Monthly Archives: September 2012

Life at the Bottom of the Pig Pile

Owen (5yo, cozied up in my lap today as I watched the football game):  I know a good rule for our house, Mommy!!

Me (only paying half attention to my clever kid): OK, Honey. Tell me what your good rule is.

Owen (very assertively): We only go to the park on beautiful days.

Me (thinking there’s no harm in agreeing to THAT 5yo rule!):  Sure, Honey. Sounds like a good rule.

Owen (responding immediately):  Isn’t it a beautiful day outside, Mommy??

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HA!  OK, I’ve got to admit … I didn’t see THAT one coming! And while it didn’t quite get him to the park, it DID bring a ginormous smile to my face as I nuzzled his little neck with kisses.

Owen is the youngest in our home and is nearing in on six years old. His brothers are 9, 17, and 19 years old.  And his mom and dad are significantly older than that. Owen loves to initiate new rules, especially if they provide him with immediate benefits … but it goes deeper than that.  We hear, at least on a daily basis, Owen’s mantra: “You’re not the BOSS of me!”  That is followed by Mom’s musings, “Ummm … yeah. He kinds IS!”

For my youngest little man, it doesn’t even matter who he’s talking to. Dad is the boss of him. Mom is the boss of him. His oldest brother, when home from college, is the boss of him. His 17yo brother, when proving instruction or correction, is the boss of him.  Even his 9yo brother, who often knows better than Owen, is the boss of him. Owen pretty much lives life at the bottom of the pig pile! So … what’s it like down there? What view does he have when he looks up?

Imminent irritations likely imbue his days, leading him to assert his authority (or lack thereof!) in sputtering his oft-stated declaration. It goes beyond bossy big brothers though … Mom and Dad are tired leading to less play time; clothes usually come complete with holes; later night privileges are few in comparison to his brothers; and Mom will always call him “Baby” – just to name a few.

But to suggest that being the youngest provides a preponderance of problems would be hog wash (pun very intended)!  His youngest child status also affords him an array of advantages as he over-uses a hog-tied stance in life … Mom and Dad are tired so rules are less strict; he is coddled more and his actions are usually considered cute; the expected workload is often less; and Mom will always call him “Baby.”

Sometimes circumstances work to Owen’s favor, other times they do not. Incredibly, Owen hasn’t attempted the “Life’s not fair!” protest yet, but when he ushers it in, I’m ready. I’ve always been a fan of a local teacher who operates by a mantra of her own when dealing with her classroom kids’ protests as she replies, “Fair, but not equal.”

Owen (to our newest family member, Dutch, a 12 week-old Vizsla pup):  You’re not the BOSS of me!

Me: [Yeah …. This time he’s right.]

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Weekly Blog Challenge: Solitary

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Solitary: adjective \ˈsä-lə-ˌter-ē\  occurring singly and not as part of a group or cluster; singular.

One red leaf, in a sea of otherwise decaying leaves, stands out while drawing the eye in. Sometimes being different is a brilliant achievement to behold!

Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Fait Accompli: Vegan Pasghetti

For weeks now, my five year old has been asking me to make Pasghetti for dinner. Of course, he REALLY intends to say Spaghetti but has said it incorrectly for so long that we don’t even bother to correct it any longer!  We just join him in his mispronunciations!  😀

The only problem with conceding to the wishes of one kid, is that it typically runs contrary to the desires of another kid.  This was the case last night.

Owen:  Mommy, can you pleeeeease make Pasghetti tonight? We haven’t had that for a really long time!

Me: Sure, Honey. I’m hungry for pasghetti too!

Isaac:  Really?  Do I need to eat Pasghetti? Can you at least give me a small serving? You know how I feel about Pasghetti, Mom!

Thought Bubble:  “OK. It’s 2 p.m. and I have nothing else planned. I DO need something to feed the troops this evening and Pasghetti would be quick and easy. I’m going to count that as a consensus. After all, we got 2.5 yes votes. Curt and Aidan are not here so can’t really weigh in on the vote. And I consider non-votes to be YES votes anyway!”

Me:  Yes, Isaac, we’re having Pasghetti. Sorry, Dude, but it has been a while and the littles have been asking for it pretty constantly.

I walked to the pantry to take a quick inventory:  Ragu (Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Flavored) – check.  Whole Wheat Pasta – check. Fresh Garlic – check. Mushrooms – check.

A full 90 minutes after that conversation, I got the dreaded phone call from my husband inquiring about dinner.

Curt: I’m picking up hamburger so we can have Pasghetti tomorrow night.

Me:  Ummm …. we’re having that tonight.

Curt: But we have no hamburger.

Me:  Correct.  It will still be good though.

Thought Bubble #2:  He knows the vegan in me won’t eat the meat version and he’s generally been very supportive of my choices. He enjoys most of my vegan dishes without complaint that they are free of dead flesh, but I’m sensing that he wants the traditional meat-laden Pasghetti. Ugh!!  I have nothing else planned for tonight and I am HUNGRY!

Curt: We could eat pizza and you could just have whatever you want tonight. Then we could make the Pasghetti with meat tomorrow night.

Me: (Sigh ….. and a very pregnant pause) I suppose I could have peanut butter toast before training at karate tonight.

Curt:  OK. Go ahead and make the Pasghetti tonight. I’ll buy burger for next time.  The boys and I will have pizza tomorrow night instead of tonight.

Thought Bubble #3:  Whew.  I hate last minute changes!

I DID make Pasghetti last night, hurrying into the kitchen to begin it before anyone with substantial input could change their mind!  Fortunately I also found a package of TVP (textured vegetable protein) in the pantry to give the dish the texture that the men were missing. I hadn’t tried it out in anything yet and was worried I’d create a dish so horrid that I’d never be allowed another chance with vegan Pasghetti!  Other additions to the sauce included fresh garlic and mushrooms, along with some additional flavors from my plethora of spices that are lined up in my spice cabinet alphabetically for quick retrieval.

In the end everyone gave it a thumbs-up …. even the naysayers that approached this dinner with fear and trepidation!   As I cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes, I noted how very little remained as leftovers.  That was telling. 🙂  As was this comment this morning:

Owen:  Do we have any Pasghetti leftover for my lunch today?

Vegan Pasghetti  . . .  Nailed it!!!!!!!!

Life – The Game

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The Game of Life

It’s been a while since I’ve played Life. My older kids (19 and 17 years old) are really not interested in board games and haven’t been since they discovered video games. o_O  My two younger kids (8.83 and 5.92 years old) have recently rediscovered these gems that were long ago relegated to the far reaches of the basement, however, and LIFE hasn’t been quite the same since then.

Now I am greeted in the morning with an obligatory good morning, followed immediately with the question, “Do you want to play Life?” or “Can we please play Spy Alley?”  Don’t get me wrong – I’m SO glad they are requesting board games! They require cooperation, communication, creativity … most of which are all lacking when they choose the alternate – those dreaded video games!!

I couldn’t help but laugh as I played The Game of Life with my youngest yesterday!  How closely it emulates real life, right?

As the players spin and move around the board, they land on squares that are supposed to replicate …. LIFE.  One of several things may happen: the car lands on a happy little square where you’ve done something grand and you get to choose a LIFE card (seemingly no big deal immediately, but WOW … it pays off later in life!); the car lands on a happy little square where you’ve done something grand and you realize immediate financial gain; OR the car lands on a sad little square and you pay money either to the bank or to other players for a plethora of reasons (taxes, tattoos, and TVs to name just a few). But the number of happy, financial beneficial squares outweigh the sad, cost-incurring squares, so …… LIFE IS GOOD!  🙂

Each player begins with a car.  HEY!  I never began life WITH a car! Before I could get a car, I had to have a job and have money in the bank so I could make payments.

The players are given the option to buy or NOT to buy automobile insurance. That’s not even a CHOICE for most of us. In Minnesota, a licensed vehicle MUST carry liability, personal injury protection, uninsured motorist, and under-insured motorist coverage. To opt out of this is illegal and carries a significant fine if the indiscretion is discovered. Buying automobile insurance WILL save you cash later in the game, however, if you happen to land on one of those sad, cost-incurring squares declaring you’ve been in an accident. So while this does not quite imitate the legal consequences to non-insured motorists, it DOES imitate risk-avoidance assessment!

Each player can choose to go to college, acquiring immediate debt.  OK, admittedly that part is incredibly realistic, but the debt incurred in the game is a mere pittance in comparison to actual debt incurred by young adults unequipped with wealthy parents – which are NOT an option in this game!  Deciding against college is an option in the game but will limit your salary immediately. OK, that is probably pretty realistic, too.

Quite often a spin can result in passing TWO PAYDAY squares simultaneously. Sweet!  I would LOVE that option in real life! How do I sign up?

Securing employment is not optional in Life. Everyone has to work if they expect to proceed! What a noble concept that is!  You can, however, choose from a few career cards ranging from a rock star to a doctor, with a number of obsoleted careers falling in between those choices. And you’ll have some options regarding an associated (or not!) salary!  Beware though, because if you BEGIN your career as a doctor earning $100K per year, someone MAY have the privilege of exchanging salaries with you midway through Life while remaining in their same career! That’s realistic, right?  o_O

You don’t WANT to get married? Tough. You can’t proceed without a spouse!  But take heart … You’ll also get a LIFE card (with the promise of future riches!) with that spouse!  It’s as though that spouse came with a modern-day dowry! And per my youngest (and wittiest?) child, women CANNOT be in the driver’s seat. It’s to dangerous. Even WITH insurance! (What da ….. ?  Makes me wonder whom he’s been talking to!)

You don’t WANT a house?  Again, if you want to proceed, you’ll have to buy one! And again, insurance is entirely optional, mortgage or not. Realistic …. um, no. Definitely not. But it’s a consistent (just not fair or well thought out) 25% of the value of your chosen home, whether you choose the home on Monsoon Bay, the Victorian mansion with a nicely manicured lawn, or entry level, split-level, fixer-upper dump!

You don’t WANT kids? You don’t get to choose that for yourself but kids come with Life cards, too!  It’s incentive to have MORE kids. Load up the car, Honey!  One day this will all pay off financially!!

There are stock options, too, where you can either make a small fortune or dole out a few easily earned pay checks to the bank. We ignore those. I decided to do that after observing the deer-in-headlights stare after I tried to explain stock options to a five-year-old.  THAT probably emulates Life since I don’t really have a good grasp of the stock market and largely ignore it myself! 🙂

As each player spins their way into retirement, there exists a choice to live at either Countryside Acres or Millionaire Estates. Either way, you’ll end up retiring wealthy as all those Life cards are redeemed so it’s a win-win situation. Assessing your accomplishments, totaling their value, and counting your cash at the end of the game of Life will determine the REAL winner. In this case, yes, the old saying rings true: He who retires with the most money wins!

In hindsight, I’m not sure if I inadvertently taught Owen that material STUFF with great monetary value are the greatest goals in Life. I could argue with myself (and I always win!!!) that he is learning turn-taking, counting, the concepts of banking, and the fleeting nature of money, and risk-assessment. But he’s five. The latter items are entirely unnecessary for him however at this stage of his Life!

I guess the game DID teach him a few things though.  He probably noted that he was broke after spending money on things he didn’t really need to have … that lake cabin and sailboat comes quickly to mind!  He also likely noticed that, as we journey through Life, events will likely occur that will not have been in our own foreseeable future.

He probably missed the very real lesson that risk is inherent in Life. Some risks will require more thought or effort than others and may or may not work in our favor. We will take other risks that afford less effort and garner and the payback might end up being incredible, even if delayed.

My own Life has been fraught with risk. While I’ve taken numerous risks, there has been one risk I’ve been unwilling to take. That would be the risk of neglecting to entrust my Life to Christ. With Him, the journey can still be bumpy but without him the end is so very, very bleak. With Christ as my Savior, I WILL end up at Millionaire Estates regardless of my financial status here on earth.

Where will YOU retire? Do you know? Don’t risk it … It won’t bode well for you, Friend.

Of Lady Trees and Beautiful Things!

When our local elementary school closed unexpectedly due to a power outage last week, the day that I had planned looked nothing like I had anticipated! I found it challenging to balance the class load of my high school senior taking college courses from home, my eight and five year olds who really find the thrill of the day in interrupting everyone else’s life with goofy stories and endless questions, and an 11 week old puppy who loves attention and will do almost anything to get it, including eating the kitchen cupboards and leaving random puddles for me to discover with my socks!

The evening prior to this chaos included a study of Scripture regarding significance with a group of ladies from church. It was of no surprise then that as I muddled through the following day attending to each task as it sprouted from the necessities of those in our home, I found myself wondering, “Could my life ever be one of significance? I feel so overwhelmed just completing the mundane tasks before me.”

I got the answer to that question shortly after dinner that same evening while I cleaned the food-laden hands of my five year-old son as he declared, “Look at the TREES, Mommy!! Aren’t they beautiful? They must be LADY trees!”  🙂  I paused to consider the notion that when he sees something of beauty, he relates it to the feminine gender which is a trait that I believe uncommon in such a young tyke.  I smiled at my littlest man, appreciating the blessings he brings to my life with the words that flow freely and humorously from him every day!

The fact that he readily recognized the beauty in trees should not have surprised me at all since I see that as a common trait in him. He notes the beauty of the sun as it eclipses the hill; the smile on the face of the baby passing by in her mother’s arms;  the lyrics and melody of the song on the radio; and the dresses that I wear (at least on special occasions!).

As I contemplated his notion of beautiful trees being lady trees later that evening, I realized that he sees the BEAUTY and SIGNIFICANCE in what I’ve been seeing as the every day; the mundane. And it became clear that he esteems ME in the same way; beautiful and significant … not just because I’m a lady, but also because I’m his MOM – his object of love, a person who helps him through his day, one who rescues him from himself!  (And if you KNOW him, you know that last one is very necessary!)

Yes ~ I have my answer. Me, my life;  I AM significant already. I need only to LOOK with fresh eyes; the same eyes that see the beauty in a tree, a sunset, a baby’s smile, a song, and a dress. Those fresh eyes will give me a new lease on life every morning I wake up as I allow myself the blessings of seeing beauty and significance in my everyday surroundings.

What can you see differently today?  I’d love to hear about it!

 

From Side Stage

Yesterday was very unlike the typical Saturday morning – and it was a change of pace that provided an incredible learning moment.

I usually get up early, pry my youngest sons from both the wonder of their dreams and the warmth of their blankets, encourage them to find clothing choices devoid of holes that actually match, fix a light breakfast for us, pack uniforms, water bottles, snacks, toys, crayons, and coloring books, and usher them out the door and into the mini people mover in what can be considered nothing less than Olympic record-setting time.

Following that early morning flurry, we drive 50 miles south to a community center so the boys can partake in their martial arts training. They begin the hour-long instruction at 9:45 a.m., often still engulfed in morning-brain-fog when they walk in.  Normally my boys would attend their class, change into their civilian clothes, find their crayons and snacks and hunker down for a couple hours before departing for the journey home.

See … I normally help instruct on Saturday mornings, not just their class but the classes that follow. Like my sons, I’m suited up in uniform also, assisting in any way asked to help the classes run smoothly for the children. I don’t consider it work since I revel in those light bulb moments when the children suddenly get it! And it’s good for ME to learn how to break down a technique in manageable pieces so children can learn it.  In this, teaching becomes a growth opportunity rather than a task.

Yesterday, however, I was suffering through the eleventh day of a head cold and was feeling miserable in every aspect. Since I’m not one to often give in to illness, I packed my own uniform, filled my personal water bottle, and determined to fill my usual role.  As I drove those 50 grueling miles though, only able to draw breath through my mouth and struggling to get past the larger-than-life pain at the base of my neck, it came clear to me that I just might need to sit this one out and take on the role of a parent-spectator.

Fortunately the available instructors were willing to take on the classes without my assistance yesterday. And as I sat with the other parents, literally on a stage to the side of the room, I was able to observe my own kids without  simultaneously teaching seven others!

[Allow me to interject here that my two youngest sons

Eighth Gup!!

have been in martial arts training for only 8.5 months.  AND they are only 8 and 5 years old respectively. (Although, if you ask my youngest son, he is 5.5 years old, NOT five years old!) However, I have been training now for over nine years and am a little bit older than they are!]

As I watched, I struggled between that feeling of pride of accomplishment for what my boys did well and frustration for all those techniques that I wanted to jump out of my seat to fix for them! If you know me, you know that refraining from what I want to say and do is probably one of the most difficult tasks for me. So I sat, side stage, and watched. And watched. And watched …  with that feeling of both pride and frustration growing within me, each battling to be triumphant.

Summing up the conflicting conversation occurring between Pride and Frustration?  It might sound something similar to this:

P: Wow! He really knows the pattern of this form!!

F: Lower your front stance!  Place that block over your front leg!

P: Hey! He’s paying attention to the instructor and responding accordingly.

F: (the next moment) Hey!! Pay attention to the instructor and respond!

P: Nice kick!

F: Don’t forget to chamber the back hand. Keep your guard up.

P: Amazingly, they are starting to look like leaders in this group!

F: Get your weight on your back leg. Fix your line of sight.

And so it goes.

If you’re a parent, if you’ve ever taught children, even if you’ve ever just observed children at play, I know you’ve been there. There is a sense of wanting to fix things for kids, whether or not they are your children, but ESPECIALLY if they are your children. And when you sit side stage and are rendered unable to do that, it can be challenging at best to remain in-check. I DID still learning something, sitting there off to the side. I learned the role of parent-spectator: how to help build their confidence while silently noting areas for future growth (all while keeping quiet); how to encourage with just a look of approval as they glance over hoping to see just that; how to support an instructor by being present in an appropriate manner; and how to trust that the instructor also has your children’s best interest in mind.

Most importantly I learned that sitting side stage, the role as parent-spectator is also THAT of a student! Lessons exist if the mind is open to learning them. There exist many other times in life where circumstances necessitate that parents are the main instructors for their children. However, enrolling children in any type of program where we are NOT the instructor, not the coach, not the tutor …. it necessitates a little bit of letting go and a lot of trust. And in sitting side stage, we might just get more than we paid for, provided we assume our proper role.

Then gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you willing to take it up, Parent-Spectator? Come sit alongside me and learn lessons alongside your children.

 

Through a Shattered Mirror

Have you ever had the opportunity to look at your image through a shattered mirror? What is seen there is nothing short of incredibly fascinating! In that shattered image lies reflections of YOU, shards of reality depicting an overarching broken image; an offset eye, an elongated arm, crooked lips, lopsided ears, broken fingers, a missing foot.  To say that the picture reflected back resembles a Picasso painting would be a gross understatement!

Gazing at that shattered image, the eye cannot help but be drawn to the unusual array that that comes together jaggedly as our own personal reflection. It’s a reflection that is flawed, yet in those flaws there is beauty.  One might even argue that BECAUSE of those flaws, there is beauty! Picasso seemed to have a handle on this as he met his artistic calling.  Paul also understood this when he wrote in 1 Cor 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely just as God now knows me completely.” (NLT)

The concept of flaws …. This is a tough concept to tackle. Personally, I desire to do and be my very best but, like everyone, I am plagued by several character flaws that block that goal. However we are still mandated by Scripture in 1 Cor 10:31 (ESV): “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  (emphasis mine) To give less than our best is not God-glorifying. And as I always remind my five year-old, HE KNOWS!  Yet the key lies in doing our personal best.  Running through the frantic paces of life, we all too readily see the other person’s best and try to emulate that. When we fall short, we revisit our effort with the all too common question, “What did I do wrong?”  The wrongdoing is that we attempted to be someone else other than who we were created to be. In Psalm 139, the Psalmist reminds us that God created each of us uniquely, marvelously, and wonderfully complex. That shattered mirror reflects back the wonderful complexities that intertwine to make us unique. And each piece is there for a reason, serving a purpose that we often do not see.

Recently a good friend pointed out that I was excessively hard on myself. (It’s OK … I requested a list of weaknesses!) It’s definitely not the first time I’ve been told that either. I’m coming to realize that I have a tendency to focus on the brokenness in that mirror; the spaces in between each small piece that comprises my whole person. While it’s fine to have high expectations, focusing on the brokenness does not provide an accurate representation of who I am and what I’m worth.

So what WILL provide an accurate representation?  We clearly cannot rely on our own views; they are distorted. Nor can we rely on the views of others since that would assume that we are attempting to earn their acceptance.  The focus needs to be on LIVING OUT OUR UNIQUENESS … simply being ourselves and resisting the tendency to become lost in whom we think we should be.

God didn’t utter the word, “Oops!” when He created me, nor when he created YOU.  We are as we were meant to be. My challenge comes in discovering my uniqueness, acknowledging it, and living it. Can I invite you to do the same? Take a look in that mirror, understand it is shattered, but understand also that God sees us through HIS mirror.  It is clear. It is whole. It is perfect.