I suppose as a sign of myself getting older I find that some things are just incomprehensible. I have seen many changes in our country, our culture, families, education systems, and medical systems over the years. Raising eight kids has kept me pretty much in the loop with change and the importance of change. Some things I totally agree with and some things I totally disagree with but in the last few weeks I have come across two very specific issues that I do not understand.

I totally disagree with them but at the same time I have lost all of my ability to be understanding of the situation. One is a cultural issue and another is the issue of family and the education system. I am an educator and have taught in Jr. High (Currently called Middle School), High School, Community colleges, 4 year colleges, University systems and at Sunday school.

We did run into this problem getting into Church Camp so I included Sunday school. As I write this I am reflecting and have changed my mind about this being an education problem. Rather, it might be a medical problem or a cultural problem. Heck, it could be viewed as a systems problem. As in – All of Our Systems are so messed up there are problems which transcend all of them at one time.

I didn’t mean to lose you in my train of thought but I find it difficult to pinpoint where the problem lies. I thought the school systems but quickly realized that the school systems are reacting to the pressures from the medical systems which are likely reacting to the cultural systems and decided that I don’t know where the problem originates but I do know that it bugs the dog out of me and so I am presenting today.

The problem I am talking about is shot records. Or lack of shot records. Specifically, Varicella records. Varicella is an immunization that helps prevent Chickenpox. For years I have given the dates that my children actually had the disease and that was good enough. Within the last three weeks I have two different children trying to get into colleges in different states and one registering for church camp. All three entities have denied the statement “I have had the chickenpox” and said that the word of the parent is no longer accepted as part of the shot record.

At the Doc in a Box, place where we went to get TB tests, they were upset that the younger kids did not have the shots. I said, “They had Chickenpox when they were little.” The nurse told me that they needed shots. I argued and refused to get the shots. I refused for two reasons: One, I don’t think they need the shot if they have had the disease and Two, it irritates me to no end that a parent’s word is no longer acceptable. I am the mother and I even know the dates they had the pox. Not good enough, I am to obtain a piece of paper which is to be believed. I tried some rhetoric on them and said that a paper was not as reliable as a parent’s word. Either way, I was marked deficient in some way.

In a different scenario my 28 year old texted and needed to know the exact dates he had chickenpox because it is not on his shot record. I said, “I know. It was not invented back then so you had the pox instead of a shot.” He sighed and said, “Mom, they need some kind of record.”

I was upset so I looked it up. The varicella vaccine was not commercially available until 1984 and NOT available in the US until 1995. So, all five of my first pups should not have to have any kind of proof other than their MOTHER’S word because the vaccine was not even available. The next three did have one dose each and then number six came home from school with the pox and gave it to numbers seven and eight in short order. Hence, this THINKING mother did not obtain a second varicella shot for these last three pups! They had the POX!

Now, NOW, they are saying that they should have had the shots and I have to produce a record or they will not be accepted into college or church camp! This does not make sense to me. All of my children have pages – that’s right pages – of dates with immunizations but because they had the pox they are out of compliance with the rules.

Here is my beef. If my word was good enough all of those years for them to attend public schools, why has it suddenly changed? Why tell my 28 year old (born in ‘89) that if he was not born before 1980 that having the pox does not count when it was not available in the US until 1995 (Wikipedia)? For 12 public school years, my word was good enough. Why make the mother’s feel as if they haven’t done all they can to keep their kids safe? AND what about all the kids we let into the school system these days who have absolutely NO shot records because their parents protest all immunizations? How do they get into college and church camp?

I say this nearly every article and I will say it again: What has happened to common sense?

The second incomprehensible thing that has happened is that while shopping at Walmart last week I passed a man with a small child in his buggy, in the produce section. When I wheeled over to the condiments row I saw him there as well, talking to his child. He picked up a jar of pickles, popped the sealed lid open, reached in and pulled one out. He popped the whole pickle into his mouth, licked his fingers, and screwed the lid back on. I thought – as you are thinking – that he would put it into his basket but he did NOT. He opened another jar, tasted, licked, and sat it back on the shelf. As the third jar popped open I left the row and went to find a Walmart employee. Nothing happened. No one was concerned.

I just wonder if that man had had his Varicella shots or are we all exposed?

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Do Your Part

Fourth of July is next week. Some of my kids are coming to visit. The oldest son has declared that he will be buying the fireworks this year. He is going to have a great fireworks show! He is going to buy the biggest, loudest fireworks they make and “light up the backyard!” I believe he is part pyromaniac. In his early teen years he decided to see how many matches it would take to melt a green plastic army man. His room smelled awful for days afterwards but the worst part is that when the little army man gave way from the oval base on which he stood, he fell on son’s arm leaving a nice puckered scar as a reminder that indeed green, plastic army men do melt. 

I am not sure exactly how many matches were used in the experiment but we all survived and now he is coming for a visit to show the younger kids how a real fireworks show is done. Our number five is coming as well and I am praying that the house is standing at the end of the night. Number seven can’t wait for them to get here so they can blow things up!

Number six has invited her boyfriend and the “men” in her family are going to show him what a “real” fireworks show looks like while they give him the once over. At first the boyfriend was eager, but as the stories grow he is not as certain that he needs to meet two United States Marines who love to set things on fire and blow things up.

It should be a fun week with our house full of our kids and their friends as we celebrate our great country. I am eternally thankful that we can get together at will and celebrate. I am thankful that I can go to the grocery store and pick up loads of food to feed everyone. I am thankful that I live in the United States of America.

Sure we have some problems, and right now it seems as if our problems are bigger than our blessings but I would argue that they are not. There are still good, sane folks living in America who will help their neighbors or strangers. I know people who volunteer at the soup kitchens and I know people who volunteer at the homeless shelters. I know people who donate their time and money to send young men and women on missionary trips here and in other countries. I know people who serve at their churches, at the children’s homes, at kids’ camps, and at hospitals.

I know that philanthropy does not only happen in America but the important fact is that it is STILL going on here in America. We try to look outward and help others in less fortunate situations. Maybe we don’t always do it correctly but we still try. When there is a hurricane or other natural disaster, thousands give of their time and their resources to help those suffering. There are hundreds of non-profit organizations created every year to help different groups.

True, not every American will serve or help others, but I feel that most would and do. America is not perfect and not filled with perfect people but most of us try. Many of our systems are broken, but we, the people, do not have to be broken. I am not a system. I am a person and I can make a difference. I can still get up every morning with the goal of helping someone else. I can make someone smile. I can carry things or open doors or share what we have. I can encourage and hug and listen.

I can celebrate the birth of my country with my family. I can clap and scream as the fireworks burst overhead. I can be thankful for all of the men and women who have served so that we can pray at dinner and pray at the end of the night when the house is still standing.

I can’t do it all, but I can do my part and I am starting with a family get together on July 4th to celebrate our country and our family.

I hope you get to do the same.

Happy Fourth of July!

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Fencing Problems

When I go out each morning to feed my new chicks they are all gathered in a huddle by the fence. Some are stretching their necks straight up and others have their faces tucked under their wing but all are waiting for that single opportunity when I open the door for a millisecond. Some rush straight at me and others give a little hop and try to fly past. None make it. Ever.

In the evenings they often go back and forth frantically, peeking first out one side of their pen and then rushing across to peek out the other side of their pen. I don’t know what they see but what I see is one quirky little dog who sniffs around the perimeter at least a million times a day looking for an opening. I also see three or four fat cats just waiting on chicken hors d’oeuvres.

What the chicks can’t see is that if I let them out they will be chomped up in a moment. Because I see the bigger picture I keep them penned in. If they were teenagers they would be wearing out their little scaly fingers texting to others about having to be penned in and how unfair it is to be penned when the dog and cats are obviously out doing whatever they want. Since they are not teenagers they peck at me now and then and give me that sideways eyeball if the door is ever open.

Our little quirky dog is in the same boat that the chickens are in but they just don’t get it.  His pen is simply bigger than theirs. For a while, each time we came home he would be lying in the middle of the street so pleased with his cleverness in getting out of the fence. So we spent months filling in holes or placing bricks in any opening we saw. He got out, we covered the opening. Finally, we strung chicken wire all around the inside of the fence to keep him in.

What he didn’t realize was that outside of the fence, the bigger dogs would go crazy over him and the cars couldn’t even see him in the road. The neighbors would call animal control or he could become the latest roadkill. It was all bad news for him outside of his fence. In perspective, his fence is much bigger than the chickens’ fence, but they can’t see that. All they see is that he has more freedom. And all he sees is that the cats seemingly do whatever they want to do.

Granted, most cats choose to lie on the porch or deck 23 out of 24 hours, but after a good yawn and stretch they will saunter off and jump the fence. Cats are not really fenced. They are a bit like goats in that area. If water can get through it so can a cat or a goat. But their reality is that once outside of the protection of the yard, they can get picked up, run over, or chomped on by a coyote. The chickens will see them come and go, and the dog does a crazy dance when they blithely jump over the very fence he has been fighting but their reality is that often they just disappear or the other cats will hold a conference and run one off. No explanation. Just gone.

And that is what has happened to common sense these days. Gone. No explanation. Just gone. So many want to be allowed to do anything and everything they want, no matter how bizarre, unethical, immoral, or just plain weird. No fences, no boundaries, no expectations, just unadulterated freedom. And yet, it is not working. All of this freedom is not making a greater place to live. All of this freedom is not ensuring that every child is loved and protected. All of this freedom is not really helping women be better women or men be better men.

We tolerate everything and yet we have even more children in foster care, the homeless population is growing, hate is rampant, education is low on the totem pole, and I could get blasted just for writing the words totem pole because someone will get offended.

Freedom is good. Freedom comes with responsibilities. Who is going to count the cost of total freedom? Who is going to pay the consequences? What about all the children dumped into foster care or grandparent care? They might wish their biological parents might have stayed within the fence just a little bit. Count the cost of having a child before using your freedom to have unprotected sex. What about the meth head’s parents? Do we stop to think that with just a little fencing their family might still be intact?

Fencing is not bad, but we are being convinced that any and all fencing is bad. We are made to feel ancient and archaic if we don’t agree to total freedoms.

I disagree and I think my chickens are smart enough to disagree as well. Don’t you know that the moment a dog’s teeth clamp down on a chicken’s neck, she starts thinking about how nice it was clucking around the water cooler INSIDE the fence.

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Contentment Cabinet

Last week I read an article on FaceBook about a “mediocre life.” The author suggested that a mediocre life is better than the fast track, busy, busy, ever climbing life of trying to keep up with, and control, others. He stated that it was better to just “Be.” And I totally agree with him except that if you manage to find a way to contentment then I find that to be a superior life. This was discussed on fb some but it set me to thinking about the contented life.

A contented life should not be labeled as mediocre or superior because that is a comparison to others and the contented life is one which lives without comparison to others. One saying is that comparison robs us of our joy. And it does. Contentment infers that we are not labeling nor or we comparing. We are just busy enjoying what we enjoy and don’t have to look to others for that.

I find comparisons tedious and cumbersome. Often the kids have come home and said, “so and so said this about us (me) today.” My standard answer to that kind of kid cruelty is to ask my child, “Do you think this about yourself?” Usually they say “No.” I then tell them not to worry about what others say and next time look them in the eye and say, “Thank you” and walk off.

I don’t know if this is the way to contentment or not but I do know that comparisons are definitely the road to dis-contentment. As I thought through the fb article and the responses I tried to think about the different things/circumstances that could be cobbled together for a content life. Of course, everyone is unique so every person will have a different idea of what contentment is.

Here are a few things that I hold dear in my contentment cabinet.

Everyone needs at least one good quilt. Hopefully, it is from someone who loves you or your family. Quilts hold memories of earlier times in one’s life. One of my favorite quilts is an old double knit quilt my mom, sister, and I made when I went off to college. It is not fancy and the fabric is totally from another generation. But when I look at it, I remember my oldest sister teaching me how to tie the bright yellow yarn into double knots along rows and my mom insisting that we make my roommate one to match. I can still pick out many of the pieces and know exactly which outfit was made from that fabric. I still have that old quilt and we still use it. Maybe we need to rethink polyester knit fabrics for quilting purposes!

Everyone needs at least one good friend. Someone you can call up on a Saturday afternoon and talk for 3 hours and 58 minutes and feel as if it has only been a half hour. One good friend to share joys and troubles. One good friend who “gets” you without explanation. If you have two or three really good friends then you are truly blessed because one is all it takes.

Everyone needs at least one good passion. A passion for something. A passion that allows you to serve others. A passion that enriches your life and gives your life meaning. It might be your work. It might be a hobby. It might be church related. It might be outdoors or it might be indoors behind a sewing machine cranking out quilts. Whatever it is, go for it, invest in it, allow yourself to be passionate and exciting.

Everyone needs to believe in themselves. We need to quit listening to others’ innuendos and smirks. We need to quit comparing to others and take note of the many times a day we make someone smile. Remember when you helped your neighbor by mowing and when you volunteered to let all of the teens from church ride in your large vehicle. Remember that you shape and mold other lives even if you do laundry for most of the day. Yes, we all mess up but not 24/7. Believe that you make a difference. One kindness is all it takes.

We all need family. Yes, they are complex and irritating and sometimes downright embarrassing, but we all need family. From the moment we are born, family is our connection to the world. We need those connections to others who remember us as we were, who cheered us on as we struggled, and who validate us now. Birth families or chosen families – it doesn’t matter – we need families. We need to know how to love and respect others and it all begins with family.

I apologize to all the dog lovers out there, but I think we all need a cat to be content. Cats are independent and great hunters. They are so chill and don’t dig in the garden except to fertilize it. They are soft and they puuuurrrrrr. 

As I age I find that contentment is so much easier than trying to control everything. I may be “mediocre” but I am loving every minute of it.

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The Master Blaster


The end of school is near. I can hear the summer calling. No more getting up at 5:30 to catch the 6:41 AM bus. The kids are excited but busy. Field Day. Party Day. Movie Day. Lots of testing and more testing. One of the last things for a fifth grader to do each year is decide what kind of classes they want to take as they rise to the next grade. One night over supper we had the serious discussion of which would be the youngest’s first choice, his second choice and so forth for his first year as a Middle Schooler.

At the same time we are preparing the Senior for her final days as a High Schooler. Mainly each morning I would encourage her to go on to school because she really did not need to fail out at this late date. “Awweee mom. We aren’t doing anything and I am just so tired of going!” I agreed with her as I pushed her out the door each morning.

And if this isn’t enough we have the new chickens which came in the mail. They have to be watched, heated, and tended to while attending all of the end of school events. For some quirky reason I received three extra chicks in the box which was not part of our master plan of having backyard chickens.

My new Mother’s Day chicken coop recommends 8-10 chickens at the most. I ordered fifteen because that is a minimum order. They sent two extra Rhode Island Reds and one “exotic” bird. So, not only did I have too many birds, they were not sexed either. Meaning that I received a mix of hens and roosters.

The master plan was that we would go ahead and get the fifteen mixed chicks knowing that most of the time two or three did not make it past a few days. That would help a little bit. And then we would give away any roosters because we were worried about the neighbors. That should get us down to the recommended 8-10 hens. 

However, every single one of the chicks survived the shipping so I had eighteen peeping, hopping, fluttering chickens. Unfortunately, one got caught under the watering station and died. Another was inadvertently dropped and suffered a concussion until moving on to chick heaven. And one morning we found one dead in the box. Not sure why but dead none the less. So, down to the original fifteen and hoping that the ones that died were the roosters.

I have nothing against roosters. In fact, I absolutely love to hear them crow but I am afraid that our neighbors might not like that as much as I do. I love listening to a good flock. The hens all chatter and cluck while the ol rooster tosses his head back and lets out his croaky cock-a-doodle-do.

However, with these last few days of school I am not so worried about the roosters as I originally was. One sunny afternoon, out past the deck, at the new chicken coop, I am chattering with the flock when I hear a loud “SPlllaaaatttt” coming from inside the house. I listen for a moment and decide that all is well.

I return to the chickens and secure them in their pen when I hear “Sppplluuuuttt!” This time the noise is right behind me. I turn to see my new Master Trombonist OUT ON THE DECK blasting his new horn as loud as he can. He giggles between blasts. Yikes! What will the neighbors think?

“Hey Mom! I can really blow this thing!”

I raise my eyebrows and give him a thumbs up. “Spppllllasaaatt” He dies laughing and blows even harder.

Am now rethinking the chicken count as I doubt that the neighbors will even notice the rooster’s crow over the ardent tones of a newly minted trombonist.



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Teens and Chicks

Five AM is not the absolute best time to call me. But I did receive a call this morning at five AM and was delighted! My new chicks had arrived at the post office in their little packing box. So easy. I go online, pick out the chicks I want, place my order and wait for the shipping call. Once I get them home, I dip their little beaks in the water for a drink and then they are off. So Easy. 

So much easier, in fact, than kids! Can you imagine if we could just go online, pick out the children we want and then place the order? I am sure that the docile, mile-mannered ones would all be snapped right up. Kids with athletic builds might go rather quickly and the obedient breeds would never be in stock. There might be a HUGE back log of smart-alec, smart-mouthed, irritating, ungrateful, whiney kids. They would probably be half price with free shipping!

The same thing happens with chicks. The good, egg-laying, docile ones are often out of stock while the aggressive ones are often the only ones left to offer. I am not entirely sure but they might even end up in the freezer. Good thing that does not happen to kids. However, I met a lady one time on an airplane who told me that all teenagers should be deep frozen until they are twenty-five and then thawed. I nodded along as she told me this.

She might have been right in some ways, but for the most part I don’t think I agree with her. Teens can be vexing but think of all the things we learn. We learn ultimate patience. We learn new songs and dance moves. We get matching tattoos. We wear strange clothes to look “cool.” We learn to love when we are about ready to chop their little heads off. We learn to think outside of our adult box. We learn that absolutely anything can happen and we will all get over it.

Teenagers just might be God’s perfect training tool for us. But mostly, with teens, we learn about ourselves. We learn how strong we must be. We learn that we better be living what we talk or they will crucify us. We learn how to handle heartache, mistrust, and disappointment. We learn how to love another in spite of.

Small, soft babies are so easy to love and then they grow. Not unlike chicks, teens clomp together while making non-stop, undecipherable noises. They make huge messes and walk right over them. They are awkward and sometimes fall over themselves. The “roosters” are very full of themselves. They peck at everything, especially their mothers. They eat more than they weigh about every three hours or so. And they are so stinkin cute we put up with them and encourage them to grow up and produce.

At some point in encouraging and putting up with teens, most parents reflect back. “I surely did not talk to my parents the way these kids talk to me!” Were we as obstinate and pig-headed as these young teens? Surely not! And at some point it hits – our poor parents! How did they make it through? The same way we are going to make it through I suspect. One day at a time with gritted teeth.

As I pamper my new little Rhode Island Reds, I also pamper my pre-teen, young teen, and older teen. I set out water and food and listen to them cheep. I encourage them to come out of their box and to quit pecking on each other. I guard them and watch over them until they are ready to leave the coop and then I quietly thank the good Lord that I made through yet another teen experience!

While my downy chicks are brand new, I have a chick ready to leave the coop. I am both excited and fearful. She is both excited and fearful. Graduation from High School and leaving the coop are major milestones for older teenagers. There are foxes out in the world ready to snap them up. There are dangers around every corner but she is ready and I think I am ready. 

As graduation approaches for many, we pray that our chicks have learned the lessons that they need to avoid the foxes and the pitfalls that await them. We pray that they remember how much we loved them along the way and we pray that they find their own path to success and a productive life.

And we pray for all the parents who can’t help but bawl at the opening notes of Pomp and Circumstance even if it is number six.

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The BEE Garden

My kids come home from school nearly every week and inform me that the bees are in trouble and we need to do more to help them out. Last week I was told that some bees are now on the endangered list. This concerns me and should concern everyone.

A story from states that “Pollinator decline is a global trend. A recent major global assessment sponsored by the U.N. suggested that about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species are facing extinction. Since some 75 percent of food crops rely at least partially on pollinators, that raises serious concerns about the future of the global food supply.”

I have always been an avid gardener but understanding how important my flowers are to our future means that it is more important than ever for us all to plant flowers around our homes. I have friends who say that they can’t be bothered with flowerbeds because it is easier to have grass – or concrete – everywhere. I prefer flowers.

In addition to helping the Bees, a flower garden is a great place to teach children about chores that are fun. Gardens are work to be sure. To some it is fun and to others it is torture. Either way, mine have all been dragged out into various gardens until that momentous day they leave for college or move out. No one is exempt. Here are some tips to managing your gardens.

Parenting Tip Number One: Don’t give them a choice. About once a day, unless it is snowing, I walk through the house clapping and I say, “Outside. Outside. One hour, One hour. Meet me outside in five minutes.” They moan and groan and begin to make excuses, but eventually they make it out to the porch. I quickly assign the different chores.

Parenting Tip Number Two: You have to be involved with them. This is a chance to be together doing something different and fun. It is a chance to teach them about so many things or, as I have found, it is a good place to listen. Something about having your rear-end in the air that opens their mouths.

Parenting Tip Number Three for budding young men: I often use this encouraging logic – this is just a different way to build up those muscles. Think of this as your daily workout. This is CrossFit. This is like going to the gym with your buds – only better! This doesn’t always compute but I always feel better when I get to say it.

Parenting Tip Number Four: If things get slow you can always sing Encouraging Work Songs. These are generally sung while standing over a reluctant worker. Sing in a very loud Operetta Voice until they get back to work. Here is a sample verse that I particularly like, “Work, Work, Work is fun. Work is good. This is an Encouraging Work Song. We Work for fun. We work for mom! OOOOhhhhhhhououou!”

Parenting Tip Number Five: Spend about a third of the required outside time rocking on the porch sipping cool drinks. It is amazing the topics that will crop up.

Just last week I had a reluctant worker in our Bee Garden. She was slinging dirt and mumbling under her breath. Jap, Jab, Jab. She worked the little hand shovel. I let her blow the steam off while I helped the boys work on their rock lifting technique for biceps muscles. When we finished, I gingerly approached her with a box.

“Here is a box that I ordered that is supposed to be a “Bee and Butterfly” garden in a box. Why don’t you help me get these planted?” I smiled. She glared, sniffed, and grabbed the box. I went over to the barn to get the shovel. When I returned to the flowerbed I saw a neat row of plants which had been unpacked and were ready for the dirt.

I smiled at her until I noticed she had removed all of the white information tags. I gasped. She whirled around, clutching the tags. “What did I do?” 

I explained that without the tags I didn’t even know what I was planting or which to put in the back or shade or sun. She did have the grace to lower her head. I laughed and told her that the bees would not care.

So, we added twenty-three Bee Specific plants to our garden. We just don’t know what was added or if they will overtake the plants nearby.

The IMPORTANT thing is that we do have a BEE Garden and are doing our part for the Bumbles.

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