Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Unsolicted Affection

Something happened the other day that completely smacked me upside the head. As he often does on his day off, my father stopped by to say hello and spend some time with my kids. Since the girls were at school and the baby was down for his morning nap, it was just my 2-almost-3-year-old-son, Declan.

Papa loves all of his 8 grandchildren with great gusto. He has greatly rejoiced with all eight announcements of their arrival and would love for my sister and I to have even more! (In the hospital, as he held my second daughter on the second day of her life, he looked over at me wearily reclining on the hospital bed and asked when we were having the next one!) He loves to hold them as babies and feel their baby skin next to the crook of his neck. He even enjoys burping them and especially loves rocking them to sleep.  (Diaper changing...not so much). And, of course, he did all of this with Declan, and maybe more so because we parents were dealing with two other children when he was an infant. It was great that Papa would hold him on the couch and snuggle him while my husband and I worked with his two older sisters on diaper changes, trips to the potties, getting food served up, etc.

As a result, they have a wonderful bond. As he grew, Declan lived for trips to Papa & Grammie's house. Much to my mother's chagrin, Declan seemed to only say one thing when she came over or tried to pick him up, "Where's da Papa?" And, when Papa did finally come into the room, Declan's eyes lit up. He also lived for the moment after church was over when we would walk into the main sanctuary and spot his beloved grandfather. It was the same thing every time. I would put him down and he would literally run down the aisle to throw himself onto his papa's legs. My dad enjoyed it just as much. He loved being sought out and pursued by Declan.

But then something happened. Gradually, Declan wanted to hold his grammie rather than his papa. He stopped asking where papa was if he didn't see him right away when we visited. Sadly, he even started resisting my father's attempts to snuggle and hug him. He wanted to "do it a me" (translation: myself). He wanted to play outside with his sisters and cousins. He wanted to be left alone.

It was so sad to see my dad put on a brave face facing my son's rejection. He understood that Declan was asserting his independence. He was growing up. But, I know he didn't like it. He missed the feel of that baby skin against his cheek and that knowlege that Declan would always be looking for him.

I tried to keep that affection flowing -- encouraging Declan to go and give his papa a hug and kiss. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn't. And when it wouldn't, I could see the little shake of my father's head and I knew he was thinking of those little arms winding around his neck.  But it wasn't the same.

So, it was a poignant moment for me this last Monday as Papa sat down on the couch next to Declan as he watched Buzz & Woody try to get back to Andy because he's been on a Toy Story kick. Mostly these days, Declan tolerates my father sitting next to him, but he doesn't really want him to get too close. So, conscious of this, my dad sat leg to leg and enjoyed Declan's presence. Being a kid, Declan lost attention on the movie and slipped off the couch to romp around of the floor with his truck. We chatted and watched him play happily.  And, the most amazing thing happened.

Declan dropped his toy, climbed up on the couch, put his little arms around his papa's neck and kissed his cheek and said, "I love you, Papa!"  And, then after getting his hug back, he slipped back down off the couch and started playing with the truck again.  We sat there a little surprised...and I have to admit...a little misty-eyed as I saw how touched my father was by this much-longed-for and unsolicited affection.

It brought to mind a trip I took to Rome, Italy years ago. One of the lasting memories I have of that trip was seeing the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by master painter, Michaelangelo.

One of the things that struck me the most was the moment of creation with God reaching down and touching Adam's finger. I don't pretend to know much about art but I can admire the workmanship and mastery of Michaelangelo in the lifelike play of muscles and skin tone. However, the thing that struck me the most about this portion of the painting was Adam's hand - his limp, lifeless hand. God is stretching and straining to touch his finger to Adam's. And the best Adam can do is a relaxed and leisurely finger flop. I mean, he's resting his elbow on his knee why the creator of the Universe is attempting to touch him.  Unbelievable.

Or is it?

How often do I deign to lift my hands, voice, or anything to my creator, who is constantly leaning down to touch me? How often do I ignore the urgings of others to thank Him or praise Him in my attempts to do things myself. How does it feel for the Father to watch His children being bribed or goaded into showing Him the love he so rightly deserves.

It can't feel great.

This thought is what smacked me upside the head on Monday. How much more must our Father God feel when unbidden we simply drop what we're doing, climb up onto His couch and throw our arms around His neck and whisper a simple, "I love you."

I imagine that it feels like what I saw written upon my own father's face:

pure joy.

Papa and Declan

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Discipline of Frugality

Years ago, I read a book that stuck with me called The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This is one of those books that had a major impact on my life. In a nutshell, the book talks about how we should not be afraid of or despise discipline. Rather, we should embrace it -- celebrate it even -- because contrary to our beliefs that we are stifling or restricting ourselves, discipline brings boundaries and self-control. And that's a good thing.

While not one of Foster's disciplines, I believe that frugality is a discipline that we desperately need today -- more than ever. This financial recession we're in is brutal.  However, I believe that one of the unforseen blessings is the recognition of our society's wastefulness. I think most of us are aware of the need to recycle and conserve water and gasoline. Most of us do this because it's fairly easy to do and, let's face it, financially beneficial for us.

However, we (and I mean me) have gotten really used to needing something, putting it on a shopping list, and then buying it wherever is convenient, without much thought to cost or savings. At best, we might have shopped at WinCo, Walmart or Costco because we know that we will "save money there."

However in light of these tough financial times, many of us are looking for ways to save money. I'm one of those people. And, that's good, but I'm talking about downright bargains - namely coupons.

I must admit a personal perception of coupon clippers: miserly, be-spectacled people hunched over the newspaper with scissors at the ready, who also was the person you didn't want to be behind in line at the grocery store. As for me and coupons, there have been one or two times I might have ripped a coupon or two out of a magazine or the newspaper, but it never really was something I did consistently.

Something changed a few months ago. I became one of those be-spectacled coupon clippers (I actually do wear corrective lenses). And, what's more, I couldn't be happier about it. If you ever are lucky enough to be behind me at Target, prepare to witness my coupon-money-saving-happy-dance.

I started out by checking every day and reading up on the best deals. Then somehow, I stumbled upon and I was off and running. The woman that runs the site shares amazing deals on household products, grocery items and more. I saw that by clicking a few links, printing and clipping a few coupons and rebate forms and spending some time organizing them, and monitoring store fliers, I could save a significant amount of money.

So over a period of time, I began to clip, organize, check in at For the Mommas, and shop with a purpose. I have an entire system now. I rarely buy anything unless it's on sale, I have a coupon, or I can get some sort of cashback or reward (gift card, air miles, etc.). If I can get all three, all the better. (For more of my philosophy and some other tips to help you save money, click here.)

I spend about 30-60 minutes a week on my "saver system." but it's time well-invested in my opinion. And to show you an example of that, here's what I got at Target today and the price breakdown.

(And for you who have been following my posts, I am typing this wearing my "new" smaller-sized $2.50 jeans that I got from Salvation Army on Saturday that were half-price!)

-- The Princess and the Frog Blu-Ray combo pack:  Sale price was $26.99 for a Blu-Ray disc, DVD & Digital Download. I used $10 off (Disney coupon) and a $3 off any Disney DVD (Target coupon). Final price: $13.99. (Sidenote the DVD only version comes out to be $5!) 

-- 2 Suave Conditioners: on sale for $1 each. Used $1 off two bottles coupon. Final price: $.50 per bottle

-- 2 boxes of Band-Aids: on sale for $1.82 each. Used two $1 off coupons. Final price: $.82 each

-- 4 boxes of Frosted Mini Wheats: on sale for 4 boxes for $10. Used two $1.50 off two boxes coupons, for a cost of $7 for 4 boxes. Received $5 gift card for buying 4 cereals. Final cost: $.50 per box.

-- Air filter: on sale for $10 (nothing special, just needed one and was waiting for them to go on sale -- which they do about every 4-8 weeks.)

-- Two Sara Lee lunch meats: on sale for $2.99 each. Used $1 off two coupon. Final cost: $1.50 per lunch meat

-- Zout: on sale for $2.99 ( again, nothing special but needed it and it was on sale again finally)

-- Green beans: on sale for $.75 a can (not a fabulous price, but necessary).

In addition to the above savings, I will be submitting for the $5 rebate for buying the DVD and Band-Aids. So, less that $5 rebate, the total cost for my items is: $36.59.

To put it in perspective, the original price of DVD alone was $26.99.

(Sidenote:  A friend commented that the above seems like a lot of work. I might have overexplained in my excitement over my shopping trip -- the real bargains are the DVD & cereal.  However, it's not hard at all. A little bit of clicking, printing and cutting..maybe mailing a rebate or two...really very simple. I promise!)

So I'm feeling pretty frugal right now. And believe me, I'm nowhere near some of these mommas who routinely pay a few dollars for several bags of groceries -- or even better, they actually get money back from the store. I'm not that good, but I find that I don't need/want a lot of items that they're getting super cheap. And that's key. You can get so sucked into hunting for and scoring bargains, that you end up spending money you don't have on things you don't need.

However, with a little bit of effort and time, you can save yourself and your family some serious money. This is something to practice in the lean times, but also in the prosperous times -- maybe even more so. How we handle our money and how and on what we choose to spend it is always important. It's actually a pretty old concept called stewardship. After all, we are only caretakers of our finances. We may feel like we've worked hard to earn a salary. And why techically it may be true, I don't think that means we can do whatever we want with it.

There is a dire need in our society for frugality. Disciplining ourselves to look for the best deal isn't miserly or a sign of the impoverished. I think it's actually a sign of people who truly care for future generations (think college funds, raising kids who aren't wasteful or entitled) and for their neighbor. You may have been thinking, "why does she need 4 boxes of cereal?" And although I have a largish family who does eat a lot of cereal and paying the same price for four boxes as I would for one makes good fiscal sense, here's the answer:

my friends need it

my neighbors could really use it

and, maybe, you could as well?

And if that's true, it's my obligation, and my absolute privilege to give out of my abundance. Instead of only one box of cereal, I have four!! Imagine what I can do with the excess.

In fact if our frugality creates an abundance that allows us to share and give with those who are lacking, imagine what all of us could do together. No one would have to go to bed hungry. Families wouldn't lose their incomes and worry about their children not getting proper nutrition. We could go to bed at night secure in the knowledge that we've done all we can do to help.

And that's definitely something worth celebrating!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Rebel Yell....

If you know anything about me, then you know that I'm a Type-A personality. Believe me, I've learned that this can be my greatest strength -- or my biggest downfall. One of these downfalls is that I really have a hard time being blindly ordered to do something. I've never liked it. Not as a child (and my parents nod their head in assent vigorously) and especially not as an adult. It really chaps my hide, goes against my grain, overall just lights my fuse.

I'm certain that it's also partly due to the Bruton Stubborn Streak that runs in the family (you know who you are!). So when someone demands out of the blue, "do this," guess what I want to do? The complete opposite. I want to dig every last toe in the sand and start singing that old song from my younger church days, "I shall, I shall, I shall not be moved..."

Which is why Facebook drives me crazy sometimes. Forget about all of the sociological applications of "friends" (who may or may not be actual friends) and the interaction between them --wall lurking, opinion chiming, and a continuance of high school behavior (who me?). What gets my goat is the incessant posts that go something like this:

"If you truly love your ___________,(fill in with appropriate noun: country, soldier, dad, son, llama), then you should post that you love them in your status. Do it, and do it right now or else you else you will be saying that you actually hate them and are an evil person. Plus you'll get 20 years bad luck and head lice if you don't.

Okay, I slightly exaggerate. Slightly.

This is really just a variation on the email form of this peer-pressure tactic. The truly great ones promise laptops, iPods, and good luck if you forward it on to the content of your address book -- or worse, impending PERIL if you do not.

My personal favorite right now being, The Yellow Shirt email. Someone recently forwarded this to me -- and although I really enjoyed this very moving story of a daughter and mother playfully passing back a tacky yellow t-shirt over the span of many years and milestones in their lives -- what got me was the crazy stuff tacked on to the end of the email. Let me just share a few lines...and btw the snarky comments in paranthesis are mine:

"You have 6 minutes....(why only six?)...There's some mighty fine advice in these words, even if you're not superstitious. This Lotus Totus (huh?) has been sent to you for good luck from the Anthony Robbins organization. It has been sent around the world ten times so Far (and they know this how?) You will receive good luck within four days of relaying this Lotus Totus.

Do not keep this message. The Lotus Totus must leave your hands in 6 MINUTES. (cue scary music...)

Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise. This is true, even if you are not superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired (Classy touch how they throw this in there to seal the deal of making me fearful for my life.)
Now, here's the FUN part! (Oh, tell)

1-4 people: Your life will improve slightly.
5-9 people: Your life will improve to your liking.
9-14 people: You will have at least 5 surprises in the next 3 weeks
15 and above: Your life will improve drastically and everything you ever dreamed of will begin to take shape. (Now that's what I'm talking about!)

A true friend is someone who reaches for your hand and touches your heart." (And, let me guess, if I send this to 15 people, I'm being a true friend? Riiiighhhht!)

I literally laughed out loud when I read this -- which by the way is not attached to the original story. I could not believe that someone literally took the time to sit down and type out all that manipulative garbage. What's worse is that I cannot even begin to guess as to why someone would even do it. Are they really believing that this will happen?  Are they hoping that they will convince someone to forward it -- thereby creating a greater sense of self-worth that they made something happen? I cannot wrap my head around it. Plus, somehow it went from being a good friend to getting your luck on...and back to being a good friend. (My head hurts).

And maybe that's the real root of some of this Facebook crazyness that's got me going. I don't like being prodded or guilted into doing or saying something. And, I'm not sure my ___________ (country, soldier, dad, son, llama) would really appreciate a generic status post professing my love and allegiance to them as much as they would a coffee chat, phone call, an email, a text, or even a status update that says it in my very own words.  Don't get me wrong, something is better than nothing, but then we're back to square one.

Life happens quickly.

Things can change in a blink of a moment.

Let's not let a status update say for us what we need to be saying all along to those whom we love.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Counting Your Many Blessings...

"Count your them one by one..."

This is the refrain that kept going through my head the other day as we were on a family bike ride. I was bringing up the rear, so I literally counted up my blessings as I gazed at my husband and my four children (well, I had to look over my shoulder at the baby in his little seat behind me.) It was a perfect sunny day with puffy clouds and gorgeous weather. Everyone was enjoying the fresh air and view of the snow-capped mountains as we rode down the tree-lined trail.

In my thirty-six years of life on this planet, I've learned that sometimes life stinks. The little worries and troubles that swirl in and out of our days can leave us thinking, "is this all there is?" At times these "little things" can wear us down more than the doozies of life -- after all, we are on the lookout for those. We expect them to happen. It's just a matter of time.

But, I'm not sure that I ever gave a thought to the day in and day out trials of life grating so much -- you know, another poopy diaper after you just changed a blow-out of epic proportions; children who don't seem to understand the concept of keeping their hands to themselves and "inside voices" when you have a headache; husbands who drink all the diet soda and don't restock the fridge; receiving an unexpected bill in the mail when all your paycheck has been allocated for the month; and finding mud tracks all over your newly-cleaned floor.

These are the things that make me crazy on a day to day, week to week basis. But they are really so very small. I really think that many times our "worst day ever" here in America is better than the best day of the majority of the rest of the world.

So as I was cruising along on my bike, lifting my face up to feel the wind on my face and my baby's fingers clutching the back of my shirt, this old hymn of the church written in 1897 by Johnson Oatman, Jr. floated through my head and I had to sing aloud the first verse:

When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Discouragement is a part of life. I know that I am easily disappointed. However, it also seems I am equally forgetful about the many, many blessings in my life. I take so many things for granted. After all, these things become common -- so common that I think that I have not only earned them, I deserve them.

Funny how that sense of entitlement doesn't seem to trickle over into the troubles of life. I know that I don't usually feel I deserve the bad stuff. And the bad can be really bad. It's not all petty stuff. We live in a world with cancer, loss of loved ones, addiction, broken relationships. These things can truly make it hard to get out of bed in the morning -- let alone function properly throughout the day.


Those calamities are also tempered by baby giggles and kisses, miracles of healing, financial provision out of "nowhere," and the restoration of families. There is no one or the other. There is only the intermingling of both together. This is the life we get to live. I love what verse four of the song says:

So, admid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.

And maybe that's all that we can really depend on. We count up the blessings and hope that they out-number the troubles. We lift our faces up in surrender, secure in the knowledge that God is over all. And, maybe -- just maybe -- if we wait patiently, we can see even those troubles turn into blessings.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Burn the Ships

In 1519, the explorer, Hernan Cortes arrived in Veracruz, Mexico. After surviving for weeks with 200 sailors aboard a ship the length of about seven minivans, the crew was ecstatic to get off that wooden death trap. They probably planted their lips on that beach and vowed never to leave.

 After all they were the lucky handful who had survived scurvy, epic storms, horrible odors (200 men remember), and probably severe boredom. You'd probably be surprised to hear that soon after they arrived, the same crew was trampling each other in their haste to get back on that boat of death.

 Why? Because the brave new world left them less than brave. It was not the paradise they had been expecting. Waterfalls of gold did not abound. Instead of jumping at the chance of being their slaves, the Aztec people seemed to be rather resorceful and unwilling to be conquered. In short, this was no place like home.

 Seeing that his men were on the brink of mutiny and dissertion, Cortes did what any self-respecting Conquistador would do. He burned the ships.

Sidebar: Okay. So, I've discovered that historians are now saying that the burning part didn't actually happen. It was a mispelling/mistranslation of what should have been "broken." Cortes actually ordered 9 of the 13 ships be grounded into the sand of the beach. Broken. Burned. Whatever. The ships were made inoperable and since I learned the story as burned and it's more poetic, I'm sticking with burn! 

While I cannot condone what Cortes and his crew later did to the Aztecs, I have to admire his logic in this situation. How many times have I set course on a new plan or life change, only to run back to what's familiar -- even if that familiarity is lethal to me?

Why all this talk of ship burning, you ask? It has to do with a couple pairs of baggy jeans. While I'm celebrating the fruits of my ongoing weight loss labors, I'm finding that I'm a bit reluctant to part with my droopy drawers.

 Today when I was washing those jeans, I had the following thought: What will I do if I get to my goal weight -- only to find myself back in this size in the future? Shouldn't I be practical and keep them? I won't be able to afford to buy a goal weight wardrobe and then another ummm non-goal weight one.

 As soon as I pictured myself packing those things in a storage bin and putting them in the garage, I mentally slapped myself with this thought. "Burn the ships!!" How can I attempt a new way of living if I'm already thinking of failing?

So, as much as it pains my inner cheapskate, I'm going to have to let those jeans go. You see, I never intend to come back here again. And to make it more uncomfortable to do so, they're going to have to burn, baby, burn (or at least go to Salvation Army).