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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Frog Redemption: A Second Chance

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Later today,  my middle child will be the proud recipient of a classroom frog. His fourth grade class has completed their study on habitat, and the wee froggy learning opportunities are being distributed to new homes. The bowl is ready, the water hopefully dechlorinated from a night’s exposure to the air.

Truthfully, though, we have yet to work out certain key details:

  • where the frog bowl will reside, as said fourth-grade boy’s room is devoid of clean surfaces;
  • how we will keep the frog bowl free of cat exploration and snack hunting;
  • why we are trying this again when our last attempt ended tragically in early frog death.

I posted this about my eldest’s classroom frog experience on Facebook a couple of years ago,  before I started blogging:

Without the skills or resources to perform a forensic necropsy, we won’t ever know for sure exactly when the classroom frog brought home after Thanksgiving died.

But when the conversation goes like this:

“Mom, I think my frog is dead.”

“How do you know, does it look dead?”


“Is it upside down or something?”

“Yeah, it’s upside down, and this….stuff has grown all around it…..”

I think we can be reasonably sure death visited a while ago.

At these times, parenting can be hard. When his tears came, after heroic efforts to contain his sadness failed, I sat down with him. As much as I wanted to reassure him that the frog was cheap, probably would have died anyways, and had clearly been traumatized by classroom life before reaching his care, I couldn’t. After all, the death had gone unnoticed long enough to allow a corpse-enveloping growth of some gooey nature.

Clearly, the frog’s care had lacked a certain…, you know?

Haltingly, he shared with me his guilt –  about not feeding it enough, and not even noticing for a while it was dead. Instead of explaining away his guilt I helped him sit with it, and lovingly assured him that this hard moment and hard feelings would help him do better by other beings in his care in the future.

And then I told him that’s why we let kids start with frogs, and not babies.

A Tiny Dip Into Serious Honesty

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I know you all are still reeling from the freedom I afforded you earlier this week from pizza box recycling issues, but I need to put some stuff out there tonight, people. Are you OK with that? Can we be real for a bit, and do life, and maybe walk through a season together?

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s Friday night, y’all are probably all out doing something cool and cultural and awesome, or you’re tucked up in bed like a sensible person. Either way, I just need to put this day down on paper so someday in the future I can look back on the crazy that was my life and shake my head and pat myself on the back a time or two. Seriously.

(You didn’t think I was gonna come right out with the serious honesty right up front, did you? I mean, I blog about pizza boxes. And sleep. And Red Robin. But don’t worry, here it comes…..)

So I’ll just tell you what I did today, and then maybe you can do a cheer or The Wave or something. Then someday I’ll do it for you, deal? Cause I am tired, people, tired down into my bones and my metatarsal cartilages and whatnot. Today, I:

  • counseled my brain-injured, cognitively delayed 20-year-old  niece (for whom I am legal guardian) on her love life, and helped her think through the characteristics of a mature Christian relationship;
  • processed  ten pounds of pears to make a batch of pear sauce;
  • mentally rehearsed and fine-tuned my stand-up for a HEINOUS 8:30 a.m. performance time at a conference tomorrow;
  • performed the summer to winter clothing swap/shuffle with all necessary sorting, reorganization, rotating and donating for all three boys;
  • screwed up an important Life conversation with my 18-year-old niece/foster daughter but then made up for it by apologizing for unsolicited and annoying verbal fixing and meddling;
  • validated and encouraged a Dear Friend who is struggling with an unacceptable work situation;
  • made a batch of cocoa with little marshmallows for the crazy 6 year old who played in the rain and the lazy 9 year old who stayed in his pajamas;
  • packed up and delivered the middle schooler to his overnight with the youth group;
  • and trembled in mild terror while planning to assist in worship at my church tomorrow night for the first time.

Dude, that is crazy, right? Some days, it is a lot, it is heavy, and it is ridiculously more than I can bear; and it is wonderful, and an honor and everything I have asked for in life. All at the same time.

I know that the One who created the universe has got my back, and He is directing all of it and He will not let me fail His purposes. But by golly, my metatarsal cartilages and I are done for today. Good night, and thanks for listening.

What crazy heavy thing do you need a pat on the back for this week?

The Big Question: Pizza Box Recycling

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Recycling guilt is an inevitable and serious psychosocial complex contracted when living in the Pacific Northwest, a condition which can cause crippling shame, paralyzing confusion and deep self-contempt.  Hello, my name is Tara, and I am a Habitual Recycler.

This condition causes behaviors that can be puzzling and laughable to those unfamiliar with its symptoms, those from say, oh, I don’t know, the South. I recently traveled to Nashville for a conference, and found myself anxiously carting around a water bottle, a soda bottle, another water bottle, all for lack of a reassuring blue recycle bin. Where could I put them? What was I supposed to do with them?

The head-spinning confusion was aggravated by my co-existing guilt for even drinking water from a plastic water bottle*, instead of a cool, BPA-free stainless steel one like all the cool hipsters do. But thankfully those symptoms subsided relatively quickly when I tasted the water in my hotel. Ewww.

Of course, in time you begin to master your symptoms, and you become an expert at recycling cereal boxes, yogurt cups, and the box your heartburn medication comes in. (Probably wouldn’t have heartburn if I wasn’t so angsty about recycling……) You accept the difficult fact that cardboard Popsicle boxes can’t be recycled (wet strength, Google it) and you even begin questioning produce purchases from Costco because of the EXCESSIVE packaging. (If you are from the South, or are my mother, you may be getting anxious and dizzy at this point. Take a deep breath, you’ll be fine.)

But certain struggles remain, and I am here to share my stories with you in the hopes you can avoid my mistakes.

First I must confess there is one battle I’ve yet to win since tasting the glory, the rapturous glory that is a Sonic Diet Coke with Diet Cherry. That huge styrofoam cup (of COURSE I have to get the huge size, silly question) haunts me, mocks my weakness, stabs me with visions of dying seals and weeping children and a not really Native American actor with a single tear running down his stoic cheek.

But the Diet Coke Diet Cherry calls to me, and at best I can only contemplate bringing in my own refillable cup and begging for mercy. That battle is still to be fought, that victory not yet mine to claim.

But can we talk about pizza boxes? I thought I had this one, confidently tossing my pizza boxes in the recycling bin outside, sure that I wasn’t REALLY supposed to just throw them away, send them to a landfill. (Cue crying babies, screams of horror.) But why was my local recycling company so intent on having me wreck the environment?

I mean, sure, don’t throw the box in there with the pizza still stuck to it, that’s gross. But if I carefully scrape off the cheese, shake out the crumbs, that’s enough, right? A responsible consumer such as myself can surely be entrusted to recycle a huge, wasteful pizza box, right? Those rules are for the unreformed, people who still buy cases of bottled water to drink from home, standing in the kitchen next to their fancy refrigerators with dispensers of chilled, filtered water. Not for me, not for a skilled recycler such as myself who actually cuts out the annoying little box tops for education before flattening my Cocoa Puff box, right?

Yet still it nagged at me, so in an effort to ease my angst I set out to conduct extensive research on the issue. Well, you know, I Googled it. Turns out, grease from the pizza box can really muck up the water-based process used to break down cardboard in the recycling process. Even the Farmer’s Almanac agrees that a cheese-free box can still ruin a whole giant batch of cardboard recycling if it is more than a little greasy or oily. Then you really ARE killing the environment and baby seals and what not.

Frequently quoted solutions emphasize that only the greasy parts are bad. So cutting them off, or even just ripping the lid away from the bottom, means you can recycle the clean part. Great, right? And if the box is too greasy, or you want to reuse before you recycle, this website has 5 fun ideas for boxes, including a cool table top easel for arty kids, a fort and a throne for a pizza king.

So rest easy, recyclers. Me, I’m going to go test out a pizza box S’mores oven.

photo from

*Except in rare circumstances, drinking from a plastic water bottle in the U.S. is unnecessary and wasteful, especially when 1 in 6 of us on Earth have no access to clean drinking water. That should cause guilt! Want more info? Check out

God is My Soccer Coach. Poor God.

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This epiphany came to me last week as I watched my fourth grader’s soccer game. It isn’t unusual that my brain was free to have brilliant epiphanies, as I really don’t understand much about soccer except scoring goals. Soccer wasn’t a “thing” for me back in the olden days, growing up in Alaska. I had dance lessons, band, and competitive reading (wait, no, I was just a nerd), nice warm indoor activities. Soccer, not so much. The first soccer game I ever saw was my oldest son’s first game in kindergarten.

Also, full disclosure up front, I never played any team sports growing up, except for one misguided 4th grade season in youth basketball in which I scored one basket. For the other team. I clearly have much to learn about both soccer and team sports.

So I’m watching this soccer game, and my son, who spends much his time on the field watching. When he decides to get in the game, he plays just fine, but perhaps because he hasn’t played soccer for the last two years, he is fairly hesitant. I watch him watch the other boys play soccer, and think about how at that moment, his soccer coach is also just observing and hoping for the best. I realize that really, God is like my soccer coach, just watching me execute the plays. Or not.

He’s set me up with all of the equipment I need. Just like a good pair of cleats or shin guards, I’ve got access to a protective shield of faith, belt of truth, shoes of peace, the full gear set-up. (And yes, I know, we’re walking a fine line here between an insightful epiphany and a really cheesy Vacation Bible School curriculum.) Not to mention the written Word, game plays and instruction. Whether I actually use any of that gear? Totally up to me to strap it on or suffer the consequences.

He schedules in lots of practice time. I know He looks down the road to future challenges, and then allows practice “opportunities” in my life so I’ll be ready for the big plays. I’ve got constant drills and exercises in humility, discipline, dependence, walking in faith, and even teamwork. I just have to show up for every practice and work the drills, knowing I’ll be more skillful and the right moves will be more automatic the next time.

He’s rooting for me, no matter how I play. This was where it really came home to me, watching the boys run, or not run, confidently attempt goals, clumsily miss kicks and passes, and try to practice skills that seem straightforward until they actually have to use them in a game against opponents that may be bigger, faster and more experienced. In those moments, the coach puts the game in the hands (or feet) of the players, and it’s up to them. All he does is watch, advise, cringe when things go badly, and celebrate when they go well.

The dark side to my analogy was painfully clear, because the opposing team had a loud, mean, aggressive coach who easily pigeonholed himself into my diverting little mental construct: if God is my soccer coach, then that guy was the coach for the Other Team. (Boo, hiss.) He sure fit the part beautifully. As our coach quietly instructed the boys, giving them each opportunity to play and encouraging them from sidelines, this guy screamed at his small players, calling them out by name and urging them in specific directions. Of course, by the time their 9-year-old brains could comprehend his distracting commands while also directing their bodies in the game, it was too late to follow the commands, at which point he would vent his frustration loudly. Not only that, but he spent a lot of time screaming mysterious and confusing things at them, like “remember the triangle! remember the triangle!”

Seemed like a weird time to be reviewing geometric shapes with the boys. Anyhoo, his angry screams succeeded in distracting not only his own team, but also our boys. Worse, when he got frustrated with his players, he would physically take hold of them and move them to where he wanted them, humiliating and anti-coaching them all at the same time. Lots of us go through life that way, at times following a coach who is angry, confusing, and definitely not into player development.

I don’t want to imply too much with my analogy, because in reality that guy is human and flawed, just like me. And maybe he just was having a bad day, or someone ate his favorite breakfast cereal that morning and left him with plain corn flakes, I don’t know.

What I do know is that after watching a few particularly tough misses, when a boy just totally screwed up, and knowing how our coach must be feeling, I really had to feel for my Coach.

How many times in a day does He watch me look the other way to avoid an easy pass? Or cringe when I get impatient and cranky with my family, hurting everyone’s game? Or make a bold, confident move in the absolute wrong direction? I am not an easy player to coach by any stretch of the imagination, frequently convinced I already have the skills and the moves down, and then surprised when my arrogance causes me to mess up a goal kick. Or I stride out on the field to battle my opponent without having made appropriate preparations, and I get knocked on my butt. Poor Coach. Good thing he’ll never cut me from the team, no matter how awfully I play.

Now I’m off to write perky and uplifting lyrics for my new VBS curriculum, “Get in the Game”. Theme verse Ephesians 6:9-19, crafts include bejeweling your own inflatable soccer ball, macraméing a cross-shaped zipper pull for your soccer bag, and tracing, painting and glittering life-size cutouts of yourself playing soccer while wearing the breastplate of righteousness and wielding the sword of truth.

I’m sure I’ve missed all kinds of awesome soccer game/life analogies. What have you got?

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