Entertain Me!

Recently my husband and I ate dinner in a restaurant at which a young boy and a man that I assumed to be his grandfather were also eating. The man and boy were seated at a table next to ours. The boy entered the dining room with his head lowered and with his eyes and fingers locked onto some kind of electronic game. He scooted into his chair and spoke his order to the waiter without taking his eyes from his game. I did not watch the boy constantly as I ate, but in the times that I looked his way, I never once saw him stop playing the game or make eye contact with his grandfather, who tried to engage him in a conversation.

When I was a little girl, there were no electronic games. My siblings and I had to entertain ourselves in other ways. Some of those ways might seem boring and even foolish to today’s kids, but they kept us out of our mom’s way and actually seemed like fun at the time. We did not play any games at the dinner table, either at home or on the rare outing to a restaurant for a meal.

I suppose that every little girl of my generation played with paper dolls. These were usually bought in a book form. The dolls were on the cardboard cover of the book and had to be cut out. Their clothes, hats, shoes, purses, etc. were printed on the pages inside the book and also had to be cut out. Each clothing and accessory item had paper tabs that bent to the back side of the paper dolls in order to keep them in place. This toy was entertaining enough but eventually the tabs got torn off of the clothes, and the dolls’ heads bent forward and had to be stabilized by having a popsicle stick taped to the back.

Most of the time when my sister and I played paper dolls, we cut them from our mom’s Sears, Montgomery Ward, or Alden catalogs. In fact, on the day that a new catalog came in the mail, my sister and I sat down and “marked” our dolls. Pam put a “P” next to the dolls she chose and I put a “D” next to mine. Once the catalog was out of date, we proceeded to cut out our dolls and play with them.

At Christmas time Pam and I played a fun matching game using the Christmas cards our family received in the mail. Mom used Scotch tape to fasten every card to the facings of the doorway between our living room and dining room. We usually received 50 or more cards so they eventually stretched across the top and down both sides of the extra-wide doorway. After we had gotten 10 or so cards, Pam and I challenged each other to a memory game. Using a fly swatter as a pointer, she or I tapped the front of one of the displayed cards. The other sister had to state the name of the person(s) who had sent the card. We never tired of this game, which grew more challenging on an almost daily basis, and we became whizzes at matching cards to their senders. Scoff if you wish, but it was fun.

Another matching game that we played required the use of Mom’s spice drawer and a blindfold. One sister opened up tiny, metal cans of McCormick’s spices, held them to the nose of the blindfolded sister, and she identified the spices. Now that’s entertainment! To this day I am not likely to add cinnamon to a recipe when I intend to add ginger. My nose alerts me to the mistake instantly.

When we had enough kids for group games, we played Ante-Over, Red Rover, Hide-and-Seek, and an improvised game called “Bouquet.” In this game, all participants except one claimed a “chair” in the yard. The chair was usually an overturned bucket, a big tree root, or a particular clump of clover in one general area of the yard. (We had a yard, not a lawn.) The player who was “It” stood in front of all the seated players and told a long, made-up story.   At some unexpected time in the story, “It” interjected the word “bouquet.” That was the signal for all players, including “It,” to find a new chair. Whoever failed to find a chair was the next one to be “It” and play continued. Yes, I know this game sounds a lot like Musical Chairs, but we weren’t allowed to take real chairs or the record player outside so we worked with what we had.

We also played endless games of Mumblety-Peg, which involved a knife. We used one of Mom’s duller paring knives and of course the younger kids were not allowed to play. We often played Flying Dutchman, Simon Says, and Mother, May I? We were forbidden from playing more games of Blind Man’s Bluff after a blindfolded boy walked into a tree and bloodied his nose. In addition, we skipped rope while singing rhymes such as “Sally’s in the Cellar Wishing for Her Feller” and “Cinderella Dressed in Yella.”   We also hula-hooped, played hopscotch and rode bent-over saplings as horses. After a rain we mounded moist sand around our bare feet and built “frog houses.” We girls put on fashion shows. Stepping grandly across the concrete banisters of our front porch, we modeled elegant, “pretend” evening gowns and pointed out specific features such as spaghetti straps, empire waistlines and ruffled hems.

Kids I played with were rarely bored and rarely clean. We argued over rules but usually managed to work out our differences without biting, hitting, or pulling hair. Many of the games we played had not cost our parents one red cent and none of them required the use of a plug-in or batteries.   Kids today can have their PlayStations, X-Boxes and DS-es. I doubt that any child today has more fun than I had playing the games I have described above. I will make one more observation. Whatever game I was playing, I stopped playing it and gave my full attention to any adult who spoke to me.


Home Is Where You Fix Things

After living for 31 years in the home where we raised our children, my husband and I recently moved into another house. Those of you who know us well will affirm that Dan had “improved” just about every square foot of our old house and yard. Over the years he had remodeled, redecorated, reconstructed, rejuvenated, repaired, or replaced just about everything on the property. We both worried that because he had invested so much time and work there, he would miss the place. I asked him the other day if that was the case. (He was in the process of unloading cement blocks for a landscaping project in our “new” yard.) He said, “No. I don’t really miss it. Home is . . . well, where you fix things.”

That phrase will probably not “catch on” as other “home is where” statements have in the past: Home is where you hang your hat. Home is where your heart is. Home is where you go and they have to take you in. Nonetheless, in more ways than one, Dan’s definition is a true one.

Every homeowner knows that maintaining a house is a never-ending job. There is always something to do. Shingles blow off, septic tanks fill up, shrubs take over house fronts, driveways crack, fences sag, floors creak, and electrical wiring gets old and dangerous. At any point in time, the responsible homeowner will be finishing one project, working on two others, and planning at least one more. He or she knows that a neglected home deteriorates quickly.

Home is also where other, more important repairs are made. Relationships are mended. Bad attitudes are adjusted. Broken hearts are patched up. Common courtesies are polished, and principles such as respectability and integrity are kept in good working order. Good habits are not allowed to get rusty, and trash is quickly identified and removed, whether it is on the floor or on the television or computer screen.

Many of us feel overwhelmed with this sick, out-of-kilter world we have inherited. We feel powerless to make a difference; the damage is too widespread. The sad truth is that much of what is broken in our world must be repaired and then maintained in individual homes. Every terrorist, every rapist, every self-indulgent tyrant grew up somewhere, probably in a home that was poorly maintained.   Take a look around your house. Do you see signs of deterioration? What needs to be fixed?

Staying the Course

In May of this year my husband Dan and I marked our 41st wedding anniversary. This is a milestone that, for many different reasons, few couples are privileged to celebrate. I wonder sometimes why our marriage has endured when so many others have not. Here are some of the factors that have contributed, I believe, to the success of our marriage. Needless to say, the following is not based on scientific study and I do not claim to be an expert on the subject of marriage.

  • Neither of us has died. Maybe this “reason” could have gone unstated, but because the death of a spouse is indeed one reason some marriages end prematurely, I wanted to mention it. For those people who have experienced this extreme sorrow, I feel tremendous sympathy.
  • The odds were in our favor. Dan and I married three days after graduating from college. Neither of us had children or former spouses. We were of similar religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. Both Dan’s parents and my parents had been married for a long time. Neither of us had any significant debt. We had been taught that marriage is for life and had been consistently urged to choose our mates wisely. We were healthy, educated and able and willing to work.  We had the emotional support of both of our families.
  • We have been lucky and/or blessed. This will be a difficult paragraph to script. Because Dan and I both believe in the divine providence of God, we want to give Him credit for all our successes and joys, and there have been many. On the other hand, we can cite many personal examples of couples, who in our estimation, also believe in the divine providence of God, want to give Him credit for their joys and accomplishments, and have enjoyed few. If we do not credit God for the fact that we have enjoyed such good fortune and avoided much bad fortune, should we credit luck? In either case, we have not suffered major illnesses, debilitating accidents, the tragic loss of a child, a devastating natural disaster, or financial calamity. We have not been victims of violent crime and have not experienced war firsthand. Our children have grown into functional, self-supporting adults. We have healthy grandchildren that we get to see often. We live in the greatest nation on earth. Marriages that experience this much good fortune certainly have better odds of success than marriages that do not.
  • We have made some good decisions.   We took our marriage vows seriously and dedicated our union to God from the outset. We have always been associated with a good church.  We pray and try to live according to God’s principles. We study God’s Word and make it our authority in all things. Again, not every couple who has practiced these good habits has enjoyed a successful marriage. Neither of us has been unfaithful to the other, committed a serious crime, abused alcohol or drugs or racked up insurmountable debt.    That is not to say that a marriage never survives such potentially home-wrecking offenses; some do, but many others do not.
  • We have never considered not staying together. I am not perfect and neither is Dan. We do not belong in the ranks of Ward and June Cleaver, John and Olivia Walton, and Cliff and Claire Huxtable. Our problems never appeared and resolved within one hour’s time, nor did we face every challenge with a smile and a song.  We have disagreed, argued, made mistakes, fallen down, cried and almost despaired of surviving some crises.  We have also tried to live by the proverb: Get up, dress up, show up and never give up. Again, I am not faulting those couples who have not stayed together.  We have lived long enough to see not only the ruin brought on by an unnecessary divorce but also the equal ruin that results when a man and woman remain together despite the fact that they positively hate each other. Fortunately, the decision that Dan and I have made to stay together has been a relatively easy one.

For those of you who, like us, have enjoyed a long and successful marriage, we advise you to count your blessings and keep on keeping on. For those who have endured the break-up of a marriage, we hope you will forgive yourself and your ex-spouse for any faults that you own, accept God’s forgiveness for all failures, and move forward with Him at the center of your life. If you are caught in a marriage that you know is broken and unhealthy for everyone involved, ask for help from a reputable Christian counselor.

If you are not married, please consider the positives that this long-married couple believes to have contributed to the longevity of our marriage. Give serious consideration to your odds of success from the very beginning, recognize that you and your spouse will inevitably share both joy and sadness, do your best to live a God-honoring lifestyle, and set your mind to staying the course.

        “A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.”–Jessica Glaser

“Marriage is not 50-50; divorce is 50-50.  Marriage has to be 100 -100.  It isn’t dividing everything in half, but giving everything you’ve got!”–DaveWillis.org


My sister Pam teaches fourth grade in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Last month one of her students was killed in a car accident. The days following the little girl’s death were horrible ones for my sister and her other students. Sadness permeated everything they did, and children often broke into tears. I talked to Pam a few days ago, and she says they still miss the little girl terribly and have times of sadness, but they are doing better.

On Sunday evening, March 19, 1995, my dad went to bed as usual. As far as anyone knows, he never awoke. My mother found him dead beside her the next morning. Her soul mate of over 40 years was gone, and nothing in her life has been exactly the same since. Many years later she still thinks of and misses my dad every single day, but time has eased her grief. She is better now than she was.

In this world where people are determined to have the best, I am thankful for “better.” Sometimes that is as good as it gets. Since the day Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, some really important elements of life on earth have been corrupted. The effects of sin, disease, and calamity are visited upon everyone. Relationships are damaged, plans are disrupted, and dreams are destroyed every day. We live lives of frustration and disappointment when, determined to achieve best, we fail to appreciate better.

Right now, I am dissatisfied with the condition of the flowerbeds I worked so hard to cultivate last year. A pile of wrinkled clothes is stacked atop my ironing board. I weigh more than I should, my house is not as clean as it could be, my car needs to be washed and vacuumed, I am late in preparing a Bible class lesson, I need to balance two checkbooks, my cat is dying, my kids’ lives are in a state of flux, my husband is exhausted from working a job that gives him little satisfaction, many of the people I love live 500 miles away from me, and I have a new perm. How I wish I could remedy all these distressing situations instantly and completely, but I can’t.

What I can do is make a start on my flowerbeds and ironing; try consistently to eat less and move more; create time to tend to the house, car, lesson, and checkbooks; love on my old cat; encourage my husband and kids; maintain healthy, long-distance relationships with my family members in the South; and wait for my perm to grow out. I can’t make anything perfect, but I can make some things better. And with that, I must determine to be content.

Give it up, friend. You can’t fix the world. If you’re like me, you can’t even figure out which of your three remote controls is for the DVD player. Refuse to be a slave to some dream of perfection that you will never attain this side of Heaven. Learn to be content.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

(This article was written in 2007.)




Effective Home Management

In addition to my Mom Hat, Wife Hat, Daughter Hat, Grandmother Hat, Sister Hat and Friend Hat, I am also forced to wear a hat that defines me as a Home Manager. At our house, I am the one whose responsibility it is to keep an up-to-date “social” calendar; to pay the bills and keep the checking account balanced; to maintain all medical, tax, warranty, insurance, investment and other household records; to keep the laundry and housework reasonably caught up; to buy, prepare, and serve most of the food; to keep track of and adequately “cover” all birthdays and other special occasions; and to do the 101 other things that I have forgotten to list here but routinely do.

In an effort to “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” I have tried to apply the following home management tactics.

  • I Make Lists. These include a shopping list, a to-do list, a list of all the passwords that I must remember but should not write down, a list of upcoming TV shows I want to DVR, a list of books I want to read, a list of people I need to call, a list of ideas I want to develop into articles, a list of gift ideas for friends and family members, a list of important information that our kids will need if their dad and I die, and a list of the changes that I need to make to all of the above lists. Of course, when I need to consult a particular list, I usually cannot find it. This means that I need to compose a “Where I Put My Lists” list.
  • I Utilize Self-Motivation Techniques. I find that I accomplish tasks more quickly if I use some form of self-motivation. For example, I tell myself that I am “not allowed” to play a computer game until my kitchen is completely cleaned. I will not lie down for a nap until the laundry is folded and put away. My problem with using such tactics is that most of the time, I am self-motivated to ignore them.
  • I Get Organized. Last week I decided that I would organize my chores by assigning them to specific days of the week. On Monday I would tackle “Bathrooms and Blinds.” On Tuesday I would “Dust and De-Clutter.” On Wednesday I would “Vacuum and . . . .” I couldn’t think of another V-task to complete on Wednesday. I needed to assign myself two tasks per day in order to get everything done, but I had hit a snag. The whole system fell apart on Wednesday.
  • I Practice Guilting and Shaming Myself into Action. I tell myself that other home managers do a better job than I do. They don’t need lists because they never forget anything. They don’t need to employ self-motivation tricks because they are natural self-starters. They don’t need to get organized because they were born organized. The words guilt and shame are not emotions with which they are familiar. This kind of thinking leads me to eat ice cream directly from the container. It does not lead to anything productive.

Thus, I am left to manage my home in the same way I have always managed my home, and that is by utilizing the Do It All in One Day Method. Moved by some unseen and indefinable force, on one day I will dust the entire house, file or otherwise “manage” every piece of paper I encounter, clean the bathrooms, change the sheets, vacuum all the floors, put away all clutter, sanitize the kitchen, wipe down window blinds, balance the checkbook, make necessary phone calls, mail some cards, shop for groceries, and blow through five loads of laundry. I will work until 11:00 p.m., and then, following my cleaning frenzy, fall into bed exhausted.

The next morning as I drag my aching body out of bed, I repent. I tell myself, “Girl, you need a plan. Make some lists. Use some self-motivation techniques. Get organized and assign your chores to specific days of the week. No home manager in her right mind does everything in one day. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“I hope there’s more mint chocolate chip ice cream.”

What Is It?

Most of us have an IT. Some of us have more than one. ITS job is to torment you. IT hangs over you like an ominous cloud and robs you of peace. IT tells you that IT can never be overcome or even managed. Above all else, IT demands to be hidden, because if ITS presence in your life were made known to other people, those people would reject you. IT is your enemy.

I don’t know what your specific IT is.  But I know what some of the biggest and worst ITS are. I have also learned a few things about handling ITS.

If IT is an addiction that you are working to overcome, keep working to overcome IT. If IT is a secret, a monster within you that you feed daily by letting IT eat your insides, reveal that monster to someone you trust. Monsters thrive in darkness but lose power when exposed to light.

If IT is a horrible injustice that has been done to you, know that some people in concentration camps have managed to hold onto hope and joy.  The abuser, not the abused, is the loser.

If IT is a terrible health diagnosis for you or one of your loved ones, know that we will all die sooner or later.  None of us who knows Jesus will die alone.

If IT is sin on your part, know that every single one of us is in IT up to our eyeballs.  Never doubt God’s willingness and eagerness to forgive IT.  Not only does God forgive, but the people who have truly learned to love are happy to forgive too because they realize how dependent they themselves are upon forgiveness.

If IT is just the drudgery and overwhelming fatigue of limping through life in this broken old world day after day while fighting demons within and without, KEEP LIMPING!  That is the best any of us can do.

I don’t care what IT is.  IT doesn’t change by one iota how God feels about you.  IT doesn’t invalidate all that you have lived your life to accomplish.  IT doesn’t define who you are.

And I know who you are–YOU ARE ME in a slightly different form.  I think the same way you think.  I feel the same way you feel.  I judge myself in the same way harsh way that you judge yourself.  I have been brought low by the same things that have brought you low.  We share the same fears, the same desires, the same disappointments, and the same undeserved self-contempt at times.

We are both stumbling and banging and clanging through this life in the same awkward way.  BUT, as long as we continue to stumble, bang, and clang along together, we’ll be okay.  For a certainty, we are all united in this “human race.” Some days you may have to carry me. Other days I will carry you.

Do you remember the beautiful image of the Special Olympics kids who all strained to win the race and break the tape at the finish line?  It seemed they would stop for nothing, until one of their own fell down,  Then they all stopped, lifted the injured one, and crossed the line together.  They all came in first.

Try your best not to go down, but if you do go down, don’t stay there. Let Jesus or one of his friends pick you up. Whatever you do, don’t let IT own you. IT isn’t worth it.

The Music of My Life

I can’t read sheet music, play any instrument or sing worth a lick but music has always been an important part of my life. Born in 1952, I recall my sweet mother singing to me the usual lullabies that all mothers sing to their babies, plus a few other songs specific to the era in which we lived. She sang Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you? Without interpretation the words sound like Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey. A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe, which is the actual title of the song (The Merry Macs, 1944). She also sang Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la, check-a-la romey in a bananika bollika, wollika, can’t you see Chickery chick is me (Chickery Chick, Sammy Kaye, 1945). The 1940’s and 1950’s must have been the age of nonsensical lyrics.

For the first few years of my life, my mother and I lived intermittently with my grandparents while my dad served in the United States Air Force. From the big, brown, boxy radio in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room I heard such songs as How Much Is That Doggie in the Window (Patti Paige, 1952), Sixteen Tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1955), and Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis Presley, 1956). Those songs, along with the hymns that we sang three times a week at church, were songs of my early childhood.

The stand-by hymns of my youth included Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me (my favorite), On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand (my mom’s favorite) and Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (my dad’s favorite). In my mind today I hear my grandmother and grandfather in the pew behind me singing alto and bass (respectively) to There’s an All-Seeing Eye Watching You. Our church of Christ building sat directly across the road from the Baptist Church, and my mom told me that one Sunday morning as the Baptists sang Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown? our church of Christ group responded by singing out loudly No, Not One, but I think she was kidding.

I was in the sixth grade when the Beatles made their iconic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Soon after that, I wore my Beatles tennis shoes, carried my Beatles notebook and sang I Wanna Hold Your Hand with Beatles-crazed contemporaries around the world. The songs of my high school days included protest songs such as For What It’s Worth (better known as the There’s Something Happening Here song, written by Stephen Stills and performed by Buffalo Springfield, 1966) and War–What Is It Good For? (Edwin Starr, 1969). Other, happier songs of that time period included Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes (Edison Lighthouse, 1970) This Guy’s in Love with You (Herb Alpert, 1968), and Sweet Caroline, released in 1969 by my all-time favorite rocker-cum-crooner, Neil Diamond.

My husband and I married in 1973, and “our” song was (and still is) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? from Carole King’s Tapestry album. Oh, the memories I have of listening to that song on the eight-track tape player in Dan’s 1967 navy blue Ford Mustang!

Today the songs I listen to most are contemporary Christian hits by artists such as Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Point of Grace, and Casting Crowns. Most mornings I get charged up for my day by listening to these songs on my iPod while taking a brisk walk around our neighborhood. In my car the grandchildren and I rock out such childhood favorites as The Wheels on the Bus, The Ants Go Marching and The Lord Told Noah to Build Him an Arky Arky.

Neil Diamond says of his life’s music “It’s a beautiful noise, and it’s a sound that I love, and it fits me as well as a hand in a glove.” I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s to the artists, both the saints and the sinners, who have given me the music of my life. Their legacies live on.

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.