Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Treasures from the Trash Can

"Mom, Mikayla is going through my trash can!" Oh the joys of being an older sister and the joys of having an older sister!

When they were much younger, our oldest daughter, Katie, would fuss at her younger sister, Mikayla, for going through her things. These usually weren't things that were of any value to Katie. They were typically things that she had thrown away but the act of someone else going through her things, even if they were in her trash can just didn't seem right to her. Mikayla, on the other hand, was a sort of pack rat. She had a habit of keeping things. She enjoyed going through her sister's trash hoping she would find something of value, at least something of value to her.  One year, at Christmas, I became the recipient of one of Mikayla's new found treasures -a walnut shell split perfectly down the middle. That walnut shell became the housing for my Christmas gift from her that year, 73 cents neatly tucked inside with a piece of scotch tape wrapped around it securing the two pieces of the shell together.

I have some things that I call my treasures.  They are things that mean a lot to me but really would mean very little to anyone else. They're things like an old cook book that belonged to my Granny, a small painted flower pot that was a Mother's Day gift,  and almost empty perfume bottles that belonged to my mom just to name a few. When I remove the cap of one perfume bottle in particular and smell the scent of the perfume, it seems like she's right there in the room with me. We all have things that mean so much to us but really nothing to anyone else.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While others may see these simple items that I cherish as trash, their beauty shines brightly to me.  It is those things like the empty walnut shell, the almost empty perfume bottles, the little flower pot that has found its resting place beside the "good china", that serve as reminders to me. They remind me of the value of the relationships that those items represent and the value of those relationships cannot be measured.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Debt Forgiven

Susie Larson, says in her book, Growing Grateful Kids, that we can't grow beyond our ability to accept correction.  I've heard it said that you can't fix what you don't acknowledge.  Children as well as adults aren't always happy recipients of correction. As parents, it can be hard to determine when correction is needed and when the event that occurred has taught the appropriate lesson. It's a fine line that we walk. We understand the need to use situations to teach life lessons but we often wonder if the route we're taking is the best one.  I'm sure there's not a parent alive who hasn't at one point questioned something they've done.

Mrs. Larson  tells the story of a 16 year old son who had recently received his driver's license. Freedom at last, he thought! With permission and on one condition, this new driver borrowed his mom's Chevy Blazer for the evening. The only condition given by his mom was that once he arrived at the friend's house, the vehicle would stay parked until the next morning when he would return home.

When he arrived at his friend's house, the young boy and his buddies began the activity they had planned for the evening, working on a car. They had been at it a few hours when they realized they needed a part to continue working. Without even thinking about it, they all hopped into the Chevy Blazer and headed to the store...the same Chevy Blazer that was not to be driven once it arrived at the friend's home.  Cruising along in the truck with his new found freedom and vehicle full of friends, the boy's buddies challenged him to pull into a school parking lot to do a few doughnuts on a thick blanket of fresh snow. The pressure from his peers was more than he could bear so he gave in to their wishes only thinking "in the moment".  He soon realized that living in the moment isn't all it's cracked up to be. While doing the doughnut with the truck, the boy slammed into a concrete structure in the school parking lot. Thankfully, no one was physically hurt but obvious damage had been done to the Chevy Blazer. 

When he arrived home the next morning with the side of the Blazer smashed in and the side mirror dangling, the young boy told his mom what had happened. Her initial reaction was thankfulness that no one was hurt, then anger and shock for his disobedience.  There were lessons to be learned in this. The parents had to use this opportunity to teach their oldest child but how would they go about doing that?

After talking it over, the husband and wife decided the predominant lesson to be learned in this accident was that actions have consequences.  Even actions that are accidental can have consequences.  Thankfully, his consequences were not life-threatening for him or anyone else. None-the-less, there had to be consequences.

The monetary amount of $3000 came into this 16 years old's life and didn't leave for quite some time.  You see, that was the amount necessary to repair the damage that had been done to his mom's Chevy Blazer. Even though it was accidental, the amount stayed the same - $3000. He would have to be responsible for that amount. The parents realized that $3000 was a lot of money to a 16 year old but they just didn't see any way around it. So, the boy began working.  He picked up weekend jobs, odd jobs, doing just about anything that would contribute to the $3000 debt that he had acquired.

About a year and $1200.00 later, the boy seemed to be slipping into despair and discouragement from the whole ordeal. He had worked hard and willingly, placing all funds toward the debt that he owed but he began to feel that he would never be able to repay it.
With a 17th birthday, just around the corner, the teen's parents asked what he'd like for his birthday, He replied, "Just dinner at a restaurant with a few of my friends...that's all." Steak and cheesecake were two of his favorite things on earth, so they went about making the plans for their oldest's birthday.

The steakhouse was the perfect place...just what he loved.  The friends that the boy had invited were good kids, fun to be around and the boy thoroughly enjoyed his special dinner on his birthday. The waitress brought out the final plate for the evening.  It was his 17th birthday dessert, cheesecake, with candles blazing. She sat it down in front of the birthday boy.  As he looked down at the cheesecake to blow out the candles, he saw two words drizzled in chocolate on the plate - "Debt Forgiven". The young boy couldn't believe what he was seeing.  Could it be real?  Through tears, he looked across the table at his mom and dad, jumped to his feet so forcefully that it almost tipped his chair backwards and wrapped his arms around his family. You see, those 2 words that were drizzled in chocolate on the plate were the only two words necessary to lift the tremendous burden that this young man had been carrying.

Mrs. Larson went on to say that "forgiveness took on a whole new meaning for all of us that day.  With forgiveness in its structure, a family can withstand sins, mistakes and missteps and come out on the other side strong, loving and steadfast."

If you're blessed to be a parent, use your opportunities wisely and teach your kids those valuable life lessons like responsibility and actions having consequences. That's your job. Just remember to not make those lessons so difficult that your kids will never achieve what you're asking. Know your child.  Be "in touch" enough to know when enough is enough, when it's time to allow them to wipe the slate clean and start over.

I'm not sure I've always been good at that as a parent, especially early on but this is one of those times when learning from other's mistakes, namely mine, can be as valuable to you as those life lessons are to your kids.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

Great Truths...

Great truths that little children have learned:
1. No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.
2. When your Mom is mad at your Dad, don't let her brush your hair.
3. If your sister hits you, don't hit her back.  They always catch the second person.
4. You can't trust your dog to watch your food.
5. Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
6. You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
7. Don't wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
8. The best place to be when you're sad is Grandma's lap.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lessons from the Mayonnaise Jar

The following short story has been around a while.  I'm not sure when I first heard it but the application is still relevant in my life. Hopefully, you'll get some good out of it too.  If you are anything like me,  life can get overwhelming. There's so much going on, so much to accomplish and 24 hours in a day isn't nearly enough to get everything done on your "to do" list.  This little story is it's a great reminder to me of setting priorities.

A professor stood before his class on the first day of the semester. As class began, without a word, he picked up a large, empty mayonnaise jar and filled it with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

The professor picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  As he shook it lightly, the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf ball. He then asked again if the jar was full. The students said it was. He then took out a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand fit in the crevices. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a hesitant "yes". He then produced 2 cups of coffee and poured them into the jar.  The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, "this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things. These are the kind of things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, would still make your life full, like God, your family, your health, etc. The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else - the small stuff.

"If you put the sand in first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all of your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for things that are important.  Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities."

One student raised her hand to inquire what the coffee represented. He smiled and replied, "It just shows that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for coffee with a friend."

Monday, September 13, 2010

A New Normal...New Beginnings

All of us have things to happen in our lives that are unexpected.  Some are just part of life, the consequences of our actions. Even though we may not like the consequences, we understand why they are what they are and work to try to get back to normal as quickly as possible. It so often takes longer than we had planned or anticipated.  Other unexpected happenings tend to lend a harder blow, a deeper pain.

What we've always done, what has always been normal to us may take on some drastic changes. I think of some of the many situations that I know of when what was once normal is no longer that. It may be the new normal that comes when relationships change within a family. It may be the new normal that we're forced to accept when we lose a loved one whether through death or for other reasons. It may be that a change in career or career plans is necessary due to unforseen circmstances.It may be that a new normal came into being because of someone else's actions entirely. Regardless of the cause, we are forced to step back and rethink some things at a time when that really is the last thing that we had planned on having to do.

"New Beginnings", new normals are not always what we hope for. They're aren't always what we would classify as being a good thing or a happy time in our life.  They can be times when as hard as we try, we can find nothing positive about the event that has caused our life to take such a drastic turn.  

It's those times when we have to work hard to remember that God is still the same God today that He was yesterday...that He will not leave us. Our lives may have changed, but He has not. Our role in our life may have changed, but His has not and our motivation to do right during those difficult times cannot waver.

If you are facing a new normal, a new beginning, don't sit by without goals, without a purpose and let life happen to you. Take charge of your life and send it in the direction that you want it to go to the best of you ability.  You may not have chosen to be where you are, but the fact is, you are there. Now is the time to get busy making it what you want it to be.

The rain falls hard at times. The storms can be brutal but I'm confident we can face life’s difficulties with God's help. Even when the gray skies seem to linger for a long time, so long that we may begin to wonder if they’ll ever clear again, we can look to our Father and know that with patience and perseverance, the clouds will part and the sun will shine again.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home

When it gets to be this time of the year and the cotton fields here in North Alabama begin to turn white with "southern snow", I can't help but think of the song, "Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home" No, I never picked cotton seriously but I actually have picked cotton. I can remember being a little girl and my dad taking me and my brothers down to Mr. George's place. Mr. George farmed cotton. I really can't tell you how many acres he had but that  field surely looked pretty big to me as a young girl. The field was solid white! We were given long muslin cotton sacks that hung over our shoulders and trailed behind us as we walked between the rows of cotton. We would pull the cotton from the bolls, then drop the fluffy white stuff in the sack. My cotton sack never did get very heavy. I obviously wasn't a serious cotton picker, but those who were serious about it would have to pull those cotton filled sacks down the rows as they went from plant to plant pulling the cotton from the bolls. Even cotton can be heavy if there's a lot of it! Once the bag was almost full, the cotton was dumped into a big trailer. I can remember jumping in that big trailer of cotton as a little girl. If you've ever been around a trailer full of cotton, you never forget that smell. It was a good smell.

I know a lot of people make their living by farming cotton but it's much different now than when I was a little girl and even much more different than when my dad was a boy. That kind of cotton-picking that my dad did was hard work...hard, hot, back breaking work.

My dad wrote down some things several years ago that he remembered about picking cotton as a boy. This is an excerpt from some of the things that he wrote in a booklet he entitled, "Some Things I Remember" by Jerry Sutton.

When I was in school, we had six weeks of summer school, then school turned out and gave us six weeks to pick our cotton. Most of the school children at that time lived on farms and the children were needed in the fall of the year to pick the cotton. We managed to get most of our cotton picked during that six week period. If picking wasn't completed during that period we finished it up after school started back.

I remember picking cotton each year and how your fingers around your finger nails would get sore and sometimes bleed. This would happen because the cotton bolls had sharp points on them and you would stick your fingers into the sharp points as you were reaching for the boll to pull the cotton out. My mother would make what she called a stall to slip over our sore fingers.
When I was ten years old, I remember picking 200 lbs of cotton in one day. The next year, when I was 11 years old, I picked 300 pounds of cotton in one day. As a general rule, I would pick about 250 pounds per day. During cotton picking season in the late 40's, my dad would pay us boys $1.00 for each hundred pounds we picked. We had to take some of that money and buy clothes for winter. I would have 2 changes of clothes to wear to school during the winter. Each set would be a pair of pants and a shirt. One would be brown and the other gray. I would wear one set 3 days a week and the other 2 days a week.

The cotton we picked in the fall had to be chopped during the summer. Farmers didn't use chemicals to kill the grass and weeds as they do today. With a hoe in your hand, you would cut the grass from around the cotton plants and pull it out between the rows. Then with a plow attached to the tractor, the grass would be plowed up and would die. I remember on one occasion, when I was about 11, I was sharpening my hoe with a file and my hand slipped. I cut my hand pretty bad on the hoe. My mother poured some coal oil on it and wrapped it up. I got out of chopping cotton for about a day and a a half. The place healed up real well but I still have a scar on my hand.

That was a time when life was hard but much simpler. It was a time when farmers worked the ground by the sweat of their brow and families worked together to get the farm plowed or the crops planted or the cotton picked. It was a time when very few folks suffered from insomnia. It didn't take long to figure out that it was time to rest the body after working from sun up to sun down. It was a time when homemade blackberry jam on a hot biscuit was the rule instead of the exception. It was a time when you knew your neighbor and didn't worry quite so much about that stranger walking up to your front door. It was a time when a man's word meant something.

While I definitely wouldn't want to go back to the times of picking cotton by hand, I hate that we've gotten so far away from the good things that came with that period of time in our history. I think we've thrown out the baby with the bathwater failing to carry some of that "good stuff" forward. What a shame.

I can remember going to the cotton field and waiting for daylight to come so we could start picking. I have also been in the cotton field when it got too dark to see how to pick the cotton.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thanks but no thanks, Mom

It was his birthday.  He was twelve years old.  Only one more year to be a kid I thought. Only one more year until the big teenage years would hit. We had already done the breakfast-in-bed thing at home and I had already sung the "Happy, happy birthday, Aaron" song  in my most obnoxious, raspy voice to wake him on his birthday morning. Then, it was off to school for the day. (It's such a shame that we have to go to school, or work on our birthdays.)  Anyway, I decided to take him lunch to school. I usually did that for the kids when it was their birthday.  When the kids were in elementary school, I would take cupcakes or cookies or something like that so they could share with the class. That was before the days of school systems not allowing parents to bring in home baked items to school and before the ban on baked "junk foods" at school. As the kids got older, I would just usually take a special lunch to them on their special day, then we would celebrate at home later that day.

I ran to the Subway Sandwich shop and picked up a Pizza sub. to take to Aaron at the middle school.  I also picked up a bouquet of balloons and tied them onto a bag of Starburst candy.  Starburst was one of the birthday boys favorite kinds of candy. When I arrived at the middle school, I went to the front office and had them call him up so I could deliver his surprise to him. 

Aaron was glad to see me and tickled especially to see the Sub sandwich. It didn't take him long to take hold of the Subway Sandwich Shop's sack that his birthday lunch was in. He was also happy to get the Starburst candy.  That was icing on the cake for his birthday lunch but much to my surprise, he declined the balloons. 

I'm not sure what I was thinking.  I guess I wasn't thinking. He was in middle school and much too big to be carrying around a bouquet of balloons at school even if it did have a bag of Starburst candy tied onto the end of it.  I think the balloons sort of embarrassed him. So, I gave him the pizza sub from Subway and the Starburst candy and brought the balloons back home. On the short drive home, I this age, two out of three is probably not so bad. At the same time, and with a sigh,  I also thought...he's growing up way too fast for my liking.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Asian Lettuce Wraps...It's a Winner, Folks!

Hey y'all!  I saw a recipe being prepared in passing the other day on the Food Network. You know I think I could live just fine with only 3 channels on the television - Food Network, HGTV and ESPN in the fall.  Fellas, you can pick yourself up off the ground now! Yes, I said ESPN! But I also said in the fall.  I'm a graduate of the University of Alabama so I bleed BAMA blood.  I really do try to not be an obnoxious college football fan though.  Those knotheads really get on my nerves.

Anyway, back to the show on Food Network.  I think it was called "Quick Meals" but I haven't seen it often enough to really know?  From what I saw, the chef (She would probably be called a chef. I'm a cook.) prepares maybe 2 meats ahead of time and then prepares 5 different dinners with those 2 meats.  The meat that she used in the recipe that caught my eye was beef brisket and the meal she prepared was Asian Lettuce Wraps. I thought about  PF Chang's wondering if it was anything like they serve.  It looked easy and we love any kind of food that is  close to Chinese food so I knew I had to try it.  I did and let me tell you, it was really good.  I was very pleasantly surprised. Easy and delicious for a meal?  That to me is a perfect combination. 

Let me say this ahead of time.  Unfortunately, I didn't really measure when I made it.  I just kind of dumped stuff together, so the recipe is not going to be exact. If you like more meat than vegetables, then do that or if your a vegetarian, then leave the meat out.  Either way, you'll have a winner! 

Asian Lettuce Wraps

Medium sized Beef Roast (Your choice on the cut -Chuck, Sirloin, or Brisket - I used chuck.) )
Onion Powder
Sesame Oil
4 cups shredded cabbage or 1 bag of coleslaw mix
2 cups matchstick carrots
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce (found in the Chinese food section at the grocery store)
1/8 cup Soy Sauce
Romaine lettuce

Place the roast in an oven proof dish.  Sprinkle with onion powder and salt.  Cover with foil and bake on 250 degrees until the meat can be easily pulled apart with a fork.  This will probably take 3-4 hours at least depending on the size of the roast. This can also be done in a slow cooker so it will be ready when you gt home from work. Once it is cooked and cooled a bit, shred with 2 forks or your hands.

In a large wok or skillet, and on medium high heat, drizzle about 2-3 Tablespoons of sesame oil in the bottom of the skillet.  Throw in 1 large onion that has been quartered and sliced.  Stir fry for a couple of minutes just until the onions lose their raw flavor.  Add 4 cups of shredded cabbage and 2 cups of matchstick carrots.  I used a bag of coleslaw mix found in the produce section in grocery story. To the vegetables, add the shredded meat, 1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce and 1/8 cup Soy sauce. Stir fry just long enough to "wilt" the cabbage. Use Romain lettuce leaves as your wraps.  Place some of the stir fry mixture in a leaf, roll up like a burrito. Enjoy!

Variation:  You could also throw in some bell pepper strips along with sesame seeds which would add some more great flavor and crunch to the wraps.