Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dave Matthews Band - Live Trax Volume 2

Back by popular demand (and because she asked me to keep writing), it's husband's blog post.  Next up in the series of Live Trax album reviews, Live Trax Volume 2.

DMB Live Trax Volume 2
09.12.2004

1) One Sweet World
2) What Would You Say
3) So Much to Say » Anyone Seen the Bridge »
4) Pantala Naga Pampa »  Rapunzel
5) Joyride
6) #41
7) The Best of What's Around
8) Lie in Our Graves
9) The Stone
10) Drive In Drive Out
11) Loving Wings »
12) Where Are You Going
13) Hello Again
14) Jimi Thing
15) Warehouse »
16) Sugar Will
17) All Along the Watchtower
18) Stay (Wasting Time)
19) Everyday
20) Too Much

After the initial release in this series, LT1, fans immediately began asking (with renewed intensity) for their favorite shows to be released.  12.31.1996, 7.10.2004, 12.3.1998, 2.19.1996, etc, etc.  This pick for the second show, which was performed some three months before, was confusing to fans.

Nick-named "Central Park West" as an homage to the very similar in style Central Part Concert played one year earlier in New York City, this particular show definitely falls into the category of "historically significant" rather than "great."  Although it's certainly got a few highlights, the majority of the show is rather plain to me.

One of the surprises of this set is a guest spot from Carlos Santana, the legendary guitar player.  Santana played occasionally with Dave and band in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Dave and Carter recorded a couple of tunes with Santana for his album Supernatural, and Santana played on DMB's album Everyday.

The show starts with a solid One Sweet World and What Would You Say before entering into the So Much To Say >> Rapunzel combination which had been a tour staple both in this year and the previous one.  Next comes the first of three of the four "major" new songs introduced during the summer 2004 tour and played almost every night.  Joyride has always been a throw away song for me (it never stuck), and it slows the show after a quick opening.  #41 is placed well next in the set but this particular version is a bit of a mess.  Carter and Dave both flub parts (Carter the introduction, Dave sings a verse twice).  It never comes off the rails but it definitely misses the mark.

The show immediately picks back up steam though with what is, to some fans, the definitive version of The Best Of What's Around.  It's not my favorite, but it's definitely a highlight of the first disc.  Lie In Our Graves is also a standout.

Skipping ahead, I'm not a huge fan of Drive In, Drive Out or Loving Wings (blasphemy, I know).  I could take or leave Where Are You Going, although this is a nice version.  This is followed by another new summer 2004 song, Hello Again, which, although better than Joyride, is still in the bottom half of the catalog for me.  Jimi Thing is next with a very long politically charged scat from Dave which, although playing to the audience in 2004 prior to the Presidential election, as immortalized on tape, really dates and distracts from the show.  Recapping this part of the set, there's not anything in here that I revisit with any regularity.

Next up, Santana comes out to surprise of most everyone and immediately scorches Warehouse (a song the band almost always nails).  The final summer 2004 song to make it's appearance in this set is Sugar Will.  I appreciate the guitar solo, but the song is not a favorite of mine either.  (The only one of the big four debuts in 2004 I really like, Crazy Easy, didn't make this set.  The other 2004 debut I really enjoyed, which didn't get played at every show, was Good Good Time and that really was more of a loose jam than a song.)  Carlos adds another solo into Watchtower (which is good) and he's done for the show.  The main set ends with Stay, which I honestly forgot had closed the main set until I went back to do this review.

The encore is definitely lacking.  Everyday was being used as an E1 a lot at this point in time.  I never got into it.  And Too Much, although it was spectacular in 2004, feels like the mint on your pillow at a fancy hotel when you haven't eaten any dinner.

So, summing up the highlights, you have a good opening run, The Best Of What's Around, and Carlos Santana.  That's about a third of this set which is memorable to me.  As far as the sound on this release, a lot of fans didn't like it at all.  I don't find it particularly offensive by any means, but it certainly isn't an album that when I listen to I think "the sound guy really  got that one."

To reiterate an earlier point, fans were confused when this show was released.  It wasn't considered a specatular show at the time (although the Santana spot was well received), and it had just been played three months earlier.  This series, at first thought, was supposed to go through the archives and find the gems of the band - not something that was just played.  Why wasn't this put in stores?  Were all the shows going to be this way going forward?  Is this the best we were going to get out of this series?  This wasn't even considered one of the top shows of 2004, and yet it warranted a release?  What gives?

I honestly don't know that the series has ever recovered from this release from that standpoint.  Certainly this show is unfairly viewed in that light.  Fans are extremely picky and wanted something else entirely - something that was never promised.  The archives weren't going to be opened wide, but rather carefully cultivated with some significant current shows thrown in the mix.  The series is certainly not a let down, but it's not what people thought it was going to be.

Overall, I'd grade this show as a 2 out of 5.  There are some great versions of songs on disc 1, and the Santana guest spot is memorable.  Otherwise, for me, it's a lot of lower half songs that I don't revisit all that often.  I know it's higher for some folks than others, but this one ends up towards the bottom of the pile for me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sabbath = Rest

Coming off of the busy holiday season, I've been challenging myself to try to find some time to have a true Sabbath, or rest time during my week. With young kids, it can be hard to truly get away from it all. Now, I'm not saying that I don't "zone out" by watching TV or reading a book or surfing on the Internet. I'm talking about true rest. Time to think deep thoughts, without interruption. Time to enjoy God's creation in solitude. Time to pray deeply and sing loudly and read thoroughly.

How do we create this Sabbath rest in the middle of our over-scheduled busy lives?

I have a few tips and ideas that you can try to see how they work.


  1. Wake up earlier. This would be a lot easier if I didn't end up with my two-year old in our bed almost every night. If I get up, he's sure to realize that his warm snugly (i.e. his mother) is no longer in bed and will follow shortly. However, it may work on some occasions or for other people.
  2. Go to bed later. Unfortunately, the same child that steals my bed also hates bedtime, and it's often 9:30-11:00 pm before everyone is in bed. Usually this is a "date night" type time for my husband and I. We like to watch "adult" shows or get some chores done before the kids are awake again.
  3. Trade off. Husbands don't babysit their own children, they parent them. If your husband doesn't do solo parenting time, creating a regular Sabbath day can be a great way to get this started. I found the best method to be saying something to the effect of, "I'll be back in 1 hour, love you guys!" then leaving immediately. If your child cries for an hour, they will live, and your husband will thank you for all you do.
  4. Find babysitters. We are so blessed to live close to my in-laws. I know that they love spending time with their only grandchildren, although we try not to take advantage of the free babysitting too much. It is nice, though, to be able to have a few hours here or there where you can really relax knowing a trusted friend or relative is caring for your children. I'm certainly one of those people who trusts very few people when it comes to babysitters, even grandparents aren't always trustworthy. 
  5. Set priorities. My kids know that I need at least a few minutes to drink my coffee and read my Bible before we do anything together in the morning. Although this isn't an in-depth time, it gives me at least a chance to try to get my priorities in the right order for the day.
It can definitely be hard to find time away from your kids without being even more sleep-deprived or feeling guilty for leaving your kids for a few minutes or hours. However. a time away from our kids is necessary to cement an even more relationship in our life - our relationship with ourselves.

So, while we don't take a whole day of rest in today's culture, be sure you're setting aside a few moments from your regularly scheduled programming to refresh. Make a Sabbath rest a priority in the busy years to come.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Live Trax Volume 1 Review

**This is a guest post by my husband. He is going to review Dave Matthews Band Live Trax. There are 36 posts so far, and I will be publishing them on Thursdays, for those who are interested in Dave Matthews Band. His great love for the Dave Matthews Band is to be shared with all.**

This post is unlike anything you've ever read on this blog.  That's because for the first time in the history of the Internet on this blog, my wife is not writing a blog post.  The text you're reading was written by her husband.

I'm not sure why my wife has asked me to write a guest blog post, nor am I sure why she wanted me to write on any topic I choose, but being the good husband I am I'm taking her up on the challenge.

I thought I'd take my blog post (likely, eventually, posts) to avoid anything controversial.  Instead, I'll do a series of reviews on the Live Trax series of albums from Dave Matthews Band.  Why, you say?  I say why not.


DMB Live Trax Volume 1
12.08.1998

1) Seek Up
2) Linus & Lucy
3) Pantala Naga Pampa --> Rapunzel
4) Satellite
5) Don't Drink The Water
6) Jimi Thing
7) Stay (Wasting Time)
8) #41
9) So Much To Say --> Anyone Seen The Bridge?
10) Too Much
11) Drive In, Drive Out
12) Tripping Billies
13) I'll Back You Up
14) The Last Stop


When the Live Trax series was first announced, fans immediately began salivating (not literally) over the treasure trove of shows which were stored away in the vaults of the Dave Matthews Band.  Similar to The Grateful Dead or Phish, the band's fan recordings are widely circulated.  The best performances of individual songs have been debated endlessly on message boards and amongst fans imbibing more than one Bud Light at a time.

I am in the camp that feels DMB gets unfairly compared to those other bands (Greatful Dead, Phish), set-list similarities aside.  DMB has never been a "jam" band in it's truest sense.  The songs are normally carefully orchestrated with small changes every few years to keep the flavor of each song fresh.  The improvisation within the solo sections allows each of the members a space to breathe when their turns come up, but it doesn't take long into a tour to realize that after the second bridge it's (insert band member) turn to solo.

All that being said, it is a wonderful gift for fans of the band to release some of these recordings over time.  In my own mind, I split the series between releases of "great shows" and "historically significant shows."  Although the definition of "great" varies amongst each listener, each of the releases in this series have offered something to the hardcore fan and would be a fine addition (well, mostly) to any casual fan's catalog.

The first release, before the Live Trax name was given to the series, is a show from a time period which many fans would pick as the band's greatest.  The Fall/Winter 1998 tour was in a year in which the band's third album, Before These Crowded Streets, was released and featured long time collaborator and friend Tim Reynolds on guitar.  Tim had been playing regular with Dave Matthews on acoustic tours but very rarely joined in with the full band.  One of his most famous turns as a guest, 8.15.1995, turned into the Dave Matthews Band highest selling live album to date - Live at Red Rocks.

This particular show also features guest pianist Butch Taylor.  Butch guested sporadically in 1998 and 1999 before joining the band for practically the entire 2000 summer tour.  In the summer of 2001, Butch once again became a mainstay and would play every show with the band from then until 2007.  (He did play a one-off show in early 2008 but departed before the 2008 summer tour began.)

This particular show also features Bela Fleck on Don't Drink The Water, #41, and The Last Stop.  Jeff Coffin shows up on #41 as well.  Bela Fleck and the Flecktones began touring with DMB as an opening act in late 1996 and became a frequent guest on various songs for...well, that's still happening.  Bela on banjo is a real treat.  This is one of Jeff Coffin's first guest spots.  Jeff, of course, went on to "replace" (I hate that word) Leroi Moore in the band after his injury and death in 2008.  It's fun to hear both him and Leroi solo on the same song.

Enough history...on with the review.

The show starts strong with Seek Up.  Linus & Lucy is exactly the song you think it is - think any Peanuts movie or TV special you've seen - and is a pleasure when it pops up in the set.  It serves as a perfect transition into the relatively recently released Rapunzel.  This particular version is of note as it's the only officially released multi-track version which has both Tim Reynolds on guitar and Butch Taylor on keyboard, exactly as it is on the studio version.  Many people believe this to be the best released Rapunzel for this reason.  (I won't disagree that it's great, but it's not quite my favorite.)  Very strong start to the set.

The show slows down a bit during the Satellite, Don't Drink The Water, and Jimi Thing trio.  Slowing down in this case isn't bad either.  Don't Drink The Water, for those familiar only with the later versions of the song with the faster tempo, may be in for a surprise listening to this version with a slower, darker mood and a subdued banjo in the background.  Many people love Tim Reynolds' solo on Jimi Thing, but you can count me in the camp of calling it "okay."  Jimi Thing isn't on my top 10 list (at least, if you're talking Jimi past 1995), but this version isn't offensive by any means.

Stay is pretty standard, but the real treat of the middle of this show is the 20+ minute version of #41.  This particular version was selected for the first fan club disc provided by the band and there is no doubt that it's one of the best performances of the song ever.  #41 is a song that most guests can play on (the groove lends itself to extended soloing).  This might be my favorite Jeff Coffin solo ever.  (I'd have to give that a little more thought before I committed to it.)

The remainder of the set is driving towards the encore.  So Much to Say --> Too Much, Drive In, Drive Out, and Tripping Billies are all fairly standard versions.  Drive In, Drive Out is not one of my favorite songs so it's placement here detracts a bit for me.  Count me in the minority of that opinion though as most fans eat that song up.

The encore is fantastic.  Although it's not the best version of I'll Back You Up, it leads to one of, if not the best version of The Last Stop ever.  This song may be the reason this concert was released anyway (seeing as though #41 had already been released).  There is an extensive prelude and extended outro featuring Bela Fleck and the band playing off each other.  This 20 minute version definitely warrants a few listens and never disappoints.

In summary, highlights of the set include Rapunzel, #41, and The Last Stop.  That's an awesome combination and those songs alone are worth the purchase of this set.

The sound/mix on these releases is highly debated.  These albums, although multi-tracked mixed recordings, have a wide range of how they sound.  Don't expect every one of them to sound the same - they don't.  This particular mix, to me, is just okay.  It's not offensive, but it's not spectacular.  It's ridiculously hard to mix that many instruments together so I don't begrudge it too much, but it's noticeable that it's not as clean a sound as some of the other releases in the series.

Overall, I give this Live Trax a solid 4 on a scale of 1-5.  As we go through the series, there are definitely some real winners and definitely some albums which can be skipped (for those attempting to complete collections).  This is definitely one to purchase and keep handy.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Schoola - Limited Time Sale!

Normally, I don't post on Wednesdays, but this deal was too good to pass up. Schoola is currently offering an additional 40% off gently used items with discount code HOTSTYLES. I'm not sure how long this sale will last, and if you combine it with a free $20 credit, you should be able to get 2-4 quality used items for free! I don't recommend Schoola if you're paying their "normal" prices (I've gotten some funky things occasionally, like girls pants instead of boys, and 3 month instead of 3T clothing and prices are a little high in my opinion). But if you combine some credit and a sale, you can't go wrong. Also, free shipping! I just ordered a free pair of 3T pants with a very small credit I had left over that was expiring this month.

If you haven't signed up before, use my referral link below to get a $20 credit!

Click here for a $20 credit for signing up at Schoola!

**The above link is a referral link, but no one pays me for my opinion. Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Preview of Beyond Little Hearts For His Glory

I ordered next year's curriculum "way too early" because I found some great deals on used curriculum that I couldn't pass up. Since it has already come in, I thought I would offer a free "preview" of Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory. As well as how we "plan" to actually use it next year.

First, let me say that I wasn't initially planning on purchasing this curriculum. I wanted to do something different for science, and wasn't sure about the price for the curriculum guide since we weren't planning on using the curriculum as written. Then, I saw a seller that listed an "acceptable" quality used guide for $20 + shipping. Considering that I paid $35 for a similar condition used guide at our local homeschool store, I thought this was a great deal and promptly snatched it up. I hadn't had a chance to fully look through the curriculum, so I quickly reviewed it after it arrived last week.

Now that I've had a chance to review it, this curriculum looks amazing! Of course, there are pluses and minuses, as with any complete curriculum, but I thought I would post about what I consider the pluses and minuses and how we plan on using it next year.

Positives

  1. Reading Curriculum. My number one biggest, pleasant surprise at this curriculum is the emerging reader list and questions. Since my son is a young reader, he's not quite ready for a 2nd grade reading curriculum, but he's way beyond phonics already. So, while we're going through Little Hearts for His Glory this year, we're pretty much just skipping a formal reading curriculum and he pretty much just reads when he wants, or when he's bored, or to try to earn a free frozen yogurt from a local shop. So, I don't think he's ready age-wise to start a formal second grade reading curriculum with in depth questions, but I also don't want to just keep "winging it". This curriculum includes dozens of pages with an emerging readers list and questions. They are level 3 readers and usually only 2-3 questions per day to ask for comprehension, application, knowledge, and synthesis. If I use nothing else for this curriculum, I plan to use this (we already have the Bible they chose for the emerging readers book list, and the majority of the remaining items I can find at the library). There are 14 emerging reader books listed (and lined up with the curriculum in increasing levels of difficulty) as well as dozens of supplemental books.
  2. Affordability. I know that homeschooling can be expensive, but it certainly doesn't have to be. Since I'm a frugal-minded person, I love the fact that the necessary books for the curriculum can be purchased for $135 new from the publisher's website (plus shipping and tax). Since I'm purchasing a combination of new and used, and skipping over a few items, I believe I will spend about $83 (not including tax) on the "necessary" books (we don't do the devotional and I purchased the 2-pack of Hide Em in Your Heart, so I already have next year's memory verse CD). We do, however, plan to add a more comprehensive science curriculum and purchase a handwriting book (see negatives below for why). If I include all the "fun" items that I'm purchasing that are a combination of school and fun, and completely unnecessary, we should still come out under my goal of $200 for the school year. I'm pretty sure I'll spend less on required expenditures than most public school students.
  3. All-in-one. To some people this wouldn't be a positive, but I am not a planner by nature. Or rather, I plan so much that I would never get to actually doing. I'm not the most organized person, and I don't do well with creating routine, so I do better knowing that there's already a plan for the day that I don't have to create from scratch. We've been doing Little Hearts for His Glory this year, and it gives just the right amount of structure to our days.
  4. Integrated Bible and history. I love that the Heart of Dakota series is designed to be Christ-centered. It's one thing to "include" Bible in your school day. It's another thing entirely to include your school day in your Christian walk, and Heart of Dakota can help this become a little more seamless. I can't tell you the number of times I've been having a bad attitude and trying to explain a Bible, history or science topic to my kids has helped turn it around. 
  5. Hands-on-activities. Hands-on-activities that are easy, realistic, and simple are written in to the curriculum. This can include anything from using a laundry basket as a covered wagon to using cereal and raisins to be brown birds and black birds for addition problems. At first, I thought that my kids would think it was silly and not participate, but I've since learned that my son loves and needs to move to learn. We have a particular teddy bear that is now known as Baby Moses for all time since we pulled him around in a basket as part of our Kindergarten curriculum.
  6. Flexible. As I mentioned earlier, we skip over the phonics portion in Little Hearts for His Glory. It's really easy to do because for each day of lesson plans there are two pages, and separate boxes for each category. There are days that we skip some boxes because we aren't at the right time or place, and it's easy to come back to or catch up with later. For reading, there are 3 options with Beyond Little Hearts - a phonics program of your choosing, the scheduled books for emerging readers, or the 2nd/3rd grade reading program - Drawn into the Heart of Reading. I love having that flexibility built in. We do plan on adding handwriting, science, and maybe purchasing the math textbooks, but again, that should be relatively easy to do.
Negatives
  1. Story based. Now, to some, this won't be a negative, but the literature chosen, especially for history, is mostly fiction. I don't think there's anything wrong with that necessarily, however my son is very literal. He asked me very seriously the other day whether Encyclopedia Brown was real or not. I'm sure he'll learn a lot from the stories, but when he's a bit older, I think he will appreciate a non-fiction based curriculum. Also, the stories do skip around in each book (you're not just reading a book all the way through for history or science).
  2. Copywork is included, instead of handwriting. While I don't specifically have anything against copywork, my son isn't ready for that to be the only thing he does. He's still working on which direction to draw his letters, so we plan on purchasing the 1st grade (level A) in A Reason for Handwriting. He's doing the Level K book this year and loves it. He actually asks to do more pages (this is a kid who cried at Handwriting Without Tears). We may substitute the handwriting entirely for the copywork, or give him his choice, or include a combination of both.
  3. Beyond Little Hearts (designed for 1st-2nd graders) is a bit light in my opinion on history and science. The history I don't mind as much, because they won't really remember a lot of the history they learn this early, but my kid is a science freak, and 2 days a week of a very light science activity is not enough for him. We plan on purchasing some of the Apologia curriculum to supplement.
  4. No math textbook. Again, for some people, just having the hands-on and workbook activities for math would be enough. However, I will probably buy the math textbooks as well, just to review some concepts and ensure a complete understanding. Some of the Singapore math concepts (like number bonds) are not the way I was taught, and I may need a bit of extra help to teach the concept.
Overall, I'm very happy that I ended up purchasing the curriculum. It would have ended up costing more to do the piecemeal curriculum than what I will end up spending with this all in one plan. If you're curious, I put down the cost breakdown for our 1st grade expenses, including the "fun" stuff (some of which is really more of a Christmas present or will be a future birthday present than a school purchase).

Cost breakdown
  • Beyond Little Hearts For His Glory guide - $23.94 used (including shipping)
  • American Pioneers and Patriots - $5.69 used (including shipping)
  • Boys and Girls of Colonial Days - $7.16 new (including tax, free Prime shipping, used Amazon coupon code for books)
  • Stories of the Pilgrims (not yet purchased, can be bought new on Amazon for $7.99)
  • God's Wonderful Works ($4.99 used - $8.99 new) - not yet purchased
  • Hide 'Em in Your Heart Vol. 2 (I purchased the 2-CD set earlier this year for 11.99, so $6 new)
  • Singapore Math workbooks 1A and 1B (not yet purchased, $12.50 each plus tax/shipping)
  • Added science - Apologia (approximately $30 for a textbook)
  • Added handwriting - will be $14 new
  • Added math - Textbooks 1A and 1B can be found used for $5 or so each in my area. I haven't quite decided yet if I want to purchase these or not.
  • Sum Swamp (this is a board game designed to help with addition and subtraction skills) - $14
  • I also may decide to purchase a logic/reasoning book (What's New, What's Missing, What's Different), game (Smart Cookies), or toy (Plus Plus). ($10-40+ each)
  • Additional "fun" items I may purchase in the future include purchasing some of the emerging readers rather than just using the library (specifically the Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 1, which I can't find at our library), addition and subtraction "Wrap-Ups", and a World Scrunch Map (we have a map on the wall, but I think it would be fun to have one we can put on the floor and crawl around on too). It would cost about $40 or so for all of these.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Finances, Sexism, and Blame

This started out as simple amazement at one person's comments online, but turned into a realization about sexism (and probably a lot of other -isms).

I'm not the type of person who thinks everyone is sexist. I make some comments in jest about "the good old boys' club" or how boys in general do play differently than girls. I think the people who blast Barbie's and "girl" Lego's have too much time on their hands. But I would also shy away from always dressing a little girl in skirts and dresses and treating her differently than my boys. I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, and it didn't hurt me any.

I tend not to think that sexism is a big problem in our society today. We have women at least trying to run for president (some of them do scare me to death, although slightly less scary than Donald Trump). We have women who've graduated from Army Ranger school and women who are construction foremen. I'm not naive enough to think that these women don't face enormous obstacles ahead of them in their chosen careers, but I did think that at least the average woman wouldn't be facing sexism on a daily basis.

So, when I read an article about the difference in retirement savings (and pay) between men and women, I dismissed a lot of it. Women in the same job position with the same experience, generally do make the same pay, so this 78 cents on the dollar thing is a little misguided. There are multiple reasons for this pay difference. For one, a higher percentage of women leave the workforce at some point in time, whether it's to care for their children or their parents. Since many jobs pay based on experience, this does hurt women's pay even in the same job position. My brother is in med school and noticed that people were saying that medical residents even had a pay differential between men and women - but guess what, the pay is set in advance for those positions. Which means the only way for them to have a pay difference is experience. Men tend to take the longer residencies, or multiple residencies, meaning that they are "more experienced" even as medical residents (a fourth year resident is paid more than a first year resident).

In addition, women tend to choose lower paying positions. For instance, I had a great paying job when I graduated college, but then I went into teaching, then I left that job due to stress and took a low-paying consultative sales role, then I took another low-paying non-profit job, then I fulfilled my dream of becoming a stay at home mom (with a few part-time jobs to keep my sanity).

So, let's ignore the pay differential for now, because that wasn't what I was upset at primarily in the article. This article was on a personal finance blog and was designed to get people to save more money, so they have a bit of a bias. However, one of the comments on the article was blatantly sexist. This gentleman was trying to say that the reason women have less money is not that they are staying home with kids or working at lower paying jobs, but that they are spendthrifts! Now, I could just dismiss that, but then he tripped over his own tongue a few sentences later. He started by bashing women for spending $1500 on handbags, but THEN he went on to claim that second homes at the lake were only necessary because women didn't want to go to the lake with nothing to do while their men fished on the boat. OK, so boat's are suddenly less expensive than handbags AND women are to blame for the fact that men like to fish all weekend?

Obviously, I didn't respond to that comment, because it was simply too ridiculous to respond to. It definitely put me in mind of my earlier blog post about blame. This gentleman (I use the term very loosely) was too upset about his finances to even realize that he was blaming the woman in this couple for something that she wasn't even doing. I mean, I have no idea how you get from being mad about your wife spending too much on a handbag to blaming her for a $200,000 second home on the lake because YOU like to fish?

So, shaking my head, I left that article. But then I thought some more about blame. Some of the racist white people I know blame affirmative action for their lack of promotion in their field. It can't be their poor performance, or even bad management, it must be someone else's fault. Someone that we already had a bad experience with in the past, so we blame all of them for the actions of a few. Some of the racist black people that I know blame situations in the news for their own hatred and bigotry. There are also racist white officers who blame this hatred by another group of people towards them for their inability to solve major crime issues (rather than their own attitudes or an inefficient government system that has proven unable to enact real change in the war against crime and poverty).

Now, not all black people are racists, not all white people are racists. Not all men are sexist, and not all women want to stay at home with their kids. My caution is that we should not blame any group of people that is racist, sexist, or even a spendthrift. What I want is for all of us to take a step back when we're about to play the blame game. Is this something that is really someone else's fault, or does some of the blame lay within you?

When you're upset with a customer because they are taking too long, is it really the customer's fault or has your attitude affected the transaction? When you are upset at your spouse for not doing a chore when you really wanted it done, shouldn't you be looking at yourself first, since you could have just as easily done it yourself? When you are angry at your neighbors for their hatred and bigotry, have you tried to understand their attitude before calling them dirty names behind their back? When you are mad at a driver who cut you off on the road, have you considered whether your speed was part of the equation? When you're mad that you didn't get as much back on your taxes this year, have you considered whether an increase in pay (woohoo!) or your own miscalculations led to the difference? When you're mad about someone receiving government benefits, have you considered what you would do in the same situation?

If you truly want to improve your finances (or your life), you first have to stop placing the blame on other people. If your housing situation is bad, move across the country to an area with more affordable housing. If your job situation is bad, improve your attitude, work ethic, and education and find a better position. If your family situation is bad, fix your attitude first. In all situations, remove the plank in your own eye before you try to remove the speck in your brother's eye. You may find that there was nothing in his eye at all, once your own blame is removed from the situation.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fiction Friday - Flashes or Fighting Destiny

Going through some of my files recently I realized that I had two very similar storylines going on at the same time. Apparently I updated the story (or redid it based on the same fragment of original writing) at some point, but now I can't decide which version I like better.

This is the first chapter of "Fighting Destiny", and I've linked to the previous blog post with "Flashes" as well. Read both, then vote for your favorite!

Chapter One

The trees were in full bloom in Whitney’s neighborhood, proving the subdivision’s name, White Blossom, to be incredibly apt. Although some might think the name a bit prosaic, the tree lined streets covered in April’s snowfall of flower petals touched Whitney’s heart and lifted her mood. She leaned gently into each turn, enjoying every minute of her short drive, and then pulled a little too quickly into her steep driveway. She never used the cavernous and often spooky garage, so she hopped out of the car, locked the doors, and fiddled with her overwhelmed keychain for several minutes.
            Enjoying the last few minutes of daylight, she waved at a young girl riding her bike down the street and races up the porch steps and into the house. “Fred, I’m home!” The small gray cat raced down the stairs to greet her, sliding a little on the wood floors of the foyer. She snuggled with Fred, gave him some food, and headed to her bedroom to change.
            As she threw on sweatpants and a t-shirt, she listened to the messages on the machine.
            “Whitney? This is Jess. Can you talk for a minute? I have some news. Give me a call when you get in. I might be at work, but you know the number.”
            Whitney smiled and pressed the delete button. She talked to Jess practically every night anyway, tonight wouldn’t be any different. She flopped onto the downy bed to write in her journal for a minute.
  
Dear Diary,
            Me again, and it’s only been three days since I last wrote! Today was such a beautiful spring day, I almost called in sick to work. It’s not like they can’t find another clerk for the flower shop, but today was a busy day and I wanted to see who else would be inspired by the wild flowers all around. It amazes me what people pay money for when it’s blooming right outside their front doors!
            Speaking of blooming, I bet it’s finally good news for Jess. She’s finally met her dream man, I can feel it in my bones. If I only I had such certain prospects of my own. It seems like no matter how much I believe in myself and my dreams, I never really found a dream man.
Take Patrick for instance, owner of the boutique next to the flower shop. I fancied myself interested in him for some time and what do I find out. He’s happily in love with another MAN! What was I expecting though? He does run a high-end clothing shop!
            The house is too big tonight. I thought it was a great idea that the other bedrooms were all upstairs with my bedroom on the first floor, but every time a breeze blows through the rafters I think I have ghosts living in my guest bedrooms! Sometimes, I just wish I could fill this house up with real people, even if I didn’t like them at all!

            Whitney put down her pen and picked up the phone to call Jess. Something was definitely up with her best friend and she wanted to know what it was.
            A perky voice picked up the line. “Tee Thyme, How can I help you?”
            “Is Jessica available?”
            “I think she’s in the kitchen right now, may I ask who’s calling?”
            “This is Whitney.”
            “Oh, let me go grab her. I’ll be right back.”
            Whitney waited patiently for a few seconds, listening to the restaurant noise. Apparently it was a busy night, and “hold” meant the phone was placed down on the desk, without thought to the noise around. Fortunately Whitney loved listening and imagining the fun and conversations. The pleasant buzz sounded positive, even if she couldn’t make out most of what was being said.
            “Hello?”
            “Jess, it’s me.”
            “Hey Whitney. What’s up? I can’t take the phone in the office right now; all of the other lines are busy.”
            “You said you wanted me to call you back right away, even at work.”
            “Yes, I did, but you know very well that this is our busiest time of the night. The 7:00 rush is here.”
            “I know, it sounds like a pretty healthy crowd there. I just couldn’t wait any longer, I want to know what’s up with you. It sounded like some big news on the message you left me.”
            “Well,” Whitney heard some noise in the background as Jessica cupped her hand over the phone. “You remember Roger, right? The assistant manager? He asked me out last night!”
            “Wait a second. I had a feeling that you were finally interested in somebody new, but how would that ever work out? Don’t you basically work opposite schedules to cover the restaurant? How would you ever have time to spend together?”
            Jessica paused and took a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what I really want to do and what my passions are. I think, well, I might take a break from managing the restaurant just to straighten my head a little bit and figure out what I want to do with my life.”
            Silence. Whitney looked at her own reflection in the mirror as she held the phone to her ear. Her best friend, willing to give up her career for a man she’d only just become interested in. Was this bravery or stupidity? “Jessica, you know that I will support you no matter what you choose. We’ve known each other since middle school and I’ve never known you to make a decision you would regret,” Whitney paused and took a deep breath. “I know you have to get back to work, so I’ll let you go. Let’s get together somewhere this weekend and talk some more then.”
            Jessica thought Whitney’s tone of voice might sound a little uncertain, but she quickly agreed. She needed to circulate tables and answer some customer complaints. “Alright, how about meeting at the park if the weather’s nice?”
            “Sounds good. You know I love you. Have a great night.”
            “Bye.”
            Whitney hung up the phone and hugged herself gently as she thought about her friend. Jessica was everything Whitney wasn’t. She was strong, confident, spoke her mind, and knew what she wanted from life. On the outside, Whitney supposed that she herself had some of those qualities, but inside she felt like a stranger to the people around her.
            Whitney picked up one of her oldest journals and opened it up to the first page. She sat back down on top of her bed and rested her free hand against the warmth of her small cat.

To Whom It May Concern:,
My name is Whitney Wright. I am named after my great-grandfather. I am an American mixture of Irish, German and Scottish heritage. The Irish is mainly on my mother’s side. Many of her ancestor’s through the years were reported to have certain psychic powers. I suppose, if I believe in that sort of thing, those abilities could be connected to my problems. I am writing this down in the hope that someone can explain it all someday.
            I’ve heard of photographic memories and telepathic people, but I think I have more of a video-graphic memory. The images that flow through my head are almost like a historical-fiction action movie. I feel like I receive glimpses into the life of some other character from the distant reaches of the past. I have decided to try to write down these experiences and hopefully figure out what they are and why they occur.
            I think my visions occur more often after some traumatic or emotional experience. The flashes might be related to what they call “feminine intuition”, only much more realistic.
            I may have experienced these visions as a child, but they started getting bad last year. It was my sophomore year of college and I lived in a somewhat run-down apartment building right on the edge of campus. Rent was less than the dorms, when split with three roommates, and I enjoyed the semi-privacy afforded by separate bedrooms.
            It was a Friday night, and although a nearby apartment had a party that night, the apartment manager had called the cops and things had quieted down by midnight. At about two in the morning, I woke up, smelling smoke and hearing a faint alarm. The smoke woke me quickly and I wrapped a blanket around my head to block the smoke and ran to my roommate’s rooms, banging on doors as I went.
            After waking everyone up, we made our way out to exterior balcony and stairs and down to the parking lot. Everyone seemed safe, but as I ran, huddled under the shelter of my makeshift hood, I flashed for the first time.

A young woman, with dark brown hair and golden eyes was racing down a
hillside in the forest. She turned to look over her shoulder, and stumbled
over the rocks and tree roots. She pulled her shawl more tightly over her head
 as if she could block out the danger that was swiftly approaching as the
hoof beats grew closer and closer.
           
Whitney closed her eyes briefly and could still bring up the images from that first experience. At the time she had wondered if her roommates had slipped drugs into her coffee cup or the smoke had damaged her synapses. But the images were so real. Even now, although she couldn’t bring up anything else from the vision, she could see a picture of that young woman’s face.
Her visions always centered on a female protagonist. It seemed as though each of these women were somehow burned into her mind. One of Whitney’s coworkers had theorized that each vision centered around a past life that Whitney had lived. Whitney had looked into reincarnation, but she didn’t feel like she had even been these women. She only saw glimpses as if from the outside, like watching someone else go through the event.
She flipped further into the journal. 

Dear Diary,
            I feel like I’m going to explode! I can never relax; I am always worrying about my problem and wondering what it is, and how I can control it. I think maybe adrenaline is causing the flashes?
            I have learned to try to keep my eyes wide open during tense or exciting situations. I found that I cannot flash unless I close my eyes. Of course it’s hard with the natural blink reflexes. Once my eyes are closed, it is almost impossible for me to stop the flash myself. Some interruption from the outside world has to occur.
Being home for the summer has been especially difficult. My brother, Joe, made me flash yesterday when he flicked a paper wad at me unexpectedly. I flashed for almost five minutes before he said something!
The woman I saw had a sharp white nurse’s uniform on. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a tight bun, with two long curls resting against her high cheekbones, sharpening her features. She was out in the middle of a field, knee deep in tall wavy grasses.
            After a few more seconds, the sound kicked in. I heard the sharp whine of a bomb. The bomb sounded loud, but was not close enough to turn her focus. She was gazing down toward what looked to be a trench, the grass was missing and fresh dirt littered the ground. The flash took me closer and I looked down into the trench. I saw two bodies, one American, and one looked like a German soldier to me. Both had several fatal bullet wounds, and still carried their weapons in their hands.
            The woman stepped down into the trench, clutching a medal or locket tightly in one fist. When she reached the German, she gently closed his eyes and adjusted the collar of his uniform. When she reached the American, she leaned her body across his chest, and I saw one tear drip down onto his uniform, the darkness of the tear stain blending in with the blood stains already covering most of the fabric.
            She pressed her hand to his head, then reached up to gently snip a lock of hair from his forehead. As she turned to leave the foxhole, the expression on her face changed from sadness to terror and fear. She had seen the enemy. She raised her hands slowly in surrender as a troop of young German recruits pointed their weapons at her.
            At that point, my brother finally got bored of watching me with my eyes closed and smacked me in the forehead with the car magazine he was reading. He is supposedly three years older than me, but the maturity level is just not there.
            I’ve never really told my family about my visions. I feel that these flashes are some intrinsic part of my soul. As if sharing them would somehow separate a piece of me from myself. So, most of my family and friends seem to think of me as a ditzy or flaky person sometimes. I feel like I’m being a wimp, especially when those closest to me think I have just been zoning out on them.
           
Whitney closed the well-worn journal. She had to open at the flower shop tomorrow, and she wanted to spend the early morning hours in her own flower garden. She stepped into the large bathroom, loving the feel of the cool marble on her bare feet. She washed her face, brushed her teeth and smiled at her reflection in the mirror. She felt almost old compared to the twenty year old who had written those early journal entries. She was a successful twenty-eight year old and made her own decisions.
She also wasn’t quite as lonely as when the journal had first started. She had two best friends who helped share her secret and her new discoveries. Fred lifted his head and blinked his sleepy eyes as she snuggled under the covers next to him. She might not have a dream man in the bed beside her, but she still had a warm body at least.

Fortunately, her flashes never occurred while she was actually asleep. She did dream, but they were typical dreams. Her dreams were a peaceful oasis of past and present memories, with a glimmer of the future. Tonight she dreamed that she and her closest friends were hanging out at the beach where she had spent many summers during childhood.

Then...

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Felt Christmas Tree Project

I feel pretty good about life right now. I actually completed a craft project with some friends a few weekends ago, and I finally was able to hang it up. The kids played with it for their obligatory two minutes before going back to what Parents magazine called "the game of ouch".

If you're not sure what the rules are for the game of ouch, they do vary for each round. The game is over when one of the boys cries loud enough to need attention. Props may include wooden trains, Hot Wheels cars, puzzle pieces and more. House rules (such as playing nicely with our toys and keeping our hands and feet to ourselves) obviously do not apply when playing this game.

So, to avoid the game of ouch using Christmas ornaments, I jumped at the chance to make a simple felt Christmas tree for my kids to redecorate. A few friends came over and we all pooled our craft materials together. It took a bit longer than expected, primarily because I'm not that into crafts and we had two extra toddlers running around while trying to work with sharp objects and hot glue guns, but it was a fun time of fellowship anyway.

I won't say that it's quite Pinterest worthy (my version I mean) but it's not quite a Pinterest fail either which is usually what I expect from craft projects that I make. Next up, I may try finger knitting. Who knows, there may be a crafty nature hiding somewhere inside me after all.

And, if any local friends have a few extra moments and want to make one of their own, I still have some green felt available! Just let me know!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top 5 for 200th!

This is officially my 200th blog post, so I thought I'd do a quick run-down of the top 5 blog posts (by page views). Links are included if you happened to miss out or need a refresher. It's hard to believe that this post is already my 200th. I do post frequently, although not always everyday. I've settled into a rhythm of about 4 per week, usually skipping Wednesdays. However, since this is a special occasion, you get an extra blog post just for Hump Day today!

Top Five Blog Posts
  1. With the most page views by a fairly large margin, we have Cartoon Saving the World from a Poetry/Fiction Friday post way back in July. I would classify it as an unfinished extremely brief story idea, or maybe it is finished with a choose your own style ending.
  2. Coming in at a distant second is The Problem with a Social Economy.
  3. Next we have a tie between Sick Day and
  4. Roofing Woes.
  5. A very close 5th is Concert Goings (I keep trying to have my husband guest post about Dave Matthews, since he is obsessed, but that has yet to happen - stay posted, just in case).
So, am I officially a writer now that I have 200 blog post and literally THOUSANDS of page views? It may not be official to anyone but me, but I certainly feel more like a writer than I have in the past. Maybe in the next year I'll magically find some time to finish one of my novels in progress. But, if not, that's okay too. 


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Facebook Hiatus

I've decided lately to take a hiatus from Facebook. Despite it's good qualities (I do like keeping up a bit with distant friends and acquaintances) it seems to just turn into a social media trap. The trap is, that we focus so much on whether we agree with someone or not, we don't look at it closely enough to determine if it's true.

For instance, I read an article that critiqued almond milk producers because their product was 97% water. Then I looked at the recipe shared for making your own almond milk. Here's a hint, it ended up being about 97% water (you start with a 4:1 ratio of water to almonds, which is already 80% water, then when you're done, you TAKE OUT THE ALMONDS). So, you can spread bad news about a company because you don't like the way their product tastes, or you can think about the actual method of making almond milk and realize that it is actually mostly water, which is why it's so low in calories.

My point is, people just leap without thinking into liking or agreeing with someone or something. Then they post only things they agree with. Then they start posting things that the people they agree with are agreeing with. Do you see my point here?

We're quickly becoming 1984 all over again (I mean the book, not the year, it was a great year to be born). We're agreeing with the majority and unfriending those we don't agree with. We're celebrating passivity and ignoring our actual lives. We're scrolling past posts we don't agree with and following people we barely know. We're having online parties and reading questionable material simply because it agrees with our own ideas.

Celebrate someone who's different than you this week. Take a day off your online world and read a real newspaper. Research articles at random, preferably before sharing them again.

I'm not saying that the almond milk article was the breaking point, but seriously people, it's not really milk.

So, if you want to invite me to your event on Facebook, just mention it the next time you see me in person.

Monday, December 14, 2015

What Makes a Writer

Lately, I've started considering myself a writer. I know, with almost 200 blog posts, wouldn't I have considered myself that a bit earlier? So, I started thinking about what I thought a writer was, and when you can consider yourself a writer.

Creativity

I used to think that creativity was  a must when it came to being a writer. In my everyday life, I don't really think about myself as a terribly creative person. I can't draw or paint very well, and I'm not great at designing things with my hands.

Then, I think about what this blog was originally designed and named for, to give a glimpse into my crazy, strange thought life. For instance, the other night I woke up from a dream in which a kitchen appliance made an appearance. No ordinary kitchen appliance, this gadget could cook an egg and make coffee at the same time! It also had a separate insert if you wanted to make applesauce or apple butter (don't ask me why).

So, maybe I am a bit creative. Unfortunately, along with creativity I got a few of the less desirable brain functions such as an easily addictive personality and mild depression.

Fortunately for me, and thousands of people around the world, creativity is not the only thing that makes up a writer. There are plenty of writers who don't need a huge portion of creativity. There are technical writers, business writers, non-fiction writers, and any boy band ever.

Perseverance

I have a hard time with sticking to something. Jobs, schedules, blog posts. So, for a long time, I felt like I couldn't be a writer until I "finished" something. So all my untold stories and half-finished novels meant very little, because I knew it was statistically unlikely that I would finish anything.

Again, this is true to some extent with writing. But, I no longer think that you have to be published to be a writer. Especially in today's world, where you can self-publish with a click of a button, finishing something actually doesn't necessarily make you a writer (at least not a very good one).

Experience

Another idea I had about writing was that I lacked some life experience to be able to write about certain topics. When I didn't have kids, I wondered how I could write about that. Now that I do have kids, I just wonder how I can find the time to write about anything!

The truth is, looking back, most of the stories and ideas I had back then (before the my vast years of "life experience") were spot on for the most part. I maybe missed a few themes here or there, but my overall ideas were better than most of what I've come up with recently.

So, experience isn't a must-have either, although it's definitely a great thing to have on file.

Just Writing

So, what does make a writer? Just continuing to do it. Plugging along, whether it's working on a half finished novels, a half dozen poems, or your 200th blog post. I think of myself as a writer, not because I have some magical qualities and mystify everyone, even myself, but because I have been and continue to write. My brain is now trained to come up with blog post ideas. I've started writing new poetry again (it had been awhile). My brain still has crazy thoughts and ideas that will never come true, so I just put them down on paper (or the computer screen).

So keep at it. Whether you're a good writer or a bad writer. Whether you're creative or technical. Whether you're published or have a handful of readers. Whether you are young or old or anywhere in between. Whether you ever finish that novel or not, is not as important as sitting down and putting your ideas down on paper. Just get out there and get started.


Friday, December 11, 2015

New Morning Routine

In my work from home job, I've added some more hours recently. Since I'd taken a brief hiatus in order to transition to a new position, and actual tutoring sessions have slowed down with the end of the semester for many college students, I wanted to try to earn a bit more income. A large percentage of the time this week I haven't had many sessions, but I wanted to have some work available to distract my Kindergarten student if I ended up with a session popping up during our "school time".

I created a "Morning notebook" with some free printables and my amazing laminator. Essentially, the printables I laminated include one for each day of the week. He practices writing the day of the week, writes down the number, and the number for the day before and after. There's another page for the temperature, time, and what he's wearing. I also have a non-laminated calendar page where he can practice writing the month and fill in the numbers for the days of the month and color in a box to make a bar graph for the weather. He can do this pretty independently, and he is usually very interested in the calendar and weather.

So far, he's really enjoying writing on it with our washable dry erase crayons. Of course, a few of the (expensive, special) crayons got broken and missing during my session, but I consider it a price worth paying.

And, as an update to my last post about our plans for 1st grade curriculum, of course I had to tweak things a bit, even though I said I wasn't going to look at curriculum options anymore.

I did order the next book from the Heart of Dakota series. I found it used on Amazon for almost a third of the price new. I figure it's worth that much, even if I don't use it everyday. My kids really like the creative activities, and it's really nice to have "something" to do each day, even if I add or subtract quite a bit. So, the grammar, spelling, and history should be covered for the most part in that book, as well as some math and reading. I will still add science, as I think the science is a little light for my crazy-science lover kid. I will also probably skip most of the copy work and devotional topics.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Blame Game

I have a theory that a lot of a person's attitude about life in general can stem from external versus internal causation and blame. If you're curious for a more scholarly look at the theory you can google "Internal versus external locus of control". Of course, I'm not the first person who came up with this theory, but I figure that I will put my own spin on it in this brief blog post.

In short, people who don't blame anyone or anything for their situation are more satisfied with life in general. Those who are focused on who is to blame for their struggles or woes, are too focused on the negative rather than moving forward and improving their lot in life.

Normally, I would assume that this must apply primarily to people in extreme circumstances, because I have a pretty good life, so who would I be blaming for anything? However, I was recently challenged by some things I've been reading for our small group discussions, and realized that blame is a really powerful thing. If all my flimsy excuses are taken away, what am I left with as a reason for not doing what I should?

The other night, I stayed up late, even though my 2 year old was in bed. I was tired the next day, but I took responsibility for my actions and said that it was worth it. So, even though my attitude and even my level of sleep weren't what I wanted, I still made it through the day in a relatively positive light. Again, I'm not saying that I didn't have moments where I took a nap while my oldest played on the computer or that I didn't yell at my kids when they stretched my nerves, but I am saying that I felt different.

Even better, the next night, when my 2-year old decided not to go to bed, I didn't blame him or myself. I could have gone on about how he kept me up and I was already tired because of the night before and had a generally bad day, but actually it ended up being a pretty good day. I got 3 loads of laundry done, 2 loads of dishes, homeschooled my kids without killing anyone, and actually have a day with less yelling and stress than normal.

You see, it's not my physical tiredness or bad attitudes of my kids that hold me back, it's the fact that sometimes I blame them, whether I do it consciously or not.

Starting today, I'm going to try to be more conscious of my attitude. While I don't want to yell at my kids, I do it more than I would like. So, when I catch myself, rather than guilting myself, feeling bad, or even internally blaming something in my circumstance, I'm going to try to accept the responsibility. Yes, I did yell at my kids. They are not to blame, my circumstances are not to blame, even my lack of sleep is not to blame. I won't feel guilty, because that doesn't fix the behavior, but I will accept responsibility and move forward.

I'm doing a great job of teaching my kids that I'm not perfect either, but I need to do a better job of improving my behavior. Because I really don't want to make it about blame and excuses.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas You Won't See on TV

We have two sets of grandparents interested in gift ideas, and are looking for things for our own children, so I came up with my top list of Christmas gift ideas that you won't see advertised on TV (based on my kids ages and interests, of course).

Almost 3-year old boy -
  1. STEM - educational toy - Bambino-LUK Starter Pack (approximately $25). 
  2. Music - VTech Record and Learn KidiStudio 
  3. Art - high quality paintbrushes, canvases, and paints. Preschool kids can use adult art supplies with supervision. The Crayola 5-count art and craft brush set is also a good quality "kids" set.
  4. Books - purchase quality children's literature such as The Story about Ping, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, or true classics like Winnie the Pooh.
  5. Active play - Balance ball for kids (they can "sit" while listening to a story, "play" with it, or exercise with it).
Young Elementary School Age
  1. STEM - educational toy - 
  2. Outdoor play - Anything for your child's favorite sport - baseball, football, frisbee, golf. Just keep in mind that for younger kids it will get destroyed.
  3. Music - kids this age can learn to use real instruments (our 5-year old loves his "real" guitar). Again, instruments will end up destroyed, so buy wisely.
  4. Books - our 5 year old has just started enjoying reading classic chapter books like The Boxcar Children and Encyclopedia Brown as family read alouds. His favorite books to read himself are books by Dr. Suess and Mo Willems. Of course, he loves the Pete the Cat books too.
  5. Quiet play - my 5 year old doesn't quite have the attention span yet for Lego's, but he likes the idea of playing with them. I thought the Plus Plus system looked like a great alternative to Lego's for kids who may want to start with just 2-dimensional figures before moving on to more complex creations.
Overall, buying Christmas gifts is a complex and thoughtful process. It's easy to just walk into a store and buy the first shiny object that catches your (or their) eye, but in the long-run, a little thought and effort can make a good Christmas, into a great Christmas.

*** Links posted are Amazon affiliate referral links. However, I have not received or been paid for my opinion on these products. Many of them I have not tried and I'm relying on the reviews and descriptions already posted on Amazon.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Giving It Your All

I've seen a lot of people lately posting about wanting to be "used up" or "emptied out" as parents, Christians, wives, or friends. Giving everything of yourself isn't a bad idea in and of itself, but it is a bit misguided. Because when we give love, we aren't emptied out, we're filled up. When we give gifts we aren't empty-handed, we're open-hearted.

The idea that giving of yourself is costly is just slightly off the mark. Giving of yourself is priceless. Yes, there may be times that you feel a bit stretched or a bit pinched in your life when you are working hard or giving generously, or loving fully. However, those moments are inevitably followed by moments of pure and priceless joy and full and complete love.

Love is not only self-sacrificing, it is self-replicating. The love you give will be returned. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive. Don't settle for the self-deprecating and self-harming co-dependence that society deems appropriate. Give of yourself selflessly and you'll receive infinite returns. The only empty feelings that we may get are when we give in anticipation of something in return. No one will return your love or gifts in the manner or fashion that you desire. What you give will return in thousands of unexpected and incredible ways.

So rather than thinking of yourself in these self-centered terms of being emptied out and used up, think of your love and your giving in eternal truth. Give without expecting, but open your heart to receive the gifts given in return. Look for the joy in someone else's eyes. Look for the unexpected gifts from strangers or friends that you receive in return. Look for the love in your own heart to bubble over. Don't empty yourself out in a self-centered, self-aggrandizing way, or you will end up regretting it. Instead, empty out the stale, dry, selfish love you've been holding onto, and open yourself up to a new love. A love that gives more than it gets, and yet bubbles over in an overflowing bounty. A generosity that gives with joy instead of self-centered expecations.

As a more practical example, Friday I had a lot to do. I needed to do our homeschooling, work from home, and try to get the house cleaned and organized in time for a celebration on Saturday. I'm not saying I had a great attitude all day, but when my kids asked to go outside and play after school, I said yes. Not in a self-sacrificing or "I guess so" kind of way, just being open to their childhood and what the day had in store. After almost 3 hours outside playing with a neighbor and their visiting grandkids, we finally made it back in for my youngest's nap. I hadn't gotten to anything I wanted to, but rather than think selfishly about my plans for the day, I decided to just get what I could done and not stress out about it too much.

So, between 2:30pm and 7:30pm, I somehow found time for 1 hour of working at home on the computer, organizing and cleaning up the dining room, living room, and sunroom, sweeping and mopping the floors in several rooms, setting up the Christmas tree, and then I sat down with a cup of hot cocoa and watched some TV with the family after dinner.

I won't lie, I had some help (my husband is a great cook, and my kids watched Toy Story 3 while I was cleaning). But I will say that my attitude made all the difference. I'm positive that I wouldn't have accomplished nearly half of that with a poor attitude, even if I didn't take my kids out to play.

And the best part of the day, was playing with my kids. I got to relax on a lounge and look out over the lake and watch my kids play with some older kids. They raced bikes and raked leaves, and had a "leafball" fight, and climbed trees, and fed the fish in the koi pond, and ran over bridges, and played (supervised) with an electric leaf blower (making it "snow" leaves). I got to enjoy the sunshine of a crisp, fall day. I got to know our neighbors a bit better than I did before. All in all, it was totally worth it, and despite feeling exhausted at the end of the day, I didn't feel emptied out at all. On the contrary, I felt fuller than I've felt in a long time.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's that time of year again. The UPS truck that drove past our house today stopped at approximately 50% of the houses on our cul-de-sac. The UPS driver can now finally say that their job is that of the mail man (going to almost every house on the street). I'm sure that on the next route, they will have the second of my packages that I'm expecting today.

If you think this is going to be another guilt-inducing post, it's not. I'm truly thankful that we live in a place where we have so much. In the vast majority of American communities, families get to make decisions this year. Rather than trying to decide what country to flee to, or what to plant in their garden in the hopes of living off of it for the next few months, we can decide between all sorts of other choices.

We can decide whether to eat vegetarian or be omnivores. We can decide whether to go on a diet or join the gym. We can decide whether to buy our kids another few toys or throw in a few cheater gifts like clothes or educational toys. We can decide whether to park in our garages or fill them up with our excess.

And I truly don't mean this post sarcastically or materialistically. I'm trying to find peace in the decisions of this time of year. Whether it's deciding what charity to give to, or what toy to buy that your kids don't even need, the decisions we have to make this time of year can be stressful. Do we go to that third Christmas party, or skip it this year for hot cocoa with the family? Do we watch The Grinch or Charlie Brown's Christmas? Do we wrap presents from Santa, or have our kids wrap presents for neighbors in need?

So, rather than get stressed out over all the decisions that we make, or wonder what the purpose is of it all, let's be thankful for the most wonderful time of the year.

On a night long ago, but not so very long as it seems
A tired young girl had a waking dream
Of an angel, a miracle, a virgin birth
A Savior breaking chains moving heaven to Earth.

We celebrate this gift in our broken homes,
With our children's materialistic moans,
And our anger and fear grows strong
Even when it feels so wrong.

Our world is still broken, so what can we say?
How can we truly celebrate this special day
And still do what needs to be done?
We must sit still, listen for the One

The still, small Voice that speaks louder than all

When we listen quietly, we will hear His call
He guides us, leads us, walks beside us.
Though we hide, he always finds us.

So rather than feel the guilt and shame we deserve.
Open your heart and listen to his words.
Feel His peace, His love, His comfort and rest
In His amazing payment for our debts.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Slowest Fastest Time of Life

You never think when you sign up for the monthly e-mails to chart your baby's growth that they will keep sending them. And then you never get around to un-subscribing, even though you never have time to read them. So imagine when I finally clicked on one today for my youngest child and saw 33 to 34 month old at the top of the page. I thought to myself, this must be wrong, I don't have a 33 to 34 month old. Then I did the math in my head and couldn't believe it. In 3 short months, I will actually have a 3 year old and a 5 1/2 year old.

I can tell you that my two boys keep me busy, and they do. I can tell you that I am so ready for my husband to come home every night, and I am. But I'm not sure I can describe how quickly these months have flown by.

I won't share some sappy poem about how this is the last day your child will be the exact age they are now, but I can tell you that your newborn will be walking before you know it. I won't promise you that the road is easy, but I can say that it's a lot faster looking back.

I can dread the nights coming up that our child will still crawl in bed with us at 3am, but I can also enjoy it while it lasts, because he certainly won't do that when he's a teenager. I can dread the upcoming potty training battle with my stubborn child, or I can simply let him wear pull-ups until he's completely ready, because it's so much easier. I can cram in my work from home or writing while they are napping, and plan the future when I go back to a full-time job, but I want to balance it so that I don't want to miss too many of the hours that I have now.

It's true that we won't get the time back with our kids, but if we're honest, not all of those hours are positive. We snap at our kids humanness, we bristle at their dirty hands and snotty noses, we are frustrated when they can't learn to share a simple toy. Rather than feel guilt over those times that we too fail at our jobs, let's use those moments as reminders that, even as parents, we can be human, just as our children are. We can apologize, and hug, and let them know that we love them just as much and maybe sometimes we deserve a time out for breaking the rules too...

if only they would let us take our time out in peace!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

1st Grade Schedule

I decided to post my current thoughts on scheduling our 1st grade year for a young 6 year old boy, starting in August of next year.

  • Science - Apologia Science (either Exploring Creation with Botany or Zoology 1) Young Explorers, with Junior Notebooking Journal. This may be overkill for most 6 year old kids, but my oldest kid is a science fiend. They do science in co-op as well, so I may adjust this to go along with what they are doing in co-op, but the Apologia science curriculum is amazing.
  • Math - Singapore Math (1A and 1B)
  • Grammar - First Language Lessons of a Well-trained Mind
  • Reading - read aloud quality literature outside of "school time" (we've already made it through the first Boxcar Children book in the last week). Explore various genres of literature as in-school read-alouds - biography, non-fiction, historical fiction, folk tale, poetry, mystery. Encourage him to read on his own for pleasure, using reward systems as needed.
  • Vocabulary and spelling - add to vocabulary list from read-alouds. Use spelling words and worksheets, as needed from www.k12reader.com or other free online resources.
  • Handwriting - A Reason for Handwriting Book A and copy work, as desired (I don't like the idea of forcing copy work, but I may use it occasionally, as desired to reinforce learning in other areas).
  • Writing - have him re-tell stories in his own words, and dictate stories to me.
  • Art - library books, practice using various art forms (we're getting the kids some acrylic paints and Crayola paintbrushes in various sizes and styles for Christmas).
  • Fine motor skills - continue to build fine motor skills by encouraging play with Lego's, Kinetic sand, Play-doh, lacing and more. I may also try to teach him finger-weaving as well, if additional fine motor skills are needed.
  • Music - continue to visit story-time at the library, listen to classical music, and other songs and CDs.
  • History - visit museums, read books, unit studies. Mainly I would like to focus on North Carolina and U.S. History this year, and then start with a chronological world history study for 2nd grade, when he's more ready for that much information. I don't think he's quite ready for a formal history curriculum yet.
  • Field Trips - continue planning on 1-4 field trips per month.
  • Memory Work - Awana and Vol. 2 of "Hide Em in Your Heart" (Steve Green)
  • Bible study - continue to read Bible aloud at bedtime and discuss.
It looks like a lot, but the only "Everyday" subject is math and reading (my kids love to read aloud, so they won't complain about that). A basic schedule would look something like this (subject to adjustment):

Monday - math, reading, science, handwriting, art, history, fine motor skills
Tuesday - math, reading, grammar, music, co-op
Wednesday - math, reading, library story time, vocabulary, science, writing, history
Thursday - math, reading, grammar, spelling, handwriting, art
Friday - math, reading, grammar, fine motor skills, history, science, music

I'm a bit undecided at this point on whether to re-join co-op for next year (and it's still really early to decide anything). Field trips will generally be worked around the school schedule depending on time of day the field trip occurs and the needs of the school day. I have no problem skipping school when the occasion warrants, and will most likely end up schooling somewhat year round, even if it's just science experiments and reading quality literature. I also still haven't decided if I want to do an all-in-one curriculum such as Heart of Dakota again next year and just add science to it, and take away from it as necessary for my child. Needless to say, the only reason to put this post down at this time of year, is to stop my own head from re-working things indefinitely. I'll try not to look at it again until it's closer to the time to decide on curriculum next year.

In the meantime, school is going fabulously this year, and I won't plan on messing with a good thing. The best thing I've learned all year is not to keep going with too much of a good thing, even if the kids are enjoying a science experiment or art project, it's best not to keep them at it too long, or it will quickly become frustrating.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Who Do You Follow?

I overheard a conversation at a party recently, by a self-professed "Church-hopper". I didn't hear the whole conversation, but the gist of it was, that she had been looking for a church for awhile, but it was just too difficult to find a good one. I've been there before, especially if you're in a new town, or in an area where there just aren't a lot of Bible-based churches. However, I think we have to be careful not to look too long for a "good" church.

Why not? Should we settle for less than perfect in our walk with Christ? No, in our personal walk with Christ we ought always to be seeking to grow and mature in our faith. However, in our walk with our fellow believers, we have to keep one very important thing in mind, they are all human and failures just as we are.

You can search for the perfect orator in a pastor, only to find out he is careless with his flock. You can search for the perfect children's ministry, only to find out that the adult ministry is simply a social club, and you can find no deep friendships. You can search for the perfect Bible study schedule, only to find out that the word is not preached on Sundays.

So what's the point? Why not just give up the search, or keep it up indefinitely?

At some point, despite all of their personal failings and sins, we need to be making a commitment to a church body. Whether it's a home church or a mega-church, it makes no difference to God, but rather your commitment to be a part of His family does. If a church openly preaches something other than the gospel, you have a hard decision to make - either step up and call out the sin you see in the church, or start over somewhere new. Other than that, we should all be a little more open to sin and imperfection in the church. We need to analyze our feelings about each church, not on the other members of the body there, but on ourselves.

Did you feel the Spirit moving there? Did you see that there was a place for you to serve? Rather than analyzing each member of the body (including the pastor) on his or her "performance" we need to make a commitment, even if it's only a trial basis (7-8 weeks minimum) and dive in. Jump into small groups, talk to the pastor and/or elders, add yourself to the e-mail lists, and join the coffee and fellowship or covered dish meals. It's all well and good to say you didn't feel like you belonged at a certain church, but if the reason for not belonging is you standing behind a self-imposed wall, maybe you ought to give it another try.

I can honestly say that our church search was much shorter this time around, because we knew exactly what we were looking for. We felt the Spirit move, we saw the humanity of our fellow believers (and pastor) and we jumped in. There's no time like the present to become a part of a true community. A community where we recognize our sins and failures, and love each other anyway. So let's not claim to follow Paul or Apollos, or Pastor Dave, let's claim to follow Jesus Christ and accept the failures of our fellow believers along the way with grace, humility, and a love deep enough to gently correct without judgment.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Poetry Friday - Thinking of You

God help me think of You best
Not going over my to do list
Or my who's better than who fest
Or my self-centered subconscious

When waves of life cross my path
And no one knows my name
You hold Your face towards me
And wipe away my shame

No gift of mine
No guilty scribe
No praise I lift
Can cross the rift
Until Your blood
Grace like a flood
Washed me whole
Cleansed my soul
Made me new
And more like You

So today I sit here
Thinking of You

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

I have a 5-year old son. Needless to say, he's finally starting to wonder a little more about this Santa person. He knows that Santa isn't real, but we still read books about Santa, and talk about the idea of Santa, and a general "Christmas spirit". We also talk a lot about the reason for the Season.

Of course, he's also very interested in receiving gifts, especially toys, and even video games. As a side note, it's a bit hard to believe that my 5 year old can beat certain levels of Mario Kart, I'm not sure I could even do that.

So, what's the big deal about Santa and wanting gifts? Isn't that part of what Christmas is all about?

Let's talk about the real reason behind the gifts that Christ was given by the Wise Men (which by the way was not at his birth, but probably 2-4 years after he was born).

We know that Jesus received, at a minimum, gold, frankincense, and myrrh from the wise men. Why these three? I believe there was a very practical reason, as well as a very symbolic reason. These three items were typically given to kings, so the wise men would have brought them for that reason. But, why would God want them to be given to a baby born in a manger, to a poor young carpenter and his teenage bride?

Well, logistically speaking, it was not an easy or financially safe journey to travel from your "hometown" in Israel to Egypt. A carpenter may have been a useful trade, but Egypt is mostly a desert, and the majority of people lived in tents. There were no credit cards, or Visa and MasterCard. How did Joseph and Mary finance the journey to Egypt to escape certain death? My bet is that they used at least some of the very valuable gifts they were given.

We tend to think of these as silly gifts, trivial things, when in actuality, God specifically provided an extravagant blessing, with a very specific purpose, keeping His Son safe from harm, until the time was right.

So, what is the Christmas Spirit? Is it about what we've been given, or about what we do with what we've been given?

So, on this "Black Friday", if you choose to venture out to brave the crowds and complete some Christmas shopping, remember the true reason for the season, and the true black Friday that came years after Christ's birth. The black Friday when the sky went dark at noon, and the curtain was torn in two, and the earth shook. The "Christmas" gifts that were given in celebration of a King, and a God were likely used in His escape, but the true gift was given in a much more solemn and somber day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Financial Satisfaction

I overheard, and tried to participate in a Facebook conversation recently (I know, even I am amazed that we can call what takes place on Facebook a conversation) about the price of food and groceries for an average family. After the conversation, I started thinking a little more about the average cost of food across the world. Thinking of the millions and billions of people living on what most of us would consider "spare change".

It's fine to compare your organic, vegetarian, super food grocery budget to my conventional beef and rice, and canned vegetable budget, but it's also not a fully valid comparison until you compare it across the world. Especially around Thanksgiving, it's important not only to give thanks for what we've been given, but to give back to those who don't have as much as we do. Maybe you can donate a farm animal through a charitable organization. Maybe you can contribute to a microfinance company to enable more people to be self-employed. Maybe you could even sponsor a child from one of these countries. Or at a minimum, you could donate $5 to the World Food Programme, which would pay for approximately 20 meals.

Why is it important to give to people who are going hungry? Who are we really helping?

Let me tell you a story. It's not a true story in the sense of country and name, but it plays out in more countries than you could imagine across the world every day.

This story is about a little girl named Tia in Nepal. Tia comes from a very poor mountain family, and girls in her village are considered second class citizens. Her parents don't want to send her to school, because it is too far of a walk, and they would have to spend their pittance of income on school supplies and clothing. They manage a bare subsistence living by farming on the side of a mountain, but bad weather and a short growing season keep them always on the brink of starvation. Tia is the last person in her family to eat at the table, since she has an older brother and grandfather who live with them.

Lately, there have been rumors of well-dressed, professional men coming to the village down in the valley every week, talking about jobs in the city. They have said that for every girl or boy that goes to these fabulous factory jobs, the parents will receive $100 up front. Tia is 10, so she will soon be old enough to travel to the city for work. What her parents don't realize, is that most of these so-called employment companies are nothing more than slave traders, often selling girls into household slavery, or much worse.

Recently, a world food programme was started at the school Tia is supposed to attend. New groups are coming to her village to tell her parents about the school food programme. Instead of $100 up front, Tia would receive a lunch meal at school, and, because she is considered a "vulnerable child" her family would also receive a food stipend every month. Her family only receives the monthly food stipend if she attends school regularly. The difference between that $100 one time, and an ongoing commitment to provide food for the rest of her family, could be the difference in life and death. $50 is enough to provide a school food program for one year for one girl. Is Tia's life only worth $100? Or is she worth infinitely more than that?

World Food Programme website
World Vision
Samaritan's Purse
Kive (microfinance)

*As an FYI, none of the links in this article are paid referral links, because that just seems wrong.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Talking to Strangers in the Grocery Store

Someone recently asked a group, "You don't really start up conversations with people in the grocery store, do you?" I hadn't really thought about it much before, but we actually do, especially when we're there as a family.

I blame the adorableness of our two kids, but strangers will make a comment to us about them, and then we'll respond with something back, and it often ends up being an actual conversation, about everything from where our families grew up and who we're related to, to where we went to college and where their kids are going to college.

I think it's a pretty amazing thing actually.

I thought we had community when we lived in Louisville, and I would often see people I already knew at the grocery story (from work or church) and we would have casual conversations. Even though there are a wider variety of grocery stores around here, it still feels more like a community. I may see the same stranger we talked to at Ken's Korny Maze at the grocery store the next weekend, I may see a stranger from the park at the library (before they shut down our local library). It gives me a huge sense of connection, because these are people that are part of my community. It's much easier to talk to a stranger when they aren't really a stranger.

They read our local paper, delivered free Sundays and Wednesdays, so they have the same community news. They attend the same sports leagues. The go to the annual Easter Egg Hunt, 4th of July Celebration, and Trick or Treat the Trails. It's a lot harder to be rude to someone, when you know that you'll likely see them again, in a place where you least expect it.

As Thanksgiving draws closer, I am thankful for the sense of community in my new town. It may not be a small town anymore, but it still has a sense of community that I haven't found anywhere else.

So, even when we accidentally defrost our turkey too soon, and have to go buy a replacement turkey a few days before Thanksgiving, the stress starts to disappear, simply by talking to friendly strangers at the grocery store.