Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Thinking – Lots of Little Things

This is what greets me every time I go visiting teaching!  The minute I knock, her little feet run for the door.  She is always so excited.  Somebody should sign her up to be a church greeter.  She makes you feel so glad you’re there.

I recently finished two books worth mentioning: 

Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln is a book on public speaking.  James C. Humes, the author, was a speech writer for five presidents and has excellent insights on delivering a better speech (or “talk” in LDS lingo).  In short, I’m going to try to master the pause, as well as the eye-hand coordination required if I'm going to read a talk.

Decision Points, George W. Bush was very interesting.  Mr. Bush is a reader and an astute student of history.  I learned from his insights.  I also appreciated hearing his perspective on decisions he made.  For years I’ve heard an editorialized version of what the pundits and critics thought he was thinking; now I could read what he actually was thinking.  I admire and appreciate Mr. Bush.

I thoroughly enjoyed both books, they made me think and I learned a great deal.

I’ve determined my word for 2011.  Prepare.  

My sister, Marcia, gave everyone a cd of The Grasshopper and the Ants as part of a Christmas gift.  We grew up listening to the grasshopper saucily sing, “Oh, the world owes me a livin’ . . .” and make fun of the ants as he frittered away his days.  Just as memorable was the grasshopper starving and shivering in the cold wind while the ants were safe and warm.  Over and over the record played.  Even the scratches were memorized. 

I suppose that was what first got me thinking about adopting the word Prepare.  It's a good, safe, sturdy word -- one that I often catch only to have it slip away again.  Goodness knows Calvin and I have much to temporally and spiritually prepare for this year:  Abe will be home in a few months and we need to prepare for Grace to leave us, then Ande’s wedding, followed by Ty’s graduation, then Ty’s wedding, and Ande’s graduation.  And then of course there are the surprises ahead, too . . . as well as life.  I want to be prepared to meet the spiritual and temporal opportunities and challenges ahead, because if I don't . . . “By failing to prepare, (I) prepare to fail.”  So said Ben Franklin.

I'm thinking this word will keep me busy all year.  “The past is behind, learn from it.  The future is ahead, prepare for it.  The present is here, live it.”  Thomas S. Monson said that.

And finally, I thought I'd share these pictures of Abe's platoon playing ultimate football on Christmas Day.  At first when I saw them I thought, "Oh man, it would hurt to crash and burn on those rocks."  I suppose that was probably the least of their concerns . . . 

Abe is directly underneath the football. 

Abe is the 2nd from left on back row

. . . winning was.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Speaking of Christmas . . .

I got a funny gift from Ty and Michelle.

After seeing me in my nightgown one morning Ty said, “Hey Mom, you need a new nightgown.  A modest one.  One that will stay up on your shoulders.”

Now, let me say, my nightgown is modest.  It isn’t red.  It isn’t trimmed in black lace.  It’s cotton.  It’s yellow with little flowers.  It has sleeves.  It’s down to my knees.  It’s just a little bit big is all and occasionally it slips on one shoulder.  Maybe I should have bought a medium, but I feel safe in large.

Guess what I opened for Christmas from Ty and Michelle?  You guessed it:  a new nightgown.  I pulled it from the package and there was lots and lots of pretty blue floral material with ribbed edges.  It wasn’t a medium.  It wasn’t a large.  It was a beautiful, flowing 1X.  I chuckled to myself, knowing full well where that neck would fall, and they said, “Put it on!  Put it on!” and so I did.  I slipped it on over my clothes (which reminded me of another funny story that happened with Ty) and Ty said, “It’s a little big on your neck I guess, but the only other size was a 4X so it will do.  Check your pockets!” 
Inside of both pockets and taped to the insides of the nightgown were bills of all kinds and sizes.  Ty said, “They’re maid wages.  Remember?” 

I looked at all the bills and said, “Ty, no maid makes wages like this.  No maid.”

He said, “Never mind that.  Go on . . . tell Michelle what maid wages are.”

I explained, “Well, I kept telling the kids when they were younger that any money that fell out of their pockets in the wash or any money they left lying on the sink or around the house is what the maid earned for taking care of their mess.”  I like to think it taught them responsibility.

So now I have a nice blue house-coatish nightgown with a low neck to wear while I earn my maid wages.  I’m very fond of it and it makes me laugh each time I wear it.  Come on over some morning and I’ll model it while I fix you some french toast.

Tuesday – I Tried

I tried.  I really tried.  I made it longer than I ever have.  Baby steps, I guess.
Sunday seemed like an extended Christmas, what with it being the Lord’s day too and all.  The Christmas tree stood an extra day.
I planned to leave the Christmas tree up until New Year’s.  That’s what Grace’s family does.  That’s what Ray’s family does.  That was what Calvin's family did.  I was going to try and let their tradition stand.
But . . .
I started tidying the kitchen by combining Christmas treats and putting them away in the red snack bucket that sits on top of the refrigerator.  In order for the snack bucket to look its best, it was time for the snowwoman doll that carries a load of twigs and branches with the scarf around her head to come down.  I moved her to the top of the piano.  Next I washed the smudged frosting out of the cookie jar which led to making sure the Christmas spoon holder on the top of the stove wasn’t hiding any gravy.  As each seasonal item was cleaned I thought how easy it would be to just wrap them and put them away.  Since the Christmas tree doesn’t stand in the kitchen it was still safe, it could stand.
I moved the nativity picture from the refrigerator then began to sort the Christmas cards in the dining room, making a pile to send to Abe of people he knows.  Which led to emptying my new chicken wire basket that Ande gave me, which meant it needed a new home – the center of the table.  But positively I was going to stop at that point.
And then the phone rang and I sat in the chair that faced the mantle.  The longer I looked at the mantle the more I missed the mantle clock being in its rightful place.  The mantle clock had been moved to the top of the piano when we put up the garland.  The phone conversation carried on . . .
If I took the garland down, moved the clock, and moved the snowwoman doll again, the tree would still be up, but the piano and mantle would look clean just like the kitchen.  The phone conversation carried on . . .
Down came the red berry and picks of white from the garland.  Down came the garland.  But now the Joy banner looked funny hanging from the mantle without garland.  Down came the banner.  Still the tree was safe.  Still the phone conversation carried on . . .
I sat back down in the chair and looked at the clean dining room, the clean piano, the clean mantle.  The tree.  It needed to go.  Without the backdrop of the garland lights the tree looked naked and drab.  The phone conversation carried on . . .
Down came the tree.
Still the conversation carried on.  It was with Ray.  He finally asked, “What are you doing?” 
“I just took down the tree.” 
“You are Cali’s mother aren’t you.”
“I am.  But Ray . . . it stood until two days after Christmas.  A time or two our trees didn't even make it to Christmas day.  The needles were so dry I was afraid they would catch fire.  And a few times our trees came down Christmas day.  I don’t know that one of our trees have ever made it two days after Christmas.  That’s what the 26th is for.”
Grace came into the room after I hung up the phone.  She took one look at the clean empty corner and said in her half-laugh, half-cry voice, “Sad.”

I tried.

But the fresh evergreen arrangement from Calvin's mom is safe.  Even if I have to remove the red bow and berry picks and replace them with Easter eggs and pink ribbon I promise it will stand.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

52 Blessings – Charity

The kids that were home from college spoke in church today.  They each had the topic of how service had helped them come to Christ.  One of the speakers shared a verse about charity and it reminded me of the time I taught that same verse to Cali and Abe.  There were probably around ten and twelve years old.

Cali has always had incredible faith.  When her turtle, Senora, toddled away, Cali was certain if we prayed that Heavenly Father would guide us straight to her.  He did.  When she lost a valuable ring at the church she was certain Heavenly Father would help her find it.  He did.  When she carefully hid money that she had saved, but forgot where she stashed it, she prayed and soon found it tucked in a book on her bookshelf. 

Abe has always had a thirst for knowledge.  Every morning before I woke him up for breakfast I had to make certain the kitchen table was cleared from any mail, manuals, or books or he would get side-tracked and sit down and read rather than doing his chores or getting ready for school.  It didn’t even have to be good reading.  Once while he was on a long drive with Calvin he read the alternator manual because there was nothing else available.  Abe also remembers things.  He never mixed up Ephraim and Manasseh or Jacob and Esau.  He’s a great Trivial Pursuit partner.

However, the day that I taught Cali and Abe about charity was the Sunday they would not quit bickering.  It had been going on for awhile – the arguing and fighting – but on the drive home from church I had had it with them.  When we pulled into the garage I told them to meet me in my bedroom.  I grabbed my scriptures and went to teach them.  They were quietly sitting on the edge of bed when I entered.  I reminded Cali that she had a gift of faith and then recounted most of what I just told you.  Next I turned to Abe and explained he had a gift of knowledge and used the before mentioned examples.  And then with great fervency, yea perhaps even passion, I said, “But . . . (and then quoting from Moroni) 'if ye have not charity, ye are nothing'.  Do you get that?  Nothing!  Ye are nothing if ye have not charity.  It doesn’t matter if you have the gift of faith or of knowledge, without charity you are nothing!” 

They nodded somberly.

It was a less than stellar parenting moment.  I was employing “Do as I say and not as I do” for there was nothing charitable in the way I was teaching them.  I was simply plunging scripture down their throat.

I have never forgotten the lesson on charity that I learned that day.

Another speaker mentioned a service he had performed at Christmas time and what he had learned from it.  His story reminded me of the year that Abe and Ty tried to think of a gift to give to Bernice, their octogenarian friend.  Bernice was allergic to poinsettias, made very good candy of her own, didn’t need more perfume, and had a house full of trinkets.  They were at a loss as to what to give her for Christmas.  She had been a good friend to them, and for months while she was sick they had served her the sacrament once a month in her home.  The boys decided the gift they would give to Bernice would be to take her on a drive to see the Christmas lights.  Afterwards they would take her to get a hamburger.  They day came and the boys went to be with Bernice.

They were only gone 45 minutes and when they came in the house they were both very, very quiet.  I asked them how it had gone and they somberly said, “Good” and “Really good.”   After a few minutes they shared the details. 

When the boys picked Bernice up, she was dressed in her very best and had put on her make-up on and fixed her hair.  She’d been so ill that the effort was just that . . . effort.  Bernice’s daughter told them that Bernice had been looking forward to the outing all day and had been anxiously waiting for them. The boys said Bernice’s eyes were bright and her breathing even more labored than normal because she was so excited to go.  They helped her get into the car and then drove around to see the lights.  They had only been looking at lights for about twenty minutes when she started to tire.  They offered to take her to get a hamburger, but she declined and said she probably ought to go home.  They helped her get back in her house and then came home.

Both boys sat quietly on the couch as they told me the story.  Ty’s eyes filled with tears when he said, “She was just so excited to go with us.”  Bernice died less than a month later, but those boys will never forget that night when they took her to see the lights.  And neither will I.

I never tire of hearing about charity and having the pure love of Christ.  I know what it is for I've felt it – but the challenge to always live it like I know it will be a forever challenge.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We Wish You a Merry Christmas . . .

they challenged that I knew what to do with a gun . . . they forgot I took hunter safety with Charlie Boss

Dear Friends and Family,                                             
I swear I just wrote a Christmas letter a couple of months ago.  It’s a mystery how each day still lasts 24 hours, but the months go by faster each year.  And even though I read Einstein’s biography this year and it painstakingly defined the theory between time and space and travel, I’m nary the wiser and prefer to think that the speed of passing time is more about magic than science. 
Here are ten reasons why Calvin and I will always remember the year of 2010:

10.  Seattle now feels like home.  Cali and Ray have a home in Seattle and this year we spent several weekends there.  Sometimes we went so Calvin could help them with a house project like putting up crown molding or building a fireplace mantel, but sometimes we just went to visit.  Not only have we discovered a great little pizza dive as well as a really good hamburger joint, but Calvin and Ray have found a little German shop that sells meat of all kinds and ages.  One of my favorite things to do in Seattle is to go on long walks with Cali down along the Pudget Sound beach. 

9.  Abe deployed to Iraq in March.  The family gathered in Colorado Springs to see him off.  It was humbling to see the sea of gear and men ready to load, leaving their families behind.  We’re grateful to Abe for his service to the American and Iraqi people. 

8.  Grace has lived with Calvin and me this year while Abe is gone.  She is a bright spot and we love having her here.  The three of us have done a lot of things together.  Grace and I even started jogging together (yes, yes, I’m impressed too), and Calvin and Grace each have a mountain cur dog from the same litter.  It’s quite fun having twin dogs jogging along behind us, that is until they get between our legs.

7.  Ty is in his last year at the United States Air Force Academy.  His host family, The Greens, set him up with Michelle Page and they are engaged to be married in May, two days after he graduates.  Michelle is the kind of girl that brings her own mistletoe when she comes to visit, and will sit at a street piano in Denver and play and sing.  She is fun, unselfish, and happy and we are so very, very lucky to have her. 

6.  Ty spent the summer in China.  He ran a marathon and hopped up the wall of China.  Guess what else is in China besides the Wall, black market movies, rice, and people?  Pearls!  Ty bought each of us girls a set of earrings and a necklace. 

5.  Ande finished her classes at BYU-Idaho and is preparing to do her student teaching in Seattle.  She will teach high school art and literature.  Not only did Ande get to have Sunday dinner each week with my sister Marcia, who is a professor there, she also got to take education classes from her.  She had a great four years. 

4. Ande is also engaged!  She met Joseph Nehila last New Year’s Eve and they are getting married in March.  Two things I love about Joe is he never runs out of ideas and is a great conversationalist, whether the topic is politics, foods, or the price of rice in China. 

3.  Ray biked over 250 miles for Tour DaVita (the company he works for) and found that biking beats jogging 250 to 1.  One thing we have really appreciated in this year of economic uncertainty is good jobs for everyone in the family that needs one. 

2.  For fun, Calvin and I have taken some community classes together and traveled to be with the kids and my sisters’ families.  Calvin also stays busy in the shop making bows, guns, frames, and furniture and I stay busy suggesting things that he should make.     

1.  In August, Grace and Abe had a little baby girl, Clara.  Clara lived only 50 minutes, but she breathed long enough that Grace held her and sang to her and Abe saw and talked to her over the Skype headphones.  We miss Clara.  Her birth was a wonderful miracle and made us even more grateful for the Savior’s miracles.  Her birth truly was a highlight of the year.

We appreciate our friendship and association with you and hope you’re enjoying this Christmas season.  A merry, merry Christmas to you . . .  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life in My World -- Random

1.  Our neighbor, Elliot, gave us four new laying chickens because he had too many.  Our chickens haven't yet told Elliot's chickens they're allowed to molt in our coop, so we got four eggs right off the bat.  Our batch of chickens HATE snow.  They won't go out in it for anything . . . not even for corn on the cob. 

2.  One hundred and seven comments later, the soldier's Christmas stockings are finished.  I loved each and every comment.  The power of your appreciations was amazing --the ones from the dads, the ones from the moms, the ones from the grandmas, the ones from the kids (they included jokes like "What is black and white and gives out a lot of pain?"  and comments like: "I know you are a long ways from home but I hope Santa still visits you on Christmas" and "Miry Chrismoes. I hope you donte feel lonilee rite now. I hope you make good frens in your grupe and hope you donte get sik. I hate bein sik wen I'm not at home. I will pray jus for you" -- and I appreciate each one.  Thank you.

3.  Michelle is here!  We felt badly she couldn't get here in time to be here Sunday night with the rest of us, but she made it on Monday and Monday is better than Tuesday or Wednesday.  She's running a fever and not feeling very good today.  All the more reason to watch movies, drink orange juice, and make cookies.  Michelle says sugar always tastes good whether you're sick or not.

4.  Last night Grace and her friend, Jamie, hosted an ugly sweater/ornament exchange party.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  One winner of the ugly sweater contest wore a jumper made of Christmas fabric.  It looked to me like it waltzed straight out of the 80's and knowing me I probably would have worn it into the late 90's.  The other winner was a crocheted Christmas tree that sits as a table decoration.  It came fresh from the Senior Citizen's Center.  The winner wore it as a hat.  Oh she sported it well.  It was so darn festive and funny.  Grace made her sweater by gluing sparkly pompoms to the front of a turtleneck in the shape of a tree.  It was a perfect contestant; however when Daisy, Jamie's little three year old girl saw it, she ooohed and ahhhed and wished it for herself.  I wore a sweater of Calvin's.  He said, "You look cute.  Hey!  Isn't that one of my sweaters?  Why are you wearing it to an ugly sweater party?" I just smiled. 

We played bingo and the winners chose a wrapped ornament from the table.  After one or two ornaments had been unwrapped, I could see I was in trouble.  I had brought a comparatively hideous ornament.  I quietly decided that when it was my turn I'd just choose my own bag so that no one else got stuck with it, discreetly open it, then quickly stuff it back in the bag.  Chris, wearing her crocheted-tree-table-topper-hat, got a bingo before I did and chose my bag.  I quietly hissed, "Chris, you don't want that one.  Trust me.  Put it back on the table."  It was too late.  She'd already peeked inside and was crowd-committed.  Everybody wanted her to hold up what she got  After she put it back down I whispered that I'd steal it when it was my turn so she could get another.  But the whispering spread and snatches were repeated aloud and I feared I sounded like an oornament snob dishing on someone else's ornament.  Discreet be damned.  I had to own up to the whole group that the ugly one was mine.

5.  This month our home teachers invited the families they visit to supper.  They literally gave the message: "The Christmas season is wonderful in many ways. It is a season of charitable acts of kindness and brotherly love." It was just such a grand evening with them . . . 

The conversation (one of our home teachers is very animated and laughs easily and both home teachers have traveled extensively and have stories from all over to share.  Both of our home teachers' wives are fun to visit with, too) . . .

The food (chicken broccoli casserole, brown rice, pomegranate salad, fresh rolls, pickled green tomatoes, and mixed berry cobbler with ice cream) . . .

The atmosphere (I visit teach the wife of one of our home teachers and she visit teaches Grace.  She showed us her latest quilt projects.  Her work is amazing.  The other home teacher's wife is a friend from long ago, but they've been gone for three years on a mission.  It felt good just to sit by her again.) . . .

6.  We received a wonderful gift of music yesterday afternoon.  It's so good I've played it through six times, repeated individual songs more than that, turned up the volume to the maximum level and called Cali on the phone and said, "Listen to this song."  It's the Christmas Cello by Steven Sharp Nelson.  It makes Christmas dreamy.  Truly.  The music is playing in the kitchen, it's snowing outside, I'm making Wienerlangders , and I put pajamas on after my shower.  It's a pretty grand day. 

Life in My World -- It Looked a Lot Like Christmas

Since Cali and Ray will be in Alaska for Christmas, Ty and Michelle will be in Colorado, Ande and Joe will be in Texas, and Abe will still be in Iraq, we celebrated Christmas this last weekend. We had a grand time.

Like most of humanity, I think traditions are really important because they keep families connected. Abe is the keeper of traditions in our family.  He’s the one that reminds us of how things are supposed to be. As our family expands and gets older we’ve retired some traditions and adopted new ones. As long as we have traditions, I’m not so particular on what they are as long as they make us a better family and better individuals. 

One of our traditions for the last several years (since all of us were old enough to attend), has been to celebrate the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birthday (December 23rd) by going to the temple. I suppose our temple tradition will be retired soon as there will be new babies and then not everyone will be old enough or able to go, but for this year it carried on.  It has been a great tradition . . .

Last Saturday we woke up to a snowstorm, so we got to drive snow slow for an hour and a half. But when you’ve got a good tradition going, the coming and going is often as fun as the tradition itself.  Calvin sang to us most of the way with Ty and Grace joining in every now and then and requesting repeats. I wish you could hear Calvin sing to the songs. He talks back to the singers and it is really quite funny.

It was wonderful being in the temple together, and a bonus that the session was so full that Calvin and I were seated together on the backrow.  I've typed and deleted ten sentences trying to say that it felt good and comforting to be there together. 

Name that store?  Hint:  it gives you the covets

After going to the temple we went out to eat and then finished up some Christmas shopping. We got home late and the men went straight out to The Boys Club to work on Christmas projects while the girls went to bed.

Sunday was a great day. It started with pancakes and unlimited bacon.

Calvin, Grace, Ty, Cali, Ray, Joe, Ande and my plate

Calvin and Ty

. . . and was followed by Church.  A good friend, who had just returned from his mission the day before, spoke at our services.  Missionaries fresh from their missions remind me of bread coming straight out of the oven.  I appreciate being able to benefit from the growth and understanding they’ve gained on the mission they served as they speak to the congregation.  Eldon Jensen, a widow from our ward who has the prettiest head of white hair and a winning smile, always has tootsie rolls in his pocket to share (except on Fast Sunday.  He doesn’t share on Fast Sundays.)  Sunday was no exception.  He also usually has a joke to tell.  He told me two.  Funny ones.  But, for the life of me I can’t remember the punch lines.

Me, Calvin, Cali, Ray, Joe, Ande
Ty, Grace

After church we all went to the cemetery and shared one of our favorite memories of Clara.  Mine was watching her eyes flutter in recognition when Grace sang to her.  Lucky for us our friend Marlo had gotten left at the church by his family and so he caught a ride home with us and was our photographer.

Ray and Ty sampling the brie

We started the afternoon off with appetizers. Ray and Cali made a melted brie wheel with toasted baguette bread, and we also had a shrimp platter.

Ray helping Ty make Grace's present

In between the appetizers and supper there was a whole lot of wrapping going on . . . and a few games of Pit.

The appetizers were followed by prime rib, baked potatoes, and fresh green beans. 

After dinner and dishes were finished, everyone gathered for family night.   We each had a "part" (I think that term must come from "a part on the program").  My part was for everyone to share a Christmas memory, it didn't have to be your favorite.  Cali’s memory was the year she got a Mickey Mouse watch in her sock.  She put it on and then counted the seconds to each minute for two whole hours while she waited for the time when she could get up.  Ty memory was similar, counting seconds and minutes and hours until it was time to open presents.  My other part (you didn’t think I’d just have one did you?) was charades.  I had chosen specific lines from the Christmas carols and we had to guess the right line.  Let’s see if you can guess this one:

Calvin, Ande, Ray  

Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight.  Of course.

Cali on the way up

Cali stood on her head and did a summersault for old-times sake.  That part is the first one our kids have ever had in family night.  I can still see their cloth-diapered-plastic-pant-covered bottoms high in the air as Calvin nudged them with his foot to finish toppling them over.  Followed by the family clapping wildly for the feat.

Ande taught us all a yoga move.  Fortunately someone needed to take the picture.

For Grace’s part we played Pass-the-Hands.  Nothing like slapping the carpet repeatedly to make you self-conscious and suggest that maybe, just maybe, you should have vacuumed right before you tried to play this game, Sunday or not.

We played Werewolf for Ray’s part.  Unfortunately no one believed me when I tried to share my valuable Seeker knowledge and Calvin took me out the next round.  However, Ty won the game as the witch.  He was not very community minded.

Ty taught us the chorus to Angels We Have Heard on High in Chinese.  We each had to sing one word and then rotated through all the words of the chorus.  We didn't sound very authentic or good, but we had fun trying.  

Joe's part was flipping Ande, and even though he did it twice I missed the shot. 

Calvin’s part was the lesson. He had me read selected portions of Bruce R. McConkie’s talk The Purifying Power of Gethsemane. Then we gathered in a circle and passed several pictures of the Savior around and gazed on them for 30 seconds or so while Pachelbel Canon in D played quietly in the background. After we had each held and seen twenty or so pictures we shared our testimony of the Savior and the thoughts that we had while looking at the pictures. It was a very special time. It’s times like this that you quietly realize that you’re walking on sacred ground.  I learned some new things.

And then we opened our gift-exchange presents.  I’ll only share Grace’s gift. Ty knows she likes “monies and jewelries” so he had Ray help him make Grace a necklace, earrings, bracelet, and tiara out of gold dollar coins, saran wrap, and ribbons.

 She wore them for the rest of the evening.

And that sums up our before-Christmas celebration.  We felt connected.  We had a great time.  We left better people.  Tradition accomplished.

I look forward to our new traditions as we adapte to our changing family dynamics.  Already, when Ty and I went to Wal-Mart yesterday to buy a broom and juce it felt good not to be frantic like the other shoppers.  We could even skip the Christmas candy and wrapping paper aisles.*  Frenzied on December 22nd.  I'm more than happy to give up that tradition this year.

*It's Wednesday.  That means homemaking tip day.  We ran out of wrapping paper on Sunday.  Not unheard of at this house.  We pulled out the newsprint roll and markers and wrapped away.  I'm telling you, that newsprint roll is the most useful thing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blow Me Away

Blow me away. I cannot believe your incredible responses to our request for letters for the soldiers in Abe’s platoon. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My heart filled clear full as I read your encouragement, gratitude, memories, and appreciations. I was quietly moved by your comments. If you’re looking for something good to read, please go read the comments.  They'll leave you feeling humble . . . and good.

This won’t be the last you hear of this project. Grace will post pictures of everything and Abe has been instructed to send pictures home when the men read their messages and open their stockings.  I just wanted to thank you until then . . . and if you still want to post a comment, please do.   

Thank you again . . .

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Memories – Soldiers

Darrel was the first soldier I knew up close and personal. It was during Viet Nam and he stayed with us while he was home on leave. He was handsome, had dark hair, and drove a green mustang. He dated and married our pretty, blonde-haired neighbor, Nancy.

I liked Darrel. He was nice. He was forgiving. One day I was out riding bikes on the driveway and crashed my brother’s tricycle into the side of his new mustang and left a big dent. Mom told me I had to tell him myself. Darrel didn’t get mad. He didn’t yell. He didn’t even make me feel stupid. He just smiled and said it was okay and then rubbed the dent. Darrel left one of his army jackets at our house and I wore it often even though jungle green is not my color.

the stockings as seen through night vision goggles

Abe is ¾ of the way through his deployment to Iraq. In an effort to remember what she has versus what she has lost this Christmas, Grace is putting together a little stocking for each of the soldiers in Abe’s platoon. There is a deck of cards, a few little toys, candy, gum, and jerky in each stocking, but the thing that will make it the very best is something we need your help with. We’d like to put a personal little note to each soldier letting him know that there are people at home who appreciate him and his efforts and his willingness to sacrifice. Would you please, please, please help us? Here is a list of the soldier’s first names. All you need to do is pick a name and write a comment to him in the comments section of this post. We’ll print your comment, roll it up in a scroll, tie it with some ribbon and tuck it in the sock. Please sign your name so that it is more personal. And, if you want to write to Maverick or Phosy or Jerry but someone else already did, well . . . I can’t help but think Maverick, Phosy, and Jerry would love more than one note.

We need to get this package in the mail as soon as we can to make sure it gets to Iraq in time for Christmas, so if you’d like to send a note, please do it soon. (I realize this is short notice, but we didn’t get the idea until a few hours ago . . . and well . . . now is as good as ever and better than never, right?)

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your help in this project.

1LT Abe
SFC Keith
SSG Michael
SSG Christopher
SSG Phosy
SGT Eric
SGT Michael
SPC Luke
SPC Robert
SPC Anthony
SPC Jerry
SPC Ryan
SPC Travis
SPC Jeffrey
SPC Maverik
SPC Sheridon
SPC William
PFC Matthew
PFC Jason
PFC Mark
PFC Thomas
PFC Robert
PFC Travis

Sunday, December 12, 2010

52 Blessings -- Sunday Afternoons & Evenings

I like
the nap
the book
the peace
the dinner
the dessert
the popcorn
the conversation
the time with family
the visit to the cemetery
the drive home from church.
I like it all.  It's a great slide into next week.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Life in My World -- Decked Be Our Halls

Thursday we put up the nativities, spread the garland on the mantel, fluffed the tree and spread the hand-quilted skirt carefully underneath it and said, “Decked be our halls.” It took all of ten minutes. I love it when people decorate beautifully and I am inspired by what they do. I appreciate being invited into those homes and businesses and feeling the festivity and beauty, but I’m also okay with our simple decorations. Clark taught me that . . .

I used to hope I could make a more ideal Christmas –

--a Christmas with a tall, fresh, good-smelling tree with beautiful and sentimental ornaments hanging from the no-needle dropping variety branches, not a $29.95 artificial tree (with a $30 rebate) from Home Depot with dried orange slices

--a Christmas where the cookies, breads, orange rolls, popcorn balls, caramel, turtles, peanut brittle, and toffee were made by December 21st and neatly stored in stackable rubber main containers ready to eat or give at a moment’s notice, not where a little is baked today, a little more tomorrow, some more next week and then we’ll be out of what was baked today so we’ll start over and never have it all done at the same time and definitely not stacked neatly in a container.

--a Christmas where big wreaths hang from doors, windows, and fence posts and snow falls gently, not a little snow today and a-lot-of-rain-melting-it-tomorrow type weather and no wreaths

--a Christmas where all the gifts are wrapped attractively with tags even and ready to give early, no last minute scrambles and dollar-store-easy-to-poke-a-hole-in paper.

I used to wish for more ideal Christmases, but then one day in class I played the song from Handel’s Messiah that quotes Isaiah, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and his name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” A young man with down-syndrome was quietly mouthing the words as the song began to play. Knowing he loves music, I paused the song and asked Clark if he’d like to stand and sing the song for our class. He beamed, stood, and hurried to the front of the room while I restarted the music. He faced the class and stood at attention, tapped his hand against his leg, and mouthed each word in perfect rhythm throughout that four minute song. His words were sometimes whispered, warbled, and unclear. Not the ideal performance. Or was it? As inspiring as Messiah is, I’d never before felt when hearing it what I felt while Clark sang it as a solo. Imperfect as his performance was, it was faultless. Reality had reached the ideal.

Clark’s impromptu performance taught me that Christmas can be ideal even with a $29.95 tree, our decorations less than breath taking, and our goods less than perfect. Because of the birth of One perfect man who walked this earth, reality will eventually reach the ideal in all matters of real importance. In the meantime, I love Christmas, imperfect as our celebrations may be because there’s a whole lot more perfect in practice than I supposed.

I’ve watched this video over and over. I would have joined them, probably even stood up on a chair to rally others.  I was given the enthusiasm to sing, but not the voice. No matter.  That’s what practice is for and someday my reality will reach the ideal, but in the meantime I'll have to just practice with perfect enthusiasm.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Life in My World—Surprise and White Lies

Ty finished classes a week early and flew home last night. Last weekend when we were in Oklahoma, Ty said, “I can’t wait to come home.” I responded in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers imitation, “You’ll just be pining for Michelle while you’re home Ty. You won’t be really happy until you’re with Michelle.” Ty said, “I’m determined to be happy at home.”

Oh ho. That is Ty. Determined. It also proved my point: he hates being a part from Michelle and it would take resolve to be happy without her. What Ty didn’t know is that Michelle had called us several weeks ago and asked, “I want to surprise Ty when he goes home and be there to greet him when he gets off the plane, would that be okay?” We all kept the secret. Only once did it almost slip.

We went to pick Michelle and Ty up at the airport late last night. Michelle’s plane came in an hour before Ty’s so we planned how she would surprise him. We even acted it out and went through the whole scene. The man that sat behind Michelle while waiting for his ride even offered suggestions. When Ty’s plane landed, we got in our places. Calvin was to stand where he normally stands: down at the baggage claim and off to the side of the bottom of the stairs; Michelle was going to stand behind the stairs and next to the wall so that Ty would pass by her without seeing her. I was to stand by Michelle so that when she called his name and he turned I could take the video.

Ty, thinking Michelle was still in Utah, texted her and said he had landed and was off the plane. Michelle texted him back and asked him where he was. Ty responded that he was at the baggage claim waiting for his luggage. Michelle laughingly whispered, “I can’t believe it. He just lied to me!” as we re-scanned the crowd just to make sure. Then Calvin got a call from Ty saying he was at baggage claim. Our airport is small. The crowd was even smaller. At the very other end of the airport is a small baggage claim with a few gates. We seldom fly into that end of the airport. Nonetheless, that was where Ty landed.

Ty and Michelle

Michelle didn’t get to surprise him quite like she’d hoped, but ohhhhhhhh how much he loved seeing her there waiting for him. He hugged her again and again and then said, “You lied to me! You said you were at work.”

She brought mistletoe.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Payne’s from Washington Go Visit the Ellsworth’s in Oklahoma

We had the greatest time at the Ellsworth’s. Telling you about it is like writing about love or faith or hope . . . it’s so much easier to experience than to describe. I think it best if I give you a picture book version of our trip.

The Payne’s from Washington Go to Visit the Ellsworth’s in Oklahoma

Breakfast with free digital player

A brave self-portrait of the warm bowl of nuts in my lap.
No one else in 1st class was documenting their experience.

This is what first class flying looks like: egg soufflé for breakfast, a digi-player, warm nuts, and all the leg room a person could possibly covet. Oh my . . .

Maddie came to pick us up at the airport with her mom.
When asked why she was the lucky one to come, she said she asked first

Hydn sat on the counter and wanted to help with every meal

Hydn slicing green onions for bruschetta

Hydn helped cook every meal.  He’s a fine cook.  We had so many good things to eat.

Calvin and Bert watching the pot boil

The shrimp pot eaten right off the table with your hands

Saturday evening Bert fixed an incredible Southern shrimp pot, complete with deep fried okra, catfish, and hushpuppies, jambalaya, and boiled red potatoes, corn, and shrimp.

This was the bowl of leftover shrimp... I told you it was incredible

Non-alcoholic mint julep made with cherry-limeade instead of lemonade

We also had non-alcoholic mint juleps. These are a Kentucky Derby drink, Justin’s favorite, and an Ellsworth tradition (Ellsworth’s owned Swapps, a Kentucky Derby winner). Bert says mint juleps are normally green, but ours were made with cherry limeade. No matter the color, they’re good. Really good. I believe we may have found a new Payne tradition. And since it was a celebration for Justin, we all gave a toast in his honor.

Justin and Hydn on walk

(I’m thinking I should have named this picture book Where’s Hy? He seems to be in almost every picture.)

Besides eating, we went on walks through their property.

Justin and Hy with Ty and Pal

They have armadillos, copperheads, cotton-mouths, and very, very beautiful land.  The kids have built some amazing forts and treehouses. 

Besides eating and going on walks, we played lots of games like . . .


Ty, Pal and Justin blowing the ping-pong ball back over

Blow-the-ping-pong-ball-off-your-opponent’s-side-of-the-table leaves you a bit light-headed.  We also played ping pong around-the-world which leaves you a bit dizzy. 


Cali and Jesse

We played Werewolf for hours.  I was usually the crazy villager.  No special powers were granted with that card, which was a very good thing as I had trouble grasping the game.  Cache on the other hand is always a werewolf.  Don't forget that.  And Jesse?  She's the same whether she's a werewolf, villager, or witch.  Just accuse her, don't try to figure it out.  That's the only thing you can do with Jesse.

The Sock Game.

Before the game had begun

Ray, the conquerer, with his minions.  As Cali said, "It's pretty hard to conquer someone with 4' long legs."

Oh man.  You’ve got to try this one.  All you need is a bunch of socks.  (Rachel pulled out her mismatched sock basket and we all grabbed two.)  Then everyone sits on the rug and after the boundaries are defined, someone says, “Go.”  The goal is to keep your socks on and get everyone else’s off.  Please note Calder doing the backwards summersault – Ray took off one of his socks with force.  It was one fun game.  I think it should be noted that I was down to the final three.  Cali said it was because no one took me serious.  Could be.  It’s a great strategy if true.  I think it would be fun to give everyone a pair of Christmas socks and play this on Christmas Eve.  Hint.  Don’t play this game too close to the Christmas tree or it might cost you three or four ornaments . . . and precariously tip the tree.  We know.


Jesse, Rachel, and Cali with Bert's feet in the background.
Bert's watching the National Finals Rodeo where some of his vet patients and clients are competing.

The homemade dreidel

Some of the candy loot

Beings we were there during Hanukah, it only seemed fitting to play the dreidel game with homemade dreidels. Cali took bags and bags of candy which served as loot.

Magic Show.

Pal doing magic

Pal also put on a magic show. It was incredible. He had over an hours worth of tricks, which included a shovel handle coming out of his hat and a good old-fashioned switcheroo. After each trick Calvin would say, “How’d you do that?” and Pal would breathe big, smile, and say, “Magic.”

Ray, Ty, Justin, Cache, and Calder also played Dominion.

Coloring Contest.


Cali.  That lime-green chair cost her the win.  So said the judges

Cache and Calder.  They got disqualified because they chose a picture without Santa in it
and the judges thought that a Christmas Coloring Contest needed a Santa in the picture.
I thought it lame of the judges not to give us the criteria first, but luckily mine had a Santa
(thought it didn't help me win)

We also had a couple hours long coloring contest.  I did not win.  Cali did not win.  Calder did not win.  Cache did not win.  Pal did not win.  Justin did not win.  Rachel did not win.  Maddie won.   Ty, Bert, and Justin were the judges.  


Calvin and Hydn fixing things

Hydn thought we brought Calvin along just for him.  They played stick-em-up over and over.  Hy dies in a most dramatic fashion -- he grabs his chest, closes his eyes, staggers, then falls to the floor.

Varmint Calling.

Calder demonstrating

Though Calvin would take umbrage if I called varmint calling a game, it is one of the things the boys did.  Hydn wanted to go with them and Calvin said he could.  I said, "But won't he hurt your chances of calling something in?"  Calvin said, "They'll just go from slim to none."  We kept Hydn busy while Calvin took Calder, Justin, and Pal out and taught them how to varmint call.  Calder called in a racoon on his first try. 

We didn’t just eat, go on walks, and play games, we also went places.  Like to Craigheads, the gas station, Butcher's Pen, and church.


I’ve been to this store twice now and I still can’t tell if the joke is on me or on the owner.  This store has merchandise from way back on the shelf.  And the old tin, thirty foot ceiling has things stacked all the way to the top.  Truly.  When’s the last time you saw denture cream for pennies?  And yet, the owner has some of the greatest new stuff too.  I can’t decide whether or not the old stuff is filler, antiques, or if she really expects someone to buy it and use it.  It’s a mystery.
All I know is Calvin saw some old paper dolls –Eva Gardner and Bette Davis – for sale and said, “I remember my sisters playing with these.”  He bought four, one for each of his sisters for Christmas.  Cali found a darling new book as well, “Wodney the Wat.”  It’s going to be a classic.  As we left, I noticed some homemade cupcakes on the front display case.  The sign said something about controlling the town's cat population.  Calvin and Maddie started laughing in the car and said, “That’s funny she sells poison cupcakes.”  I said, “No, no, no.  You buy a cupcake and eat it.  The proceeds go to spaying the cats.”  Rachel said, “Are you sure?  I think the poison cupcakes.”  I told you this store is a mystery.  You don’t know who the joke is on.

Creation of Truth Museum.

The Creation of Truth museum owner showing Hy one of his puppies

Rachel took us to the Creation of Truth museum.  It's only open on Saturdays, and it is possibly the sweetest museum I've ever seen.  A man and his wife saved their money and built a little buidling where they could teach that man was created, not evolved.  There's no cost, they just have a desire to show and teach people  the things they've gathered over the years that show a Creator's hand.  The place is so clean and tidy and sits in a beautiful stand of trees.  The museum owner also sells wolf X pups. 

Gas Station.

Jesse window painting

We also took Jesse to one of her window-painting jobs.  I love seeing her art work.  She can draw whatever you ask her wherever you want it.  It was interesting hearing her commentary on the day:   women never say anything, kids ask to watch or help paint, and the men stop and visit.  One man asked her for a business card and when she said she didn’t have one he asked for her phone number – he wants his home window painted.  I’m thinking Bert, Justin, Cache, Calder, Pal, and Hydn will accompany her on that one.   (Hy has no qualms about telling someone to "Stick 'em up.  Higher!  Higher!")

Maddie picked up an Oklahoma real estate book at the gas station for Calvin to consider.


Calvin shopping.  I told him it needs to be withing walking distance of Rachel's

It's very tempting.  Reminds me of the J.C. Penny's Christmas catalogue. 

It was one great trip.  As was mentioned several times, “It just feels so good to be a part of their family."

The End