Friday, September 30, 2011

You've Got To Be Kidding Me

This has sat in my "Edit Posts" section for awhile now.  As you can tell, I was a tidge up-in-arms and my pores were oozing sarcasm.

It was, after all, the end of May when this email arrived.  Next to the holiday season, May is the worst time of the year to dump something else on MommaJ's plate.*

The real point of the post is this:  everyone is busy.  Most of us are willing to help you if you are busier than we are.  In fact, that's the right, neighborly thing to do.

However, please don't bring your solutions to us, dump them in our laps, and tell us we need to implement them to fix the ills of your life.  Invite us to help.  Form a team so we can share the load. 

When we see you doing your part we might all decide to join the fun.

Dear Mommy-of-another-boy-who-thinks-she-can-schlep-off-her-ideas-on-everyone-around-her:

I appreciate your heartfelt letter expressing how interested you are in teaching your son not to expect things to be handed to him on a silver platter. On this point, we agree.

I appreciate the fact that after-school activities are expensive. We, too, are having to budget to be sure that our kids don't break the bank by the extra fun stuff.

I appreciate the fact that you identified a couple of opportunities for the kids to earn money to defray these costs, even if conducting a car wash or selling popcorn or doing a ____-a-thon** is not on my 1) bucket list, 2) to-do list or 3) "once I've had enough wine that sounds like fun!" list.***

But the needle on the proverbial record made a horrific scratching noise, about rendering me deaf, when you said you were hoping "someone else would organize and take charge".

You know the look a dog gets on its face when you say something that perplexes them? The one where they cock their head to one side and seem to say "HUH?" through their eyes?  Yeah, that was the look on my face when I read the last sentence of your message.

So, if I have my facts straight:
1. You want your son to learn lessons about money, responsibility, and appreciation.  CHECK.

2. You want to defray some of the cost of allowing your son to participate in after-school activities. CHECK.

3. You have some great ideas for teaching your son these lessons. CHECK


I guess I am solidly in the "village" of people who could help you raise your son. But, do I seem like the village idiot?

Truly, I have a lot on my own plate, raising three kids, two dogs, one cat, three fish and attempting to rid the world of rats. That doesn't even factor in my husband, who generally needs my attention on a semi-daily basis.

I'm just wondering if you might think to resend the message and ask for a GROUP of people to help in this endeavor? YOU would be part of that group.

In the meantime, since I hardly begin to know how to respond to such a message, I'll be patiently waiting for the follow-up, which better not include a request to fill out paperwork for your son's enrollment, provide transportation to and fro, or wipe his behind.

Your acquaintance,

(whose head is still stuck in that loony sideways dog position and is getting a crick in it)

*May 2012 is coming.  You've been warned in advance not to send an email requiring me to do anything because you WILL become the subject of a blog post.

**Insert action verb here.

***READ:  these activities involve a BUTT LOAD of parental involvement.  That requires coordination and stamina.  I have neither at the moment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Interviewing Your Daughter's Date

Now, it might seem funny or even a bit odd that I would be reading a book about daughters.  I mean, after all, I consider my eggs to be well past their prime, so conceiving another child that might, possibly be a girl is out of the question.  Plus, Mike seems to only throw male seed into the universe, so....

Truthfully, I was really interested in this book because the author, Dennis Rainey, managed to raise four girls to adulthood who were very complimentary about their Dad's technique of picking young men they could and couldn't date.  It involved a detailed interview process before the first date was allowed to even begin.

And, I wanted to know what was in it for me.  Or, more specifically, what was in it that I should be communicating to the boys.

I wondered what goes through the mind of a Dad when a young whippersnapper shows up at his door to pick up Daddy's little girl.  I wondered if it bothered Dads that s.e.x. is always on the mind of teenage boys.  I wondered if I should teach my sons the muffled sound of a shotgun behind a closed door, just in case some body's Dad decided the best offense is a good defense. 

I just wondered.  So, I ordered the book.

Let me start by saying that the book was much shorter than I anticipated.  I went in thinking I'd be reading this for a week.  Instead, I started and finished it before bed one night.  That, to me, was pretty refreshing.  There wasn't much fluff, just good, on point examples and a straight shot to the actual "interview".

I learned that the main thrust of this process is to lay the ground rules for how a Dad expects his daughter and her date to act while they are together.  It addresses the concept that there is mutual attraction, boys think about sex every few seconds, and that purity should be of the utmost importance.

Simply, this plan protects both the young lady and young man who are going out on a date.  Sure, it's the girl's Dad who is having to lay the ground rules.  But, this also plants a seed in the mind of the boy that he is borrowing a precious gift from a man who loves his daughter greatly.

It gives the young man the boundaries he needs to act like a gentleman and not follow the world's ways, which are all about getting what can be had.  And, in this day of rampant sexuality, I think this is a fantastic idea.

I encourage you, whether you are raising daughters or sons, to check this book out.  I, for one, plan to review it with the boys and instigate "Mommy-son" dates where we can put into practice what the book suggests. 
Because, honestly, I want my boys treating your girls with the respect they deserve.

And, even more importantly?  Someday I'll be sitting across an aisle from some body's parents and I would love it if both sides of the aisle were beaming at our children because they did this dating thing the RIGHT way. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is It RIGHT To Laugh At My Kids?

This weekend, as we were approaching the building that houses the Sunday School classrooms, Aaron looked up at me and said "I'm the complication".

At that moment, I was completely confused because 1) I couldn't believe a six-year-old could say the word "complication" without stumbling over it  2) the statement was so random that I thought "Did I tell someone he was a DIFFICULT child and they shared it with him?"and 3) we've never, not once, zero times watched "Jersey Shore".

Not only was this all going through my mind, but I also started laughing hysterically at the whole statement.  When Mike was let in on the joke, he just looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said "Well, maybe? Sometimes?"

Turns out, one of The Babe's favorite Disney shows, "Shake It Up!", featured a character named "The Complication".

I guess that's better than being known as "The Constipation".

Nickels and I were reviewing geography this morning and I was trying to provide helpful hints for some of the latest European countries he is learning.

My hint for "Sardinia" was this "The major export from the city in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was.....?".  He said sardines and then "OH!  Sardinia!"  I gave a clue for Switzerland, too, but the poor boy didn't know squat about where the best chocolate came from, nor that Austria was renowned for crystal.

But, the best answer came from this hint:  "When you are REALLY, REALLY, REALLY starving, what are you?"

"OOOOHHHH!  I know this country:  STARVANIA."

Me, thinking:  "Starvania?  The distant cousin of Barfania?" 

The correct answer, which I promptly gave to Nickels after I laughed so hard I almost peed my britches?  Hungary. 

Yes, we have some work to do before he's ready for the next geography quiz.

For some reason, only known by someone other than me, Hooman decided he desperately needed to try sushi.

Now, other than the fact that each piece costs about a buck, I'm totally cool with my kids trying something new.  I would love to have someone in my family who would crave sushi and go blow $40 on a big, whompin' plate of the stuff.  So, on his day off from school, we headed to Sushi Loco.*

We ordered Sushi Combo C which included a California Roll, Smoked Salmon, Octopus, Eel, and Shrimp.

WHAT?  Did you expect him to try pickled pig knuckles and radish on his FIRST TIME OUT?**

Since I had built up the ease with which real sushi lovers develop their habit via the California Roll, this was the first piece in his mouth.  Turned out, he wasn't crazy about the avocado.  Strike one.

Next?  After I tried it first and declared it "chewy with no distinct flavor"?  Octopus.  He chewed like a cow at pasture.  And declared Strike Two.

The Shrimp?  SCORE!  We liked.  But didn't want Mom to order any more.

Eel?  Two bites in, with a "Great sauce/tastes like chicken" declaration, I thought we had another winner.  But bite number three didn't happen.  Somewhere in there, I think he realized "Holy Heck!  I'm actually eating eel."  Mom finished that piece.

Smoked Salmon didn't fare any better.  One tiny bite and he declared "I think I like the cooked stuff better."

Early on in the meal, he tried a teensy-tiny bite of ginger and decided it too spicy.  So, I steered him way clear of the green horseradish.  After all, my last sushi experience included a smear of wasabi that almost resulted in needing an Epi-pen in the middle of Costco***, so I didn't think I should subject my child to that kind of pain.

But, as our sushi date was winding to a close, Hoo decided it wouldn't be right-proper of him to leave the table without at least trying a LITTLE bit of it.  I verified he knew what he was doing, told him he should try as little as possible, and reminded him of my Costco blunder. So, when he pulled his water close, picked up close to a teaspoon of the stuff and bit off a pencil eraser size of it, I thought "Will he bounce off the ceiling when he hits?  Or will he go straight through the ceiling?"

This is when choosing a booth came in handy.  He would suck down water (which didn't help), writhe from one side of the booth to the other making this half-human, half-chimpanzee sound, then suck more water.  Meantime, he was half-laughing/half-crying, snorting "HOT!"

I was laughing so hard that the waitress thought I was insane.  Wasabi-boy just kept bouncing on his side of the booth while I used my napkin to wipe the tears off my face.

When the pain finally stopped and he was almost done with his very tall glass of water, he looked across the table at me and said "I figured if Mater could do it, I could to."

His inspiration was Mater, the rusty old truck from Cars 2.  Mater, who mistakenly thought the horseradish was pistachio ice cream.****  And ate about a half gallon of the stuff in one gigantic bite.

I'm still shaking my head that my son took a triple dog dare from a talking, rusty truck.

*YES.  Loco.  As in crazy.  As in "You are crazy to eat sushi" or "You are crazy to eat here" or "We crossed cultures and languages to name our restaurant".

**OK.  Just kidding.  They don't serve that at Sushi Loco.  But, in Japan?  I don't know......

***YUP.  They've got sushi, too!

****And after Hoo regained his composure, he added, all Mater style, "DON'T EAT THAT ICE CREAM!"


Monday, September 26, 2011

I Don't Know How She Does It

According to the movie, she DOESN'T.

But, I already knew that going in because the concept that any Mom can balance the demands of family and career without something giving is just ridiculous.

Similarly, I don't  know how anybody can balance the demands of family and the full-time job of being a Mom/part-time PTA participant/unpaid maid, nurse, errand runner without dropping a ball somewhere in the process.  That's also beyond me.

And, from one fellow ball juggler to another:  even though it sometimes looks like the grass is greener, it probably isn't.  In fact, it's probably AstroTurf you're looking at.

As the movie preaches, when these demands make our to-do list scamper off course, we sometimes make major changes about how we are going to run our lives.  Sadly, though, it becomes obvious that the person who wrote the screenplay (and, probably the book) doesn't think either type of woman should be given much credit for making much more than to-do lists well.

Yet, I think the balance of American Moms get it right most of the time.  So, that part of the message from the movie really hacked me off.

I love what Self Magazine Associate Health Editor Anna Maltby said about women: "My former pilates teacher said we focus on the 10% of ourselves we need to improve, when most of what we do, we do really well.  When I'm feeling down, I remind myself I'm 90% awesome."

And, sadly, instead of celebrating the 90%, the movie camped out on that 10%.  

To point:  Career woman can't groom herself.  Stay-at-home is overly groomed.*

Career woman doesn't have time for herself, her kids, or her husband but she has time to worry about stay-at-home Mom's opinion of her.  Stay-at-home Mom has copious amounts of time for her gym trainer, the bake sale, self-grooming and complaining about how pathetic career woman is.
In fact, the entire movie pits stay-at-homers against career Moms and stereotypes them into the ground.**

The end result of my education from Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan, among others, is that career women don't really have a voice until they've made it to the top.  Then, and only then, can they demand whatever they want without threat of reprisal.  OH, and they certainly can't work alongside a man fifteen or so years their senior without becoming the love object.

The stay-at-home Moms taught me that everyone should begin their day at Equinox, with their trainer, after dropping off their progeny at the school, prominently wearing their Prada bag and Louboutin heels, and bringing a perfect, home baked item to the cake sale.  OH, and that everything she does includes a side of gossip about how "lowly" career woman is for working in the first place.

In other words, I learned SQUAT from this movie, other than that, as a stay-at-home Mom, I should hate all working Mothers.  And, conversely, all my friends who are working outside the home should hate me.


I've learned, over and over and over again, that when I think my problems are bad, I should just go have a talk with someone else who is willing to share their problems.  Once that little conversation is over, my problems always seem so light.

I highly recommend you plow the money you would have spent at the theater on buying a couple of bottles of wine and take-out from a local joint.  Plan to meet your girlfriends somewhere where you can be your loud selves, eat too much, and really talk about life.

I'm pretty sure you'll find that every one of you has issues, career woman or stay-at-homer.  I'm positive you'll laugh, you'll connect again, you might even find yourself crying.  But, most importantly, you'll rediscover why you love the gals in your circle of life.  And, you'll know again how you can lift them in pray, even when your lives are too unbalanced to get together more regularly.

In the grand scheme of life it is all about grace.  Grace for our friend who is running herself ragged trying to perfect the whole thing.  Grace for ourselves when we say "yes" to too much.  Grace for our kids when they forget the project that is due tomorrow that requires supplies from the store that closes in ten minutes.

And, above all, remember that God thinks you are awesome 100% of the time.  Even if you do, on occasion, pick a really pathetic movie.

*They obviously didn't follow ME around or they would have discovered "fashion" isn't in my language.

**Thanks, but I get enough class warfare through my evening news.  I don't need more of it when I spend my hard earned money going to the theater.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The World's Standards

When you have children with learning issues and attention problems you think you've heard it all.  Then, someone else opens their mouth, totally unaware that what they have said is not only inaccurate, but also highly inappropriate.

Over the years, we've tried to let ignorance slide.  The operative word in that sentence is "tried".  There are just some times, when people say or do things, that really stick in your craw.

Oftentimes, we've tried to politely correct.  That has been met with deer in the headlights looks, indifference, or comments about not wanting to "coddle" children because it will ruin them later.

Often, especially with "medical professionals", we've had to stand our ground.  Their answers tend to be pat and predictable and unacceptable, in our eyes.  I've even had to go so far as to tell one person "I think we need to agree to disagree on this issue" because he just couldn't believe a homemaker Mom without his pedigree wouldn't want to take his advice.*

What we know to the core of our beings is that God gave us these boys.  We are uniquely equipped to teach and train and correct them.  We know their strengths and weaknesses as well as we know our own.  We want them to be successful in God's eyes and in their own right.  And that may look vastly different from what the world considers successful.

Notice I didn't say we want our kids to be "happy".  Content, sure.  Loved and Loving, absolutely.  Christlike, positively at the top of the list.  But our lives aren't guaranteed happy.  And many people chase happy all the way to their grave, stopping along the way to try out relationships and booze and careers that never bring them to that elusive state.

The Lord's standards are so vastly different from what the world peddles as important.  Those who wish to be graded by the world look at grades and beauty and social status and wealth and weight and height to determine a person's worth.  The Lord, on the other hand, looks straight at our hearts.  If our hearts aren't right?  Then we have work to do, whether we are an A+ student with zits and twenty pounds to lose or the Valedictorian star of the basketball team who has his pick of the girls to invite to the homecoming dance.

When I hear comments such as "Look at this grade!  I'm so smart!", I want to throw a temper tantrum.  Grades, while an important indication of what has been learned and what is yet to be learned, are not the basis of a person's intelligence.  They are simply a mark of learning on a specific day at a specific time on a specific topic.

Instead of grades and "smarts", we should be chasing wisdom, the type King David was granted in the Bible.  Psalm 4 is one of my favorites on this subject, especially verses 4-7.

Then he taught me, and he said to me,
   “Take hold of my words with all your heart;
   keep my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom, get understanding;
   do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
   love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
   Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Do you hear the urgency in these verses?  Grab ahold of the commands to live!  Don't forget my words or turn from them!  Wisdom, loved, is your protection!  No matter what, no matter the cost, seek understanding!

These verses don't extol perfection in learning spelling words or striving for 100 percent, 100 percent of the time on quizzes or worrying about the perfect sentence structure.  These verses point us to the Bible and tell us to know our God.  Learn about what He says.  Grab ahold of His teaching and love it fiercely so your very life can be lived to the fullest.

So, this is what I'm going to strive to teach my kids as the progress through school.  This is who I want to be when they come to me with a paper that has a grade.

"So what you made a 50% on a science quiz?  That's 50% more than you knew yesterday and an indication of the 50% you still have to learn.  More importantly, did you gain wisdom and understanding of God's great world in the process?  He created that amoeba, causes those chemical reactions, makes gravity work, day in and day out.  And, he gave you parents who can help you discover that other 50%."

"I'm glad you were able to accomplish 75% on that spelling test.  What an amazing God who created language!  Thank goodness we all don't live in a town named Babel.  And I'm glad you can spell "love" because that is what I'm feeling for you right now."

"A 99%?!  In a subject you adore?  Maybe this is the area God will place in your heart and mind to pursue as a career, to His glory?**  I'm glad you were able to master this area and enjoy it so much.  But, remember:  if you aren't doing everything with God in mind, then even a perfect grade isn't worth pursuing."

In the grand scheme of things, we are all learning different.  No two people learn the same way and our ways often seem odd to others.  But, God knows how we learn.  He sends situations into our lives that create "AHA!" moments that others pass right by.  He slips the perfect scripture or lyric into our day to remind us how much He loves us.  And He desires that WE gain wisdom and understanding from Him.

How much more of an education could we possibly ask for or deserve?

**But, who really knows...maybe next year, this will be your worst subject and science will be your best.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rotten Fruit

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  Galatians 5:22-23a

"The acts of the sinful natures are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft;  hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like."  Galatians 5:19a-d

There is something simply humbling about teaching your children right from wrong, at least for me.  Half the time, when I'm trying to correct my children's behavior to be more Christlike, I'm not modeling Christlike characteristics in my OWN life.

Case in point:  I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to insert the fruit of the Spirit into my kid's lives while YELLING at them.


The good news is that Mike and I learned, a couple of years ago, that we can admit our shortcomings and humble ourselves in front of our boys and say "Mommy/Daddy didn't do that well.  Will you please forgive me for _____."  Not easy, but a great example modeling forgiveness, humility and grace, the very things we want the boys to grow up doing themselves.

Since we are a family that says "I'm sorry" when we accidentally hurt someone else or "Will you please forgive me?" when we intentionally hurt them, when we see negativity in our children's lives, especially when it seems to involve another person, we don't let it go.

And, in the past couple of weeks, we noticed this very thing happening with Nickels.  What just seemed like pure anger actually was, at the core, an issue with envy and jealousy.  And, as so often happens, the issue started as something really small and built into a Goliath of an issue.

For Nickels, the idea that he couldn't sit in the front seat of a car while it was rolling, simply because he is twelve, was driving him ape-poo batty.  You see, I was forbidding this action based on two pieces of information:  a first-hand account of a child, about his age, being killed by an air bag AND the Texas Department of Public Safety stating it is "highly RECOMMENDED" that children under thirteen don't sit in the front seat.

And I'm anal retentive enough to know that I would never forgive myself, armed with this information, if Nickels were to die because I didn't enforce this rule.  So, unless there is a compelling reason for him to be there and it is a short distance, he's behind me in the car.

So, there's the background on why he was envious, to the point of being as green as Kermit the Frog, about friends of his whose moms and dads weren't quite as hyped up on the anal retentive gene.  This has simply driven him to distraction, to the point that he was getting preachy about the whole situation.

And, once the spirit of envy set up residence, jealousy was not far behind.  All the sudden, anyone who could ride in the front seat of a car, sub-13 years of age, was able to have anything they wanted.  They were spoiled to the point of being rotten and he, on the other hand, never got ANYTHING worth having.  In his eyes, the world was an oyster reserved for front seat riders only.  This must have gone on for a week, starting as a little spark and building to the size of the annual Aggie bonfire.  Every time I turned around, there was yet another complaint about something else that Nickels perceived as being a flagrant violation of what children should/shouldn't have and that he could/couldn't do.

Now, here is the interesting part:  as a parent, you'd think I would have seen the exact problem from the moment it started.  But, I didn't.  Truly, I was blissfully ignorant the day I said, for the umpteenth time, "You'll need to ride in the back seat."  That day, in hindsight, was the moment the eye roll at me started the envy in him.

It took an incident of unkindness that was witnessed by Mike to start an earnest conversation with Nickels.  That's when I had to really listen to hear past the anger and hurt and resentment that had built up in him.  On the surface, with the reason for his unkindness being so scattered and illogical, it just seemed like pre-pubescent hormones.  But, the sin beneath it all was readily apparent, once I pieced it all together.

We had a long talk about the fruit of the Spirit.  We discussed his behavior.  I required him to humble himself and apologize to the friend who had been the brunt of his anger.  And, still, it seemed like the fire inside of him was burning as strongly as ever. 

So, I did what every Mother should run like Hell from:  I threatened him.  Yes, I admit it. 

Actually, that sounds a little too mafioso for what I truly did, even though, technically, it was a threat:  I grounded him until he could get himself under control and truly and rightly get back on track with his friend and his attitude.   The threat was, with a sleep over and birthday party in his future, that he was risking having to change his RSVP to a "no".

He stood in front of me, arms crossed, anger seething from his eyes, as I drove away to take The Babe to karate. 

On the way back home, my heart was just in pieces.  I didn't want my boy to feel so bitter and resentful for something so trivial.  I didn't want him to miss time bonding with his buddies because he couldn't be a good friend.  I wanted him to learn that, sometimes, we have to live with rules we don't necessarily like or agree with, but we do have to accept and respect them.  But, mostly, I wanted him to stop being so angry and find himself living in the Spirit.

So, as I drove, I poured out my heart to God and I prayed that He would bless Nickels and remove the envy and jealousy.

After I finished praying and was pumping much needed fuel into our gas guzzler, my phone rang.  Nickels was on the other end, asking a question about something totally unrelated to the task he was supposed to be completing:  his  homework.  Here's where I admit that, again, I didn't respond in the most Christlike way, instead, reminding Nickels that he was off task and that I would deal with him when I got home.*

As I stopped in front of the house, I was met by a smiling Nickels.  Beaming, to be more exact.  And, he shared the following story with me:

"After I hung up with you, I needed the Bible to complete my work.  So, I went in your room and opened the drawer beside Daddy's side of the bed and I saw his necklace with the cross on it.  When I picked the cross up, I felt this warmth and all the anger and hurt just melted away.  I'm happy now!"

I looked him straight in the eye and said, "Do you know that I was praying for God to release you from your envy and jealousy right before that happened?"  The biggest smile lit across his face and his eyes lit up and he said "Cool."**

I may not be perfect the perfect Mother.  I may not see clearly the issues my kids are dealing with.  I may act more like like a piece of rotting fruit, with no Spirit discernible to those around me.

But, when I add God to the equation, there is nothing we can't accomplish together.

"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."  Mark 11:24

*My biggest source of frustration in life:  the narrow period of time between praying and communing with God and finding myself sinning again.

**Which is boy speak for "That is friggin' AWESOME!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Little Advice to Real Estate Agents

Dear friends of ours are in the process of selling their house.


Any of us who have ever had to try to sell a house know this feeling.  It is the biggest bag of mixed nuts ever.  It's a roller coaster with twelve loops and thirteen straight down drops.  One moment you are completely confident and the next you suddenly feeling like a seal pup that is the play toy for the mammoth killer whale.  Good luck trying not to barf or pee your pants on this ride!  WHHEEEEE. 

Now I've sold and bought houses but I've never been the person in the middle pawning off the merchandise.

Enter the real estate agent. If you choose well, which we managed to do in each of our transactions**, you actually come out the other end feeling like you could call that person next time you have a real estate issue.  If you are REALLY fortunate, they might even see your number on their caller ID and decide to pick up!

But, alas.  Just like any industry that has salespeople in the force, real estate people can be downright looney.  And this is where it gets personal.

Our friends keep a very tidy house.  Every time we've been over there, whether it was announced or no, I have never looked around and thought "GEEZ.  Where are the pigs in this sty?"  In fact, if I had to put my dust bunnies up against theirs?  Ours would whoop their asses.

In six or so showings, the folks who toured the house commented.  Now, from past experience, I remember comments like "family room too dark", "kitchen feels small", "lot tiny".  All things we had either 1) attempted to remedy with paint or 2) were the reason we were getting the heck out of dodge.

And, granted, on the feedback forms my friend showed me, there were a couple of comments like that.  But, with amazing, high ceilings, and an open, non-galley kitchen, and a good size lot, there just wasn't much to pick on.

So, you know what these commenters did?  They picked on the following:  "dishes in sink".  I swear, three out of four comments were something ridiculous like that...a minor housekeeping detail. 

And that is where I lost my stuff***.  REALLY? 

So, the following is a little friendly advice to all the real estate agents out there:

1.  First and foremost, you are a teacher.  Before you even put a client in the car, educate them.  There education should include the following, in no particular order

a)  when someone lives in a house, you can expect it to look LIVED IN.  There may be a few toys on the floor and a couple of dishes in the sink or dishwasher.  That's called LIVING IN A HOUSE.  Nobody, not nobody, should be held to a standard of housekeeping that would make Martha Stewart vomit up her pomegranate martini.

b)  if you prefer to look at houses that don't look lived in, let's start by driving to the middle of nowhere and look at lots with no houses on them.  That way, the dishes in the sink won't be a distraction to you.

c)  look for the top three things that are important to you and focus on those.  If it is stainless appliances, a half acre lot and hardwoods floors, shut your pie hole about the colors in the house.  You can ask Sherwin Williams later.  If there is, obviously, a dog that lives in the house, as evidenced by a dog sitting in a cage in a back bedroom, don't complain about dog hair.  You own a vacuum, don't you?

d)  a few things are negotiable, such as damage to roof shingles that preclude insuring the house or broken appliances or closing costs.  But, if you have the unmitigated gall to think that "shelf under lighting in the master closet" is "necessary".  Well, you can kiss every one's lily white buttay.

e)  decorating styles are not to be commented on, no way, no how.  Same way with paint and wallpaper.  Remember, those things were in style, sometime, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.  Instead, look at the bones of the house and overlook the fact that the couch looks like it came out of your Great-Great-Great Grandmother's attic.

2.  Second, and easily as important as number one, picky clients should be taken for a drink before each and every showing.  They will then be loose enough to follow all the rules above and you will be a better real estate agent for it.

See how simple that is?  Now, if every agent in the world would just read this blog, educate their clients, and ply them with drinks, the entire industry would blossom with joy and happiness.

Except that poor dog, stuck in his cage at the back of the house.  Would someone PLEASE give him a bone?

*Yes, you just read the spooky music lyrics.   

**Dumb luck?  God's hand?  

***I really wanted to use another word. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adventures of the Shopping Kind

From the annals of "If you ever see my kid(s) do this, you have my permission to throw them over your knee and give them a whoppin' the size of Montana."

I had to make one of those fun stops this afternoon.  You know the kind:  I just figured out, five minutes shy of six post meridian, what we were having for dinner.  And, of course, do I have all the necessary ingredients?  Hells, no. 

So, Whole Foods, here I come.

Outside the store, I spot four kids.  This isn't a news-flash but, instead, kind of par for the course.  Lots of students from Richardson High travel right past the WF to get to the dollar store, where I see them purchase sodas the shade of blood and crackers with expiration dates rivaling Twinkies.  Which they down, in one large bite and one super gulp, on the free picnic tables outside WF.  No harm, no foul.

But, this time?  Two kids in their early teens, sporting lanyards with badges dangling off, were with two much younger kids.  First, they decided to assault the shopping carts by jumping/standing on them anyway they could figure might create a nasty fall and necessitate an ambulance.


Thankfully, that never happened.  But, I was prepared with my handy-dandy cell phone, just in case.

Since they didn't break limb and crush skull on the carts, the next stop was the assortment of beautiful, decorator gourds and large pumpkins.  The older two kids started picking them up and pretend throwing them.  Can you guess their sex???

By now, I've walked far enough to secure my carnival ride cart and I'm about to enter the store.  Alongside me is an older gentleman, who has stopped dead in his tracks before entering the store, looking at these boys.  I figure "He's tongue-tied" because he's thinking "If I had done that, my Momma would have whopped me for weeks".  So, in his defense, and because I heard that pumpkins are at a premium this year, I said to the boys:

"Guys?  It's probably not a good idea to be playing with those gourds and pumpkins because if you accidentally drop one, the store won't be able to sell it."  Then, I turned to the elderly gawker (who was STILL looking at the boys)* and said "I know you wanted to say something, too."

He looked at me like I had a huge boil on the end of my nose and his skin was in eminent danger of contracting MRSA.  Crickets, I tell you.  Dead silence.  More staring.  This time, though, directed at me.  Like I'd just committed murder.  So, I gathered up my big girl panties and walked through the door, after making a mental note not to verbally rescue anyone from The Greatest Generation ever, ever again.

Shopping complete, I head to the register.  I'm pretty much staring into space when I hear a youngish-sounding voice say "...and this lady was all "blah, blah" and we weren't doing ANYTHING.  She was SO MEAN!"  And, like the dialogue balloon over a cartoon character's head, his words were still hanging in mid-air when he looked across the register, directly at me, THE MEAN LADY.

He turned forty shades of green.  And, boy howdy, was I ready.  I was just waiting for him to point at me and say "She's the one.  There's the meanie.  Do SOMETHING Mommy!"

But, did he?  No.  He looked away, after I smiled my most snarky "YOU ARE SO BUSTED!!!", smile.  I never broke contact with the top of his head, which was now hanging, where it belonged.

I was ready for Momma, too.  The speech about having boys myself, not wanting them to get in trouble, it takes a village, etc.  And, if she had gotten pissy?  I was totally prepared to walk away.

But, I never got that chance.  Hell boy walked out of the south exit and I, the North.  Once I was safely away from the building, he stared me down, all the way to my car.  Probably memorized my license plate and will put sand in my gas tank tomorrow.

You know what, though?  I wouldn't change a thing about this interaction.  I wasn't mean.  I wasn't threatening.  I was calling down behavior that was inappropriate.

And, isn't that what we are called to do as Christians?  Live in the world, but be "aliens" and "strangers" with our behavior, so people will wonder what higher authority we are answering to?**

Yes, I think that's the ticket on this one.  At least, that's my story.  And I think I'm happy with it.

*After his response, maybe it wasn't gawker that I should use to describe him.  CREEPY.

**Not Hebrew National Hot Dogs, you dufus.

Friday, September 16, 2011


"I've stopped racing to get to the red light."--Kyle Chandler in June 2011 Men's Journal

Let's just stop here and get one thing straight:  I normally wouldn't pick up a Men's Journal, even if it was the last magazine on planet Earth.  I'm more of an All You, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping kind of gal.

But, I found myself staring at a cover picture of Mr. Chandler with a title that read "A Serious Hang with the Last Solid Dude" and I was mesmerized.  After all, he was the bomb in the short lived, but highly acclaimed, Homefront, a post-WWII look at several families and their return (or lack thereof) to normality.  I hear Friday Night Lights was a joy ride, too;  never watched a single episode.

If he is what the article cracks him up to be, Kyle totally earns the title "dude".  He's a guy's guy who still manages to be kind to the core.  He's the kind of person you wish you'd known before he became an "it" man because, even with all his success, he'd call you down if you didn't tow the line.

But, this quote was what really got me.  It was one of several I could have been drawn to from the article, but it was the only one I felt the need to write down.   It spoke to me on a really down-deep level.

I think I've lived most of my life racing to the red light.  Sometimes, it was a literal red light and I was using my VW Fox to try and outpace a souped-up Corvette.*

Oftentimes, it was the red light of some imagined accomplishment:  the next promotion at work, the next committee to chair, the next date to schedule.

But, something in me snapped about the time I hit 40.  Somewhere in there, I began looking at the red lights differently.  I realized the rat race wasn't all it was cracked up to be.  I didn't feel the need to chair the PTA, teach Sunday School, create picture-perfect meals, and be perfectly coiffed and showered, ready for s.e.x. every night of the week.  There was just no dang way I could do all those things without something falling short.  And, generally, it was the most important of those things that suffered.** 

Then I realized that I didn't care what other people thought of me.  If they were repulsed by the fact that my hair often resembled something that just crawled out of bed after a much-too-late bender, fine.  If they didn't like my "natural, no make-up needed" look, OK.  If they thought I could stand to lose a few pounds, let them work out for me and I'd burn calories on the sidelines, via osmosis.  My kids?  Not perfect.  My marriage?  Could use a little work.  In short, I was very NORMAL.  It was just those around me, who were still trying to race to the red light, holding up the "I'm perfect, my kids are perfect, and I have marital relations 2.7 times per week" that were screwed up.

Shortly after that, I discovered that forgiveness in my life was of such extreme importance that I could hardly stand another day without it.  I started with myself;  that took a LONG time.  Then, I started working with other people whom I had wronged.  And, one at a time, I humbled myself long enough to make things right.  I also discovered that forgiveness is a life-long process;  there are still plenty of people that I probably need to talk to.  But, I'm waiting for God to lay them on my heart.

This year I realized I wasn't living up to who I could be as a Mother.  So, I decided to put my needs second and my kids first during that all important, between school and bed, time.  I have been rewarded more than once by Hooman, who has noticed the change and commented on it "Gee, Mom.  You do so much for us.  Thank you."  The compliments have been flowing more freely from Nickels, too.  And, surprisingly, I'm more fulfilled in my life than I thought I could be, considering the chunk of time that I just readily gave away.

I can hardly wait for the next revelation.  While I complain that getting older isn't for sissies, that it oftentimes sucks, and that I can't believe how old society THINKS I am, I wouldn't change my age for the world. The wrinkles and cellulite, however?  Do you have a New York minute?  But, I wouldn't trade those for the freedom I feel in my mid-40s.

So, next time you see me at a red light?  With the dude behind me cursing because I moved so slowly getting there?  With my hair all funky, my face bare, and my clothing a little wrinkled?

You can send a fan mail thank you to Mr. Kyle Chandler.

 *Doesn't work, incidentally.

**Use your friggin' imagination.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I've Gone Back to School!

Sure, going back to school sounds elegant and studious and income-propelling.  But, it's not an MBA I'm pursuing.

In fact, this is an education from the school of hard knocks.  And, if I pass, I can truly, finally, and irrevocably say "So-and-So-Teacher, from my the fourth grade year?  That test you caught me cheating on that I said I didn't?  Well, I did.  And, hear is the proof that I actually COULD HAVE passed it without changing that one answer on the way to your desk."*

In the past few weeks, I've covered the following ground:  memorization of the fifty-nine European countries, basic Algebra, prime numbers, factors, Latin phrases, density/mass/volume, recitation of Psalm 111, and reading/reviewing the first seven chapters of "The Hobbit".

And, that is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. I know there's more, but I think I've reached my brain's limit for new information.

I've barely gotten to bed before I passed out from exhaustion because, many nights, after factoring in homework, dinner, football/karate practices, and play dates, we are kissing 9pm squarely on the lips.

I sleep like a baby.  I wake exhausted.  I bet I'm doing pre-Algebra in my dreams but I just don't remember.  

And I'm not sure my 44 year old body and brain can take one more night of this.

This homework thing?  I thought I left it behind, sometime in the late 80's.  But, since ascribing to the theory that I should be present, I have done more work outside of school than I think I did collectively K-12.

I can only imagine what my children are feeling.  Oh, wait!  They've told me!  And, it goes something like this:


To which I reply:  "Sorry to tell you, but this is what the rest of your life is going to be like.  Once you finish school and go to college, you'll get a job and work this hard eight hours or more per day.  Sure, you'll have weekends off, if you don't have pressing projects to accomplish.  Now, wave to Daddy through his window, as he works at 7:45pm, and let's get back to work."**

Truly, I'm glad they are learning about the work ethic at such a young age.  I didn't have work outside of class like this until college.  And then I was completely shell-shocked.  I didn't know how to balance my social life and my school work in the slightest bit, so my grades first semester?  When my head was in the books 24/7 and I only went out ONCE?  Were great (3.65GPA, thank you).

Then came sorority rush.  And frat parties.  And a boyfriend who lived a couple of hours away.  My GPA barely had a pulse at 1.8.  OY.

So, at least, when the boys hit college, they will have some idea of what it means to balance sports practices with homework with playdates.  And that will translate into prioritizing fun with school work with dating/frat parties.

Now, if I can just figure out "Ubi est Helvectia?", we'll be on the track to victory for one of the boys.

*I could NEVER in a million, billion years have become a spy.  I suck at being stealth.

**So much for empathy from their Mother.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Welcome, Little One!

Some neighbors, who've become friends, recently flew halfway around the world to retrieve their adopted daughter from an orphanage in Africa.  She is three-years-old and precious beyond words.

This morning, as I was picking up carpool, she and her brother were standing on the sidewalk, she in front, he in back, with his arms around her shoulders and hands clasped in front of her, waiting for my car to arrive.

The contrast of their sizes was the first thing I noticed:  he has always been the "little" brother and, up until that point, I'd never considered how much he has grown since we moved on the block.  They looked as relaxed as if they had known each other forever.  In fact, they looked less like siblings than most because they weren't fighting or yelling at each, but were peacefully standing there, hugging.  It was a beautiful picture of how God knits together new family members.

As I pulled up, I waved and that tiny, three-year-old hand waved right back.  We had been warned that she wouldn't know much about English, but it never dawned on me that our "sign language" would be universal.  It warmed my heart that, even though she probably wouldn't be able to say my name for a little while, we could still communicate in simple ways.

That's when the wave of emotion hit me.  Tears were flowing down my face at the beauty of the scene, this cherubic young girl and her loving older brother standing together, one born into our country, the other brought here after being in an orphanage for far too long;  the sacrifice her birth Mother made to create this picture unfolding in front of me;  the patience and perseverance and willingness of our neighbor friends;  the goodness of a God who orchestrated the whole event.  It was just too much in that moment for my heart to take.

My friend saw what she probably perceived as distress and, as she approached the car, all I could do was pat my heart.  Words just wouldn't come in that moment.  We shared a bit of chit-chat, got her son seated in the car, and off we started.

But, before we went, our newest neighbor, her hand in her Mommy's, turned to the car, smiling and looking just as happy as a lark.  I felt such a connection to her in that moment;  a bond that only people who are adopted understand.  She has a Mommy who will help her grow into the young lady God has in mind.  But she is actually blessed to have two Moms:  one that will take care of her forever in all ways and one who gave birth to her and gave her this chance at life.

And I was so taken with her sweetness that I blew a kiss at her.  And, as innocent and sweet as she could be, she blew one back.  More sign language;  more tears.  I swear, I've never felt so much love in a gesture.

What an amazing story this young girl will tell over the years, one of hope and redemption and adoption into a place far, far away from where she grew up.

I feel so blessed to be on the perimeter of her life.  Thank you, God, for that gift.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Seven Days in Utopia


That would be my advice regarding your decision to see Seven Days in Utopia.  It is the little engine that COULD in theaters, I just don't know how long it will be able to stay on the tracks following movies making hand-over-fist, such as Our Idiot Brother (What the hell were you thinking, Paul Rudd?  I used to heart you;  now I'm concerned about your ability to make wise acting decisions) and Shark Night 3D (do I even need to comment here?)*

Sure, it is rated "G".  That was by design.  The people who brought this movie to the theater near you wouldn't let Hollywood within a thousand mile perimeter of it, preferring to finance it all themselves.

And, guess what?  They brought out the big acting guns, just to prove that you can make a fantastic Christian movie that doesn't have to be roughed up by the likes of The Weinstein machine.  You'll see Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, and Kathy Baker, and for those of you who are PGA fans, KJ Choi.

And, the star of the movie, who you'll be wondering "How do I know him?"** all show long, is Lucas Black.  His background includes modeling for Calvin Klein and several bit parts in movies you would recognize the names of but that his characters were easily lost in. 

The roughest language I heard was the use of "Hellacious", once.  A would-be kiss (spoiler alert) as averted with a sweet and gentle comment (when was the last time you saw THAT?)

And the scenery?  Pure, Heaven-must-look-like-this, amazing back drops, filmed right here in Texas.  In Utopia*** (no joke), to be exact.  Before the first fifteen minutes of the movie had expired, I wanted to pack my bags and move there permanently.

Sure, the story line is the classic "Man finds his way back to what is good and right in his life".  But, can you ever, really get enough of that?  I know yours truly can't.

If you are a duff golfer like me, who hasn't touched her clubs in a conservative 20 years, you'll find yourself inspired to hit the local driving range.  And, if you aren't a golfer but are a sports fan, you'll find yourself wanting to dig out that old baseball bat/football/lacrosse stick and make a mid-life run at it, for old time's sake.

This is just pure, movie-making bliss with a side dish of truth and inspiration.  Just go see it.

Two pinkies and one kleenex, way up.

*Which just goes to prove that most of America doesn't value thought provoking story lines over inane "entertainment" value.  In fact, I'd venture to say, if you added the phrase "gruesome, pervasive violence" to the description of the plot for Bambi, showed Bambi being hunted down and shot in the heart, with blood gushing everywhere, and changed the name to Bambo, it would attract millions of viewers.

**He reminds me of my brother, with his easy laugh, his crooked smile and his genuine nature.

***A quick search on Mapquest determined the location to be just slightly North and West of San Antonio, squarely in Hill Country.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Got Jealous?

I fell headlong, like a drunk onto the sidewalk, into another Kelly Minter Bible study last night.  I was actually giddy to get started, having wet my taste for Miss Minter's writing this summer with her study of the book of Ruth.  A combination of fantastic, thought-provoking writing and a great group of gals led me to crave more.

The topic this time is idols.  Titled "No Other Gods", it is an exploration of what we put ahead of God in our daily lives.  Not an easy topic for sure, definitely one requiring much cob-web clearing and personal reflection.  But, as I see, standing on the edge of being immersed in study, one very worth diving into.

Before we even got properly out of the gate, we had already approached the concept that scripture calls God "jealous".  Now, for many, Oprah Winfrey being the best known, this concept of jealousy is rooted in what we humans FEEL emotionally.  And, as Ms. Winfrey will attest, a God described as "jealous" is a big turnoff, if you leave the definition at just that.

To point, men and women use jealousy in ways that we think will "advance" relationships when, in fact, adding negative emotions to the mix only creates an atmosphere that is ripe for violence.  We use jealousy to "attract" people to us or "get back" at people who are no longer attracted.  In every Earthly way of the word, jealousy is a negative emotion which creates negative thoughts and actions.

But, when God defines jealousy, He is referring to it from a positive standpoint.  Literally, it means that He wants our undivided attention for OUR OWN GOOD. 

It seems, in scriptural context, that God was concerned about Ba'al worship, Ba'al being the God of fertility, back in Old Testament times.  Those who worshiped Ba'al also professed to worship the one, true God.  And, therein, conflict was created:  God specifically commanded that HE was the only one worthy of worship.  Adding Ba'al to the mix, as kind of a "back burner", "just in case" God, wasn't sitting well with Him.

And, there is where His jealousy comes from:  He is so protective of His people, so concerned about us living lives that are good and right, that He doesn't want anything, especially the Ba'als of this world to get in the way of us having a one-on-one relationship with Him.

When we begin to value money or our children or our time over God (some of the Ba'als of today), we have provoked that jealousy.  He has a strong desire to bring us back into the fold, back into right relationship with Him.  He doesn't want to see us hurt by desires that are baseless and Earthly.

I so wish that we could transcend the negative, ungodly definition of jealousy and see that it has positive implications in our lives.  It is God's desire for us to live in the light, under the leadership of He who loves us enough to tell us "No, no.  Don't put your trust in those others.  Put your trust in me alone."

And, what separates those who are trusting God instead of idols is so simple yet, oftentimes, so hard to consistently achieve.  It all boils down to our daily, sometimes hourly, decisions.

As Dave Ramsay is famous for saying (and I will botch trying to quote):  if I want to know what is important in your life, I'll need to see your checkbook and your calendar.  Where you spend your money and your time says a lot about you.

We have to consciously determine that all our decisions, including our money and our time, are going to be guided by what God thinks is important.  And, when we cooperate with His plan, He frees us from the slavery of other idols.

What are the idols in your life?  People?  Money?  Status?  The corporate ladder?  What is crowding God out, putting something else in the number one spot?

Think about it.  Reflect on it.  And change it for the better.  Because, today and always, God has a plan to pull you out from under the bondage of slavery to other idols.

In this moment, make the decision that His plan for your life is more important than anything else this world has to offer.  And align what you do with what you want to do in Christ.  

While I can't guarantee an easy road, I can guarantee a fulfilling life.  And, it all starts with deciding that you believe that God should be numero uno.

Take that step.  Don't be shy.  He's waiting.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Fire, Momma, Fire" *

"Like a scene from an uneasy dream, Doug Kanter's picture of a man standing amid the seemingly endless World Trade Center rubble, calling out for survivors, brings to mind the sense so many of us shared on 9/11 and in the days and weeks after.  After briefly taking shelter, he stepped outside into streets that "were pretty much deserted, and that's when the person in the picture emerged. He looked like he might be a maintenance worker, had a fire extinguisher in his hand, and was calling out to see if anyone could hear him, saying they should make noise, and people would come and help." Not long after Kanter took this photo, a police office hustled him away from the spot. Minutes later, the second tower collapsed."**

I am completely struck by this photo because I see so much in it:

Our collective desire to help, even in the midst of helplessness.

Angels among us, carrying fire extinguishers to five-thousand-alarm fires.

God, in the form of a lone man, standing with us amidst unspeakable tragedy.

An American flag that REFUSED to be taken down by hatred.

A photographer, whose life was spared as the second tower collapsed and whose picture survived to be exposed, because a police officer made him to move.

A beauty that transcends the ugliness of the scene.  I see the man with the fire extinguisher as (simultaneously) an angel, a regular man, God, you and me.  

And much light.  In such a dark, scary moment.

I could, literally, stare at this picture for weeks and never see the same thing twice.  Just like I'll never see 9/11 on the calendar and think about it the same:  it is the anniversary of dear friends first and the date of a tragedy in our country second.

And, even though two buildings, a portion of the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were affected by the events of that day, and countless lives were lost as a result, God WAS and IS still on His throne.

And, for that, even as we mourn, we can be glad.

*As Mike and I watched the TV the morning of 9/11 and Mike, frantically, tried to call the offices of the company he worked for, which were in one of the towers, Zach toddled over to the TV and began patting the first tower, saying this.  I will never forget that moment.

**This photo and the caption in quotations is property of Life magazine and the photographer, Doug Kanter.

Everything beyond that was lovingly written by God through MommaJ.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Six Hundred

If 1 is the loneliest number, then 600 must be really good company.

And, I can tell from reading your comments and laughing with you through life and crying as I write, that you, awesome readers, have been GREAT company.

I, literally, wouldn't do this if you didn't sign on and take time out of your day to see what crazy new thing has descended on our household.  SQUIRREL.

And, now that I am 100 pages into the book I'm writing about Mom's illness, I can tell that this little habit that started 600 posts ago is now way beyond the "obsession" Mike called several months ago.  Writing has become a way of life.

I could eat, drink and breath writing at the moment.  So the option of NOT continuing to tell you how twisted life has become or how wonderful God has been or why you need to get off your butt and take action...well, that is no longer an option.

I do, however, have to find that balance between writing and not allowing my house to be swallowed by dust bunnies* and actually shopping for groceries so when the kids ask for a snack and I don't declare "Black olives or carrot sticks.  Your choice!"

So, onward we go.  Used to be that I'd say "I'll keep doing this for another 100 posts.  Maybe."  Now, I'm looking at 1,000 and thinking "We should throw a hellacious party for that one!"

Thanks.  You have been such an encouragement on the other side of this screen.  You've made me laugh, brought me to tears, and given me hope that I can actually do this writing thing that I know God gave me a talent for. You will never know how much each of you mean to me.

Blessings on you, today and always.

 *Especially now that they all now have names.

Friday, September 9, 2011


It seems that the transition to sixth-grade, with preparation for junior high being in every lesson plan, is a monumentally difficult task for many kids.

And, as luck would have it, Nickels isn't being spared in the slightest. 

With all my anal-retentive, list-making abilities, you would think the nut would fall close to the tree.  NYET.

Our sweet, slightly hyperactive, "which way is the shortcut" son, wants nothing to do with a planner.  If a three-hour project has a deadline past the morning?  He wants to forget about it until the night before.  And, all at the same time, keep up with competitive Taekwondo and two-practices, one-game a week football.

Can you tell what's winning here?  Hint:  it's not the school work.

Even with the best teacher's instructions ("You might see failure and push back and tears") and follow-through on said directions ("Stay on top of him and double check everything on his planner"), stuff is STILL falling through the cracks.

Now, if it were for lack of ability or poor instruction or the onset of narcolepsy, I'd be all "Time to slack off and ask the teachers to do the same."  But, none of these issues can be claimed.  So, we're back to the original teacher's instructions and one unhappy, "Why do I have SO MUCH HOMEWORK?" son.

Granted, last year, homework was rendered an antiquated word.  Projects were few and far between.  So, I think we aren't the only ones with massive growing pains.

But, still, in the midst of the meltdown, with the dinner hour slowly fading to dark, and bedtime not too far behind, I still have to scream a "WHY????"

My fervent prayer is that this is the growing pain my boy will need to be a success not only this year, but in the years to come and over the course of his life as a whole.

I pray he grasps the lessons of "once prepared, forever done" instead of "once skimmed over, once failed".

I pray he doesn't get bogged down in the movement it is going to take for him to take his planner seriously.  Or in the mire of me saying "You have to write things down!" for the umpteenth time.*

Above all, I hope God plants the seed of wisdom in Nickels this year.  A seed that sprouts into understanding all the "whys" behind what the school and his parents and the church are doing to help prepare him for manhood.

I'm not sure I could ask more than that.  Except, maybe, for patience for his Momma and Daddy.

And for the invention of a diet wine.

*Even though it is directed at Fathers, I take Ephesians 6:4 seriously: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


So, sometime around 1a.m. CST last Saturday, Mike hit the door from a business trip that started the previous Sunday.

His itinerary had him originally scheduled to head straight for Pennsylvania, but a little twit named "Irene" derailed his plans;  instead he started in Raleigh, NC and then made the pre-sun-up trek to NYC last Wednesday.

You've gotta love trying to implement a two-day, business-interrupting conversion in the middle of a friggin' hurricane.

But, I digress on the original reason for this post:  survival in the midst of single-parenting.

Let me just start by saying that there is nothing remotely glamorous about being the only parent in the house.  NOTHING.  NADA.  ZILCH.  And, the thought that some people do this ad nauseum makes me want to buy them a margarita machine with a huge tab for extra mix, in an assortment of nummy flavors.

Truly, there is a really good reason God set up the whole parenting thing with two people.

You can play good cop/bad cop with two.  With one?  You get the handcuffs AND the get out of jail privileges.

With two parents, you have someone to defend your choice of dinner.  When your kids say "Spaghetti?  Again?" like you've just offered maggots on a spoon with a tall, cold glass of milk, your love can gently remind them that there are starving kids somewhere in the world who would kill for your spaghetti.  And then be the first to dig in and say "YUMMY!  Thanks, honey!"

With two parents, you get more of the story.  What begins as "Nothing." in response to "What did you do in school today?", sometimes ends in an exhaustive explanation of how to grammatically label a sentence after the other parent asks.

Do you get my drift?  One person can't possibly do all this.  It takes two.  And, sometimes, the neighbors thrown in, for good measure.

I realize how blessed I am to know that my single parenting can be counted in the number days until the business trip ends.  For many, this experience is counted in years.  And, with limited experience as my guide, I have a great deal of empathy for those who do this, day in and day out, without any chance of a break. 

God asked us to take care of those in need.  And, while I realize that many people land squarely in single parenthood through choices of their own, the effect is still the same:  they are without a spouse and their children are affected as a result.  Whether they be rich or poor or somewhere in between, they are still struggling in some aspect of life.

I'm not sure why I had this single-parent epiphany at this late time, because, Heaven knows, Mike has had his share of business trips throughout the years.  But I do know it was a welcome wake-up call to pay attention to those around me who are doing the hardest job in the world without a partner.

How about you?  Are there some around you who are tackling life with kids on their own?  What do you feel compelled to do?  Or do you feel compelled at all?

There isn't a right answer here, just a step on the path that comprises the journey of your life.  As with so many things that Christ will teach each of us in our lives, what seems relevant to one today may have become relevant to another yesterday and will become relevant to yet another tomorrow.  After all, if we all felt moved to help a single cause at the same time, other causes would suffer.

And, that right there, is the amazing gift God gave each of us:  to listen for His voice, be moved by what he calls us to do, and to go do it.  Regardless of the call of those around us.

Today, I heard the word, so now I must go do.  I certainly don't know what God is whispering to you and I am not even sure what my own call will look like, but I'm encouraged by what James 1:22-25 has to say:

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

December 2012

So, here's a random thought for your day:

What if the predictions about 2012 are correct?  What if, just prior to Christmas next year, when the Mayan Long Count calendar officially ends, we're all toast?

Let's just say that the Mayans HAD a lock on the end of times.  That, somehow, they are absolutely correct. 

What would you do differently with the next 16 months of your life?

What would you get rid of or acquire?
What lessons would you teach your kids?
What foods would you avoid or make sure you ate?
What books would you read?
What trips would you take?
Would you quit your job?
Would you buy survival gear for the months right before the end when things would get really wacky?
Would you build a bomb shelter to hole up in with your family?
Would you move closer to your parents, siblings, extended family, best friends?
Would you find yourself worrying more or less about petty things?
Would you let your anger about a long-distant hurt finally subside?
How would you structure your days?
Would you use a countdown calendar?
What would you tell your kids about the end?
Would you worry about whether or not Heaven was in the equation for you and those you loved?
Would you finally admit hurting others and start asking for their forgiveness?
Would you write your own obituary?
What would you watch on TV and in the theaters, and listen to on the radio?

Truly, there is a reason that no one knows the time and day of their demise.  I believe that is one of God's smartest moves.  Shielding us from the date of our death allows us to live in the moment and live for the day.  It's also the reason no one truly knows when Christ's return is coming. 

And, with the promise that every day is fresh with mercy and a new beginning and without blemish as our gift from God, we CAN look at that long list above and structure our lives so that we have one eye clearly in the here-and-now and one eye on eternity.

We CAN look ahead without fear or worry knowing that He provides for our every need on a daily basis.

We CAN surrender our lives to our ultimate death, knowing our protection for eternity comes from Him.

But, to claim these things, we have to lay down our lives for the one, true, King.  We have to know that He loves us enough to have laid down His life for us and claim His love as our own.  We have to believe that He is Holy God, the one and only Lord, the name above all names.  And we have to be willing to admit that we aren't perfect, that we err, that we sin and humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness.

Is there is something you need to do today, in preparation for tomorrow?  Not for the end of the Mayan calendar but for the end of YOUR calendar?

If so, what are you waiting for?


A couple of weeks ago, we had a really disconcerting thing happen in our backyard:  someone cut our hammock strings and rendered it broken beyond the point of repair. When we pieced together the timing, we realized this had happened during the morning, likely during the carpool run or shortly thereafter.  This didn't happen just once, though.  It happened TWO mornings. 

Since the only way in and out of our backyard is a gate facing the street, we furthered realized someone was acting boldly, not really caring whether or not they were caught.  That, frankly, unhinged me.

I knew Mike was traveling the following week and I didn't relish the fact that I was going to be solely responsible for security at the house.  And, despite the fact that a lock would inconvenience at least three service people during the week, I convinced my darling hubby that our only recourse was to bar the doors, Mikey!!

And, so we did.  Just to cross my "t's" and dot my "i's", I sent a message to all my neighbors.  "Danger, Will Robinson!" it read, "Strangers in our midst.  Beware.  And please look after me while my husband travels."*

The next course of action was to let the Homeowner's Association know we'd been violated.  The woman on the security beat was on the shy side of alarmist, but let me know that she couldn't report our "incident" to the rest of the 'hood if I didn't call the police.  Specifically, I needed to call 911.  Pronto.  Not tomorrow.  Now.

OK.  That's where I balked.  Really?  911?  It's not like someone spray painted graffiti on the side of our house or keyed our cars with curse words or, gads, pooed in the pool for fun.  I asked, instead, if I could call the substation.

Clearly, this was off protocol and annoying to my HoA rep.  Obviously, I was NOT getting the picture that this was of extreme importance, so she relayed a story about a neighbor who had received a visit from someone who had taken his car off his hands in broad daylight.

Now, if THAT had happened?  I'd be calling 911 from all four phones in this house.  But, alas, we were talking about a hammock.

But, I made the call anyway (to the substation, thank you), and was connected to a nice person who took my information and told me I'd get a call back from an investigator.  An investigator?  Really, didn't they have better things to do with their time then track down hammock slicers?  But, since I had already scared my children about a police officer coming over and, possibly, finger-printing all of us and administering lie detector tests** and I was pretty sure the security beat was going to ask for an update, I figured I'd better just go with it.

The investigator took a more detailed report a couple of days later.  She let me know that the first couple of weeks of school are generally bad in terms of damage to property and other petty crimes.  Gang initiations, probably.  I swallowed hard.  GANGS?  In MY neighborhood?  UGH. 

Our phone call ended with the assignment of my report to ANOTHER person, who would be calling me back later.***

And, in any other circumstance, I would be a tad livid.  But, after our discovery this weekend?  I am actually a bit glad.

You see, Hoo decided the best thing to do with a broken hammock was to deconstruct it and repurpose the wood.  Since I'm all about recycling, of course I said "Go for it!" and sent him on his merry way to make a "cross bow".

That's when the webbing hit the ground and didn't move.  And, in that position, Mike was able to see something that blew our ever-lovin' minds.

It appeared that the source of our "cutting" was actually "gnawing".  The lock on our gate was pointless as our "intruder" actually lived in the backyard to begin with.  Our "gang" was actually more like "Alvin and the Squirrelmunks".

Yes, SQUIRRELS were responsible for this entire episode.

When we told the boys, Hoo looked at me and said "You called the police over squirrels?" and started laughing hysterically.

Yes.  Yes I did.

So, to all of you who were diligent in watching out for me a couple of weeks ago?  Thanks.  Sorry.
For the inconvenience to our service providers?  Oops.  My bad.
To the North Dallas Police Substation and NHHA Security Rep?  Um.  DUH.

And, to you?  I hear you laughing.  I can already feel the squirrel jokes coming on.  And, I can assure you the following:

When I catch me some of that-there squirrel?  I'm making me a squirrel-tail hat first.  And then one for you.

Don't get too excited.  This could take awhile.

*We live in such an AWESOME neighborhood, that everyone immediately put on their stranger-danger radars and kept them on while Mike was gone.

**I HAD to rule my own, knife-wielding children out.  How else was I going to do this?

***A full 10 days later I still haven't heard back.  The big wheels of progress move v.e.r.y.s.l.o.w.l.y.  But, at least, now I can give them an update and they can stamp the case "CLOSED".

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Demographically Challenged

Being cheap, I tend to do a lot of those nagging little surveys that appear along with receipts from the local grocery store, drug store, restaurant, etc.

I figure, if they want to give me a discount next time I grace their doors, or give me a freebie, or enter me in a contest to win cash, I'm all for taking five minutes out of my day to play their game.  You scratch my back?  I'll scratch yours!

But an alarming trend has been occurring in the last few weeks.  I seem to have jumped demographics.  And, frankly, this is serious cause for pondering life as I know it.

Would you believe, at the tender age of 45, that I now have to check the age box for 45-64 year olds?

WHATTHEHELL?  That's makes about as much sense as having the age range of 1-20 years on a survey.

What, in Sam Hill, do I have in common with a 64 year old?  Let's see....we both eat.  We both poop.*  We both sleep.  Yup.  End of list.

I don't have grand kids.  I'm not (yet) pondering the daily wearing of diapers.  Denture cream, smensure cream.

I am so appalled at this little change that I had visions of another company's egregious mistake when I was in my late 30's.

MORE magazine decided, since I was turning 40 sometime in the future**, and since their rag was definitively the place to read about keeping fit after 40!, keeping your face from developing map worthy lines!, and keeping sex in mid-life interesting!, that they would go ahead and solicit my readership.

Well, that went over like a lead balloon.  I started crying, looking through that free issue.  Every other page was an Estee Lauder ad with an 18-year-old girl pawning off $90 bottles of cream for my face, designed to keep me from looking my own age.

Any page that wasn't a paid advertisement featured a woman who had clearly been handled by people wearing kid gloves and carrying silver spoons since the time she was an embryo.  There was NO WAY these women had gotten a wicked, freckle-inducing sunburn on the cheap beaches of Texas because she wanted her baby's feet to touch "big water" when he was two.

Needless to say, I never subscribed to that magazine.  And, somehow, my life for the past five years hasn't seem to have suffered one bit.

So, I'm pondering whether or not it is worth filling out that next Petco survey to save $3 when I buy my next bag of cat food.  That same coupon that, for the life of me, I'll never remember to take with me to the store.  Until it has expired, naturally.

And, there is the crux of the issue.  I can't remember to take the coupon with me, which means I'm getting older, which reminds me I'm solidly in the 45-64 year old demographic, which just sucks.

I feel a good, long cry coming on.....

*And, I bet I'm more regular, fiber or no.

**And, I felt about turning 40 just like Sally did in When Harry Met Sally:  "But it's there. It's just sitting there, like some big dead end."

Monday, September 5, 2011


Sweet Nickels,
I can hardly believe you are twelve today.  It seems like just a few years ago we attended Luke's first birthday party (making that party was an answered prayer from God), arrived home, and my water broke in the bed.  That was one in the morning today, twelve years ago.

Your Grandma Joyce was with us that night.  She had flown in to be at your birth, a gift from me to her, since she had never had the privilege of giving birth to a baby.  Little did she know that she was going to be such a super, big help that day.

Susan Akins, my mid-wife, was with us every step of the way as I labored at Baylor Hospital.  She helped Daddy and Grandma know how to press on my back so the back labor was less.  She didn't push for Mommy to have a C-section, instead letting my body work hard so you could be born naturally (with a little help from pitocin!)

In the last twelve years, you have led the way in teaching me and Daddy about being parents.  Almost everything we've done as parents had to be tested on you first.  I know we've made some mistakes.  I know we've not always been perfect.  I'm sure we've done some things that, later on, you'll think were really stupid.

But, despite our shortcomings, you have grown into a young man we are beyond proud to call our son.  You have a very kind heart.  You are a good friend.  You are a helper to those around you.  You are sensitive.  You are loving. 

You welcome the chance to try new things.  You are a salesman to the core.  You have always tried to stretch your wings and do things that Mom and Dad are trying to shield you from, but you've matured enough that you recognize our "no" as a loving boundary, instead of a brick wall.

You love to read and would rather do that than sleep.  You want to play football through High School and, I think, you have that talent.  You haven't yet met a video game that you couldn't conquer.  Your love for math will likely develop into a career.  You have a beautiful voice that, I'm positive, God hears and counts as angelic, especially when you belt out any of plethora of hymns and contemporary Christian songs you know.  You are fantastic at sparring and, I predict, will take a first place trophy this year!  :)

Above all these things, you love Christ.  You are developing your own walk with Him that makes us very, very glad. 

Happy 12th birthday, sweetheart.  I love, respect, and adore you to the core.

Love, Momma

Friday, September 2, 2011

Are You Praying?

Prayer groups are, quite possibly, the best thing since sliced bread.  And, considering I'm a major carb fanatic, that is saying a lot.

I am so incredibly happy to be involved with a group at Covenant that meets every Friday morning and prays over requests not only from the school but also from the women who attend, who bring petitions from their network of family and friends.  It is an ingathering of needs from all around the world on many days.

Prayer, as a practice between me and God, is vital to my every waking moment.  It is like having a conversation with my best friend.  If I am truly in the moment with God, I hear answers to the issues I bring to Him.  I feel comforted or buoyed or peaceful or confident...whatever He deems necessary to cover me. 

When I am haphazardly praying, often just shooting "arrow prayers" at God, not putting much thought or effort behind what I'm saying, I often find myself hearing another voice, one that I know, instinctively, is NOT God.  It is the voice of the world, the voice of the evil one, trying to convict me that what he is saying is the truth.

I'll readily admit taking direction from that voice, and moving on issues, that were most decidedly (and, in retrospective I learned) Satan leading me down a primrose path.  And I went, merrily, until I realized "Hey!  This doesn't feel right.  And it is having a negative effect." and I took the issue back to the Lord in EARNEST prayer and corrected the path down which I was traveling.

I've learned, when you are duped by the devil, that you need to ask for forgiveness.  You need to mend the broken fence between you and God.  You need to be in right relationship with Him because you have just done something that, in the evil one's eyes, is reprehensible:  you've stopped cooperating with his plan.  And, that flat pisses him off.  And, I guarantee, he is going to try to retaliate.  So, having nothing blocking your relationship with God, is of extreme importance.

Sometimes Satan's retaliation can feel like its own curse.*  As if, by making a course correction for the better and asking God's forgiveness, that you've done the WRONG thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  But, it will take fortitude to stand WITH God against the enemy.

These are the times you'll feel tempted to quit.  But, don't!  Instead, take it straight to God for strength, rebuking Satan for his evil ways, and asking for wisdom and perseverance and, yes, the (often) dreaded patience.

If you quit every time a road block gets thrown up, you'll never realize the other side of the coin:  the blessings that come after the rain.  The ability to pull yourself up out of the mire, with God's help, and dance a jig of happiness.  If you give up, you never get to see the rainbow.  And missing that would just be a pity.

Prayer is a learned habit which, for many, doesn't come naturally.  They feel "goofy" talking aloud to God.  They worry that God really doesn't hear them.  They feel unworthy, because of sin, to even dare stand before Him and honestly admit their faults and mistakes.

Let me encourage you to just try.  Put aside all your concerns and find a quiet place and just start talking.  Let it all hang out.  Tell God where you are failing in life and ask Him to show you a better way.  And tell Him, honestly, that you are sorry. 

Don't worry about form or proper language or quoting scripture;  just speak.  And then get quiet and listen.  You may even want to get some paper and a pen because God has been known to have quite a bit to say when you are patient enough to wait for His responses!

And, when you hit the "Amen" at the end of your prayer?  Remember you are saying "SO BE IT" to God. 

According to His will, in His timing, He is working out plans for good for your life, with you being His wing man through prayer.

What a blessing and privilege and honor.

*Examples taken from real life:  about the time you figure out a monthly budget and are able to tithe for the first time, you have a car accident that completely wipes out your savings.  Or when you are waiting for that new insurance plan to kick in and your child breaks his arm.  Or when you are head of a committee and get unexpectedly sick the morning of the event.  When you are trying to do good or waiting for good to occur, the devil sees an opportunity to do just the opposite.  Don't give up on God's goodness!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Friendly Reminder

I was reminded by a sweet friend today that there comes a point where people stop asking how you are doing after you've lost a loved one.  They might ask how a relative, like the surviving parent, is doing.  But, rarely, do they ask about you.

I've found that to be true, as well.  Most of my days, I don't think too much about what I've lost because I have so much in front of me that is a blessing.  But, there are most certainly days when I realize Mom is gone.

Like lunch with a dear friend and her posse of friends, including her Mom, who was riding shotgun at the table.  Or when I walk down the card aisle at the grocery store around Mother's Day and I realize I have only one card to buy now.  Or when I hear news that a relative's Mom has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and, instinctively, I know how his heart feels.

Yes, time changes things.  Yes, time heals wounds.  But, some wounds run really deep and can't be cured by time.  They change.  They evolve.  The evidence of them is less evident to the outside world.  But, they are still there.

If I could go back and recapture one thing in my life it would be the dates each of the people I love have lost someone significant in their lives so that I could remember those dates when everyone else is forgetting.  So I could make that phone call on the anniversary that is drudging up memories or send that comforting email or shoot a prayer to God for peace.

In some ways, I think that acknowledging those days is more important than acknowledging an anniversary or a birthday.  Everyone is all excited for the "fun" events in life.  But, what about the days that hurt?

I'm blessed that I don't dread Wednesdays anymore.  I don't see them as the "day" that Mom died.
I'm glad that I haven't found myself in a funk during the holiday season, as everything that happened with Mom, from diagnosis to death, occurred from late October to late January.
I'm happy that I can be happy, even now that Mom is gone to a better home.

But, I know others aren't there yet.  And, I bet you do, too.  Why not give them that little reminder that you haven't forgotten?  That you are still available to listen.  That you still care that there is hurt in their lives and that you aren't a fair weather friend?

There's still time left in the day.  Why not do it now?