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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Goin' To the Movies--On a Week Day?!?

Guess who actually went to the movies before the show hit the cheap joint second-run theatres?!
Yes, me.
And, during the week no less!

Actually, I took my Girl Scout troop to see Soul Surfer after school today.
We meet twice a month and I adjust my work schedule to leave a little early those days for our meetings.
But, today, I just felt like I was playin' hookie or something. When do I ever go to the movies?

Actually, I needed this. A couple relaxing hours without my Blackberry and no one demanding asking anything of me. It's been a stressful three weeks.

Here's my review:
This is the true story of Bethany Hamilton and her come-back after a shark attack that took her left arm.
It was really a great movie to see with my Girl Scouts. I'm not saying it was the most compelling acting I've ever seen, but the message in the movie was great for this age group.

(I admit I was a little distracted by how much Helen Hunt had aged since I'd seen her last. I almost didn't recognize her. Not that she looked bad--she's still beautiful. She's just an older version.)

The movie is good material for mom-daughter discussions about what's important in life, faith, attitude, courage, how to treat others and trying your best. Bethany is a way-better role model than that Miley Cyrus.

BabyD declared the movie "great". One of my Scouts announced, "This is in the top 3 movies I've ever seen." (How's that review from a 13-year-old when the show has no vampires?)

The shark attack scene happened very quickly, and with only minimal gore if you have a weak stomach. Not too icky at all.

If you have a teen or pre-teen in your house/life, I'd recommend it.

Now, here's my editorial on the TOTAL RIP-OFF prices at the concession counter:

Explain to me how 3 slurpees, 2 popcorn tubs (yeah, large), a water, a Sprite and 2 boxes of M&Ms can cost as much as the nice Italian dinner for four we had for our anniversary last night?!?!?! (Granted, we didn't order any alcohol at the restaurant. But, I had to save my money for the comparably priced fruity shaved-ice drink at the movie theatre!!!!)

And, I'm not even including the cost of the tickets... Which were matinee-priced, but still ridiculously high.
No wonder people sneak snacks into the theatre. I should've recieved free M&Ms with what I paid!
(Please note:  I did NOT sneek candy in on this trip, as I did not want to set a bad example for the impressionable youth accompanying me. Can you hear the choir of angels behind me praising my virtues?)

I'm betting the profits of one Regal Cinema on a busy opening weekend of a hit show could rival the gross national product of a small Pacific island nation.
Want a way to fund education? Replace the gym with a movie theater. At the goin' rate, they could replace yellow buses with stretch limos.

And that's my commentary on going to the movies.
I say wait until it's out on video, but watch Soul Surfer with your favorite kid.
And pop your own corn.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Treasures: Eggs, Candy, and Mushrooms

Happy Easter to all.
It's really about supper time, but NO ONE in our house is hungry... not that anyone could expect more than left-over ham and mashed potatoes. (I'm hoarding what's left of the green bean casserole to myself... disguised in the opaque storage container in the bottom of the fridge that my lazy family will never see... Admit it:  You do that, too. Don't you? But I digress...)

Easter really started yesterday when my brother, his wife (aka Stalker-In-Law, as in blog stalker who won't make a profile and comment---I'm calling her out right now!) and their two wild daughters came down and stayed over.

My SIL took pity on my holiday table woes that I posted about last week and surprised me with a beautiful center piece that she made, and I'll be enjoying for weeks to come. Check it out...

After a kid-friendly movie last night, my daughters, who are 11 and 13, each got a cousin roommate for the night, ages 5 and 6. We all couldn't fit in one vehicle, so I got a report on the "sleepover" on the way to church. I think it's so funny that my kids don't see themselves at all in their cousins. LittleD and BabyD have no clue that they talk as much as their little cousins. My girls marvelled at the quiet in our car. Ha! That's a couple of pots calling the kettles black!

All the girls got plenty sugared-up when Grandma and Grandpa showed up with chocolate bunnies for all and the Favored Aunt arrived with, no kiddin', 8 packages of Peeps for the girls!

The indoor egg hunt only added to the hyperactivity. While the weather cleared up in the afternoon, we opted to hide eggs in the house to avoid turning the girls into green monsters from the soggy grass clippings that coated the yard.
As you can see, with guys hiding eggs, the obvious isn't always the first choice of hiding places...

Mom, Dad and one of my sisters came for lunch. The discussion turned to morel mushrooms--the much-storied fungi that many Hoosiers and other Midwesterners seek out each spring. Sister had scored quite a load on some recent expeditions and had brought them along for Mom to cook up later, since Sis refuses to allow fungus to pass her lips.

Now, I have to admit, I've known my fair share of passionate morel hunters and I guess I just don't get it. I enjoy a good shroom as much as the next guy. But I've never been driven to forage for my food. Nor have I been willing to risk my liver by eating something that I'm not quite totally sure wouldn't poison my family and me. I really haven't ever known what to look for.

When questioning my sister's knowledge of what she's looking for she went on to describe the rights and wrongs of mushroom hunting and the value of seeking out these precious morsels that are pulling down more than $60 a pound from the die-hards who are seeking their fill via eBay. The Husband said he just ran over some in the yard yesterday that sounded just like that. A bunch of them, in fact. Only bigger.
Yeah, right.

So, he high-tailed it out of the house and came back with a fist-sized specimen that had survived the mower only because of its close proximity to a tree.
That was it, Sister said. Only a lot bigger.
While the one she was gathering were the size of a pinkie finger, this one was the size of your fist.

Dinner was winding down, so most of the family changed into jeans and  boots and headed outside to take a look and get a lesson on morel mushroom hunting.

We struck gold. I had no idea these things were growing so close to our house.

It was a bit like a "Where's Waldo?" hunt... Can you spot the mushroom?

We did a lot of picking through the brambles and the undergrowth.
I was grateful it wasn't snake season...

The soggy morning didn't exactly turn sunny, but we did have some fun in the (relatively) warm weather and fresh air that had finally dried out a bit.
Even my brother scored some shrooms. (Note:  He's going to sue me for not getting a signed photo release consent before this post...)
With a little stomping and pushing aside some foliage along our wood line, we ended up with nearly two pounds of morels!
Now, I'm looking for cooking tips and recipes. We found two types--the tall spongy-looking Christmas trees and the "snake heads" (which I guess is the more family-friendly name for this variety).
Please share if you have any.
I'm working up the nerve to cook them, as I squelch the thought that I could poison my kids if my sister mis-identified anything.
In that case, instead of recipes, I'll be looking for a new liver.
Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do you decorate for holidays?

I know lady in my town, Pat, who goes all-out for holidays. She decorates for everything--Easter, St. Patrick's Day, Halloween, all of them. And by decorate, I mean does a complete accessory remodel of her home.

From the front porch to the bathroom, every inch of her house and every flat surface is covered with something "festive". You can't set a glass of tea down because of the ceramic eggs, plastic bunnies and silk flowers this time of year. And it's like this for every season!
Whenever I've graced her home, I get totally distracted by one, single thought:
Where does she store all this stuff???

Anyway, now Easter is just around the corner and the family will be gathering at my house for a big ol' ham. (With apologies to all you sheep producers out there, I must say I detest lamb--and ain't no amount of mint jelly is going to cover that up!) As I did one final cupboard inventory today, to avoid going to the grocery store on a Friday before a holiday, I started thinking about how to doll-up my table.

I saw a Better Homes and Gardens piece with Easter table decorating ideas. So, once again, I'm feeling like a holiday hostess failure.

Yeah, I'll get out one of my good table clothes, and the gold-trimmed china my mother-in-law gave me. But I really don't know what to do beyond that. I saw a really fancy dessert I was thinking of serving, but it seems out-of-place on my plain old table and my non-festive family.

The fact that my family doesn't appreciate such things--or the effort behind it--makes me feel like I live amongst wolves. I'm sure the girls will dress up for Easter Sunday at church. They'll look lovely sitting beside The Husband in his good jeans, I'm sure.

Am I the only one with a husband who thinks anything beyond the usual is silly?
I think we're living at the intersection of boring and why bother.

But, that's okay, I guess. The important thing is we'll have a fun time watching the daughters and the nieces run around the yard (weather-permitting) searching for eggs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Charitable Giving: We Need A New Model--My Final Revelation

I've know I've been droning on all week about the trip the girls and I took for spring break to do a mission trip to the Appalachian region. I've been trying to stay positive about the whole thing, but one issue has been nagging at me and is so close to spoiling the whole experience for me: Where we truly helping people, or just enabling them in their circumstances? This thought came to me as a one-two punch during the trip. The first time was when we went to build some front steps on the house trailers of two different families. The father/husband for Family A was grateful someone came out to take measurements and offer to help. Actually, his response was to tell our team that if someone could loan him the tools and help him locate the materials, he could do it himself. The main thing was: He didn't have access to a power saw or drill or any other equipment to help him accomplish the task. And, ultimately, he ended up taking a set of stairs we "rescued" from another site where the trailer had burned and installed them himself, with a little help. Contrast that to Family B, where we built a set of stairs for a man who was recently released from prison and was still unemployed. I was struck by this fellow (who was quite a bit younger than me or my fellow adults!). He had an able-bodied (drop out) teenage son living with him, neither of which didn't bother to come outside to tell us where we could plug in the drill. They came and went to the store, while we were working, without a word to any us. (I, personally, would've been curious enough to ask, "why are you doing this?" or "where are you from?" or something. After all, how often do you get 8 people showing up on your doorstep--or lack thereof--in 40-degree rainy weather to build you some steps?) When we were nearly done, one of our team knocked on the door to tell the guy the steps were done except for the hand rail we'd be back to install the next day. His response, as he poked his head out the door? "Okay. Cool." Door shut. That was it. Like we were interrupting his Dr. Phil-viewing or something. It just struck me as odd. Then, I had my second realization. That came on Thursday night, when we went to the local rec center to get pizza and do a little bowling. The facility was quite nice--the building had a weight/work out room, about 8 bowling lanes, pool tables, air hock, arcade machines, etc. As it turns out, the local Baptist church runs the center as an outreach ministry. Because there is so little for area residents to do for entertainment locally (especially teens), the church offers this option for all comers. Just pay for your pizza and shoe rental to bowl. We met the minister of the church, who was bowling. "Are you the Habitat group in town this week?" he asked us. No, we explained who we were--one of two teams in the county for our organization. "I heard Habitat was in town, but haven't seen them yet. See those folks over there?" he said, motioning toward a table of older adults in the dining area. "They came in today to set up for a twice-a-year dental clinic. We're praying for good weather on Saturday, because we'll have 200 people lined up outside the gymnasium before we open. These retired dentists come in from three states every April and October to do the clinic." That's when it hit me: Is the whole economy of this area based on groups of people, just like us, who come in and spend money locally to help people who are in a bad economic state? Are we helping these people with a hand-up or a hand-out? Have we, in our efforts, simply slapped a Band-Aid on a gushing chest wound? We did a few tasks--none of which were particularly complicated--for some people, but did we really help make their lives better? After all, the Trailer Guy had a pile of concrete blocks in the spot for his steps. They just weren't piled high enough or in a stable way to make for a safe stairway. Did we really help HIM? Or was he there to make US feel better about OURSELVES for being helpful? It just got me thinking about whether, with an entire industry of mission/outreach organizations swooping into this region to help people, if the system is actually a disincentive to the locals to strive for better lives. I don't want to paint this picture with such a broad brush that I condemn everyone in this region, but I felt like I had an Ah-Ha moment right then and there. From the attitudes of some of the folks we encountered, I have to admit, the sense of entitlement came through loud and clear. And not just from the Trailer Guy. We had a few glimpses of that attitude from others. (Fortunately, the girls on the mission trip weren't picking up on this at all. It was more of an issue for us jaded adults. And we've tried not to taint the experience for the kids.) Still, I wonder: If the charity wasn't coming right to your doorstep--literally--to do it all for you, wouldn't you be more motivated to do it yourself? Or seek out the help/skills/resources/training/something to do more than smoke cigarettes and eat Cheetos in front of the TV set all day? (Saw that, too.) I think it's time for a new model here. I really like the program Habitat for Humanity puts forth, because they make sure their home owners take classes to learn the skills for maintaining a home (basic care and finances, etc.), as well as expecting these folks to make an investment in the project through their own sweat equity. To me, that's doing more than just giving a hand out. It's bestowing something I think might be just, if not more, important: Education, confidence and skills. I'm trying to resolve the feelings I have for this trip, in retrospect. I think it was a great, great thing for my kids to do. I just wonder about the next time: Can we find another model that can make a true impact on the people? And that's the way I see it. Like it or not.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Busy, Busy Week

All the laundry is done. I still need to put it away and stow the sleeping bags, but life is starting to get back to normal after a week away in the Appalachian Mountain region of Kentucky.

LittleD, BabyD and I ventured out with a group of girls who attend their middle school and five other grownups for a week of service to the people who live in one of the nation's poorest counties.

I have much to say about what we did and saw.

The girls may add their 2 cents along the way.

But, having survived my first mission trip, I must say I have a new appreciation for how blessed my life really is.

Lots of Work To Be Done

Our hosts had quite a few work projects lined up before we arrived. A couple fell through for various reasons, so we just shifted our efforts to what we could do. Here's a look at how our To Do List ended up for the week:

  • Slather 20 gallons of white wall primer on interior concrete block walls of a newly constructed church

  • Paint said classroom and office walls, brown, green, blue and peach

  • Construct wooden steps for a tired, but still in-use, house trailer perched on the side of a hill (that had a leaking septic system in the vicinity of the front door)

  • Clear nails, glass, metal and debris from the approach to a deck and stairs that remained from a trailer that had been burned out, so they could be moved to another site

  • Help organize and clean out a rather large warehouse filled with donated construction supplies, paint and tools

  • Haul, sort and hang donated clothing for a second-hand shop that supplies low-cost linens and clothes to those in need in the area

  • Clear branches and trash from a rec center grounds

  • Help an elderly woman by fixing her doors and windows that would not close properly

  • Attempt to (and ultimately give up on) restore the walls of a house trailer that was trashed by a woman's drug-addicted husband who was angered by their divorce, leaving her homeless

The list of things we could've done was much, much longer.

Honestly, I'm not sure there will ever be an end.

We were working in Lee County, KY, where the average annual household income is less than $23,000, and unemployment is higher than 12 percent. While the county did boast a country club (believe it or not), the poor visible condition of so many of the homes in the area was sad. I'm not talking about minor, cosmetic issues. I'm referring to the small houses and trailers with cardboard stapled over the broken-out windows. Or mobile homes with siding and insulation falling off the structures.

I couldn't help but wonder how these folks manage to stay warm and dry--especially when the temps dipped into the upper 20s overnight, like it did during out week there. Even the daytime highs in the mid-40s were no match for the cold drizzle that fell nearly all week long, leaving us all chilled to the bone after working outside. That led to Revelation #1:

Heat: It's a Wonderful Thing

Our living accommodations for the week were very basic. We stayed in small cabins that are part of a summer camp facility that is rarely used outside of the June-September busy season. Needless to say, the tiny wooden cabins were not insulated or heated. We brought small electric heaters to run during the night, hoping to counteract the draft coming in from the small air conditioning unit in the wall (that is undoubtedly appreciated in August!).

The first night there, BabyD actually climbed into my sleeping bag to stay warm. I was so cold, I was more than happy to share my little twin-sized bunk just for the extra body heat!

The dash to the restroom/showers in the chilly morning air only served to help wake us up. As did the lack of heat in the shower house!

That's what really got me to thinking: There are probably a lot of people in this area who live like this all the time--little or no heat, either because of the condition of their homes or because they can't afford to pay for heat. Honestly, seeking out a few minutes of warmth became an obsession by the end of the second day.

Made me grateful for what seems like one of the basics of life.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mission Trip Revelation #2: Who Is The Grown Up?

In case you've been wondering, the origins of the title of this blog date back to a question my 13-year-old daughter likes to throw out every now and then. Especially when she thinks she can top Mom on something. That's just what happened, technology-wise, the day she tagged along with me to a blogging workshop put on by buddy Cris at GoodenessGracious. We created the blog, and hence the name.

That "Who Is The Grown Up?" question came to my mind during last week's spring break adventure/mission trip to the Appalachian region of Kentucky. I've been doing a few posts about it this week, because it gave me a lot to think about and realize. Among them including:
Revelation #2: Who Is The Grown Up? It Just Might Be The Kids!

The eight middle school girls (two of whom were my daughters) who went on the trip last week showed an amazing amount of maturity in many ways. And, for me, my girls especially. But, this past week, my girls really encouraged me by their behavior and their attitudes. And I'm starting to think that they might--just might--not end up as drop-out, drug-addicted, criminals with a mile-long juevie-record before they turn 18. (Which is actually a commentary on my maternal equivalent to hypochondria--my fear that I'm ruining my kids by bad parenting!)

During our journey, LittleD and BabyD demonstrated a great deal of maturity in dealing with unfamiliar people and less-than-pleasant situations. All the while with grace, helpful hearts and good attitudes.

Not once did they complain that when they were outside working in 40-degree rain to dig and set stair railing in what looked (and smelled!!) to be raw sewage seeping to the surface of the yard of one family's house trailer. Nor did they complain, even after three straight days of priming and painting the interior walls of a newly constructed church that was not yet heated. Nary a word while helping with a project to restore a woman's totally trashed house trailer that her druggie ex-husband nearly destroyed when she kicked him out. (I'll likely comment more on that situation when I have time to blog one more time about our trip in general.) They didn't even grumble when they spent tedious hours sorting, organizing and moving "stuff" in a warehouse that supplies building materials to underprivileged people at no charge.

The girls were excited to attend Wednesday night Bible study at the little pole barn where the congregation currently meets that will soon be moving into the new church building. They were glad to have the chance to meet some of the people who would benefit from their efforts. They really wanted to put a face on the community and get to know the folks down there. Both girls worked hard all week.

Highpoint about LittleD: Her history teacher, who was part of the trip leadership, went out of his way to tell me how hard she worked, with little instruction and no continuing supervision when she was on his project team one day.

Highpoint about BabyD: When she was leaving with a project team to dig the smelly post holes for staircase railings in the rain (and it was 40 degrees), I asked if she was going to she was going to be okay and warm enough to do that task. "No, but I'm on a mission trip, and it's not about what I want to do," she said.

The Sunday School class I'm taking right now at our church has a parenting focus. During our last class, we were challenged to consider what we, as parents, are doing right--instead of constantly beating ourselves up for "blowing it." I admit I beat myself up a lot. But the girls really were an encouragement to me--not that I'm doing anything particularly right in my parenting, except living by the grace of God.

My girls (unlike some unnamed other teens on the trip!) actually know how to wash dishes by hand. And they know how to clean a sink and scrub a toilet. (Kudos to BabyD who didn't bat an eye about doing potty duty on clean up day at the camp!) I feel good that, while they are not so enthusiastic about chores at home, my girls can--and will--survive because they've learned the basics of life.

Last week showed me just how my (not-so-baby-anymore) girls are growing up to be intelligent, talented and hard-working young women. And, considering their hard-working attitudes (compared to my own whining about the cold), I realized they just might (almost!) be grown ups!

Mission Complete: Lots To Think About

BabyD, LittleD and I, along with our mission team, came rolling in late Friday night from our trip to the Appalachian region of Kentucky over spring break. I have plenty to blog about after the experience. I've really had a perspective change (or maybe a confirmation?) about the poor, poor economic situation in that region. Overall, I'd say it was a good experience, and I'd love to do another trip. The question for me, personally, would be: To where? Right now, I'm just catching up on what's been happening in the blogosphere while we were gone. (I didn't take a computer, since our cell coverage was spotty at best.) I've also spent today catching up on a week of minimal sleep with a few cat naps between loads of laundry. And, I'm most grateful that The Husband got the water on and running just minutes before we got home last night. He was home all week, fighting the flu and tearing out the plumbing in our two bathrooms to fix a leak. (Can you say: Glad to be out of town??!) He actually texted me when we were an hour out to tell me I might want to stop so we can pee somewhere! I threatened to just stay at the Holiday Inn last night and come home today! I was so, so glad I got to take a HOT and LENGTHY shower in a WARM ROOM before bed last night!