Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This is something I didn't know I'd ever discuss here

When we were in Tennessee, Joseph--my-cousin-who-is-my-extra-brother--and I exchanged a stack of books. We do this occasionally since we're both voracious readers and have overlapping interests. He lent me two Lawrence Blocks, The Perfect Storm, LA Confidential, and the book I'm gonna tell you about now: Salvation on Sand Mountain, a memoir by Dennis Covington.

That was the one I picked up first, and I can't really figure out why, because it has a picture, not a drawing mind you, but a photograph, of a woman holding a ginormous rattlesnake on the cover.

Yup, it's a memoir about snake handling. Why I was drawn t0 it, I don't know because I am utterly terrified of snakes. Once we went to a family camp. Darren and Lucy went on a boat ride, and I took Elaine, who was a baby at the time, on a walk. We were on a steep hill, so I was carrying her up it instead of using the stroller. As I walked up the path, I heard a soft rattling sound in the grass nearby. To this day I don't know what that rattle was, but as I held my darling baby oh-so-close and pressed my face to her downy little head, I whispered, "Sister, if a snake comes across this path, it's every girl for herself."

I don't even want to think about snakes, let alone read about them--nevertheless, I was compelled to pick up Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia.

Dennis Covington was sent, as a journalist, to cover an attempted murder trial of a pastor who tried to kill his wife with rattlesnakes. I thought the book would mainly cover the trial and its details, but it only spent a brief amount of time on that and honestly, that is a good thing because I don't mean to be rude, I really don't, but those were some insane, trashy people and the less time spent on their antics the better. Trust me. You can hardly believe what happened. As my dad says, "There's no such thing as fiction."

The book is really about what happened after--how Dennis Covington became friends with the people at the snake handling church up on Sand Mountain after their pastor got put in jail. He and two photographers spent two years, attending services until eventually one night, Covington took up the snakes himself and handled them.

He tells how he and one of the photographers, a man, spent much of their time discussing the "how" of snake handling. He talked about how the church goers would just reach their hands down into a box of rattlers, how they would walk on copperheads, drape snakes around their shoulders, or shake the snakes and let them lick them with their forked tongues. (I know. Did a shiver just go up your spine or what?)

Finally he stopped thinking about the how and asked the question we really care about: Why?

If you're unfamiliar with the reasoning behind religious snake handling, the practice is based on two verses in the New Testament:

Mark 16:18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Luke 10:19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

Why would a group of people gather up to three nights a week, sing mountain gospel music, listen to some bad preaching, and then pick up poisonous snakes? The book explores some of the reasons--the main one being that this is the most power these people will ever know--and also how the author himself got caught up in it, which was less understandable to me. He's an adrenaline junkie, ok, I get that, but he also discovered that he had snake-handling ancestors and this was a way to connect with his roots. Now, I've got bootlegging-on-the-Illinois/Iowa-border ancestors, and I don't have any need to connect with them by taking up bootlegging myself. (I know that point is moot. But you know what I mean.) Honestly, if some of my ancestors handled rattlers and drank strychnine out of Mason jars, I would do everything I could to cover that up instead of celebrate it.

I have to say though, this is a fascinating book despite its bizarre subject. For one thing, Covington's a great writer. It's so much more than "How I Spent Time With Snake Handlers." He somehow manages to turn it all inward and examine his life and relationships through this experience. The whole thing's chock full of Southern pathos, (a fancy Nancy term for alcoholism and craziness, really). It reads like a novel. He's also funny. For example, here's a brief snippet between him and one of the snake-handling elders:

"'The Bible says you're gonna suffer for your faith,' he said in his soft Georgia accent, which differed only in degree from my own. 'Look what happened to Stephen. I'd rather die of snakebite than get stoned to death. And what about Peter? Didn't they crucify him upside down on a cross? I'd rather die of a snakebite.' He glanced over the top of his glasses to gauge my reaction. It sounded like a toss-up to me."

Covington even brought his little girls to a New Year's Eve service at the snake church. One of the little girls ran back out of the church and sat in the car the rest of the service. He said it was because she's an artist and wanted to draw pictures of the people and snakes. I think she was an "it's every girl for herself" kind of person, and I applaud her for it.

All in all, I'm glad I read the book, and I highly recommend it. Besides taking away some new knowledge of a sub-culture, the book made me think about some things I can actually use outside of a Trivial Pursuit game (hey, are there questions on snake handling? I can answer them now!)

1) Beware of doing Bible balloon animals with verses and twisting them to mean something they don't.

2) Beware of having to have experiences that you think will put you in touch with God. Having spiritual experiences is wonderful. Having to have them is only going to lead you to a bad place.

I wanted my dad to read the book, but when I told him about it he said, "Why in the world are you and Joseph reading about rattlesnakes? Don't even bring that snake book in my house." See? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

But YOU should read it, and tell me what you think!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I don't know why I thought life was going to quiet down in the fall. Instead it has ramped up unbelievably. But I'll give you a snapshot of life with a second grader and junior kindergartner.

The other night when I was tucking Lucy into bed, she caught my face in her hands and said, "Mom, I have got to tell you something. First, I love you soooooo much! And second, can you believe it? I am going to have a GREAT year again! I just love school and my teacher. How do I keep getting the best teachers?"

I guess the feeling is mutual since we got her mid-quarter progress report, and her teacher said, "Lucy is a darling girl. [I KNOW! She so is! Thank you for recognizing it! Love, Lucy's Mom] She is doing well academically, and I enjoy having her in class."

She is also swimming on the team again, meaning practice two nights a week; she's joined AWANA at our new church, and she's also joined Brownies at school. She's pretty much a busy, happy girl.

Elaine is busy and happy, too, but these two sisters are so different from each other. She is shy (except at home), and it's harder for her to make friends. Everything takes her more time, but once she gets it, she goes full steam ahead.

She is busy learning the alphabet in her class, something we tried off and on all summer that never seemed to take. Darren and I would take turns reading her this wonderful alphabet book, but each time we showed her a letter she would guess and guess what it was in vain.

But now, each week is a different letter at school, and there's a song to go with each. Total ear worm. I still remember them from when Lucy was in this class.

There are also ample chances for parents to be mystery guests. When Lucy was 4, I procrastinated until almost springtime when finally the teacher cornered me and asked me to teach French words to the class. This year, though, Darren stepped up to the plate and volunteered right away (yay! I don't have to go up in front of 18 4-year-olds!). He said he would go in and play the baritone for them.

"Why don't you play your trombone like Roger in 101 Dalmatians? " I asked him.

He just looked at me. "Because the baritone is a lot easier, Alice."

Fine. I guess he was not willing to sacrifice for literary integrity.

Here he is as Elaine's Mystery Guest:

And here he is with the whole class--do you see what they're doing? They're playing kazoos, provided by Darren. I guess they had a whole band going. I know the teachers and other parents were thrilled.

Other than school and church activities, the girls always have a continual obsession. Long-time readers I'm sure remember the Riverdance obsession. There was also the Meet Me in St. Louis obsession, the Singin' in the Rain obsession, and the Pride & Prejudice obsession.

Right now, it's Little Women (that's been ongoing). Lucy gets to be Jo, Elaine is Amy (perfect type-casting), and I am relegated to Marmee, which makes me kind of sad since I guess my days of getting to be any of the sisters are over.

This preoccupation with Little Women means that whenever we take the butter out of the fridge, we sigh, "Ohhh. Isn't butter divinity?" The other day when Elaine and I were waiting for Darren to come out of CVS Pharmacy, when she finally saw him, Elaine leaned out the window and said, "Hark! Who goes there?"

Or she'll say, "I want to be Lady Violet. I'm exhaustified of being the boy!" and Lucy will answer in her best Jo voice, "The play is the thing, Amy. You're too little to be Lady Violet!"

Other favorite quotes we say on a regular basis (most of which are Amy-isms):

"Marmee, Marmee, we've been waiting for you--we've been expectorating you for hours!"

"You'll be sorry, Jo March!"

"What's that strange smell--like burnt feathers?"

"I'm so degraditated. I owe at least a dozen limes!"

In short, they are active, happy, healthy girls this fall, and I am so thankful for it. I will leave you with the alphabet song for this week; we're on the letter D (there will be Detective Day, Bring a Stuffed Dog Day, Me and Daddy Day, among others). I feel it's only fair that you should have this in your head as much as I do. Please sing it to the tune of "Jingle Bells."

Daisy Doll, Daisy Doll,
Tell me what you see
There are lots of things around
that start with letter D

Daffodils, dandelions,
dogs that dig in dirt
Daddy working in the yard
in his favorite shirt!

You're welcome.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Law of Kindness

Fall has kicked off in a big way, and I feel like I'm running behind as usual, but on Saturday I got to do something I have been anticipating for more than a year.

I was here. (I hope the video works for you--it took me a couple tries.)

My friend Kay Lynne and I hit the road by 7:00 a.m. and got to the Rosemont Theatre by 8:15 (the doors opened at 8:00), and there were no seats left together on the main floor so we headed to the balcony.

There were 8,000 to 10,000 women in the theatre, but since this was also a simulcast, there were 125,000 women participating across the U.S., in 11 different countries, with hosts from 30 different denominations, at 5 army bases, and 1 soup kitchen. The t-shirts for the event read, "125,000 women and a few brave men."

Oh, and among the 8,000-10,000 women there, I ran into Lucy's second grade teacher in the bathroom!

It's impossible to try and describe the day (the video does it best, I guess) but the lesson was from Proverbs 31:26 "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue."

Here are just some snippets from my notes:

The law of kindness referred to in the verse is translated "torat-hesed"--literally, "the Torah of kindness."

Why is it important to spend a whole day contemplating the Law of Kindness?

a) Because we live in a mean world, and it's gonna get meaner.
b) Because "she opens her mouth"! It's inevitable that we are going to open our mouths, let it be with kindness on our tongue.

(I loved this part: Note that after the resurrection, Jesus first appeared to some women. Why? Because He wanted to get the word out!)

Women are teachers and all-around opinion givers; we are all published every day in what we say, meaning we put it out there publicly. (One of my favorite points)--Our editor must be the Holy Spirit. Refrain from just making noise. Refrain from lexical food fights. Look it before you facebook it.

Then Beth gave us eight tastes of kindness from Scripture, briefly:

1) Kindness is not weakness. Ps. 141:5 (Another aside that I loved. Kindness is not niceness. "Nice"originally translated from the Latin means "ignorant" or "not knowing"--basically, the reason you're nice all the time is because you're an idiot. Kindness knows--and is still kind. The saying goes, "Sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what girls are made of," when it's really more like, "Pumpkin spice and a caffeine vice, that's what we're made of!" Can I get an amen?!)

2) Kindness is not an action; it's a disposition. (I think I missed the references for this; I can't find them in my notes.)

3) Kindness wears down when we do. Daniel 7:25, Matthew 11:28-30, Ephesians 4:12, 16, & 29

4) Kindness looks pain in the face. Job 6:28, Titus 3:3-8

5) Kindness is a Savior. Romans 8, Ephesians 2:4

6) Kindness has a good memory. Ps. 106:7, Hosea 11:4

7. Kindness craves an outlet. II Samuel 9:1

8. Kindness leaves a legacy. Acts 28:1-2

And a final point--If we have children growing up in this mean world who are kind, it will not be an accident!

Interspersed throughout the teaching was worship with Travis Cottrell, which I just kind of don't have words for.

All in all, it was a great day of renewal for me that I have needed so much. Kay Lynne and I looked at the future schedule for Living Proof Live and saw there is one next May in Minneapolis. We looked at each other and said, "That's only five hours from here--road trip in May!" Check out here if there are any near you; it is a great experience!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Solitary Tale Among Many

One of the things I've been doing for the last month or so is tearing through several piles of fiction books, sifting through cozy holiday tales and bonnet novels for something to recommend to our magazine readers.

Ironically, I had a conversation about Christian fiction a couple weeks ago with one of Darren's cousins who is a youth pastor. He told me, "What I don't like about Christian fiction is that everything always has to be wrapped up in a neat bow at the end." (Not only a problem with Christian fiction.) He added, "And also, it feels like the author's goal is for people to get saved by reading their book. Not that it couldn't happen, but most of us just want a good book to read."

In the midst of that conversation and the pile of happy fiction I received, something completely different arrived on my doorstep by an author I've never heard of (whom I now realize is pretty prolific!): Solitary by Travis Thrasher. It is the first in a series of four (to come) called The Solitary Tales.

I began by reading the back matter where the publisher usually puts interviews with the author, book club questions, etc. Except for this book, instead of the usual fare, there were three playlists: one for your Walkman, one for your iPod, and one for the movie soundtrack. Then there was a short article by the author about how the inspiration for this series is John Hughes films. Oh, Travis Thrasher. You had me at Depeche Mode.

Solitary is about a 16-year-old boy named Chris Buckley. His parents have recently gotten a divorce--for reasons you would not expect that are revealed well into the book--and Chris and his mom, Tara, move from the Chicago suburbs (Libertyville shoutout!) to Solitary, North Carolina, a small town where Tara grew up.

They live in Tara's brother Robert's cabin in the woods...except Robert isn't there. His stuff--clothes, toiletries, duffel bag, and extensive 80s music collection--is all there, but Robert is inexplicably gone. No one seems to know, or at least will say, what has happened to him.

There are other strange things too, in fact, Solitary is kind of a weird place with sinister people and lots of secrets. Chris starts high school there and immediately falls in love with Jocelyn Evans--but is just as immediately warned off from her by almost everyone else he meets.

As well, it seems as if he's being watched. He gets mysterious notes in his locker, referring cryptically to people, events, and yes, more secrets. He is bullied constantly. His only whiff of normality comes from Ray, who's the big man on campus, but friendly and welcoming. He invites Chris to church, but it's unlike any church Chris has encountered. He can't wait to leave, but the pastor finds him and sits down for a little chat, which is far more menacing than friendly, with yet more warnings about Jocelyn.

The story progresses as Chris observes more about Solitary--who is the man on the estate that seems to have a stranglehold on pretty much everyone? And why does Christmas come and go completely unacknowledged? He begins to uncover some of the town's dark secrets, which are more horrifying than he could ever have imagined. As for the ending, I'm not saying anything. Not anything. You've got to read for yourself. The only thing I will say (I know! I can't help myself!) is that it's certainly not wrapped up in a neat bow, and I don't know how I'm going to wait until June of '11 for the next installment, Gravestone.

Why did I like this book so much? For one, Travis Thrasher really captures the voice, heart, and soul of a teenaged boy, I feel. Not that I know tons of teenage boys, but sometimes when authors write in a voice they're not, it's glaringly obvious. I've gone on record saying how much I like Alan Bradley, but sometimes his 12-year-old girl protagonist sounds much more like a 70-year-old man. Chris Buckley is a genuinely likable kid, but man, he does dumb stuff--just like a teen boy. Why does he keep going into the woods where he knows some bad scary stuff is waiting, and he doesn't even bring a flashlight?

Here's another little element I enjoyed: portions of the book are conducted by notes, you know, good old-fashioned notes on paper like we used to stick in each other's lockers in the olden days. It's an effective way of lending a more secretive atmosphere to the book, but the author adeptly disposes of more modern communication tools aka texting, in a way that's not clunky at all.

Honestly, I could not put this book down. The chapters are short and have attention-grabbing titles; each one leads you into the next and there's really no good stopping place. You just have to keep reading until 3 a.m. You certainly get answers to some of your questions, but you're left with many more. Travis Thrasher didn't just write a spooky, plot-driven novel; these characters stayed with me. It's been a week and a half since I read it, and I'm still thinking about them: in particular, the shadowy figure of Chris's dad, whom I'm guessing we'll find out more about in the books to come.

Where does the Christianity part come in, you ask? I'm at a loss to explain it, but it does. However, it certainly doesn't beat you over the head, and you don't have to be a Christian to enjoy and appreciate the book. It doesn't have a hidden agenda; it tells a fascinating story and lets you think things through as you go.

I've been recommending this book right and left to whomever I talk to, but I really hope that some parents will start reading them simultaneously with their teen kids. In fact, I wish I had teen kids (ohhh, just had a mini-heart attack there. Maybe not yet.) so I could talk about the themes in this book with them. Maybe I could borrow your teens instead?

And please don't be scared off by all the teen references. I obviously loved it, and I gave it to Darren to read, too (he has to take a break sometime from those thousand-page commentaries on Exodus or whatever that he reads). Maybe if you are really into Amish love stories--and seriously, no offense. We all have our preferences, right?--you won't like this. But anyone else--please check out Solitary and let me know what you think! It's the perfect read for fall.

I now have to a) set aside my stacks of books for work without guilt, and b) make peace with the public library (read: pay my fines) so I can check out more Travis Thrasher books and stave off my anxiety for installment two in the Solitary Tales until next summer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pushing the Grass Apart

Since January 2009, I've had the opportunity to work as a writer and field editor for the faith-based magazine, Significant Living. It really is a job that just dropped down into my lap from heaven, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have the honor of working with some of the most gifted and nicest people I've ever met. Naturally, there are certain issues that I like more or am happier with than others. However, the Sept/Oct 2010 version that just came out this week is my absolute favorite I've ever worked on.

Each issue we have a theme or tagline--this one's was "Leaving the Painful Past Behind." It deals with some of my favorite themes to think/talk/write about: forgiveness, healing, restoration, fresh starts. Since the issue is so brand new, the articles are not up on the website yet but when they are, I'll direct you to some of my favorites--they really are life- and perspective-changing stories.

This past year, in addition to writing some of the features, I also write the final page in the magazine, a column called "Grace Notes." It is usually taken from this blog or whatever other ideas I might have kicking around in my mind at the time. The post below is this month's Grace Notes. You'll probably notice that it's a little more polished than my usual style and has no a) extended food descriptions, b) references to 80s music, or c) pleas to watch various British television shows. That's because I had an editor!

Pushing the Grass Apart

To the flowers we never have to say goodbye forever. We grow older every year, but not the garden, it is reborn every spring.”—May Sarton

I am a known plant killer. No matter what I try to grow or what plants people give me as gifts, I end up watering or fertilizing them too much or too little, and they all meet the same sad end. My outdoor containers look like something from Morticia Addams’ house—withered,dried-up sticks and leaves.

“I just can’t grow anything,” I once sighed to my mom. “I have a black thumb instead of a green one.”

“I refuse to believe that,” she replied.“Your grandpa and your uncle Ray could make anything come from the ground. Your dad is a master gardener. You have gardening in your genetic makeup!”

She looked fondly at my two daughters. “You’re just growing something different right now. But someday you’ll have a beautiful garden, I know you will.”

Early this summer, I lost my dear mom to cancer, and I now find myself trying to dig through the rocky ground of bereavement. I want to be like Katy from Stepping Heavenward, who vowed to move forward with fidelity and patience after the death of her mother, and cried, “I would not have her back for all the world. She has gotten away from all the suffering of life; let her stay!”

Instead, I find myself dreaming of my mom—in one dream she is miraculously her vital, healthy self, sitting at the dining room table and telling me she’s found a little time to work on her Christmas cards. In another, she is in the hospice where she suffered so terribly at the end, wearing her peach-colored pajamas, and I am holding her, knowing that I have only a few moments left before she slips away. After each dream, I wake, desperate to somehow get back to that dreamworld again and knowing these shadowy moments are the only times I can see her on this Earth.

During these months, I have discovered that grief is not one deep stab wound, rather, it is a thousand tiny slings and arrows. It’s reaching my hand down in the car door and finding one of her lipsticks, hearing a hymn that I’ve heard her sing a hundred times, or remembering the cheerful, determined way she would wake my brother and me for school in the mornings: “Up and at ‘em!” This holdover from her farm days, which, frankly, we kind of hated at the time, is something I would now give my life’s savings to hear her say just once more. If I take one of her silk scarves, spray it with her signature Gloria Vanderbilt perfume, and wrap it around my neck, I can close my eyes and pretend she’s right next to me.

There’s a line from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Stricken too sore for tears, I stand . . .” and that is what I am. Gone are the previous, cleansing bouts of crying because all my tears now seem to be internal. The rest of life and humanity carries on around me (how dare they?), and, though I maintain a calm normality on the outside, I am weeping on the inside. Hemorrhaging.

I gain some comfort, as so many others have, from the Psalms—Psalm 126:6 in particular. “He who goes continually forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,bringing his sheaves with him.” I cherish the thought that the Bible doesn’t tell me to stop crying and just get over it. It just tells me to go forward, continually,weeping yet still sowing.

How can I move forward when I just want to remain in the past? Fall is coming, the season of harvest, and I am emptyhanded. I know most people love autumn for its beauty, but it fills me with dread. Fall is just a harbinger of death tricked out in a party dress. Winter will follow on its heels—a slow season of emptiness with no life, no growing in sight.

And yet, there is still hope. As a Christian, I look back on Good Friday from the light of Easter day. Without death,there can be no new life. Even though winter will cover the earth, there are wonderful things going on under the snow. Millay has another poem I have long loved, containing the line: “God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on Your heart.” I’m wondering if God will meet me in the garden as He has so many before me. With His help, will I be able to cultivate this stony ground?

I need a plan of action, so this autumn I’ve got some fresh soil to put down in my old flowerbeds and hundreds of spring bulbs to bury. I may weep while I work,but I’m going to put my back into it and go forth continually until every available space has a little promise of life sown. I don’t want to miss out on any resurrection that might come my way.

Though I ache for my mom with everything in me, I know, deep down, I would not have her back for all the world. Let her stay!

I, too, will bear on with fidelity and patience.

Up and at 'em.

It’s time to plant.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Martin Goes to Tennessee

This weekend was our annual roadtrip to Memphis. When I picked Lucy up from school on Friday afternoon, she was clutching Martin the Moose--the second grade class mascot. Each kid gets Martin for a weekend, and they have to journal about what they did with him and then read it to the class. Lucy's teacher leaned in the window, "Is this OK with you--bringing Martin on vacation? I didn't think you'd want to, but Lucy insisted that her mom said it was fine." I said, "Oh yeah, sure, no problem, though could you let me know where you bought him, in case I have to buy a replacement?"

So on Saturday morning, Martin set off with us to Memphis. About an hour down the road, the girls started bickering about which DVD they were going to watch until finally Darren reached up, snapped the player closed, and said, "This is family time. You two are getting way too spoiled. Mom and I never had movies to watch on vacation. Now everybody look out the window and see how many hawks you can count."

That was met with a little protest, but then, after not seeing any hawks, they decided to play I Spy and that went well. My contribution to this vintage portion of the roadtrip was to look out the window and listen to Don Henley sing "Dirty Laundry."

Ten hours or so later, we hit Memphis, and within 15 minutes, the girls were in the pool. The next day we took Martin to his first landmark, of course, Graceland.

Then we spent time scanning the wall and finding all of our names on it so we could pose next to them. Here's Lucy:
"I miss you, Elvis--Elaine":

My personal favorite:
If you couldn't read what that said close up, it is: "Thank you Elvis for the music and helping me become the man I am today--Darren." Actually, "Darren H. Presley." Was his actual last name Presley or did he change it when Elvis helped him become the man he is today?

"Alice" was much harder to find. I guess people with that name don't scrawl it on the wall outside Graceland, so I had to settle for simply "I heart Elvis." Also, while I'd love you to believe that I'm dressed up to visit the King's house, it's really because we just came from church.

On Sunday we had the big family reunion/fish fry. We had at least 70 people there, with all sorts of kids jumping in and out of the pool non-stop, including my two. I didn't take pictures of the spread this year, and there's no way I can recreate everything that was on offer, but I'll just start with fried fish, french fries, hush puppies, coleslaw, and homemade red velvet cupcakes. Oh yeah, we were Down South.

Sunday afternoon we headed to Chattanooga to see my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Joe, my cousin-who-is-my-extra-brother, Joseph, and my cousins Dawn and Paul who came up from Atlanta. I thought it took four hours to get from Memphis to Chattanooga, but it actually takes at least 5 1/2, plus longer if you stop 3 or 4 times with your kids and there's a time zone change to EST, and you get lost up on Lookout Mountain. We told them we'd be there at 8 but actually got there at 11.

The next day we took in downtown Chattanooga. I haven't been there since I was in high school, and it's completely different. There's a beautiful riverfront park that includes a fountain area for kids to play in and a restored carousel.

Lucy on her choice...

Elaine on hers...

Playing in the fountain--Elaine got up in the morning and put her suit on underneath her clothes. She figures you never know when you might get some water to play in so you better be prepared. I brought a coverup and dry clothes for Lucy.
Perched on a stone turtle...

Next we visited the famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo, where Martin the Moose had another photo op.

At night we had a fantastic cook-out on the patio and surprise, the girls swam in the pool until it was almost dark.

In the morning, we headed for a brief stop in Nashville to have lunch with Darren's brother Scott and his wife Denise and our nephew Joseph. Our other nephews were at school. They all just moved to the Nashville area, actually Brentwood, a suburb. Unfortunately, Martin did not get a photo taken in Nashville. I offered to jump out at a road sign by a gas station and hold him up, but on closer examination, the sign posts went down into a ditch and I would have to be about 11 feet tall for that to work. We did eat at MacAlister's Deli where Darren saw some NASCAR person, so he was moderately pleased.

And that was basically our road trip. We headed back through Jackson, Missouri, and got home yesterday around 4 in the afternoon. Darren printed the Martin pictures, and we pasted them in the class journal while Lucy wrote about his and her adventures. At the end she wrote, "I love Tennessee!"

Yup--we all do, including, I'd like to believe, Martin. And I didn't even have to buy his replacement.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

In the Swing of Things

We're midway through our second week of school, and things are going much better. I don't mind getting up early to hustle the girls off to school, and then for three blissful hours peace and quiet reigns.

They are both loving school. When we sit around the table at night, each girl gets to take a turn, telling about her day. Lucy's classroom has a clock that sounds like a loon calling, and that's when they know it's time to eat lunch. They have a math problem of the day. They're learning beginning Latin, and in a week, they'll start Mandarin Chinese. By this time Elaine can't contain herself and bellows, "We've got Miss Norman for Spanish and we say 'adios amigos' and we're learning ENGLISH, too!" (Well, that's a relief.)

"That kid needs volume control on her voice," Darren mutters.

Last night Lucy asked me, "Mom, will I go to college where you did?"

You will be proud of me--I did not immediately shout "Yes!" and burst into "God bless the school that D.L. Moody founded..." I told her, "Well, it depends on what God wants you to do with your life and where the best place for you to go to college is."

She said, "Well, I feel it in my heart that God is telling me to go to your college" (as I am wiping away the joy tears).

"It's a great place to go if you want to be a missionary or if you want to be a teacher," I told her, "Have you thought about either of those things?"

"Actually then, I better go to cooking school first," she replied. "Because you know I've always wanted to be a cook. And when I have my own cooking show, you can have a guest appearance on it and making sponge cake."

Sorry, Moody. I lost you an enrollment 10 years early. Better you add a culinary major.

I've also been working on the seasonal clothes changeover, not that I really feel like it in this 90-degree weather, but it's a huge job and the sale is coming up on the 11th and I need to see what we've got already. I had Elaine try on a possible fall outfit, a hand-me-down of Lucy's. She got it all on and looked in the mirror.

"I look groovy," she told me. "But this whole thing would be a lot cuter if I had some red boots to go with it."

And we've been reading a lot: a book by Mary Stolz called "Cider Days" for Lucy and a big, old book called "The Gateway to Storyland" for Elaine. I'd forgotten how fun it is to read "Little Black Sambo." I just revise the racist character names, and we're good to go. Frankly, there's more tigerism than racism in that story anyway, in my opinion.

I also bought them both new devotional books, which I can't recommend highly enough. They're called "God & Me," written by Lynn Klammer and published by Legacy Press. They're broken down by age: 2 to 5, 6-9, 10-12, and they have them for both boys and girls, with unique themes to each. On every left hand page, there is a verse, a small story or meditation, several questions, and a prayer. On each right hand page, there is a fun application activity. Elaine and I do hers together, but it has been so cool to see Lucy doing her devotions in the morning by herself.

Let's see, what else? Oh, I'm sure you've been dying to know about Miss Cleo Marple the Cat and how she is settling in. The day we adopted her, the lady from the shelter said something along the lines of, "She isn't really a cat I'd recommend for first-time cat owners, what with her social issues and all. Good luck!"

We've had her three weeks now though, and she has greatly improved. At first she would hide under our dusty, dark dresser and not make a sound. More often than not, she would hiss if you tried to get near her. But now she is quite loving, letting us pet and brush her almost as much as we want. She talks to us, particularly if we've forgotten to fill her food bowl. She doesn't play much because I think no one ever played with her, so she doesn't know how (which kind of breaks my heart).

Lucy said, "Cleo loves Dad the best because he's so magic with animals. Then she likes me, because I give her nice massages. She likes you third, Mom, because you're kind of like a servant--you know, you feed her and empty her litter box and stuff. She likes Elaine last because she's kind of rowdy still."

And Elaine says, "I love Cleo even though she's bited me two times."

When it all gets too much for the poor creature (usually around 3:15 when both girls are home from school), we can find her in a corner behind the guestroom bed, where I have some [more] bags of the girls' clothes.

Girl, I can sympathize. Sometimes I just feel like crawling into a Nordstrom's bag, too.

So, that's us lately. This weekend, as I mentioned before, we're getting ready for our annual Memphis road trip/family reunion, code name: FISH FRY. As Darren always says, "Strap on the feed bag."

Cleo will be alternately cared for by Emily the Wonder Babysitter and my good friend and neighbor, Kay Lynne, who has four cats of her own. The girls call her Miss Kittie ("as long as they don't call me 'The Cat Lady,' she says).

Maybe by the time we get back, I'll get bumped up from third-class servant into maybe second place cat masseuse. I can only hope.