Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy Trails!

Dear Friends: Five and a half years ago, I started "Mommy Monsters" as an online journal, to record the ins and outs of raising an "extraordinary family" -- a sibling group that we first fostered, then adopted.

As it turns out, five years can be a lifetime. Each week, each day even, brings new joys, new challenges. Above all, they've brought changes: changes in our children, and especially changes in ourselves.

Chris is now ten, and Sarah is eight. They are happy, healthy, well-adjusted little balls of energy, and I love them more today than the first time I set eyes upon them. It's a little secret of parenthood.

But once more, one chapter of our lives is closing and another is cracking open slowly. Tomorrow I take the MTTC, in order to start the teacher certification program at EMU. Craig and I have talked about it, and we've decided that it's time for me to move away from my writing endeavors to begin to prepare for a second career in teaching. If all goes well, I will be teaching Language Arts/ESL in a couple of years.

In some ways, this new chapter makes me a little nervous. I've been out of school for twenty years, and the thought of going back to college while trying to help my own kids through their schooling is a tall order. I'm hoping, though, that the kids will see me doing my homework while they are doing theirs, and realize that a person is never too old to love to learn.
Having said that, a forty-something year old brain is not a twenty-something year old brain. And so, I need to simplify some of my other activities. "Mommy Monsters" is going to be going on hiatus indefinitely. I'll still post to "Extraordinary Moms Network," and write the occasional article for Catholic Exchange and, as well as
At some point I may need to "simplify" further, but for now I wanted to thank you for letting me share my life with you these past few years. Let's stay in touch, and continue to pray for each other ...

God bless you!


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kamsah hamnida! (Thank you, in Korean)

Christopher finally got his next belt (white with yellow stripe) last night! Hip, hip, hurray!
Never in your life have you seen a little boy so excited. While all the other kids stood, the picture of dignification (is that a word?), Chris didn't bother to hide his delight.

He jumped up and down.

He swung his new belt over his head like a lasso.

He danced around in circles.

He assumed the "Rocky" pose (I didn't even know he knew who "Rocky" was.)

All from the back row of the class, while little lines of white soldiers stood solemnly, exchanging their old belts for new, and hanging their old belts around their necks. Finally his instructor had pity and went back to calm him down and help him with his new belt.

I am SO proud of my son!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Lenten "Re-treat": Forty Days to Home Beautiful

Okay, you are all my witnesses. For Lent this year, Heidi is going to SIMPLIFY an BEAUTIFY my home, one area at a time.

Sarah's First Communion is coming up May 1, so I have additional incentive, but the primary "push" is the simple fact that I've been feeling as though the walls are closing in on me, and it's time to do something about it! My goal is to tackle one area each week, and include "before" and "after" pictures of each. (I know, how humiliating. But it's good for me.)

Here's the schedule I have planned so far:

* Week 1: Office and taxes. Goal -- organize my office so I'm ready for the new study/work paradigm that is soon to become my life. Move futon to basement, put grandpa's old library table in its place, etc. I'm hiring two strong-backed young men to do the lifting on Saturday.

* Week 2: Bedrooms. Remove everything we no longer need or can no longer use; put in basement for next week's sorting. Remove children's toys and put them downstairs as well.

* Week 3: BASEMENT. I have my friend and professional organizer Monica Rem coming this week to go through this corner of my world, since I simply do not feel up to the challenge.

* Week 4: Kitchen/DR. Finish painting and organizing kitchen, getting rid of anything I don't always use. Replace the verticle blind slats, and install cafe curtains in my kitchen window. If time allows, tackle laundry room as well. (If my friend Katy is available, I may have her help me on Friday.)

* Week 5: Living Room and Hallway. Finish painting, and set up pictures going up the stairs. New window treatment for window (something the dog can't destroy with her watchdog antics during the day, with shade for nighttime).

* Week 6: Family Room. Paint and declutter. Hang some new pictures.

* Week 7: Holy Week. Mini-retreat in my beautiful home!

Feel free to nag me if you don't see regular reports on progress!

Monday, February 01, 2010

How to Read a Non-Fiction Book (Michael Hyatt)

Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, recently posted this great column, which anyone putting together a book proposal should study closely. Granted, he's talking about reading books -- not proposals -- but many of the same principles apply.

Years ago when I was working at Servant, our marketing/sales experts used to say that it takes seven seconds, on average, for a customer to decide whether to purchase a particular book on a store shelf. Seven seconds, on average, to study the front cover, back cover, TOC, and first couple of pages.

The same principles apply to proposals. When I was going through the slush pile, it took about that long to evaluate a proposal for possible publication: cover letter, TOC, and first three pages. If at any point it didn't grab me, I'd put it into the reject pile.

Could your query pass the seven-second test?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mommy Choices

It all started with a pointed exchange of ideas.

"You can't wear that to church, Sarah."

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAH! But I WAAAAAAAAAAAAAANT to!" (upper registers of exclamation make the dog run for the door.)

"No. You have to trust me on this one. Pink polka dots with brown sequins and blue tights is too much of a fashion statement. Sorry. Now, if you want to wear the brown dress with tights and your little boots, that's fine."

"AWWWWWWWWW!" (stomp, stomp.) Silence.

A few minutes later, Sarah barges into the bathroom where I am ... indisposed. "Mom?" she queries in a tiny voice. "I don't feel good. I'm gonna barf."

Her face does look a bit pale, but no fever. It does explain the earlier drama, however. So I make a mommy choice. "Okay, why don't you put your jammies back on and crawl back in bed."

Husband snorts. "You realize she's just doing that because she doesn't want to go to church."

"Maybe." Or maybe not. Ten minutes later, I check on her and found her in her jammies and back in bed.

Five minutes after that, Craig left with Chris, who protested having to go to church without his sister. Ten minutes after THAT, Sarah asks to take a bath ... and starts wretching into the toilet.

What do you know. Mommy instincts were right -- she really was sick!

Now, I have to say, cleaning kiddie barf off the living room rug (30 minutes later; she missed the bucket) is among my least-favorite mommy jobs. Even when it's a measure of vindication. And even when it means that the week ahead of me (which is already over-extended due to multiple commitments) is destined for a major reshuffling.

Sometimes, a Mommy has to trust her instincts. Even when everyone else says its something else.

Photo credit: Columbus Parent

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ethel Heyer: In the Garden

Tonight on Facebook I learned of the death of yet another of the staff members at Bethany Fellowship (a Christian community and Bible school where I lived off and on from 1983-1989). The gardens there were lovely, largely thanks to Ethel Heyer. Joyce Haase said that Ethel passed away in her sleep last night, and I couldn't help but think of her bending gently over the heavenly rose gardens.

Gardeners have a special kind of grace, I think. Me, who never found a plant I couldn't kill in short order (even the artificial varieties get a little pot-bound), admire the kind of nurturing, instinctive patience it takes to coax life and beauty out of the soil.

My grandmother, Ogda Dix, had that gift. For years she beautified the public gardens and parks of East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Ethel covered the acerage of Bethany Fellowship, and though the two women never knew each other I think they were kindred spirits. Both raised families and served their communities in a hidden, hard-working kind of way. Both brought joy to the lives of those who knew and couldn't help but love them. And both faced the end of their lives with the sure-fast conviction that they knew where they were going, and who they would meet when they got there.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,

and may your perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed,

by the mercy of God, rest in peace.

"What Do You Do?" Groping Toward the Light...

"What do you do?" is a question one frequently hears when meeting people for the first time. In years past I always had a handy response -- editor for this or that publication or house, student. The thing is, as one main "job" has gone by the wayside, the time is filled with dozens of little hats that don't merit one large label but keep me busy all the same: catechist, columnist, piano player, event organizer, etc.

For a variety of reasons, Craig and I have been seriously discussing a secondary (full-time) career path for me. And to accommodate those plans, for a while now I've been evaluating my life, trying to figure out which of the many hats I wear need to be shelved to make room.

Blogging? As I considered this, contacted me to ask if they could run my blogposts from Extraordinary Moms Network on their site, giving me a local presence to go with the broader exposure I get from and

Eliminate Facebook? In the past week I've been contacted by six different people, including two relatives, I'd lost touch with over the years. And with nearly 600 "friends" on my list, it seems to fit neatly in that "author platform" thing publishers are forever yammering about.

Boosters? Tempting -- though losing our VP (for medical reasons) makes me wonder if there will be someone else to fill the gap. My family has also benefitted in small but tangible ways. Sarah's reading scores jumped over 100 points, at least partly from the IEP that was put in place this fall. Money from working in the office and after-school tutoring is helping the checkbook. The daily contact with the school has helped me make personal connections with other parents.

Other volunteering? Each assignment, each commitment by itself doesn't take a lot of time ... Together, wow!

But yesterday Sarah said something to me that might provide a clue. We had talked about her joining her brother's tae kwan do class when she turned eight (which she did a few weeks ago). We got her a uniform, and signed her up. But when it came time for her to start her first class, she balked. "But I don't WANT to do tae kwan do. I want to do my HOMEWORK!"

Smart little girl, she saw that while her brother was occupied with his lessons, she had mom's undivided attention. And later, she said to me, "Besides. If I want to start until Christopher gets his NEXT belt, then he can teach ME and I won't have to make so many mistakes!"

Which brings me full-circle to the initial question: "What do you do?" Well, truth be told ... mostly circles. Figuring things out. Making mistakes. And trying to keep all those hats in balance.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Can Can Girls --- Bah, Humbug

Today over at EMN I write about our visit at Kalahari Water Park in Sandusky, Ohio.

At the risk of sounding like an aging old prune, I gotta tell ya ... I gained a renewed respect for the effects of aging on the body after a day of casting myself (alternating head-first and feet-first) into various wave formations. Let's just say I was sorely (seriously) tempted to blow a week's grocery money on the second-floor spa. I ached. All over.

Just as painful, though, was the realization that I am officially Invisimom. We always wound up behind a bevvy of sweet young things (I dubbed them "Can Can Girls" - "cute and nubile" with swimsuits hardly bigger than a postage stamp). They would zip through the lines, giving the young men whiplash, so quickly did heads turn, while I languished with two screaming kids, waiting for our chance to launch. (When at last we were noticed, it usually involved a shrill whistle blast.)

Don't get me wrong. I had fun. The kids fell into bed, exhausted, at night. Craig and I read, swam, strolled, and ate. We had dinner together EVERY NIGHT. And we both were able to nap to our hearts' content (not at the same time ... one of us had to keep an eye on the water.)

At the same time, it made me realize that time is indeed marching on. The kids are growing, and if I blink again I'm sure it will be Sarah that causes the neckstrain (though you'd better believe her suit will be SIGNIFICANTLY larger than a postage stamp).

It's Monday night. Back to the trenches.

South Arbor Academy: Spring Auction Ahead - Your Help Needed

At South Arbor Charter Academy, teachers and staff start their day before sunrise. By 7:30, five hundred cars begin filing along curbside as administrators and parents help children with their oversized backpacks into the building. In the gym, students and teachers recite the South Arbor Creed:

I am a South Arbor student.
I can make a difference by doing my personal best.
I will work hard, and practice good manners.
My heart believes it; my actions will show it!

Throughout the workday, lessons have a dual focus of academics and “global virtues” like integrity, perseverance, compassion, wisdom, and self-control. In classrooms, older students serve as “reading buddies” to younger children. Parents flip flashcards and put up bulletin boards. Hallways are dotted with posters advertising penny drives, book fairs, and a seasonal “giving tree.”

At South Arbor, charity begins at home . . . and it continues in the classroom. This generosity is modeled by faculty and staff; last summer several South Arbor teachers went to Zimbabwe to train local teachers. During the school year, Principle Tim DiLaura mentors two other charter schools in addition to working at South Arbor full time.

This year, we are having to work harder than ever just to make ends meet. While traditional public schools in Michigan lost $213 per student in state funding, South Arbor Academy lost $700 per student – a half-million dollars – in state funding. This despite the fact that our students scored much higher on national testing than students in traditional public schools (86% of our students scored at or above grade level, a rate much higher than that of traditional public school students).

The South Arbor Booster Club, a 501(c)3 organization that raises funds to provide cultural and academic opportunities for the students of South Arbor – science and writing fairs, spelling bees, drug awareness programs, special assemblies, classroom and field trip allowances, and other extra-curricular enrichment activities. Our goal is $50,000 – one-tenth of the money lost from state budget cuts. With this kind of money, we can buy learning much-needed resources and books, and add appreciably to other needs identified by teachers and parents alike.

On February 27, we are holding our annual Spring Auction. We are seeking a variety of donations – autographed books, educational and recreational products, and financial contributions – for this purpose. All contributions are fully tax-deductible.

Won’t you help us meeting our target? Thanks in advance for your help!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Love Is a Battlefield

This week I finished reading Elena Maria Vidal's The Night's Dark Shade, and it got me to thinking about all the ways marital fidelity is tested.

Sometimes the testing comes from the past: the subtle temptation to dwell on pleasant memories of the past, from a life before our spouse was known to us -- and comparing (with longing or regret) our present moments to the rosy glow of yesterday. Other times, those memories are painful, scarring the heart in ways that make us hardened or suspicious. We busy ourselves, so as not to notice. But what we need is a new "heart of flesh." In the words of the Prophet Ezekiel (36:26):
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will
remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
Some of us are tested in this present moment, with flares of dissatisfaction and mistrust -- whether at our spouses, or even toward God. Earlier today I spoke with a friend who, overwhelmed by the demands of her life, and aggravated with her husband's lack of response, wondered aloud whether there was anything in her marriage worth saving.

Hold on, I urged her. Take a step back and find ways to reconnect again, laugh and play. When life becomes overwhelming, these stolen moments of simple pleasure are like marital booster shots, and fortify us for the arduous trek ahead.

In those homes where both spouses are believers, praying with each other and for each other can make all the difference. Standing before the God who loves us both, and who shows no partiality, it is sometimes easier to bridge the gaps that yawn between us, caused by little slights and ingrown grudges. Protecting and nurturing that "secret garden" is essential.

While some of us are tempted to dwell in the past, or fret over the present, others are frightened by the future. This has been my point of weakness lately. Discouraged by circumstances of the present, it is easy to project -- always negatively -- into the future, trying to anticipate the problems ahead and to find solutions even before they are needed. And while prudence demands that we take responsibility for our families and make plans to assure they are provided for over the long term, it is quite another thing to borrow trouble.

Perhaps this is why Our Lord counsels us:

"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each
day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34).

From what direction is the enemy letting his arrows fly at you this week? Are you clinging to the past, angry in the present, or anxious for the future? Is there anything you need to place in the hands of your Father in heaven, to leave room for the Spirit to move?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Defense of the Tooth Fairy

Monday on the way to religious education, I listened as Christopher informed his sister that there is POSITIVELY no Tooth Fairy. Sarah, having a steadily growing stash of cash and no shortage of baby teeth, was none too pleased about this pronouncement.

"There is TOO a Tooth Fairy. Right, Mom?"

"No, there's not -- it's always Mom and Dad, right Mom?"

*sigh* For a moment, I envied those parents who from Day One refuse to fan the flames of fiction in the hearts of their children. No Easter Bunny. No Santa. And no Tooth Fairy.

Sadly, I've never lost an opportunity to fan those particular flames. I was also mildly annoyed with Christopher for bursting his little sister's bubble like that. So I messed with him a little.

"So ... Christopher. How did you come to decide this? Was it something one of your classmates said?"

"Uh-huh. Josh said he peeked last night, and saw his Dad put the money under his pillow. He says it's always Moms and Dads. No fairies."

"Well, let's think about that for a moment. Doesn't Josh have an older brother, who might have told him about the Tooth Fairy?"


"So is it possible that the Tooth Fairy stopped coming to the Trout house because the Big Brother didn't believe in her any more, and the parents didn't want to spoil it for Josh?"

In the rearview mirror, Christopher's eyes furrowed as he thought about this one. "Well... but the last time I was at the dentist, I lost a tooth and the Tooth Fairy didn't come and give me money for that one."

"Well, that just means the Tooth Fairy sometimes makes mistakes. It doesn't prove she doesn't exist. I make mistakes, you make mistakes ... We all make mistakes sometimes."

Now his eyebrows were so furrowed they nearly touched. "Well..."

"Listen, Christopher. You don't have to believe in the story of the Tooth Fairy if you don't want to. You're a big kid now, and maybe you're too big for the idea of the Tooth Fairy. But you should know that if you spoil it for your little sister, the Tooth Fairy might just get so mad that she doesn't come around any more. And you wouldn' want THAT to happen, would you?"

That did it. Impromptu, in unison: "I BELIEVE IN THE TOOTH FAIRY!!!!"

Okay, then.

Image Credit: From "Expat Abroad"

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Allergy Tests ... Bah, Humbug

Today at EMN, I post a story about taking Sarah to get her allergy tests yesterday.

I swear, you'd have thought we were skinning her alive. Even though she remembered (after the fact) the sage advice I'd given her about the best way to get a shot: just try to relax and think of something else, so your muscles don't tense up.

Yeah, right. One look at those plastic toothpicks, and we practically had to unhook her ten little fingernails from the ceiling tiles. My shins are going to be sporting shiners for a week.

Still, when it was all over, she turned off the waterworks, smiled at me brightly and said, "I was a GOOD GIRL! Do I get my treat now?"

*sigh.* That depends ... do I get one, too?