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.


And Then He Kissed Me

Yep.  That was me.  Outside the elementary school dropping off my boy.

The one who was soooo jonesin' for a good-bye kiss.

But, nooooo, that was not to be.  At least not if Zane had to show affection towards me in front of any other students or teachers.

See, a few weeks ago, we reached this season of his life.  A little early in my opinion.

So the past week has been a bit tough on me, not getting that good-bye hug or kiss that I have been aching for from my newly crowned Kindergartener.

But, then, I had a brilliant idea.

"Zane, come here!"

I slipped behind a brick wall that would conceal us from the others.

And there, my BIG Kindergartener gave me a good-bye hug and kiss.

Don't tell anyone, but, Zane Atkins kissed me behind the brick wall at school!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mom Seeking Hug. Zane, Please Apply.


Day Two.

"Wait," you say, "What about Day One?"

You can read a bit about that over at Pittsburgh Mom.

Yes, I have a lot more to say on the subject.  But, for now, let me leave you with this tasty morsel of deliciousness.

I mentioned to Zane that I haven't had the opportunity to hug him prior to his running into school over the past two days.  The first day, he was way too nervous to have Mom touch him.  Today, there was some discussion about whether he wanted to stay for lunch and I had to give him a slight, well, shove, up the stairs.

(Not to worry - he is LOVING Kindergarten.  Comes home yapping up a storm everyday, and tells us his teacher is "awesome".)

So after sharing about those missing hugs, my little Romeo response with,

"Oh, Mommy!  Let's fix that RIGHT NOW!"

And we did.