Saturday, April 29, 2006

It starts early

Big Sis and I started Frontline Phonics several months ago and have absolutely loved the program. Much more so than Hooked on Phonics.

I hate to judge HOP too harshly, though, because I bought an older edition that seemed like a bargain at $20. It wasn't. We never made it past the first tape, because Big Sis couldn't stop laughing as a smooth-voiced female intoned (to a background beat and music) "read ... out ... loud ... sounding ... out ... words ... say ... and ... together ... say ... the ... sound ... " I suppose the idea is for the child to begin associating the words printed on the flash cards with the spoken words coming from the tape, but Big Sis just memorized the "song" and then tried to be as silly as possible when the tape began. In short, our experience with HOP turned out to be a real disappointment considering all the hype we'd heard about how great a reading program it was.

Frontline was altogether different. No tapes except for a CD of songs about each letter of the alphabet which really were helpful. The order in which the letters were introduced was logical, not sequential. M, A, P, S, and T are the first letters to which youngsters are introduced, and very quickly they are reading "books" filled with words like Pam, Sam, sat, and map. That very early success spurred Big Sis on, and she was begging me before too long to "do reading lessons". Now, at the end of kindergarten, she is easily reading on a second grade level and will probably be at least a grade higher by summer's end at the rate she is going. The child LOVES books and thinks an hour spent at Barnes and Noble is an hour in heaven. (The apple sure doesn't fall far from the tree, does it Mom??)

All of that to say that when we started this program, I promised to reward her with a new book of her choosing when she finished the entire program. The end came this morning as I stood at the stove stirring up our usual Saturday morning biscuits and gravy. Sis sat on the floor a few feet away with the last reader of the series in hand, and a smile as big as Dallas on her face. "So, do I get my new book today, Mom?" she asked. I assured her that as soon as the breakfast dishes were washed and everyone was dressed, we would be off for the bookstore and she could pick her reward.

I'll spare you the details of the "search for the perfect reward," but let it be said I discovered quickly that giving my 6 year old free reign in the kids' section of B&N was probably not the smartest idea. It took her all of about 2.6 minutes to amass an armful of selections she "HAD to have", none of which was anywhere close to what I had envisioned her selecting. (Jump back to the previous paragraph and note the "of her choosing" part. I'm rethinking that at this point). I tried steering her toward a couple of chapter books that looked interesting, but the "50 Outfits for Barbie" book with the three-piece pages that would have allowed her to assemble outlandish clothing ensembles for America's favorite blonde bombshell from now till Kingdom come held a firm grip on her attention.

In the end, we left the bookstore with nothing in hand and wound up at Target where she spotted "My Fantasy Wedding" and nearly hyperventilated on the software aisle. With stars in her eyes, she gazed at the description on the back of the box and gushed with excitement. "Oh, Mom, LOOK!" she said. "You get to pick the ring and the groom and the dress, and the flowers!" She was absolutely giddy just thinking about the fun of playing Comput-A-Bride, and I had to smile.

The desire for romance, to love and be loved, is present in a girl's heart from her earliest years. We all long for Prince Charming to sweep us off our feet, to pursue us with holy passion, to capture our hearts completely, and to give us the happily ever after that we've spent years imagining.

I pray that my daughters will experience all that and more. That my future son-in-laws will esteem them as highly as their daddy does their mommy and that they will not settle for anything less than God's absolute best choice of a mate for them. I hope they will be content with singleness until His choice is revealed to them.

And most of all I hope -- here's the big one -- that they can be satisifed with playing "My Fantasy Wedding" until they are at least 30!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Works for me: Cooking Double

Well, according to Shannon it's time again for "Works-for-Me Wednesday".

My idea is certainly not original. There have been a number of books written about once-a-month-cooking (aka "freezer cooking") and there's even a website devoted to the finer points of cooking in bulk. I must admit that I've yet to master the once-a-month marathon cooking session, but I DO try to make it a habit to double whatever I'm making for dinner several times a week. It's just as easy to whip out two meatloaves instead of one, and when I know a family who could use a meal, it's no trouble at all to write out the baking instructions on an index card, tape it to the top and off we go. It also helps everyone involved if at least some of those "extra" dishes are in disposable containers.

Friday, April 21, 2006

6 Random Things Meme:

6 Random Things Meme
I was tagged by Michelle to do the 6 Random Things Meme. What is a "meme", you ask? Break the word down and it looks like Me! Me! ... and that's exactly what it is ... a list of really useful and very interesting information ... all about ME!

So I was picked today for this great honor and since I still suffer posttraumatic stress from those angst-ridden moments in grade school when it seemed that I would NEVER be chosen forANYTHING (besides helping my friends finish their homework at the last minute), I'm just all too excited to share with you 6 random things about me:

1. I don't sit still very well at all. Ever. Even when I'm working, I'm tapping a foot or bouncing a child on my knee. Although I was never hyperactive as a child, something happened when I went to college. I'm guessing it was a toxic permanent buildup of caffeine in my system, but who can be sure? All I know is that long car trips and meetings are enough to make me crazy. Really crazy.

2. When I eat a meal, I eat one thing at a time. When I was younger, I couldn't stand for food to touch other food and would have loved for my mother to have served all my meals on those neat little divided cafeteria trays from school. She and my dad, however, were not amused by my quirky eating habits and insisted that I eat off the same Corelle the rest of the family used.

3. I'm a closet homeschool mom. My oldest went to public school kindergarten this year and we have had nothing but great experiences: A wonderfully supportive and encouraging teacher, a phenomenal principal who also happens to be a really godly man, and a curriculum that has been challenging and fun. But I still can't shake the feeling that I should be teaching her at home. My bookshelves are lined with homeschooling books and materials and my "favorites" folder contains links to more than a dozen of my favorite homeschooling sites. Unfortunately, I work full time and haven't figured out a way yet to be able to do it all.

4. I'm really two women wrapped up in one. Half of me is Compulsive Claire who can't rest until all the movies my husband pulled off the shelf for his Guy's Night are alphabetized once again and my grocery list for the next day's shopping trip has been completely categorized and alphatized. And the other half is ... I'm ashamed to say ... Messy Martha who doesn't notice (or care) that nearly every article of clothing I own is piled up on my closet floor in an ever-growing heap and the kids' bathroom hasn't been cleaned in nearly two weeks. These two gals wage war with each other every day, and let me tell you, when Martha's winning, it's not a pretty site.

5. My favorite drink in the world is a 50:50 mix of Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper ... only half the calories and ALL the caffeine .... mmmhmmmm.

6. I love to laugh. Really laugh. A day is just not complete without a good belly laugh, the kind that leaves your sides hurting and your smile muscles exhausted. Lucky me, I married a really funny guy and have 3 funny kids, so there aren't too many days I have to spend laugh-deprived. Laughter is great medicine; the Bible says so.

So there it is. More than you ever wanted to know about me. Because I'm pretty new to the blogging community and don't know too many bloggers personally (and because she hasn't responded yet), I'm tagging Ruth again!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Works-For-Me Wednesday

A fellow blogger and very funny writer, Shannon, from Rocks in my Dryer came up with this great idea:

You know how it is--we all have come up with dozens of little shortcuts or ideas around our homes to make managing our lives easier. Maybe you came up with such an idea yourself in a moment of desperation, or you learned it from your mom or another doesn't matter how it came about. What matters it that your life runs the tiniest bit more smoothly because of your clever idea.

I'm not a brilliant homemaker or cook, but when it comes to finding shortcuts--THIS I can do (which probably doesn't speak much of my character, but that's another blog post....). Each Wednesday I plan to publish one of my own little make-life-easier ideas. They may not be spectacular (they may not even be original--I've learned so much from friends!) But they "work for me"--hence the title!

Now, here's where I hope you'll consider playing along. I would LOVE to see some of my fellow Moms Of The Blog World join in and do your own "Works-For-Me Wednesday". If you let me know you're participating, I'll link to you. Think how much we could all learn from each other if we share our own little ideas!. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE EARTH-SHATTERING. Just simple, affordable and designed to make the tiniest difference in your day.

Now, as a faithful reader of "Hints from Heloise" since I was just barely old enough to read, OF COURSE I want to play along! I loved Shannon's idea so much, I can't wait for our next family vacation!! If any of you want to play along too, just link to me and link to Shannon and we'll both link to you! Here's my "Works-For-Me-Wednesday" for this week:

I have an enormous cookbook collection and used to get very frustrated trying to remember exactly which church cookbook that amazing shoefly pie recipe was in ... until I began organizing our favorite recipes on my computer. After I've tried a new recipe and it gets at least 3 thumbs up (out of a possible 5), I add it to the appropriate Microsoft Word file (I have one for appetizers, one for main dishes, etc.) I print out a new edition several times a year and store the printed pages in plastic page protectors in a three-ring binder. An additional bonus to this system is that anytime someone wants one of my recipes, it's as simple as cutting and pasting from the document and I can either email it to her or print off a paper copy.

Now it's your turn!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Resurrection Cookies

Here's an annual Easter tradition we're beginning with our family. The making of Resurrection Cookies provides an excellent opportunity to teach the REAL meaning of Easter. Kids love it!

You will need:
1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 egg whites
a pinch salt
1 cup sugar
Ziplock baggy
1 wooden spoon

These are to be made the evening before Easter. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. (This is a critical step -- don't wait until you are finished mixing the dough). Place pecans in zipper baggy and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested. He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. Read: John 19:1-3

Let each child smell the vinegar (or taste it, if they're feeling brave). Put 1 teaspoon vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross He was given vinegar to drink. Read: John 19:28-30

Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life. Read: John 10:10-11

Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus' followers and the bitterness of our own sin. Read: Luke 23:27

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1 cup sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us toknow and belong to Him. Read: Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16

Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read: Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3.

Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoon onto waxed paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus' body was laid. Read: Matthew 27:57-60

Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF.

Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus' tomb was sealed. Read: Matthew 27:65-66

Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read: John 16:20,22

On Resurrection Sunday (Easter) morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty. Read: Matthew 28:1-9


Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Commercialization of Easter

As we walked through the mall last Saturday, my four-year-old daughter stopped dead in her tracks and pointed straight ahead. "What is THAT?" she asked, eyes wide. "What is what?" I asked, noting a photographer snapping pictures of a toddler in his Easter outfit sitting on the Easter Bunny's lap.

"That rabbit," she whispered, still pointing in awe. Hmmm ... how to explain the Easter Bunny? We've never mentioned him in our family in a good way or bad. He just hasn't existed at all. Now I will be the first to admit that our family gets sucked into the consumerism of Christmas much more than we would like but have so far managed to stay very clear of contributing to the commercialization of Easter. With the exception of buying egg dye and a few bags of Smucker's jelly beans (more for me than the kids!), I steadfastly refuse to help any retailer profit off what should be the most holy day of the year, the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. For us, that means no Easter outfits, Easter cards, and no Easter baskets laden with presents.

According to the National Retail Federation , the world's largest retail trade association, there will be more than 90 million chocolate bunnies, 2 million marshmallow chicks per day, and 16 billion jelly beans produced for Easter. Those who will celebrate plan to spend an average of $107.17, up from $102.76 last year. In all, consumers are expected to spend $10.47 billion on Easter this year.

Christians are notorious for complaining about the commercialization of holidays, but in this case, folks, I think we're responsible for it. As long as clothing manufacturers and greeting card companies know the fine churchgoing people of America will buy what they're selling, they are going to compete vigoriously for our Easter dollars.

As the discussion continued, my kindergartener announced, "Oh, yeah, ----'s Easter Bunny is bringing her the "Chicken Little" DVD in her basket this year." It was a wonderful opportunity to share with the girls why we've made the choices we've made and how we hope that they will keep Easter special in their hearts too.

God forbid that we should reduce the extravagance of Christ's love to a new outfit and a basket full of candy and gifts.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Armed and dangerous

About a month ago, my dear husband came home from work and casually mentioned that I should line up a babysitter for the second Saturday of April. "Oh, are you asking me out on a date?" I replied with great excitement. Oh no, he had signed me up for the required class to obtain my license to carry a concealed firearm.

Now anyone who knows much about me at all knows that as a working mom, Saturdays are precious to me. Sundays, too, for that matter. I don't give up a single moment of my weekend unless it's for a really worthy cause. Obtaining a permit to tote a gun definitely does not qualify as a worthy cause, but no matter how hard I argued with DH, I couldn't convince him to change his mind. As a police officer, he sees the worst of humanity and feels it best that Smith & Wesson accompany his wife and children wherever they go.

Six o'clock came too early this morning. Especially since I stayed out with my friend Laura until 1 a.m. catching up on the Girls' Nights Out we've missed too many of lately. So when I got up after less than five hours' of sleep and my allergies were going crazy, I thought for a few minutes that I had the perfect excuse for missing. And, indeed, when husband called at 6:30 to make sure I was up (he was on patrol this morning), he agreed that I sounded terrible and should probably stay home. The only problem with that was that the kids knew they were supposed to spend the day with their Nana and Grandpa, and I didn't want to devastate them all by changing plans at the last minute.

Once at the police station for the class that was to begin at 8 a.m., I realized that I'd sped through the morning's preparations so rapidly I hadn't even thought about eating. No problem, we'd be done by noon, right? No, I was told, the class would go straight through until about 2:30 p.m. with no meal breaks. Several elderly couples had the foresight to pack igloo coolers with sandwiches and snacks which the rest of us eyed enviously. There were two boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts waiting for us in the training room, and after resisting the temptation for an entire 10 minutes, I caved. The chocolated glazed sin did nothing to assuage my hunger, so I caved again ... and then felt terribly depressed and shaky. Chief showed up minutes later with a large cherry vanilla Diet Dr. Pepper which made me WIRED and shaky. Now, if there's anything you don't want to be when you're armed with a loaded weapon, it's exhausted, wired and shaky. Which is exactly the condition I was in by the time we finally made to the range at 2 this afternoon.

I will spare you the details of my rendezvous with a .25, but our fabulous instructor, Cpl. Kelley Cradduck, signed off on my papers and after parting with $144, yours truly will be licensed by the state of Arkansas to be armed and dangerous. And if that thought scares you, even more frightening should be the thought of the two 80-year-old grandmas I shot with today packing heat ...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Some thoughts on insanity

Since I moved out on my own at the age of 19 (almost 19 years ago!), I have moved ... you guessed it! 19 times! This grand total includes 14 moves before I was married (to college in the fall, back home in the summer, playing musical apartments with friends, etc) and 5 moves since Chief Potter and I married in October 1995. Now, if you do the math, you soon figure that since marrying, I've averaged a move every 2 years. So, it only stands to reason that since we've been dwelling in our present home since April 2003 ... IT'S TIME TO MOVE!

Some time ago, I ran across my text from the abnormal psych class I took my sophomore year of college and decided to see if anyone has labeled or otherwise named/identified this frightening disease with which we both suffer. It took me awhile to find it, but there it was nestled right in there with a whole slew of other obsessive-compulsive (OC) behaviors.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an illness that causes people to have unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and to repeat certain behaviors (compulsions) over and over again. We all have habits and routines in our daily lives, like brushing our teeth before bed. However, people with OCD have patterns of behavior that get in the way of their daily lives.
Most people with OCD know that their obsessions and compulsions make no sense, but they can't ignore or stop them.

Here are my driving obsessions and irrational beliefs:
  1. A move will force me to get rid of all that junk that's been accumulating in the attic and garage since the last move.
  2. A move will force me -- once again -- to turn over a new leaf and start being the organized gal that I know I was really supposed to be.
  3. A larger home will take care of all these clutter problems that threaten my sanity on a daily basis.

And so I surf the MLS listings religiously, weighing the pros of this house against the pros of that one I just adore across town ... all the while, knowing that we need is not so much another move as one of those ruthless guys from that cable show where they pull every blasted thing you own onto your front lawn and start culling through it as the neighbors walk by and chortle. "Get rid of it!" they echo in unison. "Now tell the truth ... are you REALLY ever going to find a use for the thimble collection your Aunt Gertrude left you ... GET RID OF IT!"

Yup, that's what I need. But until the cable network tells me that its boys are on their way, I'll just keep obsessively perusing those real estate listings to make sure the perfect house doesn't get away.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some thoughts on contentment

As I listened to a friend lament the size of her 1,400-square foot home recently and dream out loud about the home she hopes to have after her husband finishes his degree, I thought about the number of times I myself have been less than grateful for the things with which I've been blessed. All it takes is 30 seconds of viewing one of those "Feed the Children" specials to remind me that there are probably hundreds of thousands of women around the world who would trade places with me in a heartbeat.

Now, it's not that we're rich people in a financial sense, but if I look at the overall quality of my life, I cannot help but conclude that I am one of the wealthiest women in America. Here's why:

1. I have a deeply personal, intensely fulfilling relationship with the Creator of the Universe.
2. I'm married to an amazingly wonderful man who treats me like royalty.
3. We have the privilege of parenting three of the sweetest kids God ever created.
4. I have a great extended family that is very supportive and helpful in the sometimes overwhelming task of raising the three munchkins described above.
5. What my list of "best friends" lacks in quantity, it certainly makes up for in quality.
6. We are privileged to worship and serve in one of the best churches in America
7. I have the joy of being a work-at-home-mom, enjoying the often-envied privilege of being both a "career woman" AND a stay-at-home-mommy.

I could go on and on, but those are the main reasons why I can wholeheartedly agree with Paul's words to Timothy in I Timothy 6:6-8: "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that."

Our success in life is not measured by our bank accounts, house size, the number of vehicles we drive, or exotic places we travel. It's measured, ultimately, by our relationships -- first with God, and then with others. When my journey in this life is complete, I may not leave a lot of money to my kids, but I hope that I leave them all they need to be rich in the things that truly matter.