Friday, December 31, 2010

Celebrating the New

Two weeks before Christmas, my husband's father (who had struggled with prostate cancer and the side effects of over-seeding with radiation to cure it) passed away. We were pretty sure it was coming. He had been very poorly at Thanksgiving time. Plus, during the previous week, he had been unable to speak. This made our Christmas visit with my husband's family bittersweet this year.

We have just finished hosting my family for a Christmas gathering here in our home in Indiana. This was the first year since my parent's retired from Salvation Army officership that all of us were able to be together. With my parents and all five children, spouses and grandchildren, we packed the house in with 30 people.

Sadly, I didn't really bring out my camera very often. I can't claim that I was busy in the kitchen, because that really isn't my area of expertise or comfort. Thankfully, I am blessing with a very helpful husband and the assistance of several other family members.

We piled everyone into the porch (so grateful that we were able to get it heated a year ago) and took some photos. All 18 grandchildren stood still for ages while numerous cameras snapped photos and then we opened our gifts to one another.

Of course, the children from the youngest all the way to the oldest, had a fantastic time playing with our Magnatiles (that gift has been well-used!).

The littlest grandchild, ran from a dog (not ours - that would have terrified him thoroughly) and right into my arms when his family arrived. I loved those little snuggles. He's a total cutie pie!

His older sister performed some Irish dance for us in full costume. Bryce performed several of his drum covers for the whole gang. Another grandchild played part of her piano recital for us and Trevor made everyone laugh as he enthusiastically performed moves from his wrestling practices (when we erupted in laughter over his sprawl, he threatened to shoot anyone who laughed with his cap gun. Then he revised it to an offer to give a dollar to anyone who watched but didn't laugh).

I never know whether to be embarrassed about Trevor or just laugh along. He gets his talkative nature from me, so I can't really complain or fuss. Still, it was like he was on a sugar high when everyone arrived. He tried to get his 19 year old cousin in a half Nelson on the floor. Then, while seated around the table, he informed us of the four or five jobs he planned on getting (doctor, artist, snake scientist, etc.). I think someone wondered aloud if he would be able to find a wife, given that schedule. He responded by explaining that he plans to be hard on his wife. I was panicky, wondering what in the world he could possibly mean. He explained that he's going to make her have 13 kids, "like that show we watch." Ha! Watch out Duggars!

One of my favorite things about our time together was the playing of two fast-paced fun card games. For several years now, we have played Scum. Bryce even remembers it from the Christmas when Trevor was just a baby.

To play Scum, we draw cards to determine places. The highest card drawn becomes the president, next, the vice president, on down, with the two final chairs being for the assistant Scum and Scum. The cards are divided evenly, with the Scum having to take the largest pile. Next the Scum trades his two highest cards for the President's two lowest cards and the assistants both trade one card. The President leads and everyone must build piles until all the cards have been played and new places determined (with the first to go out being president, on down). It is a load of fun.

This year, they introduced me to the game of Spoons as well. This game works along the lines of musical chairs. If five people are playing, four spoons are placed on the middle of the table. Each player is given three chocolates (to represent their lives) and dealt four cards. The goal is to acquire four of a kind and then grab a spoon. The dealer begins drawing a card from the pile and determining whether it will be of use to him. He then passes it to the next player and continues to search for four of a kind. The fun comes when someone has grabbed a spoon and everyone must scramble to grab the others spoons, so that they don't lose a life. Apparently, the game played on the first evening (when I was off putting my little guys to bed) led to two individuals lunging under the table for a spoon. We're a competitive group. I was pleasantly surprised when John agreed to play with us, because he normally says, "I don't play games." I think even he had fun with it.

The kids were all able to go out sledding down our back yard hill. By the day when my youngest brother and family left (they usually stay the longest and our kids love hanging out with their kids), the snow was melting away quickly. My sister-in-law and I went out for a walk, with her dog (Harley was in the kennel up until the last day of their visit). We were hoping to work off some of the plentiful cookies and treats we had consumed.

I must say, as much as I enjoyed the visit, it was thoroughly exhausting to me. At times, I felt a need to withdraw because there was so much chaos and stimulation. After the walk, when the final family departed, I collapsed in bed for an hour. I was absolutely shattered.

We are convinced that something is clearly not right with me. Normal stresses seem to be magnified ten-fold to me. I don't even have enough energy for a normal walk. It is all very disconcerting.

Indeed, it led to some scary dreams last night. The dreams all had to do with normal unexpected changes in schedule or plans that completely threw me for a loop and I responded very poorly. At one point, I was trying to choke Trevor for lying to his teacher and coming home early from school. Another part of the dream had me heading to my room with a tie and plans to do myself in, but not a single person coming to check on me.

I must admit, I am quite horrified that suicide shows up in my dreams. Plus, I'm equally concerned about the way I seem to be declining in stamina. I'm not sure what is wrong (and haven't found a doctor who can remedy this).

Today, Trevor had wrestling practice this morning. As we headed to the van, he began to regale me with a list of stuff he wants next Christmas (good to plan ahead, right?). I told him the only thing I want for Christmas is my old self back. He said, "It's okay, Mommy. Did you know that when you get to heaven you get to have a new body?"

I told him that I knew that. In fact, I said, "it reminds me of that song:
'when we all get to Heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be,
when we all see Jesus,
we'll sing and shout the victory."

Trevor said, "That sounds like New Year's Eve."

I agreed and said, "yes, we'll be celebrating, but instead of celebrating a new year, we'll be celebrating a new body and eternity with Jesus."

It is comforting to think of John's dad in a new body (devoid of cancer, heart conditions or fatigue). Sounds pretty good to me! How about you?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: Angling Life

When I was a little girl, I used to go on fishing excursions with my dad and brothers. We would rise early in the morning (3 or 4 a.m.). I remember one time in particular when my grandmother had made a Ziploc baggie full of Chex mix for us to munch. We would climb in the car and promptly go back to sleep while my dad drove to Camp Mihaska, a Salvation Army camp in Missouri. Here is a brief video I found that shows where we fished (although, I remember it a bit differently).

One time, our fishing venture was a total wash. I remember that my dad decided to stop by a local fish hatchery on our way home. This was a place where they breed fish to stock ponds. Somehow my dad convinced the man to let us fish in the small runs teeming with trout. I think my dad paid for us to catch about four each. We caught those fish in record time. Best fishing trip ever (minus the exhilaration of actual challenge, of course).

While I have limited experience and passion for fishing, Captain Dan Keating is a professional. In his book, Angling Life: A Fisherman Reflects on Success, Failure and the Ultimate Catch, the author provides a romping tale of fishing adventures. However, this book is more than just a good fish story! It weaves the tales of fishing in order to reveal deeper truths about life and our spiritual quest. Indeed, it is a fisherman's apologetic.

I loved the inscription to his son Ethan, a challenge to listen to his life and to continue to live with passion. I loved the forward containing a brief story about a woman contemplating suicide who gets an unexpected break. This was a perfect introduction for a book about God "helping his children believe."

There is a sense of story throughout this book that captures you. Even though I am not a trained or skilled fisherman, I could completely relate to the struggles the author presents in the story of his life and his fishing adventures. Captain Keating's passion for fishing reminded me to examine my own passions for the fingerprints of God.

The book is also peppered with wonderful quotes from Thoreau and others. Here were two of my favorites (both Thoreau):

"Many go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after."

"A truly good book teaches me better than to read it; I must soon lay it down and commence living on its hint; what I began by reading, I must finish by acting."

I loved Keating's analogy about people:

"Boats, like people, are created in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Some are rather fragile and best suited for shallow water. If they are caught offshore in an unexpected storm, the waves will quickly consume them. Some are designed to withstand long journeys into uncharted deep water ..."

I felt challenged by these words:

"Jesus doesn't want us to be distracted by the wind or waves, the loss of a job, a broken relationship, a dwindling savings account, or a difficult health challenge. He wants us to focus on Him. The foundation of every decision, of every act of obedience and repentance, of our love for God and neighbors, is all anchored by our confidence in Jesus. When you trust Jesus with your life, work, family, health, savings, sins, recreation, abilities, everything, there's no telling what God will do in your life. Who knows, you may even find yourself walking on water!"

If you know a person who is passionate about fishing, you might like to recommend this book. To learn more about this book and how you can order a copy today, check out the book's web-page or Captain Dan Keating's charter sport fishing site.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review: The Memory Book

On the back cover of the audio version of this book, a blurb states that Penelope J. Stokes' best-selling novels tell inspirational tales of personal discovery. This sounded like my cup of tea. I really enjoyed listening to this book.

Phoebe Lange has just finished her graduate degree and is engaged to be married to a fine young man, an up and coming lawyer. For some reason, Phoebe has lingering doubts about what she should really do. She loves her fiance, but feels that he doesn't really know her and that if he did, he might not feel the same. In an attempt to sort out her feelings, Phoebe takes a break to return to the house of the grandmother who raised her.

While there, she discovers an old dusty memory book with photos and memories of a woman who bears her same name. The older Phoebe, her great-aunt, raised her younger brother until she died mysteriously in a car accident on the night of her high school graduation. As Phoebe investigates the book, she uncovers information about her own past and gains an opportunity for facing challenges that reveal her inner self and the source of her ultimate strength.

I will certainly keep my eye out for another Penelope Stokes book.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book Review: The Perfect Love Song

This book was brand new at my library when I saw it in the browsing rack. I imagine I am the first patron to read it. Indeed, I feel a little guilty because I finished the book a few weeks back, but kept it on hand to write this review. I'm sure there are other library patrons out there who are looking for a pleasant, light holiday read.

While it wasn't quite as good as one of Karen Kingsbury's Red Glove books (my favorite holiday reads, I think), this was a tender little story about a girl, Kara, who is inspired by an old Irish lady to return to her first love, Jack ... the boy who grew up next door to her. Only now, Jack is a grown man and he and his brother, Jimmy, are part of a touring band. Plus, Jimmy has fallen in love with Kara's best friend, Charlotte. The brothers aren't exactly thrilled to return to their old home town because it brings up many unhappy memories of life with their alcoholic father.

Jimmy writes a love song for Charlotte. But when others hear it, they are convinced that it is "the perfect Christmas song." As the song gains popularity, Jimmy is tugged further and further away from the source of the song that may finally bring him the fame he has dreamed of.

The story culminates with a lead-up to Kara and Jack's wedding in Ireland. Will Jimmy continue to take on additional commitments to nurse his popularity or will he make it to Ireland in time for the wedding and reclaim the things that matter more than the success of his song?

I think my mother, who hopes to go to Ireland one of these days, would really enjoy this book. Plus, I have to be sure to copy one of the final pages, where the author shares a recipe for Emerald Isle Shortbread. It seems just the season to try such a recipe, no?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Review: Imperfect Birds

It has been about six and a half years since I first stumbled upon Anne Lamott. I remember sitting in the indoor pool in Arlington Heights, reading her famous writing tome, Bird by Bird, while Bryce swam. I was pregnant with my second son and happily settled in to reading after finishing my own laps. It was an awesome book, and I have contextualized it into my brain with the location where I read the book.

I will admit that I am not as big a fan of Lamott's fiction as I am of her non-fiction. But still, if she can write about the task of writing so brilliantly, I'm usually game to try one of her novels. This time around, I selected Imperfect Birds, because it dealt with a teen whose lies sabotage the lives of her family members. This seemed like perfect reading since I was working on a novel about a teen boy whose lies create havoc for the lives around him.

In Imperfect Birds, we are introduced first to the parents, Elizabeth (a recovering alcoholic) and James (a step-father). They want to believe the best of their daughter, Rosie, but are definitely struggling with navigating the tricky waters of parenting a teen. It was a very realistic portrayal of the dynamics at play in many parent-child relationships, where the child is keenly attuned to the weaknesses and needs of the parent. Elizabeth's desperate need for everyone to be happy fuels the perfect atmosphere for her daughter's ongoing deception and downward spiral into addictive destructiveness.

At times, it was almost too much, to read the nitty gritty of such troubled lives. I wanted to look away ... to not know how easily some teens acquire substances for consumption. I didn't want to peek in these windows. Yet, at the same time, I cried as the story unfolded and felt the mother's deep frustration and helplessness. Once the parents sent Rosie off to a wilderness rehabilitation facility, the novel began to enter into the restoration phase. Rosie had to face her own demons and Elizabeth began to see herself as separate from her child.

Although it won't go on my favorites of 2010 list, it was definitely worth the read. Plus, I think I benefited from reading a story about a teen while writing my own teen fiction. I only wish I had been able to review this when the book was more recently on my mind.