Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Snook (Mayor of Snook)

I may have mentioned that we live in a small town in the middle of Texas, 90 miles north of Houston, 90 miles south of Waco, and 100 miles east of Austin. Between us and anywhere, in every direction, are smaller towns about every ten miles, ranging in population from 200 to 10,000. For comparison, the Bryan/College Station area includes a population of about 150,000. Plus or minus the 49,000 students at A&M, I'm never sure if they are counted in that number.

This is the story of one of those small towns, and how it has captured my imagination.

Just out of town, ten miles west of the airport, lies Snook, population 569. Or at least it was when this sign was printed. We are in a census year, so that number is bound to change shortly.

Recently the Captain read in the local paper that Snook is having a bit of a political problem at the moment. You see, no candidate has stepped forward to run for the office of mayor in the November election. That's right, nobody wants to be mayor of Snook!

Upon reading this, we were greatly entertained. The news birthed a fantasy in our minds, that this could be our golden opportunity to enter the world of politics and make a difference! This fantasy would make more sense had either of us ever previously considered political involvement in anything.

But there is no arguing with Fantasy, because her cousin Reality Check lives at the far end of the galaxy. So the idea was planted. Since the day of the news article, whenever we hear the word, Snook, someone has felt obligated to follow with the phrase, Mayor of Snook.

Semi-concurrently, we returned from vacation with dreams of moving back out to the country. After all, what would an Olympic year be without us talking about moving?

Relax, we are not moving. We are simply perpetual dreamers, and this is our current fantasy trip. We want land, lots of it. And everything within ten miles of town is out of our price range.

So this weekend we took our fantasy to the next level and started driving the countryside to check out some currently available land. Can you guess what direction we chose to check out first?

I hope you guessed Snook, because the only thing better than buying yourself a kingdom would be to get one in a town where you could also exert influence on the neighboring kingdoms!

I learned two things about Snook this weekend as we drove through its 2-block "downtown" at least seventeen times trying to locate several properties. One, this is the home of Slovacek sausage. That's the local brand everyone's always raving about, and for good reason. Lots of flavor, lots of varieties. Yeah!

Two, uh, I already forgot the other thing I learned about Snook. Hmm. Maybe it will come back to me.

I also learned just now on a Google search that a "snook" is a kind of sport fish. But that's neither here nor there.

What did entertain me greatly was Boo's insistence, all day long, of repeating "Mayor of Snook" every time the word "Snook" came up in conversation. Which was about 100 times. Entertaining because her voice and my inner monologue are starting to sound eerily alike.

But I was discussing our pursuit of land. The first three properties we saw in Snook were of the pasture variety. Nice, affordable, but not inspiring. The fourth, however, was a little piece of fairy magic.

After several wrong turns and a torturous trip down a mile of county road in dire need of repair, we turned onto a private road. Another half mile of gravel lane, under the canopy of mature trees and vines, to the chorus of cicadas and crickets, and we reached a trio of gates.

The cattle-guard-protected gate to the right stood open next to a realtor sign, beckoning us to turn down the overgrown path ahead of us and explore this 30 acre wooded lot. Something about roads trailing off into the distance compels me forward every time.

My idea of heaven starts something like this

As we drove forward, feeling ourselves lulled into another world, my eyes caught a flicker of movement through the trees in front of us. Soon we came upon a marvelous trio: a white-spotted donkey and a pair of chestnut (bay? roan? I have no idea) horses, standing not ten feet from the path. With N O T H I N G separating us from them. Whoa. I suddenly felt like a safari participant.

I hope heaven also includes something like this

The pure magic of finding ourselves so close to these amazing creatures caused me to fall head over heels for the dream of owning land. Almost to the point of coveting or obsessing. But so far it's just fantasy, a fun way to pass the time and build castles in the air.

Upon leaving the property, a little hushed and impressed by the power of the woods, we found ourselves jolted back to reality by the terrible road back to the rural highway that led to the road back to Snook, and the seemingly endless 20 miles back east to town and south to Red Boot. What good would this retreat be if we found ourselves bounced and impatient every time we left the property?

Also, we were unable to locate a grocery store in Snook, save the Snook Food Mart in the gas station. I'm pretty sure that Snookers (Snookites? Snookies?) drive back to my relative metropolis for their major shopping needs.

I may be mostly awesome in many ways, but being organized enough to live 15 miles from my local HEB? Honestly, after a lifetime of living with a mile of the store, I am still adjusting to my current 5 mile commute.

So, all that said, I don't think we will be moving to Snook anytime soon. The property was magic, but not enough to draw us out there in the foreseeable future. My political aspirations have been laid to rest. It's a nice town and all, and they do have great sausage and even a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, it's just too far from home base to be a realistic dream.

But I'm pretty sure every time I hear someone mention Snook, I will still feel obligated to chime in, "You know, you could be the Mayor of Snook!"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Once upon a time, Miss Boo spoke 70 words at 17 months of age. Three years later, Rooster was speaking in full sentences by his first birthday.

Baby Doll Lulu continues to maintain her slow and steady pace of adding an average of zero words per month. She hit the 17 month benchmark last weekend, and still pretty much limits her English to the expressions "Hot!", "Hi!", and "Wow!" as well as "Mommy", "Daddy", and the newest addition, "Buh," which could indicate Bottle, Ball, or Bubble.

This does not mean the girl doesn't communicate. She makes all sorts of noises and faces, clicks and whistles that convey her moods and desires perfectly adequately. In fact, one could make a case that instead of learning English, she has opted to teach the rest of us Babblish.

For starters, she coos "Dada" in an adorable high pitched teeny voice whenever she's happy, contented, or addressing Daddy, Guppy (Grandpa), uncles, or, in fact, any adult male. As you might imagine, this has led to a couple of humorously awkward moments.

A wail of "Maaamaaa!" signals hunger, frustration, tiredness or a general sense of boredom that needs to be fixed with entertainment by another human. Of course I never take this personally. Ever.

She has begun to copy us in her baby way. A month or so ago, the adults were enjoying some after dinner conversation while baby still sat in her chair. Suddenly she joined the conversation: "Dah dah dah dah, AHAHAHAHAHAHA!" and we realized that's what our conversation sounds like to her. Now she walks around holding phones, blocks, or any similar object up to her ear talking into it and carrying on a babblish conversation.

Whenever we get in the car, everyone calls out "Check!" as they click their seatbelt fastened. Recently the roll call proceeded with a "Check!" Check!" "Check!" Check!" followed by a tiny, enormously self satisfied, "Dat!"

One day of our Ohio vacation, I brought a load of laundry up from the basement to find her waiting for me at the top of the steps. I set the basket on the kitchen floor and gently pushed it toward her, causing her to back up out of my way. As I did so, I said, "Beep! Beep! Beep!" Now she says "Beep!" every time we back her up, or whenever she sees a truck. Go figure, I have no idea where she got that connection. Child brains are amazing.

She has also started growling. She growls at pictures of Lions, Tigers, Bears, Dogs and Dinos. She meows for kitties. She will also growl "Pah-Pah!" for her Papa, but will not speak his name in normal tones. Such silliness!

At the dinner table, we pray before each meal. As soon as someone says, "Amen" she bursts out clapping and cheering, "Yaaaaaay!" followed by giggling. I'm not sure if this is going to cause any long term theological hangups, but hopefully it at least associates Jesus and a good time.

Last weekend we taught her about tickles, courtesy of our new TMX (Tickle Me Ten-Year Edition) Elmo. Now she knows that you can flutter your fingers on another person and flip your tongue over and over: "Tkhee Tkha Tkhee Tkha!" and they will have to laugh.

You might know she chose to implement this new knowledge on my calf earlier today as I was standing tiptoe on a step ladder trying to fix a ceiling light fixture. Girl, you really need to learn about timing. Come to think of it, maybe you already know it. That was actually pretty funny.

So the test continues: will we teach her our language, or will she teach us hers? Stay tuned to find out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

So HOT!!!

I apologize now because I know I have friends and readers in the North who have just barely squeaked into their 70 degree summers. I do not mean to complain. In fact, I willingly chose to live in the South because I love summer so much. And I hate winter, along with every temperature that starts with a number below 6.

But I just have to say, we are having a week of 100 degree days. And I am stinking hot.

Showers don't help, because then I have to blow my hair dry, then I'm hot all over again. The A/C (God bless the person who invented that) can only do so much in defense against the humidity. And if I do by some miracle get cool enough for a moment, for some reason I develop a compelling need to go out in the scorching sun to check on my insane watermelon plant to find out if I have any more teeny melons coming on. Like that won't wait until dusk.

One thing I find privately hilarious about Texas summer is my steadfast obsession with coffee. While I'm drinking my scalding hot morning brew, I sit here and complain about the hotness of the world.

After my morning coffee on Monday, I mowed the lawn. At 9:30am, the thermometer stood at 95 degrees. I almost stroked out. And do you know what I did when I came inside? After I showered and drank two glasses of ice water, I reheated what was left of my coffee and finished it up. Today, after checking the melons for the third time, I made a second pot. You may mock me now. I still have to say again, I'm stinkin' hot.

My loving, supportive hubby just pointed out that I am wearing long pants and two layers of shirts. I contend that they are capri pants, thank you very much, made from lightweight cotton scrubs, and a lightweight shirt with a camisole tee underneath. Duh. Because if I were wearing what I feel like wearing, I couldn't go outside my bedroom. Or else I'd have to buy blinds.

Speaking of which, I often wonder what my neighbors think of us. We are trying to patiently pay off some debt before sinking over a grand on window coverings, which doesn't bother me too much because I don't have that great a need to hide anything. However, you can totally see into our house from down the street, and I am forever having to make unscheduled runs to the kitchen or upstairs to the kids rooms after I already got into my sleeping clothes. And there are a lot of active people forever passing by our house.

I suppose that if they're looking, and if they see anything surprising, at least they know I'm not hot.

Now back to your regularly scheduled ordinary day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

You Get Out What You Put In

I can't begin to address today's thought in 100 words or less. Probably not even in 1000 words. But if I never start trying to say it, I definitely won't ever finish saying it.

I have struggled for a long time with feeling a lack of growth in my spiritual life. I see symptoms of it in my challenge to maintain my house, in feeling overwhelmed with children, even with a lack of interest in taking care of my physical self.

Recently I have felt challenged by the idea that I am not growing spiritually because I have not been willing to take risks spiritually. I have been fortunate to build a life over which I have a pretty good illusion of control. Makes it easy to live in a comfortable box.

But that's not what I really want for myself, or for my children to aspire to.

A few weeks ago, we participated in a community service project as a family. Miss Boo grasped the point amazingly well, that we help because we have been given so much. To her the follow-up was quite simple: We should do this all the time.

I already know that the more I reach for giving opportunities that are a little unfamiliar, the more I will be blessed. I don't reach for them simply to get the blessing; but it's nice to already know there's a reward in store if I just take the steps.

I also want to be a good example of how Christ loves this earth. Lately, I've been a better example of how people live comfortably once they have "made it". Again, the point of making the effort to give to others is not simply to be a good example; but it's good accountability.

One acquaintance of mine is constantly posting examples of how people fail after claiming to be good examples of Christian behavior. It breaks my heart that I don't have a lot to counteract her posts, because we all fall short of God's standards. Surely at least I can be an example of a transparent ordinary human, who has been changed for the better by God's power.

And that's really what I am looking for these days: to be refreshed and renewed by God's awesome power. I believe it's real. I have seen evidences of it throughout my life. But lately I haven't been living like it. More, I've been circling the wagons, trying desperately to keep my little world going based on my own skill.

It's time to accept the grace God holds, which is new every morning. It's time to start living in gratitude, looking for places I can love others, because he loved me first. It's not to improve my status in his eyes, I know. But I think I struggle with the details of my life because I'm trying to live within my limits. Perhaps if I start focusing on responding to God, as in looking for ways to be a blessing to others, then I will find the energy and focus to take care of myself, my house, and my family too.

This thought definitely bears more refining. For today, my fellow overwhelmed friends, let's try to lift our eyes up from our own situations and ask, how would God have me be his hands today? As we do so, may we find perspective on our own situations, and may it grow our faith in God's power.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Accidental Italian

As we visited my home turf of Canton, Ohio this month, the Captain asked about the ethnic makeup of the city. And I was suddenly mystified. Because, of course, the people in my hometown are just people. I don't think of them as having come from anywhere else.

In fact, I don't really think of myself as having come from anywhere in particular. My family is so mixed into the melting pot that we are pretty much just American. Sometimes I have felt a little jealous of the strong cultural heritage of people I have met along the way. My people like hamburgers and apple pie, vacations by the beach, and telling a good joke. But what's distinctive about that? Surely everyone feels the same way.

About the only thing I could have told you, straight from Ohio 15 years ago, is that people from the Midwest are friendly, and I love a good steak.

But that misses the heritage I did grow up with. I missed it because it is so familiar I don't think of it as distinctive. I have lived other places and noted strong Middle Eastern, or Greek, or Asian, or Czech influence. But my own hometown? I was suddenly stumped. So I asked my mom:

What's my cultural heritage from growing up here?

And I learned that my hometown has strong Irish, German and Italian heritage.

Like, oh yeah.

I've known Smithbergers, Longabergers, Wilheims, and Millers my whole life. I can spell most German names just from hearing them, even though I never studied the language. Every bar in town starts O'something (not that I ever visited any of them, they're just everywhere), and I had plenty of friends growing up with either Irish red hair and freckles, or dark Italian shocks of hair and dark eyes. Come to think of it, my high school friends had names like D'Amico and DeSantis, too.

I grew up eating meat and potatoes (hello, hamburgers?), sauerkraut and sausage, and all things Italian. I never realized that some people never had spaghetti until they grew up and left home. I actually met someone like that here in Texas, you know who you are. That is such a strange idea to me, because I don't know what I'd eat on an ordinary day if it weren't for Italian food. That's just plain old ordinary food to me. Everything else--Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, even Southern--is ethnic food, while spaghetti, pizza, macaroni and Chicken Parmagiana are my favorite comfort foods.

Can you tell my definition of cultural and ethnic is determined by food?

I'm thinking of making one post a week about food. I like it a lot, and stuff. I'd call it Foodie Fridays, except I think it's going to be Thursdays. I've got another idea for Fridays, since they sit there for three days for ya'll to mull over before I get into the next week's fun ideas. We'll see. I have a hard time being committal.

Anyway, all this talk of Italian food is making me hungry for spaghetti. While I go start the pot to boiling, suppose you tell me what's your cultural background. Especially as it relates to food.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Childhood Wonder

Our Father's Day celebration, coming on the heels of our return to Texas, felt like a continuation of vacation. We spent the afternoon out at Red Boot, enjoying all our favorite things about summer: bug hunting, bubbles, swimming, corn, s'mores, games, and night swimming. Best of all, the big kids stayed for the night while a tired mommy and daddy went home to sleep in peace in their own bed.

It's the stuff childhood memories are made of.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Garden Produce

Ya'll keep asking about my garden. I appreciate your concern. I was also very curious about how my garden was growing.

Amazingly, we returned from our three week absence to find our garden already producing harvest. I am not amazed because I expected my neighbor to kill everything. To the contrary, I think she did a lovely job of tending my yard, which suddenly became high maintenance as a result of our new garden.

More, I am amazed simply because I have never had a successful garden. The wonder of putting a seed in the ground and watching it grow to millions of times its size, bloom, and produce fruit is nothing short of a miracle to watch. When we came home we had a couple dozen ripe grape tomatoes. If they produce nothing more this season, we have already had our most successful gardening adventure ever. And the good news is, we have dozens more still ripening on the plant, as well as lots of blooms foretelling continued harvest into next month.

My lettuces finally got past the caterpillar stage, thanks to the birdhouses in my yard. Once the chickadees and sparrows figured out there were tasty little morsels hiding in the garden boxes, they began combing the plants every day in search of more insects. I have had no bug problems since. We ate our first head of lettuce last night. It's a little more chewy than romaine, with a slightly bitter taste. But our theory is that the taste means there are more good vitamins in each bite.

Note watermelon overrunning the box in the background

The artichokes are starting to look more thistley, the carrot tops are looking more carroty. Sadly, the peas are just burned to death from the heat, but Rooster's pair of lima bean plants from preschool really enjoy their spot at the end of the row of peas. We did harvest half a dozen peas, with a few more coming. But I think they will do better when I start the fall crop in another six weeks or so.

I love that we get two growing seasons here.

Rooster's pumpkin plant is also taking off. I'm so curious to see what happens with that plant. Maybe we'll get some Jack-O-Lanterns out of it! Or maybe some pie, or maybe even a dumpkin. What's that? It's a full meal cooked inside the pumpkin, composed of ground beef, onions, cream soup, rice, and some other casseroley things.

We don't eat casserole in this house, but occasionally I can mix up something you might call a casserole, creatively present it under a different name, and everyone loves it. Dumpkin is one of those, so named because I just dump a bunch of stuff inside a hollowed out pumpkin and bake it. And because it makes everyone laugh, followed by eating heaping platefuls of it. I make it once a year in October.

Of all my garden, the watermelons have grown the most. They are practically viral in their robustness, nearly taking over their box. I hope the pumpkins are strong enough to fight back at least enough to produce three or four gourds for me. But if not, at least we will have watermelon, as many as will fit in that little box. I'm starting to think the back flower bed would indeed have been a better place for them, because they really do take up a lot of space.

It's a learning year.

All in all, I'm very pleased with the success. One little jalapeno so far, which contributed to some mighty fine guacamole on Father's Day. Several more flowers indicate we will have more peppers in July.

I think I might really enjoy this gardening thing, just as I suspected.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cacophony: Or, A Little Night Music

After three days of driving through the American Deep South for the first time in my life (Atlanta doesn't really count, does it?), we finally arrived home last night. Well, we actually arrived in town in time for dinner, and went straight out to Red Boot for Welcome Home Spaghetti and pool time. And Blueberry Pie. After night swim, the kids got to watch Wow! Wow! Wubbsy! while the adults got caught up with slide shows of our respective adventures. We finally pulled in our driveway at 11:45pm, just in time to say we arrived home on Friday.

We have had a few days to slowly acclimate to the climbing temperatures as we traveled south. But I had forgotten the sounds of high summer. I think sound travels differently on a sultry summer night than it does at other times of year. As day gave way to night the symphony began. The crickets played their usual strings, and the frogs down in the swamp shouted their chorus from a quarter mile away. And joining them sometime in the last three weeks of our absence were the cicadas. Between all the night musicians, we had to speak up to hear one another there in the pool.

We floated in the pool under a cloudless sky, feeling that strange equilibrium that comes when the water is nearly body temperature. But it's tricky water, that. After awhile we began to chill, as the water was merely 93 degrees, making it slightly cooler than body temperature. So we got out.

And I had forgotten the risks of night swimming. At dusk the dominant wildlife changes. The fat juicy spiders that hide all day in the oak leaves, lower themselves and spin giant webs to catch themselves some dinner. When it was time to get out of the pool, sure enough someone walked face first into a web, complete with the garden spider that got way more than she bargained for! It wasn't me, but I still felt sympathy for the victim. I don't mind spiders, as long as they are not on me. When they get that close, I sort of freak out.

The half-full moon lit our path home from the ranch house. We put a trio of very sleepy children into their own beds, where they went instantly to dreamland. I snuggled into my very own bed and joined them shortly after.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Treasure Found

I have a pair of mysterious cousins who, for reasons beyond any of our control, I did not see or know at all from about age five. I always counted them as family, and thought of them whenever I thought of Alabama, but we had no other contact.

In 2006, my Papa (our mutual grandfather) died, and one of the sisters put her husband and four children in the car and drove 14 hours to Ohio to attend the funeral with family she barely knew. The other cousin, who happened to be sitting for an exam of her final semester of nursing school that very week, was unable to come along.

The loss of my Papa was significant, as he had been the #2 man in my life for 23 years. But the gathering of relatives and friends was not simply to mourn his passing; we also shared stories and memories, and celebrated his life.

The greatest gift to come out of that weekend was the discovery that this mysterious cousin, a relative yet a virtual stranger, was a kindred spirit in many ways. In a few short days, we had established a new friendship as adults. I went home thinking I would like to visit her family in Alabama someday.

Almost four years later, that wish finally became reality yesterday as we stopped along the route of our road trip to visit both cousins and my uncle in Birmingham. I knew I was going to enjoy myself when we were invited to their house for swimming and hot dogs. That's real comfortable territory for us, and after a hot day on the road and multiple days of McDonalds & such, it sounded perfect.

My suspicions were confirmed when we pulled up to their house and found it an eclectic accumulation of 7 years of renovations plus a yard full of vegetable and flower gardens, 40 year old crape myrtles, pool toys, tiki torches, a trampoline, and a fenced playscape that doubles as a rabbit habitat. The two younger children were already in the pool to show us how much fun it would be to join them.

After the promised hot dogs turned into the even greater treat of grilling them ourselves over the embers of the firepit (despite the best efforts of two recent thunderstorms to dampen the experience), the children settled back into the pool and the adults settled on the screened porch for an evening of conversation that flew by entirely too fast. We barely scratched the surface of all we wanted to say, but are so glad for telephone, email and social networking to continue to grow the friendship.

I got to see my uncle, who I run into at home every few years or so. I caught up with Anne, the cousin I had renewed contact with four years ago. And I got to see Ami, my closest relative in age out of all my family, for the first time since about 1980.

No way can one evening overrun with seven energetic children adequately make up for three decades of lost time. But I was able to bring my man and my children into the circle of this family. We parted ways with a greater understanding of one another, and high hopes of other future visits. My kids made new friends, my husband found hers to be a great conversationalist, and I was amazed all over again that these two sisters can be so strange to me yet familiar all at once.

We continue on our homeward trek today, and I carry with me the sense that I have gained a treasure in Alabama. Our first visit has been a success, and I'm already wondering when I can return.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

America the Great

After so many days of road trips, everything starts to look and feel the same. I am totally bored with taking pictures. But road trips also provide the chance to reflect on the constants. Here are some of my road trip observations for today:

The best I can count, this is Boo's 25th lifetime roadtrip day. She's been a great traveler since day one, which encouraged us over the years to say, Well, that last trip was pretty good. Let's do it again!

America is diverse and beautiful. Traveling cross country, we have crossed mountains, rivers, valleys, bridges, tunnels, and many many miles of Interstate. We have also traveled at least three miles not on the Interstate. Those miles are okay, but we are much happier on the major highways.

Along the highways we have shared the road with windmill blades, modular homes, military vehicles, farm vehicles, farm animals, and other interesting things I have forgotten right now. Just this morning I saw a school bus towing another school bus. I feel like saying, Now I have seen everything. But I'm sure there are more interesting things yet to see!

I still can't get my kids to play the license plate game with me, but I can't help myself from playing anyway. My observation this week is that the summer road trip season is not yet in full swing, because mostly I'm just seeing tags I would expect for each region through which we travel. Just now I spotted my first Minnesota tag of this trip. Earlier I saw a car with turquoise tags and now I'm dying of curiosity because I didn't catch what state it was from.

Contrary to what you might think after watching American television, America is not all big cities. In fact, rural areas seem to far outnumber urban areas. Mile after mile, we pass ordinary small towns full of ordinary cars, ramshackle yards full of old ramshackle car parts, and ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. I feel in good company.

Outback is constant everywhere you go. Except, apparently, in Bristol, Virginia, where the margaritas seemed to present an especial problem last night. But do you know what I appreciate? When we expressed our disappointment to the waitress, she presented our case to her manager, who took them off our bill. So in the end, we still got good service and satisfaction.

Another constant, I have learned on this trip, is that apparently every state has a Jefferson County. And, apparently, whoever was naming the counties in each state drew from the same list, and also took our 2010 road trip route into account, because we have passed through at least four Jefferson Counties so far, and will be stopping in a fifth one tonight. Crazy, isn't that?

The more I travel America's highways, the more strongly I feel about the importance of giving my children this eye on the world. We can teach our children about culture, industry, distance, word origins, biology and the story of our country on these trips. Our country is rich in heritage, and we have more amazing museums, natural wonders, and historical landmarks than a person can visit in a lifetime.

Today brings one of my own firsts, a trip through the state of Alabama. We are going to visit my uncle and cousins in Birmingham for the first time. I think the kids are going to love making some new friends and finding out we are all family.

Wow are we all ready to be home. The kids are getting a little restless in the car and we still have two days left to travel. But while we are here, we are enjoying what we can find to see and do along the way.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heaven might be in Pennsylvania

For what feels like the first time in nearly thirteen years of marriage, we finally managed to visit someone who lives in a town other than our parents, for an occasion other than a wedding.

Our weekend with the T'urdine branch of the family has been full of laughter and Legos, giggles and good food, comedy and plain old enjoying one another's company. It has also been full to bursting with trees.

Make no mistake, I love my new home state of Texas. I most of all love Texas in April, when wildflowers are in bloom and the gnarly winter limbs of the giant live oaks cover themselves with their leafy summer dress. Crape myrtles bloom all summer long, adding white, pink, and lavender dots to the sun-drenched landscape. But the hardy desert flora has a different kind of beauty from the lush and vibrant greenery found in the northern part of the country.

My soul has felt restored by the trees, the hills, the rivers of Ohio and Pennsylvania these last two weeks. I got to ride around this small PA town nestled on the side of a mountain, and I could not stop pointing and commenting on every bend in the road. Stone farmhouses, turreted townhouses, and trees, trees, trees everywhere I could look. I'm soaking it up before returning home this week.

This afternoon we packed a picnic and headed for the park. We enjoyed the kickball diamond, the batting cage, the playground, and the zipline. It was about as close to heaven as I have felt in a long time. I wish we could make it last longer, but staying up until insane hours three nights in a row is the limit of what I can physically handle.

We begin the return trek to Texas early in the morning. Hopefully the park, the legos, the bubbles, baseball and wii fit provided the kids enough workout to counteract our 11 hour drive to Tennessee.

Bristol, here we come.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I might be a Presbyterian

Yesterday we packed up our car, enjoyed one last breakfast party at Bob Evans, and drove all.the.way across the rolling tree-laden countryside of Pennsylvania to stop for a couple nights with the Captain's brother and sister-in-law in their new home.

This morning we went to church with them.

I love my own church, but I also love any service in which the message seems tailor-fitted to things I have been mulling in my own mind. I love the way God orchestrates us to be ready for some truths and challenges, while he also moves other people to share those truths and challenges with us at the proper time. This morning was one of those times.

The Children's Sermon portion of the service

As my children grow, I have a growing sense of my responsibility to train them in the way of Jesus. Yes, they have the freedom to choose truth for themselves at the time they are ready. One of my children has already done so. But my job as a parent is to disciple them in what that faith in Jesus really means and requires of them.

At the end of the church service this morning, a man got up and shared his vision for teaching the Westminster Catechism to the children. He never knew the points of the confession of faith as a child; and he thought maybe if he had been taught them early on, he may have had more answers at critical moments of his life.

I grew up (and still continue today) in a less formal church tradition, in which children are taught stories straight from the Bible, along with some basic character and topical lessons. The idea of treating a catechism as the structure for a child's belief has always seemed foreign to me. Yet lately I have been impressed that I need some kind of structure to help my children frame the points of our faith.

Truly, the Bible is our authoritative text, above anything the church leaders of generations past may have interpreted. However, that does not automatically invalidate the truth of the points of the confession.

And so, by reason of this earnest plea for the importance of giving our children words and points to support the reasons for our faith, I was moved to commit to teaching the Westminster Confession to my own children. 150 points of our faith, phrased in words appropriate for children to understand.

I'm not ready to leave my church, but my time this morning in a little Presbyterian church has rewarded me with some ideas about how to fulfill my responsibility to disciple my children in the truths of the Bible.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


As a final hurrah of our Ohio family trip, we held an unbirthday party for all six grandkids. My brother and sister-in-law suggested the idea so that the kids could have the experience of sharing birthdays together. It was also fun to be able to give my nieces and nephew their birthday gifts and see their response.

Kay decorated with streamers and balloons, and Michael grilled hot dogs and brats. The kids played a few party games, we had cake and candles, and each kid in turn, from youngest to oldest, received a couple presents.

Lulu loved the part at the end of each child's turn in the spotlight, in which everybody applauded the child of honor. Rooster loved throwing all the gift-wrap shrapnel up in the air like so much confetti. And Boo was a big fan of the brightly colored cupcakes with M&M sprinkles.

As a first annual event, I think this created vision and a baseline to build from in future years. This trip was all about legend and traditions: the Eeyore House, Cousin Swap, trips to Bob Evans, the Farm, and the Zoo; and now, Unbirthday.