You Got This!

I had just finished the first leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon, running 5.3 miles at a pace generally faster than usual for me. This was a combination of a running partner who was clearly in better shape than I (since she could keep talking while running – ahhh!) and because we were having such an impassioned conversation that adrenaline was definitely flowing.

After giving sweaty hugs to the friend who took up the next leg of the relay and to my running buddy, I headed over to the river to soak in the majestic views offered by the city despite a gray and foggy sky. Along the way, I politely offered to push buttons on cell phones to convert people’s “selfies” into “real” photos as I feel it gives a much better perspective (I’m a bit snobbish that way!).

Eventually I approached the statue of Fred Rogers, I noticed a man in an animated face-time phone conversation who was showing his listener the views of the river and pointing out that you could see the runners on the other side. Having politely asked the mother of a two-year-old little boy (who was definitely “not” going to get close to Fred!) to take my picture beside him, I wandered back to the race course. There was the runner who had ended his conversation. We remarked politely as to how the weather had cooperated and the rain had ended. We wondered how we’d “politely” cross the course to get to where we had parked. And then we began talking about the charities that we had run for to raise funds. I explained the work of Haiti H2O and he listened intently. He explained that he had been a marathon runner and had survived a heart attack a few years ago. He was back to running and was clearly passionate about raising awareness of heart disease and helping others.

As we meandered across the road and then along the race course in the opposite direction, B started to cheer on the runners. I added some feeble-sounding encouragements as well, but his voice boomed. “You got this,” he exclaimed over and over again. He lifted his extra-large right hand enveloped in a neon green glove and started to give each runner a high-five. I often thought, “that person won’t move over for a high-five,” but they sure did.

We were along the course around mile 4.5 where those at the end of the long line of participants were making slow progress in running, jogging or walking the race. Some looked exhausted already. Some looked like they were determined to keep going. Some looked like they wondered why they were doing this in the first place. Some looked ready to quit. But each time B yelled out “You got this!” and gave them a high-five, their faces transformed into beautiful smiles and a spark shone from their eyes. Every one. Old. Young. Black. White. In shape or out of shape. They all responded to B.

“Look how they are lighting up and smiling,” I remarked as we continued along. “Yes,” he paused. “My kids often say ‘Cool it, Pop’ but to me, every moment is worth living.”

Every moment is worth living.

Every moment is worth giving another encouragement. Giving another a smile. Giving another just a little more power, a little more strength, a little more determination to continue on. Whether others are running a mile or a marathon or whether they are walking or running through this journey of life, may we all continue to share a smile, give a high-five, and boom out loud – “You got this!

Photo credit: Daniel Heckert; Story credit: Betsy Ann

 

The Giving Tree on Our Mantle

Mr. Ornery is impossible to take into a store. It’s a guaranteed extra $50-75 any time we check-out. He always “needs” something — whether it’s a specific food item or the “need” to spend his allowance. It is always something.

And I try to remind myself that this is part of growing up and that if I continue to persist, hopefully we’ll make it to the point where his “giving” nature is a bit greater than his “accumulating” nature. But if you take a look at his current Nerf gun collection and Legos you know that we have a long way to go.

There are glimpses of hope, however. He does like to give gifts to friends. At Christmas time he really wanted to buy some toy skateboards to give to his friends with whom he plays a recess. Apparently a few of them bring in these mini skateboards and try to make them do flips and tricks using their fingers. He is also quite generous with gifts for his teachers and will “gift” things around the house to his brothers, like putting together a snack for them or wrapping up a toy and giving it to them.

A couple weeks ago, my sister took my younger two and her 8-year-old to see TobyMac (Christian Hip-Hop performer) in concert. That was a tremendous gift to me to have hours of time free to have dinner with a friend. Part way through the concert, Mr. Ornery called my cell phone and asked permission to buy ball caps. About an hour later, my sister texted, “Mr. Ornery got you a sponsor child. I can give it back. LOL”  “No, keep it,” I replied. The fact that Mr. Ornery thought about sponsoring a child warmed my heart. He was so excited about the packet when he brought it home. “Look, Mom, a girl name Yvonne. It says she lives in Rwanda. Can we send her $50 a month?” “Yes.” “Great, can we send her $80 a month?”…

I’ve been reflecting a bit that I grew up in a “giving” household. My parents were missionaries in Thailand while I was a young girl. I watched them every day give of their time and of their money and of their material things. I learned from my family, from my church, and from my friends to be a “giving” person. I began to wonder how much my boys see of that “giving” nature in me. I’ve done quite a bit of donating time in starting up a nonprofit crisis nursery and I try to point out to the boys that I’m “giving” my time now in meetings to help keep it running smoothly. And they see me giving to the offering plate at church and to the people along the side of the road when we’re downtown.

But they don’t often see the “giving” in terms of sharing with others via monthly monetary support. So I decided that our house needed a “Giving Tree” where we can share and celebrate the opportunity to be able to give to others.

On our tree, we have the sponsored girls giving treefrom Guatemala and now from Rwanda (through Food for the Hungry). We have a picture of our church and will add a picture of a dear friend who works in campus ministry. We also need a picture of me running the marathon relay as a way to raise money for work in Haiti through Haiti H2O. And I’ll grab a photo of the boys when they share Easter eggs with residents of a nearby nursing home next week.

My hope is that this becomes a dynamic, changing and ever-growing tree. My hope is that the boys develop an ever-growing awareness of the blessings in their lives and the call upon all of us to give and share with those who have less than us.

My hope is that I can keep looking for those tiny glimpses of the boys’ giving nature and help that blossom further, deeper and more beautifully.

Tumbling Down the Black Hole

“Happy Home-versary”

It’s been three months since we bought a house and one of the experiences in moving to a new house and a new neighborhood is getting the lay of the land of the neighbors. It’s a bit of a challenge in the winter when most people stay inside and pop in and out of their houses via cars in garages. But every once in awhile we would get a 50-degree day and I would have a slightly longer walk with the dog that gave an opportunity to meet some neighbors. They have all been delightful (except the ones in the houses behind our steep sloping back yard. Apparently, they are not interested in boys on sleds careening past their trees….). I have been deligently trying to take notes in my “house” notebook of who lives where so I can remember names and some details (because….you know, I’m older now 😊).

It has also taken some time to discover where other kids live. We came from a townhome community filled with kids who were outside no matter what the weather in a little “gang of boys”!  When we moved, we knew our friends at the entrance to the neighborhood and we knew of a few more kids by name, but it has been a slow adventure of learning who lives nearby. Just two weeks ago we met a 7th grader who has excitedly been over five times now to play Nerf guns with Mr. Ornery.

For a few days, the 7th grader has been on our lawn waiting for the boys to come home from school. I told him that the younger set had not gotten off the bus yet, but would be doing so on the same bus as his sister. As we sat down to dinner, there he was ringing the doorbell. I said to Mr. Ornery as he jumped up from the table, “Tell him we’re eating and you will play in a little bit.”

The Little Guy ran back from the front door yelling, “Mr. Ornery gave that boy our garage door combination!!”  I know what he was thinking. The boy could open the garage and grab some Nerf guns to play while he waited for us to finish dinner. What I was thinking though was – you just gave someone we barely know the key to our house!!!

That would be one issue to deal with, but the guilty look on Mr. Ornery’s face as he returned to the table and started desperately covering himself was the bigger issue.

“I totally did not give him the combination.”

“Wait, let me go check and see if the garage door is open.”

“I didn’t say that to him.”

“So, tell me….which one of you boys is lying to me?” knowing full well what was going down. But really, I was just stalling for time….until….you got it, there goes the garage door. The neighbor had made it around to the back of the house. Busted!

Thus ensued the long and passionate one-sided conversation that often spews from a parent’s mouth about the young’un’s clear lapse in judgment, the violation of trust, the breach of safety, the shock that the kid could possibly lie to his own dear mother.

The Little Guy and my nephew sat quietly through the tirade. Mr. Ornery knew he was trapped. I got up from the table and sent the neighbor boy home with deep apologies for “having a hard time with my boy.” And then I continued the oft-repeated soliloquy of not sharing family passcodes or secrets and the consequences of not obeying one’s mother and of toppling down the black hole of lies.

I haven’t figured out the magic of getting the boys to tell the truth. It’s clear that along with moving into a house that has a great deal of space to spread out, we also managed to purchase a house that came with it’s own House Elf. If I’m ever crazy enough to ask “Who did….?”, I already know it was the House Elf.  He’s the one that put a hole in the wall. He’s the one that leaves the door from the basement to the garage open ALL the time (in the winter!!).  He’s most likely the one that scratch the newly polished hard wood floors. He usually throws his candy wrappers over the back of the couch (where the blind lays that he broke). And he’s almost always the one that leaves Nerf darts littered all over the neighbor’s yard.  He’s a bit of a problem. 

I’m going to have to catch that Elf.

But first I need to go change the code to the garage….

And remind Mr. Ornery that black holes have pretty serious consequences!

 

Time to be Less busy and Restart the “Welcome Wagon”

K gave me a tight hug as her eyes teared up. “I didn’t know people did this anymore,” she spoke as I handed her a slightly still-warm pan of chicken broccoli casserole. The recipe was hastily written on the top along with my name and phone number and the names and ages of the boys. “I forgot to include the dog,” I said with a smile.

I had noticed the moving truck when I got home from work earlier that day. Scanning my cupboards and fridge, the only meal I could think of putting together was this comfort-food casserole, though it had sadly been so long since I had last made it, that the recipe had faded from my brain. But I had just been in her situation three weeks ago. My mind was stretched beyond belief trying to make sure I had moved over the Christmas presents and knew where they were. Making sure I had the tree up and slightly decorated again. Making sure everyone had at least a couple outfits to wear. Making sure the boys had “nice” clothes to wear at Christmas Eve service when the two youngest were doing the reading from the book of Luke. Helping my sister tear up carpet, sweep and mop sanded floors, clean up a house while still packing up the last one before the truck came. A week in, all I wanted was a home-cooked meal. I was tired of delivered pizza and Chinese take-out. I had shared cookies from our Cookie Day baking with the neighbors on either side and across from me whom I had met. But I just wanted “real” food.

And so that it what I wanted to take to the new neighbors. I also really wanted to have some great little gifts like my sister and friends brought me on my first day of moving – bottles of hand soap and hand towels for the bathroom, sponges, and Chlorox wipes. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if I had some of those around that weren’t used yet (from all my cleaning the past couple weeks) and I could make up a little basket or bag to take along with a meal to the new neighbor? Wouldn’t it have been nice, I thought when I got home, if I had remembered to take a bottle of wine over with the meal, as her words continued to dance through my head: “Thank you so much. It’s been a really trying day.”

I know, I thought. I know. It’s not just the physical exhaustion but the mental toll that hits you in those days of moving. It’s one of the top stressors of life, even if it is a really positive thing in the end.

The next day, one of my neighbors brownies neighbor2whom I hadn’t met yet from across the street stopped over with a plate of warm brownies. Like the neighbor next door, when she returned my cookie plate, she had written her name and number on a piece of paper which I have tucked into my “new house” notebook. It was wonderful to be genuinely welcomed and to be told, “Call me anytime if you need anything.” Certainly so many of the neighbors have called out, “Welcome to the neighborhood” and told me about all the things they love about the neighborhood. And so far, the three neighbors who are clearly retired and whose houses surround mine have all said, “It’s so nice to hear kids playing outside again.” (Meanwhile, I say to myself – oh, just you wait for the weather to break. Let’s see how long that “noise” is “nice”!)

The reason I felt pulled to this neighborhood was that a friend of my middle son lived near the entrance to the “no outlet” essentially-two-street community. My friendship with his parents was growing and I just knew it could be a beautiful opportunity to live nearby. I know it’s hard to move right at Christmas time and in the middle of winter because most of the neighborhood tucks in and stays inside as the snow flies. But I’m looking forward to meeting the neighbors as the days lengthen and warm up (and maybe winning over the guy who lives behind the house and apparently is VERY protective of his pine trees from the evils of boys’ snow sleds….). I’m looking forward to putting some furniture on the front porch and planting myself there as much as possible to say hi to Pippin and Fergie and Gunnar and Millie and any other dog who pulls their owner past the house. (I might also be doing some glaring at those who want to speed just a little up the hill because they will likely encounter scooters, and fat boy bikes, and ramps, and hoverboards, and Nerf guns and kids all over the road!)

And, I’m particularly looking forward to making up a couple little gift baskets of cleaning supplies and wine and throwing together a little meal for the next people who move into the neighborhood – because it’s time to bring back the Welcome Wagon. Just tell me where the moving truck is. I think I got this now.

When Newness brings Peace

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding….” (Phil 4:7)

There certainly was very little Peace and Quiet over this Christmas break despite the typical expectation of such. This year we moved to a house after living in a cramped, tiny townhome for the past 3 years. The older two had their own bedrooms, but the youngest slept in my bedroom. The TV was on one side of the “living” room space and the couch on the opposite side so the great joy in annoying the eldest was to cross in front of the TV multiple times…or just pretend to forget and stand there. The kitchen was tiny and I couldn’t stand to have a kid in there with me whenever I tried to cook anything on the non-existent counter-space. There was no garage, no basement, no storage area.

But there was an outside. There was an open green space with playground equipment that hardly anyone used if they were over five. And there was a glorious double-bump hillside that made perfect sledding conditions (perfect because the boys could thump over in their boots and I could stay in my warm abode!). And there were kids. Kids who also liked to play outside. Kids who knocked on the door at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Kids who knocked at 8:00 pm on a school night. Kids that thrived on my boys’ energy and creativity. Kids who were great friends.

So the Saturday before Christmas, I moved over as many boxes as I could pack in the car with supplies to host our first “Cookie Day.” Many friends came out and we baked for hours (despite a nasty cold), creating 56 dozen cookies as the one oven browned sheet after sheet of dough. Sunday and Monday we packed and carted boxes. We cleaned some parts of the new house and some of the old. My sister tore up carpet and sanded two hardwood floors. And Christmas day after the excitement of gifts and a quick meal, we put polyurethane on the floors and opened all the windows. And when the moving trucks pulled out, my wonderful brother drove in from Ohio with two of his older daughters to finish up moving all the odds and ends.

It’s been anything but restful. Anything but quiet. But there has been a remarkable peace that has descended on the family. Christmas Eve I sent the boys down to the basement (“game room,” “man cave,” “den”…we haven’t settled on a name yet!) and I set up their rooms with beds and new blankets and put some select pieces of their school artwork (which I just framed the week before Christmas) on the floor as I didn’t have the tools or the energy to work on hanging them. I had name signs for each room. And The Little Guy jump around in his room with such joy and excitement to have his own space for the first time in his life.

Space. There’s now space for the boys to get away from each other to rest. There’s space in the kitchen (bless my mom and a couple great friends who helped clean and set it up) for me to experience joy and peace in preparing meals for the boys (I got tired of pizza and take-out pretty quickly!). There’s space to put the new hoverboards and electric scooters in the shed and the hand-me-down dirt bike that Mr. Ornery managed to fiddle with enough to get it working. There’s space to breathe and breathing feels very good.

And after three years, there’s a sense of settling and permanency. My brain is no longer searching and searching for the right house, the right location, the right school. It’s not perfect. I really intended to get a MUCH bigger yard for the boys, but it’s got great indoor space and a quiet flat road in front for their craziness.

I am so grateful for everyone who helped physically and emotionally with encouraging texts and messages and Facebook comments. There’s still much to do. I haven’t finished cleaning up the new place yet and there’s boxes upon boxes in “storage” at my sister’s and parents’ houses that need to move over.  But, a longtime friend said to me recently, “It’s so great to see how much you are enjoying that beautiful new home of yours.” And he’s right.

I’ve actually caught Super Tall Guy with smiles on his face!

Managing This “Season’s” Stress

The theme of this month seems to be figuring out how much stress my brain can manage before it entirely implodes.

I think I’m pretty close to that, although I seem to just yell a bit more at the boys and that releases some from the pop-off valve.

Given that it’s mid-December, there’s a great deal of excitement about the upcoming favorite day of the year. There’s been quite a bit of excitement about the daily Elf and his location search (for the younger two) and about the daily “Advent Bags” (which were lovingly packed by their grandmother) that reveal goodies. And there’s a great deal of excitement about moving to a new house. For the boys, these past few weeks have been filled with constant expectation and a lot of joy. (Not complete joy because their mother hasn’t been giving in to their every whim and desire for “stuff, but there’s been plenty of joy!) 

But for their mother, it’s been an endless stream of things to do and things forgotten. For one, until you go through the process, it’s pretty hard to understand the emotional energy and time required in purchasing a house. Inspection. Negotiations. Research on radon abatement (including an hour on the phone with a talkative radon guy when I essentially had just one question – will you get it down below the acceptable safe limit of 4!).  Finding, printing, signing, scanning, emailing financial papers after financial papers to the mortgage lender.

And then there’s the packing; that is, after finding a moving company. The man who came in to provide an estimate might have casually mentioned, “Looks like you need to start packing….” I took his advice and increased from my two-boxes-a-night pace to spending almost this entire weekend packing up the boys’ rooms, the kitchen, the storage area which hasn’t been touched in three years (hello, daddy long-legs!).

And….two boys have succumbed to upper respiratory infections (the fancy name for a cold) and the middle one has succumbed to pre-teen obnoxiousness (the fancy name for being a brat).

If this was the only stress for December, it might be tolerable. But interestingly, there’s also the impending expiration of the 5-year cycle of my “Maintenance of Certification” for my pediatric boards. So I’ve spend 15-20 hours in the evenings working on those requirements. Strangely, my Pennsylvania medical license is also due for renewal by the end of the month so that requires some additional “continuing medical education” credit hours. And then there’s the email from the hospital where I am credentialed that my TDaP vaccine needs to be updated by the end of the month; so now my arm is sore from squeezing that appointment in!  Oh….and  also the oil change because I’ve had the new car for three months now, so I had to pop in and get that done on the way home from work one day.

To top it off, it’s also The Little Guy’s first year in competitive gymnastics and he had his first competition at the beginning of the month. Fortunately it was in town and we didn’t have to travel, but his joy in winning first place for his age group in the Rings event made me realize I better get prepared for his next competition in January. It took awhile to book a hotel room at Splash Lagoon (a water park close to the competition site), but the boys are thrilled.

It’s gotten to the point of being humorous (almost). It’s definitely to the point where I am conscientiously spending my days telling myself to unclench my jaw and relax my shoulders. I’m reminding myself that this is a season of craziness and it will pass.  I’m reminding myself that we don’t have to do everything we usually do this time of year (I say as I compose this from the hard wooden bench at the ice-skating rink…since the boys “had” to get out of the house). I remind myself that things don’t have to be perfect; the boys will have fun no matter what I do, despite my personal pressure to make this move and this Christmas “special.” And I remind myself to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep (at least every third night….as there’s clearly some viruses around to fight off and supposedly good sleep makes moms less grouchy!).

And tonight I have a sneaky suspicion that my neighbor is right….Mr. Ornery has his first band concert tomorrow night. I’ll need to find some dress clothes for him. I don’t think I’ve packed those yet…..

Sigh, so when you see me and you think – “wow, your hair sure has gone gray” – I’m still blaming it on the boys and this time I’ll blame it on not having enough time to keep up with the dyeing!

Countdown to Christmas – yes, this Advent, I am grateful for the greatest gift two thousand-some years ago and the many blessings and gifts bestowed daily this month!

(Ahem…well, I’m off to make my list of things still needed for Cookie Day at the new house. It’s going to be a blast. I hope!)

 

 

Ready for Cookie Day

 I’m not sure how exactly it got started, but in the early 90s, my best friend K and I were new graduates of Edinboro University. We had formed such a strong friendship over the course of schooling and found ourselves suddenly separated by 100 miles. I’m pretty sure it was her idea to invite me up to her mother’s kitchen that first December, and there her best friend from high school, she and I stood in red aprons soon covered with flour dust, rolling out sugar cookies and cooling sheets and sheets of cookies on the dining room table.

Every year I went back and every year the tradition grew. From her mother’s kitchen to her first kitchen after marriage. From a trio of friends to an open invitation for all friends and relatives who wanted to join us. One year her traditional red apron was imprinted with a recipe that included the phrase “bake for 9 months.” We hugged. The following December, a little 7-month-old joined our Annual Cookie Day! Soon, I was transporting my own seven-month-old son to his first Cookie Day weekend. 

On a specific Saturday in December, my friend would spread out folding tables and lay out eggs and butter, flour and sugar, cookie sheets and cooling racks. She would set up her Kitchen-Aid mixer, bring over her mother’s and I would bring mine with me. Flour dust would fill the air. Egg shells would fill the paper bags set under the tables for trash. Sprinkles would fill the cracks in the hard-wood floors. And endless chatter and laughter would fill the night. We’d bake and eat until our feet couldn’t keep us going anymore.

The kids would build snow forts, sled down her hill or engage in “epic” Nerf gun battles. When their fingers and noses were too cold, they’d settle down in front of the TV for the classic “Grinch who Stole Christmas” or “Polar Express” showing. We’d order pizza or K would cook up pasta with her homemade sauce and there’d be a break in the baking to have a meal.

My friend’s job was to manage the chaos. Find the almond extract. Refill the pretzel bowl. Welcome in the next guest. She has an amazing gift of hospitality! Each guest would pick a recipe and get started on making the dough and loading the cookie sheets. My job was the baking. K’s husband would bring in an extra oven and I would have 2 or 3 different (one year four) ovens going at the same time. Each oven had its own timer and my classic mantra was “Not really caring what directions you give me – it’s going to bake at 350 degrees until done!”

My most important job, however, was Undisputed, Don’t-Mess-With-Me Cookie Counter. All participants in this most precious of baking days were under one rule – Thou shalt not taste or eat a cookie until it has been counted by the master cookie counter! (Me!). I counted each and every cookie as it came off the cookie sheet onto the cooling rack. I recorded the type of cookie and tallied the totals as they cooled. At the end of the night, whenever we were ready to collapse, I added up all the batches of cookies and proclaimed loudly the total cookie count and the equivalent number of dozens!

My cookie count was so sacred, that one year, K’s husband doubted that we could have made over two hundred “Russian Tea Cake” cookies. He methodically recounted each and every powdery one of them. His number matched my original count exactly – and he never doubted me again (sort of). From then on, no one was to question the count!

The other golden rule was to double all recipes (except the Nieman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe since we learned the hard way one year that it was already essentially a double recipe) and to form the cookie balls on the smaller size. After all, it was all about the count and the smaller the cookie, the more individual cookies there were.

Actually, it was all about the fun and the joy of giving as each guest wrapped up boxes and boxes of beautiful cookies at the end of the night to share with family and friends and co-workers. There were so many memories wrapped up in those twenty-plus years of cookie making, that it was hard for me, yet completely understandable, when my friend announced she couldn’t keep up the tradition. So for the past three years, we’ve had much smaller versions of “Cookie Day” at a friend’s and at my sister’s house (as my townhome is way too small to welcome in guests). Having the event locally has drawn a different group of friends and my boys have adjusted. The rules have stayed the same, but the grand size of the day hasn’t been recreated yet.

As I contemplate the season of Advent and the preparation for Christmas, “Cookie Day” remains one of my great loves and one of my boys’ favorite days of the year. So in the spirit of thriving on chaos, I mentioned to my mother that the current plan to close on my new house on a Friday…. naturally meant….I could….potentially…..host my first Cookie Day the next day!

Yes, it’s going to be crazy, but I figure as long as I have the utilities on, have cable and wi-fi connected to entertain the boys in case of bad weather, carry over boxes of baking supplies and get the kitchen area cleaned up at least….I could be ready!  After all, one of the key criteria in my house-search over the past two years was: Can the kitchen host Cookie Day?

I think I found the kitchen.

I’ve started my list of supplies.

Now I’m ready to make magic again. Care to join us?