Saturday, January 30, 2010

Let's Do It Again!

Remember when we made the puppets last week? And how Bill said there was no way he was performing in our puppet show? Ha! He was no match for my shrewd diplomacy (or maybe it was my relentless begging).

When Ethan got home from school the next afternoon, we decided on the plot. We didn't write an actual script, just planned the overall story.

"I'll be a monster who's chasing everyone," Ethan proposed.

"Yes, and then we'll need a superhero to rescue us," I said. "Bill can save me and Allyson from the terrible monster."

"No, I want to be the superhero," Allyson asserted emphatically.

"Okay, so Daddy and I will be on a date, and we'll be talking when Ethan starts chasing us. But how will you stop him, Allyson?"

"I'll just say 'Stop!' and ask him what he wants," Allyson replied.

"And I'll say I just want to be friends," Ethan concluded.

"Perfect!" I said. "Now we just have to get Bill on board."

During dinner, I suggested a "rehearsal."

"Yes, yes! Let's do a recursal!" Allyson agreed. "Come on, Daddy! Come on, Ethan! It's time for the recursal."

Since Bill hadn't had time to build a stage in the backyard yet, we decided to hide behind the kitchen table instead. This meant, unfortunately, that Lola couldn't be part of the show after all--there was no way I was letting her shed her wiry black hairs all over my clean floor, and besides, she isn't tall enough to be seen behind the table.

"Let's videotape it," I suggested slyly while we cleared and wiped the table. Of course the kids wholeheartedly agreed, and even Bill thought there was no harm in it as long as we kept it within the family.

Ethan precariously balanced a heavy schoolbook on the edge of the counter top so that the camera could be at center stage. Meanwhile, I went over the script with Bill. "I'll talk and talk like I usually do, and you won't say much," I explained. Finally, Ethan started the recording and hurried to crouch behind the table with the rest of us.

Considering the fact that it was our very first performance of any kind, and that there was no formal script, I think we did really well. Hopefully you'll agree....


video

Immediately after the tape stopped rolling, we rushed upstairs and plugged the camera into the TV. We laughed and laughed at the bloopers--like Allyson answering when I asked Bill how he liked my earrings, and Ethan's indignant reaction when Allyson stepped outside the frame during her lines.

It took only a few hours of pleading to secure Bill's permission for me to air the production. After all, I reasoned, you couldn't even see his face.

How About a Road Show?
Yesterday afternoon, I opened a chat with Bill to find out if we could go visit my sister Emily, who is in the hospital on bed rest until Baby Charlie is born.

Sarah: I'll have dinner ready when you get home, and we'll leave before 7:00.

Bill: Sure, I guess so.

Sarah: We can take the puppets! [laughing uproariously, even though I knew he couldn't hear me]

Bill: If the puppets are in, I'm out.

Sarah: Oh, mannnn!
I'll keep working on him.


Note: If you are reading this via Facebook, you probably need to click the "original post" link in the note in order to view the video.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Way Cheaper Than Therapy

When we sat down to dinner last Wednesday night, I was feeling very blue. It had been a tiring day, and a difficult one. But I was looking forward to serving the kids' favorite meal, yellow rice and chicken, which they always gobble greedily.

This time, Ethan's reaction was much less enthusiastic. As I slopped a generous serving on his plate, he said, "Eww. What's that?"

"It's yellow rice and chicken," I replied, "but it looks pretty runny for some reason. And the topping looks greasy instead of crispy."

"Well, it looks like... vomit."

"Oh, great!" I whined, tears gathering and threatening to spill over. "I just took some of this to my friend Angie, who's on bed rest. How embarrassing!"

"I'm sure it still tastes good, Mama," Ethan hastened to assure me.

"I wonder what I did wrong. Maybe I didn't put enough chicken. Maybe I poured too much melted butter on top. Maybe I put in too much sour cream. Maybe it was-"

"It'll be fine, Sarah," Bill interrupted. "Let's eat."

"It's just that I worked so hard today," I went on. "I had to rush home after MOPS and cook the chicken and chop it up and put it all together. And then I thought I was out of poppy seeds, so I had to go to Walmart on my way to Angie's. But it turned out I had them all along."

It was too unfair! I'd worked so hard, just to be humiliated!

Ethan must have noticed that I was on the verge of sobbing because he announced, in a voice that belonged on a Shake N Bake commercial, "It's good, Mama! It's really good. Can I have seconds?"

"Yes, Mama, it's really good!" Allyson echoed.

Ethan shoved out from behind the table and headed to the stove to heap another helping of the casserole on his empty plate. (I was only on my third bite or so at this point.)

"This is so good, I may need thirds!" Ethan raved. "Somebody better stop me."

"Don't hurt yourself," I said dryly, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.

"This is so good, I need sevenths!" exclaimed Allyson, obviously trying to outdo Ethan in her praise.

Bill caught my eye, and we both convulsed with silent laughter. Of course I knew exactly what Ethan and Allyson were trying to do, but that didn't matter. I think I was comforted as much by their desire to cheer me up as I was by their lavish compliments.

It wasn't all empty flattery, though. Despite its lack of aesthetic appeal, the casserole WAS pretty darn tasty. We made a big dent in it that evening, and then Ethan and Allyson fought over the leftovers the next afternoon.



After he'd carried his plate to the sink--well, set it on the cabinet near the sink--Ethan said, "Thank you for making yellow rice and chicken, Mom."

"Yes, thank you, Mommy!" Allyson called out.

"You're very welcome," I replied. "And thank YOU for being so sweet to me."

My cup runneth over!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Murder Investigations, Pat-Downs, and Eyebrow Waxing

It's been nearly three weeks since our Vancouver trip, and I'm just now getting around to posting an entry about it. The reason for the holdup is that I just couldn't decide which stories to tell. I finally decided to post a bunch of pictures with a minimum of narration. Let's see if I can really do that....

We flew in on Christmas day, and I think we might have been in the air when the terrorist attempt occurred (the guy with the explosives in his underwear.) We were blissfully unaware, and our flight was uneventful.

It was a busy, fun ten days, but too short as always. Here are a few of the highlights.

Bill's sister Lisa hosted the best New Year's Eve party ever. We played a murder mystery game, and all the adults came in costume. In multiple rounds of the game, we were each assigned to question various characters about possible motives.

I played the part of Dusty Ragg, the victim's housekeeper. Bill, a sailor on leave, was the victim's best friend Justin Port.

Dusty Ragg and Justin Port (Me and Bill)

Mom, who played the part of Penny Cillin and who is actually a nurse in real life, took the game very, very seriously. She questioned everyone, not just the people on her list. She made up her own questions and probed relentlessly. She could probably be an investigator--or a mystery novelist. Dad, Pat Role, was a police officer.

Penny Cillin and Pat Role (Mom and Dad)

Lisa played the sexy Cat Walker, a model who worked for the victim. Her husband Cory was a fire fighter named Burney Down. (He's also a fire fighter in real life.) Lisa was hilarious; she stayed in character the whole evening. She'd probably make a great model.

Cat Walker and Burney Down (Lisa and Cory)

Bill's brother Trevor was the investigator, Will Pending. Note that his costume is complete with a donut gut.

Sheryl and Will Pending (Trevor)

We had a lot of fun with the game, but no one guessed the real killer: the victim's girlfriend Leah Tard, a cheerleader.

Capilano Suspension Bridge
One afternoon we went to Capilano suspension bridge. Allyson clutched Grandpa's hand and shuffled cautiously across the long swinging bridge.


We followed the trail down to the river, and when I saw the view from the bottom, the first verse of my current memory passage bubbled up from my soul: "Praise the LORD, O my soul! All my inmost being praise his holy name." I wanted to shout it out and make the canyon walls echo, but I didn't want to scare my in-laws. Besides, part of the beauty was the way the mist cloaked everything in silence.

Allyson and Grandpa Walking in the Tree-Tops

Bill and Me at the Bottom--Love the Red Noses!

Food and Family
Every night, Mom prepared a feast. She also made all of our favorite sweets, like the delicious reindeer nose cookies (chocolate cookies with a cherry center) the kids love so much. I ended up gaining seven pounds, which is about average for a Vancouver visit.

Nana Gets Some Help in the Kitchen (Katie, Nana, Travis, Allyson)

We spent a lot of time playing a new card game that Lisa and Cory taught us. One evening Ethan got to join the adults, and he was so proud when he won a couple of hands.
Cory Showing Us How It's Done

Allyson Reading with Uncle Trevor and Cousin James

My favorite times, as always, were spent in conversation. I loved walking in the cemetery and reminiscing with Mom about Grandma Faye, who walked there almost every day before she passed away last spring. I loved shopping with Lisa and going to lunch with Sheryl.

I even enjoyed having my eyebrows waxed for the first time. Sheryl, an aesthetician, had been wanting to do my brows since our visit last summer. I was surprised at how relaxing the experience was, despite the occasional grimace as she deftly ripped off the linen strips. I was also surprised that my sparse eyebrows actually seemed fuller after the stragglers were removed--just as Sheryl had promised.


Allyson Enjoying Some More of Sheryl's Free Services

One adventure I missed out on was getting caught in the rain at the beach in White Rock. (I was at Olive Garden with Sheryl, talking myself hoarse.)

Ethan and Allyson at White Rock Beach

Nana Packing Our Little Plumber Butt Back to the Car


Back to the Real World
When we flew back home on Monday the 5th, it was hard to say goodbye. We had one last adventure at the airport, where we endured heightened security due to the terrorist attempt. All four of us were patted down! Ethan probably enjoyed the drama, but Allyson was confused and bewildered as she struggled to follow the kind lady's instructions.

I held my breath as our giant lunch bag was scrutinized; we weren't sure just what we'd be allowed to carry on, and I was afraid I might become combative if they decided to confiscate the loaf of hearty brown cranberry bread Mom had baked for us. The only thing we had to throw away was a big bag of potato chips, simply because it wouldn't fit into the ONE carry-on bag allotted to our whole family. The security agent said wryly, "No chips for YOU!" and I smiled as I recognized a fellow Seinfeld fan.

Mom had packed a little reindeer treat bag for each of us, with all our favorite treats. I laughed when I saw the Fiber One snack bar in my bag. My sack also held a chicken breast sandwich on the fresh cranberry bread, several Girl Guide mint creme cookies (even better than Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, if you can believe that), and some moist, crumbly shortbread. She had also tucked little notes into Ethan's and Allyson's sacks telling about the special moments she'd enjoyed with them during our trip.

Bill's family is so wonderful. I can't wait to go again!

Okay, so I guess I'm not capable of just posting pictures with little captions. Were you surprised? I'm sorry; I just can't help myself.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Uh-Uh. Not Happening!

On the way to the grocery store today, Allyson concocted another one of her grandiose plans, this one involving the whole family. She's decided to put on a puppet show in the backyard, and she wants to post a sign in the front yard announcing the time.

Only half listening, I readily agreed to all of it. Suddenly I tuned in more closely when I realized Allyson was asking a direct question.

"What can Lola do?" she asked.

"Maybe she can be the Big Bad Wolf," I suggested.

"No, there won't be a wolf in this puppet show. I know, she can be a ghost!"

"How about she just runs back and forth and barks a lot?"

"Maybe," Allyson said. "Mama, what will we make the puppets out of?"

"We could use lunch sacks. Should we pick some up at the store?"

"Yes!"

We bought 200 brown lunch bags at the Walmart Market, but we couldn't find any buttons for the eyes. On a trip to "big Walmart" later in the day--to pick up the poppy seeds I'd forgotten--we found some colorful buttons and a bag of pom poms in assorted colors.

While we waited for the rest of the family to get home, Allyson dictated the text for the yard sign: "Allyson's puppet show is tomorrow. There will be music. You can bring cupcakes. Please come!"

After dinner, the whole family sat down to make our puppets. I figured Ethan would complain, but he was quite enthusiastic about the project.

It was fun to see how each puppet had a very different personality.

Ethan with Bob the Monster

Bill with Johnny Walker

Me with Carmen--See Her Curly Lashes and Hoop Earrings

Flaming Orange Curls

Allyson got a bit carried away with the pom poms.
Allyson and Seena--See Her Geometric 'Do

"I don't think you used enough puff balls," Ethan said dryly.

"Those aren't puff balls," Allyson retorted. "They're TomToms, right Mama?" [I just got a TomTom navigational system for Christmas.]

"No, pom poms," I answered. "So who wants to think of the plot for tomorrow's puppet show?"

Bill raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?"

"Yes, the big show's tomorrow, and all of us are in it, even Lola. We're posting a sign in the yard."

"No we're not," Bill said.

"Well, maybe we'll just invite Makayla and Jacob."

"Not happening."

"Not Happening"

"Come on! Everyone else is doing it. It's a FAMILY puppet show."

"Uh-uh."

"What if you don't have a speaking part?"

"NO."

"We can't do it tomorrow anyway," Ethan interjected. "We need more time to get ready."

"Oh yes," I added, "you need to build a stage for it, Bill."

"Ha!"

Well, maybe next week. I'll keep working on him.

ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR THE PLOT?

Update 1/30/10: Click here to see the puppet show.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Just Use This Sticky Fing

Yesterday morning when I was rushing to get ready to visit a ballet studio before my 10:30 Pilates class, Allyson managed to make a craft for me, all on her own. She waved it in front of my face, so close to my eyes that all I could see was a white blur.

"What is it, honey?"

"It a birthday cake! It's for you."

I set the toothbrush down, wiped the froth off my mouth, and turned for a better look. Allyson was holding a used fabric softener sheet to which she had taped three long strips of white paper, most likely swiped from the laser printer. The top edge of the "cake" was embellished with little cuts, probably intended as a fringe effect.

"It's VERY nice," I gushed. "I love it." I paused for a moment in order to convey a suitable level of appreciation before changing the subject. "Okay, let's get going so we can see where your new ballet class might be."

Allyson wasn't finished. "Do you know why it has free candles?"

"Why?"

"Because I'm free!"

"Yes, you are three. Now put on your shoes, please."

"Let's hang the cake on the front door," she persisted.

"Honey, we can't hang it on the front door. It'll blow away."

"Yes we can. That's why I got this sticky fing."

I turned sharply, preparing to scold her for getting into the Scotch tape again. My mouth dropped open when I saw what she was holding:


Yes, Allyson was planning to stick her fabric softener cake to the front door with a mini pad!

"Sweetie, I'm sorry, but we can't stick that on the front door."

"Yes we can. It's sticky."

"It's a pad, Baby. You can't put pads on the front door." (You can, however, stick them to the outside of a Girl Scout bus, but that's another story.)

"Why not?"

I searched for an explanation. "Because... pads are private."

"Oh," she sighed, with a disappointed shrug.

I chuckled halfway to the ballet studio (which was closed, after I'd done all that rushing). What tickled me the most was realizing how much Allyson is like her mama. Do you remember the creative use that I found for a feminine hygiene product a few months ago?

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Heartfelt Prayer for Allum

For a couple of years now, I've been trying to teach Allyson to pray, not explicitly, but by example. At bedtime each night, I pray aloud while she makes suggestions. "Tell him thank you for the birthday party," she'll suggest, or "tell him I hope Sunday school is fun tomorrow."

"Tell him yourself," I say. "You can talk to Jesus, too, you know."

On Monday night came the moment I've been waiting for. Allyson made her own prayer--and it came from her heart!

Because Bill was at the gym, the entire bedtime routine for both kids was left to me, and I was in no mood for it due to a severe bout of insomnia the night before. As you might expect, things did NOT go smoothly. First, Allyson got a time out for unrolling almost an entire roll of toilet paper. As we were both exhausted, things went downhill from there.

After her time out, I read her just one story, which was another bone of contention. After the story, I tried to hurry her into bed, but she resisted. "Where's Allum?" she asked.

I had to ask which Allum she meant because she has taken to naming all of her dolls and stuffed animals Allum lately; it's a variation of Allyson and also of the alyssum flowers that she and Daddy planted recently.

"I mean Puppy!" Allyson explained impatiently.

You might recall, if you've been reading long enough, that Allyson has never become particularly attached to a specific comfort object in the past. Recently, though, I'd begun to suspect that she'd fallen for Puppy/Allum. They've been inseparable ever since the day Sharon, our coworker, gave him to her.



When his batteries are fresh--which is never for long, unfortunately--he makes the most adorable puppy sounds, and he roots his head around and opens and closes his eyes like a real dog. With or without batteries, he's the cutest little thing. Even the airport security scanners loved him, but that's another story.

Anyway, on Monday night my suspicions were confirmed: Puppy has become indispensable.

"Here, why don't you sleep with Baby?" I suggested calmly, handing her the little doll that was a common companion before Puppy joined the family.

Allyson and Baby

"No! I want Allum!"

"Look, here's the little angel. Remember, she says, 'Now I lay me down to sleep.'"

"No! I want Allum. We have to find him."

Fervently longing for Bill, who's much better at finding things, I helped Allyson make a thorough search of the house, but there was no sign of the adorable puppy.

Back in the room, Allyson began methodically throwing all her stuffed animals into their net on the wall--where only the unpopular ones live. "Maybe Puppy is in the pile," she said hopefully. After we'd sorted through about 37 dogs, whales, angels, snakes, and baby dolls, we reluctantly admitted defeat.

"Maybe you left him at Denise's," I said wearily.

"No, I was holding him when Daddy dried my hair after my bath," she said. She looked up at the ceiling, deep in thought. "Maybe that was last night," she concluded. "I MIGHT have left him at Miss Denise's. Can you call and ask her if I left him?" There was a glimmer of hope in her voice, and I hated to dash it.

"We can't call Miss Denise tonight, Sweetie. She's probably putting Joseph to bed right now. We'll have to call tomorrow."

Allyson heaved a giant sigh, and I was ready to do a dance if it would make her happy. Suddenly, I remembered the song Ethan had improvised the night before in the car. When he sang his version of "Don't Worry, Be Happy," Allyson shrieked and snorted with laughter.

I did my best imitation of Ethan's silly singing style: "Don't worry about an Allyson! 'Cause every little Puppy, is gonna be alright!"

Allyson immediately broke into sobs. She threw herself on the floor and literally wept. I felt tears welling in my own eyes, but maybe it was just the fact that I'd been up until 2:45 the night before.

"Honey, I'm afraid there's nothing we can do until tomorrow. I'm sure we'll find him. Do you want another animal to sleep with for tonight?"

Her muffled "no" was barely audible; her face was still buried in her arms.

"Well, it's time for bed. I'll pray with you and sing if you want me to."

I tenderly lifted her, still sobbing, and laid her on her tiny toddler bed.

I rubbed her back with one hand and laid my other hand softly on her heaving chest. "Lord, you know that Allyson is very sad," I prayed. "And you know exactly where Allum is. Please help Allyson to feel peaceful tonight, and please help us find Allum soon. Please help Allyson not to be sad."

When I'd finished my prayer, Allyson was quiet for a moment. Then she said, "I just want to know where Allum is. If he's at Miss Denise's, it's okay. We can get him tomorrow. I just want to know he's safe."

"How about if I send Miss Denise a text message on her phone? Maybe she'll get the message and let us know if he's over there."

Allyson brightened. "Will you tell me if she says he's there?"

"Yes, I promise."

I started to leave, but Allyson asked if we could pray one more time. I started to pray aloud, but Allyson interrupted. "Jesus, please take care of Allum. If Miss Denise and Mr. Michael and even Joseph are not home, and Allum is by himself, please be with him and keep him safe. And help him not be scared." She concluded with a catch in her voice, "Amen!"

Luckily, the darkness hid my smile; I was grinning from ear to ear, not because her prayer was so cute, but because I suddenly realized that Allyson had prayed on her own for the very first time. I brushed away the tears on my cheeks and headed downstairs to look for my purse.

Instead of my purse, guess what I found on the kitchen counter? There was Allum, right in plain sight! I scooped him up and raced back upstairs.

"Guess what I found?" I sang out. "It's Allum!!"

"Thank you, Jesus!" Allyson said. She clutched her beloved puppy close to her chest, and for once she settled right down.

As I left the room, though, she called out, "Thank you, Mama!"

"Thank you, Jesus!" I said quietly.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pumpkin Pie for Candy Canes

Remember when Allyson insisted that we take candy canes to the neighbors for Christmas? Well, you won't believe the payoff from that!

About two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, our doorbell rang. When Bill answered the door, I was up on the computer, probably putting the finishing touches on a blog entry.

The moment I heard the man's voice, I knew who he must be. I couldn't hear exactly what he was saying, but it was something about Allyson and candy canes and Merry Christmas. I thundered down the stairs and skidded around the corner in my hand-made wool socks.

"Hi!" I said breathlessly.

The man stood just inside the doorway holding what looked like a pie.

"What a deal!" Bill exclaimed. "We give you candy canes, and you bring us a pie."

"Well, we're new to the area--we moved from Ohio--and we don't know a lot of people yet. I like to bake pumpkin pies and give them away at Christmas, and we thought of you because we were so tickled when your daughter gave us the candy canes."

"I'm Allyson!" Allyson announced, rocking from one foot to the other.

"Yes, I remember. You told me your name when you brought us the candy. My name is Sean. Are you ready for Christmas, Allyson?"

Allyson positively danced with joy. "Yes! Santa's gonna bring me a Barbie house and some ballet slippers!"

"Well, I hope he does," Sean said solemnly, "but be sure to remember the most important gift. God sent us his son Jesus, and we should be thankful for that always."

"I know that," Allyson said hastily. "We talked about it in Sunday school. Christmas is Jesus' birthday, you know."

"Yes," we all agreed.

We talked for a few more minutes. We learned that the teenagers at his house that night were all his daughters, and that he and his wife also have a seven-month-old baby! (There's a 14-year span between the youngest two.)

He told us the pie was made from real pumpkins, not from a can. "It tastes rather different from canned pumpkin, and hopefully you'll really like it."

"Well, thank you so much," I said. "I know we'll enjoy it."

We all wished each other a merry Christmas, and then he was gone. As soon as the door had clicked shut, I ripped the foil off the pie, which was still warm from the oven. I'd never had a pumpkin pie from scratch, and I was excited.

Allyson Took this Picture of Me With the Pie

It did taste different--not necessarily better, but different. The texture was a little stringy, but it tasted great. Allyson sat next to me at the table and nibbled at her dainty piece. I think she liked it, but she was mainly interested in the crust. She obviously takes after her Aunt Emily, who much prefers pie pastry over the filling.

I Was So Afraid She'd Drop It

What to Do With all That Pie?
Now I had a big dilemma: there was an awful lot of pie to eat before our flight to Vancouver the next afternoon, and I would have to do it by myself. Bill doesn't like pumpkin, Ethan was at his dad's at the time, and Allyson wasn't going to be much help. You KNOW I can't waste food, but a whole pie?

"Can't you freeze it?" Bill asked.

"I read on the Internet that pumpkin pie doesn't freeze well," I explained. "Something about the filling separating from the crust. Maybe I should take half of it across the street to Makayla's family."

Bill looked at me as if I'd just lost a marble. "You are NOT carrying a half-eaten pie that a stranger made over to the neighbors. That is just WEIRD."

"Not if they love pumpkin pie," I argued.

"No!" Bill said unequivocally.

"But it will go to waste," I said in a tiny voice.

"Just freeze it and see what happens."

I sighed heavily and cut myself another slice. I had another slice at breakfast the next morning and another with lunch. When Ethan came home at 1:00, I offered him a piece, but I wasn't surprised when he was too excited to eat anything before our flight. (The excitement apparently dissipated when we actually reached the airport; when he spotted the McDonald's just past security, he was suddenly STARVING.)

I ended up freezing the pie in foil and a freezer bag, and Ethan pulled it out after school this past Tuesday. It was perfectly tasty! Bill reminded me that you can't believe everything you read on the Internet.

What Next?
Throughout the last two weeks, I kept wondering what I should do about the family from Ohio. A pie seemed like an offering of friendship to me, but I wasn't sure how to respond. If I were Allyson, I'd just knock on their door and say, "Let's be friends. Want to go for a walk or something?" Now THAT would be weird, I thought.

The answer came to me one morning while I was brushing my teeth, almost like an audible voice in my thoughts. Invite her to MOPS.

I immediately started arguing with myself.
-She has teenagers. She's not a young mom who needs potty training tips.

-You're not a young mom either. Ethan's almost a teenager. -What if she expects a Bible study, and then she's disappointed that it's basically about making friends?
-Maybe that's what she wants. Her husband said they don't know a lot of people.

And then came the question behind all the questions: What if she thinks I'm weird for asking?

"What should I do, God?" I prayed. "Should I invite her to MOPS? What will I say to her?" If God had an answer for me, I didn't hear it that day.

I thought of it again when I learned that my MOPS table would only have five members this semester. I made up my mind to invite her the next day.

On my lunch break yesterday, I wrote out a thank-you card. Of course I thanked them for the delicious pie, but then I hesitated about what to write next. Did I dare write what was on my heart? Would they think I was crazy?

I took a deep breath and wrote something like this: "Such a kind gesture in response to our humble gift of candy canes helped me remember the spirit of Christmas. It reminded me of the lavishness of God's gift to us all, something we can't possibly repay."

Since I didn't know their last name, I wrote ours on the outside of the envelope. Then I bundled up against the bitter cold and hastened around the corner to the house two doors down. As I approached, I noticed a plume of smoke coming out of the chimney, and I envisioned us talking in front of the fire, drinking cocoa.

But when I knocked firmly on the door, there was no answer. I waited another minute and then rang the doorbell. Still, there was no answer. She HAS to be home, I thought. Nobody lights a fire and then leaves. Now I imagined the woman peering at me through the peephole and deciding she really didn't want to talk with any crazy ladies just now.

Bitterly disappointed, I trudged back toward the corner. I'd obviously not been listening hard enough when I asked God about this. When I reached the corner, I turned for one last look at the house. That's when I noticed that the "smoke" was actually steam from the dryer vent of the house next door. I shook my head at myself for jumping to so many conclusions.

The Invitation
I decided to make one more attempt last night after I picked up Allyson, and she eagerly agreed to come along.

This time there were two cars in the driveway, and Sean answered the door immediately. He greeted us warmly, and I handed him the card. With a dry throat and sweaty palms, I asked, "Is your wife home?"

"She's right over here," he answered, gesturing toward the dining room just inside the door. "Come on inside."

There were two pretty teenagers, an attractive blonde woman with her hair pulled back in a loose twist, and a chubby baby in a high chair. They were just sitting down to a meal of spaghetti, and I felt awkward for interrupting their meal, but I plowed on doggedly.

"Hi, I'm Sarah." I looked at the woman. "What's your name?"

"Elizabeth," she said. Then she introduced their three children. (Funny, I could have sworn I'd seen three teenage girls on my previous visit, but I must have been exaggerating.)

I squared my shoulders and opened my mouth to issue the invitation, but then I realized I'd already forgotten her name. "I'm sorry, what's your name again?" I asked, my face suffused with warmth.

"It's - "

"Oh, Elizabeth. Right?"

"Yes, and what's your name again?"

"Sarah."

We both laughed.

"I'm terrible with names," I confessed.

"So am I," she said.

"Well, Elizabeth, I actually came over to invite you to my MOPS group, Mothers of Preschoolers. We meet every other Wednesday and have breakfast. Do you work during the day?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I do work."

"Oh," I said, looking at my feet.

"But if you have any activities in the evening, I'd definitely be interested," she added.

I told her about Tuesday night Bible study, and how we'll soon be starting a study on Psalms.

"That sounds great!" she said, and she took down my phone number and address.

I stood and visited with them for a couple more minutes, during which time Allyson told them all about the puppets at Sunday school and I admitted that I'd pretty much eaten the entire pie. (Ethan literally licked a piece and decided it was gross; it reminded me of his reaction to the pickled banana peppers.) When I finally remembered that they were trying to eat their dinner, I drug Allyson, still chattering, out the front door.

From the porch, I called out, "Hey, do you girls babysit?"

"Yes!" the oldest replied. "I was actually going to ask you about that."

"Awesome! I'll be in touch," I said.

I was still smiling when I got back home, where we told Bill all about our visit.

Who would have thought that handing out candy canes would earn you a pumpkin pie--and maybe even some new friends?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Come Quick! It's an Emergency!

That was Ethan's phone invitation to his friend Tin yesterday after school. I could only hear Ethan's end of the conversation, but it sounded like Tin was pretty skeptical because Ethan had to answer a lot of questions: "No, it's something cool.... You'll like it.... No, just come and see.... It's really cool, I promise!"

My own reaction that morning had been decidedly different. I woke up with a Benadryl hangover and a headache that stabbed me in both eyes. My rest, such as it was, had been rudely interrupted around midnight by a menagerie of stray animals.
Rude Awakening
First there was the loud, deep barking of a big dog, right in our front yard. A couple of minutes later, I thought I heard the yip-yip of a little dog, too. I heard Bill stirring, so I gave voice to my complaints. "What is it with these stray dogs?"

"Nnnnhh," he replied.

The next sounds were more sinister. I heard a couple of vicious snarls interspersed with some yipes. Bolting out of bed, I jerked aside the mini blinds and caught a glimpse of a black blur running around our smallest tree, with a big white dog in pursuit.

"Bill, I think there's a dog fight in our yard," I said, my heart pounding.

"Is there anything we can...? Should we...?" I sputtered. (We both knew the "we" was actually referring to Bill.)

"There's nothing we can do," Bill said, and I crawled back in bed.

I can only imagine what happened next, but it sounded like a cat had come to the little dog's rescue. At first there was a fierce hissing that made my blood run cold, but that was followed by more violent snarls and then the high-pitched screams of a cat. Within 20 or 30 seconds, all was quiet. I ran back to the window in time to see the back of the white dog as it walked calmly around the corner. It looked like a pit bull, but I couldn't be sure.

"I think something just died out there," I said.

"Nah," Bill said.

I lay awake, tossing and turning, for over an hour. Every time I managed to stop thinking about the carnage, I'd hear various dogs barking throughout the neighborhood. I swear they were talking about the cat's valiant fight. It reminded me of the Bark Brigade in 101 Dalmatians. Our own dog was strangely silent throughout; evidently Lola only barks at birds, school bus passengers, and motorcycles.

I finally got up to take a Benadryl, my best shot at getting any sleep. I frantically threw endless bottles of Tylenol, Advil, Immodium, and Zantac onto the floor. There HAD to be some Benadryl in our medicine bin. Bill finally called out to tell me that the Benadryl (Wal-Dryl, to be exact) was in a cardboard box, but not the right box. Of course! Where else would the Benadryl be except in the Zantac box?

I vacillated for a moment about the 8/09 expiration date and then downed the little pink tablet.

Although it was a work day for me, Allyson and I slept until 9:00. Still, I felt unbelievably groggy and a bit unsteady on my feet. After a breakfast of cold cereal and my mother-in-law's cranberry wheat bread toast, I pulled on some clothes and dressed Allyson.
Ugh, I Was Right
On our way to the car, I scanned the yard and immediately spotted the crumpled form of a gray cat. Thankfully, there was no little black dog. I carefully blocked the cat from Allyson's view while I strapped her into her car seat.

After I'd dropped her off at Denise's house, I took a closer look at the cat before I went back inside to work. There was no tag, so I wouldn't have to make a difficult phone call. There was no blood; in fact, the cat actually seemed to be sleeping peacefully, its front paws crossed as if it were stretching. Its fur was matted and dirty.

I felt so sorry for this poor, unwanted animal. I shuddered as I remembered hearing its death cry the night before. I actually wanted to pray for it, but what could I possibly pray?

Instead, I went inside and took a two-hour nap on the couch. Then I made myself work for a few hours.

Ethan's Amazing Discovery
At 4:00, Ethan pounded excitedly on the front door. "Guess what I - "

"I know," I interrupted. "It's a dead cat. Didn't you see it this morning?"

"No! What happened?"

"A big dog killed it last night, around midnight."

"Cool!" he said, and I grimaced. Then he shouted at some of the other boys who'd walked with him from the bus stop. "A big dog killed the cat--right in front of our house!"

When I got back to my desk, I opened a chat with Bill to ask if he could pick up something for dinner on his way home.

Sarah: I don't feel like cooking. I still feel like dog crap.

Bill: You poor thing! Are you sure you don't want me to pick up Allyson, too?

Sarah: No, that's okay. Whenever I start to feel too sorry for myself, I tell myself it could be a lot worse. I could be that dead cat in our yard. Did you see it?

Bill: No! Ewww!!! Great, I guess I'll be picking that up when I get home.

Sarah: Ethan and his friends thought it was really cool.

Bill: Tell him they can pick it up and put it in a trash bag, then.

Sarah: Yeah, that's gonna happen.

Because I needed a good laugh, I hollered Bill's message down to Ethan, who was having a snack in the kitchen.

"Really? I can pick it up myself?" (this coming from the boy who whines about hanging up his towel after his shower)

Immediately, I heard him dialing the phone. "Tin? Come quick! It's an emergency!"

I figured Tin was going to be pretty disappointed at Ethan's idea of something "really cool." But it turns out that Tin was quite excited about the task as well. I didn't know whether to be relieved or alarmed about that.

"Can we take pictures?" Ethan asked.

"Why?"

"I don't know. It's just cool."

"I guess. But I don't know what you're going to do with them." [Don't worry, I'm not posting them here!!]

The Removal Process
I told Ethan he had to finish his math homework before he could pick up the dead cat (!), just because I could. So it was about 5:30 by the time he and Tin headed out to the yard with a big trash bag and a shovel.

I stayed inside, keeping Allyson safely occupied. I read a novel while she painted a castle on her new easel. Bill walked in then, but he went straight back outside. "Where are you going?" I asked.

"To help Dumb and Dumber out there," he called over his shoulder. I wanted to go out and watch, but I really didn't want Allyson to see a dead cat, so I stayed inside and looked at Ethan's pictures on my camera. He'd taken four close-ups, from various angles.

The Removal Team (Last Summer)

Although I still felt bad for the poor creature, I couldn't help laughing when Bill finally told me the story in bed last night. Apparently it's a lot harder to pick up a cat with a shovel than you might think. It was actually quite heavy. When Bill came out, he took a Walmart bag and calmly picked up the cat by its tail. Of course, the body swung back and forth when he tried to deposit it into the trash bag, and Ethan and Tin shrieked with a mixture of fascination and terror. The three of them finally managed to double bag the cat, and I guess it's going out with the garbage. Luckily we're having an "Arctic blast" now, so hopefully it won't make a stink.

So why am I telling you this sordid story? I guess I want to know that there's nothing wrong with my 12-year-old boy. Tell me, is this attitude normal? Should I be worried?

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