I Wear the Title of Unicorn Proudly

Red hair evokes so many emotions.  As a child I really thought Anne of Green Gables was written about me, and hated being called carrots.  After all, my hair was auburn in color!  Couldn’t that horrid Billy Jenks see that?  I knew I was a rare thing, sort of like a unicorn, but I secretly longed for beautiful blonde hair.   Always be careful what you wish for!

I had no idea my hair color came from a genetic mutation.  What?!!  Called MC1R, I understand this rare pigment endows just 1-2% of the population with red locks, be they strawberry blonde or carroty orange or auburn.  According to Erin LaRosa in The Big Redhead Book, we are the “unicorns of the human world.”  Far be it from me to argue with this sage tenet!

Now I feel better about being a redhead…just a few years too late.  My once auburn locks lightened over the years, and so much white now mixes into the mix, that my granddaughter doesn’t even think of me as being a redhead!  What’s with that?  Shopping at HyVee last month, a gentleman stepped back to grant me passage down a crowded aisle and said, “There you go, Blondie!  Slip right through there.”  Nooooo!  I don’t want blonde hair.  I want to be a unicorn!  unicorn 1

Ultimately I am left with a deep philosophical question:  Does my hair make me unique…or is it my personality?  I showed my oldest son this favorite picture of how I wish to be seen when I reach old age, and he quickly stated, “Mom.  You’re already there!”  So proud to be an old unicorn, lol.  Fortunately, K will never go through the negative angst associated with being a redhead.  She already loves her red hair and is delighted to be a sweet young unicorn.  I have done something right.  (Not to claim full credit, but some should be due.)  Unicorns unite!

Crisp Thoughts Come from Insightful Reading

“So many books, so little time.”  The quote is attributed to Frank Zappa.  Visit a local bookstore, library or Amazon, and you know that books abound.  Here’s the thing:  Reading without contemplation, without introspection, without making the author’s message personal, is a lot like eating a Snickers for lunch.  Tasty, but little to no nutritional value.  Pure pleasure reading produces the lamentable Scarecrow of Oz, unable think deep thoughts.

One of the best books I found for encouraging me to think, reflect, and create coherent thoughts comes in the form of a workbook.  You’ll find it loaded with inspirational quotes and writing prompts for learning the craft of writing, but basic to the heart of the process are the daily morning pages.  The simple act of capturing thoughts on paper trains the mind to think critically.  Consistent practice produces the tendency to think more critically about literature, politics, diet and all parts of the geographical map where my mind wanders.

Ya’ll know how much I value a reading plan that stretches the mind to think When Not to Lose Weight.  This I consider just as important.  Learning how to think critically comes with practice.  Using that old gray matter for something besides figuring out “who done it” in a page turning mystery requires usage.  Reading insightful literature.  Consistently practicing my morning pages.

I like to use a three ring binder for my morning pages.  I use a 3-hole punch to insert not just notebook paper, but beautiful papers igniting my creative juices.  Sometimes I continue to journal after my morning pages, and that lovely paper makes my pen slide better across the page.  Really.  I like to write snippets for my book, list topics I need to study, work on my to do list, write about a good book or a controversial topic.  In short, I write.  At the end of each year I remove the bundle and start anew.  What are you doing to become a better thinker of great thoughts?books

Forget the Gold Standard. Go for Orange.

We grow one crop really, really well.  Corn, with all those sweet golden kernels, is a personal fave, but it’s a matter of unrequited love.  Despite endless fertilizing, loving care and excessive weeding, corn routinely jilts us without a backward glance.  Both Bill and I like broccoli, but it’s a one-sided affair.  We like broccoli, but it sneers at us, bolting out of control without warning.  Some veggies just don’t belong in our backyard.

Surprisingly, our heavy clay soil, which sucks up organic material and digests it as if never applied, produces against all odds, abundant root crops.  Now I bear no love for any of the “ips”–turnips, parsnips, so they never appear in a Rhoads garden.  In point of fact, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, we grow truly magnificent sweet potatoes.  Yup.  And we love them.  From first planting until the last yummy morsel in the belly, we enjoy these magical orange sweeties.

A good crop requires a little preparation.  Well, really, a lot of preparation.  To get you ready, start dreaming about them in the fall, because then it’s Thanksgiving and then it’s Christmas and if you pause to catch your breath, you’ll be behind schedule.  To avoid that problem, I like to start in early December.  If you prefer growing them to buying them at a local grocery store…here’s the low down:

  • Start a couple sweet potatoes skewered with toothpicks over quart jars of water, much like growing an avocado seed.  I start mine before Christmas.  Keep water levels steady while it grows a jar full of roots.
  • As green shoots sprout, pinch them off at the base, and root them in water.
  • By mid-February you need to be planting them in pots to harden before transplanting them into the garden.
  • Transplant your precious babies or purchase slips to plant just around Mother’s Day.
  • Weed well just before they vine out of control.  You’ll thank me later.
  • Harvest before the moles get hungry.  Fair warning.  Their funny shapes crack us up.
  • After harvest you need to lay them out in a warm place, about 75 to 80 degrees, to let them sweeten up.
  • Wrap individually in newspaper and store them in a dry place.

sw pot 1Ours last all winter and all summer besides.  We grow Goliaths of majestic proportions, and right now we are finishing up last year’s harvest.  As usual, all the ones too big to use as bakers remain.  This is my favorite way to handle the biggies, and yes, we gorged ourselves with half a cookie sheet of these just the other night.  Thinking you might be interested, here’s the recipe:

Roasted Savory Sweet Potatoessw pot 2

Cut up the sweet potato into chunks.  Dribble with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and garlic pepper.  My favorite blend comes from an Italian neighbrohood in St. Louis, and it offers just the right blend between savory and sweet.  Roast at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and chow down!


My Top 5 Reasons to Change the Way You Read

Educators and home schoolers alike know this simple truth:  Teach a child to read, to read voraciously, and he will learn independently all his life.  Voracious readers are quirky readers.  I know it well.

Aaron, our firstborn, fell in love with Jim Kjelgaard.  Big Red taught him compassion, loyalty, and about overcoming obstacles.  He proceeded to work his way through every Kjelgaard novel over time.  I recommend a few books of personal ownership.  Don’t get me wrong.  We visited the library every week and exited with a bag full of books each time, but there’s something about a dog-eared well loved book that captures a place in a child’s heart.  If your child likes animals, by all means, check this out!

Katelyn’s current fave is a series about personified dragonets, who exemplify a full gamut of human emotions: love jealousy, fear, loyalty, deceit.  I recommend them cautiously.  Talk about them.  What better way to learn how to deal with tricky emotions than to read, see, and discuss together?

Sadly, many of us escape the classroom of mandatory reading lists and slide backwards into constantly reading for pleasure, if at all.  We read our news online in short snippets lacking depth and varied viewpoints.  A recent online study stated 24% of all American adults report they didn’t read one book, or even part of a book in the last year.  (Can you sense my horrified face here?)  Here’s the problem:  Little eyes watch what you read.  Nothing preaches an indolent reading program more than an adult reading nothing but titles for pleasure.  Whether you’re a mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor…and I think that includes all of us…your habits influence all the youngsters around you. When our sons were young I followed a strict reading regimen of pleasure, inspirational, how to, and classic with daily Bible study.  I still like the plan, but I no longer force myself into that same sequence.

Why should you change the way you read?

  1. Reading a book to educate or broaden your horizons each month keeps your mind facile.  Whether you want to learn a new calligraphy font or how to overhaul the engine in your Camaro, learn something new.  Reading about current issues by different authors forms the basis for an educated electorate, a prerequisite for our republic.  Read a book.
  2. An inspirational book continues your personal development and makes you a better person.  We could all profit from some self improvement.
  3. A well written and timeless classic embodies universal values.  Its seamless style helps you appreciate other books and provides a measuring stick by which all literature is better judged.
  4. Daily reading of scripture puts the Word into not just your mind, but your heart as well.
  5. Little eyes watch you.  Always.  Whether they know you or not.  Set an example worthy of emulation.words

Be an avid reader.  Be a lover of words, the hallmark of our evolution into the people we are meant to be.  Follow a well balanced reading regimen.  In short, change the way you read.

A New School Year…Love it or Hate it?

A younger version of me loved the start of school.  Crisp leaves, new pencils, new clothes, the scent of new books…it inspired me and made me smile.  As a long time veteran of home schooling, I now dread the start of school:  August heat, using up last year’s pencils with no erasers, moaning children…there isn’t enough coffee for this.  The part I actually look forward to?  Getting it over with!

We school year round, taking off just a little bit for summer camps, federal holidays and such.  I get Fridays off for good behavior.  Let’s not forget that, always a plus, but basically we school year round.  In Missouri the new year rolls over August first, so we start a fresh year the first full week of August.  No crisp leaves, just lots of hot muggy days.  It profoundly lacks the inspiration I need.hs

Pristine books should excite my kiddos, but keeping it real here–it just foreshadows many months ahead of filling in blank pages.  Don’t get me wrong, they like learning new things.  But the whole process of getting down to business, scouring a book for the correct answer, thinking it through, answering it in their own words…neatly…just isn’t fun.  Home schooling begins with fun hands-on learning, and some of that always exists, but eventually a transition into the ability to take a subject and excel in a college classroom takes the front seat.  Yes, the process is exhausting and challenging and a hair pulling endeavor.  Tangentially, training children for a successful future, putting prayer and scripture study into the daily “classroom” regimen, having time for breaks when we need them and TIME to actually be with them makes it all worthwhile.  When I scold a feisty little girl for not doing her best and it ends with her hugging and kissing me, repentant and wanting to do a good job, I know it’s a struggle I love.  This is what I tell myself the first full week of August.  Breathe.  It’s one week.  I love it, really.  About 51 weeks a year.

When Not to Lose Weight

Admittedly, I began to Shar-Pei just a tad in my 40’s.  My once svelt body developed an unattractive teensy-tiny fold or two.  No amount of dieting or sporadic exercise erased the effect, and I grew accustomed to my new look.  For much of my life I ate with no thought of calories or waistlines, but no more.  I refused to actually count calories, but I looked at them thoughtfully prior to ingestion.

Then this bombshell hit.  Did you know that after age 20…20, mind you, you lose about a gram of brain mass per year?  If you started out with an average 1300 gram brain, that loss of 38 grams might not seem significant, but which 38 grams are we talking about?  The part that remembers where I put my keys?  The part where I keep track of appointments and events?  Both of those vital brain functions began deteriorating a few years back, requiring lists and routines to make me look normal.  As desirable as weight loss may be, I find this disturbing, almost frightening.

I used to subscribe to Erma Bombeck’s harebrained philosophy:  “A brain is like a computer.  It will only take so many facts and then it will go on overload and blow up.”  Our parents had a few phone numbers to memorize.  Now we have landlines, cell phones, work phones, email addresseses, and a few million passwords to remember.  No wonder smoke blows out our ears!  Our physiological computers are blowing up.  Literally.  Or so I thought.


Now that I’ve been enlightened about cerebral weight loss, however, I do recommend brain building exercises.  No need to leave your couch.  Crossword puzzles.  Memory games on your phone.  Learn something new.  Remain vital.  Eat a well-balanced diet.  Get enough sleep.  Non-weight bearing exercise, (off the couch with you, after all!  See how I sort of snuck this in there?)  In short, stop this weight loss!

Threads…How NOT to Unravel the Threads of Your Life

Let me begin by explaining my innocent foray into the world of quilting.  Grandchild #1 came along, and in the rapture of it all I unwittingly made a baby quilt.  Of course seven grandchildren later, I felt rather accomplished at completing my eighth quilt.  By then I found myself knee deep in twin quilts as they grew into bigger beds.  If I could connect the quilted thread from the first to the last finished quilt, I imagine it traverses the United States.  A good, strong thread cannot be overemphasized when it comes to holding together the fabric of our lives.

But more tenuous threads actually connect the designs warming the heart and hearth.  We may exert too much tension on those threads, forgetting that delicate threads can break the hearts within our families.  Arguments.  Unkind words.  Controlling behaviors.  Manipulation.  These seam rippers tear apart a carefully hand sewn family.  How to avoid these destructive habits?

  • Talk often and before disagreements arise.
  • Look at situations together, not separately.
  • Speak circumspectly.  Choose words carefully rather than in the heat of the moment.
  • Listen.  Listen to what is said and UNsaid.
  • Offer no ultimatums.

Jobs come and go.  Friends may wander into and out of our lives, eventually moving on.  Family ties span years, and hopefully, generations.  Their design either create a pleasing pattern or a disruptive jumble of conflicting colors and shapes.  Meant to be firm and lasting, bind your families together with love and wisdom.  Unraveled, we lose the fabric that warms us.  I know it’s summer right now, but it’s a cold world out there, folks.  Stay warm!quilting

Quilting Tips:

  • Evelyn Burns is a genius.
  • I use the same basic patterns to simplify the process.
  • Freestyle quilting intrigues me, but that’s for another lifetime, lol.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist.  My grandchildren will look at it someday, with all its flaws, and say, “She was old.”  I can live with that.



Be a Warrior

Another year of summer camps has drawn to a close, and I find myself conflicted with warring emotions.  Of course “glad to be home” doesn’t begin to describe how much I missed my bed and my bathroom.  Naturally I’m sighing with relief to escape the sun, the bugs and dirt.  Unfamiliar schedules and different foods lost their allure the second day of camp.  Yet I leave behind countless youth floundering in difficult life situations.  My own misfortunes pale in comparison.

Their needs break my heart.  And so I find myself humming the theme song of Camp Bountiful every day.  “I fall on my knees and I fight like a warrior.  I’m a warrior on my knees.  I call on the name of the One who is conqueror…”  Gotta’ love Steven Curtis Chapman!  I chose pictures of victory for this post, rather than pics of lives in chaos, because I believe the victory lies before us if we choose to embrace it.

In the aftermath I find two camps of thought.  One judges the kids and their music and their demonstrable cries for help.  The other falls on their knees in intercession.  In my lifetime I have never seen a generation so mired in the landscape surrounding them.  The world’s incessant violence, divisive politics, variant lifestyles and degenerating morals leave wrecked lives in its wake, reflecting back to discerning eyes exactly what they see. As the famous pragmatist William James once wrote, “Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.”  So, do you want to make a difference?  What the troubled kids you know really need is warriors.  I choose to be a warrior.  Why not join me?

Alma John and Puppy Love

A number of wonderful dogs graced our home throughout the years.  Shelties, Golden Retrievers, and mutts of undetermined lineage all bore one thing in common:  faithfulness.  We did, however, attract some quirky little things.

Gypsy buried her treasures–like baby kittens with just a head and two paws poking out of the ground.  Quincy spelled his favorite treats and went berserk every time we passed a McDonald’s.  But this little ball of fur lounging beside me just eclipses them all.

Alma encouraged me to adopt this rescue puppy, and our first few days together didn’t begin with a good omen.  This rascal without a pedigree left messes everywhere.  He threw up for two weeks.  He clearly tolerated me without an ounce of real devotion.  But upon Alma’s death the entire landscape of our relationship changed.  He stopped making messes for one thing.  He became my shadow, whining when I closed the door to the bathroom without letting him in.  Love became his over-arching quality.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s still quirky as all get out.  He gets so excited to see me in the morning that he races like a whirling dervish around the living room squeaking his toys in a frenzy of delight until he collapses from exhaustion.  He gazes at me mournfully when a little curly headed granddaughter loves him too much, practically begging me for a reprieve.  He prefers any morsel from my plate over his Nutrish, which Rachael Ray so lovingly makes for him.  I consider Charlie Alma’s last gift to me.  It’s one of his best.


Human Foosball

Our people cannot remember a nastier time.  In our lifetimes we’ve witnessed an almost foosballtotal degeneration in the fabric of public discourse.  Americans used to be known as polite, annoyingly cheerful people.  No more.  We’ve sunk into a nation of contentious, sniping pin balls slinging insults back and forth indiscriminately.  I find it alarming.

These sharp lines of demarcation didn’t materialize out of thin air.  Think about it.  Facebook tailors our feeds with things we like to read.  Private news channels spin their own versions of the truth, which we like to hear.  We hang with people we find comfortable.  The result is an uninformed, uneducated public who only know one point of view.  Add a few rants here and there, and rhetoric bounces unpredictably, totally out of control.

But who mans the handles in our foosball game of life?  Remember, the enemy isn’t the person with an opposing point of view.  A common enemy plays us like a pro.  Lest we perish in riots flamed by uninformed passion, every citizen must find it incumbent upon himself to level the playing field.  Speak temperately.  Exercise prudence.  Be circumspect.  Stop reacting.  Find a way to be an example of courtesy.  Put control of the nation back into the hands of rational, caring Americans who decide not to be human foosball pieces in someone else’s game.  Let’s play a game where we call the shots.