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Thursday, July 31, 2008

On slow learners and being like a child

This summer I embarked on a quest to read the Bible. Believe it or not, I've never read much of any of the Bible before, other than when I was the "reader" at Mass. Well, I've come to realize just how little I really know of the Bible and wanted to change that. A friend suggested that I start with the New Testament, but I wanted to read the whole thing. My compromise was to alternate books. First Genesis, then Matthew. Exodus, then Mark.

I'm most of the way through Mark now, and I love how the text notes of my NIV Bible call the disciples "slow learners". Twice!! It references "Mark's depiction of the disciples as slow learners." Nice.

It makes me think. If they were slow to catch on after learning directly from Jesus; witnessing his miracles and healings; after being sent out to preach, heal, and drive out demons; after being a part of the miraculous feeding of 5,000 and then the feeding of 4,000...then maybe I'm not doing so badly.

Like the disciples, I am trying to comprehend God with my human mind, all while knowing he is far beyond my reasoning and understanding. I've been told and have read, "Just believe." This is so hard for me. I'm the kind of person who, if a friend tells me something I haven't heard before, asks for references! It's a very difficult thing for me to "just believe" things without being able to reason or think things out for myself; and, of course, God is so far beyond human reasoning and understanding. A quote from Mark really jumped out at me today: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."

This is such an adult problem. We're afraid to just believe things. Maybe we don't want to look silly or simple. Other times we don't want to be taken advantage of. How many times have I passed someone holding a sign on a street corner asking for food, work, or help without doing something...just because I don't want to give to someone who doesn't really need the help. That wouldn't take away from my generosity. We don't want to do something because we don't know. Children, on the other hand, believe what their parents tell them. The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, that trusting look that says "I know I'm safe because you said so"...they take things on faith.

In so many ways, I am like a child before God. I feel myself kicking against rules that I know are for my own good, to protect me and others and to lead me to be a better person. I'm the little girl crying because she'd rather have ice cream for supper than broccoli. I'm kicking the shopping cart because I can't have that toy. I'm that 14 year old pouting in my room because my parents wouldn't allow me to go to a concert with a 21 year old boy. I know it's not for my good, but it's what I want right now. Why is it that I can be so childish in my obedience but not childlike in my faith?

This is something that I will be praying about. I need God to increase my faith. I found two quotes today that relate to this struggle. I'm going to be speaking the latter one aloud.

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive teh kingdom of God like a
little child will never enter it."

"My faith does not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."

Stan Musial

Living near St. Louis, MO, we are by default Cardinals fans. Yes, we may live in Illinois, but in my family or, indeed, house, you wouldn't be caught dead in a Cubs or White Sox jersey. My husband is a HUGE Cardinals fan. HUGE. Me, I've been known to root for the opposing team if it'll get me out of the baseball stadium earlir. Anyway, today I received this email tribute to Stan "The Man" Musial, who played for the Cardinals way back when. It was written by Joe Posnanski, and can be found on his blog along with lots of other sports-related essays and other tidbits of info.

Stan Musial is one of those guys who, when you talk about how people were in "the good old days", is who you're talking about. Class personified. He could give lessons to a lot of today's athletes...if they realized they had something missing. You'll see...it's long, but it's worth reading every word.

Stan Musial never got thrown out of a game. Never. Think about this for a moment. Musial played in 3,026 games in his career, or about as many as his contemporaries Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky played combined. He played across different American eras — he played in the big leagues before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, and he retired a few weeks before Kennedy was shot. He played when Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller ruled the Top 40 charts, and he played when Elvis was thin, and he played when Chubby Checker twisted. He played before television, and after John Glenn orbited the earth. And he never once got thrown out of a baseball game.

There was this game, early in ‘54, that year the Edward Murrow went after Joe McCarthy and Roger Bannister ran a mile in four minutes, and Musial’s Cardinals trailed the Chicago Cubs 3-0 in the seventh inning. Cubs lefty pitcher Paul Minner was baffling the Cardinals — he had allowed just two singles, had faced one over the minimum. Then he found himself facing Musial with Wally Moon was on first base and two outs. Musial crushed a ball to deep right field, a double. Moon ran all the around the bases to score. Musial cruised into second. The whole complexion of the game had changed. And it was only then that everyone seemed to notice the first base umpire, Lee Ballanfant, was holding up his arms. He had called Musial’s double a foul ball.

Nobody quite knew how to react. The ball, at least in the Cardinals view, had clearly been fair. It was not even an especially close call. And while the crowd cheered wildly (the game was in Chicago) the guys on the Cardinals bench went crazy. They rushed on the field, shortstop Solly Hemus first, manager Eddie Stanky right behind him, and both were thrown out by home plate umpire Augie Donatelli. Funny thing, Augie would play a big role in Musial’s life. Donatelli would be one of the umpires there less than a month later when Musial hit five homers in a doubleheader. Much later, he was behind the plate for Musial’s 3,000th hit. Anyway, he was here now, taking away a Musial hit, throwing out Hemus and Stanky, threatening pinch hitter Peanuts Lowrey with ejection, clearing the saloon like an old cowboy, even though, he certainly knew, the ball had been fair.

Musial, who in the confusion had not been told anything, walked over to Donatelli. Then, according to the stories, he calmly asked, “What happened Augie? It didn’t count, huh?” Augie nodded sadly and said the umpire had called the ball foul.

“Well,” Musial said, “there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Stan Musial stepped back promptly doubled to precisely the same spot in right field. This time, Ballanfant called the ball fair. The Cardinals scored six runs in the inning and won the game.

The story has been told many ways, by many people, most famously by umpire Tom Gorman. He seemed to remember that this had happened against Brooklyn, in ‘52, and he had been behind the plate. He obviously was confusing this story with another, but that’s really not hard to understand. Stan Musial had a lot of beautiful moments. There are a lot of stories.

* * *

Stan Musial grew up in Donora, Pa., during the Depression. They were a family of eight in a five-room house. In Donora, the smoke and fumes from the zinc factory mushroomed so thick and poisonous that no vegetation could grow on the hill. That barren, brown hillside was a constant reminder that the air was killing them. Stan’s father, a Polish immigrant, worked in that factory and, not too many years after Stan started playing ball, died from the fumes.

Not that a tough childhood explains everything. Still, there was something about Stan Musial that did not let him forget Donora, did not allow him to change — “I’m so lucky,” he used to say every day, more than once every day, so many times that people would roll their eyes. But that seems to be how he felt, every day, lucky.

Harry Caray, who of course first gained his fame calling Cardinals games on KMOX, would tell the story of a beaten down Musial going hitless in a Sunday doubleheader. The heat was unbearable that day — hell could not be much hotter than a St. Louis summer day — and after the game Musial walked gingerly to his car. He looked beaten down. He looked beat up. Musial never seemed to think of baseball as a job, but a daytime doubleheader in St. Louis might be the closest thing.

“Watch this,” Caray said to a friend as they watched the scene, and sure enough when Musial got to the car, there were a hundred kids waiting for him and an autograph. Stan leaned against his hot car and signed every one.

Musial. People like to say that people have changed. I don’t see that exactly. The world has changed. Technology has changed. Movie and ticket prices have changed. Gas prices have changed,. Many of the rules have changed — the reserve clause is gone, Title IX is in place, they let people swear on cable TV, airplanes and restaurants won’t let you smoke and you can no longer hold your infant in your lap in the front seat of your car. But people? I don’t know. I get a little queasy when I hear old time ballplayers talk about how none of them would have used performance enhancing drugs, and a little queasier when I hear old-time politicians talk about how they always reached across the aisle. You will still hear a lot of people romanticizing America in the 1950s. Those people tend to look a lot alike.

Still, it’s probably fair to say that there was something unique about the time that produced Stan Musial. Maybe in those days people treasured that thing they used to call class. Maybe they expected their singers to be dressed in tuxedoes, maybe they admired strong and silent types, maybe they liked football players who did not celebrate their own touchdowns or boxers who spoke quietly, maybe they wanted their children to believe in a world where baseball players drank milk and said “golly” and married their high school sweetheart. It seems to me that the quintessential hero today is Josh Hamilton, left-handed power, supremely gifted, fallen from grace, back from the depths, crushing home runs and driving in runners while covered in tattoos that represent a time he regrets. That’s a story for our time, a story about a lost soul redeemed, and it touches our 21st Century hearts.

Musial is from his time. He smoked under stairwells to be certain that no kid saw him doing it. Friends say he drank privately, and very little, Stan the Man could not allow anyone to see him at less than his best. He often said his biggest regret was that he did not go to college. And, yes, he married Lil, his high school sweetheart, on his 19th birthday, almost 70 years ago.

He wanted to be a role model. He seemed to need to feel like he was giving kids someone to respect. That, as much as anything, drove him. Teammates had a standing wager on how many times he would use the word “Wonderful” in any given day. They usually guessed low. He was terrified of making speeches (this, friends say, is why he started playing the harmonica in public) and yet he almost never turned down a speaking engagement. He played in great pain, but nobody ever caught him running half-speed. When he felt like his skills had diminished, he asked for and received a pay cut.

Joe Black used to tell a story — he was pitching against the Cardinals, and as usual the taunts were racial. “Don’t worry Stan,” someone in the Cardinals dugout shouted, “with that dark background on the mound you shouldn’t have any problem hitting the ball.” Musial kicked at the dirt, spat, and faced Black like he had not heard anything. But after the game, Black was in the clubhouse, and suddenly he looked up and there was Stan Musial. “I’m sorry that happened,” Musial whispered. “But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.”

Chuck Connors, the Rifleman, used to tell a story — he was a struggling hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 1951. He asked teammates what he should do. They all told him the same thing: The only guy who can save you is Musial. So Connors went to Musial and asked for his help. Musial spent 30 minutes at the cage with an opposing player. “I was a bum of a hitter just not cut out for the majors,” Connors said. “But I will never forget Stan’s kindness. When he was finished watching me cut away at the ball, Stan slapped me on the back and told me to keep swinging.”

Ed Mickelson only got 37 at-bats in the Big Leagues, but he has a story too. Musial invited him to dinner — he was always doing that stuff — and there Mickelson explained that he felt so nervous playing ball, that he could hardly perform. Musial leaned over and said quietly, “Me too, kid. Me too. When you stop feeling nervous, it’s time to quit.”

Well, there are countless stories like that, stories about Musial’s common decency and the way he could make anyone around him feel like he was worth a million bucks.

“Musial treated me like I was the Pope,” Mickelson said, and he was still in awe more than 50 years later.

* * *

Those were the emotions Musial inspired in his time. He was so beloved in New York, that the Mets held a “Stan Musial Day.” In Chicago, he once finished first in a “favorite player” poll among Cubs fans, edging out Ernie Banks. Bill Clinton and Brooks Robinson, growing up about an hour apart in Arkansas, were inspired by him.

Of course, it was mostly the playing. Stan Musial banged out 3,630 hits even though he missed a year for the war. He hit .331 for his career, cracked 1,377 extra base hits (only Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have hit more), stretched out more than 900 doubles and triples (only Tris Speaker has more) and played in 24 All-Star Games. He had that quirky and unforgettable swing, that peek-a-boo stance, and he probably inspired more famous quotes by pitchers than any other hitter.

Preacher Roe (on how to pitch Musial): “I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off first base.”

Carl Erskine (on how to pitch Musial): “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third.”

Warren Spahn: “Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy.”

Don Newcombe: “I could have rolled the ball up there to Musial, and he would have pulled out a golf club and hit it out.”

And so on. Maybe pitchers felt helpless because there seemed no way to pitch him, no weaknesses in swing — fastballs up, curveballs away, forkballs in the dirt, he hit them all. In 1948, he had his most famous season, his season for the ages, .376 average, 46 doubles, 18 triples, 39 home runs, 135 runs, 131 RBIs. And yet, the thing about Musial, is that for more than 20 years he was pretty much always like that. Four other times he hit better than .350. Four other times he hit more than 46 doubles. He hit double digit triples eight times in all, he hit 30-plus homers five times, he walked more than twice as often as he struck out.

I suspect Musial can never be reflected in numbers because his resume is so diverse and elaborate — it’s like Bob Costas said, he never did just one awesome thing, he never hit in 56 straight games, and he did not hit 500 home runs (never hit 40 in a season), and he did not get 4,000 hits, and he did not hit .400 in any year. He was, instead, present, always, seventeen times in the Top 5 in batting average, sixteen times in the Top 5 in on-base percentage, thirteen times in the Top 5 in slugging percentage, nine times the league leader in runs created. To me, the best description of Musial through his stats is to say that 16 times in his career Musial hit 30 or more doubles. It might not make for a great movie. But it tells you that all his baseball life, Stan Musial hit baseballs into gaps and he ran hard out of the box.

* * *

Here’s the thing: A lot of baseball fans have forgotten Stan Musial. Anyway, it seems like that. His name is rarely mentioned when people talk about the greatest living players. He’s never had a best selling book written about him. A few years ago, when baseball was picking its All Century team, Stan Musial did not even received enough votes to be listed among the Top 10 outfielders. The Top 10.

True, he did not play in New York like the baseball icons, like Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle and Koufax and Mays. True, he did not break the home run record like Aaron, he did not get banished from the game like Rose, he did not break barriers like Jackie, he did not swear colorfully like Ted, he did not hit three homers in a World Series game like Reggie, he did not glare like Gibson, he did not throw like Clemente and he did not say funny and wise things like Yogi.

No, Musial just played hard and lived decently. He hit five home runs in a doubleheader, and had five hits on five swings in a game. He hit line drives right back at pitchers and then would go to the dugout after the game to make sure those pitchers were all right. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but he didn’t see the harm in letting people believe in something.

And maybe that sort of understated greatness isn’t meant to be shouted from the rooftops. Maybe Musial is just meant to be quietly appreciated. Every so often, even now, you can read an obituary somewhere in American’s heartland, and you will read about someone who “loved Stan Musial.” Everyone so often you will meet someone about 55 years old named Stan, and you will know why.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My garden

We've had a vegetable garden for the last several years, and it has never done too well.  Something about the fact that I'm not good about watering it...Well, this year I was determined to do better.  Luckily, all this rain we've been getting has kept my garden in good shape.  I've only had to use the hose a few times.

This year, I planted tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, broccoli, spinach, basil, and peas.  Had a volunteer oregano plant.  Don't know <i>what</i> happened to the peas. Got a little spinach.  The tomatoes and herbs are going strong, and I <i>think</i> the onions and garlic are about ready to harvest.  And volunteer pumpkins have taken over the garden!! That's what happens when you don't make sure your compost gets hot enough. Haha.<p></p>

Here are some pics from the garden.

An onion flower...

Onion flower

Tomatoes are doing great!

More tomatoes

Hopefully this will be turning red soon? I love red peppers, and they cost twice as much as the green ones. You can see the pumpkin blossom in the picture, too.

Hopefully will be red pepper

Here's the whole garden. We need to expand it next year. And make sure not to inadvertently plant any more pumpkins!! On the left are the onions, which I think are ready to be dug up.


It remains to be seen if I harvest enough to make it worth the effort in planting and weeding the garden. So far, my yield is 3 cherry tomatoes and some basil and oregano. haha. A master gardener I'm not...but I'm working on it!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This is scary

This is a link to an ABC news report on unsafe tires being sold as new. It's scary stuff. I'm going to check our tires in the morning.

Watch the report

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Mom's 60th birthday

Had a surprise 60th birthday party for my mom today. About 6 months ago I mentioned that we should start planning it...and we actually started exactly one week ago today. That's pretty characteristic of my family. Last minute, late...you get the picture. But, somehow, it all came off wonderfully. :) I'll recap it with pictures.

We got there early to decorate.


Guests started showing up around 4:00. I had previously made plans with Mom and was supposed to pick her up at 4:00. Naturally, I was late (but this time it was on purpose). We wanted to give the guests a chance to get there while still knowing where Mom was. And we did...she was home. Waiting for me.


When I picked her up, I was all annoyed because Daniel's ride that was supposed to pick him up from a birthday party had fallen through and now I had to go get him before Mom and I went out. When we got to the Gun Club (party site), I ran in to get Daniel and go to the bathroom. Daniel then ran out to tell Mom that she should come in because there was somebody there who remembered her from the old days at the Gun Club with Dad. Naturally, he didn't remember the name (and he wouldn't have if the person existed, either!). When she came in the door, we all yelled, "Surprise!!" And she was.

Guests included family from the my mom's family, my dad's family, and my husband's family as well as friends from work and choir. She was really touched by all of the people who came out to celebrate with her. It was nice to make a big deal of someone who has spent so much of her life taking care of and doing things for all of us. :) Here are some of the guests...

After visiting and eating, it was time to blow out the candles on her cake. That was an adventure! Here's the cake all lit up...

Mom with lit cake

Blowing out the candles...

Blowing out the candles...again

Yea!! All of them blown out. Mission accomplished.


...except when some joker puts trick candles on your cake!!!

Whew!  60 candles make a LOT of smoke!!

After blowing out the candles a few times, it got pretty smoky in the room and we opted to dunk them in a cup of water before the smoke alarms went off.


What do you do after the cake?? Presents, of course!! The family had gone in together to get her a new computer. I think she liked it. I'm not positive, though. What do you think? Haha

A computer!!  Yea!!

All in all, it was a great time. I'm glad you could join us...whether it was in person on online. :) I'll leave you with a couple of pictures, and (of course) I'll post the party pics in the website album, as well.

Mom and her party planners (me, my brothers--all but one who had to be off for the Army Reserve--and our spouses)...

Party planners extraordinaire

And Mom and her boyfriend Bob. All together now...AWWWWW!! What a cute couple!

Bob and Theresa

And, possibly my favorite picture of the day...my brother Tom showing us how a "real man" vacuums!

Real men drink beer while they vacuum

Faith Zone Challenge, days 4 and 5

Well, the weekends are just crazy. And it reveals to me just how little time I create for God in my life. Even with the very first step of the challenge, the 30 minutes of quiet time with God, it was much more "found" time rather than reserved time. I didn't reserve that time on Friday, and surprise, surprise...didn't end up having the time to take my 30 minutes. I did do some reading from the Bible early in the morning, but it wasn't that dedicated time for God. Saturday and today were no better.

Day 4's challenge was a very difficult one for me. We were challenged to share our faith with 3 people. Now, as I've mentioned before, I still have a hard time talking about God, the church, and my religious beliefs and feelings to very many people. I can talk comfortably with the couple I go to church with and with another friend of mine (haha...my ex-husband's current wife), but that's about it. I have a hard time even talking about church with my husband or most of my friends. I am particularly uncomfortable with pushing my faith on anyone, which is I guess not how I should be about it. Too PC for too long...that's what a career in public education will do to you, lol.

So, there I was with the challenge in front of me. I don't think I'll ever be the kind of person who could go door to door and share my faith. I don't even typically forward religious emails to people unless they've sent that kind of thing to me. Like I said, this challenge was just that...but in my own way, I think that I at least partially fulfilled it.

Share my faith with three people. Well...

1) I chose to go to church Saturday night and possibly miss a party that I really wanted to go to. Jeff knew how important it was to me to go to the party because for the longest time I haven't had many friends to do things with socially and have really missed it. Finally, it seems like things are changing a little. I wanted to go because it would be fun AND because I don't want to be the person who never comes when they're invited so you just stop asking them. But I also didn't want to miss church because it is very important to me. So I decided that, of the two things I wanted to do, I'd choose the one that honored God rather than just what I wanted. I hope that my choice to go to church rather than to do something else I really wanted to do was a witness of my faith to my husband.

2) When I called my friend to check on when the party would end, I told her that we might not make it because it conflicted with church. I had considered not mentioning why we might miss the party because I didn't know what she would think about it. Again, I let my actions share my faith with her.

Well, that's only two. But, for me, not bad.

Today's challenge is one that I'm not ready to complete. Not because I can't do it, but because I can't.


Today's challenge is to "embrace your calling". Many times God calls us to do things we aren't sure we can do, so we make excuses to avoid doing His will. This issue of a "calling" from God or a higher purpose for ourselves is something I've wondered about, but I don't know what it is that God wants me to do. So, for me, the challenge will be to continue to pray and ask God for His guidance and for the grace to hear what He is calling me to do. And then to do it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Random questions

1. Favorite salad dressing? Zia's Fat Free Sweet Italian

2. Have you ever smoked heroin? Nope. Have never smoked anything.

3. Do you own a gun? Inherited one from my dad, but somehow it "disappeared" when my ex-husband moved out. Go figure.

4. What's your favorite drink at Starbucks or other specialty coffee shop? More of a QT girl.

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? Not usually, and I like the wait (as long as I'm alone) so that I can read.

6. What do you think of hot dogs? Gross

7. Favorite Christmas song? "Walking in a Winter Wonderland"

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Chocolate milk and then diet pepsi (breakfast of champions)

9. Can you do push ups? Haha...like 12 girly ones

10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? My wedding ring

11. Favorite hobby? volleyball, biking, reading12. Favorite movies? Funny ones. Love Something About Mary, Wedding Crashers

13. What's one trait that you hate about yourself? procrastination

14. Middle name? Catherine (although I've been known to claim that both "Grace" and "Fun" are my middle name. haha)

15. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment. 1) Nobody's going to answer all these questions. 2) I hate it when you want to do two things and have to choose between them. 3) I hope this darn birthday party for Mom comes out OK.

16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink: Water, diet Pepsi, strawberry margarita

17. Current worry right now? Paying bills is never fun.18. Current hate right now? Messy house

19. Favorite place to be? Out having fun

20. How did you bring in the New Year? Partied at my brother's house until just before midnight and then rang in the New Year at my mom's with Jeff and Jacob

21. Do you like to travel? LOVE IT!!

22. If I could go back in time...I'd spend a day hanging out with my dad.

23. Do you own slippers? Yep. Big, fluffy pink ones that I bought for pajama day at school :)

24. What color shirt are you wearing? striped

25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? I'd probably slip right out of bed!

26. Can you whistle? no :( Can't snap either.

27. Favorite color? Cerulean28. Would you be a pirate? If Johnny Depp would be my captain! ;)29. What songs do you sing in the shower? Whatever's on the radio

30. Favorite girl's name? Annie? Rachel?

31. Favorite boy's name? I like all my boys' names (Daniel, Nathan, Jacob)

32. What's in your pocket right now? Cell phone

33. Last thing that made you laugh? Brendan Fraser hugging his movie nephew and crying over the death of his brother (it was supposed to be sad but was actually very funny)

34. Best bed sheets as a child? Katie's Patch!!

35. Worst injury you've ever had? Broken heart. Haha. Tore my ACL and cartiledge. That was no fun.

36. Do you love where you live? Well, it's not a beach in Mexico, but it'll do.

37. How many TV's do you have in the house? 338. Who is your loudest friend? Hmmm...Kim when she's been drinking. Haha

39. How many pets do you have? 1 dog, 1 cat, assorted fish

41. What is your favorite book? Gosh, that's like asking me to pick my favorite child!! Currently...Maybe a Miracle by Brian Strause

42. What is your favorite candy? Mounds43. Favorite Sports Team? Whatever team my kids are currently on

44. What were you doing at 12 AM last night? Talking to Jeff

45. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up? WHY does Jacob keep getting up so early???

Faith Zone Challenge, day 3

Tuesday's challenge was to spend 30 minutes a day in quiet time with God. I managed that again yesterday--30 minutes of time with the Bible and in prayer in addition to prayers offered throughout the course of the day--but just barely. Right towards the end of my time, the phone rang. I ignored it, but my son answered and brought up the phone. I quit what I was doing. I'm still very self-conscious about praying in front of other people. Why is that? It's one thing that I do that could be a GOOD example for my family.

Yesterday's challenge was to keep positive in the face of problems and problematic people. I thought, Oh, I can do this easily...the kids are all going to be gone most of the day! That thought crossed my mind around 7:30. By 8, my 15 year old son was asking for a ride to school because three drops of rain had fallen and he didn't want to get wet on his bike. For a variety of reasons, none of them good reasons to be mad, giving him a ride was a problem for me, and I got so annoyed. I went storming upstairs to get my shoes, and by about the time I reached the top of the stairway, it hit me...this is exactly what I'm supposed to be working on...Chastened, I went back downstairs with a better demeanor.

Really, all day long I felt much like Peter after the cock crowed three times. After the ugliness had slipped out of my mouth or behavior, I would realize what I had done. The good news is that, while I was not at all successful in initially reacting the way I'm sure God would want me to, at least having the challenge on my mind DID help me to more quickly change my behavior, actions, and attitude to a more godly one.

Today the challenge is to practice forgiveness. It's funny. I have been able to forgive some pretty major things that have happened to me...my ex-husband's infidelity and leaving me, some really poor choices on my husband's part, etc. It's the smaller, far less important things that I find harder to deal with. A big source of anger and unforgiveness I have dealt with lately has been my mother-in-law. For whatever reason, she has no problem turning us down when we ask her to babysit our son, but she watches my sister-in-law's two children once or twice a week all day long. This has upset me to no end. God has been working on my attitude, though, and I have made some real strides with it. And I've seen some changes in her, too. Since my attitude improved, she has called a couple of times to invite us to join her for lunch and then kept Jacob afterwards to play. I don't think this is due to my outward attitude towards her, because I was always careful to not let my hard feelings show. I think it's God at work...and, once again, I'm impressed. :)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Communication and other disasters

One of the on-going issues that I've been struggling with is my relationship with my husband. The hardest thing, I think, is that the problem isn't him...it's me. I'm very lucky. I know it. I have been married for 6 years now to a wonderful man and a great father, and he loves the heck out of me. Despite my many, many faults.

Yes, I can hear you thinking, I can see why you'd have a problem with that. Haha. I know.

But here's the thing. I'm bored. And, honestly, not all that interested in what he has to say. Or, often, I don't believe his reality. Not that he's lying. Not at all. But you know how people talk to you about the things that happen to them during the day and you don't share their perception of events or motives? That's it.

And, too, he's easy. When we were engaged, my mom told me that she was afraid he was too nice for me. I was a little offended: "What? You want me to marry someone who'll be mean to me? You don't think I deserve someone nice?" That, of course, wasn't what she meant. And I get it now. She meant, I think, that I need someone who'll challenge me and push me and keep me on my toes, and he doesn't.

We go through periods where every word out of his mouth makes me want to smack him. In fact, he doesn't even have to talk to annoy me. And he's not doing anything wrong. Now, I grant you that some of this is related to some serious PMS-related depression, but who would want to live with someone who can't stand you for 2 weeks out of every month? (Thank goodness it's not always that bad, but it can be). And he's that rare man who is very willing to discuss issues and problems in an open manner, but how do we "fix" something that is primarily a problem inside of me? It's not like he's doing something "wrong" to upset me. So I don't talk about it, and he rides out the storm until his wife comes back eventually.

Even when my raging hormones aren't causing me to despise him, when I'm really trying to show an interest in him and be a decent wife, it seems like we have so little to talk about. I think back to when we were dating, and we talked a lot. I talk a lot, anyway. I can spend 2 hours on the phone with my friends. Daily. :) I can text message another friend for hours talking about everything and nothing. How is it that I have nothing to say to the man who shares my life?

I know one problem between us is that I've gotten lazy. When we were dating, we did a ton of stuff together. Now, it was a lot easier because the older boys were gone every other weekend. It was like having a regular, free babysitter who, in fact, occasionally paid you (only occasionally since my ex-husband is terminally bad with money). With a child who doesn't leave every other weekend and busy teenage kids, our free time has taken a big hit (as well as our finances).

Beyond that, though, I also used to be interested in doing things with him. It didn't really matter what. I was just glad to be with him. Now, if he's out working in the yard, I'm generally doing something in the house. If he's driving the car, I'm reading. We don't do a lot of "little" things together where you have the opportunity to just talk. And I know that he misses that. And I know there's more to being a wife than just cooking dinner. So, I'm praying about it and working on my attitude and actions. He deserves to be loved the way that he loves me.

Repeat Messages

Since beginning to seek out God in an active way, I have been repeatedly amazed and amused by the way that He works in my life. Just since May, I have frequently received the same message from various sources...God's way, I guess, of making sure I "get the message".

One example, my friend who kind of jump-started this process had talked to me about hearing the "still, small voice" of God. When I finally went to his church, the exact same words came from the pastor. And later in the month, I indeed had my encounter with that "still, small voice".

Almost every time I go to that church, in fact, the pastor either emphasizes something I have been told, previews something I will hear or deal with later in the week, or addresses a significant issue in my life. Maybe I never really listened with both my ears and my heart at Mass, but I don't remember what I heard at the Catholic masses ever feeling truly relevant to my life. It's very different at this new church. Or I am. Or both.

The latest example of God's repeat messages deals with speaking His word aloud. My friend shared one of Joyce Meyer's books with me (Woman to Woman: Candid Conversations From Me to You), and in one section she talks about speaking aloud God's word that relates to what you want to happen in your life rather than complaining about the things you don't like about it. Ok, hmmm. Interesting. Then, I went to Borders looking for one of her books on prayer (something I feel like I could really improve at) and came across The Secret Power of Speaking God's Word. Hmm. The book I was looking for, however, wasn't there, so I went home and ordered it from Amazon.com along with a cd and, oh, what the heck, the book on speaking God's word. Hadn't gotten the shipment yet when I went to church Saturday night. In Pastor Mark's message, one of the main points was (you guessed it) speaking God's word at your problems and temptations. OK, God, I get it. Haha. Once I got the book on Monday, I started reading aloud passages that addressed issues in my life.

But, just in case I didn't get it, one more nudge...I got back to Renee Swope's blog yesterday and read her entry for Monday, July 21, titled "Praying God's Word". :)

I've got it. Loud and clear. :)

Faith Zone Challenge, day 2

Today's challenge, in addition to spending 30 minutes of quiet time with God, is to keep a joyful attitude despite the attitudes and actions of others. This will be challenging enough...and would really be a stretch if the school year had started! I'd better start practicing, because every moment of the school day will be an opportunity to exercise patience, watch my tongue, and do my best to remain positive despite any number of frustrating situations and people. :)

Even with being off for the summer AND the fact that the boys will all be gone for at least part of the day, I'm sure I'll encounter situations that make this challenge, well, challenging. And I'll let you know how I do.

As for the first part of the challenge, I did spend my 30 minutes with God yesterday. It was challenging just to get to start! Jacob was still napping, but just as I sat down with my Bible Jeff came home from work. I had been all set to take that time, but he was going to be leaving and I'm really making an effort to put him ahead of my wants. We talked while he got ready to leave. Once he was gone I was able to sit down with God and with a clear conscience that I hadn't pushed my husband to the side.

I started out reading the Bible and partway through felt the urge to pray. At first I thought, Just let me get to the end of this section, but then realized that God was asking me to pray and if that's what He wanted why was I still reading? So I sat up and prayed. Afterwards, I went back to my Bible for awhile and then read aloud from a book on speaking God's word aloud.

I need to work on quieting my mind and listening as well as speaking...a problem in my conversations with others as well as with God. But I also felt good that I heard and answered the call to pray. And I'm looking forward to seeing how this challenge progresses and affects me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sick boy

Poor Jacob. Sick with strep throat. :( He had a high fever Mon. night and Tues. started with a sore throat. Thankfully, the dr office got us in right away, and he's actually feeling much better today (even before the antibiotics). Unfortunately, now I think I'm getting it, and while summer is typically a better time for me to be sick (because I'm off work anyway and don't have to mess with sub plans), this is NOT the week to be sick since we're having a big 60th birthday surprise party for my mom on Sunday.

Faith Zone Challenge

I've been spending some time lately reading the Proverbs 31 blogs that you can sometimes link to from their Daily Devotions emails. Today, I came across Tracie Miles' Faith Zone Challenge. In essence, it's a 5-day challenge to help you build a closer relationship with God. This is right along with what I've been needing. With my new church, I really enjoy going to church, but I'm not so good at spending time with God or having much of a personal relationship with Him.

The first step of the challenge is to spend 30 minutes of quiet time a day with God for the next 5 days. She writes,
If you are willing, turn down the noise tomorrow morning. Get up earlier than normal for the next 5 days, find a place of solace, and spend time with your heavenly daddy. Pick a Bible chapter or use a devotional book. Breathe, slowly, deeply, using your diaphragm, focusing only on Gods word. Your body will react to this relaxation, including muscle tension fading and even blood pressure dropping. Your mind will ease too, leaving you free to hear Gods whispers. Quiet time is more than just a daily appointment with God. It's more like a visit with your closest friend. Just like a friendship cant flourish if you never spend time together, neither can our relationship with Christ. The more dedication and time we devote to our faith walk, the closer we will feel to Jesus. The closer you are, the more likely you are to hear Him speak, see Him move, and feel Him near.

So, we'll see how it goes. I actually need to go and do that right now, while Jacob is asleep.

All About Me from A-Z

A is for AgeChronologically - 35; Mentally and emotionally, 25 maybe

B is for Burger of choice - Avocado chicken burger at 54th street. Mmmm

C is for what Car you drive - Gold Alero (sedan) to work; gold Grand Caravan during the summers when I'm carting kids around.

D is for Dog’s name - Berkeley (named after street his previous owners lived on, NOT (as assumed by Conservative friend of mine) after uber-liberal university. :)

E is for Essential item you use every day - Cell phone!! I've also discovered (finally) the benefits of moisturizer and wouldn't think of skipping a day without my Oil of Olay. I guess my 30's have caught up with me. :)

F is for Favorite TV show at the moment - CSI Las Vegas

Game - Spider solitaire. But none that I love all that much.

H is for Hometown -

I is for Instruments you play - Took piano for several years and played the flute. Can laboriously pick out a tune on a piano today. Flute...no way!

J is for favorite juice - Cranberry

K is for who you’d like to Kiss - Hmmm...gotta love my husband! :)

L is for Last restaurant you ate at - Chinese Buffet

M is for favorite Muppet - Kermit the frog, I guess. Fozzie's not bad. Miss Piggy is annoying.

N is for Number of piercings - My ears are pierced, and at some point I could see getting another set of holes in my ears so I can leave in my diamonds and still wear earrings that coordinate with my outfits or other jewelry.

O is for Overnight hospital stays - Only with the birth of my three children

P is for People you were with today - My kids, my husband, the people at the doctor's office.

Q is for what you do with your quiet time - Read, "work" on my computer (blogging, checking family websites).

R is for biggest Regret - Hmmm. Not necessarily a regret, but I do wonder where God would have directed my life if I'd left it up to him rather than taking things into my own hands.

S is for Status - Married for 6 years , mother of 3 great kids, ages 15, 14, and 4. Gainfully employed. Seeking God.

T is for Time you woke up today - 6:30am - and wasn't happy about it!

U is for what you consider Unique - People

V is for a vegetable you love - Broccoli and asparagus

W is for Worst habit - Spending too much time on my computer and procrastination (I know it was "habit"- singular - but they kind of go hand in hand.

X is for the number of X-rays you’ve had - Just dental ones, I think

Y is for Yummy food you ate recently - Wonton soup. Love it.

Z is for Zodiac sign - Aries

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Teenage drivers

Daniel's first driving lesson. Scary as hell.

First time driver

God at work in my life

Since May, I've been talking and thinking a lot more about God and His place in my life. I'm a lifelong Catholic...Catholic grade school, high school, and 3 years at a Catholic university. I don't have any big issues against the Catholic church, though I was deeply disappointed by the institutional reaction to the priest sex abuse scandal. By big issues, I mean that there's no big thing that made me made at the Catholic church.

That isn't to say that I have agreed with the church in every area or followed its teachings in every respect (pre-marital sex and birth control are two biggies there). In spite of, or perhaps really because of my Catholic upbringing, I've never thought a whole lot about my beliefs. When everyone around you believes the same basic thing, there's not such a need to examine or defend your beliefs. They're just...there. I went to church more or less regularly, even ministered in the Children's Liturgy, but going to Mass never meant to me what I felt like it should. So, I kept going (missing liberally for vacations, camping trips, and leisurely breakfasts), and hoping that something would eventually kick in and church would really start to mean something to me.

That's where I was in May when a friend asked me why I was Catholic. For me, the answer is pretty close to why I have blue eyes...because I was born that way. He started asking me questions and arguing (sorry, debating :D) with me about my answers. The more we talked, the more I realized how little I really understood what I professed to believe. Rather than believing with a depth of feeling, it was more an attitude of, "Well, if the Catholic church believes it, that's fine with me..." Except, of course, where I disagreed. Then, my thoughts were more like, "I'm sure that God doesn't want..." OR "I don't think God would expect..." You get the picture.

A big place where we disagreed was homosexuality. I have always believed that homosexuality is, for most people, how they are born rather than a "lifestyle choice". I know that, if the tables were turned overnight and heterosexuality became "wrong", I couldn't change my attraction to men. And what seems wrong to me is that idea that people who are gay aren't able to share love and build a family (as far as the church is concerned) based on who they are. Seems more an issue of civil rights vs. morality. Well, the Bible couldn't disagree more with me.

In the words of my friend, though, "Do you think you know more than God?" Well, no, but I do wonder if our understanding of His take on this issue is limited. It's not for me to judge, though, and I'm leaving that whole issue to God. Those words touched me, though, and made me want to read the Bible and read more about faith in general.

While we were talking about religious issues and Catholicism, my friend invited me to visit his church with him and his wife. While I was happy enough with my church (or, unsatisfied but not looking to go elsewhere, anyway), I was curious about what had caused such a change in him...because he seemed visibly different from the guy he had been in the past. I went to the church, a non-denominational Christian church, and liked it, despite vast differences from the Catholic Masses I was used to. I've been going since, only missing once or possibly twice since the beginning of May.

And here's the thing: I don't want to miss church. I love going. I like the music (and I do still love many of the hymns sung at my old church), but I really get a lot out of the pastor's messages. The funny thing is that the services are about 1/2 hour longer than the Masses at my Catholic church, but it doesn't seem like it at all. I could listen for longer. And it's amazing, because every week the pastor speaks on something that is an issue for me or that my friend and I have just discussed. I have talked and thought more about God in the past few months than in the rest of my life combined.

All this change isn't without a cost, though. My Catholic mother is really unhappy that I'm going to a different church. Luckily she's not the kind of mother who'll guilt me or harangue me about it, but knowing that she's upset bothers me. I'm the only one of my siblings who goes to church regularly, and in the words of one of my brothers, "Apparently it's worse to go to the 'wrong' church than not to go to church at all." Indeed, it seems that way. And I've never felt that you had to be Catholic or say this or that prayer to go to Heaven or be a good person...but somehow it matters very much to my mom.

My husband is also not happy with the change. He's a Catholic as well, but the kind of Catholic who (up until I started going to a new church) could take church or leave it. I was the one who decided if we were going to church or staying home and sleeping in, cooking a big breakfast, whatever. He did go with me once to the new church and hated it. By the second song he asked, "Is it almost over?" Not open to it at all. Which was disappointing, but fine. What really bothers him is that now I don't want to go away for the weekend because I don't want to miss church. I really look forward to it. Well, that makes a mess out of our camping schedule and annoys him to no end. He, like my mom, isn't one to be very vocal about his displeasure, but it's pretty evident. And, curiously, now he goes to Mass regularly. Go figure. (And I go with him, so I'm getting plenty of church these days!).

I've got a lot more to say on the subject, but it's getting late.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Backyard Survivor III

We held the third annual Backyard Survivor games yesterday at Bill's house. Every year the games are tweaked a little to work better, and this year was no exception. The first year we had the kids vote each other out, which caused a little ill will and defeated the purpose of keeping them active. This year, we used a point system and kept shaking up the teams. We tried to keep equivalent kids on opposite teams, but the mix of kids was different each time. Every time your team won a competition, every person on that team at the time got a point. (We also informed them that we were deducting points for whining or complaining, which at least reduced that annoyance. :D). In some ways the point system worked a lot better than our previous methods of determining the winner, but it also changed the game in some surprising ways, particularly in the food challenge (more on that later).

This year's competitors were R, J, and ML (Jan's kids); T and A (Karen's kids); NJ; D and N; K (my niece); and H (K's friend). All but H and NJ. have participated in the previous two Survivors.

We started out, as always, with creation of team flags...

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We told the kids to make a team flag but not to put their names on the flag. It was funny to listen to them start strategizing, "Oh, that's for in the merge..." "Well, maybe they're going to have us merge...". Most of the kids are fans of the REAL Survivor TV show (except Karen's freakishly lucky family...who never watches the show and has STILL won the Survivor pool two or three times...not that I'm bitter or anything. Haha) and were anticipating similar twists and turns.

Here are the finished products...

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After the flags, it was on to the first event, the Rubber Band Relay. Each team got a giant rubber band to put around their ankles. The first team member had to get from one end of the volleyball court to the other and then pass off the rubber band to the next team member. If anyone broke the rubber band, they had to go back to where they had started and get a new one. The first team to complete the relay won. We had kind of expected the kids to try to run with the rubber band, but most of them hopped instead.

The next event was the Dragon's Tail. Each team had to line up with their hands on the person in front of them. The last person had the tail tucked into their shorts. The goal was to be the first to grab the tail from the other dragon while remaining connected as a team. This challenge wasn't the most successful. We had a couple of restarts and ended up changing the rules. You can never really be sure what's going to work.

It started out so calmly...

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But soon degenerated into a rugby scrum...

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Event three was the ball toss. The teams took turns throwing balls tied up in socks over the volleyball net. The opposing team scored by catching the ball, but they could only use one hand and had to catch the ball by the sock "tail". All balls but one were worth 1 point. The other was worth 2. The first team to 15 won. This wasn't a very photogenic event.

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The fourth event, the blindfold bottle hunt, iss a favorite, and the only event besides the food challenge to be featured in all three of our Survivors so far. All but one person on each team is blindfolded. The seeing person is the caller and has to direct his teammates to find all of their team's bottles in the volleyball court. One team had both Nathans for this event, and it ended up being a serious disadvantage. Nathan J. dropped 3 or 4 of his team's bottles after the caller told the other Nathan to drop one. We have both pictures AND video for this one (I know, I know...you can hardly wait. Haha).

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The next event was another relay. Each team had to carry 30 golf balls halfway across the court on a paddle and drop them into a bucket. The first team to move all of their golf balls won. It was interesting to watch the kids strategize on this one. Some of them tried to carry more than one golf ball, but it was next to impossible. It was also fun to watch them grow in confidence as they got better at balancing the balls.

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At this point, we had the kids paint their faces while we prepared the dreaded FOOD CHALLENGE. They really got into painting their faces and did a good job.

The food challenge is one of the most fun to watch for the adults, but it gets harder and harder to find something gross for the kids to eat at the grocery store. There's a fine line between really grossing them out and challenging them and just wasting your money on stuff that no one will eat. This year's food items were guacamole, sardines, club soda, "eyeballs" (baby onions), and squash baby food.

Food challenge--"eyeballs"Food challenge--guacamoleFood challenge--Sardines

Jeff had to come and dish up the sardines for me. They smelled awful. Ugh.

As I mentioned above, the food challenge was one area where the point system affected the game in a surprising way. In the past, almost all of the kids have really stepped up to the plate and eaten some pretty nasty things in order to help their team win the challenge (in the interests of full disclosure, I'll admit that my kids are the only ones who've been unable to complete their part of the food challenge, Daniel in the first year and Nathan last year. And I'll further admit that I probably couldn't do it, either.). This year, when they scored a point for themselves for each food they successfully ate in a minute, only a few of the kids scored all of their points. Here's the standings:

  • Ryan L.--4*
  • Daniel--2
  • Josh--1
  • Heidi--4*
  • Kelsea--3*
  • Nathan H.--0 (can you believe that???? Nothing.)
  • Megan--0
  • Taylor--5
  • Nathan J.--3
  • Adam--5
*The vegetarians refused to eat the sardines on moral grounds. :)
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The next event was an individual tug-of-war while standing on an unstable platform. Best two out of three won.
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A new event this year may just be a classic in the making. This was yet another relay, with a twist. The teams were given a zipped bag. The first runners had to open the bag, put on one item of clothing, and then run to the next team member and hand off the bag and clothing item. That team member had to put on the item of clothing and add another from the bag before running to the next person. And so on, until the last person was wearing a stocking cap, a swim mask, a towel wrapped around the waist, a life jacket, and flippers. We got a few pictures and some (really bad, I admit it) video.
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Sorry this video is so bad. The race was hilarious, though, and I hope that comes through.

The last event we did was another one of those that just doesn't quite work out. It was a pie-throwing competition, and the idea was to score throws from 0-5. It turned out just that points went to the player who got the best hit. And the kids had fun throwing "pies" at each other (paper plates full of whipped cream).
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After that last event, we had to end the official games since Karen and family had another family commitment. All of the kids seemed to have a lot of fun, and they weren't even that worried about who had "won" overall. For the record, Ryan and Taylor tied for the win, followed by Heidi and Taylor, who were 1/2 point behind.