Friday, April 30, 2010

40 and Fabulous!

There's something about turning 40 that makes you realize how OLD you are.

On my birthday, Sunday the 18th, I couldn't help noticing the wrinkles around my eyes, and the deep furrows on my forehead. I woke up feeling just a little blue, but I made it a point to praise God for giving me 40 beautiful years.

It was a nice, low-key day. I enjoyed lunch of fish tacos with my new friend Laura while Bill and Allyson made me a cookie cake. We had a delectable chuck roast for dinner, which I'd prepared in a marathon cooking day (6 hours straight) with a friend the day before. After that, we tucked into the cookie cake. This was probably the indulgence that knocked me off the wagon I've been on since January; I couldn't stop cutting off little pieces to "even it out."

Bill presented me with what we hope will be a lovely blue wisteria vine, the kind with pendulous flowers that resemble grape clusters. This doesn't exactly replace my poor cypress, but it has the potential to make my heart glad. He and Allyson planted it next to the pergola, wrapping it around one of the supports.

About a week prior, Bill had planted the pathetic banana trees pictured below. He got them from a coworker and brought them home from work in a garbage can. The rest of us found that absolutely hilarious for some reason. When I laughingly inquired whether these were supposed to make up for my cypress tree, he replied, "Spoken with confidence by the woman who ate all the Easter truffles."

I protested that it had taken me nine days to eat eight truffles. If he was too lazy to help himself to one in all that time, he wasn't worthy of the truffles. (They were sooo good.)

Anyway, Bill planted the banana trees in front of Lola's ugly chain-link dog run. We're hoping they'll take root and beautify her little corner. Lola danced around Bill's feet the whole time he worked, eying up this latest delicacy.

See that little log-looking thing? That's one of the insidious cypress roots that Bill was able to wrest from the ground. Bill put it in front of the little trees to discourage Lola from molesting them--ha!!

I guess she decided they weren't worth the trouble. They're still hanging in there, and maybe they'll perk up eventually. Meanwhile, she's been digging around the base of the wisteria vine. Bill had to put an ugly black cage around it to keep her away. Sigh...

The Big Party
We had my big celebration a week after my birthday, on Saturday the 24th. Bill threw a big party for all my family and a handful of friends. We wished we could have invited more people, but our house was bursting at the seams as it was. Bill catered in fajitas and all the fixings from On the Border, and oh my was it good. And the cake was delicious, too. I should know; I had four slices in four days. (I told you I fell off the wagon. And I haven't even started on Ethan's giant "Oreo cookie cake," whose irresistible aroma is even now wafting up the stairs from the oven.)

Surprisingly, my favorite moment was the "Happy Birthday" song. Of course, I had that sheepish feeling I always get when I'm the center of attention, like the way I feel when all the waiters sing to me in a restaurant. At the same time, though, tears pricked my eyes as I looked around at all these people who love me, who had gathered around me to celebrate my 40 years of life.

I also enjoyed playing cards with Mom, Aunt Judy, my niece Hillary, Bill, and friends Ben and Karen. I'm always begging to play games, and this time they couldn't say no since it was my birthday.

My New "40 and Fabulous" Glass A Gift From My Friend Marie

Yes, there's something about turning 40... that makes you realize how BLESSED you are. Here are just a few those blessed moments, which Bill compiled into a slide show for my party....

See My Red Hair!

Hard To Believe This Isn't Allyson (Age 3)

Melody, Me, Amy, Rick

Age 3 or So--Looks Like Allyson

Rick, Dad, Mom, Melody
Amy, Me (Age 6?), Emily

Age 7 or So--Looks Like Ethan

Extended Family, Dad's Side, Circa 1977
I'm On Front Row, Second From Left
Between Aunt Carol and Dad

Making Deviled Eggs
Emily, Me (Age 14 or so), Amy

High School Graduation (1988)

Me And Sister Emily (Both Expecting 1st Babies)
Emily's Mother-In-Law Mary (1996)

Friday, April 23, 2010

'Cuz I Know You Like It

Every day, I find more reasons to be amazed at how much Allyson is like me. For one thing, she LOOKS so much like me that people who've known me forever find it uncanny. And she acts like me, too--curious, sensitive, and very headstrong.

But in some very important ways, she's not like me at all. For example, she has taken joy in sharing from an early age, whereas I've struggled to become more generous as an adult. My secret impulse is to snatch the last cookie and gobble it up before anyone can challenge me, but I've gradually learned to consciously consider others' needs before my own. Allyson, on the other hand, makes sure the rest of us get our share before she eats her portion. I see her father in her, and I love them both for it.

Tonight was a perfect example. Allyson was getting into her cranky stage just before bed, demanding to watch Noggin, her preschool channel (actually called Nick Jr. now). But Bill didn't turn it on for her right away because she hadn't asked nicely.

Meanwhile, I was passing through the TV room with some laundry, and a program caught my eye--Say Yes to the Dress. The show featured three beautiful brides who were trying to decide on wedding dresses. I plopped onto the floor and started folding my load, riveted to the screen for some unfathomable reason. Allyson sat nearby on the couch, watching the show with me and adding her own commentary: "Ooh, lots of sparkles!"

A girl named Sarah burst into tears when she found out the dress she'd fallen in love with was priced at $12,000. At first she said there was no way she could spend that much, but it was easy to see that she was weakening. Next, they cut over to a frequent beauty pageant contestant who said she wanted a "Pamela Anderson style that [would] knock the guests over" when they saw her walk down the aisle. She'd certainly found that dress--a sequin-studded mini dress with a transparent panel from just below the bodice to just above the buttocks. It was an eye-popping style, and a large entourage of friends were trying to dissuade her from her choice. The third girl had purchased a form-fitting white gown with startling black trim nine months previously, and now that it was nearly time for the wedding she realized she'd gained several pounds; it was now so tight that she couldn't sit down. She said she would do whatever it took to get into that dress in a couple of weeks.

When the show went to a commercial, I raced around putting away folded clothes. "Tell me when it's back on," I called over my shoulder.

"Mama! Come back quick!" she hollered a minute later, and I settled beside her on the couch just in time to see Sarah agree to spend the $12,000. "No more mani's and pedi's until after the wedding," she rationalized, her face once more radiant with reflected glory from the amazing dress.

As the scene returned to the Pamela Anderson pageant girl, Allyson asked, "Mama, are you cue-ri-ous about which dress she wants?"

"Yes, I am. Are you curious?"

"No, not really. I actually don't like this show so much."

"Then why are you watching it?" I asked in surprise.

"It's 'cuz I know you like it so much."

"Oh, baby, you are so sweet!" I exclaimed, planting a noisy kiss on her cheek. Suddenly the show wasn't half so interesting. "Do you want to watch Noggin now?"


I was still grinning when Allyson started singing along with one of her favorite shows: "O-livia! O-livia!"

Again I ask you, what did I ever do to deserve this sweet child?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Two Scores, Two Scores!

For the last few weeks, Allyson's been switching off between her ballet slippers and her soccer cleats. I love that! She's a girly girl AND a tough little athlete.

The first couple of soccer practices and games were about as hopeless as we expected as she's playing on a three- and four-year-old coed team, and this is the first year for all but one of them. One little boy was a powerful kicker, but had no concept of direction; he just kicked the ball along its current trajectory--usually either out of bounds or into his own team's goal. Other kids, including Allyson, just turned around in slow circles studying the clouds, or perhaps scrutinizing a lady bug on a blade of grass. Some of the kids even lay on the ground squirming or stretching lazily.

We were expecting more of the same last Saturday. I drove in after a meeting, arriving 20 minutes late, frazzled and grouchy from battling the soccer traffic. Just 30 minutes prior to that I'd been rude to Ethan when he called my cell phone during the meeting--even though I hadn't warned him that I'd be tied up. So I was wallowing in mommy guilt as I picked my way across the parking lot. I was so intent on composing my apology that I narrowly missed being run over by a golf cart; I had to leap up onto the curb, and the guy never even saw me.

I greeted Bill with a kiss and sank onto the grass just as the second quarter was ending. "How's it going?" I asked.

"About like it usually does, only worse. The other team has a couple of superstars who really know what they're doing--see?" He pointed at number 2, a tall boy who effortlessly carried the ball all the way down the field and kicked it into our goal. "That's how the whole game's been going. I think they're winning 12 to 0, give or take a few."

Allyson raced over and plopped in my lap when the whistle blew. "Mommy, you're here!" She showered me with kisses while Bill regaled her with instructions.

"Watch the ball," he admonished. "Just run up and take the ball. And then run, run kick! All the way down to THAT goal. Just like when we practice in the backyard. Can you do that?"

Bill, Ethan, and Aunt Amy in Background

Allyson nodded distractedly as she headed back out on the field. Our kids milled around aimlessly while they waited for the kick, half of them (including Allyson) with their backs to the ball. I noted with relief that number 2 was on the sidelines, but that made no difference because number 6 was there to take his place. Twice in a row she took the ball and kicked it purposefully to the goal.

The parents on the other side cheered wildly, as if each goal was the game-winning goal in overtime. Bill and I exchanged sour glances. "You'd think they could tone it down a little," I whispered, shifting on the damp ground and worrying that I was getting grass stains on my favorite jeans. "Of course, if it was our daughter, you know there's no way we wouldn't cheer for her," I acknowledged.

Just then, number 2 came back out and immediately scored a goal. A man on the other side of the field shouted, "Way to make sure! I like that!" My blood pressure shot up a couple of notches. The score--supposing they actually kept score--was now around 15 to 0! I started to say something uncharitable, but then I caught myself because I didn't want to set a bad example for Allyson, who was grinning cheerfully. "Are we winning?" she asked when she came over for a drink.

"You're all playing well and having a good time," I said.

As the last quarter started, I was counting the minutes until we could go home. The other team probably scored a couple more goals, but I scarcely noticed. I had gone to my happy place. I pulled myself back to attention, though, when Allyson kicked the ball from the center line.

"Great kick!" I hollered. "Kick it again. Kick it! Kick it!" I watched in utter amazement as she deliberately kicked it all the way to the goal--and IN!" I was on my feet in an instant. "Woo hoo!" I screamed. "Yay, Allyson!" I could hear Bill hollering from the other end of the field. Suddenly it didn't matter that we were losing 17 to 1. Our daughter had scored her first goal, and I was now absolutely exhilarated.

Allyson trotted back to the center line, throwing a shy smile over her shoulder. Number 6, the talented (and cute) little girl on the other team, had the ball and was making a beeline for our goal, but Allyson ran up beside her and stopped the ball, then carefully turned it around. "Yes, Allyson!" I screamed, on my feet again. "Kick it! Kick it!" And she did. Right into the goal. I clapped until my hands hurt, and I grinned when I heard the other parents say, "Wow, Allyson's turning into a little superstar, isn't she?"

Yep, that's my girl! I thought, but I tried to keep a humble face. Allyson didn't bother trying to be humble at all. She jogged by the sidelines, waving to her adoring fans. "I got my first scores!" she exulted. "Those were my first scores!"

The game ended a few minutes after that, and we headed to the ice cream store. Bill had promised her each game that we'd go out for ice cream if she made a goal, and now we got to make good on that promise. Even I ate some, despite my usual ban on sweets.

Back at home, she asked if we could take some pictures to celebrate the goal. "We'll take one with me looking back, like this," she instructed. "That way they can see my number 5."

A couple hours later, I heard her singing on the stairs. "I goed and I goed and I ran so fast! And I got two scores, two scores!" she sang.

"Yes, you did!" I called from the kitchen.

"Now cheer and clap for me," she said, and I did. "No, louder!" she ordered.

"You mean like I cheered at the game?"

"No, even louder!"

"It's not possible to cheer any louder than that," I explained. And I had the sore throat to prove it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nobody Would Notice...

Tonight while Bill took Allyson to soccer practice, I hurriedly put together a fabulous meal of shrimp and angel hair pasta with homemade Alfredo sauce. While I was chopping onions for a green bean side dish, my eyes watered so profusely that I had to dry them on a dish towel. I noticed the dark mascara smudge on the towel, but I didn't have time to deal with that as I scurried around getting the sauce, shrimp, and pasta ready.

Over dinner a half hour later--which everyone but Allyson loved--Allyson asked, "What are those black things on you, Mama?"

"What black things?"

"Under your eyes."

"Oh, yeah. I was cutting onions and they made me cry, and I guess I smeared my mascara."

"Oh, do you mean like in the rat story? [Ratatouille: I Smell A Rat]"

"Yes. Sometimes people really do cry when they chop onions."

Since no one else said anything, I thought, How bad could it be? But I was enjoying my buttery, cheesy sauce too much to get up and check.

While Bill finished up the last of the dishes, I got ready to drive to Braum's to buy some milk--meaning, I put on some flip flops. About halfway to the car, I turned sharply on my heel and hurried back inside.

"Were you seriously going to let me go to the store with mascara smeared under my eyes?" I demanded.

"Nobody would notice. It's not so bad with your glasses on. Besides, they never make eye contact there," Bill replied.

I ripped off a sheet of paper towel and went into the downstairs bathroom. Oh boy! There was a centimeter-wide crescent of black under each eye. After I'd laboriously washed it off with the paper towel and a bit of hand soap, I stomped back to the kitchen.

"That was terrible!! I can't believe you would let me leave the house like that. They would too have noticed!"

Bill's glance swept over me with a mixture of amusement and derision. "No one would have noticed your eyes," he assured me.

I looked down at my clothes in consternation. I was wearing the flip flops, my black "Pray" T-shirt, and some blue jean shorts that Bill's sister passed down to me recently. The shorts are only moderately faded, not nearly as faded as the identical ones that I wore out before Lisa so kindly gave me hers.

I stared at him blankly.

"Your fly's open," he explained.

Ethan's raucous laughter followed me out the open door and all the way to the car.

For the record, the clerk at Braum's looked me right in the eye when she smiled and thanked me for my purchase. I wonder how she would have reacted if I'd gone in with my raccoon eyes? Whew! Bill's going to get a kick in the pants.

Bill and I in July 2009
Hell's Gate, Over Fraser River in British Columbia

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This Message is For Unka Rick

Have you noticed that I tend to procrastinate? About everything? Thankfully, Allyson didn't take after me in that regard--though Ethan is an even worse procrastinator than I am, if that's even possible. No, Allyson is quite the opposite; her philosophy is: "It's never too soon to start planning." This is especially true when it comes to fun events like parties.

She started planning her June birthday party several months ago, and she talks about it intermittently. She started by dictating the (very extensive) guest list, a proposed menu, and entertainment. Periodically, she makes invitations or has me write them out. Usually I can distract her from the issue of actually mailing them, but sometimes she takes matters into her own hands; we had to install a lock high on the front door because she was sneaking to the mailbox and "mailing" her drawings, accented by random letters and numbers.

A Typical Card, Perhaps for Cousin Savannah

At the end of January, she dictated the most hilarious birthday invitations, which I transcribed as faithfully as possible on her big easel. I was laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Here are just a few of my favorites....

For Cousin Savannah
(Picture of a Dinosaur--Allyson Drew That, Not Me!)

No Slobber Cake
(Portrait of Our Dog Lola)

Games for the Geriatric Guests

I was going to try to describe Allyson's sweet little voice composing these invitations, but then I decided to let you hear it for yourself. You'll have to excuse the video quality; the lighting was so bad that Ethan couldn't see what he was doing. You might even try "watching" with your eyes closed.

I'll Just Leave a Message

More recently, Allyson planned an impromptu pajama party for just one very special guest: Uncle Rick. She laid out all her princess regalia and then crowed, "Everything is all ready for my pajama party!"

"Honey, I really don't think those princess costumes will fit Uncle Rick," I explained gently. I didn't add that he probably wouldn't come to a pajama party to begin with.

She wasn't fazed. "We have to make sure he knows about the party!"

"Uncle Rick is working right now. We can't call him, sweetie."

"That's okay. I'll just leave him a message." She trotted down the stairs and into the kitchen, stopping in front of the answering machine. (Are we the only family left who still has an old-fashioned answering machine instead of voicemail?)

From upstairs, where I was probably puttering on the computer, I heard the man on the answering machine say, "Answering is... OFF.... Answering is... ON." I could picture her randomly punching buttons.

Next I heard Allyson's voice, slow and clear: "This message is for Unka Rick. Please come to my pajama party. It's tonight. There will be cupcakes. And tea, but only pretend tea. We can wear my princess costumes. But you'll have to sleep on the floor because my bed is too little for you. Goodbye!"

I tried very hard to explain that the answering machine only takes messages, doesn't deliver them, but Allyson could not be convinced. She kept asking, "Do you think Unka Rick got the message?"

I guess he didn't because he didn't show up in his pajamas. Allyson didn't take it too hard, though. She just started planning her next big event: a Valentines party. (Valentines was already over, but that didn't bother her one bit.)

Maybe she'll be a party planner when she grows up. And then I can procrastinate all I want while she does all the work.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Easter was so much more relaxing this year than last year. There was no mad dash for Easter candy and gifts, no frenetic stuffing of Easter eggs in the bathroom on Easter morning. Did I suddenly become organized and do all of my preparations ahead of time??

As Bill would say... "Seriously!" No, I didn't even think of Easter baskets until we saw my friend Gentle at church on Saturday night. After she'd admired Allyson's Easter dress, she asked, "Are you ready for the Easter Bunny?"

Bill and I exchanged glances. No, we hadn't done anything at all.

On the way home from church, we concocted a plan. We tossed the big trip to Walmart back and forth: "I'll go"... "No, I'll go." Finally, I said, "Okay, I guess you can go. You're better at that kind of thing anyway. Besides, as I recall, I was the one to do the Easter shopping last year."

"No, I don't think so," Bill countered.

"No, I know I did. I have the blog entry to prove it."

"Humph," he replied. But after an incredibly delicious dinner of chicken pot pie, he cheerfully set off for Walmart while I tucked Allyson in. He came back in much less time than it would have taken me, carrying a Barbie tablet with a Magic Revealer marker for Allyson and a Nerf gun for Ethan. He stuffed all the eggs while I sat idly next to him on the couch, enthralled by a Discovery Channel documentary on the chemistry and genetics of sexual attraction--fascinating! Just before midnight, Bill hid ten "A" eggs and ten "E" eggs.

I had almost as much fun as Allyson in the morning, trying to spot all the cleverly hidden eggs. Allyson's favorite was one of Ethan's eggs, which was nestled in the dining room chandelier. (Ethan didn't get to hunt for eggs until he returned from his dad's house in the evening, at which point we had to threaten Allyson with a time-out because she kept excitedly pointing out all of his eggs.)

Bill apparently did very well with his shopping because Allyson kept exclaiming, "The Easter bunny gave me all chocolate! All my eggs have chocolate in them! And how did the Easter bunny know that I love Barbie?"

"Oh, I'm pretty sure the Easter bunny knows all about you," I said slyly.

Yep, this Easter was sooo much less stressful--for me, at least!

Easter Morning

Our First Passover Meal

Okay, so I did make one contribution to this year's celebration. We actually started our Easter celebration on Good Friday, when I put on a little Passover meal (Seder) for our family. I wasn't trying to become Jewish, nor was I trying to transform a Jewish ceremony into a Christian one. Instead, I wanted to celebrate the heritage of our faith and explore the connection between the Passover story and the crucifixion.

I did my best to include all the major elements: Matzoh bread, bitter herbs (parsley sprigs), horseradish, vinegar (substituted for the traditional saltwater), charoset (apples, nuts, cinnamon, honey, and grape juice), and "wine" (sparkling grape juice, Allyson's favorite drink in the world). Everything but the juice and bread was arranged on a deviled egg plate, not very authentic, I'm afraid.

Before we began, Ethan and Allyson hunted for some slices of bread hidden in the kitchen. They put it in a basket and carried it into another room. I explained that the bread contains yeast, also called leaven, and part of the Passover tradition is removing all leaven from the house. Leaven symbolizes sin, and removing the leaven is an act of obedience to God's commands.

I started by lighting two candles and saying a little prayer. We all washed our hands in a decorative salad bowl and dried them on a tea towel; I explained that this represents purifying our hearts. Then I had Ethan and Allyson ask the traditional question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?"

I replied that this was the night we were celebrating God's deliverance--both the deliverance of his people from Egypt over 3000 years ago, and his deliverance of all of us from sin.

I'd had high hopes for this meal--the first time we'd ever done something like this--but Ethan quickly dashed them. "When are we gonna eat?" he demanded. Bill shushed him, but the aroma of the freshly roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy proved too much of a distraction for him. Soon Allyson joined in. "Is it time to eat yet?"

I sighed and set aside the thick sheaf of papers that I'd printed off the Internet. "I guess we can eat dinner first and then go on with the rest of the ceremony later," I suggested.

While we ate, I briefly recounted the story of the Hebrews' enslavement. Despite his studied lack of interest, Ethan couldn't resist interjecting a few details--especially about how God saved Moses from the Pharaoh's edict of death for all male Hebrew babies. Even Allyson recognized that story because they learned about it in Sunday school a few weeks ago.

We talked about how the Hebrew slaves toiled endlessly, and how they continued to thrive despite all the harsh treatment they endured. We recalled how Moses was raised by the Pharaoh's daughter and how he eventually led his people to freedom after God sent ten plagues against their oppressors.

I concluded by describing the final plague that caused the Pharaoh to relent--the death angel came to take all the Egyptian firstborn males, but he passed over all the Hebrew houses, which had the blood of a sacrificial lamb smeared on their doorposts.

"But what does all this have to do with Easter?" Ethan wondered.

"Oh, it has everything to do with Easter," I answered. "I'm getting to that."

We went on to sip our first glass of "wine" and then dipped the parsley in the vinegar--symbolizing the bitter tears the Hebrews shed during their slavery. I broke half of the middle piece of Matzoh and hid it away in a napkin--an act that reminds Christians of the death and burial of Christ. Each of us broke off a little piece from the remaining bread, and we put a little horseradish on it, and a little of the apple mixture. This reminds us that our lives are always a mixture of the bitter and the sweet. (Allyson loved the Matzoh bread, by the way, and kept eating it long after we'd finished dinner.)

Next came the kids' favorite part. I explained that a full glass of wine represents joy, but our joy cannot be complete as long as others in the world are suffering. In order to mourn the suffering that brought the Jews their freedom, we dipped our fingers in the juice and let one drop fall on our plates for each of the ten plagues: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, diseased cattle, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of the firstborn. We spilled one last drop for the current suffering in the world due to wars, disasters, famines, etc.

Then came the part I'd been waiting for. I brought out the hidden bread, the afikomen, and broke it into pieces. As I handed out the pieces, I addressed each family member by name and said, "Take, eat. This is Jesus' body, broken for you." Then we held up our glasses, and I said, "Drink. This is Jesus' blood, poured out for your salvation." (Luke 22:19-20)

Afterward, we talked about the Last Supper, at which Jesus and his disciples shared the Passover meal. At last, I answered Ethan's question by explaining that the blood of the Passover lamb foreshadowed the blood of Jesus, which would cover our sins with God's righteousness so that we would not have to suffer the consequence of sin (death--eternal separation from God).

I felt the same thrill that I always feel when I contemplate the disciples' revelation at that moment. Can you imagine encountering this entirely new level of meaning in the Passover meal they'd been observing since childhood? What must it have felt like to realize that they were breaking bread with THE MESSIAH?? Hallelujah! Oh, how I love Easter!

All in all, I think it was a positive experience, though I don't know if we'll do it again. I wasn't sure how the kids felt about it, or whether they learned anything. I guess it made some sort of impression, though, because Allyson has asked several times, "When are we gonna do that Easter dinner again?"

"Next year in Jerusalem," I guess.


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