one-click not shopping

Getting a new mindset takes practice. And discipline, which has never been my strong suit. Since the calendar is silent today, I am taking this opportunity for an update on “How is that year of not buying anything new going?” And I’m realizing that a mind is a terrible thing to get stuck.

The other day, I could not find my pedometer. My first thought? Well, I can always buy a new one; they’re not too expensive. My next thought–oops. No, I can’t. Rewind. Try again. Isn’t that the way so much of our immediate gratification American mind works? I don’t have what I need/want. (Usually it’s the latter. Do I need a pedometer?) But the nearest store is only . . . well, it’s at my fingertips as I type this, because I bought my last two pedometers online. And I can buy anything I desire there again, pretty much, and probably at the one-stop super virtual store, Amazon. With one-click shopping.

But when I can’t . . . I don’t know what to do. Let’s face it, most of us raised post-1950 and up really don’t know what to do if we can’t just buy our way out of a situation. No, I don’t mean like a parking ticket situation; I mean like a “what am I going to wear to my next speaking engagement?” or “what is my child going to do to replace her torn school folder?” situation. I had not truly realized, because I had not experienced, how much the American mind has to do a complete rewire when “buying stuff” is not an option. Yes, I’ve seen it, as on our mission trip to China, but I’ve never felt it. And that, my friends, is an entirely different level. Not a bad one to be on, from where I’m standing right now.

Second, I have discovered a great freedom. When I go into a store, I know I don’t even have to waste any time perusing the clothes racks, or household appliances, or electronics. I head for the food or toiletries, and that’s it. If I’m in a shopping center, or passing by a store that I may have gone in “just to look” previously, I can stroll right by anyplace that doesn’t have lettuce or laundry detergent as one of its main ingredients.

Have you any idea how freeing that is? I never knew. There is absolutely no pressure from others, or curiosity from me, to stop and spend an idle fifteen minutes that turns into a “wow, where did that hour go?” I am completely free to reach only the objective for which I started out and go home to spend my time with things I truly do enjoy more. Like scrubbing toilets. Well, maybe not. But things like talking to my kids rather than running errands with them. Brainstorming with them how to replace a lost wallet and then making one together. We did that when they were little and we were poor. But now? Not so much.

So thus far? Harder than I thought. Better than I thought. Both good things. And by the way, my child repaired her folder with multi-colored duct tape. She now has the coolest folder in class.

a completely necessary expense

Some of you have asked how the “we won’t by anything new in 2010” experiment is going. Well, tomorrow, we’re going to cheat. But it’s for something that is absolutely necessary. Life as we know it would be completely unsustainable without it. We’re going to get purple hair extensions.

At least, some members of the family are. I don’t think my husband will give it a go. But bear with me before you write this off as an inexcusable breach of contract and refuse to believe our word any more.
Purple is the official color of cancer, besides being a really cool color. I am blessed to live in a community that truly cares for our neighbors and goes the extra mile for them. Tomorrow, the community plans to go that mile and, we hope, more for a local family with a dad to six kids who has been diagnosed with a rare cancer and needs our help. So, an incredibly generous hair dresser (or the modern equivalent of that word–whatever it is!) will give her time and equipment to all comers who want to pay $10 for a purple hair extension. C’mon gentlemen, I know some of you who could totally rock that look. If you’re local, check out the details:
So, as I said, life as we know it would be completely unsustainable unless we break the rules and buy purple hair extensions tomorrow. Why? Because if life does not include generosity, compassion, and hope, then it’s unsustainable. At least, as far as I am concerned.

celebrate life–a very worthy cause

My sister Marilyn would be 59 this year. (Yes, she was much older than me. Goes without saying.) By normal human standards, Marilyn led a far less than perfect life. She spent twenty-one of her twenty-six years in a wheelchair, crippled with muscular dystrophy. She had to have others dress her, put her dinner in front of her, and help her perform the most basic bodily functions. Being young, easily grossed out, and selfish, I never wanted to be the one to help Marilyn go to the bathroom. Of course, if I could have her back now, with the wisdom that comes in hindsight, I’d willingly help my sister cut her chicken and wipe her backside. But these realizations usually come too late.

It should have occurred to Marilyn that her life lacked something and, in darker times, I suppose it did. I wonder, now, how she felt about never having the chance to fall in love, never having a sleepover, never wearing a formal dress and corsage for a dance, never running through a field of dandelions. Remember, this was the 60-70’s, when disabled people were not seen and not heard. I wish I had known her in my adulthood to ask these questions and really know her.

But Marilyn didn’t act like she thought her life was less than worthwhile. It was, in fact, Marilyn who taught me never to let anyone say, “You can’t do that.” She fought for her education. She fought for a life of dignity. And in some way, I know it was watching that happen that made me the “never say die” person I have become. In point of fact, I kind of enjoy the challenge of the word “can’t.”

“You can’t get though college with an alcoholic father and no financial support.” Watch me.

“You can’t go to a conservative seminary and a conservative church and be a female pastor.” Who says?

“You can’t succeed with your own disability (mild version of Tourette’s).” Why not?

“You can’t survive the kidney disease that killed half your relatives.” Still here.

Honestly, that doesn’t mean I’m some sort of indestructible amazon (the warrior, not the bookseller). I know it’s all God. I know sometimes stubbornness has its drawbacks. But it’s also part my sister. And on National Celebration of Life Day, she deserves some credit.

Don’t let us become a society that doubts the value of those who are “less than perfect.” We’re all less than perfect. In some, it’s just more visible. And I’ve yet to see a good definition of perfect, anyway, when it comes to a human being. Don’t allow our culture to cheapen the lives of those who are born with disabilities but still teach us so much with their existence. That sounds like I believe their existence is “all about us,” but that’s not what I mean. It’s all about them, and it’s all about God, and we’re just lucky bystanders.

I don’t like to get political here, and I am not putting a stamp of approval on any candidate for office, but I remember hearing that the same group who criticized Sarah Palin for hunting animals also criticized her for not aborting her disabled child. Now, whether you are conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, does that not strike you as a little morally messy?

I’m not here to crusade for a political cause. I’m writing here to crusade for Marilyn, and those like her, who are imperfect people on an imperfect journey. Like all of us. I know that I, for one, would be a lesser person without them.

hamsters are friends, not food

Tomorrow is definitely one of the stranger holidays on the list. And many are very strange. Tomorrow, invented by some person somewhere, we celebrate National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. So in honor of my three cats, I have prepared answers to the questions I suspect they will pose to me on this day. For instance:

Merry: Why is there a hamster in this house if I cannot eat him?

Humans are strange. Some rodents we positively encourage you to hunt and scarf down, so long as you refrain from leaving their heads as offerings on our pillows. Other rodents we actually like and keep in cages and feed and pet. There appears to be little difference between them, except for the no tail issue, but you would do well to leave the hamster cage where it is on the laundry room counter. The humans do feed you. Hamsters are friends, not food.

Thespian: Why is that other four-footed furry creature here?

Dogs are man’s best friend. Well, actually I prefer you cats. But don’t tell the dog that. She is sweet and old and far more scared of you than you ever have been of her. Please practice live and let live detente.

Pippin: And what’s up with that stupid rabbit? Why can’t I get in and go after him?

Because that rabbit could kick your butt. Literally. This is for your own good. Trust me. Trust is not something that comes naturally to cats. But attacking that rabbit would be like Taiwan declaring war on China. Sure, you will inflict a few wounds, but your’re toast in the end.

Merry: Why did you get that kitten?

Well, we didn’t. She invaded. I know–ever since, she’s been invading your private lap space, bed space, and leave-me-alone-you-stupid-cat space. But you were young once too. It’s probably payback.

Merry: Why can’t we go outside like all the other cats?

Because, contrary to your inflated sense of self, you cannot take on a coyote. I don’t care what Fluffy’s mother does. I’m your mother.

Pippin: Why can’t I have more food?

Because you’re obese. Like people, obese cats have shorter lives and are prone to all kinds of illness. I didn’t make you eat your way to that belly that sways under you like a 56-year-old guy in a Speedo. Don’t whine to me because I care about you. And no, you can’t eat the dog food.

Merry: What is the meaning of life?

Get people to give you all you want simply because you’re cute. It works similarly in humans, I hear, if you’re young and (usually) blonde.

Thespian: Why can’t I ever catch that squirrel?

I realize that in cat world, glass doesn’t exist. But in people world, it separates you from that teasing squirrel two inches from your face. This teaches you to deal with life’s frustrations. Advertised jobs that were never truly ‘open’ and professors who psychologically cannot give out perfect scores serve the same general purpose for humans. You’ll never get that squirrel. Feel lucky. Feel very lucky.

Pippin: Why does Merry always win even though I outweigh him big time?

Um, how to put this diplomatically? You’re just, intellectually challenged, Pip. You’re the offensive guard, and Merry’s the quarterback. You may be able to squash him, but he’ll always call the plays. You’re Dwayne Johnson; he’s Johnny Depp. You’re a bulldozer and he’s a contractor. You’re both needed in life, but he’s always going to make the bigger bucks. Sorry. All of us must learn to accept our lot in life. If it helps, you’re a really sweet offensive guard.

Everyone: Why do you not understand I am to be the center of your attention?

Stand in line guys. Take a number. There are a lot more who seem to feel that way, too.


everything i needed to know

I must have been one of the most cynical elementary school kids ever born. I rejected almost all of the childrens media icon offerings. I wondered why I should love a constantly grinning mouse who sounded like he was on helium. I believed Donald Duck not only couldn’t speak properly but really ought to wear pants. I thought Mr. Magoo should retire to some old folks home and stop messing up other peoples’ lives. I had no use for Popeye, who sang like a buzzard with a cold and might give my mother ideas about feeding me spinach. Shaggy needed a shave. And Goofy? Well, the name pretty much said it all. Road Runner was cool. Probably because he wasted no words but simply outwitted everyone, tossed his little topknot, and sped away. But that was about it.

But the most embarrassing admission is that as a child I never would have celebrated Monday–the birthday of A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh. Yes, January 18 is official Pooh Day. I had no respect for a bear of little brain. Not to mention–Pooh? Really? That’s just asking for disdain. Besides, he doesn’t wear pants, either.

Since that misguided childhood, however, I’ve come to a profound appreciation of the stuffed with fluff fellow. Pooh, in fact, represents all that is good in life. Or at least, a lot of it. As Robert Fulghum learned all he needed to know in kindergarten, so I’ve learned much from Pooh.

–Watching the stars is a very worthwhile use of your time.

–Watching with a friend is even better.

–Something sweet in the cupboard always helps any situation.

–A good body image is important. If you’re “short, fat, and proud of that” don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

–Sometimes, those of little brain can solve the biggest problems.

–A sturdy umbrella can become a boat, and so in much of life, being resourceful and creative pays off.

–It’s nice to have friends who come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. You never know when you’ll need a practical Rabbit or a spontaneous Tigger. Value them all.

–Living life trusting in others’ goodness and being occasionally disappointed is better than living in suspicion and being occasionally surprised.

–Sometimes it’s best just to follow people we love into the woods and not ask what’s ahead. If we knew the future, we might not have the courage to go.

–Don’t disguise who you are. If you dress up as a little black raincloud and think you’re fooling anyone, you’re going to get stung.

–Being in too much of a hurry can make you miss the real goal.

–Usually, smaller words communicate better than big ones.


–Work at relationships so you are able to say, “If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.”

curiouser and curiouser

Having recently finished assisting with the production of Alice in Wonderland (in which child number three played Tweedledee. Perfectly, of course), I feel an affinity for today, Lewis Carroll’s birthday. I have to admit, I never really liked Disney’s version of Alice. It seemed to me to make an offbeat, seemingly pointless book into a truly pointless movie. Surprisingly, my kids agreed. Their reactions to the Disney Alice movie:

Tell-it-like-it-is child number one: He’s on drugs.

Free-spirit child number two: (while twirling about the room) “ ‘In my youth’, Father William replied to his son, ‘I feared it might injure the brain; But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none, Why, I do it again and again.'”

Analytic child number three: This makes no sense. Why would anyone do that?

But now that I’m older, I have come to a much finer appreciation of pointlessness. I mean, if we outlawed pointlessness, an awful lot of government institutions would disappear instantly.

As most of the planet knows, the new Alice in Wonderland movie debuts soon. March 5, to be precise. To celebrate the author’s birthday, besides having a very rousing un-birthday party tonight for everyone but him, I decided to find some lovely quotes to ponder from Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. You be the judge of whether this is nonsense. It seems awfully like the truth to me.

“It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!”

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.

“‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ said Alice. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all mad here.’

“Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.

“I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.”

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward.”

“One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.

“She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).

“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents, and only one for birthday presents, you know.”

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.

And my personal favorite: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

A long time ago, I wrote an article for some parenting magazines on why I found it important to encourage children to believe the impossible. (Good for adults, too.) More and more, it seems that our kids are bombarded with the idea that the only things worth putting their faith in are the things they can see and touch. Things that get them closer to their career path. Things that make sense. That explains, I suppose, why our schools recently cut their arts programs drastically while pretty much retaining the State Champion football team untouched.

Yet the more I know of life, the more I know that the greatest parts of it–the most wonder-inspiring and dangerous–can’t be seen, or predicted, or quantified. They’re found in the arc of a Planet Suite , the brush strokes of a water lily garden, the grin of an inner-city kid who just got accepted to college, the faces of a little girl from China and an American couple who just found “family.” All these things should be impossible. But they should be fervently believed in.

In the Bible, we read the poetic images of trees clapping their hands and Jesus’ unlikely stories of mustard seeds and lost sons. We rejoice in the improbable delight of a shepherd boy turned king or a teenage girl bearing God himself. God’s love of the impossible soars through every penstroke. If He can believe it, so can I.

It’s too late to begin before breakfast, but do try to believe at least six impossible things today. I’m guessing that if you succeed, you’ll find it easier to get out of bed tomorrow.

happy tension relieving toy day

–This item was patented today, in 1967.

–You had to keep your children from eating this when they were little, just as your mother had to keep you from eating it when you were little.

–Your mother probably wouldn’t let you play with it in the living room, because she probably had wall-to-wall shag carpeting there. Possibly orange. I don’t know what she was worried about. You couldn’t have made it look worse.

–This item is memorialized in (around) 60-foot high glory at Disney’s Pop Culture Resort, the 60s wing. We have pictures. The elephant next to it has thumbprints on its ears, as if a child put them there. (That’s one big child.)

–If you have kids, you’ve probably “eaten” pizzas made from it, as well as cookies, hamburgers, and the occasional smorgasbord buffet. Only kids who have been to a lot of church potlucks or China Buffets do this last one.

–You play with it now every once in a while, either on the sly or pretending you’re playing with the kids. It’s really because you love the stuff. Plus, there’s something truly stress relieving about smashing that satisfyingly squishy stuff. I won’t tell if you pretend it’s your boss/neighbor/annoying relative.

–It’s still some of the cheapest and most creative fun around.

Yes-happy Play Doh Day, one of the absolute best toys to come along in the last 43 years. If you want to celebrate (and you know you do), here’s the recipe I found when our kids were preschoolers. It’s the best one I’ve ever tried, and I’ve tried a lot. The baby oil gives it such a great smell.

2 c. boiling water

1/2 c. salt

1 T alum

2 c. flour

2 T baby oil

Food coloring

Dissolve salt and alum in boiling water. Add food coloring, oil, and flour. Knead 5 minutes. Store in air-tight container (we just used ziplocks).

isn’t this supposed to be normal?

Sunday was a curious day. It was National Customer Service Day. Odd. It has always been my understanding that every day was supposed to be Customer Service Day for people who have, well, customers, and are in the business of serving them. Apparently, I have been grossly misled. Take a recent case in point.

A couple weeks ago, I attempted to exchange a Christmas gift I had bought my daughter at a store which shall remain nameless here, except that its first word is a synonym for eternity and its second is a number somewhere between 20 and 22. Exchange, not return. With a receipt. For the same item in another size. Two managers refused, citing strict company policy that required original attached tags as well. Even with Christmas presents. I asked, “Why?” Reasonable enough questions, I thought.

“It’s strict company policy.”
“Does that make sense if it’s the same exact item I want in exchange?”
“It’s strict company policy.”
“Why are there no reasonable exceptions?”
“It’s strict company policy.”
Do you, as the manager of this store, care if that makes customers so mad they don’t want to come back?”
“It’s strict company policy.”
“What if I stand here, take off all my clothes, and start singing Happy Birthday on top of the clothesracks?”
“It’s strict company policy.”

Now, it seems a no-brainer to me that a business at which mothers everywhere drop lots of cash on an annual basis would attempt to keep those mothers happy. Particularly in a recession. But I majored in English, not business, so what do I know? I do know that “strict company policy” just lost them four customers for life. Believe me, with three teenage girls to keep in the top of fashion, that’s a lot of money.

Or try calling a store to determine if they actually have an item before you get in the car and spend the time and gas to get there. The phone rings, you finally get to a real person who presumably works there and has not just randomly walked in off the street and picked up the phone.
Me: “Hi. Do you carry squid in a can?”
Salesperson: “Uh, I don’t know.” Long pause.
After the pause drags on, you realize. He has absolutely no intention of finding out.

I honestly overheard this conversation from the side of the store clerk at another store which shall remain nameless except that it starts and ends with a “T” and has six letters. We use one when we go to the archery range.

Salesgirl to customer: “Do we carry electric teakettles? I don’t know.” Pause. “OK, I guess I can try to find out. . . . “
Salesgirl to two of her fellow salesclerks standing around next to her: “Do we carry electric teakettles?”
First clerk: “You mean like, kettles, or pots? Cause there’s a difference.”
Salesgirl: “I dunno. Whatever. Kettles.”
First clerk: “Oh. OK. I’ve never seen any? Have you?”
Second clerk: “No, I don’t think so. I haven’t seen any.”
First girl returning to phone: “No, I’m sorry. We don’t have any of those. Thank you for calling!”

Yes, Virginia, this is what really happens when you call customer service. If you don’t believe me, we’ll go check on it for you. I promise.

However, in the interest of championing good salesclerks (associates, team members, whatever!), waitpersons, office managers, etc. everywhere, this is how I intend to celebrate Customer Service Day. I will be as nice as possible to everyone in service I meet today, even the ones who make you wish you had personal access to their pay scale. It will encourage the good ones and at least puzzle the bad ones. I will be the first to point out that there are probably a lot more unpleasant customers out there than service people. I hope, however, that it is not just on this day I try to treat others as I would like to be treated. Perhaps if we all remembered the second greatest commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself, Mark 12:31), every day would be Customer Service Day. Or, we wouldn’t need one at all.

appreciate a dragon day

Saturday was a great day. I love the idea of this day, but I’m really not sure what to say about it. Let’s face it, if you or I go around expressing our appreciation for dragons, pretty soon we’re going to be followed by medical personnel with sedatives.

Perhaps you’re really supposed to appreciate your boss, the fire-breather. Or that customer, client, or patient who can’t be pleased and lets you know it all the time. Or that relative. You know the one.

But I think, in the spirit of the day, I’ll share with you part of a talk I give when speaking to parents’ groups. Studies confirm that now, with technology advancing at the speed of sound and resumes that all look stellar and identical because these kids have been uber-competing for years, companies and colleges are looking for that something “other.” Something that doesn’t show up on a transcript or resume. The ability to solve problems, seek unique solutions, and look at circumstances in a new way. These things come through imagination and creativity, things this country has historically been very good at but which we are rapidly losing. So whenever I get the chance, I like to talk to parents about this topic. How to Nurture Your Child’s Imagination.

The Do’s
–Purchase toys that require interaction. So many current toys do all the work for your child. They walk, talk, light up, and do everything but clean their room. Your child doesn’t have to interact, just push buttons. Try to choose toys that won’t work without your child’s active manipulation. Dolls, dress-up, building toys, play tools and kitchen utensils all make good choices. You know what our kids’ favorite toy one Christmas was? A bag of Styrofoam cups. For weeks, they built fortresses, castles, and pyramids– with just a bag of cups.

–Play open-ended question games. What if you had 10 million dollars? What if you could be any age you wanted to be? What if you saw a giant kangaroo in the backyard? Be silly or serious; it’s all fun.

–Encourage their questions. I know — easier said than done. After all, how many times can you hear “But why? But how?” without wanting to lock yourself in the bathroom for a little quiet? But letting your child know questions are good things encourages her to be curious, a necessary trait for imagination. By the way, “I don’t know,” is an acceptable answer.

–Read together. As much as possible. Every study ever done can’t stress enough the importance of this. Ask her what she thinks will happen next, or how she’d feel if she were in the story.

–Make up stories together. You start a story, then switch off to let him continue after a few sentences. Keep rotating until someone ends your masterpiece. This is a great dinner time game, especially when waiting in restaurants.

–Frame artwork. Show you really value her work by purchasing inexpensive mats and frames for a few things and displaying them. (We framed a colorful “abstract” our oldest daughter did in preschool, and people actually asked where we bought the beautiful picture!)

–Have materials on hand and easily accessible. For very little ones, this could simply mean putting your plastic storage bowls in a lower cupboard she can reach and play with. For older kids, create a convenient place for art supplies, building materials, and dress-up clothes.

–Get into nature and marvel at God’s creativity. Nothing inspires imagination better than the original Masterpiece.

The Don’ts

–Don’t turn on the TV or computer. You knew I’d say this. A child who spends hours in front of the TV or computer screen learns to let the world entertain him. He has no need to learn self entertainment and soon no desire to, because those electronics are addicting. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under 2 and only about an hour for preschoolders.

–Don’t overschedule! This may be even more of an imagination robber than TV. Children need downtime to daydream, think, explore, and create. Being rushed from activity to activity, even good ones, squashes this necessity.

–Don’t forget that the goal is play, not product. We adults get so wrapped up in “end results.” Is he producing something? A child doesn’t feel the pressure to produce at all–she values the process.

–Don’t rush to get him out of a problem. Let him think a while. Problem-solving skills are important keys to imagination. They don’t develop if the parent is always solving problems for a child or getting him out of tight spots.

–Don’t “fix” their work. Does the sun really have to be yellow? If he learns that there’s only one right way to do it, why bother imagining others?

–Don’t freak out over messes. Creativity is messy. A child who learns never to make a mess learns never to think outside the box. Clean it up together and marvel at the creation.

Imagination gives a child more than important life skills. It leads a child to his or her purpose in being here. It awakens the part of them that can commune with the original Artist. After all, we are made in His image, and the first picture we see of God is that of Creator. Nurturing imagination is nurturing the image of God in your child.