Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Don't Want to be a Witch Next Year

Here I sit at 6:44 p.m. on New Year's Eve, 2008. I've been thinking about resolutions and whether I really am resolved to make any changes or whether I'm too afraid to fail again. By the time a person reaches my age (somewhere between bifocals and dementia), one has fairly well gotten to know one's own patterns. Change is hard. Especially losing weight when you're my age. As Barbara Johnson says, it's extra hard because your body and your fat have become good friends.

So I thought, Nah, resolve to only make intellectual changes this year. Relearn algebra. Take an economics class. Memorize Einstein's theory of relativity. However, I don't see the point, and if I don't see a point in something, I'm really, REALLY unlikely to pursue it . Besides,intellectually I am growing through teaching; I'm learning a lot more history, art, and
geography, as well as brushing up on rusty grammar. That's satisfying enough for now.

Turning another corner, I thought I'd improve socially. Have people over more often, I encouraged myself. Lots of different people. Start with the ones you don't like so well; get them out of the way. (I'm kidding! I'm seriously kidding!) I thought also of ways to improve my memory in social settings, where my remembrance of first names is getting worse. I feel like I should join the Army where it's protocol to address everyone by their last name. Trouble is, most women don't appreciate it, and most men aren't in my social circle.

Then I thought of looking only inward. Forget the social me, forget the intellectual me, forget the fat me. Look only at the spiritual me . (I think it's thinner anyway.)

That's when God arrested every part of me.

"Ask Me," He said. "Ask Me what you should dwell on in the coming year."

Whoa. Why hadn't I thought of that? In truth, I had, in a manner of speaking. I had asked for a new Bible study for Christmas, something by Beth Moore, though it didn't matter to me as long as I hadn't done it or it had been a long time. My husband gave me the one called "A Heart Like His." It's a study of the life of David.

I've just started and am revisiting the life of Saul. What struck me today and the past couple of days is the theme: To obey is better than sacrifice (I Sam 15). My tendency is not so much to outright disobey God, but to partially obey Him. Saul was told to completely wipe out the Amalekites, don't leave one person alive, and kill every single beast, no matter what. Well, Saul partially obeyed. He killed almost everyone, but spared King Agag. He killed almost all the animals, but kept the best ones--as he justified--"to sacrifice to God." Samuel confronted him on his sin, telling him that rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft.

The sin of witchcraft? Yes, to try to manipulate people or circumstances to get our way is like putting a spell on them. I have done it by pouting, crying, sighing, yelling, withholding, threatening, and other things. (We women have this multitasking thing down, don't we?) I have asked God to show me my rebellion, and He usually does so through my husband and kids. (Who needs a prophet when you've got honest, discerning, and bold family members?)

I tend to do a lot of "sacrifice" (work that appears good) instead of simply obeying. As scripture says, my real work is to believe Christ. And if I believe Him, I must necessarily obey Him.

To obey is better than sacrifice.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Three Wee Rings: My Anniversary Song this Year

Three wee rings aren't boring at all
They just don't fit me; they are too small.
Blame four sweet children
Hormones and choc-o-late
And I’m not very tall.

Oh, oh,
Jewels by day and jewels by night
Diamonds, rubies, shine so bright.
My eyes lingered on toys for my fingers,
Sparkling at Coleman's store.

The nice clerk, she measured me right:
My old rings were much too tight
Two decades and
twenty-four months had
Added two sizes to

My, aye,
Ring finger (I'm sad to say).
Felt relief --oh!-- right away.
"Come back on the tenth," she said to us,
"They will be ready then."

Ate at Roy's --we had a great time--
Set us back far more than a dime.
Maui Wowie, that was my sallie(d)
Tasty and pretty food.

Paul had
Spicy Salmon, I had fish:
Butterfish it was delish
Hard crustini, one martini
(Not really, but it rhymes.)

Then came une piece de resistance
Chocolate lava cake for romance
A la mode I love to promote
Though it hangs on
Far too long.

Hence the
Need for sizing
Three wee rings
Up two sizes, bling ca-ching!
I'm so happy, hear me clappy
My honey spent much on me.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Art for Kids of all Ages: Great for Homeschool and Classroom

When I need good ideas for art projects for kids, I love the website by the aptly-named blog, Art Projects for Kids. ( The link doesn't seem to be working; here it is to cut-and-paste:

A few of the things I like about it:
1) It's categorized by grade level .
2) There are actual student samples, in color. Great to print and put into my planner.
3) Directions are easy to follow.
4) Supplies are easy to find/afford . She recommends the most user-friendly supplies (read: less mess) and will tell you if the cost is worth it. (For some people, less mess is priceless.)
5) It's definitely more art than crafts but does include some crafts. (I tend to shy away from crafts with kids; it's a LOT more prep work for the teacher and usually less creative or educational for kids, but there is a place for it.)
6) I can ask the blogger specific questions in her comment box.
7) She's been teaching a long time. She has the experience to know what projects are worthwhile. I'm still a greenhorn, making copious notes about what to do and NOT do again next time.)

Art Projects for Kids. Check it out. You might find yourself wanting to get artsy tonight. You might find a wonderful project for your homeschool, Sunday School class, co-op, or day school class

Other resources I like:
Discovering Great Artists by MaryAnn Kohl --just got it; browsing it for upcoming paint days)
Drawing with Children by Mona Brooks
Drawing with Older Children and Teens, ibid.
Teaching Art with Books Kids Love (hoping to purchase this one; I use it a lot)

How about you? Any resources I should know about for teaching 3rd-6th grade?

White Dinosaur Exchange?

We've all done the White Elephant exchange: bring a cheap, gag, or old gift for a group gift game with some "stealing" involved. Everyone hopes to get something good, but no one expects it. You figure you'll probably leave with someone's old spatula, a duplicate rusty screwdriver, or maybe--just maybe--a five-dollar gift card to Chick-Fil-A.

Recycle. Reuse. Regift. It's all good, right?

So, Joel picked up on the idea this year, and has really been getting into wrapping with whatever he can find. He found some new wrapping paper and duct tape. Therein ends anything new about the gift he decided to give his older brother, Stephen.

Christmas morning Joel is passing out gifts, one at a time.

"Here, Stephen, this is for you. It's from me."

"Thanks," Stephen says, gratefully. "Feels like a book. I love books."

"It IS a book," Joel announces before the unwrapping begins. (He can only keep a secret so long.)

Sure enough. It is a book.

"What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?" Stephen reads from the front cover. "I remember reading this when I was younger in homeschool. Did you pick it out?"

"Yup!" Joel beams.

Stephen flips though the pages. They don't look quite crisp and new. He looks at Joel, smiling. "Wait. Is this the SAME book I read? The very same one, I mean? Did you pick it off our basement shelf?"

"Uh-huh!" Joel said, giggling. "Do you like it?"

"Like it again?" I said.

That was one of our many Christmas morning chuckles, courtesy of our little regifter. Next year I wouldn't be surprised if Joel continues our White Dinosaur exchange. No one else really participates, but that's okay. Tis more blessed to give (and regive) than to receive (and re-receive), eh?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Breath and Faith

Sarah, Stephen, and I went to a Christmas Eve service tonight.

The pastor called the children up to the stage to unwrap gifts that he was using as object lessons. Among other questions, he asked the kids, "Do you remember what you got for Christmas last year? "

"Noooooo," was the seemingly unanimous reply.

But one boy, about five or six years old, shot his hand up and announced his memorable gift: "I got socks and underwear!"

The congregation howled and chuckled for a solid two minutes.

It was funny, no doubt, but I was touched by the child's recollection of something so ...
unexciting, as most people would view it. There was a sweetness, a sense of gratitude in his voice. I was humbled to think that I would not receive such a gift with such a heart, let alone remember it with enthusiasm. Socks maybe --if they were cute or warm --but not underwear. Sorry.

After the service, a close friend called me aside to tell me the sad news of a family
whose children we had homeschooled with years ago. Their oldest, my Ben's age, was killed on the job this past July--electrocuted. I hadn't heard till tonight. Shocked, saddened, feeling a burden unlike I had known in a long time. As I lit the luminaries at home later, I found myself wanting to do something to "make it all better" for this family. What do you give a family who has lost a child? I prayed, "God, I can't I can pray hard enough or well enough to relieve their suffering." God showed me that I was trying to figure out a way to do His job for Him. A human life has God's breath in it. Once it's gone, I can't breathe humanity back into it. Nor can I relieve suffering all by myself. That's also His job.

He came to do His job. Rather, He came to do His Father's job: to reconcile sinners to Himself.
He did it.
He did it perfectly.
It is finished.

He didn't need me.

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for doing for me, for us, what we can't do for ourselves.
For without breath, we can do nothing.
Without faith, we can do nothing that pleases You.
You give us both breath and faith.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Child is this, and this, and this, and this?

Oh! It's Ben, it's Sarah, it's Stephen, it's Joel

(Which is not pronounced like the first Noel.)

Sitting in sand dunes, with fly-away hair

We pose for Maggie in Myrtle Beach air.

Paul and I love our quartet of beauty.

The older three kids now do college duty.

The "baby" is six and goes to first grade

(and gets teased by his sibs that he's got it made).

This is not a Christmas card, but might be Part One of my annual Seuss-inspired family
chronicle. (If I continue this silly rhyme with photos attached.)

We celebrated my 43rd birthday in Myrtle Beach. For the record, Paul is 47, Ben is 20, Sarah is 19, Stephen is 17, and Joel is 6.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hmmm...what to do, what to do...

I feel like this hummingbird. (Sarah gave the feeder to me for my birthday in August. I LOVED the hummingbirds that fed on it, the little birdies no bigger than my thumb.)
I sit and say, "Hmmm. What to do? What to do? It's that time again. Time to figure out where to go and what to do." The occasion? Our anniversary. The perennial problem of choosing a destination for celebrating our marriage.
My Paul admits to being neither romantic nor creative in such ways (though he has pulled off a few delightful surprises in our nearly 22 years as husband and wife). I am the harder of the two of us to please, with my high ideals, so pity the guy who has the good fortune to plan memories for me! I've gotten better at lowering my expectations, but "anniversary" screams "expectations!" almost as loudly as Christmas does --and in our case, they're three days apart. If I'm plum out of creative energy by the 25th of December, let alone the 28th, imagine his pressure!
So, what do we like? What would make a good memory for us? Let me tell you a little about our "cherished preferences," as our pastor calls such things.

Paul likes: good food, good wine (though seldom pays for it with dinner; he'd rather buy a whole bottle and get 4 times the beverage from it, later, at home). He hates crowds. Conversation optional. He doesn't like B&Bs (says he doesn't like paying to feel like a guest in someone else's home). He doesn't mind a drive under an hour. Not crazy about the city since he's worked in it for 25 years. He prefers countryside, beaches, or mountains. Dressing up is okay. Won't pay to see a movie at the cinema unless it's highly recommended, but no rom-coms. (For him they're predictably dumb and he hates seeing lust portrayed as love. Good man.) He likes action films, but realizes they're a poor choice with me as his flick chick. Hates, hates, hates theatre.

I like: good food, good wine (with dinner, TYVM!), romantic settings (which, by my definition, includes soft candlelight, jazz music, live flowers, tender touches, exchanging glances across the table, glances just for me--sap, sap, sap! gag!--I'll stop. When I ask him to do that, he makes google eyes at me.) Crowds don't bother me (just no kids anywhere within earshot on our date night), music live or recorded makes no diff, no great walking distance, conversation mandatory. A little wrapped shiny thing in a box is especially hoped for, but not expected. I like B&Bs, but not with him, knowing he doesn't like them, so nix that idea. Love to dress up. I could do a 4-hour trip to West Virginia if weather's decent. (That's where we honeymooned.) I know it sounds redneck but you know the motto: West Virginia--almost heaven. I don't like to go to a movie on a date unless we've already had good conversation over dinner, because I feel it's a waste of time to sit next to each other paying to not talk. We like movies that show old people in love, where gnarled fingers interlock and crow's feet around the eyes means the elderly couple's been smiling at each other for 50 years, even though she may not recognize him any more. "The Notebook," for example. I love theatre. Who cares if it's predictable?

I'm burnt out on creativity this time of year and Paul admits to almost never being creative. So, anybody wanna help this old couple find a new thing to do on their anniversary? Perhaps you can "feed" this hummingbird some ideas?

What a Carpenter Does

Mitzy, a friend and part-time teacher, took charge of setting up a mock TV show as the 3rd/4th grade Christmas party activity at school. She had assigned each of the six students a part in her BNN (Bethlehem Network News) production. The parts were: Mary, Joseph, two shepherds, an angel, and a reporter.

Mitzy rolled the tape while the reporter interviewd the Holy Couple.

Reporter: So, Mary, what brings you to Bethlehem?
Mary: I'm here to give birth to Jesus, God's only Son.
Reporter: (turning to Joseph) What brings you here?
Joseph: I'm here for the census and to pay taxes.
Reporter: What kind of job do you have?
Joseph: I'm a carpenter.
Reporter: What exactly do you do?
Joseph: I lay carpet.

Mitzy tried not to jiggle the camera as she giggled. A (I told this story to a carpenter named Brian in our church. He laughed,"A carpenter lays carpet. Makes sense to me!")

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Can't Go Back

I was never a hot chocolate snob. Sure, I had my preferred packet mixes, and liked milk much better than water.

But then came Danielle's recipe. I made her Hot Chocolate Mix tonight, exactly as posted. Wow! I'm won over. It's delicious. A few of Ben's friends, bless their hearts. came over tonight to keep him company and watch the Ravens game in the basement. (So kind of them, since he can't go anywhere with his arm in a sling and a good deal of pain still.)

I asked Joel to go downstairs and take drink orders. He simply asked them, "Want some hot chocolate?" They all said no. Then I called down the steps, "It's homemade!" Suddenly Ben and Dan piped up, "Sure, I'll take some!" I served the hot chocolate in Irish coffee mugs and squirted whipped cream on top. Luke C said, "It looks barista style." I told him he could change his order to yes, but he was still full from dinner, I guess. I couldn't talk him into it, but there's still time. I also sent some with Stephen over to Eric's (in a ziploc bag, not a mason jar; hey, it was spur of the moment and I figured if they were gonna get any, it'd have to be tonight in a ziplock.:)

I love reading fellow bloggers' recipes, but seldom try them. (I'm pathetic, not apathetic, so don't take offense, please.)

Tonight I made an exception. The damp chill, a bit of company, a trip to the store earlier for the ingredients, and a little boy who loves hot chocolate and whipped cream all begged for this recipe to be made tonight.

Glad I did. Love it!

Phooey on packets.

I can't go back.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A post for women only...

Last night Joel accompanied me to Barnes & Noble for a couple of gifts. While browsing near the back of the store, he told me he needed to go to the bathroom. Well, when I'm all's he got for potty partnering, I don't let him use the men's room. I'm phobic that way.

So I scoped out the ladies' room. Coast was clear. I ushered him in and he starts doing what he's there for. When he came out, he washed his hands and then looked for a paper towel. There were none. He didn't see electric hand dryers either. But then he spotted a feminine product dispenser with a sign that read "Napkins 10c".

He looked up at me and quite matter-of-factly said, "If I had ten cents, I would buy a napkin."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hallmark Commercial in my Classroom

If Hallmark ever needs the quintessential sweet boy to do a commercial, they should call me. He's in my class. (I'll call him Ryan.) Every day after school he says, "Thanks for teaching, Mrs. Zubrowski." And every day I answer, "Thanks for learning, Ryan."

Twice this week Ryan has blessed me. The first was a simple note saying "Dear Mrs. Zubrowski, it's really fun being an afternoon teacher. Merry Christmas. Love, Ryan. " ( I knew he meant "having you as an afternoon teacher" but I was thinking, "Maybe one day he will be a history teacher. He loves it!"
As I've said before, I'm teaching a very small, combined class of 5th and 6th graders. I teach US history of the 20th century, among other subjects. This week we've been wrapping up the decade of 1910-20. I had each student choose a person or topic to research, write a short TV interview about (where I'm the host and they're the guest). Well, we did a dry run of the show of Tuesday. I ad-libbed a bit with each one to make the scripts "flow" more naturally. The real show would be Wednesday.

Ryan was millionaire Andrew Carnegie. When I introduced him, I said, "Mr. Carnegie, welcome to The Chatterbox Show. It's so nice to meet you. I bet everyone likes to pick your pockets. " (I ad-libbed the last part.)

So on Wednesday Ryan came in dressed as Carnegie. To the nines! Nice suit and vest, brown velvet hat he'd gone specially to the thrift store to get. In the hall before the TV show started, he pulled me aside and said, "Mrs. Zubrowski, remember yesterday you said, 'I bet people like to pick your pockets' ? Could you please say that again today? I liked it and I brought this little bag of coins I'm going to pull out when you say it." (It was a cloth, drawstring bag of real coins.) So I did, and he did. Fun little touch with a prop.

A little later some of his classmates were asking where he got all the coins and he said he did chores for them. He made sure that if any dropped, he carefully picked each one up.

Near the end of class, he came up to my desk and handed me a penny.

"Mrs. Zubrowski, I want you to have this."

"Well, thank you, Ryan, but you worked hard for this." I examined the penny. "And this is a 1976 coin. Do you know that was a bicentennial year? When I was your age, America celebrated her 200th birthday."


"Yes. Are you sure you want to give away a bicentennial penny?"

"Yes, I'm sure. I like to give my teachers something for Christmas every year, and ...well...I figured you'd like something from the 1900s."
"You are so right about that, Ryan," I said, biting back tears at his thoughtfulness. "I'm going to treasure this penny. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Merry Christmas. And one more thing. Mrs Zubrowski? I think I did really good on that World War I test. And you know what? My dad knows everything about World War II. I mean everything. When are we going to study that? My dad's a World War II nerd. You know what a nerd is, right? It's a good thing."

"I know. And I think you're turning into a war history nerd yourself, too , huh?"

"Yup," he beamed, gathering up his backpack before heading out the door. "Thanks again for teaching."

"You're welcome, Ryan. Thanks for learning."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Update on Ben

Surgery went well, as expected. Took a little more than 2 hours. We were there 8 hours in all.
The shoulder had been injured 4 years ago, in a lacrosse game, but only bothered Ben once in a while until the past year. It became increasingly hard for him to reach behind his back and sometimes, while putting a shirt on, the shoulder would pop out of place. The chiropractor , physical therapist, and primary doc all told him the same thing: have the surgery. Dx: labral tear. That is, the labrum holds the ball-and-socket joint in place. Ben's was torn.

In layman's terms as I understand, the surgeon was able to go in and anchor the top half of the labrum to the bottom half. (Don't laugh if I'm getting this wrong, you medical people reading this.) The anchor will dissolve over time.

Ben's care was all good except for the nurse in recovery. She was not very kind. She moved him too soon from Phase I to Phase 2 and when he complained of nausea and pain at a level 8 and unwilling to try to get dressed) she copped an attitude about moving him back to Phase 1 (more intense care). He said her coworkers didn't appear to like her. She treated me like I was pandering a drug addict. "How good is he at assessing his own pain?" she asked me in the hall. (It sounded condescending to me.)

"Let's put it this way, " I said, "when he tackled a guy without gear, and caught the guys' head in his chest and was sent to Shock Trauma, his pain was a 2, coughing up blood. When he sliced open his hand, it was a 5. The guy's pain tolerance is incredible." She asked me if I'd ever had pain at 10 and I told her about rupturing all my pelvic ligaments during childbirth; yes, that was a 12. " Ben was mumbling, "I thought morphine was a strong drug." The nurse assured it is, and
gave him more, to bring the pain down to a 6. I told her, "when I've been in recovery, they didn't let it get above 5. "' Anyway, I probably did come across as a coddling mama, but hey, it's my boy, not hers in that bed.

The night he came home (Monday) I went to bed at 9, woke at 1 to check on him, went to Walgreen's at 4 a.m. to get the Px filled (we had searched high and low for the 4-pack from the hospital, to no avail. I'd never been to a store in my PJs before. It was kinda cool. Cold, actually, but fun (w/ a coat on, I mean)., though I did feel all alone. It was kind of God to put a preacher on the radio at 4;15 a.m. who was praying for a multitude of requests. When he prayed "for someone out out there who has just had surgery, give him strength and comfort," I wept with joy. I KNEW God was with us. Immanuel.

Anyway, update: Ben is in a lot of pain, still . I think some of it's stiffness (it's in a sling close to his body, under a shirt). He has to lie at at a 45 degree angle to sleep. He hasn't been able to wash up since Monday (and he is Mr. Hygiene, let me tell you). He hates being dependent. He is not a reader and there's only so much TV a person can stand when he's groggy. The dog is being sweet to him, as usual, sensing that he's not quite normal. She stays by his side.

Please keep praying. It's tough psychologically , especially for such an active person, to be housebound, couchbound, and reliant on mother.

Mother is doing fine, though. I got flowers from my principal today.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ben's Surgery, 12/15, 10 a.m.

Monday morning (tomorrow) is Ben's arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder (to repair and old lacrosse injury. His arm occasionally pops out of place and he has lost range of motion gradually over the years. The surgery should fix the problem.)

Please pray for him (and for us). We have to be there at 8, surgery's at 10, is expected to take 2 hours plus 1.5 hours in recovery in one of Baltimore's best for sports-related surgeries.

He's looking forward to getting it over with.

I know it's routine for the doctors, but it's not part of our routine. We could use the prayer.

Christmas on the Outside

And no, I don't mean this is a prelude to showing off the lights on our roof. Maybe I'll do that, maybe I won't.

What I do mean is, it looks like Christmas in my environment--the tree's up, candles are burning, egg nog's in the fridge. But inside my heart, I am sinking into the perennial quagmire. The swamp of emotions that I fight hourly this time of year. The quicksand of feelings that I am one of millions of God's people not doing the celebration of His Son's birth "right." I don't know what "right" or "wrong" is, but how we do this thing called Christmas feels mostly wrong to me.

We cut down a tree. Well, Paul did because Sarah asked, but the boys (not even my little one) wanted to go. So I tromped behind Sarah and her dad, reminiscing about the good ole days when the whole family made the foray into the forest. I forgot to take the damaged lens off my camera, and so when I went to shoot the two of them pointing to "the one," nothing happened. My bag was in the truck, and I was too daggone cold to go back for the good lens. My feelings? Angry at myself for being unprepared for what may be the last time Sarah gets to cut a tree down with her dad. She might be married next year, who knows? My feelings? NOOOO! Don't get married. Stay my little girl! I'm envying people with little kids for whom everything is fun and exciting (and can be done on the cheap).

I decorated said tree with Paul and Joel. Paul did the lights, I hung the fragile ornies, and Joel put up the rest. The number of ornaments was probably half what we had last year because, over the summer, I went through all the Christmas stuff with Sarah and threw out whatever wasn't meaningful. If it wasn't homemade or wasn't given us by someone we loved or didn't carry any special meaning, out it went. Unfortunately, I also let Sarah talk me into throwing out all the old stockings because she convinced me there was chocolate and mint and gunk stuck on them down in the toe from year to year, and look how old and cheapy red they are and don't I want to go with something nice and new and pretty? I had been in a pitch it/ditch it mood, but I had clung to the memories of the kids coming down the stairs every Christmas morning to line up for a picture all together with their stockings. My feelings? Guilt and regret. I don't know if I regret being talked into pitching the stockings (they could have been dry cleaned) ) or that I can't manufacture happiness by filling old velvet socks with candy and gum. If I could put a future husband in Sarah's or a job in Ben's, I would. (Ben could get the job ASAP. The future husband would have to pass parental inspections and pastoral interviews, and THEN be put on hold for 14 years. I mean, if Jacob had to work for Rachel, so can ___________.)

I think what bothers me most is that, contrary to what we Christians like to believe, Jesus is not the "reason for the season." Well, he's not the Only reason. I hate to pretend, but I do it, going along with the illusion that Christ is central this time of year. I wish, as I have for the past many years, that we had two separate holidays: one called Christmas where the only thing we did was Christ-centered: no eggnog, no Bing Crosby, no stockings, no shopping, no making a wagonload of cookies. I love those things. But why do them and then say "Jesus is the reason for the season"? Who are we kidding? Contary to what "The First Noel" purports, Jesus wasn't born with knee-deep snow on the ground and his mother wasn't sipping hot cocoa in a smelly stable. My guess is Joseph was feeling financial strain as he looked upon this new family of his, but not because relatives were expecting restaurant gift cards in X dollar amount to be "stolen" from Person A by Person B because Gift A was better than Gift B. (I guess a connection could be made: "manger"--French for "to eat"/Jesus' humble birth in a cattle trough and our fighting over PF Chang's vs. Outback gift cards. Makes sense to me. )


Is Jesus the reason for the season? He should be, but He's not. I wish we would just own up to the fact that not even WE know how to do a Jesus-only celebration. Instead, we tack Jesus on to get-togethers with family AND friends AND gifts bought under duress AND pretty programs AND mental stress AND financial strain AND...we exhaust ourselves trying to fit it into a work schedule that doesn't lighten up for most of us until AFTER the Big Day.

Maybe you can't relate. Maybe all your family members are Christians who just LOVE to be together and everyone's relaxed by the fire. Or maybe you're thinking I'm a cynical Christian, which is an oxymoron, and I have lost my focus and shouldn't vent like this. But I think somewhere between the "hap-happiest" and "crap-crappiest" feelings about the season is where I am.

I don't want to chuck my tree. I like getting and giving presents. I enjoy seeing people's pictures in the mail and welling up when I hear "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and tasting warm Polish tea cookies and hearing the Salvation Army bell, and watching the "Christmas Story" with its BB gun and leg lamp.

I also love Jesus and can't, for the life of me, figure out how to treat Him right in December.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heads I Win, Tails I Win

I had just finished typing a study guide at the computer when my six-year-old Joel came to me, butt naked, with a quarter in his hand. (He was fresh from the shower.)

"Mom, wanna play Heads and Tails?"

"Sure. How do you play?"

" say 'heads' or 'tails' ...and ...then I... flip this coin." (He is speaking in semi-staccato, as he always does when making up the rules as he goes along. In such cases, I am skeptical that the game will be either challenging or fun. But I play along anyway.)

"Okay, what do I get if I'm right?" I ask.

"You get to hug me."

"I like that!" I say. "And if I'm wrong?"

"I have to hug you," he said. (Have to? Man!) "We'll play fifteen rounds, okay?"

"Okay! Let the games begin!" I say. I got to hug his wonderful, soft skin 15 times in a row. It feels good to be a loser.

There's nothing like getting to hug your own clean, naked kid over and over. Even if he "has" to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I invited Joel to cuddle up with me under a blanket while we watched the snow fall a few nights ago. My little six-year-old still gives me such delight by wanting to be near me. I know from experience my time is limited with this kind of affection, so I scoop it up now while I can.

I got my words a little tangled. I was going to say, "Joel, ya wanna snuggle?" But I was looking out the window and said, "Joel, ya wanna snowgle?"

He laughed and I coined a new phrase.

Snowgle: (verb) to snuggle when it's snowing

The Jelly Hose Song

Another funnie from Joel last night. Holiday style. Go to my Kidbits blog. (See sidebar.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sweet Funnie, all in one

It's not every day a person gets a shot of joy in the middle of chaos. But today it happened.

In history class, I had the kids cutting out World War I pictures that I had photocopied from internet sources. They had to rewrite the captions in their own words beneath the pictures. It was zooey for me, going from student to student, helping them spell, making sure they were using complete sentences in their own words, getting glue boogers out of bottles, and so on. I was knee-deep in questions, feeling rushed, and wondering if anyone would rather just be reading from a textbook and filling in blanks. I just can't teach like that, no matter how hard I resolve to give up projects for simplicity.

Then came that joy. While gluing his second picture on, one boy said, "Mrs. Zubrowski, I hate to admit this, but...I really like your class."

22 Years Ago Today

Paul's mom died suddenly of a ruptured aorta. It happened 20 days before our wedding, right before finals. She got sick suddenly at Marc's 3rd birthday party. They wondered if she was choking or having a heart attack. They rushed her to Bayview. It was a Saturday night, with a skeleton staff on duty at the hospital. For all her pain, they didn't give her enough medicine. We visited her Sunday night; she could not get comfortable, but we figured that was normal under the circumstances. The doctors said they'd run tests by noon on Monday. Nurses found her dead Monday morning. Her death had been nearly a copycat of her son's (Paul's brother, Gary) the year before. She was buried in an emerald green dress, the one she had been looking forward to wearing to our wedding.

I often wonder how different our lives would be, not just our ceremony, had Marcella lived. I often wonder what we would have done differently had we known it was our last conversation with her.

While you're suggesting books...

Stephen wants some recommendations for his Winter Break. He has different genres he wants to read. Maybe you could suggest something in one or two categories?

Please drop over to his blog and put in your proverbial two cents.

To Keep Little Ones Busy this Time of Year

My friend Kelly has four adorable kidlets whom she homeschools. She is taking the month of December off and was inquiring of fellow bloggers for ideas to occupy and entertain those wee ones when the stir-crazy sets in.

I thought back to the days my kids needed me to help them stay busy. Here's what I came up with. Maybe you can add some of your own over in Kelly's comment box?

1. Visit a local train garden. Many fire stations have them, though I don't know which ones. They are mesmerizing to little eyes (and big). They're free usually. I saw a link for one at a mall, too. Google "shops at Kenilworth" or malls near you. Personally I'd rather get the shingles than visit a mall any time of year. I much prefer to drop a couple bucks into the Volunteer Firefighter's bucket at the firehouse as a donation in exchange for the hour of entertainment, decent parking, and their experience in the event one of my children starting convulsing with excitement.

2. Make a Christmas chain of alternating green and red construction paper. (I always did the stapling, but to make it last longer, have them put a dot of glue on each "ring" as they go, holding the ends together for a count of 60.) Sixy times however-many-days-till-Christmas is a lot of free time for Mom! But the caveat is, not all little hands are patient ones.

3. Let them make cards. Glitter and glue optional depending whether you want it to be fun for them or you.

4. Videotape them singing Christmas songs. They love to perform and watch it back--over and over and over. Again, a small time investment upfront with huge time dividends later. And precious, funny memories of sweet voices that will never, ever sound like that again. Of everything we did together, I wish we'd videotaped more often, not just the holidays, but normal times.

5. Make sugar cookies. If you chill the dough and give them cookie cutters, they can cut, bake, and decorate till kingdom come (or till dough runs out, whichever comes first.) Yes, all the handling might make them tough cookies, but to me, it was always worth the free time it gave me. I cheerfully said, "This is your very own batch." (Read: I woudln't for the life of me let me people know how many hand-to-mouth-to-hand trips the dough had made en route to the plate.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Shock Trauma Drama

It's been eight days since it happened, but I like to journal both the common and uncommon events in our lives around here.

I don't know whether E.R. visits have shifted from the "Common" column to the "Uncommon" column around here, but if I tell you it was Ben, I think you--like I--would choose the former.

Last Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving, I was at school putting up a World War I bulletin board. (Talk about trench warfare; I just about threw a grenade at the thing by the time I was finished.) I was there from noon till 4:30. Got home at 5 to find no one here.

I called Paul's cell.
Me: Where are you?
Him: Out.
Me: Out where?
Him: At the hospital.
Me: Nuh-uh, seriously.
Him: Yeh, Ben got hurt.
Me: (putting down my fork, believing now) What happened? How? Where--?
Him: He was playing football at Beachmont. Tackled a guy, and started coughing up blood.
Me: Coughing up blood! That's not good! I'll be right there. (They were at a hospital about 7 miles from home.)
Him: No, I don't want you driving.
Me: Like I'm gonna stay here while my son's coughing up blood there? I don't think so!
Him: Well, Sarah's got Joel, and Stephen's at work.
Me: I'll be there in a few. (I called Steve at work to ask him to pray.)

Despite my hurry, I had tremendous peace. If it's because God gave it to me instantly or has trained my heart's responses from having a number of experiences in the ER with my sons,
I give Him credit. I didn't drive like a maniac. I didn't cry. My heart wasn't racing. I just kept praying.

Ben looked bored and relaxed, watching (of all things) football on TV. I asked him how it happened. He said they were playing without any gear. He tackled a 15-year old kid named Evan, whose dad once tried out for the LA Rams. (Let's just say, at 15, Evan is his father's son!).

Beside Ben on the floor was an upchuck cup of bright red blood. His main complaint was hunger. His pain level was 1-2 out of 10. He just wanted to go home and wanted to take a deep breath, but couldn't. It was 5:20 and he hadn't eaten since breakfast. They ran a CT scan on him, and finally at 8, the doctor says it's a pulmonary contusion (bruised lung). Since Ben was still feeling fluid in his chest, the doctor spoke with Dr. Scalia at U of Md's Shock Trauma (a big wig there; now I was concerned) . Scalia wanted him evaluated there; the one Ben was in is not prepared to do emergency pulmonary procedures in the event his case worsened. I called my parents who were in Texas taking care of my sister, post-op.

My mom prayed. "Father, to us Ben is a big, strong, handsome young man, able to do so much. But he can't heal himself and so we are putting Him in Your hands, and we thank You that You are able to do all things. We ask You to heal him." It was during her prayer that I saw my 6'5" tough guy appear in my mind's eye as the "yittle beebee" I rushed to the ER when he was 18 months old. (We thought he had swallowed rubbing alc0hol.) I was on the phone in the hall, out of Ben's sight, drying my tears. I also called our care group leaders to pray, who asked us if we wanted them to go down to Baltimore with us. That was so kind it melted me, but we didn't need that.

At 10:30 Ben was transferred by ambo down to Shock Trauma. Paul and I met him there a little later (after we, hungry pigs ourselves) indulged in fast food on the way, grabbed some clean clothes and toiletries for him, plus some snacks and drinks if they'd allow it. (They didn't; said he might have to have a procedure and needed an empty stomach.) Ben told us later that the ambo paramedic said, "If they had called 911 from [Beachmont] we would've airlifted you." I had no idea it was that serious, but they said pulmonary contusions can easily become life-threatening, even when the patient presents stable.

They ran a dye test and found the same thing. By 3 a.m. he was neither better nor worse, except he said it hurt more to breathe. Not bad, but "like being out in the cold where you can't take a deep breath." We watched the clock, tried to snooze.I graded papers, got a little excited when a gunshot vic got wheeled in with a shattered knee. A cop waited just outside the dude's room. Nothing says "get well soon" quite like seeing both blood pressure cuffs and handcuffs in the same 9-foot radius.

Ben was released at 3:30 a.m with a diagnosis of "pulmonary contusion, pulmonary lacerations blunt trauma" to his right lung. They said no work till 12/5, no contact sports for two weeks.(I'm like, "please say two years" and had to joke that vacuuming and laundry are not contact sports.)

He has a shoulder surgery coming up December 15th. It's to fix an old lacrosse injury that has made his shoulder pop out routinely and painfully.

We are so grateful to God for his mercy on Ben. Common or uncommon, it's always needed and so much appreciated! Our son is doing fine now. We have banned him from playing sports. Well, okay, maybe we'll let him play ping-pong without paddles.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Joel was talking to Sarah the other day and part of what he asked her was, "Is that because you're a colleger?"

I guess in his mind a person goes from being a first grader, to a sixth grader, to a twelfth grader, and then to a colleger.

Makes perfect sense.

Friday, December 05, 2008

How old is a woman?

I ran errands today with Stephen (17) and Joel (6). While waiting in the van together for Stephen to run into a store for me, Joel asked me, "How old is a woman?"

'Do you mean how old do you have to be to be a woman?" I asked.


I thought a moment and opted NOT to give him the birds-and-bees answer. Instead I said, "Oh, I'd say 18."

He paused. "Oh, so then Stephen's almost a woman?"

Then he laughed all over himself. He was still laughing when Stephen came out. (So was I.)

Can you Give me "Watchful" verses?

Here I am, minutes from walking out the door to the church where I'll be decorating my table for the Ladies' Christmas Breakfast. I am always really excited about it, but what I have come to realize about tablescapes and bulletin boards is that
1) I love to plan them but
2) don't particularly enjoy executing them and
3) battle sinful comparison with women whose natural talent is decorating.

I think in themes and in details (big picture, minutiae) but still underestimate time. I run out of time for the minutiae.

Which brings me to the theme of this year's table of mine. Time. Watch. Clocks.

I need your help, if you have time (get it?) with the last details of my table: the verses. I need 8 verses that have "watch" as a keyword, particularly in relation to watching for the Messiah, being watchful, shepherds watching, etc. That's my first choice (8 with "watch") but "time" is an alternative. I want them to be a mix of Christ's first coming AND his second.

These will be typed on placecards, attached with burgundy ribbon to gold napkins which are "tied" with a gold or silver (25-cent or free) watch. (Thanks again, Krista, for the freebie. It looks perfect.)

Now I'm out of here. Pray I don't break dishes. For a while I thought my theme would be "Only Seven." I was coming up with 7 teacups, 7 forks, 7 white napkins for Sarah's table . (Hers is simple , cute, and thoughtful one with bright red and darling penguins. I want to be like her when I grow up.)

So, will you "watch" for verses and leave them in my comment box? I'll check back later today on this ZMZ station. Thanks!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Encouragement to Homeschooling Moms in the Trenches

At the risk of tooting my own horn--which is only slightly more respectable than merely "tooting" --I want to jot this down so that I'll remember it when I'm tempted to think my work as a homeschooling mom was in vain. It came as a verbal Christmas present to me a little early.

Stephen, our freshman in college, had a conference today with his English professor. The discussion was about the eight-page research paper coming due; the teacher wanted to see at least half of it today.

My son's topic is homeschooling. He took in more than half of it. The prof observed that he must read at a high level (which he does) and she praised his organization, his mechanics, and his style.

"You're a really strong writer, among the best I've ever had," she told him.

"Thanks," he said. "My mom was an English major and she drilled it into us."

"Well," said the prof, "she did a 'dang' good job."

(Not her exact word, but my sanitized choice for this G-rated site.)

So, moms, whether your God-given bent is writing, science, math, art, history, or something else, let me encourage you to pour yourself into teaching it to your kids. Don't settle for mediocracy. Don't rush through a concept or skip over it if you know in your heart it's important. And most importantly, don't forget that heavenly Eyes are watching you, and that someday--a day that may seem eons from this one--you will receive a verbal gift from your child's future teacher, boss, co-worker, or friend about the "dang" good job you did in the trenches. I have homeschooling friends older than I who encouraged me with the compliments they received from their kids' college professors.

Of course I feel I should say it doesn't matter to me, that the only thing that matters to me is to hear Christ's "well done" the day I die. But that would be a lie. (And I've taught my kids not to lie, as well as how not to use apostrophes.) I kind of like hearing "well done" from time to time down here. I think it's what encourages me to keep doing well, even when I don't see results.

I have a personal goal to see my current students become excellent writers. Specifically, I want to see them get scholarships to college because of their writing. Right now they hate me, I think. That's okay. Like I always told my kids when they were little, "I'm not here to be popular. I'm here to love you and teach you."


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Help! I need a Teacup! 11th-hour Cry!

I pulled out my teacups and saucers from the basement earlier this week, thinking I had the necessary 8 for my ladies' breakfast table this Saturday. I searched and searched the house, even went to Goodwill, but I am still ONE SHORT! This is a very long shot, a very late and desperate request, but ....

would anyone reading this happen to have a teacup that would match or coordinate with my set? Let me describe. ( I actually have 6 of 1 set and 1 of another, making 7, nearly identical.)

The set is called Royal Swirl. It's a china cup (whitish) with silver trim and pink roses.

It must have been popular in its day because I can usually find it anywhere (Goodwill, Thrift stores, yard sales).

I have 8 saucers, just need the cup. Anybody have this or know someone who does?? Nothing like waiting till Dec 3rd to prepare for a shindig on the 6th, huh?