Thursday, September 27, 2007

Charlie and the Cheesecake Filling

"Would you like to try some?" asked the smiling lady in grocery aisle. She held out a tiny plastic cup with two graham cracker sticks and a scoop of chocolate cheesecake filling.

It's cheesecake, lady! Of course we want to try some.

"Yes please. We would love to try it. Wouldn't we, kids?"

"Yes please, Mama."

We walked away dipping our two little crackers in that tasty filling. We dipped until we ran out of cracker. I being a rational adult made the chocolate and the filling come out even. Charlie ran short of cracker and resorted to using his tongue and a good deal of his face to get at the rest of the chocolate goodness. He worked quietly as we trekked down three whole aisles. Then he looked up. Brown sweet goo covered his face from the nose down, ear to ear. But Charlie is resourceful. He used his shirt to take care of the damage as I scanned the aisle in vain for a box of wipes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Laundry Nightmares

I have nightmares about the washing machine breaking down.

This is about how much laundry we wash every single day!

The crew folded and put it away in about twenty minutes on this particular day. Most days they dawdle.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Stuart and I went on a crash diet this weekend and lost a couple hundred pounds. Our waistlines are not trimmer but the garage is no longer stuffed to the gills. It had to be done. Especially after I posted a picture of the disaster for all the world to see. It's one thing to admit that I'm a slacker. But what if somebody sent me an e-mail a month from now and asked, "Do the kids still have to wrestle with painting equipment and footstools to get at their bikes?" If I had to admit that they were, what kind of mother would I be? So we cleaned the garage.

My favorite box was filled with joy sticks to a Nintendo game. We don't own Nintendo. Remote controls. Lots of them. We pushed buttons. Maybe we were turning on the ceiling fan to our last house? "Hey! Remember the TV that caught on fire. I think this was the remote that went to it."

Cordless phones without their base units. A rechargable battery. To what? More head scratching. Enough! "Tip the whole mess into this here trash bag. Ah! Now hand me the box. I've got 30 canning jars that need a better home than the bottomless cardboard box they've been in for the last year."

The back of the car is stuffed with highchairs and doll strollers and the chandalier that was hanging over our bed. (The ceiling fan that took it's place is much more enjoyable.) We hung shelves for sprays and cleaners and other man stuff. Moldy rockers and old doors are sitting on the trailer waiting to be hauled to the dump. The shop vac gobbled spiders, a whole army of spiders and egg sacs. Stuart sprayed Raid in after them for good measure.

And finally, after five years of sitting in the garage of two homes, we said good riddance a fond farewell to old stereo equipment. I'll replay the scene for you. I could write this in my sleep for it is a conversation we have had many times over the years though never with this particular ending.

"Hon, what about the tape deck, the CD player and the VCR? Do you think we still need those?"


"Well, do you? We use the computer for everything. They've been taking up storage space for five years."

"You can't play tapes on the computer."

"We don't play tapes! Every tape you've ever owned is on Rhapsody. We don't even know where the box of tapes is!"


He didn't say no! Every other time when I say "Do you think we still...." I don't even get to finish the sentence before he says,

"Yes! I'm keeping them!"

He didn't say no!

"So you think it might be time then?"

"I'm not throwing them away! They're still good."

"I know they are. I wasn't thinking of throwing them away. Can we give them away?"

"I guess."

"Do you want to help me load them up or would you rather leave while I do it?"

"You can do it. I don't want to watch."

"OK. How 'bout those speakers? I know I'm really pushing here but come on they are each the size of a midsize refrigerator.

"Umm. Umm." Silence. "Alright."

Yes! "I'll get those too then."

Stuart left to haul the paint cans to the shed and I loaded up the car. I hummed cheerily. If Stuart was humming, it was dirgelike and morose.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'd Rather Blog

Last week Janelle wrote a responsible post about blogging and Alana posted a humorous response. I give you the photo essay about how things tend to slide...

...when one blogs.

Plants begin to escape their borders.

Doors lean next to the closet they belong to two months after they have been painted.

Stuart needs the Army Corps of Engineers to help extract his motorcycle from the garage.

And this sympathy card has been sitting on the shelf in my kitchen for months. Sometimes when I dust around it, I feel guilty but apparently not guilty enough to either mail it or put it in a drawer.

After I put all of these pictures up, I felt like I needed to tackle one of these projects so I turned on the flood lights and went out into the night to tackle the garden. I dug up shoots of crepe myrtle and gave the lantana a giant haircut. When the need to accomplish something passed, I dumped everything in a pile and went back into the house. So I guess I really can't cross that gardening thing off my to-do list quite yet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Straw-Hatted Geezers

Writing has become therapeutic. When something annoying begins to happen, I think There’s potential for a story in this and the more annoying it gets the better the story. Such was our drive into The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey this afternoon.

The roads between Smallville and The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey are twisting, bumpy and covered with deer carcasses this time of year. The people who travel to and from Smallville are the retired type. Why drive slow when you can drive slower? is the town motto. Most of the time I get lucky because I drive on the back country roads with just butterflies and dragonflies for company. But today it was me and the butterflies and dragonflies and one faded red pickup. The pickup was in the lead and my Suburban trailed behind. Closely.

There is really no good place to pass on these narrow country lanes so we went twenty, forty, twenty, forty for ten miles. I noticed many things during those ten miles. The pickup windows were rolled down to allow elbows to poke out. The driver wore a straw hat and a blue shirt with green letters. The passenger seat held another geezer sporting another straw hat. Driver and passenger talked and gestured and once in a while the driver glanced at the road. Mile after mile, I absorbed these little details until we came to a fork in the road. Finally! I could go left or right and still reach my destination. The pickup faded to the right. I went left with pent up speed.

Houses and mailboxes blurred by for a quarter of a mile. It was glorious. Suddenly, just around a curve, I came upon another pickup driven by another elderly gentleman wearing, you guessed it, another straw hat. He was, of course, driving twenty, forty, twenty, forty. I was delighted. I was living in a story and began to tell the children the end for I saw it very clearly in my mind. “Watch this guys. In a minute we’re going to turn right. When we get to the place where that other road comes out, the faded red pickup is going to pull right out in front of the white pickup.”

“No way, Mama! I’ll bet you a hundred dollars.”

The minutes ticked by. Twenty, forty, twenty, forty. We came over the top of the hill and down below we all could see the faded red pickup. He pulled out, slowly, slowly in front of the white pickup and made a wide right turn using the right lane and the left lane and the right lane again. I was beside myself. There was cheering and high fiving. I wonder what the guy in the white pickup thought of the celebratory spirit in the Suburban trailing in his wake. Maybe I scared him because a few minutes later he pulled over to the side of the road. Maybe he needed a nap. It's twenty-five whole minutes between Smallville and The Land Flowing with Milk and Honey.

“Hey, Mom. Do I have to pay you a hundred dollars?”

“No, buddy. You don’t have to pay. It’s just so awesome to be right and besides I have a blog for tomorrow.”

And here it is.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reading Lessons

Charlie and I sit together on the sofa, close, close. The way we always sit. Charlie likes close. His little head is bent over the paper I am writing on.

"What's this, Charlie?" I draw m on the paper.

"mmmm for Mama!" He grins up at me.

"What's this one?" f

Charlie puts the palms of his chubby hands together and wiggles them back and forth through imaginary waves. "fffff for fishy!"

"And this one?" s

"ssss for sword!" I duck out of the way as he brandishes an imaginary weapon.

Now there are five. Five kids in school. This is how we start, with a piece of paper and a pencil, lowercase letters and letter sounds. (Uppercase letters and letter names will come in a few years when Charlie learns how to write. ) It takes a couple of minutes each day and in a few months my last child will know his letters. When we pull into Wal-Mart, he will start yelling, "There's a wuh for water! There's a tuh for tickle!"

After letter sounds comes combinations like ea, ai, th... for a very long time. This is not so exciting as learning letters. I've never found anything that I love for teaching the very beginning of reading. A different phonics program for every kid. Teach Your Child to Read in a Hundred Easy Lessons. Sing, Spell, Read and Write. Reading Made Easy. Phonics is boring, necessary, but boring.

And then, after we have slaved over phonics and Charlie can read The p-i-g t-oo-k uh b-a-th, we will move on to my favorite readers, Pathway Readers, an Amish reading series.

After Charlie hopped down this morning Claire came and sat next to me but not quite as close as Charlie. She opened her second grade reader, More Busy Times, and began to read about Peter and the measles. Faith looked up from her math book, "I remember that story. Peter wants to go to the zoo but he can't because Rachel has the measles and it wouldn't be fair to leave her at home." She comes and leans over the back of the sofa to listen while Claire and I read pages in turns. An old friend.

I love these books. That is saying something because I have listened to four children sound out, P-e-t-er s-a-i-d, ("Said.") Y-e-s R-a-ch-el. You c-a-n r-i-d ("No, that's ride. The e jumps over the d to make the i say i." ) r-ide...

The stories are interesting. They are about family and kindness and all of the values we want our children to claim as their own. The black and white line drawings complement the story but do not compete for my young reader's attention.

The first couple books in our set of readers have all of the b's marked in blue. b's and d's are hard to tell apart. There are marks where letter combinations have been underlined and then erased. I had to cut "word windows" out for a couple of kids who couldn't keep their place. This is a narrow strip of card stock with a small rectangular hole in it, just big enough to read one word at a time. In time, all of these crutches fall by the wayside. In time, much time, my readers stop sounding out every letter and read whole words. Andthentheyreadeverythingasfastastheycanwithoutregardforpunctuation.

Pathway Readers go through the eighth grade but we only own the first through third grade readers. My kids graduate to Henry Huggins, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Stories from Grandma's Attic...They read in the car, in the bathroom, in their beds late at night and early in the morning.
So today, Charlie says, "It's t for tickle" as he reaches over and tickles my arm but in a few years he is going to join the chorus that the other children sing:

"Can we go to the library today? I finished my last book and I haven't got a thing to read!"

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Have you ever lived in a house that doesn’t match your stuff? A house full of flooring and light fixtures and cupboards that are outdated and worn and ugly? That’s my house. It’s was built in the seventies and retains some of the charm of that era: a Jack and Jill bathroom in the playroom, gold carpet on the floor, dark shelving and trim in the living room.

And the paint! Oh my word! I do not long for fall. It’s colors are spread out majestically over my walls. Pumpkin. Caramel. Hunter Green. Gold. I love light and these colors drink in the sun in big thirsty gulps, covering me in shade and shadows.

So we work. All the changes that we have made in the house so far have been with an eye to creating more light. Heavy drapes came down. Stuart is preparing to install French doors leading out to the sunroom. I paint. Cameo blue and white cover the gold hallway. Blue and white comforters do not pop against a pumpkin background, so bedroom walls are coated in layers and layers of white.

The house is a mess this afternoon. Stuart has tools scattered down the length of the hallway. He is installing trim in Lauren’s bedroom. I have shoved the furniture in John’s room against one wall and laid a sheet of plastic over the floor. A roller full of Kilz bulldozes away the caramel color in his room. The gold carpet, which was muted against the caramel walls, now shouts from the floor. It is out of place against the white walls and blue bedding.

I think as I paint. This must be how it is for God.When He comes and makes our heart His home, I’ll bet He is excited to get to work so that this “home” can better show off His glory. It must bother Him that His elegant furnishings don’t match our tacky d├ęcor.

My blog links have been full of evidence of His redecorating in the lives fellow bloggers this week. He clears away the old to make room for the new. God’s new is always better than our old. Some share triumphant news. God’s glory is surely found in the triumphant when a person frames success in terms of look what God has done rather than An Ode to the Great and Talented Me. A friend writes of her journey to acceptance in a time of sickness. Our natural tendency is to rebel, to be bitter when health is elusive. To rejoice during such a time could only be a change wrought by the Master Designer. Two sisters write of the death of a nephew. They grieve deeply and and yet declare God's sovereignty during this dark and sudden chapter that has been written into their family. They are hard pressed, perplexed but they do not despair. Only those filled with the glory of God would not despair at such a loss.

All of these triumphs, disappointments and tragedies are invitations extended to us by the Father to allow Him to tear out, to rebuild, to redecorate for we house His glory. He wants our house to match His.
I love the house where you live, O LORD, the place where your glory dwells. Psalm 26: 8
And glory has come to me through them. John 17:10

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I just checked my blog profile and discovered that I am an accountant living in Afghanistan. News to me! So for all of you who were wondering about that, I'm still in Smallville, and I'm still really bad with numbers. I am not, never have been and do not aspire to be an accountant. Go check your profiles. Maybe you'll discover you're a dog trainer in Mozambique.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

4-H Exhibits-Updated

Update: Blue ribbons all around! 4 of our projects will go onto the state fair. John's headboard exceeds size limitations and so we will lug it home tomorrow. We are relieved. That thing is heavy!
For the past few weeks we have been busy sewing, sawing, quilling and painting 4-H projects. The kids have been in 4-H for about a month and they started with a bang. The annual 4-H fair is tomorrow. So this morning we loaded these projects and four kids wearing slippers into the car. The fifth one had sense enough to wear flip-flops. (The other four complained as we pulled out of the driveway that their feet were sweating.)

John reclining against the headboard that he built with Stuart. He wrote the 10 Commandments of Table Saw Safety to accompany this project.

Claire's quilling project.

Lauren modeling the apron that she sewed.

Lauren and the dog painting she has been working on in art class for the past few months.

Faith and her quilling project.

So now, I guess we can get back to algebra, language arts and history for awhile. But not for long. There's an entomology exhibit that we need to prepare for in a few weeks. (Mom, if you click on the pictures you can see them in greater detail. The quilling looks great up close.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

So Long Summer

Two swim noodles will support one mama quite easily.

They will also support five children...

...but not for long.

This was my last day in the pool as the temperature of the water has dipped below 95°. That's just too cold for me. But, it will still be awhile before we have to trade flip flops and shorts for long pants and tennis shoes. I love the South!

A Doubting Time

“Mama. This isn’t true.” Faith has a Magic Tree House book open to the last few pages. She is pointing to the heading, The Rainbow Serpent, an Aboriginal myth about the role the Rainbow Serpent played in creating the world. “It’s not true. I don’t think that the author should write about things that aren’t true like they are true! Indignation leaves it’s mark on her little face.

John has been watching the Discovery Channel with Stuart. He comes out in the middle of a program to let me know, “It’s another one of those the Bible can’t be true so here’s what happened instead shows. This week it’s about how Noah’s ark would have sunk. Last week, it was about how they found Jesus’ bones. Where do they come up with this stuff?”

These conversations are heartening. My children are learning to evaluate the reasoning of others using the Bible as a plumb line. An incredible skill for ones so young.

Just a few years ago, planes flew into the Twin Towers and scattered glass, concrete and human flesh, confidence and security. My own young faith teetered in the aftermath of this event. How could men be so convinced that they were right? How could they be so sure they would fly into those buildings and come out in a blaze of Glory? Where did this conviction come from? I found myself wondering, Am I so sure of what I believe that I would be willing to defend my beliefs? To speak up? To die?

I wandered around the house in a fog making beds and washing dishes. They seemed unnecessary, worthless tasks in the grand scheme of things against the backdrop of those days. I voiced my thoughts to Stuart. “Is the God whom we believe in right? Are we on the right track?”

His answer was wise. “Belief is a decision. If you choose to follow Jesus. Follow. And keep your eyes open. If He is who He says He is, He will show Himself faithful to you and you will come out at the end of this time of doubting more sure of your faith. If He is who He says He is, He will not crumble because of your questioning.” This is what happened. I did pass through to the other side, from doubt to a renewed, strengthened faith.

Yesterday I was studying John 16 and verses 1-4 glowed as if blinking from a billboard. “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you will remember that I told you about them” Oh, I thought. If I had known these words on September 11, 2001, I would not have faltered. I would not have been surprised by the ferocity and the calculation of those men. I would have known how to think. I would have been standing on a firm foundation instead of swinging in the breeze.

This then is why the Word is at the heart of our day. It makes our path straight and our footing sure. It’s what my children will need as they make their way into the world and while they live here in the shelter of our family. It’s what I need for confidence and peace.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Band-Aids and The Kissing Hand

A crowd instantly collected. Yells are very unusual at bazaars, and every one was intensely interested. It was several seconds before the three free children could make Mrs. Biddle understand that what she was walking on was not a schoolroom floor, or even, as she presently supposed, a dropped pin-cushion, but the living hand of a suffering child. When she became aware that she really had hurt him, she grew very angry indeed. When people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest. I wonder why.

The children were gathered around the coffee table with coloring books and draped across the floor and the sofas in the evening lamplight as I read these words aloud from E. Nesbit's book, The Phoenix and the Carpet. I read on to the end of the chapter but my mind stayed on these words…when people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest.

I don’t know about you, but for me this is true. I take one step backward from the refrigerator and step on the toes of a little one who was standing much too close. I pull a rake full of leaves toward me and bump the head of another curious child . What is it about children and their need to crowd a mother in motion? The trodding and banging is usually followed by words like, “Back up! You’re too close! Give me two inches of space!” And then, belatedly, a kiss on the head and a grumbled apology.

Stuart is compassionate by nature and I, by intention. The kids have been known to go running past me to their papa for hugs and kisses for scrapes and banged knees. I’m learning though. My husband sets a good example. I see the children melt in his arms, their loud cries become whimpers and then smiles. Tears still clinging to their lashes. It’s not so hard. I can do this, I tell myself. And I do. Faith comes crying from her bedroom, a hand clamped over her eyebrow. “A picture fell on my eye.” I don’t give her a safety lecture for she’s already learned her lesson. Instead, I sit her in my lap and kiss her forehead. The crying stops. She scoots away, comforted. A kiss is a powerful thing.

We had one. I don’t remember who, who demanded that we kiss exactly where she had been injured. “Not there. Here. No. Here!”

Stuart, in a moment of exasperation and genius said, “Here. Give me your hand.” He kissed her outstretched hand. “Now, rub the kiss where it hurts.” And that was the beginning of The Kissing Hand. The Kissing Hand makes short work of the sympathy ritual.

Magical powers dwell within the band-aid box. The kids just feel better if we cover an injury, real or imagined, with a band-Aid. They like to pick them out at the store. Scooby-Doo, Dora the Explorer, Curious George. A crying child settles almost instantly at the sight of the sticky, colorful strip of plastic.

The kids are learning from our example. Often, I will hear crying in another part of the house and by the time I get there a child has their arms wrapped around the wounded one. “Are you ok? Where did you get hurt?” That is an awesome sight.

This scene is being played out at this very moment. A game of softball in the backyard is interrupted by cries and concern, “Are you ok?” All the children gather round and pat Claire on the back. The game resumes a second later. What lessons these young ones are learning from our example. Compassion is contagious.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


It was a running around kind of day today. An eat in the park, errand, exercise, wash the dog day. The kids were swimming right before dinner and I had Henrie in the rinse cycle when Miss Linda popped over. She's stealthy, Miss Linda is, and I startled when I looked up from Henrie's tail to Miss Linda's face.

"I came over to tell you that I have a happy for you over at the house. I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate you."

I twisted off the hose and leaned in close to hear. Cigarette smoke has erased a good deal of her voice. It's deep and gravelly and almost a whisper. We talked for a while over a wet dog leashed to the fence about vitamins and minerals. We're both subscribers to their medicinal value.

"Thanks. I'll pop over sometime after dinner. We miss the kids."

"So do I. The house feels empty. Well, be sure to come by."

Then it was showers for the kids and dinner and dishes."

"Get your shoes on. I have to pick something up at Miss Linda's. You can come if you want." Of course, they did and we arrived on the doorstep, two doors down, in a herd an hour after the sun set. It matters that you know that the sun had set.

"Hey Linda. Everybody wanted to come. Are the raccoons out?"

"Well I don't know. Come on in and we'll see."

"What do you mean are the raccoons out, Mama?"

"You'll see."

We walked through the hall and the kitchen and came out in the sunroom. We breathed shallow breaths on account of the smoke. Mr. John was lying on the sofa. All the lights were off. All the lights in the sunroom that is. But the floodlights in the backyard were on. We looked through the wall of glass into the bright backyard at a wading pool sitting in the dust, and two large dishpans.

"Watch," said Mr. John.

The children were silent. Absolutely silent in a row on the floor. We watched. Pretty soon a raccoon came to the dishpan, his back curved like a kangaroo's. He reached his little hands into the dishpan and wrapped them around a piece of dog food. He rubbed the food between his paws and put it in his mouth and then rubbed his mouth clean. He waddled over to the pool and lapped some gulps of water. He washed his hands and his face, rubbing them fastidiously, and went back to the dogfood diner.

More raccoons came. One. Two. Six. Ten. Out from the shadows. Out from the trees to the diner and the water. We watched in the dark.

"Watch that guy over there. He gets his food and takes it to the pool and washes it. He's the only one that does that. Watch him. He'll hop on his hind legs to the pool with the food in his hand." Sure enough he did.

"There's one, I don't see him here now. We call him Fat Albert. He comes and climbs in the dish and fills it. The other raccoons have to scoop the food out from under him." We never got to see Fat Albert but we wanted to.

" A fox! Look!" We just got a quick glimpse because twelve raccoons can take on one fox. They circled and pushed him back into the shadows. He didn't return.

Sometimes the furry bandits startled as we watched. They scampered into the shadows under the trees in a pack and sauntered back minutes later. One. Two. Five. Nine... In and out, they went from light to shadows, shadows to light.

Projects were calling at home, though we wanted to stay. Charlie waved goodbye to the ring tailed rascals. "Good night, raccoons. Good night."

Linda put a big box of handmade greeting cards into my arms, beautiful ones. "Thanks again. The kids have been asking about you. They miss you," she said. She gave Lauren a plate of cookies to carry home but Charlie carried them instead until he dropped them out by the road and John carried them the rest of the way. Chocolate Chip. We ate them in the light of our kitchen and wished out loud that there wasn't a big fence around our backyard so that we could feed the raccoons too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Aviary Amphitheater (Wordless? Wednesday)

We're slow starters in the morning. The children lie on the sofas and read. Charlie sits and eats a graham cracker and a bowl of yogurt at the table before breakfast. Lauren and I take turn cooking oatmeal, or muffins, or scones... We eat somewhere between ten and eleven. Today, in the midst of all this leisure, the house became exceptionally quiet and I went to figure out why because "too quiet" is never a good thing. Except that it was today. I peeked out the living room window into the backyard and found five chairs and five children lined up on the patio. I opened the door and everybody shushed me.

"Hush, Mama. We're watching the birds. Come sit with us"

Six or seven hummingbirds were zipping around the feeder, frantic to fill their little gas tanks before they migrate. The children were silent, heads tipped up, eyes squinting against the morning light. I went in to get the camera. I took a few pictures of the children but could not capture the hyperactive hummers. The kids laughed at my ineptness.

John has a way with the camera so I handed it over to him and pulled Charlie into my lap. We sat for fifteen more minutes while the hummers chirped and scolded and John worked his magic. (Well, as much magic as he could with our unimpressive camera.) Finally, we went in to get to work and left the birds to their sugar water feast. Our backyard will feel lonely without them in a few short weeks.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Time Management

Eight thirty-five. I glance at clock on the stove. Church doesn’t start for twenty-five minutes. Surely we can make it on time today.

It’s a fifteen-minute drive to church from our house. We have been driving to this little church in the country every Sunday for the past three months and we have been late every. single. time. It’s the only place that we go where arriving on schedule matters and yet we can’t do it.

I’m an organized person. In the days of diaper bags and car carriers, I would lay the children’s clothes out the night before. Bibles and backpacks went out to the car on Saturday evening. Stuart and I rose early on Sunday morning and got ourselves ready. We fed the children in their pajamas because they always spilled and slopped and dribbled and then hustled them into their clothes. We held small hands, balanced a couple of little ones on our hips, buckled them in the car and arrived at church about ten minutes before the service. Those were the days.

The children are spreading their wings and testing the waters of independence. Diapers and bibs and sippy cups belong to the past. The car holds booster seats instead of infant carriers with 5-point harnesses. The children can get in the car and buckle themselves. They can put on their shoes and gather their things. And because they can do these things, we have to add many extra minutes to arrive somewhere in the vicinity of “on time.”

Showers and the laying out of church clothes are relegated to Saturday night. Children are tucked in at a decent hour. Stuart and I rise early on Sunday morning. Father Time has left his mark so these days, applying makeup has become more of an art than a lick and a promise. Stuart contends with the children while I work my makeup magic. They rise, they dress, they eat. Stuart sends two or three messengers into John’s room.

“Papa says it's time to get up."

"Papa says it's time to get up, now."

"John! Get out of bed!"

I make it out to the kitchen fifteen minutes before we need to leave. I wet a washcloth and scan faces, searching for traces of breakfast. Claire and Charlie could use a touch up. I notice that Faith still has not brushed her hair. “Brush your hair Faith.” She wanders down the hall.

Lauren holds out the hairbrush and a ponytail holder. I twist her hair into a braid. She goes to get her Bible.

John stumbles into the kitchen dressed in his church clothes a few minutes before our scheduled time of departure. “Are your teeth brushed? Do you have your contacts in?” No. And no. “Hurry up. It’s time to go!”

“Claire, help Charlie into his shoes.” Claire and Charlie disappear in search of shoes. They are still searching ten minutes later. Lauren joins the search party and soon finds Charlie’s sandals under the sofa.

Stuart goes out and starts the car. It purrs in the driveway, air conditioning running.

The house is quiet. Must be most of the children went out with Stuart. “Everybody’s out in the car!” I call down the hall.

Five children answer from all parts of the house.

“I’m just brushing my teeth.”

“I can’t find my Bible.”

“I just need to get something.” The “something” turns out to be a bluejay feather, three rocks and a magnet.

I rush to the other end of the house and start herding children ahead of me toward the car, scanning all the while. Clothes? Check. Shoes? “John, get your shoes on.” Hair? “Faith! You never brushed your hair!”

“I had to go to the bathroom.”

“For twenty minutes?!”

I push a hairbrush into her hand and look around for John. Good. He’s got shoes.

The kids scramble over each other to get in the car and now we have five minutes to make a fifteen-minute drive. We arrive after the announcements and the handshaking and before the children’s sermon. No one looks up. They have become accustomed to this interruption at ten minutes after nine. I look down the row after we have sorted ourselves into the pew. Oh, she never brushed her hair. And for a moment I long for the sippy cup days.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ave Maria

As I type this, Stuart is trudging across the back yard to the shop in the pouring rain after a block of wood that I need for a project. He comes back in, dripping, and hands the wood to me with a smile.

A few days ago, in the restless moments between sleep and wake, I heard singing. "Ave Maria, gracia plena…” My grandfather was singing in a rich bass voice that moved gracefully between low and high notes. "Maria, gracia plena…” I heard traces of his Hungarian accent come through the words. "Maria, gracia plena..." The notes faded. I woke up completely and sat for a moment, missing my grandpa.

My grandfather sang these words,without accompaniment, at my wedding, nine days after his wife died. He soldiered through, his words floating clearly over the stillness in the church. To me, his singing remains the best memory of that day. It was fitting that he participated.

I think about my choice for a marriage partner from time to time. How did I know? How did I know to marry Stuart? I guess I had been looking for him since I was eight or nine. And how did I know what to look for? My grandfather taught me.

I spent a week each year with my grandparents. In those short weeks, I saw Grandpa fill Grandma’s gas tank. I saw him set out her medicines and wash the dishes. He watched out the window and waited for Grandma to return from the grocery store. When she did, he went out the door and carried in the groceries and parked the car in the garage. My young mind recognized that he loved with his actions and over time I realized that the man I would marry would have to love me like that. My grandpa mentored without a single word. I doubt he realized how these little things would impact his young grandaughter and his great grandchildren.

Visit Fruit in Season for more discussion on the impact mentors can have on a marriage.