Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward

If you know me well, you know that I do NOT make New Year's Resolutions.  Ok, call them what you will, but I do NOT make the traditional list of "items I WILL accomplish" that is supposed to start with a well-intentioned BANG on January 1 every year.

I truly believe that doing so is actual personal sabotage.

That doesn't mean I don't make goals.  So, what is the difference? My goals don't necessarily have anything to do with the drop of the New Year's ball. They are year-round, life-style changes, whereas most New Year Resolutions fizzle out (the success rate isn't great).

Check out this post from last year.

Looking back, how'd I do?

  1. "Thank you".  Yep.  It's a natural habit of mine to vocalize my thanks.  Would I like to be a better thank-you note writer?  Sure.  Will I?  I don't know.  I am however sitting down to write out Christmas "thank-you's" with the kiddo's before Christmas break ends.  It's a start.
  2. "Time with friends".  Check.
  3. "Healthy Body".  It's really no secret that Beachbody has made a tremendous impact on my physical and financial life.
  4. "Daily Prayer".  I still need to work on this one.  It will be a life-long struggle.
  5. "Write".  I said hello to a weekly gig at this year.  
  6. "Morning space".  Nope.  I still don't get along with mornings.
  7. "Move in".  Yep.  Dining Room and Living Room got painted, garage demo'd, new attic playroom set up, kitchen overhauled, media/workout room organized.
So, do I have any plans for 2011? Yes.  Will I start them on January 1?  No.
  1. Accomplish P90X.  I'm doing so with over 20 other people.  My Beachbody business has grown leaps and bounds and thus, along with P90X, I'll continue to work this particular "love" as a real job.
  2. Daily Prayer.  I'm doing so by meeting for prayer one morning a week with two very special women in my life.
  3. Write.  I'm continuing with Pittsburgh Mom and will continue to hunt down new opportunities.  God has given me a new idea this year, and I've already contacted two writer friends to see if they will join me.  I would also like to get Cuppa Jo, and some older versions of that blog, made into books this year.
  4. Mornings.  I think, with the addition of P90X, I may need to get mornings kicking.  Ugh.
  5. Move in.  Time to tackle my bedroom (paint), create an outdoor patio space, and print and hang family photos.  Plus, I'd like to complete a photo book of our move in 2009.  I won a free photo book from Vistaprint - time to get it going.
  6. Pay off.  I got a good amount of debt paid down this year.  For 2011, I'm targeting a specific card.
That's it.  

Notice that three of the desires I have, include involving other people in the task.  There's nothing like asking others to join you to really get the party started.

What are your YEAR-LONG plans?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

But Enough About Me: Repost from The Bridge

This piece was recently published in The Bridge, a local publication for which I am a contributer.

But Enough About Me


It's fun to say.


Biba, a Latin dialect of the Spanish, bebida, means “drink”. But to hear the true inspiration behind the name of this new restaurant, check in with owner's Jason and Chrissy Benegasi.

“It's named after our dog.” Talk about honoring the legacy of your beloved pet. Biba, your name now lives on through Beaver's recent addition to ethnic dining. Good dog!

I sat down with Jason one October evening while under a tornado watch. A little wind and the threat of being whipped in the face by flying piles of crispy leaves wasn't about to stop me. I've played Dorothy. I know the adventure a twister can bring. There's no place like Biba!

Entering the restaurant, I was struck by the spaciousness of the tiny venue. Surprisingly, with room for only 11 tables, seating wasn't tight. And although Biba is considered one of Beaver's more upscale restaurants, there wasn't a hint of snootiness.

Jason, formerly of Lidia's Pittsburgh, dreamed of opening his own place for years.

Why Beaver?

“Beaver is obviously up and coming. It's a unique small town with a main drag feel – not commercial.” Here, we veered off, swapping opinions on local business vs. corporate establishments as it pertained to certain coffee shops. You can ask him for his thoughts on this subject. I agreed not to print details. Wink.

“Beaver is happening. Everyone here is really into their little town.”

He's exactly right. We adore our little town. What's not to love about our “main drag” which now boasts the flavors of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Peru, and Argentina, thanks to Biba, whose menu specializes in dishes from South America and the Caribbean, along with Central American and Mexican influences.

“Folks may not recognize what's on the menu, but it's really nothing weird,” Jason joked. Chicken, steak, pork, and fish are regulars in the line up, with some new surprises coming in December.

Not to be confused with tapas, (a rumor I think I actually started – oops), Biba is a Latin seasonal restaurant, offering “small plates” (as well as larger dishes) from a unique menu which changes weekly. “Sticking to their guns” by using seasonal, fresh, and local ingredients, Jason shops with venders from our very own community. And while one might find the prices a bit startling at first, the finest ingredients combined with the talent of Executive Chef David Plankenhorn naturally comes at a premium.

I act nonchalant when Jason asks if I'm hungry, but truthfully, I was so hoping he'd ask.

He whips up two of his favorites: a jerk chicken taco on a home-made tortilla, topped with cabbage, pineapple/Serrano pepper salsa and a drizzle of sour cream, followed by a soft taco filled with jumbo lump crab and chorizo, sprinkled with onion and chihuahua cheese.

“You may need a fork with that one,” he shares. Nope. I had no intention of attempting proper table manners. Those tasty tacos were gone in a snap.

No sooner had I finished than Chef David, a former Chocletier, quietly laid a spoon of chocolate gonache on my plate.

I love him.

Venture into Biba and be treated to a meal that will stretch your culinary palate with dishes from countries far beyond the land of Beaver Bobcats. And if you find “new” to be strange and intimidating, and aren't brave enough to go it alone, allow me to accompany you. I'll even hold your hand.

Biba is located at 406 Third Street. (724) 728-7700. Tell them Joline sent you.

Strip Searched

I don't know what took me so long.

Sure, there was that quick trip down to Klavon's on the last day of school back in June, but that doesn't count as a real trip to the Strip District in Pittsburgh.

There was also my half-marathon which took me through a deserted Strip District one Sunday morning in 2009.  It was vacant.  Shops closed.  No bystanders cheering me on.  It was my least favorite leg of the trip.

Today, however, was glorious.

Visiting the Strip was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be.

I ventured down this morning with Harper and my neighbors - cup of coffee in hand and grocery list in my purse.  The drive down took no time.  I still marvel at the lack of traffic that I hit whenever I wander into the city.

The Strip District was already alive and bustling with activity.  9:15 was pretty late for a visit to the area (especially a week before Christmas).  The crowds were thick and street vendors were hours into peddling their wares.  The sound of "Fresh bread!" rang through the air.  It was kind of like the "Who Will Buy" moment in Oliver - only with a rousing tune about the Steelers amplified above it.

Of course I bought some of that bread.

Actually, I bought the largest, most yummiest pepperoni roll I've ever scarfed down, for the cheapest price I've ever paid.  The thing was massive and fed four of us for $5.00.

My purpose in visiting the Strip, a week before Christmas, was to get some authentic Italian meats and cheeses for my annual antipasto, plus some surprise goodies for my parents who just can't get items like frizelles, and tarelles on the MD shore.  Last year, I tried to get all my ingredients at an Italian market in Monaca, only to have that plan fall short when I arrived to find them out of mozzarella balls.  I'm sorry, but what true Italian market runs out of mozzarella balls?  It's a staple.  Like flour.

So, I resigned myself to picking everything up at Giant Eagle, and while the antipasto was terrific - this girl really loves her cured meats - it was lacking the experience.  Back in Chicago, I loved visiting a certain market every year to get my goods.  The smells, the languages being spoken, and the hustle and bustle of everyone getting ready for Christmas by hitting up the deli counter,  was an experience - a treasured one.

I've been searching for that.

Now, I know everyone is all, "You gotta go to the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company", and I did, for the jarred ingredients and the tarelles, but for the meats and cheeses?  When I arrived the crowd was enormous.  My letter/number was G40.  The number being called?  E17.  The numbers went up to 100.  So, do the math.  And that was for the cheese counter only.  I didn't even have a number for the meat counter.  I was so sad.  I had been warned that this would happen.  Not even the announcement that they were serving free wine in the back room helped ease my disappointment.  I wasn't getting my stuff here.  I resigned myself to purchasing the ingredients at GE.  Again.

But, my neighbor, who is far more Strip-saavy than me, suggested we return to the deli where I first purchased that luscious pepperoni roll.

We returned to Sunseri Brothers (Jimmy and Nino's place) where I approached the deli - which was far less crowded then the Macaroni Company.

"Do I need a number?"

"Everybody pick a number!" was the response.

Which is when the handful of customers, including myself, all began yelling out random numbers in chorus.  With laughter.

I turned back to the guy and told him I was number one.

He chuckled and got my order of sharp provolone cut, while a male customer asked what cheese I was getting.

"Sharp provolone.  If you've never had it, you need to."

"Hey!  I'll take the half she doesn't purchase!"

The man helping me asked if the orders were together.

"What? For us?  What are you suggesting?  We just met!"

More laughter.

The climate was festive, everyone chatting, talking, and laughing over the coincidence of all having picked the number "one".  The feel was so different from the shoulder to shoulder ("excuse me", "pardon me", "coming through") mob over at Penn Mac.  And not only did I get great products, but Harper was able to hang with our neighbors on the deli's second floor while sipping a drink and munching on that same pepperoni roll. (We got hours of meals out of that thing).

This particular deli was so much more relaxing and "homey" than the bumper to bumper traffic inside "THE place", and I walked away with all the meats and cheeses that I needed and a warm feeling in my heart.

THIS was the Strip experience I was hoping to find.

"Wait!  Do you have pepper frizelles?"

"No.  Can't get 'em."

"Ugh.  My father is gonna write me out of his will.  I promised him."

Perhaps I'll need to make them myself?

The Strip is THE place.  Next time down?  DeLuca's for breakfast with the family.

And not only did I find my Italian deli of choice on my first visit to the Strip, but I also grabbed a sweet hat from a street vendor.

Cured cuts and cute caps.  I'd call that a great day.

Yinz have a favorite place dawn in da Strip?  Dish.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Thought I'd share a few blog posts and articles that I've read (or written) as of late.

From Ordinary Time (Life in the Big Ugly House), Elizabeth shares her Parenting Top Ten List.

Coach Jamie has a nice piece summing up the majority of excuses we have when it comes to incorporating regular, intentional exercise into our daily lives.

The latest issue of The Bridge is out!  You can read my thoughts about Biba, a new local restaurant, here. Scroll down to my column, "But Enough About Me."

This one really touched me.  If we all could be this generous.

Do you have any favorite blogs, specific posts, or articles that have made an impact on you?  Please share!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

THE Zaneism of the Year

Harper was reading to us when she came upon this sentence,

"And they came to find that 'so and so' grew an entire foot since last Christmas."

Without skipping a beat, Zane responded.

"Why?  Did he lose one last year?"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Merry This . . . Happy That . . . Um, This May Sting A Bit

This is a re-post from December 4, 2009.  The original post and comments can be found here.

I am a born-again Christian.

I believe that God became human, coming to us in the form of a baby named Jesus and would go on to suffer and die on the cross as payment for the sins of all man/womankind. I believe He rose again from the grave, thus conquering death, and that all can know Him personally during life here on Earth before joining Him in eternal glory.

I'm not interested in debating this. So don't start.

I believe it. I experience Him daily. I hear Him. I see Him. I have watched Him change the hearts of people, mine included. I have a unique ability to see His handiwork in the seemingly small stuff that I encounter in both my daily life, and in the lives of others. He has fashioned me this way. Where others see despair, I see hope - even when life is bleak. Yes, I experience darkness like any other human, and yet there is a wellspring of hope that floods my soul.

That Hope is Jesus.

Ok, now that I've shared this testimony, let me get right to it.

(Deep breath)

I find this whole debate over whether one should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" pointless and a complete waste of time. And, to go one step further, I believe it's just one more thing that widens the chasm and hinders our conversations with non-believers.

"But, but . . . ", you say. Just relax. Don't hurt yourself.

Obviously, I celebrate Christmas, and in doing so wish others a "Merry Christmas", for I hold in my heart the conviction that Christ is real, and in my head, the knowledge that I have both the freedom of speech and the freedom to worship.

And yet, I can not ignore my childhood years which were spent in a culturally diverse area and my 18 years in Chicago, surrounded by those who come from a variety of different faith backgrounds. I am thus accustomed, for instance, to wishing my Jewish friends "Happy Hanukkah". They, in turn, have always wished me a "Merry Christmas". In my relationships there has always been a mutual respect for one's personal faith.

I have often found dialoguing with those of different faiths to come, well, easy, having shared my faith with Jews, and Buddhists, and Mormons, through simple conversation, rather than by means of a one sided monologue where I do all the talking outlining why I worship Jesus.

Ping pong. Tennis. Back and forth. It's called discussion.

See, in our country, as opposed to others, we have the freedom to worship any way we choose.

While I happen to believe that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, others, do not. Thankfully, they live here, in the United States, where they have the freedom to worship - just as I do. Do I want them to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus? Of course! Do I believe that all streams lead to the big ocean - or whatever that saying is? Nope. See, I really do believe that Jesus is the answer. I do.

And yet, I could care less whether a clerk at a store wishes me "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" while I'm shopping. Look at me. Closely. How would one even know whether I celebrate Christmas just by looking at me? Honestly, based on looks alone, they'd be more apt to wish me "Happy Hanukkah." Oh yeah, I can pass. And that's from the mouths of my Jewish friends.

And secondly, why would I even expect a secular organization, like that of a corporation, to be committed to furthering the cause of Christ?

For that matter, why would I expect the choreography on the American Music Awards to be wholesome? Why should I be shocked by Adam Lambert? For what was he doing that was so contrary to what the "world" considers "entertainment."

I think we expect too much from the "world" - and when they don't comply with our beliefs, we stand in judgement. We stand in judgement over those who don't posses the power of the Holy Spirit to even assist them in making choices that would glorify God. We stand in judgement over those who don't even profess to know Jesus.

Sorry. That's not our job. That position has already been filled.


Instead, we threaten to boycott stores - stores whose ultimate purpose has absolutely nothing to do with expanding God's kingdom in the first place, but rather whose goal it is to make a profit. Why boycott just because the check-out person has been told not to wish you a "Merry Christmas"?

I don't remember Jesus boycotting dining with tax collectors, ignoring women of ill-repute, or moving to the other side of the road so as not to bump into lepers. He went where we are afraid to go.

(No, no, no . . . I'm not calling businesses crooks, (some are) adulterer's, (some are) or diseased (some are). I AM saying that Jesus didn't run from tough conversations.)

I propose that we are simply afraid to enter into a natural dialogue with those of different faiths, and those who may hold a different opinion regarding the season, and instead, hide behind our catchy slogans and phrases.

If it is so important to "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas", or if "Jesus is the reason for the season", how about upon being wished a "Happy Holiday" we resist the urge to pull a John Wayne, quickly drawing the "Merry Christmas" from the spiritual holster and firing it off in defense, and instead, actually engage that person in a simple exchange.

"Thank you. I celebrate Christmas. How about you?"
I'm sorry to tell you that the words "Merry Christmas" do not hold some sort of special evangelistic power. But by initiating true conversations with others, (albeit brief at times) rather than throwing out our scripted answers (sweetly, of course) and walking away with our purchases, we have actually offered more than the statement "Merry Christmas" could ever supply.

As we move away from trying to prove a point, and move into sharing a real moment with another human being, there is the possibility of leaving a lasting impression that will far exceed the month of December.

They will know we are Christians by our love, not whether we wish someone a "Merry Christmas".

Don't' get so bent out of shape.

You're going to pull something.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Thoughts

The town of Beaver thought it clever to get a major jump on the Christmas season by putting up the customary holiday wreaths and red velvet bows, THE WEEK BEFORE HALLOWEEN.

Yes, had I taken any photos during the Halloween parade, you would no doubt be able to make out the lampposts lining our main drag - all adorned in their Christmas best, while my Jawa, British punk rocker, and an entire host of ghosts, princesses, and the cast of the Wizard of Oz walked the street.

Back in Chicago, WLIT-FM dropped its regular Adult Contemporary programming on November 10th in order to flip over to 24 hours of Christmas music beginning with the the playing of "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms.  Holiday Lite will continue until December 26th.

I adore this time of year.

But if it seems as if the Christmas season is creeping up on us faster and faster with every passing year, (you know the old cliche, "I can't believe it's already December), it's because it truly does feel like it.

Whether it be the introduction of holiday decorations, or the playing of Christmas music before Thanksgiving even rolls around, our December is being pushed back to October.

What happened to waiting with anticipation????

Here's some reading for you.

Want to hear a 12 year old's thoughts on this subject?  Check out what The Missy Times has to say.

Ever heard of "Chradvent"?  No?  Many celebrate this new tradition.  Do you?

And over at PittsburghMom, I wrote a tiny bit about how I approach the season.

I realized only today, that I've written about advent in year's past.  Here's a post.  And yet another.  You'll find one of my favorites right here.

Too much to read?

Maybe you ought to make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, tea, or better yet, coffee, and sit down for a bit.

Slow down.  You move too fast . . . yeah, I know that's a song.  But, really.  Pull back a bit with the rushing into and towards Christmas Day.  For Christmas morning was never meant to feel like the finish line.

But, rather, the Start.

Be well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Small Business Saturday

I had the BEST Thanksgiving conversation EVER this year.  Why?

I sat next to my sister's brother in law, a current employee of Walmart who offered me a first hand account of working for the corporation - even turning down a management position based upon his hands on experience with the company.  Although thankful to have a job, he is anxious to move on (and is waiting to hear on a new position elsewhere), having seen too much.  He had to leave our festivities early since he's working at 4AM tomorrow for "Event Friday" (no longer Black Friday since the trampling death of 2008), but I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him and getting to know his family.

It was like having pie before the turkey.

And with that, my convictions have been affirmed and strengthened, and once again, I IMPLORE you to patron the small businesses in your community that are clamoring for your business.

Are you free on Saturday, November 27th?

You may not get that flat screen TV for $10 at your local business, but, in the long run, you will receive MORE than a penny saved.

Some facts:

  • For every $100 spent at local small businesses, $68 is returned to the community.
  • Small businesses employ half of all private sector employees.
  • Small businesses represent 99.7% of all employer firms.
  • For every year over the last decade, 60-80% of new jobs were generated by small businesses.
Try stepping out of your norm and shop with a local vendor this holiday season.  Here are a few of my favorites here in Beaver:

AK Nahas:  Shared pie with the owner, at my kitchen table, while we discussed what items we'd need in order to have a working kitchen.  He even talked me OUT of a new microwave. Good people.

Cafe Kolache:  My "go to" place to write, fellowship, and hang.  I've even been covered when I forget my wallet.  I promise - I don't do this intentionally, or often.  Again, good people.

Castle Toys and Games:  Hands down, my favorite toy store EVER.  Really.  Ever.  Partly because of the incredible selection, but more so because of the lovely owner, Linda.

There used to be this toy store in Evanston where the owner's were NASTY to children.  Toy store + Nasty to children = Bad combination.  That store is no longer in business.

Linda at Castle Toys and Games is pure delight.  She loves her customers, and even surprises them with goodies when they break an arm. I will spend my money in Castle over Toys R Us any day.

Beaver Healthmart Pharmacy:  Can you love your pharmacist?  I think so.  Especially when you hear the encouraging words, "Joline, we'll figure it out.  Hang in there." during a time when a family member is having to change medications every month until we find the one that works.

What is the common denominator here?


I have a relationship with these business.  I know them and they know me.

Try a local business this Saturday.  Even if it doesn't open at 4AM. I guarantee you that you'll receive much more than a good "deal".

You may even make a new friend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Repost on Black Friday: Have at me

This post was originally published on November 19, 2009.  It has been re-posted for your shopping enjoyment.

Okay, I've been putting this off, posting pieces about my new exercise challenge, and the inspiration I received for writing a book, and, well, anything else but this topic.

If you know me well, then you already know my opinion on this.

Ok, here goes.

I am completely not down with Black Friday.

And, to go a step further, I don't think you should be either.

Yes, I am an American.

Just stop reading right here if you can't handle the heat.

You say you want to save money and get the best deals for Christmas?

You say it's fun?

You say, "Hey, you're just a kill-joy. Black Friday is an American Tradition. Like Flag Day."

To you I say:
I understand deals. I'm a complete deal seeker. I just don't feel like waking up at 3 AM and fighting traffic and circling a parking lot to find a space only to stand in line with like a trillion other people, who, let's be honest, could care less about my well being and more about whether they'll get to the electronics/toy/whatever department before me (even if they have to trip me), just to save money.

Here's an idea: How about simplifying Christmas by buying less - maybe one or two really nice gifts for your children, the total of which equals the amount you wind up spending on a mountain of meaningless toys, for which you had to risk life and limb and valuable time. Precious time which could have been shared with your kids and your family, and friends, by, say, playing games or watching a movie, or baking, or decorating for Christmas, rather than entering into a full on sprint against total strangers in order to reach the toy department first to grab a toy that will end up irritating you within 5 minutes of the batteries being installed. Can you say Tickle Me Elmo?

No, you be quiet! I told you up front that I am not down with Black Friday, so what did you expect to read here?

You say Black Friday is fun? Yeah, it sounds like a blast.

I'm a negative Nelly? Well, Sherlock, I'll have you know that the original term Black Friday was never a particularly positive title, but, in fact, made reference to some pretty darn tootin' icky days in history. Google it. And the phrase as we know it today, was actually used by newspapers back in the '70's, to describe the extreme hecticness that stores experienced the day after Thanksgiving.

So let me get this straight. Historically, Black Friday was never a good thing. And when newspapers began deeming the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday, it wasn't initially a compliment, but rather, a phrase used to describe a commonality between the crowds and the traffic and the sheer craziness of the beginning of the holiday shopping season, with, well, dark historical events.

However, since being in the "black" is a necessity for retailers, they have now hijacked the term, and thus, Black Friday now pays homage to the buying frenzy that will drive retailer's books into the "black".

Well, I'm not bowing to Black Friday.

In fact, and this will make you sick, the "big" presents that my children receive for Christmas (they get a main, or "big" gift from both sets of grandparents and then we supplement with a few other items) have already been purchased, at full price, from a local independently owned toy store, and are resting peacefully in my attic. The owner even helped me carry my bags to the car.

And no one tripped me or slipped a mickey in my coffee, so they could beat me to the Playmobile Egyptian Pyramid. Nope. I pre-ordered it. Months ago.

I realize I'm a bit over the top, but so is Black Friday.

If you are going to participate, let me share with you these words from Sergeant Phil Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues: Hey, let's be careful out there.

And when you come to your senses and realize that I am using this statement in reference to SHOPPING, perhaps you'll join me in on my soapbox.

I'll make room for you.

While pondering your plans for November 27th, check this out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Reason I Started Blogging In The First Place

I started my blog back in 2001 as a means of keeping my family updated on Harper.

Since then, it has morphed into a "coffee house" of sorts,  a place where one goes to shoot the breeze with a friend.  I'm all over the place on topics.

But, now and then, my kids say something that I want to remember, and thus, you're stuck reading their cute little quotes.

George and Harper were preparing to leave for her 4th grade camping trip.  He, as a chaperone, planned to drive them to school the morning they were to board the bus for the trip, thus leaving his car parked in the school lot.  Harper, having lived 9 years of her life in a larger city, anxiously inquired,

"Are you sure that's ok? I mean do they have long term parking???!!!"


Always the mommy-lover, we were on a hot chocolate date when I began to get emotional over how old he is getting.  Six in January.  I can hardly believe it.  When I mentioned my excitement and my sadness about him growing up, he met me with,

"Mom.  You can still hug me until I get really old and move out and live next door to you.  You know, when I'm 40."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Give a Little Bit . . .

Remember this?

Well, I haven't forgotten about it.  That's more important than whether you remembered that I'm on a "giving quest".

I am.

So how's it going?

Well, the attic is no longer a storage facility, but rather a playroom for the children.  That ought to tell you something.

While cleaning the large space in the attic (it is finished and divided into a large and small room),  I found mounds of items that could be useful to someone else.  It seems as if I have been adding something to my giveaway pile daily.  We have cleaned up and donated so much stuff that our storage can now fit in the smaller attic space. And despite moving all our stored items to that smaller room, it isn't full.

Talk about downsizing.

Tonight I brought another load over to Goodwill.

You know what?  I realize that I could probably get a little coin from selling a few items on Craig's List or Ebay, but really, I've been blessed with a great freelancing life.  Writing, Beachbody, and Mary Kay keep me busy.  And paid.  I think I can afford to simply give away these items.

And so I have.

For those of you who have joined me on this quest - how's the giving going???

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Respectful Repost

Was doing some reading of old posts and came across this one from November 1, 2008.

At least I'm consistent.

I do seem to harp on the whole love and respect our neighbor deal.

Especially when it comes to politics.

What's flowing from your mouth these days?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lend Me Some Sugar, I Am Your Neighbor

I've been doing a lot of heavy thinking lately.  It started in a weekly bible study that I attend at my church when I was presented with the fact that my children are my "neighbors".

(For those of you who may not espouse to any particular faith, I am about to get Jesus up in here.)

Jesus summed up our purpose in life quite clearly in Matthew 22:37-39:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

For years, I took "neighbors" to mean the people around me.  Those living outside my home.  Those who lived next door and on my street. The people who served me in restaurants or waited on me at stores, the mailman, the woman who never waives back, the homeless guy muttering to himself. Other drivers.

And then, "Doh!"

Recently, during a 2x4 moment, I realized that my neighbor is also my spouse, my children, my parents, my in laws . . . and then I crumpled over what a horrible witness I've been.  We've all been there.

God wasn't done.

What Jesus doesn't state in this passage is that loving one's neighbor will be instinctual, comfortable, and easy. Or even bearable.  Sure, it would be great if we were all swaying together in one big love fest - but we come together to form this "perfect union" from different families, ethnic roots, life experiences, educational backgrounds, convictions, faiths, political affiliations, and personal tastes, which, in turn, make up our opinions, beliefs, and biases.

And yet.

As Christians, we are COMMANDED, to LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS as we hang out at this big 'ole block party together.  I have no issue with everyone having their opinions.  Come on, I'm as opinionated as they come.  I am, however, struggling, deeply struggling, with HOW these opinions are communicated especially by those of us who follow Jesus.

People, face it.  Those of us who consider ourselves Christians can be downright unloving towards our neighbors.

"What?!" you say.  "But I lent so-and-so my leaf blower just last week!  I'm as neighborly as they come!"

Newsflash.  Our neighborhood also includes President Obama.  Guess what?  He's your neighbor.  And George W. Yep. Neighbor. Michelle Bachman. Needing to borrow a cup of milk.  Democrats.  Living next door.  Republicans.  Mowing the grass.  Tea Party Members.  Having a barbeque.  Muslims?  Yes.  All of them.  Neighbors.

Search that scripture again.  It doesn't state that loving one's neighbor is a SUGGESTION, nor does it place parameters, boundaries, or restrictions on how much love to give or when to dole it out. This is where Jesus is so gosh darn revolutionary.  In fact, he even said in Matthew 5:43-45:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Wait a minute.  LOVE MY ENEMIES?  Yes.  AND pray for them.  Honestly, we fall prey to quarreling, debating, and fighting about political and religious differences (me included), but really?  This is not our job.  We do not cause the sun to rise on the evil and the good.  And as far as I can tell, I have never sent down rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Who am I to read a person's heart and soul?  That is God's territory.  I'm tainted.  I can't read that map.

However, I have been given the following marching orders:

1.  Love God
2.  Love my neighbors as myself
3.  Love my enemies
4.  Pray for those who persecute me

This is a great challenge when it comes to the political climate of our country.  James 3:9-12 addresses what comes out of our mouths (or, might I add, communicated via email, blog, text, or facebook post - geez Louise life has gotten complicated):

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. 

Unfortunately, we forget this as we trample public officials.  We actually think it's somehow OK to be lip-smacking rude to those who have chosen a career in politics.  And it's not even WHAT we say that is the problem (unless we are spreading falsehood - then?  I get ticked.), but rather HOW we communicate our stance.  For while it is fine to disagree, it is not OK to be disrespectful.  I'm no Pollyanna.  I'm singing in the choir here. I realize we won't always have glowing things to say about everyone we meet (or don't meet), but, as we speak (or type) have we lost the ability to communicate truth with love and decency, or have our words been reduced to cursing?

How am I curbing my tongue (and keyboard) as it pertains to this subject? 
  • By refraining from bearing false witness against my neighbor:  that means not disseminating information that I can not validate.  I am going to try my darndest to stick to the facts.  
  • By refraining from attacking my neighbor's character.  
  • By apologizing, without adding a "but", when my words are found to be hurtful, or incorrect.
We, and I mean those of us following Christ, simply must deal with political topics better if we really desire to follow Christ's very words.
    I do.  So I've enlisted the help and accountability from a friend of mine who voted Republican in the last Presidential election.  Both of us will do our best to follow what I've listed above.  We both agree that while disagreements will occur and debate is healthy, it often turns into a game of "telephone".  Not effective at all.

    Oh, and guess what.  I'll trip up.  See, I'm not perfect.  No party is perfect or the correct one for our nation.  Human beings are way to prideful to bring about hope and change, or fix what they think didn't bring about that hope and change.

    It is bigger than us.

    Won't you be my neighbor?

      Friday, October 22, 2010

      Rollin' In It

      This is my joint.

      I've never been a St. Arbuck's girl.  Sure, I'll go in for a cup if I'm meeting friends, or on a long road trip, but it has never been my coffee shop of choice.  See, it's hard to go from years of this, to mass marketing.

      Now, when I need "my time",  I go here.

      When we first visited Beaver TWO YEARS ago - wow - we walked into Kolache and I knew instantly that IF George took the job at Four Mile, living within walking distance of this place would be a non-negotiable.  For Beaver was pretty much "country" compared to what I'd know for 40 years of my life. The ability to walk to Cafe Kolache would be a necessary part of my adapting to a new community.

      My mom sauntered up to the counter and ask the owner what it was like living in Beaver.  I gave her a light shove to say "SHUT-UP" for we had the kids with us at the time, and they thought we were on a spontaneous vacation in Pittsburgh Beaver.  What Hugh didn't know at the time, was that we were casing the town, while the church was casing us.  My Mom just about blew our cover.

      Just the mere presence of Cafe Kolache gave me comfort on that trip, for I knew I was potentially facing a huge life change.  As silly as it sounds, a local coffee shop would offer me some sense of the familiar.

      Flash forward TWO YEARS later.  After a year of having a son still in half-day pre-school for our first year in Beaver, he is now at school full-time three days a week.  Thus, I FINALLY have the time to return to the "days of my youth" (or rather, the days of my young married life) when I would spend every morning at the coffee shop that George managed while in seminary.

      I have been waiting for this season of my life to arrive.

      I saunter in, sometimes in a foul mood if the morning routine didn't go so well around the house, get a cuppa, exchange banter with the staff, grab my seat, and begin to write.  I sip some soup, order some rolls, and chit chat with other customers.  My favorite day to date:  busting out to "You Keep Me Hangin' On" with a few others as it came over the radio.  The "Oooh's" were particularly delightful.

      I really like this place.  Can you tell?

      So when Kolache called ME yesterday to see if I wanted a few dozen rolls because they'd baked too many that day, I knew.

      They like me.  They really like me.

      I gladly accepted and arranged to get the yummy loot after picking up Zane at school.  No, they weren't free (and I wouldn't dream of just taking them), and yet, they came with something more important.

      The offer of those rolls signifies that Kolache has indeed become, as my son puts it, "mommy's special place."

      Thanks Kristi and Hugh.  For you didn't know back in October of 2008 that the shop made an enormous impression on me.  It has taken me a year to finally make coming in every week a habit.  It's hilarious when I realize that you've seen "all of me": pre-workout, post-workout (sorry - I stink), dressed in actual clothes and NOT wearing a bandana, laughing with my children, frustrated with my children, talking with girlfriends, writing, stumped, angry with George, or just enjoying some time out with the entire family all together.

      You've even seen me without my wallet - and you fed me anyway!

      I'm rollin' in small town love.


      Tuesday, October 19, 2010

      My Bandana: Even the Younger Set Can't Resist

      "Mommy, there's this girl and I think she's cute."


      "Really, Zane?"

      Sayitisn'tso, sayitisn'tso, sayitisn'tso!

      "Yes, she's so pretty.  She has dark hair.  And she wears a headband.  A blue one.  With flowers."

      "Oh.  Is she in your class?"

      This isn't happening.

      "Mommy!  Look in the mirror!  Don't you get it?"

      I happened to be wearing one of my eye-catching bandanas.  In dark blue.  With small flowers sprinkled throughout the pattern.

      Phew. Ok, back to one. All good.

      My Bandana: Catching the Eye of Cute, Older Men Everywhere

      Before I begin, I MUST HAVE this bandana.  Or one like it.

      I already have several bandanas.

      But none with BLING.

      My first glimpse of a bedazzled bandana came during Season One of The Gilmore Girls, only I wasn't as bandana-crazy as I am now.  In the episode, Lorelai wore one like this.

      I need one.

      It's funny.  I started wearing bandana's when my short hair would get too bushy and I couldn't afford a cut.  I moved on to using them when I didn't wash my hair.  Now, it's a sign that I am either going to work out, or have recently finished (showered, hopefully) and rather than do the whole "hair thing", I simply tie one of these gizmos on and run out the door.

      I've gotten eye rolls, stares, snickers, and glares.  I'm not sure why it causes such a commotion.

      One afternoon, while sitting in MY seat at Kolache, for yes, I deem it so - now that I am in a season of my life where I can actually hang out there alone - ("this is Mommy's special place", states my son), a darling older man struck up a conversation with me.

      "I like that bandana."

      "You do?  Really?"

      "Yes.  It's unique.  I like it."  Pause.  "Whatcha' doing there?"

      I proceeded to share with him that I was writing my piece for Pittsburgh Mom.

      He shared with me that prior to retirement he had thoroughly loved his job as an accountant.  He had some advice for me.

      "Do what you love."

      "Sir, I'm trying. I'm sincerely trying."

      We bumped into each other again at Kolache yesterday, me donning yet another bandana, and he, playfully pointing it out to me.

      And then, today, at the seafood counter in Giant Eagle, there he was.

      "Bandana girl!"


      We laughed, shook hands and exchanged names.  His?  George.

      "Perhaps one day you'll actually get to see my hair done up all special."

      "I always see you in athletic-wear, do you work out?"

      "What? (the bandana) Oh, yes. I've not worked out yet today, but I will."

      We parted ways and met up AGAIN in the check-out.  Here, I learned more about him.  Married 50 years and celebrating with his family this weekend.  Greek descent.  Works out at the YMCA.

      "Listen, marriage is only good if both are working at it.  It's up.  It's down.  It takes sacrifice.  It's not always a piece of cake."

      I told him that we would be celebrating 20 years in September.

      "I wish you 30 more glorious years!"

      Just a "chance" meeting, over a worn piece of colorful fabric that I frequently strap to my  head.

      I'm sure I'll talk with George some more in the near future.  And maybe, for a laugh, I'll hand him a new bandana to give his wife, since he finds my look so fetching.


      Saturday, October 16, 2010

      Entering Running Hibernation Now

      It's time once again for this fair-weathered runner to hang up her old-school Saucony's until Spring.

      I know, for you die-hards, this is a bit early.  But, for me, it's just about the time every year that I run my big race, and then, sink into the chilly weather by refusing to run in cold temperatures.  Ok, maybe I'll do a 3 mile run here and there, but it won't be consistent, I will not be training for anything specific, and, well, I may not like it!

      Nope, time for me to return to my basement gym for another round of a terrific program called ChaLEAN Extreme - the program I credit for getting me back into shape this year.

      If you would like to read up about my recent half-marathon - my Personal Best half-marathon - you can skip over to Cuppa Fit to hear how it went today.  Which, in one word, was GREAT.  Although I use quite a bit more words in my post over there.

      Thanks for reading!

      Friday, October 15, 2010

      Mom Mumbles and Zane Can't Hear

      "Look babe.  There are some Amish boys fixing the roof of that house."


      "There.  Look up.  See them?  The Amish on the roof?"


      "Zane, seriously, how can you not see them?  They are all dressed alike down to the hats."

      "I see the boys in the hats. I don't see the fish on the roof."

      "No!  Not FISH.  Amish.  A-MISH.  There are AMISH on the roof."

      Either I need to enunciate or my kid needs his ears checked.

      Thursday, October 14, 2010

      Pittsburgh International Airport: WIN

      It's a 15 minute drive.

      Parking is cheap.

      It's beautiful inside.  Quiet.  Almost too quiet for an airport.

      Not once have I encountered THAT cop - come on Chicago, you know the kind.  Those at Midway and O'Hare who yell and scream at you to keep moving as you drive up to Arrivals to collect your peeps, thus forcing you to drive around again even if you spot your party at the exit door struggling with their luggage.

      No, this is the Pittsburgh International Airport.  Do you know it?

      The one, where a TSA official will walk your husband to a mailing kiosk to mail home the Leatherman tool that he told you, his wife, he had removed from his bag before heading to the airport.

      TSA:  "Sir, is this your bag?"

      Wife: "Geez, George, you just lost another Leatherman.  I'm not buying you another one."

      TSA:  "No way.  This is too nice to pitch.  Let's get this mailed home for you."

      Wife:  (Silence.  Jaw dropped.  I know, crazy, right?)

      The one, where that same TSA official will then escort your husband back through security past all the other people standing in line.

      It has the best customer service I've ever experienced in an airport.  Oh, yes it does.

      See, when you inadevertantly leave your dog-sitter with the key to the church, rather than your home, causing her to have to crawl in your back window, which, thankfully, hadn't been locked like every other window, you need someone like the American Airline attendant who sealed it in an envelope and ran it from the gate back down to the ticket counter for pick-up by a very good friend, who then delivered it to the dog sitter.

      Phew.  Catch that?

      Yes, while going through security, with a sharp object and a highly suspicious kid wearing a cast who had to be placed in the glass box until she could be cleared, the phone rang alerting us that we had locked our dog-sitter out of the house.

      As we  brainstormed fought about the situation (how could you give her the wrong key?), my husband came up with the brilliant idea of mailing the key back to the house.  Ok, but it was Saturday.  The key would arrive Monday - the day we got home.

      Until, brilliance.  George informed the attendant at the gate that this was an emergency, and that attendant took the key and personally delivered it to the ticket counter until it could be retrieved.

      I don't think that would happen at a larger airport.  Plus, I'd never ask a friend to just take a quick jaunt over to O'Hare to pick up a key - for such a thing doesn't exist.  That quick jaunt could take up to an hour - both ways - even though we live just about the same distance to PIT as we once did to ORD.

      Had we been at Midway?  Forget it.  The dog would survive from Saturday-Monday.  She's a dog.

      My carpet?

      Not so much.  Would have been a great excuse to finally rip it up and get that hard wood floor.

      Pittsburgh International Airport:  Epic WIN.


      For more Atkins Airport Fun, read this old post from 2008.

      Sunday, October 3, 2010

      Opportunities to Give

      A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about giving that came from an overflowing heart of thankfulness.

      It was a pretty organic post - meaning, God had tipped me off to something, and I was called to listen and act, rather than ponder.  He was clear on his desire for me.  So, in response, I did what I always do.

      I wrote about it.

      I won't rehash all I wrote.  You can read it here.

      Since that time, I have been playing around with a system to enable me to keep track of my goal of giving something away every day.

      As my goal didn't necessarily have to do with de-cluttering my house, as much as it had to do with my giving to others out of their need (both in terms of actual possessions, abilities, and time), I still needed to find a way to track myself, without being self-glorifying in the process by sharing details. 

      A friend turned me on to Don't Break the Chain.  A site offering a chart(s) for tracking daily progress on a particular goal(s).  Complete your goal for the day, check it off.  If the goal isn't completed for the day, don't check it off.  Simple.  To the point.  No detailing the who, what, when, where, why, or how's of the goal, but rather, just one question:  Did you get _________ done today?  This has worked great for me.

      I'm not going to be legalistic about this.  In fact, I've missed 4 days of giving over the last 15 days.  It's not like at the end of the day I will be knocking on my neighbor's door begging, "Please take this shirt.  I don't  care that it's not your style or size. I don't wear it any longer and you MUST LET ME GIVE IT TO YOU!"

      Instead, I've been asking God to open my eyes to need, and to respond.

      One of the ways He does this is through Freecycle.  Emails come to my box daily with needs that people have for this, that, and the other.  This morning before church, I checked my Freecycle emails to find a struggling family needing an appliance of which I have two.  We haven't been using one of them to capacity, and this family couldn't afford one, so, no brainer.  Off it's going.

      It's funny, and sad, that at times we view ministry as having to be some BIG THING, when there are "small" needs all around us.  Giving a meal, babysitting for a friend, passing on clothing and games, a drive home, a grocery run, and offering a big ticket appliance are just a few ways we can serve others.

      Ok, yeah, I've now revealed at least one item that I've been prompted to pass along this week . . . don't get used to it.

      Keep your eyes and ears open this week.  And when you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you to give, don't hesitate. 

      Warning:  it won't always be easy.  It won't always be convenient.  And, oops, yeah, it will call for a little sacrifice on your part.

      Join me?

      Jr. Philosopher

      Zane's thoughts on "nothing":

      "It is impossible to do nothing.  Even if you are sitting still in a chair, you are doing something."

      This is actually a rather deep thought.

      Is is really possible to do nothing? 

      You know, "What are you doing today?"


      "It's Sunday.  I'm looking forward to doing nothing today."

      Is that possible?

      Not according to my son.

      Chew on that while you do nothing today.  Doh!  That would mean you are doing something . . .

      Thursday, September 30, 2010

      God Goes Ahead

      I sit here writing on my daughter's Christmas present.  Her Christmas present for this year.

      Yes, I know it's September 30th.  Don't be cheeky.

      I have a laptop - one that I don't particularly like the kids using for it has all of my saved sites, files, financial, and personal information saved on it.  It's not that I wanted to hide anything from them, but rather, knowing that laptops can be temperamental, I wanted to protect the "brain". Our dino desktop is useless, and we needed something on which the kids could play games, and Harper could send emails.  Thus, we decided months ago that we would look for a netbook.

      When we learned that a friend of a friend was selling her used one ("used" meaning a whopping 6 times) we labored over whether to purchase it.  Through discussions with the seller I learned that the model was practically new and not used often mainly because the woman really had her heart set on Apple coming out with a netbook - and soon after purchasing what you see pictured, Apple did.  She closed up the Samsung, put it up for sale, and bought an iPad. 
      So, why have I already busted it out of its packaging?

      Because God in His infinite wisdom knew that the hard drive on my laptop would suddenly crash on Tuesday.  Having learned from past mistakes, I had recently done a backup on my external drive, and purchased and online backup program. So while the brain is inoperable, the data is safe and sound.

      However, here i was, with a Pittsburgh Mom post to write, Mary Kay inventory to purchase, and Beachbody clients to check in on - all via the internet.

      After dealing with Acer - who is sending me a new hard drive, and MGSoft-net, my favorite local computer place who will be installing the drive, I went to my closet, unpacked Harper's Christmas gift, set it up, and went on with my day.

      Had I not purchased it last week I'd currently be without a computer.

      Ah, perhaps there are some of you saying, "Maybe God wanted you to take a Sabbath from all things electronic."  I beg to differ.

      On Tuesday, the day of the crash, I was reminded of Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner turned missionary to China, who when confronted about not going out to the mission field sooner responded with, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."

      When I write I feel God's pleasure.

      I'll go as far as to state with confidence that I am sure God went before me, insuring that I would have a new computer in this house a week before mine would fall apart. He knew what I didn't. He always does.

      I'm not grabbing for straws here. He's done it for me before.

      I've always kept a planner.  God has designed me to be pretty well organized.  For as far back as I can remember, I've used a written calendar/planner of some form - before the days of the internet/laptops/google calender. Planners were my sole "brain" - quite like my laptop is now.  I'll never forget a particular day my senior year in college when I received a call from someone on the other side of campus sharing that they had my planner. What?

      "No.  You must be mistaken.  It's right here in my . . ."

      No, it wasn't.

      God had found my planner and returned it to me before I even knew it was missing.  By going before me, He had lovingly spared me from panic, worry, frustration, and anger.

      So today, as I type away on my daughter's Christmas present, I am reminded, yet again, that
      • God walks behind me, beside me, and, thankfully, ahead of me
      • He has taught me and used me through writing
      • I feel His pleasure as I type away 
      Oh yeah, and let's not forget, He loves me terribly.

      When do you feel God's pleasure?  While running?  Writing?  Folding laundry?  Cooking a meal for your family? 

      I find God's pleasure . . . here.

      Monday, September 27, 2010

      Take Me Out To the Ballgame, Buy Me Food, and Let's Go Home

      We were given two tickets to the Pirates game last Saturday.  As Harper is quite vocal about not loving the Pirates (honestly, I think she only cheers for winning teams), George decided to surprise Zane by taking him to his first professional baseball game.

      Now, one thing you should know about Zane:

      "I am not into sports."

      His words.

      So, knowing this, I wasn't sure how the outing would go.

      That evening, we simply told Zane to grab his jacket, because he and Daddy were headed out and the evening was a cool one.

      Harper and I stayed in Beaver, grabbed some sushi, a little gelato, and settled in at home to watch "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (thumbs down from her - said the books were better - be still my heart), and a few episodes of the Gilmore Girls (don't freak out - I'll explain this in a later post).

      The game started at 7:05 and as baseball games can go on for a ridiculously long time, I didn't think Zane would last the entire game.

      I was right.  They returned home at 9:45.  Zane lasted four innings and was out cold.

      The next morning, I was anxious to get the report.

      With blue stained lips he enthusiastically described the evening to me.

      "We went to a Pirates game!  I got a hot dog, a BIG pretzel, Sprite, and cotton candy!"

      "How was the game?"

      "I don't know.  I got a blue slushie, too!  I still don't like playing sports, but I like watching them."

      Unless you count eating as a sport.

      If you do, then Z is MVP.

      Thursday, September 16, 2010

      Give Thanks. Give.

      Over 18 years ago I attempted to make a Thankfulness Scrapbook: a small book of photos, magazine pictures, captions, and drawings to serve as a visual reminder of God's faithfulness to us.

      At that time, George and I were newly married, and in the Seminary years of our lives. I remember that season as one where we received a bounty of unexpected blessings. God, through the hands of people, provided for us in incredibly unique ways.

      One of my fondest blessings was learning that God could choreograph musical theater.  Ask me about that one.

      The journal, however, was never completed.

      I simply couldn't keep up with documenting the downpour of giving poured out upon us. The gifts and blessings were not unlike a never-ending rain shower.  They came too many and too quickly for me to keep up with sharing them through a craft project.

      There have been other times when I've attempted to keep a log of God's blessings towards us.  During our move, for example, friends in both states provided for us in ways we never imagined possible.  While I always planned on writing an incredibly eloquent Thank You Letter to each person, I just never got around to it.  I had intended to make special cards, which turned into a New Year's Thank You, which then morphed into a Love Letter of Thanks as February rolled around, and then, finally, out of sheer exhaustion and guilt . . . I sent an email.

      It's not that I don't want to thank people.  Truly I prefer to do so in person, rather than through a note (Emily Post is cringing), but I realize that many enjoy receiving a note of thanks.  Sorry for letting you down.

      I just can't keep up.

      It's actually a great problem to have.

      Cash, TV's, furniture, two grills, food, clothing, pens (seriously, it's the little things), coffee, a laptop, the use of a car for almost an entire year, gift cards for meals, blankets, coupons, washing machine and dryer time (when ours were being repaired), books, appliances, toys for the kids, lodging, plates, crates of organic produce, spa treatments, a coffee tab at the local joint 'cause I forgot my wallet.


      It's almost as if God is saying "Jo, really.  Don't try and keep up with me 'cause I'll smoke you every time."

      But, Lord, I do want to keep up with you, and until yesterday, I didn't realize that there was a way to do so that didn't involve cropping pictures, gluing captions, or, frankly, any type of craft project.  It would still involve tracking, which I love . . . and, respectfully, kind Father, you made me a list-maker, so I kinda, sorta, feel compelled to to track my progress with what I'm about to attempt.

      My 2x4 moment of the week?

      Rather that attempting to make note of every blessing God showers down our way, I will, in response to those blessings, make a conscious choice to give something of mine away to someone else, 
      whether that be a tangible item, or a service or some kind, 
      (as long as it involves having to stretch myself) every day.

      Yes, I said, EVERY DAY.

      I have much.  Rather than keeping a coffee table reminder book of all the jazz God has chosen to hand our family, (I think the Bible covers that) how about I simply respond by actually giving to those who have need, from what I have so generously been given.

      It's not profound.

      More like, "duh."

      While I had planned on starting this on January 1, God nudged me about this today, while investing my time watching my neighbor's son.  What did he tell me?  There's is no better time like the present.

      I've not yet worked out all the details of how I will make this conviction a reality, but I do know that I won't be writing about all the goods and services I'll be giving away, for then, whose horn am I tooting?

      This has to be a God-thang.  Not, a Joline-thang.

      So for the record, no need to send a thank-you note.  Just turn around and do the same for someone else.

      Details forthcoming if you would like to join me.

      Anyone interested?

      Saturday, September 11, 2010

      Old Home Week


      That is all I heard from Harper upon driving away from her former elementary school during a weekend trip to Evanston.  A glance in the rear view mirror revealed Harper fighting to keep the tears from exploding.

      "How do you feel?"

      "I miss my friends."

      We had just experienced the most beautiful, "could only have been orchestrated and crafted by God" moment at Lincolnwood school where we had made an appointment to spend some quality time with the BEST first grade teacher ever in the history all of first grade teachers in the world.  No, this is not hyperbole.  Please.  Until you get yourself some Ms. Beckstedt, you have NO IDEA of the truth I speak.

      After chatting away with Ms. B, we stepped outside and received a gracious gift from above.  ALL of Harper's old buddies were on the playground.

      Ok, if the statement about Ms. Beckstedt was hyperbole, THIS isn't.

      Amidst screams of "HARPER!!!!!" and "You're back!!!!!" were hugs and laughter. Harper held court  for 45 glorious minutes.

      We took ample photos.  I witnessed many sprints across the playground as Harper spotted and ran to hug one friend after another.

      My heart was full.  And heavy.  For I knew we'd have to leave shortly.

      As we drove off, the car became silent.

      Thankfully, we were on route to Izzy's house (a stellar piece of planning on my part).  Izzy and Harper are approaching 10 years of friendship. Yes, those friends at school who lavished so much love on my girl are special and unique and will always hold a place in Harper's heart and memory, but how do you describe the beauty of HISTORY to a 9 year old?  For this gig with Izzy?  It's the real long-term deal.

      I felt the same sentiments upon visiting our old condo building late one night during our trip (thank you Bernstein's for the midnight playdate).  For this was where our family began.  This was where Harper and her friend Alli (only three weeks apart) grew both in and out of the womb. Running up those stairs to visit with Alli and her parents was completely like "old home" week.  HISTORY.

      How do you explain to a 9 year old, who as my friend Judie put it, "lives for each moment", that the lasting friendships, those that matter, will always be there? The Izzy's.  The Alli's.  Couple that with the fact that George and I actually have a relationship with both girl's parents spanning back 10 years, and, well seriously?  These peeps are solids.

      Unfortunately, I think it took me 40 years to "get" friendship.  And as I chatted with girlfriend after girlfriend during our visit, I was warmed inside.  No, we don't live in Evanston any longer, but not once did my conversations with old friends seem choppy, uncomfortable, or stilted.   I came home to Beaver knowing that my friendships, the HISTORICAL ones still had depth.  What are miles?

      I made a commitment to Harper to let her email friends once a day AFTER all other homework and chores have been completed.  I also challenged her to use the phone more often (she can't stand it).  I must remain committed to assisting her in keeping these friendship alive - just as I have worked so very hard to do for myself.  For me, Facebook, texting, this blog - they are connections to the people I love.

      As we pulled into Beaver, I wondered what type of reaction Harper would have.

      "We're home!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

      No tears.

      It was a defining moment.  For I now know, without a doubt, that she feels planted here.  And while there are roots in Evanston that will forever connect her to Chicagoland, she does indeed feel at home.


      Karate Has Been Chopped

      Since this writing, the owner of Steel Dragons has indeed called back and we are working together to see if we can't re-ignite Zane's interest in karate.

      "Zane, I called Steel Dragons and told them you are taking a break from karate."

      Without missing a beat, he answers,

      "Oh, I'm not taking a break.  I quit."


      Prior to beginning our first karate class, I had a fantastic phone conversation with one of the owners of the studio I chose for Zane.  I spoke openly with her about the social anxiety that both my children have experienced when placed in new situations with children they do not know. 

      People, it's real.  This is not a made-up struggle that I have concocted in my head.  Sure, I can be dramatic, but social anxiety truly exists, and both my kids have been working hard over the years to whoop its a^%.

      I had high hopes that Zane would take to karate and that it would assist in building his confidence.

      I have already recounted his first class and his rocky second class.  From that second class, Zane's interest began to wane.  He liked the punching and kicking, and did indeed want that uniform, which he earned after passing a skills test at his 5th class, but he was never quite able to conquer his fear of there being children in the class that he didn't know.  And ultimately, that was what fueled his quitting.

      We are fine with his decision, for he is doing wonderfully in Kindergarten and couldn't be happier.

      What saddens me is that I have not heard from the studio.

      At all.

      I have left two messages - one after missing a class and also realizing that his uniform was too big and we'd need  to swap it out.  See, glitches like a wrong size only add to Zane's anxiety, and thus, I called to ask if they could have a new one ready for him. The first one was also missing its white belt - glitch #2.  In my message I shared that he was acting "iffy" about returning.  Sure enough, at that next class, they couldn't coax him onto the floor, although they did a beautiful job trying.  Zane and George left the studio before class had even ended, leaving the uniform there.

      To their credit, throughout the 5 classes that Zane took, the instructors made several attempts to help him through his fear.

      And yet, after leaving that last class before it had even finished, and leaving a second message informing the studio that we wouldn't be back, I've yet to get a response.

      This is where it gets hard for those of us with kids who are reticent to jump aboard the participation boat as easily as other kids do.  We need that instructor to partner with us, which is why I interviewed a few different studios before picking Steel Dragons.  My conversation with the instructor prior to Day One couldn't have gone better, and my decision was affirmed as I watched her execute the classes.

      There are many people who truly shouldn't work with children.

      These guys, however, are fantastic and they did everything they could to try and get Zane acclimated.

      Which is why I'm a bit shocked they haven't returned my messages or called to check in.

      Listen, I realize the world doesn't revolve around my kid.  And had I not shared our background, or witnessed how much effort they put in to helping Zane this summer, I wouldn't give it another thought.

      It's the inner-teacher and customer-service lunatic within me that drives this post.

      And the fact that I'm a Mommy who desperately loves her kids.

      Moving on.

      Friday, September 3, 2010

      Kindred Shopper

      I have this friend.

      A friend who is a recent Beaver transplant from Vermont.

      She gets me when it comes to my issues with food ignorance.

      Don't misunderstand the word ignorance.  I am NOT calling folks "stupid".  I am merely stating that many are uninformed about healthy ingredients when it comes to making personal food choices and feeding our families (especially our children).

      One can not ignore (or should not ignore) the obesity rate in the United States.  According to the CDC, the obesity rate in Pennsylvania in 2009 was 27.4 %.  New research shows that 1 in 3 children are either overweight or obese.

      Clearly, this is an issue in our country.

      And this is where the word ignorance plays in.  For if you don't believe that obesity rates are a concern or important, then I would respectfully state that you are uninformed on the issue.

      I rant about food.  A lot.

      Chemicals.  Dyes.  High fructose corn syrup.  Artificial Sweeteners.  Growth hormones.  Antibiotics. Genetically modified junk.

      I hem and haw and sometimes irritate peeps with my opinions.

      But, not my friend from Vermont.  She understands.

      Which is why we took all day yesterday to hike it "dahntahn" to visit Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.  Back "home" both of us had these stores readily available.  Here in Beaver?  No.  And while Giant Eagle does offer a small natural/organic area, the prices are ridiculous.  Down at TJ's and WFs we were able to get the items we wanted (can you say bag of organic pears for $2.99) for a fraction of the prices at GE.

      Clean eating doesn't seem to be a priority here.  I'm not sure if this is just a choice, or, as I mentioned above, due to lack of information on the subject.

      So it was nice, to shop with a friend who got excited when I marched into Whole Paycheck  Whole Foods with $75 of gift cards (a prize from my Beachbody business) with the intention of buying packs of free-range chicken to stock my basement freezer.  And a few other items.  Brown rice syrup anyone?  Yeah, that's how I rock the rice crispy treats.

      Sure, we had to drive into Pittsburgh, and thus, won't be making it a weekly habit, but it was fun.  To talk keifer and organic tofu (for only $1.49), while chatting about the "dirty dozen", made for a great day.  (Even if we totally struggled to find our way out of this crazy, loopy, non-grid city.  Even my GPS was confused.)

      If you would like to further your education about the foods we eat, and specifically the ingredient list on some of the products you may find in your pantry, try Fooducate.  It's a great blog, easily digestible, (sometimes food-talk can get haughty - not this blog), and the posts aren't long and drawn out.  I've learned a ton.

      But, with all my learnin', I still forgot to pick up organic kale.