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 fiancĂ©) like that," and I remember the lump in my throat that turned into a growing knot in my stomach.

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