Friday, February 21, 2014

Goodbye, Goo

As I wrote those words, "Goodbye, Goo," tears sprang into my eyes.  I got that oh-so-familiar lump in my throat... and the catch in my breath... the quiver in my chin... the sting in my nose... You see, for the past week, I've been grieving.  There have been many, many tears... lots of hard crying--grief crying--you know, that deep sobbing-and-choking sort of crying.

In our home, we are grieving the loss of a dear friend, a sweet family member.  In very many ways, we are grieving alone.  When we lost our last dog, Little, the outpouring of love and support was overwhelming.  She had been unexpectedly hit by a car, which had been witnessed by one of our children.  It was shocking and surprising and horrible.  We sent out word over Facebook and email, asking people to pray for our sweet children, who were missing their childhood pup, and especially for our sweet OG, who was processing what she had seen.  Comments and emails and notes and cards came in from all sorts of places, and we were amazed and comforted by the prayers of many, many people for us in our grief.

This time around, there have been no notes, no cards, no written expressions of sympathy or comfort.  That is not because our friends have suddenly grown cold or have stopped sending condolences.  No, this time we suffer alone largely because very few people know about what happened.  We did get the standard card that the vet sends out whenever he has to do this terrible thing, when his life-giving hand has to turn into the one that brings death.
 
The card itself is lovely, with a silhouette of a man and his dog sitting on a bench, looking out over a beautiful lake.  It is a striking scene, peaceful and serene. "It's hard to say goodbye to such a special companion.  Our thoughts are with you," says the printed message.

In the careful black penmanship of one of the veterinary employees are added the following words of comfort: "Please accept our deepest sympathies over your loss of Winston.  We know he was a special part of your family and will be greatly missed."

And so he is.  I am missing the constant, happy companionship of one who has been with me daily for the last four years, since we welcomed him into our home.  He was boisterous and excited and so very present in everything we did, so his absence is definitely noticed, all the time.

He was such a good dog, and such a "good boy"!  He had a real heart for obedience.  He wanted to please us and wanted to obey us... always.  If we said, "Sit," he did, right away.  If we told him to go to his crate, he would, immediately.  Even if he was barking his head off and wanting to greet the source of the doorbell, if you told him to go, he went.  Every night, when we fed him his food, he would run to his crate and sit bolt upright.  He would sit that way, head and torso up straight and tall, waiting for the feeder to arrive with the bowls, then staring expectantly at him until he was released to eat from the bowl that had been placed in front of him.  Only the feeder's impressed and happy, "Okay!" would release him from his stand at attention, drooling.

We all miss him terribly.  And we are suffering and grieving alone this time because of the awkward reality that, though we loved this sweet dog as a member of our family, we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize him.  That isn't the kind of thing you throw onto Facebook.  "Had to put my dog down today.  Miss him," just doesn't quite work as a status update.  It is awkward.  People don't know what to say.  Many disagree with your decision and choice, since they only knew and loved the "good boy" Winston and can't imagine this action was really  necessary.  Others, who agree with your choice, assume that since you made the choice, you must be fine with it.

Reality, however, holds something different.  Making the decision, knowing it is the right decision, moving through the execution of the decision, and living with the results of the decision are all very different things.  You can know that something is "what has to be done" and still choke on your own tears as you walk through the doing of the thing.

I have had to make this decision once before, with our sweet dog, Huckleberry, years ago.  I have sat once before with my canine friend, rubbing the ears and speaking softly and controlling the tears for his sake, watching as his breathing begins to come more slowly and then finally ceases all together.  I was prepared.  I do not think that my husband necessarily was, and I know that the children who opted to be present weren't ready.  They handled it fine, but it is exceedingly difficult to watch the dog you love, who trusts you for his very existence, bound happily into the vet for the next adventure, only to be met with an injection of a confusing sedative.  None of us were prepared for his agitated pacing as he began to feel it work, for his refusal to succumb to the strange feeling coming over him.  I had to coax him into lying down, and coax him further to rest his head on my lap.  He looked up at me with confusion, and maybe a little bit of fear.  But he trusted me, so he allowed it.  That's what is hardest, I think... the absolute trust of this dog that you won't let anything bad happen to him, even as you're paying the vet a few hundred dollars to kill him.

Yes, it's sometimes the right thing to do.  Yes, it sometimes has to be done.  Huckie was very sick and suffering, so that decision was easy.  Winston was healthy and happy and thrilled about life, ready to live another decade, probably, but he was suffering from an inability to control his impulse to bite people.  We're convinced that he probably had something going wrong in his brain, since this biting behavior had not occurred at all during the first couple of years we had him.  When it did start, it was always directed at strangers--men--who were approaching our property or entering our home unexpectedly (at least unexpected to him).  However, over the past year or so, it had begun to increase, both in frequency, intensity, and damage done.  We tried to manage it by moving his crate to the back of the house and locking him up anytime anyone was at our house but family.  This worked for a good, long while, but even in that context we feared for the time we'd forget, either to lock the front door at all times so no one just walked in, or to lock him up before someone expected did arrive.  In the end, the biting behavior even turned toward the other dog and toward one of the children in our home  We knew that it was just a matter of time before this sweet, obedient, happy dog had a moment of whatever-it-was-that-caused-him-to-freak-out-and-bite, and really hurt someone, physically or psychologically.  And so we made the unthinkable choice to end the life of the dog we loved.  We did it for us, yes, but we also did it for him.  We know that he would be mortified if he ever hurt one of these precious children he loved.

 And so we've said goodbye to another dog-friend.  It's still a little raw.  We still cry quickly and easily.  (At the strangest times, a memory will catch me off guard and the tears will spring to my eyes and nose.  I still don't wear any makeup on days that I'm home.)

We are all processing it a little differently.  The girls opted to go with us to the vet, while my son chose to stay home and not be there for the procedure.  He had said goodbye, and wanted to remember Winston the way he'd always been.  I respect that.  And I thank my son for the gift that was given as he let us see him grieve, too.  I will never forget seeing and hearing this 6'7" man taking his grief to the piano keyboard, playing and singing as we all moved about the house that first night. 

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord,
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be Your name

And so we sent him off... loving on him 'til his last breath... grieving his absence... smiling at his memory.  We loved you, Winston.  And we hope that in God's great providence and mercy, He chooses to let us see our beloved pets again one day in heaven.  I wouldn't mind throwing my arms around a glorified version of our sweet Winston and rolling around the hills of heaven together!   I know that many of you will roll your eyes at such an idea, so I share with you an article I found when Little was killed, entitled "Do Dogs Go to Heaven?" by Randy Alcorn.  Before you scoff, know that he quotes theological heavy-weights like John Piper and Joni Eareckson Tada, and leaves you with more than a little hope that you might get to see your special animal friend again one day...

*Entry 2 - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge - the title is not from a song, but the lyrics quoted are from Matt Redman's Blessed Be Your Name

Friday, January 31, 2014

Fruit Ninjas


Williamsburg, Fall 2013

This is my daughter EV's (and her photographer friend Jessica's) idea of a fun photo shoot...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Peace, Be Still

We have had a longer, deeper snowfall overnight that has closed schools and kept our Daddy home for the day!  Here's to surprise holidays in the middle of the week, when everything is canceled!

The thing that strikes me the most about fresh snowfall is the quiet it brings with it.  And I don't just mean the lack of traffic noise because no one's out on the roads.  In some other, deeper way, life is muffled by this thick blanket of white that has fallen and covered the earth.  Like the tousled head of a sleeping toddler, buried beneath hair and blanket, life has paused from its endless energy and constant motion and found stillness. Peace. 

With no notice, no time to fill the empty square with events and appointments, we are granted the gift of a true day off.  And if not that---(homeschoolers are not unable to reach their school building on a snow day, after all!)---at least a morning or an afternoon of rest. Refreshment. Renewal. 

So today, as I gaze out my window at the blanket of white,  I wrap my hands around the warmth of my teacup and breathe deeply of this reality: 
"Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7)!


 



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Bird of Mouth"

Snow that amounts to anything and is profuse enough to whiten the ground is rare where I live.  This morning we awakened to such a blanket of white.  It is beautiful!

Clearly, the birds are also happy... happy with our backyard bird feeders on this snow day.  The word has gotten out--however birds share these sorts of things*--and we're the happening place to be!



 


 
All puffed up, trying to stay warm!


In other news on this fun snow day... (yes, even homeschoolers can have snow days...)


I had to make our big king-size bed around this remnant child, who had refused to vacate the warm family spot that all six of us had piled into when the alarms went off this morning!


The delicious breakfast our dad--who didn't have to go into work until 11:00--made us... pflintzen with filling and jam, bacon, and hot tea.  Yum!

 Homeschool on a cold snow day!

* My clever husband had called it "bird of mouth"--hence, the title of this blog post.  Whatever it was, we're happy that the snowfall sent all the hungry birds in town to our feeders!  Today I saw cardinals, finches (both house and yellow!), mourning doves, juncos, titmice, Carolina wrens, pine siskins, and red-breasted nuthatches, and a couple of species I don't even recognize. Our friendly chickadees and our lovely woodpecker stayed away today, for some reason.  They're home staying warm, I hope, like the rest of us!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

#megsmiles

Meg smiles?  Or Meg's miles?  Exactly.

More than 71,000 runners* have pledged on Facebook to run in the #Megsmiles Memorial Run set for today, Saturday, January 18, 2014. (*It turns out that nearly 100,000 runners from around the world participated before it was all said and done.)

Meg Menzies was a 34-year-old mother of three who was killed Monday morning by a drunk driver while on her Saturday morning "long run."

Those in the running community are very familiar with those--I am not!--and those Saturday morning runs can often be a source of camaraderie and fellowship for them.

My husband and daughter often take such runs, and they are pictured here with our dogs on their #megsmiles 3-mile run this morning.

My son Philip took a short run with his Vibram 5-fingers, and I took a longer run on the treadmill inside.
 
Although we didn't know Meg personally, we are indignant that her family was robbed of her by the careless actions of a drunk driver.  And we run in support of her and all other runners, who should be safe on the road from people who consume alcohol and get behind the wheel.

Lest anyone think I'm on a sanctimonious high horse because I don't drink and drive, I take a humble moment--although it is true that I do not drink and drive--to admit with grief and shame that I have been guilty of texting while driving--reading them, writing them, dictating them to Siri, and listening to them read to me by Siri.  I reaffirm my refusal to do so anymore as I run for Meg this morning, since texting or talking while driving has been shown to cause greater impairment behind the wheel than drinking and driving!  (...Yes, even just talking on the cell phone while driving!)

May no more Megs die at the hands of the likes of one of us!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Today is all you'll ever have...*

Is it possible for one small change in thinking or behavior to change your entire outlook or experience of life?  "Why yes, yes, it is!" I would answer, for I have seen it with my own eyes--or rather, heard it with my own ears--over the past month or so.

You see, I am a morning person.  I am not necessarily a "morning person" in the traditional sense of the word.  In fact, I used to be quite efficient and productive in the evening hours, those precious few hours when little ones are in bed and you can get stuff done without them under foot!  However, sometime over the past decade, I have turned into a morning person.  Those "little ones" grew up, so the evening hours are no longer the time that they are asleep in their beds.  Perhaps even more significantly, though, I hit middle age--that blessed time when, apparently, women begin to wake up at ridiculous times in the wee morning hours as a result of some mean hormonal trick that hits a few years before menopause does.  (Nobody tells you this, mind you.  You don't find out that this happens to everyone until you start to mention it to your other middle-aged friends.  Then they look at you like, "What? You didn't know that?!")

At any rate, when I awaken nightly--sometime between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 AM--sometimes I am able to go back to sleep and sometimes I am not.  Most mornings, I stagger to the bathroom for the cruel-hormonal-nature-trick need-to-pee that has awakened me, then climb back into bed and drift back off to sleep.  But some mornings, my mind wakes up as my body does, and I can't control the racing thoughts that fill my mind and demand that my day begin RIGHT NOW.

As you can see, on these mornings, I can have been awake with any number of things (doing the day's devotional reading, praying for the day's requests and needs, practicing my Scripture memory verses, reading a book, grading papers, answering emails, catching up on Words with Friends games, trolling Facebook, looking over the calendar, etc. etc. etc.) for several hours by the time my husband rolls over and begins to drowse awake just before his alarm rings at 5:00 AM.  For years now, I have had the terrible habit, apparently, of hitting him with whatever urgent thought is occupying my mind, as soon as his alarm goes off for the day.  He is greeted, thanks to me, by urgency and panic-inducing tones regarding some serious thing I've been pondering and planning for hours.  Not fun!

Sometime this past month, some small little miracle began to take place--and not because I purposed it or planned it in any way!  In fact, I didn't really discover it was happening until it was happening, and I just happily realized it one morning.  Some odd morning about a month ago, I greeted my snoozy husband with a sing-songy, "This is the day that the Lord has made!"  And he answered with, "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  Sleepy smiles were exchanged, and his day began peacefully.

The next time I was already awake when his alarm went off, I again greeted him with, "This is the day that the Lord has made!" and he again responded with, "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  Somehow, we had started something, though neither of us realized it at the time.  A few mornings later, he was up before I was--I having gone back to sleep after the wee-hours wakeful time and slept through his 5:00 AM alarm-- and he greeted me with a big grin and a, "This is the day that the Lord has made!"  I returned the smile and answered, "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

This delightful little exchange has become our habit each morning as we greet each other, without either of us ever deciding it or acknowledging it or talking about it, even.  The closest we came to that was one morning when I said something else--something urgent and startling, I'm sure--as the first words I greeted him with.  He rolled over with a fake cry and said, "You didn't say it!  You said something else first!"  And with that, I realized that I had broken an unspoken understanding that had developed between us... namely, before anything else, acknowledge together that today is a gift from the Lord, and that we should rejoice in gratitude first thing upon greeting it... and each other.

What a beautiful reality!  What a beautiful habit.
"This is the day that the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice, and be glad in it!(Psalm 118:24)

* Entry 1 - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge - title is from Switchfoot's This Is Your Life

Monday, January 6, 2014

An epiphany on Epiphany

Well, the 12-Days-of-Christmas Blog Challenge is officially over, and this is the 13th Day of Christmas 2013. Maybe.  Depending how you calculate it.  Some people--and "official" ones at that--claim that The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day, December 25, and culminate on Twelfth Night, the Eve of Epiphany.  Other "official" folks claim that they really begin the day after Christmas, culminating on the actual January 6 holiday of Epiphany.

And it turns out, actually, that even the date for Epiphany itself is negotiable.  Most traditions seem to place it always on January 6, but others insist that it should be on a Sunday and therefore commemorate Epiphany on whatever Sunday falls between December 2 and December 8.  Unless they feel like doing it the Sunday before--apparently, that's okay, too.

This reminds me a little of Easter; I can never keep track of what the "rule" is for determining which Sunday it will be in any given year!

It also reminds me of our dear friends from Germany, the Erharts, who lived here in the States as our neighbors several years ago.  They enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving meal with our family on Thanksgiving Day the last year they were here.  We also celebrated a "Summertime Thanksgiving" during their last month here, in which we cooked and ate the whole blessed feast again when it was 95 degrees outside!  It wasn't until the following year--when they were back in Germany and we were here eating the American feast again--that we realized the confusion over dates.  They sent a lovely email on Friday--the day after Thanksgiving--telling us they were thinking of us as we celebrated.  It didn't take us long to figure out that they thought the holiday fell on the particular date and not a particular day.  (Again, what's the rule for knowing which Thursday it will be?  Is it the last one in November?  The fourth one?  Is the fourth Thursday always the last Thursday?)  But I digress...

Back to the point.  (Is there a point?!)  In my book, today, January 6, is the 13th Day of Christmas and the day to celebrate Epiphany, if you do that sort of thing.  However, it is kind of hard to make much of Epiphany when the people out there who sometimes force your hand with regard to your schedule (think school and work here!) have sent you back to your duties. 

We always leave our Christmas decorations up through Epiphany--though we stop burning the outside lights afterwards if it falls early in the week, to wait for a convenient weekend time to take them down without becoming "those neighbors"!


In the absence of any great ideas that have worked their way into our holiday traditions at Epiphany (feel free to share if you have any meaningful practices up your sleeve!) I always use this opportunity to teach my Creative Writing students [and to remind my own children, as we are homeschoolers, after all!] about the differences in the various meanings of the word "epiphany."  So, first things first:

Epiphany (with a capital E) refers to the holiday, which is defined for us by About.com's Guide to Christianity Mary Fairchild as follows:

Epiphany, also known as "Three Kings Day" and "Twelfth Day," is a Christian holiday commemorated on January 6. It falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Though many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.

The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation" and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. Through the Magi, Christ revealed himself to the gentiles. In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's own Son. Likewise, on Epiphany some denominations commemorate Jesus' miracle of turning water into wine, signifying the manifestation of Christ's divinity as well.


(Notice that even she acknowledges the squirrelly nature of trying to pin down a date for the thing!)

Colloquially, the word *epiphany*refers to "a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience."  (This definition is provided to us by Dictionary.com.) 

"In other words," my students always tell me, "an epiphany is an *aha moment*!"  Well, yeah, pretty much.


Literarily, the word *epiphany* is "a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight."


I love teaching about epiphany.  I love those little commonplace moments--whether in literature or in life--that change us... that make us realize something extraordinary in the midst of the oh-so-ordinary... that, in some ways, define us...


And so I will end with an epiphany-of-sorts that I am in the middle of... that I'm just now starting to realize, as I see the profound truth that I am so prone to miss...

This particular musing has been brought on by Theodore Roosevelt, through the following quotation from his book, An Autobiography, published in 1913.


"For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison."


May I ever remember it... and seek to love and enjoy and not miss these wonderful ones living with us for just so-very-few-more years more!  All other forms of success and achievement do lose their importance by comparison! 

(Republished from past musings)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge

Today is the 12th Day of Christmas... and thus, the official end to the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge.

I love the exercise of writing... of capturing the thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head, and organizing them into something that makes some modicum of sense... of sharing those thoughts, however dull they may be on any given day, with those who care to read them... of chronicling the mundane and the ordinary from our daily-day life, and thereby--if only occasionally--hallowing it as something extraordinary.  It also forces me away from the tyranny of the urgent and back to the truly important, so often overlooked in our daily-day busyness!

Therefore, this year I am committing to continue throughout the year with the 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge.  The rules are simple:

1) Blog at least once each month, sometime during that month.  (You may post to an actual blog, if you have one.  If not, compose a note to be published on Facebook, or simply write it out longhand and share it with at least one other person.  Whatever works for you.  Just grab your thoughts, organize them, capture them in words, and share them with at least one other person.)

2) Give your blog post a clever title, using the title of or a line from a song.  (Identify the song at the bottom of the post.)

3) Include a photograph you took to accompany your post, if at all possible.  ("If at all possible" is the caveat for those of you who don't take pictures, or don't own a digital camera, or don't use a smartphone, or don't look at life with a photographer's eye... But maybe 2014 is the year to learn to do just that!  Look for ordinary miracles in your days, and capture them.  Look at life with gratitude, and express it.  I'm planning to, and I believe it will change me!)

Won't you join me?

"There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know 'til he takes up the pen and writes."    ~ William Makepeace Thackery

Saturday, January 4, 2014

If Only in My Dreams

My daughter OG is scheduled to get her braces off on Monday morning.  (This is 2 days away.  Yesterday it was 3 days away.  Last week it was 9 days away.  Last month it was 30 days away.  Ask me how I know this... how I have known this every day since her last appointment...)

This excitement at the certainty of getting her braces off on Monday morning has been curbed slightly by the true story one of her friends told her about going in to get his (her? I don't remember who it was!) braces off at the time they told him to expect to, only to be told that he had six more weeks to go.  "Can you imagine, Mom?" an incredulous OG had uttered.

She came in this morning equally incredulous, telling me about a dream she had last.  In it, she claims, it was time to leave for her appointment to get her braces off and I was working on a blog post.  (Like my friend Pam, I am only reliably regular about posting on my blog during the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge, so I have been blogging daily for the past 10 days.)

In this dream, apparently--in response to her, "Mom, it's time to go"--I stuck up a shush hand and gave her a mean look.  She waited a bit, then tried again.  "Mom, we really..." to which the mean-mommy-from-her-dreams replied, "Hush!  I'm working on my blog!"  Desperate, OG-from-her-dreams tried a third time, "But we're going to be late!"  Apparently I then told her, "We are not leaving until I finish this blog post!"  In this dream, mean mommy delayed too long, and OG missed her appointment and her chance to get her braces off.

Poor thing!  I assured her that her real mommy would never let the mean-mommy-from-her-dreams keep her from getting her braces off on Monday.  Unfortunately, her real mommy holds no sway over the orthodontist, however, so she'll have to take her chances with him!

Friday, January 3, 2014

We're Happy Tonight

I love camping. I love everything about it... the smells. the views. sleeping in a tent. cooking over a fire. walking through the woods to traipse to the bathroom. the sound of crickets and other singing insects. the freedom from the tyranny of the schedule. sleeping under the stars...

Given that I'm currently snug in my bed while it's in the teens outside, I can dream of those wonderful spring days ahead when we'll go camping.  Every year, my oldest daughter asks to go camping for her birthday. Some years we make, and some years we don't, but it's always exactly what I'd rather be doing if we're doing something else.

This spring, I hope to implement several of these great camping ideas!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Later we'll have some pumpkin pie...

Today, day TWO into "No Sweet Treats 2014," I almost cheated... I almost cheated accidentally, then I almost cheated deliberately.  We were at Costco, shopping for and visiting with some dear friends who moved to Johnson City, TN, where they have no Costco!  (How do you shop if you don't have Costco?!)

After our friends left, and my sweet daughters headed out to start loading our purchases into the car, I ducked into the ladies' room.  On the way out, as a fun surprise I knew would thrill them, I stopped and bought two churros for my girls.  (For the uninitiated, these are delicious!)

It never occurred to me that I had just purchased a forbidden sweet treat.  Truly!  It wasn't until I got out to the car and proudly presented my surprise...
puzzled looks... confusion...
"Mo-om!"
"What?!"...  (I'm a little thick!)...
"No sweet treats!"

I promise you I was that dumb!  I had totally forgotten.  As in totally.

"Oh no!  I totally forgot!"
Then it started...
A girl who will remain unnamed: "Weeelll, it's only the 2nd..."  (Hear long, sweet Southern drawl on that first syllable!)
The other girl: "It's okay.  You forgot.  It doesn't matter.  We won't do it again..."

How tempting those words were!  How much I suddenly wanted this thing I'd cared little for just three minutes earlier!

I was reminded of this verse, from Romans 7:8 ~ "But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. "

And so it was.  Now that I wasn't supposed to have it... wasn't allowed to have it... Oh how much more I wanted it!  I was thankful to be able to call on the name of the One who strengthens me to resist the lure (and justifications!) of my flesh, enabling me to resist the oh-so-tempting draw of the-thing-which-I've-seen-and-now-want, but which I shouldn't have.

Of course, those churros were not really forbidden, and it wouldn't have been sin to eat them, but I did have a very small picture of the sin battle right before my very eyes.

I gave them away to a surprised woman and her two delighted children.  And I did walk away!

Now only 363 days to go!



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

To face unafraid the plans that we've made...

No-Soda 2013 has come to a successful close!  For the past year, my family has chosen to forgo soda, together, in a show of family solidarity and as an exercise in self-control.

We are far behind my friend Pam's family!  The ones who last year inspired us to try this, they have participated over the past four years in No Fries 2010, No Soda 2011, No Fast Food 2012, and No Chips 2013.  Calling it a "family project," they have chosen to "eliminate something that's not good for us anyway," and to "pick it right back up when the year is over."  I love that.  No judgement.  No life pronouncements.  Just a year-long exercise in self-denial and mutual support.  It was nice.

Giving up soda was difficult for me at first, not because I drank it very often, but because when I did want it, I really wanted it.  Specifically, I really want soda if I'm having to eat at Taco Bell.  I would be fine to never eat Taco Bell again in my life, but my family likes it, so occasionally I find myself outnumbered in the family's we're-stuck-and-have-to-eat-fast-food-out, quick-dinner vote.  At those times, a Baja Blast Mountain Dew (which is only available as a fountain beverage at Taco Bell) is a must.  Well, not a must, I discovered this past year, but almost.  (In fact, in short order, our No Soda 2013 also became No Taco Bell 2013 by default, because it turns out that much of my family would just as soon skip the Taco Bell if you have to skip the Baja Blast as well.)

We (which term I use loosely since only us women were involved!) debated about what to give up this year.  Pam's family is giving up candy.  We don't eat a lot of candy, so my girls were against giving up something that would be "too easy."  We looked over the list of prior Team Fahs eliminations, but decided against each one: "We don't eat fries very much.  Or fast food.  How about we give up all fried foods?" [Our son works at Chick-fil-A. That wouldn't work!] - "But Mexican food has to have tortilla chips, and you make Mexican a lot!" [A good point. How good is taco salad, or how easy is pintos and cheese, without tortilla chips?!] - "I know. Let's give up popcorn!" Um. No.

My son had announced earlier, during previous discussions, that he would like to give up dessert this coming year.  We had rejected that out of hand as our family goal because we weren't willing to sacrifice special-occasion or traditional holiday desserts.  After a few minutes of clarifying discussion yesterday about the "rules" and "definitions" that would govern things, we decided that this would be No Sweet Treats 2014.  My son is thrilled with our choice, made in his absence.  My husband is not!

The revelation went something like this:
iivo, yesterday: "I'm planning to lose twenty pounds this year."
Me: "Wow! Good for you! Then you won't mind that we're giving up sweet treats this year."
iivo: "No, we're not."
Me: "Yes, we are. That's what we decided."
iivo: "Well, that's not what I decided!"
After a few minutes of catching him up on the discussion concerning the other possible (rejected) choices, he reluctantly agreed to join us.  But he immediately informed me that New Year's Day is a holiday, and that he would be eating some of the last remaining sweet treats on New Year's Day.  Hmmmm.  Clearly we'll need to clarify this one as we go along.  The rule?  Family vote will determine a majority consensus, but grace will be allowed for personal conviction.

No (Daily-Day) Sweet Treats 2014:
The clear-cut ones: (notice I didn't say the "easy" ones, since there's nothing easy about giving these up for a year!): no candy, no ice cream, no cookies, no cakes, no pies, no milk shakes

The exceptions: special treats served for birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays

The "gray areas" 
-->i.e. what to do with "special occasions" that aren't birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays:
*wedding cake at a wedding--of course you may
*shared dessert at the end of a date night--well, no (sigh)
*tasting a special sweet treat to avoid being rude in a certain situation--always avoid being rude!
- So, yes, when some friends from church invite you to dinner, and the five-year-old who worked on them all day brings out a plate of cookies after that dinner, eat a cookie!
- No, do not ask people to invite you over and offer you sweet treats! :)

-->i.e. what counts as a "sweet treat":
*mildly sweet muffins or quick breads (without chocolate chips!), pancakes or waffles, or cinnamon rolls (without frosting!) served at breakfast--fine
*those same foods served any other time of day, not at a meal--that's probably a sweet treat
*smoothies, lemonade, soda, fruit juice, etc.--fine
*milk shakes or Starbucks frozen drinks--nope!

-->i.e. what counts as a "holiday": all birthdays, anniversaries, holidays that Daddy (and other non-federal employees) have off from work, and holidays we've celebrated with a sweet treat in the past
*Thanksgiving and Christmas pies--yes!
*Valentine's Day or Halloween candy--nope
*Mardi Gras king cake--let's hope so
*New Year's Day?
--eating leftover New Year's Eve cookies because you weren't ready for No Sweet Treats 2014 to begin?  (Let's just say I didn't eat any, but we let our daddy do so!)
--eating a Reese's peanut butter cup in the candy jar at Nanny's because it happened to sound good to you, you never normally eat sweet treats, your Daddy is eating leftover New Year's Eve cookies, and you just had surgery?  (Who wouldn't say, "Yes, ma'am, have a piece of New Year's Day candy!"? :)

Things get clearer tomorrow.  Though it's true that "Every day's a holiday," for this year, at least, they don't all officially count as one! :)


Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?


Today (and I suppose it is now technically "yesterday," though I still count it "today" since I haven't yet gone to bed and put an end on the day that is December 31, 2013) I attended the funeral of a man I hardly knew, but whose wife and daughters I once knew quite well.  Over the years we have seen each other only sporadically, but it was an honor and a privilege to gather with them and their family and friends as they grieve the Christmastime death of their husband, father, son, coworker, and friend.

In an age of Facebook, one can have many "friends" who aren't really friends at all, in the traditional sense of the word.  In fact, I would venture so far as to say that Facebook, and other social media like it, have changed the way we think of friendship.  First (but not foremost!) "friend" is now a verb, not to be confused at all with "befriend," which requires some real effort and work.  Those who would have once been considered "acquaintances" (i.e. someone you're acquainted with or someone you know) are now considered "friends" on Facebook.  Intimate details about peoples' lives, shared publicly, keep us somehow connected to those whom we never see in person.  Our natural connection to them long past, we still stay (passively) involved in their lives by catching an occasional update on a screen.  Whether this is good or bad is debatable (and often hotly debated!), but the fact remains that it is true.

I watch the children of cousins I've never met, grow up via Facebook.  (And I often have "news" of them before my mother does, who is quite close to her siblings (their parents) in the traditional ways.  She will consider herself quite "current" and "modern"--and so she is, when compared to many of her contemporaries who refuse even to get on the computer!--when a picture of a grand-niece arrives via email; she then forwards me a photo that I saw three days ago on Facebook.)

I see the children of friends I knew many years ago grow up and go away to school, then graduate, and settle into vocations, and get married, and have children of their own, even though I haven't actually seen them in person since they were in elementary school.  I run into them by some happenstance and immediately speak of their lives as if I'm actually involved with them...and no one thinks this strange, this fact that would have made me a weirdo-stalker-person just ten years ago.

In fact, what is considered strange these days--what is rare and bizarre in the world of Facebook "friend suggestions" and "people you may know"--is to run into someone you once knew quite well whom you haven't even thought of in about twenty years.  This happened to me today at the funeral, and I was struck by the novelty of it...the strangeness.  I saw her across the room, this woman-from-church-twenty-years-ago whose husband I had prayed for for years (literally!), and I struggled through the dust-covered boxes of my brain to come up with her name.  ("It's 'Angela,' I think.")  The husband's name (he whose spiritual salvation I had prayed for hundreds of times!) came more slowly, but the "S" eventually lengthened into "Steve" in the cobwebs of my mind.  If my life had depended upon coming up with their last name, I wouldn't have been able to do it.  I approached she-whose-name-I-was-pretty-sure-was-Angela from across the room and struck up a conversation.  Her son, elementary age when I knew him, is now 25!  It was wonderful to see her, but it would have been strange to be too chatty and happy to see each other in the context of a funeral reception.

"Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind"?  No, I say!  And, thanks to Facebook, they don't have to be.  I just sent her a friend request this morning...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Now Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding


This post was almost called "Now Bring Us Some Piggy Pudding," but I decided that the following lyrical interaction (from one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together) didn't really qualify it as an official "line from a Christmas song":

All, singing merrily: "Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us..."
Miss Piggy, interrupting and indignant: "PIGGY pudding?!!"
Muppet response (if I were really good I'd know who it is--maybe Gonzo?):"No, FIGGY pudding.  It's made with figs."
Miss Piggy: "Oh."
Gonzo: "...and bacon!"
Miss Piggy: "What?"

You'll notice that the words, "Now bring us some piggy pudding" are never really actually uttered, and so I can't swipe it as a legitimate title for my blog post.

I've never actually eaten figgy pudding, so it's not much of an actual temptation to me, but it was obviously a delicious, treasured Christmas treat to lead folks to the infamous, "We won't go until we get some!"  And although I've not had literal figgy pudding, I have certainly eaten my share of delicious-holiday-foods-we-can't-do-without... more than my share, actually, which has been the problem.

This past 4th of July we returned home from what had amounted to a couple of weeks of fun feasting with both sides of our family--with my sister and her family (and my parents) at her lake house in Georgia, followed in the same month by a week up north with iivo's family.  Food, food, and more (delicious!) food was served, and we all ate like little piggies!

I returned home, stepped on my scale, and nearly passed out!  The number that I saw staring back at me was shocking.  Oh, I knew my clothes were especially tight.  I knew my face looked especially bloated. I knew that I'd been steadily gaining around five pounds every summer we'd done this, for years now (and another five-ish every "holiday season," too, if truth be told).  But something about seeing that number--that number that was up in the range of what my husband has weighed... that was larger than anything I'd ever come close to weighing, even when I was pregnant... that was dangerously close to pushing a tenth of a ton (gasp!)...

Well, I freaked out.  My weighing 178 pounds was simply not something I was willing to let continue. (Yes, it took me quite a bit of debating with myself to decide if I was going to post that number.  To some--as it did to me--it will seem shockingly high; to others, who are also larger-than-they-probably-should-be, it may seem discouragingly small.)  But it was my wake-up number, and when I saw it, I began to develop a plan for losing weight.  (This was my wake-up picture, too.  It was taken just before we left Massachusetts for home.  I'm the one on the top left of the picture--to my son's right--wearing a green and blue top and "looking a little chunky," as my kids say now.)

[At this point I should mention that I had made a deal last Christmas with my sister-in-law that our gift to each other this year would be that we would each try to lose 25 pounds.  My July-4th weigh-in was nearly ten pounds MORE than I had weighed at my January-1st weigh-in!  I was moving in the wrong direction!]

The first few pounds--those post-piggy-vacation ones that are really usually "overindulgence pounds" and not real, permanent weight gain--came off rather easily with just a return to eating moderately.  A couple more came off with the introduction of some strategic eliminations--sweet treats, junky snacks, flavored beverages--and eating smaller portions.  But beyond that, I was stuck.  I had tried to lose weight before, several times, without much success on my own.  After six pounds I stalled, and I knew that something more was needed to jump start me into serious weight loss.  I decided to pull out the big guns--a lifetime membership to Jenny Craig that I'd bought on the super-cheap a million years ago when I'd had to lose ten pounds FAST to fit into a bridesmaid dress that I'd outgrown between the fitting and the arrival!  Jenny Craig had had a "lose ten pounds free" promotion, where you just paid for food but got the rest of the benefits thrown in, and I'd jumped on it to lose ten pounds fast and fit back in the dress.  It worked, and after that month, they offered me some ridiculously cheap deal for a "free lifetime membership."  I was newly married, still relatively slim, and pre-children, but I decided to purchase it "just in case I ever need it some day when I'm older and have had kids and have gained a few pounds."  Well, praise the foresight!

I nervously called them, not sure how the, "Um, I bought a lifetime membership about twenty-five years ago that I've never used.  I don't have any paperwork or anything.  You wouldn't happen to have a record of it, would you?" spiel would go over.   Well, hooray for the woman whose job it was to enter all the pre-Internet-days folders into the computer system over the years, because there I was!

I must point out that there's nothing "free" about losing weight with Jenny Craig, even if you don't have to pay for the other parts of the program!  The food is very expensive.  However, it is pretty tasty, surprisingly satisfying, and it works!  I spent a small fortune jump-starting things in this way, but I lost twenty pounds in two months by exercising daily (until I broke my tailbone in late August) and by using the Jenny Craig program.  (My first weigh-in with them was 171.8 on 7/25.  My last weigh-in with them was 151.8 on 10/5.)

At that point we really, truly did run out of money for buying Jenny Craig food, so I went off the program and began to eat all "regular" (i.e. non-Jenny-Craig) food.  Having lost about 25 pounds total, and with the holidays coming up, my goal was no longer weight loss but maintenance.  (I knew I wouldn't succeed in the "lose 25 pounds" deal I'd made with my sister-in-law, since I'd turned it into a "lose 35 pounds" deal for myself by gaining ten pounds after the official starting weigh-in!)  And I knew I wouldn't likely lose weight over the holidays--especially without Jenny Craig and without an ability to work out since the broken tailbone in August.  So, I shifted my official goal to maintenance and told my Jenny Craig counselor I'd check-in for a weigh-in after the holidays.

I am pleased to say that I have pretty much achieved that goal. In fact, this morning I stepped on the scale and weighed in at 150.2.  (Don't think this means that I lost another couple of pounds--those are just the couple of pounds that my clothes weigh when I weigh-in at the Jenny Craig center. No naked, first-morning weigh-ins there! ;)

So, even through the "piggy pudding" of the past three months, I have kept off the pounds I lost!  Come next week, I'd like to start losing again.  My original goal--the "we'll see how I feel once I get there" weight that seems so far off at the start--was to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight (which has long been forgotten but which was somewhere below 140 pounds).  The Jenny Craig lady said, "Well, then how about 139?  That's a nice round number."  And so it is.

139, here I come!  After that?  Well, we'll see how I feel once I get there!

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By the way, my successful maintenance has survived the following food festivities over the past three months:

October
* Halloween candy, which somehow always manages to make its way into our home even though we don't go trick-or-treating

November
* November's two birthdays--my mother's and EL's--complete with the requested banana cream pie and cheesecake, respectfully
* another cheesecake, since the first one was "not quite right"
* The annual traditional pre-Thanksgiving Popeye's feast that my sister-in-law picks up on the way into town (think spicy fried chicken, biscuits, dirty rice, broccoli-grape salad, cole slaw, and--yes, you guessed it--cheesecake!)
* Thanksgiving and its glorious carb-heavy feast--complete with two turkeys, two kinds of potatoes, two kinds of bread, two kinds of stuffing, a gazillion side dishes, and two kinds of pie--pecan and pumpkin, with fresh whipped cream, thank-you-very-much

December
* Iivo's birthday in early December--There was some sort of yummy dessert that I'm not remembering right now. (I only remember that I refused to make a third cheesecake within a month!)
* Christmas treats from my students, EV's students, the kids' friends, and Iivo's co-workers... This is its own line item because it is a huge (and delicious!) category and this year's offerings took up the entire surface of the glass table in the kitchen!
* The annual traditional Christmas Eve dinner, consisting of multiple Chinese dishes, served family-style around the big round table at the local Chinese restaurant (See here for more on how that--and other bizarre--Christmas traditions came to be.)
* The Christmas feast (at my mom's house and prepared exclusively by her this year since we were doing surgery)--ham, warm potato salad, green beans, cranberry salad, rolls, and--again!--two pies with whipped cream
* various "popcorn movie nights," which bear mentioning since there have been lots of them (yay Christmas movies!), since I hardly like to watch a movie without popcorn, and since our popcorn is popped in oil and loaded with lots of real melted butter!  (Jenny Craig suggests a cup of plain air-popped popcorn.  Um, no.)
* a wedding reception, at which I consumed too much tasty food and punch and wedding cake

Yum!!  Three months of feasting!  It was all delicious, I skipped none of it (though I did try to be somewhat moderate) and I managed to keep the weight I've lost off.  Now let's see how I survive the New Year's Eve snacks that will arrive at my house tomorrow night!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Weary World Rejoices

Well, I must confess that it feels a little absurd to lift that line out of context and compare the rejoicing of the whole world regarding the incarnation of their Savior with the inane subject of Sunday afternoon R&R, but the "rules" of the Christmas Blog Challenge allow for such liftings without exposition of the original glorious meaning of the lyrics or acknowledgement of the banality of their new application.  So please bear with me.  I mean no disrespect!

I love Sunday afternoon R&R.  The original meaning of the phrase--rest and relaxation, I believe--has been expanded in this case to include any number of other r-activities: rest, relax, read, reflect, renew, refresh.  Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The practice of "quiet play time" was begun when my children were very young, as soon as they were old enough to give up taking two naps a day and went to only one.  The time of the morning nap was continued, but with "quiet play time" taking its place.  Mommy still got two times during the day away from the constancy of toddler-mothering--and at least one time away from everyone, once younger siblings came along and the children's naps were on different schedules.  This was good for everyone involved, and so was continued even once all napping ceased for a particular child, somewhere around the age of five.  "Quiet play time" was part of our kids' homeschool afternoons throughout many years of childhood, until the school load became intense enough that they could no longer spare the time.

This school year, however--when all of our school days are packed from morning gathering at 6:30 AM until bedtime whenever schoolwork is completed--it occurred to us that we will all always convince ourselves that we simply "cannot spare the time."  I remember my first introduction to the idea of the "tyranny of the urgent" in college, via Charles Hummel's book of the same name.  How frequently the urgent thing beats out the important thing in our schedules!  The thing-with-the-pressing-deadline or the thing-with-the-fixed-start-time will always win out if we let it, and that which is pressing in the short term will crowd out that which is pressing in the long term.  How subtly we begin to forgo that which will nourish our souls, without even realizing we're doing it.

So this year, after reading the wonderful book Sleep: It Does A Family Good, we began putting R&R time on the weekly schedule and fiercely guarding it.  Sunday afternoon opportunities are weighed carefully, and are only rarely allowed to break into the sacred Sunday-from-two-to-five time slot.

Sunday afternoon R&R does not always consist of a nap, though the findings of the sleep scholars that were put forth in the aforementioned sleep book bear repeating.  They have discovered--quite contrary to what we've always been told (which is that "you can neither 'make up' nor 'bank' sleep" and that "lost sleep is lost forever")--that extra daytime sleep, as long as it occurs within about ten days of the "lost" sleep that deprived us of our usual restorative amount, can make up for and correct the ill-effects of that lost sleep.  (It is interesting to me that the "within ten days" caveat discovered by the researchers--who were not Christians and made no reference or even connection to the Judeo-Christian Sabbath--pretty much assures that a regular practice of a weekly "day of rest" will always fall within ten days of whatever lost sleep threatens to lead to sleep deprivation!  How wise and loving our God is in His requirements of us, which are always ultimately for our good!)

That said, I always lie down during Sunday afternoon R&R and attempt to fall asleep.  If my body is tired and needs the extra rest, I can usually fall asleep quite easily.  Sometimes I sleep a short time and awaken refreshed and alert.  Sometimes I crash out into a "sleep like death," as we call it, and awaken after several hours, groggy and still terribly sleepy.  This serves me well, too, though, as it alerts me to the fact that I'm likely skimping too much on my nightly sleep during the week and that  I need to be more careful about re-establishing and guarding a good bedtime and wake time.

My children have varying opinions on naps--whether they like them, and whether they find that they affect that night's sleep for them.  But regardless of our differing opinions regarding the actual Sunday afternoon nap, we've all come to appreciate the forced, scheduled time to do that-which-we-don't-usually-make-time-for-during-the-week (but which we find refreshing, relaxing, and restorative).  The only "rule" is that it must be an "alone" activity--like "quiet play time" was those many years ago.  Reading a book for pleasure... putting in some good time writing (a particular favorite for my author son)... catching up on correspondence... knitting... whatever... If you find it relaxing and restful and restorative, there's a time for it carved out each week, for your benefit and blessing.

Today, my R&R time involved a quick nap--I fell asleep with my hand resting on the warm palm of my dear, snoring husband--followed by this time blogging.  This is an activity I deeply enjoy--capturing a swirl of thoughts and feelings and trying to coalesce them into some meaningful communication that makes sense--and rarely take time for amid the hustle and bustle of our daily days and their busy-ness.  How thankful I am that R&R time provides a guarantee for weekly refreshment, and that the annual Twelve-Days-of-Christmas Blog Challenge forces my hand to the blogging thing.  If nothing else, I'll try to capture some meaningful "memory moments" for my children to read one day, if they're ever so inclined.  In the meantime, it's good for me.  Indeed, the "weary world rejoices" when forced from its franticity into deliberate pursuit of rest

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas, Darling

Today I attended a wedding--one of those wonderful ones where you're not sure which side of the church to sit on since you know and love both families equally well.  Friends of my children, the bride and the groom met in high school, began courting soon thereafter, and are now--at the ripe age of 21--husband and wife.

I love weddings.  It is such an exciting time, full of joy and hope and romance and fun.  But it is also serious business, reviewing the truths of God's plans for matrimony.  I love the part when my husband invariably reaches over and takes my hand in his, and we listen to vows taken... promises made... truths spoken... about faithfulness and cherishing and honor and love.  I love feeling the warmth of my own forever promise as his hand reaches out and entwines itself in mine.  Listening to those words, hand-in-hand with the one you made your own vows to so many years ago... well, it's a good thing. Remembering it all.  Hearing it all again.  Promising all over again, with each little squeeze and caress.

I especially love Christmastime weddings!  Perhaps it is a sentimental attachment to our own story, the shake-up that happened when two old friends from college were in their friends' wedding together during the first Christmas season after graduation, providentially assigned to stand on the same row for a front-row seat to all the promise-making.  I was engaged to someone else at the time, the victim of a whirlwind romance with an older man who had swept me off my feet and flattered me by his certainty that I was the one he'd been searching and waiting for. Until I saw my old friend iivo, former roommate of the groom, and was suddenly filled with doubt.  That's a long story for another time, but suffice it to say that I was undone, standing so close to our dear friends and watching them promise these things to one another.  It was so holy... so intimate... so vulnerable...  They lit the unity candle and returned to their places and, as they waited along with the rest of us for the soloist to finish her song, they just stared at each other.  Gazing deeply into each others' eyes, they spoke volumes to one another without a word.  I remember feeling like I was eavesdropping on something private and intimate, and having to look away.  I remember thinking, "I could never look at M (my fiancĂ©) like that," and I remember the lump in my throat that turned into a growing knot in my stomach.

Again, that's a long story for another time, but watching all that promise-making and intimate gazing, all those years ago, was powerful.  I knew I was watching something mysterious and holy, this joining of two hearts and lives before God, 'til-death-do-us-part. And it happens again every time I watch a Christian wedding.  I am filled with awe.  And wonder.  And mushy sentimentality.  And deep gratitude.  Oh, how I love this man who gave himself to me--fully and freely and forever--and who lives out those vows in the beauty of daily grace.  As Keelan and Lydia share the waning days of Christmas together, their first as husband and wife, I am so happy to be lying next to my own darling, some 25 years after sharing that Christmas-wedding row together.

 "Merry Christmas, Darling," indeed!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Making Spirits Bright

Happy Third Day of Christmas!

Today I share with you my favorite Christmas gift of all this year... A song offering that some dear friends of ours sent to us the night before my daughter's surgery.

This was absolutely perfect.  We received it the night before surgery as we were watching Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.  (This is the perfect movie to watch the night before you go in to have surgery, no matter how risky.  If they can do that, they can certainly cut one constricting ligament... Easy peasy!)


The creation of this song video was touching on so many levels, but the greatest thing, I think, was the open declaration that there would be a "next Christmas" for EV, and that the surgery would be successful enough that she will be able to eat without pain afterwards.  We know that we have no guarantees of either one, but it is what we ae hoping for.  It is our will, and it is what we hope is the Lord's will.  Thank you, Mark and Will, for such a fun gift on the eve of EV's surgery.  You'll never know just how encouraging it was!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

He Comes to Make His Blessings Flow

Today is Boxing Day.  No, we're not British (although some of my children have taken to saying "Happy Christmas" over the past several years in what I believe is a nod to the beloved Harry Potter books they enjoyed so much) and we don't "celebrate" the holiday of Boxing Day in any sort of "official" way.

What is Boxing Day, anyway?!

From Mental_Floss.com:  Relax, Hallmark conspiracy theorists. Boxing Day isn’t some prank to confuse America—it’s a real holiday! Here’s how the world celebrates.
Boxing Day is observed every year on December 26. Before it took on its feistier name, the holiday was known as St. Stephen's Day.
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Many historians think the holiday’s name is derived from the church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing money to the poor.
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Historically, British employers followed the church’s lead by sliding workers and servants gifts or cash on December 26. Merchants tossed servants a few coins, too, for bringing in a household's business.
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Why give Christmas gifts the day after Christmas? Because the servants spent Christmas and Christmas Eve scrambling to pull off big holiday dinners for their masters.
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Ireland sometimes refers to December 26 as Wren Day, a nod to an old tradition in which poor children would kill a wren, then sell the feathers to neighbors for good luck. In today’s celebrations, the wren is fake.
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Despite the name, British observances of Boxing Day involve no fisticuffs. For patricians, however, another sport rules the day: fox hunting.
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In other countries, Boxing Day celebrations are more literal. Many former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean celebrate the holiday with prizefighting events.
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Like most Western holidays, Boxing Day has become pretty commercialized. With big sales and bigger crowds, Boxing Day is the British answer to Black Friday.

Note: This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.  Read the full text here.

Though we don't commemorate Boxing Day, tradition around here has grown to include a yearly giving of donations that serve others in lieu of gifts from us parents to our children.  They opted several years ago, after looking through several Samaritan's Purse and World Vision catalogs, to forgo their own receipt of gifts from us, and to have us instead give life-sustaining, life-enhancing gifts of chickens or goats or sewing machines and the like... Gifts that provide a means for poverty-stricken families to find a way to feed themselves, or to provide a trade for making products that can be sold or traded to provide for their families.

How appropriate that this Second Day of Christmas, when each child sits down and declares what he would like to provide using his $100 allotment, should be the day of the "church practice of opening alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing money to the poor."

We are blessed with so much--and our offering is so small in light of the enormous needs around the world--but each year we seek to relinquish a little of our own self-focused wanting and buying and spending and giving, and hope to make a difference in some small way in someone else's life, in the name of the One who gave His life that others might live.

As we give practical, life-giving gifts halfway around the world in His name, may "His blessings flow far as the curse is found"!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

That is a picture of my sweet EV, home from the hospital after successful surgery.  ("Median arcuate ligament syndrome release," she had to tell each of the half dozen doctors and nurses who asked her to answer the question, "What procedure are you having done today?"  I guess this is part of how how they keep from doing something wrong to the wrong person!)

She is sleeping soundly on Nanny and Grampa's couch while the rest of us prepare to eat a Christmas feast around the holiday table in the other room.  This year we are so thankful that our little "babe" is here with us as we celebrate the coming of the Savior Babe on that amazing night long ago.

Thank you, dear Lord, that Your will was for her to live another day.  May she--and all of us--praise You and give You great glory for each day You give us here on earth!

And, for your enjoyment, here are some pictures of other things you need for a successful Christmas Eve Surgery Experience:

A cool cap: "Look, I'm a lunch lady!"
A silly daddy, keeping it light...

...and fool-proof, non-slip socks


Wonderful church friends who will show up at 6-something in the morning (with bagels!)
to pray with and support your waiting parents...


A supportive Grampa to don the decorations and make you smile...
... and take your picture!
Wonderful nurses who are willing to work on Christmas Eve...
...a good friend working triage downstairs
who will come up and visit you...
...an iv in each hand...
...a friend or two to hold your hand...


...and, most important of all, a Savior who holds you in the palm of His hand (Isa. 49:16), and who promises "never to leave you or forsake you" (Deut. 31:6)!