It’s a Miracle—I Can See the Floor!

bless-this-mess

I’m so thankful today that my children have turned a corner on the messy room front.

Last week my son was crying hysterically and nearly breaking out in hives over the thought of giving away, reorganizing, or, essentially, moving anything in his room even one inch to the left. Thankfully, yesterday was a much better day.

Rewind to Tuesday night, when I asked the poor kid to give me his band rehearsal schedule. This request was followed by a good five minutes straight of rummaging and the crinkling of papers. Somehow, despite the spring break backpack cleanout, he was still lugging around a library of books and a giant wad of possibly important papers.

My husband and I confronted him. He got defensive. And after a while, he put his head in his hands so we could have the talk…again. This time, we extended it to include his wreck of a room as well.

Jake confessed that he gets nervous when he’s in a really clean environment. Ignoring the possible OCD implications, I remember saying that if “really clean” is a museum where the alarm goes off every time a speck of dust floats by, and “horribly messy” is a room where even the firemen can’t find you, then I’m aiming for “moderately straightened up.” Like a room where you can see the wall from baseboard to crown molding, or a table where you can actually eat.

And it’s not just that cleaning is important for its own sake, I said. It’s that a tidy house has more room for other people to sit down and spend time. It has the flexibility to become what you need it to be (a dining room, an art room, a game room, a cardboard military installation) whenever you want. And it has the kind of open space that you need when, heaven forbid, you’ve got to get to an injured child—or a barfing dog—fast.

We also talked about a proper perspective on our possessions. They’re a blessing, of course. But if we hold on to them too tightly, then they’re taking the place of what’s really important—God and other people. And if we give up our possessions, or pass them along, or lose them forever in a fire or worse, then you know what? It’ll still be OK.

I don’t know what the magic words were, but somehow the attitude changed, for both of the children. They were eager to straighten up their rooms last night, and they even said they enjoyed it. They graduated from shoving all the miscellaneous knick knacks into the closet, and actually made organizational strides. They added new, fun elements to their spaces, including a music shelf and a “Book Shack” fashioned out of a foldable play tent. Cool.

We have a family goal that by the end of the summer we’ll have made their rooms more manageable. I know what I can handle (1,800 square feet, 2 kids, 1 dog, shoulder length hair, 30-minute meals, 4 hours in the car—max), and it’s important for them to know what they can handle. By August, we’ll get there.

You know, thinking about it now, I have a feeling that there was one story that made all the difference to Jake. I told him about a college friend who, with some open space and a roll or duct tape, turned one room of his apartment into a basketball court. You just can’t do that unless you’ve done some serious straightening up.

I guess we all need something to strive for.

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A Review: Faith Under Fire

faith-under-fire

“How are you holding up, Chaplain?” McMaster asked me on the helicopter. He said he knew this must be hard on me and that he appreciated my work. I wasn’t about to tell him I didn’t want to leave my office some days and that I was so exhausted, I often couldn’t think straight.

I told him I was doing fine.

–from Roger Benimoff’s memoir, Faith Under Fire

My greatest pleasure in reading is walking vicariously in the shoes, sandals, spurs, skis, sneakers, and even stilettos of people whose lives are nothing at all like my own. In Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain’s Memoir, I’ve now walked in the combat boots of Army captain Roger Benimoff, a two-tour Iraq war veteran and PTSD survivor.

It’s hard to imagine in my suburban existence, where my children’s messy rooms are often my greatest life obstacle, that there is a place in this world where men and women who could be my neighbors are risking all in order to make a simple drive from point a to point b. Never mind the politics of liberation—Americans are in Iraq to fulfill a duty mandated by their superiors, and in doing so, a startling number of them end up sacrificing life, limb, personal security, relational well-being, and whatever sense of peace they had before.

In a straightforward and frank style that leaves little to the imagination, Benimoff (with writer Eve Conant) diaries daily life in Iraq, complete with memorial services, one-on-one counseling duties, post-loss debriefing, and even the grim ramp ceremonies that precede transport of the dead back to the States. As his days in Iraq come to a close, Benimoff longs desperately for home.

When he gets there, though, hypervigilance, unsettledness, and profoundly disconnected feelings (all characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder) emerge, threatening to derail his career and nearly destroying his marriage. He ultimately goes for inpatient treatment of PTSD and finds himself the recipient of the same care and counsel he once delivered.

Benimoff’s portrayal of his journey to Iraq and back was certainly eye-opening. More surprising, though, was how real and genuine it was. From Christian literature (and some real-life experiences), I expect Christian men, and especially military men, to be living in the “perfect wife, perfect life, death is not a setback” mentality. I know that for many people that’s just a façade, but, right or wrong, it’s too prevalent for me to ignore. That’s why it was refreshing to read about Benimoff’s grief, doubts, anxieties, coping failures, relational blocks, and spiritual void.

I’m not glad that he—or anyone—has to go through the dark times. It’s just nice to be reminded that one can be a believer and still feel the pains of this not-so-perfect world.

Swine Flu: My Germaphobic Nightmare

sneeze

There’s nothing like an imminent global swine flu pandemic to test a recovering germaphobe’s mettle.

Of course, right after the weekend when I finally turned the corner and let someone else peel an orange for me (knowing full well that particular someone had been coughing up her lungs days before, and was barely 24 hours from contact with her puking children), here comes a worldwide, animal to person/person to person epidemic.

And to think, I just ate out at a Mexican place…twice in three days. I know, Mexican is not Mexico, but still, there’s irony there.

I must say that, to date, my response to the swine flu threat has been pretty measured. I have contemplated but not yet done the following: discontinue eating out, stock up on latex gloves, take my children out of school, buy only local. If you are reading this and are not a germaphobe, then you may not get where I’m coming from about the “buy local” deal, but the way I figure it, we’re getting a lot of produce from a lot of places—if the picker or packer out in who-knows-where is infected and happens to sneeze on my out-of-season strawberries, then it’s USA or bust for a new batch of microscopic menaces.

There’s an argument in favor of pick-your-own, yes?

Thankfully, the advent of hand sanitizer has given me more of a sense of control over the germ fauna in my personal environment. At last count, I’m carrying three bottles of the stuff in my purse, and I have a handy hand sanitizer basket giving a sunny greeting to everyone who comes in my front door. There’s also a hand san bottle on the coffee table, maybe because of that time I played a board game with one of my sick children, only to realize that we were rolling the same coughed-on, sneezed-on, breathed-on die. To be on the safe side, I decided to disinfect before each turn.

As germaphobes go, though, I don’t think I’m that hard core. In fact, I’m relaxing some of my normal restrictions. For example, to minimize illness, my husband, children, and I don’t share food between September and June. But last night at dinner I let my daughter eat someone else’s leftovers. That’s a start, I guess.

Especially because if anyone gets sick, it’ll be her, not me.

Top Ten Things that Jack Bauer and Abby Stewart Have in Common

tinkerbell

Just got back from a weekend away with 20 of my friends, including the truly delightful Abby (oops, I mean ‘Gabby’) Stewart, whose life would not be complete without a mention on this very blog. So, without further fanfare, I give you the top ten things that Abby has in common with this blog’s favorite kick-butt, declining viewership, not long for this world action icon, Jack Bauer:

  1. Bicep Tinkerbell Tattoo, with matching handcrafted sweat band
  2. Tube socks in a variety of fashion colors
  3. Deep cover pink fairy wings
  4. Willingness to log roll into the face of death without any concern for personal safety
  5. Able to scale 50,000 degree rock wall in record-shattering time
  6. Stealth flamingo flocker
  7. Frequently postpones personal bathroom needs out of dedication to the greater good
  8. Fueled by Blow Pops
  9. Trademark word choice, as in “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already, yo.”
  10. Makes all personal, ethical, and national security decisions based on the motto, “What would Lyma do?”

I’m Thankful For…My Magnet House

cookies

Today I’m thankful that my home has become a prime destination for the neighborhood kids!

This may be because (a) I serve afterschool snacks and (b) I enforce almost no rules.

Sure, our kitchen floor is often covered in mud. And our living room rug is often covered with Dungeons & Dragons set-ups (or Pokemon cards…or legos, legos, and more legos). And right now our backyard is recovering from the two giant holes that the kids went ahead and dug this week…in the rain (images of Goodfellas came to mind, but let’s not go there).

And it wasn’t so easy concentrating on dinner yesterday with 9 kids in my house, one of whom planted herself on a chair, then proceeded to pop the cork on our little wooden cork gun about 57 times in a row (if she really wanted to see my cork pop, she should have done it a couple more times). As hairy as it can be, though, having the kids over has kind of grown on me.

The children in my neighborhood are spunky (but not sassy), friendly (though not always cheerful), creative (if a little competitive), and usually willing to go along with bringing to life my kids’ latest duct tape, cardboard box, or sidewalk chalk fantasies. And, to date, none of them has broken a bone, gotten run over, or been eaten by wild dogs on my watch. Who could ask for more?

These good times may not last, but, for now, I’ll take the mud, clutter, and craziness, and, no matter how stressful it may be for me, I’ll try to keep my cork firmly in its place.

Possible Jack Bauer Replacements

jack-bauer-replacements

If Jack Bauer should die (say it isn’t so!!!!!) as a result of his exposure to this season’s deadly biological agent, then who could possibly fill his terror-busting shoes and men’s medium flak jacket?

If I were President Allison Taylor, I’d be drawing up a short list of replacements…and it would look something like this:

  1. Former CTU top dog Bill Buchanan (oops…dead)
  2. Former President David Palmer (oops…dead too)
  3. Former President Wayne Palmer (oops…same…or maybe just in a years’ long coma; either way, he’s pretty much “off the grid,” so perfect for the job!)
  4. Former CTU chief Tony Almeida (nope…back from the dead, but now working for the dark side)
  5. Retired Secret Service agent—and kooky First Lady crush object—Aaron Pierce (sure, he took a bullet to the arm in the latest White House siege, but it’s only a flesh wound, right?)
  6. FBI Agent Renee Walker (she’s turning into Jack Bauer anyway, but oy, the overacting!)
  7. Whiny tech support goddess Chloe O’Brian (I mean, if looks could kill, she’d already have a body count like Jack’s)
  8. The ghost of Jack Bauer (dangerous, already dead, and able to walk through walls!)
  9. Harry Potter (what’s an international terrorist, when you’ve managed to dispatch “you know who”?)
  10. Wolverine (the hair, the retractable, implanted knife blades, the super-healing power—throw a messenger bag over that guy’s shoulder and Jack Bauer can go die, knowing that the world is safe—at least from evil mutants who control metal with the power of their minds…)

Why do I write? To score an Honorable Mention with Wordhustler!

writing

In my post-Dover Post stupor a couple of weeks ago, I happened upon a neat writers’ help website called Wordhustler.com. The good people there sponsored a “Why I Write” contest recently, and, while I didn’t win, I did score an honorable mention for my submission, which appears below. I’m honored that Wordhustler mentioned me!

Why do I write?

Well, on a day when I’m moping about an evaporated writing opportunity and waxing hopeless about my future prospects, I too wonder, why? What is it inside me that drives me to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and even a shred of mental effort to a blog that scores its highest number of readers on days when Jack Bauer is mentioned?

Why not just give it up, I wonder, when writing can make me feel as isolated from the outside, productive, profitable world as a mid-’70’s version of John Travolta did, starring as the boy in the plastic bubble? Why give a voice (or any editing spiff, even) to words, however honest, poignant, clever, inspiring, informative, heartbreaking, or hilarious they may be, that may not be read by anyone—ever?

I was going to tell you that I write because I have something to say, but that’s just not enough, is it? We all have something to say; that’s why we have conversations, make speeches, know people and do things with them. Why we have friends, pets, and plants.

I also considered saying that I write because I have this tremendous expressive urge that makes me somehow less of a human being if I don’t write. True, writing does make me feel more worthwhile than, say, doing the laundry or driving a car, but I’m not really digging the irresistible urge image. It makes me sound like the ridiculous star of some Broadway musical, who can’t go to the bathroom without bursting into song.

Don’t laugh, but it crossed my mind for the briefest of moments that I write because it will earn me money. Then I realized (duh), only someone who has recently returned from a 1960’s Martian expedition would be out-of-touch enough to think that writing is a reliable money-maker.

With all that being said, here’s why I write:

My writing, unlike my socially under-construction, in-person quasi-self, is a powerful thing. Those pieces of mine which are lucky enough to see the light of day can persuade people to action. They conceive laughter and tears in my readers. They make seemingly perfect people admit frustrations, sorrows, and weaknesses that they’d never admit to anyone. My writing gives their vulnerabilities a home.

But I don’t just write for “them”—I write for me. Writing makes me laugh, usually at myself. It makes me cry, but only after pointing me to what really matters. It makes me admit what I’d never admit to anyone, in hopes that I will find someone else who “gets me” or more importantly, the act of writing helps me to “get” myself. It gives voice to the true “me”—the one that’s too scary, too loud, too nerdy, too dark, too sad, or too “out there” for anyone else to relate to. It carves out a place for me to be me—and in this solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short life, that’s an awfully comforting thing.

2009’s Best Book Title (Spring Break Read-a-thon, Installment III)

come-on-shore

My favorite book title of all time may just be Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, with Brock Clark’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England coming in a close second. Now I’ve got a worthy number three, in Christina Thompson’s Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story.

The colorful title, Thompson explains, is “what Darwin [as in Charles Darwin] said that Cook [as in Captain James Cook] said the Maori [as in the original inhabitants of New Zealand] said at that interesting moment when the Europeans [as in explorers, colonists, and, ultimately, conquerors] first appeared.” Darwin sailed the Beagle to New Zealand in 1835, with Cook’s 1769 experience with the native New Zealanders clearly in mind.

Past encounters had taught Darwin and other explorers that the canoe travelling, spear and club brandishing Maoris were bold, warlike, belligerent, sometime cannibals who could surprise one as much with their willingness to do business as with their deadly cunning and guile. Ultimately, unfair land deals, foreign disease, and intertribal conflict pushed the Maoris from their place as New Zealand’s power brokers.

What’s interesting about Thompson’s approach is that she sprinkles her account of New Zealand’s history, people groups, and cultural evolution with the history, people groups, and cultural evolution of something much more personal: her modern-day marriage to a Maori man, who goes by the oddly non-native sounding name of Seven.

Thompson’s treatment of meeting and later marrying Seven is fairly dry and romance free—strange to hear a relationship recounted with such clinical objectivity. We don’t really learn much about why the two are attracted to each other, what prompts their decision to fuse their two lives, and what, if any, problems they encounter (sure, Seven watches more monster truck racing than his wife—now editor of the Harvard Reviewcan understand, but really, it comes out sounding like no big deal).

What Thompson does give us, though, is the story of two people whose individual lives may not seem monumental, but, put in the context of New Zealand’s history and world geography, their relationship is epic. While Thompson comes off as a little bit of a cold, academic, practically minded (somewhat stereotypical) New Englander, her husband comes off as a laid back, live in the moment, never in the rat-race Pacific Islander; together they are a curious example of cultural opposites attracting, and, for whatever differences there may be, they’ve obviously make it work.

Whatever your level of interest may be in the subject or the book, I am curious about one thing: what’s your favorite book title? Go ahead…post a comment!

April Showers, Guaranteed

200236712-001They say that April showers bring May flowers, but what exactly brings the April showers? I think I know.

Around our neck of the woods, it’s guaranteed to rain if the kids have…

  1. left the skateboards outside.
  2. spent all day making chalk drawings on the street.
  3. incorporated our Peruvian alpaca hair blanket into their outdoor fort.

On the other hand, it’s guaranteed never to rain if the kids have…

  1. shaken up root beer bottles and sprayed them all over the driveway.
  2. made chalk graffiti along the entire length of our 25-foot long front porch.
  3. managed (miraculously) to come up with every piece of equipment and clothing required for today’s soccer game.

If only climate change was so easy to manipulate.

 

A Formula for Frantic Families (Spring Break Read-a-thon, Installment II)

three-questions

I’m as surprised as you are that I’ve just finished a book with the phrase, ‘A Leadership Fable,’ in the title. Combine my eerily Office-esque experience in corporate America with my disappointing reading years ago of the inane Who Moved My Cheese? (a super-selling, little business book which urges readers to move at the speed of change, even the kind of change which is dictated by invisible, out-of-touch boss-men and which makes no earthly sense when it comes to actually getting the job done), and what you’ve got in me is a girl who’s skeptical of all things business-motivational, especially the ones that involve Post-its and whiteboards.

But even as I trudged through the 168-page “fable” section of Patrick Lencioni’s The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable…about restoring sanity to the most important organization in your life (the title alone was a workout), I have to admit, it kind of won me over. I would have preferred a pamphlet outlining the key points, but this parenting parable of harried marrieds Jude and Theresa was, if long, definitely reminiscent of our family’s frantic day-to-day existence. Thankfully, Theresa had a professional corporate management guru in Jude, who could walk her through the cheesy goo of core values, rallying cries, and defining objectives that would ultimately remodel their family landscape.

Essentially, the book’s springboard is Jude’s exasperated exclamation: “If my clients ran their companies the way we run this family, they’d be out of business!” Ultimately, the couple boils down a strategic plan to get organized and focus on what really matters, guided by the answers to these three questions:

  1. What makes our family unique? This could be humor, interests, work ethic, sports focus—anything that characterizes the family as it currently is, with a sprinkle of what it wants to be.
  2. What is our family’s most important priority—or rallying cry—right now? This is essentially a specific goal that will be attainable in the next 2-6 months—applying to college, getting a new job, or getting the car in the garage are some examples.
  3. How will we use these answers and keep them alive? This question asks the family leaders/parents to make a day and time commitment during which they will regularly review the family’s progress in achieving the stated goal.

There’s a lot more detail in the book, but the plan is presented in nutshell form at Lencioni’s website, tablegroup.com. It’s worth checking out. There’s also an article there with more detailed information about how to answer the questions for your particular family. Or, if you’re a Doverite, you can pick up the book at the Dover Public Library (I found it in the yellow section to the left of Large Print—seriously!).

Skeptical as I am, I’m going to test-drive the approach around my home. I’ll report back about how it goes…just give me 2-6 months.

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