Priceless Treasures: A Guest Post by Sharon Rosenberger

I can't imagine that you'll make it through this post with dry eyes... but not because it's sad. Rather, it's so incredibly touching, sweet and uplifting. My friend Sharon Rosenberger has penned the most beautiful piece about the adventures that she and her son Kurtis experience when they go garage sale-ing together in the summertime.

Here they are posing for us!

How am I so fortunate to know Sharon? My daughter Elsa and Kurtis attend Chapelstreet Church's Masterpiece Ministry program, which supports children with special needs and their families. Sharon also attends Masterpiece Moms, a group that I co-facilitate with Hillary Jarvis in order to support moms of kiddos with special needs. 

Sharon's post (below) completely melted my heart, filled me with joy and also reminded me that God creates each child in his kingdom for a unique purpose. The Lord made a most heavenly match when he gave handsome young Kurtis to Sharon. I hope you enjoy getting to know this amazing pair!

In Sharon's words:

Long sun-drenched days. Smoky backyard barbecues. Crowded pools. Lighter-than-air butterflies flitting from one colorful bloom to the next. These are a few of the signs that tell me summer is in full swing.

But my favorite sign of summer is made of cardboard and staked at a street corner. It takes just two printed words to set my heart aflutter with anticipation: GARAGE SALE

Oh, the possibilities! As the youngest of five daughters in a frugally minded family, I grew up going to garage sales with my mom and sisters. (In fact, we still often go “G-sale-ing” together.) I’m happy to pass down the tradition to my 18-year-old son, Kurtis, who has special needs. He has become my intrepid garage sale partner and, much to my delight, he truly enjoys our outings.

Garage sales can be great adventures for kids, including those with special needs. Here are three ways that our family benefits from the garage sale experience.

3 Reasons to Hit Garage Sales with the Kids

1. Unplugged Fun

Garage sales are a great way to spend the day together out in the fresh air and sunshine, away from the hypnotic lure of iPads and smart phones. Left to his own devices (no pun intended), Kurtis would spend all day watching videos. He particularly loves viewing siren-wailing emergency vehicles and thundering freight and commuter trains on his tablet. Often during our travels to and from garage sales we encounter the real things, which are much more thrilling up-close and personal and always inspire fun conversation.

When it comes to sales, we like the kinds that include lots of homes: town-wide sales, neighborhood sales and block sales. We park the car and walk one side of the street, then cross and explore the opposite side, adding a little extra physical activity to our day. The experience exposes us to new communities and neighborhoods, as well. During a recent outing, we discovered a lovely pond and had an impromptu picnic lunch on a shaded park bench, enjoying the scenery, weather and each other’s company. Such a fun surprise in the middle of our day!

2. Cheap Entertainment

While I'm on the hunt for decorative items for my garden, Kurtis looks through kids’ books and toys. Over the years, I have purchased many fun and educational items, DVDs and games at garage sales for a fraction of the retail cost. We have visited dollar stores so Kurtis can choose how to spend his earned allowance, but the choices are limited in these shops. At garage sales, each driveway is like a different store with new merchandise.

Once, a kind seller - after meeting Kurtis and learning about his love of ping pong - offered us a ping pong table and equipment free of charge. At another sale, my hoop-shooting son discovered the perfect-sized basketball for just 50 cents. We've gotten our money’s worth out of it this summer, playing with the $30 basketball hoop we also purchased at a garage sale.

For Kurtis, the biggest entertainment factor of garage sales is walking up a driveway and being greeted by a wagging tail and a wet nose. Everything else fades to the background, if there is a dog at the sale. Whereas I rate a garage sale by the variety presented, Kurtis measures a good sale day by total dogs seen and puppy licks received. 

3. Skills Practice

Each of us has a unique learning style and a different rate of learning. Our kids with special needs usually benefit from repetitive practice when learning and mastering a new skill. Garage sales offer opportunities for Kurtis to practice a variety of life skills in a meaningful way.

Safety: Each time we get out of the car, and before we cross the street, I ask, “Any moving cars to the left? Any moving cars to the right?” Kurtis practices looking both ways and must answer “no” before we cross. He does sometimes say ”no” even when there is a car present, so obviously we still have work to do. I hope that one day with continued practice, his awareness will increase and I’ll feel comfortable letting him cross a street by himself.

Money Skills: Garage sales are a great way for Kurtis to practice coin and bill recognition, value and counting. When there is an item he wants to buy, we talk about the price. If it’s less than a dollar, we can pay with coins. If it’s more, we’ll need paper money or a combination of the two. I typically lay out a variety of coins in my hand and ask Kurtis to choose the coins that add up to the price. We talk about the type of coin and its value as we’re counting. We’re still working on this and need to keep practicing. One benefit to practicing this skill at a garage sale is that typically there are no impatient customers behind you in line, as there might be at a store.

Communication Skills: My son has a dimpled smile, infectious giggle and endearing personality. He also happens to have Down Syndrome and severe oral and verbal apraxia, which makes intelligible speech a challenge. He works very hard to form sounds and words. Despite these challenges, Kurtis has many intelligible words and word approximations and loves to interact with people. Garage sales present numerous opportunities for Kurtis to practice his communication skills with a wide variety of people. At each garage sale, we greet the seller with a “hi” or “hello” and say “bye” and “thank you” when we leave. If he sees another Cubs fan, he will say, “Go, Cubs, Go!” We also practice how to appropriately initiate a conversation. Kurtis has a knock-knock joke he likes to tell everyone he meets, but he will often just blurt out his favorite word from the joke. So when we practice, I will ask the person if he or she would like to hear a joke and then Kurtis will tell it. He views each garage sale as his stage, and everyone in the garage as his audience, even taking a bow after he tells the joke!

It is my hope that people can see God’s handprints all over my son.
— Sharon Rosenberger

If you've ever met Kurtis and been on the receiving end of his knock-knock joke, heard his boisterous laugh or experienced his gentle spirit, you remember him. He makes quite an impression, as do all our kiddos with special needs whom God has blessed with their own set of unique gifts and challenges.

Every garage sale we enter is an opportunity for Kurtis to share these gifts with others, to increase the visibility of special needs individuals as active members of the community and for others to see the joy he radiates, despite the challenges he faces. It is my hope that people can see God’s handprints all over my son. It's truly amazing to witness the effect that he has on others and heartwarming to see the genuine interest and kindness that others show toward him.

Kurtis leaves behind smiles and laughter and makes an impact in every neighborhood we visit, one garage at a time. This summer, I encourage you to visit a garage sale. You never know what priceless treasures you’ll discover.

The Joy of Dad Fun

Now that August is here, it sure seems like our carefree summer days are numbered. So the other evening, our family of five did something we don't often do: We headed to the park for some post-dinner play.

When we arrived, I assumed my natural position - sitting on a swing with Elsa, my eldest - while our younger daughters ran all over the park. Swinging is my fave, plus I love giving Elsa (who is 5 years old and not yet walking) a big dose of sensory input.

After about 20 minutes of swinging with Elsa on my lap, I shouted to my husband: "Hey Dan, can you do something fun with Els for a bit?"

Here's a video of what they did...

"Something fun" comes so easily to Dan. What he dreams up to do with her is never something I would think to do. I'm so oriented to schedule and consistency. Dan honors all of those routines, but he also knows how to shake things up and maximize fun. I'm so thankful that she has this balance in her life!

Watching Dan give Elsa such exciting experiences fills up my heart to the very top. There is "mom fun," and there is "dad fun." Cheers to dads everywhere - especially to the man who leads our home - for the spontaneity and joy you bring to your family.

Stick Figure Woman: A Guest Post by Kate Twohig

Neighbors play a huge role in your life, don't they? The everydayness of the relationship quickly puts you in the realm of family.

My kitty-corner neighbor Kate Twohig has given me flour over the fence, saving my banana bread. We commiserate regularly about the stray cats too fond of our backyards. We watch in pain as our kids swim in sand at our neighborhood park. We're in this thing called parenthood together, and it's all the more fun that way.

Smart and witty, and a marvelous storyteller, Kate is a joy to know and call a neighbor and friend. And today, she's sharing a reflective and humorous piece with all of us, which I know you'll enjoy.

Meet Kate!

Kate pressed pause on her career to be a stay-at-home mom. It's a strange sensation (I can relate), going from investing so much of your time and energy into work, to being on the homefront 24/7.

A member of my neighborhood writing group (Yes, lucky me! I have one of those!), Kate recently shared "Stick Figure Woman" for our review and critique. The second I heard it, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Luckily, she agreed! 

In Kate's words...

My kids and I recently spent a week visiting my parents in Wisconsin. The day we travelled home, the weather was lousy. It was chilly, the sky was dark gray, and there were intermittent rain showers all morning. Both kids were pretty sleepy and quiet from the constant activity of the previous week. I knew they were super tired when I was able to listen to my music channel without any backlash on our three-hour car ride home.

As we were crossing the state border from Wisconsin into Illinois, a big SUV passed my left side and pulled into the lane in front of me. I noticed the sticker decal on the back window right away. It was the stick figure family. I saw regular stick figure dad. Stick figure mom was holding a briefcase. Stick figure older boy had a soccer ball. Stick figure younger girl was wearing a tutu. There was even a stick figure dog to help complete the family. Of course I noticed the similarities to my family - a dad, mom, older boy, younger girl and dog. But our family’s interests and hobbies are very different.

When I first saw the sticker, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. But with the quiet car and the constant whir of the wheels against the smooth highway pavement, my mind went into daydream mode. If I had to choose a stick figure to represent myself, what would it be? No ideas seemed to pop up right away. Perhaps ten years ago, I would have been the briefcase stick figure woman. I never carried a briefcase to work, but I understand symbolism for a career woman when I see it.

I worked for about fifteen years in marketing. The commute and the hours were long, and before having kids my life was all about my job. I really identified myself with my career, and I was proud to work for such a great firm, but then I had kids and my feelings slowly started to change. Long, demanding work hours aren’t so great when you are trying to raise a family.

After my second child was born, I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom. I will fully admit that the transition was way harder than I thought it would be. Caring for a newborn is rewarding, but as a new mom, all of your energy goes into caring for that baby and keeping it happy and alive. I also have an older boy (who was a toddler at the time my daughter was born), so at the end of the day there wasn’t much “me” time. When you become a mom, you quickly realize it’s no longer just about you. I often felt like I was losing a sense of myself, but I think I was too busy and tired to contemplate the topic very much.

Seeing the stick figure decal sent me into a crazy journey of thought. How do I identify myself? Well, I guess I’m not just one thing but many: daughter, sister, aunt, wife, cousin, friend. But those are relationships. The people in my life help define me, but they only tell a little bit of my story. I guess I don’t have one major hobby or talent that could tell my entire story. In other words, I don’t have my “briefcase” to display to the world. Instead, I have a lot of things I like to dabble with: gardening, reading, writing, art projects, walking my dog and cooking (as long as my kids are not in the kitchen asking me when dinner will be ready every three minutes).

After contemplating this topic for way too long, I came to the realization that my stick figure would have to be a mom. It’s my full-time job—one that is not always easy but is very rewarding. The difficult part would be capturing the essence of my motherhood experience in one picture.

My kids are currently 7 and 4, and they are slowly learning to do more for themselves. But obviously they still rely on me quite a bit, especially when it comes to food. Some days I feel like I am a short order cook and dishwasher. I’ll make breakfast, wash dishes, fix snacks throughout the day, make lunch, wash dishes, get drinks for the kids multiple times, fix dinner, wash the dishes and pour myself a drink at the end of the day. Is there a stick figure woman with her head in the refrigerator shouting out snack ideas to her kids?

Sometimes I have to play referee, especially now that it’s summer and both kids are home with each other I get to hear both sides of their story in the heat of the fight and I often have no idea how to pick a side. Sometimes I randomly pick a side and sometimes I make them work it out. Most of the time I have no idea how to choose the winner and loser but I act like I know what I’m doing. The kids have not caught on to my game yet. Picture a stick figure mom blowing her whistle as loud as she can to scare her children into silence.

My stick figure mom plays nurse when the kids are sick. She’s also a cleaning lady but who really wants to glorify house cleaning? She’s a teacher who helps the kids with their homework and answers about one hundred questions a day. There are really too many parental tasks to mention. When you are a parent, you wear many hats. I’m no different from anyone else trying to raise their children the best they can.

Towards the end of my trip, I realized there isn’t one picture that can encapsulate who I am. Right now, I’m a stay-at-home mom but in a couple of years I will join the work force again. Perhaps I will identify myself as a briefcase lady in the future but I like having a lot of interests and hobbies. I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself into just one role. Yes, I will always be a mom but as my children grow older, I hope to cultivate a rich life full of relationships, activities and interests.

It’s wonderful if you or your family have passions for certain hobbies or careers, but I’m going to stick with my mediocre dabbling in many interests. I will never ever ever get a bumper sticker or decal for my car, but if I had to have a stick figure family, my entire back window would be covered because I can’t chose just one thing for myself or my family.