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Old Moms, New Tricks

“If you hold a needle, I want a picture to prove it,” my teen daughter sniffed when she learned I was going to a sewing party.

My 8th grade class was the first one where girls got to take shop, so I skipped home ec. So I made the metal ashtray, did the woodworking project, and skipped sewing. My mom had a Buttoneer, so I never sewed on a button.

God gave me a mother-in-law who is a professional seamstress. When my kids were little, I never told them, but they held their mending till Grandma visited. Then they would bring her their holey socks, torn knees, and more.  Grandma never complained at my domestic ineptitude. She taught my daughter to sew. And she didn’t explode the time my son thought her backstitcher was a bank, poured quarters into the slots, and my husband had to take it apart to get out the money.

This spring, I joined YaYa’s, an extension homemaker’s club on the understanding they wouldn’t make me sew. With this year’s Fashion Revue, the club decided to make pajamas to wear as a group entry and scheduled a sewing session. I’m not the only non-sewer. The real sewers brought their machines and told us to bring fabric.

So, today, I showed up with my pink fabric. Going into the fabric store was as stressful to me as walking into the dentist’s office for a root canal. Give me the smells of a plumbing supply store.

By this time, I was going to the sewing party as much to prove to my kids I could.  YaYa’s encouraged me.

  • “You want me to cut this?”
  • “Why are they called pinking sheers? Is it because the fabric’s pink?”
  • “Notches? Is this like an Erector set?”
  • “You iron seams?”
  • “You hem pant legs by hand? Really?”
  • They didn’t laugh when I pinned the pants across the crotch.
  • They didn’t laugh when I pinned the pants backwards.

They did laugh when I told them I needed photographic evidence to prove to my family I actually sewed.

P. S. Don’t tell my family I never touched the sewing machines. I was afraid they might break. But I did touch a needle and thread.

Lesson? Old moms can learn new tricks. So can you. Go out and learn how to do something new today!

Mountain Women

woman_childphoto © 2010 KatieK* | more info (via: Wylio)
Thanks to the fighting Scot-Irish Mountain Women in my family tree, who deserve a nod on the 4th of July.

Scratching a living in the foothills of Kentucky, and later, southern Illinois, their stories leap through generations.

Their battles were fought on the homefront.

What a legacy they give to my children and me…and great stories to share:

  • When her husband came home drunk and passed out in bed one too many times, she left him. But first, she sewed him from head to toe up in the bedsheets. In the mid-1800’s.
  • After her favorite mule was stolen in the 1800’s, she heard someone had him 100 miles from home. So she rode alone on horseback to fetch him home. He had been sold to a farmer. When she called the mule and he came to her, the farmer realized the mule did belong to her. She declined, saying she had to get him back home or no one would believe she found him.
  • During the Civil War, a mother with a house full of kids to feed went postal on a military regiment that tried to take her last cows to feed the army. She told them she had children to feed and fought so hard they took the cows, but paid her. She was the only one in the area who got reimbursed for livestock.
  • My grandmother, who lived in a log cabin in the woods, walked 3 miles to the highway while in labor to get to her sister’s house to deliver a baby. Three days later, she walked 3 miles back home, in 3 inches of snow, with my grandfather carrying my newly born mother, with her toddler son trailing beside her. The sisters had gotten into an argument after childbirth, and Grandma was so mad she walked back home.
  • Equally expert with a butcher knife or shotgun, Grandma saved the rattle when she shot a snake out of the tree in her yard. I kept the rattle until it burned when my house burned 10 years ago. Once, in her 80’s, an intruder ventured on her porch. Alone at the time, Grandma turned on the porch light, leaned her shotgun across her walker and yelled, “Come one step closer and I’ll blow your balls off.” The intruder fled, never to return.
  • Grandma’s oldest sister, who was a formidable 5 feet tall when she began as a schoolteacher in a one-room schoolhouse, teaching 60 kids, including her 4 younger siblings. At her funeral, just weeks shy of her 100th birthday, an 80-year-old student who became a pastor preached the sermon. He told us, “Miss Ida ruled the school. Every farm boy was afraid of her. Once, she told me, ‘If I have to take a hoe and knock a hole in your head, I will if that’s what it takes for you to learn your math tables.’ I learned them. And when I got too sick to go to school, Miss Ida drove her horse and buggy to my house every day after school to give me my lessons. For a month.”
  • Grandma’s other sister, Aunt Lena, who managed a peach orchard in southern Illinois (with the largest barn of its time) after the untimely death of her husband, was still a piker in her 90’s. When a doctor tried to talk to her daughter and ignore her, Aunt Lena interrupted him, saying, “You talk to me. I pay my own bills, and I write your check.” (Her orchard is now Hedman Vineyards, with a Swedish bed and breakfast, complete with fantastic meals at the Peach Barn Cafe. The farmhouse by the Peach Barn is where my mother was born. The vineyard is beautiful, and the cafe is fantastic.)

Those strong women were the wives and mothers of equally pioneers and mountainfolk. I thank them all for fighting for an American dream of a better home for our families. 

Their legacy gave me the strength and chutzpah to overcome my own obstacles to build a better world for my family.

Happy Independence Day!

Gardening Lessons

Today’s the day my kids’ small garden gets judged in a countywide 4-H contest. They have participated in this contest the past 5 years, won it once and won reserve champion last year. Because we’re urban gardeners, we only enter the small garden division because we just don’t have the space to be competitive in the large division. We have a larger garden on the other side of our double lot backyard, but our neighbor’s shade trees reduce its food production.

This is not going to be a winning year. Our only shot at being competitive is that perhaps the other entries have struggled through the wet spring like we did. In early spring, during record floods and rainfall, our back yard looked like a lake. On the day of the worst rain, the entire yard was underwater except the high spot where my daughter keeps her backyard chickens. I began searching for a temporary home if we had to evacuate them.

2010 Garden Entry, Reserve Champion Winner

The water receded. Slowly, the ground dried enough to be tilled. We cleared it one Sunday evening in anticipation of its being ready to till Monday morning. That night, another 2 inches of rain fell. A week later, the garden was finally tilled, and we raced to plant. A few days after that, we were able to plant the large garden as well. We barely got it planted when the rain began again.

The garden survived. Normally, the week before our contest judging, the kids prepare the garden to ensure everything is mulched, weeds are gone, and all is well tended. Last week, during a hard rain, water briefly stood in the entire garden again. They couldn’t get into it because their weight would compact the soil. Yesterday, it was borderline dry, and they did what they could.

2008 Small Garden Contest Entry

Later today, a judge will arrive to inspect the garden and ask questions. It won’t be our best year.

The best prize we’ll get this year is in character development. When circumstances are tough, don’t quit. Make the best of what you have and work as much as you can. And in the words of every farmer since time began, remember…

There’s always next year. We can try again.

Greening Our Diet

: This summer, we decided to greenify our family’s diet and joined Seton Harvest, a CSA (community supported agriculture coop), because it gave us a venue for fresh, local produce that’s certified naturally grown. Our half share in the coop provides us with a minimum of 6 different vegetables each week for 26 weeks.

When I have time, I grind my own wheat to make bread for my family. When I don’t, I’ve generally just bought wheat bread. Now, I buy Nature’s Pride bread at the bread store near our church. The bread has no corn syrup, less sodium, and more fiber and protein per serving.

Having just picked up week 4 of our produce, how has it gone?

New Menus: We’ve gotten kale each week. Other items we’ve gotten include Yukina savoy, escarole, bok choi, tatsoi, and Swiss chard. It took me awhile to figure out how to cook the greens. Our most successful items were crispy, oven-roasted kale and garlic sauteed kale. Tomorrow, I’m going to learn how to cook fresh beets. Salads with fresh lettuce – of many varieties – have become a routine staple. Kohlrabi, cucumbers, and broccoli augment our leafy salads. At least 1 and generally 2 meals daily now include large servings of something green and leafy. My personal favorite was Yukina savoy – I found a Lebanese beef and rice dish to make with its leaves, and the stalks add a celery-type texture with a peppery zing to our salads.

Family Response: They love the bread. Most of the time, my family accepts the greening of our diet. Occasional complaints emerge. When  I sautéed kale, my daughter said she would prefer that to “that crispy kale.” When she learned all the produce was certified naturally grown, she sniffed and said, “You’re just one of those NON-CHEMICAL kind of people.” And I responded yes.

My son told me I could put kale or other greens into any kind of salad with chicken or meat, and he would be fine if he could sneak the green stuff into the trash. (a jest – he doesn’t really do that) He learned when I made the Lebanese beef and rice that it’s not smart to tell your mother after a meal, “That tasted like a fart in my mouth without the smell.”

Benefits: Over the past month, I see improvement. My husband commented our diet change eliminated any acid indigestion he used to have. My family discovered they like bread with flax seed.

Tonight for dinner, we had tacos with salad on the side. I had a surprise with the tacos – for the first time, I bought whole wheat tortillas. Would they eat them? I braced myself for the barrage of complaints. To my surprise, they ate them and asked if I would only buy wheat ones in the future because the flavor is better.

It’s getting easier being green – or at least eating green – one bite and day at a time.

He Uses It For Good – Behind the Cover

My book is finished.  After a month of intense writing, and two months’ editing and proofing, I sent off the manuscript this morning. He Uses It for Good is about to become a reality.

I owe a big thanks to my husband Richard, a digital illustrator with our company The Copper Lion, Inc., who designed the book cover. After 20 years of marriage, he’s lived most of the story and knows the rest. He patiently helps when I bound in full of energy and ideas, telling him, “Richard! I have this vision! It will be awesome!” More than playing Sancho to my Don Quixote moments, he gathers pieces and parts and helps make those visions happen.

The book’s premise is that God can take whatever happens to us or mistakes we make and use them for good.  I’ve lived it and seen it for a life time. From the heartland of Illinois and Indiana, to the Louisiana Bayou, to southern California and Mexico, and the British Isles, God has helped me. My misadventures have most likely kept a battalion of guardian angels busy for a lifetime.

Richard took the threads of those adventures and wove them into a book cover, beginning with photos of me, his walking our toddling daughter through a backyard garden, and our son’s working in a pumpkin patch.

The evening I took the photo of his walking our daughter in the garden, sun reflected in the lens. The picture is a metaphor of hope; someone like me can have a daughter whose daddy lovingly helps her take her first steps in a beautiful garden surrounded by a circle of light. He incorporated into it Celtic imagery, a crucifix, and passport stamps.  The most ordinary parts of our lives become remarkable in the hands of an artist and creator.

Richard’s design captures the hope of my book and heart. It reminds me that my heavenly Father will guide my baby steps, just as Richard guided our daughter’s, surrounded by light in a garden full of possibilities. The whole time, though I may not see it, we’re surrounded by rays of Divine Mercy.

Note – check back for publication dates and more.

I Do – 20 Years Later

Photo courtesy of Michael Gray Photography

“I do,” I said 20 years ago on our wedding day. The happily ever after adventure we got is different from the one I imagined that day.

What’s the secret that kept our marriage going, even on the days when the bathroom sink broke, the kids got stomach bugs, and the cat got fleas?

Those simple words: “I do.”

In the 1968 film Yours Mine and Ours (embedding of this video was disabled), Henry Fonda explains the facts of life to his daughter. Henry plays Frank Beardsley, a widower who has married Lucille Ball, a widow. As they combine their household of 18 children, chaos erupts when Lucille goes into labor with number 19. As their daughter struggles to know what real love is, Fonda explains:

“It’s giving life that counts. Until you’re ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won’t keep it turning. Life isn’t a love in, it’s the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and… ground round instead of roast beef. And I’ll tell you something else: it isn’t going to a bed with a man that proves you’re in love with him; it’s getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts.”

My home is chaotic as times, but not as chaotic as the scene in this movie. Nevertheless, when my world grows to hectic and I long for the blissful honeymoon or some Calgon take me away time on my own personal Pacific Island, I think of Henry and realize something.

Each day I say “I do.” Love is a decision and an opportunity often disguised through the routine of dishes, laundry, cooking, and driving my kids. It’s the decision to stick through the chaotic moments along with the blissful honeymoon that makes a marriage.

So today, I say “I do.” I’ll repeat that tomorrow, and every day, and rejoice in the unexpected gifts along the way.

College Prep Social Media?

facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook mergephoto © 2010 Asthma Helper | more info (via: Wylio)
Facebook is too dangerous for college prep teens,” a student in my Facebook class told me. “We won’t let our 16 year old touch it because he might risk scholarship chances.”

Interesting proposition. I had 2 primary responses:

  1. Learning to navigate social media is like learning to drive. Parents work with their teens to teach them the rules of the road. With both, these are skills you don’t leave home knowing. It’s easier to teach your teen to use social media responsibly, under your own roof when they are younger, than to trust it happens later.
  2. I increasingly know employers who view those with NO social media presence as odd ducks and ill-equipped to interact with the modern work force. Long term, no social media presence = fewer career opportunities.

“We hired a college coach who tells his clients: NO SOCIAL MEDIA FOR COLLEGE PREP TEENS. It’s just too dangerous if they post the wrong thing,” she replied.

Frankly, I was astounded to still have this conversation in 2011. As the parent of 15 and 16 year olds, I disagree. My husband and I were their first friends on Facebook, and a friend who’s a prosecutor was their third. We monitor them and teach them to use it constructively.

But this isn’t about my opinion. What do YOU think? So I’m asking YOU, my readers. Is social media too dangerous a risk for college prep teens? Please comment below.

A Better Friday

2-good-friday-service-singapore-2009-church-of-the-holy-spiritphoto © 2009 Bernard Oh | more info (via: Wylio)
Earlier this week at a family lunch, I realized I was the Rodney Dangerfield of wives and mothers of teens. I didn’t feel like I even got respect from the family cat. It was my Unholy Week of disappointment.

Then the tipping point came – a comment about my hair. Fine – I left our house as a mom on a mission. I called my hairdresser and got an appointment within an hour. When I got to the salon, I learned the receptionist had misunderstood who I wanted to cut my hair and scheduled me with someone else. My stylist was off for the day.  The sub stylist, upon learning who usually cut my hair, was worried she didn’t have time to do it right. They asked if I could wait longer for a different sub. I left.

But I was on a mission; I would not return home until my hair was cut. I phoned a friend and posted on Facebook, “Who can I find to cut my hair right NOW?” My friend returned my call and said she would cut it if I could wait an hour.

So I went out to dinner alone, steaming the food with my angry mother evil eye glare. How dare they make me this angry during Holy Week? Forget about Easter dinner! I wanted to take a Calgon Getaway Cruise for mothers on Easter Sunday – not an easy thing to find in Evansville, Indiana. So I imagined a land flowing with cheese and chocolate, where I was given flowers all the time just because, I looked like I did 20 years ago when I got married, I was appreciated, and everyone knew I was always right.

My wannabe vacation plans had to stop so I could get to my haircut on time. Half an hour after my haircut began, I returned home with a new do by a new stylist and 4 fewer inches of hair on my head. When I walked in the house, I told them, “Didn’t like the hair? Problem solved.”

Angry mothers, especially of the fighting Scot-Irish variety to which I belong, don’t generally elicit charming sweet nothing responses from their family. So I threw myself into my work, taking care of clients and business instead. My husband was taking care of his business, and I would take care of mine. It was not a pleasant couple of days.

Then Holy Thursday services began. My son was a server, and I was his designated driver. As my son handed towels to our priest as he washed the feet of 12 in our congregation, God grand slammed me with a baseball bat of realization.

The first Palm Sunday, the crowds cheered Jesus. When He washed those feet, He knew what would happen. He would get no respect. His friends would fall asleep when he needed them the most, one would betray him for money, and another would deny him. The crowds who had cheered “Hosanna” would scream “Crucify him!”

He didn’t cancel the first Easter because they didn’t deserve it. Jesus didn’t cancel the first Easter because I didn’t deserve it. We sang last night that there was no greater love than a man who would give his life for his friends.

He loved us and gave us – gave ME – the greatest gift of all time.

Now it’s Good Friday. Besides honoring His greatest gift and remembering His sacrifice tonight, I’ve got some planning and cooking to do.

As S. M. Lockridge says in this video, “It’s Friday. Sunday’s coming.”

I’ve got an Easter feast to plan and prepare for and with my family. They deserve a kindler, gentler mother. And a better Friday.

Family Life During Holy Week

Good Friday Childrenphoto © 2008 John Asselin | more info (via: Wylio)
Palm Sunday reminds us life can change on a dime. The crowd that chanted “Hosanna” on Sunday screamed “Crucify him” within days. Sounds a whole lot like parenthood.

This week, our family tries to slow its pace so we can contemplate the week that changed the world:

  • A Palm Sunday of celebration
  • A last supper where Jesus Christ washes feet and institutes the first and most important supper
  • Agony in the garden
  • His crucifixion
  • An Easter vigil as we wait for the Resurrection
  • The Resurrection and celebration of Easter Sunday.

As a Catholic family, this is the most important week of the year for us. We make our faith journey along the way of the Cross. Each step is vital so we understand the difference between the small celebration of Palm Sunday and the victory dance of Easter Sunday. Which part of the Passion would we choose to skip?

This will be my 14th Easter since my conversion, and many parts of Holy Week still seem new to me. When I first sought to understand it, Maria von Trapp (of the Sound of Music)’s book, Around the Year with the Family  helped me. I devoured the European traditions and incorporated some of them into our family.  When we adapt a centuries-old tradition into our modern family, I feel a kinship with other families of faith around the planet and across time.

Once upon a time, our Palm Sunday included an annual Seder Supper followed by an all-family viewing of The Ten Commandments. Now, our schedule doesn’t allow the Seder Supper, and our teens don’t want to sit through the whole movie. So they will see parts of it over family pizza, while Richard and I continue our own tradition. I still dye Easter eggs alone, as my teens are too sophisticated for kid stuff.

We’ll still be at Holy Week services, and all week I’ll smile at memories of Holy Weeks past – the year my kids won the chocolate at the Seder supper, the year the Bishop washed our feet and gave us presents – and how my preschool son tried to turn his papal rosary into a lasso immediately afterwards, the year my daughter won the bunny at the church egg hunt, and more. Then I’ll savor my son’s serving at Holy Week services and treasure each moment because these, too, will 1 day be a page in our family’s memories.

Shakespeare once wrote we are such stuff as dreams are made on. Holy Week is the stuff of which memories are built and families made.

First, Last, First Again

Eternal clockphoto © 2009 Robbert van der Steeg | more info (via: Wylio)
As the mother of teens aging faster than I can imagine, I’ve spent this spring feeling like a countdown is on. In just over a year, my daughter goes to college. Two years after that, my son leaves. Already, I’m being hit with “lasts.” There are some things she is ending now, because she’s narrowing her focus her senior year to what interests her the most. Last concerts. Last field days. 

My life this spring was measured in spoons full of last, last, last, last. With each, the taste grew more bittersweet. 

On the rare occasions both kids are home and have family time, I savor and try to make the most of it.  It may not be a “last,” but it is a “passing fast.”

In the process, I forgot the Bible verse that the last will be first and the first will be last.  As I think of the lasts, my kids seize the ladle of life and go for firsts - first jobs, first driving experiences, first solo ventures.

This is not a funeral, and I need to adjust my attitude. Instead, it is a springtime of renewal, where I get to see my kids venture on their own paths, to discover and pursue their own dreams.

Go for it!

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