What the Fire Gave Us – Part 1

                      fire and ice

In a few days it will be the anniversary of a life-changing event for our family. I know I have used the words “life-changing” for things like kitchen tips and parenting ideas, but this was serious drama in the life of a family that avoids serious drama.

It was December 15, 2005, two weeks before Christmas and deep into an ice storm. Our town was coated in thick ice and a branch of our beautiful crabapple tree had fallen on the power line to our house. My husband had to cut it away for us to get out the front door. When it was all clear, we decided to spend our evening at Wal-Mart, where there was power and light, stocking up on what we would need to get through a power outage with only a wood stove for heat and cooking. We left Lydia, our capable twelve-year-old behind because she hadn’t been feeling well and didn’t want to go. I considered leaving my two- year-old there to get some sleep, but we decided we shouldn’t since her caretaker wasn’t feeling great.  I also unknowingly left my cell phone on the kitchen counter. All important decisions that would change everything for all of us.

We stopped by our favorite hibachi place for several trays of food that were all riding in my lap when we turned carefully onto our street. The first thing I noticed was streetlights, on! Figures, I thought, after hours of loading up on supplies, the power was on in record time. Then I noticed the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, ambulances and fire trucks, right near our house. I thought our elderly neighbors must have taken a fall on the ice. Then, a moment later, it was clear. The emergency vehicles are at our house and smoke is coming out of the attic vents of our house. Our house!

We slow to the edge of the road, I shove big trays of hibachi somewhere and run

so cute and so capable – my daughter at 12

awkwardly across the ice to our house. At this point, my husband utters the word my brain has not allowed me to think – the name of our 12-year-old daughter. It isn’t long before we see her with her grandmother, crying by the side of the road. It’s amazing how everything else falls away, even when your house is on fire.

We were then accosted by firemen who were yelling over all the noise, asking us if anyone else was in that house. Our poor neighbors were bothering them to check again and again because there are so many of us. It didn’t seem right to them that only one child was outside of a house that seemed to be overflowing with children. I was yelling back at them, “Will someone just tell me what happened?”

           a lot like this but louder

At this point my main concern was Lydia and whether or not we would be in trouble for leaving her in a house with a wood stove that was still smouldering when we left. We went to my mother’s house nearby for Lydia to tell us and the fire chief what happened. Lydia, slightly distracted by the fact that the fire chief looked like George Clooney, told us how the power had come back on but it all was too bright. The lights were blinding and bluish. Smoke came out of the VCR. She called my phone, only to hear it ring on the counter. She then called her grandmother, who lives just a block away. Grandma came to check things out right away. While she was here, they heard popping noises we later realized were spray paint cans exploding in the garage. After that – yes after!- the smoke alarms started going off. My daughter grabbed the phone and they ran outside.

At this point in the story, the fire chief gets up, very suddenly, and goes into the other room to make a phone call. In my fear, I was sure he had gone to call social services. After all this poor child had been through, it was time to give her away to a nice foster family. I was sure that was what he was doing. That was the closest I came to freaking out the whole time. I was so upset that my mother asked what the phone call was for. He said he had called the guy to tell them it sounded like an electrical fire. We would later find out that the crab apple tree had taken out only part of the line to our house, leaving one line to shoot 220 volts through our house instead of the normal 110. This had caused the fire.

not our house but very close to what it looked like

Two hours later, they let us go in our house. Everything was black and wet.. I only made it a few feet without having to turn around and leave because the fumes were still so bad, even two hours after the fire was out. As badly as I wanted to see my house, I couldn’t take the fumes. I saw enough to know that even though the fire was from only one room of the house, the garage, everything in our house was ruined. A black and brown glaze was on everything like it had all been baked in a kiln. Water dripped from everywhere and the plaster had been pulled away, down to the bricks, in a vigilant search for hidden fire. The room over the garage was where the two-year-old would have been sleeping.

It is amazing the crazy things that go through your mind in a crisis. Earlier in the day, I

      everywhere, on everything

discovered that someone had spilled orange juice and it had run under the frig and made a gooey mess that I was dreading. As I looked into our kitchen I thought, I won’ t have to clean that up now.

So, we go back to my mother’s house and we stay. I try to put all my children to bed on a strange night, in their clothes, in this familiar place. All the hotels are full of people who are without power so we are grateful to have family nearby. The option mentioned to us by the fire chief was our local high school set up as a shelter. Why would I want to add going back to high school to an already terrible night? So grateful to God for family and safety and even for that fact that I didn’t get that call. As bad as coming home to my house surrounded by fire trucks was, no little girl should have to make that call and no one wants to get that call either. When I think of the danger and anxiety of that drive across town, I know God was in the details.

As I lay there that night, I wished I was more familiar with how insurance works. I thought through a million things that would have to be replaced just to get through the week. I wondered where the money would come from. I had a knot in my stomach that would not relax and I couldn’t seem to get warm. My husband had to leave right away to secure the house against people who might try to take advantage of the van-sized hole in the back. We were processing everything apart and alone and it felt so wrong. I’m not sure I ever slept that night.

The morning brought so many wonderful blessings and shows of support that I will need to stop here and leave you wondering, like I was that night. The story of what God did through our trial is too big to add to the story of the trial itself. Look for Part 2 on Friday. I hope it is as uplifting for you as it is for me when I think back on what the fire gave us.

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The Importance of Protein

I take these with me if I go out of town.

We all know that children need sleep, play and food. If you haven’t properly provided these things for your child, their bad behavior is pretty much guaranteed and you need a time-out. When we think of which foods our kids need, we always think of vegetables because they are important. But the experts will tell you fat and protein are key when feeding a growing child. Protein fuels growth and I have found it helps tremendously with mood.

My kids are tired of hearing about protein. If they are having a breakdown, I check for what they have eaten first. Our breakfast here usually consists of Thomas’ bagels. They use soy flour to add protein to a toasty breakfast that contains 10 grams of protein. That is more than eggs and toast. If you add milk, you get about 10 more grams of protein and your child is good to go.

Protein helps regulate blood sugar. This means it will keep them feeling full longer.  A carb-heavy breakfast will vanish too quickly, leaving your child in a blood sugar slump that makes for a cranky kid who is trying to face the most hectic part of their school day.It also helps to balance carbs and protein. Any sugar you allow them will be processed better in a body that has had some protein as well. Below is a chart for protein needs of school-aged children.

the good stuff

Ages 1 to 3 – 1300 calories and 16 grams protein
Ages 4 to 6 – 1800 calories and 24 grams protein
Ages 7 to 10 – 2000 calories and 28 grams protein

Protein awareness is helpful with everyone in the family. I have found it helpful to keep my lips together until I put some food in them. Low blood sugar is an ugly thing. Here, we try not to discuss anything we may be upset about during food prep time. It’s amazing how much the moods will change once the food is consumed and the levels are up. Isaac, 9, is so in tune with his bagel/protein intake that he sees the need for protein all around him. Once, after watching Moses kill the Egyptian on Prince of Egypt, he said, “He needs a bagel.” It warmed my blueberry-bagel-loving heart.

Besides bagels, Thomas’ bagels only by the way, protein is found in meat, fish, rice and beans combos, dairy products, eggs, and legumes. Be aware of how much protein you are offering throughout the day and you will notice the happy level going up as their bellies stay full and their moods improve.

One Thousand Sour Grapes

The Cover of One Thousand Gifts

You can’t get far in Christian circles, especially as a woman, without hearing about Ann Voskamp and her best-selling book One Thousand Gifts. As with most snarky people who criticize things out of jealousy, I have not read this book. I only have read excerpts. I knew right away it wasn’t for me. It is oozing with the kind of perfectionism that I have to run from like an alcoholic from a bar. I can get so caught up in trying to act perfectly and think perfectly and parent perfectly that I forget what else I’m strung out on…grace. The great grace that allows me to fail and get back up. The grace that gives me unconditional love even when I’m a tad jealous of a best-selling writer. I have to stay away from this type of self-help book or it can easily turn into Martha Stewart for my mind. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun dreaming of how I would have written the book.

  • One Thousand Fits – as a mom of six, I’m pretty sure I could write this one and have it published by Christmas.
  • One Thousand Guilts – again, I’m the mother of six.
  • One Thousand Quilts – a book about all the quilts I have sewn, in my spacious sewing room, in my dreams.
  • One Thousand Jilts – a dating book
  • One Thousand Kilts – a very niche book about tartans and plaids. Ok, I’m clearly losing the rhyme.
  • One Thousand Sniffs – a book about crying at the hairdresser. I’m the leading expert in the field.
  • One Thousand Tiffs – a book about girlfriends or the holidays or the workplace? So many ways to go with that one.
  • One Thousand Shifts – a book about how I will have to get a “real job” working at a
    The Cover of One Thousand  Shifts

    Starbucks when the kids are grown.

  • One Thousand Whiffs – a book about how to win at the what’s-that-smell game mothers  have to play so often.
  • One Thousand Sifts – a cookbook to drain every last merchandising dollar from the other books.

To be clear, I’m not making fun of Voskamp or her very personal and successful book. I’m making fun of myself as a woman and a writer. I would love to have something out there that is as beloved as her book. I would love to be looked to as an authority on motherhood or marriage or anything really. It is hard for me to stick to being me, when I see that what appeals to people is so far from what I am. God has called me to be this woman I am now and to continue to grow towards what He has called me to. If that is a book that inspires Sara Groves to write a song (like Voskamp’s) then great. If I never write one thousand pages, then so be it. I  pray that I will be content to be whatever He has planned for me because it is the only perfection I will ever attain, by His grace.

I’m Home and I Brought You Something!

a new favorite

I am home from my great trip away. Now it is time to make up for the time lost around here. Because there is so much to do, I am just going to share a video with you today. I say “just” but this video could improve the quality of your life, like it did for me. I’m behind the curve on music so this music is not new, only new to me. I hope you enjoy Joy Williams and John Paul White, better known as The Civil Wars.

Sweet (Inner) Child of Mine

Me trying to be grown up. My inner child is    still scarred by that kitchen.

The past year has been a very big year for me emotionally. I have learned so much about the things that were holding me back and what I need to do to move on. I wrote this post about trying new things and facing the world as an adult. Everything changes when you stop being a timid child and start taking the place God set you up in as a grown up. Even the little things like how I have stopped buying white underwear. I was buying them out of habit and I don’t like them. I like the solid colored ones so I buy those. And if they have a bow on them, it comes off with the tags. I am not ten any more so bye-bye bows.

That is a silly way that I have started to stand in my place as mother and wife and woman. I have also fussed at my husband for telling me I shouldn’t have french fries so close to dinner. That poor man didn’t know I was coming to grips with my new-found security as a grown woman. He just sat dumbfounded in the McDonald’s drive-thru. In big ways and small ways, growing up has been good. But recently I realized it was getting out of hand.

I was leaving a restaurant, dressed in my church clothes, and walking out to the car where

really big...like this one

my children were waiting. I saw a huge, I mean huge, sycamore leaf start blowing across my path. My reflex was to go after it, grab it up and show it to my kids. The next quick thought was about how silly I would look, as a grown up, chasing that leaf. Thankfully, I had one more thought; I am not that grown up, I’m getting that leaf! It was not the largest leaf I’ve ever seen, nor the prettiest but I just didn’t want to be that person who thinks they are too old or too dignified or too whatever to do the fun thing – the childish thing.

I have always been that person who tells everyone to look at the moon or that tree or those clouds. I have always been a joiner when a game is coming out of the box. When we bought Just Dance 2, I had to make a decision for fun over dignity. There is no dignity in a short, white, amateur woman dancing. So I just laugh as I flail around to a song that is actually saying, “got me lookin’ so crazy right now.” It is funny and true. The kid in me has been winning out for all these years in good ways and bad ways, but I caught myself trying to throw that poor baby out with the bath water. There are things about my inner child that need to stay.

In the Bible, Paul talks about how when he was a child he did childish things but as a man he put away those childish things. He is describing spiritual growth and what must happen for growth to occur. But Jesus tells us that unless we become as children, we will not see the Kingdom. So growing up must be about doing both in some way. We must sort out the childish things that hinder out growth and hold on to the wonder, acceptance and childlike faith of our younger years.

As a mom, it is important for my children to see me still amazed at the world around me, still willing to put fun ahead of formality, and still believing in things that are just too big for me to understand. They may even be less amused by a giant leaf than I am. They could be tired of me showing them the same moon they saw last month, but I believe it is good for them to see that side of me. They have no trouble seeing me as their parent, but can they see that I am God’s child, just like they are, no matter what age I get to be?

It makes me think of an elegant, elderly lady I sat next to in a waiting room one day. We were both reading quietly for several minutes. A little while later, I heard her laugh out loud a little. Then, after a minute, she laughed even longer and louder. Something in her book was funny and she gave in to it. She laughed in the face of decorum and societal norms and I smiled. I wanna be that lady when I grow up.

Texting While Driving

LOL = loss of life

I think we all know the dangers of texting while driving. We have all seen what happens. It gets covered in driver’s ed and in rules with new drivers. My kids seem to grasp the danger and they do not text and drive. The problem I keep running into is adults that text and drive. I hear reports from my kids about their friend’s mom texting while driving. This danger would have never occurred to me until they started tattling on other moms.

I have timidly confronted these moms with the hope that my child was confused about what she saw. But no, the mom will admit it. I get a chuckle and a half-hearted apology with an excuse – the triple threat of someone who really doesn’t care. So, I then have to go parental on them and ask  tell them not to text while driving with my child in the car. I then give my child permission to be that kid who will speak up and say, “My mom would rather you not text and drive with me in the car.” Will they actually do this? Probably not. These things should be left up to adults.

The only other option left to me is to appeal to people in the largest forum I have. Please do not text and drive. It is proven dangerous, even among very frequent and talented texters who think they can handle it. If you don’t care about the people in your car, think about the people driving around you; newborns, newlyweds, beloved grandmothers and adorable toddlers. All this flow of information could wait ten years ago. It can wait now. You do not have to jump at the beep of your phone like a trained animal. It. Can. Wait.

Here is a video made by real people with real stories. If you think you’ve got this texting while driving thing down, watch this, all 10:44 of it. Tell all your friends if you don’t answer them, it means you love them and you are driving. It’s not hard. It is absolutely not hard to stop doing this. Thank you. I’m done now.