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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3 Steps to a More Positive Life

Calm in the Whirlwind

Rainbow over the Muldrow Glacier

The term “pet peeve” has always bugged me.  I mean, aside from the fact that “peeve” just sounds weird and sets my teeth on edge, the term itself is just an excuse.  Someone is giving themselves permission to be negative because whatever just happened is their “pet peeve”.  As my sister would say, well, bully for you.

My Dad had chronic pain when I was growing up.  Rheumatoid arthritis.   Dreadful.  Anyway, in spite of this, he strove to raise us in an ultra positive atmosphere.  The things normal people disliked were usually my favorites because I didn’t know we were supposed to hate them.  I have crazy love for things like Mondays, broccoli, cats and rainy days.  I was homeschooled, so I didn’t know until I got out into the “real world” that there was something inherently wrong with this.  I learned how to keep this disturbing part of…

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Birthday Present

My husband’s hiking journey across America!

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So 15 years ago today, I arranged a little birthday present to myself. I scheduled for my last day of active duty in the United States Marine Corps to coincide with my birthday, September 2, 1999. Just that by itself, not a bad gift; but this particular day  also marked the 1st day of my final preparations to start my hiking trek from San Diego, California to Calais, Maine.

So there I was with my little white Nissan pickup, its bed loaded with boxes of supplies. Each box labeled with a different city. Twenty-five cities along a predetermined route between San Diego, CA and Marble Falls, TX. I know Marble Falls isn’t a big deal to most, but it was my hometown, it would be a good motivator to help me stay the course. Each box represented a supply drop that I had planned along my coarse as I traveled…

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