Thursday, January 31, 2008

A very long treatment of my maternal roots

My mother’s side of the family. This is complex. I don’t know where to start.

My mom was the youngest of nine children. Her mother also had three miscarriages, so she must have spent a lot of her life pregnant. There were five girls and four boys. The oldest was my Aunt Ruth. Her name was Ruth Johanna Carolina. Grandpa was so thrilled and overcome when his first baby was born, he added the name of the midwife, Carolina, to their already chosen name, Ruth Johanna, or so the story goes. I will list the nine in order to get it over with early: Ruth, Paul, Jonathan (a.k.a. “Donny”), Lois (a.k.a. “Loie”), John El Nathan (don’t ask, but thank goodness he was a.k.a. “Nate”), Eunice (a.k.a. “Nunie”), Priscilla (a.k.a. “Teda”), Dave and my mother, Miriam (a.k.a. “Bonnie”—her middle name). Of the boys, Donny died in a flight training accident right after he got back from fighting in WWII. Paul moved to Washington State and taught broadcast journalism in a college. Nate moved to Louisiana. I only really knew Uncle Dave. The Herbold sisters were a famous group, though, tight-knit and close to their mama all their lives (well, Aunt Nunie was a missionary to Africa for thirty years, but when she came home, she moved in with Grandma forever after to make up for it).

My mom’s mom, Grandma Herbold, born “Esther Mechel” was the seamstress daughter of a German minister. I already wrote about how people used to ask me if I was the nanny to my beautiful children. A similar thing happened to Grandma when she was a young girl in her early teens. She was out pushing her baby brother, Benjamin, in his perambulator one day, and he was so beautiful and so beautifully dressed (gifted seamstresses ran in that family) that some well dressed high society ladies were completely taken with him. “What a beautiful baby!” they said to Esther Mechel. “Whose baby is he?” And my grandma blushed and said, “He’s our baby.”

Grandma traveled to the homes of rich people and lived with them while she sewed their wardrobes. She was self supporting by age 17. Grandpa, whose name was George Herbold, was a traveling evangelist who noticed her and was struck by her humility and diligent work ethic. He was 34. She was 18.

Incidentally, Grandma did not know one single thing about the birds and the bees before she got married. She was almost frightened to death on her wedding night. I think she thought she was going to be a murder victim, and her husband a minister, no less.

If you looked at pictures of my grandparents, you would not say that they were good looking people. Grandma looked faintly like Eleanor Roosevelt, only with a more demure expression, smaller teeth and big, serious eyes. Grandpa looked a little like a mini version of Frankenstein. But somehow they had the most beautiful children.

Aunt Ruth and Aunt Teda were both crowned beauty queens in their day. Ruth was dark and sophisticated, and Teda was blond, blue eyed, looked like a movie star and sang like a bird. My mom could have been a beauty queen, too (I know you would never guess from looking at me), but she didn’t have the personality—she scorned beauty queens (which you might have been able to guess if you knew me). Funny, I never knew that Ruth and Teda were beauty queens until much, much later in life, but even then I didn’t connect my mother’s predisposition to dismiss beauty queens with any quirky relationships she might have had with her sisters until, oh, a few years ago.

I forgot to mention, they were a German family. Grandma’s parents came to America shortly before or after they were married, and Grandpa’s family came over when he was four years old. Although Grandma and Grandpa had both spoken German in their homes growing up, the two world wars caused them to be very ashamed of their heritage and they only ever spoke English in their own home. I have wondered if this were also an occasion when they changed the spelling of their name from Herboldt to Herbold, or if it has always been that way.

The George Herbold family was poor. Whereas my father’s father always had a job throughout the Depression, no matter how bad it was, or how insufficient to feed a family of seven children, at least Grandpa Rainbow always had a job. Grandpa Herbold was a stubborn German preacher with a maverick theology, and he was without a church more than he was with one. The family survived because of the industriousness and ingenuity of Esther. Grandpa did keep a big garden, but Grandma worked hard in it. She weeded and harvested and cooked and canned and sewed and churned butter… oh, yes, they had a cow, there on the edge of town in the old barn next to their big garden. Mom says they would not have survived the depression were it not for that cow. Mom doesn’t care for milk, butter or custard pie to this day. She doesn’t mind ice cream too much, though.

The Herbold children grew up poor but proud. Grandpa would not accept “charity” which is what he called government aide. George Herbold hated FDR and everything related to what he called “his welfare state.” My mom picked up on that. To this day, someone only has to mention the name of FDR in passing and she will burst out, “Oh that FDR. He rolled into office on a beer barrel.” This is a scathing reference to his termination of the Prohibition.

Grandma sewed her children beautiful clothes. She talked about how Aunt Ruth wanted a fancy dress for a party one year, and how she (Ruth) insisted it be cut on the bias. Grandma tried and tried to talk her into a different dress, but Aunt Ruth had to have that one, and it just killed Grandma how much fabric was wasted when you cut things that way. It turned out great, though. Ruth had quite the sense of style. Grandma was very good at sewing, and cooking, and fixing little girls’ hair. She was just plain one amazing woman, and that was all there was to that. She was awfully busy, as you may imagine, and basically worn out by the time the last two, Dave and Bonnie, came along fifteen months apart. Dave was very naughty, so the upshot was that my mom just got forgotten. I asked Grandma once what my mom was like when she was a little girl, and Grandma said, “Oh Bonnie, she was so good. She just sat on the porch and sewed clothes for her dolls and never gave me any trouble at all.”

Aunt Ruth cashed in on her good looks early and married a rich (fairly old) man when she was nineteen (my mom was three). He built her a beautiful home on the banks of the Mississippi River, and when her sisters got old enough, she hired them to clean it for her. She was fussy, too. My mom grew up hyper-fussy and critical about cleaning, and I don’t think it came from Grandma Herbold. The sisters took a strong sense of decency from pristine cleanliness. I didn’t know that “cleanliness is next to Godliness” was not in the Bible until I myself had been married for a number of years. Was it ever a relief to me to learn that God would still love me if there was a hair in my sink one day!

I think Aunt Loie probably had the happiest life of any of the Herbold sisters. She married a gentle Swedish man and they raised four children, three daughters and a son. Their oldest daughter and her husband were Wycliff missionaries to Peru for many years. Loie and her husband, Les, went down to Peru a number of times to join their daughter (Carol) and her husband, and to spend time with their grandchildren. David, Loie's only boy and youngest child, became involved in this missionary work, too. But when he was eighteen, he was flying within Peru and his plane crashed in the jungle and he died. I suppose it’s strange that I think of this family as the happiest one, but they are so close to the Lord that He has carried them on eagles’ wings.

Around the time my mom started high school, there was a day when Jack Rainbow (my dad’s big brother) caught sight of my Aunt Teda, and that very day he went home and told his family that he had seen the most beautiful girl in the world and that he was going to marry her. Well, he got to work on that, and it was going quite well, and somewhere along the way somebody got the idea that his little brother, Jim Rainbow, my dad, ought to marry Teda’s little sister Bonnie, my mom. It might have been my mom’s brother Dave; he was in my dad’s grade. The problem was that both my mom and my dad were the most reserved members of their respective families. Dad was too shy to talk to my mom, and Mom was much too modest and proper ever to open a conversation with him. So one day Dave offered to give the two of them a ride home from somewhere in his car (how he had a car I cannot explain, but he did—he was quite an athlete, so maybe it came from some sort of athletic scholarship money or something?), anyhow, Dave offered to give them a ride, but he stopped his car on the opposite side of the Anoka golf course from wherever it was that they were trying to go (presumably Mom’s house), and kicked them out. They had to walk all the way across the golf course together on a bitter cold Minnesota winter night. Reserved as she is, my mom can make small talk when she needs to, so she did, filling up the silent night with reassuring chatter. My dad liked the way she could keep a conversation going, and a romance was born.

Mom didn’t talk to me much about her childhood. I think it was a combination of being the last of nine during the Depression, having a naturally melancholy and somewhat pessimistic personality, and growing up in the shadow of Teda, whose entrance into a room was like brilliant fireworks. Teda could sing and play the piano by ear and mimic people in the most hilarious way (which wasn’t always very nice, but it sure was amusing—in her day, Grandma Esther could do shamefully funny imitations herself—what was really funny were the takes on the die hard German relatives with their crazy German accents).

Jack and Teda moved to California long before I was born, but when they came back to Minnesota for family reunions, they usually stayed with our family—probably the brother-brother, sister-sister thing. I don’t know if I ever had as much fun as I had during Teda and Jack’s visits. Teda and my mom looked very much alike, except that Teda had blond hair and blue eyes and my mom had dark hair and eyes. During the late 60’s, when I was just a wee tot, they had wigs, and one night they traded—Mom wore Teda’s blond wig, and Teda wore Mom’s black one. I was completely confused; I couldn’t tell who my mom was. But it was OK, because I loved both of them and I wasn’t scared. Everybody laughed until they cried that night.

Families are so weird, the love-hate things that go on. In the Herbold family, there was always a lot more love than hate, but there were plenty of jealousy and competitiveness and hurt feelings, too. I guess that’s just the way life is.

Grandpa died at the age of 91 in 1970, the year I was in kindergarten. He was hit by a car while riding his bicycle down Main Street of Anoka. I was very frightened of his dead body in the coffin.

Grandma died at the age of 93 in 1989, shortly before Shannon was born. We had moved to Syracuse NY by then, and Shawn was getting his master’s degree. We had no spare change, and I was sick with the pregnancy, so I was unable to attend the funeral, but my cousin Laura told me that there was a huge bouquet of pink roses, one for each of Grandma’s grandchildren and great-grand-children (about 60 or so), and they stuck in a little white rosebud for my unborn baby. Grandma knit a white blanket for Shannon before she died. It was when it arrived in a box from Aunt Nunie that I broke down and wept, clutching Aunt Nunie's letter about the funeral against my pregnant belly, bending down on my knees on the oak floor of the baby nursery we had just painted yellow.

Grandma and Nunie were prayer warriors with files of relatives and friends and people from the mission field, files they prayed through regularly and with an organized method. When I read Nunie’s letter and it hit me that Grandma was truly gone, I cried out to the Lord, “Who will pray for me now?”

Prayers, yeasty coffee cake cut into bunnies at Easter, lilacs off the porch, sparrows in the birdhouse, the cellar of canned goods, the screen porch, the old pump in the back yard, suitcases in the closet upstairs, pork chops cooked with sauerkraut and served over mashed potatoes, lemon meringue pie, a ruffled dress of navy blue dotted swiss, the treadle sewing machine… making me doll clothes, the old fashioned crank washing machine, homemade anise candy, strict discipline, fear of the Lord, sparkling clean everything, white dishes with bumps around the edges, the red chair in the living room where Grandma sat next to her cane with a blanket on her lap and Lawrence Welk on TV.

That’s my mom’s side of the family.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The good news

The good news is that the vet says there is no reason to put our dog to sleep, since the biting was an isolated experience, and since we know why he did it (provocation). So poor little Pipe still has a star of approval from the professional. He is really such an incredibly good dog--he lets you put drops in his ears when he has an ear infection, he is very careful not to touch his teeth to your hand when you offer him a treat (and he feels terrible if he mistakenly makes the tiniest contact). He has never chewed woodwork or furniture. He does not climb up on the end tables next to the sofa. He waits patiently for his feet to be wiped when he comes in from outdoors. He is so good it makes your heart ache. (All the attributes I have listed are in direct contrast to Schubert.)

I was so happy that Piper has a reprieve from execution, I have been making dessert. Usually when I make dessert, it is for company or a small group Bible study or a meal I am taking to somebody. When the kids realized that the treats were ALL for US there was great rejoicing in the land.

This is an excellent pecan pie that I made. It is really good. If I do say so myself.

Pecan Pie

1 9-inch pie crust (unbaked)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
1 square baking chocolate (melted slowly with the butter)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup pecan halves

It is very important to melt the butter and chocolate together slowly. I did it on 20% power in my microwave for a minute at a time, stirring after each minute.

Beat together the sugar, corn syrup, butter, chocolate, vanilla and eggs with a whisk or a hand mixer. Stir in pecans. Pour into crust. Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes.

Texas Sheet Cake (I don't understand the name, but I love the recipe--as you can see, it's going fast)
1 cup butter
1 cup water
1/4 cup baking cocoa
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sour cream
In a large saucepan, bring the butter, water and cocoa to a boil. Remove from heat. Sift (I like sifting) flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into cocoa mixture. Add sour cream. Stir until smooth. The recipe says to use a 15x10x1 inch baking pan. I would suggest a larger pan than that, as mine puffed up and spilled over the edges all over my oven. Just a hint. (It tastes good anyway, but it was a pain to clean up.) Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
While it is baking, make the frosting.
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
4 scant cups powdered sugar (the original recipe called for 3 and 3/4, but this worked for me)
In a saucepan, melt the butter, add milk and cocoa, bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Whisk in powdered sugar. Spread on warm cake. I had to go to the store to get the powdered sugar after the cake came out of the oven, so it was warm but not hot by the time I spread the frosting. I liked the way it came out. I think if the cake were too hot, the frosting would totally soak into it.

I was convicted that we have not been eating enough vegetables. Frozen vegetables have just been BAD lately; I'm not sure if it's my freezer or a problem farther back in production, but the frozen vegetables I've been serving lately have been virtually inedible. I am also SICK of canned beans and corn (of which you can see there are still some in our cupboard). (Hint--canned beans taste a little better if you microwave them with Italian salad dressing on them.) So, anyway, I bought SUCCOTASH and TOMATOES AND OKRA. We will see how these go down. I should have bought a butternut squash. I'll get one next week. I also bought broccoli and cabbage in the produce department... even though I am allergic to broccoli. I have to get some healthy food into my family. Last night we had cream of spinach soup for dinner, made with fresh spinach. But I bought twelve cans of food yesterday. I have NEVER bought so much canned food. I'm afraid that things in cans are not the healthiest--and "spices" appears in the ingredient lists, which I hope is not a cloak for MSG, which tastes good but results in migraines. If we like succotash, I'll learn how to make it from scratch.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The stitches story

Here is a picture of Shawn's stitches. If you know us in real life, please examine the stitches here and pretend that you do not see them when you see Shawn.

They are getting a little better each day.

In the interest of trying to be fair and unbiased about all this, I will insert as an explanation a portion of an email Shawn sent to someone at his office, explaining why he was not in for work on Friday (which was more due to having been at the ER until 4 a.m. the previous night than to actual pain from the injury).

Here we go:

“I could spin all sorts of stories about my tough wife with the wicked right hook, but the truth of the matter is that I was teasing one of our dogs (the high-strung one) and he bit me on the mouth. I had scared him pretty good—it’s very uncharacteristic of him. I should know better (and I do now!). Anyway, went in to ER at 11:30 and got out at 4 AM. They had several people come in with major traumas from various accidents related to last night’s snow fall. At one point they were trying to save a guy who had wrapped his car around a telephone pole and wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He bled out 5 units of blood before they could get him into OR and sounds like his head was a mess as well. Never been so close to that kind of action before. I have to say I am very impressed with the staff at University/Upstate ER.

“They finally got to me with my little cut on the lip and gave me 5 or 6 stitches and sent me home. I didn’t need any units of blood. I just don’t look the prettiest right now. I have put my modeling career on hold for the time being.”

So there you have it. It is all explained. Please do not advise me to put my dog to sleep. I will be talking to the vet about it tomorrow morning, and I do not want all kinds of extra advice, even though I am sure that it is all well meant.

Also, a word about wifely submission. I was very bossy the night of the accident. I told Shawn that he had to go to the ER and get stitches. I believe that I may have even told him that I would not love his face anymore if he refused to have the gaping wound stitched up. I told him that he had better get out of his bloody clothes, and fast, so I could clean them up. I told him I was driving to the ER. I told him quite a number of things, and then I stopped talking altogether and just did what I thought needed to be done. I hope I did the right thing. I did not mean to be unsubmissive, but don't you think there are times...?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Frugal Friday?

I had a post all in mind that I was going to do in honor of Frugal Friday, even though I am the most computer-illiterate of bloggers and I don't know how to do links or list my favorite blogs in my sidebar or anything.

There is a blogger called "Rocks in My Dryer", and you will have to Google search her if you want to read her, because of my lack of linking skills. She hosts Frugal Fridays and Works For Me Wednesdays (among other things), places where bloggers post tips for things like saving money, using coupons, cleaning, cooking, etc.

I had planned to post some thoughts on Frugal Friday this morning, but last night I ended up in the ER with Shawn for five hours while he waited to get five stitches in his lip, and we did not arrive home until 4 a.m. I will write more about said adventure another time. Maybe he will even allow me to post a photo of his Frankesteinian face. But right now, I am totally trashed.

I did just want to say this about frugality. Assuming I am able to express myself, and forgive me if I have a writing impediment today.

Concerning frugality--I think it is possible to allow frugality to become miserliness. It is important to realize that it is not always about saving every single penny you can save. Sometimes spending money can be an act of grace which is good for people around you and the local economy. In the movie, "Hello Dolly," Dolly quotes her late husband Ephraim Levi as saying, "Money is like manure. It doesn't do any good until you spread it around." There is a little truth in that.

I am all for frugality when it helps us reduce our trade with China. I am all for not buying trashy plastic toys and crud. I am all for not getting rid of perfectly good stuff and replacing it with stuff that is just different because you were bored with your old stuff.

But I think if we never eat out, never go to a symphony concert, never get our hair done by a professional, we are missing the point. If you need to do this in order, for instance, for a mom to be able to afford to stay home with her children, then OK, live that way. But if God has provided enough for you, it is OK to support the local economy and local businesses by occasionally ordering a pizza, hiring help with the house cleaning, or getting a good haircut. The people who offer those goods and services need to make a living, too. By not supporting them, we may be choosing to live selfishly.

Sometimes Christian people can get kind of holier-than-thou about saving money when they could be bestowing kindnesses and furrowing a mission field if they would just step out into the local economy a little bit.

One shouldn't be wasteful and one should never spend money one doesn't have. But if God gives you an abundance, then as you write out your check to foreign missions, don't forget that He might also have a really nice ministry for you right down the street at the local bagel bakery.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Shannon worked it out for me so I could see the eye doctor at 8 a.m. this morning.  She took Laura to her test, and she arranged a ride for herself to college with a friend.  She went in over an hour earlier than she needed to be there, just to help me out.  I am very thankful to Shannon.

The eye doctor pronounced my retinas healthy.  He doesn't know what is causing my pain, but that's no big deal.  I can deal with pain.  I'm getting pretty used to it.  As long as I don't fear that my inner eyes are shredding into blindness, I'll be fine.  I am thankful to have healthy retinas.  (Although, you always feel like you wasted money when you finally break down and go to the doctor, and then you find out you're OK anyway.  But it can't be helped.  And really, it is better than finding out there's a serious problem.  I am thankful.)

Shawn called this afternoon, and the customer he was going to visit in Atlanta, Georgia tomorrow just called and cancelled.  So he will be flying home early.  Now, I know he spent a lot of time getting ready for the meeting with this customer, and I know that there was a potential to make a lot of money.  But I can't help being thankful that he is coming home early.

I was able to make a lasagne today.  This was significant, because when I got home from the eye doctor my eyes were totally malfunctioning from the drops they used.  I was very, very thankful that the office is so close to my home, because I don't know how I'd have driven home otherwise.  I arrived home unable to see anything smaller than about three inches.  I couldn't read the note Shannon had left for me on the table, or the numbers on the phone or the names on the caller ID.  I went to bed for an hour and a half, covering my head with a pillow because my eyes were dilated and couldn't shut out any light and I felt a headache coming on.  I am thankful that my schedule allowed me the luxury of going to bed in such a situation.  I am thankful that my eyes later cleared up enough that I could make lasagne, and even though I had to squint and guess a little, it smells REALLY good.

There is a lot to be thankful for, and I am thankful.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My eye

My eye is frightening me. I'm not going to lie.

I've been having a lot of pain in my left eye, which changes based on whether I am looking up or down. Looking down is more comfortable. Looking up and even lying on my back is painful. I still see the jagged dark shape floating around, but less often, I think.

I finally tried to make an appointment with an opthomologist. The one that was recommended to me is not seeing new patients until April. The lady on the phone asked whether I could wait. When I described my symptoms to her, she put me on hold for a long time and then came back and told me that I need to be seen this week, and that I need to find a doctor who can fit me in.

I called the doctor she recommended, and they can get me in--tomorrow at 8 a.m. Only. Then the doctor is going on vacation. Tomorrow I have to get Jon on the bus at 7:35, Laura to a Regents exam that runs from 8 to 11:15, and Shannon to S.U. by 10:20. I can get the other kids to help with everything but driving Shannon to S.U. If she had a parking pass, she could drive herself. But she doesn't have a parking pass. The reason she could drive herself is because Shawn is in Florida on business right now and we have his car. DJ is willing to drive her to S.U. but I am not confident in having him drive home all alone, as he has very limited experience driving down there.

So I don't know whether to call and cancel the 8:00 appointment in the morning or try to go. What if they put drops in my eyes that dilate them so I can't drive myself afterwards? What if I get a migraine (a very real possibility)? What if they give me devastating news and Shawn is a thousand miles away?

I don't know what to do. I just don't know what to do. It's times like this when I really wish I lived near family.

It gives the term myopic a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Random photos

This is the view from my bathroom window. It looks very much the same whether it is the middle of the night or the daytime. Since there are so many clouds here, the sky is always some shade of whitish gray. For some reason, it is very comforting to me to look out and see this tree branch in the middle of the night. In the summer, of course, there are leaves on the tree. That's nice. But there is a beauty in the way it looks in winter, too, I think.

This is a "Festive Night Light" that one of Laura's ballet students gave her for Christmas. We kept it in the upstairs hall, and it brought many a smile to our faces.

This is Laura in her recently redecorated room. Of course, I did not have the correct lense for taking a picture of a room, but you can get the idea. We like it. It reminds us of a beach house, any beach house, in North Carolina. I wonder what it would be like to live in North Carolina?

Laura's room

I am finally getting brave enough to hook up my camera and try to download a few more pictures. Here are some pictures of the process of redoing Lulu's room, which she did over Christmas vacation.

Before the project, her room was baby blue on the bottom and creamery yellow on the top with a very sweet border around the middle at chair-rail height. The border was of little girls all dressed up in a blooming English garden, serving a tea party to their teddy bears. I guess it's wonder that she put up with it until she was 15. It was pretty, though. She was so thrilled when we first did it for her back when she was four.

She started the new project by painting her room white. Shawn helped her. They primed and then they painted.

After painting the white base coat, it was time to apply the yellow stripes. Fortuitously, the walls were all basically "on the foot" and she wanted six inch stripes, so we just started by measuring 3 inches in from each corner and making six inch stripes from there to the other end, which left approximately three inches of white at the end of each wall, which when added together in the corners made six inches of white in each corner. It came out very nicely.

Here is the tape:

If you look closely, you can see that Laura sealed the tape with a swipe of white paint before she filled in the stripes with yellow paint. This was to prevent the yellow paint from bleeding under the edge of the tape.

Here you can see Laura painting in a yellow stripe between the taped lines. (BTW it took forever to measure and tape; she used a level to get them straight.)

We found that it was VERY important to get the tape off while the yellow paint was still wet. So Shannon became the tape remover. Laura painted and Shannon took down tape. What a great big sister!

Here, Shannon holds up the paint tray so Laura can load up her brush and do the edgework by the window.

This is a finished wall. Didn't they do a great job? Laura says that her math teacher painted stripes in her daughter's room, and her daughter got sick of them and wanted them changed the next year. Laura told her, "Make her do her own room. Then she will never want to do it again and she will live with it forever." That's Laura's current plan for her room.

You can see how it turned out in the photo at the end of this post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SOME truth about sex

We have taken a lot of flack from people because Shannon did not choose to go away to school. She lives at home. It is nice for her, nice for us, and very affordable. We are blessed to live within 30 minutes of a state university school with an excellent chemistry program. Shannon can sleep and shower at home, sometimes study and eat at home, and at the same time get an excellent education. Oh, and her tuition is covered by a scholarship. Where is the downside in this?

But it seems that many people feel the need to tell us that she should be getting away. That she needs to grow up. That she needs to have “the college experience.”

I so appreciated our pediatrician, who was supportive of our decision in every way, and who said, “Who needs to live in a dorm and get drunk and have sex and throw up in order to experience all of life?” At least, I think she said that. I might have been the one who said it, but we were of one mind in that conversation. Whichever of us did not make that statement made this statement: “There are definitely certain experiences that people don’t need to have in order to become well rounded.”

We had a remarkable conversation that day. It was about the pitfalls of youth and how they can damage, and how they can best be avoided. For instance, our doctor said that there are many mothers who want their daughters on birth control from an early age… “in case they get raped.” What a mindset. How about you keep your daughters away from situations where they are likely to be raped? How about karate lessons? This precious doctor told us that she doesn’t advocate anything that might make it easier for a girl to make the decision to go ahead and have sex. For instance, birth control pills can be of great help in controlling acne, but she would never prescribe them for that, because she says it just removes one more barrier from people's making a bad decision some day in the heat of a moment.

I was stunned when she said that the biggest risk of early sex is not sexually transmitted diseases, because there is only a high likelihood that you might get one of those. The real danger, she said, is the psychological damage that occurs, and it always, always occurs. She said we would not believe the repercussions that are in and out of doctors’ offices all the time because of early sexual activity. A girl gives away her heart and her virginity to an immature 15 year old boy and he chews it up and spits it out in the trash. He doesn’t appreciate it. He has no concept of love. He is years behind the girl in emotional development. He moves off to his next interest, whether it is another girl, a football game or a new version of a video game, and she is left behind, vulnerable and broken.

So there are depressed girls, girls on all manner of medications to try to help them cope with the fact that they gave the ultimate thing that they could give, and they were rejected. They fall into mental illnesses and ultimately some even commit suicide. Just Sunday there was an article in the paper about a stunningly beautiful 16 year old girl who had committed suicide five months after a bad break up with a boyfriend. I’m not saying she had sex with him. The paper sure didn’t say. But if that is what it was about, the paper should have said so. They make all this fuss about suicide prevention. If they were really serious about preventing suicide, they would help teenagers protect their psyches from sexual trauma. They would show the connection between teen sex and suicide, and they would warn kids away from teen sex.

The girls who don’t commit suicide take another path. They learn to build walls. They learn not to trust anybody, especially men. They learn to exploit sex themselves and use it as a tool to gain power. The worst thing about this is that they become relationally handicapped. They can’t trust, can’t love, can’t commit. These are the girls who are growing up to be the mamas of the next generation, so you can maybe do the math and see where this takes us... divorce, child abuse, basically a myriad of unstable and broken homes poised to multiply themselves.

And the liberals still think the answer is just to put more condom vending machines in the bathrooms.

Here’s a pitiful thing. My daughter says they replaced the menstrual supply vending machines with condom vending machines in the women’s bathrooms on her campus. She says it is irritating and inconvenient. I said it was an abomination. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say, because I almost said, “If any guy wants to have sex with you and expects you to supply the condom…” but then I realized that we were already too many steps from decency before this particular issue even arose.

Here’s some straight talk about sex: it hurts the first time. In the Bible they assumed that the girl would bleed the first time she had sex, and the parents saved the bloody sheets from the wedding night to be able to prove their daughter was a virgin, in case a question ever arose. These days a girl maybe doesn’t always bleed the first time—things like tampons and doing the splits in ballet and gymnastics and jumping off high diving boards while not quite keeping one’s legs together can make it possible for a virgin not to bleed on her wedding night.  But blood or no blood, the ending of virginity comes with a certain amount of pain.

I don’t think anybody ever tells anybody that sex hurts. When I was in college, I became engaged in my junior year. Of course, wearing a diamond and talking about having a fiancĂ©e made me look like an experienced woman of the world. Even in the eighties, it was normal to live together and sleep together and just get married when you were ready to have kids. People on campus simply assumed that Shawn and I were sleeping together. One day a classmate approached me and asked about my ring and then just burst out, “It isn’t anything like what you’d think, is it? I mean, I was just laying there trying to breathe and all I could think was, this is not what it’s like in books.” I didn’t have a clue, at the time. I was speechless. But now I know. Nobody told her that it hurts.

It hurts for awhile. That’s why it is so devastatingly traumatic for young girls who think they are entering into something wonderful, giving something away to some incredible person they imagine this adolescent boy to be, and they are left torn and rejected. (hint: no adolescent boy who wants to sleep with you is incredible. period.)

You have to be able to totally trust the person you have sex with. It is a process, sometimes a long one, to discover how it works best. It takes time and patience, communication and faith that the two of you are committed to each other. When you open yourself to someone in such an extremely vulnerable way, you have to know that he will be there to catch you when you let yourself fall. Sex is not “fun.” Sex is a “big deal.” The person you have sex with must be able to love you more than he loves the sex. Sex by itself is a powerful destructive force. When it is tamed by love and subjected to moral self-discipline, it becomes beautiful, a unifying, bonding experience that is unparalleled. Consider the contrasting differences: one girl gives away her virginity in pain and vulnerability to a cad who only wants to be able to boast in the locker-room about what he has done; another young woman opens herself vulnerably to a man who has declared his love to her before witnesses and before God in a wedding ceremony, who has made a significant financial investment in her with the best ring he can afford, and who now takes her in love to himself. As she lets him experience with her that intimacy of mingled pleasure and pain, his own heart pangs with awareness of what she feels, what she has given him, and he is overwhelmed not only by physical pleasure but by the trust he knows she has placed in him. She is his cherished treasure.

Sex hurts the first time, and usually the second and third. If it didn’t, why do you think there is such a market for “personal lubricant”? A honeymoon can be exhausting and stressful for a virgin. Beginning sex hurts more than getting a shot in your arm and less than breaking your toe. It is not a sudden-impact hurt followed by pain, like hitting your funny bone; it’s more like trying to tear a Band-Aid off, little by little. The thing that keeps you going is the emotional connection which grows deeper and more mysterious each time. That is, if you have a committed relationship, which is why you need a committed relationship (and when I say "committed relationship" I mean "marriage").

Like any other pursuit—golf, cooking, music—sex improves with practice. Still, even after years, there are times when it all comes together by some miraculous aligning of the stars, and some times when it isn’t all that. It’s kind of like going on vacation—sometimes you get great weather, and sometimes… you don’t. That is why it is so important to be with someone who is committed to working through the bad times and the mediocre times as well as enjoying the great times, someone who has promised always to be there the next morning, someone who will keep that promise.

Or, I suppose you could get drunk and try to drown out the pain—the initial physical pain, the lasting emotional pain. Have another drink. I am being sarcastic, but that process seems to be the norm. In fact, it seems to be the experience that a lot of people think our daughter has to have in order to grow up.

There are some pains that you need let your kids experience, but I don’t agree that premarital sex is one of them.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Campus on a hill

My daughter goes to a state university.

She is a chemistry major, but last semester she had to take some biology.  Well, you know state education and biology.  Or do you?

One day she came home and said, "My botany professor is a Christian."

Come again?

It was the day (yes... "the day,"  as in the, singular, day) that they learned about evolution.  He rushed through it.  He presented it as theory.  She told me, "I have, like, a total of a half a page of notes on evolution."

On top of that, he wore a shirt that said, "Campus on a Hill," on the front of it.  And when he turned around, the back proclaimed Matthew 5:14--"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. "

Over Christmas break, this same state university educated daughter of ours got together with a good friend who attends a "Christian" college in Pennsylvania.  In the Christian college's science classes, they are teaching the kids evolution.  They present it this way: "God originated the big bang, but after that, it all happened just the way the evolutionists say it did."  No intelligent design there.

I am reading a book by Ann Coulter.  Sometimes she is funny, and sometimes she is right, but she really made me mad the way she talked about public education.  There are many good people in public education.  The more good people we get in public education, the better it will be.  You don't get good people to go into public education if you say the kinds of things Ann Coulter says.

Public education is a good thing, even though it is sometimes badly done.  I don't want to take away people's rights to homeschool, but public education is in the best interest of the society.  If people choose not to use public education, fine, but they still ought to contribute to the education system.  There are people who can't homeschool, for various reasons.  And there are people who won't--how does it benefit society not to help their children?  These kids need a chance--exposure to thoughts and ideas and opportunities that they have been denied at home.  That is part of what America is all about.

The best way to influence public education is to get involved in it.  Raise Godly children and encourage them to become teachers, administrators, college professors of education.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What I like about bathrooms

The best thing about bathrooms is that they are not a place where one stores memorabelia.  Which means that they are easy to clean because one never has to make any decisions.  You throw away the empty shampoo bottles, scrub the tile and the fixtures, wash the floor, and throw any dirty towels into the laundry.  SO easy!

When I can't think of what to do, I sometimes clean a bathroom, mainly because I don't have to THINK.

Bathrooms also give you a lot of bang for your elbow grease.  You can vacuum all day and at the end, things don't look very different (but your back might hurt).  At the end of cleaning the bathroom, you have fresh scents and shining porcelain and mirrors.  Plus, you know that you have just increased the hygiene level in your home.

I used to clean the kids' bathroom every night while they were bathing.  I'd just sort of sponge everything down with water and a squirt of Windex here and there while they played in the tub.  When they got old enough to require privacy, things changed.  Now their bathroom gets filthy; I don't get in there very often, and they, apparently, did not register what I was doing all those years and continue it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A summer day

Yesterday was January 8, 2008.

Here in Syracuse, NY, it was 70 degrees.

If you live in Florida or California, or even, say, North Carolina, you may not realize what a big deal that is.

A week ago our temperatures were in the single digits with windchill below zero.

We got our first snow in November, and although some melted here and there, on and off, there was snow on the ground straight through until yesterday. I know this because we have a silver maple in our backyard, and it did not lose its leaves until the first week in December, when there was already quite a bit of snow on the ground. Then we got more snow. When we would go out to shovel paths for the dogs, we turned up a lot of leaves with the snow. Of course, for a neurotic like me, this was quite troubling. I comforted myself, saying, “When the January thaw comes, I will take care of those leaves.” Then, as the temperatures dropped lower and lower, I tried harder and harder not to worry.

About a week ago, on the coldest day of all, a new front door was delivered to our garage. Shawn had to park his car on the driveway to make room for it, which was an unhappy thing for him on those cold, cold days. I was quite concerned about how the installation of this front door would be carried out, and where I would go and what I would do with a huge hole in the front of my house on a frigid day, watching the snow blow in on the bitter wind.

Well, yesterday it was 70. I raked the yard, and they put in the front door. It was beautiful. I also did laundry, changed beds, baked two pies (Dutch apple and pecan), and walked the dogs. This was before we went to a huge concert featuring all our school’s bands, orchestras and choruses, held on the Syracuse University campus.

You know what? I was tired yesterday at midnight when I went to bed.

So today I am being lazy, and anyway my eye hurts and it’s giving me a headache. I have been seeing a little, tiny, jagged, dark spot (kind of like a crumpled up scrap of black construction paper) float past my left eye and down, off to the right. This has been going on for weeks, but I just started getting headaches from it.

Another thing—I am wondering and praying about whether I should go back to college and get a degree to be a high school English teacher. I am so old. And my fibromyalgia is pretty limiting. We have kids whose college we need to pay for. Is this a wise thing, or a foolish thing? I feel like the Lord may be calling me to do this; perhaps He has a mission for me out there in the public schools. On the other hand, I am tired (headachy, anyway) and scared and reluctant to spend money on something I may not have the stamina to carry through.

With a scattered blog post like this, why would I think I could teach English to anyone? If I were teaching English, I would not be available to clean up the leaves in the yard on a warm Tuesday in January.


Friday, January 4, 2008


Well, it is 2008, which is a multiple of four, which means that we are in for a presidential election in the good old U.S. of A. this year. In case anybody hadn’t noticed yet.

Presidential elections bring up lots of issues: Taxes, education, Medicare, gay marriage, abortion, national defense, the trade deficit, the weak dollar.

Bill Clinton ran on a slogan (one of a few) that said, “You can’t legislate morality.” That was the stupidest thing I ever heard. I have written about this before, but I really want to make my position clear on this. You can’t legislate anything but morality, or immorality, as the case may be. All legislation, whether it is
how taxes should be spent,
how long a young person is required to attend school,
how fast one should be allowed to drive a car,
what theory of the origin of life should be taught in school
or whether it is legal to distribute birth control to teenagers,
all legislation is based on somebody’s value judgments. Value judgments are what people think is good, and what people think is bad; in other words, what people think is right and what people think is wrong. Therefore, value judgments are based on people’s senses of morality. They have to be. There is no escaping this. All legislation stems from lawmakers’ moral judgments.

Now, you surely can’t legislate a moral heart attitude. That would certainly be the ideal—for people to have an inner desire to do what is good and not to do what is bad. And that you cannot and never will be able to legislate. But you can still tell people that it is unacceptable to kill and steal, and that they are required to pay their taxes, and that there will be consequences for non-compliance. Indeed, you have to do this in order to run a stable society. And it all comes down to morality.

The problem with a democracy, of course, is that the majority is not always right. But then, that all hinges on your definition, or basis, of right. For instance, take abortion. Ann Coulter says, and I am paraphrasing here, that defending abortion is tantamount to defending the right of people to have sex with other people whom they don’t particularly like and whose offspring they do not care to bear, and the corollary right to undo the consequences of such actions when a child is conceived.

She is certainly correct on one level. However, I do not believe that all people who defend abortion see the issue this way. They are not always looking at the sexual participants. There are what I call “moral liberals” (and I use the term somewhat loosely, but I am giving them credit for a certain amount of social concern) who defend abortion because they are tired of seeing babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome and crack addictions, tired of child abuse and child sexual abuse and children who never have a chance to grow up and do anything but perpetuate abuse. And so they defend abortion because they want to lessen the suffering in the world. They really do.

There is a problem with this reasoning, however, a gulf where these thinkers and Christian thinkers will never be able to bridge the gap. The issue is the sovereignty of God.

If you believe in a sovereign God (God who has the right, power, ability and inclination to control the events of life), then you will also believe that you are not the person who has the right to decide who should live and who should die, whose life has hope and whose life is hopeless, what quality of life is worth living and what quality of life is not worth living. You will believe that those decisions are in the hands of God and God alone, and you will refuse to make those decisions yourself, and you will refuse to support others who think they have the right to make such decisions.

If you do not believe in the existence of God, or at least in a God who knows, cares and is involved in the intricate workings of all life, then abortion probably seems like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you abort an unwanted child?

Anti-abortionists try to reason with atheists based on biblical arguments. You can’t use the Bible to prove something to someone who fundamentally rejects the idea that the Bible is the true revelation of a real and living God. It all comes down to whether or not you believe in God. Is there a God, or is there not, that is the fundamental question. If you can't agree on that, you can't find any common reference point on which to base a rational discussion of morality.

And there you have it. An impasse. A face-off that will never be solved until God comes back to earth, riding on the clouds in His full glory, proving His existence by His awesome presence, the day when the Bible says every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

So what do you do? You hope and pray and wait, and as the majority of society slips farther and farther away from Biblical values, and right and wrong are based on polls and public opinion rather than on truth and God’s Word, you pray for the imminent return of the Lord.

“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant looks to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He has mercy on us.” Psalm 123:1-2

Thursday, January 3, 2008


This is my son Jonathan. He is twelve and one half.
You may be able to tell by looking at the pictures that Jonathan has big brown eyes and that I also have big, brown eyes.

With each of my pregnancies, I had a cloudy vision of a baby in my mind, a baby with big brown eyes and a face something like the face of my older brother, when he was young, only different.
Each time I gave birth (the first three times), I received blond, blue eyed babies with chubby cheeks. Shannon was mostly bald, but her hair came in as golden curls. DJ and Lu were actually born with short yellow curls on their heads--something entirely out of the ordinary here in Italian Syracuse.
My first three babies were beautiful, well-behaved, and astoundingly intelligent. People would stop me in the park and say, "What beautiful babies! Are you their nanny?" I tried to take this as a compliment.
When Jon was born, he was the one who finally looked like the baby in my mind. It was almost eerie. One day I had him at the library with us (he was still very small) and a lady stopped me and said, "I just have to tell you... your baby looks just like you!" You cannot imagine the effect these words had upon my soul.
Jon is different from the others. He did not let me read to him as a small child; he was always on the go. He has a severe "need" to set his own agenda and not follow anyone else's. He despises school, structure and paperwork. However, he is also extremely cheerful and social--the lone extrovert in a family of intense introverts. He has no fear of anything--I need to figure out how to help him learn a fear of God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).
I love Jon from the depth of my soul. It is a raw kind of love. With the others, I could confuse love of them with love for their accomplishments, although I try hard to guard against this. With Jon, it is very clearly love of him. I even loved him before he had a name. The others were all named before they were born, and it was just a matter of getting them out and meeting them. Jon was nameless for a day, but still so himself, and so much an object of my love.
He has enormous potential and is very quick to grasp concepts. He rarely does any homework, yet still seems to be getting good grades in accelerated math, which I remember the other kids spending a certain amount of time pursuing. His vocabulary is astounding for a child who reads as little as he does. But academic pursuits hold no appeal for him. He does the minimum to get by and seems to resent it the whole time.
What can he become when he grows up? Things that cross my mind as possibilities:
  • an actor (this scares me for what might be obvious reasons, but he would be good--and he memorizes very easily when it suits him to do so)
  • a chef (he is a good cook, and has an unusual flair for presentation)
  • a travel guide
  • a construction worker (?--not sure about this, but he does like to do things with his hands, and has an uncanny ability to manipulate 3-D shapes in his head)
  • a musician (he is really good at his trumpet--again with amazingly little practice, but to go into music I think he would have to get back to piano which was a struggle we gave up)
  • a missionary pilot. Yes, this I can see, although I am not sure I want to.

Don't you just wish God would clue you in to His plans for your children so you would know how to encourage them?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

God and scary things

Yesterday I was reading CNN online, and I saw that a 19 year old had gone into a mall in Omaha, Nebraska and shot 8 people before killing himself. This happened on 12-5-07, but I isolate myself, so I had not heard of it.

I have a nephew at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

At our local mall, people occasionally jump off the top floors down into the atrium below, a very long fall in an open area surrounded by glass elevators. I believe that they usually die when they do this. But nobody has unleashed gunfire on the general public yet.

Mall shootings, school shootings, bridge collapses (in Minneapolis, my hometown city), churches being burned, Hurricane Katrina that wiped out New Orleans. How can a person dare go out of her house in a world like this?

Honestly, I don't know how atheists deal with it. I find my only comfort in the sovereignty of God. God has appointed my days, and I will die on the day He ordained for me to die. It might be today; it might be 50 years from now. He has a purpose and plan for my life, and when it is complete, He will take me home... so I don't have to worry. My life is in His hands. He is in control and He promises to work all things for good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.

I do not put confidence in the idea that God will save me from physical harm because I am His child. I may well experience physical harm. But no matter what happens, my soul is safe. He will protect my soul. This world is not my home; I need to remember that. I am walking each step of each day here on my way to a perfect place where I will be fully restored to unhindered fellowship with God. The events of this world are tests and trials to prove our faith and to demonstrate both God's power and His love to the world. It is not about whether I get cancer or not, whether I am in a car accident or not, whether I am raped or not. It is about how I might respond to any or all of those situations for the glory of God.

"My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be." (Psalm 139:15-16)

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Luke 12:6-7)

" 'No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,' declares the Lord." (Isaiah 54:17)