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I love the movie A Christmas Story!  That is one nugget of information I obviously don’t need to put into writing.  Surely my kids will remember this one fact because I quote this movie ALL the time, I have had a Major Award for ten years now.

12:14 Major award

I have not one, but two official Red Ryder carbine action 200-range-shot model air rifles with a compass in the stock and this THING which tells time.

I have been to the house.  Heck, I own a piece of the original siding.

DSC03598

Yes, it’s a well-known fact that I love this movie.  So it’s no surprise that so many scenarios throughout life remind me of it or lead me to quote it, or, at the very least, think about it.  One such event occurred recently.

But first, I have to back up to several months ago when my Jacob entered a Kellogg’s Krave cereal contest….and he won!  Just like the old man in A Christmas Story.  He won!  Hot dang….he won!

8:14:14 Jacob won a contest

After winning so easily, he discovered that if he sent in the box tops of our cereal he could win more stuff.  So, he got busy. He cut off every single box top from every eligible box of cereal in our pantry.  Yes, there were a lot of them.  We buy cereal by the gross.  So he cut them off, and then he forgot about them.

But one day several weeks ago he remembered that his box top points were going to expire.  So, he found a prize he was eligible to claim and sent off for one singular box of Corn Flakes.  Hey…..it’s not the queen mother of all prizes, but it was something.  So, he sent for his cereal.  He waited…and waited…and waited.  Every day it didn’t come, he reminded me of little Ralphie Parker looking for his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring which he had sent off for after drinking gallons and gallons of Ovaltine.  My Jacob checked the mail much like Ralphie.  And, every day he was skunked again….until one day….it came….it finally came.

But, he knew almost immediately that something was amiss.  I hustled to the front porch as I have to these days to reach the packages before their little eyes catch a glimpse of what might be arriving…..they are more suspicious than they used to be.  So, I rushed to the porch to try to retrieve the packages without them seeing, but we all saw it at once.  We saw the big, flat, white envelope with the red Kellogg’s name written across the bottom.  “Jacob,” I said, “I think you got your major award today.”

Confusion settled in his mind.  What?  How can this be a box of cereal?  I told him maybe it was magic like the Carbonaro Effect where that guy opens a box the thickness of a pizza and out pops a puppy or two.  Maybe?

12:10:14 Corn Flakes

Probably not.  He opened his major award to find he won a Corn Flakes box, not a box of Corn Flakes.  Not only was he disappointed that he wouldn’t be soon sitting down to feast on an entire box of Corn Flakes by himself, but he couldn’t believe it was just a “crummy commercial”….just the way Ralphie Parker’s decoder ring had turned out to be.  And, just like Ralphie, he had to go out to face the world again…wiser….

No matter…In the jungles of kid-dom, the mind switches gears rapidly.  You see…Jacob was able to forget about the Corn Flakes box debacle because his birthday was the very next day.  So, he switched gears quickly, and waited for his big day to arrive.

And, arrive it did!  He had a grand time opening his Dr. Who gifts, eating all his Dr. Who food, and thrifting in the afternoon.  He has loved to go to thrift stores on his birthday, and this year was no different.  He loaded his pockets with his hard-earned cash, and we set out to find the treasures.  He found a few ridiculous hats before we had to call it a day.

photo 6612:11:14 jacob's hat

That evening we spent some time at a Christmas celebration in a nearby small town seeing the lights, sipping hot chocolate, and riding a wagon pulled by little ponies.

12:11:14 Wagon Ride  12:11:14 Hot chocolate

It was a nice way to end his day….until the next morning when he noticed his fifty dollar bill was no longer in his pocket.  He had lost it.  Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us!

And, just like that, his birthday went from happiness to sadness.  He spent the better part of the next morning searching for his money.  It was not to be found.  When we finally arrived at the conclusion that he must have lost it in the park, I told him that maybe someone who needed it more than he did found it….maybe they will have a Christmas they otherwise couldn’t have had….or a meal….or whatever their need may be.  At this time I was not reminded of a movie quote…instead I was reminded of the wise words spoken to me by one of my older and wiser brothers:  It all belongs to Him anyway!  Yes, it does….it all belongs to Him.

It’s frantic and crazy and stressful around here this time of the year.  Odd….because I’ve always thought the days leading up to Christmas should be a time of peace and joy and calm.

I’m not sure where I got that idea, and I don’t know why I still think that after all these years.  My parents must have must have been incredible at hiding their stress.  Even though I always knew there was a fair amount of financial stress for them especially during the holidays, all I remember from the years they were alive are Christmas memories of love and happiness.

I fear I don’t create that atmosphere for my children.  I fear their memories will not be of joy and love, but instead they will remember only a stressed out mom.  I always find myself pushing to finish as much school as possible before the break.  Why I think that is a good idea is beyond me.  Every year I tell myself that next year I will take more time off leading up to Christmas….time to spend making memories, relaxing, having more family time and focusing on the awesome gift of Him and His love.

And every year it doesn’t seem to work this way.

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season translates to stress for this mom.  The kids are completely checked out of doing school.  I suppose I am too, but I tell myself if I just push a little harder to make it a little further in the curriculum we won’t be doing school all summer.  Has never happened….a summer off.  And then I wonder if it even matters at all.

So, with the college boys and high school senior stressfully working on ending their semesters, the home schoolers wanting to check out, and myself feeling as though I am fighting a losing battle of time with Christmas fast-approaching; the peacefulness and the true meaning of the season seems to be lost.  The joy is gone.  I am contemplating my plan for next year.  December off?  Maybe.  If we work hard enough next year, I’m thinking that may be the only way to soak in the season, create warm Christmas family memories, and find peace and joy again.  There will, of course, continue to be deadlines and activities and the stresses for the college boys.  But, I’m thinking maybe something has got to give.  Maybe.

How do other homeschoolers manage?  I am curious how they find the time to get it all done.  You would think after sixteen years I’d have this figured out, but clearly….I don’t.

The Talk

Back in the day when I was growing up, parents didn’t talk to their kids about “the birds and the bees”.  Maybe some of the more hip, free-spirited parents did; but not my parents nor the circle of parents in their social group.  If they did attempt to address the topic, it seemed it was awkward, at best.  It was as though this taboo topic was better off (in parents’ minds) to be ignored.  Perhaps ignoring it would make it go away…..that’s how my parents dealt with it anyway.  And, from what I gather, my husband also came from a family with parents who also did not fit the “free-spirit” character.  Anything we may have learned regarding our changing bodies, the opposite sex, dating and choosing a mate was left to what we would learn from peers…..and not always in the best way.

Of course, we wanted to do better for our children.  This proved to be an easy goal to conquer since our parents offered pretty much nothing to us.  The challenge, however, was knowing the best way to communicate information to our children while trying to instill values and character along the way.  Fortunately we came across Focus on the Family’s Passport2Purity program just as our oldest was reaching the age for which this program is designed.

Now, I really have no business writing about this program as of yet because the way the program is designed is to have dad’s talk to their sons and moms talk to their daughters.  As it turned out for us, we had five boys and then a girl.  My husband has now had five weekends, five boys wondering why he is talking to them about this while they are still only interested in Legos and sports.  I’ve wondered if a mom could take a son if there is no dad or visa versa.  I’m sure the information to the parents addresses this, but like I said….I have yet to dive into the program.  The idea is for a parent to take their preteen on a special weekend getaway trip of fun while covering the material provided.  My husband has taken our boys on camping trips, weekends dedicated to specific professional sporting events, and this time a weekend of adventure and discovery in the area of magic and Legos.  That last one makes me smile.  My little boy is still such a little boy, and he had an awesome weekend getting to spend one-on-one time with his dad picking and choosing his activities.  Of course, he mentioned he was grossed out and almost threw up a little with the information.  But, here’s the thing.  The information was presented to him at just the right age by his own loving father in a way that he will now be armed with knowledge as he heads into the tumultuous, hormonally-driven teen years.  Right before our eyes, these little preteens begin to mature and grow into young men and women with almost no notice.  The foundation which began during this weekend of sharing knowledge and talking about God’s plan for his future relationships has a strong start.  The seed has been planted for all of them as to how they will handle temptations, dating, love and marriage when the time comes.

I’m sure I’ll have much more insight about how this program works in about four years.  I’m positive I will learn some things I never knew….but will wish I would have known.  I’ve joked with my daughter that we will spend our weekend at a spa…..or she can visit me in the nursing home (I had her at the ripe old age of 40).  But, she tells me we are going to go on a dinosaur dig.  Time will tell.

All I know right now is that I feel confident we have found an educational character training treasure in this program.

Sometimes the lyrics to songs are tricky.  Sometimes we get them wrong.  I think we muff Christmas songs more than others because most humans only hear Christmas music from Thanksgiving through the end of Christmas.  We, at this house, hear it all year…..but that’s another story…..and clearly, it hasn’t really helped me with the lyrics.

When I was growing up, my sister told everyone that she thought the words “in excelsis Deo” from the song “Angels We Have Heard On High” were “in eggshells it’s Dale”.  I would sit and listen to her tell her tale, watch everyone laugh about it, and think to myself Isn’t it ‘in eggshells it’s Dale?’  I, too, thought it was that.  It made sense to me.  Sort of.   We have a brother named Dale.  So, I figured that this was a song with his name in it (everyone has a song with their name in it, right?…i.e. “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), and that was good enough for me.  It made as much sense (or maybe more) as the words “in excelsis Deo”….I didn’t know Latin.   But, now that I know some Latin….now I know they were singing Glory to God in Highest.  So now….all these years later “in eggshells it’s Dale” clearly doesn’t make sense in that song.  But I still sing it that way.

Fast forward several years, we were visiting my sister and her husband during one Christmas week.  They lived near Kansas City, so we decided to drive there to see the Christmas lights on the Plaza.  So, we were driving along, jamming out to Christmas music; and on the cassette tape came Amy Grant’s “Emmanuel”.  We were all singing….even me who really can’t sing, but I had no inhibitions with my sister.  So, I too was singing, and I belted out, “BONAFIDE BUTTERBALL” at one point.  My sister looked at her husband and said, “See what I have to put up with?  She always does this to me.”  I figured she was whining about my off-key singing.  I just laughed as though I was being one wild and crazy Christmas caroler.  It wasn’t until I heard Michael W. Smith’s version of “Emmanuel” a few years later that I realized her complaint was not about my singing, but about my lyrics.  She thought I was trying to ruin the song for her.  But, honestly, the words “Lord of life; Lord of all” were not clear to me until I heard Michael W. Smith sing it.  Well, that makes more sense.  I had no idea what a “bonafide butterball” might be other than Christmas dinner.  But, finally, I knew it was not “bonafide butterball”, but “Lord of life; Lord of all”.  Today, I may or may not sing it correctly when I hear that song.

So, remembering all this today as I heard both songs and smiled at the memories, I began thinking about how songs and lyrics aren’t the only things that get confusing for us humans.  It seems to me that we have a very similar issue with the whole Christmas season.  We begin by telling our little children about how Christmas is all about celebrating Jesus’ birth.  And then we focus more attention on Santa Claus.  We tell them that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  We buy mugs and shirts and plaques with that saying.  But, we fill our schedules too full to take the time to reach out to others and show them Jesus through serving.  We forget that it is the season of perpetual hope and about showing good will to all.  We don’t do it on purpose, but we sometimes get lost in the busyness…the commercialism….the shopping…the decorating….the stress…the “have to’s”…..the parties.  The list goes on.  Simply put….our focus becomes clouded as though we aren’t seeing or hearing or remembering the correct lyrics to a song.  And, all of a sudden, Christmas becomes confusing.  It’s not making sense because we forget for a minute to remember that the time leading up to the big celebration of Christmas should be spent drawing closer to Him, deepening our personal relationships with the One who came to save us, and serving those less fortunate than ourselves.  We sometimes forget.

There’s nothing wrong with preparing our homes for Christmas by decorating and buying each other gifts and making and eating lots of holiday treats.  But, I think true joy can only be found when our purpose is aligned with Him and we learn to balance our resources.  I admit I spend time during the holidays trying to make magical memories for my children….spending too much on each of them…..focusing more on self-indulgences rather than the needy, the homeless, the infirm, or the lonely.  Just like realizing how the songs make more sense with the correct lyrics, I realize sometimes we have to step away from the busyness of Christmas and be still before Him in order to refocus our hearts and minds on the true meaning of Christmas.  I believe it to be true that only then can we find the peace we seek each Christmas season.

Three years ago we loaded up three trucks, and we moved to Kansas…..flat, it is…..humidity and windy days.

So, after three years of dragging our feet trying to stay in Colorado, we up and moved without checking into all that we should.  One area I neglected to research was the homeschooling law regarding allowing or not allowing home schoolers to play public school sports.  I had only homeschooled in Colorado, and I assumed it would be the same.  Oops!  It’s not.  Yeah, I’ve written about it before.  But, today, a challenging morning in the land of Oz, I was reminded of how when we tried to find a place for our third son to continue playing soccer, the phone would ring and the voice of the Caller ID would say what sounded like “Kansas, you suck!”

We laughed.  This was the one year I was homeschooling all six children….my youngest was just beginning her education with kindergarten while my oldest was finishing his time in our home school as it was his senior year.  We would be going about our school day when we would hear the phone ring followed by “Kansas, you suck”.  We all stopped, looked around at each other, and broke out in laughter.  And, then, she’d say it again and again and again…..because we let it ring since my husband wasn’t there to deal with the caller and all the stuff I didn’t want to deal with.  Yeah, I’m THAT person.  It was the Kansas Youth Soccer Organization calling because we had found a spot for our son on a club team in a nearby town.  On the Caller ID it read “KS YOUTH SOC”, but what we heard was, “Kansas, you suck!”  Over and over again, call after call after call….”Kansas, you suck!”

To say it echoed how we all felt at the time would be an understatement.  Leaving our home….the place we loved living was just plain hard.  Adjusting to the humidity in Kansas after living in and breathing the fresh Rocky Mountain air was also a bit hard to swallow.  But, we have worked to adjust and make the most of living wherever we may be.  However, I still have plenty of “Kansas, you suck” days.  This morning began as one such day….

When I took my 5th son to into one town for his orthodontist appointment and kindly asked how long the appointment would be, she told me 20 minutes.  Twenty minutes….it would be better for me and my other three children in tow to wait the twenty minutes rather than risk him having to wait for me to run the 537 errands I needed to run while in town.  We waited.  An hour and fifteen minutes later, he came out.  Kansas, you suck!

Already flustered now due to needing to get to another appointment in less than an hour in another town, I knew I’d have to abandon most of those errands.  But, I knew one errand I had to make…..one promise I had made….was to go to the bank so my two younger sons could cash their checks.  They had already waited and been put off several times, so this was one promise I needed to keep.  The library is right by the bank, so I sent one son into the library to pick up my interlibrary loan which came in over the weekend….probably the minute I walked out of the library door on Friday.  Of course, today is the one day the librarians must have me in person to retrieve a library loan because they want to confirm that all my information is still the same….address, phone number, etc.  Unfortunately, yes…..I still live in Kansas.  No time to park and run in, so no book for me today.  Kansas, you suck!

On the way to the next appointment, it seemed as though all people who received memos to get in my way came out to fulfill their duties all at the same time as I had people step out into traffic in front of me, people driving slowly in both lanes all around me, people in Kansas simply getting on my last, hungry nerve.  Kansas, you suck!

Now, I understand that all this stuff can happen in any state, any town, any place in the world.  But, today I’m living in Kansas.  Today it reminded me of the Caller ID which made me laugh about my current residence.  People say it’s great to live here, in Kansas, because you won’t find nicer people anywhere else.

Whatever.

While I try very hard to not sit and pine for Colorado, it’s no secret I can’t wait to go back some day.  In the mean time, we’re making the best of our time here….even when the wind blows (always)….even when Kansas sucks!

So, now that I got that out of my head and into writing, I can move on to having an attitude of gratitude….you know…..since Thanksgiving is this week and all.

What seems like a lifetime ago when I was entering pageants back in the day, I remember practicing interview questions.  One popular question circulating among the pageant girls was “If your house was on fire, what three things would you grab?”  So, we pageant contestants learned quickly that a “good” answer was to say, “My Bible, my pictures, and my dog.”….something like that.  The truth is…I never gave it much thought…I just answered what I heard other girls say….girls who seemed to know who they were and where they were going in life.

But, yes, now that I have a little dog who thinks he is people….yes, that dog answer was a good answer.  I’m still not sure what I would grab in case of a fire (other than the dog and the children), but I do now know what I would like to save on my computer hard drive the next time it crashes.  Yes, the next time.  This time, thankfully, my husband restored all my files to their former glory (after a couple hundred dollars and several hours).  They are there….or so he says they are.  I have yet to explore all my stuff…..I’m trusting they are there.  But, when it was unknown whether or not my files would be salvageable, all I really wanted was the Numbers file where I have all our business books saved and had finally updated just days before the crash, my boys’ high school grades and transcripts on Word, any and all photos which I had not previously accidentally deleted, and my sister’s final email to me.  That’s all I wanted….everything else could be easily started over.

So, now that I have these safely and securely nestled in my new hard drive, I can sleep soundly.  Or can I?  At any time, my computer can crash again.  I know now that I must make sure it is properly backed up so I won’t have to redo all the numbers on the business books again….so that I won’t have to try to remember accurately all the grades for everyone….so that my children can have photos of themselves to see one day and share with their offspring.

But, it’s that one email….that last email from my sister that is somehow more important to me than anything else.  And, for now, it’s there.  I can’t seem to bring myself to delete it.  But, next time my computer crashes, I may not be so lucky.  I may not be able to open my mail and know that there is one email from her, even if it’s not recent….even if it is dated 05/20/08,….it’s there, and I like having it there.  But, just in case it does disappear some day because of a computer crash or whatever….just in case, I want you kids to be able to read it some day. I know you older boys remember her.  I know you remember how she came to visit and spent time and laughed with you and loved on you.  But, little Jeanae….you never met her.  And, Joseph, you only met her once when you were 7 months old.  Both of you (and probably Jacob) only remember her from the stories I tell you.  So I want to copy her final email to me here to make sure you all know what an amazing person your Aunt Linda was, and so that her own words are never lost or forgotten.  It is evident what an amazing human being she was in this final email she sent. She asked for prayer for God’s will to be done.  John’s grandma and dad both lived for years after she sent this email which she named “Calling All Angels” in the subject line.  And she suddenly died eleven days later.  God’s will was done.

Hi . . .

Please take some time today to pray for John, his
grandma and his dad.  

Long story short, John’s grandma is not doing well. 
She insisted upon having surgery which the doctors do
not think she will survive.  This will happen today at
5:00 North Carolina time.

Meanwhile, the health of John’s dad is not good
either.  He has doctor’s orders not to travel.  So he
won’t be able to go to his mom.

I know Melba (John’s grandma) has always had a
fondness for angels; that’s what she always called
everyone . . . “Sweet Angel.”  You are my angels.  So
if you could find some time today to pray, we would
appreciate it.  Just pray that God’s will be done.

Call me weird if you want to . . . I don’t care.  But
I like the song on the following link/site.  I don’t
know what it means, but I feel a cleansing when I
listen to it.

Pray for us, we’ll pray for you.

Love,

Linda

http://www.andiesisle.com/Calling_All_Angels.html

(You may need to copy and paste to the URL thingy.)

Well-Read

As I was listening to my little girl read the other day and listening to her heart being stretched a little more as tears filled her eyes clouding her vision; I smiled a little inside because I know that even though some of the books take her emotions on a ride she’d rather not take, reading is a gift she will always treasure.

I did not grow up reading.  Yes, I learned to read.  I learned to read at the age of three, and I can still remember sitting in the cabinet of an antique washstand reading my “Sally Book” while my older siblings were getting ready for school.  I read that book over and over and over again (I kinda wish I still had that book….I’m sure my mom saved it for me, but….)  Sadly, that’s the only book I remember reading on purpose for fun.

During grade school, I can only remember attempting to read one book.  I think it was fourth grade when we were assigned a book report.  I walked into our little parochial school library, looked at the books, and had no idea how to choose a book for a book report.  Clearly, there was no “beginning” of the books.  The shelves circled around the four walls of the library with some shelves in the middle.  How is someone like me….someone who must go in order…. supposed to choose a book when a) I had no interest in anything, and b) unless I can grab the first book in line, I don’t know where to start.  I can remember being quite the “go-in-order” type of person even back then, but I couldn’t grab the first book on the left side of the top shelf and call it good because there was no beginning left side.  So, how I randomly picked a biography about Knute Rockne….an orange-covered book on a bottom shelf….in the middle of a bookcase against the wall is a mystery to me.  What I do remember is attempting to read it.  With absolutely no interest in the book or subject matter, I remember thinking maybe if I read the first word on every line, it would be “good enough”.  That didn’t seem to help with knowing what the book was about.  So, I tried some other ways to get through it quickly.  In the end, I must have read something, but not sure what because I as I remember it he was a baseball player.  A Google search today informs me that he was not a baseball player, but a football player and coach.  That must have been some book report.  Wonder if I got an “A”?

All that to say I am so glad my children have not only read more than one book, but the wealth of knowledge and imagination they have learned and experienced with books is more than I ever imagined for them.  I am not naive enough to believe they read everything I assigned to them.  There have been times when I’ve given books to boys to read, and I know they didn’t read them.  Other times, they came to me with excitement telling me all about their latest book.  Or, they would come to me in tears as they were moved by the overwhelming sadness or heaviness of their assigned book.  I love how a well-written book can transport them to times, places and adventures that they would otherwise know nothing about.  But, I do believe that because of homeschooling, they have read more than they may have otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure plenty of public schooled children read and read well.  But, I didn’t read while I was growing up.  I missed out on so much; and without homeschooling them, I am pretty certain I most likely would not have been as keen on them reading.   And, I am now discovering with my college boys that all that reading has paid off.  For instance, my Johnathan is currently taking a required Art History class.  Not only does he know all the material well from the plethora of reading while growing up, but he loves it!  He would be flying through that class if the professor didn’t grade on spelling.  Yes, that evil dyslexic spelling curse always rears its ugly head.  At least he knows, understands and enjoys the history material.

Even though I never read for myself, somehow (even before choosing to homeschool) reading has always been my favorite pastime with my children.  From Dr. Seuss to C.S. Lewis I have loved reading aloud to all of them.  Some of my most fond memories with them are rocking and reading to babies, lying next to them in bed individually reading stories at nap time, and reading aloud as they all gathered around the living room to listen to our latest adventure.

I still read aloud with the three I have at home, but mostly with my little girl.  She is just now able to read chapter books on her own.  Because she’s the youngest, I can now afford the time and get to listen to her read longer than I ever could with the boys.   Last week my daughter finished reading about the Vietnam War.  Not only did she and I both learn a great deal, but we both now have more compassion and understanding for veterans, their families, and for our country.  I lived through the end of the Vietnam War (even though at the time I had no idea it was the end or how long the war had been going on or what it was about or anything really).  All I knew was that one day my siblings and I all had one new student attending our classes in our little school.  Each child was from Vietnam as their families had fled to America.  That’s all I knew….that, and that if you went to their house and they offered you (a 3rd grader) coffee, you should drink it so you didn’t offend them.  Obviously I knew nothing about what they had been through or what the Americans fighting over there were going through.

Yesterday, she was reading a more light-hearted book of her choice, Amelia Bedelia Goes Wild, but it still took her imagination on an adventure and her emotions from laughter to tears….from excitement to anguish. Today she is reading about how Harriet Tubman helped free slaves using the underground railroad.  Every day is a new adventure just waiting for her….for all of them…..for me…..for anyone who reads.  It really is true what Dr. Seuss wrote in I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

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