Saturday, August 29, 2009

15 Books in 15 Minutes

Kacie tagged me to do this meme. I wrote my list on facebook, but I can provide commentary here, so I'll go ahead.

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you (not including the Bible!). First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. (I have to note: this isn't my list of my favorite 15 books of all time, though some of these are on my favorites list too--just 15 books that came to my mind that have stuck with me and I've reread multiple times...)

The Brimstone Wedding (Barbara Vine)
I love most of Barbara Vine's dark tales, but this story of superstitious Jenny, a caregiver in a retirement facility, and her unlikely friendship with secretive resident Stella is one I have pulled down from the shelf many times. In fact, I'm reading it again right now.

The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
This novel is a modern day Crime and Punishment set at a New England college in the 1980s. I have taught it so many times, and I've never had a student who didn't like it. No matter how many times I read it, I still feel the tension and can't put it down.

The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
For a mystery lover like me, I would be remiss if I didn't list this classic by Collins, pretty much the godfather of mysteries. I might have actually shrieked out loud at one point (and those of you who have read it know which point I'm talking about!) This is one of those under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight books.

Digging to America (Anne Tyler)
My favorite of Anne Tyler's books, a bittersweet story of two families who adopt orphans from Korea. I love all the cultural exploration--Korea, Iran, America--with Tyler's dry, quirky humor throughout.

Where Courage is Like a Wild Horse (Sharon Skolnick)
This memoir of two Cherokee sisters in an orphanage should come with a package of Kleenex. One of the most beautiful endings to a book I've ever read.

Bruchko (Bruce Olson)
I first read this book in college and then got to hear Bruce Olson speak. It is one of the greatest missions memoirs written, in my opinion.

Passage to India (E M Forster)
I am a huge fan of Forster. My favorite movie in the world is A Room with a View, but the book that moved me the most by him is Passage. An Indian professor in grad school taught me this novel, and I've been fascinated by India and British colonial rule ever since.

The Quiet American (Graham Greene)
Another one I was introduced to in grad school. Then I went on to buy and read everything of Greene I could get my hands on. I remember when I bought my first copy of this, the lady ringing me up said, "Weren't you just devastated by the ending?" Yes, I was! Classic Graham Greene.

With No One as Witness (Elizabeth George)
I started reading all the Elizabeth George mysteries when I was pregnant with Lucy (and never slept). Darren bought me all of them (and they're each a minimum of 600 pages) and would then find me, sitting in the nursery at 3 a.m., reading. A co-worker and I would then countdown for months for the release of the latest novel. This particular one was the second-to-last (at this date) and the one that absolutely rocked the series.

The Greengage Summer (Rumer Godden)
My mom and I have been on a mission for years to collect all the Rumer Godden novels we can in used bookshops and sales. They've actually all stuck with me, but this story of English children in a French hotel for the summer...just lovely.

Crying Wind (Crying Wind Stafford)
My fourth grade teacher read this memoir of a Native American girl to our class, and we were all spellbound and would beg her to keep reading. A few years ago, I ordered a used copy on the Internet (since it's out of print). When it arrived, I sat down and read through it all in one sitting and cried and cried. Not only did it hold up with time, it is even better reading it now.

Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (James Bryan Smith)
A devotional biography of the late singer Rich Mullins. His music has influenced me so much. Darren doesn't ever need to read this book because I've quoted so many parts of it to him.

Glittering Images (Susan Howatch)
Susan Howatch's series set in the Church of England saw me through a very difficult period in my 20s. Not only are they deep in theology, they are just rip-roaring good reads. Glittering Images is the first of the six...

The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
I don't think I need to explain these, do I?

Rainbow Garden (Patricia St. John)
The book where we got Elaine's name...I read it every Easter.

So that's it, I'd love to see anyone else's list if they want to link to it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another First

Someone really needs to explain to me how we got so quickly from this:

to THIS!

(Danny--please note the weeds growing right out of my front porch!)

Yup, it is the first day of first grade for Miss Lucy. We went to Target last week and bought the list of supplies as long as my arm, always a sanctification-testing process for me. Then we went and met her new teacher, Mrs. Ramsden. This year, Lucy has her very own desk with her name on it. We also found out that she will be sitting next to the worst-behaved boy from her kindergarten class. I think he finally ended up sitting at a table alone he was so out of control.

"Mooommmm!" Lucy wailed. "I do not want to sit next to him! He is horrible! He had to pull his parrot every single day and even go to the principal's office!" I gotta tell you--I don't want her sitting next to him either, but I asked, "Well, what's the first thing we're going to do?"

"We're going to pray," she said promptly. That's my girl.

"Right, we're going to pray. We'll pray for him and we'll pray for you. And if you have any problems, you come and tell Daddy and me right away so we and your teacher can help you."

That seemed to help, as did the fact that there is a fish swimming in a bowl on the teacher's desk. It's name is Gem, and each first grader will get the chance to bring Gem home for the weekend. Oh, goody.

Last night as I was tucking her in bed, Lucy told me, "I'm a little bit nervous about tomorrow."

"Don't worry about it, "I told her. "Everyone is nervous on their first day. I felt like throwing up on my first day--and that was just last week! Your teacher will be there and that nice student teacher too, you know, the one who said her name is Amelia Bedelia!"

"Oh, that pretty lady we met who was smiling all the time at us? She'll be there too? Because she really had very good hair."

Right. As long as there is someone available with good hair, everything will turn out OK.

Every first day of school when I was growing up, my mom would come in our rooms, singing "School Days" to us. The thought of doing that made me feel a little sad, so this morning I woke Lucy up singing "Good Morning" from "Singin' in the Rain" instead.

She made her bed and got into her uniform and came down to breakfast, which was, of course, muffins since that's what they always had on the first day of school in the Betsy-Tacy books. Then we hit the front porch to take pictures.

Lucy especially wanted me to take a picture of her backpack. We bypassed the Disney princesses, Barbie, Tinkerbell, and even Hello Kitty when we saw this one at Target. It pretty much has "Lucy" written all over it.

So here she is, all ready for a big new world of being gone all day, reading, math, science, school plays, and all that school entails.

I'm going to miss this little face every day though!

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Came, I Saw, I Conquered

With everything that's been going on this summer, including me starting to teach last week, some things at home have fallen by the wayside. I give you exhibit A:

Some people tell me how organized their children are and how they love to clean up and straighten their toys and have everything just so. I would like to meet these children. Then again, maybe not.

Did you note the bookcase? The best thing to do is just yank a book off from the middle so that 14 others fall down with it. Look around the floor in confusion and wonder why you're standing in a pile of books. Then shrug your shoulders at the baffling nature of gravity and run off here to pull out some dress-up clothes.

After several weeks of this, plus me nagging and cajoling every day for them to clean up, only to discover that they just keep dumping everything in the closet, I finally snapped.

I figured it would take me at least 2 hours to clean everything up, including organizing the inside of their dresser drawers, which I did not take pictures of because I don't want you to think any worse of me than you already do.

FIVE AND A HALF hours later, we have this (note the gleaming floor, that you can actually now see):

I took every book out of the bookcase. I put all the ones that we rarely read into two boxes and took them to the basement. Now when they're playing downstairs and want a book, they can grab a "new" one out of the box. And scatter it on the basement floor. But at least I won't see it that much.

The coup de grace (and portion that took me the greatest amount of time):

The dress-up clothes and wicker basket that is supposed to contain them (along with Polly Pockets, Barbies, McDonald's Happy Meal toys, et al) is also in the basement.

I then gave them a long talking-to about how summer is over and they need to be responsible for their room. They were excited by how clean it now is and seemed to take me seriously.

Then this morning they woke me up by showing me themselves smeared head to toe in lipstick. Apparently they'd gone through my closet (where the "cloppy shoes" are), found an old purse that had no less than four old lipsticks in it, and had a great time.

I guess if your own closet is boring, you've got to look in somebody else's. I'll accept any volunteers who want to help me on my own room next weekend. There might be a Happy Meal toy in it for you. Or an old lipstick.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trading for Home

There is a story in the Bible that I have loved ever since I was little. I am not sure why I am so attracted to it, maybe for a number of reasons. It's the story of the anonymous woman who had been hemorrhaging for years. She spent all of her money on doctors, but nothing worked. Finally she pushed her way through the crowds, into the middle of someone else's crisis, because she thought that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus' garment, that might help her. She did so, and immediately she was completely and utterly healed.

A few months ago, I was reading an article about that very story--how the author (Beth Moore) had used it in a eulogy for a dear friend of hers who had died from breast cancer. Her friend had gotten the cancer years before but had refused to die. She was miraculously healed and lived many years, enough to see her children grown and to do many things she had wanted to do. The cancer came back eventually though, and this time she did not win the fight against it. Beth said, "It was time for her to trade the hem for Him."

My mom got a call from her doctor last week. He's going to stop her therapy because it's not working. The cancer in her lungs is spreading, and her lungs are filling with fluid. She has a hard time breathing. Oftentimes she feels like she can't get enough air.

My cousin's husband is a bio-chemist who has done a lot of cancer research. He sent her information on vitamin therapy, which she has also been doing. It's supposed to give her more energy and maybe help to slow her cancer too. It's not working either.

People have written to me and taken me aside to talk to me about my mom. I have to be careful here, because I know that everyone loves her so much and wants to help. People are praying for healing; they're praying for a miracle. They want her to fight this diagnosis, to do more treatment, to rally, to not give up, to stay here and be with us. Don't go.

There is no one on Earth who wants my mom to stay more than I do. Every day the knowledge is heavy on me that we are one day closer to separating. It is a great, cosmic, violent ripping apart that is physically painful to me too. I want her to stay here. I want to be able to pick up the phone any time I want and tell her all my stuff like I always do. I'm taking Lucy over to her tomorrow so she can see her all dressed for her first day of first grade this week. I don't want milestones to pass, and she's not here to see them.

But beside all the things I want, there is a solid rock of truth underneath that I know. Another story I love is from Acts 12, after King Herod has killed James and then imprisoned Peter. The whole church is praying for Peter to get out of prison. But I think my favorite part is in verse 6: "Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison." So even though any moment, the key was going to turn in the door for Peter to be brought out and put to death just like his friend James had been, he was sleeping. Sleeping! And that is because he knew this truth: God held his life. All his days had been numbered from the beginning of time. He could rest easy in that knowledge. He could go to sleep and not worry about what lay ahead.

Ten years ago when my mom first got breast cancer, she didn't think it was time for her to go. There was too much unfinished business. She fought back and took all the treatment that was offered her--surgery, radiation, two courses of chemo, oral therapy--the works. And God granted her miraculous healing: cancer free for ten years.

Now the cancer is back, and her body is worn out. She is exhausted. She really doesn't have much fight left in her. And I think she is hearing that still, small voice telling her that pretty soon it's time to head for home. God holds her life. She is not going to leave this world one minute early. She will not leave this world one second late. I tell my girls--there is absolutely no question that soon Manga is going to be healed--healed completely. No more cancer. No more pain. A miracle is coming for her! The only thing we don't know is the location where it will take place.

Am I going to push her into a battle that is not hers, but the Lord's? Am I going to hang onto her, to try and pull her back from Heaven, from closing her eyes only to open then and see Jesus, finally, face to face? Am I going to encourage her to keep grabbing onto His hem when she's ready to trade it for Him?

No, for "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." (Phil. 1:22-23)

Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.

I posted some pictures to facebook of the girls' back-to-school haircuts (a now yearly tradition), but I guess I neglected to mark the first pictures I put on there as "before." I'll definitely do so here. I think some people saw the first few pictures, which really show how much I have completely neglected both of them in the hair department over the summer and thought they were supposed to compliment those cute 'dos or something.

Anyway, they haven't gotten haircuts since Eastertime. Each summer, Lucy has wanted to grow her hair out and basically not bother with it at all, so I let her. She got it long enough this summer so that I could put it up in a small bun or at least a banana-type clip in back. We also go through a lot of sorrow and grief because she still hates brushing her hair. I usually asked that she at least run a brush through it each morning, but that may or may not have happened every single day.

Elaine has hair like me--you can wait for months, and it might grow a quarter of an inch. But she grew enough to look like a neglected little waif.

Here they are in their Kit Kittredge t-shirts and their bedhead (I tried to have this photo be like those magazine makeover photos--where the before images are candid and as bad as possible).

Then we went to visit Ms. Robin, our haircut lady. She neatened up Elaine's little cut, and Elaine even let me put a barrette in for a few minutes--and for once she didn't even insist that it had to have some sort of cat on it.

Lucy wanted to go for the big change. She kept saying, "I can't wait to have short hair back again!" I kept asking her if she was sure, and she was adamant. When we got to Ms. Robin's, we decided that the inverted, jaw-length bob would be a good look for hair. You would not believe how much hair was on the floor when she was done. We could have made a whole new girl out of it. As for Lucy, she was thrilled and couldn't stop looking at it or touching it.

So there you go--all ready for fall. Lucy and I are planning to go shopping tomorrow for new school shoes and new headbands--which leads me to my next point. My friend Becky has just started a new business called Pocket Full of Posies. She makes custom bows, clips, beanies, headbands, fabric flowers, and more especially for babies and children. She has beautiful, unique, (extremely reasonably priced!) designs. She will customize for you also, so if you have a special outfit or Christmas dress, etc., Becky can color- and design-coordinate with you to get the perfect finishing touch for your girl's hair. Check out this, this, and these--just a few of my favorites. If you are on facebook, you can also become a fan so you can see updates and new designs she adds. So, if you have a daughter, granddaughter, niece, or any little girl in your life in need of at Pocket Full of Posies for some adorable head gear/hair wear!

Now I just need to convince Becky to add some things with cats on them...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why I'm Listening to Christmas Music in August

ETA: Oh, here you can see a 5-minute clip of what I'm talking about!

This summer has been intense, particularly July and August. I feel like I've been running everywhere, seeing everyone, and my house never seems to get clean. The biggest project of the summer happened this week. Jennie and I taught our workshop. We were hired by a suburban school district to present a 15-hour training on creating a culture of, and using best practice for, assessment. I bet you wish you were there, don't you?

We spent untold hours creating the course, then went live with it on Monday. It was a combination of rewarding, exhausting, frustrating and motivating. But the district definitely seems to want to hire us to do more of these, so we're already figuring out new ideas and things we'll do differently.

Then yesterday, as soon as I got home and before I'd even gotten out of my extremely unfamiliar business clothing, the phone rang from a local community college where I had sent my resume ages ago as a mere formality, never expecting to hear anything. Of course now they're scheduling for the imminent fall quarter and are desperate for teachers. I have an interview tomorrow, but I think it's one of those sort of formalities--where pretty much the only way they won't give me a class is if I bring a bowie knife with me or something.

In the midst of all this, of course I've been spending a lot of time in the car. Chuck and Rome gave me a CD for my birthday that was on my amazon wishlist, but I hadn't thought much about it or really heard anything of it either. It just sounded like something nice I'd like to have around for the holidays in a few months, so I was happy when they gave it to me. Something compelled me to pop it in the player though, and oh my stars. I canNOT stop listening to it.

As the title says, it's songs of joy and peace so you're not going to get a lot of the traditional carol/hymns on here. Fortunately, you're not going to get the usual holiday fare of "The Christmas Song" (bane of my existence), "Frosty the Snowman," "Winter Wonderland," et al.

Instead, Yo-Yo Ma has taken "Dona Nobis Pacem" (give us peace) and woven it throughout a gorgeous collection of...I don't know what. World music? Folk music? Forgotten classics?

Does it sound exciting yet? Well, The other theme of the CD is "joy" and did you see that "Yo-Yo Ma and Friends" in the title? Basically, the album sounds like the happiest, most joyful, lovely holiday party ever. It makes me want to start making a bunch of hors d'oeuvres and have a houseful of people over. Some of the songs include (besides the running theme of Dona Nobis Pacem, which pops up in lovely, unexpected places all over the album) "You Couldn't Be Cuter," (Diana Krall), "Touch the Hand of Love," (Renee Fleming), "Here Comes the Sun" (James Taylor--I know!!!!!), "My Favorite Things" and "Auld Lang Syne" (Chris Botti), and the gorgeous, mystical "Wexford Carol" (Allison Krauss). Lots and lots of other people appear too playing all sorts of instruments from the banjo to the bagpipe, all accompanied by Yo-Yo's cello.

It's so hard to pick a favorite, but mine has to be "A Christmas Jig/Mouth of the Toblique Reel" with Natalie MacMaster (who I love so much I have an entire pandora station built on her). That one is often at top volume in the car. When Elaine first heard it, she yelled, "Mom, is this Riverdance?" "No," I yelled back (why turn it down?) "It's YO-YO!!" "You're teasing!" she said. But I finally convinced her that someone with that name created this awesome party music. And now as soon as either of the girls gets in the car, they say, "Let's listen to Yo-Yo!" They love to get the CD booklet out and identify all the performers and their instruments too.

And here's an added bonus--the CD comes with a "making of" DVD so you can see all the behind-the-scenes stuff. You can see James Taylor's fabulous recording studio in a converted barn. You can see Yo-Yo Ma and Renee Fleming improvising (wow). You can see Natalie and her band jamming and doing an Irish jig. You can see Chris Botti. Did I mention Chris Botti? You can see how nice and down-to-earth Yo-Yo Ma is. You can see all sorts of funny or lovely moments any music fan/lover will appreciate.

So, if you're thinking about Christmas during August, which you're probably not, or you're looking for one of the coolest, most fun hour-plus musical experiences you've ever heard (and why wouldn't you be?) hurry and buy this CD/DVD. If you don't believe me, go to amazon where you can listen to little samples, though that can't possibly do it justice.

Seriously, it's Yo-Yo. How could you go wrong? I wish I lived next door to him. I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

Friday, August 07, 2009

I think I may be a compulsive gambler

Right now, here's what I have going on: I am feverishly preparing all my materials for my very first assessment workshop, which my friend Jennie and I will be teaching next week (more on that later). I am also helping finalize the Sept/Oct issue of the magazine. I am taking on editorial jobs from my former company. I am working through the Mt. Everest of laundry that always accompanies a return from vacation. My house will be getting a thorough cleaning today.

Yet ebay has hooked me in again. I have long periods of time when I don't even think about ebay. Then I get on some jag for Japanese dolls or collectible Estee Lauder perfume compacts, or Lego Narnia castles, and it's all over. I've got so many items I'm watching (I'm a wait-til-the-last-minute bidder), and then I'm constantly checking to see how much time is left or if I've won.
What am I obsessed with now, do you ask? Cat clothes, if you must know. Not clothes for cats (I'm not quite there yet), clothes for a certain 3 1/2-year-old girl that have cats on them. Remember the catty shirt she wanted to wear every single day last winter? I tried to beat her at that game this summer by having three cat t-shirts she could rotate. But fall is coming, and she's grown like you can't believe. Maybe if everything she owns has a cat on it, there will be no weeping meltdowns in the mornings. At least about clothing.

Enter ebay. Now, all mothers know that Gymboree makes the cutest kid clothes on the planet, yet they're ridiculously expensive. And if you're not that familiar with them, they have various theme lines that debut each season (have I lost all the men readers so far? thought so) ANYWAY, I decided to type "Gymboree kitty" and search it on ebay. And oh, what a treasure trove I found. First, there's the Classroom Kitty line. Then there's Glamour Kitty line. And the coup de grace, the rare Bon Voyage Paris Kitty line.

This is what I won last night (from the Glamour Kitty line):

So while I'm sitting up late at night writing magazine articles and volleying ideas back and forth with Jennie about the workshop, I am also trolling for more cat clothes. I now need some sort of witty closing line for this blog post, but an auction for a red kitty shirt from the Classroom Kitty line is ending soon, so I just don't have the time.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

More Door County

On Day 2, we went to one of our favorite spots, Hands-On Art in Fish Creek. There are so many projects you can do, plus there are plenty of farm animals outdoors to pet and feed.

Cats are constantly wandering around. I think this is Elaine's idea of paradise--painting and petting cats.

Lucy and I painted a fairy box, and Darren and Elaine painted a mermaid box.

Each morning, Darren also had to work. The house where we were staying didn't have wireless, so he went to the Sister Bay Library. For a tiny town--really, for any town--this is a great library. Some of the mornings he took the girls with him so I got some free time.

They have a puppet theater where you can create your own shows.

There is a story hour at least once a week. I love this picture. Note the look of disdain that little girl is giving Elaine, who is rolling around and not listening. We feel your pain, sister. Welcome to our world.

Outdoors there were donkeys to be fed (donkeys at the library! How random! But who could ask for anything more? It's kid nirvana.)

One day we simply had to eat lunch at Darren's favorite restaurant, The Cookery. It's a Door County institution. A little over a year ago, it burned down, but they've rebuilt and it's better than ever. They just reopened in July. The one criticism I have is that they built one-person bathrooms. So yes, the girls and I stood in a long line to get to the restroom, while the men just zipped in and out of theirs. We'll never rule the world, girls, until we get this basic problem fixed.

Here's the rebuilt Cookery...I wish I had a before picture so you could really see the transformation. (Juliet, you'll be able to appreciate this!)

Another place we simply have to eat (because one of the main parts of the fun in Door County is eating) is PC Junction (or PJ Junction as Elaine calls it) in Fish Creek. This is where you sit around the bar, and a train delivers your food to you.

Another place we never skip visiting is Seaquist Orchard in Sister Bay. First you have to visit the indoor farm market where there are samples of almost everything to try. I never leave without buying several jars of their cherry pie filling, which is the best you've ever put in your mouth. You can just eat it out of the jar and be happy. The orchard also has an outdoor maze and playground. In the fall, they have an indoor hay bale maze, which is cool too.

Here are the girls on the playground--you can see some remnants of cherry jam on Elaine's face from all the sampling...

Darren also watched them harvesting the cherries--normally we're up there in the spring or fall so we'd never seen this before...

A trip to Door County is never complete until you've been to Peninsula State Park--numerous times, actually. It's one of the most peaceful, beautiful spots created.

Here we are together in the woods...

Goofing around with my girls...

...and my favorite picture of the trip. This pretty much sums it up.

We also climbed to the top of Eagle Tower in the park, which I loved to do when I was little too. When you get to the top you can see out all over the bay, plus where everyone has scratched and graffiti'd in their names and the date. I told Lucy to look for mine and Tio's names and a date from the 1970s--but we didn't find it. Darren took Elaine up with him, then took a picture of them at the very top, with Elaine perched on his shoulder. I title that one "Heart Failure," but I can't find where it is right now, so you'll just have to imagine.

So, that was our trip, and nobody wanted to come home, which is always a good sign. We've already got times reserved for October, next July, and October 2010, so there will be plenty of more happy memories made!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Camping in Door County 2009

Every year, my friend Alysa and her family go camping in Door County. She writes these great posts about roughing it in the woods with a tent and campfires and such. It sounds wonderful. Well, not to be outdone by Ms. Outdoors-I-was-a-missionary-in-Irian Alysa, we too just got back from our annual camping trip to Door County, because if you know anything at all about me, you know how much I LOVE camping. Here is our campsite:

(Most importantly, and achieving my constant life goal of always having a private bathroom...)

A close second? The full kitchen...

This next picture takes a little explaining. We actually rent the first floor of a house. It's pretty much a word-of-mouth arrangement. Families who stay are asked to clean it before they leave for the next visitors. Usually when we arrive, it's immaculate. However, the family before us had seven children. I would say that they left it orderly. However, it was not up to the standards my mother has instilled in me. The sink was absolutely atrocious, actually, and I have kind of a fetish about clean sinks. So before we left, I spent a good portion of morning on this (sorry I have no "before" picture):

This is the guest bedroom...

Here is our bedroom...

The living room/dining room...

The girls' room (there's another twin bed not in the picture, plus a little year-round Christmas tree, which they were crazy about)...

The first day we were there, the girls ran around the large yard and picked raspberries and peas. The industrial harvesters were coming that night to pick all the peas, so the owner of the house told us to get whatever we wanted that day. Then that night we had fresh peas and raspberries for supper.

So, as you can see, I am just as adventurous and intrepid as Alysa. I am so ready for the mission field, don't you think?

I'll have more tomorrow on the rest of our trip!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

It's Been A Long Time

Now I have a lot of things to post about. It's been a good break, but I think I'm back!

Earlier in July, my cousin Joseph came up from Chattanooga, TN, to visit. He was born about three weeks after I was, so I wanted to him to come visit so we could celebrate turning 40 together. I haven't seen him in five years. I was a little nervous about it, and so was he, especially since he lives alone and is almost never around children. But...we thought we'd give it a whirl.

Elaine and I picked him up at the airport around noon on a Saturday. I'm notoriously direction-challenged, but I not only navigated getting to/from/around the airport, I also parked the car and only got us lost one time while trying to find it. This is a personal best.

We decided to stop at a Japanese restaurant on the way home to have some sushi, but we walked in ten minutes after they'd stopped seating for the afternoon, so we satisfied ourselves with Subway instead. He saw our house and got to hang out a bit with Lucy and Elaine, who had been beside themselves with excitement that he was coming. We made no less than three trips to the grocery store (by then in the pouring rain) getting stuff to make supper.

The next day, we went to my parents' church. It was a service of grace that day, and their pastor had asked them to share a bit about the journey they have been on. As a side note, people often ask how my mom is doing these days. I always say: she is still with us. She had two very good months in the spring but seems to be slipping a bit over the summer. She has pain again, and I can just see the effects of the cancer slowly working away. However, she is her same bright self--just taking a few more rests and her pain medication. Neither she nor my dad really wanted to get up and talk in front of everyone, but they went ahead and did it.

I had been really praying for them all morning and was kind of nervous about it. But Mom got up there and pulled it off, no problem. She talked about last summer on her 75th birthday, how she had decided the plans she had for the remainder of her life--but God's ways were not her ways and He had decided differently for her. I was so proud of her; it was a hard thing to do, not the least of which because she was wearing pants for the first time ever on Sunday morning. She had called me earlier, all worked up about that--but it was cool and rainy, and there was going to be a picnic afterward.

All of us, including Joseph, went to the picnic then, and there had to be no fewer than eight pans of cheese potatoes. Awesome. Afterward, Darren took the girls out with him to play mini-golf, and Joseph and I went to the new Harry Potter movie. It was fantastic, if you haven't already seen it--definitely my favorite of all the Potter movies so far.

Monday, Joseph and I went to Chicago. He is really easy going and didn't have a big agenda. He just wanted to get a feel for the city so he didn't need to do a lot of tourist-y type things. I for one was relieved not to have to go up in the Sears Tower for the nth time. It kind of loses its magic after you work there. It was a beautiful day, so we just roamed around and then took the Wendella architectural boat tour, which was really cool. I had never been on it before, and though I knew some of the information, certainly didn't know all of it.

After the tour, we tried to visit Holy Name Cathedral, but it is still undergoing repairs after a fire there this spring. By that time, it was time for us to meet Joseph's college roommate, whom he also hadn't seen in at least five years, for dinner at Reza's on Ontario. Another occasion for a bit of nervousness--how do you mix three people who don't all know each other together? It ended up being a blast, we all ate a lot, laughed our heads off, and didn't break up until around 11:30 p.m. Also, his roommate is now my friend on facebook because after you have a 5 1/2-hour dinner with someone, that's qualification enough to friend them in my world.

On Wednesday, we went to Wheaton to the Wade Center. Despite growing up there and living in the area for so long, I hadn't been before and of course, neither had he. It seemed a little small at first, but it was wonderful. We two literary geeks were overwhelmed by not only seeing The Wardrobe, but by being able to touch both Lewis's and Tolkien's desks and chairs and Charles Williams' bookcases. Then we looked through all the merchandise and bought books, so...a glorious afternoon.

Thursday came too soon--it was time to take him back to the airport. I've noticed when people come to stay at your house you're either secretly dying for them to leave by the end or fighting tears at the airport because you don't want them to leave. This visit was the latter. We'd had such a great time talking, laughing, eating, staying up 'til 1 a.m. each night, watching the "State of Play" miniseries, etc.--it was all ending too quickly. Unfortunately, neither of us has any pictures of the visit!

It was a great 40th birthday celebration for both of us, and we definitely plan on meeting up sooner than five years from now. Not to mention, the girls absolutely adored him, and Elaine called him "Uncle Jophus." Lucy said, "Now that Uncle Joseph has been around us, he's not nervous with kids anymore. In fact, he'll probably want them around him all the time now!"