Sunday, November 04, 2007
Around the World (And Across Time) in a Shoebox
Today we delivered our shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry outreach of Samaritan's Purse. We always thank our friends and announce how many boxes we dropped off, but this year I wanted to go into more detail. The boxes are a major undertaking for our entire family, only possible because we are surrounded by compassionate friends.
So if you've been one of the folks who's donated - see what your gift endured on its way into a shoebox and ulimately into the hands of a grateful child.
The girls and I shop for the boxes all year. We spot $1 T-shirts at Old Navy? We buy all they have. $.24 calculators at HEB - grab 'em, Rachel. $.11 index cards at Target - fill the cart! Generous AT&T friends shop, too, and hand it off to me. I just keep piling it in the guestroom closet. Nothing thrills me like getting a box of $.25 (75% off Target Dollar Spot) jump ropes from Diane, or beads from Lisa or socks from Jennifer, or - wow! - a box of unopened Happy Meal toys. The shoeboxes don't have to be identical. Onesies-twosies are just great. Samaritan's Purse collected more than 7M shoeboxes last year - you know there's plenty of variety!
The very best news is when a friend tells me, "Gosh, you know, we decided to do our own boxes this year, so we can't send you anything. Sorry." Love that!
I was always - and still am - reluctant to ask for money. I don't mind taking a deck of cards or pens picked up at a trade show (what are you really going to do with that stuff - you know?!), or clearance stuff that friends buy. Several friends, though, said, "You know, I'm never going to shop for anything. Let me help with shipping." This year, generous friends gave $212 toward shipping costs of $665 ($7@ box), and we deeply appreciate it. I know - and they know - the only "thanks" they get on this earth is pitifully small, because the children who get these boxes can't express it to them.
Before we ever pack a box - lots of prepatory work has to be done.
The labels for the tops of the boxes designate gender and age range (2 - 4 years, 5 - 9 years, 10 - 14 years.) The labels have to be copied and trimmed. I was fascinated years ago to learn that clergy order these boxes for children by age and gender. It's not just a shotgun "send a bunch of boxes to Lower Gurgistan" approach. The millions of shoeboxes are requested for specific children. We didn't make boxes for "Girls Aged 5 - 9." We made boxes for Katya, and Dasha, and Oxana.
We use plastic shoeboxes so the container itself becomes part of the gift. Friend Ann gave us 2 cases (20@) from tje Container Store this year - the nicest boxes we've ever, ever had. All the exterior labels have to be peeled off - a great job for someone with strong fingernails.
Samaritan's Purse encourages you to insert a personal note in each box, so the child knows from whom - and where - it came. It's not ego for the giver - it's fun for the recipient. I've learned to prepare a picture-of-girls-with-city/state/country-and-nativity-art Powerpoint, save it as a jpg and have Sam's or Costco spit out several dozen prints for cheap. So - one of these type of prints go into each box. I order them a few weeks out, guessing at a quantity and knowing I can get more made in a few hours for about $.17@.
We separate everything into labeled piles/boxes - like, "Girls' Toys," or "Teeth," "Pens/Pencils," "Crayons," or "Paper." Separating and organizing takes as long as does packing.
Watching TV? That's a great time to individual zip bag 100 pairs of gloves from friends Mary Anne and Lisa. We zip bag ever piece of cloth - gloves, undies, socks, shirts, whatever. Keeps ithe cloth clean, and compresses it.
Seventy-two tote bags from Shelley had to be unpackaged, too, then neatly stacked for individual insertion into each girl's box. Everybody can help, even if it's just to walk around the room and pick up trash. Julia was a lot more into it this year. The concept of giving something away was more familiar. In fact, several times this year she spotted toys she wanted to buy "for the kids." Now the fact she might have wanted one, too, well.....
Eventually, the den looks like this - what we call "the store," as we walk around and fill the boxes.
Excess packaging from toothpaste - gotta go. Neighbor (and great helper) Aminah tackled the tooth products from friend Barb. We think every box has to have at least one toothbrush and toothpaste. Most years, we've had to go out at the last minute and buy several sets- but not this year.
We can't actually pack boxes until after Halloween. We need the half-price candy. Even with several donations of leftover Halloween candy from friends, we still bought $70 worth - hence, why we wait until the after after Halloween to buy it! We have learned that Smarties are just great, as are thin Tootsie Rolls, jaw breakers, Jolly Ranchers, and bubble gum balls - they fill little holes so nicely. Flat lollipops are very handy for a top box layer. Can't use chocolate - it melts.
Finally - ready to pack! Friends Curtis (pictured) and Dorothy came over Friday night to help, and quickly learned the order: Picture in the bottom of the box to start. Tote bag in every girl's box. Toothbrush, paper, toothpaste, pens/pencils/crayons in every box. Add on the clothing items and misc. stuff, and pile it higher than you think you need. Go to a quiet spot - pour it all out and begin arranging in earnest. Beads and candy go in the holes and along the top as you pack - and you keep looking at the sides as you pack to ensure you got all your holes filled. No rattles! Novices always want to put in too much candy. More experienced packers know to get everything else possible in there first, then add candy - which may be exciting to receive for the first few minutes, but won't last. The boxes cost $7@ to to ship, and are given in Jesus' name. We don't send rattling boxes of junk. Period.
I should have gotten pictures of friend Renee with kiddos Arthur and Allison who were over Saturday morning to pack for the second year. They bring their own toys and leftover Halloween candy and pay shipping on their boxes. In fact, Allison contributed an extra $5 from her allowance. Renee closely supervises Arthur and Allison while they pack to ensure a quality box, and it's delightful to hear Allison and Arthur ponder and ultimately select the best gift combinations for their offerings.
Yes, kids can work on boxes - that is one of the most appealing aspects of Operation Christmas Child. But only older kids with pre-packing experience can fill boxes solo. Like everything else of import with children, shepherding is required, and experience matures the child into the job. A shoebox is likely to be a child's entire Christmas. That's a sobering reality we discuss frequently while packing. Doing boxes is fun, but it's not a game. Yes, we want to finish, but it's not a contest.
Finally finished packing - 95 boxes!
Ages 2 - 4 Ages 5 - 9 Ages 10 - 14
Boys 5 17 13
Girls 14 40 6
But stick a fork in us? Nope. Not quite done! The boxes have to get to church now.
Watch your step, girls! The boxes have to be carried outside and stacked...
...to be loaded in the van and the truck.
"More? You gotta be kidding me!"
About half in the truck, and about half in the van. The kids....ummm....may have to ride on top.
At church, friends - like our sainted babysitter Catherine and her mom Liz - helped unload.
Boxes - delivered. Whew! From here, they'll go with the other Shearer Hills' boxes to Randolph Air Force base for examination (too many crazies in this world) and shipping to one of six Operation Christmas Child processing centers. From there....God only knows. (no sarcasm intended) We always pray that our boxes get to the children that God would have to receive them, so....while packing, if we feel genuinely led to put in two packages of crayons instead of one, or maybe some unusual item for that age group or whatever - well, we do just that.
We've never known to whom our boxes were given, other than this one in 1995. But in 1995, I was still inserting our personal Christmas cards, complete with return address - which is how the Family Prosenc in Trbovlje, Slovenija was able to thank us. I treasure this note, but it also makes me feel a little badly. The children who get these boxes are desperately poor, and I hated to think of the family spending postage money to thank us - in English, no less. After 1995, I made sure not to include our return address. Putting in a note or card was never about being thanked anyway. It was about adding excitement to the gift.
Last step. Any "leftovers" go back in the guestroom closet for next year. Sure, we could fill more boxes with leftovers...but they wouldn't be good boxes. So we never aim for a number. Never. I truly doubt we will have 95+ next year, because we won't have two huge boxes of sample promo items from my friend Bud, nor 100 pairs of gloves nor 72 tote bags or whatever. But I am not worried about it. We'll do as many as we are supposed to do and they'll go to the children that are supposed to receive them. And if that is one (like we did in 1994) or 10 (like we did in 1999) or 71 like we did in 2005 - that's fine. It's not about the number. It's never been about the number.
You know how things sometimes just drift around and eventually tie together in your life? Keith and I were interested in adoption very early in our marriage. Between Rachel and Lois in 1992, we tried unsuccessfully to get a child out of Serbia/Bosnia. I read a tiny 2" story in the Houston Post (Algore had yet to invent the internet) that Samaritan's Purse was the only private relief agency allowed in Bosnia. I figured "Franklin Graham" had to be Billy's son, and therefore probably operated in North Carolina. I called Directory Assistance - got a listing - called it and got their address. I wrote Franklin Graham a letter, asking for his intervention in our effort and to my utter amazement, he called me at work. He sounded just like his daddy, btw.
Frnaklin Graham told me Serbian national pride was such they'd rather the children die that winter than be adopted out, and if we really wanted to help, to send money for food and blankets. So we did. And that got us on their mailing list. Operation Christmas Child started in 1993, but that was a crazy year for us with preemie Lois. Our first box in 1994 was - ummmm - a hurried and expensive little affair, because I did no planning.
So here we are. We never did get a child from Serbia, but we did get one from nearby Russia. And now she's packing boxes, too.
And that - like each of her sisters and the 95 shoeboxes they packed - is a gift for which I am thankful.
Posted at 11:25 am by beckyww
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
If you see this group, run - do not walk - to your nearest candy bowl.
And be sure to give them some caramels. (ummmmm) A lot of caramels. And tell this bunch to take the caramels home. Yes. Insist on it.
(top row) Michelle, Brooke, Rachel
(bottom row) Lois, Julia, Hannah, Sisa
(not pictured) Mrs. Caramel Lover
Posted at 04:36 pm by beckyww
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The first graders here are all studying ancient Egypt. Boy rulers, jewels, nose hooks, mummies, pyramids, a mysterious alphabet - as Julia said as she showed me her classwork, "Mom, this stuff is cool."
Rachel describes me as a "dumtard" when it comes to crafts. (sigh) The truth hurts. I am. Fortunately for our family, she's really, really good at anything requiring a hot glue gun, as evidenced by Julia's shoebox sarcoghagus covered in faux jewels and plastic coins and personalized in first grade hieroglyphics. A magazine paper and gauze mummy slumbered inside. Rachel is considering hosting a new TV show, "P*mp My Sarcoghagus."
After we parents admired their classwork and crafts (note the head gear, colorful collars and white pillowcase robes), we enjoyed a stirring rendition of "A Song of Egypt," sung to the tune of Frere Jacques.
One of the other mummies - er - mothers asked as we were leaving, "How come we never did fun stuff in school?" Whattttt? She didn't consider duck'n'cover drills festive? Or playing kickball, softball and dodgeball while wearing a dress - that wasn't a rush for her?
That mom must be in da-Nile.
Posted at 05:09 pm by beckyww
Monday, October 22, 2007
"Don't Make Fun of Me - It's For a Grade"
As a requirement of Rachel's Child Development class, she stuffed a 5 lb. bag of flour inside a baby doll shell to represent her newborn, "Riley." Riley will be accompanying Mommy everywhere this week - home, church, school, shopping, babysitting, the Smithson Valley game, the dinner table - yes indeed, everywhere.
Hey, chin up! It could have been worse. At least you didn't get assigned twins like some of your classmates!
If Rachel must leave her flour child for any reason, she has to engage a babysitter - like, perhaps, Aunt Hannah, who asked, "So what happens if the babysitter really hurts your baby?" Mommy answered, "You get points off for that." Hmmmm... Perhaps Rachel should consider Aunts Lois or Julia.
Rachel tried handing Riley to me with a quick, "Here, you nurse her." That made me realize I needed to offer some maternal baby-handling advice/observations. So here goes:
#5 - If you are out of disposable diapers, a dish towel and safety pin will do - only not a dish towel someone else is likely to pick up and try to use for its intended purpose.
#4 - Wash the car seat liner between children.
#3 - Does it look like your washer is filled with little grapefruit or orange pieces? That means you have laundered a pull-up.
#2 - The church nursery workers do not want to hear, "Guess we shouldn't have fed her all those prunes this morning."
And my #1 piece of baby-handling advice:
#1 - Duck when you insert a suppository. There's a reason they're nicknamed "bullets of health."
Boo-ti-ful Baby Rachel sez: "Halloween is next week!" If you live in San Antonio and have any leftover non-chocolate (non-melty) Halloween candy you would like to donate to children receiving Samaritan's Purse boxes, give it to Keith or me at work, or hand it to one of our kids, or leave it on our porch. We'll use it! We're packing the weekend after Halloween.
Posted at 03:11 pm by beckyww
Sunday, October 21, 2007
My favorite purse of all time has given out after five years of faithful service. The inside pocket tore out two years ago. The piping has badly frayed. The strap has been shredding for months. Finally the fabric forming the closure totally wore away.
It spent more time on my shoulder than my any one of my kids did.
A woman's purse tells a lot about her. A man's too, I suppose, but I'm not going there. Is her widdle purse just precious? She does not have children who hand her things at school, at church, in the store, etc. to "hold this for me, Mom." Is her purse a darling, trendy fabric? It's not had ketchup packets squirted on it at McDonalds, and I'll bet no one has thrown up in it, either. Is it free of scuffs and tears? It's not been clipped into umpteen grocery carts, kicked under church pews or dragged on the driveway. Does it not contain a half-used packet of Kleenex, plus several shredded tissues stuck to half-sticks of gum? She is wiping no nose other than her own. Does her purse hold a billfold or cardcase? She is likely hauling insurance cards, orthodontic reminders, a Blockbuster card, frequent buyer cards, the latest school pictures and - yes! - return address labels. Does she change purses with every outfit? She has a life outside of the perpetual school-church-HEB-office-orthodontist-Costco circuit. Is her purse the size of a Samsonite rolling bag? Then it belongs to my sister Judy, who totes enough gear for a third world nation at all times.
I paid $20 for my wonderful purse in Laredo in 2002, a real bargain compared to the "best price for you, Miss" $35 asking price. It's driven roundtrip to Mexico a few times. It's ridden trains in Russia and Austin. It's plummeted down Bug's White Water Rapids, and soared up to Indianapolis and Chicago. Like me - it's been around. And up. And sometimes down.
This purse was so darned practical. I could carry it in my hand, sling it on my shoulder or use it as a backpack. It was plain. Solid black wipe-off fabric, no weirdness, nothing fussy to break off or tear away. It was good-sized - big enough to hold all I needed and more than I wanted. It had hidden depths. An inside pocket for keys; bottom zippered cache for those pesky reading glasses; exterior pockets for my every-ready cell phone and always-needed Kleenex.
Practical. Plain. Good-sized. Hidden depth. And often worse for wear.
Yep. You can tell a lot about a woman by the purse she carries.
Especially this woman.
p.s. Congratulations to my cousin Terry for winning our October 12 "Name Calling" contest, describing Lois' new do as "2 Cool." That describes not only Lois' haircut but also her being chosen for region choir this weekend. Terry: Watch for your fabulous prize in the mail, girl!
Posted at 02:04 pm by beckyww
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
We Now Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program
Lois and Hannah are in middle school choir together this year. I like that. I chaperoned at their first concert was tonight. I liked that, too. I like seeing how all the kids have grown, and visiting with the other parents and sneaking a wave at my girls from across the room as they pretend not to notice me. I like the school principal opening the program, and all the well-deserved applause for the teachers. Mostly, I like the music. I'd paid for entertainment not as good as what I've experienced at Bush Middle School.
Music alone shall live....That's Hannah, far right on the top row.
Musica Dei....that's Lois, second row from the top, fourth from the left. I adore their spirited director, Ms. Jarvis.
Today has been really stressful. But I feel better now - after the concert - than I felt when I was rushing out the door at 5:50 because we can't be late Mom we can't be late Mom hurry hurry hurry.
I've always heard that music soothes the savage beast, but I think it also interrupts the stressful schedule.
Thanks, girls. I needed that.
Posted at 06:53 pm by beckyww
Monday, October 15, 2007
Keith and Rachel have begun ingesting the 89-page online Texas driver's ed course.
Ssshhhhh...don't rat me out. I can hear plenty well from up here. I already know what to do a four-way stop, though.
I was born into an American Baptist family - reared in the church of Christ - joined the Southern Baptist church in 1987. But all I can think of now is, "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of death. Amen."
Posted at 07:11 pm by beckyww
Friday, October 12, 2007
Lois got a haircut today - a dramatic one, about 12" whacked off. I love it! I'm trying to select a new nickname for her. Well, really any nickname other than "Lois Below Us."
I'm thinking "Sassy," which fits the hair style (and sometimes the mouth.)
Note the Barbara Bush Middle School choir faux pearls, required wearing today for all members of the 8th grade girls' choir. The real Barbara Rush would be pleased.
Keith thinks "Dorothy," for Dorothy Hamill.
Ice, ice, baby....
So what nickname with this new flippin' style? Please suggest one in Comments. The winner might get a hair-raising prize! So comment now, and comment often!
Posted at 05:08 pm by beckyww
Monday, October 08, 2007
Keith is a big e-bay buyer/seller so boxes on our front porch are common. But a box from Nickelodeon? And addressed to Lois? The whole family was standing by for the opening.
Turns out Lois is one of 50 second-place winners in the Nickelodeon Anime contest. They run two contests - one for live action cartooning, and one for still anime. She's one of 50 #2's in the still anime category. Each contestant submitted drawings and a story as an idea for a new anime cartoon.
Along with a 3-D T-shirt, viewing glasses and notepaper, she got this stuffed art case....
...with a nifty Nicktoons Network Animation Festival wood cut logo on the exterior.
Lois told me about her entry because she needed a catalog mailing envelope and postage. I'm very interested in her artistic talent because I have absolutely none. In my 20's, I even read and performed the exercises with "Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain," and all I got in return was charcoal and ink stains on my hands. I have no artistic talent. Neither does Keith. Yet she - effortlessly - cranks out sketches all the time, on everything - church bulletins, notebook paper, grocery lists - you name it, she adorns it.
One wall of her room, filled with her favorite notebook sketches.
So here are drafts of what she submitted. I was impressed enough at the time to scan them. I wish I'd scanned the all the final versions, but I'm a bad mother.
Meet Jamie, a teenage girl supposedly born without a left arm (mystery looming). She's lonely and teased often at school. Mom is dead; father is not supportive. (Note: Their entire lives, my girls have played games revolving around dead mothers. Like with dolls, "Let's pretend the mother is dead." I watch my back around here, I tell. you.) Jamies uses music composition - like her "Cloudy Melody" tune - for emotional release.
Meet Lieirose (lie-rosk), Jamie's guardian angel who looks like a teenager but is thousands of years old. He often appears in a cloud. The Council (other guardian angels) is angry with Lieirose for failing to protect Jamie at birth (more mystery) and because he's appeared directly to her (big no-no.) The Council has branded Lieirose with the "Mark of the Traitors." They've also covered his mouth and nose to muffle screams during punishment.
Jamie in a final sketch, which I did think to capture - in her handmade prom dress with a corsage from Lieirose, which he offered "from a secret admirer." She attended the prom dateless but a bit cheered by Leirose's gift.
As Lois told me the story, I was more and more engrossed. How did Jamie lose her arm (really?) Is her mother truly dead (sigh?) From what does she draw the inspiration for her music? Whom else has Lieirose protected, and what was their fate? And the father - why is he so disengaged?
Unless Nickelodeon chooses to develop the story, we may never know.
Lois needs to win a few cash prize contests so she can buy her mother - her living mother - some really nice gifts, don't you think?
Posted at 06:37 am by beckyww
Friday, October 05, 2007
The normal, the routine, the expected
Julia continues to improve and our lives are drifting toward "normal" now. We're not there yet, and we won't be for awhile. But "normal" is looming.
I like normal. I like calendars and lists and plans. I like clear return address labels at the ready. The normal - the routine - the expected - it's all good.
Because I'm no longer anchored to a rocking chair comforting a whimpering child, I've had time to do a favor for a friend and write a series of short pseudo-blogs promoting Austin as the site of the February 2008 Telecom Pioneer Assembly.
I had to poke around online for topics and material. Google is my friend, returning thousands of hits to Austin-related topics. This a link, that a link, everywhere a link link....all very normal, routine and expected - until I popped this one: http://www.adapt.org/freeourpeople/aar/nga04/17sat/17report2.htm and read,
"Also moving, was spreading the ashes of two brethren that had passed away."
That sentence took my breath away. Those were my brother's ashes. Judy and I had given them to the organization in which he was so active (ADAPT) at their request in 2004. They asked to scatter them at a national ADAPT "action" where disabled people chain themselves to fences, charge police officers with their electric wheelchairs and the like. As Judy replied to me when I forwarded the request, " I find the whole idea TOTALLY APPALLING AND UTTERLY TASTELESS. Not to mention --- Well, words truly fail me. David would love it." So true, Judy, sooooo true. And he would have loved the whole "native American tradition....spreading the ash mixed with tobacco" stuff, too. The more chanting, drama and pagentry, the better.
David and me 30 years ago this month. Judy must have taken this picture because Mom always cut off our heads.
So in the midst of the normal - the routine - the expected - a very unexpected jolt. Like a phone call in the middle of the night. Or spotting a celebrity in Target.
I'd never seen this web page before nor knew any specifics about the event, so naturally I bookmarked it - like I normally do for something to which I plan to return. Because even with a few bumps and jolts - I do like to - want to - plan to - return to normal.
Posted at 08:31 am by beckyww