The Company Drill

There is nothing like coming home after the holidays. I drive by the neighbors’ houses, where cardboard boxes are battling it out with the garbage cans. The once festive green garlands are trailing along the front walks like miserable, bloated snakes. I walk through my door and spot the tinsel draped across my sofa pillows, a tad passé now. The white tree lights, dangling dangerously near the forgotten mug of curdled milk left out for Santa, are not going to win any Better Homes and Gardens awards this week. The leftover party favors, the scary-looking nutcracker dolls toppled over like dominoes on the mantel, the torn edges of shiny paper littering my floors are all evidence that we were hit by the Christmas tornado.

Is it worth it? I’m not going to answer that. I’m not the wide-eyed seven-year-old on Christmas morning anymore. And I would never be the one to deprive a child of the joy of presents under the boughs of a precariously-stationed tree. (My kids witnessed two trees come crashing down this year, so I’m not entirely exaggerating the precarious part.)

Still, a new year means a new leaf, right? Easier said than done. Where to begin…

If your house is clinging to Christmas past, and you have kids at home who can read, catch up with the Company Drill. This drill is inspired by the panic that ensues when you find out—15 minutes beforehand—that your favorite Aunt Minnie will be dropping by for a visit; or when that fabulous Mrs. Hodge, the president of your homeowner’s association, who washes her car for zenith shine while most sane people are asleep, calls and asks to borrow your Rain-X. The drill focuses on getting the public areas of your house in order.

At our house it looks something like this:Company drill2

This simple little paper is posted in an inconspicuous location, say, on a door inside a closet. It works best if you employ a timer—because you’re trying to clean up in record time. The goal is to straighten up in less than 15 minutes. Don’t expect a miracle. The first couple of rounds of the drill will probably fall short of that goal, but it makes a significant dent.

Call a family powwow, bring your timer, and announce that it’s drill time. I like to assign certain rooms to each child with the proviso that if one person does not complete his/her task after the rest have finished, then the whole team won’t make the 15-minute goal. This encourages us to help each other once we’ve finished our room assignments. (I usually take the kitchen—less broken dishes that way.)

What’s the reward for beating the clock? A cleaner house. Seriously. Just knowing you’re done in 15 minutes is pretty exhilarating. The kids have more time to play, and mom can get some writing time in!

Two more tips:

Record your best time and see if your team can beat it during the next drill.

Upbeat music is a great motivator for cleaning, but I suggest not using the music during a drill. It’s more distracting, since you’re yelling “Who has the vacuum?” and such. Plus, without the music I can pretend I’m that kid on Newsies and encourage my team with “Go! Go! Go! Get the lead out of your pants!” I’m helpful that way.

 

Happy Hallothanksmas!

It’s that time of year again. Confusion is in the air! The stores are packed with jolly little pumpkin and candy cane costumes. Wicker cornucopia centerpieces dripping with blood are lined up on the shelves, waiting to adorn your festive table. I have no idea what all this is about. So, I did some research.

autumn-19672_640Regarding this “Halloween” thing (I read that on a poster somewhere. I think it was between some glittery corn husks and the purple and black-striped tree skirts.), legend has it there was a very old woman who liked to wear black, had an uncommonly warty nose, and carried a broom around—to sweep her neighbors’ front porches. She swept and she swept. Nobody noticed what a nice thing she was doing, so she became disgruntled and decided she wanted payment for her act of kindness. So, she knocked on their doors.

“Hello, I need you to come out and look at your porch,” she told them.

They looked, thanked her, and promptly denied her any donations for her good deed.

Well! she huffed to herself; and the more she thought about it, the more it rankled. She decided she would get even.

On every front porch she set a rotting pumpkin, and on one she placed a dead cat. (Her cat had died, and it seemed right to her, since that one neighbor had refused her quite meanly.) The neighbors, in return, decided to reward her for her presents. They baked pies for her. Made of pumpkin. (The rotting ones on the front porches went missing about that time.) The especially mean neighbor made odd-looking jelly candies for her. (Cat bones are wonderful for giving a jelly-like consistency to things, you know.)

For some reason the old woman became ill and died. The neighbors felt bad. They began to sweep their own front porches until it occurred to them to have their kids do it. The kids, knowing the origins of this chore, played terrible tricks on the neighbors, pretending to be the ghost of the old woman and leaving rotting pumpkins or carcasses and bones of animals. Some of the neighbors, still feeling guilty about the old woman, relented and gave the kids sweets as payment. Soon the children became bold enough to knock on doors dressed in their ghostly garb and announce, “Hello, we need you to come out and look at your porch. And if you don’t give us a treat, the ghost of the old lady will give you a terrible trick!”

The “Hello, we need” later merged to form, “Halloween,” the rest became the brief, “Trick or treat,” and that’s how it all began. At least, that’s the gist I came away with. I’m still looking for the thanksmas part.

Less than 5 days for Earth Trolley!

Earth Trolley is a fun read about a woman who slips into her future and has to change things to keep the love of her life, whom she hasn’t even met yet, all during a trip to the grocery store. Try it. You won’t be able to put it down. Three readers in a row just told me they couldn’t put it down, so I can totally say that.

As of today, the story is on the second page of the Beyond Time contest list for number of votes on Inkitt.com. It has to receive enough votes to make the top 10% by July 27th. That’s less than 5 days away. The Inkitt judges will choose the best stories from the top 10%.

Please, read it. Vote! And share it: http://www.inkitt.com/stories/16918.

Camp and Boys

I was fifteen years old the last time I was at summer camp… and a teensy-weensy bit suspended from going back the next year. When I was told I couldn’t go back to sleeping on a thin mattress in a cabin with no A/C and lots of creeping surprises—like ticks, spiders, roaches, and snakes—in the middle of the sweltering Florida summer, I was okay with that. Now I have my own kids, and they wanted to go to camp. I wanted to know about the camp I was sending them to. So, I asked to be a counselor, and I got my wish: one week of sleep-deprived, wilderness survival. Oh boy.

It wasn’t that bad—and I say that because it’s been two weeks since I got back from camp, and I’ve tried to block most of it out. Plus, my kids loved it. They didn’t seem to notice the filthy bathrooms and the chigger bites up their legs. There was a 75% off sale on candy bars on the last day, and what is there to complain about after that?

My daughter, Dawn, did have one complaint, though: her date for the bonfire.

Every camp session has an end-of-the-week couple event that sends the younger campers into a frenzy worrying about having to go with a boy or girl. The crisis is real; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Those kids are sweating it, and the fear smells really, really bad.

Dawn had no idea there was any such thing as going to a bonfire with a boy. Dawn is aware of boys; that’s about it. Dawn did not want to go with a boy anywhere. Dawn wanted nothing to do with a boy, and if a boy even brought up the bonfire subject she was going to scream and run.

“I am not going to the bonfire with a boy, Mom!” she averred on the first day.

“You don’t have to,” I told her.

“Are you sure? They made it sound like I have to!”

“They’re just doing that for fun.”

She calmed down. “Okay, because I don’t want to go with a boy.”

Then one of her cabin mates decided a little matchmaking was in order. It consisted of asking the boy sitting across from Dawn at lunch in the mess hall, “Do you have a date for the bonfire?” And telling him, “Then you and Dawn should go together.”

Dawn is not a violent child. Normally. In that instance she turned on her matchmaking friend, gave her the evil eye, and said between clinched teeth, “Stop it.”

Her cabin mate, a new friend, was unaware that this was Dawn’s violent side and all manner of plans were going through Dawn’s head for disposing of this new friend pronto.

The friend pressed the subject.

Dawn drew close, and in quiet, blood-curdling tones, repeated through her teeth, “Stop it!”

The friend didn’t get the hint, and Dawn left the table mid-meal.

Heated words were spoken in the cabin during rest hour. Dawn was incensed. Her ex-friend was offended. I felt very sorry for Dawn, but, well… C’est la camp! I won’t say I never tried to match my friends up. I won’t say they never hated me for it.

Then something really tragic happened. Dawn was asked to the bonfire by a boy! She said, “No.” And she felt bad.

“Mom, I feel awful for telling him I wouldn’t go with him. I didn’t even tell him why. I just said, ‘no,’ and walked away.”

“Then go back and tell him it’s because you just don’t want to go to the bonfire with a boy.”

“I just feel so bad,” she said. “He’s very unattractive, Mom.”

So, Dawn in all her gentleness went back to the ugly boy and told him she was sorry for having to tell him no. It wasn’t him; it was her.

He responded, “That’s okay. I was just asking random girls.”

When Dawn relayed this to me, I laughed. “See? You don’t need to feel bad!”

“But, Mom! Now I feel worse! All those girls have told him ‘no.’” She shook her head. “He’s so unattractive, but… he seems nice.”

I should’ve seen where this was going and warned the tender-hearted child, but I didn’t. The next conversation we had, she looked at me intently and told me, “I’m going with that boy to the bonfire.”

“You are?”

“Yes. I told him, ‘If you still want me to go with you, I will.’”

I didn’t try to persuade her out of it. I could see she was determined it was the right thing to do. After all, I knew she didn’t really like him, unlike her twin sister, Pearl, who had found a way to threaten the boy she liked into going with her to the bonfire. I had my hands full keeping my eye on Pearl.

So, the day of the bonfire arrived. The young campers’ moods were tense up to the hour of the bonfire. The momentous occasion came… and went. On the way back from the bonfire, Dawn found me. She was fuming.

“Mom! That boy was soooo dumb!”

I grinned. “What did he do?”

“Oh! He—everything! First of all, he made me sit on the end of the bench, and I only had half a seat. And second of all, he started to fall asleep on me.”

I laughed.

“Mom, he kept trying to shine his flashlight in my eyes. He wanted me to see how long I could stare at the light. Mom, he was so dumb he blinded himself with the flashlight.”

I died laughing.

She stopped walking and said, “It’s not funny.”

“I’m not laughing at you,” I said, trying to contain my laughter. “It may not be funny to you now, but it will be.”

She wasn’t convinced. “He was so dumb! I shouldn’t have gone with him.”

“I think you’ve learned a lesson here,” I told her. “A boy who is unattractive may not have any redeeming qualities. Don’t sacrifice yourself just because you feel sorry for someone.”

“He blinded himself with his own flashlight, Mom! Who does that?”

“Dumb boys?”

She groaned.

That night, the girls in the cabin recounted what happened around the bonfire, and Dawn told her story with all of the indignation and none of the disappointment. It was followed up with stories on stupid things boys do.

“Is it funny now?” I asked her amidst the laughter.

“Yeah.” She studied the underside of the top bunk and mused, “I just can’t believe anybody can be that dumb!”

Yes, there are dumb boys out there, Dawn. I hate to tell you, but there are lots of dumb boys. Some of them are unattractive. You can feel sorry for them, but don’t let pity or misplaced guilt influence you. Some of them are attractive. Don’t let their looks fool you; they are still dumb. It’s perfectly fine to say ‘no’ and walk away.

Paving Paradise

“I’m going for a walk,” I told my three kids as I stepped out the backdoor. They were already outside in the sunshine.

“Can I go with you?” my son asked, bouncing a tennis ball off a racket.

“Sure!”

His sisters soon followed on their bikes, but we had to turn back because they forgot their helmets. We went back again for sneakers, back again for their water bottles. Like Bilbo, I’d name this tale “There and Back Again,” only I didn’t think we’d make it past the driveway.

Fifteen minutes later we set out on our adventure. Of course, I still thought I was taking a simple walk. The kids had other plans.

“Mom, let’s take you to the woods!” I guess my daughter thought this was an opportunity not to be missed.

“Nyah, I’m good,” I said. “The road works for me.”

“Aw, come on.”

“Yeah, come on, Mom,” my son cajoled. “Remember when I took us through the woods last time? You liked that.”

“Oh, I remember. We ended up in Timbuktu. It’s a wonder we made it back to the house before dark.”

He laughed. “Yeah, good memories…”

Good memories. He couldn’t have said a better phrase. “Let’s do it,” I said. “Lead the way.”

We cut through a new subdivision and found a pebbly path.

“They’ve already set up the sewage system through here,” he informed me. Our tour included sighting the concrete pipes stationed along the way.

“Can we get back on the road now?” I asked, seeing asphalt ahead.

“Oh, no, Mom! We have to cut through here next.”

‘Here’ was a grassy trial. Did I spell it, ‘trial’? Yes, and that’s what I meant. We walked until the grass turned into ruts, the ruts into muck pits, and, finally, into mounds of soft, slippery sludge. I thanked my children profusely for this fine expedition.

“It’s really not that bad, Mom,” persuaded the younger twin. “Look, the ground is almost dry in some places.” She slipped. “Uh. Not there.”

My son wasn’t listening. “This is awful!” he cried. “Where are the trees? They’ve actually cut down all the woods!”

They had indeed. The view ahead was upturned dirt and roots. Wisps of smoke curled away from a black mountain of ash in the center of the wiped out acreage.

“How could they tear down all those trees?” whispered my second daughter.

“They are probably preparing to build more houses. Remember the sewage pipes?” I reminded her.

My son exhaled sadly. “There won’t be any woods left pretty soon. Last time I was here all I could see was trees and more trees.”

We made our way across a thin stream to a little area off the trail piled with broken computer monitors, a smashed wooden chair, a couple of beaten down plastic crates, and some other unrecognizables. I scanned the area for syringes—yes, I was freaked out.

“Be careful; there are pieces of glass,” my older daughter warned me, looking around.

I was happy to discover that the “glass” was actually pieces of dark plastic. And no syringes.

After giving them the talk entitled, “If You Ever See a Syringe/Needle on the Ground, Get Far, Far Away” that quickly morphed into “Drugs and Drug Addicts Revisited,” we headed home.

“That wasn’t too bad, was it Mom?” my son asked after chasing his sister down to get his tennis ball back.

“Not at all.” I grinned at him and something caught my eye.

“Excuse me,” I called to a man walking toward a dumpster. I ran up to him and asked for the nice box he was preparing to throw away.

“I’ve got more,” he said. “How many you want?”

We followed him back to a new house, where he was installing fixtures. My son helped him unload packing trash into the dumpster, and we trotted home with six new boxes.

“We lost the trees, but we have boxes, at least,” I told my son.

“I guess I can make more woods…on Minecraft.” He grinned at me slyly.

A Happy Little Thing

It’s the middle of the morning, and I’m sitting at my desk with a cozy cup of tea writing. Do you know how often that happens—writing in the mid-morning? It is a rare thing in this house. But it’s summer break! I look forward to the summer more than the kids do. Well…maybe it’s a tie.

I’ll return to scribbling now. I hope you’re having one of those rare-and-lovely-happening-type days, too.

A Day of R & R: Rest and Remembrance (Genesis 2:1-3)

20130701aIs there anything as satisfying as completing a big project? When I begin writing a new story, there is this glowing sense of discovery and challenge, like a bright light on everything. But when it’s done—when the last line is penned and the story sits before me, whole—there’s a dreadful lull that undoes me. Something that smacks of dissatisfaction haunts me as I look at my finished tale. It may be complete, but it needs work. I edit and polish it, and others edit and polish it. I’m still not satisfied. That’s when I have to let it go. I could spend the rest of my life trying to improve my child of script.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

When God completed Project Heavens and Earth, He wasn’t worried about having left out a crucial element. He had no dread of being dissatisfied. Everything He made was perfect.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

The picture of an all-powerful Being resting after His work is odd, isn’t it? It’s not like He’s exhausted. The point is: He finished the project. It was done, and it was done right the first time. No need to touch-up or amend anything. He sits back and enjoys His completed masterpiece.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

This is the third time in seven days that God blesses something. Bless is a tough word to my Americanized eyes. Its first meaning is to kneel for a gift, and my society rarely kneels for anything. The second is to grant the gift. In later passages, the patriarchs bless their sons by placing their hands on them, signifying that it is a bestowal and not something the sons can just take. (For more, read about Israel blessing Joseph’s sons.) First, God blesses the animals of the sea and sky. Second, God blesses mankind. Now, God is blessing something I can’t see or set in an alcove of the study to match the curtains. He is blessing a day of the week! The pattern of blessing takes a definite shape: Each time God blesses something, He gives a task or purpose associated with that created thing.

When He blesses the sea creatures and air creatures, He says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters and seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” He tells mankind the same thing in verse 28: to be fruitful and multiply. He adds another task or purpose for mankind, to “replenish (fill it full) the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over [all the animals on the earth].”

He gives the seventh day a task, too. Its purpose is to remind me that God finished His Creation in six days, and He stopped working on the seventh because it was done, complete, perfect. God later establishes the ceremonial observance of the seventh day, known as Sabbath, for the Israelite nation under the law of Moses. The word Sabbath is derived from the word for rest, shabath.

He also sanctifies the seventh day. This is the first time sanctify is used, and I’m curious about its meaning because this word gets tossed around in religious terminology all the time. God is teaching this concept to a nation of people in their own primitive language, so it can’t be too complex. Sanctify means “separated for a purpose.” That’s it. So, basically, I can sanctify my hairbrush—meaning, I can announce it is my hairbrush and only my hairbrush, and any man, woman, child, or dog who attempts to use my hairbrush for anything other than to comb my hair will be swiftly rapped on the knuckles with that hairbrush. Sanctified isn’t a mystical concept. Anybody can sanctify something. It’s the one doing the sanctifying that makes all the difference. When God sanctifies something, it will stay separated for the purpose He gives to it.

God established the purpose for the seventh day, and He has the power to uphold it, just like God has the power to uphold all the laws He established. I didn’t exist when He created all the laws that make the world go ’round. I can’t even look back and observe, “Oh, here it is: the beginning of the phenomenon called the Law of Gravity.” Or, “I’ve pinpointed where the Law of Biogenesis came into existence!” Not possible. But God was there, and He talks about how crucial it is for me to believe that He was there at the beginning and that He is the Cause that effected this habitable, beautiful world.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. – Hebrews 11:3

Keir-Collection-Moses-Red-Sea
Moses and the Red Sea, Public Domain Image from Keir Collection

The Greek word aion is translated ‘worlds’ in this passage, and it looks a lot like our word ‘eon.’ It can mean the material universe, and it can mean the eras, the on-going passage of time. It tells me that every period of history that God has had recorded and preserved is a faithful account. It is a true and unfabricated testimony presented by an Eternal, All-Knowing Witness. My faith will not be strong enough to comprehend the nonmaterial components of this world that God has made if I can’t believe He’s telling me the truth. The understanding of concepts like salvation, love, penitence, the heinousness of sin, or the hope of a heavenly reward is not going to resonate with me wholly. Genesis 1 is a simple, this-is-how-it-happened narrative. The rest of the Bible builds on this foundation, so that, when I’m faced with the why’s and how’s of Jesus Christ being both the Son of God and Son of Man centuries later, I will have a solid grip of the material to establish the nonmaterial. If I find the first chapter in the Book questionable, what prevents me from continuing to reword and revise everything God is trying to teach me in the rest of His book? I’m going to miss what He’s trying to tell me.

Here is the message He wants His creation to know about the world and the humans He created: He made it right the first time. He didn’t make any mistakes. So, all the problems and the scars and the wars and the destruction that I see today were not because He messed up. The wise King Solomon knew this and counseled, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV).

He made mankind beautiful in his time, in the fitting moment. I am the one who must choose to be or not to be what God meant me to be. I am born into a world of men and women who were given the opportunity and chose not to be the way God meant. I, too, chose the ugly route, putting the beautiful things God created to their worst use. That choice affected me; it continues to affect me and others. But God offered me—and everyone—that pristine beauty again through the perfect, sinless life of His Son. I can choose God’s good beauty, but I have to believe He’s telling me the truth and nothing but the truth. Because, one day, He’ll accept me as fully and completely as I accept Him and His truth, and I will enter into His rest, an everlasting shabath.

This is the final update of the “Touching Creation” series. You will find a complete list of posts in the series here.