to "settle for nothing short of the essential."

I was really grateful to have had this chance to venture into Indianapolis on my own for some encouragement in my writing (oh, how I miss my former writer's group in IL). Moreover, the evening provided an extra snippet of entertainment. It seems I determined to bring a bit of the country along with me as I ventured into the city.

As I was listening to the lecture, I noticed some slight movement on my arm. I looked down to find a small bug crawling on my shirt sleeve. I quickly held my arm out a bit and attempted to flick it to the ground. Alas, instead of landing on the ground, the bug landed on the coat sleeve of the woman in front of me. I decided I really couldn't allow the thing to crawl onto this woman either, so I took my small notebook and attempted to scrape it off of her coat. The thing was as stubborn as could be and as I sized it up again, I realized it was a tick! It was determined to cling to her coat and I was even more determined to extract it. I finally managed to get it into my notebook, but then didn't wish to squash it into my words. I shook it off onto the ground and tried to step on it.

Of course, through this whole comical detour, I worried I would disrupt the lecture. When I looked down a few moments later, the tick was gone. I was grateful to be rid of it, but did mention the tick encounter to my ES and husband.

In the time since Monday night, we have found two more ticks on myself and my son. I think we are going to have to address this problem, since there's no way in the world that my son will want to give up trips to his fort (he even informed me this evening, that they have placed an old door at the entrance and found chains and a lock in the old shed, which they used to keep anyone else out of their fort).

Next time I venture out for a bit of culture (I think the lecture series will be offered monthly through October), I will certainly try not to bring tiny creatures from my own backyard. Especially, since these are probably deer ticks and who knows if they could be carrying Lyme disease. Then again, I bet those ticks follow "no rules and no maps," as well.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Book Review: Who Switched Off My Brain?

When I noticed this title on my friend, Sandy's, bookshelf, I had to beg to borrow this book. This has been the theme of my existence over the last few months. Indeed, this is one of the reasons I recently switched my antidepressant medication and had a routine physical, including blood tests and an EKG. I feel like I am literally losing my mind. We have even questioned whether I could be experiencing early on-set Alzheimer's.

Although I doubt that is what is truly going on, I have been deeply distressed by the mental fog I have been living in. I forget to turn off burners, forget to take medicine, cannot remember a request unless it is written down and often cannot think clearly.

Yesterday, was another case in point. We had a wonderful visit with my mother-in-law. She was immensely helpful (even though I wanted her to get some rest and relax with the boys). She shampooed our carpeting, washed our windows inside and out, and sorted through more of their belongings to take back to her home. The little boys loved having her here and she spoiled them with kisses and hugs and corn mush and stories (plus the attention that they clamor for the minute she arrives).

I was hoping to get some exercise in yesterday morning and decided the best plan would be to take Grandma along with us to the park. Grandma was busily clearing out stuff, so I promised the boys that we would leave as soon as she was ready. Then, I realized that I had forgotten to give YS his morning inhaler treatment. As I administered his puffs, I thought to myself frantically, "puffs, pulmonologist, appointment, April 17th, 10:30, downtown Indy - aarrgghh!" I scooped up YS, grabbed my purse and yelled an explanation to my husband. We left the house at a few minutes after 10 and, remarkably, pulled into the parking garage just at 10:30 (thank you, Lord, for synchronized green lights and cop-coffee breaks). YS was livid when he realized where we were. Just another episode of mommy-denseness.

Frankly, most of the episodes are like that and not terribly serious. However, a few weeks ago, when I had a chance to get away I had an episode that really shattered me. I spent the night with my brother and sister-in-law and attended their Salvation Army corps the next morning. As I was getting ready that morning, I began conversing with Kari. Only problem was, it wasn't my niece, Kari, after all. It was her older sister, Kirsten. If there weren't so many other episodes of mental haze, I probably would have brushed it off. However, that afternoon, I found myself crying as I relayed the experience to my husband.

I still don't think that I have Alzheimer's, but I can more fully appreciate the terror it strikes in someone when you begin to lose your mental faculties. I don't know if I can say that I am "too young for Alzheimer's, since I recently learned of twins battling childhood Alzheimer's.

So, what book should I notice on my friend, Sandy's, bookshelf? A book by Dr. Caroline Leaf, entitled Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions. I didn't really notice the sub-title until I began reading, but it was a significantly worthwhile read, even though it basically says that I turned it off myself. Gee, I don't remember doing that ...

I must say that, since Dr. Leaf is identified as a learning specialist, and not necessarily a medical doctor, I did wonder whether or not she had merely taken a valid idea and run with it. For example, she states that "Research shows that around 87% of illnesses can be attributed to our thought life, and approximately 13% to diet, genetics and environment." Immediately, I thought of my niece, Amelia, and her battle with cancer. Surely a two year old can't have enough toxic thoughts and emotions accumulated to render the body vulnerable to cancer. While Dr. Leaf did provide a bibliography at the end of the book, she didn't footnote these statistics, so I couldn't verify the supposed "research."

However, I still was very impressed with the book and hope to implement many of her suggestions. Her basic premise is that you must cleanse your thought life of these toxic thoughts and emotions (unforgiveness, anger, rage, resentment, depression, worry, anxiety, frustration, fear and excessive guilt) because they release harmful chemicals into your brain, opening the way for depression and illness.

She divides emotions into two categories: faith-based, which are positive, and fear-based, which are negative. Emotions result in attitudes and attitudes produce responses. I can appreciate her emphasis on the importance to fill our minds with positive emotions which will in turn create positive attitudes and nurture positive responses within the body. It reinforces the wisdom of Scripture in Philippians 4:8-9 ("Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.... and the God of peace shall be with you.")

On page 59 of her book, she states, "The cortisol increase the body uses to respond to stress causes triglycerides and cholesterol to increase and may cause weight gain."

Whoa, there. I've observed weight gain and an increase in cholesterol. Certainly, it couldn't hurt to attempt to control my thought life more carefully. It must be beneficial to weed out toxic thoughts and emotions. This same thought was presented to me twice in the past two weeks. First by my friend, John, who explained that it is helpful to begin the conscious work of making a list of things I have held resentments towards others over, thus setting myself free from the chains of those emotions. Then, today, I read Cardiogirl's response to my last post. She suggested the very same concept. There has to be at least something to gain by rewiring our thinking when we know for a fact that it is sending harmful currents through our body.

Dr. Leaf provided 13 steps to detox your brain. These were things like: "consciously reject or accept thoughts, frame your world with your words, express your emotions, forgive, love, play and laugh, exercise, diet, and focus on your spiritual life."

She also suggests journalling your dreams. She wrote, "The more turbulent and disturbing your dreams, the more work you have to do on your thought life." This was interesting to contemplate, given the fact that, just last night, I had a horribly vivid dream where two children were sledding and slid right under the wheels of my car. Wake up! I've got some detoxing to do - this time in my thought life.

Of course, her last step was one word: RELAX! So, for now, I'll merely write my review and visit other blogs tonight while waiting for my ES to return from a trip with friends to opening day at King's Island. Besides, now that my mother-in-law has returned home (despite painful tears from the little boys), I can relax. Now, if I could just teach my husband to detox his thoughts and relax more! Ah, well, I'd better start with myself.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Listen Up!

My mother-in-law is coming for a visit today. The boys have been counting down the days and speaking of all the things they will show her and the corn mush she will make for them. I have been counting down the days and trying to cross off things on a never-ending list of chores to do before she arrives.

Even if she doesn't intend for her visits to inspire such anticipation, I always experience immense stress before her visit. I'm sure this stems from the fact that we are living in a house which belongs to her. Subconsciously, I will always view this as a re-enactment of the various house inspections we had when I was growing up.

Salvation Army officers live in parsonages provided by The Salvation Army. Thus, once or twice a year, we would undergo inspection of our home (to verify that we were caring for the property as expected). Remember, my mother had five kids (oh, the stress that inspires in me, now that I have three boys of my own). Plus, we spent most of our time at church, leaving little time for deep cleaning of our abode. I remember dreading those inspection visits because we all had to chip in and make sure that the house was "up to snuff."

This is how I am feeling today. I keep trying to talk myself down. I tell myself, "You are not your mother-in-law and she doesn't expect you to be." Your personality is different and that is o.k. My mother-in-law is a powerhouse of energy and is in constant movement taking care of things which need to get done. She amazes me with all that she manages (an ailing husband, who requires constant care and cannot even get in and out of bed or chairs unassisted; a large house to manage and clean; a son-in-law and granddaughter who come for meals and sometimes, laundry, etc.) I am not a powerhouse of energy. In fact, I often forget to give my boys their vitamins or have them brush their teeth in the morning.

We dashed off to school this morning and I am realizing that I neglected to give YS his puffs from his inhaler and failed to have them brush their teeth. The drive to school was excruciating. MS talked incessantly. I would say he was merely excited because when he comes home his grandmother will be here. However, it would not be exaggerating to cite that he talks incessantly most of the time, visits or no visits. This morning, it was like I was living the Calgon commercial (the one with the woman who is being pulled in a million different directions and screams, "Calgon take me away"). Unfortunately, I don't have time for a relaxing bath and I don't have any Calgon either.

As I listened to MS prattle on and on, I began to wonder if this is how God views me. Is He up there thinking "If only she would just shut up and be still and listen to me for a moment's time, instead of constantly filling the space with her endless babble." How I wish I could learn that lesson and retain it.

"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

I am not my mother-in-law. I cannot begin to fill her shoes. I am not God. I cannot begin to fill His shoes either (not that I'm comparing my mother-in-law to God. No doubt she would admit that she doesn't come close either). I am me. The best thing I can do, sometimes, is take a moment to be silent and listen to what it is He is longing to teach me.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Of Kites and Muddy Shoes

Easter has come and gone. Would that I could upload a sweet video with my boys explaining the true meaning of Easter (if you want to see one, click here - Caden is adorable). Alas, that is not possible.

At lunch, my husband and I were trying to share memories of our Easters as a kid. His sounded very similar to mine (although, they included trips to this house in Indiana, where Hubby's grandmother lived). I'm betting, since my parents were ministers, that I had to get up even earlier than hubby did. After all, we usually had to be the first to arrive at the church.

My dad always held an Easter Sunrise Service. Then, we would enjoy a tasty breakfast in the fellowship hall and the kids would burn off some energy before Sunday School in the gym (almost all of our Salvation Army corps had a gym - one even had a bowling alley!). I remember one Easter Sunday, my youngest brother's arm got pulled from its socket when someone was swinging him around by his hands.

From that point on, it was a normal Sunday, with Sunday School and a morning service. Before my children came along, I was adamant to continue the tradition of attendance at a sunrise service. I remember being in England (I think it was my very last day there, when I lived there in 1987-88) and bemoaning the fact that our local S.A. corps didn't hold a sunrise service. My friends, the Mitchell family, took me to a beautiful sunrise service held atop a hill in Upper Norwood, London. I felt like crying because it was so beautiful and it helped me to uphold that tradition.

I think we still took ES to a sunrise service back when he was little. I remember attending several of them at Grandma's corps in Urbana, Illinois. However, once the little boys arrived on the scene, we haven't been to a sunrise service since. I keep praying we will resume the tradition. Even my husband admitted that, although going to bed early the night before and spending so many hours at church on Easter was difficult, it also made the day special and a whole lot of fun!

This afternoon, after the baskets were found (ES decided that the Easter Bunny was cheap this year. I decided that, in our house, teenagers won't be getting Easter baskets!), I told the little boys that I had bought them something special and hidden it, as well. They were really quite pathetic detectives, but thankfully ES was an eager helper. They discovered two kites.

YS received an awesome Buzz Lightyear kite made of durable nylon (which I picked up in January for a pittance) and MS received a ladybug plastic kite (even more cheaply made and priced, but for MS - "Mr. Saboteur" - that was fitting). I told them that ES would have to help both of them fly their kites.

ES put the Buzz kite together first. In true ES-impatient form, he decided that the kite was "crap" because it wouldn't stay upright. Thankfully, stepping out of true ES-impatient form, he didn't throw the thing. I picked it up and adjusted the strings and got it flying quite well in our meadow.

ES joined me and took over. I tried to get a video, but the kite seems very small. This is because ES let it out for the full length of 120 feet.

Of course, 120 feet is nothing to my 12 year old, so he insisted on running back to get MS's kite string and attaching it to the Buzz kite string. MS may have had a cheaper kite, but his string ended up being easily twice as long as the Buzz string. It was very cool. ES had that thing flying almost 400 feet up in the air. We had to move back into our neighbor's corn field. It was hard not to stumble over the corn shoots that haven't yet been fully plowed up for the coming soybean crop.

Unfortunately, ten minutes after I took control of the line, the kite began to swoop and spiral. It ended up stuck in a tree. I was convinced it was gone already (that seems to be our luck with kites, which is why I'll only buy them when they are a pittance). Amazingly, ES surprised me and managed to get the kite out of the tree.

Later that afternoon, he invited his friend over because he wanted to impress him with the incredible kite flight. Sadly, despite an all-wise mother standing right next to him and repeatedly reminding him that he should let it out slowly, ES let the line out really fast. Before the friend could appreciate the full scope of our magnificent kite flight, the kite was airborne. The boys chased it, but it flew far, far away. Someone on the other side of town will be finding something other than Easter eggs in the coming days.

Note to self: Must make small address labels which read, "If found, return to ..." listing our address. Then, must place these on items like new kites and coupon wallets. (Just realized that I never blogged about my lost coupon wallet: I had left it at Walgreens and was so happy to retrieve it, since it felt like losing real money.)

Needless to say, MS wasn't very happy when he realized that he couldn't get a turn to fly his ladybug kite because the string for his went with the Buzz kite off into thin air. No worries, next came ES's turn to feel less happy, when I informed him that he would be scrubbing the mud off one of his tennis shoes and both of his grandmother's tennis shoes.

We have instituted a new rule in our house. If the ground is wet, or has been wet recently, you must wear a designated pair of outdoor shoes. The little boys both have rain boots and they clean off quite easily. I shall have to find some (like the Wellingtons I used to wear on romps in England) for ES and myself.

This rule came after I spent much of Saturday scrubbing 12 and a half pairs of mud-caked shoes in our utility sink in the garage. Urghh! I completely understand the British love of Wellingtons. They are a must if you will be walking on muddy terrain.

Of course, ES's shoes were the absolute worst because he had fallen into the creek (while trying to retrieve that purple ball, which amazingly survived recent flood waters and was stuck in a beaver dam). He was muddy from head to toe Friday night.

I wasn't a very happy camper myself, when he returned from his fort on Saturday morning. I was almost done scrubbing the shoes. I was working hard on the worst shoe of all, when I looked down to discover that ES was wearing his grandmother's New Balance walking shoes. He was all out of suitable shoes (i.e., ones he didn't want to get trashed), and found this pair in the closet and assumed they were mine (after all, I had already let him trash my other old pair).

He completed his chore and set the shoes to dry on a towel. Even if they are dry by Wednesday, when his paternal grandmother comes for a visit, he will still have to explain the mistake to her and apologize. As for the lost kite and the muddy shoes, I am reminded of a phrase my father used to repeat to us ad nauseam: "You live and you learn." Let's hope, anyway. I am fed up of lost or broken kites (by the way, Mr. Saboteur tore the plastic on his kite while throwing it around in the garage, so no new string will be purchased) and muddy shoes!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Recipe Retrieved Thanks to the Power of the Internet

I may not have discovered how my Bible and photos vanished from the dashboard of my car, but I did retrieve that long-lost skillet lasagna recipe. It was time-consuming, hard work, but I believe the efforts will be worthwhile.

My mother responded, saying she had checked out the Pillsbury website and located four possible recipes for skillet lasagna. I logged onto to check them out. Alas, not one of them even called for biscuits. After lengthy searches entering terms like "biscuit filled skillet lasagna," and "recipes from biscuit wrapper," I still came up empty handed.

Next, I began a tedious (although very tempting) journey through 746 recipes from the Pillsbury Bake-Off competitions. There was a fabulous-sounding recipe for Chocolate Cream Cheese Crescents which I will have to try. I only had time to peruse 25 out of the 75 pages of recipes.

After giving up on the Pillsbury site, I wondered if perhaps the biscuit recipe came from a rival company's wrapper (however, for the life of me, I couldn't remember a rival company). I searched for "biscuit filled skillet lasagna" and finally found this recipe. So, it was a Pillsbury recipe, after all.

Although the photo doesn't look familiar (then again, this was over 20 years ago, and I may have clipped the recipe even earlier than that), it does sound like the recipe I remember. My youngest brother actually reminded me of the recipe back in December when they were planning to come to my house for a family gathering/reunion. I mentioned that I might make up a few pans of lasagna because that is easy enough to whip together and then pop in the oven.

He said, "Oh, I remember coming to your apartment when you were in college and you cooked lasagna for us. It was great." Well, that was the lasagna from the recipe and all I could remember was that it had a meaty mixture on the bottom and was topped with flattened biscuit dough filled with a cottage cheese and shredded cheese mixture.

The reviewers mentioned that it is a kid-pleaser. I will have to test this on my own (who tend to scorn tomatoey recipes ... like my new word?). Sadly, I can't make this regular fare on my plate, because of the high cholesterol content, but a bite or two, now and again, can't hurt. By the way, Mary, your hubby, my kid brother, loves this recipe. Go for it!

Speaking of the power of the Internet, if you stole a Bible from a blue Toyota Corolla and ditched the accompanying photos back in 1987 ... I hope you read the Bible. I hope you got even better use out of it than me. And I bet you loved the recipe, if you tried it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday - My Favorite Bible

Like many American Christians, I own several Bibles. Indeed, I can say I probably own dozens of Bibles. I've even had the privilege of giving away a few Bibles. But, for the most part, I don't usually like to part with them.

A few months ago, my blogger friend, Dace, was bemoaning the loss of her Bible. I left a comment expressing my sympathy. I understood the unique pain of losing a Bible. Bibles are very personal things, after all, especially if you not only read your Bible, but also underline passages which are meaningful to you. (At first, I wrote, "meaningful passages," but that seems wrong to say, because it implies there might be meaningless passages in the BIBLE!)

My favorite Bible, for the past twenty-some years, has been my compact NIV (New International Version) Bible. My memory is a bit hazy, but I believe it was purchased back in 1987, to lighten my baggage load when I went to the Philippines. As soon as I obtained the Bible, I began making it my own by underlining while I studied and by inserting various things between the pages.

At the moment, this Bible contains two old photos of my ES (back when he was about 5 years old), one small Chuck-E-Cheese photo of my MS, and a small word search (inserted for when the natives - my boys - get restless during church). However, it has often contained unusual tid-bits. At one point in time, it contained a recipe (clipped from the back of a Pillsbury biscuit container) for a skillet lasagna.

I mourn the loss of that recipe, certainly, but I mourned the loss of this Bible even more desperately. After returning from the Philippines, I carried this Bible with me everywhere I went. One Sunday morning, I stopped off on my way to church to say hello to my friend, Anne, at her condominium in Lombard. I parked in the parking lot, leaving my front passenger window open. When I arrived at church, I realized that both my Bible and an envelope of recently developed photos were missing from their spot on my dashboard (near the open window).

To this day, I don't know what happened. Did someone steal my Bible? A few days later, I received a call from a woman in Anne's complex who had found my envelope of photos lying in the grass. I asked if she found a small Bible as well, but she indicated that she hadn't.

Thankfully, my dear friend, Mary Dorsett, purchased an identical Bible for me as a replacement. I have carried that Bible, ever since. You can certainly tell that it is well loved. Indeed, it is falling apart. Of course, I could purchase a new travel Bible, but I probably won't. I know where to find verses (merely by remembering which side of the page they are on and an approximate chapter). I have made small annotations next to certain verses (difficult, given the fact that the Bible is smaller than my hand).

I continue to pray for the students at Northern Illinois University ever time I look at the star sticker in the upper right hand corner. This sticker was given to me by Brent Batiste, a campus minister, back when they were requesting prayer for a special event (this event was long before the tragic shooting at NIU).

This is truly a book I would never want to part with. However, I do think it will have to find a place on the shelf eventually. Even if I were to have the Bible rebound, the print is getting very difficult to read. Plus, the last page refuses to stay with the other pieces of the Bible. It floats around in my purse usually, but is getting quite dogeared. Still, nothing beats a favorite Bible!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This Will Uplift You and You Will Uplift This

My high hopes of writing a post today about my weekend away are dwindling. The short re-cap would be: lovely drive, wonderful music, dinner with my brother and sister-in-law, an interesting movie, refreshing worship, many small visits with friends, a wonderful reunion with authentic connection and medicinal laughter, a sleep-over, a thought-provoking book, and a delicious lunch treat with a friend. To each of those descriptive phrases, add the words "sans sons," and you will understand the magnitude of my uplifting weekend.

However, I wasn't really referring to my uplifting weekend in the title to this post. I was actually referring to an infant whose life story is touching millions (quite literally). Stellan was diagnosed with a deadly heart condition while in the womb. His mother, Jennifer, began to share the story of his life and her blog really took off.

I am always blown away by individuals who walk through a valley and manage to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. Would that my own faith were so strong! Just by following this link to Jennifer's blog, you can view a brief video about baby Stellan and watch a newscast about his story. I promise it will be an uplifting experience and well worth the 5 or 10 minutes. (If you have extra time, check out the "Stellan Name Gallery.")

Moreover, when you follow the link, you will add to the millions of hits Jennifer is receiving on her blog. If my understanding is correct, because Jennifer has signed on with BlogHer, she will receive some income for the number of hits her blog receives. Given the life and death nature of Stellan's struggle at the moment, I'm sure those extra funds will be greatly appreciated. So, go ahead. Be inspired and uplifted and, simultaneously, uplift Stellan and his family!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Favorite Things Thursday: Favorite Salmon Recipe

I've been trying to improve my diet. Initially, I took this action in the hopes of attempting to beat my depression naturally. I began to supplement Super B Complex vitamins and Omega-3 fish oil capsules. I also have tried to increase my protein intake. My husband and I don't normally eat much in the way of heavy meats. We consume a lot of vegetable meals and sometimes eat chicken or fish. We are not vegetarians. We will occasionally add meatballs to the spaghetti sauce or have a meal with kielbasa (the little boys are big fans of kielbasa). But, since my husband is very careful about what he eats (heart disease runs in his family), we tend to pursue fairly healthy diets.

After we sat down to one of my favorite salmon meals last week, I thought I should certainly write up a post about this recipe. I've found that I don't really care for salmon by itself. Most of the time, when I prepare "Fillets in Foil" (an easy meal where you bake the fish and the veggies all together with a lemon-margarine sauce in a piece of aluminum foil [now, I'm hearing my British friend, Sarah, saying "al-you-min-e-um" and it makes me smile]), I put salmon in my husband's packet and cod or whiting in my own.

According to, you should try to consume two servings of fish per week. I think this recipe is delicious enough that I could eat it twice a week, but I am trying to prepare this recipe at least twice a month for now. Of course, my boys wouldn't come near it with a ten foot pole. In fact, they make quite a stink about the stink, every time I make it. However, I'm not really willing to share with them anyway, so they usually get something different (like fish sticks).

(Sorry, this photo doesn't do justice to the recipe.)

Personally, I think it is the yogurt sauce which makes this dish! I found this recipe for "Salmon Wellington" in a cookbook my mother-in-law passed on to me (Cooking with Friends: A Collection of Hometown Favorites , put out by the Herberger's stores). The original recipe called for a half cup of ripe olives, but I couldn't bring myself to add those. We love the recipe in this format:

Salmon Wellington

(They say it serves 8-10, with the olives! Hubby and I usually polish it off in two or three meals, so I'm guessing it is closer to 5 or six servings.)

10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained
16 oz. can salmon, drained, flaked and boned
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tsp. dill weed
2 - 8 oz. cans refrigerated crescent rolls

Yogurt sauce: 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise, 1/2 cup plain no-fat yogurt, 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Blend together yogurt sauce ingredients and set aside (I chill it).

In a large bowl, combine spinach, salmon, eggs, parsley and dill weed; set aside.

Press the crescent dough out to create a 9 x 12 rectangle. Spread half the salmon mixture over dough to within 1 inch of the edges. Starting at the longest side, roll up and pinch seam and ends to seal. Place seam down on one side of a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with second can of dough and remaining filling. Cut 2-inch diagonal slashes at 2-inch intervals across the top of dough.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 28 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool slightly. Serve with yogurt sauce.

Unfortunately, my blood tests results from last week are in. I have high cholesterol, so now I will have to cut back on the eggs. I think I'll still try to prepare this twice a month. Perhaps, I'll just reduce it to 2 eggs instead of 3. Believe me, if you need to increase your salmon intake, this is certainly the way to go!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Constructive Use of Spring Break

This is a hunter's perch ES noticed out in the woods last week:

It must have sparked an idea in his mind. This is what ES and a friend have been hard at work on for the first half of their break:

A fort

made of branches and bark, plywood and plastic,

with logs to sit on,

a shelf to store things,

and hooks to hang your coats.

Of course, there's also a canopied fire pit. (Note the plastic bowl behind ES. He demonstrated how they use the bowl to scoop water from the creek and put out the fire. Good idea, pyroson!)

I will try to provide some video of this boy sanctuary when I have more time.

All I can say is, this is truly a boy's paradise! I'm thrilled that he had the idea and the opportunity to implement the idea. So far, the only wildlife they've seen from the fort has been two wandering dogs. The dogs thought the fort and the boys were very cool. So do I!