Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some Things I'm Loving These Days

I just have to share...

1) Blueberries. I'm eating blueberries in the frozen Midwest in January, and they're excellent. Here's the odd part--I shop at Super Wal-Mart (for the prices, people. They cannot be beat.), but I usually buy produce in another grocery store because it's better there and they have more selection. Wal-Mart almost never has blueberries when they're in season in July even though everybody else does. However, in the last two weeks, there they've been: huge, sweet blueberries on sale. In the dead of winter. So I snap up a couple of boxes each time, wash them very very very very well since I have doubts about their origin, and enjoy them with Elaine (Lucy doesn't like blueberries. I can't figure it out.) In fact, now Elaine goes to the refrigerator and helps herself to snacks, not a practice I'm really in favor of, gets out some blueberries, washes them, and then munches away. I guess I can't complain about that, except for the fact that I found an empty blueberry container under her bed the other day. Anyway, we're enjoying this little taste of summer on these horrid, bitterly cold days.

2) I absolutely love this book. I reread it the other day and liked it even better the second time. It's the story of two American families, one Caucasian, the other Iranian, who meet at the Baltimore airport while waiting to pick up their adopted babies from Korea.

I've long been a fan of Anne Tyler, but this one is by far my favorite of hers. If you've experienced or are interested in any of the following subjects: assimilation, cultural differences, grief over the loss of a spouse, starting over in life, parenting, a feeling of otherness and alienation, or you just like a good story, I highly recommend this. It has the trademark quirky Tyler humor as well.

3) Taco Soup. I think I mentioned it in an earlier post, but this week I made this recipe from Midwest Living for the second time. It's easy, inexpensive, tastes fantastic, and even Lucy aka Miss So-Picky-I-Don't-Even-Like-Blueberries likes it. Also, you can play with the ingredients if you don't like one of them, are a vegetarian, whatever. Here it is--whip it up (well, not exactly whip, since it's a crockpot recipe) for whatever temperature winter night you're having where you are and enjoy. (And again, all credit going to Midwest Living magazine. I wish I'd invented this, but I didn't.)

Taco Soup

2 14-oz cans beef broth (or can use vegetable)
1 lb browned ground sirloin (season w/ S & P)
1 15-oz can corn
1 can chili beans, whatever hotness level you prefer
2 cups diced potatoes (I use frozen hash browns)
1 16-oz jar of salsa (I use Paul Newman's Farmers' Garden)
S & P to taste

If you like to experiment w/ spices or peppers or what-have-you, throw those in too. Cook in crockpot on low 6-7 hours or high 3-4 hours. Top with sour cream, grated cheese, sliced avocado, black olives, whatever you like. Make some cornbread to go with or just throw a bag of chips on the table if you're in a hurry. Ta da! Take that, Martha Stewart.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated...

I have been ever so busy. I actually hate when people constantly say they're soooo busy, like it's a condition unique to them. Sometimes I just want to say, "You ARE? I'm not at all. I just don an orange vest and round up carts at the Jewel at 4:00 each day. That's pretty much it. Nothin' else going on." I mean, who in this world isn't busy?

But indeed, I have been. I have been because....drum roll....I've been working! I jumped into January in overdrive, sending out resumes and contacting everyone I could think of. My mom called me one day and said, "I don't know if you're interested, but I have this friend who is the managing editor of a magazine. I told her about you and your job loss; she wondered what kind of editing you do." Uh, Mom? What else have you been holding out on me?

Long story short, for the last couple weeks, I've been doing work for an absolutely lovely magazine called Significant Living. I've done a rewrite on a story and written an article and have plans to edit as well. I absolutely love the work; it's so much fun. The first article I did was a piece on Thelma Wells, an incredible ball of energy. I emailed her to ask a few questions about her new book, and she simply emailed back her phone number and said "Call me."

Now, most people who know me know I hate the phone because talking to people via it makes me nervous. It's a quirk, bear with me. But, I hesitatingly called her at the appointed time and said, "Mrs. Wells? I just want to ask you a few questions for the article; I hope I'm not interrupting your personal time." She answered, "Well, hi, honey! I'm not doin' a thing but lyin' here on the bed, so go ahead with whatever you want to ask me." I wish everyone reading this could meet and know this lovely lady. She has an awesome life story.

Then, this week I wrote an article on two incredibly inspirational people--one a gentleman who started a new career as a photographer post-retirement, and another a woman who quit her job, moved with her husband to the wilderness, and became a writer.

The irony of the subjects I'm writing on is not lost on me--people who struggled or came to the end of a path in life and, by God's grace and through His incredible blessing, dusted themselves off and started on a brand new, exciting journey.

In addition to the magazine, I've got other possible assignments for various clients in the cooker...all sorts of different venues and opportunities. And as well, I'm tackling mounds of laundry, waiting in the carpool line, making meals, practicing kindergarten reading, traveling multiple times per week to the swim club, planning our summer vacation (I am so ready for July), and all the other activities that make up my life.

Right now I need to close this post, bundle up Elaine (who is involved in some elaborate ceremony of walking a Japanese doll up and down the side of the fireplace, whispering instructions to her), and pick up Lucy from school.

One thing I'm's harder to write on the blog when I'm writing other things. My creativity and willingness to sit down and put thoughts to paper is sapped somewhat since I'm doing it elsewhere. But rest assured...I'm still here, I've got posts cooking in my head, the girls are saying and doing funny things--I'll get it down eventually.

In the meantime, maybe you will see my writing in a magazine?! I would never have imagined this two months ago!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Little Tinkerbell

One of the things we have learned as parents is that our kids need individual time with us. We love them equally and they love to be together, but each of them needs separate time with Mom and Dad.

That is why this is a day Elaine has been eagerly awaiting for two weeks. Today she is going all by herself with Daddy to see Disney on Ice. This year for the first time, they are especially featuring Tinkerbell and all her fairies. Tinkerbell is Elaine's absolute favorite (she looks a bit like her, don't you think?)

When Lucy was 3 and Elaine was 1, Lucy got to go with just Dad to see the Disney princesses on ice. Darren was afraid he would have to turn in his Man Card for this activity, but they had a great time. Lucy still talks about it, especially the part where Malificent was in her dragon form and breathed fire halfway down the arena, and she started to cry, along with all the other little kids around her. Darren told me later, "It was scary, Alice. The flames were longer than the distance from our living room to the end of the dining room. I almost cried too."

So we decided this year it was Elaine's turn. I was disappointed that it wasn't Princesses on Ice until I saw that the special feature was Tinkerbell. Darren has been teasing her for days, saying, "I decided we're not going to go. We'll just go to Farm-n-Fleet instead. You love that. It'll be fun!" Elaine will say, "You're just teasing, Daddy. We ARE going to see Tinkerbell AND ALL THE FAIRIES," her voice rising with each note.

This morning she was up bright and early, chomping at the bit to go. She marched into our room in the dark with her curlers in her hair (she had to have her hair curled for this special event) and told me it was time to get dressed now. She got the cutest fairy dress from Darren's brother and sister-in-law for Christmas, and I thought the best time to break it out would be for this day.

Here are Daddy and Elaine, all ready to go:

Here is a good shot of the outfit. After I took this picture, Elaine said, "Mom, do you know who gave me this dress? Barack Obama's grandma."

The day is working out perfectly in other ways too because Lucy was scheduled to go to kindergarten all day last Friday but couldn't because school was closed. So, she is going all day today (she begs every week to go all day and plans obsessively which lunch selection she's going to choose. Plus Fridays are computer days, which she likes a lot).

I dropped her off at 8, and Darren and Elaine left at 9. They're going to IHOP for breakfast first. I am sitting in my house. All by myself. Oh, what's that I hear? Why, it's silence! I am completely free and alone until 2:45! This is unheard of! Unprecedented! I'm just sipping my mug of tea and contemplating going to the post office. Then maybe Target. Then I'm meeting my friend Julie for lunch. I may drop into a little children's clothing consignment shop I discovered last week. The world is mine.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two Representative Photos of the Day

Here is Elaine, being the Lady of Shalott, dead, floating down the river. The flowers she is carrying look suspiciously like some of the parsley I was using to put in soup.

I'm not sure that the actual Lady of Shalott had remnants of toothpaste she had been eating earlier on her face either.

Here is the Lady of Shalott later in the afternoon. Floating down the river works up an appetite even if you're dead I guess, so she helped herself liberally to a packet of Club crackers. Then she hid underneath the kitchen table with them because she thinks we can't see her there.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

We made it.

We survived the two snow/cold days as well as the three-day weekend thrown in. We did not leave the house from Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. until Sunday morning to go to church. That, my friends, was a long, long time.

Yesterday I took Elaine to her 3-year checkup. She's healthy and happy and growing--official diagnosis. That's always good to hear. She took an eye test for the first time as well. She was a little confused as to what some of the pictures were, but she did just fine.

Then we headed to my parents' for lunch and tea. I spent the afternoon talking to my mom while I let the girls bundle up in blankets and watch movies. "Shouldn't I take them outside?" asked my mom. "Shouldn't I be reading to them or something?"

"They're FINE," I answered. "They're peaceful." Apparently enough time has passed since she had little kids that she's got the Mom guilt thing going again.

Lucy and I have had some good talks during these days about Martin Luther King and what he did for our country. Fortunately, these talks are going better than the one from last year. We talked about our friends who have skin darker than ours and how in older days, they would have had to ride in different parts of the bus and drink at different drinking fountains. Lucy had never heard this before, and to see her incredulous face when I told her makes you wonder how that ever happened in the first place.

Then we talked about the new president we'll be getting today and what an historic event it is, especially happening right at Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. How this is the first time ever our country has had a president with dark skin.

On Friday night Lucy came downstairs after she was supposed to be in bed, and I was watching TV. Confession: I wasn't watching CNN or Meet the Press or McNeil/Lehrer or anything like that. I was watching Check, Please!--the local show where three ordinary citizens recommend restaurants around the city and then try them. This was a never-before-seen episode from 2001, and one of the ordinary citizens was freshman senator, Barack Obama.

"Can I watch a little bit with you, Mom?" Lucy asked. I figured this just squeaked in as educational, so we watched together. Lucy loves food and cooking shows anyway. (In case you're wondering, Barack Obama recommended Dixie's Kitchen and Bait Shop.)

Then next morning I overheard her talking to Elaine.

"Mama let me stay up and watch Rocko Bama on TV," she said.

"You saw Rocko?" Elaine asked.

"Rocko BAMA. He's going to be our new president," Lucy said importantly.

"When do we open him?" Elaine replied.

"Not our PRESENT, you silly. Our prez-i-dent," said Lucy.

This morning before school (school! Oh, how I love and miss you! How glad I am you are back in session!) Lucy and I sat in the rocking chair as we do every morning and prayed together. We prayed for her because she's sad today--Bananas the Monkey has to go back to kindergarten. We prayed for Mrs. Blevins and Mrs. Clark and the other students.

And then we prayed for Mr. Rocko Bama. We thought he must be a little scared today, becoming president and having such a big responsibility. We prayed that he would be a good listener. We prayed that he would only help people and never hurt anyone. We prayed that he would do the right thing and not the wrong thing.

I want to teach the girls early that we need to pray for those who are in leadership.

Hopefully the Lord knows who we're talking about.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Another Day

I survived yesterday! It wasn't too bad. We started out in the morning, making invitations to the party. Then Lucy and Elaine spent the rest of the morning, dragging out all the doll clothes and dressing each of the invitees in party clothing.

After lunch, the girls put on their party dresses of choice and brought all the guests in. I wore sweats and a t-shirt. There was only so far I was going with this.

First we had speeches. Lucy welcomed her guests, especially Bananas Blevins. And she thanked Mr. A. A. Milne for having a birthday. Then Elaine made her speech.

Here's Bananas, the guest of honor. He started out in a wedding dress and veil. But he's a boy, and I guess there were some gender confusion issues, so he reverted back to his usual outfit and donned a pair of glam shades instead.

Then we played pin-the-tail-on-Bananas. Each girl took a turn, then the guests got to take turns. Here is Elaine, helping Tigger. Oddly enough, everyone put the tail on quite precisely, despite the blindfold.

Lucy wanted to make some more speeches, but she tends to go on a bit so we had to squelch her somewhat or we'd still be there.

Then we read a Winnie-the-Pooh story about Valentine's Day, and then we sang some songs. We took requests from the guests. We sang, "Winnie the Pooh," "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers," "Jesus Loves Me," and an original composition called "Unicorns are Great."

Then we had tea and cake and sang Happy Birthday to Mr. A. A. Milne.

It was all quite successful.

Then today I woke up to negative twenty-four degrees and another no-school day. I am currently doing battle with Lucy who is sitting at the kitchen island, feeling devastated because there was malt-o-meal for breakfast instead of oatmeal. I just channeled my dad and told her that she will sit there the entire day until it's eaten.

It kind of feels like Laura Ingalls Wilder's "The Long Winter." I mean, without the scarlet fever and starvation and such, but still.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stay At Home

Yesterday was one of those days with the girls where I finally just said, defeated, "I can't take this. I used to have an outside JOB. One that got me OUT of the house." is a new day. And guess what? School is closed on account of the cold. One of the headlines in the newspaper said, "Why Do You Live Here?"--a question I ask myself every winter of my life.

"Are we grounded indoors all day today?" Lucy asked.

"Looks like it," I said cheerfully. So, a prayer for grace. That we will have fun, confined inside for the next 10 1/2 hours until it is time to go to bed.

This week at school, Lucy is Star of the Week. Over the weekend, we made a poster of pictures of her, doing many of the things that comprise her life. On one edge of the poster I drew an evergreen tree covered with snow; on the other side I drew a lamp post. At the top I did her name, intertwined with vines and flowers. Then we glued the photos, wrote some captions, and at the bottom she did her own drawing of Peter, Susan, Edmund, "Me!" as she says, the White Witch, and Aslan.

On Sunday night she asked, "Mom, will you go with me tomorrow to school to do my poster? I feel too shy by myself." In the morning she reiterated, "I was thinking about you coming to school with me all during the night."

So when I went to drop her off, I said to the teacher's aid, "Lucy wondered if I could come in while she does her presentation. Is that OK?" She said, "Of course it is! And take advantage of this time. In fifth grade she won't want you anywhere near the school!" which I know from my own childhood experience is completely true.

I brought the poster in, plus her copy of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," and her treat for the class: some Turkish Delight. (I had found recipes to make it, but that looked beyond me so I ordered it again.) Lucy got up with the pointer and showed her poster, explained her pictures, and talked about her name. She spoke softly, but she did a great job. Then the other children had a chance to ask her questions, which was quite cute. Then Mrs. Blevins prayed for her, Lucy passed out the Turkish Delight, and Elaine and I went home.

However, one of the big perks of being Star of the Week is that you get to bring home the class stuffed monkey, Bananas, for the whole rest of the week and weekend. You also bring home Bananas' journal and write the activities you did together, then present that to the class next Monday.

So far at our house, Bananas has basically been the recipient of much loving, hugging, clothes-changing, and watching "Anne of Green Gables." Last night when the girls got the curlers put in their hair, he got a curler in his tail. Nothing earth shattering.

So today on this extremely cold day when we are all stuck indoors, we are planning a party to liven things up. January 18 is A. A. Milne's birthday, but we're moving it up a few days. We're making stamp art invitations to his birthday party. We'll be inviting Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, various other stuffed animals, and Bananas of course. We'll be making a poppy seed cake, having tea, and listening to the Winnie-the-Pooh soundtrack, and taking pictures of it all for posterity (and the journal).

A. A. Milne, bless you for having a birthday in mid-January. Dr. King's got nothing on you.

I promise you, I faced nothing this challenging at my former job.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Our Latest Obsession

One of the things that is great about being a child is discovering new things to love. Sometimes these things come and go, but if you're fortunate, the love is an enduring one that becomes part of who you are.

When I was little, my mom enrolled me in a ballet class at the park district. The doctor thought it could help my hip and strengthen my leg. My mom confessed much later, "And I thought it might give you a little more grace and less clumsiness."

It possibly helped my leg; if you know me, you know it had absolutely no effect on my clumsiness, but the real impact it had on me was the beginning of my love of all things dance-related. It was like being injected with some indefinable substance that has never left me.

I began to watch ballet performances on TV and countless Fred Astaire movies and read dance novels and biographies. I devoured the Noel Streatfeild books about children growing up to train for a life on stage. There was no way in real life I could move my feet that way, but in my mind I always could.

Another plus was growing up in a suburb of Chicago. My parents had absolutely no interest in sports, but they loved the theater and took us to all sorts of performances in the city. I've seen musicals, operas, ballets, so many productions. There is nothing like the thrill of live theater.

Shortly after Darren and I were married, I bought us tickets to see Riverdance. This is when it first came out, and was on its first run to Chicago. On the way there, Darren said, "I just want you to know that this is one of those things I'm going to because I love you." I think there might have been some mention of poufy guys in tights or something too. We got to the theater, and he upgraded our seats to the main floor (because the balcony of that particular theater was a deathtrap we discovered), and we settled in for the show.

It was indescribable. Never in my life have I had an experience like that. Never in my life have I seen a crowd reaction like that. Of all the many shows I had ever seen, this blew them all away. Darren said, "We're going to see this again." We walked out of the theater after, only to stop at the box office and buy more tickets for another night.

That was about thirteen years ago, and I've seen a lot of shows since then but nothing has ever surpassed or even matched up to it. I have the soundtrack, and I usually pull it out on winter days that I find so depressing--it lifts my spirits. I turned it on last week in the kitchen while the girls were sitting at the island, having supper.

I had my back to them, and I realized that they had stopped talking. I turned around and each of them was moving in her chair and kicking her feet. "What IS this, Mama?" Lucy called over the high volume. "Riverdance!" I answered. "WE LOVE IT!" they yelled, "Can we get up and dance?" So they danced around the kitchen, the music taking control over their feet.

I pulled my laptop over to the island and searched a bit on youtube until I came up with some footage. All this week they have sat and watched video after video of Riverdance. "That's the principal dancer," Lucy will say importantly. "Can we see the finale?" Elaine will ask. Then they take the soundtrack up to their room, put on their Sunday Mary Janes, turn up the volume, and dance their little hearts out.

"I'm going to be an Irish dancer when I grow up," sighs Lucy. "Me too; I'm gonna be in 'Riverdance'!" says Elaine. "Can we go and see this on the real stage?" they ask. On a whim, I check the home site to see if any time in the future, a company will be touring near us. Blow me away, Riverdance is coming to our small city this spring. Can you believe it? To the theater about 8 minutes from our house. By hook or by crook, I will get those two little girls there to see it.

So, the fever has spread to them too. May it never leave, and may it bring them as much excitement and joy as it has always given me. Here's a little taste for you (I have yet to figure out how to upload video. Alysa, help!) This onscreen gives only a fraction of what seeing it live is like. You've got to see it though. And when all the chorus takes the stage near the end, if you tilt your head and just might see me dancing up there with them. I do, anyway.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Little Bit of Elaine This Weekend

...singing, while bouncing up and down in one of the wing chairs...

"I love currant wine, I love currant wine,
I'm having it for sup-per!"

(And no, she's never had currant wine. She has seen "Anne of Green Gables," however.)


...while getting her out of her carseat last night...

"I'm sorry you bumped your head, Mom. If I slammed your head in the car door? I would kiss you to make you feel better."


...while arguing with Lucy over whose turn it was to pick the audiobook they were going to listen to at bedtime...

Elaine: "I pick 'Bedtime for Frances.'

Lucy: "You always pick that one, besides it's my turn."

Elaine (getting louder): "Then I pick 'Secret of Mossy Roots Mansion.'"

Lucy: "No, we just had that one."

Elaine (getting even louder): "You LOVE 'Mossy Roots Mansion,' Lucy. You think it's wonderful and precious. You said so!"

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Story I Promised

During my little hiatus, I said I'd tell the story of my mother pushing an SUV. I think it's worth telling, so here it is.

For anyone who doesn't know my mom, she is a teeny tiny sweet little lady with a tremulous soprano voice who has a propensity to get herself into odd situations.

There was the time she was visiting at our former house, which was in a horrible neighborhood, and she locked herself out while we were at work. Instead of walking half a block down the street to the nursing home there to call my dad, she went across the street to the second worst house on the block (the worst was the meth lab next door to it--this one was closer). She picked the house with some windows boarded up, sheets hanging in the others, and Corona bottles littering the porch. The house where they set a mattress on fire and threw it out in the front yard. So, she decided to stop in and ask if she could use their phone. She did end up having to use the nursing home's phone anyway because, "the men in that house couldn't speak any English, and the numbers were all rubbed off their phone. It was so strange. I wonder how they use it on a regular basis?"

Then there was the time she inadvertently ate at Hooters. She called me, shocked. "It was dreadful! Those poor women who work there!"

But I digress.

The girls and I spent one of our vacation days going over to Manga and Packa's to play. The day didn't start auspiciously; Elaine was upset about most everything--the sun was in her eyes, she didn't want her mittens on, Lucy was singing to songs in the car when she wanted to sing them, Lucy was breathing the same air she was breathing, etc. etc.

"Boy, Mom, Elaine is sure a grouch. She must have got up on the wrong side of the bed today," Lucy said cheerfully.

"I am not a grouch on the bed!" roared Elaine.

And so on.

We finally got to my parents (relief!), and things got happier. Mid-morning, my mom bundled both girls up and headed out for some fresh air. Their destination was the mailbox downtown. Roundtrip, this adventure, including walking with small children who look for treasures along the way, should take maybe 45 minutes.

Well over an hour had passed. "I wonder where Mom and the girls are?" I said to my dad.

"Oh, you know Manga. They could be gone for ages," he replied.

More time passed. I was getting a little worried now. This is a town of 4,000 people. There's not much going on. Where in the world could they be?

"Look," Dad said. "I see three figures dragging up the driveway. You better put the kettle on for tea."

They all came in, rosy and tired and ready for lunch.

"We had an adventure!" said Lucy.

"Oh, brother," said my dad.

"Well," my mom began, "We were walking down a side street. And we saw a lady who had driven her car halfway up a snowbank, and the other half was on a patch of ice. She saw us coming, and she asked me to push her car."

"She WHAT?" my dad exploded. "Who was this creature?" (Except, if you know my dad, he didn't use the word "creature.")

"Just a woman," my mom answered, her story interrupted. "Anyway, I tried to push it..."

"What kind of car was this?" my dad burst in again. "And how old was this dame?" (always striving to be politically correct)

"An SUV, and oh, I don't know," she answered vaguely. "40 or 50 or 60 or something."

"Wait a minute," I stepped in. "Some moron drove her car on a snowbank, and then she saw a little 75-year-old lady with arthritis and osteoporosis walk by with her two granddaughters and thought you'd be perfect to push her SUV?"

"Oh, Alice," she said, as she has said for the past 39 years.

"So, I tried that, but it didn't work [oh, surprise!] so then she got me a shovel and thought I could chip away at the ice with it. But that didn't work either, so the girls and I gathered some leaves and tried to put them down on the ice for traction. "

My dad and I both continued to sputter, inarticulately at this point.

She continued, "Fortunately after awhile, a man came by, and let me tell you, that woman was glad to see him. But he had a big dog with him, and he said he couldn't leave the dog, so then the woman asked me to hold the dog while he helped her."

"Where does this woman live?" asked my dad, barely able to contain himself.

"What kind of dog was it?" I demanded. "Probably a pit bull."

She wisely refrained from answering either of these excellent questions and went on.

"I had the girls stand away from all this underneath a tree. They were just as good as gold the whole time, and they were never in any danger whatsoever. Well, Elaine kept wanting to pet the dog, but I didn't let her."

"Because he might have snipped her," chimed in Lucy.

"I love doggies!" exclaimed Elaine.

"I bet it was a pit bull," I said.

"Our neighbor was just mauled by one of those things," my dad added. "Do you see why I don't want your mother out without supervision?"

"Mommy doesn't even let us talk about pit bulls," added Lucy helpfully, putting more toast in her mouth.

"Doggies, doggies, doggies," shrieked Elaine joyfully.

Mom could sense the whole situation slipping away from her.

"After I held onto that dog awhile, I finally just said, 'Look, I have my two granddaughters here, and I really have to get home.' So I gave the dog back, collected the girls, and came home without looking back."

"You looked back a little bit, Manga," said Lucy.

My dad sat with his head in his hands.

So, there's the story of my mom pushing the SUV.

I guess the girls can never say they got bored with Grandma.

At least she didn't take them to Hooters.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

It's January 7, and I've Already Bagged My New Year's Resolution

I like the clean slate of the new year, and I'm one of those people who likes to make resolutions. The key for me though is to make small ones--they're much easier to keep. My two resolutions this year were #1. to practice reading with Lucy for at least 15 minutes every single day, and #2. to try one new recipe each week.

Resolution 1 is going quite nicely. That one's easy. Resolution 2? Maybe not so much.

I went through all my new magazines and tore out any new recipes that sounded good or even interesting. Our family was ready to embark on a culinary tour de force. Actually, the rest of them didn't know anything about it, but I was definitely ready.

Martha Stewart Living is a magazine I read regularly even though it sort of makes me hyperventilate with thoughts of my inadequacies. However, I try to take one or two ideas each time from it, and hey, the pictures are nice. This month there was an article on revamping the casserole. Comfort food is acceptable, according to the magazine, but not if you use any sort of cream soup with which to make it. Apparently, making casseroles with Campbell's soup as a base is tacky and classless.

The writer is obviously not from the Midwest.

I certainly don't won't my family or cooking to be tacky and classless though, so I began with a new chicken casserole recipe that did not contain any sort of cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup in it.

Here is a picture of Martha's version (it's chicken, leek, and mushroom casserole; so far so good with the ingredients):

It took me at least an hour to do all the saute-ing, chopping, simmering, and stirring necessary before arranging all the ingredients in the casserole dish to bake. Hmmm. Usually, I just take a bunch of frozen ingredients, dump them in my crockpot with a can of cream soup, add some salt and pepper, turn it on, and several hours later...voila.

But...I forged ahead. Here is my finished product:

Doesn't that look good? Despite all the work, it was worth it! I'm preserving my family from a life of tacky classlessness right here, my friends.

Darren came into the kitchen. "What's that?" he asked.

"A new recipe!" I said enthusiastically.

"Why?" he said, decidedly unenthusiastically. "I like your old recipes."

"Taste it and see. It's a delicious casserole from Martha Stewart that is not made with any form of Campbell's soup!" I answered.

We each grabbed a fork and took a bite.

"What's the slimy stuff in it?" he asked.

Now, there are a lot of words I'd like to describe my cooking. However, "slimy" is not one of them. And before you get outraged on my behalf, he was totally right. It was extremely slimy. And tasted...weird. We're not picky eaters, either one of us. But this was...not right.

We tried it again.

"It's not your fault," he said kindly. "It's her recipe's. What does she have against Campbell's soup, anyway?"

"She thinks it's tacky and classless," I said sadly.

"She's obviously not from the Midwest. What does she know about casseroles anyway? We like soup in ours. She needs to just stay on the East Coast with her opinions," he replied.

"I know. I wasted all this time and money and ingredients on her stupid dish. We could be eating Popes' Chicken right now instead of this glop."

[Popes' Chicken is an absolutely delicious chicken recipe from our friends, the Popes. It's one of those Campbell's-cream-soups-dump-everything-in-the-crockpot recipes. Then you serve it over egg noodles. We love it. One time I was making it when my parents came over. "What's for dinner?" my dad asked. "Popes' Chicken!" said Lucy and Elaine. "The pope has a chicken recipe?" said my dad. "And how did you get it?")

I have an abhorrence of wasting food (my parents grew up in the Depression as you know), but man. This cream-soupless casserole was the worst dish I have ever made. Inedible.

So...for the first time in almost 14 years of marriage, here's where it all ended up.

Fortunately, we still had some taco soup left over from a recipe I got out of Midwest Living. I made it in the crockpot. Now, those are people who know how to cook for Midwesterners.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Not Yet Ready For Replacement

My parents brought me up to work hard. Laborare est orare—Work is a form of prayer. I’ve been constantly employed since I was 15 years old. I am fiercely independent. I make things happen. I don’t take handouts. I get it done myself. I worked all throughout college. Later, I worked full time during the day and took a full-time graduate course load at night. After that, I worked a full-time job and taught three nights a week. While pregnant. Then I was a working mom, commuting 70 miles one way to my job.

When in doubt, I take care of myself. I control my own career destiny.

That is, until December 2, 2008.

Amidst the holidays, I’ve been fighting these feelings of loss. My job is gone. Now I have two little girls to think about; I can’t just go out and try to find a full-time job, location unimportant. That’s what I would have done before. Now I need a great paying, part-time job with a lot of flexibility and easily-arranged, completely trustworthy childcare where the girls are happy. You know, all the things I used to have. Before I got laid off. Oh, and have we discussed the current job climate? It’s awful, have you heard? I feel myself completely losing control of the situation; it’s all just slipping through my fingers, and I don’t know what to do.

Is it financial needs I am worried about? Somewhat. It wouldn’t be normal otherwise. Is it a change in lifestyle? Somewhat. Do we need to change our dreams of private school for our daughters? Do we need to adjust our retirement plans? What exactly is it that keeps me awake at night, that leaves me with the feeling of dread and panic that I’m not sure how to make it through the endless days stretching out in front of me? I tried to spell out to Darren how I’ve been feeling. “I’m not anybody. It’s like, I used to be someone,” I said. “And now I’m not anyone anymore.”

I’ve continued to wrestle. There’s a verse in the New Testament that says the stories in the Old Testament have been put there for us to learn from, so I look to the stories there to see what I’m supposed to learn from this trial.

Am I supposed to learn from Noah? To build a boat even though there’s no water? Am I Abraham? To pick up my feet and put them down, even though I’m not sure where I’m going? Or am I Abraham later on, required to lay my Isaac down on the altar and trust that God will provide? Because honestly, I think I’ve learned all those lessons before in my life. Really. I don’t think that this blow was really necessary to teach me those things again.

Not this time. This time it’s about your hip.

My hip?

I have this sort of running joke with Darren that some year for my birthday he can buy me a hip replacement. I was born with a dislocated hip, a birth defect. Fortunately, it was discovered when I was about three months old. I spent about a year in a body cast as an infant (don’t feel sorry for me; I don’t remember a bit of it. Feel sorry for my mom, having to lug around a baby and a body cast, plus trying to change those cloth diapers all the time). Though it was repaired, I still feel the effects of it. I’ve never been agile or athletic. I’ll never run a 10k (or a 5k!). Pregnancy was murder on my hip, and special care had to be taken when I delivered. In general, a throbbing pain in varying degrees comes and goes at any given time. Sometimes it lasts for days. Sometimes I go for months without it. My doctor says I can just count on it to get worse as I get older.

I’m not really seeing how my hip relates to my job loss though. Because I can’t think of anyone in the Bible with a bad hip, except Jacob. And I can’t stand him. I am NOTHING like that guy. I’m not a cheater or deceiver or heel grasper or wheeler-dealer, and I don’t have two wives. I don’t have anything in common with him except that his hip hurt, too. Well, and maybe that he was a hard worker. And was independent. And fixed things to go his way a lot. And instead of waiting on God, went out and jumpstarted situations. And forged his own identity.


Since I discovered that I might possibly have a few things in common with him, I decided to look again at the story of his hip. He was about to face his brother, Esau, who wanted to kill him. He devised some sketchy strategy and put together some gifts, but in his heart, he knew that wasn’t going to work. So before the day he was to meet him, he sent his whole family over the river, but he stayed on the other side alone. And there he met Jesus, in a Christophony: one of those times when Jesus appeared before the Incarnation. Jacob wrestled and fought with Jesus until daybreak, but he wouldn’t yield. Jacob wouldn’t give in to Him. Until finally Jesus merely touched Jacob’s hip, and it came out of its socket. Only then did Jacob realize that all his old strategies and his old identity were nothing. He was fighting with God over who was in charge of his life, and God had to give him a devastating injury to show him.

I’m seeing now that it wasn’t my job or career I loved so much (though I did love them): actually, it was me. I love me so much. I think I can do a better job being in charge of my life than God can. Does He not realize all my accomplishments? Does He not see all that I have done? Is He not aware of all my hard work? Does He not know that I have formed the absolute perfect situation for myself and my family? I got that done all on my own, didn’t I?

But in a conference room in early December, He gently reached down and pried my fingers off that cherished idol I’ve held for so long: my identity. All the pride I take in who I’ve made myself to be. Something which, though I might not have really realized it, I thought was better than God. I got a devastating injury because for too long, too many years I have believed myself to be in charge of my life.

And as I lie here on the ground, in agonizing pain, with my dislocated life—now what? Where’s my plan? Any plan I do have, I realize I have absolutely no control over whether or not it will work out. What’s going to happen to me? Who am I now?

What happened to Jacob after God dislocated his hip?

Genesis 32:29 “Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But He replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ And there He blessed him.”

After He has given me this blow to my pride and everything I thought I was…here comes His hand again. For what? To lecture me? To hurt me? To take from me? To steal from me?

“And there He blessed him.”

In place of the pitiful little idol He has loosened from my clenched fist, He pours out His almighty blessing instead.

My hip is hurting a bit tonight as I write this. For so long, I’ve lived with the pain, it’s like background noise. But now to me, it’s a precious reminder of a painful lesson I needed to learn. A lesson He loved me enough to teach me.

So I limp to the mirror to take a good hard look at who I see there. Who am I now that the identity I created for myself has been stripped away?

I see an ordinary woman. Heading toward 40. With no control over what happens. With no self-made plans. With a bad hip. With an identity only He can give me.

A very, very blessed woman.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Year in Review

I saw this idea on Alysa's blog,modified it a bit, then shamelessly stole it!

1. Where did you begin 2008?

Well, Darren's and my tradition is usually to stay at home, cook a really great dinner together, and then watch a movie. However, last year it snowed heavily on New Year's Eve so Darren had to shovel, not only at our house but the church parking lot and sidewalks as well. It took him about 6 hours so I ate a sandwich by myself and went to bed around 10. Thrilling. New Year's Day we always spend with my parents, having brunch and just sitting around chatting. It's so relaxing; I look forward to that day every year.

2. Name a difficult challenge this year.

I know I had challenges this year, but this question is really evidence that the phrase "This too shall pass" is really true. I know I came face-to-face several times with the reality of the vulnerability of my children's safety: from someone we knew and liked being convicted of assault on a child to when we lost and found Elaine...whew. OK, I'm getting a little stressed just writing about that stuff.

3. Were you in school any time this year?

Not officially, though apparently I was in kindergarten at least part of the time seeing as I had to make a native drum and Indian vests for my fellow students.

4. How did you earn your money?

At my job in the now severely injured publishing industry.

5. Where did you go on vacation?

Door County, twice--once for our anniversary in the spring and once for family vacation in the fall

6. What did you purchase that was over $1,000?

A kindergarten education, which should have covered drums and Indian vests. Not that I'm bitter.

7. Did you know anyone who got married?

A couple at our church. It was a beautiful wedding in November. We're mostly at the stage of life though where all our friends have been married for quite awhile. There was a point where we seemed to spend half the summer going to weddings.

8. What concerts/shows did you go to?

I went to an Agatha Christie play with my mom, Ann-Marie, and Juliet in the spring. In the fall, Darren and I saw a theater production of "The Hiding Place." And then we saw Selah in concert a few weeks ago.

9. Describe your birthday.

Ahh, my last birthday in my 30s. I spent it at the Japanese gardens with my family. I got my favorite purse ever (Japanese) and three seasons of NCIS on DVD. Fabulous!

10. What's one major change in your life this year?

Losing my job at the beginning of December. Big time change. More on that later. I'm still adjusting!

11. What was your favorite moment?

It's very hard to pick one, but I think I'd have to say successfully surprising my mom for her 75th birthday. Seeing Lucy lead her into the room filled with all her oldest and dearest friends, singing "Happy Birthday"...a great moment. She was so thrilled.

12. What's something you learned about yourself?

Too long to just write a sentence about. A blog post on that will be forthcoming later this week!

13. Made any new friends this year?

This is my favorite question and what I will remember most about 2008. I've had so many great "friend" moments this year...if you're my friend and I accidentally skip mentioning you, please don't feel hurt! I've got four incidents that really stand out for me. One was in June: somehow the stars and planets aligned so that my two best friends from Moody and I could get together for lunch. Seeing as we all live in different cities and have seven kids between us...that's actually 10 schedules in which to juggle and fit in a lunch date. But we did it! It was a blast, and we hope to someday even have a Mom's Weekend together...maybe in 2009?!

Secondly, on a whim, I decided to do an online Bible study, called No Other Gods, through Beth Moore's site. It seemed like most of the people (I think around 3,000 signed up in all) were doing the study in small groups. Something in me just didn't want to do this one solo, so I looked at the other attendees from around the world who were going solo, picked one who lived in a neighboring state, and asked if she'd be interested in studying with me via email. I didn't have huge hopes--after all, we were total strangers. However, Cindy has turned out to be a wonderful new friend. We are at totally different stages in life, but we both found that the study made a powerful impact on our lives. She's the best Bible study partner I've had, other than my mom. We've kept in touch even though it finished at the end of August and hope to do another Beth Moore study together this summer.

The next incident was through facebook. In high school I had a best friend, Kirsten. We looked and acted and thought so much alike that we just dubbed each other "Sis." Neither one of us actually had a sister, so it was cool to pick the perfect one out for ourselves. When we went off to separate colleges though, we just lost touch. I've always missed her over the years and wondered whatever happened to her. Then one day in August, she found me on facebook! We have had a blast reconnecting and furiously emailing back and forth. It's been like meeting a great new friend--except one you already know and love!

The last incident is my favorite. In April, I wrote a tribute to my friend who was killed in a car accident in 1986. I feel like I've missed and remembered him all alone for all these years and just wanted to get out in print how much he meant to me. Six months went by after writing that. Then one morning, I saw a comment on my blog from my friend's younger brother! I guess he randomly googles his brother's name occasionally to see if anything will ever come up. Nothing ever did...until my blog post! He said it made his day. He has thought of his brother every day for the past 22 years but the worst part was that he felt he had been forgotten. As for me, I felt like, for a few moments in time, not only did I get a new friend, I got my old friend back as well.

If you check the comments of that post, you'll see the nicest comments from both Gordon's brother and his sister. I was telling my mom this story and she said, "I think you got a little foretaste of heaven!" So true.

So, though 2008 didn't start very auspiciously, it has been a wonderful year. Mostly I have so many great memories of my two little girls...Lucy graduating from pre-school and celebrating her 5th birthday, Elaine riding her tricycle around the neighborhood even though her feet don't touch the pedals, having our summer cooking school together, sending Lucy off to kindergarten, spending mornings in the Japanese gardens with Elaine, walking all around and finding "treasures," reading countless books together, singing at the top of our lungs in the car, taking two little black cats trick-or-treating, seeing both girls sing for the first time in front of the church, Elaine blowing out the candles on her Peter Rabbit cake, attending Lucy's Christmas program, opening presents together, tucking two wiggly girls into bed each night with a kiss, praying together... It's been a wonderful ride, and while there were some moments I would have gladly skipped over (such as making drums and Indian vests; have we covered that?)--we made it through. I never could have anticipated all that has happened.

That gives me a lot of hope for 2009!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

What We Did Over the Holidays, Part II or Playdates and the Tooth Fairy

After Lucy came in and told me she had lost her tooth, she said, "And this time, I'll even let the Tooth Fairy have my tooth!" This is the third one she's lost--the first one is sitting in a drawer somewhere, the second one (the original Snaggle Tooth; she now has another one of those) was never recovered after losing it at a gymnastics birthday party, but she had this one in hand and was supposedly ready to give it up.

However, as the evening neared, she changed her mind. I thought she might be nervous about having the Tooth Fairy come in her room at night, so I offered to put it in the guestroom. No, for some reason, she just did not want to give up her precious tooth. I said, "Tell you what. I'll call up the Tooth Fairy and let her know that she is supposed to leave you something, but she is definitely not supposed to take your tooth." I had found her a Princess watch at Kohl's on clearance for the Tooth Fairy to give, and she was not going to ruin this magic moment for me.

I dialed information and started to talk to the Tooth Fairy. Unfortunately, I voice-activated something so I had to surreptitiously hang up yet still pretend to be talking. Then a rather loud, recorded male voice came on. "Who is that?" Lucy asked suspiciously, since it was so loud she could overhear him. "He's the Tooth Fairy's assistant. While she's out making her rounds, she needs someone to take her calls." She seemed OK with that, but at bedtime she still had more doubts.

"Why does the Tooth Fairy visit people? And why does she have to take their teeth? Is she really real?" she asked. I was making up answers left and right and totally doubting why in the world I was even doing this when Darren chimed in, "She takes big kids' teeth and gives them to babies so they'll have teeth when they get bigger." I shot him a glare. "She does NOT. Lucy knows perfectly well that God gives us our teeth. Will you please stay out of this? I'm trying to teach her about the Tooth Fairy."

We finally settled that the tooth would sit on the dresser. After Lucy went to sleep, I made up a little card with a sticker on it and wrote in tiny print, "Congratulations, Lucy! You lost your tooth!" and left it with the watch (and the TOOTH of course). She was thrilled in the morning, but crud. Don't we have 32 teeth or some such ridiculous number? How am I gonna keep this up?

Another thing that happened over vacation was that Lucy invited her friend Daniel over to our house to play. Since she's busy with school and church, we don't do many playdates, but she's been asking to have Daniel over for months. According to Mrs. Blevins, they are inseparable at school. I figured it would be a nice time for me to meet another mom as well since I've only met maybe one since kindergarten started. Lucy had gotten some board games and an elaborate paint set for Christmas, and she thought the perfect time to try them out would be with Daniel.

He and his mom came over on Monday. He is just adorable. I said to his mom, "Lucy has been so excited that Daniel is coming over to play," and she answered, "Oh yes, we hear about Lucy all the time at our house too." Then Daniel looked up at me and said calmly, "I am going to marry her when I grow up." Oh. OK. Glad to have that settled.

The two kids played happily for at least two hours. They really do get along well. They played Chutes and Ladders for awhile and painted elaborate pictures. Another truly brilliant idea of Lucy's was that I get out my old typewriter from college so that they could type on it (because Kit Kittredge always types on a typewriter). Those two little monkeys had so much fun pounding away on that. They used sheet after sheet of paper, writing what they called "nonsense stories."

That evening, I asked Lucy if she'd had a good day. "It was great," she sighed. "I loved having Daniel come to my house. When I grow up, he's the one I'm going to marry."

Then she added, "I think I'll have to keep my eye on him though. Just in case he tries to marry someone else."

Friday, January 02, 2009

What We Did Over the Holidays, Part I, or The Year of Dolls

Christmas Eve morning we awoke to one of the most beautiful snows, one of those lovely ones that sticks to all the branches and rooftops and makes you feel as though you've stepped into a Christmas card. After breakfast, I bundled the girls up in their snowpants and coats and boots and hats and mittens, and we ventured out in winter wonderland to build these. (I know you can see them as the winter blog picture, but here they are closer up!)

In the afternoon, I gave the girls their bath and put their hair in curlers. They sat somewhat quietly and watched Christmas movies in their robes most of the afternoon. Then we did our yearly tradition of making monkey bread together. For supper each Christmas Eve, we have a picnic of cheese omelets, bacon, and monkey bread, which we eat on a blanket on the living room floor.

After that, they put on their velvet Christmas dresses, and I brushed out their hair. I took pictures know my camera only works in natural light pretty much so I had to scrap all of those. We went to the Christmas Eve service at church, which was lovely. One of my favorite services--just singing carols and reading the Christmas story together. When we got home, we hustled them off to bed, then had our yearly tradition of watching all the choir Christmas concerts on PBS while wrapping presents. Remember last year when the girls came downstairs and opened all the presents a day early? Yeah, I wasn't going to make that same mistake again--I didn't even put the presents under the tree until they were in bed, and they had strict instructions that they were not to go downstairs without Dad and me in the morning.

When we all woke up on Christmas morning, we started a new tradition of singing "Good Christian Men, Rejoice!" together around the Christmas tree before opening the presents. Then they tore into their stockings. Each girl got a tiny Madame Alexander doll--Elaine got Dorothy, and Lucy got Glinda. They got furry-lined slipper crocs (w/ Tinkerbell on them), a china mug--Lucy got Jemima Puddleduck; Elaine got Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, a Country Mouse/City Mouse DVD each, some chocolate that they both ate immediately of course, and the hit of the morning, a Barbie phone--Elaine's is purple; Lucy's is blue. My friend Julie and I stood in TJ Maxx for ages with those phones, listening to every possible message available to make sure there was nothing trashy or IQ-lowering on them.

Then they moved on to the presents underneath the tree--an outfit apiece, the audio CD and DVD of Noel Streatfeild's "Ballet Shoes" for Lucy, the Frances audio collection and a Curious George book & CD for Elaine, the Peter Rabbit toy and book I braved the mall for for Elaine, the most beautiful bookends I've seen for Lucy--one of Lucy climbing into the wardrobe and the other of Mr. Tumnus standing at the lamppost--(this is one of those gifts she enjoyed opening but probably won't really appreciate until high school or college; don't worry, they're up on a high shelf at this point in time), and then their main gift: a big doll for each. We pretended that they had opened everything before we gave them the boxes with the dolls.

Note that we got one for Lucy with loads of dark curls. We've really been working with her on not touching other people's hair, and that is a struggle for her. We thought she needed someone whose hair she can maul continually without protest. And pretty much the first thing she did was undo the hairstyle the doll came with. She named her Lucille. Here she is, assessing her hair.

And here is Elaine with her doll, whom she named Emily.

A new outfit and a new doll to love...

After clearing up and getting ready, we headed over to my parents' house for Christmas dinner and to open more presents. The big hit of the day for the girls there was an antique doll crib from my parents, which fits both dolls. My mom had made bedding for it as well. The big hit of the day for us was getting tickets for our family to see "Mary Poppins" on stage this Spring from my brother and sister-in-law.

We left Mom and Dad's around 3 p.m. and headed down to Darren's parents. Normally we don't cram it all in one day, but Darren's sister is a nurse who works weekends so that is just the way it worked out this year. As soon as we got there, we had another Christmas dinner. By this time as well, Elaine kept asking, "Do we get to open more presents?" Why, yes! Yes, we do. Among other things, the girls each got a Barbie doll--Lucy got the baby doctor, and Elaine got the swim instructor (I let them have Barbies only if they are wearing respectable clothes and are contributing meaningfully to society.) Then Darren's sister and niece gave them each a mini-American Girl doll: Lucy got Julie--the 70s doll with the waist-length hair! She was in heaven. I am simply depressed that someone from the 70s is now considered historical. Elaine got Kit Kittredge.

After three Christmases in one day, two big meals, countless Christmas cookies, and piles of presents, there was no way the girls were going to sleep. We put them in the bed they share at my in-laws, and they giggled and giggled and giggled and squealed and giggled some more. Each adult in the house took a turn going up to wish them goodnight aka tell them to get to sleep. Finally, Elaine was so tired she was bawling, but in between sobs Lucy would make her laugh. My mother-in-law said, "It's 'Guilford Road: IloveyouI'mcrying'!" Exactly.

Finally they fell asleep around 10:30 p.m. but were up bright and early with their toys at 6:30 a.m. A little later, Lucy rushed into our room where I was half asleep and said, "Mom! I lost my other tooth!" She had had a bottom tooth that she could rotate in a complete circle, and she now held it out in her palm triumphantly. "That's great! How did you lose it?" I asked.

"I was pretending to be a dog, and I bited Elaine's toe!" Wha-HUH? "By accident" she added hastily.

We headed home that afternoon, all of us completely exhausted, through a dense, thick fog. By the time we got back to our house--it seemed as if years had passed since we'd been there instead of just a day--the girls were crying with tiredness, and I think the parents were pretty close to it too.

Darren put them to bed, and I pulled down all the Christmas decorations and we sent the tree to the curb the next morning.

The End.

Oh, wait. One of the things that passed me by this year was sending out Christmas cards. This may be only the second year since we've been married that I haven't sent cards. So from our family to you: a belated Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year to all!