Mom, Can’t We Get a Dog, Pleeeease?

Our rescue from the local animal shelter: Sushi, a poodle mix

I was not raised with a dog. Wait — I take that back. The last home we rented in Osaka before immigrating to this country came with a dog. It belonged to the owners who lived next door. The fact that they didn’t want to live with that dog should tell you something. When I was about 7, I went out to feed that dog.  I must have startled him because he bit my hand, causing me to lose any interest in ever becoming a dog owner.

That all changed when our kids began asking for a pet. “Mom, why can’t we get a dog? We promise to take care of it.” I’m sure they meant well, but I also knew that they were only children and that the work would ultimately land on me. I did dogsit my sister’s two yorkies for a few months while she was going through a divorce, and I also took care of a lab-mix named Brit for a friend who was on vacation. These dogs were fun to play with and all, but it was also good to give them back to their owners.

David kept taking the kids to the local animal shelter, looking for dogs to adopt. He grew up in a home with a dog. It was a mutt named Lucky, just like a million other Chinese dogs. His sister Betty was the primary caretaker of the dog, while David mostly played and wrestled with the dog.

Every time they went to the shelter, our kids would find a little dog to fall in love with. They would come home with photos, begging me to let them take it home. I would say no, because I wasn’t ready for a dog. Then they both would cry, and I would feel like a heel. We went through this time and time again, until David decided to stop torturing our kids and quit going to the shelter.

One day, after singing a solo at Saddleback Church, I was in a good mood and decided to go visit the animal shelter with the rest of the family. I’m not really sure what got into me, but I began to feel like life was settling down somewhat and the kids were becoming a little more responsible. For a split second, I thought they might actually be helpful in taking care of the dog.

So we found Sushi.

In the midst of the chaos of barking, yapping, and howling that is the animal shelter, I saw this smallish white dog sitting quietly in his own cage.  I sensed that he had inner peace.

We asked to get a better look at Sushi, so they brought him into a private fenced area. Sushi calmly came in to meet us, but he was mostly interested in playing with the worker who obviously had bonded with Sushi. I was happy to see that he had the capacity to bond with people.

We couldn’t tell exactly what breed Sushi was, but we could tell he had some poodle in him. Basically, he was a mutt. He also wasn’t exactly beautiful, but he was cute…enough.

So we brought him home, got him a good haircut, and began to love on him. And Sushi began to love all of us, but none more than me. I have become his alpha dog.

Just as I had suspected, the kids helped out enthusiastically at first, but as time went on they faded away, and I became the primary dog caregiver. This is okay, because I was prepared for it.

Once, David sighed, “I wish we knew more about Sushi’s background, but he’s adopted.”

“Honey,” I said.  “All dogs are adopted.”  I was reminding him that no human ever gave birth to a dog.  But now, Sushi is definitely a part of our family, and he reminds us everyday that God also adopted us into His family.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonshipthrough Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

- Ephesians 1:4,5

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Do you have pets?  Tell me the story behind how you got them!

Tikes, Trikes, and Bikes

Since we’ve been on the topic of wheels this week, I thought I’d go back and list all the 2-, 3-, and 4-wheel vehicles my children have owned over the years.

1. Little Tikes Toy Coupe

Josh's first vehicle

Josh loved his first little car. It’s a one horse — er, one kid — power vehicle which he scooted around and around our backyard when he could barely walk. A self-powered monster like the Flintstones’, it still could pick up enough speed for Josh to lose his black and yellow checkered sneakers and overturn by going too fast around the corner. After our daughter was old enough to ride it, Josh would climb on its roof and catch a free ride from his toddler sister. We used it frequently and kept it in the backyard until it eventually disintegrated in the sun. We’ve since discovered that it is not compostable.

2. Tricycle

"some assembly required"

We ordered this primary colored unit online, and I personally assembled it for Josh’s second birthday. I loved the fact that it came with a mommy-handle. Kind of like the brakes on the passenger side of the driving school car, it helped keep our toddler under control. Both of our kids used this little tricycle for their preschool’s very successful bike-a-thon. You can only go so fast, because the pedals are attached to the teeny front wheel. I could still picture Josh pedaling his heart out to keep pace with me pushing Meg in her little stroller on our way to the park. Those were the days.

3. Bike with training wheels

Every boy's first bicycle

When it was time for Josh to move up to a bike, we did what all good parents do: get one with training wheels. David went to a real bike shop and bought one a lot like the little bike pictured, also in red. He spent over $200 for it, which was really crazy and impulsive but loving at the same time. However, now David can’t bare to part with it no matter how miniature it has become for either of our kids. It pains him too much to donate it. David’s still deciding which kid is worthy of this hefty investment. Maybe our grandkids someday.

4. Scooter

The Razor -- the best training wheels for your bicycle!

One day, we decided to go to Target and get our kids a $66 Razor scooter. Very basic, this scooter had no brakes and folded in half for easy carriage (not that we carried it anywhere). Best of all, it was cheap. So cheap, in fact, that we could be fair and get one for each child. They were about 4 and 6 at the time, old enough to scoot next to me while I jogged to the park. You know what’s the most amazing thing about this scooter? Our kids learned to ride the bicycle because of it! They learned to balance on it, so the next time the kids sat down on a bicycle without training wheels, they rode off as if they had been riding their whole lives! So here’s a free advice for you parents: if you want your kids to learn to ride a bicycle without training wheels, put them on the scooter first.

5. Girly bike for Meg

Girly girl bike for Meg

Poor Meg had to use hand-me-down equipment from her brother most of her life up to that point. We purposely chose tricycles and bikes in gender-neutral colors so they both could use them, but it was time to get her a full-on girly bike. Fortunately, our neighbor was giving one away (unlike my husband), so Meg was able to receive a pre-owned, certified girly bicycle, a lot like this one pictured, complete with streamers on the handles. The training wheels came off immediately, though, thanks to those Razors.

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Now our garage looks like this:

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…and we plan to bring these down from the ceiling eventually to go on a family bike ride.  We really mean it!

 

Moms and Online Shopping

Shop for shoes like these Nikes!

We all love receiving a package from FedEx or UPS.  I realize that most of the time you already know who sent you this gift (yourself), and you already know exactly what’s inside the package (you ordered it).  Nonetheless, there’s something thrilling about seeing that truck drive up to your house, park, and make that creaky sound as they open the back door of the truck, and watching the guy or gal in the uniform walk up to your door.  It’s like Christmas on an otherwise normal day!

We moms like this even more, because we can’t get out that much and go to the malls while our kids are young.  It’s just too much trouble to chase around the toddlers while trying to look for items of interest to you.  You either lose a child (which I almost did several times) or end up buying weird things.

I don’t know about you, but when I shop it’s all about focus.  I need to concentrate on style, fit, quality, and — most importantly — bargain.  “Never pay retail,” was my friend Laurie’s mantra before her untimely passing from cancer earlier this year.  I need to make sure that her message lives on.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to find out about this online shopping site become.com.  Now, I must fully disclose and be honest because you’re my friends: this post is sponsored by the good folks at become.com.  However, I also need you to know that I’m only going to review sites and products that are truly worth talking about (or, in some cases, warning you about) from the increasing number of sites who submit their products for me to review and endorse because, I guess, I’m a full-blown blogger now.

The thing I really liked about become.com is that it scours the internet for the best bargain at multiple sites.  It’s like Expedia.com for shoppers — a clearing house for all the best prices!  I don’t know about you, but if I need to make an online purchase, I check out Amazon.com, eBay, and other sites separately to compare prices for the same product.  This takes time.  I don’t have much time.  So instead, you go to this one site, and it gives you the best deal on your item at several reputable sites in nano seconds!

For example, say you are searching for a Nanette Lepore My Song jacket in small.   Do a search on it, and voila!  You get search results from Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Last Call, complete with sale prices, if any.  Try it yourself and check out a gray dot Shoshanna dress, and again, you’ll get results from Neiman Marcus, Saks, etc. Great department stores!

I am more interested in Nike women’s running shoes, so I did a search and got results from FootLocker, Zappos, and Nike’s official store.  If you’re on the opposite end of the exercising spectrum and want to lounge around in your plus size beaded evening tops, then you’ll find them at LaneBryant’s and Macy’s.  You’ll be redirected to those department store sites via become.com and can continue shopping there.  I think I’ve just discovered the key to my (online shopping) happiness!

So check it out and see for yourself.  I think I’m going to have a parade of FedEx and UPS drivers coming down our street soon.

Strollers, strollers, and strollers

My husband got a new car the other day.  Actually, it’s a used car, but it sounds better to say “certified pre-owned.”  David loves wheels.  He can’t stop poring over Motor Trend and other car mags.  He feels that he’s finally gotten his dream car, but that’s what he said about his last car too.

When our kids were young, they had wheels, too.  I don’t remember how many strollers we went through, but we sure spent a lot of money on those buggies.  Here are just some of the models we invested in:

1.  Strollers and infant car seat set (approx. $160)

Our first stroller kinda looked like this Graco model

We wanted to be practical and purchase a stroller which would serve us for a long time; thus, we decided on this combined unit.  This was a good investment and we got great use out of it.  But what I liked the best about this was that when the baby was still in the snapped-on car seat, I had the entire toddler seat to put all of our stuff in — baby bag, my purse, groceries, jackets, toys, car battery, you name it.  For this reason, I kept our baby in the car seat until his feet and head were hanging off the ends so that the toddler seat would remain free. We eventually did we move all our stuff into the teeny basket under the seat, but it sagged from the weight and scraped the ground as we rolled along.

2.  Lightweight travel stroller (at the time $200)

Before we embarked on our first trip with a baby to Japan, we decided to leave the aforementioned stroller at home and use a small, lightweight one.  We found one at Babies ‘R Us that was perfect.  It had leopard print, and it even reclined so Josh could nap as we walked around Tokyo.  It was a little pricey, but we used it on many trips.  Ironically, it was made in Japan.

3.  Baby jogger (about $399)

The stroller which would only go straight.

As soon as I got the okay from the doctor to get back to exercising, I went out and got me a baby jogger.  It was purple, heavy, and it had a tendency to go straight.  That’s great until you have to make a turn.  It took everything I had to make it go to the right or left; otherwise, it took about a quarter mile to make that 90 degree turn.  At times, I had to push down on the handle to lift up the front wheel to change directions.  This became more and more difficult as my baby grew bigger and bigger.  After a while, I just gave up and joined the gym, and the jogger collected dust until we gave it to another new (unsuspecting) mom.

4.  Umbrella strollers (about $20)

Your typical disposable umbrella stroller

These disposable strollers are great.  I probably went through three or four of them during our toddler years.  They’re lightweight, they’re cheap, and they have zero support.  I used them all the time, especially to go shopping.  The only bummer was that when the toddler got up, the whole stroller fell down backwards from the weight of all the bags hanging on the handles.

5.  Double stroller (about $225)

After much debate over whether to go front-and-back or side-by-side, we opted for the unit which looked just like this photo so we could navigate the narrow aisles at stores.  The two kids enjoyed riding this like a choo-choo train.  The only trouble was that this stroller was incredibly heavy — 50 pounds, I believe.  When the kids were getting bigger and heavier and throwing cheerios at each other, we knew it was time to give this model up too

Our kids are obviously too old and big for strollers now, but I sure miss how cute our kids were during those years.  And in only a couple of more years, one of them will be driving a real car.  Yikes!

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How many strollers did you own?  What was your favorite model?

 

Halloween shopping…in May.

It’s mid-May.  It’s almost Memorial Day.  Soon, you can start wearing white.  It’s also time to start thinking about your kids’ Halloween costumes for next October!

Too early, you say?  Well, consider this: you’ll have to a) either custom make your costumes or b) purchase them at retail stores or online at places for kids’ Halloween costumes.  Either way you’ll want to get a head start on it.  If your kids are as picky as mine, you will need a lot of time to prepare for this fall event, whether trick-or-treating in the neighborhood or attending the many Harvest Festival-like events at churches and community centers around town.

Last year, I got really ambitious and actually made their costumes.  I don’t know what got into me, but I went and invested in a sewing machine!  Meg wanted a unique costume, so we went to JoAnne’s and found a McCall’s pattern for a mermaid costume, bought fabric, and got down to work.

I hadn’t sewn since high school.  The last outfit I sewed was my prom dress.  It was a pretty yellow wrap dress, one-of-a-kind.  I was making good headway and was just sewing up the final seam along the length of the entire dress, when I proudly held up my couture outfit.  I was horrified to discover that I had actually sewn the skirt I was wearing right onto my new dress!  Time to bring out the seam ripper.

My mermaid costume was not quite as disastrous, but I did have to utilize the seam ripper a couple of times.  This is how it turned out:

I was still on a roll, so I went on to sew this number for Josh without a pattern.   Yes, you heard me right: Freehand!  My son showed me a character from “Adventure Time,” and I made my own pattern on newsprint, just like my mom used to do when I was growing up.  Actually, this photo shows my second attempt at Josh’s costume, as the first attempt was…a “practice run.”  Good thing I had purchased extra fabric.

Unless you are temporarily crazy like I was last fall, you will want to spare yourself the hassle and go right to a costume store.  There are lots of them nearby, many temporarily utilizing vacant store spaces in strip malls in town.  You will need to cover your kids’ eyes as you walk past the “adult” costumes section, though.  “Mommy, why is the nurse’s costume so short?” “What’s that whip for?”  Ummmm…

If you want to avoid retail stores altogether, it is so easy to go online and find costumes.  Check out online Halloween costume stores where they have a bigger selections of costumes than you can possibly find at retail stores.  Order during the summer so they don’t run out of your favorites (as I once found out the hard way on a particular mid-October afternoon)!  Be the first on the block to get the most popular costumes.  The best thing is that they deliver right to your door.  What mom would turn that down?

(This blog was brought to you by the friends at www.halloweenmart.com.  You know you’re a real blogger when businesses start advertising on your blog site, which is now the case with this Panda Mom!)

 

Back in Sync with a Teenager

Josh earning his keep during my WV interview in the Dominican Republic

Something about this trip to the Dominican Republic restored a part of my relationship with my 14-year old son, Josh, which had recently become somewhat…out of balance.  It had been a stressful couple of weeks leading up to our departure, what with the illness which swept through our home, his oral surgery, and that “issue” with his report card and all.

Josh had always been my buddy.  Yes, I’m still his mama, but in many ways we had always shared a sweet friendship, and we’d talk about anything and everything.  “He talks like he’s an adult,” his first grade teacher once told me.  “You guys are doing a great job as parents.”  I proudly wore such compliment as a badge of honor on my heart.

Sometime during this school year, though, we began to slip out of sync.  Maybe that’s just life with a teenager, but I hadn’t been comfortable with it.  Our conversations became littered with defensiveness and misunderstanding.  They became, more often than not, one-way conversation (aka, nagging).

As Josh saw first-hand what poverty truly looks like this week in DR, I watched a part of his heart soften.  I don’t know exactly what he was thinking – teenage boys don’t always verbalize their thoughts to Mom – but I saw something in his eyes change as he played with the many little children who came up to him.

Meeting Francis was the turning point.  There was no mistaking that Josh’s life is drastically different – much better in so many ways — than Francis’, and I could tell that he felt moved to try and do his part to make life better for Francis and his family.  Maybe he felt pity, which was a big improvement from not caring at all.  But while playing catch with this 13-year old boy, using the baseball and mitt we gave as gifts, I saw two boys on equal footing (actually, Francis has better arm than Josh!), sharing a common interest.  Maybe in that moment, Josh switched from thinking of Francis as a victim of poverty; he was simply with a new friend.

His heart moved from pity to compassion.

Back at the hotel, he was joking with me like he hadn’t in a long time.  He was a my buddy again.  It was difficult saying goodbye to our travel group, as we had to leave one day early so Josh wouldn’t miss the entire week of school.  Josh had become an integral part of our team rather than “Junko’s son.”  Everyone hugged him goodbye and wished him well for his science test tomorrow.  Back to reality.

As we head home, I hope and pray that his heart continues to be filled with compassion and that he never forgets that these impoverished children are not nameless faces but God’s precious sons and daughters…and potential friends.  May he never forget that even at 14, Josh can do his part to make life a little brighter for one teenager in a foreign country.

And May I continue to have a restored bond with my teenager.

Visiting with Francis, our World Vision sponsored child

Would you like to sponsor a child like Francis through World Vision?  If you’re interested, please click right here to go to the World Vision website.

Meeting our Sponsored World Vision Child Francis

On Wednesday this week, we had the opportunity to meet and spend a little time with our sponsored child Francis in the rural area of the Dominican Republic.  It was an unforgettable day for me, but this experience made a huge impression in Josh.  I’ll have more thoughts to blog on later, but here are some photos of our experience:

 

Josh and his new friend Francis, 13 years-old

The grandparents raise 9 grankids in this dilapidated home. World Vision is going to build them a new home.The grandparents are raising 9 grandkids ranging from 2 years to 16 in this dilapidated home.  World Vision is going to build them a new home.

We brought Francis some baseballs and a mitt. He's got arm!

We were so pleased to make one child's day with a few gifts! But our best gift will be to support him monthly until he graduates school.

 

Birth Order and God’s Infinite Wisdom

Photo courtesy iStockphoto.com

I often asked myself why, when I became a mom to Josh, did God give us the gift of a difficult baby first.  He cried constantly, and he was never satisfied. Life was very rough for us all during those early months of his life.  Lord, why couldn’t You have given us our second baby — an usually easy infant — first?  That would have gone miles towards easing me into this thing called parenting.  Couldn’t have I gone on the slow train first, then worked my way up to the express instead of jumping on the bullet train immediately?  I was hanging on for dear life from the moment he was born!

In contrast, Meg, our second baby, was the poster child of an easy infant.  She slept and slept, ate and ate, and only whimpered occasionally.  To the point where I actually became concerned that she might be mute.  I started to picture my daughter never uttering a sound and needing to learn sign language.  I also checked obsessively that she was still breathing while she quietly slept, which she did all day and all night.

She did eventually wake up, and I soon found out that her voice box works just fine.

Why, O Lord, wasn’t she born first?

Then it dawned on me one day that this was all in God’s plan.

He gave me a tough baby first so that I would be forced to turn my attention, fully focused, on my family!

You see, until that point in my life, I was focused only on myself – my dreams, my career, me, me, me.  I didn’t realize this, of course, believing that I was an altruistic, caring person who gave unselfishly to others, including, if I felt like it sometimes, to my husband.  My time was mine to use, and my money, my own.  I was always on the go, enjoying all of my many activities, none more than traveling and making music.

If Meg had been born first, I would have easily continued on my path, basically ignoring her because she was so not demanding.  I could have carried her like a purse or a stuffed bear.  I could have left her with a sitter all day and all night, because she was so easy.

Instead, I was forced to drop everything and turn all of my focus and energy to my firstborn who was never satisfied.  He accepted no artificial substitutes – no bottles, no binkies, no baby swings – but demanded only the real deal.

Initially, I thought I could blaze on with my music ministry with a baby.  I hired a sitter to travel with me to faraway places, thinking she would happily play with him as I sang on stage.  Unfortunately, things never worked out quite so well.  Upon hearing him wail backstage, my milk would start flowing mid-song, much to my embarrassment.  Our sitter nearly lost her hearing from his incessant cries.  After a while, it just became too stressful to juggle everything, so I just gave up and got off the road.  We bonded, and to this day we still have a strong bond, my sweet, sensitive teenager and I.

By the time Meg came around, I was used to focusing on my baby, so focus I did.  Meg, of all babies, could have been fine with sitters, bottles, and binkies, but I had become very much a hands-on mom.  In fact, I forced my very independent daughter to bond with her mommy!  Otherwise, she could have been neglected, and she could have continued on without really bonding with anyone.  Today, I have a preteen daughter who can talk to me about anything.  Our bond is quite strong.

So, you see how God had this all planned out so well?  He is so wise and infinitely beyond what I could have even asked or imagined.  In fact, I loathe to think what could have happened if I had had an easy baby first.

Thank You, Lord, for your perfect plan!

View from the hotel in the Dominican Republic where I am traveling with World Vision this week

How did your kids’ birth order affect your parenting style?  Tell me about it in the comments below.