December 28, 2011

Best. Christmas. Ever.

Maybe Christmas, he thought... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more!  (_How the Grinch Stole Christmas_ by Dr. Suess)

In year's past, we have prepared with cookies and other things and celebrated Christmas for the whole month of December--mainly the preparing part.  This year, we decided to try to keep gifts simple and prepare our hearts for remembering the Advent of Christ.  We did an advent wreath on Sundays and, as much as our schedule allowed, kept up our Advent calendar.  Eric found an Advent daily devotional that he read at dinner.  I tried a different Advent devotional, though I probably should have focused on something else because after two weeks, the kids had memorized the Christmas story.  In terms of preparing things, we limited the preparation to one day of decorating in early December and baking whatever cookies I could the week before Christmas, when we didn't have school activities.  We just baked three different kids of cookeis, based on family preferences.  As a family, we spent one night decorating gingerbread cookies and making a gingerbread house which was extra fun because my husband is such a goofball.  On Christmas morning, the kids eagerly checked their stockings and then, more leisurely opened their gifts.  The kids did not receive any toys from us--two of them are getting a little old for toys.  However, everyone enjoyed the gifts we were given and a lot of thought went into many of the presents.  Everyone received a surprise and we all got what we wanted.  We spent the day hanging out together and getting the dinner ready.

1.  I did not cry once in frustration or stress in trying to "do it all."
2.  I did not "share" my stress with others because there was a lot less of it and between God and me, it was easily handled.
3.  Post-present clean up was minimal and there was no extra work involved in trying to find room for things.
4.  I felt the peace of God, which passes all understanding and made sure to pass it on to my family.

As an early Christmas present and confirmation to keep up the good work we started this Christmas, Elz came up to me on Christmas Eve and told me that this was the first year she really felt Jesus in our house.  Mission accomplished.

"Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  1 Peter 1:17-19

December 19, 2011

Real life examples from the Bible

Yesterday, God brought to my attention the fact that sometimes the Bible speaks simultaneously in terms of poetical imagery and down to earth facts of life.    While walking the dog yesterday, this tree caught my eye and I had to take a picture.  It isn't a very good picture, so I am going to describe it.  A lemon tree died and for some reason, the people living there decided to leave the stump.  From that stump, a branch sprouted and from that branch leaves and fruit have blossomed.  The passage I remembered from seeing it is Isaiah 11:1-5.  I am going to copy both the NIV version for its poetry and The Message translation for its down-to-earth practicality.

NIV (1984)
   A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; 
   from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 
   The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, 
   the Spirit of counsel and of power, 
   the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

   He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
   but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
 with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
   He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
    Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The Message:
A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse's stump, from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.  Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.  He won't judge by appearances, won't decide on the basis of hearsay.  He'll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth's poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.  Each morning he'll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

Of course, this passage really is talking about Jesus, about his lineage, coming from the line of David, son of Jesse and about his character and his work.  But isn't it a comforting thought that God takes something dead (or is it only mostly dead?), whether a tree or some part of our heart and causes it to bear fruit?  And isn't it wonderful of Him to give us concrete reminders of His power and His love?

Happy Advent!  Six more days until Christmas

December 17, 2011

An Excerpt from _Beholders of the Rising Sun_ by David Plaep

Very many thanks to my BIL and SIL, Daddin' Around and Just KT, who I believe gave me _Beholders of the Rising Sun_ by David Plaep when Eric and I were either just about to be married or our first Christmas as a family of three.  If they didn't, whoever did, please forgive me for my faulty memory and know that it is really you that I am thanking.  I remember reading it that first Christmas Eve.  Several times, I had to put it down to let some of the thoughts really sink into my poor, pitiful, brain.  It helped me appreciate Christmas in a whole new way.  I have read it several times since then and I would like to share a section of it with you.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have, and may you have a blessed Advent season.

"The Word become flesh and made his dwelling among us..." (John 1:14)

The power of the Most High overshadowed Mary and the Word became flesh.  In that moment, a parting....
By the words of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, we know that there is only one God:

"Hear O Isreal, the Lord our God the Lord is one."

However, at the beginning of the Apostle John's Gospel, God reveals an additional, mysterious truth about Himself:

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

The Lord is one--but the He is also intimately plural.  

The relationship that our intimately plural God experiences stretches far beyond our understanding.  In fact, like little children who have only the most vague idea that Daddy and Mommy are also husband and wife, we may not even give a thought to the private live of our intimately plural God.  Like little children who cannot possibly understand the unique and mysterious pleasures of a man and woman in one-flesh relationship, we cannot comprehend the depth of pleasure and love that Father, Son and Spirit have always enjoyed together.  But the truth is, passion and desire are written in God's name:

"...the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exodus 34:14)

Jealous..God's name is Jealous!

In his name, His eternal nature--such passion, such intense feelings!  The astonishing revelation in this name, Jealous, is that God has always lived an intensely passionate life.  This was true before anyone or anything was created.  

Throughout eternity, Father, Son and Spirit have been profoundly happy together; delighting in their perfect Goodness, Purity, Power and Beauty.  Their love for each other burns intensely; exquisite desire for each other--deep, everlasting pleasure.  More than anything else in the universe, this perfect love that our intimately plural God has always lived in should be jealously guarded.  It should never be disrupted.  And yet...

...The Word became flesh...

Father, Son and Spirit approached the womb of Mary and stood at the threshold of unspeakable pain.  In the moment when the Most High overshadowed Mary...a parting.  A painful, tearing in the life of God; in the way the Father, Son and Spirit have always lived.

God with God became God with us--to eventually become sin for us

In the moment when the Most High overshadowed Mary, the first groans of the Spirit--too deep for words--lifted in lament from this fallen world.

December 12, 2011

Letting go

The first weekend in December was an incredibly difficult weekend.  My Grandma Carmichael held an estate sale to get her house ready to sell.  She had lived in that house for about 50 years, spending most of her married life in it.  She and grandpa had helped design the house and it was lovely.  There is a porch between the carport and the house that has a roof and skylight so that you can sit outside in the middle of Tusconian summers and be comfortable.  It had orange trees, a pecan tree and a "fruit salad tree", producing grapefruit, oranges and lemons.  She hadn't been living in it quite a while, having moved to retirement housing five years ago after her house was robbed.  She had been renting it at "blessing rates" to help missionaries and others who needed low cost housing.  The problem is that renters don't treat a house as their own and renting tends to be more trouble than any money generated.  As much as she hated to do it, she knew that it was time to let go.

The sale was a success in that she made money and almost everything was sold.  She had done most of the work preparing for the sale, pulling things down from the walls and out of closets and cupboards, pricing them, letting friends and family chose from her stuff weeks before the event as a blessing.  I had gone down for a day before we left for Thanksgiving to grab things she had made, like quilts and afghans and a few pictures, as well as some stuff for the patio.  I also decided to take the china that belonged to her mother, wanting to keep it in the family as long as possible.  I asked her at the time how she was coping with it all.  I think at the time, she was too busy pricing things to have it really absorb.  The day of the sale arrived with a threat of rain coming down all day, though it stopped by mid-morning.  We set everything up in the carport, the porch and opened up the dining room where most of the furniture, pictures and linens were kept.  Within minutes of putting up the signs, even before she had returned, people were coming up to the house checking out the stuff.  There were hagglers and stragglers and browsers for two days.  I think then, it must have really started to hit her because, for the first time in my life, I saw her get REALLY upset about some things.  I was getting upset because my kids were in one room doing some school and watching movies and people were going beyond the boundaries of where things were and poking into all rooms.  One lady emerged from a bathroom where we stashed anything we didn't want to sell clutching a quilt my grandma made asking what it cost.  She seemed upset when we told her nothing in the bathroom was for sale. I had to put up signs telling people that nothing in the kitchen was for sale and to keep out of the rooms where we had things.  The hardest thing to see sold was my grandmother's bedroom set, the one that she and grandpa had shared during their 50 year marriage.  It sold for far less than the worth of the memories.

Before I left town to return to Phoenix, I stopped by to see my other grandmother, Nana, living in a nursing home and slowly succumbing to Alzheimers.  My favorite time to see her is actually in the afternoon, when she is in her bed flitting between sleep and consciousness, when we can have "conversations" uninterrupted by other Alzheimer's patients.  With her sunken cheeks and toothless smile and wispy white hair surrounding her face, she  reminds me more and more of a female version of the old man who cleaned up Woody in "Toy Story 2" and who also played chess against himself to win back his dentures in a Pixar short.  She no longer speaks coherently, though there have been times when I believe that she has understood what I said but replied in a new language created by Alzheimers.  Each time I visit, I mention people she should know to see if there is any sign of remembrance.  Her eyes still lit up when I talked about her mother and dad, whom I remember from my childhood.  They lit up when I talked about my mother. But I remember when those eyes  used to twinkle and dance with mischief and joy, not dully shine through age-glazed eyes.  I showed her pictures of my kids on my iPhone and she watched, entranced, though I doubt she knew who they were.  She got confused when I started talking about my husband, Eric, because her memory is of my cousin, Aric, who died many years ago as a young man.  She started talking in her new language and out of the jumble of words, there were a few that seemed to indicate that she remembered him and that he had died.  I showed her a picture of my Eric on my iPhone and told her that this was to whom I referred and watched the light in her eye dim with ignorance, even though she had attended our wedding and held several of our kids in her arms back when her mind was (nearly) whole. Each time I visit, I make sure to tell her how much I love her and miss her and how I will see her soon.  Saying good-bye is especially tough because I don't know when or if I will get the chance to see her again.  The one wry comfort I had as I left was that she was probably going to forget I existed within moments of leaving her, cutting the pain of "good-byes" short, at least for her.

As I left, I realized that, as hard as it is to let go of houses filled with memories, it is even harder to let go of the people who filled them.  My time with both grandmas is much shorter now than when I was a young, single woman or even an older, married woman.  Nana is literally living on borrowed time with an anuerism in her aorta that was supposed to have killed her three years ago.  I even see my other grandma slowing down as she approaches 83 years of life.  I know that I am not the only one going through this process of letting go and I know that I will most likely have to go through it again with my own parents and my in-laws in another twenty years.  The really good news in all of this, however, is bound up in the current season--Christmas.  It is a time when God initiated his last covenant, which would undo the death and decay ushered in by sin from the time it started in Adam and Eve and it started with a baby--new life to bring us new life.

" Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It's because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God."  1 Peter 1:18-21 (The Message)

December 10, 2011

Stationery card

Holly Year Christmas Card
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December 6, 2011

Waking up with songs in my head

Each morning, I usually wake up with some song in my head.  Sometimes, a song stays in my head all day.  For two horrific days a few weeks ago, it was "Wonderful Christmastime", penned by the hookmeister-but-not-versemeister Paul McCartney (I really hate that song, even more than "Feliz Navidad!").  I can feel it wanting to creep back into my mind, so I will quickly share with you the song that started out playing in my head this morning.  I like it, even if it is a bit repetitive, because of the play between the men and the women and the fact that it praises God by a lot of His titles/names.  It sounds great in congregational singing and I bet it would be even cooler sung in our church, one repetition in English and one in Spanish.


So far, my intention to really focus on Christ's coming has been going well, praise and thanks to God.  I am using some reading plans on my iPad Bible app focusing on repentence and the goodness of God.  The kids and I are reading Bible passages that relate to the Christmas story.  I am done with three out of four gifts for my family and I am close to finishing the last one.  I need a little help from my daughter for the gifts I am giving to the boys because some of it involves crocheting, which is not an area of expertise.  He has been showing me how to make Christmas fun.  I just have to make the certificates for all the fun things we will be giving the kids that are not items, but things they want to do.  We have not seen the inside of a store yet, but I do need to get an outfit for her Aerials show.  I think a daytime trip will be most welcome by all but the boys.

Happy Advent!

December 3, 2011

House vs. Home

"A house is made of boards and beams; A home is made of love and dreams."

You can tell a lot about a person from how they decorate.  The above quote is one of the first things you see walking into Nana and Poppa's house.  The other thing you will see at least when you leave is this picture:

They have a beautiful house filled with antique furniture and pictures, though most of what they own are actually family heirlooms that they have restored.  Everything in their house is fun, relaxing, and welcoming,  from their incredibly comfy sofas and chairs in the living room, to the kitchen with benches around three sides of the table that almost invite you curl up for extended birdwatching or gathering people around to play games or even (gasp) eat together!  Two of the kids' favorite places in the house are the "Relaxation Station," which is a cozy nook in a closet with lots of books to read and "Narnia,"  a room created from the attic storage space when they added on to the farmhouse to create a second bathroom.  It is a simple sleeping room that can be only accessed by going through the closet, which is what inspired the name.

pictures on a lovely old knicknack stand
pictures of grandkids and pictures by grandkids
Pictures of grandkids in kids' room
The other thing you will notice is how many pictures of family and friends are scattered throughout the house.  The side of their refrigerator is covered almost from top to bottom with pictures.  And they have pictures of their parents, kids and grandkids from various ages in almost every room.  In the "kids' room", where most of the grandkids sleep during nana/poppa sleepovers, the pictures are all of them when they were toddlers or younger.  In their office, they have a huge framed collage of nana with ALL of her grandkids--14 in all, mostly when they were babies.  They even have a couple of family portraits taken with their parents as babies.  Anyone with any reasoning ability can figure out that people are important to the people living in the house, especially family.

However, my favorite picture of all doesn't involve people, but is a really great reminder for those who are on an extended visit, or who will use the upstairs guest bathroom because the lower one is occupied. It reminds me of how God has deliberately put people in my life for perfectly good reasons.

November 27, 2011

Gonna Advent like it's... the First Noel?

I spent most of the week commenting to extended family about my disgust with the stores opening on Thanksgiving in some areas.  I thought that we should have a full 24 hours of giving thanks for what we had before succumbing to greed.  I spent Black Friday hanging with family and relaxing, totally uninterested in the "deals" I am missing.  However, before you comment on how holy I am, let me tell you that I spent all the time immersed in family and not spending a whole lot of time with God.  This puts me in the same category with the "pagans" and "superficial Christians" lusting after Black Friday deals for things that they may or may not need (and I put  electric cupcake makers in the "do not need" category).

Now, the Advent season is upon us, part of the Christian Christmas tradition in one of the two big holidays Christians celebrate that relate directly to Christ.  In years past, I have busied myself with cooking traditional Christmas cookies, having parties, trying to buy the perfect gift for family without maxing out the credit card and making merry with many different people every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, taking a few days rest, and then having one last party on New Years Eve.  This year, however, will be different.  This year, I will try to put the focus on Jesus, who made a tremendous sacrifice just to take on human flesh and wait to celebrate his birth until the actual day.  Here is my plan:
  • It starts with actually spending time devoted to God, remembering what He has done to make us right with Himself.  Having time to do this means that a lot of the things I tried to do weeks before Christmas will be done days before Christmas, like baking Christmas cookies and breads, having fewer get-togethers before Christmas.
  • Spend more time with the kids doing fun things that they want rather than running around stores.
  • My husband and I have also decided to spend less money on stuff this year for the kids and each other because things don't make us happy.  However, I am figuring out how to wrap non-material gifts that I think the kids will appreciate.  
  • Some of the money we would have spent on items that just clutter up our house will be given to a charity, because Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  
  • Have one final family Epiphany celebration
All of these ideas are not really my own and they are not new.  The seeds were planted several years ago by The Advent Conspiracy and it has taken years of making baby steps and trying different things before this year's plan is being put into action.  And the really cool thing about all of this is that God is moving in my husband, too to want to change, so that we are moving together and not pulling in opposite directions.  And while some people may think I am getting all Scroogey, I think this will be a more joyful holiday than in the past for everyone involved because the overall stress level will be much lower.


November 24, 2011

Happy Thanskgiving

Dear God,

Thank you so much for the family you have given me and the incredible love they have shown me.  Thank you for helping me show love to them, both who are easy to love and those who are difficult, so that we know how much You love us, Your Difficult Children.  Thank you so much for all the friends you have brought my way to encourage me and challenge me and help me laugh.  Thank you for the brothers and sisters in Christ with which You have surrounded me, showing me that your Spirit can make family where there are no blood ties.  I praise you for the wonderful way you have made us and all of creation and how You care for us daily, whether we acknowledge you or not.  Please forgive me for not spending more time with You, the one who consistently loves me perfectly and never lets go or walks away from me.

All my love,

October 30, 2011

Smelling the Sweet Smell of Success

My parents decided, when most people try to cruise easily toward retirement, to follow my dad's dream of owning a business in the food industry.  When I was a kid, everyone who ate his pizza told him that he should open a pizzeria.  He grew up in Chicago, where really good pizzerias like Lido's, Pizzeria Uno/Dues (the ones in downtown Chicago, not the franchises), and Geno's are a dime a dozen.  When we moved to St. Louis, it was apparent that we would have to make our own pizza, since, in our decidedly unhumble opinion, Pizza Hut was the best pizza St. Louis offered, though that was over twenty years ago and the situation may have changed.  He worked for years trying out different crust recipes until he found a winner in the Foccacia Romana recipe in "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks the Three Ancient Cuisines."  Then he played around with sauces and different Italian sausages.  My mom is a baker extraordinaire, coming from a long line of excellent women bakers.  It is no wonder I had problems with weight over the years.  For Christmas, she would bake at least five different butter cookie recipes from my great grandmother, GiGi's, recipe book, sometimes doubling them.  One year, at her peak, she produced enough Christmas cookies to last us until February, though I might be exaggerating slightly.

Over five years ago, he and my mom decided to pull up their temporary stakes in Arizona to move to Memphis and follow his dream of making delectable desserts.  They chose Memphis because my brother was working there as a chef and could help them out and becuase there weren't a lot of bakeries that offered what they envisioned.  And just as he worked for years on perfecting the pizza, my dad has worked throughout the start of his business, trying different recipes, making little modifications here and there to produce cakes that are 100% lusciously decadent.  They now have six staple cakes—caramel, carrot, chocolate, coconut, red velvet and strawberry.  They also make pumpkin cakes for the holidays.  They don't use mere buttercreme frosting, but add cream cheese for extra richness.  The strawberry cake has four layers, with two of them separated by homemade strawberry filling.  Their chocolate cake satisfies the most ardent chocoholic junkie's desires.  In fact, all the cakes have dense flavors without being overpowering, or treacly.  They are not flamboyant cakes, but aesthetically pleasing in a simple way.  They currently sell them to deli's, restaurants, coffee houses and upscale marketplaces.  With these six cakes and some "momma's cookin' cakes" like Gooey Butter Cake and Mississippi Mud brownies, their business has grown steadily over the past three years.  Each month for the past nine months they have broken sales records.  And they are starting into their prime season, when everyone is out a lot getting ready for Christmas. 

I had that in mind when I planned to visit them in the middle of October.  The last time I saw anyone was last Thanksgiving because running your own shop before sales take off and require outside help does not allow for many vacations.  I also planned it around my SIL's fall break schedule.  However, a series of events created a lot of work for my folks the week I was there.  I actually had fun hanging out in the bakery for two mornings, helping the pitiful little bit that I could.  I am pretty sure my kids enjoyed watching movies on the iPad in their office while I was helping there, though it wasn't exactly what we had planned when we traveled to see them.  I felt especially honored (and nervous) when my dad allowed me to spread the first coat on the cakes.  The kids helped frost some cupcakes that were intended to be brought home as taste samples and got to see how the cakes and frostings were made.  To be sure, I was disappointed that I wasn't able to hang out and relax with them as much as I thought I would and that they weren't able to spend as much time with their grand kids, but I also know that in addition to being a dream, this business is their livelihood and their retirement plan.  And we worked it out that, in the future, we would make tenative plans for all non-Thanksgiving visits, to be postponed if extra work unexpectedly came up that would prevent them from being able to spend time with their grandkids.  We are currently planning to celebrate the sesquecentennial celebration of the battle of Shiloh in April.

If you are ever in Memphis, for whatever reason, or you live there, when you eat out, ask if they offer cakes by All American Sweets for dessert.  If they do, be sure to try them.  But beware, they are addicting.

October 26, 2011

Walking in Memphis

Two Saturdays ago, the kids and I started our trip that went over the mountains and several rivers, through six states and the woods to Grandmother's (and Grandfather's) house. Afternoons are weird times to start a big journey, but one daughter and I had a fiber arts class in the late morning and one son and my husband wouldn't get back from his first cub scout campout until the early afternoon. My plan was to drive from the Phoenix area to Albuquerque, NM on the first half day, travel to Little Rock, AR the second day and spend a leisurely two hours on the road the third day to get to our destination in the Memphis area. It was crazy, I know. I wouldn't have done it if my kids weren't veteran travelers and able to be amused by drawing, listening to audiotapes and watching movies. And as an added bonus, my oldest is now able to ride "shotgun", which was an even greater help.

 Part of the plan was to stop at a park the second day and have a picnic lunch in Amarillo to get some sunshine and let the kids work out some wiggles so that they would go to sleep easily. The problem with choosing a park, however, without knowing the area, is that it may not be in the best area. In this case, the area surrounding the park looked okay, though we passed through an iffy area to get to it. Just as we were sitting down to each lunch with a crowd of people that I thought were just enjoying a warm Sunday in the park, one of them came up to me and asked if I was planning on eating the free food handed out at 5 p.m. that day. I was still on mountain standard time in my car and told him we were eating lunch. He looked confused and one child wanted to eat closer to the play area to escape the smell of cigarrettes, so we moved. It turns out that the park I had chosen was the "homeless park.". One of the guys we met was pretty nice, though after an extended conversation, I wasn't sure how intimate with reality he was.  We shared our food with him and prayed for him.  For dinner, I wasn't initially planning to stop and eat, but I felt that I really needed a break from driving if I was going to make it to Little Rock, AR, so we stopped at a Love's Gas/Subway stop outside of Oklahoma City for a quick meal.  The break definitely helped.  The kids watched a movie and settled into their chairs for some sleep until we reached our destination about12:30 local time, though it was "only" 10:30 AZ time.

The next morning, we slept in, knowing we only had two hours before reaching Memphis.  The original plan was to meet my folks down by Mud Island and take a tour of the museum and grounds.  There were two complications to this plan however, the biggest being that the Mud Island museum was closed on Mondays.  My folks also had some unexpected business with their bakery that kept them at work until the late afternoon.  So, instead, we parked at a Lee Park, on the riverside, to play for a bit.  As we prepared to take a walking tour of Memphis, an older gentleman stopped and asked me if we would pay him to wash our car windows.  I have no problem helping someone who wants to work and after two evenings of driving, our windows were pretty buggy, so I consented.  I wondered why he picked us out of the people milling about until I later realized Elz and I had shirts on with messages from Matthew 25:37-38 about helping the poor and downtrodden.  I guess that would make us pretty good "marks."  He did a great job and I gave him the rest of our fruit and some of our veggies as well as some money.

Memphis is built on a bluff, which meant we had to walk up three flights of steps to get from the river to the city.  We walked up Huling avenue to Main Street and then across to Beale.  That section of Memphis is eerie.  It does not appear to be a bad part of town because there are no bars on the windows and the streets are relatively clean and buildings look well-cared for.  However, none of the shops were open on Monday afternoon.  There were also many buildings standing empty, like a neighborhood that is either in its twilight or the dawn of experiencing renewal.  There is trolley service that runs along Main street, which the kids really wanted to try.  I figure that since we have family living there, we can try that another time.    We saw a statue of "Young Elvis" along the way to Beale. I had wanted to see Beale street ever since the song, "Walking in Memphis" became popular ("Walking in Memphis;  Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale...).  Memphis actually closes down parts of Beale street to all vehicles, the parts with the highest concentration of bars.  This is really nice in the afternoons.  I am sure it has saved a lot of lives in the evenings, too.  All along the sidewalks were little brass stars with names of early blues musicians, most of whom I was not familiar.  The kids were not interested at all in Beale street, especially when a band started to play some 60's blues in a marketplace square.  They wanted to see the ducks at Peabody Hotel.  We had read John Phillip Duck by Patricia Polacco many times, which is a fictional account of how the ducks came to be swimming in the lobby fountain.  For those of you unfamiliar with the hotel or story, ducks are trained to march in line to a fountain in the lobby of the hotel, jump in the fountain, and remain swimming all day until around 5 p.m. when they march in formation back to their home on the hotel's roof.  The lobby is opulent, filled with marble and gold, with lots of elegent sofas, tables and overstuffed chairs for hotel guests to relax after a long day of sightseeing.  However, there were also little notes on all the tables indicating that the services of the lobby were for hotel patrons only.  My kids were complaining about being hungry, since we had skipped lunch after a big, late breakfast.  I would have been glad to give them money in exchange for coming in to look at the ducks and using their restroom;  however, those little unwelcoming notes discouraged me from even trying to order anything.  We walked back to our car, taking the same route, since the kids were afraid we would get lost and drove to my parents' bakery for some snacks and a tour of the new equipment.

Even though I am not a fan of Memphis, I enjoyed our excursion enough to take another walking tour next time we are visiting family.

October 15, 2011

Living in "Olden Times"

The following discussion was instigated when my oldest daughter came down looking like she was wearing makeup.  I asked her if she borrowed my eye liner or somehow had found one somewhere to use in her stash (though I wouldn't know how because I don't buy her that stuff).  It turns out that she used a black crayon.  To her credit, it looked REALLY nice and suttle, not at all like Captain Jack's heavy hand, but I was worried that the crayon might cause problems with her eyes.  I explained it and made her wash the crayon off immediately.  I suppose I should have been thankful it wasn't permanent marker.  When she came down she asked how old she had to be before she could wear make up.  I remember wanting to wear make up when I was her age because there were girls at that age whose parents allowed them.  The other cultural influence of my teenage years was Madonna, who was trying to compete with Michael Jackson as most successful performer of the time by wearing underwear as outerwear or as little as allowed by 1980's censorship standards (search in google for "Madonna like a virgin" pictures to see what I mean if you didn't live through the 1980's).  Like all good mothers, my mom told me I had to wait until I was 16 and also set different dress standards than what the 1980's allowed, much to my chagrin at the time.
Tammy Fay Bakker

So I told her that I was 16 before I was allowed to wear makeup and my mom took me to a makeup counter to have someone show me how to apply it so that I wouldn't look like Tammy Faye (a female version of Captain Jack for those of you born after 1980).  This was her response:

"Mom, I know that you lived in the olden days when people were more modest, but this is MODERN TIMES and girls my age wear make up these days.  Why can't I be like other girls?"

October 11, 2011

Conclusion of "Too Much of a Good Thing?"

It has been several days since I wrote my blog and the offensive room is, as of Saturday, completely clean, with many thanks to my husband for helping in the final push.  He even rented rug cleaner to clean the carpet.  I took a picture on Friday after moving a bed and discovering another "mother load" of stuff to sort through.   I almost cried when I saw it because I knew it meant another 30 minutes of work.  Since it was the third piece of furniture I had moved that had stuff behind it, I also knew that I would need to move the other two pieces of furniture for a full reveal.  I also took a picture last night of the completely clean room and will print it and post it so that they know what it is supposed to look like.

We had a family meeting Friday night to discuss what had come to light and the heart issues behind the problem (root vs. fruit for those of you who speak Christianese).  The idea we wanted to plant in their minds is that, whereas people are a LOT more important than things, we need to take care of the things that God has given us because the money we get to buy the stuff comes from Him anyway.  He provides daddy's job which gives us the money to give them allowance so that they can buy things.  Everything belongs to Him and we are going to be held accountable for all the gifts He has given us.  

I need to make two clarifications from my previous post.  First of all, the children supposed to be cleaning their disaster area just simply played and talked instead of doing their work.  The stuff that was in hiding places never moved.  I originally thought that they simply moved things from one hiding place to another.  In some ways, this bit of news was a relief.  Before the meeting, Eric brought to my attention that I might have given the impression in my blog that we were going to get rid of a LOT of stuff that they hadn't put away.  Initially, that was my intent with the clothing f and toys in general.  However, I had a change of strategy late Thursday to just put the treasures and clothes in bins to be stored in our room for an undetermined period of time, simply because there were too many things that I couldn't give away and too many clothes that had been scattered in every corner.  As the number of bins started accumulating, I realized that in order to prevent my room from becoming a disaster area, I needed to do some purging and re-organizing of my own.  I picked up a book I had acquired at one time about organizing your house and read enough to be able to get my closet layout to work for us for both the short and long term.  It took about three hours to accomplish this.  I even had plenty of space to hold all of of my kids' bins of stuff.

At the family meeting Eric and I laid out the consequences of the past few days:
  • This would be the LAST time I would pick up for the children.  From now on, they stay in their room until a parental unit determines that the room is acceptably clean.  Extracurricular activities will be missed if they are not quick enough.  Bathroom breaks and time to eat will be allowed if either they decide to put off cleaning up or (shudder) a bedroom turns into another disaster, though I hope it never will.
  • The room layout will change to make it more difficult to hide things.  This has already been implemented.
  • The children who have created the problem will be responsible for only their clothes until they have spent at least a month proving that they know how to care for and treasure their clothes.
  • Other things, likes books, crafts, and treasures, will be returned slowly, to give them time to learn how to take care of them.
  • Allowance is put on hold for the offenders until they prove that they can take care of the things that  they currently have.
  • We will, as a family, spend the next month or so going through each room and organizing it. 
Here are some statistics on the results of cleaning:
  • One bag of clothes and assorted items, four games, and a few toys were given to a fundraising garage sale.  
  • One bag of clothes and three bags of "rags" went to Goodwill from my room.
  • The recycling bin was filled to capacity and a little beyond this week, though a change in pick-up schedule might have also contributed.
  • 7 bags of garbage were filled, one from my room, one from another bedroom and the rest from the  "extreme makeover" room. 
  • We found four pairs of missing scissors, two flashlights, enough crayons to fill at least a 24-piece box, roughly 20 pens and pencils and a few other "missing" items.
One bit of praise in all this is that God helped me stay calm during the whole excavation.  In the past, this hasn't always happened.  He showed me when to call someone for help and He guided Eric and I as to the appropriate punishment.  As a result, one of the offending children has become extremely light-hearted and loving in spite of the "punishment."  When asked if the change in behavior is relief at me doing all the work, relief at the "hidden things" revealed or relief that I didn't blow up at the discoveries, the answer was the last two.  This is another praise to Him, who brings everything to light and can change hearts.  

October 6, 2011

Too much of a good thing?

Do you know the first thing that my youngest son said the day before we left for Walt Disney World?  He did a victory dance because it meant that we wouldn't have to do chores and don't have to pick up while we are on vacation!  I told him that we would probably have to tidy up a bit each morning, but that is easy with only a few things.  I laughed and did a victory dance with him.  Woo hoo!  No cooking or cleaning up after the cooking.  It should have started me thinking, though. Another question had been tickling my brain for months:  How can the bedroom of one set of siblings become a disaster area with wall-to-wall clutter within thirty minutes of vacuuming it?  I mentioned a few times after hearing moans from my request to clean up their room that they probably have too much stuff and need to pare it down.

Since returning from Disney, I have discovered that the last statement was like saying that Niagara Falls is a cute, little waterfall.  On Monday, after their daily clean up/organize routine, I went and did more than a quick visual check.  I opened the closet door.  No, nothing fell on top of me, but I couldn't see two of the walls nor could I get into the closet.  Then I happened to look at the end of one bed which is not quite against wall.  It was stuffed with stuff.  I saw the same thing under the other bed.  And when I opened one child's "project bin", I found shoes, books, as well as clothes of undetermined cleanliness.  I questioned the culprits like I always do about the proper places to put clothes, both clean and dirty, books, toys, precious things.  Yes, they definitely knew where they should go.  The problem was in implementation.  I told them that there would be no video games, TV or pleasure reading (the WORST) until their room was pristine.  I gave them some garbage bags.  I started to take stuff out of the closet, just to make more room to go through stuff.  They informed me that they could handle it and that they would "surprise me."  They brought down two full garbage bags the first day.  The incident sparked an flurry of "organizational desire" in me that resulted in the games and toy closet being culled and organized, a re-thinking of our current LEGO organization strategy to eliminate using coffee cans and just dedicate two of the three-level bin shelf for LEGO pieces and the beginnings of culling clothes in everyone's closet.  The kids have spent an hour or more each day after school on their rooms to pick up the clutter.  Today, the day before we have guests come, I told the kids that anything left on the floor by 2 p.m. would be eliminated in one way or another so that we could start cleaning the downstairs.  A friend is having a garage sale fundraiser and I LOVE giving my stuff to others to help them raise money for good causes.

At 2:15 p.m., after finishing up in the other siblings' room,  I walk in the room that inspired this organizational focus.  It is STILL a disaster area, but not as much.  I send all kids outside for fresh, cool air and relaxing play and start tackling it.  I see something poking out from under the desk drawers.  I pull out twenty different things, including garments of undetermined cleanliness, garbage and at least one book.  After cleaning up that mess, I look under one bed and find the same situation, but covering the majority of the floor.   It dawns on me that they basically spent two days trying to hide stuff in different places, thinking I wouldn't look.  I stop, livid, and call a friend to talk me down so that I don't torch the place.  She prays for me, which helps tremendously and I go back to work.  I call Eric to tell him the situation and make sure he is okay with me putting a LOT of stuff into the garage sale bag.  Five minutes later, I have half of their clothes in a give away pile.  A thought starts to form in my mind.  I call Eric again and get his approval.  I grab an empty bin and start filling it with stuff on shelves that is not garbage, in desk drawers and under the bed.  If they cannot take care of their treasures, then they will be removed and stored until they learn how to take care of their most basic items--clothes.  By 3:30, I still have half a bed to excavate as well as finishing work on the closet and a few other places.  I am exhausted and thirsty and need to stop to write out some stuff to Eric and get the kids ready for John's Karate practice before leaving for my own commitment at church.  I say nothing to them, but tell the kids whose room I am giving an extreme makeover that they are not allowed in it, or even to see it.  I am realizing that the job will not be completed before I need to go and I REALLY want them to wait until I am done to see the results as well as prevent them from trying to "fix it themselves."  I grab a couple of roller-board suitcases, empty the drawers of their remaining clothes into them and have them join their other siblings.  My husband comes home, we have a quick discussion while I go off to my commitment.  Tomorrow I will finish their room and organize my closet to hold the additional bins of their stuff.

All the while as I was working in the room, I kept thinking of how much time we spend cleaning up our stuff.  The stuff we have has taken control of our lives to the point where the initial joy of the vacation for one kid is in not cleaning as opposed to the joy of going to an amusement park!  For the last two weeks, I have been spending most of my time outside of school time in getting the kids to pick up after themselves, which leaves me feeling grumpy and tyrannical and little time for recreation and rest.  I am not accusing my kids of being lazy or even from being different from their parents, but they have trouble differentiating between trash and treasure in today's throwaway society and they are overwhelmed with stuff to the point that they can't really treasure it as they should.  Even I get overwhelmed with taking care of stuff, which is only partially due to being organizationally challenged.  What is the solution?  The only thing I can think of is to significantly reduce it to manageable levels, taking a minimalist approach.  Do they really need building blocks, Kinex, Lincoln Logs and LEGOS?  Especially when they spend the majority of the time with LEGOs building shelves full of creations?  How much arts and crafts stuff should we keep?  Honestly, I don't have answers, but I feel as if we are starting on a journey that will give us more free time to enjoy each other, enjoy the blessing of our house, and maybe even change our hearts to be content with less.

October 3, 2011

Our Vacation in Walt Disney World

For two years, we saved money so that when our youngest was old enough to remember, we could visit Walt Disney World.  I have been to Disneyland in California at least two times, so I wanted to see what Walt Disney World was like.  Plus, Disneyland did not have the Hall of the Presidents.  We decided to go in September to take advantage of a flexible homeschooling schedule allowing us to be there during off-peak times, when prices are a little lower and there are fewer people.  We started our vacation in the best way--late morning on a Sunday, so that we could work all day Saturday as a family to get packed.  Just having that stress reducer was a wonderful way to keep the previous week from being too stressful trying to do school, clean and pack.  So we left in the morning after dropping off Jacques at a neighbor's house and some final packing.  As with any trip, we managed to forget something--the boys' swimsuits.  We arrived on Sunday evening in time for a late dinner at the hotel's kitchen.  The kids were so wound up from all the sitting on the plane and the excitement of the next day's adventure that it was hard to keep them asleep.  We attended Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Epcot Center and the Magic Kingdom in that order.  Our order was partly determined by what restaurants were available at the times we wanted to attend and by how much time we thought we would spend at the park.  My idea was to spend the first day at Hollywood Studios, which typically does not require a full day because we would still be on Mountain Standard (a.k.a. "Arizona time") and eating at 9 p.m. E.S.T. wouldn't be a big deal.  We wanted to leave the Magic Kingdom for the end of the trip. I am not going to bore you with details, but leave only the highlights, the stinkers, the pleasant surprises, and the disappointments

  • Every sit-down restaurant we ate at was excellent.  We had home cooking at Hollywood studios in a 1950's style table, Restaurant Marrekesh served Moroccan food at Epcot Center, a BBQ Hoedown with some Disney Characters, Greek food at Kouzzina's at the Disney Boardwalk and seafood at Cap'n Jacks (no relation to the "Pirates" franchise) at Downtown Disney.
  • Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom is the best rollercoaster I have ridden.  Ever (I have not gone to Cedar Point, though, so my opinion might change in the future.
  • "Mickey's Philharmagic" at the Magic Kingdom was the best 3D show, maybe because it combined music and scenes from three or four of my favorite Disney movies with Donald being funny.
  • "Toy Story Mania" in Hollywood Studios had the best entertainment during the 85 minute wait AND was the best combination of ride, video game and 3D viewing.
  • "Soaring" at Epcot Center was the best non-rollercoaster ride.
  • "Splash Mountain" at the Magic Kingdom was the best water ride.  It was funny and used the story of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear to extend the ride, giving us several minor drops before "The Big One."
  • "Tom Sawyer's Island at the Magic Kingdom was the best way to have fun that didn't involve stimulating the adrenal glands and/or disturbing your equilibrium.
  • The Kim Possible Adventure was the best use of Disney property and animatronic effects not in a ride.  We were given a cell phone that gave us clues to find somewhere in the World Showcase.  It gave us the feel of being in a very easy episode of "The Amazing Race."
  • Dinosaur was the best animatronic ride.  I loved feeling the gust of wind when the T-rex roared at me.
Attractions I would avoid next time:
  • Captain EO at Epcot:  There was a certain sense of nostalgia driving Eric and I to see the first 3D movie Disney made.  However, it was, in Michael's words "Bad".  The plot was hokey, the dialogue horrible, the dancing was boring, the sound effects when he was dancing would have been annoying if they didn't remind me of Weird "Al" Yankovik's spoof called "Fat".  The kids thought Michael looked, sounded and acted like a girl ("He is the original Justin Bieber" according to my oldest) and they were not impressed with his dancing.  Sorry Michael.  Sorry George.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rollercoaster at The Magic Kingdom:  no big drops, just a lot of tight corners and dips.  yawn.
  • "The Circle of Life" movie at Epcot.  The movie's plot was Simba explaining to Timon how bad it was to dam a river in order to make an amusement park that would make him rich when it hurt the environment and used humans as an example of how they used to not care about the environment and almost ruined the planet until they came to their senses.  Even Elizabeth saw the stomach churning hypocricy in the movie since all food and drink at quick service venues were offered in disposable containers and that WDW altered the environment to create the park in the first place as a way of giving us joy while making profit.   
  • "Stitches' Great Escape" at the Magic Kingdom:  They put shoulder restraints to make you think you are going on a ride, but you just sit there while Stitch "spits" on you," eats" many different things while you are in the dark and "bats" at your head a few times.  Only Kyle was relieved that there was no ride.
  • "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror":  Instead of one long plunge several stories, you have several short plunges.  All that is left is the creepy factor they create.
  • "It's Tough to be a Bug." at Animal Kingdom.  Short on anything but potty humor, involving lots of bad smells, bug "spitting" at you and poking you.
Pleasant Surprises:
  • Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at Hollywood Studios
  • "Walt Disney:  One Man's Dream" at Hollywood Studios.  A nice little homage to Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, who was the numbers man.
  • Awesome fireworks at Epcot Center.  It was the only night we were able to watch fireworks for one reason or another.
  • Journey into imagination with Figment:  John laughed through most of it, which made me laugh.
  • John loved "It's a Small World.", which made it enjoyable for me in spite of the annoying song repeated endlessly through the ride.
  • "Kilimanjaro Safaris" at Animal Kingdom.  A cheery guide takes us on a tour of their African animals. They did a great job of hiding the big ditch keeping the tigers and lions from escaping.  Our guide sounded like Ariel.
  • "Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor":  Very funny with audience interaction, whether they volunteer or not.  You can also text your jokes in the hopes of having them included in the banter.

  • The Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom.  I wanted more animatronic action, more quotes from different Presidents, more highlights and problems of their adminstrations.  That was what I was expecting and waiting to see for 32 years.  Maybe the problem is me, though and not the show.  My expectations were too high.
  • The Pirates of the Carribean.  Jack didn't add anything to the ride.  
  • The Studio Backlot Tour at Hollywood Studios was closed.
  • Not being able to walk through Cinderella's Castle.  It seemed to be closed most of the time we were there due to some traveling musical show starting.  
  • T-shirts. Very thin material for the price you pay.
  • Quick service food.  We decided to skip quick service lunches, which mainly consisted of tasteless, fried food and focused on eating a late breakfast, which is hard to make tasteless, have a small snack in the afternoon, when we were actually hungry, and then enjoy the excellent dinners at a sit-down restaurant.
  • Kyle freaked out at a lot more rides than I thought he would.  I think he just took the warnings they gave as a reason to freak out.  He also was thoroughly fooled by the Disney designers who strove for realism in their rides and did such a good job that they convinced him that he NEEDED to push a couple of buttons in order for the mission to Mars to be successful (though it also said it involved a 3 month trip, which should have been a clue that it WASN'T real).  I managed to convince him to go on The Big Thunder Mountain ride, but he didn't enjoy it.  He went on the Dinosaur ride, but had his eyes closed most of the time.  He even freaked out on a ride similar to Dumbo because John took us up too high.  By the second day, I think he was freaking out just as a matter of principle.  Or habit.  We accomodated him when we thought it would be too much for him, like Space Mountain and Expedition Everest, and encouraged him to try a ride when we thought it would be okay, like "Soaring" and "Star Tours".  It was funny and frustrating and sad at the same time.  
Other thoughts:
As much as Disney tries to control everything to make sure it is the Happiest Place on Earth, they can't.  They can't force the weather to be a balmy 80 degrees.  It was in the 90's and humid most of the time. At one point, I tried making a Micky Mouse pattern on my shirt from all the sweat pouring down it.  They can't prevent wives from shouting nasty things at their husbands before stomping away, they can't prevent the lightning and rain from closing down car stunt shows or from people booing when the shows are canceled.  They can't prevent grumpy people from mishandling those stupid motorized scooters and bumping into people to try and get them to go faster or for people to be impatient or rude when their drinks take one minute longer than their food to be provided.  They can't prevent toddler tantrum fits when their parents won't buy them a crappy piece of plastic junk that is sold for 1000 times more than it costs to make it.  All of these things were witnessed by me.  I even saw an adult mother snap at another mother who had temporarily misplaced her young daughter about having to miss a show instead of trying to help find the missing child.  However, the people who work there are stars just because they are ALWAYS friendly, ALWAYS ready to start up a conversation, ALWAYS answer politely when a customer is rude to them and ALWAYS do their best to make accommodations for their guests.  I would really like to know their secret.   It was a wonderful five day break from reality, but it is definitely not a lifestyle I would want to live.  Pictures will be coming soon.

September 24, 2011

Pictures from Woods Canyon

There is something broke with the Picasa movie generator.  I tried uploading from Picasa into my blog while in Picasa.  I tried uploading it from Picasa while in my blog.  I tried importing it to Youtube from Picasa and I tried uploading it while in Youtube.  In all cases, only four pictures showed up before the screen turned black.  I sent a request to Google help to see if they could figure out what the problem is.  I received some singularly unhelpful links from a first line Google person. I explained to him, via email, exactly what I did and what was the problem and why his links were unhelpful.  I have heard nothing else from him.  Last night, I went to "Share Night" to hear my friend's experience in Ethiopia (We are Blessed To Be A Blessing) and we discussed the problem, since I know that she puts a lot more pictures on her web than I do.  So I am trying something different by putting pictures on an album in Google and letting you view them.

Pictures from the Overtoom's Camping Trip at Woods Canyon Lake

Bridgetender School Quarterly Update--Beginnings

I love fall!  The cool, crisp mornings where temperatures are in the mid-70's; the promise that it won't get to the low 100's until mid-afternoon, allowing us all to venture outside past 9 a.m.  Fall has traditionally been a time to start school.  Not in Arizona!  We started school on August 8, when it is too hot to really do anything outside after 9 unless it involves swimming pool.  It is motivated as much by boredom as by the desire to be finished with school while the weather is still decently cool.  Subsequently, we have almost finished our first quarter of school.

This year, many changes are taking place at Bridgetender School.  First of all, my oldest entered 7th grade--Jr. High.  My youngest began his first year of "full day" school as a first grader.  A homeschooling friend, Tina, and I decided to form a two-family co-op for history, science, literature and art that meets on Thursdays.   Tina has three kids, two boys and a girl and they live five minutes away.  Her family moved here a year ago from the southeast and we have become great friends.  We also started a PE co-op inviting families in the Mesa area who are in our Veritas homeschooling support group which meets Thursday mornings.   She is the equipment procurement officer and I am the general coordinator and recruiter for the PE co-op.  The first three weeks of PE co-op, which didn't start until September, involved spraying the kids down with cool water in a spray bottle every five minutes to prevent them from getting too hot.  The city also graciously has their sprinklers running on one of the fields that provided a nice cool down.  Our very first class began with a police bust a hundred yards away from where our kids were gathered to start warm ups.  Thankfully, no guns were needed as about ten plainclothes policemen swarmed over a young guy with a backpack.  Doubly thankfully, we haven't had  a repeat of the incident.

The co-op uses Tapestry of Grace for history.  The period of history we are covering is the 20th and 21st centuries. We are die-hard fans of Apologia for science, though John and her daughter, our first graders are reading Christian Liberty Nature Readers, The Burgess Animal Books, and The Burgess Bird Book, all of which put facts about animals of all kinds in entertaining stories.  For writing, we are giving a mutual friend a chance to try her hand at a tutoring business.  She comes every other week for a lesson and to review their homework from the last lesson.  She has been guiding them on how to create a newspaper this month, since we are covering the turn of the century to the Great Depression when the Newspaper was still "king".  Future units will include radio programs and commercials, TV shows and commercials and then internet based writing.  So far, the kids love her and we enjoy the results.  Tina found a wonderful art teacher about a year ago who lives 5 minutes from us.  Once a month, she teaches our kids about a master and has them copy their style.  The rest of the time, we are having Elizabeth and her oldest lead a class since they have the most talent and are the farthest developed, once a month we are doing a craft and once a month we are winging it.  Tina has been teaching science so far and I have been teaching history.  She is introducing me to the wonderful world of lap books, which she is using for science.  I have been having the kids stage trench warfare for our WWI unit, using our couch and a mat to represent trenches, chairs to represent the barbed wire they had to crawl under, and crumpled paper to represent gunfire and aerial bombs.  They have also had to give presentations to help me present history.

We are still using Math-U-See for math, though Eric is teaching Elizabeth now and grading her math.  Elizabeth has also "graduated" to Apologia's General Science written for 7th graders .  Jessi and Kyle are learning about the Universe and John is learning about animals.  We are still working on Spanish and I am getting help from a friend who is a first generation American who emigrated from Mexico to give me conversational Spanish, rather than just "book" Spanish.  We have some applications on the iPad to help us conjugate verbs and learn more nouns.  We are starting an exercise program with the goal of meeting the Presidential Fitness requirements by May.  It involves running, swimming or bicycling (depending on the weather), strengthening and stretching exercises.

My challenge is spending time with each child while my youngest needs so much help.  His reading has improved greatly in the past six weeks, but he won't be an independent reader for a while yet, which is perfectly fine with me as I get the last of my "reading cuddle time."  Jessi and Kyle are more independent, but even they need help with certain subjects.  Elizabeth needs help sometimes with science and I love to work with her on the science experiments.  My challenge with her is to let her plan her week without any assistance and let her fail at times or get frustrated.  She had decided to go through one module of General Science a week so that she could go through Apologia's Zoology 2 book.  I cautioned her that the modules were much larger than the elementary modules and required a lot of work.  She insisted that she could do it.  In the middle of the second week, she broke down and cried about how much work there was, at which time I was able to suggest dividing the modules into two week plans instead of one.  At that point, she happily accepted the suggestion.  For me, lesson learned.


September 9, 2011

Woods Canyon Camping Weekend

This is our third summer in Arizona. During our first summer, we went back into hibernation after a month or so of enjoying the daylight hours of May and June and withstood the hottest summer ever with only a one day respite in Woods Canyon Lake because we had just moved in the spring. We escaped for a month last summer visiting friends and family in the east. This summer, we took two extended weekends in the north, where the higher elevation means much cooler temperatures. For four days in July, our family spent four days at Woods Canyon Lake camping in our brand new "Big Agnes" tent. Yes, after about a year of discussions and prayers regarding whether to save up for an RV or not, we decided 'not' mainly because it would involved buying a second vehicle with actual towing capability. After seeing how cramped everything and everyone was on just a four day stay, however, the plan to get a bigger vehicle is back and we are just biding our time for the right vehicle at the right price.

Woods Canyon Lake is about 2 hours from the Phoenix metro area. The lake was made, like pretty much all lakes in Arizona, by damming a river. Poor river. It hovers on the edge of the Mogollon rim, which is part of the Colorado plateau several thousand feet above sea level. Because it is so close to Phoenix, it is a very popular day trip and is pretty noisy and crowded around the lake on the weekends. There are about three or four hiking trails in the area, so if that is your interest, you might want to go somewhere else for anything but a long weekend. The main ctivity encouraged, really, is fishing.

Our kids, before the trip, LOVED fishing, causing us to get fishing rods for everyone except me, who does NOT like fishing, at Walmart. However, after an hour of fishing on the first day with no results, most kids lost interest. Fortunately, there are a lot of crawdads also in the lake, which are an invasive species. They are more gullible than the fish and will go for anything that looks remotely like food and, as an added bonus, like to stay near the edge of the water, which means a piece of hot dog placed on a skewer in the water near the edge is sufficient to catch a crawdad. This activity entertained the kids for a long time. Kyle was the resident expert as he had just spent a day at Boy Scout camp catching crawdads and "helped" his siblings get good at catching crawdads. The crawdads were not turned into dinner, however.

The two hikes we made that weekend were a ranger-guided hike one morning and a three mile walk around the lake the next afternoon. The ranger-led tour was pretty short, but entertaining. Ranger Bob knows his stuff. He pointed out peaks of interest and other topological features and then took us around to look for native plants, talking a lot about the Ponderosa Pines that cover the mountains, as well as other native plants. He also runs tours along another trail that we attended two years ago. The second day, after lunch, we walked completely around the lake, which involved a brief thunderstorm and a detour around an eagle's nesting grounds. It also involves tender, green grass which is non-existent in our neck of the desert. The kids were great on both hikes.

The weather was gorgeous. Every morning was bright and sunny and cool enough to need a light jacket. Every afternoon, it stormed. Rain doesn't seem like a great thing to those living in the Midwest or, especially now, the East Coast. However, to someone living in the desert, rain is beautiful and getting wet is a luxury. The rain would end just in time to start a fire for the night so we could have s'mores.

We stayed at Aspen Campgrounds, which has sites for both RVs and tents. If you need to take showers every day, this is NOT your cup o'. All they have are pit toilets, though the cleanest and least smelly pit toilets I have EVER encountered. I rarely even saw a bug, though one lady told me that a mouse was crawling around during her first visit. Water spigots are very conveniently located Many tent sites had shower tents set up along with the eating tents and sleeping tents. Because it was so cool in the mornings and evenings, we just made do with washing our feet, which became very muddy with the rain--the only downside.

When we were at our site when it wasn't raining, the kids were playing among the boulders. I brought knitting and knitted a washcloth while we were there. Elizabeth crocheted. We played "The Dilbert" card game one afternoon in the tent while waiting out a storm. My favorite memory is of John waking me up on the last morning just as daylight was blooming to use the pit toilet. As we walked the 100 yards or so, I happened to look around and found seven deer checking out a nearby campsite. The closest one was about 10 feet from us. They all paused to eye us warily, but didn't run away when they saw us continuing to move away from them. By the time John and I had both used the facilities, the deer had disappeared.

NOTE: This was delayed because I have been trying to get a "movie" I created by Picaso uploaded and have been frustrated. If I get it working, I will post it separately.

September 4, 2011

Having Faith

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1

As I was driving with my two girls in the car one night, my oldest started making unflattering comments about one of her brothers, who happens to be just as strong willed as she is. They are frequently combatants, as a matter of course. At that moment, I was picturing a pot pointing at a kettle. I acknowledged to the girls that he was pretty strong willed and then commented that whenever I was having to deal with the down side of my strong willed children, I reminded myself that someday, with God's help, it would be an asset because it meant that they would be more willing to follow their convictions rather than follow the crowd. I told her that I was confident that my strong willed children would all turn out to be wonderful adults.

My oldest child, with a look of complete doubt replied, "You must have a really strong faith, mom."

She has no idea :-).

September 1, 2011

Freaky week

I have been telling people that I suspect my kids have a plan to take turns working me to my last nerve each week, because for the first three weeks of school a different child each week stood out as particularly difficult. The only child that has not accomplished her goal in the past three weeks is my sweetest girl, though I won't name names. This week, however, I think it was God's turn, because there were too many crazy things that happened that had nothing to do with my kids:

1. Jessi found a scorpion on the leg of a kitchen chair while cleaning the kitchen. Scorpions are pretty creepy anywhere in the house, but considering how much time we spend sitting on the kitchen chairs, the thought of a scorpion's stinger inches away from a child's leg was a bit unnerving. It is now a dead scorpion, BTW.
2. While walking one night, Jacques and I encountered a dog running off leash in the golf course. His owner was there, but he ignored the commands of his owner and trotted over to where Jacques had stopped. The unfettered dog, a big boxer, proceeded to jump on Jacques, growling and acting like he wanted to rip Jacques throat. Thankfully, no blood was spilled and I hope the owner didn't mind that I tried to hit his dog on the head with my big, heavy flashlight to force him away from mine. I think the word "unnerving" also applies to this situation.
3. I left my cell phone in the Fry's food store. I knew I left it in the Fry's because my husband installed a "find phone" app on his phone and on the iPad and the GPS told us it was in the vicinity of the Fry's store. When I went, sans Eric's phone, the clueless employee I encountered hapazardly searched through the lost and found drawer for 30 seconds and couldn't find any iPhone with a fluorescent green cover on it. Thoroughly discouraged, I went home and started to walk the dog with the intent of seeing if it was just lying in the parking lot or bushes or some random location around Fry's.
4. Within a few feet of our house as I was walking Jacques, a couple of stray dogs approached us. They didn't respond to my "No. Stay AWAY." until after four or five repetitions. At this point, I realized that I was still a little freaked out by the previous dog incident and didn't want to risk any further adventures with loose dogs. I turned around and walked the 1/2 block back to my house. I asked Eric to go look for the phone. He apparently found the one useful employee there at nine-thirty p.m. who successfully located my phone and gave it to him when he proved by entering the security code that it was "his."
5. Yesterday morning, while I was trying to start up the first ever Vandertoom P.E. Co-op, some kind of police bust happened within 100 yards of our three families. Several plainclothes police officers and several more uniformed officers with big guns descended on a guy carrying a backpack and arrested him after searching through the contents of the bag. One of the moms, totally freaked out, called to the police and asked them if it was going to be safe to stay or if we should leave. The officer replied that it now safe. Aren't those comforting words? Not really. I picked the park because it is a good midway point between several families and because I usually see mom's with their kids playing at the park, not drug dealers or other criminals. It didn't occur to me much later that the guy arrested could have been carrying a gun and determined to use it to resist arrest.

All this reminds me that the world in which we live is NOT safe, no matter how hard we try to make it safe with fences, child safety equipment, pest control, seat belts, child safety seats, the CPC, air bags, airport security, police, FBI, army, navy, air force and marines. I am also reminded of what I should do when I am freaked out:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding shall guard your hearts in Christ Jesus." This comes from Philippians 4:6-7, which I typed from memory because our small church group is encouraging each other to memorize verses.

So, after repeating that verse and having God put things in His perspective, I am very glad and thankful this week. I am glad that my Jacques is okay, glad that my kids have keen eyesight and that scorpions don't move quickly, glad that my phone was easily found, and glad that an arrest was made without anyone having to use a gun. And I am thankful to God that He kept us safe throughout the week and humbled by the fact that I don't really even deserve His protection , but that He gives it anyway because He loves us more than we can ever imagine, for which I am most glad.

August 9, 2011

Homeschool Convention Inspiration

My husband and I attending the Arizona Families for Home Education conference right around my birthday. It was almost like having a couple's getaway, except for the fact that we didn't see each other after the keynote speaker until lunch time and we were sitting listening to people for several hours each day. Ken Hamm (Answers in Genesis) was very entertaining and completely lucid and knowledgeable, which is not how the media portrays him. I actually heard a politician say something meaningful vs. a bunch of platitudes strung together in a sentence that says nothing so that it offends no one.

I now have six years of homeschooling under my belt. There is still undiscovered country called "Jr. High" and "High school", but there is a lot of stuff that is becoming easier. I feel a lot more prepared for John being in first grade than I was for Elizabeth, for example. So finding helpful seminars is a little difficult. A couple that sounded like they were helpful really just were things I had heard previously, like using the Charlotte Mason Method to teach language arts. It was a good reminder that I don't have to cover all subjects explicitly, but they get covered by having kids read good literature and copy it. The most helpful was the seminar about preparing for high school and beyond and a class on micro-enterprise businesses, as Elizabeth has an interest in turning her artistic giftings into early money.

However, the one that was initially the most disappointing in the beginning ended up being the one that has left the biggest impression on me. The title of the seminar was "The Biology of Auditory Processing" and it appealed to my inner geek. I thought it would be a detailed explanation about how information is physically captured in the brain from the ear. However, if I had done a little more homework on the presenter, I would have realized that her focus was in helping mothers schooling learning disabled students. It was also, apparently, the second lecture in a two lecture series, which was NOT spelled out in the information sheet. And the presentation was on how food choices affect your ability to learn and hear. I don't have any learning disabled kids, so I was tempted to walk out and ramble among the vending hall or find a quiet corner to ask God to help me assimilate all I had heard during the two days. However, I was in the fifth row right in the center, which would mean I would make an obvious exit. I would hate to have someone walk out on me in the middle of my program (if I was ever brave enough to become a public speaker, which I am not). So I sat there and alternated between listening and stewing over "false advertising" and, finally, hearing God's quiet voice tell me that He had me here for a reason.

Basically, she recommended limiting dairy or even eliminating it for a time being, eating foods rich in Vitamin E and taking lecithin supplements. Dairy seems to be an inhibitor and the mucus generating effects might affect hearing. Vitamin E is a good brain booster and lecithin helps with concentration and focus. So as a personal challenge (because I love all things dairy especially butter), I am trying to virtually eliminate it and substitute it for food high in calcium and high in Vitamin E. I am now drinking unsweetened almond milk for it's high calcium content. And I am enjoying it. I am also converting my family to the Mediterranean practice of dipping breads in oil, specifically, walnut oil, which is high in Vitamin E. I don't think that I could totally eliminate it. I definitely could not turn down my daughter's first dinner of quesadillas made completely without adult supervision because it was 90% cheese. Instead, I limited myself to one half. I also couldn't turn down pizza last night. And pizza without cheese is like eating an ice cream cone without the ice cream! Speaking of which, instead of ice cream, I am eating frozen fruit bars. Coconut is my favorite. I am also not counting items baked with butter and/or milk as dairy because that would also eliminate pancakes. If you know that I am "cheating", please don't tell me and ruin my day.

We will see if it helps me feel better or not and if it helps expand our palates for a wider variety of food.