Peanut Butter Days

23Feb2015 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

Sometimes I feel this crazy obligation to make every post have a happy ending.

You know, be encouraging. Lift others up. Keep a stiff upper lip. All that jazz.

But sometimes…I don’t know. Sometimes I think it’s OK to be moody and morose and melancholy, like I am tonight.

I learned about two friends having cancer today. One, I already knew about, but I didn’t realize it had progressed so much. Another one was just diagnosed. And yet another friend is still deep within the battle for life against the awful disease. I feel so stunned, and sad, and tired of seeing amazing people being beaten up by cancer.

And then I feel that combination of intense gratitude, that “thank you, thank you, thank you” that it’s not my child or husband or me in their shoes, and then this horrible sense of guilt because there’s absolutely no reason that it shouldn’t be us instead of them. No reason at all.

I resigned from teaching at church today. It was just one Sunday a month, in Jonah’s class, and I wanted to stick it out for him, because he loves having me in there. But a room full of preschoolers arguing, pouting, refusing to cooperate, spilling, pushing, whining just pushed me over the edge. I can handle a couple of kids, and I truly enjoy my kids’ friends in individual situations. But oh, don’t give me a roomful of them and expect us all to come out the other side in one piece.

I don’t know whether to pat myself on the back for recognizing my limitations, and honoring them, or to kick myself for letting my son down. I like to be someone who helps create solutions, not one who causes problems. I know how hard it is to get volunteers to work with the children, and now I’m part of the problem. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. The kids deserve better than someone who just really doesn’t want to be there.

So, I’m a quitter that quits. Who doesn’t like quitting.

I’ve got one kid wanting and needing to make a radical change for next school year, but I can’t get the people in charge to return my messages. It’s that time of year that we have to start registering for next year’s classes, making plans for all four kids, and as a homeschooling mom, I always feel like I’m messing things up somehow. I tell one about next year’s co-op class schedule, and they balk. Then two others balk as well. I spent HOURS sorting out what would be the best-case schedule and all they can do is complain. I’m tempted to keep my money and do straight homeschooling only. And of course they whine about that option, too.

I’ve got one child who seems to be getting migraines, another one needing a root canal, two being tested soon for learning disabilities, three needing eye appointments, and one showing hints at possible autoimmune symptoms. There are a dozen cavities between three heads that are needing to be filled. I’m grateful for insurance that makes these treatments affordable, but it’s the time management that trips me up, scheduling all those appointments around all the other obligations.

And I know this struggle is not even remotely unique. It’s familiar to every mom out there.

Sometimes I can just blow through the to-do list and accept it as simply what needs to be done. Other days, all I feel is a crushing burden and like I’m wading through peanut butter while I’m struggling to carry it.

I guess I don’t need to tell you that it’s been a peanut butter day?

 

The Mama 500

18Feb2015 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

It’s so funny, the things you let your kids do to you.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the sensation of engine sounds and something dragging across my arm.

I opened my eyes to this:

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It turns out that my body was my son’s car track. He was making all the proper engine noises and running it up and down my arms and legs and even across my forehead.

I said, “Alright, alright…I’m getting up….”

“No! I’m not done driving yet!”

So I just stayed there and made a raised bridge out of my folded arms and he thought that was hilariously fun.

And it was all fun and games until my arms got tired, and he zoomed off into the tangled mass atop my head. AND the car got stuck.

I grumbled and untangled and lost about 20 much-needed hairs in the process, and when I gave the “car” back to him, he made sure to say….

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“It’s NOT a car, Mom! It’s a golf cart.”

 

4000 Miles

17Feb2015 Filed under: blah-blah-blog
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I wish I’d known this play was going to make me desperately miss my grandparents. I’d have brought some Kleenex.

On Sunday, Donnie and I had the pleasure of visiting Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theater to see a play called “4000 Miles.” I find this amazing for several reasons.

  1. We were on a date. With a sitter and everything. It was the third date we’ve had since December 31st, which might be a new post-child record for us. After years of basically neglecting our need for time away from the kids, our only resolution for 2015 was to go out once a month, as near the 15th as possible (our anniversary is on January 15th). And we’ve done it twice! (Yay, us!)
  2. Donnie went to a play. And I didn’t have to drag him, kicking and screaming. He read the synopsis and said, “Yeah. Sure. I’ll go.”
  3. He liked it. He really liked it!

The Aurora Theater is pretty easy to like. Set in Lawrenceville’s historic area, in a renovated church building, the whole atmosphere is warm, welcoming and sophisticated. I had no idea this gem was tucked into this small town, but I sure am glad we discovered it.

“4000 Miles” wasn’t shown in the main auditorium, but in the Peach State Federal Credit Union Studio, a much more intimate venue that is perfect for this production. I’m not sure if there is a technical term for the way the stage was set up, so you theater buffs forgive my ignorance. I’d never seen anything quite like it. It was somewhat like a theater in the round, but really more like a “stage sandwich.” The stage was a long rectangle stretched across the middle of the room, with three or four rows of seats running along the two long sides of it. We were on the front row, with the edge of the stage maybe thirty inches from our feet. It was a little weird at first, seeing the other half the audience looking back at you from across the set. But then I got used to it — and I think that setting really helped us melt into the story, which we found funny, touching and entirely engaging.

It’s the story of 91-year-old Vera, a grandmother living in a tiny New York apartment, who is awakened in the middle of the night by the unexpected arrival of her 21-year-old grandson, Leo. Fresh off a cross-country bike trip, he is in need of a place to stay. A few days’ stay turns into about a month, during which the two of them reconnect in humorous and emotional ways. Sometimes you aren’t sure if they want to hug or slap one another as their individual stories unfold and they become unlikely roommates.

The juxtaposition of old vs. young is poignant at times and hilarious at others, such as when Leo needs to look up a phone number and Vera pulls out the trusty Yellow Pages. At first, Leo comes across as a rather self-centered jerk, but as grandparents often do, Vera’s kindness and spunk wears off the edges and he becomes a quite likable character. Also, as the story evolves and you learn exactly why he is there, you can’t help but feel compassion for his plight.

I should warn that there is some adult language and content that might offend those sensitive to such things. There were a few blatantly sexual comments that would’ve really embarrassed me had I been there with anyone other than my husband. As he said, the more colorful language is true to what you hear from young people today, and reminiscent of the four-letter-bombs our own grandparents were known for dropping occasionally!

Vera was my favorite character, played delightfully well by Mary Lynn Owen. I was surprised to see on the playbill how young she really is, because she was an extremely convincing 91-year-old woman. Her vulnerability, wittiness and loving mannerisms were so reminiscent of my own late grandmother that my heart literally ached for her by the end of the play. Owen’s realistic portrayal reminded me of what I lost when my grandparents died, of what we all lose when we neglect the older generations of our families. How I wish I could wave a magic wand and bring them back for one more conversation, for one more hug, for one last dose of point-blank wisdom wrapped in a soft wool cardigan.

“4000 Miles” is playing through March 1st and would make a great date night or ladies’ night out with your friends. Seriously, you should go.

(And you’ll enjoy the added bonus of knowing you’re supporting our local arts community!)

What $60 Can Do

11Feb2015 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

I want you to give me $60.

Some of you are thinking, “Well, that’s impossible!” You barely have enough in your bank account to pay for gas the rest of this week. You’ve been eating a lot of ramen noodles and peanut butter and you can’t remember the last time you stepped foot inside a restaurant or movie theater. You wish someone would give you $60. Then maybe you could catch up on the electric bill.

Other people reading this spent double that amount taking the family out to eat last night. You’ll spend another $60 this weekend getting mani/pedis with your daughter, another $60 taking her and her friends to the movies, another $60 on snacks during and after the show. And you won’t think twice about it because this is your lifestyle. This is what you’re used to. Life’s too short to not indulge in things you like. Right?

Even if you’re in the first case scenario, sixty dollars isn’t exactly life-changing money. It could bridge the gap to payday, but you couldn’t do anything particularly meaningful with just sixty bucks.

But if you give me that $60, I can do something hugely significant with it.

If you haven’t heard the story of Chris Ategeka, you’ve got to take a few minutes and read this now. It’s the amazing story of how he went from homeless Ugandan orphan to holding a spot on Forbes’ prestigious “30 Under 30″ list.

You know how he got there? Because a totally ordinary somebody like you and me thought it was worth the sacrifice to invest in his education. It really is a fantastic story of how huge things can come from small offerings.

I know 27 Chris Ategekas.

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They all tried starting school on February 2nd, the first day of the new school year. But after a week, the administration expelled them for not having paid their fees. They’re orphans — how can they pay? There’s no free public education in Uganda. No welfare system or food stamps. No safety nets to catch these kids. The schools can’t afford to let them come for free. If someone doesn’t help them, they don’t get educated. Plain and simple.

Our family sponsors as many as we can throughout the year. It’s not many, because we have six people living on one middle-class income. But we’ve spent time with these children and so many of them are truly like family to our adopted Ugandan daughter. We have to help them. We can’t not help, even if it’s always so much less than what we wish we could give.

Because we believe what Chris so eloquently said in the article. “Talent is universal, but opportunities are not….A seventeen-year-old computer genius in San Francisco is not any smarter than a seventeen-year-old kid in the jungles of Africa. They were just born on an uneven playing field.”

These 20+ Ugandan kids I know bubble over with untapped talents and gifts. It’s so sad to me that most of these inner treasures will remain buried.

You know what I found out about our daughter, once she settled in here last summer? She’s a really good little artist. She loves to draw and paint. If you give her paper and some paints or colored pencils, she will sit for hours, joyously creating. She has some real God-given talent inside her and it’s precious to watch it blossom.

A year ago, she didn’t have the luxury of time to create. I don’t know if even she realized she was artistic, as her days were spent waking before dawn to clean and do homework, staying at school until sundown, walking back to the pastor’s one-room house where she lived, cooking dinner, cleaning some more and going to bed. Everything in Uganda is hard and the difficulty of living life took up all of her time. On weekends, there were clothes to hand-wash, gardens to help tend, hours spent in church. Though we sponsored her education, clothing, food and medical care, we were also trying to finance her adoption and there wasn’t extra money to send for art supplies — even if I had known to buy them. Which, I didn’t.

The other kids at the orphanage, the 27 friends she left behind, all have hidden talents, too. But without an education, most will never be nurtured into fruition. How many more Chris Ategekas are there, with answers to the problems that plague our world, who will never be given the opportunity to shine?

One term of school for one of Violet’s friends costs just $60. There are three terms in the Ugandan school year. So for just under $200, you can educate a child for an entire year.

Or, you could spend double that over the course of one weekend because hey, life is short and you want to have fun.

I’m not saying we all need to turn Amish and deny ourselves of every thing we find enjoyable. But I absolutely, totally, 100% believe that nearly all of us could and should make sacrifices to help those in true need. To whom much is given, much is required. And even the poor in America are rich compared to so much of the world.

So, yeah. I want you to give me $60.

Then I’ll combine those gifts, wire them to the pastor and these dear children can get back into school where they belong.

And you get the satisfaction of knowing that your small seed will be growing into something pretty darn amazing.

Self-Made Traps

3Feb2015 Filed under: blah-blah-blog

One of the hardest things about giving up cable TV was losing my HGTV and Food Network. The Sally Homemaker inside me is a self-confessed addict to both of those channels. One thing I don’t miss, however, is the irritation I’d feel while watching some episodes of “House Hunters”.

You’d see couples looking at new houses and whining about the stupidest things. “I like this bedroom, but that wallpaper is atrocious! These light fixtures are falling apart! This kitchen needs updating!”

Well, duh, folks. Repaint. Hang new fixtures. Redo the kitchen if you must (although, in nearly every episode those “dated” kitchens are light-years more modern than the one I cook out of each day). Look at the structure, the big picture, before casting judgment on a home. And speaking of the word “big”, another annoyance with that show was hearing a family of three or four complaining that a house with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, an office and a bonus room was “too small” for them.

Maybe I don’t miss HGTV as much as I thought. Because the older I get, the less tolerant I am for people whining about not having enough.

In recent days, I’ve known of a couple of families smaller than ours who’ve moved into houses two or three times the size of our home, saying they’d “outgrown” their previous living space. Seriously? How do four people “outgrow” a 2,000 square foot home? One person I know who moved recently was at least honest about the reason for the move: they just liked the new house and its location better, and they had gotten a really great deal on the price.

I used to go online and look for houses, because I hated the house we’re living in now. We didn’t really choose it–we moved here to help my aging grandmother, and at the time, had just two kids. Now we have six people in this three-bedroom, two bath, 1600 square-foot brick ranch. It was built in 1971 and shows every minute of its age, and then some. The to-do list of repairs around here is never-ending. We’re about to embark on a frugal remodel that will turn our carport into a living room and free up some space for an extra bedroom and small home office. Another bathroom would be fantastic, but it’s not in the budget and I don’t know where we’d put it, anyway.

Could we sell this place and move into a bigger, more modern house? Yes, we certainly could. But the mortgage here is reasonable and there’s just no excuse for not fixing up and taking care of what we already have. At least, I can’t come up with one.

Americans keep using this word “need” but I don’t think it means what we think it means. If we were really taking the definition of the word seriously, most of us would find that what we really need (i.e.: requiring something because it is essential) is less in our lives, not more.

We’re experts at weaving self-made traps and then complaining when we can’t get free. One of my favorite bands, The 77s, wrote a song about it in the 1990s.

It would take about 50 blog posts to cover all the ways that I keep myself in bondage, and I’m going to write a series touching on a few. But I guess I started with this one because at least in one way, I can celebrate the freedom of finally unlocking one cage and escaping the pressure of longing and lusting for a more palatial place to live. I’ve finally realized that I don’t need it.

I just don’t need it.

And this contentment I feel, well, contentment is a great gift from God and He must wonder why so many of us take so dang long to embrace it.

I’m 46. That means that even in a best-case scenario, my life is half over. It could end today–only God knows. But realizing I’ve only got, at most, a few decades to leave a legacy and do something good with my life, well, it has shifted my priorities all over the place. I used to want bigger-better-fancier-newer and now I just want to help others have enough. I want to trim my life of enough fat (literally and figuratively) so that I’m not locking myself up in ways that keep me from doing what God has called me to do.

If any of this resonates with you, come back in a few days when I’m going to talk about it some more. And please, comment and share your thoughts!