Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 22: Baileys-Free Holidays

The other night while watching TV, there was a commercial for Bailey's Irish Cream in which this lady drags a bottle through her houseful of odd party guests in even odder situations.  Mr. Hat remarked, "This doesn't make me want to buy this product at all." I suggested the effective ad would feature the woman at a family holiday gathering surrounded by all the family members who otherwise annoy, despise or avoid each other.  She would take a sip of her Baileys and suddenly be surrounded by pleasant, sparkling guests as a tagline says, "Baileys Irish Cream makes everything better." That, I think, would work.

I jest, but we hear so much this time of year of family disfunction. There are classics like "Christmas Vacation" based on this seasonal phenomena of gathering with people you don't particularly like and sometimes outright can't stand just because it's a holiday, you're family, and therefore togetherness is mandatory. So they groan and head off to Mom and Dad's or Aunt Jane's, spending in misery what should be a pleasant celebration.

Fortunately for me, this is not my reality. Having grown up together, my husband and I have families who were already acquainted and friends. We have healthy relationships with our parents and siblings. There might be the occasional scheduling hitch for these grand events, but we can all gather in the same room and end up with nothing but laughter and good conversation. We often fold in my brother's in-laws, too, with the same happy result. I could, if I chose, drink Baileys at these gatherings for the taste and not the bracing.

I'm lucky - and I know it.  I also feel blessed that, barring my sister and her family, all in our family unit are within a half-hour drive of our home. We don't have to make choices about which family we'll see this year, knowing we won't see the other family until the next one.  Having once upon a time lived away from them all, I treasure the proximity.

So as I enjoy our TWO Thanksgiving feasts on Thursday, I'll be grateful as I pass along the turkey instead of the Baileys.

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 21: The Giant Hamster Wheel

OK, I know.  I'm late AGAIN!

And that's because, well, life this time of year is busy, full of the mundane but at increased volume.

As I was preparing to fall exhausted into bed last night, I was reflecting on how mundane it all is.  Get up and dressed, wake the Alpha and Omega kids, get them out the door with Mr. Hat, chug coffee, greet Ms. Grump, goad Ms. Grump to get ready for school, drive her there, come home, pick up, chug more coffee and catch up with friends on Facebook and/or blogs, shower (if I'm lucky), work or run errands, eat, work some more, fetch Alpha and Omega again, drop them off at home, get back in the car five minutes later and go get Ms. Grump, come home, muse about dinner, stall about dinner, start dinner, split up squabbles, help with homework, get them all in bed...  It's like I'm stuck on one giant hamster wheel, running and running, getting no further.

But you know what? My child isn't fighting cancer. My spouse isn't eking out his last days of life. We aren't unemployed, wondering how to pay for necessary groceries and heat. We aren't scrambling to find housing because we're being foreclosed on or our landlord has made other plans. We aren't laid up, trying to recover from surgery or wounds. I'm not fighting for my life in a divorce. I'm not single parenting. These are but a handful of terribly real struggles my own friends and acquaintances are enduring.  There are millions more people living in war zones and land stricken with famine.

I'm thankful for mundane.  It's a GOOD place to be.

So I'll just keep running and running...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 20: UN Midwest

This afternoon, I ate lunch with my family in a corner of a large room at our church, looking over 15 other tables with seven to eight people at each.

Each table was diverse in age and race, the room ranging from newborn to 50-something.  We all had one thing in common: adoption.  This room was full of parents who made significant financial and emotional sacrifices, biological children who made room for more, and children who were once orphans or at-risk.

Ten years ago, there were perhaps a dozen adoptive families at our church.  Today, we have at least three times that.  Just since January, we have had three families return with new children from around the globe, and two others who will be expanding their families before the year is out.

I'm always overwhelmed with gratitude to see these gatherings getting larger and larger, knowing the stories behind each family unit, and to be one of them.

I sat there, knowing the dismal future (if any) these kids have been redeemed from, and make mental comparisons to their new reality.  They aren't just saved, they are loved.  I watch the spontaneous hugs and kisses these former orphans lavish on their new parents and the affection returned. I see the little ones sitting on laps, arms around their mothers' necks.  I giggle to watch the gentle interaction between older, biological children and their younger adopted siblings.  My heart swells with their sense of security and worth.

These kids have come from China, Ethiopia, Russia, Korea, Haiti, Guatemala, and within the US. Many came as sibling groups, instantly doubling the size of their new families. Some came with the additional challenges of limb deformities, deafness, cleft palates, or serious illness. Some came "healthy" and had serious conditions discovered later, conditions they probably would not have survived had they not been adopted, yet are manageable in the US. They've been harshly abandoned on trash heaps, lovingly turned over to orphanages to save their lives, or sacrificially given in adoption to give them a better future.

All of them needed a family.

And, boy, they found not just one, but two. They also have this church family, a huge group of people who prayed for them before they were known, helped their parents prepare, and celebrated every milestone in their adoption process.  People who will continue to pray for them, teach and mentor them, and encourage their parents. A large group that just keeps getting bigger, changing the world one family at a time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 17: Easy Bounty

Perhaps I should be thankful today for an ability to count or read a calendar, because I can, despite the fact that I posted "18" before "17." I was trying to rush November, as though it wasn't already flying by fast enough. Indulge me and pretend day 18 is really 17 and vice versa.

I often complain about grocery shopping.  I. hate. it.  Actually, I'm not sure there's any possible way to utilize the English language or font treatments to correctly capture just how much I loathe it.

Sale stuff I've planned a week of dinners of is often out of stock.  Other items I've come to rely on for certain recipes are suddenly removed from stock.  The produce department is rearranged every week. My fellow shoppers seem to be in a parallel universe in which they are alone; I can see them, but clearly they cannot ever see me. Cashiers bag my things in completely illogical ways despite the fact I already organize it all on the belt exactly the way it needs to be bagged. And if it fits, they'll cram it in.  It doesn't matter if I have 50 pounds worth of canned goods in one bag.  It's a miserable place to be most days.

But I always leave with several bags of food.  Food I didn't have to grow, raise, butcher, preserve, and in some cases, cook.  Food that's just there, ready when I want it, in quantity beyond my needs.  Exotic and gourmet food beyond the basics needed for survival is heaped up so much that they can't even put it all on the shelves requiring them to keep some in massive back rooms.

Once upon a time, there was a show called "Frontier House" in which modern souls turned themselves into frontier settlers for a social experiment. At the end of the series, they were rated on their preparedness for winter, because for the real frontier settlers 150 years ago, if you didn't personally grow, hunt or raise/butcher enough, you'd die. It was interesting to watch how unaccustomed to the labor and wait these men and women were.

Thanksgiving is a time at which we recall a celebration by pilgrims and Native Americans.  They celebrated and feasted because they were able to raise, hunt and preserve enough bounty to see them through a long New England winter, unlike earlier years and other settlements.  They knew what it was to starve.

Source: www.plimouth.org

Each week, I waltz in and out in an hour or so, loading up my basket with more food than many people around the world get in a month - or longer.  I tote it home, moaning under the weight of the bags that have to be schlepped into the house, and sighing over the task of putting it all away.  Yet, I didn't have to keep a cow for milk. I didn't have to hunt and butcher something for meat. I didn't have to raise wheat, get it ground and then spend hours making bread.  I not only didn't have to make my own cheese, I can buy it already sliced or shredded. Sure, some of us do can, hunt, raise chickens and beef, but it's optional, a "hobby" instead of survival.

It's crazy-easy, massive bounty I so often take for granted to the point of complaint. I even complain about having to turn it into "dinner" each night.

Which makes me realize it's about that time to head to the kitchen and figure out what "sounds good" for dinner. See? We have such bounty we can decide what we're in the mood for.

Easy, plentiful bounty.

Photos: Microsoft Office unless otherwise specified

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 18: Baby, It's Cold Outside

You know that weather when you walk outside and the wind takes your breath away because it's so cold? Yeah, it's like that around here lately, and we still have another 30-40 degrees (F) to drop before we're in the dead of winter.  That wind just bites.

Which is why I'm thankful to have shelter. Not just shelter, but a home. A home with heat, a bed with down comforter, adequate clothing and cold-weather gear.

Our house is old, as in "built before anyone ever heard of insulation" old.  And it has its original windows. Heating it to a comfortable level is a challenge most days and impossible on the coldest days, but still, I'm not up under a highway overpass trying to eke out an existence in a cardboard box while the wind howls and the "feels like" temperature is -10F.  No.  I'm sitting on a comfortable couch with snuggly blankets, drinking hot tea or chocolate, listening to the furnace blow warmed air through massive antique vents.

Sure, the plaster is cracked in places and the floor is so out of level that one can shoot a marble in one corner of the dining room and have it circle the room and come right back.  Sure, it requires never-ending maintenance and then some.  But it keeps us dry and warm, which is so much more than many have.

So I'm not going to sit here listening to the wind howl and the furnace activate in rapid succession as it tries to keep up with the cold, and think of all the dollars it costs to keep it running. I'm not going to lament the drafts and cold walls. Instead, I'm going to think just how fortunate I am that I have gas heat to pay for, the means to do it, and that it's just drafts and not full-on chilly winds unchecked in their velocity.

I'm fortunate to be inside and warm.  Because baby, it's cold outside.

Photos: Microsoft Office

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 16: Travel Companions

This is the 16th in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

A friend should be one in whose understanding and virtue we can equally confide, and whose opinion we can value at once for its justness and its sincerity. - Robert Hall

Being human is often a difficult thing. We give of ourselves to family, employers, friends. We trust, we care, we invest in the people in our lives.

Being a mother is even harder. You do all these things at a sacrificial level and add to the burden the future of these beings you are responsible for. It's your job to take this helpless little thing and turn her into an adult who will responsibly and lovingly give of themselves.

Along the way, those little beings will be beasts. And sometimes, they are extra beastly. And they break your heart, challenge you, and push the limits of your patience, understanding and wisdom.

Which is why I'm so thankful for a group of friends who have my back. These women expand my patience, help me understand, and share their wisdom when mine is maxed out. And when things come right again, they celebrate with me, even to tears of joy.

Even better, they trust me with their own struggles. They let me return the favor of confidence and prayer. They share their joy with me when their things come right, too. It is such a privilege and honor to pour back into them, to care about their journey in mothering, to pray over their kids. They are some of the finest minds and wits I know - and they still think I have something to contribute to them. (Don't banish their delusion, OK?)

We aren't geographically near each other, and it's hard sometimes not to be able to provide the practical help one wishes to give, like childcare in a pinch, a meal post-surgery, a hug and tissues. But I'm so thankful that the miles don't keep us from caring about each other and sharing our struggles and triumphs.

I've still got many miles to go on this road called motherhood. Fortunately, I love the company.

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 15: Mad Scientists

This is the 15th in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

Epic fail.  I didn't get anything posted yesterday.  But let's pretend it's still Tuesday and I did this right on time.

Because on Tuesday - well, every day, really - I was thankful for pharmaceuticals.

I hope there will be a special place in heaven for the inventor(s) of Benedryl -- and those who made a cheaper knock-off.  I go through vats of it, just so I can be presentable in public and not sit and scratch incessantly.

For seven of the last nine years, I've had hives and angio edema all day, every day, head to toe. Benedryl keeps me sane.  I can get through the day without tearing my skin off.  I can eat something other than water. It lets me sleep at night instead of scratching and aching.  It keeps my face, limbs and digits from looking like Hitch when he ate the mushroom.  It protects my airways and keeps me alive.

And I don't draw the thankfulness line at Benedryl.  I appreciate albuterol that clears my son's asthma.  I ADORE Adderall that has turned living with Grace from hell to normal, and helps her go from failing to meeting academic standards.

I appreciate the scientists and investors who recognize a problem and invest lots of money and years of trial and error to find solutions to make certain conditions bearable. Do they profit from it? Yes.  Do I care? Not really, because they save my life (and Grace's) every. single. day.  I might be biased, but I think saving my life is worth something.

Like a special spot in heaven.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 14: Vroom, Vroom

This is the 14th in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

It's after 9 pm - about 12 hours later than I've been posting most of my "thankfulness" series.  

It was a crazy-busy day, half of it spent on the road, which leads me to what I'm thankful for today: reliable transportation.

I got in and out of that van a bazillion times today.  Each time I put the key back into the ignition and turned it, it started on cue.  Ripping down the expressway, there was no shimmy, shake or weird noise coming from the engine.  The cruise control worked, the radio blared, and I got from point A to point B (and C, D, E and F) in comfort and on time.

I didn't have to wait in the rain or schedule a full day to take the bus, which is good, considering one destination would have been impossible to reach by bus.  I didn't have to feed and harness horses; fortunate, because the number of miles I covered today would have taken two or three days by horse and wagon.  I didn't have to jumpstart the battery, stop and fill a leaky radiator somewhere along the way, make sure the muffler was still attached via a jimmy-rigged wire hanger, or change a flat tire.  I stopped at traffic lights and continued again when it was green.

Tomorrow, more than likely, I'll get up early, put the key back in and give it a turn, and the engine will instantly roar to life, ready for another day on chauffer duty.

And one of these days, it'll take me to a point G, where I can forget about points A-F for a while. Vroom, vroom!

Photos: Microsoft Office

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 13: Zzzzzzzzzzz

This is the 13th in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

Today, I'm thankful for naps.  Energy restoring, cold fighting, lazy afternoon naps.

Which should explain the brevity of today's post.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 12: Turn, Turn, Turn

This is the 11th in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

To everything (turn, turn, turn...)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn...)

Frankly, that song drives me nuts.  About as much as winter does, which is why I was less than thrilled to see those big, fat clusters of snowflakes falling from the sky and stacking up on my lawn this week.

I'd like Winter well enough if I could stay inside with books, hot chocolate and a blanket, watching the lazy flakes float down, making tree branches lacy and leaving me with a snow-globe world.

Source: Microsoft Office

Instead, I'm driving multiple times a day on slippery roads, praying I'll make it alive to wherever I'm going. And before that, I'm shoveling and salting the 45-degree slope of my driveway four times a day, lest I go sliding out into the five lanes of highway traffic at the end of it.

We get ridiculous amounts of snow in our driveway.

Watching those snow flakes this week, I found myself dreading the five to six months of winter that now remain, panicked that I'll ever make it to Spring.  And then I realized that I wouldn't get Spring without the Winter.

The yellow riot of forsythia...

Source: Wikipedia

The fruit trees in bloom...

Nodding tulips...

Source: Microsoft Office

And without Spring, I wouldn't get Summer.

The weekends at the lake...

Old-fashioned roses...

Walks on the beach...

And without Summer, I wouldn't get the best of all: Autumn.

The glorious colors against a true-blue sky...

The giant orange pumpkins in my father's garden...

The stunning purple asters...

I know there are places I could live where it's Summer all year.  But I'd miss Spring and Fall.  And I've lived where there's Spring, Summer, Fall and a snowless Winter, but the "Winter" is brown, gray and drab, a world covered in mud and dead grass.  Somehow, the snow globe is so much more appealing, even if it means months of white-knuckled driving and whole days spent shoveling.

So, I guess in the end, I'm actually thankful for a proper Winter and its beauty.

Remind me in January, will you?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 11: Sacrifice and Service

This is the 11th in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

Once upon a time, there was a young man in a small boat.  He was tasked with ferrying men in arms from their huge ships to the beach, dropping them off and returning for more, over and over again.  He'd spent months practicing how to make the trip, land, deliver, unload, repeat as efficiently and quickly as possible.

That beach was Omaha.  The man was my grandfather.  And many of those men he dropped off didn't ever get to come home.  One died in his arms, trying to disembark.

Source: www.history.navy.mil

My grandfather made it and pressed eastward, eventually meeting my grandmother in Vienna.  He recounted this story once, for a national oral history project capturing first-hand accounts of WWII; it was the only time I've ever seen him cry.

Throughout American history, there are thousands of stories of harrowing sacrifice and daunting service in our efforts for independence, union, and freedom.  There are many currently stationed around the world, away from their families, facing real battle and risk.  Today, on Veteran's Day, we celebrate as a nation those men and women and give thanks for their sacrifice and service.

Source: www.milpages.com

Their families, too, share in the sacrifice as they single parent, manage home repairs, weather illness, and handle other necessities alone on the home front, all the while worrying about their loved one's safety.  And sometimes, they learn the worst and have to endure it.

Source: http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com

I'm so thankful for these men and women and the families behind them.

I'm proud to know that my family and my husband's have served in our military for many generations, in peacetime and in war, when their country needed them to keep peace, protect our freedoms, prevent genocide, and free others.

I'm indebted to them all today and every day, year round.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 10: Magic Carpets and Time Machines

This is the tenth in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

I've been in European castles during the Middle Ages.  I've listened in on conversations at major world events.  I've hunted assassins, gardened in Prussia, spent an April in Italy.  I've built log cabins, travelled the prairies in a covered wagon and roamed the untamed wilderness of Wyoming.  I've agonized with a romantically challenged red-headed orphan in Canada, seen mercy extended in revolutionary France, listened in on the trials of marrying off a houseful of daughters to advantage.

To travel this far around the world and back in forth in time, one of course needs a magic carpet and a time machine.  I have several of each.

They're called books.

Source: www.cb-smith.com

I'm so thankful for literacy, my own ability to read and understand what others have written.  I'm thankful for the talents and imaginations of many authors, and that they took the time to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and shared the fruits of their creativity and knowledge.

I value the content of books, the raw ability to transport me to another place and time, vividly describing the sights, sounds and smells.

I love old books and the workmanship they contain, so rare in today's printed copies: vellum papers over beautiful art, illustrated borders, embossed covers in now-faded colors, marbled end papers.  I see inscriptions, stains, and forgotten momentos tucked within, and think of its previous owner.  Did they love this book as I do?

Source: browndresswithwhitedots.tumblr.com

I love my modern books dispensed in electronic format on my small, slim e-reader, a whole library in less space than a paperback, infinitely portable, ready to whisk me away from the doctor's waiting room to another place in time.

I enjoy reading the stories I read when I was younger, seeing them with a whole new perspective.  I no longer identify only with Laura; I'm impressed with all Ma had to do and how difficult it all was.  I finish those books with new appreciation for my modern conveniences.

My favorites are now read by my own children.  Classic books are like a thread from one generation to the next, so basic in plot and emotion that each generation can still identify with it, despite the realities of their era.

Source: Anthropologie

We share our favorites with friends, base conversations and clubs on books.  We long to see them as movies, but are always disappointed when they fail to meet the expectation of our imagination.

We count on them as escape in lines, on planes, and during quiet moments stolen from the ruckus of daily life, snuggled on the couch with a cup of steaming coffee nearby.

Ah, there's that beep, the coffee maker telling me my brew is ready.  Guess I'm off to ride my magic carpet... or will it be a time machine?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 9: Existence

This is the ninth in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.
Last night I got myself "swankified," cramming myself in to nylons and heels, thankful I only have to do that once in a blue moon.  I threw some pizza in the oven for the kids and raced out the door, headed downtown, where I joined 750 like-minded people for dinner.

We were there to raise funds to help women have true choice, to fund an organization that sees women every day who fear abortion is their ONLY option in a crisis pregnancy.  They stand in the gap, advising women there are other choices and then making them possible.  They materially provide for those who choose to parent, giving them necessary equipment, diapers, formula and clothing well beyond infancy. They give referrals for those choosing to place their child for adoption.  They treat and counsel men and women with STDs, and work with teens with the intent of heading off a crisis pregnancy that puts one in an awful position of having to choose life or abortion.

For me, the issue of abortion is intensely personal, because I was a crisis pregnancy.  I'm here because abortion wasn't legal 42 years ago.  My siblings are here because without abortion freeing my parents to go separate directions, they married and had more children.  My nephews and nieces are here because my siblings existed. My oldest child is here because I was allowed to live.  That's an awful lot of people who might not have existed if abortion had been an option in 1969.

I have two other children whose lives were spared, born of two different women.  One chose life in a situation many pro-lifers condone abortion for.  The other pursued an abortion, thankfully talked out of it by a friend who took her to a crisis pregnancy center in her city.

I can't imagine the world without my kids.  No entertainment from Gracie.

No grins from John.

It breaks my heart to think of how many other funny, quirky kids aren't brightening their corners of the world.  How many affectionate little guys aren't lavishing hugs on the people they could have loved?  All of them are missing for no other reason than because they were inconvenient.  It's shocking, isn't it?  Inconvenience is road construction and detours, not life.  Life is precious.

I'm thankful that I got to live, even though I was monstrously inconvenient.  I love my kids and I'm so tremendously grateful to have them as mine; I constantly give thanks for their birth parents looking past fear and inconvenience to choose life.

To me, "pro-abortion" is the same as "pro-Jen and her kids not existing."  It's saying we're only worth something if we were planned on and convenient at the moment.

Because abortion wasn't a choice, I get to make hundreds of choices every day.

And so do you. Aren't you glad your mom chose life?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 8: The 19th

This is the eighth in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

Today, I will head to the polls to vote, my daughter in tow.

It's "just" a local election, the sort so many overlook and think are unimportant, an inconvenience to be squeezed into a busy schedule if it can be done with little effort.  I bet a lot of people don't even realize today has an election, we're so busy listening to the carping on next year's presidential and congressional election.

For me, though, every election is important.  Local elections impact our communities and schools every bit as much as national elections do.  Local officials often set off on a trajectory to state and national office.  Local matters.

As a woman, I'm doubly grateful to vote.  It's hard for us to fathom in the modern age that once upon a time, we were deemed incapable of discerning a candidate's suitability for office, too weak to cast a vote based on logic and not sentimentality.  Surely, our husbands and fathers were better equipped to weigh such matters; our place was in the home, concerned with children, laundry and baking bread.

Thousands of women were imprisoned, injured, and shunned in the quest for the right to vote. They struggled for a century and a half until, finally, in 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Sadly, there still are places in this world where women continue to be denied the right to vote, places where women are still struggling to be heard, to gain the right to help decide who will make the policies that affect her life.

So go.  Vote today.  Blacken those bubbles, punch those holes, mark your ballots, mindful of just how fortunate you are to do so.

A vote is a terrible thing to waste.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 7: School

This is the seventh in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

There's nothing quite like a day off from school to make a mom extra thankful for good schools.

We've been blessed by the two schools our kids attend.  Both schools utilize their grounds in educating their students, getting kids outside every day and learning hands-on beyond science class and field trips.

Math?  Let's go out into the woods and compare oaks and maples as we study ratios and graphing.

Social Studies? Head to the garden, pick the stuff you need, and make salsa for Spanish class.  Build an adobe oven and cook food in it.

Botany? Sow seeds, watch them sprout, plant them, and harvest as you observe the life cycle of plants.

Biology? Go outside and find native animal and plant species, or evidence of them.  Dip nets into the pond to see the diverse life it contains.

English? Write a research paper on a particular animal, ecosystem, or plant.

They have passionate teachers wanting to see them excel.  One of our schools requires students who are struggling with a subject to stay after school an extra hour for tutor time with the teacher of that subject; you can voluntarily participate as well.

Our school culture is terrific as well, with many family fun events that allow us as parents to better know our kids' teachers and classmates while developing friendships with fellow parents.

Sure, I could provide a like education if I home-schooled, but my kids probably wouldn't survive to be educated.  I know my limits.

Which is why I'm thankful to send them off to school every day, Monday through Friday, knowing they'll be well cared for, happy, active and learning.

Every day, that is, except for those pesky school holidays...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 6: Coke Coupons, Pork Chops, Green Beans, and a guy named Peacock

This is the sixth in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

I know what you're thinking: I've finally lost it.

I'm sure it's about to happen one of these days, but I'm still borderline sane, even when I tell you there is something those four things have in common.

I'm thankful for all four because they're how Mr. Hat became "the one."

When asked how we met, we like to perplex people with our truthful answer of "we haven't." And in terms of first meeting, exchanging names, shaking hands and saying "nice to meet you," we haven't. We were babies together in the church nursery and grew up together in that same church.

Other than a stint of "going together" back when we were 15, we were always just friends. Our parents were friends, too, and we crossed paths at various gatherings and at church each Sunday.

College sent us in different directions, both paths leading to other people we fortunately realized we shouldn't marry. And we began talking beyond shallow greetings again.

That's when I got traded for Coke coupons. His dad worked for Coke, bringing the product to the store and often helping to stock it on the shelves. Which is how he ended up being in the same store my mother was shopping in one morning. "So, about that daughter of yours... If I give you some Coke coupons, could you give her a little shove in my son's direction?" was the related gist of the transaction.

I'd have done it without the coupons. But Coke, well, it's awfully good.

That was June.  Right after that was when I threw that brick at his head.

At one point that summer, we were discussing kids, futures, and foods we didn't like. (You have to cover a wide range of topics to determine true compatibility.) And I discovered he didn't like green beans or pork chops either; for me, they were anathema. I knew that if I married him, I'd never have to cook them and ingest them again. SOLD!

His confirmation was far pithier. They were the lyrics in The Way of Love by one of his favorite artists, Charlie Peacock, particularly a part of the chorus:
I've got the notion
Love is devotion
Not just emotion

We were engaged in September and married the following July.

I'm thankful for him every single day. He puts up with all my flaws. He works hard to provide for us. He's an excellent father. Twenty years later, we're still married because he's guided by "devotion and not just emotion." And he lets me cook whatever I want.

Which, oddly enough, is sometimes pork chops and green beans, washed down with Coke.

Linking this story to Serenity Now's Weekend Bloggy Reading Party.  Stop by for more inspiration from other bloggers.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 5: Grace

This is the fourth in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. -A.W. Tozer

Between day two's post and November being National Adoption Month, you probably saw this coming.

I'm thankful that I couldn't have more children, because if they'd come along as I planned, I would have missed out the great wonder that is a gift of grace.

I'm a very flawed human being. Yet twice I've been given a gift that cost the giver everything with no merit, no way to have earned this gift, on my part.

It's an awesome, overwhelming generosity that's been extended to me.

Our journey has been slow, initially falling prey to myths of insurmountable expense. There were starts and stops as job loss shoved plans to back burners and political unrest abroad closed options.

There were another son and another daughter held, loved... and lost to us.

But we held on. Kept pursuing. Continued praying. And finally, we made it.

And adoption is a gift for our children, too: a brighter future.  Adoption changes their destiny - and that of every generation that will come from them.  It removed them from the abject poverty and probable delinquency that would otherwise define their future.

I treasure the birth parents who gifted us with these children, despite their own yearnings and grief.  I'm thankful to have witnessed and benefitted from their sacrificial love, their grace.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 4: Wonderfully Made

This is the fourth in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

You may find this shocking, but I'm going to confess it anyway.  Ready?

I'm thankful for a child with autism.

Don't get me wrong - I long for a world in which parents no longer have to sit in a room full of experts who pronounce their child "defective" and hash out the best route to the brightest possible future.  It's agonizing to be told your child is autistic, wondering if your child will ever converse, have friends, hold a job, marry.

But for me, that happened 13 years ago, and in the 13 years since, I've realized a lot of things about her autism.

Realizations like austism makes her who she is, the girl that I love; without it, she would not be "her."  I simply cannot imagine her any other way. She was fearfully and wonderfully made; all her days were planned out for her before any of them came to be (Ps. 139).  THIS is who she was meant to be for our today and her future.

It gives her an innocence that I treasure.  She has an encouraging, forgiving, trusting sense of personal grace I envy.

Autism is responsible for a certain brilliance to her memory I find sometimes fearsome and most often awesome.  As a young child who could not yet read, she could hear music played from a page and still know, months later, what song was from what page.  She saw Fantasia 2000 once and afterward could listen to the soundtrack and describe what was happening in the movie at that point in the music; she'd stare at the picture window like it was a movie screen, enjoying the movie again as it played realistically in her head.  She's a steel trap for every factoid on whatever topic she currently enjoys.

Because of her autism, we've perhaps lost a lot.  But, oh, I've gained so much, too, and that's what I prefer to focus on.

It introduced us to an amazing woman who, through dance, has transformed my daughter from a shy little girl to this confident solo performer.

It's afforded her access to amazing opportunities.  She designed art in a special program that ended up being that year's gala theme, auctioned off for hundreds of dollars and made into a custom rug for thousands.

Autism exposed us to amazing teachers and aides who genuinely loved her, pushed her and taught her necessary skills beyond classroom academics; they've continued to cheer her progress long after she's left their instruction.

It makes the ordinary milestones extraordinary. I cried the first time she called me mom. I celebrated seeing her go from having to use pictures to tell me what she did that day to a fully mainstreamed high school student with her own set of peer friends.  Your kids have no doubt made friends among their peers; it's the most normal thing in the world.  For an autistic child, it's a monumental achievement. The moment I got to exit her from special ed because she'd achieved all the goals they could set for her -- normal things like how to ask for help and converse with friends -- was worth every. single. tear. shed over the years.

It's made her work hard.  She's pushed herself to go on long youth trips, tackling whitewater rafting and working in inner-city missions because she wanted to go beyond her comfort zone.  I don't think watching her do these things would be nearly as amazing had she been "normal."

I do wonder about her future.  I don't know what college -- just two short years away -- and career will hold for her.  Marriage and family?  Who knows?

Well, God knows.  I might not, but I can rest in knowing He does and that whatever her future is, it will be what it is supposed to be.  He's made her - wonderfully.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day 3: LOL

This is the third in a daily series celebrating the blessings I'm thankful for, leading up to Thanksgiving. While they will portray some of the many -- and random -- things I have to be thankful for, they will not be presented in any particular order by degree of thankfulness. Skewed priorities should not be implied.

A day without laughter is a day wasted. - Charlie Chaplin


Fortunately, I have a pretty crazy household.  I get this stuff all the time.

Usually, it involves the middle Ms. Hat.

One day, I heard her say behind me, "Look, Mom!  I'm Mulan!" 

 Yeah, I gasped so audibly the neighbors probably heard me.  And then I laughed my head off.

Then there was the time she thought my blemish (makeup) stick was lipstick.

She frequently says the funniest things, too.  I have a whole log I'll spare you, but here's a select few:

Last year's note to Santa: 
 "Santa - Merry Christmas from Gracie. I am very, very sorry with my attitude this year. 
Please don't give me coal. Please, please don't give me give me coal." 
 [Here, I interrupted: "Well, he'll probably say, 'Then watch your attitude.'" So she went and finished her note.] 
 "Please don't say 'Don't give me attitude." Please, please don't write that. Merry Christmas."

On the way home one day - 
RADIO: "Is your child defiant? Is back-talking a problem? 
You can change your child's behavior. Call 1-800-blah...." 
GRACE: "Mom, don't call that number."

After school, Gracie told me she'd spent a large part of the day sneezing, 
so much so they had the school nurse evaluate her. 
"I'm allergic to boys," she said, very seriously. "Whenever I sit by boys, I start sneezing. Except for Jessie..." 
[Jessie is the teen-aged brother of her best friend who Gracie had a serious crush on.] 
"He doesn't have dust."

On the Fourth of July after kindergarten, Grace wanted to demonstrate her ability to say the Pledge of Allegiance. 
She rattled it off perfectly, ending with "...with liberty and justice for all. You may now be seated." 
After I got done laughing, I told her that "you may now be seated" wasn't part of the pledge. 
"Well, that's the way my principal says it!!"

On the way to school, Gracie asked, "What's 'prind'?" "Prind?!" "Yeah, P-R-N-D." "That's not a word." "Well, what is that in front of you?" I gasped out between fits of laughter: "Those are letters for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive."

Then there's the ham to all her cheese:

Yep, even the cat is not immune:

I'm telling you, it's crazy over here.

There's humor in the things I find myself saying, funny simply because it's just. so. ridiculous that a situation is occurring that requires it to be said.  Things like "stop sucking on the cat" and "don't whip your siblings with your hair" just aren't normal.  OK, they are normal HERE, but you probably won't hear them elsewhere; there, you'll find other moms saying equally silly things.

I even find humor at the grocery store, which is good because I find a whole lot of "grrrr" there, too.  
But I laugh every time I pass the sign over a frozen aisle that says "Frozen Ice Cream" as though there's another aisle where you can find melted ice cream.  This week, I approached one aisle from a different direction than usual and laughed when I saw the small "sensible snacks" sign hanging over potato chips and fried pork rinds.  And there's that time my husband brought home their cash register-generated coupon for "Tyson Frozen Breasts. No thawing required." 

Laughter is what keeps me sane.  Finding that little nugget of funny in any form from slap-stick to error to witty irony and responding with laughter is like releasing the cork on the bottle containing all the 
yuck in life.

Humor is everywhere you look for it.  
Thank goodness, because as Charlie knows, it'd be a wasted life without it.

So, laugh today.  And then come back and tell me how humor saved your day.