Monday, July 14, 2014

Baby Bluebirds

From this:


to this:




Apparently we missed the laying of a fourth egg while we were off with my son to his summer orientation for college.  As our little bluebird couple prepares to fledge their second brood of the summer, we are preparing to fledge our second-born off to college.  Soon after we recover from that, we will "fledge" our first-born in marriage.

Hooray for our little bluebird house, and our first batch of babies!  Someday they'll look like this:

 








Someone with more time and photographic skill on her hands than I have, chronicled the entire process here

I'm viewing these little birds as a living reminder to me of the normalcy and naturalness of sending your babies off--once they're ready--to face the world without you. It is strange to think that soon two of my children will be living elsewhere. I will miss them desperately. (If one's children are burdensome or irksome, I would imagine it might be nice to arrive at the, "Bye, see you later!" stage of things. But when they're delightful--and you count them among your very best friends and enjoy being with them as much as anyone on the planet--it is pretty difficult!)

I would imagine in the end, it feels a little bit like this:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We Had Seasons in the Sun



As I read this post from Shauna Niequist this morning, I was filled with nostalgia and family memories of summers gone by on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We don't have our own little island, and our memories don't house conch fritters and row-boat rides, but I loved reading about her precious times with her family, and the million little memories that have stacked onto one another over their years of visiting the same place, together.

Ever since my parents scraped together the funds to buy a piece of heaven-on-earth when I was in high school, we've been able to stack memories, one on top of the other, of yearly summer weeks spent together.  And Memorial Day.  Labor Day.  Cold winter weekends to get away during the off-season--just you and some folks you love sharing nothing in particular, but doing it together.  Retreats for church women--that much-needed get-away for harried young mothers, afforded only because of the generosity of my folks.  I doubt they knew all they were providing when they made that purchase all those years ago.  My family has precious memories I could never have afforded to provide--not even once, let alone year after year--because of the generous provision of two parents who gathered the generations by the seashore every summer.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for providing us with this blessing for all the years of our married life!  Our family trips to the NC shore are precious to me.  I'm full of precious memories with precious people over many precious, fleeting years.

From quiet, carefree, joy-filled days getting to know each other as husband and wife... to a tiny newborn sleeping in a drawer... setting up sun tents for sandy, sleeping infants (who no doubt have sand clutched in their teeny fists)... fits thrown at bedtime, or when it's time to get out of the hot tub... little cloth sun hats that cover tiny heads and necks, and shade little pudgy cheeks...  toys and games in the owners' closet, like old friends who meet us for a once-a-year visit...

Fresh fruit and veggies from Powell's on the way in... little pink, sunburned cheeks... meltdowns on the back nine as we play putt-putt past bedtime... sandcastles... working on puzzles together in the hot room with the ice machine... little girls fighting over who has to sleep on the trundle bed... MuMama's blue beach chair... Tripoly... making t-shirts together at that cool clothing shop... stopping for BBQ buffets... looking for shells and sea glass in the cool of the early morning...

Stepping on Pooh guys by the upstairs wood table... fireworks on the beach... chasing sand crabs in the dusky twilight... five little girls always pairing up to leave someone "out"... that bouncy, green cart with yellow wheels, full of shovels and buckets and coolers and all manner of fun... the respite of shade under a colorful umbrella... Rummikub... watching the neighbors' illegal firecrackers catch the dried sea grass on fire--and having to call the fire department!... Cabin Boy... bike rides to the pool... a buried body with a sandy mermaid's tail... honey buns for breakfast... Yahtzee... boursin... spying on feral cats from the balcony...


Lazy naps in a hammock... having to take turns with boogie boards and skim boards and huge, floating rings... offering your great-grandmother an arm on the walk to the ocean... knowing your great-grandmother--and I mean, really knowing her...

Taking refuge in a dark theater on yet another rainy day... Lighthouse bagels... late-night neighbor-partying keeping everyone awake... little fits and tears over sunscreen in little eyes... swinging on the swing set by the community pool... sunburned ears or feet because someone forgot about coating them... "Ssssh!  Aunt Nita's still asleep on the couch!"... early morning walks through Pine Island...

 
Looking for a bargain at the "all merchandise 50% off" spots... adding whatever is needed to the community grocery list... baths in Nanny's big, jetted tub... "reapply!"... dear dogs running on the beach, which may just be what doggie heaven is like now for Huckie and Zach and Little and Winston... guitars and fiddles and ukeleles...

Skinned elbows and knees from bike-time wipeouts... a huge lazy Susan... a row of bikes heading to the grocery store or to get Duck Donuts... Nita's spaghetti, and Nanny's pound cake, and MuMama's banana pudding: the tastes of beach week... "and now we're having fun writing songs with the fam..."

"There will be a day when memories will be all we have," said Shauna Niequist.  Tears spring to my eyes as I consider how true this is.  I think of many people I have loved, those I can now only meet in my memory.  I know the time is short... with our parents, one of whom is already passed from this life to the next.  With our children, one of whom is already pledged to another, beginning to dream about what life will look like when "home" isn't the same place as my own four walls.  I cry for my pastor, whose son was unexpectedly snatched from them a month ago by a gunman's stray bullet.  I cry for my sweet friend Jeanine, who entered her final rest from her courageous battle with cancer just 36 hours ago.  I cry for their family members and friends, who now visit with those they love only in memories.  The time given us is short, and life is fleeting, and in a matter of moments we have say goodbye... whether we were ready to or not.

I am driven to a desire to live each moment to the fullest--in connection--and to never waste another precious moment of life fighting or arguing or taking those I love for granted!  I am driven to a desire to capture memories better than I do--more pictures, more videos, more snapshots of daily-day life with those precious ones who live in my circle, at least for this day.  I am driven to a Savior, who comforts my pain--and that of my friends--and who has made a way of lasting comfort and joy for me: that I may know Him in this life, and that I may know Him--and my loved ones who also know Him--forever in the life to come.  "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" - John 17:3.

"Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" - Psalm 23:6.  And until that day, may I live life deliberately, like one who is "stealing against the inevitability of time," and loving every minute of it I'm given.  Thank you, Shauna, for the reminder!

*Entry 7, July - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the song "Seasons in the Sun," recorded by Terry Jacks, and then by the Beach Boys, and then covered by many others.  It is an adaptation of Rod McKuen's lyric poem, which is itself an English translation of a French one, "Le Moribond."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lost With You in a Poem I'm Writing

A few key moments
Reside in my memory
Differently from the others.
Strong.
Stubborn.
Tenacious.
Relentless.

Permanently preserved—
Perfectly preserved—
By the intensity of emotion
Of a single, tragic moment.
Chemicals, I suppose.
The same stuff that makes you fall down
And faint
When they knock on your door
At 2 a.m.
And a uniformed voice asks you if you're you.

Others reside deeply,
Intensely,
But vaguely...a hazy blur of emotional swirl
Of memory
And feeling.

I feel them in my gut, yes, but softly.
Tenderly.
A strange blend of nausea and euphoria
That eats at me in a delicious way.

I savor these moments,
The beautiful ones.
I call them up into my mind
and feast on them sometimes.
Just "hang out" there,
Remembering.
Reliving.
Reveling.

Like the first time your hands cupped my face
And your lips touched mine.
Urgent and tender.
Long-awaited connection.
Like the look on your face
when you saw me hiding on that bunk bed.
Like the night after you said, "I will" and "I do."
I still feel the golden rope being carefully fastened
by trembling hands,
The hair swept aside from my longing neck.
Your lips finding me from behind
As I gulped and sighed and burned with longing.

A little hand reached up to that same face
(Only older. Always getting older.)
And touched me.
And he whispered,
In the bedtime darkness
of once upon a time,
"Mama, you're my best lady."
I could live in that moment
Like the bass line of that one William Ackerman song.
Breathing, touching, living—
just barely—
thanksgiving.
And praise.
And worship.

But life isn't all good moments
And they're not all clothed in hazy mist
and smiles.
Some haunt me by stubbornly refusing to be hazy.
By being sharp and clear and focused and terrible.
Relentless.
That pink beach ball of a baby
Floating face down in sparkling blue.
The cry of our sweet Dog Mom,
Bursting through the door,
Screaming that Little had been struck by a car.

And now, your face.
That look on your face.
Disbelief and grief.
("Oh God, what's wrong?")
First-morning news that there was a message
(Has any middle-of-the-night message
Ever been good
In the history of the world?)

Grief and disbelief.
Your eyes meet mine.
Your face is scaring me.
(And those damned chemicals have
Burned it into my brain
Forever.)

"There's a message from Rico
(You are shaking and visibly shaken.)
That there's been an accident
(Your voice is strange. Weak. Halting.)
And apparently Mark Rodriguez has been killed."

Hands on my face again,
This time my own.

I place my trembling hands over my mouth
As the guttural cries of "What?" and "No!"
Burst out anyway.
I've lost control of my body.
If I weren't on my bed I know I'd be falling.
The pain in my chest has climbed to my throat
And I think I may throw up.
The pit in my stomach grows
And I try to make sense of the words
But I can't hear you
And I can't breathe
And these damned tears blur the texts
That were sent my way as I slumbered.

Yes, some moments are burned into my memory
Like scars on nail-pierced hands.
How do we do this, Lord?
You, who lost a son,
Who gave a Son,
How do we unclench the fist
And let him go?
How?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

This past week, my son graduated from high school.  It is a milestone, to be sure, and one I hope to commemorate here someday soon.  I am so proud of him, but not for what he's accomplished or what he's done or what he will do or even who he is--though I love (and really like!) who he is.  No, I am feeling today the reality that my son was five years old three weeks ago.  I remember hearing someone at the annual homeschool convention say one year, "I'm here to tell you, mamas, the days go by slow, but the years go by fast."  How right she was!  How can it be that I have graduated a second student from our homeschool already?  Didn't we just start this journey, curling up in bed with flashcards and learning to read?

I heard an old Stevie Nicks song yesterday that just made me start bawling.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older, too...

So, can I handle the seasons of my life?  I don't know.  I really like this one I'm in, and I know that it is careening me toward another one, when these little ones entrusted to me won't be with me anymore and the Lord will call me to be mothering in a different, less active, less daily-day way.  For now, though, I'll enjoy every moment and buckle up for the ride.

*Entry 5, May - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the Stevie Nicks song "Landslide."


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Life Is Beautiful

Once again, I find myself in a season of life that is too busy, and I'm falling down on the Blog Challenge I issued myself and my students.  There are so many things going on, and I keep meaning to grab a few minutes and write about them here, but I just can't seem to find any spare ones.  I hate it when my schedule gets like this.  I'm grading some really exciting final stories from my students, which I love doing, but it really does eat up a lot of my time, and my chance to do my own crafting and creating and musing goes out the window.

My husband and my son spent ten days together in China last month.  What an amazing opportunity!  What a special memory!  I had hoped to post some pictures and some thoughts about that, but it flew by, and now it is a month later.

This Easter weekend, my husband and I are celebrating 22 years of marriage, spending our wedding anniversary apart from each other for the first time in our marriage.  (I think, but I can't be sure, which shows you how much of a not-big-deal it is--or isn't!  We can survive being apart on an important day!)

But it was also just my father-in-law's 80th birthday, and I had so wanted to be able to be there with him to celebrate that.  Perhaps it was its being juxtaposed against our wedding anniversary... or perhaps it was the nostalgia of not being with the rest of my family there in NC for the celebrating... perhaps it is the ever-present awareness that my sweet mother-in-law is no longer with us... Whatever the inspiration, I am feeling nostalgic to the point of weepy this morning.

But alas, student papers call, and the screaming roar of editorial deadlines is ever before me, and so I must leave the musing to another time.  Oh, may I not miss one moment of the glories of life--both the beautiful, easy moments and the painful, poignant ones--even as I do miss the opportunity to get it all down on a blog!

Happy birthday, Opa.  Happy anniversary, my love.  And happy happy-sad day, world.  Thank you, Lord, for the beauty of life.  Thank you for beauty from ashes and for the certainty of Your loving Presence, which walks with us through it all.  And thank you for the amazing reality of Your death and resurrection, which we celebrate this weekend.  May the reality of it--the truth of it--be ever in my heart and ever on my lips!

*Entry 4, April - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is the title of many a song, but I had no particular one in mind when I chose it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

...'til he takes up the pen and writes

I am a teacher, and one of the great privileges of my life is teaching young writers to express themselves better on paper.  I am deeply humbled by this privilege, for I know that there are far better writers out there than me, and I know that all of us can be better writers than we are.  However, watching a few of my students wake up to their potential and to the glory of taking one's thoughts to the keyboard or the pen and capturing them... refining them... perfecting them to communicate just what you want them to... It is glorious work indeed.

Very soon their "writer's notebooks," which they've used every week for this school year to practice the art of writing well--whether writing descriptively, writing in different points of view, or writing using different tenses--will shift from being solely places of "assigned writing" and "writing prompts" and will move into being the writing of journals.  They will be forced, by assignment, to write a first-person journal entry to the Lord.  They will be forced to capture their daily thoughts and feelings in love letters to God.

My goal, of course, is that this forced habit will be continued long after our class is over, just like the daily reading for pleasure, and the Scripture memory, and the blogging, and the writing and memorizing and reading of poetry...  My prayer for them is that they will be blessed daily by all these things, and by communion with the Lord through written journal writing.  Whether that comes to pass, of course, remains with them!

"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

 *Entry 3, March - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge

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, February - 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, January - 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!