Friday, December 31, 2010

Stuff for a New Year

Here are some items on both my reading and listening queue for the new year. I'm feeling lazy and about to take the girls to the movies, so I'm just posting pictures and titles.

First, a few books:

Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes
It's No Secret by Rachel Olsen
And, some music:
"All This Time" Sting

"American Songs" Josephine Cameron (thanks, Melanie!!!)
"Year of Grace" Robin Mark
"Music for Compline" Various
"Yours Truly" Natalie MacMaster
I'll have another post later about what to watch this year because I'm too excited about it just to tack it on the end here. However, PBS is rerunning this on Sunday night, which, if you haven't already seen it I can only ask: why not? Start the year with quality viewing. For me.

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Things

This is one of those, if you care please read and if not feel free to skip posts. Sometimes reading people's blogs is like peering in their front windows, which I love to do in a nosey, yet non-creepy way but if that's not your thing, I totally get that. So, with that, here's what our holiday weekend looked like.

On Thursday the 23rd, I had to take Elaine to her ENT appointment in the afternoon because her eardrum ruptured for the second time in two months, and now she was crying about her other ear, too. We got there and I had to fill out all that paperwork that you do, and three of the worst-behaved little boys (all in the same family) I have ever seen in my life came in. The whole waiting room was in an uproar, and even one of the nurses stepped in and told one of them to knock off whatever mayhem he was causing. One of them took Elaine's Bitty Baby, and when she politely asked for it back, he dropped it on the floor after spitting on it. (We scrubbed her with a Lysol wipe when we got home).

Finally the nurse called Elaine's name, and we virtually ran out of the waiting room. The doctor looked in her ears and throat and told her to say "ahhhhh," which she never does because I think she feels stupid doing it and secretly I can't blame her, though while she's refusing I'm always giving her the stank eye to Finally the doctor said, "I'm going to tell Santa on you," and when he left the room she looked at me and said, "That guy doesn't know Santa."

On Christmas Eve, I felt horrible for some reason, but we were hosting Christmas the next day so I followed my mom's timeless advice to just "work it off" and pushed on through. Darren took the girls to the Christmas Eve church service in the afternoon, and when they got home I found Elaine, sitting by herself in the living room and crying silently because her ear hurt so bad.

But we pulled it together and had our traditional Christmas Eve picnic of eggs, bacon, and monkey bread in front of the fireplace while the girls debated whether or not Dad is actually Santa and if he's been down our fireplace before or not. Not if you don't say "ahh" at the doctor, I guess. We hustled them off to bed and, remarkably, they fell asleep right away while Darren wrapped the presents he bought them. I wrapped mine ages ago, but he works better under pressure. We watched "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street" until I fell asleep and then Elaine came in to my bed at midnight, crying about her ear. Darren hadn't even come to bed yet, so when he did I told him, "If you want any rest at all tonight, I recommend the guest room." That was sage advice because she kicked and thrashed and moaned and woke up at least every hour, crying with pain. It was kind of awful.

We woke up for good around 6:30, and she spent the day walking around with her head tilted to one side. The girls ran down to see what was in their stockings, and my family started arriving around 10:00. As soon as the cars pulled in the driveway, the girls were all, "Can we open the big presents now?"

So for the next 30 minutes or so, it was happy chaos, I'm sure just like where you live, especially if you've got little kids. There were dolls and and E-Z Bake Oven and a Strawberry Shortcake remote control car and books and clothes and, their favorite present of all--they each got their own diary from Darren. Lucy's even has a lock and a little key. She ran away to write in it immediately, then showed it to all of us because it was all about how she, Lucy, had been holding Tuppence, and Elaine started her new Dora motorized toothbrush and startled Tuppence so that she jumped out of Lucy's arms, scratching her in the process, and now Christmas Day was essentially ruined because of Elaine. And the flyleaf to the whole book is inscribed, "Elaine is mean."

After everyone left and we got the girls in bed, Darren and I dismantled the Christmas tree and put it out on the curb while watching a documentary on John Gotti. It was a precious holiday moment together.

The next day we travelled to Darren's family. We met for dinner at this place called Fairview Farms, which serves food family style--food as in fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn fritters, and chicken noodles (those are just in the winter time. I like the noodles as an accompaniment to mashed potatoes). As Darren always says, it was a "strap on the feedbag" moment.

When we went back to their house, it was another present opening time--this time Skechers for both girls (their favorite present there), more clothes, a whiteboard, lots of Polly Pockets, and I can't even keep track of what all. They had a blast playing with their cousins--Drew (10), Ryne (9), and Joseph (4). I love those guys--it's just a whole new world for me, being around boys and everything Star Wars. I like to call Joseph "Ruff Ruffman" for the sole pleasure of hearing him say, "My name's not Wuff Wuffman!"

We got all the kids to bed late, but that didn't stop my girls from being up before 5:00 a.m. until the Swift Hand of Justice aka Dad visited their room. Then they were quiet until 7:00.

We came home by Sunday evening and all the Christmas decorations and junk that were still out was driving me crazy, so I pulled everything down, boxed it up, and put out all my regular books and china and candles and such. I created a minor firestorm on facebook proclaiming my achievements because I guess a lot of people don't believe in doing that before New Year's. I would go mental if I had to wait that long. It's over, people. Let it go.

Now we're home and on winter break. The girls are playing with all their toys and watching their new movies. I'm going to organize their bookcase and mine, and I have the lofty goal of trying to teach Elaine to read. She's dying to begin because every where we go and every conversation we have is punctuated with things such as, "Mom, what does E-X-I-T spell?" etc.

Later this week I'll try to post some lists of things I'm planning to read, watch, and listen to in the new year.

Hope your holiday was lovely, too!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Quiz

1.What is your one favorite dish to see on the table at Christmas dinner?

The stuffed celery my dad makes or the strawberry-pretzel jello salad my mother-in-law makes

2.Do you have a Nativity scene? How many pieces does it have?

We bought two and combined a bunch of the pieces so we could have extra animals and an angel (which didn't come with one of them). So, in previous years it was 15 pieces, but this year we found a tiny, fuzzy black cat that Elaine put near the manger. I guess one of Yo-Yo's ancestors is representing.

3.What is your favorite Christmas movie?

"The Shop Around the Corner" (with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan)

4.If you and your family could spend this Christmas in another country, where would you go?

Barbados. Kind of like England, except warm!

5.Have you ever gone out of the house wearing a reindeer headband? What about a Santa hat?

Anyone who knows me knows the answer to this is "no."

6.Do you usually make or buy your Christmas gifts?

I buy them. I'm not good at making things. Except this year, I made the cookies that my mom has made every single year since we were babies, and I'm giving a tin of them to my brother for Christmas.

7.When do you set up your Christmas decorations? When do you take them down?

The day after Thanksgiving, and I would take them down Christmas afternoon if I could, but usually it's the 26th or 27th that they actually come down. A friend of mine got mad at her husband on Christmas Eve one year and pitched the tree out over the balcony. Now THAT'S what I call undecorating early.

8.Which of the Gospels gives your favorite account of the Christmas story?

Most everyone says Luke, but mine is John. That's what my dad read to us every year, and now I would be disappointed if he didn't. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father--full of grace and truth." Awesome!

9.Do you buy Christmas presents for your pets?

This is kind of sickeningly American and I feel guilt about it, but...yes. Not anything extravagant though.

10.What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

On Christmas Eve, the girls and I make monkey bread together. Then for dinner we have omelettes, bacon, and monkey bread as a picnic on the floor in the living room in front of the fireplace. Then when they go to bed, Darren and I watch all the Christmas concerts on PBS while we wrap presents.

11. What is your favorite Christmas carol?

"In the Bleak Midwinter," by Christina Rossetti

Merry Christmas from Guilford Road to you, my dear Readers!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Best Books of 2010

My new year's resolution for 2010 was to write down every book I read, which I kept up through about March or April maybe. So, I'll be lowering the bar on any resolutions I make for 2011. I estimate I read 90-100 books per year, and I can't remember what they all are for the life of me. However, here are a few of the best, those that stood out for me, not in any particular order.

1. The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault
Combination mystery/coming-of-age story set at a lexicographer's. I really loved this.

2. The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne
Family drama interwoven with facts and anecdotes about the Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) family.

3. Scars and Stilettos by Harmony Dust
The subtitle of this is "the transformation of an exotic dancer," and that's what it is. Fantastic book; I could not put it down.

4. Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
I've been meaning to read this book for years but never have until this summer. What I was missing! The true story of five years in the life of a young boy living in Illinois during the Civil War. Two of his brothers went to fight--one for the Union side, the other for the Confederacy. The incredible things that happen make you think this is fiction, but the book was carefully reconstructed from the journals of the author's great-grandfather. Keep the Kleenex by you while you read.

5. Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell
I have to steal this bit from an amazon reviewer: "When I finished this book I started raving about it to all my friends. 'What's it about?' they asked. 'Um, this housewife in Kansas City.' 'Yeah, but what happens?' 'Er... nothing really. She gets married and has kids and they grow up.' But trying to summarize Mrs. Bridge cannot evoke the brilliance and heartbreak of this novel." Yup. What he said.

6. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington
I wrote a whole blog post about how much I loved this book, in case you missed it.

7. Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman by Don King (editor)
Collection of Joy Davidman's (aka Mrs. C.S. Lewis) letters. As I was reading, I kept thinking I would turn out the light and go to sleep but would then say to myself, "Just one more letter!" Besides being fascinating, I identified so much with Joy. Can't wait to meet her someday!

8. Solitary by Travis Thrasher
Wrote about it here.

9. While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin
I got this book in the mail, and from the back cover it sounds like a love story, so I was all, "Meh," but it's also set during World War II, so at least part of me was like, "yay!" so I took a chance and read it and am so.glad I did. I guess there's somewhat of a love story, but really it's a story of family and loyalty and of how God is working all the time, even when we're not seeing it.

10. Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most by Wess Stafford
I saved the best for last. Honestly, I get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, just typing the title. If you haven't already, please, please read this incredible memoir by the founder and CEO of Compassion, Int'l. One amazon reviewer writes, "This book is a marvel of leading one up the garden path, at the end of which is an uncaged tiger." So true. I cried with both pain and joy at this. It is one of the most amazing stories of forgiveness and redemption I've ever read. I'm giving it to my dad for Christmas (he doesn't read this blog!) I wish every pastor, every teacher, every Sunday School worker, every missionary, every parent, every adult, everyone who's ever been hurt, everyone who ever needed to forgive someone, everyone who's ever felt overwhelmed by suffering, everyone who has ever been disappointed with God, everyone everyone everyone would read this. If you read any book in 2011, let it be this one.

There's my list. I've got a stack of books already that I'm planning to read in the coming year, but I'd love some recommendations, too. What were some of your favorite books this year?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Do you see a resemblance? I DON'T.

First, here's your "Where's Yo-Yo?" moment for today. Besides climbing in a box of presents, he also climbed into the drawer where I keep tablecloths.

The girls woke up on this second day of Christmas break and said, "Mom, won't you play with us today? We haven't had any Mama Time lately."

I said, "Yes. The first thing we will play is called 'Clean the Basement.'" They were less enthused about that than you would think. Huh. But we played that for awhile, and when it was clean I helped them make sock puppets out of the kit my dad gave Elaine for her birthday. We celebrated her birthday again this past Sunday with my family, and now each morning she thinks she's going to get more presents.

Then, since I had given Elaine both her and my favorite Disney cartoon for her birthday, "The Princess and the Frog," and we've been watching it a lot, they wanted to play that.

"Who do you want to be, Mom?" asked Lucy.

"Tiana," I said promptly, because she is the smartest, sassiest, hardest-working Disney princess ever.

"Noooooo," she said, "Pick somebody else." Clearly the role of Tiana was taken.

"Then I want to be Charlotte LeBoeff. She's cute and funny," I said. (She's the blonde on the right.)

"No," Lucy said again. I guess Charlotte was also taken.

"You get to be Mama Odie!" she said excitedly, clearly trying to sell me on the idea.

Are you kidding me?

Sigh. So, I better get back down to the hopefully-still-clean basement and assume my role.

At least she didn't make me be Ray.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

As Our Own

A few years ago, I was driving home from work and listening to the radio. The host was interviewing a gentleman named Ralph Borde about the organization he founded in India, called Charasia (I've posted about them before). Their mission is to rescue little girls (as young as 6. Six. The age of my own girls.) from prostitution. Since that day I heard Ralph on the radio, it has been our family's joy to support this organization in prayer and now financially, also.

This past week, Charasia had an exciting announcement--they are changing their name to "As Our Own," because it is their mission to love these precious girls and treat them just as our own.

I was going to do a whole post about it because I am so pumped about this organization, but a new member of the board of directors, Amanda Jones, wrote a much better one here. On hers, you can see a picture of the beautiful little girls, too.

It's difficult to read about As Our Own and not want to be a part of it. If you're on facebook or Twitter, you can join their page and get updates and see videos of this fantastic ministry (here is one, and there's another one on their page). Even if you're supporting other organizations or are strapped financially now, Ralph, all the staff of As Our Own, and the children can use your prayers. I've added their site to my blog roll, too.

Each year for Christmas, we give a donation in each of Lucy and Elaine's teachers' names. We've given to Samaritan's Purse, World Relief, etc. This year, our donation for each will be to As Our Own--to let others have the joy in sharing in a part of these precious girls' futures along with us.

And I have to throw in that Ralph is a graduate of a great school. I won't mention the name. But it's the one with the highest percentage of graduates in ministry. You know, that one I graduated from. C'mon, you know you want to sing the song with me now (Juliet, Ann-Marie, Alysa, Kacie, et al): "God bless the school that D. L. Moody founded..."!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birthday Weekend

Since Elaine talks about her birthday every day, I asked her a month or so ago what she would like to do for a party. Normally, we have a family party and maybe something special--like go to a movie with a friend--rather than a big "friend" party. But on certain years, such as when you turn 5, you get to have a party.

"Well," she told me, "I want Mrs. Hogan, Ms. Deb, Ms. Kittie, Mrs. Pope and Derek and Dylan, Mrs. Brauns and Mary Beth, Lily and Keelyn, Jack and Andrew, and all the Villacortas." That's quite a list there, with a lot of adults thrown in, when I was expecting her to just list a few friends from school. So I decided that we'd have an open house, and the kids could decorate cookies and make cards while the adults mingled and did crowd control.

The morning of the party, Elaine woke up with a bad attitude. I gave her a little attitude adjustment, but then she came into the bathroom where I was getting ready, holding Catty close to her and laid down on the bathroom floor. OK. This is not surprising. Every time there is some sort of big event, somebody gets sick. She didn't seem too bad though, so I gave her some Motrin and went ahead.

At 2 o'clock, her friends started arriving. The party started out quietly at first. Here are children, decorating cookies.

This little doll is Elaine's friend Keelyn, from school.
These are her cookies. I bet her parents were real happy when they got her home after the party.

Here are my future sons-in-law, Jack and Andrew. Their mom and I have a deal, except she told me that some little girl had the temerity this week to say she's going to marry Jack. I said, "Oh, we will take her down." Dibs on these boys.
When the party started, it was pouring rain, which then turned to snow. But then more people started to arrive, and kids abandoned all sedate activities and just ran around the house.

Here is our dear friend Kathi and her two boys, Derek and Dylan. Kathi was Lucy's first Sunday School teacher and babysitter. Derek loves to eat...anything. At the party, he ate two handfuls of cat food.
Here's Elaine and her beloved Ms. Kittie (Kay Lynne):
Elaine and Mrs. Brauns, who pretends to be a cat with her:

Elaine and Mrs. Villacorta, who E has adopted as her second mom:
Elaine and Lucy with Sarah, Stephen, Isabella, Andrew, and Lucho. Elaine made me call them two times to make sure they were coming:
Her teacher, Mrs. Hogan, and her Sunday School teacher, Ms. Deb, couldn't make it, but they both called her to wish her a happy birthday.

I just love that she has had these wonderful adults in her life who have reached out to her--especially in this year that's been hard for her--and that she wanted to invite them all for her birthday. It was a great party, and afterward, my in-laws drove through the snow, just to deliver her presents--clothes and a pink Barbie VW Beetle with doll to drive it.

Sunday, which was her actual birthday, Elaine was pretty wiped out. She woke up with an earache, a scratchy throat, and a low grade fever (I'm sure all the party guests are loving me for exposing them to this).

It was snowing and blowing and a lot of roads were closed, so we spent a quiet day at home. Darren made everybody pancakes, and we gave Elaine our presents. We had planned a family party for the day but called it off the night before. We'll try again next week for that.

Lucy gave Elaine a Bitty Baby that we found on ebay. They currently fight all the time over Lucy's Bitty Baby, so it was time she got one of her own.

Some practical things and her favorite movie from Mommy:

A silver cat necklace from Daddy, and this is what the rest of the day looked like:

Somewhere on the day of turning 5, Elaine also discovered that she has her first loose tooth, which she now tells us about approximately every 15 minutes. She is home from school today with me, but she's at that annoying stage where she's probably not well enough to be there, but she's tired of being stuck here--birthday toys notwithstanding.

Then she told me this morning, "I think I need to have another birthday party, you know, since I was sick on my birthday." I told we are having another party soon. It's called Christmas.

I meant to write a birthday post for her with baby pictures through current pictures, but with getting ready for the party then getting up in the night to rock a sick little girl, it just didn't happen. Maybe later this week. But baby is 5! AND HAS A LOOSE TOOTH!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Light in the Dark

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know we love to celebrate Jewish holidays mixed in with our Christian ones. If you want, you can read more about what we do here and here and here.

I am super busy this week, getting ready for Elaine's 5th birthday weekend, but I have still wanted to get our Hanukkah celebration in here. We missed the first night, and then Darren was going from Thursday through Saturday, so I decided we'd do it the final night.

We also prepared by reading some Hanukkah books--this was a fun one that Elaine loved. If it has animals, she's all over it. She likes animals better than people. Many days I can't argue with that sentiment either.

This is cute, by Stephen Kroll.
This next one is excellent. I'm sorry the cover art isn't coming out better, but it is titled The Christmas Menorahs by Janice Kohn.

It is based on a true story that happened in 1994 in Billings, Montana. Some white supremacist groups were harassing various people groups there, including throwing rocks through windows that had menorahs in them. This book in particular is about a young boy named Isaac who got a rock through his bedroom window. The story also contains some great history about Hanukkah and also how Danish Christians helped Jews during WWII.

The girls and I had some good talks about what it would feel like if someone threw a rock through our window, just because we had a Christmas tree or what it would be like to go to our church and see our nativity scene trashed and ugly words spray painted on the side of the building. That really brought the reality of it to them. Then I told them that these things didn't just happen in the past, that last year, someone painted hateful things on the Jewish synagogue on our very street.

The books ends with what some churches and citizens in Billings did to resist hate in their city, and I encourage you to have some Kleenex nearby while you read.

Then last night, we had our Hanukkah dinner--roast chicken and latkes. Those latkes did not stay on the platter very long, and Lucy asked for the leftover two in her lunch today. While we ate, we listened to the audio version of "Festival of Lights" from More All-of-a-Kind Family.

When we first started this last year, I wanted to make an even bigger deal out of this night--invite friends over, play dreidl games, etc., but it is really hard to cram one more big thing into December! Maybe someday though. This year I just enjoyed the moments of quiet and light with our little family.

Happy Hanukkah from us to you!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Let the Festivities Begin

Saturday morning we woke up to the first snow of the year--the perfect setting for our big activity of the day. We were going to see Rome and have tea with some of her friends and their daughters, then go to "The Nutcracker" together.

I have loved ballet since I was a little girl, and I remember the first time I saw "The Nutcracker"--I was 12 years old. My grandpa died that November, and my parents found amongst his things tickets for all of us to see the big holiday production of it in Chicago. I got to invite my friend Anna too (my ballet buddy), and we spent the intermission autographing our programs with the signatures of the dancers playing Clara and Sugar Plum. (Chuck, a 14-year-old at the time, dragged along to see "The Nutcracker" with his giggly jr. high sister and her friend, autographed his program "Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.")

It was a magical night, and here I am, almost 30 years later, taking my own girls to see "The Nutcracker."

First though, we had tea at Tia's house. She is on the left, with her friend Rona on the right, and Rona's little girl, Naomi. It's Rona's first winter here from the Philippines. Poor Rona.

Then some of her other friends arrived with their little girls--Kristin and Sasha, and Nora and Aletha. It's Nora and Aletha's first winter here, too. Nora got worried because when she went outside, she couldn't feel her legs anymore. Poor Nora.

Here are all the little girls...

The mommies and the daughters and the wonderful aunt, ready to have tea...

Then we headed out to see the ballet. It's kind of like herding cats, but we all got to the theater.

My girls made sure I knew that they wanted to sit with Aletha and Sasha and Naomi instead of MOM, so all the littles sat together in a line next to all the adults.

They absolutely loved the ballet. We had great seats, and they were mesmerized by the costumes and dancing. When we came home, they couldn't wait to tell Darren and Chuck all about it. We asked them what part they liked best, and Lucy said, "I loved Clara and her beautiful purple dress and the party and the tree and oh, her mom was sooooo pretty too, and I liked those snowflake dancers and when that lady's big skirt came up and all the little kids danced out and the Arabian dancers and Sugarplum."

Elaine said, "I liked those mousies. I liked when the Mouse King skooched his tail over and shook his booty at that Nutcracker and those toys."

Darren said, "And there you have our kids' personalities in a nutshell."

It was nighttime by then, so I put the girls in their pajamas for the ride home. Lucy twirled around and sighed, "Wasn't this just the best day EVER?"

This was what we saw in the backseat as we pulled in the driveway.
So, yes. Definitely a best day!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Some Happy Friday Stuff

We've got lots of Christmas music playing at our house, and of course our favorites are the actual carols--the hymns celebrating the Incarnation. We are all over Handel's Messiah too; we've got the Chicago Symphony version and my favorite, the London Symphony and Chorus conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

I feel like I have to put that disclaimer first so you don't think we're infidels dancing around the Christmas tree to John Mellencamp singing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" (though OK, we really like that one), because, in addition to all the beautiful Christmas carols, we have to admit we like the fun, silly stuff, too.

A year or two ago, there was a youtube video that went viral and got millions of hits. It was of an a cappella group from Indiana University. They were planning a 10-year reunion and put some of their footage from college up on youtube for the group members to see before getting together again. Then everyone saw it and they got a record deal from Atlantic and were asked to do a PBS Christmas special last year, which is now on DVD in a boxed set with two of their Christmas CDs. I bought it a week or so ago, and we can'

These guys are fantastic, and the girls, instead of watching Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer now ask to watch "those boys singing together so we can dance." I've had a few moments of "What have I done here?" since their favorite is "Hey Santa," and not the Wilson Phillips' "If we could make believe/if everyone would care a little more/there'd be harmony" one. No...this version has "Santa, don't bring me any toys/just bring my baby and a bottle of joy/maybe just a taste for Uncle Roy/'cause we all know Santa's a good ol' boy."

I just remind myself of all the Irish music my parents let us listen to growing up, and how my mom would make us skip the song on the record called "Nancy Whiskey," blissfully unaware that pretty much every song on the record had to do with whiskey or infidelity or infidelity because of too much whiskey. And we still turned out OK, right? Don't answer that.

Anyway, if you are looking for some fun holiday music with an incredible talent, you should definitely check them out. They really are fantastic. I'll leave you with the video that went all crazy on youtube, which you've probably already seen anyway, but watch it again because it can't fail to put you in a happy mood. (Of course, my favorite part starts about 2 minutes in.) Below the original, I put "Hey Santa" and one from the PBS special (to convince you that you need to get this). While I was looking for these on youtube, Elaine came in and said, "Can you turn that off your computer now and put it on TV?"

So, I give you: Straight No Chaser. Happy Friday!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Looking the Other Way

The other day, I was going through my mom's desk, and I found a small box. When I opened it, I found all sorts of little figures made out of clothespins, dressed in costumes. It was a nativity scene that Mom had made with Lucy a couple of years ago. She would take care of the girls while I was at work, and one December, she and Lucy crafted a different figure or two each day that she came over.

We've also been listening to the music for the school Christmas program in the car, and I keep remembering last year--how my dad drove my mom over early in the morning, and she went to Elaine's program, though she had a hard time sitting up for very long. Then she came back to our house and laid on the couch the rest of the day until it was time to go to Lucy's program in the evening. Her face looked gray and ill, but I know she knew these were the last Christmas programs she'd see. It must have cost her every bit of strength she had to make it through that day.

There's a verse in 2 Kings that to me is one of the hardest verses in the Bible: "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord." As in, "He loved God, and he died."

There's a phrase that is not allowed at our house (well, besides "shut up"), and it's: "That's not fair." I don't let my kids say that, ever. But in my own heart lately, I've been thinking about how Elaine's 5th birthday is coming up and the Christmas programs at church and school are coming and a little voice (mine) is saying, "She should be here. I wanted her to see them grow up. She loved God, and she died. It's not fair."

When I was growing up, my parents had this wonderful group of friends, mostly from their Sunday School class. I remember so many gatherings in each other's homes--Sunday nights after church, New Year's Day, 4th of July--seeing my mom and dad and their friends love each other and their families and love God. They would pray together and sit around the table and sing together, lots of laughing mixed in. When someone got sick, they would all rally around and bring meals for the family.

Two years before my mom died, I had a gathering of her old friends, just the women, to celebrate her 75th birthday. At the end, they all sat in a big circle and talked about old times--good times and hard times--and one of the ladies, Alice Dauchy, said, "Sometimes I didn't know how we were going to make it through. But Jesus led us all the way." And all the other ladies assented.

Mrs. Dauchy's in heaven now; she died of cancer six months before my mom.

Another friend, Muriel Holsteen, talked about how her son had met a girl in Germany and they came back here to get married. The girl didn't know a soul, and my mom threw her a wedding shower. My mom said, "Oh Muriel, I don't even remember that!" and Mrs. Holsteen said through her tears, "We have never forgotten it."

Mrs. Holsteen's husband, who was one of the ushers at our church for years and years, died a couple months after my mom.

Another good friend of my parents, Mr. Jim Stone, was our Sunday School superintendent when I was a little girl. Even in his 80s, he still taught Sunday School and took classes at a nearby seminary. He died of cancer a few weeks ago.

Last night I saw on the Moody Alumni Association that another of my parents' friends, who was also our church organist--Dr. Gil Mead--died over Thanksgiving weekend. Darren and I actually met in his Intro to Music class. A few years later, when we were planning our wedding, we asked Mr. Mead to play the organ for the ceremony. He said he didn't normally do weddings but, in his words, "I had a hand in this one!" so he made an exception.

Now, two more of my family's close friends, Annette Anderson and Larry Brown, are nearing the end of their life--cancer again. My mom and Mrs. Anderson were always on the phone and in and out of each other's houses, raising their kids together. Mrs. Anderson's son Dave works at my brother's company and is one of his best friends.

The Browns have been part of the fabric of our life for as long as I can remember. Their son Bill is a good friend of both my brother and me. My parents had a party years ago where everyone brought whatever white elephant items were lying around their house, my mom passed out Monopoly money, and she appointed Mr. Brown the auctioneer because he is the funniest--and they auctioned off their junk to each other. Yet besides his great sense of humor, something I'll remember always about him was the first time my mom had cancer, he came to the pre-op room to pray with her before she went in.

So many good friends and good memories.

"Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord."

My heart is aching for Bill and Dave, all the kids--my contemporaries--because I know now what it feels like. Nobody loves you like your parent. Nobody takes care of you like your mom. Nobody has got your back like your dad. Nobody can give you wise counsel or pray for you or love your kids like your parents can. I'm praying for them through the hurt I know they're feeling.

But I also keep thinking about all these awesome, godly people I've had the privilege to know. Alice Dauchy. Darrell Holsteen. Jim Stone. Gil Mead. Annette Anderson. Larry Brown. Lois Nichols. And lots more, too. What a treasure they have been and leave for the rest of us.

As my mom's best friend Nita wrote to me, "Heaven can't come soon enough now that Lois is there," or as another friend, Gordy, says, "The receiving line there looks a lot better than the send-off line here."

Our pastor is big on Scripture memory or as he says, "Rinsing your mind with Scripture." It's an area I haven't done well in in a long time, so it's been a good thing for me. Rinsing your mind with Scripture helps rewrite the soundtrack from "It's not fair." I write verses on 3x5 cards and either keep them on my kitchen counter or carry them around in my purse, continuing to go over them throughout the day. Get this--Mr. Holsteen did this throughout his life, and at his memorial service, his grandchildren got up and read the verses off his 3x5 cards.

So, in honor of these righteous people I love and am so honored to have known, these are the verses I've been carrying around with me lately.

Numbers 23:10
"Who can count Jacob's descendants, as numerous as dust? Who can count even a fourth of Israel's people? Let me die like the righteous; let my life end like theirs."

2 Peter 3:11-13
"Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day--but we'll hardly notice. We'll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness."

Lather, rinse, repeat!

Monday, November 29, 2010

With Thankful Heart

It's officially the Christmas season! The following piece is part of the November/December issue of Significant Living. However, because this is a value-added blog, while you read it, you can listen to the song that inspired it here. It's pretty much the most beautiful Christmas carol I've ever heard.

The trifecta of awesomeness performing it--Alison Krauss, Natalie McMaster, and Yo-Yo (the cellist, not the cat)--of course, helps. So here's the carol, and below it, the article.

With Thankful Heart

When the only verse of the Christmas story you identify with is “They came with haste,” it’s time to reevaluate the season.

My youngest daughter has the dubious pleasure of a December birthday. She’ll be turning 5 this year, so she is certainly at the age where it’s all about the presents. Whenever we are out somewhere and she sees something that catches her eye, she asks, “Can I have that for my birthday?” or “Can I have that for Christmas?” I have heard about either her birthday or Christmas every single day since last December 12 and December 25, respectively.

One recent Sunday on the way to church, she piped up and said, “Mom? You know how Jesus was all growed up but first He was a baby? Well, how did He get here?” A friend of ours had just recently had a baby, so I think she was trying to piece this together, since she knows Jesus is God, and wondering if He arrived in the same fashion. I gave her a suitably simple reply, she seemed satisfied with, and we went on.

With all her talk of Christmas and Jesus’ birth, though, I’m reminded of the celebrations from my childhood. We had, what seems to me, idyllic Christmases. We baked Christmas cookies with my mom; picked out the tree with my dad; decorated the house with ornaments and treasured mementos; opened our home for neighborhood and church parties; and sat around the fire, listening to my dad read us Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We prepared certain holiday foods and recipes, listened to non-stop Christmas music—Handel’s Messiah and carols performed by the Percy Faith orchestra—and, every Christmas Eve we went to church at midnight for a candlelight service.

I know when many people think of Christmas, they think “family,” “joy,” “togetherness,” or “peace,” and, with that kind of past, I should, too. But now that I am an adult, when I think of Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is stress.

As the season approaches, I sit at my kitchen island and begin to make lists. I have my calendar on one side to coordinate our schedule of cookie exchanges, my daughters’ Christmas programs and practices, parties, and family events (with that December birthday in the mix). On my other side, there are stacks of recipes for goodies I need to make and bring to neighbors and friends. The dining-room table is piled with my address book, cards to be written and addressed, and a stack of mail from wonderful organizations, reminding me that Christmas is the time to give and remember those in need. When I look at those, I fret about whether I’m emphasizing the importance of this enough to my children.

I’m also making lists of presents—ideas for my immediate family, our extended family, and for gift exchanges. I’m writing this list right next to our bank statement, which produces more stress! I feel trapped wanting to recreate for my children the wonderful Christmases of my youth. I want to give them the gifts they long for and the memories they will treasure. I want to go back to that place, too, where everything seemed bathed in candlelight, joy, security, and love. I can identify with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s comment about revisiting where he lived as a boy: “I realized it wasn’t the town I was longing for; it was the boyhood.”

I’ve got Christmas music playing in the background to put me in the holiday spirit, but I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Then, suddenly, I register the lyrics of the song that is on:

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.

I am lost in the haunting melody and beauty of the words. When was the last time I simply sat and considered “what our good God for us has done”? When was the last time I pondered that God wrapped Himself in frail, human flesh, and entered our cosmos in order to rescue us and reconcile us to Him?

“Take your son, your one and only son, the son whom you love...”

He didn’t send a military general, great warrior, or political leader. Rather, one heretofore unremarkable night, God Himself rent space and time, tearing a giant hole in the fabric of the universe while all fell silent except for the cry of an infant’s voice—the same voice that cried out “It is finished!” years later, rending the curtain that separated us and God.

God arrived in person.

The carol ends with the words, “. . .with thankful heart and joyful mind.” And, as I sit here, looking around at the lists, the recipes, the calendar, the bank statement, and the responsibilities, I picture God looking down at a pitiful world with kindness and love, a mother looking down at her newborn baby with adoration, and myself looking at my own children with tenderness of all that I want to give them. As their mother, the greatest gift I can give them is this precious truth—what God has done for us—the Gospel.

Oh, my sweet little girls—I can tell you how He got here!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Weddings and Feasts and Cats

I've been a bad blogger lately, so this post will be an amalgamation of a bunch of stuff we've been doing.

First off, I've been out getting a job(s) as it were. My career keeps taking new turns and new directions and reinventing itself, and that's good. 2010 is the year I took to be completely engaged with my family and especially my mom; I'll never forget it. It shaped me like no other year has. 2011 will look different (not that I'm taking off from my family or anything) with regard to work. I'll be moving more into the higher education field--both teaching and coaching writing at a community college as well as developing and teaching Media Writing courses at a university. I'll be gone either in the mornings while the girls are at school or at night while they're asleep. And I'll still keep my freelance writing and editing contracts, too.

Then, there's this, that we are so, so excited about (sorry, Laura!)

When I met with Lucy's teacher at the end of October, she gave Lucy a new reading goal for the quarter. By week two, Lucy had completed 215% of her reading goal. Oh-kay. Her teacher said that she should get to read whatever she wants for fun, but we need higher level books and non-fiction. So imagine our excitement when a royal wedding is announced, and she and I can do an entire reading project together on royal weddings and CLOTHES and customs and jewelry and SHOES and traditions and CLOTHES and history and SHOES. Not to mention, I can now retrieve from my attic my exhaustive library on Princess Diana (see! Kate has her ring! Excited squeal!) Then we will both get up at some ridiculously early hour the day of the wedding and watch coverage of it for hours and hours, just like I did in July, 1981.

I'm not positive that's what her teacher had in mind when she said non-fiction, but it works for us.

Then there's more cat news. Bear with me. Remember Miss Cleo Marple, our unsocial Siamese who hated us? Alas, she is with us no more. Don't worry--she's in a good home, not a cage, where there are no children or other cats. Her behavior just got too awful, and I started referring to her as Mrs. Rochester, since she was like our insane first wife who stayed locked in an upper room. Lucy didn't even object to her leaving, since we have Yo-Yo. Darren was sad (keep remembering this is the person who never wanted a cat in the first place) and wanted me to contact the shelter where Yo-Yo came from to see if they had another nice cat we could get to replace her. So now in addition to Yo-Yo, whom we adore, we have a little stripey tiger tabby named Tuppence (after another of Agatha Christie's girl detectives, natch). I would post a picture of her if I could ever get her to sit still long enough. She zooms around and plays hide-and-seek with Yo-Yo and washes his face for him and stands at the top of the stairs and mews until he comes up, just like a domineering little sister.

Lastly, there's Elaine who had a pow-wow at school and a Thanksgiving feast. Her class all dressed as Indians and invited the other junior kindergarten class who dressed like pilgrims. My friend Kay Lynn and I went to the pow-wow to see them play their tom-toms and sing their harvest songs. Each child had an Indian name they picked themselves, and they were then introduced to the audience. All the little girls had names like, "Princess Sparkle Rainbow" and "Princess Blooming Flower."

But here is MY girl:
Here is Princess Fuzzy Cat with her best buddy Kay Lynn, aka "Miss Kittie." See how they are wearing matching leopard print, too. (And isn't Miss Kittie a dead ringer for Beth Moore? Just saying.)

Those have been a few of our doings lately. Tomorrow Joseph flies in from Tennessee, and I made the mistake of telling the girls last week that he was coming. Now I get to hear every few hours of every day, "Is it today that Uncle Joseph is coming?"

I have written about three different endings to this post, and nothing works. Obviously I better brush up on my cyclical writing skills before I start teaching them to others in January. But our household is a little more stream-of-consciousness than cyclical, so there you go, not to mention I need to ditch my computer and get going on the holiday/guest-arriving-imminently cleaning. I'll just end this with: The End (for now).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happiness Is...

...a warm cat and the funny papers. (And yes. That cat is at my breakfast table. At least he is not ON my breakfast table.)

Saturday, November 06, 2010


I think, at least I am hoping this is true, that when I have some distance from this particular season of our lives I'll look back and think, "Wow. That was really hard." I mean, I hope I don't look back and think, "I had no idea how easy that was in comparison to now." Because things have been difficult lately. This has been a rough year on a lot of fronts. One of the things about a blog is that, while you share stuff about your life, if you're smart and wise and value privacy, you actually won't share all that much. So when I tell you about some hard things we've had, maybe you're thinking, "That's IT? That's what you're groaning about? What a panty-waist. You've never seen trouble," but rest assured, I'm probably giving you only the tip of the iceberg.

Here are just a few things. I'm struggling a bit emotionally with the whole issue of my parents. I consider it a joy and a privilege to do anything I can to help them as they get older, and in my mom's case of course, die. But when you have great parents like mine, it's frightening to watch and daunting because they're my security. They take care of me, not the other way around. As I said to my brother, "I don't think I'm ready for this elder care stuff. You may not realize it, but I'm actually only 22 years old." He just laughed at me and said something along the lines of, "Suck it up," which is a good word for me to hear.

Here's another thing--the huge financial crash our country has gone through has not left our family unscathed. Did you ever read that short story by D.H. Lawrence called "The Rocking Horse Winner" about the house that kept whispering, "There must be more money, there must be more money"? Yeah. Sometimes I just stand and think, "You know what will be great about heaven? No money worries."

Another problem we've been having is Elaine. She's been having both emotional and physical difficulties, and I kind of think that one's causing the other but I don't know which, and it's all just a vicious cycle. Her latest issue that took us to urgent care this week is a UTI. I looked up some of the symptoms in children, and it said, "Irrational, uncontrollable behavior and a refusal to listen." And that's different from every other recent day how...?

I know part of her problem too was that she was scared about my dad. One morning on the way to church, she asked, out of nowhere, "Is Packa going to die?"

"I'm pretty sure he's not going to die right now, hon," I told her. "He's in the hospital, getting better."

"But we took Manga to the hospital, and then she died," she said softly.

All these things and more have been pressing down on us as a family. Our tempers are frayed, our patience is thin, our graciousness toward each other is non-existent at times. We find ourselves yelling at our kids and having gritted-teeth conversations with each other. It's all so discouraging.

I was in the basement recently and came across some CDs I haven't played in awhile--by Rich Mullins. I don't have words for how much I've been impacted by that man's life and music (but you know I'll try to find some, don't you?) I don't know how many times I've read An Arrow Pointing to Heaven. Rich Mullins, if you're not familiar with him, was a poet/songwriter and musician. At one point, he was one of the most commercially successful Christian musicians in Nashville, along with people such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. His album, "A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band," was listed #3 in The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music.

Despite this, Rich Mullins chose to live in financial poverty. An accountant handled all of Rich's money, giving him a stipend to live on (in the '90s he was living on 23,000 a year). He lived in a hogan (yup, with a dirt floor) in Kansas where he taught music to Native American kids. He would run across someone who needed help, call up his accountant, tell him about the situation, and ask, "Do I have $3,000 I can give?" upon which his accountant would say, "Yes. Yes, you do have $3,000!"

I got the CDs out and began playing them again because it's been awhile, and his music has always helped me during times of trouble and here's another time of trouble so let's give it a whirl. When most people think of Rich, they think of "Awesome God," but that was actually one of his lesser favorite songs. In an interview, someone asked him which of his songs he thought was good, and he said "Bound to Come Some Trouble," one of my personal favorites.

But Darren and I have been listening to one in particular about which Darren said, "We should just start every single morning by listening to this song." Here are a few of the words:

"Everybody I know says they need just one thing
And what they really mean is that they need just one thing more
And everybody seems to think they've got it coming
Well I know that I don't deserve You
Still I want to love and serve You more and more
You're my one thing.

Who have I in Heaven but You, Jesus?
And what better could I hope to find down here on earth?
I could cross the most distant reaches
Of this world, but I'd just be wasting my time
'Cause I'm certain already, I'm sure I'd find
You're my one thing."

Listening to that song makes me ashamed. Ashamed of how I've been acting and thinking lately. Ashamed of how ungrateful and grasping for a better life I've been. Ashamed of how I've continually just wanted that one more thing that I think will make me happy and content.

Elaine and I were in the car, listening to the music the other day, and she asked me, "When I die, do I get to come back to Rockford?" She's been praying lately that God will help my mom to get better soon and send her back from heaven so she can live with us again.

We're used to having these kinds of conversations with Lucy. She's been wondering about death and God and heaven since before she was two. Elaine's never seem particularly interested until lately and is much more inclined to break in at any serious moment with, "CAN'T WE HAVE POPSICLES NOW?"

"No," I told her. "You won't come back to Rockford. You won't even want to. Heaven is the most wonderful place there is. It's so beautiful and fun and happy. Jesus is there, and Manga's there, too. She's not going to come back to us, Elaine, she's not. We're going to go to her. We don't know when, but we do know it's true."

We talked for a little bit about what heaven might be like--if there will be animals and candy there. If we can touch Jesus when we get there. And if Manga will be waiting for us to arrive.

"She is waiting for you," I promised her. "She can't wait to see her Sweet Pea again."

"I'm gonna wear my shirt that says, 'Sweet Pea' on it so I'm all ready for her!" Elaine told me.

She was quiet for a little bit, and then she said, "Mom?"

I caught her eye in the mirror and saw her little face, that's been so frustrated and frightened and irrational and angry lately--wreathed with smiles. Then she said something that even when I'm an old, old lady I'll always remember, and it's something I'm going to hang on to throughout all these days here now.

"What?" I replied.

"Mom, when I die, I don't want Rockford," she said. "I want Jesus."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Halloween Weekend, Part II: Oh, For Pete's Sake

OK, I promised I'd tell you about the biggest thing that happened this week. But first you need a little background information. Really. You do.

Remember this post, where I told you about our new addition to the family, a Siamese cat named Miss (Cleo) Marple? Well, we've had her now for three months and have come to the following conclusion:

She hates us.

Specifically, she hates Lucy and Elaine and doesn't like me much either. She allows Darren to pick her up and pet her. That's about it. She runs away when we come into a room where she is. She slinks around low to the floor and hopes we won't notice her. She hisses. She bites. In short, she's the snootiest, rudest cat ever and is completely ungrateful that we rescued her from certain demise.

A few weeks ago, I had had it.

"We're giving this cat back," I told Darren (before you freak out, her foster home said they would accept her back at any time). "She's obviously not the right cat for us. She needs to be in a quiet, one-person home with no kids."

He said, "Can't we give her some more time? I bet she'll get better; just give her a few more months."

"I want instant gratification," I told him. "I just want a nice, decent cat who likes us. Is that too much to ask?"

I broached the subject with the girls. "We really need to give Miss Cleo Marple back," I told them gently. "She's frightened of us, and she's not nice to you girls. I promise we'll find you a gentle cat who loves little kids."

Lucy fell to the floor, weeping. To the floor, Readers, to the FLOOR. "Moooooommmmmm," she wailed. "You can't! You can't give Miss Cleo Marple away! It's soooooo crrrruuuuueeelll! We promise we love her even if she doesn't like us! Don't give her awaaaaayyyyy! She's had a hard life, and she neeeeeeeds us!" Sobbing ensued.

Elaine, on the other hand, marched up to Cleo. "We're giving you back to Ms Hillery," she informed her. Then she bounced into our room where Darren was. "Dad, we're giving your cat back. And we're getting a nice cat who doesn't bite me and I'm naming her Dolly Bantry." (Dolly Bantry is Miss Marple's best friend, dontcha know.)

Sigh. The drama in our house. It was ratcheted up even more than usual, and yours truly was in the Cruella DeVille role.

Finally, Darren said, "What about...if we had two cats?" Oh, for Pete's sake.

Now when we first got Miss Marple, Joseph told me, "What you really need is Hercule Poirot to keep her company," and I told him to bite his tongue.

But...I live to please these people, so I got back to work with, trying to find another cat whose qualifications basically were now: declawed, housebroken, and adores children and doesn't mind being loved to death and dressed up in doll clothes.

Numerous shelters told me the same thing: have you ever considered a male cat? They all said that neutered male cats were much sweeter, friendlier, and laid-back than female cats. One woman said, "Boy cats are the most loving by far. You know how needy men are."

So, a boy cat it is, though I had to do a little convincing to the girls. Meet the newest member of our family, just arrived Saturday night:

He's 7 months old. Isn't he sweet?

The girls decided to name him Yo-Yo. After the cellist, not the toy, because they love Yo-Yo Ma and also, his hair is black, just like this cat. Please insert all "Yo-Yo Meow" jokes here and get it out of your system.

Since his arrival, he's made himself at home. When you get a new cat, you're supposed to keep them confined to one room for about three days in order for them to get used to the sounds and smells of a new environment. Miss Marple took about 14 days. Well, 14 days and 3 months and still counting. Yo-Yo took about 3 minutes.

He now confidently roams the house. He jumps up on our laps and takes his naps in a chair with us. He allows himself to be utterly manhandled and carted about and hugged and kissed by two spirited little girls. Of course, he is sometimes the cause of bitter custody battles between them, and I have to intervene because at least once he was in danger of being pulled in half. When they get too much for him, he retreats to his covered litter box, which I think is the equivalent of a man taking his newspaper and hiding out in the bathroom.

He scampers around, leaping on windowsills and furniture (OK, we're gonna put a stop to that). He purrs and rubs against your legs, wanting to be picked up, and head butts you if you've stopped petting him.

In short, he's a total love monkey and ideal for us. In fact, here he is as I sit, blogging:

He also loves to sit in the kitchen, looking out the patio door because we have birdfeeders set up on the patio. His tail twitches back and forth as all the birds come. I think it's like some awesome plasma Bird TV for him.

I figure we've done enough good deeds to last us for awhile. First, did you know that of all cats, black cats are the least likely to get adopted? In fact, they have a 50% less chance of being adopted than any other cat. I guess people a) are superstitious and b) don't think they're cute enough. Yo-Yo begs to differ. (I just can't stop saying "Yo-Yo." It's too fun.) Second, we've still got Miss Snooty Marple and allow her to co-exist with us.

So there was our entire Halloween weekend, complete with the adoption of a little black Halloween cat. Named Yo-Yo.

See? Can't stop saying it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween Weekend, Part I

November 1st is here, so this morning I replaced the ceramic pumpkin and ghost on the kitchen table with the ceramic turkey, and later today I'll get out our little pilgrim figures. More importantly, I scooped up most of the Halloween leftovers and put them in the freezer. This is a little mental trick I like to play on myself. They're out of sight and hopefully out of my mind, then I'll stumble across them in February or March when cleaning out the freezer (optimistically) and think, "Halloween leftovers...goodbye!"

We do what we have to do.

We had one of those weekends that was jam-packed with activities and every sentence ended with, "...and then we had candy." Elaine woke me up at 6:00 one of these mornings and asked if she could have candy. [Picture a 4-year-old tapping on my cheek relentlessly.]

On Saturday, the girls had a birthday party to go to. It was a fancy tea party at a country club, which went from 11 until 2. I had to go to the rehab hospital to pick up my dad and bring him home, but I got them as ready as possible before I left. I helped them with their showers and did their hair and told them wear their robes until it was time to get dressed. Darren said, "I don't think I can handle dressing them. Can't you put their dresses on before you go? Then they can just sit on the couch for an hour."

"Have you met our girls?" I asked him. I then reiterated to them that, for all of Daddy's wonderful qualities, he doesn't do hair, so to please not run around until it was time to leave.

Here they are--didn't he do a great job? The man had to navigate tights and shoe buckles as well as dresses.

Here is Lucy, looking so grown up and poised it takes my breath away. Where did that chubby-cheeked baby go?

When we all got home, they told me all about the tea party. I wish you could hear it in Lucy's voice, which sounds like an odd cross between mine and a Valley Girl, complete with dramatic facial expressions and hand gestures.

"MOM. It was sooooo fun. We decorated our treat bags and played a sugar cube relay and played musical chairs and I met this really nice girl named Alex but I bet her real name is Alexandra," she said, all in one breath.

"AND WE HAD A PINATA THAT LOOKED LIKE AN ICE CREAM CONE," broke in Elaine, at top volume.

"Then, GET THIS," Lucy added, "You would just DIE, Mom. We had this fancy tea with little sandwiches and blueberry scones that were sooooo yummy and cake and ice cream and the cake was pink with flowers and the ice cream was golden and looked kind of like pumpkin ice cream but it didn't taste like pumpkin ice cream and we had THREE drinks--I had all three--water, lemonade and tea but at first the tea wasn't sweet but then they passed around sugar and I took one of those little blue packets and added then and then it was sooooo sweet and tasted really good." Also all in one breath.

The next day was Halloween, and I tried to get them to settle down in the afternoon but you know that was a completely lost cause. At 5:30 (we had weird hours this year: 5:30 to 7:30), they were dressed and ready to go. Since the day after Halloween last year, Lucy has been saying she wanted to be an American Indian. Elaine wanted to be Fancy Nancy until a few weeks ago when she adamantly changed her mind and decided to be Raggedy Ann. She adores Raggedy Ann. I ordered her costume, and it just got here on Friday.

On Thursday, Katie and I took all the kids in their costumes to visit my dad in rehab, so I threw together a Fancy Nancy outfit for her then. But she was relieved that her Raggedy costume arrived in time for trick-or-treat.

Here is the back view so you can see the papoose tied to Lucy's back. (We don't have an Native American dolls. How negligent of us. So, we just used her Bitty Baby.)

And here is my dear little Raggedy Ann.

They ran around in the cold to all our neighbors and got more candy to add to their Trunk-or-Treat stash from Wednesday and the pinata stash from Saturday.

However, the most exciting part of the weekend happened Saturday night, but I'll leave you hanging until tomorrow.

I'll give you a hint though: Meow.