Sunday, July 31, 2016

I Press On

At 10:40 AM this past Sunday, just one hour and 40 minutes behind schedule, Allyson and I took off on a short vacation to the Texas Hill Country, bound for what we call The Donkey Cabin. We'd stayed in that charming 1840s log cabin exactly two years before on a trip with Ethan and my niece Savannah, and we couldn't get wait to get back there.

Around 2:00, we met up with Allyson's friend Kambry, who'd been on a vacation with her aunt and uncle just 48 minutes from our destination. I took those giddy girls straight to Longhorn Caverns State Park.

When we turned onto the six-mile park road, I was shocked to see a sign for Inks Lake. "Hey, Allyson!" I said. "Remember that lake where we jumped off the cliff into the water that time?"


"This is the same road that leads there. What was that? Three years ago? Yes, it was the same trip when we found out we'd gotten the contract on our dream house, right before we watched the fireworks. Wasn't that the best day ever?"

"Yes, it was! Can we go back to Inks Lake?"

"We'll see," I said. "I thought you wanted to go to McKinney Falls this time."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Two Heroes and a Flash Flood

Tonight I have two stories to share. I can't decide which, so why not tell both? 

Would-Be Heroes
A week ago today, I went walking in the park with Lizzette, my most frequent walking companion aside from Jesus.

We didn't look this good on that evening. 

We got off to a very late start, so it was quite dark on our way back. Thus my usual wonder at the fireflies' magical pinpricks of golden light was tempered by fear of catching the Zika virus from the mosquitoes who also inhabit the thickly wooded creek bank.

Deep in conversation, we'd nearly made it back to the main road when we both stopped short, arrested by a plaintive cry.

"What was..." Lizzette began.

"Is it a..." I started to say "baby," but then we heard it again.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Just Part of the Family

Allyson's family birthday party was delayed a bit this year because she wanted Aunt Amy to be there, and the logistics were a bit difficult to arrange. Mom, Dad, and Rick recently passed the wheelchair transfer training at Amy's rehab center, and that meant Amy could now go on family outings. So when I found out that Amy was coming to our Father's Day celebration at Rick's house last night, I asked if we could celebrate Allyson's birthday at the same time.

Four Generations of Dads:
Rick, Dick (Dad), Miles, Mitchell

For this third birthday celebration, Allyson requested Aunt Melody's strawberry Oreo Cool Whip pudding dessert. I told her we might have to find another recipe since Aunt Melody was traveling in Japan, but imagine my delight when I found the recipe in my email inbox a few hours later. Turns out, text messages work in Japan, too. Some days I just love technology.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Tonight I only have time for one story, so I'm going to tell you about Allyson's birthday. 

Her first little celebration was on Monday the 6th, the night before her birthday. She shocked me this year by deviating from the dinner request that both she and Ethan have made every year for as long as I can remember: yellow rice and chicken. This time, she wanted pierogies, those little Polish dumplings filled with mashed potatoes. Instead of cake, she wanted homemade apple pie.

Now, I've only ever made pierogies once in my life, and the memory of that day carries a complicated mix of emotions. It was several years back, on one of our semi-annual trips to visit Bill's family in Canada. While the rest of the family went on a fun outing, Bill's mom and I spent nearly the entire day making pierogies. We mixed and kneaded the dough by hand and then rolled it out thin. We cut little circles, stuffed them with seasoned potatoes, folded them, and crimped them. Sandi folded hers neatly by hand, and I used a little pierogi-making gadget which someone had given her but which she did not trust. The truth was, nothing could make that task easy for my fumbling fingers.

But what I remember most about that day was chatting and laughing with Sandi for hours, and then savoring the sweet success when we tasted those first dumplings. In-credible! Sharing in the lavish praise that evening when the entire family devoured hours' worth of labor in minutes was also pretty gratifying.

Looking back, I'm torn between nostalgia, loneliness for my other "Mom,"and a little dread at the idea of ever doing all that work again.

So when Allyson asked for pierogies, my first question was, "From scratch?"


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Blessed Among Women

I'm sorry I've been such a stranger during perhaps the busiest season of my life (so far, anyway). I've missed you guys very much. This is going to be pretty random. I guess I'm out of practice.

Here's a bit of what I've been up to:

  • Visiting my sister Amy, who had a massive stroke about two months ago. She is still half paralyzed, but she's working very hard at her recovery and is slowly making progress. She inspires me every time we're together because she has a child-like joy, and she positively overflows with laughter. Also, she's always so proud to introduce me as her sister, and her friends and therapists always say they've heard so much about me. She brags on her other siblings too. "My brother is coming tomorrow!" she says, with a radiant smile. Or, "I can't wait to see Emily and Paul."
  • Minor renovations to my house that turned out to be much more time consuming and stressful (and costly) than I ever anticipated. I had three rooms and the ceilings painted in lovely shades of blue-gray, pale lavender, and some other delightful purple I don't know the word for. Lilac? Also I had my bathroom textured. And my bathroom cabinets painted. And I replaced the ugly laminate and all the carpet with gorgeous distressed honey bamboo. My dad, nephew Jacob, and dear brother-in-law Paul pulled off all the baseboards so I could get new ones installed. 
  • Filling out application after application, tweaking my resume and cover letter, and monitoring the websites for all the surrounding districts for the teaching positions that are posted each day. I haven't had any interviews yet, but I made a couple of great contacts at a job fair last week. More on that later.
  • Keeping up with my LEAP diet, which means carrying my own food everywhere any time I leave the house. That has gotten easier as I've been able to add more and more foods to my list, and also since I stopped recording all my food. I did that when Amy was really critical and I was at the hospital nearly every day.Thanks to God and my dietitian, I'm in much better health than I was this time last year.
  • Running Allyson to soccer practice, soccer games, and soccer activities. She was supposed to be switching teams, but she doesn't want to decide between the new team and the old team. So right now she's doing both. At least she's getting her exercise. And I'm getting out in the sun and having an excuse to do nothing for an hour while she practices. 

God has been so good to me through all of this. Ever since Amy's stroke, my priorities have shifted. I realize that people are so much more important than things, and I keep my eyes open every day for the blessings all around me. Let me share just a few of those blessings.

A Walk in the Park
The other morning I went home through the park after I'd walked Allyson to school. It was my first walk of the season, and I'd forgotten the sheer joy of those paths. As I inhaled the scent of damp moss and honeysuckle, I felt all my earthly concerns drifting away. Next, I rounded a corner to find two birds circling each other against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky, alternately swooping low and soaring high. In that moment, I felt incredibly... alive. I felt like a tiny piece of God's majestic creation, so insignificant and yet an essential part of the big picture. In that moment I could feel my connection to everything else in this universe that sings His praises. My heart sang along. 

The Best Birthday Yet
This year we celebrated my birthday at the rehab hospital where Amy was staying. Mom brought homemade ice cream, which was the first ice cream of any sort that I'd had since last summer. I wish I had words to describe how it felt and tasted on my tongue. But the joy of having all my family around me was sweeter still. We'd come so close to losing Amy just a month before. I'm sure I wasn't the only one with tears in my eyes while everyone sang Happy Birthday. 

Me, Emily, Amy, Melody, Rick

After the party, Allyson and I went to Mom's house. Melody's son Greg and his wife Jessica made dinner for the family. I thought I'd have to eat scrambled eggs since I'd forgotten to bring food and their meal had garlic, but Greg improvised a separate but equal meal for me. I was so touched by his kindness!

The next day, my actual birthday, Allyson and I made a strawberry cake from freshly ground sprouted wheat and iced it with cottage cheese maple frosting. My friend Kim and her family came from down the street to sing me Happy Birthday, and they brought me a beautiful bouquet which has made me feel so loved for two weeks now. 

Kitchen after making cake... Allyson wouldn't let me clean it on my birthday.
But neither did she!

We packed up the rest of the cake and headed to Rick's house, where the rest of the family had gathered to spend a bit more family time. While they had pizza, I ate the rest of my delicious chicken and pasta from Greg. And then we all had some cake. The cake carrier had slid off Allyson's seat just as we pulled up to Rick's house, so the cake didn't look so pretty, but it tasted pretty wonderful! Cake is a big treat for me these days.

One more thing happened on my birthday that felt like a bizarre little gift from God. My very cheap painter, Rico, hadn't had time to paint the bathroom cabinets two weeks before, and I'd been trying to reach him ever since to arrange it. He's so cheap and so good that he is booked at least a month out, and he rarely returns calls. I would've just given up on the idea because my old cabinets looked fine with the new color, but I had put several paint samples on the cabinets and they looked awful. On my birthday morning, I prayed about it. "Could you please help me reach Rico? Please, God."

About two minutes later, as I set my breakfast dishes in the sink, I saw a white van across the street. A ladder hung across the side closest to me. Hey, wasn't that... Yes, there was Rico's young assistant in my friend Ana's yard.

I tucked my nightgown into my sweat pants, zipped up my windbreaker, and slipped into some shower thongs, then rushed across the street to corner Rico in the yard just before he reached Ana's front door.

I was fairly sure he'd been avoiding me, maybe because my project turned out to be so much bigger than initially planned. But I grinned widely. "Hi!" I said. "Remember my bathroom cabinets? Do you think you could-"

"I paint them today?" he asked.

"Absolutely. Yes, whenever you're ready," I said.

I ran back across the street and washed and dried those cabinets, just in time for Rico to prime them in between coats on Ana's kitchen.

By early afternoon, I had lovely new cabinets. Happy birthday to me!

Wisdom From the Mouths of Babes
Last Monday, Allyson and I went shopping for my job fair outfit. We spent an entire evening and didn't find anything we really liked. Even though we were both horribly frustrated, we still had some great conversation. I confessed that the impending job fair had brought on a few momentary bouts of panic as I once again wondered whether I'd really heard God correctly about leaving my great job to go back to the classroom.

Allyson replied, "Mommy, you know that whatever happens, even if you are making a mistake, God will use it for your good. Because He always works for good for those who love Him."

"Yes, you're right, baby."

"Also, you've been praying for God's will, so I'm sure He will tell you somehow if it is not His will. Or He will block you from getting a job."

"Yes, that's true," I said, grinning ear to ear.

"God will always be with you wherever you go, and I know you will make a big impact on some children," she concluded.

That evening, I left a sink full of dishes to spend some much needed time in my prayer closet. "Oh, Father," I breathed. "I know you won't leave me wandering around in the dark. You're not that kind of a father. You always lead me, and you never forsake me."

For ten sweet minutes, I praised God for the wonderful plans I know He has for me. I told Him I only want what He wants for me, and I don't have to know what's coming because I know His plans for me are always better than what I could think up for myself. I look forward to telling you the story as it unfolds.

Torture at the Job Fair
The job fair was a very positive experience, and I learned a lot from talking with several principals. One even told me how to rearrange my resume and make it more concise so that principals may actually read it. I followed her advice promptly, and if I end up getting a job, I believe it will be due to that divine appointment.

That morning got off to a rather rough start, though. I'd bought a pair of dress pants that were really long, so I had to wear heels even though I knew I'd be on my feet for hours. Well, I didn't even make it out of the parking lot before I had charlie horses in my toes. There were thousands of applicants, and I had to park about a third of a mile out, up a big hill. All my weight bore down on my poor toes as I hobbled down that hill, being passed by absolutely everybody. I felt so ridiculous, but so fashionable!
Night Before the Big Day-See Pretty Boots

I stopped in a crowded bathroom, sank onto a toilet, and removed my left shoe. What a horrible idea! Two of my toes immediately contorted into a violent spasm, and I had to stifle my shriek of pain lest someone think I was having severe digestive issues. At first I feared I'd never get those misshapen toes back into my shoe. I rubbed and rubbed the sole of my foot, and finally I was able to cram my foot back into its prison, like one of Cinderella's ugly stepsisters forcing on a dainty glass slipper.

So the whole time I was talking to principals and HR representatives about my many qualifications, I had to tune out the indignant howls of my tortured feet. I plastered a smile on my face and tried to walk with some semblance of grace. After three hours, I managed to totter back up the hill to my car, where I promptly took off my shoes and socks and promised my feet I'd never wear heels again.

One More Walk in the Park
Tonight I had a free evening, and I'd planned to try the mid-week service at a new church I love, but I really felt too exhausted to go out, and there was no time to figure out what to make for dinner. I'd planned to have garbanzo beans, but when I put them out to soak last night, I accidentally turned on the Crock-Pot, so this morning I found them burned to a crisp.

"What should I do tonight, God?" I asked.

"Go for a walk," He said.

I put on my Five-Finger shoes, grabbed a zucchini muffin, and headed out. It was every bit as lovely as the walk I described earlier, and I had a wonderful chat with God. It had been a somewhat disheartening day at work, but my troubles floated away on the gentle breeze.

On my way back, I ran into my good friend Nosheen and her three small children. I turned around and walked the same path I'd just traversed, talking with her all the while. She was looking pretty frazzled because her husband was out of town, and her toddler had woken her at 2 a.m. At intervals, the toddler and the two-month-old screamed out the frustration that Nosheen surely felt. But she just smiled grimly and kissed their sweaty cheeks. "Ush-ush," she murmured.

I gave her a hug when we arrived at her house. "I asked God what to do tonight, and He told me to go for a walk. I think He wanted me to spend time with you," I said.

She grinned. "Yes, I am glad we got to talk," she said.

Just as I was thanking God for such a lovely surprise, I spotted sweet Kim, who'd given me the birthday flowers. Her daughter Claire shouted, "It's Sa-rah!" as she ran down the sidewalk toward me. Kim opened a double camp chair in her driveway, and we sat and talked into the twilight.

Back at home, I had a meal fit for a princess: two eggs fried in avocado oil and toaster-oven-roasted bell peppers. Surely I am blessed among women!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

He's Already There

I've continued to pursue the dream God brought back to life in my heart, to become a public school teacher again. What a ride it has been so far! At first I was very afraid of the challenges, but then I threw myself into research, online classes, and classroom observation. The more I discover about the latest research on learning, the more excited I am to try those strategies out for myself.

In fact, for a time I was so excited that I couldn't think about anything but teaching, even when I should have been sleeping. For several nights in a row, I lay in bed utterly exhausted but too keyed up to sleep because I couldn't stop thinking of things I might try, books we might read, things I wanted to say to my students. Even as I pleaded for sleep, I thanked God for putting such a passion in my heart.

At other times, though, my fear has taken the upper hand. One example was the first time I observed Mrs. I. at the middle school just around the corner. It was such a blessing to be there. All I had to do was email the principal and ask if he had an English teacher who wouldn't mind a visitor, one he thought a returning teacher would want to emulate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Sweetest Valentine

Meant to post this on Valentines Day, so that for once I wouldn't be totally behind on my stories. Oh well...

This may have been my sweetest Valentines Day yet. Allyson and I planned our usual Valentines dinner, complete with kids' champagne and candles, though our lighter was out of fluid and we couldn't find any matches.

Allyson still made the table special...

She made place cards... just two.
(Ethan had dinner with his own Valentine)
She'd wanted her favorite yellow rice and chicken, our typical menu, but she settled on baked potatoes with grilled chicken and cheese instead because I can't eat rice, and she didn't want me to eat something different. I was touched by her thoughtfulness. We made saffron rice on the side, and I laughed when she piled it on top of her potato. Her meal was the very opposite of low-carb!

Allyson dressed up in a pretty dress and borrowed Mama's makeup. And then she informed me that this dinner required fancy attire, and made me change out of my faded jeans.

I was glad she did, so that our Valentines selfie was much prettier:
Allyson is loving her new selfie stick. 
She tried to get Arwen to model for a shot, but she wouldn't cooperate.

She made me this cute and clever card:

And then made this one for good measure, because she hadn't had time to write a sentiment inside the first card:

She made Ethan a card, too. She drew a picture of a cute little cat and wrote, "I have felines for you."

As I wrote in Allyson's card, I am so blessed by her romantic heart, full of the truest love. She spent a few hours making cards for her family at both houses, for all of her teachers, and for many of her friends. In addition to the witty puns she'd copied from the Internet, she wrote sweet messages in each one.

And now we are going to eat the very humble apple pie we made this afternoon. I'm sure it will be much tastier than it looks...

Five. Minutes. Later.

Oh, my goodness! That was so delicious. Allyson and I just finished off half of our little pie. I guess I should have made a full-size one.

Funny, Allyson thought I should have looked for a pretty pie photo online to post, but I thought you'd appreciate the real thing more. But as payment for my vanity in posting photos of my food, I actually dropped my phone into it. If you look closely you might spot the dent in the lower left corner. That was my piece. No matter.

I hope your Valentines Day was just as sweet.

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