Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Why Worry?

By: L.A. Kohl
Nov. 21, 2004(published in the Wednesday, Dec. 22 '05, edition of the “Bull’s Eye”, Vol. 1, No. 9)

My husband will soon be leaving on his sixth trip out of the country – his fourth to the country of India. He asked me, after hearing a family member voice some concerns, how I was feeling about him leaving this time. You know...things like terrorists (he’ll be near the Afghanistan border) and being in a country that doesn’t allow missionaries...aren’t those things to worry about?

I thought I’d write out my “philosophy” on that whole worry thing, so that when the time comes and he’s actually gone, I can look back and take my own advice!

I had to answer him with this question that I’ve often asked myself over the years...at what point should I start worrying? If I thought about it very much, I could worry all the time. I have a daughter who drives off into the world every day. I have another daughter with her learner’s permit, who’s just entering that whole dangerous world of driving. My husband leaves home daily to go to various job sites. He enjoys hunting and owns several guns. We own a 4-wheeler; they’re well-known for causing accidents, sometimes even fatal ones. I have a toddler son who is notorious for getting into trouble and doing things that are potentially dangerous. I could go on and on, and so could you. We all know this world is not a safe place.

So, I had to ask – do I start worrying when he gets on a plane to go to India, but not worry about him when he gets in his dinky pickup and drives 70 MPH down a highway, with other people driving even faster and only separated from him by a few feet and a yellow line? Do I worry about him being in a foreign country, but not worry about him being in the county building (which he often frequents?) Do you think people in Okalahoma City worried that morning a few years ago when their loved ones went off to the federal building? We have no guarantees in this life...I could beg my husband not to go to India because I think it’s not safe, but then he could be fatally injured in a car accident a few miles from home. I have to believe that there is a time and a season for everything – a time to live, and a time to die – and trust that when that “time to die” part of life arrives, my family, friends, and my faith will get me through it. Until then, all the worrying I might do is a waste of precious time. As the sign said at one of our local churches recently, “Worry is a waste of imagination."

The Bible is full of wisdom and advice, but one of my very favorite tidbits has always been this little portion of Matthew 6:34 (RSV) “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” It’s kind of like that old saying, “Don’t borrow trouble.” With that, I’ll conclude this little pep talk, not just for you, but for myself, and send my husband off to the other side of the world in God’s hands.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Less is More

Nov. 20, 2004
By: L.A. Kohl
(published in the Wednesday, Dec. 15 '04, edition of the “Bull’s Eye”, Vol. 1, No. 8)
With the Christmas season upon us, I was reflecting back to the day when we only had a couple of wee little girls in our family...it seems like eons ago. The oldest one was going to be two, and it was the first Christmas that she was really “getting into” the whole excitement of getting and opening presents.

We lived in a one hundred year old “fixer upper” home, and money was pretty scarce. The first present she happened to open was something very simple and practical, like a stocking hat or hairbrush - but she must of “oooed and ahhhed” over it for several minutes. She’d try it out, jump up and down in excitement, and come excitedly show it to us. It was one of those heart warming moments that parents love to experience – giving something to their child, and having them actually appreciate it! It was going so well, we wanted her to go on and open up another present.

Oh, there was more? Well, as soon as she realized that several of the gifts under the tree were for her – everything changed. Now it became a matter of ripping something open as quick as possible, and tossing it aside so she could open another one. We were so disappointed. What happened to our thankful, angelic little child who was ecstatic over one simple gift? She was suddenly gone, and a greedy toddler had taken her place.

Fast forward several years...it’s Christmas morning again, and time to see what’s in the stockings. All of the older girls dump theirs out on the floor, appraise the situation, and now they’re ready to move on to the “real” presents. But wait. The current baby of the family, who is probably about one and a half, is sitting on mom’s lap, slowly reaching in her stocking to pull out one item. We all become entranced, watching her fascination and excitement over those very simple little stocking stuffers that she insists on only bringing out one at a time. And when she finally gets the last thing out – and the big sisters are beginning to get impatient – she decides that was so much fun, she’s going to put everything back in and start over again! She would have been perfectly happy that morning to have only received a few dollars worth of stocking stuffer presents.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s just a little word of advice to parents of young children. Do yourselves and your little ones a favor, and don’t overwhelm them with lots of “stuff” for Christmas. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to provide them with all the latest and greatest toys or clothes...they won’t know that until you and society teach it to them. Children are so easily fascinated with anything new and different, but also so easily turned selfish. Less extravagance may mean more joy and contentment in the long run.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Front Porch View of Holiday Shopping

By: L.A. Kohl
Nov. 15, 2004
(published in the Wednesday, Dec. 8 2004 edition of the “Bull’s Eye”, Vol. 1, No. 7
)

Have you ever stopped to think about the development of our modern day, gigantic “department” stores, and mega size grocery stores? Few people 50 years ago would have dreamed that stores of 75,000 square feet plus would be the norm in the 21st century. There are times when I will tell you that I do NOT like these mega stores – the crowds, the long lines, the walking forever to find everything you want – it especially unnerves me when I have several children with me. But I had to do without anything even closely resembling them a few years ago, and now I think twice before complaining.

Our family spent nine weeks in northern India in 2001. We were located in a town of about 35,000 people, but not one department store. The town was in the Himalayan foothills – thus, there was only one road, and the whole town was built along that one road going UP...it stretched out for miles. If you think walking around a one-stop shop is a pain, try walking a few miles down, and back up, a 30-40 degree inclined road, going from one shop to another trying to find the items you want. We literally had shin splints the first several days! I never did find the clothing store. I found a shop or two that sold coats and sweaters, but I wanted a Punjabi suit, a traditional Indian woman’s outfit. All the other women that I met were wearing them, so I asked another westerner where she bought hers. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

“Oh,” she said, “You can’t buy them around here. Just go to a tailor’s shop, pick out a cloth you like, and he’ll measure you and make one especially to fit.”

Well, I was about seven months pregnant, so the idea of having some stranger take my measurements was just a little too intimidating for me!

The shops in this town were all very small and specialized. As I’ve already mentioned, one shop would be a tailor. Another shop would consist of someone selling stainless steel kitchen utensils. Yet another would be selling junk food – sodas, candy, chips and “biscuits” (basically little cookies.) The next shop might be selling medicines. So, if you wanted a pain reliever AND a birthday card – plan on walking to two different shops.

The one shop that we got the biggest “kick” out of was the egg store. Yes, it sold absolutely nothing but eggs, and they were all one size, one color and in one kind of package! Can you imagine a store like that in America, the land of plenty (of variety?) I checked the egg section of one of Columbia’s huge stores, and the selection is unbelievable...you can buy medium, large, extra-large or jumbo...you can buy white or brown....you can buy organic, vegetarian fed, or “never caged”...you can buy a half dozen, or a dozen, or a dozen and a half, two and a half dozen or even five dozen per box...you can even buy egg substitutes!

It’s about so much more than variety, though. During the holiday season, as you fight your way through the crowds at the mall, huge department stores, or any of the mega size grocery stores, take a moment to be thankful for the mass of abundance and diversity that surrounds you. We truly are a blessed nation. Rather than griping about having to park in the “back 40” because the parking lot is so crowded, or whining about the long lines at the check-out counters, maybe we should try to be a little more appreciative of our country’s great abundance.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Dads, girls and hunting

By: L.A. Kohl
Nov. 13, 2004
(published in the Wednesday, Dec. 1 edition of the “Bull’s Eye”, Vol. 1, No. 6
)

Opening day of deer season...up at 5 am, the smell of sausage cooking and coffee brewing...wool socks, coveralls, bright orange accessories strewn across the room. And a sleepy eyed, sixteen year old girl looking like maybe this deer hunting thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But, she enjoys doing things with her dad, and the fact that hunting is traditionally a guy thing just seems to make her more determined to go give it a try.

Back in those “B.C.” days (before children) my husband dreamed of teaching his boy(s) how to hunt, fish, wrestle, play sports, wield a hammer, use power tools, drive a tractor...and on and on it goes. When girl number one arrived, he was overjoyed that there was going to be a little replica of me around the home. Girl number two showed up less than two years later, and on and on it went until after 17 years of marriage, we were up to the score of: Girls, 6...Boys, 0. Somewhere in the midst of that, he decided that it really didn’t matter. So what if they were girls?

And so, that’s why our oldest is out hunting with her dad. That’s why, sometime within the next few days, our second oldest will also go give it a try with her dad. Our girls get their hunter safety certification long before they get their first make-up kit. Are they out to prove something to their dad? Has he made them feel like sons are more valuable, and so they have to try and somehow be the house full of “boys” that he’ll never have? I don’t think so.

I believe it’s more a matter of instilling confidence in our daughters. He’s never wanted them to feel like there are certain things they just can’t do. He lets them start running his surveying instrument when they’re tall enough to see through it. He let them chisel out joints for our timber frame home when they were only 7 or 8 years old. He knew that a serious slip of the hammer could mean a permanent gouge in our home’s interior frame – visible for all to see, for perhaps generations to come...but that’s okay. Gaining confidence in your ability to do something is more important to him than outward appearances.
And so, another year of deer season has come, and he’s once again giving his daughter an opportunity to gain some more confidence. It probably means that he won’t get a perfect, first shot at something...he’ll let her have that chance. That’s okay, because Lord willing, he’s got another 40 or 50 years to have his chance...but today, bonding with his daughter and helping her gain confidence in yet one other realm is more important.

Here’s to all the dads, uncles, brothers and grandpas out there who realize that hunting is a skill to teach, share and pass on to another generation – and not just an opportunity to get a trophy rack to hang on your wall.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Frugal Family Holiday Travel

By: L.A. Kohl
Nov. 7, 2004(published in the Wednesday, Nov. 17 2004 edition of the “Bull’s Eye”, Vol. 1, No. 4)


In our mobile society, traveling during the holidays is almost unavoidable. Over the years, we’ve traveled as far away as Des Moines, IA, Houston, TX, and Orlando, FL either for Thanksgiving or Christmas family get-togethers. At a time of year when you already feel over-loaded with expenses (gift buying, end of year property taxes, etc) adding travel expenses on top of it all can be a budget breaking experience.

We’ve tried a few things that have helped us cut corners. Some of it is just common sense, but perhaps some of you will appreciate the ideas. One of our biggest cost cutters is in the area of food.

With a large family, eating out while traveling can add up to a lot of money in short order! We try to limit ourselves to one meal out per day when we’re away from home. It’s really not difficult. Almost all motels have a continental breakfast, and if you spend a little time, and perhaps just a little more money, you can find many that serve full-blown breakfasts. For us, spending an extra $10.00 a night at a motel that serves a full breakfast is definitely worth it.

Packing food along for the trip is also a money saver. The makings for sandwiches, various bags of chips, and some fruit packed in amongst the suitcases, and you’ve now avoided having to eat out for lunch, too! Bottled water (or a water bottle for everyone) sodas, juice boxes/pouches, and the like all travel well, and they’re much cheaper to buy in the case at the grocery store ahead of time, rather than individually at a restaurant or convenience store.

Hmm, did I say juice boxes travel well? Shut up! Any mom out there knows the hazards of handing a full one of those to a little child...squeeze and SQUIRT...half the contents of the box are all over their shirt before you know it. We usually resort to handing the juice box to a big sister, who holds it for the little sister, until she’s drank it down about halfway.

Back to the topic...snacks are great to pack along, too – to avoid the temptation of buying that tiny $4.00 bag of chips when you stop to fill up with gas at the convenience store. We try not to go totally junk food, though. We also pack some trail mix, “carb bars” (recipe follows) whole grain cereal bars, mini carrots, dried fruit, grapes and other fresh fruit.

When we do stop and eat out for a meal, everyone knows that they’ll be ordering a glass of water with their meal. At an average of $1.50 per soft drink, our family saves several dollars per meal. Besides, we’ve got $0.20 sodas in the vehicle if they really want a “jolt” of sugar/caffeine!

Another thing that can help cut traveling expenses is traveling together. We’ve taken parents along with us to family get togethers, and it helps in many ways. Two of the main ways are, they help split the cost of gasoline, and they’re great at helping entertain the kids.

If you’re traveling to meet family, one thing that can help trim expenses is to agree ahead of time not to purchase gifts for each other, since you have the expense of traveling. After all, just being all together as a family is a great gift in itself, right? Christmas time has become the only time of year that our extended Kohl family is all together at the same time, so we treasure it.

Or, maybe just giving an affordable family gift (like a board game or a video) rather than individual gifts for everyone could be an acceptable compromise. Rather than begrudgingly buying gifts for relatives – be honest and open with all the family and discuss some other options.

In closing, try to remember that the holidays are an exciting time for your children, and you’re making lots of memories. Get them involved in as much of the travel planning and preparation as possible. You can get off to a fun start by mixing up a batch of these travel-friendly “Carb Bars." (Note: these are called “Carb” bars because they’re full of ‘em – they are NOT low carb!)

1/4 cup margarine
1 (10 oz) pkg. of miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
5 cups crisp rice type cereal
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
1/3 cup wheat germ (optional)
Your family’s choice of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any or all of the following:
chopped nuts
chocolate chips
raisins or other dried fruits
candy-coated chocolate pieces
coconut

Mix cereal and other dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a large (3 quart) pan, melt butter, marshmallows and peanut butter over low heat, stirring often until all is melted and blended together. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour immediately over ingredients in bowl and stir together quickly. Turn into a well-greased 9” x 13” pan. Cool and cut into bars. Store in airtight container, and keep cool if they contain chocolate. ENJOY!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Why We Homeschool

By: Lori Kohl
Oct. 7, 2004
(published in “Bullseye”, Wednesday Nov. 4, 2004 edition, Vol. 1 No. 2)


Why does anyone home school? After home schooling for almost a dozen years, that’s a question that is not always spoken directly, but is often implied by others' comments. People who have never tried it, or have never known anyone personally who has, can’t help but wonder about it. They question why you would want to “tie yourself down” and make life so complicated by keeping your children home and trying to educate them yourselves. Especially in our case…we have seven children, thus, many people look at us like we must be crazy. For heaven’s sake, why would anyone do that? Public school is free, and they’re all set up to do it in a big way, with all the “extras," so why would someone not want to take advantage of that? There are many answers, but the big one for us personally is this: we not only want to control our children’s education, but we also want to control our lives.

That’s not the answer many people expect. Most assume that home schooling ties you down and severely hampers your lifestyle. However, does the average American realize how much the public school system controls their family’s life, once Jr. turns five and heads off to kindergarten? Family vacation time is the “big” one that comes to mind. Does it logically make sense to head south to Disney World and the beaches in the middle of summer, when temperatures are hottest in Florida? But what other choice does the public schooler have, when attendance is mandatory and little time off is allowed nine months out of the year? Maybe they can fit it in over Christmas or spring break – but lots of other families with school children are trying to fit it in then, also, so be prepared for crowds. With our flexibility, we’ve been blessed to discover that going to the Gulf beaches in October is not only pleasant and temperate, but also very uncrowded. We would have never found that out if our children attended public school.

What about the day to day schedule? How often do you have to arrange the whole family’s day based on whether or not Jr. has basketball practice, a baseball game, a fund-raiser function, parent teacher conferences, etc.? With home schooling, we choose whether or not we want to have a relaxing day/evening at home. We choose to take a day off, when we see it’s beautiful spring weather and a trip to the zoo is in order. Or perhaps it’s a bright, crisp, fall day and we want to gather acorns, colorful leaves, dried weeds, flowers and grasses. Maybe it’s nearing Christmas, and we want to spend the day making candy and cookies, or homemade gifts for our friends and relatives. Perhaps it’s the dead of winter and the flu bug has just struck the family. We can chose to take a few days off, and just let the kids lie around and read some good books while everyone recuperates, without worrying about how much they’re falling behind everyone else, or whether or not we should try and get his work from the teacher so he can stay caught up. With home schooling, it’s usually just a matter of fitting in a little extra work for a few days in order to get back on schedule.

Beyond the “day to day," what about those “moment by moment” things that are often once in a lifetime experiences? Last week I drove in our driveway, and immediately noticed a bald eagle sitting in a barren tree at the edge of our field. I quickly drove up to the house and told my family to get their shoes on, we were going for a walk! We quietly snuck down the driveway…well, as quietly as we could with three toddlers/preschoolers and a six month puppy tagging along. We were only able to catch a glimpse of the eagle before he spotted us and soared into the air, but he let us “ooh and ahh” over him several moments until he glided out of sight. That’s just one of many such spur of the moment things we’ve been able to share with our children over the years, because they were at home during the day.

We love to let children be children! They have the rest of their lives to experience hectic schedules and varied responsibilities…why make them also live that way during the precious few years of childhood? By home schooling, we are able to allow them plenty of time to read those wonderful childhood stories (like “The Chronicles of Narnia”) and then go act them out to their hearts’ content. They have time to go romp in the woods, build forts, get muddy in the creek, and countless other childish activities that most adults no longer have the time or desire to do, and unfortunately, many children no longer have time for, either. Yes – they still do their schoolwork, but it often takes a fraction of the time that it would take them to complete the same amount of work in the public school. Thus, they have time to be kids!

Home schooling is not for everyone, of course, but it has worked well for us. Public school also works well for many people, and that’s great. But if I had to give one short, straight to the point answer about what I most appreciate about home schooling, this would have to be it – my children have had the freedom to enjoy childhood. No matter how your children are getting their education, I challenge you to allow them that same freedom, for the opportunity will be gone all too soon.