Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thoughts on a New Year

This week Craig and I have spent some time dreaming about the future ... What we hope it will be, what we'd like to be doing and where we'd like to be doing it. Time will tell how many of those dreams will become realities ... but the seeds of dreaming, of wishing, of hoping, of planning have been firmly planted.

Craig is 55, I'm ten years younger. Our children are 7 and 9, which means Craig will be retiring when our daughter graduates high school and prepares to begin life as a young adult -- maybe in college, or doing something else. One day I hope they'll spend some time in a different country, perhaps as an exchange student or working on a mission. But that's my dream for them -- they will have to make it their own if it's going to work.

Each season of life has its chapters, its off-shoots. At various times I've been a student, a musician, a missionary, a secretary, an editor, a girlfriend, a patient, a wife, a teacher, a writer, and a mother. Not all at once, and each time I've tried to tend too large a garden, the weeds take over and I wind up doing NOTHING very well.

Any gardener will tell you that if you want a particular branch to bear fruit, it means pruning back the other branches. Last night at dinner I talked with my sister-in-law about this, and she mentioned that in her master gardener cours she learned that one never plants fruit trees for landscaping ... that the pruning required for good fruit production makes the trees a bit unsightly.

So it is with life. Investing our lives in one area means letting something else go. This year my Booster activities required that I give up other things -- the writer's conference, some writing projects, podcasting, and other things. Next year if I wind up going back to school to get my teaching certificate, it may mean that Boosters will need to take a back seat as I study and work to pay for classes.

Is this God's plan for my life? Good question, and one that (like many Christians) I think about often. When I was younger, I imagined that "God's will" was one particular, straight-and-narrow pathway, and that if I zigged instead of zagged -- chose one major over another, or one apartment over another -- I would fall off the grace wagon.

But God is far more generous with us than we are with ourselves. He gives us the boundaries, and sets us free within those limits. He gives us gifts and desires to guide us. Best of all, he takes our mistakes and miscalculations (when we offer them back to him and ask for help) and turns them into a thing of beauty. Or at least a source of wisdom for the future.

Sometimes "God's will" is best seen in retrospect, when the threads and knots of life's tapestry are turned over so we can see the beautiful weaving of God's design in all its beauty.

This year, may you see the beauty of your life from heaven's point of view.

Wisdom from "Domestic Felicity"

From time to time I receive comments -- often long after a particular entry has been posted -- expressing an alternate viewpoint about some aspect of adoption. What to do with those comments is sometimes a perplexing question. When the remarks are really nasty and (let's just say it) a bit "off," I have no problems deleting them.

But when a reader forms a well-thought out and respectful expression of a point of view that differs from my own, however, knowing where to draw the line or how to respond is a bit more challenging. So I was happy to read this post from "Domestic Felicity" that offers food for thought, and I share it here in case other readers have wondered about this same issue.

One of the points that struck home with me: Your readers have certain needs, and regular readers (who share your point of view) don't appreciate having to wade through a lot of negativity and controversy. So as the author, you need to strike a balance between free speech and unwanted diatribe. If someone wants to rant, let them do it in their own space -- especially if it is not contributing to the direction you, the blogger, has set.

Bottom line: Keeping one's "core audience" in mind is important. In my case, supporting adoptive parents. And (secondarily) affirming the idea that every child has a God-given right to life and the safety and security of a loving family. For Mrs. Anna T, the core issue is advocating for women who wish to stay at home and raise their children, and sharing her Jewish heritage and world view with a broader (hopefully appreciative) audience.

Thanks, Mrs. T, for sharing this with us!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Lessons Learned This Christmas

It was a quiet Christmas for us ... shared Christmas Eve with our good friends Katy and Todd and their German exchange student Sammy. It was the perfect exchange: I cooked, they did the dishes. (Any Christmas guests who jump up to do the dishes after dinner are welcome at MY table every year! Ha, ha.)

In keeping with tradition, I made a stop at the local World Market to pick up a couple loaves of stollen (Christmas bread) and the traditional exchange student gift: a book entitled A Thousand Places (in the U.S. and Canada) to Visit Before You Die. Sammy liked the gingerbread, but seemed unfamilar with stollen (I guess there are some moms who don't like to bake even in Germany!)

We played a bit in the snow (Chris snow boarded, Sarah tobogganed, Maddy ran in circles, the rest of us strolled at a leisurely pace), then had dinner and opened a present ... Then went upstairs to get a Wii demo from Katy and Todd. My Christmas gift was Wii Fit Plus, and Katy was sweet enough to get on the stamp pad and demo that for me. (I wasn't going to get on it and announce my weight to the entire room for all the fudge in the North Pole).

Things I learned this Christmas ...

* Mashed potatoes taste really good with a generous sprinkle of garlic and a healthy sploosh of horseradish. (Plus lots of butter, sour cream, and a handful of chopped parsley.)

* Mashed potatoes taste even better the next day when you mix leftovers with eggs, cream, Feta cheese, and onion, and pour it in a pie crust to bake like a quiche. Yum. A Christmas morning tradition in the making!

* When you arrive on time to the midnight mass (it was the first time we'd done this since we had the kids), expect to sit in the VERY last row of the cry room, next to the tone-deaf but wildly enthusiastic Knight who feels a personal responsibility to lead the entire room in song ... eight beats behind the organist. Joyful noise, indeed.

* Even if you put kids to bed well after midnight, be prepared to open gifts at 6 a.m. sharp.

* We don't have to travel a thousand or even a hundred miles to have a very merry Christmas. Cuddled up in the family room, we had the cuddliest and most fully present family time I can remember in recent memory. Fa-la-la-la-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

* There really is no such thing as too many Christmas cookies ... I made six containers of the things, and between gifts and various functions, we are down to one small box. On Christmas day. Go figure.

* The most expensive presents are not usually the favorite presents. Sarah's favorite: a $5 box of "Princess and the Frog" press-on nails and manicure kit. Christopher's: $2 light sabers. My favorite: a small pottery jar from my parents, which I can use to melt chocolate for my "Heidi Hugs." Which, judging from the state of the cookie jar, I will need to use very soon.

* Most thought-provoking conversation, courtesy of Christopher, on our way to midnight Mass.

"Mom, Jesus wasn't very old when his father [Joseph] died, right?"
"Well, we don't know for sure, but many people think that he died when Jesus was young because he isn't mentioned later in the Scriptures."
"So why didn't Jesus didn't raise him from the dead, like he did Lazarus?"
"Hmm... Well, God gives every person a job to do when they come into the world. When they finish the job, and learn all the lessons God wants them to learn, they go to be with God. So maybe ... maybe Jesus knew that Joseph's job was to protect Jesus while he was small; once he became older -- like he was in the temple when Mary and Joseph found him -- Joseph finished his job. So it was time for him to go to be with God."
"So he went straight to heaven?"
"Well ... before Jesus died on the cross, all the people who loved God went to a place called 'Abraham's bosom,' sort of like purgatory. After Jesus died, the Bible says he went and released all those who trusted in God. St. Joseph -- and all the saints -- are in heaven with God now. Just as we will be one day, if we trust in Jesus to guide us to heaven ... after our work here on earth is done."

It was a bit of a twist on the traditional Christmas story ... at Christmas we tend to focus on birth rather than death. But Christopher's comment made me realize you can't really separate one from the other. Christmas and Easter. Manger and Cross. And who better to teach us this lesson ... than the Holy Family?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Saxtons!

Okay, so once again I’ve managed to put off writing out my Christmas cards until the last possible moment. Ironic, given how much writing I do the rest of the year, wouldn’t you say? Then again, most of it is “virtual writing,” so perhaps this is apropos.

It has been a good year, generally speaking. Craig has been especially busy at work these past few weeks, although he has been able to do at least some of it from home. I keep slipping him gingerbread treats and tea, and he keeps chugging along like the proverbial engine that could. “I think I can, I think I can….” Tonight he was able to join the family cuddle pile as we curled up together to watch “My Fair Lady.” Those ten minutes, with the four of us snuggled under the covers, were the best ten minutes of my day.

Thomas Nelson just sent out the review copies for my next book “My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories.” I’m looking forward to see how this one does – at $19.99. it’s not exactly an impulse buy, but it IS a beautiful book. It is officially released in February – Craig will have the book available for orders on my website soon.

The key word this year has been “balance.” Frankly, I’ve found that very difficult, trying to avoid spreading myself too thin. I’ve been subbing in the office at my kids’ school, and tutoring two days a week. Mondays I teach religious education (20 fifth graders), which I’m really enjoying. And in between, trying to find time to put together the next book. Oh, and I joined the board at a new foster agency starting up here in Ypsilanti, called “Fostering Futures.” Extraordinary Moms Network continues as well.

Christopher started tae kwan do this year, and is enjoying himself very much. He is working hard, and got to be “Super Star” twice already, which made him (and us) so proud! Chris is nine, and is really enjoying school this year. We feel so blessed because of his teacher this year – Mr. Heires was his second grade teacher, and Chris is flourishing in his fourth grade class as well.

Sarah and I hope to start violin lessons, though it looks like the teacher won’t have an opening until sometime in January. Sarah celebrated her first reconciliation last month, and will have her First Communion on May 1. If you’re available, we’d love to have you join us! We’ve been having her tested a lot this year – she is having some focus issues that were concerning both her teachers and doctors. However, we now have an IEP in place and have started her on Concerta. Things are already improving. Thank God.

Christmas is at home this year – I’m hoping Craig will be able to break from work at some point, but either way it will be fun. We got a Wii to enjoy as a family, and I’m looking forward to the family fun nights ahead.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas with your family as well!


Craig and Heidi, Christopher and Sarah

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fundraising Tips

The past few weeks I've spent quite a bit of time on various projects intended to raise money for South Arbor Charter Academy, where my children attend. The goal is to raise $50,000 this year, which in restrospect might have been setting the bar a bit high. But, you know, shoot for the stars and you might just clear the trees, right?

I know a lot of schools are facing similar funding cuts, and I thought I'd share some of our experiences to date, recognizing that some ideas will work better for some schools than for others. However, a few principles would seem to apply across the board.

* Recognize that in every school, the lion's share of the fundraising tends to fall on a small group of parents. You will always have families who will take as much as they can get without a thought of giving back. It will be easier and more effective for you in the long run if you concentrate on a few events and do them well, rather than go back to the well repeatedly, so to speak.

* Look for ways to build community and recognize existing opportunities. So far this year we've had three notable successes: Our "Boosters Plus" program, which enables parents to make a one-time donation to our 501(c)3 organization for a charitable tax receipt; we started this in response to parents who said they didn't want to do any more selling. The second success has been our scrip program, in which parents buy gift cards from a variety of stores at face value, and the school gets a cut (Boosters runs a weekly store, where parents can come to pick up gift cards and shop for treats and merchandise). The third success was a "MAPS Week Beanie Treat" event, where parents could send their child a beanie baby to congratulate them for their hard work. We sold out of beanies in a couple of days.

* Be visible and keep your ears open to match abilities with needs. When we created our recipe book, we invited parents who had home-based businesses to place a small ad in the book, thereby recouping our production costs. One parent with a full-time job offered to donate a Saturday to help us create the books; another working parent gave up a day to make and decorate 50 gingerbread girls.

* Beware projects that are labor intensive -- unless you can "partner" them with another event that provides a high return. Our Booster Store is a regular time commitment, and although we don't make a lot of money each week from snacks, it does accomplish a couple of other important goals: provide a regular opportunity for parents to connect with Boosters, and to shop for scrip.

* Set prices carefully. Perceived value is very important. Selling $6 gingerbread cookies for teachers gifts got a fair number of takers -- but selling gingerbread house raffle tickets for $2 did not. Next year, raffle tickets will be fifty cents ... and I'm hoping we'll get many more takers! Our recipe books are not moving as quickly as I'd hoped ... the $10-12 price point was probably too high. May offer a "super sale" fo $7 books next week!

Do you have any experience with fundraising? What have been some of your memorable successes?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fighting the Bozone Layer: Thanks, Washington Post!

From my college friend, Carol Garborg:

Here are some of the winners from The Washington Post's yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.

Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

Gargoyle (n), olive-flavored mouthwash.

Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Arachnoleptic fit (n..): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

It's a Dog's Life!

Whenever we leave the house, Maddy assumes her favorite position: Propped up on the back of the sofa, paws and snout rooting for a clear spot in the living room curtains. Judging from the state of our curtains, she generally has to root around for a while before she gets a clean spot of glass.

Judging from the number of images I googled (see left), it appears to be a common problem. Most people, it turns out, shorten the curtains.

Me, I'd like to shorten the dog. No, not really -- most of the time, she's a delightful companion. But why is it, pray tell, that the goals of beautiful home and happy family so often seem to be at odds with one another?
I know. One day I will look around at my picture-perfect domicile and long for the days of nose smudges and markered walls and carpet spots. Or so I'm told.
One day ... but for now, I guess I'll just shorten the curtains -- and take a deep breath!