Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sometimes I like being wrong

Nifty title, huh?

Here's my alternate title:
How To Have a Fun Outing with Your Whole Family for Six Dollars or Less

Let's start with that latter one.

Saturday morning we braved the insane heat (dear Lord, when will it end? Oh yeah, the end of October, when the rest of the country is zipping up their parkas) and visited the Zilker Botanical Gardens, where we found TWO letterboxes at the gorgeous Japanese garden. The gigantic koi cheered us on as they zipped around their waterlily-spangled ponds. Despite the heat, the kids were totally enthused about the whole thing, which means of course that we were too.

Our final letterbox was hidden right behind the parking lot where "Austin's best" sno-cones were being sold. That's where the six bucks come in. Four sno-cones (Tim and I shared) for $1.50 each equals soaring parental popularity. Because normally our kids are deprived of such things. Ergo, they appreciate it all the more when we shock them with such decadence. It's a great parenting strategy. :-)

Now, back to my original title.
We met some friends for dinner last night at Phil's Icehouse, one of the several places in Austin where you can get very good food AND have a conversation because your kids, in between bites, are merrily occupied on the playground. We'd been wanting to have these particular friends over for a while, partly because we've been total leeches and have always gone to THEIR house (they have a pool; need I say more?). As I scrambled to get the house ready for their post-dinner visit, and then as we all approached the house in our two vehicles, I couldn't help feeling just the teensiest bit apprehensive. Actually, "majorly self-conscious" might be a better description, because I was acutely aware that we could probably fit three or four of our house into their gracious abode, and we have neither pool (unless you count the mosquito-breeding rainwater collections in the sand pails scattered throughout) nor giant trampoline, nor flat-screen TV. Nor full-time housekeeper, for that matter, so our bathroom might not have been pristine. I worried, not so much what the parents would think, because they are the most down-to-earth persons-of-wealth ever, but more what their kids might think. I pictured them walking in, taking a brief look around, wondering where the rest of our house was, and proceeding to yawn the rest of the evening away.

Here's what actually happened: We all walked in and went straight to the backyard, where one of their kids shrieked, "CHICKENS!" and another declared, "Now THIS is a backyard!" Next thing I knew they were completely razzing their dad for not providing them with a tree fort, zipline and tire swing. We all played in the yard until we were completely devoured by the mosquitoes, and then adjourned indoors, where the parents were gracious enough to pore over our family scrapbooks for an hour or more and listen to the accompanying stories, and the kids ran wild. Their daughters, who are several years older than my own, played some long and involved dress-up game with mine, who obeyed their every command. Their son and mine were making shields out of cardboard boxes and helmets out of my mixing bowls. By the time the evening was over, the boys were wrestling on the floor, two smiling blond heads rattling around the hallway, and the girls were all in costume and playing with the race car track that my kids don't notice anymore.

So much for my stupid worries.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Week of 8/25-8/29

It's never too late for the weekly report, right?

Let's see, it was a pleasantly productive week, I'd say. Our most surprising success would have to be ...
LATIN. Yup, that's right, LATIN. We started Prima Latina this week, and Ian was totally on board with it! Why? Because 1) I told him he'd learn to talk like Julius Caesar, and 2) He got write out his five new vocabulary words in a Bionicle code language. How cool is that? It's called, "Doing What Works For Us."

History -- We're budding experts on the Jamestown Colony, having read parts of Exploration and Conquest, and The Jamestown Colony. I'm also reading the chapter book Pocahontas and the Strangers to them as they color industriously in their Dover historical coloring books. But wait, there's more! How is the craft-project-challenged mom faring so far with her new curriculum? Well ... we made a salt dough map of the eastern half of the U.S. this week! Our driveway may never be the same. :-) Up next week: painting the map. The kids report that salt dough tastes horrible. One of those things they just had to find out for themselves.
Oh, and on Friday, we played "Who am I?" at breakfast to review our historical figures of the week, and Eliza was taking her turn. "I'm very tidy, and I make my kids do it too. And I wash lots of dishes." Now, who could that possibly be? The answer was ... ME. I can't figure out whether that's good news (I'm a shining example of industry and diligence for my daughter) or bad news. (I'm a slightly anal-retentive drone).

Science -- Chugging right along with Pagoo. Also attempted battery-related science experiment with friend Isaac and his mom, Lynn. We weren't so successful in the millisecond of time we had the boys' attention. Once they'd gone off to create Lego contraptions, we did great things with wire and batteries. Yay us. And oh boy, what fun when Tim brought home a bunch of photos he took of a blue jay feather under an electron microscope. Daddy sure has some cool toys at work.

Math -- Miquon, math game card, and a session with the Mathtacular DVD from Sonlight. Oh, don't we all love that silly Justin.

Art -- Besides the coloring mentioned above, Ian and I did a session with our Mark Kistler's Imagination Station book, which gives humorous and user-friendly instruction in 3-D drawing. I'm actually kind of proud of what I turned out. And Ian did a nice 3-D alien ship, which he then put in an envelope and shipped off to Mark Kistler for inclusion in his next book. :-)

Music -- We started reading Sebastian Bach: Boy from Thuringia this week, and listening to various Bach CD's. Also caught a free folk music performance on Thursday with some hs'ing friends downtown.

Poetry -- Still working on Psalm 23.

Bible -- Reading stories from the NT gospels at breakfast, and now that Ian has his very own Bible, he's reading voraciously. Already in Exodus, and it's all voluntary, which pleases me no end. That may change, of course, but for now it's encouraging to see him so motivated to read it.

So, that's about it. One thing I'm pondering is whether to schedule something regular for the girls. Right now I incorporate Eliza into some of what I do with Ian, but the focus is pretty much on him most of the time. I read to her (and Caroline), but in a rather fly-by-the-seat-of-my-capris sort of way. Since I'm a mom and it's therefore my lot to FEEL GUILTY, I do fret a bit about giving her short shrift -- like not really buckling down in teaching her to read and whatnot. But on the other hand, sometimes she wants to read her Bob books with me and sometimes not, and reading is not something I want to unduly push. Can I really handle scheduling something else, something specifically for her? I think I'll have a clearer idea after a week or so.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bring in the clowns

I know she's done everything, from ordinary (is there such a thing?) mama to PTA president to governor to VP candidate, but has she seen this?

Oh wait. She has five kids. Of course she has.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Every face is beautiful

I had a lovely experience today -- another rare opportunity to get pulled out of my mom-with-three-kids identity. My latest magazine article assignment is to write a cover story about how kids with disabilities can grow up to become independent. Through my contact with the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas, I "met" (over the phone) the delightful mother of an equally delightful young man of 23 named Travis, who is working in the laundry room of a huge family fitness club in South Austin.

Today I visited Travis at work for a short time, speaking with his boss and then getting a tour from him. He showed me all the places he goes in the club, collecting used towels to take back and wash, distributing the snowy white fresh ones that he has meticulously folded by hand (and while his boss was chatting with me, did she open a dryer and start removing a large load of towels? She did. Did I restrain, with difficulty, the visceral urge to reach and start pulling out towels with her, because that's what a mom does when she sees a dryer full of clean laundry? I did).

He showed me the photos of his friends, the personal trainers, and even the perky-looking one of Brittany, on whom he has a crush.

And the class ring he proudly wears, bearing evidence of his role as manager of the football team, Crockett High School Class of 2002.

We had a very nice time, Travis and I.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This is Just To Say

I have eaten
the peaches
that were in
the Costco crate

and which
you were probably
would last all week.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so gigantic
and so wholesale-priced.

-- With apologies, once again, to William Carlos Williams.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Forgive me, Miss Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a two year old in possession of a good supply of magic markers must find herself in (CONSTANT) need of a mani/pedi victim.

Or a tattoo customer.

And must fall weeping on the floor if she is rebuffed.

For more on the latest obsession, see here.

I'm introducing J.S. Bach to the kiddos this fall. Yeah, they're getting culchah. Loaded five from our collection into the CD player this morning while Ian was doing copywork, in the calm moment after our morning of hysterical tears (see above). It was the Bach Variations from Windham Hill, and as the music wafted from the player and curled around us, the late morning sunlight glancing in through the glass doors, Ian looked up and asked me, "Who wrote this music?" "Bach. Johann Sebastian Bach." "Oh. He did a good job!"

His writing was some of the neatest I've ever seen from him. Thank you, Johann.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

From Avian Tragedy to Daddy Magic

I'm watching the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic Games (well, sort of watching), and marveling at the difference between Opening and Closing. The feeling is so different -- at the Opening, the athletes walk in formation, by country, and the Big Question hangs in the air -- what stories are about to be written here in the next two weeks? Who will travail, and who will triumph? Who will surprise us? Who will fulfill our expectations? What small and large acts of heroism will we witness? Who will disappoint us? By the Closing Ceremonies, the stories have mostly been written, the questions answered. A small chapter of history has closed, and the athletes are visibly relieved and ready to celebrate!

Anyway, speaking of closing chapters of history, we had a bit of a tragedy here this weekend. Y'all know a bit about our various backyard chicken dramas. Well, Saturday, Ian discovered the dead (and partially eviscerated) body of Madelyn, one of our feathered family members. Apparently, a predator had been at work, and we don't know if it was a nighttime prowler, such as a raccoon or possum, or a hawk in the daytime, like the one that killed Fluffer a little while back.

Sigh. I really hate this part of chicken farming.

Would you believe that the kids (including Oscar next door) wanted to dig up the body and do a post-mortem after Tim had buried it? Ian had -- and this will shock you -- BIG IDEAS for how to track down and apprehend the killer, and apparently he needed to examine the body for clues. He promised us he wouldn't touch it, and so what could we say? He simply didn't find my "I think that's gross and you sure wouldn't catch ME doing it," very compelling. So here they are:

Oscar's dad came over halfway through this episode and looked a bit horrified. Those weird neighbors again.

All this serious work was then followed by a visit from Robinhood (who's been practicing his archery all weekend) and two Maid Marians ("DARLING!"):

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Introducing ... DADDY MAGIC, the latest from my blogging husband. Check it out!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weekly Report 8/22

Back in the groove again ...

This was our first week of the year's official homeschooling, and we're easing into it. That said, I'd call it a success, especially considering my trepidations. Overall, attitudes were good and harmony, if not reigned, at least hovered near the throne. As much as I dislike the idea of homeschooling "to check things off our list," it seems like having a list of daily goals does help both Ian and me, even if I'm creating it all myself right now (eventually I'd like him to participate in the goal-setting). Eliza even asked for her own list today, after she'd taken it upon herself to wash the bathroom floor, the kitchen table and chairs, the craft table, etc. I had to chuckle when she wanted me to write "Washing" at the top of the list, just so she could immediately cross it off. Yeah, she's my daughter.

We're trying out a curriculum called Tapestry of Grace this year, which takes a classical approach to history (which we've already done), but includes not only a great book list but also some writing AND hands-on activities -- hopefully perfect for someone craft-planning-challenged like myself. I downloaded the first three weeks of Year Unit 3 for free, and am waiting on my back order of the rest of the unit to arrive in late September. To make it stretch, and to get us used to the pace, we're taking two weeks to do each week at the beginning. So this week, we did part of Week 1.

We had fun! We read some about the Jamestown settlement and the story of Pocahontas -- a lovely illustrated version by the d'Aulaires. For geography, we found a whole list of features (seas, rivers, mountains, etc.) on a map of North America. Ian really likes the You Wouldn't Want To ... history series, so I got him You Wouldn't Want to Be an American Colonist: A Settlement You'd Rather Not Start (You Wouldn't Want to...) Brownie points. :-)

For math, Ian did several pages of the Miquon math red book, reviewing odds and evens at a slightly higher level. Also did a couple cards from a Math-Problem-a-Day deck I picked up at Half Price Books a while back.

For science, we're reading Holling Clancy Holling's Pagoo, a super-detailed look at the life of a hermit crab. We've enjoyed all of Holling's books, this being our most sophisticated yet. We also happened to discuss (with Daddy, of course) the definition of an atom and what micrometers, nanometers, etc. are. I'm looking forward to doing more nature study, but right now it's still too hot to spend much time hiking around outdoors. We did make a start on the 100 Species Challenge, though -- will we actually follow through? We'll see.

For writing, we started brainstorming a fable for Ian to write, although instead of the traditional animal characters he's using an alien named Destructo, who will somehow learn the lesson "Look Before You Leap." Should be interesting when he starts writing. Stay tuned.

In our morning Bible story reading, we're finally in the New Testament! For poetry we're all working on Psalm 23 together, and for a fun read-aloud, we did Meet Kit: An American Girl : 1934 (American Girls Collection) this week (I took them to see the movie last week). They loved it, so we may continue the series.

Of course, there's also all the picture books I read to the girls and Ian's own reading, and our second time through Little House in the Prairie in the car, but those are the highlights for this week.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Send drugs

One reason I've been kind of quiet this week is that in addition to starting homeschooling, seeing friends who are visiting from CA, working on my magazine article research, and being an Olympics junkie, I've really been feeling atrocious. It started as a scratchy throat about a week ago, and whaddyaknow, it's STILL a very scratchy throat, now embellished with frequent coughing spasms and a migraine yesterday (my solicitous husband, before bed last night: "DO you want some Robitussin before bed so you can sleep? No, please. Have some, because I need to sleep.") So fun.

I almost never go to the doctor because I'm rarely sick and when I am, it's usually home-treatable, but I finally broke down and went today, stuffing the kids with cinnamon rolls from Upper Crust Bakery to atone for the parental sin of Spending Indeterminate Time In Dr's Waiting Room. Turns out, though, that it's not strep throat, and it's not even clear whether it's an infection or just my immune system finally crying "Uncle!" and developing full-blown allergies to Austin's infamously high mold count. Now, as Ian reminds me, I can "talk to my doctor about Zyrtec."

Those commercials. It's amazing, not only how annoying repetitive they are, but how transparent their effect on the young mind. Thanks to our Olympics jag, my kids are now convinced that they need to swish with Listerine every night before sleeping, that Barack Obama must be SO CRUEL because he plans to cut thousands of jobs, and that lime-flavored Bud Light would just about hit the spot (scary, isn't it?).

When the Games are over, I think our TV will be taking a sabbatical. It may come unplugged and just be broken for a while. At least until we're all happy drinking orange juice again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Buckling Down

Last week I decided that we had ENOUGH, thank you very much, of near-completely unstructured summertime. Ian has been bored, and as a result clamoring for having a friend over almost every second of the day. As much as he can be a self-starter, I think I'm slowly learning that he needs some boundaries within which he can work his magic. You'd think that in all this time that I'm not imposing any expectations on him academically, he'd be reveling in this freedom and producing all kinds of great, creative work. Not so much.

So I sort of scrambled over the weekend and came up with a plan for the year, which I'm still fine-tuning. I'll post it in the next day or so, if I can get my computer to cooperate. We're disregarding the public school schedule, which Ian is aware of because of his friend Oscar next door, and easing into things as of today. Bravely I sally forth, lists in hand, armed with plans, schedules and visions which may vaporize by Thanksgiving. Hey, isn't there some saying about shooting for the stars, and if you miss them, landing on the moon?

This year seems like it might work out a little better on one front at least. Last year it got pretty frustrating trying to accommodate (read: distract) Caroline while I read aloud to the older ones. As she's gotten a bit older, she and Eliza are playing more together, and she's playing on her own a bit more. This morning, for example, Ian and I did some math, practiced the first couple verses of Psalm 23, and read a chapter of Pagoo while the girls plotted an elaborate queen-and-princess celebration, complete with costumes and hand-cut confetti.

May I ask that if you are a praying person, you remember us these days? I've been wondering all summer how this year is going to go. It's funny, but after homeschooling officially for three years, I still don't feel like we've found our real groove. I know it's very challenging to homeschool a child who's been diagnosed with ADHD, but there may be aspects of my own personality that get in the way as well. I've been praying that the Lord would give me the wisdom as to how to proceed, as I can swing back and forth between the "we need structure, and lots of it -- give him lists!" and "I don't want to ruin his love of learning by making it a chore and creating resentment." Now that I write it out, it sounds like I'm flaky, indecisive, and lacking in confidence.

Oh wait. Maybe because I AM flaky, indecisive, and lacking in confidence. :-) (Sorry, I'm not beating up on myself, just letting it all hang out on this blog ...)

And in case you're wondering why I only talk about Ian in the context of homeschooling? It's because his sister is, like, a textbook candidate for homeschooling. She's sensitive, yes, but not ... um ... quirky. I say, "Lizey, want to read a book?" and she's there, on the couch, ready to listen and discuss. Emphasis on "discuss."

OK, sleep might be a good idea. Tomorrow morning's plans include a site visit for another magazine article that I'm (somewhat reluctantly) writing, and inflicting ultimate pain and torture upon my son by dragging him to his super-nice pediatrician for a checkup. We love you, Miss Hannigan.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A taste of things to come

Yesterday, after a low-key afternoon of reorganizing some of our shelves and drawers in the family room (pics later), the girls and I walked around the block to swim in our generous neighbors' pool. Ian read for a while in the treefort and then joined us when Tim got home.

I was all ready to push both girls in the double jogger (our answer to high gas prices), but Caroline really really really wanted to ride her tricycle, and I've learned it's fruitless to try to talk her out of it. This tricycle is my enemy. It's a Radio Flyer that was handed down to us, with a push bar for the parent to "help steer." Baloney. The push bar does NOTHING except steer the thing in the wrong direction, sending the toddler looping into oncoming traffic. Halfway through the walk, under the punishing sun, I'm bent double, guiding her along with a grasp on the handlebar. Did I mention how much I despise it? But you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. (It's made by Radio Flyer, by the way, so if you have the chance, buy the Kettler.)

This is how it went as we strolled along, Eliza sunning herself in the jogger.
Caroline, noticing I'm several paces ahead of her: "MOMMY!"
I stop and wait for her to catch up. Immediately ...
Caroline: "Mommy, I'm RIGHT behind you. You go." (with imperious pointing finger for emphasis). I start walking. After a few more paces, I turn to check on her.
Caroline: "Mommy, I'm RIGHT BEHIND YOU. Go!"
I walk a bit more.
Caroline: "Mommy! I need to hold your hand!"

If this were my first child, I might have felt my frustration rising, wishing she'd make up her mind and stop zapping me with these mixed messages already. But a bit of education and a good deal of experience made it easy for me to just shake my head and chuckle at this iconic glimpse of toddlerhood. I want to do it myself ... but I want you right there when I need you. I want to spread my wings ... but I want to keep the nest in sight.

I had to wonder what this dance will look like when my bright and beautiful two-and-a-half year old becomes a teenager (surely she'll have a full head of hair by then?). Second verse, same as the first? The tricycle will have rusted away by then, but there will be bigger wheels to spin. Perhaps I'll be allowed to sit in the front seat when she takes that wheel, but I'll have to keep my mouth shut. And in what other ways will she -- and the two others -- let me know that she's ready to fly? How will she tell me that she still wants me close by?

Let me go, Mom!

Hold my hand, Mom.

Lord, grant me the eyes of faith and a heart of grace. And very, very thick skin.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Must be Luuuuvvvvvv

At breakfast, wondering aloud: "What is Michael Phelps doing right now, Mama?"

She's been working hard in her swimming lessons, trying to catch up with her hero:

Phelps has his gold medals; Caroline has her pink crown. All we need now is the Olympic tattoo. Oh, and about 11,000 more calories per day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Magic of Birthdays

Today is my mother's birthday (I won't say which one)... so, happy birthday, Mom!

I sent her a set of these:

They were inspired by my dear friend and creative stamper, Vanessa.

Speaking of birthdays, Caroline is totally into hers, even though it's not until November, which in her mind is probably some foggy notion of the sweet hereafter. She knows she will be THREE, and she called her grandmother the other day to tell her that she's planning on having chocolate MnM's and "Starburstses" and some other candy, I can't remember what. Every time we're in a store and catch a glimpse of those delectable temptations, she begins her planning. "And I want THOSE for my birthday, OK Mom?" (Only she pronounces it more like, "buhfday." I'd better start buying stock in the Hershey corporation.

So the other night, we're on the couch watching you know what, and the wee one calls out, "There's Michael Phelp!" (she drops the "s" -- pretty cute). She paused for a minute and then reflected: "I have a thing for Michael Phelp's buhfday. It's gonna be CHOCOLATE CANDY."

We assured her of his undying gratitude.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Oh my goodness, did y'all see the men's 400m relay last night? The one where the French, who bragged that they came to the Olympics to "smash the Americans", got crushed in a .08-second victory by THOSE VERY SAME AMERICANS???? Who were NOT favored to win? It was one of those Olympics moments you remember for years to come. We were watching it at the home of our friends the Meades, who also have three children being kept up way past bedtime, as we all snuggled under afghans on their enormous leather couch, fixated on the enormous TV. But for this race, let's just say the afghans came off! We were all screaming and hollering, and then laughing our heads off at the shot of Michael Phelps cheering and his teammate basically coming from behind and elbowing him out of the way for his moment in the spotlight!*

Les pauvres Francais. C'est dommage. Perhaps next time, not so much smack-talking. :-) (As the Americans learned the hard way from the Australians in Sydney, as I recall -- remember the air guitars?)javascript:void(0)

We were happy to add some medals to our USA Tally chart this morning!

But I must say, what's up with the totally family-inappropriate commercials during the early hours of the Olympics? There's no excuse for these violent clips from that new Christian Slater show (My Own Worst Enemy, I think it's called), for example, during the 7:00-9:00 time slot. We call out "eye pollution!" and our kids know to close their eyes, LOL! An angry letter to NBC is taking shape in my mind. Then again, just blogging about it makes me feel better ...

Time to go watch Michael Phelps again. And those other people who swim. There *are* other people who swim ... aren't there?

* If you missed it, my friend Acacia, who's over here watching tonight, reports that she found it on Youtube. But of course.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And I worry about her self-confidence

We're watching men's gymnastics -- the rings, to be precise -- and Eliza says to me:

"Mom, if I were doing the gymnastics things that they're doing, I would be GWEAT at it."

I'm thinkin' maybe she missed the insanely bulging biceps and triceps, but far be it from me to throw cold water on her, so I nod, smile, and mumble something affirming.

"And then I would go right to bed the first time you asked me to!"

OK, where do I sign her up?

Friday, August 8, 2008

More literary gems

I'm writing this during commercial breaks for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I admit to being a mildly rabid Olympics fan, and I'm attempting something of a unit study with the kids on this subject. Tonight Ian and I painted Olympic flags while we watched the parade of nations. It was nice, especially because the rest of our day just wasn't that harmonious. Sigh.

Just wanted to share a couple other recommendations. I'm currently reading this great book called Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. Most of us know what a great gal Abigail Adams was, but we know hardly anything about, say, the prodigious mind and talents of one Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a matriarch from SC who makes me proud to have a daughter (also from SC!) named Eliza. (Let's just say that age 16, her father went off to Antigua and left her to manage his THREE plantations ... she later almost singlehandedly introduced the indigo crop and convinced Great Britain to snap up unheard-of amounts of it.) I'm not very far into the book, but I love Cokie Roberts' writing style, and I love learning about these unsung heroines (Benjamin Franklin's wife; Aaron Burr's mother, etc.) who helped found our nation. It's one of the things I love about studying history -- learning the little-known stories of the amazing-yet-ordinary people who lived and worked behind the scenes.

And speaking of such people, the current soundtrack in our van is the audiobook version of Little House On The Prairie Low Price CD. The narrator, Cherry Jones of the velvet voice, is excellent, and not only are all the kids captivated (Caroline shrieks with delight when Pa says things to Ma like, "Come and see the roof, Caroline!"), but I have actually taken the wrong exit from the highway and made us ten minutes late to swimming lessons, which reminds me why I read the Little House series seven times through as a young bookworm. I'd better be careful or we'll end up in Dallas one of these days.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Believing without seeing

I'm deep into a couple of real gems right now, and I have to pass along a recommendation for at least one of them. While we were in San Antonio, I read a marvelous book called In the Presence of My Enemies It's a memoir written by Gracia Burnham, who, along with her husband, was held captive in the Philippine jungle by Muslim extremists for an entire year. They were missionaries who were taking one night away in a hotel for their anniversary, leaving their three children in the care of friends, when the resort was raided. Their tale works both as a suspenseful adventure story, replete with sometimes-gritty details of how they survived in harsh circumstances, and as refreshingly honest recounting of the spiritual journey she underwent through suffering. The final outcome isn't a secret, so I guess I won't be spoiling it for anyone if I tell you that her husband was eventually killed in the rescue operation that saved her. But the book is such a tribute to him and to what they went through together. Highly recommended!

You know, the whole question of why God allows His people to suffer is a popular and absorbing one. Reading this incredibly moving post several days ago has me thinking all the more. Just today I had a couple experiences that brought the issue to mind again. At the water park this morning, I was having a ball splashing around with my two girls and just feeling so blessed to have them and be with them, sharing that moment. Then I quickly realized that while I may FEEL blessed (and I am), what about the moments that aren't so picturesque? What about an hour earlier when I didn't have much help packing up the car, or an hour later when one of the kids started complaining of being hungry but didn't like what I'd packed? Still blessed? Still thankful?

Well, if God is just as Santa Claus kinda guy who passes out the presents and whooshes away, then no. But if blessing is more than an emotion, is in fact an unchangeable Person, then yes. I AM blessed in those Other Moments, because they remind me, almost force me, to turn to Him as the source of joy, rather than relying on the temporary bliss of my outward circumstances. And while my feelings may change like the Boston weather, the facts of who HE is, and who He is for and to us, remain unchanged. A conversation with a friend this afternoon who's struggling with God's mysterious timing in her life reminded me yet again. Some of her friends around her seem "blessed" with the very gift she's longing for herself. And yet God, in His infinite love toward her, says, "Not yet." A different kind of blessing, as it causes her to grow deeper into Him.

Dear friend, since I know you're reading this, I want you to know that after we hung up a verse came to my mind: "Whom having not seen, we love, in Whom, though not seeing at present, yet believing, we exult with joy that is unspeakable and full of glory." The Burnhams, stuck in the jungle and feeling abandoned as their fellow hostages were ransomed, learned the truth of this the hard way. We all have burdens, some more dramatic and pressing than others. But when we can't see Him -- yet -- can we still believe? Still love? Even exult?

Joy that is unspeakable and FULL of glory sounds pretty good to me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Back from vaycay

You know, one of the rewards you get for taking a wiggly, antsy, tell-it-like-I-see-it 8-year-old boy to his friend's play (Singin' in the Rain) is that you get to be privy to snippets like this.
On stage: hero and heroine kiss, locked in embrace
Ian, in stage whisper: Ewwwww. Gross.
Boy next to him, who's already seen the show, in louder stage whisper: Don't worry. It's a FAKE kiss.

So, we've been vacating, pretty hardcore. As in, we've been on a very short vacation with Tim's family to their timeshare resort in San Antonio, a 2-hour hop down the road from here. This time, along the way we stopped at Cabela's in Buda. Do y'all know about this? I'm thinking so, since even my mother has heard of Cabela's, and let's just say that, her many virtues notwithstanding, she's not exactly a pop culture maven (nor is there a Cabela's anywhere near the town of Wilton, CT, where she grew up). Anyway, in case you don't know, I would describe Cabela's as a place where Davy Crockett and Charlton Heston would meet for a wild boar sandwich and a beer. Think REI, but on testosterone. We don't just become one with nature, we bring home the carcass in the back of our pickup truck. Think industrial-size meat grinders for sale.

But all in all, it's a cool place with plenty of eye candy for anyone with even the slightest appreciation for taxidermy. Or anyone with kids. Check out this giant manmade mountain, resplendent with stuffed wildlife and the only autumn-colored maple leaves you'll see within 100 miles of Austin.

There was a real trout pond, too, and a walk-through aquarium, and a shooting gallery, and a cafe where my son literally ate a wild boar sandwich. Won't try an apple, of course, but wild boar? Bring it on.

So then, we were in San Antonio at the resort, where we've all perfected the art of relaxation. It's called, do what the kids want to do. Which is basically, swim, ride the lazy river, build sand castles, hunt for golf balls after dinner, and play cards. What's not to love about that? They're all at age now where they're just fun to play with, including my 15-year-old niece and Tim's 17-year-old cousin, who plays a mean game of B.S. (That stands for Baloney Sandwich, Mom and Dad. ;-) Also known as I Doubt It. It's a card game.)

Okay, this borders on shameful gloating, but I have to tell you that because my in-laws basically rock, and think there's no more important job than parenting their grandchildren, it was arranged for my MIL, SIL, and self to spend an afternoon getting massages and lolling around the spa at the Hyatt Regency resort next door.
It was HEAVEN. And guess what? When I was thanking my MIL as we floated on out of there, her comment was, "Well, you both work hard raising my grandchildren, and you certainly deserve it." Whoa dog! OK, you know how as a mom, you sort of LONG for those words to be spoken to you? You just get used to doing your thing, day after day, and knowing that no one's going to hand you an award for it? Last I checked, there was no Phi Beta Kappa of motherhood. There are times, actually, when I've wanted to squawk at the kiddos at a moment of particular lack in their appreciation toward me, "I used to be SMART, you know! People LIKED me! I graduated from college with HIGHEST HONORS and then had a boss who told me, often, that I was GOOD AT STUFF!" (But I don't really say that because, you know, I'm MUCH too mature for that.) I'm learning, though, bit by bit, to do what I do unto the Lord and let His smile be my reward. How sweet it is to be loved and accepted by One to whom achievements mean nothing. But once in a while, it's REALLY nice to have someone (besides my husband) notice. And it's REALLY REALLY nice when it's not Mother's Day and Hallmark isn't giving the big nudge.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Last night our friends Kyle and Caitlin, newlyweds without children of their own yet, gave us the gift of time. Time to go out on a date with our beautiful middle child while they stayed home with the too-young toddler and the disinclined boy. It's rare, occasions like these.

We drove through the 103-degree heat to Zilker Park, where we wormed our way through the crowd and spread out a blanket and picnic dinner... and a game of Go Fish. And then, the Treat with a capital T ... the traditional Austin summer musical: Beauty and the Beast!

This was the Broadway version of the Disney production, by the way, with local actors. And at the end, even though it was 11:00 and way past her bedtime, guess what we snagged?

The holy grail -- a picture with BELLE. (And look how the Princess -- ours -- dresses herself up for an outing with Mom and Dad!)

And look! Gaston, signing her program ...

We'll be paying the piper today, of course, as we drive to San Antonio for a couple days' vacation with relatives and our sensitive daughter endures the aftershocks of sleep deprivation. There will be tears, I guarantee it. I'll need to bask in the memories from last night. Hmmm. Better carry my camera in my pocket, loaded with the photographic proof. Or maybe just trust in the all-sufficient grace, garnished generously with patience.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pool Daze ...

Here's a snapshot from our morning at the pool with friends that just neatly encapsulates my three children.

Ian: Lining up at diving board to plunge into 15-ft waters with his buddies. Rinse. Repeat. (But you have to know that until a week ago, he was dead set against trying the diving board. Then one evening he and I were out for a stroll and he mentioned casually that he was thinking of trying out the diving board next time we went to Northwest Pool. Ta-DA. That's how we roll.)

Eliza: Quietly, piece by piece, making an ant house in the shade out of all the four-inch-long sticks she can find.

Caroline: Staggering the 40 yards or so from the toddler pool to the diving area, carrying Ian's friend Christopher's two large inner tubes, because she overheard him complaining about some kid using his inner tube and us moms reassuring him that the tubes were safe at the toddler pool.

And I was fresh off of one of those little mom-victories, so celebrate with me. My friend Teresa and I had been sitting at the edge of the [very large] toddler pool, gabbing away since I hadn't seen her in two months. Three of our kids approached us and started splashing us, and I must tell you that I am most certainly NOT a fan of being splashed at the pool. If I get wet, I want it to be voluntary, thank you very much. I think we both had the words "Boys, DON'T splash us! Go play somewhere else!" lodged in our throats, ready to spew forth in VERY FIRM tones, when we suddenly started kicking our legs very very hard and splashing THEM instead. Need I even say that they loved it? Our ensuing conversation with punctuated, at five-minute increments, with looking up and seeing our combined seven children, ages two to ten, visibly plotting at the other side of the pool, then converging on us for a splash fest. We'd kick kick kick, feeling the burn in our quads and the water on our sunglasses, until one of them yelled "RETREAT!"

We're still cool, people. Haven't become superfluous yet. We may not be quite the universe to them that we were when they were two and we were flawless, but by all appearances, our public still finds us to be quite a catch.