Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: Dear Author

Dear Author: Letters of Hope, is edited by Joan F. Kaywell, then-president of the 1999 Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. The book is a compilation of correspondence between top young adult authors and kids who have been so moved by a book that they felt compelled to write to the author. It was a wonderful, quick read. I especially appreciated the biographical sketches for each author at the end of the book. In addition to sharing how the authors came to write their books, it also provides brief summaries of their books. I made note of quite a few to add to my endless reading list.

All of the authors included in this selection have written realistic fiction addressing the tough issues teens are facing. Although I haven't read nearly enough of these young adult writers, I was very privileged to work first-hand with one of the authors who participated in this great venture. Nancy Garden was my instructor when I took the writing course via the Institute of Children's Literature. (Side note: The novel I began writing in November - 52K words in, but not yet finished - is a work of realistic fiction and I sincerely believe that it bears a message of hope that some girl out there is needing to read. I long for the day when I might receive a similar letter from a child, explaining how my book was a help to them.)

This book provides an excellent resource, both for teens and the adults who work with them (or who just enjoy YA literature). It covers a wide range of issues that are plaguing our young people today (weight, bullying, racism, prejudice, drug and alcohol addiction, cutting, death, etc.). I believe teens would find this book especially helpful because they can obtain advice and book recommendations for whatever problems they are experiencing.

Moreover, I would consider this a must-read for teachers in the middle-school grades. I don't have as much opportunity to suggest books to students any more (oh how I loved that perk when working at Littlejohn), but I did make note of a book on cutting and plan to suggest it to a young girl I know who is struggling with that. If you care about kids and books that could change their lives, you'll benefit from this great read.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Giveaway: Sands of Time

It has been a long time since I've offered a giveaway. Since my husband is on a mission to clear our entire house of every possible extraneous item (his daily mission and goal), I have decided to offer up my copy of Susan May Warren's Sands of Time. This is a fast-paced novel set in Russia. You can view my recent review here.

To be included in the random drawing, please leave a comment telling me the name of your favorite Christian author. If you aren't a Christian, or don't have a favorite Christian author, leave a comment sharing another author you especially enjoy. I will place all of the names in a hat on the evening of Saturday, March 6th. If you don't have a Blogger account, remember that you can easily comment anonymously and leave your name in the body of your comment.

If you post about my giveaway on your blog and let me know in the comments, I'll enter your name twice. Good luck and good reading!

For Art Minded Boys

I just happened upon this highly interesting article about a Scotch tape sculpture competition. The photos of some entries are quite amazing. I especially loved the one of a girl swinging on a tire swing in a children's library.

Next, I discovered that you can go to the Scotch Tape Competition website and see all of the entries and even vote for up to 10 of them. I voted for the tire swing sculpture, a postman sculpture and a drummer sculpture.

Problem is ... I don't dare let my MS catch sight of these wonderful works of art. As it is, he already goes through about six rolls of Scotch tape each month. This morning he was making a beard for himself out of masking tape (he wore it while he played the drums on Rock Band).

Man, he would go to town with this competition. Might even someday win the $5,000 prize. But I'm not letting him in on it just yet.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: Sands of Time

Sands of Time, by Susan May Warren, is a Christian romantic suspense novel. It tells the story of two individuals, Sarai Curtiss (a single medical missionary, who believes that God is calling her to do-it-all) and Roman Novik, a Cobra Captain in the FSB (don't ask me what that stands for - I haven't a clue), whose primary mission is to apprehend criminals smuggling Russian uranium. Thirteen years earlier, these two had enjoyed a romantic relationship, but Sarai had dropped the relationship because of her disappointed hopes that Roman would become a missionary instead of an investigator/police officer.

Now, Sarai is trying to discover why two children have contracted renal failure. In the midst of her attempts, Roman bursts onto the scene intent upon scurrying her out of the country. There has been a political coup and he explains that all Americans are being evacuated from the country. However, Sarai is convinced that she is in no real danger and she can take care of herself. As Sarai ditches Roman repeatedly and attempts to remain in the country, the two are swept into a whirlwind journey of discovery, full of action and emotion.

The book was very readable and held my attention. My only complaint is that parts of the book felt smarmy and preachy at times. Although, I will say that I found myself reading it with a critical ear for this issue.

When I began working on my own novel in November, I never really intended it to have an outright Christian message. I knew what the main conflict was, but I didn't set out to reveal underlying Christian truth. However, it showed up over and over again as I wrote in the wee hours each evening.

I would imagine it is difficult to write a Christian novel and not have the messages feel overly blatant. I suppose if the author is Christian, the story will inevitably take on Christian tones. As far as Christian novels go, this is a fairly good one.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Boys Dig Bathroom Behaviors

It is a well-known fact that boys relish anything having to do with bodily functions. A toot can elicit a good five minutes' worth of laughter. An outstanding production in the toilet has to be announced for all the brothers to come view and marvel at its size and shape. When playing outside gets boring, you can bet that a swig from a bottle and a mock vomit scene for passing cars will liven things up.

Thus, I was not surprised when my boys began to clamor at a new commercial featuring bathroom behavior. However, it was surprising to hear the Barbie theme in the background. I mean, no mother of a self-respecting boy wants her sons to be chiming in with "Barbie girls." Enter the commercial for Barbie's Potty Training Pups. What?

Yes, the Barbie franchise is now pushing puppies who actually pee and poop. Here is the product description from an Amazon listing:

"Barbie is having a fun-filled day with her new puppies! After she feeds water to each of her 3 puppies, they “go potty” to reveal a surprise on the newspaper – it changes color to yellow and brown! Each of the puppies goes potty in a different way: the boy dog potties when you lift his leg and the girl dog squats to potty when you press her back. The third puppy just needs a squeeze on the tummy to go potty and reveal a surprise. And when Barbie feeds the puppies, they're ready to go again! Includes 3 puppies, Barbie doll, 2 pieces of color-change newspaper, dog bed, assorted collars and toys for the pups."

But my question is why? Girls don't really dig those bathroom behaviors like boys do. I can understand the appeal of the puppies. Young girls often fall for the cuddly charm of puppies and ponies. But why must they potty?

I've never actually potty trained a puppy, but I did endure the process with two boys (my first son trained himself, amazingly). Although most of the time, I feel like all that is behind me, there are still days ... or should I say nights ... when I am back in the trenches.

YS begs and begs to be put to bed in big boy pants. Some nights that works out just fine. But, he's a very solid sleeper and some nights he wakes in tears with a soaked bed. Those are not the moments where I think to myself, "I think I'd like to play at this all day long."

Apparently, I'm not alone in my skepticism. I noted this opinion shared by Mary Tara on E-pinions:

"The newspapers are made of plastic (with what looks to be fashion ads on them) and when they get wet they turn yellow and brown meaning that the dogs have gone #1 and #2 on them. Sounds like loads of fun right? ... The peeing puppy process is one that we are familiar with since we already have Barbie, Taffy & Puppies.... In this set, all of the dogs are said to pee but none of them actually do as they are supposed to.... I do like that the "papers" in this set are plastic and re-usable unlike the cardboard squares that came with our other set that were not well thought out. However, whoever thought that it would be fun to see the paper turn brown or yellow has too much time on their hands. That is just plain gross!"

My boys think it is grand to watch the paper turn brown or yellow. They call me into the room every single time this commercial comes on.

Maybe a man (or a boy in a grown up body) was on that creative committee and thought it would be fun. If not, then maybe the makers of Barbie were just trying to give little girls a dose of reality (after all, all the world must deal with bathroom behaviors, whether they revel in them or not). Indeed, one of their similar products is called the "Barbie Reality Clean Up Pup Playset." I'm guessing if they were really interested in portraying reality to little girls their doll would look more like this image my sister-in-law forwarded to me:

Still, even if the bathroom behaviors of puppies is thrilling for my boys, they are not asking for the Barbie doll to go on their birthday lists. For that to happen, I think Mattel would have to come up with a Ken doll, complete with a skateboard and quarter pipe, where Ken can experience horrible injuries in his risky endeavors and ooze blood onto plastic pavement pieces which turn bright red. Hopefully, they will stick with the same process they perfected with these insane potty training pups, so the mess will just evaporate.

Of course, that's not very realistic either. When my boys take to the skateboards (if the snow ever melts and spring ever gets here), their injuries are not going to evaporate. Oh well, I guess the motivation for play is to prepare a kid for real life. And speaking of real life, I'd better go scoop some of that non-evaporating brown stuff off the front of my yard before spring comes and my boys step in it and track it all over the house.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What if The Boys Had Been Girls?

What if my ES had been a girl instead of a boy?

I would have been bummed. I had longed for a blond haired, blue eyed baby boy for as long as I can remember. In fact, when I was in high school, we had to carry around egg babies. I say egg babies because I got twins (score - if I had to have the work of twins, I'm glad it was in the round where they were as light as eggs and only remained in my care for a week). My egg babies were girls and I think I named them Collette Nicole and Courtney Lynn. Caring for children must have even felt burdensome back then, because when the assignment was over, my little brother and I took those eggs outside and shot them with dart guns.

All through my pregnancy with ES, I was convinced the baby was a girl. Every dream included my arms bundled with a girl baby. Hubby was convinced it was a boy and he said he was hoping for a girl. He was right. I was happy.

What if MS had been a girl?

Up until a year before MS was conceived, I felt completely happy with the idea of all boys. Then, something shifted (I'm not sure why) and I began to hope for a girl. If MS had been a girl, I might not have been sad at the time, but looking back I would be bummed. If MS had been a girl then we would have most likely been done and I would have missed out on all the joy that is YS. I would never have been able to observe two siblings who are close in age (nerve-wracking, at times, but also endearing).

What if YS had been a girl?

When we discovered that YS would be a third boy, I did cry. I felt such a loss of dreams. No beautiful dresses. No opportunities to french braid hair. No mother-daughter excursions. No bride to beam at (or share my wedding dress with). No chick-flicks with popcorn on a weekend night.

But, man, I would have been bummed now. YS is such an adorable, sweet, tender-hearted little guy. He and MS have such a close bond - at one moment hugging and being the very best of buddies and the next moment slugging one another over some minor infraction. I would have missed out on watching these three boys build such a strong bond of solidarity with each other.

Tonight, ES was in his room playing Rock Band and the two little boys recognized the song and ran in to join him (MS sang into the microphone and YS pretended to play the guitar). These are the moments when three boys feels so right and perfect. Or when they all three head outside to sled or snowboard down the hill in the back yard. I watch them from the window and my heart nearly bursts with joy at their camaraderie. So, we're really quite fine here with three boys.

MS has been begging for a sister, but I think he does that because he knows that my heart used to pine intensely for a girl. I tell him that we are done with babies and besides, he can give me a granddaughter. His reply really irks me. He always quickly says, "But, you'll be dead by then." Thanks a lot, mister. Maybe I'd better head back up to review that second question again. Hee-hee.

Seriously, though, I would have missed out on these three wonderful boys if they had been girls. I'm pretty sure now that God knew exactly what he was doing. I'm not a girly girl. I would have truly been lost with daughters. Moreover, the friction could have been more intense than I'd like to experience. I'm feeling quite blessed that God's plan worked out the way it did.

How about you? What if your children had been girls instead of boys, or vice versa? Could that plan have felt just as comfortable? Do you still pine for something that never was?

As for me, my blog title wouldn't have worked as well. Of Books and Girls just doesn't have the same ring does it?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sorry Simon, You're No Longer in Charge

Last night, my husband had salmon for dinner. The little boys begged for a bite. Surprisingly, they actually liked the taste of it.

This afternoon I overheard them, playing on the heated porch.

MS: Hey, you weren't supposed to move yet!

YS: Why?

MS: I didn't say "Salmon Says!"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Marley and Me

At Christmas time, we put our puppy, Harley, in a kennel when many of the members of my family came to visit. It really would have been a major pain if we hadn't. In fact, we had to take Harley along when we went to visit my husband's family for their Christmas gathering (since we only acquired Harley in October, there was no way in the world we were going to find a kennel opening for Christmas Day). It turned out to be quite a fiasco.

For one thing, my husband's older brother brought their small dog Cocoa (otherwise known to my kids, fondly, as "Coco-Loco") along with their family. Harley is to Coco-Loco as a watermelon is to a grape. Harley was out of control with excitement, jumping up on everyone and peeing a few times in the process. For most of our visit, he remained on the porch, spitting saliva at the sliding glass doors, wishing he could get up-close and personal.

Thankfully, we had planned for me to return with Harley and ES early, so that I could begin to prepare for my family's visit. That evening, after we left, my sister-in-law insisted that my husband and younger sons must see the movie "Marley and Me." I'm sure, at 3 and 5, they didn't watch all of the movie, but whatever they did watch certainly made an impression. They talked about it for weeks afterwards.

Side note: When my family visited, my brother and sister-in-law brought their calm, obedient, lovely dog, Maddie, along. At one point, MS was playfully petting Maddie. He looked up at the rest of us and proclaimed, "We used to have a dog." We cracked up and reminded him that we still have a dog IN A KENNEL. Too funny!

With all the talk about the movie (plus, my friend, Jennifer, had read the book and loved it), I decided to select Marley and Me as my next audio book. It was a good choice, because for the most part I could listen even when the boys were along for the ride.

John Grogan tells the story of his family's experience with "the world's worst dog." My boys very quickly decided that Harley was not nearly as naughty as Marley. He may be a nuisance, but not the worst dog in the world.

I chuckled along as I listened to the tale of how John and his wife, Jenny, responded to an ad in the paper without much training in how best to select a pet. Granted, I had done research on the Goldendoodle and felt quite confident that this was the breed for us. However, I think we made a knee-jerk decision in taking him home the very day we met him.

The book was a pure delight to listen to. John Grogan is a gripping storyteller. Many times, I would pull into the garage and sit there for minutes, unwilling to pull away from the book.

Moreover, I will admit that I cried. I was driving to Aldi this morning, when I finished the book, and had to take a moment to compose myself before I went into the store. Although, even as I shed tears for the Grogans' loss of Marley, I could not fully admit that I would feel the same pain at the loss of our Harley Dog. Life is just too darn stressful with the dog in the picture. I think people with dogs have to be willing to chill on aspects of cleanliness and not everyone in our family can do that.

There was a point in the book where the author summed up all the benefits gained in Marley's absence. He mentioned the ability to move about without the hovering, constant presence of the dog. The children no longer had to be on vigilant guard when eating food. His wife mentioned how much easier it was to keep the house. Although dog hair continued to surface for months, it was far less of a problem. These are the many things that make me long to return to our pre-dog status.

I'm glad I could learn the life-lessons Marley taught the Grogans. I'm even glad my boys are experiencing a bit of that special bond between boys and their dogs. I'm just not sure I can make it for the long haul - 13-15 year dog life expectancy. At this point, we'll be ready to claim the lessons learned and be done with it at 6 months. I know that may sound harsh to true, dog-lovers, but that is quite honestly where my husband and I are at.

It was interesting to read an article by John Grogan which was featured in Parade magazine in January of this year. My favorite line from the whole piece was when Grogan celebrated Marley as his inspiration. He wrote, "Had he been a better dog, more controllable and behaved, there would have been no story."

Harley has given us plenty of stories. In fact, this afternoon, MS begged to bring Harley along when we went to pick ES up from wrestling practice. I figured it couldn't hurt; he'd walk through the garage to the van, ride along and return through the garage to the house. This was quite important to me, since outside is such a slushy, filthy mess and I just bathed Harley last night.

Alas, it could and did hurt. ES's practice went longer than anticipated and we ended up waiting for 20 minutes. I allowed MS to come up near the driver's seat to watch for the first sight of ES. His head must have accidentally pushed against the overhead button which opens the automatic side door (that, or the dog figured out how to push the release button near the door). In seconds, Harley leaped from the van and began splashing through the puddles of the parking lot towards a girl who was standing near the door. I hopped out and began to hobble after him.

Thankfully, the girl was unafraid of large, bounding dogs. She helped me capture him and exclaimed, "Oh, what a beautiful dog." I felt compelled to throw back, "He's beautiful, but he's also a royal pain in the butt." When I got him successfully back in the van, I told him to lie down on the floor and "stay." Of course, by the time I reached the driver's side, Harley had already jumped up to sit, with his filthy paws, on the middle seat. When I yelled "Down!," he heard, "get down and go back to sit on the back seat with MS," thus soiling two upholstered seats! I now have a date with the spot-bot!

I can't say that I don't appreciate our Harley stories. I love a good story. But, I'm pretty sure I have plenty of story fodder already with my house full of boys.

What I can say is that anyone will love this book. If you are a dog-lover or dog-owner, you will eat up every morsel. And if you are not a dog-lover and hope to never be saddled with the dog hair, the boundless energy, the ravenous appetite, the ruined furniture and the wealth of stories to tell, check out this book and learn the lessons dogs can teach us without having to encounter a single compromise. It will be well worth your time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

It was very kind of my husband to take my younger two boys away with him for a weekend. I'm not sure I would have survived this week, if it hadn't come on the heels of a 48 hour reprieve.

Still, those 48 hours flew by and seemed barely enough. A mere gulp of air when I was hoping for something more akin to an oxygen mask, i.e., something to do the actual breathing for me for a while.

During their absence, I decided to dye my hair. I actually had been meaning to do so since December. Of course, I felt we really couldn't afford for me to plunk down another $75 for highlights at the hair-dresser. Thus, back in December I purchased a box of Garnier Nutrisse hair color Champagne blond.

I have never dyed my own hair before. Indeed, I wish I had never jumped on the coloring carousel, because once you get on, it is really hard to get off.

But, when my first son was born, the child-bearing hormones sucked my natural color right out of me and left me staring in the mirror at much darker blond hair. I eagerly sought out a friend to color my hair. She continued to color it for me for a while, but it was always a bit too light and looked artificial.

The night before my youngest brother's wedding, my sister offered to put in highlights. I was paralyzed with fear that it would end up orange and be documented in wedding photos for the rest of time. However, my sister worked her magic and even styled it the next morning. I can honestly say that my hair looked the best it has ever looked before and since on that day. My husband loves the photos from that wedding. Indeed, I take the photo with me when I request highlights at the hairdresser (wishing I could get my scanner to work - groan), which is what I've been doing ever since.

However, true to my laid-back nature, I have never been on-top of the coloring routine. I tend to get highlights twice a year (which is about what I felt we could afford). Thus, I once heard my sister-in-law snap at my brother when he made a comment about my roots. Even still, I never jumped to the 4 to 6 week suggested schedule for coloring.

So this time, I thought I'd do it myself and save some cold hard cash. My sister has magic; I don't. As soon as I finished rinsing the color and conditioner out of my hair, I realized that it turned out a bit more reddish blond than I had intended (close to orange, but not quite).

It really isn't as bad as I'm making it sound. Both hubby and ES have said that it is fine and not too red. In the grand scheme of this week, it is a minor detail.

I'm sure that the surgery on my foot had far more to do with my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week than my own hair issues. It just makes everything a tad bit more difficult. Here is a photo to show what I'm dealing with:

MS told me that I should let him draw a nose and mouth on the bottom of my foot, since the two wounds look like eyes. Great!

I hobble around as best I can, trying to place all the pressure of that leg on the heel (which then makes the muscles on the back of my leg sore). Twice a day I apply hydrogen peroxide and bacitracin and cover the holes with large bandages. Since the bandages don't stay in place, I also wrap it.

All of this makes wearing normal shoes difficult. Thankfully, I saved my special shoe from a foot surgery years ago. However, even that isn't good for going out in the snow. Thus, I have taken to merely letting the dog out the door (which leads to another realm of problems - like this morning, when he stopped traffic on our busy country road while he stood in the middle of the road trying to eat the carcass of a dead squirrel).

I'm finding it difficult to keep an adequate eye on the boys, as well as the dog. Dealing with anything has become more problematic. Sadly, my patience with the little boys has been at an all-time low.

As I was putting them to bed Monday night, I attempted to apply A & D ointment to MS's severely chapped lips. MS wriggled to avoid my finger full of ointment and ended up planting a large glob of it in my hair. I wasn't pleased, to say the least. As soon as I managed to get the stuff on his lips where it belonged, I left, refusing to lie down with them or sing.

Moments later, the two of them came running out of their room giggling. They ran to tell me that they both had A & D ointment in their hair. Their heads were a pasty mess and I had visions of sheets covered with greasy stains.

Tuesday morning, I gave them a bath. However, even after two shampoos, the stuff remained gummy in their hair.

Tuesday afternoon, I went to put YS down for his nap. MS was watching TV, or so I thought. Apparently, he did a little bit more.

He went searching for a screwdriver, to change the batteries in a toy that wasn't working. Instead, he found a blow torch that hubby had bought and attempted to hide from ES, my pyromaniac. MS figured out how to turn it on and burned the side of hubby's desk and the paper from several packages of batteries. Plus, he singed his hair. So, he went back upstairs and got a scissors and cut it off.

I must really be off my game because the only thing I noticed were the windows that he Windexed and wiped with Kleenex. When hubby came home from work he noticed a burning smell in the basement. I hobbled down the stairs to confirm it, wondering where in the world MS would have found something to start a fire with.

We questioned MS. He tried to say a ghost did it. Then, we noticed his hair. Yikes!

When I wrote to my funny friend Laura about this escapade, she replied, "As for the blow torch story-- dang. How scary that you have ghosts in your house. On the bright side-- did the heat from the blow torch melt away the A & D that wouldn't come out of his hair?" How I needed her dose of humor!

And I wondered why I couldn't cover up those stubborn gray hairs? These two boys have multiplied the grays a hundred fold.

I took these photos of them just as we were beginning to paint down in the basement. Besides MS's hair and clown mouth, you will notice YS has ink marks all over his face. Apparently, he noticed a tiny scar on MS's nose and wanted to draw one on his own nose.

After laying out a gazillion pieces of newspaper for them to paint on, MS proceeded to sit a foot away from the newspaper, open the orange paint and spill it on the floor. YS was repeatedly dipping his paint brush in various colors, assuring that I will never again find the paint colors the bottles claim to hold. Steadily, I felt my blood-pressure rising.

I know for a fact that I painted often with ES when he was this age. In fact, we usually had our three neighbor friends over to paint with us. My patience with them was bountiful. It was a joy to do craft projects with them. By the end of the painting day (Thursday), I was feeling such an intense sense of parental failure.

It is interesting for me to note, however, that my first knee-jerk reaction is to hear condemnation from others within my head. I don't think one person expressed doubts about my parenting ability this week (not even hubby, who would have been justified after coming home to discover his preschooler could have burned down the house). Yet, when I wrote my last blog post, I made it sound like others were expressing condemnation. Nope, that was my own head doing the talking. Granted, I was repeating things I have heard in the past, but still ... why do I do that when I am feeling self-condemnation?

And as I end this post, I'm feeling like I should change the title. It really wasn't the worst week ever. It was just a week where many challenges occurred and I didn't quite feel up to meeting them. Yes, I failed in many ways, but I think when my children retell this story, years from now, the emphasis will be on the crazy-nutso thing that MS did rather than on Mommy's momentary negligence.

Besides the kind comments from my readers, I suppose I can thank another friend, Moira, for helping me to gain better perspective (and not beat myself up so much). She sent me the funniest e-mail forward titled "Parenting isn't for everyone." This was followed by 21 hilarious photos, including a father carrying the tail of his young daughter's provocative mermaid costume (complete with faux exposed bosoms), a father carrying a pot with his infant dressed as a lobster inside it, a couple on a motorbike dragging along a stroller behind them, a father holding his child upside down over a wall to feed wild animals below, and several of children holding guns, axes, cigarettes and beer cans.

So, it wasn't really the worst week ever, but ... there's always next week.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Waving My White Flag

O.K. I surrender. I'm throwing in the towel. I'm wavin' my white flag. I admit it, I've been defeated. The opposition is too strong and I'm no match for the assault. I surrender. Sadly, at 44 years old, I'm just no match for the whirling dervishes God sent me in my 3 and 5 year old sons.

For months now, my husband has been plying me with the argument that I am just not cut out for the role of stay-at-home mother. He has been encouraging me to seek employment. He claims that I am at my happiest when I am actively engaged in a fulfilling job, like I had back at Littlejohn Elementary.

Of course, the most recent happy point in my life WAS indeed during that time - just after I had my second child (something that had seemed like an impossibility for years before that), and was back to working full-time at the school. My husband was working part-time and when he couldn't be with the baby, we had a wonderful, loving babysitter who adored MS and lived just a two minute walk from the school (often bringing the baby to school).

Still, I found myself resenting his implication that I couldn't handle this mothering role. It has always been of the utmost importance to me to be the primary care-giver during my kids' first five years of life. I argued back, in my mind, "yes, but I'm struggling with depression right now ... yes, but I'm far more patient with them than you are" ... "yes, but I'm not really unfit for this job."

Today, I'm waving my flag. Unfit sums it up pretty well. I just don't have the energy to keep up with these boys. In one minute's time, they wreak five to ten minutes of cleaning (already a stressful subject since my husband's standards are much higher than mine and he lets us know ten times a day how patient he is trying to be with our chaos and mess). Plus, I hate to clean endless, repetitive messes. They test me above and beyond what I can handle. I admit it.

This is a real sore point for me. It seems as if everyone is standing by, at the ready, with their words of wisdom. I have had friends make endless suggestions which always sound like barely veiled rebukes, "if you don't get ahold of your children before the age of five, they will be ruined," ... "you should have a schedule where you require them to sit quietly in their rooms while you take care of the things in the house," ... "they watch too much television," ... "if you spanked them more often," ... "you allow them to jump on the furniture?" ... etc, ad nauseum.

It is always amazing to me how many experts there can be on my children. But then, I remind myself of the years when I, sans children of my own, viewed other parents with a critical eye and, occasionally, a critical mouth. I remember thinking things like, "I will never let my children . . .," only to turn around and violate those standards once the children behaving questionably were my own.

But this week, I am willing to admit that I am not an expert at raising these boys. They are way more than I can handle. They never stop talking ... not even in their sleep. I cannot read them a bedtime story because they continually move and interrupt. Their capacity for mischief far exceeds my knowledge and ability for reining them in. If they live to be happy, productive citizens, it will be a miracle of God and nothing to do with my staying home to pour myself out for them.

Pour myself out? Sorry, Lord, but I'm running on empty. Please pour Yourself out for them and protect them from themselves and from ME! As my sister-in-law comically stated at Christmas, "We're not saving for their college; we're saving for their therapy."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Another Great Blog Find

I have been frolicking my day away on this Valentine's Day. My husband's Valentine's Day present was to give me some time alone. O.K., make that semi-alone. ES is here with me, so quiet is not part of the mix.

Side note: ES wanted to purchase Rock Band for his X-Box 360. To be honest, I was thinking, "why in the world does the boy need to waste more of his money for something he already owns on Playstation 2?" but it was his own money and he argued that he can play "live," with his friends. So, yesterday, we headed (I hobbled) to Walmart. They didn't have the game available, but ES found the drums for only $9.95. I was certain that he had misread the sign so we called over an employee. She assured us that the sign was accurate. It was some sort of promotional deal and was priced low because it doesn't include the guitar or microphone (something ES didn't really care about). It was such a good deal that the checkout clerk wouldn't believe the price when it rang up (it comes in a fairly huge box). She called back to clarify and was as astonished as we had been. Next, the person at the door stopped us and insisted on looking at our receipt (with a price that low, it did sort of feel like we were getting a "steal"). It was quite comical.

He was able to purchase a used game at Game Stop for $29. Thus, instead of quiet, I've been serenaded all day with his drumming. Good thing he is such a talented drummer. He is very excited about it and can't wait to show it to MS (MS has been playing the Playstation Rock Band and is getting better every day).

So, where is MS? Well, back to my Valentine's Day gift: Hubby left yesterday afternoon to take MS and YS to Grandma's house for the weekend. This was especially appreciated since I am trying to stay off my foot during these early days of recovery from the wart-removal surgery.

I'm hoping to wake feeling super-energetic so that I can clean the house before they return in the afternoon (that will be my gift to hubby, since he cannot tolerate the mess those two little boys wreak on our house). Today, I read, took a fat nap and took ES out for dinner - Valentine's Day bliss!

As I was reading the Sunday paper, I came across an address for an interesting new blog. The Indy Star offers a little blurb in their Books section called "What Hoosiers are reading." Today's blurb featured a 4th grader who is tackling a goal of reading all 89 John Newbery Medal winners. Her blog at offers up brief reviews of the books that she is reading. What a delightful girl! What a fantastic goal!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Blogging See-Saw

When I first discovered blogging, it was through a friend who blogged about her experience in a missionary situation. I thoroughly enjoying reading about what was going on in her life and her ministry. I could fully understand the purpose of a blog for her. And, although I longed to write a blog myself, I figured people really wouldn't be interested in my daily life.

However, in the throes of mothering very small children, I discovered more blogs. Suddenly, I realized that there were loads of other women who were in the very same situation as myself and they wrote interesting blog posts about their daily life. If I considered their blogs interesting, wouldn't it be possible to write my own blog and fill it with interesting posts?

Thus, I narrowed the topics I wished to cover, came up with a suitable title and began blogging. In the beginning, it was my salvation. It literally kept me sane by filling my evenings with purpose and expression when my days were filled with mundane child-rearing and housekeeping.

As time went on, I began to notice certain trends. People tend to blog with great vigor in the beginning. However, with time the frequency tapers off, sometimes disappearing altogether. I also noticed bloggers complaining about blogging. They would say, "blogging has become a chore."

Now, I find myself riding the blogging see-saw. I, too, often find myself quite weary in the evening and feel torn between the obligation to blog and the desire to remain silent. Often my silences are driven by my moods. I struggle with clinical depression and it impacts every aspect of my life (my relationship with my husband and children, my ability to function in the roles laid out for me, my enthusiasm - or lack - for personal goals, and my desire to openly express things about my life).

Frankly, I feel that if I were to freely express the thoughts and feelings that swirl around inside, it would be far too weighty (and scary) for most people to deal with. It would send my parents (who actually do read this blog) into intense concern mode. Moreover, it would only serve to depress the few readers I actually have.

When I think about what was initially so appealing about blogs, it was the fact that I felt a sense of camaraderie with other people. Reading blogs made my struggles seem ordinary and if someone else could endure, then so could I. I turned to virtual friendships because my life hasn't offered up this opportunity much lately.

This is something that continually perplexes me - how an outgoing, friendly individual can live for 3 and a half years in a location and not make a single meaningful friendship. I am tempted to blame the location more than the individual. I have offered to volunteer my time both at the local grade school and at a nearby nursing home. I cannot imagine schools and nursing homes not welcoming volunteer help when offered and yet neither even bothered to respond to my e-mails or calls????

Recently, I discovered that a friend, Tom McComb, from my Salvation Army days, has begun a blog. His blog is truly outstanding. He provides daily inspirational sound bites. Every post offers a brief scenario to consider and an inspirational take-away that leaves me wanting to be a better person.

He also leaves me wanting to be a better blogger. I often look at my posts and remind myself that the key question for a writer is "So What?" It is easy for me to lapse into merely providing diary-like updates (we did this today... the kids said this ... etc.). Part of me doesn't want to relinquish the right to fall back into those type of posts because it provides me with a chance to document the daily ins and outs of our lives.

For example, today I wasted plenty of time viewing multiple You Tube videos of plantar wart removal surgery. Yesterday, the big deal in my life was a trip to the dermatologist to have not one, but two, hideous warts cut out of my left foot. Given my fear of shots and my wimpy disposition when it comes to medical interventions, this was a fairly traumatic experience. However, in the end, I decided, even if it shattered my world (and led to a hobbling gait which I will probably cling to for a month or two) it was not something any reader would care to participate in with me.

Indeed, part of me really wants my blog to serve a bigger purpose than merely recording our actions. I want to find ways to improve my blog and attract more readers (I can't think of anyone who writes without a desire for someone else to read their words). I want the time I spend writing to have a greater purpose than merely providing me with an outlet for my thoughts and feelings.

Hence, I feel torn between a desire to pour out my angst, to explain how depression makes a person feel like they are swimming through molasses, and a desire to turn my blog up a notch by striving to provide a positive takeaway. Then, I remind myself that it could just be possible that a positive take-away isn't ... well, possible ... for me, anyway. The place that I am at (a place that God is fully aware of) doesn't really lend itself to the style of writing I am longing for.

So, for now, I will hang on tight, during this blogging see-saw ride. Hopefully, some of my posts will be light and entertaining. But, I am equally hopeful that my readers will bear with me when I am low and raw. Because, frankly, sometimes all of us feel low and raw. For now, I'm here to sit patiently with those who, like me, are low and raw. Who knows, maybe you'll even feel a sense of camaraderie in that and realize that if someone else struggles with the low and raw, too, then chances are pretty great that you'll survive to touch the sky again one day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Review: You Were Always Mom's Favorite!

The moment I noticed this book on the recent acquisitions shelf at our library, I knew I wanted to read it. Deborah Tannen's, You Were Always Mom's Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives, deals with a relationship I have recently been struggling with. Although, both my sister and I have always longed for a closer relationship, most of the time ours has been fraught with conflict.

Tannen is a professor of linguistics, so the primary focus of her research had to do with how sisters communicate with each other. As the flyleaf proclaimed, "It takes just a word from your sister to start you laughing ... But it also takes just a word to send you into an emotional tailspin." I could relate to that sentence, but more for the last half than the first, sadly. My own sister's words, past and present, have sent me into plenty of emotional tailspins.

However, my sister has also shared words and actions that ministered to my soul at times. When I suffered a miscarriage, it was her kind act of sending a care package filled with a giant stuffed monkey (an animal I have collected since I was 7) and three mind-distracting videos, that spoke more volumes to me than any other individual's attempt to comfort. When I shared a clip from a powerful movie ("The Most") that my friend, Dace, had mentioned, my sister purchased the DVD of the movie for me that Christmas ... just because. That is how she is. She will give a gift from her heart without any thought to the cost or inconvenience. In that sense, I have been greatly blessed.

The book was chock full of insights and anecdotes about how sisters relate to one another. It was always interesting reading. While the book did enhance my understanding of the sister relationship, I wasn't really satisfied with the promised "practical advice and effective techniques that will help you open up communication with your sister." This was my greatest need from the book, but most of what I gleaned as suggested advice was "change the way others behave or talk by changing the way you behave or talk to them" and seek to understand the other so you can "find ways of enhancing the support and managing the rivalry."

This seemed to fall flat for me because, obviously, we both have years of a conditioned relating style behind us. Every time I encounter my sister, I declare that I will not allow things to head down the same path, yet every time I find myself traversing familiar territory and regretting that I didn't "behave differently" this time around.

I did glean some insights that I feel I can share. I am the older sister. I am three years older and much more closely spaced to my two older brothers. Thus, for most of our growing up years, I was more allied with my older brothers. I know my sister felt left out.

I think one way to try to understand my sister more would be to recognize her desire to be included and to ensure that she doesn't feel left out. Sadly, this is where I have recently failed. Dreading a repeat of the conflict which surfaced the last time we were together, I suggested that her family stay at a hotel instead of in my home when my family came for the holidays. Granted, I did not have room to put up everyone and someone had to stay elsewhere, but I can see where this deeply wounded her and made her feel like the odd (wo)man out. I wish I had been able to find some way to make her feel valued and included.

As I read this book, it became clear that I don't really behave as the older sister nor am I treated as an older sister. To be honest, I have never felt comfortable with that role. Earlier on, this was what caused the most friction. I felt like my sister was looking for me to somehow show her the ropes on what it meant to be a woman and I was hanging with my brothers, wearing corduroys because they wore corduroys. I didn't have a clue to provide for her. As I said, I am closely aligned with my brothers and don't naturally lean towards feminine things. My sister went elsewhere for her instruction and quite literally, radiated, her femininity!

This is about the time when my own femininity began to be poked and jabbed repeatedly. Tannen clearly identifies that very often our body image is gleaned not from our parents or the opposite sex, but from our sisters. My own body image was deeply scarred by comments offered up by my highly attractive sister. I would love to learn how to react differently to derisive comments that are made about my physical endowments or my poor fashion sense.

Moreover, if I could change the way I talk with my sister it would be to bite my tongue before sharing any struggles that I am encountering. Tannen declared this as something younger sisters do in an effort to seek connection with their older sisters. Then, the older sisters provide advice. I think I begin to share, hoping it will bring us closer, but it ends up distancing us. Instead of feeling heard or supported, I feel lectured or counseled (she is a pastor).

The book also drove home the fact that the intensity of the conflict (how deeply I feel wounded by jabs expressed) really illustrates the intensity of desire for approval and connectedness. When feelings run strong, it generally indicates that you care deeply for and about that individual. It is clear that I feel anything but indifferent towards my sister. Indeed, I long for genuine connection and support.

I guess the best encouragement I gleaned from this book is the fact that I am certainly not alone. Scores and scores of sisters have been wounded in this relationship. Some have even severed ties. I wish Tannen had been able to provide more insights for fixing and healing damaged relationships. However, when I searched the Internet for an image of this book, I did stumble upon some other suggested sibling literature on Amazon. I think I may try a book called Sibling Revelry: 8 Steps to Successful Adult Sibling Relationships.

PS - I couldn't resist stealing some photos from my sister's facebook to show you how beautiful she is! First, one of us as kids:

Here she is with her husband - cute couple, huh?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wish This Game Had Come Along Sooner

It seemed like such a good idea to get our boys a dog. Boys and dogs just seem to go together. Plus, they have been begging for a dog all their lives. It was far easier when we lived in IL, because we lived in rental properties and thus, could honestly say that it just wasn't an option. When we moved to IN, we did promise the boys a dog. After all, we'd have plenty of space for boys and dogs to roam.

When our youngest was born, life quickly became chaotic and overwhelming. I wonder why it is that the third child always throws things into such a tumult. I suppose it is because, as parents, we were outnumbered. I think my husband fully believes that it is merely OUR children who are more intense, more destructive ... well, just MORE than other children. At that point, it was clear that a dog was out of the question.

Why we didn't stick with that assessment? I don't know. We began to promise them that once the baby was out of diapers, we'd make good on our promise. If only we could turn back the hands of time. True, the dog was already potty trained and crate trained (a blessing). True, he's a beautiful dog. It is also true that I had been wanting a Goldendoodle ever since I saw a stunning specimen at one of my ES's soccer games 4 or 5 years ago. Supposedly, the poodle part of them meant that they didn't shed.

LIES! All lies! This dog sheds like crazy. If I were a more diligent housekeeper, it wouldn't be as noticeable. However, I'm not and we see lots of hairs ... on furniture, on clothing, and in clumps on the floor.

More than anything, it is the dog's need for outside time that causes us the most distress. Since we live on a country road where cars whiz by at 50 mph sometimes, at first we only let the dog out on the leash attached to a chain in the front yard. However, once snow was part of the equation, we began letting him out first thing in the morning and last thing at night without the leash. At first, he stayed nearby, but it didn't take long before he was wandering all over and not coming back when called. Once, he returned chewing some kind of dead animal - possibly a bat. Thus, we went back to requiring a leash at all times outside.

Yesterday, I attached the chain to a post on our front porch, thinking this way we wouldn't even have to go out the door to let him out. Last night, I attached him to his leash and let him head out to do his final business of the day. I quickly seized a moment to brush my teeth. When I returned, I discovered that THE DARNED DOG had dug a huge hole in the mulch (landscaping) right next to the porch. He was no doubt trying to get to a ground squirrel or something.

His snout was covered in dirt and mulch. His feet were atrocious. The front porch was speckled with the dirt he kicked up behind him. I was irritated beyond words! (It didn't help that earlier in the day, the little boys had taken apart my papasan chair and the dog had chewed the wood almost to shreds!)

And to think that a few weeks ago, I asked MS to snap a photo of me and the dog because I thought someone might answer our ad in the paper and decide they wanted to buy the dog from us. HA! Then, as the photo began to rotate on our screen saver, I realized that 1) it is an awful photo, and 2) it fully supports that theory that dogs and owners tend to look alike. Yikes! At least my eyes don't get that vacant glow!

Actually, a few weeks back, it became clear that we could have spared ourselves all of this trouble if only my two littlest boys would have discovered their latest game just a few months sooner. Lately, they have taken to pretending that two of their toy containers are pets. MS wove his rubber snake through the holes in the box and began dragging him everywhere, calling him "Boxie." YS, who has to parrot everything MS does, quickly begged me to weave a snake through a box for him.

They walk their boxes. They pretend to feed the boxes. I'm a big fan of the "Boxie" game. Boxie doesn't smell, shed hair, get dirty, eat Christmas ornaments, puke them up again, cost an arm and a leg, or require any outside duties (or PRMs!).

Here's a brief video of the boys and their carefree pets (I pray for the day when these are their only pets!). At the end, I ask them if their pets are messy and YS tries to tell me that his poops. I cut the video short, but he did explain by dumping over the box so the toys all tumbled out. Somehow, I think I could deal with that kind of poopin' all day long!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh, MS, You Amaze and Perplex Me!

My middle son has a passion for art. He seems to never be at a loss for a new idea, nor does he ever tire of drawing the same morbid characters (skeletons, bats, mummies, etc.) over and over again, each time fine-tuning some aspect of the drawing.

Here are some of his recent drawings:

He loves to glue two googly eyes to his drawings of skeletons (and notice how he draws the individual bones now).

He draws monkeys because he knows they are my favorite animal.

He has also started gluing and taping the corners down to make puffed up pictures (not sure why):

This is ES's favorite drawing. We asked MS what it was and he said he had drawn a "gravedigger." Oookayyyy. Makes me a bit concerned that his art may be misunderstood in grade school.

He continues to be interested in 3 dimensional art. He made his very own trick-or-treat bag (preparing a Halloween bag in February - he'll make a wonderful Boy Scout, someday!) complete with eyes made from rubber bands.

He made a boat, with a box full of snakes on board. I love the Jolly Roger he added with a toothpick.

Today, he really blew me away. At some point, I know he called out for me to spell the word "Done." Then, he came to ask me if I could find some dice because he wanted to play a game. Engrossed in something else, I said, "if you need dice, the game should have them." Finally, after relentless begging, I ran downstairs and fetched a spare die. Here is the game he was playing:

Side note: You can see, just behind YS's hand, that sleepy bear surfaced (in their closet, under a pile of stuffed animals they had tossed in when told to clean up) and has resumed his role in our daily lives.

Initially, there was only one ladder, leading down into a snake pit. As we played, it was extremely amusing. The game piece characters are so large that they take up more than one square. Thus, when MS would count he would merely jump around the designated number of times (usually covering at least three extra squares). Not surprisingly, I lost the first round. I explained that I was happy to lose because I didn't quite want to end up in the snake pit after all.

At that, he grabbed up the game and ran back to the table. He returned to show me a second ladder, leading into a monkey tree. (If you click on the pictures, you can see the details better.)

So, why does the boy perplex me? Whenever he concentrates, he licks his lips. He concentrates when he creates art. He concentrates when he plays games on the Playstation. He concentrates a lot. As a result, we have been living with his clown face for several weeks now.

He doesn't seem to mind in the slightest. It drives ES crazy. We have tried putting A&D ointment on every evening. It looks better in the morning, but after a few hours is back to its normal vibrant color. We try to remind him to stop licking. Nothing works. The hairdresser suggested lavender oil. We'll see if that cures him of his funny face. In the meantime, he'd better hope that people love him for his art and not for his appearance.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

You Know You Have Boys When ...

Today, I have felt like Cinderella (minus the Prince Charming ever showing up). My entire day has been devoted to cleaning up after boys ... and not the easy messes like strewn toys. No, if you have boys, then you know what I'm talkin' 'bout! (I pondered the alternate title of "Urine Trouble Now, Mister!")

I have fantasized about possible solutions:

  • post a guard outside the door to inspect the surface of the seat and floor prior to and after usage, then require personal responsibility for clean-up from the guilty parties.

  • Charge a dime for every bathroom usage (I say it is fair, since I am the only one cleaning these bathrooms, apart from the one my husband uses and cleans on his own), and add on a fine of 50 cents for every offense to the seat or floor.

  • purchase a urinal.

  • invent a urinal with a self-cleaning feature.

  • install hidden cameras and promise to publish truly ignoble offenses on my blog or pull out to share when friends are visiting.

My sister once suggested that I require the boys to always sit. However, the two youngest offenders manage to shoot a stream down the front of the toilet and onto the floor 90% of the time when they are sitting to do the job. At this point, the best one of the bunch is the 3 year old. But, give him time and height and I'm sure we're bound to encounter the same difficulties. Even Testosterhome admits that she has to clean her boys' bathroom every single day.

Granted, part of the problem is that the bathroom that the boys use most often is the oldest, ugliest bathroom in the house. The sink and toilet are green. The walls have a gold fish patterned wallpaper. The floor sports a different patterned tile. The only thing I like about the bathroom is the extra large mirror above the sink (with ample storage drawers - of course, these drawers flood whenever small boys play at the sink, but I'm still thankful for the drawers and mirror).

The toilet has been there so long and endured so many misguided pee streams that the grout between the tile and toilet is saturated with the stench of urine (be grateful I can't import the smell for your full understanding of the problem). I spray those areas with Lysol every time I clean up another flood of urine, but most of the time the only hope is to light a sweet-smelling candle.

The whole bathroom needs to be fumigated and remodeled. My friend, Laura, commented that her daughter wrote a letter to the tooth fairy requesting a working magic wand. If I hear tell that she actually got her wish, I may have to borrow said wand and magically transform this rotten evidence that proves my home is full of boys.

In the meantime, I'm tempted to send them outside with the dog. However, one of my other jobs today was to perform the PRM (poop reconnaissance mission - yes, just another joyful aspect of my glorious life). After filling an entire bucket, I'm back to day-dreaming about possible solutions for the boy's bathroom habits. Maybe someone could invent a toilet with a tube attached to the side. When a person of the male persuasion needs to urinate, they merely detach the tube and insert those mis-firing guns! Really, it is the 21st century! Somebody's gotta figure this out soon. Please!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February Funk

I can't seem to shake the post-holidays funk. Life goes back to the hum-drums and I feel tired and low. My mother is having kidney stone surgery tomorrow and I am wishing I could just jet off and visit her, down there in sunny Florida. (I mean, really, those boys could stay by themselves for a few days, couldn't they???? It's not like when I go to take a ten minute shower, I come out to find them dragging a dirty sled in off the patio, through the house and towards the basement steps so they can sled down the stairs. Oh wait ... it IS like that around here. Drats!)

My older brother is in London, England, doing an 8 week course at The Salvation Army's International College for Officers. This is where I spent half a year working as a domestic, shortly after graduating from college. I have so many wonderful memories of my times there and I cannot stop thinking about my brother enjoying all of those blessings. I have been wanting to send him a letter or a package (I was thinking he might enjoy receiving In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson, highly recommended by my friend, Bob Hostetler). But then I begin to think, "awww, he wouldn't even really care and besides they probably have his schedule booked solid, leaving no time for extraneous books." Someday I should write a post about the time I sent a care package to my other older brother.

For tonight, all I can muster is a February funk. The snow remains on the ground. The dog continues to reside with us (despite six enquiries and one visit to meet him). He also continues to bring in all manner of filth every time he goes out to do his duty. Not to mention, he has an ear infection which requires twice daily football-worthy tackles to administer the antibiotic. Hubby continues to rant that the dog has to go. Six more weeks of winter? Curses on you, Puxatawny Phil!