Friday, December 25, 2009

Mary Christmas

You know who I'm thinking about this Christmas day? Mary. Mother of Jesus Mary. I'm thinking about her teen-aged, engaged-to-Joseph self getting a visit from the angel Gabriel. She's scared but the angel tells her not to fear. And then the angel tells Mary that she will give birth to a baby named Jesus.

I like how Mary handles the news. She questions it. How can this be, she wants to know. God made it happen she's told. (My paraphrases on this passage.) I can relate to questioning. I can relate to Mary's need to know the who, what, when, where and why of life.

So the virgin Mary is told she will be the mother of a child who is the Savior of the world. She questions it and gets her answer and then she says this, "Yes I see it all now: I am the Lord's maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say." Luke 1:38 The Message

This response is what sticks with me about Mary. This is the part I really want to relate to, beyond relating to her questioning. I want to relate to Mary's servant spirit, her whatever-You-say attitude. I wish I knew how such a young girl had older woman wisdom.

I'm thinking about Mary today. I'm thinking about how that baby was her child, her boy, her 33 year-old son before He was all of ours. How she cared for Him and loved Him not only as a believer but as His mother. I can't imagine an angel visiting me informing me of such a task. I can't imagine what she saw, what she felt. I can't relate to an ordinary girl being chosen for an extraordinary role and embracing that role knowing her heart would swell and break more than any other human heart. But I will continue to ponder Mary because she inspires me, she makes me think.

Mary was surprised, afraid even, and confused. She questioned. She tried in her human mind to understand God's plans. And then she trusted anyway. She didn't have all the answers but Mary said to God that whatever You've got planned is what I want.

Mary Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is Special

I bought this tiny Nativity scene from a tiny door-to-door salesman. A kid in the neighborhood, fund raiser for school. We've had it for a few years. Zach was about 4 years old the first time I set out this miniature scene. I had taken time to arrange the baby Jesus in the center, flanked by Mary and Joseph and then circled the others around them. I made sure each person was facing baby Jesus even though you wouldn't be able to see their faces. Drives me crazy to see a Nativity scene set up with the people facing out, like they are on stage or something.

But back to Zach and special. After setting it up just perfectly, I went on my way. The next time I passed by the Nativity, I gasped. Someone had flicked the family about, scattered the sheep and roughed up the others. And the angel was missing. I re-set the scene, everyone facing the baby Jesus, and recovered the angel from underneath a chair.

Next time through, same story. Frustrated I re-set the scene and found Zach. "No touching." Whatever.

Repeat this about 70 times and then feel relieved when I say January 1st rolled around and I packed up the mini nativity. Both Zach and I could relax. He could remove "wreck Nativity" from his to-do list and I could remove "fix Nativity" from mine.

Oh but the next Christmas I just had to try again. I'm sure Zach saw it all set up and thought, "Hmmm, I remember this. It's going to be a busy month for me and Mommy." We went round and round, neither of us giving in. Sometimes, if Zach were in a hurry, instead of going piece by piece on the knockdown, he'd just pull the fake snow out from under the whole scene. Done.

A third Christmas and it's deja vu for both of us. Just put it away, you say? But it's cute and I like it. Just punish Zach, you say? But he's cute and I like him.

The photo above is current. I set up the mini Nativity this year, same as the last few years. But something's different this year and I don't mean the R2-D2 beside the angel. Zach hasn't touched one single piece. Not one. The Nativity scene just sits there undisturbed with all the people facing in the right direction.

I'm sad. The routine of me setting up the scene and Zach knocking it down is no more. He's grown out of it. I should be proud of his self-control, his understanding, his development and I am but our routine was special. He is special. This memory is special.

Maybe just once for old times' sake, Zach will wheel by the Nativity and give the snow a quick yank. Just for kicks, for laughs. Just to say, "Hey Mommy, remember all those times I messed this up and you fixed it?"

Yes I remember.

Our resident Star Wars fan slipped R2-D2 into the scene (and faced him in the right direction.) Although I can't explain how I know, I know it wasn't done in sarcasm. My disclaimer. Didn't want to give the impression that we mock the Nativity around here. We don't.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Update

There you have it. Our fully grown Chia Christmas tree. Not exactly what I was expecting. But the star is really pretty, don't you think?

I'm not sure what happened. I read and re-read the instructions. I did all that I was required to do and yet the outcome was not as anticipated. There are bare spots up top and a furry trunk below. The growth is uneven and unruly.

I'm not disappointed though. It was a new experience. And if I really wanted to try this again, there are more seeds in the packet. Simply pull off the old growth and start the process again, Chia claims.

I think I'll pass. The future of our Chia tree is unknown but if it starts smelling stronger than it does now, its days are numbered. That's right, the Chia smells and I don't mean like a breath of Mother Nature.

So if you're still wondering if the Chia Christmas tree would be a great gift for someone you love, consider what I've written and take a second look at the photo above.

I said in my earlier post that the Chia is many things but it is not inspiring. Maybe that's not exactly true. Expecting one thing and getting another but being OK with the outcome is a good lesson to learn any way you can learn it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Photo evidence to support Tuesday's tale of childhood Christmases.

Evidence of my first Christmas and my parent's first bleary-eyed Christmas.

Evidence of my chunky monkeyness. 11 months old in this photo. Does that horsey have a strained look on his face?

Evidence of the sardine sisters. Middle sister Chantel on the left. Always sweet-looking. Baby sister Amy (A.K.A. Renee') in the middle. Always looks like she's up to something. And me on the right proudly displaying the Christmas tree I made for my room from a bare branch.

Evidence that our mother really did let us sit on the counter and make a big mess of cookies. Also, evidence that I have always had a big mouth.

Evidence of the Sears store Santa to whom I am related. I believe this was the year I asked Santa for a make-over.

Evidence of a cherished memory. See those girls clutching the rails? The only people in the photo not skating? The ones all decked out in the latest fashions? My sisters and I at the Dallas Galleria mall after Christmas. Dad would put cash in our stockings and we all five would drive to the big city, stay in a deluxe hotel and shop the malls. We'd eat the fancy Sunday brunch at the Hyatt hotel near Reunion arena. Dad paid too much and we ate too little but he wanted us to know how to act at nice places. I hope we behaved.

Cannot resist pointing out Amy's two tone jeans. Dark denim coming and light denim going. When are those coming back?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Santa Didn't Stick

Warning: spoiler alert! If you "believe", DO NOT READ!

Still with me? Ok then. I can't remember believing in Santa Claus, ever. I am certain that when I was very, very little I did believe in Santa, flying reindeer and entrances via chimneys. But at the ripe old age of 6, I had it all figured out.

I'm a first-born, smarty pants, practical, no-nonsense kind of girl. Was then and am now. I'd seen the globe and heard the stories of Santa visiting all the houses around the world in one night and it didn't make sense to me. Impossible. Magic you say? I don't believe in magic. Logically, Santa couldn't do what everyone was claiming. And the North Pole? Come on! A toy shop manned by elves? Reindeer training camp? I'm sorry, I couldn't buy it.

So I had my suspicions and then they were confirmed one Christmas Eve decades ago. My sisters and I were snuggled (cute word for packed like pajamed sardines) in one bed. This was a Christmas tradition. Sweet isn't it? I'm sure my parents had an ulterior motive when suggesting this sweetness. Easier to watch one bedroom door than three. Secrets must be kept from the children. Surprises must wait until dawn.

I couldn't sleep. My sisters could. So I stared at the ceiling and wondered what the morning would bring and that's when I heard sounds. Noises. Voices. Familiar voices. I figured out quick as a flash that my mommy and daddy were Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

It wasn't a sad revelation. It only confirmed what I had already thought. Santa isn't real. The sleigh, the sack, the wishes coming true. None of it was real. I fell asleep quickly. I could relax. No fear that Santa would pass by our house because I had been naughty, I knew my parents had pulled through.

I played along the next morning and the next year and the next. I didn't dare admit my disbelief. Although Santa wasn't real, presents were and I wanted them. No Santa, no presents. Know Santa, know presents. I remember those Christmas Eves of pretending to sleep for my sisters' sake but listening to the ruckus just outside the bedroom door. I heard the metal clanging of a new swing set being forced into the frozen ground. I knew that when the phone rang, it was an aunt or uncle coordinating pick ups of gifts hidden at our house and vice versa. For hours there would be sounds of doors closing, cars starting and cardboard ripping. Finally, silence. They were done. I waited as long as I could and then eased myself from the sardine tin, silently opened the door and crept down the hall. I always had the first peek of Christmas.

My parents knocked themselves out at Christmas. They assembled and arranged, they wrapped and displayed. My mother wrapped our Santa gifts in paper not seen on any other presents. She'd saved a roll just for Santa's presents. She wrote our names in Claus-like cursive on special tags. Mom went to great lengths to grant every wish, to wrap those wishes up beautifully and to make Christmas morning magical.

In time, my two sisters figured out that Mom and Dad were Santa. We confessed to Mom that we knew Santa wasn't real. I suppose most mothers are a bit sad when they realize their children are growing up and they are too big and too bright to believe. But my mother is not most mothers and I offer that as a compliment. I recall her saying something like, "Good, I was tired of Santa getting all the credit."

We asked if she would hold back a few special presents and put them out for us, like Santa would, and she agreed. I'm realizing now that maybe it's not that we loved Santa, it's that we loved surprises. One year, our family was up late on Christmas Eve, talking and telling stories, unaware of the midnight hour. My mom finally said, "If y'all want me to do Santa Claus then y'all need to go to bed. I'm tired." We scattered like mice to our respectable bedrooms, physically too big to squeeze into a single bed any longer.

I'm a big girl now with two boys of my own. Two boys who expect Santa Claus to visit our house in the late hours of the 24th (or the wee hours of the 25th, depends on what time those two boys go to bed.) I say two boys who expect but I really can't speak for Zach. We've not sold him on Santa. We're still trying to sell Zach on our world, why would we confuse him with make-believe. Jake, on the other hand, is either gullible enough to believe or savvy enough to pretend (like his mother did.)

I play Santa Claus like my mom did. I buy a special roll of wrapping paper and keep it back just for Santa's presents. I write names in Claus cursive and use fancy ribbon to attach the tags. Action Andy assembles and I arrange and we make it magical. But while I do this, I think back to what made my childhood Christmases so special and it was never Santa.

It was sitting on the kitchen counter with my sisters making a big batch of roll out sugar cookies and an even bigger mess. It was sitting on my older cousin's knee, er, I mean Santa's knee, at the Sears Catalog shop and trying not to laugh. It was clutching a candle at the Christmas Eve service, singing all 4 verses of Silent Night and holding back the tears. It was a huge Christmas Eve dinner at Ma and Pa's house with all the aunts, uncles and cousins. It was wondering how a bunch of grown-ups could take so long to eat a meal when my cousins and I were circling the pile of presents like sharks.

It was going home, getting pajamas on and begging to open one, just one, present before bedtime. It was Mom giving in but insisting on choosing the one gift. We opened toothbrush holders. It was Christmas morning with bleary-eyed parents feigning surprise as their children opened gifts from so called-Santa. It was smiling at the Wal-mart price tags Santa sometimes left on those presents.

It was a Christmas day nap at 9 a.m and then a big breakfast. It was loading up in the suburban and driving around town. Stopping by the homes of friends and family unannounced, barging through unlocked back doors, anxious to see what they'd found under their tree.

It was the Nativity scene we set out every year. The one with the gray moss on the top of the stable. The one with a ceramic baby Jesus. The one that reminded me of a truly magical night thousands of years ago. It was the good will toward men I saw in my parents' actions on Christmas and all the days before and after.

As I plan Christmas for my own family I wonder what my boys will remember. Will it be the Lego sets and the snow globes? Maybe the Nerf arsenal Action Andy has acquired? Could it be the cool Crocs I scored at the mall today? Will they recall the candlelight services we attended, the beautiful Nativity scene we inherited from Andy's grandmother? How we danced to O Come Let Us Adore Him on a stage that is our kitchen floor? I don't know. As parents we shop for memory-making items and we plan for magical moments but it's a gamble knowing what sticks.

I don't believe in Santa but I do believe in a baby. I believe the baby grew up and did something almost unbelievable. And I believe my dad celebrates Christmas every year with the birthday boy Himself while we celebrate here.

Thanks Mom and Dad for all those Christmases. Thanks for the memories that I recall and for all the presents I can't. And thanks for beliefs that stick.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Feast your eyes on nature in the making. That, dear readers, is a Chia Christmas tree in its infant stages.

Zach received this Chia tree as a birthday gift. At first glance I'd thought wow, a Chia Pet, wait it's a Christmas tree, huh? A closer look revealed that the Chia kit included a light up star for the top of the tree and the star continually changes color. Again wow, but this time it was because a little classmate had given Zach the perfect gift. Not only does he love Christmas trees, but he love loves stars and he love love loves stars that change color. I kid you not.

Zach was not interested in the "planting" of the Chia Christmas tree so Jake and I tackled it without him. Possibly easier that way. Because I am a rule-follower, I read through twice the enclosed instructions on growing the Chia. The Chia and the seeds, separately but simultaneously, were soaked in water for one hour. Then the gooey seed paste was carefully applied by hand to the tree. Jake did his best and then I had to come after him and re-smooth the seed paste. Because I am that way. And the directions clearly stated to "take care not to clump seeds."

We placed the Chia tree in the provided drip tray and filled the tree with water. Done. But then I noticed that some seeds had slipped onto the trunk area. Hmmm. What to do? I checked the directions again. No mention of wiping seeds from the trunk. Should I attempt to clean off these runaway seeds? The runaway seeds that were beginning to CLUMP. I decided to leave well enough alone. The drip tray had started living up to its name and I feared making a mess of the trunk and disturbing the other seeds.

Ok, so on to the star topper for the Chia tree! Another hmmm. If I place the star wand in the tree opening, then it will be in water. Drat. The tree is not the same without the cool star but I can't risk the wand in the water. Maybe we'll do the star when the tree is grown. That is, if we don't lose the star wand before the tree is grown.

I'm thinking that the Chia tree was the perfect gift for Zach but not for a slightly obsessive-compulsive, rule-following, recovering perfectionist like me. I'm not sure I can handle the pressure of the tree.

So now we watch and wait. Daily I am observing the Chia, looking for signs of life. Already, those signs are there. Tiny sprouts shooting from tiny seeds. Clinging to the terra cotta tree, trying to grow green and lush in 2-3 weeks' time.

I hope you haven't read this far waiting for insight or at least a clever analogy. The Chia is many things but it is not inspirational. I'm just wondering how much interest our Chia tree will generate and if you all will be checking back for growth updates. And if you will be anxiously awaiting a posted photo of the full-grown Chia tree topped with the color-changing star.

So, will you be following the Chia tree's progress? Will you be adding a Chia tree to your wish list?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Dialing for Dollars

Chances of winning money while you are eating dinner at home are pretty slim. Still there was a chance and that's why my dad tuned to the local evening news during dinner. My teen-aged sisters and I circled round the big kitchen table. Mom had made fried chicken or spaghetti or chicken and rice casserole. Dad took his reserved seat and we said a quick prayer. If we'd timed everything just right, the local news was nearly over and Wheel of Fortune was on its heels.

Let me point out that having a TV in the dining area was against much of what our family believed in. But the lure of easy money was hard to resist. Each evening, at the end of the local news broadcast, a gifted anchorman named Darrell Rebouche reeled us in with his Dialing for Dollars segment. My dad loved watching Darrell Rebouche and he especially enjoyed the Dialing for Dollars part of the broadcast.

Here's how Dialing for Dollars worked. Earlier in the broadcast, that night's jackpot amount would be revealed. At the end of the broadcast, Darrell would flip through an actual phone book and randomly place his finger on a name. Without divulging the name or number, Darrell made a call to that home in hopes of reaching someone who knew the jackpot amount. If the correct amount was given, we'd have a winner!

We watched Darrell dial for dollars every night we ate at home. We watched as he flipped open that phone book knowing if he opened it to the back someone whose last name began with M or greater would be called. Not us. If he opened it near the front, well let's just say there was a hint of possibility in the air. Some nights we'd tuned in too late and didn't know the jackpot amount. Oh please Darrell, do not call tonight. Try tomorrow. We'll be sure to watch earlier.

Darrell would place the call and we'd listen as the phone rang, amplified for all to hear by the studio's speakers. Most of the time he got someone on the line. Some people were stunned to "be" on television and couldn't pull off an answer. Others were skeptical and didn't play along. Sometimes the phone rang and rang and then Darrell had to hang up. This was always so disappointing to see, knowing that a fellow citizen had missed an opportunity to win money. Occasionally Darrell managed to call someone who could coherently answer the question and win the jackpot. And oh was it exciting when someone won. Even though the jackpots were small (I"m recalling in the hundreds), winning anything can feel so big.

I kid you not when I say that one night during the Dialing segment, our phone rang. We 5 sat straight up in our seats, forks mid-air, big-eyed. Could it be? Is this it? Is this our big payoff for being relatively loyal viewers of this newscast?

It wasn't Darrell. How disappointing. I really think there should have been a town-wide ban against phone calls during the Dialing for Dollars segment. The nerve of someone to place a call and get hopes up. The absolute nerve.

We never received a call from Darrell Rebouche but it was good, clean fun wishing he would pick our phone number and give us a ring. We wanted to be winners. Still our family didn't wallow in self-pity for long. There was always Wheel of Fortune to lift our spirits and challenge our minds and imaginations. Calling out letters between bites, chanting "big money, big money" as the wheel spun, solving the puzzle first and showing off, admiring Vanna's dress and hair and wondering what it's like to be on TV and of course dreaming about spending that prize money or going on those exotic trips.

We never won the big money but I've got a big memory of my family around the dinner table, all five of us healthy and content, laughing, sharing and hoping. A scene I couldn't recreate today because we are no longer a party of five. But I've got the memory and that's worth more than Darrell's jackpots, more than anything.

A Google search led me to Darrell and here's how he remembered it. Darrell calls it Dialing for Thousands. I don't remember the "Thousands" part. I also don't remember needing to know the clue AND the jackpot amount. I guess Darrell would know, it was his show after all.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Targets and Bull's Eyes

Saturday night the boys were occupied for a two-hour Christmas party sponsored by the YMCA so Andy and I had ourselves a date! Dinner and a movie? Not enough time. Just dinner? Nah. Get some Christmas shopping done at Target? Yes.

Over a week ago I sat down to make my gift list. I had notes to organize, ideas to jot down, shopping trips to plan. Because I am over-organized, I had 3 years of gift list history to look over. This would allow me to make my 2009 list based on who we'd bought for in past years and what we'd given.

But a few other things came up and I didn't get that fancy list made. The list and many other tasks had fallen by the wayside. Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day for all of my projects and lists.

On the way to Target, I glance over last year's list and throw together this year's. Done in 3 minutes. Andy and I enter the store and he drives the cart so I can manage the list. Thirty seconds into our limited-time shopping trip, I'm thrown off course by the dollar section (See Spot Save) and and wave at Andy to stop. But he doesn't stop. Shakes me off. We don't need dollar stuff.

Based on past history, I cannot get past the dollar section without perusing the offerings, marveling at what a dollar buys, placing items in my cart and then re-shelving them all because I really needed nothing. An excellent use of time.

He heads to the boy's clothing section to select pants and shirts for our angels, the boys we're giving gifts to through the Angel Tree program at church. I call out the sizes and Andy chooses pants and then hoodies. I suggest we get button-down shirts as well and he tosses two into the cart. Next.

Left alone, I would have systematically weaved my cart throughout this entire department checking out everything from outerwear to underwear. Do my boys need new PJ's? I could pick those up here and save a trip to the mall which will save time and I am all about saving time. Oh wait, I'm supposed to be shopping for angel clothes.

The angels requested outdoor toys and cars. Andy wheels around to the Nascar section and carefully yet quickly chooses a few race cars. He questions the outdoor toy request, wanting to know what that means. I don't know but I think maybe balls or rockets or Nerf guns. Andy disappears for 5 minutes and then adds a football and a basketball to the cart for the angel and a set of Nerf guns for our nephews. The board game I had selected for said nephews is placed back onto the shelf.

I scan the list. I call out more items. Action Andy delivers. We are tackling the toy department in record time. He sees that our work here is almost done and leaves me to search for a snack. Within seconds I slip into my lone shopper mode. Without Andy holding me accountable I find myself in the shoe department looking for rain boots then over to housewares to scope out the newest dish towels. Then I mosey through the DVD section and finally arrive at the wrapping paper area via a detour through the trim-a-tree area.

I am stumped selecting appropriate wrapping paper. I wanted a solid red roll and a solid green roll. Found one red roll but a no-can-do on that green roll. A red and white print will have to do. I search for a third roll that says classic yet childish and find it amidst the garish and plentiful rolls of bright green, hot pink and electric blue. Since when is wrapping paper so tacky?

On to the gift tag section and do I go stickers or hang tags? My cell phone rings. Action Andy is ready to go. Wants to know what is taking me so long. I grab the hang tags and then toss a hastily-chosen spool of ribbon in the cart. Picking up speed I race to the front of the store passing by a handful of departments I cannot visit this trip but will come back for soon. Oh, I did make a very brief stop for amaryllis bulbs in galvanized buckets.

Andy meets me at the check-out and begins placing items on the belt. I scan the list. We've done pretty well in 70 minutes' time and in one store. This would have taken me days to accomplish. Me, Miss Organized, Miss I-Am-So-Efficient.

Almost done and Action Andy asks the cashier to bag his beef jerky and Coke Zero separately from the other items. He wants to have his snack in the car. Worked up an appetite shopping. I walk beside him as he pushes the cart brimming with red and white bags to the car. "We got a lot done, don't you think?"

Yes we, I me you, did. I watch him as he drives away from Target, snacking on beef jerky, undoubtedly feeling a sense of accomplishment. I thought about the differences in our shopping styles and I was a bit jealous that I'm not more like him. Andy saw the target(Target) and hit a bull's eye.

Maybe I can learn a thing or two about time management from Action Andy. Maybe obsessing over my various lists is counter-productive. Maybe I am too scattered in my thinking. Maybe I try to do too much. Maybe I have some room for improvement. Is it possible that I don't know it all and my way isn't the only way? Bull's eye.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Parenting Tip: Candy for Breakfast is a No-No

It is important that your child eat a healthy breakfast every morning. It is the most important meal of the day. Children should never be sent off to school without a balanced breakfast in their tummies. Teachers are well aware of the parents who fail to feed their kids a good breakfast. Sugar highs and subsequent crashes do not bode well for success in the classroom. Remember, breakfast is brain food.

Kit Kats are not acceptable breakfast foods. If you discover that your precious child has fixed himself a big bowl of bite-sized Kit Kats for breakfast, you as the responsible parent must act quickly.

Remove the bowl and seize this teachable moment. State that candy is not good for breakfast. Explain the difference between complex and simple sugars. Praise whole grains and proteins. Offer three delicious alternatives to the candy. Your child will smile and thank you.


When the little sugar hog isn't looking, swipe most of the Kit Kats from the bowl and hide them in a drawer. DO NOT remove all the Kit Kats at once. This will arouse suspicion. The child must think he has eaten the Kit Kats and doesn't remember doing so. Place healthy cereal (wipout milk) in a Zip-Lock bag and give it to the child on the car ride to school. Hopefully, the whole grains will "soak up" some of that sugar before the tardy bell rings.

Back home, dispose of the offending candies so this episode is not repeated. But don't throw the Kit Kats away, eat them yourself. Feel no guilt, you are helping your child. You are a great parent.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm Thankful for Corrective Lenses

Today is a day for giving thanks. A day to stop for a moment and count your blessings. I'm thankful for family, friends, my home and my health. All good answers. Stock replies to the question du jour. But there is one thing that trumps the list. One answer that makes the others more meaningful. What I am most thankful for are my corrective lenses, the ones that give me better vision.

Several years ago circumstances were such that my vision was clouded. Some days it was so blurry I couldn't see straight. Closing my eyes didn't help much. My mind kept playing the scenes I had tried not to see. After months of poor vision I pieced together a prayer. Something like, "God please, please give me a glimpse. Let me see some of what You see. Help me understand."

And He let me see. Just a little here and there. Just enough to know that things aren't always as they seem. Through His eyes I see the miracle of typical development and the majesty of difference. With His vision, I see how truth and reality aren't the same but they co-exist. Courtesy of God's corrective lenses I see the temporary circumstances as they weave through the permanence of a soul. And because He allowed me to peek into the future, I was privy to a vision. A vision that was as real as today, a vision I cannot be convinced of otherwise.

There are many things I didn't see coming. There are a handful I did. There are things He knows that He is not showing. I will look to Him anyway. I am more than ok with my improved vision, my new perspective, even if it's partial. If hindsight is 20/20, perfect vision, then what is the value of a tiny bit of God's foresight?

So if I put on my glasses and look back over my list of family, friends, home and health, I see a family that saves me from selfishness, friends who honor me with their time and trust, a home that goes wherever I do and health that makes my numbered days feel endless.

On this Thanksgiving Day, how is your vision?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wasn't-My-Fault Wednesdays

On Wednesdays the boys bring home folders brimming with graded papers, important notes and the dreaded behavior charts. Jake's chart is printed on yellow card stock so it's referred to as the yellow card.

Two Wednesdays ago the yellow card tattled that Ms.B discovered unfinished papers in Jake's desk. This prompted her to write "very disappointed" on the yellow card. I, too, was disappointed since that is the current method of discipline I'm using. The I'm-so-disappointed-guilt-trip method. Jake explained that it wasn't his fault that those papers were crammed into the dark corners of his desk. He didn't know Ms. B wanted those turned in. I saw his point. Really, how often do teachers assign work and expect students to complete it and turn it in?

Last Wednesday Jake slinked up to me after school and complained of a stomach ache and oh, his head too. I lovingly touched his blond locks. Could it be the start of swine flu? Regular flu? The common cold? Not enough sleep? Poor eating habits? Where had I gone wrong as his mother?

I kept him close as we walked to the car, carrying his backpack for him. In his weakened state the load of the Wednesday fol...wait a minute. Wednesday folder. Yellow card. I had a hunch about this sudden illness and proved it when I pulled the screaming yellow card from the folder.

Oh my. An S- in conduct. Can't stop talking when the teacher is talking. Disappointed the teacher and now his mother once again. Feeling the guilt in his tummy even before I had served up today's helping. I asked him about the talking.

"But I wasn't talking," he claimed.

"So Ms. B said you were talking but you weren't."


"Why would she mark this on your card?"

"I don't know. I was at their table but I wasn't talking."

"Whose table. Why weren't you at your table?"

"I was just seeing if they needed any help."

"And you could do that without talking?"

"Yes, but she said I was talking and made me go back to my table."

"I think it would be best for you not to be so helpful," I suggested. "What happens if you're caught talking?"

"You get a warning."

"And what about the next time?"

"You miss 10 minutes of recess."

"Did you miss 10 minutes of recess today because of this?"

"No I did not."

Relieved, I said, "Well that's good. I'd hate to know you missed 10 minutes of play because you can't be quiet."

"Well, I didn't miss 10 minutes of recess, I missed 15."

"What? 15!"

"Yeah, the first 10 were because of talking but the extra 5 wasn't my fault. That's when I was trying to help her, you know at the other table? I was seeing if those kids needed help with their work."

"So Ms. B unfairly gave you 5 minutes."

"Yeah, really, it wasn't my fault."

Of course it wasn't sweetie. Those teachers are just so unfair that way, expecting kids to do their work, keep quiet and stay in their seats. I'll have a word with your teacher right away.

I did speak to Ms. B the following day, just to be sure there wasn't anything more to Jake's chatty behavior than chatty behavior. She confirmed that Jake is talkative and friendly and sometimes needs a reminder to listen and do his work. She told me something else too. Something mothers live to hear. She said "Jacob is very polite and he has a big heart. Many children are polite but they don't all know right from wrong or have big hearts."

Jake's off the hook for this Wednesday, no school today. He's in the front yard building a fort with his buddies, not thinking about good behavior. But one week from today will be a different story when Wednesday comes around. We'll look at the yellow chart together and I'll let him know when I'm disappointed. We'll talk about ways he can do better but we'll talk about things he does well too. And I'll be certain to remind him of his big, big heart.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Zachary is 7

Happy birthday Zach.
My how I've grown.

Friday, November 20, 2009

People Hear What They Want to Hear and Zach is No Exception

Last night in the kitchen, "Jake, did you decide to run for secretary or class president?"

"Class president," he responded.

Zach's ears perked up. "Zach's presents?"

"No," I told him, "not Zach's presents, class president."

"Zach's presents?"

Tonight in the kitchen, "Who wants a turkey and cheese sandwich?"

Zach's ears perked up. "Chuck E. Cheese sandwich?"

"No, not Chuck E. Cheese, turkey and cheese."

"I want Chuck E. Cheese sandwich, please"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fairs, Tails and Fairytales

I read to Zach's class this week. I read Angelina and the Princess. If you are not familiar with the Angelina series, that's ok because I am. Angelina is a mouse but also a ballerina. She is English, too. I know this fact because I have heard her voice on DVD. So I read the book to the first grade kiddos but I refrained from using an English accent, although it would have added to the reading.

In Angelina and the Princess, Angelina is too excited to sleep because she and her ballet classmates have been asked to dance for the Princess of Mouseland. Angelina wants to land a lead role in the performance so instead of counting sheep, she practices "far into the night."

So of course she's spent the next morning, headache and a fever, and her mother bans her from ballet school until she is well. But Angelina squeaks, I mean sneaks, out while her mother toils in the kitchen.

At this point I turn to the first graders and raise my eyebrows, "Uh oh, looks like Angelina has made a bad choice." They are big-eyed, they are mesmerized by the thickening plot.

Angelina arrives in time for the tryout but because she is sleep deprived, she botches her routine and is awarded a "smaller part." As in back-up dancer which I'm sure is not what the English would call them but I'm not English, I'm Southern. Big difference.

Angelina drags herself home to find her worried-to-death-yet-knitting mother waiting on her. She doesn't come down too hard on Angelina since Angelina is already sick with low self-esteem. "I danced so badly...I will never be a real ballerina."

The next day Angelina feels better but she's sad. "It's not fair!"

"Maybe not," her mother said gently, "but things don't always go our way. You can still do your best with whatever part you are given, and that will help the whole performance."

It struck me that I used over a thousand words last Thursday to say something very similar. Something like, "You do your best, not because someone else can't, but because you can." Guess the knitting mouse beat me to it. I glance at the kids. Are they hearing the truth in mother mouse's words?

Angelina heard it and scampered off to ballet school. Maybe she could still be a small part of the big performance. So she learns her back-up dancer part but conveniently learns the lead role too. You know, while watching the two lead mice rehearse. Because we all know at this point where this story is going and it is crucial that Angelina just happened to know the lead part as well as her own lesser part. I check with the first graders. I'm not sure they've figured this out yet.

It's the big day and of course one of the star mice tripped and sprained her ankle. Ballerinas are known for their clumsiness. Panic breaks out backstage. Who can do the part? Why Angelina can! Angelina is promoted and the injured mouse scores a plum seat next to the princess for the show.

After the performance the princess thanks Angelina for "saving the show." I close the book and the kids smile. It had all worked out so nicely for Angelina. What a happy ending.

Oh gee. Angelina's mom was right on target with that do your best for the greater good speech but then when Angelina got to do the lead part anyway, I'm afraid the message wasn't the same. How about a version of the story that shows Angelina in the back-up role, grateful she wasn't grounded for life by her mother for sneaking out like she did? How about if Angelina finds more joy in seeing her friend dance the lead part than if she were doing it herself? How about when Angelina says, "It's not fair," her mother replies, "Darling, the fair only comes once a year." Oh wait, that's my dad's line.

Ok I'm done. It's just a book. No need to scare a bunch of unsuspecting first graders with my rants. And we like Angelina, she's cute, she's fun, she's a dancing rodent. But am I the only one who sees the problem with promising kids that if they just do their best, everything will always turn out perfectly?

The moral of the story was lost on Zach. He stopped listening after a few pages. A pop-up book had him cornered. So I won't have to explain, today, how happy endings aren't a guarantee. But if Jake reads this story, which is unlikely (hello? tutu-clad mouse, not cool) I won't stop myself from explaining that sometimes you will do your best, try your hardest, invest your time and heart into something, care more than anyone else about the outcome and yet sometimes it won't work out. It won't seem fair. And it won't be. And then I'll remind him of big, bold God who knows better than even your own mother what role you play. He knows all about the hopes, dreams, heartaches and disappointments. He straightens it all out in the end. He's your fair.

What have you told your children about fair?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Male Box

This makes me smile. It makes me grin. I like this so much I tried to peel it from the back of the mailbox, violating several federal laws, but it wouldn't cooperate. Something about two boys in baseball caps that gets me.

Can't you just hear these two?
"Let's go to your house and play Wii."

"Can't. My dad's watching the game. What about your house?"

"Uh no, my mom said she's tired of looking at me."

"Hey let's climb the mailbox," Leader suggests.

"Better not, might get hurt," warns Follower.

"You're chicken."

"Am not."

"Are too."

And in a suburban Lord of the Flies moment, Leader turns his baseball cap around, the one with his name monogrammed on it, and scales the side of government property. "Hey, you gotta get up here. This is awesome!"

"OK, I'm coming up." Follower struggles with the climb, watching as Leader inches toward the edge.


Maybe it's just me but I find boys fascinating. That fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality, that renegade spirit, that act-now-think-later philosophy. So different from my planned, programmed, sensible existence as a mother. I marvel at the opposite of me.

But if I find my two hoodlums on top of the mailbox in our neighborhood, you can bet I'll march right over there and ruin their fun. "You two get down right now. Have some respect for property. This is unacceptable. You know better than this," and then I'll take their picture. But then I'll shoo them into the house and put the Nintendo DS in time out. Because boys need limits like rivers need banks. The picture, though, would make me grin. Because mothers need sons like oceans need waves.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: The Bus Ride

I was a spry five-year-old the first time I climbed those school bus steps. My mom and little sisters watched me as I bravely boarded the bus and took my seat in the front row. Waving confidently from the window, I hoped to convince them that I was big and that the 45 minute ride to my first day of school was just a means to an end. And it was. I couldn't wait to hit the classroom.

One year later, my sister Chantel would climb those steps with me. She took my place in the front row as I had been promoted back one row. Two years after that baby sister Amy joined us and we all shifted rows. We three girls rode the same school bus for over a decade. Starting with me in 1975 and ending in 1986. The same bus, the same route, quite often the same passengers and always the same driver.

Mrs. Logan was a career bus driver. She took her job of shuttling students between home and school seriously. We respected Mrs. Logan. We felt the heat from our parents if we didn't respect Mrs. Logan. If I strayed from the rules of the bus, Mrs. Logan would come to a stop in front of my house, slide that little side window open and report to my mother exactly what I'd done as I slunk down those stairs.

When I was small and sat up front I was fascinated with Mrs. Logan's skills. The way she shifted those gears, negotiated corners, curves and garbage cans, her perfect timing of rolling to a halt, pushing the red button that flipped the stop sign into position and whipping open the folding door with the silver handle. Amazing.

Soon we were rolling on the long road between small home town and small school town. We kids settled in for the ride and Mrs. Logan checked in with the truckers. "Breaker 1-9 this is Buttons and Bows, copy?" The CB radio buzzed with news of ice on the bridge or a jack-knifed truck up ahead. Mrs. Logan always knew what to expect.

We rode for miles, crossed Black Bayou and then crossed the Red River. Sometimes we'd get stuck creeping behind a cotton trailer. The bolls seeking freedom flew at the bus windshield like summer snow. Mrs. Logan had to decide between being off schedule and attempting to pass on a two lane road. Many times the trailer would pull to the side and let us pass or make the next turn and free the road. But, if she had to, Mrs. Logan could put that bus into gear and pass whatever, whenever.

As I got bigger and my assigned seat moved further from the action up front, I used my travel time to eat breakfast, catch up on homework, study for a test, chat with friends and flirt with boys. Oh and fix my hair and put on more make-up. The bus had a cutting-edge climate control system called windows. On warm mornings the boys wanted the windows down but it blew the girls' hair and we complained. On hot afternoons, we lowered all the windows. My hair would be a mess but no worries, school was over for the day and I had another chance at great hair tomorrow. On cold mornings we huddled together on those stiff bench seats and wrote our names in the frost on the windows. But we were tough, we made it.

The lengthy ride to school was almost enjoyable when Stephen Green brought his boom box along. Mrs. Logan stopped him at the bottom of the stairs. "If I have to tell you to turn that thing down, then it's going off." But she'd smile after she said it. Yes mam, Stephen would reply and strut down the aisle. We listened to cassette tapes, we sang along, we debated over bands, we made requests for the next day. The boom box transformed our bus into a party on wheels. Well, not exactly a party per se, what with the low volume and all but still. You get the picture.

We used most of our energy and words at school getting smarter which made for a calm, quiet ride home. Sure there was time to jump on homework but we could do that the next morning. Afternoons were for reflection, sight-seeing and naps. Mrs. Logan always brought us home safely and mostly on time. I was ever appreciative of days when tractor-trailer traffic had been light and we shaved a few minutes from the drive. On those days I caught all thirty minutes of the Brady Bunch and didn't have to conjure up the opening scene in my head.

When I turned sixteen my dad bought my sisters and me a car. I would now be responsible for getting us to school and back home safely and on time each day. The thought of never riding the bus again was bittersweet. Mrs. Logan had taken good care of us for a decade. But still it was a bus and we were teenagers with important after-school activities like student council, basketball team and cheerleading. It made sense to drive.

One morning we were late. Probably the result of a heavy hand on the snooze button. I tried to make up the difference by speeding over to school. I found myself behind the bus, the one with "Buttons and Bows" painted on the bumper, and I chose to pass it. When I got home late that afternoon, Dad informed me of a phone call from Mrs. Logan. "Those girls are driving too fast. They need to be safe, get to school in one piece." We weren't even on her bus but Mrs. Logan was still taking care of us.

I graduated two years later and Chantel took over the driving. The next year she graduated and for two more years Amy was the lone wolf in the car. All the while, Mrs. Logan was still driving our bus.

We invited Mrs. Logan to our graduations, our weddings, our baby showers. We welcomed her at memorial services too. She was a part of my childhood and has since shifted her way into my adulthood. I won't forget her face, her voice or her CB handle. Because in a small, Southern town your bus driver is never just your bus driver.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mr. Monarch

He swoops in close enough to catch my attention.
Beautiful, colorful, wonderful.
I reach for him but he spins and turns.
Just past my reach, just outside my range.

A second attempt to gently grasp a wing fails.
I watch, I hope.

He comes near and teases.
I coax him with kind words.
Please, please light here a while.
But he cannot be captured in a net of language.

Without warning, he brushes my cheek.
A moment of magic.
And then he is off.
My elusive creature floats away to a world only he knows.

But I still watch. I still hope.
I wait for that conversation with a butterfly.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Over 10 years ago I was working as an interior designer in Phoenix. One afternoon I took a phone call from a potential new client. The woman was expecting her first child and needed help with a window treatment for the baby's nursery. She asked if I could come to her home later that day.

It was typical to meet new clients in their homes but my manager had recently decided our policy needed changing. Not every home visit resulted in a sale or even the possibility of a future sale and the manager decided we should screen customers before investing too much time in them. The new policy meant that potential clients needed to visit us in the store first so we could assess their design needs and get a sense of their intent to purchase. I agreed with the new policy for two reasons: first, I didn't enjoy driving all over Phoenix resulting in dead ends, especially during the scorching summertime, and secondly, my manager had a way about her that made my stomach hurt and I didn't want it to hurt worse.

"I'd love to help you with your baby's nursery. Why don't we schedule a time for you to visit me at our store? I'll show you some of our work and you can give me an idea of what you're looking for. After that, I can schedule an in-home appointment," I explained.

"I really need you to come to my house," she insisted.

I was baffled. I'd given her the I'm-not-coming speech and she was telling me she really needed me to come. "It's very helpful if we start in the store with all the fabrics and samples. We'll narrow it down and then schedule a visit to your house to firm up the details."

"Please, I really need you to come here. I know what I want. It won't take much of your time."

My stomach started to hurt. Manager would not like this at all. I asked the woman where she lived and determined it was a mile from my house. I would have to pass her neighborhood to get to mine. Something told me I needed to make an exception to the new policy. Her voice was persistent but not demanding. She needed me to come over and I felt I needed to go. "Well, you are right down the street from me. How about if I stop by on my way home from work?" I figured the manager couldn't berate me too much if the appointment was on my own time.

I gathered the necessary samples of window coverings and fabrics and hauled them to my car. This was another downside of home appointments, the carrying of multiple materials back and forth. I arrived at the woman's home, loaded my arms with the samples, walked to her door and placed all the samples at my feet so I could ring the bell and professionally greet the client with a handshake.

The door opened and I met my client. She was very pregnant and had no arms. No arms. She had shoulders but no arms. I smiled, introduced myself and collected the samples from the porch. I followed her into the home and down a hallway to the nursery. She had no arms and she was pregnant. I placed the fabrics and samples on the floor of the nursery and she and I sat down. I commented on the cute bedding she'd chosen for her child. We talked about the excitement of having one's first baby. I was still four years away from my first. I looked at the window in question and listened as she described her wants. A fabric would need to be selected and I watched as she navigated the sample books with her foot, flipping through fabrics with her toes as easily as I could with my fingers. We tossed around ideas and it was business as usual.

Except that while I'm talking design, I'm thinking arms. I was amazed at this woman, this very pregnant woman, without arms. And while we were talking about windows what I really wanted to talk about was her. I didn't want to know how she'd lost her arms, I wanted to know how she'd found her way. But I said nothing. This was 10 years ago and I was younger then in more ways than age. Would it be rude to ask questions? Was I supposed to pretend I didn't notice she had no arms? I didn't know what to say so I said nothing.

The woman made her decision and the sale was made. She disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes and then spoke of the deposit check she'd left on the counter. I took it and walked to the door. The woman opened the door for me. My arms were filled with books.


I reached my car, put down the books, fingered for my keys in my tote bag, placed the key in the lock and opened the door. I had never been so aware of my arms in my life. They felt extravagant. They went on for miles and ended in hands with fingers. I didn't know arms could be a luxury. The woman ran through my mind. I knew my meeting with her was not by chance, I knew that, but I couldn't figure out what this meeting meant. Maybe I was supposed to be grateful because "it could be worse" as they say. But that wasn't it. Nothing about the woman warranted sympathy.

I never saw her again. An installer completed the job. I never forgot about her either. A few years later, I caught part of a talk show where she was interviewed about her disability and how she coped. Years passed, careers changed, my boys were born and I forgot her name. I remembered her though. She meant something to me although I wasn't sure what.

In March of this year, my boys participated in Little League opening day. It was a big production of teams and banners. Hundreds of boys, their siblings and parents turned out to kick off a new season of baseball. Jake's team took its turn parading around the field, carrying a banner with their team name and players' names. Action Andy walked with him as assistant coach. I waved at Jake and snapped pictures. His team took their place in the grass and sat to watch the other teams parade by.

Andy left Jake's team to join Zach and walk with him. This was Zach's first season of baseball. He was on the Challenger team, a team of kids with physical disabilities or mental disabilities or both. The Challenger teams would parade in last. Finally I spotted Andy and Zach and their beautiful motley crew of players. Zach was sticking close to his daddy. This was a big crowd of people to navigate.

They found their seats on the grass and I tried to sneak some photos. Zach was holding up pretty well and I didn't want him to see me. Zach tends to hold up well until the sight of Mommy allows him to safely fall apart. There was a ceremonial first pitch and two players were chosen to deliver a pitch each. One player represented the Little League. He walked to the mound and pitched it over the plate, just as expected. The second player represented the Challenger team. He, too, walked to the mound but with the help of arm crutches. When he reached the mound, he eased his way onto the dirt and released his crutches. On his knees, in the dirt, that boy threw a strong pitch right over the plate.

I cheered and cheered and wiped tears. Somewhere in this crowd was a proud mother, a mother who didn't expect her son would play on the Challenger team because no one expects that. But a mother who loves her child with his arm crutches like nothing else. A mother who is used to white baseball pants always being covered in red dirt. A mother who watched hundreds of players walk by on legs that work perfectly but she only had eyes for her boy.


Later that day, Jake's team played a mini-game. Zach's games would start next week. I can't remember exactly what Jake did to get himself into trouble but when we arrived home, a lecture was in order. Andy and I sat with him at the kitchen table and the lecture focused on self-control and doing your best. To make his point Andy brought up the boy who threw the pitch for Challenger. It's natural to use comparisons to illustrate a lesson, to make a point. The it-could-be-worse theory.

In that moment I knew what I had learned from the woman without arms. It had taken over 10 years but I finally got it and not a moment too soon. I looked at Jake and said, "You do your best, not because someone else can't, but because you can."

The woman had taught me this. She had taught me that seeking value in your life by measuring it against someone else's doesn't work. Looking for your purpose in life by sizing up another's won't do it either. This woman, having had more than her share of unfair, taught me that fair doesn't exist. She taught me to do my life with what I have.

The boy who threw the pitch on his knees. The woman without arms. Why is it that the people who do this life best are the same ones who have every reason not to?

Maybe they know what I am now learning and that is God has written a unique story for each of us. Live yours out.

I wondered about the woman and wished I could remember her name for this story. An Internet search turned up her name and some video clips. I kept clicking and searching for a website. I had thought about changing the title of this post, in case it seemed offensive, then I found her website.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If We Were Cookies

"If we were cookies, what kind of cookies would we be?" Andy was caught off guard by my ridiculous question but he couldn't resist. As he thought about it I answered for him, "You would be a Nutter Butter."

"Nutter Butter, why?"

"Because you're tall and sort of the same color as a Nutter Butter and people like Nutter Butters." Also some people are highly allergic to Nutter Butters. This I kept to myself.

He thought about it, "Yeah I like Nutter Butters. What about you? Something nutty."

I was surprised Action Andy continued the silly cookie discussion with me but you try it at home, it's hard to resist comparing yourself to cookies. "Well I'm thinking I'm a Pecan Sandie because I'm Southern and pecans are Southern but the Pecan Sandie is simple too, but a little nutty."

"Yeah, nutty," Andy agreed.

"Jake is a chocolate chip cookie because he is all-American. Chocolate chip cookies are everybody's favorite," I said.

"But he's not just chocolate chip, there's something more." Andy had a point. Our Jake is best-all-around but with flair. We agreed on Rainbow Chocolate Chip for Jake.

Last but not least was Zach. This would be easy. "Teddy Graham," I announced.

"Teddy Graham," Andy repeated. Delicious, irresistible, can't-get-enough-of Teddy Graham.

Tell me about your family of cookies and dare me to send out this family portrait for our Christmas card, too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Daycation at the Dump

"Girls, y'all want to go to the dump?" My daddy's offer had my two sisters and me squealing with excitement.

"Really, can we go, can we go?"

"Go ask Mama."

We found Mama and begged, "Please, Daddy said we could go to the dump, please, please?"

My mother would give us her blessing but warned as we ran back to Daddy, "Don't stand too close to the edge." This was the same advice she'd given us on our family trip to the Grand Canyon.

Three little girls climbed into their daddy's old, blue pick-up truck. We sat up front on the bench seat in a tight row, sans booster seats, five-point harnesses, shoulder belts or air bags. The pick-up's bed held our ticket to the dump. Daddy backed out of the driveway and instructed, "Wave to Mama." She waved back and disappeared inside, grateful for an afternoon's peace.

It took only two minutes to drive through town and reach the road that headed out to the Texas state line. Our destination was just a few miles away but seemed like worlds apart. What a grand adventure, riding in Daddy's truck and participating in the important mission that is taking stuff to the dump. We'd talk a bit or listen to the radio but mostly we just rode and wondered and held our long, tangled hair away from our faces. Daddy rode with the windows down and the whipping air seemed appropriate on this journey. No one needed a/c on the way to the dump.

The truck turned onto the dirt road that led to the dump. Anticipation grew and my sisters and I positioned ourselves for the first view, the first glimpse of that glorious hole in the ground. Similar to how we felt approaching the Grand Canyon.
"Oh, I see it, I see it!" I shouted. The first born in me always had to be first.

Daddy scanned the perimeter, looking for the perfect place in which to unload. After he'd made his choice, he carefully backed the truck to the dump's edge, stopping after we girls became nervous but before we were frightened. My sisters and I filed out of the truck and took our places dangerously close to the edge. I surveyed the awesomeness that is a giant hole filled with junk. Imagine if a meteor composed of retired appliances, worn furniture, dirty mattresses, busted electronics, tired clothes, broken toys and just plain old trash hit the earth traveling at top speed. The result would be my hometown's dump. A crater-sized trash can loaded with must-haves that had been downgraded to don't-wants.

I peered into the vastness, looking over the contents, my young mind taking it all in. Wonder why someone would throw that away? Hey that looks like a good chair. Oh, is that one of those rocking horses you can bounce on? Maybe there were some items worth saving, I thought. You know what they say, "One man's trash is another man's future trash."

I pointed out the possibilities to Daddy. Maybe he could creep down into the dump and score us some treasures. "No, girls, this stuff is trash. There's nothing here worth anything." My dad was right, it's a dump, after all.

Daddy chunked our contribution into the hole and we watched in awe. Our daddy was big and strong and boy could he hurl trash. Soon it was time to load up and make the short drive home. Being little girls though, we drifted off to sleep, worn out from our big adventure and dreamed about our next daycation at the dump.

Action Andy has his own fond memory of the dump. He and a buddy were granted the pleasure of taking old TV sets to the dump to help someone out. They gleefully tossed those televisions into the hole and watched the screens shatter and the picture tubes explode. He told me this story with sparkle in his eyes. Is their anything cooler to a young boy than getting the green light for destruction?

AND THEN Action Andy lamented the fact that our boys have not been to a dump. We have overlooked this rite-of-passage as we raise our boys in the pretty, master- planned suburb we call home. We pay handsome association fees so that we never have to visit the dump but I get the feeling change is coming.

Speech Therapy

This morning I warmed a cinnamon roll in the microwave per Zach's request.

He happily took the plate from me. "Ohh, cimininin roll! Thank you Mommy."

His sweet speech is my therapy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Operation Cessation

Because when you have a child who is special, you need special operations.

Zach started biting his nails last spring. Fine, lots of people bite their nails. But in August he moved from nails to fingertips. Not so fine. Biting fingers is icky. Biting fingers prevents writing which interferes with learning. Biting fingers makes the other kids look at you weird. Biting fingers must cease.

To change an unwanted behavior, one must ascertain the antecedent to the behavior, so the smarty pants theory goes. Control the antecedent, control the behavior. Easy enough but Zach's teachers and I can't figure out what makes Zach bite. Is he stressed, bored, nervous? Does he do it on purpose as an escape from school work? Who knows?

So without knowing exactly why he bites his fingers we're still trying to help him stop. I searched the Internet and decided on a bottle of horrifically-tasting-yet safe-for-children nail polish. The night of its arrival I coated the fingertips and nails of a sleeping and unsuspecting Zach. The next day I watched for signs of disgust, the teachers did as well. Zach knew something was different about those fingertips but it didn't stop him. Maybe he likes the taste of cayenne pepper.

Back to the Internet and this time I loaded my cart with a disgustingly-flavored cream plus a Berenstain Bears book about bad habits to drive the point home. The cream isn't much of a departure from the nail polish however, and this is important, the cream has omega 3 in it which means it heals as it deters. Sold. I was feeling pretty good about these purchases because of the one-two punch. Physically the cream would taste terrible and mentally the book would teach Zach why some habits are bad.

Zach didn't like the Berenstain Bears book. Now maybe if Thomas the Tank Engine had a problem biting his nails, uh, wheels? I guess that wouldn't work. But the cream has been somewhat successful. At bedtime Zach allows me to rub it on his fingertips which renders his hands useless. He very carefully holds his hands out as I tuck the covers around him. I think the omega 3 works too in smoothing the rough edges of skin that taunt him.

The rendered-useless-hands won't work for school so no cream in the morning. At school Zach's wonderful teachers devised a reward system. Minutes spent not biting earn a Thomas sticker. A certain number of stickers can be exchanged for extra time on the computer. This plus the cream is helping. And I say "hands down, no biting" a lot.

Last week was particularly challenging for Zach. A favorite teacher was out for a few days, the weather changed, the moon was full, etc. On Monday he spent lots of time with his fingers and then visited the nurse who bandaged three of them. It made me sad, very sad, to see those wrapped fingers when I picked him up after school. I thought we'd made progress but maybe not so much. This may take a while to conquer.

Any suggestions other than "take him to get a manicure so he can be proud of his nails and won't bite them anymore". I think I'll get the "no, no" from Zach on that one.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Report: Not Quite Ready

In the post My Marathon, I shared how I wrote a book, my first book. It took four long months to type but I finished it. I did it. I hit spell check, made the corrections and then patted myself on the back. Way to go, you're finished!

Not so fast. Before I started writing the book I knew very little (a cousin of nothing) about the publishing world. Let me sum up what I thought I knew about publishing: write a good book, get a publisher, see your book on the shelves and take your picture beside it. Honestly, I kept myself in the dark about the facts of publishing because I didn't want to get discouraged and quit writing before I started. My goal was to write the book and figure everything else out later.

Later is now. Here is what I now know about the big, bad world of publishing and my slim chances of surviving in it. For starters, my book is not finished. It's probably better than a rough draft but not much better than a first draft. It's good, lots of friends and family said so, but they aren't in the publishing world. In that world it has to be great, well-written, relatable yet unique, fit into a genre but offer something new, have an established market yet reach a market that's untapped. Like it has to be the same as other great books but different. Good grief!

After I work my book over and make it great, perfect, best I can do, then I need a literary agent. The agent knows the road to the publishing houses. Now I could send my super-duper book to the publishing houses myself and it would sit unread in the mail rooms. Doesn't sound like a good way to get my book on the shelves for that photo op. So I need an agent and the agent needs authors who wrote incredible stories that the agent wants to represent without pay until a publishing house pays the author who then pays the agent. Easy to see why agents are a selective bunch. Who, except writers, wants to do a load of work for nothing?

The agent will shop my book to the publishers with no guarantees any of them will want to publish it. And while my agent does this, I am allegedly writing my second book. Good grief part two. If a publisher wants my book, I will likely be told it needs work. My perfectly done, best-it-can-ever-be book will need another edit to make it the best, best ever. And then there's other stuff like cover design, layout, marketing plans, etc. This process sounds overwhelming yet I day-dream about being up to my ears in edits on a book that is going to make it.

So back to today. My book needs work. What I thought was really good is really good, at times. But it can be so much better. I have enlisted the help of a friend, a writer friend, to point out the strengths and weaknesses of my book. We're doing this via email and snail mail. I haven't seen this friend for two decades. In fact, the last time we collaborated on a project, we were high school juniors and I had spilled nail polish on the floor during math class. My friend tore paper from his notebook and attempted to soak up the mess. Painting my nails during math class? Yes. Future writers don't need to know math.

I asked my writer friend if the stress I'm feeling is normal. And the doubt, the insecurity, the feeling that what I've written is boring and typical and why am I spending all this time on nothing? He assured me this is all very normal and that what I've written is something. "Why do we do this?" I asked, meaning writing and the attempt to get published. "Because it's fun," he said. Fun? Yeah, it is fun. To work, to learn, to stretch, to wonder, to try.

So when people ask, "How's the book going?" my reply is, "It's not quite ready." But it will be and it's going to be amazing because I know a little bit about same but different. Publishing world look out, here I come! Uh later, not today, just need a little more time, but soon.

Check out that clever poll I added just for this post. Do you have a book in you?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Picture Perfect

You know those blogs where the writer posts beautiful photos and then offers tips on lighting, exposure, speed, etc? This is not one of those blogs.

Monday night Zach and I went to Jake's baseball game. Zach spent a few minutes here and there actually watching the game. He spent much of his time trying not to land in the mud as he repeatedly jumped over a puddle and trying not to fall off the top of the bleachers where he insisted on sitting (when he sat).

I cut him off from the concession stand after he purchased two Kit Kats and ate three. Seems the nice lady working the counter gave Zach a Kit Kat on the house for being such a good customer. There were still innings to play and time to fill so I handed Zach the camera.

He snapped this first picture and showed it to me,"See?"

"Great picture, Zach. Go take some more. Take a picture of Jake."

He went back to the fence and took these three pictures plus others like them and proudly showed them to me.

"See?" he said sweetly. "Look at the picture."

Between innings, Action Andy, who was in charge of loading the ball into the pitching machine, walked to the fence and bent down to chat with Zach. "See," as he showed his daddy the camera. Andy grinned and said "Yeah, good, I love you," then put his game face back on and headed for the dugout.

The moon was full and worth photographing. "Zach take a picture of the moon," I suggested. So he did.

"Big, giant, white, circle moon." His description, heavy on adjectives, had my heart heavy with love.

The moon was big that night but too far away for my amateur photographer to capture. But those field lights sort of look like the moon, if you squint.

Then my beautiful boy noticed how a mom placed her camera lens through the fence to take a picture. My Zach did the same and got this shot.

It's not Jake but it's not fence either. "Great picture Zach, wow!" And then he took more pictures of the fence.

I love seeing life through a unique lens. I love that my child thinks the links in the fence are more interesting than the team on the field. I love having my own personal guide on a tour of different.

When I picture perfect, I picture Zach.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: A Lady Named LaVerne

My middle name is Laverne. Save your LaVerne and Shirley jokes, I've heard them all. I wasn't named after a TV star, I was named after my mother's mother, my grandmother, my only grandmother, the one named Ma. The lady I think of when I think of ladies.

Ma was the original Southern lady. Always appropriately dressed, never flashy, just classic. A purse (or pocketbook) to match. Sensible yet attractive shoes. A little jewelry, not too much. Ma had her hair done once a week and slept on a satin pillow case to make the style last. In the mornings she would fluff it and give it a coat of hair spray. If it was windy, she would wear a scarf over her head, but a nice one. If it was rainy, she would wear a rain bonnet, a nice one.

Ma wore Estee Lauder perfume and slathered Jergen's original cherry almond scent lotion on her arms and hands. This is how she always smelled, like a woman meant for luxurious scents but practical enough to stock up on Jergen's. When I was little I liked going into her closet, putting on her shoes, adding a necklace and then I would sit at her vanity. She would allow a single spritz of Estee Lauder and then all the lotion my small hands could absorb.

Ma's car was a big Lincoln Town Car. Boat-sized in length, pale blue in color. When I got my driver's license, Ma asked me to drive her on some errands. I was nervous navigating that boat through the narrow streets of our small town but I liked being with my grandmother and was pleased she let me play chauffeur once in a while. Ma had all of her errands planned out, no gas would be wasted. We stopped in stores and she would make her selections while visiting with people she knew, always proud to introduce me as her granddaughter. At the register, Ma would have her wallet ready and would pull the necessary bills from their place. Flat, crisp bills, kept in order of value. Coins were ready in the zippered pouch. No digging for change, no attempting to smooth out crumpled bills found at the bottom of a purse. Not this lady.

Before Martha Stewart, there was Ma. I remember her in the kitchen making chocolate pies and coconut cream pies. She knew just how to beat the egg whites to make meringue that peaked. She knew just when to pull those pies from the oven, right after the meringue turned golden but before those peaks turned brown. On Halloween she'd make homemade popcorn balls using a recipe that required a candy thermometer which to me was the sign of a real cook. Those popcorn balls were a delicious mix of firm, salty, popped kernels and gooey Karo syrup. Of course they were wrapped perfectly and arranged on a tray along with other assorted treats. And then my sisters and I were encouraged to dig in.

Ma was soft-spoken and kind. I never heard her raise her voice. She cared for friends and strangers alike. Ma shared her love for God with others by her actions and words. She always looked for the good in the day, the place, the person. However I did hear Ma say one not-so-nice thing, once. She said, "My, that Ted Koppel has large ears." I couldn't believe what my small ears heard. She immediately retracted the statement saying, "I shouldn't have said that."

Twenty-two years ago today Ma died, on my sister Chantel's sixteenth birthday. Funny how life schedules happiness and crushing sadness on the same day. Ma would have come over that morning bearing a beautifully wrapped gift for my sister. There would have been a carefully chosen card and she would have written in lovely penmanship something precious.

I keep my bills flat and smooth in my wallet and it makes me think of Ma. I plan my errands so as not to waste time and gasoline. I like to be appropriately dressed and sparsely jeweled. That Jergen's cherry almond scent is the best on the market. I can make a mean chocolate pie, one that Action Andy claims is the best ever, and I use Ma's recipe. On rare occasion I whip out the candy thermometer and make some popcorn balls. I like presents to be purchased well in advance and I have a hard time simply signing my name to a card. There's always a message.

The "soft spoken and kind", well I'm working on it. And the voice level too. Still finding my way on sharing God's love like Ma did. Got some work to do, too, on saying nice things. Of course I've made strong comments about someone else and it wasn't about ear size. But when I lose my way, I think about how a lady would act, I think of Ma.

When I was much younger, I would dread answering the "middle name" question. "That's a funny name," they'd say. "Hey Laverne, where's Shirley?" So original. But now that I'm older if anyone asks my middle name, I say with pride, "It's LaVerne, I'm named after my grandmother who was a true Southern lady."

I had intended to share another Southern tale today about a trip to the dump and then realized today's date and the connection. Next Tuesday I'll tell you all about the city dump. I'm almost ashamed to mention the word "dump" after describing my lady-like Ma. I'm sure she never went to the dump.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Maybe You Can't Buy Happiness But You Can Rent It

Saturday was busy. The bouncy men arrived at 6:45 a.m. I stood in the cold, damp, dark backyard as they positioned and inflated the "Balloon 3 in 1 Combo" for the party that wouldn't start until 4 in the afternoon. But Halloween is the busiest day of the year for bounce house businesses so deliveries start early. I learned this fact the hard way two years ago when I tried reserving a bounce house just a week before Halloween. Pickings were slim and I was left with only a simple, generic bounce house. Well not this time.

Two Little League baseball games later, the party was underway. Kids whipped around the bouncy in their costumes. They flung themselves down the slide. They ran into the house and stuffed their faces with Chick-Fil-A nuggets and those bakery cupcakes. Repeat for ninety minutes. Then we had a trick or treasure hunt followed by more bouncing/sliding and eating.

A good time was had by all. Happy kids, happy parents, happy me. Only a few sad moments, a clone blaster (plastic gun-like weapon that makes cool sounds) found its way into the bounce house and was snapped in two. A couple of boys bonked heads and required some hugs and a big kid fell and scraped his knee after running up the drive way during the exciting treasure hunt. Nothing some Neosporin couldn't handle.

At 6 p.m. we hit the streets in search of candy. Jake ran with his gang, Zach right there with him, and the parents trailing behind, taking pictures and making movies. Zach's bucket was overflowing in no time. Maybe because he had found our stash of candy to give out and dumped it into his own bucket before we left our house. We made our way through the neighborhood and then went home to examine the haul. Bedtime was late but we took comfort in the fact that daylight savings time would treat us to an extra hour of sleep.

Zach used his extra hour to get up early (5:30) Sunday morning and hit the Nick Jr. website hard. Jake wasn't far behind him and soon the boys were downstairs noticing that the bounce house was still in our backyard, lifeless, but there. "I want bouncy slide," said Zach. "Mommy can we, can we?" begged Jake.

But it's so early, just past 7, and it's cold and wet out there, I thought. "Ok, but put on sweats, hoodies and socks." I watched them get dressed faster than firemen and race to the scene. Jake had the honor of plugging in the blower and the boys watched together as the bouncy slide took shape.

They jumped and climbed and slid. Arm in arm my boys raced down the slide, mouths open, the joy uncontainable. I watched for a few minutes then went inside. I added sweater and socks to my pajamas and ran out to join the party. Zach couldn't believe his eyes when Mommy appeared at the top of the slide. He smiled so big his cheeks cried "Uncle". My boys and I slid together, laughing all the way down, ending in a tangled heap of arms, legs and love.

I noticed Andy standing in the doorway watching us play. "It's cold," he announced. "Yeah, but you get warmed up jumping," I offered. The boys and I hit the slide again and Andy disappeared inside. Just a few minutes later he joined us in the bouncy. Action Andy had been drawn into the cold by Zach's giggles and Jake's energy.

We all four jumped and Jake said to me, "You did a good job picking this out," which almost made me cry and I will not be able to explain why. "Yeah, this is much better than the plain old moonwalk we had last time," I agreed. Then this party of four climbed to the top of the slide and sat together, smiling, taking in the moment. Against the rules, we slid together as I held the tiny Flip video camera. The footage is rough and the audio is all laughter.

Soon it was time for breakfast and then church. We arrived home and I noticed Zach at the back door, looking over an empty backyard. "I want bouncy slide."

"The party's over, the bouncy slide is gone."

He turned and walked away, shoulders slumped. "I'm so sad," I heard as Zach walked upstairs.

I've already checked. The Balloon 3 in 1 Combo costs $1800.00 to own. Maybe we should start saving now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Trap

I should not have been there and I knew it. But I wandered over to the magazine section just to take a peek, because I was curious. "It's a trap," I heard a voice say, "don't do it."

I ignored the voice, picked up the October special issue of Family Fun magazine, whipped it open and rapidly scanned the pages. With one look I was impressed with the clever cupcakes and the creative crafts and my mind began to race with possibilities. Ohhh, milk jug ghost luminaries. I can do that! Mummies fashioned from craft sticks, craft spoons, wire snips, muslin, glue and googly eyes. Easy! Would you like to know how to turn your entire house into a House O' Lantern with strategically cut and placed paper in the windows? Why yes, I would. And what's this? Oranges hollowed out, cut like jack o' lanterns and filled with fruit salad. Thematic AND healthy. I continued to turn pages and marveled at the enormous amount of ideas presented to me.

Jackpot. All the crafts and recipes I would need to make our Halloween party a smashing success were right here, in one nifty magazine. I placed it in my cart and headed toward the craft section to score supplies for those mummies. And then that little voice inside my head said, "Have you lost your mind? Put that magazine back right now. You know better than this." And the voice was right. Because the voice recalled the night I frosted and re-frosted a cake three times until it was "perfect". The voice also remembered the time I wasted hours trying to make my own mummy costume but abandoned the idea once I realized I looked less like a frightful mummy and more like the Michelin Man. And the voice remembered that I have painstakingly removed certain colors from a container of multi-colored sprinkles because they didn't go with my theme. The voice reminded me that when I get these grand ideas I also get grandly stressed because they don't always work out. Oh the voice knows me too well.

It's not that I'm opposed to arts and crafts and clever concoctions, it's just that I have to set limits for myself. I'm not knocking Family Fun magazine at all. With their help I made a space shuttle cake for Jake's 7th birthday that was out of this world. Pun intended. I'm simply saying that sometimes what women see in magazines can make them feel bad about themselves and that's what happens to me if I stare too long at creativity on parade. Plus all those smiling children in the photos, so happy, living it up because their mommies made cool snacks and crafty crafts. The pressure, the trap.

I put the magazine back on the shelf and held my head high on the way to check out. We are having a Halloween party and my boys are psyched for Saturday. We won't be making mummies and our house won't look like a jack o' lantern but there will be food and families and fun. And a trick or treasure hunt. And a giant moonwalk/slide for the backyard. And creepy cupcakes whipped up by the good ladies at the grocery store's bakery. Crafts scmafts.

My boys won't know all the neat things that could have been. They will only know that their mummy had snacks and treats on the table and she welcomed their friends and smiled and bounced and it was the best party ever.