Thursday, July 31, 2008

Curriculum Overload

I feel like I should just take up residence at my local Homeschool Resource store. It seems I've been living among the stacks for the last couple of weeks. I think I decide on one curriculum brand, then when I go to look at it more closely, I see something I like better. I think I know what will benefit the kids, then I question my objectives. There are so many good options, and so many incredible approaches, that I'm having the hardest time making a decision.

I have decided that I won't be using LifePac, as I previously thought I would (with the exception of Bible. I may still go that route.). I think workbook after workbook would bore the kids. Instead, I'll be using a variety of products and educational approaches. Of course, nothing is final yet, but at this point, I think I've come pretty close to making a decision. (Note: my knowledge is still quite limited, but I've convinced myself I know what I'm talking about.)

For math, I believe we're going to use Rod & Staff Math, and that for a few reasons. In opposition to the spiraling approach found in Saxon and A Beka products, R&S relies on drills and facts, which was something that was sort of skipped over when I was in school. Being married to the human calculator is a bit intimidating when I still multiply on my fingers. Additionally, the cost of the Rod & Staff curriculum is very reasonable. The hardback Teacher's Edition costs less than the consumable student texts in other programs. Since we're just getting started and we're buying stuff for every subject, since we'll need textbooks for learning math at two different grade levels, and since our overall expenses are climbing, the cost-effectiveness of this program is very appealing. The customer reviews for Rod & Staff are very promising, and it appears to be just what we're looking for.

I feel most passionate about Language Arts, however, it's the subject causing me the most frustration. I've looked at The Shurley Method, and don't think it's for us. I've read a few books and websites about the Charlotte Mason method, and while I think it's a really interesting approach to learning, I think as a whole, it's a bit too liberal and unpredictable for our structured family. Part of me thinks we'd benefit by settling somewhere in the middle, perhaps by using Learning Language Arts Through Literature or Five in a Row. But then, when I think about all of the topics covered in one book, I wonder how my advanced readers would benefit. I think they wouldn't be as challenged as they should be. Instead, we'll likely pick a Grammar curriculum (like BJU) and a solid Phonics/Spelling program like Phonics Zoo or Explode the Code.

Since those are the two major subjects for their grade level, I feel like once I make a final decision, we're good. To supplement those subjects, we'll work a bit on History (A Beka) and Science (BJU). Bub expressed an interest in learning some French, so I have a Basic French text and some Teach Me French CDs. I have some really great stuff for Art, but for music, I'm stumped (other than enrolling them in private lessons). I nearly bought three years worth of God Made Music curriculum today, but decided since I don't know my do-re from my ti-do, I should wait.

Meanwhile, a friend in Oklahoma called ]today to say that she has everything I need for second and third grade, provided I come to the Tulsa area to pick it up. The kids and I were hoping to go up once more before we began schooling, so the timing could not be more ideal. Regardless of how much research I've done, what she gives us will play a part in the decisions we make. I'd love any thoughts, tips, or advice.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Busy, Busy Blog Design

I've been busy, busy stylizing a few blog in my spare time, and today I created a busy, busy blog design for my friend Linda. I wanted to quickly post my progress because while I think Linda can pull off such a bold color scheme and pattern arrangement, she may want the whole thing toned down. Before I get the official word, check out the cuteness on the Life at the Zavocki's blog.

Also, I failed to mention some recent work I did for another friend, Leslie, at Hargus Happenings. Perhaps my oversight explains why she's not had me over to play Rock Band. Hmmm. Leslie actually had a header in order, I just shuffled a few things around so I could crop it, then I added a background to her blog and messed around with the code to make everything work together.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

All Manners of Miscellany

Sick Orphan Baby Finds Family :: Sometimes babies do fall from the sky.

Scary CNN News Story: Playground burns skin off toddler's feet. Furniture Shopping on the Cheap Pedicures by Doctor Fish :: 15 Reasons Mr. Rogers was the Best Neighbor EVER.

MSN Money :: Rediscovering the Art of Frugal Living :: Compare Hybrid SUVs

Bloggy Giveaway Carnival: $10 Starbucks Gift Card

** Comments are now closed, and a winner will be posted soon. Thanks for playing along! **

Once again, it's time for the Bloggy Giveaway Carnival. Last time, I gave away a gift card for chocolate. This time, I'm offering a free $10 Starbucks Gift Card.

I know you must be thinking, "WHAT!? It's summer, and easily 115 degrees in the shade. Who in their right mind wants some Starbucks?" But let me assure you all, you do.

Starbucks ain't just about coffee, people. Starbucks has a delicious selection of icy, summery drinks. You can ice down your regular coffees, have some shaken flavored iced teas, or enjoy a Frappucino or one of the new Vivanno smoothies. My personal favorite, however, is the new Frozen Green Tea Lemonade. Yumm-ee!

This giveaway is open to anyone interested in participating, whether you're new to this blog or you pop in often. To enter, just leave your favorite summer drink in the comments, and it doesn't necessarily have to be something from Starbucks. Also, please let me know how to contact you (either by e-mail or blog). On Friday at noon, I'll close the comments, dump everything into a random number generator, and post the winner here. Good luck!

For more great goodies and giveaways, go HERE to get in on the fun!

Aloha, Oahu!

After many long months of business travel -- late nights, early mornings, lengthy layovers, and busy weeks -- James has accumulated enough frequent flyer miles and hotel reward points to take our family of four to Hawaii virtually for free. After some optional upgrades, we'll spend eight days at a beachfront hotel in Oahu, and all for less than $200. Unbelievable!

James booked our travel on Saturday.
We leave in exactly two months.
Babbit cannot wait.

Monday, July 28, 2008

On Becoming a Wife

"The man who finds a wife finds a treasure,
and he receives favor from the Lord."

-- Proverbs 18:22 NLT

When I became a Christian fifteen years ago, one of the sweetest women took me under her wing, mentoring me and teaching me about the Lord. Not only did she have head knowledge about what it meant to serve God, she was (and is) a living example of Christ in the flesh. I have been blessed to have her in my life all these years.

For as long as I've known her, Lois has waited patiently for God to bring her a husband. As her friends married, she waited. As her mentees married, she waited. As the children of her friends became adults and married, she waited. Some days were harder than other days, but Lois was diligent in seeking the Lord constantly, making certain that He remained her focus and priority.

The Lord has honored her faithfulness, and Lois will be married on 08/08/08. Yesterday, I gathered with several of her friends and we showered her gifts and prayers and words of blessing. It's amazing to see God's promise come to pass.

"I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.
I will be filled with joy because of you.
I will sing praises to your name, O Most High."

-- Psalm 9:1-2

A Sister's Imagination

In a sister's imagination, babies get bigger in Heaven...

... and know to kneel before Jesus.

We miss you, sweet baby.
You're always on all of our minds.

Hello Again, Hello*

On Saturday, we said goodbye to Chelsea who is off to camp and school.
Despite the smiley faces, we were all quite sad to see her go.

Not more than an hour after she left, she called to say she'd broken down.
We immediately headed out to her rescue and came upon this:

A State Trooper showed up to help...

... as did this guy, who poured gallon after gallon of water in the radiator,
and insisted it was normal for her tiny car to hold so much.

James stood around and "googled" mechanical terms
and other general nonsense on his Blackberry...

... while I entertained the children with bubbles and rock-throwing
and all sorts of traffic-dodging games**.

"Are you seriously going to blog this too?"***
Yes. Yes, I am.

When the car was unresponsive to all of our begging and pleading,
we had it towed to Gainesville and we drove Chelsea to camp.

Not where we planned to spend our Saturday

Moving In

Checking Things Out

Sleepaway Camp ROCKS!

The Good News: We got Chelsea to camp safely and in a timely matter, in light of her situation. The kids thought the campgrounds were so cool that they want to go to sleepaway camp next year, so I've already called a friend whose daughter will be away next summer at a camp near Chelsea's (during the same time frame, I believe) to have both kids join in on the fun.

The Bad News: The automotive shop called today to say that the head is cracked in Chelsea's motor. She just had the whole engine replaced, so the issue would be covered under warranty if the car were in Tulsa. Unfortunately, the car is in Texas, so she has the option of towing it back to Oklahoma or paying to have it repaired here. Both options cost way more than the car is worth, so she and her family have opted to have the shop send it to auction. Chelsea is now on foot, poor girl.

* Yes, I am a closet Neil Diamond fan. Thank you.

** Just kidding about the traffic-dodging. We were on an empty feeder road a very safe distance from the highway.

*** An actual quote from Chelsea. Silly girl!

My Newest Design

On and off over the last several days I've been reworking my cousin Emily's blog design. I think it turned out really cute -- check out her blog Just Mrs. Emmers to see. You may notice a difference between Emily's blog and others, as I've just learned how to remove the frame around the header and widen it to the width of the blog body. I'm very excited about this new technique!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

End of Summer Swim Lessons

Our kids have taken formal swim lessons only once in their lives, and I say "formal" loosely since their little 16-year-old instructor spent more time fixing her hair and flirting with boys than teaching my kids how to "blow bubbles" and float. They took the class when they were very young, and since then, I've just not been able to coordinate my schedule to take part in one of the classes that my friend Michelle puts together, neither have I been able to justify the cost of classes at some of the local swim schools.

Up until now, my thought has been that we're in the water enough, and I know just enough, that they've both learned how to get from point A to point B underwater without dying along the way. Gracie's skill was limited, and she was quite timid in the water when it came to actually swimming. Bub was far more daring and skilled, but this year he decided he wanted to swim "on the top of the water" (in other words, do the Crawl). While I know how to do the Crawl myself, I didn't know how to communicate that knowledge to him, and we decided it was time for a class.

I was hoping to put them in a class before we went to Florida (you know, to start the summer off right), but I missed the registration deadline. Our busy summer went from bad to worse, and I assumed swim classes would either be over or full through the end of the season.

A couple of weeks ago, we signed the kids up for Fall soccer and registration was held at a local rec center. The class flyer I picked up indicated that swim lessons would continue through the end of August. Just what we needed! I called for registration, readying myself for rejection. I even decided I was willing to split their classes, bringing each of them at different times of the day, if need be. To my surprise, there was space for both of them in the very next class, and in the time slot that I wanted. The cost was a great value, as well -- $65 per child for two weeks worth of lessons.

Though I registered and paid, I thought it was too good to be true.

I was wrong.

This class has been amazing! The instructors, though young, are so skilled and patient, and the student/teacher ratio is unbelievable! On the first day, there were 5 kids and four instructors. On the second day, there were five students and six instructors. Today, the third day, there were four students and five instructors. Each child gets lots of individual attention, and my kids are already learning and practicing some new and amazing techniques.

So far, they've been bobbing, floating, diving for rings and sticks, and learning the Crawl and Backstroke. Bub is swimming longer and better than I ever anticipated this early on, and my timid little Gracie has grown quite brave. These swim lessons are by far the best deal of the summer.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

July Twenny

I have been told that when I was three and my uncle William would ask me my birthday, I would reply, "July Twenny." To him, it was a phrase so cute that he would draw it out of me again and again, just as one would draw out the squealing giggle of a child's baby doll. Well, today is July Twenny -- Happy Birthday to me!

The kids bought presents for me yesterday, and they couldn’t stand to wait until today to give them to me. They gave me candles in scents I love, and chocolates which they expected me to share immediately. I didn’t even have the boxes of candy out of the gift bag before Gracie and Bub had their mouths open like hungry little birds.

James gave me the DVD version of So I Married an Axe Murderer, and tickets to the off-Broadway production The Color Purple, which is coming to Dallas in October. Those gifts are great on several accounts -- let me tell you why.

First, James must have overheard a conversation I had with Marcie about So I Married an Axe Murderer where I mentioned I should upgrade my VHS tape. Not only did he listen, he remembered. Moreover, he acted on what he remembered. In the midst of all the remembering, he recalled that I have a deep appreciation for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker and sought out tickets for the show. All of that together (coupled with the fact that he will attend a musical) has got to be some sort of birthday miracle.

After the early exchange of birthday gifts, Chelsea and I stole away to the movies where we saw The Dark Knight. Overall, I thought the movie was pretty good. Christian Bale played a good Batman, but he was nothing like Michael Keaton to a thirteen-year-old girl. Heath Ledger, however, was incredible in the role of the joker, and were he not dead, this movie would have catapulted his career. That makes his death even more tragic.

I spent a couple of hours in the ER last night after the movie, which was a great way to begin my actual birthday. Happy birthday greetings from a gravely-voiced nurse straight in from a smoke break sure start the day off right! I wish I could say I was at the ER for something fun, but I'd be lying.

I'm still having issues with a slow-healing spot from the day I hurt my foot at Six Flags, and late last night, my foot swelled considerably. James and his trusty Web MD determined I needed to be rushed to the ER -- by ambulance, if I would have allowed it -- where I may have to be admitted to the hospital for IV fluids and possible amputation. Instead, the ER doctor gave me a prescription for antibiotics and another Band-Aid just like the one I wore in. The only thing different about last night and today is my need to check-in with a podiatrist and a new big hospital bill to pay. Oh, and the fact that I now have a legitimate excuse to lay around with my feet propped up. Nice.

We decided after a late night at the hospital to sleep through church this morning, but the birthday phone calls began for me at 8:00. I got up early to a quiet house, and enjoyed the silence for about two hours. Gracie woke up at 10:00, James at 11:00, and Chelsea and Bub at noon. Unbelievable! We got ourselves together and went to a Teppenyaki/Sushi restaurant for lunch. The rest of my day has been spent eating Oreos, reading books and blogs, and telling the kids, "Go ask Dad, it's my birthday."

Thank you, friends and family, for the cards, phone calls, text messages, e-cards, e-mails, and blog shout-outs. My friend DeDe sent over a very sweet scripture that blessed my heart deeply: "God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special." I Thessalonians 1:4 (MSG)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Deep, Dark Secrets and the Experimental Loaf

Bananas have no future at Casa de Amanda. In fact, I would go so far as to say that my fruit basket is a banana bone yard -- they come here to die.

James wonders why I even buy bananas. We hardly ever eat them. Once upon a time, Bub was a banana connoisseur. Somewhere along the way, he changed his position on the potassium-packed fruit, but I just know one day that affinity will return and he will think to himself, "I'm looking for a healthy snack packed in slick, yellow skin." When that day comes, I'll be prepared.

Until then, I frequently watch bunches of bananas grow increasingly darker as they steadily approach their certain demise. And then I toss them out.

For someone who has any regard for the principles associated with frugality, for someone who prides herself on repurposing one thing to create something altogether new, the fact that I toss brown bananas has been a deep, dark source of secret shame. What about smoothies? What about puddings and custards? What about the reliable loaf of banana bread?

Banana Bread scares me.

Well, not the bread itself.
The act of making bread -- that's what scares me.

My friend Marcie is an excellent baker. She bakes as a form of stress relief, which really is win-win. (I mean, you bake, then you eat what you bake. I think that combination of activities guarantees better feelings.) More than once, though, I've dropped by her house only to be welcomed at the door with a glass of sweet tea and an admonition: "shhhh, be quiet, the dough is rising." Marcie, in her zone of creative release, caused me to shy away from the baking arts.

Mainly because I'm loud.

I had a bag of browning bananas on my counter this week. As I thought of tossing them, I decided it was a better idea to toss my irrational baking fears instead. I settled in to search one of my favorite online recipe sites, and found a recipe for this Quick Banana Bread for Machines. (I bought a bread machine after finding a recipe for pepperoni rolls, but then there was the yeast, and I was all afraid, so it's sat collecting dust now for weeks.)

Embarrassingly, the process of baking banana bread was little more than dumping a handful of ingredients into a pot along with the aforementioned brown bananas. The result: warm, yummy, crusty banana goodness. I feel so accomplished! I know I shouldn't officially call myself a baker, what with such reliance upon a machine, but I just have to share how thrilled I am to be able to make such good use of bananas gone bad.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Growth Spurt, the Second

My daughter has a tendency
to shoot up like a weed.

It's obvious she's had another growth spurt
when her panties peek out the bottom
of a skirt that fit her only last week.

And the assessments commence...

Both kids are in the process of taking assessment tests in Math and Language Arts to determine their curriculum placement level. We're not absolutely sure which curriculum we're going to go with just yet, but the assessment tests are associated with the Alpha Omega LifePac series.

I think I'd like to go with the LifePac curriculum in Bible, LifePac or Math-U-See for Math, and maybe Horizons or the Shurley Method for Language Arts, along with various comprehension readers. I've heard really good things about Apologia Science, but I need to look into it for myself. A history course is kind of optional at this stage, but Bub really enjoys history, so I feel I should capitalize on that by bringing in something light and interesting.

As for electives (which concern James), my sister works for a group in Oklahoma that puts together independent art classes for homeschool groups, after-school groups, summer camps, etc. She copied and sent the entire curriculum to me a while back, so that takes care of art. Additionally, Bub recently began asking to learn some French. Since I'll be taking an online French class this semester, now is as good a time as any. I picked up a French for Christian Schools (Level 1) Book/Workbook set, which will help me identify the things children should learn when learning a new language, plus it shows me how and when to introduce scripture verses in French. Je suis si excité!

This morning, Gracie and I joined a couple of homeschooling moms at one of our neighborhood pools. While there, some other moms overheard me talking (imagine that) and gave me phone numbers for four other homeschooling moms in the neighborhood. Evidently, there are enough moms nearby that they're talking about starting a new co-op. There's a pretty active Yahoo group for my neighborhood, and for a neighborhood nearby. I wish we lived closer to my homeschooling friends, but already I'm beginning to find some support.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I don't know what to post about. I'm really, truly blocked.

Well, I guess that's not true. I have plenty to blog about, I just don't know what to say about all the topics. Nothing really important -- just life stuff. Just the same old nonsensical life stuff. I guess I'll just kind of ramble, so prepare yourselves for pretty much nothing.

The fourteen-year anniversary of my dad's death was two days ago on July 15th. I can't believe it's been that long. He died five days before I turned 18. Needless to say, that was a pretty confusing year and the timing of his death always puts a damper on the day of my birth -- particularly since my dad's birthday was the day after mine. (My birthday is the 20th, his was the 21st.) What used to be a happy connection of days was forever altered.

Chelsea's boyfriend flew down for a visit this past weekend. They spent two solid days at Six Flags, and Chelsea learned the ins-and-outs of driving across the Metroplex, meaning she discovered what traffic really is. Last Sunday, they spent the early part of the day with us. She drove back to Arlington to pick him up at his hotel, and he joined us for church and lunch. We, of course, grilled him and have determined that he is a very nice young man. We've also discovered that we're a lot older than we thought we were because we keep referring to someone in their early twenties as "a young man."

Bub participated in a local golf camp this week. Though he already plays golf with James and I, we thought it would be helpful to sort of hone some of those early skills we see emerging. He enjoyed himself immensely and learned so much more than we thought he would in one week. He even won the chipping competition, beating out 25 or so other kids ranging in ages from 7 to 13. He's already asking to go back to camp next summer. If this week is any indication of the learning potential he'll have, he can go back anytime he wants.

This is Chelsea making the most of her situation (namely, hanging out in the kid's section of the library). While we do lots of things centered around Chelsea and her stay in Texas, she's been very gracious tagging along with us as we do all the things we do with and for the little ones. Having Chelsea here this summer has been an interesting experience, one which I think has stretched us all in the best possible way. While we've always been close, Chelsea and I, her staying here this summer has allowed her to reach out to me and trust me in a different way than I think she ever anticipated. Recently, I was able to be a sounding board for her as she opened her eyes to the truth of a certain situation in her life and worked through a very difficult decision regarding where she'll be attending school next year -- a decision that ultimately brought her such peace and lifted a visible burden from her shoulders.

More important than anything else, Chelsea seems to have reconciled some spiritual struggles she was having. We've had some long talks about God and about the fact that as believers, it's OK to have questions and emotions about situations in our lives we don't like. Ultimately, God is gracious and loving, and it's our being honest with him about the true condition of our heart that draws us nearer to Him. It is that nearness that makes things right (in the sense that they're minimized in His presence, not always that they just go away). She's been going to church with us where she's heard messages saying essentially the same thing, and she's already begun looking for a new church home and places to connect with other believers when she goes off to school.

Because Chelsea's going off to school, we took a trip over to IKEA this week to begin picking up some dorm decor. The multi-colored color scheme reflected in this pillow is what she's opted to go with, so we picked up the pillow and a few accent things in the dark navy, olive green, and orange. We have a few more specific things yet to get (like extra-long bed sheets), so we'll do a little more shopping before she goes home. I suggested she wait to get everything until she's actually on campus. Once she's there, I'll make the drive up so we can scope out all the local thrift stores and resale shops together.

And now, speaking of shopping -- well, not so much shopping as standing dumbly in the middle of some retail establishments -- I've been living in here and here over the last several days. Yes, Homeschooling Resource stores.

We've been talking and praying about homeschooling now for years -- since before the kids were ever even enrolled in public school -- but we could never come to an agreement on the matter. After a couple of years of struggle and dissatisfaction with the public school, the discussion about homeschooling became more serious. We have dinner plans this weekend with some friends we respect greatly to talk about their homeschooling decision and experiences, and I think that meeting will help James with those last few concerns he has on the matter. However, after some extensive research (which is not limited to me standing among the curricula, mouth all agape ), we're (dare I say it? should I say it?) planning to move forward with homeschooling in the fall.

The End.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Beautiful Quotes Made More Beautiful

I'm essentially done creating new blog designs for my friends -- whew! I still spend time scoping out new blog backgrounds for future use, however, since I'm not presently creating anything for anyone, I've been having Scrapblog withdrawals. Until I'm ready to rework my own layout, I've been getting my fix creating pretty little quote boxes to coordinate with some headers I designed.

The green one is mine...

...while the flowery one is Marcie's.

Lighter Linkage

An Ode to Laundry :: My friend hates laundry, which is why I love her so.

Pregnancy Does Not a Mother Make :: Some Thoughts on Adoption

Are You Gonna Eat That? Curbing Food Waste ::

Chocolate Facial Mask :: Who wouldn't like to slather on some chocolate?

How to Have a Popular Blog :: Blissfully Domestic

Mascot vs. Spring Breakers :: Stupid, but Hilarious! (YouTube)

Last but not least, one of the best clips from my favorite movie of all time, So I Married an Axe Murderer. Head, I mean Marcie, this one's for you...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Some Thoughts on Dying

Today, I came across the most somber blog post, and I had to draw some attention to it. Blogger Andrea Collins Smith, otherwise known as Punk Rock Mommy, blogged her struggle with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, posting all the way through her last days. Amazingly, she fashioned an entry to be posted after her demise called My Last Blog, and that's the post I read today.

In the post, Smith shares a bit of her experience, some thoughts on dying, and wonderful advice for life. I've never seen such an exhibit of bravery and faith and hope that you'll stop by to express condolences to those she left behind.

Photo Credit:

Saying Goodbye to a Sweet, Sweet Friend

Thursday, all of the kids and I joined my friend Amy and her children for an evening out. We met at a pizza place for a quick dinner, then headed to a park where all of our rambunctious children could burn some energy.

Eating and Playing

First Injury of the Day

As I always say, it ain't a party
until someones bleeding from the face!

When our family moved to the Metroplex over three years ago, we began church shopping right away. After visiting several major ministries in the area, we felt right at home at a sizable suburban church. Amy was part of the reason we felt so at home. She forced herself upon me in friendship and loved on me in a practical way. Amy helped make it very easy to get plugged in.

With Amy:

  • I swapped babysitting.

  • I jumped right into my current Bunko league.

  • I tag-team shopped the triple-coupon sale at Albertsons every month.

  • I co-hosted tables at a Ladies' Tea.

  • I never felt alone at a Women's Retreat.

  • I had a friend to share in my zealous frugality.

  • I spent long nights at public scraps.

  • I spent even longer nights in the parking lot afterwards.

  • I was never alone in the midst of a loss. Amy stayed with me at the hospital, prayed prayers, brought meals. She is a true friend indeed.

Despite energy or injury, it was important for us to get together when we did. Amy's husband recently accepted a position in Indiana, so they're moving far, far away. Tommie's been in Indiana working for the last couple of weeks, and Amy and the boys will join him this weekend.

Amy is a big reason that Texas now feels like home, and I am truly sad to see her go. In spite of my sadness, the last day we spent together (with her as a local girl) wasn't full of tears. We talked and visited like we'd see each other again next week, and only when it was time for goodbyes did the tears begin to flow. Friend, I know God has an awesome plan for your lives, and that this move will bless you both immensely. Still, you will be greatly missed.

Sacrificial Swimming (Because I'm Nothing If Not Generous)

Wednesday, after the house was once again quiet and I hoped for as little movement as possible, the kids and I ended up back at the water park. Despite the fact it was free admission day, I was on the fence about going. I was so tired after the back-to-back fun that I really thought we'd skip out on a swim.

But Wednesday was my Mom's day off, and since she's a big fan of the water slide, I invited her to join us days before I achieved that level of exhaustion. After my invitation, she committed to keep the daughters of a mutual friend and promised them a play date with my kids. I could not bring myself to disappoint them. By circumstances of my own making, we were obligated to enjoy ourselves, and it actually turned out to be quite a nice evening.

Mom met us at the water park with a bag of tacos, so we fed the kids and set them loose. Bub and the older daughter, Jayden, wrestled and played and raced around the Lazy River. Gracie and Drew hugged and giggled and pranced around the splash pad. Drew was also just tall enough to go down the indoor water slide, and Gracie took great pride in showing her how it was done.

We've been quite close to these little girls and their parents for the last couple of years, but both of our families moved and have had few opportunities to spend an extended amount of time together since Christmas. It was particularly precious to watch the kids catch up, no matter how tired I felt.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Translation, if you will

So, after some befuddled commenters and confused phone calls, I guess I should clarify my last post.

As a blogger, your presence on the internet is tracked, and that's not a bad thing. If you consistently blog about a topic, someone could Google that topic and be led to your blog. That's advantageous because your experience can improve your reader's experience. For example, when I track visitors on my Site Meter account, I know a lot of people find my blog by searching keywords that lead them to information about Zachary's birth story. Perhaps as they're searching those scary things, my experience will prompt those people to pursue prompt medical attention. Because of certain information on my blog, maybe their baby will live where mine died.

The gathering of information or tracking topics for search engines is done by something called "spiders." Though they sound scary, internet spiders are little more than computer programs that track word usage.

What I explained in my last post is that spammers used to take over the comments section of blogs, linking people to their sites. While that still happens, it's more difficult and the no-follow attribute makes the process less desirable for spammers.

The "do-follow" movement essentially makes it better for people to comment on your site because Google search engines will track a frequent commenter, which in turn will benefit their blog. My changing the no-follow attribute will in no way send spammers to your site or jeopardize your blog in any way. Essentially, my last post was a lot of mumbo-jumbo that says "Commenting on my site is cool!"

Check Out My Flair

If you poke around here at all, you may have noticed a new widget on the right.

Down low...

Check it out...

What is that, you say? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Back when blogging was brand new, spammers made a practice of hijacking the comments section to lead people to their questionable content. In response to said hijacking, blog hosting sites responded by including some code in the blog template (called the "no-follow attribute") that prevented internet spiders from linking back to these spammers and sending people their way.

From what I understand, the "no-follow" rule not only affected spammers, it also affected legitimate commenters who would have benefitted from a little "Google Juice" as it were, meaning their comments would have perhaps driven random Googlers to their blog, thus encouraging readership and/or driving up their ad dollars, and so on and so forth.

In response to the "no-follow" code, bloggers have risen up and have begun participating in a {not so new} movement called "do-follow." Basically, to participate, you hack into your HTML code and remove the "no-follow" portion, then you post a participatory widget somewhere to let people know. Then when people comment, somehow the Google bugs will follow them, and perhaps Technorati, as well as others. In addition to the internet spiders, I'm pretty likely to follow myself, so lurkers beware.

Bottom line: Link love encourages comments, and I'm all about the feedback.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

God Makes Himself Known

"... I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, on the other hand, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally."

-- Frederick Buechner

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stop This Crazy Ride -- I Wanna Get Off!

You know how you feel when you come to the end of a loopy roller coaster: body still propelling forward, mind continuing to spin? Well, that's how I feel today. The last of house guests left this morning*, and I find myself hardly functional.

Chelsea keeps asking me if I want to watch a movie we rented a week ago, but I feel like I can do little more than grunt at her and sigh deeply (and blog, because I can always blog). I believe she's tired of my inability to communicate and has wandered off for a midday siesta. I'm tempted to join her.

Though I am exhausted, we've had an amazing time with the family and friends who have passed through over the last several days. We have learned, however, that it's a really bad idea to stack them back-to-back, so next year there will be some staggering. Fortunately, Marcie is like a second sister to me and all her kids are like cousins, so she and her family just make themselves right at home. That's advantageous when you're totally wiped out.

During Marcie's stay, we did little more than cook and eat constantly (because that's how she chills), stopping only to play copious amounts of board and card games. We even played dice at the neighborhood pool while the kids went for a swim! I'm pleased to announce that I did won a number of Nertz games. I know there was some concern, what with all the pre-visit smack talking I did.

For your viewing pleasure:

Get Your Game On

Beating the Heat

* Chelsea is the exception --
she's still here, but I'm pretty sure she's moved in for good.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Perhaps a Laundry List Isn't So Bad...

It seems that we're in the midst of the summer climax. For a time, I rotated visiting teenage nieces. Then I had them both here simultaneously, after which my brother and his family came for a visit. My brother and his family and one of the teenage nieces left this morning, homeward bound. Now that they've gone, some friends are here to stay. With all the houseguests and activity, I'm pert-near worn out, and that is why I'm totally void of creativity, leaving you with a "laundry list" of goings-on.

We spent Independence Day holed up inside, avoiding the Texas heat by playing board games and eating large quantities of hummus and candy. In the evening, we took a picnic supper to a nearby lake where we watched fireworks, shouted at latecomers, and spent a good bit of time stuck in traffic.

Saturday morning, James and I went to the hospital to see our friend Rick and to visit with his wife, Kendra. When we came home, we left the teenagers with the little kids while we took Dustin and Amanda to shop at Central Market and to do a little geocaching. Upon our return, we nearly caught the yard on fire when the grill flared up in response to too many burgers. After choking down what ended up being charcoal on a bun, we played board games until we could hardly hold our eyes open, then the six adult-sized individuals piled on or around the upstairs sectional to watch a documentary about the West Memphis Three. We shared our theories about the case over tortilla chips and Texas Pâté (i.e., bean dip).

Dustin and Amanda got up early this morning to begin home again, taking their daughter and Katie, one of the teenagers, with them. After saying our goodbyes, our family (+ Chelsea) rushed out the door to the early service at church. When the service was over, I headed straight to the hospital to love on my friends and their family while they waited during Rick's first surgery*. I stayed with them for several hours, then rushed back home to meet Marcie, one of my oldest and dearest friends, and my houseguest for this week. She and her family arrived less than 20 minutes after me. We had dinner together and spent the evening talking and laughing as if we saw each other last week instead of last spring.

* If you'd like to check in on Rick, or hear about his progress, check out his Caring Bridge site. Don't forget to sign the guestbook!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rick and Kendra: Caring Bridge

I stayed with Kendra until about 3:00, and left about just before she went home to shower and gather some things for her continued stay at the hospital. When I left, Rick was stable and there were no more updates. Since arriving home, I've heard the surgeon plans to begin operating on Rick either Sunday or Monday.

A Caring Bridge site has been set up to coordinate updates about Rick. Kendra's collecting all the sentiments, well-wishes, and prayers to show Rick just how many rallied to his side. Please feel welcome to drop by and sign the guestbook.

Rick and Kendra: Update

Kendra's just posted an update on her blog (I brought her my laptop to connect to the world momentarily), and here's the update she posted:

Some of you know this by now, but I wanted to update everyone on our current situation. Rick was in a serious motorcycle accident last night. He was careflighted to Baylor Medical in Dallas. As of the moment, he is stable and doing well. He will need surgery pretty quickly but we have to find out how extensive the damage is. He has a fractured vertebrae in his neck, a fracture on the lower part of his skull near his neck, a serious fracture on his face (from the bridge of his nose to the outside of his eye socket) on one side, and his jaw is broken in multiple places. The rest of his body seems to be ok, just some road rash and bruising. He is still in sedation for the most part, although he really wants the intubation tubing out. I am just waiting to hear what the next step is. We are waiting on getting his MRI so that will probably be later tonight. As I know something, I will post. Thanks for praying. He will get through this.

Her strength and hope amaze me.

I just went back with Kendra to see Rick, and there was no exaggeration when she warned me that his head looked like a grape. His face and head is far more swollen than I ever imagined a face could be. His jaw is wired shut, clamped tightly around the tube in his mouth. He's bloodied and bruised.

Despite all that, he looks much better than I anticipated. He's scraped up, but not as scraped up as I expected. Kendra commented that it was quite fortunate that he still had a face, and seeing the level and type of injuries he sustained, she's quite right. The fact that his skin remained in place is a blessing indeed.

When we saw Rick, he was moving around alot. It was hard to tell if he was moving in pain or in frustration from being restrained, but he would settle every time Kendra would talk to him. It was amazing to watch his response. Apparently, he's able to follow simple commands (like squeezing hands, holding up fingers, etc.), and I think that's indicated to the doctors that the brain bleed is not as bad as once thought, though they're still not totally clear.

As for the present plan, they're waiting for the oral maxillofacial surgeon to do an assessment. They're very concerned about the broken jaw and the swelling associated with that, and worried that once the neck brace is removed, the swelling may jeopardize his airway. Once the surgeon does his assessment and the doctors are confident that his airway is secure, they'll remove his neck brace and breathing tube and send him for an MRI. That will determine the extent of his brain injury. Once that determination is made, and once the swelling is reduced a bit more, Rick will be taken back to begin surgery on his face and jaw.

At this point, I think the prayer for Rick would be good reports and quick healing. Already, he seems much better than I think anyone thought he would be. The swelling seems to be reducing faster than expected, and his very obvious responses are amazing. Continue to pray that he would heal rapidly and completely, and that the doctors would be keen to everything going on. For Kendra, pray for continued peace. Though she has friends and family rallied around her, I know it's quite stressful to parent from afar while your husband’s well-being hangs on a wire.

Prayer Request: Rick and Kendra

Please pray for my friend Kendra. Her family has been through so much these last several months, and at the moment, their situation has grown worse. Over the last several months, her husband, who was the group leader for our Sunday School class, has been dealing with some spiritual questions. Moreover, the bounds of their marital relationship was strained, and they just reunited after a time of separation.

Mere days after Kendra returned home to work on reconciliation, she was in a car accident and totaled her van. They just finished dealing with the insurance company and got a new car, then Rick had an accident on his motorcycle late last night. He was returning home after an evening out with friends when he lost control of his motorcycle. He was not wearing a helmet.

While it's so fortunate that he survived the accident, he has multiple fractures on his head. His jaw is broken, his cheek bone is broken, several other bones in his face are broken, and he has a fractured skull along with a brain bleed. At the moment, he has a breathing and feeding tube. The doctors advised Kendra that he would need multiple surgeries to repair the fractures, and right now, they have Rick in a drug-induced coma to keep the pain at bay.

While no one can say for sure what to expect long-term, Rick is already giving everyone hope. When Kendra went in to check on him a little earlier today, he had his leg propped up in his normal sleeping position. Seeing those familiar things really helps.

I'm at the hospital with her now, and while the situation is quite traumatic, she seems to be holding up nicely. After all they've been through recently, she expressed surprise that so many people have supported them so quickly and so generously. Kendra's hope is that this situation will be the catalyst Rick needs to recognize the presence of God in his life. My prayer is that as the brokenness in his body heals, God will mend the brokenness in his heart. As he's restrained, God will restrain him and capture his heart once again.

Would you please remember Rick and Kendra? Please pray for Rick's healing, that it may be complete both inside and out. Pray that his doctors would have wisdom to care for him in the best way they can. For Kendra, please pray for continued peace. Pray that God would sustain her as she stays at his side. Updates will come as they're available.

When I Can't Pray for Myself

I had lunch with Karen last week. We've been talking about meeting since Landry was born, and we made time to get together since Karen was slated to return to the workforce this week. I had a lovely time visiting and cultivating our new relationship. We talked about Landry and how she's growing. We talked about Karen's sister Kim who recently lost her second baby, Lucy. We talked about Zachary, and in that portion of the conversation, Karen asked how I was doing.

I told her I was doing surprisingly well, and I am most days. What I've found is that the busier I stay, the easier my days are. When I slow down, when I stop, the lump returns to my throat, the tears start to flow. It's much more comfortable to avoid the grief, and so I stay busy.

I know I need to slow down. I know I need to stay settled in this sorrowful place and let God do all that He will, but I'm tired of being so blue. Instead of sitting still, I spend all my time running in an effort to avoid the pain. Just when I think I've outrun it, Gracie brings home a prayer journal from VBS where on page one she asked that God would give her (meaning us) a baby. If that doesn't make for a setback, I don't know what does.

The journal incident was so overwhelming that I lost it for a little while. We're in the midst of all sorts of decisions for our family, and to know just how much our little one wants a sibling adds to my feeling of guilt and disappointment. I tried praying more than "Thy will be done" and couldn't, so that's what I prayed -- I told the Lord that I couldn't pray, that I didn't even know how to pray for myself anymore with regards to our family growth. And that's where I left it.

On Monday, I had an appointment to see my endocrinologist. I'd had a very vivid dream the night before about a friend, so during the drive, I pulled out my phone to call and tell her about it. I turned my phone on to see I'd missed a call and had a voicemail.

The message was from my doctor's phone nurse. In the voicemail, she clarified that she was calling me on Sunday from her personal cell phone. She apologized for her call being strange, but said she felt compelled. She said that morning as her pastor was preaching, he began talking about babies and God's plan. She explained as she sat there that morning, I came to her mind, and so did my phone number. She scribbled my number on her bulletin and called me as soon as she could. She just had to let me know that she was praying for me.

Again, this nurse is my doctor's phone nurse. Her job is to take calls from patients, pharmacies, and physicians, and all day long, she's either taking numbers or dialing numbers -- she's inundated with digits. I've only talked to her a handful of times during the course of the relationship with my doctor, so there's no need for her to know my number by heart. Moreover, she was not familiar with our story of loss. She just felt impressed to pray for me, and so she was and she called to let me know.

I know people who know me, people who love me, continue to pray for me. From time to time, someone will call or send a note to let me know I'm still on their mind, and it blesses me every single time. But the experience of having this woman call (a woman who really doesn't know me, who doesn't know a thing about Zachary), it stunned me. I couldn't hold back the tears.

For me and my number to come to a stranger's mind in the midst of a Sunday sermon was like the Lord letting me know that He understood where I was. He heard me when I said I couldn't even pray for myself, and He cared so much that He brought about someone to pray for me. His faithfulness is amazing.

"The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
He rescues them from all their troubles."
-- Psalm 34:17

"I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry."
== Psalm 40:1

"Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning."
-- Lamentations 3:40

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

WFMW: Simple Waldorf Salad

Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer asked for some favorite recipes with five or fewer ingredients. I stumbled upon this recipe recently, and while it's an old standard, it's a new favorite for this family. It's great summer salad, and an interesting way to bring fruit to the table.

Simple Waldorf Salad

3 or 4 apples (green, red, or both. Apples should be cored, unpeeled, and chopped into bite size pieces)
1/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup mayonnaise (preferably low-fat)

Optional Ingredients
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

First, plump the raisins by placing them in a dish and adding just enough warm water to cover them. While they're absorbing the liquid, chop the apples, celery, and walnuts, placing them all together in a bowl. (You can add the lemon juice to keep the apples from browning, and the sugar to make them sweeter, but neither ingredient is absolutely necessary.) Drain the raisins and blot the extra liquid, add to bowl. Add mayonnaise and toss together. Chill in refrigerator overnight and serve.

For more great Five-Ingredients-or-Less recipes, check out Rocks in my Dryer.

photo credit:

Free Admission to Fun

To celebrate Parks and Recreation Month, a nearby water park is offering free admission on Wednesdays in July. The theme was "Pack the Pool," but this is as crowded as it got. The people on the right belong to me, so it's not packed at all.

I've been wanting to take the kids this water park for some time, but at a cost of $7.00 per person, it is far more expensive than the other parks we frequent. The free admission deal couldn't be passed up, even though free admission begins at 5:00 P.M. We planned ahead, ate an early dinner, and packed a cooler full of snacks. We also have no plans for tomorrow so the kids can sleep in.

The little kids spent the majority of time on the water slide, while the teenagers floated in the pool and lounged in the chairs. For some reason, my kids think the girls are for climbing on. Fortunately, they're kind to their little cousins and gave them "horsey rides" all over the place. Gracie brought bubbles from home, which ended up being a great idea. She blew all the bubbles she wanted, then rinsed all the drips off in the water.

It's been so wonderful having the girls here. They're so sweet and so helpful. It's such a blessing to have this special time with them having fun and making memories. I think we'll all be sad to see them go.

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