December 31, 2010

Weather and Memories

Here is an Arizona weather update that will not bring envy to our Midwest friends: There was a freeze advisory last night which will continue tonight. The high today was in the low 50s and there was a wind chill factor last night. A neighbor claimed to have seen snow flurries yesterday, though we were out and about shopping and missed it. Right now, our downstairs furnace is not working, though the new one we installed last spring, that keeps the upstairs warm, works fine. Here it is a minor inconvenience. In Chicago, this would be a more serious problem. We will get it fixed by Monday.

Our family Christmas present to ourselves was a trip to Flagstaff/Williams for two days. The original plan was to ride on The Polar Express Monday night and go skiing the next day. However, I didn't have my act together enough to get ski clothes for everyone in time. Plus the snow was very icy and hard--not good conditions for first time skiers. The Polar Express was really fun. We took the 6:30 p.m. train out of Williams. We drank hot (okay, warm) chocolate, ate cookies, heard an audiobook of _The Polar Express_, sang Christmas carols, saw Santa Claus, who gave them bells. As we returned to Flagstaff, Eric and I discussed options for the next day. We decided upon a tour of Lowell Observatory, home of Pluto, which is another way to say that Pluto was discovered there. It was a great tour. The tour guide involved the kids in many ways. They got to operate the dome, and move the original refracting telescope around with her supervision and help. We picked up some souvenirs, like a book called _Can You Count to a Googol?_, and a really beautiful cobalt blue ornament for the Christmas tree named "Night Skies." We ate at Olive Garden and returned home.

The only "problem" we had involved our hotel accommodations. We had a great view of the snow-capped peak of Humphrey's Peak. The room was swanky, like we just stepped into an IKEA catalog showroom. Everything about the room and hotel was stylistically focused on giving a feeling of snow, including the frosted glass on the door and surrounding the desk. However, a frosted glass door to the bathroom is not very practical when six people are staying in a room. Every time someone went to the bathroom, the light glared through the door, waking Eric and I up. I believe there were at least six trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night, including one that I made.

The frosted glass door ended up being the least of our problems, however. Sometime around 12:50, a person near our room decided to take a bath. Or try and create rhythm by turning bathwater on and off. After fifteen minutes, I guess they got bored because they decided to keep it on, creating a roar in the wall that went on for what seemed like forever and probably lasted at least 20 minutes. Eric finally call the front desk to complain. At 1:40, the water turned off and stayed off. Or so we thought....The Bath Person ran their water rhythm at 2:30 for another 30 minutes and repeated the efforts at 3:30 for yet another 30 minutes. In the past, when we had babies and were disturbed by inconsiderate hotel guests, I would think "At 5:30 a.m., when our kids are up and crying to have their diaper change and be fed, we will have our revenge on you, Mr. Late-Night-Carouser!" This is not as sure a thing with older kids, though my kids are plenty loud when they do wake up. For fun, I tried to think of what would cause a person to run a bath in the middle of the night: a harried mother so desperate to have an uninterrupted bubble bath that she gets up in the middle of the night for Calgon to take her away; someone who didn't get to the laundromat in time and was washing a few loads in the bathtub before a day of skiing; maybe even a terrorist building a bomb and washing equipment before, during and after his manufacture of evil (this thought came during the last session). John, of course, slept through it all. And, now I have a funny story to tell about our first trip to Flagstaff, which means, of course, that it was a great time of making memories.

Wherever you are, I hope you are staying warm and have a Happy New Year!

December 29, 2010

Living The Advent Conspiracy(?)

A few years ago, I heard about The Advent Conspiracy. If you click on the words, it will take you to a video explaining what it is all about. I really like this other video too. You are probably thinking that, considering that the Advent season is over by a few days that this post is a little late. I would tend to agree, but then again, some ideas need time to percolate in your brain and in your heart before you can really process them. For me, it has taken a few years to really wrap my brain around it. And then there is the danger of taking it a bit too far and bringing up visions of Ebenezer in our relative's mind. Here is how I tried to implement our Advent Conspiracy this year:

1. Giving gifts of the heart: For relatives, starting in September (which apparently is still to late to actually finish all projects on time), I practiced my knitting skills by making small, useful items. I still have one more to make. Hopefully, that one relative will consider it extending the joy of the season.

2. Giving Relationally, Part I: Instead of spending hours baking cookies to give away to people at Christmas, I tried to host several cooking making parties, where each family would come with dough and we would bake cookies together. This had limited success. For starters, most of the parties had to be canceled due to the stomach flu "being gifted." The one party that went through ended up taking four hours to make the cookies to be shared, probably because the primary bakers, the other two mom's and I, talked as much as we prepared cookies. My hope that the children would want to take turns helping make the cookies was not really materialized. However, the three families were able to spend some time getting to know each other better. In that regard, I consider it a mixed success. I think next year, I will change it to a cookie exchange party.

3. Giving Relationally, Part II: Every year, we try to get a "family present" that is fairly big. This year, instead of something material, the family present was tickets on The Polar Express. It is a train that runs at night from Williams, Arizona along the Grand Canyon Railroad for an hour. Wait, let me clarify that: it runs for a while along the Grand Canyon Railroad until we hit a warp that brings the train to the North Pole :-). During the ride up, we are given cookies and hot chocolate, listen to an audio version of "The Polar Express", and sing Christmas carols. At the "North Pole", Santa comes on board and walks all 13 cars greeting kids and giving them a big bell. We sing more Christmas carols and generally enjoy the jingling of the bells ringing incessantly. We also spent the next day in Flagstaff touring Lowell Observatory, the place where Pluto was discovered. The guide was really good at getting the kids involved to keep their interest most of the time. We also had to play in the snow a bit, though the snow was icy and hard. Because of this trip, their gifts were smaller and fewer, but we made some wonderful memories.

4. Giving Charitably: Our charitable giving was boosted in several ways. Our church had a special Christmas Eve fund to help take care of refugees and some of the poor in the area. This helped us focus our efforts a bit. In addition, however, we received a check from Eric's grandfather's estate a few days before Christmas. In general, we consider all money coming from God who provides a job for Eric, but receiving an inheritance is doubly so. The amount was a testimony to Albert Overtoom's wise stewardship of his money, considered that he died at 99 still able to pay his bill at the assisted living community and be able to bless not only his six children, but also his twenty-odd grandchildren. We reserved a small amount for ourselves and then discussed where the rest would go. I have to say that giving away a bunch of money is really fun. Later that night, however, we would be totally humbled by the realization that it is impossible to out-give God.

5. Worshiping Fully: Sadly, this was a place where I fell short, and it is probably the one area that I should be focusing most of my "efforts". Because of all the extra curricular activities, parties, programs, etc., the first thirteen days passed before we had a chance to put up the stars and read from the Advent Calendar. In the morning, the kids and I would read from Jesse Tree Devotionals, but my own personal time with God suffered from trying to get the presents, organize the parties and doing rather than being with the One who gave Himself to be with us. Because of this, words from Isaiah 28:11-13 keep popping into my head. It seems that this has been the same evaluation I have given myself at the end of every Advent and every year, I try and figure out how to focus more on worshiping and less on doing. So this year, I am starting now to seek God's plan for next Christmas with the hope that with enough percolating and enough presence with God throughout the year, next year will be different.

"In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.

He will be a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate."
Isaiah 28: 5-6

December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Before I start sharing some Christmas cheer, I would like to share a "bah humbug" moment brought to you by the corporate office at Starbucks--They suggested stores to be open at Christmas, though it is a purely voluntary decision based on employee willingness to work on the day. I realize that the prospect of getting double pay for holiday duty which will probably be a pretty easy day is very tempting, but please can we all agree to have just one day where we take a break from trying to stimulate the economy?

I've been given lots of reasons to laugh lately, both through my children and through circumstances. So I will share them with you:

1. Elizabeth's fun faces. These pictures were taken at a wedding this summer. This is what I get to look at every day. :-)

2. Hearing Elizabeth and John ask me the name of the girl who is singing when Elvis' "Blue Christmas started to play. They told me in very decided tones that they do not like Elvis. They also debated whether the songs sung by Annie Lennox over the Starbucks loudspeaker was a woman or a man.

3. Hearing the annual playing of the album "Cow Christmas", with such classics as "The Hallemoojah Chorus," "We Wish You a Dairy Christmas," and "Angus We Have Heard On High." I am sure that when my husband was buying this as a single man, he didn't think about how many times the kids would want to listen to it every Christmas.

4. Watching Jessi try not to smile while I was reprimanding her for getting lost in a book instead of doing her chores (while secretly wishing that I could have that same luxury). Her excuse was pretty funny, too. "Mom, I was going to start cleaning the bathrooms, but then Elizabeth started washing the hallway floor and I couldn't get upstairs anymore!" Of course, walking on wet floors, has never been an impediment in the past if it involves getting to a book or toy or sweets.

5. All the slow, indecisive drivers that God has put in my way in the last week while I am shuttling kids to activities or trying to shop. I also enjoyed driving in the pouring rain yesterday and the fog last Friday as I drove to Tuscon to see grandmas and my uncle. Remember from a previous post, that I was determined to laugh through trying circumstances. I had to laugh at myself for being nervous driving in fog when I was fully capable and not very nervous about driving in snowstorms in Illinois less than two years ago. I am becoming such an Arizona wimp!

6. Seeing joy on two different mailman's faces. The first one was overjoyed when I offered him some Christmas cookies. I think we are one of the last people on his route. The other mailman at the Post Office counter was ecstatic when I brought in packages for some relatives yesterday (12/22) and told him that I wanted to extend the joy of the season by sending it standard rather than express or next day. He drew Christmas Trees on them to make sure that the recipients would know that they are Christmas packages. In case you are wondering, the packages involved some projects that took longer than expected.

6. Looking out of my bedroom window into the living room below (yes, you are reading that right) to see Kyle look up at me and give me one of his big, huge, grins. This is becoming my standard morning routine.

7. Watching a Tim Hawkins video clip that I haven't seen yet. This clip had the kids and I almost rolling on the floor laughing. We had to watch it several times to hear it all. My house apparently is full of deadly weapons.

I hope anyone reading this has a Merry Christmas. And if you are one of the relatives getting a late Christmas present, I hope it makes your post-Christmas time merry, too.

December 12, 2010

Trying to be a train conductor

For our Thanksgiving trip to Memphis, I downloaded a couple of games for the kids to enjoy if the audio books, movies, or activity books were wearing thin. It takes roughly 48 hours to get to Memphis and back. I tried to download games that had a little academics as well as fun. The games I downloaded were "Contraptions" and "Train Conductor". I ended up splitting my time between knitting and playing the video games while listening to movies or audio tapes or silence (which is golden by the way). If you are interested, we listened to Focus on the Family Radio Theater presentation of _Ben Hur_ and _At the Back of the North Wind_ and an audio book of _The Titan's Curse_ by Rick Riordan. All were excellent and well done.

During the drive, I became addicted to "Train Conductor." It is a game where you have three to five train tracks and you have to move numbered trains to the matching track number. This sounds so simple and yet, when you get to the two hardest levels, you have trains coming out constantly, going in opposite directions on the same tracks going to other tracks. The worst situation is when you have moved a train to the right track and within seconds of getting to its destination, another train comes out on the same side and the same track and they crash. Crashing ends the game. After a while, I would have to quit because I became so frustrated at it. How in the world do the creators expect me to be able to get all the trains on the right line when so many of them are going to the same track in opposite directions and there is no rest?

Then, I realized that some of my frustrations coming out in the game were in realizing that in real life, I was trying to keep my own set of trains and tracks going, sometimes at cross purposes. Housework, hobbies, homeschooling and Christmas holiday traditions of his family, my family and ours. All this adds up to having the spirit of perfectionism, which is pride in action as well as attitude. What if I just let some of those trains go on the wrong tracks? In the game, I would lose points but maybe avoid a crash. In life, I would probably be a bit more relaxed and able to enjoy my family more and my home more. I might be less critical of myself and those around me. Would you consider that "bonus points?" I would. As an double bonus, as I was contemplating this, I heard God telling me that some of the tracks that I am trying to manage were not given to me by Him because his "yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:20)."

Wow. What a great Christmas present--rest and peace and joy. Wait a minute, isn't that what Jesus came to do in the first place? Why do I have to keep re-learning the same lesson over and over again? Oh, wait--its because I am human and humans have been suffering from major memory loss problems ever since sin took root. The irony is that I have been reading and re-reading Romans 3 & 4 a LOT lately to soak in "the basics", which speak about the righteousness that I have by my faith through the free gift of God's grace carried out by Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection. There is nothing I can do to either lose my salvation or to ensure it. Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

So what am I going to do with this newly re-discovered knowledge? Check my schedule with God more. Laugh more and be thankful for all of God's blessings, like my kids, my husband, "toys", and the gift of laughter. Thank Him also for having a sense of humor that He demonstrates in so many ways. Laugh when my trains crash in the game. Laugh at the fact that it took two weekends to fully put up the tree and decorate the house. Laugh at the fact that I need to purge my home every three months of "precious" stuff my kids have collected that fills their beds, their closets, every spare surface of the house, and every drawer. Laugh when my washing machine decides to take a holiday break. Laugh at the undone "whatevers" that I had planned to do. Laugh with my kids and my husband at all the fart jokes that come up at the dinner table and maybe make up a few of my own. Which brings up another question in my mind: Did Jesus ever tell fart jokes at the dinner table when he was growing up?

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. --Isaiah 9: 2 - 6

November 19, 2010

Thankful for a Respite

Last night was Kyle's final baseball game of the season. It has been wonderful to see the boys, especially Kyle, develop their skills and begin to understand some of the strategy. There were several innings this season where they actually made plays to get kids out and many boys actually caught pop fly balls! Considering Kyle has never played baseball before, he did very well. He can run fast, so as long as he could hit to ball, he can usually get on base. He became better at catching a thrown ball, though grounders still get by him. Most importantly, he had a lot of fun and learned that it was okay to strike out, to get thrown out at a base, and to make mistakes. I am most thankful for the coaches, who did not have an ego complex, but who made sure the boys practiced and that they were in control in the dugout. I am, however, thankful that two of our days are not being taken up by baseball.

Tonight, we attend John's graduation in TaeKwonDo. He will go from white belt (first level) to orange. He attends classes twice a week, which has sometimes clashed with Kyle's games. Added to this, the girls have horseback riding lessons each week, Kyle has Cub Scouts and Jessi has a weekly worship choir practice. For the last six weeks, I have been attending a MomProps Bible study focused on parents of tweens/teens, which happens the same night as Kyle's

All that means that there has not been one week night for the past six in which we have been able to eat without having to go somewhere immediately afterwards. Our schedule is school, some rest, sometimes an afternoon commitment and then getting ready for dinner and evening engagement. The crock pot has been good to me. I have also made many of Gigi's chicken salad sandwhiches (my great-grandmothers recipe) for baseball game nights.

So, as we move into Thanksgiving preparations, I am very thankful that God has given us the means and arranged the schedules so our kids can explore sports and teamwork in outside activities and know that other adults expect them to listen and obey them. I am thankful that He has given me the stamina to get through each day. I am thankful that there are so many nights when we are still eating as a family, even if it feels a little rushed. And I am thankful when at least one sport ends and we have one night of being able to rest together as a family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 9, 2010

A Change of Seasons

Can I go outside now?

Several weeks ago, the high temperatures which Arizonan have been suffering broke, allowing people to turn off air-conditioning, open windows, and step outside after 8 a.m. Last year, we had higher temperatures over all, but this year, we truly had a monsoon season and you could feel the humidity stick to your skin. This weather has been wonderful. The nights have become cool again and then, sometime around mid afternoon, it is a balmy upper 80's, perfect for playing outside.

What we don't get to experience so much is the change of colors. Most of the trees around us are either pine trees or palm trees, imported. And even the leafy trees that we have don't experience cold enough temperatures to turn colors or even fall off until sometime in December or January. I miss Lake County, Illinois, when the kids and I could take hikes out in Forest preserves and create swirls of leaves with their feet. I miss building piles of leaves in our yard for the kids to bury themselves. Walking in fallen leaves appeals to all my senses. If I really want to experience it, though, I can drive 3 hours northeast, along the Mogollon Rim, which is a range of mountains separating the valley in which we live from the Colorado Plateau, or go to Prescott in the middle of the Bradshaw Mountains. Even the mountains surrounding Tuscon, like the Catalina Mountains, have aspen and other deciduous trees in the upper ranges. It sounds like a great field trip for Bridgetender school. :-)

Even though I may seem to be complaining, Fall has always been my favorite season and in Arizona it is doubly so. By September, we are all suffering from cabin fever, even with a pool.

For your entertainment...
Last week, I had Jessi and Kyle memorize and sing "Erie Canal". It is too large a file to upload here, so Eric posted it to his Youtube account here. It is a bit long because they sang it more
andante than vivace.

Last night, the kids were outside at twilight, playing. The high had been 64 but the temperature was dropping. They decided that they needed winter gloves and hats. So they went back outside wearing gloves and hats...still wearing shorts and sandals. Yes, that is quite a picture. Too bad I can't find our new camera. Honey???....

Filed under "Not Quite Forgotten"
You might have noticed in recent months that I stopped publishing weigh-in results. I took a bit of a break with the stress of starting the homeschool schedule with a new curriculum and a new student. By the grace of God, I did not gain weight This was a huge surprise because, based on how bad my eating habits became, I should have gained it all back. Spurred on by God's kindness, I am going back to trying to lose weight at a REALLY crazy time for trying to lose weight. My goal is to lose the two pound necessary to get me to a ten pound overall weight loss before Thanksgiving. I am trying to avoid sweets until the Thanksgiving holiday time, where I will be in an environment inundated with luscious cakes, cookies, pies, and food in general. If I lose the two pounds and hold it through Christmas, I will be a happy girl.

November 5, 2010

Bad Missions ideas

This has probably been handled better by other blogs, like "Stuff Christians Like" and "The Church of No People," but I thought I would share some ideas of spreading the Gospel that might not have the life changing, come-to-Jesus impact you might think they have. These are all things I have either been told about or personally experienced.

1. Leaving a tract instead of a tip: Whatever message you "think" you are sending, the actual message you send to the person who has been serving you is "I am a cheapskate. Come be a cheapskate like me." Most people do not want to be known as cheapskates or associate with them. Moreover, when you stiff the server, that tract connecting you to Jesus tells him or her that Jesus is a cheapskate, which is a total lie according to Phillipians 4:19 So next time you are tempted to leave your server a tract, make sure you leave him or her at least a 50% tip. That applies double if you have just eaten at a pricey restaurant because if you can afford to eat at a pricey restaurant, you should be able to afford a generous tip.

2. Putting a tract in a kids Halloween bag when you have been chintzy on the candy: Though you really want to be Jesus' light in a dark holiday, you are actually sending kids the same message as the lousy tipper. My goal has always been to give them really good candy, put a Bible verse on it and to be generous in how much candy you give. Not all of my family members have been on the same page, which is why I eventually started buying those M&M cookies bags at Sam's Club instead of many bags of Hershey's Miniatures. There is no way to be a cheapskate with big bags of cookies.

3. Having two male missionaries walk around, bicycle around or drive around at night and approach a single women who is walking her dog or walking with her daughter with offers of assistance: You may think that you look like the "hands and feet of Jesus," but really, you just appear creepy and most women start feeling for their mace, personal alarms or phone when two men approach them at night. Telling them that you are a missionary doesn't really make them feel any safer because anyone can pretend to be a missionary as a ruse to get close enough to do something bad to them. Oh, and don't ask the woman how far of a walk she has to get home. We have read _Little Red Riding Hood_ once or twice in our lives, you know.

4. Standing on a corner or in the middle of a college campus and yelling out to all the people passing buy that they are sinners/prostitutes/drunkards/etc. on their way to hell: First of all some of those people you are insulting just might be Christians. Secondly, you are the exactly the type of person that Jesus would have insulted when he was alive because you try to make yourself appear to be more virtuous than others. Have some humility, please! And maybe it would be better to get to know the people by listening rather than by shouting.

5. Attending a soldier's funeral protesting something that isn't remotely related to nor honoring to the sacrifice that the soldier made for his country or to the grieving family.

To read about a bad missionary idea that (hopefully) hasn't happened yet, read this at Stuff Christians Like. If you have any other examples of bad missions ideas, leave them in the comment section. I am personally trying to stop arguing as my bad missionary idea. Another job for the Holy Spirit!

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:4-9

November 2, 2010

What about mercy?

My youngest had a bad night Monday night with sniffles that woke him up. I knew that trying to get him up would be a challenge on Tuesday morning, but we were meeting with another family early that morning to do P.E. and I needed everyone to get ready quickly. My husband woke the kids up before he left and the youngest laid there while everyone else dragged themselves out of bed. I took a shower. Ten minutes later, he is still lying in bed with no intention of getting up. I go over and gently shake him and kiss him while I tell him that it is time to get up and get dressed. After I am dressed, I go in and remove his pajamas and lovies from his bed, placing an outfit on his bed. This causes him to stir a bit. Fifteen minutes later, I find out that he is still not dressed and has done nothing more than pull himself into a vertical position. My voice is sharper now as I tell him that he had BETTER be dressed soon or he will not get breakfast. Ten minutes later, he loses breakfast and I put a timer on him giving him two minutes to get dressed or he will receive corporal punishment. If you have been keeping any track of time and the number of times I have spoken to him, you know that it has been about an hour since he was first told to get dressed and that he has had at least four requests, more than my usual number. He fails to beat the timer. As I walk upstairs, telling him to come to my room, he starts wailing because he knows what is about to come next. Seeing me pull out the instrument of discipline, he cries out, "What about mercy?"

I do feel the need to end this story with some bragging on his behalf. At the Monday night Boy Scout meeting, which he attended with his Wolf Scout brother, John received a hiking badge, even though he wasn't old enough to be in Boy Scouts. The Scoutmaster gave it to him because, on the long hike up South Mountain during last week's family camp outing, he never complained once. He still gets a proud smile when he talks about it. He will also be graduating to orange belt in Tae Kwon Do next week. And he has read his first book with very little help from me.

I love my kids even though they are giving me gray hairs.

November 1, 2010

November Elections--Confessions of a Frustrated Voter

This Tuesday is an election day.

The political signs have been up for months and I am sure that if I watched the morass of manure known as network television* without the benefit of pre-recording it, I would be assaulted with negative campaign ads from all of the elected officials with the exception of judges, who can’t really campaign. Instead, I rely on a combination of voter guides, campaign web sites and newspaper interviews to research the candidates. And I do most of my research at the last minute. There. I have said it. Every Tuesday after the first Monday of November during an election year, I resolve to keep better track of the candidates voting records so that when the next election season comes around, I know whether I can trust the incumbent or send them a pink slip. Instead, I go back to trying to keep up with homeschooling, outside activities for kids, church, housework, friends and other local affairs. Then, when election time comes up again, I resort to the equivalent of cramming for the test. This year, because of the sheer number of issues and candidates on the ballot, my husband and I are using the “divide and conquer” method of researching the the two pages of decisions that we have to make. I usually have no problems finding information on any of the candidates, except for one—judges. According to judges, they can’t state their views on any issue because it would affect their impartiality as a judge. So, I am asked to vote whether or not to retain a judge with basically no information provided other than to see how their colleagues view them, through Judicial Performance Reviews. This is where my frustration starts.

* I also confess that some of the shows on TV are pretty good, but "morass of manure" has alliterative qualities and, you must admit that most of the political TV ads closely resemble manure, at least in smell.

This year, the voter guide I use did claim to have a guide on judges. However, voter guides generally rely on the candidates replying to their surveys and, of the 56 judges on the Mesa ballot who were sent generic questionnaires regarding their judicial philosophy, only eight replied. Since this is a voter guide developed by a conservative group, one could assume that the other judges didn’t reply because they are the liberal judges who feel the need to legislate from the bench because most Democrats do not respond to their surveys. However, my mom taught me that when we assume things, we make, well you probably know that saying. One of the judges wrote a letter referencing a website that would allow me to see a record of decisions made. However, there was no good interface that would allow me to look at one judge’s history of decisions on that site. I would have to look up each individual case, read it, find out the judge’s decision and why they made it for the last year to develop an idea of whether they are judging strictly by the strictly literal interpretation of the law or by the law as they wish it had been written. I also started looking at the Judicial Performance Reports for the judges. The problem is that only 20% of the attorneys that were surveyed actually sent in results, which might skew reports one way or other. What if a bunch of liberal attorneys want to give a conservative judge a bad review and make sure to send in their surveys or conservative attorneys try to "blacklist" a liberal judge through those surveys? The one place that didn’t seem to have much information about judges was the local newspaper, which is EXACTLY the place that, theoretically, should be providing the information. But that is another day's rant.

With the problems that have surfaced with judicial activism over the last few years, shouldn’t we be provided information about how many of a judge’s decisions have been overturned in appeals, and whether or not they believe in a literal interpretation of the law vs. a revisionist interpretation? Fortunately, my homeschooling cohorts have come to my aid and provided the web address of an anonymous blog which rates the judges based on whether they are very conservative, moderately conservative, moderately liberal or very liberal. The blog is anonymous because the state conduct guidelines would allow a lawyer to be debarred for openly criticizing a judge or other attorney, though siting a judge as "liberal", "moderate" or "conservative" is hardly being critical. Apparently, the anonymous blogger is a lawyer and wants to continue to practice law. Without knowing this person very well, except by reading other blogs published on the site and other sites read by the blogger, I am basing my decisions primarily on the blog’s recommendations because I have very little other information and because the blogger is not afraid to highlight when people disagree with their assessment of the judge's political leanings, which I respect very much.

So I go with a bit of knowledge I glean from my sources and with help from my hubby doing the research to vote on Tuesday. After having spent the last year or so studying the American Revolution with my kids and reading about the months that our Founding Fathers spent designing a government that passed power from one person to the next peaceably with input from the governed through the election process, I have a renewed passion for voting and for making sure I am making reasonably informed choices. I also urge you to exercise the freedoms that our forefather's fought to give us, the freedoms that women and emancipated slaves fought to achieve, the freedoms that people living under dictators in other countries can only dream of having: the freedom to have a voice in our government and to hold government accountable. Whether you agree with me politically or not, please vote this Tuesday.

October 25, 2010

Bridgetender School Update--Kids

I talked about the curriculum and some of the fun stuff we did during our first nine weeks of school. I thought you might be interested in hearing about the individual kids.

Elizabeth, sixth grade: Elizabeth is not liking sixth grade very much. She is in what Tapestry of Grace calls the "dialectic" stage, when they expect kids to start making connections. She is used to discussing facts, not trying to make connections. She has a lot of reading and extra work to do verses the other kids. Her favorite form of non-fiction is diaries, which she decided after reading Diary of a Napoleanic Foot Soldier by Jakob Walter. I had her write about three page paper about John Watt, the "inventor/improver" of the steam engine. We both learned a lot from this process, particularly how few books there are for kids considering the man jump-started the Industrial Revolution. I will be sending out her paper to family. If you are not family and I know you, I will be happy to send it if you send me a request in the comments section. She has almost finished Epsilon in Math U See, which involved learning about fractions and everything related to fractions, like factoring, finding the greatest common factor of two numbers, etc. It also introduced some pre-algebra concepts. Her biggest challenge, this year, however, is to write legibly and follow directions. Whenever I ask her to write neatly her response is, "I am like my dad, Mom. I can't write neatly." She is taking horseback riding lessons once a week, guitar lessons and is attending a homeschool youth group once a month. She is also serving with her dad in 1st grade and has developed a knack for being able to calm a special needs kid down when he gets out of hand.

Jessi, fourth grade: Jessi worked very hard to master multiple digit multiplication to be able to graduate to the Delta book in Math-U-See. Like Elizabeth, it took her a long time to get neat enough to be able to properly add the lines without forgetting or mis-reading numbers. She is doing great remembering Spanish words and loves putting together newsletters which have been assignments for science. She is getting very talented at using Hallmark Card Studio. She is enjoying all of her reading. She is also learning to be organized, with some progress. She started her first horse-riding lessons last week and really enjoyed it and she loves playing the piano. She also participates in the church's children's choir, which leads the elementary and pre-school in worship and verse memorization once a month.

Kyle, Second grade: His biggest challenge is in writing. He writes beautifully, but it takes him a very long time to write a short sentence and his hands tire out easily. However, with all the writing he has had to do, he is making progress in this area. He loves math the most, though I think he is also enjoying learning about mammals. He has not met a book that he doesn't like. For "fun" reading, he picks books about Canada, the Mexican-American war and other wars. He is even reading long chapter books like "The Hardy Boys" series and "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series. He is playing baseball and enjoying being a Tiger Scout. He was absolutely ecstatic when he learned how to shoot a bow and arrow and a BB gun at the last Boy Scout camp.

John, Kindergarten: He is picking up sounds of letters very quickly, knowing at least 13 different letters. We are using the Ruth Beechick method of phonics to teach him to read. It has worked for my three oldest kids and he seems to be enjoying it. He has picked up blending sounds very quickly. While we learned about the letter "L", we worked on his pronunciation so it no longer sounded a lot like the "r" sound. For math concepts, he has learned the days of the week and can count to 100. We are working on months of the year and being able to recognize numbers up to 100, mainly by dot-to-dot pictures. He also listens in on some of our group studies, like science and our history discussions. He is really good in art, IMHO. His biggest challenge is to know when to stop being "funny" or "sarcastic" and give me a serious answer. He is taking Tae Kwon Do twice a week and really enjoys it.

Our week off started with a little excitement as Kyle learned that bagels do NOT need 20 minutes in the microwave on high to defrost. I stopped the microwave much sooner than the 20 minutes mainly because the fire alarm was triggered by the yellow smoke pouring out of the microwave. After turning off the alarm, stopping the microwave and re-assuring the alarm company that we really didn't have a fire, I set up fans to send the smoke outside. The bagel was charcoal and the red, plastic, flower-shaped plate was partially melted. The kitchen still smells of smoke and we are hoping that the baking soda in the microwave will absorb the smoke that seems to have been absorbed by the microwave.

If you are getting tired of homeschool updates, rest assured, this is


October 23, 2010

Bridgetender School Update--pictures

In case you missed it, I gave a general update of the first quarter of our homeschool. However, I started writing it, then added a link to a worship song that I liked and posted that before I finished the update. Therefore, the Bridgetender school update is below the worship song link. So go here to read it before you continue. Below are pictures of the kids showing off their geology creations. One of the things that Tapestry of Grace had our kids do is create geographic land forms like peninsulas, isthmus, island, mountain, precipices, etc. We used salt-dough clay, which took a while to dry and then painted them. The blue construction paper represents water. Before we destroyed them, I took a picture of each child in front of their creation : John, Jessi, Kyle, and Elizabeth.

I have also included a collage of pictures. Three pictures have kids showing off the paintings they made of a specific mug as part of our art class at home. I don't know why I didn't include Elizabeth's painting. The other pictures are pictures of a hike we took at Papago peak, a collection of "cute, little" mountains separating Phoenix from Tempe. The idea was to try and mimick a Lewis and Clark hike by having the kids carry a backpack full of water, clothes, drawing materials for their journal, and some "provisions". It was perfect because we had never been on this particular trail. Then we talked about the differences between our hike and their exploration, like the fact that we have a restroom nearby, marked trails, a playground, packing a small snack vs. packing food for a month or more with camping provisions, which makes packs a LOT heavier than what they carried. The hike also only took about ten minutes to climb up vs. spending a whole day walking. And if we decided that we were hungry, we had the choice of going to a fast food restaurant to get more victuals. Since the hike and the playground didn't take very long, we drove to a nearby tomb in the form of a pyramid for one of Arizona's former governors and his wife. All this is very close to the Phoenix Zoo and the Phoenix Botannical Gardens.

This month, our homeschooling group had a field trip to Mother Nature's farm. It is not necessarily a place that I would recommend, although it did have a cow that would "moo" on demand and it had a small hay maze that they kids liked and a bounce-n-play. It is primarily is a tourist farm located in the middle of Gilbert suburbia with a clear view of an empty businesss park. They were able to "decorate" pumpkin with foam shapes. Kyle refused to decorate his, however, so we don't have a picture of it. I think Elizabeth would win for most area covered. Last year, the kids and I went to a farm that had a "pizza garden" and an awesome corn maze, which we might re-visit if I can remember the name of the place.

We have a week of rest from school while I get ready for the next unit and we have some fun times together.
Next Post: Bridgetender School Update--The Students.

October 17, 2010

To Know Your Name

I am providing a link to a song we sung today at church that really affected me. We have sung it before, but the words seemed more alive today, for some reason. It might have something to do with the fact that I have been reading Randy Alcorn's book, _Safely Home_.

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
Ephesians 3:14-21

P.S. Special thanks to my wonderful husband, who showed me how to embed a video into my blog. He is awesome!

October 15, 2010

Bridgetender School First Quarter Update--Curriculum

This posting is for the benefit of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, who I want to thank for their encouragement in so many ways. Homeschooling is more difficult than I ever imagined and, even though I still have a much better teacher-to-student ratio than any public school classroom, it is a huge challenge to teach four children in a one-room schoolhouse environment. Every year, I pray, asking God if He wants me to continue homeschooling and if so, what He wants me to do for the coming year. So far, I still am getting the message to keep them at home. Over time, I am learning that the most important lessons I can teach my kids do not involve history, math, or language arts, but interpersonal communication because I am realizing that the two job objectives given to all humans by God is to "Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37). I feel like the blind leading the blind in these two areas, sometimes.

Having said that, I having included a character development skill in our school. Our focus for this year is "listening" and that isn't just in the context of "obeying", it includes knowing when to speak and when to hold our tongues. Our key verse is James 1:19-20. This is an excellent chance for me to improve my listening skills, too. I am finding that they do excellent work when we are practicing as part of school, but aren't so great at applying it to "real world" situations, so I expect it will take a full year to work on it and a lifetime to get really good at it. :-) We are also studying the book of James, using Kay Aurthur's "Precepts for Kids" series.

In terms of academics for the three older kids, we are using Tapestry of Grace for history, geography, and literature; Math U See for math; Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) for a combination of grammer and writing skills; Apologia...Land Animals... for science; reading Spanish-English books for Spanish, and occasionally doing dictation and copywork for penmanship, writing, and listening skills development. We are doing art at home, using Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner to work on their drawing skills as well as suggestions from the Tapestry of Grace arts & activities sections. The kids are attending SportskidzAZ for one day of P.E. a week and they are involved in outside sports activities. John, my kindergartner is currently studying numbers and the calendar for math concepts, is learning letter sounds, and plays or doodles nearby during the group studies for "osmosis" learning.

Tapestry of Grace has required a huge adjustment. It is a curriculum involving books, writing and other activities for a specific period of history that is divided into four different age levels--lower grammer (Kyle), uppper grammer (Jessi) and dialectic (Elizabeth). And it has reading for me so that I know what my kids are learning. I have provided a link if you want more information about it.

The IEW course for writing teaches children to write by giving them a paragraph, teaching them how to create an outline the paragraph and then re-write the paragraph based on their notes. As they improved, you introduce, one at a time, "dress-ups" like a "who-which" clause, participles, and work on developing a list of synonyms for overused words like "small", "nice", "good", etc. You let them play with the different "dress ups" in re-writing. So far, I am using what we are reading in the Apologia science book for source material, though I may include history, too.

I am very thankful to God, who continues to show me ways to improve the schedule and gives me great ideas to make studies more fun, like having the kids "ride the rapids" like Lewis and Clark in a laundry basket down our hallway. It involved me pushing the kids as fast as I could and then releasing them to see how far they would slide. I was half tempted to oil the bottom of the basket if the clean up wouldn't have been so difficult and if there hadn't been a distinct possibility of damaging walls. I am also thankful that we were able to experiment with the schedule for the first month or so before the outside activities began. I am also thankful to my husband, who is such a great encourager when I need it most.

Next post: Children's Progress at Bridgetender School

October 10, 2010

A Little Like a Jane Austen Trip Part III: The Last of the Journey

Since I have dragged this out a bit, let me start by re-capping our summer adventures that I have already documented. We left on July 16 for Memphis, where my family was staying--just me and the kids. Eric stayed home to work for two weeks before joining us at our "final destination." We spent six wonderful days with my family before traveling a day to Chicago to visit family and friends for four days. We left early on Thursday, July 29 to drive up an hour north of the Twin Cities to spend 24 hours with my brother-in-law and his wife and four kids who are, roughly the same age as my kids.

My very short visit with them was wonderful. The cousins get along pretty well, especially the first day and my kids were able to attend their church's last VBS night with their three oldest. It meant that I was able to enjoy "girl time" with my sister-in-law as we walked around the small city near their home. We had some plans to do shopping, but, like most small towns in which I have lived, most businesses were closed by 6 p.m. Therefore, we found the local Dairy Queen and then walked off one tenth of the calories that we consumed. The kids were sufficiently worn out and sugared up from VBS. My sister-in-law had already volunteered to watch my kids for a day so that I could meet Eric and have alone time with him for 24 hours before we all met up to get ready for the big event that intiated this long trek--my sister-in-law's wedding. I do believe that this officially qualifies them for sainthood.

Words cannot express how glad I was to see Eric again. Sure we talked on the phone several times a day while I was gone, but touch is one of my "love languages" and I had been starved for two weeks. I felt like I was on my honeymoon again, which is wonderful. It was also the first time we had been alone together on an overnight since we went looking for homes over a year ago, which didn't count much because most of the time, we had a real estate agent with us. We walked around a lake the next day and basically rested in each other's company until it was time to meet up with our brother's family, their kids, and our kids to get ready for the wedding.

The wedding was lovely. For several years, my sister-in-law knew that she wanted to have her wedding in her father's backyard and I don't blame her. Eric's dad lives on several acres with tall trees surrounding the beautifully restored farmhouse. Some of the unique touches to her wedding was having a "unity tree." They both added soil and water to the tree, which represented their living, growing love. They also read a children's book called A Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton to the 25 kids that were invited to the ceremony. After the ceremony, everyone grazed on all sorts of appetizers--marinated meat on a stick, piles of veggie trays, fruit trays and all sorts of delicious, filling creations. They had beer and wine from places where they had visited and, instead of a wedding cake, they had Girl Scout cookies and cake "shots." All the while, the 25 or so kids played in the grass, in the driveway, drew chalk pictures, on the play equipment and in the playhouse near the trees. There was no dancing, but there was a bonfire later that night where hot dogs could be roasted and s'mores made. And because there was no DJ or dancing, it meant that we could all spend time catching up with family that we hadn't seen in a while, which was VERY nice. It was pretty late at night when we dragged our kids back to the hotel room, where we were going to stay for a night before moving into his dad and step-mom's house for a few days. Then, we spent a few days with his mom and step-dad and his daughter and her family. It was all relaxingAll too soon, it was time for a final load of laundry before heading home.

We left fairly early with Eric driving the whole way. We drove to Sterling, Colorado that first day. In case you were wondering, yes, it was a long day of driving. Our goal was to drive to Arizona from the Twin Cities area in two days with a rest day in between. Sterling is not a town I would recommend. We had a lovely view of the mixed level prison, which was within walking distance. There was also a Travelodge nearby and one of our kids confused the prison with the Travelodge, even though they have never stayed in either. We ate a restaurant that offered "fried macaroni and cheese" on the kids menu, which is as gross as it sounds. The next day, we spent time at Focus on the Family checking out their play area, which is designed after their "Adventures in Odyssey" area. The kids had a great time, though it didn't hold their attention for that long, as is the case with most play structures. We ate at "Whit's End" cafe, which is supposed to be like the soda shop featured in the radio/book/video series, but felt more like an amusement park experience in terms of food quality and prices. After lunch, we drove through a downpour to Garden of the Gods and attended a multimedia presentation and browsed through their book store hoping that the rain would stop soon. In desperation and a bit of boredom, we decided that driving around the park in the thunderstorm would be better than looking at all sorts of overpriced kitch. Just as we were about to leave, the sun suddenly appeared, driving the rain away and enticing us to hike. Within thirty minutes, the only evidence of rain were streams running alongside the trail and some streaks along the rocks as water had fallen. Even those eventually disappeared. Garden of the Gods is incredibly beautiful. I wish we could have spent more time hiking. That night, we stayed at Pueblo, Colorado, which was also chosen for no other reason than it didn't require a long drive and it was further south, bringing us closer to home. We ate at the children's favorite restaurant since hearing a Tim Hawkin's monologue: Cracker Barrell. The last day of travel, which also was a long drive, was pretty dreary, even with entertainment. There were a LOT of pit stops, for some reason, as if our kids didn't really want to be home. Unfortunately, it extended the time in our car to almost beyond patience. I almost cried when, an hour from our house, a child mentioned that they had to go to the bathroom--again. The biggest problem is that because of the route we took, there is nothing within the two hour drive between Payson and Mesa with the exception of a casino that is twenty minutes from our home. It always seems as if the last half our of any excursion is the most painful, whether it is a place where you were visiting or your home. Hearing occasional whining about having to go to the bathroom only made the situation worse. I was so relieved when we finally got home and I was able to get out of the car and into the warm, musty smelling home that I hadn't seen in 25 days. It was dinner time, however, which meant getting back in the car and getting a pizza that we could throw in the oven as well as other basic supplies. Eric and the kids worked at unloading the van of suitcases, sleeping bags, pillows, activity bags, garbage that hadn't been properly disposed of, DVDs and CDs, electronics equipment and a host of other things that we had accumulated.

In some respects, each segment of my trip seemed too short and yet, I don't know if I would make such an oddysey again. Living out of suitcases became very tiresome after the first week, especially when you are sharing a suitcase with four other people who happen to be children that rummage through to find their clothes, mixing the rest of the clothes in a heap. Do you realize how well socks and underwear can hide in big suitcase? If I had been like Elizabeth Bennett and actually stayed a month in one place, it might have been a little less stressful and the kids and I might have been given a more permanent place to put our clothes, maybe even a cabinet as stylish as the one that Lady Catherine deBurgh suggested to Mr. Collins! I also missed my husband's company for two weeks. I missed my dog, Jacques and our daily walks together. I also missed the rhythm of being home, even if that rhythm did not involved going outdoors because it was too hot. The trip did, however, give me a deep appreciation for my kids, who, though not perfect, were perfectly wonderful through all the long car rides here, there and everywhere.

September 28, 2010

Roots theme

Before I begin my little ramblings, I would like to point you to a wonderful blog posted by my friend, AquaJane. I enjoy her writing in general and her book, Beyond Betrayal, but this one especially hit my heart as have been struggling with trying to set up a permanent settlement in Arizona after being uprooted by my husband’s job change.

The roots theme has been running in my life for a while now. It started during the Winter/Spring of 2009 when I was working with some women to host a prayer seminar in our church. Most of my contribution was in praying with the women and giving a little bit of input, mainly because I felt like a lieutenant next to some four star general prayer warriors . One time, as we were praying, someone was reminded of a vision one of the women had our church being like prairie flowers that typically had their roots growing very deep beneath the earth’s surface as a representation of our church. As we were praying about that vision, I thought I heard God telling me that sometimes He removes healthy plants with deep roots to transplant in other areas. This came at a time when my husband had lost his job and there was a very real possibility that he would be getting a job out of state and had interviewed for a company in Arizona. One of the things the Women's Ministry did for conferences/seminars was to gather a group of women before the seminar to pray for God to give them scripture verses. AquaJane was given my name and the verse God gave her for me was this:

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."--Isaiah 43:19

God wasn't really being subtle with me, was He? No, he knew that I would need advance warning for the move he wanted me to make and was graciously giving me that advance warning. And two months later, we were down in Arizona. Many times in the last year, I have felt like a withered plant needing lots of fertilizer, water, and TLC. God has been providing the TLC and Living Water, either directly, or through others. I think I have been pretty good at creating fertilizer ;-).

As I have said, my husband and I have been putting down roots in Arizona for the past 18 months. We have found a church that we enjoy and, because we are people who need to be committed, we have been attending a membership class. We have been prodded by God to participate and serve in the church long before this. Last Sunday, before the membership class, I attended a luncheon for one of the groups that I had joined. The woman who was the leader in my group talked about the difficulty she had during her move and how she knew that she needed to become involved and serve in a church in order to put down deep, strong roots to weather the storms of life. Of course, because I have the tendency to cry at the drop of a hat, I could feel the tears well up as God brought the root metaphor up again, reminding me of how faithful He has been through this transplant.

However, God is reshaping my roots. Unlike prairie flowers, cacti don't have deep roots, they have wide spreading roots. I think there are two reasons for this: sand does not allow water to infiltrate deeply as quickly as loamy soil common in the Midwest. Downpours in Arizona can result in flash floods as the water cannot be quickly absorbed and just runs downhill. Most subdivisions around here have areas called "washes", where rainfall is directed onto grassy basins. So it makes more sense for the roots to be at the surface where the water will actually be, rather than digging down deep where water can't penetrate. The other reason is so that the roots can catch water even during brief rainfalls.

And yet, the blooms on a stodgy, cactus, with its bulgy, waxy, green-grey skin are some of the most delicate, translucent beautiful flowers you can find anywhere. So, somehow, God is changing this flashy, deep-rooted prairie flower to survive in the desert. And I am learning that you don't need deep roots or shallow roots to bloom and bear fruit. You need turn to the God who knows you intimately enough to give you exactly what you need to blossom.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” James 1:17

September 21, 2010

Jane Austen-like trip Part II: Travel and visiting

A friend commented that my trip was like travel back in Jane Austen's day except for the fact that I traveled on smooth roads in an air-conditioned vehicle with shock absorbers that went much faster than a coach-and-four, and we could be entertained by more than conversation/staring out the window and with the added convenience of stores/rest stops with indoor plumbing. By the way, did anyone realize that Jane Austen grew up during the reign of King George III, which should be known by everyone as the king who was SO arrogant,pig headed and insane that he lost the American colonies when they rebelled? It puts the interclass romance theme in a different light, doesn't it?

It was great to see my folks. We took in a AAA baseball game, went to the library, played at the park and the kids tried catching the hundreds of frogs that live in my folk’s backyard thanks to a pond in the neighbor’s property. My family and I were able to talk about a lot of things. The kids helped with "quality control" by tasting my dad's frosting before it went on the cake to make sure it tasted good. Because my folks get up really early for work, we went all went to bed pretty early. It was very relaxing.

The trip to Chicago was a little more stressful. I was caught by a policeman just after crossing the Illinois border traveling the Missouri speed limit of 70 mph, which was 15 mph over the Illinois speed limit. I was actually traveling about 75. To make matters worse, I was traveling at those speeds in a “construction zone.” I use quotation marks because there was no evidence of any actual work being done on the road—no construction vehicles, no lane closures, not a single individual in orange walking along the median. There was just the signs warning of a construction zone that wasn’t. I was suspecting that those signs were the latest method in speed traps until someone mentioned that construction workers were on strike. Still, I believe that the devil is basing his roads in hell on the Illinois road system—half completed construction, full of potholes, speed traps and tolls.

I spent three days seeing old friends, which was wonderful. Unfortunately, a lot of the ones I wanted to see at church were on vacation. It was good to see my old church, Trinity Community Church in Libertyville, worship with old friends and listen to an awesome sermon. I hugged and spoke with as many people as I could. I had little get togethers with the different groups of people each day. The kids have had a blast playing with old friends. I have been a little tired from staying up late talking and laughing with friends and some family. We also had an emergency orthodontis appointment due to a wire getting loose. That cut into time I would have liked to spend visiting my old neighborhood. I spent a day cleaning clothes, cleaning up the van, and re-packing. It was a great time, but for my next Chicago visit, I think I will allocate five days so that I can see all family and more friends and still get some rest. By this time, however, I was also really starting to miss my husband and looking forward to our time together.

Next Installment: "Mystery of love, at last I've found you..."

September 17, 2010

Hodgepodge update

I deleted my account on Facebook today. I am guessing that it will take a week before I automatically start typing in www.fa.... and have the facebook address not automatically pop up. My brother has accused me of being me melodramatic as I kept saying good-bye so many times. I definitely have not silently drifted away leaving people wondering where I am. I made plenty of announcements, commented on my progress in copying contacts, notes, pictures and other things before cutting myself off from what has helped me or maybe hindered me in making the break God provided. I think that was my point. A friend understood me exactly when she sent me a video which you can watch here. I am tempted to start hyperventilating just thinking about it. However, God did bring me 1800 miles away from the one home I hoped I would always have here on this earth for a purpose and I think Facebook was preventing me from truly plunging into His plan. I have a long list of books to read and home projects that will fill the time if I pull myself away from the computer, because there ARE other things to distract me on the computer. One big advantage will hit soon as my email will no longer be clogged by messages from facebook whenever anyone commented or replied. However, I am already fighting urges to relog onto it. I think I have the same reflex that the person who is trying to lose weight sometimes goes to the refrigerator to look for food just because they are used to going to the refrigerator and eating. I think I deserve and extra big scoop of ice cream for doing what I should have done months ago. Speaking of ice cream...

I lost two pounds last week, bringing me back down to 8 pounds lost overall. I had a bad cold, complete with sore throat, to thank for that because I wasn't hungry, especially for sweets. As I recover, my goal is to get to the table hungry again for every meal and say 'no' to sweets for one day.

This weekend will be very busy. I will be going to a Beth Moore simulcast at my church all day Saturday and then spend most of the day there on Sunday between church, a special meeting and attending a membership class with my husband. Have a great weekend.

September 12, 2010


At this point in time, I have a bunch of entries to make and not enough time to make them all individual posts, so I am combining a couple of posts into one so that I can continue my vacation blog, though most of the people reading it are the family that I visited.

To Facebook or not to Facebook...
Hello. I am Kristina Overtoom and I am a Facebook addict. I check it several times a day, spending half an hour, on average, at each time. I have developed an unreasonable urge to keep track of every single friend's life, though I am well over 100 friends between old friends, new friends and family. It is cutting into my time with my family, my hobbies and my chores. Even though I believe Facebook is not evil unto itself, I do believe that it is a poor communication device for anything but trivialities and only allows superficial bonding. And since I have allowed it to take over my life, I feel the need to "pull the plug." Forever. Or at least until all the kids are out of the house and I have "all the time in the world. :-)" It has felt like a lifeline to me since I moved seventeen months ago, but it is really a poor substitute for the phone and/or email. I will take the next week to make sure I have contact and blog information for everyone who is my friend and to "give notice" to all my friends so that they don't see me unfriending them and think that I no longer like them. Please pray that God will bring me through this difficult time as I Facebook detox and that I can withstand the urge to create a new identity in Facebook.

The Diet Wars, Parts XVI through XXI: Revenge of the Stress Monster
Returning from my vacation, I had a week to prepare for school. It involved getting familiar with a new curriculum, planning for a new student, John, who is in Kindergarten, and making sure I had all the books I needed at least for the first two weeks. And actually making a schedule. When you are only teaching one child, a schedule is not as necessary because there is only one child. However, with four different children at varying levels and needing help in different subjects, I needed to come up with a schedule that allowed me to flow from one student on the subjects which required individual attention. It was very stressful and I chowed down on lots of sweets, which is my habit. The first schedule I created really stunk, leading to more stress as the school day was much longer than last year because of inefficiences. The school just down the block from our house has been very inviting. However, I keep reminding myself that this IS God's calling in my life and that all callings from God involve difficulties. So the last four weeks, my eating habits have been horrible and I have returned to feeding my sweet tooth which is an old, ingrained habit of looking for false comfort. However, I have only gained back the two pounds that I lost during the vacation, which is, I think, a mercy of God and the result of exercise. Another mercy from God is that He has infused in me a quiet peace over the last few days that, even though I have stumbled, He will carry me through this. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phillipians 1:6). And so I am ready to re-group and get back into the game instead of wallowing in self disgust and giving up. I will not make the 40 week deadline, but then again, that was my own goal, not God's. My goal is to get my quiet times back on track, which should be helped as I "feed on him, not on food."

To God be the glory!

September 4, 2010

My "Jane Austen" trip--sort of

Before I met my husband, I had heard of Jane Austen, but never really read any of her novels. They are basically romance novels with usually witty dialogue set in England during the reign of King George III (think American Revolution through Napoleonic wars). The first book I read was Pride and Predjudice. I fell in love with her books and devoured every one I could. I have been tempted to re-read her books again. One event that occurs in every Jane Austen novel is a big trip. The middle class heroine, who has wealthy friends or relatives, is invited to mix with the upper class for a month or so. Yes, I said a month. Sometimes, they last several months. So inviting someone to visit you was a serious undertaking in those days.

I embarked on my own “Jane Austen” trip, though I did not stay in any one place for a month. The ultimate goal of the trip was to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding in the Twin Cities area. We knew we couldn’t afford to fly all of us out to Minneapolis and Eric couldn’t afford to take the extra days of driving both there and back. So, I started thinking about extending the trip for the kids and I and visit my family in Memphis, Tennessee. Since Chicago is roughly midpoint between the two cities, I would add even more time to see friends and some family before moving to the “final destination.” Eric would stay at home, take care of the animals for part of the time, then fly up in time for the wedding and stay a week with his family, driving home with us in two days. We would leave in the early morning hours of July 16 and not return until August 10. It meant missing Arizona friends, pets and, for two weeks, my husband. Some friends call me “brave” or “adventurous” for driving that distance with four kids without any assistance, though I wonder if some of them used those words as substitutes for “slightly crazy.” I was fully prepared however, for the trip. We had 16 hours of Focus on the Family Radio Theatre CDs, and 15 hours of movies not to mention activity bags with lots of books and doodling paper and even a quiz game.
The first leg of the trip--going to Memphis--was uneventful. We listened to The Magician’s Nephew and part of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and watched four movies in the 2 ½ days of driving. I tried to have some extended outside play time in the middle of the trip to burn off energy, though the second day, it was so hot in Oklahoma that no one was interested in running for more than five minutes. The biggest challenge was, of course, potty breaks. However, once again, I am a traveling pro and have established the rule that if one person has to go, then every has to try and go. Every time we had to stop, the kids would wail and protest that “I don’t have to go, Mom!” or “Why are you making me go in when _____ is the one who has to go?” I was the worst culprit at needing potty stops due to drinking several cups of coffee during the morning to get myself going. The kids were really good in the car and even pretty good whenever we made stops, even the ones where the gas station only had one bathroom and there was a line of people waiting to use it. The end of the first day involved eating at a McDonalds with a playland to release some energy in the hopes that the kids would go to sleep early. It didn't work. They were still on Mountain Standard time, two hours difference from Amarillo, Texas. I really pitied the folks surrounding our hotel room on the second night in North Little Rock Arkansas. They were running up and down the stairs and hallways helping me unload the car and sounding like a pack of screeching monkeys riding on the backs of stampeding elephants. The guy staying in the room across from us actually poked his head out of the door to see what was making so much noise. I ended up taking them out to a grassy place behind the hotel to run races and tag for an hour before going inside to get ready for bed. We arrived in the Memphis area around lunch time after getting a really late start to the day. More on my “epic journey” on another day.

August 27, 2010

Having fun with backgrounds

I am using Google Blogger and was getting bored with the plain, rather stark purple background, though royal purple is my favorite color. My love of purple started when I saw Donny Osmond, the cutest teenager in the whole world, reveal in "The Donny and Marie Show" that he wore sparkly purple socks. Even though I am no longer smitten by Donny, I still love the color because it is muted without being dull with a hint of sparkle to it. However, just like a little fresh paint makes a room look new, I thought I would play with the background for my blog.

I chose the book theme because I do love reading books. It is common for me to read three or four a time, usually out of necessity. Right now, I am reading John Adams by David McCullough and Voices of the French Revolution, which is a compilation of letters of people at the time and scholarly commentary. I am reading both as homeschool assignments, but I am enjoying getting to know John Adams in more detail. David McCullough does a great job of including the letters of John and Abigail Adams. There is something that I really like about John's stubborness and frankness, though, like all the Founding Fathers, he was a mixure of mud and glory. The book does not paint a complimentary picture of Benjamin Franklin. Apparently, he and King Soloman had shared the same weaknesses.

In the library queue is Inkheart by Cornelia Caroline Funke, which my 11 year old daughter is encouraging me to read, A History of Germany from the Medieval Empire to the Present by Deither Raff , and Spain, 1469-1714: A Society in Conflict by Henry Kamen. I will be reading these after I finish the other two. Ever since I started homeschooling, I have become very interested in history. The new curriculum I am using for history and literature is called "Tapestry of Grace" and the theme is how history is like a tapestry with interconnecting threads. I like that visual.

Now that I have exhausted that stream of consiousness, I will be spending some time over the next few days deciding if I like the new layout or if it is too busy. Please let me know what you think.

August 12, 2010

Like being involved in a rear end accident

Last week, after traveling 4,900 miles halfway across the United States and back without incident, a lady crashed into the back of my car as I sat at a light two miles from my home. There is minimal damage to the car and I have just a little pain in my neck, shoulders and back which will go away soon with a little bit of pampering. However, being struck from behind is the last thing anyone ever expects and part of the pain is the unexpectedness of the blow. One of the many ironies is that I was thinking about a couple who had just lost their child a day after she was born and thinking that losing a baby is a little bit like being involved in a rear end accident.

The fact that the woman was pregnant was somewhat of a miracle. Or maybe I should say, more miraculous than the usual conception under the circumstances. Why would God go to the trouble of miraculously creating life and preparing the couple for being parents and then give them so little time? I don't really expect an answer to that question because the One who has the power to create everything out of nothing isn't really answerable to me and, furthermore, it is not my story. For more of their story, go here.

I must confess that babies dying is a little blow to my faith, like a car accident is a little blow to one's confidence. I am tempted to cry out at the unfairness of it all. And yet, when I really think about it, if God is unfair, it is totally in our favor. We are faithless, greedy, self-centered, rebellious people and He has every right to give us the death we deserve. And yet, instead, he asked His Son to pay the penalty and offers those who follow Him an eternity with Him in a place where there is no more sorrow, no more pain and no more suffering. That is a totally unfair deal which I have gratefully accepted and I wish more people would join me in accepting.

To further buttress my faith in times like these, I remember that God is not just good, He is holy and righteous and love. If you think I should have said "loving", you might be right grammatically but in terms of God's character and makeup, my grammatically incorrect statement might be more better :-). Furthermore, Romans 8:28 says that "God works for the good of those who love him..." (I am required as a Christian to quote this under the circumstances). So this appalling situation is somehow, in some currently unfathomable way, meant for good of my friends, their friends and family, who do love God and seek His will.

These rocks of faith, while they take the edge off the pain, I am sure will not prevent the blackness of grief from overwhelming them at times, just as it hasn't always helped me from going over the edge in overwhelming circumstances. But it has in the past prevented me from completely falling into the abyss. About the time I figuratively feel my hands loosen from the end of the rope I am desperately clutching, I find that God has added a ledge just below my feet that allows me to rest before He pulls me back to safety. Therefore, I am certain that He will do the same thing for them because He is the Father of compassion and God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).

And their faith in overwhelming grief is the stuff of true heros. Read Hebrews 11, sometimes referred to as the annals of God's heros, and then go back and read the actual stories of these list of heros. Most of them were pretty ordinary and had more than one belief/obedience issues with God. And yet, they persevered in their faith in spite of overwhelming circumstances, momentary doubts and backsliding.

"One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. . . Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul." Ps. 62:11 & Ps. 143:8 (Thanks to my AZ friend Lydia for posting this verse on Facebook when everything was happening.)

August 11, 2010

Weight Loss update--weeks 11-15

Contrary to the lack of postings about my weight, I have not given up my quest to lose 40 pounds, though it won't happen in 40 weeks as I originally desired. However, in the last four weeks, I spent a week getting ready for a 3+ week vacation visiting family and friends in the Midwest, which was NOT a good eating week and the rest of the time was spent on the vacation. While I was away, I didn't want to use another scale to measure my weight. My primary source of information were a pair of brown camping shorts that were just a titch snug starting out on the trip. If they loosened up, then I knew I was losing some weight and if they started getting snug again, then I knew I had been eating too much and needed to reduce my amount. That was my vacation eating plan. I exercised about two or three times a week during my vacation, either walking or running for 15 minutes followed by a 15 minute walk. Sometimes, I swam in a hotel pool for ten minutes. Most of the time, we were staying in someone's house, which meant that I didn't have to over-eat in order to clean my plate. In the past 24 days, we spent slightly more than six days in the car driving from Arizona to Memphis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and, finally, home. During the first of my driving days, I ate less, though some of my calories did come from caffeinated products, like Starbucks Double Shot and Rockstar, which was needed to keep me alert on the long driving days with little sleep. I found the McDonalds fruit and yogurt parfait breakfast to be a healthlier alternative to the bread/egg/breakfast meat alternatives. Sometimes, especially if I had a big dinner, I would skip breakfast or have a smoothy type alternative. I had good eating days and I had bad eating days. The worst time I had was at my mother-in-laws house. She had a bowl of chocolate candy that I hid on the second day in a cupboard. She also had cookies stashed in a couple of different places that were fairly easily accessible. Apparently, my "won't power" is not yet up and running when chocolate or sweets are involved. Then there were different beers available, which, of course, are high in calories. BTW, I am a beer snob, and the companies like Bush, Coors and Budweiser that sell beverages that they call "beer" is not real beer, in my not so humble opinion. I tend to like the darker beers, beers that you can almost chew. In spite of that, the brown camping pants, after becoming more snuggy after a particularly bad day, loosened up again. I weighed myself today, since it had been so long and the result is...

Total weight change: 2 pounds lost, 32 pounds to go.

Praise God to whom all blessings flow! Praise God all creatures here below. Praise God above you heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

July 12, 2010

Monsoon misery

Last year about this time, people warned me when we started entering "monsoon season." They told me that we would get more rain and it would be 'humid.' I was a little skeptical since I had just come from Lake County, Illinois, which gets its name from the hundreds of lakes and ponds that add a lot of humidity to the air in the summer. Last summer, I would see thunderclouds forming by the mountain range every afternoon, but no rain and not much humidity. Natives told me that the monsoons skipped us, though we did have a record number of consecutive heat advisory warnings. We didn't get so "lucky" this year. I walked out with Jacques at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to 38% humidity and near 90 degree temperatures. I could barely breathe, though that might have been due to a lingering cold, too. Now for those of you who think I am a total wimp to complain about 38% being "high", I went to a Heat Index Calculator to see how humidity affects how we perceive the temperature:

* 90 Deg F with 60% humidity (typical Chicago day) feels like 100 Deg F.
* 95 Deg F with 75% humidity (typical St.Louis/Memphis day) feels like 128 Deg F
* 110 Deg F with 20% humidity (typical monsoon Phoenix weather) feels like 122 Deg F.

I had to look up the term "monsoon" to see where all this humidity is being created, since we do live in a desert. Turns out, the wind changes course in the summer and comes from the south and south east, bringing humid air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California (The strip of water between the Baja peninsula and Mexico). So this humid air comes traipsing into our area, gets hit with the intense heat eminating from the desert and blasts up to higher altitudes, congregates among the mountains, along with any Phoenix resident with a summer home along the Mogollan rim and forms splendid thunderclouds tens of thousands of feet high. Occasionally, it will actually rain in Phoenix. My cousin, who grew up south of Tuscon, said that in her neck of the woods, it would rain every afternoon. However, they are at a slightly higher elevation. Most of the time, it rains in the mountains, which is still good for Phoenix. There are huge cisterns up in the mountains collecting rainwater and snowmelt for the valley. The water is directed into canals that circle and criss-cross the valley so that we can have green lawns, water fountains, and swimming pools in the desert. Of course, the water is practically undrinkable without filtration. Eric can tell you more about the canal system in one of his posts since he and Kyle went to tour the Salt River Project that manages water needs for Mesa.

In the "olden days", people used swamp coolers to keep their houses cool. Air would blow through a tank of water into the house and the extra humidity would cool the house down as the water vapor evaporated. Swamp coolers become useless during monsoon season, which is why I am glad that I have a real air conditioner. The current practice is for restaurants to have misters on the perimeter of their outdoor seating with some sort of overhang to keep the sun off of their guests. Outdoor malls have misters throughout the walkways pouring out mist to help keep people cool in the summer as they walk around in the daytime*. It uses the same concept as the swamp cooler and works okay in the early summer, before monsoon season.

* This is a theory and probably only happens in the morning. Most people I know, if they can help it, stay inside during the afternoon, including me.

So basically, I am telling you that Phoenix is no place to be in July or August and anyone with a summer home in the mountains or elsewhere in the country or a camper will flee town for higher elevations, which are a minimum of 2 hours away heading generally north. Here are some additional statistics:
> Our pool water was a balmy 94 deg this evening. It felt good compared to the 100+ temperature outside.
> At 10 p.m., it is still 95 deg F. Jacques does not get an evening walk until the sun sets.
> The low tonight is supposed to be 85 deg F.
> Tomorrow we are expected to experience a "cool spell" lasting a day in which the temperature is not expected to reach 110. Woo hoo!

The kids and I have an escape plan, too, which was hatched with my sister-in-law Michelle's help (Knitting in Transit). She is getting married at the end of July and all the family is gathering to celebrate. The kids and I are taking a four-week Tour de Midwest visiting family in Memphis for almost a week, stopping for a few days in the Chicago area to have reunions with family and friends and rest up for the next leg of the journey to the Twin Cities area, where Eric will join us for the wedding and some time with his side of the family before we head back to the Oven state, I mean the Grand Canyon state. By then, we should only have a few weeks of extreme heat before it starts cooling off in September. Thanks, Michelle!