Monday, June 30, 2008

Unavailable at Any Retail Outlet

I have been thinking a lot about joy lately. If I were to pick an overwhelming characteristic of my littlest girl, Elaine Frances, it would be her joyful spirit. Before she was born, we picked this verse out for her: Psalm 16:11 "Thou wilt show me the path of Life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy. At Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore." When we went for our last sonogram before she was born, I promise you--this little girl smiled at us (yeah, and we shelled out $10.00 for the special 3-D sonogram photo to prove it!). I have videotape of her in the bathtub at 4 months old, belly laughing. At 6 months old, while we were riding in the car, she made a funny noise with her mouth that made Lucy laugh. She did it again and again, the whole way home, just so Lucy would keep laughing.

Often when I think of her, the word "irrepressible" comes to mind. The other day, I was driving her home from my parents, and I put on one of her very favorite songs. She immediately began bouncing in her carseat and singing as loud as she could:

Oh, deep, way down, deep, way down
deep down in my heart
I've got the joy of Jesus
I've got the joy of Jesus
I've got the joy of Jesus
And it's deep down in my heart!

She yelled out at one point, "I like dis song!" and when it finished she kept saying, "You play dat one again, Mom."

I found a great working definition of what joy really is recently: it is a supernatural delight in the person, purposes, and people of God. It's not something you can manufacture on your own; it is given to you. It's supernatural. I will be honest and say that in the past several months, I have been very low on joy. And it's not like I've been able to run out to Target and pick myself up some. I've been baffled and uncertain of some of God's purposes. I've allowed people to take a major hammer to my joy. I've allowed some painful circumstances to rob me of the joy of who I am as a child of God. I went to a social function a few months ago and had a picture taken with both the girls beforehand. I can hardly look at the picture now because I know exactly what I was thinking about that day and what turmoil I was in. I'm smiling, but there's no joy there. Darren asked me when I got home, "How was it?" and I said, "Well, I sent 'fake Alice' so it was fine. 'Real Alice' stayed home in bed with the covers over my head."

So now I'm in the process of getting my joy back. I heard a man on the radio a couple of weeks ago say that most often we seek God's hand in things. We pray for circumstances and people and problems, and we seek God's hand. We rarely pray to see God's face. He went on to say that if we pray for God's hand, we will get it. But if we pray for His face, we'll get both His face and His hand. I realize that's what I've been doing for most of my life--praying to see His hand. And it's not that I've stopped doing that because we're supposed to bring all of our problems and worries and other people before Him. But now I've begun each morning, praying to see His face. I'm not even sure how to do it, so I tell Him that too.

Since I've been praying to see His face in the last couple weeks? The joy is starting to flow back. I got such a kick seeing my baby girl singing her heart out about the joy of Jesus. She has no idea. I want to teach my girls that besides everything else He is, God is so wonderful. Living for Him is a blast. It is such a joy to love Him, and know Him, and serve Him. In other words, ain't no high like the Most High! (Hey y'all. I didn't spend four years in a black church for nothing.)

On my birthday, I was reading Beth Moore's website and she posted about her 2 1/2-year-old grandson that day. It filled me with so much joy, and I have been thinking about it ever since. It makes me smile too that God has used two little two-year-olds to restart the joy work in me. Here's what Beth said. I hope you like it as much as I do:

"I just had to hop on and tell you something I thought was kinda fun. Yesterday Amanda [Beth's daughter] stopped by the ministry with Jackson. He's almost two and a half now and at the cutest age imaginable. I'd met AJ out in the parking lot because I love to surprise the boy by popping up at the window next to his car seat. He's always so glad to see Bibby and makes such a big deal out of it. Man, I'm so drunk on the little guy I can hardly stand it. Anyway, after the half hour it took me to unlatch him from that gosh-awful carseat, we brought him in and he immediately owned the place. Of course he did. He gets to. What I found so delightfully endearing was that, no matter where he went (and he went practically everywhere in the building), he patted things in that particular office and confidently, possessively chirped, "Daddy's work!" Mind you, Curtis has one office just like the rest of us and it is down on the first floor but to his son who thinks he is the END ALL, the whole building was Daddy's work. Even Sabrina's office was Daddy's work and she directs the whole shebang. I loved it. So did she.

"I just wanted to remind you today that no matter where you go, you can freely pat everything in the room or everything in sight, for crying out loud, every single thing on God's green earth, and say, "Daddy's work." Go right ahead. Be confident. Act possessive for His Name's sake. Sound a little sassy when you say it because it's the truth beneath all truths. It's all Daddy's work. He owns the place. For "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." Psalm 24:1. He not only owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns the thousand hills under the tails of the cattle. "This is what the Lord says: 'Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.'" (Is. 66:1) If it's on Planet Earth, Darling Thing, it's under His feet. Don't sweat it so much. It's Daddy's work."

Friday, June 27, 2008

American Girl Day Trip

First off, I'm so bummed I don't have pictures with this post. I remembered everything yesterday except my camera. Lucy and I and my friend Sarah and her three children, Isabella, Andrew, and Stephen, all went to the city to see the advanced screening of the new American Girl movie, Kit Kittredge.

I dropped Elaine off at my parents' for the day because she is just too young obviously. She got wind of the fact that we were doing something special, and at one point she cried and said, "I goin' to 'cago too. ME TOO!" After that we just didn't talk about it anymore, and I kept emphasizing to her how she would have Manga and Packa and all the dolls and the playhouse and the toy lawnmower all to herself for a whole day. That was quite appealing to her, so she was fine after that.

So, off we went. First off, let me say how odd it felt, after having worked, lived, moved, and breathed in that city for so many years to now be there for the day, essentially as a tourist, wandering around, looking for our locations, and holding my little girl's hand while she held her Bitty Baby. I have turned into everything that I used to (not so secretly) snort at. Oh well. I might as well own it.

Before the movie, we stopped in to what my friend Jennie accurately calls "that pernicious doll company." It's true. It's rank consumerism and corporate greed and branding and what I don't like about America. But oh. Dolls! So many dolls! And their outfits! And their accoutrements! All females in our party were in heaven, especially when we got to the Molly display (Lucy's and my favorite)--there she was in her pajamas, in her cute raincoat and boots; in her Camp Gowanagin outfit; with her dog, Bennett, (in his pup tent!); in her Miss Victory costume. It was so fabulous. What can I say. I love that particular rank consumerism, corporate greed, and branding. I can't help it. Dolls!

Now--on to the movie. If you have a little girl or you know a little girl or you are secretly a little girl at heart (like me), you will love it. How could you go wrong anyway with Chris O'Donnell, Joan Cusack, Julia Ormond, and Stanley Tucci in a movie? And those were just the adults--the kids did a wonderful job too. Plus, this movie met my (admittedly high) entertainment standards for my kids: no disrespect to parents, no violence, kids who are both intelligent AND kind, no blaring music, and no visuals or jokes of bodily sounds/fluids/solids (I'm sorry. But it had to be said.)

Plus, it had a good mystery (hey, with all the mysteries I watch, even I didn't figure it out at first!) and was funny as well. So, if you're looking for a good movie to take your kids to (I would say ages 4+) feel free to plunk down your money on this one. Even Andrew and Stephen (ages 9 & 12) enjoyed it.

After the show was over, we were all ready for lunch. The boys were so cute; they wanted to be polite to Lucy and eat where she wanted, but when they realized she had no clue they began extolling all the virtues of the Rainforest Cafe and how much she would love it. I definitely wanted to go where they wanted since they had been such troopers about going to a "girl" movie with their little sister and her littler friend, so that's where we went. Lucy was convinced that the python and alligator at the entrance were real (she loved them). And she kept asking me if the gorilla by our table was real too (can you imagine?) Sometimes I don't realize what it must be like to be that young. She wanted to buy Elaine something from the giftshop there, but we had plans to go to the Disney store too so she decided to wait.

When we got there, there was a huge sale and Lucy decided to spend the bit of birthday money she had on a tiny Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip with all their accessories and several outfit changes. Then she bought Elaine a nightgown with Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse on it.

By this time, we were ready to head home. All the kids were exhausted and watched a movie in the car on the way back. It was such a great day though. And our kids! I was really proud of them. I'm convinced they were the four sweetest kids in the whole city yesterday. No one fought or bickered or teased or was sassy or disobedient or rowdy. They were all kind and considerate of each other, and seeing as we had boys and girls, ages 5 to 12, that was pretty cool, I thought. (Here's one last cute thing. The little girls were getting tired of walking so much, and Stephen offered to give Isabella a piggyback ride. She was wearing a dress, and as he hoisted her on his back, he asked Sarah, "Mom, is she modest?" We got a good laugh from that.)

I'm looking forward to the time when I can take both my little girls to my city (with a stop at that pernicious doll company of course)!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I am now officially on hold

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 39. Lucy and Elaine ran in my room in the morning and gave me thirty-nine spankings (I helped them count) and kisses and a pinch to grow an inch (let's just hope that one doesn't come true unless it's my brain that grows the inch). Then Lucy asked, "Next year when you turn 40, Mom, you'll probably talk different, won't you?" Yes. I'll probably have one of those sweet, wavery old lady voices by next year, I guarantee it.

It was a great day--absolutely beautiful out. I started the day with this (that's a scone, fresh from the oven):

I got to sit and read that entire magazine in peace because the girls sat outside and played with their new Polly Pockets pool.

Then we all got ready and I called them to me to tell them what we were going to do today. First, I got down their Japanese dolls, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. I said that on my birthday we were going to a beautiful Japanese garden so their dolls wouldn't feel so homesick. We have one of the best Japanese gardens in the U.S. right down the street from us, but we haven't gone because it really isn't stroller friendly. This is the first time we've been able to go for any stretches of time without a stroller, so now we can go. (And if you know me at all, besides being an Anglophile, I am crazy about most things Asian, especially Japanese).

Here are Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Don't they look like they'd like to go to the garden?

Here are Lucy and Miss Happiness at the visitors' center:

Girls and dolls getting a drink:

There are three elements in a Japanese garden: stone, water, and greenery. Here are all three:

You can buy a big bag of fish food at the visitors' center for a dollar. Those fish knew a friendly hand as soon as we walked down the path. This was their favorite part (the girls AND the fish):

A birthday present for me...peace and quiet and serenity:

Elaine and Daddy:

All of us together (if you can't see it, my skirt has Japanese fans on it. I like to theme dress appropriately. And by this time, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower were taking a ride in my purse. I let their heads stick out so they could still see though.):

Speaking of purses, this was my birthday present from Darren and the girls. This picture does not nearly convey its bamboo fabulosity:

And to really top it off, Darren bought me (our whole family) a membership to the gardens so technically I could go every single DAY if I want to. And I do. We'll see how many times my schedule lets me. This blog may turn into the cooking/Japanese garden blog.

My mom made me some very cute summer skirts, which aren't pictured here, but will look great with my new purse. It'll be a summer of style (how rare) for me.

My dad, brother, and sister-in-law gave me these. They're not Japanese. Or any sort of clothing or accessories. But my heart leapt with joy when I saw them. It still does, just looking at this picture. Please don't call me any evenings this summer. I'll be busy.

Yeah, 39. Not so bad after all! And even though I'm 364 days away from 40, I haven't noticed any changes in my voice yet. I'll be on the lookout for that though.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dead Bird and a Tent

Yesterday at church, during the fellowship time (known by me as "Time When the Church Gives My Kids Breakfast"), most of the children were playing outside because it was so beautiful out. I was standing and yik-yakking with a friend when her 12-year-old son came up to us (note: he was Lucy's First Love. This lasted for a few weeks. Now she has callously transferred her affections to his 9-year-old brother because, and I quote, "He's so funny!" Men: take heed.). He said, "I just wanted you to know, Lucy touched a dead bird outside." Immediately all the children were swarming around and exclaiming over Lucy touching a dead bird, and all the adults were not containing their disgust. She and I went in the bathroom and scrubbed her hands. I explained to her that we shouldn't touch any sort of animal or bird outside, unless it was someone's pet (and alive) and they said we could touch it. Otherwise, outside we should just touch leaves and grass and sticks and stuff. I think she was embarrassed by the whole thing because after she finished washing her hands, she buried her face in my skirt and tried not to cry.

After the service, she took me by the hand and led me outside. "I want to show you this dead bird, Mama, please, come with me," she said. OK, seeing a dead bird is not high on my list of things I ever want to do, but it was important to her. We walked over near some trees, and there it was. It wasn't sweetly dead or anything either; I think a cat or something had gotten to it. Lucy told me, "I just loved that dead bird. It was so beautiful. When I picked it up [aggggghhh! She picked it UP?!] it made me think of that book Manga and I read together, you know, 'The Dead Bird.' [by Margaret Wise Brown who also wrote, "Runaway Bunny" and "Goodnight Moon." "The Dead Bird" has also struck me as morbid, but my mom and Lucy have bonded over it; they love it, so who am I to tell them no?] I just felt so sad inside thinking of that beautiful dead bird. Its wings were so soft and pretty. It was just lovely."

I know the whole thing is yucky and a little weird, but at that moment I felt closer to that little girl than probably I ever have. I know exactly what that feels like--when the lines between literature and life become blurred, and what you read in a book is more real to you than anything else. Like Virginia Woolf says (something like this) "when the colors blur, and the daffodils are dancing with the taxicabs..." This is a little profound for a Monday morning, but I hope that the noise and chatter of everyone around her never intrudes on her consciousness so much that they drown out the whisper of a book in her soul. In other words, we read to know we're not alone, people, know what I'm sayin'?

In the afternoon, Darren set up his Father's Day present, and there was much rejoicing:

The little girls wanted to eat dinner inside, so I said sure, until a massive wind blew up and thunder rolled, so Elaine cried and wanted to go inside.

But they're looking forward to sleeping in the tent sometimes this summer, and Darren has even extracted a promise from me that I'll do it too.

After I got them both tucked into bed, Darren and I settled down to watch Masterpiece Mystery (hey, did anyone else watch?!) When I was little, I used to fall asleep on Sunday nights listening to Moret's "Rondeau," which was the theme music to Masterpiece Theatre. It's another surreal parenting moment to realize that now I'm the one downstairs watching while I have two little people upstairs who are supposed to be sleeping.

Emphasis on the "supposed to be." We were in the midst of watching Lewis when a little barefoot person in a pink fleece robe appeared. "Lucy sleepin' in her bed," she announced. "I get up." She sidled over to me and peered over the arm of the wingchair at the brownie I was eating. She looked at Lewis. "I watch with you!" she said. Now, aside from having a daughter love a book so much that she picked up a chewed up old dead bird, few things would thrill me more than having at least one of my girls be my Mystery-watching buddy. But...common sense prevailed, and Darren carted her back to bed (crying all the way).

I was sad though. As Lucy says, "Mystery loves company!"

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday 3

Here are three completely random things.

1. On my way to work this morning, I passed a sign that said "Cosmic Boling." But wait--the sign containing this egregious error was the actual bowling alley's sign. The abysmal state of grammar and spelling in this country routinely plunges me to the depths of despair, but shouldn't the purveyor of this sport actually know how to spell it? Shouldn't they??

2. Also on my way to work, as I neared my office (in hideous traffic), I noticed that the driver in front of me was a tall man with a shaved head who looked to be around my age. Very similar to the guy I got into that little $4,300 accident with on Monday. How ironic would it be if he rear-ended me on Monday, and I rear-ended him today? Not that it was him of course. But still. I drove extra carefully.

3. For all you mystery buffs and especially Morse fans out there--Masterpiece Mystery kicks off their new season on Sunday night, 8 p.m. CST, with Inspector Lewis. Can't wait.

That's all I've got!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Recent Quote Collection

The setup: I surprised Lucy with a trip to Barnes and Noble because we had a gift card. I let her pick out some books she wanted. We got in the car to go home, and I turned on the music and said to her, "Let's sing!"

Lucy: (she had the bag open and her books out, looking through them) You know how on Mondays when we come home in the car and you say, 'Can we just have it totally quiet?' Maybe we could be like that right now.


The setup: I was trying to write out the post for my dad, but both girls insisted being right by me and singing "A Spoonful of Sugar" at the top of their voices. I kept requesting quiet--in a more and more strenuous voice. Finally, Lucy said:

"Maybe you could just ignore it, Mom."


The setup: Elaine was standing on a stool in her pajamas, looking just utterly sweet. I swooped in to hug and kiss her.

Elaine: Whoa. Don't knock me down, Mama!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cooking School Week 3

...aka Not Our Best Effort. This week was honey mustard chicken and pasta, cheese, and trees (pasta and broccoli). Lucy made the honey mustard sauce for the chicken. We followed the recipe exactly, but when we served it, Darren's comment was, "Chewy." I guess chicken only works for me in the crockpot for some reason. The sauce was good though.

Here's Lucy with the pasta, trees, and cheese. Between you and me and the Internet, it was pretty bland. However, the girls loved it. Elaine ate three helpings. So, if you're looking for ways to get your kids to eat their broccoli, this is a good one.

Dessert was the biggest success (surprise): key lime pie (we topped it with Cool Whip to serve).

All the cooking must have tired Lucy out. After dinner, Darren gave the girls their bath and got them ready for bed. I heard them reading "Lyle, Lyle Crocodile" together, then after awhile all was silent. At about 7:30 I went up to see what was going on, and the three of them were flopped across our bed. Darren and Lucy were asleep, and Elaine was lying there, staring silently at the ceiling and probably planning what dastardly deeds she'll be doing today.

This morning I decided to rise at the crack of dawn with them since I have to go get the reimbursement check for the damages to my car. The place is called CrashOne. That doesn't really inspire a lot of confidence in me, but as long as I get the money, I guess it's OK.

Since we were up so early, we decided to make muffins for breakfast. I gave Elaine the job of putting the muffin cups in the tin, and she did it well.

(Note the magic wand lying on the counter. Probably the same one I got clunked on the head with.)

We made apple cinnamon muffins, using a mix. Back when I was married only a year or so, one fall I went on huge muffin baking kick. I looked up recipes and clipped them out of the newspaper and each weekend made a new batch of muffins for my family to try. They were all too tasteless, too dry, too crumbly...just not right. One batch my mom tried to find the nicest thing she could say about them. "Your aunt and uncle would LOVE these!" Nice try, Mom, seeing as they are health fanatics and like to eat bread that tastes like brown paper towels.

Then one week I decided to play a little trick. I bought a muffin mix, whipped those up, and presented them as my latest recipe. Everyone raved. I had finally hit on the best muffins ever! These were delicious! Where did I find this recipe?!

So, your lessons for today are: cook chicken in the crockpot; Cool Whip makes everything taste better; and always use muffin mix.

Don't say you've never learned anything here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

There's Always the Possibility He Would Do That

Over the weekend we went to visit Darren's parents so they could thoroughly spoil our girls as they always do. We got there on Friday evening, and they had pizza for us plus balloons and toys at each girl's place and then big frosted bakery cookies for dessert. Lucy and Elaine got to sleep in their own room together, and there were toys in there as well, plus some new Polly Pockets and Strawberry Shortcake dolls that their Aunt Kimmie had brought over for them. Yes, they lead a sad, deprived life.

On Saturday we went to the mall because they wanted to buy Lucy something for her birthday (even though they'd already sent her a gift!) We roamed around the mall for awhile, while Lucy looked at various things. Wanna see what she chose?

Sigh. She could have had toys, but she chose cute shoes instead. It was such a proud moment for me. All my training has not been in vain.

Then we went to this great place called Emo's, which is right out of Darren's childhood. It's sort of like an independently-owned Dairy Queen type of place. We sat outside and had hotdogs, cheese fries, and ice cream (yup, this is definitely becoming a food blog...) Then we went and played at a park for awhile, and the girls were so sad to say goodbye to their MiMi and PaPa.

The next day was Father's Day, then on to Monday. I dropped the girls off at daycare and went on to work. I struggle with being on time on Mondays since traffic is horrific and I have to go way out of the way of my office to drop them off, but this day I was sailing away ahead of time. Until I got into my first car accident in 23 years of driving. A guy rear-ended me, but he was very apologetic and most importantly insured, so everything's cool. I wasn't on time to work though.

When I picked Lucy and Elaine up after school, Lucy saw the back of the car and started to cry because that's the way she rolls, and Elaine said, "Lemme see where that man bumped you, Mama!" I was just glad they weren't with me when it happened.

Lucy has been enrolled in the summer camp program at Elaine's daycare since school let out. In the mornings they're both so sleepy that they're quiet all the way and just listen to music. But on the way home they're both worn-out and antagonistic and spend an hour and a half screeching and fighting and crying. It's lots of fun. Except not at all. I usually try to play their favorite music to no avail, so yesterday I just turned on James MacDonald (whom Lucy calls "Pastor Walk-walk dot com) and made them listen to a sermon on the book of Ruth. I'm telling you, they both held their stuffed rabbits, listened, and hardly made a peep the whole way home. Such is the power of King James, apparently.

When it was over, Lucy began telling me more stories of a boy at day camp whom we'll just call Anthony. Last week he spit orange juice in her hair. This week she said, "He called me a stupid girl. And a bad word, Mom, he called me 'freak.' Then he hit me in the head with a book." (OK, I'm trying to keep my cool at this point.) "Did you mention any of this to your teacher?" "Yes, and she told him that it wasn't very nice and to put the book away and he said 'No!' He just kept on saying no to her, too."

This is where I want to say, "Next time, just punch him right in the face, baby" but instead I try to remember what we're all about. I said (deep breath), "Well, if we're followers of Jesus, Lucy, what do you think He wants us to do when people are unkind to us? We could remember our verse, 'A kind answer turns away anger.'" She said, "I didn't tell him about Jesus, Mom, because I know he wouldn't want to hear about Him." "I understand," I answered, "but maybe we could pray together for Anthony."

She thought for a few moments.

Then she said, "Remember that story in the Bible? How those people were wicked and they tried to build that tower of Babel and then God made it so when they talked it was all confusing and nobody could understand it? Maybe He could do that to Anthony."

I should probably keep her away from some of the Psalms, what do you think? Before I know it, she'll be praying for God to smite him. Though I can't say I blame her.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes...

My favorite people...

Happy Father's Day, Darren (& Daddy)! We love you!

For My Dad

My dad is a great teacher. The story goes that when he had to go to kindergarten he said, "I see I'm delaying my education another year." Despite that delay, he finished school, went to Moody Bible Institute, got his education degree at UW-Platteville, and a master's in special education at Northeastern University. He was a teacher, a principal, and finally a special education administrator. You pretty much can't go anywhere without running into someone my dad taught or taught with.

Being a teacher by profession has spilled over into his personal life. So many things I know I have learned from my dad. He taught me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, drive a car. He gave me my first driving lessons when I was fifteen and took me to get my license on my 16th birthday. Then there was my brother's and my first car, a Datsun 210 5-speed (no power anything on that baby). My dad took me over to the parking lot at his work, showed me how to drive it, and then endured several hours of riding shotgun with a clueless teenage girl attempting to drive stick until I finally got it.

Speaking of driving, I think there might possibly be a mileometer up in heaven, counting how far my dad has driven me and hopefully all those miles will be counted to him as righteousness. My dad drove me to piano lessons and orchestra practice and ballet lessons. He drove us all on countless trips to Door County, to northern Wisconsin/Minnesota, upstate New York, Georgia, Florida, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. He drove me to camp in northern Michigan every summer. When I was in college he drove innumerable times roundtrip from Wheaton to Chicago --including Sunday nights when I didn't want to take the last train in so he would let me wait as late as possible and then would drive 80 miles roundtrip even though he had to go to work again in the morning.

My dad taught me much of my love of reading. In the evening when we were little, he would read us Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, and Patricia St. John. He also taught me to read the Bible every day. He would read it to us after dinner as a family, and he bought us Scripture Union notes so that we could have our personal devotions each morning. It's rare that you would see my dad without a book in his hand, and every day, without fail between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., he got up and did his devotions.

My dad also taught me about valuing people whom others don't necessarily value. He devoted his career to working with children who needed special education: those with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disorders, and behavior disorders. He was in charge of making sure each of the children in his jurisdiction, "my kids" as he called them, were in the best possible program and environment in which to learn. In his spare time, he had a ministry to the elderly. He organized Sunday morning services in two different nursing homes. This involved getting music together (he learned to play the piano as an adult), preaching a sermon, visiting, and even going around to the residents' rooms and wheeling them in to the service (seeing as some of them had senile dementia, this was sometimes harder than it sounds. "I went to get Edith for service today, and she hauled off and slugged me!" he would laugh.)

Throughout everything, my dad maintained a sense of humor. Ask any of my friends about my dad, and they'll just start to laugh. When my friend Anna's daughter met him for the first time, she asked Anna on the way home, "Is Auntie Alice's dad a comedian?" I think he learned early on that laughing through stuff makes it all easier. His job was quite stressful, especially because he cared about what happened to the kids so much, but his sense of humor helped to temper it. One time he and I were waiting for the absolute longest red light in all the western suburbs and he remarked, "One of my kids blew this light up once. You know, it's hard to have to sit through this thing when you're trying to get away from the cops." (Yeah, that was one of the behavior disorder ones!)

Being an educator himself, of course our education was important to my dad. Throughout our schooling, my dad taught evening classes at National-Louis and Wheaton College in order to pay for our tuition. (I had no idea that's why he did that when I was a kid. He never said why, and I just assumed he did it for the fun of it.)

I think a lot of dads have the reputation, even though they love their kids, of being distant and remote. It's more of an effort for men, especially since they're at work all day. My dad took off work on each of our birthdays and spent the day with us. At Christmas, he took us out every year and got our tree. He took us downtown to see the window decorations. He would take us all out to lunch for Valentine's Day. He took us out for ice cream after church on Sunday nights. He would drive downtown while I was at Moody and take me out to dinner. He spent so much time listening to my childish/teenage/college-age stream of consciousness and was interested in it all (or at least pretended to be!) When my friend was killed in a car accident and I sat in our living room, sobbing my heart out, my dad didn't say a word, just put his arms around me and cried right along with me.

The greatest thing of all my dad has taught me though is faithfulness and keeping my commitments. He taught by example. My dad was 37 years old when I was born, almost the same age I was when Elaine was born. There are some great advantages to being an older parent, I know, but having unlimited energy is not one of them. I remember him saying sometimes when he got home from work, "I'm so tired I can't even get the rocking chair going!" Now I know what that feels like. Yet even though he was exhausted a lot of the time, he went above and beyond as my dad, always working for my benefit and never making a big deal out of it. If my dad made me a promise, he kept it. In all my life, I can never remember a time my dad did not come through for me.

I realize I've written all this in the past tense, and I guess it's just because I am talking about my growing up. My dad is 76 years old now, and even though he's been officially retired from his career for quite a number of years, he hasn't slowed down much at all. He finds all sorts of work to do, and he still has a thriving ministry to the elderly. He's almost always got a book in his hand. When I was stuck at home a couple years ago in the dead of winter with two babies (Darren had accidentally taken both sets of keys to work) and dying for any sort of adult interaction, my dad drove 40 minutes to my house, drove us back to my parents' house for the day, and did the round-trip again in the evening. He still puts the tree up at Christmas, takes us out to lunch every year on Valentine's Day, and still takes me out for ice cream sometimes. He recently came over and took all the wallpaper off my guestroom for me, and he listens to my random stream-of-consciousness on a regular basis. And guess where my dad is every day between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.? Yup. In his rocking chair, reading his Bible, without fail.

So, Happy Father's Day, Dad. Thank you for leading by example. Thank you for all the teaching, and working, and driving, and listening. Thank you for going out to teach all those nights even though you were dead tired and we took it all for granted. Thank you for showing me how to go through life with a sense of humor. Thank you for being so faithful and always keeping your promises. You're the best dad ever. I love you!

Friday, June 13, 2008

I Got Nothin'...Proceed At Your Own Risk

Major writer's block this week. I've felt tired and a little ill and just haven't been inspired. Not much out of the ordinary or cute or startling has gone on either, with the exception of this morning (in the startling category)--I was in the kitchen at 5:18 a.m., making my lunch for work when I almost jumped out of my skin at the sight of a tousle-haired little person in the doorway and the sound of a gravelly little voice, saying "Hi, Mama. I s'prise you!"

This weekend we're going to visit my in-laws, so maybe that will render something noteworthy. I've had a post about my dad in honor of Father's Day cooking in my head for a little bit, but I haven't gotten motivated enough to write it down. Plus, we're waiting a week to celebrate Father's Day with him, so it's really not due yet. As my friend Julie and I always say, "I work better under pressure."

I haven't even read anything new since vacation, just a bunch of re-reads. Each night I just flop on my bed and start watching a Ngaio Marsh Inspector Alleyn mystery and fall asleep to it. About the most exciting thing to happen to me lately is that I discovered Boots cosmetics at Target. Before I had kids, I used to go to the MAC counter at Marshall Fields on State Street and stock up on whatever I wanted. Now that I have them and all their needy needs, I just buy drugstore brands but I don't really like anything. I miss that high-end makeup (uh, see post on contentment from yesterday, Alice). Anyway, Target now carries Boots, which for all my non-UK readers is the British equivalent of Walgreens. But the makeup is great! I particularly recommend the lip gloss in berry. Very long lasting. The packaging is nice too.

That last paragraph sounds like I have UK readers, which of course I don't. Unless you count the one person from England who Googled "london calling jesus" and got my site. Somehow I don't think they found what they were looking for.

So, that's all I've got--hopefully I'll be back on track next week. The Tooth Fairy is rumored to be visiting us sometime soon...maybe she'll provide good material. Happy weekend!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


A few weeks ago, I wrote a little bit about an organization I had just heard about on the radio called Charasia. God has really put it on my heart to get involved with them at whatever level I can. I've been listening to various webcasts and interviews with their president, Ralph Borde. Charasia has several different components: a Bible institute, evangelism, and orphan care. What has really been on my heart is the orphan care. Charasia has two children's homes: Grace and Faith, and has just launched a new project called "Sparrow's Nest," which will be a large children's campus.

The children in these homes have been rescued from India's brothel district--the youngest child in the home is 18 months. Little girls as young as 6 are used as prostitutes in the (horrifically) mistaken belief that virgins can cure AIDS. The children's mothers are also prostitutes--these little ones sleep on the floor underneath the beds where their enslaved mothers conduct business for the brothel owners.

The Charasia site has a prayer calendar that I look at every day. I love it because each day has a picture of a little girl, what her needs are, what her career goal is, and her favorite Bible verse. I pray for each girl throughout the day, then at night Lucy and I pray for her together.

I've been thinking lately about contentment. Everywhere around us we hear the dire financial condition we all seem to be in. Each day I hear a different figure for gas prices; the last one I heard was that it will eventually go up to $6.00/gallon. I read a blog post yesterday called "It's Not Good Enough" by Ingrid Schlueter. Basically it's about how we here in the U.S. have grown accustomed to luxury, and nothing is ever enough for us. Here's a quote: "On one episode of a program on [HGTV], a couple found their home but they informed the host of the show that the first thing they were going to do was rip out the kitchen and start over. The beautiful kitchen had just been redone two years before with white cabinets with glass fronts that must have cost a fortune. NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Gotta tear it out and start over. We need 'high end' appliances. Never mind the sheer waste of it all. We can’t eat out of a fridge that’s not stainless steel. Never mind that they didn’t even make these for homes just a few years ago. They’re a must have item now at twice the cost of a normal refrigerator. If you can afford stainless steel, fine. That isn’t my point. It’s that the media and advertisers want us to feel that we are somehow lesser mortals if our homes don’t look like a magazine photo shoot."

I agree that media and advertisers are somewhat to blame in all this. But is in our own hearts right from the beginning. Yesterday a neighbor and I met up and took all of our kids to the park. Unfortunately, we'd been there about 30 seconds when it started to rain and we had to go home. By the time we got to our driveway, Lucy was pouting. I said to her, "Someone here is happy. Who is it?" She turned and looked at Elaine who had a big smile on her face. "Elaine," she said grumpily. "And who had to sit strapped in the stroller the whole way?" I asked. "Who didn't get to run along the sidewalk with her friends? Who got to go down the slide only two times before going home? Who didn't get to watch 'Mary Poppins' this afternoon and had to take a nap instead? See, Elaine is just happy with what she has. She got to be outside, she got to see other children, she got to play a bit. You need to be thankful for all the things you did get to do, rather than what you didn't." (It's so rare that Elaine is the better-behaving one, I've really got to shine on it when it happens.)

I need to preach this to myself too. Too often I think my wants are actually needs. I think I have to have something; then a few weeks after getting it I've already begun taking it for granted. Too often I've bought into the lie that more is less so I need some more.

This morning I looked up which little girl we would be praying for today in India. Her name is Jessina. If you get a chance, consider praying for her today too. She would like to be a nurse when she grows up. Wouldn't that be wonderful? The request for prayer for her is that she find continued contentment in God. And get this, here's her favorite verse: Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" That this little girl in such circumstances could cling to this is so humbling to me.

So, that's what I'll be praying today--for Jessina, for Lucy and Elaine, and for me too!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cooking School, Week 2

This was the second week in our cooking school. The theme was foods you can dip. We made chicken toes (not to be confused with chicken fingers or chicken nuggets) to be dipped in BBQ sauce (Famous Dave's) and honey mustard sauce (Paul Newman's). We had crudites and dipped them in a creamy salsa dip Lucy made. For dessert were apple slices in a peanut butter caramel dipping sauce (secret ingredient: cinnamon). We ate it all outside on the patio. As an added bonus, a band played in the park nearby.

Here's the dinner...

Here's the chef....

We all enjoyed it, some of us even more than others...

Warning--a little vent ahead. Today was one of those days. Not a horrible, disastrous day, just an irritating day. First of all, though I don't mention it on this blog very much, I have a job. In addition to being a mom. It's a job I like a lot, enjoy the work, and from which I derive a certain amount of fulfillment. But it's still an added responsibility. It takes up about 32 hours of my time a week. Like most people's jobs, I have deadlines and projects. Today I had a long conference call and training. No big deal.

But almost approaching 40 (it must be said), it is tiring. When we were first married and both working on our careers, sometimes I'd take the first train in (5:20 a.m.) and the last train home (12:40 a.m.)--then get up and do it all over again. I'd put in hours on the weekend. At one point I took an almost full-time load at grad school while working full time. At another point, I worked full time and taught a full time load in the evenings. Those days are over, my friends. I don't know what it is about being a mother, but it is more tiring than anything I've ever known. It taxes me physically, mentally, emotionally.

I got off work this afternoon, and I was tired out. And my girls were not pleasant. To put a finer point on it, they were like two chickens in a bag. I went ahead with the cooking school, and Elaine wanted to get her hands in everything while Lucy couldn't seem to focus. Mix in a lot of whining, and there's the recipe for our evening.

Then everything was a physical crisis. Someone got a hand caught in the recliner. Someone stepped on someone else's foot. We tried to take a relaxing walk around the block after dinner to settle everyone down, and Elaine fell and scraped her knee. I got them home and (with much nagging) finally got them into the shower. When they got out I wearily carried Elaine into her room to put on her diaper and pajamas, and I had a thump and scream from the bathroom. The words "What now?" in an exasperated, martyred sigh escaped from my lips. Lucy had cracked her head on the bathroom sink.

I finally got everyone hugged and soothed, dressed for bed, ointment on the cuts, and gave Elaine some Benadryl and Lucy some Motrin. (Please don't judge me, you know you've done it too.) So now they're in bed, and after this long, tiring day it's time for a little medication for Mom. Though Lucy made the apple slices and peanut butter caramel dip as dessert, I need a little something stronger.

It's time for this from my secret stash:

And yes I do have red velvet cake in my secret stash. Is there a problem with that? I didn't think so.

Our First Pajama Ride

Last week we went on our first ever pajama ride. We got the idea from our favorite parenting book, and we've been waiting ever since Lucy was a baby to finally be able to do it. We figured now that Elaine's out of her crib, and they have a hard time going to sleep since it's so light out at bedtime, that this would be the perfect time.

I gave them their shower, did their whole nighttime routine, and tucked them, unsuspecting, into bed. We gave it about 20 minutes or so, and Darren went back upstairs. "Pajama ride!" he announced. They were so excited; they thought that meant Dad would let them get out of bed for a few minutes and ride on his back. Imagine their surprise when he carried them downstairs and out to the car.

Elaine didn't know what to think, and Lucy kept asking "Where are we going?"

We drove for awhile until we came to this:

We all got cherry-dip cones....

And drove home in the dusk with the windows down. "I'm so tired, I can't even smile anymore," Lucy said. (But of course they were still up before 6 a.m. the next day.)

I've been thinking a lot lately about mental burdens that I have to carry as an adult and as a parent. Financial worries: increasing property taxes yet wages that stay almost the same every year, having to change our insurance this year from one with full coverage to one with a deductible, increasing gas and grocery prices, increasing school tuition and daycare costs. Then there is just the huge pool of adult knowledge I have to have, yet which I need to keep my children free. My mom gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice when Lucy was born, "Your children are not equipped to handle your emotional difficulties." So, I keep them as innocent as is possible and wise for as long as I can. Then there is just the nitty-gritty of daily life: the constant clean-up, the discipline, the irritation in my voice...If you're not careful, life can become an endless chore, a gray landscape.

We have our faith to combat against these things. But, as our parenting book also says, "You can't be a perfect parent; at least try to be a fun one." So, we're officially instituting pajama rides as of this summer. We're going to see how creative we can get with cheap entertainment. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Weekend Wrap-up

[Brief technical update: I had removed my regular playlist so it wouldn't interfere with the music of the slideshow, but now the weekend's over I've silenced Elton John and put the playlist back. I wish I could figure out less clunky ways to do this, but...I have my limitations. You can still enjoy the slides though!]

I set my alarm for Saturday morning because I have to be up at the crack of dawn if I want to wake up before my two girls. Of course with all the times our power has gone out with all the storms we've been having, I accidentally set it for p.m. instead of a.m., and it didn't go off. Luckily, I woke up at 5:30 anyway, figuring I'd have about a 15-minute head start on them. I ran downstairs and heated up the oven for birthday cinnamon rolls and set the dining room table. The birthday person gets to eat off the special Royal Doulton birthday plate and has some presents to open at breakfast.

I got all that done and even a little extra time to read and pray a special prayer for Lucy that day. After about 20 minutes (so, at 5:50 if you're doing the math), I heard the clop of high heels on the stairs. There was Elaine, in her pajamas, heels, a necklace, and covered with a rash. "I wake up," she announced. "I'm itchy, Mama." Great. Because as all mothers know, if it's someone's birthday, a holiday, or you're having dinner party in the evening, at least one of your children will get sick and/or need to be taken to the doctor.

Pretty soon Lucy came down to this:

We all had breakfast together, and she opened her presents. She got some books from me, a butterfly necklace and ring from Daddy (to replace the infamous lost pin), and a fairy book and magnet set from Elaine.

Here's my big five-year-old girl:

I mixed up the birthday cake, put it in the oven, and waited until the doctor's office was open to call. Fortunately, we just talked over the phone--the pediatrician diagnosed her with Fifth's disease and said to give her Benadryl and cortisone cream. No big deal. She felt fairly miserable and grouchy though. (Translated into whiny voice, saying: "You rock me, Mama...")

In the afternoon, Darren took Lucy to the circus (and as an added bonus, she saw her best friend from church in line and they all got to sit together). I stayed home with Elaine and decorated the cake. I put her down for her nap so I could get that done without her licking the frosting. While I was decorating, I heard singing and talking from her room. Then crying. Then screaming. Time to investigate. I went in her room, and she was standing on the bed. She had removed the top of the bedpost and jammed her finger down into the hole. It took quite a bit of effort to get it out, and afterwards I held a sobbing toddler on my lap and soothed her. "I want Daddy to rock me!" she screamed. Cheers, mate. I just saved your life, and you want Daddy.

Lucy and Darren came home from the circus, and she was all excited. She told me all about the tightrope walker, the bareback rider, the lions and tigers, and especially the clowns. That night she requested tacos for her birthday supper, and here's her cake (it's supposed to be a castle--made with more love than skill):

Then for her final surprise of the day...

Normally at our house, we don't give presents to the non-birthday child. This time we made one exception:

Here are the birthday girl and her dad:

The next morning I was awakened by this conversation I overheard in the girls' room:

Elaine: Wanna ride my tricycle.

Lucy: We can't. We have to go to church now. And I hope you know you can't take your tricycle to heaven.

Elaine: Wanna take my tricycle.

Lucy: No, you can't. You will see Jesus there though. He's like a doctor, Elaine, kind of. Not the kind who tests your re-flects. A sort of different kind. And you'll see all the Bible persons in heaven too. But you can't take your tricycle, and I can't take my bicycle. (Pause.) I am going to take Rabbie, though.

As soon as we got home from church, they were clamoring for their wheels but we made them take a rest first. When they got up (and me too), they immediately wanted to go out and ride their bikes. Elaine's feet don't quite reach her pedals (it's for a 3-year-old), but she's happy just Fred Flintstoning it.

I was helping Lucy ride hers around the driveway, and I said, "Are you girls riding your bikes off to college?" (I'm always subtly brainwashing them.) "We are, Mama!" said Lucy. "Elaine's riding off to college, too!" "And are you going to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois?" I asked.

"No. I'm going to circus college," Lucy said.

(sound of hypothetical needle screeching on record)

I see I still have my work cut out for me.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

An unabashedly sentimental post

Five years ago tomorrow, Lucy Nan was born. It seems like yesterday. I can't believe five whole years have flown by. She has changed my life unbelievably. I am not the same person I was on June 6, 2003. My heart is too full to even be able to write all that she's meant to me in these five years, so I posted the slideshow. If you are wondering about the music accompanying it, this is the song that I sang to Lucy when I first held her in the hospital. I can't hear it even now without tearing up. Believe me, the song is absolutely crucial to the slideshow. So, while you look at the pictures, instead of hearing Sir Elton singing, imagine a new 34-year-old mom who had waited for years for her first baby, coked to the gills on painkillers, singing through the tears, holding her dream come true.

And Lucy, I hope you don't mind that I put down in words how wonderful life is while you're in the world! Happy birthday, Baby...I love you!

[A technical note: the slideshow plays continuously if you miss the beginning. I wanted it to have a start/stop feature, but I don't think it does...]

Update from the Blackburns

I got this update from Brian Blackburn today:

Warrie and I were informed today that the "possible" dad that took the paternity test is NOT the father of one of the girls. The results for the second twin is still to come.
Now we are bracing ourselves for a long custody case with the "possible" father who is in jail. The lawyer for the babies said that he would not win, but that this case could take a long time.
We are going to look at all our options now and try to move forward with this adoption case. Thank you for all your support and prayers. Please keep praying for us during this time.

Odds and Ends

I realize I haven't done a room remodeling update in a while. Besides being on vacation, Darren's had a heavy workload and hasn't been able to work as fast as he would like. Also, it's getting to the point where I want to do a dramatic reveal of pictures when it's all done. But he has been painting whenever his schedule will allow, and the room is looking great.

He painted some the Sunday before we left, then he and Lucy went to church and out for dinner together. As soon as they drove away, I called Elaine to come outside and swing with me for awhile. I called and called. Finally I heard from far away, "Coming, Mom!" Didn't think much of it. Until Darren got home to look at his handiwork in the guestroom again and saw...someone else's handiwork. I guess the newly-painted white windowsill was too much to resist. And then what better to do with white paint on your fingers than fingerpaint on the newly-painted blue wall, I ask you?

That's her saying, "I do it with my fingers, Dad!" And no, we were not pleased, we did not think it was funny, and she got a sharp scolding and a warning what would happen if she did it again. Uh, then why are you taking cute crime scene photos with the perpetrator, Alice? I know, I know. But...could you resist this either?

Another thing that happened before I went on vacation was a mini-reunion with two of my best friends from Moody. Alysa and I live fairly close to each other but don't get to see each other often because of both of our schedules (meaning we both have two pre-schoolers). Suzanna recently moved to the Midwest and was in town on vacation, so we all got together for lunch on the Friday before the holiday. Our other dear friend, Rebecca, lives way out West so it was just the three of us. It was so fantastic. All four of us lived on Houghton 4W our first year and Houghton 5W our second.

These three women are some of the best and dearest friends I've ever had or will have. I had seen Suzanna once in the last 18 years, and Alysa hadn't seen her at all since college. We all hit it off pretty much immediately the first week of school, and nothing has changed. It was like no time had passed at all.

Alysa and I started a tradition last year of a Mom's Getaway--our husbands take the kids, and we get a hotel room at a midway point and spend the time yakking our heads off, laughing, looking at old pictures, and drinking copious amounts of Diet Coke (Alysa). Now that Suzanna lives within a reasonable distance, we're going to try and get her in on it this year too.

Here are Suzanna (left) and Alysa:

Suzanna and me:

An empty chair (and Diet Coke) for Rebecca:

Moody girls (can't you just hear the strains of "God bless the school that D.L. Moody founded...?)

The more time goes by, the more I cherish these women and their friendship. What a gift they are to me, I love them so!

That's all I've got for now...there are heavy storms here, but I think we're still going to try and get to Lucy's swim lesson (indoors of course). Our Internet service has gone out once this morning, and it's only 8:30. I think this will be one of those inside days...Lucy got her first Webkinz (the pink poodle) for her birthday and is having a blast with it. She hasn't decorated her pet's room much; she spends most of her time getting jobs and taking quizzes to earn the money to buy more clothes and shoes for her. Wonder where she gets that from? Furniture, unimportant. Shoes, crucial.

If I hear anything about the Blackburns and the babies, I'll post it. Thanks for praying for them!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Quick Update

This is from Brian and Warrie Blackburn from this afternoon (6/4):

Another day without any results. We met with the adoption agency and the birthmother today for the results. The lab has not received anything yet from the main research center. So another day without any news. Please keep praying. We know God is at work in this situation, but we are not sure what He is up to. Thanks!

Urgent Prayer Request!!

If you read this this morning, please pray for our friends Brian and Warrie Blackburn. They are missionaries with Mercy Ships (a phenomenal organization--they travel by ship around the coast of Africa spreading the Good News and providing free surgery and other medical care). Brian and Warrie spent many years on the ship Anastasis and have just come back to the U.S. to work in the home office in Texas.

As long as we've known them (almost 10 years) they have struggled with infertility. A few months ago, they were connected with a young woman who was pregnant and wanted Brian and Warrie to adopt her twin girls!! when they were born. The twins were born healthy and beautiful, but no one is sure who the biological father is. One potential father wants his right to the children, but one potential father does not. Paternity tests have been done, and the results are supposed to come back at NOON TODAY. If the man who does not want the babies is determined to be the father, Brian and Warrie will get the girls.

Of course, I'm praying so hard that they'll get them, but please also pray for peace for Brian and Warrie as they wait and grace for them no matter what God has in store.

Thank you! Oh, and you can check their site out here--on the lefthand side are updates about the adoption process, but I'll also try and post anything I hear...

Add flour, salt, and a little music...

(That's a line from "The Mouse and the Cookie.) Anyway, I stole a page from Alysa's and Jill's blogs and added a playlist. I took Shelfari off because even though it was cool, I never added any books to it. If it's annoying, feel free to hit pause. I just put on some songs I love and that we listen to around here. (Of course when I'm in my car all by myself, singing, I listen to stuff like "Shackles" by Mary Mary. But I was going for the join-us-in-our-relative-serenity-around-the-breakfast-table mood rather than the drive-around-with-the-radio-turned-to-window-shattering-volume-while-Alice-sings-offkey mood.)

You'll never know what you've missed...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cooking School: Week 1

When my brother and I were kids, my mom let us have the first week of summer to do absolutely nothing. We could goof off and play and run around the neighborhood and eat popsicles as much as we pleased. On Monday morning after that week though came The Talk. Oh, how we dreaded The Talk. The Talk consisted of telling us how we were going to constructively spend our summer. We had swimming and tennis lessons scheduled for various weeks at the park district. We had summer camp in Michigan scheduled for July. In the afternoon each day, we could have leisure time. The mornings, however, belonged to Mom. We were to be up and ready and at the breakfast table by 8. Then we were to do our chores. My mom just told me recently that was my dad's thing. He would tell her every year "You need to put those kids to work." He sort of overlooked the fact that we lived in the suburbs and between him and Mom, both the inside and outside of the house were immaculate always. So, she had to dream up stuff for us like picking up any stray sticks in the yard, sweeping the walks, dusting and vacuuming every day.

After our chores were finished we could do a number of things. We could read. We couldn't just dip into a Trixie Belden or Hardy Boys book though, because we were doing that all the time anyway. We had to read a mind-improving book, such as a classic far above our reading level or a missionary biography (missions were big at our house. Are you picking up on that yet?). We could listen to classical music and identify the composer. Or we could look at my mom's art prints and learn to identify the artist, what period of style they belonged to, and what made it distinctive. I probably wouldn't admit this to my mom, but once you got into it, it was sort of fun. And when one of our friends came over to visit and said, "Why do you have a weird picture of some guy up in your hall?" my brother and I could say in a superior way, "Duh, that's a Van Gogh self-portrait." Come to think of it, we didn't have all that many friends. Huh. Wonder why that was.

So, in the spirit of my mother and not wanting my own dear daughters to be deprived of such delightful activity-filled summers, I came up with the idea of having Cooking School each Tuesday for the next few months. Last night was our first session.

Here is my little cook, all ready to go.

We'll be using this book. The recipes are fun, obviously kid-friendly, and I love especially that they're broken down by age group. We're starting in the 4-6 section, but I think we'll graduate to the 7-11 section before the summer's over.

Our menu for the evening was Italian alphabet soup, cheesy soup dippers, and oatmeal bars (the oatmeal bar recipe was not one of Rachael Ray's). Lucy did a fantastic job. I can see that this will be a great project for any number of reasons, not the least of which it's going to help her focus for longer periods on time on certain tasks. She's also learning to read fractions, measure, and LISTEN.

Here she is with her final product:

Here are some close-ups. (Guys. This was THE best vegetable soup I've ever eaten. I'll post the recipe below.)

Here are the cheesy dippers, including someone's hand making a grab for them.

Unfortunately, the oatmeal bars did not fare as well. We followed the directions, but when we went to cut them they crumbled into, well...this:

However, not to be deterred, I added this....

...and everyone was happy.

And now we have this left over for breakfast:

So, all in all, Week 1 was a great success. We all gave Lucy a round of applause at supper, and Elaine told her, "Good soup, Luce." She was really proud of herself for having made us a whole dinner--plus she ate it all, including vegetables, which is another reason I'm teaching her to cook: so that she'll be less of a picky eater.

Here's the recipe for the soup--I'll just write the basic instructions; the cookbook gives excellent instructions for what the child can do and what the GH (grownup helper) should do.

Italian Alphabet Soup courtesy of Rachael Ray
1 wedge Parmigian Reggiano cheese with rind on
2 cloves garlic, skinned
2 T extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO in Rachael-speak)
1 small onion, chopped (we only used half because we don't like onions, and that worked fine)
1 cup marinara sauce
5 cups chicken stock (1 quart-size box and 1 8-oz box)
1 cup alphabet pasta (we used Mickey Mouse pasta because it's even more fun than alphabet)
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables

Shred the parmigiano reggiano cheese (this is for topping your soup and for making the cheesy dippers). Trim the rind off and save it (this is the kid's "secret ingredient"--Lucy loved that part). Throw the chopped onion and skinned garlic into a soup pot and add the evoo. Stir and let cook on stovetop for 2-3 minutes. Add marinara sauce and stir. Pour chicken stock in slowly. Put lid on pot, turn heat up high, and get it to boil. When boiling, stir in the pasta and add the cheese rind aka SECRET INGREDIENT. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 6-7 minutes. Add vegetables and cook a few minutes more on low. Add S&P to taste. Remove cheese rind and serve (top with leftover grated cheese).

Enjoy; it is really fantastic! Let me know if you make it and what you think!

Oh, and if you're wondering where Elaine was this whole time, she started out with good intentions and her apron on but ended up spending the entire time in the powder room, washing her hands. So really, everyone was happy.