Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Blessing of Relative Calm

Tomorrow will mark two weeks of relative calm. Two weeks! I assured my husband that I would write a post called "Hallelujah Chorus" when the day finally arrived. It came and went. I think I was too suspicious that things might fall through and we'd find ourselves back at square one. Two weeks later, we are fairly certain there is no going back. We are now a pet-free home.

I have watched numerous status updates detailing the agony of losing a beloved pet. Perhaps there is something wrong with me, but I could never really call Harley Dogg a beloved pet. Frankly, he annoyed the bejeebies out of me! So, even though part of me wonders if it will seem callous to internally sing the hallelujah chorus, a bigger part of me is looking around our house and heaving a contented sigh. There are still traces of the dog's existence - the hairs appear even after I have vacuumed and dusted and swept - but their proliferation has ceased. Eventually, say six months from now, the final traces will be gone.

It is the calm that I find most comforting. When we walk in the door, immediate chaos doesn't erupt. In the morning and at night, I don't have to interrupt sleep to attend to the dog's whines for a trip outside, where he would sniff the ground and then infuriate me by heading back inside without even so much as dropping an ounce of what I thought he had to go out there for! No more poop patrol (although we may still find traces of that for a while to come). No more drags around the nearby golfing community with every passerby commiserating on my lack of control. No more trying to block out the sound of his barks on the porch while my husband ate a late dinner and I put the boys to bed. I can now leave food sitting on the counter while I walk to the next room.

I was worried that Sean would miss Harley. Every day that boy loved on that dog. I will never erase the image of Sean curled up against Harley's chest, with Sleepy Bear tucked under one arm and the other arm bent for fingers in the mouth.

It was a young girl who responded to our posters (finally tossing any desire to reclaim even a penny of the money we put out for his purchase). The first day she came she wanted the dog for her parents. We were not surprised when they declared him too big for their tastes. Then, she called again to say that a nurse who works at the hospital with her mother would like to try the dog to see if he gets along with her two other dogs (my brain can't even go there - three dogs????).

I asked Sean if he wanted to say good-bye to the dog, since the dog might not return. He said no. And he hasn't missed the dog one bit.

In fact, I think the only one who misses the dog is my husband. He remarks over and over again, "Well, at least you don't have the dog to deal with any more! Don't you miss him?" Every time, I remind him that I don't.

Of course, there is still boundless chaos here in our home. Especially this week when the boys were home for Spring Break and we were tied down because of bad colds. They argued. They fought. They tore the house apart. But, I didn't have to take them outside in the strange arctic cold (Spring Break? yeah right!). They didn't shed hair all over the laminate flooring. They didn't dig up mole hills.

As for Sean, the other morning when I was still lying in bed, he joined me there and tucked his little head right against my stomach. Moments later, Sleepy Bear was in place and the fingers went to his mouth (oy - we're going to have to battle that habit soon, but it is so sweet that I will hate to see it go). I'm perfectly happy with this arrangement. Those cuddles are mine once again!

I'll take the relative calm. In fact, I'm thanking God daily for the relative calm. May it last a good long time (Trevor's already begging for a snake - yikes).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

This is the first Number One Ladies' Detective Agency novel that I have read with my own eyes. All of the other books in this series, I have experienced through audio books, mostly because I LOVE listening to Lisette Lecat's narration. Indeed, I would have desired to listen to this one as well. I checked out The Double Comfort Safari Club, only to discover that I had missed the 10th book, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. Upon further enquiry, I made the sad discovery that our library does not have book ten in an audio format. Thus, I bit the bullet and read it on my own. Having listened to nine of these books already, I can assure you that I did, indeed, hear Lisette Lecat in my mind, but still stumbled over a few names and locations, unsure how they would be pronounced.

I found myself wondering what it is that attracts me to these books, since in some ways the books are guilty of the very things I recently criticized another book for - things like redundancy and belaboring main points. However, the character of Precious Ramotswe is so finely drawn that it is easy to sit back and allow those redundancies to play out because it is all in keeping with the voice of the story. Every book emphasizes Mma Makutsi's fine accomplishments at the Botswana Secretarial College, reminds us that Mma Ramotswe is rather traditionally built, speaks of Mma Ramotswe's respect for her esteemed father Obed Ramotswe, "who is late," and waxes eloquent about the laudable ways of the old country. Yet, those repetitions are never tedious. They are truly a delight.

I imagine it sort of like a blind person reading the face of an old friend. She reaches up and feels, thinking in her mind, "ah yes, the wide forehead, the over arching nose, the sagging flesh of cheek and the supple lips." That is how I experience these little quirks of the Number One Ladies Detective Agency books. I look forwarding to hearing again about Mma Ramotswe's fondness for red bush tea. In this particular book, I grieved with her for the loss of her tiny white van (another object deeply embedded in the series). I was outraged with Mma Makutsi at the bold underhandedness of Violet Sephotho when she took up a position selling beds in Phuti Radiphuti's Double Comfort Furniture Shop.

At the moment, I am now listening to The Double Comfort Safari Club. Plus, I was thrilled to note that the 12th book in this series has been released, with a title of The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. Now to convince my library to purchase the audio version of the 12th book, so I can once again enjoy Lisette Lecat's fine narration. Whenever there's a new Number One Ladies Detective Agency novel, I'm game!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book Review: Life Without Limits

Ever since we saw a You Tube video of Nick Vujicic, a man born with no arms and no legs, my sons and I have been fascinated by his life and story. Trevor would come to the table and pull his arms behind him, saying, "Look, I'm the guy with no arms and no legs," (excellent opportunity for experimental eating!) or he would lie across his skateboard, as he's seen Nick do in videos, and declare it again. He has been absolutely transfixed by this man and the concept of living without limbs.

What a perfect title for his book, Life Without Limits. A book about a man without limbs living a life without limbs limits! Nick may not have arms and legs, but he has an abundance of confidence in God and a keen ability to draw others into his realm of influence. Who can pull away from a person who has so obviously fought battles that we cannot even dream of. Even my six year old son is able to recognize his strength and wants to align himself with Nick's challenges.

Every one of us can identify with Nick because we all have our individual obstacles in life. Nick challenges his readers to focus on their purpose and a hope for a brighter tomorrow instead of sinking into despair with eyes riveted on today's difficulty. His enthusiasm is encouraging. His persistent message lifts one up above the waves of doubt and despair.

Indeed, I would encourage his publishers to look into offering a "Life Without Limits Calendar" - something that would offer small snippets of Nick's life and message to be consumed on a daily basis. His life is inspiring. His testimony is powerful and effective.

I originally brought home the audio version of this book, but found as I was listening that there were so many passages that I wanted to write down (little sound bites of encouragement). So, when I noticed the library also had the hard back book, I checked that out as well and was pleased to discover it not only afforded me the chance to review his words more thoroughly, but also provided delightful photos of Nick and his family and ministry. The audio has the benefits of his lovely Australian accent and the ability to share his words, but the book holds visual images and opportunity to underline important bits of encouragement (if it is your own copy, of course!) like these:

"If you can't get a miracle, become one!"
"Hope is His gift to us, a window to look through. We cannot know the future He has planned for us. Trust in Him, keep hope in your heart, and even when faced with the worst, do whatever you can to prepare yourself for the best."
"If you can't resolve your own issues, be the solution for someone else."

In the end, I was grateful for having both versions. While listening in the car, my older son heard a snippet that I know he needed to hear. His ears perked up because Nick was discussing weight lifting. Bryce has difficulty accepting failure. Nick told of a fitness instructor who urges lifters to "go to failure" as a way of building up endurance and strength. What a great lesson for my son who thinks he should always succeed and never fail.

While taking Trevor to Awana, we listened to a funny episode of Nick's playground scuffle where an older student tried to beat him up when he was in the first grade. I could practically hear Trevor's little mind visualizing Nick taking on the bully. It was a clear message about allowing fear to motivate you to rise to the occasion.

This little book packs a powerful message and is, indeed (as the sub-title proclaims) "Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life!"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Easy Peasy Tortellini

I'm a fly-by-the-pants kind of girl. I don't wake up in the morning thinking about what we will have for dinner. Most days, I don't think about dinner until about 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. Even then, I might think about it, but decide to think about it again later. Ha!

I was delighted when I discovered this easy and quick recipe for tortellini soup. An added plus? - it has spinach (hubby is thinking I have an iodine deficiency because I'm so often craving spinach these days).

Tomato Tortellini Soup with Spinach

2 tsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2-1/2 c. cheese and spinach tortellini from a 13 oz. bag
6 oz. prewashed spinach
salt and pepper

Heat oil and garlic over medium-high heat in a soup kettle. Add Ital. seasoning, tomatoes, broth and baking soda.

(At this point, I usually call Trevor in so he can watch the chemical reaction as the baking soda meets the acidic tomatoes - pow!)

Bring to a boil. Add tortellini and return to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until almost tender (about 10 minutes). Add spinach and simmer until wilted (2-3 minutes longer). Salt and pepper to taste.
The nutritional information isn't bad either: Per serving: 291 calories; 10g fat; 53 g. carbs; 1380 mg. sodium; 5.7 g. fiber; 18 g. protein.

We sprinkle it with grated Parmesan cheese. This is the third week in a row that I have made this new recipe (from the newspaper, gotta love it). It is actually even better on the second day when the flavors have blended together longer. Yum!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: Hormones: Don't Let Them Ruin Your Life

I requested this book for Christmas because we are pretty sure that whatever is messing up my body these days is related to a hormone imbalance of some sort. When I searched for a graphic for the book cover, I discovered that the author, Dr. Sandra Cabot has written other books that seem to focus on remedying liver toxicity, especially with juice fasting. I'm not sure what I think about all this at this point. We presently have an expensive juicing machine that was passed on to us from a family member and marked "garage sale." I cannot decide if I have it in me to spend more money and time and effort attempting to use this machine and eek out a half cup of juice to drink each day.

Anyway, back to the book. My first observation is that this book was originally published in 1991. I should have paid greater attention to the details instead of jumping on it because the title spoke to my need. I'm pretty sure there are other, more recent, books out there which would provide more comprehensive information about finding hormonal balance for your body.

Of course, I could fully relate to the first few sentences in the introduction:

"Hormones are beyond a doubt the most powerful chemicals in your body. They have the power to be physically and emotionally shattering or they can make you feel wonderfully alive." (What I wouldn't give to feel wonderfully alive again!) "No one wants to live on a series of extreme highs or lows and we don't have to do that anymore because it's now possible to fine-tune your hormones to avoid this 'hormonal seesaw.'"

Dr. Cabot asserts that hormonal imbalances are more common because women are having children "later in life, which leads to a relative deficiency of the hormone progesterone." (That would fit for me.) She also mentions the prevalence of toxic chemicals in our environment and dietary imbalances (too many refined flour products, sugars, hydrogenated oils, etc.).

I found myself underlining the many difficult symptoms I have been experiencing: depression, anxiety, irritability, sudden mood changes, aggression, hostility, panic attacks, fatigue, sleepiness, confusion, reduced concentration, exhaustion, changes in libido, changes in weight, and backaches. I also underlined the nutritional strategies she suggests: things like increased B complex vitamins, Vitamin E, Zinc & selenium, magnesium, and iron. As far as foods go, she suggests avoiding refined carbohydrates and soft drinks, reducing saturated fats and caffeine, and emphasizing whole grains, green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, legumes, nuts, seafood, and high quality protein and calcium combinations.

I completely agree with her comments against synthetic hormone replacement and for natural (bio-identical) hormone replacement. I have tried the creams, which were ineffective for me. I am presently on a natural hormone troche, which dissolves in my mouth. I had been placing it under my tongue, but followed Dr. Cabot's advice to hold it between my upper gum and cheek, in order to avoid the progesterone break down in the liver.

I have noticed, since beginning the troches, that my once heavy periods have gone back to a more normal flow. The hormones do seem to help, but full balance is still clearly a ways off. Plus, I have recently re-entered a battle with lichen sclerosis (the itching which had perplexed many of my doctors for years). I'm wondering if this re-appearance is due to the hormone therapy.

Dr. Cabot provides many stories from women in her practice. She also touches on some topics which I had no use for and skimmed over: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Infertility, acne, hirsutism, contraceptives and surgical sterilisations. I am forever grateful that I did not allow the doctor to perform the tubal ligation he recommended after Sean's birth. With all the difficulties I am experiencing now, that would have only compounded things.

It was beneficial just to read that there are other women out there struggling with similar hormone issues. I am not alone. Plus, the rest of my life will not be plagued with the difficulties I am facing now. For these reasons, any book on hormone imbalances (and how to address this issue) is helpful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Menopausal Monster Lurks

The slumbering monster has awoken. His nap is over and he is ready to feed again. On the outside, all appears normal, but inside of me there is a raging presence that will not go away. He might take a rest, but he always shows up again.

This monster that has taken up residence was uninvited. He is unwelcome, but I cannot find a way to make him pack up and go. I'm feeling as if the doctors are pretty clueless about this whole eviction process as well. All I know is that all is not well. I long to be myself again.

It is definitely a chemical change within. In fact, if there were such a thing as life police, I'm pretty sure they would arrest me for LUI - living under the influence of hormones. Just like the effects of alcohol, my hormones take control and render all my normal capacity for coping null and void. I become a different person.

This morning's experience was case in point. My brain can acknowledge that each of the events were minor setbacks, but to the monster within, they were snacks bulking him up to gigantic proportions until his power threatens to overwhelm me entirely.

My husband had informed me that we needed to take his car to the shop this morning. I was anticipating a quick trip to our nearby shop to drop it off. However, just before we were ready to leave, I overheard my husband tell my youngest that he could eat breakfast when we returned in 45 minutes. This threw me into a panic. I strapped Sean into his seat and ran back inside to grab a cup of milk and a pop tart for him to eat on the way. My husband told me to follow him. I didn't even know where we were going. I discovered also, that I had left behind my cell phone in my last-minute run for Sean's breakfast.

He drove off, but failed to put down his garage door. (We recently had to have one of the two doors replaced and they are now on two different remotes.) My remote for his door was not working. Thus, I had to get out of the van, manually close his door, re-open my door, get back in the van and re-close my garage door. By this time, he was a far pace ahead and I sped off trying to catch up. In the process, Sean's milk spilled all over the floor of the van.

These are the kind of small wrinkles that normally would make little more than a bump in my world. But, when the monster begins to bear his fangs, my reactions are not "normal." Internally, I begin to rage. Full-out anger threatens to bring me to a boiling point. Close on the heels of the anger comes overwhelming despair.

I am wondering whether my husband and children will survive the experience of living with a woman possessed of an inner monster.

I feel as if I should begin introducing myself as if we were in an AA meeting:

"Hi. My name is Wendy and I'm menopausal. I hate my husband. I hate my children. I hate my messy house. I hate cleaning it. I hate my life. My higher power seems to have taken a very long vacation. Now, step aside, before I take a bite out of you!"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: The Seventeen Second Miracle

I'm always up for a book about miracles or something to bring hope and encouragement into my life. The title on this audio book, The Seventeen Second Miracle, literally jumped out at me. Then I noticed that it was written by Jason F. Wright, the author of The Wednesday Letters, a book I read and reviewed two years ago.

It is a wonderful gift to be able to write books that encourage others to live better, recognize life's blessings and make a difference in their world. I do believe Jason Wright has that gift. I also believe he is still refining his story-telling abilities.

I don't want to say that this isn't a great book, because in many ways it is. But, the simple lesson of this story seemed to be drawn out into something far bigger than it warranted. Thus, while listening, I found myself thinking, "All right, already! I get the idea of the seventeen second miracle. Get to the point of how it impacts the characters' lives."

The story begins with a teenager, Rex Conner, working as a lifeguard on a small lake in Virginia. He falls in love with a beautiful girl, whom he nicknames "Sparks" and dubs her younger, imitating sister, "Flick." His life is forever altered by the seventeen seconds when his attention is diverted from the task at hand.

In many situations, tragedy destroys a life. Guilt cripples. Everything unravels. It made me think of similar situations I've read of: a high school teacher near our old home in Illinois, who accidentally failed to drop his infant daughter off at the sitter's house and left her in the car all day; a parent who set the car seat down at the back of their car, strapped their toddler into a car seat within the car and, in a split-second of absent-mindedness, ran over the baby. How does a parent live with the guilt that one moment of failure can create?

In this book, Rex sinks into depression until one random act of kindness reminds him of the power of a moment. Just as failure can reap unexpected tragedy, he learns that intentional living can reap unexpected blessing. He is so changed by the redemption offered in moments of grace that he begins to change his life one seventeen second miracle at a time.

Rex's son, Cole Conner, attempts to pass this legacy on to others as he presents the lesson in a series of classes offered to certain selected high school students. The three students attending his class end up being the heart of the story. Their lives are ripe for instruction, but at times the simple lesson was hammered a bit too rigorously. I believe that a story told well will present a message automatically, without need for over-emphasis.

The lesson itself is valuable and one that, does indeed, bring new life to those who suffer in the face of unbearable tragedy. It made me think of Coleman Larson's family. To this day, two years since he passed away, they continue to seize little opportunities to spread love and compassion in his name. They even have little cards made up to clarify that the act of kindness was done in memory of their beloved son, Coleman.

I found myself recognizing opportunities for seventeen second miracles as well. This week, as I loaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt at Aldi, a woman stood waiting for a cashier to return to the register so she could get change and secure a quarter for the carts. I reached into my pocket and handed her a quarter from my own pocket. An uncomplicated gesture. A seventeen second miracle. So simple that one could easily make it a way of life!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our Reading Pays Off!

I have not been a big fan of summer reading programs lately. There are a few reasons for this. Primarily, they all seem to demand a particular theme be followed. I suppose they are trying to encourage people to stretch their repertoire ... to read books they wouldn't normally select. Perhaps, they just want to package the program in an appealing way. I find that I personally read more when limits are lifted and I can pursue whatever tickles my own fancy. I'm betting that children read more when they are allowed to pursue their own interests, as well.

I was delighted when I discovered that our library was holding a Family Winter Reading program and that it was unstructured. I quickly signed our family up and created an on-line account to begin tracking our minutes. All we had to do was read. Then, we would list our selections and the minutes spent and write a brief review (accessible to other patrons).

For every 100 minutes of accumulated reading time, we were allowed one entry slip to be entered into six different basket options. We put most of our entry slips into the Family Movie Night basket drawing (although Trevor did occasionally beg to put one in each of the six envelopes).

The kids were asked to come to the library once a week to receive a sticker for their reading. At the end of the program, those with six stickers (we only had five, but they counted it as six, since we had clearly participated fully) earned a coupon for a free small curly fries at Arbys and could select one small toy from a toy bin.

On Monday of this week, we received a phone call from the library informing us that our family won the Family Movie Night basket. Yippee!

This is no chintzy prize! It contains 3 popular children's DVDs, plenty of movie snacks (Dots, Sno-Caps, pretzels, carmel corn and popcorn), and two gift certificates equalling $25 (one is for a local video store and one is for the library's book shop - oh, how I love that room).

Obviously, I'm going to read both for myself and to my children regardless of any incentive; reading is its own reward. But still, it is so much fun to see the kids excited about how many minutes we are racking up.

When we informed Bryce, my oldest son, of our win, I tried again to convince him that reading is beneficial. He still shook his head and said "Ne, Ne, Ne, Ne, Ne," in his classic tone and manner. However, he did try to finagle the Arby's coupons from his little brothers (Trevor put his foot down but Sean will probably curry big brother's favor and hand it over).

Actually, the other day Bryce and I were having an interesting discussion about his English class. I expressed my own opinion that I always hated teaching grammar, but loved the literature lessons. He said he is exactly the opposite, enjoying the grammar (which he finds comes quite easily) but hating the literature.

It was the first time I really thought about possible reasons for Bryce's verbal outcries against reading. I think up to this point, I may have assumed that they were merely meant to push my buttons, so to speak. I can accept the fact that he has a more mathematical mind. He loves the rules, the things that can be quantified. I appreciate the rules for helping to get the story out, but the story is the thing I'm after. I guess, I will cut Bryce some slack. I will never understand how he can choose mathematical things over literary things, and I will always feel like he's missing out on a great treasure, but I can thank God for his strengths even when they differ from my own.

In the meantime, I'm thankful that our library gave us such a wonderful opportunity. I'm thrilled that my little boys were motivated by it. I'm ecstatic that we actually took home a prize for doing something I'd be willing to pay to do - READ!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Life Lessons from Minesweeper

It is "all quiet on the Western front" here. My husband took the two little boys to visit Grandma yesterday. Bryce asked to have four friends spend the night. Last night the house was a vibrant buzz of activity. They devoured pizza, played multiple x-boxes simultaneously, played Rock Band, watched Bryce jam on the drums and watched a movie. With the time change, I requested that they go to sleep by 2 a.m. (this morning they can sleep in as long as they need, but their bodies will feel it on Monday morning). I gave in to sleep earlier than that.

Now, they are still sleeping and I have had my coffee. I settled myself down in front of the computer and read my mail (nothing of interest), and visited Facebook (again, nothing of interest). The quiet begged for work on my novel, but oh, refining is such hard work. So, instead I opted for a few games of Minesweeper.

Here are some life (and/or writing) lessons that stand out to me this morning:

1) You just have to jump in.

When I first played Minesweeper many years ago, I would click numerous squares in the hopes of a good start. If I hit a bomb, well I would just start over and hope for better results.

I actually hadn't played Minesweeper in many years, but I recently discovered that our new computer has some wonderful features for the Minesweeper game. I no longer click a bunch of spaces. I usually start with a spot somewhere in the middle and if I'm lucky, it will open up enough clues for me to begin to clear away a path.

So, in Minesweeper, as in life, you never know what results you will reap, but you have to make that first stab and hope for the best. And sometimes, life is good and one step forward brings clues for lots more steps to come.

This morning, I'm recognizing that I've been stalling on the novel revision because I'm paralyzed by the desire for a good start. After failing to win the contest I entered in November with the first 500 words of my novel, I decided that my first 500 words need to be more powerful. But, that desire for an outstanding opening is holding me back from my revision.

It is the same lesson I learned when I first took up the Nanowrimo challenge. Sometimes, it is far better to plunge ahead - not giving in to the concern for perfection - than to stall the engine by waiting for inspiration for the perfect introduction. Indeed, the rest of my novel can be refined while I wait for a better beginning to present itself into my psyche.

2) You can learn from your mistakes.

Again, this new computer offers an option that I have never seen on the Minesweeper game before. If I do, in fact, hit a bomb, the screen lights up with the whole advanced level playing field (16 x 30 squares) and all of the bombs (99) and spaces revealed. However, there are two options provided. You can select "Play again," which will merely enter you into a whole new game and a whole new playing field. Or you can select, "Replay this game."

Oh what fun, when I figured out this was available. Now, I can memorize the playing field and try again. I learn from my mistakes. If I hit a bomb in the lower right corner, I study this section and plant it in my brain. The next time, I start with that very troublesome corner and I mark off those three bombs - two spaces - two bombs - one space - one bomb. It may not mean that I win the game entirely. I mean, when you're searching for 99 bombs, even memorizing one corner of the field doesn't guarantee success. But, it sure gets me closer to success than I was before!

3) Focus on the game at hand.

I'm sure I'm not the best Minesweeper player there ever was. This new game offers a feature that keeps track of your percentage. Right now, I'm at 13%. That means, I only win 13 out of 100 games played. I won't tell you how many games I've played. Let's just say, more than I should have.

My husband can't understand why I waste so much time playing this game the appeal of this game. I don't ever come close to mastering it. I cannot possibly achieve a perfect 100 percent. But, I can strive to win the game at hand. So, I don't worry about the percentage. I just open the game and try to figure out the challenges and puzzles that single game presents. To me, forcing my brain to quickly process the clues and say, "Oh, this must not be a bomb, because this square tells me there is only one bomb and I've already located the one, so the rest of these can be cleared out, leading to new clues," well that's fun.

4) Don't expect to jump to the advanced level on your first introduction to the game. They offer the beginner level for a reason!

My oldest son watched me playing one day and decided to try his hand at the game. He couldn't figure out how I could solve it so quickly (my fastest time on the advanced level is 118 seconds). I explained some of the strategies, but it was still important for him to change to the beginner level. In that level, there are only ten bombs hidden and your chances of solving the puzzle become greater.

My middle son discovered that there is a custom option. He loves to change the dynamics of the game. He will create a playing field that is similar in size to the advanced level, but only place ten bombs in it. Thus, he is practically assured success with the first click.

I guess, if you have to, in life, you could alter your goals to make success more likely. Instead of trying to complete and submit my novel for publishers, I could make my goal to edit two pages of the novel at a time. That would make my efforts almost certain to reap rewards. Two pages! I mean, that's like trying to find ten bombs in a playing field of 999 squares. And, I'm guessing, I might end up pushing myself beyond that simpler goal. I'm guessing, the desire for greater challenge will kick in, and I will actually work harder on more significant goals.

5) Sometimes success or failure reflects more than your efforts alone.

At this point, I'm remembering that my 13% also reflects the number of times my sons may have brought up the game on our computer and made an attempt. I'm not necessarily the only one playing the game in the statistic shown. So perhaps my percentage doesn't accurately reflect my efforts.

I suppose that is a life lesson, too. I mean, when we look at our success or failure, it often is influenced by others around us who are contributing or detracting from our efforts. In the writing world, sometimes our failures are merely the result of bad timing or a glut in the market.

6) Minesweeper can both make you more productive and can ruin your productivity. Balance is the key!

Trevor is really frustrated with my Minesweeper addiction right now. He keeps asking me to go back to playing Spider Solitaire. Ha!

Really, I think what he's trying to tell me is that my mind-numbing-avoidance-of-life-by-playing-computer-games needs to stop. I'm sure I'm not the only one in the world who practices dissociation. I think my struggle with depression makes me especially vulnerable to such dissociation games. I enjoy having my mind numbed into the driven focus of finding bombs, even if it doesn't save the world and it leaves my house messier than some find acceptable.

Therapist Cynthia Henrie says that "dissociation is a wonderful aspect of creativity and imagination." (There! I do it because I am a CREATIVE and IMAGINATIVE individual!) She goes on: "Sometimes creative folks need to enter into the 'twilight zone,' of dissociative states to really set their imagination going." Indeed, I read once of a writer who began every writing session with five games of Free Cell.

The key, of course, is to limit yourself to five games, then plunge into the work before you. Because, as Cynthia admits, "too much of a good thing isn't healthy!" If I spend too long playing Minesweeper, I will reach the end of my life with a low percentage of Minesweeper wins. But, if I can teach myself to limit the games to five or let's say ten (after all, I AM ADDICTED!) then I might actually end up with the low percentage in Minesweeper and a novel ready to send out to possible publishers!

Now, I'm off to play some more Minesweeper apply these life lessons.

Of course, now the boys are up and have been fed breakfast (have you ever fed five teenage boys? Sheesh, they can go through a ton of food!). My next life lesson will be to learn to write over distractions and noise (although, with both the door to the hallway and to the guest room closed, I probably won't hear them at all and the absence of the little boys makes this a prime opportunity for writing)! Hmm - I wonder what computer game could teach that life lesson?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Review: God's Forever Feast

I'm forever grateful for my introduction to Dr. Paul Brand's ministry and writings. I cannot remember if it came via a book suggestion from a friend, a reference to one of his books or through the chapter in Philip Yancey's book, Soul Survivor, where he introduces Dr. Brand as one of a number of people who have influenced his life.

Dr. Paul Brand was a missionary doctor in India who worked to reconstruct body parts for those individuals plagued by leprosy. His work led to a marvelous book called, The Gift Nobody Wants. In that book, he outlines the God-given task of pain and reveals the suffering of lepers, caused by their lack of that blessed function.

I stumbled upon this little book, God's Forever Feast: Letting God Satisfy Your Deepest Hunger, in a thrift store and had to purchase it. Like other books by Dr. Brand, this one is packed with nuggets of truth and glimpses of scientific explanations of God's awe-inspiring ways. As The Gift Nobody Wants, asserted the importance of pain, this book argues that "hunger is a wonderful thing ... it gives us life." He goes on to say that starvation actually deadens the appetite and he reminds us that there is a spiritual application in this truth.

This book is full of typical Brand fare. He outlines so many scientific and natural principles and links these to their corresponding spiritual insights. He discusses the job of the nose, the importance of water's ability to freeze, the ability to find pure water in the midst of pollution, the blessing available in sharing food, and the struggle to allow God to meet our needs and fulfill our hungers.

I loved Chapter 9, as it discussed a talk he gave on piety during Lent when he was in India. With a title of "Unwashed Hands," this chapter discussed a passage in Mark (he was given prescribed readings for the talk) where Jesus was criticized for eating with unwashed hands. He explained the need for absolute care of the hands when waiting to go inside a patient's body for surgery. He focused on two words, "outside" and "inside" and delivered a message about the importance of ministering to a world in need ... a world that is often ripe with contamination. Dr. Brand declares that "true religion demands that the Christian go out into an impure world, bringing the love of Jesus to the most needy" and he asserts that the Holy Spirit protects us from contamination. He writes, "It is the life of the Spirit that keeps us sensitive, minute by minute, to the human needs outside and to our personal need for holiness inside." This was a fascinating and convicting chapter.

In the final chapter of the book, I discovered another illustration that was pure gold. He tells the story of an evangelist named Graham Scroggie who knelt beside a woman struggling with answering God's call for her life. He spoke with her about an interaction in the Bible between Peter and the Lord, where Peter replied "No, Lord." Then he wrote those two words down and placed them in front of her. He said to her, "I think that is what you are trying to say. Now I am going to leave you and go over there to pray for you. I want you to pray too,and then take this pencil and cross out one of those words." This was a powerful lesson to me!

What I love most about Dr. Paul Brand is that he always ministers to my spirit via my intellect. I learn so much about the human body and how it works. I learn the whys and the wherefores behind the simplest acts, like swallowing. And with the knowledge, I am stirred to consider my Creator and to praise and serve Him more fervently.

In Chapter 13, he declares, "All of life tastes better if it is shared." I feel that way about books. When I read a really beneficial, inspiring book, I am stirred by a great need to share. I certainly hope that this review leads to some individual discovering the wealth of scientific and spiritual wisdom in the books of Paul Brand.


Side note: I realize that the title shown on the image drawn from an Amazon listing does not match the title of the book I purchased. Apparently, the book has gone by two different names: The Forever Feast and God's Forever Feast. Similarly, Dr. Brand's book on pain has been released under two different titles: The Gift Nobody Wants and The Gift of Pain. Whatever title you can find them in, they are well worth your time to read!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blessed by Someone Unafraid to Use Her Gifts

There's a message God has been hammering into my brain a lot lately. Sadly, my persistent self-doubts require plenty of hammering action. It is that thought that when I sit back in fear, I am hoarding gifts that God intends to be used for blessing. This morning, I want to recognize someone who clearly taps into her God-given gifts and has blessed me in the process.

Kori was my nurse during my hospital stay after delivering Trevor via c-section. It was certainly my hardest post-surgery recovery out of my 3 c-sections. Although Trevor's birth was the only one that left me deliriously happy (I suffered from post-partum depression with both of the other two boys), it was by far the most painful. The surgery left me with a large quantity of trapped air. Kori, who happened to be a member of my church at that time, but one I had not really met prior to this hospital stay, comforted me and walked the halls with me as I attempted to lessen the painful spasms in my gut.

Kori's spirit shone. She was a smiley, positive presence in my life during those short days and after. She often popped into the church nursery to ask how I was doing. This meant so much to me. Even after our move from DeKalb to this isolated community in Indiana, Kori reached out, inviting me back to DeKalb for my old churh's annual women's retreats. I am grateful to God for the blessing she has been in my life.

Kori somehow manages to produce not one, but three blogs! She recently shared her gifts with the world when she entered The Pioneer Woman's photography contest. Her photo was selected as the winner. It brought back those memories for me of her influence on my life during the first few days of my middle son's entrance into the world.

Cogratulations, Kori! Thanks so much for shining in my world!

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Get By With a Little Help from my Sons

Shots cause me an inordinate amount of anxiety. Of course, I always feel the need to explain my phobia. I prepare nurses with the story of my early childhood trauma, how at the tender age of three I received sixty-four shots within the space of eight days. I pass on my mother's comment that I looked like a human pin cushion. I tell them to brace themselves for my wimpy reaction to the needle they are about to administer.

Last week, my dental visit ended with the dentist proclaiming that I had chipped one of the teeth they had just filled last year. He said they would have to dig out the filling and re-fill that tooth. To be honest, I left wondering if said dentist was being fully honest with me or if he was acting more like a dishonest mechanic, with visions of more income generated from useless procedures.

I poured out my anxiety in a letter to my mother. The thought of another loopy day from the nitrous gas was not pleasant. I wasn't thrilled about the expense, either.

My mother immediately wrote back begging me to take the shot and veto the nitrous gas. She is fully aware of my reactions to shots. She's had to accompany me to a few of these experiences (including one time when both Dawn and I passed out after receiving a shot and our younger brother, Tim, sat on a chair, waiting for us to come to, sucking on his lollipop). However, she urged against the gas because we know of a family in The Salvation Army who took their 16 year old son, Nick, for a routine dental procedure and, after a faulty administration of nitrous gas, Nick has lived the rest of his life in a wheelchair, with paralysis and mental limitations. My mother had visions of the same tragedy striking again.

I replied to her letter, promising her that I would take the shot, despite the anxiety it creates within me. That left me building up to another roller coaster of anxiety and fear.

I fully understand that my fears are unwarranted. I know that psychologically I blow this whole thing out of proportion, but the fears are not dispelled by rational argument. The closer I came to the hour of doom, the more antsy and nervous I became.

My little boys prayed for me last night in their nightly prayers. Then, today, as John acknowledged that I was behaving as if I was going before a firing squad, Trevor scooted off to his art room. Just before I headed out the door to go to my dreaded appointment, Trevor ran up with this drawing and absolutely melted my heart.

If you click on it, you can enlarge it, but basically it is a drawing of himself giving me two helpful reminders: 1) "I love you, Mom" and 2) "Im all ways on your sid."

You know what? The shot didn't even hurt. The nurse heard my anxieties and explanations and promised to slather on an extra large dose of the topical numbing agent before the dentist came in to administer the shot. I didn't even feel a pinch. The hardest thing in the whole appointment was merely holding my mouth open so wide to accomodate the hands and instruments.

And really, that's how it is with so many things in my life. I build up my fears and minimize my reserves for dealing with the challenges. In the end, things are usually not as bad as I feared and I'm more able to cope than I dared to believe.

But, I'm still framing this simple picture. It isn't one of Trevor's best (he's usually far more artistic than this spur of the moment drawing, made as he searched for a way to encourage my spirit), but it is one of his most profound!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Attention, Please!

When Bryce was younger, he had a favorite Mickey Mouse video he used to like to check out from our local library. In it was this video of Goofy camping with his son. As they are bedding down for the night, the son calls out, "Daaadddy, I want a drink of waaatterr." Somehow that line really stuck for us.

Bryce would often use it to call out to me at night, when he was supposed to be going to sleep:

"Moooommmmy, I want a drink of waaatteerrr!"

Really, it just sort of became a mantra that we would toss around from time to time, always using the same influctions as the son in the video (it can be viewed at the 3:55 point in the video).

So, earlier this week, when Trevor called for me, I answered in our familiar sing-song line, yelling back, "Daaaadddy, I need a drink of waatteerr!" (Around here, apparently we percieve wants as needs far too often). I was busily involved in something, as usual. This time, I was on the floor in the hallway, weeding through one of our many children's book shelves for books we could donate to Trevor's school library.

There are numerous times when I'm engrossed in something, though. I get caught up in reviewing Facebook or trying to go through my endless e-mail files. Sometimes, I'm even busy cleaning the house, ha!

But, this time, when he called for me in that endlessly repeated scream for "MOOOMMMMY!", I replied with Goofy's son's famous line, "Daaaddddy, I need a drink of waaaattterrr!"

Trevor replied, "Moooommmmy, I need a drink of ATTENTION!" Too true, son! Too constant and too true!