Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Day She's Been Waiting For

When I first took Elaine to pre-school last September, the teachers walked us through what the school year would hold. The grand finale would be in May, a field trip to ride the trolley along the river and have a picnic at the park.

Unbelievably, May is almost over, and field trips are here. Last week, Lucy went with her class an hour and a half away to a city zoo. She was so excited and bounced around for weeks, talking about the zoo trip. Each time, Elaine would chime in loudly, "Well, I am going to ride in Mommy's car and then ride on a trolley and go on a picnic!" Nothing could compare to the glories of that, not even the first grade zoo trip.

Every morning for at least the last month, she greets me in the bathroom with, "Is today the day of the trolley ride?"

Finally, finally, the day came--oh wait, not before a special trip to the grocery store to pick out Lunchables, which is what they both wanted for their field trip lunches, even though Lunchables are the biggest rip-off in the world. Whoever invented tiny portions of crackers, cheese, lunchmeat, a drink, and a treat stuck in a box and sold to sucker parents for two plus bucks apiece--my hat is off to you. I could make them the exact same thing minus the box for a fraction of the cost, but apparently that is completely different and not as fun. But...it's a special thing, so OK.

Here are Elaine and her friend Lily, waiting for the trolley to come (apparently they kept trying to start it and the engine flooded, so they needed to battery operate it. Or something. So we were waiting for awhile.)

All aboard!

The ride downtown and along the river. I have to say, this is the nicest bunch of pre-schoolers and parents. Everybody was happy and got along, waving to passersby. One little boy's great-grandma lives in a house along the river--she knew our class was riding the trolley today, and when we rode by, she opened her front door, wearing her little housecoat and waved at us. She was extremely cute...how fun to watch your great-grandson ride the trolley.

After the trolley ride was over, we all thanked the drivers and headed to the park to play and picnic. The other children looked longingly at Elaine's Lunchable. I swear, they're such a scam, but I guess kids just can't resist. Elaine and Lily and Elaine's other good buddy Vincent sat on a bench together and traded their pretzels and crackers and chips. I think Vincent, who is adorable and has dimples too, was angling for Elaine's Reese's peanut butter cup, but she leaned over and said sweetly to him, "I'll share this part with you next time."

Then they rolled happily down the hill together.

This has been such a happy year for my youngest girl--I can't believe it's over, and next year she'll be heading to a new school. Sigh.

One of those bittersweet days...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Contributing Our Verse

I am super-excited about this post. Next Thursday (May 27th) is our fifteenth wedding anniversary, but I can't wait until then to publish this. Fifteen years! How is that possible? On our five-year anniversary, we went to England. On our ten-year anniversary, I wanted to go back to England but surprise, we found out Elaine was arriving so we stayed home and bought a gazebo for our backyard because we'd just moved here. Who knew that they sell gazebos in February, not in May, so we had to buy a floor model and Darren had to assemble it without any directions. He got me to help him, which, you know, grumpy man without a plan + nauseated pregnant lady = couple who sounds like they've been married for 10 years.

And now...15. What to do for fifteen? It may surprise you to learn that I wanted to go to England, but that's not really feasible right at this juncture of our lives. And we don't need a gazebo or a new baby, so what to do, what to do?

I came up with the inspired idea of having the uh-mazing Julie Kittredge take pictures of us as a family at the same park where Darren and I had our wedding pictures taken. (After you read this blog post, if you want to see more pictures and Julie's write-up on the shoot, you can go here.)

I tried to think of what to write about fifteen years of life lived together...all the highs and lows and everything in between. So many thoughts. So much has happened. But I also kept thinking about a poem I have loved for years and years from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and that seems to sum up best what I really want to say:

Oh Me! Oh Life!

Oh me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless,
of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself,
(for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light,
of the objects mean,
of the struggle ever renew’d
Of the poor results of all,
of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest,
with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring–
What good amid these,
O me, O life?


That you are here–that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

So, without further ado, join me on a little journey that has spanned 15 years...



Can I go on the record here and say that I asked the florist for a "small bouquet of lilacs"? I wonder what he would have given me had I asked for a large one.

When the girls first saw our wedding pictures, they pointed at Darren and said, "Who's that man with you, Mama?" Give poor Daddy a break. It's 3 against 1 at our house. It could make anyone lose all their hair.

In a gazebo...

...and in the same one fifteen years later...





By the fountain...

Happy couple...

Happy couple...



So...happy fifteenth anniversary to my dear husband; I am so glad we're in this play together. And to my two best girls in the world--you make it worth getting up in the morning, albeit maybe not so early sometimes.

We are here.

We are here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I've got so many irons in the fire, I know I'm gonna get burned

So I'm sitting here realizing that school ends next week because I'd sorta blocked it from my mind until my friend Amy put on her facebook status yesterday, "For every teacher who's counting down the days until the end of the school year, a mother is doing the same thing for a very different reason."

School ends next Thursday, and I have got to have my plans in order so we don't have a summer like last one where everyone was bored out of their minds and then Alice's head exploded. That was bad.

And this year is different too because I've got, and I don't want to type, "this situation with my mom" because my mom is not a "situation." In fact, right now, caring for my mom is my main priority. I haven't written much about it because it's a lot, and if I sit around and think about it, it makes me sad. The best thing is just do it, and I love to do it. My mom is mostly in bed now; her mind is confused; she's in a lot of pain a lot of the time; and she's on quite a bit of medication so she's pretty sedated. I felt bad because it felt like we bought her peace of mind with drugs, but as Darren pointed out, the alternative is so much worse. I go and see her every other day because she says, "I want my daughter," and I love her so much. I flop on her bed by her and I bring magazines so we can look at the pictures together. I tell her all about the girls and what they're doing and all of the people she knows and what they're doing.

Sometimes I think that I wish I had somebody else's trials (that are easier, of course!) or that God would take this trial away from us, but He gives me enough grace and mercy for every single day. Each morning, I wake up to a fresh supply of it, just like the Israelites woke up to the manna. I don't want to complain about it, like they did. I don't want to be that person. So, it's all good.

In the meantime, I'm figuring out our summer schedule here at home. The girls are going to learn to do more chores, and they're excited about it. Lucy thinks she's hit the jackpot because I'm teaching her how to do the laundry. (Oh laundry, how I hate you! I'm finding someone else to spend time with you!) Elaine is officially the Fastest Vacuumer in the West. We have one area rug in the living room and one small throw rug in the hall. That's it. She whips that vacuum around and does a great job. Of course, she loves the vacuum and likes to use it as much as possible and for as long as possible, until Darren says "Can.she.turn.it.off.now.please?"

We're also having our cooking school. If you've read this blog long enough, you know Lucy wants to be a cook when she grows up, though lately she has added archaeologist and museum worker along with that. You can still learn to be a cook if those are your career goals because all of your co-workers would appreciate good food, right? Elaine's favorite thing to do besides vacuuming is help me cook too (she likes to crack the eggs. Are you surprised?) so we're going to really settle in and learn how to make stuff.

I'm also reading like a maniac as usual and have forgotten about three Library Day posts I could have done. I've made a resolution this summer to read only classics. It's been awhile since I've been immersed in them, and my friend Mary (read her!) says seeing the stage version of Les Mis is not enough, so I've got to read it. And my friend Tom is on a big F. Scott Fitzgerald kick, and he is one of my favorites so I need to go revisit him as well.

Oh and I'm working on the Jul/Aug issue of the magazine, doing the hospitality feature--more on that later--and also setting up my new online academy, which will debut in the fall--more on that later too. I also, in a moment of insanity, sent a note to the head of the English department where I taught last fall and said I could teach this fall. So, I'll have to completely revamp a writing course to accommodate that because frankly, last fall was one big fat failure. I told Jennie, "Maybe I'll take the material I've got for the gifted 8-year-olds, dumb it down, and present it at the college. That just might work."

Then there's also swimming and driving to the girls to Vacation Bible School and all sorts of other stuff, but that's enough for now. And either tomorrow or Monday, I'll have a post I'm so so excited for you to see.

So, look for a summer of visiting and cooking and reading classics and curriculum planning and of course...vacuuming!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A little patience required

We were so disappointed that Henry and Margaret decided not to make their home with us this year. We love and miss them. How fickle they are, not to choose us again this year, after we made them so welcome. We are, however, not bereft of wildlife. We have many of these:

At the beginning of spring, we decided we would try TruGreen. All of our neighbors have lawns that look like golf courses. Ours...does not. TruGreen came at the beginning of April and did their magic. We thought they were weed-and-feeding, but that application was just fertilizer--weed killer isn't applied until Mid-May, and you won't see results for three weeks. Consequently, we have the healthiest dandelions, clover, and creeping Charlie in three counties, and we're sure all the neighbors are gossiping about us. It is glorious to behold, and the rabbits are in heaven. Anything we can do to help, bunnies.

A couple weeks ago though, Darren bought me a birdbath with robins on it, since I love robins. We've had a lot of fun bird-watching, and a couple days ago discovered the payoff in our little apple tree near the driveway:

I told the girls, and they were so excited. Yesterday morning before school, Lucy ran out so she could see the nest.

"Don't get too close, and DON'T touch the branches," I told her.

Three seconds later I looked out and saw her pulling on the branches. I watched dumbfounded for a second and then heard a robin screeching loudly at her.

"LUCY!" I shrieked out the screen door at the top of my lungs, "What are you doing? What are you thinking? I told you not to touch the branches!" Too late I remembered that just the day before our pastor preached about having patience, and also now all the neighbors can hear what a sweet mom I am. At least they'll stop gossiping about the yard for a minute.

Lucy came in, dragging her feet.

"I don't get it--didn't I just tell you, 'Don't touch the branches'?" I demanded.

"I just wanted to touch the branches," she replied.

Oh. Well, alright then.

"That robin was MAD at you, Lucy," Elaine reported. "He went 'eee eee eee'!"

This sounded remarkably like the robin did and also like the theme music from Psycho.

I tried to remember patience, especially when teaching my children, and tried to dial it back a bit.

"The robins don't know that you don't want to hurt them, Luce," I said. "You're so much bigger than they are, and they're protective of their babies. I know you'd like to see them, but you have to give them their space. Otherwise, they might leave their nest all together because they got so frightened."

"I didn't want to scare them," she said softly. "I just want to be their friend."

Fortunately, all yesterday and today, the robin has remained on her nest, and the girls have respected her area. Her husband bathes in the birdbath and plucks worms out of our healthy, weed-infested backyard. All is well. We'll be having a baby shower for them soon.

And in case you were wondering and I'm sure you were, their names are Frank and Eleanor.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Four Things

...that made me happy today:

Favorite bird:

Second-favorite flowers:

Favorite cookies (warm from the oven):

Favorite pretend cat:

A pretty good day!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Book Club, A Book Club!

It finally happened. I got invited to a book club! I know I'm supposed to intellectually sneer at book clubs as bourgeois or something, but I've secretly always wanted to join one. There are ones posted at the library and the coffee shop near where I live, but I'm too introverted to just bust into some random club and start offering my opinions (but I'll spew them on the Internet to anyone who'll listen!). But my new friend Kay Lynne legitimately invited me to start going to hers. Look out, book club.

The first meeting is next Monday, and I just finished the book, Tea with Hezbollah, by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis.

I once read a fiction book by Ted Dekker and didn't like it (don't remember which one), but I approached this with a completely open mind because it is non-fiction, billed as a travelogue. The subtitle is "Sitting at the enemies' table: our journey through the Middle East." The premise is basically that: Dekker and Medearis traveled through Jordan, Syria, Israel/Palestine, and Libya--sitting down and drinking tea with Muslims in order to discuss with them Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.

Let me say first that I loved the premise and idea of the book. Upfront, I don't belong to any political party and am not particularly patriotic. I try to think like a citizen of heaven, rather than a U.S. citizen. I thought the idea of sitting down with those whom the United States consider our enemies, Middle Eastern Muslims, and posing what Dekker terms "People magazine questions" an interesting proposition.

The best part of the book are the bare transcripts of interviews with taxi drivers, muftis, princes, sheiks, ayatollahs, leaders in Hezbollah and Hamas, and incredibly, Osama bin Laden's brothers. Dekker asks them what motivates them, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, what is the greatest misconception America has of them, what is the greatest misconception they have of America. He also asked most of them what kind of car they drive, which seemed like sort of a weird man thing to do. I could think of a lot more interesting things to ask than that--like, where do they buy their shoes? What kind of dessert do they have on their birthday? But whatever. Cars. Most of them drive Mercedes, in case you're wondering.

One of the overwhelming views they all seem to hold is that all Americans are Christian, whether or not they're religious. Even American atheists are considered Christian. Most seemed concerned with the same things that concern us: making a living, taking care of their families. Arab humor doesn't translate too well, but most had a cute story of their children or grandchildren that made them laugh--the same things that children do here.

Part of Dekker' and Medearis's mission was to humanize our enemy--under the premise that if we can see our enemy as a human being, that is the first step to him no longer being our enemy.

One of the muftis who is also a grandfather says that when his 4-year-old granddaughter visits him, he likes to joke with her and pray with her.

An influential person in the Muslim media said, when asked what made him cry, "My daughter, Miriam, will be three in July, and she has a very aggressive form of cancer. Her experience has been earth-shattering to me and I've never been the same. She's been through chemotherapy and operations. Her two doctors are Jewish, and her pediatrician is Irish Catholic."

An Arab sheik, when asked "What is the common Saudi's greatest misconception of Americans?" answered, "They look at America as cowboys who all want war. But your information is not correct about the Arab world. If the American people came to the Arab world and discover the culture, they would love the Arabs. Like when I went to the U.S., I liked the people. Why not talk about culture and people? Not politics."

The authors go out of their way to say that this is not a political nor a theological book. They weren't interested in giving the American viewpoint but rather wanted to hear what these Arab men thought about loving their enemies (interestingly enough, no Arab women were interviewed for the book).

Unfortunately, the main point where the book broke down for me was, in fact, theologically. The book did not delve into the Jewish/Palestinian issue in a satisfactory way. By that I mean, the authors claimed that all who they interviewed loved the God of Abraham (interestingly enough, I did not see any reference to Isaac and Ishmael--though I may have missed it), but some of the interviewees were breathtakingly anti-Semitic while claiming peace and love for their enemies.

The real problem for me though was the authors' continuous claim that Jesus was killed for his radical teaching on love for our enemies. One of the most telling parts was when an interviewee talked about being on the radio and claiming to revere the name of "Isa" (Jesus' name in the Koran) and all his friends calling to congratulate him. But later it was said he had claimed the name of "Yeshua" (Jesus/Messiah), and his friends became very upset with him.

Each person interviewed claimed that Jesus was a wonderful teacher, along with Muhammad and would return with one of Muhammad's nephews. Each claimed they liked Christians and wouldn't try to convert any one to Islam, that everyone should live in peace.

But...Jesus wasn't killed for his radical teaching on love for our enemies. Jesus was killed because He said He was God. He said He was the only way to the Father. He said He was the only way to heaven. And just like back then, that's what is the sticking point for people all over the world. As long as Jesus is just a good teacher, everything's fine. It's when He's the only way to heaven that people start getting mad.

I have a friend who has sponsored and befriended a refugee woman from Iraq. A couple of weeks ago, she became a Christian. Already, she's getting hassled by others who live in her apartment complex because she's going to a Christian church.

It's just like in the book of Acts, when Peter, James, and John went around the city, and the religious leaders arrested them, saying, "We told you not to preach in this name," and Peter's all, "Oh, you mean JESUS? The one you killed? That name?"

In all of life, you can be about a generic idea of peace and love and getting along with others, or you can be about crazy, whacked-out, destructive behavior...but you can't be about that Name.

And that was the main problem in the book for me--this insistence that Jesus was executed because He said that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. (The other problem I had is actually a spoiler, so I won't tell you about it except that it's, what can I say, a little author's trick that was incredibly irritating to me.)

All in all though, I think this is a good book for both Christians and Americans in general to read. It's interesting; it's a page-turner, and it's eye-opening. The interviews these guys got were incredible. There is a lot of good history interwoven throughout, and there's a helpful glossary and timeline at the back. Prejudice and hatred is often a visceral thing, and this book helps you to stand for a moment in the shoes of the enemy.

So, that's my opinion. I doubt if I'll bust all that out at the book club, or they may never want me back again. Maybe I'll just eat my dessert and scope things out (my friend Mary says there should always be dessert at book club, so I am counting on that). I'll let you know if anything happens!

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Golden Start

A week or so ago, Lucy's teacher sent home a note, saying the class was celebrating summer birthdays in May. Since Lucy's birthday is June 7, they would celebrate hers on May 7.

"What do kids bring for their birthdays?" I asked Lucy.

"Doughnuts or cupcakes usually," she answered. But, as always, my girl has a plan.

"I want to have homemade lemon bars for everyone for my birthday," she added. "Those are my favorite. And favors, too."

I can certainly get behind that, plus, since she is turning 7 this year, this is her golden birthday. It calls for a bigger deal to be made.

Have you ever read Russell Hoban's Best Friends for Frances? It's one of our favorites. In it, Frances's friend Albert goes on a Boys Only outing. He brings a paper sack with sandwiches, bananas, and cupcakes in it. When Frances and her little sister, Gloria, organize the retaliatory Girls Only outing, they walk by Albert's house, pulling their red wagon with a picnic hamper in it.

When Albert wants to know what's in the hamper, Frances says, "Nothing much. Hard-boiled eggs and whole fresh tomatoes. Carrot and celery sticks. There are some cream cheese-and-chives sandwiches, I think and cream cheese-and-jelly sandwiches, too, and salami-and-egg and pepper-and-egg sandwiches. Cole slaw and potato chips, of course. Ice-cold root beer packed in ice, and watermelon and strawberries and cream for dessert. And there are other things I forget, like black and green olives and pickles and popsicles and probably some pretzels and things like that. And there are salt and pepper shakers and napkins and a checked tablecloth, which is the way girls do it."

So, no doughnuts or cupcakes for us. Here is Lucy's tray of birthday treats for her golden birthday: lemon bars and little gold foil cups of lemon drops, decorated with fresh lemon halves and daisies...which is the way girls do it, I guess.

Amidst the pre-birthday celebration was Elaine's pre-school class's Mother Day song and dance. They sang a spring song about a buzzy bee named Oscar. The lyrics had a lot of "buzz, buzz, buzz" in them.

Then the teacher called each child's name, and he or she presented a gift to the respective moms, while shyly telling us "Happy Mother's Day."

Here is the gift, which they made in class. The flower is a rather manhandled petunia. We'll see if it actually survives. And the sign says "Garden Angel." Isn't it sweet? I live for this kind of stuff.

After my little garden angel gave me my present, I hugged her and told her how beautiful it was.

She looked up at me with those big blue eyes and dimples and whispered, "I really like that--what I made you. Can I have it back?"

Happy Mothers' Day to all!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Sunday Sunday Sunday

Our Sundays follow this sort of similar pattern. We get up, get ready, and go to church. Do you like how smooth I made that sound? The reality is far different. As my friend Dave (who also has two little girls) says, "All the demons come out to play on Sundays."

When church is over, we're all starving to death, and everyone asks me what we're going to eat. Now my mom always had the roast cooking, and you could smell the delicious smell as soon as you walked in the door, but I still don't have that down pat and we end up doing something like stopping for doughnuts, which we cram in our mouths in the car on the way home. It's one of those resolutions I have--to make Sundays better--that I can never quite get a handle on.

Then there's this sacred thing called "Mom's Sunday Afternoon Nap." I used to think it was so lame that my parents had to nap immediately after dinner on Sundays, but I know now. Oh, how I know. The entire week is ruined if I do not get to sleep on Sunday afternoon. I take a blanket and whatever book I'm reading, get on my bed, turn on an Agatha Christie movie very softly, and supposedly drift away. These are the instructions I give the girls every single Sunday.

"Don't wake up Mama, OK? I am tired."


"I mean it. You can wake me up only if you're bleeding or the house is on fire or something emergency-like."

"We won't, Mommy, we promise."

I settle down for my nap. One or both of them bursts in the room.

"We love you, Mom, we just want to kiss you one more time." They hug me and kiss me and try to stall.

"Close my door on the way out," I instruct.

"Can we keep it a teeny bit open? So we can check on you?"

"Close it."

I drift off.

Some time in there this invariably happens. By invariably, I mean without variation, though there might be variation for the reason. But it happens every single, solitary time. Just as I am good and asleep, I feel someone's small hands patting my face.


I ignore it. Maybe it will go away.

"Mama." (louder)

"Are you bleeding?"

"No, but can I have a snack? I am sooooo hungry."

"Is there a head injury involved? Is our house on fire?"

"I'm starving though. I think I'm starving to death."

"Where's Daddy?"

"He's down in the kitchen."

So, that is how my Sunday goes. It is saved by Sunday night because that is when, if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theatre) is on. I remember being so envious of my parents getting to watch some show at what seemed practically the middle of the night every Sunday. I would lie in my bed, listening to the theme music. And now I'm old enough to watch it myself, and it's every bit as glorious as I thought it would be.

I'm even more excited now because this is what's on--new episodes! Oh Christopher Foyle, how I have missed you.

If you haven't ever watched this show, you are missing out. Back when Inspector Morse finally wound down, they needed a replacement. Three hundred possible shows vied for the coveted spot, and they chose this one, written and directed by Anthony Horowitz. (Love him. And if I ever had a boy, I might be tempted to name him Anthony, not after Anthony Horowitz or anything, but because I love the way the British pronounce it: "An-tony," but I know everyone would always pronounce it the American way with the "th" in the middle like the Billy Joel song and then I or he would constantly have to explain and everyone would think we were pretentious British wannabes. Sorry, little hypothetical An-tony who was not to be. Who needs those extra life complications?)

Back to Foyle. It's set during WWII, and the attention to period detail in the costumes and sets is incredible. They've used real Spitfires even. I think it costs a boatload to make the show, but it is so worth it.

And Michael Kitchen--I've loved him for years, but he is brilliant in this. Brilliant. When he first got the script, he actually asked them to cut his lines because he felt Foyle would be a more taciturn man. He acts with his face--a lift of the eyebrow, a twist of the mouth. You've got to see him. Also, he's a standout from the usual morally-conflicted hero. He's just straight up, and the best part of every episode is when he finally lowers the boom on some reprehensible person in his dry, quiet way.

He's accompanied by Sam, his female driver (on the left) and his sergeant, Paul Milner (in the middle).

If you've never seen this show, you should check it out from the library or Netflix or something, but you don't have to have watched all the seasons to jump in right now.

Watching Foyle's War can even put me in a good mood after being abruptly woken up from a nap. It would be even better if I had some leftover roast or something to eat while watching. I'll have to work on that.