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!

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

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

* 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

* 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 fiancé) 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 vow 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  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite the name, British observances of Boxing Day involve no fisticuffs. For patricians, however, another sport rules the day: fox hunting.
In other countries, Boxing Day celebrations are more literal. Many former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean celebrate the holiday with prizefighting events.
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... 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)!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

He Rules the World

Merry Christmas!  This has been a very different sort of Christmas year for us, since my daughter EV is having surgery this morning.  (We're "making it up as we go along" in terms of how to apply our traditions and work around the craziness of surgery on the morning of Christmas Eve!)  But, for now, let's suffice it to say that this has been a year of learning to trust the Lord.

Four months ago I broke my tailbone ("Yep, there it is; snapped it right in two," said the doctor reading the x-ray!) and I am still suffering from significant pain in the area and in my back.  That's challenging to trust the Lord's timing with, yes, but it is nothing compared to sending your 19-year old "baby" under the knife for risky surgery!

For several years now, EV has been suffering with significant pain every time she eats--no matter what she eats or how much she eats.  She has suffered through several elimination diets in an effort to ferret out any food allergies that may be the culprits.  She has spent months on several different "special diets" that have helped countless others to rid themselves of their food and eating problems.  None of it has worked. She's been poked and prodded and scoped and tested by a variety of doctors, and all of the tests have come back negative.  No, it is not celiac disease, nor Crohn's diesase, nor IBS.

Finally, doctors believe they have found the cause.  They think that EV has MALS (median arcuate ligament syndrome), a condition in which a cluster of arteries that is normally an inch or two down from the median arcuate ligament is actually much higher, compressed under the ligament, causing pain whenever blood flow is increased to the area for digestion.  (Hence, pain every time you eat!)  They cannot know for sure that this condition is the cause of the pain, but when all other more-common issues have been eliminated, if this is present, there is an assumption that it likely is.

When the surgeon explained the situation to us, he also explained that this surgery will correct that constriction, and that--if that is the cause of the pain-after-eating--there is an 80% chance that the surgery will stop it.  He further explained that the surgery is pretty risky, since there are five major arteries in the area that he must avoid cutting as he seeks to cut the ligament that is compressing three of them.  It is laparoscopic surgery, where they make six small incisions and head in with cameras and instruments and other surgical paraphernalia.

When we left the surgeon's office after that consultation, I asked my daughter, "Well, EV, what do you think?  They're not sure that's what is causing the pain, or that this surgery will correct it.  And the surgery itself is pretty risky.  You wanna do it?"

She did not hesitate for an instant.  "Yes!" she exclaimed excitedly.  (Only someone who has hurt every single time she's eaten for the past several years can know what an exciting offer an 80%-chance-of-no-pain is!)

"Even if you may die?" I asked.

"Yes, Mom.  'All the days ordained for (me) were written in (His) book before one of them came to be,' remember?" she quoted.  "If this is how I go, then this is how I go."

At 19, she's not really a child any more, but I was so struck by the childlike trust my daughter exhibited in that moment.  Total understanding that this could be the day she dies, and yet total trust in her good God and His perfect plan.

So, this year, we learn to demonstrably embrace what we've always said we believe: that these children of ours are gifts from the Lord; that He loves them even more than we do; and that He is good and loving in all His works, all the time.

And we are joined by hundreds of friends around the city and around the globe who are joining us in praying for successful surgery.  May the good, pleasing, and perfect will of our Father be that our sweet EV lives another day to praise Him here on earth.

Monday, December 23, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge

Each year for the past several years, my friend Pam has organized a December blog challenge.  Here's what she has to say about it (from her blog post on Christmas Day this year):

For at least the past three years, I’ve participated in a “12 Days of Christmas Blog Contest.” The rules are simple: blog every day for each of the twelve days of Christmas, and give each blog post a title based on a line from a Christmas carol or song.  Easy peasy.  The first year, several of my friends and I played the game.  The second year, less than a handful played.  And then in the third year, I may have played with just one other friend.  Nonetheless, I find that it is the only time of year that I blog, and it has been the only time of the year that I deliberately take the time to sit, think, write, and share.  I do love to write, so blogging on the 12 days of Christmas has become an exercise to which I look forward each year. I am also committed to celebrating all twelve days of Christmas — December 25 – January 5. Therefore, this year will not be a “contest” or a “game.” It will just be a period of writing and celebration.

Well, I guess I am that "one friend" from last year, and I'm in on it again this year, too.  Why?  Because it forces me, during one of the only times of the year that I'm "off" from teaching and homeschooling duties, to catch some thoughts and memories in writing.  It is a good exercise.  It is a nice discipline. And I have so many thoughts running through my head this year--and every year!--that it is good to stop and capture a few of them.

This year, things are crazy for us.  I don't know how much posting I'll get done throughout these first few days of Christmas, since we will be in the hospital all day Christmas Eve with my daughter EV's surgery.  In fact, I think I'll get a head start on the blog challenge by cheating and starting on Christmas Eve.  That way, if I miss a day, I won't technically be disqualified.  Besides, who doesn't consider Christmas Eve one of the Days of Christmas, in the purest of technical senses!

Merry Christmas 2013!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Earning Screen Time

This post is unabashedly swiped--with permission, of course--from my friend Pam's blog.  The original post appeared on her blog exactly as it appears below.  This idea should be shared far and wide, I think, and I wish I'd had it eons ago!  We have had pretty much the same policies in our home, but without the signed contract, so the onus was on me to check every single time a request was made (or to remember to ask about every single thing, every single time a request for screen time was made).  This led to much more relational tension than necessary over every request and every infraction...and a lot of "flying under the radar" with screen time infractions that were a little too "gray" to catch every time. (I'm talking about you, Google searches--and YouTube viewings--during study time!)  Such a brilliant plan!  My friend Pam and her husband do most parenting things really, really well, and I just wish we were coming along behind them instead of their coming along behind us!  Such wisdom to glean from!  Here's her post:
During this month’s Moms’ Support Night for the homeschooling group of which I’m a part (Shout out to Homesteaders Homeschoolers! Woo hoo!), a few of us shared Top 10 Tips for organization and management of our own home schools.  One of the tips I shared was our family’s use of an “Earning Screen Time” contract.  For us, “screen time” involves any non-school/non-educational activities including TV shows, movies, games, televised sports events, videos, SportsCenter highlight clips on YouTube (which are extremely popular in our home!), etc. on any electronic screen such as iPad, iPod, DS, TV, laptop, or cell phone.  In order to earn one hour of screen time each day, our children must complete eight tasks, as listed on the contract.  Additionally, the contract delineates “infractions” that would lead to losing the very privilege of earning screen time — and we are sure to let our children know that it is a privilege indeed.  The happy results include more completed school work, more consistent quiet times with the Lord, neater bedrooms, and an overall cleaner house!
At the beginning of each school year, we update our contract, print it out on brightly colored (i.e., easily recognizable and grab-able in the event that we must point out an “infraction”), and have our children agree to it and sign it. I guess technically they could refuse to sign it and not ever earn screen time, but that is highly unlikely with our brood.  Once the contracts are signed, I place them in plastic page protectors and hang them prominently on our school room’s white board so they are super handy — just in case!

A few Homesteaders moms asked if I would share the contract, and, of course, I’m delighted to do so. So here it is!  It appears below, or you may use this Word document which would allow you to make changes as appropriate for your own family: Earning Screen Time 2013  I wish you much success with it. But please just promise not to tell your kids that I gave you the idea! :)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Homeschooling in the US

I thought this was an interesting infographic about homeschooling in the US.  It has certainly been a distinct pleasure and a huge success for our family!

Homeschooled: How American Homeschoolers Measure Up

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Exercise Is Just Plain Good

And I don't necessarily mean that it is good for you, although that is unarguably the case.  We all know that.  It doesn't necessarily make us do it. 

 I'm talking something much more base, much more immediate, much more self-serving...and something I want to remember forever, when I'm tempted to forget.  When I'm tempted to stop exercising--as I always am--I want to remember this:  
Exercise makes me feel better.  

So this post is to my future self, the one who will decide that:
+ she's too tired (Remember, you feel much less sleepy when you exercise!)
+ her back hurts (Remember, it hurts less when you exercise regularly!)
+ she doesn't have time (Remember, you have lots more energy when you exercise!)
+ it's too cold (Remember, you can use the treadmill or the elliptical!)
+ it's boring (Remember, there's always Netflix--the inferior motivation for us "less-spiritual-than-Ann-Voskamp-who-listens-to-Scripture-read-aloud-while-she-exercises" types!)

Remember, future self: Exercise makes you feel better!!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. 

On this day every year I remember, with a bittersweet mix of grief and gratitude, the five little ones our family has been blessed with since our fourth child was born. 

One day we'll meet you in heaven, dear Jordan, Eden, Carlan, Quinn, and Ellery. Though we never properly met you, we miss you just the same. 

Three years ago, in late July, I wrote of the loss in a post entitled Losing Ellery

Well, as I sit here recovering from the grogginess--general anesthesia yesterday, dozing in and out of sleep all morning--I pause to capture a few emotions.  The nurse yesterday told me the anesthesia would be in my system for at least 24 hours, and that I shouldn't drive, cook, operate machinery, or make any important life or financial decisions during that time.  The last one made me smile.  Does getting on the computer to post emotions to the world on a blog count?!

At any rate, here they are--groggy, confused, and "under the influence"--but this is what I'm thinking about on this day.

This D&C was the first I've had performed under general anesthesia.  In some ways, it is much easier, emotionally, that way. Well, at least during the "during"...

The natural miscarriage that was our first one--at thirteen weeks--was really horrible.  There was lots of bleeding (as in "you might as well just sit on the toilet" bleeding) and excruciating pain (as in "this feels just like labor, but I don't get the joy of a baby at the end of it so it is even worse" pain).  We had been taken aback by that first miscarriage--shocked, really--because I had never had any trouble before.  The kids and we were so excited about the baby, and we were all pretty devastated when it died.  We called that baby Jordan.

The next miscarriage was my first D&C and was actually two procedures since they didn't get all the tissue out the first time.  I was awake for these procedures--and the barbaric nature of it all is in your face as you listen to the grinding motor of the suction machine, wince under the pain of the scraping and poking going on inside you, hear the sounds of the "uterine contents" that is your baby make its way into the jar attached to the machine.  It really does seem like something out of early last century; you'd think this technology would have progressed beyond blind scraping and sucking with a machine that looks like something you'd use to blow up your air mattress.  Anyway, this is different from the natural miscarriage that lasts days in your home, but still emotionally difficult as well as physically uncomfortable, and you tend to cry all the way through it, too.  Nurses and doctors who want to be compassionate but who do this all the time give you small smiles of pity, and you just want to crawl away somewhere and bawl.  But you put on a brave face and assure them you're fine, and yes, they can keep going.  We called this baby Eden.  

My third miscarriage was, mercifully, more like a very heavy period, just six weeks along, a mere two weeks past the positive pregnancy test.  By three-in-a-row, you're getting a little jaded and numb anyway, so it was nice to have this baby leave us in a little less emotional way.  By this time, I began to realize that I was dealing with the pain of the loss separate from the procedure of the miscarriage itself... it was more of a lengthy, philosophical journey of "processing" and pain and prayer and tears.  Saying goodbye to little babies you'll never meet is difficult business...this one we called Carlan.

Our fourth miscarriage ended with another D&C; that time, like this one, my body was not getting the hint that the baby had died and that all this pregnancy stuff it was growing was not needed.  The moment the machine started up--though it had been years since the last one--all the emotions of the past D&Cs returned, and I relived the loss of all our babies even as I had to listen to them "remove" this one.  It is tricky stuff, trusting God in the pain of our lives, receiving His will when it seems so out of sync with what you think you would prefer.  This fourth little life was relinquished a couple of years ago now, at a little over ten weeks along.  That child we named Quinn.

For a couple of years after this, I did not conceive.  I had begun blogging by then, and was processing a lot of the emotions of these losses onscreen.  I find it therapeutic, having to capture all the myriad of thoughts and emotions into some sort of coherent thing that I can come back to and read.  I remember my 41st birthday being particularly difficult, as I faced the reality that my advancing age may, in fact, rob us of the joy of another child born into our family.

And so now, at age 43, we say goodbye to another baby.  I've really processed the emotion of this loss over the past several weeks, and so by the time I got to surgery yesterday--this time under general anesthesia--the goodbyes of my heart had been said, the tears shed.  It was rather a perfunctory-feeling thing yesterday, since they put me under and I woke up with it all over.  No bleeding and pain, no grinding machine, no reminders of what was happening to me and to a little baby-who-would-never-be, at least on this earth.

And so I sit, a little groggy and a little sore, with a little spotting, toying with letting the tears which tickle the corners of my eyes, come... but not so sure I want to cry anymore.  I remember one particular morning, a few weeks ago, when iivo and I just sat and wept--both of us--as we read the poem I'd written as I wrestled with letting another little one go before its time.  The goodbyes were really processed then, and the nature of this miscarriage really allowed the event itself to pass without emotional fanfare.  I embrace the part of that that is a mercy and respite, and yet I mourn the part of that that maybe doesn't mark it pointedly enough.  Your departure from us, little Ellery, is just as bittersweet to us as those of your lost brothers and sisters were.  And we are sad that it is now fully completed.

We release you to the One who loves you more than we ever could have, even if we had gotten to hold you in our arms and mentor you through this world with all the love we could muster.  We look forward to meeting you one day.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Uplifting Stories

I discovered this blog site today, featuring an Uplifting Stories section and an Uplifting Person of the Day video segment.  I might like to find this UPtv site again sometime!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

That Crazy English Language!

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis, and shim!

Let's face it--English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England .

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
We find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing,

Grocers don't groce, and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them,
What do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

We ship by truck but send cargo by ship...
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park on a driveway and drive on a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
While a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
In which your house can burn up as it burns down,
In which you fill in a form by filling it out,
And in which an alarm goes off by going on.

As I consider all these irregularities and many more, I'm very thankful that English was the first language I learned, naturally, so that all the "rule-breakers" didn't trip me up!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English

100 Most Often Mispelled Misspelled Words in English

Here are the 100 words most commonly misspelled ('misspell' is one of them). Dr. Language has provided a one-stop cure for all your spelling ills. Each word has a mnemonic pill with it and, if you swallow it, it will help you to remember how to spell the word. Master the orthography of the words on this page and reduce the time you spend searching dictionaries by 50%. (Use the time you save celebrating in our gameroom.)


  • acceptable - Several words made the list because of the suffix pronounced -êbl but sometimes spelled -ible, sometimes -able. Just remember to accept any table offered to you and you will spell this word OK.
  • accidentally - It is no accident that the test for adverbs on -ly is whether they come from an adjective on -al ("accidental" in this case). If so, the -al has to be in the spelling. No publical, then publicly.
  • accommodate - Remember, this word is large enough to accommodate both a double "c" AND a double "m."
  • acquire - Try to acquire the knowledge that this word and the next began with the prefix ad- but the [d] converts to [c] before [q].
  • acquit - See the previous discussion.
  • a lot - Two words! Hopefully, you won't have to allot a lot of time to this problem.
  • amateur - Amateurs need not be mature: this word ends on the French suffix -eur (the equivalent of English -er).
  • apparent - A parent need not be apparent but "apparent" must pay the rent, so remember this word always has the rent.
  • argument - Let's not argue about the loss of this verb's silent [e] before the suffix -ment.
  • atheist - Lord help you remember that this word comprises the prefix a- "not" + the "god" (also in the-ology) + -ist "one who believes."


  • believe - You must believe that [i] usually comes before [e] except after [c] or when it is pronounced like "a" as "neighbor" and "weigh" or "e" as in "their" and "heir." Also take a look at "foreign" below. (The "i-before-e" rule has more exceptions than words it applies to.)
  • bellwether - Often misspelled "bellweather." A wether is a gelded ram, chosen to lead the herd (thus his bell) due to the greater likelihood that he will remain at all times ahead of the ewes.


  • calendar - This word has an [e] between two [a]s. The last vowel is [a].
  • category - This word is not in a category with "catastrophe" even if it sounds like it: the middle letter is [e].
  • cemetery - Don't let this one bury you: it ends on -ery nary an -ary in it. You already know it starts on [c], of course.
  • changeable - The verb "change" keeps its [e] here to indicate that the [g] is soft, not hard. (That is also why "judgement" is the correct spelling of this word, no matter what anyone says.)
  • collectible - Another -ible word. You just have to remember.
  • column - Silent final [e] is commonplace in English but a silent final [n] is not uncommon, especially after [m].
  • committed - If you are committed to correct spelling, you will remember that this word doubles its final [t] from "commit" to "committed."
  • conscience - Don't let misspelling this word weigh on your conscience: [ch] spelled "sc" is unusual but legitimate.
  • conscientious - Work on your spelling conscientiously and remember this word with [ch] spelled two different ways: "sc" and "ti." English spelling!
  • conscious - Try to be conscious of the "sc" [ch] sound and all the vowels in this word's ending and i-o-u a note of congratulations.
  • consensus - The census does not require a consensus, since they are not related.


  • daiquiri - Don't make yourself another daiquiri until you learn how to spell this funny word-the name of a Cuban village.
  • definite (ly) - This word definitely sounds as though it ends only on -it, but it carries a silent "e" everywhere it goes.
  • discipline - A little discipline, spelled with the [s] and the [c] will get you to the correct spelling of this one.
  • drunkenness - You would be surprised how many sober people omit one of the [n]s in this one.
  • dumbbell - Even smart people forget one of the [b]s in this one. (So be careful who you call one when you write.)


  • embarrass (ment) - This one won't embarrass you if you remember it is large enough for a double [r] AND a double [s].
  • equipment - This word is misspelled "equiptment" 22,932 times on the web right now.
  • exhilarate - Remembering that [h] when you spell this word will lift your spirits and if you remember both [a]s, it will be exhilarating!
  • exceed - Remember that this one is -ceed, not -cede. (To exceed all expectations, master the spellings of this word, "precede" and "supersede" below.)
  • existence - No word like this one spelled with an [a] is in existence. This word is a menage a quatre of one [i] with three [e]s.
  • experience - Don't experience the same problem many have with "existence" above in this word: -ence!


  • fiery - The silent "e" on "fire" is also cowardly: it retreats inside the word rather than face the suffix -y.
  • foreign - Here is one of several words that violate the i-before-e rule. (See "believe" above.)


  • gauge - You must learn to gauge the positioning of the [a] and [u] in this word. Remember, they are in alphabetical order (though not the [e]).
  • grateful - You should be grateful to know that keeping "great" out of "grateful" is great.
  • guarantee - This word is not spelled like "warranty" even though they are synonyms.


  • harass - This word is too small for two double letters but don't let it harass you, just keep the [r]s down to one.
  • height - English reaches the height (not heighth!) of absurdity when it spells "height" and "width" so differently.
  • hierarchy - The i-before-e rule works here, so what is the problem?
  • humorous - Humor us and spell this word "humorous": the [r] is so weak, it needs an [o] on both sides to hold it up.


  • ignorance - Don't show your ignorance by spelling this word -ence!
  • immediate - The immediate thing to remember is that this word has a prefix, in- "not" which becomes [m] before [m] (or [b] or [p]). "Not mediate" means direct which is why "immediately" means "directly."
  • independent - Please be independent but not in your spelling of this word. It ends on -ent.
  • indispensable - Knowing that this word ends on -able is indispensable to good writing.
  • inoculate - This one sounds like a shot in the eye. One [n] the eye is enough.
  • intelligence - Using two [l]s in this word and ending it on -ence rather than -ance are marks of . . . you guessed it.
  • its/it's - The apostrophe marks a contraction of "it is." Something that belongs to it is "its."


  • jewelry - Sure, sure, it is made by a jeweler but the last [e] in this case flees the scene like a jewel thief. However, if you prefer British spelling, remember to double the [l]: "jeweller," "jewellery." 
  • judgment - Traditionally, the word has been spelled judgment in all forms of the English language. However, the spelling judgement (with e added) largely replaced judgment in the United Kingdom in a non-legal context. In the context of the law, however, judgment is preferred. This spelling change contrasts with other similar spelling changes made in American English, which were rejected in the UK. In the US at least, judgment is still preferred and judgement is considered incorrect by many American style guides.


  • kernel (colonel) - There is more than a kernel of truth in the claim that all the vowels in this word are [e]s. So why is the military rank (colonel) pronounced identically?


  • leisure - Yet another violator of the i-before-e rule. You can be sure of the spelling of the last syllable but not of the pronunciation.
  • liaison - Another French word throwing us an orthographical curve: a spare [i], just in case. That's an [s], too, that sounds like a [z].
  • library - It may be as enjoyable as a berry patch but that isn't the way it is spelled. That first [r] should be pronounced, too.
  • license - Where does English get the license to use both its letters for the sound [s] in one word?


  • maintenance - The main tenants of this word are "main" and "tenance" even though it comes from the verb "maintain."
  • maneuver - Man, the price you pay for borrowing from French is high. This one goes back to French main + oeuvre "hand-work," a spelling better retained in the British spelling, "manoeuvre."
  • medieval - The medieval orthography of English even lays traps for you: everything about the MIDdle Ages is MEDieval or, as the British would write, mediaeval.
  • memento - Why would something to remind of you of a moment be spelled "memento?" Well, it is.
  • millennium - Here is another big word, large enough to hold two double consonants, double [l] and double [n].
  • miniature - Since that [a] is seldom pronounced, it is seldom included in the spelling. This one is a "mini ature;" remember that.
  • minuscule - Since something minuscule is smaller than a miniature, shouldn't they be spelled similarly? Less than cool, or "minus cule."
  • mischievous - This mischievous word holds two traps: [i] before [e] and [o] before [u]. Four of the five vowels in English reside here.
  • misspell - What is more embarrassing than to misspell the name of the problem? Just remember that it is mis + spell and that will spell you the worry about spelling "misspell."


  • neighbor - The word "neighbor" invokes the silent "gh" as well as "ei" sounded as "a" rule. This is fraught with error potential. If you use British spelling, it will cost you another [u]: "neighbour."
  • noticeable - The [e] is noticeably retained in this word to indicate the [c] is "soft," pronounced like [s]. Without the [e], it would be pronounced "hard," like [k], as in "applicable."


  • occasionally - Writers occasionally tire of doubling so many consonants and omit one, usually one of the [l]s. Don't you ever do it.
  • occurrence - Remember not only the occurrence of double double consonants in this word, but that the suffix is -ence, not -ance. No reason, just the English language keeping us on our toes.


  • pastime - Since a pastime is something you do to pass the time, you would expect a double [s] here. Well, there is only one. The second [s] was slipped through the cracks in English orthography long ago.
  • perseverance - All it takes is perseverance and you, too, can be a (near-) perfect speller. The suffix is -ance for no reason at all.
  • personnel - Funny Story: The assistant Vice-President of Personnel notices that his superior, the VP himself, upon arriving at his desk in the morning opens a small, locked box, smiles, and locks it back again. Some years later when he advanced to that position (inheriting the key), he came to work early one morning to be assured of privacy. Expectantly, he opened the box. In it was a single piece of paper which said: "Two Ns, one L."
  • playwright - Those who play right are right-players, not playwrights. Well, since they write plays, they should be "play-writes," wright right? Rong Wrong. Remember that a play writer in Old English was called a "play worker" and "wright" is from an old form of "work" (wrought iron, etc.)
  • possession - Possession possesses more [s]s than a snake.
  • precede - What follows, succeeds, so what goes before should, what? No, no, no, you are using logic. Nothing confuses English spelling more than common sense. "Succeed" but "precede." Precede combines the Latin words "pre" and "cedere" which means to go before.
  • principal/principle - The spelling principle to remember here is that the school principal is a prince and a pal (despite appearances)--and the same applies to anything of foremost importance, such as a principal principle. A "principle" is a rule. (Thank you, Meghan Cope, for help on this one.)
  • privilege - According to the pronunciation (not "pronounciation"!) of this word, that middle vowel could be anything. Remember: two [i]s + two [e]s in that order.
  • pronunciation - Nouns often differ from the verbs they are derived from. This is one of those. In this case, the pronunciation is different, too, an important clue.
  • publicly - Let me publicly declare the rule (again): if the adverb comes from an adjective ending on -al, you include that ending in the adverb; if not, as here, you don't.


  • questionnaire - The French doing it to us again. Double up on the [n]s in this word and don't forget the silent [e]. Maybe someday we will spell it the English way.


  • receive/receipt - I hope you have received the message by now: [i] before [e] except after . . . .
  • recommend - I would recommend you think of this word as the equivalent of commending all over again: re+commend. That would be recommendable.
  • referred - Final consonants are often doubled before suffixes (remit: remitted, remitting). However, this rule applies only to accented syllables ending on [l] and [r], e.g. "rebelled," "referred" but "traveled," "buffered" and not containing a diphthong, e.g. "prevailed," "coiled."
  • reference - Refer to the last mentioned word and also remember to add -ence to the end for the noun.
  • relevant - The relevant factor here is that the word is not "revelant," "revelent," or even "relevent." [l] before [v] and the suffix -ant.
  • restaurant - 'Ey, you! Remember, these two words when you spell "restaurant." They are in the middle of it.
  • rhyme - Actually, "rime" was the correct spelling until 1650. After that, egg-heads began spelling it like "rhythm." Why? No rhyme nor reason other than to make it look like "rhythm."
  • rhythm - This one was borrowed from Greek (and conveniently never returned) so it is spelled the way we spell words borrowed from Greek and conveniently never returned.


  • schedule - If perfecting your spelling is on your schedule, remember the [sk] is spelled as in "school." (If you use British or Canadian pronunciation, why do you pronounce this word [shedyul] but "school," [skul]? That has always puzzled me.)
  • separate - How do you separate the [e]s from the [a]s in this word? Simple: the [e]s surround the [a]s.
  • sergeant - The [a] needed in both syllables of this word has been pushed to the back of the line. Remember that, and the fact that [e] is used in both syllables, and you can write your sergeant without fear of misspelling his rank.
  • supersede - This word supersedes all others in perversity. This is the only English word based on this stem spelled -sede. Supersede combines the Latin words "super" and "sedere" which means to sit above.


  • their/they're/there - They're all pronounced the same but spelled differently. Possessive is "their" and the contraction of "they are" is "they're." Everywhere else, it is "there."
  • threshold - This one can push you over the threshold. It looks like a compound "thresh + hold" but it isn't. Two [h]s are enough.
  • twelfth - Even if you omit the [f] in your pronunciation of this word (which you shouldn't do), it is retained in the spelling.
  • tyranny - If you are still resisting the tyranny of English orthography at this point, you must face the problem of [y] inside this word, where it shouldn't be. The guy is a "tyrant" and his problem is "tyranny." (Don't forget to double up on the [n]s, too.)


  • until - I will never stop harping on this until this word is spelled with an extra [l] for the last time!


  • vacuum - If your head is not a vacuum, remember that the silent [e] on this one married the [u] and joined him inside the word where they are living happily ever since. Well, the evidence is suggestive but not conclusive. Anyway, spell this word with two [u]s and not like "volume."


  • weather - Whether you like the weather or not, you have to write the [a] after the [e] when you spell it.
  • weird - This word is an exception to the rule about [i] before [e] except after...? So, rules can be broken!