How to Live Forever and be a Billionaire … Wait, Make That Trillionaire

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Sound a little extreme?  Maybe so.  But have you tried our brand new soup made from powdered unicorn horn, camels milk and babies breath?  Guaranteed success every time.  You will not believe the results.  In fact, if you give the same dedication to this soup regimen that you give to all your other efforts to be healthy and save money, you will absolutely flush another $39.99 down the toilet in less than thirty seconds!  Sign here please…

What is it about the human race that loves extremes so much?  Marketers know all about this proclivity and they capitalize on it in 100% of their advertising.  “This revolutionary laundry soap will remove every single stain your children could possibly inflict upon their clothing and give you a massage!” People involved in movements of some kind use it as well.  Politicians clearly think we’re insane with the claims they make.  “If you vote for me, I’ll make sure education is completely overhauled, that no one is ever hungry again, that platinum health benefits are free to every American, that your dogs will live to be 35 instead of 15.” There is no such thing as a moderate political claim.

I might be slightly exaggerating but seriously, when was the last time you saw an honest ad?  “This pill will help you feel slightly better than before you took it.  So it’s likely a very good idea.”  “I will try not to completely destroy your country while I’m in office and will make every effort to improve on a few things.” “This stain remover will take care of a few of the things that your kid can get into, but won’t even think about touching that bloody grass stain.”  Oh gosh no.  Everything is the end of the world, or the cure for it.  And if you don’t do it, you’ll die. Alone.  Broke and miserable and no one will come to your funeral.

How many people do you know who categorize themselves as OCD?  And how many of them do you know who are actually, clinically OCD?  My answer is like, 200 and honestly, probably 1.  I know one person in all the people who are self diagnosed with OCD who could probably benefit from a medical diagnosis.  Most of us who claim this are just intolerant of imperfection and hard to deal with.  OCD has nothing to do with it, and frankly, calling ourselves OCD is possibly insulting to those with the clinical condition.  We should probably just go ahead and admit that we’re selfish and demanding.  Is there a pill we can take for that?

My mom and dad taught us good words.  Big words that most people don’t learn all their lives, much less when they’re seven.  The first of these good words was discretion.  I didn’t know the full depth of its meaning at the time, but they employed it when they were allowing us to decide how many cookies we should eat, how late we were going to stay up and so forth.  They would say, “use discretion” as we sprinted for the candy bag.  What a brilliant thing to teach a child.  Synonymous with “Think before you put 12 cookies on your plate.  If you stay up til midnight how will you feel for school tomorrow?  Remember that everything you do now has consequences later.”  Use discretion.  Humanity needs this phrase.  It’s a game changer.

While we are inundated with miracle cures, fantastical claims, ego boosting platitudes to reach for the stars … remember to use discretion.  Remember that ordinary is actually a pretty wonderful place to be and it’s reality.  A friend of mine recently sent our study group an article called “The Power of an Ordinary Life”, that you can read if you click here. It was full of beauty and wonderfulness … permission for your life to be ordinary and fabulous.

So, why go with the less extreme and shoot for ordinary?  Such a thought is so counter cultural it almost sounds like heresy. Here are a few reasons to consider moderation:

  1. It is reality.  Most of us aren’t born with the talent to be all stars.  The world isn’t designed that way, and that’s super great for us.  We can calm down and enjoy our lives.  Olympians stand out for a good reason.  Bill Murray tweeted this during the Olympics and it’s almost ridiculous how much I loved it.bill-murray-every-olympic-event-tweetYes.  This. Ordinary is a good place to live.  We don’t all have to swim like Michael Phelps, tumble like Aly Raisman, or run like Hussein Bolt.  We could just be the best versions of ourselves.  I for one, am an excellent omelet maker.  Come by on a Sunday night, and I will prove this non extraordinary claim.
  2. Usually, the one who is actually right, feels no need to scream about it.  Just recently I read two articles giving opposing views about a parenting choice.  One was over the top, obnoxiously omniscient throughout and claimed that if you weren’t making her choice, you supported killing babies.  The other was professional, quiet, made good points and addressed as many concerns as possible in as calm a voice as possible.  Guess which one I put more stock in.  Ignore the extreme claims and believe the non anxious research.  It might not be as eye catching, so it’s probably telling you the truth.  We have neither the time nor the motivation to live our lives in extremes of perfection, so believe in reality and be happy.
  3. There is Biblical precedent for it. Philippians 4:5 says “Let your moderation be known to all men…” Ecclesiastes 7:16 states “It is not good to eat too much honey…” (Unless it is raw, local honey because then it will cure everything bad that has ever happened to you…) There are hundreds of verses teaching the wisdom of contentment, satisfaction with the life God has given you and living in moderation.  God gives promises of peace, joy and fulfillment for those who find their way to approaching life with discretion. Proceed accordingly. And just for the record, I love local, raw honey.
  4. Lastly, if you are prone to believe every screaming voice, no one will give you any attention when you find the things that are truly miraculous or horrific.  I completely believe in miracles of healing, in fantastical bravery, in heroism that defies all logic.  I don’t believe you can drink a protein shake that achieves these things.  I believe that some actual atrocities of humanity are being allowed and perpetuated by society.  Child slavery is a real thing and is probably supported by your buying choices (I’m looking at you Hershey’s chocolate squares).  Sex trafficking happens and is far more prevalent than we like to think.  Abortion kills actual human lives.  Some things are extremely bad, and if we scream about every little thing, no one will listen when we talk about the big ones.
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Four of the people in my life who make it complicated enough without your scare tactics or nonsensical claims!

I’m a mom.  I have enough people yelling at me and giving me guilt trips.  I don’t need an add to claim to get every stain from every article of clothing, I just need ONE that will remove mildew stains.  I don’t need you to claim that every nutritional choice I’m making is killing my children.  I just need to know how much protein is really in that protein bar, or is it just a candy bar wrapped in green and natural brown to trick my brain into thinking it’s healthy (that’s a real thing they do.  Buyer beware).  Turn off your ears to the late night screamer adds and try something for yourself to see if it makes YOU feel better.  Read ingredient labels so you can tell for yourself if you’re drinking lemonade or a cleverly marketed, chemical concoction.  You may be healthier for it.  You will definitely be more informed for it.

Enjoy your delightful, ordinary life … and always use discretion.

If you have an extraordinary, ordinary talent (such as omelet making), please tell me about it in the comments.  Let’s spend a few minutes glorying in the way we were uniquely designed!

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How To Be a Volunteer That Nobody Wants to Murder

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We just got done with VBS at our church.  Thank you for your condolences.  For those of you less churchy church people VBS stands for Vacation Bible School.  Also, it could stand for, “free baby sitting service for parents who CANNOT be cooped up with their children for one more hot second without going completely postal.” It’s all a matter of nuance really.

So, there are those lucky parents who get to drop off their spawn and enjoy the kid free morning, and then there are idiots like me.  My children love VBS.  I love VBS.  I went to a church once, that did VBS at night, which would have been even MORE fun for the nonparticipating parents.  Date night every night for a week.  So awesome.  I got home at like 10:00 every night that week after telling Bible stories to the children of those lucky people.

Volunteering wherever their children are spending their time is a favored practice of over-protective, possibly micromanaging parents for generations.  A time honored tradition.  I observe it very well.  Apparently this year was a super good year for my volunteering chops because the Preschool Department Co Leader asked me to write a book on how to be a volunteer when the week was over.  Nice.  I gave myself five stars for this round.  Unfortunately for other people I’ve worked with over the years, I have not always been fabulous at this.  Also, who in their right mind would read an entire book on volunteering?  So, here, I wrote a blog post instead.  Here are my do’s and don’ts, most of them learned painfully through years of volunteer work.  You can use these in any job you’re working, but I’ll use the context of VBS.

Dos

  1. Since you are presumably working for a good cause, be happy about it.  Your attitude seeps into everyone around you, whether it is good or bad.  I worked a VBS one year with volunteers who were so moody, upset and disgruntled that I felt I had to put THEM back together every morning before the kids got there.  As a boon to me and all other positive attituded people, please leave the storm cloud at home.
  2. Think about your leaders.  The leaders are the people who make everything happen.  They have been up late, up early, back and forth to Walmart, made lists, made agendas, scheduled workers, scheduled meals, and as an added bonus, they have to put up with all the grown-ups working the event.  I used to think leadership was kind of a glamorous position.  Nope.  Just a nicer way to say “everyone’s slave”.  Be nice to them.  Follow their schedules, show up on time, do all the things.  Pretty please.  I brought my two co-leaders a goodie bag every morning this year.  It was a good move.  They earned them.
  3. Love the people you’re serving that week.  Think about all those little kiddos, or teenagers at camp, or homeless people you’re feeding.  They all have stories, and lots of them are very hard stories.  Put yourself in their shoes for a little while and remember why you wanted to do this in the first place.  Pray for them and be specific.  Learn as many of their names as you can.  Give them hugs if it’s allowed.  They can tell the people who care.  It’ll make you a better helper, I guarantee it.
  4. Be flexible, but be honest.  You want to be a help, so let them assign you a spot, and then if they have to move you, try and go with the flow … but.  Here’s the other side of that.  If you just can’t do teenagers, let the administration know, and hopefully they will stop nagging you to work teen camp.  If the thought of watching toddlers for four hours every single morning for a week makes you want to curl up in the fetal position and chew your hair, please please please tell the people making the schedules.  I have learned, just this year, that there are actually positions in kid ministry that I super hate.  I hate being a group person who leads all the little munchkins to all their little places.  Also, I just CANNOT do 2-yr-old rooms. I can’t.  I mean, I did it for a few hours this last week but only under duress.  It’s okay.  You don’t have to be good at everything.
  5. Be encouraging to as many people as you can.  There was a chick there this week who smiled every single moment of the world.  No joke.  I thought she was taking something besides creamer in her coffee, but I think she was just high on her own awesomeness.  Friday morning someone mentioned (excitedly) that it was the last day, and that’s the first time I saw her smile falter.  “That makes me so sad.  This has been so much fun!” she said to general shock.  I caught myself right before I wailed, “I just want it to end so I can take a nap!”  and instead, I shouted, “What a fabulous attitude!  Yay VBS!!” Smile and encourage.  It’ll end and you can take a nap soon.  (And I did.)
  6. Please do stay for the final clean up.  This is always that one item on the agenda that everyone thinks is expendable.  “Really?  I’ve been here all week.  Let someone else clean up.”  Yeah, but here’s the deal, folks,  that “someone” who does all that cleaning up, has also been there all week.  500 people made that mess and 12 people are left to clean it all up.  Bite the bullet and dive in.  I have 5 children.  Everyone told me I could go home, but I stayed to help, and made all my children help too.  It’s good for them to serve.  It’s good for us to do that manual labor.  It takes a lot less time to tear down all the posters than it did to put them up … especially if everyone helps.  Our people were even extra nice about it; they bought us pizza beforehand.vbs

Don’ts

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from your leaders.  See above where we discuss doing things and being in rooms you just can’t handle.  Embrace your own abilities and disabilities.  If you’re a paperwork person, you will have much more fun volunteering if you get a job doing paperwork.  Tell people your passions.  They can probably use you wherever you would enjoy being used.
  2. Don’t break the rules set up for the week.  If there’s a dress code, go with it.  If you’re not supposed to get on your cell phone and waste time on Facebook during the meeting time, don’t.  If they provide free coffee, drink it. I realize I don’t really have to tell you that last one.
  3. Don’t call in sick just because you’re tired.  It means someone else has to be pulled from a job that needed to be done to do your job which also needed to be done.  Again, ask for support.  If you’re burned out because there is that one toddler that needs full-time supervision and you are that full time someone, let your leaders know that you’re about to lose it.  Let them help you out.  It’s their job, and they don’t mind doing it.

 

Happy Volunteering, y’all!  I’m going to take a nap!

Adventures in Cleaning the Fridge

A Step by Step Guide, or a Cautionary Tale Depending On Your Perspective

I wrote this as a helpful guide for my millions of rabid readers out there who have always been wondering how I clean my fridge.  Now you can know, and die happy.  (But please don’t die just because you know this now.  I just mean, you can be fulfilled in your life.  Don’t die.)

Step 1

Make yourself a frappe.  This is my version of a glass of wine to make things more enjoyable and/or bearable.

Blend:

6 cubes of frozen coffee (or really strong cold coffee and ice)

1 Tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk (I used 2 today because … hello!  Cleaning out the fridge …)

1 Tablespoon Nestle’s cocoa powder

1 Tablespoon of protein powder to make this drink good for you

water so that it will blend

Pour into a glass, get a pink straw, sip it and take a deep breath

Step 2

Cue up a good station on your Pandora.  I listen to one entitled, “Hey There Delilah”.  Don’t judge me.

Step 3

Run a sink of hot, soapy water.

As an added bonus, get your game face on.  This is my game face.  I look so confused because I rarely clean my fridge.

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Step 4

Take every single thing out of the fridge and set it on counters.  Have a brief panic attack knowing that you won’t be returning things for at least 45 minutes (you’re not really being realistic there, it’ll be like an hour and a half,) and how many days should you be deducting from your milk’s expiration date by letting it sit out so long?  In the next nano second have a good, hearty belly laugh when you remember that you just bought this milk yesterday, and it will most definitely be gone by tomorrow.

Click here to see what a good belly laugh looks like.

Throw all the bad stuff directly into the trash can and wish that you hadn’t put so many things into containers that you’re unwilling to part with.  Put the disgusting containers in the sink full of soapy water.

Step 5

Pull all the shelves out.  This could take a while if you wait as long as I do to clean out your fridge because your shelves are sticky with something dreadful that someone spilled who knows how long ago.  It has also pooled and congealed at the bottom underneath the crisper drawers.  Suppress your gag reflex when you realize there is also a refrigerated fly stuck in the bottom of the muck.  A fly?  What on earth?!  Spray the empty fridge with Mrs. Meyer’s Lavender Multi Surface Cleaner and close the door.

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Your kitchen now looks like you set a bomb off in it and you can’t imagine it ever looking good again. Take a deep breath, and a sip of your mocha.

Step 6

Wash all the shelves and drawers.  This is problematic if you have a sink as small as mine, because none of them actually fit into the sink all the way, and the parts that stick out shed water onto the counters and the floor.  As a bonus step, you may want to mop up the water on your floor.

Step 7

Open the fridge and realize you forgot to empty the door.  Sigh and empty the door taking a brief moment to ponder why someone who lives in a household with only one person who likes mayo, and even they only use it like twice a year, has so many opened jars of mayo in the door.  The mysteries of life…

Step 8

Wash out the goo on the walls and floor of your fridge.  Feel a brief moment of sadness for the fly who either froze to death, or starved to death stuck in the goo.  Then remember that flies are disgusting little carriers of disease and that this very fly could be the reason you had the stomach bug last week.  Suppress the gag reflex again as you wipe him out and all his legs stay in the sticky mess.  It’s no worse than all the gross food containers you just emptied though.  Get over it quickly.

Step 9

Pat yourself on the back because your fridge is now sparkling clean and ready for the return of your shelves.  Now it is time to try to figure out all the exact spots that they go in, especially the door guards because for some unknown, god-forsaken reason, they are all customized to specific moldings!  Why?  As you work, compose a letter of complaint to the manufacturer:

Dear Director of Operations at the Frigidaire off brand fridge plant,

Why do you hate us?  We are your customers, and the reason you have your job in the first place.  I mean, not me personally.  I was given this fridge by my brother-in-law who found it on Craigslist from a college student who was giving it away, but that’s hardly the point here.  Cleaning out refrigerators is complicated enough without you specializing every single shelf and door guard. (Are those shelf holder thingies in the doors called door guards?  I feel like I just made that up to sound smart.)  Shelves in fridges are fairly straightforward, so just stop with all the custom molding nonsense.  We look into these fridges like 18 times a day and still can’t remember where they all go once they’re taken out.  Help us out here.  Things are tough all over.

Sincerely,

Mom of five who’s barely hanging on by a thread

P.S.  Your CEO probably makes $800,000 a year or something, right?  Despot.

Now that you feel a little better, and hopefully have figured out where all your shelves go, smile.  You’re almost done.

Step 10

Return all your non-spoiled food to the fridge, categorizing things to your heart’s content.  This is actually a fun part.  I put fruit in one drawer and veggies in the other.  I put all the cheese and meat that wasn’t petrified or fossilized into the actual cheese and meat drawer.  All dairy goes in one little section, tortillas in another.  “I will keep it organized like this forever,” I croon softly as I work.  “This shelf will always be where leftovers go. This perfect little customized spot in the door (mentally redact angry letter to Frigidaire conglomerates) will be where jams and jellies are lovingly replaced. And seriously, with all those mayo jars?  For the love of Hellman’s.”

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Step 11

Look around your kitchen and realize you still aren’t finished.  There are nasty containers to be washed and trash that stinks so badly, because the smell is why you cleaned the fridge in the first place.  Heave the trash out to the dumpster and wish your husband was here so you could pretend you can’t lift it and could make him throw it in.  Throw it in like a boss and then rush inside to make an appointment with your chiropractor.

Step 12

Now you’re finished.  Take a picture.  Vow a vow that you will do this more often.  Make a mental list of which shelves you will clean each week so that it never gets in this condition again.  Pretend you don’t hear the fridge chuckling at you as you leave the kitchen, and whispering, “yeah right, Jules.  See you next year.”

Then remember that you were going to clean the freezer out today as well.  Meh, there’s always tomorrow.  After all, it wasn’t the frozen stuff that was stinking. I’m sure the freezer looks awesome.

Also …

I edited out additional steps which included stopping approximately 85 times to make snacks for the little people, and three lectures on the starving little kids in China who would be HAPPY to have half of a recently defrosted cinnamon and raisin bagel for a snack.

You’re welcome.

May Your Christmas Season be Merry and Bright

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room, and Heaven and nature sing. Brilliance. I could just stop this blog post there, because if we really understood and took the time to follow the words of this, my favorite Christmas song, we would all have a merry Christmas.

I know there are many feelings that Christmas brings out in people. For some it is a time of sadness because they’ve lost people, or have no people to celebrate with. For some, they feel harried, stressed and overwhelmed. A friend told me the other day that they had to go to four different houses for Christmas to keep all of their family happy. This makes me as sad as the first reason to hate Christmas … and makes me very happy to be in the non-demanding family that I belong to.

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Advent Calendar I made last year

I usually do all the Christmas things. I make an Advent Calendar, we look at Christmas lights, we go to The Nutcracker, I wrap presents, we go caroling, everything. I love Christmas. This year has been slightly different because we decided to participate in our church’s production of “A Christmas Carol”. It was brilliant. They made it snow … they created the creepiest graveyard imaginable, my scene as Mrs. Cratchit made people cry. I consider that an accomplishment, though whether it was the brilliance of my acting, or the crumminess of my acting that made tears flow, I don’t know. No one would tell me. The acting of our Bob Cratchit was beautiful. It was probably him that caused the tears, but I’m taking some credit anyway.

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Here is the Cratchit family!  What a fun production!

So this Christmas, we’ve done two days of the Advent Calendar. We have at least gone caroling. I’ve lost track of how many candy canes my children have eaten. I’ve introduced my husband to the wonderfulness of the movie “Elf”. Christmas mission accomplished. I don’t let whatever this month is lacking bother me because of the song I copied at the beginning of this post.

There are many things that we Christians have probably misinterpreted about the Bible. There are too many verses that we modernize to suit our selfish lifestyles, or to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. There are verses that we misinterpret because we simply cannot fathom God and His ways. There just isn’t a scenario in which our tiny human brains can explain the complexities of the Creator of the Universe. But, as we belted out “Joy to the World” onstage Sunday afternoon, and the audience joined us, this is the thought that crossed my mind, “we are getting this part right.” What could possibly be more worthy of an entire month of celebration than the fact that Jesus came here to save us? What could be more important than earth receiving her king? Even Santa doesn’t bother me anymore since I heard this delightful explanation from my friend Erin Crawford, “My Dad always told me that Santa is real. Santa is the love that parents have for their children.” Now that’s a Santa I can believe in!

My Dad always told me that Santa is real.  Santa is the love parents have for their children.

So if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with all the “things” of Christmas … remember this. If you have Jesus, you have a reason to be joyful. Forget the rest. Kids don’t need that many presents to be happy. They need love and hugs and kisses and you. Give them the gift of your time. Your extended family doesn’t have to drain every second of your holiday. You can make a rule like my husband did years ago and just say, “Christmas day, we stay home. You are welcome to come to us, but we’re staying home.” This rule has created lots of peace for our Christmases. Our family is loving and understanding, and sometimes they come over. That’s awesome too. There is a reason for this season of celebration and it is the most worthy of our excitement ever! Our king, our savior, the fixer of all our broken hearts, He came. He lived. He died. He’s alive again and building an eternity to spend with us. I’ll see my daddy again someday because of Him. I’ll hug my grandpa, uncle and cousin again one day in a perfect place with no more pain and heart break. That is worth a month of parties!

I’ll finish with my favorite poem of all time because it talks about all the brokenness He fixed because He sacrificed His place in heaven to come to earth and die for us.

The Miracle of Dreams, by Susie Best
That night when in Judean skies the mystic star dispersed its light,
A blind man moved within his sleep and dreamed that he had sight!
That night when shepherds heard the song of hosts angelic choiring near,
A deaf man stirred in slumber’s spell and dreamed that he could hear.
That night when in the cattle stall slept child and mother cheek by jowl,
A cripple turned his twisted limbs and dreamed that he was whole!
That night when o’er the newborn babe the tender Mary rose to lean,
A loathsome leper smiled in sleep and dreamed that he was clean!
That night when to the mother’s breast the little King was held secure,
A harlot slept a happy sleep and dreamed that she was pure!
That night when in the manger lay the Sanctified who came to save,
A man moved in the sleep of death and dreamed there was no grave!

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May your Christmas Season truly be merry and bright!

The Only Love That Works

I should just stay off of Facebook.  Really.  And I would, because it’s definitely what my husband would call a “time suck” but I just CAN’T for some reason.

So, here’s what I learned from Facebook this week, in no particular order: I don’t love Jesus, because I just kept scrolling instead of sharing (really guys?  How can this still be a thing?).  The Patriots are still on trial for murder … or deflating their footballs or whatever.  Shutterfly is offering something wonderful that I should be getting for my kids because I want to make memories and put them on magnets and coffee mugs.  I love my kids more than anyone else in the world loves their kids because I homeschool.

Okay, so here’s an actual comment as close as I can remember it from someone’s Facebook post about school starting.  “Parents in my community are throwing a Back to School party because their kids are going to be ‘out of their hair’ starting next week.  Does anyone else find this heartbreaking?”

There were so many funny comments that I can’t even attempt to describe them all.  Most were appalled that these horrific parents were excited to be “free” of their precious babies who are growing up unloved and unaccepted and blahdy blah.  Some of them were a little more get-a-gripish in nature.  The one that struck me as the most hilarious and disingenuous was the precious mom who wrote “I cherish every moment with my children.  This breaks my heart.”

Wow.  Cherish every moment.

I did not comment because I was being good.  Trying to stay positive and not make enemies with a million strangers. Also my two and a half year old was hitting me on the leg with her sippy cup saying “Mo noke” (more milk) for the seven hundredth time and I had to stop and get her a refill.  All these moments to cherish.

I really like homeschooling, and my children, and keeping house (sometimes) and all the things.  My life is full of awesome.  I want to puke when I hear the word cherish, but there is definitely a lot of love to go around in this household … and then there are those days that the school bus rolls down our street and I want to run after it screaming, “Wait!  Wait!  Take mine too!”

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We are too hard on each other, parents.

There are parents who go to the park with their children and dog their every footstep.  They hover over them, hold out nervous arms as children climb up and down high things, call out advice while they slide down slides … we’ve all seen them, some of us ARE them.  And then there are the ones who go and sit at a picnic table and look at their iPhones as their kids climb, slide, jump and whatever else.

Some parents breastfeed.  Some wrap their babies around their bodies and wear them everywhere, some opt for strollers.  Some homeschool, some pay for private school, some send their kids to public school and then attend parties to celebrate their newfound freedom.  Heathens.

So which of these truly loves their children?  Um … all of them.  I rarely meet a parent who doesn’t love their children.  Also, I’ve NEVER met one who actually “cherishes every moment” with them.  We feel like whatever path we’ve chosen is best for our kids, or we wouldn’t have chosen it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other paths.

Helicopter parenting would exhaust me.  It makes me tired just to watch them at the park.  I admit though, I have to shut my eyes and just breathe when my children climb higher than I want them to fall.  I get up to push them on the swings for the last ten minutes of park time.  If they beg me to, I’ll slide down the slide with one of them.  Other than that, I usually stand to the side and observe.  I don’t generally sit with my iPhone, but sometimes I do … because I’m fried, and I brought them to the park so I wouldn’t have to entertain them.

My kind of love is working so far, because they still kiss me goodnight, give me big hugs, want me to sing 20 songs to them before they’ll go to sleep.  My kids love me, and they feel loved … also, if another person was going to get them all out of my hair for a big chunk of the day every day, I might throw a party.  Because then I would have time to go to the post office, address Christmas cards, get a haircut for the second time this year, clean my kitchen. A clean kitchen would make anyone want to throw a party.

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True Empowerment for Women (It Isn’t in 50 Shades of Any Particular Color)

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In the crashing and crushing wake of nuttiness that is Fifty Shades of Grey I am compelled to break from my usual format to address the one thing that bothers me most about these books and now the movie.  Here’s a hint, it’s not the sex, though I’m not a fan of that either. Don’t worry, this isn’t a book review.

There are a plethora of criticisms for this series and movie, and I have no intention of addressing them all because lots of people who are more informed than I have already done such a thorough job with them.  My biggest issue is the one word I see repeatedly popping up about it, “empowerment”.  There are many times throughout this series where the poor little protagonist puts up with whatever because it supposedly gives her a feeling of power.  I can’t begin to guess how the author hoodwinks her audience into thinking this is real, I do know that even the BDSM folks have spoken out against this book as blatantly disrespectful to women and their own lifestyle. Maybe that should tell us something.

I absolutely agree with women being empowered, but apparently not in the same way as someone who thinks that empowerment means blindfolding her and whipping her before sex.

My parents raised me to be independent, to be smart, and to be as powerful as my little 5′ 2″ body could be (mostly by using my brains. Mind control is a huge part of this equation).  Here are some of the things they did that I believe actually empowered me to choose well in relationships, to protect myself in potentially dangerous situations and to keep myself as safe as possible.

1. My dad taught me the difference between flattery and kindness, and between attraction and love.

If a guy constantly stares into your eyes, tells you that you’re hot (or even if they’ve learned to use the word beautiful), makes suggestive remarks, but never actually listens to anything you say, I’m gonna go out on a limb here.  That “one thing” your mom, or aunt or dad told you that men want … that guy’s after it.  He doesn’t love you.  He loves himself.  Run.

My dad gave my sister and I another gift in this regards … he built us up constantly.  He was always telling us how smart we were, how pretty we were, how much fun we were, how valuable we were to the world.  There is nothing like hearing those kinds of words from a man who expects nothing in return.  If you’re reading this, daddies take note.  Someone will compliment your daughters.  Someone will make them feel special.  The more special they already feel, the less likely they are to get into a relationship built on empty words.

JamarWeb-115

2. My mom taught me never ever to put up with abuse, of any kind, from a man.

Here’s how she did this.  One day mom was on the phone with a lady who was lamenting that her husband had pushed her.  She asked my mom if this was abuse.  “Yes, of course it is,” Mom responded.

“I thought so.  So, I told him that if he did it again, I’m leaving.”

“Right. You’re missing a key phrase though.  Tell him ‘I’m leaving, and I’ll be back with a baseball bat, to bash your head in.'”  Listening to this conversation and those words coming from perhaps the kindest and gentlest woman I’ve ever met, had a dramatic impact on me.

“Did you mean that?” I asked my mom when she had hung up.

“Of course I did. Do you think for one second that I would allow some jerk to push me? Don’t you dare put up with something like that!”

I haven’t ever come close to being pushed, hit or even tickled too harshly by a man, but it meant something to me to be reminded that I also have power in a relationship … and so does a baseball bat.

3. My mom and dad both taught me that I am not physically stronger than a man.

In light of my last point, this may sound contradictory, but let me explain.  In most cases, no matter how many special secret agent women on tv single-handedly beat six men to a pulp with their mad kickboxing skills, women are not physically stronger than men.  Calm down.  I’m not saying we’re not strong.  I do know women who may be stronger than some men they encounter, but I am not.  And I won’t be.  I’m not built that way.

So, I protect myself in other ways.  I don’t spend my time surrounded by men who would use their strength to do me harm.  I pay attention to my surroundings when I’m out by myself.  I try not to look distracted or vulnerable. And I made sure in the dating world that anyone who wanted to date me talked with my dad or brother first.  Call me old-fashioned, but no man has ever dared to pretend like they would hit me after meeting my dad or brother.  Also, now I’m pretty sure anyone who intended to harm me would take one look at my husband and think, “surely there are less painful ways to die.”  Again, these are the cases where your attacker or abuser is someone you know.  Not all attacks are avoidable, but so many times they are if we just use our heads.

4. My mom, dad, society and all of my life experience taught me that you can’t change someone just by being in a relationship with them.

I actually heard someone rebut an article against the abuses found in Fifty Shades by saying that Christian clearly had problems and Ana was trying to help him.  Christian had been abused by his mother and therefore wanted to hurt all women who looked like her.  Ana loved him through it all, (not sure “loved” is the right word for that), and eventually he came to love her too.  Pardon me while I run for a tissue.

Let’s just not.  Loving people who are damaged is basically what life is all about.  I’m totally for it.  Loving people so that they’ll change … not so much.  That’s not even a good premise for a friendship, let alone a dating or marriage relationship.  How much would you appreciate it to hear someone say, “I’m just loving you in the hopes that you’ll be better than you are right now.”  Geez.  Thanks a lot!

Also, a relationship isn’t supposed to replace therapy.  A girl told me once that it was okay if her boyfriend hit her because he was “really going through something” and she had taken psychology classes on how to deal with people like that.  I’m guessing I don’t have to spell out my reaction to this “logic”.  Wait, is that a baseball bat I see swinging toward his head?

Of course your life is up to you.  Read what you like, watch what you like.  I’m also not trying to change you.  Just don’t deceive yourself.  What you read and watch and the way it’s presented affects you.  It can change your mind in ways you wouldn’t believe.  30 years ago no one would have thought that a book or movie like Fifty Shades would ever hit main stream and sell jillions of copies and make women think it’s cool for a man to control their every move.

Please don’t believe this is a step toward empowerment.  Please don’t think that abuse is okay as long as the victim chooses it.  Please don’t allow yourself to be treated like garbage.  Let’s use our heads.  Let’s find true power.  Let’s pray for the victims of abuse and not try to make it look sexy.  Completely your business.  I’m just sayin …

Four Things to do When Life Isn’t Behaving …

Planner
My newly made planner for 2015. My 2014 Susan Branch Calendar sacrificed its life to make this wonderfulness a reality.

For list makers, goal setters and other planning nut jobs, this time of year is especially wonderful.  I start making my yearly “Goals Program” in December and hit the ground running in January.  I charge into a new year determined to be the Worlds Best version of myself.  It’s big fun.  I recommend insanity.  But there are millions of posts this time of year about goals and resolutions, so I won’t bore you with the details of mine … this post is about the things that happen that have nothing to do with your plan ….

The idea of “unplanning” my life a little bit came to me when I ran into an older lady at our church.  I don’t mean I saw her and approached her calmly because I hadn’t spoken to her in a while … I mean I ran into her.  I wasn’t paying attention and I almost knocked the poor woman over.  After I grabbed her to keep her upright, laughed, hugged her and sincerely apologized, she said something really wonderful to me.

“Oh, I’m so glad you weren’t paying attention!  It gave me a chance to hug you and say hi!  I haven’t seen you in forever!”  What a sweetheart.  Also, what a fabulous perspective on mistakes, detours, derailed plans, life.  I really needed it.

So I am switching my thoughts on goals and plans.  I will still make them, obviously, but here are things I’ve decided to do when they go awry.  Also a few thoughts on when something unexpected comes up that wasn’t even a missed plan, it wasn’t on my radar at all.

1.  Remember that most unplanned things aren’t a problem until we make them a problem.  

Of course there are exceptions to this, disease, car crashes … those sorts of things are a problem in themselves.  I’m talking about roadwork, getting cut off, traffic delays, missing a meeting, smacking face first into a 75 year old lady in your church hallway.  Your attitude determines whether or not these things will ruin your day.  My dad used to call them “adventures”.  If you see your life as an adventure, having to make a detour won’t upset you so much.  Life is what you make of it.  So make it great.

2.  Most mistakes can be fixed with just the right word at just the right time.

I have a problem with my mouth.  It is always opening and saying things.  I have learned that, while words spoken can’t ever be taken back, there are ways to mend the things you broke when you opened your mouth.  Recently I was on Facebook and in a super bad mood.  As a side note, it’s always a good idea to get on Facebook when you’re ready to spit nails.  I was following a thread about something non-important and noticed a friend’s comment had been taken poorly by the group and people were reacting negatively towards her.  I went into attack mode, defending my friend while eviscerating the person who had been unkind and thereby started an entirely new war.  Really.  Nothing is more vicious than a group of mommies with nothing to do but follow pointless Facebook threads.  The next day I noticed that the thread had exploded thanks to my hostile comment and one lady was even considering leaving the group.  Sigh. I apologized on the thread, promised them that I now had my head on straight (and had drunk several cups of coffee that morning, improving my outlook on life) and begged the poor woman not to leave the group based solely on my stupidity.  She accepted my apology, stayed in the group and I think she might even like me now.

If I had waited one more day to try and make amends, I doubt the story would be the same.  Sometimes everyone needs time to cool down, but sometimes the situation needs to be diffused immediately.  When broiling over words and tempers are involved usually a soft word is what’s needed, not days and days for the problem to fester and grow.  Stop the madness!  Apologize quickly and completely (even if you were partially right, now’s not the time!) and let everyone move on with their lives!  And when in doubt … just keep your mouth shut in the first place and stay off the internet when you’re a grouch.

3. Have a positive default setting for when things go really wrong.

Ever heard the phrase, “Bad hair days are good hat days”?  We all know that things are going to go wrong in our lives eventually.  If you plan your immediate reaction to the negatives in life, it will make them a bit easier to deal with.  For instance, when something upsetting happens to my mom, she buys chocolate for us all to eat.  No kidding.  Who doesn’t win in that scenario?  There are doctors who would call that an unhealthy relationship with food.  I call it delicious.

When Jason and I were first married we had two miscarriages in one year.  I took every test the medical world could offer and they all had “normal” results.  When I got pregnant for the third time, I made a plan for how I would react if I once again lost the pregnancy.  I actually made a list of the things in my life that would still be good even if I couldn’t have the baby I desired so desperately.  He was a boy.  Sometimes you don’t have to put your default setting to use.  That’s always nice.

JamarWeb-19
My oldest son, Jack. He’s six now.

4. Use the opportunity to help someone else.

This entire world is broken.  That is just a fact.  I love to see the positive and silver lining, and I wear rose colored glasses on purpose, but sometimes even I have to get real.  People need help, healing, love, hugs … us.  If you’re thinking, “How am I supposed to deliver healing when I’M so sick?!” I have some fabulous news for you!  God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.  It’s awesome.  So many times the things we look at as a struggle and a heart ache, someone else can look to as a light at the end of their very dark tunnel.  If you have health problems, use them to help others with the same problem. If you’ve lost a parent, you can now reach out with empathy to others who have suffered the same loss.  If you have a child who is making terrible choices, other parents may one day look to you to figure out how to live through their own precious child’s crisis.

Many of you are probably well aware that the current and effective “Amber Alert” system grew out of the greatest tragedy imaginable.  I was a teenager when the beautiful little Amber was snatched from her street by a psychopath and the manhunt that ensued was brutal and heartbreaking.  On the other side of it, Amber’s parents took their horror story and turned it into something that has given hundreds of parents back their children.  Can you imagine that? Heartache will happen anyway.  We might as well help each other through.

I do realize this isn’t a typical “Happy New Year!” post.  But since our year definitely will not go as planned, we might as well have a plan for it … see what I did there?

2015_new_year

And really, Happy New Year!  I hope all of your lists work out.

Generation X and Y Raise Children … from our iPhones

Lils

There are distinct advantages to parenting now days.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when our kids are sick.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need birthday party ideas.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need stocking-stuffer ideas. There are real disadvantages too.  We have the internet to tell us about GMO’s and high-fructose corn syrup.  We have the internet to feed all our children’s symptoms into when they’re sick and find out that they match up with either cancer, ebola or the common cold.  We have the internet so now we have to buy three different softwares just to protect our children from its content.

The bigger disadvantage to raising kids coming from our generation is that the vast majority of us don’t use our heads any more even though we have the bulk of the world’s knowledge on a palm fitting device in our purses. I personally cannot hold one single phone number in my brain.  I don’t even know my husband’s number by heart.  The only number I remember is my friend Jennilyn’s and that’s only because it hasn’t changed since my childhood and it has a very nice rhythm to it that stuck in my head like a commercial jingle.

Also, we’re not good at heeding actual human advice. Since we are children of the eighties and nineties, constantly told that “no one has the right to tell us what to do”,  we now all get on our tablets and get THEM to tell us what to do. Instead of calling our moms to discover how to fix a behavior issue with our children, like our mothers did, we now ask a million strangers in cyberspace what to do.  The good news is we avoid cluing our mothers in on the fact that we are ignorant of something.  The bad news is, we have no human contact and may all shrivel up and die.  But we probably won’t notice, we’ll be looking at cat pictures and arguing with a stranger on the internet up until our last dying breath.

The wealth of info at our fingertips would truly be awesome if it came from fabulous sources, right?  But, how many of our doctors in recent years have heaved enormous sighs when we admitted that we looked up our symptoms on WebMd before we came in … and that’s why it took us so long to come in … and that’s why it has now developed into bronchial pneumonia.  I’m sorry, Dr.  I was afraid you’d tell me I had lung cancer, so I was treating this dreadful cough myself.  Essential oils are a real thing … I swear.  I read it on the internet. (Just kidding, I actually use essential oils with some success).

But I digress.

A disturbing trend I’m seeing in modern parents comes from a mixture of inexperienced moms who write about their lack of experience as if they really know what they’re doing, and equally inexperienced people who “share” these writings on all social networks.  Here are a few recent “gems” the popped up in my newsfeed/twitterfeed, “Why I Didn’t Make My Child Share” – the sage advice of a parent with a three year old who uses 2000 words to explain why her child should never have to share anything they like … because they are the king of the planet and every other child should bow down to them.  “Why I NEVER Tell My Child She is Naughty” – this one was a well-meaning mom trying not to damage their child’s fragile self-image by saying “you are naughty”.  Instead she would affirm her daughter by saying “what you just did was inappropriate.”  I’m sure the subtle nuance totally got through to her toddler.

I have no problem trying out new parenting techniques.  And I certainly have no problem with people sharing blog posts on Facebook.  I learn from them.  I like them.  I HAVE a blog, so I definitely love that it can be shared!  But humans have a weird brain thing when it comes to things we see in print.  Especially things with swirling, beautiful pictures all around them, in professional looking font.  I’m as much of a sucker as anyone.  I read these posts and then wonder, “are my kids scarred for life?  I definitely said Lily WAS naughty the other day instead of saying her actions were inappropriate.  And I made Jack share his toys with his cousins who came over yesterday … and now they’re going to grow up and be ax murderers.”  And then I get a grip.

We’ve got to wake up and see, that the people we are flocking to for this advice are A) people we don’t know. B) more importantly we don’t know their KIDS?  If they aren’t ever taught that they are naughty and they have to share, I’m pretty sure they’re not delightful.  I absolutely don’t want my child to be in their vicinity. And C) they are people whose kids are only 3 and they really have no idea what the results of these ideas will be.

There are a trillion different parenting styles and my kids are still little, so I don’t judge.  What I’m saying is, perhaps, getting all our ideas from a very untested future is not the answer.  I always thought that finding a nice couple at my church, with children who are grown up and lovely and asking for their secrets was the way to go.  Unfortunately, these people usually don’t write blogs.  They either think computers are too “newfangled” or they’re too busy with their grandkids … or the worst one yet:  They have fabulous grown children who are successful and happy and they tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t do what we did.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would never yell at them.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would have prayed more and worried less.”  “I wouldn’t have spanked them … ever!” Wait what?  How is this helpful?  Your kids went to Harvard!  They are confident, brilliant and still manage to be sweet and compassionate.  Why do good parents do this, you wonder?  It’s because of a little thing I like to call, “the grandparent phenomenon”.  They aren’t really the people in those houses raising those currently fabulous people.  All the sudden they are afraid their grandkids will be yelled at, or grounded, or won’t be allowed to play with the new iPad they’re buying them for Christmas.  Now, as Bill Cosby would say, they are just old people trying to get into heaven. We are sunk.

So if we don’t trust the internet’s toddler parent offerings, and every old person tells us to do they opposite of what they did, what ARE we supposed to do?  If we’re smart, aware of the source, and paying attention to the results of our own attempts, then there must be an algorithm we can follow.  For instance, every time my child cries and screams for something and I tell them that they must stop or go take a nap, they stop crying.  Voila!  That worked … at least that time.  The sad truth is, there is no perfect trick to parenting.  Growing up I was taught that there are various promises in the Bible apparently like a magic spell (except magic was a sin,) that if we only lean on them, our children will all be doctors, or missionaries in Ethiopia.  The truth is, God Himself, the perfect father, still allows people their own free will.  Even your little people.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” is a principle, not a promise.  How could God possibly make a promise about the condition of the human heart when He Himself, refuses to dictate its actions?  My pastor pointed this out a few weeks ago, it’s not my own insight.  But it’s definitely a relief.  God doesn’t let parents off the hook.  We are supposed to train up our children in the way they should go.  But the results are not in our hands, they lie in the hands of free-willed human beings.  And free-willed human beings make mistakes sometimes.  Mistakes that lead to disaster in some cases.  My mom always says not to judge people who are in desperate situations because of their choices.  “We are all just three bad decisions away from disaster at any given time.”  So true.  Sometimes just one decision.

Are our children doomed because we yell occasionally?  I certainly hope not.  If we tell them they’re naughty?  Come on?  Really?  How many times did your mom tell you you were naughty?  You lived.  I’m pretty sure, if your child has any real problems, and any brains later on, a tiny change in syntax will not destroy them.

Jason reading

Maybe if we give them too many hugs.  Tell them we love them too much.  Spend more time with them than is strictly necessary they will do well in life.  My husband is good at stretching time especially when reading to them.  Books that I skim through as quickly as possible, sometimes skipping words for efficiency, he reads slowly, with big voices.  He points out shapes and colors, and spells the words with them.  He is awesome.  I usually can’t get the mound of dishes in the sink off my mind.  To his credit, or perhaps detriment, the dishes don’t come into his mind at all.

To make a short story longer than it should be, the real thing I lean on is love.  You can’t go wrong with love. I don’t mean doting on your children, giving in to every little thing they want and not ever forcing them to do something they don’t like.  I mean true love.  If you look up the definition in a dictionary it will suffice, but I prefer 1 Corinthians 13, because it is beautiful and full of poetic words that sound like music to me.  Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, keeps no record of wrongs … it goes on and on and if we take just this chapter and used it as our guideline for life, and teach our kids to do the same, I think our they will be just fine.  This is tested parenting advice.  It came from my mother, and my grandmother, and her grandmother… and I can’t get a single one of them to write a parenting blog.

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