Monday, February 15, 2010

The World's Best Neighbors

I feel singularly qualified to say that we have the World's Best Neighbors.  I present you with my evidence - and note that I am actually *in* these photos.  Not only do they regularly host events such as these but they take pictures and send them to me as well!  Zee's - YOU ROCK!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blizzard of '10

We've experienced an unprecedented 2 consecutive blizzards now.  So I guess I should give it a nod at least.  Anyone who knows me knows that SNOW is a four letter word in every aspect in my book. I ignored the first blizzard but finally decided the second one deserved some camera work at least.  So here you go.  Pictures.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kids in the Kitchen: Food Challenge Feb 9, 2010

 Yesterday somebody got the idea to have a Food Challenge a la Food Network's Iron Chef America.  Ben threw the gauntlet down before John Michael who accepted and they were off and running.  The challenge:  Choose a team of chefs to create a three course meal with a beverage for the panel of judges. Judging was based on Presentation, Taste and Teamwork.

The teams:  Team John Michael  Sous chefs Betsy, Timothy and Tyrone

                  Team Ben Sous chef Aaron

Team John was up first preparing lunch.  They prepared cheesey pretzels as an appetizer, JT's signature
Ketchup-Infused Hotdogs for a main course, oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert and coffee milkshake for the beverage.



Here John Michael describes his dishes for the judges:


The judges then went to the difficult work of tasting and evaluating.  Each judge could issue up to a total of 80 points:  10 points each for Presentation and Taste for the appetizer, main course and dessert, 10 more points for the beverage and up to 10 points for Teamwork.  I thought Team John worked together remarkably well.  The adults served as judges and we had a blast.  I should have videotaped the final judges' panel as Tad and Carlos really went to town on the formal critique - way fun!
JT served as a judge since Tad wasn't home for the lunch presentation so he filled in for his dad and they worked together on the Team Ben part of the challenge.
  He was the toughest judge of all.

Team Ben included just Ben and Aaron.  They got off to a bit of a slow start on the teamwork but once Ben realized he was selling his partner a bit short he quickly adjusted his attitude.  They chose a very ambitious menu which took them many more hours to prepare than they had anticipated.  It was a verrry late dinner.  For the appetizer they served shrimp cocktail, then for the main course we enjoyed sloppy joe
on homemade bread with steamed veggies.  Dessert was homemade donuts

and hot chocolate with whipped cream (with homemade whipped cream and chocolate syrup).  They served lemonade as their beverage.  Here's Team Ben presenting their dishes to the judges:

And then dessert:
And the judges were back at it, eating, scoring and critiquing.  In the end, Team Ben won by about 25 points out of a total 320 from all of the judges. It was great fun and we were so pleased with all that a group of kids accomplished completely on their own.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mission Field


 Here's the rules to the nerf game we came up with.  I think it's a good game and it worked out really well with two teams of about 10 people on each team.  We called it Mission Field (I'm lovin' how much fun the nerf guns are but still a pacifist at heart so I tried to at least make it *sound* good.)

So there's two teams and each team has a Village Chief.  The chiefs' first job is to choose teams.  From there they are the unofficial leaders of their team and coordinate all decisions and team strategy.  Each team gets a color and each member of the team must wear their color on their arm or their head.  We used strips of blue and white fabric for the two team colors.

Each team then chooses 2 Doctors and a Missionary (see how wholesome this is?!).  These should be your stealthiest players.  All other team members are Villagers.  Letting the other team identify your Doctors and Missionary should be avoided for as long as possible.

The game is played like freeze tag.  Once the game begins each team shoots at the opposing team.  If a player is hit with a dart, they must freeze. (no weenies allowed - if you get hit, take your blow and admit defeat) Once frozen, two things can happen to free them:

1.  They are tagged (by hand - not with a dart) by one of their own Doctors and resume play or
2.  They are tagged (by hand) by the Missionary from the opposing team and now become a Villager for the opposite team.  The Missionarys carry extra colors and issue their team's colors to the converted Villager.

In later attempts at this game we added in the rule that once tagged and unfrozen, the Villagers must touch a team base before resuming play.  This avoided the strategy of having Doctors follow directly behind Villagers and touch them quickly each time they are hit with a dart.  You could also keep extra team colors at the base instead of having the Missionary rather conspicuously carry them around.

The game ends when either all the players from one team have been frozen or converted to the other team.  Once a Doctor or Missionary has been converted to the other team they become Villagers for that team.  Their loss will always be the beginning of the end of the game.
Happy Pelting!

Finally....

got some Christmas pictures up.  They are posted here.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Testing Hospitality

The call came on a Sunday evening a couple of weeks before Christmas while I was sitting on the couch watching tv with the family - a rare occurrence around here.  It was my "friend" Beverly whom I'd never met in real life but with whom I'd had a friendship for many years through a yahoo group of other Christian moms who homeschool large families - we have a lot in common.  Since it was rather late and she had never phoned me before I suspected what the call was going to entail.  Her family had hit a string of bad luck and poor choices over the past several months and I knew they had lost a house and had since moved from place to place with their eight children - all boys - and were probably in crisis seeking a place to stay.  As the months had unfolded and she had shared her story with the group I had continually offered a place to stay in our home should they ever need it.  The time had come, they needed it.  I kept thinking what it must have taken for her to actually pick up the phone and call me - a stranger, but not a stranger - and beg our provision for her and her large family.  I could hear something in her voice, a weariness perhaps, maybe even shock of having been rejected by her own family and turned out on the streets.  Of course we would have them come to our home and of course they could stay. 

Since it was late and they didn't have a vehicle large enough to get them to our house in one trip I asked if she could find provision for the night and we would come in the morning and pick them up in our large van.  She didn't know.  I gave her the number for another friend from the same group who lived closer to where they were and instructed her to make plans for the night and give me a call back.  About an hour later we talked again and her mother had agreed to let them stay the night at her house - but just one more night and then they were to be on their way.  If ever there was a time to be Christ to someone, this was our time.  How could we turn away this family when they had nowhere else to go?

We spent the next few days gathering up enough mattresses and food to feed and house a household of now 26.  We collected gift cards from friends and family, furniture from freecyclers and a mattress from a friend who cleans out foreclosed homes for a living - there was some small irony in that one.  Those eight boys took over the basement, covering the floor with mattresses, blankets and bodies.  The washing machine began to run, along with the dishwasher and the shower, and they haven't stopped since.  Betsy gave up her room to Beverly and Carlos and their youngest two sons and took up residence under Miriam's day bed.  Tad networked their computer into the household network and Beverly immediately set to work on the internet hunting down new job opportunities for Carlos - while he continues to commute 1 1/2 hours one way to his current position.  (Philip took up residence in John's and David's closet from whence he could spy on Beverly's computer screen.)  They hope to move the family to North Carolina or some other point south when all this is said and done.

Our weekly "adult meetings" have been productive.  Carlos feels like he's finally back on track - able to save up enough money for a security deposit and first month's rent at whatever their next stop shall be - hopefully their final stop for quite some time to come after being in this transition period for close to nine months now.  I have to admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed when they first asked us for two months in our home but a silent "Lord have mercy" is a prayer that goes a long way to assuage doubts and fears in the face of serving others and we agreed to let them stay until March 1st - actually more like 2 1/2 months.  There are lots of challenges they need to meet - they still need to navigate through transportation for 10 people and their belongings once they decide on an ending point.  And, those belongings?  Well, they're scattered over about 3 different households and a storage facility right now and will need to be gathered into one place and transported.  Then there is the emotional toll this has taken on their family.  The boys desperately want to be in a place they can call home - but not just home - *their* home.  They often talk about how good it's going to be and just as often they get frustrated with the things they don't have now - things like the freedom to eat a snack when they're hungry, wear sneakers that fit them because they aren't sure in which house they've been left, play a video game when they want to chill out or be a player on a team sport.  They want to feel like winners when relying completely upon others is not a winning situation.

I'm doing my best to provide some sense of at least equality among the children - to not make our guests feel like second rate citizens.  If there were three Christmas gifts for each of our children under the tree - by golly there were going to be three for each of them as well and if one of them was a nerf gun then there would be weaponry for all.  Things like snacks, candy, movies and even chores can quickly become a sticking point if it seems that "ours" are getting something "they" can't have.  My constant striving the past couple of months has been to eliminate the "us" and "them" thinking. To that end, there's been nerf battles waged, chores assigned and posted, movie nights planned, late night snacks overlooked, extra rounds of candy bingo, provisions snuck in to Beverly in paper bags and many, many, many conversations which always seem to center around the themes of extending grace and love in all circumstances.

Twenty-six people means 26 personalities.  We already had our share of interesting challenges before this family arrived and now we've added to that 10 more people who need to be understood and allowed to express themselves - and who need to understand the special needs of our family to promote tolerance.  This is no small task and admittedly, I'm tired.  Our last adult meeting looked like something from the set of a zombie movie - 4 exhausted and frustrated bodies with glazed over eyes slumped in chairs around the room trying to navigate through the land mine of personalities that are our children.  The next day Ben and I spent sequestered in my room creating the rules for a nerf battle in which all the adults could play too so we could model good sportsmanship and show our kids it's still possible to have fun together.  A pizza party broke the ice before that battle.  We won more than just a collection of foam darts that night - we won back the hearts of our children, at least a good part of them.   That's the real work of living together here like this.

Meals are like running a camp kitchen.  We already had our evening meals divided up between myself, Adora and the children so we simply added Beverly into the rotation and it's been doable.  I usually start my meals with a big pot - a pot in which a friend served a meal in that first week and which I have decided to call my own until the end of this journey.  She's ok with that.  Her kids are all grown now and the pot is too big for just two.  We try to pray together as a family before our evening meal and then dinner is served buffet style with the youngest ones being served by moms or older siblings.  The grown ups don't usually sit down but there are plenty of seats for all the kids - our post-fire renovations have provided more than enough room for that.  The challenge is continuing to keep an additive free kitchen, which means home cooked meals for many more than usual.  Homemade pizza night and taco salad seem to be the two favorites.

So here we are coming down to the last few weeks of this commitment we've made to this special family.  There is a part of me that's so tired and worn out and looks forward to returning to the day to day struggles of "just" 16 members of our household.  But there is something else in me that just can't quit, that wants to get to know this family better and better, that wants more than anything else to part at the next fork in the road as not just friends but comrades in arms, soldiers who survived the trenches together.  Please pray for our friends.  Please pray that the next stop truly is the last stop for them, that these boys can have a house to call their own and feel like winners again.  Lord have mercy.