Top Ten Comments Overheard at Special Needs Family Camp

The first ever Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) at Hidden Acres was a success. Here are the top 10 comments heard during the weekend.Central Iowa’s first Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC) for families of kids with special needs was held over the weekend. It was an unqualified success as these top ten comments overheard show.

10.  From a mom: My son had 8 s’mores at the campfire last night. We got to sleep pretty late.

9.   From the typical sibling of a child with special needs: I went on 3 trail rides this afternoon. It was my best day ever.

8.  From almost every parent, child, and volunteer: This camp is amazing!

7.  From numerous dads and moms: My massage was wonderful. I haven’t been this relaxed in years.

6.  From the sibling of the Man of Steel’s camp buddy: Hiram’s my buddy, too. Can he be part of our family forever?

5.  From several young campers: When can we go swimming? We’re going swimming now! We swam until the pool closed at 10 o’clock last night.

4.  From a young camper: Dad, will you come meet Kristen’s parents? She wants me to come to her house to play someday.

3.  From more than one parent: How long have you been running special needs family camps? You are so well organized.

2.  From the planning committee: We want everyone to know that God provided everything and everyone needed to make this camp a reality.

1. From more parents, kids, and volunteers to planning committee members: Thank you for letting us be part of the camp.

And one more from the planning committee to every parent, child, and volunteer: Thank you!

Top Ten Systems Failures of the Week

For some reasons, our house has been Systems Failure Central lately. Here are ten of the epic fails we've experienced.Our house has been systems failure central for the past week. Here, in order of occurrence rather than importance, are the top 10 whammies we’ve weathered.

10. Internet service failure from the Friday before Memorial Day through Memorial Day Monday. Not fun, though it gave me a good excuse to spend several hours at my favorite coffee shop sipping java, dealing with emails and writing blog posts.

9.  Muffin-baking failure. Even though I’ve used this recipe hundreds of times, every batch came out almost, but not quite, burned. To be honest, I was distracted by the antics of the baby in the house, which may have led to the oven temp set too high or the timer on a bit too long. I’m not sure which. But I can tell you this. The baby was adorable.

8.  Ant containment failure. In of all places our bathroom. They were everywhere. Two tries with Terro were required before the little critters found the bait and took it back to their colony. Sorry, PETA people, I have neither the time or patience to live trap ants and release them in the wild.

7.  Concentration failure. My ability to concentrate has been severely impaired because of the delightful baby at our house. See #9 for one example of the effects of this system failure. Other examples include misplaced emails, getting to appointments at the wrong time, and losing my watch. If you find it, please let me know. I’m lost without it.

6.  Debit card failure. Because I forgot to activate my new one, and by the time I remembered it needed activating, the paper with instructions was lost. See #7 for the underlying cause of this system failure.

5.  Outdoor clothesline failure. After 25 years of hard use, the rectractible, outdoor clothesline’s lock mechanism that kept the lines from sagging stopped working. Though the baby in the house wears cloth diapers, we had no worries because the indoor dryer was working just fine. (See #3)

4.  Lawn mower failure. The billows of smoke coming from the engine area were the first clue something was amiss, followed by a whining sound and the engine seizing. We all saw the smoke and trust the Man of Steel’s report about the rest. He thinks it’s the transmission, but the fix-it shop is so backed up, it’ll be 10 days until they can pick it up. In the meantime, a friend is mowing for us and the Man of Steel’s entertaining ideas of ordering a transmission himself and repairing the monster (see photo) himself.

3.  Indoor clothes dryer failure. The Man of Steel says it blew a fuse because of something in the exhaust pipe is plugged. So he ordered the fuse to be shipped overnight before retrieving the outdoor clothesline from the garbage, (see #5) and jerry-rigging it so the lines don’t sag. At least not so far. Since he can’t mow the lawn these days, (see #4) he’ll have plenty of time to install the new fuse and clean the exhaust pipe once the part arrives.

2. Door knob failure. Having a baby in the house means doors are kept shut and require more frequent opening, which is putting a strain on our old farmhouse door knobs. My daughter fixed one, but the other needs the Man of Steel’s magic touch. Hopefully, some magic will remain after the clothes dryer job and before he goes to town on the mower.

1. KitchenAid blender failure. The black coupling died as the daughter finished making humus for the baby, who eats the stuff by the fistful. Thankfully, the part is cheap, and the repair is one that’s been made at our house before. Plus, the daughter made a huge batch of humus, so the blender should be working before more is needed.

Are you dealing with systems failures at your house? Leave a comment.

Ten Ways Our House Has Changed in the Last Week

What happens to an empty nest when a baby and his parents arrive? These 10 changes at our house are just the beginning.Since our daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and dog moved in a week or so ago, our house has been in a state of flux. Here are ten changes we’ve made, most of them to accommodate the most adorable 14-month-old baby in the house.

10. Though our fireplace is unused, it is irresistible to 1-year-olds. So the Man of Steel temporarily blocked it off with a cedar chest turned upside down and crowned with a wooden storage box built by the Man of Steel’s grandfather in the 1940s.

9.  Other temporary baby-proofing efforts, which will eventually be replaced with proper gadgets, include wooden stools shoved against every bottom cupboard door, keeping closet and bathroom doors shut tight, and moving all live plants to the sun porch. Thank goodness it’s spring.

8.  The refrigerator is fuller than normal and empties faster. More because of the baby’s parents than because of the baby. Except for humus, which the little one devours in copious amounts.

7.  The laundry room is doing a brisk business. The baby wears cloth diapers. Need I say more?

6.  Toys are everywhere. Some are the boy’s. Some are the dog’s. Some they share. Quite nicely, I might add.

5.  Did you know red rocks red fit perfectly into tiny fists and are light-weight enough to be toddled from hither to yon? Which explains why the landscaping rocks outside the kitchen door are all over the sidewalk, in the grass, and on the cement ledge framing the herb garden.

4.  Our home now suffers from a spoon shortage. Because when a certain child has to come inside without a lava rock in each fist, spoons are a good distraction. By mealtime, all the spoons are on the floor or where ever they have been deposited with logic that makes no sense to anyone over the age of 14 months.

3.  A certain writer finds herself taking frequent breaks because her grandson insists she is the only adult in the house fit to play “I’m gonna get you” with him. While the writer’s novel is suffering, her grandson is not.

2.  The house is full of baby squeals, especially during a game of “I’m gonna get you.”

1. Those squeals are accompanied by an infectious smile that sets both the Man of Steel and a certain writer to grinning so much their cheeks hurt.

How has your house been changing lately? Leave a comment.

Top 10 Reasons Blog Posts Have Been Hit and Miss

calendar-924930_1280Just in case you’re wondering why Gravel Road blog posts have been hit and miss lately, today’s top ten list explains why…starting from the event farthest in the past to the one farthest in the future.

10.  Going to the Access Summit near Washington, DC.

9.  Attending a Heartland AED class about how to teach adult learners, a requirement to be qualified to teach a teacher certification class to teachers, even though I’ve been teaching adult learners for over 10 years.

8.  Totally blowing off a speaking engagement at our local hospital…the first time that’s happened in over 10 years.

7.  Spending Mother’s Day weekend with my kids in Wisconsin while the Man of Steel was in Alaska…and who wants to spend Mother’s Day weekend alone?

6.  Being awakened by my own snoring while falling asleep, putting in earplugs to solve that problem, and sleeping in an hour and a half because of the earplugs. (I am not making this up.)

5.  Making a quick overnight trip to my hometown to present the first Roger Hallum Memorial Scholarship and meet his children.

4.  The daughter and her family moving in with us at the end of next week.

3.  Dancing at a family wedding in the Twin Cities on Saturday evening and flying to Michigan for the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability on Sunday morning.

2.  Attending planning meetings, preparing to train volunteers for the Wonderfully Made Family Camp, and attending the camp June 10–12.

1.  Wondering when there will be enough time to prepare for speaking at the Latvia special needs camp scheduled for the end of June.

What’s making your schedule crazy these days? Leave a comment.


10 Reasons I Love Mother’s Day

Allen & AnneMother Day will be here in 5 short days. Here are 10 things I love about the holiday.

10. Mother’s Day is the one day of the year where moms get the pay off for losing their figures, years of sleep deprivation, and total lack of privacy: breakfast in bed that consists of burnt toast, rubbery eggs, and cold coffee served with a side dish of crumbs between the sheets.

9.  Wannabe women actors improve their acting skills when their children ask them if they like the kittie earrings they picked out as a gift.

8.  Mother’s Day and spring flowers appear in tandem. Perfect timing!

7.  My early Mother’s Day present was an espresso maker and my daughter, the barista, who will give me lessons on its operation.

6.  Mother’s Day means going out to eat, and thus avoiding the what-to-make-for-supper decision, not once but twice: once with my mom and once with my kids.

5.  Spending a substantial amount of time selecting the perfect card for Mom. Not an easy task since so many cards don’t describe her style of mothering. At. All. But I enjoy the task and always manage to find one that makes her smile.

4.  I appreciate spending Mother’s Day with Mom more as the opportunities to do so dwindle year by year.

3. May 11, 1929 was both Mother’s Day and Dad’s birthday.

2.  My adorable grandkids: Sam, Molly, and Tad.

1.  My children, Allen and Anne. Could I love you any more?

What do you love about Mother’s Day? Leave a comment.

Top Ten Reflections on Four Days in DC

Thoughts about a recent trip to DC for a special needs ministry conference.What might Iowans reflect upon after a few days in the DC area speaking at a special needs ministry conference? Here’s what I’ve been thinking about the trip.

10. The bushes around the Pentagon have been trimmed with military precision. Imagine the standard military haircut. On a bush.

9.  Savoring a really good cup of decaf coffee during an airplane delay makes everything better.

8.  The overwhelming number of people of color in service positions at airports, hotels, and restaurants waiting on an equally overwhelming number of Caucasians is troubling.

7.  Sometimes, Iowans have to travel all the way to DC to meet people who live only 45 minutes from them to learn that exciting special needs ministry events are being planned in our home state.

6.  A dawn trip to the airport on a route that go past the softly lit Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials is a wonderous experience. Much prettier than the opening credits for House of Cards.

5.  When Midwesterners shake hands with people of Asian, Indian, and African descent during the “say hi to your neighbor” portion of Sunday worship, they realize they’re not in Kansas anymore.

4.  Anyone who presents a workshop at a conference really should bow down and kiss the feet of the tech people who make sure equipment runs properly. But they won’t let you. Don’t ask how I know this.

3.  Rule of thumb for speaking at special needs conferences: The speaker will cry at least once. Possibly more.

2.  When co-presenting a workshop with Katie Wetherbee, it’s like being at a party.

1.  Going out to supper with friends only seen once a year, after 36 intense hours at a special needs ministry conference, is an amazing blessing from God.

Have you ever been to DC? What do you remember? Leave a comment.

Banned Foods on this Fantastic Friday

Though I love to cook and eat, some foods aren't fit for human consumption. Here are the top 10 that will never grace my table.It’s spring again and time to ensure the safety and well-being of my family on this Fantastic Friday. This post from April of 2014 does the trick with its list of the top ten food banned from my table. Can I hear an amen?

10.  Oatmeal raisin cookies. They are nasty imposters cursed by chocolate chip lovers everywhere.

9.   Any baked good with fruit that turns the bread part soggy. Think apple cake, rhubarb bars, and oatmeal raisin cookies. It’s a texture thing.

8.   Rice pudding with raisins. See #9 for further clarification.

7.   Salmon patties. I’m referring to the kind my mother used to make with canned salmon, bread crumbs, eggs, and who knows what else. They were a mushy mess, except for the bones that could lodge in the throat. No food should be both disgusting and dangerous!

6.  Calamari. Like salmon patties, this food is a mix of disgusting and dangerous. The tentacles and suction cups are disgusting. And think about those suction cups attaching themselves to the inside of a person’s esophagus (it could happen). Dangerous!

5.   Oysters. Slimy on the outside. Sandy on the inside. Add this one to the disgusting list.

4.  Milk toast and poached eggs. Combine the soggy toast (see #9 for clarification) with the runny yolks of poached eggs, and you’ve got a food worthy of involuntary shudders. Why did my grandpa make this for us when we were already sick?

3.  Canned vegetables with the life boiled out of them. Spinach and brussel sprouts are prime examples. Canned hominy is another.

2.  Any animal organ or strange body part: tongue, heart, liver, gizzard, brain, or testicles. These foods are particularly objectionable to those with a keen visualization skills or active imaginations.

1.  Asparagus in any form. Them’s fighting words for asparagus lovers, I know, but this is my list and asparagus tops it.

Add your objections to #1 and your additions to the list in the comment box below.

Top Ten Items in My Suitcase

Since becoming an author and speaker, the contents of my suitcase have changed as a recent trip to DC shows.This weekend I’m traveling to a special needs ministry conference in the DC area. While packing my suitcase, I couldn’t help noticing how its contents have changed over the years. Way back when, it consisted mainly of clothes and shoes, as one would expect. Not so much anymore as this list reveals.

10. Gadget chargers. For Square chip reader, cell phone, computer, and the good camera. Along with the electronic equipment not packed in carry on luggage.

9.  A small insulated cooler. With cold packs. Surrounding a tub of fake butter, a bottle of fake milk, and probiotic capsules. Because they must be kept cool at all times.

8.  Work out clothes. Tennis shoes, yoga pants, sleeveless shirt, sweatshirt. You get the picture.

7.  Exercise equipment. As in a flat bed sheet folded lengthwise over and over and over, secured with rubber bands at both ends and in the middle. For hooking around an ankle while lying on one’s stomach and pulling to stretch a leg toward head. Not a pretty picture, but effective.

6. Composition notebooks. Used for Bible study and prayer journals. With a favorite Zebra pen clipped to the cover.

5. Pillowcase and fitted sheet. As in the allergenic variety to keep the hotel dust mites and bed bugs at bay. (Even though that the 1960s era Weekly Readers or my childhood announced that bed bugs had been eradicated.)

4. A Felix Unger look alike pharmacy. Complete with allergy drops, vitamin and calcium pills, immune booster capsules, allergy pills, empty capsules, oregano oil, and dropper for putting oil in empty capsules. (Disclaimer: I do not yet clear my sinuses with loud “Mwa.” )

3.  Paper copies. For hand outs and speaking notes. Along with corresponding electronic documents on a flash drive. Just in case. Because you never know.

2.  Book table paraphernalia. Gold tablecloth (purchased for $5 in Walmart clearance aisle), business cards, teddy bear, book stand, newsletter sign up sheets, bookmarks, and lots and lots of books. Which make for a very heavy suitcase.

1. Clothes. A professional outfit or two, shoes and tights to match, along with comfy travel clothes. Minus the pantyhose and slips that thankfully have gone out of style, leaving room for at least a couple more books for the book table.

Any changes in your suitcase over the years? Leave a comment without giving TMI.

Ten Ways Grandparenting Is Different from Parenting

Grandparenting is different from parenting in many wonderful ways. Here are ten of them.Our youngest grandchild turned 1 last weekend, and that momentous event got me to thinking about the differences between parenting my own kids and grandparenting their kids. Here are the top ten things that came to mind.

10. Parents make sure their little ones eat healthy food at every meal. Grandparents introduce them to things like pie, cookies, and ice cream.

9.  Parents connect every buckle, clip, and button of car seats, high chairs, safety gates, and strollers with astonishing speed and deftness. Grandparents require repeated demonstrations of how to connect everything and still make a mess of the process. Every. Single. Time.

8.  Parents get very tired of reading the same board books to their babies and toddlers over and over and over. Grandparents never do.

7.  Parents spend hours scraping stickers off of walls, baseboards, furniture, and windows. Grandparents spend hours finding the perfect stickers for their grandkids to plaster on every wall, baseboard, piece of furniture, and window they can reach.

6.  Parents steer clear of craft projects that require glitter. Grandparents love to do glitter projects with the grands. Always at the grands’ house, of course.

5.  Parents buy educational and useful presents for their kids. Grandparents purchase whatever they couldn’t afford to buy their kids back in the day.

4.  Parents see their children’s first four years through a fog of sleep deprivation. Grandparents see their grandchildren’s first four years through a cloud of indescribable, goofy, and subjective love.

3.  Parents have constants knot in their stomachs trying to protect their kids and keep them safe from themselves. Grandparents have constant smiles on their faces because they know that even though children can’t be kept completely safe from themselves, they will learn from their mistakes.

2.  Busy parents pray for their children on the fly. Grandparents have time to pray for their kids and grandkids every day. So they do.

1.  Parents love their children’s cuddles and the feel of a small, soft hand in theirs. Grandparents deeply cherish cuddling with the grands on the couch and walking down the street holding their sweet, trusting hands because they know these moments will pass, never to be experienced again.

Grandparents, what do you have to add to the list? Leave a comment.

Top Ten Treasures Unearthed in the Attic

The Man of Steel and I cleaned the attic on Saturday and discovered plenty of dust and a lifetime of memories.The Man of Steel and I cleaned the attic on Saturday. We found too many treasures to mention, but here are my top ten.

10. My 4-H record book, circa 1966–1973.

9.  The Man of Steel’s marbles, which he thought he’d lost years ago.

8.  Several high school play scripts and the dog dishes from when I played Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

7.  The dance marathon trophy won by the Man of Steel in college. He also won a trip to Kansas City and Worlds of Fun. Guess where we went for our honeymoon?

6.  A 39-year-old disintegrated wedding bouquet.

5.  The journal I kept the first few months we lived in Camp Crook in 1978. Perfect timing as I work on the second novel in my mystery series.

4.  1 wooden block from a 1980s era Fischer Price block set (the kind that came in the little wheeled cart with the pull string) given to Allen when he was a baby. Where in the world is the rest of the set?

3.  A little pillow bearing my son’s 4-year-old hand print. It made me cry.

2.  A bin filled with my daughter’s old dance costumes. They made me cry.

1.  Crumbling mementos in dusty cardboard boxes that are reminders of adventures shared with friends and family, who are priceless treasures that make life worth living.

What surprises did you find while spring cleaning? Leave a comment.