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!!! ;-)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Able to see straight

The headache has finally abated -- not one hundred percent vanished, but more gone than it's been for days and days ... so THANK YOU for all the prayers and comforting thoughts and suggestions. We'll see what tomorrow morning brings.

This afternoon we drove Ian and his friend Truman across town to their mutual friend Christian's birthday party (after which they will spend the night there; wow, it's quiet here tonight). The girls, of course, wanted to stay, and being the mother that I am, unable to resist their disappointment and charms, I took them to Hey Cupcake before coming home. What could be finer, on a Friday afternoon, than chocolate cupcakes with swirls of pink frosting? (I had to buy one in a cute box for Tim, of course. Fuel for the long bike ride home. Can I help it if I put lipstick kisses all over the box while waiting at red lights? I cannot.)

The girls took a bath, using the bubble bath Eliza had made in her "Beautiful, Natural" co-op class. The whole bathroom smells like peppermint. Yum. I might eat those girls for dessert, now. Just a warning of my cannibalistic tendencies when my children smell so delicious.

Then they sat naked by the space heater eating their picnic dinner (omelettes, roasted acorn squash with cinnamon butter). And you know why I just love that? Because my sister and I used to do the same thing, about a century ago. Not so much the eating, our life wasn't THAT decadent, but after a bath we'd huddle in front of the space heater in my parents' bathroom, brushing the minty green shag rug into little circles with our pruney hands to make "families" in front of the "fireplace." These families had all kinds of cozy adventures in front of their fireplace. You know, popping popcorn, reading Dickens aloud, whathaveyou. Eventually our parents would come in and notice our skin glowing fiery pink and heartlessly hustle us into our pajamas.

Maybe this explains my ongoing love affair with the space heater. "You love that thing more than me," my soulmate complains when he opens the bathroom door and finds me guiltily soaking up the post-shower warmth on the very morning the temperature has dropped below 70 degrees.

But I don't notice anyone bringing cupcake offerings to the space heater.

P.S. Literary highlights this week: Still reading through The Witch of Blackbird Pond with Ian (what a gem!); Betsy-Tacy and Tib with Eliza. Oh, the revisited childhood delights! In my secret heart of hearts, maybe this is why I homeschool. Caroline's fave of the week would be Carl's Summer Vacation.

Blatant Bid for Sympathy

Sorry, y'all, that I haven't been posting in my usual compulsive fashion. It's not that there's nothing to say, but rather that I am on Day Eight (8) of an untreatable headache. Advil, caffeine, homeopathic allergy remedies, bouts with my sister's shiatsu machine, all have fallen on fallow ground. Today I'm trying two Excedrin since that dulled it for a while the other day (Day 6, I think). I'm also finally going to try making an appointment with my doctor, just to rule out anything, you know, sinister. Hopefully he'll tell me that this can be treated with a round of acupuncture or something, at least until my next chiropractor visit.

OK, that's the drill. (Oh, wait, did I say drill? As in, sharp instrument that steadily bores holes in things? I wonder why THAT word would be on my mind.) Suggestions welcome.

More chipper posts to come, I hope.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Somehow in our crazy Tuesday we will make it to the polls today. On the homeschooling docket today: civics! My kids are lobbying for Barack Obama. Why? Mostly because apparently there is a Bionicle called Baraki. Or something like that. Also, they like his voice better. Heh. This is why there is a voting age in this country.

I'm going to pray my way all the way there, bring stuff for the kids to entertain themselves in line, do my business, and then maybe head to Starbucks for my free cup. Yup, free coffee at Starbucks if you vote today.

(We were driving somewhere unfamiliar the other day and pulled up at a spotlight where, about 50 yards away, a new Starbucks had been constructed. "Looks like they put in a new coffee shop," my almost-three year old observed. What's up with that?????? We don't even go to Starbucks very often!)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

AWANA Campout

On an October weekend marked by distinctly chilly nights and mild, sunny days, the Diller family decided to join some other families for a semiannual AWANA campout. By "campout," of course, I refer to that activity that sounds entirely wholesome in the mind's ear beforehand -- snuggling in the tent! gazing at the stars! sipping hot chocolate by the campfire! -- but in the midst thereof, tends to also mean considerable physical discomfort, long walks to the nearest bathroom, and a yearning for a long, hot shower.

But anyway.

The Diller family arrived just after sunset, with their impeccable sense of timing. Immediately, six men and teenage boys converged upon their designated tent site to offer their assistance with fumbling in the dark to pitch the gi-normous two-room tent. While the gesture was appreciated, it also meant that the Dillers had no hope of hiding the embarrassing facts that 1) they don't have much practice pitching this tent, and 2) they don't even have the correct set of tent poles (long story involving trip with extended clan to Yosemite 9 years ago).

Never mind, though, because the fellow campers were all just so lovely and warm that the chance to make a good impression was not entirely squandered. Mr. Diller boosted his family's portfolio by joining the group of accompanying musicians for the weekend.

Young Ian, always doing his part to "KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD," experimented with a pogo stick, enjoying instruction from some Bigger Boys. Bigger Boys who were not too cool to sing "His Banner Over Me is Love" with all the hand motions up at the front during worship time.

After a full day of eating, singing, Bible-quizzing, hiking, biking, pogo-sticking, tree-climbing and the like, the families gathered 'round for Saturday night worship time, where the focus was on the life of Joseph in Genesis. The Diller stock plunged when, during the breakout time when each family was supposed to be chatting earnestly about forgiveness, the two older Diller children seized the opportunity to fight (loud, unkind voices! a tug of war!) over a flashlight. Because, truly, they are that family.

But all was well when the microphone was passed around and the previously fighting children each stepped up. Young Eliza, graciously providing what one might term a "non sequitur:" "Sometimes, we do things that make our Mom sad. Then we get a time out." How refreshing, how edifying for the other 77 campers to hear! Young Ian managed to share something that could actually be construed as relevant to the forgiveness topic. Stocks climbed once again.

It turns out that despite the lack of a hot shower and the presence of some very cold nights, the campout contained the right ingredients, from s'mores around the fire to chats with other homeschooling moms to Capture the Flag with flashlights. The Dillers, exhausted but well-sugared-up as they made their way home, concluded that they'd love to go again.

Just as soon as they get the smell of smoke out of their hair.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Being presentable

This is how the younger princess prepared herself to attend Daddy's Yellow Belt TaeKwonDo test this morning:

Later that afternoon, she helped me bake a pumpkin pie for her uncle and aunt's homecoming by pouring an entire 2 pints of whipping cream into the pie filling. I wasn't watching her because I was busy cleaning up the cupful of apple cider she'd knocked onto the floor. Her comment, about 30 seconds after the spill? "EEK! That FREAKED ME OUT!"

Good times, good times.