Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shoeboxes!

So it's National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child.  Our church's official "turn in your box" day was Sunday, so I gave it a few days to let the last of the stragglers come in, then I picked them up today (all 109 of them!) after our MOPS steering team meeting.  I dropped Joanna off at home with the babysitter before taking AJ with me to the collection site.  Prior to leaving the house, I pulled out one of the boxes that our family had packed and we prayed over it, just like last year.  Except this year I knew better than to talk about the individual things that were in it and how much fun the boy or girl who got that box would have with them.  And that was when the tears came.  Again.

Since last year, I'd collected all sorts of little things - kids meal toys, small gifts given in multiples to my kids (we kept one), a few little things left over from some random stuff given to our MOPS group (stamps, magnets, etc.), the hard candy from the kids' Halloween bag, etc.  And I'd bought a couple of things - dish sets from Ikea (plate, cup, bowl, and utensils in six colors, so there were six sets which made our goal this year to fill six boxes so that one set could go into each), and a few puzzles and the Target Dollar Spot.  We had an overflowing reusable grocery bag full of stuff to put into boxes.  And there had been JUST enough boxes left over when the church seemed to stop taking them for us to have our six (four of which I didn't even wrap - and considering that I wrapped 61 this year, that's saying something)!


On the day I set aside for us to fill our boxes, AJ did GREAT.  He was the one who did most of the packing (with a _little_ direction from Mama, but really not a whole lot).  Joanna we had to keep an eye on as emptying things is her current favorite activity, but even she didn't do too badly (it helped that they each got a Target Dollar Spot puzzle too - that I gave them as a distraction when we _started_ the packing instead of at the end like last year).  While there were a few exclamations of "I have this toy" (typically the truth - we purged a LOT of duplicates from the toy bin), there was no question of where the things needed to go, just which box to put them in.



The problem came when we needed to bring the boxes out to the car.  Because, even though he understood that the TOYS were for the children who didn't get Christmas presents, somehow AJ had determined that the BOXES needed to go under OUR Christmas tree.  RIGHT NOW.  Never mind that we don't have a tree yet.  Never mind that we'd just spent an hour filling the boxes with stuff for other kids.  No...shoe boxes went under Christmas trees.  Specifically OURS.

Once the boxes were out of sight at church with all the rest, the discussion ended (yay for "out of sight, out of mind!").  Until we filled our car with the 109 boxes that our church and MOPS group had collected (including our six).  Then AJ started talking again about how the boxes were going to go under our tree.  When I corrected him, explaining that God had blessed us so that his daddy and grandparents and I could more than take care of him this Christmas/birthday but the boys and girls who didn't have enough maybe even for food would get these shoe boxes, well, that started the waterworks.

Le sigh....maybe at "almost 5" he'll be old enough to understand true, selfless generosity.  At least this year it wasn't about the toys.  And the way to make him happiest this Christmas will be to put whatever toys he's given into a shoe box-sized package (nice that he's still mostly easy-to-please - although we've DEFINITELY heard more "I wants" this year than ever before).

But I'm still proud of my little man.  Giving away something that you want for yourself is never easy, especially when you really just don't understand why.  But he was brave and did a great job helping to carry boxes into the collection site.  And he got to go inside McDonalds with mama afterward to have lunch.  So I think that all is right again in his world.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Surprises

So the other day, AJ announced, "Look, Mommy!  I drew my name!"

So I looked on the paper and, sure enough, there were the letters "A" and "J," clear as a bell.

And knowing that I have done no such instruction, I asked (several times) if his babysitter had been practicing with him.  "Nope" (each time I asked).

And to make sure it wasn't a fluke (or that maybe the babysitter had written it earlier that day and he was just mistakenly taking credit for it), I asked him to do it again.

And he did it again.  Then he drew a picture over it.

So I had him do it again.

And again he scribbled over it after he was done and before I could get the camera.

So I had him do it AGAIN and then I snatched the paper away from him while I found the camera.

Then I took this:


Don't mind the dirty face.  He'd just finished dinner.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Whoops....

So I thought about posting several times yesterday.  But then I forgot.  So I made it two whole days this year.

Oh well.  I'll keep going, but I'm not gonna be too upset if I miss more days since I've already blown it (NaBlowPoMo?).  Haha.  Sorry...still sleepy....

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Day 2

I voted.  I feel like that's an obligatory statement today.  But I did.

I also just had the best Greek salad I've ever had for lunch.  It was a pre-packaged one I bought at the cafeteria.  I've bought them before and have no idea what was so spectacular about this one, but it was G-O-O-D, GOOD!

Now you know (and knowing is half the battle).

(The other half probably includes actually _doing_ something.)

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaBloPoMo

That's right....it's my kids' grandparents' favorite time of year - National Blog Posting Month, where I'm supposed to post every day for a month..  I made it last year.  I'm not feeling terribly inspired, but we'll give it a go again this year.

For our first post, the cutest pirates in the world:

Friday, October 01, 2010

Feeling Obligated to Post

So I haven't posted much in a while.  It wasn't intentional, life's just happened.  A lot.  And I haven't felt like talking about it necessarily.  Nothing bad, just too busy to ponder deep ponderings or come up with witty things to say.

But something prompted me to look at my blog stats today, which made me notice that there are actually real people looking at my blog occasionally and not just the folks who click "next blog" on the top.  Many of them are still searching for Unisom/B6 anti-morning sickness and finding me (which considering I wrote all of ONE post about that, still surprises me - ladies, go see your OB/midwife, because "Darn it, Jim, I'm a rocket scientist, not a doctor!"), but occasionally real people are clicking through from my comments on Stuff Christians Like or just stopping by on their own.

So I thought maybe I should post something.  Especially considering that NaBloPoMo is coming up and I usually at least attempt to participate in that.  So maybe I should gear up or something.  Consider this some linguistic stretching.

Oh, and Jones baby #3 is due on March 24th!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Famous! That's me!

So I think I've talked about our love for Phil Vischer's new venture JellyTelly.com and its spin-off "What's in the Bible? With Buck Denver."

We love them.  A lot.  We haven't _quite_ camped out at the local bookstore to make sure we get ours on its release date, but we're really not far from it.

Well, a few weeks ago, they were asking for people to guest post on their blog.  I offered.  Then I never replied when their blog lady Melanie emailed me with possible dates.

Then I MET PHIL VISCHER at the MOPS convention in Orlando!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Don't believe me?

Ta-da!

(Now I have the "complete set" as I got a pic with Mike Nawrocki (Larry the Cucumber) at last year's MOPS convention)

Don't believe that he's Bob the Tomato?

video

Well he is.

Anyway, so after MOPS convention (at which I showed up to his talk 30 minutes early...because I'm a "bit" of a fan), I emailed Melanie again and asked if I could still write a guest blog.

She said, "Sure!  Have it to me by Monday!"

And here it is!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Date Night

So VNB's been working long, crazy hours for what seems like forever.  It doesn't help that in between weeks of long, crazy hours, he's had opportunities to go backpacking with friends, either leaving me and the kids at home, or leaving us back at the campground with other friends and kids.  But his location changed computer systems a few weeks ago and he needed to prep for that, then deal with the aftermath.  And about the time that was wrapping up, things started ramping up for their bi-annual inventory which is next weekend.

He's been great about being sure to be home if I needed to go someplace and has always made it home in time to say goodnight to the kids (even if sometimes that involved bringing a laptop home too) and I love and respect that he works so hard to support our family and wants to make sure that the job is done and done correctly...but it's been lonely around here sometimes.

So we did something a little unusual last night - we skipped out on small group (we usually host it!) and went to a friend's birthday dinner at a ritzy restaurant in Baltimore.

Now, I'm not a big clotheshorse and tend to the "practical" side when it comes to clothing purchases, so I pretty much have "home" clothes, "work" clothes, and "church" dresses.  I've got a couple of dresses that (mostly due to two kids and their aftermath on my hips) are a _little_ too short for church now, but really nothing that screams "Friday night out at trendy restaurant in Baltimore."  And I'd worn one of my two "not-quite-for-church" dresses on our last night out without the kids (with his aunt and uncle) a few months back, so I opted for just a work shirt, some jeans, fancy sandals (in my mind anyway), and makeup.

VNB was a little disappointed that I didn't wear a dress when I picked him up from work to go to the restaurant, but he still thought I looked nice.  I was more concerned about being over-dressed than under-dressed, personally, so we went on to the restaurant.  We were the first of our group to get there and it was clear that I would not have been over-dressed in one of my "not-quite-for-church" dresses.

I didn't really care one way or the other, but VNB was worried that I'd feel under-dressed and we had time, so he sent me shopping.  The hostess knew of a place a couple of blocks away that sold clothes, so I started walking on my shopping adventure, passing another couple bound for the party on the way.  The wife came shopping with me while the husband went on to the restaurant to keep VNB company.

I had a suspicion from a) the name of the store and b) the fact that it was right on the harbor in Baltimore that it would be pricier than my normal shopping venues, but it completely blew my mind when we went in and the cheapest thing we could find (on the CLEARANCE rack) was like $60.  And U-G-L-Y!  So my friend and I decided that I'd try on a few of the uber-expensive things, and text VNB a pic (and price tag!).

I was assured by everyone present that the $138 "dress" I tried on looked great on me (I was _NOT_ wearing the proper undergarments for that dress and after two babies...well....I need some support).  But VNB said it was worth the price tag (!!!!!! this from the man who wants us to cut back on our fast food intake so that we can save every penny for a new house).  The sales girl thought the store next door might have supportive undergarments, so we went there prior to purchasing anything.

I was thinking "Urban Outfitters" when she said "Urban Chic" is right next door.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I found a dress in there that was shaped so that I didn't need to purchased new undergarments and in a color that I liked.  Then I looked at the price tag.

$300!!!!!!

I'm not kidding.

So we looked at a couple of other dresses and shirts there.  $250.  $275.  Occasionally we'd find something for _ONLY_ $220.

And it's not like these were woven with gold fibers or were jewel-encrusted or anything.  They were just cotton fabric.  And not even especially high-quality!  And this is normal spending for some people!  Crazy.

But then I saw what I thought was a shirt.  It was "only" $70 (had to have been the cheapest non-accessory in the entire store - which had a baby line too, btw!), so I went to try it on.  Turns out it was a slinky dress that allowed me to continue wearing my undergarments and fit me like a glove.  So I bought it, without even taking it off.  The cashier stuffed my clothes into the world's tiniest bag, and then we were off to CVS.

My initial plan was to spend a few minutes in their bathroom shaving (after purchasing the necessary items), but we gave up on that idea in favor of pantyhose (control top for the slinky dress!!), and then gave up on that idea in favor of fancy ($8) flip-flops.

We then made our way back to the restaurant (everyone was there by then) and were immediately escorted to our table (which was only just then available) and proceeded to have an awesome time with friends.  And even got home in time to get the babysitter home before her driving curfew!

And it was great to get to spend time with my husband who wanted to spoil me a little.  We both needed the break, and we needed the time together.

But it was quite the adventure!  And now I have a new dress!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Review: Out of the Spin Cycle

So really, this hasn't become an "all review all the time" kind of blog, I've just had a couple of reviews that were due at certain times (like this one) and haven't posted much in between.  I'm getting back to where I think I'll start posting again soon, really.

But back to the book.  This is this year's MOPS devotional book (which is included as part of the mentor mom membership!) - Out of the Spin Cycle: Devotions to Lighten Your Mother Load by Jen Hatmaker.  It's a 175-pg devotional book (40 devotions total) that again was given to me (for free!) by Revell (the publisher) so that I'd review it here sometime this week.  Its sticker price is $11.99, but Amazon has it for $8.63 (again, affiliate links).

This is not a "let me expound on this Scripture passage" type of devotional.  It's a "let me tell you a funny/poignant story (usually about my kids) and relate it somehow to God/the Bible" kind of devotional.  The stories, thankfully, are never trite although it touches on familiar themes like worry and not being/doing enough.  It's written from the perspective of a married woman, so there are many "married" examples that may not be specifically applicable to single moms, but I think there are plenty of useful "generic mom" devotions for everyone.

At the end of each devotion there are a couple of questions relating to the text, followed by a task (or two) to help you "Step Out of the Spin Cycle."  As moms, we wear many hats and are pulled in many, many directions.  The spin cycle is a very apt analogy, both in terms of the "over and over and over again" of dishes and laundry and always-dirty kids, but also in terms of life seeming to be completely out of our control.  I really like the practical (and usually quick) ideas for how to step away at least from that mentality, even if life stays busy.

Each devotional is just a few pages long, so I was usually able to read them in the few moments I had between waking up myself and letting the kids get up.  Occasionally I was even able to concentrate on one or two when AJ was awake and snuggling in bed with me.  They're not too long that they take lots of time that you already don't have, but they're long enough that the actually _say_ something every single time.  There was not a single devotional that I walked away from without having something to think about.  They're also short enough that they could be used at a MOPS or MOPS steering team meeting.  And since they're each stand-alone devotionals (instead of building off of each other), you could find one that applies to the topic at hand and just read that one.

Were there any devotionals that blew my mind and changed my life?  Eh...not really.  But they were all good, practical, and timely.  Definitely a book I'd recommend!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hello! And a Little Tidbit...

So, a crazy thing has been happening lately.  People have been reading my blog.  I don't get it.  I've hardly posted in like two months and yet random people that I don't know keep following my blog.  It's not even halfway through the year and I've already surpassed my page-load stats from last year.  Granted, I think I forgot to add in the counter code back in for a little while last year after Blogger changed some things up, but still.  I'm not really sure why you're here, but you're welcome to stay!  Maybe one of these days I'll get on the ball and actually post regularly!

In the mean time, here's a little tidbit I've been thinking a lot about lately - the church's definition of "success." Churches have limited resources, so they have to use some metric to determine which ministries get money and  how much.  Frequently that metric is "we've always done it, so we have to keep doing it."  While that's not necessarily the best of metrics, it's also far from the worst.  I'm not talking about that one right now.  Next to that one though, the metric tends to be "results."  But how does a church gauge results?  Well, we're told not to judge, so it's not like we can look at the people involved in the ministry and decide whether or not spiritual growth has occurred.  So what do we do instead?  Well, we look at the numbers.  How many people are coming?  How many people have had a need met by the ministry?

And we want to see results right away.  Because it's God's money and we don't want to waste it.

So what would you call someone who plugged away at their ministry for three years.  Heart and soul poured into it.  Every moment of every day he was either meeting needs, teaching, or preparing to do one or the other.  And at the end of those three years, even with miraculous things happening, there were only 120 people who were "regular attenders."  Oh, there were other hangers-on, but really only 120 were into it.  The modern church, I think, would call that man a failure.

I'd call Him Jesus.

Maybe we should rethink our metrics and our definitions of success.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Review - Momology: A Mom's Guide to Shaping Great Kids

So this year MOPS sent me their "theme" book again to review (for free!!  LOVE IT!).  And like last year, it was well worth the read.  This year's theme is "Momology: The Art and Science of Mothering," so it makes very good sense for the theme book to be called "Momology: A Mom's Guide to Shaping Great Kids."  It was written by Shelly Radic, the Chief of Staff for MOPS, International with a foreword by Naomi Cramer Overton, the president of MOPS.  It's published by Revell (the actual ones responsible for sending me my free copy), is just over 200 pgs long, and normally retails for $13.99 (Amazon has it for $10.07).  It is available here.  (This is an affiliate link, so I get like $0.02 if you buy the book through that link.)

So now for the review.  I'll start with what I didn't like about it (not a whole lot and mostly picky, stupid things), then move on to what I _did_ like.

Didn't like:
- In an effort to make it look like the insets were actually sticky notes, the book is printed with two colors - black and sticky-note yellow.  It's not a big deal for the notes themselves, but for some (stupid) reason, it bothers me in the header.  Like I said, stupid.
- There are statistics quoted in various insets that I frankly just don't believe.  Now, I'm pretty sure these were unscientific polls taken from a subset of the population (probably mostly made up of MOPS moms who are proactive enough to fill out a survey), but to say that 71.4% of people "know the God-given purpose for their life?"  (That's on pg 196.)  Isn't that supposed to be the biggest problem that most people have?  In the introduction it says that the stats were from surveys taken of 1800 moms, but I just don't believe that one in particular.  Maybe that's just me though!
- Last year, MOPS, International was rolling out a new steering team position - Service/Outreach.  That was right up my alley, so not only did I take on that role, but I also REALLY appreciated that one of the main aspects of the theme last year centered on serving others.  This year, serving others accounts for like half a paragraph, buried in the middle of a chapter/section on something else.  It seems to me like serving others should be a large part of the "recipe" that makes up being a mom, but I recognize that not everyone is the same in that regard.

Liked:
- This too, is relatively stupid, but I LOVE well-edited books.  There's nothing more annoying to me than an inset placed such that there's no natural pause in the text for the reader to read the inset.  There are a _LOT_ of insets in this book (just flipping through, it's probably something close to 50% of the pages).  I think I remember ONE time that I had to flip back to read the inset.  That's some DARN good editing/formatting.
- I also appreciated the "scientific" chapter/section notation (i.e., 3.2.1 Neighbors, etc.).
- I like that they're trying very hard to make this an interactive experience, opening up moms to more opportunities for community.  Often throughout the text or in a "Practicum," examples will be given for some strategies to use in a given situation and the reader is encouraged to go to mom-ology.org to add their own strategies or discuss dilemmas they are having.
- While I wasn't quoted this year, I enjoy the "Voices" sections where they quote actual moms as they discuss the topic at hand.
- I also enjoyed the "Field Study" and "Practicum" sections of the text.  The Field Studies are insets where one mom tells her story (that relates to the subject at hand) and the Practicums are either specific tasks the reader can do to put that subject matter into practice or they are questions for discussion/thought.
- One other structural aspect of the book was how short each section was.  It was handy for frequent interruptions.  The sections flowed well enough into each other that it was never a problem to continue on to the next section if I was able, but it was also always very easy to quickly finish the section I was on and put the book down to tend to whatever emergency was at hand!
- Now, as for the subject matter, while it seemed at times to stay on the surface of some of the topics, I think it went through a good range of topics that are issues with almost all moms.  Occasionally there was something that would be unique to a married mom, but I think that's to be expected.    Topics range from body issues to discipline to dealing with family to figuring out your purpose in life, and are centered around four ideas:

  • "Knowing who we are: building a healthy, resilient mom CORE
  • Knowing what we're capable of: developing FINESSE in the ways we daily interact with our kids
  • Knowing who we can count on: interacting within a CIRCLE of relationships that support us and our kids
  • Knowing who God is: engaging with him in his GRANDSCAPE"
(quoted from the Introduction on pg 12)

All in all I enjoyed this book and definitely look forward to another great year in MOPS!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fooled You!

So there for a while, I was posting almost _regularly_!  Bet you though I was gonna keep it up, didn't you?

Fooled you!


Just kidding....it's been super busy these past few weeks.  Really, I'll get back to posting here shortly.  I've got at least one book review that's overdue, another one due soon, one more "deep pondering" that's been percolating for a while (having to do, ironically, with book reviewing), and some fun stuff from the kids.

On a funny note, I had that "Fooled You!" quote in my head.  I knew it was a quote from a favorite movie, and I could picture the actor's lips (and hear his voice) as he was saying it....but it's taken me like half an hour to remember which movie it was from (Dark Helmet says it in Spaceballs).  Now I have visions of Rick
Moranis' lips stuck in my head.  Nice.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Guest Post

Today we're part of something big here at "Common Sense."  Jon Acuff of StuffChristiansLike.net is doing one of his (in)famous "scorecard" posts, but is letting lots of us, his readers, participate by posting individual scorecard items on our sites.  Click through to SCL to see the whole scorecard.  The key will be posted tomorrow on his site.

So, without further ado...

The “Is that contestant on American Idol a Christian? Scorecard”

33. The first time they see the huge crowds that they perform in front of they mention, “Imagine if we did a love offering in here?” = + 3 points 


To add up your score with over a 130 other ideas on this scorecard, visit stuffchristianslike.net.

And to buy his new book, click here (note, I'm now an Amazon Affiliate, so I'll get like $0.02 out of the deal too).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Laurel Pregnancy Center: Race/Walk For Life!

On Saturday, April 24th, I'll be getting up earlier than normal.  Leaving the kids and their daddy in their beds, putting on some running shoes, and making a valiant attempt at running an entire 5k.  Theoretically, I'll be training for it too, but if it goes anything like last year, that won't actually happen.  But it's only 5k.  I can "run" most of that.  And walk the rest.

But it's all for a good cause.  This is one of the fundraisers for the Laurel Pregnancy Center, a crisis pregnancy center in my home town.  They offer lots of services, including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes, post-abortion counseling, and pregnancy options counseling.  And it's all for free!  To anyone!

To help them out, you can sponsor me on my "run" by clicking here, then clicking on the "sponsor me" button on the right-hand side.  They can send you an invoice if you don't want to put your credit card info online.

I love the work that the LPC does - giving people choices, explaining what those choices actually mean to all parties involved, and loving them through whatever choice they make.  And while I've got 100 excuses as to why I can't actively participate right now in the actual work that they do, I can help them raise money to keep doing it.  So help a girl out!  Sponsor me!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Church "Friends"

Because of may factors all coming together recently, I've come to a realization: most "church friends" are really a lot more like co-workers than they actually are friends.

Now, before I get to far into this, I want whatever non-church-going friends I have (that actually read this) to understand that I'm not so much downing the church as I am just pointing out the nature of the beast (if you will). So don't add this as another "black mark" against the church, please! :) Instead see this as an introspective on how I, personally, need to be better. Yes, it applies to much of the universal church too, but mostly it applies to me.

But back to my point. See, you have no (or little) choice about who your co-workers are going to be. But whether or not you would have been BFFs in high school, you're still expected to act "professionally" around and to them. Yes, your co-workers can be a decision point for whether or not you'll take or stay in a certain job, but unless you're the one doing the hiring, you have little say in who else works there.

Similarly, you can pick a church with people in it that you get along with and enjoy (maybe they're all in a similar life stage as you), and you can choose to leave a church if you don't get along with the people there...but really, you have no say over who is admitted into the community of people who meet in your particular church building. It's not like it's acceptable for you to stand at the door of your Sunday School class and ask for the secret handshake, kicking out anyone who doesn't know it. In fact, not only do you not have any control over who comes, but you're also expected to "love" everyone who shows up.

So how does this work itself out in the day-to-day operations of a group of people attending the same church? Well, a group is thrown together for some purpose (let's call it a committee that is supposed to administer a certain ministry or activity within the church). Now, this group will have _something_ in common (other than just attending the same church), namely they all (theoretically) have some desire to see the ministry/activity succeed. Beyond that, however, they may have nothing at all in common, especially when talking about personalities. (Thinking back to the co-workers analogy, your project team all works at the same company on the same team, but that doesn't mean that your personalities are well suited for actual friendship.)

So even though your personalities may not go well together (or may even conflict greatly), you're expected to work together towards this purpose. So just like in your office you might put on a mask of "professionalism" prior to working with these other people, in church, you'd put on the mask of "love" for everyone. You put up with them at the meeting and say hello to them if they see you at the grocery store, and when you talk to them it's only about the "work" that you do together (relating to whatever ministries you're both a part of), but you don't know (or maybe even really care) what's going on with them beyond how they get their job done as it relates to you. Maybe you know the latest news in their life through Facebook or the grapevine, but you don't really know _them_.

Do we do this on purpose? I don't think we do. I think we're just too busy to take the time to get to know people in general, and have gotten into bad habits of assuming friendship where there really isn't any.

Maybe a more apt analogy is that a church is like a family (go figure). You have no choice over who comes into it, no ability to kick people out of it, and are expected to maintain a certain level of decorum around those with whom you interact. Some families are more "functional" than others.

So how do we (I) change this? I think it has a lot to do with the follow-up. In pretty much any ministry in a church, we take the time to share "prayer requests." One of the sweetest things anyone ever did for me was call me up after a doctor's appointment they knew I'd been worried about to see how things went and if there was any way they could help. That particular person, even though she had no ministerial reason to follow up with me on that thing is someone that I know actually cares about _me_ and isn't just putting up with me.

It think it also has to do with learning to be a better conversationalist. Instead of always resorting to the easy prey of common job functions, we (I) should have in our proverbial back pockets questions about something they mentioned the last time you saw them (maybe one of those prayer requests). I know that I, for one, am TERRIBLE with small talk. It terrifies me to the point that I'll just sit there and say nothing rather than try to think up something to say to someone. Apparently that's intimidating. But if someone can get me talking, it's hard to shut me up. Occasionally I might even be funny or insightful. I wonder if, in this age of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, we have lost the ability to have normal conversations? Or maybe it's just me sucking at it and assuming that everyone else does too. I don't know. Like I said, this is introspective.

I also think that we need to stop pretending like everyone is actually friends with everyone else. Co-workers with the same goal? Sure. Friends? No. We can be on the same committee and not go to each others' birthday parties without it being a big "thing." It's ok for people to have circles of friends that do not include me (or you). And I'm not forming a clique if I want to go camping with a group that's not all-inclusive of the whole church.

But having said that, it's also not ok to ONLY ever do stuff with that one group of people to the exclusion of all others. Sure, you might be closest with a small group of folks (that's natural), but you might be missing out on a lot of wisdom and fun by not ever talking to anyone else.

I think this works both ways though. There's a great movement within the church for "authenticity." Usually this involves admitting that you curse or drink or something. I think what this should really mean is that when someone asks you in the hallway how you are, you actually stop and give them an honest answer. I'll bet you money that the next time you ask that same person how they are, they'll be honest with you as well. I'm not talking about over-sharing ("well, little Timmy's got this boil on his hiney that we can't seem to get to go away..."), I'm talking about giving something more than just "fine how are you?" as you race past each other.

I'm also talking about actually paying attention when someone is speaking to you. I know I find my eyes wandering when speaking to folks. And usually when my eyes wander, my brain isn't too far behind. And if my mind's wandering when I'm talking to someone, then I have no idea what they're saying and have been far more rude than if I'd just walked on by without saying anything at all.

Anyway....this is long and rambly. Think about the people with whom you interact (especially in a "church" setting). Think about how you actually treat them. Then try to change so that you're actually friends instead of just co-workers. Or find something you can learn from them rather than just putting up with them like you do "crazy uncle Bob." If you feel so led, share about an experience (for good or bad) in the comments.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Winston Churchill (Christian Encounter Series) by John Perry

So recently I signed up with "BookSneeze" which is Thomas Nelson Publishers' way of using social media to get the word out about their new books. You get to pick a book, they send it to you (for free!), you read it, then you review it on your blog and on a consumer blog (like Amazon).

I just finished reading it, so here's my review of Winston Churchill: Christian Encounter Series by John Perry:


This is your basic biography of Winston Churchill. It covers his entire life, giving roughly equal treatment to every time period. The author tells about all of his various adventures, both good and bad, and throughout maintains a theme of Churchill's spirituality.

One reason that I selected this book was because the subject surprised me. With a series title like "Christian Encounters," one assumes that the subject in question is, in fact, a Christian. Since I'd not heard before that Churchill was a believer, this intrigued me. It was frustrating then to find that not only was Churchill not necessarily a Christian, but his beliefs basically didn't change throughout his life. He apparently saw religion only as a useful tool in giving people hope (i.e., "the opiate of the masses"). While he saw himself as being protected throughout his life by some force, he gave as much credit to destiny as he did God. If there had been some development in his spiritual beliefs (even if they never came to match my own), it would have at least been interesting, but there was no development. As biographies go, I suppose it was a fair one. It seemed odd to me that there was no more time given to WWII than there was his childhood, but otherwise it was informative. I think my biggest problem with it is including Sir Winston in a series entitled "Christian Encounters."

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Seeing the Miraculous

So today, our MOPS group packed our buckets. Each discussion group filled their own as I read aloud a prayer I'd written, calling out each food item as it was to be packed. In one of the sections of the prayer, I asked that the food in the buckets would be multiplied (thinking that, like the widow, it would last the Haitian family until they could provide for themselves).

I'd brought a fifth bucket with me. One that was only about half-filled that VNB's office had put together (they had completed one bucket, but hadn't quite made it with the second). I brought it (and the other "extra" stuff that we had) in order to fill in gaps where we could (worked well because one mom brought ziti instead of spaghetti) and just in case someone brought more than was needed for their bucket.

In a couple of cases, someone mentioned that they had brought something, so I directed them toward the table with extra stuff....but for the most part, every time I glanced over at the table, there was another of something. Usually it was the sugar. I'd lost track of one canister amidst our various buckets (family, small group, Sunday School class, MOPS, Ferguson, etc.) which magically re-appeared today. But as the morning progressed, there was another canister of sugar. I knew it wasn't one of mine because it was a different brand. Then, when time came to pack up, there wasn't just one of that brand, there were two!

And then when I'd collected everything and brought it out to the car, someone found more rice.

The food was literally multiplying.

I know I asked for that to happen...but wow...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Buckets of Hope

A few days ago, I mentioned that I'd been busy with something called "Buckets of Hope," but I've failed to mention what it is exactly and since time is quickly running out, I wanted to give you the scoop.

Basically, the "Buckets of Hope" campaign is a way for people to give food to Haitian families through the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. They've got more info here, but basically, for about $30-35, you can feed a Haitian family for about a week.

What you do is you buy a white, 5-gal bucket with minimal branding on the outside. Then you buy:

  • Two 5-lb bags of long grain enriched rice
  • Two 2-lb bags of black (or red) beans (if you can't find 2-lb bags, you can get four 1-lb bags)
  • Two 1-lb boxes of spaghetti
  • One 5-lb sack of all-purpose (not self-rising) flour
  • One 48-oz plastic bottle of cooking oil (wrapped in a 2-gal ziplock bag)
  • One 40-oz plastic container of peanut butter
  • One 20-oz cylinder of sugar (like you'd use for coffee service at work)
  • $10 cash to help defray shipping costs
Once you've packed your bucket according to the directions found here, you bring it to your local participating Southern Baptist church (like mine) or your local Southern Baptist State Convention (like the BCM/D). The state convention will then ship the buckets they've collected to a warehouse in Florida, and from there, they'll all be shipped to Haiti for distribution there.

Local churches may have their own due dates for buckets, but they definitely _have_ to be at the state conventions by Monday, March 15th - that's THIS coming Monday. Sorry for the short notice.

The SBC did something similar with boxes of food that were sent to Iraq when I was there. Many thousands of Iraqis were helped by those boxes, and there were countless opportunities to share why we were feeding those in need. I don't think I can express how amazing an opportunity this is.

Could your $30 buy more food if it were sent to Haiti? Well, maybe, depending on scarcity. Would it be a LOT less work for you to just donate $30 to Compassion or World Vision or Samaritan's Purse or the Red Cross? Yes. But taking the time to fill a bucket with food that will be sent to a specific family that is in dire straits? It makes it personal and tangible for you.

Some people say that donation drives like this aren't as "effective" as monetary donations. And if you're merely looking at the stuff that can be purchased with the same amount of money locally (where the shipping costs are minimal and you're more likely to get something that the locals actually use), then they're right.

But this sort of thing isn't just about the people that are being helped. It's also about the people who are helping. Shaun Groves likes to say that Compassion not only releases children from poverty, but they also release Americans (and others) from their wealth.

By giving each of us a tangible way to help, it brings the tragedy closer to us. It's almost too easy to give money. It goes right from the bank to the organization or from the credit card to the organization. Sometimes you have to fiddle a little with your budget to make things work, but for the most part, you never even miss the money.

But _stuff_...._stuff_ is real. Stuff is tangible. Stuff awakens the imagination.

I pray that you will be released from a little of your wealth by filling at least one "Bucket of Hope" today!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Riches

Right now, several bloggers are in Kenya checking out Compassion, International's work there. I think I already posted about it. Yep. Hopefully you've been reading along on their posts.

If you haven't, here are two recent ones telling the story of meeting Eliud.

Brad Ruggles: A Father to the Fatherless
Shaun Groves: Sight for the Blind

Are you rich?

I know that I am.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Freedom

(Hey Company Girls! Our virtual coffee time these last few weeks has been taken over by info about the Help Haiti Live concert. I hope that didn't offend you, but I couldn't think of a better way to get the info out to a lot of people than to bring you, my Company Girls along! Now that the concert's over, I'll remind you of the auctions that are still on-going here and mention the group of bloggers that are in Kenya with Compassion right now, but for the most part, we'll be getting back to our "regularly-scheduled programming" now.)

So, I wouldn't say necessarily that I've had a "homemaking epiphany" lately, because it's something I've heard from lots of sources for a long time now, but I guess I recently just started actually implementing it in my life. That non-epiphany is that I don't have to do everything absolutely to completion, nor do I have to do it perfectly. And it's been amazing how freeing that's been for me.

To implement this non-epiphany, each day, I make a list of things that need to be done. Some of them have to be done today (meals, any planned outings for the day, any errands that need to be run, daily cleaning regimens, etc.), some of them need to be done soon (laundry, tasks that have upcoming due dates, etc.), and some of them just need to be done sometime (deep cleaning something, getting something ready to be put away for a long time, etc.). By spelling out the necessaries like breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I get lots of things to cross off my list (and I also have a better understanding myself of what I actually do all day)! And by simply rejoicing that I got _some_ stuff crossed off the list each day (and not beating myself up because I didn't get _EVERYTHING_ crossed off), it ends up being simply a reminder of my successes rather than an onerous list of onerous tasks that have to get done.

Sometimes things get copied from yesterday's list to today's list for weeks. And that's ok. Eventually I get tired of rewriting them and actually _do_ them. Sometimes I break up a task into sub-tasks just so that I can cross more stuff off the list! (Sometimes I do it because _part_ of the job got done, but not ALL of it and I want to celebrate that too!) Frequently I add things to the list after-the-fact, just so I can cross them off (and celebrate at the end of the day how much I actually did)!

The most amazing thing I've seen happen through it is that the cleaning load has started to get easier each day. Since I write down each room in my (small) house each day and mostly manage to spend a few minutes in each (some would call this "minimum maintenance," but by writing down each room individually rather than grouping it all together, I can cross stuff off the list without feeling guilty that I didn't get to them all), it takes less and less each day to _keep_ them clean.

Now, I'm definitely _NOT_ a "schedule" person (i.e., laundry on Monday, scrub floors on Tuesday, etc.), and I definitely _AM_ someone who gets a great deal of joy from recognizing my accomplishments by marking them off a list, so this works great for me. Maybe you'll do better with something else. But this has worked so far for me in my current life stage. And it's been wildly freeing for me, not to mention good for our house. It's still not "magazine clean" or even "company clean" most of the time, but it's better (and certainly easier and quicker to get to "company clean"). And that makes me happy too.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Compassion Bloggers in Kenya

So Compassion, International has brought a group of bloggers over to Kenya for a few days to look into their work there. None of these are folks that I follow normally (except for Shaun Groves), but I am for the duration of the trip (as I have for past trips they've taken) because what they express is so raw and powerful. It keeps my attitude in check.

Anyway, they'll be over there until March 10th, and you can follow all of their blog posts here.

If you're a Twitter-er, you can also follow their Twitter feeds for other comments, links to their pictures, and links to their individual blog posts. Here they are, in no particular order (with links to their individual blogs):
@keelymarie - Keely Marie Scott Photography
@MckMama - MckMama
@CalaystLeader (@lvhanson) - Catalystspace
@bradruggles - Learning How To Live
@theshaungroves - Shaun Groves
@WeareTHATfamily - We are THAT family
@DetzelPretzel - This is Reverb
@kentshaffer - Church Relevance
@Jonesbones5 - Jonesbones5

They've just finished their first full day in the country, seeing the sights in and around one of Kenya's Child Survival Program centers. Check out their stories! It'll be time well spent, I promise!

Monday, March 01, 2010

What's in the Bible?

So really, this blog isn't going to stop talking about my kids and life...it's just been crazy these past few weeks given the Haiti earthquake with stuff going on. The kids are good. Joanna's got 12 teeth (all 8 in the front and the first molars, skipping the canines). AJ's attempting to forgo his naps (his mama will not be foiled, however - there _WILL_ be quiet time, whether he sleeps or not!). Work is good. Life is good.

So instead of talking about that stuff in detail, I'm gonna tell you about a cool new offering from Phil Vischer, co-creater of VeggieTales and creator of JellyTelly - two of my favorite Biblically-based children's programing. It's called "What's in the Bible?" and features the characters and some of the content from JellyTelly.

Back in the day, Southern Baptists had several different "teaching" times, each focused on different things. Sunday School was focused on teaching the stories and facts of the Bible. GAs/RAs/Mission Friends/Brotherhood/WMU were focused on missions and missionaries. And "School of Disciples" or "Discipleship Training" was focused on how all the stories of the Bible fit together and other things like church history. Discipleship training as a class went the way of the dodo (at least in my church) when I was in late elementary school, so nowadays we have LOTS of folks who know some Bible stories, but have no idea how they all fit together and intertwine.

Well, if VeggieTales is like Sunday School, What's in the Bible is like Discipleship Training. And if the content is anywhere near as good as what's on JellyTelly, it's gonna be great!

In any case, the first two DVDs came out in stores today, so if you're related to me and/or my kids and just happen to want to pick one up (for them or yourself), I'd be all for it! ;p Even if you're _not_ related to my kids, you're still welcome to pick then up for yourself and maybe your kids too! Don't worry, it's not gonna make you crazy like Elmo does me.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Speaking Math

So, I'm not saying that I haven't been distracted by other things (like this and this (more to come on this later) and a meeting and chatting with my office mate and others), but part of me is wildly proud that I've made progress at work today and part of me is devastated by how small the progress was.

I'm doing a project with some people that do things (that's about the extent of my knowledge of what they do...seriously...this isn't me keeping top secret stuff from you, this is me being oblivious). On orders from a co-worker, I built a model for them (this is what I do at work - build models that exist wholly within my computer, my head, and sometimes my white board or some scratch paper. Either that or analyze things. Yes, this _is_ rocket science). But in reading the papers about the system that I modeled, I came across this other way of modeling things that I had some (albeit limited) experience with a few years back. So I started delving into that way of modeling things so that I could better understand the papers about the system.

But while I understood the text of the papers about the other way of modeling things, they would occasionally throw in a section using set theory. Set theory, my friends, is definitely _NOT_ rocket science. And by that I mean that I know almost nothing about it. I know math. I know basic physics, dynamics, statics, orbital mechanics, etc. I don't know jack about set theory. So I've spent the last several days at work trying to work through what amounts to half a page in one chapter of a book about this other way of modeling things.

My progress today? Most of two paragraphs. Two short paragraphs. And that was with the help of my office mate and his mathematician friends.

But I understand it. For reals. I _grok_ what those things mean. Transitive closure? BAM - the way to make something that's NOT transitive into something that is! Silly little symbol that I can't find anywhere other than this book that "denotes the restriction of f to B?" BAM.....ok....I've got it, but I really don't feel like explaining it to y'all. So just trust me.

Only two paragraphs left in this little half-page ("Preliminaries") section. But they start talking about alphabets and "words over" an alphabet. So I think I'll go home for the night and come back to it tomorrow.

It's been a long time since I've had to really learn something absolutely new to me. I don't remember it hurting this much. I think that makes me old.

Help Haiti Live - Again, Some More!

So this weekend is the Help Haiti Live concert! Due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, the LA show was canceled, but the Nashville show is on (and possibly sold out!) and you can still watch it live (for free!) at HelpHaitiLive.com on Saturday, February 27th at 7:30 PM (Central - that's 8:30 PM in MD). You can see the line-up here, or you can look at my last blog post about it here. Since that post though, there have been a few additions to the Nashville line-up - specifically NeedToBreathe will be there (since they won't be playing in LA) and so will Jon Foreman of Switchfoot!

They've also added a new "auctions" page to the website. Starting yesterday (Wednesday), they are auctioning off the following:

  • Epiphone Performer Acoustic Guitar (to be autographed by the performers at the HelpHaitiLive event) - MSRP: $832; Current bid: $200 (+$35 shipping)
  • Two passes to watch a live taping of Hannah Montana starring Miley Cyrus - Current bid: $250
  • And there have been rumors of other auction items that are still pending, so keep checking back!
100% of net proceeds will go to Compassion, International's Haiti disaster relief fund.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Too Much TV

So I'm beginning to think that our kids watch too much TV (and by "TV" I really mean mostly DVDs as we gave up on the ever-changing PBS line-up many moons ago). Do I think this because the first thing my son says when he gets out of bed in the morning and after his nap is "I wanna watch a moooooo-vie on the TV?" No...that's not it. Is it because the TV is pretty much on the entire time that someone (other than myself) is awake and at home? Nope. That's not it.

There are actually two reasons that I think our kids watch too much TV:

1) AJ, who has always laughed when he heard other people laughing (that's a good thing, right? "Rejoice with those who rejoice?"), joins in pretty much every time he hears a "bad guy" laugh at someone else's hardship/situation. And he's started using an "evil" laugh too. Larry the Cucumber falls down and the "mean" characters laugh at him? AJ "laughs" too. With an angry smirk on his face and some gravel to his voice. No amount of, "Buddy, it's not very kind to laugh when someone has fallen down" seems to make any difference. He still does it. I guess the saving grace is that he has yet to do it in real life. And it's not like we watch "bad" movies. We're talking VeggieTales here. That's like watching the Bible on TV.

2) Joanna is both scared witless and fascinated by tall, thin characters that lean towards the viewer. She screams like a banshee whenever a "scary" character comes on (not necessarily a "bad" guy, just scary to her), but no amount of reassurance or distraction will keep her eyes from being riveted to the screen. As she screams. Like a banshee. So Jafar when he becomes a genie in Aladin? Scream. Goliath the pickle from VeggieTales? Scream. (She doesn't even have to see the pickle itself...just hear the music leading up to his coming.) Mr. Nezzer's Grandma in the Easter Carol (NOT a "bad" character). Scream, climb up mama, not to get away, but to get turned around so she can see more and scream longer.

So we put up with the whining when I tell AJ to play instead of watching a movie. We try to limit him to a couple a day. We use the excuse "Daddy will be home soon" earlier and earlier each day. We let his over-reaction to a scratched DVD be an excuse to turn it off. We make sure he puts the one in the DVD player away first before he can get another one out (which sometimes takes all day if he's lost the box).

And yet we still end up watching TV too much. At least we mix it up with JellyTelly from time to time! Maybe AJ should give up DVDs for Lent.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Help Haiti Live!

Here's a new way for you to help out Compassion, International's work in Haiti - most of you from the comfort of your home, fairly inexpensively, and while enjoying some awesome artists!

HelpHaitiLive is a concert to benefit Compassion (sponsored by lots of folks, but especially Gaylord Entertainment). It will take place in Nashville at the Ryman and LA at the Wiltern Theater on Saturday, February 27th at 7:30 PM (CST and PST, respectively). Ticket prices range from $25-75 for seeing it in person.

But, Leia, I don't live in Nashville or LA and you said I could watch it "from the comfort of [my] own home!" That's true - because it's also going to be streamed live online from each location and for $10 you can watch!

All of the money goes to Compassion's Disaster Relief Fund. All of the services (both technical and musical) have been donated.

Who did you say would be performing, Leia? Well, I didn't yet, but this is the line up by venue:
Nasvhille/Ryman - Hosted by Big Kenny, performances by Alison Krauss & Union Station (featuring Jerry Douglas), Jars of Clay, Mat Kearney, Dave Barnes, Matt Wertz, and Brandon Heath
LA/Wiltern - Message from pastor Francis Chan, performances by Amy Grant, Leann Rimes, Rebecca St. James, NEEDTOBREATHE, and a special guest headliner

(And kudos to Alison Krauss, et al, since they were the only artist/group who actually has this concert posted on their website!)

Edited to add: Due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, the LA show has been canceled. The Nashville show is still very much ON! Tickets are rapidly selling out! Get yours now or watch online.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flowers or Food?

So five years ago tomorrow, I had my first real conversation with a certain "Very Nice Boy." About five months after that conversation, the "Very Nice Boy" became my "Very Nice Betrothed." And four years ago today, my "Very Nice Betrothed" became my "Very Nice Beloved." (That would be "VNB" otherwise known as "my husband" for those of you who are new here. I think I'm "done" with "quotes" now. "Maybe.")

I didn't look to see what the traditional gift was (knowing that we'd already missed our favorite year - year 3 - leather ;p ), but now that I have, it looks like we did pretty well in terms of the "traditional" gift (ok, really done with quotes now. "Maybe.") - flowers or food.

Our main gift was going skiing last weekend. That doesn't really fit at all, but it sure was a whole lot of fun! The cabin where we stayed had a Galaga arcade game! I ended up with the pitiful high score of our group - 52k. And skiing is AWESOME right after a blizzard! Well, assuming that you can get out of your cabin and to the ski place. I haven't been in like 7 years, but I did what I don't think I've ever managed before - a complete skiing trip without a single fall! I didn't even bite it coming off of the lifts which are usually my worst times! It was a lot of fun, although the resort where we skied (that doesn't look like it's spelled right - skiied? Spell check doesn't like that one...anyway...) apparently didn't have any really _steep_ mountains, so they increased difficulty by adding in bumps. I'm not a fan of bumps. I like to "Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn." (Name that awesome '80s movie!) But it was still a lot of fun!

But _today_ we had the babysitter come even though both of our offices were closed for the day and went to the house of some friends to eat lunch (homemade pizza) and watch a movie (Jakob the Liar - not quite the uplifting fun movie that we maybe should have picked for our anniversary, but it was still a good movie). While we were there, I got a call from a florist who was supposed to deliver flowers to my office today, but couldn't since we were closed. So she called my office number, got my voicemail which has my cell phone number on it, and called my cell phone - ruining the surprise, but letting me know that VNB had been thinking of me and tried to send flowers to my office on our anniversary.

We went from there to the Cheesecake Factory where we were too full still from pizza to really order much, but we got some appetizers that we shared and took some cheesecake home. We would have taken more time, but our babysitter's mom wanted her home before it got too dark and the roads got icy.

So food, check. Flowers, check. We're good for another year.

(And in all seriousness, it's been a good year. Life is far from perfect, but every day shows me more how VNB and I are perfect for each other. Like God knew what He was doing or something. Go figure!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

So in the midst of "Snowpocalypse 3.0" (i.e., the third blizzard in the DC area this winter - we've surpassed the old record for snow totals and we're still in the middle of this storm with another one looming early next week!), I wanted to share a couple of quotes I noticed for the first time a few days ago as I re-read a favorite book from my childhood - E.L. Konigsburg's "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler."

"Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around."

and

"I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

I've always felt sorry for folks who shun good children's literature, music, and movies. There is a whole lot of very simple, but very profound, wisdom packed into those media. Granted, it takes some effort to wade through the crap that's also out there, but find the good stuff. It's worth it. Even (maybe especially) as an adult.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

MOPS Partnership with the Laurel Pregnancy Center

Another ongoing project that our MOPS group has is a partnership with the Laurel Pregnancy Center. You can find more about them and their ministry by checking out their website here, but suffice it to say that they offer all of their services for free and those services include pregnancy tests, options education, viability ultrasounds, parenting classes, post-abortion counseling, and many more. But since their mission is really to work with women and men _during_ a crisis pregnancy, there's not much they do (other than offer mentoring) for those parents once the baby has been born.

That's where MOPS comes in. Instead of just saying, "Good job on making the hard choice to choose life for your baby! Now that s/he's born though, you're on your own!" by partnering with us, they can point the moms to a group of other moms who can come alongside them in what we all recognize is a difficult time in anyone's life - the infant, toddler, and preschool years. The moms not only then get to have the support of other moms, but they also get to continue getting that support through a para-church organization. Neither the LPC or MOPS wants to take the place of a local body, but we can sure help folks out while (or if) they're looking for one.

So how does this really manifest itself? Well...I go to the last one of their Lifeworks (parenting) classes each semester and encourage the ladies to join a community of other moms since motherhood is hard enough without trying to do it all themselves, and if they'd like, they're welcome at our MOPS group (although since many of their clients are from all over the area, I usually just point them to MOPS.org to find a group in their area and/or that meets at a time when they're available).

We also participate as a MOPS group in their annual "Baby Bottle" Campaign. We give each of our moms a baby bottle which they take home for a month or so and fill with their loose change. That change is then turned over to the pregnancy center where it is used to help _change_ the lives of their clients.

They have an annual "Walk/Run for Life" that we support as well. There is frequently a group of MOPS moms who walks (last year, I did my best at running the 5k), and those that don't have the opportunity to sponsor those that do. We have also had an informational table the last couple of years at the fair that they have the day of the walk.

We also encourage moms to bring in donations for the center. Maybe they've seen an awesome deal on wipes or diapers and can afford to pick up a few more than they need. Maybe they have an outfit that they just never got around to taking the tags off of before baby grew out of it. Maybe baby outgrew size 1 diapers before they opened that last box. Whatever the case may be, as a group we collect donations of material goods that they give away (for free) to their clients.

How can you help with this one? Well, the material donations are the best way (diapers, wipes, etc.), although you're welcome to sponsor me in the walk and/or save up your own loose change (or just send them a donation). You can also help by helping me come up with other ways that we can partner with them!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Help Haiti With Compassion

If you've been listening to Christian radio at all today, then you already know that today is the day that everyone is banding together to "Help Haiti with Compassion" (as in, Compassion, International). Some folks have done crazy things to raise money in order to donate it all today. Some people "just" gave their hard-earned cash.

Whatever your case may be, if you're still looking for ways to help out in Haiti, donate here.

Called Out

So until just recently, my dad has been a minister of music (and sometimes youth). Sometimes he was full-time (most of my childhood, but not since my senior year in high school), sometimes bi-vocational, but always on a church staff. Still, he's not so much the type to talk about his kids from the pulpit, using something we said or did as an object lesson for the congregation.

So it was a new experience for me yesterday morning when our Senior Pastor called me out from the pulpit! I didn't even realize what was going on at first (even though I really was actually paying attention right then)! I was sitting there, thinking how funny it was that he was talking about what my email signature has said for just about forever (or, you know, 5-6 years): "The grass is always greenest right next to the puddle of raw sewage."

I made that up one day while driving through a poor part of Baghdad on a cold, dreary, November day. The houses were all adobe-colored, the sky was gray...and the only color I saw anywhere was this tall tuft of bright green grass growing next to a drainage ditch. In that part of town, there is no underground sewage system, so every house just has a ditch running from their "bathroom" to the ditches along the roads. And that was the only spot where grass took root and was growing.

Anyway, that gave me a good chuckle, so I put it after my name on all of my emails and it's been there ever since. I don't know that I've emailed the pastor in months, but that's obviously left an impression on him...so yesterday when he was preaching about finding joy, he mentioned that "the grass your neighbor is standing on is like that because..." then he trailed off and started staring right at me.

After a moment of discomfort (as I wondered, "Is he really talking about me? Is he really staring at me? Is he looking at something/someone else? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? (ok, not really on that last one)), he then said that there was someone in the church who ends her every communication with that, then said, "Melissa, you want to fill them in?" At which point, VNB roared with laughter, as did the few others who have received emails from me and knew exactly what he was talking about.

So I yelled out, "it's right next to a puddle of raw sewage!" He repeated me for amplification purposes, the congregation tittered, and then he moved on with his sermon.

It was definitely a new experience for me!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

MOPS Small Group Haiti Project

I've put off writing about this project because other than that we want to, we don't have any definite plans right now. But you can still be praying for our efforts, so here's my current hope.

1) We want to do what will be most effective. If that's collecting money, then we'll collect money. If that's collecting stuff, then we'll collect stuff. But while they may be able to purchase more stuff locally with money than we could collect and pay to ship (plus that would help rebuild the local economy and they could get what they really want rather than the random stuff we'd send), it's (quite honestly) not just about the people we'll be helping. It's also about changing the people who will be giving. And sometimes money is just too easy. So I guess my hope is that the "most effective" thing will be a combination of both stuff and money. But the bottom line is that I hope we will be wise enough find the most effective means of both helping the people of Haiti and changing our own attitudes and priorities.

2) We want to partner with an affected Compassion, International Child Survival Program Center. I've only recently become aware of the CSP, but for a bunch of mothers of preschoolers, I can't imagine a better or more suitable project than helping out a bunch of other mothers (or mothers-to-be) of preschoolers.

3) Our church is also attempting to partner with an affected Haitian church, so it is my personal hope that our CSP center will be close to our partner church so that any mission trips can have the dual purpose of visiting both. I would especially love it if our entire family (kids included) were able to come, but even if the kids "have" to stay with the grandparents for a few days, I'd love for VNB to come.

So how can you help? Well, right now, just pray for wisdom (and patience to wait until the situation has been effectively assessed). But eventually I'll update you and let you know what the _actual_ project ends up being and what you can actually do!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Creativity

So, as you all know, my son LOVES Thomas the Tank Engine (and all of his friends). Apparently the love of model trains is hereditary. VNB got it from his grandfather, and AJ got it from...well, both VNB and my mom (looks like it skips a generation here and there). One of VNB's first bonding moments with AJ was the week after AJ was born, sitting watching the trains run on the layout that VNB had made.

Ever since we got him a train table, he's had fun playing with the trains and making them run on the tracks, but things have changed recently. You see, initially, VNB would make a track for AJ, then AJ would play with it for a few days until it got destroyed (the number of days decreased dramatically once Joanna was mobile). Then, the fine motor skills developed a little and AJ started putting a couple of pieces of track together. It still took quite a while though before he made this:

(no, I don't know where his pants are or why he's posing like this - we'll say that he was attempting to climb onto his train table for the picture). No one helped him with it. Maybe he'd seen daddy do something similar....but this was all him.

So was this:


(that's our bed...not sure why the layout moved there except to be close to daddy's trains which live under the bed)

And this:


(notice the variation in height and the fact that there's actually a buffer at the far end. Not sure what would happen if the trains went the other way though - guess that's coming from all of the Thomas shows where someone almost falls off a cliff.)

And this:


(at Nana and Granddaddy's house - we didn't bring any of the ramps, so he couldn't make it elevated)

And this:


(notice Tidmouth sheds attaching to the splitter, which attaches to several other tracks, making a "yard" and including the airport/helipad)

But we knew that a) he was creative, and b) we had too much track when he did this:

video

It was a couple of days in the making, but he did every single piece by himself with no prompting from anyone. And that's saying something considering that Joanna is a master of destruction. After he completed that circuit and still had some track left over, he took a section apart and started extending it. If you know our house, at one point it went through the kitchen, in between the coffee table and "my" couch (the love seat), under the coffee table, over to the dining room table, around some chairs, then started heading back towards the playroom. It never quite made the circle, but that was ok because then it went from the kitchen, in between the coffee table and my couch, under VNB's couch, and under the dining room table. Then Joanna destroyed enough of it (and AJ got distracted enough) that it could all be put away. But it's started again from the train table, heading towards the dining room table.

I tell you what...I may be biased, but this kid is crazy creative and crazy smart to have figured out how to do all these things.

He's done others too when I couldn't find my camera. My favorite was the one that went from the train table to the piano bench (across open air) and BACK - and was a stable structure! Still not quite sure how he managed that one!

He's only just barely 3! Heaven help us learn how to harness that energy and creativity for good!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Arrrrg....

So Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting on the couch, reading a magazine with Joanna perched on my lap. She had grabbed a coupon that I'd torn out of the magazine and was in the process of scrunching and munching it, so I took it away, tore off a page that I'd finished reading, and handed it to her. She delightedly played with that paper instead, swinging it up and down while I read.

And then, she connected. The corner of her paper to my right cornea.

To tell you that it hurt would be a bit of an understatement. My eye was running, my nose was running, and it felt like she'd shoved all of my eyelashes up into my eye. I tried blinking it out, but a) it was hard to open my eye, and b) when I looked at it, it was clear that there was nothing in it.

So I called my sweet husband at work, in the middle of inventory prep (his busiest and most stressful time of the year, triply so this year as he's using a new system that he's never used before _and_ he's being audited while he does it), to explain that our child had just poked me in the eye with a piece of paper and it was clearly (ha!) not ok.

A quick call to our primary care doc told us to take me to an urgent care ($50 co-pay, but in Laurel) or the ER ($100 co-pay, but 5 min away). So VNB came home, thinking that we'd pack the kids up and have family day at the ER while I was thinking that I'd drive myself there since AJ was still napping and we had no idea how long it would take. So instead we phoned a friend and she quickly came from work (close by) to drop me off at the ER.

I spent a few minutes waiting to be triaged, then went immediately from there to the "Eye room" where I sat for about an hour and a half. Oh, occasionally a nurse would come in and ask if I was ok (which, seriously? I'm in an EMERGENCY ROOM...do you really think I'm ok?), and the lady came with her rolling computer station to check me in...but I got there around 4:30 and it was after 7 before I was actually "seen." I never even saw a doctor - it was a physician's assistant. And she did a fine job, and I know in the grand scheme of things my injury was minor, but still...

So she put some numbing drops in (and the angels sang for approximately 15 minutes), then some other drops, then she looked at my eye through a special filter thingy to see what the damage was.

This is the picture she drew to show me:

The black in the middle isn't my pupil inside the iris. It's the chunk of my cornea that Joanna ripped off.

So she put in some antibiotic ointment, then put a patch over my eye and told me to see the ophthalmologist the next day.

This is what I looked like:

After an eventful morning of hitching rides places with two carseats (and kids), our babysitter came over and I drove myself to the ophthalmologist. Don't worry - I stayed in the right lane the whole time and it was only like three miles away.

She took the bandage off, poked around in both eyes, declared that I was healing up quite nicely, gave me some antibiotic eye drops (which I have been consistently forgetting to use), and sent me home. My vision wasn't completely clear by then, but at least I didn't have the patch anymore (that tape was ITCHY!).

I spent roughly 18 hours as a pirate. What have I learned from the experience? Tape is itchy. Corneal abrasions hurt like the dickens and move you one step closer to madness (because it feels like there's something in your eye...but you can't get it out...because it's your eye that's "in your eye"...and really...it's usually frowned upon to poke those out). It's good to have friends who work close to your house and who have big cars. Some kids make the connection right away that you're a pirate and it's cool (when you have an eye patch), but most are mildly scared while also being very curious. So basically they can't stop staring with this slightly horrified expression while you try to explain that your eye has a "booboo" and needs a band-aid.

But it's also awfully sweet when your son (who cried all the way home from the ER because mommy was scary - well, until we said the magic words "who wants fries and chicken?" anyway) kisses your eye patch at night and again before you go to the doctor to make your eye all better!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Amplified Water Buffalo - COMPLETE!

Our church has a Saturday night service that I play piano and sing for. It's called "Amplified" because that makes it sound cool and because "Saturday night service" is a mouthful. Our motto is "Life Loud" with the assumption that we'd be living so for a purpose (i.e., Jesus), not just running around yelling all the time.

Well, before Christmas (at our only December service due to snow and other factors), I surprised the Amplified crew with a little challenge - provide a water buffalo through Heifer, International for a family somewhere else in the world (I think I've gotten the water buffalo out of my system now - I'm thinking Cebu next! Well, if Heifer lets you donate Cebus, that is...).

In the middle of the holidays, it only took our 25-35 people 4 weeks to accomplish the $250 goal. All while still giving (actually increasing) our regular tithes and offerings!

Why am I telling you about this? It's not like you can help since we're done. Well #1, I'm proud of our crew! #2 expect there to be more "Amplified" projects to help with! #3 because this was on my list of "current projects" when this idea presented itself, so now my list is shorter and I didn't want it to seem like after all that hype I'm not actually doing anything other than a few MOPS projects.

Because really this is all about making me look good. ;p

Monday, January 18, 2010

MOPS New Mom Bags

So here's one of the on-going projects that I'm currently involved with. Our MOPS group collects items, puts them in gift bags, and delivers them to our local hospital to be given to ladies who give birth there. The things we put in the bags are the following:

  • HomeLife or MomSense magazine
  • handmade knitted baby hat or "no-sew" fleece blanket/snuggly
  • Coupon for a free meal at our local Chick-fil-a
  • Card with information about MOPS and our meetings
  • Whatever else we have on hand to give them (samples of baby things, coupons for baby things, anything else that comes to mind)

We're trying to do this for as little money as possible, so one of our biggest needs right now is gift bags. We need medium-sized ones - big enough to fit a magazine, but not the ginormous ones like you'd put a diaper pail in or something. Typically we use "baby" looking ones, but anything generic would be fine.

We're also running a little low right now on the handmade items. We've got a stock of fleece from which to make some blankets and one of our mentors makes the caps in her spare time, but after that we'll need more fleece and/or more caps (or something else handmade). Just nothing too big.

If you're interested in helping out, just let me know!