Empty Bowls, a Book List, and a Lot of Links

This winter I tried to find different ways to make my children aware of the hungry, homeless, less fortunate, even beggars. Sometimes it is hard to know how much information about the sadness and brokenness of the world I should share with my little guys. Yet I believe that they need to learn compassion and thankfulness, and one of the best way to learn this is to help them see how hard life is for many others.

We read A Single Shard, the story of a homeless orphan in 12th century Korea. The main character spends his days scrounging for scraps of food and longingly watching the master potters in the village. Eventually he persuades one of them to take him on as an apprentice, receiving for his wages a bowl of food every day.

The Family Under the Bridge is another book I highly recommend for children. It is the story of a crusty old hobo who has his own favorite spot to live under the bridge. He has chosen his lifestyle because he likes it, but one day a desperate mother with her little children invades his space. Slowly he starts to thaw and become more kindly to the people around him. Almost against his will, he learns to care about them and does his best to help the mother keep her little family intact. It is a book with humor and grace mixed into the sad bits.

Another book we really like is Star of Light, a story of little beggars shamefully misused by their stepfather. It is a beautiful tale of how they find the love of a Heavenly Father.

I also have a photojournalist’s collection of portraits of titled Precious in His Sight. It is a powerful visual aid… What if I were the little girl selling bananas in the middle of that crush of cars at the intersection? Suppose I was the little farmer boy in Malawi who spends days and days alone, herding the family’s cows so they don’t wander off or get stolen.

ImageA percentage of  the sale of this book goes to Compassion.

And there is yet one more photo journey that I suggest for little children. It is titled Where Children Sleep. It is an expensive book, but I am glad I bought it. We have discussed why it is that some of the poorest little children with only one little car to play with and a bed of filthy blankets on the floor look just as happy in their photos as the children with everything their hearts desire. You can find a lot of the images from the book here.

So, how did this post turn into a book list? I suppose it may be because they are my main tools for instructing my children. 🙂 But aside from books, how do we do something that makes a difference? That is the real question. The boys helped me cut patches out of fabric scraps and sew them into comfort tops for the ladies at church to turn into warm blankets for somebody cold.

I hoped to find a soup kitchen that needs volunteers, but the only local thing I could come up with was a fund raiser called Empty Bowls. This is a grassroots movement to help feed the hungry. Local potters hold workshops where volunteers get to make soup bowls to sell at the supper they host. That immediately caught my attention because of my pottery making dreams. We made pinch pots, starting with a ball of clay that became the base of our soup bowl, then adding coils of clay and smoothing them out to form the sides and rim. It was a lot of fun. We decided we wanted our own bowls back, so we went to the supper and claimed them.

All the food was donated by local restaurants and businesses, the proceeds benefitting our local food pantry. It was a lot of fun, an event I hope to make an annual thing for us. Here are the girls with our bowls.

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So far I don’t feel like I have accomplished much except helping my crew to notice inequity and to want to help. I need more practical ideas. 🙂

Essentials for Parents

When I was expecting our first baby, I got a free subscription to a couple of those baby/parent magazines. Nearly every issue had lists of essentials: Things to Buy Before Baby Comes. They included the obvious, like diapers and wipes, but there were also lists of gear, the best gear for the job. There were clothing lists: 10 onesies, 7 pairs of socks, 14 bibs, 5 blankets, etc.

By the time my fifth child was imminent, I just chucked the magazines into the trash can as soon as they came in the mail. It wasn’t all pish-posh, but most of the advice and current parenting trends just didn’t seem relevant at all to the lady who already had 14 bibs and rarely used them. I didn’t need pacifier sanitizing wash or enormous exercise saucers that would fill all the space in my living room where we usually walk. Please, don’t even get me started on the advice for parents when the child is angry/pitching a fit/making needs known. And those gorgeous pictures of model babies wearing designer clothes…hello! Who spends 70 dollars on a jumper for a 10 month old?

If I were to make a list for the baby mag, it would look more like this:

  • Sense of Humor. You will need it every single day. Just last week, my 2 year old dropped a small deposit out of her undies onto the floor of the library. She is supposed to be potty trained, but still in that stage where squatting down to look at shelves of books tends to complicate things. You simply cannot make up the stuff that happens with small children around. You might as well laugh. I often feel like I live in The Family Circus.  Hey, it is funny!family-circus-0011
  • Grace for the times that aren’t funny. When I feel like shaking and scolding, it is good to remember how graciously I have been dealt with in my failures and idiosyncrasies. Instead of saying, “You LOST YOUR SHOES AGAIN?” I might remember how often the whole crew looks for my lost cell phone. “Okay, sonny, they can’t walk off by themselves. Where did you last wear them?” Did you know grace doesn’t roll eyes at her children, either?
  • Persistence. Parenting is another word for repeating. You know the verses in Isaiah 28:10 where he is talking about teaching knowledge, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” It really is that way. Sometimes it feels like the things I am trying to teach my children are dotted lines, and the children are not connecting the dots. They just never are going to get it. But they do! They grow, they learn, and eventually they get it! It just blesses my soul when my child takes the smaller piece of cake and lets a sibling have the one with more icing surface area.
  • A pen and paper. This comes in really handy when you are having one of those dotted line struggles where you feel like you will never connect. Keep a private journal of the joys as well as of the issues you are facing. One day you will be heartened when you look back at what you wrote and realize that you have indeed passed that milepost.  My mom kept a baby book for each of us, even though she also had a cow to milk and hens to feed and innumerable duties on the farm, not to mention raising 4 kids born in 5 years. We always cherished those books, laughing about our first words, comparing our records to see who walked first, and who hated eating peas, etc. Pen and paper doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has an amazing way of making a child feel celebrated. “Mom noticed me!” A friend of mine makes quick notes on her calendar when something noteworthy happens with the children. You might think you will never forget that hilarious thing the 3 year old said, but it could be gone by supper time if you don’t jot it down.
  • Flexibility, sometimes a complete U-turn. Also known as humility, this is an essential that is sometimes so hard to come by. You can get so invested in winning every battle, being the authority, having the answers, that  you forget all about the little person you are dealing with. We have always had a strict bedtime policy. Once you are in bed, you don’t get out unless you are about to wet the bed, or maybe if the house is on fire. 🙂 It took a bit of training for the toddlers, but they caught on. This last toddler, however, still has not gotten the memo, even though we have been working on this since spring. She comes crying, wanting a drink, a vitamin, a different blanket, a story. It is too dark, too light, she fell out of her toddler bed. For the first few months, we steadfastly clung to our usual training routine, and much as I dislike saying this, it didn’t work. It didn’t work ten times a night. I began praying for enlightenment. Finally we decided that she simply wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep at the usual bedtime, so we let her stay up an extra hour or two. She sits on the couch and looks at books, then we have a little cuddle and off she goes! The little offspring of the bedtime absolutists has taught them a bit about flexibility. I would like to assure you earnest young parents out there that needing to change your mind on an issue is not a sign of weakness. We all need to grow, not just the children.
  • Wisdom. Pray for it. God has promised to give it…liberally! Don’t knuckle under when the problems seem too daunting. I think back to a contrary streak one of my sons went through. To be honest, there were days when I just wanted to give him away, let someone else raise him for a while. I felt so totally unprepared for this task.  One day I was dumping out my questions to God, and He clearly showed me that I needed to first get rid of my own bad attitude. “This is your job. You were given this child because you are supposed to be his parent. Embrace it, even when it is hard. I will give you the wisdom you need.” Things went quite a bit better when I got my own sinful attitude cleansed. Wisdom, I might add, is not a fail proof system that you use to ensure good outcomes. Wisdom is a relationship with the One who knows all the facts and guides the person who seeks to walk His ways.

While not essential in the strictest sense, this list is Frivolous Things Every Parent May Need.

  • Chocolate. Really good chocolate, hidden for quiet moments alone in the bedroom. Just don’t hide it so hard that you can’t remember where you put it when you really need it!
  • Lysol wipes. Children is another word for messes. It is supposed to be that way. The wipes just make a lot of cleanup so much easier. And they smell nice.
  • Audiobooks. Books are gateways out of our little worlds and worries. They help us to soar serenely above the mundane. 🙂 Any parent knows that after you read The Curious Little Kitten, The Biggest Bear, and Fox in Socks for the 40th time, you don’t have an abundance of time to read your own level. (Unless, of course, you barricade yourself in the bathroom and ignore all sounds of disaster outside the door.) This is where audiobooks are so helpful. You can listen to them while you cook, while you drive to the dentist, while you fold laundry. Bonus points go to the audios that capture your children’s attention, too. We are currently on the umpteenth listening of God’s Smuggler.
  • Band aids. Lots of them. They make everything better.
  • Friends. It is nice if some of your friends also have drool on their shoulders and cheerios on the floor of their mini vans. I have been so blessed with beautiful friends who have my back. We do not walk alone, thank God!

I am sure I missed some essentials, especially frivolous essentials. I would love to hear what yours are.

Edit: how in the world did friends get put on the frivolous list? Just so you know, it is in the wrong place up there.

Interior Monologue at Two AM

Smiley Flower Happy!

In the past week I lost at least three blog posts to the shadows of the night, because I was too lazy to get up  needed to sleep. I don’t know why it is that sometimes the writing flows and other times it gets stopped up. Neither do I understand why I think up long, interesting bits about life at 2 AM and then cannot remember more than shreds of it at 7 AM. I should probably do what some bloggers do, give myself a deadline. You can expect a fresh post every Tuesday and Friday morning at seven, sharp. (That was a joke, because where would be the fun in that?)

Last night we went to bed early, and here I am, all chipper and feeling like I already slept enough.

The new family vehicle started hiccuping on us last weekend. Some stabilitrak system or other was kicking on and off without provocation. OH, NO. Service stabilitrak soon. It is a little hard to ignore when the lights flash and blink on the dash. We needed an inspection anyway, but the title transfer wasn’t done yet. So we decided to get a tune up, see what we are up against. Halfway to the garage, a distance of seven miles, I noticed that the warning light was off, the vehicle no longer hiccuping at all. Thank the Lord for large mercies!

Driving a Suburban is a little like navigating a smallish whale, although I have to say, this one is smoother than the old van was, by a long shot. And do you have any idea how much cargo room these guys have? It is amazing.

Gabe convinced me to go to our local outfitter’s store last Saturday when they were having a summer blowout sale. He brought me a helmet when he got off work Friday night and told me to go get a bike to wear with it. Something like that. Again, he was working, so I loaded up the little guys and off we went, bike shopping. I haven’t owned a bike for at least 10 years, although I occasionally took his for a spin. Did you ever ride a men’s bike with a really high bar? In a skirt? Awkward. Whoa, I really hope I don’t have to stop until I get back home to the mounting block.

He had preselected what he thought was the one I would like, so I browsed for “a bike with vine decals and a nice seat, but not a granny seat”. There were two with vine decals. Me being me, I got the cheaper one. Gabe being Gabe, he had the other one in mind, the one with the shock on the front tire. However, I can’t see myself doing extreme trails anytime soon, so this is fine. It is really fun to go buzzing around the back roads with my boys. We have no arrangement for the little girls to ride along, so Gabe and I haven’t biked together yet. All in good time.

I cleaned out my garden this week, all but the fall stuff. I feel cleansed. No more blighted tomatoes and unhappy watermelons. No more weeds on steroids. Just their babies. I can now look out my kitchen window without feeling the failure of neglected plants. And those grapes that we were fondly anticipating? It puzzled me to find that all the ripe ones kept getting neatly picked off their bunches, the green ones left behind by some fastidious critter until they were ripe, when they would also be neatly picked off. I myself ate maybe 5 grapes, total. Rita solemnly insisted that she did not touch the grapes. The thing was, there were no deer tracks. Then the children told me they kept seeing the cats in the grape vine. I suppose for the cats, those 65 dollars we spent to get them spayed is pretty good insurance. (We are now responsible pet owners.)

We took a ride up to the ski slopes last evening, looking out over the vista of mountains to the west, the glorious sunset highlighting  the shapes of scores of windmills in the distance. Gabe thinks they look clean and green. I think they are just a little annoying when I am trying to see the scenery. On our way home we stopped at a local ice cream place where you can get 5 kid cones and 1 medium for $4.25. It was dark and cold and shivery for ice cream eating, but when has a child ever objected to that?

I recently read a thought that impressed me. “When it comes to child training, you decide how you want it, then you make it that way.” (Elisabeth Elliot, who else?) Maybe that is a little overly simplistic, but it is pretty true. When your children are allowed to whine, grab, belch at the table, disobey Mom when they feel like it, and other such socially unacceptable behaviors, it is because you have decided it is too much work to train them otherwise.

We are starting a new initiative this week: The Annual No Complaining About the Food Act. Every so often I notice that my children have fallen into a bad habit of grumbling about what is for dinner. Not everybody dislikes the same food, but with 5 children, there is a good chance that at least one person will not be impressed with the fare. All you need is one person turning up his/her nose for the chorus to begin. “Not beans again! Couldn’t we have spaghetti and meatballs?” Addy: “Have getti and meatballs!” Next meal: “I wish you would make rice instead of quinoa.” Addy: “I wants rice!” Random other child: “No, no, I don’t like rice!”

Mine all like broccoli, by the way, which makes it a bit puzzling when someone chokes about chicken noodle or fried potatoes. Some of them love oatmeal and others prefer eggs, while still others just wish they could have a bagel. And of all things, the kid who hates mayo loves mustard! It sounds like I really have a lot of children, doesn’t it? 😉 I don’t mind preferences. It makes birthday meals fun when you know what they love to eat. But you can’t always have what you prefer. Deal with it. I got tired of displeased sighs at meal time. It’s time to decide how we want it and make it that way.

Last year I purposely made foods they didn’t enjoy until they quit complaining. This year I amped up the stakes. We are having dessert every night this week. Gasp! If you forget and grouse just one time about the food you are served, you get halfsies on dessert. If you grouse more than once, you don’t get any. Fortunately, a jar of peaches counts as dessert for our children. Or a piece of Dove chocolate. Ask Rita how big a half piece of dove chocolate is.

Last night, sort of by accident, I made a total fail of a meal. It was edible, but it wasn’t good. We excused Addy for saying, “It’s yucky.” The rest deserved their ice cream cones.

I just read Code Name Verity, which is actually considered a young adult book, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It made me cry. While I could never be a spy, I love reading spy stories. (I don’t know if it is some housewife thing… me, in my safe little world, reading about the intrigue and unbelievable duplicity of the CIA or Mossad.) I wondered if I could be that brave if I were being interrogated concerning my faith in Jesus and my fellow believers like so many Christians are today.

All right, I will spare you more stream of consciousness and go back to bed.