Thursday, December 22, 2011

Checkin' Out for Christmas

Trying to go simpler this year.  Here it is the 22nd and I'm finished with shopping, decorating, and am full of peace. The kids' vacation started today, and my mom arrives later this evening.

God is good ALL the time.  ALL the time, God is good.

But, if you need a little perspective on this whole Christmas stuff, check out this link:


I'll see you in 2012.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Contrast

Today's Washington Post features two sections with photos.  I thought them an interesting contrast.

In the Metro section, there are photos and a story about the Occupy DC protestors and how they're wasting away on their hunger strikes.

In the Real Estate section, there are photos and a story about Wounded Warriors who have chosen to stay on active duty and for whom (and others) the military has designed adapted housing designed to accommodate their injuries but also provide them dignity, i.e. the house does not scream from the outside "Wounded Warrior Lives Here".

I couldn't get the link to the photos to work, so I'll just leave it to your imagination or you can go to the Washington Post website to see them.

But I leave you with this thought.  The Wounded Warriors have given arms, legs, and mobility in order to preserve the right of the Occupy DC protestors to starve themselves to death in pursuit of a political point.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Big, slow exhale


Today is the day. At 4pm today, the buyers for my mother-in-law's house will meet with my brother-in-law, the Trustee, and all the other assorted individuals required to be there, and we will be finished with the sale.

The end part (this week) has been a real goat-rope.  Lots of last minute stuff. It really sounded like Buyer's Remorse. They're first time buyers and very prickly about stuff, even though the house was marketed "AS IS". Some stuff we HAD to do -- like Radon and Termite remediation.

They had a home inspection and stipulated in the contract that it was just for their own information. Then they came back and asked for a price reduction.  In my best lawyerly way, I responded via our agent for the family. "We accounted for the fact that it's a 40 year old house when we priced it as we did.  NO."  There was no more discussion about price reduction.

Then an issue arose with our Home Owners' Assn (HOA).  The Design Review Board said we needed to remove some diagonal supports from the deck as they were not in compliance with HOA rules.  My husband was all set to do it, but all I could see was liability in the future.  I mean, supports are just that, right?  The County laws require such braces on free standing decks (which this is and has to be because of the design of the house).  So we had a deck designer come look at it.  She said we could remove them -- that it wouldn't make a difference structurally.  So I let him proceed.  Then the buyers wanted a qualified engineer to certify that the deck is fine without them.  Finally, yesterday at 5pm, we got that in writing.

So, perhaps, as of about 5 today, we will be free of the nightmare of selling a house in this economy. And my daughter will not worry so much about applying to out of state schools.

And I can get back to baking cookies and getting ready for Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not Medically Necessary...Really?



I don't usually get into annoyance zones, but today I'm having a hard time with this one.

Four members of my family wear eyeglasses.  All of us wear them because we can't see without them!  Yes, the kids wear contacts, but bottom line, we all need glasses.

Yesterday I took my daughter for an eye exam since her eyes were bothering her, and of course, she needed new glasses along with re-ordering contact lenses.  I also needed new glasses because I had an exam on Friday.

Even with all the great specials and deals, I about choked on how much we had to spend.

Then I called my insurance company today about something else and said, "by the way, what is the reasoning behind not paying for eyeglasses?"

The clerk really couldn't explain it.  Why not?

BECAUSE IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!

We don't wear glasses as fashion items.  We really need them.  Trust me, you do not want to be on the road with me if I'm not wearing glasses.  I am functionally BLIND without them.

If I was minus a leg, my crutches would be covered.  Why are eyes -- the predominant means of how humans interact with our environment -- not covered?

Now fortunately, my husband works very hard and has a really good job.  What happens to people who can't drop over $300 when it's time for glasses?

And, by the way, the office exam that was covered?  Only covered if it's every 2 years.  Eyes change more quickly than that.

Some political mouth this morning on the news was blabbering about cutting military benefits, calling them excessive and overblown.  Oh really?  Where does he get his health insurance?  Yes, while we were active duty we had our medical needs cared for.  But after 30 years of serving his country (at a discount rate compared to the civilians do the same kind of work) and being deployed to war zones and being separated from his children, my husband's military health care benefit is that we are permitted to PAY for our health insurance.

Yeah, you're surprised, right?  You thought we got it free for life, right?  Nope.  Despite what was promised to the military members of the 50's, 60's and 70's, that benefit was long ago cut.

Do me a favor, the next time you hear someone talking about military benefits being excessive, ask them if they want to pay for my glasses.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mission Accomplished

This is where we started.  The shiny front of the base
cabinet on the right conceals an air flow intake.


Notice the gray strip -- that's where the wallpaper had to come down.  Notice also that the carpet isn't...


After priming but before deciding to go with the light gray instead of bone.


Before priming but showing you the holes.  Big holes.  Sigh.

It was right down to the wire, but the projects are completed (well, except for still putting a few things away) and  JH has joined our family.

Here are the photos.



This is almost finished.  Everything patched and painted.
The outlets high on the wall are for the in-cabinet lighting.
An awkward place for lighting.  The outlet covers on the right cover empty holes.

Ta-dah!  These are not my first choice of paintings to hang,
but they illustrate the point that the outlets high on the wall
aren't completely useless.
My kids,  left to right
LW, JH, and JW on the mall in Washington DC the day after
Thanksgiving.  Notice my son in his shorts.  The boy doesn't feel cold.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Color Matching Isn't

So we decided to host a student from Germany for the rest of the school year.  That meant we needed to create a bedroom.  Our office was originally one so it seemed simple to do. Wrong. Would someone please remind me next time that NOTHING is that simple?

We were excited because it was prompting us to tear out the bar cabinets downstairs to turn that area into an office.  The prior owners put those cabinets in.  Nice, but we never used them. Of course, behind and atop the cabinets are a variety of paint colors. And some strips of wallpaper. Ick.  Okay, the walls and the wallpaper I can handle.  But the ceiling?  We tried standard white ceiling paint. It looked white to us! But it made the original paint (in the rest of the HUGE family room) look gray.

So we took a quarter sized scraping and went to match it at Home Depot. It went on fine -- the color matched perfectly. Until it dried. Now it looks gray and the rest of the room looks white.

Sigh.

I decided to run a piece of painters tape along the ceiling in a straight line and paint the new color right up to the line. At least it will look like someone planned the pattern.

Here's what we are tearing out:

It turns out that our cable for our modem runs through the cabinets. It would be easy to fish out except (or course, there's always an except) that the connector for the cable is larger than the holes. One of our friends is an expert in the field so he's going to give us some new cable with a new kind of connector but my husband said, "no problem, end of the week is fine."  Did I mention the student will be joining our family on SATURDAY?

Sigh...so this is what my family room looks like right now:


That's primer on the wall.  Over green paint.  The kind of green paint they used to use in military hospitals.  I believe the color name is "Oh so unattractive."  If you look closely, you can see the difference in ceiling paint. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When Good Teens are Bad



One more story of chaperoning.  On Saturday night there was an optional social event.  Of our 28, only 2 wanted to go.  The rest wanted to:

1 -  one group of boys wanted to hang out in the lobby to see if the girls from the other schools would notice them
2 - one group of girls wanted go to the candy store in Colonial Williamsburg, purchase chocolate coins and creme soda and play poker for candy money
3 - one group of boys had planned for the 10th anniversary of the release of the game cube and were prepared with the right equipment to play all night

And they thought they were being so B-A-A-A-A-D.  No drinking, smoking, sneaking out or doing drugs.  Okay, there was probably a little cussing with the gamecube.

And finally, when it was time to corral them, I went down to the lobby to call the last ones home.  It was two boys, on their way back upstairs.  As they were walking towards me one was eating cookies from a bag of Chips Ahoy.  I teased him, "eating again?"



He said, "I can't help it.  These girls gave me these cookies."

I asked, "Do your parents know the effect you have on women?"

He said, "I don't ask them to do it."

All weekend long girls had been sighing when he spoke and giving him their cell phone numbers.

He's 15 years old and one of his parents is from a South American country.  He's charming, has a sweet accent and cute as a bug.

I might need to talk to his mom about his future...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chaperoning

I'm in Colonial Williamsburg this weekend with 28 really smart, articulate, amazing, exhausting teens.  They're the Model United Nations club from our high school, representing our school as delegates.  MUN conferences have many committees, loosely based on UN committees, along with crisis committees that can vary from fantastical (crisis in Camelot) to historical (Churchill's cabinet in WWII) to real world (Apple Computers management team).  Crisis committees get scenarios sent in to the committee as they role play all weekend.

One of our students is Bombilcar of Ancient Carthage.  One is the CFO of Apple -- now acting CEO.  Some are in the Mexican cabinet dealing with drug wars.  The country we were assigned for all the UN committees is Syria -- and almost no one wants to listen to our kids because the world is mad at Syria.  Our kids LOVE being in that position; it gets their blood flowing.

While they're in committee, the other chaperones and I get to relax, sight-see or, as I did yesterday, geocache.  The campus here is beautiful, and these are photos from it.  Found 2 caches as well.

Unfortunately, one of our girls woke up sick this morning so I'm hanging back with her.  I'm watching old movies on TV and catching up in a way I can't at home. At home, I'd feel compelled to do some laundry or something.  Here, I can't, so I get to catch up on my blog!

It's been a wild 2 months, but we've had great progress.  My mother-in-law's house, finally emptied, went on the market on a Sunday and we were offered full price on Wednesday.  The closing will be Dec 15.  This is great news as the suppressed market is still evident here.  Wow.  This is God at work.



Enjoy your Thanksgiving and be truly thankful in ALL things.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Little Wisdom, A Little Whimsy

Sorry I've been gone.  I'll confess -- the elderly relative who passed away was my mother-in-law.  We had a complicated relationship, and it has been good for me to serve her by helping clean up the years of accumulation.

The bulk of it is behind us.  It took two weekends renting a box truck to haul trash to the dump, and to move furniture that each of the sons are taking into their homes. I was hesitant to accept anything, because the more I moved around in her house sorting and cleaning, the more I was convicted that I had not been a very good daughter-in-law.  We never really "got" each other, and since she and her other daughter-in-law were two peas in a pod, I left them to their own devices. In other words, I didn't try very hard.

But in the mess, I've seen more of who she was when she was having good days, and I'm sad that I missed out on that, so convinced was I of her less admirable moments being standard. This process has been good for us and healing, so it's a good thing.

When my grandfather died in 2000, right after he passed my mom was walking by the little grassy area outside his apartment and saw a cardinal. It seemed to stay for a while and watch her. If you know cardinals, you know they're skittish. She took it as a sign from her dad that things were "okay."  To this day, when we see a cardinal, we think of Grandpa.

Saturday morning my husband backed the box truck down our driveway and came inside to get us. "Come look!" he called.  "Bring the camera!"  This is what we saw, not six feet from the box truck!


This resonates on so many levels -- my in-laws were bird lovers, they spent a lot of time in Germany where owls are a symbol of wisdom, etc. Bottom line, I think this was God's way of telling me "it's okay."  My mother-in-law died in her sleep, in her own bed, in her own home. No pain, no hospitals, as far as we can tell,  no fear.

My son moved really close for a photo, and the owl fluffed up and then let loose with a ... well, let's just say his tummy was less full when he was finished.  It didn't get my son, but we all laughed.  That, too, was like my mother-in-law.  When she'd had enough of your foolishness, she definitely let you know.

Rest in peace, Oma.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cleaning Up 40 years

Oh my goodness.  Our elderly relative who recently died left a huge mess for the family.  She was a Depression era child, and never psychologically recovered from being put into an orphanage for a while.  It was apparently fairly common -- at least there kids would get meals.  It was the equivalent of the state taking custody of your children these days, except the parents had control.  At any rate, it created such an insecurity in her that "things" became very important.

When she was a military wife, it didn't really manifest much because she had to move so often the accumulation would get sorted through frequently.  Plus, they didn't have much money.  But in her later years, after she inherited money, and they stopped moving around, things began to pile up.  After her husband died in 2000, it really accelerated.

We would try to help take things out -- even newspapers and magazines -- and she would start physically shaking and tearing up.

So now we have the nightmare to deal with. On the other hand, God is using this to bring family members together who had been somewhat estranged because of the way the elderly relative had manipulated the relationships.  We find photos of early occasions together and laugh and remember.  It's very healing.

So...I will continue to visit sporadically until we get it under control.  We can't even have the "pros" come in yet, mostly because there are some very valuable items in the house -- we just don't know exactly where they are.

Ciao!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not Sure How to Feel

Have you ever experienced that?

Yesterday an elderly family member passed away.  She was a child of the Depression and had some very tough experiences as a little girl due to that, and it affected her whole life.

Someone summed it up like this, "she lived exactly as she wanted to and died the way we'd all like to."  Still in her home, in her bed, in her sleep.

Her living exactly as she wanted had the unfortunate effect of making some of her grandchildren feel judged and lesser in the judging.  In other words, she had favorites, and if you weren't the favorites, you knew it.  She could be very generous, but there was always a price, which was to go along with her way.

As she aged, and became more fearful, she was less and less pleasant to be around.  So the less-favored grandchildren stopped wanting to be around her.

Fortunately, we had a family dinner last week to celebrate September birthdays and it was one of her good days.  She was pleasant and kind, and the birthday presents she gave showed real thoughtfulness. Maybe she knew, maybe not.  But those who had experienced her bad days were given one last memory that was positive -- so I think that was God being kind to them.

Still, those grandchildren are struggling with how to feel.  The favored ones are truly grieving.  They had a close, loving relationship with her, and are very sad that she's gone. The others say things like, "I'm supposed to be sad because it's my grandmother, but I'm not really."   They're a little bit sad that the situation never changed, and they're sad for their dad -- who even though he was often on the end of the same type of treatment, is still sad because it was his mother.

Families are so complex, aren't they?  I look upon this as yet again, an opportunity to ask myself, "when it's my time, will anyone be sad?  And if not, don't I need to do something about that now?"

I've been a bad blogger lately -- too busy and, as I approach the big 50 next week, doing some evaluating of priorities.  This death is just sharpening my need to ensure that I choose a different path.  Daily, hourly, consistently.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Merry Go Round


School has (finally) started. It seemed last spring that I kept saying, "When school ends, we'll be able to finish this project."

During the summer I averred, "When they go back to school, I'll ..."

Well ... now life has gotten busy again and I find myself only able to write and visit in short spurts.

So I'm trying something new.  Each morning when my alarm goes off at 5:30, I spend another 10 minutes with my eyes closed and pray, 'Lord, order my day. Anything that doesn't get done, give me peace that all time is YOUR time, and help me see the things that you want me to do.'

So far, so good.  Less anxiety and ... I haven't fallen back asleep in those 10 minutes either!

Man, I love Saturday.

If you want to read something beautiful, go here:  http://aninchofgray.blogspot.com/2011/09/well-talk.html

Monday, September 12, 2011

Empty Tank

I'm feeling kind of empty tonight.  Today my daughter and I went to the funeral for the young boy who drowned last Thursday night.

We hadn't seen them since we left the school -- three years ago, but our memories of Jack were as clear as day. He was a pistol. He always had the next question on his tongue before the first answer was finished, and his energy was constant. He was amazingly intelligent, which put him at odds sometimes with the "norms" -- very much like my daughter, which is probably why she liked him so much.  When he was little he had a way of looking at you with his head tilted, as if he was carefully considering what you had just said.

The church today was overflowing.  There were boys in little league uniforms, people in boy scout uniforms, and many families in the Christian school uniforms that we used to wear.

Amazingly, his mother was able to stand up and tell us about Jack and his special gifts of the heart, and share so much of the joy he brought to their lives. Through Jack, she was also able to share her certainty of the Gospel of Truth.

Their grief will never cease although it may dull somewhat, allowing them to go on.  Yet, their certainty that they will see Jack in heaven sustains them.  I don't preach here very often, but praise GOD for people, who in the midst of tragedy, share their faith and their certainty that God is walking with them, carrying them when necessary.


Have fun asking all those questions, Jack.  When we get there, you can fill us in on the answers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Noah? Noah?



So let's see -- in the last month in the Nation's Capital we've had earthquake, hurricane, and now flood.  These videos are from the "peaceful" stream behind my house.  The first one is directly behind our property -- usually a 1 inch deep trickle down to the creek.  I'm sure all the geocaches formerly in our stream valley are out in the Chesapeake Bay by now.  The noise of the water is intimidating.

And not to be taken lightly.  Yesterday a 12 year old boy in the next town died when he was swept away by his neighborhood creek.  Update:  Found out this morning that the boy who died was a child from our old school.  I remember him as a mischievous kindergartner with a great smile.  My daughter babysat him a few years ago.  Please pray for the Donaldson family to find comfort and peace ... it won't come quickly or easily, I know.



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where Were You When ...

America was attacked on 9-11-2001?



Would you share, briefly, where you were?  I believe this is one of those pivotal moments.  My mother's generation all remember where they were when they heard the news of Pearl Harbor or the news about President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr..  I remember some stark moments -- when President Reagan was shot, when John Lennon was shot, and 9-11.

We had just moved to Virginia and my husband wasn't finished in-processing at the Pentagon.  However, he had been asked to come to a conference out in Maryland so was out of the building that day.  My daughter was at school, my son was with me.  We were sitting in the line to get the oil changed in my car.  I had let him out of his car seat and he was bouncing around.  I heard the news on the radio about the twin towers.  Then I heard the news about the Pentagon.  I ordered him into his chair, called the school and said, "I'm coming to get my daughter."  I called my husband's widowed mother to tell her I absolutely KNEW that he wasn't in the building that day.  I picked up my daughter, and we went home to wait.  Praise God, we had just moved into our rental house and didn't have any TV service.  My children never saw the footage until it was history.

My husband finally made it home about 8 hours later.  Since then, we have a family plan, a meeting place, and a family member not on the East Coast who is the "check in" person.

We explained in simple terms to our children what had happened.  The very next morning my 4 year old son prayed, "Dear God, please change the terrorists' hearts."

What about you?  Where were you?  How are you changed?  This is not a place to rant, but to share some of the grief that many have carried since then.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Sweet Girl

We ran by a big box pet supply store today to get some food for our parakeet.  While there we (of course) looked at the budges that need homes.  We noticed something odd, so we took photos.





Do you see how the tail feathers are so ragged - and on one of them the feathers seem to curl?  We weren't sure whether that was a different breed, or what.

Daughter was convinced it was a virus.  There was a sign that said "if you have concerns about how we treat our animals, please call us."  It had a number and she entered it into her phone.

By the time we got home, I'd forgotten all about it.  Daughter did some research on her computer and then grabbed the phone.  She talked at length to a man at the other end about her concern for these birds; that she thought it was a virus that was fatal and the birds would never be able to fly and people shouldn't buy them and take them home to their healthy birds, etc.

He listened attentively and is going to call her back after they check into it.

This girl doesn't use the phone often, and almost never to call a stranger, but when she gets upset about animals needing care ... don't get in her way.

Proud of you, L!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not SOOO Bad

I woke about 2:30 this morning, listening to the wind around us. It's a really awesome sound to hear the trees swaying, acorns dropping on the roof, along with chunks of branches.

At 2:38 (I looked), our power went out.  This is not unusual for us because of all the trees around us.  I went to unplug all the expensive electronics and returned to bed.

We got an e-mail (via my iPhone) that church was ON, so we cleaned up this morning and went.  Lots of power and Power there (ha ha).  I served in the nursery so my daughter could help with the worship music. It is such a huge blessing to be able to watch her share her voice and passion this way.

One little boy in the nursery cried the entire time.  In my lap. In my ear, with occasional screams.

On the whole, I prefer the windstorm and things hitting the roof.

At any rate, we went out to lunch and the power came back on at 1:30 -- just short of 12 hours this time.  Thank you Dominion Power and thank you God!

Thank all of you who sent prayers this way.  The only mishaps we noticed are a LOT of branches down in the yard so lots of pick-up to do in the next several days.  If only the mosquitoes had been blown out with the hurricane, it would be easy to do!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Yes ... we fully experienced the earthquake this week here in Northern Virgina. After the initial recognition of what was going on (ruling out plane crash and truck rumbles), it was really pretty cool.  When I was a kid I lived in Japan and we experienced many earthquakes -- much more violent -- so I wasn't too concerned.  My kids were a bit freaked out, but took their cues from me.  There was no loss of electricity, no smell of gas.  A couple of models fell off their stands in my son's room.  What was strange was that as soon as it stopped, every dog in the neighborhood started barking, loudly.  I wonder if it was the dog equivalent of all of us getting on the phone to make sure our friends and loved ones were safe.

So now, a few days later, we're staring Hurricane Irene in the face, and we're a lot more concerned about her. We were here in 2006 when Hurricane Isabel (what is it with these "I" names?) tore through Virginia. It was pretty scary.  Lots of trees in the glade behind our house went down.  You can still see many of their root balls high in the air.

Fortunately, hurricanes crawl slowly, so we have plenty of time to prepare.  Yesterday we made sure the gas tanks were full and stocked up on water, batteries and staples.  Today we pick up everything in the yard that might become a projectile and refill our second propane tank.  (Last time we were without power for a few days, so a grill fest of everything in the fridge/freezer may be in order)  We're charging everything that needs a good charge (cell phones, etc.).

And my husband ordered our son to clean up his "cave" in the basement, in case we spend an extended period of time down there during the worst of the winds.

So far, all of these preparations are good things -- especially cleaning the basement!  Woo-hoo!  And I'm making a list of things I'll be able to do that do not require electricity. On the plus side, one cannot vacuum or do laundry with energy. On the minus side, filing in the office and sorting clothes and preparing our household for the school year do not.  And, writing by hand in spiral notebooks will force me to choose my words carefully.  (By the way, at Office Depot, they have them for .01 each.  Yep, a penny!  I fulfilled all the kids' needs and bought several for myself.  You might have to go in the store though and I know you need a rewards card.  And no, I don't get any kickbacks for my blog. Office Depot doesn't even know I exist).

So, enjoy (?) these awesome photos from the International Space Station, say a prayer for safety, and be well.  See you on the flip side!




Saturday, August 20, 2011

She Did Love Dancing


She was a beautiful little girl from birth. Most babies look froggy. This one's toes already pointed perfectly and her calves stretched out as if sensing their destiny.

As soon as she could stand, she twirled. As soon as she could run, she leapt. And as soon as she could put on a tutu, she refused to take it off.

The mother enrolled her in ballet. The little girl had an undeniable gift. She exuded elegance from deep within her core and it translated out to the tips of her delicate fingers, held just so, in her plie.

They decided to homeschool so she could dance every day, training for whatever opportunities might come along. She was a good student, but her brilliance showed only on the boards and at the barre, not in the classroom.

When she was in grade school her father started his own business. By the time she finished the grade school years, he had lost the business and all of the money they would have used to send her to college.

And she danced.

As her body matured she went from a beautiful elegant little girl to a stunningly elegant sensuous dancer. All the boys and men who saw her wanted to be with her. All the girls either hated her or wanted to be her.

She began to suffer stress fractures and injuries due to the dancing, but she danced.

She received scholarships for summer dance programs and made her parents proud. And she finished her high school studies early so she could go on to college early.

But there was no money for her to go to college. Only for her to dance. So she accepted a scholarship to dance.

And she hated it, but it was the only way to get away from home.

So she danced.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Making My Heart Sing

Yesterday was the first day of the Children's Book Sale at our library.  I don't think these photos need any commentary. The title of my post says it all!






Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On the Path Today

Today my cleaning ladies were in the house so I made the kids come on a walk with me to the local Nature Center.  Along the way we saw this:


We got within 20 feet of her.  This is so frustrating.  The deer in our area have no natural predators, so they are numerous and fearless.  Despite our beautiful glade, our houses are too close together to allow a hunt.  So during the early spring and fall, deer/car collisions are common, especially in the early morning hours. During the winter, many starve.  During the summer, they're all over our yards dropping deer ticks wherever they go -- an invitation to Lyme disease.

Now some local folks want to spend bunches of money to provide deer birth control.  Sigh.

It seems to me that it's inhumane to allow them to live this way (too many for the land to support) but all of the alternatives are pretty unattractive too.

Theoretically, I know they're pests and I bemoan their presence in such numbers. Yet, I have to admit, when we saw her today, I just marveled at how beautiful she was and how God perfectly designed her for the niche she has found herself in.

----------

On another note, I've been a bad blogger just because life is very busy here right now.  Getting ready for school, seeing our friends on their way back to Austria, youth group stuff, and my friend's daughter getting married which means I have to go shopping for clothes and I HATE DOING THAT.  Oh yes, the semi-annual childrens' book sale at my library (which I help with), geocaching, pop-up taking care of a friend's child, etc. It's never dull.

So ... what do you think we ought to do about the deer overpopulation?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interesting Critique


Last night was my writers group meet-up.  I've been with this group for a couple of months now so I'm pretty comfortable with it. But, like all meet-ups, people come and go all the time.  We meet every other Tuesday and last time we met there was a new writer with us.  She listened to the reviews being given, but didn't comment much since she was new.  A chapter of my book was being reviewed.  My main character's father is an immigrant, and when he came to the US thirty years ago, he wanted to be truly "American" so he changed his last name to Jones. That's an important part of my character's identity as well.  After the meet-up ended, this lady asked me if I ought to re-think the man changing his name because names are so important.

Okay..  I did.  And I didn't change it because a) I know people who did something similar (so it's realistic) and b) it's an important part of the story.

Last night I offered one of my short stories. It is set in Kenya and involves a missionary reaching out to a young Kenyan girl, helping her see hope for the future when there was none for the girl before.  After the others had given their comments, this woman said, "I have to say I have a hard time critiquing this.  So much damage was done by the missionaries in Africa, using religion to justify slavery, and history shows how the continent was just raped, etc."  She went on in this vein for a while.  She was sincere, and trying to be helpful but said, "I want to encourage other writers, but I don't think I can be encouraging of this because of my views."

I replied, "I understand there's a body of thought that supports your view.  Whether or not I agree with it doesn't matter.  If you have anything constructive to critique about the writing, I'd be blessed to have those comments if you'll take the time to read them."

I've been thinking about this though.  There have been other stories I've read that are a genre I don't care for, but I focused on the writing.  I never told the writer that I thought the ideas underpinning their writing weren't worth considering.

Part of me thinks that anything I write will offend this woman.  Oh well. However, I'm interested in what YOU think about
a) my story
b) this viewpoint

Should I do something different?

THE BIG LOVE
 M’Bote began each day with a search for meaning.  Before the sun rose above the horizon, in the false-light of early dawn, she climbed a small rise of land to look around the landscape and consider her day.  Just as there was a monotony to the landscape, there was a sameness to her day. Still, the sameness  was comforting.  Knowing what was coming allowed her to go through the motions without concentration.  Not having to concentrate on her tasks left her mind free her to engage in endless searching for a way to change her future.  So far, she had not been able to see a different path.
As the dawn began to break this day, she murmured the little song that the missionaries had taught her in grade school, reflecting on a God who loved everyone. 
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

“Even the men who take the boys to fight?” a girl had asked.  “Even them,” the white missionary woman had answered.  M’Bote remembered that young woman.  Her hair was the color of spun straw and her eyes the color of sky.  “Kim-ba-lee,” she had told them to call her.  M’Bote mouthed those syllables now, still foreign to her pattern of speech. 
As part of the schooling, Kim-ba-lee had taught M’Bote about caring for people, their illnesses and their broken hearts.  M’Bote had loved learning how different medicines helped people’s coughs, and itches and even more serious diseases.  But when the soldiers took M’Bote’s father, school had ended for her.  She wondered where the missionary was now.  She wondered whether the missionary wondered what had happened to M’Bote.  “Does she miss me?” M’Bote asked herself.
The bleating of the she-goat wanting to be milked broke her reverie.  She turned to go back to the fenced area that protected the goats, winding her way through the thorny plants that covered the terrain.  It wouldn’t do to be caught by one on her bare skin.  The missionaries and their medicines were many kilometers away, and any wound could become very bad, very fast.  As she approached the goat, M’Bote heard her mother call, “Leave the goat!  Your brother will take care of it. You must come to be washed so you will be ready.”
“Ready for what?”  M’Bote asked.
“For your husband to come,” her mother replied.
“I do not want a husband,” M’Bote responded.
“You are foolish.  You need a husband.  If you do not have one you will have no one to take care of you and you will be alone.  Now come get ready.”
After the goat was milked and the morning milk drunk, there was a call from the space outside their hut. 
“I see you,” called a male voice. 
M’Bote’s mother answered, “We see you also.  Please come.” 
M’Bote hung back as a tall man entered the hut.  He was not too old.  He had only the wrinkles of working in the sun, but not of age.  He spoke with M’Bote’s mother and as he smiled showed strong teeth.
Her mother called her over.  “This worthless girl is M’Bote.  I have told you about her.”  M’Bote looked at the floor. 
The man said, “Oh no, this is not a worthless girl.  She is worth very much!  She is costing me two goats and three chickens!” His laughter boomed out.  M’Bote was astonished.  That was an unheard of price for a girl from a poor family.  She risked a glance up at the man.  He was smiling and looking straight into her eyes!  She looked down again, confused.
“Get your things,” her mother said.
M’Bote and the man walked until the sun was straight overhead.  Neither spoke.  When they got to a place where there was a tree, the man sat down under it. 
“We will rest here until the sun is lower,” he said. 
She sat, saying nothing. 
“Do you speak?” the man asked. 
“Yes,” she responded.
“Tell me something about you.” 
“What do you want to know?” she said. 
“Tell me something that you are curious about.”  M’Bote thought for a few minutes.  No one had ever asked her a question like that.
“I wonder . . .” she trailed off. 
“Yes?” he demanded. 
“I wonder whether the missionary Kim-ba-lee ever thinks of me,” M’Bote finished in a quiet voice.
The man’s laughter caught M’Bote by surprise.  It rang out with an infectious joy. M’Bote began laughing with him, unsure of why she did so.  When his mirth calmed he said, “Young girl, that missionary is why I have just paid two goats and three chickens for you!” 
M’Bote’s eyes widened as her eyebrows etched perfect dark arches above them.
“Miss Kimberly remembers you.  She remembers that you have a very good mind.  She remembers that you have very clever hands.  She remembers that you have no father to care for your family.  She remembers that you want to be a nurse.”  The man paused for a breath.  “Miss Kimberly wants you to come to live in Nairobi and study to be a nurse.” 
M’Bote was confused.  “You are not buying me for a wife?” she asked, suddenly ashamed that she was not what he wanted after all. 
“No child, my wife would not want me to buy another wife.  She is a Christian and I am a Christian and we have only one wife for each husband,” he said.  “I am taking you to Miss Kimberly.  Would you like to go there and help work in her clinic?” 
M’Bote’s heart began dancing.  The man saw it reflected in her eyes and laughed again. 
“But my mother believes I am going to get a husband!” the girl suddenly remembered. 
The man looked a little bit troubled, “We let her believe what she wants to believe.  I told her that you would be taken care of, and that was enough for her to let you go.  Come now, we must resume our journey.”
The next few days were a wonderful homecoming for M’Bote at the mission clinic in Nairobi.  Miss Kimberly immediately put her in charge of assessing the young children who came for health care.  Some were very sick.  One morning M’Bote saw a baby who had died, but whose young mother would not or could not let him go.  With compassion, M’Bote went to sit with the young woman. 
“May I see your beautiful child?” M’Bote asked.  Wordlessly, the young girl pulled back the scarf that covered the baby’s face. Even in death the baby was exquisitely formed, a miracle.  M’Bote held out her arms, and the young mother placed the baby in them. M’Bote sang a soft song over the baby and handed him back.  The girl began crying. 
“Sh-h-h-,” soothed M’Bote as she rocked the girl back and forth.  After a few minutes, the young mother allowed Miss Kimberly to come and take the baby away to prepare him for burial.
Later that afternoon, Miss Kimberly sat with M’Bote to take a little break.  M’Bote noticed that Miss Kimberly’s hair was not so blonde as before, and her eyes were not so merry.  “This is hard work, M’Bote,” Miss Kimberly confessed,
“But why…” M’Bote began, but stopped. 
“Go on,” Miss Kimberly encouraged her.  
“Then why, Miss Kimberly, do you come here to help us?”  Miss Kimberly began to speak again of this God who loves everyone, rich or poor, African or not.  M’Bote listened carefully, waiting to hear the exceptions, the things that would apply to her and exclude her from this big love.  Miss Kimberly asked, “Do you understand, M’Bote?” 
“I understand your words, Miss Kimberly, but I do not understand a love this big,” M’Bote responded. “This is such a big love, I cannot understand how many goats and cattle and chickens it takes to equal this love.”
Miss Kimberly smiled, “That is just the thing, M’Bote. There were never enough goats or cattle or chickens that could do it.”  M’Bote marveled at such a love.
Soon it was time to begin the evening clinic. M’Bote handed out colored slips of paper to the mothers that indicated in which order their children would be seen.  As she worked her mind started its wandering again.  She reflected on a worthless girl from a poor family being worth two goats and three chickens.  If this was part of the big love, it was very big indeed.
Suddenly, M’Bote stopped what she was doing and asked another girl to stand in for her.  She went outside the clinic compound and walked among the people waiting for the evening clinic, searching for a particular face.  Finally, in a dark corner, she found the young mother whose arms were empty, whose breasts ached with milk that her baby would never drink.  M’Bote sat down with her, and began to tell the young woman about such a big love.


Monday, August 8, 2011

I Can't Be Funnier Than This


From my local on-line newspaper:
ALIENS AND CONDOMS: NEW ROAD HAZARD
Update 12:30 p.m.: A hacker is responsible for the messages that appeared Monday morning on a portable work zone sign on Hunter Mill Road, said Virginia Department Of Transportation Spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.
"With the portable signs on site, it is sometimes possible to break into the locked control box and “hack” the sign," McCord said. "At the Hunter Mill bridge work, crews will be doing some more work over the next few weeks, but the sign will likely be removed and replaced as needed."
Unlike the overhead signs on interstates – which are protected and controlled remotely from VDOT's traffic operations center in Fairfax – many portable signs are controlled on site, McCord said. 
The sign in the work zone leading up to the bridge was a contractor sign, McCord said. All signs were operating normally by the time crews arrived on scene just before noon this morning.
"We have had a handful of reports of this type with portable message signs over the years, and it is, of course, tampering with state property," McCord said.
Update 10:20 a.m.: VDOT Spokeswoman Jennifer McCord says the department is looking into the incident.
Original: Commuters traveling on Hunter Mill Road toward the Dulles Toll Road on Monday morning found some unusual road advisories.
The large electronic, portable road sign just past Lawyers Road — placed there last week to alert drivers of lane closures on the Difficult Run Bridge — instead rotated between messages advising drivers to "please use condom," and warning, "alien spotted."
Reader Louise Foreman passed the sign just past 6 a.m. on the way to Dulles Airport. 
"That was a change from the usual detour or road closure message you usually see," she wrote in an email. "Certainly woke us up!"
Reader and blogger Cherie Lejeune also saw the sign around 7:45 a.m., she wrote in an email.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, who is managing the bridge project, did not immediately return calls for comment.



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Trauma Followed by Joy

I was working this morning in my office.  I heard a "clunk" and actually felt the house shake.  I figured something had fallen off a sliding stack in one of the kids' rooms, or a big limb had fallen.  I went around to investigate, and in front of our front kitchen window saw a hawk lying on his side, with a small prey bird inches from his mouth.  The hawk was still breathing so, following my normal routine with injured birds, I covered him with a big cardboard box.

I called all over the place, trying to find someone to come help this bird.  Raptors are in a special category -- you can't just take care of them yourself, you need to have permits. I couldn't get any live people just answering machines.

The clunk against the house had been so solid, I was sure this bird would die.  It was a beautiful Cooper's Hawk and I was really distressed.  We figure he had been chasing the little bird, probably caught it, but grabbing it, lost his flight trajectory and crashed into the window as he made the turn.

After about an hour, my daughter went to peek at him to see if he had stopped breathing (because I couldn't stand the thought).  She came into the house shouting, "He's standing up!  He's alive!" We both jumped up and down. She added, "His wing is at a weird angle, so I think he's injured."  We renewed our efforts to find someone to deal with him.

We called Raptor Conservancy -- answering machine.  Wildlife Rescue -- answering machine.  Exotic Animal Vet (takes care of our parakeet) -- they were willing to help if we could get the bird there.  They suggested trying the Animal Shelter for someone first-- Called the shelter -- they had just opened (hadn't been when we called earlier) and they told us to call the non-emergency Animal Control number at the police station.  SUCCESS!  They sent an officer out.

He uncovered the hawk and said, "Oh, he's fine" and clapped his hands to get the bird to move.  The officer said the bird was a full-grown, BIG, Cooper's Hawk.  In reaction to the noise, the hawk scuttled along the front porch to the corner.  He was still holding his wing at an awkward angle.  The officer (who had leather gloves on) said, "You don't want to go where I'm going to have to take you. Let's see if you can fly." He picked up the hawk (making it look simple), and lobbed it into the air.  The hawk immediately grabbed some air with its massive wings and flew up high into the tree tops above my neighbor's house.  Daughter and I cheered!

I love happy endings.  Watching a gorgeous bird recover and go back to what God designed it to do best is true JOY!  He'll probably be sore -- like me after one of my bike accidents -- but perhaps he'll remember not to do that again!

Even though we think he is gorgeous, the officer told us Cooper's Hawks are the nastiest of hawks. He said he'd rather pick up an eagle than one of them!  So obviously, beauty does not correspond to easy going temperament.  Big surprise there, right?

I didn't get any photos - it all happened too fast. But there are many beautiful photos of Cooper's Hawks on the net, taken by wildlife photographers and I don't want to 'steal' their photos to illustrate my blog.  If you want to see photos of Cooper's Hawks that look like the one in our yard, go to these sites:

Lloyd Spitalnik

E.J. Peiker

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Quick Update

While our friends were touristing and my dad hasn't quite arrived yet (this afternoon!), I ran to the courthouse in the next county with a friend yesterday.  She needed to get copies of things from her divorce file, so our errand was not happy and the courthouse brought back many sad memories.

But, on the way in, I noticed an Indian gentleman using his iPhone to take a photograph of three other Indians, two women and a man, sitting in front of the building on a bench.  I had actually pulled the door open and then told my friend, "wait a sec."

I went to the man and asked, "would you like me to take a photo of all four of you?"

They were DELIGHTED and grateful and sweet and so very happy.

People are not usually happy at the courthouse, so I'm not sure what the occasion was.  Perhaps a marriage, perhaps something to do with citizenship, although it was a state courthouse, not federal, so I don't know.  But it felt good.

On our way to the records room, we took a bathroom break.  My friend was washing her hands and said, "oh my goodness!"  And then started laughing.  I looked over, and she had found one of those rubber bracelets (like Live Strong). This was black and said, "Watch for God." Then she started crying. It was as if even in the bathroom of the courthouse, He was giving her reassurance of His love.

I told her to take it with her, and when she felt the Spirit move her to do so, leave it somewhere else for someone else who needs it.

Isn't God amazing how He intersects with our daily, piddly details to reveal His presence?

On the way back to the car, we saw this. I think it's a clematis.  Simply beautiful.  Again, His creation sings His name.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hey, Great Legs!

When I was much younger, I dated a young man who was a "leg man".  Good thing, because I was not endowed with a chest to inspire much adoration.  His name was Lance (and yes, the first time I went out with him was because he had such a cool name and California blond hair).  Despite my worries that my legs were too white, too skinny, too flabby, etc., Lance thought they were,  in today's parlance, "hot".

And because he admired my legs, I've always kind of thought of them as my best feature.

But something happened on the way to 50.  It turns out that riding my bike, geocaching through briars and poison ivy, and generally living life to the fullest leaves many marks.  I had JUST gotten to where they were starting to look less . . . um . . . scarred and torn up. I could shave them without tearing chunks away from healing zones.

And then I wrecked my bike today.  I was riding down a path that did a 90 degree turn and I wasn't ready. I had slowed down, so instead of a colossal spectacular, it was a slow crash to the ground. I ALMOST stayed on my feet, but at the last, I was overbalanced and went over on the right. My son was behind me and just about had a heart attack.  A man in a silver convertible stopped and asked if we needed help. Very kind, but I felt really stupid.

I was going so slow it didn't break the skin (yay for my elbow and shoulder) and I was wearing my helmet (yay for my brains), but I can definitely see some purple zones popping up.  Sigh.

Ah well ... at least we had a great bike ride before that, and found two geocaches.  SUCCESS!

Much more importantly, our dear friends are visiting from Austria, and my father arrives to visit on Thursday. I might not be around for a couple of days.  Well, of course I'll be HERE, but I might not on my blog.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summer Stock Sunday

One of the fun things about the slower pace of summer is that we have time to try new recipes AND we have yummy fresh things from the market to try them with.  I tried this recipe a couple of weeks ago and it was very good. It's from Cooks Illustrated



Let me know if you want the recipe!


And here are two summer photos of the kids.


This pose is called "indulging your mother"
At the Air Force Academy

Friday, July 29, 2011

Yummy Yak


When I was a pre-teen, we lived in Japan. Every middle school day that I could get away with it and afford it, I took the base shuttle bus after school to the BX. Next to the BX was a place we called the "Yak Shak". It was a Yakitori stand that served up the most delicious seasoned beef for what was an affordable price.


The memories of that beef yakitori have carried me a long way, so when Allrecipes.com daily recipe dropped one for my childhood memory into my box, I had to try it.


The guys have been out in Colorado this past week so I haven't felt much like cooking, and my husband is the grill-meister anyway, so I planned it for yesterday evening.


I wish I had a photo of it but we ate it too fast. I made Japanese rice and heaped it in the middle of an oval platter, and then stripped the meat from the skewers on top of it.  It was heavenly.


So, the photo above is not mine, and the recipe below is not original, but if you make this, I guarantee you will enjoy the result (if you're a beef eater!).  Yummy Yak.  The things I would change are in red.



Yakitori

First, double it if you have two men at the table! You don't need to double the sesame seeds, but everything else.
·         1/2 cup soy sauce
·         2 tablespoons vegetable oil
·         2 tablespoons lemon juice
·         1 tablespoon sesame seeds
·         2 tablespoons white sugar
·         2 green onions, thinly sliced
·         1 clove garlic, minced
·         1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
·         1 pound sirloin steak, cubed

Directions
1.     In a glass or plastic bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, oil, lemon juice, sesame seeds, sugar, green onions, garlic, and ginger.
2.     Thread the meat onto skewers. (If you are using wooden skewers, soak them 30 minutes first.) Don't use wooden skewers.  Walmart has 4 metal skewers for $1.97.  Place the skewers in a plastic or glass container just large enough to hold them, and pour the marinade over the meat, turning to coat well. Cover, and chill for a minimum of 4 hours. They're not kidding about the minimum.  The longer they marinate, the better they are.
3.     Preheat grill for high heat, and position grate 5 inches from coals.
4.     Brush grate with oil, and place skewers on grill. Grill for 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally turning kabobs to ensure even cooking.

NEXT TIME -- I will cut 5-7 crisp green onions in inch long pieces and thread them perpendicular to the skewers, in between the beef. It's the authentic touch from the old days that was missing.

Serve with a nice light, crisp salad.  I also had grapes and pluots (that's another post tomorrow), with the latter sliced up in wedges.