Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Parenting and stupid things (Part Two)

In Part One of my little parenting tantrum series I lamented that the world would be a better place without video games. The world, of course, being my house.

In my opinion, the parenting world would be a better place if we got rid of a lot of stupid things.

*Disclaimer: You're not going to agree with all of these. You may think I'm a weak parent because I can't deal with the fact that these challenges are here and it is up to me to rise above and superparent. But I'm too tired to care what you think. So just humor me.

Overindulging your kid is stupid.
Here's where we're going to butt heads. A parent has a lot of money and is used to the "finer" things in life. That's his or her lifestyle. Thus, he or she transfers that lifestyle to their child - not in a hoity-toity way, but in a "this is my life so this will be your life" matter-of-fact way. Not blaming here. But honestly, does little Johnny need a flatscreen in his room, an iPhone and an XBox? Really? Maybe little Johnny would be better off with a football, an iPod Shuffle and a pair of running shoes?

Driving at age 16 is stupid.
16 year olds are stupid. When I was 16, I was stupid. I'm not saying I wasn't responsible - for the most part, I was. But I was also invincible. And distracted. And offensive versus defensive. And that was back before cellphones and a limit to how many people you could have in your car. I'm not saying I was the sharpest crayon in the box at 18, but an extra two years could make all the difference. And I wasn't texting, switching my Sirius radio or plugging in an address to my GPS back then.

Letting out the reins too early is stupid.
Again, I'm going to cause controversy here. Do I think kids need their freedom? Absolutely. Do I think they need to test the waters? Yep. But I don't trust my 13-year old to wander around the "old" (Northwoods) Mall. It was creepy when I was a teenager and it's creepy now. No, I'd prefer he NOT go and fish up at the local lake alone. Why? Because for every normal person that frequents that lovely spot, there's two weirdos looking for trouble. Am I overprotective? Maybe. Apologetic? Hell, no. I've felt uncomfortable taking my walks around its wooded perimeter so I don't need to be worrying about my oblivious teen hanging out there. I'd love to be Pollyanna and think that everyone is inherently good, but guess what - they're not. And parents need to adjust accordingly or bad things WILL happen.

So for every point made here, I'm sure there's a counterpoint. But MY point is: I wish we could all come to a consensus. I wish there was a rulebook or handbook that all parents had to follow. That way, we'd all be on the same page and there would be no, "But Susie gets to stay out until midnight!" "But Jimmy has a computer in his room!" "Tommy got his license the day he turned 16 - why can't I?"

See? It just makes it harder. I'm trying to be the good guy here, but I end up looking like the bad guy every time. And it's stupid.

There may or may not be a Part Three to this series... it depends on what kind of mood I'm in and how far I want to push this thing. Is there more to be said? Always...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Peer Pressure Perpetuates Parenting Problems (Part One)

Which is code for: Parenting isn't up to me anymore, it seems. It's up to everyone else.

Even my mother, who stayed home and raised four of us - All-American Catholic style - admits that she wouldn't want to parent in this day and age. Wow. Thanks for the confidence-booster, Mom.

Here's my conundrum. I want to raise my kids with many of the same values that my parents used in raising us. I want them to learn that you don't get anything without working for it, and sometimes you work and don't get anything. Just because Timmy has that toy doesn't mean you get it, too. And no, you can't, because I said so. And if you do it anyway, there will be hell to pay. End of story.

But for some reason I don't have that magic power that my parents had over me - that power that could be captured in just one look. You know - "THE LOOK".

What has happened to us? According to a reputable psychological source, moms and dads today parent with "less control and more fear". He's exactly right, but I just don't know why. And as I think more about this blog, I'm considering making it a three or four part series. I have a feeling I have lots to say about this...

For example, my kids have a Wii. And no, they weren't the first on their block to get one. In fact, by the time we broke down and shelled out our hard-earned money for this idiot box it was on sale and probably almost obsolete. Why, even under unending pressure and incessant whining from my children, did it take me so long to purchase a home game system?

Because I think they're stupid. There. I said it. I think video games are stupid. I think they're a waste of time. I think there are a BAZILLION other things that kids could be doing - like making shadow animals on the walls or picking their noses - rather than zoning out in front of some seizure-inducing game holding a carpal-tunnel controller of doom in their hands.

But we have one. Why? Well, I tried to make the excuse that "the Wii is actually good exercise..." or, "I like that they have sports games..." Yeah, whatever. I got it because all their friends had it and all the commercials said to get it and I got tired of hearing how we were the ONLY family who didn't have it and we don't want our friends to come over here because there's nothing to DOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

So we have it. And they play it. And I make rules as to how often they can play it. And they try to get around them. And I tell them what games they can and can't play. And they push those boundaries. Like, I don't let them kill people in games. "But MOM! These are ROBOTS! Look! They don't even BLEED!"

Do you see what's happening here? By allowing this host virus in my house, it's made my parenting challenges THAT MUCH HARDER.

I'm amazed I haven't thrown the stupid thing out the window already.

Seriously - I'm tempted. There'd be some whining and crying, of course, but after a few weeks they'd forget about it, and it would just become some embarrassing story they'd tell over Thanksgiving dinner: "Remember when Mom went ballistic and threw the Wii out the upstairs window?"

So I guess that's Part One. In Part Two, I'll further my discussion on successfully blaming others for my parenting weaknesses.

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Unique ways to stay cool - with a "twist"

When searching for ways to beat the heat, I came upon this article by Helium contributor Suzanne Rose. Upon reading it, I realized I have tried all these "unique" methods of cooling off, so thought I'd add my own twist.

Unique ways to cool off during the summer
by Suzanne Rose (Comments by Amy Kennard)

The summer can be hot, hot, hot. There are the common things that you can do to cool off during the summer such as swimming in a pool, but there are also some unique and fun things that you can do to in order to cool off. The following are some ideas that you might want to try.

Have a water balloon fight

A fun idea for children (or adults) is to have a water balloon fight. They sell many water balloons that are easily filled from your sink. Then you can have the children play with them. Alternatively you can have different games and activities with water balloons, such as trying to play catch with them to see who might drop them first. This can be a lot of fun, and the water will cool you down nicely.

Amy's Twist: Water balloons hurt. And you don't want to fill them from your sink. Trust me on both these points. What IS fun, however, is to take one of those giant punch balls, fill it with water until it gets as big as it can, then chase your kids around and threaten to throw it at them.

Have a slip and slide party

Slip and slides can be a lot of fun, even if you are full grown. The water will help cool you off during the summer. You can have a full out party or just take it out for your children or when they have friends visiting. They sell many different varieties of this, and it is not usually too expensive.

Amy's Twist: Slip 'n Slides have a weight limit for a reason. And unless you are wearing tights and a cape, chances are that if you're over the age of 40, you're more likely to go skidding off into the grass or plowing through the end of it than you are gliding across the sprinkling water.

Go to a water park

There are many fun water parks out there. With many of them, you can be in and out of the water all day, which can help keep you cool on a warm summer day. These range greatly in size and price.

Amy's Twist: Agreed. There are some great water parks in the area. But for the female adults: that swimsuit that you never actually "swim" in isn't going to stay on down the "Royal Flush" or the "Water Tunnel of Terror". Check yourself before you come out of the water.

Use a portable cooling item

They sell various products to help keep yourself cool. They sell little cushions that you can put in the freezer and then wear around you. Other items become cool through a chemical reaction. These might help you stay cool.

Amy's Twist: These "portable cooling items" do not refer to those umbrella hats you wear on your head, portable fans that you hold in front of your face or large, floppy hats that need a "wide load" sticker on them. My portable product? An ice cold glass of lemonade, preferably with a shot or two of vodka.

Wear clothing designed to help you stay cool.

Different brands of clothing help you stay cool. Under Armour is one such brand. They use different materials technology to make it easier for you to be in the sun and not to feel it as much.

Amy's Twist: I know what Under Armor is, but yet it still sounds hot. Obviously the less clothing you wear in hot weather the better, but please, folks, make sure all those areas that we aren't really supposed to see are covered.

Buy your own water slide

Sources such as Little Tikes now sell large inflatable water slides and other water play areas. You can often inflate them easily with an included air blower and then you attach them to a water source. It can make your own little water park in your backyard. These can range in price depending on how large and how complex they are, but they are often in the mix-hundreds range or a little higher. Different companies make them and they are often available online or at big toy stores such as Toys R Us.

Amy's Twist: We've actually done this - made our own water park. It was completed one morning when I went out the back door to find that "someone" had left the hose on all night. It had managed to make a lovely pool in the backyard, and even gave us some nice, refreshing waterfalls in the basement.

So there you have it - "unique" ways to stay cool, with a twist. Which reminds me... I think there's a lemonade over there calling my name. Hope you all enjoy chilling out this weekend!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is "W" the new "Y"? (and more fun with words)

Awhile back, I wrote a blog entitled Fun Words to Say.

In talking with a friend today, we got on the subject of "favorite words", which morphed into little known words and their definitions.

My friend's favorite word is "arcane". It's an adjective that means "known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric". Ironically, a good word to describe her.

I shared with her my favorite word, "ubiquitous", meaning "existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time". Which isn't a bad way of describing how I feel I should be most of the time.

And because I like uniformity in my life, I told her I was particularly fond of the word "facetious", which contains all the vowels in order. Actually, I said, "facetiously" would be better, of course, because of that "sometimes y" factor.

To which she replied, "And 'w', too."


Apparently so. "W" is indeed a vowel in two words borrowed from the Welsh: "cwm", which is a special type of valley, and "cwr", which is a type of train tracks made from single long rails rather than a bunch of short ones put together.

Some linguists even go so far as to consider "W" a dipthong vowel, when used in words such as down, wow, and caw, and many others. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I do like the word dipthong, which literally means "two sounds" or "two tones", and refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. In most dialects of English, the words eye, boy, and cow contain examples of diphthongs.

So I learned something new today, and I just thought I'd pass it on. I'll leave you with one more, though. Next time you go to your favorite coffee shop, make sure that you ask for a "zarf". See if they give you one.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Find out who you write like

Click on the link below and plug in a sample of your writing and see what famous author you might write like. If no one comes up, call me and we'll talk.

I Write Like

Apparently I write like David Foster Wallace. On the plus side, he was big into irony, as am I. On the down side, he committed suicide in 2008.

***A footnote for my comment-challenged friends: If you want to give me your feedback, click on "Comments" at the bottom of any of my posts. I've inserted instructions on how to leave me your thoughts.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Are you listening to me????

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times.

Am I speaking a foreign language?

Are you deaf?

Do you even hear what I'm saying?

I guarantee if you have kids, you've said one of these phrases at least, oh, a hundred million times. I say them every day. I swear, it's like children's brains are like the Starship Enterprise with this invisible force field around them, keeping out the evil enemy ship Parentspeak at all costs.

But I've recently learned that no force field is impenetrable.

They don't like to let it leak out, those boys, but I see it. The times my younger son and I wait in the car in the parking lot at church because my older son is STILL holding the door for the entire congregation. The sincere "thank you" my little guy gives his grandparents after a great day of fishing on their lake. The extended hand they (sometimes) give to people upon introduction.

OK, so those virtues have been hammered into their heads since they were old enough to walk and talk. But others I wasn't so sure about, until I overheard both of them squabbling over something stupid. About to step in like I usually do, I found myself waiting to see how they would handle things. My oldest finally said to my youngest, "You know, we need to stop causing conflict."

Wow, is there an echo in here???????

Or when my son saved his money for a certain toy, only to discover that the store was out of the item. At first he looked for something else to buy, then said, "You know, Mom, I shouldn't buy something just because I want to spend my money. I should wait for something I really want."

I felt a little lightheaded.

Then there was the talk my oldest and I had last night. He was extremely upset about something, and apparently so desperate to talk about it that he chose me (he usually doesn't) to confide in. I let him talk and was astounded at his perceptions and opinions of the situation he was presenting. They were laced with so many "Mom-isms" that I had tried - and thought I had failed miserably - to teach him during his 13-year life, yet here he was, processing his troubles using the guidance I had given him.

Then I felt this flash of fear and realized, "Wow... if he really is listening, I hope I'm teaching him the right stuff..."

I'm pretty sure I'm on the right track. But honestly, for awhile there, I quit trying. I was convinced that everything I said (except a few choice curse words - they ALWAYS hear those) was falling on deaf ears.

But now I see. It DOES penetrate the force field that is their brain. It DOES sink in. It may not be acknowledged or acted upon right away, but it's stored there, like an inventory of armor when they need it most.

To paraphrase Captain Kirk...
"Children - - - - the Final Frontier.
These are the voyages of my children and me.
Our lifetime mission: to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man or woman has gone before."

Sometimes I hear, "The engines aren't functioning, Jim!" Other times I feel like saying, "Beam me up, Scotty." But at the end of the day, I love my world that is this starship and the crew that are my kids, and I hope to continue to see the fruits of my labor - be they ever so small.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How looking back can help you move forward

I'm downsizing my life.

In order to do this, you have to be "in the mood".

Tonight, I was in the mood to get started.

I'm purging a lot of the stuff I've accumulated during my 11 years in this house. Tonight, it was to start going through a dilapidated file cabinet that is bursting at the seams. And while I felt some satisfaction at the mounds of papers in the trash, I discovered something else as well.

I've come a long way.

That file cabinet was basically the story of my life. It housed, among other things, my childhood writings - short stories I penned in grade school, some marked with "You should be a writer when you grow up!" from an inspirational teacher in the 6th grade. A column I wrote for the Observer Newspaper while still in high school. Marketing plans I toiled over while in college - one on Harley Davidson motorcycles of all things. Job acceptance letters from every position I've held. Newsletters I wrote and edited in Milwaukee. "Design" projects I created - cards, flyers, ads - using clip art and that old "cut and paste" layout method. The business plan I wrote when I started my freelance service back in 1991. The layout pages for the cookbook I made for Christmas gifts when I was strapped for cash.

Then there were letters and cards: mounds of them from the two soldiers I corresponded with during Operation Desert Storm. I wondered where those two soldiers are now, and if they returned back to the states safely. Dozens of cards from an old best friend. Mortgage papers from my first house. Divorce papers from my first husband. Pictures of my babies that took me back to those trying yet elusive toddler years.

All this got me to thinking. We spend so much time looking forward to where we need to go that we forget to look back at where we've been. I remembered where I was when I wrote those Observer columns - in high school, with not a care in the world. I remembered the joy I felt when I received those job acceptance letters, and the stress I felt when I struggled to start my own business the first time around. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of buying a new house, and the sorrow during my divorce. I remembered what it was like to be a new mom, capturing every moment on film, and the hours I spent doing creative projects for friends and family.

I wore many different hats, was good at some and sucked at others, but looking back I am amazed at what I accomplished and the lessons I learned (the hard way) along the way. And I thought to myself, I'm really no further ahead now than I was then. Sure, I have plenty of life lessons in my back pocket, but it's still my same life. I still struggle to find work, and feel anxiety owning a home. I still take tons of photos of my babies, now at the stage where they HATE that Mom takes their picture. My creative projects are all on a disk, or a hard drive, or a USB. No paper trail here anymore.

As I perused all of this, that popular song by REO Speedwagon was echoing in my brain: "Roll with the Changes" - sort of apropos, since I'm a writer and all: "So if you're tired of the same old story, oh, turn some pages. I'll be here when you are ready... to roll with the changes."

I invite you to take some time to reflect on your life - what you've done and what you haven't, great things you've accomplished and horrible mistakes you've made. We all have them. See if you can apply them to your life NOW, and how looking back might help you move forward with more wisdom, more insight, and a sense of appreciation for how far you've actually come. Hindsight may be 20/20, but the process of downsizing can make you see things even more clearly.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What do you want to DO with your life?

Every time I hear that, I think of poor Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) in the 1989 movie, Say Anything. When asked a similar question, he replied, "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."

Yeah, me neither, Lloyd.

I don't remember ever having a huge aspiration to be anything in particular when I was growing up. For some reason, I thought I'd be a psychologist. Why, I have no idea. Maybe I was a good listener. Maybe I enjoyed analyzing people. Maybe I knew it would come in handy for my own mental health. But my mother convinced me that writing was my thing, so as I plugged through high school I assumed my path in life was that of a newspaper reporter.

I've never done that. But I did major in journalism in college.

My junior year, I got an internship at an ad agency in Milwaukee, working for a media buyer on some pretty major accounts. I was hooked, and spent the next few years in various media buying jobs in the Milwaukee area. Upon returning to Peoria I discovered that "media buying" in the Peoria mecca wasn't quite the same as in the big city. I moved on to the vague field of marketing/communications, which I think is code for "wear every possible hat in the book".

After some time off to raise my kids, I went through kind of this mid-life crisis over what I wanted to be. That journalism degree didn't get me much in the way of journalism, but I enjoyed volunteering and tutoring the young children at my sons' school. I spent a good amount of time researching what I would need to get my teaching degree, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized that I was not one of those people who can spend time nurturing small children's minds all day. I could barely raise my own.

The kids I really seemed to connect with were the high school kids, but honestly, I didn't know if I had the cahunas to go into the trenches of today's teenagers. I had a feeling it was not the same high school I had left some 25 years ago. Now, what would have been the perfect job for me would have combined high school kids and psychology - a school counselor. If I didn't write, THAT is what I wish I were doing.

But here I am - at 43 - a writer. Just like my mom said. I write. And I write. And I write. And I hope that one day soon, someone will realize that what I do is a lost art and appreciate my prose - for a price.

And on the bright side, the life expectancy of women today is 80+ years, so I've got a long way to go. There's still plenty of time to figure out what I want to do with my life.

What about you? What would you do if you could?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

If you could have lunch with anyone, alive or dead, and excluding a relative, who would it be?

(And I'll clarify that if he or she is a deceased person, that person is alive at least for lunch.) Recently someone asked me this question, and I'll admit - I had to really think about it. If I could have lunch with anyone in the world... spend an hour picking their brain... listen to them share words of wisdom... who would it be?

The first person to come into my mind was Maya Angelou. Called "a global renaissance woman", Dr. Angelou is a poet, novelist, educator, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist. 

She was born and raised in St. Louis, was a single parent, and is a talented writer. I am moved by her prose, and especially her quotes, which can be heartfelt, like: "My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return." Some are pointed: "As far as I knew white women were never lonely, except in books. White men adored them, Black men desired them and Black women worked for them." Some humorous: "I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass." 

I'd love to sit down with her and not say a word - just let her talk - just drink her in and all her wisdom, experience and insight. I'd be sure that she would profess some quote that would unlock all of my life's questions, and that I would leave with the key to the world. OK, probably not, but I still think it would be amazing. 

Who else would be in my Top 5?

Albert Einstein. And not to tap in to his genius brain, but to find out what his weaknesses were. And if he was happy. And if he had any idea the mark he made on this world.

Dr. Seuss. Just to see if he'd order green eggs and ham and talk in nonsensical rhymes.

Dick Hoyt. He's the dad that has competed in marathons and triathlons all across the country - while pushing his son, a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair in front of him. I want to hear his story and see the power that love and determination can do - race after race after race.

Erma Bombeck. If nothing else, to learn how to laugh and be a mom at the same time. And I'd make her put on that hat that she wished she wore instead of held in her hand all those years. If given more time, I'd probably think of more. 

My list is ever-changing. So, who would you choose to have lunch with? Who would inspire you? And what would you take away from your visit? In the words of Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My sister, my friend: a birthday tribute

Today my sister is 50.

But she doesn’t want anyone to know that. Or make a fuss.

It’s kind of how she’s gone through life.

She goes by Laura. Some call her Lori. To me, she’s always been Laurie. Or, when we were younger, Ya-Ya (my little brother couldn’t say his “L’s”.)

Laurie’s a nurse. She was born to be a nurse. She’s one of the few people who has known what she wanted to do since she was old enough to know. When we were growing up, she worked in a nursing home, sometimes double shifts. Not my idea of a dream job when you’re just starting out, but she was doing what she loved to do – taking care of people.

For the past more than 20 years, she’s been an oncology nurse at Illinois CancerCare. The things she has seen, the comfort she has provided and the heartache she has experienced is beyond my comprehension. But it’s what she does, and she is damn good at it.

When I was little, she was mini-Mom. Always looking out for me. Always including me. Always taking care of me. She didn’t have to, she just did.

We were sisters, and we were friends. We raked countless leaves together at the old farmhouse where we grew up. She’d walk me down to the Dairy Queen and buy me a sundae while she sipped a diet Coke. We’d go out to our boat dock on a sunny summer Saturday and swim off the edge and swing from the boat hoist. She’d let me sit in her room and listen to records – Kansas, Peter Frampton, The Knack… she made me feel cool to be her little sister. I idolized her.

I still do. When she left for college, I was devastated. When she got married, I felt like I lost my best friend. But when I went off to college in Missouri, she was there – living there – and took me in when I was feeling homesick, cooking me breakfast and helping me to adjust to life on my own.

Tables turned, and hardships ensued. Divorce. Raising a small child by herself. It was my turn to be there for her – and I owed her – and I was happy to do it. I was in Milwaukee at the time, and told her to come. She did. I helped her find a job and an apartment, and babysat her son while she worked night shifts. Tough times, but we were solid.

I lost my job in Milwaukee and moved back to Peoria. She followed. I don’t know how she did it, but she worked full-time and raised her son – no easy task – on her own for years. Zach was a tough kid. Life had not always been kind to him, either. But somehow, in Laurie’s nurturing way, she raised him to be the most amazing young man I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. She remarried, and Zach recently told me that Greg is really the only father he’s ever known. It was never easy blending families, but somehow, Laurie and Greg made it work.

In recent years, Laurie was plagued with serious health problems. Scary times. Very scary. At one point I was truly afraid I would lose my sister forever. But just like she always does, she persevered, came through it, and is here today continuing to bless this world.

She’s the caretaker of the family. The one I called in the middle of the night when my son had a 105 degree fever. The first one I called when my youngest son was born. The one who went to the doctor with me when I had a mass in my breast. The go-to person for every health problem – big or small – that this family has ever had. Because it’s what she does. She helps people.

I don’t know if my sister knows how much she means to me and how important she was to me growing up, and continues to be now. I look up to her as a parent, as someone who has endured heartache and come out stronger, and as a true friend. I know in any crisis, she would be first in line to be there for me.

Happy 50th birthday, Laurie! My son is so lucky to share this birthday with you. The world is truly a better place because you’re in it. I love you!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

God winks: You've had them. So read this because I know you’re dying to find out what they are.

"There is no such thing as chance. And what to us seems merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny."
-Johann von Schiller

Have you ever been thinking of someone, then in the next moment the phone rings - and it's them? How many times have you said, "If this-and-such hadn't happened, we would have never met." When was the last time you thought, "Well, isn't that a coincidence?"

It's not a coincidence. It's a God wink.

The term "God wink", coined by author SQuire Rushnell, (yes, Mom, the "Q" is capitalized) is defined by him as this: "A personal signal or message, directly from a higher power, usually, but not always, in the form of coincidence."

Think about it. All the events in your life that you dismissed as just coincidences. Maybe it was that inspirational person you met as a child that led you to realize what you wanted to be when you grew up. Maybe it was a difficult move to a new town that resulted in you finding your soul mate. Or a crazy story about how you met your best friend.

We've all had them.

Now I'm not trying to get all preachy-holy-roller on you all. But I do believe in God. And I do believe he does provide. And I do believe he listens. And yes, I do believe he winks. Often. And we need to wake up and take note.

I've always pointed out sunsets to my kids. I tell them that beautiful skies are God's way of saying "hi". And I truly believe that these coincidences - these unexplained twists of fate that occur each and every day in our lives - big and small - are simply little winks from God letting us know that he's got our backs.

In SQuire's book, When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life, he says, "Your life is not a series of random experiences taking you like a twig on a moving stream to destinations unknown. You are part of a much greater plan... Learning to identify the coincidental experiences of your life will help you to develop a confident sense of direction and affirmation, that, no matter how often you may think it, you are never alone. Somewhere up above, there is a universal guidance system, and you are on that radar screen."

SQuire discusses and describes God winks that occur in relationships, families, history, the arts, sports and careers. He backs up his theories with true stories from all over the world. Easily, within the first chapter of this book, whether you want to buy into this or not, you start to realize that there are more to God winks - or coincidences - than what meets the eye.

So what do you do with this information? You appreciate it. I told my kids about God winks, and now they find them daily in their own lives. A friend comes by just when they are feeling lonely or bored. A homework answer pops in their head to a problem they were struggling with. The rain stops just before they're ready to go out and play. They start to realize that life is not all about luck - it's about a higher power having a hand in their lives - every day.

God winks have given me the peace that I am on His radar screen. Just yesterday, struggling with the rejected unemployment extension, I received three checks in the mail that I hadn't expected yet. *WINK*

Through a seemingly random series of events, I have connected with "a friend of a friend who know someone who is connected with someone" who has provided me with freelance work. *WINK*

Then there's the short story I recently found that I wrote back in 6th grade about an old man on a park bench, which has striking parallels to a new friend in my life, the man on the corner. *WINK*

They're everywhere. About everything. So look for them. Appreciate them. Listen to them. Because they matter.

And watch the sunsets. You can't help but look up and wink back.