Sunday, February 27, 2011

Small Beginnings

For several years now, every time I've heard about the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk to benefit breast cancer research, I've thought, "I really want to do that someday." But this year is different. Now I know Laura, a beautiful, brave young mother who's battling breast cancer. (I hope to share more of her story with you soon.)
Laura and Her 4-Year-Old Son, Allyson's Friend Samuel
For weeks, the commercials for the November event have been tugging hard at my heart. But all of the obstacles have been tugging just as hard in the opposite direction--like the 60 miles, and raising $2300 for the event, and walking for hours each week to prepare myself physically.

Back in January, my friend Gentle sent me a message inviting me to join her 3-Day team, the Tutu Warriors. She wants to do it for the same reason I do; she's been so inspired by Laura, and she wants to do something to honor her. Oh, I was tempted to join Gentle's team just like that. "I'll pray about it," I said. And I did. But I just didn't hear anything one way or the other.

A few weeks back, I had lunch with Laura, and she poured out her heart to me. After I talked with her and prayed with her, I phoned Gentle in tears. We talked about Gentle's plans for the 3-Day Walk, how it's such as small thing to do compared to what our friend is going through, yet how it feels good to do something to honor her--and maybe something that will help other women avoid the suffering she's endured.

While I was talking on the phone in the Walmart line--rude, I know!--I had an epiphany. "I know a way that this walk can really benefit her," I said. "Gentle! What if every time we train, every time we walk, we pray for Laura? We can pray alone and pray together. All of those hours of prayer--surely they will make a difference."

A tear slid down my cheek as I laid out my produce on the counter. "Gotta go," I said. "It's time to pay."

Can you guess what happened next? Do you know me that well? Yes, of course you do. After that talk with Gentle, I thought and thought and thought some more. And I still felt like I just couldn't commit to all that training time. I felt overwhelmed and ill equipped and rickety. And so disappointed in myself. "God, do you want me to do this?" I asked. "I'd really like to do this. But I need you to direct me. I need to know it's your will for me to take on one more commitment."

I heard nothing. 

Gentle's Sign
Around the middle of February, Gentle's household went through a string of illnesses that knocked her flat. She began to wonder whether she'd be able to stay well long enough to complete her training and do the walk. She almost decided to withdraw from the event, but then she asked God to give her a sign if she should continue. I believe it was that same day that she heard a friend of ours on the radio, sharing part of her testimony on her birthday. Gentle logged on to Caroline's blog to leave her a comment. Guess what the word verification was?

Yep, "comen." Not quite Komen, but close enough. Gentle was in! She snapped a picture with her phone and emailed it to me. Here was my response:

Wow! I've asked God to give me a sign about the walk, one way or the other. There is a huge part of me that wants to do it so much, but there is another part of me that feels stressed whenever I think about all that training, about adding MORE stuff to my already overloaded schedule. I told God tonight after I talked to you that I am not making a move until I feel a positive confirmation from him that it's what he wants me to do, and if it's not that he would give me a sign about that. Pray for me!

My Sign -- A Smile!
For the next couple of weeks, I just let it go. I was disappointed, but I figured maybe this wasn't the year for me. And then my sign came this morning, when I wasn't even watching for it. Laura came and sat next to me in church, and my heart leapt because I hadn't seen her since that lunch weeks ago. We sat around talking for a few minutes after church, and then she walked out to the parking lot with me and my family. She was having a rough morning, but I saw her face light up just one time: when she told me she heard from Gentle this morning. "Gentle's doing the 3-Day Walk!" she said. "I'm so excited. I told her I'd help her in any way I can."

"I've been teetering on the brink," I admitted. "I want to do the walk with Gentle, but I don't know how I can fit in all that training. I've wanted to do this for years."

"Oh, me too!" she said. "But my doctor said I couldn't do all that walking."

As I hugged her goodbye, I fought to hold back my tears. She wants to do the walk, but she CAN'T. It's not that she can't find the time in her busy schedule, but that she physically can't. And here I was with an able body, hemming and hawing.

Back at home, I asked Bill if he would help me get some family walks in, and if he could support me in this effort. "I know you can do it," he said. I wanted to tell him all I was feeling after talking with Laura, but I couldn't speak. I just stood in the kitchen and melted into my husband, enjoying his strong arms. When Allyson tried to get between us, he pushed her away gently. "This is a Mama hug," he explained, squeezing me even tighter.

Getting Started
Once I finally made up my mind, I was so excited to get started. I signed up as part of Gentle's team, and I went on my first training walk--a 3-mile round trip to the grocery store. As he watched me load up a backpack with the grocery list, a lady bug cooler insert from Allyson's lunch box, some cloth grocery bags, Kleenexes, some cash, and a water bottle, Bill couldn't resist teasing me a little.

"It looks like you're setting off on a huge expedition," he said.

I laughed at myself right along with him. "I've got to have a place to put the groceries," I said.

My walk was mostly glorious, on this 80-degree (27 Celsius), breezy afternoon--except that the top of my left foot started hurting about halfway there. (I'll be needing new shoes, I think.) The hardest part wasn't the walking, but the praying. I realize this will be as much about spiritual training as physical training.

Once I figured out that I could turn most of my memory passages into prayers for Laura, it was fun. "Praise the Lord, O my soul," I said to the wind. "All my inmost being praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits--who forgives all Laura's sins and heals all her diseases, who redeems her life from the pit and crowns her with love and compassion, who satisfies Laura's desires with good things, so that her youth is renewed like the eagle's." (From Psalm 103)

Before long I was downright rejoicing, and the throbbing in my left foot seemed to fade away.

I know it's just the first step in a big journey, but it feels momentous. It reminds me of a verse our pastor read this morning: "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin." (Zechariah 4:10).

[Draws deep breath here...]

Would you consider partnering with me in this small beginning? You can visit my participant page HERE to make a donation or to join our team. I'd love to have company on my training walks, and another buddy to walk with our team when the big day arrives.

One more request: Could you please pray that God will help me reach my fundraising goals? And please pray for Laura and her family!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Over The Hill? Not This Tuba Player

Well, it's official. As of yesterday, my better half is in his 40s, just like me. The celebration began last Thursday, when his family flew in from Vancouver. At first it was all supposed to be a surprise, but I decided it would be better to tell him about his parents coming so he could schedule some time off work. But he had no idea his brother Trevor was coming. It was so hard keeping such a big secret for weeks and weeks!

For one thing, I had to come up with a plausible explanation as to why we needed to take two vehicles to the airport. "There's no way we're all fitting in the Sentra," I warned.

"That's why I'm going by myself," he said. What he didn't realize is that even if he went alone, it would still be a tight squeeze due to Allyson's car seat, which was firmly secured via the LATCH system and nigh impossible to remove (as Trevor later discovered, but that's another story).

I looked away and focused on breathing evenly, willing the blood not to rush to my face. "Allyson really wants to go," I said finally. "And if Allyson goes, Ethan will have to go. And then there won't be room for Mom and Dad."

Bill sighed theatrically. "Oh, all right. We'll all go."

The whole time we were waiting at baggage claim, I was on edge. Trevor was arriving on a separate flight just ahead of Mom and Dad, and I wondered what would happen if he was delayed. How would I convince Bill we needed to hang around the airport? I'll just have to develop a diarrhea relapse and camp out in the bathroom, I decided.

Of course, it all worked out beautifully. Just as I spotted Mom and Dad, with Trevor skulking along behind them, Ethan exclaimed, "Hey, I didn't know Uncle Trevor was coming!"

"No, he's not," Bill said.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "See for yourself."

"It's Uncle Trevor!" Allyson yelled, hurtling herself at his legs.

Bill couldn't stop smiling, and neither could I.

We had his big party on Saturday, at which we served seven kinds of pizza. I'd been planning to make three kinds of lasagna, but Bill had insisted on beer and pizza. When I said we couldn't just have beer and pizza, he said, "It's MY 40th birthday, and if I want beer and pizza, I'm having beer and pizza."

"Well, okay then," I said meekly.

It was actually really tasty, and the entire evening was lots of fun. Without any deliberate planning that way, the party had taken on a hockey theme. It started with me putting a picture of Bill in his hockey uniform on the invitation.

When my sister Emily saw the invitation, she decided to make his cake with a hockey theme.  Knowing he was a Canucks fan, she went online and found their logo, which she re-created in fondant. [To see more of Emily's cakes, see her Facebook page, Charlie Cakes. She takes orders!]

Allyson, Ethan, Bill, Emily

But that wasn't all. Guess what he got from his parents? A regulation Canucks hockey jersey, complete with the number 40 (because it's the team's 40th anniversary)! Finally, as luck would have it, the Canucks were playing the Dallas Stars that night, which meant we could actually watch the game on local TV.

So Bill and Trevor drug down Ethan's clunky old TV--the one we used for awhile after our big-screen TV broke, the one you have to whack periodically to bring the picture back. They set it up on a folding table on the back porch, stretching the satellite cable out Ethan's window and down the wall to the TV.

There were a few chuckles about this setup, but everyone had fun watching the game--well, maybe not everyone. The Canucks won 5-2, much to the delight of Bill, his Dad, and his brother, who were watching the game in their Canucks jerseys.

Allyson Wore a Jersey, Too
I think we had the most fun while Bill opened his presents. His friends Scott and Troy surprised him with an authentic T-shirt from his alma mater, Brookswood Secondary.
Love this "Over The Hill" Paper
Brookswood Ice Hockey - 1989

"We almost ordered you the band T-shirt," Scott remarked.

"But we wanted to get you a shirt you might actually wear," Troy put in.

Bill's mom laughed. "You know, Bill didn't actually play hockey in high school.... But he was in the band."

"No way!" Troy exclaimed. "Why have we never heard about this?"

"He played the tuba," Mom went on.

The entire room burst into breathless laughter. "The tuba??" his buddies repeated.

"Oh, I wish I'd known you could get a band T-shirt," I said ruefully. "I would have told you about the tuba for sure."

"You wouldn't happen to have a picture of Bill playing the tuba?" Scott asked. "It might bring you some money."

"No, I don't think so," his mom said. "He always slouched down low so the tuba covered his face. If we got a picture, it would have just looked like a tuba with black legs."

Scott and Troy howled.

"He only stayed in one year," Mom explained. "He wanted to drop out, but we made him finish the year."

"I wanted to play the bass guitar," Bill said. "The only problem was that all the 8th grade boys wanted to play the bass guitar. So the teacher drew out one name for the guitar and then said, 'You get the trumpet, you get the flute... And I got the tuba."

Scott and Troy thought about all the mischief they could get into with a picture of Bill in his tuba-playing days, which reminded them of the many pranks they'd already pulled on him. (Each time we go out of town, they do something to vandalize his desk.) They kept us laughing for ten minutes recounting all their practical jokes: dropping 500 marbles into his overhead bookshelf, turning his cube into a giant snow globe with blowing "snow" made of packing peanuts, and rigging a shower of glitter over his desk, to name a few.

After we'd regained our composure, Scott brought in their real gift, a combination cooler, adjustable serving table, and bottle opener:

Scott and the Awesome Cooler

Before the evening ended, Bill's mom couldn't help sharing one more tidbit about Bill's childhood. We were watching scores of pictures that Bill's sister Lisa had loaded onto her gift, a digital picture frame that she sent with Mom and Dad. We giggled a lot over Bill's bushy 80s hair, but we laughed even harder over his dad's 70s sideburns and mustache.

Bill, Jim, Lisa

Bill With His Grandpa, Whom I Never Got to Meet
Anyway, while we were looking at the pictures, his mom mused, "We used to call him Billie back then... with an 'ie'."

"Oh, Mom," Trevor said. "You realize you've just given them more ammunition!"

And he was right... When Bill returned to work today, this is what he found:

A Mouse Encased in Jell-O... A Typical Prank
Through all of this ribbing, Bill has been a very good sport. But tonight he drew the line. When he caught me trying to post one of his high school pictures, he said, "If you post that on the Internet it might mean the end of our marriage."

I guess you'll just have to use your imagination.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Best Kind of Romance

On Valentines Day, we enjoyed a family dinner at home. I tried to make it special, serving Ethan's favorite spaghetti and meatballs along with home-made croutons, freshly made Ranch dressing for Ethan, and Catalina dressing for Allyson. We ate in the dining room with candles and kids' champagne (sparkling cider) in wine glasses.

The table decoration, the pink and purple cross leaning on the candelabra and creating a fire hazard, was a craft Allyson had made in preschool that day. "It was so fun. We rubbed the glue all over with our infects finger," she explained.

After dinner, I brought out three cards and a little treat for each of my Valentines:
  • For Ethan, a 3 Musketeers truffle bar, because he had bought one just the day before and then shared it with me and Allyson.
  • For Allyson, a cute little bear holding a red heart; she promptly named it Brown Bear.
  • For Bill, a big box of Junior Mints. "How did you know I liked these?" he asked. "Oh, was it because I finished off the box you got from Gentle?"
I was rather expecting a bouquet of flowers from Bill, but this year he arrived home empty handed. Had he remembered to buy me a card? (I must confess that I had almost forgotten myself; I had to make a mad dash to Walgreen's Drug after work to get the Valentines goodies.)

Not to worry... Bill disappeared momentarily and returned with a card. At first glance, I could see that he'd written a full paragraph inside. My hands trembled as I read the words. He said he'd struggled to find the perfect gift. "No chocolates. 'I'm off sweets'," he wrote. "No flowers. 'Waste of money.' [For the record, I'm not that much of a scrooge.].... So I decided to give you something you'd really want: my next overtime check to put in your grain mill fund."

At that, tears filled my eyes. It may not sound so romantic, but I love it that he knows me so well. He knows how much I want to start grinding my own wheat, which he thinks is just a bit crazy. What he didn't know is how impatient I've been. Instead of budgeting for it--since it's not a priority for both of us--I've been putting aside any leftover money at the end of each pay period. The problem with that is there's hardly ever any extra money!

And he also didn't know how hard it was for me to take $20 of that money to buy the Valentines cards and treats. I had to ask God to forgive me for my stinginess, and to help me to give with a joyful heart. And what happened next? I got over one hundred dollars to put back into the fund. How awesome is that? 

We ended our evening with a nice snuggle on the couch after the kids were in bed. Under the shelter of his arm, thinking back over past Valentines celebrations, I realized that my definition of romance has changed. I'll take a family dinner any day over an intimate restaurant meal. And I don't need lots of flowery words, either. "Take my overtime check," sounds an awful lot like, "I love you more than I can put into words."

Allyson's Valentine
In other Valentine news, Allyson was ecstatic over her first school Valentines party. Due to health regulations, we had to bring packaged apple slices instead of home-made pink frosted cupcakes, but she did get to bring the shoe box she and Daddy had decorated to hold her Valentines.

Along with the eight butterfly Valentines she'd laboriously filled out, she also brought a card she'd made in Sunday school for her favorite person in the world right now: her teacher, Mrs. Robin.

I have to admit that I felt a tiny stab of disappointment when I eagerly opened her freshly made card on Sunday, only to find that it was addressed to a woman she met just six weeks ago. But then I realized that if it hadn't said, "Mrs. Robin," it certainly would have said "Daddy," instead, and that would have stung too. Worse yet, it might have said "Turner," the name we hear half a dozen times a day. (The funniest thing she said about this little imp in her preschool class was: "Today I told Turner that Daddy said, 'Stop talking about Turner all the time!'")
"You Love I... Mrs. Robin"

The Valentine wasn't the only thing she brought for Mrs. Robin. Before a trip to the grocery store the week before, she'd asked for $5 from her piggy bank (the same bank she once scaled a quilt rack to reach). "I want to get a present for Miss Robin," she said.

I shook five crumpled ones out of the tiny hole at the bottom of the ceramic pig. "I don't know if we'll find anything, sweetie," I warned. "We're going to Sprout's Farmer's Market this time, not the big Walmart."

About halfway through our shopping, she spotted a display of aromatherapy candles in ten different colors and scents. After sniffing every variety, she settled on a yellow honey-scented votive, but then she put it back after we'd picked out our meats. She agonized for a few more minutes, during which time I was mostly patient, and then she picked out the honey candle after all. (It's uncanny how much her shopping style resembles mine.)

"I'll have to give you another dollar plus some change for the tax," I told her as we finally made our way to the checkout.

"Shh!!" she hissed, ducking under the end of the conveyor belt. "Give me the money before the lady sees me!" she said in a stage whisper. The woman behind us in line laughed, but luckily Allyson didn't hear her; this was serious business.

I handed her a dollar and two quarters, which she deposited into her pink beaded purse, a gift from her grandma. After I'd completed my transaction, she proudly handed the clerk the candle and her $6.50.

"Would you like a bag?" the lady asked. I started to tell her we always use our own cloth bags, but I bit my tongue. Allyson nodded vigorously. "And do you want your receipt?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Thank you, and have a nice day," the woman said.

Allyson beamed. "It's a present for my teacher," she said. "We're having a Valentines party."

"Let's go," I said, pushing the cart out of the way for the next shopper.

"We're bringing apples," Allyson went on. I grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the line. "And Valentines cards," she called over her shoulder. "There are nine kids in my class, but only two boys. There's Turner and Ava and Sofia and..."

"Come on, baby," I said. 

"Goodbye," the clerk said. "Have fun at your party."

And she did. We heard all about it at our candlelight dinner.

Allyson Holding one of her Valentines on the Big Morning

Her Valentines Bow

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Some Crazy Lady

Remember the time the Christmas before last when the kids and I handed out candy canes? We had so much fun that time that we meant to make it an annual tradition, but somehow we never got around to it this past Christmas. I thought of it again last Tuesday night, after a woman named Phyllis knocked on our door.

I was frantically trying to finish my fish tacos and get the kitchen cleaned up before Bible study, and I figured it must be Gentle arriving early to pick me up. When I saw the kind blonde stranger on the porch, I felt momentary relief, but when she held out a flyer my stomach sank. Ugh. A door-to-door salesperson. I don't have time for this!

"I'm starting a morning prayer meeting in my home, and I'd love it if you could come," she said with a warm smile.

I took the flyer and smiled back at her. But I frowned when I saw the time: 6:00 in the morning! 

"I made it early so people could come before work," she explained. "You can come and stay for a few minutes, or for the whole hour."

Gesturing to Allyson, who was clinging to my leg, I told her I didn't think I could make it that early.

"Well, I take requests," she said, pointing out her phone number on the flyer. "If you have any prayer needs, please let me know."

I thanked her and went back to frying the tilapia with a grin on my face. I'd just been asking God to help me relax and rest in His presence, to make me ready for Bible study, and then He sent Phyllis. My spirits were instantly lifted.

I couldn't stop thinking about her for two days. I was amazed at her boldness, to knock on a stranger's door and invite her to a prayer meeting! I wondered how many people were meeting in her home each morning. What if no one came? Maybe I...? No, it was way too early in the morning.

Then I remembered Priscilla Shirer's admonition on the videos at the Jonah Bible study. She urges us to "go to the Nineveh in our neighborhood," to show God's love to people who need Him. Hadn't I been asking God to show me how to love the people in my neighborhood?

I phoned Phyllis on Thursday to tell her I'd come at 6:30 on Friday morning, and she was ecstatic. She told me she'd handed out 30 flyers that Tuesday. "On Wednesday morning, I told God how disappointed I was that it was only me," she admitted. "But then He said, 'You're not alone. I'm here. Jesus is here. The Holy Spirit is here. That makes four of us.'"

In the morning darkness on Friday, I walked to her house, about eight houses down. We prayed for our neighborhood, and for our families. I loved the instant connection we felt as sisters in Christ. I told her I'd come back on Mondays and Fridays.

The way Phyllis had reached out to me brought to mind the candy canes, and I started thinking about what we might do for Valentines Day. On that same Tuesday, Gentle had given us a treat bag with a card that said, "We love because He first loved us." She said she was handing out bags to her neighbors.

So today I baked triple ginger cookies and filled six Ziploc bags with six cookies each. I took six of Allyson's leftover Valentines and wrote, "We love because He first loved us... The Broad Family... Bill, Sarah, Ethan & Allyson."
Allyson was of course excited to come; the candy canes back in 2009 had been her idea. I wasn't too sure about Ethan, but he agreed readily. When Allyson invited Bill, though, he said, "I think I'll stay here and clean the kitchen."

By the time everything was ready, it was nearly 8:00 and getting dark. We slipped on our flip-flops, and I put on a light jacket despite the unseasonably warm temperature today--in the 70s this afternoon after last week's dip into the teens.

We followed the same route we'd covered with the candy canes, so it wasn't so scary as the first time. Allyson rang the bell when we got to the house of the family who gave us the pumpkin pie. The moment the door swung open, she whispered, "Happy Valentines Day," and handed the man the cookies.

"Oh, you guys are so good to us always!" he exclaimed.

I blushed. "They're ginger snaps," was all I could think of to say.

"Well Happy Valentines Day!" he said.

The door was already half closed when I asked, "Is Elizabeth home?"

"Yes, she's right here," he said, pointing to the dining room table. I realized that once again I'd interrupted their dinner, but I plowed on, telling her about Phyllis's prayer meeting.

Apologizing for being in her pajamas, Elizabeth nevertheless came to the door with a tablet in hand. I told her the address and the time, as well as my phone number. She thanked me warmly and we wished them a good evening.

We had one more house left, an addition to last year's list. I wanted to take some cookies to Phyllis even though I knew I'd be seeing her at 6:30 in the morning. I wanted the kids to meet her, and I wasn't ready for our little adventure to end yet.

Her house was brightly lit, and there were two cars in the driveway. "She's home!" I said. "Now, Allyson, this time you need to say 'Happy Valentines Day' really loud, okay?"

Allyson rang the bell, and we waited for what seemed a long time. "She's probably looking out at us and not opening the door," Ethan said.

"No, she wouldn't do that," I argued. I knocked on the door, and Allyson did too. A moment later the door opened, and we were face to face with a strange man who looked to be in his 30s or 40s. Phyllis had told me she lived alone with her son, but this man seemed too old. For a moment I thought I might have the wrong house, but this was definitely it.

The man cocked his head and eyed us in confusion. Oblivious to the awkward silence, Allyson handed him the bag, shouting, "Happy Valentines Day!" He glanced down at the cookies, and there was another heavy silence. Then he sputtered, "Well, thank you so much!"

"You're welcome," I murmured. "Um, good night."

Back on the sidewalk, Ethan asked why I didn't tell him we were looking for Phyllis. "I was expecting her to answer the door," I said. "I was so surprised to see him that I just froze. I couldn't even remember Phyllis's name at that moment."

"Well, you should call her or something," he said. "He's probably telling her right now that some crazy lady is going around the neighborhood handing out cookies."

I burst into laughter. "Yes, he probably is," I choked out. "Oh well." And we laughed all the way home, just like we did when we handed out the candy canes. When we told Bill the story, he just shook his head.

I'll tell her in the morning. It was only a matter of time before she figured it out, anyway: yes, I am a crazy lady. It sure is fun!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme...

...No, make that parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Here's one of the many things I've been meaning and meaning to tell you about...

If you know me very well, you surely know that I am one of the most disorganized, cluttered people around. Honestly, it really doesn't bother me that much. Because I know it bugs Bill, though, I do occasionally consolidate all my little piles and throw away some of my junk, but I inevitably backslide after a day or two. Still, there are tiny pockets of organization in our house. Like the shoe organizer that has now kept my bathroom vanity clean for nearly two years.

And then there's my spice rack. Once upon a time, it was a jumbled mess that caused me untold stress. I'd be putting the finishing touches on dinner, only to realize at the most crucial moment that the thyme (or the ginger or the ground mustard) was nowhere to be found. Stirring the sauce with one hand, I'd frantically toss all the spice jars onto the counter with the other. Sometimes I'd be so rattled that I had to go back through all the jars again, putting them back in one at a time, until I found what I was looking for--or realized that I we were out.

On one of our anniversaries, Bill bought me a decorative spice rack with labeled glass jars. It was both pretty and practical. But there was one problem: it only held my dried herbs. All the other spices and seasonings were still a wreck. Each time I slid one of the glass herb jars into its slot, I thought, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if all my spice jars were uniformly sized, and perfectly visible?"

It seemed like an impossible dream--until my friend Jenny featured one of her craft projects on her blog. She washed a big batch of baby food jars and painted the lids with a metallic silver paint, and then she stuck on hand-lettered labels. The result was simple, elegant, and very functional:

"Hey, I could do this!" I thought. But where would I get all those baby food jars? Allyson had long since graduated to table food. That's where my friend Kristina came in. About a month after Jenny's entry, Kristina posted a blog entry about her own spice jar project. Turns out she had given her old jars to Jenny, but she found a bunch more that someone was donating on Even better, she gave all her leftover jars to me.

Since we already had some silver paint and polyurethane spray, this meant the whole thing would cost me nothing! Within a week, I had my new spice rack. Is this gorgeous, or what? 

Note the perfect alphabetical order--of course!

My handwriting isn't nearly so graceful as Jenny's, but I still love my jars. I like seeing my own handwriting because it reminds me of one of my few successes at bringing order out of chaos.

I can't tell you how much more relaxed I am when I'm cooking. What if I need cream of tartar? Easy! Right between the cloves and cumin. It's been eight months, but I still feel a little thrill each time I put a jar back into its designated space. Now, I almost never run out of anything, nor do I buy duplicates; I always know what I have and what I need.

My next project was supposed to be the bigger items on the next shelf:

I collected glass peanut butter jars for a few months, but they're still sitting in the garage--unless Bill threw them in the recycle bin. I just never had the energy to follow through for some reason. Maybe it'll be my spring project.

Have I inspired you to reorganize your own spice rack? If so, check out the links above to Kristina's and Jenny's blogs for some specific instructions. I'll add these tips:
  • The labels should come off pretty easily if you soak them in soapy water for a few hours, and then scrape them with a Pampered Chef scraper or a razor blade. 
  • Buy some little circle stickers before you fill the jars. As you transfer the spices from the old jars, write the expiration dates on the stickers and put them on the bottom of the new jars. (I was shocked at how many expired spices I had!) 
  • My jars are sitting on an expandable riser that I got at either Target or Walmart. The rows are the perfect height to keep the labels visible. 
If you decide to try this, I'd love to see your pictures. Happy organizing!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Circle Of Strength

Out of the blue, here's another chapter in my love story with Bill....

Since we were married in Vancouver (in March 2003) we ended up having two receptions--three if you count the small family dinner at the hotel on our wedding night. The Texas reception was held at my house, now ours. Although it turned out to be a most bittersweet day, the experience is one of my most treasured memories.

One thing that made it fun was that it was very much a family affair. All the women in my family sat down at Christmas to plan the party, each promising to bring her trademark appetizers. We even designed the invitation together. My friend Verusha was going to make the cake, but she ended up going out of town that week. So guess who brought the cake? Okay, you'll never guess, so I'm going to tell you. It was Carla! Remember her?

Anyway, the food was perfect, and our house was overflowing with dear family and friends.

 Newlyweds Casey and Marie
(A Friend from my Thursday Group)

Angela and Me (She and Her Sisters Had Thrown me a Lingerie Shower) 

It was fun showing off all the work Bill had done on the house, like laying tile, painting and hanging nicer baseboards, and replacing the wood under the banisters. I tried to listen to all the conversations swirling around me, but all I could catch was a few snippets. It didn't matter. The contented chatter and the laughter enveloped me like my favorite bathrobe.

But underneath all that was a layer of sadness that most of the guests probably missed. If you looked closely, you could see the glint of tears behind the smiles.

Amy, Rick, Dad, Mom, Melody
Emily, Me

Just a couple of days before, we'd all gathered at Mom and Dad's to visit with my sister Amy, who'd flown in from Indiana. That was when we learned that my brother Rick had colon cancer and would need surgery and chemotherapy. He was only 43 years old, and he had two teenage children. Of course we all cried in those first moments of shock, but Rick's wife Diane admonished, "I don't want everyone crying over Rick. He needs us to be positive."

As we set everything up for the party that Saturday, she reminded us, "No crying today. We're here to celebrate Bill and Sarah's wedding."

She was right, of course, and I think we did pretty well following her advice. Still, there were moments when I'd exchange glances with Mom or one of my sisters, and a few wayward tears would escape despite our determined smiles.

By the end of the evening, after hours of talking and eating and opening presents--which produced a staggering number of remarkably unflattering photographs that I'm resisting the urge to post--we were utterly exhausted. After the last of the other guests left, the whole family stood in a circle in our living room and held hands.

That's 5-Year-Old Ethan on the Front Row

And we prayed for Rick, prayed like we'd never prayed before. I don't remember what we said, but I remember the love and strength that radiated through that circle. It was at that moment we realized just how much we loved each other. We'd always been close, but I guess we'd taken each other for granted up until then. It reminded me of a little refrigerator magnet that Bill's sister or mother had just given us:

Our family is a circle of strength and love. With each birth and every union the circle grows. Every joy shared adds more love; every crisis faced makes the circle stronger.

Over the months that followed, we spent a lot more time together while Rick battled the cancer. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him, but he weathered it resolutely. I respected him so much! And I grew to love my sister-in-law more than ever. She was fiercely protective of him. She looked out for him in the hospital, making sure he received the highest level of care. She stayed by his side every day, yet still managed to keep their family going in his absence. And she always reminded us to stay strong and stay positive for him.

It's been eight years now, and Rick is healthy. At a follow-up a year or so back, his oncologist gave him the news we'd been waiting for: "You can tell your family to stop worrying now." And I think we have. But our family will never be the same.

I probably wouldn't have chosen to mark the beginning of our marriage with such sorrow, but now I realize what a fitting start it was. As a new bride, my head was full of romance and passion, but from Diane I learned that there is so much more to marriage. I pray I can be just as strong a wife and mother whenever my family needs me.


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