Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sweets from the Past

Today I had breakfast (which turned into lunch) with my sister. As a "birthday gift" she gave me a package of Circus Peanuts because she remembered that I liked them as a kid. I guess my husband liked them too since we ended up splitting the package. I was amused at how memories rushed at me with just one bite of a sugar-y peanut-shaped marshmallow.

One summer Kim and I stayed with good family friends in Minnesota while our parents were moving us from Sioux City to Charles City. We were 9 and 11 years old. This family owned the only grocery store and every day we were allowed to walk down to say "Hi" to Schmitty and to spend a little of our money at the candy sections. The store also boasted a pop machine from which you pulled your bottle out of a column of sodas. Grape was an especial favorite.

I remember those candies: Pixy Sticks, wax lips, Bottle Caps, Bazooka Bubble Gum, candy necklaces, salt water taffy, red hots, root beer barrels, etc. We could walk to the store with a quarter in our pockets and bring back the change.

It's amazing how tastes and flavors can trigger memories. I can't remember ever taking time to think of these vintage candies. Yet now a number of pleasant scenes from childhood remind me what great fun it was to be a kid and to have just a bit of candy in my pocket.

For anyone with a hankering for a particular old-fashioned treat, I found a website which sells many of the candies you ate as a kids. It even seperates the candies by decades.

What candy do you remember?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just a Minute ....

How many times a day do you say, “Just a minute?” Do you say it to your co-workers, children or spouse? And, honestly, how long is that minute? Really? How often do we say, “just a minute” and really mean it?

One day, just for fun, I set the timer on my oven for “1 minute” to see what I could get done in those 60 seconds. I could go back to the laundry room and change loads. I could run upstairs and use the bathroom. I could line up all of the shoes by the door and have time to spare. I could call Time & Temp. to find out how cold it is here in Minnesota. When I put my mind to it, I could stretch that minute pretty thin and get quite a bit done.

On the other hand, if you say, “I’ll be there in a minute” it’s amazing how compressed that time gets. What we intend to happen in 60 seconds or less takes much longer. It might be 5, 10 or even 30 minutes before we finally get where we promised to be. I know people for whom “a minute” is really an imaginary time. It could mean sooner or later. It could mean sometime today, but definitely before tomorrow.

Over the years I’ve found that people have different orientations to time. Some are exact literalists: “You said 5 minutes, but it’s been 7!” Others are generalists: “I’ll be there when I get there.” Personally, I lean towards the literal perspective, but have learned to give myself margins. For example, if I need to be somewhere at 7:00, I aim at 6:45 (and work backwards from that time in figuring how long it will take to get myself and kids out the door). Unfortunately, if I aim at 6:45 and don’t make it, but arrive at 7:05 … then in my mind I’m not 5 minutes late, but 20 minutes late. (As a recovering perfectionist, I’m still a work in progress……)

I’ll be back in a minute to finish this…………

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Playmobil Haven

Over 20 years ago, as we were buying toys for our oldest children, we decided to invest in Playmobil. In our small town, that meant going to a specialty toy store to find various people, animal and vehicle sets. (these were the days before internet.) We now have 3 large Rubbermaid containers filled with a wide variety of Playmobil people and accessories.

We have a sheriff's office, a pirate island, Noah's ark, cars, trucks, and a tree house. We have knights, Victorian children, pirates, a detective, and a clown as part of our entourage. We don't have the large Victorian house, which I've always wanted. Instead, Gramma Grace bought a metal dollhouse like one I had as a child. An excellant substitute!

These little people with all of their trappings (e.g. a bucket of fish, tiny dishes, weapons, etc.) encourage, not inhibit, imaginations. Unlike Army men or Barbies, these toys are attractive to both boys and girls. I had not realized that playing with them at Christmas had risen to "tradition" status until they brought the containers up with the tree decorations. Apparently, the decorated tree is a great prop for the intrigues of this eclectic society of settlers, explorers, warriors and plunderers (did I mention pirates?).

I usually allowed a week of undisturbed play in the living room. (It could go longer in the bedrooms) Many times the Playmobil was augmented with Lincoln Logs, Legoes, Hot Wheels, or Army men with their plastic mountains. I rarely "pretended" along with the kids, but I loved being within earshot of their conversations and make-believing.

Looking back, these toys have been some of our best and wisest purchases. The kids could play for hours; they adjusted their play according to which children were playing and what "civilization" was in vogue. When we studied ancient Rome and Greece, they became parts of dioramas depicting chariot races and temple worship. Though my children have outgrown many computer games, Playmobil still sees a lot of action.

Again, a great investment into the play and imaginations of our children.

Character Counts

Recently, while having coffee with a friend, the topic of developing character qualities came up. I think we would all agree that having a life filled with strong character qualities is a good thing. However, sometimes as parents our approaches and motivations when working with our children lacks the depth and life that I think God intended. As a homeschooler I've come across myriads of books and curriculum for "teaching character." If we're not careful, developing godly qualities in our children becomes a "should" and is about as exciting as a spelling list or dusting the bookshelves.

Our starting point MUST be an understanding of unconditional love. God doesn't adjust His love for us if we become more compassionate, thrifty or punctual. (Parents, learn this well.... we don't want to pass on performance to our sons and daughters!) We don't earn more of His attention or affection if we persevere of are long-suffering.

Let me offer to you 2 good reasons for applying yourself (and your children) to grow in various character qualities:
1. For the sake of others. If we're to share the gospel with others and be a testimony of God's transforming grace, we won't want to be "pills" or a "pain in the butt." If we're irresponsible, sarcastic or untrustworthy others won't give us enough time in their lives to be that shining example of how God truly loves sinners.
2. For the sake of the Kingdom. Though God wouldn't love me more, He can't use me as much if I'm a lazy, mouthy, disrespectful person. Let's say God needs a sensitive, compassionate person for a bit of ministry in my neighborhood. If I've set myself to grow in those areas, I get to be used by God. Or maybe a situation calls for someone who won't give up. If I'm content being a whiny wimp, God may tap someone else on the shoulder for that job.

Positive motivators are much more effective in teaching and training our children. I could purchase a sticker chart, or I could encourage my children's hearts to bless others and to bless God.

Book Report: King Bidgood's in the Bathtub

A favorite book at our house is King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood. Telling the story of a merry King who won't budge from his bath in order to rule his kingdom, this tale features the Queen, a Knight, courtiers and most importantly a young servant boy. Don Wood's illustrations are full, detailed, and as one reviewer wrote, "luscious." The elaborate costumes, extravagant details of fleet and feasts, and the subtle change of light corresponding to the change of time make the book a treat for the eyes. The story progresses lyrically with repetitive phrases like "King Bidgood's in the bathtub and he won't get out! Oh who knows what to do?" and "Come in, cried the King with a yum/trout/jig, etc." The solution for coaxing this King out of his sumptous bath is clever and sweet.

We've read this book over and over. My youngest daughter took it to school to share as her "favorite book." For a while, it was part of our evening routine. Our copy of this book is very well-worn. The paper dust jacket has long disappeared. A little marker, crayon and even nail polish are on the outer hardcovers. Thankfully, the pages don't have that familiar wrinkle from being wet. In other words, no one has bathed with this book.

I've found a variety of lesson plans and activities for teachers and homeschoolers on-line for this book. My children are of the opinion that "lessons" ruin a good book. If you haven't read this delightful little tale, pick it up in the children's section of the library. (I'm rather convinced that you'll want your own copy before too long.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Book Report: The Life of Elizabeth I

Having read 2 other books by Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (a biography) and Lady Elizabeth (fiction), I hurried to the library to pick up another book by this excellent author, The Life of Elizabeth I. This book chronicles Queen Elizabeth's life from her accession day on November 17, 1558 to her death on March 24, 1603. In a day of male royalty and strictly hierarchical societies, "good Queen Bess" was an anomaly to have reigned in England for 45 years to the age of 70.

Ms. Weir, in her author's preface, states that this book is not a political biography nor a social history. "My aim has always been to write a history of Elizabeth's personal life within the framework of her reign, drawing on her own extensive literary remains, as well as those of her contemporaries." Elizabeth's private life was very much a public life; the resulting book weaves the personalities, events, and details into a rich narrative.

Drawing from letters, journals, diaries, pamphlets and other missives of the Elizabethan era, Weir presents us with political and historical persons of complex and fascinating characters. The Queen herself is beguiling, annoying, wise, imprudent, faltering and courageous. With the seeming exception of Lord Burghley (William Cecil) who was her closest and longest advisor, her councillors were mixtures of ambition, devotion, flattery and affection. Though she never marries, she had a court full of especial favorites who often competed for titles, awards and honors. Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex were her most notable.

Reading like a novel, this book engages as well as informs. By knitting together details with personalities, Weir captivates her readers. Although she points out Elizabeth's weaknesses and mistakes, Weir has an obvious fondness for the Queen. As she wrote of her death, I found myself teary at the passing of this most unusual woman. In her epilogue she writes:

"For forty-five years, 'though beset by divers nations,' Elizabeth had given her country peace and stable government-- her greatest gift to her people. During that time, England had risen from an impoverished nation to become one of the greatest powers in Europe. Bolstered by the fame of her seamen, her navy was respected and reared on the high seas, and not for nothing had Elizabeth been lauded as 'the Queen of the Sea, the North Star.' ... The Queen had also brought unity to her people by effecting a religious compromise that has lasted until this day, and making herself an enduring focus for their loyalty. She enjoyed a unique relations ship with her subjects, which was never seen before and has never been seen since. Few queens have ever been so loved." (p. 487)

Many of Elizabeth's contemporaries also spoke of her unusual abilities as the sovereign of a nation. Lord Burghley wrote: "She was the wisest woman that ever was, for she understood the interests and dispositions of all the princes in her time, ans was so perfect in the knowledge of her own realm, that no councillor she had could tell her anything she did not know before."

Thanks to the interpretations and insights of Ms. Weir, my thoughts echo those of Elizabeth's biographer, William Camden, "No oblivion shall ever bury the glory of her name; for her happy and renowned memory still liveth and shall for ever live in the minds of men."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Today's My Birthday!

Every year, 2 weeks after Christmas, I celebrate my birthday. Since it's so close to Christmas and New Year's it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. On the other hand, many years I've been able to combine all the festivities and milk it for all it's worth.

One year, I think I was 10 years old, I had the mumps and had to cancel a big party my mother had planned. Two years in a row my husband forgot my birthday. On the good side, however, I've also had 3 or 4 surprise parties, and I usually have a variety of coffee and lunch dates with friends during my birthday week.

This was a pretty low-key birthday, but it had all of the right ingredients: time with family, special phone, e-mail and Facebook messages, quiet time for myself, great gifts, dinner out, a movie, and a snuggle with the youngest kids.

My husband bought me something special and meaningful this year: an all-cotton blanket and a mug from Gustavus Adolphus College (my alma mater)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christmas Hang-over

While kids and dads enjoyed being home and having a break from school and work, most moms experience this as the most stressful time of the year. Extra cooking, cleansing and shopping push us into over-drive. We go to our children's holiday programs with dark circles under our eyes and headaches because we were up later than usual the night before.

For moms, this can be a very conflicted time of year. We want our families around us; we want to do the extra things to express love to those who are special to us; we want to be creative and unusual as a break from everyday life; we want to establish ongoing traditions that are meaningful.

However, too often we "bite off more than we can chew" and invite stress into our lives. It's hard to objectively make decisions regarding how to focus our energies in the face of expectations from so many directions ... culture, family, church, media, etc.

That's why we feel a little "hung over" this first week of January. We've over-indulged and not our resources are dangerously low. (Also, our bodies are shot from so much "junk" and our homes are often trashed!)

Take some time to recover. Moms, you've gone above and beyond the day-to-day call of duty. Find some quiet time for yourselves in which you can think clearly and gain a fresh perspective on this new year.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Marvelous Family

While I tire of the shallow hoopla at Christmas, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the long break that we all get each year. Our whole culture seems to say, "Lets have some family time."

Having all of my children home was heaven for me. It went by far too quickly. I could have used more days of conversations, meals, laughter, and "chillaxing" with my delightful offspring. We cooked, cleaned, played, opened gifts, and spent time with cousins. Having 9 people share limited space can be a bit challenging, but they only occasionally annoyed one another.

I love who they are and who they are becoming. I get a kick out of their interactions and more grown up relationships. Each child has a great sense of humor and a fascinating personality. I've always strongly felt that if I didn't think my children were the most wonderful people in the world, who else would? And for these kids, it's the absolute truth!

The "true meaning" of Christmas is not family, but Jesus, Son of God & Son of Man. However, the togetherness and closeness of family is a marvelous perk of the holidays!