Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Memories Stirred by Song

Cardiogirl, has once again, taken me down memory lane. On Friday, she wrote a post about singing. Although, she claims to be not much of a singer herself, in her reply to comments she did mention a song they sing at her church. As soon as I read the lyrics she shared, I welled up with marvelous memories.

The song is "How Can I Keep From Singing" and you can view the lyrics here. Cardiogirl only mentioned a brief refrain, and those are the lines that stand out in my memory as well:

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I'm clinging,
If love is lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing.

The lyrics I found on-line, articulate "Christ" instead of "love" in that third line, but I seem to remember singing the word "love" as well.

This was a song we used to sing during the praise time in our old University of Illinois graduate school Bible study. That particular group meant quite a bit to me and my husband. It was known for all the couples produced (some of whom we are still in contact with). I have such fond memories of those evenings together and the wonderful friendships we shared. Sadly, we fell out of touch with some of them, but this song still reminds me of our singing sessions.

Of course, those memories led me to look for a video version of this song on You Tube. Alas, most of what I found were current songs by Chris Tomlin. Not to knock Chris Tomlin, or anything, but I was searching for the older version.

Then, I stumbled upon this:

Now, the memories are really streaming in. When I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to spend six months working in London, England. While there, I became friends with a wonderful family - the Mitchell family. I don't even remember all the details surrounding this, but I know that I wanted to visit Highgate Cemetery. David Mitchell, the father in the family, took me to Highgate one day.

As soon as this video began, I welled up with emotion remembering that day and remembering my wonderful friend and father-figure, David Mitchell. He was such a sweet, caring, loving individual. There are several places and things that will always bring back memories of the Mitchells.

Of course, even if I had heard this, without knowing it was filmed in Highgate, it would have made me think of the Mitchells. Another wonderful memory involves the time they took me to see the Vienna Boy's Choir perform at some auditorium along the Embankment (I remember it holds my favorite tea spot in London). Boys choir voices and the sound of The King's Singers will always stir memories of the Mitchells.

Now David is singing with the angels and we can't make any more memories together here on this earth (even if my husband would relent and let me visit England again). But one day, I will join him in that choir and I think I'll ask for this song, "How Can I Keep from Singing."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Indiana Beach

One of these days, I'm going to learn important lessons about trips and actually retain the lessons. For now, I just keep repeating the same old lessons.

Lesson #1: Make a list of necessary items to pack over the course of the previous week. Then, just before you walk out the door, you can refer to the list and check off each item that you are convinced has made it to the vehicle. This would include things like ... a stroller, when you are taking a two year old to a location where there will be more than ten minutes of walking, and a pack-n-play for the two year old to assure safe sleep.

Lesson #2: Pack during the day before departure. Packing on the morning of departure, when your husband is gone and the kids are in a fever pitch of excitement, is neither fun nor effective. I should realize, by now, that they cannot contain their excitement in such circumstances. Even though, they knew that we were not planning on leaving until 1:00 p.m., they pestered me the entire morning. I'm actually amazed that I didn't forget more. As it was, ES, in his impatience threw everything I had packed into the back of the van. If blame were to be placed anywhere, I blame his impatience for my forgetting the stroller and the pack-n-play. In the end, it turned out fine. We rented a stroller and YS slept with ES on a big bed with a chair to keep him from rolling out.

Besides the fact that packing under pressure leads to forgotten items, it is also a sure-fire way to add to your pre-departure cleaning load. I spent the morning busily packing and straightening the house. (ES reminded me that this step was unnecessary. This is a big requirement for my husband, but not one I feel compulsive about. I did this for him, and yet, I was the one who returned to the house first with the little boys. He didn't see the house, until the following afternoon, when the little boys had reduced it to its normal state of near-tornadic appearance.) The boys spent the morning playing outside. In their press to leave, I didn't even notice the mayhem they had wrought on the outside, but when I returned my headlights fell upon bicycles left in the driveway, sand littered all over, and a garage that was sure to raise my husband's ire.

Lesson #3: When attending Indiana Beach it is good to put sunscreen on in the hotel room before you leave for the park. However, it is even more effective to apply the sunscreen again, when you are actually in your swimming suit (thus reaching areas you may not have covered when dressed in your t-shirt and shorts).

We usually ride the rides at the beginning and save our trip to the beachfront for just after lunch. Although my husband intended to accompany me and the little boys, as we were driving to the amusement park, I realized that ES's friend had forgotten to bring his swimming suit and towel along. Rather than return to the hotel, I suggested (yes, it was me, even though it really benefited hubby and earned him a get-out-of-the-sandy-beach free ticket) that the friend use my husband's suit and towel. This meant that I was in the changing area, managing potty breaks beforehand, changing two toddlers and myself, juggling the swim bag full of clothes, shoes and towels, and - out of exhaustion - skipping the second sunscreen application. Now, I am sporting a brilliant burn, which is in the itching, peeling stage, at the moment. Yah-rah!

Lesson #4) Put swimming suits on under clothes before heading to the amusement park. This would have cut down on the circus atmosphere of changing three individuals in a 4 x 4 foot cubicle. Can this really be our fourth or fifth year of visiting Indiana Beach, and I still haven't gotten this lesson down???

Lesson #5) Pack a cooler full of nutritious foods and drinks to keep in the back of the vehicle. We love Indiana Beach, but the various expenses can really add up. We would never give up meals entirely there, because part of the appeal is in eating the foot long corn dogs and elephant ears. However, healthy fare is hard to come by in these amusement park settings (I believe we did get a salad from one vendor, but rarely find fruit or yogurt). And, redundant heavy food merely makes you feel uncomfortable.

After the beach-front (when hubby had his peaceful, quiet lunch alone), I had some quiet time in the van while YS took a brief nap. I watched a huge family (in two vans) return to their vehicles to grab some nourishment. Granted, I didn't see anything healthy (I think they were eating chips, cookies, water and pop), but I'm sure it saved them some money.

Lesson #6) If your husband calls to give you a list of last-minute things to do before leaving the house, don't scoff at the need for a list. Indeed, ask him to prepare you a list long before, so you will know that every. single. possible. detail. is on the list.

My husband's list included the details you would assume any intelligent adult would remember to execute before leaving their home: take out the kitchen trash, dump the water from the humidifier, turn off all lights, check all windows, turn down the thermostat, set the alarm, etc. At 2:00 ES had already packed the van and was still chomping at the bit to leave. I enlisted his help in checking the windows and lights. After setting the alarm, I had to go back in and disengage it because I had forgotten that my cell phone was still on the charger in my room. Finally, I secured the doors to the house, reset the alarm and drove off.

About twenty minutes into our drive, I realized that I hadn't checked the door from the garage to the outside. With an inkling that MS probably opened it, I made the dreaded call to hubby to tell him that, even with a list, I had failed to secure all of the doors. He called his mother and she was able to get a neighbor to come lock the door leading to the garage. Groan.

I plan to read this post again for our next trip to Indiana Beach. Any bets on whether I will manage to take care of every detail??

Still, we had a wonderful time. We arrived just at the hotel's check-in time (see boys, it wouldn't have mattered if we had left one second earlier) and once our things were in the room, we went down to the pool. Hubby, who was driving from his parent's house (after visiting his ailing father for Father's Day) arrived and we gave him wet Father's Day greetings.

We had hoped to do a bit of riding on Sunday night, but when we arrived, we remembered why we never visit Indiana Beach during a weekend. That night, they were offering a special and the place was MOBBED. The bigger boys played some games and we returned to the hotel pool.

Monday turned out to be a perfect day. The forecast had suggested the possibility of thunderstorms, but the entire day was clear. The little boys enjoyed their rides just as much as the big boys. Here are some photos:

The afternoon engineer for the train (YS's favorite ride, despite the scary tunnel bits) allowed both boys to climb up into the engineer's seat and ring the bell and blow the whistle. That was a rare treat. I tipped him with a generous two thumbs up!

If you want to view photos from last year's visit to Indiana Beach, head here. It is always fun to see how much my two little guys have grown in one year's time. Thankfully, Sleepy Bear made it through the whole trip without getting lost. He even rode with us on the large Ferris wheel.

ES and his friend rode the AirCoaster twice. This is one of those contraptions where they secure you in a life-vest attached to a bungee cord and raise you all the way up to an astonishing height. Then, you are dropped and swing back and forth. I'm sure this was thrilling for them, since the ride makes you fly out over the waters of Lake Shafer; however, I'm not offering to ride it with ES any time soon.

In fact, it was interesting to contemplate what the next several years will be like. MS has grown more daring. He and YS both rode the pirate ship ride with us (the large one which swings back and forth and makes your stomach lurch). As they become more daring, there is an exponential decline in their parent's ability to handle these rides.

My husband could only go on the Air Crow with MS once in a go (despite MS's desire to ride it repeatedly) because it made him dizzy. After pooh-poohing his sentiments, I rode the thing twice and found I couldn't handle it a third time either. Something about aging makes those once thrilling rides seem quite a bit less thrilling or enjoyable. Good thing these two little guys have a big brother or they might just have to ride things all alone in the coming years ... especially those "roaster-coasters" (as YS calls roller coasters)!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: The Middle Place

About a month ago, I received this forwarded video from a friend. In a five minute segment, author Kelly Corrigan pays tribute to women, mothers, daughters, and friends. It was beautiful - a must see! I liked this woman immediately. I liked the way she read her essay. I liked her easy sense of humor. I loved how she hit upon universal emotions and made you weep and laugh within the same breath!

So, I requested a copy of her best-selling book from my library. Somehow, with everything else going on in life, its due date came and I intended to renew the book; however, someone else had requested it, meaning I couldn't renew it. Instead of doing the sensible thing, and returning it right then, I decided I would try to read it quickly. The first night, I managed a third of the book, without any effort at all and only stopped reading because of the time. I knew I was hooked and wouldn't return it until I had read the whole thing, despite the overdue fee.

The author begins by identifying herself as her father's only daughter. The depth of love she has for her father is intense. Indeed, he sounds like an incredible individual and one the reader will come away wanting to meet.

This memoir takes us on Kelly's journey from leaving the role of daughter, becoming an adult, having two daughters of her own, receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer and returning to the arms and encouragements of her father to get her through the challenges of this illness. Her father's optimistic attitude and deeply-felt faith in God help to carry her through.

It is really an endearing story, since it brings the reader into the inner sphere of what it is like to experience and battle cancer. Plus, it is a quick and easy read - written in story form, with analysis interspersed.

Yet, I find myself unable to enthusiastically recommend this book. It is an enjoyable read. But, the analysis given by the author throughout the second half of the book left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I had hoped for more ... a deeper wisdom, a stronger take-away. I suppose I would rather like to read her father's story of the battle with cancer.

I understand that my own worldview is merely at odds with the author's worldview. While her father clings to faith, maintains an upbeat attitude and prays for a miracle, the author disdains religion (voicing the attitude that prayer has nothing to do with the physical battle against cancer or whether or not the doctor is skilled enough to select the best choice of action), compulsively bolsters herself up to send out positive e-mails, and is consumed with a passion for controlling everything about her situation (and her father's cancer situation) by securing the best doctors.

I guess I struggled to like the author as much when she honestly voiced her complaints. Yet, I feel harsh to judge her for those complaints. I mean, realistically, any cancer survivor is going to feel angry and resent the ways cancer has robbed them of certain expectations in life. But, in my mind, I keep thinking, life often robs you of your expectations of life, be it through cancer or some other trial. (And believe me, I see the three fingers pointing back at myself, while one is pointed at this author. I've had my own pity parties and voiced vociferous complaints.)

Furthermore, I felt uncomfortable with her lopsided portrayal of her parents. She focuses so intensely on her love for her father, that the reader comes away asking, "but, what about your mother?" It is clear that her mother was on her own very difficult road, dealing with her husband's multiple battles with cancer and her only daughter's battle with breast cancer. Yet, it never really feels like the author is giving any accolades to the mother in this book.

Instead, she enters her mother's home and decides to spruce things up (in what would clearly help her own level of comfort) by taking down old photos and frames and worn out things and replacing them with a whole new stash from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Oh, the horror. I winced with the mother, hoping against hope that the author had not thrown out the beloved, well-worn items of the mother.

In the final analysis, I still credit this as a good book and Kelly Corrigan as a good author. I still am grateful for the chance to enter her world and sit alongside as she faces a demon and confronts it in the only way she knows how. I just can't get away from the longing to make her father's faith more relevant in her own life.

I want her to wake up and say to the world, "You know, I was wrong. Drinking doesn't really assuage the grief of cancer as much as turning our rawest, weakest moments over to the wisdom and authority of One who is greater and stronger and wiser than we could ever hope to be." I want her to embrace the gift of her husband and two daughters and welcome other options for fulfilling her longing for more children. I want her to adopt an orphaned European child who is battling leukemia because she has so much to give to a child in that position. In essence, I want to write her life for her.

Thankfully, I can't barge in and write her life for her. Indeed, that would be akin to her Bed, Bath, and Beyond extravaganza. I can only sit back and appreciate that we are all different. Despite our differences in faith and lifestyle, I can appreciate her struggle with cancer and rejoice in her survivor status. I can wait for another book, perhaps about her relationships with other women (in a similar vein to the fabulous essay that sparked the original video I viewed).

Moreover, I can point you to another splendid video (one where Borders decided to feature Kelly Corrigan's MOTHER). Visit Kelly Corrigan's website and view the videos. She is quite lovely. You'll meet both her mother and father in the book's trailer video, and ... chances are ... if you view this video, you'll want to read the book (despite some of my misgivings).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rambling Reflections

I had intended to log on tonight and write up a book review. Alas, we were out of some staples and a night run to the grocery store devoured some of my time. Then, I twiddled away more time reading updates on Face book, wanting to write something about where my mind has been today, but not really knowing how to effectively capture it in short enough form to be a status line.

When I finally brought up my blog, I was blind-sided by the last post. Has it really been a full week, since I've taken a moment to write in the evening? Granted, I do realize that much has gone on in that time, but still ... a week?

My parents arrived for a visit on Tuesday night of last week (thus, they enjoyed waiting and watching to see how my dinner experiment went - they argued that they had already eaten dinner, but hmmmm?). I managed to talk them into staying one day longer (even though, out of all my siblings, I think I have had the longest amount of time with them during this visit). They only come up from Florida, to make a round of visits with their children, twice a year, so I take every minute I can get.

I certainly didn't miss my blog, while staying up late in the evenings talking with my parents. Despite the advances in technology (hey, my dad is actually on Face book, too), we really don't talk often enough. Unlike my husband's family, where a week without a phone call would raise serious eyebrows, we don't have weekly chats.

I think I know my own penchant for gabbing. If I managed to snag a moment to call my parents, I can be fairly certain that I will ramble on and on for at least forty minutes, during which all you-know-what will break loose in my absence. Thankfully, my blog has filled that gap somewhat. However, I am still waiting for them to jump start their own blog (I can tell you, they have ample material to draw from and my dad would certainly love a slightly modified preacher's podium).

Anyway, after their visit, Tuesday through Friday morning, we began bracing for the weekend. My husband had already intended to spend the weekend with his parents, but his father ended up in the hospital. I'm sure my mother-in-law enjoyed a weekend with all of her kids home.

Sunday afternoon, I drove to Monticello, Indiana, with the boys and my husband joined us shortly thereafter for a mini-vacation at Indiana Beach (future post necessary).

I returned home with the two little boys last night, feeling thoroughly spent. Today, my ES informed me that a boy from his gym class this past year died over the weekend in a fire at his grandmother's home. I have been reeling. I didn't know the boy. My son didn't really know the boy well either. Still, it has been on my mind all day.

Needless to say, my thoughts are hardly in order this evening. I have been contemplating the wonderful time we just experienced with our boys at Indiana Beach. I keep putting myself in the shoes of this unfortunate family. Even when I was at Indiana Beach, I was putting myself in Peggy Larson's shoes, thinking, "What would it be like to enjoy a day at Indiana Beach with Caden, while aching for the luxury of having his twin brother Coleman there to experience it with him?"

I don't know if ES's classmate was an only child, but I did remind ES that this very possibility drove my husband and I to have our two youngest children. ES was our world when he was an only, but we knew that we would be devastated if something were to happen to him and we were left with no other children to ease that pain.

I also asked ES if he would have done anything differently if he had known that this boy would not live out the month of June. I don't know if my own thoughts and reflections will impact my son, but I deeply hope it causes him to think about how he can make a difference in other people's lives merely by befriending them and showing an interest in them.

Anyway, this is a highly unpolished post. But, at 1:20 a.m. I'm merely hitting the publish button and calling it a night. Hopefully, I will snag some time tomorrow to write a decent post about our Indiana Beach experience and a review of a memoir.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm an Easy Believer

Sometimes, when you're cruising' along in all those other people's blogs out in the blogosphere, it can begin to cloud your inner perceptions. You know, frankly, some people make things appear so darn easy, and you begin to think that, perchance, you should try something along those lines as well.

I can always look at the photography on another blog and return to my own mirror with a clear understanding that God has not really gifted me in that realm. I can hop through a documented daily schedule of a woman with sixteen children (I believe it was three or four sets of twins and one set of triplets - yikes), and still know that there is no way in the world that I will ever be as organized or on top of things. Chaos with my three is, in fact, probably equivalent to the level of noise and commotion in her household of sixteen kids. (Let's see, ES = 3, YS = 4, and MS = the other nine!)

But, today, the stars were aligned and I fell for the delusional idea that what is easy to another could be achieved by myself. It just happened that my husband reminded me that we had a container of egg substitute in the refrigerator, about to expire. (The fact that it was egg substitute instead of real, honest-to-goodness eggs may have been my first mis-step.) I was thinking it might be fun to look up some egg recipes which include spinach, because I've really been enjoying spinach lately.

After searching for a bit, I printed out one from the EatBetter America site for a simple Spinach-Cheddar Frittata. Before I exited, I flitted over to some blogs. What should I chance upon, but a fellow blogger, Lisa, presenting mouth-watering photos of her own spinach quiches. She gave the bare bones gist of where the ingredients came from (eggs from their hens, milk from their goat, vegetables from their garden, pie crust from their grocer).

I headed to my kitchen, convinced that I could pull off this new, tasty feat. Upon inspection, I realized that my hubby had eaten up all the remaining fresh spinach and that we did not have a deep dish pie shell in the freezer. Still, we did have frozen spinach and I had a container of crescent rolls which were also due to expire soon (one would get the feeling we don't eat up our food quickly enough).

Lisa hadn't really mentioned to what temperature she set the oven or how long she baked her lovely quiche pies. I decided, I would do a blend of both recipes (it was already pretty healthy fare with the egg substitute, spinach and tomatoes, so I figured a bit of cheese couldn't hurt). I set the oven for 350 degrees, greased a round cake pan (in case the egg substitute, which said it was equivalent to 8 eggs - same as Lisa used per pie) and pressed the crescent roll dough onto the bottom and up the sides. I beat the eggs and milk together, per Lisa, and poured it into the pan. I sprinkled frozen spinach into the egg mixture and topped with a coating of cheddar cheese. Then, I sliced a tomato and placed the wedges in a beautiful circle near the edges of the pan.

When I placed this in the oven, I was worried that my husband's portion would get cold because he was downstairs exercising and would need to finish up and shower. I set the timer for 15 minutes, per the frittata recipe and waited to smell the delicious goodness of my effortless, dinner creation (I believe at that moment, I was channeling MckMama, who has lately been providing us with her impromptu recipes of the day - all full of healthy ingredients, like her spinach and flax pancakes, which I must try ... following her recipe. step. by. step).

Alas, after 15 minutes the eggs were still liquid and the crescent roll edges were nicely browned. I continued to add five minutes, oh, say about FIFTY times (o.k., maybe seven or eight more times) until I was absolutely sure that hubby would not balk at the consistency of the egg mixture (he is phobic of undercooked eggs and salmonella, among other things). By then, the crust was fried to charcoal brown, but hey, you can always cut off the burnt bits, right?

I cut a slice for myself and poured a glass of skim milk (did I mention that I probably used skim in the mixture as well, since I'm always conscious of cutting down on cholesterol levels now). It was really a beautiful thing on my plate. It did look very similar to Lisa's pies. However, as I've learned before, looks aren't everything.

It wasn't inedible. It was merely fair. I can add up all the things I should have done differently. 1) Recipes are made for people like me, who don't have much practice improvising in the kitchen, unless it is in adding granola to the top of our bran flakes. 2) Pie crust is a must. 3) The frittata recipe only called for 3 egg whites and 1 oz. of cheese - therefore it only took 15 minutes to cook at 350 degrees. 4) Both of the recipes called for raw spinach leaves. If anything, I should have thawed the spinach and squeezed out the extra moisture (instead of having to cook-out that extra moisture). 5) I'm betting that real eggs and full fat milk also provide full flavor. Darn!

Still, we did both eat two pieces (leaving two to be reheated tomorrow) and it was pretty. I'm glad I didn't merely waste the container of egg substitute (although I doubt I'll buy it again).

Note to self: Just because someone else looks brilliant in red hair, doesn't mean that I could pull it off, too!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Book Review: The Prodigal God

This is the first time someone has asked me to read and review a book on my blog. My friend, Mary, who last year recommended The Shack, wrote to encourage me to get my hands on this book. It is written by Pastor Timothy Keller, whose first book, The Reason for God, led Newsweek magazine to call him a "C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century."

The title itself intrigued me, because the word "prodigal" so often connotes the idea of wayward living. However, at the outset, Keller informs us that the word means "recklessly spendthrift." In God's grace, He is as prodigal, in a positive way, as the son is, in a negative way.

Although many people focus entirely on the younger son's abandonment of the father and God's unreserved acceptance when he returns, this book identifies two equally lost sons, or two categories of people: 1) moral conformity sons, and 2) self-discovery sons. Keller emphasizes that both sons resented the Father's authority.

I remember hearing the archery definition, where sin is "missing the mark" or anything outside of that narrow goal. Keller deepens this understanding when he states, "sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life."

As I read this book, I began to recognize characteristics of both lost brothers in myself. I know that for a long time, I lived a life of faithfulness and committed every problem to the Lord's guidance and control. However, there did come a tangible time in my life (when something devastating occurred in my personal life), when I stepped away and said to God, "You know what, this isn't working out any more; I think I'm just going to see if I can find my own way in this."

Indeed, I would even venture to say that the elder-brother responses I observed in fellow church members, helped to send me packing and down the road of younger brother rebellion.

However, I also recognize that I fit Keller's description of the older brother, as well. Keller states, "The first sign you have an elder brother spirit is that when your life doesn't go as you want, you aren't just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter." That would pretty well characterize my life at one point in time.

I would have said, "I still love the Father and I still recognize His authority, but I'm sure He can handle the fact that I have lots of questions and bitterness over the way things have gone down." Several people attempted to tell me that my bitterness itself was sin against God. At the time, I hesitated to believe this. Looking back, I will readily admit that my bitterness did lead to other sins against God and others.

Keller goes on to say that "the last sign of the elder brother spirit is a lack of assurance of the father's love." This is certainly, where the bitterness-sin path led me. It became very difficult to believe fully in His love for me. I maintained a head knowledge of His love, but I didn't feel a heart knowledge of His love. Still, I did not despair. I merely likened my experience to St. John of the Cross's "dark night of the soul." I don't believe our feelings are adequate indicators of our spiritual state.

The blessed assurance gleaned from Keller's book, is that God loves both of the lost sons equally. He deeply loves individuals who turn to Him and say, in complete confusion, "I don't get it. I have served You faithfully and sought Your wisdom in all matters and yet you have allowed this ... to befall me, or You have failed to defend me (as we often hear in David's own psalms)."

And even this enlightenment went on to sting me inwardly. I make no bones about the fact that I disdain individuals who carry themselves with an air of spiritual arrogance. Those ones who approach a struggling Christian as if they hold all the answers. I began to realize that I could identify with the older brother spirit and yet, didn't want to extend forgiveness for others who I assess to maintain a self-righteous air. Keller urges the reader to show them the same forgiveness God extends.

He acknowledges that many individuals have left the church, often because they have been disappointed by churches filled with elder brothers. But he pegs abandonment of church (leaving the community of believers because of our disillusionment with other Christians) just as strongly. He says, "Staying away from them simply because they have elder brothers is just another form of self-righteousness." This was highly convicting.

In the end, Timothy Keller's primary desire is that his reader (regardless of what category they fall in) recognize the prodigal nature of God's grace and throw off the desire to allow idolatry (putting self on the throne) to keep one from experiencing the fullness of God's open arms. Sadly, in the end of the parable of the lost sons (as Keller calls it), we never see the elder brother accept God's authority or pay the price from his own inheritance towards embracing the errant younger brother. He urges us, with a heart for community, to deal compassionately towards the lost (elder and younger) and rely entirely upon God for a deeper understanding of (as well as the ability to embrace) His infinite, reckless, extravagant grace.

This book is a short (130 pages), easy read and offers new perspectives on a passage of Scripture which many are familiar with. I appreciated the fact that several of Keller's explanations where illustrated by referencing other literature (J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor, John Steinbeck, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Elliot and even the movie, "The Witness"). I know that some question an author's Biblical allegiance if they reference other works. If you would rather listen to Keller's ideas, you can visit his website and listen to six sermons preached on this passage. I imagine most of the ideas in the book are covered in the sermons. If you've already read the book, feel free to leave a comment and let me know what your opinion was (or what enlightenment you gleaned).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Review: Magic Hour

Ah, my need for some riveting fiction has been met! This book was such a good read. My mother had given it to me for Christmas because she had enjoyed it. When she was here visiting briefly last week, she picked it up while sitting in the car with one of my sleeping boys as I ran in for groceries. She said that she wants to read it all over again. I can see why!

Set in a small town next to the Olympic National Forest, Kristin Hannah intertwines the paths of several dynamic characters. First, there is a child psychiatrist, Julia, with a damaged reputation and no great desire to return to her small town roots. Her sister, Ellie, is a lonely beauty queen, turned police chief, with two failed marriages behind her. When a six year old girl appears in town from out of nowhere, hiding in a tree with a wolf cub, Ellie begs Julia to come help in her quest to discover the girl's identity and return her to her rightful home. The handsome local doctor, Max, is running from his own demons and is intrigued by Julia's open hostility towards him. The entrance of this little wild child (think a female version of Emily Bronte's Heathcliff) alters the course of life for each of them.

The little girl's scars, animalistic behavior, and inability to communicate, make it clear that she has suffered untold trauma. Julia gives her the name "Alice," and begins to work night and day, trying to draw her out and provide them with some clues. In the process, the people of this small town begin to fall in love with their strange new ward. When the mystery of Alice's identity begins to come to light, endless emotions are brought to the surface and the characters are in for the ride of their lives.

This is a novel full of the best and worst of love - the commitment, the cost, the joy, the pain. It is a tale of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love. Its characters will tug at your heart strings and you will feel fully invested in the outcome of Alice's plight.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Snake Sighted and Snapped

Today, we had a very active day. We attended an activity in a neighboring town where they provide a free sack lunch with story time and send each child home with a free book. The boys were super thrilled because we ran into Mrs. Becky (who was MS's PDO teacher last year) and her boys. Then, we went to the library for the kick-off event for their summer reading program.

Once I finally got YS down for a nap, MS and I headed outside. I knew that MS would immediately go to the bushes to look for the snake. At first, we didn't see anything.

Personally, I think MS willed that snake to come out of hiding because he loves snakes so much. Next thing I knew, MS was beckoning me to come see the snake. Sure enough, it was the same one. I went inside for the camera, but again, the snake disappeared.

All told, I think it popped its head out four or five times while we were out there. I swear I had to hold MS back from trying to reach his hand into the bush to catch it for himself.

Here are the photos I "snapped" (no, we didn't snap him up or hold him):

My husband says it is merely a garter snake. I guess now MS has his pet snake without any permission from me.

As for the birds, they are indeed sitting on the nest regularly. We are fairly certain they are laying a second batch of eggs (we've never seen that before; although, they do always build a nest in this location every year). I'm so thankful that I'm not a bird. Can you imagine having four little babies and then turning around three weeks later and starting the whole process again?? Then again, momma birdies are done with their child-rearing gig pretty quickly. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. Wait a minute! They EAT WORMS. Ugh! I guess I'll stick with my Skinny Cow Ice Cream treats and my 18 year child-rearing gig (per child).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Windows and Birds and Snakes, Oh My!

Two weekends ago, when my husband took the boys to visit their paternal grandparents, I was a whirling dervish of activity, cleaning and sorting and attempting to use the precious time to get things done. Several people on Face book, mentioned that they didn't think cleaning for 7 hours made for a very lovely birthday. I guess I did find myself thinking, "wouldn't it be nice if I could have a weekend to myself to do as I pleased?"

This past weekend was my husband's birthday. Instead of giving him a gift (he told me to wait until the little boys were gone, when I would find shopping easier), it seems he has given me the gift. He, once again, took the boys to my in-laws. Originally, the plan was for him to take ES over to their house because ES is attending a wrestling camp there. However, at some point he decided to take the two little ones along, leaving on Saturday afternoon and returning on Monday.

Another purpose for his visit, included taking our van into the original shop where we had purchased it, in the hopes that they would be able to remove the CD from the CD player (the eject button has failed to work ever since I went away for the women's retreat in February, despite our best efforts). Believe me, I have definitely noticed the decline in books read since losing my CD player in the van. I miss it sorely.

Unfortunately, when they looked at it today, they determined that it is a job which will require more than one day. They will have to remove the entire system and send it off to be tested (to determine what caused the malfunction of the eject button). Alas, I will not be getting the library CD out of the CD player.

I have already renewed the book umpteen times. I did call Recorded Books, Inc., to see if I could purchase the single replacement CD, but they said I would have to go through my library. Thankfully, when I spilled the whole story, the librarian gave me the happy news that it will only cost $6.00. If this had been my library back in DeKalb, where you were only allowed to renew an item twice, I would have already racked up a $6 overdue fee.

The estimated fee for replacing the CD system in the van? $500! No kidding! That is ridiculous. I told hubby that I will put my portable CD player and connecting speakers in the van between the driver and passenger seat. I'm not willing to lose all my opportunities for listening to books on CD in the van, but I'm also not willing to part with $500 to make it more convenient.

Given hubby's description of the weekend, we may have to write out a check for $500 to my in-laws (not that they would accept it). Apparently, hubby's birthday weekend was far from the relaxing weekend I experienced for my birthday (even with the blitz cleaning). The two boys were quite a handful for my husband. Indeed, YS threw his sippy cup and broke a window in the living room. Oy vey! I'm sure Grandpa, in constant pain, managed a smile when they headed home tonight.

Thanks to my own pain, from a backache brought on by a) jumping on the trampoline with the little boys, or b) exercising while they climb all over me, I had the laid-back (no pun intended) weekend I wouldn't have dreamed of giving myself. In fact, my plans had been to go through as many rooms as possible and sort out things to get rid of. Alas, that never happened. At some points, I could barely walk.

My weekend was spent catching up on e-mail and blogs, lying on the couch with my legs raised, reading a book, and ... failing to shop for my husband's birthday gifts. I did make it to Walmart, because we were completely out of water (and our well water is something we still haven't acclimated to). (Ah, memories of my niece, Kirsten, and the song from "Jungle Book," - "I must go to fetch the water, 'til the day that I am grown."), so at this point I have only one gift for him.

My husband is the practical sort. He asks for things like belts, socks, underwear, etc. Unbelievably, from his short 4 item list of suggestions, I was only able to find one of his requested gifts.

Then again, now that he is home, I think he considers the fact that I take care of our boys most of the time to be plenty of a gift. After another invitation for a group reunion, I have been trying to make arrangements to head to DeKalb this coming weekend. He looked at me tonight and said, quite clearly, "You either go and take them with you or you stay. I can't give you another weekend away from those boys."

So, my peaceful weekends of mommy down-time have come to an end. Still, two weekends, so close together, was more than I anticipated or expected. Now, the task will be finding someone who is available to watch my two little boys in DeKalb while I get together with friends at a restaurant ('cause there ain't no way in the world that I would get one word of conversation in if the boys accompany me there!). I think my husband is hoping I find someone because he wants a weekend to himself now.

Tonight, as I was preparing for their return (scrambling to make it look like I had been partially effective this weekend, despite the back) I was standing by the washing machine. When I glanced out the window, I noticed that the nest (in the photo in the last post) was occupied by the momma bird again. I stood there looking at it, thinking "Now momma birdie, did you just come back to sit there because you miss your fledglings? I know how you feel. I'm beginning to miss my little boys, too!"

It seemed unusual for the grown birds to be back (I think I have seen both the momma and the daddy bird), so I tried to look on-line for wisdom in this matter. Here is what Corey Finger from 10000 Birds wrote to me:

"Rarely a pair of robins will reuse a nest, so that might be what is happening here. If you or your husband want to take a look, feel free. One look to see if there are eggs won't hurt. I can't think of any other reason beyond a second nesting attempt that would bring a pair of robins back to the same nest."

I'll be keeping my eye on that nest in the coming days. I don't know if I'll venture propping up a ladder to check for eggs. Although, I'm sure my MS would gladly offer for me to hold him out of the window to gain a better look!

Then, I noticed something in the back yard and thought it might be another turtle (turned out to be a giant overturned leaf). I went outside to check. As I walked out of the door from our garage, I decided to quickly look at four pots where I have been trying to grow plants (ha! YS already dumped one of them). I stepped towards the pots and noticed more ground squirrel holes in the mulch.

Suddenly, I noticed more than holes. There was a snake. a little more than a foot from my ankle. I quickly side-stepped away and the thing remained motionless, with its head perched up looking at me for almost two minutes. Finally, I decided to make a run for my camera (did I really think that snake would still be there, looking like a giant z coming out of the bush area when I returned???). I saw no trace of the snake when I returned (however, this is the same bush area where MS found a snake skin the summer before last).

Now, the thought of my little guys sitting out in the sandbox makes me nervous (it is quite close to those bushes). The snake was thin and had long stripes running down from the head to the tail. I tried to identify it on-line, but am not quite sure. Here is the closest photo, I could come up with:

I think instead of sitting outside, enjoying the day tomorrow, we will go to the library for their summer reading kick-off. The only snakes we will run into there, will be in books. Just the way I like them!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tying Up Loose Ends

Brace yourself; this is a rambling post. This week has really flown by. There were several times when I wanted to write up a post, but simply didn't find the time in the evening. And I know that I left those clues from a few weeks ago hanging. So, here are some explanations:

ES is a saver. He very rarely sees little things that he wants to spend his money on. Instead, he saves up his money and makes large purchases (i.e., his go-kart, Rock Band, drums, etc.). He had been begging and begging for us to purchase an I-Touch for his birthday in the beginning of last month. I wouldn't agree to it. Finally, we compromised and gave him some money towards the I-Touch. He paid for over half of it.

Our computer really stinks. It has a very small main drive and a very large secondary drive. The problem is that everything seems to go on the default drive (the smaller of the two) and then the computer begins to freeze up. This is why my husband is constantly removing my photos from the hard drive when I upload them from the camera. I find it frustrating because I don't really know much about computers and don't know how to easily retrieve older photos that I might wish to add to a letter or post on my blog.

Anyway, ES had to put I-Tunes onto the computer (in order to access the many applications which are available to I-Touch users). He wisely put the I-Tunes on the larger drive. However, every time he connected his I-Touch to the computer to charge it, the I-Touch was sync-ing to the smaller drive.

The night before the computer went haywire, ES was proudly showing me the multitudinous free applications which he had uploaded to his I-Touch. I was thrilled with some of them. He has an app. which provides him with a schedule for reading through the Bible in a year. He has actually been sitting up in his bed in the evenings reading portions of the Bible on his I-Touch. I certainly won't complain about that.

The I-Touch apps basically took up all the space on the default drive and everything froze. Thankfully, my husband knows more about computers than I do. Otherwise, I would have been calling in the "Geek Squad." Hopefully, we won't run into any further problems.

As for MS, well ... I thought about taking a photo of our tablecloth, just as a teaser. You can always tell where MS sits at the table because I have never had a tablecloth which he didn't destroy. Everyone else's spot at the table is fine, but the area where MS sits is full of holes and rips and all manner of tablecloth carnage.

Alas, it wasn't the tablecloth that he cut while I was downstairs working out. He has always had access to his safety scissors because of his endless art activities. Plus, he does know where the grown-up scissors are kept.

Here is his cutting masterpiece:

He had been telling me that his hair was getting close to his eyes and he didn't want his hair to get too long, like big brother's hair. Unfortunately, he took matters into his own hands.

Finally, the tale of YS. We went to the library, after his nap, my exercise and the foray into a salon career. I spent a few minutes too long in the library book sale room, where they were offering a bag of books for $1. Realizing that they were too stir-crazy to look any longer, I led them out into the main section of the library (where all the computer terminals are and where the adults look for their books) on our way to the children's section.

YS suddenly felt that MS was chasing him. He took off at great speeds and ran shrieking through the library. Of course, MS tried to stop him, which only made YS shriek louder and run faster. It was mortifying, as every eye followed them. YS was climbing beneath computers where people were working. MS was scrambling after him. Oh, the humiliation.

The other day, we had a chance to meet a dog belonging to one of ES's friends. It was a Golden Doodle, the kind of dog I would like to have when we finally get around to granting our boys' deep desires for a dog. As we mentioned how beautiful Zeke was, my husband reminded us all that a dog would be getting loose and running off into the woods, coming back with ticks, etc. MS decided that he knew the perfect answer for this. He declared that we should merely make a collar for him that would zap him every time he went near the creek or headed into the woods or met up with a snake or a skunk.

I did inform him that they have something like that, called an "Invisible Fence." However, in my mind, I was imagining how wonderful it would be if I could merely make a collar for my boys that would zap them every time they ran shrieking through the library or began to cut their own hair or stealthily played with fire or ... I'm sure you understand that my list of "or's" for these boys is endless!

Of course, the collars would have to come with positive feedback options as well. So, my ES would have received some sort of token or stroke (or if was me wearing the collar, a piece of dark chocolate) for his act of kindness earlier this week.

I mentioned that ES is a saver. Well, he tends to save all of his ticket totals whenever we go to Chuck E. Cheese's. We went to CEC's, on Tuesday, to spend the 20 free tokens which ES received for his birthday (I couldn't believe they sent them for a 13th birthday) and the free tokens they provided for his straight A report card. We had a few tokens left over from a previous visit. ES gave each of the little boys about 8 tokens and then went off to play the games where you can win large jackpots.

The little boys spent most of their time in the climbing area. When ES was done with his games, he came to tell me that he had checked out the prize offerings and didn't see anything that he wished to spend his tickets on. However, he noticed a stuffed snake which he thought MS would really like. He asked me if he could run out to the van to get his ticket stash (11,000 tickets saved up). He proceeded to spend 1500 of his tickets on the stuffed snake for his brother.

One of the reasons this impressed me so much, is that he tends to ooh and ahh over his youngest brother (telling him he is the greatest brother in the world) and often makes MS feel left out or unloved. I had recently had a talk with ES about what his favoritism could do to MS emotionally. His actions made a great impact. MS couldn't get over his brother's generosity. He thanked him over and over. Here is a photo of MS with his new pet snake (whom he, surprisingly, hasn't named yet):

Oh, and here is a photo of the large snapping turtle we found in our back yard last week:

And some baby birds we were able to watch take flight for the first time last week:

Sadly, we saw the blue heron again the day before my friend, Leti, came for a visit. It would have been so cool if she had been able to see a heron when she was here. She did get to see a baby bird in a nest in one of our bushes.

When she left, she promised that she would come for a visit again and next time she would bring something (although, she brought something this time - a birthday present for me, an unnecessary action which brought a smile to my face). MS piped up quickly with a suggestion. He told her she should bring us some chocolate. Now there's a boy after my own heart!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Living an Inspirational Life

Tonight, I wanted to log on and write up a post commending my ES for a moment today when he made me proud. Alas, I got side-tracked by mail and news. But, I did happen upon two stories I wanted to pass along. The first, is a story about an inspirational 11 year old. The second is a story about an inspirational young couple. Be sure to watch the accompanying videos.