Mark Phenicie’s Steampunk Airships

For as long as I can remember, my dad, who owns a furniture restoration shop, has been imagining things and building them. Everything from a treehouse with dragon along the ridge pole to one-of-a-kind furniture designed by elite customers to intricate woodcarvings that take months to make.

He has always been drawn to a steampunk style, long before it had a name.

As a side project from his furniture restoration and design, he recently began making airships out of salvaged parts for himself and a few lucky people.

Maybe you’ll be one of them?

Shh! The Spiders Are Listening

Two spiders were crawling along the ceiling in the kitchen.

Leah saw them.

“Are you going to kill them mom?” she asked, in a loud, startled voice. She’s not too keen on spiders.

“No.. I’ll probably leave them there. They’re not hurting anyone.”

“Oooooh!” she said, a light bulb turning on in her little head. “The spiders can hear us.”

She pushed her curls out of her eyes, leaned very close to me and covered her mouth with her hands.

“Are you going to kill them?” she whispered.

“Yes,” I said, as seriously as I could manage while stifling my laughter.

Neighbor Marian Taken to Hospital

Marian, my sweet elderly neighbor, went to the hospital this morning, after fainting in her yard.

This morning, while I was working in my garden, I noticed my white lilac tree had bloomed. Marian was out in her yard retrieving the newspaper, so I trimmed some blossoms and took them over. She was wearing teal pants, a teal turtleneck, and a teal sweater – a monochromatic granny!

As she was walked back towards her house, paper in hand, she stumbled slightly over the edge of the sidewalk. I asked if she was alright, and said she was feeling dizzy — that she hadn’t eaten her breakfast yet. I asked if she wanted for me to fix her some food and she said she’d be okay and that she was going to go in, read the paper, and have something to eat. I walked back to our yard, but never heard her screen door shut. I turned to check on her and she was leaning against her door, slowly slipping downward.

Leaping over the flower beds between our houses, I ran as fast I could. I caught her. She looked at me, smiled, closed her eyes and went completely limp. She barely weighed 100lbs. I gently lowered her to the soft grass and checked her pulse. It was faint, but there. She started breathing deeply and slowly. I said I needed to get some help, and not to try to get up.

It started to rain.

I heard the loud engine rumble of my neighbor Eric’s delivery truck starting up, as he was getting ready to leave for work. I ran up the hill to his house. Jocelyn, another neighbor, saw me. I quickly told them what happened. Jocelyn called for an ambulance.

Eric, Jocelyn and I ran back to Marian’s yard. I cradled her head in my lap to hold her and shield her from the rain. I ran my fingers through her beautiful white curls. She was so pale. She was whispering apologies to us for the trouble. We assured her it wasn’t any trouble at all. I held her hand and said, “I love Marian! You’re breathing, and you’re talking to us… you’re doing great. We’re just waiting for the ambulance to get here.” “I love you, too,” she said. “You are the best neighbors.” Eric held a large hoodie sweatshirt over her body as a make-shift umbrella. The sprinkle had turned into a rain shower.

The ambulance arrived in the alley. The EMTs quickly assessed her to make sure it would be okay to move her, and then we all helped her into her house. It was now pouring. We were drenched. I stayed with her and put together a bag of things for her — a pair of black double-knit pants, a light pink turtleneck, and a white cardigan. It was the first time I had ever been inside of her house, but it was exactly as I had pictured it: White carpets, lovely floral decorations with many plants and grandmotherly knickknacks.

As soon as the the rain let up, the EMTs and I helped her to the ambulance. She was able to walk slowly with our support, but she seemed disoriented. She stopped to complain that her trashcans had been knocked over instead of stood upright when they had been emptied. I locked up her house and brought her the keys. She quietly asked if I could call her daughter and gave me a last name and the area where she lived — but not an address. The EMTs wouldn’t let her bring her lilacs with her.

As they pulled away, I placed her trashcans – upright – next to her garage. I ran back to our house to look up her daughter. I found an address, however no phone number was listed. “C’mon kids!” I said, scrawling down the address on an envelope. “We’re going to drive over.” It wasn’t far — just a few blocks away.

No one was home when Micah, Leah and I got there, so we went to a neighbor’s house to leave contact information. As we were talking, Marian’s son-in-law came home. I explained to him what had happened. No one had known Marian had been taken to the hospital. He left immediately.

The kids an I are praying for Marian and hoping for an update soon.

In the meantime, Marian’s lilacs are sitting pretty in a vase in my kitchen, waiting for her.

UPDATE – 4:30pm, Marian is home! Her daughters and son are with her now. I was able to give her a hug! :) Not sure what will happen next for her care, but what a wonderful relief to see her smiling.

Grandma Through the Fence

Marian says she’s the “ugly old lady who lives on the other side of the fence.”

She is anything but ugly.

Her white curly hair is like a halo and her smile may be comprised of false teeth, but it is genuine.

Industriously, she hangs her laundry on the line before the sun comes up. The damp cone-shaped bras, floral bathmats and eyelet lace curtains are like a row of triumphant flags declaring her existence. I look for them each morning and let out a sigh in relief over my coffee when I see them.

When she saw me outside today, she called me over just to hug me. She kissed both of my cheeks and my forehead. She told me I was a good mom in such a way that choked me up.

She knows all of my children’s names and talks to them over the fence. Sometimes she brings them cookies and asks them about what they are imagining while they play.

She always accepts short-stemmed dandelion gifts – through the holes in the fence – as if they are prized roses. She tells me she has little dishes on her windowsill just for that purpose.

Marian loves raspberry tea.

She works the polls annually and knows the names of all of the neighbors in her precinct. She flips to their page in the signature book as soon as they walk through the door.

She has many fancy hats and seldom wears the same twice in a row to church.

She stalks my white lilac bush as soon as it starts to bud. At the first few blossoms, she asks for me to cut her a few so she can take to them to her mother’s grave at the cemetery on the hill. She died when Marian was 12. Marian found her. White lilacs were her mother’s favorite flowers.

When Marian was in her 40s, her husband died. She says God used her suffering to help her become more aware of the suffering of others.

Her son lives with her now, but I have a feeling that, even though she’s ancient, she probably fusses more over him than he does over her — “I am an independent woman!” she says, stubbornly.

She will talk away your afternoon if you let her. (Sometimes I have to interrupt and rescue the unsuspecting workers who come to do various tasks on her property.)

She is like a grandmother to me.

I love her.

Befriending Bullies

“Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” — Josh McDowell

It is so much easier to lecture “Do not! What is wrong with you?” and label “You’re a bully!” “He has ADHD.” than it is to engage “What are you thinking about?” and encourage. “You are so brave! You would be great at building skyscrapers!”

Children who are fearless, strong, and driven, who can organize others and see the world as their playground — imagine how awesome their potential if given the tools (and challenges) to be good leaders.

One of my favorite stories to read to children is The Fire Cat.

Pickles is an awkward, homeless, yellow cat with black spots and very large paws. The other cats are afraid of him because he chases them up a very tall tree — because he can. They avoid Pickles and say, “You are a bad cat. You cannot be our friend.”

Mrs. Goodkind, a neighbor, takes Pickles into her fancy formal home and by gives him cat toys. She tries to reprogram him to be an common cat.

He quickly becomes bored and chooses to goes back to his outdoor barrel and his old ways.

One rainy, windy day, Pickles finds himself stuck in the very same tree he would use to terrorize the other cats.

Mrs. Goodkind could have given him what he deserved and left him for dead in the tree, but she compassionately called the fire department to rescue Pickles.

When he is safely back on the ground, Mrs. Goodkind doesn’t embarrass him or scold Pickles in front of Fireman Joe. Instead, she points out his big paws and praises potential. She re-frames his behavior. “Pickles is a cat who wishes to do big things,” she says. “Someday, he will do them. Look at his paws.”

Fireman Joe gets permission from the Chief to allow Pickles to live at the firehouse.

With much determination, Pickles learns how to be a firecat. He makes friends with all of the firemen, but still has trouble relating to the neighborhood cats. He chases them away when they get too close to the firehouse.

The Chief never responded by squashing Pickles’ spirit or kicking him out of the firehouse. He just quietly observed.

When the time was right, after the Chief has established a relationship, he pulled Pickles aside and said, “A Firecat must be kind to everyone. You must be good to other cats.” As a mentor, as someone who believed in him, as someone whom Pickles looked up to, the Chief — portrayed as a rather scary guy himself — let Pickles know it was okay to be both strong and kind. It didn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.

Sometimes people with big paws need to be told this, too.

A few months ago, a “bully” was chasing kids through my yard and plowed through my fence, knocking the gate off its hinges. He fled the scene. The loud crash of wood hitting concrete alerted me to the problem. I tracked down the boy’s mother and asked if he could come back to help me fix the gate.

Reluctantly, he came over. He helped me lift the gate and carefully guide the pegs back into the hinges. After it was fixed, he said he was sorry.

I thanked him for his help and said, “You’re strong guy. Would you like to help me clean up my yard?”

He grinned and recruited his little posse. Ten trash bags full of twigs and prickly holly leaves later, I bought them all ice cream and we sat and talked for a while.

When he talks to me now, it isn’t about baseball or riding his bike (although he is very good at those things), but it is about trying to navigate through his world without a dad. It’s about worrying his mom is having a hard time at work, and that he is disappointing her with his low grade in math. It’s about the desire to amount to something.

Little by little, he is changing. He is smiling more. He is including the younger children instead of chasing them through my yard.

I’ve often thought about how easy it would have been on that day to yell at him, call the police, or tell my children to stay away from him.

I certainly would have missed out on the the privilege of being his friend.

Re-Framing Negative Behavior:
aggressive / assertive
anxious / cautious; concerned
boisterous / enthusiastic
bossy / a leader
brooding / serious
chatterbox / communicative
clingy / loving
controlling / determined
disruptive / eager
distractible / perceptive
dreamy / imaginative
explosive / dramatic
fearful / sensitive
forceful / determined
giddy / good-humored
high strung / energetic; enthusiastic
hyper / loves to move
hyper-sensitive / responsive
impatient / compelling; passionate
impudent / unafraid
incorrigible / strong-willed
inflexible / traditional
intense / focused; dedicated
insecure / cautious
loud / expressive
manipulative / charismatic
moody / sensitive
non-participatory / an observer
obsessive / deliberate
picky / selective
possessive / keenly intent on objects
pushy / assertive
quiet / absorbent; a thinker
restless / zealous
self-centered / proud
serious / contemplative
shy / reflective
silly / fanciful; joyful
spoiled / well-loved
stubborn / tenacious; persistent
a terror / energetic
troublesome / challenging
unfocused / curious
unpredictable / flexible; creative
whiny / willing to communicate
wild / vigorous
withdrawn / introspective

I Just Called To Say I Love You

I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care, I do
I just called to say I love you
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart, of my heart,
baby of my heart
Stevie Wonder

For all you husbands out there wondering if calling your wife in the afternoon to say, “I love you” gives her warm fuzzies — it does.

(So do those text messages detailing what you’re looking forward to doing after the kids go to bed.)