Time Passed

Most days when I look at my children, I notice the dirt on their faces, whether their hair or teeth have met with a brush, if they're clutching contraband in their closed hands (what? Christmas candy abounds!).

But today, looking at pictures taken at the "best birthday party ever!" (as Javi refers to his party), I caught a glimpse of time passed. It was this photo that did me in:


These boys ... now both solidly 11-year-old fifth graders who are ready and excited to move on to middle school in a few months. These boys ... on the cusp of manhood, using deodorant, pointing out each other's underarm hair. These boys were once these boys:


And before that they were these boys:


And then my heart clenches up. The time just dissolves between work and family and social and volunteer obligations. It just goes.

Forget the dirty faces and stolen jelly beans and go bask in your babies. You can't stop time, but you can definitely make better use of it.

Read more about "Time Passed"...



Eleven years ago, I was a graduate student who loved a baby before she saw her, who believed anything was possible, and who had the support system to make it work.

Exactly eleven years ago, a boy was born in place of that baby girl and my life went whirling down a completely unanticipated, sometimes thrilling, sometimes exhausting, sometimes terrifying path that no one can ever prepare for.

Such is parenting.

I have an eleven year old man-child who is sprouting hair under his arms (as he tells everyone he meets), can load a mean dishwasher, makes "famous" toasted cheese sandwiches, gets up to his own alarm, loves to write and illustrate detailed and complex stories, is the best kicker on his football team, and can pin a bigger boy in minutes. He's a ham and a sweetheart and a helper.

My son. I am thankful every day that he was trusted to me so many years ago.

Today is about doing all the things he loves: baking cakes and other treats for him to share with his friends later, eating pizza and playing football (with glow sticks, no less) with his friends, and spending time with his family.

We are lucky to have him, and we can't wait to find out what age 11 holds in store.

Happy birthday Javi!

Read more about "Eleven"...


The Bell Affair

Our month of kindness has begun paying off. Sort of.

It takes Javi and Bella longer to start bickering and they're more likely to allow the other one to win verbal battles. They spot and get excited about participating in volunteer opportunities, and each have tried to literally give their friends the shirts off their backs.

But I've come to realize that the message they received last month wasn't 100 percent clear. Take, for example, the way Bella's accosted the Salvation Army bell ringer last night after we had just spent a good five minutes discussing the purpose of the donation pot each bell ringer guards.

He was innocently clanging his bell at people as they entered and exited a local store. Bella heard that ringing a mile away and became extremely enthusiastic about getting to the ringer. Once we got there, she began to painfully and obviously embarrass her mother.

It went something like this.

Bella to the bell ringer: My mama has coins! I'm gonna give 'em to you for the people and you're gonna give me that bell.

[Bella holds her hand out to me while keeping her eyes on the bell]

Me: Lady, that's not how it works. Here's some change. Drop it in the slot.

Bella: No thanks. I want the bell.

The ringer: You're a pretty girl aren't you! Let's put your money in here [motions to the slot] and then I'll give you a sucker!

Bella: I'll take the sucker, but I'm still taking the bell.

Me: Enough. Put the money in and get your sucker. I'm ready to go.

Bella: I. Want. That. Bell!

[The ringer looks at me, completely lost as to what to do.]

Me: You have two choices: You can put your money in and take the sucker, or you can put the money in and not take the sucker. You choose.

Bella: I'm not paying him if I don't get that bell.

Me: You aren't paying for anything. This is a donation and you get a sucker as a thank you.

Bella: No, I'm giving him my coins and he's giving me my bell.

Me: That's it, let's go.

[Bella jerks away and lunges at the ringer. I have to pull her off of him kicking and screaming.]

Me: We're done!

[Walking away from ringer holding Bella as she settles from thrashing back to normal behavior.]

Bella yelling to bell ringer: Fine. Keep your bell! It's not even golden like a real bell! I don't want your bell!

Me: Hush! You are being rude!

Bella still yelling to the bell ringer: Sorry for being rude about your ugly bell! Have a nice evening! Your bell is still ugly!

All that talk about good deeds and sharing what we have with those who are in need, all those hours of giving without the intention of receiving, and all those acts of service just for the sake of being kind and not for the goal of anyone doing anything to pay us back...

All of that work, and yet my daughter tries to attack the bell ringer after her refuses to sell her his bell for the three dimes and handful of pennies she offered him.

Welcome to the wonderful world of parenting!

Read more about "The Bell Affair"...


Cluck of the Week: Baring It All

Winter has arrived in the South, or at least in our corner of it.

While the rest of us knew to brace for frigid temps by the constant warning of morning weather predictors and the steady turning of calendar pages, my poor chicken didn't know what hit her.

Not only has she lost all her gorgeous auburn-colored feathers, but we caught her letting it all hang out -- literally -- in the tree she's chosen as her spring/summer/fall roosting spot. Fancy didn't change, but the tree sure did.

What is that big ol' hen doing in that flimsy, nearly bare tree? Anything she wants to, hardy har har.

And so, Fancy has picked up her winter habit of roosting in a bin under our deck where we've added a fresh, thick layer of bedding to help keep her warm.

Out with the summer predators, in with the winter ones. But at least she'll be warm in the surviving of them!

Read more about "Cluck of the Week: Baring It All"...


Elfed Up

I fought the good fight, but we still wound up with an elf gracing our shelf.

It started on Saturday when Santa dropped in at the gingerbread house building event we hold each year for the community.

Somehow I forgot that Bella loses her ever-lovin' mind when Santa escapes without letting her see his sleigh (as has happened every year since she was born). It's hard to remember how much she loves Santa because -- even at age nearly 11 -- Javi still refuses to be near Ol' Saint Nick. But Bella? Bella is a fan of the highest order.

This year, however, in the middle of Bella's epic meltdown when Santa left (which included clawing at me to let her chase him out the door), her little friend came up with the perfect solution (for 4- and 5-year-olds). "Don't worry, Bella, I'll tell my elf Robin to tell Santa to send you an elf so you can talk to him all the time!" she exclaimed breathlessly.

That's all it took. Bella's eyes got wide and she spent the rest of our time there conferring with her buddy on this whole elf situation. When we didn't hear anything else about elves that night, we completely forgot about it.

But Bella didn't. She woke up the next morning heartbroken that Santa didn't send her an elf of her very own. Then throughout the day she kept hearing things that she just knew were elf sounds (which Javi, of course, played up). As the day wore on and no elf appeared, my Meanie Weenie seemed more and more dejected.

So what else was I gonna do? Like any wimp mom, I sped over to buy the cutest little girl elf I could find. Only they don't make little girl elves. And there were no special kits for turning a boy elf into a girl one. So I came home with your standard Elf on a Shelf and planted him on our mantle. The book went under the tree.

Like our Christmas Story stocking? My mama bought that for
the Mountain Man for my birthday. Where's the justice in that?!

The kids were all over it. Javi read the story as Bella sat beside him listening for all the fine details of this special elf deal. She went from excitement that her elf is finally here, to worry that he knew all the bad things she's already done today (which Javi enumerated), to disappointment that her elf is a boy. Luckily, the line of communication straight to Santa won out and both kids became enamored with our new addition.

After a complicated and somewhat heated naming process where the names Jingle Jangle, Jolly, Snowball, Scout, Roger, Elvin, and Tiki were ruled out, we are now the proud family of an elf named:

Murray Grace

Listen, he wouldn't be our elf if he didn't bend gender at least a little. We do have a chicken named Here's Your One Chance Fancy Don't Let Me Down, you know. (But don't be surprised if Murray Grace shows up in a skirt some day soon.)

In the meantime, I'll be sure to work the Murray Grace can hear/see you angle for all its worth.

Do you have an elf on your shelf? How's it working for you? Did you hold out as long as we did?

Read more about "Elfed Up"...


Random Acts of Thanks: The End

Despite my silence, the end of November was packed full for our family, including three Thanksgivings and a parade, as well as the many ways we chose to show our gratitude throughout our community.

Though our family spends a large majority of time throughout the year performing acts of service throughout our community, I enjoyed taking some time to focus in on how being kind and sharing what we have makes us feel and how it changes how others feel.

So, despite not fitting in 30 acts, we landed in December feeling pretty good. Here's what we did accomplish:

  • Holiday decorations for tornado victims who lost theirs back in April.
  • Turkeys to local food bank to help with the holiday meal.
  • Two winter coats (which the kids handed over themselves).
  • Candy to local rehab center, which the kids selected from their Halloween haul.

    Sorting through the candy

  • Mittens and hats for a winter-weather collection drive.

    These items were given to local foster children.
Volunteered to:
  • Help serve Thanksgiving dinner for 50+ needy families.
  • Host a big fundraiser for my sister's kidney transplant fund.
  • Babysit a friend's little girl when daycare fell through.
  • Take my sister to a day of doctor appointments.
  • Take dinner to my mom at her work.

    Special meal for Grandma (bought at a
    fundraiser for Javi's school's PTO.

  • Help paint a local community building.

    The kids loved helping paint this building, even though
    they weren't allowed up on the ladders.
Paid to:
  • Purchase Christmas gifts for a child at a group home in our area.

    Javi and Bella helped pick out these gifts for a teen at a local
    group home. They also helped wrap/bag the gifts.

  • Provide three 6 families with meals (via Feeding America).

    Javi and his cousin bringing in boxes to give out.

    She didn't like "strangers" trying to move her box.

  • Provide food for Thanksgiving dinner for 50+ families.
  • Send a round of ice cream to a family dining in the same restaurant as us.
  • Sent 20 holiday cards to a local retirement community.

    Too distracted getting them done to take "after" photos.

  • Showed up at Javi's school with a tray of cookies for him to share with other students.
  • Sent in donuts for Bella to give to her preschool teachers.
  • Sent in school supply goodie bags for each child's teachers.
All in all, my kiddos learned to think about others more and began going out of their way to be kind and helpful wherever they could.

The best part is our little project has already carried over into December. Bella has asked if we can serve Christmas dinner somewhere, too, and Javi volunteered to "work" at the craft station of our recent community gingerbread houses event rather than build a house himself.

Needless to say, they make me proud. And exhausted. I'm so glad to have this post finished! Now I can go back to regular random postings. :)

Read more about "Random Acts of Thanks: The End"...


Joy Rising

My sister has been fighting a battle of wills: her's to survive, her insurer's to save money.

She's laid in my floor and cried from the crushing, overwhelming exhaustion that comes from trying to hold herself together -- the jobs, the family obligations, the fundraising, the health issues -- after hearing someone say over and over again: You're going to die anyway.

She turned over her driver's license and nearly had to say goodbye to our buddy J. She lives without telephone or Internet because every single extra dollar goes toward keeping herself alive. She is humble and grateful for what she has, and can usually find the humor in every situation.

She is the epitome of a fighter: fiercely independent, whip smart, persistent, and brave. And two days ago she got a phone call that brought her to her knees.

Just one day after finding out her insurer was bringing in an expert witness to prove that her lungs are dying so why bother with a new kidney, her team of [pro bono] lawyers found out The Powers That Be dropped their denial of her medical coverage.

My strong little sister -- my hero -- won. She took all the nastiness slung her way and she refused to give up on her right to live. She is now covered for the transplant.

Her donor is right this minute scheduling the final tests to be approved for the donation (which he couldn't do until the coverage was sorted out). She could have a sparkly new kidney ... by Christmas. [Best. Present. Ever.]

We are so incredibly blessed to have had so many people, both in our community and around the world, joining us in this fight. You sent prayers and money, you spoke out about the injustice of the insurance denial, you joined up your heart with our hearts and you fought with us and for us.

There aren't enough words to say how thankful we are, but know this: The battle may be over for Ashley, but she's just one person. There are so many others struggling under the weight of our broken health care system. You saved her. Yes, you (and you and especially you). Without this incredible force of spirit, who knows where we'd be right now.

You can't stop now. Find the Ashleys in your life and bring them to light, throw your (our) support behind those people (who feel incredibly alone, I can assure you), and continue using the power of the human spirit to prevail against those who put money first.

In the meantime, we have another $20,000 to raise. We've already moved the mountain; the rest is cake.

(And that feeling? The one you got when you found out? Oprah calls it joy rising. Now I understand why.)

Read more about "Joy Rising"...