Monday, November 29, 2010

Multitude Monday V

holy experience

Today I'm grateful, so grateful, for ...

33. Thanksgiving Dinner.

34. Operation Turkey.

35. Jared, for bringing me a bag of Pamela's Gluten-Free baking mix for no particular reason.

36. Wes and Liz Garratt, for coming over one night last week just to sing (loudly) with us and share some soup.

37. The Dixons, for dinner last night, for driving me to the Table meeting last week, and for raising our boys together.

38. The words of my children that make me laugh. Example: Today I showed the children a picture of Louisa May Alcott (it's her 178th birthday) without telling them her name. I asked them, based on the clues in the picture, what they could tell about when she might have lived. "Look at her clothes," I nudged. "Oh, she lived very, VERY long ago," observed Eliza confidently, "like probably the 1970's."

39. The words of my children that keep me rooted and grounded. Today my mother-in-law called to let me know that Bethany, the girl who gave Caroline CPR after her accident, was in the ICU with a serious illness. I called Bethany's mom and received permission to visit. Leaving Ian and Eliza at taekwondo, I took Caroline, who wanted to go, and headed over there with Vanessa -- I needed a friend since I was already feeling teary-eyed and shaky after reading about her condition, the very rare LeMierre's Syndrome.

In the car:
Me: Okay Lord I am trying to trust in You but DO NOT TAKE BETHANY, that can't be Your will right now, and I know that You can move mountains, You are mighty to save ...
Caroline: "Mom, what is Seton?"
Me: "Huh? Oh, that's the hospital where Bethany is."
C: "Oh. It's a hospital for lifeguards?"
Me: "Mmm. Oh, no. It's a hospital for anyone who's having an emergency."

At the hospital, we walked in to see a feverish girl breathing shallowly, hooked up to tubes that kept her supplied with oxygen. I worried a bit that Caroline might find the scene a bit disturbing, but she chirped, "Hey, Bethany! You have a glowy thing on your finger just like I did!"

The nurse, ready to enforce ICU guidelines, popped her head in.
"Is she [Caroline] Bethany's sister?"
Bethany's mom: "Ummmm ... not exactly. It's a long story. But she's very special to Bethany."
Caroline: "Well, she saved my life. I drowned in a swimming pool. But not to death."
The nurse left us alone.

Then Bethany -- who could barely speak -- made plans with Caroline to go out to ice cream as soon as possible. Caroline specified that it should be Amy's Ice Cream.

40. The promise of ice cream.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Embellish the Day

Y'all may laugh. I may seem extravagant. I know Vanessa thought so when I consulted with her ... but she came over to my way of thinking pretty fast. My logic is like that. It wins people over sooner or later.

So Caroline wanted a princess party for her 5th, but I must have used up all my party-planning oomph back in August, and I tend to break out in hives when faced with the prospect of organizing the Perfect Birthday Party. So here's what we did instead. We had the cake and presents with the family on The Actual Day. Then, a few days later, I took her, along with her sister and three neighbor girls, to Embellish Salon to get their nails done.

Why was Embellish the perfect place for such feminine tomfoolery? Reason One: The walls are pink. Reason Two: Glittery stuff everywhere. Reason Three: Heated, scented neck wraps. Reason Four: They played Eloise: The Movie in the background. Reason Five: Mom gets to sit in an comfy chair and read the holiday issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Dear future husbands of these five girls: I'm sorry. Very, very sorry.

Dear future wife of the boy who had to tag along until he was rescued by my neighbor Jesse, who had done the Thanksgiving shopping for both of us: You're welcome. Very, very welcome.

I think they had a good time!

But lest you think I spoiled these girls irrevocably, that they're now proceeding precipitously down the slippery slope of Legally Blonde-hood ... here's what happened when we got home.

1. They whacked a homemade pinata to pieces.
2. We went to the park, and they rolled down mounds of dirt.
3. They set up their own spa in my kitchen, complete with mixing bowls full of bubble bath and magazines for the "customers" to read, and gave each other pedicures. I even rated a foot massage. With lotion.

I couldn't help thinking about the Betsy-Tacy books I still love so much, partly because Betsy and Tacy have the childhood that I wish every kid could have. In Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the girls celebrate their tenth birthdays, and their lives are fraught with the tension between their desire to feel and be grown up, and the fact that they so clearly -- and endearingly -- are still children. So much of that freedom to explore, to spend hours picnicking in the hills and playing in the streets, is a bygone dream for my daughters' generation. Now they have chaperoned park outings and a more constant adult presence. Yet that same force of imagination endures, making life at the same time simpler and more exhilarating.

Of course, it's not their nails or even their imaginations that make these girls so lovely. They care for each other -- there's no meanness in their play. I may even be so bold as to say they love each other. Which makes them, with or without embellishments, truly beautiful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Love This Quote

(Exactly five years ago ...)

"The past is never obliterated; it has a patient, enduring existence where it collects like groundwater in holes and crevices and hidden lodgments -- in attics and basements, in sealed trunks and stubborn drawers, in closets and pockets and in cardboard folders. In these places, its visible colors are bland, but its secret strength gathers like thunderheads."

And if you want something from the much more distant past that may knock your holey socks off, check out this:

Speeches. They just don't make 'em like they used to. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Multitude Monday IV

holy experience

32. My daughter Caroline, who turned FIVE on Saturday. It's official, y'all: my baby is no longer a baby. She's a girl who's growing up fast -- too fast, sometimes. She wishes I'd buy her a bikini, can't wait to get her ears pierced, and can't decide which of three "boyfriends" she's going to marry someday (but she's praying about it). Lordhelpme. 

Of course, as we gathered with the family on Saturday, the adults of us felt an extra measure of gratitude squeezing our hearts. This day so easily could have been one of painful memories and bitter tears. I still think about how we almost lost her, still relive moments from that day, every single day. Does that sound excessive? If you've lived through something like this, you understand -- how the twin stamps of grief and gratitude leave you never quite the same. 

But here she is! She may embarrass me at times with her feistiness (yet I know she'll never be taken advantage of), but I wouldn't trade her craft-loving, mood-swinging, phonetic-spelling, night-snuggling, beauty-adoring, lovenote-writing, self for all the tea in China. 

This is a stand-alone item today, friends. It just feels weird to add anything else on. May your blessings be abundant this Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's all the [Grammar] Hullabaloo?

Call me a Grammar Geek.

It's okay. I can take it.

I actually felt my pulse quicken the other day while explaining to Ian the finer points of a definition of a panda and why commas are so important ... to omit, in this case.
Panda: Eats shoots and leaves. As opposed to ... Panda: Eats, shoots, and leaves.

So anyway. You know that kids' game, Cranium Hullabaloo? Pretty fun, right? Well, around here, we play Grammar Hullabaloo.

I get out a book, lately a volume of poetry, and a sand timer. We scatter our parts of speech around the driveway or yard (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, conjunction, interjection). I flip the sand timer -- actually, Caroline does. This is an excellent job for a preschooler. I call out words, and they run to the correct part of speech. 

When the timer runs out, we tally up their words. It's a cooperative game, by the way. I count the word once both kids land on the correct part of speech. 

Then we're on to the next round. They each earn a point if they beat their previous team score. (i.e. if they scored fourteen words the first time, they win this round if they have fifteen or more). The next round, it's double-or-nothing. 

And that's about it for formal grammar practice in our august halls of learning. 

Except, of course, when I interrupt them to say, "Did you mean 'Eliza AND I were taking all the pillows off of Mom's bed'?"

They love that. Do they ever. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Picture Books of the Season

Here's a fall favorite of ours -- one that gets trotted out year after year.

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World  is a clever world geography lesson disguised as instructions for making an apple pie "if the market is closed." 

 The market's on a main street in a pretty cute town. But it's closed, you see, so you've got to make the apple pie the hard way. 

I mean, the really hard way. Which includes sailing to Sri Lanka to harvest cinnamon from the bark of the kurundu tree. (And to France for eggs, and Jamaica for sugar cane, and Italy for semolina wheat, etc.)

After all that globe-trotting, it's time to roll up the sleeves and make the pie. 

And share it with some friends, a la mode or otherwise. 

Recently we also discovered Ms. Priceman's companion book, How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. Same premise, different destinations and ingredients. Getting the sand from Hawaii to blow into glass to make your measuring cups gives whole new meaning to the phrase "made from scratch."

A few other Thanksgiving picture book favorites -- a little cornucopia, if you will: 
Cranberry Thanksgiving -Great springboard for a little discussion about judging folks by appearance
Over the River and Through the Wood - The poem, as an illustrated board book.
Squanto And The Miracle Of Thanksgiving - Historically edjumacational. C'mon. It's not Thanksgiving without a nod to Squanto. 

Happy Reading! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Multitude Monday III

holy experience

20. -- there when I needed a plumber recommendation this morning, sparing me a stab in the dark with the yellow pages. In case you didn't see my note on Facebook: Don't put potato peelings down your disposal. That's why we have compost piles. Surely you have better things to do with $155 than summon a plumber. So did I, I thought. 

Wordplay21. The New York Times crossword puzzle, a terrific tool for preventing brain freeze. In high school, my friend Amelia got me hooked, and we did a puzzle together nearly every day of our senior year. I petered out some time after college, but watching Wordplay from Netflix this weekend reawakened the passion. Any other puzzle fiends out there?

22. My friend Amelia. (See #21.)

23. Forgiveness. New starts every morning. Yesterday: epic motherhood FAIL. Apologizing to the kids is rough, no? That slice of humble pie sure is bittersweet. They forgive so easily, though, and we're all the better for it. 

24. My husband, for taking time out of work to help Ian's den members earn their Scientist badges. That's two Mondays of lesson plans and experiments, and six antsy boys. Darling, you were riveting. 

25. The mess of scooters strewn around my driveway. We may not have the tidiest yard on the block, but we have a blockful of kids who love to ride. Where there is life, there is mess. 

26. My in-laws -- i.e., the people who raised #24. Not to make it all about me, but one particular thing that endears them is they're huge supporters of my writing. (In fact, they're huge supporters, period. Among their son, daughter, son-in-law, and daughter-in-law, they have four very different personalities and two widely variant family styles in the mix, and they cheer us all on as equally as humanly possible.) Latest example: Yesterday they called me to say they were driving home from Lillian Farms, where they'd gone for the night based on my recommendation.

27. My friend Stephanie, who was ready at the spur of the moment with her boy to accompany us to a book party for Jeff Kinney of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame. They made the long wait for an autograph much more bearable. (P.S. I'm a big fan of taking kids to meet authors in person. Who knows when inspiration may strike?)

(Ian with the main actors from the DWK movie)

28. Stores that are brave enough to hold off on Christmas decorations and soundtracks until AFTER Thanksgiving. If they still exist. 

29. Operation Christmas Child, for giving my kids a yearly opportunity to learn the value of giving and expecting nothing in return. 

30. Hymns that steal into your heart and head and stay there. 

31. A daughter who appreciates my taste in books. We just started The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet), a childhood favorite of mine. She's lapping it up like a kindred spirit. This heart's warmed. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What to do ...

... when you want to have a tea party with your friend and your  mother has -- disappointingly, annoyingly, frustratingly -- failed to provide you with fine china teacups adorned with painted flowers. You know, the kind your grandmother brings out for tea parties at HER house.

I mean, hello? How can a girl possibly be satisfied with pedestrian white teacups? 

Bring on the Scotch tape!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: Robert Louis Stevenson

In honor of Robert Louis Stevenson's birthday tomorrow, here's a poem a certain one of my children who would like to remain anonymous recently memorized:

The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing, 
             Up in the air so blue? 
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing 
             Ever a child can do! 

Up in the air and over the wall, 
             Till I can see so wide, 
River and trees and cattle and all 
             Over the countryside-- 

Till I look down on the garden green, 
              Down on the roof so brown-- 
Up in the air I go flying again, 
              Up in the air and down!

Discussing Mr. Stevenson this morning at the table, we decided it was pretty impressive that he's equally accomplished in both poetry and prose. One of our favorite Jim Weiss CD's is Treasure Island, part of that proud tradition of folks-marooned-on-an-island tales to which I owe my favorite -- and sadly, now-concluded -- TV show. You know what I mean. 

Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and LullabiesSpeaking of memorizing poems, we got our paws on a new book from the library called Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies. It's lovely in style and content and includes a CD of Ms. Andrews (a.k.a. Mary Poppins) and her daughter reading their favorite poems. Yesterday in the yard, I read Joyce Kilmer's "Trees" to Eliza as she perched in our giant ash. She decided she'd memorize that one, to catch up with you-kno-who. Find it here

Poetry Friday linkup here. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mini Heartbreak

Every morning, Caroline used to emerge from her bed and in her sleep-frowzled state, warm-skinned and bed-headed, come barreling at me, arms open wide. She'd jump into my arms and I'd scoop her up, where she'd lay her head on my shoulder for the first thirty seconds of her busy, busy day. Sweetness. 

Then I noticed that some mornings, she'd head for the couch instead, like her siblings. Maybe I'd be exercising, or maybe she ... dare I say it? ... was starting to outgrow the habit. 

This morning I realized it had been days and days since my last morning jump-snuggle. Like many of my babies' "lasts," I didn't recognize the "last" until it was too late to mourn, except in retrospect. 

You know all those grandmas who stop you in the parking lot when your kids are yielding to a meltdown and you look as frazzled and worn as you feel, and say to you, "Enjoy it while they're young -- they grow so fast?" As if it's the most original thought known to man? 

They're totally right. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Race for the Cure 2010

A year ago, I watched this race, cheering at the corner as Kristen and Allen sprinted the last 0.2 miles to the finish. I felt the tears well up at all the "I run in celebration of" and, especially, the "I run in memory of" signs that showed their pink faces everywhere.

On my birthday, in May, I decided I would train for this race. Even though I'd never, ever, run a road race before. Probably hadn't run 5 kilometers in a row since college.

Along the way, I began training for a half marathon. Almost immediately, the setbacks began. I ended up at a sports medicine clinic two or three times a week, working on the plantar fascitis that plagued my foot. Pain and discouragement loomed. But after weeks of inconvenient appointment, running feels better than ever. 

(Not funner than ever, mind you. Just better.)

Sometimes you just need to keep going because you have a goal that's bigger than your own self, because you've told people you're doing it, and because you're celebrating someone who survived more than an inflamed foot. 

This year, my sister met ME at the corner, and cheered me in to the finish line. 

It's just one of those things that sisters do. 

And maybe one day, these daughters of mine, if they live in a world where we still need to race for a cure for breast cancer, will do the same for one another. All the way to the finish line.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Multitude Monday II

holy experience

This is turning out to be a fantastic exercise, because it's forcing me to be thankful on a day when it's the hardest. I don't know about you, but we seem to have re-entry issues on Monday. After a weekend of relaxed routine and Daddy's presence, Mondays are bumpy. 

Here we go!

9. Homemade pumpkin spice lattes. I declare the season officially open. 

10. Sunshine and seventy two degrees. 

11. The two girls down the street, who play hours of imaginative games with my two daughters. This pack of four has a diner called "Nature's Nachos," plays "going to church" with Eliza as the featured speaker, gives each other art lessons, etc. As a result, my girls are now playing hours of imaginative games with just the two of them when the Thompsons are in school. 

12. The friendly folks who work for the Austin Public Library. Tonight I brought back a loose CD -- we'd returned the case last week minus one CD. "I did that thing," I confessed to the guy behind the desk, holding out the disc. He promptly described just how many people had made that same mistake, himself included. 

13. My next door neighbors, who cheerfully tend our chickens whenever we need to dash out of town for the night. Even when it involves a showdown with a 'possum in the dead of night. 

14. My brother-in-law Allen, who could take anyone in a Excel Spreadsheet Smackdown. For the past three years, he's applied his skills to making hour-by-hour schedules for my father's 24/7 care -- usually from 2000 miles away, and often scrambling to fill the gaps. Truly, he took my sister for better or for worse -- and my family is so much the richer for it. 

15. The time change, which gets us all into bed earlier. Now I don't have to run at O Dark Thirty in the morning. It's more like O Sunrise Thirty. 

16. My space heater. Its presence makes emerging from the warm shower bearable. Long may it live. 

17. The knowledge that no matter how glowing someone's perfect life may appear on the Internet, we're only seeing the small fraction that's for show. I've recently become friends with a woman whose beautiful blog used to shoot me through with pangs of envy. In the areas where I felt weak (or my children seemed weak), she and her family seemed so polished and strong. In coming to know her in person, I've seen that she's a beautiful-but-normal person with normal kids, normal struggles, and normal blogger-envy. 

Many times and for various reasons, we who share ourselves online cannot share the whole enchilada. We share what we most want to remember, what we don't mind our kids stumbling upon, what we think might entertain or uplift others. We try to keep it real, but readers don't always see the friction, the messes, the sighs and tears. 

18. Thanksgiving, because it's inspiring lots of folks to count and share blessings, one by one. 

19. Philippians 1:20 -According to my earnest expectation and [my] hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but [that] with all boldness, as always, [so] now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether [it be] by life, or by death.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lillian Farms: Your Next Getaway

I promise I'll shut up about my trip pretty soon, but first I just need to foam at the mouth for a minute about the Bed & Breakfast where I spent the second night.

Lillian Farms Country Estate looks like just that: a country estate. You drive through a sliding iron gate and meander along a very long, very winding driveway up to the main house, parking by a carriage house. You can see a large barn in the distance, where the horses and "the most phenomenal donkey" (quote by my hostess) reside.

Barbara Segal, the owner and operator of Lillian Farms, named the place after her mother. Barbara is absolutely the sweetest, warmest, B&B hostess you can imagine -- a master of the art of hospitality. Look what I found in my room:

And in the bathroom, the fluffiest bathrobe this side of the Mississippi:

The main house has two stories, but if you don't feel like bumping your suitcase up the stairs, you can use the elevator that's hidden away in a closet. No kidding.

I asked Barbara about kiddos at Lillian Farms, and it turns out that the wee folk are welcome in the Carriage House. I can totally imagine my crew roaming about the grounds, visiting the horses and Bailey the Phenomenal Donkey.

I can also imagine a getaway just for two.

I can also imagine moving in for a month.

Is my imagination running away with me? Whoa, Nellie.

And as if all this splendor and pampering weren't enough, guess what was served for breakfast at 7:00 a.m.? Eggs. Bacon. Coffee. Juice. GLUTEN FREE PUMPKIN MUFFINS. GLUTEN FREE PANCAKES.

Do yourselves a favor, y'all, and grab Someone Special (your spouse, your best friend, your own lovable self) for a night or two in the country. You'll think it's a little slice of heaven, as they say in nearby Brenham.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Great Adventure

Something truly bizarre happened over the past three days. I am not kidding. Here is the gist of it: For the first time in almost eleven years, I traveled for solely professional reasons. For real,  y'all. It's like I have a secret identity. I may look like a homeschooling mom of three, but BEWARE. There is a travel writer hidden inside, and once in a blue moon, she comes unzipped!

Basically, because I have been writing a monthly travel column for the past 3 or 4 years in Parent:Wise Austin magazine, I got invited to go on a press tour of Washington County, TX. "What's a press tour?" I asked my editor, because she's a cool gal who doesn't laugh at my lack of professionalism. And when I found out that a press tour meant free lodging, food, and tours of all kinds of neat places, I said, "SIGN ME UP!"

Oh, we're sorry, Mrs. Diller, but this trip isn't really appropriate for bringing children along. 

Oh. Okay. SIGN ME UP!

(That sounded bad. Please interpret generously.)

Honestly, I was both excited and nervous about this thing. Excited, because I love to travel and don't get to do it as much as I'd like. Nervous, because, hello? I am a full-time parent. My world is kids and other parents. I pictured that I'd be traveling with a bunch of writers who would:

1. Be chic-ly dressed in that elusive "business casual" at all times.
2. Look down their noses at someone who doesn't do this for a living and in fact, homeschools her kids and therefore probably wears denim jumpers and bakes bread every day. (Uh huh. Yeah. That's me.)
3. Be talking amongst themselves in tight little groups using all kinds of publishing jargon that would make my head spin, while I hid in the bathroom like a bloomin' idjit.
4. Drink lots of alcoholic beverages. (My tolerance: Two thirds of a glass of wine.)

Guess what?

1. I met a bunch of writers and public relations folks who, even though I was the ONLY ONE on the trip who had young kids and didn't write full time, were super nice and friendly and didn't laugh in my face or look like they'd swallowed lemons when I mentioned the word "homeschooling."
2. I met two other Christians.
3. I managed to dress decently.
4. We were too busy to be drinking lots of alcoholic beverages.
5. I never had to hide in the bathroom. I barely had time to even go to the bathroom.
6. I had more fun than ... well, I just had an insane amount of fun.

I decided that if I was going to do this thing, and only go for half the time because the Professor, Lord love him, does need to go to his actual job for part of this week, I was really going to do it. I was going to say "yes" to every available opportunity.

Yes to arriving early to go horseback riding at Texas Ranch Life with a rancher and a cowboy.

Yes to attending a play-reading at Unity Theatre.

Yes to riding an antique carousel.

Yes to eating my meat quota for the month in less than three days. (Brisket! Ribs! Sausage! All made from cattle on the ranch where we stayed the first night.)

Yes to trying on crazy hats backstage at the Unity Theatre.

Oh, and yes to all the non-optional things too, like ...

a picnic dinner at the Antique Rose Emporium ...

... touring Washington-on-the-Brazos, the birthplace of Texas ...

... listening to a gentleman with the most ridiculously delightful French accent show us around the Round Top Music Festival campus (how come no one in Austin seems to know about this amazing place?)...
... visiting some art/craft galleries in Round Top (population 77) that would take your breath away ...

AND ... dum da DUM ... touring BlueBell Ice Cream Factory, in hair nets, on the factory floor, lit'rally-darling two feet from where the chocolate chip cookie dough chunks are shooting into the Homemade Vanilla ice cream, stepping into the -25F blast freezer, and meeting Paul Kruse, the CEO of the company, who is so cool that he didn't even tell us his name until someone asked, ten minutes in to the Q&A session. Key information: He was wearing a tie covered in jellybeans. He told me he got it at Do you think the Professor could get away with a tie like that???

Incidentally, Mr. Kruse asked us how we managed to have jobs that let us travel around doing neat stuff like this. One writer summed it up beautifully: "Be willing to do it [the writing] for very little money." Yup.

Tomorrow I'll tell you a little about the B&B where I stayed the second night. I think that's enough gloating for now. The other writers are continuing the tour today, and I am teaching my little angels about the digestive system.

(P.S. The Professor did a great job with the kids while I was gone. That is, he navigated them very smoothly through their lessons and got them to do it all cheerfully, using very special Jedi mind tricks.

But he did say last night that there was no way he could have kept up with the house at the same time.
This, friends, represents a happy ending to a very good trip.)

P.P.S. I'm ready to move to Washington County. Just so's you know.