Monday, December 24, 2012

One of the Best Things: I Read

 I first joined a book group back in 2000, and I was hooked.  It fed my need to verbally process, and it confirmed my belief that Truth is something that pursues all humanity.  Artists show us well how Truth pursues us. 

Also, being in a book group forces me to read books that I might not pick on my own, and helps me continue to understand the points of view of others.  I've been in three book groups since 2000, each one has been filled with women coming from diverse backgrounds and from diverse experiences, but all come with the desire to keep thinking, wondering, and processing.  I love that.

So here are some of the books I read this past year and a short vibe of if I'd recommend you reading it.  Note:  They are not intended to be plot summaries.

Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglas!  -Amazing!  This should be required reading for all high schoolers.  I'm a bit ashamed that it wasn't part of my high school reading.  That is shameful!  We should have skipped the history text and just read this man's personal story: a first-hand account of slavery and his quest for freedom and for the freedom of all slaves in our country.  I was wowed by his insight and my favorite line went something like this, "There is a difference between American Christianity and the Christianity of Jesus."  You can read this short, non-fiction on-line for free.

Handle with emotional roller coaster meant to sell books....skip it!

Unbroken!  -One of the best true stories ever....I blogged about this book earlier this year.  Another example of God pursuing someone, but also another essential read for students of history.  So much was in this book that does not make it in traditional history classes.  I knew the general facts of the Pacific front of WWII, but knowing the facts, and hearing someone's personal experiences are very diferent things.

After the Golden Age, when I looked at my notes of this book I wrote that I liked it, but I honestly can't remember anything about it...that is the best test, skip it.  Or, it means it is a good read for a vacation.

Dovekeepers, this was not a favorite by my book group, but I don't regret reading it.  It painted a picture of Israel during the destruction of the temple, and while we discovered that the author took a lot of fictional freedom with the story, I thought the setting stayed true to the facts and painted a framework for me of another time and place.  I actually think I'd recommend it.  It has stayed with me.

Marcelo in the Real World!  Another quality read, and it is a young adult book.!  If I was back in a secondary classroom, I would assign this book to my students!  The themes in this book are rich and deep and true.  Marcelo is "different" and sees the world as such, and we need him to help us see life differently. 

Passion of Artemisia, I read this back in 2000 with my first book group, and the images have stayed with me over a decade.  I loved learning about the artwork and artists of the Renaissance.  I should really travel Italy again after reading this book and just stand in awe and wonder.  I stood in awe and wonder the first time, but this book as brought a whole new layer of understanding to the culture of that time.

Visit from the Goon Squad!  I loved this book, and I think I was the only one in my book group.  If you are an GenXer, you will relate to the themes in this book.  It really captures our current American culture through music and technology.  The last scene is chilling as a man really wants to tell a woman he loves her, but can't do it face to face, too intense, so instead uses the latest gadget to send the message.  It starts in the 70's and ends some time in the future.  One whole chapter is told through graphic organizers.  This story was creative and unique and used the evolution of pop music to help tell the story of a culture and society that has changed.

Water for Elephants-I actually saw the movie before I read the book.  I loved the movie, and I enjoyed the book.  I'm not sure how I would have felt about the movie if I had read the book first, but I actually liked who the movie combined the two "evil" characters into one main antagonist vs. the book have two separate antagonists.

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks-This book was made for a book discussion: race, inequality, medical ethics, liabilities, fogiveness, hidden pasts...everyone should read this true story.

Till We Have Faces-I want to like CS Lewis, really I do, but I just don't like his writing style.  I totally get that he's a good writer and that his ideas are amazing.  I love his themes and the concepts he uses to tell his stories, but I just never can get through any of his writings.  SO, this is the only book this year I did not finish.  But I did enjoy the discussion.

The Birth Order Book-Any parent of children can be an expert on birth order, but the book really wasn't revolutionary.  I didn't solve any parenting delemas or personal childhood angst by reading this book.  I didn't feel like it was very research-based either...just a man's gut feelings about a topic.  Skip it and just make your own observations.

Silver Sparrow - This book was good!  It would be a great vacation read, very captivating and moved quickly, but was also written well enough that I still remember the plot and the characters and the themes.  It is about a man who marries two woman.  The one wife and daughter know about the first family and they live a few blocks from each other.  The first half is told through the eyes of the second family's daughter and then the 2nd half of the book is written by the legitamate daughter.  The book as many layers and is really more than just a book about polygamy.  It is a book about love, recognition, respecting yourself, etc.  Read it.

Well, those were my reads in 2012...2013 is looking to be another excellent years:  Irises, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina...and many more.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  May you read and pursue and find!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Unpardonable Sin

I am about to commit the unpardonable sin, at least in our family…that would be on my side of the family, not my husbands.  I am pretty sure I am not mailing out any Christmas cards, pictures, or letters this year.  I say I am pretty sure, because I wonder if my guilt will win and at the last moment I will send my annual Schneiter Top Ten to the presses. 

There are several factors influencing my decision, and money is a big one.  I was recently at a holiday party with my college girlfriends…a much anticipated, yearly event.  Three out of the eight of us did not hand out any cards.  The others were being proactive and had been on-the-ball as to save a few bucks on postage.  I’ve just had too much going on this year to be that organized.  But then one of my friends spoke the truth, “It’s just a major budgetary item that I didn’t plan for this year, so I don’t think we will be sending out any.”  Exactly.  This year we caved and purchased a Wii for the boys.  How could we resist, “Mom,” my oldest informed me one day, “when we get a Wii, we will finally be like all the other families we know.”  Who knew I had deprived my children of such a life essential?  And it has been my parenting goal to be exactly like everyone else.

The other factor causing me to sin this holiday is our family picture.  I mean, it is stunning, and I do look fantabulous…always a key for a mom nearing 40…but it looks a lot like the one I mailed out last year.  Two of the boys are even wearing the same shirts.  I guess we didn’t change that much in one year.  We added no new babies to our herd, everyone has been out of diapers for a bit now, and my husband is still stuck in his braces…maybe when he gets those off and looks as fabulous as me, we will send out a matted  5 X 7 to everyone instead of the usual glossy, 4 X 6 size…or not.

And lastly, the reason I am turning my back on all that is good and right about this holiday tradition of envelopes, stamps, and family photos…my top ten lists are beginning to blend all together, sound a bit like the year before and the year before and the year before.

My husband is still teaching and coaching, our oldest two boys are still loving school and playing sports, I’m still writing and figuring out life, and our youngest is still breaking furniture and appliances.  We are still your normal, typical, family plodding through life.

So I think I’ll skip it this year, then next year when people receive our smiling faces they’ll think, “Wow, this one is so different from the last one we received.”  Then the revelation will dawn “Didn’t Hans have braces?  I think he got them off.  If you look really close you can see that his teeth are truly amazing.”

And that they are, Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Conquering Crazy

I stared at my doctor, my allergist, "So basically I'm making all of this up, and I'm not allergic to anything?"


I laughed, "Awesome.  Always good to know you are a little crazy."  I stared at my arm with little prick marks tracing it from my wrist to my elbow, "You've had this happen before, right?  I'm not like the only one who thinks they are dying, but are really having panic attacks?"

He nodded.  I chose to believe him.  Not that I went immediately to the nearest seafood restaurant and ingested my growing list of food allergies: shell fish, hazelnuts, unusual cheese, hard cider....

"Something is triggering the beginning of your panic attack and that part is legitimate.  You had a real reaction to penicillin when you were young and the body remembers and so is mimicking the symptoms."  This made sense.  I remembered from my college acting class that truly, the body does remember.  You'd better be careful what you practice or when the show comes up...that's what you'll do.

"What do you think is the real symptom?"

"Heart burn?  Too much chocolate, so heart etc."

I looked at him. I looked at my arm, "OK, I believe you.  This is cheaper than counseling."

Not that convincing my body that I wasn't going into anaphalactic shock would be easy, no way!  My challenge was great and my admiration for my mind was unparalleled.

I told my story to my friends.  I refused to be ashamed.  I think this was perhaps the first part toward conquering my mind.  It is always good to admit you are crazy, right?

First I decided to try rare and delicious cheese.  My mind began to work: my heart started to race, and I was sure my throat was constricting.  I sipped water and told myself over and over that if my throat was constricting then I would not be able to drink the water I was swallowing.  Slowly I calmed myself down and the symptoms went away.  The cheese was delicious.

Next I moved on to hard cider.  This was tricky because the night when I was sure I was having a reaction to this drink, my friends all saw the red rash climbing up my throat and neck.  It seemed so real. I had witnesses.  But then I remembered the words of my doctor, "No one is ever allergic to alcohol.  Many people come in here thinking they are allergic, and they are just not used to the effects of alcohol or they are eating really rich foods and having heartburn." (Mine was probably a combination...we were all enjoying some nachos together, nachos and jalapenos.) I pushed through the panic, and trusted the evidence.

Hazelnuts were fairly easy to break since they were my most recent allergy, and the panic attack I had associated with them was fairly minimal, plus I really wanted to continue my love affair with Nutella.

But the shell fish.  That one I wanted to hold on to.  I mean, couldn't my doctor have been wrong on at least one of his tests?  I mean, people die from shell fish allergies.  The time I reacted to shellfish the reaction had been so immediate, so real, so connected.  I decided to avoid all seafood except salmon.

This last weekend I was helping myself to the Thanksgiving snack bar and didn't realize the dip that I was thoroughly enjoying had crab in it.  Into my second helping I cautioned myself, "Wait, that looks like crab."  Sure enough, my symptoms began.  I tried to battle it myself, tell myself that I only began to have the reactions once my mind knew what it was, but the crab panic was hard to break.  I pulled my husband aside and told him what was happening.  He laughed.

And so did I.  "No, that's good...make me laugh.  That will help me relax.  So he did.  I sipped some water and he made fun of me."  Victory!

This has been a powerful experience for me, really.  One I am glad I've had.  I have new respect for panic attacks in general.  I think I might have made this all sound too easy, but really it has been almost a year of working through these matters-of-the-mind.  I also have great sympothy for people who have panic attacks.  It is really horrible and gets worse with each attack.

I know so many people who have gone to allergists and are told they are not allergic to anything, but they disagree. They find another "expert" who gives them a list of intolerances and they continue to avoid many delicious foods.  I hardly want to recommend doing what I did...I mean, what if I'm wrong, but I certainly can't be the only one out there.  I know I'm not the only one who has had this happen to them or is letting this happen to them.  Right?  Thoughts?

(Note:  Food concerns/beliefs have become fairly major in the last few years and there are some very real allergies, but I just wonder if a lot of it is all in our heads.  I feel a bit risky posting this because beliefs on food can be just as sacred as beliefs on religion or politics.  Let the comments begin!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why Is Three So Hard?

Why is three so hard?  My memory is not kind either, because unfortunately I’ve forgotten how tricky the other two boys were at this age.  In the moment, I feel like A is my nemesis, my nightmare.  He’s the one proving to the world that I am an unfit parent, mother.  Hans tells me B and C were both rough at this age.  I seem to have forgotten.  I’m sure A is the hardest.

My nightly reading is a book titled, Knowing Your Three-Year-Old.  I find comfort and encouragement from this read.  My favorite line goes something like this, “The three-year-old sees his mother as his enemy at age three-and-a-half.  This is a good age for the mother to enroll her child in preschool, to give her and her child a few hours off from each other.”  Unfortunately it is hard to take this book’s advice since I am my son’s preschool teacher.  Oh dear.  We are doomed.
I have put all my faith, hope, and love into the fact that his 4th birthday keeps getting closer and closer.  February, come quickly. 

I try and remind myself that he is cute, sweet, plays well by himself, is smart, creative, and ingenious…focus on these things.  But it is hard when he seems so volatile.  I pleaded with his oldest brother to play with him and build a furniture fort with our little demon on a day when A was especially difficult.  A was so excited, so giddy.  He adores B.  “Yeah, let’s build a fort B!”  But something wasn’t quite right with the fort.  A’s toes stuck out and were exposed to the harsh weather elements of our living room.  Rage ensued.  Couch cushions scattered.  B looked for an escape.   

“B, you don’t have to play with him.”  Relief.

A was devastated, “But I wanted to build a fort.”

“Yeah, but when you get angry like that it is scary to play with you.”  Tears.  Favorite blanket, chair snuggle…calm.

At preschool last week we were at a total impasse.  A refused to sit and eat his snack with the other children.  He crumpled his pathetic body into the corner of the classroom.  It had been a rough morning up to that point and it felt like my limit of tolerance.  I was ready to call Grandma and send him home.  I knelt down beside him, “Can you use your words and tell me what is wrong?”

“But I wanted to share my fruit snacks.”  I wanted to cry.  This stubborn tantrum came from a really good place.  Here I thought he was just being obstinate, but instead he was devastated.  I had no idea that the fruit snacks he asked me to buy him were supposed to be passed out and share with his friends.  Sweet boy.  “Let’s go get them.  I think they are in your cubby.”  Up he bounded, joy in his step…making sure each classmate got a handful of his special treats.

I have to remind myself to look at what is motivating the meltdown.  Usually it is sadness, frustration, or disappointment…not pure anger…just miscommunication.

And then the memories begin to come back.  B, at a young age had to sort out his feelings over his new baby brother, C.  Oh the meltdowns!  Whenever it was time to nurse this new intrusion, B, would wail and moan as he tossed and turned all over the living room carpet.  C had certain expectations and desires at age three too.  He threw a royal fit during his swim lessons when his instructor handed him the pink floating noodle.  Wow, what a scene.  I was at a total loss.
And guess what…C and B are very nice little boys.  I always get compliments after play dates and birthday parties.  No complaints from their teachers.  They are kind and thoughtful; they communicate their wants and desires, and can balance their emotions with the world around them.   

Still, I forget this, I forget how far they’ve come.  It is always good to take time to remember.  However, in this particular era, A is very frustrating, and I’m still looking forward to four…along with everyone else.

(I wrote this after a week of intense power struggles with A.  This last week has been blissful.  He's been sweet and good at communicating.  We've had special one-on-one times, like making his famous cookie pie and playing games together.  But when I wrote this I was in a very frustrated state.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

No More Hugs

The first blatant sign happened this fall when my oldest, B, walked off the bus and crossed the road to the safety my arms…except he didn’t walk into my arms.  That was the sign.   For the last two years I have always gotten an exuberant, best-mommy-ever-hug each and every afternoon as the big, yellow, bus delivered my oldest to me.  I still get a hug from the middle brother, C, who almost knocks me over like a lab puppy, but not from B.  He made it clear on that first day when he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I think I’m too old to hug you anymore.”

I smiled and touched his hair, probably totally embarrassing, “OK, maybe we can give each other a hug later when no one is watching.”

“Yeah” he liked this option.

This is what we want.  This is what his dad and I have been working towards:  independence.  I didn’t get upset, throw a fit, take it personally…it was what it was…a sign of the times.

B is still very much a little boy.  The other day he saw me in his school and raced over to grab my hand only to have his little eyes fill with tears when he learned I wasn’t there to work in his classroom.  I wanted to cry too.  At night he always wants a snuggle and could, “You please run your fingers through my hair.”  But there is a little “leave and cleave” going on within him.  Today when he got home from school I asked him for a hug, once we were in the house and no one from the bus would be able to see us, and he looked at me and said, “Maybe later, like tonight.”  That one did hurt a bit.

I’m also learning to give him space in other areas, trying to give him room for his personality.  C and I are verbal processors.  B is not.  I finally agreed to stop asking him about his day right when he gets home.  He promised to eventually tell me about it, especially if he thinks anything very interesting happened.  I’ve been trusting this process, and it appears to be working for me.  B’s actually telling me more stuff about school than he has ever before.  And it is way more interesting than the forced short-answers I was getting before about if he chose a chicken burger or hamburger for lunch and if he played kickball or soccer at recess.  (I’m learning things like, “Miguel is really fun.  He said…”

However, I’m glad we had a third boy, A.  I think I might be quite emotional with all this growing up if I didn’t have at least one more preschooler at home.  In no way do I want to go back to that era of blending baby food, toilet training, and sleepless nights, but the nostalgia visits are sweet.  I do hate that my memory does get hazy with time.  I was so certain I would always remember.

Still, I can take myself back to those first days when I brought home my first newborn to a quiet and peaceful house.  I can hear the way the wood floor creaked under my tip-toes.  I can smell the special bath lotion that I used religiously each night at the kitchen sink, and feel the cozy texture of those first sleepers.  Our world slowed a bit and became focused on one little person.  There is a simplicity in becoming a new mom that can only be discovered once, and so I take the time to remember and savor it because there is nothing quiet and calm and simple anymore about parenting.  My counters are full of backpacks and lunch boxes, soccer uniforms to be washed and folded, homework to be monitored, and little lives to be fostered towards more and more independence. 

These moments of no-more-hugs are really affirmations that all is going well.  And I like that.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

You Are Teaching What?

When I entered college back in 1995, it was my sincere goal to become a high school history teacher.  I was determined to inspire hundreds of students.  I would change perceptions.  My line was, "I will not be a boring history teacher.  History is exciting.  Students should experiencing this."  I was one of the very few freshman who declared their major on the first day of their first year of college, announcing with confidence to my orientation group, "Yep, social studies teaching major."

I stuck with my plan, except I kept getting pulled toward a random writing class here and there, wishing I could double major, but wanting to finish in four years I stuck to my plan.  Then I graduated.  No high school principal would hire me.  I don't blame them now.  I was 21 and looked 17.  So, I landed my first job, instead, at a middle school teaching in a self-contained, multi-age classroom.  Oh and I was the science rep for our middle school house.  This lead me to taking more classes and adding my language arts endorsement.

My next job was teaching language arts and social studies to just 7th and 8th graders.  I loved middle schoolers, still do.  When people heard the age I taught most reactions went something like this, "Wow, why would you ever want to do that?"  Ouch.  Is something wrong with me that I like middle schoolers?

Then life transitioned me again.  I became a mom.  I started tutoring a bit on the side, tutoring preschoolers and grade schoolers and high schoolers at my kitchen table.  I enjoyed it.  I loved teaching the younger kids.  I was learning so much about those middle school students I had been teaching for seven years.  I was understanding the pieces they were missing in their writing and reading development when I worked with my much younger students.  I was growing as a person and as a teacher.

But there was something else I wanted to try: writing.  I got a gig writing a humor column for the Newberg Graphic.  I had a bit of success with some other freelance work.  And then I scored my dream job: teaching writing at George Fox.  I couldn't believe how perfect this job was and how passionate I was about it.  I knew I loved writing and I loved teaching writing to middle school students, but teaching it to freshman at college...this was brilliant!  They absorbed everything I taught them.  The growth they made was incredible.

An opportunity came.  We moved.  Oh how I wanted to stay at Fox, but I chose something different for my family.  We were being moved in a new direction.  We headed back to the family farm: more space; more access to nature.  There were plenty of days we thought we'd made a mistake, but again and again God confirmed our decision, and we pressed ourselves into it.

I signed my oldest up for a preschool co-op sponsored by our local community college.  I dove in.  This program changed my thinking about early childhood education.  I learned much.  I became a believer.  I waited.  And then I felt it again, another transition was coming.  I opened myself up for something new and different.  I have gotten better, as I've gotten older, at holding life loosely.

And that is where I find myself now: preschool teacher.  If you would have told my 17-year-old self that I'd be teaching and facilitating a preschool program I'm not sure I would have believed you.  But I am not that same 17-year-old girl.  I'm in a different space, and it is good.  I'm excited.  I didn't force anything. I waited.  And here it is.  For this I am thankful.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Laura Hillenbrand, I Applaud You

Unbroken, is by far the best book I've read all year, if not in the last few years.  I want to see this title at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List as a way that we as a country and people extend our thanks to those men who were POW's in the Pacific during WWII.  It is also a way for us to show our gratitude to an author for making sure this story of dignity, survival, and forgiveness was not lost in the passing of time.

The story is centered around Olympic runner Louis Zamperini whose plane went down in the Pacific during WWII.  He and his companion Phillip survive a record 46 days in the ocean only to be captured by the Japanese and tortured for YEARS, until the end of the war.  The details are horrific, amazing, gripping, and astounding.  But it was the themes and the life lessons that we all can learn from this story that made this book worth passing on and buying for others.

I truly believe that Laura's aim is to tell the truth, she worked on this project for seven years and spoke with numerous individuals, eye-witnesses, read letters, looked up records etc....and tell the Truth she does.  This book was a spiritual encouragement to me in my faith.  Throughout Louie's entire journey, from a young boy living in California to even the publication of this story, you see a man who was sought and pursued and loved by God...yes, and bad things did happen to him...something that he worked through as he came to believe in a loving and forgiving God.

While he was floating in the ocean, desperate, he made a promise that he would serve God if God would save him.  God did.  Then the horrors of being a POW came into play.  The Japanese tried to strip the men of their humanity and dignity.  It was a mental battle as much as a physical one.  The horrors endured were, at times, unbelievable.  But somehow the men used their sense of community with each other to support each other and retain the inner knowledge that they were human and worthy of life.

I was astounded that after the POW's were released that they did not seek out vengeance, but instead looked around and saw that the Japanese people were starving.  They had empathy toward them, sharing their food drops and any supplies they were given by the US government.

Still, the scars on Louie's soul were great.  After his release, he had been declared dead so his return home was shocking to many many people...being he was a famous runner, he had flashbacks and demons to contend with.  Laura does a good job of detailing the scars that many POW's carried with them for their rest of their tortured lives living on US soil.  At the very least, many used alcohol to numb their plagued minds.  This was Louie's method.  His life appeared to be broken: broke, failed marriage, alcoholic...but God had other plans.  Billy Graham came to town and through some manipulation, Louis went.  (His wife had gone earlier in the week and had become a Christian and wanted Louis to attend and hear the message of Good News.)

Hillenbrand does an excellent job piecing together Zamperini's account of his conversation and parts from Graham's actual sermon.  It gives a person chills as Louie submits himself to God and extends forgiveness toward the Japanese, and especially one guard, the Bird.

The rest of the book is full of hope.  Louie is free from his flashbacks, completely healed and made whole.  His marriage saved.  He's able to provide for his family and buy a from alcoholism.  (He spent his life telling his story and testimony.)  He went back to Japan and forgave his captors.  He wrote a letter to the Bird praying that he would come to know Christ.  Zamperini's conversation was real and undeniable.

What a true hero Mr. Zamperini is, truly unbroken.  What a completely perfect title for this story.  One of the best pictures in the book is of Louie at age 81 riding a skateboard...full of life and hardly defeated.  This story is of grace and forgiveness, and how Christ and His Spirit is a spirit of miraculous peace.

My soul was fed with this read.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympics: Schneiter Style

“Here, put these three hats on and try to walk across the laundry room.  You are the Japanese.  I’m the Russians,” C instructed his older brother B.  The Olympics have descended upon the Schneiter household.  New Olympic events are being created each hour.  After watching the men’s gymnastics, my boys were flipping and twirling down our stairway.  I’m sure they felt athletic and fluid as they went flopping and thudding down the steps.  At least the scores they were giving each other reflected champion status.

There is a new furor for the race: swimming, running, hopping…  Our youngest is struggling over this.  A’s the one begging for it, begging to line up beside his older brothers and race through the living room, to the kitchen, and back around to end up in the TV room for his triumphant finish.  Each time he doesn’t win, which is every time we don’t make B lose, is a major emotional upset.  A might be getting some of these pointers from the London athletes, but mostly it’s in his nature to find losing extremely frustrating.  His lips pout; he hits the sides of his body with fists clenched and cries, “B won!  I lost.  I not faster than B.”

The other day B named himself B Phelps and C morphed into C Lochte.  Cultural observations are being drawn also.  “The Japanese and Chinese are rivals, but the Chinese are better,” C surmised.  Then he added, “Russia and Germany are rivals too, but no one is rivals with the US.  People stop trying when they compete against the US.”  What?  Remember, he’s 5.

My sons are learning a lot this summer. I was feeling like a bad mom because I decided to not push any type of literacy this summer, but instead decided to focus on the art of play, but now that we’ve been engrossed in the Olympics, I’ve concluded  I’ve done my scholastic job by emphasizing geography.  My boys now recognize flags and country abbreviations.  They are learning which countries are in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.  They are learning about language…just listen as a Chinese gymnast is on an apparatus.  They are getting music appreciation each time an anthem is played.  Points for Mama!

Exposure to culture and diversity is also happening…it isn’t every day that we get to see synchronized swimming or diving, cycling, badminton, pommel horse, or even beach volleyball.  We are watching as a family and it is something we are all enjoying, no more Power Rangers!  At least we are getting a few weeks off from all things cartoon. 

B and C are learning a bit about England.  (I'm assuming A is a bit too young, but he might just be absorbing it all.)  They’ve finally got all the names sorted out, “Whose Great Britain?  Who’s the United Kingdom?”

I love that their world is getting a bit smaller, more attainable.  The other day we were driving back from Idaho and Bren decided to explore the GPS.  He started giggling, “There’s China!  Now I’m in Portugal.  Hey, there’s Russia!  Dad!  Dad!  I found Manchester United.”  Each boy took turns with the touch screen, whizzing over land and sea, zooming in and out.”

Thanks to the Olympics, I’m going to get a gold medal this summer for achieving a bit of educational learning.  It was touch and go for a bit, but now when the boys return to teachers and books this fall they will be able to read such words as Botswana, Dominican Republic, and Australia.   And if there’s a flag recognition game, they might just smoke their competition.  But mostly they’ve seen what years of dedication and hard work can give someone:  satisfaction and pride.  Not a bad lesson to learn.  I love the Olympics.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Talking About the Real Stuff

Today after eating together as a family, my son announced that flies are really agnostic and that's why he doesn't like them.  What?  My husband looked at me and then B, "Do you mean obnoxious?" 

"Yeah, abnosxious."

He went off running and playing in the yard, "I wonder where he heard agnostic?"

My husband confessed, "Oh, we were discussing that last night."

Then later that night the boys were fighting over the new toothbrushes.  One was Star Wars, the other Batman.  They both wanted the Star Wars one.  So I tried to make the Batman  one more appealing, "You guys know that a new Batman movie just came out."

B added, "Yeah, that is the one where the guy came in a killed and shot all those people.  Why did he do that?"

Apparently my son had read some of the newspaper that morning...with his dad.

My husband and I have always leaned toward not "protecting" our kids, but just telling them the truth and reality of their world.  (This is how we treated Hans' mom's cancer and it opened us up to practicing prayer and faith.) Yet, the latest discoveries surprised me a bit.  Part of me didn't want my sons to fear movie theaters.  That one seemed to come a little too close to their reality. (I was actually fine with the agnostic concept.)

But I trust my husband.  I've heard his conversations.  He's quite good.  He frames things well, asks good questions, and paints age-appropriate truth for my boys.

I remember sharing with a group of readers at one of my book talk events for Just Moms, that I had shared with my sons about Osama bin Laden when he had been captured.

Someone from the audience was looking for the perfect answer that she could then take back and have with her children, "And how did you handle that conversation?"

I didn't really have a good answer, "I don't know.  I guess I just told them who he was and why our country was happy to have captured him.  The boys didn't say much.  They listened and then we moved on with our breakfast."

But I'm finding that these little conversations come back around.  The boys listen and ask and then the Holy Spirit works.

The other day Coen was asking about God's power and what makes him so powerful.  He, being a boy, loves the idea of super powers.  He also loves the idea of ultimate good and ultimate bad.  Black and white.  We were having a good conversation. I was doing most of the listening.  Then he pointed to his heart, "But this, this love is the most powerful."

And so I trudge on and I hope that in my honesty as a mom and a person who is grappling with life, the good and the bad, that my sons will ultimately see a woman and a community who desire a relationship with an all-loving and all-powerful God and see a transformation in me that gives them the confidence to know there must be a God...and that somewhere in this messy earth that Love does win.

And I guess that is why we continue to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with our kids.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Higher Ground...and Other Thoughts on Christian Films

First of all I need to clarify that Higher Ground is not a Christian movie.  Not like Fireproof or other films published by Christians and for Christians.  Higher Ground is adapted from a spiritual memoir by Carolyn Briggs entitled, This Dark World.  This movie was made, not by Christian and not just for Christians, (as far as I know) but it looks at faith and tells an honest story...this is why I liked it.

I never like Christian movies, which is hard since I am a Christian, and I have to nod and smile while my friends glow after viewing one.  They always say, "Now, I know that most Christian movies are poorly acted or not very well made, but  not this one.  This one was so good."  Of course, when I view it I cringe and squirm and want to hide under the covers.  When I say things like, "Really, yeah, it made me uncomfortable."  Often my friends look at me with shock and total disbelief, and I feel judged so I just keep my opinions to myself.  (Until they read this blog post...oops.  Yes, I didn't like Courageous either.)

After viewing Higher Ground, and liking it, I  finally concluded what I like and don't like about movies regarding faith.  I like honesty.  I like truth.  There are so many true stories waiting to be told that just happen to be about people of faith.  I don't like fictional Christian movies that play it safe to get the G rating having to keep too many factions happy and not offended.  Nothing is worse than a staged sermon embedded into a dramatic film.

So, don't watch Higher Ground if you are easily offended.  Watch Higher Ground if you want to know how many of your Christian friends feel and have felt as their faith ebbs and flows.

Here is the blurb about this film found on the Netflix jacket, "Vera Farmiga stars in and directs this sensitive and searching chronicle describing a woman's lifetime journey of that initially leads her to join a fundamentalist sect and then leave it again years later.  The film looks deeply into human doubt and certainty, and the challenge of trying to match our lives with our spiritual beliefs."

Yes, much of what they depicted could be taken as making fun of religion, but when you feel like you are on the outside much of what happens in churches feels awkward and strange.  When someone is having a "spiritual moment" and you are not, you often feel like you are watching something least I do.  So watching many of the scenes in the film still made me want to hide under some covers, but not because I was a Christian watching other Christians put a movie together, but because I was watching those on the outside summarize what we on the "inside" look like to them.

Not only did I identify with the main character in her search for God, but I also was raised in the church during the same era as she began her spiritual journey.  I'm not sure the 70's, 80's, and 90's were the church's best.  There were a lot of growing pains as the American church responded to the Holiness Movement and then the Jesus 70's.  The scenes of Bible studies and prayer meetings were all scenarios I have experienced.  Chastisement by the "older" women mentoring the main character in her role as a submissive woman were identical to experiences I had growing up.  Carolyn Briggs simply told her story, and I simply listened and cringed and laughed and related. 

Part of me is nervous to even post this.  Nervous that people will misunderstand me, judge me.  But there is this hope in me that believes that if I am honest about my relationship with God and church then just maybe it will be exactly what someone else needs to hear as they make sense of their spiritual journey. 

My husband and I went on a 14 mile hike the other day, so there was plenty of time to discuss, and we spent a good portion of it talking about church and what makes us keep coming back, makes us want it for our family.  If we weren't committed in our resolve to make church part of our lives, it would be easy to release it and leave it behind.  I think we concluded that our parents modeled that there was something authentic and good and necessary in church.  Our parents modeled grace toward the church.  We all desire grace from the church, but we often forget to extend that grace to this place that has never claimed to be perfect.  (Some do and that is a problem.) We place great value in having relationships with others who are seeking truth in God.  And we are hoping that we can do life with people who are honest with us and honest with themselves and their spiritual memoirs.

So, because of that I would highly recommend Higher Ground and would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

After the Golden Age: A Book Pick

Yes, I am doing a book pick, something I've abandoned, but feel is fitting with summer upon us!  First of all, After the Golden Age is not particularly deep or richly thematic...nothing too profound, but it is the perfect summer brain candy.  (I stole this line from a fellow book clubber.)  After the Golden Age takes place in today's times, in Commerce City.  The twist, it is a super hero fiction.  I never pick up these types of reads, but I do enjoy a good summer superhero flick, so why not a superhero read.  I have been pleasantly delighted at each turn.  I love how normal it is to talk about how the superheros are either in their street clothes or their skins. (Oh and I'm reading this on a Nook which I always thought I'd hate, but can now see the draw too...sorry Sherman Alexi.) 

I'm writing this plug before finishing the book.  I have about 50 pages left to go and as soon as I clean up the kitchen I fully intend to sit the boys in front of  the TV and finish my light adventure.  The book fit the perfect plot triangle, very textbook.  But isn't that what you want for a summer read and a travel companion to beach or mountain?

My only unknown is:  what is Celia's superpower.  I still think she's got one...even though she's sure she's a genetic dud...born of two superhero parents.  Right?  Well, I'll let you know once I get to the end.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Frist Grade Facebook?!

My son turned to me during our evening tuck-in, "Well, at school today "blank" said that "blank's" butt was on Facebook."  He did a little uncomfortable giggle and looked into my eyes for a reaction.  (My son is in first grade and has never clicked on any FB links in his life.)

I, of course, was angry...angry that there was obviously bullying and a child getting picked on.  BUT, don't worry, I did not show this.  Note:  to get information, to process with kids, and to make the most out of teaching moments, remaining calm is key.

"Honey, do you know what Facebook is?"  I truly was curious.

"Yeah, that thing with all the pictures."  Yep, he knew.  He's looked over my shoulder while I've been navigating my own FB account.  I've showed him pictures of his cousins and other friends' kids that I know he finds interesting.

B did reveal the name of the person who made this announcement, but he was reluctant to tell me the child who was being made fun of.  He didn't want to share.  Its like he knew that someone was being targeted, someone who maybe isn't as socially acceptable as the other kids in the class.  We all can remember this.  I remember making fun of a new girl that wasn't as good-looking as the rest of the girls in the class.  This was not one of my better moments as a child.  My comments kept her ostracized for two years...until I moved schools.  In fact when I went to a birthday party with some of my old friends, a full year after I transferred schools, one of my "cool" friends said, "You know, Abby is really nice."  I swallowed a huge ball of guilt after hearing that comment.  (Should I crucify myself even more and confess that I went from attending a public school to a private school, a private Christian school?  Oh dear.)

Finally B confessed.  My suspicions were confirmed.  The typical child was being targeted.  He giggled again and then buried his head under his covers.

"Oh honey, don't you think that made him feel bad?"

B shrugged his shoulders.  "What if that was being spread around the school about you and when you were walking down the halls a 3rd grader came up to you and said, 'Hey, I heard your butt was on Facebook.'  How would that make you feel?"

B looked a bit saddened, "Embarrassed."  I then went on to say that the rumor was not true, I knew it wasn't.  No butt was on FB, and then I proceeded to give a very helpful tip, "Never put body parts on the internet."  I went into my classic conversation about such things, about how our private parts are special and are to be saved one day for our future wife as a gift.  I added that once something is on the internet, you can never take it back.

Then this morning I read in the newspaper how FB is trying to open accounts for children, oh dear...please no.  Do I really have to type it out, why I'm not a fan of this possible move?  (Yes I realize many children have accounts by simply lying about their ages.)

Bullying has always happened, but the internet does seem to take it all to a much more damaging level.  Parents are always commiserating on when to have the "sex" talk with their kids etc., but I really hope that parents are also thinking about the "internet" talk.  And I hope that parents realize these are continuous conversations that appear organically in our relationships with our kids and continue to grow and evolve as our children and our world's change faster than we anticipate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Friday Photo: Nutria Battle

Our hero!  He did battle with a nasty, huge nutria and won!  The beast is dead.  However, he ended up with an infection, some surgery, and this lovely accessory. 

Technology Void

I could claim some higher-ground here in my parenting.  I could call it intentional.  But if I'm really honest, money is more of the motivator than a deep belief against gaming systems.  However, I will admit that I'm glad that money is a factor and has prevented us from purchasing any of these devices for our boys.

Yesterday when B got off the bus he was mad, at me.  "Wow, what's with the face?  What did I do?"

"I want a DS."  Part of me wants one for them too, really...when I see how it makes them feel a bit inferior to their friends.  They've taken full assessment of their situation, done the research while they are at friends' houses.  They know we have a technology void.  This weekend I even caught B in a little-white-lie with his cousin, "Yeah, I have an ipod."  His cousin responded, "Well we have three, but we have to share them as a family."  Actually, B does not have an ipod.  His father has one that he lets the boys have full access to.  B keeps the speaker and ipod right by his bed, so I guess it feels like it is his, but it is not.

Often when I go pick the boys up from playing at friends' houses the mom will say, "Wow, they like to play video games, don't they."  I don't know how many times I've gone to pick C up from a playdate, and I have to search the home to find him hidden in the corner with a handheld system in his hands.  I feel like that health mom who doesn't allow their kids to have refined sugars and turns their children in to ravenous beasts around candy.  (One of these children was in my 6th grade class and stole the Ding Dong out of my lunch for months.  Oh and my husband did not have a TV growing up, which only meant he figured out what time shows were on and made sure he was at a friends house when the shows aired...much to the annoyance of his friend who was bored of those shows.)

Now before you think I'm a horrible mother, the boys do play video games.  They can access many of the same games that their friends play on our computer.  They love it.  It is a passion for them.  I've had other moms tell me that maybe I should just get my boys a Wii, "Then maybe they'll get it out of their systems."  Um, I doubt that.  I remember when my oldest was two and I was basically clueless in my mom role and actually told a friend, "Yeah, we really have been pro-active in our screen time and B just isn't in to it."  Um, B was two, that was it.  Developmentally he was just not at that zone he is.

Sometimes I take our computer and hide it, so the boys will not ask to use it.

The other night I did this and it forced them to play and create.  And I didn't have to deal with the begging.   I  went upstairs and watched B play with his Legos.  He was having fun creating worlds and vehicles for those worlds.  There were sound effects and general ingenuity.  I thought to myself, "Well, maybe when they get out into life they will be the innovators and creative-thinkers of their generation.  Maybe when they are the next Steve Jobs they will say in a speech, 'I thank my mom for my brain.  She denied us access to technology growing up.  Even though I didn't like it at the time, I appreciate it now.  Unlike our peers, our brains were left to grow and develop, forced to create and solve our own bouts of boredom'."

Oh, who am I kidding, I know it is only a matter of time before we finally save up, give in, and buy a gaming system.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Update: Anticipate

Over the New Year I decided to embrace a word for the year instead of making goals or resolutions.  I felt like God handed me, lovingly, the word anticipate.  I felt like I was moving away from old commitments and into new ones, just wasn't sure what the new ones were yet.  I love being aware of the movements of God in my life and living in trust as my life takes new turns.  I learned long ago not to force change, but to anticipate, hope, plan, and trust change.

So, guess what!?  I am embracing a new teaching challenge: preschool.  Never would I have predicted this career choice.  I started out in secondary education, loved my stint at the college level, but now I'm actually very excited and eager to begin this new venue for my passion of teaching.

I'm finding myself taking on some new volunteer work also.  I'm trying to get some planning and movement in the way of long-range plans for my sons' school playground.

But don't worry, I'm passing off many of my old commitments: church women's retreat, mom's Circus Teabreak's group, standing back a bit more from Sunday school leadership (although still taking my turn at teaching), found a new mom to take on the school newsletter, dropping Site Council for next year...probably not coaching my son's soccer team (Daddy says he wants too.).  So, don't worry, I actually think I'm striking a more healthy balance and focusing on fewer things and doing those few things well:  teacher, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. 

But, this transition period has been busy, and that is why there has been less writing lately on my blog.  Just thought my faithful readers would like to know.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Perfect Jeans

I have never been that lucky girl; never had that perfect pair of jeans…until now.  I love this denim like no other.  My passion is unequaled.  And this chance encounter was all quite by accident.  It was a harried decision, a choice I almost didn’t make, a choice thrown on at the end of a time-sensitive –shopping-endeavor.  My childhood friend and I had indulged our stay-at-home-mom fantasies and hired a babysitter while we allowed ourselves to shop, in a mall!  Still our time was limited and was encroached upon by the knowledge that there was a 5 to 1 ratio at her house.  So even though we appeared to be free women, we still shopped like two rushed, frenzied mothers: there was a time constraint.  Luckily I did have my best friend with me who obviously knows a good pair of jeans and recognized they were a hit on my legs, thighs and buns.  “Well, should I get them?  What do you think?”

“Definitely.”  I was unsure because the hems dragged a bit.  She promised that she could alter them if I needed it.  This scene is almost three years old, but is clear in my mind…one of those fateful, frozen events.  By this one simple purchase I was changing the course of history, at least as far as my wardrobe goes.

For three years I would wake and gaze into my closet.  I had choices.  There were other jeans.  But whenever, out of obligation, I chose another pair I always regretted it.  My heart was another’s.  My true love lay in my drawers waiting for me to realize my mistake and return to him and his threads only.

Days with Mr. Perfect were just better.  My confidence oozed:  the right color, with the right fade; the right softness that didn’t sag by the end of the day; so dependable.  I could dress these jeans up or down.  They were good enough for casual grocery shopping, picking up the kids, or going on dates with my husband.  They were morphing into my body, becoming a second skin.  We had lit the wedding unity candle and had become one.

That is why my heart broke recently when I discovered a thin stream of light protruding through the back, left pocket.  Maybe it was my imagination.  Maybe if I stood straight, did not squat, no one else would notice.  I tested this out on my husband.  “Well, maybe if I wear blue underwear?”

“Maybe it is time to get a new pair of jeans.”

Sorrow.  I knew that fates would only give goodness to me once.  You only have one first love.  I tried to find the exact same brand, but it had been three years and the fashions had morphed slightly.  (I guess I’m like that woman who still insists on a beehive at the beauty salon.)  I compromised.  I found something I could live with, not necessarily live without.

I brought this new pair of jeans home and placed them in the drawer next to my worn-out-lover.  I was sad.  I knew that when I woke up and put them on, it would not be the same…and it was not.  I still have my perfect-pair-of-jeans.  I will not throw him out yet.  And I still wear Mr. Right on days when I know I am safe from public scrutiny.  I now understand the powerful connection between a woman and her jeans.  Some things in life you can only learn through experience.  Jeans are one of those things.