Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Photo Assignment Poem

Something old
Something new
Something gold
Something blue

Something hollow
Something full
Something shiny
Something dull

Something moving
Something stuck
Something yummy
Something yuck

Something cold
Something hot
Something funny
Something not!

To flesh out the staycation we're having this week at my parents' house with the various aunts and uncles (i.e. my siblings and their spice), each couple is in charge of planning one group activity and one theme dinner. Yesterday we did Kristen and Allen's activities: making steamed dumplings and then completing the above photo scavenger hunt around the house in teams. Then we all brought our cameras, uploaded our photos to one computer, and projected them on the big TV while everyone guessed what line of the poem the featured picture portrayed. Some serious silliness ensued. Feel free to borrow my sister's creative labors for your own family Game Night!

Today we're doing a Yankee Swap and then playing Wits and Wagers, which our family brought. I think a Spain Night is on the dinner menu. An icy wind is howling out there, but if we can find any snow tomorrow, we're headed for the sledding slopes! Have to do something for these snow-deprived children of mine.

Friday, December 25, 2009

On the road againl

[Note: We are actually in southern Virginia right now, but I wrote the following last night. It failed to post because our internet connection was -- well -- shoddy.]

Friends, we are in Memphis, Tennessee, hunkered down at the Doubletree (thank you, Priceline Hotels!) after Day One of Interminable Driving.

Guess what? Turns out it's actually a really shoddy idea to take a road trip on Christmas Day, that is if you actually want to eat hot food for one of your meals.

We found the only restaurant on God's green earth, I mean Memphis, that was open, and it was a stinky, smoky, sports bar, and they kicked my kids out for being under 21. And as it turns out, it's also a shoddy idea to mess with me when I'm experiencing low blood sugar. I might bite your head off. Then you might offer us takeout food and I might cry while waiting for my food because I feel GUILTY AS SIN for biting your head off, and then I might leave you a very generous tip.

The Professor took the kids down to the indoor pool, after they managed to smear ketchup on the bedding and spill tea on the bedside phone and the bottom of his laptop. Good times, good times.

Ah, road travel!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What I'll Remember ...

The fire is quietly crackling behind me ... in the fireplace, that is.

The tears that brimmed, as they always do, during the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life still feel salty on my cheekbones.

Most of the suitcases have been carried to the car in anticipation of tomorrow's long drive.

Here's what I want to remember about today:

- Our gift time, and in particular the kids' enjoyment of each other's handmade gifts. Ian was genuinely excited about the tie-dye socks, and the girls were tickled pink by the embroidery kits. They'll be stitching away the miles tomorrow.

- Our discussion, over coffee cake and omelets, of what it means to bring gifts to Jesus today -- how to give Him our hearts, first thing every morning.

- Driving around this afternoon with Ian, just the two of us, looking for some homeless folks who might like some bags of homemade cookies. Before we left, he said to me, "I don't really want to go, because I just want to stay home, but I know I SHOULD." Yup. Welcome to life. Thirty minutes later, after a surprisingly difficult quest, we were both giddy and cheering out loud upon delivering our last bag. THAT is the best gift I could give him today.

[Related digression: On vacation, I read four books. The best one, one of those you finish and want to buttonhole every hapless individual within fifty yards and shove it into their hands, was Same Kind of Different As Me. Here. I'm shoving it into your hands now. Read it, preferably with your Puffs with Aloe (TM) nearby, and see if you're the same afterward.]

- Eating tamales and chocolate cake with Aunt Kristen, Uncle Allen, and Adopted Aunt Acacia tonight. O the yumminess of homemade guacamole! O the legacy of terrible garlic breath!

My goodness, I can't end this post by talking about garlic breath. How about this instead? In the next couple days, while we are driving driving driving and I am whining to the Professor about the state of my tailbone and saying "Is that kind?" at regular intervals toward the back seat, I hope all of you are spending lots of time sitting on the floor in your pajamas, playing with the wee folk and letting your list of Stuff to Be Done recede far, far behind you. Enjoy the moment, whatever it is for you, and be blessed.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Homemade Gifts

Unlike everywhere else in the blogosphere, I haven't really done any Christmas-related posts around here, and that's for two reasons:
1. The Mexico trip and graduation sort of obscured everything else.
2. We have a complex relationship with the holiday. One that brings us to think and pray things through every year.

In the interest of being straightforward, I'll try to explain it like this. We don't do certain things that are commonly accepted as Christmas traditions in our culture. For example, our family doesn't have a tree, since the Professor and I have issues with the pagan origins of that tradition. We don't do Santa either (although my four year old is a Santa fan, and that is something that falls squarely into the category of Not Worth Making an Issue About as far as I'm concerned. Childhood is the time for childish things. We grow. We move on. We discover silver hairs, far sooner than we would like). We try to fend off the predatory vultures of commercialism that love to hover at this time of year (don't we all!).

Let me be clear: I have no problem with what YOU do or what is important to YOU. Really! Life's too short for legalism of any kind. In fact, I'm only sharing where we are in our journey since it seemed sort of glaring NOT to address it. Shall we consider the issue addressed?

Here's what we DO do.

We do family traditions, taking advantage of the many ideas and opportunities for making special memories together (gosh, that sounded so sappy I just can't bring myself to reread what I just wrote).

We do send out cards and eagerly check the mail every day for those hand-addressed missives from relatives and friends. Thanks, guys!

We do gifts, among ourselves and some relatives.

We do look for ways to reach out to people around us.

We do listen to, and sing, carols. Not so much "Santa Baby" (ew!) as "Hark the Herald Angels" or perhaps my favorite, "O Holy Night." (What's yours?)

And of course, we do Jesus. (Always.)

For our family, we do a combination of bought and made gifts. This year, Ian is making learn-to-embroider kits for his sisters. He'll decorate mini canvas totes with fabric markers, and then fill them with goodies as inspired by maya*made here.

He has been wanting to make a wildlife album for a while, as place to collect his photos of various animals we run across. So I'm giving him a blank album, a pile of photos, and some cards made in Photoshop:
Some time in the next two days, I need to help the girls tie-dye socks for him without his knowledge. Good luck, self!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Little Engine that Could Windsurf

... in which our hero, the fearless Professor, decides to teach himself windsurfing among the waves of the dynamic Gulf of Mexico. Being the self-sacrificing sort, he provides free entertainment for the resort guests lounging on the beach. I love that man. He's just noble noble noble.

OK. I'm on the board. Now I just hafta grab that sail like so ...

Or not.

I am of courage undaunted! Back onto the board I go!

I want my Mommy.

Maybe I need a little lesson? Señor?

Now I get it!
OH yeah!

Friday, December 18, 2009

We are back

Back to home sweet home. The trip exceeded our expectations. Not to say everything was 100% perfect, but certainly close enough for every person in the family to have a fantastic time. The kids were all in mourning about leaving the friends they made, which is something I didn't foresee happening. Here's what we discovered: in December, Mexican resorts are chock full of Canadians! Seriously, it's like the entire continent just tilts a bit like the sinking Titanic and spills some frostbitten refugees into the much warmer southern lands.

We made friends with one super nice family from Calgary with FIVE kids. Just like my family of origin. Guess how long they were staying? Fifteen days! What happened to camping in the rain? I wondered (knowing that's just what my dad would say).

More later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trip blip

I bit the bullet this morning and paid my $12 at the front desk so we could have 24 hours of Internet here in the room. It was bittersweet, because as much as I like being connected and feeling like the world cannot possibly go on in my absence (kidding!), there is also something quite delightful about being DISconnected for a week and knowing that the world is trucking along just fine in my absence, thank you very much.

But anyway. I had a brief reflection about the nature of Travel versus that of the Vacation that I thought I'd blurt out. It came to me this morning as we bumped along through the neighboring village of Puerto Morelos, crammed into a vintage, un-airconditioned Mexican minibus with various native persons, my children being quite conspicuous in their a) blondness and b) loud speaking of the English language.

Here's the thing. With a vacation, one should be able to relax as much as possible. This excludes the activities of cooking and cleaning for one's family. The principal decisions to be made should involve, say, "Pool or beach?" or "lemonade or iced tea?" I thank my friend Kate for pointing out this essential element back when we were considering our options. Also, a beautiful setting and at least a decent degree of customer service help quite a bit. (Have I mentioned that we love the Marina El Cid? Because we do. Being unspoiled folks, we feel it's almost paradise. As soon as I find that winning lottery ticket lying in my driveway, y'all are all joining us on a return trip here.)

Travel, on the other hand, requires a greater spirit of adventure. It involves a willingness to experience at least a small degree of discomfort for the sake of genuine contact with the culture one is visiting. It involves a suspension of belief that one's way of doing things in the Motherland is the only way, or even the best way. It involves leaving the resort, preferably by bike or bus rather than taxi or air-conditioned shuttle. And I daresay, one should at least make a stab at learning the language. And practicing it, even if you're tripping over your words and trying to remember the rusty verb conjugations you absorbed in high school.

Either way, I think the secret is keeping the expectations flexible, not demanding perfection and maintaining a sense of humor, even a sense of the ridiculous.

I'm glad this trip's had a bit of both.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Viva Mexico!

Friends. I'm excited, yet almost disbelieving. Tomorrow we are going here. To this lovely resort on the Riviera Maya in Mexico, in a little village not too far, but far enough, from Cancún. All five of us. Because getting through grad school was certainly a team effort.

I've thought about posting a couple quickies during the trip, or afterward, but would that be a desirable thing to my dear readers, or would that be shameless, tacky gloating?

Anyhoo. The number of details to attend to in anticipation of even one week abroad can be unnerving. Without my little checklist, I'm sunk. The brain, it actually starts to buzz. Sparks spew from the ears.

I like Caroline's approach. Just sit yourself down with some paper, a marker and shiny Scotch tape and make yourself an iPhone, complete with some kid games and a calculator. That must be the ticket because I don't see HER scurrying around crossing off lists and running oodles of errands. Of course, she'd better start to scurry because any moment now, I'm going to eat her right up.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What We're Reading

I was really hoping to accompany this post with a few nice book cover pictures, but alas! Trying to download appropriately sized photos from my Amazon Associates page (not so I can earn five cents if you click through and buy it, but so that my photo doesn't say "click here to look inside!") has been more frustrating than ... than ... spreading cold butter on a soft piece of bread.

Instead, I give you this dully illustrated list. If you don't like lists without pictures, I can offer you the nice, reproving lecture that the Tammy Faye look-alike clerk at Hobby Lobby once gave me about the book of Job and how it's all about patience. Wow, was that little chat ever uplifting!

A Brilliant Streak: The Making of Mark Twain
(Gorgeous high-level picture book about the life of Mark Twain. Ian.)

The Magician's Elephant
(Have been reading sporadically with Lizey. So far less captivating than her others but I just KNOW it's building toward something special.)

Mexico: 40 Activities to Experience Mexico Past & Present (Kaleidoscope Kids)
(Can I just say that I love the Kaleidoscope Kids books? They're fairly bursting with worthy information and fun activities. Also. We're going to Mexico in a few days, and far be it from me to miss an educational opportunity!)

Then, here's what I have so far to read on our trip:

The Lucky One
(I admit! I confess! At certain times, such as vacations, I do like me a bit of Nicholas Sparks. The man knows how to spin a yarn.)

Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together
(Wanted some nonfiction that would also keep me turning the pages. Gal behind me in the Costco checkout line practically swore on the life of her firstborn that I would love this book. Anyone read it?)

Enna Burning (Books of Bayern)
(Um. Shannon Hale. MIGHT have mentioned my love for her writing a time or two.)

My Bible. Because if I don't read it on a daily basis, it matters not what kind of vacation paradise I am in, you do NOT want to be around me. It's just not fun. Don't do it. You've been warned.

For Ian: The Mysterious Benedict Society

For general read-aloud: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles 30th Anniversary Edition
(Fond memories of hearing this delightful adventure in an imaginary world read aloud at night to our cabin full of girls by a camp counselor one summer, and then of reading it to Ian a couple years ago. Now it's the girls' turn.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Please note: If your mom makes you a new headband with a large silk rose attached, you might think it's very pretty. She, on the other hand, might crack up every time she glances in the rearview mirror, because my goodness, that is ONE BIG HONKIN' FLOWER perched on her daughter's head.

But then while you're supposed to be sitting quietly in the very front row at commencement exercises, and you decided that, the heck with all this, I'm going to turn around and entertain the distinguished guests behind me since they think I'm soooo cute, and the man behind you ends up wearing your gigundous flower headband for a few minutes, and the woman next to him shakes with silent hilarity, and your mom is so embarrassed but decides there is absolutely nothing she can do about it because you have prudently sat out of reach, and she's just going to avert her eyes and pretend to have only a passing acquaintance with you -- well, my friend, you have it made. Made in the shade.

(P.S. Does anyone else think -- if I may be so bold -- that the father of our heroine looks Rawther Dashing in his doctoral regalia?)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Big Day

Hey, y'all. Big doings around Casa Diller this weekend -- tomorrow is the day The Professor walks across the stage in his "zoot suit" and acquires an important scrap of paper. I promise to post photos; the regalia is really something else.

Last night the Pioneer Woman was in town doing a book signing of her new cookbook. My friend Sally asked me to accompany her. Oh, how I was tempted, for three reasons:

1. Sally is fun to hang out with.
2. Meeting PW would have been a real treat, two hour wait notwithstanding.
3. A mom's night out is a mom's night out, any way you slice it.

But it was the night of our home meeting (definition: dinner and Bible study around our table), and someone was bringing a guest, and I just couldn't abandon the homefront in good conscience. I gave Sally my reluctant regrets.

You know what? The whole time people were here, I didn't think once about the book signing I was missing. I also didn't think about what a basketcase I'd been that day. There's something about breaking bread -- er, smoked turkey enchiladas -- with the people of God that just fills me right up, with not an inch left over for regrets.

Okay. My mom is here. Presents for the kids have been opened, airplane dramas related, the Austin version of a 30-minute blizzard duly admired, and UP watched with a side order of popcorn and hot tea.

Happy weekend, everyone! Over and out, kisses and hugs,


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Project 365 Redux

Vanessa was over today. We made big plans for documenting 2010 with this gorgeous kit (a great value!) from Becky Higgins. It is, in my little mind, the perfect option for those of us who are either to busy to scrapbook to the nth degree as we would like, or too overwhelmed by the thought of where to start. Hey, Sam? She wants one for her birthday. You're welcome.

Although my scrapbooking hobby has suffered this year in terms of visible output, I've really enjoyed keeping up with Project 365. If you're surprised I've stuck it out, you can't be more flabbergasted than I am. It's been like creating a yearbook, an ongoing family keepsake, the perfect mesclun (as my brother would say) of big events and completely ordinary moments and details.

Today's Picture of the Day:

Goodness, we love the library. We love the mostly-friendly librarians. The way we can walk to the shelf and pull picture books to supplement anything we're learning, from Abraham Lincoln to Mexican culture to dinosaurs. We love the cool events they host. We love their audiobook collection. We love the free-ness of it all.

Except when we discover we owe $20 in fines.

Then, not so much love. More bitterness and self-loathing.

And steely determination to jump back on the Library Elf wagon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I could take Chuck Norris in a homeschooling smackdown

My sister-in-law likes to tell the story of a fellow member of a horse-lovers' email list she's on. Apparently it's a pretty tight-knit community of oft-misunderstood folks, and this one particular member is a real character. Let's call her Buffy.

So one day Buffy was venting to the list about some herculean labor that she had to perform, something involving a multi-ton horsetrailer and a winch and various other details that escape my non-equestrian mind. Buffy was not feeling so competent, was in fact looking for virtual hugs and sympathy and who knows, maybe offers of help, until one member e-barked:

"Buffy, put your big girl panties on!"

This story popped into my mind yesterday as I reflected on our homeschooling experience. There are days when we're humming right along with plans and projects and wonderful read-alouds that touch the soul, like, most recently, Moccasin Trail ), and it's all very fulfilling -- like parenting in general, but more so. Then there are days, or at least moments, when I wonder whether I was tripping on acid when I decided to jump aboard the homeschooling train. Like parenting in general, but more so.

I had such a moment yesterday. It should have been so perfect -- the girls were busy at a friend's house, and Ian and I hunkered down at a coffee shop around the corner, working math problems and then reading (me) and listening to (him) a challenging, beautifully written, steak-and-potatoes book set in the time of the Civil War. I was delighting in the well-developed characters, the diction, the unfolding plot, the superiority of such a book to the dry alternative of a textbook.

But every five minutes, he'd break in to ask how many pages we were planning to read. Pffffft, answered my balloon, wilting toward the floor.

These moments -- they happen. More than I'd like. But less than they could. And each time I'm reminded: It's not about you. My tendency is to take things so personally. To feel rejected, wounded, invalidated, when my glowing moments get thwarted by a short attention span or a mismatch in learning styles or a distracting, I don't know, lightbulb buzz. I want to sulk, to make my disappointment the central issue, as if a child needs to be laden with the burden of meeting an adult's complex emotional needs.

So that's when I put my Big Girl Panties on. Some of us need 'em in size XXL.