Kindness In the Books

When I coached P.E. classes at our home-school co-op for a few semesters, several students blessed me with gifts on Teacher Appreciation Day. Often, those gifts took the form of chocolate–one fellow home-schooling mother handed me a bag of chocolates on one of those days and whispered, “You don’t have to share these, you know?”

This pink-hued message has been one gift that has lasted longer than the sweet treats of those Teacher Appreciation Days. The student who presented me with this told his mother that I was his favorite teacher at our co-op’s Tuesday afternoon classes. Maybe the sentiment behind the gift prompted me to hang on to it–and to keep it in such a prominent place (my nightstand) in both our old house and the one where we’ve lived for a year and a half now.

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Where There Is Love, There Is Life

Currently it rests atop my great-grandmother’s Book of Common Prayer, next to a shell the boys found recently. I’m honored to continue cherishing this gift of my student’s kindness from a few years ago.

And speaking of kindness…a story I wrote about giving and generous living appears in the recently-released book Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Random Acts of Kindness. My word of the year for 2014 was “gift,” and the story I penned for this book revolves around how the word “gift” helped me remain mindful of opportunities to serve and bless throughout the year. We all have those opportunities for blessing others in our lives, if we have the eyes to see them and the heart to engage in them.

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If it were colder here in Orlando right now, I’d curl up with a cup of hot tea and peruse the stories shared by the 100 other writers contributing to this book. Instead, I’ll get comfy under the ceiling fan and read their inspiring words.

I hope you’ll be inspired by these stories, too!

February: The Month of Love

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day and pink and red and cupcakes:  the month of love–although shouldn’t every month be one filled with love? I digress.

I’m blogging today about things I love. Maybe you’ll love them, too!

heart-and-note-cards

Hoopla for audio books. I read aloud for hours each week to the boys:  in the van (if Mike’s driving, of course); before bed; often during school hours. But I also like to play audio books for them, and in this way, they get to hear more great stories. In December, they heard The Jungle Book on audio. In January, we finished The Secret Garden and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They’re currently listening to Swiss Family Robinson. And it’s all for free with my library card through Hoopla. This site offers e-books as well as audio books, for adults and for children. This site offers a map of Hoopla-participating libraries, so you can discover if Hoopla titles are available to you, too.

My apron. For Christmas, I asked for (and received) an apron–purchased second-hand, of course. In fact, we had gone to Goodwill during a break between 2 shifts for a Cub Scout fundraiser, and I spotted the apron while browsing. I slyly handed it to my husband and suggested he ask the boys if they wanted to get this for me for Christmas. They balked a bit at first–I think it was only September, to be honest–but he convinced them it might be the easiest present they’d ever buy. They acquiesced, and I’m proud to have it (as we might say in Mississippi). Here I am wearing it during a morning of baking orange-pumpkin bread with the boys, using an orange (satsuma, technically) grown by my grandfather along with pumpkin that I pureed and froze last fall. {This pic is prior to my haircut of last month.}

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Doesn’t everybody have a world map in her kitchen?

The apron does more than keep flour or olive oil off my clothes; it reminds me to be intentional, mindful. When I take a moment to tie on my apron, I think about being fully engaged in the moment, thoroughly involved in the act of kneading bread or chopping celery for a soup or shredding cheese for chicken taco chili. I put on my apron and, thus, put on a mindset of focusing on the task (and joy–well, mostly joy) at hand.

Tim Tam cookies. When we lived in New Zealand, Mike and I became fans of a cookie called Tim Tam (I always refer to them as “Tim Tams” when I talk about them in the plural form–but the package just reads “Tim Tam.” Anyway…) For years, we could enjoy these only if we knew somebody visiting South Africa or Australia who might bring them back for us. Well, these treats apparently have crossed the pond. Mike and the boys bought these in Orlando (at a national grocery chain) and presented me with this package for my birthday last month:  

tim-tams             

If a person can find happiness in a cookie, I suppose it’d be this cookie. If you want to have the full Tim Tam experience, you can try a Tim Tam Slam:  nibble off opposite corners of the cookie, one on top, one on bottom–i.e., bite off the top right corner and the bottom left corner–and use it as a sort of straw for drinking up coffee or hot chocolate. And give your drink a chocolate infusion. So far, I haven’t tried this with hot tea, and I don’t anticipate giving it a go, either. I’ll just take my Tim Tams plain, thanks.

It’s only February 1st, so I envision finding lots of other things to love this month. I hope you find many lovely things this month, too.

Celebrating Winter

Winter seems to be hitting much of the U.S. in full force this coming weekend, but here in Florida, we’re still wearing shorts. Since we couldn’t experience winter outdoors, we decided to have a bit of it inside this week. We did that by making play snow–which requires only 2 simple ingredients, both of which I had in abundance:  hair conditioner and baking soda.

conditioner-bottles

We found the recipe here, and although it seems to be designed as a sensory activity for younger children, my 2 boys enjoyed it. Until the aroma of conditioner began to be a little overpowering, but the smell faded after a while. Garfield even played with it 2 days in a row, but I don’t think this play snow has another day left in it.

Mike brings home copious amounts of travel-sized toiletries from his ministry trips, and we have a grocery bag full of them in our bathroom cabinet. I’m the only person in the house who uses hair conditioner (and I haven’t washed my hair daily in…well, never..so I don’t go through it very fast). So this ingredient was free! The other supply–baking soda–I had on hand because I bought a 13-pound bag of it at Costco last fall. I use it to make washing soda that then goes into homemade dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent–as well as for baking needs, of course.

Overall this play snow felt delightfully squishy, and the boys played with it for a long while as they listened to an audio version of The Secret Garden. I love providing them with audio books to hear as they have a few minutes of “feet off the floor time” after lunch during our school days, while they build with LEGO bricks, or–in this case–play with sweet-smelling pretend snow.

Besides creating our own winter experience, we also celebrated Epiphany on Friday (January 6). The 12 days of Christmas aren’t just a song title–although we as a family don’t do much to celebrate Christmas after December 25–but those 12 days lead up to January 6, which is honored as Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day–the three kings (or wise men or Magi) who brought gifts to worship the Christ child. Our celebration involved baking a cake with this recipe from the Pioneer Woman (and substituting this homemade icing recipe, called ermine icing, that I used in making Garfield’s birthday cake last October). {Thanks to friend and fellow blogger Aimee for sharing the cake recipe.}

What makes it an Epiphany cake is the hiding of trinkets inside it. We didn’t buy anything special, just used (non-plastic) objects from around the house:  a pearl, a metal pendant from a necklace, even a cap from a bottle of Red Stripe beer (the boys like to collect bottle caps, for some reason). I looked up Scripture verses inspired by each object. The bottle cap, for instance, pointed us to Isaiah 1:18, since the cap’s colors are red and white. Isaiah 1:18 speaks about our scarlet sins being washed white as wool–I thought it was fitting.

Woodrow found 2 trinkets in his piece of cake, so we read the verses I’d assigned to the items he discovered. Nobody else found a buried treasure, but there’s plenty of cake left (with 6 remaining trinkets). And I made both the cake and icing with less sugar than the recipes called for, so when I watched the documentary Sugar Coated about the dangers of sugar on Netflix tonight, I didn’t feel quite so bad.

I didn’t grow up knowing much about the liturgical church calendar, but I appreciate being able to mark celebrations in our family–and even start new traditions–centered around our faith. Valentine’s Day goodies and Super Bowl parties might result in tasty food, but I cherish the idea that our celebrations can draw us to gaze more upon Jesus (instead of on a football team, for instance).

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There’s so much joy to be relished in the prosaic moments of life:  a game of Go Fish with a child; finding edible weeds in one’s backyard; and a cake that offers up its own little treasure hunt as we talk about how God revealed His redemption plan through Jesus.

Cheers!

Our Holidays So Far

Mike took off this week from work, and although we had a ‘regular’ home school day on Monday–as ‘regular’ as they can be, I suppose–we did something different on Tuesday. We went gleaning–gathering left-over crops on a farm to help people in need, alongside some friends of ours and in conjunction with the Society of St. Andrew.

I felt confident side-lining academics for this, since it’s not only educational but also gives us an opportunity for service. And I want our home school experience to be fleshed out not only with academics but also with serving others.

After helping bring in almost 5000 pounds of acorn squash, butternut squash, and eggplant, we spent today [Wednesday] doing a great deal of Christmas reading:  several selections from Lois Lenski’s Christmas Stories along with a beautiful book called An Orange For Frankie and The Story of Holly and Ivy. We rounded out our night-time reading with a quick picture book called The Gift of Nothing.

But wait, there’s more! This morning, I picked up Garfield for a delicious cuddle. He had a toy in his hand while I held him, and, unbeknownst to me, he had twirled the handle of it into my hair while we were hugging. When I set him down, we both realized that this thing was stuck in my hair. By the way, I hate this toy and have tried or asked to give it away multiple times. To no avail. Here’s where it ended up this morning:

toy-in-hair
What’s in my hair?! Oh, no! I can’t look!

No, it’s not resting on my shoulder, nor is it a huge dangling earring (I don’t have pierced ears). It’s in the strands of my hair. I almost got fussy about it, but Garfield apologized profusely, and I saw the humor in it. I cut it out, Garfield pulled out the remaining strands of hair, and all was well.

Then right at bedtime–after our lengthy reading session while piled up on the parents’ bed–the boys went to the bathroom once more before bed. I heard some unsettling words coming from there and inquired about it. Here’s what went down.

Woodrow had exhibited his Cub Scout knot-tying skills and tied a LEGO shark to a piece of para cord. He told his little brother he was going to dip the shark in the toilet and then put it in the water cup that they share in their room (for those thirsty wake-ups). Garfield was understandably perturbed by this, so he told his big brother that he was going to pull Woodrow’s nuts off if he followed through on that.

The shark did go into the toilet (But I rinsed it off afterwards! says Woodrow) but not in the cup of water in their room. The water is safe. All body parts are safe.

And that’s our holiday week so far! Gleaning, reading, enjoying Christmas stories…and living real life. Merry Christmas, y’all! 

A Better Question: What Do You Do For Love?

Sunday afternoon, now that Mike is home, we had some family fun time. We went fishing and then took the boys to Bass Pro Shop. Both Woodrow and Garfield love that place: climbing on the 4-wheelers, talking about which boat they like the most, ogling all the fishing lures.

Bass Pro Shop near Christmastime runs a free mini-carnival, with a carousel and craft table and bow and arrow range (rubber arrows and miniature bows). Included in the festivities today was a face painter, who did a beautiful job creating art on the faces of children. As we passed her, for some reason I thought–“There’s a skill that I really don’t have.” And I guess because balloon artists usually appear at events where there are face painters, I also thought about people who can create animals out of balloons. I know a person who did this as a part-time job for years. So I thought, while walking past rows of camouflage clothes in Bass Pro,“Balloon animals–another skill I don’t have.” 

Then I thought back to a week ago, when I picked up two of our family’s bikes from the shop where they were getting a tune-up. We had to wait awhile there, and I watched several of the men working, expertly fixing and tinkering and getting those bikes in order. I came home telling Mike what a great skill that was, that a person could use that anywhere–people all over the world ride bikes–that it could be a ministry to people in need. And I also thought, “Wow, that’s surely a skill I don’t have.”

It seems silly now, after returning from Bass Pro Shop, to gaze back on those thoughts and the sense of inadequacy they sparked. But they did foster that feeling, one that prompted me to think, “What skills DO I have, anyway?” 

mushrooms

Then I began to take stock. Here’s what I came up with:  I’m great at typing. Seriously, I’m a good typist. Fast, accurate…one of the most useful things I took away from high school.

I’m also great at reading aloud (though I say it myself). In fact, for quite a few years, I volunteered for a ministry to the visually impaired, reading books and Bible study materials onto cassette tapes–remember those?

For C.A.R.E Ministries, I read aloud books by Beth Moore and Amy Carmichael, booklets about dealing with depression and divorce, biographies of heroes and heroines of the faith such as William and Catherine Booth (founders of the Salvation Army). I’m also aces at reading aloud to my boys. Years ago, I gave a voice to a ventriloquist’s puppet in a kid’s book that my boys sometimes still want me to do. “Say that in your dummy voice,” they ask.

And I’m good with kids.

So, that’s what I’ve got–typing, reading aloud, good with kids. A decent writer. Oh, and I made my own sourdough starter about 3 years ago. Yep, that’s about the extent of my marketable skills.

At least that is how I’m profoundly feeling about myself right now. I believe it comes with the territory:  stay-at-home mom for almost 11 years, home-schooling mother for 6 years now (with 10 more to go, Lord willing). I plan and organize and research curriculum; create math lessons; teach my boys everything from how to skip to how to tie their shoes to how to read. I plan meals and grocery lists, cook, make homemade yogurt and homemade dishwasher detergent and homemade toothpaste. I can do some STUFF, y’all. But essentially, I’m “just” a stay-at-home mama. (P.S. I don’t believe anybody is “just” anything. I just know that’s sometimes how I’m seen.)

Our society values that to which we can attach a paycheck, and little of what I do makes the cut. (I do edit stories on a part-time basis for Cru, the interdenominational ministry with which I’ve been a part for almost 20 years–it’s a small role, and I’m more or less taking other people’s stories and just polishing them up.)

I have my hands full. Volunteering with Cub Scouts, editing those Cru stories, leading the Women of Vision group, raising and educating my boys, making use of that sourdough starter…

It’s hard, y’all, to be that straight-A kid, the college graduate with a major that makes people say “wow” when they hear what you studied, and yet feel that I don’t have much to offer in terms of something useful.

“Oh, nice to meet you. What do you do?” We hear that question, and we know people don’t mean “What are your hobbies?” or “What do you do for fun?” They don’t want to hear that you’re an avid collector of Beanie Babies or that you lovingly care for bonsai trees. They want to know–what do you do for a paycheck? 

I can write a resume of volunteer work that is wildly impressive. But a resume of “related job experience” that could earn me a paycheck? It would be slim. And part of me canNOT figure out why I even care. I’ve never wanted a “career” path. I will never regret the choices I’ve made for children and family. Ever. I think I just want to feel some assurance that I’ve got something to offer.

wedding sign 1

What I’ve discovered? Sometimes that “something to offer” is a Band-Aid to a child at a Cub Scout event who skins his knee. Or an extra grocery bag to a person at the store with her arms full of cans. Or a phone conversation with a dear friend who just needs to talk. In these moments, I think, “God picked ME to be the one to do something good here! Wow, even me!”

Maybe the right question, the better question, is not “What do you do?” but “What do you do for love?” And THAT wouldn’t even fit on a resume, anyway.

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures & I Said No!: Books to Help Keep Kids Safe

Among all the other reading I’ve done with the boys this week–for school, for devotions, for fun–I also included this book:

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The title {obviously} is Good Pictures, Bad Pictures:  Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids. 

It came recommended by a fellow mom, and I am now recommending it, too. This book goes far beyond just introducing the topic. The authors discuss our feeling brain vs. our thinking brain, the concept of addiction, and they give a practical plan of what to do when a person sees pornography. The authors’ approach to this overwhelming issue is very non-shaming, and although the main character is a boy, I think the book would work just as well in explaining this to girls.

Realistically, it’s not a matter of if but when our children will be exposed to porn. I was around my older son’s age–10 and a half–when a friend took me into her big brother’s room (ostensibly to play the piano, as we told her mother) and brought out a magazine hidden below a stack of blankets in a trunk. We took turns flipping pages while the other banged on piano keys, and–as you can imagine–at least one of those images is in my head probably forever.  For our children, the risk is higher with greater and more available technology.

We read most of Good Pictures, Bad Pictures aloud together as a family and decided on a short prayer we could say if we see pornography (God, help me keep my thoughts pure.) I wrote down the CAN DO plan put forth by the book’s authors so we can refer to that in the future. Hopefully, your public library has a copy available–if not, it might be worth purchasing. Personally, I think this is one base I really need to have covered when it comes to parenting. I can’t teach my boys to drive a stick shift or tie a necktie, but I CAN help prepare them to reject the allure of porn.

Another helpful, easy-to-read book for children is I Said No! A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private. From this book, our boys learned to use the phrase “red flag” if something scary, confusing, or bad happens that feels hard to explain. Sometimes I check in with them about this–after a camp out with Scouts, for example, when they’ve spent lots of time away from us and with other boys. On the way home, I usually ask if “anything red flag happened.” So far they’ve always said no. But I think there may be times in the future when they might hesitate to bring this up, so for me, it’s worth it to initiate the topic once in a while. I’m a parent–it’s my job to pursue my children. 

Because of these 2 books, I feel more confident that my children have some basic language to talk to me about something frightening, abusive, or confusing happening to them. And that’s what I so very much want–for my children to feel they can come to me at any time, to tell me anything, and receive love in response.

 

A Look Back: 8 Years of Life

In a handful of days, Garfield turns 8. When my belly bulged huge with this child 8 years ago, our country anticipated the election of a new president then, too. Although Mike and I had prayed this child wouldn’t be born on Halloween (it’s kind of a creepy day for a birthday, I always thought), alas, that’s the day he arrived.

Which didn’t come as such a surprise after all, since we had elected to vote early…My midwife had predicted my due date at November 2, and I couldn’t see getting out to vote on election day given those circumstances. So instead, all 3 of us (Woodrow was 2 and 1/2) stood in line at our public library to vote early. For three straight hours on October 28. Gravity can always be counted on to do its job:  Forty-eight hours later, I began labor.

A whole bunch of hours of natural childbirth later, we welcomed Garfield into our family on October 31. And although we’d prayed against the Halloween birth date, we now had 2 holiday babies (Woodrow was born on Easter in 2006.)

In honor of this big, bold life God has placed in our family, I wanted to share some celebrations of Garfield. I’ve kept journals for the boys for years (where I found many of the stories here). I plan to give them their journals sometime in the future–an 18th birthday perhaps, or on the eve of their weddings.

Some years ago, I read a story book to my boys featuring a character described as being “wild as a panther and sweet as a honeybee’s gold tooth.” I felt this described Garfield to a T. He’s the first to seek me out in the morning and run into my arms for a hug. Throughout the day, he’ll bound up to me asking for “Huggy!” But once when I sweetly referred to him as baby angel pie, he demanded, “DON’T call me baby angel pie!”

calvin-painting

Not long after we started home schooling, he got my attention one day while I helped his brother with school work. He asked to be held; I responded that I could hold him for a few minutes. He answered, “Hold me for the rest of my life!” Around that same time, I picked him up one day, and he declared, “You are mine! Did you know that? I bought you! You are mine–for, for, forEVER!” while squeezing my face. Not long after that, he told me girls stink.

He frequently prefaces statements with, “When I’m an adult and *I’M* president…” and then tells me how he’s going to outlaw something that’s pink or girly. Or how he will turn a lake in the middle of downtown Orlando into a water sports complex. Once I helped him get dressed for church, and he somberly told me, “When I grow up, I’m going to eat a lot of corn dogs.” Eating snack at church not long ago, he spied a food he wanted but had forgotten its name. He improvised and asked if he could have one of those “doughnut hush puppies.” He regularly uses words such as “aimlessly” and “infested” but forgot “doughnut holes.”

I’m unsure about what he wants to be when he grows up. Usually it’s a police officer, and he occasionally avows that he is NOT going to college. I tell him he doesn’t have to. But once he did tell his brother he would be the boss of an off-roading club when he grew up. At least he wins points for originality.

When I confessed one morning that I had a sore throat, he mentioned, “I can make you a get-well card.” And biking home from church one Sunday–wearing flats, not the best cycling shoes–I scraped my foot along a bench at the school where our church met. When we got home, Garfield fetched me a Band-Aid, a glass of water, and then said, “If I can get you anything, just let me know.”

Once he put his finger in a little pencil sharpener–and turned it. It cut him severely, and he seemed miffed that I hadn’t warned him about it. In agony, Garfield asked if the paleontologist could help it feel better. During lunch one day, he opened that pencil sharpener, looked quizzically inside, and then dumped the shavings in his brother’s spaghetti.

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Before bedtime one evening, Garfield crumpled his big brother’s paper airplane. (I never imagined my house would be so full of paper airplanes). Woodrow was understandably hurt. I took Garfield aside to ask him why he did it; he might have been 4. He raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, then responded, “Satan?”

Like their mama, my boys love the outdoors, The first time we collected tadpoles, he leaned over them and said sweetly, “I love you, tadpoles!” The boys were playing at the pond behind our old house one morning, gathering rocks to put in a dump truck, when Garfield declared, “I LOVE rocks! Shiny rocks…” He paused, thinking of other rock categories. “Unshiny rocks…”

My good Father continually blesses me (and makes me laugh) because of this child. Even when he challenges me, such as the time at our Cub Scout meeting when–in answer to my question about why it’s smart to eat fruits and veggies–he said, “Because they’re good for your eyes and your body and your butt.” And the time he told me I had set a bad example by slamming the microwave door when I was angry.

Now he likes to ply me with questions:  If I had to get a Ford truck, which one? If I bought a Jeep, which one would I want? If I decorated a boat, how would it look? When was the last time I vomited and had vomit drip out of my nose?

He’s also full of funny questions:  Which is the most negative month of the year? NO-vember! Which is the yummiest Scout? A Brownie! Which is the stinkiest ocean? The Poop-cific! (He made all that up, by the way.)

Last year, he jumped up on the bed on my birthday and cried, “Cuddle! Cuddle with the birthday girl!” I’m hoping that this boy of mine lets me cuddle him on his birthday for a few more years. I’m hoping he lets me hold him a little longer, until he’s just too big for it. Then I’ll be content to hold these memories in my heart–for, for, forEVER!