Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Christmas is All About -- Well... Sort Of.

"I asked Jesus into my heart -- did I already tell you?" one of my little five-year-olds in my Wednesday night class at church said to me last night.

"No, you didn't!" I answered. "That's wonderful! I'm so happy!"

"Have you asked Jesus into your heart?" she said, turning to the boy who sat beside her.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Oh, you HAVE to love Jesus and ask Him to come and live in your heart," she said emphatically.

"Well I do!" he declared.

"If you don't," she continued on, "He won't bring you any presents at Christmas!"

Kids -- you gotta love them. :)

Her mom later described the event, which had happened earlier that morning. After she made the decision that she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart, she said she wanted to give Jesus a kiss.

"Well," her mother thought... "You can't really give Jesus a kiss right now, but when we get to heaven, you can give Jesus a kiss."

"But I already did!" she protested.

"How?" puzzled her mother.

"Like this!" And the little girl kissed her hand as if she were going to blow a kiss, then rubbed it onto her heart.

Now come on, folks. It doesn't get much sweeter than that. :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What I Bought on Black Friday

Tickets to see Little House on the Prairie, The Musical, with a couple of my best friends.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Presents?

I'm not a Black Friday shopper. Hopefully never will be. I guess I don't really see the point. The big ticket items, you can't get unless you sit all night in the parking lot, and the small ticket items -- is it really that big of a sale? There are other times in the year when you get prices just as good, or pretty close, without the chaos.

I hate crowds. I try to get my shopping done before Thanksgiving just to limit the amount of time I have to spend in stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I think another thing that makes me shun Black Friday is all the STUFF. Do people really want and need all the stuff they're grabbing off the shelves? Really? That much stuff?

Now, this time of year, I see tons of bloggers talk about wanting to simplify Christmas (I'm all for that), and only get their kids a couple small gifts (great for them, but I know I could never do it) -- and I also see a lot of comments about Laura Ingalls and her tin cup and peppermint stick Christmas. I see comments such as, "I don't even remember all the stuff I got for Christmas, and people who get just an orange or just a stick of candy remember it their whole lives."

Really? You don't remember the stuff you got for Christmas as a kid? Because I do.

I think of childhood Christmases, and I see the twin dolls and the Holly Hobbie record player I got when I was 3... yes, 3, and I SEE that record player UNDER the tree, unwrapped but with wrapped presents around it, and I see that one little baby doll in its crib waiting for me under the tree Christmas morning, and I see my dad's cousins come in bearing another gift -- the same baby doll -- and my instantly loving them both and raising them as twins. And I was barely three.

Every other Christmas is as vivid, if not more so as I got older. I know what I got for Christmas. I may not remember every single gift -- but I sure remember a lot of them. And I definitely remember the "big gifts". We had several wrapped presents that made their appearance under the Christmas tree at random times throughout the month of December. Always an exciting moment to wake up and discover there are more presents under the tree!! (We never did Santa so the presents could come out whenever my mom got them wrapped instead of having to wait until Christmas Eve, and I wouldn't trade all the joy of anticipation while shaking and feeling and guessing about those wrapped gifts for a belief in Santa that would have later been dashed anyway!) On Christmas morning, our "big gift" sat unwrapped and waiting for us -- a dollhouse, a toolbench (for my brother), a table and chairs set, a special much-longed for doll, etc.

I remember those gifts, I see them clearly in our living room, sitting on that red felt Christmas tree skirt and sometimes spreading over onto the blue shag carpet. I see the tree, with its gawdy gold tinsel, icicles abounding everywhere, those enormous bulb lights with the foil underneath them that looked like cupcake wrappers, and the familiar ornaments, some we made, hanging on the branches. I see those red stockings with fabric initials sewn on them, hanging against that brown paneling on the wall over the heater. It was the 70s, after all. I even remember the stocking contents -- those big plastic candy canes filled with M&Ms, socks and panties, hairthings, pretty pencils and notepads, lip gloss, and other little things that make little girls happy.

So I have to admit, I don't understand these people who don't remember their "big Christmases" and marvel at the memory of the child who only got an orange. It leaves me pondering -- what made the difference?

The only thing I can come up with is the possibility that perhaps these children got lots of things all the time. We didn't. We got a couple of small things for our birthday, and we got a nice Christmas. We didn't get things the rest of the year. I watch Wendy beg for something every time we go to the store -- and most of the time, my dad buying whatever it is she wants -- and I remember that we never asked... never thought to ask because why on earth would we get a toy for no special reason? We asked for what we wanted, sure -- but we always asked as a gift. If we were at the toy store and found something we loved, we asked if we could have that for Christmas.

So maybe I remember all those lovely Christmas gifts because it was the only time in the year -- with the exception of birthday, which was much much smaller -- when we got all those things. Maybe the other people got toys and things year-round. I don't know.

But I do know that the best way to make, and keep, something special and magical for your child is to abstain from it most of the time. And that's something I think our culture has lost. If a child loves something, we want to give it to them again and again -- and it loses its appeal because it isn't special anymore.

So, I will spoil Wendy and John at Christmas. Because -- other than a birthday gift -- I don't give them stuff throughout the year. Other people do, unfortunately, especially the begging Wendy because John's parents are much firmer and don't allow constant gift-giving, but not me.

So what did I buy for the kids' Christmas this year?

Wendy gets a Skitter and an Active Live Outdoor Games Wii game. Got to keep that couch potato active any way I can make it happen. :) I gave John a Skitter for his birthday and she loved it and has been begging for one, so I know that will be a hit -- and hopefully she'll love the Wii game and stay active all winter because of it.

John's is a little more interesting. After much thought and much online research into the world of Thomas and his little train friends, I finally settled upon a set and an expansion kit that I thought made the most sense for him. I could have saved myself the trouble. My brother took him out window-shopping several days after I had made my purchase and while looking at the Thomas stuff, he kept pointing to one particular set and saying, "Want THAT one!" My brother pointed out set after set, but he kept returning to the one set. My brother called to see which one I'd chosen -- and wonder of wonders, the set I had purchased was the same one that John has his heart set on. Hooray! And now whenever you ask him what he wants for Christmas, his answer (except for the occasional time when he still answers Disney World!) is a firm, "THOMAS." He should have a happy Christmas. :)

He also gets some floor puzzles and Disney's Robin Hood on DVD. He loves Peter Pan so much that I thought Robin Hood might also have some appeal...

(The Black Friday sale on the Thomas stuff is buy one get one free. I got it two weeks ago for 40% off. Which I actually think is a better sale because you aren't forced to buy two sets to get the discount! See? Who needs Black Friday?)

So... I'm ready for Christmas. Are you? :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Best iPod Apps for Toddlers with Speech Delays

As a speech therapist doing early intervention with toddlers in their homes, sometimes it's helpful to have a trick or two in my back pocket for those times when attention just can't be held any other way. And so, an iPod has become my newest best friend. But while there are some really wonderful apps available for language-learning toddlers, I have scoured the web looking for recommendations and find them very poor. There are recommendations for toddlers or preschoolers, recommendations for so-called "learning activities" for this age range, but I just don't have the same idea of what constitutes a good learning activity as most people. Yes, there are preschool apps galore for "teaching" colors and shapes and letters and numbers, but most of these I don't honestly find to be all that great, and our speech-delayed little ones need more basic skills than that anyway.

So for any other speech therapists out there looking for app recommendations for their own iPod or iPhone, or for parents of little ones with speech disorders who are looking for something new to use with them, here are my recommendations. Keep in mind that I don't view these apps as something to hand the child and expect them to soak up learning from; the intent is for an adult to sit with the child and use the app as a teaching tool -- but the adult is still the one doing the talking and the teaching!!

1) Peekaboo Barn. ($1.99, lite version free)
I love this one. Absolutely love it. There are many apps with animals and their sounds, and some of those are nice too, but I love that this one makes the child think. An animal is shut up inside the barn. The child listens to the animal sound and guesses which animal it is. Touch the barn and the animal appears. It's great for so many things -- working on simple animal names and sounds, focused listening skills, answering questions ("Who is in the barn?") -- and kids LOVE it and will play again and again. At the end of the paid version, the animals go to sleep, so you can work on simple words and sounds like "Shhh" and "ninight" as well. The only fault I find with this app is that while inside the barn, the animal sounds are very quiet, making the app unusable with our kids with mild hearing loss or even just an ear infection.

2) SmackTalk! ($.99)
Have a quiet little one that you just can't seem to motivate to talk? Try this fun app. Talk into the device and a guinea pig, kitty, or puppy will say it back to you in their own fun modified way! Gets even the quietest toddler yapping away! Note: If you're using an iPod touch, you'll need a microphone.

3) Baby Sign ASL and Signing Time (both are $4.99, but both have free lite versions)
I list these together since they obviously both work on teaching kids to sign, and because I can't choose a favorite. The free versions will be enough to start your kids off, and if you find that they love one or the other and have learned all the signs offered for free, then you know where your money should go. I only wish that Signing Time would add some of their wonderful Baby Signing Time songs to this app!

4) Wheels on the Bus ($.99)
This is a wonderful interactive storybook app, with tons of verses to this popular children's song! When used with an adult, this can be a very language-rich activity with simple words that children can imitate ("poke" the bear; the horn goes "beep beep"; "pop pop pop" the bubbles; "tickle tickle" the bird; etc.) and some great concepts are included too. (Open and shut the doors; make the bus go fast and slow, etc.) The same company also makes Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald which you might also want to give a try, but I've found Wheels on the Bus to be the most usable and fun for the kids!

5) Toddler Flashcards -- itot apps ($.99)
There are tons of flashcard apps available, all of interest to kids, but this one is my favorite because the cards are categorized (another great language skill) and they say the words for the child so this is the one app you can turn your child loose with if you must!

6) Make your own!
I don't know how to make my own app, but I do know how to make the music and photo features of the iPod work for me! I have long used and loved the music from Kids Express Train but have been frustrated at the difficulty involved in bringing music into a home, setting it up properly, etc., just to find and play the one song I need to work on a particular skill with a child. Therefore I haven't used the songs nearly as often as I'd like -- but the iPod has changed that. I uploaded my CDs to my iPod and now they are all just a touch away! And even better, a few minutes on Google's image search and I had pictures to go with my favorite songs. For example, do you have a child working on final consonant deletion? Play "Put the Sound on the End" and whip out a folder with pictures of the 15 words practiced in the song. Kids will want to play it -- and practice!! -- again and again. Voila -- your own speech therapy app!

Have some suggestions for me to try out!? Please leave them in the comments section! (Just don't recommend Preschool Adventure/Arcade!! Seems to be everyone's top recommendation, but I'm not impressed. They're okay... just in my opinion, not the wonderful teaching tools everyone else seems to think they are!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

And Michelle Makes Six

As an advocate for Compassion International, I volunteer to work at the Compassion table at local events. A dangerous position for me, to lay out or pass out packets of several hundred children in need of a sponsor, because I invariably find myself wishing I could sponsor at least half of them. But I must show restraint. I have five sponsored children already. I just can't take another.

Saturday I was working an event when a startling picture caught my eye. It looked like my little niece Wendy was laid out amidst all the dark-skinned dark-haired brown-eyed boys and girls on the table. I snatched up the packet to take a closer look. Sure enough, a little girl with blonde ponytails and light eyes looked back at me.

Everyone marveled over her. The official Compassion point person, who travels from one event to another to do this very job, who has seen thousands of child packets, even said she had never ever seen a blonde haired Compassion child before. It was clear that this child was really something special.

I laid her back on the table and said a little prayer that she would find a sponsor that day.

I kept an eye on her even during our busiest times at the table. When people swarmed the table and shoved forms and checks our way and peppered us with questions, still I kept glancing at her out of the corner of my eye. Person after person picked her up. And person after person set her back down.

At lunch, I started to contemplate sponsoring her myself for the first time. I remembered my little Rebecca in Uganda -- a child whose family brings home about a dollar a day to feed their family of ten or more -- who told me that she is praying for God to triple my income. The question of being able to afford to sponsor another child seemed ridiculous in light of that thinking. These kids have nothing. I have so much. Of course I can sponsor one more.

But should I? I prayed again for little Michelle to find a sponsor. If she wasn't meant for me, the right person should take her. But if by day's end she was still on the table, I would know God intended her for me.

Guess what. She's mine.

Welcome to the family, little Michelle from Colombia. I can't wait to see what amazing things God is going to do through you.

Want to sponsor a child?

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Shorts Smell Like Poor People

One day this summer, I'd just gotten home from work and a friend wanted to do something. "Well, give me a minute to change clothes first," I replied. "My shorts smell like poor people."

I said it without thinking for it was entirely true. I can't explain the smell but there is a SMELL of poverty. And when you spend time in the midst of it, especially sitting on the floors of impoverished homes, the smell clings to your clothing. It just does.

My friend just laughed and laughed, thinking the statement the funniest thing she'd heard in a long time. But really, it isn't funny. The sentence has come back to me from time to time, and I've spent some time dwelling on the deeper meaning behind it. For there is deeper meaning. But somehow, it never seemed the time to blog about it.

Today, suddenly, it is. The Compassion bloggers are on their way to El Salvador to see what Compassion is doing in that country, and to share it with the rest of us throughout the week. And you know what? I bet their shorts are going to smell like poor people. And that's okay. Because sometimes you have to get right in the middle of it, you have to wear the smell of poverty, before the need and the compassion to meet those needs can really sink into your heart.

You too can have shorts that smell like poor people. Just dive in. Pour your heart into one of these needy little ones, and carry the smell of poverty proudly. It will change your life.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Our little tykes decided to be venomous and villainous this year.

Wendy is a bumblebee.

And John? None other than Captain Hook!

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Overheards...

Having already begged most of the adults in the family to take her outside to play, Wendy tried Grandma as a last resort. Grandma doesn't set foot outside the house. But still, Wendy thought she'd try.

"Grandma, pleeeeeease take me outside to play!!"

Grandma replied, "Noooo, I'm too old. Go ask someone else."

"No, you're not!" protested Wendy. "You're the PERFECT AGE!"

Who knew? For the record, 58 is the perfect age for taking children outside to play. Mark it down.

"What do you want for Christmas, John?" I asked. Wendy always wants something. Littlest Pet Shops. Webkinz. Some fad toy that she already has a million of. But John hasn't gotten the hang of figuring out what he wants and asking for it yet, when it comes to distant gifts. Still, I thought I'd try.

As it turns out, John totally has it figured out. He's a very wise boy. His immediate response?

"Disney World!"

I like the way that kid thinks. :)

"Disney World!?" I answered in astonishment.

As if to clarify, he nodded his head and uttered: "Pooh Bear! Peter Pan! DUMBO!"

Yep. He knows what he wants. Too bad he's not going to get it. Do you think Santa would bring it for all of us? :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Overheard... by Wendy and her parents

After discussing that her mommy was 29, Wendy was asked, "Wendy, what do you think you'll be doing when you're 29?"

Without missing a beat, she replied, "Shopping a lot."

She is her mother's daughter.


"You can buy something with your tooth fairy money if you want to," her stepfather said. "But just make sure you don't buy something you already have. We have a house, not a warehouse."

"What's a warehouse?" asked Wendy, then before anyone could answer, "Is it a house for wolves?"


And the next one is by Wendy's mother...

I called and said, "I need Wendy a particular weekend in January. You don't have anything planned for then, do you?"

Wendy's mother: "Nooo... where are you going?"

Me: "Well there's this blind museum..."

Wendy's mother, interrupting with excitement: "OHHHH, she'll LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE that, she LOOOOOOVES blind stuff!"

How many seven-year-olds do you know would be enthusiastic over going to a museum of the blind?

(She loves blind stuff because she adores and associates herself with Mary Ingalls. Still and all, I didn't expect her mother to get excited about me taking her to a blind museum before I even got the information out that the REASON for taking her to this blind museum was a birthday party for Mary! Now that's something to get excited about!! And we are!!)

And on that note, I'll share the best "overheard" of all: from Wendy's stepfather, this summer when I went to pick her up to go on our big Little House trip --

"Hey... do you all like Laura Ingalls Wilder?"

Assuming that to be some sort of a joke, I ignored it, rushing Wendy out the door while snatching up her prairie dress and sunbonnet, and Charlotte doll.

And then he repeated the question. And this time it sounded awfully serious. Like, he was NOT joking. (And he KNEW where we were going, we'd been talking about it for months!)

I just looked at him for a moment, then slowly answered, "Um... yes... that's why we're going on this big trip to her home..."

"OH!" he says. "Well I was driving the truck through Wisconsin last week and I saw a sign about Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I thought to myself, Hmm, I'm thinking you like her, I better remember to tell you about it."

Where has he been!?!?!?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The View

I've been looking at thousands upon thousands of rental homes for our family's vacation next summer, and examining their location on the map for proximity to the ocean... and all those google map images, zooming in as close as possible to measure how many feet the walk to the beach is, and zooming out to see where in the big picture each house is must have crossed the barrier into my subconscious mind.

In that stage between wakefulness and sleep, when you're still conscious enough to think but your thoughts blur and don't quite make sense, I had this thought.

When I'm examining google maps, the middle ground on the zoom button doesn't do me a whole lot of good.

I zoom way in to find out what I need to know specifically about the house in question and its distance from the beach access. And I zoom way out to see where in the grand scheme of things this house is located. But the middle? It doesn't tell me anything much.

And somehow, in that dreamy stage before sleep, I got to thinking about how this is sort of like our view as humans, and God's view, of our lives. We get the way zoomed in view of our life -- we see it up close and personal, in the here and now, what today looks like. God gets the way zoomed out view of our life -- he sees today, and our life as a whole, in the grand scheme of things -- the plan for the universe. So we both have very different views of the exact same thing (except of course that He knows the zoomed in view as well since He's omniscient...).

But there's a third view -- the middle ground. From this view, you can see the bigger picture -- in a way. It's not a big enough picture to give you any true knowledge about the location's place in the universe. And it's not a small enough picture to give you any intimate knowledge about the details in the here and now. Basically, your view is almost useless.

And I thought that maybe -- just maybe -- that is representative of others' view of our life. They see parts of it, and they see it from a bigger viewpoint than we ourselves do because they are outside of our personal frame of reference. But they don't see the BIG picture either. They see just about enough to make them feel like they have the authority to make judgments, yet not enough to truly have any authority to do so.

Don't we do this all the time? We judge people by what we see and think of as a bigger picture? Someone shares their thoughts on a certain subject, or a particular happening in their lives, and we think we know better than they do what's really going on.

I guess we're all going to have our opinions on other people's decisions and actions, but before we act on those opinions (by stating them to the person or to others, or by treating someone differently because of our opinions on what's going on), maybe we ought to remind ourselves that we have neither the big picture nor the detailed one. Maybe -- just maybe -- we don't know it all. Maybe we know just enough to get us into trouble.

Or maybe I've just been looking at too many maps.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Men vs. Women

Men and women are different. Everyone knows that. But the differences are so hard sometimes for me to understand.

Take this weekend, for instance. We took the kids to see some boats on the river and John had a great fascination with seeing the water, from the boat. At the back of one boat was a ledge about waist-length for him, and behind the ledge was a large open hole, easily big enough for a child to fit through.

John kept leaning over the ledge farther and farther, trying to better see the water, and in so doing, his feet even raised off the ground, leaving his head hanging out of this hole. My mother and I kept gasping, and grabbing at him. My dad stood and laughed while my brother -- John's father!! -- kept telling us to quit, and to let go of him!! LET GO OF HIM!!!! So he could fall to a watery grave!? No, thank you!!!

It was quite an incident, as John kept doing it, we kept trying to keep him from falling, and the menfolk acted as if we were crazy. "He's not going to fall!" they both kept saying. The kid is three. Don't tell me he's not going to fall. Better safe than sorry, I think! What harm were we doing in holding onto him for our own peace of mind!?

And then we noticed Wendy. While John seemed oblivious to the turmoil around him, Wendy most certainly was not. She was on the floor of the boat in tears, wailing, "Don't let him falllll!!! Don't let him falllll!!!!"

Women must be born with some protective instinct toward small children that men simply don't have. Although at the restaurant we had just come from, my brother was concerned about the high top table we were seated at because they had no highchairs for John, and he was afraid John would fall out of his chair.

He was worried his son would fall out of a CHAIR that was about three and a half feet off the ground, but we were being ridiculous for worrying he'd fall through a hole on a boat that was easily 25 feet above the water's surface, and the water was a good 50 feet deep and the child is three years old and cannot swim?

And then there's my dad's nonchalant, "If he falls, I'll go in after him." That makes us feel SO much better...

I'm happy to report that John survived both incidents. All I can say is that it's a good thing children have mothers. I don't think they'd survive being raised by men alone.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Water Fountain

Sometimes, children's ministry workers feel underappreciated, and maybe in some situations, even like they're really not doing anything valuable for the kingdom. After all, when one is cleaning up cookie crumbs and spills or changing diapers or taking children to use the potty or finding themselves barely able to even tell a story for all the interruptions and disciplinary reminders needed, one may not feel like they're really accomplishing anything at all.

But they are.

Last night at church, I was leading our line of preschool girls to the bathroom -- one of those "is this really ministry??" moments -- when one little girl asked for the fifth time that evening if she could have a drink. I had told her and told her we'd get a drink when we went to the bathroom, so I was finally able to tell her yes, now she could have a drink.

As I lifted her up to the tall water fountain, my mind flashed back thirty years. To that exact same spot, that exact same water fountain, and a tall handsome elderly man who stood by it Sunday after Sunday. Elderly to my little girl eyes, anyway -- it's strange how the older you get, the older "elderly" becomes. He would have been the age my dad is now, and that is certainly NOT elderly at all.

Anyhow, this man posted himself every Sunday morning beside the water fountain for one reason only -- to be there for any little children who happened to pass by and needed a drink. The fountain was too tall for any child younger than 8 or 9 to be able to reach it on their own, and he wanted to be sure no little one went thirsty because they couldn't reach the fountain. He always referred to the passage in Mark 9 where Jesus, with a child in his arms, said whoever shall give someone a cup of water because they belong to me shall not lose their reward.

It's the little things sometimes that can make such an impact, and the gentleman would likely have been shocked if he were told that his little granddaughter would three decades later be blogging about his faithfulness in giving children drinks of water in Jesus' name. (Especially since blogging didn't exist in those days!)

The story reminds me of another fine lady who has earned my utmost respect and admiration: Laura Ingalls Wilder. You see, when Laura was visiting at the local elementary school in Mansfield, Missouri, years after achieving national fame, she saw a little girl who wanted a drink of water and couldn't reach the fountain. And the little old lady who is loved by millions all over the world decades after her death leaned over and lifted the girl up so she could get a drink. I love that. I love that despite the fame and fortune that had come to her, she maintained her humility. And again, it had an impact on the little girl, who is still telling people about it sixty years later.

So if ever there's a season in life where it feels you're doing nothing of value, think again. Even something so small as giving someone a drink of water may be having an impact far beyond what you could imagine. Maybe thirty or sixty years from now, someone will be telling others about you -- he's the man, or she's the woman, that gave me a drink. And that drink meant a lot to me. More than just the water that satiated my thirst for a few minutes, that drink told me that someone cared about me.

And after all, isn't that what ministry really is?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Swine Flu?

I had a lot of sick kids last week. Most of them were daycare kids, and weren't at daycare. All week. The one daycare child I did get to see is in a class of what is usually about 12 kids. There were two there.

This spring, with all the hype about swine flu, I wasn't alarmed in the least. It's just a flu, I thought. People die from the flu every year. Maybe it's a little strong. It's nothing to get all upset about. Schools are closing?? Seriously??

But now... now the opposite is happening. Now it's the media telling us, everything's fine, it's no big deal, sure it's going around but it's just like any other flu, yes a few people are dying but they have other underlying issues, don't worry, you'll be fine, just treat it like the flu. No, schools don't need to close, this isn't anything to panic about.

Oh, really? Because three people in the community have died in a week, and all of them young, healthy people. The media continues to lie, blaming it on "underlying issues", when in fact, the people who know these individuals say they were the picture of health and the minor underlying issues the news scraped together is things like high blood pressure which had absolutely nothing to do with their death from the flu. The third one, a strong healthy teenager, dead just three days after he started getting sick, had no underlying issues. An interview with the parents the other day has them saying exactly that - their child was in perfect health, he had no health concerns whatsoever. And the news stories today? "The family has asked for privacy and therefore we are unable to learn what underlying conditions this child may have had which contributed to his death." What a lie!

I have to get a routine physical -- what a wonderful time to do that. I didn't think much about it at first, and then it dawned on me that I was going to have to go into a clinic full of people with the swine flu. For although the media states that, "Oh, a few dozen cases of mixed flus which probably aren't even all swine flu are being reported weekly," the absence rate and the facebook statuses of people in the area naming all the people in their families who are sick tells otherwise.

And when I walked into that clinic, the "few dozen cases" for this week? They were all in there. At the same time. In one of many clinics in the area. Multiply the dozens of sick people in that one clinic at that one five-minute period by the hours in the day and the clinics in the area -- and we've got hundreds sick, just today. Count in the people who already went to a clinic yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that and are still sick, and the people who are just starting to feel bad and will be going in tomorrow or the next day, and the people who hate doctors and don't care if they're sick, they're not going to the doctor, and I bet we have thousands ill in this city alone.

That many people sick, with a virus that kills healthy people, is frightening.

It became even more frightening when I did some research and learned that it's actually those with a healthy immune system that are most at risk for dying. Look up cytokine storm, folks. That is exactly what happened to these three healthy people -- their lungs filled with fluid, they went to the hospital as soon as they got sick, and they couldn't be saved.

As someone with a great immune system, who never worries about colds and flus and other illnesses because I almost never get them, and when I do, my immune system boosters keep it pretty mild... cytokine storm is a pretty scary thing.

So while I'm typically not an alarmist -- I'm about to become one.

Because this stuff? This stuff is lethal.

I didn't get my physical. It will have to wait. I'm not going to get sick while proving I'm healthy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our Lazy Lifestyle

My sister has a gym membership. It's expensive. And she goes there before work as it's the only time in the day she has time. This requires getting up earlier than necessary. And showering at the gym before work, something I personally would hate to have to do. (I like showering in my own home. Gym showers feel icky.)

I've asked and asked her why she does it. You see, my sister is lazy. I know, I know, that doesn't sound very lazy! It makes me look lazy, not her. But the only reason she goes to such effort to do this gym thing is because she's so lazy in the rest of her lifestyle.

I've told her she could save a good bit of money and effort if she'd just chase that little girl of hers out in the yard, ride bikes with her through the neighborhood, play with her on her trampoline... she'd get plenty of exercise, it'd be free, and it'd give Wendy exercise and quality time with her mommy, to boot! But she insists she can't do that. Because she won't. Because when she's home, she just wants to watch tv and hang out on the couch.

And so she has a gym membership.

What happened to simply leading an active lifestyle? Can you imagine people of the pioneer days needing a gym membership? :) The saddest part, I think, is for kids. When I was little, we were outside playing all the time.

As soon as we came home from school, we changed into our playclothes and were out the door, and other than briefly for dinner, we weren't inside again until we were called in to get ready for bed. In the summer, we were outside all day. We ran all over our hill, climbed trees, hiked through the woods, rode bikes and pulled each other in wagons up the hill and back down over and over again. We played on our swingset, even "trained for the Olympics" by running laps around the house, performing chinups on our monkey bars, etc. We were naturally active, and healthy as a result.

I rarely see kids playing outside anymore. Oh, kids still do. Some kids might do it as much as we did. But when I was little, you could hear kids all over our hill shouting and playing outdoors. Now, it's quiet. I live in a neighborhood full of kids. Occasionally you see a couple riding bikes down the road, once in awhile, some boys out playing basketball. But I had a friend who lived in this same neighborhood when I was little, and the place was literally crawling with children on summer days, weekends, and weekday evenings.

Why don't kids play outside anymore? Well, we didn't have the draw of video games. Atari was new when I was a kid -- nobody I knew had one until I was 8 or 9 -- and even once we had one, while enjoyable, it wasn't as addictive and time-consuming as the gaming devices of today. At least, it wasn't for us. Maybe because we didn't grow up on it, it came later.

But I heard a new one the other day. I was truly shocked. And once more, my mind turned toward the pioneers. The families who heated with a coal or wood stove, often just one stove for the whole house, and who had no air-conditioning at all.

It has grown chilly here the last few days -- by chilly, I mean time to put on long-sleeved shirts and jeans, instead of t-shirts and shorts. Not cold, by any stretch. I'm outside a lot with my job, and haven't had to even get out a jacket yet, so it's not that cold!

A mother said to her older daughter as I was working with her little girl one evening last week, "Did you play outside at recess today!?" It had been a beautiful fall day, and I'd been enjoying every moment I got to spend outdoors in it. The little girl nodded, and the mother gasped, and looked at me saying, "I was driving by the school on my way to lunch and I saw all these kids out playing! I couldn't believe it!"

I furrowed my brow and said, "What do you mean?"

She said, "It's way too cold for kids to be outside playing!"

I just looked at her for a moment, and finally said, "It was sixty degrees..."

She nodded, "I know it, isn't that awful they had those kids out there in that weather!?"

Okay. If other parents share this opinion, I'm beginning to see why kids are turning into couch potatoes before they're old enough to even know what a couch potato is.

It makes me wonder... if sixty is way too cold, what is way too hot? 80? 85? Are her kids only allowed to play outside during the three to four weeks of the year when it's 70-75 degrees?

How have we come to this?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Little Angel

I work in our children's Wednesday night ministry at church, with preschoolers. Tonight, one of the leaders told the kids to bow their heads and close their eyes so they could pray. Most of the children did, but as soon as he saw the leaders with their eyes closed -- not realizing leaders intuitively know when children near them are misbehaving even if their eyes ARE closed at that time -- one little boy made a dash for the toybox.

He's a blue-eyed pixie with long blonde curls that any little girl would covet -- and as he headed for the toybox, I and another leader immediately turned to go after him. As he scrambled up the toybox to sit on top, both she and I reached to pull him off... yet we both suddenly stopped as this little angel realized we were right on his tail, spun his little bottom around while perched on top of the toybox, and instantly folded his little hands and closed his eyes piously.

Neither of us had the heart to admonish him or even pull him down from his roost after that -- this darling little angel-boy praying so earnestly could certainly have never infringed on any rules whatsoever.

We both just turned our backs so we could laugh without him knowing it. What a doll! :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Car Games

Wendy and I went on a little weekend excursion.

It was an eleven hour drive. Brave of me to even attempt it, because Wendy has never been on such a long drive before.

"Why don't we just fly?" she asked, when I tried to explain to her how long it was going to take to drive it. Spoiled little thing. We'd always rather put out the extra money to fly than endure taking her on a loooooong car ride -- but now she's seven, and really ought to be able to tolerate a trip like that, right?

Now she's always good in the car. But again, she'd never gone more than maybe 3-4 hrs in the car before either... so we had no idea how she'd deal with this.

I picked her up at lunchtime Friday, from school. I explained to her that it would be late at night when we reached our destination. Long after dark, I said.

I brought lots to keep her occupied. Paper and colored pencils for drawing or writing stories. STACKS of books. Her DS. My laptop and some movies.

And the first three hours went by splendidly, with not a word of complaint from the back seat at all.

And then it started.

"Are we there yet? I'm tired. I can't sleep because I'm uncomfortable. Why can't we stop for awhile? My back hurts. My legs hurt. I can't get comfortable."

I was seriously considering turning the car around and going home. After all, we were still closer to home than we were our destination and if she was this grumbly after three hours, how would we ever survive the next EIGHT?

She quieted for a few minutes after I made that comment, after begging me NOT to turn around and go home, and then she said, "It's not looking very dark outside."

"That's because it's 2:30 in the afternoon!!!!!" I exclaimed. "School isn't even out yet!!" How could she possibly think we were almost there and I had been mistaken about it being dark when we got there!?

I searched my mind, trying to remember just how my brother, sister, and I entertained ourselves on our long car trips during childhood vacations, and suddenly I remembered: car games.

We played finding letters in alphabetical order on signs. We each picked a color and counted cars passing us to see who got the most in her color. We played I Spy. We played "I went to Grandma's house" naming the items we took in abc order and recalling all previously named items until her little brain just about exploded.

And then we sang. We sang and we sang and we sang. Her mother will surely be SO pleased with me whenever she discovers that I taught her daughter 99 Bottles of Beer Pop on the Wall... ;)

And she never made another complaint the whole rest of the way there. Nor did she ever utter a moan or a groan the entire eleven hours home. As a matter of fact, when we reached my house, I said to her, "Look who's here!" (I had arranged with her mother by phone to come get her so they'd know when we were nearing home.)

She looked, saw her mother's car in my driveway, and shrieked happily, "Mommy!" Then she gasped, and burst into tears. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I don't WANT to go home yet!!!!"

Eleven hours in the car and she wasn't ready to be home yet?

My, how car games work wonders!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brown Hair... or Golden?

I find it ironic that after a lifetime of envy of Mary's golden hair, Laura has at last turned the tables.

Wendy is a blonde-haired little girl, you see. And this hasn't bothered her a bit. But it bothers me -- not that she's blonde, but that in the land of Laura Ingalls Wilder, she's discriminated against for being blonde.

Case in point. Laura look-alike contests. Several of the homesites have them annually. But... what do little girls do who don't have brown hair? They can't possibly look as much like Laura as those blessed with chestnut locks, now can they? Do you see what I mean about Laura turning the tables on all the little golden-haired girls of the world?


Owning a prairie dress and all, I thought that Wendy might -- just might -- be interested in participating in one of these contests, but I also knew it was unlikely she would win because of her hair color. I went back and forth between not telling her the contest was even taking place and informing her and letting her make her own decision.

At last, I decided to ask and see how she felt about the matter.

"Wendy... if there were a Laura look-alike contest, would you want to be in it, or not?" I asked.

"I want to be in a Mary look-alike contest," she responded, without hesitation.

You see? Seven years old, and she instantly recognized the discrimination she would face for her blonde hair!

"There's not a Mary look-alike contest," I said. "It's Laura or nothing."

(Not fair, not fair!)

"Then no," she decided. "Because I don't want to dye my hair brown."

Laura sites -- please sit up and take notice!!! Could it not be possible to have a, "Look like a Little House character of your choice" contest!?!?

This is sad. Very sad.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's All the Rage in Iowa

So the other day, my sister was putting Wendy's backpack on her. She slipped one strap through her arm and hung it on her shoulder. But as she started to slip the other strap onto her other arm, Wendy said, "No -- it's okay this way. It's the second grade style."

I think this means adolescence is right around the corner.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Funny Things Kids Say

This morning I was working with a little boy on naming body parts, using a very cool monster puppet whose various body parts attach with Velcro.

As I pulled out a long curly strip of orange hair, showing it to the little boy and asking him to imitate "hair" before giving it to him to put on the monster, his four-year-old sister took notice.

"That monster has curly hair just like me... but it's not the same color!" she declared.

"Oh?" I responded. "Let's see... his hair is orange -- what color is your hair?"

"Well," she began matter-of-factly. "Do you remember what color my hair was the last time you were here?"

"Yes," I nodded, and at her expectant look, I said, "It was brown."

She smiled at me approvingly, and said in the cutest voice ever, "Well, I haven't changed a bit!"

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Very Literal Girl

My mother teaches at Wendy's school, so the week before school started, she was there working on getting her classroom ready, and since she babysits Wendy several days a week, Wendy of course had to accompany her.

While there, Wendy saw her former kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Glory. "Oh my, Wendy!" she exclaimed. "How much you've grown! Look how tall you're getting -- why, I bet by Christmas you'll be as tall as I am. We'll have to check at Christmas and see!"

Wendy solemnly replied, "I don't go to school at Christmas."


Update on the Kids

So last spring I talked about John's "quirks" and Wendy's diagnosis of ADHD, and had a plan on how to help both of them for the summer.

The bad news is that not a whole lot got accomplished between vacations and the arrival of Peter Pan and all the busyness that came along with that. But the good news is that the little bit that did get accomplished apparently had good results.

Wendy is back in school now, with a reputedly strict teacher. She is unmedicated, and has been since school let out for the summer, despite the strong disapproval of her doctor. She hasn't gotten in trouble at school even once yet, and her teacher assured my mother (who teaches at the same school) that Wendy's behavior has been stellar. Hooray!

As for little John, now that he's three, he is no longer eligible for early intervention services. His occupational therapist wanted to release him earlier this summer as she felt he had corrected all issues she was working on, but stayed on to finish out the summer at our pleading. He was tested by the school system and his speech and language skills were judged "normal" so he no longer receives any services at all. (I disagree with that status, but I'm glad he did as well as he did on the testing.) He started back to his daycare (his mother is also a teacher, so he doesn't go during the summer) and the daycare staff commented on how much more he's talking there, and how much more social he is with the other children.

So great news for both kids!

Deep Spiritual Ponderings

Wendy stayed out in "big church" a couple weeks ago for Communion. As the plates were being passed, she looked at her tiny glass of grape juice, then looked up at me and whispered, "Why is it always grape juice? Why don't they give us apple juice sometimes?"

Trying to quickly think of a short explanation that she could understand, I simply said, "Because it's red, so it reminds us of Jesus' blood."

"It's not red," she retorted. "It's purple!"

"Well, doesn't it kind of look like blood?" I asked her.

She looked at her cup again, thought for a moment, then replied, "Yes -- only nobody could have THAT much blood."

"Yes, they could," I began, and she interrupted, "Only if they died."

"Well, Jesus did die," I responded, and she was satisfied with that.

All that from a little cup of grape juice.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, Baby Boy... I mean, John!

Baby Boy is three years old... and officially not the baby any longer.

I asked Little Girl a few weeks ago if she thought Baby Boy was going to be a big brother or a big sister. She hesitated, but she's a smart girl -- she didn't fall for it. :)

Baby Boy is indeed going to be a big brother... and we learned today that he's going to HAVE a little brother! We're all actually in shock as each and every member of the family has been convinced all along that the new baby is a girl, and in fact, the child had already been named with a girl's name that it is not likely to appreciate, given the circumstances. ;)

So while my brother and sister-in-law now begin the quest for a boy name, I too am on a quest for names... for Baby Boy isn't a baby anymore and two baby boys are going to get very confusing. And while I'm changing his name, I might as well change Little Girl's as unfortunately she's not going to be little forever, and is looking soooo big to me these days.

So, in honor of Baby Boy's current pirate passion, I now dub them Wendy, John, and Michael Darling. And Little Girl's little sort-of-brother will be Peter Pan.

So if you didn't get that:

My sister's children are: Little Girl, now known as Wendy. And a temporary baby boy known as Peter Pan.

My brother's children are: Baby Boy, now known as John. And the new baby boy, now known as Michael. And I will probably often call him Michael Darling while he is little, because when I was younger, I didn't realize Darling was the kids' last name, I actually thought the littlest one's name was Michael Darling. It was fitting, he was such a wee boy and so darling. :)

(Of course, we'll have to call my brother Captain Hook... what with the sawn-off finger and all!)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

God's Knitting

A week ago today, I received the shocking news that my brother had cut off his finger in a power saw while building a playground for Baby Boy.

Since then, many thoughts and prayers have run through my mind. It's funny how you never realize how important a finger is until you -- or someone you know -- loses one. It immediately becomes critically important.

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, and it's one that has crossed my mind a lot this week while praying for the healing of the finger.

Verse 13 says, " knit me together in my mother's womb." I love the use of the word "knit" in this verse, and it especially seems fitting in this situation as I pray for God to knit my brother's finger back together every bit as perfectly as He knit it together the first time -- in our mother's womb.

It's a strange thought really, to go back in time 31 years ago and think about God creating that tiny finger that we are praying so fervently for now. He knew then that one day that finger was going to be severed from its hand. When He made it perfect, He knew His creation would one day be destroyed. And He created it perfectly anyway. (You know there's totally a lesson in that.)

The strange part of it is the realization that MY fingers -- and everything else about me -- were knit together in that same womb just four years previously. Of course that's a fact that we know in our heads, but is that anything you've ever truly thought about? That you were inside your mother's womb? That you and your siblings spent the first nine months of being within that same womb?

Anyhow -- I know that if He so chooses, He can knit the finger back together every bit as beautifully as He did the first time. And in the meantime, He's already done lots of wonderful things through this tragedy.

My brother had planned to change his health insurance last month to one with a much higher deductible, and which had a 40% copay instead of the 20% he currently had. He forgot to do it. Boy, is he glad now.

They always have a cookout for Baby Boy's birthday. Last Saturday morning, before he went to the store with the intent to buy everything they would need for the party, they made the decision to order pizza this year instead. Had they not, they would have had a gazillion burgers and hotdogs, and all the fixings in their refrigerator -- and my brother is now not able to grill. Boy, are they glad they went with pizza.

The surgeon only operates on Tuesdays. This past Tuesday, he was solidly booked all day. Next Tuesday he is booked, as well. And following that, he's going on vacation for two weeks. It could very easily have been over a month before he could do the surgery on my brother's finger and in that amount of time, the bone would have healed and they'd have had to rebreak it, and who knows what might have happened with the tendons, nerves, arteries, etc. Monday afternoon -- just before my brother went in to have the finger looked at -- an extensive surgery that would have lasted several hours was cancelled, therefore freeing up his schedule for most of the day, enabling him to do surgery on the finger three days after the accident instead of a month afterward.

Healing is already good. The surgeon was impressed with how quickly the skin was regenerating and growing back together, and is hopeful that a skin graft may not even be needed after all. He didn't need to put a pin in the bone, as first thought, he simply wired it -- a procedure that will be much less painful and invasive to remove than if a pin had been required. The artery that was severed did not need to be operated on because the remaining artery was supplying good bloodflow to the finger and it was pink -- this is excellent because the surgery to replace the artery was very risky and only had a 50% chance of being successful, and even if it was successful, could result in problems later on down the road. Despite the appearance of the tendons being severed, my brother is able to bend the finger -- that's nothing short of a miracle as the doctor has no idea how he's able to do it. And finally, although he was initially told he would have numbness and tingling permanently due to the nerve damage, the surgeon was able to take a nerve out of his wrist -- one that he said would slow reaction time a little but there are other nerves to do the job and as it's his left hand it will be barely noticeable to him -- and put it in his finger. It's not yet known if that will be successful and restore normal sensation in the finger.

So we continue to pray that God will knit each and every part of the finger back to its original condition, and thank Him for all the answers He's already given.

It's Official: I've Been Adopted

Shortly after I moved in, I began to notice a frequent visitor on my property. A lanky gray tiger-striped kitty seems to have made herself quite at home here.

It's the most skittish cat I've ever met, and I assume it to be feral and not some neighbor's pet. Where she came from and why she chose my home is beyond me. I've never fed the cat. I've never let it in the house -- not that it would come in if I tried.

The cat has calmed a little, but it has been impossible to woo its friendship. I often spy it curled up in one of my patio chairs when I come home from work. Early on in this relationship, the moment the cat saw me -- even from across the yard -- it would bolt. Sometimes it would bolt before I even knew it was there -- I'd see nothing but a flash of gray across my yard.

At times when I saw the cat before it bolted, I tried to speak very softly and gently to it while slowly approaching it. It has gradually let me get nearer, but still nowhere near enough to be friendly. Now it lets me walk across the deck and into the house as long as I don't make eye contact with it, without bolting. If I pass the door and head toward the cat, however, it's not long before it's gone.

The other day on my way out to the mailbox, I noticed it hiding in a row of monkey-grass that lines the walk. The arc of the grass made a little parasol of sorts to give it shade from the warm sun. I didn't approach it and it stayed in its comfortable spot.

But today. Today I think the cat has made its first gesture of true friendship toward me.

No, it didn't let me approach it. No, it didn't ask to come in the house.

It left me a present.

A dead mouse is lying on my deck just outside my back door.

How nice.

I only hope the cat won't be offended if I leave it there in the hopes that it will return and take the mouse elsewhere!!

Anyone want to come over and dispose of a dead mouse for me? :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Biblical Discipline for Sensory Kids

Someone stumbed on my blog recently while searching for the term "Biblical discipline for sensory kids" and it got the wheels in my brain turning.

And here are the thoughts that were produced.

First of all, sensory kids are two things -- they're sensory (i.e., their sensory integration skills are deficient)... and they're kids. Let's look at the first component: they're sensory.

Sensory kids often display what the rest of us consider to be inappropriate behaviors. The tricky thing is, though, for the child, that behavior is very appropriate.

For example, if an ear-piercing and excruciatingly painful sound interrupted your conversation with your boss, would you simply ignore it? Of course not. You'd either cover your ears to try to block the sound, would cringe, would leave the room, would look for the source of the sound so you could eliminate it -- something. And that would be considered appropriate. Unless you had a horribly unfair and unkind boss, you would not expect a boss to punish an employee for not listening to him considering the disruption.

Take that example into a typical situation that might occur with a child with sensory integration dysfunction. Let's say said child is in the classroom listening to the teacher, and then one of the fluorescent lights in the ceiling begins to hum. Most children are ignoring the hum. A handful may be slightly distracted by it. But one child freaks out -- jumps up, covers his ears, screams (probably in pain!), maybe even runs out of the room.

Based on *your* sensory experience, this child's behavior is inappropriate. But based on that child's sensory experience, that hum was perceived by their brain as very loud and very painful. So actually their behavior was completely appropriate.

Should the child be disciplined for this behavior?

"But you can't just have them getting up and running off... you have to teach them to deal with disrupting sounds... they have to learn to ignore it like the other kids."

Really? Like you would just have to learn to spend your day working in an office with an excruciatingly painful sound ringing in your ear all day long and just ignore it? Is that the solution? or is eliminating the painful sound the solution?

This is just one example of millions of possibilities of WHY a sensory child may seemingly "misbehave" but their behavior is actually appropriate to their sensory experience. I do not for a minute believe the Biblical (or appropriate) way to deal with this child's behavior is to discipline the child, or try to teach them to just deal with the scenario.

The way to handle sensory-induced "misbehavior" is to analyze the occurrence to figure out what is going wrong in the child's sensory system that is causing them to behave the way that they are. Then eliminate it. Eliminate what you can environmentally -- can the fluorescent light be repaired so that it no longer hums? Can the locations where the child spends the most time be rewired to have other QUIET lighting instead? Can the child be given an assistive listening device that will dampen all environmental sounds and put the teacher's voice only directly into their ear? While doing everything possible to eliminate the source of the problem in the child's environment, the child should also be getting treatment to improve their sensory integration skills so that they can begin handling more and more of these situations without experiencing these problems.

If you remove and treat the problem, then the "inappropriate" behavior is going to disappear. If the child is no longer hearing the hum of the fluorescent lights, the child will sit quietly in his seat and listen just as he is expected to do.

Let's say, though, that someone viewed the child's behavior as inappropriate, and instead of looking at the reason the child acted that way, simply disciplined him. How much punishment do you think it's going to take to "correct" the behavior if the child is still being forced to hear an excruciatingly painful sound all day long in his classroom? An awful lot...

But unfortunately, parenting a sensory kid isn't quite that cut and dried. Because not only is the sensory kid SENSORY -- he's also a kid. And kids frequently do have inappropriate behavior that does require discipline.

The most difficult part for the parent is determining when your sensory kid is misbehaving because he's sensory, and when your sensory kid is misbehaving because he's a kid.

The best suggestion I can give you on how to tell the difference is to think before acting. You know your child and you know the types of sensory stimulation that tends to send your child through the roof. Analyze your child's misbehavior before jumping in with disciplinary tactics to see if the child's behavior was more likely due to inaccurate sensory processing or if it was just plain bad behavior. (Some clues too that may help you in difficult situations are looking at your child during the misbehavior -- is he flushed or sweating, or are his ears red? does he have a rapid heartbeat? rapid breathing? those are all big red flags to you that your child is not choosing to misbehave, your child's autonomic nervous system is on HIGH alert and this was caused by sensory overload.)

Does that help? Treat sensory (atypical) misbehavior; discipline voluntary (typical) misbehavior.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Phone Call

When something happens, do you ever go back and replay scenes in your mind and wish you could re-enter the scene and make some small change to prevent the something that happened?

I do. All the time. And yes, I've seen The Butterfly Effect. But I do it anyway.

Last night, my dad wanted me to come over as he had something to show me. When I got there, my brother was also there, borrowing my dad's saw. He's building a playground for Baby Boy's birthday present. "I was going to just go ahead and buy the pre-cut kit, but I priced them and it was $1000 for what I wanted to build and I can get the materials for it for just $300!" he exclaimed.

Wish he could go back and rethink that decision. Believe me, the kit would have been well worth the extra $700.

It really staggers the mind how life can change in a moment. Mat Kearney has a song out right now which has made me think of that each time I hear it, and think of the people for whom this has come true. "I guess we're just one phone call from our knees..." he sings.

I got one of those phone calls this afternoon. The totally unexpected kind that sends you into shock. It could have been a much worse phone call than it was -- but it was bad enough as it was.

My sister-in-law called. I had just talked to her an hour or so before, discussing potential gift ideas for Baby Boy's birthday, so I thought perhaps she had new information or ideas to share about that.

Instead, she said in the grimmest voice I have ever heard from her as she's one of the most optimistic cheerful people ever, "Can you come get Baby Boy? We're at the emergency room. Your brother cut off his finger."


I told her I'd be there as quickly as I could get there, and dashed out the door as waves of sickness washed over me. He cut off his FINGER. I know there are many many worse things that could happen to a person, but right now, cutting off a finger seems pretty bad!!

The emergency room experience was less than ideal. I hurried there as fast as I could drive amidst all the weekend traffic, parked the car, and dashed in frantically. I know panic was written all over my face, and after glancing around the waiting room and not seeing them, I ran up to the nurses' station. Four or five nurses were sitting there chatting with each other, and didn't even ask me what I needed!!

Now they didn't know who I was or why I was there. Someone runs into the emergency room with a look of panic and the nurses just ignore them? For all they knew, I was having a heart attack or something, or had someone dying out in my car that I needed help to bring in! And they just ignore me.

The security guard asked me if he could help me, and just then my sister-in-law came out with Baby Boy, handed him to me, said the side door was unlocked and she left chili cooking and could I please turn it off, and dashed off again.

I later learned that she had dropped my brother off at the entrance so he could run in and get help while she parked and got Baby Boy out of the car, and the same thing happened to him. He had to yell, "I CUT MY FINGER OFF!" to even get the nurses to look at him, and then, do you know what they said?

"You'll need to sign in."

Yeah. They really said that.

The security guard gave a disgusted look and said, "Give me the pen, I'LL sign him in!" He must be used to them...

Then they made him stand there, holding his hand wrapped in paper towels from home, mind you... and answer all sorts of ridiculous questions such as, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you experiencing right now?"

When they took him back, they told him to lie down on the hospital bed, and they handed him some gauze. That was it. He lay there for two hours -- and had to put on the gauze himself!

When the orthopedic surgeon arrived, after examining and doing X-rays, he said he was going to stitch it up for now -- because apparently they don't do surgery on the weekends... -- and then he'd need to call Monday morning to see when they could fit him in. He then said, "Now I'm going to clean up the wound, just like they did earlier, and then stitch it together..." and my brother said, "They didn't clean it..."

The doctor was appalled. "They didn't clean it!?" he asked.

No. He sat there for hours with a piece of gauze, with all the dirt and germs and who knows what else right there in the wound.

So he cleaned it and sewed it back together and we'll see what happens. They don't know yet whether or not the finger can be saved. He'll have to have at least two surgeries, and maybe more -- a pin put in to hold the bone together until it grows back, the tendons repaired, skin grafting... There was some dead tissue (I can't help but wonder if that was due to lack of immediate treatment!) and he said it would depend on whether the rest of the tissue around it died as well, in which case he would lose the finger, or whether it was okay, in which case he felt they could save it and he could regain use of it except for some numbness and tingling which would be permanent. So we'll see what the next few days holds.

I am still in shock, I think. I surely do hope they can save it. I'd hate for him to have to tell his son, "Well, at least your playground didn't cost me an arm and a leg -- just a finger."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to School

It's that time of year again. The Walmart aisles are lined with crayons, scissors, and glue on sale for mere pennies (despite the fact that children in our state's schools aren't even supposed to be bringing school supplies anymore), teachers are busy readying their rooms to welcome their new little pupils, some parents are counting down the days until they can send their children back to school, and other parents are nervous and tearful over their little ones starting preschool or kindergarten for the first time.

I like back to school time. As a child, I loved the Open House our school always held a few days before school actually started -- a time to go in and see your room, meet your teachers, get your books. I would go home and read my new reading book from cover to cover before school even started. The teachers always had a bulletin board with the names of the students on it -- perhaps a construction paper crayon for each child, or a little school bus with a name on each bus. It was fun at Open House to look at those displays to see if there were any new children in the class this year, or if anyone had left over the summer.

Even as a teacher, I liked back to school time, even though it meant going back to work after a summer of freedom. Honestly, I never cared for summer break as a teacher. It was too long. I savoured the first week of it, enjoyed the second, and after that, it got to be rather dull and tedious. I spent most of it traveling to break the monotony of staying home day after day. I was totally for year-round schooling -- you get a couple weeks off each season and a month in the summer. I'd gladly have traded those extra two long months of summer for longer vacations in fall, winter and spring.

It was always fun as a teacher to look forward to a new year, starting fresh. As a speech therapist, I kept most of my kids from year to year, dismissing a few here and a few there as they corrected their problems, but the bulk of the kids I had in the spring of one year would still be mine come fall. It was still exciting to see all my old kids and see what progress they may (or may not!) have made over the summer, and I was always eager to meet all the new little preschool and kindergarten students, as I screened each one of them to determine which of them were going to need me. :)

Somehow... even in the same school, in the same room with the same materials, with mostly the same teachers and students, every year seemed like a totally fresh start. A clean slate. I loved screening and testing new kids, I loved making new schedules, I loved putting up all my little incentive charts fresh and empty for each student, and filling up the prize box with new and nifty little toys I thought the kids might work for.

I haven't worked in the school system now for five years, and quite frankly, I miss it. Especially this time of year. I love the job that I have now and whenever I contemplate returning to the school system instead, all the huge pros of this job stand out way above any pros the school job might have. The independence... the flexibility... the PAY. ;)

But I miss the older kids. I love the 3-7 year old age range and in the schools, that's the range most of my kids fell into, since by the time they're 8 or 9 I've "fixed" most of them. :) I like babies and toddlers too, but sometimes I'd love to sit down with a child who can actually work at a table, who can play card and board games, who can follow directions and cooperate!! I miss that.

But then I think about all those eaaaaarly morning risings... the bus duties... and the breakfast duties... the lunch duties... and worst of all, the RECESS duties (particularly in the winter when they're stuck indoors!)

And then I'm pretty glad to spend my days feeding babies and playing with farm animals on the floor with toddlers after all. :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

All in a Day's Work

Received a lesson today in how to operate a Taser, from a coworker who had just had to use one when a father threatened to kill her at a home visit.

Later today I had the pleasure of having a child vomit right next to me, on my toys. At least it was right next to me, and not while on my lap, where he had just spent the previous half hour.

And finally, I come home only to notice brown smudges on my arms and my watch.

I can only hope it was chocolate...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Family Reunion, Names, and just General Ramblings

Warning: This post has no continuity whatsoever. I had to add "general ramblings" to the title because really that's all this is. One long ramble.

Well, I'm home from the annual family reunion. And I'm officially afflicted with baby fever.

This is actually a good thing. Here I've wanted all my life to have a baby, and lately I've noticed I'm not terribly interested in babies. I think it's because I'm surrounded by babies and toddlers day in and day out for work. They're not MY babies, and I've become desensitized to the "ooh, a baby" thought that used to occur when seeing babies was a rarer thing.

We have a new little family member that I've not mentioned here yet because I wasn't exactly sure what to say about him. Or what to call him. I've been thinking about the kids' names for awhile and have come to the conclusion that they're going to have to change -- or at least, Baby Boy's is going to have to change. I haven't yet figured out what to change it to, but he's turning three years old, and is no longer a baby.

And now we have another baby boy in the family. And Baby #4, gender unknown but I'm very much hoping for a girl, is due in a few months. :)

So... names, names. Little Girl has assured me that she is going to stay little forever, so her name is fine. But the rest of them... any suggestions? :)

Anyhow, when Little Girl and I returned from South Dakota, she was a big sister. Long story and not one that needs to be told anyway, but at least for the time being, I have a new nephew and have absolutely fallen in love with him in no time. He'll tide us over until Baby Boy's new little sibling arrives this winter, and then maybe -- MAYBE -- by then things will finally be moving on the adoption front for me. I've never seen such a slow process...

A couple weeks ago, we all went out to eat after church, but my sister was involved in a meeting there and didn't come, so I took her kids -- Little Girl and the new baby. As we were leaving the restaurant, I was carrying him in his bulky carseat (note to self: when I have a baby of my own, take the Ma Ingalls route: SIMPLIFY. It's not hard to take the BABY somewhere, it's carting around all the junk that comes along with him that about kills you! It's crazy!) -- anyhow, I was lugging him in the carseat and asked Little Girl to open the door for me. She did so, and someone standing there commented that she was Mom's little helper.

Mom. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be called that and it not be a mistake...

Anyhow. Back to the reunion. We had a great time, but it was interesting to see Baby Boy's reaction to the new baby, considering he's got his own little sibling on the way. He's always been a mommy's boy -- and if mommy's not around, daddy will do -- very unlike Little Girl who has always been equally loving and affectionate with all of us. Baby Boy doesn't have a whole lot to do with any of us as long as Mommy or Daddy is around, and it drives me nuts.

So this weekend, I was holding the baby and Baby Boy just kept waaaatching... the minute someone took the baby from me, Baby Boy scrambled up on my lap... and sat there forEVER. He's never done this. He's not a lap-sitter (except for Mommy and Daddy). So I figured it's baby-jealousy. Which is going to make it very interesting when his own mommy and daddy, of whom he is so attached and possessive, have another one.

I commented on what had happened to my brother, and he snapped his finger at Baby Boy -- "Come on, get up."

"WHAT!?" I said, still holding him -- "Why does he have to get up!??"

"He needs to get over it," my brother commented.

"Noooo!" declared I. "I've been waiting almost THREE YEARS for him to be cuddly, and now that he's finally done it, you're telling him to get over it!?"

He's actually been a lot more interested in me ever since I went with him to Disney World. Whatever the reason, I'm quite happy about it. I like this new Baby Boy that actually acts like he likes us. :)

While on the reunion, we did a few fun activities. One was an old steam engine train ride that went to a historic settlement. This was the entire reason I wanted to take the train ride -- to visit the village! Little Girl and I were quite looking forward to this, and finally we arrived. Imagine my shock to hear other people (NOT in our family) on the train muttering, "We have to spend a HALF HOUR here???" and "I'm just going to stay on the train and wait."


What on earth!? Why don't these people appreciate history? Meanwhile I was complaining about the half hour as not being NEARLY long enough! We rushed through and didn't even get to half of it.

We stayed on a big farm. Little Girl's Ingalls Homestead experience was apparently evident, as she was right at home in the barn. The owner adored her, said she's his little farmer girl and make sure we bring her back next year so he can put her to work.

On the way home, she told me she wants to live on a farm.

I do too. I know just the farm I want. Unfortunately, it's owned. :)

Maybe someday.

Done rambling now. Sorry about that. :)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why do Children Suffer?

Five years ago, I became acquainted with the world of childhood cancer through the journey of a friend's little boy. He was just months younger than Little Girl, and the thought was absolutely staggering... if something like this could happen to them, it could happen to us.

This baby had a brain tumor, and after a long hard year of surgeries and treatments, he went to heaven. His family met many other cancer babies during this year, of course, and I followed their stories and prayed for those children and their families too. And one by one, I watched every single child die.

A few months after my friend's baby's death, I could take no more. No more links, no more blogs, no more following the stories of children with cancer. It was too hard. It was too sad.

Families who get thrust into that situation don't have that option. No matter how hard it is, no matter how sad, they can't just turn their head and say, "Nope, I've had enough, I'm not going to do this anymore."

But I could. And I did.

For four years I did. But now sick children seem to be facing me everywhere I go.

A girl I've gone to church with since we were children had a baby this week... a very sick baby. She's clinging to life right now... just barely. And suddenly I'm plunged back into the life of 4-5 years ago, where you check constantly for updates, and soar high when it looks like a miracle is occurring, only to be plunged to the depths again when things suddenly sour and prospects are grim.

But it's not just this little baby. There's beautiful little Kate McRae, whose situation reminds me so much of my friend's son's. And Small Stellan McKinney is not doing well at all this week. And have you heard of the terrible bus accident at FBC Shreveport? Young Maggie Lee Henson and her family are walking a hard road right now.

It begs the question why. Why must children suffer and die? It seems so wrong.

And it is wrong. It was never part of God's original design. When sin entered the world, so did death and suffering. It's ugly. It's wrong. But it's here nonetheless. Fortunately, it will one day be no more and we can all live forever in perfect health and happiness. But until that time, it's going to happen, and it could happen to any of us at any time.

So I guess the only question now is, what are we going to do when it does?

And no, I don't have an answer to that question.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Happiest Place on Earth

And it's not Disney World. (I know, I know, I'm a huge Disney fan, but this place even beats out Disney...)

Where is it?

The Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota.

Two years ago, my mother and I took Little Girl there for her first visit. She loved it so much that when her birthday came around the next summer, she thought we should have her birthday party in South Dakota. It's a long way to South Dakota... a very long way.

When the kind folks at the Homestead heard of Little Girl's request, they sent some of South Dakota to her! How excited she was to receive a gift from the Homestead staff, a card, and pictures of her beloved kittens!

So when I told her this year that I was going back to South Dakota and asked if she wanted to come, of course the answer was yes! I was a little worried about taking her away from her mother so long -- we'd be gone a week after all. But she maintained that she wanted to go and so we went.

Was it as good as we remembered it being? Actually, it was better.

We spent large parts of THREE DAYS (and a night) on the Homestead, and didn't want to leave then. And as a result, I've come home with a Little Girl who is very knowledgeable about various aspects of pioneer living.

What can a little girl find to do on the Ingalls Homestead for three days? She can ride a horse... or a miniature horse... or a pony cart. Or all three, several times. Cuddle with kittens. Handle a team of horses or mules pulling a wagon. Cuddle with kittens. Pump water and carry the pail back with Ma. Do the laundry, pioneer-style. Cuddle with kittens. Wear prairie dresses with pinafores and sunbonnets and go to school. Ring the school bell. And cuddle with kittens. Go for a walk across the prairie at night. Pretend to be blind and let your friend play Laura and guide you as you walk. Spend the night in a covered wagon. During a thunderstorm. (Awesome!) Make corncob dolls (and corncob butterflies! lol) Twist hay, grind wheat, and make a jumprope. Oh, and lest we forget, cuddle with kittens.

I think by the time we left, she was a little TOO educated. At one point at the school, she wanted to leave to go back and see the kittens again (granted, we'd been there over an hour at this point, for a special session) and I told her sorry, there was nothing I could do about it. (You take a wagon there as the school is on the opposite end of the Homestead from the rest of the activities.) "I can't drive the wagon!" I protested as she continued to beg.

"I can!" she retorted.

Yes. She certainly could. After all, she'd done it numerous times already. Confident little thing.

And then she and her little friends, on the last morning there after our covered wagon sleepover party, wanted to do the laundry. We headed down, talking amongst ourselves, while the little ones ran on ahead. A staff member was always at the shanty to assist with the laundry so we saw no need to rush.

When we rounded the corner, we saw our four small children doing the laundry. One was scrubbing, one was rinsing, one was putting the cloth through the wringer, and the last was hanging up the clean cloths on the clothesline. The Homestead folks weren't there yet so our children had helped themselves, and astonishingly, were doing the laundry correctly and had formed their own little assembly line! I wonder what they thought when they showed up later that morning and discovered their nicely folded cloths all washed and hanging on the line? :)

Anyhow, it was a wonderful vacation and Little Girl can't stop talking about it. Thank you, Ingalls Homestead, for sharing Laura's land with the rest of us and for spoiling our little ones rotten.

We will be back!

A Collision of Literary-Inspired Media

Have you ever noticed that the chant, "Snipes, snipes, long-legged snipes" as heard on the Little House on the Prairie television show is remarkably similar to the chant, "Snape, Snape, Severus Snape" as heard by the Harry Potter Puppet Pals?

(If you haven't and are curious, you can hear the Snipes chant here (fast forward to minute 8:12) and the Snape chant here (at minute :30).

That's just one of the many things learned when traveling with two little girls to Plum Creek. Little Girl began chanting snipes, and her little friend Anna joined in with Snape. Too funny!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Miracle for Rebecca

I've mentioned Rebecca here before. She's a little six-year-old girl in Uganda that I sponsor through Compassion International.

Most Compassion kids at such a young age are still having family members or teachers write their letters for them, or their letters are very obviously form letters. Not Rebecca. Oh, her teacher actually writes the letter, but it is clearly straight from Rebecca's mouth, unlike my other kids where the teacher is just updating me on the child's progress or activities.

And my little Rebecca? She's sweet. She's endearing. She's precocious. She abounds with personality that shines through in every letter she writes -- and she writes a lot!

Well, a few months ago, little Rebecca began asking me when I was coming to Africa to see her.

I can't go to Africa. The reasons are many. I very much want to see Rebecca, and my other boy in Uganda, Milton, also. But it just isn't possible.

But when I explained this to Rebecca, she informed me that with God, all things are possible.

This kid is really something. She really is.

So we agreed we would both pray about it and if God wanted it to happen, He would make it happen, but I also stipulated to her that God might NOT want it to happen in which case it wouldn't and we have to be okay with that, much as we may want things to be different.

She's not given up. Every letter -- every single one -- contains a comment or question regarding the issue of me coming to see her. She is convinced that God will make it happen, and she prays for it constantly.

I researched options. I wanted so badly to make it happen for her, when it seems so important to her. But I kept coming up against one brick wall after another. It simply wasn't going to happen. I understood that, but I implored God to make Rebecca understand. To do something to help her understand and be okay with it.

So do you know what He did?

About a month ago, I heard about a new site Compassion started up, called OurCompassion. It's sort of like Facebook for Compassion sponsors, and you can search by project and find other people who sponsor children in the same project as your sponsored child.

So I joined and almost immediately, I connected with a lady from Australia who sponsors a little girl in the same project as Rebecca. And lo and behold, she was going to visit her child THE NEXT WEEK.

I was all over that one. I asked her if she would look for Rebecca... and if she could find her, if she could tell her face to face for me how much I want to come but how I just can't make it happen. Could she somehow explain it to her?

She said she would ask the staff and meet Rebecca if it was at all possible, and that she was taking some gift bags to pass out to some of the children and would make sure Rebecca got one. Nice.

Even nicer? When she arrived at the project and asked about Rebecca and explained why she was asking, do you know what the staff did? They let my little Rebecca join this lady and her sponsored child for the entire day. This lady went to Rebecca's house and met her family. And her cows. ;) She gave Rebecca a Cabbage Patch Kid on my behalf. She took her out and about and spoiled her rotten for a day. She took tons of pictures, and even a video message from Rebecca and her mother to me, which I am quite anxious to see. I'm also eager to hear from Rebecca about what she thought about this visit!! I know that could take a couple of months though.

But I got some of the pictures last night.

Do you think she was happy about the little miracle God arranged just for her?

Seriously. A lady from Australia visits a child in Africa on behalf of the child's sponsor who lives in America, and God pulls this all together in the span of less than a month after being asked to make Rebecca understand somehow?

Only God.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Eight Cousins

I told Little Girl a few days ago that her new little playmate (my friend's daughter) Anna was her eighth cousin. I only know this because of my interest in genealogy, of course; they don't know each other because they're related, they just happen to be very distantly related and we know each other... Well, she was very excited about it, she squealed, "We're cousins!" and they hugged. And that was the end of it, it never came up again.

Last night, when with this same friend, Little Girl said she wanted to go to M and T's home. M and T are Little Girl's cousins on her daddy's side of the family, and Baby Boy is her only cousin on her mommy's side.

My friend, not knowing Little Girl's daddy's family, asked who M and T were, and Little Girl said, "My cousins." My friend said, "Ohhh -- how many cousins do you have, Little Girl?" and Little Girl promptly replied, "Eight."

"Eight!" I exclaimed. "You don't have eight cousins, what are you talking about!?"

Little Girl instantly became very upset. "But... but... but you said..."

My friend burst into laughter and finished for her -- "You said Anna was her eighth cousin!!!"

I did indeed.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Overheard at Dinner...

Baby Boy: "Want ice cream."

My brother (his father): "No, you can't have ice cream yet, you need to eat your dinner."

Baby Boy: "I ate it!"

My brother: "Nooo... you haven't even touched your corn!"

Baby Boy, with a smirk on his face, took one finger and -- you guessed it -- TOUCHED his corn.

That kid cracks me up.

Little Shopaholic

On her 7th birthday, my sister said something to Little Girl about being seven.

"I don't want to be seven," she replied.

"You don't!?" my sister asked in surprise.

"I don't want to be seven," Little Girl repeated. "I want to be 18."

"Why?" my sister questioned.

"So I can order stuff," was the response.

Like mother, like daughter...

(She'd order stuff now if she had access to a credit card. Would you believe that last year, Little Girl went and asked my sister for her credit card? My sister was very surprised at such a request and went to see just WHAT she was up to. Little Girl was on the computer, on the Disney website, and had BOOKED THEM A DISNEY VACATION online -- all it needed was the credit card number to go through!!!)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Our Little Recycler

Last month, I was holding the longest skinniest 5 and a half pound baby I've ever seen in my arms and marveling at how very perfect she was, from her darling little nose down to her ten wiggly toes.

A couple weeks ago I rejoiced at every minute I could spend with a chunky little toddler with gorgeous golden ringlets, who entertained us all with her adorable antics.

And last week, I gasped as our little girl started kindergarten, and learned to read and write and add and subtract. (Well, okay, she could do that before kindergarten. But go with me here.)

Yesterday, Little Girl turned seven. How can it be possible? Why does time go so slowly when you're young, and so quickly the older you get?

Well, with birthdays come presents, of course, and since our little Earth Girl is constantly talking about recycling and coming up with such creative ways to recycle and re-use things that you'd think she was Ma Ingalls' little clone, you can only imagine my pleasure at spying a Paper Recycling Factory by Bill Nye the Science Guy at a local store. The perfect birthday present for Little Girl!

Let me just say that I'm glad I also bought her some things at Disney World while I was there with Baby Boy, or it would have been one bummer of a birthday.

We opened the Paper Recycling Factory up and got right to work.

Before we recycled paper, Little Girl was scolding me for some tree bark pencils she found on my old school desk, purchased from one of the Little House sites. "That wastes trees!" she gasped. I pointed out that regular pencils are also made of wood, and she gasped again. "But it wastes trees!" I said, "But we NEED pencils so we can write." She argued, "But we NEED trees so we can breathe." Yeah. She wins.

After we recyled paper, this same child moaned and said, "Let's just waste trees. It's easier."

That is how ridiculous the paper recycling factory was. Hours and hours and hours to make one little piece of paper that doesn't even look or feel like paper, with great amounts of manual labor involved.

We won't be making paper again.

Good job, Bill Nye. Your paper recycling factory teaches kids NOT to recycle!


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Family Reunions: Distinctly Southern?

From farmhouses to old churches, courthouses to cemeteries, libraries to literary sites, and museums to The Mouse, I've spent the better part of June on the road... and have more of the above planned for July, as well. (But not The Mouse. One Mickey visit per season will have to suffice.)

Such traveling is always a reminder of how things are different in various parts of the country. People talk differently. The stores and restaurants are different. Lifestyles vary.

Which brings me to my question... during my travels, I attended a family reunion in the sticks of Kentucky. Not my family, mind you. I crashed another family's reunion. :) (I wanted to interview the elderly members of the family, and they invited me, so leave me alone. :) )

Anyhow, it was a typical family reunion... kids running around playing, more food than anyone could ever hope to eat -- sloppy joes, ham, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, rolls, potato salad -- good stuff, topped by a table of desserts that would have fed the entire state of Kentucky, women chattering away, the menfolk heading for the lake with fishing rods in hand, and a few men and boys gathered near the picnic shelter strumming on their guitars and singing bluegrass and southern gospel.

The whole thing had a very Southern feel to it... maybe it was the music, but the whole thing just suddenly felt distinctly Southern. I had a hard time picturing a family in, say, New York or Massachusetts or Maine DOING this. I'm sure they must have family reunions of some kind... I imagine they gather together and eat... but there's just something about a down home reunion that just has that Southern flavor to it.

So I wondered... do those of you living up north do this kind of thing? Do you have family reunions every summer, and if so, what are they like?