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Their Best Chance

I’ve fallen in love with the new TV series, Once Upon a Time.

One of my favorite lines in the first 2 episodes is parents making tough decisions to give their kids “their best chance.” In their case, the best chance was to let them go to something better. And it also meant finding out when they needed help and doing what it took to give it.

My job as a mother is to do what it takes to give my children “their best chance.” We are fortunate to live in the United States, the land of second chances, where it is still possible to lift yourself up by your boot straps if you work hard and make smart choices.

As I live in count-down mode that by next August my older teen will be away at college, every moment, every dinner, and every family time is both precious and poignant. I keep thinking, “seize these moments.” Within 3 years, our nest may well be empty.

The choices we’ve made as parents in the upbringing of our kids and raising them to make their own choices are beginning to bear fruit.

If I could give any advice to younger parents with younger children, it would be to savor each moment because it will pass quickly. And not to settle for “good enough” choices for their kids but to seek ways to give them their best chance. What that best chance is will vary from family to family, from child to child. We can’t all afford every possible opportunity – in terms of time or budgets. But we can determine what is most important for a specific child and seek ways to meet that need.

How can parents give their  children their best chance?

Make time to help with the homework, to have the family dinner, to have fun together and to teach life lessons on hard work, high standards, and compassionate service. Show them daily they are loved. I’ve never heard a parent of an adult say later in life, “I wish I had spent less time reading to my children, attending their events, or helping them with homework.”

How can communities give children their best chance?

We can use what talents we have and find ways to share them with young people. We can let them know they matter and their ideas have merit. Who knows? If parents neglect a child, responsible mentors who encourage a kid could be the “best chance” that kid has.

As a youth leader and as a parent, I’ve often discovered that when I work to give children their best chance, at the same time I receive my own best chance for a fulfilling life.

Wedding Expenses

Photo courtesy of Michael Gray Photography

So the Kardashian wedding of the century has ended in a split. Truly a sad time for all involved…it would be wonderful if they could find a way to make it work.

As I heard the news, I thought about wedding expenses. A $10 million wedding that lasts 72 days means each day of wedded bliss cost them $138,888.89.

Then I thought back to my own wedding 20 years ago. Richard and I paid for our wedding ourselves, were extremely frugal, and spent $4,000. My Excel spreadsheet tells me that each day of our wedded bliss (and the not so blissful days too) costs 54 cents. If we make it another 20 years, the cost will be 27 cents for each day of our marriage.

I’ve gotta say it was worth 54 cents a day and then some. Most days.

We were fortunate and frugal with our wedding plans: I found the exact dress I had wanted to order on a clearance rack in a southern Illinois store that sold farm implements and wedding apparel. One of my cousins, a florist, gave us our flowers as a wedding present. My sister, a hairdresser, did my hair. Another cousin, a cake decorator, gave us a substantial discount on our wedding cake. Richard’s company got us discounted prices on wedding invitations. We held our reception in the church reception hall and asked friends to help with the serving/cleanup of foods at the reception.

Often, weddings calculate a cost per person attending the wedding. I wonder if it might be wiser to calculate the cost over time instead. In looking back at our wedding, the one thing I would do differently is have a sit down meal instead of hot and cold appetizers. But that is hindsight.

With 2 teens in high school, I sincerely hope I don’t have to think about wedding planning for a long, long time. But when we do, I’ll probably mention to them that if there is something – like a sit down dinner – that they will look back on in 20 years and wish they had had – that we try to think of ways to make it happen.

And I will strongly encourage them to spend as much time working on building the relationship, the marriage, as they do on the wedding ceremony and reception.



Good-bye Trees

Lifting the tree over our house.

Yesterday, we dropped two maples, one in front of our house and one behind our house. Storms had damaged them too many times, and they were dying.  With a house surrounded by tall trees, each time it’s stormed, for years, I’ve prayed for tree strength through every storm, hoping we would stay safe.

I didn’t realize how attached I was to those trees until they were being dropped. We moved into our home when our daughter was a baby. For 17 years, every happy family event in our yards took place under those trees – from the time my children learned to walk to the present, as they learn to back the car out the driveway.

The summer of 1995 had a storm that first damaged the 100+ year old maple in our back yard. After the storm, I bought Richard a chainsaw for Father’s Day so we could clear damage from our back yard. A little more fell in a storm in 2003. When front line winds from Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, more of the tree fell. We again put the chainsaw to use.

Ice storm roof damage

The scariest damage happened in the ice storm of 2009. Large parts of the tree fell, including a 15 foot limb that went through our roof and pierced our daughter’s bedroom ceiling just above her bed. (We were in the basement thank God.) The tree stayed intact during storms this spring, but it was time.

We knew we would one day drop the trees. It was a matter of being able to pay for it and hiring the right company – we knew we needed an arborist with appropriate insurance in case something went wrong.

This year, as I began to help Go Local Pros, a group  of Evansville area contractors with their marketing, I met one of their members, American Eagle Tree Service.  They gave us an estimate and dropped our trees.

The back tree was a special challenge. The driveway to the back yard is narrow. The tree was too close to both our house and our neighbor’s and was surrounded by power lines. So when they dropped the tree, they moved their truck into our front yard, positioned their crane over our house, and lowered their tree cutter, chainsaw in hand, into the tree. Everything went much better than I expected.

I prayed for his safety, and all went well.  This morning, they returned to grind the stumps. It’s culture shock to look back and see bare ground where trees have always been.

Yes, I’ll miss the trees. But I’ll rest more easily, especially during storms, knowing the two dying trees beside our home are no longer there.

Sawing the base of the tree

Why the R Word Offends Me

IMG_3249photo © 2010 Karen Frederick | more info (via: Wylio)
Using the R word (“retarded”) to make fun of someone or something in front of me is the equivalent of waving a flag in front of a bull. When someone uses it that way, my perception of that person immediately changes in a bad way.  Why?

Children and adults with Down Syndrome have always been a huge part of my life. They have taught me lessons of  love, joy, and living in the moment. They have enriched their family’s lives beyond measure. How have they done so?

  • The youngest son of my favorite babysitter stayed home and did the outdoor yardwork that enabled his parents to spend at least 10 more years on the family farm before they went into a nursing home.
  • One of my middle school speech students moved a room of 200 adults to tears at the class’s final speech night when she gave an oral interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father) which included sign language.
  • The late son of another friend shared his love of music, Jesus, and Aces basketball with everyone he ever met.
  • Another friend, a high school student, dances ballet and found a job as a restaurant greeter as soon as he turned 16.

Most of all, there was my first daughter who died before she was born. Afterwards, she was diagnosed with anencephaly and Down syndrome, a rare combination.

When my children were little and played on playgrounds, I used to look at the 3rd swing, the empty swing, and wonder how our lives would be different today. I still miss her. Each time one of my friends with Down syndrome gives me a hug I feel a tug in my heart for the daughter I never got to hold. Nothing would have saved her. She did not suffer.

There is little if anything I can do for her or to honor her. The one thing I can do is urge people, and especially parents to stop using the R word to make fun of others. And to urge them to teach children how offensive that word is.  They may not realize how many others there are like me who hear them use that term and immediately think of them in a different, less flattering way.

Birthday Surprises

Photo courtesy of Michael Gray Photography

When Richard turned 40, I was more wildcat than wife.  I decorated a 3-D toilet cake for his surprise party.  Then I filled his office with polyester cobwebs.

Payback’s rough.  When I turned 40, he flew in friends from Los Angeles and Chicago for a surprise weekend.

Now he turns 50.  No toilet cake.  You tamed the shrew.

When we met on a blind date 16 years ago, my hair was longer than my dress was short.  

On that first date, he saw through my blarney.  He smiled at me and commented, “You’ve had a rough time.”  I looked in his eyes and saw I was safe.  A nice, normal guy was undiscovered country.

We married two years later.  Many doubted it would work.  His family was traditional; mine was not.  I had moved 25 times in 26 years, and he had moved 5 times in 36 years.

It took 6 years for me to find God with Richard by my side.  As we met obstacles, I put us in separate rowboats when we crossed challenges.  Richard silently rowed to the other side.  I talked nonstop, rowing in circles around him worrying. 

“Will we get there?  How will we get there?  I’ve not stopped talking for 17 days but this is important and why aren’t you listening?”

When we met the challenge, I would collapse on land gasping, “Can you believe we got here?”

Richard would smile and say, “Yes.”

God sent me a husband who meets deadlines and keeps his word. As I learned to trust Richard, I opened a dialog with a God.

I still experience culture shock when he cares for our children.  It’s part of surviving with a Dad gap – I don’t know what it’s like to have a caring father.  My kids do.  He’s always there, in the background, working quietly for his family. The chains of my miserable youth broke.

Richard spent years as a quiet, steady German worker, plowing the field and planting seeds in my heart. He taught me that living life in Christ is more rewarding than surviving life without Him.  

I’ll decorate a nice cake this birthday.  Promise.

Happy 50th,  Richard.

“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Sloppy Potatoes Recipe

I usually post a photo with a recipe. This time, however, my family ate the potatoes before the photo could be taken. I named them sloppy potatoes because we were eating sloppy joes, and it seemed to fit.

If you like potato skins and are in a hurry, this microwave recipe has the same flavors. It is not expensive and can easily be made at home.

  • 1 lb. potatoes (I used baby, freshly dug ones)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 4 T butter or margarine
  • 4 oz. sour cream or chip dip (I used french onion dip)
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Wash and quarter the potatoes. Spray a 9-inch glass casserole and place the potatoes in it. Sprinkle garlic powder and onion powder on potatoes. Add margarine. Cover casserole with lid or vented plastic wrap and microwave 5 minutes. Stir potatoes. Microwave 5 more minutes. Add sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon. Stir. Microwave 5 more minutes and serve.

 Serves 4. Could easily be modified to be baked in the oven for a larger crowd.

What My Darn Cat Teaches Me About God


Bandit asks for attention like a dog.

Our cat thinks he’s a dog. He guards the house, sniffs out strangers, fights with my son, and hates to use a litter box. When he wants to go outside, he cries at the door. Sometimes, his adventures get him into bad spots.

In the middle of the night, when he wants to go, he comes to me, howls to wake me up, and I stagger to let him out. A couple of nights ago, when I stumbled groggily to the kitchen door, he hesitated at the door and didn’t want to go out. “Don’t get me up again then,” I grumbled at him. So I closed the door and returned to bed.

The next morning, he wasn’t around to be let out. Then I heard a scratching at the door. He had zoomed through the door as I closed it and gotten trapped between the kitchen door and the storm door. So he spent the rest of the night stuck between the doors, during a rainstorm.

It’s not his first misadventure. Our first clue he was an explorer was when he was a kitten, climbed up shelves, and dove into a tub with my daughter’s china toy dishes. We see his stalking squirrels on roofs and playing peeping Tom by jumping on neighbor’s windowsills to peer into their homes. He’s been locked over night in our garage on accident. Once, he got locked in our neighbor’s garage for an entire day.

Our cat’s a perfect fit for our family because he’s a mess. I don’t live in a perfect Sim City World where our home is always orderly, the parents never quarrel, the kids obey perfectly, and we sit holding hands every night singing Kum Ba Yah together praising God for giving us a perfect world and family.

Give me my imperfect world. I rejoice in our flaws because that’s when we see how wonderful God is; He puts the rainbow in the sky after the storm.

St. Patrick’s breastplate is often edited to be more politically correct. I like the original version:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort, [our homes]
Christ in the chariot seat, [our travels]
Christ in the poop, [across the water to other lands]

Christ is in our homes, when we travel, and when we’re on water. He’s with us everywhere – not just the clean perfect places but in the poop.

I see Christ in our cat, who immediately forgets I locked him by accident between two doors overnight, who cried at the door this summer on days my son left for work, and who’s been known to take a bite out of crime when a stranger knocks at our door and he decides the stranger is a potential threat.

I see Christ working through our cat who thinks he’s a dog.

Welcoming Strangers

'Indianapolis Skyline' photo (c) 2009, bnpositive - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/The most wonderful things happen when we visit parishes wherever we travel. God uses those we meet to touch our hearts and enrich our lives. It happened again this weekend.

“When you drive through that neighborhood, don’t get out of your car. You’re white, and you could get shot because of it,” a friend warned us years ago. Yesterday, my family drove through those neighborhoods, trying to figure our way back to the main road after parking at the State Fair.

Compounding that warning was a Wisconsin incident this past week where there was a mob uprising late at night at their state fair, where white passengers were targeted, dragged out of their cars, and beaten.

When I was 10, I lived in Louisiana in a hotbed of racism where our family’s pastor had a cross burned in his yard by the Klan. When I was 15, I lived in a neighborhood among hookers and dealers. My mission as a mother is to give my children a better childhood and life than I had. Racism and violence are horrible in all forms, and I worried for my kids’ safety when we drove through those neighborhoods.

We had just enough time to make it to a parish Mass, and we stumbled along our way to find the parish we had never before seen. Where’s the church? When we found it, we were pretty much out of “that” neighborhood. I still worried. “Are there any white people on this street? If not, I don’t want to go in,” I told my family.

“That’s sad, Mom. Race shouldn’t matter,” my son commented.

“You’re right. But we need to stay safe,” I answered. We saw a white family and got out. “Will our car be ok?” I continued.

“The car will be fine. We’re here. God will take care of any problems,” my husband answered.

We walked into the parish, a humble church with about 50 people worshiping. Mass began 60 seconds after we walked in the door. I relaxed in the universal responses of the Kyrie and standing during the Gospel reading. As I looked around, I realized there were other whites in the congregation, but we were absolutely the minority race present. During the homily, the priest discussed Elijah’s hearing God in the silence instead of the bustle around us.

After we prayed the Our Father together, the congregation gave its own twist to the exchange of peace. Members crossed the sanctuary to hug and greet each other. Several deliberately came to us, shook our hands, and welcomed us to their home of worship. We joined together during the Eucharist. Jesus was not only present but once again working in our lives. We just had to be still enough to listen.

At the conclusion of the service, the priest welcomed visitors, and asked each group in turn what brought them to the parish – others from the State Fair were also present. Afterwards, a greeter came to us and asked how our day at the State Fair had been. She encouraged our kids and invited us to return next time we visit the State Fair. We were the strangers made welcome.

As we left and returned to our car, the sun was shining brighter. I no longer saw the neighborhood but instead saw hope. Each time we reach above racism and violence, we do our own part to reduce their impact.

As I listened, I was reminded our universal faith isn’t just expressed in our responses in Mass. It’s how Jesus Christ works through us all to honor human dignity.

Yes, it’s worth it before every out of town trip to pour over masstimes, look at our map and schedule, and figure out how to squeeze Mass into the weekend. We learn a lot more about other communities worshiping together than we do just driving through town.






GMO Wars Across the Dinner Table

I'm here with you.photo © 2009 Kevin Lallier | more info (via: Wylio)
When I decided my daughter’s first birthday cake would be a carrot cake made with whole wheat flour, I should have known God’s humor would one day smack me.

Though I have relaxed, when my children were babies, I was a nutrition Nazi. Processed foods didn’t touch our table. When my daughter was three and ate her first Twinkie, she buzzed for 3 hours like she was on a drug-induced high.

I have relaxed but still grind my own wheat when I bake bread and buy the no corn syrup, no additives wheat varieties when I buy bread.  We grow a garden, and I preserve as much as I can.  When we have enough produce, I’ll make our own pizza and tomato sauce, applesauce, pearsauce, and more to last through the next year. We have backyard chickens so our eggs have a higher nutrition content and better flavor. 

So how will God show humor to the mother who cringes at lunch meat and refused to allow her children to ingest any artificial sweeteners before they were 10?

  • My son loves junk food, especially white bread and ravioli out of a can. His favorite food is hot dogs, and he could host Teen Boy Versus Food, with weekly dares on how much junk he can ingest in a single sitting.
  • My 17-year-old daughter likes nutritious foods, but her interests took a different tack. She is passionate about food production and agriculture and plans to spend her life working in the marketing/business end of food and agriculture. In the farm to fork spectrum, she’s more interested in the farm.

Now the clincher:

My daughter loves GMO foods and wants to help create more of them. She’s opposed to the introduction of any animal or human strains in plant breeding but passionately believes that GMO can reduce world hunger in a world of increased populations and decreased land availability to grow foods.

How can I argue with a teen who tells me she wants to find ways to feed starving people in third world countries? She’s researched agriculture business and GMO foods for school research papers. I made sure she read the naturalist point of view. Her mind hasn’t changed.

My mind hasn’t changed either. So we agree to disagree. When I unload our produce from our CSA, community supported agriculture, which only raises non-genetically modified or chemically treated seed raised in a sustainable manner, she looks at the produce and sniffs, “You’re just one of those NON-CHEMICAL people.”

Yesterday, as we ate corn on the cob at lunch, I told her it was from the CSA, and her reply was: “I knew something was wrong with it. Look at the smaller ears and the smaller kernels of corn. Imagine if you raised a hybrid how much more productive the land would be and how many more people it would feed.”

I agree with her that I’m a non-chemical person. And I have chosen not to argue with her point of view. She’s on her own journey.

And I count my blessings: there are worse ways a 17-year-old could rebel than to support GMO foods.

Her family’s lifestyle will always be in her heart – I know that every time I see her feeding our vegetable peelings to her chickens in our backyard.

As she journeys on her path to feed the world, I’ll always be proud of her.


Soar on Eagle’s Wings – On My Daughter’s 17th Birthday

Candlesphoto © 2006 Brimstone | more info (via: Wylio)
Seventeen years ago, my daughter was born on one of the happiest days of my life. Before she learned to crawl, she learned to roll and scared me one day when I couldn’t find her in her room. Frantically, I searched and finally found her; she had rolled under her crib and was exploring.

On her birthday, as she ventures from home, I think back to a lifetime of cherished memories. Even before she could walk, Elizabeth explored faster than I could keep up with her. 

She showed her quiet loyalty even at an early age. When she was 4 and was playing across a playground one afternoon, I saw a bully try to throw rocks at her 2-year-old baby brother. Elizabeth raced there before I did, threw herself in front of her brother so she was the one who got hit, and then decked the bully. When I got there a split second later, she told me, “I handled it, Mom.”

She still “handles it” before I can catch up to her. Now, she just goes a little further. She’s just returned from a week’s leadership training in Washington, D.C. With each trip she makes and challenge she takes, I see her growing into her own person.

And I see her growing into someone who will disagree with me. Like all mothers and daughters since the beginning of time, we clash.  “Mom, you’re just one of THOSE organic, non-chemical people,” she notes as I savor produce from our local CSA group. She’s right. Though I’m now that silly, doddering mother whose opinion is not always valued, I’ll share some birthday advice for a lifetime:

  • Search your heart for the things that mean the most for you, figure out your dreams, and go for them. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you can’t or won’t. Go for the will and can.
  • Whatever your dream – whether it’s to create a new food, develop new agriculture products, build a family, play Irish jigs on your fiddle, or find a way to feed more starving people around the world, go for it.
  • Use your creative touch to leave the world brighter than you found it. Write your stories and create your pictures.
  • Always remember that when you go for your dreams, you will soar on the wings of eagles, lifted up by the prayers of your proud parents, who will love you to the moon and back again, beyond the ends of time itself.

Happy birthday.

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