Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Comparison Is The Opposite Of Thanksgiving

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Not long ago (and against my better judgment) I took my kids to an arcade.  I'm not keen on these kinds of places.  To me they are a little too much like a childhood casino.  You are going to lose your money.  Sure, you may have a little fun in the process but ultimately, those machines are rigged against you and the odds of winning are astronomical.

We may as well go out to the backyard and roast some smores over a fire made from dollar bills.  We might save a little money that way.

So we go and the kids are having a wonderful time.  I played several rounds of air hockey, my all time favorite game evah!  I consider it my sport.  If they had it in the Olympics I might consider a career in it.

The place we went to has games that spit out tickets based on how well you played.  The idea is that you can collect the tickets and at the end of your visit, you can trade them in for things.  Of course, to win a tootsie roll you need like 50 tickets.  A pencil is 100 tickets.  As far as I can tell, this system is in place for two reasons:

1) To give parents and children the allusion that they didn't just get robbed blind.  When people leave empty handed they tend to feel that way but stuff those hands with jolly ranchers and something magical seems to happen and all seems right with the world.

2) To torture parents, who have already been waiting patiently for several hours while their child plays games,  into having to now stand in a long line of children crowded around a glass case.  These children are taking approximately forty hours to decide if they want a rubber ball or some rock candy.

When all the money was gone and it was time to go, the kids came running to me with their wads of tickets.  My son was first.  His cup was overflowing with tickets and his face was lit up like the Griswold family Christmas house.  "I got this many!! Look!! I got SOOOOO many tickets!"

He cradled his tickets like a baby and then started feeding them into the counter.  He had well over 200.  Meanwhile, his older sister had already been to the feeder with her reams of tickets and was standing in line at the glass counter.

When my son got his ticket with the number "209" printed on it, he hurriedly ran over to his older sister with the intention of bragging.  But before he had a chance to say anything she turned and said, "Look! I got over 410 tickets!!"

His face dropped.  The light drained from his eyes and tears started to well up in the corners of them.  He threw his little piece of paper with the 209 on it to the ground and stormed off, wailing like someone had cut off one of his arms.

I let him cool down for a bit and then consoled him.  He had been so happy about what he had, about standing at the counter to use his 209 but that was immediately taken away when he realized someone had more than him.

As I sat with my arm around him, trying to use the circumstances as a learning opportunity, it dawned on me that while the whole situation seemed very childish and immature, this happens to grown ups all the time.

I so often have my joy stolen when I look around and see that someone else has more than me.  And while I'm better now at being happy with what I have, I still struggle with these feelings when I look around and someone around me seems to be doing better than me.

If  I see someone who looks to me like they are doing a better job parenting, it steals some of my joy.   If someone has more friends or is a better writer or has a cleaner house or a better sense of humor or is kinder or whatever, I look inward and say to myself, "What I have is not enough."

I count out my blessings and then look at the person next to me and make comparisons.

While this may be human nature, nothing good comes of it.  Mark Twain said, "Comparison is the death of joy."  For when we look and see someone else's blessings, we suddenly have no appreciation of our own.

Gratitude is where it's at, my friends.  A great scripture about this is this: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch that? Give thanks in all circumstances. 

There have been so many times that life has been unfair to me and I'm sure you've experienced the same.  It's part of being alive.  But being thankful for what we have always seems to take the edge off, somehow makes our hearts fill up instead of empty out.  One way I look at it is that when all is said and done, we will have nothing except for God and we all have an equal part of him.  He invites us all, includes us all, welcomes us all.  And nothing can take him away from me and with that I find some contentment.

Naturally this didn't feel comforting for my son.  It doesn't always feel comforting to me either, that God is with me.  Somehow I still feel cheated out of my stuff but seeing things this way requires practice and seeing as how this is the season of Thanksgiving, I'm trying to practice as much as possible so that it becomes second nature, so that I will never lose my joy, so that for me, Thanksgiving doesn't come one day a year but every day of the year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quick and Easy Snowflake Craft

Remember when I said that I only do crafts that can be accomplished in 30 minutes or less?  Well, I have one I want to share with you!!

I'm serious about that 30 minute business. Anything that takes longer than 30 minutes is a disaster for me.    It took me SEVEN YEARS to complete my youngest daughter's "first year of life" scrapbook.  Maybe when she's 21 I'll be finished putting pictures into a family album.

Do people even do that anymore? Albums, I mean?  It used to be where we would take our 35 mm film down to the kiosks, have it developed, excitedly open the envelope, sift out the invariably 2-5 black/overexposed ones and then slip the good ones into an album and share with our people.  Nowadays I just whip out my phone.  Or share online.

If my grandma were alive, this is where she'd shake her head and say, "It's all going to shit in a hand basket."

Yes my grandma used the word "shit."  She also had an arm tattoo.  My grandma was a badass.

Anyhoo, back to the craft.  I totally saw this somewhere online so I can't take credit for it.  The kids and I made these adorable snowflakes that can stick to glass.  We made them in under 30 minutes!  I should write a book a la Rachel Ray.  I'll call it "30 Minute Crafts."

Step One: Buy some puff paint.  You can buy it in any color but seeing as how you so rarely see green snowflakes, I'd recommend sticking to silver or white. Still, what you do with your snowflakes is your business.  I used silver glitter. I got this one at Wal-mart but you can find them at any craft store.

Step Two: Print out a snowflake pattern online.  There are oodles.  I'd post a link but then I'd be robbing you of the opportunity to pick it yourself.  I'm trying to foster efficiency here, not laziness, people.

Step Three: Dig through your kitchen for some wax paper.  Or buy some.

Step Four: Cut said wax paper, place on top of printed pattern.

Step Five: Trace the pattern with the puffy paint.  Make sure it is thick and connects in all places.  You may have to squeeze hard.  The kids complained of finger cramps, like kids do.  Their lives are so horrible that their mother forces them to partake in activities that cause muscular phalanges pain.  I'm such a monster.

Step Six: Place them somewhere that they can dry safely.  This means I placed mine high up on a shelf, where my dog couldn't lick the paint off the wax paper.  Yes she'd totally do that.  She's was dropped as a puppy.

Step 7: Walk away and eat a piece of carrot cake. At least that's what I did.  I allowed the snowflakes to dry overnight.

Step 8: I peeled them carefully from the wax paper and prepped them for their photo shoot.  You know the drill: hair, make-up and nails. They are seen here on top of some construction paper. That's just so that they stand out a little better. 

I plan on sticking them to our glass sliding add to the wintery ambiance.  And there you have it.  Quick, easy, fun, under 30 minutes, not messy, cute and did I mention they take less than 30 minutes?

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Attempt At An Advent Calendar

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I am going to make an attempt at an advent calendar this year.  I've heard of them before but never understood what they were about and therefore felt intimidated by them.  Apparently advent calendars are just another way for amazing moms to make me feel like a completely inadequate failure as a mother.

At least that's how I used to see it.  I'm trying to be better at this, at feeling secure 99.9% of the time about how I'm doing at this motherhood gig.  The other day someone gave me a compliment about my kids and it was like they gave me that gold ring from Tolkien's books.  I carry it around in my pocket and whenever I feel like a failure, I pull it out and stroke it gently and say, "my precious."

We have to do what we have to do.

The truth is, I'm a good mom whether I do this advent calendar or not.  And so are you.  I'm just here sharing ideas so take them or leave them.  Take them and put your own spin on them. Take them and share them with someone else. Or leave them. It won't hurt my feelings.  Whatever you do, don't think the following thought: "If I don't do this I'm not a good mom." 

I've lived that lie and it's totally useless.  The voice in your head that says things like that is not your friend.  My bestie Sally says that voices like that are shouted at us when we are in dark places...when (metaphorically speaking) we are walking down a dark back alley that is flanked by tall buildings where mean people stick their shadowy heads through unlit windows and shout ugly lies at us.  She says it's best to simply run out of that place into the light and ignore the words.  Sally is wise.  What can I say?

Run to the light, mothers!!

Anyway, so here's what I'm thinking...

An advent calendar is a calendar (big surprise) with numbers on it (thank you captain obvious) that you can open daily and find something relevant inside.  People take a variety of spins on this.  Some put gifts inside.  I'm too cheap for that.  Some put craft activities inside.  I'm too lazy for that.

So Licha's version will look like this.  I found a picture floating around the internets with the idea of a paper bag advent calendar.  It looks like this.

Seeing as how I already have twine and paper bags and clothes pins, this was a no-brainer for me.  But I've seen people use envelopes and a variety of other things as well that are super easy and affordable.

Just google "Creative Advent Calendars" and try not to be sucked into the black hole.

So, I'm sticking to the paper bag idea and inside I'm going to utilize two ideas.  First, is a Christmasy activity.  I will share my list below.  Second will be a scripture, most likely the story of Christ's birth according to Luke.

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35

My goal is to keep the kids in a Christmas spirit that is focused on Christ, not commercialism.  And if I can add in some fun family traditions into the mix, even better!  This will keep me focused and will allow me to do things in bite sized chunks that won't overwhelm me.  Also, I plan on making this thing happen in under 30 minutes.  Anything more is too much for me.  I do all things in 30 minute increments.  Workouts? House cleaning? Oil changes?  If it can't be done in 30 minutes or less, chances are I'm not going to do it!

Here is my list of fun Christmas activities:

1. Make a gingerbread house
2. Go to a tree lighting ceremony
3.  Make a birthday cake for Jesus
4. Homemade decorations
5.  Watch a Christmas movie...or twelve
6.  Go ice skating
7.  Make a Christmas craft
8.  Wear a santa hat and take treats to a dog shelter
9.  Make a snowman
10.  Read a Christmas book...or twelve
11. Write Christmas cards together
12.  Make hot chocolate
13.  Wrap presents together
14.  Write letters to Santa
15.  Go gift shopping
16.  String popcorn garland
17.  Sing Christmas carols
18.  Decorate cookies
19.  Volunteer somewhere
20.  Get our picture taken with Santa
21.  Eat reindeer droppings (chocolate donut holes)
22. Attend a candlelight church service
23.  Go to a Christmas concert
24.  Collect items for donations to a food bank
25.  Sponsor a family
26.  Put up a Christmas tree
27.  Help dad put up lights in the yard
28.  Drive around and look at lights

There are a few extras in there as Advent this year is 22 days (November 30th- December 21st) but I figure we will most likely do a couple in a day every once in a while.  I mean, who wants to drink hot chocolate without reindeer droppings!? Only crazy people!

I'm simply going to write these down on a piece of paper (nothing fancy) and have the kids open them each day along with a scripture that is also written on a piece of paper.  I thought perhaps we could incorporate a prayer with them as well.  Here's a list of things we will pray for:

1. Our sponsor children in Ethiopia and Mozambique
2.Our missionaries in Ecuador, Ethiopia and El Salvador
3. Our family
4. Our friends
5. The child we made a shoebox for through Samaritan's purse
6. Someone who is sick
7. Someone who loves us
8. Someone we doesn't love us
9. Our church
10. Ourselves
11. A prayer of thanks
12. People who don't have a home
13. People who don't have a friend
14. People who are suffering
15. People who are hungry
16. Our neighbors
17. Our pastor
18. Our town
19. Our schools
20.  Our government

I already have some dates for certain things.  For example, our town parade and tree lighting is on a specific date so I will make sure that goes on the right day for the advent calendar.  I may have to do some pre-planning like making sure I have a gingerbread house ready for that day, having cake mix for Jesus's cake, hot chocolate in the cupboard and some craft ideas sort of floating around in my head just so that I'm not caught off guard but otherwise I think it should be pretty low maintenance.

I'll share some pictures with you, of us enjoying (or maybe complaining about) our advent activities.  I was also thinking of adding a few treats in the bags, like maybe some gum or stickers and really inexpensive things like jacks, cards and paper games.  But that's just a thought.  I may get to that part...or not. :)

I'm so excited. Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year and while I steadfastly refuse to start celebrating it until the day after Thanksgiving, there's nothing wrong with a little planning ahead, right?!  And who cares if there are Christmas carols playing in the background as I type!  Don't judge!  xoxo

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Epidemic of "Busy"

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Have you noticed that nearly every time you have a conversation with someone these days, the following word almost always enters the conversation: BUSY.

"I'm so sorry I haven't called.  I've been so busy!"
"My week has been busy, I'm so stressed out!"
"Let's get together when it's not so busy!"
"You know, the busy season is coming up."

That busy season one cracks me up because I have friends whose "busy season" lasts from January through December.


I think we all have good intentions with this busy thing.  I mean, we don't want to be lazy, we want to be productive.  We want to contribute and use our time wisely.  But it's so easy to cross over from being productive into being overwhelmed.

I have a friend named Kelly who jokingly says that these days she doesn't have too much on her plate, she has too much on her platter. Her husband now says she doesn't have a platter anymore, she has a buffet table.

I don't think she's alone in that feeling of being completely overly scheduled.  She shared a story with me yesterday about how on a particularly busy day she drove by my co-op and desperately wanted to stop and give me a hug but she was on one of those minute-to minute days where every single second was scheduled.  She looked like she wanted to cry when she said this to me, feeling trapped by her to-do list.  I completely understand because I've been there too, days when I wanted to sit and talk with a friend but couldn't, days when I knew I should call someone and failed to do so because there wasn't a second to spare.

 I personally bought into the super mom lie.  You know the one.  It says that we can keep a perfectly clean house, juggle perfectly behaved and  clean kids, make chef-style meals, create pinterest-worthy crafts, pay bills, do laundry, go shopping, keep fit, spearhead fundraisers, volunteer and be a wonderful wife all while working full-time and going to school full time and without breaking a nail.  

Here's the truth: You can do all of the above...but it will cost us something.  The lie is not that we can't do it, the lie is that there isn't a cost associated with it.  It will cost us precious time with our families.  We will miss some fun times, inside jokes and special moments that are difficult to cultivate when our focus is elsewhere.  

Do you remember that Al Pacino movie, "The Scent of A Woman?"  In it he said, "Some people live a lifetime in a minute."  How many lifetimes did I miss while being so busy?  How many lifetimes were lived in my daughter's eyes?  How many opportunities to hold my husbands hand? How many kisses went un-given?

"People can't multitask very well, and when people say they can, they're deluding themselves," said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, "The brain is very good at deluding itself." Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can't focus on more than one thing at a time.  What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed. "Switching from task to task, you think you're actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you're actually not," Miller said.  "You're not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly."  All this means is that we are missing things, things that add up to the meat and potatoes of life, to lifetimes within our lifetime.

 We are in a rat race but I'm not so sure if there is a goal.  Is it when I'm older, when the kids are grown up, when the holidays are over?  There is definitely a sense of feeling important that feeds our need for being busy.  We are getting a payoff from all of it or else we wouldn't do it but it's a matter of finding what that payoff is and then taking a hard look at it to see if it's really worth all the time, effort and stress.

Is it worth missing dinners with my family? Is it worth missing time with friends?  Is it worth losing sleep? Is it worth not taking a long walk with my kids? Is it worth giving up things that I truly love?  Is it making me happy?

I've never heard anyone say, "I've been so busy, it's been the happiest time of my life!" That's because when we have a lot on our plates, platters and buffet tables, we have so much on our minds that we forget to choose to be happy.  We forget to take care of ourselves. We forget to be happy.  We don't have time for it.

This, in part, was one of the reasons we chose homeschool.  Because I felt like my life was spinning out of control with so much busy-ness.  It was a desperate move, I admit.  But it was birthed out of desperation, the need to take the rein and direct the speed in which I was living.  I wanted to slow down.  

I'm now less busy than I've every been in my life but what's ironic is that people project the busy on to me.  "You must be so busy!"  That's not the case. Last night I spent an hour crocheting a hat for a stuffed owl. AN OWL, people.  Clearly I have time to burn.

It's still a struggle.  I sometimes feel idle and get squirmy at having extra time. I'm tempted every single day to get busy again.  It's painful to say "no."  I often feel like I'm letting people down and that hurts. Of course I don't want to hurt anyone but at some point I have to take care of myself and my family.  I have to draw lines in the sand and put up some boundaries.  Some days I am still busy but overall, I've called a time out and have left some space for myself.  I've been able to paint, read, exercise, spend individual time with my kids, talk to friends, slip my green tea slowly without burning my throat.

I've learned so many painful times that our lives are way shorter than we think.  And I wondered, if today was my last day, how would I live it? Would everything be as imperative and important as it is right now or would it all seem useless?  Who would I choose to spend my time with? What would I do?  I'm trying, if ever so slowly and imperfectly, to live this way.  I want to live in a way that if tonight I find out it is my last day, I would be able to say, "I enjoyed every single minute of it!"

What about you? Are you busy? Do you enjoy being busy? Does it make you happy? If not, what makes you happy?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ghost Hunt For Silent Consonants

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It's almost Halloween and what better way to celebrate than with a good old fashioned ghost hunt...for ghostly letters of course!!

My third grader sometimes struggles to spell words that have silent consonants and so we came up with a fun and festive way to clear the cobwebs from our brains and practice these menacing words.

First, I printed out five copies of some happy, decorative ghosts.  You can find the printable here.  I cut them out and then wrote a silent letter on each ghost and hid them throughout our house.

Then I made up a weekly spelling list for my daughter that included the letters I'd written on the ghosts. For a list of words with silent letters, click here.  I wrote her spelling list on the blackboard and had her copy down the words and spell them out loud.  We discussed definitions and put the words in alphabetical order.

Next, we discussed how certain words have silent "ghost" letters and identified each of those letters in our list of spelling words.

At last came the fun part!  Using a clipboard, she went on a ghost hunt and matched the missing silent letter to the appropriate word.  Lots of fun was had and she made some serious headway in understanding silent words. She's already planning next week's spelling list!

We're going to use Halloween words with silent letters next week.  Examples: rattling, thrills, mummy, and ghoul. I might even hide them in harder places and play the "Ghost Busters" them song in the background for extra effect. :)

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