Tuesday, December 30, 2008

McKinney Falls

Tim's been home a bit more these days, so we've gone twice to do some half-day hikes in the Austin vicinity. Here's how it goes when we announce the day's outing to the kids:

Parents, enthusiastically: "Okay guys, after we eat breakfast and do our morning lists and play a little bit, we're going to go to [insert beautiful woodsy spot here]! Ho ho ho!"

Kids: "Whyyyyyy? We don't waaaaannna go!" Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. (Yeah, I know, your kids never whine.)

Parents: Why? Because we're mean parents who like to make you SUFFER! (evil chuckle)

Eventually, we go. Today, it was McKinney Falls, and our friend Grace, who's staying with us right now and commanding the children's supreme affections, came along. See what a miserable time we had?

Actual dialogue overheard while crossing the creek:
Child: Is it time to go home soon?
Parent: Nope.
Child: Yay!

Drama aside, there's just something about these little outings that calms the soul, and spirit too, even when there's cleaning, decluttering, organizing to be done at home. Maybe it has to do with looking around at natural world and remembering that the One who ordered this whole, intricate amazing universe is the same One who's ordering and holding together my own personal universe.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Whatcha readin'?

The woman I work for at the tutoring center was kind enough to give me a gift card to Barnes & Noble for Christmas. How cool is that?

Very cool, except that I am overwhelmed by my choices. Paralyzed by indecision.

I have thirteen dollars left on this gift card. Would anyone like to recommend a book to me that I simply must read and own?


The other day I took Caroline on her very own shopping trip to the Dollar Tree.

She was adamant that she wear her "Christmas Hat."

(Funny, it looks an awful lot like a mesh bag for laundering your delicates in the washing machine.)

It was awesome.

This same child, after two weeks of bickerbickerbicker with Big Sis, played hours of Mama and Baby outside today.

As we drove to Half Price Books later, the following comment escaped her lips: "My heart is filled with joy because you gave Great Joy to me. Thank you, Eliza!"

O, my smitten heart.

The last couple paragraphs of Melissa Wiley's post at Here in the Bonny Glen sum it all up perfectly, this life we're leading and trying to capture in print. Anyone else relate?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We've been busy

I determined last weekend to get some of my mojo back by crafting with the kids -- specifically, writing down my list of projects in my notebook, shopping for the supplies, and actually making it happen instead of just reading about other people's great ideas. :-)*
The biggest hit with the kids?

Thank you, Costco, for your five dollar kits that brought us an entire afternoon of comfort and joy. You are almost forgiven for being so insanely crowded on a Monday morning that we couldn't reach the sample tables.

Then there was the lemon-rosemary shortbread for the neighbors and taekwondo teacher (this year I will NOT be that friend/neighbor/mom who basically says, "Oh gee, thanks for the plate of cookies! Never occurred to me to bake anything for you!" Nope, this year we are PREPARED! Our love and gratitude have a concrete expression!).

Then, truffles. Eliza's idea, group execution as you can tell by the variety in sizes. I can't tell you whom they're for because at least one of the recipients reads this blog regularly. Of course, his daughter already spilled the beans at the dinner table, so the Top Secret activity isn't so Toppish after all.

We worked so hard that we earned a lazy afternoon of lounging on the couch watching WALL-E. Um, for the second time in the last three days. Oh, stop it. I did fold laundry.

And how did we keep our blood sugar level today? Why, by nibbling leftover candy and shortbread and licking the bowls and spoons, of course! Note: when I became a mom, at least two of those parenting manuals I skimmed cautioned me to never let my child lick the bowl when baking together, due the risk of salmonella from raw egg in the batter. BWAHAHAHAHAHA! ExCUSE ME? Did you grow up in AMERICA? If I don't let my child lick the bowl, it's only because I'm saving it for myself!

More crafts to come tomorrow, even though I'm actually working in the morning! Yup, on Christmas Eve! Those Korean kids just never stop their learning! (And hey, a paycheck is a paycheck, no matter what the date. (Not that I'm mercenary. Just to clarify. No, it's all in the spirit of giving. I am GIVING them some of my abundant family time so I can GIVE them a few extra droplets of education in English grammar. Me and my drum. Rum pum pum pum.))

* Speaking of making things, please consider joining me in writing to your congressman and senators and asking them to revoke or at least revise the CPSIA, which is great for regulating potentially toxic toys from China, but deathly for the makers and purveyors of homegrown and handmade toys from right here in the U.S.
More info, and a button for your blog if you so desire, here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thought Salad

Oh boy! This post has NO governing theme whatsoever. A toast to miscellany!

Ian's writing sample from last week:
This week I did a brainstorm on what Ben Franklin and I had alike(and what we didn’t)! Things we don’t have in common: I have 2 siblings; he had 16. I like Legos; he didn’t have them back then. I take Tae Kwon Do; he worked in a printing shop. Things we have in common: we have great mischievous schemes, we like to read, we both have younger sisters*, he liked stories and I do too, and we were and are curious about things.-Ian Diller

*we aren’t absolutely sure he had YOUNGER sisters.

We've been reading D'Aulaire's Benjamin Franklin.

And speaking of reading, Ian seems to be enjoying The Sign of the Beaver, a great boy-in-the-wilderness coming-of-age story from a Newbery Award winner. But the real humdinger of the week is Caroline's new favorite, and it looks like this:

This is the first time my youngest has requested her very own copy of a library book. I find such a request exceedingly difficult to resist. Please buy me a book, Mama. And she has good taste; the book is simple and beautiful in both its story of young compassion and its illustrations that draw you into its heart.

More book stuff: I splurged on myself and bought a new cookbook:
The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh. So far, I'm nothing but pleased. The cranberry-mustard chicken and chicken molé we made last week were quite respectable, but the spiced pumpkin pancakes I made twice this weekend were well nigh sublime. If you're even the wee-est bit into cookbooks, don't pass this one up. It may well take a place of honor on my shelf next to How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, Silver Palate Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition, and all my Everyday Food magazines.

In other news, my dear friend Jenny, a celebrated digital scrapper, has created some adorable holiday cards which, if you're perpetually behind like me, you can still order! In the spirit of loyalty, friendship, and just appreciation of beautiful things, I am using one of her designs, and if I have your mailing address, you'll be receiving it one of these weeks. ;-) If you still need cards and don't want to spend a fortune (you can print them at Winkflash or Artscow), check 'em out (#1-#5)!

Here's a Caroline Treat for you: as we drove past an empty high school stadium today, she gasped, "Look at all the baseball players!* They're NOT THERE!" (*we're still working on sport identification.) Think on this philosophy next time you check your bank statement. Look at that nice fat balance! It's NOT THERE!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The sound of music

I crow-barred the children out of the house today to attend a free concert downtown at Central Presbyterian. A brass quintet was playing carols, and when we entered, I was in a huff because of a "conversation" (if you can call it that) my son and I had in the car about whether to take the entire summer off from homeschooling.

Let me just say that on the pendulum of things, this week has been really discouraging in terms of the gap between my ideals and hopes and dreams for homeschooling and the present reality, in which I forever feel like I am shortchanging ONE of the kids (usually one of the younger ones), the one who's technically "schooling" prefers to badger me for computer time rather than appreciating the fine literature and intellectual delights being served up in such a cozy atmosphere, and that same child thinks that leaving the house to go anywhere is tantamount to parental cruelty. So much for spontaneous outings and learning by living. Hmph. Please don't tell me that my ideals are too high; I've already heard it. You can send me consolatory hugs, though. I'd like that.

So my bruised soul sort of oozed its way into the sanctuary, found a seat where the children all miraculously stayed quiet and still for 25 minutes, and just paused to be still and listen. The music was ... well, transporting. Have you ever heard "The First Noel" played in a chapel by French horns, a trumpet and a tuba? Have its sounds ever swelled around you so that you have to close your eyes lest the tears sneak out? It's balm, folks, I tell you.

I sort of get grumpy around this time of year when I can't make my innocent way into a store without hearing some ridiculous pop diva cooing about Santa Claus or Frosty or whatnot in a way that's not only cloying but also vaguely sexy, if that's what does it for you. "O Holy Night?" Bring it on. The simple version. Fat red guys getting stuck in my chimney? Not so much.

But this, today, was just ... well... so uncommercial that they didn't even have a CD for sale. Unvarnished. Unfussy. Perfect.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh Charles, you shouldn't have

So, not to get all Plum Creek-y on you, but we awoke this morning to what was, by Central Texas standards, BITTER cold. Would you believe the temp did not surpass 38 degrees all day? As I said, BITTER.

Which meant that most of the day my kids spent running out to the woodpile, always wearing less clothing than I thought appropriate, bent on keeping alive the "roaring fire" that their very own Pa had laid in the fireplace before leaving, bravely, his blue eyes twinkling at us, on his bike this morning.

Impressive, no? Particularly the nightgown-with-rainboots look.

Today was one of those days when I nearly resorted to duct tape to get my eldest to sit down and accomplish anything resembling academia. His distractibility knew no limits. But by gum, the boy figured out how to relight a fire and keep it blazing (under my supervision, thank you, no need to call CPS). It was a great day for Life Skills!

Then tonight, we bundled them up and took them to the library for a delightful puppet show of the Nutcracker. If you're in my town, you have two more days to see it at one of the area branches, and it's totally worth it, sitting beside those faces that alternately gaze and giggle. Go forth and marvel!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Top Ten

This week's Time magazine arrived on Saturday, and it's chock full of Top 10 Lists. A pithy way to sum up 2008, wouldn't you say? So, entering into the spirit of things, I give you ...

Top Ten Things We Did This Weekend (It's RIVETING! Really!)
In no particular order ...
1. Slept over at my in-laws' house out in Elgin. This was so we could execute the next item in a timely fashion (e.g. at 9:00 a.m., when our family is rarely seen in public).

2. Helped my sis and her hubby move all their stuff out of my in-laws' storage trailer and into the back of their truck and the attached trailer. They bought a house on Friday (woohoo!) and spent the weekend moving. We tried to lend a hand but in truth, it was probably more like lending a pinky on the grand scale of things.

3. Watched the last four episodes of LOST: Season 1. Ohmygosh I will just confess here and now before these witnesses that I am borderline addicted to this show. These characters are just so real that I stop just short of praying for them. :-) Tim will be drifting off to sleep and I'll nudge him: "But why do you think Kate's mom was so upset to see her at the hospital in the first place? And do you think Sawyer is going to tell Jack that he met Jack's dad in Sydney and his dad said all those good things about him? Huh? And what about that hatch???? Are you listening to me?" Nice.

4. Attended wedding of Kim McCartney and David Allen. Funny highlight: the bride did not appear until at least ten minutes after the ceremony began. Serious highlight: the wedding vows. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse ... Never fails to choke me up.

5. Saw old friends from our church family in South Carolina, here for the wedding.

6. Attended church meeting and enjoyed the Lord Jesus. Yes, dear Lord, You're much better than LOST.

7. Denied Yankee tendencies ("why pay money for a gadget when a little elbow grease is all you need?"), broke down and bought a leaf blower, rather than massacre my gardens with the rake. Blew, raked, swept, pushed wheelbarrow, watched hubby run the shredder. Good times.

8. Took Eliza shopping at two different Targets for a present for Ian. This is not my favoritest of ways to spend quality time with my daughter, but for her, it's golden. She was blowing kisses at me from the back seat, clutching her little pink purse.

9. Worked on Certain Homemade Gift for Certain Family Members, which requires HOURS of computer time. Please, please, please, Artscow, get it here on time.

10. Attended neighbors' Christmas party, at which we a) read the story aloud from the New Testament, b) sang REAL carols, none of this Santa-Baby business, thankyouverymuch, and c) saw our mailman. Yes. They invited the mailman to the party. And he came. The kids were thrilled. But slightly aghast at his appearing in civilian clothes. With his WIFE. In a REGULAR CAR! Can you imagine? As my brother would say, "That ain't right."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I need a pocket-sized camcorder

Here's something really delicious about winter weather in Austin. The sun filters down pleasantly all morning, you cavort jacketless in your yard while the temperate breezes whisper, you do multiplication drills in the driveway while bouncing a ball with your son and keeping an eye on the girls who are climbing all over your car. You cast a pitying mental eye upon those who are imprisoned in their northern homes by the merciless cold.

Then, some time in the afternoon, the wind picks up ("I really MEAN IT this time!") and literally, within thirty minutes, in the space of time it takes to, say, run in and out of Hobby Lobby, the temperature drops ten, twenty degrees. You yearn to gather your young and hurry into the warm, glowing house and pour homemade cookies and hot chocolate down their gullets to warm them in more ways than one, and so you do.

That happened today, but a few other things did too. Whether or not you have kids, do you ever wonder what a snapshot, or maybe a scrapbook page, of an ordinary day would look like? When Ian was a toddler, full of brilliant and quirky sayings and mannerisms, I was SO SURE that I would remember every single one of them, as if meteors can leave indelible trails in the night sky. Now I know better -- I can't even remember what that brilliant thing was a few hours later when recounting it to Tim. "There was SOMETHING she said, and it was SO FUNNY -- what WAS it?"

So before I forget, from today with the small folk who populate my house and are changing too fast, a couple snapshots.

-- They have this new game which I'll call "Oh My Gosh!" They'll look at each other and say, for example, in the most shocked voices they can muster, "OH MY GOSH!!! You ... you ... have TWO EARS!" Then they all collapse into hysterical cackling. You'd be amazed at how long this game remains funny. To them. :-)

-- I'm putting Caroline to bed, and tonight it's just not working. The lady doth protest too much, and though I've done the bedtime routine, she tries to run out of the room just as Ian scampers in. Noticing my edginess, Ian takes over and uses some chest-thumping trick to turn her tears to giggles. "Was Mommy a little grumpy with you?" he asks soothingly. "Don't worry, she doesn't mean it." Seeing I'm not needed, I'm heading out of the room when he informs me that HE will put her to bed, "after we read stories galore."

Gentle readers, what are your snapshots from your ordinary day? I'd love to hear a few!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Flying Lessons

"We'd like to have baby," read my sister's text message on Saturday morning. WHAT?!? Really? You're ditching the grad school plans after all and furnishing me with a niece or nephew? Giving my kids some wee cousins to dote on? Can I start shopping for slings? Can I cut the umbilical cord?

Wait a sec. WHY is she notifying me of this major life reversal via text?

Oh. She's responding to our conversation about having Caroline spend the night. Caroline is so firmly entrenched as "Baby" in the minds of her aunt and uncle that they'll probably be toasting her as such at her wedding rehearsal dinner.

So yes, Baby did have her very own sleepover with Uncle Allen and Aunt Kristen this weekend. She was reportedly the ideal guest, exclaiming "YIPPEE!" to everything they proposed, from pancakes for breakfast to going to the church meeting in the morning, and informing me of my sister's morning habits. "We snuggled in the bed and then we stretched like THIS and then we had little blue Altoids."

Meanwhile, her brother was enjoying our dinner guests, the Dixons and their three boys, and her sister was being carried away into a vortex of whirling girliness at the Girls' Night Out hosted by her dance studio. Pizza! Watching The Parent Trap! Making candy canes out of pipe cleaners! Playing some game called "Sally Walker!" Arriving home at 10:15 p.m. with fingernails painted alternately blue and pink! Can it get any better? Nope. For a five year old girl, folks, especially one who attends with her best friend, this is NIRVANA.

And I was so proud of my shy girl for deciding to go and for jumping into the fray when she arrived with nary a backward glance. And proud of my smaller girl for falling asleep without me and not skipping a beat when she woke up and found some one other than Mommy and Daddy in the bed.

It's funny, when you're with your kids all day, every day, surrounded by their often-intense needs and just sheer neediness. You feel like the gravity holding their personal universe together. Then they launch into the world for a few hours, taking practice flights under someone else's loving eye, and because you haven't figured out how to scale yourself down to the size of a fly and spy on them all night, you don't know every single thing they're saying and doing and feeling. You only know they're fluttering around with pieces of your own heart hidden under their wings. And because they know where the nest is and where and when they can return, you know they'll be just fine.

Besides, even gravity needs a break now and then. It ain't easy, holding a universe together.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


You must watch this -- but get out the Depends. It's ROFL-worthy!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Books of the Week

Besides math and Latin work, there wasn't a whole lot of what might look like schoolwork around here this week. But we sure enjoyed some good books! Here's this past week's menu:
(I'm posting the Amazon pics with links because I don't know how to just post the pictures and have them link in case anyone wants more info. Sorry for the shopping list look.)

We're re-reading this. If you haven't, you must. It's a gem of way to learn Great Lakes-area geography. Ian now knows the HOMES acronym that I learned at his age, so he can rattle off the names of the Great Lakes. But that's much less important than the amazing pencil drawings and humdinger of a story.

Heartwarming but not sappy grandmother/grandson bonding tale.

Oh, too fun! Who can resist Tasha Tudor's illustrations? It's a great story, too, and excellent for vocabulary-building, as Ms. Tudor doesn't talk down to the wee folk. A picture book, but more for 4-8 crowd, not so much the toddlers.

Ian's required reading this week.

Oh boy! We sure do love Kevin Henkes in this household! Lilly, Chrysanthemum, Wendell, they all make us chortle.

I think this book is to nature study what Paddle to the Sea is to geography. It weaves facts about elephant beetles, caterpillars, and whatnot into a gentle story with an old-fashioned feeling to it. Makes me want to pay better attention outdoors, and I'm hoping the children feel the same.

Cute story about manners. Thank you, Fergie. Oh, and we love the illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser.

If you have young girls, you've probably already been introduced to Fancy Nancy. As for the illustrator, see above.

Oooh! A new Penderwicks books, snatched up at the library! I'm already into it, although the plan is to share it with Ian very soon. What a great batch of characters.

This is a Daddy-Eliza thing. It's Farmer Boy. 'Nuf said.

Biserable Bobba

So apparently my once-mighty immune system is now a brittle shell of its former self, because after that dreadful bout with sinusitis, I have had the mother of all head colds for the past five days. It's gotten so unpleasant that I actually yielded to the gentle peer pressure exerted by the other large person in this household and used the Neti Pot. Twice.

I'm convinced this was a technique used at Guantanamo Bay. Tim had to help me, so basically, the love of my life was waterboarding me, trying to move that ocean of sludge on through while I used my childbirth breathing techniques to remain calm.

So, at length I yield. UNCLE! On the agenda this morning? Mama lies on her bed reading books to whomever wants to listen. We got about fifty of them at the library yesterday. Notably missing from the schedule? Housework. The co-op planning meeting. Any and all errands. Except for the acupuncturist this afternoon.

Off to drown my sorrows in some lemon tea and stuff my offspring with echinacea and Vitamin C.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Letters Home

Dear Grandmommy*,

Thank you so much for the dresses you snatched up for us during the Hanna Andersson sale.

I wish you lived closer so we could have tea parties together (Good Earth tea, of course), but in the meantime, I'm practicing my twirling.

Also, thanks for the goodies and books for our 3.5-day drive home. We read one of the books, Snowed in with Grandmother Silk, this morning in the front yard on Opa's** baby quilt. This is what Caroline did while Mama was lying on her back reading to me.


Dear Papa***,

Wasn't it so fun when I was helping Daddy put your slippers on in the bathroom last week and when I was finished, I told you that you looked nice and fancy? Now that I'm gone, I hope you have someone to help you look fancy.

And remember when we took a walk up to the animal shelter together?

We were going to see Rosie the pig, but you ended up with a rooster on your lap. Plus me. That was wow! amazing! (as I love to exclaim).


Dear Nonnie**** and Aunt Kristen,

It was so perfect to pull into our driveway after hours and days of driving and find that you had come over and cleaned our house so we'd have something nice to come home too. You are the best! Our Mom was super happy about that.

And sorry about smearing bronze glitter glue all over the potty seat and scaring you into thinking it was us being incontinent in a #2 sort of way. We can't help our addiction to glitter glue. Thanks for cleaning it up, though.

Eliza and Caroline

* My mom
** My FIL
*** My dad
**** My MIL

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I hardly know my own heart today.

Wait, let me back up.

Two nights ago, we stayed in none other than Scranton, PA, which means nothing to you if you don't watch The Office, but if you do, means A LOT. We stayed at the Clarion Hotel because it had an indoor pool, but from our window I could see Schrute Farms Bed and Breakfast. Well, almost. Let's just say I could, on a subconscious level, detect the presence of fresh beets in the area.

So last night we sort of fulfilled a 3-year fantasy and returned to Simpsonville, SC, where we lived for five years. It was only a tiny bit out of our way, and we spent the night with Brian and Jessica Collins, some of our dearest friends from our time there (If you happen to be reading this and you're another of our friends from that area, be not offended that we didn't drop in on you. Time was extremely limited.)

Our kids and theirs hadn't seen each other in three years -- we last hugged each other goodbye at the farewell party we threw at Pump It Up for all of our friends the day before we left South Carolina. (I highly recommend this idea to all families who are moving out of town. That was the most stressful weekend of our entire lives, and to emerge from a packing/house-selling/newborn-baby-with-medical-issues/self-recovering-from-pneumonia NIGHTMARE and show up at your own party where no one has to do anything except jump on large bouncy things and eat pizza and have such a blast that no one's crying when we say goodbye? Priceless.) Oh, actually, in the middle of that nightmare weekend, which ALSO happened to be New Year's Eve and Day, Brian and Jess organized a surprise restaurant dinner for us with all the couples from our playgroup, with our combined thirteen children being babysat at their house by three reliable teenagers. So I have painted a sufficient picture of their unutterable coolness as friends?

Anyway, it was like we'd never been gone today. The kids were romping together as soon as the sun came up, and then we all lounged around the table eating a giant breakfast made by Brian, and talking until way past the time we'd agreed to leave. And then, competing to out-thank one another for a time of blessing that was all too short.

After we left their house this morning, we drove through our former small town, noting what had changed (not a whole lot) and what remained the same. I'm not sure what's the most unnerving -- that which changes when we move on, or that which stays the same, apparently heedless of your absence. We passed the toy store where I used to take Ian to play with all the Thomas trains on long, rainy days, the Publix where we did most of our grocery shopping (and always saw someone we knew), the post office where the clerk made me promise to come back and visit (yes, we lived in a small town).

We drove into our old neighborhood, almost thankful for the chilly rain that seemed to dim its considerable charms. The kids' memories came flooding back as we passed the playground, the duck pond, the pool, the clubhouse where I taught music group for three years. We passed our babysitter's house and saw a car parked in the driveway that could very well be hers, now that she's probably started college.

And then there it was -- our house. The house where we brought our four-month-old baby boy, and where I later gave birth to my daughters in the garden tub upstairs. The maples we had planted were wearing their fall splendor in the front yard, the hydrangeas shriveled in advance of winter's frost. We could glimpse the backyard, bereft of the playscape but still adorned with the tree we planted over Eliza's placenta. There were the blueberry bushes, stark and fruitless in the cold drizzle, but reminiscent of the gallons, purple and abundant, that we harvested our last summer there. In the woods behind the house, the trees all glowed red and orange in the rain, and I knew exactly what that glorious view from the wall of kitchen windows would be right now.

There was a car parked in the driveway, but we didn't have the gumption to go ring the bell. Next door we could see the same cars, marking the presence of our former neighbors and bringing to mind the time the wife, Gwenn, called me on my cell phone while we were in Charleston for a long weekend. "Did y'all mean to leave your back door wide open? ... Ah, I didn't think so. Bill's on his way over to shut it right now."

I left a note for one neighbor, knowing they'd be filling a pew at First Baptist at that moment, and we drove past a couple other houses where, if we only had a couple hours to stop, I could easily have gone and knocked on their doors. It felt terrible to just drive on by, but I knew a five-minute "hello" would never do.

As we made our way back to the highway, I felt so torn, with our past thrust so poignantly into our faces and hearts. The struggle to reconcile a kind of longing with the knowledge that in so many ways, we have moved on, left me at a loss for words. Eventually, Tim remarked quite perceptively, "In a way, I really miss it, but I don't regret the choice we made."

Regret, no, since there's a peace that comes from following the Lamb whereever He may go. Yet the heart, its trailing root hairs exposed now and then, never is a tidy little package, is it?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

On vacation

I have not been writing this week, because there's too much mischief being made here with my siblings and their significant others here at my parents' house. O the goings-on. Right now it is almost midnight and I am missing a fierce game of Speed Scrabble downstairs, but I already played about ten rounds and I need to get up during the night to help my dad, so with heaps of self-discipline, I am turning in. Details to follow about our trip, and some cute pictures from Thanksgiving, but I am honor-bound to clear my siblings' names in this public forum and let it be known that they have cheerfully played Apples to Apples with me three times now.

Other entertaining activities done late at night: removing and polishing the brass cabinet door handles to surprise my mom. Somehow, chores that seem onerous in one's own home miraculously become recreational when in the company of people who can make you laugh like nothing and no one on this earth. Now I just need to think of a way to get them all over to my house with a can of Bon Ami and some old toothbrushes. Oh, and one brother was making a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies at the time, so we could arrange for that too.

I love my family.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In my mind I'm goin' to Carolina ...

Checking in from the Quality Inn in Roanoke, VA, where we just stumbled in with sleeping and sleepy children about 20 minutes ago. Wow, a LONG day on the road -- about 12 hours in the car and most of them spent traversing Tennessee! It's the state that never ends.

We spent last night in Memphis enjoying the gracious hospitality of my childhood friend Aaron Lawson and his lovely wife Liz. I've only seen him once since he got married, although I saw him practically every day growing up together in our smallish town and church. Now that I've witnessed him living the married life, complete with house and job that he suffers through (seventh grade science teacher, bless his heart), I think it's finally sunk in that this kid who was like a brother to me is actually a grown man now, a full-fledged and very responsible adult, instead of being forever frozen in time as an endearingly clueless teenager. I just reread that and realized how patronizing it sounded, which I totally don't mean, but I"m not changing it in case someone understands exactly what I do mean. Plus, as I love to quote Tracee, it is MY blog. ;-)

As we passed through Johnson City tonight there was that fateful moment where I-40 splits off to go toward Asheville, N.C., and I knew that if we were to follow that road south and keep going, we'd end up in Greenville/Simpsonville, site of five years' worth of fond memories and home still to some dear friends. I feel a little wistful, having been only a couple hours away for the first time in nearly three years. Three years ago exactly, some of those dear friends were caring for my family -- stocking the fridge, bringing meals and pumped breastmilk for my two-day-old newborn, keeping my older children for very long playdates, praying for us, while I lay in the ICU with what the doctors called "a whopping case of pneumonia." I'm not missing that experience, of course, but missing some of the people and the surroundings that made us feel so blessed through it all.

P.S. I'm way behind on Google Reader, so don't be offended if you're missing comments from me these days ...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Like a herd o' turtles ...

... we're off! No, not really. We will be in the morning, hopefully only 30 minutes or so behind schedule, and maybe even with Tim and I NOT irritated with each other for making us late. Oh, sweet matrimonial bliss ...

(You know I love that guy -- it's just more of a choice than a sensation when travel is involved.)

The suitcases are packed, a mass of in-car entertainment items assembled. What a bunch of brilliant travelers all you commenters are!

I have done SOME of the important stuff, but not all:
- I have organized a care schedule among all my siblings for my dad while we are there. But I have not organized a cooking/cleaning schedule like I said I would.

- I have used Photoshop Elements to make a family bingo game for postprandial entertainment on Turkey Day. Twelve different bingo cards, hopefully with an entertainment value of more than five minutes. But I have not organized any scrapbooking stuff to take with me.

- I have done loads upon loads of laundry, run errands, packed items into suitcases. But I have pretty much neglected my children's education this week, until we read the most delightful Grace for President
at dinner tonight. Oh, I guess we did finish The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Yearling Newbery)
. And hung out with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib for a quick visit. Eliza is pouring on the you-must-give-me-your-full-attention-now charm, a surefire way to get me to call on the Lord under my breath. I wonder if I packed her enough warm clothes. I hear they wear sweaters up north this time of year. Huh. Sweaters.

Could we be a bit tired? Could our shoulders be a bit tight? Could our writing lack some sparkle and luster right now? Could we go so far as to say that it should be time for bed?

Safe travels to all of you in the coming days; I'll catch up when I can!


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Caroline!

Since she turns three today, let's paint by numbers for today's post.

Three Reasons I Love Caroline:
1. She has a terrifically clever wit, and we both think the same things are funny. Plus, the faces! Aunt Kristen caught a good one here.

2. She has a freaky sense of visual recall. She remembers places we've been once, months ago, and is always surprising me by saying stuff like, "Mom, this looks just like the neighborhood where the ____ live."
3. She gives the tenderest hugs and has the softest cheeks for kissing.

Three Non-Candy Items that Fell Out of Her Birthday Pinata:

1. cherry chapsticks
2. peanut butter cracker packages
3. travel-size bottles of shower gel and Scope (what can I say, my kids like mouthwash)

Three Birthday Party Activities:
1. Decorating party hats

2. Riding Prince the pony (thank you Aunt Jenni!)
3. Musical Chairs, organized by cousin Ashley (hurray for my in-laws and their giant, empty basement where kids can run wild)

Three Items of Apparel She Received:
1. Princess dress and "bling-bling", worn to co-op the very next day
2. Care Bear T-shirt (because that's what we call her)

3. The world's cutest, fluffiest, handmade TUTU (with garland & wristlets) -- and here we interrupt this broadcast to heartily endorse the handiwork of Kristen at Baby Makes Three, who whipped this up to meet my short time frame and even got it here ahead of time. SO BEAUTIFUL, so twirly, that if you have a little girl in your life you simply must indulge her. Keep me company. (Did I mention that this is HANDMADE by a fellow mom? Oh, I did? Oh, okay.)

(We might be making Twirliness History here.)

Three ways her brother described her on his birthday card for her:

1. A hot ticket (overheard that one from his Opa)
2. Cute as cute can get
3. Deserves $100,000!

Yep, we'll keep 'er.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Calling all Road Warriors

I may have mentioned that we're planning to drive up the road a piece this weekend. As in, all the way to Massachusetts. It's not like I think this is going to be easy, but I start feeling vaguely disturbed every time I announce our intentions to a friend or acquaintance and hear a double-take. "Wow, that is a LONG DRIVE," they'll say. Really? I hadn't looked at it that way! I start to wonder whether we're being incredibly naive to think we can undertake such a journey, as if there's some detail we're overlooking that's very obvious to everyone else.

I've been trying to stockpile in-car entertainment items for everyone without relying too heavily on DVD's. Here's a mostly-complete list of what we have so far:

Audiobooks (Farmer Boy, Trumpet of the Swan, short ones on loan from generous neighbor)
Plastic lapdesks
Art supplies, various
Travel bingo
Rubiks cube
Old Boys' Life magazines, huge stack

Oh my gracious glorious galumphing goodness, to borrow from P.L. Travers. That list looks awfully short. Either that or my memory is toast. Probably the latter.

So, cough up, people. Give me your best ideas for free/cheap road trip fun! Twenty Questions, we know. I'm Packing My Suitcase, yupperdoodles. What else????

In return for your brilliant bits of insight, I will share with you these pictures from Ian's improv troop performance last Tuesday. My sister and I sat there laughing our nearly-identical heads off.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A dark and windy night

(Note: I wrote this on Friday night, but due to the storm mentioned below, our modem got fried. Like, all-out gone-a-rific. Because, truly, in a month like this one, we NEEDED to go out and buy a new modem. That giant sucking sound you hear in the background is the last shred of this month's budget disappearing. Geronimo!)

Ooooohh, it's so wiiiiiindy out there tonight. A cold front (and we use the term "cold" very loosely around here) has blustered in from somewhere and arrived with a vengeance, sweeping emphatically through the trees, stealing our electricity for a little while, and making me feel, as I snuggled in the bed with a sleep-resistant toddler, that houses, warm and cozy with four solid walls, are very good things indeed.

The girls both had trouble falling asleep tonight, possibly due to their chocolate chip and peanut butter consumption this afternoon. Ah, the magic of caffeine. Caroline in general will never win awards for champion sleeper, and I'm guessing it's the chocolate that's disturbed the fragile balance tonight. It baffles me, though, how a child who has not slept during her naptime for over a week doesn't just push off for the Land of Nod when the sun goes down.

This sleep thing has tested me repeatedly during my parenting career. Apparently I'm a bit thick in the head, or I'm like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, destined to repeat the same fate over and over again until the lesson is truly learned. Here's what I think it is: Children are people, not robots. They have no "off" switch for our convenience. As much as it seems that "other people's children" drowse off to dreamland compliantly, at the same time, every night, it ain't necessarily so.

So when they're tossing and turning and wanting to discuss hot topics with you about an hour after you thought they'd nod off, and they're all worked up because the lights went out and THERE MUST BE MONSTERS IN THE HALLWAY, and the bed is deemed "boring," and they're in a fit of indecision about whether to use the iPod for their nightly "Golden Slumbers" marathon or not, and you just want to shout, for the 43rd time, "LIE DOWN AND GO TO SLEEP!!!"

Yeah, right then? Because that's such a soothing thing for children to experience when they can't settle?

Right then is when you face the hard truth that while it's easy to be a good parent when the children are charming, it's time to be a wise parent when they're, well, not.

I can fuss at them and sigh loudly and sit there resenting the fact that tonight of all nights, BOTH girls want someone with them right there until they fall asleep. I can whine to my husband while he whines to me (we're mature that way). I can question my parenting choices and abilities. Oh yes, I can.

Or I can lie there, reading a book or not, breathing in the smell of baby shampoo, feeling the small arms tighten around my neck, ignoring the clock, letting sleep come when it's good and ready. Remembering that this is a life, not a job with shifts that end at 8 p.m. Not just enduring, but embracing.

"I love you, Mama," the almost-three-year-old whispers, her warm, milky breath tickling my ear.

"I love you, too," I whisper back, meaning it.

P.S. The MRI results came back today. "You don't have a brain tumor," the nurse announced soberly over the phone.
"But you do have a sinus infection."
I was at CVS scooping up my antibiotics faster than you could say "two-week headache." Hurray!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More on thankfulness

I'm going to try very hard not to let this post descend into Pollyanna-ville. It's not meant to be glib or unreasonably cheerful. After all, if there weren't the struggle behind it, there'd be no reason for my practice.

Today I decided to challenge myself with the encouragement in 1 Thessalonions chapter 5: "In everything give thanks." I think I did it because as I climbed into bed last night, feeling rather low about the 2-week headache, I moaned to my husband that it just didn't seem worth getting up in the morning to face another day of being in pain. This is definitely an evolving process, as you might guess, but here's how the game is playing out today.

"Lord, it is 8:00 a.m. and there is a Monopoly game strewn all over my living room."

Thank You, Lord, that my children like playing together so much. Thank You that they have time to do this at such an hour of the morning rather than running in separate directions.

"Laundry, laundry, laundry! I can never keep up! Will it ever end?"

Lord, thank You that we all have clothes to wear. Dirty clothes mean clothes that have been worn. Thank You that we never have to go involuntarily naked.

"Okay, will my son EVER get the concept of putting his folded clothes away neatly? When do the words "nice stack" sink in?"

Thank You that I have the time to teach him (again). Thank You for his good mind, which WILL grasp this concept before he goes to college.

"Lord, my youngest daughter just peed in the back yard and washed her nice white shirt in the chickens' watering trough."

Thank You, dear Lord, for her concern for living things ("Mom, can I pee in the grass? The grass is saying to me (squeaky voice), "Caroline, I'm thirsty! Please water me!") and for her growing level of independence that inspires her to do her own laundry.

"Isn't it interesting how my son seems to challenging every direction I give him this morning!"

Lord, thank You for his tenacious personality. Thank You for his strong will. May he choose you with all his heart and hold to You with that same intensity.

"Lord, some of my children aren't grasping the concept of "library voices." I can hear them, shrieking about Spongebob, all the way over in the adult section off to which I sneaked."

Thank You, Lord, that they feel so at home in the library. Thank You that the Austin librarians are nicer than the ones in Simpsonville. You know of whom I speak.

Grace for the day ...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Three Things ...

... I'm thankful for today:

1. Getting to watch "Blue Planet" with some gigantic goggles so that I didn't descend into claustrophobic panic during my MRI (headache still among us).

2. The checker at Whole Foods -- the downtown flagship store -- deciding to give me an entire box of gluten-free pancake mix as a "free sample." No particular reason; I really was planning to pay for it.

3. My brother-in-law Allen, who turned thirty-six today and came over here with Kristen for carrot cake (from me and Central Market) and tons of smooches (from the kids). Oh, and Kristen, for babysitting on short notice -- so glad you're back in town!!! ;-)