Monday, December 22, 2008

The Weather and the Wii

The two hot topics in our household today:

1) The weather. It is currently -- at 10am on Monday morning -- 20 degrees below zero in Sioux City. Incredible. Not much wind, thankfully (and surprisingly). But twenty below is wicked all on its own. We were supposed to have blizzard conditions this past weekend, with new snow and strong winds blowing it all over. The wind came, and the snow, too, but the former did not blow the latter as much as predicted. Still it was pretty miserable to be out in.

The guy we bought our used snow blower from is supposed to come by this morning to look at it. It doesn't start when the weather's too cold. That's useful, huh?

We're supposed to get more snow tomorrow and Wednesday, but the temperature is supposed to go up, at least -- a nice, balmy 24 or so. For a while last week, we were wondering if we needed to be concerned about getting home for the holidays, but I don't think that's going to be an issue now.

2) The Wii. We got one. The girls opened it last night. (See my last post for their reaction.) Living in Jersey, we started a tradition of opening our Christmas gifts to each other early, before we left town. It seemed like a pointless exercise to ship those gifts back to Kansas just to open them and ship them home again. Anyway, as I said, it's a tradition now, and the girls wanted to open our immediate family presents here again. So, last night was the night. And the Wii was the star of the show.

We played on it all evening. And the girls have played on it all morning so far. We're definitely going to have to set up some rules about this thing. At least when they play that, they're up and moving around instead of sitting on the sofa playing on the laptop or watching TV.

And this may be a good thing for making friends. Something to help them break the ice. To help Leslie, anyway -- Eastin doesn't often have ice to break with anyone.

With the holidays coming up, I don't know how much writing I'll get done here. (Who knows -- maybe I'll write more . . . ) But I figured I'd take this opportunity to wish all of my "faithful readers" (that's kind of cool to say) a very Merry Christmas. May it be warm and comfortable and joyful and full of love!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Funny Girls

An annoying obligatory post about funny things my children have said recently.

Leslie: "You know what my name is during Christmas? Essie. (Why?) Because it's no-el."

Eastin: (Singing self-written song lyrics as her rock star alter-ego) "Do you know what today is? . . . no, not Wednesday . . I mean, a holiday . . . no, not Hannukah . . . what are you, French?" (OK, maybe you had to be there, but it was hysterical.)

Both: (While opening their Christmas present together tonight) WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (They got a Wii.)

And now a few from the past:

Eastin at 6: (after having talked for 45 minutes straight to her father and I in our bed early in the morning) "You know, just because I talk a lot doesn't mean I have anything to say." (Ha! You don't often see that kind of self-knowledge in a 6-year-old.)

Mom: I am SO annoyed!
Leslie at 10: Join the club!
Mom: Oooh! Is there a club? Do we have a secret handshake?
Leslie: (Looking at Mom like she's a freak) Yeah! (Pounds her on the forehead with her fist)

Guess you had to be there for that one, too.

I love my girls. They make me laugh. I should remember that more often.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Confessions of a Mean Mom

So, my Facebook friends read my status yesterday about being a "mean mom" and know that we've been having discipline issues here. I won't say what or with whom, because I don't want to embarrass her, and because it's over now basically. But the whole incident caused me to do some reflecting.

Frankly, when it comes down to it, I'm a pretty lousy parent. Now, before all my sweet, kind friends get up in arms to protest and tell me to get to a shrink and find some self-esteem . . . I know of whence I speak. Mothering does NOT come naturally to me. And I'm not talking about how we're all sinners and selfish and such. I have friends whom I watch with their kids, and I become well aware that they have some nurturing gene that is weak in my DNA. Not missing, but weak.

Not that I abuse my girls -- you all know better than that. And I do love both of my girls desperately. But I have to work much too hard not only to do the right thing by them, but even to just enjoy them sometimes. I'm very self-centered, self-focused . . very controlling . . rather impatient . . not good with long-term projects and situations (which parenting would qualify as).

But what occurred to me yesterday is that perhaps this is by God's design. Because while I'm not naturally good at parenting, I am naturally good at a lot of other things. I know many people think that is a blessing (and I'm not ungrateful for the gifts God has given me), but the problem is that when a person is able to accomplish a lot in her own strength, she gets a big, fat head and forgets who gave her that ability in the first place.

I'm starting to wonder . . . perhaps God is intentionally not answering all my prayers to make me a wonderful parent . . . perhaps He needs to keep reminding me, "See, this is the real you. In all your ugliness. Don't ever forget that -- all that is good in you is actually me, and all the good that's in your kids is not your doing either" . . . perhaps he lets me fail in this area specifically to keep me dependent on Him. If I were a wonderful parent on my own--if it came naturally to me as it does to so many of my friends--then I would take credit for that feat, too. As it is, I am all too painfully aware that if my girls grow up sane and healthy (which I expect they will), it will be entirely by the grace of God.

So maybe this is my thorn in the flesh. My thing to keep me humble, dependent -- to keep my head appropriately sized. If so, I suppose I should welcome it and just let it do its work. That would be the wisest response, yes?

Oops -- don't let me start thinking I'm wise. Big, fat head issues again . . .

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Oh, my gosh. It is so cold here. Right now it is one below, with a wind chill of twenty-seven below because the wind is wicked crazy. It is SO COLD.

The girls and I went with the neighbors to the Swedish Lutheran church that Pam grew up in tonight. They were having a St. Lucia celebration. We were freezing on the way there -- by the time we left the snow had picked up again and we could hardly see the signs on the road driving home.

And did I mention . . . it is COLD?!?!?!??

I asked tonight if this is typical weather for around here. Pam assured me, no. It doesn't usually get this cold until January. (!!!!!) But another man at the table shook his head and insisted this is pretty typical.


I already bought myself some new gloves and a headwrap. I've started lecturing the girls about zipping up their coats before they're outside and about keeping their gloves in their coat pockets so they always have them. I'm on the verge of purchasing some long underwear.

I always have said that I'd rather move further north than further south. That I'd rather be too cold than too hot. You can always put more clothes on . . . you can't always take enough off. What was I thinking?

My friend Cindy told me she never drank coffee until she moved to Minnesota. There, she told me, the minute you walk into someone's door in the wintertime, someone shoves a cup of hot coffee in your hands . . and you just drink it because it's hot. Maybe I'll be a coffee drinker here soon.

That would be something, cuz I find coffee pretty disgusting right now. Nah. It won't happen. I'll freeze first. Coffee is just gross.

And actually, now that I think of it, I really do prefer this to oppressive heat and humidity. I've been there, too. I'll add on another layer of clothes and keep the laptop on my lap to warm it up. We choose our battles . .

OK, this is off-topic, but I'm remembering one of the funnier things Leslie has ever said . . . once in the car, she and Eastin were arguing and I admonished Leslie to stop picking fights with her sister.

"But you always tell me to pick fights with her!"

"What?!? I tell you NO such thing!!"

"Mom -- you are always telling me: 'Leslie, you have to pick your battles!'"

And the little snit let me get halfway through an explanation of what I meant by that before she started cracking up and revealed that she was making a joke, Mom, come on! Even Eastin had to laugh. At least they stopped arguing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Flavor of Lazy Am I?

My friends out there who read World magazine will recognize the name Andree Seu. She's one of my favorite writers. She has a blog ( that I read regularly. Yesterday's post particularly convicted me -- I saved it on my hard drive and had to get it out to read again this morning. It's called "Flavors of Lazy". You gotta read it. It's about how we deceive ourselves into thinking we're anything but lazy simply because we're busy. But Biblical admonitions against laziness aren't about your to-do list.

This paragraph is what is still haunting me this morning:

When I have been assailed by emptiness or loneliness, I have almost always simply gone along for the ride, and let these have their way with me—leading me to where they were leading me. I have said I am tired. I have given myself permission to be controlled by feelings, by circumstances, by fears, by the past, by the future, rather than mounting a vigorous counterattack with truth. Why do we think that “fighting the good fight” of faith is anything but these private wars?

Ouch. Oh, so true. My emotional and spiritual flabbiness puts my pudgy physical body to shame.

Do I hear an "amen", brothers and sisters?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One for the "You'll Never See This in Jersey" File

Leslie plunked down a chunk of her allowance for some raffle tickets a couple months ago. It was to raise money for Svensk Hyllningsfest, a huge Swedish heritage festival that Keith's hometown puts on every other year. A good cause -- we go every time -- so I told her to go ahead and buy the tickets if that's where she wanted to spend the money. Turns out, she won.

Her prize? Half a pig. I should clarify: half of a dead pig, cut up in its asundry parts and ready to cook and eat. Actually, Leslie only got half of a half because the ticket had her and her grandma's names both on it, so they split their winnings. We brought Leslie's share home at Thanksgiving. Bacon, sausage, pork chops, pork steaks, pork liver -- half of a half of a pig is a surprisingly lot of pig. We're having some of the sausage tonight for dinner. We're not huge pork eaters, so we may still have chops left to grill next summer.

Keith also saw an ad in the Sioux City paper a while back for another raffle of some kind in town. The prize? A rifle. No lie. Yeah, you'd NEVER see that happening in Jersey.

Something you don't see in Siouxland? Traffic jams. Unless they're caused by a freight train sitting on the tracks.

Rush Hour in New Jersey: That time of day when all God's children are trying to get to or from work and the traffic on major streets and highways is practically at a standstill.

Rush Hour in Iowa: That time of day when all God's children get a bite to eat for lunch and listen to Mr. Limbaugh.

:) We sure miss New Jersey . . . but I think we're going to like Iowa.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Weekend Round-Up

Another big weekend. Where to start . .

- "Spamalot". Keith and I went to see it Friday night at the aforementioned beautiful Orpheum Theater. The national tour, so a few people were from the Broadway production, including the guy who played Arthur right after Tim Curry. Keith and I saw the show on Broadway (with Curry and David Hyde Pierce -- oh, my goodness, was he fantastic!). This wasn't up to that quality, but it was still great. SUCH a funny show! The big surprise for us, though, was the crowd -- the crowd that wasn't there. The place was maybe three-quarters empty! Keith's friend who went to Wednesday night's show said the place was packed. What gives? Such a shame . .

- The girls' sleepover. We couldn't find a babysitter for Spamalot, so the girls slept over with Lexi next door. First sleepover since we moved here. Pizza, chocolate chip cookies, nail polish, Hannah Montana on the big screen -- a good time was had by all.

- Art Center workshops. Leslie's pottery class is done (I just remembered that we forgot to pick up her final projects yesterday). But they had free holiday craft workshops for the kids. The girls painted glass plates and bowls and built "gingerbread" houses out of graham crackers. Hmph. Kept them occupied while I got Christmas shopping done anyway.

- Christmas lights. Keith spent the day out in the cold and wind trying to put lights up on the house -- his Christmas gift to me this year. But the cold and the wind and the messed up ladder and a variety of other factors figured in to foil his good plans and intentions. Turns out, he couldn't do what he wanted to do, and some of the lights he got up yesterday were laying on the ground this morning. Another shame. But I appreciate the effort. I told him to forget about it -- there's always next year.

- Volleyball. The NAIA Women's Volleyball Tournament was in Sioux City this week. Since Blue Bunny was a sponsor, we got four passes. We went last night, for the championship game between Fresno Pacific and Concordia. Fresno won in the first championship match in the tournament's history ever to go to five sets. Yeah . . we didn't care that much either. But it was a night out, and it was fun to watch. It's always enjoyable to watch people who excel at and enjoy their sport playing at the top of their game, whatever the game.

- Church. Sunnybrook Community, again. I realized something this morning -- this pastor is a pretty good speaker. I've been relatively unimpressed with all the pastors we've heard since we've been here. But I think now that I've been unfair. They weren't all that bad (well, no, some of them were). They just weren't Jeff Bills. But who else is? This guy (another Pastor Jeff, believe it or not) is good -- he speaks truth, he connects with the seeker, he communicates clearly, he keeps your attention, he cracks a good self-deprecating joke on a regular basis . . he's a good preacher. And Keith met him at men's basketball there last Wednesday. He plays basketball; he's real. I'm satisfied.

- Golden Corral. Newly opened nearby, and we had lunch there today. There seems to be a lot of all-you-can-eat buffets around here (or maybe we're just hitting them all). I'm getting to a point, though, where I can't eat at these places without feeling guilty. Not only do I eat way too much, but all the food that gets wasted there is downright sinful. Another guilt by-product of reading Robin's blog everyday . . .

- The Hope Christmas program. Tonight. In New Jersey. The event I'm missing this weekend. Sigh. It makes me very sad that I'm not in this this year. I really miss Hope Players right now. By next year, I suppose I'll be involved in some kind of program around here (we're going to Sunnybrook's this Friday night to check out what they do), but this year, I'm a spectator. And that's kind of sad.

I suppose I should enjoy it while it lasts. Next year, I'll probably be whining about being so busy with the church Christmas program . . the glass is always half-empty, you know. Further sanctification still required . . :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Creepy Christmas Stuff

Tell me if I'm just weird or what. Does anyone else out there find the movie "The Polar Express" a bit creepy?? I haven't read the book, so I can't judge that. But I genuinely don't enjoy the movie. It has nightmarish quality about it to me. I don't like the animation. All of Tom Hanks' characters freak me out. The scenes at the North Pole remind me of old Hitler/Nazi footage. Santa is more intimidating than warm and inviting. And it drags . . . heavens, that movie seemed to go on and on the first time I saw it. The music even annoys me for some reason.

And I get so tired of the trite message .. . "Just believe . . just believe . . " I have the same problem with "Any Dream Will Do" in Joseph/Dreamcoat. Any dream will NOT do. That's not the point of the story at all. The object of your belief is as important as the believing.

Frankly, I think I'd rather watch "The Nightmare Before Christmas". I haven't watched it for years, because it scares the girls, but I remember being impressed with it when I saw it. It's creepy in a good way, because it knows it's creepy, I guess. Tim Burton's a bizarre dude, but he knows how to tell a good story.

Nothing profound here. Just some holiday opining.

And while I'm gabbing and you're listening . . . let me share something cool we've discovered about our house. We have big windows facing out the back to the south. This means that, during the winter, when the sun is lower in the horizon to the south, it shines into our house all day. Which makes our house downright HOT. On a sunny day, our furnace hardly ever turns on on the main floor or upstairs, and the house is in the toasty mid-70s. Very nice! One of the things we liked about the house before we bought it was the LOW utility costs. Now we see why they're so low!

Let's hope we're not frying in here next July, though . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Church Search Continues . . .

Last Sunday we went back to a Reformed church that we visited earlier. Sunnybrook Community Church. Sounds chipper, yes? The name actually comes from being located on Sunnybrook Avenue. This church is remarkably like Hope UMC that we attended in Jersey. It is seeker-friendly. It has a contemporary worship style. It has a "coffee house" and bookstore just outside the main auditorium. It has a MOPS program and a preschool. They support . . not an orphanage in Uganda . . but a school in Haiti. They have a ministry to the Hispanic community in South Sioux City (probably as close to Camden's Urban Promise as you get in Siouxland). As I said, remarkably like Hope, in many ways.

But it's big. 1200 people "call Sunnybrook their church home". They have two services happening at the same time at 9:00 and two more at 10:45. One service is in the main auditorium; the other is in the "Loft", a fellowship-hall-type room. The sermon is piped into the Loft by live feed. Otherwise, it's two different services, two different worship teams . . and tons and tons of people. Last Sunday there were not only orange-vested volunteers directing traffic in the parking lot, but a sheriff's officer directing traffic in and out of the parking lot.

They do have an emphasis on small groups, which is good. Otherwise, I don't know how you can avoid getting lost in the crowd. And they have lots of activities for our family: drama, music, basketball, youth group, Wednesday night kids activities, etc. etc.

Right now, I think I'm leaning this direction. I think we all are. But it will definitely be the largest church I've ever been a member of. And I'm not sure why that troubles me.

Actually, I think I do know why it troubles me. It's my ego. I don't think I've ever been in a church where I didn't eventually end up being involved in just about everything . . one of those people that everyone knows . . a "big-wig", to put it bluntly. This is too big of a place to become a "big-wig" very easily. I'm not used to being a small fish in a big ocean at my church. And I'm not sure I'll like it. How sad is that? How self-centered am I?!?

Well, maybe this will be good for me. Humbling. I probably could use some humbling.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Further Sanctification

Our family is huddled around the fireplace in the master bedroom, watching "Fairly Oddparents" and eating pizza we just had delivered. Don't imagine that this is some warm, cozy family moment. We're in the bedroom because it is on the only floor in our house that has heat right now.

One of our furnaces is not working. It stopped working Wednesday, before we left for Thanksgiving with the in-laws in Lindsborg, so we knew we were in for a cold night when we got back yesterday. The upstairs furnace is apparently fine; the top floor is a comfortable 70 degrees. The main floor is a chilly 59. The basement -- a frigid 50. Considering we're expecting a low of 24 degrees overnight (with more light snow flurries), I expect the basement to be even colder in the morning. No homeschooling down there tomorrow.

Again, I shouldn't complain. I know I shouldn't. But for crying out loud -- ANOTHER thing breaking down in our house??? And does this stuff ALWAYS have to happen on the weekend, when nobody will come fix anything?

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving . . I'm thankful we do have one furnace working so the house is livable. I'm thankful that it's working on the floor where our bedrooms are, so our sleeping routines aren't disrupted. I'm thankful for the insurance we have on these things. I'm thankful that Pizza Hut delivers. I'm thankful for sweatshirts, afghans, and comforters. I'm thankful for laptops that warm my lap as they run. I'm thankful for the ready-made science lesson -- "See, girls, heat rises". I'm thankful that tomorrow is Monday, when handymen make house calls. I'm thankful that we have big windows with a southern exposure on our main floor, so if the sun actually shines, the living room will get warmed pretty well.

And I'm thankful that we at least have hot water this weekend!

Once again, Eileen's sweet Puerto Rican accent is echoing in my mind: "Apparently, the Lord believes that I require further sanctification . . "

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Shows and a Craft Fair!

I've had a rather delightful weekend!

It started with "Christmas at the Orpheum" Friday night. The Orpheum is a historic theater in downtown Sioux City, built in 1927, renovated and re-opened in 2001. It is absolutely gorgeous! "Elegant" was the fitting word that Eastin kept repeating as we toured the place. And one of the nicest things in my book: the women's restroom. It was huge. Stall after stall after stall -- stretched most of the width of the building, I believe -- and you could enter and exit from either end. That may seem like a silly thing to get excited about, but if you're a woman and have tried to get into and out of the restroom during a brief intermission, you understand my appreciation.

The show was sponsored (I think) by the Briar Cliff University music department. It featured the Briar Cliff choir and University Singers, the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, a guest solo soprano and guest feature pianist, plus choirs from two local churches (including the Methodist church I mentioned in an earlier blog). For anyone who doesn't appreciate classical and/or choral music, it might well have been a bore. But my girls enjoyed it, tired as they were. And I actually got goosebumps when every voice and instrument joined for the finale, "Joy to the World". Glorious! Great way to start the holiday season.

Then yesterday, after art class, library and lunch, the girls and I stopped at the Craft Fair in the Convention Center downtown. Fun to look at, but a bit overwhelming. Two floors full of crafts is a bit much. But it was good for stirring up the creative juices again. Got a few piles of craft supplies I've unpacked in the basement that I need to either do something with or put out on the garage sale.

THEN, last night, Leslie and I went to the Sioux City Community Theater to see their Youth Theater production of "Holes". I'd never read the book or seen the movie, so I was curious about it. Interesting show. Well-done for a youth theater production. An interesting theater building -- a nice, wide open stage with no kind of curtain and very little backstage that I could imagine. They did a good job of creating the image of these holes they were digging at various depths.

But even more interesting . . the "snack bar" area was almost as large as the theater seating area. They apparently do some "dinner theater" things sometimes. I'm anxious to get involved in a production there now. The girls may beat me to it, though. They have auditions in December for the next youth theater production, "Mulan Jr.". Leslie's still deciding . . she's not crazy about Mulan. But, next summer they're doing "High School Musical 2". I'm guessing that's a done deal -- I expect to spend the spring and summer driving the girls back and forth to rehearsals for that. I can't imagine them giving up the opportunity to be in HSM2.

The best part of the "Holes" evening, though, was just spending some time alone with Leslie. We had some good talks, a lot of laughs . . we really needed some time away alone. Everyday life and school is so full of the bickering and childish moments that I really need to have nights like this to remember what a fine young lady she's growing up to be.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

I'm becoming quite the little cook since we moved to Iowa.

This, of course, will come as a surprise to Keith when he reads it.

Note, though, that I didn't say a good cook, just "quite the little" one.

Mainly, I've been trying to actually cook real food more. Not just heat up quickie pre-processed stuff. Not eat out. Really cook.

A few things have motivated this, I believe. 1) A new kitchen to toodle around in. 2) Rediscovering old kitchen tools that I forgot I had as I unpack. 3) The fall weather -- always makes me crave real, home-cooked food and real, home-baked desserts. 4) My friend Robin's blog ( about "going green". I find myself making my weekly meal list and walking through the grocery store thinking, "What would Robin do?"

You would think in farming country here, I'd be able to find some places to get fresh organic produce, fresh hormonal-free milk, fresh chemical-free meat (or whatever the problem is supposed to be about meat . . ). No such luck, yet. And Keith works for a dairy, for crying out loud.

Eastin has also shown a sudden interest in cooking. She wants to help out preparing meals anytime I will let her . . . as long as she isn't in the middle of something else more fun.

The unfortunate side-effect of all this -- my new jeans I bought a few months ago aren't fitting very well. (Of course, I can undoubtably blame some of that on all the free Blue Bunny ice cream we have around here.) I've been steadily gaining weight a little bit at a time all year since we knew in January we'd have to be moving. Food therapy, you know. In fact, I may very well have gained back all the weight I lost two years ago during "Godspell". (I don't know, because our bathroom scale isn't working.) That's depressing.

And the holidays are coming up, with all the goodies involved with that. I gotta find an adult dance class around here soon . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To Quote Charlie Brown: Argh!

OK, just allow me a brief rant here.

I just spent an hour and a half trying to get our address changed on the various accounts, subscriptions and so forth that we have out there. I've been doing some of that all along, but decided today I needed to get it all wrapped up.

So, I've spent about a third of that time on hold.

Perhaps another third of that time, I've spent talking to computers that listed no press-button option for "address change" or "speak to a real human being". At least one of these I just had to give up on--they wouldn't take my account number and they wouldn't let me go anywhere else without it. I'm not sure how I'm going to contact them.

Two of them kept me on the phone transferring me from one line to another, getting this or that information from me, only to tell me at the very end of the call that they couldn't change the address for me because I'm not the primary name on the account.

Only one of these transactions was easy. I called the Lindsborg News-Record (my husband's hometown newspaper) and immediately got a friendly voice who not only cheerfully changed the address for me, but also engaged me in some brief small talk about the family.

Small towns have a lot going for them, you know?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Trials and More Trials . .

My three biggest pots are on the stove, full of water that I'm trying to get to boil. Why? So that Keith and I can carry them all into the bathroom to fill up the bathtub so the girls don't have to take baths in freezing cold water.

Our water heater has ceased to heat water. And it is leaking. We discovered this yesterday morning while I shivered and whined through a very c-o-l-d shower upstairs. The good news is, we got one of those insurance deals with the house where major appliances like that are covered in the first year or so. The bad news? They can't get out here to replace the heater until Monday. No hot water, all weekend long.

Our water heater in Jersey died at the beginning of the summer, too. And not only did we have to pay for a new one, but somehow the new heater would not fit in the space where the old one had been. Apparently, the builders installed the water heater and built the room around it . . very tightly. Oddly enough, though, the next larger model would fit. So, we had to buy a new and bigger water heater. Yeesh.

Our humidifier has also not been working here for the last month. A man came out yesterday morning to look at it--it just needed a new valve of some kind. He replaced it and cheerfully presented me with a $250 bill. Good grief! We could have bought a brand new humidifier for that price!

And then there's the saga of Keith's car. Soon after he got here in August, the transmission went out (thank you, Lord, that it didn't happen on his drive here!). There's only one guy in town who does much work on Mercedeses--a man Keith heard was very nice, good, but very slow. No lie. Keith didn't get his car back until a week ago. He not only had to pay an exorbitant amount to get the car fixed, he also had to pay for a rental car the whole time it was being worked on.

I know I shouldn't complain. Really, I shouldn't. We've had some real financial blessings in the last few months -- like that fact that we sold our house for a relatively decent price, in only a couple months, in a terrible market. But seriously . . it feels sometimes like nothing is going our way. Everything has to be expensive and difficult. As if we have money and patience to burn.

I'm sure there's a lesson in here somewhere. Some profound point I could make to enlighten all of our lives. Maybe I'll think of one while I'm boiling more water to wash the dinner dishes.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Word from Eastin

Eastin wants to share a little bit with everyone about how she's doing:

Hi! This is Eastin as you already know. Moving here is pretty hard but I made three new friends Lexi (10) Abigail (7) Debra (10) The latest playdate I had was yesterday with Debra and I've been missing all the people I met in New Jersey I can't wait to go there! I'm going there in the spring it feels like a decade till spring! It's really cold here and it just snowed for three days! But I only got to go out and play once in the snow with Lexi. (Who is our neighbor if you haven't known) We had a snowball fight and I had the biggest snowball in the world! Too bad I missed Lexi with it. It was a good one! Oh, and the funny part about Lexi her name sounds like Leslie! When she was over Mom called, "Lexi!" and Leslie went, "Yeah?" "Your Mom's here!" Isn't that funny? I hope your doing good in New Jersey! I would like to hear from you!

[Gwen's note to self: we need to review run-on sentences in homeschool. :)]

Thank you, Eastin!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts on How Life Goes On . .

I feel relatively healthy today. That's news, because I think there hasn't been a day since we left New Jersey that I haven't been dealing with illness of some sort at some level. And off and on for the month or two before we left, too. Nothing serious, but annoying nonetheless.

Early on, I assumed I had picked up germs on the airplanes flying out here for visits. Then, I attributed it to general stress. Then allergies seemed to be the culprit -- and I'm still not ruling out that theory. Leslie and I both seem to be sneezing and rubbing our itchy eyes on the same days.

Eventually, I deemed it to be some type of post-stress syndrome. Kind of like how I always used to be sick over the Christmas holidays after pushing myself so hard at the end of school. I feel better today, but this is getting old . . .

Beyond that, the Kandts continue to adjust. The girls have had new friends over for playdates. I'm getting some housekeeping routines down. Keith hasn't been traveling much (though he leaves Monday for a couple nights). And we enjoy some kind of Blue Bunny ice cream after dinner most nights.

We're basically done unpacking the boxes of stuff to be put away. Now we're going through the boxes of stuff to sell/store/give away/trash. This may take us months . .

Homeschooling continues. I seem to have lost my knack for scheduling our day -- I always seem to plan way too much to accomplish, or not enough. Today we made a model of a volcano. One of those obligatory things . . it was very simple and basic because I hate doing that stuff. If there was one subject I would give up to someone else to teach, it would be science. Not that I don't find it interesting, but it's one of those subjects that almost has to be hands-on, and for some reason, my experiments never work. At least today's only required the reliable vinegar and baking soda reaction.

Eastin went out for a basketball league Tuesday night. Actually, it wasn't a tryout--it was an "evaluation", because everyone makes a team. She's never played before. When she asked me over the weekend if she could play goalie on her team, I decided her father, the athlete, needed to handle this one. He filled her in on the basics, and she apparently knocked his socks off at the evaluation. For someone who's never played, she did amazingly well! Considering she ranks in the 95th percentile of height for girls her age, basketball may very well be her thing.

So, anyway, life goes on, even in Iowa. But it does seem to go slower here. Maybe that's because I haven't crammed our lives full of activities yet. Or maybe that's because it's Iowa.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Would someone please just assign us to a church?

Church shopping is the pits. We started on Methodist churches this morning. That means we're getting desperate. :) (That's a joke, Hope friends!) I know it's been a while since we moved and had to find a new church, but I don't remember it being quite this frustrating. There are so many factors going into this.

What denomination? We both grew up Baptist, but we were members of an Evangelical Free church in Springfield and a Methodist church in Jersey. As much as we still feel like Baptists, we're not married to the denomination. Which only increases the number of choices.

What "worship style"? Most churches do "contemporary" worship anymore -- praise bands and such. Keith has never cared for that. Today, we went to a church with very traditional music. Chancel choir, old hymns, organ (and a great organist, too). I have to say, it bordered on glorious. I enjoy the contemporary praise stuff, too, but I do miss the majesty of the old-fashioned style done really well. Unfortunately, that style doesn't appeal to very many young people anymore, so most services in that style are full of seniors.

What size of church? Big churches have activities to appeal to our whole family -- drama, music and such for me, recreational ministries for Keith, active youth group for Leslie (and lots of preschoolers for her to care for), active children's ministry for Eastin, Bible studies for us all. But they also can be very impersonal -- easy to jump through the hoops and never really be personally accountable for your spiritual growth.

Small churches, on the other hand, are often more intimate, you get to know people better, more sense of community. But not much in the way of activities. Maybe that shouldn't matter, but it's what we're used to now . . Plus, we want a good number of kids in the church so the girls have opportunity to meet a lot of friends. Plus, I don't want to feel pressure to volunteer for every job with an opening because the volunteer pool is small.

And then there are the other little issues that come up. Today's church had a woman for an associate pastor. Now, I know for a lot of my friends, that's a no-brainer. Either, "Woman pastor? Why not?" or, "Woman pastor? Of COURSE not!!!" Sigh. I just don't know yet what to do with that one.

The things that really matter, that really should be the factors in our decision, are unfortunately the things you can't always judge from a couple of visits. I remember someone saying once that you should look for the church where God is obviously at work, and join Him in His work there. You can't always tell that from one or two worship services.

That's why I'm guessing our search will be going on for a while . .

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Saturdays in Siouxland

Sioux City has an art center . . the aptly named Sioux City Art Center. Because of Leslie's interest in art, that was one of the places we visited early on. Frankly, it was a disappointment at the time. But I suppose we should have expected that. We've had a family membership at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a few years now, and to be honest, not much else in the nation can live up to that.

But the SCAC does have a lot of relatively affordable art classes, which is a good thing. Since I am NOT an artist in any way, shape or form, we relied on our homeschool co-op in Jersey for our children's art education (thank you, Janice!). The earlier-mentioned Cvrk family has a son Leslie's age who invited her to join the pottery class he's taking this fall at the Center. It happens to meet at the same time as a "Saturday Art Lesson" time, for Eastin's age. So, our art curriculum for the fall is set.

Now, Saturdays have become downtown cultural days for us. And the Art Center is starting to grow on me. There's not much in their collection, but the building is a nice place to hang out. They have a small restaurant with artsy organic food, a small nice gift shop, and a hands-on art room for the little ones.

Eastin loves her weekly art lesson. Leslie's still deciding about her pottery class. It's actually a class for high school through adult -- they let Leslie in because they had already let Micaiah in, who was her age. But she maybe isn't quite old enough. She doesn't have the strength the others do to really mold the clay on the wheel very easily. The teacher says that's OK -- that just means she has to concentrate on technique, and when the hand strength comes, she'll be all set. But Leslie gets a little discouraged. The fact that the others in the class (a small class, too) have already been doing this for a few weeks doesn't help.

But, there are new classes starting in January, and I'm sure we'll find something else she'll enjoy. I enjoy hanging out in the building and working on my lesson plans for the week. Then a walk through the enclosed, above-the-streets walkway through downtown to the library. Then a nice little lunch for us all someplace downtown . . it all makes for a good culture-rich, family-togetherness kind of Saturday. :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Weather Report

It's snowing. A light dusty fall of snow -- very pretty. I don't remember it ever snowing this early in New Jersey, although I understand that this year, it did. In general, I'm expecting colder weather around here than anywhere else I've lived before.

But what I didn't expect was the WIND. That was one thing we didn't have much of in our area of Jersey, at least. Yeah, we had occasional windy days in Kansas, with gusts that would sweep you off of your feet. On summer days, it could feel like a blast from a furnace. Hard to describe if you've never experienced it.

But we've been in Iowa about a month now, and I bet almost a third of that time, the wind has been strong enough to turn an umbrella inside out. Leslie's room is a spooky place to be on a windy night. It sounds like a little girl crying outside her window. I'm grateful neither girl has brought up the "haunted house" idea, or we'd probably have serious problems on our hands.

Yesterday afternoon I put out the trash and recycling--including a bunch of empty cardboard boxes we'd unpacked. By evening, the wind had picked up again. The trash can was knocked over. The recycle tub was in the middle of the yard with the empty cans and milk jugs strewn everywhere. And the boxes were nowhere to be seen.

I feel a little guilty. I'm a litterbug. I just sent six or seven cardboard boxes flying through the atmosphere to land in someone else's yard and trash it up. But at that point, there was nothing I could do. There were gone. And how was I to know it was going to happen?

Anyway, the inclement weather has altered our afternoon plans. The homeschool group is going bowling instead of hiking along the river. Wise move, I'd say. Although I was looking forward to the hike.

And this evening we are invited to the home of the family we met at the pumpkin patch last week for dinner. I hope those plans don't change for the weather. And I hope we have a pleasant, sociable evening. We could use one.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Election Summary

So, if you know me and my family, you know that last night was a sobering one in our home. Yes, we were hoping (although without a lot of hope at that point) for a McCain victory. Obama seems like a decent man, but I question the direction he wants to go with the country. It seems to lean too much toward "Your country is going to take care of you," which creates weakness, dependency and division, rather than "Your country is going to enable you to take care of yourself and your fellow man," which creates strength, integrity and unity.

In any case, our man lost. But last night was not a night of mourning for Keith and I as much as it was a night devoted to intense parenting.

You see, the girls, like most children, were rooting for their parents' team. They wanted McCain to win, too. They don't really understand the issues (although, I'm pleased to see how much more Leslie is coming to understand them all the time), but Mom and Dad are Republicans, so, so are they. And this loss was depressing for them.

"It's not fair!" we kept hearing. (Parents, how many times do we hear those words?) We found ourselves repeating our time-worn mantra, "Yes, it is fair (at least, as far as we know right now). Just because it's not what we want, doesn't mean it's not fair.

"McCain deserves to be President!" McCain deserves our respect and gratitude for his service to our country, but nobody simply gets this office because they deserve it -- they are chosen by the people.

"This Electoral College system is stupid!" Hmm. Well, I couldn't argue that one very well.

But one of the biggest things I kept trying to point out to them is that, although Dad and I think a lot about these things, and we have very good reasons for why we think the country should be run the way we do, it is entirely possible that we are completely wrong. We must always approach these situations with confidence in our positions (if they are well-thought-out and well-informed) but with humility based on our limitations. We think McCain would have been a better President than Obama. But we don't really know.

I was reminded this morning--while doing my devotions looking out my bedroom window on the beautiful valley behind our house and the neighbors' American flag waving in the center of my view--of the scriptures that talk about how the kings and rulers of this world are like ants to God Almighty, the true King.

There's a poem I used to teach called "Ozymandias" (I believe -- don't crucify me if I'm mistaken about the title) that talked about the ruins of an ancient monument. At its base, the ancient ruler had encouraged all to look about them at the greatness of his empire and his achievements -- and the modern observer saw nothing but empty sand and desert. In the wide scheme of things, Barack Obama is a modern Ozymandias, a blip on the radar. He can do no more good or no more harm than God allows him to. And whatever achievements he has, whatever "change" he succeeds in bringing about, will only last as long as God sustains it. God is the one we look to for hope and protection and "change we can believe in".

But I encourage all of us to pray for our new leadership, that they will allow themselves to be willing instruments in the hands of God, the true Sustainer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What I'm Learning on Facebook

No, I'm not going to talk about the election on Election Day. Other than to say, go vote. (I voted yesterday -- cool, huh?)

I'm going to talk about Facebook. A few friends from my Godspell cast talked me into joining Facebook before I left NJ so we could keep in touch. I thought it didn't sound at all like my proverbial "cup of tea", but I'm actually enjoying it. Old friends from high school have found me there. Friends from other places we've lived. My buddy list is an eclectic group.

And that's one of the things I like about it. I have friends on Facebook who are passionately liberal, politically, and others who are passionately conservative. I have some who are strong, faithful, conservative Christians, and others who are just as strong and faithful liberal Christians . . and others who are just somewhere in the middle Christians. And others who have no faith at all. I have friends on there old enough to have mothered me, and friends who are young enough that I could have mothered them. I have friends who post things with swear words that I have to shield my daughters from seeing (yeah, you know who you are!) and friends who I would venture to say have never spoken a swear word in their lives. I have intellectual friends, artsy friends, sports-fanatic friends . . it's quite a tribe, my buddy list.

And anything I write on there is going to be seen by all of them. That's good for me. It keeps me centered. It keeps me real. It keeps me from leaning to one side or another of my personality to appeal to one person--or group of persons--in particular.

I have to do that in my blog, too, but I would venture to say, more people read my status daily on Facebook than ever glance at my blog.

The "status" business on Facebook is one of the coolest parts for me. Every once in a while, you can just write in a little phrase to tell the world what your "status" is at the moment. Sounds dull, if you've never seen it, but people can get very creative with these. They range from the informative ("Emily is bummed she's missing the parade due to a scratched cornea.") to the mundane ("Janice is home now.") to the creative ("Owen is in love with Jon Stewart, but don't tell his wife, because I think she is too, and I don't want any family squabbles over this.") to the bizarre ("Michael is not your rolling wheels, he is the highway.") to the thought-inspiring ("Robin has decided to listen to her heart. Enough with my head already. It's not as smart as it thinks it is.").

And this all brings me to . . my friend Ashley's status on Sunday: "Ashley is 'Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way. Walk in it."'" (Yes, that cluster of quotation marks there is correct punctuation in this situation. I am the Grammar Queen, after all.)

That's scripture, for those of you who don't recognize it. I recognized it, but had to ask Ashley for the reference again (Isaiah 30:21). I wanted the reference so I could plaster it on my walls -- at least on the walls of my brain. Because I feel lately like I'm looking to the right, and the left, and up, and down, and behind my back, and around the corner . . and I have no idea where to go.

What church should we join? What book should we study in Reading this month? How do I stop the girls from fighting all the time? What should I make for dinner? Should I buy the organic, expensive milk or the cheap, hormonal milk (thanks, Robin)? Should the girls go to "real" school next year, and if so, which one? Who should I call to babysit for us? Which room should I get organized first?

I changed my latitude and longitude, and suddenly, I have no sense of direction anymore. I don't know where to go.

But apparently, if Isaiah heard the Lord right, He's trying to tell me. Maybe if I stop with the frantic questioning in my head, I'll hear that voice behind me . . "This is the way . . "

And here's hoping our next President--whoever he is--is listening for that voice, too.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pumpkins and Pals

Before we actually moved here, we met one homeschool family to get some info about the laws and such in the area -- the Cvrks (pronounced "Swirks"--go figure). They have 7 kids. Then last week, we met Keith's boss's family who also homeschools -- they have 9 kids (6 adopted from Russia). They seem to grow families around here like they grow the corn -- in abundant quantity.

But we've still been feeling the need to get to know more people -- particularly Eastin-age and -type people. So, yesterday was our first official event with the homeschool group here. They have a phys. ed. activity every Friday afternoon (next week is a hike down the river, the next is ice-skating, etc.). But this week, in honor of Halloween, they had more of a field trip. We went to a pumpkin patch for the morning. I almost didn't go, because my in-laws already brought us some pumpkins when they brought the girls back, and because I hated to get out of our morning school routine that we had just gotten back into. And because I've just been in a lousy, pouty kind of mood all week and didn't feel like trying to feel better. (Ladies, you understand those days, right?)

But I bucked up and we went. And I'm glad we did.

We met several new families and heard a lot of good info about the community (Fairway groceries are cheaper than Hy-Vee's, for example). Plus . . drum roll . . Eastin met a friend. A genuine, bouncin'-off-the-walls, spazzy kind of girl like her. They met and hit it off immediately, before I'd even matched the kid to her mother in the crowd (like Eastin, she wasn't anywhere near her mother). And as it turns out, her family lives in Sergeant Bluff, about 5 minutes from us. And their family just moved here in September! AND I happened to sit by this woman at the mom's meeting the other night (we just didn't get a chance to speak) . . AND we sat behind them at church last week!!

It doesn't stop there. This is another big family -- 8 kids with one more on the way. So, not only did Eastin hit it off with 7-year-old Abigail, but Leslie (as those of you who know her can imagine) quickly became enamoured with Chloe and Naomi, the two "babies" of the family (both under 3--this woman has her hands full). And mom Shelley and I hit it off, too.

So, all in all, it was a productive morning even though we didn't do school. We did relationships -- which are more important than school in the long run, right? (Please say, "right!" I don't need any guilt trips right now . . . )

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Being Ostertag

I know some of you could care less about our dog and how he's adjusting. But he's a Kandt, so here's his Khronicle.

I already mentioned how happy I was with how Tag managed the trip here. And I can't say he acts stressed out about the move or anything. In fact, at the moment, he's in his usual position -- sleeping lazily on the couch. (No, he's not supposed to be on the couch, but we moved his blanket that usually covers "his chair" to his new bed, so he doesn't know where to go anymore.)

And that kind of sums up Tagger right now. He doesn't know where to go. Or where to "go". I'm cleaning up some kind of dog pee or poop in the house about every other day. It's getting quite old and very frustrating to have our newly cleaned carpets so quickly desecrated.

I'm not sure yet what his problem is. Some of it, I'm guessing, is that he just doesn't know yet how to signal to us that he needs to go out. The doors to the outside aren't as prominent in our living area here, and he hasn't developed a habit for that yet.

Part of the problem, also, is the lack of fencing. We had an electric fence in NJ, so he we could just let him out and leave him until we heard him scratching to come in. Now, somebody has to take him out on a leash whenever he has business to do -- and "leash" to Tagger means "oh boy, oh boy, fun, fun time running around the neighborhood!", not "do your business and get your mama inside out of the cold and wind". We did buy one of those stakes to attach him to in the yard, but he's pulled it up twice now. Stubborn mutt.

The cat that used to live in this house may be a factor as well. Maybe he's marking his territory. My room. My carpet. Stay away, nasty feline.

Plus, he's thirteen. He's old. He doesn't have as much control as he used to. And now he's got stairs to climb up and down when he has to pee, which is cumbersome. And I'm not ruling out the possibility that he's just letting us know his opinion on the recent disruption in his life. I can relate to the sentiment some days.

Any dog-lovers with great tips for us are invited to comment. We love our puppy, but I'm starting to wish I'd left him with the house in Sturbridge. Those carpets already needed to be replaced . .

Monday, October 27, 2008

There's No Place Like . .

As I was putting Leslie to bed last night, she had tears brimming in her eyes and she said, "I wanna go home . . "

Eastin called me up to her room about an hour after she turned her lights off to go to sleep. She had red eyes and a pouty bottom lip. "Mom . . I miss New Jersey!" And the tears started to fall.

I had the same symptoms yesterday morning while I was getting ready for church. Makes it hard to put on make-up.

We're all suffering from homesickness and friendsickness. We started back to school this morning, but I had to force it to happen. Most of our time was spent working on the sofa, me with an arm around each girl, trying to comfort them and keep them focused on their work at the same time.

I have a meeting tomorrow night with the moms in the homeschool support group, so hopefully I'll meet some new families there with possible playmates for the girls. Lexi next door has been great (in fact, she's over playing with the girls now), but they need more than one good friend. I know I asked many of you to pray about this, and I'm going to ask again.

Please pray that Leslie will find at least one or two "BFFs" -- girls that she has a lot in common with, that she can share secrets with. She left a couple of these in NJ. And every teenage girl needs her BFFs.

Please pray that Eastin will find playmates that get her -- that understand her, appreciate her, enjoy her, and seek out her company.

In fact, if we're going to pray boldly, I would love to meet a family or two that mixes well with our whole family. Dads that enjoy each other, moms that connect, kids that get along. Keith and I haven't had any real "couple friends" probably since we were in the singles group in Wichita. That's going on two decades now.

Everyone needs a BFF, after all.

Friday, October 24, 2008

HSM (how many of you know what that stands for?)

To begin with, several of you have emailed me about some of my blog posts because you said you had trouble getting in to make a comment. As I said, I'm a novice at all this -- but I think I have changed my settings now so that anyone can make comments, even without a User ID or whatever. So, if you had trouble in the past, try again.

And please do leave comments! I'm an approval junkie, you know -- I need to hear everyone tell me how wonderful I'm doing at this. :) Or, just to know that someone's bothering to read. (I wish this had one of those things that tells you how many people have viewed your site . . . or, maybe not . . .)

Anyway, on to the latest news. In case you haven't heard, High School Musical 3 opens today. (My fellow parent friends are saying, "Who hasn't heard?" Everyone else is saying, "What high school musical?") My daughters have been looking forward to this day for over a year. They (especially Leslie) feel a particularly personal connection to the franchise because in Springfield, we went to church with Lucas Grabeel, the actor who plays Ryan (Sharpay's brother, the kid with all the hats). But that's just an excuse -- they'd be HSM freaks anyway.

I know how snooty some of my "real" theater friends (LOL!) are about High School Musical. (Even just some of my "real" childless adult friends.) Here's the deal. Yes, it's a Disney channel movie, but for its genre, it has no equal. Yes, it's trite and cliched, but it's also peppy and funny and fun and the music is catchy and the dancing is fantastic (and gets better with each show).

Leslie was in the stage production at drama camp this summer. I was kind of dreading that because I thought I'd had enough of the show. But actually, the stage show was even more fun to watch. Really! Everyone singing and clapping along -- it's been a long time since I had that much plain and simple fun at the theater. I'm really hoping that I get a chance someday to direct that show, or at least choreograph it.

So, no pity is necessary for me -- I'm actually looking forward to seeing the 3rd installment this evening. I just hope the theater isn't full of screaming fanatical girls -- THAT can be exhausting. (Just imagine what it's like for poor Lucas . . )

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A New Nest

I love my new house! But it is rather intimidating. As I told a friend or two already, I find myself walking around here thinking, "I just don't have enough class to live in a place like this."

Although everyone reading this has an open invitation to come visit us (but do give me a few days warning), I understand that my NJ friends may not be able to make that trip. (But you should try, really!) My Facebook buddies can see pics of the house on my profile (although those were taken when the former owners were living here). When we get all of our various computer cords found and sorted out, I'll ask Keith to show me how to upload some house pictures here to the blog.

In the meantime, let me tell you some features of the Kandts' new home in Siouxland.

- A walkout basement -- which makes it look like a three-story house from the back, which is why those who have seen the pictures keep saying "It's HUGE!" It's actually not bigger than our NJ house, and has even less real storage space. (Good excuse to get rid of stuff -- see earlier blog.)

- An incredible view from the back deck. I'm sitting here looking at it now from the kitchen table. We're on the south edge of town, so behind us is a hilly pasture area which is turning some lovely fall colors right now and which our neighbors tell us hosts some cattle and the occasional deer.

- A central vacuum system. I plug the hose into one of the various receptacles on the walls throughout the house and vacuum away. I haven't quite decided yet, though, how much preferable this is to my traditional vacuum. It's a really long hose and kind of a pain to carry around.

- A fireplace in the main living room and one in the master bedroom. Our only beef with those is that they are both gas. No wood-burning fireplaces apparently in Sioux City -- at least Keith didn't see a one in the plethora of houses he looked at. That's a bummer. Our family LOVES the smell from a wood-burning fireplace . . and toasting marshmallows. Someone suggested we get one of those outdoor ones. That's a thought . .

- The place is decorated beautifully. The former owners hired an interior decorator and the results are fabulous. That's a blessing, because I have no eye or talent for that kind of thing. (Those of you who visited our NJ home will recall the white walls we had for ten years.) Christopher Lowell, who hosted an interior decorating show I loved years ago, used to say, "If you can dress yourself, you can decorate your house." Well, I'm lucky to dress myself, so the house needed to be dressed before I moved in.

- Top-of-the-line appliances (washer, dryer, fridge, dishwasher) that are not only very energy-efficient (yay, Robin!) and cost-effective, but quite complicated with all the various buttons and options. I'm keeping the manuals out for the foreseeable future.

- A gorgeous, open, curving staircase going upstairs and downstairs, which you can see the minute you walk in the door. Beautiful. Definitely one of the biggest selling points on the house for me. I'm thinking Christmas swags. I'm thinking daughters descending in lovely prom dresses. I'm starting to well up.

Of course, our house only becomes a HOME when we start living, loving and growing in it. Which has been happening already, but that will start in earnest Monday when we rev up the homeschool again. (At least, that's the plan . . but as we know, the best-laid plans of mice and men . . )

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

To Abandon A Child

OK, this has nothing necessarily to do with my own family, but I woke up to a story on the news this morning and felt the urge to comment. I don't know how many of my NJ friends have heard about this because I've only heard about it here in Iowa. Apparently, the Nebraska legislature passed a "safe haven" law in July, where a parent can drop off a child at a hospital and effectively abandon them, no questions asked. Several other states have such laws -- the idea is to give mothers an option besides tossing their newborn in a trash dumpster if they feel they can't care for it.

Nebraska was different, however, because they opened the law up to any minor, which in Nebraska is up to age 19. So, in the last three months, 18 "children" -- about half of them teens or pre-teens -- have been left at Nebraska hospitals by their parents. One unfortunate widower left 9 kids, aged 1 to 17. Just in the last few days, a woman drove from Michigan to Omaha to drop off her teenage son. Now, some Nebraska lawmakers have decided this wasn't such a good idea and want to change the law to specify that the children involved need to be no more than 3 days old.

I had quite a swirl of thoughts and emotions about this issue flying through my head this morning lying in bed.

To begin with, I think it's pretty hysterical that the Nebraska state legislature would think a law like this is a good idea. Was there nobody in this large group of relatively intelligent human beings that foresaw such consequences and was able to sound the alarm? Or did somebody sound it and find themselves ignored?

Then the whole question of the wisdom of a "safe haven" law, even for newborns, troubles me. No, I don't want babies dying in trash dumpsters, but I'm not convinced this is the best solution to the problem. Although, I can't say I know what is the best solution . . .

Then, my attention turns to these families dropping off their teenagers. I'm not sure what to think of these parents. Apparently, most of them said that they were simply unable to handle their children anymore. Obviously, without knowing the specifics of each situation it's hard to judge each case. Yeah, maybe some of them are truly deadbeat loser parents who just won't take responsibility for their kids. But if they're this big of a deadbeat, might the kids indeed be better off in another home? Or perhaps the parents have drug or mental issues. The reason the legislature opened up the law to older minors was in the hopes of alleviating abuse situations.

Or perhaps this parent is genuinely trying to do the right thing and just doesn't have it in them. We all, probably, are aware of some family where the out-of-control, rebellious teenage son is three times the size of his meek, fearful single mom and she has no chance of keeping him in line. I think it's possible that, for some of these parents, this was the most difficult and courageous thing they could have done to help their kids. Again, without knowing the details of each case (which we don't know, because of the "no questions asked" part of this law), it's hard to judge.

And what can you imagine is going through the hearts and minds of these children? It's a sad, sad situation.

I remember when I taught high school, I worked in the at-risk student program, with the kids who were one step away from dropping out of high school altogether. I don't know how many times I called parents to talk about a problem with their student and heard, "They're out of my control. I can't do anything about them. You're completely on your own." So sad.

Back in those years, I remember feeling a calling to not only teach, but to specifically do something to help families like that. Somehow, as I started raising my own children, that fell to the background. Justifiably so, I guess. And actually, I probably needed to go through the struggles of parenting myself before I could really help anyone else anyway. Lord knows how many of the harsh words I spoke about parents back then that I have eaten in the last 12 years!

Anyway, my own personal issues aside, I would love to hear what anyone else thinks about the safe haven situation. As I said, I'm torn in a lot of different directions here . .

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Riverzzz Edge

Wow. Three blogs in eighteen hours. I'm bingeing or something.

So, Riverz Edge Church. The "z" still annoys me. The church motto, on banners at the back of the platform: "No perfect people allowed! No one stands alone! No making out in the back row!" Hmm. I was prepared for something "edgy" after looking at the website. But the guy handing us our program looking like something from ZZTop should have given us a hint that this likely wasn't for us.

I was right about it being loud. Seriously loud. Rock concert loud. Like when the vibrations pound in your chest and you wonder if your heart is still beating in its appropriate rhythm anymore. Electric guitars, full drum set, colored lights flashing on the black walls. For some reason, Scott Koerwer kept coming to mind . .

It was very good music. I would have enjoyed it if I'd been there for a rock concert. But for me, it just wasn't conducive to worship. It apparently was for most of the rest of the congregation, though, so that's cool.

But one of the main reasons I wanted to visit was to see the preaching. They have videos of some of the sermons on the website (, if anyone's interested). They seemed to be very creative. There was a series called "My Dream Home", and the platform had living room furniture on it that the pastor used while he spoke. Another series -- "Pirates: Reclaiming Your Lost Treasure." Like I said, creative.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to hear that pastor. In fact, there was no mention of him -- we're wondering if he's not there anymore. The church is in the process of establishing some kind of satellite relationship with another church in town -- the one we visited last week. So, the sermon we saw was the pastor from that church on a video. Kind of disappointing. Been there, done that.

Anyway, we determined that this is not the church for us. Kind of like Edison finding 199 ways to not make a light bulb. (Keith did enjoy the free bag of popcorn to munch on during the sermon, though.) Finding a church can be a long process.

But I am encouraged to know that there are churches like this in Sioux City. There's a mass of people out there that would never find their way into a traditional church. Glad they have a place here. I may even check out the Saturday evening service once in a while. But I'll take earplugs and sit at the back.

The Lapkes

I haven't written yet about our wonderful new neighbors. The Lapkes. Jeff and Pam. He's president (I think) of a small local bank (great business to be in these days, eh?). She owns her own purse and jewelry store across from the mall, open only on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Sweet deal.

Their 10-year-old daughter Lexi (I think that's how you spell it?) brought us cupcakes the day the movers moved us in. And she played with the girls every day after that until they went to Kansas. Their 14-year-old son, Trey, is cute, friendly, and "very responsible" according to the previous home-owners who recommended him to mow our lawn until we got a riding lawn mower (we have a huge spread of land -- ain't no push-mowing happening here).

Before Lexi came with her cupcakes, Pam brought over a goodie bag for us -- an Iowa State bag that plays the Cyclone theme song when you open it. Ah, it's good to be back in Big 12 territory! I didn't have the heart to tell her we're KU and K-State fans. I suppose we'll root for the Cyclones when they're not playing a Kansas team.

They invited the girls over to sit in their hot tub one evening, since they would have it closed up by the time they get back. They invited me, too, but I declined -- too darn cold to be wet and outside. (The weather does seem to be markedly chillier in Iowa.) The kids jumped from the hot tub to the pool and back again all night in the chilly air. Nutcases. But they had a great time.

Then, the next morning, Lexi came to the door before she left for school with a flask of milk for us for breakfast (I had yet to be able to get to the grocery store) and -- get this -- Pam's cell phone for me to take while I drove the girls to meet their Aunt Vicki. She didn't want me driving that far without a cell. What a gal! How many of you would loan your cell phone for a day to someone you've only known for 48 hours?

[By the way, for those of you who are concerned about my cell phone situation (and I know it's been weighing on you, keeping you awake at night), I bought another and my minutes transferred over. ]

Then on Sunday, we came home from church to find Trey mowing our front lawn, Jeff mowing the back, and Lexi pulling up the thistles that were growing wild all over the yard. They said they were working on their own yard, and knew we didn't have a mower yet . . what great neighbors!

I know many of you have been praying for us to have good neighbors here, so there you go! God is good!


I know I just posted last night, but I'm on a roll here . . :)

Keith and I are visiting a church this morning called Riverz Edge Church. The misspelling annoys me -- too "cute" -- but from the website, it looks like an interesting cross between HOPE and Sojourn. I anticipate it being loud. I must be getting old -- every church we've visited so far has been too loud for my taste.

All but one. Our second trip here, we visited a very traditional, Southern Baptist church, very like the one I grew up in. It was so comfortable and familiar, I felt my blood pressure dropping by the minute. But I also kept thinking, "What's wrong here? Why is this not OK with me anymore?" I've always smugly reminded my Methodist HOPE friends of my status as the resident conservative Baptist (well, Randy and I, but he's further along this road than I am). So I couldn't figure it out.

It wasn't the music . . I love the old hymns sung to a good pianist. It wasn't the people . . they were very friendly, probably the most friendly we've encountered. It wasn't the activities . . they had a couple's retreat, mission work, even a kids' basketball program. It wasn't the smaller congregation . . I don't need a huge church. It wasn't the preaching . . it was Biblical and solid. It wasn't the markedly different atmosphere . . as I said, I found that rather soothing and worshipful. It wasn't the lack of young folks . . that was a problem for us, but it wasn't the specific thing that was bothering me right then. I just couldn't pinpoint it.

Then, toward the end of the sermon, the pastor was talking about discipleship. (All together now HOPE friends: "The process of being conformed to the image . . " yada yada ). He said that discipleship should be "obedience-focused".

And then the alarms went off. I knew what he meant: obedience-focused as opposed to knowledge-focused. Doers of the Word and not hearers only. And I fully agree with that.

But as soon as he said "obedience-focused", the voice in my head yelled, "No, no, no!!! That just makes Pharisees like me! Discipleship should be relationship-focused."

And suddenly, it felt like the last 15 years of my spiritual walk -- First E Free, HOPE Church, friends I've known, mentors I've learned under, Bible studies I've done, experiences I've had, trials I've lived through, books I've read, homeschooling, The Shack, Blue Like Jazz -- it all came into focus. So cool when that happens!

It was quite an epiphany moment. But we won't be going to that church. No kids. But the girls (at least Eastin) will be playing basketball there this winter.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lettin' Go

I've spent another day unpacking box after box . . after box . . and I'm finding my family and myself to be rather interesting psychological studies.

For one thing, we have just too dang much crap.

Many of you know my penchant for books. As much as I get after my family members (namely Keith and Leslie) for being such packrats, I have to admit, my book collection is perhaps a bit out-of-hand. I have books -- piles of them -- that I've never read. Most of them I intend to read. But some I don't. Why do I keep them? Good question.

Some of them belonged to my parents. (Both of my parents passed away several years ago, for those of you who don't know.) I have big historical overview-type books that my dad had on his bookshelf as long as I remember. I keep thinking, if these books were significant enough to him for him to keep for that long, there's probably something in there of value to me. I should read them! But I don't.

I also have some Grace Livingston Hill novels that my mom apparently enjoyed in her later years (some kind of Christian romance or something, I believe, which you'd find pretty funny if you knew my mom). I keep thinking, Mom enjoyed these, maybe I will, too. I should read them! But I don't. And I doubt I ever will. They went into the garage sale pile.

A couple Christmases ago, I accomplished my first small step of getting over clinging to my parents' stuff. I inherited most of Mom and Dad's Christmas decorations when they died -- mainly, I think, because my sisters were wiser about this stuff than I. Every year, I religiously put them all out (well, most of them anyway--I didn't have room for all of them).

There was a set of three ceramic Christmas angels that I remember always being on the back of our piano when I was growing up. I had them on a shelf in the hallway. Then two of them got knocked off and broken. For a moment, an imaginary knife pierced my heart and I started to cry. Then it occurred to me --you know, I don't like these angels that much. They're not necessarily beautiful, or meaningful . . . they were just Mom's. I don't need these ceramic angels to love Mom and remember her Christmases. Truth be told, I don't need most of this stuff. So I kept the important items and ditched the rest. And it was remarkably liberating!

God willing, I'll be even more liberated before the end of the year. Now, if I can just convince Keith and Leslie . . .

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to the 21st Century

We're finally online here in the house! No phone service yet -- I had it for about an hour last night and then something went wrong . . but after so many days of no cable, no internet, no phone, no cell phone, and one day without even a car, we're counting our blessings today. Leslie said she had been starting to feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I reminded her that Laura spent most of her days helping her mother around the house -- and she dropped that comparison pretty quickly.

The movers came Monday morning. After a beautiful warm sunny weekend, they started moving in our stuff in 41-degree rainy weather. We were all pretty miserable. But they did get everything in and I've been unpacking for the last three days. I've broken off all of my fingernails, my head is spinning, and my feet are aching. But it's starting to look a little bit like a house someone actually lives in. And this afternoon, I picked up groceries, finally, so we can eat real food again!

I drove to Nebraska City this morning to hand the girls off to Vicki, Keith's sister. She's taking them on to Lindsborg to stay with their grandparents for a few days. I'm all alone. Wow. It's been a LONG time since I've been all alone! And when Keith gets back from his business trip tomorrow night, we'll be all alone TOGETHER. After living in separate states for two months, THAT'll be a treat!

Thank you to everyone who has been leaving comments or emailing me about the blog. It's great to know people are reading! I'm insecure like that, you know. "What if I wrote a blog and nobody read it . . .?" :)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Hawkeye State

We've arrived! Still staying in a hotel, until the furniture joins us on Monday, but the driving is over at least.

A few initial observations on my new home state:

1) There's a lot of corn growing in Iowa. I mean, fields and fields and fields of it.

2) Premium gas is cheaper than regular here. Something to do, I assume, with ethanol and the aforementioned abundance of corn.

3) Although all the pollsters and pundits seem to have Iowa labeled as a solidly blue state, we saw scads of McCain signs as we crossed the state, and not one Obama one.

4) Wind farms are not only smart, but they have a majestic beauty as well. An awesome sight, really. Go, T. Boone -- you da man.

5) Wide expanses of farmland over gently rolling hills are downright beautiful. Certain individual farms, however, stink to high heaven. A few select spots here should be required to own a windmill to blow that stench into the stratosphere.

6) Ain't no marketing gurus naming Smalltown America. We drove through the thriving metropolises of Early, Moville, and Correctionville, among others. (However, I've got the perfect city motto for Moville: "Mo' is Mo' Better!")

7) My NJ friends who have never visited The Heartland simply can't conceive of how expansive and beautiful the sky actually is.

I've used the word "beautiful" several times here. I suppose that bodes well for our stint in the Hawkeye State, huh? :)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Whoever's praying for me to learn patience, CUT IT OUT!

Not a good title, because I'm refusing to let myself be negative tonight. But it got your attention, right? :)

We're lounging in the Quality Inn in Cedar Rapids, watching Harry Potter for the umpteenth time. I won't go through the litany of little frustrations we experienced today -- the construction, the tolls, the traffic (I think driving through Chicago cured me of my complaints about Philadelphia). Instead, I'm going to talk about the little blessings the girls and I were recalling today.

The dog has been a dream. I had all sorts of fears about traveling with him but it's been great. And he's learning to love his bed, which will come in handy in the new house.

The weather's been gorgeous. Bright and sunny. And it's easy to appreciate that when you can see the sky from horizon to horizon.

Pennsylvania was absolutely gorgeous to drive through. The leaves are turning and the mountains were breath-taking.

Despite my lack of a full-night's sleep either night, I haven't been sleepy while I was driving. Tired, but not sleepy really.

And considering all we're going through, the girls have been doing well. Tuesday night was awful -- I mean, I knew there would be tears, but I truly wasn't expecting the avalanche of grief that fell on us all. But we're past that. Just wanting to get settled in one place again. Leslie even commented today how amazed she was that she has yet to get bored in the car.

So, despite the ticket and the lost phone, I shouldn't complain too much. As my dear friend Eileen says, "Apparently the Lord believes I require further sanctification." :)

The final leg of the journey tomorrow . . .

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day 2 . . ugh . .

Well, we ended our second day of travel in South Bend, Indiana. And frankly, it's been a lousy day! It started with a bad night's sleep -- back to the Ambien tonight. Then, I got a speeding ticket this morning. All my fault . . I was distracted and forgot I had a cruise control on the car. Then when we got to the hotel tonight, I realized I left my cell phone at the last hotel this morning. Grrr!

The experience wasn't all a total loss, though. I managed to squeeze a spiritual lesson out of it all. The policeman who stopped me this morning was none too nice about it. When he went back to his car to write up the ticket, the girls kept asking, "Why does he have to be so mean??" I tried to explain to them that policemen never know what to expect when they stop someone, that they often get people with an attitude who just argue and make excuses for themselves. Which I didn't do. Just then, the cop came back and let me know that he was going to give me a break and not indicate on my ticket that the offense was in a construction zone (save me the doubling of the fine).

I have been talking with the girls lately about the need to humble yourself when you know you've done something wrong -- to 'fess up right away and take the consequences without making excuses. About how Jesus showed love to the "sinners" he hung out with because they never pretended to be anything but sinners. It was the Pharisees who claimed to have it all together that got his wrath. And here came a perfect object lesson for that truth. I just hope it isn't a terribly expensive one . .

I know many of you are praying for us. Please don't stop now! We're only half-way there, and already the dog's sleeping drugs are sounding tempting to me. Lord knows I need a good night's sleep! :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

And We're Off . .

Greetings, friends! I decided to try this blogging thing . . so people can keep track of our new lives in Siouxland, if they are so inclined. As I type, I'm in a hotel room in Somerset, PA. The kids are in bed and the dog is drugged and sleeping soundly (if the girls behave as well as the dog on this trip, it'll be a breeze).

Leaving NJ was a trial. We spent about an hour sobbing through the house, picking up last minute left-over items. I was afraid that, driving through all my tears, I'd wreck the van before I got out of the state. Then we came to a complete standstill on the Walt Whitman. God is good -- he knew the best way to stop the flow of tears was to get me focused on the things I won't miss in New Jersey. Number one: THE TRAFFIC.

Anyway, I'm still figuring out this blog thing, so be patient with me in the meantime. When I get settled and have more time and more access to my computer expert (Keith), I'll figure out how to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Right now, I'm hoping I can figure out how to actually get it up on the web at all . .

Do write comments and such, so I know you're reading. I already miss you, my NJ friends!