Friday, December 26, 2008

First Christmas Together

Whenever we enjoy our Christmas traditions, I always think back to the first Christmas that Bill and I spent together. It was back in 2000, and he was down from Canada for a ten-day visit.

Excerpt From Ethan's Journal (age 3)
Bill came for a whole ten days around Christmas time. It was wonderful to spend that much time together. We did all our Christmas shopping together (all in one day). He was so good at picking out presents for you--for everyone, really. He has a knack for understanding what each person would like.

Taken at Mom and Dad's House in Blum

What you enjoyed most was picking out a Christmas tree. It was your first real tree and the first one I'd had since I was a small child. You were very proud that Bill allowed you to help choose it. We also bought a lot of lights and ornaments and a cheap tree stand.

Bill wrestled the tree into the small trunk of my Mercury Tracer. Back at home, he was frustrated to find that the tree's trunk was just a bit too wide for the stand. We had nothing to cut it with, so he used a steak knife! He laboriously trimmed off several layers of bark and wood, and he made that tree fit.

After he strung the lights, we let you hang some ornaments and candy canes. You wrapped yourself in a string of tinsel, and I took your picture.

After all that work, you and Bill were exhausted, and you snuggled up on the couch for a nice nap.

It was a wonderful Christmas, though we had to celebrate a little early so that Bill could see you open your presents....





We told Ethan Santa was coming a little early that year, and we went ahead and put out milk and cookies for him. Ethan was amazed and elated the next morning when he found cookie crumbs
on the plate. I was just as amazed; my family had never observed this tradition, and I'd had no idea how much fun that could be.

Bill gave Ethan a Vancouver Canucks jersey, and he just loved it. It was far too big, but that just meant he could wear it for a couple of years.

The fact that our time together was so limited made that first Christmas incredibly special. With each passing year, we've carried on the same traditions and added a few new ones:
  • Bill hanging lights on the house, with a little "help" from Ethan and a lot of hand wringing on my part
  • Listening to Christmas music and drinking eggnog while we decorate the tree
  • Arranging our Christmas village and our two nativity sets
  • Using the camera's timer to take our own picture for the Christmas card, which tends to be a hilarious and somewhat stressful exercise
  • Baking and decorating sugar cookies with my family
  • Reading The Night Before Christmas for Bill's family in our twangiest Texas drawl
  • Singing Christmas carols with Bill's family and friends
  • Watching A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation and sometimes The Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Stuffing ourselves each day for a week on Bill's mom's Christmas treats
  • Staying up late playing cards with Bill's family
  • Attending the candlelight Christmas Eve service at church
Now that Allyson has joined us, we're enjoying that extra sense of wonder. May we never forget these little joys!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I've Got My Phone...And Baby Jesus!

This morning, Allyson was getting ready to go to the babysitter. Daddy had her all dressed in her Christmas T-shirt and her Santa cap (which she wears EVERYWHERE, much to the delight of both friends and strangers).

Allyson holding tiny Baby Jesus

When I came down the stairs, she announced, "I've got my phone and Baby Jesus!"

"Huh?"

She patted her jeans pocket, which bulged with an old cell phone she likes to carry around, and she held out the tiny wooden baby from the nativity set on our console table. She is utterly fascinated with the tiny figures that look like the old Playskool Little People.

We have a more traditional nativity scene on our mantle, but I just love the humble wooden figures that Ethan received in Sunday school several years ago. Allyson won't leave them alone, though. She broke Baby Jesus' manger the other day (made of Popsicle sticks), and she's constantly carrying him around. I even caught her putting him in her mouth once, and Bill laughed when he heard me holler, "Don't eat Baby Jesus!"

Allyson was so pleased with her two treasures this morning that I couldn't resist letting her take Jesus along. But she had to leave him in the car so he wouldn't get lost.

One More Cute Quote
We were on the way home from Aunt Emily's tonight, where we'd helped make Christmas cookies, when Allyson pulled the bow off her stuffed pink cat. "Oh no!" she cried. "I broke my ti-ee tat."

"We'll fix it when we get home," Daddy reassured her.

A couple of minutes passed, and we thought she might be asleep. Suddenly she piped up, "I have a idea!... We can call Santa Claus and he can bring me a new ti-ee tat!"

"I don't know," Daddy said. "We can just fix the kitty cat you have."

"No, I need a new one. I need Santa to bring me a new ti-ee."

It's amazing how soon children learn about Santa and toys. (She's only two and a half!) I'll have to help her focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Maybe the nativity set will help.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Maybe I'm Not Suzy Homemaker After All

I've spent the better part of the month in a frenzy of baking, mainly the Amish Friendship loaves that I give out to friends and family each year. I've also baked a 7-Up cake for a Christmas party, four dozen chocolate chip cookies for Ethan's band concert, and 24 cupcakes for his school Christmas party. Of course, I didn't even consider buying any of these treats--as Bill had suggested--because I think I'm Suzy Homemaker.

Ethan and I spent some quality time on several occasions; I supervised while he mixed up the cookies and cakes. I bit my tongue when he spilled sugar on the floor and splashed vanilla on the counter. I realize that he probably won't want to bake with me in another year or so, so I've decided to enjoy these opportunities no matter how messy my kitchen might get. (To tell the truth, it gets awfully messy when I bake by myself, too.)

Ethan is so cute. He is very earnest about the responsibility of measuring the flour exactly as I've taught him: mound it up with a spoon, tap it with a knife, carefully level it off. He runs the Kitchen-Aid for precisely the prescribed length of time. In the end, he is so proud of the results, and I am equally proud of him. I imagine his future wife thanking me someday and telling me, "My heart just goes pitter-pat when I see my man working in the kitchen!"

This past Thursday, however, I wasn't having so many warm, fuzzy feelings about our baking project. Ethan wanted to take cupcakes for his 24 classmates, and I was determined to avoid a trip to the store. I found a yellow cake mix in the cabinet, but no frosting. I scoured my cookbooks for recipes, but they all called for butter, which I didn't have. I finally found a recipe online for a fudgy frosting that called for margarine, cocoa powder, buttermilk (which I did have, amazingly), and powdered sugar. I thought I was pretty clever.

So Ethan made the cupcakes, which were amazingly fluffy. They made thick, lumpy mounds in the cupcake tins. Apparently, I should have tapped the pans on the counter to settle the batter down more evenly, but I didn't know that. They turned out to be very funny-looking cupcakes, kind of like toadstools with big, flat tops. I was a little alarmed, but I tried not to show it.

The frosting was even worse. We were supposed to boil the buttermilk with the margarine and cocoa powder, but it never did come to a boil. It just got thicker and greasier because the margarine seemed to be separating out. I finally gave up and just mixed in the powdered sugar.

I carefully scraped the cupcake tops off the pan and gently worked each cake out of the pan. I only destroyed the top on one, which gave me an excuse to sample one. (It may have looked ridiculous, but it tasted wonderful.)

It took me so long to get the cupcakes out that the frosting had thickened considerably. When I tried to spread it, of course it tore the cake up. So I dropped fat dollops of fudge on the middle of exactly nine cupcakes. And then I ran out of frosting, blast it! Bill came to the rescue by topping the rest with melted margarine and cinnamon/sugar. (I was just done, and Ethan had lost interest long before that.)

The cupcakes looked so pathetic that I half expected Ethan to "forget" them on the bus, but Bill ended up driving him to school. Nevertheless, he brought home 14 of the 23 cupcakes. They looked battered, as if they'd been bumped around a bit on the bus ride home. I felt a stab of rejection. What, were my cupcakes not pretty enough to eat? Had Ethan hidden them under his desk?

Ethan said his teacher estimated that they'd had enough food for three classes, so that was probably the reason our cupcakes were shunned. I tried to give them to his classmate Makayla, who lives across the street, but apparently they still had most of their cupcakes, too. So I guess it was nothing personal.

Well, I've decided I'm not Suzy Homemaker after all. And how it pained me to throw away the last six cupcakes tonight! They were just too stale to eat, my food-wasting phobia notwithstanding. Next year, I'm going to just buy something from the store!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nasty Santa, Nasty Santa!

This morning I took Allyson to toddlers' story hour at the library. Every Wednesday, we listen to stories, sing songs, and make crafts with the other kids. Afterward, we turn in the previous week's books and choose five (or six, or seven) more. And Allyson grabs a video at random from the children's section.

This morning, we got to sing Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while the kids joyfully shook their little sleigh bells. (Normally they shake the bells to a quirky song about brushing your teeth at a quarter to five in the morning.)

We listened to a cute story about Santa Mouse, and then we sang an old Christmas song that was unfamiliar to most of the kids (and maybe the moms as well). It goes like this:

Who's got a beard that's long and white?
Santa's got a beard that's long and white.
Who comes around on a special night?
Santa comes along on a special night.
Special night, beard that's white
Must be Santa, must be Santa
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

There are several cute verses about boots and a suit of red and a big red cherry nose, and each concludes with a jubilant chorus of "Must be Santa, must be Santa..."

I wasn't sure whether Allyson liked the song until a couple of hours later, when she burst into song while we were putting away groceries.

"Nasty Santa! Nasty Santa! Nasty Santa, Santa Claus!" she sang.

I swallowed my laughter and said, "Sweetie, it's 'Must be Santa, Must be Santa!'" I sang the correct chorus for her.

"It is NOT musty Santa!" she replied indignantly. Then she went on singing, "Nasty Santa! Nasty Santa!" She was having so much fun that I couldn't argue with her.

I thought back to the week before when we'd gone to the library one evening to sit on Santa's lap. Based on her grumpy expression, maybe "Nasty Santa" is an accurate description of her views on Santa. No matter how he tried, he couldn't get a smile out of her.

Still, she did manage to tell Santa that she wants him to bring her a Princess Barbie this year. Maybe when she unwraps that gift, she'll stop singing about Nasty Santa.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Even Worse Than the Emergency Outfit

Today I learned that the only thing worse than an ill-fitting, mismatched emergency outfit is... no emergency outfit at all. First thing this morning, I baked yet another six loaves of Amish Friendship bread, and consequently I was in a huge rush to get to my 9:30 Pilates class. (Okay, so I'm always in a huge rush to get there--or anywhere else for that matter.)

Anyway, that was the reason I forgot to check the diaper bag to make sure Allyson had a change of clothes. It was also the reason that I didn't take Allyson to the bathroom when we got to the gym. She never goes then, but normally I always take her just in case.

I had finished my workout and was lying on my mat, listening to soothing music and waiting for my head and shoulder massage, when a jarring voice interrupted the silence. "Sarah! You're needed in the childcare room."

Now I suppose I should have been worried that Allyson had hurt herself or gotten sick, but the first thought I had was, "Oh, please don't let it be poop." She was wearing her big-girl panties--the Dora the Explorer mermaid panties, to be exact--and I flashed back to the incident a few days before when I'd had to bring the Poop Spatula back out.

Thankfully, she was only wet. She and the sitter were standing in the bathroom, Allyson's panties and jeans in a soggy heap on the floor. The young lady was rifling through the bag. "I couldn't find any extra pants," she said.

I was so embarrassed! How could I not have brought an extra pair of pants for my potty-training toddler? I searched again for good measure. I found a pair of training pants, some big-girl panties, a Pull-Up, and a cloth diaper. I found two extra shirts and a pair of socks. I even found part of last week's craft from story hour at the library. But there were no extra pants of any kind.

I put her in the Pull-Up, though she protested that she wanted to wear the My Little Pony panties. "No, ma'am," I said. "No big girl panties when you wet your pants."

I looked at her thoughtfully. What should I do? It was still pretty cold outside, and I didn't want to take her out with bare legs. I finally decided to put her in my fleece jacket, which fit her like a potato sack. I had to roll the sleeves halfway up. She looked ridiculous, but so cute, in her evening-length jacket and socks and shoes!

Well, as far as embarrassing parenting moments go, it could have been much worse. It could have been a messy poop. It could have happened at church. She could have been 3-1/2, like Ethan was when he finally got trained.

Monday, December 8, 2008

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I thought I'd share a story about my days as a single mom. Although this was most definitely NOT a funny story at the time, for some reason people just laugh uproariously whenever they hear this story. I think this happened in July of 2001, shortly before Bill moved down from Canada.

I was surprised to learn that the hardest part about being single was mowing my own yard. I had literally never even touched a lawn mower until age 30, when I was forced to learn how to operate our crappy mower. My dad came over on a Saturday and taught me how to start it (with a minimum of three very vigorous pulls), how to push it in straight rows, and how to unclog the blades each time the motor died--about every three minutes when the weeds got too long.

The first time I mowed, it took me a couple of hours. The blisters were so deep that they actually bled. I was covered in a layer of dirt that clung to my sweaty body and made muddy rivers in the tub when I showered. Worst of all, the weedeater flung giant grasshoppers against my legs! When that happened , I let out a girly scream and then felt the tears trickling from the corners of my eyes as I contemplated the months and months of mowing that I could look forward to.

When I told Bill the sorry story that evening, he laughed heartily, and I had to laugh, too, in spite of myself.

Now, I will admit that I was exceptionally wimpy and whiny about it, but you have to understand that my lot was not your average yard. A year or two before, my ex-husband and his best friend had rented a backhoe and dug up most of the topsoil in the front yard. The plan was to bring in better dirt and lay some sod, but we ended up moving out to the country to run our convenience store, and the job never got finished. So the front yard was mainly dust and rocks and some very hardy weeds. The mower would throw out choking clouds of dust and hurl the occasional rock. Oh, and there were also several mounds of ferocious fire ants who were particularly vicious when I ran them over with the lawnmower. I always meant to watch for them, but I usually forgot because I was so preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself.

The section in the backyard between the house and the fence was even worse. This was the destination of the topsoil that had been removed from the front yard. There were three large mounds, about three feet tall, and they were covered in weeds that were often waist-high. It was impossible to push the lawn mower back there, so the only way to cut the weeds was with the weedeater, which I despised. Whenever I went back there, I cowered in fear waiting for snakes to strike at my ankles.

I mowed every Wednesday evening and every Saturday morning, and I never stopped dreading it. I'd get up at 7:00 on Saturday to beat the heat, but it was still around 90 degrees most days.

After a few months, a Good Samaritan suddenly began mowing my yard. I was overjoyed to come home from work one Friday and find it all mowed, even the jungle mounds. It took me awhile to discover the identity of my mysterious benefactor.

I stayed home sick one day and woke to the sound of a lawnmower in my backyard. I hurried downstairs and found my neighbor, Sam. I thanked him profusely, but he just smiled shyly and said it was no trouble. He and his wife Freida had been doing all sorts of little things to look after me and three-year-old Ethan ever since the divorce. This was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me, and it brought tears to my eyes. I vowed to pay him back somehow if I could think of a way.

Sam's house, my house (after Bill restored the grass)

Sam and his teenage boys continued to mow my yard for several weeks, and I reveled in my Saturday morning sleeps and my soft, smooth hands. But one Saturday morning in July, I took a look at my yard and decided I was going to have to drag out the lawnmower again; maybe Sam had been sick or on vacation.

As I dutifully mowed the weeds and dandelions in the front yard, I noted that Sam's usually meticulously groomed grass was shockingly long. He must not have had time for his own grass either. A little thought began to grow in my mind and take root: I needed to return the favor and mow Sam's front yard.

I carried on a mental argument with myself.

"But I'm so hot and tired!"

"It would only take another 20 minutes, and I'm already sweaty and dirty."

"I just want to take a shower and relax on the couch!"

"It's the least I could do. Think of all the times Sam and his boys have mowed for me."

"Oh, but I don't want to!"

"What would Jesus do?"

"Oh, all right! I'll do it." It was as if I'd heard the Voice of God, and there was no arguing.

I pushed the mower next door and started on the long, lush grass--which was maybe 3/4 of a foot high. In no time, I started to feel really good about what I was doing. But then the thick grass overwhelmed the mower, and it stalled. I pulled gobs of damp grass out and flung it aside, and then I laboriously started the mower again. I repeated this ritual every few feet, and I alternated between feeling sorry for myself and feeling very righteous.

As I completed my first row, just to the sidewalk, I surveyed my work and realized something wasn't right. Instead of a nice, smooth path, the mower had left a dry, brown trail. Sam had Bermuda grass, which was obviously quite different from the St. Augustine I'd grown up with (and the weeds that populated my current lawn). Was this normal, I wondered? Maybe it would just look like that until he watered it again, I decided.

In any case, there was such a stark contrast between the mowed and the unmowed sections that I felt I had no choice but to continue. So I plowed on, mowing a few feet, unclogging the blades, and restarting the motor.

I'd made it halfway up one side of the lawn when the front door opened. Sam's eyes were first perplexed, then angry. "What are you DOING??" he spluttered as soon as he had command of his voice.

"I'm mowing your yard," I said meekly. "It was getting really long, and I wanted to help you since you've been mowing my yard so often."

"But you've ruined it!" he cried. "Just... just, put the mower away. You've done enough!"

"But I have to clean up the mess," I murmured, eyeing the tufts of grass that littered the sidewalk.

"Just go!" Sam said gruffly.

I actually felt scared. Sam and Freida both worked as night guards at the county jail, and up until Sam had started mowing my yard, I'd been a little intimidated at the sight of him in his uniform. (Freida was never scary with her short stature and her ready smile.) At this moment, Sam was pretty terrifying.

I turned around wordlessly, my shoulders hunched, and pushed the mower back to my garage, sobs catching in my throat. I didn't even bother to shower before I collapsed on the couch and wept. The injustice of it! I'd wanted to return a favor, and instead I'd destroyed Sam's lovingly cultivated lawn.

After a few minutes, I resolutely grabbed a broom and headed back over to sweep up the mess, which was untouched. I sobbed as I worked, but I was determined to at least clean up the shorn grass.

Freida opened the door and said, "Please, honey, just leave it. Sam didn't mean any harm. He was just surprised. Now go on home."

"No," I said. "I m-made the m-mess, and I'm gonna c-clean it up."

She went back inside and I finished sweeping. Freida's kindness was even more upsetting than Sam's anger, and I just couldn't stop crying. I curled up on the couch in the fetal position and sobbed for at least 30 minutes. Little Ethan kept patting my head and asking, "What's wrong, Mommy?"

"I'm okay," I said. "I just need to cry for awhile."

Eventually I took a shower and got myself dressed for an afternoon wedding, for the nephew of my dear friend Angela. At the reception, she immediately noticed my puffy eyes and asked what was wrong. As I sadly recounted the story to her and her husband, they couldn't help laughing. I laughed, too, through my tears.

I asked, "But what happened? Why did the grass look like that?"

"You scalped his grass," Peter explained. "You can't cut Bermuda that short. You needed to raise the blades on your mower."

"You can do that?" I asked. He laughed again. "Will it come back?" I asked hopefully.

"Probably not, I'm afraid."

Peter was right. That grass was dead for the rest of the year. It was only about a quarter or a third of the lawn, but it seemed to defeat Sam's spirit. The rest of the grass soon became unkempt, and the weeds in my yard started to encroach on his yard. Every time I looked at that yard, I was pierced with regret.

I made a decorated cookie that said, "I'm sorry!" and I brought Ethan along to help me deliver it. (No one could resist my sweet little son.) Freida exclaimed at my kindness, but Sam didn't say much.

I suppose he must have forgiven me eventually. To his credit, he continued to mow my grass until Bill moved down and took over that duty. But his grass NEVER came back.

I've driven through the neighborhood several times in the five years since we moved, and the grass is still weedy and thin. I wonder if Sam still thinks about that day, and if he ever learned to laugh about it--or if he still laments, as I do, that no good deed goes unpunished.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sixteen Tidbits About Me

My friend Melissa at Until the Jasper Walls invited her readers to share little-known facts about themselves. Let's see what I can come up with.

1) I enjoy doing laundry. Really, I do. I love creating order out of chaos, and returning every piece to its rightful place.

2) I despise mopping the floor.

3) I love making homemade cleaners from vinegar, baking soda, etc. It's a bit of an obsession.

4) I once won second place in a math team contest in junior high. But it was for calculator use, which hardly counts!

5) I still remember how to do algebra, and I love tutoring my friends and family. Let's see if I still love it when it's time to help Ethan.

6) I used to own a Chevron convenience store with my ex-husband. It was the most difficult year of my life. Being your own boss is definitely overrated.

7) By age 30, I'd held thirteen jobs! But I've been at my current job for nearly nine years.

8) I have a vague fear of swimming pool drains and those flapping filter thingys on the side of the pool. I once nearly drowned trying to avoid a filter--while I was taking swimming lessons at age 4.

9) I don't know how to dive.

10) I'm really into cloth diapers, though I didn't discover them till Allyson was nearly two. Now she only wears them at bedtime.

11) I'm not a baby person. I love my own babies, of course, but I'm not one of the girls who stand in line saying, "Let me hold the baby!"

12) I used to play the viola. I played it from fourth grade to eighth grade. Do you even know what a viola is?? It looks just like a violin, but it plays lower notes. Violas get all the boring harmony parts.

13) I know how to program in BASIC--the same language I learned in junior high. I love writing programs even more than my real job, which is training development.

14) I hated all fruit until my early thirties, when I gradually started learning to like and eventually love many different kinds of fruit. This was thanks to my mother-in-law.

15) I think I'm becoming a crappy driver. I used to be a good driver, but now I find myself making stupid mistakes. I'm too easily distracted.

16) I love breakfast. I usually fall asleep thinking about what I will eat in the morning: Banana oatmeal? Blueberry pancakes? Fiber One with pomegranate seeds? Peanut butter bagel with banana slices? Mmm!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Such Luck

You may recall that Allyson and Bill suffered a stomach virus about a week ago, which is how I learned that you should NEVER leave your purse unzipped. Up until this weekend, I was feeling so, so lucky that all I got out of that experience was a valuable lesson about purses and a renewed appreciation for Bill's saintliness. No such luck!

On Saturday night, I was watching a movie with Ethan when I felt the first twinges of an upset tummy. "It's probably nothing," I thought, since I frequently have a sore stomach. It never crossed my mind that it could be a stomach virus since it had been a full week since Bill came down with it.

By midnight, I knew this was no minor case of indigestion. I was up until 2:30, when it finally hit in full force. As I was kneeling on the bathroom floor, feeling sorry for my cold, stiff knees on the hard, frigid floor, I thought about the unfairness of it all:
  • I got sick AFTER I spent the entire evening making shrimp potato soup, which was to be served the next day at home group meeting at our house, for which Bill had just spent the entire day cleaning (I conveniently had other plans--a service project and a baby shower).
  • Now the soup would almost certainly need to be thrown away, which seemed almost as awful as being sick in the first place.
  • How could I get a stomach virus after a whole week? Isn't that a cruel joke?
  • What if it was a different bug? What if Allyson gets sick again?
  • How can two-year-old Allyson be so relaxed and resigned about barfing, yet no matter how hard I try to give in and not fight it, I always cry when I'm throwing up?
The worst disappointment--which isn't really related--was that I had ruined the stove making the soup that probably has to be thrown away. I used a metal simmering plate, which is supposed to distribute the heat evenly. Apparently I put it on upside down, and it transferred so much heat toward the cooking surface that it melted right through the ceramic top and made a big dent in the glass. It's utterly ruined. And we've had the stove for maybe six months. I cried the next morning when Bill took the simmering plate off and told me about it (which was pretty risky since any unnecessary movement could send me racing to the bathroom).

Oh well. At least Bill got to go to his hockey game before I got sick. It would have been really awful for him to miss two weeks in a row (since he was sick for the last one). At least I got sick on the weekend, when Bill could take care of everything without having to miss any work. At least our hardwood floor is so shiny you can see yourself in it, even if we didn't host the home group meeting. At least I was able to sleep (off and on) for over 24 hours. I'm feeling so rested today.

Now we have to decide whether to throw away that soup. If you know me at all, you know how much I hate to waste food. Either it was the shrimp that made me sick, or a stomach virus; if it was a stomach virus, I handled everything that went into the soup. But the soup did boil for quite awhile. What to do, what to do? Bill decided to take some soup for lunch and see what happened. He's OK so far (and he said the soup was fabulous), but I don't know...

What would you do? Take the poll at the top right corner of the page and/or leave a comment to let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Message in a Volvo Plant

I've been pretty shaken over the impending failure of GM and most of the auto industry. Of course, the consequences for our nation and even the world would likely be catastrophic. But I have a more selfish reason for concern. I have a friend whose husband works at GM. And Bill and I work for a company that serves the auto industry. If the industry should collapse, there's a very real possibility that both of us could be out of work in the near future.

Now I have a vague understanding of how all these economic problems came to roost in our country. I know that we have been greedy and irresponsible with credit. I know that some would say we are getting what we deserve. I also know that maybe our country needs to go through this calamity to help us remember what is really important in life--and to turn us to God, who has all the answers.

I know all this, and it sounds good in the hypothetical. But that doesn't mean I feel good about the prospect of personally suffering hardship. So I've been doing what I always do in situations like this: I've been worrying myself silly. But I've also been doing some praying, which is a good thing.

Last night, I fell asleep praying, and I woke up praying this morning. The first thing that came to my mind this morning was an experience I had when I was newly pregnant with Allyson. While I was on a work trip in Virginia, I was worried about all kinds of things: whether I could afford to stay home with my baby, how we would survive, whether I'd have a healthy baby, how a baby would affect our marriage, etc.

The following is an excerpt from my journal in 2005, but I think the message applies even more today....

Monday, October 17, 2005
The best thing happened at the Volvo heavy truck plant. We had a fascinating tour, and my mouth was agape at the giant "dinosaur" robots, the automated cab retrieval system, etc. I walked slowly, turning to look in all directions.

I was walking down a hallway with Angela, and we were lagging behind the group. I suddenly turned on my heel when I spotted a piece of paper on the side of a red tool bin. I wanted to read it.

Surprisingly, it was a notebook paper full of Bible verses on worry. The verses were hand written in the King James Version, which reminded me of my childhood. The first was, "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?"

Angela and I read all the verses. I tried to remember the scripture reference, but all I could remember was "Matthew...26." I later read all of Matthew 26 and then all the 26th verses in Matthew until I found the passage:

Matthew 6:25-34
25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[a]?

28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 6:27 Or single cubit to his height
I was so amazed to find those verses in a factory. Who wrote them? Was it a person like me, a person who struggles with worry? Did that person have any idea that those carefully copied verses would minister to a stranger?

The passage was just what I needed. I had been doing a lot of worrying about the future, wondering how long I'll stay home with the baby, and how much I'll get done before I go on leave.

I feel much more at peace now. I know God has a plan for me, and I can trust him to take care of me and my family.

Thank you for that unexpected message, Lord! Please plant it in my heart, and let your Word change me. Please bless the person who copied those verses.

Three Years Later
These scriptures bring such comfort to me today. Just reading them isn't enough. I need to meditate on them and PRAY them until the reality of those promises takes root. And I need God to change my heart to help me seek his kingdom first instead of worrying about my own little kingdom.

I think I've just found my next memory passage.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who Needs Gold-Edged Pillows?

When Allyson was four months old and Ethan was nine, we went on a rather ill-conceived vacation to Destin, Florida. We were pretty broke, so we decided to do one of those resort tours where you get the free hotel stay. It was a long drive for a short stay, and the tour was a beating. Still, we managed to have a little fun along the way. Here are some excerpts from Ethan's journal.

Day Two, Saturday 10/7/06
Naturally, Allyson was none too pleased about getting back in her carseat, and you got pretty frustrated when you couldn't get her to take her pacifier. So we traded places. I guess I should mention that our little Sentra
was absolutely crammed full of luggage, snacks, and baby paraphernalia. Allyson's bulky car seat was in the middle of the backseat, and the entire left side was filled with the diaper bag, nursing pillow, snacks, books, DVDs, bottle cooler, breast pump, and a big sun hat.

Your space--actually my space most of the time--was the narrow spot between the car seat and the right door. When you were in the backseat, all of your floor space was taken up with your bulging backpack. You didn't seem to mind as long as you could adjust the sun shades to block out the warm sunlight.

The trunk was ridiculously full. Bill managed to fit the big suitcase, a backpack of toiletries, the Pack & Play playpen, the stroller, and a bunch of shoes in there with a lot of rough shoving and a minimum of cursing....


Day Three, Sunday 10/8/06

We could only stay at the beach for about an hour and a half because we had an appointment to tour the Fairfield Resort at 1:00....

We warned you NOT TO GET WET, but of course you were drenched in under five minutes. You said the waves were huge, and you hadn't meant to let them overtake you. Even after you were supposedly wiser, you still kept "accidentally" getting wet.

The water was so beautiful, and I could see why they call this the Emerald Coast. The water was aqua near the beach, and a much deeper blue farther out. The sand was white and powdery and felt wonderful on our feet. There was a cool breeze that made me thankful for my sweater, but the sun was warm and soothing. The water was really cold, and no one was swimming, only wading.


Enduring the Resort Tour
The resort tour was just as we'd expected, and Bill was about as grumpy about it as you were. We listened to a sales presentation for over an hour, and then we toured a couple of condos. They were very, very nice, but we knew that we were not ready to commit to any sort of monthly payment for a timeshare.

Bill and I both said no to three different salespeople, and then we finally collected our hotel, gas, and restaurant vouchers and left. By then it was too late to catch our sunset cruise; the tour was not 90 minutes as we'd been told....

At sunset, everyone stood on the pier and counted down as the huge orange sun slipped into the water. On "one," the restaurant fired a cannon that made us all jump. The food was very good. Even you ate most of your burger and fries. [Ethan eats almost nothing on vacations. The excitement is too much for him.]

After dinner, we went into a couple of shops on the Boardwalk. You admired the shells, T-shirts, and sharks' jawbones and finally settled on a small alligator head (real - yuck!). It was only $13, so I gave in. We also had some gelato, a type of Italian ice cream. It was light and tasty....

Back at the hotel, we went out to the allegedly heated pool and the hot tub. The hot tub was great, but the pool was icy. You started by jumping into the pool, and then you got into the hot tub, your entire body steaming. There were two kids from Alabama, and the three of you kept egging each other on as you continually jumped into the pool, the hot tub, and the pool again.

Our Humble Room

I fed Allyson, and then she lay on the bed between you and me. At one point, she pulled my shirt way out and seemed to be looking inside. You and I both thought that was funny, and we got pretty silly.

"What's on the menu?" I asked in a high-pitched voice.

"Milk, milk, and a side of milk," you replied.

"And the prices? All free!"

"It's a buffet!" you cried. "All you can eat."

"Eat until you puke!" I choked out. And we both dissolved into giggles while Allyson looked on. When Bill came out of the bathroom, we tried to explain it, but it wasn't as funny in the retelling.

It had been a long day, and we were all in bed by just after 10:00. You fell asleep instantly, and Bill and I lay whispering for a minute or two. At the resort, they'd gone on about how awful it is to share a simple hotel room, and how it's so much nicer to have two or more bedrooms in a condo, each with its own TV. But I told Bill this was the kind of vacation I liked, with all my family near me, all in the same room.

Bill agreed, but he did complain about the skinny pillows. "If we were at the Fairfield Resort," he said, "we'd have fluffy pillows--lots of them--outlined in gold." No matter. We had everything we needed.

Day Four, Monday 10/9/06
While Bill finished his cereal, you kept Allyson entertained with a colorful bouquet of silk flowers. You leaned the vase toward her, and she could just brush the leaves with her fingertips. She found this very amusing, and she cooed her appreciation....

At last we made it to Henderson State Park, where we set up a little lounging area on the sugar sand. You ran straight for the water while Bill struggled to set up the beach umbrella in the wind. He also spread out two bamboo mats that I had surreptitiously rescued from a trash bin the day before. They were a little tattered on the edges, but they worked well at protecting our towels from the sand.

You came running back to report that you'd seen a jellyfish. I rather doubted your story, but when we finally made it to the shoreline, we saw lots of dead jellyfish, of many sizes, floating in the surf. They were really neat and rather pretty when they were floating, but on the sand they were a mass of clear... jelly, I suppose. One woman was scooping up jellyfish in a yellow net and pushing them across the sand. She reminded me of Spongebob Squarepants, who loves to collect jellyfish with his little net. I half expected her to jerk with a jolt of electricity--zzt!--like on the cartoon.

Allyson watched the waves intently, but she was quite sober, so we couldn't tell if she liked it.... We put her in her stroller, where she could enjoy the breeze and be shaded from the sun. She cried and cried, but Bill finally soothed her to sleep. I thought it was funny that she was sleeping to the sound of real ocean waves, just like on her noisemaker at home....

There were Monarch butterflies everywhere. They were beautiful, but they were almost pesty when they flew right past our faces. When we drove away, we were afraid they would splat against the windshield, but they somehow avoided that fate.



Sunset Tour
At 4:30, we went on the Olin Marler's Sunset Dolphin Tour. We cruised around the bay and the gulf for two hours while the captain pointed out various historic sites, restaurants, and celebrity homes.

















Shortly before sunset, we saw a large group of dolphins. They swam right past the boat in pairs, threes, and fours. I couldn't catch them on our slow digital camera, but I did capture them with the video camera. We caught our breath when they leapt and dove in tight arcs. They were amazing!

And so was the sunset, which we viewed over a ridge of rocks. I was taking endless pictures, and Bill finally told me to put the camera down and just look. I was glad I did. So beautiful!



Day Five, Tuesday 10/10/06
Since you were now the primary front-seat passenger, you took on the role of navigator. Bill told you what to look for in the big yellow atlas, and you gave estimates of the distances. It was good to see you putting your map skills to work in a real-life setting....

The gift of being young is that you can sleep anywhere, through anything. Bill and I, however, did not fare so well on Tuesday night.

We arrived at our LaQuinta in Monroe, Louisiana, around 6:00 PM. Upon opening the door, we were assaulted with a strong odor of mildew and mothballs. There was a different smell in the bathroom, sort of like rust. And there were hairs all over the bathtub.... I suppose we should have asked for another room, but neither Bill nor I enjoy conflict. Besides, who knew whether another room would be better? And we had already unloaded the bulging car....

No matter, you fell right to sleep after I had smoothed cool lotion on your stinging sunburn. You fell asleep before anyone else. You slept soundly through 30 minutes of Allyson's sleepy fussing. You slept through the loud farts that kept waking me--mine! You slept through Allyson's repeated choking and coughing. [She had an awful cold.] And you slept through train after deafening train on the track that was within sight of our room.

In the morning, your only complaint was your tender sunburn. Bill and I, though, had seen better days. Bill said emphatically that we would not be coming back here again.



So, this wasn't our favorite vacation ever, but we still found lots of fun and laughter along the way. I'd do it again... maybe.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Riding the Roller Coaster

Bill and I met and fell in love in Chicago. He lived in Vancouver at the time, and it seemed an impossible dream that we could ever be together. We corresponded by email at first, and then by phone.

We talked on the phone for an hour or more every night, and I loved every minute of it. I've since learned that Bill doesn't even like to talk on the phone!

First Date - July 28, 2000

After about four months, we had our first monthly visit. Bill flew to Chicago, where I was once again getting some training, and we had our first date. We had a steak dinner at some mediocre restaurant. What I remember about that dinner is that we were so enthralled in our conversation that we didn't hear the hostess announce our table. After about an hour, we finally thought to check on it, and they were able to seat us. I was so excited to be sitting across the table from Bill that I could scarcely eat.

The next day, we spent the day at my favorite museum in the world: The Museum of Science and Industry. They had the Titanic exhibit, which was incredible. I think we must have been the most obnoxious couple; we stopped and smooched every few feet, and we laughed uproariously over nothing.

It was the most amazing weekend of my life. I had never realized I was capable of such emotions. I felt like the Queen of the World (to paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio in The Titanic).

Coming Down Hard

Bill's flight was heading out on Monday afternoon, but I had to stay another week. He met me for lunch, and we said goodbye in his rental car. Nothing could have prepared me for the sorrow of that parting, which I was destined to repeat about 12 more times. I returned to my class with swollen, red eyes and blotchy cheeks, but I really didn't care what anyone thought.

As Bill put it in his letter after that first visit, "I am back in my home with all my stuff and the familiar surroundings, but my heart is with you in Chicago.... Where you are is where I belong and my home is by your side."

Bill Comes to Texas - August, 2000
Bill flew down to see me and meet my family the next month. Three-year-old Ethan climbed right into his lap, and they've been buddies ever since. The rest of my family loved Bill as well. The highlights of his visit were:
  • Washing dishes together at Mom and Dad's house, our hands brushing in the warm, soapy water
  • Going to church together
  • Bill's first taste of homemade ice cream, my mom's specialty
  • Lying on my living room floor watching a Winnie the Pooh video with Bill, Ethan, my sister Emily, and my two nieces
When we finished that video, I was surprised to see that Bill had tears in his eyes. Had he been so moved by the positive message of the Pooh story? No. He was just overjoyed to be experiencing a moment in my everyday life. Emily, three-year-old Hillary, and one-year-old Savannah lived with me and Ethan in my two-bedroom house at the time, and Bill was used to hearing the craziness of our life over the phone: "No, Sissy! Don't put the toothbrush in the toilet! No, Sissy, don't color on the wall!" Now he was experiencing it all first hand, if only for a short time.

Bill happened to be there for one of the hottest days on record, when it was 111 degrees! I was stunned to learn that he was enjoying the heat. In Vancouver, it rains a lot, even in the summer, and he was really relishing the dry heat. I told him to try living with 100+ temperatures for over 50 days and then tell me whether he liked it!

When I dropped Bill at the airport the next day, both of us cried when we heard "Last call for Vancouver!"

The Roller Coaster
Over the next 13 months, we alternated flying back and forth to Vancouver and Texas, with an occasional rendezvous in Chicago. Our emotions followed the same crazy but predictable cycle each month. After a visit, we'd be depressed for several days, then we'd resign ourselves to being apart. I'd receive Bill's pictures after a week or so, almost always accompanied by a romantic letter on cologne-scented notebook paper. This would lift my spirits immensely.

By the middle of the month, we'd start counting down the days, and anticipation would build to a fever pitch. On the last day, usually a Friday, we'd email back and forth the number of hours left.

At last, one of us would be on the four-hour flight and the other would be preparing. For me, that meant shaving my legs for the first time in a month (seriously!), removing my toenail polish from the last visit, and applying a fresh coat of paint to fingernails and toenails. For Bill, it usually meant making the two-hour drive to Seattle (because it was cheaper to fly to and from there than Vancouver).

The most delicious moment of all was watching the passengers emerge from the jetway, straining to spot Bill. (This was before September 11th.) Our eyes would meet, and our faces would light up with a huge smile. We would hold each other so tightly that we could barely breathe, and we would sway back and forth. Then we would cover each other's faces in soft kisses.

We savored our walk to baggage claim, our fingers entwined, hands swinging, walking so close that we bumped each other and had to regain our balance.

Of course, the three days--or even the ten days at Christmas--always passed with dizzying speed, and then we were back to the agony of separation. This pattern never got easier. It seemed that the lows got lower and lower. In the end, we were running out of money and vacation time, and we didn't know what would happen if Bill's L-1 Visa didn't get approved. But that's another story.

Although I would never want to go back to that year of long-distance love, it definitely had its advantages.
  • It was wildly romantic.
  • I felt like a princess whenever we were together.
  • There were stacks of love letters and love songs on CDs.
  • I got to enjoy some really beautiful terrain: mountains and rain forest and lush flowers.
Most importantly, the situation gave me time to be alone and find my own way after my divorce. I think our relationship is much stronger than it might have been if we had had a "normal" dating relationship at the start.

Eight Years Later It's funny how fondly I look back on those days even though I was so desperate for the separation to end. Little did I know how hard the adjustment would be when we became just an everyday, ordinary couple. This is so much better, though, ordinariness and all. We know each other so much more deeply now, and we have grown together through life's changes. The love letters have all but stopped, but we still write romantic notes in each other's greeting cards. And Bill did make "Sarah Songs 8" not so long ago!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

NEVER Leave Your Purse Unzipped

For years, people have been reminding me to zip my purse. The dire consequences they predicted (important stuff falling out to be lost forever, strangers grabbing my wallet while I was distracted, etc.) seemed pretty scary but failed to make a lasting impact.

About ten days ago, I had breakfast with my friend Marie, who recounted a story of throwing up into her mother's purse (as a child, of course). I laughed with her over it and thought, "Well, that's a good reason to zip up your purse!" Alas, I was still incapable of learning from someone else's experience.

What Are the Odds?
Last night, I was working on my new recipe blog when Allyson walked up beside me and mumbled something about having a headache. "A headache?" I asked absently.

"Blaahhhhh!" she answered, spewing vomit right into my open purse. I realized what was happening but was so shocked that I couldn't react quickly enough to spare it from the second onslaught.

As I was leading her toward the bathroom to clean up, she threw up all over the hall floor as well. Ethan looked on from the safety of his room and fired questions at me. "What's wrong? Is it a stomach virus? Will I catch it? Did you clean it up yet? How are you going to clean it?"

"I don't know," I replied, trying to simultaneously control my exasperation and my gag reflex while I wrapped Allyson in a towel and caught three more eruptions.

As luck would have it, Bill happened to be at the gym. "I think you should call Bill," Ethan advised forcefully. "Tell him he needs to come home. He'll know how to clean it up."

"I'm not calling Bill home early. Let him finish his workout. I can figure this out on my own," I asserted with a false bravado. Inwardly, I was pleading, "Come home, Bill! Please come home!"

Clean Up! Clean Up!
Once Allyson seemed stable and somewhat clean--at least for the moment--I wiped down my beloved leather purse and started gingerly picking out putrid objects. I rinsed everything rinseable in the sink and then sprayed it all down with Lysol. I wiped down the inside lining with a wet cloth, but the smell is still unbearable. [I really don't know what else to do besides spraying it with some Febreeze when we get some. If anyone has any suggestions, please comment!]

Next, I drug the shop vac up the stairs and vacuumed up the solid bits while monitoring Allyson for signs of imminent yakking.

Meanwhile, Allyson asked several times, "Where's my daddy? I want Daddy."

"We all want Daddy, honey."

"Hold me!" she said pitifully, and I felt so insensitive for having to be asked! I sat cross-legged on the floor and sat her on my lap, a towel draped over us. That's how we were sitting when Bill came home.

Bill Saves the Day
Bill swooped in and, in the space of ten minutes, threw the soiled towels in the washer, scrubbed the carpet with Resolve, and washed out the shop vac with the hose. Then he noticed that I was looking a little green, and he took Allyson from me and told me to "go take a drive or something."

I felt bad about handing her off to him, but he reassured me that he really doesn't get nauseated the way I do. From that point, all that was left for me to do was wash my hands compulsively and try to convince Ethan that everything would be okay, and yes he did have to go to school in the morning. I have to mention that he was pacing back and forth in his room with socks on his hands--because I'd told him that keeping your hands clean is the best way to avoid getting sick.

Bill sat on the couch with Allyson and calmly wiped up each new mess. They looked so cute that I couldn't resist snapping a picture. Seeing Bill caring for Allyson so lovingly made me melt. It reminded me of another time when he tenderly cared for a vomiting toddler. But that's another story.

Bill slept with Allyson on the couch in the TV room, and I went on to bed around midnight. My stomach felt a little queasy, and I slept fitfully.

Allyson woke up several times during the night, and I could hear her pleading, "I need water! In my sippy cup! In my sippy cup!" She repeated this over and over, and I knew Bill must be offering her ice chips.

Thankfully, by morning she was feeling dramatically better. Bill went on to work--on perhaps five hours of interrupted sleep. Allyson and I have had a wonderful time reading and playing games together.

Final Reminder
So, as I remonstrated at the beginning of this post, NEVER leave your purse unzipped! I'm really hoping I can remember this lesson myself.

He's the One

When did you realize you wanted to spend the rest of your life with your spouse? Was it a dramatic moment, or a gradual realization? Was it incredibly romantic?

The moment I knew I wanted to be with Bill for ever was definitely not romantic in the usual sense. It was on Easter Sunday of 2001, and Bill was visiting from Canada. We had just enjoyed lunch at a wonderful, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, where we ate with my sister Emily and her daughters Hillary and Savannah. I noticed that Ethan, who was nearly four, didn't eat much; I just figured he was being picky as usual.

We were on the way back to the airport when Ethan started to complain that his tummy felt funny. "You'll be okay, little guy," Bill said while I concentrated on navigating the tight circles in the parking garage.

As we were walking to the check-in counter, Ethan suddenly emptied his stomach all over the carpet and my arm. I froze, holding my dripping arm out in front of me. Bill sprang into action. He scooped up Ethan and carried him to the restroom, where he washed him up and dressed him in a clean white T-shirt from his suitcase.

He then looked after my sobbing boy while I pulled the car around. He gave Ethan a big hug and a kiss(!) and then settled him gently into the backseat. I couldn't believe his kindness.

At that moment, I just knew that we had to be together forever. "God, I love this man!" I thought.

Since then, he's surprised me over and over with his gentle manner and unfailing thoughtfulness. I'm thankful to have the opportunity to learn from the parenting skills that come so naturally to him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Enjoying Halloween Traditions

Honestly, I've never much liked Halloween, other than the scads of candy. I guess it's the scary costumes and haunted houses that bother me. What I do love about Halloween--at least since Bill has been in my life--is our Halloween traditions. Every year, we visit a pumpkin patch, carve pumpkins, go trick-or-treating, and hand out candy to neighborhood kids.

Playing at the Pumpkin Patch
This year, we drove quite a ways to a different pumpkin patch out in the country. It took so long to get there that we only had 20 minutes or so before darkness fell. Still, we had fun on the hayride, bounce houses, bouncy slide, mini Ferris wheel, and Allyson's pony ride.

It was funny taking a hay ride with only one other family, but the kids still loved it.
































Although it's hard to tell due to the cheap throwaway camera we used, Allyson wore a huge grin for the entire three minutes of her pony ride. She wasn't at all afraid, even when the pony jumped because of the camera flash.



Allyson wanted to take all the pumpkins, especially the smallest ones. At home, she carried the two tiny pumpkins we bought everywhere. (Last year she even took a bath with one.) She proudly decorated her mini pumpkin with a dry erase marker.

The kids patiently posed for a lengthy photo shoot with the pumpkins. These were our favorites.





























Carving the Jack-O-Lanterns

Both kids thoroughly enjoyed the pumpkin carving, though Allyson wished she could wield the knife. Allyson got to help design the face for the smaller pumpkin, and Ethan designed and cut the larger one (with a bit of help from Bill).





























Superheros and Villains

As soon as we saw this year's Party City flyer, Allyson set her heart on being Spider-Man, whom she calls Syer-Man. She kept saying, "Take me to Halloween!" We couldn't make her understand that Halloween is a time, not a place!

We looked but couldn't find a costume in her size. So we got her the next best thing, Super Girl. She was skeptical until she tried it on, and then she loved it. She saw another, older girl in the same costume, and she was delighted. "Just like me!" she crowed.



Ethan chose the ghost from Scream, complete with fake blood that cycled through the mask. I wasn't overly fond of the somewhat scary costume, but now that he's 11, he refuses to wear superhero costumes any longer.



Allyson wasn't afraid of the costume, surprisingly, though she was terrified of a teenager in a gorilla suit when he came to our door for candy. She jumped back and climbed onto a chair, and the boy felt really bad for scaring her.

Enjoying Allyson's Candy
It was a lot of fun this year. My only regret is that we have already eaten all of Allyson's good candies. Now she's down to Sweet Tarts and Starburst. (Ethan left his candy at his dad's house.) Well, there's always next year.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Least of These

I've been troubled for several days over something that happened last weekend in Chicago. When Angela and I were waiting for the subway, a man approached us and asked if we could help him (i.e. give him some money).

This is not the first time such a thing has happened to me, but there was something different about this man. He had a genteel, respectful manner. He stood a few feet away and, in a soft-spoken voice, told us that he had fallen on hard times and had been living in the subway a few weeks.

He said something like, "I know I look dirty and I probably smell, but I haven't had a way to take a shower down here. I don't want to make you feel threatened, so I'll stand back here away from you. You look like nice ladies, and I can see that you are traveling. If there's any way that you could help me, I'd be really grateful."

I hesitated for a moment. I really, really wanted to help him, but I looked sorrowfully in his eyes and said, "I had a dollar bill, but I just gave it to that man playing the guitar." That was true in a sense, but really it was a lie. The truth is, I also had a five dollar bill that I could have easily spared. So it wasn't the money. It also wasn't that I thought he was lying and didn't need the money; maybe he was lying, but he really seemed genuine. Besides, whenever I've felt prompted to give money to people, I've never worried over what they would do with the money. I always feel that I'm giving the money to God, and once I've been obedient, it really doesn't matter what happens next.

No, in this case, the truth was that I was afraid. I remembered all the times I'd been told not to give money to people on the street--that when you open your purse or your wallet, the person might grab it and run away. Worse yet, he might grab you and hurt you. In my gut, I didn't feel he was a threat, and I really wanted to help him. But I just couldn't take the risk.

He hung his head and walked away, and in a moment we boarded the train. I asked Angela what she'd thought of his story, and she said she had not been able to hear what he was saying. With all our stress over making it to the airport on time, I quickly forgot the incident.

Two days later, at Bible study, we talked about our mission as Christians. We studied Matthew 25, in which Jesus says that when we don't help the needy, it's like we've turned our back on Jesus himself:

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

I immediately thought of my encounter with the man in the subway, and my heart was pierced. Here was an opportunity to show love to a stranger, and I'd missed it! Since then, I've thought of that man often. I wish I could go back and do it again. I'd like to hand him the $5, or even the whole $25 if God so prompted me, and say, "God loves you, and so do I."

Now, all I can do is pray for him, and ask God to help me do better the next time. I want to be able to hear God's voice clearly and respond; when God tells me to do something, I know I can trust that he will take care of me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Weekend in the Windy City

This past weekend, I did something crazy and fun. My friend Angela and I flew to Chicago on a last-minute package deal. As it turns out, we spent the majority of our weekend using various forms of mass transit, but we still had a great time.

We flew out of Love Field in Dallas on Friday evening. It was my first time flying out of that little regional
airport, and I loved the local flavor. We were delighted with the thick southern accents, so much more pronounced than what you hear at the larger D/FW airport just a few miles to the west.

What we did not love was the tiny plane, little more than a puddle jumper. We shared a bit of wine to take the edge off, and we actually held hands during the bumpy landing at O'Hare. I loved it that for once I had some company in my usual hand-wringing. Despite our fear, we jabbered the entire two hours; it was great!

We stayed at a modest Holiday Inn Express right by the Midway Airport. (I do realize that it is crazy to fly into O'Hare and stay by Midway, but it was the cheapest hotel/flight deal I could find.) The room was adequate and seemed pretty quiet, at least at the time. We lay on our queen beds and talked until we couldn't keep our eyes open.

A Rude Awakening
The plan was to wake up at 8:00, have breakfast, and head into downtown, which was only 8 miles away. As it turned out, we woke up MUCH earlier. I was startled awake at 4:00 A.M. when I heard a woman's muted scream. "What was that?" I wondered. Surely it couldn't be... oh, yes. It was! I was listening to some very passionate loving. It literally sounded like the famous scene in When Harry Met Sally. But who would have sex at 4:00 in the morning? A prostitute? (It wasn't THAT cheap of a hotel!) Maybe her husband was shipping off to Iraq on an early plane, and this was their goodbye? Whatever the reason, the amorous sounds became very annoying as time drug by. At 4:20, the heater came on and masked the noise so I could fall back asleep.

At the time, I was dying to know if Angela was awake because I wanted to laugh my head off. But just in case she was lucky enough to sleep through it, I didn't want to risk waking her. Well, when the alarm went off at 8:00, the first words out of her mouth were, "Did you hear that woman??" Then we had our good laugh. We went through all the possible scenarios, and we decided that the woman and her lover must have been out all night and were just then coming to bed. We joked about the experience throughout the weekend; we just had this junior-high fascination with the whole thing. We said we would play some Barry White for her through the wall if it happened again; maybe that would speed things along!

We had a surprisingly good free breakfast featuring hot cinnamon rolls. Well, Angela just had coffee, but I ate enough for both of us. It was a good thing, because we had quite a grueling day planned: trains, buses, taxis, and LOTS of walking. I was proud of my prior experience on the Chicago Transit Authority system, but it really didn't prove all that helpful.

Angry Subway Guy

We shuttled to the Orange Line at Midway and rode the elevated train into downtown.
Within five minutes of getting on the L, we witnessed a scary interchange between Angry Subway Guy and a seemingly oblivious fellow traveler. Based on the angry young man's disjointed complaints, it seems he had offered cigarettes to the other young man and had been rebuffed and accused of "pushing." We studiously kept our eyes averted and inwardly prayed. The poor man was probably harmless, but it was pretty scary!

Over all, though, we were impressed by the kindness of strangers in Chicago. The CTA employees were most helpful, and many people along the way helped point us in the right direction. It really seemed that Chicago residents are more caring and solicitous than Dallas people. But then, we've never ridden mass transit in Da
llas. (It's not nearly so convenient as Chicago's.)

We got off the L at the correct stop and then ran to catch the first bus we saw--which was headed the wrong way. We caught our mistake a few blocks down and got off, and then we walked back and caught the correct bus to Navy Pier. That bus was absolutely packed, and I found it very awkward to be standing right in front of strangers and lurching back and forth and practically falling on them. Each time the bus stopped, a large group of people would force their way on. I kept thinking there was no way anyone else could fit, but I was wrong. It ended up being as crowded as those clown cars at the circus.


Navy Pier

The highlight of our visit to Navy Pier was seeing countless dogs in hilarious Halloween costumes. Our favorite
was Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with dreadlocks and a triangular pirate's hat. There was a chihuahua in a hot dog bun, a Shih Tzu with a pointy princess hat and flowing gown, and a terrier in a black spandex body suit with a skeleton on it. Unfortunately, we had both forgotten our cameras, or we would have taken pictures of all of them. I bought an $11 throwaway camera and then only took a handful of pictures. I was hesitant to "waste" pictures since there were only 24 shots on the roll. And I hated not being able to see if each picture turned out well.

Magnificent Mile

After a couple of hours, we hopped on the bus again to go shopping on the Magnificent Mile. I studied my crumpled CTA map and determined that we should get off at Michigan Avenue. This bus seemed even more crowded than the last, and we wondered how we would fight our way to the door. Angela was acutely uncomfortable because a rather smelly man was leaning way closer to her than seemed absolutely necessary.

Suddenly I noticed that we had passed Wabash, and that didn't seem right. How had we missed Michigan Avenue, I wondered aloud. A kind local explained that we had gone under Michigan, and we needed to get off immediately and walk back about three blocks. This was getting to be a pattern!

We did a bit of window shopping and bought some undies at Victoria's
Secret. We went through a small art gallery in an old chapel, the same one we'd visited on our last Chicago trip five years ago. We just had time for a cup of hot chocolate before we hurried back to the hotel; we didn't want to violate the rule about traveling on mass transit without male protection after dark.

Pizza and Politics
I was so glad to get back to our modest, usually quiet room. I think Angela would have loved to go back downtown for dinner, but I was already starting to turn into a pumpkin. So we took a cab to nearby Giordano's and had some unbelievable deep dish pizza. We also had a glass of white wine, and that was fun. I'm not a drinker, so that one glass had me feeling a little tipsy. In fact, my legs felt sort of tingly. We ended up talking politics, a first for us, and the wine made us much more opinionated. We found ourselves pounding the table to emphasize our points! Between the two of us, we couldn't even finish half of the small pizza, though we gave it our best effort. Still, we couldn't resist ordering tiramisu to take back to the room. (We never did eat it, though.)
Angela, me at Giordano's

Two Hour, 28-Mile Commute
We started our trek back to O'Hare at 9:00 Sunday morning. We shuttled to Midway, rode the Orange Line into downtown, and wandered around until a kind woman pointed us to the Dearborn entrance to the Blue Line, which goes straight to O'Hare.

It all seemed pretty simple from that point, but what we didn't know was that the Blue Line was ending at Belmont, nine stops before O'Hare. We had to catch a shuttle to Montrose and then get back on the Blue Line to the airport. We had decided to find a cab at Belmont, but we allowed ourselves to be herded onto the waiting express bus instead. We ended up making it by 11:15, well over an hour before our flight. Then we teased each other about being so worried. I had been close to tears at one point, and I think Angela felt the same way.

I thought it was all worth it because our total cost for this commute was... (drum roll) $2.00. Yes, only $2.00. Isn't that marvelous? If we had it to do over, however, I think Angela might have splurged on a cab.

In any case, we had time for a sumptuous McDonald's lunch. After a short wait, we settled gratefully into our seats, thinking our adventure was finally coming to an end. But, as you may have guessed, there was just one more adventure in store.

One Last Adventure
Toward the end of our flight, a flight attendant handed Angela a folded sheet of note paper. It read, "To 16D... At the risk of making an a*s of myself, are you married? Do you live in Dallas? 6B." We were both astonished. We couldn't even catch a glimpse of the man because he was up in first class. I must admit that I felt just a teeny bit like chopped liver, but mostly I was proud of my gorgeous friend, who turns heads wherever we go. She was quite flattered and didn't know how to respond.

The flight attendant was so curious that he couldn't resist asking what was in the note. "I was a good mailman," he explained. "I didn't read it." Angela handed it over. "Will there be a response?" he asked. She said she needed a minute. "Should I ask if he has millions?" he asked. Angela said that would not be necessary.

She tore the sheet in half and wrote her answer in her beautiful, flowing script. "I must say I'm very flattered, and you've certainly made my day. I am not married, but am in a commited relationship. Thank you for your kind note. 16D."

Our hilarious flight attendant was waiting with bated breath. "What did you say?" he questioned. Again, Angela handed the sheet over. He smiled his approval and carried it up to 6B. We kept a watch for the rest of the flight, and he did get up once to let his adolescent daughter (we assumed she was his daughter) out of the row. It was like those tantalizing, annoying glimpses of the neighbor Wilson on Home Improvement. We saw a brief side view and a back view. I could see that his hair seemed puffy, sort of mushroomy. But he wasn't a bad-looking guy.

We had a nice, smooth landing, and Angela didn't even glance in the direction of the mysterious stranger because she was so intent on her impending reunion with Tim, who was meeting us at baggage claim, and whom she hadn't seen in nearly three weeks. I was hoping to witness a passionate airport kiss, maybe with a dip, but they just exchanged a hug and a perfunctory kiss. I think Tim is very proper, though Angela, to quote one of the Chicago cab drivers, is "the wild one." (We were mystified as to why he had characterized her as wild when both of us were wearing jeans, black jackets, and highlighted blonde bobs. She was a little offended by his remark, and so was I because it made me feel stodgy.)

Home At Last

Anyway, we enjoyed our girls' weekend (an entire weekend!) immensely, but we were so ready to be back home. I collapsed on the couch as soon as I got home and was snoozing momentarily, lulled by the soothing sounds of my family around me.

We'll have to have another girls' weekend, hopefully before another five years have passed. We're thinking a cruise might be nice--no mass transit involved! Anyone care to join us?
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