Friday, September 26, 2008

A Heroic Tale (in which I am the heroine)

Yesterday was so beautiful. I decided to open my windows and turn off the air conditioner to let in a little fresh air. The boys went outside, so I left the back door open so that they could come and go freely (we have child-proof door handles so they can't open the doors on their own). Now, I don't know about other areas of the country, but in East Tennessee the Yellow Jackets are awful right now. They're everywhere. So, one flew in my open door and perched himself in my kitchen.

Like any responsible adult, I panicked. I shooshed my kids back outside (you know, where there aren't any bees) and put the baby upstairs. Then I came back down slowly and quietly as though there was a crouching tiger in my kitchen instead of a half-inch long insect. (Are bees insects? Another question for another day.) Think, think, think. What should I do? I grab the broom and try to urge him to fly back out the open door by waving the broom near him. He takes off flying, and I take off running like a mad woman, waving my broom as I go. Then I realize that I'm no longer following the bee and don't know if it's still inside or hiding somewhere in the house just waiting to catch me off guard and bite my head off. So, I again begin creeping around the downstairs. I spot him buzzing around my kitchen window looking for a crack to escape. WHY, OH WHY ARE BEES SO STUPID? Fly out the giant open door already! That window is not going to magically open up and let you out. FLY OUT THE DOOR. He doesn't. I swear about an hour elapses while I try to think of a new plan, all the while keeping an eye on the bee (who doesn't move from the window). I consider hitting him with the broom, but then I wonder if the short plastic bristles are sturdy enough to kill him. The last thing I want to do is make him mad. I was in the process of making sandwiches when he flew in, and I begin to hope that he'll fly into the open peanut butter jar so I can throw the lid on it and trap him. For a few minutes I consider calling my husband and asking him to come home from work to take care of this problem, but I think better of it. I also briefly consider putting the kids in the car and leaving the house, but I wouldn't want to leave the back door standing open, so I realize that he'll just be here waiting (in an unknown location) when I get back. I consider getting a shoe to smash him with, but that would mean getting awfully close to him and pretty good aim, so I scratch that idea. Obviously the only logical solution is to move. I know when I've been defeated, and Buzzy Buzzington has done it. In desperation I search our pantry for a tool to use when I see the can of bug spray leftover from the time spiders tried to take over our backyard. One shot of the stuff and the bee drops to the ground. I have conquered the beast and taken back my castle.

I'm amazed that I ran around like a mad woman for a good 45 minutes in a complete panic before I finally realized that I had the tools to solve my problem quite literally right in front of me. We do that a lot, don't we? We panic and awfulize and give up, only later to realize that a very logical (and sometimes painfully easy) solution was staring us in the face. We overlook the easy, just sure that only something truly challenging will do. Perhaps the next time I go into battle I'll inventory my ammunition before I panic. But probably not.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Dollar Printed is a Dollar Earned

So, I'm pretty sure I don't understand anything about economics. I took that class as a 2nd semester senior in high school (which means I didn't really pay attention because my mind was already on bigger and better things), and I never took any economics in college. Upon graduation from college, my checkbook was confiscated by my soon-to-be husband due to my poor balancing skills. (Ahem--don't worry about that if you're in my MOPS group. Really, I'm a great financial chair. Really. Really...) Thus ended my consideration of all things financial. When my employer said I should enroll in my 401K, I gave the paperwork to my husband who filled it out and told me to sign on the line and turn it in to HR. When I need to make a purchase, I whip out the trusty American Express and charge it and Mike takes care of it later. I don't actually know my bank card pin number. I'm pretty good at math, but put a dollar sign in front of those numbers and suddenly it's foreign to me. So, if I can't even figure out my personal finances, the chances of my understanding world economics are pretty slim. But how hard can this be? I say, if we are running short on money, print some more. Then stick a few hundreds in everyone's mailbox as a surprise. What's the problem? Maybe I should run for president.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The View from Here

One of my favorite CDs is by a string trio (Mark O'Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer). It's one of the few CDs the boys and I can agree on, so we listen to it often. Many of the songs are so beautiful I probably shouldn't listen to them while driving because I can't not close my eyes to focus on them better. One of my favorites on the CD is by far not the prettiest song on the CD. For most of the song, it's organized chaos. All of the instruments are playing their own melodies, and they don't come together in harmony very often. Then the counter says 3:43 and suddenly the three come together in a final measure that ties the entire song up and always makes me smile. I love this ending so much. Once or twice I have tried to fast forward through the piece and just listen to the end, but it isn't the same. I have to muddle through the chaos of the first 3 minutes and 42 seconds to really appreciate the beautiful unison finish.

It kind of reminds me of this road I like to travel. It's just an ordinary East Tennessee road, winding and hilly, lined with smallish homes and tacky lawn ornaments. But just as you reach the highest hill, suddenly there is a clearing in the trees and you can see forever from way up there. It catches me by surprise every time, even though I've driven that road more times than I can count. It's really beautiful. Now, the view isn't exactly post-card magnificent. I think you can see a McDonald's and a ball field and a busy road. It's not a view that would normally stop traffic. The thing that makes it so spectacular is the fact that it comes as such a surprise at the end of an otherwise boring road.

Today was one of those kinds of days. It was unexpectedly beautiful following what has been a rather blah week. I've been running ragged this week, trying just to get from point A to point B on time. My favorite kinds of days are the ones when my calendar has nothing written in the big white square ("pajama days" as the boys and I call them), and we haven't had a single one in weeks. This morning I had to work at 9:00, and so I had to be out of bed before 7:00 to get there on time. That didn't set this up to be a very good day. But we walked out the door on time, and that was satisfying. It was cool outside today, and that was lovely. And I took the boys to the park where they made a new friend and played hard, and that was what we all needed. The baby took a nice long nap this afternoon (still napping, in fact), so the big boys and I got to do our school work and practice the cello and piano uninterrupted, and that was such a relief. There are some days that you look forward to for weeks or even months, and the pressure for them to live up to your expectations often ruins the greatness of the day. Today was not one of those. This morning I was sitting on the precipice of a wonderful break in our chaos, and I didn't even see it coming. Tomorrow I'm at 0:00 again, but for today, I was at 3:43. The view is breathtaking.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Out with the Old

Our church is undergoing a massive face lift. Our building and grounds folks have been hard at work evaluating what our needs are and how we need to change to meet those needs. I don't envy them at all--what a difficult task! Recently I had the opportunity to view the rough draft of the blueprints. We're adding bathrooms, classrooms, storage spaces, and lots of other goodies to make the building more user-friendly. Oh, and we're getting a new sanctuary. This part makes me a bit sad. You see, in the "old" (current) sanctuary:

in 1996 I was baptized (having been in a Baptist church as a baby, I did not receive the sacrament of baptism as an infant) and confirmed alongside one of my closest friends and became a church member.

in 1998 I gave the sermon during youth Sunday and began to hear God calling me into ministry of some sort.

in 2001 my husband-to-be was baptized and confirmed and became a church member.

in 2003 I walked down the center aisle and married my best friend.

in 2004 my first son was baptized.

in 2005 my second son was baptized.

in 2008 my third son was baptized.

So, my emotional attachment to the sanctuary is not to the 50s chandeliers or the retro stained glass windows. No, my attachment is purely sentimental. The biggest and most important events of my life have occurred in that room. And, let's be honest here, I really envisioned watching my children get confirmed there, watching my sons marry there, watching my grandchildren receive the sacrament of baptism there.

Now, I'm a realistic person. I know that needing a new sanctuary is a sign of growth. We have simply outgrown our current sanctuary, a wonderful problem (especially considering that many churches in our denomination are struggling just to survive). I know that we cannot continue to use this sanctuary forever because we just won't fit there (or worse, we will). And I also know that a church is not bricks and mortar. The great people in my congregation will all show up to move the hymnals to the new sanctuary, cut a ribbon celebrating our first Sunday there, and worship with renewed energy in a bright new place. That's church. I know this. And I know that everyone to be married in our church for years to come (hopefully my sons included) will benefit from losing the harvest gold pew cushions. Yes, it's for the best. New memories will be made in the new sanctuary, and the old ones will be forever burned in my brain. Oh, but change is so hard.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Life's Little Instruction Book

Someone very close to me is having a hard time with life right now. The world has really thrown him some punches in the last couple of weeks, and I don't know what to do. The truth is, there isn't really much I can do. I've offered to be a soft place to fall. My ears are open, my couch is available, and my lips are sealed. But the bottom line is that his heart is breaking, and I can't mend it.

If you know me, you know that I'm a terrible evangelist. It's my personal weakness. Come to church, and I will make you feel welcome. Ask me about God, and I have so much to tell you. But you have to make the first move. I'm just not comfortable meddling in someone's life. I don't doubt that it's the right thing to do. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that we are to spread the Word. Jesus was a life-meddler. Oh, but I just can't do it.

I tell you all this because the person I mentioned who is having a hard time is not a believer. My gut reaction to all his problems is to help him pray about it. You see, the problem this man is experiencing is that he and his wife are unable to forgive each other's faults. It all seems very simple to me. If you do not experience the grace of Jesus Christ in your own life, there is no way that you can extend that grace to someone else. So, I am not surprised that he is having a hard time, but, boy, am I sorry that he is. So, my struggle now is how to relate that message without turning him off. It's times like these that I am glad Christianity came with an instruction book. Now, if only it came with a personal assistant... Prayers, please.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

A prayer offered by my oldest son tonight:

Dear God,
I hope that you are having a good day.
I love you.
I wish that I could play with you every day.
I was thinking of you at supper.
In your name we pray,

Amen to that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Do You Like Them Apples?

It's day 9 of my 30 Days of Nothing--well, almost nothing. Okay, it's been 30 Days of Slightly-Less-Than-Usual. Here are my shortcomings thus far:

1. Ei finally decided to start pooping in the potty. We had promised he could pick what we had for dinner on the day of his first success. He was successful September 2, and he chose McDonald's. Hmmm... We couldn't go back on our promise, so we went. I packed myself a PB&J sandwich, not wanting to break my 30 Days on day 2. The kids didn't seem to notice my meal. They were too wrapped up in chicken sandwiches, apple slices, and Star Wars Happy Meal toys. But aren't we excited that he is making progress?! He is about 50-50 now in terms of successes and--ahem--accidents, and that's great news to me.

2. I made a "quick" trip into McKay's (the used bookstore where I could spend hundreds of dollars without batting an eye) the other day to pick up a couple of books for my exorbitantly long reading list this semester. Since I was child-free (which almost never happens) I decided to poke around a bit to see all the little nooks and crannies I miss when the boys are with me. I found the homeschooling section. I spent $25 on curriculum for my kids in addition to the books I bought for myself (which I do not count as a failure because those are required).

3. Saturday was Ei's birthday. We always go out to eat at the birthday boy's restaurant of choice, so I didn't feel right about telling him he couldn't share in this tradition. He chose Gondolier. I ate a Spinach and Feta calzone and shared the most decadent cake with my family for desert. It was so sinfully good. I should have packed a sandwich, but feta and chocolate are two of my weaknesses.

4. After Jackson's cello lesson we always get a milkshake or Icee or something fun, just the two of us. This is the only time I ever have with just Jackson, and I cherish our Tuesday afternoons. As we were leaving his lesson today he asked if we were going to get a treat. I caved. We bought a $2.50 smoothie. He was so happy.

As I write this I realize that after each goof I feel obligated to explain why I fell off the 30 Days plan. It all boils down to entitlement. I feel entitled to a calzone and cake to celebrate my child's birthday. I feel my child is entitled to a smoothie after he stretches his comfort zone at cello lessons. Mary wrote a great essay about entitlement HERE. And it's so true.

The weekend before I began this challenge, a lady I work with gave me a big box of cooking apples. She said that she couldn't use them all before they went bad and I should take them to prepare for my family. I decided that this was a good opportunity to practice being grateful and using what is given to me, so I set out to make the best use possible of the apples. I made Apple Brown Betty, Apple Crisp, Applesauce baby food, and Rosemary Apple Chicken. I used most of the apples before they finally started to go soft and I threw the rest out. I peeled so many apples that my fingernails turned red from the natural dye. This was kind of fun for the first 5 apples or so. Then I grew weary of the task. I started looking for shortcuts. Maybe I could just partially peel the apples. There are a lot of nutrients in the skin, right? Or I could only use the big apples so I wouldn't have to peel as many. You know what I need? I need one of those apple peeler-corer-slicer deals from The Pampered Chef. Oh, yeah. That would speed up this job. If I'm going to do with nothing, I want to do it with an expensive piece of cooking equipment that I will use only once in my life but feel good about owning because I am the pampered chef. Entitlement. It's a tricky beast.

Monday, September 8, 2008


When Ei was born, Jackson was 13 months old. Obviously he didn't have a huge vocabulary at that age. I kept showing him the baby and saying "Ethan, his name is Ethan," and Jackson would reply, "E-i-e-i-o." And it stuck. 3 years later, he's still our Ei.

Saturday Ei turned 3. It's amazing how quickly time goes by when you're in love. As I did with Jackson, I will share some of the things I love about Ei, in no particular order.

He can talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything. But he can also be quite shy.

He makes baby Aaron laugh every time he plays with him.

He knows the name of every single Bob the Builder car, all the tools in Handy Manny, and has memorized his favorite picture books. But he can't seem to remember where his shoes go.

He can talk for a full 5 minutes without ever saying anything.

He still loves to sit in my lap.

His smile lights up my whole day.

He says he's sorry when he makes a mistake--and means it.

He occasionally says he wants to talk to me, but he doesn't even have anything to talk about. He just wants to talk to his Mama.

He has an imaginary friend named Ranch. He's always got a story about her.

He loves our dog and is very gentle with her.

After Communion he whispers (too loudly), "I want more!"

He gives slobbery kisses freely and often.

He can turn a boring task into a game.

He has two speeds: on and off. He's either loud and moving around or asleep. There is nothing in between.

He always has a song in his head.

He wants everyone else to be as happy as he is.

He never stays in trouble (although he's always getting into trouble) because his smile is so contagious.

He made me realize how much I love surprises.

Ei, your sweet spirit is the most amazing gift. I am so blessed to be your Mama. Every day you give me a reason to smile, and you help me remember to enjoy the journey. In your words, "You're the best!" I love being your mom, and I am so honored to be in your life. Love, Mama

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When Nothing Adds Up to Something

Last year my MOPS group had a great speaker who talked with us about sin. In her talk, she made the point that Satan tells us that we are not satisfied with our lives so that we'll seek out what we're missing. The irony is that in seeking for what's "missing" we actually lose what we already had--a close relationship with God. Our greed takes over and separates us from Him. Sounds a lot like the situation in the Garden of Eden, no? She used a word that buzzed around in my head all summer: contentment. "Be content with your lives," she warned.

And so I set out to be content. It lasted about 2 hours. Then I drove home and saw that my neighbor had hired a professional landscaper, and her yard looked awesome. Oooh...I want that too. Then I opened the refrigerator and discovered that I had all the ingredients for a perfectly nice chicken dinner but lacked the motivation to put it together, so I took my family out to dinner, where we ordered chicken much like what I was going to prepare but a lot more expensive. And so went the summer.

A couple of weeks ago my minister preached on contentment. It just so happened that it was the first Sunday that my 6 month old baby has ever stayed in the nursery happily for the entire service. I sat uncomfortably in my pew feeling as though he was talking right to me. "You fool, you didn't at all do what you promised yourself you would do," he said--but not in those words.

Then Mary (of wrote about the 30 Days of Nothing. For the month of September she and her family swear off all unnecessary expenses. There are no rules, exactly. The idea is to decide what is necessary to your family. She has her reasons for doing this project, but I won't recap them all here. Go to her site if you want to get the whole scoop. When I first read about it I thought that it sounded interesting, but I had no intention of joining in.

Near the end of August I ran into Target to pick up a few things on our shopping list. You should know that I'm a Target-junkie. I enter with full intentions to buy 1 tube of toothpaste and a box of dish washing soap, and I reach the counter with $72 worth of treasures. Every time. It's a sickness. My kids have discovered the Dollar Zone. It's chock-full of junky toys that, because they only cost $1, Mama will purchase. So, we enter the store and immediately fill our cart with about 9 toys from the Dollar Zone. Then we make our way around the store and eventually end up at the counter with--yes--$70-something worth of items. I swear, I should go on The Price is Right because I can hit that $70-something mark with my eyes closed. But the story doesn't end here. No, I got home and realized that, despite the fact that I brought home approximately $50 in things that were NOT on the list, I managed to miss one necessary item that was ON the list. So, we head back to Target, mere hours from our last trip. But I'm no dummy. I knew my husband would not be pleased with two big receipts from Target in one day, and I also knew that my kids would not willingly leave the store without their precious Dollar Zone toys (never mind that I already bought every one that they wanted that morning). So, I had a chat with them in the car on the way there. "We are NOT buying toys this time. We just bought some this morning. We are NOT buying a slushy or popcorn. We are NOT buying candy in the checkout aisle." Whine, whine, whine. Well, at least we're clear on the rules. We enter. And it starts. Can-we-gets galore. "No, we are not buying another punch balloon simply because you popped yours this afternoon." "No, we are not buying a pretzel, even though your offer to share it with your brother was most noble." "No, we are not buying cat food. We don't even have a cat!" This is out of control. I went home fuming. My children are spoiled brats. How did that happen? I was reminded of exactly how that happened when I got home and tripped over 35 cars, 22 balls, and 3 huge boxes of Lego's all spilled across the floor. They want more because I've taught them to want more. Yikes. We're SO doing the 30 Days of Nothing.

So, for our family, what is necessary? We haven't exactly pinned that down yet. I think that, rather than sitting down and drawing up rules for the month, we'll just play it by ear and see what we decide we need and what we decide we can do without. I feel certain that we'll purchase things that someone else would deem frivolous. My goal here is not deprivation. My goal is for us to become aware of how very well we have been blessed and, hopefully, find some contentment with our lives.

Today we went to the library for story time (as we do every Wednesday) and saw a couple of the boys' friends there. The boys wanted to go to lunch with their friends, but I was firm that we were eating lunch at home today. We made sandwiches and ate on the back porch and then played on their swing set. It was wonderful. And, for just a few minutes, I felt content.