Faith & Prayer

Faith is not believing that God can; it is knowing that God will.

As I completed the homework for my small group Bible study this week I finally admitted something to myself and to God (not that He didn’t already know, obviously) that I’ve sensed the Holy Spirit’s conviction on for quite some time. I pray with doubt. This is not good. Jesus Himself specifically cautioned against this (Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23) and James, Jesus’ brother, boldly states that doubters shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:5-8). Though James’ statement is somewhat absurd as, by definition, doubters don’t expect to receive anything from God or they wouldn’t be doubters. Anyway… In my mind, I resisted acknowledging my doubt in prayer because, well, to do so would prove I’m not a “real” Christian. Of course, this is also absurd and a trap of the Enemy. The Bible gives us accounts of Peter doubting (the walking on water incident in Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21), Thomas doubting (the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in John 20:24-31), and even the Twelve as a group doubting (Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 22-25 and the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Mark 16:14). Not once did Jesus say or imply that these doubts made them any less real followers of His. He simply encouraged them to remain close to Him.

Like most humans in their human nature, I tend toward putting God in a box. We like to figure things out, have things under control, know what to expect, and it bothers us that with God we just can’t. But it doesn’t stop us from trying. For some people, this looks like legalism–rule-keeping. Others become ritualistic–keeping a religious superstitious OCD routine. Me, I pray with doubt. It sounds something like this, “God, please cure Diane’s cancer. I know you can. Amen.” Sounds good. It even sounds like I’m trusting in God and believing Him to cure her. But in my heart, I’m thinking it’s really unlikely to happen and preparing myself to be told that Diane has passed away. I’m doubting. I try to disguise the doubt by labeling it as “being realistic.” Obviously, God doesn’t physically cure every person or even the majority of people who suffer physical ailments and are prayed for with genuinely faithful prayers. For someone who has been constantly disappointed by her hopes in life, I find I want to protect myself by preparing for the worst and/or most humanly likely scenario. I want to go with the odds rather than “gamble” on God and have to deal with the emotional fallout when what I believed He should and would do doesn’t happen. And so now I find myself with the prayer of Mark 9:24, “The father instantly cried out, ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!'”

Be Careful What You Chase

A few years ago, I took up jogging. I’m not a serious runner. Two 3-mile runs a week and a handful of 5ks a year are the extent of my commitment. It’s what my schedule comfortably allows. I mean, I like jogging but I’m not willing to get up before 7:30 to do it, and if I don’t do it first thing in the day, it doesn’t get done.

Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line.

Running is a dangerous hobby for me—and not just because I managed to fall flat on my face (literally) during my cool down walk one morning. It gives me time to think of all kinds of things that are way deeper or way weirder (or both) than I normally come up with. Somehow, these deep, weird thoughts usually revolve around what tracks are on my running playlist. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was bopping along to The Tractors Baby Likes to Rock It. Yes, I know that dates me. Anyway, they get to the line, “She said her name was ’emergency’ and asked to see my gun / Said her telephone number was 911,” and I wondered if my friend who is a 9-1-1 dispatcher had ever told someone that in a social situation. Weird. (I asked her, and she said she hadn’t but that now she was going to have too. Also weird, but we’re friends for a reason.) The other day, I was jogging along to another oldie-but-goodie, End of the Line by the Traveling Wilburys, and found it somewhat poetic that I was making my way down an old railroad grade turned rec trail and not getting any younger. See what I mean? Weird and deep. Somewhat unsettling for someone not accustomed to deep.

Several months ago, I signed up to run a Ragnar Sunset Relay with my sister and a couple friends. A team of four people divides a marathon into 6.5-mile legs. Each person runs one leg to finish the marathon before the sun sets. It would be over twice as far as I had ever gone, but a girl needs a good challenge once in a while, and a full Ragnar isn’t going to happen for me. I trained hard. Up hills. In the blazing hot sun. And, I threw some worship music on the end of my race-day playlist. I knew by mile 5 I was going to need Jesus.

Right around mile 6 this <ahem> very nice looking <ahem> young man comes up on my left and lops easily past me. Maybe 25-ish, no shirt, lean, toned muscles, tan, glistening with sweat—not real sweat, the kind like a magazine ad for running shoes. My sorry, old-enough-to-be-this-guy’s-mother, 46-year-old, vertically-challenged self was drenched with enough sweat (and not the pretty glistening kind) to fill a pool. Struggling to breathe (I may be exaggerating a bit on the breathing), I was wondering how a half-mile could seem so impossibly long. The first thought through my head was, “How is it that he looks so good in sweat?” Followed by, “How in the world can he make this look so easy?” And then I catch a glimpse of the cross necklace flipped to his back for the race. It wasn’t just a small cross either—probably a good 4” tall. So I think, “Just follow the cross,” as I turn up Hillsong’s No Other Name on my phone coupled with a quick prayer of, “Jesus, just let me finish—soon.” Never mind that within 15 feet he’s so far ahead of me I can’t even see him or the cross anymore. Then the deep thoughts kick in.

Just because this guy is wearing a cross necklace doesn’t mean he’s actually a Christian. There are plenty of people running around that wear crosses as a fashion statement or because their grandmother gave them one as a present. And there is the possibility that he says he’s a Christian but really isn’t. Plenty of people think they are Christians but aren’t exactly in a relationship with Christ. Sometimes we are lured into following after something or someone appealing just because they are sporting a cross. Thinking we are chasing Christ, we discover much later that we weren’t chasing Christ at all. We find ourselves following after the human being delivering the message rather than the Giver of the message, the worship song or artist rather than the One worthy of worship, the image of the cross rather than The Cross. Okay, God, I got the point. And the distraction of this little self-sermon gets me far enough to see the hand-off tent where my teammate is waiting to grab our team bib from me and make up for the time I’ve delayed us. Jesus had taken me to the finish line with a message. Deep.

First-World Problems: A Minor Rant

Yesterday, our internet went out. I knew instantly what the problem was. In an attempt to save a few bucks, we had decided to port our landline (yes, we still had one) to cellular phone service. It seemed kind of silly to pay $30 per month for telemarketers and scammers to be able to call us, but we didn’t want to lose the number because some places like our doctors’ offices do use it. For $15 a month we could add it to our cell phone plan, which was more reasonable. The port had been scheduled to happen overnight the night before, and I knew that in porting the number the telecommunications company had also disconnected our internet service. I didn’t think it was that big of a problem. After all, if they can just flip a switch to turn it off, they should just be able to flip a switch and turn it back on. So I called the technical support number.
I managed to remain calm and pleasant while they ignored everything I told them about the circumstances. They just walked through their checklist flowchart of what could be causing me to have no internet service. Never mind that everything they were having me do I had done already (and had told them as much). They finally decided, after forty-five minutes, that it wasn’t a technical support problem but a customer service one. Again, I had tried to tell them that from the beginning and was mystified because the number I had called was customer service but whatever. The people who answer the phones are programmed to go through a specific sequence no matter what you say so you just have to play along… They transferred me to a “customer service” rep, who assured me they just needed to create a new account for us to attach internet service to and put me on hold. After twenty minutes on hold, he came back and said it’s a little bit complicated but they were working on it. He gave me an order ticket number, a partial new account number, and said they would call me later in the day when everything was done. No problem. I had a dentist appointment and some errands to run anyway. Six hours later, I had heard nothing from them. So I called to see how things were going, only to be told that there was no available bandwidth in our area. Because of this, they couldn’t create new internet service connections until there was, and they had no idea when bandwidth would free up.
“But,” I argued, “this isn’t new service; you just turned off our service by mistake; all you have to do is flip the switch back on. They told me this morning they were going to create a new account for us and restart service.”
“It doesn’t work that way, ma’am. Since the infrastructure in your area is copper, once your service is turned off the port is closed and can’t be used again. The sales system doesn’t sync in real-time with the engineering system so the salespeople didn’t know that engineering couldn’t set it up for you when you talked to them.”
And then, I lost it. First, I wasn’t sure how calling “customer service” resulted in me talking to technical support to start with. Then, how was “customer service” actually a code name for sales? Next, how was it that sales could basically sell something that doesn’t exist? And, why didn’t anyone call me to tell me this when it was discovered? I don’t typically yell, but I do have this tone of voice that, in my mind, is equivalent to yelling. I don’t like it when I use that tone of voice because I know that, even though the other person hears a firm, slightly sarcastic, bordering on rude tone, in my spirit, I am yelling.
“What do you mean no bandwidth?!?” In my head, I knew exactly what it meant; I used to work in IT. “So if I were a new customer and called you for internet service, what would you do?”
“We can’t create new internet accounts at all until bandwidth in your area frees up, so even new customers can’t get internet service.”
I was approaching livid. There are two telecommunications providers in our area, and one of them was telling me they couldn’t provide service to me until God only knows when.
“So what am I supposed to do?!? Get service from your competitor?”
“You can keep checking back to see if ports have become available.” This lady has got to be kidding.
No, I couldn’t. My husband needs an internet connection for his job. My children and I need one for homeschool since I put the assignments they are to work on every day in an online assignment app. Now I’m basically forced to change providers because I can’t sit around waiting for bandwidth from this company that may or may not free up at some point. Sigh. I called the other company available to me. They’d be able to set up my new service–next Tuesday. I called them on Tuesday, meaning it would be a week before my internet service is restored. And even then, I wasn’t confident it would be done simply and without headache, or without costing me a small fortune. I would have to go buy a new modem that was compatible with this company’s system in addition to installation charges that had a footnote next to them saying they could be higher than the stated amount if the installation is “complex.” There was no way our installation will not be complex; we’re not that lucky. So much for trimming our budget. It would now be a couple of months before we would see any savings because of the upfront costs of switching services.
As the day went on, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow our original internet service provider was lurking out there with an order that was going to come back to haunt me. I called them again to make sure the order had been canceled. This was now the fourth person I had talked to at this company. I gave her the order number. She couldn’t find it in their system.
“Was it for new or existing service?” she asked.
I sighed, “Well, both.” I explained the whole convoluted story to her.
“Let me look it up by address,” she said. She still couldn’t find it. “It’s not in our system, so it has been canceled and deleted from the system. Have a great day.”
I found it hard to believe the order had been deleted out of the system. Companies don’t work that way. It would be canceled and marked as such but not deleted. The nagging feeling persisted, and I told my husband that I was just waiting for a call from them in a couple of weeks saying they could now hook up our service. He did the correct husband thing—nodded and grunted all the while thinking his wife was bordering on becoming her mother. I didn’t even have to wait a couple of weeks. The next day, I got a call from a mysterious number.
“This is Suzy. I’m calling to schedule the connection for your internet service.”
You have got to be kidding!
“That order should have been canceled. In fact, when I called to make sure it had been canceled they told me they couldn’t even find it in the system,” I was really trying to be nice.
“Wow, that’s odd. It just popped up on my screen this morning.”
“Well, you’re going to have to cancel it because I already have service from another company.”
All of this is beyond frustrating for me and spirals me into tears. It seems like my life is littered with stories like this. Simple things, small things—like changing phone companies—that shouldn’t be life-disrupting go sideways about six different ways and throw my life into chaos. I’m the embodiment of Murphy’s Law. If there is a way for something to be complicated, it will be so for me. If there is a way to screw something up, I seem to find it. By nature I am anxious, a worrier. I know I’m not supposed to be.1 But as superstitious as it may sound, and probably is, I have learned that if I don’t worry about things, all kinds of stuff goes wrong and I end up in a mess. That’s what happened here. I had wondered how the phone porting would affect our internet access but told myself not to worry about it. Phone companies do this kind of thing all the time. They would realize that I only wanted my phone number ported and that the internet access should stay on the account, I reasoned with my “worry wart” self. Obviously, I was wrong. I should have worried. I should have called them and specifically told them not to cancel the internet service, effectively closing our account. I should have overthought it and micromanaged it. I can’t seem to find a balance between overthinking things and bumbling into messes because I didn’t think things through.
Of course, I realize in this entire mess, and most of my messes, that what I am dealing with is a first-world problem. Let’s be perfectly honest, it’s a suburban, middle-class problem. Do I really NEED internet access? I mean, at one time all of us over the age of thirty lived without it. It’s not like one of my kids was diagnosed with a terminal illness, or we lost our sole source of income and are facing foreclosure and shopping at the food pantry. A week without the information superhighway isn’t going to hurt us. And then there is that “yelling” I did with the customer service rep. Taking out my frustration on her, no matter that I didn’t outright yell at her, was not acceptable. How I actually behaved is not as big of deal as what the attitude of my heart was.2 She’s just some person trying to earn a living. I had been so proud of how I handled the first couple guys I had talked to without getting unpleasant, despite being on the phone with them for over an hour. That pride is probably what lead to my downfall.3 I could spin all kinds of Christian sermons/devotional readings out of this about pride, treating others as we’d like to be treated (a.k.a. The Golden Rule)4, displaying Christ-like behavior5, and acting out of the Spirit rather than trying to police our behavior in our own strength and will.6 I’ll save those for another day. I’ve given them to myself, and that’s enough, never mind that you can probably see them without any further elaboration on my part.

1 Matthew 6:8, 25-34; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Timothy 6:6-8
2 Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 5:21-22; 15:8; Mark 7:15; Luke 6:45
3 Proverbs 16:18
4 Matthew 7:2, 12; Luke 6:31
5 Philippians 2:3-4
6 2 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 5:22-23; aw never mind, just read the entire New Testament…

Patience Is a Virtue: Tragedy and Success Are Not Opposites

This week marked an anniversary I haven’t recognized in a long time. Twenty-one years ago, my husband (then fiancée) and I were in a serious car accident with a friend of ours. It feels overly dramatic to say it was a near-fatal accident because all of us are walking around living pretty typical suburban lives with jobs and kids and lawn mowing. But, the reality is, it was nearly fatal. This year, it suddenly jumped into my mind while I was out for a run one morning. The whole thought spiral went like this: I was jogging along, pondering why, after three years of running for exercise, I can go only three miles at my natural pace. Then I remembered that two years ago I wasn’t even able to run one mile. Four years ago, I wasn’t able to spend a day walking at the zoo without being in pain for days afterward because I was bordering on morbidly obese. I had to admit I was making progress, albeit slowly. The old joke, “How do you eat an elephant?” came to mind. And then it hit me. Twenty-one years ago, I was using a walker—talk about making 3 miles look like a marathon.

When life goes south, it seems to do so all at once. One minute you’re on your way to the lake for an afternoon of fishing, the next you’re being cut out of a wrecked car and your fiancée is being airlifted to a trauma hospital. But life seems like it takes a long time to go “right” when all you want to do is run five miles instead of three. I have yet to wake up suddenly richer, thinner, or more fit, while there have been several times where things have gone from everyday to tragic in the space between breaths. Oddly enough, both situations—life going wrong in a heartbeat and life going right being a process—serve the same purpose. They make us who we are. They teach us perseverance. They show us that right now is not all there is.

No matter what your pain is right now, today, it won’t be there forever. Not all pain is equal. Some pain goes away completely. Like an everyday headache, the devastating breakup with your high school sweetheart will hurt for a time, but one day you’ll look back and wonder what you were so upset about. Other pain leaves scars. Our accident left physical scars and emotional marks, but as time has passed, it is no longer painful. Severe pain may be sore, to some degree, forever. Like an arthritic hand, there will be some days where the pain from a tragic event is so excruciating it is impossible to believe life can go on, while other days will be stiff and sore but manageable.

No matter what your success is right now, today, it won’t be there forever. The thing about success is that what is success today becomes ordinary tomorrow. As I mentioned, two years ago I couldn’t even run a mile. Today, a mile is warm up. Success is like a drug. It feels good in the moment, but once that feeling wears off, we find ourselves chasing the next success to get that feeling back. We need to run more miles, earn more money, get the job on the next rung. And while success in itself is not a bad thing, we can find ourselves addicted to it. Chasing success can consume us, until one day we suddenly realize that, while we were chasing the next thing, life has passed us by.

Whether in the midst of success or trial, take the time to really be present in it. No, you don’t have to enjoy the difficulties, nor do you need to stop reaching for success. But wishing you’d get out of the painful parts, or to the goals, faster will rob you of important lessons to learn in the “getting there” process. Be patient in the processes.

Magic Doesn’t Just Happen

In November 2010, our family took our first major vacation.  We embarked on a Quest for Magic to Walt Disney World.  Since then, I’ve been asked for advice on planning a Disney trip by a few people. But somehow, I manage to lose the information I emailed to the last person before I get asked again and end up recreating everything each time.  So, with the most recent request, I decided to put what I’ve got here.

Magic doesn’t just happen, regardless of what Disney would have you believe.  Planning a Disney vacation is work–albeit fun work–but the end result will be worth it.  I’m going to divide the info into sections as best I can because there is going to be a lot of stuff.  Don’t panic.  There are a lot of great resources to help sort everything out.

Background

I’m going to give you some brief biographical info to help you understand what I was working with as far as family members and our goals to give you a frame of reference as you read.  This will help you take what you can use and leave what might not apply to your situation.

 

Travelers:

  • 2 adults
  • 3 children ages 10, 8, and 5.75 years old

The 5.75 year old was (and still is) small for her age.  At 5.75 years old she was probably the size of a 4 year old.  This is important to consider because height can limit ride choices.  She barely met the 42″ height limit for Test Track at EPCOT.

Time Frame: Vacation – 1 week (8 days)

Budget: $5,000

Geographical Origin: South Dakota

Goals:

  • MagicKingdom
  • Epcot
  • Animal Kingdom
  • SeaWorld
  • Kennedy Space Center
  • Atlantic Ocean

 

Planning

The Unofficial Walt Disney World Guide and TouringPlans.com

The fist thing I did was ask my friends what their experiences were and what they would recommend for planning and info.  My friends live in various places around the U.S. and Canada, including central Florida.  That led me to this book The Unofficial Walt Disney World Guide.

I used this book to help determine what time of year to visit Disney, what parks to see, what days to visit each park, and compare pros and cons for various options like the Park Hopper option on the Disney tickets and Disney Dining Plans.  It was also helpful for ratings of both on-Disney and off-Disney hotels.  The book has checklists of how far out you should be doing things like making airline and hotel reservations and purchasing tickets.

The book’s related website touringplans.com came in handy for deciding what parks to visit when and creating custom plans for our days.  Disney has 4 parks, 2 water parks, and other attractions such as ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, so each family is going to be different in what their goals are, what parks they want to visit, and how comfortable they are with crowds and waiting.  I would highly recommend getting a subscription to touringplans.com for the year prior to your visit to take advantage of all their planning tools.  It is totally worth it!

As someone who does not have “backyard” access to a major US airport, making airline reservations so far out was not easy. The discount carrier from our regional airport only scheduled flights 4 months out and only had service to the Orlando area two days a week.  Since it was recommended to make airline reservations a year in advance, this became a problem.  We waited until 6 months out and then decided to fly in/out of the nearest major airport, which also added a 4 hour drive on each end of the trip and a night in a hotel when we left.  However, the extra expense was worth it to have a guarantee that we’d actually have a flight to/from Orlando rather than waiting for the discount carrier to get their act together.  They could have very well decided to cancel service to that airport, and then we’d have ended up paying astronomical fees to get “last minute” flights out of the larger airport anyway.  If you have more ready access to a major airport (like within a 2 hour drive), you’ll have more options.

Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World for Kids

We splurged and purchased one of these books for each of our kids.  We gave them to the girls about a year before our trip and told them to study them.  At a family meeting a couple months later, each child got to report on what parks she wanted to visit and three particular rides they wanted to go on.  This enabled me to what they wanted to do in our planning so everyone got to do at least some of the stuff they wanted to do.

I took the girls’ lists and what DH and I were interested in and compiled a schedule for our trip.  We planned to visit one park or attraction each day and then listed the “must dos” for each day.  TouringPlans.com then let me customize our days to know when to do certain popular rides to help avoid wait times.  Our main schedule looked like this:

 

Day 1 – travel to Florida
Day 2 – Epcot
Day 3 – Kennedy Space Center/Cocoa Beach
Day 4 – SeaWorld
Day 5 – Magic Kingdom
Day 6 – Downtown Disney
Day 7 – Animal Kingdom
Day 8 – travel home

 

Pace yourself.  You could easily spend 2 days each at EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, and SeaWorld.  Unless you have 2 full weeks, you likely won’t be able to see and do everything you would like.  I should have planned two days for Kennedy Space Center and Cocoa Beach and rented a hotel for a night in Cocoa Beach.  We didn’t get to spend nearly enough time at the ocean.

I purchased a poly multiple pocket folder like this and each day of the trip was a pocket.

I put all the printouts and info for that day in the pocket.  It went with us on the trip and before we left the hotel for the day I took what we needed for that day from the folder and put it in my shoulder bag.  This bag was big enough to hold my camera, credit card wallet holding credit cards and park tickets, Dramamine, and folded papers needed for the day (basically just our touring plan printout).  I could wear is diagonally and for all but a few rides I could keep it on and fasten the safety system (belt or bar) over the shoulder strap while still wearing it to prevent it from flying around.

 

Park and Attraction Tickets

Read Mouse Savers Advice, Tips, and Tricks for Walt Disney World Tickets and Passes.  Pay special attention to the first 2 sections: Very Important Tip! and Where NOT to Buy Disney World Tickets

Disney tickets are complicated, IMHO, and offer more options than a Swiss Army Knife.  Read carefully to make sure you don’t select (and pay for) things you don’t need/won’t use and that you have the stuff you do need.  This chart helps break down the prices fairly well.  Warning:  You may end up spending more on park/attraction tickets than you do on airfare to get there or hotel for the entire trip.  Just want to give you a heads up so you’re not too shocked.

We didn’t get Park Hopper because we knew we’d not do more than one park per day.  We also didn’t get the Water Park & More option because 1) we were going to be there in November and 70 degrees isn’t warm enough for even South Dakotans to visit to an outdoor water park and 2) our schedule was FULL.  We did purchase a ticket for one more day than we were planning on being at Disney parks.  We needed 3 days but purchased a 4-day ticket. For the extra $25 or so per person it gave us the option to do one more Disney in case something else didn’t work out.

Special Events, Character Dining, and Character Meetings

We didn’t do any Disney character dining or special events, but I’m told that to get character dining reservations you need to call at the absolute first day reservations are allowed for your selected date (180 days prior, if I remember correctly) and then pray that the phase of the moon is right and that you’re in the favor of the Disney gods.  Princess dining is especially hard to get.

Our special event for the vacation was a luau (meal and show) at SeaWorld and a Behind the Scenes tour of the sea lions.  The reservations were easier to make, and they were more reasonably priced than Disney–but still not cheap.  I think we had just as good of time, if not better, than we would have had at a Disney event.

It is insanely easy to meet the characters at the parks to get autographs.  We managed to meet most of the princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Aurora), Mickey and Minnie, Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Daisy Duck, Donald Duck, Stitch, Marie from Aristocats and Goofy–and we weren’t even trying.

 

Hotel and Dining Plans and Auto Rentals…Oh My!

Our time was roughly spent half in Disney parks and half at non-Disney stuff in the Orlando area.  Because we were spending significant amounts of time at non-Disney venues, we rented a vehicle and opted for a non-Disney hotel at Marriott Village.  If you’re only doing Disney stuff, you can save the car rental expense by staying at a Disney hotel and using their transportation to/from the parks and airport.  However, make sure the extra cost of a Disney hotel will be less than doing non-Disney and renting a car.

This is also the logic we applied to the Disney Dining Plan.  We opted to not do the dining plan because half our days wouldn’t even be at Disney parks so we’d still have to pay for the food on those days.  However, our neighbors, who have 5 children, swear by the Disney Dining Plan because they do mostly Disney stuff while there.

A general dining warning: I know I’m in the minority on this because I have what I call “reverse picky” kids when it comes to eating (i.e. they WANT to eat veggies and fruit and have something with flavor), but the kids menus, at not only Disney venues but everywhere, sucked.  If your kids want something other than cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, or mac and cheese to eat they are going to have to order off the “adult” menu at most places.

A key site to check out for discounts on many things for Disney vacations is MouseSavers.  They offer discount codes for everything from park tickets to hotels and rental cars.  Some discounts, like the Undercover Tourist for discount tickets, require you to sign up for their newsletter (free).  This is worth the one email newsletter you’ll get per month.

Another place to look for discounts on hotels and rental cars is AAA if you’re a member.

 

Auto Travel Tips

Check out the seat belt/child car seat laws for any states you’ll be traveling through (FL for sure and any other states you may pass through if you are driving to Florida rather than flying).

Current (Jan. 2013) FL law is pretty slack on child passenger safety.  Only children 3 and under are required to be in a car seat or booster seat.  However, as a parent you should be thinking of safety first and the laws of physics have been shown in crash test after crash test to be quite harsh to children under 4’9″ and 80-90# who use only an adult seat belt.  Have a look.

If you are renting a car in FL, make sure to take a low-back booster seat for children 5-8 yo and a car seat for children under 4 yo.  DO NOT rent a car seat or booster seat from the car rental agency.  You do not know the history or age of the seat, and cleanliness is not guaranteed. I’ve heard reports of severely dated seats (i.e. 10+ years old; most seats are considered expired after 7 years) that are big on the eeeeeewwwwww factor being rented out.

Check out cell phone/texting laws for any states you’ll be traveling through (FL for sure and any other states you may pass through if you are driving to Florida rather than flying).

 

Other Miscellaneous Tips

Use your “smart” phone to your advantage

  • Take a “mugshot” photo of your child/children each day when you arrive at your first destination.  This will be a big help if you should become separated from your child as it will be the most current photo you have of him/her and he/she will be in the clothes that you’ll be looking for or need to describe.
  • Take pictures of other important things too.  Like the row marker in parking lots.  Our kids and I still remember where we parked in the airport parking garage because we made a point of taking a picture of it.
  • Consider purchasing cheap pre-paid cell phone(s) for older children to carry.  Even if the kids have their own regular cell phones they use at home.  Better to leave the expensive or everyday ones at home and use a temporary one on the trip than risk the “real” one getting lost/stolen.  This will give you a way to stay in touch with older children if separated (by chance or by choice).

If you have multiple children, consider a family “uniform”, especially if you have young-ish children (under 10).  We purchased inexpensive t-shirts for the girls in bright colors.  They all wore the same color on the same day.  That way I knew at a glance which kids were mine.  It sounds silly but is very handy.  Also, if one wanders off, you can tell those helping to look for him/her that he/she is wearing a shirt exactly like this (while pointing to one of your other children).  It also helps the kids know what to look for.  They can keep an eye out for the same color to find someone they know (i.e. a sibling).

If you have a child under the age of 6, I would strongly suggest renting a stroller.  Disney strollers are HUGE, and even if you don’t use it for a child, they come in handy for tossing purchases and tote bags in.  If you have a child less than 4 yo, I’d look into Magic Strollers through the Mouse Savers website as they look to be more comfy for a child that will be spending a good deal of time in it.

We gave each of the kids a souvenir allowance.  They had a set amount they could spend.  I got some play money and put that amount in an envelope for each of them.  When they wanted to buy something they had to take the amount out of their envelope (I paid for the actual purchase with a credit card).  It helped them budget their money and avoided me buying a ton of stuff and going over budget without the risk of carrying around real money.

Keep a travel blog or written journal.  It doesn’t have to be public (in the case of a blog) or fancy (a spiral notebook will do).  Write notes in it each night about what you did that day and funny things that happened.  I scrapbook so this was valuable when I went back to make a book about the trip (I’m still not done with that book now, over two years later).  Even if you don’t do anything as formal as a scrapbook, it will be a treasure from your trip.

 

Summary Website Listing

Here are links to all the sites I referenced above (and some I didn’t).

Rudely Guilty

Making our what seems like daily trek to WalMart, the beggar is hard at work on the corner. I don’t know if he’s there everyday (because, contrary to what it seems like, I do not really go to WalMart everyday), but a lot of the days I do go, he’s there. I’m not even sure it is just one guy. I think there are a few who take turns. Can’t be sure though because I never look close enough for long enough to be certain. Prolonged looking would be staring and that’s rude. It would also make the chances of making eye contact greater, and then I’d have to feel guilty that 1) I got caught staring, which is rude, and 2) that I didn’t give him something. Of course, I don’t really need to make eye contact with him to feel guilty. That’s what I have my 10-year-old for.

My children are not accustomed to seeing this type of thing.  We live in a rural area with extreme seasons (read 90º+ with 80% humidity in the summer and -20º for days, and sometimes weeks, at a time in the winter).  My husband says it keeps the riffraff out, and honestly, he’s probably right.  Not that there aren’t homeless/jobless/hungry here, but they are largely hidden.  So much so, that when we visited Orlando a couple years ago I took this picture along the freeway because it was something we don’t see everyday–or at least we didn’t until recently.

So, she sees this guy on the corner while we’re heading to the store and begins asking questions about why he always stands at that corner. I tell her it is because that corner is really busy and that increases the chances that he will get something. She says she feels sorry for him. And there lies the difficulty. I’m jaded, and she’s not, and I don’t want her to be.

She learns in school about the love of Jesus and helping those less fortunate and loving the least of these and knows nothing of the messy issues that make it so hard for many of us, even Christ-professing Christians who read the Bible and desire to imitate Him, to be able to extend ourselves to the guy begging on the corner. I don’t want to shatter her beliefs by telling her how he should get a job like the rest of us, get off drugs/alcohol, that the money he gets probably goes to things that aren’t good for him, and thereby imply that she shouldn’t feel bad for him because his own bad choices put him there (or more correctly, because I think his bad choices put him there–when it comes down to it, I don’t really know what put him there). I don’t want to tell her these things because the world needs people like her who take the message of Christ into the world no matter what the circumstances of those in need.

And, then there is the denial factor.  I do know that some people genuinely fall on hard times. But, none of us wants to believe we could be the one standing on the corner near WalMart with a cardboard sign and a bedroll waiting for strangers to slip us a buck. We want to believe they’ve done it to themselves, that they deserve to be there because of bad choices, and that helping them isn’t really helping but enabling. If we can convince ourselves of those things, then we can never end up there. Or that’s what we want to believe.

As we pass him again on the way home, I’m left wondering how to balance it all.  How do I extend help to those less fortunate without encouraging irresponsibility?  How do I teach my children about the very real evils of the world without making them jaded and unwilling to help?  Because the last thing this world needs is more people like me who look the other way.

Oh Crap, I Have to Take the Cat Back

Not even a week ago, I was joyously telling you about Sophie the Cat’s entry into our lives. Today, sadly, I will be sharing her exit.

Let me start by saying that I really, really wanted this to work. Even though I’m not a cat person I wanted to be able to give my children their hearts’ desire and really did feel that this was God’s leading. Things started out well. She was using the litter box, followed us around, and seemed like a very reasonable cat. Then Saturday came.

Saturday night after the girls went to bed, Sophie started going from window to window yowling wanting to go outside. This got progressively worse over the next two nights until Monday night-Tuesday morning when she decided to climb the screen of our bedroom window at 3:00 a.m. Being we have Andersen windows, the screens are on the insides of the windows, which is NOT conducive to owning a cat. My husband marched her to the basement and closed her in the bathroom with her litter box. Tuesday morning when he let her out, she promptly came upstairs, went in my closet, and peed on my jeans. Not scoring points here.

I spent Tuesday in a tizzy. I already had problems with the fact that cats, and Sophie is no exception, walk all over everything–the kitchen table, the kitchen counter, the bookshelves, my desk, my lap, the window sills. And, while I am not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination, there is just something that grosses me out about four little feet that have been scratching around in a mini sandbox with urine and feces walking around on the surfaces I use to prepare and consume food. Add to that her little pee-on-the-jeans trick, and I was freaking out.

Last night, same thing. Attempting to get out of every window in the house and mewing/yowling constantly. My husband again shut her up in the bathroom in the basement. She literally bounced off the walls attempting to get to the small window at the top of the wall in there. This morning, when he let her out, she followed him upstairs to our bathroom, found a pile of dirty clothes, and peed on them.

The desperation to get outside and the peeing on the clothes might mean that she is in “heat”, which would mean it is temporary. But, there are the other matters I noted above that I would still have problems with, and they are present all the time with cats.

Granted, I knew all this about cats going into this. I had hoped that since it seemed rather like God had answered a prayer here that He would also have changed my heart, toward this particular cat if nothing else. He didn’t. I guess He did change it a bit in that I was willing to do something I had never considered before to give my children something they so desperately wanted. But, I would think if He truly wanted me to have a cat He would also make me at peace with it, and I’m just not. Even before the bad behavior started I was on edge with her around.

So, this morning we had a little cat meeting with the girls to break the news that Sophie will need to go back to the shelter so she can find a new home that is right for her. I expected the middle one to take it hard since she was the one who “found” Sophie. She took it okay. The oldest one, however, was devastated. She understands the reasons, but reasons don’t make things hurt any less. We want to think they will, but they don’t. And, we’ve always had the suspicion that the oldest was part cat anyway. Those of you that know her will understand. She, however, can be trained to not walk on the counters and to wash her hands after using the bathroom.

There. Tell me I’m a bad mother, even though this provides a good teachable moment for practical life skills on making responsible choices (by showing what happens when Mom didn’t make one), dealing with emotions, and knowing when you’ve gotten yourself in too deep. Call me lazy, a quitter, a fool, or any other bad name you want to give me. I can take it, I’ve already called myself all of them and maybe even a few you haven’t thought of. I have learned my lesson. We are a NO PET family. The business manager of the school I work at told me you get the perfect pet for you only once in your lifetime. And, we had ours in Helga.

Oh crap. I Have a Cat

Pardon the title.  It’s just that I am not a “cat person”.  I come from a family of cat haters.  I know that “hate” is a strong word, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if my mother refuses to visit my house anymore because we now have a cat.  So for us to have a cat is big, I mean BIG, news.  Why then, you ask, do we have a cat?  The thing is, it is quite possible God sent us the cat.

Just over three years ago, we had to have our beloved German Shorthaired Pointer put to sleep.  Helga had been with us just about 10 years, and she was getting old.  Then one day shortly after Christmas she started having seizures.  We spent two weeks trying to control seizures we didn’t know the cause of, and came to the realization we were not doing her or ourselves any favors.  Our kids, however, had always had Helga.  She was our first born, and the girls knew nothing of life without her.

So, last summer the kids started the quest for a dog.  They begged and pleaded.  My husband, however, still had a broken heart from Helga, and there was also the matter of dog poo.  He just couldn’t bring himself to say yes to the girls.  But he did tell them they could pray for a dog, and that if God sent one to our doorstep then we would have a dog.  I warned him about this.  I had read a book where the author had told his kids the very same thing and two days later he came home to find a stray had wandered onto their property.  I told my husband to be prepared.  You never know what God will do.

Yep, you never know what God will do.

About 10 days ago, the middle child was playing outside and informed us there was a cat in our back yard.  We assured her it probably belonged to one of the neighbors and that it would wander home.  It was still sitting at our back door mewing the next morning.  And that afternoon.  And the next morning.  And the next afternoon.  I told the kids no way, no how were we keeping this cat.  I don’t like cats.  Uh uh.

And then, as I waited for animal control to come and get the cat, I watched it follow my girls around the yard and lay close by them in the shade of their playhouse as they played in the sandbox. (Yes, I know what cats use sandboxes for.  Our neighbor has a cat that frequents our yard.)  I realized that this was no ordinary cat and that my girls needed a pet.  So, I told the kids that if the cat’s owner didn’t claim it from the shelter, we would consider adopting her.  A week went by and sure enough, the cat was still at the shelter.  By that time, my husband had caved on his “No Pets” policy, and I was dispatched to the shelter first thing on the morning of my day off.  Fifteen minutes later, I was back in my minivan with a borrowed pet taxi and a cat, whose name, I decided, was Sophie.

The thing about this whole story is that, while you may think I’m being dramatic saying God sent us this cat, I’m pretty convinced He did just that.  There were too many “coincidences” to ignore that very real possibility.

While I was sitting in the shelter office finalizing our adoption, the shelter director mentioned a refund we would be able to get once we had the cat spayed.  I told her I was going to make sure the cat saw the veterinarian for a checkup in the next few days, and the director said, “Say, someone donated this certificate for a pet exam at a local vet.  Why don’t you take it and use it.”  She handed me an envelope from the vet we used to take our dog to and intended to use for the cat as well.  I opened it to find a certificate for not only an annual pet exam but about $150 worth of other services like blood tests  and vaccinations.  When the math of certificate value minus adoption fees and pet supplies was all said and done, we basically ended up being paid $50 to take this cat.

Being a “stray”, it was likely Sophie would have fleas so I stopped at the local farm supply store and picked up a supply of Frontline.  I put a dose on her before I let her loose in the house.  Later that same afternoon, when I took her for her vet appointment, the vet combed her to check for fleas and didn’t find any.  The next day I dropped off a “poo” sample to check for parasites.  None of those either.

Sophie found the litter box with no problems.  I know that cats just kind of come programmed to use a litter box, but I expected a little bit of an adjustment to its location if nothing else.

She is very much a “people cat” and prefers to be where we are so she follows us around like a faithful dog.  Even the vet commented on how “personable” she is.  If I have to have a cat, this is the kind I want.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like cats.  And if it were up to me, we wouldn’t have one.  But, when God sends you a miracle it’s best not to ignore it.  The girls love Sophie.  Sophie loves the girls.  And, I love the girls, so when their prayers are answered, I’d be a fool to stand in the way.