Thursday, March 27, 2008

God is my refuge

Hear my cry, O God,

Listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to You,

I call as my heart grows faint;

lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For You have been my refuge,

a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in Your tent forever

and take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

Psalm 61:1-4

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What have you changed your mind about?

Amy is asking people what they've changed their minds about over the years.

I used to think doctors knew who you were and cared about whether you got better. Then I realized that the majority are distracted by trying to avoid being sued while seeing as many patients as possible at the highest rate possible in order to pay off their medical school loans and foot the bill for their malpractice insurance. Our pediatrician is great (thank the Lord), but I wish I could find a good doctor for myself.

I used to think homeowners’ insurance meant you could get help replacing things if something bad happened.

I used to think I wanted to live in the country, until my dog brought a dead mouse into the house. Now I’m on the fence.

I used to think I was a bad person for not cleaning as much as my mom did, but I got over it. Mostly. I think.

I used to think that if I just set a pattern and standard of cleanliness in the home, then others would like it, get used to it, and contribute to it. Boy was I ever wrong about that. I figured out my error awfully late... too late to start training little kids to help a lot with the cleaning. My girls are pretty helpful about doing what I ask them to do. We will leave this subject now, before too much is said.

I used to think peas were gross, but now I love them (except I still hate the canned ones).

I used to think that when I was 30, I would be mature, wise and "together." When that didn't happen, I set my hopes on 40. Forty rolled around and my psyche was as immature and unsure as ever--but my body started to go. I used to think there was a window in life when you had it all together--health, wisdom, capability, productivity. Now I think that if you get any of those things at any point, you should just be thankful.

I used to think that God was surprised when Adam and Eve sinned, and Jesus was His solution to an unanticipated problem, but now I know that the plan of Jesus was foreknown by God before the foundation of the world. Knowing that, I still wonder why God would create us on purpose with full knowledge of what it would entail to save us…

I used to think you could figure most things out, but now I think the key is to learn to live graciously and joyfully without understanding everything.

Monday, March 24, 2008


I am going to make a stab at putting down my "schedule."

I have been very resistant to scheduling my life. My mother was extremely scheduled. I mean, extremely scheduled. There was a time for everything and everything was to be done at its proper time. The net result was that our home was always spotless, there were always clean socks with no holes in them, and groceries were always bought with coupons and on sale. Dinner was served promptly at 5:15 each evening, and it was always homemade from scratch, very balanced and nutritious.

Mom vacuumed and dusted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, although Wednesday was what she called a "light" cleaning day. Bathrooms and hard floors were Tuesdays and Thursdays. Closets rarely needed much attention, as she had complex systems for rotating the products she bought ahead (in bulk, on sale) and stored. We were always supplied at least six months in advance with everything but milk and produce. She had so many groceries on the shelves in the basement, once a little brother of one of my friends was over playing and he stopped in wonder, "Wow, Ruthie, I didn't know you had a grocery store in here!" Mom even bought gifts ahead and stored them--toys, baby outfits, etc.

Her laundry system was so complex--washing the cleanest things first and saving and reusing the hot water for dirtier items. I didn't understand much about it, except that there were "clean whites" and "dirty whites" and only the most unkosher of citizens would ever consider washing dish cloths or dish towels in the same load as underwear. I just tried to stay out of the way, and I always got my clothes back pristine clean, folded perfectly, or ironed and hung on a hanger.

I was expected to help with the vacuuming, dusting, bathrooms and hard floor cleaning. I also had various other jobs--peeling carrots was one I did a lot. Mom always kept carrot sticks and celery sticks in in containers in the refrigerator and brought them out after every meal. I was also the main dishwasher after dinner. In the summer I was asked to pick beans and gather the apples that fell off the apple tree every morning. I finagled out of picking beans as much as I could because the vines gave me an itchy rash on my arms. My mom told me to toughen up and go out earlier, before the heat of the day, and wear a long sleeved shirt. I think I caused her a great deal of frustration in my reluctance to cooperate.

Our home was organized, clean, economical... and very stressful. Deadlines for housework were as stressful as my school deadlines for assignments and tests.

When I grew up and got out of the house (in other words, when I married at 21), the first thing I did was dissolve the schedule.

Of course, this made me feel guilty and dirty and unworthy of having friends over (or friends at all).

But I just felt I had to escape the rigid prescriptions for every day.

However, I know there is value in having a schedule, especially if you can be flexible with it. Another thing that God taught me when I had my babies is that you don't have to create schedules; sometimes they sort of happen naturally, and all you really have to do is notice them, work with them as they evolve, and be willing to change them when it is necessary.

So here is what my life at age 42 looks like:

  • Bible reading/prayer
  • Beds made
  • Rinse down my own shower
  • Sinks and vanities wiped down and dried
  • Kitchen cleaned (dishes, counters, table tops)
  • Clothes put away
  • Family room tidied up

  • Menu plan for the week
  • Catch up laundry
  • "Big Prep" to teach Bible study

  • Teach Bible study
  • Big grocery shopping with menu plan centered list

  • Change two beds (rotating)
  • Clean toilets
  • Organizational cleaning project (whatever is appropriate)

  • Take morning shower in kids' shower and clean their bathroom
  • "Big Laundry"
  • Start dusting and vacuuming to cut down on what has to be done on Saturday
  • Moms in Touch prayer group

  • Finish "big laundry"
  • Continue with dusting and vacuuming (maybe there won't be much left for Saturday!)
  • Finish Wednesday's organizational project or consider starting a new one

  • Family cleaning day--the goal is to have everyone pitch in at 100% effort for 45 minutes and get the house cleaned from top to bottom. However, with crazy schedules, this often doesn't happen. Still everyone is supposed to do his/her own bedroom this day, and we do the basement and wash the kitchen floor.


  • Change the furnace filter
  • Change the vacuum bag and clean out the vacuum filter
  • Give the dogs their heartworm meds

This schedule does not include cooking dinner or driving the kids to activities or picking Shannon up from college. I don't want to try listing those or I will forget some, and just when I think I'm getting it all done, I will miss something very important.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another failure

How could a little prince of a dog like this be the root of so much tumult? I guess I should have known that if I posted something about a victory in my life I would encounter opposition.

I wrote about my struggle with screaming and how I am improving. Since then, in less than a week, I have had two meltdowns. The first was last Sunday. The second was today.

Pride goes before a fall? I didn't think I was all that prideful. But what do I know?

Today I was making bars in the kitchen and Schubert wanted to go out. Against my better judgement, I put him out on his leash. Before three minutes had passed (but after I was wrist deep in bar dough) he wanted to come in again. As soon as I got to a point where I could let him in, I went over to the door to do so.

Of course, he had hopelessly tangled his leash in everything existent in our backyard. I unwound him from trees, bushes, the grill and the deck steps before guiding him into the house.

It is March in central New York, and that means mud, so the next step was to clean up his paws. As I bent down to wipe him off with the doggy-towel, I saw that he had something in his mouth. Now, please excuse me for sharing this, but Schubert eats doggy poop. His favorite is Piper's "recycled" Alpo (Schubert gets dry Iams). I assumed that the large chunk of dark brown stuff in his mouth was a big piece of that atrocious substance. I started to gag and try to plan how I would deal with it.

Schubert then deposited the chunk on the rug by the sliding glass door. It was not the shape of a piece of poop--it was flatter and more jagged. For a moment I relaxed. It must be a piece of mulch, I thought. Then, because of my near proximity due to the clean-off-the-muddy-paws stance, I noticed this: it was shinier than your everyday mulch. And more translucent. And, ummm, it had a thin little tail and two stiff little hind legs.

As the realization dawned on me that this thing in my house, on my RUG, was a dead mouse, I felt the panic rise. I started to gag and my leg muscles went into spasm. I started to hyper-ventilate, and then I started to build up into a scream. I tried self talk. "Self, " I said, "You do not need to scream. You need to hold it together and get that mouse out of here." My self said back to me, "I AM NOT GOING TO TOUCH THAT THING, NOT IN A MILLION, TRILLION YEARS!"

And I started to scream. I could not think rationally. Schubert picked up the dead rodent and moved it from the navy rug to the light colored wood floor where it was really visible. I screamed louder. I tried to run away, but I was afraid to leave, afraid he would pick it up again and put it somewhere else. Instead of finding my cell phone and calling my husband's cell, instead of even dialing his cell from our regular phone, I picked up the phone and dialed his office, where I had to go through a secretary to get him (how mortifying is that?).

Once I had him on the phone, although I was still screaming, gagging and crying, I was able to calm down a little and think. There is something grounding about just hearing the voice of someone who is not afraid in a situation like this. To his credit, he (kind of) offered to come home, but obviously I could not stay in the house with two dogs and a dead mouse for 25 minutes while he drove home.

The solution I found was to throw, from a distance, a generous number of paper towels to cover the dead creature (talking to Shawn the entire time in an attempt to retain my sanity). When I could no longer see it, and was reasonably certain that I could scoop up the paper towels without feeling what was inside, I was able to get the thing into the trash can in the mud room where it awaits a trip to the garbage can in the garage.

I am very discouraged that I screamed again. In a way it is funny. At least, I hope it is funny to someone, somewhere... and not totally despicable. But funny or not, I have to get control of this.

Schubert seems to be the root of the trouble. How I would love to give that dog away. But ultimately, it is not his fault. He is a dumb little puppy. I am a grown woman. I am the one who should know better.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Works for me Wednesday

This is my first attempt at "Works for me Wednesday," linking from "Rocks in My Dryer."  I hope I do it right.  If I don't, I hope people will forgive me for trying.  I should probably get my husband to help me, but he has a life of his own and is busy.

My Wednesday Tip is how to get free bread crumbs (like for topping casseroles or mixing into meatloaf) and use up your bread crusts at the same time.

Rarely do we like to eat the crusts at the ends of a loaf of bread, so I used to find the two last pieces of bread, what my husband calls "endgates", wrapped up in a large, plastic bread bag, pushed aside to a corner somewhere while we started a new, fresh loaf of bread.

Often these crusts would get mold on them, and then I would throw them away. Sometimes I threw them away before they molded.

Then I discovered a quick and easy trick—I take the unloved crusts out of the bag and place them on a cookie sheet (I hope it is obvious that I do this before they start to get moldy). Then I store the cookie sheet on a rack in my oven until the bread is dry and crispy. You can keep adding to the cookie sheet as bread crusts become available. You may forget to remove this tray from the oven now and then when you are preheating to bake something, but no matter, it just speeds up the drying process.

When I have enough dry bread crusts to make it worthwhile, I pop them into a large ziplock bag and crush them with a mallet or a rolling pin (whichever is closest to the top of the drawer on that particular day).

From there I put them into my breadcrumb canister. If I have extra, I freeze them in a plastic container.

When I get too many, I stop and go back to throwing away the unwanted bread. When I run close to the end of my breadcrumb supply, I start up this system again. I never buy breadcrumbs.

It works for me.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Not such a good morning

Yesterday morning we were getting ready for church... which always has its challenges.

I was trying mightily to get myself ready, while knowing that the kids needed getting out of bed. Shawn had left earlier to thrum the electric bass, get sound levels set, all that, as he does almost every Sunday morning.

I was planning to wear black. This is not unusual; I wear black at least 50% of the time, maybe 75%. However, I was planning to wear a black velvet top, and I did not want to get hair all over it (a futile hope, I know, but I try to do what I can). The upshot is that I was trying to dry my hair, and style it a little, before getting dressed and going around to wake the children.

ASIDE: It is hard to figure out what to call your children when they aren't really children any more. The schools have "solved " this by calling them students. As in, "Your students are doing so well and working so hard." I just want to scream every time I hear this. They are not my students. The ones I homeschooled were my students whilst I was homeschooling them, but we have put an end to that. They are not my students. They are the school's students, the teacher's students, but they are my children. Except that they are not children. While driving them to school the other morning, we had a discussion about that. I said, "How about if they just call you what you are: my offspring, my progeny, my SPAWN. Yes, that would be appropriate. They could tell us all about our SPAWN." Laura said, "That wouldn't be politically correct, because what about adopted children and foster children and legal guardian issues and stuff like that?" I said, "OK, here is it, they can tell us about our SPAWN and our CHARGES."

So, I was trying to get to where I could go wake my spawn ("could" referring to the manner and modesty of my garb following my morning shower), and I had to dry my hair before I could reasonably put on my black velvet top. And the upshot of that is that we were off to a late start.

Oh, but it can always get later.

I finally dried and dressed and did the rounds to the bedrooms, turning on lights, shaking shoulders, cranking the Schubert piano sonatas in my CD alarm clock (well, they wake me up). Laura was up and had taken the dogs downstairs and let them out.

Hoping that the rest of the natives were rising, I walked over to my dresser, opened my jewelry box and was in the process of selecting a necklace (which is kind of fun when you are wearing a black velvet V-neck). Peering down into my jewelry box, it occurred to me that I was hearing an unusual sound effect, sort of like a cascading waterfall. I glanced over at my bathroom, where nothing seemed to be amiss, and then down at my feet, where Schubert (the dog, not the dead composer) was crouching, emptying his very full bladder onto the off-white carpet.

Many thoughts ran through my mind. The loudest one was, "What am I going to do?" Followed by, "I have to make him stop!" and, "This is so GROSS!" and, "But if I pick him up and take him to a door and throw him outside, he will continue to widdle all the way there, and I will have rank dog urine all throughout my home..."

Unable to figure out what to do, I reverted to my natural response. I screamed. I screamed so loud, I almost suffocated myself, seeing as how my flu turned into something like asthma, which I had exacerbated the previous day while cleaning bathrooms. I screamed until I had to gulp for air, and then I gulped and continued on. It was, as Shannon said later, a primordial scream, wordless, constant, raw emotions uncloaked and reverberating through the house (heck, probably through the neighborhood).

It was completely ineffective in terms of the dog's accident. He finished his deluge, and one of the children whisked him away to the safety of his crate. I guess it was effective at rousing the spawn.

Later, David said, "You shouldn't scream like that, Mom. I thought you must have cut off your finger."

Shannon, who is rational and knows me well, said, "Oh, I thought you burned yourself on your curling iron."

Jonathan said, "I thought some burglar or criminal with a knife or a gun was attacking you."

Laura said, "I was picturing a very large, dangerous, fanged animal coming after you in there."

Nope. Just a dumb dog and a large, soggy circle of very dark, very smelly animal urine on my carpet. I sacrificed my bath towel to the first phase of clean up, then got water and vinegar in my mini Bissell and suctioned it up and through. I also ended up putting a load of towels into the washer before we left for church.

Yup. We were late.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Mercy of God

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will He harbor His anger forever;
He does not treat us as we deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His love for those who fear Him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him,
for He knows how we are formed,
He remembers we are dust.
Psalm 103:8-14

He remembers we are dust.

The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,
and the man became a living being.
Genesis 2:7

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wisdom from Shannon, help from God

I just have to put this down. Shannon, my eighteen year old, has her own way of looking at the world. A few months ago, she said, "Mom, why do people say, 'He wants to have his cake and eat it, too'...? That's so dumb. How could you eat your cake if you didn't have it?"

Being a super-wise and informative mother, I enlightened her, "It means he wants to have his cake at the same time as he eats it.. he wants to eat it and still have it."

Being a sweet tempered and polite daughter, she did not roll her eyes at me. She just calmly replied, "I know that. So why don't they say, 'He wants to eat his cake and have it, too'...? That makes a whole lot more sense."

Ever since she pointed this out, it has also bothered me. I have switched to quoting it Shannon's way.

Now I am going to break a blog rule. I am going to whine and talk about my health. This is your fair warning... you can stop reading now.

I am going through a life valley right now. I shouldn't complain. We have a friend who has leukemia. I just can't get over the flu.

I am tired, I can't take a deep breath, there is something in my right lung, and I have been sick for over a month. I know this because I am on my second period since getting sick. I don't suppose you wanted to know that, but it is significant, because I have a menstrual migraine, too. (I need to get off the computer.)

My husband is on a business trip. I don't generally mind that as much as I did when the kids were little, but we are going through some things with one of our kids, and the stress and divisiveness in the house are getting very oppressive. (John Rosemond says, "No parent should ever agonize over anything that the child is perfectly capable of agonizing over himself." But old habits die hard. I find that this child is quite resistent to taking over the agonizing for me.)

Last night as I went to bed, I took my Bible to read it, but I was so tired and my head hurt so bad, I just whined to God, "I'm tired, please just speak to me, I can't read very much." I opened to Psalm 35. I looked at it. It looked long. I said, "God, I don't know if I can read all that." It seemed that He was encouraging me to go ahead. I read the first verse, "Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me." It was Him, talking to me. He will do this for me. "The Lord your God will fight for you," Exodus 14:14. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31.

The Psalm went on to talk about fighting and overcoming enemies. I do not see my children as enemies, but God gave me peace that He was just using verse 1 to encourage me that I am not alone in this parenting struggle. Although I am usually a stickler for context, I felt that He was saying, "Your head hurts. Just go to sleep with Psalm 35:1 in your heart and remember that I am for you, I am all powerful, and it will be all right."

Even though I have a migraine and the computer hurts it, I wanted to get that down. It is a precious thing when the Lord meets you like that.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Please be careful

Once, about nine years ago or so when my children were small but not tiny, we were at the home of some friends. The kids were playing happily in the backyard, and the adults were sitting on the patio sipping lemonade or something.

This particular woman ran an in-home daycare.

I don't know how the conversation drifted this way, but at one point she looked at me and said, "I was never a screamer."

I do not know where this came from or why. I felt my face go hot. Was she referring to me? Did she know?

I scream when I open the cupboard and the oatmeal falls out on my head. I scream when somebody jumps around the corner and surprises me. I scream when I hit my thumb with the hammer (or the meat tenderizing mallet). I scream when I stub my toe and when I burn myself getting a tray of cookies out of the oven. I have even been known to scream when, as I sit trying to finish a chapter of Sense and Sensibility (which should be teaching me the value of curbing one's emotions), I suddenly remember that I forgot Shawn's dress shirt in the dryer. Now and then I even scream when the dogs spring into a random barking spree.

And sometimes, to my shame, I scream at my kids when I am angry at them.

I do not like this about myself. I do not justify this. The Lord is working on me, and we are making progress toward less screaming. We really are, but I am afraid to celebrate the victories, because it is such a deep, dark, shaming secret that I was ever a screamer in the first place.

In retrospect, I think the lady probably said what she said because she assumed that I didn't scream, either. I am pretty collected in public. Well, except for the day when Jonno and I were walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot and a motorcycle fired its engine like a gunshot just as we passed. I screamed like a murder victim. Jonno laughed like a maniac after that, and so did the Wal-Mart employee who was taking a break, smoking at the picnic table along the side of the store. But other than that, I am usually quite "in command" in public.

It is when I am out of the public eye that I crash and burn. Why is that??? I hate this about myself. It is the thing I hate the most and the thing I would most like to change.

And you know what? It is changing. But it is changing slower than I would like. God works on us slowly sometimes, maybe most of the time.

Occasionally I wonder if I would make faster progress in this area if I could share my struggles more publicly. On the other hand, I wonder if it is just God's way of keeping me humbly dependent on Him to lead me through a slow process.

It is hard, though, when the "mentor mom" (whom you might have asked to help you and pray with you through this) up and says, "I was never a screamer." Imagine if somebody said, "I only weigh 112 pounds!" Well, who wouldn't like to weigh 112? Who wouldn't like to always be calm and loving and wise and rational with her children?

Some other people we know had recently moved into a new house. They were telling us about their neighbor. "Oh, her," they said, "She's a real screamer. She just screams at her kids all the time. She screams at her dogs, too." They shook their heads. The neighborhood was going down the tubes, apparently.

Do you think people who scream LIKE to scream? Do you think they are going around saying, "More people ought to scream at their children the way I do. Clearly, there is a lack of accomplished screamers in our society." That is not the way "screamers" feel about things.

I'll tell you what it feels like to be a screamer. I know, because I have been there.
  1. It is very embarrassing. You hope nobody hears you.
  2. You feel guilty and ashamed. Well, you should; you are sinning. But you don't really need anybody to point out that you are sinning. You already know that. What you need is someone to come alongside you to help you, someone who will grant you compassion and not judgment.
  3. It makes your throat hurt, and sometimes your hands shake. It is not fun.
  4. You long to call someone, but you don't know whom to call.
  5. You pray and you pray, but God doesn't fix you in an instant--He fixes you slowly, over time. The problem is that it can seem as though others won't accept you in the meantime, not until you are all finished being fixed.
There is a verse in Romans 8--"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Umm. No condemnation in God's eyes, but that doesn't always seem to spread to all of His children.

Everybody has a different struggle. We are all made differently and we have different areas of victory and defeat. Let's try to be very careful not to assume that what we can do is something everybody can do. And let's try to be very sensitive about not discouraging those who might have a battle we were not aware of.

On a happier note: the other day I hurt myself near the stove (yes, this really is a happy story). I don't remember exactly... I think it involved hot, splattering tomato sauce and pain and a mess. I was crying out frantically, "Oh, oh, ouch! Oh what a mess! I hate this! How am I ever going to get this... Oh DEAR!" and one of my children looked up from her book in the family room and said, "Mom, I just love the way you swear."

Monday, March 3, 2008

The gift finally arrived

Here is Shawn with his birthday present. His birthday was last Monday (a week ago). His present arrived on Thursday. Here he sits in the blue chair in the family room, wondering what is in this package.

Here Shawn is opening his gift. He has the wrapping paper off, and he is reading the box to see what he has received.

Oh my! It is the total collection of Star Trek The Next Generation. Seven seasons, 179 episodes. This is quite a surprise. He was certainly not expecting this!

We have watched the pilot episode and the one after it. The kids think the special effects are really hokey--kind of the way we felt about the original Star Trek. It really takes us back to those early days of being married in college. We had a bedroom barely big enough to hold our bed and wedge a TV between the foot of the bed and the wall on a homemade TV stand. We made that TV stand out of two by fours and painted it "dusty blue"--it was the eighties, after all. We propped ourselves up in bed and watched STNG during its weekly broadcast slot because, you know, there was no such thing as tivo back then (and we didn't even have a VCR). STNG made a nice study break. After all those years, playing these old shows and listening to the theme song gives my heart a nostalgic stirring.

In those days, we watched on a TV we bought used for $25 and kept running by sticking a plastic knife in the back of it. We also saw the Twins win the 1988 World Series on that TV.

Reading the box, Shawn saw that it said, "20th Anniversary Edition."

"What?!" he exclaimed, "Star Trek isn't TWENTY years old!" Then he said, "Oh, wait. I HAVE been married for over twenty years."

Glad it doesn't seem that long, honey.