Friday, December 25, 2009

"What a great box!"

Several years ago, I spent Christmas Eve with some of my good friends, the Bensons. Though unforeseen situations have brought about altered life circumstances, I was very close to this family at one point in time. They were great friends to me during some of the toughest times of my early adult life, and I'm very grateful for that! At one point in time, I even lived in their basement, and their kids called me "Aunt Wendy."

Hunter Benson's favorite movie was "Toy Story." He would jump off of his top bunk like Buzz Light year and say, "To infinity and beyond." THUNK....(Hunter hitting the floor). It easy to know what to get the boys for Christmas that year....Toy Story sleeping bags. I LOVED getting a new sleeping bag when I was a kid. The new ones were always so slippery on the inside, and it was pure heaven just sliding into it. If mom let us sleep of the floor, well, that was practically nirvana! In this picture, you see Hunter (red sweater), Spencer (on the floor), Mom Becky holding then baby Michael. Just to put this in perspective, Hunter just got his driver's permit. Time LITERALLY flies by!

That year I got Michael some toy; I honestly can't remember what it was. I put the object in a box. As you can see, Michael was a bit too small to open the box by himself, and Hunter helped with the unwrapping privilege. He unwrapped the box itself thinking that was the present. When he saw the box, he exclaimed excitedly, "What a great box!" And he meant it.

We laughed and laughed.

I have thought of that moment many, many times. "What a great box!" In a day when many feel entitled and expectations for gift giving are quite high, I remember that night when Hunter cried, "What a great box!" You know what, if I had only given that kid a box, he would have been perfectly fine with it!

I attribute that attitude to great parenting. Not every kid would exclaim "What a great box!" Some would say, "Is it just a box?" "What is in the box?" "What does the box do?" Not this kid. He was so excited just to get a box! The present inside was an unexpected, added bonus.

I struggle as a parent to provide for my kids but still have them be grateful. I wish for a day when gratitude would prompt us all to say, "What a great box!" Or "what beautiful wrapping!"; "thank you for making the table look nice tonight;" "thanks for taking that little extra time to do that special thing you do to make my birthday extra special." I worry sometimes that we are an ungrateful society and that will lead to our demise. There are no guarantees in life. One lost job may drive a family to move from a comfortably warm home. One unexpected, unplanned for illness might create financial burdens. There is so much to be thankful for in our everyday, ordinary lives.

On this Christmas Day, I hope that you find joy in the great boxes in your life!

I hope Hunter, Spencer, Michael and Cameron realize how awesome their mother is. She is a great lady who tries to teach you what is right. If you continue to listen to her and follow her example, you will be great young men!

Merry Christmas!

Accolades for Elle

Elle has been going through some rough times lately, and it's been difficult for us as parents to celebrate too many things. The bad sometimes seems to overshadow the good, but it shouldn't. It is important to promote and celebrate the good things even if we hit the rough patches in life. We all make mistakes. Thankfully, we have a way to overcome all mistakes we make. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, made it possible for all of us who bring a repentant heart and a contrite spirit to repent of those things we have done and be forgiven.

Today, we want you to know only the good! Elle was named the "Mountaineer of the Day" at her middle school. Attached is her award and the very nice letter her band teacher wrote her. A few weeks into the 8th grade, Elle came to us and proclaimed that she was quitting band. We don't quit in our house. There were arguments, some tears, anger...and every possible teenage attitude you could possibly imagine, but under no terms and conditions was she going to quit band. Band is now one of her favorite classes, and she is in the Jazz Band (which she loves)! Sometimes we have to go through struggles in order to see the better part.

Congratulations, Elle! Your family is very proud of all of your accomplishments!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Encounter with "Rainman"

Perhaps you've seen the Dustin Hoffman/Tom Cruise classic, "Rainman." It is a touching story about a man who discovers his true character when he is introduced to his autistic older brother and given stewardship over his care. The film won Best Picture in 1988 (the year I graduated from high school).

You may not know the back story. Rainman is, in part, based on Kim Peek--a native Utahan. I encourage you to read the details of Peek's life in this wikipedia article.

One day, I was on the same flight with Kim and his dad, Fran. I can't tell you when this was (the years all run together now) or where we were going (the flights all run together now). I remember seeing Kim in the gate area and hearing him talking loudly to people. It was very obvious that he had a mental deficiency.

I'm ashamed to write that my first thought was, "I hope he is in the back of the plane so that I don't have to hear him talk and carry on throughout the flight." When he boarded, he was seated with his dad several rows in front of me in the first class cabin. He continued to talk loudly and carry on. He was not uncomfortably disruptive; it was more of an annoyance than anything.

I had absolutely no idea who he was.

He engaged a Delta flight attendant who was so kind to him. He pulled out the Academy Award that screen writer Barry Morrow gave to him. (Morrow won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for penning "Rainman.") His father spoke to the flight attendant, and the sweet woman was genuinely engaged and interested in what Mr. Peek and his son had to say. I could visibly see on her face that she was touched by the interaction.

It was one of the rare times that I was sitting on an aisle. (I always choose a window so I can sleep.) The flight attendant who had been speaking with Kim approached me. She told me that a woman seated by the Peeks was annoyed with the noise and asked if she could be moved to another seat in First Class and would I please switch seats with the woman.

Wow! Talk about a moment of humility. I had a chance to make right all of the negative thoughts I had had by trading seats with a woman. Her weakness became my opportunity to apologize to God. I had not spoken one negative word, but I knew in my heart that I had not been charitable. Of course, I agreed.

A few minutes later, the flight attendant returned and said that the woman switched with another passenger and that it wasn't necessary for me to move. I was satisfied that I "would have" moved if I could, but.... being denied the opportunity to make the actual sacrifice, I hope that my willingness to make things right in my heart was enough for God.

Kim Peek died on Saturday. Seeing local news stories about his life reminded me of the incident I have just described.

I wish that I could tell you that my experience that day on the Delta flight made me a better person. I'm not certain it did. I still think negative things about the people around me as I prepare to board flights. Perhaps I've just become a calloused or elitist traveler. The airport experience does not bring out the best in me and is rarely a place where I exercise charity.

In this entire experience, the person who taught me the most was not Kim Peek. It was not his loving father, Fran. It was not the person who wanted to change seats to escape "noise." The Delta flight attendant taught me the most. She was kind, understanding, and charitable toward Kim and Fran Peek. She was kind to them before she knew "who he was." To her, he was a passenger. When she learned of his fame, she did not appear to treat him any differently. What did appear to happen was that she opened her heart to be touched by the experience. Her heart was prepared for the experience. Because she was prepared, the experience came to her. That was what I learned that day from the Delta flight attendant.

In a cynical world, it can be ever more difficult to find the good. As a person, I have a responsibility to be kind. As a Christian, I have a responsibility to be charitable and non-judgmental. As a child of God, I have the opportunity to repent of my short-comings, re-group and try to be better the next day.

Kim and Fran Peet

My sympathies are with those who knew and loved Kim Peek. I'm grateful that his death afforded me the opportunity to recall a memory that includes a message that I really needed today--ALL people need to be treated with respect, kindness, patience and understanding. What a great reminder!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Christmas Thought

I wrote this in 2002 to my friends and family. Seven years later when I thought about what I wanted to post for a Christmas message, this came to mind. I hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas and take time to remember the people in your life that matter most to you.


Illinois Christmas 2002

I've already sent most of you Christmas cards which you may or may not get on time. I was thinking today of an experience that I had last night that I just couldn't shake. It seems appropriate this time of year to share thoughts and feelings of the season. So, if this is smarmy, sentimental or too much for you, I apologize. It happens. This message is going to some of my closest friends and a few relatives. I hope you can appreciate the meaning and intent.

I've been reflecting upon the many, many blessings that I have in my life. In short, it's been one hell of a's also been one hell of a life (not to be confused with that perennial classic "It's a Wonderful Life ;-) This year has brought much joy into my life. There have also been trials and burdens and "opportunity for growth" (which is just a nice way to explain a trial). At the end of each day, I feel very, very blessed. I recognize God's hand in all things in my life.

On Friday night December 20th, I was traveling home from an account in Kansas City. It was the last account that I had to do for the year, and it was a one of those "great" presentations....where you remember why you love your job. I flew from Kansas City to St. Louis, and instead of continuing on to Chicago, I got off the plane, rented a car and decided to drive home. I just wanted to "get home." A connecting flight to Chicago would have delayed me by almost a day.

There is nothing that heals the soul like a solitary road trip. Once I survived a packed airport and urban traffic, I found myself headed north on I-55. All that awaited me was 2 1/2 hours of flat highway, a few stars and bad radio stations!

I love being from Illinois; it's important part of who I am. I also love coming back to visit because I have such wonderful memories of friends and family and my formative years. I'm always amazed at how rural Illinois is. I always thought that I lived in a "city," but the truth is that the only real city in Illinois is Chicago. Illinois is laden with farmland and rural communities. Many of these communities are poor, and the outward appearance and condition reflects this depressed state.

As I drove that flat highway in the darkness, I saw a beautiful site. Far in the distance, I saw the outline of a star of lights suspended in the darkness. The points of the star were not taught or even. Some of the bulbs were burnt out, but the impression of a lighted star was evident and undeniable. As I approached the star, I realized that it was affixed to the top of a grain silo on a remote farm. That made me smile. Only in Illinois would I see a Christmas decoration perched atop a grain silo. As I continued on, more and more stars appeared in the farming communities. Some were nailed to barns, others to rooftops and many to grain silos. I thought of the wearied old farmers who climbed ladders to continue this Christmas tradition. I also thought of a new generation of farmers who are carrying on the traditions of fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers. My guess is that the tradition of hanging the Christmas star has been around for a while.

I found much meaning in these Christmas tributes. It was the star that lead the wisemen on a year-long journey to find the infant Jesus. It was the stars that lit my journey home last night. I recognize that most of our Midwestern farmers come from humble means, and it touched my heart that the effort was made to celebrate the Christmas season. The residual of that was that my way was lit home, too.

If you've ever traveled that dark path home, you'll understand and appreciate the meaning of a lit path.

I hope that you take the time to appreciate the little things this holiday season. I know that the economy is tough and that many lives have been changed in unforeseen ways. I hope that you remember your family and take time to visit with them. For better or for worse, they are still your family, and they are very important.

To my dear friends, I hope that wherever you are this Christmas that you relish in the unique things about where you live. May you find your own, lighted path this holiday season!

I wish you much peace and happiness!

Merry Christmas,


Christmas Concert

It is a bitter sweet moment when you realize that we have attended our last elementary school Christmas concert for one of the kids. I look back on all of the elementary school performances, and it makes me a bit weepy. Dominique is the last one in elementary school, and I still remember her performances in 1st grade! What is even more crazy is that it seems like yesterday when we went to Bradley's 6th grade performances, and now he is a senior in high school!

Dom has been playing the violin for 2 years, and she's really improved since last year. (Last years' performances are in the history of this blog if you're interested.) She took violin lessons over the summer with Mary Ann Petersen (the violin teacher at the elementary school). She fights us sometimes about violin and has vowed not to continue in junior high (which makes us sad). But for now, we have these performances to enjoy!

We hope you enjoy them, too!

Jingle Bells

Holly Jolly Christmas

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ah...the makeup battles

I don't really remember exactly when I began wearing make up. I know that it wasn't a discussion point; it just kind of happened. I'm sure I "borrowed" makeup from my mom. The next door lady was an Avon Lady, so I got lots of free stuff from her. Sometimes she paid me for babysitting with make up.

I don't remember having fights with my mom about makeup, probably because my mom wore a lot of makeup herself, and there really wasn't a lot she could say anything. I, however, have not been so lucky in escaping "the makeup debate." Now, Mariah...she looks hideous without makeup. It's a fact. She'll even say it's so. When she hit 12, it was a gift to all of us when she started slathering on the foundation. She has always gone way overboard on the eye make up. Last year, I had to pay a professional 50 bucks to photo edit her eyes in our family picture so they didn't look like two black spiders. (True story).

Elle...oh, Elle. She is beautiful without makeup. She has a wonderful skin tone, and I hate to see her cover it up. We agreed (finally) that this year she could begin wearing mascara. It makes her eyes look really pretty. I don't think she wears anything but eye makeup. She really doesn't need it.

I have an illogical aversion to eye liner. I think it is hideous! I especially hate thick, black eyeliner. I REALLY hat thick, black eyeliner on Elle....for all of the reasons I've mentioned.

I know, I know, I know...."somethings don't really matter." "Let her express herself with her makeup at least it's not a tattoo." (A-hem) "Pick your battles." "It's not worth the fight." I know. I really do know all of those things. But let's face it, I'm imperfect (and that is an understatement!)

The other night Elle was in tears as we were negotiating when she could wear the offensive eye liner. First I said, "9th Grade." She didn't like that answer. I finally said that we'd re-evaluate the situation in February....just in time for her to get all over-done for Valentine's Day *sigh*.
I wrote the following poem for Elle. I'm not a poet, and I definitely don't have the panache for iambic pentameter or any pentameter for that matter. But I meant what I wrote. I gave it to her (cowardly, I left it for her to find before school). It might work for a few months, I think in February that I'll be forced to look the other way as she applies more eye-liner than Adam Lambert.

Those Beautiful Eyes

Elle, Oh, Elle…what can I say?
You’re growing faster and faster every day.

The girl in the picture has beautiful eyes

I wonder if she can realize….

Those eyes are the window to her soul.

Grey-green in color with a black center like coal

Your eyes tell when you’re happy, sad or upset;

Sometimes your eyes say you’re filled with regret.

Your eyes help you see the beauty all around:

A fine painting, the clouds…beauty abounds

With those eyes, you look for the love of your dad.

He looks back with his eyes when you’re feeling bad.

Your eyes have seen heaven before you were born.

Your eyes will see God again on resurrection morn.

Do you see how wonderful and special your eyes are?

Do you see why I want them to be how they are?

Some girls line their eyes with black lines thin or fat--

Your eyes are so perfect there’s no need for that!

I know you want to go your own way.

I know you disagree with what I have to say.

Know that I love you and your beautiful eyes.

I know that someday I will compromise.

For now, however, let those eyes shine

Before we surround them with a black line.