Thursday, February 28, 2013

Running, running, running

For the first time in nearly 24 hours, I have a lull in the action. We started out yesterday cleaning the third floor. That is our playroom and my storage area for all of our homeschooling stuff and toys that are currently put away. That area of the house had become completely out of control. It was so bad that everyone had pretty much stopped even trying to put things away and if something belonged on the third floor it was either left on the stairs or thrown into the doorway. Plus, there were a lot of the toys that are supposed to come out only one at a time which were out all at the same time. Chaos. And I couldn't live with it any longer.

So up we all went and put it back to rights. It really didn't take that long once everyone started to help, mainly because of the very large toy purge I had done a couple of years ago. It looked as if it would take forever, but that was mainly because of the Playmobile, Lego (the upstairs Legos which live in the third floor, not the boys' Legos which live in their room... those we did last week), and wooden blocks which were scattered all around. (It's all those little pieces!) Everything is back in its bin or shelf and toys are tucked away in my restricted area. It looks good.

We had a late lunch and I had enough time to get everyone to quiet time or naps before I needed to leave with A. and P. for their riding lessons. I had this all planned out. I would drive them to their lessons and after the lessons we would stop at the tack store next door to spend my mother's money and get them needed paddock boots and half chaps. The sneakers worked well enough to begin and see if they enjoyed riding lessons, but the trainers were starting to mention they needed something more appropriate with more support.

At least that was my plan. Not part of my plan was forgetting my purse so that I had neither cash, checkbook, credit card, or phone. Thankfully the lessons were already paid for, but it would make purchasing boots difficult. So we got in the car to go back home to get my purse to go back to the store to buy boots. But wouldn't you know it the car's gas tank was riding on empty. (My plan was to fill it up on my way home, but you can't do that without the items in the purse.) So we crept home, retrieved my purse, and then crept even more slowly to the nearest gas station. On the car I was driving it helpfully tells me how many more miles I can drive with the gas in my tank. Let me tell you how thankful I am that I still have one more gallon of gas when the read out says I have 0 miles to go. Not that I really wanted to have to discover this piece of information.

The boots and chaps were bought and went home, it was just an hour later than I expected it to be. We now had just enough time to eat dinner together before J. and I had to leave to see a show that M. is in. It was one of those days (the second this week) where there just wasn't a moment to do anything but run to the next event. Is it any wonder that I never got a blog post written?

I have a couple of thoughts on this side of my slightly crazy week. The first is that children really do better with a less stimulating, less chaotic environment. I watch every time we do a major cleaning of the third floor. Sure, when it's messy they'll still sometimes go up there and play, but play usually involves just moving stuff around, it's not the actual sit and create for long periods of time type of play. It had been a while since I had seen that happen up there. Well, this morning, what do I happen upon but TM and K. building a huge city with blocks together. It was actual play which was calm and thoughtful, not the disordered and chaotic play which had been happening. I think it is actually freeing to them to only have a couple of choices of toys to play with at a time. It allows them to focus. More is really not always better.

My second thought is that I'm reminded how terribly unhealthy it is to have no freedom (some would call it margin) in one's schedule. Now this week was somewhat of an anomaly  but I have been feeling the pinch quite a bit since the new year, and this past week has really confirmed that I need to be a bit more careful about our commitments. I don't end up enjoying anything that we've been doing, everything feels just a bit as though it will spiral out of control, and I find myself being a not so pleasant person. (That is when I'm not bursting into tears at any given moment. Poor J.) I know my tolerance for this sort of life is fairly low, but I'm actually glad about that because it forces me to keep things to a reasonable level of busyness. So, if you're finding yourself unreasonable stressed or angry or sad, it could -- of course if could be other things -- but it could be related to your level of busyness. It's not worth your sanity and health of your family... and if we are really truthful, not one of us is really that indispensable.

And now having written this, and got a handle on the laundry, and spent time with my children, I'm going to supervise some craft making. A friend from church surprised us at the front door this morning with four bags of office/craft supplies for everyone. It's been like Christmas around here. We feel so blessed and thankful.

Does little Chad weigh heavily on anyone else' heart? This little, little boy is nine (!) years old. His medical file has scared away many people because it includes 'arachnoid cyst' in his medicals. Google it, in the great scheme of things, it seems kind of not a big deal, especially compared to the results of the massive neglect he has experienced. (I also confirmed this with our neurologist on Tuesday, in and of itself, an arachnoid cyst is benign.)

But even given that neglect, he smiles, he walks (this is astounding considering) holding onto someone's hand,  and a mother who recently visited him called him a 'cheerful little monkey'. He sounds adorable. But he is in an institution where the pronoun 'it' is used to describe him. IT!. He is a person, not an it, and he needs a family!

He looks like a sweetheart with his curly hair. Pray, pray, pray that his family finds him. You can see his information on Reece's Rainbow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Table manners

I haven't written about eating together as a family for a long time and it seems I'm overdue. In talking with people, it seems that one of the more difficult aspects of sharing dinner together as a family is the lack of table manners in the children who are participating. With a little training and a little patience, this is something you can make better.

I will be the first to admit that my children do not exhibit perfect table manners. They are all a work in progress, but I also feel fairly confident in taking them out in public to eat and we generally make it through dinner in a relatively chaos-free way. So here are my tips for encouraging good table manners in your children.

  1. Start early. We start working on table manners as soon as a child is able to sit at the table. (For us this is usually somewhere around two.) This doesn't mean we expect them to know how to behave, but it is the time to start practicing. For instance, in our home, no one eats their food until all are served and we have said grace. Now a two year old is probably not able to exhibit that type of self-control, so we serve their plate and set it out of reach of them until we have said grace. Use utensils that they can easily use so they don't have to resort to fingers. You want to help them be as successful as possible.
  2. Have a few rules that you focus on. Our top three would be: everyone stays at the table until all are done (you may ask to be excused to get to get something); no eating with your fingers; no comments are allowed about the food unless they are positive. All of these have resulted in a child losing their meal at one time or another. If you get up, you must be done. If you do not like the food, then we won't make you suffer to have it front of you. And if you eat with your fingers? Well, some children have needed extreme measures to bother to remember to use their silverware. 
  3. Practice, practice, practice. Just because one meal didn't go well, don't give up! It takes many, many meals for these to become ingrained habits. In the long run, if you do this every night, eventually no one will think about it any more, it (being decent manners) will just be a part of life. But if you only eat together at a table sporadically, it will take significantly longer if it ever happens at all. You show your children what you really think is important by how much time you devote to it. You can say table manners are important all you want, but if you rarely eat at a table together, then your actions show you don't quite believe that is true.
  4. Make it fun. You want your children to enjoy eating dinner as a family. If all you do is harp on their bad manners, it will not be enjoyable for anyone. Every so often make having good manners a game. Dole out pennies for every time you see someone using good manners and remove pennies for poor manners, so who has the most pennies at the end of dinner. (Parents should be playing along as well. Rare is the child who doesn't enjoy catching a parent out.) One game I played growing up was to send someone around the table if they put their elbows on it more than twice in a row. Once again, adults are included, too. If you aren't smiling through at least part of dinner, figure out how you can lighten up the atmosphere.
  5. Have a fancy dinner every now and then. Dress up, use the good china, set the table with more than one fork. I've found that children (actually anyone) are prone to behave better if they are dressed up, or at least in nicer clothes than they normally wear. This is a great chance to teach some more formal manners. Why do formal tables have so many pieces of silverware? Explain that to your children and teach them how to set a formal table. If you don't know, then look it up and learn together. To me, this is a life skill. You have no idea what type of situations your children will be in as adults. If they are already comfortable with the idea of a formal dinner, you are easing their path in life. 
  6. Make conversation. Having good table manners means that you are contributing to the conversation. If this has been a problem in the past, there are some things you can do about it. Have some conversation starters on the table. Just come up with things to talk about and write them on a piece of paper and put one at each person's place. Need ideas? Just Google 'conversation starters' and you'll have more than enough. Be aware of who is and isn't joining in. Some children need a little extra prodding or at least a direct question. And be careful about not laughing at what the youngest family members have to say. If they meant it as a joke, that's fine. But nothing will kill the desire to contribute faster than thinking you will be laughed at every time you speak.
  7. Model good manners and conversational skills. Be sure you are modelling the type of behavior you want to see in your children. If anything, the adults need to be extra careful in how they behave at the table because little eyes are watching. If Dad picks at his food, don't be surprised if the children do as well. If Mom jumps up to answer the phone every time it rings, don't be surprised if the younger generation is surreptitiously checking their texts under the table.
  8. Which leads me to my last suggestion... don't invite electronics to the table. No TM. No computer. No phone. No iPod. This goes for everyone. If the phone rings, don't answer it. Isn't that why we have answering machines and voice mail? Every time a device is chosen over the live people right in front of you, it is screaming, "YOU DON'T MATTER TO ME!" You may not think this is what you are saying, but I'm pretty sure your children and your spouse do. Value the people you live with over the people on the other end of the electronics.

Monday, February 25, 2013


It's difficult to write a post when you're just not home all afternoon. Enjoy these posts from other people while I sit down and catch my breath.

First what I thought was an intriguing post about adoption, faith and large families. Clinical View vs. Biblical View at All Are Precious In His Sight

Next, my (now real life) friend who works at Eagles' Wings outside of Zhengzhou (we took a lot of supplies to them when we were adopting H.), is posting a Lenten series about various needs that exist and that you can support. The series is Forty Days. If you click on the current day (today is Day 11) you will see what the opportunity to help is. Thankfully, many of the needs have been completely met.

Then you have to go look at the blog Attic 24. It is a blog all about crocheting. You don't need to crochet to enjoy it. I still don't crochet, but it makes me want to learn. It is bright and happy and fun and just what I want to look at in bleak and gloomy February.

And lastly, along the lines of needing something fun and light this time of year, you need to check out Pattern Junkie. It is a blog that shows old pattern envelopes with funny commentary. I feel like everyone in the world knew about this before me, so probably all of you know about it as well. But it's still funny. Particularly at 11 o'clock at night when I'm overly tired and should really be in bed. Then it is really funny. Funny enough to me at least to need some tissues at hand so I can wipe my eyes which are tearing with laughing so hard.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Being controversial

Would it surprise you to know that I am extremely conflict avoidant? I really do not like it and while I enjoy a good discussion, the second it seems to take on an angry tone I immediately feel panic welling up inside and seek to find a way to flee. I've become a little better about this over the years, but it will never be something that I seek out. Every so often I feel the need to write about something that could be viewed as controversial because I feel it needs to be said. But I do not relish the task. On most days, I will frequently check to see if anybody has commented on a post, but on a post I fear could be misconstrued, I will avoid the comments and often have J. read any comments first to see if they are 'safe' to read.

All of that is a lead up to what I fear may be one of those controversial topics where I post and run. (That may actually be a good thing for my to-do list.) There have been several conversations I've had over the past few weeks and various comments I've encountered that lead me to write about the choice a woman may make to stay home and be a homemaker. I'm really, really not meaning to jump in on the mommy wars; about shoulds and shouldn'ts. What I want to ask has more to do with options.

Why is choosing to stay home and make being a wife and mother one's occupation not really a viable option according to society? We live in a time where 'choice' is king, but really it's only some choices. It does not seem to be acceptable for a young woman to state that she aspires to be a homemaker. Don't believe me? The next time someone asks you what your daughter thinks she wants to do when she grows up (particularly if this daughter is in high school or college, little girls don't know any better), tell them that she wants to be a mother and stay home and raise her children. My guess is that some of you would be hesitant to do this, whether it's true or not. If you feel this way, think of how the young women must feel. It is just not the decision that society expects, especially if that young woman has gone to college and even more especially if that young woman has a graduate degree. The subtext seems to be, if you aren't smart enough to go to college, then we can't expect much more out of you and we suppose it is alright for you to stay home. But, really, do us a favor and don't breed too much because we don't want to have to support your kids. But if you are smart enough to go college, then surely you could do better than to just stay home. We expected better from you and maybe you aren't as smart as we originally thought. There is a tacit sense that a young woman has failed.

This societal expectation plays out in several ways. Few women will state up front that they are going to stay home when the children arrive and even fewer choose to stay home before children. (Just think about that for a moment. We have become so distant from the norm of a wife not working that we find the whole idea jarring. Why is that? What does that say about the importance our society places on the idea of home?) I've had conversations with young women where I mention that I think being a homemaker is a very valuable and honorable and smart occupation and the relief that the young woman expresses is palpable. Suddenly the flood gates open and I hear about what her real dreams and desires are. Trust me when I say this is not a singular occurrence. I am so sad for these women that they do not feel free to share what they really desire. I've been there in fact. I can remember knowing deep down that I wanted to be a wife and mother and wondering what I should come up with instead. I never felt free to say to someone that my first choice would be a career as a homemaker.

In the Christian world, this plays out in a slightly skewed way. While it is common to give lip service to the idea of making a home and raising children, I have discovered that many young women feel as though that can't be important enough to be God's call on their life... surely if they are truly devoting themselves to following God, He will expect much bigger things from them. In some ways, 'just' being a wife and mother isn't 'good' enough. That's probably a topic for another day, but it shows how much the church has followed society in devaluing family.

And sometimes this plays out in just making women miserable, those who have bought into the whole idea that one is not really fulfilled unless they are employed outside the home while raising a family. This is the tricky part, huh? If you are happily employed and making it work and your children are content and healthy, then my hat's off to you. That is no small feat. Also, if you are working outside the home because for right now that is absolutely your only choice in order to house and feed your family, then I am so sorry and pray that your situation will improve soon. But there is also the population of women who are working because they feel that is what they should be doing, plus trying to keep their house and be a mother to their children, and they are not enjoying any of it. They are so entrenched in their thinking about work and value that they don't see that the job could actually be optional; that fulfillment and self-worth can be found outside a paycheck; that they are trying to squeeze at least two lives into one and it cannot be done. Who is going to tell these women that it is OK to not do everything? The minute someone tries, they are shot down and accused of being 'anti-woman', or idealistic, or a pawn of the paternalistic system that desires to keep women in their place. This is hardly the way to start an intelligent discussion, I might add.

So I will continue to tell young women (and maybe not such young women) that it is OK to want to make a home; that making a home is valuable and is a way to serve others. I will tell them that our value as women is not dictated by what we do, but by the fact we are created in God's image; that merely being ourselves is value enough, we can't add to it by what we do. I will tell them that being employed for money can actually be limiting to what a woman is able to accomplish; the freedom to set one's own schedule can allow a woman to befriend, aid, comfort, and support so many more people. I will continue to tell them that a family does not need very much to be happy; that what society tries to sell us as being necessary really isn't. Why put yourself in bondage to a job to pay for things your don't really need?

Other homemaking posts: Inefficiency, Cozy, Cozy, Cozy, and Purpose in the Ordinary

Friday, February 22, 2013

Shakespeare and children

I was talking with the P. Family mom this morning because P20 is playing Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream next weekend at Moody Bible Institute. As we were talking, she mentioned that she has found that people are making a really big deal about the fact that this group of students is performing Shakespeare and that there has been a big push to emphasize that people really will be able to understand it and should come and see it. We both agreed that we don't quite get it.

This could be because our children have been immersed in Shakespeare for a very long time. At least for our family (and I'm pretty sure the P. family has been doing the same thing because I vividly remember P20 finding a complete collection of Shakespeare at some sort of book sale and she was so excited about it that the seller gave it to her for free), we have been sharing the plays of Shakespeare with our children since they were very, very little. M. went to her first play at the age and of two (and B. was a baby) when we took them to see her aunt in a festival performance of As You Like It. She knew the story and watched the entire thing. B. didn't enjoy it as much, and the adults all took turns pacing with him well away from the stage. (It was an outdoor theater, otherwise we would have never done that.) B. redeemed himself at the age of 3 when we took the two of them to see a production of Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Both children were entranced through the entire show and it was only later that we learned they actually have a minimum age that we missed by a long shot. M. was so taken with it, that she and P20 created an imaginary game which they called, "Pucks and Fairies" and which they played with their friends for years.

(Now, in all honesty, there is no way you could pay me to take G. and L. to an adult theater at this moment. They are different children being raised in essentially a different family and that is not what we have been focusing on. But don't feel too sorry for them, they will have plenty of opportunities to see stage productions watching their older brothers and sisters perform in various plays.)

This is all a lead-up to say that children really love Shakespeare and if introduced early, before they imbibe on the modern idea that Shakespeare is 'hard', then it will be something always available to them. There are all sorts of resources out there to use and they don't even require that you understand Shakespeare yourself. When introducing a play to my children I always read them the versions from Tales from Shakespeare by the Lambs and Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit. Be forewarned, these books are not twaddle. They were written at the end of the 1800's so by now, the language might seem more inaccessibly than Shakespeare's. Read them out loud and read in big chunks. You will be amazed at what a child can accustom their ear to and they will understand. If it makes you feel better, you can stop and summarize every so often, but after the first few pages, this shouldn't be needed.

This will acquaint them with the stories. From there, find a stage production to see. To appreciate Shakespeare, you really need to see it in the form it was meant to be enjoyed. With a strong background in the story, most children can appreciate what is going on on stage, even if they don't pick up every single word. As a last resort, I would show a recording, but this is a far second choice. If you live in the Chicago area, a matinee production at Moody would be a perfect 'first play.'

Then, let your children memorize and perform some Shakespeare. Yes, they can do it. Look for a condensed script, invite some friends to join you and have fun saying the words and enjoying the language. Heck, you could even help bring back play-reading as a fun family entertainment.

And for the curious, here are some links to photos from various productions my children have been in over the years. In 2004, M. was in Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night. (She was 11.) Sadly, I don't have pictures from those. In 2008, A. and P.'s group also performed Midsummer Night's Dream. In 2009 M. and B. were in As You Like It. They were also in Taming of the Shrew in 2010. That year also brought Much Ado About Nothing which A. was in. Last year, there was another performance of Midsummer Night's Dream, but this time with the youngest group which TM., D., and P. were a part of.

Really, introduce your children (and possibly yourself) to some Shakespeare. Your children can enjoy... and so can you.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Me first

I don't write about marriage much here, taking to heart Tolstoy's idea that, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (It's from Anna Karenina... a book I highly recommend.) But today for the Hearts at Home link-up, the topic is, "No more perfect marriages". While my marriage isn't perfect (Whose is? Marriages are made up of imperfect people.), it is very happy and J. and I will be celebrating our 22nd anniversary in June. But there are things we actively do to make our marriage happy while still dealing with the fact that we are both imperfect. It's those things I want to share with you today.

I will say up front that J. is the far better half when we're talking about sacrificial marriage. I try to keep up, but he sets a high standard. Know that when I make this list that I never do all of them perfectly, but this is what I aim for. Because in a marriage, the key to making it work is all about putting yourself first.

1.  Be the first to ask your spouse's opinion.

You are a team. Sure you could do things on your own, but how does that contribute to the whole team-thing? J. may not really care which curriculum I choose for the children, but I discuss it with him because we are a team and they are his children, too. He often has some good insights and ideas that I haven't thought of. Asking for someone's opinion doesn't always have to mean that you don't know something or are unsure; it can also mean that you care enough what the other person thinks that you want to hear their ideas and involve them in the decision. For a father who works away from home all day it is a way to connect him with his children and when a husband asks his wife's opinion about something at work (if appropriate), it helps her to feel connected to what her husband does while he is away.

2.  Be the first to say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness.

We are human and we make mistakes. All of us. If something happens between two people, chances are both parties had some part in creating the situation. There is nothing to be gained by waiting to see if the other person will cave first and admit defeat. In fact, the idea that this is what you are waiting for shows a lack of humbleness of spirit which will make your life agony, at least where other people are concerned. This is doubly true in marriage.

You know you were complicit in the unpleasantness, go ahead and admit and get it over with. There is nothing to be gained by letting something fester until it becomes so big and overwhelming that it overshadows the initial problem. Being the first to say you are sorry, to admit that you were wrong, stops little problems in their tracks before they can become big ones.

3.  Be the first to praise your spouse in public.

This is big. Praise and brag about your spouse to others. Both when they are not present and when they are. If you are married to someone it means that you love that person best of all and value their opinion of you. And who doesn't like to hear their Best Beloved sing their praises to others? It is a sign of respect and affection and value and worth. It makes someone feel loved and cared for and valued.

It's corollary is just as important. Never. That would be NEVER.  N. E. V. E. R. speak disparagingly, either as a joke or in a remark, of your spouse to other people. Do not complain about what they do or what they earn or what they don't do or what they say. NEVER. You want to kill your relationship? This is the fastest way to do it. Only say positive things, and if you don't have any positive things to say, just don't say anything. If you have concerns about your spouse, then find a trusted friend or mentor and discuss them in private, but negative things are never to be shared or complained of in public.

Who can trust and love someone who is willing to offer them up as a verbal sacrifice to others?

4.  Be the first to share what you are feeling.

I bet when you read that you think, "Yeah, those men are pretty rotten at sharing what they are feeling." But that isn't really where I want to go. I know more than a few women who seem to think others can read their minds. It goes like this: If ______ really loved me, then ___________ would know what I was thinking. Therefore, if __________ doesn't do [insert whatever small test is being offered today] then he must not really love me. Because people who love each other are so tuned into that other person that they will just 'know' what should be done.


No person, no matter how much he or she loves you, can read your mind. Get over it. If you want your husband to do something or say something or not do something or not say something, would you please just say it out loud? The guessing games make guesser frustrated, mainly because they weren't even aware that a test was being offered, and the guessee (is there such a thing?) angry because once again the other person failed the test they shouldn't have.

One more time. Just say it out loud. You would like your husband to bring you flowers every now and then? TELL HIM. Conversely, if you say you don't really care if he brings you flowers or not, really mean it. Don't get angry when he should have known that when you said you didn't want flowers you were really saying that you did. Just don't assume people, even your spouse, can read your mind. They can't.

5.  Be the first to attribute positive motives.

Let's just use an example for this one. Your husband is late. The children are cranky. The food is drying out a little. You are pretty much done for the day and continue to look at the clock. Where is he?! When he does walk through the door, you have two choices. You can either assume he was late just to make you miserable and because he doesn't really care about you, or you can assume that either traffic was bad or something at work kept him unexpectedly or any number of scenarios that don't involve YOU or what he thinks about you in any way.

And what you decide can have two very different outcomes. If you assume that his lateness was done on purpose, you will not greet him pleasantly. You may even yell. I guarantee that will escalate the children's behavior and life will go downhill so fast you won't be able to strap on your skis. And will your husband rush home the next time he is unexpectedly tied up? No, I don't think so. Would you look forward to that greeting another time? He may not have started coming home late on purpose, but exhibit that attitude that he does and I guarantee that eventually he will be.

Or, you can decide that he is trying his best to get home and something has held him up. I always assume it is something not so nice which helps with my level of compassion. In that frame of mind, it is so much easier to greet your husband at the door with a smile and a bit of sympathy and perhaps a glass of wine (if you are so inclined). The children will sense all is well and the behavior will ratchet down. Your husband will relax, and the evening should proceed in a calmer manner. (I can't help with dinner. Make the best of it.) Your husband will feel that home is a safe and welcoming place and one he wants to return to as soon as possible.

6.  Be the first to say, "I love you."

This goes back to someone not being able to read your mind. You cannot tell someone you love them too much. And there are ways to say 'I love you' that don't involve words at all. It is also those little things you do. Do you prepare meals your husband likes? (I cook for my husband, our children are just invited to join us.) I also dress for my husband. I know the clothes I wear that he likes and these are the ones I reach for first. I want him to be pleased with my appearance. Or, for me it is J. bringing me coffee in bed every morning. He doesn't have to do that. It is more work for him and he has to be the one to get out of bed and make it. But he brings me coffee every morning and every morning I fall in love with him all over again because of this little act of love.

There are so many little acts of love and kindness that can be done for your spouse throughout the day. Be the first to find and do them for the one you love.

7.  Be the first to remind yourself why you fell in love with this person.

This could also be titles, 'Be the first to offer grace'. When you are first in love with someone, they can often do no wrong. You love every little thing about them... even those endearing quirks. Be the first to always thing of them as endearing quirks and not the little things which grate on you and rub you raw with your annoyance of them. At one point, you loved this person so much that those little things didn't matter. Always remind yourself of this and purposefully stop yourself from allowing them to become irritants.

So, go work on your marriage. Put yourself first. The first to honor, sacrifice, serve, and love your spouse. You are the only one you can control, not your spouse, not your child, not your friend. But you can control how you act and react to the people you love. Be the person you would like to be married to.
Pray for Brandi today... a child who desperately needs someone to put her first.

This is Brandi. She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Attitude adjustment

That would be an attitude adjustment on my part. And what do I need to adjust my attitude about? Bill paying. I dislike it. I dread it coming every two weeks. I put off dealing with anything to do with bill paying for as long as possible. And I am not a pleasant person when I finally work up the energy to deal with it. But I had several wake-up calls yesterday about how I approach it and feel I need to do some things differently.

Wake up call #1 was a very good friend calling and announcing out of the blue that she thought that the two of us needed to change our attitude toward bill paying. It was interesting timing since I was just beginning the process of slogging through the piles which had built up on my desk in order to begin the process. She pointed out that perhaps we were not being exactly models of mental health for our children in this area.

Wake up call #2 happened while I was on the phone with my friend and continued to sort through the piles when I discovered that the bills I had paid and thought I had mailed lay buried at the bottom of the mess. Bills which will result in late fees and penalties that I just don't want to think about. The stress I felt upon finding them made my feel physically ill which just added to the unpleasantness. If I did not insist on ignoring the growing stack of papers on my desk until the last minute, I would have found them sooner and avoided the whole yucky episode.

Wake up call #3 was due to a comment on yesterday's post about children wanting to do what their parents enjoy doing. A commentor mentioned that her children actually do play 'bill paying'. Mine have never done this and the older ones actually stay pretty well vanished during the entire process. A testament to my unpleasant temper while using the subtract key on my calculator. But I realized that what I have done is to very successfully transfer my stress about bill paying to my children. I don't want to do that.

What I mean to do is to communicate that we may not have huge amounts of extra cash, but God does provide for our needs. I want to show them that God is faithful and that we have no need to worry. The truth is I have not been successful and that my children do worry about money because that is what I have taught them. Not in so many words but with my actions and attitude. Why else would bill paying be a fearful thing? Why else would my most anxious child always want to know what something costs or if we have enough to pay for something? The cold hard truth is that what I say and what I really believe appear to be two very different things.

So I've been pulled up short and realize that I need to repent of my real beliefs because they just aren't true. Time and time again, God has shown himself faithful. This is what I want my children to know. I want my children to have memories of a thankful and peaceful mother and not one who is angry and anxious. I will admit that this attitude of mine about bill paying has been nurtured for a very long time and it will be difficult to change, but that is what I am going to work on doing.

There are three steps that I can work on right away. The first is just to not let myself go to bed if there is a pile of paper on my desk. I need to open the bills and file them in the correct folder so they are ready to pay. I need to subtract the balance of my checkbook every single day and not just leave all that subtraction for bill paying day. I need to think of bill paying as something that happens every day and not just a peculiar torture that occurs every two weeks.

The next is that I can focus a lot more on being thankful for what we do have. And that's not just extras. Heat, clean water, electricity to power all of our conveniences are not really something to take for granted, yet I do this all the time. I may complain about these bills, but I would complain a lot more without the services they pay for. I know that thankfulness can help overcome a whole bunch of undesirable attitudes and need to make better use of this knowledge.

And lastly, I need to work on being pleasant to my family when I pay the bills. I do not need to take out any anxiousness I have on them, and in fact giving in to that anxiousness instead of focusing on God's peace is not healthy or helpful. It is actually selfishness which allows me to snarl at my family and it is not good for anyone.

So there you go. I'm sharing this because I find public accountability to be a very useful motivating tool for me. If I know that in two weeks I have to come back here and 'fess up to how things are going, I will try just a little harder to do my best. And frankly, I don't enjoy getting all worked up about the whole thing every two weeks and would just as soon skip that aspect of paying the bills.

Does little Chad weigh heavily on anyone else' heart? This little, little boy is nine (!) years old. His medical file has scared away many people because it includes 'arachnoid cyst' in his medicals. Google it, in the great scheme of things, it seems kind of not a big deal, especially compared to the results of the massive neglect he has experienced.

But even given that neglect, he smiles, he walks (this is astounding considering) holding onto someone's hand,  and a mother who recently visited him called him a 'cheerful little monkey'. He sounds adorable. But he is in an institution where the pronoun 'it' is used to describe him. IT!. He is a person, not an it, and he needs a family!

He looks like a sweetheart with his curly hair. Pray, pray, pray that his family finds him. You can see his information on Reece's Rainbow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Raising interesting children

I was right when I predicted on Saturday that the house would be all about knitting. Here are a couple of pictures from the morning. 

D. and TM, having finished their work and were sitting and knitting together.

That's A.'s project on the table, which she had set down for a moment to help K. with something.

This happens so often, I wanted to write about it. "This" not being knitting per se, but my children becoming interested in whatever project I am engaged in and enjoying. The key word here is enjoying. They see me engaged in plenty of activities... laundry, bill paying, etc... but at no time have any of them ever started playing 'bill paying' or begged to help with the laundry. No, it is when they see that I am deriving pleasure from what I am doing that they become interested. I have seen it happen with knitting and sewing and painting and even organizing. (I really enjoy organizing things. If I start an organizing project, I can guarantee at least one other child will start one as well.) 

One of the lessons to be learned here is that if you want your children to be interested in things and be willing to try them, you need to model this behavior yourself. How many of us have a list of projects or goals that we have on the back burner for when the children are no longer at home? I do sometimes fall into that trap, but generally try to avoid it. Why do we need to wait to learn something new or engage in an activity we enjoy just because there are children around? Yes, time is often the issue, but you can start small for some things. Learn bits at a time... start a small project... take a short class. I am interested in developing my sewing skills, so I practice. I may not get to sew every day (or even every week), but I try to always have a project going. There are a couple of longer classes about fitting that I would love to take, but the time commitment just isn't viable right now. However, I did find a two-hour class on installing zippers that I could manage and was hugely beneficial. Just because you can't do everything you would like to doesn't mean you can't do something.

And chances are, not only will you be enriching your own life by pursuing your interests now, but also your children's lives because they will be watching you closely. One of your children may discover an area of interest to them because of something you were interested in. Even if none of your children fall in love with what you are doing, they will still have learned some very beneficial lessons. Those would include how to fill their time in engaging ways, that we all continue to learn things even as adults, that the world is an interesting place, and that people who are interested in things are often interesting to be around. 

Of course, you need to be willing to share your interests with your children if you can. If one of my children is interested in what I'm doing, I try to find a way that they can do it to. Teach them to knit (if they are capable), give them a small sewing project and allow them free use of the scrap bin, provide them with paints, help them search out books at the library (TM currently has two books on boat building waiting for him at the library), give them scraps of wood and nails and a hammer, or a square of dirt and a packet of seeds. Don't do it all for them, but work alongside them, each on your own project. You'll be there to help, but it will be theirs to figure out.

In the long run it's worth the effort... and the piles of yarn strewn about the house.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why would I want to share this?

"S says ssssssssss.... A says aaaa.... M says mmmm...
ssss...aaaa... mmm...
ssss aammmm
ss am

"Mommy I read it!! I love you, Mommy!" and K. gives me a big kiss followed by a high five.

K. read his first words today. He has been waiting to do this for months, but I have learned to not introduce sound blending too soon because I want a child's first experience to be met with success. Having finished his last introductory phonics workbook, he was ready and eager to start.

You want to know why I homeschool? This is it. I selfishly want the best moments of my child's day to myself. I want to be the one to witness and share the joy when new ideas are discovered and new skills are learned. I want to be the one my child hugs when he reads his first word.

And for this little boy, the victory is so much sweeter. Not talking or eating solid food at over two years of age, he was far more like an infant in ability and size when we brought him home. I've said before that we had no idea what he would end up being able to do or if he would ever talk. Of course, that was long before I really knew this little boy. He is an energetic and determined guy and doesn't let much hold him back.

Four and half years ago, I held my breath and wondered if I was really prepared to parent this child. Today I am so glad we didn't let fear stop us from making him our son.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Avoidance knitting

We are having a relaxing Saturday, which thankfully, has been going very smoothly. So it makes me think I should use the time to tackle one of the many projects I have been meaning to get to... sorting through coats, hats, and mittens; putting away the outgrown clothes that have piled up in my bedroom and maybe even cleaning that room; deep-cleaning one of the rooms which really needs it; spending some time in the kitchen and making some food for future use; cleaning off my desk so that I can more easily pay the bills on Monday. And that's just the list I came up with barely thinking about it.

What have I been doing this afternoon? Knitting. And ironically the pattern I'm using is called, 'The Fear of Commitment Scarf'. I think the reason I am not motivated to start any of these projects is that I have learned from experience that sometimes projects take on a life of their own and the two hours I thought would be enough just isn't. I'm not really excited by the prospect of creating more chaos than currently exists and then not have time to put everything back to rights. So I'm knitting. Knitting doesn't cause chaos and is very easy to put back into the knitting bag when I need to move onto something else. And I'm using a very soft chunky dark blue yarn which is very satisfying to work with. Far more satisfying than dusty boxes in the basement.

Listening to the voices in the background makes me need to amend the statement that knitting doesn't cause chaos. It does when you have children who like to do the things their parents are doing. Seeing me knit is causing children to want to knit. "Mommy, do you have any needles?" "Mommy, where is the yarn?" "Can I knit, too?"

Why don't they all ask for piles of books and notepads and sit quietly by themselves narrowing down dissertation topics like their father?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Before and after, plus a story writing idea

I've been in contact with Love Without Boundaries because they sponsored some of H.'s care. In response to my query they have been digging up what they have and this picture arrived in my inbox the other day. It is the earliest picture we now have of her and one of the few we have prior to any surgeries. 

To contrast it, I snapped a picture of H. just a few minutes ago. (She is feeling much better this morning having gotten sick at the restaurant when we were having dinner last night.) We're still working on scheduling her next surgery, but she is beyond excited to have the mass on her cheek removed. Still, even without that done, I find the difference remarkable. Bless the organizations and surgeons who orchestrated and performed her first two surgeries to get her to this point.

Now the story writing idea. As have mentioned more than a few times, we are working on writing stories. With varying degrees of ease, this comes pretty naturally to everybody else, but language and other issues make it beyond baffling at times for H. Yet she sees her brothers making up stories and writing them down (or having me write them down) and she is very, very frustrated at not being able to join in. I've been wracking my brain to try to come up with some way to help her feel as though she is writing stories as well. 

Enter these story cards.

TM drew these for me (with the added bonus of giving him an engaging activity and so to avoid the 'free time free fall'. I had him draw only things that H. definitely knew the names of so that we could just avoid the whole vocabulary issue. Here is a close-up of one.

H. has been working on coloring them in. (Coloring is still her number one favorite activity.) Then we tried them. I had her draw three random cards and set them out. With the help of the concreteness of the cards and some help from me filling in some words and giving her some ideas and direction, she was able to dictate (more or less) her first story. She was darn excited and so was I. 

And not surprisingly, being able to tell stories will probably help as she consciously or sub-consciously remembers her own story. It came out even in the very first story she composed about a lost dog. The one sentence she came up with entirely on her own said, "She saw lots of people, but she was too sad because they weren't her people." Hmmmm....
Pray for Brandi today. Imagine what her before and after photos could look like.

This is Brandi. She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Somebody loves you!

It is Valentine's Day today, so we did something different. Instead of working on our book writing, we worked on making valentines instead. First, though, we read the book, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch. It is one of my favorite picture books. It starts out with showing how Mr. Hatch lives... a drab existence that is not shared with anyone, doing the same things day in and day out. Even the colors the pages are done in are grey and drab. And then one day the postman delivers a large box to him. Inside is a large red heart box, filled with chocolate, and a note which says, "Somebody loves you!" Mr. Hatch is transformed at the thought somebody loves him. He begins to talk to people. He offers to help them and do nice things for them. In time Mr. Hatch makes friends with his neighbors and co-workers. As Mr. Hatch becomes more and more integrated into his community, the colors become brighter and brighter. Life is good. And then one day the postman comes back, apologizing, saying he misdelivered a package a while back and did Mr. Hatch still have it. Mr. Hatch does have it, and sadly gives the heart box and the note back to the postman. No one loved him after all. The color drains out of life and Mr. Hatch resumes the drab existence he lived before the package. But this time it is different. This time he has friends and his friends notice something is wrong and seek to figure it out. The postman tells them of the mistaken delivery and Mr. Hatch's friends set to work. The next morning Mr. Hatch wakes up and goes out on his porch as usual. Usual except that he is greeted by his friends. Friends who have organized a party to show just how loved he really is. I always get a little teary at the end whenever I read it.

On a day which is often known for the attitude of what's someone going to do for me, I think it is good to focus on what we can do for someone else. So we made valentines for other people who might need to know someone loved them. They are drying at the moment (much glue was involved), but we will deliver them later today.

Some pictures of the red and pink explosion.

L. (whom A. was helping) and K.

H. and TM

P. was helping G.

H., TM, and A.


L. (Who always makes some fashion statement. Today she decided that leggings with large multi-colored polka dots would go well with this sweater. Definitely not what I had laid out.)

And some of the results. 

I think this is one of G.'s

And a valentine bumblebee by TM who likes nothing more than a good craft.

Of course the pompoms were a hit in general. And what is a panda-loving girl to do when confronted with bags of black and white pompoms, but make a panda?

Everyone wants to be loved, in fact, everyone needs to be loved. Isn't that why the holiday remains popular? Because it is a way for others to tell a person he or she is loved? But it is also a tricky holiday, as greatly detested as it is loved, because what, if like Mr. Hatch, you feel as though no one loves you? If you are that person, please know there is someone who does love you. The Creator of the Universe loves you so much that we humans can barely comprehend it. If you do not feel as though you are loved, ask Him, God, to show you how much He loves you. But be prepared, because He will show you, and often in surprising ways.

And for those of you who do know you are loved, take the time today to reach out to the Mr. Hatches of the world. Be the spark that brings joy and color into a person's life.
And speaking of people who need to know they are loved, how about little Chad? Who is going to love him?

He is 9 years old and has always lived in an institution. An institution with severe neglect. No one has ever even asked to look at his file. Pray that God will not let this little one become invisible. Pray that his parents will find him and show him what it means to be loved. A mother who recently saw him described him as tiny and still learning to walk. (At 9!)

He looks like a sweetheart with his curly hair. Pray, pray, pray that his family finds him. You can see his information on Reece's Rainbow.

And one final update. I posted about the little boy, Yong, who has the severe facial tumor and about how Love Without Boundaries was raising money to pay for his desperately needed surgery. Well, I am so thankful that I can say his surgery is fully funded!  All $100,000 of it. The next step will be to get his passport and visa so he can be flown to LA. They are hoping that those things can be taken care of by the beginning of March. I'll let you know if I have any further updates on him.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mouse books and Lent and literacy readiness

The title may seem to indicate that I am somehow going to connect the separate topics into one cohesive post. Sorry, can't do it. The title is merely a list of the things which will appear in this post. First, Lent, which begins today. I only mention it because I wanted to draw your attention to past posts about what we do for Lent. I am still planning on writing more about observing the liturgical year, but this is not that time. If you are interested in reading more about the Lenten tree that we use or the readings which go along with the tree, just click the embedded links.

Now onto our morning's project. As I have mentioned before, we are working on writing books (and tangentially learning how books are made and what authors and illustrators do, etc.) One of my readers let me know about the book, Library Mouse, which I immediately put on hold at the library. It arrived yesterday and so we were able to read it today. It is a very cute story about a mouse who lives in a library, reads all the books, then decides to write his own. What is wonderful about it is that at the end every single child was gung ho to start writing a book. So, like the mouse, we first made little mouse-sized books, and everyone started writing like mad. (I think the beauty behind the small books is that they are so less intimidating to fill them up. It is a defined space which is not intimidating.) 

Even the little girls got into the act.

For TM, the making of the books was as interesting as the writing.

K. writing away.

And while I watched my little girls busy with their writing, I had some thoughts.  These little girls are three and a half. For all of that time, they have been surrounded with language and stories and books and writing. They have breathed it in with the oxygen in the air and have learned so much without anyone 'teaching' them. They know that squiggles on the page mean something. They know that people can put their ideas on the paper and other people can read them. (L.'s story was a sad one about a panda. G.'s panda story was much happier.) They have a sense of how letters look, even if they cannot yet replicate them. And they have ideas in their heads that are unique and that they want to share. They have a sense of story... beginning, middle, end... from hearing so many in their short lives. They are primed to be readers and writers when they are old enough to work the mechanics.



H. also wanted to join in. This is all new to her. She enjoys stories, but her experience with them is very limited. It will be a long time before she even catches up to the little girls in sheer number of stories listened to. (She is talking more and more about China. Just a few weeks ago she drops this into my (figurative) lap: "We had books in my China. But we not look at them. We watch movies.") And the learning/teaching she experienced was nearly all rote. (Yes, I know that is a cultural norm.) But those experiences all combined along with everything else don't leave a lot of room for facility in any language or a readiness for literacy. We have a long way to go and I have remind myself that every baby step counts.

K., who is much farther ahead at this point than I ever expected he would be, was busy writing and wanted to know how to spell the word, 'rocks'. So I spelled it for him. H. is very aware of what her younger brothers and sisters are doing, so immediately wanted to know how to spell 'rock' as well. So I spelled it and she wrote it. (Don't think I take this accomplishment lightly.) She then proceeded to do her work they only way she knew how. Repeat the word 'rock' over and over. I did ask her to draw a rock, which stymied her for a moment, but I helped her understand what a rock was and (this is actually new) was willing to try to draw one. Here is her work.

Seeing this makes me happy and sad all at the same time. I tell you I've spent the year being a mess of conflicting emotions. Joy at each new thing she accomplishes while at the same time mourning that her circumstances have delayed her accomplishing it until now. This piece of adopting an older child is one that I was not expecting at all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hey, look, I made a snail

Evidently, I am starting an entire series of animal crafts I started and then never finished. (This may be just a 2-part series, because I don't think I have any more hidden away.) This snail, though, is not nearly so long uncompleted as the camel was. I think it may be just two or three years old. It all started with me finding the book, Amigurumi Knits. I was gung ho and immediately started knitting. I made a pea pod for the P. family mom and I made Christmas gifts for a couple of girls, and then I started the snail. It was to be a gift. Was. I did really well, getting at least the shell made, and then I began to lose steam. A big reason was that I think there was something wrong with the directions and I grew frustrated. When I picked it back up again yesterday, it took me a while to figure out where I was in the pattern and then had a sudden memory of frustration and why I set it aside in the first place. I decided the snail must be finished and so pretty much made up the rest of the pattern and called him done. Here he is. I am moderately pleased with him.

I'm pretty sure the problem with the body came from the directions themselves and not with me. I had already found one error in the book when I was making the jelly fish, but caught it and made the correction. Why, oh why, are so many new craft and sewing books printed with so many errors? Is it too much to ask each of the patterns be tested from the pre-published draft to be sure they are all accurate? Why must the reader be responsible for going to the book's website and checking for errata? (I will admit that I didn't do this crucial step before beginning the snail.) Books are expensive and it is frustrating when they are wrong. Argh. OK, rant over.

While I was busy with frustrated knitting, TM had wanted to try making a quilt, so I got him started with that. First, I made a template for him so he could cut out the squares and then he took off with it. He chose the fabric, cut it out, and I showed him how to sew it together. I helped with picking the backing and making the binding strips, but other than offer advice and re-threading his needle, this is completely his. And he was fast... he started it Sunday afternoon and put the last stitch in at the beginning of quiet time today. I'm pretty impressed. He is all set to make a bigger one now. I think I may have discovered a way to work down my scrap bin with no effort on my part.

Here's the front...

and the back. The fabric is from some I had in my stash. I found a Big Dog shirt in size XXL at the thrift store one day and fell in love with it. So I bought it, took it home, and took the shirt apart and have been slowly using the fabric to make other things.

Here is a close up to show some of the hand work. He quilted the top, bottom, and batting (we used a piece of flannel) together by quilting around each of the blue squares. Also notice how the corners match up.

And for those wondering about Gretel, she is doing quite well. Her wound is nearly completely healed and the fur around it is growing back in. It has been so nice not to have weekly vet appointments. And she is a sweet dog... and patient. She'll pretty much put up with whatever the children dish out, such as being dressed up like a pirate.

Monday, February 11, 2013

On not celebrating Tet and Chinese New Year

Yesterday was the lunar new year. Usually we do something to observe it and I had even planned on doing so this year. I had special food, was going to make a cake, and even had a craft planned. But we ended up pretty much ignoring the day, though we did eat some of the food.

Why did we do this, particularly since observing the lunar new year is a 'thing' (as in practically a requirement in order to be considered a 'good' parent) among adoptive families with Asian children? And since we even had made a special trip down to the Vietnamese market to purchase some of the food? Well, the short answer is that sometimes you need to let go of something that is good in order to accomplish something better.

I think it all begins back in that Vietnamese marker last Friday. Parenting children with a trauma history is all about knowing triggers. And I'm usually pretty good at knowing what TM's triggers are and how to avoid (or at least mitigate) them. Early on, anything associated with Vietnam had been an issue, but in the past several years this has lessened and I don't think about it so much now. We eat Vietnamese food on a fairly regular basis and TM enjoys it without any issues. So, the weekend took me by surprise. The only thing I can trace back to that could have been a trigger was entering the Vietnamese market.

Vietnam has a certain smell to it. Each country does, I think, because each country's locale is different as well as foods that are typically prepared along with all sorts of other variables. But to me, Vietnam's is unique. (Not unique in a bad way, just very different from home and I actually like it.) Each time I walk into a Vietnamese market, it smells as though I am back in Vietnam. (The winter coat spoils the illusion, but a girl can wish.) And on the trip last Friday, I noticed that TM was particularly struck by what he smelled... and saw... and heard. He was much more engaged with everything in it than he had been the last time we were there together. I actually considered it a good trip and wrote off the escalating degree of talking as over-excitement. It should have been my first warning sign.

We'll be discussing this with the therapist today, but I think all those sights and smells triggered memories (if they are even that tangible) that had been hidden far, far away for a long time. With our long-term therapy work, those feeling and memories are a little more accessible. And it is always far easier to rage to mask the pain than to actually deal with the pain and fear. (This is my explanation for the not-so-great weekend, and I'm going to continue living with this explanation for the moment because it at least provides me with a story that has some forward motion in it. I'm not quite ready to go to the place where he is getting worse and not better. I deal with my pain and fear through denial. A place in which I am quite happy stay.)

All that to say, I could see that TM was stressed beyond belief that we were planning a big party for Tet. Obsessing about what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, what we were going to eat, when we were going to eat, etc., etc. interspersed with some really difficult behavior was my clue. I finally just mentioned that we were going to skip it all. I would fix the ginger chicken, rice, and cucumber salad (which is a normal dinner for us) and that would be it. I helped TM make a small quilt (I'll show pictures when it's done; it's pretty darn good) and the rest of the day went calmly. Taking the pressure off from the holiday made a huge difference.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Judging a book by its genre

There is a show, Up For Debate, which comes on the radio on Saturdays at about the same time I am waking up and I will often half listen to it as the coffee starts to revive my fuzzy brain. I enjoy a good debate and like to hear the two opposing sides of an issue have a calm and reasonable discussion. I usually find myself on one side or another, but sometimes I find myself vaguely annoyed with both sides. Such was the situation this morning.

The topic at hand was the value (or lack of value) of Christian romance novels. I imagine that if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you could make a very educated guess as to which side you would imagine I would land on. I have no patience with twaddle, particularly in children's books, and I am a voracious reader. I was actually surprised myself that I disagreed with both partied.

I think it was the wholesale dismissal of a genre without regard for the individual books themselves. Are there insipid books within the 'Christian romance' genre? Without a doubt. But I have also read insipid, worthless books that are located in the more self-important 'serious literature' genre, as well. Just because a book is shelved in a certain section isn't a guarantee that it is good or that it is bad.

The part of the discussion that finally roused me out of bed and downstairs was a conversation with one of the callers. The caller recounted a discussion with a young girl who was disappointed she hadn't won a writing contest. When asked about what the girl had been reading, she replied that she had read all of Grace Livingston Hill's books. The woman replied with the question of, "Why would you bother reading more than two? Once you have done that, you have read them all." Knowing and agreeable sounds were heard from everyone on the show, as if to say, "Yep. If all you read is Grace Livingston Hill, then of course you are shallow and not terribly intelligent."

Well, first off, yes, I agree that Grace Livingston Hill's books are formulaic. But, I still like them. I love her descriptions of home life and the importance she places on making a home. And frankly, when my life feels a little out of control, I like the comforting feeling of knowing what to expect from a book. I really don't think there's anything wrong with that. Children often feel the same way. Have you noticed at certain ages, most children go through a series-jag, reading every single book in a series even though each book is basically the same? The world can be an uncertain place and in mid- to late-grade school, children are becoming more aware of this. I don't think it is a coincidence that this is the age these reading habits make their appearance. It is comforting to know what to expect when you open a book.

That doesn't mean that any of us should get stuck in the easy comfort of predictable reading, just that it does have it place. I will sometimes choose to read a more "difficult" book when I realize that I've let my brain atrophy a bit too much. And I love these books... Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, Jane Austen's books, etc. I've even slogged through Salmon Rushdie's Midnight's Children. All because I wanted to and not because anyone made me. And they are worthwhile and I do find myself pondering them long after I've closed the cover. I would encourage others to do the same. These are the books that have shaped our culture and have much to say to us about being human. They, too, have their place. But I also think that if I were to disparage books that are considered 'easier' and announce that they have no value, I am not going to encourage the readers of those books to try something else. They will either decide that yes, indeed, those books really would be too difficult for someone like them to read or that they don't want to read them if it is going to turn them into such a literary snob.

All of this does make me think about how I guide my children's reading habits. I am blessed to be raising voracious readers. I will state up front that I do not preread every book that my children read. There is no way I could keep up and I think that if they had to wait for me to finish a book before they could start it it would have a dampening effect on their enthusiasm. They would find other ways to fill their time and it would be difficult to go back. I do spot check and I am careful about the books that are purchased to live in our home. I am also more careful about what I read to the younger children. I want to fill their heads with good language and good stories to give them a basis on which to judge other books. But I do let my older children read widely and they do. There have been some instances where I will look at a book and ask that they do not finish it and tell them why. I have never had anyone give me grief about this. More often I have had a child return a book to the library stack saying that they didn't like for whatever reason... content, style, topic... and move on to something else.

And sometimes it is more helpful to discuss a book that may be questionable with the child, why it might not have been the best choice and the reasons for that, than it is to just forbid them reading it. Forbidden fruit often seems like a very sweet thing indeed. My personal parenting strategy is that as long as they are reading a lot from many different areas, the bad will cease to have the power it might and the good will stick out.

Really, just go and read a book!

Pray for Brandi today.

This is Brandi. She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Too comfortable

Our lunchtime read aloud is a biography of Daniel Boone. It's been an interesting read, but I am pretty sure I wouldn't have wanted to be married to the man. At one point (OK, at many points), he wants to move further west and sells nearly everything his family owns to do so. The trip into Kentucky would be long and difficult and they could only take pack horses to carry their supplies, so they took just the necessities. Now, before I tell you what those necessities were, I want you to stop and think about what you (and I) would consider to be the necessities we would need to live in the wilderness. Ready? OK, here's their list. Other than food they would need for travelling and the seeds they would need to plant crops, they took very little. They used buffalo hides as both padding for the pack horses and for bedding for the people. Along with these things they took a butter churn, some 20-gallon kettles, and a flour sifter. I know, you're waiting for the rest of the list, aren't you?

I have trouble wrapping my head around this. Oh, and did I mention they traveled with 8 children? Their oldest was their ~17 year old son (I'm not exactly sure of his exact age at this point... and the story ends very sadly for him) down to a newborn baby who rode in a basket on the side of a pack horse. Now, leaving the very large fact that I'm not a pioneer, nor do I have any desire to be one aside, all I can do is think that I still have just too much stuff. Don't you find there is a kind of freeing aspect to knowing that you can name your possessions of one hand? Think of all the time you wouldn't spend picking them up, fussing with them, fixing them, cleaning them, worrying about them, etc. etc.

I can feel another cleaning binge coming on, so you are now forewarned  but that really isn't where I wanted to go with this. Instead I want to talk about comfort and what it does to us. Now, I know one of the reasons that I don't have any desire to become a pioneer is that it is extremely hard work and can be pretty uncomfortable. While I enjoy camping, I also enjoy coming back home to my environmentally controlled house and soft bed. The difference between the two is pretty great. I have a feeling that Rebecca Boone's life, even in their more established homestead was still by modern standards extremely rustic. The difference between where she was and where she went was not so great. It is our comfortable modern life that makes it difficult to imagine selling everything and heading into the wilderness.

Our pastor posted a brief post on his blog today about the difference between stated Christian belief and giving. He asks why we think the church is so ungenerous. There are surely as many different reasons as there are people, but I think on some level it must come down to comfort. Having money, having things makes us comfortable. And comfort is not an easy thing to give up. It is safe, secure, easy, enjoyable. What's not to like? But comfort also blinds us. It blinds us as to our real need for God. It blinds us to the plight of others. It blinds us to what is really important.

God knows this. Why else would He direct us to tithe, to give generously, to give of ourselves. Yes, it is to help others, but it is also to help ourselves. If we share what we have to the point that it makes us uncomfortable (and I believe that is why the starting amount of giving in the Old Testament was set at 10% of our income), then we are forced to rely on God. Every time I sit down to the pay the bills, there is a very large part of me that wishes sitting down to pay them didn't involve anxiety. That I could sit down and know without a care that it was just a matter of writing checks and being done with it. I'm sure many of my readers wish very much the same thing. But then I wonder. Just like in The Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, where each of the chapters involves the children wishing for something and then really wishing they hadn't wished for it at all, I wonder if I would end up wanting to change my wish.

Because if my finances were unthinkingly easy, I would also miss out on knowing without a doubt that God does provide for us. I can't tell you how it all works out, but it does. There have been some miracle-type instances, others have been God using other people to help us, and more often, with what should be an unworkable financial situation, we somehow manage to squeak by. On paper, it looks insane to think we can make this work, but we don't, God does. And I can also tell you, I find it much easier to give to my church and to others because of this first-hand knowledge of provision.

This doesn't meant that God wants us to be miserable and that if we experience any comfort at all, we are somehow out of God's will. Do not make that mistake. God promises us green pastures, still waters, and an overflowing cup. But be aware of the source of your comfort. Is it from money, position, or material possessions? Do you hold onto to these lightly enough so that if God told you to sell them you could... or would you turn away sadly like the rich young ruler, because this is just something you couldn't do? But if your comfort comes from God, from the surety that He does provide enough, then this is true comfort and one that can be fully enjoyed.

This is also why I share with you some of the orphans who desperately need a family. Are you too comfortable to consider turning you life upside down for one of these children? Or if that seems to hard right off the bat, how about making a financial contribution towards the surgery for this little guy?

Love Without Boundaries has found a hospital in the US who is willing to help with his surgery, but $100,000 is needed up front to make it happen. They are hoping to perform the initial surgery in March because the tumor seems to be still growing and could close off his airway. Going to the link I provided will take you directly to a site where you can donate. $39,000 has already been raised, so that leaves $61,000 to go.
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