I'm Back...

Hi there, faithful readers.

It has been far too long since I was last in this space. Lots has gone on in the interim, not the least of which is this new design, which I hope you like. My last layout felt too lumbering for my liking, plus, the digital natives in the house didn't think I could build a blog on my own and that became a challenge I couldn't ignore.

What I longed for (and what you did, too, but were too kind to suggest) was something clean and simple, a place of rest--not a jumble of linked buttons to other places or any other kind of visual clutter. I have never felt comfortable in the business of self-promotion anyway.

It's also, to be honest, a good thing to start fresh once in awhile. Wipe the slate clean, send off some boxes to Goodwill, sweep the hearth. Call it a spring cleaning of the soul; it just feels time.

Thanks for being here...still.

 

From Pipe Dreams to Pipelines: A Valve Dream Come True

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When my son, Ben, was four years old, he looked me straight in the eye and said, "Mama, God made me to build."

I had no idea how true that statement would be.

We, too, saw Ben's proclivity to build, so, for Christmases and birthdays, we always got him building toys: Legos, K'nex, Rokenbok...you name it, we bought it. When Ben was six, our neighbor had a garage sale and was selling her collection of 3D puzzles. Ben bought every one she had (for 50 cents each) and disappeared for days building them. No one else in the family had a clue what enticed him about hundred of pieces of monochromatic foam pieces. All we knew was that WE sure as heck couldn't do it.

We foresaw contractor, car designer, or architect.

What we did not foresee was 3D artist for one of the largest gaming companies in the world.

Today, the Washington Post published a story about Ben and his work on Valve's Pipeline internship project last summer.

Okay, maybe the story was about the estimated 2.5 billion dollar video game company, Valve, and its unique use of community in the shaping and developing of their products.

But a tiny part was about Ben.

Whenever people find out that Ben has a 'job' working for Valve, they are always curious how he got started, so, because the Post wrote about him Valve, I thought I would share more deets of his story here.

In 2008, my husband, Ian, lost his casket sales job in Colorado (darned people wouldn't die) and we moved to Kansas to sit out the recession. Having no income, money was tight, so we were unable to put any of our children in any activities (except for Scouts). Gone were the days of show choir, music lessons, and basketball. We planned on sitting tight for one year and then moving back to God's country ASAP, or, in our case, ASAIGAJ (As Soon As Ian Got A Job), whichever came first.

Here we were, eight people in a 1700 square foot house, and, since we home schooled, together 24 hours a day. Ian and I thought we could prevent complete bedlam if we could use this time 'off' to pursue our individual passions, mine being writing and his being music. After 20 years of talking about it, unemployment gave us the chance to finally chase these dreams. It also gave us the opportunity to fight like MMA combatants, but I digress.

With all this free time, the kids had two choices: Die of boredom, or do something.

Each of them, out of sheer survival instinct, chose the latter.

Em wrote songs. Anna sang. Lanes wrote stories. Aus made movies and took pictures. Coop fell in love with his brother's Legos...and had a short stint as an actor.

Ben learned 3D art.

When our house sold, we still didn't put them into activities. We were only going to be here one year, remember? Why get them attached to the place? We couldn't do much, but we tried our best to provide the basic tools for their various pursuits. Em got some recording software. Aus got a camera and Ian's old computer. Anna got a microphone. Elenia got paper. Coop got, well, nothing.

And they got busy. Without the distraction of, well, a lifewhat else can you do? The boys started their own film-making company and made 'James Bond' movies in the basement. Em wrote a bunch of songs and compiled them in a CD. Anna put songs on YouTube. Lano wrote story after story and started drawing her own illustrations. Coop learned to follow the visual directions for his Lego Turbo Tank Clone Carrier.

Boredom is a great teacher.

Ben's initial submissions to Valve were pitiful. Later, he heard that it wasn't until about his fifth submission that the Valve team started paying attention. Soon after, he got word that they were going to ship one of his 'sets.' A set consists of weapons and articles of clothing based on a theme. His was a Russian theme called the Tomislav.

He was excited, but kept working on other sets. Soon after, he got word that, because he had built one of his items based on an already used shell, it would not go into game. That item was a hat, the item most contributors make the most amount of money on. It was a painful setback, but he understood his mistake and determined not to do it again.

The rest is history. Ben has visited Valve three times and each time is treated with respect. This isn't some sales gimmick. Valve values their contributors...even when they are 14 years old and don't yet have facial hair.

As parents, we are thankful for the opportunity the Steam workshop gave to a young teenager who needed something other than surfing the web and letting his brain turn to jelly. Although I personally don't like video games, I am not opposed to my child participating in the creative side of the business. It's hard to quantify the value learning new software, reading tomes like 'CS for Dummies,' and creating something from scratch has for a child. I know, for Ben, it has been life changing. Being taken seriously, even when you are a child, and given a high mark to shoot for not only makes a child aim high, but makes me wonder how far our children could go if we stopped treating them like imbeciles and like the creative geniuses they are...or can be.

God, indeed, made Ben to build. He just had different ideas than Ben's mama did.

***

I've long believed that boredom is a great catalyst for creativity. Ben's story proves it. He's just an ordinary kid with an ordinary life and ordinary parents who was presented with an extraordinary opportunity.

Thank you, God. And thank you, Valve.

 

My Love/Hate Relationship with Facebook

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Today I ended a 30-day Facebook fast. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to do such a thing, which says something about social media, although I’m not sure what.

My reasons? Many.

Wasted hours surfing other people’s lives, some of which I care about, some of which I (sorry), don’t. Drama. Too many political opinions. Too many insignificant details of people’s lives. Drama.

Oh, and did I mention, the drama?

I was tired of hearing the sound of my own voice. I was tired of the tit-for-tatting. I was tired of hearing the play-by-play of people’s opinions. I was starting to wonder if I was capable of thinking or doing anything I didn’t automatically turn into a post.

And I was starting to doubt my own motives. Why did I post that funny thing Coop said? Was it truly to entertain my inner circle, or was it to draw attention to myself? How badly did I care about likes, comments or lack thereof?

Yes, as a budding writer, I have a platform to build. As unnatural as it is and as much as I truly hate self-promotion, that’s the way the business works these days.

But…

I didn’t like what I saw in myself. On Sunday, our pastor spoke of ‘nooks,’ places we find where we feel safe. We might find a nook in food, or in popularity, or in achievement. More and more, I found my nook in Facebook. If I was upset or had a hard day, Facebook had the power to make or (continue to) break my day. I found myself reaching for Facebook as my pick-me-up of choice instead of for the only pick-me-up that actually, well, picks me up.

That's God, sillies.

I wrote about this in “Bare Necessities” over at WORLD a few years ago. If I have learned anything in this crazy life o’mine, it’s that God is a jealous God and He will not allow anything to usurp him.

Not even the almond croissants I’ve been working to perfect in the time I’m saving by not being on Facebook. Unfortunately. Because they are, truly…Awe. Some.

So what, then? Is abandoning Facebook altogether the answer?

I don’t think so. Needing people isn’t wrong. Needing their approval is. A friend once said, very defensively, “I don’t need anyone!” As though not needing people is a merit badge we earn along the road to independence. Sorry, but no. What it really is, is cynicism, not courage. Even if relationships are messy (and they are), even if we are burned (and we will be), even if we are introverts in an extroverted world (yup), we are not islands. God created us for fellowship. We DO need others. In all their, and our, messy dramas.

No doubt, Facebook can be a powerful place. The question is, what are we doing with that power? Bragging or encouraging? Limelighting or promoting others? Really asking for prayer or just sugar coating our need for attention? Me-ing, or you-ing?

That said, I hope I’m learning from this. I am (keep me honest here) placing walnuts (important things) before rice (less important things). Time with family comes before time for writing which comes before—way before—time on Facebook. What I’ve learned this last month is that addictions can be beaten. Reaching for the Facebook bookmark is an addiction that does not need to rule my life and is easily dismantled. Life isn’t just about funny posts or the number of likes we get. It’s surprisingly delightful to have wonderful news that is pondered only in one’s heart and not displayed for the masses. It feels real to experience something joyful and not already have a Facebook post about it forming in my mind.

So, I will engage, but not depend. I will enjoy, but not be wobbled by stats.

Meanwhile, I’m open for lunch, coffee, and phone dates. Those beat Facebook any day of the week.

*****

P.S. We’ve been watching season 4 of Downton Abbey this last month, do you have ANY idea how hard that was to keep from ya’ll? Which goes to show, if I can do it, ANYONE can.

Because, Truth is, We Do Judge a Book By Its Cover

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I should have known I was in trouble when I handed the first proof copy of my book, Humpty Dumpty Just Needed a Nap, to my mother and she looked the title and said, “What does that mean?”

Admittedly, it IS a cute title. It refers to a vignette in the book that talks about how moms falling apart is like Humpty Dumpty falling apart when perhaps all the little guy (or little mom) needed was a good ole’ nap. I sweated over this title for weeks, brainstorming on huge pieces of white paper for something catchy, that said what the book was and at the same time communicated the voice in which the book is written.

Apparently, I failed. Like my son, Ben, said, "Mom, I don't know why people say not to judge a book by its cover. We DO judge books by their covers!"

Oops.

So, here we are at Plan B, utilizing the wisdom that simpler is better.

The first title was too convoluted and too cutesy. No one but the author knew what it meant and if no one but the author knows what it means, there’s little chance someone’s going to pull it off a bookshelf.

I’m learning, folks.

And, may I say, braver? Having finished a book-length project, I’m not as afraid of venturing out into the world of traditional publishing. Editors, I’m discovering, can be kinda nice.

Maybe it’s time to toe-dip into that world.

In the meantime, here’s my new baby, all scrubbed up and renamed.

Introducing...Story Mama. Ain’t she cute?

(Artwork and interior design by J.S. White)

When Mamas Have to Say Goodbye

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Although she's been a married woman for a more than a year and a half, today I say goodbye to my baby girl.

For the next six months she'll be 12 hours of hard driving away and although I've raised her to be capable and independent and have gone whole weeks without so much as calling, I'd be lying if I said I won't miss the living heck out of my Tigger.

Kids are supposed to leave home, I know. It's the natural order of things--things I've expected, planned for, and written about. But the actuality of it takes my breath away like those final moments of labor when the pain threatens to split me in two.

What did I think? I ask myself, that she'd be in my back pocket forever? A ten-minute drive from a Panera visit, a phone call from a Goodwill run?

Yes, being a mama, hopeful and all, I suppose I did.

But I raised my girl not to splash in sentiment, but to survive. So we load storage units and sweep worn wood floors and talk hopefully of her return. She returns my ramekins and my favorite tea cup; her sisters and I wrap her kitchen in my old towels.

I'm wrecked, but there's a part of me that loves this moment at the same time I'm hating it. I have long looked forward to the day I am able to help my girls the way I so wanted help when I was first married. To pack their things, wipe their window sills, tuck books into boxes...whatever physical effort it will take to communicate the love that is so hard for this Mayflower descendent to share. Words, my strong suit when written, fail me in real life. All I can do is wrap, pack, sweep. Wrap, pack, sweep.

I love you, I love you, I love you...

Almost twenty years ago, the doctor scissored the cord that connected my body with hers. Then, I didn't feel a thing.

Then.

 

Never Forsaken

Everyone has them, I suppose. Dreams that drop you in a subconscious hell so terrifying that, upon waking, you nearly fall on your knees in relief. "Thank God, it was only a dream," you say, wiping the sweat off your face and trying to clear the horrific images and emotions from your memory.

Mine was a dream of forsakenness. And, as if dreaming it once was not bad enough, again it came, and again, different forms, different locations, but one element always the same: I am forsaken. More alone than I've ever been. More alone than your worst nightmare. Whatever the specifics of the dream, that element never changes.

This time, it takes the form of trying to eat at a banquet at which my family are attendees, but when I get there, there is no food for me. I am starving, but the dishes are wiped clean. Everyone is satiated, but my hunger aches in my gut. I ask, can I have just a little off your plate and they look at, through me, not as though I am invisible, which would be tolerable, but as if I am seen, but outcast...outcaste, untouchable, lowliest of the low.

Another time they are all in a circle, holding hands dancing. I want to join in, but they won't let me in. Again, they look at me with the cold that chills the marrow and will not separate their hands or break formation to let me in. In the middle of this dancing circle, I fall to my knees and sob, begging them to include me.

But they don't.

They turn away, untouched by my deepest cries, cold and unemotional, giving a stone when all I want is a crumb of bread.

The truly nightmarish thing about these dreams, which haunt my sleep every month or so, is that when the terror rises to a frenzy, and I swim desperately for the shore of consciousness where I will know I will wake up and find it all 'just a dream,' I get tossed on wakefulness only to realize that it is not, in fact, just a dream. It is oh-so-real and there is no escape from the forsakenness, even in the light of day.

It threatens to undo me, as I suppose it would you, too, were you to find yourself in such a spot. We were built for community and when that community is torn asunder, it's as if part of creation failed, some divine hiccup occurred, and the circle formed to keep me in now keeps me out. I feel a growing empathy for Cain, marked to keep him ostracized. How did he spend the bulk of his remaining years, I wonder. Meandering from one spot to the next, eating his meager hunted supper over a solitary fire, aching for just one person to talk to?

Jesus knew what it felt like to be forsaken...he cries out to his father, Why? Why? In the middle of divine strength, we see this crying out expression of the horror of forsakenness. We, reading it in the comfort of our 70 degree living rooms, know God did not, in fact, forsake, but do we hear the anguished cries of the man staked to the rood-tree?

However you and I come about our forsaken moments, whether they are real or imagined, whether they are hells we're put in or hells we put ourselves in, at our lowest, loneliest, most isolated moments, our feelings do not negate the reality of Emmanuel, God with us, the One who was despised, rejected, trampled, humiliated, spat upon, laughed at, mocked, beaten. In modern times, he would have been torn apart in the media, Twitter-shunned, Facebook-slammed. We would have texted our evil gossip to eager ears, blogged about his vicious motives, and assured ourselves of our holiness while doing it.

But, despite how he felt, and this is what we must know, Jesus was never left. And, though we can hardly compare our suffering to his, when we're tempted to feel forsaken, when we're stripped of more than we think we can bear, we've got to remember the same thing. Jesus gave it all, endured all, but never lost his relationship with the Father.

And, no matter what we've lost, we won't either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Day a Snow Day

Snow days rock. If I could have one every day, I would.

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Unexpected as they are, snow days feel stolen, like time has stopped, giving me time to catch up on the laundry while having a front seat on the creation of a winter wonderland. Snow blankets the dark, covers the earth's scars, smoothing an ethereal frosting over a messy world.

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Last night as we got into bed, I was lamenting the return to duty. Oh, how I would miss the hot cocoa. The snow fort. The sledding. Watching Sasha bound in the snow. The cookie-making. The pink cheeks. The chili in the Crock Pot. The fire in the fireplace. Most of all, my beloved snow walks.

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There's just something so otherworldly about a snow day.

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Right in the middle of my pout, it hit: Except for the snow part, there's not really much that differentiates a snow day from a regular old day except for my attitude about it. Isn't each day special, stolen, joyous? Or, couldn't it be if I gave it the attention and love I gave the snow day? What if I woke up and greeted each day with the thrill and wonder I greet a snow day with? What if I was chasing joy, like I do on snow days, pocketing 'moments' with more intention than I do on 'regular' days? Why do I save cookies and cocoa only for when it snows when we could have them any time we wanted?

So, there's today's epiphany: Short of renting a snow maker, make each day a snow day. 

Off to fill the Crock Pot...

~xo

Only the Lonely: When You Have an Only Child

(If you have an only child, you know the looks and comments some people carelessly send your way. Here's a guest post from my friend, Kathleen, on her experience as a mom of an 'only.')

 

Photo on 2010-07-31 at 17.11

Onlyness

 

It happens several times a week, at least. The “Oh, that’s too bad.”  “Really? Just one?” It’s always said as if I’ve lost something. Or as if someone has died. Interestingly, no one ever assumes it’s a choice, or that I might be happy with that choice. If they see my discomfort, I get the shoulder pat. “Oh, well, that’s ok.”

 

I have “only” one child, and the reasons are many, personal, unplanned, and probably not what you assume. I suppose it was my pre-determined path. But today—now—it’s not intentional. It’s not a choice for me. And I grieve, daily, for my Only. I grieve because of the love I have and long to give. But mostly, I grieve for him. For the Onlyness. He would have been the best big brother.

 

I met my husband at 22, married at 26. I honestly have no idea why we didn’t have a child until I was almost 39. We were just about to ‘start a family’ when 9-11 changed our course. Three military deployments and a relocation later, and we had our first. Our Only.

 

I remember, vividly, the moment I realized I’d joined the Mommy Sorority. I hadn’t even known I was missing out on this powerful bond, and despite being far from friends and family, I found great comfort, support, and enthusiasm from my Mommy friends.

 

But that sorority is just that—a sorority—and conformity is key. I joined the sorority, but I didn’t keep up with the Joneses. Today, I’m an outsider once again. But the isolation of having One is worse than it was when I had none. I know what it means to have a child. I know, now, what I’m missing.

 

I’m not quite a full-fledged mom in this sorority. My experiences don’t score full points on the Mommy Scale of Worthiness. Fly across the country? Multi-day car trip? Harrowing day of errands? “It’s not the same, you only have one.” Yes, I’m sure you’re right. The irony is these observations are never given as if they, too, wish they had Onlys. It’s nothing to be envied.

 

And then there are the classics: “Only children are weird.” Really? Because I’m thinking of the weirdest people I’ve ever met, and every one of them has at least one sibling. A colleague, one of five, often talks about his self-centered wife, her deficits attributed squarely to her Onlyness. And a beloved teacher told a friend of mine that their child’s challenges at school could be chalked up to being an Only. That comment left an indelible mark—guilt, shame, anguish. She and I have begun to grieve our Onlys together.

 

One woman I know is an Only who has an Only, and she wears her Onlyness like a Purple Heart for all to see. She’s made consistent life choices that guarantee her loneliness is unending. And as an outside observer, I’ve seen her write this very same life script for her child.

 

But that’s not the script I’m going to help write for mine. I’ve stopped the joking references to “Only Child Syndrome” when he has a moment of drama. When I get the pity pat on the shoulder from well-meaning strangers, I just tell them that I got it right the first time, no need to mess it up with a sibling. I’m determined to turn his Onlyness into a badge of honor, something cool. Really, I don’t want it to be a “thing” at all. But I’m not sure you’ll allow us that.

 

I often hear stories of siblings that are a source of conflict and anguish, through childhood and beyond. It isn’t always the lifelong companion and support system that I fantasize my son would have. Yet, while the hurts are unintentional, the opinions on the negatives of Onlys are oddly free-flowing. So, just so you know:

 

I think about the Onlyness repeatedly, every day. When I see moms with new babies, juggling the toddler and the car seat carrier. Any Facebook photo with siblings. Those stick figure family stickers, on the back windows of every SUV and minivan—they get me every time. When I think of taking family vacations, or of growing old and the burdens my son willface as an Only. My heart actually hurts when he says he wants someone to play with him on a Sunday, or when he tells his BFF he wants them to be brothers. My Only makes up names for imaginary siblings and tells magical stories with wonderful descriptions of his partners in crime. And every time, when I leave the room, I fight back tears.

 

Our Onlyness comes with great joys! Our son is, if I do say so myself, happy and well-adjusted. And our house has very little conflict. It’s a place of relative peace and relaxation. He often asks if we can “just go home and chillax.” We are truly blessed beyond measure, and my heart is full with this love affair of mine. This isn’t how I would have chosen to write hisstory. But it’s his story. Our story. And despite your perceptions, it’s not an easier journey.

***

Kathleen Brown is a proud military spouse, a wildly lucky mom, a daughter, a sister, and by most accounts a bit of a bossypants.  She toils during the day as the spokesperson and director of  PR and marketing for a Denver-based company. But she dreams of spending her days writing a wildly popular blog, full of witty observations of the local characters who reside in the microcosm of her favorite Starbucks. Currently living in Tucson, Brown started her own mommy/mid-life crisis blog, Those Screaming Lobsters, in 2009. She’s averaged a blog post a year and a subscriber per post. If you Google her name and add words such as Alcohol, Probation, DUI, Booze, Hooch, Jail, or Chicken Skin, you’ll discover her 15 minutes of worldwide media fame. Her parents are incredibly proud, yet unsure of how one ends up being quoted in the New York Times about chicken skin. She also blogs as an industry expert on drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and the criminal justice system for a blog called Sobering Up. (She’s an expert because of her job, not from personal experience.)

 

Mama Bear Strikes Again

MamaBear (Welcome to my first guest poster, Shirie Leng. Shirie is a Biola University alum and an anesthesiologist who blogs about all things health care with a smattering of motherhood at medicineforreal.wordpress.com). I used to sit behind her in the first violins where she patiently tolerated my out-of-tune scratchings. Welcome, Shirie!)

My husband cried. A single sob escaping from him as he stared out the window. I had never heard him cry. I hope I never do again.

Our daughter Sarah came fast. I hung around at home in labor until I practically delivered in the car on the way to the hospital. She shot out limp and blue. “She’s a little stunned. We’ll keep an eye on her” they said. Of course she was fine. As an “elderly mother” at 41 years old I had had ultrasounds once a week for months. Everything was fine, no problems, baby looked great. She must be fine. 6 hours after birth Sarah was in the NICU at Children’s Hospital Boston.

She had what is known as a congenital diaphragmatic hernia or CDH. A hole in her diaphragm through which her bowel escaped up into her chest, crushing the new lung. I was told it was “a small hole." I’m a doctor. I saw the x-ray. I cried.

To have a child in the hospital is a little like being Alice through the rabbit hole, but without the clever rhymes and cute cats. My whole life contracted in those days into a hospital room, a heart rate monitor, the quest for calories, for weight. Sarah couldn’t eat; neither could I. Sarah didn’t sleep; neither did I. Sarah didn’t gain weight; I despaired. I have an older child I didn’t see and couldn’t care for. I have a husband I couldn’t care for either, though he needed it.

Sarah had thoracic surgery at age 3 days. She came out on a ventilator with a chest tube, a tiny catheter in an artery in her wrist and an IV in her saphenous vein. To hold her required that you also hold the drains, the tubes, the monitor lines. I wanted to hold her as much as possible.

I became a tiger mother. I fought at every turn. I knew the system and I worked it. I stalked the doctors, paged surgeons, harassed nurses and ignored interns. I called in every favor and used every contact. I was there for rounds at 5 AM. I was there for every weight measurement. I carried her to X-ray. I was there when they put the feeding tube in. I was there when they added oxygen, when they hung her intravenous nutrition, when the women’s auxiliary gave her a crocheted blanket in a hundred colors. I pushed for results, for progress. The residents were afraid of me. I think some of the senior doctors were too.

I finally took Sarah home. She came home with a feeding tube and oxygen. That’s what I agreed to, to get her home. I’ll do anything, I said.

My story has a happy ending. Sarah thrived. I am lucky. And changed. Mothers we are strong. We can be sweet and loving but facing threat we become like animals, fierce and protective, focused and obsessed. Hear me roar? You better believe it.

(If you are interested in guest posting here at Whole Mama, please read this.)

(Naturally) Clean Mama

RangeHood

I mentioned using a homemade degreaser to clean the uber-nasty underside of my stove hood. Honestly, I did not believe the degreaser would work, otherwise I would have taken a 'before' picture. My 'white' hood was covered with greasy gobules, from a minimum of four years of heavy stove usage (that's when we moved into the house). It was always filthy, but I figured I'd need a caustic cleaner with steel wool to tackle the project.

I was wrong. I simply sprayed the hood and immediately the oil started to gather in droplets. With the exception of a couple of small places where I gently used a scrubby pad, it came off with a warm, wet washcloth and minimal effort. Spray away!

Natural Degreaser

In a 32-oz. spray bottle mix:

1 tsp. washing soda (Arm and Hammer, Walmart carries it)

2 tsp. Borax

2Tbsp. distilled white vinegar

2 1/2 cups hot water

5 drops lavender essential oil

7 drops lemon essential oil

1/4 c. liquid castille soap (I used Dr. Bronners from Dillons. Most health stores carry it as well. I could not find unscented, so used lavender and skipped the lavender essential oil)

Use a funnel to put liquids into the bottle, shake, and spray just as you would any cleaner. My instructions (I got this recipe from All You magazine) say to use gloves.

Yield: about 23.5 oz./Cost $1.74

I'll be adding the recipes for the other cleaners as I try them. Up soon, 'clean' HE  washing machine soap.

ps. This isn't my real range hood, but a girl can dream, no?

 

 

Les Miserables, Je t'aime

The girls and I are ecstatic to finally see Les Miserables tonight. Not only is LM one of the best redemptive stories of all time, but we get to hear Russell Crowe sing! Can't wait.

With Fantine and Cosette on the brain, I thought I'd be an annoying bragging mama and show you a video of Anna and Elenia singing I Dreamed a Dream in our city's talent show two years ago. A is 12 and E is 8. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3u7O0BJFGg

Hello, 2013!

Here's a tiny peek at what is new this year... 1. Hello, Whole Mama!

As I mentioned in my last post, I am thrilled to be able to put more of my efforts here instead of other places (if some editor or agent out there is reading this, I didn't mean that one darned bit). There's something nice about having complete control over your blog, so I am geared up to fill it with good stuff for you this year.

For starters, I have asked many of you to consider writing a guest post. Here's what my Facebook event says:

In 2013 I will begin featuring other voices besides my own over at my blog, Whole Mama. If you have ever toyed with the idea of writing something for 'print,' this is your chance;)

I will consider all subjects, but am primarily interested in your stories of personal growth...this could be anything from how you define 'wholeness,' to how you pursue it in your own life, to your story of brokenness and/or healing. How are you dealing with a rough situation, an unexpected surprise, a deep sorrow? What comfort have you found and where? How might others in your position be encouraged by your story? Did you have an encounter with someone that changed your life? Tell us about it.

Men, you are invited, too, but remember this is a woman's blog for women, so please come at your story with an eye toward, as they say, 'what women want.' You may have a raw story that demands anonymity, which I will respect, and print as such. I would love to hear stories that aren't finished yet, that don't have neat, tidy endings. Feel free to be imperfect and real. If you don't have answers, that's okay.

There is no age requirement. In fact, I would love to see some younger voices, so invite your daughters!

If you are interested, please send your document in the body of an email (not as an attachment) to halfdoz@msn.com. Please limit yourself to approximately 500 words. I reserve the right to make small edits if necessary, but will let you know if any big changes need to be made. Email me with questions.

Looking forward to reading your wonderful words and to playing publisher!

2.  Hello, new writing opportunities!

I have a blog post for in(courage) coming out this spring. Will keep you posted on when. Humpty is selling well, but what's even better are the comments I am hearing. Here is what one mama said on Facebook:

Hands down the best parenting type book I've read! No guilt trips, stories about her perfect kids, or theories and methods. Just good common sense advice and empathy. I think I might need get a copy to pass along to my mommy friends.

I must admit I was skeptical as I am not a fan of parenting how-to-books, but this one blew me away. Very down-to-earth, applicable, and an engaging read!

Thank you, Alicia...and thank you to her sweet mama who bought her the book for Christmas. More than any sales numbers, what I am thrilled about the most is hearing that the book is encouraging moms. That is all the payment I want and what I have prayed so hard the book would do.

In other writing news, it was a blast to attend my first book signing at Slate Creek Books in Wellington, where I met some neat people and ate a delicious sandwich. Elenia is getting good practice for her own writing career:) We also did a semi-disasterous craft show in which we sold no books, but had a great time visiting with other vendors...and even secured a babysitting job for the girls with a dear new mama here in town.

2.  Hello, nourishment!

Since watching Hungry for Change, we've started to rethink how we eat: Is it food or is it a food-like product? I have always tried to eat semi-healthy, meaning salads and good grains, few sweets and carbs, but this got me thinking not just about losing weight or what I can get away with eating, but about what my body NEEDS to function its best. I do not plan to make a religion out of this, but have been increasingly concerned about my/our health, so am having a blast finding new recipes. Thank you, HFC, for starting us on this journey. (btw, I just bought a Kindle version of Nourishing Traditions and am TERRIFIED to read it).

3.  Hello, king-sized bed!

After 23 years, we finally upgraded our bed from a queen to a king and I cannot tell you the difference it has made in our quality of sleep. Like many men, Ian struggles with snoring. Add to this his restless leg syndrome and you have a recipe for a bad night of sleep...for both of us. With our king bed, I feel NO leg movement, indeed, I can just barely feel it when he gets out of bed in the morning. The snoring remains, but at least my ear is further away from the source;) I highly recommend a new bed for anyone with these issues. Two well-rested people like each other a lot better:)

4. Hello, audio books!

Since Em moved out, I've lost my walking buddy. Ian and I walk a ton, but some days he runs so does not need to walk as well, which leaves me alone to exercise. I do not like to exercise alone. Therefore, for the past few months I have not exercised. This, after years of being diligent. Word to the wise: If you are a dedicated walker and one day you decide that walking isn't doing anything for you, that it doesn't really burn that many calories anyway, let me assure you you are wrong. Walking was not my main form of exercise, but I have walked about an hour a day (4.5 miles or so) every day for most of my adult life. Trust me, STOPPING MADE A DIFFERENCE. Keep it up, is what I'm saying. Which is easier to do when you have company. Or a substitution for company. That's where audio books come in. I've never wanted to pay for them, but signed up for Audible because they had a book I wanted for free (Celebration of Discipline). Since then I have earned two other free books. I'm wondering how long I can go without paying, but even if/when the freebies run out, I may consider staying on with Audible. Or I'll find some other free source. Either way, walking with an audio book is the best thing since Emily. But I still love her.

5. Hello, regular books!

Ah, saved the best for last. On my reading list for the first quarter of 2013:

A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky (MuggeridgeMy father-in-law was friends with Muggeridge so this book caught my eye. He's a FANTASTIC writer and I can't wait to gobble up his other stuff when I'm done with this one.

Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) Disappointment with the movie has not dissuaded me from getting at least a few pages further

Writing the Memoir (Judith BarringtonI triple love memoir and one day maybe I'll write one. This is in prep for that.

Amsterdam (Ian McEwan) I like McEwan's tight writing style.

It All Turns on Affection (Wendell Berry) Got to meet Mr. Berry this past spring, so reading up on him.

Travels in Siberia (Ian Frazier) I love cold and snow. Plus our local bookstore had a signed copy of this one.

The Irrational Season (Madeleine L'Engle) She's deep and thinky. I like that.

A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis) Working my way through Lewis' work...

The Supper of the Lamb (Robert Farrar Capon and Deborah Madison) When I mentioned I loved A Year in Provence, my friend, Derek, thought I'd love this one, too. So far, yes!

We'll see how long that takes me and then add some more.

This post is way too long (but no one is telling me to shorten it, hurray!) so I'll leave it at that.

 

What new things are you inviting into 2013?

 

 

Goodbye, 2012

It's a week into 2013 and we'll be giving her a proper greeting her next time, but first we have to say goodbye to 2012: 1. Goodbye to Kodiak

The weekend before Christmas, our Bernese mountain dog, Kodiak Shackleton Henry, got very sick and we had to put him down. We have never had to put an animal down before, so we did not know what to expect. All six kids, and Emily's husband, Paul, and Ian and I were allowed a private room where we could say goodbye and love on him. Then Austen, Em, Paul, and I stayed with Kodi while the doctor administered the medication. I know there are farm people out there who have to deal with an animal's death often, but this was new to us and so very sad to see our beloved old, bumbling Koders still and lifeless.

I thought I'd put up a picture of him to help me feel better. (That's Sasha on your left and Kodi on your right and some strange kid in the middle.) Sasha is very lonely without her best friend.

CO2009! 140

 I love you, Koders!

2. Goodbye, Patheos

As you may or may not know, for the past year and a half or so, I've been blogging at patheos.com in their faith and family portal. It's become increasingly difficult to manage two sites with everything else on my plate, so after much prayer and thinking, I decided to stay focused here, you know, actually writing something instead of just telling you about writing in other places. I've never been a great double tasker (okay, so I can juggle 6 kids, writing's another thing), so this move feels right and I hope to be here a lot more often. More news on what is new in 2013 at Whole Mama in my next 'Hello, 2013' post!

3.  Goodbye, junk food

We've spent a lot of time the last couple of months reevaluating our diet and have concluded: It's bad. While pizza three times a week was the modus in our twenties, it wreaks havoc on the forties. From time to time I have started some strict eating regiment only to have the family balk, but what's so great this time is that, by having the kids watch several food documentaries with us (Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead/Hungry for Change, etc.) they are fully on board, eating salad with their lunches, and--so far!--no complaining.

I will be posting more of our journey later, but, for now, goodbye foodlike products. I may visit you on Friday nights, but you're not coming near me the rest of the time.

4. Goodbye, chemical cleaners

Alongside revamping our internal health, we are revamping our external health. I am also a professional home cleaner and organizer. After a recent agonizing three hours spent scouring a walk-in shower with one-inch tiles with Soft Scrub with Bleach and a toothbrush, I got concerned as to what breathing all those fumes might be doing to me (ya think?). An article in All You magazine inspired me to make my own 'green' cleaners so, while the world spent their December wrapping presents and drinking egg nog, I spent mine grating castille soap from the Cracker Barrel and mixing it with washing soda and borax and essential oils. It is SO fun and my house has never felt so clean. Not reeking of chemicals, but of pure lavender and lemon. (And, for those who don't think 'natural cleaners' work, you should see what my degreaser did to the underneath part of my stove hood.)

5. Goodbye ???

With all these new changes at home, who's to say what's to go next? Ian has already banned me from my beloved Aveeno lotion and favorite nail polishes. Cooper bought me a bottle of Burt's Bees new line of natural shampoos called 'Gud' so even my hair is not excused from toxicity. We're thinking differently about all kinds of things these days and will keep you posted as we swap out the crud for the 'gud.'

I'm tickled pink to be back here on my own sweet Whole Mama site, can you tell?? Stay tuned for this year's 'Hellos,' but while you're waiting, tell me, what are you saying goodbye to this year?

 

 

 

 

The Death of the Hostess Cherry Pie

As you may or may not know, I love Hostess cherry pies.

Or should I say...loved.

I love them so much that I've attached them to nearly every bio on every site I write for. Me + Hostess cherry pie = True love...forever.

Or so I thought.

After Hostess' demise, I've slowly been working myself through the 12 stages of grief and am now on to the less-advertised 13th stage, decidedly different from 'denial'...Refusal To Let It Die.

My friend, Sean, is to blame for this, after putting the idea into my head that Hostess, not being entirely foolish, will go on to sell their patented recipes.

Including the one for my beloved cherry pie, which gets me thinking...

So, step 14 of grief is this: Wash your face and get going. Start up a pastry shop featuring vintage treats like The Twinkie, The Ding Dong, and Ye Olde Cherry Pie.

Charge a fortune, surely we 40-plus-year-olds will be willing to pay anything short of our inheritance for a moment's indulgence in our past.

Not sure if I'll have any business. I may eat any and all profits, this is a real possibility. Especially because nowadays I rarely indulge myself in my quintessential treat. 500 calories a pop does something mean to the post-40 frame, after all. I hadn't even said goodbye! Eaten a last, soon-to-be-extinct pie with the passion given to any 'lasts!' If only I'd known!

Alas, no. And by the time I realized what was going on, Walmart was sheer cleaned out of her itinerant preciousness. Identity hook or no, the Hostess cherry pie and I were no longer bedfellows. Moving on to my second favorite, the Little Debbie Oatmeal Pie feels, even now, a second-class rebound at best.

So, I grieve. Not as one without hope, but as a Christian, who believes all things, even in the 11th hour.

Especially that there are Hostess Cherry Pies in heaven.

God, please?

What's Really Scary About Halloween

Today marks my twentieth Halloween as a mom and let me tell you what scares me most about this day.

It's not the association with witchcraft or black cats or haunted houses.

It's not teenagers dressed in Goth sneaking around my yard or the possibility that they will egg it if/when I run out of candy.

What truly scares me about Halloween is the vehemence with which Christians turn on each other every October 31st.

If we're not bickering over the appropriateness of Christians celebrating  'Satan's' holiday, we're going at it over trick-or-treating or the pros and cons of offering candy to those who do. Some of us make our disdain clear to our heathen neighbors by turning off the lights and hiding behind the curtains, refusing to open the door to tiny Cinderellas and miniature Darth Vaders. Some of us scoot out to 'fall festivals' because we don't have the courage to witness their dejection.

But, as if our claim on the moral high ground wasn't offensive enough, we now have people who agree to trick-or-treating, but only according to certain rules. As in, 'We trick-or-treat, but only with children dressing up like  A. Biblical characters, B. Historical heroes, or C. Jesus.'

If you show up in a goblin outfit, in other words, we can't be seen with you. Same with Glenda the Good Witch, Iron Man (whom we suspect has an inappropriate off-screen relationship with Miss Pots), and any character from The Hunger Games.

See, we can't be seen with the likes of you. People like you, who would allow your children to dress so, ahem, worldly, cannot be trusted to walk even so much as one block with our dear offspring. What's more, the fact you allow it causes us to doubt your character in general. Playdates at your house are, therefore, discontinued until further notice. I mean, what if the Smiths saw your little goblins with mine.

Think of the damage that would do to our witness, will you? They might never again accept a tract from us again.

So, sorry sister, but we must maintain our standards. Our lofty, inscrutable, lily white standards. We cannot stain ourselves with the likes of you, or of little Casper. And I hope you see now, why.

Yes, I know this will create a rift between us that probably won't ever be breeched. I realize the whole family will be upset, not that we aren't coming this year, but why. Can you blame them? We both know they have terrible theology and, plus, still believe in this 'matters of indifference' heresy. My point is, right is right, and someday they'll understand. Or, if they don't, it's a small price to pay for coming away from the evening untainted. Doesn't the Bible say brother will turn on brother or, in this case, sister on sister? It's all there in black and white if only you'll take the time to concordance it. The Gospel is a sword, a divider, read it for yourself!

Yes, despite our disagreement, I could have bowed out quietly and graciously not said a thing, but how else would you have learned how much more spiritual I am than you? Whatever you do, don't give me that line about love. You tried to pull that liberal, feel-good mumbo jumbo on me before, but this time I'm not falling for it.

No, sir-ee. Not with Christmas (tell me you're not putting up that God-awful pagan tree!) just around the corner.

The Key to a Child's Heart

What is it that communicates love to you more than anything?

Chances are, it's the same thing for your children.

Your eyes...

Our most expressive facial feature...

The windows to the soul...

The way we show we're...listening.

Love is communicated when we feel heard.

And we feel heard when someone gives us their eyes...

 

We give our eyes when we are totally present in the moment, this moment...

Distraction is the enemy of the moment. Distraction says, 'uh-huh,' while our minds are a league or two away wrestling over tomorrow's dinner plans. Distraction mindlessly nods, but our far-away eyes give us away.

What do we miss out on when we're distracted?

I write this to you, but mostly to me: Stop. Look. Listen. It's more than just a way to avoid being hit by a car.

It's a way to avoid missing life.

Let's try it, shall we? The very next time someone begins to speak to you, STOP what you are doing. LOOK that person right in the eye. And then focus every fiber of your concentration on what that person is saying and...

with your eyes...LISTEN.