Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

We did not go anywhere.

And you know what? That is OK.

We are tired. We are overstimulated. We are stressed out. Except for Jon, that is. Jon is never stressed out. Jon wanted to drive to Minnesota for Thanksgiving.

The rest of use did not relish 36 hours in the van (round trip) for 48 hours there, followed by a quick dive back into the school routine. Especially since they are all so tall now. Jon, being the youngest, was the smallest, but now he is the tallest, having surpassed both Shannon and David, who are 6'1". Shawn has always been 6'2" (well, ever since I've known him, anyway). Laura is 5'9", and I am the shrimp at 5'6". We don't fit so well in a minivan anymore, and we really notice on those l-o-n-g cross country drives.

(Here, Jon is trying to wear DJ's old tux from when DJ was Jon's age. The tux pants were totally too short, so we had to try to punt with a different pair of black slacks, which were also too short, because SOMEBODY never stops growing. Fortunately, he is easy going and did not complain about wearing an odd assortment of clothes in an attempt to simulate a tux for his first Symphonic Band concert in September.)

David is glorying in the opportunity to spend time with his friends who are home from college, some for the first time since they left in August. Shannon is taking it easy. One of her friends from college might come over for Thanksgiving, which would be lovely if it happens. Laura is working like a dog to finish her college applications.

I will be cooking. I haven't made Thanksgiving dinner for a few years (on Thanksgiving... I've made turkey dinners right along). This is going to be fun. I hope somebody helps me clean up!

We have been hosting a small group from church at our house for the past two weeks. Do you know what that means? It means... the dining room is clean!!! Which means we can eat turkey in there, on the china, and it will be special.

I am actually quite looking forward to this.

Friday, November 20, 2009

November sky

It has been a truly wonderful November.

I was praying with two friends this morning. We pray for our kids, who are in public school. We love our kids, and we get together once a week to pray for them. We love our kids very much, and we send them to public school, and we pray for them.

Anyway, in our prayer time, one of my friends prayed and thanked God for this glorious November, and I realized how right she was. We had one of the coldest, rainiest summers on record. There were two weeks of hot weather in August, and then I don't really remember September (hey, that rhymes!). October was bad... cold, rainy and in the 40's for most of the month. Now November has been sunny and mild with most days above 50 degrees.

Yes, there are clouds in this picture. There are usually clouds. A sunny day is one where the sun peeks between the clouds on and off throughout the day. Can I tell you something? I have never in my life seen people who appreciate good weather more than central New Yorkers. If you get a warm, sunny day, everybody literally drops everything and goes outside to celebrate. If we central New Yorkers were to move to, say, San Diego, we would never get anything done. We would have no idea what to do with all that good weather. We would probably die from overexertion because we would not be able to go inside and rest with all that great weather going on outside.

The picture above shows the view (if you can really call it that) from my front door looking east. A moment before, there were kids playing ball in shorts and a biker, but it took me too long to get the light settings right, and I missed them. Even reveling in the day, you can get cold and need to go inside.

I was trying to capture the time of day when the sun is very low in the sky, and its light comes streaming in from the west, sneaking under the edge of the last cloud, illuminating the neighborhood in a most beautiful and exotic way. Cloud cover traps the light between itself and the earth. The light glows as if it were in a tunnel, making flimsy brown weeds shine like gold. Unfortunately, I did not see any shining weeds to photograph, but I'm sure they were out there along the edge of the freeway.

This picture is looking west from my back door. Our house is built on an angle, which actually kind of bothers me. But that's beside the point. See the sun... the source of the light?

It looks bleaker than it is. Really it was spell-binding.

Maybe you don't see the beauty in this. That's OK. I appreciate it because I know how bad it can get. Sometimes I think God gave us Christmas at Christmastime to lessen the brunt of winter darkness. These pictures were taken at 4 p.m. Now it is 4:30, and it's dark out. The darkness will come earlier and earlier until we get to the end of December.

Being able to appreciate things is usually related to having gone without them at some point. People from Florida or California might not understand why a New Yorker would be excited about the November we've been having.

It's not just this way with the weather. Rough stretches can open our minds and hearts in many ways. I was just conversing with my husband this morning about how the kindest, most empathetic people are always the people who have suffered through something. People who have never lived a hard day in their lives usually aren't capable of understanding someone else's pain. Jesus died on the cross for us all, and He suffered all of our pain.

James tells us, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds." (James 1:2). Trials tender us. They help us to apprehend and appreciate beauty and goodness when they come. They teach us empathy and cleanse the impurities from our souls. They develop wisdom in us and ultimately make us like Christ.

You can have a wrong response to a trial. You can let it make you angry, bitter and ugly. But if you embrace it, learn from it, draw near to God through it, it can be the best beauty treatment you ever took. And it can help you feel the grace in a glorious November sky in Syracuse, NY.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This post may need to be deleted

Laura is a much better photographer than I. She took these pictures, and she is currently not at home, so I can't ask her if I can use them. Generally, she is kind about letting me use her photos, but if she is handing any in for class, we have to keep them off the internet. If any of these are in her portfolio, I will have to delete this post.

The doggies are very interested in something going on atop the table, far above the chair behind which they sit at rapt attention. They peer fervently upward. All their focus, all their concentration is on what is beyond, even though they can't see it. (I think they can smell it.)

Look at these doggies. Have you ever seen such devotion, such sincere and undying interest? Would that we desired the fellowship of the Lord the way these doggies desire whatever is up there above their reach.

Observe the doggy's-eye-view of current events. Mommy is working on something, something with a delectable aroma, something that fills a doggy heart with hopes and thrills.

Mommy is... picking a chicken. Boiled chicken on a plate may not be a delicacy to certain humans (although the humans in this household appreciate it pretty fully), but to a doggy, it is ambrosia, caviar, la creme de la creme. It is the stuff of doggy fantasies and satisfied doggy souls.

"Awww Mommy, can't we have some? Can't we have some please... please... pretty please???"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why are the doggies barking?

Why are Piper and Schubert peering out their windows? What do they see?

Why is Piper scratching at the window? What is exciting him like this?

Why is Schubert yowling with all his might from the depths of his heart? Whatever could be the matter?

Oh my. Could this be the cause of all the clammer and commotion in our house? This cute little guy? I guess he was kind of hard on the pumpkin stem...

The doggies find it quite upsetting that this little fellow is visiting their front step.

Oooops! Where did he go? I guess he's taking a dip in the pumpkin slime, foraging for more of those nice, juicy pumpkin seeds...

It looks like he's gotten at all of our pumpkins now, even the one off to the right, although I don't think he made it quite all the way through the wall of that one. Funny how he went in the side and dragged the seeds out of the one in the middle of the photo: if that were a jack-o-lantern and the hole were a mouth, then the seeds and gunk coming out would

There are seeds all over the step, but there are even more seeds buried throughout the landscaping and the front lawn. This squirrel has been working hard. Spasticly, but hard.

We liked trying to get pictures of our furry-tailed friend, but I just couldn't take the incessant barking, so I bravely went out and threw the pumpkins onto our compost in the back. Peace has reigned since then. Well, relatively speaking.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Here we go again

The holidays are coming again.

One year I had four children in elementary school. Shannon was in sixth grade, David in fourth, Laura in third and Jon in kindergarten. They got on the bus together in the morning and they came home together in the afternoon.

It was not a great year. For one thing, it was complicated getting them all ready to go at the same time. But morning was nothing compared to “after school.”

The bus would pull up, door opening to emit the tumbled pile of them which quickly righted itself and came running, all eight legs of it, up the driveway to the house. They fought their way to get through the mud-room door all at the same time. Immediately, backpacks came unzipped and heaved their contents all over the kitchen table; notes about attendance policy and math homework sheets, corrected tests and lunch menus expanded and multiplied. At the same time, the children were all talking as fast as their mouths could possibly move, spewing out stories about the day, complaints about who used foul language on the bus, demanding a shopping trip to get the materials to do a project, informing me that I had been volunteered for a room-mother obligation… all talking at the same time, peering wide-eyed into my face, shouting to be heard over one another. I turned from one to the next, vainly trying to prove my concern and involvement. As I attempted to express an interest, answer questions, validate them all, if I locked onto one particular child, the others would all immediately howl, “MOM! You’re not listening to ME!!!”

One afternoon the bus pulled up. I was in the front of the house, and Piper was with me, sweet dog that he is, trotting by my side on the smooth hardwood floor. When the bus pulled up and its squeaky brakes squealed to a loud, metallic halt, Piper stiffened his little legs and went into an all-out skid across the floor. The funny thing was, I knew exactly how he felt, that inner voice he must have heard as well as I did, the one that says, “Brace yourself!”

The year after that, Shannon was in middle school, which meant that she left and returned earlier than the others. Also, I homeschooled Laura. The schedule improved greatly: I was able to spend quality individual time with each child at some point in the day, and everything was much better.

However, that same feeling of, “Brace yourself!” continues to plague me each year as the holidays roll around.

It is hard for me to write about this without sinning. I must have a lot of bitterness and unresolved unforgiveness or something… I probably need therapy.

Generally, I am a pessimist. My credo is, “Expect the worst and you will never be disappointed.” Somehow, this never helps me with the holiday season. Each year, I try to set my expectations lower, and each year I somehow end up in a weeping fit anyway, traumatizing my offspring and otherwise proving, yet once again, that it certainly is NOT “the most wonderful time of the year.” Of course, I hate myself for this, but that doesn’t help anyone else. (Proof of the damage I've done: Lu's favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. I'm not even kidding.)

Two years ago (2007) was probably the worst Christmas there could ever be. I won’t go into details, but it was bad. Really, really bad. So last year, we decided to jettison everything. We had no tree, no gifts, no nothing. We used the Christmas budget (and quite a bit more) to buy airline tickets for the family to fly to Minnesota to be with Grandma, Grandpa and the aunts, uncles and cousins over Christmas. Except for the weather related plane issues, it turned out to be one of our best Christmases ever.

I have a couple of other happy Christmas memories. There was the year—I’m not sure which one—when I couldn’t get the family together to chop down a Christmas tree. Everybody was just too busy. Finally, one day after school when it was not snowing and the sun was still up, I drove the hour to Mexico, NY with only Shannon and Jonathan. We went to a tree farm and hiked out into the forest where Jon picked out a perfect tree, and he cut it down himself with the saw they had loaned us back at the barn. Then, because at that time he was still smaller than we were, Shannon and I carried the tree out of the woods and tied it on top of the van. We had the best time; it was wonderful. I felt a weird, guilty pleasure at it being just the three of us, but we laughed, rejoiced over our perfect tree, and listened to Christmas music all the way home on the radio.

A few years prior to that, I had become utterly overwhelmed and beside myself, and the girls decided that they would do the Christmas decorating, probably because I had said that I was not going to decorate that year, or something. They decorated the whole house, garland up the banister and everything, and I didn’t have to do anything. It was like walking into a fairytale to see what they had done, and not to have had to do it myself. I might have shed a tear or two, it was so sweet, so pretty and festive. Such a gift, one of the best gifts I ever got.

Then there was the year I turned 41. I gave myself a birthday party, and invited a bunch of people over to sing Christmas carols. I think my birthday (December 22) was on a Friday that year, or a Saturday. I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday, because I didn’t want it to be about that. I just wanted an old-fashioned, traditional carol sing. Our children’s piano teacher is also my friend, and she graciously agreed to come and play the piano for us. We sang carols out of hymnals and followed up with assorted Christmas cookies (delicious old-family-recipe ones, lovingly baked by Shannon and Laura), fudge, crackers and cheese, snacks, mulled cider, hot chocolate, coffee and tea. It was rather lovely, I thought, and many of the guests seemed to really enjoy it. A few seemed slightly uncomfortable with the singing part, and although this deterred me from ever trying to repeat the event, the evening will always be a happy memory.

One of my happiest Christmas memories was when I was about sixteen. I had mentioned to my mom that Christmas had never been quite the same since I got too big to get dolls, because my favorite part of gift opening had always been to try to figure out which package had the doll in it. That year, she bought me a porcelain doll, which was an utterly unexpected surprise, and it spoke an incredible amount of love to me when I opened that particularly mysterious box and realized what she had done.

I don’t know how to approach Christmas this year. If we build a house on our land in the country, it might be our last Christmas in this house, which makes me want it to be a special one. But I don’t dare hope for special, because my hopes are dashed every holiday season. I should not hope for anything, but it is so hard not to.

Over the years, there have been Christmases when we have been destitute, Christmases when we have been fighting, Christmases when we have been lonely, and Christmases when we have tried to fill the loneliness with crazy busy-ness through church or other activities. There have been years when the busy-ness of church and other activities engulfed us even though we did not intend to let it. Some years we have all been sicker than dogs, completely isolated, and I have spent most of Christmas day rocking a fever stricken baby.

God has taught me that Christmas is not about the gifts, the cards, the cookies or the decorations. Christmas is not even about family. Christmas is about how God became man and dwelt among us. Any other focus drives me to despair every time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


(That baby was me, and that is my mom holding me, teaching me something.)

I am hitting the wall, I think.

Most autumns I get depressed, ever since the year Laura was born and we struggled from her birth (October 8) right through the entire winter with health problems.

I don't know if it's SAD or if it is just the emotions that are there in the unconscious memories of the winter of '92-'93.

This year I thought I was doing better, but today, not so much.

The leaves are falling more frenetically this year than usual. Every time I look out the window or walk down the street, my eyes chase flocks of leaves whirling in violent flurries off to the east. It was amusing, mostly, but today it seems ominous.

Daylight Savings Time stinks. It just messes me up something awful. Whether we gain an hour or lose one doesn't seem to make much difference; it all puts me off.

Yes, I am whiny. There is just a lot right now. Things I can't talk about, things that burden my heart, things that annoy me, things that worry me, things that discourage me. Bleck. Sometimes when there is a lot, God piles on more, to where you were sure you would have broken and fallen to the ground. But then He lifts you up and carries you on His eagle's wings in a miracle of grace, and you survive after all. I have had that happen and it is both terrible and wonderful. I am not exactly hoping for it to happen again, even the wonderful parts, and that is certainly a failing on my part and a lack of faith.

My mother was an anti-dramatist, and by that I mean that drama did not exist in her universe. She never cried at anything staged, probably never in her life. It has always been pragmatics. Her mother died while she (my mother) was in the next state helping my brother and sister-in-law with their new baby. My mom didn't bother to go home for the the funeral because she figured she was needed where she was, and she had spent plenty of time with her mother while she was alive, so it wasn't so important to be there after she was dead. My dad offered to drive down and get her, but apparently she couldn't see wasting the return airplane ticket she already had, or something like that. She was never one to embrace a change in plans.

She also did not embrace tears. Anytime I cried, it was chalked up to manipulation, no possibility that I actually had honest feelings of, say, disappointment or some such nonsense. I could never just be sad; all sadness was interpreted as a ploy to get my way. Which, by the way, I rarely got. Principles, you know.

I'm not trying to be harsh here, because I love my mother and I get along with her really very well. I just say this because I have been raised to be skeptical of dramatics, so when issues arise in my life today, I do not immediately assume that the sky is falling. By and large, this is a good thing, but there are times when I think I let things go that are "a big deal" and then sometimes the fallout is less than pleasant when I find out that something I was minimalizing has grown to epic proportions outside of my control.

Yes, there is a lot.

I think I will make some sloppy joes.