Reducing Computer Time…Again

We’re conducting an experiment in our house…we’re reducing the kids’ computer time significantly.

Over the summer, things got out of hand. I was working a part time job from my home, and the kids had to be quiet for about 6 hours a day, 3 days a week. Add to that weekends, and having a mom that can’t drive (so can’t run them all over town), and we had a summer in front of the screen. Keep in mind my kids are 11 and 15. It’s harder to keep that age away from the technology. It’s their life! Especially for one of the kids…the teenager.

Then came the start of school, and their “screen time schedule” got uprooted. What?! Go to school for 7 hours a day or more?! That’s insane! What are the schools thinking demanding that of my poor kids! (Please note my sarcasm).

So, after first quarter grades came out…the hammer came down!

I should add that, though not catastrophic, the grades just weren’t up to the standards we require.

It seemed as if there was very little homework, or that it had “magically” gotten done in class at school. Yeah, well…my parents never believed that and neither do I.

The new rules are that no one goes on the computer, except for school-related homework or projects, until after dinner. Which, depending on the evening schedule, doesn’t leave a lot of time.

It’s only been a week, but already I see improvement. Kids aren’t exhibiting as much stress, they aren’t rushing through homework to get to their computer time, and they are all around nicer to be around. They even TALK TO ME now.

We are also re-instituting “family game night.”

I can tell you that this initially did NOT go over well with them. There was a lot of groaning and eye-rolling (again, mostly from the older one). But then I explained that I didn’t want the only time I talked to them to be “do your homework,” “come eat dinner,” “go take a shower,” and “get up for school!”

They, of course, disagreed that this was occurring, until I pointed out that by the time I get home from work, they have already done their homework (so they said), and had already gotten on the computer. Then I made dinner, they stopped the computer long enough to eat together (all of 20 minutes, if I was lucky), then go take showers and go back to the computer, then off to bed! No words! No talking! If I didn’t get them to talk between bites of food at the dinner table, we just didn’t talk!

As I’m writing this, it occurs to me how much judgment I am probably incurring from many parents reading this. I get it. But we all mess up. We all get lazy sometimes. And after working a full day (which I haven’t done for 15 years) I’ll admit it…I was tired! I almost welcomed the quiet. But it wasn’t good for any of us.

So, we’ll see how it goes. I’ll write a follow-up post to this in a few months. Hopefully, we won’t have gotten lost and fallen back into our old pattern. Hopefully, the semester grades will be stunning! Hopefully, we’ll even enjoy talking to each other.

What’s your rule for computer/technology use during the school year? Are you able to stay consistent?

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Chapter One – Understanding Kasey

“You’re late,” Chase scolded as the bell that hung on the front door jingled.

Kasey held the door open with her foot and she struggled to close her umbrella. She blew her bangs out of her face.

“I know, I know. Are you going to jump all over me too?!” she spoke harshly.

“Jeez, what’s your problem?” Chase growled.

“What do you think?” she said. She set her umbrella in the stand by the front door of Summer’s Coffee Shop, as the door banged closed behind her.

She walked behind the counter and set her purse down with a thud.

Chase had seen her in this mood before, too many times to count.

“Your mom?” he asked, with a little more compassion.

She didn’t answer, which let him know he was right. He reached in the front glass display case and grabbed two pastries, set them each on a plate and then onto his serving tray.

“You’d think if you had to ask ten times where your shoes were that they wouldn’t be on your feet, right?” Kasey said sarcastically.

“Did you find them?” he piped back.

“Very funny,” she said as she went about her business of setting up the coffee machine.

Chase tried to stay out of her way as best he could. She was in a mood, and he didn’t want to be another casualty.

“Well, she’s the adult daycare’s problem now. At least for a few hours,” she said.

“Why don’t you have a cup of coffee before we get too many customers? I think the croissants are fresh,” Chase said, feeling guilty for coming down on her. He knew she had her hands full with her mom.

Without a word, she started the coffee machine and went to the kitchen to get a croissant. She returned just in time to get the first drips out of the coffee machine. She held her cup under the spout as the black elixir filled her cup.

The bell on the front door rang as a customer walked in and made her way to a table.

“Oh, great…she’s here already?” Kasey grumbled.

“I got her. You eat,” Chase said as he walked out to the dining area.

“Morning, Willow. You want the regular?” Chase asked.

“Thank you, Chase. That would be lovely,” Willow said. Willow tied back her grey hair with a red ribbon, pulled out her notebook and began to write.

Chase went back behind the counter where Kasey had poured herself a full cup of coffee, and was in the process of drinking it down. He noticed Kasey kept her eyes on Willow.

“What does she write in that thing anyways?” Kasey whispered to Chase.

“Who knows? You know she’s an author, right?” Chase mentioned.

“Aren’t they all?”

“No, really. She’s published and everything,” he said.

“Yeah. I bet,” Kasey said. She was skeptical. It seemed every artsy-looking customer with a notebook or a laptop thought they were a writer.

“I think she writes novels,” he continued, ignoring her attitude.

“Just what the world needs. Another writer.”

“Look, you better change you attitude before any more customers come in,” Chase suggested. He knew he was poking the bear, but someone had to tell her to get a grip.

He waited for the rage, but was surprised when she only sighed and rested her head in her hands on the counter. She didn’t want Chase to know that she really was concerned about her mom. You can’t live with someone with Alzheimer’s and not worry about them. But it just got so tiring, day in and day out. She didn’t want Chase to know that she was barely making ends meet. Between the coffee shop and the night job at the Rusty Anchor, she hoped they would be better off than they were. But her mom’s disability barely paid for her daycare, forget about daily expenses. Some days she felt horrible about the way she treated her mom and the things she wished on her. If anyone knew her deepest thoughts they’d have her thrown in jail. But no 25-year-old should have to take care of their aging parent. It wasn’t fair, but such was life. At least her life.

 

Kasey took a cup of coffee to the two moms at the table near the window. She smiled at the toddlers that were dropping their toys on the floor and laughing. The moms were not amused.

“Cute, aren’t they?” Willow said to Kasey as she walked by.

“Huh?” Kasey asked. She wasn’t sure that Willow was talking to her. “I guess.”

“Do you have any kids?” Willow asked.

Why did she want to talk? Couldn’t she tell Kasey was working? She tried her best to be polite. “No, no kids.”

Kasey cleared the table beside Willow.

“Do you want kids?” Willow asked.

“Pardon me?” Kasey asked. “I’m sorry, but isn’t that kind of a personal question?”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. I was just making conversation. I won’t bother you again,” Willow apologized.

“Yeah, well…it’s okay,” Kasey said, and got away from there as quickly as she could.

“What’s wrong with that woman?” Kasey asked Chase.

“What? Who? Willow? She’s harmless,” Chase said.

“Harmless, maybe. But she’s a little pushy.”

“Pushy?” Chase asked, baffled.

“Yes. She was asking me if I had kids. That’s not any of her business!” Kasey complained.

“Oh, I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it. She’s just a little, well, eccentric, that’s all,” Chase defended.

“I know, I know…she’s a writer. What should I expect, right?” Kasey said, and cracked a smile.

Chase smiled back. He took the coffee pot out to refill Willow’s cup.

“Refill?” he asked Willow.

Willow looked up from her journal.

“Oh, thanks, Chase. I think I offended your friend,” she said.

“She’ll be fine. She’s tough. Trust me, she’s done her share of offending too,” Chase said.

“Still, please tell her I’m sorry.”

“Will do,” Chase said.

 

After a busy morning, they got a break in customers. Chase brought a box of books out from the back room and set it on one of the tables. Summer’s Coffee Shop was an old building, originally a shoe shine business in the 1920s. The walls were lined with mementos from an era long gone. It had gone through several owners since then, and had been several different kinds of businesses. It had been a barber shop, a pawn shop, and a book store. When the current owner took over, he’d found an old shoe shine chair in the back room. He restored it, and installed it in the front window. It was a conversation piece for sure, and kids would climb on it and pretend to shine each other’s shoes. The parents always thought it was cute, but Chase and Kasey found it annoying, especially when they’d have to clean up the sticky fingerprints or crumbs.

The built-in book shelves had survived the many changes, and now Summer’s used them to their advantage. The shelves were filled with all sorts of books, from children’s books and classic reads, to modern sci-fi and romance. Chase had a box full of books that someone had donated. He pulled them out one by one and found space on the shelves for them.

“Anything good?” Kasey asked.

“Eh, not much. I didn’t know you read,” he teased.

“Of course I read!” she said and threw her towel at him. “When I get the time,” she mumbled.

“In that case, here’s a nice book for you,” he said and handed her a book.

She took it and looked at the cover. There was a photo of a couple standing on the beach silhouetted by the sunset. “What the…?” she tossed it back at him, and he laughed.

“What’s the matter? Isn’t ‘A Walk Along the Shore’ your kind of book?” he laughed.

She glared at him.

“Then how about this one?” he said and tossed her another.

“Buddy’s First Day at School? Very funny! Closer, but no!” she said and tossed it back.

He laughed so hard he nearly fell off the ladder. He was more amused at his comment than Kasey was.

Kasey laughed when he stumbled. “Serves you right!” she taunted. “Are you sure you can you handle that by yourself? My shift is about over, but I’d hate to leave you crashed on the floor,” Kasey said, and laughed again.

“It’s that time already?” he asked.

“Yep. Time to go pick up Mom and straighten out any problems she caused at daycare,” Kasey said, and exhaled slowly.

“Good luck with that. See you tomorrow!” Chase called, but she was already out the door.

“That girl has got a lot on her shoulders. Hope she’s okay,” he said quietly to himself.

 

Kasey pulled into the parking lot at Cornerstone Adult Daycare. She sat for a moment to enjoy the peace and quiet before she picked up her mom. When she started to get suspicious looks from other people coming and going, she decided it was time to go in.

Helen was working at the front desk.

“Afternoon, Miss Kasey,” Helen said in her syrupy southern accent. Kasey wasn’t sure where she was from, but that accent…some days it was the best sound she’d ever heard, and other days it grated on her last nerve. Today was somewhere in between.

“Hi, Helen. Is my mom ready?” Kasey asked as she signed in on the clipboard.

“Let me check,” Helen said and picked up the phone. She called back to the nurses’ station and mumbled something that Kasey didn’t quite hear.

“They almost have her cleaned up. Why don’t you go on back? She’s in the TV room,” Helen said and smiled a toothy smile.

“Thanks.” Clean her up? What had she gotten into now?

Kasey walked down the long sterile hallway to the activity room. She pushed the buzzer and the nurse buzzed her in to the room. She pushed on the heavy door. Clarence sat playing checkers with Mr. Hall. Kasey wondered how long their games took and if they ever finished one. She never saw them speak to one another. Her mom sat at the table on the patio. The nurse waved Kasey over.

“Look who’s here, Naomi. It’s your daughter,” the nurse said.

“Hi, Mom,” Kasey said, and kissed her mom on the top of the head.

Her mom smiled. “Well, hello sweetie. Aren’t you a lovely girl.”

Kasey turned to the nurse. “Everything okay? Helen said you had to clean her up. She wasn’t any trouble, was she?”

“No, not today. Just spilled a little juice on her sweater. I tried to get it cleaned off as much as she would let me. You may have to use some spot cleaner on it though,” the nurse said apologetically.

Kasey looked at the 3-inch round, purple spot right on the front of the lapel. It didn’t look like she had tried to clean it up at all. But, then again, her mom could be cantankerous at times. Maybe she didn’t want the spot cleaned.

“Thanks. I’ll see what I can do. Ready to go, Mom?” Kasey asked.

The nurse helped her mom stand, and Kasey took her hand. Her mom smiled, and went willingly with Kasey. Kasey often wondered how easy it would be for a stranger to take her mom with them. She would go with just about anyone, at least on her good days.

Kasey eyed Clarence and Mr. Hall on the way out. Nothing had been moved on the chessboard.

Naomi hummed to the radio on the way home. She didn’t know the song, but that didn’t stop her from trying to hum along. At least she was on key.

When they got home, Kasey helped Naomi into the house and reminded her to use the bathroom. She’d made the mistake of not reminding her once, and there was still a spot on the carpet as a reminder. She fluffed up the pillows on Naomi’s chair and turned on the TV to the Shopping Network. She wasn’t sure why, but Naomi could watch that channel for hours, and so long as she was safely occupied, Kasey could make dinner and get ready for the evening shift at the Rusty Anchor.

Getting Real – what real friendship is about

There we were, 12 women, sitting on the patio of a neighborhood coffee shop on a balmy summer evening as the sun set behind us. We saw each other nearly every weekend at church. We passed in the hallway, and waved or nodded “hello” as we dropped our kids off at Sunday school and then headed back to the sanctuary for service.

But as we sat on that patio and discussed our study, we began to realize that we were virtual strangers.

We shared the same beliefs, and were friendly enough to carry on small talk about school being over, and swim team starting up, but we never really got into the nitty-gritty of life. We never got messy, or shared the dirt of our lives. We kept that to ourselves, to guard like some dirty secret.

We never really got “real” with one another.

That’s what it’s like for so many women in this technological age. We communicate quickly, usually through a text, and in abbreviations. But we never really hold each other up and bear with one another under the weight of life.

How many times have you answered “Fine” when someone asked how things were going, when you wanted to scream the truth…that you really needed a friend and wanted to just sit and talk about life for a while?

But we say we’re busy…but are we really?

We can’t afford to be that busy. We can’t afford to be autonomous islands who can do ten things at once and still have dinner on the table at 6:00pm and the kids in bed by 9:00pm. And who really reaches that goal anyways?

If we would just be “real” with one another we’d know that there are no Jones’ to keep up with…they don’t exist. The Jones’ are a myth, an anomaly, that we created just to keep us feeling like we’ll never measure up.

So, there we were…12 women, sitting on the porch on a balmy summer eve, learning something about each other. But more importantly, learning something about ourselves. We aren’t so different from one another. I fail just like you do. I will never get the kids to bed by 9:00pm, and dinner might be on the table by 6:00pm, but you can bet it will be take-out picked up on the way home from soccer practice.

Therein lies the beauty of being a woman: we are flawed for a reason. We are flawed so that we can be empathetic and supportive to one another. We’re flawed so that we can hold each other up when life seems too big to stand alone. We weren’t meant to go it alone.

We were made flawed so that we can be “real,” not some fictional character that we can never reach.

Right there on that patio, we decided to be “real” from then on. We decided not to hide behind smiles, or schedules, or texts. We decided to be accountable to one another. To say how we really felt, even if it wasn’t fine. To ask for help if we needed it, and not be ashamed. And to laugh…I mean one of those laughs that starts at your toes and makes your eyes tear and your head hurt where you can’t catch your breath.

Because being “real” is so much better than pretending. Being “real” is the best part of having female friends.

What do you need to do to be “real” with your friends?

Make home improvements OR remain happily married?

 

Years ago, I worked at a carpet store, where I constantly heard stories, nightmares really, of how miserable it was to go through a home improvement. Couples couldn’t agree on carpet color or texture, and deciding between hardwood floors or laminate proved equally objectionable.

My husband and I have never gone through anything as extensive as a remodel, and I dread the day that we do. I think moving might be a better choice than coming to verbal blows over tile or hardwood.

It’s that time of year for us when the H.O.A. (Home Owner’s Association) makes its annual assessment of our properties. HOA’s are great for keeping property values up, I suppose, but their “improvements” never seem to improve my checkbook or my marriage, and this year is no exception.

This year, it’s our deck. Though it can hardly be called a “deck,” rather more like a balcony. It’s on the second level and measures all of 6’x8’. We never even use it because it faces our neighbor’s living room, and unless we suddenly develop an interest in peering in on our neighbor’s lives, we will continue to not use it.

Now my husband and I complement each other, in that his strengths are my weaknesses and vice-versa. It’s how we work. But when it comes to working together on a home improvement, we’ve learned that it’s best if we stay out of each other’s way.

I’m usually the DIY person around the house, so I was really surprised when he said that he wanted US to do part of the improvement. What?! Is he crazy?! We can’t do that! We’ll kill each other! Not to mention that we don’t have the proper tools, or expertise to do said improvement.

We compromised: we hired a handyman to do the actual repairs, but my husband insisted that we could do the painting. I was skeptical to say the least. That meant renting a ladder (we don’t own an extension ladder) and one of us would have to go up that ladder and do the painting, and it wasn’t going to be me…not this time. But he assured me that we could get it done.

I called my brother who happens to be a handyman in another state (he inherited my Dad’s skill), and I was feeling pretty confident. Maybe we could do this. Maybe if we pulled together, and had a plan, we could work together and paint the balcony, without ending up in divorce court.

That was two weeks ago.

Since then, we’ve argued about getting it done, having enough time to get it done, doing it right but quickly, getting it done in the timeframe the H.O.A. allotted.

Just to add more stress, my husband suddenly got really busy at work, I got a new job, and time was still ticking. Tensions were running high!

I started with a coat of primer on the deck today, and realized…we are in over our heads!

I put in a call to a handyman, and he’s coming tomorrow.

Now, maybe I reacted to soon. Maybe we could have done it ourselves. Maybe we could have done it without killing each other.

But it just seems like a couple hundred dollars for a handyman will be much less expensive than marriage counseling would have cost.

How about you? Have you and your significant other ever attempted a home improvement together?

Forever a Church “Visitor”

 

I’ve forgotten how to “do church.”

It wasn’t something I intentionally set out to do. On the contrary, I love church, I love fellowship, I love God and all He stands for. My family and I were part of a “church family” for 15 years. We stayed after on Sundays and helped clean up, we filled in where needed, we washed dishes at the annual church-wide Thanksgiving Dinner, we helped with the youth, we served time in the nursery (some of you will relate to my wording there), I sang in the choir, I sang on the worship team, I led a women’s Bible study, whatever we were asked…we did. Because that’s how a church body works.

And then we moved 2000 miles away from our church family, and had to start over. That was 5 years ago, and I still feel like a “visitor” in what we call our “home church.”

We have been to 5 churches, and it’s downright embarrassing when someone asks us “where we’re going to church now?” But we can’t find our “fit.”

I’m not looking for perfection, I’m not working on an emotional response. I’m not trying to replace my “first love” of our last church, because I know it had flaws too. But I’ve never before experienced a point where I just didn’t feel compelled to go to church. And my kids feel it too. Of course, they’re older now, being pre-teen and teen aged, and having to get up on the weekend and get ready for church doesn’t exactly elicit cheers from them. But it’s more than that.

There is no connection. No real, connection.

They don’t even know the names of most of the kids they go to Sunday school with, and they NEVER mention them…ever!

The churches where we live tend to be much bigger than we’re used to, bordering on mega-church status. And I have to admit that, though large churches have their advantages of a vast number of “activities,” I find that people get lost in all that “busyness.” It’s easy to fall through the cracks, even if you do try to get plugged in, it takes so much longer to make any real connections than in their smaller counterparts.

I’m really at a loss as to what to do. We can’t keep searching. My daughter caught me checking out a smaller church, closer to our home, and she flipped. Not because she has made so many good friends at our current church (she can’t even name one of them) and she would hate to leave them, but because she’s just tired of switching, as are my husband and me. It isn’t fair to them, or to us.

I’ll admit that the big churches are intimidating to me, and I’m a rather social person. But getting plugged in to the right connections seems nearly impossible.

I want to lean on one another, and experience each other’s lives. Not just the cleaned-up version that people present on Sunday, but the dirty version you are on Monday and Tuesday and the rest of the week.

I can’t figure out if it’s a symptom of the area we live in, or if it’s a symptom of the age were living in.

We’ve prayed about this, believe me we have. And we’ve had no clear answers.

So, I wonder what church we will “visit” tomorrow? Should we go to our “usual church” and blend into the background, smile politely and shake hands, knowing that those relationships will probably never go any further than that? Or should we let the kids sleep in, and just my husband and I go to the “new” church up the street?

If anyone has any useful suggestions as to how they changed churches successfully, I’d love to hear them. Because I’d like to get rid of my “visitor” name tag one of these days.

Words on the page

I would express my opinion

But someone would be offended.

So, I keep my mouth shut and try to love on people,

But that offends you too

Because I’m not doing enough.

There is no winning

There is only losing.

We are a symptom of being self-absorbed.

We’ve been reduced to our most animal instincts

Of survival – get them before they get you.

But the problem is we aren’t animals

We are humans…meant to love.

But no one wants to hear that,

For fear that there’s an agenda behind it.

So, we sit in a room, not talking, not sharing, not discussing

Because there is no answer that we can agree on.

Many of us won’t speak out

For fear of backlash.

Many of us retreat

Because we’re tired of conflict.

Many of us will shut you out

Because all the yelling is making us sick.

Many of us will be accused of standing idly by

No matter what we do.

Many of us know that this has happened before

And yet we’ve survived

Whether we deserved to or not.

Many of us are praying, quietly,

because we can’t see anything else to do.

Finding hope at a bar-b-que

There are days that I can’t even watch the news because of how divided it portrays the world to be. And that division is only perpetuated by us staying in our homes, glued to our TVs and computers filling our heads with what THEY want us to believe is true about ourselves.

BUT I HAVE HOPE that we are free-thinkers, that we are BETTER than we are made to believe.

But the only way we’re going to come together is through HUMAN CONTACT.

Our neighborhood had an impromptu bar-b-que on Memorial weekend. Two of them, in fact.

But on a Sunday and a Monday evening there we were: swatting at mosquitos with virtual strangers.

We didn’t know most of the neighbors, except to wave “hello” as we pass them in a car, and some lived on other streets, so even that doesn’t usually happen.

It took a generous neighbor with a really good bar-b-que and an excellent marinade recipe for chicken and ribs, to bridge the divide.

We were from different backgrounds, different nationalities, different political affiliations (I assume – no one discussed politics – hallelujah!), and in different stages of life.

We passed around the fussing baby so that the new mom could eat her dinner in peace. We found out that two people worked for the same corporation and never knew it. We talked about where we were from and where we grew up. We discovered we vacationed in the same places. We laughed and ate and made new friends.

On Sunday night, the bar-b-que went until 2am! On Monday, we only made it until 10pm.

So when the news tells me that my neighbor doesn’t think the way I do, I know the news is full of crap. I know they want headlines. They want us to hate, because it makes us watch them more.

But all it takes is a simple neighborhood bar-b-que to prove them wrong.

People are people, no matter where you go. People transcend politics, and headlines, if we’d stop buying into the hype and look up from our Smartphones long enough to smile.

We need each other. We need more bar-b-ques.

I think the men and women whose lives we celebrated on Memorial Day would have been proud to know that they didn’t die in vain. Good neighbors do still exist. People do still want to connect and reach out to one another.

Looking forward to celebrating summer and hanging out together…in spite of the mosquitoes.