Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Smoke on the Water


They don't make a strong enough coffee. (Well, OK, they do, but I don't function very well when I end up dizzy and shaking, with low blood sugar. And I like strong coffee!)

Last night, my husband and I woke up to a smell. Usually, it's the sound of Daughter #2 looking for 4 a.m. company. (Well, actually, that DID happen!) No, first, it was the smell--that burning chemical smell. He walked the house first; then, I did. Oven was off. No unusual appliances on. The backyard wasn't burning. And the spray paint can I had used to paint my sister's failing outdoor lounge chairs had not ignited the garage. (Praise the Lord!)

"It's coming in our window." he said.

Wait...the smell. I had smelled it days ago on the trip home from the library...and days before that, when I thought my car's failing radiator might be toast. (We're waiting for the new one to come in! Maybe the new mechanic can fix the false "check light" computer message on my dashboard alert screen.)

I had the radio on during the post-library trip, after seeing amber alerts, and the Lite 98 personality said, "the Great Dismal Swamp is burning."

So, here it was, 2:30 a.m., and I remembered--the swamp is burning. Still?

Just to make sure--now 7:30 a.m.--I checked the local weather station's blog. Sure enough. Still burning.

Not an uncommon phenomenon, if you read the linked article in the blog. Once burned for three whole years! (Maybe there's a secret source of crude oil that we don't know about!) But, 80 miles away from North Carolina, weeks later, and now we're waking up to the smell of the swamp, that's not actually our house burning!

The Great DISMAL Swamp, indeed.

I know. Even in my exhausted state, I know that swamps, like forests, burn for a reason. God gives us an ever-changing landscape, even in the midst of what seems like destruction, so life can flourish. Another huge praise!

Reports say that the fire could be extinguished with a large enough rainstorm--perhaps as soon as today. We'll see. We may just keep the windows closed and breathe in "fresh" conditioned air. One step closer to a somewhat restful night's sleep. (Daughter #2 won't permit a perfectly restful night's sleep.)

And then folks won't say to me: "Girl, your eyes have the mist from the smoke of a distant fire."

(Oh, man..... Long way to go for a Sanford/Townsend Band

Deh Deh Deh
Deh Deh De-Deh
Deh Deh Deh...Deh Dehhhhhhh......

Smoke on the Water....Fire in the Sky..... What? No Deep Purple either?


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Trash to Treasure

"Ladies and gentlemen....Welcome to Turrrrrrrtllllllllle Racewaaaaaaaay!"

Yes, you can almost hear the PA announcer's shout as you look at...What? Turtle Raceway, a creation of Daughter #1, inspired by her conversations with a fellow classmate. The goal was to make a track for her friend's turtle. It was more than just a backyard project; it became an obsession!

Ever environmentally conscious (to the point where I almost feel her Dad and I went overboard in our instruction/demonstration), Daughter #1 was on a quest. First, it was to start recycling in her classroom. Every day in her backback, she brought home the recyclables. But, that soon got to be too much. As I explained to her teacher, "We have become not just a recycling depository but a recycling PROCESSING center." (And a little bit too hands-on at that!)

Then, Daughter #1 started bringing home non-recyclables. "Mom, these are for Turtle Raceway." Huh? She explained that even though she couldn't recycle things like candy wrappers and bottle caps that they could still be re-used (another one of those 3Rs).

All I could think was her and her friend playing with "garbage" in the yard. So, I said, when HER mother calls to have this playdate at HER house, you'll be ready. Well, her friend suddenly decided she wasn't interested. (Of course.)

So, Daughter #1 started in, taking the box that my sister had sent a 45-pound stack of hand-me-downs and birthday gifts, and taped loads of candy wrappers and bottle caps. She drew the track. She made a souvenir stand. She made a tub (out of a Pringles' single-serving cup). She wrote the copy for the ads! She had a blast!!

And the flag flying over the grandstand--made out of an old drinking straw and one of her spelling words from this past year--says it all:

We won't have a turtle run races. (We almost had a squirrel!) Matchbox cars work well in there. The best part is that Turtle Raceway was self-driven and continues to be a highlight of Daughter #1's early summer days. (Maintenance is a huge issue with an outdoor track!)

Not just trash turned into a treasure (noun) but, for Daughter #1 trash to treasure (verb)....until we get one more really good rainstorm. (She didn't construct a retractable dome roof!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Note from the Dept. of Transplantation

This is the source of the most profusely sweet smell in our yard--our gardenia bush! Imagine a rich aroma of coconut and honey and maybe a bit of lily. (Actually, it's a lot like jasmine, but the Glade Plug-In attempt at that scent doesn't come close!) This is the most prolific the blossoming has been, too. In the warm sun, the scent wafts all over the yard, creating as near a spa-like setting as possible.

We used to have three bushes, until I decided that I wanted this fantastic fragrance throughout the backyard. So, last year, I transplanted two of the bushes. Here is one of them today:

I was so crushed. What had I done? As soon as I moved the bushes, the leaves went into shock and never recovered. The stems changed from green to black. I think I pretty much poisoned them. They had sun. I watered when it didn't rain. They actually were in the right soil--gardenias are acid-soil lovers. But, in reading through the literature, I didn't use any kind of fertilizer, and certainly not an acid fertilizer, which is the recommendation.

Transplantation is not as easy as it sounds. I need only remember my own personal transplanting to Virginia from Illinois. All the promises of blossoms would have to wait until my "plant" could re-establish its roots. It took me over a year to feel comfortable and start growing here.

Jesus' Parable of the Soils talks about seed landing on different types of soil. The seed, being God's word, is choked out, dies or never takes root. And then, there's the good soil, and abundant growth (Mark 4: 1-20).

My gardenia bushes faced a struggle in that they were not fed after being placed in good soil. It's the next step in the process of transplantation. It's one thing to move, and to have your roots put in a new place. It's another thing to THRIVE there. Same is true with the Bible. You may move from church to church, but are you being fed? Are you going to thrive?

Or, like my gardenia bushes, was the transplantation for fertility instead a move in futility?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Et tu, Cappuccino?

So, my dear friend, Kelly, sent me a link to take a coffee quiz the other day. What kind of coffee girl are you? Hmm.... Could be fun. OK, I'll take it. (You can, too, through this link.) She is sharing her results with folks today in her blog. Surprisingly, I received the same results she did. I'm a cappuccino. She's a cappuccino. Wouldn't you like to be a cappuccino, too? Well, maybe you are!

This whole thing brewed some thoughts in my froth that I needed to filter out.

How could I be a cappuccino? What questions did I incorrectly answer? Perhaps that one about where I get my coffee. They never listed "all of the above" as an answer. And I am every coffee woman. It's ALL in me..... "What kind of guy are you least attracted to?" That says what about my coffee persona?? Clearly, the science in the questionnaire is lacking. (But, then, caffeine was never officially named the 119th element on the periodic table--CaF....not there!)

So, while I love my friend and our coffee times, she can continue to be a cappuccino, as that does seem more suitable for her. I, however, would need some new mixed-up concoction.
  • Iced. Let's face it, it takes a little time for me to warm up to people and vice versa.
  • Flavoring. Yes, because there's something sweet but intangible. Perhaps a hint of hazelnut...or cinnamon...mocha...depends on the day.
  • Espresso. Strong dark coffee, to reflect my standing on solid ground (or grounds), though I fall short of being double-shot, red-eye strength.
  • Cream. Only the real stuff...well, real milk, anyway. Half-n-half counts. Whipped, frothed, just poured in, iced.... When folks say, "You're so patient," or "You're so at peace," I point to the cream. (Someone added that in--not me!)
And then, there's the dark brown ceramic mug. Capable of breaking, for sure...but capable of receiving a hot beverage to melt that iced nature. I need lots of coffee outings for that!

So where was all that on the quiz? Science has a new area to pursue today. OK...time for a Mr. Coffee-brewed, 1/4 teaspoon-sugared, half-n-half-topped mug in my kitchen with my girls....

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

When a la carte becomes an art

Miss "Mix and Match"
More socks to snatch

From the drawer
You must pull FOUR?!

Did only two
Just make you blue

That now four
Is what you adore?

For feet, it's clear
But why hands, my dear?

Her smile and dance tell me she's smitten
With her new fashion look--the summertime mitten.

OK with me, but just once more
Why, also, the colors be four?

What could be left
To match in her drawer?

Quoth Daughter #2,

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day...or not...yet

Today is Father's Day. It's just that we're not celebrating at our house this year...not on the official Father's Day, anyway.

You know, dads have one of the most difficult roles in the whole world of roles to take on. You don't audition for it. You don't receive the title by getting the best time in a qualifying heat. You don't take entrance exams. And, once you are given the title, the expectations are so very much more than what you expect.

My husband is one of the greatest dads ever. He's really smart, patient, ingenious, clever, witty, quiet... He gives piggybacks and sits through countless pancake and bacon breakfasts at Waffle House, IHOP....anywhere and everywhere (and pancake and bacon dinners, too!). He plays innumerable rounds of Daughter #1's invented games and sits through innumerable reads of the same Dr. Seuss stories with Daughter #2. He was the one who suggested the bunk beds. He was the one who installed the wall of mirrors for our budding dancer. He set up the college funds....a long time ago!

He not only has to deal with the challenges of girls (me included....and especially!), but girls who have some unique challenges of their own--one with personality overload and the other with dialogue underload. And these challenges can be overwhelming, even to the greatest dad who has known them since the beginning. He really does love being a dad... somewhere deep inside....just not this week.

Anyhow, he doesn't want to celebrate Father's Day this year. I suspect he doesn't feel like he's a great father, even though that's not true. It's hard to hear the words from me and even harder, sometimes, to withstand what goes on under our roof and believe that you can do anything right.

So, we'll honor him on Father's Day for being the greatest dad by not celebrating. (And we'll postpone the gifts for a time when he remembers that it's not about how great the kids are at the moment, but that he continues to do the right thing--which he does!)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Beginning of Summer's Day's Dream

The princess said goodbye to her attendants. She would not see them again until the crimson and gold leaves of Fall would grace the trees. They shared one happy last day, enjoying each other's company and eating sweet treats 'round the table. She and the other princesses and princes adorned themselves with garlands of beads before packing up their treasures and returning to their homelands.

The princess, feeling sorrowful over a joy-filled time come to an end, returned to the palace and dressed herself in her finest purple gown. But, slumber soon overtook the fair maiden, and she collapsed into dreamy sleep.

(in the freshly washed clothes....!)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Teaching Points

Waiting outside the ice cream store. It's 10:48 a.m. 95 degrees. It doesn't open until 11. (I'm sure you could serve that smoothie before 11 on a day like today--might even make up for your drab winter sales....)

Why am I here? It's gift card time again. Time to say "thanks" and "so long" to our teachers from this year. I'm Daughter #1's room parent, and the other room parent and I decided on a "gift card basket" for the teacher. I've since decided on a giant pop-up display card which showcases her teacher's favorite phrase--"Keep on the sunny side"--and her gifts as well.

Got me thinking about how amazing teachers can be. Granted, they are not all perfect or necessarily great matches for our kids. But, teachers are still amazing in what they do. Truly, not everyone can teach. Even the Bible tells us that is a special gift.

My Dad was a college professor for many years, offering up biology to socio-economically varied and ethnically diverse classes in an inner city college. I didn't appreciate his challenge until, as a high school student, he let ME edit his students' lab papers. Hard to teach biology when you are teaching them English and grammar at the same time!

My in-laws both taught--one elementary school and the other middle school. Teaching was an all-consuming career. When they got home, there were papers to be graded, lesson plans to be created, new books to be evaluated, etc., etc. And, in those grades, you have all the "growing up" moments to nurture on top of the full slate of academics.

My girls have both needed special education, and so I know full well the learning obstacles to overcome and the creative teaching methods required to reach these kids--a constantly shifting bunch of objectives and approaches...and did I mention personalities??

I believe teachers are called to fulfill their roles. What we don't learn directly from them, we learn from their influence. Gift cards will never be enough thanks. But, it's something fun for them to do or have in the summer months "off."

[OK, it was 11:09 and Cold Stone was still closed. I left. Went to Ukrop's for a gift card. Found Cold Stone cards on the rack. Who needs Cold Stone?.... Maybe I should have bought the Ukrop's card anyway.]

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Kid in the Candy Store

So, blog friend Chatty Kelly has issued an unofficial challenge in response to other blog friend Mrs. P. 5's blog from today: If you were a candy, what would you (and your family) be?

My husband would be a Nestle's Crunch. He crunches the home financial numbers really well. Crunches more cereal and chips than anyone (though Daughter #2 is a very close second). Who needs to do crunches when you can cycle? And he's there in the "crunch" times!

Daughter #2 would have to be Hershey's Kisses or Hugs. Either one. She's a kissy-bug! (But she would tell you she's a lollipop--that's her favorite candy of the moment.)

Daughter #1 is Bazooka Bubble Gum. Pink for her girly side. Bubble gum for her sporty side. Bazooka because she's explosive in every way. And gum because she sticks to those she likes.

Me? Today??

I'm a Goober.
How sad is that? (And I really like Goobers.)

I should have been the kid in the candy store going into the weekend--Daughter #1's sleepover party (see the last blog). We had everything set for a great party. I was ready to stand back and just take in the view and enjoy.

But, no. It was as if, on the way to the candy store, some young bullies took the pennies I was planning to spend right out of my hands. Instead of enjoying a neat party, I saw some behavior that left me wounded, frustrated and, overall, disappointed. And, the real kicker is: I own the candy store! I'm a Goober.

Rite of passage, you might say. This age now brings with it testing, experimentation, silly talk with "grown-up" words, dis'-ing the host--the troubling things I see in Daughter #1 I saw magnified in some of her friends. That was hard. And I was about as effective in dealing with her friends as I am with Daughter #1. (sigh!)

I know Daughter #1's protective gum "bubble" is going to start to thin out. That's what happens to gum that is chewed for a long time. I need to give her a fresh piece to sustain what she is having worn away by the world.

Or, even better--I need to get her reaching for a LifeSaver. (I think Jesus gave me all 5 colored preservers to get me through the past 24 hours.) She has tasted and seen that the LifeSaver is good, but it's hard to give up gum, and it's not going to get any easier.

On a better day--perhaps when a sleepover-weary mind and body are more focused--I would opt to be a Wonka Bar.... taking the slow walk, leaning on the sugar cane of the LifeSaver, and surprising even myself by surviving a flip with a solid landing--then inviting everyone in to my candy store.

Friday, June 6, 2008

9 is a Multiple of 3--That's the Magic Number

I know some of you are of the age to remember Schoolhouse Rock, the series of mini educational music videos that ran between Saturday morning children's programs on ABC in the mid-70s. Given you remember that, you probably know "Three--The Magic Number" which was a Multiplication Rock segment.

Daughter #1 turned 9. My husband asked her if she had any thoughts on turning 9...was she going to try new things, set new goals, etc.? She said that was for New Year's, not for her birthday.

At that point, I said that turning 9 meant that she was a whole year bigger and that new things could open up to her that she hadn't thought of before. Then she piped up that she would, essentially, cause her parents more grief. ("Ha!" she laughed. O, brother......)

My husband then turned the conversation back for the better saying that 9 would be a great year because 9 is a multiple of 3--and that's the magic number!

Daughter #1 thought that was great. She learned her multiplication tables this year and memorized all of the Multiplication Rock songs to do so (just like her Mom!).

And then I thought about 18, because that's a multiple of 3, too. She's halfway to 18. Halfway to being a legal adult and, more than likely, out on her own. Halfway to saying, "Bye, bye, Mom and Dad!"

THAT doesn't make 18 a magic number to me....not today, anyway.

Turning 9 is a reality checkpoint for me as a parent, and a sobering one at that. So much to do. So little time. Her streak of independence is already beginning in a mighty way, and I feel like I lose the ability to be of any use to her. I know that's not true. (I just brought her final project in to school today because she forgot it at home! Very uncharacteristic of Daughter #1, but I actually felt useful!) Anyhow, the learning curve to 9 has been a really steep one.

We had a wonderful family celebration at home, and she received lots of great gifts. She was SO thankful! I cherish those moments because, for the moment, they are few. Now, she will celebrate with some close girlfriends.

If you know me, you know I fuss over these kinds of celebrations. I do want them to be special and memorable (which is why I do goofy stuff like embroider names on washcloths for a sleepover--"You've got to wash your faces. The pimples are coming! The pimples are coming! And that's not all (ugh!)"-- and why we're having a sleepover, period).

I want her to know that friends are important. I want her to know that spending time with friends, doing fun things, is great. And I do want her to know that she is special. Because in the day-to-day, sometimes, that message seems to get lost/mistranslated/obliterated/blocked out/etc.

I do love you, 9 year old! Now, let's vacuum the family room so you and your friends can spill popcorn and Hershey Kiss wrappers all over your sleeping bags.... (I'm so glad you're still only 9!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I Saw Jesus Today

I saw Jesus today.

Now, you may think I'm going to share that neat devotional about seeing Jesus in people you meet. I like that one, too. And I see Jesus in my blog friends. But, that's not where I'm going.

I saw Jesus today.

He was on the aisle next to all the bubble products at the local "Stuff Mart." I was looking for mini-surfboards when his beard and long hair caught my eye.

"What's Jesus doing here?" I thought, and then immediately chuckled. "Why wouldn't Jesus be here?"

The whole scene left me feeling a bit perplexed. I walked around the entire toy shelf and came back for a closer look. Truly, I don't think I've seen a Jesus "action figure" before. There were many boxes lined up. There were boxes of Mary as well, plus a few smaller boxes with Moses and some other figures, AND, a roll-out mat for the characters to travel upon, though I didn't see where they would be going.

A Jesus "action figure."

Apparently, he's not available at Stuff Mart's website, but I did find a description elsewhere: "Messengers of Faith Bible Action Figures make learning about the Bible fun. By activating a voice chip built into the doll, children will hear a story about Jesus as well as a number of Bible verses. Includes a story book and additional resources from Focus on the Family. Measures 12" tall, and is fully articulated. Features realistic eyes, hand-sewn cloth outfits and sandals, 63 seconds of Scripture, recorded in an easy-to-memorize style. Requires 3 button cell batteries, included."

I'm still wrestling with whether this is such a great idea. I know children love to play with dolls of all sorts. Why should Jesus be any different? He comes with Scripture. (Good thing!) Perhaps it's me thinking ahead to what happens when Jesus meets Barbie or Jesus meets a Webkins.... Again, what's wrong with that?

I fear it's really me being a grown-up and having a conversation that goes something like:
"Those are just dolls; they're not real. Jesus isn't just a doll. He's real. He's God's Son."
"Just like it says on the package."
"Yeah....just like it--What?! No.... I mean. Yes....I mean.... NO....."
And what happens when Jesus meets a Transformer or a Power Ranger or a WWF action figure?
"My Jesus can take on your Power Ranger any day!"
"Oh, yeah!?"
Sandals and torn hand-sewn clothes get twisted with fake metal parts, unless someone intervenes.
Jesus, our Lord, packaged in a box for kids to learn 63 seconds of Scripture (for $19.95 online, shipping costs vary). I'm sure the Focus on the Family folks are thinking only the best things for Jesus out there in the toy world. Just as Jesus, our Lord, came to this world to show us love and to overcome the power of sin on our behalf, Jesus, the action figure, comes to this world to show kids a small part of who He is. Is that so bad?

He'll forgive Barbie for her low-cut shirts. He'll hug a Webkins. (Surely, Jesus would agree that they are cuddly.) He has strength and power beyond the crucifixion, which is enough to overpower the vast warehouses of Power Rangers, et al.

But, without the guidance of someone who knows the Lord and is ready to take the next step with our kids, even this Jesus is going to need some help accomplishing his mission.

I just don't want to see Jesus become another doll in the toy box....

"Then God spoke all these words, saying, 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth....'"

--Exodus 20: 1-4 (NASB)