hymningandhaing (The Title Explained)

First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.  Epictetus, Greek Philosopher

Not that anyone has ever asked, but I thought that maybe I should explain (just in case the thought ever crossed your mind)…why hymningandhaing?  If it sounds familiar and looks horribly misspelled, then you’re right on both accounts.  The title is my take on the familiar idiom “hem and haw.”

hem and haw and hymn and ha

When I began writing this blog in 2011, I planned to share bits and pieces of my faith along with my everyday life and I wanted a title that would reflect that theme (go with me on this one, the road is a little twisted here….)  To hem and haw means to dither, refuse to give a definitive answer and to keep one’s options open (according to The Word Detective at least.)  So while the more familiar version of hemming and hawing connotes a level of indecisiveness, uncertainty and fence-sitting, my interpretation is a little more personal.  The “hymning” part is a playful way of suggesting that while I’m a pastor’s wife, I am also the least literate hymn person in the congregation!  I didn’t grow up in church so for the most part the hymnal is full of dozens of songs I’ve never, EVER heard of.  Not exactly what you’d expect from the so-called “first lady of the church,” (a title that makes me giggle every time!)  While this might seem like a sad state of affairs, the “haing” part of the title (pronounced ha-ing…like ha, ha, ha) suggests that I try to take all this in stride and accept the fact that no matter what role I find myself in (wife, mother, sister, friend, etc.) I always try to find the lighter side of things and not take myself too seriously.  Afterall, NONE of this was my plan.  I am just grateful that God’s plans are so much bigger than anything I could have imagined for myself!  And that’s where the original hemming and hawing meets my variation.  I don’t know where all this is going or how it will all play out.  For the most part, I try to stay open to the possibilities, be thoughtful in all situations and just wait and see…realizing that I don’t have all the answers (if any at all.)

So that’s it.  It’s definitely not an earth shattering revelation.  Just a little insight.  Although I will admit that it makes me belly laugh every time someone mispronounces the blog title!  My favorite to date is when someone asked me why I call it hymning-and-HAYing…is it because I live on a farm?  (No, I don’t.) 🙂

 

 

 

 

Small Town Night Owl

I stay up late every night and realize it’s a bad idea every morning.  —unknown

As I near 40, I’m almost ashamed to admit it.  Almost.  But here’s my confession:  When it comes to sleep I am my own worst enemy.  I think I might have jinxed myself as a kid when I muttered that both food and sleep were overrated.  While I still hold these tenets to be true, I have come to discover that sleep is pretty vital (I’m sure food is, too…I just don’t want to admit it or PREPARE it.)

sleepIt’s not that I don’t need sleep.  Trust me, I NEED it!  It’s just that my clock is “off.”  I could try blaming age, but my real trouble with sleep began way before that.  It seems that at bedtime…I’m just not tired.  As a child I remember sharing a room with my little sister and after lights out, we would simply stay up and talk…or sing.  (We had these singing contests where we tried to win the other person over to our song.  Popular catchy songs work well, but if I remember right, annoying brain worm songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” worked much better!)  I also loved to tell stories and like an old woman I could spin a yarn that would go on for days.  My poor sister!  On more than one occasion I’d tell a story that would go on so long that she would fall asleep before it ended 🙂  It was slightly embarrassing….  Only slightly.

In junior high and especially high school, I continued my night owl ways.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t tired.  I really, really was!  But afterschool activities, a social life and school work kept me up ’til the wee hours of the morning.  (Before you jump to any conclusions let it be known that I stayed up way later for school work than for anything else! I know–I’m a NERD 🙂 ) For some reason, I always felt like I had more energy at night.  11pm seems to be peak time for me.  To be fair, I have to admit that I am not a morning person.  Not at all.  Maybe that’s part of why I’m a night owl.

During my college years, being a night owl just went with the territory.  We were all night owls…burning the candle at both ends.  It wasn’t that big of a deal–nothing ever is at that age.  Wake up early, stay up late…some nights sleep was more of a good idea than a reality.  I can remember going to a Poe concert the night before a final, closing down the club, going out to breakfast, drinking my weight in coffee, studying for an hour and arriving on campus just in time to take a 7am final–and acing it.  (Good genetics, I can thank my Mom for my test taking abilities!)  This was the way life rolled and I loved it!  Yes, sleep was overrated indeed.  We are so invincible in our 20s….

One might think that motherhood would change everything.  No.  Now I had an excuse to be awake at all hours of the night.  Pregnancy, middle of the night feedings, a colicky baby, illness of one kind or another, bad dreams, etc.  All this and so much more just pushed my night owl tendencies to the next level because a sleeping child meant that I could have a moment to do what I wanted to do.  You know, like watch a sitcom from beginning to end (forget movies…that’s asking for too much time,) have a snack and not have to share, catch up on correspondence, READ, and have a continuous thought (crazy, right?)  Let me be clear, my late night tendencies have never had anything to do with insomnia (which sounds horrible!)  It really is LIGHTS OUT once my head hits the pillow.  It’s just that I can find a million and one things to do before going to sleep.  Did I mention that I drink ALOT of coffee?

I’ve given my night owl tendencies a lot of thought lately.  For the past few weeks I’ve noticed several news articles and studies that cite the need for better sleep habits…specifically MORE sleep and an earlier bedtime.  At first I sort of brushed it off, but I’m starting to think that maybe I should take these things more seriously.  These same studies say that a lack of sleep leads to poor memory, an inability to focus, impaired immunity, sluggish metabolism and WRINKLES.  (Look, I claim not to be vain, but I don’t know a woman on the planet who’s “okay” with wrinkles!)  So, what’s a girl to do? Change seems practically impossible.  And let me just state for the record, this wouldn’t even be an issue if I could find a school district where classes didn’t start until 10am (that’s what I call a reasonable morning hour.)

My best friend recently told me that she has successfully made “the transition,” moving from night owl (she was my social counterpart in my early years) to morning person.  I know–it just doesn’t seem possible!  No longer does she fritter away the late night hours or need to set several alarm clocks to wake up in the morning.  Instead she’s up with the sun and happy about it.  So what’s her secret?  She tells me that through prayer and discipline she has made a change for the better.  Wouldn’t you just know it?  Jesus is the answer (again!) I have to tell you that I’m not optimistic.  It’s not that I don’t have faith…it’s more that I don’t know if I’m ready.  Because you see EVERY part of me LIKES staying up late.  It’s my chance to breathe, to sit without interruption, to find peace, READ and have a continuous thought all my own! (Notice a theme here?)  I like being the only person awake in the quiet of our little home.  Maybe it’s an introvert thing, but nighttime is MY TIME!

Okay, so someday (soon) I plan to grow up and get serious about sleep and taking care of myself.  And when I do, I know (without a doubt) that Jesus will see me through.  That and the threat of WRINKLES….

Night, night.

Ohhh, Christmas Tree!

The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!—Charles Barnard

THE Christmas tree:  Symbol of that oh so special holiday, proudly displayed each and every year in a place of prominence, carefully adorned with treasured and sentimental ornaments.  A recognized hallmark of the Christmas season and the BANE of my Decembers. As our family always opts for the “real” variety (instead of the plastic trees of my childhood,) it seems that somewhere along the way a war has been waged between the Spencer family and THE tree.  A battle that never fails to entertain and frustrate at the same time.  This year proved no different.

So may I present to you our annual Christmas tree adventure–in song form!  Oh yes, this year’s tree had us fooled…we REALLY thought this was THE perfect tree 🙂  Each family member convinced that we could avoid the typical end of the year evergreen hijinks.  Fools we were, this tree had our number from Day 1.

tree poem

THE tree on January 4, 2015.  A little scraggly....

THE tree on January 4, 2015. A little scraggly, still standing!

Still standing!  We made it through December and into 2015.  Sure, it’s a sight to be seen and my son is already begging me to “please, take it DOWN.”  No, son, not yet.  I promised my daughter I would try to have it down by the time her birthday rolls around (mid-January.)  In the meantime, I will sip coffee and watch our once majestic tree transform into a scraggly shrub, daily picking up the ornaments (aided in their fall by the dog no less,) placing lights back onto the branches and taking bets on just how crooked it will get before it tips over (again)…and then, maybe then, I will take it down.  I’m in no hurry.  The whole ordeal has practically become its own Christmas tradition…a tradition I secretly wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!  Ohhh, Christmas tree 🙂

Don’t measure the height of your Christmas tree.  Measure the abundance of the love present in your heart!  Have a blessed Christmas!–author unknown

Another Blog-iversary :)

blogiversaryDear Readers,
I would like to say THANK YOU to those who have been following my blog, hymningandhaing.com.  As I enter my fourth year of blog writing, I am proud of the 65 posts I have penned thus far and the positive feedback that I have received—it continues to fuel my desire to write more!  I am grateful for the fun comments, insights and encouraging words that you have offered throughout my blogging endeavor and I look forward to 2015 and the writing opportunities it will bring!

Happy blog-iversary, hymningandhaing.com!!!

 

A Few of My Favorite Things (2014 in Review)

My favorite things often have a story behind them….  –Amy Sedaris

As 2014 winds down the countdown to New Year’s Day 2015 begins.  It’s at this time every year that we’re all subjected to the top news stories, songs, movies, television shows, etc. of the past twelve months (just in case we forgot.)  We’re also treated to the “best of” and “worst of” inventories for just about every subject under the sun.  And since we’ve already suffered through the roll call of Oprah and Ellen’s favorite things, I thought it was time that I got into the act with a list of my own (never mind the fact that I’m not a talk show host or a celebrity!)  So enjoy (or is it endure?) a few of MY favorite things from 2014 🙂

  • Favorite Song:  “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors  This upbeat song hit my radar this spring and really spoke to me as a call to approach each day as an amazing blessing.  I wrote about this song in a previous blog post and labeled it my personal “walk up song” for 2014.  This fun little anthem encourages one to be young, to see each day as a new opportunity, and to wholeheartedly believe in the limitless possibilities of good and joy in this life.  It’s a toe-tapping, high energy, nonsensical call to be AWESOME each and every day.
  • book

    “Sundays in America” by Suzanne Strempek Shea

    Favorite Book I Read:  “Sundays in America” by Suzanne Strempek Shea  I came upon this book by accident or sheer laziness (you decide.)  My daughter and I happened to be at the local library during an unusually heavy downpour.  We had already finished up in the children’s book section, when the thought of facing the rain seemed idiotic (a lifelong Kansan…I knew it would let up in 5-10 minutes.)  So rather than get drenched, we moseyed over to the religion section of the library and this little goodie caught my eye.  It was the subtitle that really sold me:  A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith.  In journal form, the author offers up insight as she sets out to visit a different church every Sunday for a year.  Her journey takes her across every region of the country, including Hawaii.  As a self-proclaimed “Church Nerd,” I found this book to be very eye-opening, offering up moments of hope and reflection while inciting a few sad and squeamish realizations about the Christian faith and how it is received and perceived.  An easy read…fellow “Church Nerds” should make it a point to check this book out.

  • Favorite Item Purchased:  Fire Pit  Let me start by saying that I am both equally terrified and mesmerized by fire!  Yet nothing soothes my spirit like hanging out around a fire pit.  Watching the flames dance around under a star-filled sky is my ultimate idea of relaxation.  No item that we have purchased in the last year has brought this much excitement to every member of our family.  While the kiddos have enjoyed having friends over to share in the fun, they seem to be just as content to hang out with their Dad and I.  And I’m all for anything that brings everyone together for an evening (with minimal bickering, of course!)
  • sue drinks coffeeFavorite TV Show:  “The Middle”  The kiddos first stumbled upon this show in reruns and I wasn’t exactly hooked (at first.)  In fact, I was more insulted than anything.  Somehow, my children got it into their little brains that our family was just like the fictitious Hecks and that as “Mom” I was relegated to the “Frankie” character.  This scatter-brained, (often times) sad excuse for a mother was supposedly me?  No way!  I refused to accept such a role and couldn’t believe my kiddos could put me in the same category.  Yet, over time I came to appreciate this TV family.  In their own unique way, the Hecks love each other, look after each other, and in so many ways this imperfect family is absolutely relatable on a number of levels.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that I still find the “Frankie” reference insulting (let the record show that Sue is my favorite character,) but 2014 has brought about a new appreciation for “Frankie” and this dysfunctional (yet adorable) family sitcom.  You can find it in reruns on a variety of channels, or for new episodes check out ABC on Wednesday nights.
  • Favorite Snack:  S’mores  Okay, since we now have a fire pit, s’mores have earned the top spot for favorite snack of 2014.  While traditionally I am a nachos kind of person, s’mores have gained prominence as the treat of choice.  Funny thing is, that while I could probably eat a pound of nachos…I generally just want one s’more.  Maybe that’s another reason to eat more s’mores!  One little tidbit of advice that I will offer up…we’ve discovered that regular size marshmallows work best.  They toast quickly and provide the right proportion of marshmallow to chocolate to graham cracker ratio.  After experimenting with campfire (extra-large sized) marshmallows and marshmallow squares, we’ve discovered that these varieties seriously affect the ratios.  TIP:  If you just want toasted marshmallows go BIG or square, otherwise for traditional s’mores regular-sized marshmallows are best.  Yummy 🙂
  • Favorite Product to Hit the Supermarket Shelf: Peet’s Coffee  As a coffee lover I am pretty much Starbucks all the time.  However, whenever I visit the San Francisco Bay Area, for me it has to be Peet’s Coffee.  Later, when I found out that they sold Peet’s at the supermarkets in Northern Cali…well I just had to have that AND buy enough to bring some home to Kansas after a trip.  Now…you won’t believe what I found on the supermarket shelf?  Peet’s Coffee in KANSAS!  People, this is exciting!!!  This coffee is so amazing…strong, rich, full flavor…perfect 🙂  I went through a bag in a blink and I can’t wait to buy more–locally!  Hooray, hooray…such a happy day!  Jump on to their website for supermarket locations near you.  http://www.peets.com/
  • Favorite Podcast: Freakonomics  My husband first introduced me to Freakonomics a few years ago.  He came across the documentary on Netflix.  Later I found out about the book and the blog.  Finally, I discovered the podcast!  For “News Nerds” like me this is awesome!  Freakonomics is the product of a journalist and an economist.  Together, they uncover the hidden side of everything (their tagline, not mine.)  Both educational and extremely entertaining this is my weekly go-to for information and insight.  Each podcast is about 40-45 minutes long and they cover a variety of topics.  A little something for everyone.
  • Favorite Place to Shop:  Ulta  I have loved playing with make-up since I was a teenager.  So as I near 40, you would think that I would be over it.  NOT!  Enter Ulta, the make-up mega store.  It has just about every make-up product known to (wo)man, in every shade imaginable, and at prices to fit all budgets.  I could spend hours in there.  As far as make-up goes I’m pretty traditional and extremely conservative, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to look.  Orange lipstick, green eyeliner, purple fingernails…yes, I am intrigued (even if I’d never have the guts to wear any of it!)
  • IMG_0622

    Snapped this photo while cleaning the kitchen! With the Tadaa SLR app your photo can go from “cleaning up” to looking all “cleaned up” with just a few tweaks. Love this app!

    Favorite iPhone App:  Tadaa SLR  I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet knows that I love to take photos.  Now that our phones are our cameras, this makes taking pictures easy and a full-time hobby without all the gear.  I have tried and use a lot of photo apps on my iPhone, but this year’s stand out is Tadaa SLR.  With features that let you adjust the focus and depth, blur with precision (it also includes all the standard editing features) this app makes me feel like a professional photographer (even if it’s only in my head!)  Seriously, at only $2 this is definitely an app worth having and it’s so easy you’ll wonder what you ever did without it!  HONORABLE MENTION:  Wal-mart Savings Catcher because I am a mother on a budget!

  • Favorite Lesson Learned:  GOD’S CONSTANT PROVISION.  I could write a whole book about this line alone!  Going into 2014 I knew there would be one big hurdle for our family life.  (In fact, I heard that little voice as early as December 2013.)  And just as surely as I had been warned, these things came to be.  Without going into too much detail, let me say that God has provided time and time again.  And He has provided in ways and with means that I would never have expected and all in His perfect timing.  Whenever I should have been stressed out and overcome with worry/fear I knew and felt God’s presence.  I’m sure it was maddening for those around me to see that I wasn’t worried (heaven knows I found other things to worry about!)  But let me tell you that we always had what we needed exactly when we needed it!  Friends, God is good–all the time!  I won’t pretend to know God’s plans or why I needed to learn the lesson of provision, but I am grateful for it and I know that it serves a larger purpose in our family’s faith walk.

That pretty much sums it up!  Like the popular song from the Sound of Music…these are a few of my favorite things.  Well, 10 of my favorite things anyway 🙂  Would love to hear about some of your “best of” or “worst of” items from this past year.

Looking forward to learning, growing and discovering new things in 2015!

Back to School Essentials (7 Must Haves You Won’t Find on Any School Supply List)

Casey First Day of School 2009

Casey First Day of School 2009

It’s that time of year! And the back to school vibe is so pervasive you can practically smell it…(and it ain’t rosy!)  Alarm clocks set, buses running, backpacks on and lunches packed, this is show time!  So whether you’re Best Dressed or Total Mess, Ready Freddie or Nervous Nelly, the school bell’s ringing and there’s no stopping it.   Like most dutiful moms, I’ve done the shopping and the supply gathering, made sure the kiddos have been the recipients of stylish haircuts and good shoes, and we’ve definitely run the gauntlet when it comes to Back to School Night.  Still, there’s a few things that I wish I could bundle up and tuck into the backpacks of my children (and every child for that matter.)  You won’t find them on the shelf at any discount store, but they might just make all the difference.  So load up on these seven BIG back to school necessities….

1.  To Thine Own Self Be True.  Let’s motivate our children to walk into the classroom with a sense of self.  Remind your children WHO they are and WHAT they stand for.  Let’s be authentic and real with one another, forget the game playing.  The mean girls garbage, the bullying and the backbiting.  A good majority of us are capable (even at a young age) of understanding what is acceptable and what isn’t.  Parents be an example.

2.  Be Kind, Rewind.  Remember this saying from the days of video rentals and VCR’s?  Might I suggest that we urge our children to adopt this little mantra as a way of extending grace to one another and ourselves?  One of my favorite exercises in kindness invites us to think BEFORE we speak.  We can effectively offer kindness by pausing to check ourselves, especially when dealing with a difficult person.  PAUSE…and ask, “How does this sound out loud?  Am I treating others the way I want to be treated?”  I often remind my kiddos to be kind to themselves, too.  Sometimes we’re our own worst critic.  Kindness is a wonderful gift.

Sean First Day of School 2005

Sean First Day of School 2005

3.  Mind Your Zzzz’s and Eat Your Peas.  Do your children a favor and help them develop healthy eating and sleeping habits.  Numerous studies show that students learn better and have a more positive school experience when they get enough sleep and eat regular, nutritious meals.  I’m just as guilty as the next Mom.  McDonald’s is soooo easy and convenient and one more episode of their favorite show won’t hurt…or will it?  Remember, grown-ups, we ARE in charge!

4.  Game Plan.  Having a strategy for homework, school projects and extra-curricular activities is vital to maintaining a sane household.  We’ve all had that child come home and have a breakdown because they’ve procrastinated on a project, didn’t pay attention to a lesson in class, or flat out fell behind.  Let’s encourage our children to be proactive, make a schedule and take pride in all that they do.

5.  Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously.  This applies to kiddos AND parents.  There’s nothing like laughter to diffuse a tense situation.  Finding the joy and the fun in life is critical to a person’s overall well-being.  Make time to laugh, giggle and create good times (and good memories) with one another.  Remember, it’s not all rocket science.

6.  Your Loved Ones Have Your Back.  There’s nothing quite so overwhelming and utterly terrifying as feeling alone and like no one understands.  Create an atmosphere in your home and in your relationships where each person knows their value and worth.  Most parents (guardians and caregivers) would go to any length to protect the children they love.  I want my children to succeed and you want your children to succeed, too.  Fostering a safe and loving environment can be the catalyst that moves a child in a positive direction.

7.  You Gotta Have Faith.  We’ve all heard the term separation of church and state, as well as the countless other arguments about keeping religion out of school.  Fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your personal faith in the school parking lot.  Let’s remind our kids that God is present and active in our daily lives, not just at home or at church, but all the time.  It’s okay to carry your Christian values into the school building.  Christ’s example of grace, mercy and love will be a welcome addition to any education environment.  Looking out for one’s neighbor, a spirit of forgiveness, and a desire to treat each other justly and with respect will make any school year one to remember.  I tell my children it’s perfectly acceptable to say a silent prayer before a tough test, for a classmate going through a trying time and especially for our teachers and administrators.  In our home, we pray for our schools, our classmates and teachers before bed each night…why would we stop between the hours of 8am and 3pm during the week?  I want my kiddos to know that there is a 24/7 God who knows each of us, loves us dearly and has a wonderful plan and purpose for our lives.

So as we snap and post those first day of school photos, let’s be intentional about making this THE school year where we put first things first and load up on all the essentials for our best school experience yet (kiddos and parents alike!) 🙂

Intelligence plus character…that is the goal of true education.  –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

 

What About Bob? (aka A Fire Belly Toad Love Story)

No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:13

Love is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything! But let me back up a little bit because every good love story needs a little background.

Sean Brings Home Pet Toad

Sean Brings Home Pet Toad–August 2010

So, a little boy showed up at school one day with a toad in a small plastic habitat.  And in “monkey see, monkey do” fashion, my son had to have one, too.  And since his birthday was coming up (and since I’ve been known to slip into moments of complete mom idiocy) we decided to add to our family.  After a trip into Wichita a purchase was made in a somewhat questionable pet establishment in an equally suspect part of the city.  The sales fella assured us that this was an easy enough pet to care for and that our new fire belly toad would happily enjoy the little plastic habitat that we had already purchased at Toys R Us.  (FYI:  living creatures almost never thrive in plastic containers.)

So, Todd the Toad moved into my son’s bedroom.  WAIT…I forgot to mention that fire belly toads (which are poisonous by the way…so should have looked that up before we brought it home) also need LIVE crickets every 3-4 days.  Okay–if you have never seen a toad devour a cricket you might be surprised to discover that it’s pretty amazing and just as cool as some of the things you’ll see on Animal Planet, except that it’s happening right in front of YOUR face!  So Todd would entertain us during feeding time, but that was about the extent of it.  And since this particular toad didn’t have much of an appetite, more crickets drown than actually made it into his mouth.  And this was a problem because cleaning this little plastic habitat became not only necessary, but also quite gross.  To top it all off, poor Todd wasn’t thriving.  He seemed miserable, sad and scared.  My only thought at the time was:  please, please don’t let us kill Sean’s birthday present!  Something had to be done and thus another moment of mom idiocy ensued.

Google is one of my best friends.  It wasn’t long before I had loads of info and armed with knowledge we headed back to a different pet store (in a better part of town) and looked for a whole new set up AND a companion toad (because two is always better than one and who doesn’t need someone to pal around with?  I know, even more mom idiocy!)  Almost $100 dollars later, we were set up with a new industrial terrarium and cover, a special light bulb, a new lamp, spring water, an electric thermostat and even a little greenery and log to keep our toad chums happy.  The children were ecstatic and tossed names back and forth on the drive home. They settled on Bob and Todd because it sounded like good radio DJ names (???) and the dynamic toad duo settled into their new digs.  We are such good parents 🙂

Bob and Trudy at home in their new habitat.

Bob and Trudy at home. Bob is bright green and on the left. Trudy is dark green and on the right.

So here’s where the actual love story begins…you thought I forgot?  Within a week my son had a few questions. There’s nothing quite like the “birds and bees conversation” presenting itself when you least expect it.  After a very matter-of-fact talking to…Todd was renamed Trudy and my daughter declared the two “married.”  Casey began praying for baby toads while I couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into.  Back to Google…more research needed to be done.  (I am pleased to report that we were NEVER blessed with the “pitter-patter” of tadpoles!)

Bob and Trudy were quite the pair and displayed text-book fire belly toad characteristics.  Trudy was quite docile and ended up being much smaller in size than Bob.  Her skin stayed dark in color and she would secrete the poisonous milky fluid that wards off predators whenever she became frightened or uneasy.  Bob on the other hand ate like a champ, his skin color would fluctuate between various shades of green according to his male hormones, and he frequently “barked” through the night to communicate with his beloved Trudy.  (The barking sounds like a high-pitched dog bark, but it is so faint that for weeks we thought our neighbors must have purchased a small canine.)  Bob was very protective and frequently “bowed up” when we would get too close or stare a little too long at the goings on in the tank.  However, Bob displayed one unusual characteristic…while Trudy would hide and bury herself in the rocks, Bob was always trying to escape.  On more than one occasion we would find Bob tucked up in the top corner, trying to get out.  Although the crickets did manage to escape the terrarium on a regular basis, it basically seemed impossible that Bob could ever get out.  He was easily bigger than Trudy but still small for an amphibian (2-3 inches at best) and the tiny crack that separated the cover from the terrarium was just too narrow.  Bob wasn’t anywhere close to strong enough to move it on his own.  It just couldn’t happen, right?  Yet, he continued to try.  We imagined he was on a quest to take his beloved Trudy and blow this popsicle stand…aka our house.

These antics played out day after day, month after month, and eventually year after year.  We became regulars at the  pet store (our frequent cricket purchases earning us occasional freebies) and we became experts at fire-belly toad behavior and habitat maintenance.  These tiny toads became members of the family.  They were my son’s roommates.  We learned to recognize their barks and moods.  We had to arrange care for them whenever we traveled.  Not to mention, our dog was extremely jealous of his pet brother and sister.  Like any family member, they were thought of and cared for on a daily basis.  So imagine our surprise when sweet, little Trudy started slowing down.  She would bury herself in the rocks for days now or hide in the log.  While she was never the most active toad, her lethargy became worrisome.  When she stopped eating, we feared the worse.  We were about to lose a member of our little family.

We had lost ants (and countless other bugs) and a Beta fish named Swimmy, but on some level we all knew this would be different.  We had cared (and dare I say loved) the toads for quite some time.  They really were a part of our every day.  I wondered how the kids would take it.  Would they cry?  What kind of questions would they have about death?  And heaven?  And ultimately, our Great Creator?  I’ve read countless articles about the important lessons we learn through our pets and that death is a part of the life cycle that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about.  And while all of this was milling about in my mind another thought occurred to me, what about Bob?

I wish I could say that we had plenty of time to delve into the subject of death and loss, but we didn’t.  Trudy’s time had come.  And afterward, Bob barked and barked and he continued to try to escape.  And it wasn’t but a blink after Trudy passed away that her companion, her partner, her protector, her “husband” (my daughter pronounced them married, remember) went missing.  MISSING!  A poisonous toad was lost somewhere in our house.  Good gravy.

Of course, the kids were distraught.  Bob just had to be found.  How could he have possibly escaped?  They couldn’t lose BOTH of them.  It was too much.  We searched the tank…uncovering rocks and logs and faux plant life.  Nothing.  We searched the bedroom.  Under things, behind things, and around things.  Nothing.  We systematically began searching the next closest bedroom, closet and hallway.  Finally, the thought occurred to us.  If Bob did manage to escape, would our dog have eaten him?  I know it’s gross, but we were in sleuth mode and had to check off all the boxes.  My husband made a quick call to the vet and we waited, but Maddie (the dog) was as healthy as ever.  And no Bob.

After a week all hope was lost.  We gave up.  We wondered if some how he managed to make it out of the house.  And the question became, if he did–how long could he survive?  We cleaned out the tank.  Repurposed the table it sat upon and eventually moved on with life.

Every once in a while the toad topic would come up.  Everyone had a theory.  1)  Bob just couldn’t live without Trudy.  2)  He escaped in a desperate effort to find her.  3)  He met his doom in the belly of our dog.  4)  Or….he some how managed to make it outside..found freedom and made a new life for himself.  5)  Perhaps, he was eaten by the crickets (I know this one sounds extremely far-fetched, but research shows that the crickets can and will turn on a predator and in large numbers crickets can actually take a small toad down.)  We just didn’t know, until…well, until we DID know.

About half a year later, I discovered Bob (or what was left of Bob) shriveled and flattened…hidden under a pair of old baseball cleats in the far corner of my son’s closet.  Now, before you think I’m a bad housekeeper I must say that YES…we had searched that closet dozens of times, YES…Sean regularly gets in and out of his closet, and NO we are not like many on the popular Hoarders TV show who neglect their surroundings to the point that critters frequently die and go unnoticed for months at a time.  I don’t know how Bob made it across the room.  I don’t know how long he survived in that closest (he would have needed a food source, water and tropical temperatures.)  What I do know is that he was found, the mystery was solved and my heart was heavy.  The love story was over.

RIP Bob

RIP: Bob the Toad

Those itty-bitty toads taught me many things.  First of all, I never thought I could love such exotic, and let’s be honest–ugly, creatures.  I didn’t think that something so small and needy would ever survive in our care!  I couldn’t imagine what a time commitment they would be or how much fun it would be watching them grow, play  and change. These tiny creatures were awesome in so many ways.  It is just another example of a truly amazing Creator!  How could I have known that these toads (like children) thrive in routine and schedules, they’re very social and live in a communal setting in nature, they pair up and protect one another, and at the same time they are remarkably equipped to protect themselves from predators of every kind?  They were such a wonderful example of a committed love relationship.  And in many ways they came into our lives at just the right time…their parting prepared us for difficult moments to come.  It still blows my mind.

Love truly is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything!  What a wonderful lesson for our whole family.  In the past few years we have experienced loss (unfortunately, on more than one occasion) and as we grieved it occurs to me that while acknowledging the death we have also celebrated the LOVE.  The love of family and dear friends.  Of course it hasn’t been easy (it never is,) but I think we honor those who have gone on when we remember them well.  We still talk about the toads.  In fact, as I was writing this, I wondered did I ever take photos of them?  Will there be images to keep their tiny spirits and their special story alive?  And to my delight, I found many pictures and thus, many happy memories.

 What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.  –Helen Keller

 

 

 

Summer’s Last Hurrah! (My Top 10–This Just Got Real)

Vacation Flashback: S'mores with Aunt Tricia

Vacation Flashback: S’mores with Aunt Tricia

Every summer has a story.  –Unknown

Summer never looks so good as it does on the last day of school!  Like a brand new penny, summertime is all shiny, a token of possibilities just waiting to be spent 🙂  Back in May, we anxiously awaited days of unscheduled fun and endless adventure (not to mention the joy of “forgetting” to set the alarm clock!)  In so many ways I was more excited about summer than my kids…the monotony of pick up/drop off and the constant scheduling/rescheduling of  team practices, medical appointments, school projects, etc….  And while it’s not my favorite season of the year, summer was sure sounding pretty good!  In theory, I was willing to overlook the scorching temperatures, bugs and the chaos that is the spontaneity of summer.  I planned (funny, huh?) on enjoying it all and loosening the reins of my control freak lifestyle.  Feel free to laugh at me….

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Oh yeah…THE SNOW CONE!

Now that the end of July has rolled around (and the school supplies have debuted at the local stores,) I realize that this summer has been anything but the relaxing, carefree season I imagined.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m NOT complaining.  I spent the better part of the summer watching my children grow and learn on the baseball/softball diamond.  We’ve squeezed in sleepovers, sports camps, swim lessons, and Vacation Bible School.  My “Camp MOM” program has netted the children a few prizes while propelling (okay, FORCING) them to look at Scripture in a new and exciting (?) way.  We’ve easily eaten our weight in Dairy Queen ice cream and discovered the addiction that is THE SNOW CONE!  We’ve managed to eke out a little pool time (NEVER enough for my kids.)  And we made our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a little family visit.  All very good things!  Still, I feel a little incomplete.  The busyness of summer has me feeling like we missed out on the lazy, less hurried parts of the season.  Frankly, we’re running out of days and there’s still more on my list.

So here and now, I’m putting out for all to see MY Summer Wish List…because summer break is all about the parents, right?  Forget about the kids (not really!)  Here goes nothing:

1.  Catch fireflies in a pickle jar.  Might as well be specific 🙂 Don’t worry, catch and RELEASE!

2.  Stargazing.  My opportunity to impress my kiddos with my vast knowledge of constellations.  Yeah, right.

3.  Drive in movie.  This is a tough one because I don’t really like sitting through movies…it’s a huge time investment.  Equally problematic is that I’m REALLY picky about the movies that I watch.  Cross your fingers.

4.  Road trip.  Okay, if you know us…then you’re already aware that we’ve been on the road for baseball tournaments this summer.  Those don’t count.  I want to go see nature…(I can’t believe I uttered those words!)  I’m thinking State Park adventure 🙂

5.  S’mores.  Enough said.  Throw in a couple of campfire songs and we just might call this one EPIC!

6.  Eat outside.  I don’t know why, but I love to picnic.  It goes against my ant phobia, but it’s really true.  I enjoy dining outdoors.

7.  Professional baseball game.  This is already in the works!  Hooray 🙂

8.  Read three GOOD books.  I’m sort of a nonfiction junky…and those are typically long reads.  Managing to get through three would be heavenly.  I’m still on book one.

9.  Visit Lawrence, Kansas.  Stroll down memory lane while reminding my kids that they can choose any college they want (as long as I approve of it.)

10.  Go to the zoo.  Because it’s fun and I like Orangutans (a lot.)

Okay, people.  There it is.  And since time stops for no one, I needed to get started on this list YESTERDAY.  Because while summer technically goes through September, my kiddos start school in mid-August.

Summertime is always the best of what might be. -Charles Bowden

UPDATE 8/2014:  Completed 9 out of the 10.  Not bad 🙂

Summer List Pic

 

Utilizing the Walk-Up Song (A Baseball Tactic for Real Life)

Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.  -Ernie Harwell

kiddos at ball game

Baseball fans for life 🙂

When you park your back-end on a bleacher for a good chunk of the summer, your mind occasionally wanders.  I think it’s a by-product of the summer air, sunshine and warm nights, and the endless possibilities stretched out before you as a favorite player/team take the field.  This magical time at the ball diamond lends itself to reflection and contemplation.  And as a result, I’ve come to appreciate the game on an entirely new level this season.

If you’ve played the sport (or you know someone who has,) you’ve heard the adage “baseball is 90% mental, the other half physical.”  While I’m not sure exactly how the math adds up, I do think there’s a lot to be said for the mental game.  Everything from practice and coaching to adequate sleep time and game day meals, contributes to and sets the tone for a player’s performance during a game.  From little league to MLB, players have their own unique rituals–special socks, flavored sunflower seeds, eye black design and even music…e.g., “the walk up song.”  Sure team’s have been playing tunes in the locker room for years.  Music selections that inspire and pump up the crowd are blared from the speakers at numerous sporting venues.  We’ve all seen images of ball players from every sport getting off the team bus with headphones/ear buds playing their favorite jams.  This attempt to block out the world, focus on the task at hand, energize the athlete and ultimately get him into the zone, have been going on for decades.  For a non-athlete like myself, the process is fascinating!  And thus, the baseball walk-up song has been at the forefront of my mind this summer…so much so that I’ve been experimenting with the concept on my children (how’s that for parenting?)

Before you starting thinking that I must have a lot of time on my hands (or that I’m an insane baseball mom,) let me explain.  I’ve always thought of sports as a metaphor for life:  work hard, practice and learn the basics, prepare, be a sponge, respect the coach, LISTEN, try your best, believe in yourself, be a team player, never blame the officials, realize that there will be both good AND bad days (and the bad days don’t define you), stay coachable and finally HAVE FUN!  Baseball teaches these concepts, but there’s one more notion that I had somewhat overlooked (until now,) and that’s attitude– you know, confidence and the mental game. When our children are young, I think we focus on fundamentals and rightly so (there’s only so much teaching that can be absorbed at that age.)  As they grow up and develop we can add the nuances, the fine distinctions that play a big role in success and in the long run, enjoyment and satisfaction with one’s efforts.  Accomplishing a goal in any area of life hinges on these details.  And if the details include being in the right frame of mind (and not relying on luck, superstitions or circumstances) then the baseball walk up song makes a lot of sense.

Players will tell you that a certain degree of thoughtfulness goes into their walk up song choice.  The selection is used to invoke baseball nostalgia, entertain fans, instill confidence, set a tone for success and maybe even intimidate the opponent.  Above all, it gives the player a moment to focus, be still, assess the situation, breathe and maybe even smile.  The value of the strategy is obvious.  So, why leave this mental game method strictly to secular areas like sports?  Imagine if we purposefully approached our daily lives in this manner?

For years, I have used scripture and music as a source of peace, to call my spirit into focus, and essentially to put myself in a good mood.  When walking into a job interview, the doctor’s office, approaching a loved one with a difficult situation, in parenting, ministry, and countless other situations… this practice has proven helpful in preparing myself for whatever lies ahead–both good and bad.  And I know that it works!  Psychologists often refer to this approach as “visualization,” a mental technique geared to create success and/or positive outcomes.  While all of this sounds pretty heavy, I think there’s a place for it in both serious and less weighty scenarios…and you may already be using this strategy without even realizing it.  Here’s how it works:  You’re all set for a night out on the town with your friends–you know the right music will set the tone.  Family road trip?  You create a playlist that incorporates a little something for everyone in the car.  Special date night or anniversary…a little Sinatra never hurt anyone!  You get the picture 🙂

So here’s where it comes full circle….  My baseball musing went from the bleachers to my favorite players–my kiddos.  These competitive and determined little league players often put a lot of pressure on themselves.  As a parent, we want our children to have SUCCESS as well as FUN and having a good attitude plays a key role in that.  It wasn’t long before our pregame routine included a couple of walk-up songs.  Sean has two or three songs that he looks forward to hearing as we cruise over to the ball park.  Casey enjoys listening to her own personalized playlist before games, but also before practice as well.  Look, I’m not saying this tactic is the missing link between Losertown and Winnerville…but it sure has led to high-spirits, less pressure, and a lot more smiles!  Ultimately, I hope it’s a game plan that the children will carry with them as the grow up, not just where sports are concerned, but for life.  Setting the tone truly can make a difference!

We have a choice in how we approach, prepare and deal with every situation that comes our way…and the mental game has a lot to do with just how successful we will handle both the highs and the lows.  And personally, I welcome any positive strategy that sets us up to “win.”  I’ve even claimed my own walk-up song, a little ditty that rolls through my head as I’m pouring coffee in the morning.  Because come on…we could all use that extra something (especially at 6am!)

 

They Just Might Revoke My Mom Card for This….

Okay, Mom-friends…here goes.  Truth is…I haven’t seen the movie Frozen and I don’t plan to see it anytime in the near future.  So, when you talk about how adorable it is and how it’s a must see, when you tell me that you rushed to buy the DVD the day it came out and your family knows the movie line by line, and when you share that it’s your go-to drive time music (even if the kids aren’t in the car with you)–I will smile, but I just CANNOT relate.  Sorry 😦

frozen movie

I’m not anti-Disney, too busy, or boycotting any number of supposed agendas, etc…it honestly just doesn’t look that interesting to me.  I know–GASP!  My children (a boy and a girl) have both seen the movie, we own the CD (a birthday present to my daughter from a friend), and I think I’m pretty familiar with the basic story line.  My kiddos (and their friends) sing the songs around the house and in the van (they do seem to be very catchy tunes.)  Once I even played the music during a snowman themed church event to the delight of dozens of girls AND boys–it’s obviously a big crowd pleaser!  I have read countless articles and blog posts about the wonderful and not so wonderful (depends upon the viewpoint of writer) themes in the film.  Plus, I’ve heard numerous raving reviews from young and old alike about the movie.  Still…nothing.  My husband even wants to see Frozen to find out what all the hubbub is about.  To which I have to say, “Watch it with the kids.”  It’s just not my cup of tea.

I should admit that I’m not a huge fan of children’s movies or animated flicks of any kind.  But as a Mom, I’ve had to watch several more than my fair share (we’ve all been there!)  Many times, to my surprise, I find that I actually end up enjoying the movie.  There are even a few…like The Incredibles and Megamind…that I would watch repeatedly.  Most recently we’ve seen The Muppet Movie and Sherman and Mr. Peabody.  Both two thumbs up!  So, I really can’t explain my reluctance to sit down and watch Frozen.  No biggie, right?  Move on.  But just when I thought that most of the hype surrounding this movie had sort of died down (like maybe I was in the clear of being “outed” as the only Mom on the planet who had not seen it), a funny thing happened to me at Wal-Mart….

While in the party section, a desperate woman wandered into the aisle, frantically looking from side to side and up and down.  She left her children near the end cap display (two in the cart and an older child to monitor the group.)  I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the way somehow–clearly she was on a mission.  It was about this time that one of her kiddos said, “Mom!  That looks like Frozen blue!” and pointed to some “icy, blue-toned” colored plates and napkins.  The woman quickly snatched them up.  She moved closer to me and said, “Where can someone find snowflakes in the middle of summer?”  Not sure if she was speaking to me or just to herself (or both)…we started to make small talk.  She was trying to put together a Frozen themed birthday party and wasn’t having much luck.  Apparently this shopping adventure was taking a little more time than she had planned and while Frozen toys were readily available, she was scrambling to find the right table accessories and decorating supplies.  All I could offer were a few measly sympathetic head nods along with a suggestion that maybe she could arrange rhinestone stickers in the shape of a snowflake if she couldn’t find what she was looking for…and then…the record scratch.  You know that moment where time stands still…it usually happens when you can’t believe what someone has just said or done…immediately followed by everyone staring at you.  No, the record scratch moment wasn’t in response to my rhinestone snowflake suggestion (?) –it was a reaction to what I said after that, “I’m sorry if I’m not much help.  I haven’t seen the movie.”

The look of disbelief on her face took me by surprise…suddenly I was stammering to say that I’d heard nothing but good things about the movie and that my kids really liked it…especially my daughter!  In a last-ditch effort I threw out there that she should try a larger Wal-Mart or maybe Party City…I wished her luck and couldn’t get out of the aisle fast enough!  I scrambled past her cartload of kids–who were also wearing shocked expressions and staring at me.  Yikes…what just happened?  Heart beating frantically, I realized that I felt guilty for not having seen the movie! Obviously, this was a big Mom fail on my part to say the least.

As I share this, it all seems pretty silly.  Angst over a movie, I mean.  But I guess that I while I don’t really plan to see it, I do understand the huge impact that it’s had on this generation and their parents and families.  I can see it now…Frozen will be its own category on Jeopardy someday.  It will probably show up as movie trivia during the previews at the theatres for years to come.  Down the road we’ll have a whole army of baby girls named for the movie characters.  Suddenly, Annas and Elsas (and maybe even Olafs for the boys) will fill up classroom name lists and sports team rosters!  We’re not just talking about national impact, either.  Frozen is a major hit and a force to be reckoned with worldwide.  I hear that there are plans for a Broadway musical and maybe even a sequel.  The merchandise is everywhere and there’s probably much more on the way.  And I will have missed out on all of this!

Oh well.  Let it Go….