Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sugar, Sugar. Aw, Honey, Honey!

Seems like all of a sudden everyone's thoughts have turned to Thanksgiving. Forget that Halloween isn't even here yet; I've already had people asking me what we're doing for Thanksgiving.

And may I just now say that I don't know yet what we're doing for Thanksgiving. No plans. Yet. We don't have family nearby, so we often end up just doing something with the five of us. It always feels a little pathetic to not do something with family, but that's just the way it is.

We'll see family at Christmas.

Anyway, all this talk about Thanksgiving got me to thinking about a Thanksgiving many years ago when we did still have family in the area. B and I had been married a few years and were expecting our first baby. I still remember the mystery of being newly-pregnant and going through the holidays. We'd sit and dream of the next Christmas when we'd actually have a baby with us. Would it be a boy or a girl? (We didn't find out . . . the first time anyway.) What would our lives look like with a baby? (Good thing they don't tell you ahead of time.)

All that dreaming. And eating. Oh to be able to eat like I was pregnant again!

Who am I kidding? I put on 50 pounds with each kid. I ate like a horse and looked like one too.

But I digress. . . . That year we spent Thanksgiving with B's family. His mom would make the turkey dinner, and I was to bring the pies. I spent the day before Thanksgiving baking, what else? . . . pumpkin pies. And one pecan pie, too, because that's my personal favorite.

B's brothers were there, and I think my sister-in-law, Julie, was a part of the family by then too. We had a great day together, eating the feast that my mother-in-law had prepared and sleeping in front of the football games.

Sometime in the late afternoon we decided our turkey had finally moved over and made room for dessert, so I went to the kitchen, cut my pies, and proudly served the pieces with real whipped cream. B and I were the only ones to take the pecan pie--I guess his family is big on the pumpkin.

We all moved back into the living room to watch more football. I don't think the cushions even cooled before we plopped back down in front of the T.V. Don't you just love Thanksgiving?!

Shortly after we started eating our dessert, I noticed B's dad slowly get up and wander into the kitchen. A couple of minutes later he came back with a piece of pecan pie.

"Hungry, Dad?" we asked him.

"Oh, you know. It's Thanksgiving. You have to try a little of everything."

A couple of minutes later, B's brother got up and wandered to the kitchen too, coming back with a piece of pecan pie. Then his mom did the same.

To tell you the truth, I didn't think much about it. There was definitely something going on in the kitchen, but I figured they just loved my pie so much that they wanted more.

At the end of the day we started packing up to go home. As any good guest would do, I offered to leave some of my pie with my in-laws.

"Here," I offered, "why don't you keep a couple of pieces for your lunch tomorrow?"

"Oh no, you keep it." My mother-in-law practically pushed the half-full pie plate out the door with me.

Later, when we were alone in the car, I asked B if he had noticed all the going in and out of the kitchen during dessert. And didn't he think it was weird that his mom didn't want to keep any of the pie? There was no way we could eat all that was left over, and she was certainly not the type of person to waste anything. It just seemed odd that she would let all that delicious pumpkin pie go to waste.

Whatever. We just shrugged our shoulders and forgot about it.

Until the next day. B had to work, but I had the day off, so when it was time for lunch I thought I'd feed my baby a nutritious lunch of pumpkin pie. I've always been interested in nutrition that way.

I sliced myself a piece of pie and added whipped cream to the top because, you know, the baby needs her dairy. And I took my first bite of that perfect looking pie.

And quickly spat it into the sink.

That beautiful looking pumpkin pie was the absolutely worst thing I had ever tasted! In my pregnant state I may have been just a tad forgetful because I had left the sugar out of the pie. It was like eating pumpkin straight out of the can. Absolutely awful.

My mind quickly went back to the day before as each member of B's family had quietly gotten up from eating their pie and taken it to the kitchen, returning with a piece of pecan pie. And how they didn't want to keep any of the leftovers. It all made sense now. They had been too polite to tell my that my pie tasted like hooey. They simply tossed it out and exchanged it for something a little better.

I immediately picked up the phone and called B at work to tell him what I had done. And then I called my in-laws to apologize and to ask them why they didn't tell me about it at Thanksgiving dinner. They just laughed and said they didn't want me to feel bad, but also added that there was no way they were going to keep any of that pie!

The sugarless pumpkin pie has gone down in family lore. We still, to this day, laugh about that awful pie. And I can't look at a piece of pumpkin pie without chuckling at my big mistake.

So, spill it. Have you ever had a holiday disaster? Or a pregnancy-induced disaster? I want to know.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


So last night we're sitting around the dinner table, enjoying leisurely conversation, when my neighbor calls to tell me that she has been "evandalized."

"What do you mean?" I innocently asked.

"Well," she explained, "I had a plain old pumpkin sitting on my front porch. Yesterday someone stole it, but today they put it back. You just have to come and see it."

And so I ran over, camera in hand, to find this:

Only in Wheaton, my friends. Only in Wheaton . . .

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travel Tuesday - Acting Like a Tourist in Your Own Hometown

I feel like I know “my city” pretty well. I grew up in the Chicago area, lived within 60 miles of the city my entire life, and went to college in the suburbs, where I now live. I even spent two and a half years commuting to the city for grad school.

When B and I were in college, we spent many a Saturday evening in the city. We’d pack my car with friends and head downtown, park at Moody Bible Institute (what could be safer?), and basically just walk around with no particular destination. Poor college students that we were, we’d usually have about five bucks in our pockets. If we had a little more, we’d splurge on pizza, but if we were short on cash we’d head to a place on Rush Street called Bagel Nosh where we could get a “special” for 75 cents. The special Bagel Nosh was basically a bagel with butter and cinnamon sugar, but it tasted like the food of the gods to us.

Then we grew up, got married, had kids. Life got filled with kid activities and life-in-general. Nowadays we rarely go downtown, which is sad to me. I love the city so much.

A couple of weekends ago my sister came into town. Now, usually when she comes to visit (which isn’t that often . . . ahem) we do the usual Chicago thing—shopping.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop with my sister; we have a lot of fun together and we have similar tastes. And I can’t think of a better place to shop than Michigan Avenue—it’s probably one of the best shopping streets in the entire world.But the two days prior to our downtown day were pretty much spent shopping, so we decided to try something we hadn’t done before.

We decided to play tourist.

I’ve been a tourist in lots of cities around the world. I’ve taken bus trips and boat trips and walking tours and bike tours. And each one has been fun, memorable, and interesting.

I know, I know. Some people think taking touristy tours are the ultimate in cheesy. And they might be right. But I can’t think of a better way to cover a lot of ground and learn something along the way than to take a tour of some sort.

So my sister and I decided to take a tour. I had done a little research ahead of time, so I knew where to go, what time the tour would leave, and even which train to take. Believe me, it always pays to do your research.

That morning we threw on sweaters, jeans, and tennis shoes knowing that in doing so we would probably get laughed out of Nordstrom. That was O.K. We weren’t headed to Nordstrom this time.

On that particular Saturday, we were going to take a little ride.

But not on one of these.

Or on one of these.

Although those would have been fun too.

This time we were going to ride bikes. Our family had such a great time on our bike tour of Washington D.C. this summer that I thought it might be fun to do a similar thing right here in Chicago.

(Oh my goodness, look at those shoes! Could they be any more white?!)

The tour was amazing and so was our tour guide, Jarod. He won my heart from the moment we met when he told me he had just graduated from Loyola with a degree in English. My kind of guy.

Our tour was the Bike and Roll Neighborhoods Tour. We started out at the bike center in Millennium Park, right next to the beautiful Pritzker Pavillion.

Our first stop was Navy Pier. If you really want to feel like a tourist in Chicago, head straight to Navy Pier. Do not pass the Shedd Aquarium. Do not stop off at Wrigley Field. Just go straight to Navy Pier, the mecca of Chicago tourism. All we did there was pick up some more riders and then we were off.

Our tour rode straight up the beautiful lakefront, stopping for a second at North Avenue Beach for a photo op.

Then we headed inland through some neighborhoods—the Gold Coast where we saw an early Frank Lloyd Wright home.

Then through Old Town.

And into Lincoln Park, briefly stopping at the zoo, but not taking the time to walk around because it was getting much too cold.

After a couple of hours of riding, we headed back down the lakefront to Navy Pier and then to our original starting point at Millennium Park.

We really wanted to stop somewhere for dinner before we headed back to the suburbs, but did I mention that my sister and I were wearing tennis shoes? I mean, hello?! This is a sophisticated city and our bright, white shoes were really sticking out like sore thumbs.

Major fashion faux pas.

We ended up catching the next train home and eating out here where people don’t care quite as much about the color of your shoes. Still, we made sure we kept our feet hidden under the table.

I have issues, I know.

So, aside from the shoe thing, the day was great. I even learned a thing or two about the city I love so much. And even though it was cold and my poor southern sister was probably freezing her little patooty off, we had a lot of fun.

Next time you’re looking for something different to do when friends or family come to town, do a little research and act like a tourist in your own hometown.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Secret to Raising Girls "These Days"

Remember that Facebook status in which I was begging for topics? Well, one of my friends wrote a long list of things she’d like to see me write about, and since I know she’s a faithful reader I thought I’d oblige as much as I can. Today I’m choosing her suggestion to write about thoughts on raising girls “these days.” (She put the quotation marks in there, not me.)

Since I have three daughters she must see me as somewhat of an expert on girls. I’m not sure about that—I don’t think there will ever be an expert on girls in this lifetime—but I’ll give you my take on how I look at raising them.

I’m guessing what my friend meant by “these days” is the day we live in. A day filled with uncertainty, a heightened sense of fear, and, of course, sexuality confronting them at every turn. A day of materialism and greed. A day of self-centeredness. A day lacking in moral courage.

O.K., looking at that list, I’m done in. There is no hope. The day in which we live is the worst possible day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

You know what? Some days I can feel like that. I can feel like the world in which my girls are going to live really is the worst possible world. I can feel like my grandchildren have absolutely no future whatsoever because they won’t have any Social Security. I can look at it all swirling around me and want to go hide under the covers for a while because I feel like I don’t have any answers. The problems are just too big.

But then I realize that other generations must have felt the same way. Other generations faced a long and terrible war with many, many more fatalities than we are seeing today. Other generations saw greed. Other generations saw immorality.

And the parents of those generations did exactly what we are doing today. They put one foot in front of the other and continued on.

But what about raising girls specifically? What about the challenge of raising daughters in a confused generation? A generation that tells them that they can have it all without explaining that “all” comes with a cost. A generation that tells them that investing in the lives of others is not a worthy calling—surely there must be more. A generation that tells them that they should not really rely on another and that they should maintain their independence at any cost.

How do I raise girls in this atmosphere?

And to bring it home even more, girls “these days” are still girls. They are still mean to one another. They are still catty. They still lie to one another. And, oh boy, do they still get their feelings hurt!

All of the icky girl stuff that went on when we were teenagers and pre-teens still goes on today. It gets wearisome sometimes, believe me.

So looking at the world my girls will soon be entering, I have to ask myself, how do I prepare them? What can I possibly give them that will help them maneuver life’s tricky obstacles?

The answer: I can’t. I can’t give them anything in and of myself. In my own understanding and estimation, there is nothing at all that I can offer my daughters that will make their future any better than mine.

But Jesus.

The only thing I know about the future is that it is in the hands of a loving God who has given us everything we need in Christ Jesus. And the only thing I know to tell my girls is that the most fulfilling, most honest, most fruitful life they will ever have is a life lived hand-in-hand with Jesus.

This weekend I was reminded yet again that none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow. In some sense, looking at the state of the world today, that might be a blessed relief. But when a young life is snuffed out in a random accident, as happened to the 19 year old daughter of some friends this weekend, you have to ask, “What really is most important? What really makes a life successful? What really matters?”

And to those questions I would have to tell my daughters that their future will only be secure in Jesus. Nothing else makes life meaningful. Nothing else fulfills.

Nothing else really matters.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Give me a call, we'll go trick or treating together

I was reminded this week about why I dislike Halloween so much.

As if I needed another reason to dislike Halloween. This from the woman who calls herself the Halloween Grinch.

Anyway, my big revelation this week was all about the Halloween drama. About a month before Halloween, kids start asking, "Who are you going trick or treating with?" A month! A month is a long time in kiddom, folks. And once you commit, you're stuck. But if you don't commit, you're out.

It's a fine and trickly line they walk, let me tell you.

But I digress . . .

Let me use my own experiences as an example of what I'm sort of talking about. See, I grew up on a farm and trick or treating from a farm can be either A) time-consuming, B) embarrassing, or C) exhausting. All three, if you were me.

See, when I was very young, trick or treating meant packing us little kids into the car and driving to some of our neighbors' houses. Of course, our neighbors were all old farmers and their wives made homemade popcorn balls instead of giving out the Baby Ruths, so that was a bummer unto itself. Plus I had to go with my mom, so . . . another bummer. In the end, your little treat sack had about three pieces of candy in it for all the effort, and by the time you had driven around to get these three gross lucious, homemade treats it was dark and you were tired.

See what I mean?

And talk about embarrassing. One year, I distinctly remember dressing up as a cowgirl with a snazzy costume complete with a swirly skirt, cowboy boots, a lasso, and a mask. I looked amazing. But that night, as it so often does in October, the weather had taken quite a turn, so my mom made me wear my winter coat OVER MY COSTUME. Are you kidding me, Mom? I was so mad, I don't think I even got out of the car that year.

I lived for junior high when I could go to town and walk around trick or treating with my friends. But the problems were manifold with that.

My first problem was finding some friends who lived in town AND who would ask me to join their group trick or treating. I always felt like a third wheel, like I just didn't belong with them since they had all been trick or treating on their own for so long and I just wasn't as refined in the area of house to house sales, if you will.

The second problem I encountered was actually hinting enough to get someone to even ask me to go with them. Junior high kids are clueless. They just don't notice if someone doesn't have anyone else to hang out with on Halloween. It's like they just don't even care if someone is on their own.

(Not that I have any Halloween baggage or anything.)

And that's where the drama begins. Finding the right group is one thing. Getting someone to notice you is another altogether.

For some reason, it seems like Halloween conjures up all kinds of likes-me-likes-me-not stuff, especially with girls. It brings with it the stigma of the "right" costume, the "most fun" friends, the "coolest" treat bag. And the stigma of not getting asked at all, leaving you with the very real possibility of driving around in the car with Mom and Dad and wearing your winter coat over your costume.

Not that we'd know anything about all that around here this week. . . .

How about you? What's your Halloween baggage?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Changing Seasons

The other day on Facebook, I threw out this status update: “Need blog topics. Go!” Surprisingly, I got several great suggestions. Thanks to my friends who helped me with this. Now I have lots of fodder for future posts.

One friend suggested I write about the change of seasons, and at first, I wasn’t sure what to do with that. After all, that could be a really short post:

“We live in a place where the seasons change. Fast. As they say, ‘if you don’t like the weather today, stick around for tomorrow—it’s sure to change.’”

Or, I thought, I could take the tact that we really only have two seasons around here—winter and less winter. But that would turn into a whiney, complaining kind of post, which I really try to avoid . . . unless I’m talking about the weather.

But this morning, as I was catching up with a friend whom I haven’t seen in a very long time, I got to thinking about seasons of life. And, boy, do those change just as quickly as the weather!

One year ago I was a little over-committed. O.K., a lot overcommitted. As in over-my-head-committed. I was chairing two large committees, leading a small group at church, teaching Sunday school, and I don’t even remember what else. Truly, I approached the fall with trepidation, not quite sure how I was going to make it through the year with all those commitments.

It was all good stuff, but it made me feel a little sick to my stomach to be that busy.

But this year, several of my commitments have fallen away. I finished up the two large committees and I took a year off from teaching Sunday school. I’m still leading a small group, but that is the only big commitment I have right now.

I gotta say, it feels weird.

This morning, as I listened to my friend who is in much the same place I was last year and the year before that—much too busy and overcommitted—I wondered how it happened so fast that my situation changed. And I realized that I’m in a different season. She has kids in three schools with no drivers--yet; I have kids in two schools, and the older two drive themselves to school every day. My youngest is three years older than my friend’s youngest. That makes a huge difference. This morning my friend was dashing off to a little play at the elementary school. I don’t have to do that school-day stuff anymore.

Just as much as being overly-busy was hard, this new season of less commitment is hard too. It feels like I’m waiting for something. It feels like I’m in an in-between place right now that doesn’t feel completely comfortable, but doesn’t feel completely terrible either.

I am definitely looking for and praying about what’s next—I know my life won’t be quiet forever. But this new season takes some getting used to. It’s a season of not being so much on call as I used to be. It’s a season of reflection. It’s a season of rest. And it’s a season of waiting.

Next year will bring yet another season . . . the season of one less child in my home.

And when I think about that, I realize that seasons of life change just as quickly as the seasons of the year.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Happy Update

Remember back when I talked about my Southern Living angst and how I was going to give it another try because they were offering a one-year subscription for $5? If not, you can read about it here.

Well, yesterday the first copy of my $5 Southern Living subscription came in the mail and I have to say, "Southern Living, you complete me."

Really. Flipping through the pages of that magazine brought back a peaceful, easy feeling like I haven't had in a while. It was like welcoming an old friend whom I haven't seen in a while back into my home and picking up right where we left off.

I feel more like myself than I have in a long time.

I know this sounds wacky, and it's hard to explain, but until you've held the pages of that beautiful magazine in your hand, looked at the fabulous photos, read the travel tips, gotten some decorating inspiration, and ripped out a few recipes, you really haven't lived life to its fullest.

(O.K. Now my husband thinks I'm a complete heathen. B, just look away.)

Anyway, I've already found about five new recipes I want to try and a paint color that would look oh-so-good in my downstairs bathroom. And I haven't even finished the magazine yet!

I think I'll go bask in the Southern glow for a while. Be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Travel Tuesday - Not!

Good evening! Or good morning (if you're reading this on Wednesday). I totally meant to get a Travel Tuesday post up today--I have some good ideas floating around in my head based on my weekend last weekend--but it just isn't going to happen today . . . Tuesday.

Instead, I thought I'd invite you into our dinner conversation from tonight. We sat around the table, eating a delicious dinner (if I do say so myself) of pork chops, broccoli, baked potatoes, and homemade cinnamon rolls, and reminiscing about the things the girls used to say when they were younger.

Things like "trash can't."


"Little Bow Pete."

And, one of my personal favorites, "I can't do this; it's too EASY." (One of my girls, who shall remain nameless, had this little mental block about her adjectives and adverbs. She used to say the opposite of what she meant, much to the hilarity of the rest of us. Thankfully she grew out of that one.)

So dinner tonight was fun. We laughed so hard at some of the adorable things kids say. Even the kids who Abby babysits say cute, funny things. We know. She shared. Their mom would laugh, too.

And then I read the absolute best blog post about the things kids say. Go read it. You'll be touched.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Morning and I really have to pull my life together, but first just one quick blog post

Oh my goodness, my weekend with my sister was great (and how many times can I use the word "my" in one sentence?!)! I'll be back to talk more about it later, but here are a few observations . . . .

  • I'm officially embarrassed by our weather. Jenn said that when she left home the temperature there was 86 degrees. When she got off the plane in Chicago it was almost half that--44. I have no words . . .
  • I know that my weather-related embarrassment is just plain irrational and stupid, but once I figured it out and put a name to it, it seemed to help me somehow. And, believe me, the weather didn't get much better as the weekend went on. Many plans had to be changed. I'm just thankful that we're not tied to an agenda when we get together. We adjusted and kept going.
  • Thank goodness for that sense of flexibility because just as we were getting started on Thursday, Maggie's school called to say that she had a fever. Poor kid spent three days on the couch in the basement, quarantined from everyone else in the house. Thankfully she's much better now and was able to make it to school today. Whew!
  • While strolling downtown Naperville in the rain, we discovered that Hugo's Frog Bar is just about the best place for lunch EVER. We got a bowl of lobster bisque, a wedge salad, and a filet mignon slider for under $8. And it was GOOD! I will definitely be back . . . soon.

Probably the biggest thing I learned is that sometimes this blog gets in the way. I mean, really, how many times did I start telling a story, only to have my sister look at me sideways with a wry smile on her face and to hear her say, "Yeah, I know. I read it on your blog."

I guess I shouldn't complain. At least she's reading it!

I have lots more to tell you, but that will have to wait. Today has to be about pulling things back together around here. My family would like to eat a decent meal again--too much running around this weekend to do any cooking.

What?! Me, not cook?! I KNOW!

It was shameful.

But fun.

Thanks for coming, Jenn!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It May Not be "White Christmas" but It's Pretty Darn Close

It didn't take being the mother of three daughters to teach me that sometimes sisters are going to fight. Not just disagree about whose blue American Eagle shirt is whose or about what time to leave for school in the morning so they won't be late for Student Council.

Not that I'd know anything about any of the above.

No, I didn't learn about girl-fighting from my daughters. I learned it from myself . . . and my older sister, Jenn. When we were growing up, our mom used to work every Saturday morning, putting us in charge of our younger sister, Jodi, who was only about five or six at the time. Being the much older sisters (7 and 9 years older), Mom thought we could handle it.

Boy, was she ever wrong.

Seems like every Saturday, Jenn and I would get into a tussle over one thing or another. And these tussles would turn into all-out girl-fights. We'd chase each other around the house, grabbing at anything we could--clothes, hair, you name it.

Now, I was a nail-biter when I was younger, and that became a big problem for me and a huge advantage for my sister. She was always the glamorous one--pretty clothes, hair, and skin--and she kept her fingernails long, usually polished. So while we were clutching and grabbing at one another, she had the ability to claw. I did not.

Many a Saturday I can remember those long fingernails grabbing into the flesh of my forearm, even drawing blood a time or two. I have the scars to prove it.

Have you ever seen the movie "White Christmas"? And remember the two blonde girls who are sisters in the movie? And how they sing that song: "Sisters. Sisters. There were never more devoted sisters"?

Yeah. That wasn't us.

Fast forward about 30 years, and I couldn't be more excited about the weekend ahead of me. My sister is coming for a visit! The days of girl-fighting are long gone. Sometime after college we began to see each other differently, maybe even giving each other a little slack. Somewhere along the growing up spectrum we became friends.

People who know me here know that my sister lives a long way away. About 900 miles away. And my friends here also know how much my sisters mean to me (both of them!). They know that we are all close today--we even take vacations together sometimes.

What they don't know is all the pain I went through to get to this point. (Just kidding, girls!)

Anyway, Jenn is coming this weekend, and I couldn't be more excited. She says she just wants to come hang out. To do the stuff we would normally do.

I have a feeling she's going to be bored.

I think I may just need to plan an activity or two.

So, I have to ask you . . . if your sister came to visit, what would you do together? I have a couple of things in mind, but what do you suggest we do?

Oh, and if I'm not around here for a few days, you'll know why. We'll be singing along to "White Christmas" songs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Still Crazy . . .

Hillary, "The Other Mama," is hosting a blog carnival today with an interesting theme . . . Crazy.

Oh, there are so many ways you could go with this. You could post crazy pictures of your children. You could talk about the craziest thing you did in high school. You could share your craziest dream.

Hillary said anything goes.

So, if anything goes, I'm going to share some of the craziest stories that I've heard about in just the past few days. Because I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like the world has gone absolutely nuts.

  • It's crazy that size 12 is being considered a plus-size. Puh-leeze. My friend, Jo-Lynne, wrote about that this week.

  • It's crazy that the Blackhawks came back from a 5-0 deficit to beat the Calgary Flames 6-5 on Monday. (Sorry, just had to throw that one in there for any men who might possibly be reading.)

  • And here's a really crazy story about funding for college that we saw on the news a couple of nights ago. The really crazy part is that colleges are giving scholarships to "undocumented students." Doesn't that mean they are here illegally? Could someone please explain to me why these people get money to help pay for college when lots of people who live here legally can't get a single cent?

I could go on and on about the craziness all around us. But I've already written a post about it called "It's All Kinds of Crazy Out There" and you can read it by clicking here. I hope you'll do that and find just a little bit of encouragement to counter all the crazy.

After you've read that one, head over to Hillary's place where you'll find all sorts of craziness going on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I could use that gift

I just love it when what I'm reading intersects with what I'm learning in "real" life. That happened to me last night and it left me smiling and cringing at the same time.

Maggie, even though she's eleven and in middle school now, still likes it when we read together. Now, before you start thinking I'm this amazing mom who still reads with her kids all the time--and even does crafts with them--think again. Maggie and I actually have time to sit and read together about once a month or so. So it's not a super-big deal that I do this, unless you're Maggie and you think it's wonderful.

So last night we were reading the book that we've been reading together for, oh, about the past year or so. It's a funny (in the strange sort of way) little book called "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. Maggie read it back in 4th grade and liked it so much that she wanted me to read it. It is, after all, a book about words and plays on words. Really fun if you're into that sort of thing like we are.

I know. We're weird that way.

But as we were reading about the main character, Milo, saying goodbye to his new friend, Alec, at the end of a chapter about sight and perspective and point of view, I came across this passage:

"'I'm sorry you can't stay longer,' said Alec sadly. 'There's so much more to see in the Forest of Sight. But I suppose there's a lot to see everywhere, if only you keep your eyes open.'
"They walked for a while, all silent in their thoughts, until they reached the car and Alec drew a fine telescope from his shirt and handed it to Milo.

"'Carry this with you on your journey," he said softly, 'for there is much worth noticing that often escapes the eye. Through it you can see everything from the tender moss in a sidewalk crack to the glow of the farthest star--and, most important of all, you can see things as they really are, not just as they seem to be. It's my gift to you.'"

As I was reading I thought about the Bible study lesson I had worked on just that day. It was on a passage in the book of James (2:1-13) that talks about favoritism and how we shouldn't give the best seat in the house, so to speak, to those who seem to be well-dressed and wealthy. In other words, don't favor the rich. James points out that the poor have something to offer as well.

The passage from "The Phantom Tollbooth" reminded me of the Bible study lesson because I suddenly thought, I wish I could see people as they really are, not just as they seem to be. Wouldn't that make things easier? If we could truly see people from the inside, rather than from the outside, we'd be much better at following James' advice:

"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism."

James couldn't be more plain. And yet, it seems, I fail at this on a regular basis. I judge others. I do show favoritism. I wish I didn't, but I do.

I need Milo's telescope, I think, so that I stop looking at the surface of things, of people, and start looking deeper, at who they really are. I think, if I would only keep my eyes open, I'd find hidden treasures of wealth and knowledge that I didn't even know existed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let Nothing Come Between Granny and Her Tiramisu

We live in a fairly type-A town. You’ll never catch me running for City Council or for the school board because those poor people get enough flack to last a lifetime in just one week around here. It’s a town filled with people who want the very best for their children at all times, no exceptions. People who will stop at nothing to make sure they get what they want.

Of course, half of the people want it one way and half want it another. Seriously, if the City Council decided to paint all of the street posts in our town green, there would be a group of “concerned citizens” who wanted them changed to red. And maybe a fringe group who would want some of them red, but some of them pink.

I admire those who choose to serve our city and our schools in this way, but you’ll probably never see me doing it. I just couldn’t deal with people being mad at me. I’m a middle child, remember?

Anyway, it stands to reason that all the type-A people in our town would make for churches that are also filled with type-A people. That would be our church. We love it, and we love the people there, but my observation after about 25 years is that there are a lot of type-A people in our church.

And, you know, sometimes that’s not a bad thing. We work hard. We get stuff done. We are committed, for the most part. And we send out a lot of missionaries.

When I say a lot, I mean, a LOT. Like over 150 missionary families. It’s a great heritage that I kind of like about our church.

Every year we host a huge missions conference which took place this past weekend. This year we had the largest gathering of missionaries ever—probably 30 families—came “home” to our church to get refreshed and to touch base with their supporters, friends, and family.

Yesterday’s church service was the culmination of the conference, and it was really different. For one thing, there was no sermon. All of the missionaries helped with the service by doing a type of reader’s theater. They even got the congregation involved in doing some of the reading.

And there was music. Wonderful world-music by a group of missionaries who are ethnomusicologists. No strumming guitar players for us. No way. We have to have ethnomusicologists. See what I mean about our type-A-ness?

Every year part of the missions festival is a fun evening with the missionaries. It’s usually a game of some sort and it usually involves food. Come on, you can’t have a missionary event without food. But the main purpose is to get the people in our congregation to interact with the missionaries who are in town.

So last night’s big event was just such a thing. We were greeted at the door and handed a card with instructions telling us that in order to win dessert we’d have to get three stars on our card. The only way to get a star was to talk to one of the missionaries about their work or where they lived.

It’s a great idea in theory, but in reality it played out a little differently.

Our family walked around together, each of us holding our little cards, hoping to fill them up with stars because the more stars you got the more dessert, or maybe even a cappuccino, you could get. We were hungry, so we tried to move quickly.

The problem was, all of the type-A people in our church were on a similar mission.

Pretty soon the room filled up, and it was getting tough to get near one of the missionaries we needed to talk to. Elbows were being thrown as we crowded around them, hoping to hear a little bit about their work, but mostly to get a star for our little dessert card.

At one point we spent about 10 minutes talking to an older gentleman, very politely I might add, only to have him doll out one star for the five of us rather than giving all of us a star. He was playing the game quite literally and would not break the rules for anything.

We were incredulous, to say the least.

But, not to be deterred because we’re a fairly type-A group ourselves, we moved on, hoping to find a friend who would be a little more free and easy with the stars. As the evening wore on, we started to realize what a difficult task this was going to be. We were really having to work for our tiramisu!

Finally, with two stars on each of our cards (three on mine because the older gentleman took a liking to me and gave the one star to me), we waited to talk to a woman about her work in South Africa. We inched closer and closer, already beginning to taste the gooey richness of our dessert, when all of a sudden an old lady scooted up close to her and pretty much pushed B out of the way.

She cut in line! The old lady hip-checked my husband to get ahead in line!

All five of us stared, open mouthed, at the woman and at each other. And then we decided we’d had enough.

We may be a little bit type-A, but we’re not type-A+.

After nearly an hour of making small talk and trying to get near a missionary in order to get a star, we gave up and left. We all decided that it might just be easier to go home and make our own tiramisu than to get three stars on our cards.

Later that night, B started having some back trouble. I’m pretty sure it was the hip-check he took from the little old lady.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And They Didn't Even Have a Concession Stand

Here’s a mystery of life I have yet to solve: soccer.

Now, I’m not such a neophyte that I don’t know what soccer is. And I’m not anti-American, so my children did, indeed, play soccer when they were five.

No, what I’m talking about is the upper-level soccer—high school and college.

Here’s where the true confessions come in. I will admit right now that I’ve only been to a handful of soccer games in my lifetime. I maybe went to two games when I was in college—our team was national champions one year when I was there, so I’m sure I went to a game or two that season. I’ve been to exactly one high school soccer game—and that wasn’t even at my own kids’ school. I went to watch the son of a couple of our friends play.

You can’t really blame me. My high school didn’t have a soccer team. In fact, when I was in high school, nobody’s school had a soccer team. Soccer was for East Coast kids. We Midwestern farm kids did not play soccer. We played football. RARGH!!!

But now our friends’ son is playing for our alma mater, so I guess it’s time to start going to a few games. So last night, in the spirit of supporting our friends, B and I ventured forth and headed, not to the football field where we feel most comfortable, but to the soccer field where we didn’t have a clue.

I guess it was exciting. All that back and forth and back and forth. The heading. The chest bumping. The yellow cards . . . and even a couple of reds. (I think that’s a bad thing.) Oh my!

But in the end, the score was 1-0 . . . and not in our favor. I spent 90 minutes on a cold, hard bleacher for that? One to nothing? Seriously?

And nobody even got carted away on a stretcher. Not even on crutches! Give me a good football game where there’s constant action, a good hit or two that will make you squirm in your seat, and a score. A real score.

Now, I love my friends and their son, so I definitely will be going to more games. But there’s just so much I don’t get. Starting with the uniforms. I mean, where’s the padding? And the helmets? With all that head-butting going on, it seems to me those soccer players should be made to wear helmets.

So help me out, people. Really, what is the secret to this mystery of life? Why is soccer so popular? What do you love about soccer? And what should I be looking for next time I go to a game?

Other than a real score.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


You’ve probably heard by now that Chicago did not get the bid for the 2016 Olympics.

Truth be told, we’re a little bummed about that around here because we had big plans for 2016. Big plans. I’m talking a big family party we were going to have with our kids, their cousins, aunts and uncles, even grandparents. Because the Olympics would have been fun, and it would have been a good excuse to get everyone together.

But, alas, it was not to be. Maybe we’ll have that party anyway.

But all this talk about 2016 got us thinking about where we will all be in 2016, and I gotta say, it kind of freaked me out.

Lordwilling, in 2016 Kate will be two years out of college. If she’s anything like her daddy and me, she could be married for two years and would have to bring her husband along to the Olympics too. Weird.

Abby will be graduating from college in 2016. She could be getting married too—if she’s anything like her daddy and me--which, she will tell you, she most certainly is NOT.

And Maggie will be graduating from high school that year and beginning her budding theatrical career college.

Of course, B and I will still be 35 and enjoying an active life without any health issues at all. We will be competing in marathons and watching our diet religiously, and we’ll be in the best shape of our lives.

Shelly! Snap out of it! Wake up!

Sorry, you caught me dreaming there for a second.

Anyway, we all got to thinking about 2016—only seven short years away—and how much
our lives are going to change in those seven years.

And I thought, too, about the first seven years of my girls’ lives. How those years dragged on and on for me. How every day seemed like a year, and I never thought my kids would actually go to school.

But they did, and once they got into school the days seemed to rev up and start spinning faster and faster. Until today when a year seems like a day and I want so desperately to stop the spinning. To keep them from moving so quickly toward 2016 and beyond.

Believe me, I am more than aware that we have no idea what our lives will be like tomorrow, let alone seven years from now. But it is kind of fun to speculate about the possibilities and to be reminded, yet again, of how much faith we need to have to put one foot in front of another and move ahead.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday Morning Mania - II

Good Monday morning!

Since I'm having a little bit of trouble pulling my thoughts together today thanks to a sinus headache and a late night at small group last night, I thought I'd just resort to a Monday Morning list.

It works for me.

1. This weekend I went to not one but TWO baby showers. I honestly can't tell you when I last went to a baby shower, so this was unusual. But they were fun. And interesting! My, how times have changed! Seems like these days everything is organic this and all-natural that.

One of the items on the first mom's gift list (it was the gift I gave her!) was one of those liners that people put in shopping carts to protect the baby from germs. At least that's what I'm guessing it's for. I had to kind of laugh to myself about that because when my kids were old enough to sit up in the shopping cart, the first thing they'd do was start gnawing on the handle, slobbering all over the place as they gleefully chewed and spit. It completely grossed me out, but there was nothing like these fancy covers back then to protect my kids from the crud on the shopping cart handle. I'm hoping it built up their immune system. At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

2. The second shower was for some friends who just adopted twin boys from Ethiopia. Can I just tell you that those were about the cutest 10-month-olds I've ever seen? I immediately grabbed one of the boys as I walked in the door and barely put him down the entire time I was there. What a honey! The dad to these boys quickly pointed out that there are 3 million orphans in Ethiopia waiting to be adopted. THREE MILLION! That absolutely blew my mind. Three million children without parents. . . .

Any takers out there?

3. Speaking of showers . . . A couple of weeks ago I went to a wedding shower for the daughter of a friend of mine. I was laughing with a friend about how we seem to be entering a new phase of life in which we are the friends of the parents instead of the bride or groom. This friend agreed, and then proceeded to tell me that she and her husband went to 10 weddings this summer. TEN! All friends of her daughter who just graduated from college.

Definitely a new season of life.

4. And speaking of new seasons of life. Kate submitted her first college application last night. To say it feels a little strange to me would be an understatement.

5. And speaking of seasons again . . . I think we're skipping fall and heading straight into winter. It was about 40 degrees when we woke up this morning. Brrrr.

But what's better in the fall/winter than pumpkin muffins? Did you think I forgot? No sirree! I whipped up a batch of Bridget's Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins yesterday and they were a hit. Definitely a recipe worth keeping and making often.

The only problem was a mistake I made. I put too many chocolate chips in the batter. Completely out of habit I just opened the package (I use mini chocolate chips because my family likes the way the chocolate spreads throughout the cookies or, in this case, muffins) and dumped them in. And then I realized I was only supposed to put in 1/2 cup. Oops! I can't believe I'm even saying this, but less is more when it comes to putting chocolate in pumpkin muffins. Next time I'll read the recipe more closely.

Alright, now it's time to move along with my day. But first I'd like to know . . . how was your weekend??

Friday, October 2, 2009

Folks, We Have a Winner!

So I'm on Facebook last night and I see that one of my dear friends and faithful readers has found a can of pumpkin and is making pumpkin squares. And another sweetheart friend of mine sends me a message on Facebook telling me that another store in the area now has pumpkin.

Can I just tell you? . . . I am elated. Thanksgiving is saved!

Yet another national crisis has been averted thanks to the power of the blog.

Now, on to the winner. First let me say thanks to all of you who submitted recipes. Some of these are definitely going to be filed away for the great Thanksgiving feast, that's for sure.

But since we can only have one winner--yes, kids, that is how life works--and I am fickle and couldn't decide, I let my family weigh in on the decision. They are, after all, the ones who will get to eat the fruits of my pumpkin labor this weekend when I make the winning recipe.

Drumroll please. . . . The winner is . . .

Bridget of Every Day Faith! Bridget submitted a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe that everyone around here agrees sounds absolutely divine. (We're suckers for the chocolate chips, so you might want to tuck that one away for future contests.)

So, Bridget, in honor of YOU, I'm going to make those yummy muffins this weekend and report back on Monday. Don't let me down, girl. And I'll be putting two cans of Organic Pumpkin in the mail to you. Enjoy!

And now, on to more important issues of the day, like whether Chicago gets the Olympic bid or not.

Carry on.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book Review - A Slow Burn

You may have noticed that I don't do many book reviews on here. I'm not sure why I don't--it's not like I don't read books. I read lots of books. But I'm no book review writing expert. I always feel like I'd either be gushing or dissing, and neither sounds good. So I shy away from book reviews.

But Mary DeMuth asked if I'd do this one. Yeah, I know, it sounds like I know Mary. I don't really--unless you count a couple of emails we've exchanged and a brief encounter in the hallway at She Speaks last summer where I went up to her and made a complete babbling, fawning idiot out of myself. But let's just not go there for now.

Mary asked on her blog if anyone would like to review her book on their blog and I thought, "Sure! I'm all about free books!" so I signed up. I really enjoyed the first book in her Defiance, Texas trillogy, Daisy Chain, and I wanted to read the sequel anyway, so reading it for free was just a bonus.

I have to warn you, the book I'm about to review is a tragedy. Not so much in the Shakesperian sense of a tragedy, but still, it's rough, raw, and real. If you're looking for a perky, fun, not-too-deep book I'd say go find a Sophie Kinsella and park it there for a while. But if you're looking for an edgy, deeply moving book that will really make you think, you might just want to check this one out.

Like I said, A Slow Burn is the second in Mary's Defiance, Texas trillogy. It picks up right where Daisy Chain left off, with a deeply hurting mother, Emory Chance, trying to pick up the pieces of her sorry life after her daughter, Daisy, goes missing and is found dead. (It's tragic, remember?)

Throughout the book, Emory confronts demons of nearly every kind. A mother who neglected her. Men who used her. Drugs that have nearly killed her. Guilt that threatens to undo her.

And then there is God who is chasing her.

Emory fights them all, including God, with a surprising ending that left me, truthfully, wrung out.

But that's how Mary writes. She develops characters that you care about--even the unsavory ones. She creates a setting that is as dry as the souls of the characters and that leaves you craving a nice, cold glass of water.

This is not one of those Christian fiction books that ties everything up neatly with a bow at the end, which is probably why I enjoyed it. Rather, it leaves you thinking, wondering, pondering.

And yet you see God through it all. Speaking to, pursuing, and loving His children.

Just like real life.

Even though it's disturbing in many places and very hard to read at times, this is a book that makes you think about life, about relationships, and about God's place in it all. I have a feeling A Slow Burn is going to stay with me for a long time.