Thursday, May 31, 2007

This One's For the Girls

I grew up in a house bursting at the seams with boys. Seven of them. And one tomboy sister. I am all girl. I like pink and perfume and jewelry and makeup and nailpolish. My brothers liked dirt and starting fires and burping . They did not like perfume. Sunday mornings, I would deck myself out in all my finery and brace for the "Uuugh! You stink!" which spilled forth collectively from the mouths of the tribe mashed into the minivan. I was a girl with guts. I smelled good Sunday after Sunday.

When our first little guy was born, I figured I was doomed for a lifetime of testosterone. There would be no one who would share my love of pink. But then, wonder of wonders...one...two...three... little girls made their entrance into our lives. One is a tomboy but I can forgive her for this because she likes earrings and necklaces and nail polish. The next two are the sisters I have been waiting for all my life. They like to play house and dolls and dress up. One even screams when she sees a frog or a bug! A sound that warms this mama's heart.

We pulled out the nail clippers and the nail polish yesterday. I clipped twenty little toenails while they lined up the polish bottles and made their selections. Palest Mauve on one set of toes and Thrill Red on the other. They picked out stickers for their big toes. Butterflies for one. Dragonflies for the other. All of the toes wiggled while they dried. Both girls smiled and studied their mama's handiwork and pronounced it good. They got up and danced off to wiggle their toes for their papa. He patted their heads and told them they were beautiful. They beamed. It is good to feel loved by your papa.

Many of my brothers are getting another chance at understanding the heart of a girl as they raise girls of their own. They are learning that dolls are fun and pink is a beautiful color. I know they will never tell their daughters, "Uugh! You stink!" I am raising a second boy. One who came after the three girls. He will be teaching me the joys of dirt and starting fires and burping any day now.

For the record, I will concede that there is such a thing as too much perfume. Especially when you are mashed into a minivan.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

First Impressions

The Colors are here to install a fence around our pool. There are four...grey, black, orange and orange.

Grey has soot covered skin, a mop of dusty curls, dirt streaked clothes and light grey eyes. When he lights up a cigarette...which is often...he vanishes into a cloud of smoke. The kids call him Torchiere Man because he operates the welding torch. He appears to be a hard worker and skilled with dangerous power tools.

Black is in charge. He has black hair with grey at the temples, black eyes and a black mustache. He appears to have leadership qualities. He appears to be competent, conscientious and patient.

Orange and Orange are teen brothers. They could be twins. One an inch taller than the other. Both are stocky and muscular. They have bright orange hair and an orange complexion. They take turns working, drinking gatorade, sitting, spitting, yawning, and leaning. Occasionally they carry something heavy. Combined, they appear do the work of one man...maybe that's a stretch.

I can say that the fence is beautiful and sturdy for it is a tangible thing. I can say nothing more about The Colors because I do not know more. They have not revealed much of their characters, of what drives them, of their aspirations, of their triumphs and hurts as they measure and carry and and operate power tools. These things are hidden to a stranger though God sees into the heart of each one.

It's a comforting thought. God knows our ways...our thoughts...our habits. It's a scary thought, too. God knows our ways...our thoughts...our habits. Nothing is hidden from Him. Good or bad.

Jesus made an impression on everyone he met when he walked on this earth. They all misread him...including his own family. The only One who could see the big picture of what Jesus was up to was God. The same holds true for you and me. Everyone will come to inaccurate conclusions about us...including ourselves. The only One who sees our big picture is God. Freedom comes when we understand that His is the only opinion that matters.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

You've Got Mail

For the past six months, I have been looking for the answer on how to live in a culture that baffles me. I am amazed that a three hundred mile move has pushed my family completely out of our comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory. I have been talking to God about all this. "Where do You want us to go to church? How do You want us to serve? How do You want us to be involved in this community?"

One thought has come time and again as I have been searching for answers. Look outside of church for the work that I have for you.

I am not a seeker of signs and wonders. When I pray for direction I look for principles in God's Word to guide me. I listen for His still small voice and I keep an ear out for those whispers to be repeated out loud or in black and white. Sometimes a friend will voice what I have been thinking. I might read something or hear a sermon that adds an exclamation mark to my thoughts. I am a cautious soul. I have been waiting for my thoughts about our current situation to be repeated in bold print.

I do not have friends who can speak to my questions. The natives here are...well... natives. They don't have an outsider's perspective. Their complacency is much of the problem. Only not to them...just to me. I don't know anyone from the outside who can offer guidance because this is a world all unto its own.

In spite of my three-step-answer-seeking system, I have been doing the most bizarre thing for weeks. When the weight of these questions pressed upon me I would check my email. I was looking for A MESSAGE FROM GOD. "This is ridiculous!" I would think to myself. "Your Bible is sitting right next to you. God teaches you through these pages everyday. The answers are in there." But still, I would open my email and scan the contents for A MESSAGE FROM GOD.

I wonder if I have been dense all along. Maybe God had sent me confirmation and I missed it. At any rate, He must have gotten really fed up with me opening my inbox. "Enough already! If this is where you are going to keep looking, I'll send you an email!"

And He did! I got an email yesterday from a woman I have never met through circumstances that only He could have mapped out. She has driven on these very roads. She understands the people and the culture I rub shoulders with. She has both an outsider's perspective as well as a godly one. Her message was filled with wisdom and instruction. I cried both at her kindness and God's willingness to meet me at my computer. He is indeed familiar with all my ways! Psalm 139:3
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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Littlest Pet Shop A.K.A. Tiny Box of Aggravation


We have been trying to instill a better work ethic in Faith and Claire. We want them to do their jobs with speed and excellence. We pay them for each completed task that fufills these requirements. There is potential to earn about fifty cents a day. They are in the $1.00 a week range. This is improvement.

About two months ago, they fell in love with The Teeniest Tiniest Petshop in the Wal-Mart toy aisle. This was the perfect opportunity to give them a goal to work toward. "Well, girls, you could earn that in just a few weeks if you put some effort into your chores."

They did. For about two days. Earnings slowed down considerably after that but about six weeks later, they finally had enough nickles and dimes in their banks to make The Big Purchase.

They walked into Wal-Mart yesterday with their little purses loaded with loot and made a bee line for the Littlest Pet Shop aisle. I was given a small glimpse at what yesterday and today would hold as I watched them pick which Teeniest Tiniest Petshop they would bring home. They could only pick one. Each toy was marked $9.67 and their purses held a combined total of $10.73.

"I like the rabbits. Let's get the one with the rabbits."

"I don't know. Mama, which one do you think we should get?" Decision making is a big stressor for Faith.

"I like the rabbits. Let's get the one with the rabbits." Claire, on the other hand, is quite decisive.

"I don't think I like that one. Mama, which one do you like?"

"I want a Littlest Pet Shop. I want this one! I want this one!" Charlie swept two or three $15.00 Pet Shops off the shelves.

"Put them back, Charlie. I will get you something but it is not going to be any of these." This statement was followed by wailing that continued until we found three small dogs for $2.97 about fifteen minutes later.

Faith and Claire finally decided on the Kitty Playset. By this time, I had a throbbing headache and I was a little dizzy. But wait! Who was going to carry the treasure to the checkout counter?

"I want to carry The Littlest Pet Shop."

"You need to push the cart. I want to carry it." They pushed each other. No one pushed the cart.

We made it to the checkout lane and the girls handed me their purses. I began pulling out nickles, dimes and pennies. Lots of pennies. It took me five minutes to count out the correct change. The cashier did not smile.

There was no fighting on the way home. I don't know why. Maybe because they were all buckled in. Maybe because their hands and mouths were full of snacks.

When we got home the fighting escalated. The toy is the size of a swollen ice cube. It is hard to share something so tiny. They did take turns though...grabbing it from each other...tattling... sitting in time out.

I hadn't wanted to step in because after all they did buy it with their own money. It took me until noon today to figure out that the three of them using it together was not working. I finally laid down the law. "OK, this toy is going in my office. You may play with it one at a time. No one is allowed in my office but the child who is playing with it."

The plan worked and even more amazing... I did not yell. (I do that sometimes.) Not yesterday at the store. Not last night and not even when Charlie was beaning the girls with the teeniest tiniest kitties. Yeah me!

This will all blow over when their purchase is relegated to familiar and they set their sights on the fairy wings located one aisle over from The Littlest Pet Shop.
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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Main Thing

An aquaintance stopped by the other day with five books for me and five cupcakes for the kids. The books, all of them, outlined the doctrine of her particular denomination. The cupcakes were vanilla with chocolate frosting and sprinkles.

This acquaintance could easily be a friend because our lives have much in common but she has erected a wall of doctrine between us and there is distance instead. I will not be completely acceptable in her eyes unless I accept her take on Christianity. This is sad. I could use a friend and so could she.

This topic sits atop a great slippery slope and I tred lightly less I lose my footing and tumble to the bottom and end face down in the mud. (Colin says, "Mama, this sure isn't a scribble about something small.")

The apostle Paul lived at a time when the Jews and the Gentiles were forming one church out of many backgrounds. Division came more readily than unity. Believers in Christ were also believers in circumcision...or not. They ate food deemed clean...or they didn't. They fought over who was right. Who was guardian of the Truth. Paul spoke to all of these things but he kept the main thing the main thing in every letter that he wrote. Christ crucified and risen is the way to heaven.

We do the same today. We fight over music. Hymns or worship songs. Organ or drums or no instruments at all. Long hair or short. Dresses or pants. Communion weekly or monthly. Do our beliefs cause pride? Do they cause us to make comparisons against our fellow man where we look good every time and our fellow man looks like a loser? Or do our beliefs cause us to look to Christ...where He looks great and we see we have a long way to go to measure up...where we overflow with gratitude for His love?

There is nothing to be gained when Christians try to brow beat one another into becoming cookie cutter images. Great gain comes when iron sharpens iron. When we pray for one another. (Hands raised...or not) When we share what we are learning from the Word. (NIV, NKJV, ESV...) When we encourage one another with stories of how God has stepped in and worked for good in our lives. This is common ground and this is the ground that we need to stand on for it is solid.




Paul says all of this more eloquently than I in 1 Corinthians 1.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Spelunking

We went spelunking today. It's not as exciting as you think. Around here, spelunking means diving under beds and sofas and removing the accumulated clutter. Three motherships (or laundry baskets to the uninitiated) full. The cleaning frenzy was brought on by the company that we will be having at the end of the week. Not that they will ever look in the laundry closet or under the bathroom sink, mind you. But I will have peace of mind knowing that all is where it belongs.

Stuart's parents are coming for a long weekend. Our first house guests in over a year! It's hard being so far away from family. A supply of grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins was only eight hours away when we were in Rhode Island. The Ocean State is a fun place to vacation and so everyone came. We six (for we were not yet seven) slept in our unfinished attic for six months straight one year. The two bedrooms below were filled with one family after another. I miss them.

The rhythm of our routine will change when Grandma Carole and Grandpa Tom get here. We will stop doing and just be for a few days. We will pull out Quiddler and play every evening. John will probably win. He's a great speller. Grandpa Tom will give him a run for his money. He's a horrible speller but he plays a great game of strategy. We will make iced cappuccinos...which I have perfected. We will walk around the block and sit around the table long after the meal is over. Grandma Carole will mind the heat. She loves winter and snow. We have not seen snow in four years. But there is the pool and the air conditioning so there is comfort to be found here in the deep south.

For now though, our rhythm is one of frenzy. Our house is always picked up and rarely clean. Except for the bathrooms. An archeologist could come in and glance at our shelves and say, "Hmm...these artifacts have seen two pollen seasons." And he would be right. I don't trip over dust so I don't dust...unless we are having company. We have thrown out piles of old magazines and washed bedding. We found a deer bone under my bed. (Must have been Faith's.) Tomorrow we will wash a few windows and shop for "company food." If I cannot reach the mahogany colored fan that has turned light gray with dust I will turn it on high and no one will know that it is dusty. And then we will wait for when they pull up with Stuart on Friday. And there will be hugs and stories and memories made. I can't wait.
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Sunday, May 20, 2007

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Grocery Shopping


On Thursday afternoons, John and Lauren paint and sculpt with Miss Daphne. I take the middles and the little grocery shopping. I feel like I become a time traveler for these few hours...back to the days when John was seven and Lauren, five. Back to the days when everyone had to hold hands and no one could think for themselves.

"Put your hand on the hood of the car. Wait until everyone is out and all the doors are shut. Charlie, hold someone's hand. Faith, hold my hand. Stay close together the cars can't see you."

We stop at the sliding doors so dresses and hair can be blown by the gust of air in the doorway. Everyone giggles.

The giggles stop when we get to the carts. "I don't want to push the cart. Claire can push it."

"I pushed it last week. It's your turn."

"Girls, you will take turns. Claire, you can have the first turn." We fill two carts with groceries each week. Four gallons of milk go a long way toward filling one of the carts. Little or not, the children must help me with this job.

Claire pushes down the child seat in the cart and peers through the leg holes. She is too short to see over the handle. She is cautious and attentive. The cart is serene and docile behind me the whole time she is at the helm.

The children take turns picking out and putting items in the cart. Until we get to the juice. Everybody wants to get the orange juice. We only need one. "Carry it together, girls. I can't remember who got it last week."

The cart switches hands and becomes an ankle biting monster. It swerves and dawdles. It remains in the cereal aisle when we turn the corner. "Faith, where's the cart?"

"I'm tired of pushing it."

"Just because you're tired doesn't mean you can walk off and leave it. Go back and get it. Claire will take another turn when we get to the next aisle."

Charlie finds a reason for a meltdown sometime after the gust of air and before we put the first item into the cart. This noise often reaches a crescendo in the checkout line. "I want Skittles and milk! I want Skittles and milk! Skittles and milk! Skittles and milk!" Two weeks ago he dumped a full bag of pretzels in line and the week before that he huddled down behind the checkout counter and helped himself to a lollipop. I have taken to traveling with the time-out timer.

This week there were no issues because this week we used the self-checkout lane. The children hummed with activity. Faith and Claire handed Charlie the butter to put on the conveyer belt. They searched for the barcodes. They ran groceries across the scanner and bagged them. My eyes were everywhere making sure that we paid for everything and that we only paid for it once.

"Can we do that again next week, Mama?"

"Maybe. It was fun wasn't it? You were big helpers... Faith, don't get ahead of us... Claire, can you see the yellow pole right in front of you?"

Faith stands still and waits for us to catch up. Claire steers carefully around the pole.

The kids and groceries are loaded up. The carts are returned. We're off to pick up the big guys. Over the course of six months of Thursdays, I'm starting to see the middles learn to think for themselves, to offer to help without my direction, and to take pride in their work. This weekly trip is worth the effort.
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Friday, May 18, 2007

Finding Rest

This is my one hundredth post. Blog tradition dictates that I tell you that I like soft chocolate graham crackers and hate mushrooms and was once a flute for Halloween. But enough. I will tell you John's story instead. It is a story of human frailty. Mine. For it is against the backdrop of our frailty that the God's glory shines most brightly.

John adds spice, energy, and texture to our family. His innocence, quick wit, and academic mind are exceptional for a boy of twelve. His personality pours from the pages of our family journal. A few quotes from years gone by reveal his essence. "I fixed the hole in your sheet, Mama. I stapled it." (He put the hole in the sheet in the first place.) Once when instructed to finish his dinner, John responded, "But I ate forty-five minutes of it." (That would be three fourths to the rest of us.) After I asked him to stop talking: "But I have to talk, I'm a Yak-In-The-Box." A boy with a thousand questions, "Where does steel wool come from anyway? Mechanical sheep?" "Do sharks have tongues? It seems like if sharks had tongues, they would bite them."

John is my firstborn. My crucible child. Sent by the Refiner to remove my dross. I was twenty-six when he was born. He dawdled into the world after three days of intermittent labor. He nursed vigorously and continuously and slept little. He was born to a prideful mother and for years, John fed that pride. He spoke words at six months and sentences at a year. He knew all of his letters and was making up original jokes and puns at two. He played chess and read at three. He was a fierce Scrabble competitor at six. A tenderhearted, funny, creative and strikingly beautiful boy.



Underneath this image of perfection lurked puzzling oddities. He slept through the night for the first time on his second birthday. Four days after Christmas. I still remember waking up in that morning, first panic stricken, and then elated. At four and five, we were still reminding him that snow pants go on before boots, underwear before pants. We cut the tags out of all his clothes, as they were too scratchy. When friends came to visit, the John Show became overwhelming. The child who was content to play and pretend clung to me and needed me to deal with one “emergency” after another. At six, he started looking at things out of the corners of his eyes. Some days he didn’t look straight on at anything. At four, he could read and spell and once he came in from the back yard and announced, “I just figured out that there are numbers smaller than zero.” But at six and seven, he couldn’t put anything down on paper without me sitting next to him and writing for him. If I walked away, his schoolwork and his chores were left untouched because he had no system for breaking down small tasks into sequential steps. If there was more than one thing to do, he couldn't. I was mystified by his incongruent abilities.

In October, when John was seven, Stuart came home with the news that he was being transferred. John responded to the news by touching me with his right hand and then his left. He touched the table, the cat, the wall, me again. Right, left. Right, left. Day after day. He left Rhode Island as a sweet boy and arrived in Chattanooga a stranger. The first week in our new neighborhood, he snuck off. I called and called and hunted frantically. The sun sank low in the sky. Neighbors searched and I phoned the police. Stuart found him in the trailer park behind our house. So much for perfect parenting.

John began to throw raging temper tantrums that lasted for hours and left us all limp and exhausted. At the time, Stuart and I didn’t understand the role that anxiety about the move played in John’s behavior for his life was essentially the same. Same family, same routine. He didn't even have to adjust to a new school because we homeschooled him. My nightstand was piled high with The Strong Willed Child, Dare to Discipline, To Train Up a Child, Making Children Mind without Losing Yours…All good books, but books that said essentially, “If your child does this, you do this…” I was left with the impression that I could control my child if I could only find the right combination of ingredients. I did not know mercy; I did not know grace. I knew discipline, rules, time out, and spankings. I used all of these with consistency.

Testing began. A team of specialists administered tests for days. A hundred pages came back with the diagnosis of Pervasive Development Disorder. A disorder on the autistic spectrum. Autism? My son was particularly interactive and engaging. It couldn't be. One of the main things that a child exhibits with PDD is speech delay. That was not my child so I mentally threw out the ambiguous report. We visited more pediatricians and added a dose of stimulant medication that was so high it made doctors do a double take when they read his chart. The medicine worked. But when it wore off, we paid the price. I became a slave to the clock and the medicine cabinet.

John continued to need me at his side every second at ages eight and nine and ten for chores and schoolwork. He was destructive to property and awake all hours of the night. We finally put him in a sleeping bag in our walk-in closet at night so we could be sure he was at least in bed. I responded to John's antics with words spoken through clenched teeth, cold words delivered in a cold tone, words of ridicule and swearing. He would weep with remorse and ask for forgiveness but my heart was so hardened toward his unpredictable behavior that I would “forgive” him while reminding him of his transgression in the process. I was the saint, he the sinner. When my rage passed, it was my turn to feel drained and empty and incompetent. I loved him fiercely and hated him in turns. I was a prisoner to my emotions. I was paralyzed with worry that we were raising a child who would not experience success in the adult world. I took the things that he couldn’t do and added ten years to his age and believed that in a decade he would make no progress. I screamed at God. “This is not right! He should have had a different mother! I am no good for him! I am ruining him!"


Why share such a personal story? I share it because I have talked to enough women to know that underneath the makeup and the matching outfits and the small talk that make up our exteriors, we are a broken people. To pretend otherwise creates isolation. Thoughtful honesty creates closer relationships and greater understanding. When we share the way God works in the difficult things of life it encourages first oneself and then others.

For some of us, the pieces have been patched and restored and there is wholeness where there was none before. But some of us are walking wounded, barely hanging on and wondering if there is hope. We have a choice. We can either be completely shattered by bitterness, depression and anger or we can lay the fragments before the One who can take the sharp slivers and jagged pieces and create a beautiful, productive life.

When John was ten, he was sullen and moody and difficult and so was I. But I was no longer proud. I had seen too much of my own wretchedness. I was broken, squashed on the Potter's wheel. A dear friend saw that I was losing the battle to be good and strong and loving. She called another friend and we met together for prayer. It was then that God began reshaping the clay of my spirit into a whole new vessel.

Stuart and John and I met with a family counselor. We took with us the test results from three years prior. The psychologist read through the reports and listened to our story and said, “You’re dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome. Your parenting is innovative and creative (I did not tell her about the swearing or the clenched teeth) and I don’t know that there is a whole lot I can tell you that you aren’t already doing.” Asperger's Sydrome. With those words, the pieces of the puzzle flew into place after a decade of wondering what we were dealing with. We were not sorrowful but relieved.

I found an online support group and learned that Aspie kids sleep poorly, that they like small spaces (which is why John loved my closet) and hate change. I connected with parents who understood what it is like to listen to daily monologues about Lord of the Rings or Battlezone. I trundled my stack of parenting books off to the Salvation Army. I learned to discipline in tiny increments. “If you talk like that again, you will lose two minutes of computer.” I learned to relax my standards, to offer mercy and extend grace. I learned to hug and joke and and love even if John was unlovable. I learned that if I did these things, he became lovable.


Today, John is happy. This is the one thing that has changed. He is still tenderhearted and funny and creative. He still has strong academic abilities and he still needs close supervision to keep him on task. Last week he went church with his button-down shirt on inside out. We have to check to see if he has shoes on and contacts in before he leaves the house. He stands in the kitchen and talks about Harry Potter while Lauren washes the dishes. He’s supposed to be helping but he forgets. I ask him to bring me Charlie’s shoes and he comes back empty handed and I ask him again and he brings me a comb. We laugh (usually) and he tries again. I don’t think about him learning to drive or going to college or leaving home. It stresses me out.

The entries in the family journal continue. Once he cut the "chickens" off top of his head because they were bothering him. I had to shave his head to repair the damage. He appeared in my bedroom at midnight wrapped in an orange blanket with his shorn head sticking out and explained, "I'm an insom-ni-monk." He put Charlie down for a nap one afternoon, "I put Charlie to sleep with 'The Song of Invigoration!'" And while helping me in the kitchen, "I did the impossible. I put ALL of lettuce into these two bags!" (He had smashed two heads of lettuce into two small ziplock bags and squeezed out all the air. Two heads of romaine reduced to the size of a baseball.)

I found this statement in a commentary that I was reading this morning and I think it applies here. One of the most common errors evident in the professing church today (is) triumphalism. It is our insistence that Jesus be now what the Bible says He will be and do then—in the future. We all wish to identify with the triumphant Jesus, who overthrows the wicked, and brings prosperity, peace, and freedom from pain to His people. But we do not wish to identify with the “suffering Savior.” I don't know how successfully John will venture into adulthood. I don't know if his story will be one of triumph from a worldly perspective. All I know is that before I fought and kicked against John's difficulties and now I don't. This is triumph in God's eyes.

One day, a long time ago, when we were having a rough day and I was disciplining and controlling because no child of mine was going to act that way, God said, "No. John is not yours. He’s mine." And, of course, He was right. God created John and He has a plan for him and He has been faithful to reveal it one grain at a time. So now there is peace. Now I can enjoy the gift and the wonder of raising this boy. John is a blessing. A great, great blessing. God knew what He was doing all along.


Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Whac-A-Moles

"Mama! Mama! Let me in! Somebody! Let me in!" I hear the sound of little fists and feet pounding against a door. Charlie. How did he get outside and which door is he at? I listen carefully. He doesn't sound too far away. I open the door off the kitchen. There he is.

I wipe away his tears and pick him up. "Charlie, you don't go out front without Mama. It's not safe."

"It's not safe? Why, Mama?" And he's off again to join the kids in their play.

Our sprawling ranch has six doors to the outside. I would need crazy cartoon x-ray see-around-the-corner eyes to keep track of the comings and goings of this mob. The neighbors must have been elbowing each other behind their curtains the morning we arrived. "Look honey, the Whac-A-Moles moved in." Before we collected our wits and established sound boundaries, the kids were bursting in and out of every door. We found them riding their bikes in the neighbor's driveway. We heard them running around in the front yard after dark when they were supposed to be getting ready for bed. We collared one across the street looking for lily pads along the lakeshore.

After the lake incident and before we unpacked the pots and pans, we sat all of the children down in a row along the hearth. "Look at my eyes! Repeat after me! Do not go in the front yard! Stay in the back yard! Use the back door!" The children opened and closed the correct door for emphasis. For the most part they have complied with this edict. Although, why Charlie was at the kitchen door remains a mystery.

The kids and I read about a group of Whac-A-Moles in Judges 18 today. God assigned the tribe of Dan a choice plot of land nestled safely between Ephraim and Judah. The Danites were overwhelmed by the thought of fighting the Philistines and the Amorites to settle in this territory and so they looked for an easy way out. By the end of the chapter, the Danites have popped up a hundred miles away from the land that God had for them. They settled in a rich, isolated territory. It meant nothing for them to disobey about where to live so it was just as easy to make concessions on how to worship. They stole some silver idols and convinced a renegade priest (Moses' grandson, Jonathan) to lead them.

They would have been safe in the middle of the tribes if they had chosen to follow God's directions. They would have been close to the center of worship. This may have made obedience more likely. What was convenient in the beginning led to their destruction in the end. That prosperous, isolated territory made them an easy target for bands of marauders. In the end, the tribe of Dan was no more.

We can be Whac-A-Moles too if we do not take care. God gives each of us a territory that he wants us to settle. Tasks that perfectly match our abilities. How often do we pop our heads up, crane our necks and look for something else to do? Somewhere else to settle? Something a little easier or more entertaining than the task before us? I can almost picture Jesus standing at the door to the sheepfold with His hands on his hips, "Can you not just stay in the fold? Look! You have purpose. You have direction. You have Me! What more do you need?" If we keep popping out, He lets us go where we will but we forfeit the blessing that He had for us in the original territory. He graciously welcomes us back if we choose to return but it is better to stay safe with Him in His plan in the first place.

More on the tribe of Dan
Judges 18





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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fairy Forest

One of my favorite parenting books is Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kennison. Great gems are tucked into this slim volume. The overarching theme of the book is to parent with simplicity and intentionality...to join in the small natural events of your child's life rather than juggle a hectic schedule of extra-curricular experiences.

Three fairies joined our household after I read this book. Moss Pants, Mack and Sterling. They come to visit Faith and Claire. The girls know they aren't real but the fairies are a delight to our imagination. The whole family joins in creating these fairy adventures.

Mack is the papa fairy. He roars around Fairy Forest on a motorcycle made out of broken Happy Meal toys. An acorn helmet protects his little head. Moss Pants is a little boy fairy. He wears moss overalls, nibbles apple bits and rides in the sidecar of Mack's motorcycle. Sterling is the mama. She shimmers in a gossamer gown made of milkweed seed fluff. The family lives in a hole in a tree outside our sunroom. They float in the lake across the street in a milkweed pod boat. They tiptoe into our house when it is tidy. (This is a great motivator.) They search out snacks left by the girls. Miniature chocolate chips, a cranberry, bits of muffin.

The girls come running when they discover tiny letters left by the fairies. "Look, Mama. Sterling left a letter on the table! She is canning blueberries for the winter." The letters tell the story of the fairies' everyday life. Mack's motorcycle gets stuck in the mud after a heavy rain. The fairy community must battle Mr. Patch Pockets, a squirrel, who is intent on raiding their larders. Sterling has to continually repair Moss Pant's mossy overalls. Moss, while soft, is not the toughest material from which to fashion clothing.

Faith and Claire keep their letters in a basket. They treasure them. I kept this game up for a while but real life distracts and the fairy visits became infrequent. The girls were so disappointed. "The fairies haven't come in forever, Mama!" When they wrote a note saying, "Please come back! We miss you!" Lauren picked up where I left off. She has an awesome imagination. Mack tracks mud around the teacup and saucer that hold his sunflower seeds and a sip of grape juice. He leaves grease smudges on his letters. Bits of glitter fall from Sterling's dress onto the wee note she leaves behind.

This game cannot last forever. The girls will graduate to pop music and common sense. Tea parties and fairies forge sweet memories that will linger long after the door to pretend swings shut.

Committing to Color


It's fifteen minutes to Wednesday. I am having difficulty falling asleep because of the three children in my bedroom and the biscotti crumbs in my bed.

After six months in this house, I am finally starting to sign my signature on it. I went to Sherwin Williams yesterday and came home with a bucket of Martha Stewart Cameo blue. (Her color chips are not on display but the recipes remain in the computer.) I hate picking out paint. It feels like when I was falling in love with Paul...sick to my stomach and panicky. Lucky for Paul, I have been more committed to him than I have been to some of the colors that have graced our walls. We've been married for WAAAY longer than six hours.

I am painting a hallway. Seven doors, a mile of trim and wainscotting. It takes a lot of Cameo and Extra White to cover up seventies yellow and dark tan. I am compelled to do this during the summer months. I cannot spend another winter wrapped in dark hues.

The children thrive on routine. This painting frenzy has thrown them off kilter. Eating chocolate covered biscotti in my bed was only one of a hundred ways they ran amuck today.

I'm off to scoot a kid over, brush out the crumbs and crawl into bed. Hopefully I'll wake up in the morning and still be committed to Cameo blue.
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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Starbucks Simulation

My mom gave Stuart the Totally Coffee Cookbook for his birthday. I took a mental coffee road trip as I flipped through the pages.

Six years ago, we were living in Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders love their coffee. Cars with a Rhode Island license plate come equipped with two standard features... a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary glued to the dashboard (on account of their driving) and a Dunkin Donuts coffee in the cup holder. My cup holder held a Kahlua Coolata...until we moved to Tennessee.

In Chattanooga, a Dunkin' Donuts beckoned on Hixson Pike. The first one we had seen since flying out of New York. We pulled into the parking lot to find an abandoned van parked in front the broken drive thru window. Citizens south of the Mason-Dixon line have different sensibilities. Southerners pick up their sweet tea at Chick-Fil-A. A lit Krispy Kreme light sucks cars from the street and up to the window for melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Dunkin' Donuts is superfluous.

Starbucks moved in about the time we moved out.

Here in our little town there is neither Starbucks nor Dunkin' Donuts. People keep offering us grits but this does not help. By necessity, we must brew our own java.

I came across a recipe, on page 30 of the Totally Coffee Cookbook, for a cappuccino blizzard. The recipe promised greater taste than the actual results. So I have been experimenting in my quest for the perfect frozen concoction. But...coffee makes me hyper...and tense...and shaky. Even decaf. Because I am hyper and tense I must keep creating and sampling until I get it right. Because I am shaky I cannot measure accurately. But I'm determined. I'm off to the kitchen to have another go at this!
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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Walking Behind the Mower

Two kinds of grass grow in our yard. Most of the grass is short but there are tall wispy patches that pop out over the lawn causing the earth to have a bad hair day.

From my vantage point behind the push mower, I have noticed something about the relationship between mower and grass. The mower chomps and spits out the short turf but an understanding exists between the mower and the taller grass. As the mower comes near, the tall strands bow down and pay homage to the blade. The mower acknowledges this show of respect and rolls harmlessly over the top of the tall stalks. The strands stand to their full height after the mower passes by. When I am finished the lawn looks like the tops of a hundred heads are popping out it.

I have discovered a trick to give these stubborn hairs a buzz cut...I pull the mower backward. The mower only has eyes in the front it seems. It cannot see the grass kowtowing and so decapitates it without mercy.

Stuart does not understand my technique. "The mower blade is doing the same thing going backward or forward." He goes on with other technical explanations involving mulching mowers (we don't have a mulching mower) and handle position. Stuart mows from on high. He rides over the top of the lawn on his John Deere. He does not walk behind my mower and so he doesn't know. Miss Norma walks behind her mower and she agrees with me. The mower cuts better backward.

God has been calling to us through the ages and through the pages of His Word..."Come. Be my friend." He called to me gently...persistently... from the time I left the hands that fashioned me until one formed by the same hands was placed in my arms. I finally agreed, ""OK, Lord, I'll follow you."

I know people who look down on this decision from seats of academia, tradition, agnosticism.

"Your God is trivial...impotent...irrelevant."

"Your God is all rules...restrictive and confining."

"Your God is only love and no justice."

"Your God is only justice and no love."

These very words have come from my own lips, but the view is altered when you follow in the footsteps of the great I AM...when you fear Him...for then He confides in you.*

His confidences?... "I am just. I am mighty. I am grace. I am mercy. I am forgiveness. I am restoration. I am compassion. I am freedom... I am your friend."

Let Him lead and see if this in not so.


*words from Exodus 3:14 and Psalm 25:14

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Late Night Noodles

"Hey Mom, can you come here and tell me if the water is boiling?

I had just spent the last forty-five minutes reading Mara: Daughter of the Nile to the kids. When we came to the end of the chapter they got up and wandered off. It's a great book. I couldn't put it down and so remained on the couch and read on. I was in the middle of Egyptian intrigue and espionage when John's words shocked me into closing my book.

"What do you mean come and tell you if the water is boiling? Are there bubbles?"

"Yes. The whole bottom of the pan is covered with bubbles."

It occurs to me that we might want to focus a little less on algebra and a little more on survival skills with this child.

"The bubbles need to be coming to the surface. The whole pan needs to be full of bubbles." I get up to check why John needs to know how to boil water at ten o'clock at night.

John has a package of Ramen Noodles laying on the counter. He is reading the directions. The water in the pan is boiling. He opens the package, puts the noodles in and turns off the stove.

"Buddy, you need to turn the burner back on and let the noodles boil for about three minutes."

"Oh." He turns the stove back on and checks the clock ...10:07. He opens the package of seasoning and tastes it. "Wow! This stuff is spicy!" He stirs the noodles and takes them off the burner at exactly 10:10.

After he has stirred in the seasoning, he pours most of the soup in a bowl, grabs a salad-serving fork and sits down at the kitchen table. I notice that there is a little soup left in the pan. I pour the remainder in another bowl, grab another salad-serving fork and join him. For a few minutes there is only the sound of John slurping his soup. And then there is the sound of laughter. We crack up when we notice we are both eating with silverware fit for a giant's table.

"Mom, what has been the best day of your whole life?"

I have to think on this for a while. I tend to be future oriented. The past slips easily out of memory. "It was the day that your Papa said that he loved me for the first time. We were sitting on a rock down by the lake."

John steers past the mush and focuses on the rock, "Was the rock out in the water? Was it near land? Was it round or flat on top?"

"Well, we didn't fall in the water so it must have been pretty flat."

It's quiet again. The slurping continues. "Ow! Noodle lash!" A noodle slaps John's face on the way into his mouth.

"Hey Mom, remember when I made heart-shaped coffee cake?"

I do remember. John's forays into the kitchen have been infrequent and, with the exception of a fabulous apple crisp that he made with his sister, disastrous. Years ago, when he read the directions for the coffee cake, he mistook 3t. for 3T. Three tablespoons of yeast made that dough come to life! I came in from working in the garden to find a dough monster climbing out of the bowl and crawling across the counter. Scary. We dumped it into the garbage, took the garbage out of the house and laugh about it to this day.

Our bowls are empty. John clears the table and puts the dishes in the sink. I'm full of plans for teaching him the basics. Tomorrow we'll tackle boxed macaroni and cheese.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Small Town Theater

Stuart and I are on a date...two laps around the block....cell phone in hand. From a distance we see an older person studying the ground. Around here, weeds can bring on an anxiety attack.

"How many grams in an ounce?"

Stuart and I...engineer and educator...do not have an answer. None is expected.

"28 grams. This is 3.6 grams." The little man straightens up and holds out a tiny red radio-controlled airplane. "It doesn't fly right." He works the levers. The plane rises silently to eye level and bucks in a lazy circle. He brings it in for a landing."It's out of balance. I like to fly it slow and I can't because it's out of balance... You'll have to excuse me, I left my teeth in the house... I just got out of the hospital...spent 89 days in there. I'm weak...very weak... Maybe if I cut the wire and slide the engine up a little that might balance it. Hate to do that though...might break it." He studies the plane for a minute.

The little man fiddles with the controls again and the plane lifts off. It sails smoothly around us while his words continue to gallop by. "You work north of here don't you? Pensions aren't what they used to be. Won't be nuthin' left in twenty years. I'm not worried...be dead by then. You on the other hand...might be just like my grandparents. They had nuthin'... nuthin'... Might get another one of these planes. They make one that's three grams...lightest one built...Nice to meet you. "

The small man goes into his house. We don't know his name.

We turn the corner. Three girls and a tiny dog are coming our way. We recognize the dog before the girls. Oscar is Henrie's friend. Abby is spinning round and round swinging something. As she comes closer, we can see that she is holding a belt. Metal cutouts shimmer down its length. The gigantic buckle swings freely at the end. Abby does not look up. She hums and spins and talks to her belt. Her mom and her sister, Jenny, keep out of its path.

Conversation is more two-sided this time but we must watch out for the belt.

"Jenny just got back from a field trip to Shiloh."

"Oh, how far is that from here?"

"About two and a half hours by bus, ma'am. We saw monuments and toured the battlefield. They have a bookstore there and I got a hat."

"A union hat! Careful, Abby, you're getting too close." Abby's mom does not move to take away the belt.

I know autism. A real battle would rage if Abby were to be deprived of the belt. Abby is almost as big as her mom and they are three blocks from home.

"Careful Abby!"

Whack! The buckle catches me across the middle. I walk around to the other side of Stuart. Abby steps back four steps and keeps spinning.

"Some kids bought Union ones and some bought Confederate ones. We had a battle on the bus ride home."

The Civil War lives on in this part of the country.

We say our goodbyes and start for home. The sun is setting and the kids are waiting for dessert. One lap will have to do tonight.

We walk in silence for a while. Loose stones crunch under our feet.

I look up at Stuart. "Do you feel like we just watched some sort of weird play?"

"Well hon, when you live in a small town for long enough it doesn't take Broadway to entertain. Little things become a whole lot more interesting."


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Monday, May 7, 2007

In Step

Stuart brought home a pedometer a few weeks ago. His company is having a Get Healthy campaign. It seems like waists aren't wasting away these days and so programs must be created to encourage trimness. Employees are divided into teams. Steps are counted and tabulated. The team that walks the most steps wins...something. Stuart doesn't know what. He doesn't even know who is on his team. Team spirit abounds.

After a week or so of keeping track of Stuart's steps, I became curious about my own step count. Wal-Mart offers a variety of pedometers. I purchased GOWalking by Sportline. As soon as I got out of the store I clipped it on. 200 steps around the Mexican restaurant...1000 on the ride home. Driving the Suburban counts as exercise! This is good news for someone who must drive a half hour to the grocery store.

I carried a fifty-pound planter from one end of the yard to the other. I huffed and puffed. Sweat dripped into my eyes. Eight steps read the digital display...Eight steps! You've got to be kidding!

I mowed the entire back yard in 500 steps. I took the same amount of steps this morning when I made potato pancakes. Funny, I didn't feel nearly as tired after the pancakes as I did when the yard was finished. In fact, I had so much energy left, I vacuumed the entire house...200 steps.

Sweeping the back patio, pool deck, and front walkway...2 hours...50 steps. (I would use the leaf blower but I have no control whatsoever with that thing.) Taebo only registers when I move the left side of my body. I tried moving the pedometer in the middle of my waist instead of my left hip...nothing...not a single step.

I'm up to about 9000 steps today out of my goal of 10,000. I think I'll go read in the rocker and knock off the last thousand.

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Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Fridge That Knows What You Want

We have this fridge. It thinks for us. Stuart opens the door to get creamer for his coffee. Something falls on his foot. "Here," offers the helpful fridge, "have some mustard."

John reaches in for the juice to wash down his vitamins. "Oh no. What you need is butter." The fridge drops a stick down on his head.

If we want ice, the fridge withholds it. He is saving the ice up to spit out a few cubes when we really need it... while we are sleeping... or grocery shopping.

I used to get aggravated at this mechanical marvel until Stuart named it The fridge that knows what you want. Somehow this made the food avalanches funny. Now when the fridge says, "Peanut butter is tastier with pickles than with jam." I can put the pickles back without cursing at the fridge.

We live in this culture. It thinks it knows what we want. It cries aloud in the market place and offers its wares. Someone recently put a copy of Seventeen Magazine in my hands. The glossy pages sell iridescent green and gold eye shadow that create an Egyptian look. Dresses are on display... some cute ones and some for a lady of the evening. There is an article on different types of birth control...how to acquire it...how to use it. Articles on abusive dates... on drug overdose... on embarrassing moments... more shocking than embarrassing really. Maybe if more was written on purity and self-respect it wouldn't be necessary to devote so many pages to the consequences of poor choices.

This culture has moved from coed dorms to coed dorm rooms. Use of inhalants, alcohol and drugs continue... children also choke one another for the same high. It seems depravity has no limits. How does a parent raise a child to skirt the snares that reach out to drag him down?

This morning, John and Lauren are in the kitchen. I hear, "Howard Stern rules! Howard Stern rules!" above the running water and clanking dishes. This makes me curious. I find out they are discussing an incident in a book where a parrot is taught to mimic this line.

"Do you know who Howard Stern is?"

They look at me with blank stares. "No, Mama. Who?"

They've got the innocent as doves part down. Now it's time to make them shrewd as serpents. "Howard Stern has a radio program. He uses rude language and talks about things that make people think in a way that is not pleasing to God." I find an unflattering photo of Mr. Stern on the Internet to drive this point home.

I could ignore this world my children are readying themselves to build their own nests in. I could leave them to their own devices... tell them, "Do what you think is best... make your own choices." but I will not. I will teach them to recognize folly. I will teach them to hear the voice of wisdom... for she too calls aloud. There is too much at stake to do otherwise.


Friday, May 4, 2007

Wednesdays With the Herdmans

Growing up, our family opted out of television ownership. We devoured the printed word...books, newspapers, comic books, cereal boxes...milk cartons. During the Christmas season, my mother read us The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. It was made into a movie by the same name, but as is usually the case, the book is better. It is best enjoyed out loud. I read it to my kids each December. It's a speedy read. Curled on the sofa in their reading blankets, the kids fuss at me when I close the book, "Read more, Mom! Just one more chapter!"

The Herdmans are six kids...Gladys, Ralph, Imogene, Claude, Leroy, and Ollie...left to their own devices. They pillage and burn to pass the time. They learn that the local church gives out donuts and juice during Sunday school so they go. This leads to their participation in the annual Christmas pageant. The Herdmans' shepherd staffs thump and bruise the choir. The Herdman kings lay a Christmas ham at Baby Jesus' feet. It turns out to be the most authentic Christmas pageant the town has ever had.

Our sleepy town is putting on a play for VBS next month. A Herdmanlike family got wind of it. A few weeks ago, they pushed and shoved their way into our choir room. They keep coming back. Gladys bangs on the piano while the other children read through their parts. Ralph lays under the piano. No amount of encouragement can lodge him from his claim. Claude and Leroy roll around between the chairs and wrestle. Ollie steers Imogene around the gym on a skateboard...faster and faster... until whooping and screaming, Imogene crashes into the cement wall. The front of the skateboard splinters. Mrs. Slocum, Mrs. Clark and Mrs. McCarthy look wrung out and run over by the end of the hour.

There is another layer to the Herdmans beneath the dirty, boisterous, and devilish layer. Leroy lays under the piano and peers out with a defiant and haunted face. He looks as if he expects to be scolded and ridiculed. Ollie, a sixth grader, struggles to read words like figure and center. He apologizes and ducks his head in embarrassment. Ralph tries to join in a game of ping-pong but the group deliberately squeezes together and makes it obvious that he is not welcome. Ralph's shoulders slump...hurt fills his eyes...he wanders alone to the other end of the gym to shoot baskets. Imogene is loud and awkward. She is also bright and interested. She wants to know more about the Bible stories that are shared. When Mrs. McCarthy asks review questions at the end of the lesson, Imogene has the answers. She has questions of her own to make sure she understands the finer points. Teaching to that enthusiasm makes a whole room full of Herdmans worth it!

As adults, life has sanded away some of our sharp edges. Our faces do not reflect the raw emotions that come through unguarded in the Herdmans'. Underneath though, are we not sometimes defiant...sometimes embarrassed...sometimes hurt? We duck for cover under a veneer of manners and protocol. We speak with a diplomat's tongue and smile a winner's smile but from time to time our insides look like Ralph's outsides. Our hurt does not go unnoticed for from heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind. His eyes are on those who fear him. He comforts us so that we in turn can go out and share His comfort with the Herdmans.*

* words from Psalm 33 and Matthew 5:4


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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Before Breakfast


The sun is shining through the windows in the bedroom. It's a perfect morning. I put my feet on the floor to begin the day and step on tufts of dog hair. It's a perfect morning to give Henrie a bath. Lauren gathers up the dog brush, the shampoo, the towel and the leash. I gather up the dog and attach her to the leash on the back patio. Claire turns on the hose.

Lauren runs water over Henrie's back. Henrie twists and pulls away from the spray. I pull her back. The black carpet that is her fur repels the water. It runs onto the patio. It soaks into my pajama bottoms. The sun is warm so I don't mind the cold water. Charlie comes outside carrying a fork and spoon. "Get me some breakfast." When he sees the hose, he drops the silverware and wants to help. Lauren hands him the hose and he turns me into a contestant for a wet tee shirt contest. I am glad for the privacy of our backyard.

Lauren unscrews the top on the shampoo bottle. Faith, Claire and Charlie reach out their hands to help work the soap into lather. Ten hands massage Henrie. She seems resigned to it. The puddle that is collecting in the low spot distracts Charlie. He wades in. He jumps. Faith and Claire join him. They kick...water sprays up and splashes over their heads.

Lauren holds the hose over Henrie. I work the soap out of her fur. Our heads are close together as we work. Twice we bump foreheads. Charlie brings a bowl over. He sets it down in front of Lauren. "I want big water!" Lauren obliges...or tries to. The force of the spray sends the bowl careening across the deck. Charlie thinks this is hysterical. He brings the bowl back, "Do it again, Lauren!"..."Again!"..."Again!"

It takes a lot of rubbing and a lot of water before Henrie's fur begins to feel clean. The hose is turned over to the little ones who take turns spraying golden arches of water over their heads. I dry the dog with a big green towel. She shakes. When I open the door to the house she rolls and slides on the carpet to dry some more.

The little ones drip to the garage to remove wet clothing. They wrap up in fluffy towels and head to the shower. I go to my end of the house to shower and change. Lauren takes maple scones out of the oven. John gets up. It is a perfect morning!

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Good Neighbors


We sit around the table eating ice-cream cake. Mr. Lee and Miss Norma have trekked across their front lawn to join us for Stuart's birthday.


Mr. Lee is an elfin looking man with an easy smile. I cannot guess his age. Old would be a close estimate. He still works full time as a court reporter. He mows his lawn with a push mower and saws wood for the fireplace with a chainsaw. He walks on his treadmill at two in the morning when he has trouble sleeping.

Mr. Lee is walking history. Listening to him counts as school. He worked as a horse exerciser when he was twelve. During the depression, he finished his last two years of high school while living and working full time at a horse barn. He laughs as he tells us that people liked to visit upwind of him. He wanted to make a career out of racehorses. His dad discouraged him because racing was controlled by the mob. Instead, he slept in an Illinois recruiting office for two weeks waiting until he turned seventeen. At seventeen he was old enough to serve in the navy. He served on the Atlantic and Pacific fronts during WWII. The officers he served under as a court reporter liked him so much that when they were transferred, he went with them. This meant a few years in Hawaii. He recorded several big trials including when the Missouri ran aground in the Chesapeake Bay in the early fifties. He retired from the navy before I was born! The kids are most impressed that Mr. Lee knows shorthand.

The chain link fence that divides our yards separates our dogs but allows us to visit. I used to check wunderground.com for the weather. Now I just ask Miss Norma. She gives me the five-day forecast. Several times a day, Jill and Jackie O., a long-haired Dachshund and a Jack Russell Terrier, dash out on their lawn. They bark vigorously. They are heralds running before royalty. Their message...Miss Norma is outside! The children drop what they are doing and rush out. They form a line along the fence. Miss Norma is a good listener. The children entrust their hearts to her. They sit in her lawn chairs and visit. They come home with stories about her animals and the places she has lived. Many conversations at the dinner table begin with, "Miss Norma said..."

Miss Norma watches our animals from time to time. Our children bring her warm coffee cake and cinnamon rolls. John pokes through her shelves and brings home National Geographic magazines from her monstrous collection.

Robert Frost writes, good fences make good neighbors. In our case it is true.

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