December 26, 2013

Dead Horse Ranch Camping Weekend

I hope and pray that everyone had a Merry Christmas yesterday.  We had just the right amount of Christmas presents and Christmas surprises.  My parents went for the fun and sentimental by buying a slot car track for us and our kids.

I am getting "caught up" with the blogs that I have been wanting to write but limited by time.  I started this sometime in May but didn't get very far.  The pictures were taken with Eric's Nikon and I think that he is also the principle photographer.

We spent Memorial Day weekend of 2013 camping two hours north of the Phoenix-metro area at a state park called Dead Horse Ranch, which is located near the Verde River.  It is a great location to camp for an extra long weekend because it is within 30 minutes of Sedona and even closer to Jerome and Tuzigoot National Monument.
View from our campsite the first night at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
It reminds me of that scene from Star Wars of Luke at dusk with the setting suns.

Background:  Dead Horse Ranch State Park got its name because a Minnesota family looking to buy a ranch in Arizona decided to buy the ranch that had a dead horse on its property.  They named their ranch "Dead Horse Ranch."  When they decided to sell it to the state, they made the state keep the name.  Most people think of sand, cactus and canyons when they think of Arizona, but this location, like Woods Canyon Lake and other camping areas near a river, this place is GREEN.  It has big Cottonwood trees, tall grasses around the dammed ponds, and I even heard and saw red-winged blackbirds, which is one of the birds I REALLY miss from my days in Lake County, Illinois.  And all this green is surrounded by the red rock cliffs and high desert.
This looks more like a photograph taken in
Lake County, Illinois or Minnesota
rather than Arizona.

However, expanding the scope of the picture adds
elements that you won't find in either IL or MN--cliffs

To do in Dead Horse Ranch State Park:
First of all, Memorial Day weekend was pretty hot.  This is a better place to camp at during the early spring/late fall.
*  Fishing:  There are three stocked ponds and the Verde River.  The problem with camping on Memorial Day is that it is right before they re-stock the lakes, which means that only the REALLY smart fish are there, if any.  We didn't catch anything. If fishing is your focus, check with the park to see when the best times to fish are.
*  Hiking:  There are several trails to hike around the park.  The hike we liked the most took us near the river, where the kids and I took off our shoes and walked around in places up to our knees.  Eric fished without success in a different part of the river.
*  State Junior Ranger Badge activity worksheet:  For those campers who have kids, a lot of state parks and most national parks have Junior Ranger programs where kids complete activity sheets based on the park's features in exchange for a button.
*  Facilities:  Dead Horse Ranch State Park has four camping areas.  We stayed at the Raven loop, which was set up just for tents.  It is the highest camping area in the park, which is NOT ideal for tents.  There were few, short trees around the area and therefore very little respite from the sun unless you have a sunshade, like we do.  Furthermore, while we were there, every afternoon the wind whipped up, blowing up sand.  Therefore, lounging around the tent was NOT an option in this area.  The most ideal place to camp is the Quail Loop, even though it is set up for RV campers, because it is near enough to the river that there are tall trees and grass in the tent areas, which makes the area cooler.  Note:  I have nothing against RV campers other than RVs with air conditioners make a lot of noise and create light pollution that obliterates the stars. There might be some envy, too regarding the sleeping arrangements.  All of the camping areas have free showers, which I REALLY prefer to have when camping.
Wading in the Verde River on a hot day

Because our family is not a fishing family in general and our kids tolerate only so much hiking, we took the opportunity to drive to Jerome and Tuzigoot in one day.  Jerome is a former mining ghost town and current tourist trap, a la Galena to Illinois natives, about 20 minutes of twisty roads from Dead Horse Ranch.  There is a place where you can go to look down one of the mine shafts and a state park which details the town's history.  The town is built on the sides of the mountain, so driving involves twisty roads, also similar to Galena.  We didn't really tour the whole town, so I can't give a review of it.  The state park is nice and gives kids a chance to earn a Junior Ranger badge.  We had our dog with us, so I stayed out with the dog while Eric toured with the kids and then they hung around the outside while I toured the inside.  I didn't spend a lot of time in the museum and have forgotten most of the information.  But I DID spend a lot of time looking at the surrounding area.  You can see the red and white cliffs of Sedona from Jerome.  We could have spent 1/2 a day there touring the rest of the town, but we wanted to see Tuzigoot National Monument.
A view of the closed mine that started Jerome from the State Park parking lot

A view of the red and white rocks of Sedona from Jerome

Tuzigoot National Monument is an the remains of  an old pueblo built by the Sinagua people that sits atop a hill.  What makes Tuzigoot wonderful is that you can tour the remains and actually go inside the biggest building and tour around the surrounding buildings.  There is also a wonderful view of a marsh--yes, that's right, there is a MARSH in Arizona!  The kids picked up their second Junior Ranger badges of the day, this time from the federal government.  Tuzigoot is 10 minutes from the campground.
The main building atop the hill surrounded by
the ruins of support buildings

The kids and I with the main building off to the left.
My youngest is not in the picture, but Jacques is near my feet.

The marsh near Tuzigoot from the hill.  Green surrounded by brown
is common in desert river valleys.

The day we returned home, we took the long way and visited Montezuma Castle., which is roughly 30 minutes away and not too far off of Highway 17, which brings you back into the Valley of the Sun.  It is another National Monument involving Native American ruins.  This is a spectacularly well-preserved pueblo of the cliff-dwelling Sinagua people.  One reason that it is so well preserved is that they do not let people climb in and look at the building.  Because it is built on a cliff, you only get a far-away look. However, the park museum has a video tour of the inside of the house.  It is also located off the Verde River, so the area is surrounded by lovely, tall trees.  It is hard to capture Montezuma's castle's size in photographs because it is so high and so far away from the path.  The picture did I choose was because it does show relative size.  The interesting thing is that if you look closely at the picture, you will see black spots, which are more holes carved out of the cliff.  I can't remember if these were store rooms or more rooms for families or a combination.  Regardless, the ingenuity of these people who made Tuzigoot and Montezuma's castle without the wheel or iron tools is quite impressive.

Eric and I trying to give perspective.
All in all, Dead Horse Ranch, because it is close to so many other places, would be a great place to hang out for a week.  Below are some distances to some other fun places to visit:
Sedona:  30 minutes away.  It has shops and lots of great trails with fabulous views.  Some of the trails have pueblo ruins.  There is a lot of New Age stuff there as well as countless ways to separate you from your money, just like Galena, Illinois.
Slide Rock State Park:  40 minutes away
Oak Creek Canyon:  about 60 minutes away, which is a great day hike.
Lowell Observatory:  about 1 hour.  They give a great tour and, last time we were there, they gave you an opportunity to vote on the Pluto decision.
Wupataki National Monument (more Pueblo Dwellings):  1 hr, 15 min.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Park:  1.5 hours
Note:  Lowell Observatory, Wupataki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Park are all very near Flagstaff.  You could probably do two of the three in a day and have dinner in Flagstaff for a break from camp grub.

December 13, 2013

Christmas Joy

That has been the title of the Winter recital program for Experience Arts School, which has a goal of training future dancers, singers, musicians and thespians to give God glory in their performance.  My girls take aerials there, which is dancing on a long silk fabric that you might see in the circus.  They love doing it and I see it as a way to make them strong physically and bringing beauty and daring into their lives.  One daughter has been disappointed to learn that she would not graduate to the next level as she had hoped to do in the Spring session.  After giving her some comfort, I tried to put it in perspective for her.  I asked her if she enjoyed it and she said that she did.  I asked her if she would enjoy it any less if she had to stay an extra semester at her current level and she said "no."  Then I asked her if she would rather get stronger and better prepared for the next level or flounder by being promoted too soon.  She didn't like the line of questioning at first, but later, admitted that she still enjoyed being in aerials.  And I saw joy in her performance the next day

This year, my goal was to focus on joy.  I haven't been very consistent.  This summer, I was missing my friend and her family, my kids were missing their friends and asking God why He would remove the one homeschool friend that I was content to have.  I started to take my toys and go home.  And then I was miserable because, truly, God is the best friend I could ever have.   He has given me a husband who is my earthly best friend.  He has given me four perfectly wonderful kids who bring me joy in so many unexpected and unconventional ways.  And He is my best friend ever.  He has given me a long distance family that is wonderful, including all the in-laws.  He gave me Jesus, His only Son. Am I being greedy for wanting  demanding more?  I let go and waited and tried to focus on having joy in what God gave me.  In the late summer and fall, I started seeing God answer my questions and bring new people in my life for His perfect purpose.  Joy is a choice, not a feeling, just like love, just like faith.  I can't say that I will always be happy, but I will try and find joy in God, even in unhappy situations.

Joy in running is falling short these days.  I am tired.  I haven't quite made it to being able to run a half marathon yet.  I had been trying to keep up with the "experienced runners running their first marathon", but in truth, I am not experienced.  My left hip started hurting.  I tried to make some changes.  Now my left hip, left foot and right knee hurts when I run distances.  I went to get a short PT evaluation and have exercises to do.  I am going to take a short break while I do the exercises every day and join the "couch potato to marathon runners" because I am a couch potato at heart.  I will continue to train because the Bible says that perseverance builds character and because the long runs are a time when the Holy Spirit speaks to me about my kids, my life and my walk with Him and how He is using this training for training in godliness.  And that is where my joy in running is found.

My preparations for Christmas are noticeably lacking this year except for trying to focus on Jesus.  We have the tree up and decorations out.  I haven't stepped foot in any store since before we left for Thanksgiving. We haven't watched a single Christmas movie or TV show.  Christmas cookies are non-existent.   But I am hoping to have friends over to help me make cookies and take some of them home with them.  And this is the Advent, or season of waiting, so most of my preparations might take place the last week of Christmas.  And God is blessing this Christmas season without any of my "preparation."

May God bless you and your family this Christmas season with His presence and fill you with His joy.

Tandemingtroll and family (who was photobombed by a precious and very cute nephew in their Thanskgiving family portrait)

November 4, 2013

Hello Stranger, Nice to Run into You Again

I know, it has been a LONG time since I have written anything.  I have had lots of post ideas floating in my head, but have lacked the energy, will and desire to follow through with my ideas.  Honestly, this summer in Arizona has been the most humid, which means it has also been the most miserable.  I definitely prefer "pizza oven hot" to "extreme sauna hot".  And with children involved in this, that or the other, our only ventures out of the fiery sauna furnace were a couple of camping weekends, which will be the subject of future postings.

In the spring, just after the Boston Marathon bombing, my husband decided to start running to see if he could run distances.  Like all new ventures, he researched different training plans for newbies.  He made it to running a full mile in time for summer and we spent the summer running at 5 in the morning together.  It was both a joy and a series of marriage building moments, especially as we starting adding mileage to our runs.  In general, though, I really enjoyed running with him because he knows how to encourage me and add goofball moments to our run time.  We ran in a 5K together in July in Phoenix called "The Splash Mob 5K" which raised money for a school teaching homeless children. We were supposed to get really wet all through the run, but they had problems with water delivery.  It was not pleasant.  I will never run in the Valley of the Sun in the summer again.  Then we signed up to run in the Maggie's Place 9K, raising money for an organization that provides group housing and training for young pregnant women who are in bad situations.  I ran the 10K last year and we had both signed up for the 10K this year.  Unfortunately, bursitis interrupted Eric's training and he was unable to participate.  If you live in Arizona and like to run, Maggie's Place is a well organized race with really great folks cheering you for you as you run.  Eric is now back to running and we will be running in the Turkey Trot in Minneapolis as we visit family, most of whom have just completed the Minneapolis Marathon.

And now, with the encouragement of my husband, I have signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in March.  I have also joined a training program run by coaches that are affiliated with the Marathon for camaraderie and an a running plan/pace plan.  I am running Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, with my long runs on Saturdays.  Last Saturday, I ran 7 miles for the first time in my life and didn't die.  Of course, in a couple of months, this will seem like a quick run, just like, 15 years ago, a 30 mile bike ride was a short ride for Eric and I. I will be running somewhere around 70 times before I run the actual marathon.  My trainers so far have only given me weekly training plans, so I don't know how many miles I will run before race day.  So far, I have run more than 20 miles on six separate runs.  On Tuesday, the group had us run a mile as fast as we could.  My time was 9:17 minutes, which was about a minute faster than I thought I could run.

Now, if you have seen a pattern on races in which I have participated, you will see that I usually run for a cause.  I had thought about running in the P.F. Chang marathon, and running for Team Charity Grace, who is a little girl adopted several years ago by a homeschooling family and has been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease.  The price tag, however, is excessively steep and I didn't think I could get ready in time to run a full marathon.  So I decided on the Phoenix Marathon and gave money to Team Charity Grace.  However, I don't want this marathon to be just what I can accomplish in 4-5 hours of my life.  I want my run to mean something.  So I am asking my friends and family and the strangers who read my blog to help me help others.  I have a cause that I would like to support during my training program, a cause to encourage me to lose that last 20 pounds and a cause that I would like to support for the actual marathon.

The first cause to encourage me in my training program came to my attention quite a while ago.  I was reading "The Church of No People" blog and one person kept making funny but spot-on comments and his electronic moniker was "The Barba" which is Spanish for beard.  I started reading his blog posts at "Rambling with the Barba", which is also incredibly funny and great encouragement to my walk as a Christian.  He and his family are Christian missionaries living in Paraguay reaching out to young men and women there to help them in practical ways as well as lead them to Christ.  They recently moved to Encarnacion, Paraguay, which is right across the river from Argentina and a relative hop, skip and jump from Brazil.  They are embarking on creating a youth center called "The Bridge" and need help funding it.  I like bridges because my last name in Dutch can be translated as either "bridgetender" or "troll" (hence my electronic moniker).  I chose the "bridgetender" translation for my homeschool name, hopefully for obvious reasons.  To donate to their cause, go here.

The second cause you can choose to donate is the American Cancer Society because there are so many people I know who have battled cancer or who are currently battling cancer.   Cancer sucks and the treatment isn't much better.  To donate to this cause, go here.

The third cause I would like to benefit is my church's program to help the immigrant community by providing ESL classes, tutoring for elementary and middle school children, computer classes, parenting classes and Bible studies for Spanish-speaking immigrants.  Once they get a fundraising link, I will publish the link.

I will spend the next week or so figuring out how to put the fundraising widgets on my page as well as a widget to track my miles for training so that I can write about our camping experiences.  Life is busy, so I probably will only publish once a week.  Thank you for your support

May 30, 2013

Partially Untethered

Our kids think they are devious.  And they ARE definitely smart about some things.  However, they are currently in a "no electronics" mode of their own making.  Some child took our iPad last week and hid it in the not-usual place.  The usual place is under the cushions in the family room sofa.  My husband and I have the "Find My Phone" app that allows us to see where our Apple products are located as long as they are turned on and force it it make noise until it is found.  We got the app because I frequently misplace my phone but it works for any Apple product.  We sounded the alarm through "Find My Phone" and heard.....nothing.  The clever child had turned off the iPad so that the app couldn't locate it.  However, what they didn't know is that the application continues sending out a signal so that, when the device is turned on it will eventually make noise AND it will record the time at which it last found the device.  So we went to bed knowing that the iPad would eventually make a sound.  What we didn't plan for is that we would sleep through the event.  So the unknown child quickly turned off the sound at 9:34 pm (according to the app) and at some point, crept downstairs and put it in the usual hiding spot, where my husband found it the next day.  All while my husband and I slept soundly.  So far, kids 2, parents, 1/2.

However, that little trick has caused us parents to reconsider our electronics habits for the kids and has caused this mom to reconsider her use of electronic devices, since our kids are so good at copying us.  So, until the guilty party/parties confesses their "crime", all electronic devices are confiscated and held for ransom in the parent's room and all electronic activities are terminated.  One child started to "investigate" who committed this dastardly deed until I explained to her that, since she was a suspect, her investigation constituted a conflict of interest, which, because she is argumentative, started a whole legal discussion.  The culprit has yet to confess, though it really is only a matter of time before they crack.  We went camping this weekend, which is usually an electronic free zone (if you don't count posting pictures on Facebook as electronic time) and they don't miss that time as much.  But school is almost out and summer is coming, which in this part of the country means that you stay indoors after 9am unless it involves swimming.  Eventually, they will either learn to live without electronics or, driven mad by their electronic-less lifestyle, they will crack.  Bwahahahaha!

For my part, I decided to take Facebook and Pinterest off of my phone so that I have one less distraction from my surroundings.  While we were camping, I used my phone to make a few texts, check email and to write down some of our camping experiences, but that was it.  And let me tell you, it showed me just how Facebook has become an unhealthy habit. Several times over the three days, I went to my phone to check up on Facebook and realized that I couldn't.  Facebook must have missed me, too, because after two days of inactivity, it sent me an email telling me of all the things I was missing (9 notifications and several big stories among my friends!).  Thanks, Facebook...NOT!  And then I started wondering if Facebook missed me more than my kids.  What a sobering thought, even if it probably isn't true.  So even though I missed Facebook on my phone because of the habits I have developed, I can say that I didn't miss the time I was able to spend with my kids watching them play at the campsite and all the reading I was able to do.  It is one small step for momma which hopefully will lead to one giant step for family time.

May 24, 2013

Parenting: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Parenting is REALLY tough.  In the almost 14 years that I have been a parent, I have experienced and demonstrated the good, the bad, and the ugly in parenting.  My brother and sister (in-law) just embarked on that lifetime job when they gave birth to my beautiful, precious niece two months ago.  I had the joy and privilege to spend alone time with my family, including her for part of this week.   And I will be praying for them to have God's strength in the good, bad and ugly times of parenting.

This week, I listened to Paul Tripp talk about anger and the heart issues behind it.  And, as usually happens when I hear God's word applied in my life, I felt totally convicted.  I repented of all the idols in my life that lead to my outbursts of anger at my kids, at my husband and, even at God.  And there was a certain amount of pride that I had to release, too.  But the change I want to happen won't happen without His Spirit giving me His character and undergoing deep-seated, 40+ year-deep habits doesn't happen overnight or with any consistent progress.  And one day this week with my kids proves it:

Morning:  A child is being disrespectful.  When I quietly ask the child if the tone and wording is respectful, the child sulks and gets more disrespectful.  After four more instances in ten minutes, as I feel God's patience welling up in me and His concern for the child's heart issues behind the attitude, I suggest that the child take a few minutes and give God everything that is causing the poor tone and attitude so that He can help change it.  By the end of the lesson, that child's attitude is changed and we have a great day together.  Score!  In this split second, I am an awesome parent.

Afternoon:  We are preparing for a camping excursion, a karate class and our weekly Bible study fellowship simultaneously.  Too many things to do.  My temper is short as we race around to pull everything together.  I pack meals for everyone to eat on the car ride or during karate class (for those participants)  and some snacks for the fellowship.  I pack a cold case with some hummus that should be eating soon, along with eating utensils for the night.  The same Child-With-An-Attitude goes to the car to retrieve the utensils before karate starts.  After the class is over, I go to the back and find the hummus has been sitting out of its cool case for ninety minutes in a 100+ degree car.  I let out a wail and say, "Why can't you kids EVER put ANYTHING away?"  before I catch myself and realize that this is a teeny-tiny issue that affects my pride more than anything else.  Fail!  At this moment, I am a bad parent, though I did manage to get a grip before it became ugly.

The child starts feeling bad and God reminds me what I must do to make it right.  I take a moment to apologize and remind her that it REALLY is a no big deal and that I over-reacted to it.  Both of us calm down quickly and have a great car ride.  Save!  I am a redeemed parent.

And that is a wonderful picture of how God's grace works to help us love His way and redeem a situation when we "love" our way.  This song by the late Rich Mullins is my all time favorite because it perfectly describes the typical Christian walk and helps me to remember that God's grace is available to me in any and every situation.  May you experience His grace as you listen to it.

May 15, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Nana

My mom visited us from Memphis last week.  She wanted to surprise her brother for his 60th, birthday party.  The day she traveled to see us, he called me and tried to call her to tell her that their mother, my Nana, was starting her final descent into what I hoped would be her new life.

We decided to make the trek to Tuscon to see her sooner rather than later, with all my kids in tow so that they could see her for the last time.  It ended up being a beautiful visit.  She recognized my mom and sang to her.  I didn't get to witness much of her visit because one of the kids had to use the facilities, which are at the entrance for visitors.  My mom said that the "J" kids were wonderful with her, holding her hand and telling her they loved her with little encouragement.  Before she left, my mom told Nana how much she loved her and that she was the best mom any child could hope to have.  Nana replied in something that sounded like "I love you, too."  Considering her speech center had been decimated for at least a year, this was a HUGE blessing to both of us.  After all my kids said their good-byes, my mom took them out and Nana and I had alone time.

First of all, I am completely sure that she recognized me for the first time in a LONG time.  I started out telling Nana how much I loved her and she sang back her reply, which wasn't as clear as what she had said to mom.  I asked her if she believed that Jesus died for her sins so that she was right with God.  She nodded her head (blessing upon blessing!).  Then I told her to follow God where He led her next because it was going to be a really good place.  I told her that we would miss her, but in a very short time, we would be joining her.  I then told her that in this new place, she would be given a new body and new clothes and all the things she had lost would be returned to her so that she could do the things that she used to do.  I spent some time remembering all the things that she and I used to do when I was a little girl.  As I recounted all the things we did, I saw a look of clarity and joy in her eyes as she remembered with me (How He loves us, Oh how He loves us!).  All the while, she would reply in songs that I couldn't quite understand.  I prayed for her and told her that I loved her one last time before letting go of her hand.  It was so hard to say good-bye.

Two days later, my uncle called to tell me that she had died.  I am so glad that God blessed that last visit with clarity for her and closure for all of us.

Nana died at the age of 89.  She survived all of her friends, both siblings, one sister who died as a child and a brother who died flying one of his last missions in WWII, as well as two grandsons and two great-grandbabies. She raised three kids largely on her own, even though she was married, because of severe character defects in her husband.  She owned her own home decorating business called "The Inside Shop" in Green Valley for several years.  In her sixties, she took care of her mother, who had senile dementia for many years, delivering papers in the early morning to make extra money while her mom slept so she could be with her during the day when her mom needed more supervision.  She developed a wicked throw, too.   She is survived by two sons and a daughter, three grand-daughters and a grandson, fourteen(?) great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.  Below are pictures, with thanks to my Uncle Jeff, who has kept them and scanned many of them over the last few years.

Nana as a toddler on the left, with her mother, brother, and grandmother
Nana's high school graduation picture

Nana with her three children.  
Nana with her dad at his 50th Wedding Anniversary

I look forward to seeing her in her new body when I join her in heaven, where there will be no more "good-byes".

May 11, 2013

Bringing back the Tribute Series

A long, long time ago, when I was still living in Chicago and had a lot more grandmas who were living, I decided to dedicate some of my blog to giving tribute to those I love before they die, so that they knew exactly how I felt about them before their funeral.  I focused on my parents, step parents and grandparents and eventually my husband (though I am pretty sure he knows how I feel about him).  Today, I want to celebrate my uncle's 60th birthday by giving him a tribute.

Uncle Jeff has a special place in my heart.  He is the sweetest guy I first knew, besides my Bobba Bab (great-grandpa).  When my mom got a divorce, he was in high school.  She started working and going to school part time.  If she couldn't pick me up at day care, he would, and always greet me with his big, wide grin.  I love that grin!

When my mom remarried and they were both working, I spent a lot of summers in Green Valley with Nana, Gigi and Boppa Bab and, of course, Uncle Jeff.  He would take a day off of work to hang out with me and he was the one who taught me how to swim.  He survived divorce and was hopeful enough and loving enough to have a second successful marriage.  He started his own business with his first wife and managed to keep it afloat through the divorce and other challenges for decades.  He helped Nana run a home decorating business when I was a young girl until she sold the business, which is when he started his own.  When Nana wasn't able to work any other jobs, he hired her as part of his business to work part time as a home decoration consultant.  For the last fifteen years, he has been the one to take care of Nana and make the arrangements for her to go into an assisted living facility and later to a nursing home.  He more than anyone else, saw Nana's decline due to Alzheimer's because he visited her so faithfully.  He has shown and continues to show, so much love and devotion for his family and friends.  He is Jesus's love in action.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Jeff!  I love you!

April 29, 2013

Joy in the Family: Family Update

Tombstone will have to wait.

We are in our super-busy time right now, when Kyle has baseball, John still has tae-kwon-do and the girls have their aerials.  May, which I have started calling "Mayhem" will go by in a flash because the beginning of the month, the girls and I and my grandma are going to a retreat in Prescott (yay!), my mom is visiting us (yay!) the girls have their aerials performance (yay!), I will be visiting Memphis to see my newest, incredibly cute niece (yay!), and Kyle has Little League baseball playoffs (yay!).  And even though the juggling and trying to figure out what to fix when we are double booked every single night is challenging, I am finding joy in seeing my kids develop skills and learning how to manage disappointments and challenges.

Kyle has a good teaching coach this year and has tried out to be pitcher.  He is not incredibly consistent, but everyone has to start somewhere and he CAN strike kids out.  His current position would be something like clean up pitcher or maybe 3rd string.  In one game, he stole home when the pitcher dropped the ball and his run prevented the opposing team from tying the game and going into extra innings.  There was some testosterone-based drama at the game which I don't like very much that involved a call that our coach didn't like.  As he was protesting the call, one of the parents on the other side decided to "help" the umpire defend his call.  This particular person acted like he had his heart set on his son playing in the major leagues by the time he was 18 and that is not a compliment.  I envision a future adult who might hate baseball. The umpire eventually stepped in because the game was being delayed by the silliness.  Tonight, he hit an honest triple, honest because he didn't get to go to extra bases because of overthrown balls.

Later that day, John had an in-school karate tournament last weekend and will have a regional tournament this weekend.  At the regional tournament, he will have to perform the full routine.  In classes, until you become a black belt, they only practice half the form unless there is an upcoming regional tournament.  They will sometimes pull tournament-registered kids out of class to review the whole form.  This time, however, they set up additional free classes to go over the form.  We missed one class to go camping, so the night before the in-school tournament, John learned the whole routine for the first time.  At the in-school tournament, the kids had the option of doing the whole routine or half.  John decided to do the whole routine.  It took him a LOOOONNGGG time to get through the routine and a few times he stood, rocking in place trying to remember what came next for 30 seconds at a time.  He made it through the routine, though he missed some of the elements.  He didn't get great scores, but, boy, I was sure proud of his chutzpah.  He also didn't get great scores in the weapons, partly because he was making it up as he went along as opposed to other competitors who had a set routine that they did.   After he got ready for sparring, he put his head down on his bag and started crying.  I tried to find out what was the problem, but he couldn't tell me until afterward.  Finally, his name was called to spar.  His opponent was a recommended black belt, which means that he was preparing to test for black belt.  I was worried.  The primary judge must have been concerned, too because she asked him twice if he was okay and was able to compete.  Both times he nodded his head.  The minute they started the round, I saw him take all of his frustration and focus it on getting a point on his opponent.  He ended up getting three points before ultimately losing.  I was so proud of him pulling himself together and focusing on the next job.  He ended up tying for third to get one medal in the tournament.  Fast forward an hour and John explained to me that he had been crying because he knew going into sparring that he wasn't going to win a medal for the previous two segments (showing good math skills, I might add).  I am so glad I wasn't fully aware of why he was crying because I probably would have said something like, "There's no crying in karate!" which would not have been helpful.

It was a good opportunity to talk about all the great things he did that didn't involve winning a medal, like trying to do something when he knew he hadn't had enough time to practice and pulling himself together enough to be able to score against a recommended black belt and just getting up there to try and compete.  And then we talked about what he could do to do better at the tournament, like trying to teach me the full routine (because teaching it to someone else is the best way of learning the routine) and actually planning a weapons routine.  And practicing it to get smooth.

The girls are getting ready for their Spring performance in a couple of weeks.  My  mom is flying in to take a little vacation, which will be wonderful.  She will be able to see them perform, maybe see Kyle practice and see John in his karate class.  This year, we will be finishing school right before Cub Scout Camp for John, Eric and Kyle.

We are studying Rome as a Republic right now and are playing "Conquest of the Empire" (think "Risk" set up for Roman empire-building).  Kyle, of course, chose Greece and worked to get Rome.  Elizabeth is occupying Carthaginian territory.  She bought a boat and is working on capturing islands.  Jessi is set up in Asia Minor and John and I are the very important but possibly easily conquered Hispanola.  And in the process, I am challenging them, especially the really competitive ones, to view this game as fun, regardless of the outcome.  "Playing games is fun and winning is a bonus" is the attitude I have asked them to take.  And I also have to adapt this attitude because I am not very good at strategy games and sometimes put too much of my identity in winning.  Learning together is a joy!

April 21, 2013

Camping at Kartchner Caverns

It has been a delightfully strange spring this year in Arizona.  To this northern transplant, it actually felt like spring.  You see, what most Arizonans call "spring", everyone else north of the Mason Dixon line calls "summer."  That is because Arizona summers involve what I have called "pizza-oven" hot temperatures.  If anyone wants to get a good idea of what "hotter than hell" feels like, come to Arizona in July or August.  Usually, by this time, we are considering turning on the air conditioner because temperatures have already crept into the mid-90's (which is not considered hot by the natives).  However, the nights have been delightfully cool in the 50's and we have only just hit 90 in the past two days.  I have loved it.

While the temperatures were still what natives would call cold, we started planning a few long-weekend camping trips around the state over the next few months.  We have several locations already chosen and last weekend, embarked on our first one:  Kartchner Caverns, which was a clear winner among all the destinations for the kids.   It is located about thirty minutes south of Tucson, about 2 1/2 hours from the Phoenix metro area.  This is still part of the "low country", so visiting it in the summer is not recommended.  We chose last weekend because it was the only weekend at the time of planning that didn't involve a baseball game until sometime in May.

Kartchner Caverns was discovered in 1974 and is a nesting place for bats.  It became an operating state park in 1999 after two years of construction to preserve as much of the cave as possible.  Kartchner Caverns is unique in two regards.  Most people think of caves as being below ground.  This one is part of a hill, which means that it is about ground level to the campsite.  I am not sure, but I think that is the reason that this cave, unlike the most preconceived notions people have of caves, is rather warm.  It is also a very wet cave, with high humidity in spite of its desert surroundings.  So basically, touring the cave is like going outside in St. Louis in May.

The whole area is covered with mountain ranges and Kartchner Caverns is in a series of hills in the valley between the Santa Rita, Huachuca (pronounced wa-CHOO-kah), Whetstone, Mule, Dragoon and Rincon Mountain ranges.

We arrived Friday late afternoon on a cloudy day that in any other area, would have produced actual rain and not virga.  The kids started playing games while hubby and I set up the tent.  The campsite was surrounded by mesquite trees and we accidentally set up the entrance quite close to a tree, requiring us to duck as we walked toward the table.  Several of us forgot once or twice during the weekend and either had branches grab our hair or whack us in the head.  The campsite itself was very nice with electricity and water at every EVERY campsite.  The water spigot alone was worth the slightly higher campsite cost.  It also had free showers (not as common in Arizona) and the bathroom was pretty nice.  The only downside is that we couldn't light a wood fire, which has been the case wherever we have camped in Arizona.  That night, I tried a variation on s'mores that I found on Pinterest that we called the "smorito" because it involved flour tortillas, nutella and marshmallows.  We were located between the Foothills trail and the trail to the Discovery Center, where you start your cave tour.

We spent Saturday morning hiking the Foothills trail and the afternoon touring the cave.  Kartchner Caverns also has a state junior ranger program for the kids, which everyone except for John participated.   The cave was breathtaking, with all sorts of stalagmites, stalactites, "bacon" and other interesting limestone formations.   We took the Rotunda/Throne room tour.  The tour guide was pretty well informed and obviously loved the cavern.  Almost as impressive was a huge mud pit that had some ancient bat guano in one area of it.  The mud "lake" is more than 20 feet deep, though most people only sink knee deep.  The tracks of the original explorers are preserved like a set of really deep cross country ski tracks.  Rangers and scientists who are studying the cave use those original tracks both to preserve the eco-system and because no one wants to slog through knee deep mud to make a new one.  Even though it is very pricey, the cave tour is totally worth it.

The wind REALLY picked up that night, bending the tent in every direction and causing the rain fly to flap loudly most of the night.  The sunshade, which in Arizona can actually be used as a  sunshade and not a table-sized umbrella, was twisting alarmingly in the wind.  Sometime around ten p.m., Eric took out the poles, collapsed the six folding chairs and put them on top of it to keep it and them from blowing away.  Later that night, he found the wind had blown some of the chairs off and was turning the sunshade into a sail.  He pulled up the stakes and brought it into the safety of our vestibule where it stayed put until morning.  Sunday morning, we had an easy, no-cook breakfast, broke camp and headed for Tombstone before returning home.  Tombstone is another story.

All the pictures were taken by my wonderful hubby, who is much more talented in photography than I am.  We have no pictures of the cave because Kartchner Caverns does not allow ANYTHING to be brought into the cave.  If you want to see what it looks like inside, check out this video, which does have some lovely video footage of "bacon" formation--linear, marbled formations that actually look like bacon before it is cooked.  It also does a good job of giving the back story and features one of the discoverers.
Playing games before our hike.  This was a guessing game where one person had to guess a literary figure in  a book they had both read.

One of the hills near our campsite.  The Foothill trail did not lead to this peak.  It was part of the Coconino National Forest (they use the term "forest" loosely around here).

I love the craftsmanship of the sign,

We are resting in the middle of an ocotillo "forest"

Adding a rock to a pile at the highest point of the trail.  The valley is spread out below us.  We are all wearing camelback water systems.

You might see a hill in the lower left.  I believe that it is the hill  where Kartchner Caverns is located.

No gallery of photographs would be complete without the kids making silly faces.

A lovely lizard.  The tail looks like it has scales, but that is just the way it is colored.  It was one of three different kinds that we saw.  This one is the prettiest.

April 4, 2013

Prayer Request

God has drawn me out of my pity party.  I really have so much for which to be thankful.  For one thing, He continually puts up with me and sticks by me closer than anyone.  He has been with me through my singleness, beautiful and ugly moments in my marriage and in raising children, beautiful and ugly moments in friendships.   I am a huge pain in the neck, sometimes, and would totally understand God saying "sayonara."  But He is faithful and has carved me into the palm of His hands (Isaiah 49:14-16)

There is a family that REALLY needs your prayers.  They have been an inspiration to me in terms of listening to God's voice and sacrificially loving complete strangers that live 9,000 miles away (and ten hours time difference) until they become family.  Soon after we moved to Arizona, I met this homeschooling mom who suddenly felt a desire to adopt, even though her family had moved into a smaller home.  And suddenly felt God focusing her and her family's attention on the plight of orphans in Ethiopia. Basically, orphans are considered 3rd class citizens in Ethiopia and if they never get adopted, they face an uphill battle to get jobs or even advanced schooling.  Following God's call, they started by informally adopting two young men from an Ethiopian orphanage as their parents.  God has forged an incredibly strong bond over several thousand miles between the family and these two men.  The teenagers they adopted were still living in an orphanage at the time and were the "fathers" for all the young boys there.  (Boys and girls are kept in separate facilities.)  The mom eventually visited her boys four times, once with her husband and birth children.  With God's help, she even planned projects to improve life in the boys orphanage, like having people make new pillowcases and stuffing them with pillows purchased in Ethiopia for the boys in the orphanage.  During the 2nd visit, God brought a ten year old boy at the orphanage to her attention and during the fourth visit and with much prayer, they decided to adopt him.

Soon after that decision was made, a few months into a paper wrestling match with the Ethiopian government and raising the funds to pay for the adoption, they noticed that their tweenaged daughter was losing weight and developing a rash that wouldn't go away.  For five months, they went to different doctors trying to figure out what was causing the weight loss as they saw their daughter become a shadow of herself.  Eventually they found a doctor who diagnosed her properly:   dermatomyositis.  It is basically an auto-immune disease where the body attacks the skin and muscles.  Wounds never heal, they only get worse and the body can create sores on the skin which turn into wounds.  Patients also get progressively weaker without treatment.  They found other problems, like a very bad reaction to the nickel in her braces that was essentially poisoning her body.  All in all, her body was under attack in at least five different ways.  She is currently taking more than 300 different medicines, most of them homeopathic and gets a weekly IV to treat the dermatomyositis.  The good news is that three of the attacking agents have been dealt with and that her body is healing.  The one exception is the dermatomyositis.

Since she has been diagnosed, she has developed two sores on her elbows that will eventually require plastic surgery, once the doctors have determined that she is well enough to be able to withstand the stress.  However, in the last week, she has developed two more sores on her feet and one on  her finger.  When she was first diagnosed, the doctor said that 1/3 of the people with this disease have it go into remission, 1/3 of them deal with it on and off for the rest of their lives and 1/3 of them remain severe cases and can even die from it.  The fact that she is continuing to develop sores makes it more likely that she will have to deal with it the rest of her life.    Unless God intervenes.  And because God is a God of hope and futures (Jeremiah 29:11), I have hope that God will swoop in and deliver a "shock and awe" moment to the rheumatologist and the other doctors treating her that are trying to prepare the parents for the possibility of a lifelong battle.

Even through this ordeal, this family's faith and trust in God is amazing.  To be able to cry in frustration at how horrible the situation is and still praise God is truly sacrificial worship and faith.

Please join me in praying for this family, John, Tamara, Kristelle, and Kyle and their adopted sons Emnatu and Ayal, that God will continue to uphold them in their faith and strength in Him, as He has done so for so many months.  Please pray that they would experience Him as The Comfortor as well as The Healer and Great Physician.  Please pray for healing in the near future, or at least for it to go into remission, not just for the sake of the girl, Kristelle, and her family, but for the sake of the precious boy in Ethiopia who needs a mom and dad.  And if you remember, please pray on Friday, April 12 at 7p.m. Pacific Time for Kristelle while she gets baptized during a prayer, praise and baptism event.

Thank you!  And if you want to get status updates, go here.

March 19, 2013

This is where the healing begins...

The final good-byes were said last week as really good, close friends and my homeschooling mom/partner-in-crime left for their new home 2,000 miles away.  Coincidentally (or not), our church is studying Habakkuk this month in which a guy asks God a lot of questions and God gives him answers that he doesn't like because it doesn't fit in with his idea of a good plan, even though he acknowledges that God can only make good plans so this plan that seems to be wrong must be right.

I totally empathize with Habakkuk.  When we first moved to Arizona, I felt cast adrift from a strong base of friends.  I would vacillate between wanting to curl up into a fetal position and ignore the world to manically trying to set up play-date after play-date in hopes of finding my new best friend for myself and my kids.  Looking back, I might have resembled this:

A year after our move, I found a homeschooling family that had moved 2,000 miles away to a house very close to us.  Knowing what I had gone through, I contacted her and we set up a playdate.  The kids got along fine and before you know it, we were planning a two-family homeschool co-op and put together a small P.E. co-op close to us.  One of her sons and one of mine shared a passion for baseball and we took turns with baseball carpools.  One of my daughters and her other son shared a love of making art, so we put them in an advanced art class together with a teacher that she had really liked.  We still use the teacher.  About the same time another homeschooling mom and I were talking about friendships and she talked about the "cult of friendship", in which "friendships" become a status symbol with the hierarchy based on  how many FB friends you have, how many birthday parties you get invited to, etc.  Through that conversation, God pointed out that I was buying into the cult of friendship myth and addressed some issues from my own public school experiences, in which I felt like a deer with a target-shaped birthmark over my heart.

So I became content with the friends He had divinely appointed to me, including the one close friendship that was blooming between that family and ours.  I figure that we spent, roughly two months a year with them when you add extra playdates, weekly co-op get-togethers, birthdays and even a camping trip.  

So why would God encourage me to focus my time on developing a close relationship with a family that He was intending to move so far away in such a short time?  Did I misunderstand Him?  Had this family become an idol in my life and God had to remove them to demonstrate it to me?  Is this a little more perverse form of His occasionally gently-twisted humor?  The last two weeks, especially have been  a struggle and, honestly, I started checking out again, wanting to curl back up in a fetal position and insulate myself from the world.  Today, in quiet time, God replied to me, "My dear child, you and Tina have chosen the most excellent way--the way of love, focusing on people rather than accomplishments and activities.  It hurts right now, but I will carry you through the pain of loss.  Just let go of striving and fall back into my arms."

And so, I find yet another reason to have joy in this hard moment:  that God has been pleased and is faithful to be the God of all comfort, the God who provides, and the God who is in control.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:17-18

March 6, 2013

Homeschool Idea

A dear friend of mine recently had her ten year old son diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is in the Autism Spectrum disorder.  We have been working together with her son even before he was officially diagnosed because we had been meeting weekly for the past two years in a mini co-op.  Her son had been having problems in math for a long time and she had switched curriculum two or three times in the past three years trying to find one that suited him.  One day, she made a comment that he preferred to do the math in his head, even if it was long division because he hated writing out the numbers and had difficulty in lining everything up.  That sparked an idea for me:  if writing was the problem, why not eliminate that distraction in some way and get him to focus on the math, not the writing.  Being a nerd, I immediately thought of a computer program to help.  We pored online over different programs, some free online and some expensive voice recognition software.  Generally, we decided in terms of programs, you get what you pay for. Then, a sudden inspiration was dropped in my lap:  why not just get a ton (literally) of those plastic, magnetic numbers, enough to do long division or hairy problems?  Later, when he takes algebra, they can buy the letters.  Then maybe make the exponents, parenthesis and operations out of foam or clay and put magnets on the back.  Instead, she and her son took sheets of foam and cut out the numbers and parentheses and had him write out the operations and exponents by hand.  She bought a magnetic white board dedicated to math and a roll of magnets that they cut up and glued to the foam.  Below are pictures of what it looks like (sorry that it is on its side--technical difficulties):

But the results are even better:  his math scores have improved dramatically and, within a week of starting it, her son, the one with Aspergers Syndrome that doesn't really like being touched, HUGGED her and thanked her for working on the solution to his problem.  So I am putting up there as a resource for homeschooling moms, teachers, or anyone with students who struggle with writing related problems like those in the Autism Spectrum and those who have dysgraphia.  I also have this on my Pinterest site.

March 5, 2013

Joy in the midst of "Good-byes"

Three years ago, someone in the homeschool group to which we belong introduced me to a mom whose family had just moved to Arizona and lived near me.  In fact, they lived less than three blocks away from us, though on the other side of a busy road.  We started meeting twice a month or so for PE related activities.  Last year, we joined as a co-op for Writing, History and Science and organized a PE co-op in our area with just a few families.  You get to be pretty close when meeting  roughly 52 times a year.  Last year, she and her husband started discussing having him find a job because their oldest son, who shares a love of art and all things Tolkien with our oldest daughter, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome with the usual side issues and his company's insurance refused to pay for all the therapy.  Sure enough, he found a job fairly quickly with good insurance, but it was in North Carolina.  That was in August.  We were expecting them to leave at Christmas, but they decided to have her and the kids stay until the house sold.  The house sold within a month of putting it on the market and the sale date was set in March.    Two weeks ago, I looked at the calendar and realized that March was just around the corner.  That is when it hit me that my kids are going to lose the closest friends they have had since moving here.    So the last week or so has been an exercise in grieving.

Honestly, it seems as if, for the last five or six years, God has been removing the people who have been closest with us from our lives. It hurts horribly.  When we first moved, I felt as if God was telling me that friends had become an idol to me--something good and necessary became something that meant more to me than God.  I am not saying that it is the reason He moved us, just that He used our move to reveal an idol in my life so that I would draw closer to Him.  And I walked away from that wrestling match deciding that if He took everyone else away, even my family, He would be sufficient.  As I remembered those many conversations with Him, I realized that my attitude concerning the current situation has not been great.  So, as of last week, every time I was tempted to wallow in pity, as much for my kids as for me, I made a conscious decision to choose thankfulness that He brought this family into our lives, even if it is for a short time.  And I choose to be happy for my friends because He is bringing them back to a place where they can live near extended family, where they will have a bigger yard, a bigger house and away from the desert megalopololis, which I knew that the mom really hated.  And I choose to trust Him with my kid's lives, though, in all honesty, I don't have much of a choice in the matter because the concept of being in control of anyone except myself is a Grand Illusion that the enemy loves to perpetuate.  So, to be more precise, I have chosen to rejoice that the Lord is in control of my life and my family's life and rejoice in the knowledge that He is good in every situation, that He loves me far more than I can ever imagine, that He knows what is best for my family and will lead us.  And I rejoice that we will spend eternity in heaven, where there are no "good-byes".

I choose joy even in the midst of sorrow and uncertainty.

March 1, 2013

This is dedicated to the one I love

Sixteen years ago on February 20th, I got into the mini van (known at the time as a "Bike Transport Vehicle") of a guy that I hardly knew to go on a four day cross-country skiing mini-vacation.  Not exactly a situation recommended in Christian dating how-to books.  Or even Stranger-Danger videos we tell our kids.  My reasoning was as much a need for a four day weekend away from my high pressure job and a chance to test my endurance on cross country skiis, which seemed to overwhelm the negatives.  I originally had another reason to go, which was to meet new potential friends, which can be a lot harder to do as an adult out of college.  That third reason was laid to rest when the large number of people who initially signed up dropped out for various reasons.

This is what  I knew about him:  he was an avid bicyclist and in the "fast" crowd, meaning that he could bike much faster than I could; he had been very helpful in teaching me the basics of cross-country skiing when a group of us gathered at a forest preserve in Chicago on a rare day when there was enough snow on the ground AND it was above 20 degrees; he recently had become unable to do things on Sunday because he had "found Jesus" and started attending church on a regular basis.  That last bit of information was provided by one of his friends and piqued my interest.  It also made him a little more trustworthy in my eyes.  Before I went on the trip, however, I prayed and asked God because I had just promised Him that if He gave me a godly man, I would not under any circumstances allow myself to become intimate with him.  God was silent on the subject (or it could be that the wax in my ears prevented me from hearing His still, small voice), so I decided to see if the gentleman would be willing to go.  He was, so I took it as a sign that God was okay with it (which is not the same as "approved of.")  I found out later that his small Bible study group, when they met, prayed for my future husband's safety, safety of his heart, and for God to protect him from sin while going on a trip with an unknown woman.  They might have even prayed for me.

I had brought along a stack of books, too much to read in a month, much less a weekend that was supposed to be spent in the great outdoors.  Shutting myself in my room to read when we weren't skiing was my back-up plan in case he was creepy or annoying.  I never touched the books. Within the first 30 minutes of the four-hour trip, he started telling me about how he had found Jesus.  He was hoping to convert me, if I was an unbeliever.  It started a great conversation about God, one that I had been longing to share with a man for a while.  He was so funny and punny (he still is), which is my love language.  We had a great time cross-country skiing and at night, we either watched "Into the Woods", which is a very long Steven Sondheim musical, or played board games.  The only other thing that happened was that the seeds of a relationship was started.  Two days after returning, we met for dinner at an average Chinese restaurant before the monthly bicycle club meeting and agreed to pursue a relationship.  That was the start of a beautiful relationship, created by God, that remained pure until our wedding night.  And that is why we ignore Valentine's Day and, instead, focus on our own personal Valentine's day on February 25th.

God is the best matchmaker.  And my husband, though he would never be considered perfect, is still perfectly wonderful in my eyes, sixteen years later.

February 18, 2013

"Different Like Me"

People are people.  That is one message that God has been drilling into me over the past two years.  We try to throw up walls like cultural differences, different tastes in music, food, art, politics and religion.  But if you sit down for a REAL conversation, where you REALLY listen, you find someone just like yourself, with worries, hopes, disappointments and victories.  And I love listening to stories and seeing the similarities.

I guess God has been showing that to my kids, too.  He started when He had us take in a gentleman from our church who was down on his luck.  He had some health issues, he looked funny, he talked funny, and he would never be considered as a contestant on Jeopardy.  It took our kids a little bit to get used to him.  At the end of the time, my oldest daughter commented that she was glad he had stayed with us because she realized that people who look different aren't really all that different.  Score one for God.

Last week, we took half a day to take advantage of discount tickets at a mall-based aquarium with a few other families.  One of the families has a son with Down's Syndrome.  Last year, she and her husband had decided that public school would be a better option for him and had such a horrible experience with the public school, they pulled him out again.  I had met him once and would consider him relatively high functioning.  His speech is affected a little, but in the short class we all had signed up to take, he kept himself fairly quiet and unobtrusive with just a little bit of help from a friend and his mother.  My oldest daughter had a blast with him after the class and she treated him as she would any other child.  As we were getting ready to leave, the boys mother pulled me aside and told me she had to talk to me.  She told me that she was thanking my daughter for how kindly she treated her son and my daughter's response was something like, "I like him because he is different, just like me."  It had blown her away, and me, too, with gratitude for her perspective.

For those of you who have never met her, she doesn't have Down's Syndrome or any other handicap.  No one would notice her passing her in the street.  Unless she was mugging with one of her overdramatic expressions.  Or using her Smeagol voice.  Or trying out one of her  new voices, which sounds like a squeaky door.  Or talking Gandalf style, which inevitably involves the phrase "You!  Shall!  Not!  Pass!!!!"  That is how she is different and she recognizes that she is different.   So all she sees in this little boy with Down's Syndrome is a boy who is different like her from "the crowd"  but not in the same way as she is different.  And she revels in those differences.  This was one of my earliest goals in homeschooling, to let them be who God made them to be without feeling as if they were weird or stupid, which is the social lessons a lot of kids receive in public schools.  And God is gracious to answer my prayers at least for one child that He has helped me train.  I pray that this quality has been ingrained in her so deeply that the world and its influence will never drive it out and that she will know that people are people, created in God's image and loved by Him more than they can imagine.

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  Colossians 3:11-13

February 9, 2013

Three Magic Words

Today, my family and I went on a trek to see the two grandmas,one in a Senior facility who can still play cards and tell jokes and another, my Nana, who is slowly being eaten away by alzheimer's in a nursing home.  I saw Nana first and this is about our time together.

A long time ago, I stopped looking for the Nana I remember from childhood, or even from the Nana I remember from ten years ago, when her green-gray eyes still twinkled with mischief and laughter and her high, well-defined cheekbones still held more than a hint of the beauty that she was as a younger wife and mother;  when she could follow conversations and make complete sentences.  Now, I look for a stooped woman in a wheelchair with a flurry of frail, pure white hair, sunken eyes that are growing hazy with age and skin that seems papery thin.  Today, she was in the common room, where the TV is, snoozing in her wheelchair with oxygen pumped in her nose.  I touched her arm and called her name.  She stirred, glanced at me, and closed her eyes again.  I pulled up a chair and started stroking her her arm, calling her name again. Her eyelids remained closed.  I walked over to the nurses and asked if she had taken a turn for the worse.   Gravely, they all nodded affirmations.  However, they also encouraged me to stay by her side and hold her hand and just be satisfied with being with her.  So I steeled myself to spend the next 30 minutes or so just holding her hand and seeing if she would respond to my small, gentle acts of love.  I sat down stroked her hand and said the magic words:  "Nana, I love you!"

Her eyes popped open and she looked at me with renewed interest and almost seemed to recognize me.  Her mouth reformed into a big wide grin, not quite the same as twenty years ago, but almost familiar.  It started a whole long "conversation" between us, two old friends, two co-conspirators, two travelers of memory lane.  She would "talk", which really was more similar to baby sounds than anything else, and I would almost understand her at times.  I would tell her my stories and then we would share stories of our trip to California, her camping as a young girl with her parents, the times we would pretend to be police officers (CHiPs with chicks).  Every once in a while, she would laugh the laugh that I remembered hearing and couldn't help but laugh with her from the joy of hearing it, even though I had no idea what she had just told me.  I told her about my kids and showed her the washcloth I was knitting, though I assured her that it wasn't as beautiful as the things she had knit for me.  I told her about saving the dresses she had made for me for my daughters, when they got older.  When I showed her pictures of my kids and told her that they were her great-grandchildren, she made a snort and seemed to say "I'm not THAT old!"  She never did like the idea of being old enough to be a great-grandmother, though she loved her great grandchildren as much as she loved her grandchildren and her children.  I told her that she was a wonderful grandmother and gave her a kiss and a hug.  Our time was almost over.  My husband and the kids were waiting outside in the parking lot.  She didn't seem to mind that I was leaving, or maybe didn't understand.  I gave her final kisses and hugs and left.

I feel blessed to still be able to spend time with her and know that there is still small part of the Nana I knew that is awake and alive.  And if there comes a time when those three magic words no longer have meaning to her, then I will be content sitting silently with her, holding her hand and showing her a small part of the love she has shown me over the years.

February 1, 2013

Convicted. Repentant. Forgiven

Somewhere, we acquired a book called From God To You, 66 Love Letters by Dr. Larry Crab.  It basically summarizes each book of the Bible in an imaginary conversation between the author and God.  In history, we are studying the Kingdom of Israel and so the Bible is one of the source documents.  This week, we were studying Solomon's reign, which is covered in 1 Kings.  Today I picked up the book to get Dr. Crab's perspective and became convicted by the following passages which is his interpretation of God's message for us from this book:

Your desire to be effective, to depend on biblical principles for success in your family, church, career, and friendships, is legitimately strong.  But when that desire is stronger than your desire to be holy and to depend on My power for becoming more like My Son, whether you succeed or fail in other ways, then you will not always advance My plan, no matter how carefully you follow My principles or how much apparent success you enjoy.  And you'll be especially vulnerable to serious sin.

Later on, he writes embellishment from God's perspective in case I don't understand or purposely misunderstand what He is saying:

When efficient management, especially when you're good at it, trumps holy living, the lack of holiness is either not recognized or is not seen as a terribly serious problem....But the center of My plan has nothing to do with well-managed families, ministries, or careers.  When the center of My plan is not the center of your hope, your interior world is unstable, and your soul is weakened.

Busted. And I am without excuse, because the Bible has always pointed to God's power, God's grace, God's plan.  It has never been and shouldn't ever be about me and how well I manage.  The fruit of the Spirit is joy as well as self control and other qualities.  The fruit of my spirit never can achieve these qualities.  That is why the joy of the Lord is my strength--my joy in His plan for me, which might look like disaster and failure to the world, but, because it is pleasing to Him, is glorious in His eyes.

But the most wonderful news is that God doesn't convict us to condemn us.  He wakes us up to our pitiful, blind state so that He can lead us to repentance and forgive us, wiping our ledger clean with the blood of Jesus and leading us back to seeing His plan and following it.

Please God, open my eyes to your plan for me and how you want me to minister to my family, my friends, and my community.  Remove my focus from "the process" and keep them fixed on You, the Author and Perfecter of my faith and on the joy in following Your plan.

January 20, 2013

The Rocks of Arizona

The picture at the top was taken several years ago in the Chicago-ish area of Illinois.   Nearly four years ago, we moved to Arizona, which has a markedly different vista.  If you like rocks, Arizona IS the place to be.  Some rocks, like the canyon lands, are beautiful.  If Arizona was a house, these would be the formal living room and dining room, where all the owner's taste and best pieces are placed and which are reserved for company, rather than everyday use.  Most of these pictures were taken by my husband, by the way, who is a far superior photographer than I am.
The Grand Canyon--North Rim, with the South Rim in the background

The Grand Canyon at Sunset from the Grand Canyon Lodge


Phoenix is surrounded and spattered with all sorts of mountains, most of them in the "little, cute" variety--"montanitas" (Spanish for "little mountains).  If the canyonlands are the living room, these mountains are the spare bedroom or the attic or unfinished basement, where you put all the stuff you don't know what to do with, or where you throw all of your stuff when you don't have a lot of time to pick up the house for company.  The pictures below were taken from a New Year's Day hike at Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale, AZ.

Could someone get a broom and sweep up all of these crumbs?

My hubby with the pinnacle behind him.  Doesn't it look like someone dumped a bunch of boulders, like kids dump all the LEGOs on the floor to find the exact piece they need for their creation?

Some houses and more peaks on the outskirts of Scottsdale. Tom Thumb peak is on of the little spikes. What a mess!

A stone junkyard

Of course, whenever we would pick a day to clean up the spare room/attic/basement, we would always find a treasure trove of pictures, old toys, long forgotten school assignments and other items that would bring back wonderful memories and create great stories for our family.  The stones scattered around the mountains, creating such a disheveled appearance also seem to tell great stories when you see them up close.  It almost makes you think that God carved them and placed them exactly where He wanted you to find them to tell you a story.  These pictures were taken on my iPhone:
Two rocks "kissing"

The rock on the far right reminded me first of  Darth Vader,  then Boba Fett 
This one reminded me of the troll dolls of my youth, the kind with the wild, bright hair. There is even an "eye" and "mouth."  Coincidence, design or my imagination?

Do you see a finger-shaped rock?  It is pointing to its designer (God).

So even though I would never classify Phoenix as the prettiest spot in Arizona, it certainly has character and even in the mess of the city and scattered montanitos, and the mass of humanity with all of its warts and scars marring its beauty, God reveals himself, His story, and His sense of humor.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” 
Luke 19: 37-40