Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child. Have fun!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Shopping sprees

We somehow ended up with the planning for this year's King family Christmas. I'm not sure how that happened. Maybe the Good Doctor was attempting to explore his creative, organizational side. Or maybe not. Any-who, we were on the search for creative giving ideas that didn't include mounds of gifts.

I once read about an extended family that has a unique giving tradition. Every year, each family member brings a cash donation to the Christmas gathering. There is no set amount, each person chooses the amount that he/she is able to give that year. The money is then pulled together and counted. Each family member also brings the name of a charitable organization and these are written on individual slips of paper and put into a basket. One organization is drawn from the basket and that year's money is given to the individual who had selected that organization, who in turn sees that the donation is made in full.

We liked this idea but wasn't sure it was the right one for our family. We also wanted something that the children could be a part of, and could in some way contribute. So we changed things up a bit and came up with our own plan.

Like the idea I had read about, each family was asked to bring a monetary donation in any amount. We added it up and found that we had $100 for each of 4 different groups of children. Four of the older cousins with driver's licenses were chosen as team captains and drivers. They each chose their team members from the remaining cousins. Off they went, in teams of 6, to shop grocery stores. They were told to purchase non-perishable food and grocery items for the local food bank. Prizes would be given in various categories including 1. Largest volume 2. Largest quantity and 3. Receipt(s) closest to $100 without going over.

As teams were given a time limit, left for their cars, transferred car seats for the youngest members, and received last-minute instructions to come home with the same number of children they left with, the house became suddenly quiet. Some family members fretted over the possible reactions of store clerks once they were invaded by members of the King family. Others fretted over possible missing children reports. One even presupposed that members of the King family may be forever-more banished from the establishments in the local area. The rest of us basked in the rare quietude.

In the end, a good time was had by all. Team Molly took home the prize for "Best Support of Local Establishments."

Team Mallory (insisting that they be called Team Fuzzy Donut), took extra time with their contest presentation (a canned goods tower came after this photo). They scored extra points for creating family memories, stopping for pizza after their shopping spree.

Team Jerry tied for first place in coming closest to $100, managing to spend exactly $100.


Team Katilyn (AKA Team Awesome) came home with a sweep of the categories. They won for volume (thinking to buy jugs of juice), for quantity, and tying for coming closest to $100. In their case, they enlisted the cashier's help. In the end, their bill was $100.01. They suggested to the cashier that if she would donate a penny, they'd win. She agreed.

Memories. Giving. Fun. A win for everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Keeping Christmas

I think this year, more than any other, we heard of numerous families who have decided not to participate in anything Christmas. I read more blogs, articles, and Facebook posts on this topic than I can count. And to those who tried so sway me, I did try. Like most of you, I am tired of the commercialism and consumerism, and I understand where and why the decision is made to skip anything resembling that in your home. But the extremeness of that decision just didn't seem right for us. I want to give good gifts to my children, as a symbol of the gift of Jesus. So rather than ignore the commercialism of Christmas, we try to combat it.

Our Christmas celebrating falls on Christmas Eve because we typically spend that night and Christmas day with my family. It also helps to spread things out so that we don't deal with that all-and-done Christmas night crash. We begin with brunch, usually including homemade just-out-of-the-oven sticky buns (or at very least reheated homemade sticky buns).

As we gather with our gifts and our stockings, we begin with the telling of the Christmas story. This year is was recited by our 10 and 11 year olds, since they had recently memorized the story from Luke 2. It took a little to convince them it wasn't a race to the finish, but instead a duet. They finally got it. Kind of.

We then talked about how we did last year in our quest to be light to the people around us. It was kind of an unofficial New Year's resolution for 2011 and it was good to share specific ways in which that was accomplished. The state of the home address included input from every member of the family, from oldest to youngest. We then read about a woman whose family learned what it means to sacrifice, when she was just a child. As she grew up, her own home reflected that lifestyle. We talked about being generous with our lives - even more than we do now. It was a challenge for 2012.

Read the story here:
http://www.mikeysfunnies.com/archive/richFamily/index.html


Next, it was on to our stockings. We decided several years ago to forego the traditional stocking gifts. We still have stockings, made by my wonderful Aunt Ellen (who was kind enough to make sure Shoun got one before the year was out), we just don't fill them with the traditional small, Dollar Store-type items that are fun for a day but quickly wind up on the playroom floor.

So instead of little gifts, we fill the stockings with notes of encouragement to each other. The younger ones have fun decorating their cards with pictures, tape (Eden), and stamps while the older ones might just write something on a scrap of paper. Whatever medium is used, the messages found on the cards are always inspirational and encouraging (although some more than others, of course). It was unusually quiet as we all read the messages written just for us.



The children exchange names in November so that they can learn to think about what others would want. It's fun to watch them shop for one another and I'm always pleasantly surprised at how well they choose for each other, even giving sacrificially from their piggy banks.

I enjoy finding gifts for each child. I relish the joy found on their faces when they realize the thought that went into each gift, and how someone was paying attention when they were talking about a specific item, or in need of something. I've learned to shop for the kids during our summer vacation. Everyone wants a souvenir of the trip, so I secretly buy one item for each child (and husband), and they receive it for Christmas, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

For several years now, we've tried to give gifts that make memories, rather than just "stuff". So this year, part of their gift was an afternoon family outing to the movies. As you can imagine, that doesn't happen very often for us. It's learning to enjoy something just because it's with family, even though it may not be the activity (or movie) you would have chosen. It was a fun way to spend Christmas Eve afternoon together.

We also gave the children tickets to see a musical. The older children found out that they'd be going to see the national tour of Shrek and the younger children learned that they'd be going to see Suessical. The added bonus: John and I get to see two shows. :)


Determining how to celebrate Christmas is a journey that each one of us is on. Like everything else in life, we travel that road with our Savior. He is, after all, the reason we celebrate.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God is for us

We were blessed to play for both the prelude to the Christmas Eve service for our own congregation and during the church service at my parents' church on Christmas morning. Interestingly, the theme for both services was Immanuel: God With Us. So it was an easy choice to pull out Casting Crown's song, God Is With Us, that Mariana performed for us last year. Every morning since, I find myself waking up with the chorus in my head, "God is in us, God is for us, God is with us Immanuel." This morning as I reflected on the tune going through my head, it was the center phrase that caught my attention: God is for us.

I was reminded again how long it took me to realize the truth of this statement, and how often I still need to do a reality check when having a personal pity party. For too long I saw God as a Being who sat up there and just waited for opportunities to say, "Let's get her now. Bet she can't handle this one."

But I don't see any examples in the Bible of a God who looks for opportunities to "zap" people with a test of their faithfulness. Conversely, we can read numerous stories of people who endured trial, but came out on the other side able to proclaim God's goodness. Additionally, in each circumstance, we can see how the events in that person's life all led to the perfecting of one's faith, pointed to the glory of God, and further connected the dots in God's sovereign plan.

Have you ever noticed how many times the book of Deuteronomy uses the phrases "do not forget" and "never forget"? There's a reason for that. First example: The Israelites. Hadn't God just taken them out of Egypt? Miraculously? In a series of events that should have led to stronger faith? Events that did proclaim the glory of God and did bring His people into the next step in His plan for them. Instead, a little adversity had them demanding a return to slavery.

It's no coincidence that Deuteronomy 6 (coming right after the 10 Commandments), reminds the Israelites to not only obey these laws and to love their God, but to share them with their children. And what else? "Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." In other words, "Obey my commands, love me with all your heart, and tell your children that I am a God who is for you."

However, too many Christians, in too many churches, are in the business of hiding the times of hurt and shame in their lives. Too many parents, in too many homes, are not sharing examples of "God is for us" to their children. Certainly, there are hurts that need to wait until children are a certain age. There are also seasons when the hurt is too raw. But how can we teach our children that God is for us when they don't see the realness of that in those who have gone before? And let's face it, is there anything in our pasts worse than, or more shameful, than examples we find in the Bible? Let's see, there are stories of drunkenness, disobedience, pride, murder, selling family into slavery, and killing Christians, just for starters. But each story is another example of how God is definitely for us. The time will come for each of our children, when they need to face hurtful circumstances. I want my children to be able to say with Joseph, "You intended this for evil. But God intended this for good."

So parents, grandparents, teachers, and mentors, as we approach the new year, let's resolve to share our hurts and our painful moments. In so doing, let us model to the next generation that we truly believe that God is for us and that we will never forget.

Like when we total the van but God provides a bigger vehicle, more suited for a family music group, with insurance money to spare.

Like when people turn on you and don't understand your need to follow God's call on your life, but God blesses your faithfulness.

Like when adoption isn't quite as you had planned, but as you embrace your calling to raise the children God has given to you, He gives you opportunity to share with hundreds whose eyes are suddenly opened to a reality that is different from theirs.

Like when addiction ruins relationships, but healing and wholeness bring new relationships and restored relationships.

God is in us. God is for us. God is with us. Immanuel.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas letter 2011



Dear Friends and Family,

If the King family could sum up 2011 in just one word, that word would probably be “story”. But since we’ve never written a short Christmas letter, it’s going to take more than one word to describe our year.

January kicked off a new program for The King’s Strings which we called “This is My Story.” It is a mix of musical styles, ending with the message that we all have a role to play in God’s grand story. Each of us, from the 5 year old to the oldest parent, shares testimony as to how we see ourselves playing out that role right now, right where we are. A new branch of The King’s Strings has been speaking engagements where John and Cindy share on this topic at workshops and retreats. Someone recently asked Cindy if, 20 years ago, she would have imagined herself doing this. Of course, the answer was an emphatic no! But the best stories are always those where God takes our past and our weaknesses and brings them together for His Kingdom.

In February, our story intersected with Shoun’s story, and our family grew with the addition of this 10 (now 11) year old boy who was born in Kenya. Actually, it all started just 4 months earlier when we first heard about Shoun and his need for a family. As we like to say, “God just dropped him in our laps.” We are thrilled to have Shoun in our home. Just a few months older than Isaac, the two were fast friends, sharing a love of drawing and of soccer. And playing community soccer is even more fun when you happen to be on the championship team with your brother!

Prayer became a vital part of our story in March when Andrew turned 16. Andrew, a true firstborn, is a rule-follower and is very responsible, but Cindy was still not so sure she’d be able to handle a teen driver in the house. His 16th birthday celebration was an evening of story as the adult men in his life spoke blessing over him. He is a definite leader in many ways and lives his role by encouraging and supporting peers and younger boys who may not have as many role models as he does. He recently started working for a violin maker which has him drooling over a 350 year old violin he plays while waiting for customers. We have begun the college search (yikes!); definitely a new phase for the King family!

At the end of the 2010/2011 school year, Jesse (15) tried out for, and was given the role of, high school mascot. He has found his niche! Football season turned into basketball season and he is still donning the wildcat costume. He also plays the role of leader among his peers and as a volunteer in HopeAnne’s Sunday School class, he has many little eyes looking up to him. During the summer he made friends with our elderly neighbors while doing their yard work. One woman in particular continues to call the house phone and ask for Jesse, even if it’s just to tell him to give a message to his mother. Everyone loves Jesse.

Isaac’s story entered a new chapter in October when he made the decision to take the public step of baptism. The day was extra-special for Cindy because it was also her birthday. Music is sure to play a vital role in Isaac’s story throughout his life. Already at age 10 he is an excellent violist and is moving right along through his lesson books. This Christmas season he’s back as an elf at Allenberry Playhouse. He is a friend to all and has a real gift for helping where needed.

Mariana (13) thought her role would finally take her to “real” school for 8th grade but in the end she stayed home for one more year. This allowed her to return to Allenberry Playhouse to play the lead in their Christmas show. She has enjoyed the opportunity to be among so many of our friends, performing with them at the professional level. Working 6 days a week and bringing in a paycheck is more than most 13 year olds can boast but she does so with humility and joy. God has not only given her a role in His story, but there are sure to be many roles for her on stage, as well.

Our two youngest members, Eden (7) and HopeAnne (5) enjoy listening to the telling of the Christmas story and how Jesus’ time on earth intersects with the lives of each of us. They both enjoy dance classes in ballet and tap. Eden is on stage with Isaac and Ana at Allenberry Playhouse while Hope isn’t sure the stage is for her. She is our tag-along and enjoys whatever her siblings are doing. Eden plays violin for The King’s Strings and Hope joins us on her viola.

John is finally to the dissertation component of his doctoral degree in Counselor Education and Supervision. He continues to pastor at Mechanicsburg Brethren in Christ Church and adjuncts at Messiah College. He leads the musical aspect of The King’s Strings while Cindy does the organizing (of course).

Which brings us to one more aspect of our story, and that is its connection to you. As we thought about this year’s Christmas letter, we realized that 40+ years have brought us into contact with all of you in so many different ways through the years. Whether the intersection of our stories was 40 years ago, 4 years ago, or 4 months ago, we know that it was orchestrated before we were even born. It was the Author of the “greatest story ever told” that allows our story to intersect with yours and we are so thankful that it does.

May God bless you with joy in 2012 as you live your role in God’s Great Story.

Love, John, Cindy,
Andrew, Jesse, Mariana, Shoun, Isaac, Eden and HopeAnne
King

Monday, December 19, 2011

The real Laura Sybil

Dear Laura Sybil,

You promised to tell us why you call yourself Laura Sybil and I've been reading your blog religiously since your first Laura Sybil post and I haven't seen even a hint of why you go by this name. Do tell!

Sincerely,
Can't Stand the Suspense

Dear Can't Stand the Suspense,

You are correct. I did promise to tell why I chose this particular name. The problem is not necessarily that I don't want to tell; but that it is quite complicated. But let me try to explain.

It all started as a college freshman when I sat in the back of chemistry class with a dumb football player. Yes, the Good Doctor did play football in college but he did not fit the "dumb football player" stereotype nor was he in this class with me. It was some other guy whose name I do not remember.

I guess my first mistake was sitting in the back of the class. My second mistake was sitting next to the football player. And my third mistake was taking chemistry. Or maybe that was the first mistake. Well, we could sit here all day and debate which came first, the chicken or the egg; the football player or chemistry. But that's not what you want to know.

Anyway, the dumb football player (the guy sitting next to me) and the dumb elementary ed. major taking chemistry (that's me) probably spent more time talking than listening to the professor. I'm sure our conversations were more interesting than the lecture of the day, and one Friday, those conversations started us down a path of no-return.

This professor gave a quiz every Friday. He would give the quizzes to the first person in the row and they would be passed all the way back and the last person was to turn in the extra quizzes. Which I did. Except that I kept an extra one. After filling in my answers, I had a brilliant idea. I could play a little joke on the absent-minded professor (he certainly looked the part), fill in a second quiz, and turn it in. I discussed it with my football-playing buddy and we thought it sounded like a wonderful idea.

Don't ask me where the name Laura Sybil came from because I have no idea. All I know is that as I looked at that second quiz, and the name blank, Laura and Sybil were the first two names that came to mind. Being a reader, it's quite possible that they came from books. Laura being the heroine of the Little House series, of course and Sybil being from some teen book that all the mothers didn't want us to read but we read anyway. Something about a girl on drugs. So, Laura Sybil I became. Football Jock and I thought it was funny, we passed the quizzes to the front, and parted ways for the weekend, assuming that was the end of our fun.

Oh, we were wrong.

Laura Sybil's quiz got graded. And on Monday, the professor called role by passing out the quizzes. When he got to Laura's quiz, would you believe she wasn't in class that day? He tried again on Wednesday but she was still a no-show. On Friday he didn't call role because the turned-in quizzes would tell him who had come to class that day (and even the dumb football player knew he should show up on quiz day). So, having a little extra time on our hands after finishing our quizzes, we decided I should fill out another quiz for our dear friend, Laura Sybil.

You guessed it. On Monday morning, a very confused professor once again called Laura Sybil's name as he passed back the quizzes. Surprise, surprise, the girl was nowhere to be found. (I never did find out how she did on those quizzes. Maybe she was able to show up only on Fridays, take the quizzes, and somehow manage to get better grades than me.)

This went on for about three weeks. I told my closest friends about it and we had a good laugh.

Then one of my friends, whose mother was the college registrar and whose father was a science professor, went home for dinner one night. Her parents were discussing an interesting phenomenon occurring on campus. Apparently there was a student who was attending classes but who had never paid for the class (they knew because the financial aid office had been contacted), nor had she even registered for the class (they knew because the registrar had been contacted). In fact, she had never even asked for information or applied to the college (they knew because the admissions office had been contacted). My friend listened intently but became very interested when she heard that this student's name was Laura Sybil and that the class she was taking was chemistry.

Busted.

So there you have it. Laura was pretty famous on campus for all of three weeks. She had more people in more offices looking for her than any other student who ever has or who ever will attend the prestigious Bluffton University. Until now, she's kept a pretty low profile, only showing up for little pranks here and there. She once changed her name to Lauren Sybilious but that's because the prank was being played on none other than the Good Doctor and since he knew all about Laura Sybil, we had to come up with something slightly different. Just to throw him off. But now that her secret's out, she'll have to stick to advice-giving.

That's what happens when you get old.

Sincerely,

Laura The-Jig-Is-Up Sybil

Friday, December 16, 2011

International adoption

The King's Strings just finished a 6 day "tour". Knowing that we had so much driving to do this month, I had checked out an audio book to amuse us in the van. Actually, I still call them books-on-tape, which my older boys find very amusing, for some reason. When blindly choosing a book, or audio version, one never knows if it will be a dud or a winner; inappropriate for the younger set, or perfect for the whole family.

This time it was a nearly-perfect win, with the best audience being elementary students. The title chosen was Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback. It is the story of a girl, orphaned in a war-torn country (the country of origin is never specified, leaving it to the reader to decide), and adopted in America. Over-simplified on some accounts, the book nevertheless does an excellent job of helping children see what it is like to live in dangerous countries with few comforts, then to be thrust into affluent American culture. Through Betti, children can better understand why it's difficult to adapt even in the most loving and understanding environment.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stealing from beggars

Thanks to my good friend, Kym, our approach to writing this year has been through the ideas and lessons plans found in Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook by Aimee Buckner. As often as possible, I write in my writer's notebook while the kids are writing in theirs. (Sorry, Kym, as much as I'd love to write with them everyday, I just don't have the time!) Some days we all share a selection from our notebooks. So one day, I started reading my selection:

Hello. My name is Cindy and I am a thief. My crime? I stole a fish. Well, actually it was just the head. And to specify, it was of the Swedish variety; red and gummy...

At this point I stopped reading because the kids wanted to know if this was a true story or not. The unanimous vote was that I was making it up. I had to admit that it was all too true.

I must have been about seven years old. On one of those trips to the corner store with the neighbor girl (insert explanation of corner stores here, since my kids were in the dark about that small town icon), I had just a few cents to spend. Always finding it difficult to make a choice in a win-win situation, I stood at the penny candy (insert explanation of penny candy here) display (insert explanation of lack of sneeze shield and why candy was just sitting out for grubby kid hands to choose for themselves) for an inordinate amount of time. I finally settled on the Swedish fish, and not able to wait, I bit the head off of one fish before getting to the counter. But then I doubted my choice. So, not wanting to take home half a fish, that is the one I traded in for a different candy. By the time I got home I must have been feeling mighty guilty because I admitted my offense to my mom. Who promptly forced me to turn around, return to the corner store, apologize and pay for the half-eaten fish. Thus began a very slow and difficult walk to the corner store where the very kind and gracious store owner accepted my apology.

Fast-forward a few years. Now I am the mother. We have no corner store and no penny candy. But we do have children who, like all of us, tend to view life from a selfish lens at times. One day during the Christmas season a babysitter took the children to a church to participate in a walk through Bethlehem. Imagine my horror when it was later explained to me that one of my fine, young, up-standing sons spent his walk through Bethlehem by stealing from the beggars! Right down the hall from baby Jesus!

My first thought was that he had done this thinking it was funny. In light of that, my discipline approach was going to focus on how we need to be an example to others, how he made it difficult for the actors to do their job, etc. But when I asked him why he had stolen from the beggars (I could barely get the words out!), he very truthfully told me it was because he wanted more tokens (okay, it wasn't real money) to do more activities. Ah ha! Selfish motives. This was sounding all-too-familiar.

Finding it a little difficult to deal with selfishness that causes one to steal from a beggar, I asked for a moment to confer with the Good Doctor. At some point (possibly before asking me to marry him), he must have had a conversation with my mother about my criminal past and how she had dealt with it because his verdict was similar: Ask our son to write an apology letter to the church and to also make a donation to their youth mission trip (which was the purpose of the whole Bethlehem thing anyway).

In parenting, I want the punishment to fit the crime. But more than that, I want to prepare my children for adulthood. Every action taken now, whether I like it or not, is preparing my child for life apart from me. Better to learn now, rather than when living independently, that life is not all about me and my wants. Better to start now, learning to take responsibility for one's actions, to apologize when necessary, and to make things right when you can.

I still wonder what the church secretary thought when opening up the church mail to find that letter. Could have been a life lesson for them, too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Love languages

I am a reader and read as often as I can, which in some seasons of life doesn't amount to as much as I would like.

When we moved to Mechanicsburg 8 years ago, I was quickly made aware that there was one book that had escaped my eyes. In fact, to this day, I think I may be the only McBICer who has not yet read the book that has made us the people we are today.

I believe it was first mentioned in one of our inquisition sessions. The Good Doctor still insists they're called interviews, but I think it's quite obvious that any time a job candidate and spouse are set before various groups of people and interrogated, it's something more than an interview. Anyway, I'm quite certain at least one question came up regarding the 2nd most-quoted book of McBIC; The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Somehow, we passed the test anyway and the Good Doctor was allowed to be on staff.

On our first day, I was eager to meet new people (well, not really, but that's what a good pastor's wife should say). The first person to greet me, let's call him John Doe, came up with a firm handshake. "Hello, nice to meet you. I'm John Doe. What is your top love language?"

"Hi. Nice to meet you, too... Wait, my love language? Well, I speak English primarily. I did study German in high school with the intent of discussing deep topics in Pennsylvania Dutch with my Lancaster County relatives, but that didn't really work out for me. Oh, and I can interpret for the deaf. Look, if you hold your hand like this it means 'I love you' all in one sign. Pretty cool, huh?"

Apparently that wasn't what he had in mind.

A little slow to catch on, I still didn't realize the power of this book until I attended my first Fellowship Group class. The topic of the day was Revelation but it was being discussed in relation to the 5 love languages found in Gary Chapman's book. Again, I was very much out of the loop.

I can now safely say, that eight years later, I have finally caught on. After many series of sermons studying everything from Adam to Balaam's donkey, from Psalms to the early church, and relating each topic to (you guessed it), those preeminent languages, I was finally catching on. In the end, I didn't even need to read the book; it had been summarized and discussed in so many contexts that I can practically quote it verbatim. (Please don't tell the membership committee that I never read the book as it might jeopardize the Good Doctor's good standing to find his wife summarily excommunicated for bending the truth to the elite.)

Somehow, without even opening the book I've been able to become a student of the love languages. Very simply, here's how it works: Each person expresses love to others (and prefers that love to be reciprocated) in one of five ways, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. Understanding how you love and accept love can help you out of many a quandary with a spouse, a child, a church member, or even an enemy. And by understanding all of this, you can get yourself out of some tight situations.

Take last night for example. On the way home from a King's Strings concert, I was telling the Good Doctor about a situation that had occurred earlier in the day. Shoun, HopeAnne and I were ushering at a local theatre. After ushering a couple to their seats (and thinking to myself that they looked awfully familiar), the couple returned to the lobby to ask if I was a part of The King's Strings. I then was able to connect their faces to the concert where they were in attendance.

My husband then wanted to know if they had said anything else.

"Anything else? Of course not. They just -----" But then it hit me. He wasn't just asking this question to find out what they had said. He was obviously fishing for one of those love language responses. So, I took a moment to think it through. The Good Doctor's primary love language is physical touch which, it would then follow, is last on my list. I quickly threw out a possible response in this love language because 1. The Good Doctor was driving 2. The kids were in the back seat, and the other back seat, and the other back seat, and.... and 3. I just think that's grotesque. Second on his list of primary love languages is words of affirmation. Aha! That one I can do. So I reformulated my thoughts.

"Anything else? Yes, actually there was more; I'm so glad you reminded me. Yes, she said that she could tell that my husband was an awesome man. His gentleness as a father and his commitment as a husband exuded from his personhood as we shared that day. She said that she couldn't imagine that there could be a greater husband or father in all of Mechanicsburg."

Of course he then wanted to know if they had said anything else. Always trying to score more points, I continued.

"Yes, she said that she was amazed by your musical abilities. She could tell that even though you didn't major in music, you must have been a child prodigy. She could tell that of all the musicians in our family, you are most definitely the most talented."

Catching on, he wanted to know if she had said anything else. Why not?

"Yes, indeed. She went on to say how handsome she thought you are. She wondered if you work out on a regular basis because she was pretty certain it was the definition of muscles that she could see under your concert shirt."

Anything else she might have said?

"Yes, she suggested that it would be in my best interests to always mention you in my bio and resume because your popularity would definitely help my cause. Whatever my cause may be."

Anything else?

"I'm sorry, Dear. She had so much more to say but it was time for the show to start and I really could not hold the show any longer for her to sing your praises. But she did give me her number and she said you could call her at any time - day or night...
Could someone please tell me why you are all laughing?"

Monday, December 5, 2011

A question from a young'un

Dear Laura Sybil,
If the plural for mouse is mice and the plural for goose is geese, then why is the plural for moose moose? Shouldn't it be meese? I'm so confused.:)
Sincerely, Confused middle schooler

Dear Confused Middle Schooler,

First of all, I must remind you that I am a parenting guru, and am only pet-peevily interested in grammar. I taught first grade, remember, and that age group is known to say things like brang and bringed. And I live with a bunch of folks who insist on saying "like" every sentence or two (just between you and me, I'm going to buy myself a hand-held buzzer for Christmas so I can buzz the offenders every time they say "like" more than once or twice in a conversation).

So, as a parenting guru, I must ask you, "Where are your parents?" What kind of parent would sink to such depths and have their child write Laura Sybil instead of getting to the bottom of this themselves? Tsk. Tsk. Especially when said parents probably own much more technology than moi and could have found the answer much quicker.

However, I applaud your persistence in getting to the bottom of this. You do indeed ask a universal question. And in a nutshell, the answer seems to be, "It's English. We have no rules and if you think you've figured one out, we'll show you how to break it."

The longer answer is that English was not invented by just one person or people group. (Get it? Person? People?) Instead it is a mixture of many languages, each with their own rules and patterns. And if one or more of those languages does not have consistent rules, then, well, English as a second language learners are in a bit of a pickle.

Take "house" for example. In Old German, the word would be "hus" or "huis" and its plural would be "huses" or "husas". Compare that to the Old German for "mouse" which would be "mus" or "muus" and its plural would be "myys" or "muys". So you see, if the original speakers of these words couldn't figure out how to follow rules, then it would follow that those who copy their words would have even more trouble. Kind of like generational sin. It just spirals out of control after one or two generations. Or something like that.

Since it is possible that this question came up for a school assignment, let me give you a little rhyme which might boost your grade (a little extra credit for creativity never hurt anyone):

Wouldn't it be nice
If these grammar "rules" rang true more than twice?

The plural of mouse is mice
But of house is not hice.

The plural of louse IS lice
But the plural of spouse is not spice.

A bowl or one piece of rice?
Would you like that with some ice?
Slices or just one slice?

You could go to great heights,
And see great sights,
Even pay a great price,
But rarely find a grammar "rule" that fits more than twice.

So go ahead and ask Bryce,
He may be quite precise,
And able to find a "rule" that works thrice!

Sincerely,
Laura Sybil
(You'll let me know if we get an "A", right?)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Goin' huntin'

Sometimes I'm not sure why I even try to create special memories for the troops.

This month has us doing a lot of traveling to and from King's Strings concerts and family gatherings to eastern PA and Ohio. Knowing that we'll be spending so much time in the van, I decided to come up with a game to play. A Christmas Decoration Bingo Hunt sounded like a great idea to me.

I spent a few days making my list of items to scavenge - a white Christmas tree, the Grinch, an inflatable without air, etc. Yesterday afternoon I generated my Bingo cards, slipped them into see-through plastic protectors, and included one crayon per game. I also bought flashlights (I'm not sure why a new flashlight always seems like such a novelty) so the kids could see their game cards in the dark.

I could feel the anticipation all day, knowing that I was going to unveil my new idea during the evening's ride. We had a few important concert details to work out on the way to the Martinez' 50th wedding anniversary party (Congragulations, folks!) so the launch of the fun and games had to wait.

Finally, we were in the van and ready to depart. I turned around in my seat, grabbed the on-board microphone, and addressed the travelers. They were transfixed by my fantabulous idea. Greedy hands reached for my game boards and we were off!

Mom, my card says I need to find a camel. Could we stop at a Sheetz? I think they have Camels in there?

Very funny, Andrew, and no. Every item must be found in someone's yard.

Mom, why does my card say I need to find an outdoor tree with lights? Why can't it just say "Tree with Lights"? I think that outdoor is implied.

I wrote it that way because I know my children. If I had just written "Tree with Lights," you'd look for a tree in someone's window and argue that you should be able to count it.

Mom, I have "Santa" on my card but Santa's not real. Can I cross it off if I see a fake one? (Funny thing is, Eden was dead serious while the others were just trying to make fun of my attempt at family bonding and entertainment)

Did you read my blog? Never mind. Yes, you can cross it off if you see a fake Santa.

Mom, I have to find an angel? Where am I going to find an angel? Wait, are you an angel?

I'm not even going to answer that question other than to say that you are now on the Naughty List. And you can't win this game even if you do get Bingo.

I think you're an angel, Mom. My card says I need to find a Grinch. He's not real, either. Can I find a fake one, too?

I can't hear you.

We really need walkie-talkies in this van or something. I can't hear you.

Maybe it's better that way.

What?

Never mind.

Mom, your eyes twinkle. Can I count them for twinkling lights?

You're getting coal for Christmas.

But I'm serious. You're an angel with twinkling eyes.

Before disembarking from the vehicle, please pass your game cards, crayons, and flashlights forward. They will be donated to a family who can appreciate them.

But, Mom, we really liked this game.....

Talk to the hand, People. I'm not buying it.

Anyone want a free Christmas Decoration Bingo Hunt?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The great debate

If every month is an awareness for something, then I think December must be Debate Awareness Month and multitudes of people are on a soapbox, prepared to get in on the action.

The Christmas music came on too early or too late. Christmas brunch or Christmas dinner. Lights outside or not. Christmas needs to be a white Christmas or the "I hate snow" camp. Fruitcake as food or fruitcake as doorpost. Just say, "Merry Christmas" and you're gearing up for an earful.

I love to get ideas from other people so I highly appreciate December conversations that turn to how each person or family celebrates Christmas. But if someone starts his/her answer with, "Well, we (or I) don't...," I know I've found myself in the presence of a staunch Debate Awareness Month supporter. I don't even have to see the speaker's classic awareness bumper sticker (half red, half green ribbon, torn between the colors), to know that I'd better settle down for long winter's conversation.

My favorite (or not so favorite) debate is the one that starts with, "Well, we don't do Santa Claus." For some reason, it seems to be humanly impossible to say this without a pious emphasis on the word we, making the sentence come out something like it would if the speaker were saying, "Well, we don't spit on homeless people."

When I taught first grade, Santa Claus was a tricky subject. First graders have not yet learned the skill of debate so it pretty much boils down to Santa is real or he's not, no need to say more. Of course there was usually one evangelist in the group who made it his or her priority to preach the fallacy of Santa to the rest of the class (I was never surprised to see the tell-tale bumper sticker on that car as it drove away). If questioned, I solved the problem by asking the child, "What do your parents tell you? ... Then, that's the way it is." You don't want to mess with the parents at Christmas!

For the record, I know many wonderful adults who sat on Santa's lap as children. And they're Christians, too! *Gasp* And some of them even carry on the tradition today, paying money to have a picture taken of their children with the guy in red. *Double Gasp*

I don't have any pictures of myself sitting on the guy's lap. My children do, however, because I have an uncle who invites the big man down from the North Pole every year to join our family's Christmas dinner. We could handle this situation by preparing our family's debate strategy for the gift-giving floor, starting of course with, "We don't...," but instead we choose to talk about it as a family before we go and when we get home. For the younger family members, we just reiterate the reason we celebrate Christmas, we remind them that the gifts are really bought by their grandparents (and need to be thanked after Santa is thanked), and that it's just a very nice man who enjoys wearing a sweat-inducing red suit for one month every year. Oh, and we remind the kids that it is not our duty to announce St. Nick's realness status in front of the other second cousins. That's a surefire way of not getting an invitation to the Christmas reunion the following year.

And there are those people who truly feel called by God to dress up as Santa every December and who have created ministries around the costume. Hey, if God gives you twinkling eyes, merry dimples, rosy cheeks, a snow white beard, and a nose like a cherry, I think He's trying to tell you something! It would be like my daughter shunning the performance arts even after someone recently told me, "Well, we don't allow our children in any of the performing arts." If God gives you the gifts, and sends you the call, you'd better answer.

Back in high school when I volunteered with a group of mentally challenged girls in a Girl Scout troop, their favorite activity was the annual Christmas party with Santa. I have no idea who the man was who volunteered to come to our meeting to allow these overgrown children, some of whom were quite large, to sit on his lap, sometimes drooling, sometimes making unusual noises, but I know that he was doing a wonderful service.

We personally know a local couple who we call Santa Dan and Delores. Santa Dan, an ordained retired pastor (triple *gasp*), looks very much the part even without the costume. Every year they donate their time and resources to hundreds of organizations and individuals. They have created a ministry that assembles gift boxes for those who are struggling during the holidays. Dressing up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus (Santa Dan does NOT need a fake beard), they will come to any gathering where they are invited. In exchange, they ask for donated food and toys. They contact local pastors and service organizations and get names of families that could use the help. The families are then invited to Santa Dan's stock-piled garage (Santa's workshop?) where it is generously emptied into the hands of the needy. Just this week Delores told me that this year's goal is 200 gift boxes and they currently have 187 local families identified. And just to clear up any confusion, this Santa does not drive a sleigh but uses a bus to transport his toys and food. The writing on the side of Santa's bus? Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

So maybe we need to spend more time talking about what we do celebrate at Christmas and let the red guy worry about himself. I think we could spread a lot more Christmas joy by focusing on Jesus rather than on Santa. Not just if we don't do Santa, but because we don't do Santa.

I'll get off my soapbox now. You can excommunicate me tomorrow.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Winner!

Last month I received a letter in the mail from our public library. Interested in what they might have to say, I opened it up to read,

"Dear Avid Library User:

You are one of 500 cardholders out of 20,000 who have checked out more than 1500 materials since you obtained your library card. Wow!"

At this point I was thinking that maybe my family was entitled to some sort of prize package, or maybe even a special honorary dinner for those in the 1500+ category. We would have settled for a free book or two.

Hey, it happens. When I was about 10 years old I won some library contest (you know, the public library on the other side of town, the one that I biked to, by myself, and we never even worried about whether or not a child should bike to the library by herself). They let me pick whatever book I wanted from the library, and they promised to order me a copy of my own. Since I did gymnastics and watched the competitions on TV whenever I could, the book I chose was A Very Young Gymnast by Jill Krementz. I still have that book on one of the many shelves in this house.

"Obviously," the letter went on to say, "Your high volume use means you value your public library and the materials and services that we provide." Yes, this is true. Now what did we win?

Nothing. In fact, they didn't want to award us with anything. Instead, they wanted us to contribute to their fund!

I think they found the wrong group from which to solicit funds. Wouldn't it stand to reason that those who have checked-out the most materials, also pay the highest fines for checking out said materials? We all know that I am ultra-organized to a fault and I have various checks and balances to assure that our materials return from whence they came on time and in the condition with which we found them. But I share a library card with 8 others who do not share my interest in organization and rule-abiding. We have definitely paid our share of fines and bought our fair (or not so fair) share of books that were deemed unreturnable. I am quite certain we have paid the equivalent of at least one full shelf of books in that library so I do not feel as if I owe them any more than that.

Okay, I have to admit, my Scrooge-like resistance is enhanced by my feelings toward librarians, feelings which go back to my childhood when I was scarred by the child-eating ladies employed by the local library. You may think the fact that I rode there by myself was a crime; even today that'd be much safer than letting a child loose in a library. They once had me in tears, insisting that I couldn't check out any more books because I hadn't returned the last one. I knew I had returned it, and my mom was as much an organization freak as me (where do you think I got it?) so of course it had been returned. I rode home, collected my mom, and we returned to the library to argue my innocence. The librarian was steadfast in her belief that I was a reprobate and would amount to nothing. Finally, we asked her if she had checked the shelves. She assured us that it would not be necessary to do so as we obviously had the book in our possession, and it was not in hers. So my mom sent me to look. Since it was one of my favorite books to check-out, I knew exactly where to look. And sure enough, there it was. As I proudly returned it to the librarian, she announced, "You obviously had it all along and were just hiding it so you could say you found it on the shelf." Yeah, Lady, that's it for sure.

It didn't get much better from there. In my elementary and junior high, we had a nasty librarian who hid behind an ultra-conservative veneer and insisted that Satan was hiding somewhere in most books and she had to personally save us from all of them. Later, when I taught at this school, the same librarian once tattled to the principal on me stating that I was using a banned book in my classroom. My sin? Reading Steven Kellogg's Chicken Little to my first graders. Apparently she had it on the teacher's shelves, not because she wished it to be used in the classroom, but because it was an excellent example of a book that should be banned for bullying, portraying hippos as fat and calling them such (aren't they?), and various other criminal elements.

And fast forward to the library that started out by congratulating my family on our high reading level. It was here that one control-freak insisted that we had to pay for a book with a loose page. Never mind that the book, on medieval knights, was clearly well-loved and falling apart in many areas. The page may have come loose on our watch, but not because of us. Now I don't let my kids borrow any books that look even remotely used unless we first have the librarian make a note of the flaws. They love me there!

Which must be why they are so happy with our outstanding checking-out and why they want my hard-earned money. Well, they can't have it. Call me Scrooge, but I believe I gave at the office.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The countdown begins

As a parent, I find the Christmas season to be a constant battle between the joy of celebration and the frustration of stuff. I love to decorate with my children, but I don't want it to consume our already full household. I love to give my children gifts but we already have so much. I want to allow others to bless our family, but I don't want my children to think that the holidays are about getting. I find myself in this constant battle between celebrating and pulling back.

So, after missing the annual post-Thanksgiving dinner family craft time due to a Christmas show that needed to be performed, Eden wondered what she was going to do to replace the craft time. I assured her that we would find our own craft to do at home. It wouldn't be the same as the tradition of the Godshall women around the table crafting, while the men split themselves between sleeping in front of the TV and making fun of the annual tradition, but it would definitely be something that she would enjoy.

Which meant that I then had to deliver an idea that would fit the bill. (Never mind that it is not I, but my mom or one of her sisters who usually organizes the annual craft time.)

Thankfully a catalog came in the mail (and didn't quite make it to the trash in time) and we found a cute garland of mittens to be used as a Christmas countdown. We decided that we could make it much cheaper than the one in the catalog and with Eden's expertise in all things felt, we were set. We duly cut out 48 mittens, paired them up, and started sewing.

Even Hope got in on the festivities (although I had to do a lot of re-threading the needle as she got it knotted, and twisted, and pulled out, and...).

Of course Linus was right in the mix, too.

With three of us sewing, it didn't take long to finish 24 mittens.

But then I had a dilemma. The idea behind this countdown was to put something in each mitten, to be consumed or enjoyed on that particular day of the countdown. But I don't want to buy my kids more stuff. And I don't want them thinking Christmas is always about getting more things. Conversely, I want them to learn to think of others and to develop an attitude of giving that lasts the whole year.

Thus we came up with the Official Think-of-Others Christmas Countdown. Each mitten does hold a candy cane BUT it cannot be consumed until the child of the day completes a task which is written on a slip of paper found in that mitten. We decided that the child has until Christmas to complete the task. At that point, any uneaten candy canes will be given away (I guess it's a form of regifting, but not really).

Sample tasks include:

-Find someone who has a birthday in December. Make a special card for that person and deliver it to him or her.
-Bake something (or help to bake something) for someone who probably doesn't get homemade goodies very often.
-Find and use every opportunity to give compliments today.
-Choose something of yours to give away.
-Find an alone-place and kneel down to purposefully pray for your family and friends, naming them specifically and praying for individual needs.
-Write a long letter to someone and mail it (email does not count)

Satisfactory completion of said activity will of course be determined by moi. Hopefully we'll all be showing a little more care and concern for others as the month progresses. Stay tuned . . .