Thursday, December 24, 2009

No, Really! I Love It!

This is the story I remember each year when we're doing our Christmas shopping....

Whenever I shop for gifts, I feel a mild stress in my gut because I have no confidence that I can choose something someone else will love. The reason for this is that I'm not at all observant; I miss out on all those little clues to the perfect gift. I wasn't even aware of my disability in this area until I met Bill, the perfect gift giver. He's so good, he knows even better than I do what I will need or enjoy.

For example, when I opened my birthday present a couple years ago, I was a little mystified to find a giant black binder with dividers and a stack of sticky photo sheets with cellophane covers. Didn't he realize that, with all my scrapbooking knowledge, I could never use a photo album if it wasn't archival quality?

"It's for your recipes," he explained.

"Ah," I said, still unconvinced. But that turned out to be one of my most useful gifts ever; I use it almost every day. With the dividers to separate the various categories, I can find any recipe with minimal effort. Better still, our bottom drawer is no longer bursting with random sheets and index cards.

Over the years, Bill's given me so many perfect gifts, most romantic in an offbeat way because each gift shows me that he's been studying me, and he knows me very, very well.

No, You Didn't
But there was one Christmas when it seemed his perfect gift had crashed and burned. It was our first Christmas as a married couple, back in 2003. We were chatting at work one afternoon a few weeks before Christmas, and somehow the topic of leather clothing came up. (I can't imagine why we were talking about leather at work, but I'm sure it must have seemed logical at the time.)

"I really don't like leather coats," I announced unequivocally. Immediately, Bill's face contorted with some emotion I couldn't discern, but it didn't look good. Why would he be offended by my dislike of leather coats? I searched my memory; maybe he had a leather coat himself? (He did.) Maybe he thought I was being narrow minded and judgmental of all people who wore leather?

I hastened to add, "I don't mind leather on other people, I suppose. It's just that it's really not my style." Now his face was turning red, and his mouth was twitching in that way that means he's struggling to control his annoyance. What on earth was bothering him?

"I guess some kinds of leather are okay," I said in a conciliatory tone. "Oh, yes. I actually have a leather coat, don't I? You know, the brown suede one that I only wear when I go to Chicago. That's a good coat, so warm.... So I guess I just don't like the shiny kind of leather. What's that called? You know, the black, shiny kind."

"So you're saying you don't like black, shiny leather coats?" Bill gave me a dark look.

I laughed nervously. "Well, I guess it just reminds me of girls in tight miniskirts, hanging all over a rock star," I explained apologetically. "Sort of trampy, I guess."

"What if I told you I bought you a leather jacket for Christmas?" he asked.

"No you didn't," I laughed heartily. How ridiculous would that be? It wasn't even Thanksgiving, so why would he have bought my gift already?

"Maybe I did."

"No you didn't!" I repeated. I laughed even harder, tears clinging to my lashes.

"Okay, I didn't," Bill said with a shrug.

I returned to my desk, shaking my head and marveling at what a kidder Bill was. By the second phone call, I'd forgotten the entire conversation.

Oh, You Did!
It all came rushing back on Christmas morning, though. Sitting cross-legged in front of the tree, I ripped the paper off a neatly wrapped box and excitedly lifted the lid. There, nestled in tissue paper, was a leather jacket--a black, shiny, form-fitting leather jacket!

My mouth dropped open, and my face flushed up to the roots of my hair. It must have been most amusing for Bill, or at least it would have been had he not spent too much hard-earned money on that coat.

I held the jacket up with trembling hands. "It's very nice," I said lamely.

"Don't even bother," Bill said dryly. "You don't have to pretend you like it. As soon as we get to Vancouver, you can return it."

"You bought this in Vancouver?" I asked incredulously.

"Yes, on our visit in the summer. I would have exchanged it if I could have, but there was no way to do it."

Poor Bill! How awful to secretly anticipate this moment for months, only to find out that I didn't like his carefully selected gift! My heart was pierced with regret.

I pushed myself painfully onto my numb feet and put the jacket on. The leather was soft and supple. I could tell it would be just warm enough for our mild winters. Standing in front of the mirror in the cramped half bath, I pivoted to see the jacket from all angles.

"You know, I LIKE this jacket," I said in surprise.

"No you don't," Bill said.

"No, really! I love it!"

"No you don't," he repeated.

"The only problem is I think it's a little tight," I said ruefully. "Do you think it's too small?"

"Sure, it's too small," Bill said dubiously. "It's okay. I already told you you can return it."

No matter how I tried, I couldn't convince him that I liked the jacket. At Danier Leather the next week, Bill said, "You can pick whatever you want, maybe something suede. Or we can just return it and you can buy something somewhere else."

I asked the salesperson if they had the jacket in a larger size, but she said they didn't carry that style any longer. She showed me several other similar jackets, and I found one that fit perfectly and was just my style--honestly!

I've worn the heck out of that coat over the last six years, and it still looks practically new. It's warm enough to wear outside, but light enough to wear inside if I want to. I had no idea how much I'd enjoy a shiny leather jacket, but Bill knew. Unfortunately, he probably STILL doesn't believe that I like it.

Me in my Decidedly Non-Trampy Leather Jacket

Me, Ethan, and my Niece Mindy (And the Jacket) in Vancouver, 12/2004

Friday, December 18, 2009

Streams on the Dry Ground

I've been wanting to tell this story ever since I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. Of all the ways God has given me a scripture passage, this is one of my favorites....

In October of 2006, we went on a road trip to Destin, Florida. The day we left was a crazy, busy day. I bought snacks, tracked down a manual breast pump at Target and sterilized it, and gathered up all of Allyson's baby paraphernalia. Just before it was time to leave, I squeezed in a trip to the library to get some books for me and some audio books for Ethan.

Normally, a trip to the library is a leisurely, drawn-out affair--at least it used to be leisurely before Allyson started choosing her own books and videos (now it's just drawn out). I like to wend my way through the entire fiction section, stacking tempting books up to my chin before I finally make my agonizing choice. There was no time for that on this trip, though. I raced through the stacks and literally grabbed several books at random.

Wedged into the backseat of our impossibly cramped Sentra (because Ethan couldn't deal with Allyson's crying), I cracked open the first book, The Winter Garden, by Johanna Verweerd. I was soon immersed in a poignant story about a woman who struggles to make peace with her dying mother and to let go of deep wounds from her childhood. Instrumental in her healing are several scriptures from Isaiah 43-44, which the author skillfully weaves throughout the book.

But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.

5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.

6 I will say to the north, 'Give them up!'
and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.'
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth-

7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."...

16 This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,

17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

18 "Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.

19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland....

3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.

4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.

As I read these passages, tears stung my eyes and my heart quickened in recognition. Could this be my new memory passage? I prayed and thanked God for these beautiful scriptures, though it still hadn't occurred to me that he had led me to the book. "I'd really like to memorize this," I told him, "but I'd like you to confirm my choice."

Even as the prayer left my lips, I wondered how God could possibly answer my prayer. We were heading out of town, far from our church or anyone outside our family of four--and Allyson didn't even talk yet!

A couple of days later, I started the second book, Paul: A Novel, by Walter Wangerin. Can you guess what scripture passage I found in the first chapter? I was utterly amazed to see my confirmation, in writing!

This story still thrills me. Not only did God guide me to my passage, in one book among literally thousands, but because he knew that I would ask for confirmation, he also led me to a SECOND book that quoted the same passage. Further, he probably nudged me to read The Winter Garden first; the Isaiah passage was much more prominent in that book, and had I read them in the opposite order, or with another book between them, I might not have noticed it in the Wangerin book.

Only God knew what those scriptures would mean to me. I loved both chapters in Isaiah, and it was hard to choose which verses to memorize, but I finally chose the three passages listed above. During the year or so that it took me to memorize them, several truths worked their way firmly into my heart, always at the exact moment that I needed them.

Redeemed, Summoned By Name
In the first few months, I was grappling with guilt while I attended my first ladies' Bible study. Believing that God had redeemed me and chosen me by name was vital to accepting my forgiveness. Gradually, I began to comprehend that I truly was precious and honored in God's sight, and this led me to believe that I was capable of loving and being loved.

Passing Through the Waters
Letting go of the guilt stirred up old insecurities, and at times I felt like I was drowning. I remember one Saturday morning when I'd mistakenly concluded that a friend had abandoned me. I knelt on the floor of my closet, pretending to sort laundry, while I cried. "I hurt, God. I hurt!" I whispered between sobs.

I clearly heard a voice answer me in my mind: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.... I have summoned you by name. You are mine." I collapsed over the pile of laundry, my body growing limp as peace washed over me. I was NOT alone, and even if my friend never spoke to me again, God would be with me.

Snuffed Out Like a Wick
Three years have passed, and I feel like I'm finally on my way to forgetting the former things so that I can move on to something new, but sometimes those old insecurities try to push their way back in. Whenever that happens, I remind myself that these enemies are utterly destroyed, never to rise again, snuffed out like a wick.

Water on the Thirsty Land
Despite all the blessings I've enjoyed these last couple of years, there are days and weeks when I feel dry and dull, especially when I don't spend time with my Father. But each time I meditate on the scriptures he's lovingly revealed to me, I feel his spirit pouring over me like water on thirsty land, like streams on the dry ground.

What About the New Thing?
I've long since finished memorizing this passage, though it's still a favorite. I've often wondered when the new thing was going to spring up, and whether I'd recognize it when it came. I definitely feel that God is doing new things in my life right now, mainly in pushing me to share my faith, and to allow his love to flow through me to others who have thirsty hearts.

Sometimes, when I'm teetering on the edge of consciousness at bedtime, I'm seized with excitement about what God has planned for my future. It feels terribly urgent, and exhilarating. In my waking hours, though, I feel afraid because I know that growth so often involves trials. Still, I pray regularly that God will guide me into his will. I know that even if I walk through the fire, I won't be burned as long as he's with me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Please Send Skittles

Allyson and I were both looking forward to last Thursday. I was eagerly anticipating my book club meeting about Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which was phenomenal), and Allyson was waiting for the Nutcracker Suite, Santa, and a live reindeer at the library. As it turned out, one of us was bitterly disappointed. I was having car trouble that day, and I couldn't use Bill's truck because he had a hockey game. (For the record, I'm sure he would have let me take the truck, but I didn't want him to miss his game; you know how much hockey means to him.) That is how it happened that I went along to the library.

Remember how Allyson wanted to paint her nails purple for her last visit with Santa? Well, so did she. Since dinner was already ready, I decided to humor her. She sat perfectly still while I applied a sloppy, uneven coat. The polish either came out in thick globs that were impossible to smooth out on her tiny nails, or it was so thin it was nearly transparent. Since we had neither the time nor the patience for a second coat, her nails were decidedly un-glamorous. Do you think she minded?

"My nails are BEAUTIFUL!" she gushed, completely enraptured.

After a quick dinner, we all headed to the library to watch the ballet, Allyson's first. Over 100 people crowded into the folding chairs and sat cross-legged on the floor. People of all ages stood between the book stacks, craning to see the graceful young women in their gorgeous costumes.

As we pressed through the crowd to find a seat, a teenage ballerina brushed past us in her tutu and tiara. "A princess!!" Allyson breathed.

Wonder of wonders, I found a swivel chair at the end of a hodge-podge row of seats. I ducked into it thankfully. Allyson stood on my legs, her 42 pounds leaning against my neck. We were both enthralled by the music and the dancing.

"I'm gonna ask Santa for ballerina shoes," Allyson whispered excitedly. "And ballet lessons! I wanna be a ballerina!"

Just when the pain in my neck was getting pretty intense, Bill came in from the parking lot and swung Allyson onto his shoulders. Now I was pretty comfortable, except for the 17 children who made periodic trips back and forth across my knees. (Actually, I think it was only about six kids making multiple trips. I forgave them in the spirit of Christmas.)

When the dancers and the giant nutcracker had taken their bows, three-fourths of the audience rushed over to the Santa line, which stretched the full length of the library and curved along the back wall.

The rest of us walked reluctantly out into the cold to wait in the reindeer line. Allyson effortlessly pressed her way right up to the bars to catch a glimpse of Vixen.

Impervious to the stench and heedless of the antlers, Allyson couldn't seem to tear herself away. Each time Vixen rounded the small enclosure, she reached out to pet the closest available body part--often the rump. She also chattered endlessly to various strangers, some adults and some children. Occasionally I'd hear snatches of her conversations, mostly about purple nails and Barbie houses.

At last we convinced her to wash her hands with the "magic soap" (hand sanitizer), and then we went back inside to look for Ethan. We found him sorting through some old Johnny Cash CDs. By the time we managed to drag him away, Allyson had planted herself at the head of the Santa Claus line.

We tried to explain why we had to go; Daddy's hockey game was starting soon, and the line was endless, and she had already sat on Santa's lap the week before. Allyson refused to budge. "I have to tell Santa I want ballerina shoes!" she cried frantically.

A mother who was nearing the front of the line eyed us menacingly. "Let's go!" I said firmly, tugging Allyson's arm. She began to sob, but the other mother wasn't moved. She turned to her husband and said pointedly, "I'm getting tired of people stepping in front of us in line."

I smiled apologetically and pulled Allyson onto my hip. "But my shoes! I need to tell Santa!" she sobbed over and over. Bill told her we'd write a letter to Santa, and this seemed to satisfy her.

I realized on the way home that we'd never gotten close enough for Santa to admire Allyson's purple nails. Vixen might have seen them, but she didn't seem impressed.

A Card For Santa
Tonight Allyson decided to write the letter to Santa while I made dinner and Bill stretched out on the couch to close his eyes for a minute. "I'm making a craft for Santa," she announced, and then she cut a snow-skiing mouse out of an old Christmas card and Scotch taped it to a piece of manila paper.

"Now will you help me write my list?" she asked.

"No, Baby. I have to finish dinner," I said gently. "I can help you after we eat."

She trudged back to the living room. "Daddy, Mommy won't help me write my list. Will you help?"

"Nnnnhh..." Bill replied.

"But I don't know how to write 'North Pole,'" she whined. "Please, please will you help me?"

Bill drug himself up to a seated position and asked for a colorful crayon.

Allyson immediately launched into a dictation something like this: "To: Santa in the North Pole. Please bring me a Barbie house and ballerina shoes. And please can I have ballet lessons? I love, love, love Christmas. I hope you like this craft I made for you. And I got to pet a real live reindeer at the li-bary. And we're gonna have a Christmas party for all the kids and decorate cookies. I like it when you bring me lots of chocolate. Please give me chocolate and popcorn and Skittles. Love, Allyson."

She watched expectantly while Bill scratched away with the green crayon. At last, he handed her the card, and she raced to the kitchen to show me. When I read it, I burst into laughter and then covered my mouth so she wouldn't think I was laughing at her picture. Bill frowned at me, and I sputtered, "It's just so cute, Allyson! Santa's going to love this card."

Here's what Bill actually wrote:

I managed to avoid actually reading the card to Allyson. I happen to know that Santa's already bought everything but the ballet lessons, anyway.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Candy For All the People

Allyson came up with a crazy scheme that just may become one of our Christmas traditions. She and Bill bought a bag of individually wrapped candy canes on Sunday, and Allyson poured them into a cereal bowl. For days, she begged to hand them out to the neighbors, but we kept putting her off. What would they think if we rang the bell and offered them candy?

By tonight we had run out of excuses. After dinner, Allyson grabbed the bowl and pulled on my pantleg until I agreed to walk her across the street to Ethan's friend Makayla's house. I figured we'd hit that one house and she'd be satisfied.

We put on our coats and Allyson's pink hat, but I didn't bother to track down our gloves, or to put on real shoes. I wore my white socks and my aqua shower thongs. (We know them really well.) Ethan, who'd decided to tag along and see if anything funny happened, didn't even wear a coat.

While Ethan rang the bell, Allyson stood in front of their door with the bowl held in her outstretched hands. Just before the door opened, I noticed a smudge of barbecue sauce on the bowl from Allyson's sticky fingers. I rearranged the candies to hide the spot.

My cheeks flaming, I explained the reason for our call to Makayla's mom Kindra. "Allyson wanted to bring some candy canes over to you for Christmas."

"How sweet!" she said with a laugh, as their dog slipped out between our legs. She invited us in, and Allyson distributed the candy canes to Makayla and her little brother Jacob, and also to one of their cousins who was over for a visit. We stood and talked for a minute about how cold it was (25 degrees Fahrenheit!).

As soon as she'd passed out the candy, Allyson was ready to go. She wished them a merry Christmas and opened the storm door, where the poor dog was anxiously waiting to get back into the warm house.

"Thank you for the candy!" Kindra said.

"You're welcome," Allyson said. "We got lots of candy, enough for all the people!"

"That's great!" Kindra replied.

"Okay, Allyson, time to get back home," I said.

"No, we have to give away more candy!"

"Well, I guess we can go to the next-door neighbors," I said reluctantly. It looked pretty dark inside, and I fervently hoped they weren't home. You may remember this neighbor as the one I tried to give the cheap Walmart water bottle to, after I'd mistaken him for the father of Ethan's friend Tin. So you can imagine that I didn't want to give him ANOTHER reason to believe that the neighbor lady is crazy.

"You guys go on," said Ethan. "I'll wait here in the driveway."

When we got to the door, however, Ethan was right behind us. He probably hoped to witness another embarrassing moment.

My hopes were realized when no one came to the door after two rings and a hearty knock. "I think they're not home," Allyson said, crestfallen.

"Oh well," I said. "We can try again tomorrow. Let's get inside where it's warm."

"No!" she cried. "We have to give away more candy. Let's go to another house!"

"But we don't know any other neighbors," Ethan protested.

"We have to give away our candy!" Allyson repeated, on the verge of tears.

"Well, there are the neighbors just around the corner. We know them a little," I admitted. (They probably think of us as the neighbors with the obnoxious dog who barks at all hours.)

"Yes, let's go there!" Allyson agreed, breaking into a run.

Again, Ethan came along for the show. Their house was also dark, and I was surprised to find that I was almost as disappointed as Allyson when no one answered the door.

"Let's go to the next house," Allyson said, undaunted.

"We could go over to Tin's," Ethan suggested, getting into the spirit.

"Too far," I complained. "My hands are freezing."

"It's not that far," he argued.

"Okay, let's go."

I held Allyson's icy hand as we crossed the side street. Ethan carried the bowl because I was afraid Allyson might drop it and break it.

"Hey, look what I found!" Ethan shouted, stooping in the middle of the street to pick up a pointed black stick.

"What is it?" I asked.

"It's a stick. It kind of looks like a sword," Ethan answered.

As Allyson and I hurried up Tin's walk, Ethan lagged behind. "Hurry up," I urged. "I'm cold." Taking a closer look, I realized he was busy picking up all the candy canes, which he'd dropped in the grass. "What happened?"

"I was swinging the stick like a sword," he explained, without a trace of embarrassment.

He handed the bowl back to Allyson and rang the doorbell.

Tin's father answered--the real one, this time--and greeted us warmly. I blurted out my explanation, and he didn't even seemed surprised.

"Thank you!" he said with a grin. Tin took a candy for himself and his little sister, who is just six months older than Allyson. He and his dad wished us a merry Christmas.

"Tell him merry Christmas," I whispered. Allyson mumbled it shyly, too low to be heard.

As we walked back down the walk, though, she hollered, "We have a Mickey Mouse balloon!" I didn't bother to explain that she was referring to a yard inflatable.

"Merry Christmas," Tin's dad repeated.

By now we were all in high spirits, and there were still quite a few candy canes left in the bowl. "He was really happy, wasn't he?" Ethan asked.

"Yes. You know, this is just like trick-or-treating, but in reverse," I said.

Just One More
"Can't we do one more house?" Allyson pleaded, which really WAS like trick-or-treating. She pointed at a house with lots of colorful lights. "Let's go to that one."

"But we don't know them," I objected.

"We can just ask them their names," she said. I couldn't argue with that logic.

I was still giggling when the man answered the door. "We're your neighbors from there on the corner," I said. "This is Allyson, and she wanted to bring you some candy canes."

Three teenaged girls gathered around, all of them laughing. The man introduced himself and his daughters, and then his wife, who'd just come out of the kitchen to see what was going on. I grinned as I explained how Allyson had said we could just ask their names.

"Oh, I'm Sarah, and this is my son Ethan," I said.

"Where do you live again?" he asked. I gestured to our house on the corner.

"Well, it's nice to meet you," he said. "Have a merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas!" Allyson shouted. "We have a Mickey Mouse balloon!" She was still jabbering when he closed the door.

We laughed jubilantly all the way home, and then we laughed some more as we repeated the crazy story to Bill, who'd been home washing dishes.

"It was fun!" Ethan said.

"I think this should be one of our Christmas traditions," I said.

"We'll see," Bill said.

We posed for a few pictures. If you look closely, you might be able to see the tears of laughter still shining in our eyes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Their Journeys Through Life

One of my favorite hobbies, which I also consider a ministry, is helping people compile their life stories. I started by transcribing my maternal grandparents' autobiographies. After I had typed all the text, my sister-in-law Diane inserted many pictures, mostly from old slides. Then my brother Rick created the book cover according to our instructions. This was such a rewarding family project, and the finished book, Our Journey Through Life, turned out great!

Grandpa and Grandma's Wedding Rings,
On Grandma's Silk Wedding Blouse

You can check out Grandma's book here, and buy it or download a free PDF copy if you'd like. If you do read her story, I know she'd love to hear your comments. You can enter comments on my blog, and I'll pass them along to her, or you can post a review on the book's website.

Jack and Jeanne
Not too long after we'd finished Grandma's book, I was praying about what I could possibly do to minister to others. I was part of a nursing home visitation program through my church at the time, and I was so excited when the answer came: I could collect and transcribe the residents' stories! I interviewed several people, but most had only a few stories to share. Then I met Jack, and boy could he tell a story! I was spellbound as I transcribed his World War II stories.

Over the course of a year, I compiled Jack's autobiography in my spare time. This involved many visits to the nursing home, almost always with Allyson in tow. Jack's wife Jeanne fell in love with Allyson, and the feeling was mutual. Allyson always sits in her lap, and Jeanne usually gives her a cookie or some strawberry yogurt from their tiny refrigerator.

Jeanne and Allyson

Nearly all the residents love Allyson. At first she was overwhelmed by all the hands and voices reaching out to her, but she's gradually gotten more comfortable there. Even the grumpiest men brighten when she waves at them, and even the ones who can no longer speak can clearly express their joy. (It reminds me of the last time I saw my grandfather. He couldn't talk, but he reached out for baby Allyson with both arms. I set her on his lap gingerly, still holding her lightly, but he wouldn't have dropped her; his grip was surprisingly strong. His entire face was lit up with joy, and tears streamed down my cheeks. I am so thankful for that memory.)

Jack's book took me so long that we both probably figured it would never be finished, but the day finally came a couple of weeks ago. Though he couldn't really see it, he was so proud when he held the book in his hands for the first time. I hope his family enjoys the book for generations.

Jeanne and Jack on Their Wedding Day

Click here to view, order, or download Jack's book.

Now I need to finish my parents' autobiography and start another one at the nursing home. I'm praying for God to lead me to a person who is longing to share his or her story--maybe a woman this time.

Would YOU Like to Write a Book?
Publishing a book these days is surprisingly easy. I used a site called Lulu to self publish both books. The cost was quite reasonable, and the best part is that it required no up-front cost. Each book is printed and sold individually, with all costs paid by the buyer. You can choose whether to mark up the price or sell it at cost, and where to send any profits--even to a charity, if you like.

I strongly encourage you to publish your own family stories! I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Well, Kind Of...

Thursday was the night Allyson had been waiting for for weeks: the tree-lighting ceremony in front of the library and a visit with Santa. She'd been talking about this to anyone who would listen, and even to some people who probably didn't want to listen. (On Thanksgiving day, she told my sister Emily's neighbor all about it. The poor woman couldn't even get back in the house because Allyson kept hollering more details, like: "and a real live reindeer!!")

While I was putting the finishing touches on our dinner--split pea soup with homemade croutons--Allyson was gearing up for the big event. "Can we paint my nails purple?"

"No, painting your nails is only for special occasions," I said absently, absorbed in the meticulous work of removing all the fat from the tender ham which had slipped off the bone.

"But I want to look special for Santa Claus," she pleaded.

"No, sweetie, I have to finish dinner right now, and then we have to hurry and eat so we can.... NO!!! Don't open that nail polish!" I lunged to grab the bottle, which was dangling loosely from one hand, right over the ceramic tile floor.

Allyson was so excited over the prospect of seeing Santa that she didn't even pout about the nail polish, though she did ask a couple more times just in case. She was also too excited to eat more than a couple of bites. I made up for her lack of appetite, though. The soup was FABULOUS!

Ethan eyed it suspiciously; it was green, for crying out loud. I braced myself for his disparaging comment, probably involving the word "gross." But there was an unexpected silence as he shoveled spoon after spoon into his mouth. Then came the sweetest words: "This soup is delicious! I don't even like ham. Or peas. But it's great! Can I have some more?"

Actually, Ethan's response closely mirrored my own back when I first tried split pea soup, at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on our honeymoon. Who could guess that something that looked so... pukey... could be so incredibly delicious?

Bill did not share our enthusiasm. He did finish about a third of his bowl to be polite. When I asked how he liked it, he smiled apologetically. "It's not too bad, as far as split pea soup goes."

At 6:15, we scrambled to get all bundled up for the tree lighting. Allyson argued that she was plenty warm in her long-sleeved T-shirt, but Bill insisted on adding a few layers. By the way, this is Allyson's idea of bundling up:
"Don't Worry, Mama--I Got Lots of Warm Stuff!"

Allyson isn't the only one who likes to borrow other people's winter wear. When Bill saw that I was wearing TWO of his jackets, his brows lowered. "Let me get this straight," he said. "You have the nice black coat with matching gloves, scarf, and tuque [hat] that I gave you last Christmas, but instead you put on my jacket?" [That reminds me of another black coat Bill once gave me for Christmas, but I'll save that story for another day.]

I ducked my head. "I needed a big jacket to go over-"

"-my other jacket?"

"Well, yes," I admitted, warmth suffusing my face. "I wanted to wear layers. You're the one who taught me that."

"Well, let's get on with it," he said. (I always wonder if he's REALLY mad at me for wearing his jacket... or flip flops... or flannel pajama bottoms. There's just something enticing about his stuff. A couple of times he has passed his flip flops on to me and bought himself a new pair--which I promptly pilfered. I guess I have a problem.)

At 6:22, we pulled out of the driveway with eight whole minutes to get to the library. We hurried across the parking lot just as the mayor was finishing a completely inaudible speech. We joined in the countdown, and then the tree burst forth in all its humble beauty.

We paused for a quick shot in front of the tree before we herded into the library to wait in an endless line that snaked between the computers. Allyson was amazingly patient, but Ethan was pretty bored until he found a couch where he could curl up with his latest Harry Potter book.

Meanwhile, I kept myself amused by surreptitiously sneaking peeks at the computer screens; I particularly enjoyed perusing scores of Facebook pictures, which really weren't all that interesting, truth be told. It made me thankful that I can waste time on Facebook in the comfort of my own TV room instead of making a reservation at the library.

Can't We Have Just One More?
The best moment came when I admired an adorable baby girl all dressed in red. "Don't we need another one of those?" I sighed wistfully.

"We don't need another BABY," Bill said, rolling his eyes.

This jogged Allyson's memory; just the day before she'd asked me why we couldn't have another baby, and I'd told her to ask Daddy.

"Oh, Daddy! Please can't we have just ONE more?" Allyson asked in her sweetest voice. "I love babies! I want to babysit." I turned my back and pressed my lips together.

"You can babysit Aunt Emily's baby when he's born," Bill said, in his most reasonable voice.

"But he already gots a owner," she argued.

"Who's Charlie's owner?" I asked.

"Aunt Emily!" she said, and I was surprised she didn't add: "Duh!"

"Well, I'm sure we can watch Charlie when Aunt Emily and Uncle Paul go on a date," I soothed.

The Big Moment
I wondered if Allyson would freeze up in terror like last year, but she was all business. When it was finally her turn, she climbed onto Santa's lap and grinned for the camera, and then she announced, "I want a Barbie house!"

We heard Santa ask if she'd been good, but we couldn't decipher her mumbled response.

Santa gave her a hug and promised to see what he could do. She headed back to us with a radiant smile, clutching her candy cane and Santa coloring book tightly. She and Ethan had cookies and punch in the story hour room, and then we hurried back to the car, chilled from wearing our coats too long inside the warm building.

On the way home, Bill asked what Allyson had said when Santa asked if she'd been good. "I said yes," she said.

"And WERE you good?" Bill pressed.

"Well, kind of good."

"Yes, you're a good girl," Bill assured her. "Most of the time," I added mentally.

It was a great evening, even without the live reindeer--which won't be there until later in the month. Maybe I'll paint her nails for that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

We're Lucky

This is not what I planned to post tonight, but I feel compelled to share this information with anyone who has children--or loves children--under the age of 7 or so....

Tonight Ethan and I were on the way to Target when we saw a bumper sticker that said "My Child is Still in a Five-Point Harness. To find out why, visit".

Having attended a car seat safety talk at MOPS (Mothers Of Preschoolers) last semester, I already knew why children should stay in a five-point harness as long as possible--that's why Allyson is in one, and will be until she is at least 65 pounds.

The website looked like a child's name, and I figured Kyle David must have been a toddler who was killed in a crash because he wasn't in a five-point harness. I wanted to read his story, even though I dreaded it, because I knew how hard it must have been for his parents to share that experience, and I wanted to honor his memory. So I repeated the website over and over until I could park the car and text it to myself. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Ethan was the one who remembered it--conveniently just past his bedtime. He rattled off the website effortlessly, and we watched Kyle's video together. I was sobbing as I watched this beautiful child. At the end, his mother said, "I would give anything to have this knowledge before our accident. You on the other hand are lucky, you can learn from our loss."

The same sentiment was repeated on the videos of two three-year-old girls who were killed by adult seatbelts--one in a very low speed crash. Had they been in five-point harnesses, there's a good chance they would have had only minor injuries.

Yes, we ARE lucky to have the chance to save our children, or someone else's children. Please pass this information on to anyone who might benefit.

In a nut shell:
  • Children should be kept in a rear-facing seat as long as possible, even if their feet are touching the back of the seat. Broken legs can be fixed; a ruptured spinal cord is fatal.
  • Toddlers should ride in a five-point harness until the upper weight limit of the biggest available seat. This is FAR greater than 40 pounds. In the U.S., there are now quite a few car seat models that go as high as 80 pounds. An adult seat belt cannot safely restrain a small child, and may even cause life-threatening injuries. A five-point harness distributes the impact over a larger area of the chest and hips and greatly reduces the movement of the child's body and head.
  • All car seats should be snugly anchored in the back seat, using the tether strap if available.
  • The car seat's belt should be so snug that when you pinch it, you can't create a vertical fold. Make a habit of loosening the belt each time you take your child out, and then tightening it after you buckle up the next time.
  • The chest clip must be at armpit level. If it's too high, it can interfere with breathing. If it's too low, the child can slip out of the belt in a crash.
You can find more detailed instructions and information about the dangers of booster seats for young children at this page, part of the same site. If you can bear it, watch the three videos at the bottom of the page.

If you're still not convinced, watch the crash test videos on the site. You'll be appalled at how violently a child's body moves when restrained in a booster and adult seat belt.

The site also features recommended car seats. I found Allyson's seat at Target. It's a Graco Nautilus, and I got it on sale for only $79.

Please forgive me if I've been overbearing about this, but I really want to get the word out.


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