Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Phone--for me?

There are many things about being back in the states that take some getting used to.

Phone calls are one.
Image courtesy of Pong /

For the past six years we haven't even had a home phone.  We used our cellphones for local calls and phone over the Internet for family and friends in the states.  But family and friends rarely called because of the time difference.

What this means is that for the last six years the phone didn't ring very often and when it did it was almost always someone I was happy to talk to.

A ringing phone was a positive, joyous event.

Not so much any more.

It's not like the phone rings off the hook or anything it's just that every time it rings I get that jolt of excitement, that initial thrill of --who's been thinking of me and called to chat.

The answer here most often is your friendly neighborhood cancer/firefighters/politician fundraiser.

At first the kids were confused.  "I think our phone isn't working right.  When I answer there's no one there and I have to say "hello, hello, hello" before someone finally answers."

As I wrote this my phone rang.

Caller ID showed that is was the Children's Cance...

It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't have to answer the phone.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013


School has begun and we have a new word in our house, coined by Imagination Boy and now a key part of our family vocabulary-


Mo-crastination is the practice of procrastinating by moping.
photo credit: Cayusa via photopin ccn

In our house it commonly goes something like this:

"I can't believe I have so much homework.  How am I ever going to get it all done?  I'm tired and I just want to go to bed.  But I can't because I have all this homework.  How am I ever going to get it all done?  I don't even know where to start. How am I ever going to get it all done?  No I don't need any help.  I just don't know how to do it.  How am I ever going to get it all done?  I can't believe I have so much homework.."

And repeat.  Over and over and over.

You get the idea.

Mo-crastination has all the downside of regular procrastination in that no work actually gets done minus the upside of at least enjoying quality leasure time (such as computer games) while procrastinating.

Plus it has the dubious side effect of DRIVING YOUR FAMILY CRAZY.

This could be a long year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Summer that Wasn't

This was the summer that wasn't.

It's not that there was no summer. There was.

There was time off of school.

There was hot weather.

There was sun from early morning to late evening.

Image courtesy of David Castillo /

But for us, this was the summer that wasn't summer in the ways we appreciate summer the most.

There wasn't a summer family vacation.

There wasn't time lazing about the house sleeping late, reading a few good books, getting bored.

There wasn't time spent just hanging out with friends free from the pressures of the school year schedule.

There weren't any friends.

Because this was the summer we moved.

And it was hard.  It IS hard.

I need to write more about our summer and our transition and the ways we have learned and grown.

But first let me write briefly about the summer that was.

There was a summer spent together as a family.

There was the challenge of stretching ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally and realizing we are capable of handling and doing more than we thought.

There was fresh fruit and vegetables and meat on the grill and laughter and love at the dinner table.

It is difficult to let go of what was and embrace what is.  Change is hard.  Major change is even harder. But change is inevitable.  Embrace it.  Mourn it.  Celebrate it.  Roll with it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Toothpaste multiplies

So apparently while our backs have been turned the toothpaste in our house has been procreating.

This is the only possible explanation I have come up with for this

little baby toothpastes which Oldest Girl gathered from various nooks and crannies in the bathrooms today.

And this pile doesn't include the large tubes we regularly use (the parents I suppose)

Or the ones we threw away because they were a brand no one in the house would use.

Or the ones already packed inside each family member's individual toiletry kit.

About 2 months ago the Professor decreed that no more shampoo or conditioner would be purchased in this house.  Instead we would use up supplies on hand.

There was much weeping and nashing of teeth.

This was totally unreasonable.  I assured my female offspring that we would indeed buy a big bottle of the preferred brand as soon as we used up all the little bottles which would of course be within a week or two.

Silly me.

We have purchased no additional hair care products nor will we until after we are in our new home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Too Many Choices

I used to think choice was a good thing.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

And it is...

Sort of...


Except when it is too much, all at once, and it overwhelms you.

One of the unexpected joys for me of living overseas has been a severe reduction in my choices.

Things are either available locally or they are not and you learn to make do.

Initially this frustrated me but overall I found I like the simplicity this brings.

And now with a new house that needs work and a country with an overabundance of options I'm feeling a bit paralyzed by all my choices.

Choice is good.  But it is also challenging.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A peak in to Imagination Boy's mind

Imagination Boy's mind works in strange and mysterious ways its wonders to perform.
Image courtesy of Suwit Ritjaroon /

It isn't too often that we get a glimpse into its workings but it is usually interesting when we do.

Tonight we played an old game that didn't get packed by the movers because an essential part didn't work.

The Professor was convinced that with tender loving care we could get it to work and he was right.

The game involves drawing pictures and guessing what they are, kind of like Pictionary but faster paced since all teams draw the same thing at the same time.

Imagination Boy and I were a team and he was drawing.  He drew what looked like a go-cart and got very excited when I guessed that so I was clearly on the right track but not there yet.

Next he drew a wedge of cheese.

I couldn't figure out the connection between cheese and the almost but not quite go-cart.

So he drew a flag.

This wasn't helping.

Time ran out.

Turns out the answer was buggy.  Imagination Boy was trying to draw a moon buggy.  So of course to get me to think of the moon he drew cheese.

Of course.

I don't know why I didn't think of that.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Different Kids, different approaches

We have passed a major hurdle in the moving process.  Our furniture and the vast bulk of our worldly possessions have been boxed and crated and begun the long, slow journey to our new home.

For the next few weeks we are minimalists living with the few items we held back and loaner furniture.

The loaner furniture arrived just as the children were getting home from school.  Once it was in place I sent the three children to their rooms to organize their stuff for the next few weeks.

Half an hour later Oldest Girl's room looked like this:

Actually, this is a bit of a sloppy job for Oldest Girl.  Those hangers are not perfectly evenly spaced and the clothing is not sorted by color.  But she is sick so we'll cut her some slack.

This is how Music Girl's room looked:

Note the suitcase near but not emptied in to the dresser.    There is no picture of the closet because there is nothing in it.

And finally, we have Imagination Boy:

Don't be fooled by the towel hanging up.  That is only there because I pulled the wet towel off of his pile of clothes and hung it up.   I suggested he might want to put his clothes into a dresser and he gave me a look of complete bafflement as if he couldn't understand how anyone would think that was a good idea when there was plently of space right there on the closet floor.

It often amazes me how three children born in the space of less than four years to the same parents can be so different.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When the Professor and I got married over two decades ago we were poor struggling college students.

I believe our monthly budget was about $400 and over half of that went to rent.
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut /

So we furnished our first apartment with whatever we could get our hands on for free.

The summer we got married the Professor worked maintenance at the college dorms.  They were replacing some furniture that summer so he was able to bring home two desks and two dressers.

Do you have any idea what state dorm furniture is in by the time it is discarded by the college?

Just use your imagination.

Over the years as we moved again and again (and again and again) various bits of this furniture were scrapped.

But one college cast off dresser made the trip with us over the ocean to our current location.  Here it has served ably in the garage holding mittens and scarves and random craft supplies.

But it was time to say goodbye.  This dresser was not fit to make yet another move.

I sat down with the screwdriver and pulled the dresser apart so the trash people would pick it up with out charging us extra for furniture removal.

It was very bittersweet to dismantle this item which had seen so much good usage and been with us so long.

As I piled all the pieces by the trash I just couldn't get rid of it all.

I saved this, the base of the dresser.

I figure we can use it in our new crawl space to pile stuff on that we don't want sitting on the floor.

I can't tell you how happy it makes me to think that this item someone else discarded and which has been a part of our entire marriage will still be used.

Over the years of marriage our fortunes have changed.  We can buy new furniture if we want to (which we rarely do).  But that original spirit of working with what we have, of being content with less, of seeing possibilities where others see trash, that hasn't changed.

My Dad would be so proud.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Moving gratitude

Today I am grateful for the movers who are packing up my house.

I am grateful to have lived in this house for six years.

I am very grateful not to have to pack myself.

Plus these movers are fantastic.  Our dining room chairs look so good wrapped up I may leave them that way.

I'm grateful for an ipad to type this on while all around me are boxes and organized chaos.

I'm grateful for good friends who willingly took in my sick teenager when she woke up this morning with a fever.

And I'm grateful in advance for the house we will move in to.

And the new friends we haven't met yet in our new location. 

I hope they like sick kids.

Join us for Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

When did my daughter get so smart and I get so old?

Oldest girl took an AP History exam recently.

She has been studying diligently to prepare so I was surprised over the weekend to find her on Facebook when she had said she was studying.

She assured me that despite appearances to the contrary this actually was studying for the exam because she and her college friend were debating a certain political question from the last few decades so that was history.

I am firmly of the opinion that if it happened in my lifetime it isn't really history.

I am also firmly of the opinion that if it happens on Facebook it can't really be studying.

I picked Oldest Girl up from school after the exam.

"Guess what?" she said triumphantly.  "Remember that issue I was discussing on Facebook with College Friend?  That was totally one of the essay questions on the test."

I hate it when she is so right and I am so wrong.

It happens with alarmingly increasing frequency.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Unleavened Bagels

Who knew that my children like unleavened bagels?
Image courtesy of Marcus /

As I've mentioned before we are in full blown, must eat everything that is in the cupboards, mode of moving house.

It's interesting what things I seem to have stock piled.  The content of our cupboards currently, after almost a month of dedicated eating from the pantry are as follows:

  • lots of diced tomatoes (it was a fantastic sale lasting several weeks. I would go to the store and see a great price on tomatoes and pick up a few more cans.  Then I would get home and see how many I already had.  Oops.  Of course I would do it all again the next week.)
  • lots of ramen noodles ( I may have sent the Professor to the store and mentioned that we were out of ramen)
  • an incredible amount of sugar sprinkles and other cookie decorating supplies (I almost never make cookies or cakes you decorate and I've apparently been collecting other people's leftovers as they moved away for 6 years now.  I know I didn't buy this stuff)
  • Tequila (what can I say, Margaritas always sound like a good idea but I never actually make them)
  • lots of Kool-aid packets (If the evidence wasn't piled up and spilling over in the deep dark corners of my pantry, I would have sworn that we never ever drank kool-aid as a family.
  • instant pancake mix (this one actually makes sense and I think we can use this up by the time we leave.   Pancakes are a hit around here for any meal of the day)
  • oatmeal, lots and lots of oatmeal (I was eating oatmeal ever morning for a long time.  Then I did a grain free month.  Today's agenda includes baking a ton of oatmeal cookies for the Boy Scout bake sale)
That is not an exhaustive list, just the highlights.  And that certainly doesn't cover the many items we have managed to use up.  I've been doing a lot of baking to use up the vast quantities of flour we had.

Which brings me back to the unleavened bagels.  Two out of my three children eat bagels every morning for breakfast.  Usually I just buy frozen bagels but I have all this flour and yeast to use up so homemade bagels it is.

I made two batches.  The first turned out fine.  The second batch, however, never did rise and I'm pretty sure I forgot to add yeast.  I decided to cook them anyway because at least I could feed them to the dog and I had the oven on already for batch #1.

I put my unleavened bagels on the table at dinnertime along with our spagetti.  

"Think of them like really heavy round bread sticks," I told the kids.

I think those bagels may be the only thing Imagination boy ate for dinner. 

This morning both children choose unleavened bagels for breakfast and Imagination boy made his lunchtime sandwiches using them too.

I guess yeast is over rated.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Temporary Fixes

Sometimes a temporary fix lasts a long time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been cleaning out my closet.

When we moved in 6 years ago, I need to figure out what to do with my clothes.  Our last house had a nice built in closet system that I loved and we didn't own a dresser.

In this house I just had a deep closet with only one shelf high up.

But I did have a lot of empty moving boxes.  So using the boxes and some packing tape I created a makeshift, temporary shelving system to store my clothes on until I could figure out what I really wanted to do.

I'm guessing you already know where this story is going.

Here is what my temporary fix looks like today.

It's a good thing we are moving since my closet organizer is getting a bit saggy.

The moral of the story:  sometimes a temporary fix is so good you never get around to a permanent solution.

OR, it's amazing what you can do with a bit of cardboard and tape.

OR, wow, Mary is cheap frugal.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It Still Fits

We are preparing to move after 6 years in one house.

6 years!

Maybe that doesn't sound like a long time to you but trust me it is a long time for our family.

So today I was cleaning out my closet, separating out the things to be trashed, given away, packed by the movers, mailed to ourselves, and put in suitcases.

What? Too many categories?  Tell me about it.

So anyway, I sorted through the family pile of swimsuits which lives in my closet.

And I realized that unlike his father and sisters, Imagination Boy owns only one swimsuit.  Not only that, but he has been wearing this exact swimsuit for longer than we have lived in this house.

More than 6 years he has been wearing the same suit.  This suit has been swum in in numerous countries and 3 different continents.  It has been in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

And it still looks pretty good and fits just fine.

Not only that, but I originally bought it used at a school jumble sale for about a quarter.

I do recall it being a bit large on him when we first moved here but it stayed up just fine when you tied the string.

I looked at the tag and it says "age 5-6".  Imagination Boy currently needs to wear a boys size 14 pants to get enough length.  I can only buy the kind that have the elastic pull things to tighten them at the waist.

What can I say.  He is currently shooting up but not filing out.

But still, a used swim suit, still going strong after 6 years, pretty impressive.

Monday, May 6, 2013

You can't fool me

Do you think that only people try to hide their misdeeds?

Think again.  My childhood dog was also good at this trick.
Image courtesy of Maggie Smith /

He knew he wasn't allowed on the furniture and most especially not on the beds.  Mom had lost the battle about whether the dog would stay or not, but she certainly wasn't going to cave on this issue.

And really, he was an eager to please dog so after the first few attempts he was very good about following the no dogs on the furniture rule.

Or was he?

One day my Dad came home unexpectedly in the middle of the day.  He walked into his bedroom and noticed the dog sleeping very soundly on the floor at the foot of the bed, the very picture of innocence.

Except for one minor fact.  The bed was a waterbed and it was moving up and down.

"Bad dog," Dad said.

And did that dog look guilty?  No he did not.  He slowly opened his sleepy eyes and blinked as if to say, "Who me?  What did I do?  I'm just taking a nap here on the floor like a good dog."

Who says animals can't lie?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Flushing Fish

When the children were small and the thought of a dog seemed like just too much to handle we decided to try fish. Fish are an easy, low maintenance pet, right?
Image courtesy of Phiseksit /
Maybe not so much.

When I was in college my roommates and I bought a goldfish in a bowl freshman year and managed to keep it alive almost until graduation.  So perhaps I was overconfident in my ability to keep fish alive.

The girls were very excited with the process, buying and setting up the tank and then especially the going to the store to choose the fish, watch the pet store man chase the chosen fish around the tank with the net, carefully carrying home the fish in the plastic baggie, floating it in the tank and then releasing it to swim free.

It's a good thing the girls enjoyed this process since we went through it several times.

Things would go well for a few days and then we would find poor Fishy or Blacky or Swimmy floating upside down in the tank.  We were a little afraid this would traumatize the children but they seemed to take it pretty well.  As a family we would gentle scoop up the deceased and carry it to the toilet for the traditional fish funeral.

One morning Oldest Girl informed us that yet another fish was dead.  We gathered for the familiar ritual.

But this time there was a miracle.

As the dead fish hit the cold water of the toilet tank it revived and began swimming happily around.

Music girl clapped.

The Professor and I looked at each other in shock wondering what we should do now.

Oldest girl didn't hesitate at all.  "Oh well," she said as she reached out and flushed the toilet.

Remind me that when I get old and feeble, Oldest Girl might not be the best choice for my Medical Power of Attorney.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Missing Dad's Garage

My Dad's garage was the stuff of legends.  It could easily fit two cars plus a ton of storage but after the first year or so of living in the house, cars were relegated to the outside as the garage slowly filled up with "useful" odds and ends.
amateur_photo_borevia photopin cc

My sister used to joke (long before Dad actually got sick) that the first thing she would do when she heard that Dad was dead was to run over to the house and burn the garage down so none of us had to deal with all the junk inside.

When Dad actually was dying, I spent some time trying to sort through the items in the garage and separate out the treasures from the trash (and there was an awful lot of both) in preparation for Mom's inevitable move to a smaller more manageable house.

The items I found included (but are by no means limited to)
  • broken dishwashers
  • numerous vacuum cleaners of various sorts and states of repair
  • uncountable corded and cordless drills and parts pertaining to said drills
  • bins and bins of screws, bolts, nails, and assorted jumbled hardware
  • power tools, power tools, and more power tools
  • oodles of lawn mowers and parts
  • broken garbage disposals
  • garage door openers both functioning and broken
  • electrical bits and pieces of all shapes and sizes
  • wood and metal scraps
  • spring, casters, wheels, etc.
  • gardening equipment of all sorts
And that list is barely scratching the surface.  Let's just say it was an epic yard sale.

You see, my Dad was very handy.  He could fix nearly anything and his favorite way to do so was using whatever odds and ends he had to hand.  Thankfully for him (and usually not so thankfully for the aesthetically pleasing value of the finished repair) he had an awful lot to hand.

In retrospect we can see that Dad was sick for years before the cancer diagnosis.  There were many years where he continued to collect odds and ends and throw broken items into the garage for the repairs he hoped to get to soon.

Trying to sort through the garage was not an easy task physically or emotionally and despite hours of work I didn't feel like I got very far.  It was hard to know that these items that had value to my Dad would have little value to others.

And now, as I prepare to move in to a house that needs some updating and creative storage options, I find myself longing for my Dad's garage.  I peruse DIY projects on pinterest and think, "I could easily have built this with supplies from the garage."  It will be painful to buy things like caster wheels that I could have had for free.

But much more painful is the longing for my Dad himself.  It is easy to buy new items from Home Depot, but there is no way to buy the conversations about home repair, fix ups, and creative problem solving that I wish I could have.

Garages and their contents can be replaced.  Dads can't.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A sleeping house

I'm currently sitting in a quiet sleeping house.
Image courtesy of photostock /

Ahh, the joys of major jet lag and trying to switch days and nights.

There is nothing pleasant about lying wide awake in bed knowing you really need sleep and yet being totally incapable of it.

But there is something pleasant about that moment where you get up and grab a cup of tea and sit quietly in a sleeping house.

I love that.  It is the sense of possibly, the calm before the storm.  Life will be happening here soon, but not yet.  For now I can sit quietly and think, uninterrupted.

I've learned that I like quiet and solitude. A lot.

But I like it because it recharges me.  It prepares me to face the household as it awakes, the joys and pains and bustle of daily life.

A sleeping house is special not for the peace and quiet but for the promises of activity to come.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

Some days a shower is too much to ask for

"5 minutes alone in the shower.  That's all I need."  How many mothers of young children have said those exact words.  It doesn't seem like much to ask for and yet sometimes it is.

juhansonin via photopin cc
It was one of those days.  I needed a shower. Badly. Desperate times call for desperate measures so I dumped a pile of toys on the living room floor and told the girls, aged 3 and almost 2, to play together.  I stripped off my clothes, grabbed a towel and headed to the shower.

And then I made the fatal error.

I closed the bathroom door.

Nothing attracts a small child like a mother desiring a moment's peace in the bathroom, so the sound of the bathroom door clicking shut immediately pulled my sweethearts away from their toys.

"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, when are you coming out?  Open the door.  We want to take a shower too.  Let us in.  Mommy, Mommy, Mommy"  complete with pounding on the closed door.

I ignored them and stepped into the shower.  The pleading turned to tears.  And more pounding.

I didn't take long and as I quickly toweled dry I reassured them,  "I'm almost done.  I'll be out soon. Stop crying."  I could hear them trying to open the door but it is an old house and the knob is very difficult to turn.

I took a deep breath to prepare myself to reenter the fray of motherhood and put my hand on the door knob to turn it.

It wouldn't turn.

"Oldest girl, you need to let go of the door knob so I can open it and come out of the bathroom."

"Oldest girl, Music girl, stop crying and listen to me.  Let go of the door knob."

"But Mommy, (sob, sob, sob) we aren't touching the door."

Then I remember that the bathroom door knob sticks from the inside.  It opens well enough from the outside but for some reason doesn't open easily from the inside.  It is just so rare that I actually close it all the way since I'm rarely alone even in the bathroom these days.

I try harder.  I tell Oldest girl to try harder to open it from her side.    I start searching the cabinets for any tool I can use MacGyver style to take the door knob off or the door off it's hinges.  Nothing is working.  The cries from my two little girls are reaching panic levels.

I contemplate climbing out the window and walking around to the front door.

There are only a few problems with this plan.
  • The window is pretty small and I am currently 8 months pregnant.  
  • It is a story and a half drop to the ground and, although I might be willing to risk it ordinarily, did I mention I'm 8 months pregnant.
  • I undressed in the hallway so all I have is my towel which is much too small to even wrap around me much less cover my naked 8 month pregnant body.
I turn back to the MacGyver option and manage to remove the door knob with the only tool available, fingernail clippers.  This doesn't help at all.

Throughout all of this, four little hands are pounding on the door and the soundtrack runs from pleading to sobbing to screaming.

Back to the window plan.  Nakedness or not, my babies need me.  I open the window and look out to realistically assess the drop.  Realize the drop doesn't matter.  There is no way I could fit my body through that window.

Okay, deep breaths, think calmly.   

An adult should be able to open the door from the outside so I need to get an adult in the house. 

The Professor won't be home until late.  Waiting is out.

How embarrassing is it going to be to have someone come let naked pregnant me out of my own bathroom?  Pretty embarrassing but there aren't really any options here.

The only neighbor likely to be home right now is across the street.  I carefully weigh the risks of sending my 3 year old out by herself to cross the street and get help.  It's a pretty quiet street but still.  I try to quiet the crying long enough explain the plan to Oldest girl.  She's game but she can't open the front door either.

Curse that deadbolt.

It will have to be the fire department I decide.  They can break down the front door.  Plus it will be a fun story for them to tell for years to come about that day they rescued a naked pregnant lady from her own bathroom.

Now the trick is to get oldest girl to dial 911.  She can't find the cordless phone so this is not a good start.*

"Honey,  do you know what the number 9 looks like?  You don't remember.  It's a circle on a stick.  Go to the phone in the kitchen and see if you can find the number that is a circle on a stick.  You touch that one time and then you touch the number 1, that's just a straight line.  You touch that two times.  You can do that for Mommy can't you?"

She could not.

And then the miracle occurred.

Throughout all this both Oldest girl and I had been regularly messing with the handle.  Oldest girl gave it one more try and this time it opened.

Praise the Lord!

So just remember, some days a shower IS too much to ask for.

*Yes, I realize that now any halfway intelligent 2 year old could use a smart phone and call for help, but this occurred way back in the dark ages before smart phones existed.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

German Shepherd Thinks He is Lap Dog

Sometimes the way we perceive ourselves is totally different than the way the world sees us.
PeterJBellis via photopin cc

The best dog I ever had was a German Shepherd named Ninoy.  He was a beautiful dog with about 50 lbs. of pure muscle.  His looks were fierce and his bark even fiercer, but he thought he was a lap dog.

I would be sitting in a comfy chair reading a book and Ninoy would come bounding over to jump on my lap, nearly toppling me and the chair in the process.  It would take a bit of effort for us both to get settled comfortably but once we did we were both very happy.

Once a family with a baby visited us and left their empty infant seat on the floor in the living room.  We came back into the room later to find Ninoy curled up in the infant seat as best as he could manage.

Ninoy was a stray.  Dad came home with him one day.  Mom took one look at that fierce dog and declared that that dog was not staying.  "Either he goes or I go" she stated.

They both stayed.

Some animals (and people) seem to have more than their fair share of personality and Ninoy was one of those dogs.

People will judge you by your appearance but you do not have to conform to their expectations.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What's for Dinner?

In preparation for our move we have begun that joyous stage of meal planning based on the current contents of the pantry.
Image courtesy of Ambro /

Tonight's dinner was chili and cornbread.

For a thrown together meal without using a recipe I thought I did a great job and the family actually approved too.

Until the end of the meal when I looked at them and said, "So, what did you think about the meat in the chili?"

Oldest Girl dropped her spoon in horror.

"Mom, no one ever wants to hear that sentence."

I suppose it did sound a little scary.

The Professor chimed in, "Has anyone seen the cat?"

They joke, I assure you.

The real secret, as my family was relieved to discover, was that the chili was made with ground pork that I had purchased by mistake.  Tasted great, I just wondered if they had noticed.

Have you ever snuck in a surprise ingredient on your family?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tastes Like Sprite

Beverage options in our house tend to be limited.  Usually there is a choice between water and milk.  So as little ones our kids didn't have a lot of exposure to soda.
Image courtesy of Suat Eman /

When Imagination boy had his first taste of soda, it happened to be Sprite, he didn't like it at all.  It was too fizzy and strong tasting for him.

For a couple years after that anytime he tasted something new that he didn't like (which means almost anything new he tasted) he would solemnly announce, "That tastes like Sprite"

"Sprite" became the stand in for any strong taste.

A spicy barbecue sauce on the chicken: tastes like Sprite

Salsa:  tastes like Sprite

Spinach salad:  tastes like Sprite

Dark Chocolate:  tastes like Sprite

His taste buds have evolved a bit.  He now loves Sprite and Coke although he still prefers his meat bland.  And he adores salsa and chips although he mostly waves the chips in the general direction of the salsa consuming the maximum amount of chip to the minimum amount of salsa.

But we still joke about tastes like sprite.

How often to we do that in life, reject something out of hand.  Quickly categorize it as unacceptable in some way so we can just stick with the old familiar comfortable things.  Sometimes we need to learn to branch out and taste new things.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I am not fond of waiting.
Image courtesy of digitalart /

Not that I know anyone that is.

There are many kinds of waiting and some are a lot worse than others.

First there is the everyday waiting
-waiting in the doctor's office for your appointment
-waiting while the oil is changed in your car
-waiting for kids to come out from a school activity

I must say my iPhone changed my attitude towards this kind of waiting.  Now I always have a book to read with me.

Then there is that same kind of waiting but with pressure added.  Like any of the above when you have somewhere to be or something to do and the minutes are ticking by and you have no control and...

Then there is the waiting where you think maybe there is something you can do but you aren't sure what and any choice you make might just make things worse.

And the waiting for something deeply longed for or greatly feared and you don't know if it will happen or not and the agony of uncertainty is keeping you up nights.

Waiting is hard.  My current season of waiting has taught me how much I hate not being in control.  No surprise there and I'm not so different than others.

Waiting comes to us all and the best we can do is calmly weather through it.  I am grateful that I know someone much greater than me is in control.  Cause frankly, even when I think I can plan things so much better than God seems to be doing, I'm wrong.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One less kid = a lot more quiet

We are short one child in the Letters household this week since one of the kids is away on a school trip.

It is amazing how much quieter it is here.
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

This never ceases to surprise me.

Going from one child to two does not, as you might mathematically conclude, double the noise.  It quaddrupales it.  And going from two to three is an even greater increase.

The same thing works in reverse.

And the odd thing is, even though any outside observers would conclude that some of my children are much louder and more talkative than others, it doesn't really matter which child is gone.

This morning there was no shouting and fighting over who got that bathroom first or who was taking too long or who took my bagel that was my bagel I put in the toaster or who was standing on whose shoes so that if you don't move we will miss the bus.

After school there were only two backpacks to trip over.

Dinner was quieter than normal too.

And the thing is, I like quiet.  I actually like it a lot.  But I don't like being one child short.  Someone is missing and we aren't complete.  I'll be glad when it is 5 of us again.

Although if there was a way we could be 5 of us and still have a peaceful morning I'd be all for it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Power naps

Music girl was the queen of power naps.
Image courtesy of Stoonn /

As a small child she would run and run and run and then suddenly just stop, lie down whereever she was and close her eyes.

30 seconds later her eyes would open, she would jump up and be off and running.

We have a photo album full of pictures of Music girl sleeping in strange places. My favorite is the one of her asleep on the front door step with the door wide open and half her body inside the house and half outside.

We had come home from an outing and she had run to the house but before making it all the way in needed a quick nap.

That particular nap lasted a full 5 minutes, long enough for me to grab the camera.

I wish I could power nap like that.

Sometimes my day seems full of running, running, running.  Maybe I need to copy Music girl, close my eyes for a moment, breathe deep and then get up to run again.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

MIddle Child Woes

It isn't easy being a middle child.  I should know.  I am one.  And so is the Professor.

Music girl is our middle child.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

I have written posts featuring Oldest girl and I have written posts featuring Imagination Boy.  I wanted to write a post featuring Music girl.

Turns out that all the best stories including Music girl seem to involve her older sister or younger brother in some way.

I've started writing a post highlighting Music girl's awesome uniqueness and I'm finding it nearly impossible to without using phrases like, "Unlike her sister." or "In contrast to her brother."

As a middle child myself, I want to scream about the unfairness of this all.

I had to stop writing this post and go apologize to Music girl.

I apologized for all the times and ways her middle childness has hurt her and I haven't noticed even though I think as a middle child myself I'm sensitive to the issues.

And then I sat down and wrote a post (read it here) just about her.

'Cause Music girl is awesome, just as she is, and I wanted to celebrate that.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Homework: old school or new school.

When did we turn into our parents?

Scene at our house last night. Oldest girl is at the computer writing a paper with her textbook in her lap.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

"I really wish my textbook had a control F feature," she sighed.

What's that, I wondered but didn't say.

The Professor laughed.  Ah, I thought, he is hipper than I am.

"It does," he said.  "It's called the index and you find it in the back of the book."  Okay so maybe he isn't hipper after all.

Sometimes we like to amuse ourselves by telling the children stories about the bad old days when we did homework
  • without computers
  • with typewriters
  • and white out
  • or pencils and pens and (heaven forbid) legible cursive writing
  • and dictionaries
  • and calculators that only added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided
  • and logarithm charts
  • and microfilche 
  • and books and libraries
  • and card catalogues

They find this amazing and lame and it reinforces their impressions that we really are ancient and out of touch.

Which is exactly how I viewed my parents.  My mom went to school in a one room country schoolhouse.  My dad was president of his high school slide rule club.  And they both walked uphill, 5 miles, both ways, in the snow, everyday to get to school.

So what I wonder is what changes will my kids be telling their kids about?
  • lectures with powerpoint
  • having to hand write exams
If you have any ideas what our kids will complain about to their kids, leave a comment.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How to get your kids to play the piano

I have found the secret to getting my kids to play the piano.

Suggest selling it.
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

In preparation for a major move we have had many discussions about what should and what shouldn't move with us.

Three years ago our piano teacher moved away and while we meant to find a new teacher it somehow never happened so the piano just sits, taking up precious space in the living room.

Until someone with a small child comes to visit.  I don't know what it is about pianos and small children but rare is the child who can resist banging on one.

That didn't seem like a good enough reason to move a piano across oceans however so tonight at dinner we discussed selling it.

Imagination boy was the only one who didn't think it was a good idea.  In fact he asked to be excused from the table so he could go play the piano right now.

He then proceeded to sit down at the piano and play the most beautiful, haunting melody of his own composition, made up on the spot.

I guess we won't be selling the piano.

After a decision

After a decision do you regret all the choices you didn't make?  Lament the road not chosen.  Is there a sigh of relief that things are settled or a sigh of despair that now you are locked in to one choice and regret of all the choices left behind?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

After six years in a house that I know was the right choice I still drive by that house not chosen and wonder what life would have been like if we had chosen that one instead.

Never mind the fact that the choice was taken out of our hands.

Sometimes I think I get so wrapped up in making the right choices that I put way to much confidence in myself and my ability to actually choose.

That house six years ago, was rented to someone else the day we decided to take a second look at it.  It's not like we could have had it anyway.

So I'll continue to research choices but in the end I need to accept that I have only so much control.  And as I sit and wait currently lacking the ability to make a choice, I give myself freedom in advance to be content after.

This post is prompted by Lisa Jo Baker's 5 minute Friday, writing on a prompt for 5 minutes without editing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cultivate your Creativity

If you aren't being creative, you aren't fully alive.

Too strong a statement?  I don't think so.

During those mind numbing days of preschoolers, poopy pants, and perpetual laundry, I absolutely had to be creative at least some of the time or I would have lost my mind.

My creativity then took many forms, including but not limited to the following:

  • I planned elaborate (but extremely low budget) birthday parties.
  • I wrote my own curriculum for the church youth group I led.
  • I painted murals on my kids bedroom walls.
  • I cooked.
  • I scrap booked.
  • I found joy in stretching our budget as far as it could go.
    Image courtesy of David Castillo /
My kids were (and still are) creative too.  I remember the first time Oldest Girl painted.  She stood at the easel with her little smock on holding tightly to the paintbrush as she hesitantly brushed some paint on the paper. 

Then she noticed that some paint had dripped on to her hand.  She immediately had to stop and go wash her hands.

It wasn't long before she got more paint on her hands.  Again she washed.

The third time she noticed paint on her hands she stopped and stared at her hands.  

She thought for a bit looking from her paint splattered hands to the paint brush to the paper.

Then she took the brush and proceeded to paint her hands, both of them.  Then she put hand prints all over the paper and proudly showed me her creation.

Oldest girl had it right.  Sometimes creativity means letting go of your expectations.  Sometimes it means getting messy.  Sometimes it means joy.

This post was inspired by reading The Modern Mrs. Darcy's post “Unused Creativity Isn’t Benign. It Metastasizes.”

What you wear changes how people see you.

How you look changes how people look at you.

A few months ago I started wearing skirts almost all the time
jessleecuizon via photopin cc

It wasn't like I had a sudden fashion epiphany.  Truth is that during my father's illness and after his death I did just a little bit too much comfort eating and now I needed to lose 20 pounds before I could comfortable fit into my pants again.

So I started wearing skirts because they were comfy.

And if you are wearing a skirt you need to wear an appropriate top to go with it.  And shoes.  And since you look so nice you might as well throw on a bit of makeup.  And do your hair.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm still a pretty low maintenance kind of gal.  I'm not talking high fashion here, just making a choice versus my former wardrobe of mom jeans and a hoodie or Dockers and a sweater.

The thing that surprised me most was the way people react to me just a little bit differently when I wear a skirt.

It isn't a huge difference.  I don't have the kind of figure or face that stops traffic or anything dramatic like that.  But it is a real and noticeable difference.

People smile at me more.  Clerks are more helpful.  More people engage me in small talk.  Doors are opened for me more (literally and figuratively).

And when I say people I mean men and women although I confess the effect is much more pronounced on men.

But the thing is, I'm not sure it is the skirts.  Truth is when I dress up a bit it changes how I feel about myself.  I smile more.  I'm more likely to engage in small talk.  I expect doors to be opened for me.

So how you look changes how people look at you, but how you act when you are feeling confident about how you look changes how people look at you even more.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Comfort of being known.

It's been a tough time of year for me with lent and Easter and memories of my Dad's death a year ago and lots of uncertainty about our families future and general unsettledness.

Image courtesy of photostock /
We had a Confirmation in our church last week.  It was a lovely service.  I'm not a big crier but I cried quietly during the service.  The Professor didn't say anything but took my hand.

As we drove home the kids asked why I cried in church.

Before I could form an answer the Professor answered for me, "Mom cried because when John makes Profession of Faith grandpa won't be there."

And I started to cry again.  Good tears not bad tears.  Because I didn't tell him that.  He knew.


This makes me love my husband.

The comfort of being known and being understood and being loved.  That is the comfort of marriage.

Today I pray for my mother and all the other widows who struggle with the loss of that comfort at a time when they need it so desperately.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

April Fools

Happy April Fools Day

When the kids were younger we made a big deal of April Fools Day.

I'm not sure Oldest Girl has forgiven me yet for my first real trick on her.  She was 3 years old.

I made lentil loaf in two round cake pans then frosted it like a birthday cake with mashed potatoes.

hello-julie via photopin cc

She knew something special was happening because I had the professor keeping her out of the kitchen.

When I carried the "cake"in  on the special cake pedestal, her eyes got big.  This was the best thing that had ever happened to her.  Birthday cake for dinner.

Then I served the cake and she was mad.  Really, really mad.

In retrospect, things would have gone better if I had included in the meal a real dessert, although nothing really makes my family happy about lentil loaf.

Now the tricks in the house are played by the kids.  Music girl tinted the milk blue this morning.  The most entertaining part of this was watching her try to convince everyone to have milk.

"Imagination boy,  do you want me to get the milk out for you for your cereal?"

"Oh, you're having a bagel today.  Are you sure you don't want cereal?  You're sure?  Would you like me to pour you a glass of milk to go with your bagel?  You want juice instead?  Are you sure you don't want a glass of milk?"

Then she watched very closely while her father got his morning coffee to see if he was going to add milk.

Thankfully the Professor played along and she headed off to school satisfied.

The best pranks cause no harm and no lasting hard feelings.  My advice, if you are going to make a child think lentil loaf is cake there better be some real cake in the picture too.

Friday, March 29, 2013



My Dad's body was broken.  Cancer, beginning in the colon.  Traveling to the liver.  And the lungs.

The lungs had been broken for awhile.

And the chemo drugs broke it more.

The heart began to break.

And our hearts broke to watch the breaking down of his body and the thoughts of continuing on without him.

And then he wasn't broken anymore.  His body lay on that bed.  Still. Quiet. Empty.

I sit in church and hear the familiar words, "This is my body broken for you."

Jesus was broken.  For my dad.

And because Jesus was broken, my dad is no longer broken.  He is whole.

Here on earth I still feel broken, some days more broken than others.

Jesus was broken.  For me.

I will be whole.  And I will be with my dad again.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Memories or Junk

One of the hardest parts of any move is sorting through all the stuff that you never use but somehow find it hard to part with.

And how do you decide which of the kids artwork and handicrafts make the cut?
quinn.anya via photopin cc

My mother and my mother in law neatly illustrate two opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue.

When we were newly married and trying to furnish an apartment, my MIL offered us a dresser that was  in her basement.

"You just have to clean it out first," she said.

It turned out to be full of the Professor's school papers.  And I'm not talking interesting stuff like stories he wrote or drawings.  It was full of ditto master worksheets like circle the object that starts with the letter "C" and old spelling tests.

My mother, on the other hand, had to be watched carefully or she would throw away a book I was reading that I had left sitting on the coffee table.*

As a mom now myself I can emphasize with both approaches, the desire to hold on to tangible evidence of a time now past and the desire to have a clean slate and live in the present.

So when the kids were 7, 5, and 3, and we were facing a downsizing move, I decided to turn some of the decision making over to the kids.

I started with Oldest Girl.  I gathered up all her artwork, school papers, etc. and made a huge pile.

"I want you to sort through all these things and decide what is important to you to keep.  See this trash bin?  Throw away anything that isn't really important to you.  See this big bin?  This is for artwork that is special to you that you want to keep that we will put into storage so you won't have it now but will have it again someday.  And see this little bin?  This is for those few things that are so special to you they need to move with us so you can have them near you."

Oldest girl took the job very seriously.  She sat down and carefully considered each piece of paper.  Some items moved from the storage box to the keep box and back several times as she weighed her options.  In the end, there was an overflowing trash bin and full storage and keep bins with their lids on.

So I moved on to music girl and gave her the same instructions.

Music girl looked at the situation.

"You have these sizes wrong," she said, switching the larger storage bin for the smaller keep bin.  She then got down to work.

In the end, there was nothing in the trash bin, a couple items in the storage bin and a completely overflowing keep bin.

I didn't even try with Imagination boy.

Sometimes it is hard to part with the objects that spark memories.  I'm greatful that I never have to part with the memories themselves.  And thus this blog.

*This was especially true if the book had a scantily clad woman on the cover, which happened a lot since I read a lot of science fiction as a teenager and it was practically a requirement to have a scantily clad woman on the cover whether the story included any women or not.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Here is the eulogy I gave at my Dad's funeral.

Image courtesy of topstep07 /

Giving good gifts was not one of my dad’s many skills.   I think all of us kids who were alive at the time can remember the Christmas Dad gave mom a pair of scissors.  

She was not impressed. 

One of my jobs growing up was to make sure Dad bought Mom a poinsettia at Christmas time and a lily at Easter time because he just couldn’t be trusted to remember on his own no matter how many times Mom told him this was a requirement.  And although every birthday and Christmas gift I received from my parents said love Mom and Dad I knew Dad really had nothing to do with it.

But even though Dad may not have given me tangible gifts, he gave me something much more valuable.  

He gave me the greatest gift any parent can give their child.  

My entire life I have known without question that three things were true.  

Number 1, Dad loved me..  

Number 2, Dad loved Mom.  

And number 3, Dad loved God.  

This is the gift my Dad gave me.

But as you may have noticed, I am not an only child.  Dad also gave this gift to his other 10 children.  But even more than that Dad gave this gift to the world.

Dad loved me.  He loved me for who I am and not just who he wanted me to be.  All of us kids have done things and made choices that disappointed Dad.    Dad could and did get angry, not often, not quickly, but it did happen. 

But he never stopped loving us, not even for a second.  

And that doesn’t just apply to his children.  Dad loved people this way.  My parents are the most loving, forgiving people I know.  Through all of his life my dad loved and reached out to all people around him but especially to those people that others overlooked, the poor, the powerless, those with special needs.  Dad saw past skin color, IQ, worldly wealth and importance and just plain loved people where they were at for who they were.

Dad also loved Mom.  

My parents were married for over 53 years.  On their second date my dad told my mom he was going to marry her.  She immediately replied, “Oh no you are not!”  I think we can all be glad she eventually gave in.  In today’s world where so many elements fight against solid marriages, my parents set an example of give and take, of compromise and cooperation that we all can follow.

And last but definitely not least, Dad loved God. 

Dad loved God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind.  And he loved his neighbor as himself.  Dad didn’t just say he loved God, he lived it.  Sometimes this made life hard for Dad.  His ministry career had lots of bumps in the road because the fact of the matter is that lots of us say we love God but not many of us really live it.  And it makes us uncomfortable when someone challenges our comfort zone by not just saying they love Jesus but actually living like Jesus.  That was my Dad.

When I reflect on Dad’s life and all the people he had an impact on, I pray that I can give my children the gift he gave me, to love my children and others, to love my husband, and to love God.  And I know that Dad’s prayer for all of you would be the same.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

One Year Ago

One year, one week and a couple of days ago I got on a plane and flew across the globe to be with my Dad and Mom as the end approached.

One year, one week, and one day ago, my Dad said, " I don't know why all you people are traveling to visit me."

"Dad, you do know."

"Yes, I do.  And I appreciate it."

"We just want to spend what time we can with you because we love you."

"I love you too"

One year and one week ago I sat with my Dad and my oldest brother and his wife and daughter and watched a DVD of another brother preaching.  My sister in law and I had a conversation on the protestant versus the Catholic view of communiion.  Dad didn't engage in that conversation.  Clearly he was dying.

One year and six days ago I did the dishes while Mom sat next to Dad and held his hand.  They didn't talk.  They didn't need to.

One year and five days ago live continued on in the house while Dad started to slip further away.

One year and four days ago I sat at the computer and tried to complete some work long distance.  Dad asked me about it and we ended up discussing church budgeting priorities.  It was the last real conversation we had.

One year and three days ago Dad couldn't really walk anymore.  He still wanted to join the family at the dinner table.  We put him in the chair and wheeled him to the table.  He seemed totally out of it.  The children were bickering. Mom asked Dad if he wanted to pray.  He did.  He prayed that the family would be able to pull together and support each other.  It was his last clearly lucid speech of any real length.

One year and two days ago Dad spent the day in bed.  Random things came out of his mouth at random times.  He spoke of flying and looking for a luggage cart.  He saw things that weren't there.  He worried about things from his childhood.

One year and one day ago we walked around the house in hushed tones, waiting, knowing it couldn't be long, not wanting it to end but not wanting it to continue either.

One year ago today I stood around the bed with my mother, my brother, and my sister and we all touched Dad as he breathed his last.

One year ago today Dad died.

It was too soon.

One year.

Tomorrow I will write happy memories.  I will write of my Dad and my children because everything I am as a parent is due to the love and training my parents gave me and they gave me so much.

But I am just sad.

Duct Tape

My dad could fix just about anything with duct tape.

Your prom dress needs hemming.  Duct tape will solve that.
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /

Muffler falling off.  Duct tape to the rescue.

Textbook falling apart.  Duct tape again.

If it wasn't duct tape, it was clothes hangers or paper clips or old shoe laces.  He was good with his hands and it made him happy to fix things using just the supplies he had to hand.

Dad was also an optimist.  He believed nearly everything could be fixed if you just put a little time and effort into it.

So his garage and basement were full of all the broken things he intended to fix someday and the tools and odds and ends he intended to use to fix them.

During one of my visits near the end, the dryer stopped working.  Dad had some suggestions for repair but eventually I solved the problem on my own.

The problem was excess lint clogging up the exhaust system.  I gathered all the wire coat hangers I could find, bent them out into a line and duct taped them together.  I then went outside and used my improvised snake to clean years of accumulated lint from the pipe.

Mission accomplished.

Like my dad I can use duct tape to give a bit more life to items that are on their last legs.

But it doesn't last forever.

Duct tape doesn't fix cancer.  Duct tape doesn't hold life in a body when it is time to go.

But every time I pull out a roll of duct tape to fix something or solve a problem, I'll think of my dad.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Am I Like My Dad?

I enjoy telling stories about my dad that gently poke fun, but how much am I really like him?

I wrote about my Dad's attempt to teach me to drive.  His approach was basically to throw me in way past my comfort level.  I would never do that to my kids. Would I?
irina slutsky via photopin cc

So yesterday I'm driving my van with Oldest Girl in the front seat.  I had to roll the window down to show my ID at the gate.

Since I was driving the car the Professor normally drives, I forgot that it is important never to completely roll down the window since the automatic window motor is old and tired and doesn't like to work that hard.

(The fact that I drive a car with a worn out but not replaced window motor is yet another sign that I am like my Dad and an even bigger sign that I married a man who is very much like my Dad.)

It isn't that big of a deal because you can always get the window back up if you pull up on it while the motor is working.  Just giving it a little help so to speak.

The only problem is this requires 2 hands which is a problem if you are continuing to drive.

Now Dad could have solved this easily as he was skilled at steering with his knees.  I remember him folding newspapers and delivering them while expertly driving hands free.

I am not that much like my Dad.  I apparently lack the knee steering gene.

So there I am driving along with the window stuck down and cold air rushing in.  Other people might have pulled over to fix it but not my Father's daughter.

"Oldest girl,  Grab the steering wheel.  I need you to steer while I pull up the window"

Oldest girl did not think this was a good idea.

"Come on Oldest girl.  You will be learning to drive soon.  This is good practice.  Just steer for a bit.  What could go wrong?"

Oldest girl still did not think this was a good idea.*

"How are you ever going to learn to drive if you aren't willing to steer a little bit?"

Finally Oldest girl reached over and grabbed the wheel.  I turned my attention to the window and managed to get it pulled up while Oldest girl very carefully steered us.

"See I told you this was a bad idea," Oldest girl said.

"You did fine," I assured her.  "We didn't hit anyone or anything and the window is now up."

Oldest girl was not amused.

So maybe I'm more like my Dad than I like to think.  But maybe being like my Dad isn't such a bad thing to be.

*For the record, Oldest girl wants it pointed out that I drove right past a perfect opportunity to pull over. and in addition, her arguing with me about steering was not due to fear but rather that this was not the best way for her to learn to drive. In fact, she mantains that she was never steering the car but merely touched the wheel to make me happy.