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Role Grandfathers

“Point to the grandpa,” my son, then a toddler was told during an evaluation. The tester held up a card of an elderly man and another card of a chicken.

Nick pointed to the chicken.

I cringed as I watched through a 2-way mirror. They were testing his language comprehension. He didn’t know what a grandpa was because he didn’t have one – not because he lacked language. After the fact, I explained to the testers why he missed that word.

Then we made sure he knew what a grandpa was. The lesson stuck more than I realized. Two years later, as I was teaching a Sunday School class and the topic of absentee parents came up, I addressed it with the kids. I grew up without a dad and wanted to make sure these kindergarteners knew God loves us all. My son told the kids around him, “I don’t have a grandpa. One is in heaven. The other is in hell or in jail, and I don’t know which.”

He had gleaned more about my father than I had intended to tell him. But I hated the fact my kids missed out on having a grandpa – I had 2 good ones who were always there for me, especially when my own dad wasn’t.

God put good men into our world and our community to fill that gap. Yesterday, two of those men died.

Father DeigOne was a priest, Father Deig. The other was a grandpa and 4-H Leader, Les Lantaff.

Father Deig was sometimes known as a priest’s priest. He was a brilliant, tall man who gave great sermons. Though he could understand the most difficult theologians, he put things into simple terms. One of my favorite lines which he often used was, “People sometimes say they are too busy for church. If your life is too busy for God, then you are just TOO BUSY.” I was thankful my son first served with Father Deig, who always made a point to be kind to his servers.

Father Deig was a frugal, simple man who saved money and budgeted carefully. A former school principal, one summer he asked to see what schoolbooks I used with my children – I was homeschooling them. So I took a big stack of books in to show him. Talk about being nervous. A week later, he gave them back to me and told me I was doing a good job. That Sunday, in his sermon, he mentioned that parents are the first teachers of their children, and that is one of the most important jobs in the world.

As Father Deig grew older and more frail, he was determined to go down with his boots on. I remember the Sunday he had an episode at church and needed to go to the hospital. He refused to go and refused to let anyone call 911. Finally, he agreed, and they called an ambulance. When the gurney was wheeled in, he looked at it and said, “I will not use that.” They told him he had to. So he sat straight up on the gurney. They told him to lie down, and he told them no – he was perfectly capable of sitting up. So they wheeled him out of the church, sitting straight up in the gurney.

For the past several years, Father Deig lived and faithfully served at Little Sisters of the Poor.

We first met Les at St. John’s in Daylight, where Father Deig was the priest. Les was active in the parish and was the grandpa of other members of our 4-H Club. In addition, he was a 4-H Leader. So as my kids got more involved with 4-H and St. John’s, we got to know Les. Les was a larger than life character who would help anyone, tell you what he thought, and make you laugh.

I’m a cook, and I cook not just for my family but for fundraisers. So Les’s standing joke for me was that he only saw me when there was food. So when he saw me, he would call out, “Mary, where’s the food?” There are so many colorful Les stories. I wish I could find the video of his giving a demonstration of how to fry an egg. We were making breakfast at the fair as a fundraiser, and my daughter brought in a warm egg, fresh from one of the hens she was showing. Les told me he would give a demonstration on how to properly fry an egg. He put on a total show.

Then there’s the time we made breakfast for the Classic Iron Show, and I served up my first plate of biscuits and gravy to Les. He told me, “Mary, you have to understand how a farmer eats biscuits and gravy. The biscuits are a boat. Then you pour enough gravy on top so those biscuits are floating. Don’t serve this like a city person with a little dab of gravy on each.”

hog roastLes was a retired meat inspector. As 4-H Leaders, we sometimes carve a hog with a hog roast fundraiser for our 4-H Center. Les taught me how to carve a hog and what the different parts of meat are. The first time he taught me, he cut a large piece of the crackly skin (with fat on the other side) and handed it to my daughter to dispose of. Her eyes grew big and after she threw it away, she washed her hands and whispered to me, “I touched…FAT.” This picture was taken the second time Les showed us how to carve a hog and what the meat cuts were. This time, he got my daughter right in there with him.

Les was a great 4-H Leader who would help any kid who needed it and encourage them. He helped my son many times with shooting sports.

After my heart attack, and as Les battled heart issues, we joked about healthier eating. He would point and tell me, “Look at that. I am eating my vegetables.”

Last spring, as I recovered from my heart attack, Les was working in his garden. He raised his own plants from seed and had more plants than he needed. So I went to his home, and he loaded up my car with tomatoes and peppers and gave me a lesson on all the varieties he had raised and what he liked best about each one.

Both Father Deig and Les had battled illness with the same tenacity with which they lived their lives.

They, and other good men, were an answer to my prayer when my children were young. They didn’t have  grandpas. But God put many other good men into our world to stand in that gap, just as he put good men into my own world to stand in the Dad Gap. They were role grandfathers, not just to my own kids to but many others.

In a world where there are so many shades of grey, where some skirt the law and push boundaries so far they go over the cliff of dishonesty, there are good people. Both Father Deig and Les were the kind of good men who stand as examples. There are still honest people who do good things and live good lives.

And we can use their good examples to resolve to do the same with our own lives.

There Must Have Been Someone Good

Why would I want to look at my family tree when I know there are snakes in the branches?

I told my husband that at least 1,000 times in the 25 years I’ve known him.

I spent my teen years trying to establish my own identity despite my family and a scandalous father. A few years ago, when I stopped for gas in the town of my childhood, someone in the store asked me, “Did they ever catch your dad?” I answered yes to a 40 year old sad chapter in my life.

With that background, I had no desire to learn more about that side of the family tree. What other horrible stories were untold? On my mother’s side, there were some Irish roots, and I had visited where the family emigrated from in Ireland.

My husband persisted, “There must have been someone good in your family tree.”

After he pestered me for over a decade, I finally told him, “Fine. You want to dig into my family cemetery. Go for it. But don’t tell me what you find because I don’t want to know.”

So four years ago, he began digging. I didn’t want to know anything he found for a year. He never told me more than I was ready to hear but confirmed to me that there were some good people in that family tree. This year, I agreed to take one of those genealogy DNA tests to find out my ancestry.

I was mentally prepared to get results that I was a blood relative of Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini. Wrong.

For our whole marriage, I have joked that a British Scot Irish crazy woman married a steady, predictable German. The DNA tests showed that I was 70% British/Scot Irish. The other 30% shocked me – 20% Western European, and the final 10% was a mix of Scandinavia, Iceland and Eastern Europe.

I wanted to solve the mystery of my family heritage and started digging. With God’s sense of humor, it turns out the bulk of that Western European heritage is the German for which I have teased my husband.

Those most exciting part was discovering a family tie to the mother of Richard Herbert, Magdalene Newport. She was a lifelong friend of John Donne, who preached her funeral sermon in 1627.

One thing that surprised me is that my roots are so deeply American. The most recent immigrant ancestors I’ve found are one from Ireland in 1830 and one from Scotland in 1794.  The others I have found arrived here in the 1600 and 1700′s.

James Michener could have written of them as a microcosm of pre-revolutionary America. The only distant outlaw I found in my father’s tree was a Hans Mansson who chose in 1640 to go to “New Sweden” instead of being hung for destroying 8 fruit trees in the Crown’s gardens in Sweden. He served as a convict laborer for 5 years and then became a civic leader in what is now New Jersey.

What fascinates me the most are their varied responses to the Revolutionary War.  On one side, there was a Johann Peter Frey who sided with the British Crown and refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance to North Carolina. Then there was a Joseph Whitaker, who was a one of the British 16th Dragoons who captured General Charles Lee in 1776 but deserted in 1777.  Then there were the Germantown Pennsylvania Updegroves who were Quaker Pacifists. Finally, there were more patriots than I can count who fought in the Revolutionary War.

The most disappointing part came when I discovered a family branch that owned slaves – I had always taken pride that none of the family tree I knew about were slaveholders. However, 2 of the 4 signers of the 1688 Germantown Quaker Protest Against Slavery, the first document in the United States to oppose slavery, were Updegroves (or “Up den Graeff”).

So the only thing really left for me to say is my husband was more than right. There are good branches in my family tree.

It makes a difference. Maybe my life is the Michener version of the happy ending where a couple of bad apples don’t spoil the whole tree.

Oh Holy Families

I have visions of an idyllic family experience where real life doesn’t measure up to my visions of a happy little family.

But still, with Christmas break, I want the perfect worship experience with my family while both teens are home.

My hope for perfection gets marred when real life interrupts. We’re getting over being sick, and I was still fighting it. When we sat down together as a family at church this morning, I got hit with a coughing fit that wouldn’t quit. I had to leave. Then I was afraid to return to sit with my family because another coughing fit might make me sick. So I sat on a pew in the vestibule and resolved to spend the service out there instead.

God has to have a sense of humor for me to spend the Feast of the Holy Family at church, recovering from being sick, separated from my own family.

As the homily began talking about self sacrifice and how important that is to family, I saw living examples of it around me. I was outside the cry rooms and saw families working to manage their young children during Mass. As I saw them, I saw reflections of myself and my own years playing tag team parenting games.

  • Parents took their toddlers to the bathroom.
  • One little boy with his dad had to go to the bathroom and then needed a drink. The homily piped through the narthex, “You and I are responsible for the care of each other.” As the little boy walked by me one of his pant legs was tucked in his cowboy boots. I watched his dad lift him up so he could reach the drink of water, and when they walked by I saw the dad had also fixed his pants so neither was tucked into the cowboy boots.
  • There was the toddler who decided he was too big for the cry room and wanted to sit in the sanctuary with the big people.
  • There was the mother with several children in tow who took them all into the bathroom with her.
  • There was the teen girl who went to the bathroom and I suspect was as concerned about her latest text as she was other things before returning to her family.
  • There was the older sister taking her younger sister into the bathroom and managing her.

Each family I saw reflected what the Feast of the Holy Family is about for me. We none live in a perfect world. Life is messy. The first Christmas, Mary had to give birth in a stable because there was no room in the inn.

We often miss the wonder and glory of our imperfections. In each of the mini dramas I watched in the narthex, listening to a homily on families, I saw parents who were doing their job. They were showing up, working through the hard stuff, and doing their best by their kids. I just wanted to reassure each of the young parents to savor these times because these times fly. As they work through the tough times, they will one day remember the times they thought were tough and realize that’s what made them extraordinary families.

In the homily, we were told, “Parents are children’s first teachers in the faith.” What I saw as parents worked through attending Mass with young children was parents who taught their faith by their very presence in Mass.

The miracle of family life is when we surpass the troubles, the illness, and the problems to show love to one another.   Our homily ended,

A family that eats together and prays together will then share their faith with others. As a result true joy will be a radiant light in the darkness, the tender loving presence of God mercifully welcoming all.
 
 This is what it means to be a holy family.

We show our faith in our daily walk and grind as parents, whether it’s during the changing of diapers or the searching for college scholarships.  Savor these precious moments.

A Semi-British Semi-Lighter Christmas Menu

I still struggle with what to fix for Christmas post heart attack that lets me cook, celebrate family, but try to balance foods so they are healthier for me to eat. This year, we had recently been to turkey and ham dinners, so I wanted something different Christmas Day.

We opted for prime rib on sale, which I’m cooking for the first time this morning. Here’s hoping it works.  Once I chose prime rib for an entree, I decided to go with a British menu – sort of. It’s also a combination of what my family likes to eat. My son loves meat and potatoes, and if I go too low fat, it won’t be a celebration for him. So the beef was something both he and Richard could enjoy.

I’m opting to follow the Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe’s directions to slow roast the prime rib in a pan with water. Yes, there are other ways to make it. But I don’t want to risk burning it. And I’ve had good experience slow roasting roasts.

Then I added to the rest of the menu. Here’s what we chose and why.

Salad – I like winter salads better when they are a mix of baby greens – this salad will have spinach and Swiss chard, tat soi, and arugula. We’ll top the salad with pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, green peppers, carrots, celery, and kohlrabi (from Seton Harvest). The baby greens last longer than traditional lettuce salads and are more nutritious.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes – I’ve learned to make mashed potatoes with garlic, a dash of olive oil and skim milk. The savory garlic and olive oil adds a flavor so we don’t miss the butter or margarine. My family has decided they like this kind of mashed potatoes better than the traditional kind. So a blend of yukon and russet potatoes are simmering for me to mash – I leave the skins on for more flavor and nutrition.

Sweet Potatoes – We have a few sweet potatoes left from Seton  Harvest, and today’s a perfect day to serve them. They are baking along with the prime rib right now. I’ll mash them with orange juice and brown sugar. My family loves sweet potatoes, and this is an easy way to make something healthful they will eat.

Collard Greens – We discovered 2 years ago that our kids like collard greens cooked more than most other green vegetables. Before the heart attack, I cooked them with a spoonful of bacon grease. Now I use broth. Greens are a cheap and easy way to enjoy green vegetables in the winter. And again, if my kids like them, it’s a no-brainer for the menu. They are simmering on the stove.

Yorkshire Pudding – I’ll use the recipe I got from my adopt-a-mom in England almost 30 years ago. I made them once a few years ago for Christmas, and they were a big treat. They are made from a simple batter and cooked in muffin tins, with a little beef broth in each muffin tin.

Wassail - I make a super simple wassail which is simmering now. It’s a bottle of apple juice, with a little orange juice simmering. There are fancier recipes to make it, but my family likes the one with red hots melted into the juices. I couldn’t find the traditional bags of red hot candies, but I did find cinnamon imperial red hots in the cake decorating section and am substituting those.

Egg Nog – Trust me – I’m not touching that stuff. But my family loves it. So I buy a lighter variety that has less saturated fat.

Tiramisu – My daughter always gets creative with desserts. She developed a tiramisu made with angel food cake instead of sponge cake, which we’ll try for dessert. She made it yesterday. Yes, it’s decadent.

But it’s hard for a cook to avoid all decadence on a holiday. My thought is that with the prime rib and tiramisu, there are enough vitamin-packed options on the menu that the amount of the decadent stuff I eat will be minimal.

And I should stop writing this and get back in the kitchen.

Next time I go with a British Christmas menu, I hope we can add real Christmas crackers. Then the challenge would be – who in my family would wear the paper crown?

We Made It Through the Rain – A Christmas Misadventure

Our journey over the river and through the states to Grandmother’s house we went turned out to have more adventures than we bargained for last weekend.

We live in southwestern Indiana, 10 minutes from Kentucky and 30 minutes from Illinois. My family is an hour’s drive away in Illinois, and we planned a family gathering last weekend. Flash flood warnings had been issued because of pouring rain.

Our 19 year old daughter was visiting friends in Central Illinois and planned to meet us there. Her route to my mother’s home would take her 3 hours, including driving through the town where she was in a car wreck last summer that didn’t hurt her but totaled the car.

As we prepared to go last Saturday, I worried about the downpour, flooding, and risk to our basement. So I prayed if our basement were at risk, for something to stop us from going to Illinois. It didn’t. We learned our daughter not only was dealing with rain but also was scraping ice from her car further up north.

Great. So she was going to drive to meet us not only through flooding but also ice. But she assured us the ice was not on the roads. I prayed for her safety. Like all mothers, I wanted her drive to be in perfect weather, under a sky filled with rainbows and unicorns.

We arrived in Illinois and she wasn’t there. We hadn’t heard from her in 3 hours, and it was a 3-hour car trip. I got a call from a different Illinois number, and my heart began to pound. I called it, and it was a gas station on her route – she wasn’t sure where her cell phone was but wanted us to know she was on her way but had had to re-route because of flooding. She was about a 30 minute drive away. She told us which route she was taking and hung up. Then I checked roads and learned her route had closed roads because of flooding. I called the number she called us from again – a Verizon store in Illinois – and they told me she had already left. But the clerk assured me there would be detours.

Great.  Thirty minutes later, she called us again – she had found her phone under her car seat. She was in another town, another half hour away – several roads had closed due to flooding. But she was on her way. A friend of mine I work with was close to her, and I called her with the frantic mom call. She assured me if she got lost or had a problem, we could each meet her half way and find her.

Finally, she arrived. After an hour or so, we left to go home. The rain still poured. We wanted to get home before it got dark, and our son needed to get to work. Our son opted to ride with his sister, and I rode with Richard. As we prepped to leave, I gave the Worried Mother Mantra to her of highway safety tips in driving in rain.

Fifteen minutes after we left, the rain got worse. We were on a two-lane road trying to reach the highway, with no shoulder or place to get off the road. The road was elevated, with farmland on either side, except the farmland was no flooded.

Suddenly, we had almost no visibility. The wind picked up, and it was raining sideways. We could barely see the road, but there was no place to go but forward. I half-expected to see a cow fly across the road like in the movie Twister.  I was afraid to call our son because I thought the ring might distract Elizabeth as she tried to follow us through the typhoon-like conditions. All I could do was pray. And watch the headlights of her behind us. If we went off the road, we would land in the flooded fields beside us.

There was a truck ahead of us that slowed, and we couldn’t tell why until we got there. It was dodging and driving over fallen tree limbs. We did the same.  There was no place to go but forward, through the sideways rain and over the tree limbs. We drove over more tree limbs. Water poured sideways and pounded our car as we drove through the rain.

Finally, we got to the highway. And we drove over more tree limbs. As the rain got a little better, my husband said it was the worst storm he had driven through in his life.  We crossed the bridge into Indiana and debated pulling off at the first place we could find. I was posting on Facebook about our conditions and talking with friends.

Traffic suddenly stopped as emergency vehicles blocked the road in front of us. We couldn’t tell what the problem was. A friend on my Facebook wall told us a house had just exploded. I called my son to tell them a house had exploded. We sat for 30 minutes with a blocked highway. A car in front of us turned around – we saw no reason to do the same because all there was behind us was a road covered in tree limbs. Our son called his boss and told him he might run late for work.

The road cleared, and we resumed our journey. The rain lightened up, and we opted to continue to get our son to work as soon as we could. He was only 5 minutes late. When we got home, we breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken us 2 hours of driving to make a 1-hour trip. We could see water pooling around us on roads, along the side of roads.

Then we started to go inside and realized our power was out. Our backup sump battery had exhausted itself, and our basement had begun to flood. I rushed to a neighbor’s house with a generator to ask if we could connect. Richard and Elizabeth raced to find flashlights to get our outdoor extension cords. We hurried to connect the cords and ran cords from our basement sump pump, through the rain, to our neighbor’s power source. As we stood in the rain, trying to get it connected, our neighbor moved his truck in the street to shine his headlights on us as we raced to save our basement. It was still pouring.

I had misunderstood my daughter and thought we had 6 inches of water in our whole basement. It turned out it only had an inch in a couple of rooms. Had we run 30 minutes later, it would have been a terrible mess.

The sump pump began to work again, and we scrambled in the dark to find candles to spend the evening at home in the dark. I went out to get fast food and hot coffee for our dinner. Elizabeth told us as she followed us in the rain, it felt like she was driving through the Dante’s Peak movie where things kept getting in their way. No matter what, they kept going, and so did we.

After 2 hours, our power came back on. We had no damage in our basement.

Neither Richard nor I could relax until our son got home from work. We hoped the roads wouldn’t be more flooded. He got home with no misadventures.

The next morning, I realized we had made it through the rain. We kept our world intact.

Granted, my coat I had worn outside the night before took 2 days to dry. But we got through everything. Over the river and through the typhoon we had gone, and we came out on the other side.

Sometimes, there is nothing we can do to lower the stress around us. I don’t live in a perfect Sim world where people fit in their assigned roles and everything goes according to a simple plan. My world is messy, with imperfect people, and crazy stories.

There was a whole lot of praying going on to get us through the rain. The misadventures my family gets through together often become the tie that binds us. There’s a life lesson there somewhere that when the going gets tough, you just keep on going.

Our adventures also help me appreciate the quiet times when things actually go right.

Oh Christmas Tree!

A Christmas tree skirt my daughter made as a 4-H sewing project that won Special Merit at the Indiana State Fair.

A Christmas tree skirt my daughter made as a 4-H sewing project that won Special Merit at the Indiana State Fair.

“Real Christmas trees are better than fake ones,” Richard told me 24 years ago as we celebrated our first Christmas. I had grown up with artificial trees and mentally dismissed his comment. But I bought him a small artificial tree with ornaments for his apartment because he had none, and I insisted every home needed the Christmas spirit.

When we married 22 years ago, we continued to use the 5 foot artificial one I had had in my apartment, as well as the one I gave him, and the mini artificial trees. My husband missed the scent of real trees.

Some day, we would have a real one. Twenty years ago, when a local store called Phar Mor was closing, I bought a close out Christmas tree “so we would be ready.” It went into our ornament storage bins. But each year, we looked at the price of a real tree and compared it to just using what we had, and we chose the artificial tree.

When our home and business burned 13 years ago, we replaced that artificial tree with a bigger one I got on sale at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. So we had more room for our growing ornament collection. Most of our ornaments were either made by our kids or are keepsakes of them and about them. We also have a collection of Misfit Toy ornaments I adore.

Each year, we saw the tree stand and decided to “wait till next year” for the real tree. 

One year for a 4-H project, my daughter made a Christmas tree skirt which turned into the sewing project from hell. I sew with a staple gun, but her grandmother is a seamstress. It’s quilted, with beading, stitching, and tassels. It won a special merit. But the skirt was larger than our tree was wide. It was so nice we put it in a special box and put it away to “wait till we have a bigger tree.”

Last year, after my heart attack and surgery, I wasn’t up to putting up our tree. So I sat and watched our kids put up and decorate the tree. I couldn’t help but loved every minute of it. We got out Elizabeth’s tree skirt she had made. I realized there was no point in saving it for the some day perfect year.

This year, I wanted Christmas to be special after everything we went through. We had scraped border from our living room and kitchen to repaint them. I wanted them repainted so Christmas decorations would be beautiful. Except we hadn’t had time to get the painting done.

This year, I bought a can of pine spray to spray so Richard would be reminded of scents of Christmas childhood when he had a real tree.

I finally relented that the painting would happen after Christmas, and the tree needed to go up. So our kids again put up the Christmas tree and decorated it.

The Christmas tree after it was decorated.

The Christmas tree after it was decorated.

Then, two days ago, a friend posted on Facebook that her son’s Boy Scout troop (280 in Henderson, Kentucky) had a close out sale on real trees at their lot. They had 5 trees left. The price was too good to pass up. So I asked her to hold a 6 foot tree for us. Then I texted my kids to find the tree stand we’ve stored for 20 years. We worked out a plan that we would drive our 22-year-old station wagon to Kentucky after I got off work, strap it to the tree a la Christmas Vacation, and surprise Richard.

I had visions of getting the tree into the house, undecorating our artificial tree, and decorating the new, beautiful real tree as a family while watching Christmas Vacation.

The kids couldn’t find the tree stand. We planned via text because we wanted to keep the surprise. So when I got off work, Elizabeth went with me to Kentucky. We told Richard we were Christmas shopping. We slipped out in the old wagon, ready to begin our adventure.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in Kentucky at the Boy Scout tree lot. Three trees were left. When I got out, the guy said, “I haven’t seen that here before.”

“A crazy old lady driving here from Indiana?” I asked.

“No, a station wagon. You just don’t see those any more. I see crazy ladies all the time,” he answered. He suggested we try fitting the tree IN the car instead of ON the car. So I climbed in the car, knocked down the middle row of seats, and we tried putting the tree into the car. At the right angle, he was able to fit the tree into the wagon. It was just a bit inconvenient because the top of the tree came up into the divider between the front seats and covered the rear view mirror. But if we drove a straight show, and I didn’t have to change lanes or go backwards, we should be fine.

Except we didn’t have a tree stand. There was a Rural King a mile down the road in Henderson, so we stopped there next. I pulled all the way into a parking place so I wouldn’t have to back out afterwards. I didn’t want to waste time – we had a tree to decorate!  I felt like a reality show taping the Biever Christmas Vacation episode. I went to the counter and asked, “Do you have tree stands?”

The lady didn’t know, so she asked on the store’s public address system, “Do we have tree stands for a Christmas tree?”

One person called back on speaker phone. “There is ONE left in the store.”

“Where is it?” I asked. They gave us directions to the lone tree stand. When we found it in the Christmas decoration aisle, it looked bigger than the one I had stored for 20 years, and it had no price. No matter. I didn’t want to shop other places with a tree in my car.

My daughter discouraged my urge to buy new ornaments to celebrate the new tree. When I wanted to press the button on the Christmas duck that sang carols, she whispered to me, “Mom, stop it. Act right.”

I told her, “YOLO.”

She answered, “Can’t you at least say ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day)? You’re the one who taught us Latin when we were little.”

I told her, “When I’m in Rural King in Kentucky buying a tree stand while the station wagon’s full of tree, it’s YOLO.”

Elizabeth had to hold the tree stand in her lap while I drove home. Clark Griswold, eat your heart out.

When we got home, Nick came out and helped us get the tree into the house. In the driveway, he learned of my plan. We would move the decorated tree to the side, replace it with the real tree, and then take off all the lights and ornaments to decorate the real tree. He responded with the joy of Clark Griswold’s son.

When we got the tree into the house, we realized it wasn’t a 6 foot tree. It was about 6 inches taller than our 9 foot ceilings. So Nick got shears from the garage and trimmed off the tip to of it so it would fit in the room. I ordered pizza for our Christmas Vacation tree decoration party.

Richard ventured upstairs as he heard my laughter. Yes, he was astounded that we now had a real tree – and 2 trees in our living room.

Nick had helped friends put up a real tree and knew more about it than I did. He said we should get the tree put up and then let it set so the branches would go down. First I heard of that.

Well, the pizza was ordered. So we got the tree standing and had pizza without the tree decorations. Yesterday, while I was at work, they put the lights on the real tree and undecorated the fake tree. They took apart the fake tree and put it away.

Last night was a Friday night, and of course my teen-aged children weren’t home. So Richard and I had our own tree decoration party, complete with a fat free bean dip/salsa blend I made with just a sprinkle of light cheese on top. And yes, we watched Christmas Vacation. It was a perfect date night.

The real tree does smell nice. I’m enjoying watching Richard enjoy the real tree. He’s told me for the first time ever, our home smells like Christmas, even in the living room that will get painted after first of the year.

One of my Misfit Toy ornaments.

One of my Misfit Toy ornaments.

Our tree this year is wilder than in years past. It’s  not a perfect plastic tree. It took a little extra work to get it to stand straight, and it will shed a few needles each day. But it’s fuller and richer. There is no theme to our ornaments other than Misfit Toys made beautiful. Where others see misfits, I see potential. And it blends right in to the real life of all the ornaments from our family’s life the past 20 years.  And having the tree skirt our daughter made underneath just completes it.

The lesson behind all this is either YOLO or Carpe Christmas Tree. Seize the Christmas tree moments in your life right now. Don’t wait until things are perfect because perfect never gets here. What we have is now. Enjoy it in all its imperfection.

Life is beautiful!

The Benefit of Self Reliance. Or Why Using The Health Exchanges Would Be a Backward Step For Me

I do not want to use health insurance exchanges for many reasons. A fundamental reason is it would be a giant step backward for me in my version of the American dream.

In my version of the American dream, poverty was a chapter in the past. When my parents divorced, we had worse than nothing – we had lost our home, our dignity, and our sense of stability. My mother worked, and we struggled for everything. I worked a paper route starting in the 5th grade. We lived in a rental trailer on the wrong street. I remember in 7th grade, I had one outfit of clothes for school and a dress for church on Sunday. So we did laundry every night.

My mother worked, but government programs helped us. I was able to eat at school because of the free lunch program. We got the commodity cheese when it was distributed.  We used food stamps back in the day when they were booklets of stamps.

I hated having to rely on others to take care of our basic needs. When I was in elementary and middle schools, no one really knew who the free lunch kids were. When I hit high school, everyone knew because the only kids who ate lunch in the cafeteria were the free lunch kids. We had an open campus, so you could go out for lunch in high school. I chose not to eat the free lunches. I felt degraded by them. We didn’t have enough money to afford for me to go home and eat or bring a sack lunch. If I had money from babysitting, I would go out with my friends and eat. Otherwise, I just did without lunch. I would estimate that through high school, I did without lunch over half the time.

When I turned 18 and went to college, I was on my own financially. Government financial aid helped me with my schooling. I worked crazy jobs, lived in crazy places, and scrambled to survive. There were times I couch-surfed with friends in between having an actual apartment to live in.

Now flash to 30 years later. I beat the odds and worked my way out of where my life had been. My husband and I have been married for 21 years, and we have owned our own home for 19 years.  We have owned our own business for 13 years. Like any family or business owner, we have scrambled at times. We’ve done what it takes to keep our business running. We have done what it takes to pay for our own health insurance. That has meant extra part-time jobs and budget tightening in other areas.

But we often thought of ourselves as owners of a mom and pop business in a 21st century version of the American pioneers. Instead of working in the fields, we worked on our computers. Instead of harvesting crops to take to market, we used the Internet to send work to our clients. And like those early pioneers, our adventures, and our struggles have defined us and given meaning to our lives.

Having grown up with a helping hand, I savor the reward of a life well lived. I am more than thankful for my life and all we have been given by God. Never underestimate the emotional rewards of self-reliance. Life where I rely on my family’s hard work and trust in Divine Providence is a lot more enjoyable than hoping for a government handout.

I sincerely hope we will not be forced into a government-run health program. It would be a giant step backwards, to a time when my family was incapable of taking care of our financial needs. I am thankful those programs were there.

Nevertheless, having to go into a health exchange would be a giant step backwards for me emotionally. And I hope to have the freedom to move forward – not backward.

Peace on Earth

1513212_10152155050020439_134849796_n“The older I get, the less judgmental I am,” a friend told me during coffee yesterday. I understand what she meant.

I’m feeling older these days. And the older I feel, the more I think the Beatles were right with their song “All You Need is Love.”

When I see parents with young children, and the kids are ornery while the parents are frustrated, I just want to tell them to treasure these moments because they will soon pass.

Sometimes I see both sides of the family dynamic. Last night at a store, a tired father barked at his daughter down every aisle of the store. He was getting food for dinner. Each time she suggested something, he barked that they weren’t getting that and she was choosing the wrong things.

Once upon a lifetime ago, I was the little girl who could do no right. I know what the trickling stream of “You can’ts,” and “You aren’t good enough” do to a child’s soul. I saw myself in the little girl who just wanted a moment of affirmation. The greatest gift any father can give his children is affirmation and love. I know because I never had them and have spent a lifetime compensating for the Dad Gap.

And I’ve been the parent working too hard, maybe doing without sleep, and going through strains so hard that I don’t know how I will get through the evening. And if I’m asked one more question, it might be the one who makes the bubble pop.

The father and daughter happened to hit the checkout lane beside mine at the same time I did. His daughter tried to start to unload the cart while they waited in line, and the dad yelled at her to stop.

I prayed for wisdom to say something to help both the father and daughter. “You’ve got a great helper there,” I told the dad. Many times I’ve found a word of praise to a parent diffuses a tense situation.

“She could be if she wanted to be,” was his abrupt answer.

“I miss the days when my kids were helpers. Now they are grown and gone,” I continued.

“I can’t wait till the day she grows up and is gone,” he answered. My heart shrank as I thought of a young girl’s soul being seared without affirmations.

But slowly, as he checked out, the dad seemed less angry. I prayed for another chance. After I wished my cashier a Merry Christmas, and as I got my groceries bagged, I looked straight at the little girl and told her, “Merry Christmas.” And I told the father, “I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.” He may have been tired and angry, but at least he was still there trying, and that’s more than my dad did.

In the little girl’s eyes, I saw a reflection of my own soul as a little girl, just wanting someone to tell me I was good enough and was worthy of love. For just a moment, I saw a spark of hope. All she wanted was love.

The dad didn’t really respond, but there were no more verbally brutal exchanges with his daughter.

As we both left the store, I prayed for a host of angels to cover them last night. I prayed for them to remind him of his precious daughter’s heart, and I prayed for her heart to be protected. I prayed for someone to be able to give them the gift of joy.

So I ask you now. Please look at those around you, Maybe somewhere, you’ll see the father and daughter I saw last night. Or you’ll see someone else who is hurting and needs a moment of love. You can give it. You can share it.

And I reminded myself the first place I needed to start to share that was with my own family – with my husband and my own children.

And then, in our small corner of the world, we can spread the message of Peace on Earth.

Privacy, Free Will, and Subsidiarity

I love technology. Mail merges get me almost as excited as a good spreadsheet formula. So I thought nothing of having to enter my medical history online upon making an appointment to see a doctor.

Then I saw the questions being asked. Some were so offensive that I can’t type them. Others failed to acknowledge options for my situation; five years ago, I had a hysterectomy. So questions on my monthly cycles are irrelevant as there is no choice for no longer having them.  I refused to answer several questions on those topics, as well questions about my relationship with my children and my financial status.

When a question asked, what stress have you been under during the last 4 weeks, I answered, “I was asked intrusive questions for a medical database.”

HIPAA supposedly protects our healthcare privacy. However, the questions I was told to answer before I would be allowed to see my doctor invaded that privacy. After I completed the medical history, I called my doctor’s office, told them the questions were too invasive and if I were required to answer them before my appointment, I would cancel the appointment. They told me to answer the questions I wanted, and there were no problems when I arrived.

We have the right to say no.

However, it reminded me of an incident when I was pregnant with my son. I went through 4 PUBS during my pregnancy with him, where they inserted a needle into my stomach, into the umbilical cord in utero. My body was destroying his platelets, and they had to closely monitor his blood levels. Before the second PUBS, the anesthesiologist tied me to the operating table. I questioned her, and she said it was “policy.” I thought I had no choice. Afterwards, I spoke with the head of anesthesiology and asked if in future PUBS I could stay untied if I promised not to move.

The anesthesiology head told me, “If you didn’t want to be tied to the table, you should have just said no.”

I hadn’t realized I had the authority to just say no. Just because a database asks a question doesn’t mean I have to answer it.

I tell people in my social media classes that the best way to keep something from spreading online is not to share it. I believe the same to be true for medical privacy.

Coercing people to share things that make them uncomfortable is not only an invasion of their privacy but also negates their free will. As a friend of mine said yesterday, “God gave Adam and Eve free will and still gives us free will today. Health regulations shouldn’t take that from us.”

Finally, the creeping of big brother into every aspect of my life and that of my family violates the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. Under the principle of subsidiarity, social organizations exist for the benefit of the individual.  What individuals are able to do for themselves should not be taken over by society. If a small organization or unit can manage something, it should do so instead of being supplanted by larger organizations. In other words, my husband and I bear first responsibility for ourselves and our family. What we are unable to manage others can do instead.

Subsidiarity promotes a sense of personal responsibility. That in turn leads to greater self-reliance. And that in turn results in not only being able to care for our own family but being able to help others who cannot care for themselves.

The flip side of failing to honor the principle of subsidiarity is that when society takes over roles best handled by smaller groups or families, society will not do the job as efficiently. Further, it leads to a degeneration of personal responsibility and self reliance.

And when we lose our sense of personal responsibility and forget we can often solve many of our own problems, we will no longer recognize when our privacy has been invaded. Nor will we care. We will lose our ability to say no.

How We Teach Our Kids to Never Give Up, Never Surrender

I’m transitioning to a different phase of parenting as our nest grows closer to being empty. Now, I see the lessons I never knew I was teaching coming to fruition. The character lessons of the ones we teach by example, without realizing that’s what we’re doing.

Now I see the best lessons we taught were during the toughest times our family faced. As a mother who was homeschooling, I was concerned during crises how I would teach my kids their school work and struggled to find ways to make it happen. The schoolwork did happen. But now, I see the real life lessons that happened by doing are what really counted.

When Nick was 3 and in speech therapy 4 mornings a week, Elizabeth and I sat in waiting rooms waiting for him, and we made that our special reading time when she read to me each day. For variety, we played with a reading music board where she played with magnets and learned to read her music notes.

When Nick was 5 and Elizabeth was 7, 2 weeks into our school year, our home and business burned. By some miracle, their school books were saved. We lived in an apartment while our home was rebuilt. Maybe the first lesson we taught was the morning after the fire, when we knelt in prayer in church, with all of us wearing borrowed clothes and none of us knowing where we would live or how our family would survive or what would happen to our 1-year-old business.

During the rebuild, the kids’ school work was scaled back to basics – reading, math, and writing. Friends took them in and taught them the first two weeks of pack out and demolition. My heart broke as our kids lost their every toy and learning game I had so painstakingly purchased and organized.

Their school days began at 6:30 a.m. so I could work with them and then work with the contractors on the construction site. They played in the back yard each day while I supervised the rebuild. I remember working on a bedroom and telling Nick to read books aloud to me while I worked – both to keep him out of trouble and help him build his new reading skills. In the car each day, from our apartment to our home, I had the kids do mental math.

I pondered over putting them into traditional school because our schedule was so tough. A schoolteacher friend of mine reassured me, telling me that when kids go through such a tremendous loss, wherever they go to school, teachers try to just get them basics because their hearts and heads are completely filled with survival first and learning second.

At the same time I worked with that, the kids saw Richard, who converted our bedroom in the 2 bedroom, 800 square foot apartment insurance rented for us into a temporary office where he worked and we slept.

We continued violin lessons during the build as well. One week, as I drove the kids to their group lesson time, I hit a 12-point buck who rolled off my car and ran into the woods. I didn’t want to miss the violin time we had already paid for, so we continued to the lessons, with deer fur and blood on the front of my car.

To help with purchasing their books for future years, we took on selling historic fiction at homeschool conventions. The kids helped us set up, sell, tear down, and inventory books. They both learned at an early age to calculate sales tax and make change. Our sales gave us many adventures. One of my most memorable was waiting in line to unload our books at a large convention center. As our car was stopped, we decided to try unloading our cart on the sidewalk. The kids helped me push the cart, with all our books into the center,  while Richard waited for a place to park. Of course that was a 1-block adventure uphill. We got checked in and completely set up by the time Richard reached us.

Now, my kids are at an age where they increasingly make their own decisions. The flip side of that is I see them encounter their own set backs. It’s ten times harder to see my kids face a big blow and loss than it was to go through it ourselves. I hope their lives involve as few tough challenges as possible. I just want them to dance their way on a yellow brick road to happiness with sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.

But that’s not how life works.

When we searched for scholarships for my daughter, at one scholarship contest she faced some terrific setbacks. But she didn’t quit and kept going. The person awarding scholarships saw how hard she fought to keep going, and I wonder if that’s one of the reasons she won it.

Now, I see my son tackle challenges. He’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. If a glass has half an inch of water in it, he’ll say “It has just enough.” And with him, he’s right. He will take whatever hand he’s dealt, make the best of it, and good things come of it.

During those tough times, as I struggled for them to get the basics, they got them. I now see that the living, and the struggling, are the real lessons they learned while I fretted whether or not they were learning anything else.

When I see that, I think of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If.”

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

If you can keep going when parenting your kids through the toughest struggles, you’ll have taught them what they most need to handle life.

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