social justice

Speak Out on Our Immigration Policy

Typically,  I post on my blog once a week. This week, I decided that I could either spend time writing a post or spend my time writing my congressional representatives. I chose the later. I hope you chose to do the same.

It doesn’t take very long to share your thoughts. You don’t need to understand all the details of the immigration debate. You just need to let them know what you are thinking. For me, I don’t want to hear about politics and the historic nature of a specific law when it comes to snatching children from their parents. I am appalled, and I want them to know.

Here is how to find and contact your representatives. I used email, but you can call or use old fashioned snail mail.

House of Representatives:
https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Senate:
https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

President Trump*
https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

It’s worth the time.

* Don’t even get me started on my feeling regarding President Trump’s automatic response to my email. I’m not sure that President Trump’s approach toward’s illegal immigrant fathers is exactly admirable.

 

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marriage

Laughing Is the Best Medicine

bed

In 2013 When our 14 year old son was visiting Kenya and preparing to fly home alone using the unaccompanied minors program, the international terminal at the Nairobi airport burnt down. Jay and I were reading the news late at night on our phones while we lay in bed. When we checked British Airlines to learn of any updates and read the part that mentioned their “luxury lounge,” we lost it. It was one of the best laughs we have ever had. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks and my sides hurt.

Now don’t get me wrong, we were also concerned that this would impact his return flight just a few days later, and we pondered all the possible outcomes. But there is something comforting about getting bad news while you’re in bed. Our harried, frantic lives have been put on hold. It’s just the two of you. It seems like all the stress just melts away and you are just left with the one person who you can conquer the world with. Jay and I have a reputation for laughing in bed. It is not uncommon for the kids to ask us in the morning what we were laughing about the night before. Typically, it is something stupid like the time that I told Jay he smelled nice and then realized it was actually my own hands I had just washed in a new soap. Sometimes it’s really stupid because we are tired and slap happy.

For us,  one of the best times to talk is those moments before sleep takes over. Jay, who is a chipper morning person, know enough than to start a conversation with his wife in the hostile hours of morning light. Getting ready to go to work or while I’m making dinner are also not great times. We chat about how our day went and the practical day-to-day schedules and plans at dinner or in the evening, but bedtime is when we often talk about the hard things or the humorous. I like the later better.

sunset

As a couple, don’t just find the best time for you; make those times. Go beyond the daily need to have communication and reserve those times for the want to have conversations.  Maybe you are both morning people (unnatural as that is) and you enjoy chatting over breakfast. Maybe it’s Saturday morning while the kids sleep-in (teens!) or Tuesday nights while they are at soccer practice. Maybe you take a stroll through your neighborhood twice a week after work or  just sit on your back patio after dinner drinking tea while the kids play in the yard.  Take those moments not to settle the carpool schedule for the week, but to laugh over what happened in the office kitchen. Reminisce about your first date and plan that vacation you’re going to take when your house is finally paid off. Laugh at each other good-naturedly. Dream. Look for the humor in that disaster of a work day, or in the not so stellar parent teacher conference you just had. (True story: This year, I knew the end of the year conference wasn’t going to be all about how superb a student our child was, so Jay and I created bingo cards with key phrases we rightly anticipated hearing and distributed them to the teachers at the start of the conference.) Sometimes the humor is hiding in the chaos just waiting to be discovered. Trust me, it’s worth searching for.

Being a couple who makes laughter a habit adds a protective layer over your relationship during the hard times. Trust me, I know.  Maybe it’s true that the family that prays together stays together, but the couple who can literally grin and bear are more likely to get through those hard times with an honest smile on their faces.

Who wants their marriage to just survive when it can thrive?

 

 

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book review, Christian

Inspired: A Book Review

Inspired: Slaying Dragons, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
By Rachel Held Evans
Some of us were just born to be doubters. I think I was one of them. I grew up loving school and learning. Conversations around the dinner table in my home covered a wide range of topics. As I began to learn more about the world I was living in, I began to get more and more confused and perhaps a tad cynical. I had trouble rectifying seemingly different pieces of information. The older I grew and the broader my horizons expanded, the greater the struggle became. This was particularly true of religion.
My faith journey took some unlikely twists and turns. I started life at a mainline protestant denomination, was “born again” at 14, then converting to Roman Catholic before it was cool. From there I switch to a major non-denominational church which for all intents and purposes is a denomination. Each church brought with it it’s own traditions, theological views, and politics. My views and place within the church have flip flopped more than the stereotypical politician.
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As Rachel Held Evans shared her personal faith journey, I felt understood. Our journeys did not started in the same place nor have they landed us to the same place, but there is communion in knowing that other people have wondered, doubted, struggled, questioned,  cried out, and changed their mind just like you.
Inspired was a well written book about a faith journey that I can relate to. From her views on the more challenging passages of scripture to her finding her place in the larger church body, Rachel Held Evans is authentic and raw. For those of us who have wrestled with these hard questions and have sometimes felt like outsiders in our own churches, this is a refreshing book that helps you see that you are not alone. While in the end, I might have come to different theological conclusions than Mrs. Evans, as I worked through my understanding of some verses of scriptures she mentions, I still appreciated reading about how she reached her conclusions.
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I didn’t read this like a theology book, but rather as it was intended, a story of stories in which I as the reader was invited to join a fellow believer and walk alongside them in their story. From that perspective the book was excellent, thought provoking, and inspiring. For more conservative Christian readers, I encourage you to read her book with an open mind in regards to how we as a church answer the hard questions. Sometimes in refusing to read an author whose theology is different from our own, we can miss out on being sharpened. Growing in our faith sometimes requires us to dig deeper, listen to the other side of an argument, and ask God to reveal to us our own blind spots. I think this book can be just that for a more conservative audience. I am better for having read this.
*I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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elder care, family, Gangrene Gables

A Fitting Departure

The funeral home people had arrived. They came in their suits with solemn faces. They made their condolences. Mom’s bedroom was in the back of the house. As a single story, two-bedroom home, there just wasn’t any place to go to shelter us from what they would be doing to remove Mom from her home. We had been through so much these months, it seemed as if we could handle just about anything, but seeing Mom leave in a body bag might just put me over the edge. Having no other choice, my siblings and I settled in the second bedroom/den just across from Mom’s room.

There hadn’t been many awkward or silent moments between the three of us over the course of these months, but this was one. We talked in whispers, as if we didn’t want to interrupt something sacred happening. We sat and waited. We heard the gurney moving, and from the corner of our eyes we saw it make the turn into the hallway just outside the den door. Just as it passed our view, bam! We shot each other a quick glance and stifled a giggle. The small commotion in the hallway and the whispered conversation between the two morticians indicated that one end of the gurney had collapsed. Obviously frustrated and trying to maintain a professional appearance in front of a grieving family, they did their best to quietly rectify the situation and complete their task.

Once they had managed to move Mom out of the house, a feat of engineering considering the sharp turns they were forced to maneuver, we moved ourselves to the kitchen to begin our discussions on notifying family. We didn’t want to call too early or wait too long. How would we break the news? Eric suggested that we start off the conversation saying that Mom’s legs were looking really good now. That’s when I lost it. Hysterical laughter. I crossed my legs. I’d pushed three kids out of this over-40 body, and I hadn’t used the bathroom since I went to bed, despite being awake since 3am. Too late. It began as a trickle, but my cross-legged penguin run for the bathroom left a trail of pee on the floor. Yes, just when my brother and sister thought they were done cleaning up someone else’s bodily fluids, I had peed all over Mom’s floor from kitchen to bath.

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Great, now I am laughing and crying and soaking wet. Hurrying next door to change would be an event that I would always be thankful for, because it was in returning to Mom’s house a few minutes later that we were all given the most amazing gift of laughter. The gurney, that just a little while before couldn’t stay up, now would not collapse. In a normal situation the legs of the gurney fold under as it is pushed into the back of a hearse allowing it to roll on a second set of wheels. This gurney was having none of that. This gurney was standing erect.

SLAM! BANG! SLAM! SLAM!

Maybe back up a little further and push a little harder.

SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!

Tears! I’m on the ramp leading to Mom’s back door looking on in morbid fascination. I’d be peeing myself for sure if I hadn’t just emptied my bladder all over mom’s house. I stopped on the ramp that led up to the back door of Mom’s house. I desperately wanted to take a video of this. It’s hysterical. Is that too tacky? Is it wrong to take a video of your mother in a body bag, hours after her passing, as two mortified morticians desperately try to get her stubborn old body into a hearse? I reluctantly opt out of videoing it. I rushed in and grabbed my siblings. We race to the front bay window for a better view. We are all hysterical. This is such a Wagg ending to Mom’s life. The gurney finally gave way.

I am now providing my siblings with the dramatic retelling of the earlier portions of the story. “It was the funniest thing. EVER!” The voice behind me disagrees.

“No, it wasn’t. It was terrible, and we are incredibly sorry and embarrassed.”

The funeral director couldn’t be convinced that this was the most fitting ending we could have imagined. She was extremely apologetic, and her young partner did not even return inside the house. She took her leave like a walk of shame. Once she left, we burst back into laughter. That would last for much of the morning, and was topped off when Eric returned holding the card they left on Mom’s bed.

“Please accept our sincere sympathy. As we take your loved one into our care, take comfort in knowing that we will treat them as if they were a member of our family. We appreciate the sacred trust you have placed in us.”
“Sensitivity  Sincerity   Support   Service”

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elder care, family, Gangrene Gables

Snake in the Freezer

As a homeschool mom for many years, I can appreciate the hoarding mentality. I truly can. I have a pretty eclectic collection of items that might one day be useful. As a classroom teacher, I have narrowed down my collection, but I still have a miniature steam engine, a plastic brain, enough feather pens to teach a small class, and petrified log. Finding animals on nature walks fascinates me, and I have been known to gather my class around a long dead possum to get a better look at the teeth and bone structure. I am not particularly squeamish when it comes to such things. Personally, I would rather find a dead possum than a live one.

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Mom shared some of my appreciation for natural discoveries. Mom took it a little far. See, growing up there were pet animals and food animals. Dog-pet. Pig-food. We raised a handful of animals, and Dad believed in keeping them separate. He made an exception and let my sister keep an old rooster for a pet (Rodney), and after much arguing, I was able to convince him to allow me a pet rabbit, which Dad had firmly on the side of food. Despite the disagreement over the rabbit, I felt Dad had a pretty good idea here. I’ve no intention of eating a dog, and I prefer to keep rabbits out of my freezer. Similarly, I believe in keeping my freezer free of any animal that is not going to be dinner. I felt that way about purchasing mice to feed to my son’s pet snake, and I continue to feel this way.

Mom enjoyed sharing her love of nature with her grandkids. On her last fated trip to Vermont, in between hacking up a lung and reading a book sporting a medical mask, Mom discovered a 15-inch garter snake that had recently gone to be with Jesus. Most people would probably shriek and run off, some would stop and look for a moment in fascination, but the truly dedicated nature enthusiast would wrap that sucker up in Saran Wrap ™, place it in a grocery bag, and freeze it next to a few berries and a pint of ice cream. Then, they would transport it 5 hours home in a cooler amongst left over pasta and an open quart of milk to ensure their grandkids the opportunity to observe said snake. Sure, a less dedicated grandparent might take some close up photographs, but really, that’s just lame. Mom was no lame grandmother. That snake, slightly defrosted from its journey along the Appalachian Trail, went right back in the freezer in Mom’s kitchen awaiting the perfect summer day, to be thawed out and delight her favorite people in the world.
Sadly, Sidney Slitherpuss never got his cryogenically frozen day in the sun. Instead, he met with an unsuspecting man going about the mundane job of cleaning out his mother’s freezer. The events went something like this:

Eric(thinking): I wonder what could be in this bag. Let me just peek insid
<Stares into bag only to encounter a snake staring back. Drops bag on floor with less than gracious hospitality and emits high pitched squeal.>

Eric: WHAT THE HECK IS THAT! WHY IS THERE A SNAKE IN THE FREEZER?

<Mom, hearing the commotion from the other room, chuckles to herself. This was not what she intended for her scaly friend, but scaring the beejeebus out of her only son was a pleasant perk. >
Mom: Oh, you found the snake. I brought him home from Vermont to show Barbara’s kids.

Not at all amused by this turn of events, Eric discards the snake in the trashcan outside, without so much as sharing this joy with his niece and nephews. Shockingly, he didn’t even feel guilty about it. Savage.

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family, parenting teens, Proverbs 31

Her Teens Rise Up and Call Her #Blessed

I don’t want to brag, but I have totally nailed this part of Proverbs 31. Seriously, I have 3 teenagers under my roof right now, two of whom are adults. I cannot even tell you what a privilege it is to have the collective wisdom of their 53 years to guide me through the day. My children never fail to remind me how blessed I am. For instance, last night I parked the car badly, and I just handed the keys to my 19 year old so he could park the car better. #blessed

When I am relaxing in the living room while my child washes dishes loudly (read: grumbling), his once a week contribution to family life (read: conscription), I am reminded how blessed I am to have servants who do everything for me. #blessed

When my child asks me to send her to a training school instead of college, and I question the marketability of the career and wether this program is the best path for her intended goal, I am reminded of how much money she is saving us. #blessed

kids wedding

Okay, so maybe my kids aren’t rising up and calling me blessed at this point in life, but you know what?  Some day I think they will. Some day, they will find themselves in need of help, and that dumb old Mom who couldn’t figure out how to use her cell phone will be just one phone call away (assuming I  remember how to answer it.) And some day they will be running households of their own, and they will repeat the same cycle we all did. We all gradually realized that our parents did so much more for us than we ever imagined. And maybe our kids will call us while their two year old is throwing a tantrum and say, “Mom, I’m sorry I was such a pain as a kid. This parenting gig is hard.” And our hearts will melt because we remember the day we said that same thing to our moms.  One one day they will care for us in our old age, and we will know what they think now. We are blessed to have them.

And in the meantime, this having teenagers isn’t so bad. The other day, my newly declared vegetarian told me how amazing I was for making her a bean burger from scratch, even though she didn’t think it was all that great. My college boy and I exchange hilarious memes via text message that help me not miss him while he’s gone. My high schooler isn’t ashamed to hug me in the hallway at school, even in front of his friends. I don’t even care if it’s just to show off the fact that he towers 8 inches above me. Some days parenting can be tense and frustrating, Yet other times you sit together at the dinner table and have great talks about life, or you laugh hysterically at a school play and then go out for celebratory ice cream with your not so tiny actor.

My nest is emptying out, and that is beautiful and terrible all at once. The days are long, but the years are short. So sure, my kids aren’t rising up to call me #blessed, but I know I am. I am blessed because of them.

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family, food, travel

How to Plan a Road Trip

Step 1: Determine the length of your trip.

How many days will you have? Do you have a week? Two weeks? Consider whatever length of time your spouse gives you as starting point for a negotiation. One week. Well that’s really 9 days because you can add a weekend on each end? Can you tie a two week vacation into a holiday and make it 16 or 17 days? Sure you can.*

travel map

Step 2: Determine how far away your husband is willing to travel.

galcier national park

This may vary based on where he most wants to go. If he wants to go to the Rocky Mountains, you can entice him with a week in their majestic splendor.* You are not likely to convince him that he wants to spend his vacation shopping for antiques at flea markets in Vermont. Start with the main prize.
Step 3: Book non-refundable accommodations.

These accommodations should be for the main event at the furthest location from home. Give yourself adequate travel time to and from the location based on your new expanded vacation days. You want enough time to “explore” along the journey. Once you book the main event, you have an insurance plan. You are definitely going on vacation.

Step 4: Research things that are “Close by” or “On the way.”

Close is a relative term. For example, we live in NJ, so Houston is “close” to New Orleans in comparison to New Jersey.* And “On the way,” means more the general direction. Of course one must go a little off the beaten path to find some of our nation’s greatest treasures. One cannot simply drive to one’s destination. This is a road trip. Research oddities like Foamhenge in Virginia*, The Lunar Lander Exhibit in Mississippi**, and the Buffalo Museum in North Dakota,* all things one can swing by as short pit stops to break up the monotony of a long drive. Other locations like say, the time we visited Yellowstone on our way to our “real vacation” might take a little longer to explore.*  Keep these ideas secret until you have gathered many options, mapped out your trip, and determined the realistic cost of such items. Check hours of operation and compare them carefully to your own travel dates and times. No one wants to get all the way to the Forbidden Gardens in Katy, Texas only to find out that you can’t see the recreated Terra Cotta Warriors because they aren’t open on Mondays. You can however sometimes call and arrange for a private tour of some places because how could you miss a room size model of the Forbidden City when you were just studying Ancient China in school?*

foamhengebuffaloforbidden gardens

Step 5: Stick to a budget that you will end up exceeding while on vacation.

With your research in hand and a budget to live by, start picking and choosing from your list. How cheap will your motels will be? What restaurants are in the area? You aren’t going to want to skip BBQ in Memphis* or The Parthenon in Nashville.* Sure, you might end up staying in some sketchy places to make that happen, but you didn’t come to enjoy the splendors of every hotel chain in America. And honestly if you have to ask, “Do you think the building is on fire?” because the room is sweltering, you have just made memories.* Spend your money on food and activities and keep your luggage off the floor so you reduce the risk of bringing home bedbugs.

parthenon.jpghotel

Step 6: Sell your plan.

llamasYou can’t sell it all at once. Know where you want to stop and when. Start with booking those accommodations. (Again, I recommend non-refundable because they are cheaper, and you want to make sure your husband can’t back out once hear hears the rest of your crazy scheme.) Then, with your map and ideas in hand, begin singing the praises of hiking with llamas in the hills of Massachusetts* or scaling Cadillac Mountain in Maine because it’s the highest point in all of North America along the Atlantic seaboard.* How could you possibly not stop by the home of Uncle Remus in Georgia, considering you still have the Disney record from your childhood?* Exclaim, “It’s just a little bit out of the way!” And know your audience. Sure, driving 3 hours out of our way to see the bats fly out from under the Congress Street Bridge in Austin isn’t going to appeal to my husband the way it does to me, but letting him know that nearby is world famous Stubb’s BBQ (with live country music) just might tip the scales.* “World Famous” is a phrase I tack on to many places I am interested in seeing. Having extra ideas that are lame in comparison to the ones you really want to do provides your family with a sense that they are participating in the voting process.

pit stop 2wisconsin

austinalabamaimg_2164.jpgmemphis

Step 7: Create a detailed itinerary

This should include the length of each leg of driving, accommodation information (confirmation number, address and phone- trust me on this!), activity information (hours of operation, admission price- again, learn from my errors!), and the best options for restaurants. Give yourself ample time for late starts, traffic, and children who might vomit in the backseat.* Submit the plan for “approval.” This might be where you book dinner reservations and discover that the weekend you’re at the Culinary Institute of America is actually their spring break and every restaurant is closed.* Are you going to “hop over the border” into Canada while visiting Maine?* Think about passports and making sure you call your bank so they don’t shut off your debit card just as you’re about to fill your tank of gas.*

Step 8: Enjoy your trip, but expect the unexpected

Itinerary in hand, set out on your grand adventure. Sometimes along the way, you will find out that you are only a few minutes away from a good friend who moved to Florida, and you’ll meet up with him at a gas station parking lot for a few minutes.* You might discover that hotel reservations that you absolutely booked and gave a credit card number for never went through and and now you are standing by Old Faithful booking a room in Montana in the opposite direction of Grand Teton National Park where you are headed the next morning.* Be flexible and think on your feet. Sobbing in the middle of a visitor’s center because the hours of operation changed, and they are closing and won’t let you in, might just get you into Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas for free, even if it’s only for a few minutes.* Sometimes severe weather or other disasters impacts your plans (like tornados,* hail*, the road melting due to abnormal geothermal conditions*, or fire alarms in the middle of the night*). You will need to call an audible. Go with the flow.

pit stophotel fire

Step 9: Avoid Chain Restaurants

bear scat

It’s almost impossible to avoid eating at chain restaurants, especially fast food places, as you spend hours on the highway. But whenever, possible go local. Why stop at Starbucks when you can stop at Bearscat Bakery (Bismarck, ND) and eat bear scat donuts?* Why eat at Applebees when you can eat at the Wildhorse Saloon (Nashville) with free country line dancing classes.* You’re only going to be here for a little while. Don’t waste your time on restaurants that you can eat at 5 minutes from home.

Step 9: Let it go!

golden palace

Towards the end of the trip, it is possible that your family’s patience and love of being with one another will dwindle. You might need to let go of your hopes of touring Abilene, Kansas because no one else cares that that’s where the Chisholm Trail ended* or skipping St. Louis, MO because they prefer a day of rest before heading home.* You might need to drive straight through West Virginia without even seeing the Palace of Gold, but know you are going to have another road trip later, and you’ll see it then.*


*True Story

**Sadly, we missed the exit for this as we drove through Mississippi, and now we HAVE to go back to Mississippi because how can you actually call that visiting the state?

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