Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I admit it - I am NOT a gadget person. My collection of kitchen tools is pretty meager - whisks, a slotted spoon, a couple of spatulas, some really good knives, rolling pin and pastry cutter, and a bottle opener. Not much else. Nope - I don't have an electric can opener, an electric mixer, a hot-dog cooker, or a banana slicer. Less is more!

When it comes to cleaning supplies, I like products that multi-task, like laundry detergent to clean out the bathtub. Ammonia, diluted with water, works great for cleaning mirrors and faucets, as well as cleaning up small messes on the linoleum. After a quick count, I find that I use only seven different cleaning products - total. That's for laundry, floors, dishes, windows, bathroom tile...everything. Yep, less is more!

So, when someone wants to tell me about an amazing new product or tool that will revolutionize the way my family lives....well, let's just say I nod and smile and think, "Yeah, right!" I'm a little skeptical.

I have a friend who cleans houses for a living. She does this professionally, five days a week. If anybody knows what works best - and what is easiest and most efficient to use - it's Diane. I asked her recently to name her #1 favorite "tool" or cleaning secret. Her answer: "Swiffer dusters, hands down."

"What's a Swiffer duster?" I asked.

On Diane's enthusiastic recommendation, I decided to take the plunge and try a new tool. I'm hooked.

A Swiffer duster is a fuzzy, hand-held dusting wand. You can find them in the cleaning aisle at Wal-Mart, Target, Wal-greens, etc. The fluffy dusting head is light and soft, allowing you to dust around and behind pictures, doo-dads, and lamps without knocking anything over. The wand is small enough to push into tight nooks and crannies, but large enough to quickly brush over a broad surface. Best of all, when you're finished dusting, you can slide off the fuzzy head and throw it in the trash - the dirt goes out of the house for good. It's an easy task to slide a fresh duster into place on the plastic wand for your next round of cleaning.

Before discovering this amazing device, I dusted everything with a cotton rag. Dusting was a tedious, time consuming chore, and, truthfully, it frequently got skipped over during weekly chores. Now, with the Swiffer, dusting takes only a matter of minutes - and that includes window sills, bookshelves, picture frames, ceiling fan blades, and light fixtures.

I don't think I've ever given a product endorsement on the blog before, but I wanted to share something that has definitely made weekly cleaning much easier at our house. How about you? What's your favorite cleaning secret or household tool?

Monday, November 29, 2010


Read C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed or The Problem of Pain, and you realize that here is a man intimate with profound suffering. But read almost any other Lewis work - fiction or nonfiction - and you will be impressed instead by the tremendous sense of joy, delight, and wonder which saturates his writing. You might think that Lewis was a man not very well-acquainted with grief. But you would be badly mistaken.

I love reading Lewis because his joy for life and his love for Christ are infectious. Lewis is a blue sky and a bright sun, chasing shadows from the dark paths I sometimes find myself traveling. And perhaps it is because I know he also walked dark paths that I find him so truly encouraging.

C. S. Lewis met grief at an early age. When he was ten years old, his mother died of cancer. The same year, Lewis's father also lost his father and a brother. Devastated, Albert Lewis felt incompetent to care for two young boys and sent Lewis and his brother Warren off to a boarding school.

Like something from a Charles Dickens novel, Wynard was a hellish, unsanitary place run by a cruel, mentally-unstable headmaster. The boys begged for months to be removed from Wynard, but their father was slow to heed their pleading. When he did, he simply transferred them to another miserable boarding school, and another.

Lewis was eventually sent to live with William Kirkpatrick, his father's old tutor, and it seemed life was at last taking a turn for the better. Lewis thrived under the care of "Old Knock," and it was here that he developed a love for learning, for logic and argument, and for languages. After three idyllic years with Kirkpatrick, Lewis was ready to begin university.

He arrived on the campus of Oxford University in the fall of 1917, eager to pour himself into his studies. But, only eight weeks into fall term, Lewis was called up for military service. After a brief training camp, he was shipped to France to fight in the trenches of WWI. His military service ended abruptly when, in April of 1918, he was knocked out of commission by an exploding shell. Recovery from multiple wounds was a slow, painful process, overshadowed by the grief of losing many friends - very few from his battalion survived the war.

Back home in England, Lewis completed his university studies and eventually received a professorship at Oxford. It was during his time at Oxford that Lewis became a Christian and began writing about his faith. Physically unable to serve in the military during WWII, he instead contributed to the national war effort by agreeing to produce a series of radio broadcasts for BBC. A BBC official had been greatly encouraged by Lewis's recent book, The Problem of Pain, and he felt Lewis's insights would be encouraging to others suffering hardship and loss. Lewis's honesty, compassion, humor, and conversational style struck a chord with the English people, and he became somewhat of a celebrity.

Peers at the university envied Lewis this new-found celebrity. They felt that by addressing issues of doctrine and theology, he had stepped out of his area of expertise (he was an English professor) and violated the principles of respectable scholarship. From this point on, Lewis's career as a professor was pretty much squashed. He was passed over for desirable appointments and promotions, which were handed instead to less qualified candidates.

This unfair treatment at work didn't stop him from writing, and his years at Oxford proved very productive. Yet while he was writing works as delightful and uplifting as the Narnia stories, Lewis was also caring for the aging, emotionally-demanding mother of a fellow-soldier who had died in combat. And he was often caring for his brother Warren, whose life-long struggle with alcoholism deeply grieved Lewis.

At the age of 56, Lewis accepted an appointment at Cambridge University, glad to be free of the jealousies and prejudices which had haunted him at Oxford. Two years later, he married Joy Gresham, an American woman he had met through an overseas correspondence. During a trip to England, Joy contacted Lewis and arranged a lunch meeting. They became close friends and, when Joy's soon-to-expire visa required that she leave the country, Lewis agreed to marry her so that she could extend her stay. It was a strictly civil marriage - no romance or intimacy - and the two continued their separate lives.

However, Joy was soon after diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized. Lewis visited her frequently at the hospital, and, on one visit, decided that he did indeed love Joy as more than a friend. He called in a priest, and he and Joy were married. He bundled Joy (at this point an invalid) off to his own home where he could care for her until she died, and he also assumed care of her two young sons.

Then, once again, Lewis's life seemed to take a turn for the better. Joy's cancer went into remission. Lewis, until just recently a confirmed bachelor, found himself giddy with love. He and Joy enjoyed two incredible years together before her cancer relapsed. It was in dealing with the devastation he felt at Joy's death that Lewis wrote the painfully honest, heart-breaking book, A Grief Observed. Lewis's own health declined rapidly after losing Joy, and he died three years later at the age of 65.

When friends and peers acquainted with C. S. Lewis described him to others, they didn't use words like "melancholy" or "resigned" - he wasn't a man who faced one heart-breaking hardship after another with a grudging determination to do his best to live out his faith, despite misery and suffering. No, when others talked or wrote of Lewis, they commented on his irrepressible sense of humor, his delight in even very small things, his keen awareness of beauty in the world around him, his appreciation for the dignity of humanity. You are left with the impression that this frumpy professor had a pair of brightly twinkling eyes, that he was quick to smile and ready to laugh. His attitude toward life was not defined by the trials he endured, but by his knowledge of the God who ordained the trials. Perhaps that is why he was able to give his autobiography the title, Surprised by Joy.

(A couple of months ago, I wrote an article about C. S. Lewis for our local newspaper. The above blog post comes out of research done for that article, and is posted in honor of the 112th anniversary of Lewis's birthday - November 29, 1898.)

Friday, November 26, 2010


After baking pumpkin pies and chopping mounds of fresh fruit for salad yesterday morning, I went for my walk on the the farm...figured if I didn't get out before the feast/festivities began, I might not get out at all. The weather was warm (low 70's) and drizzly, but still pleasant for a long walk. Walking is a coveted time to breathe, move, think, and pray. For various reasons, I had such a heavy spirit when I headed out, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be refreshed before facing the social demands of the day.

Random thoughts while walking...

I really should wear hunter orange when I'm out on the farm. Deer rifle season is now in full swing. I always ask the boys before they go hunting, "Got your hunter orange?" But, I'm not hunting. I'm just walking, and no one should be hunting back on the farm when I'm out for my hike anyway. Nothing to worry about, right? Except the occasional neighbor who "accidentally" crosses the property boundary. And rifles that shoot a bullet a mile. Hmmm...next time I walk, remember hunter orange!

Guess what I found in the creek bed below the new erosion levees? Puddles! No running water, but enough water that I did have to step carefully to avoid muddy spots. And my shoes and socks were soaked through by the time I got back home. That hasn't happened in months.

After several months of walking three or four times a week, I am happy to have lost some weight. However, I don't seem to have lost any mass. Everything still fits the same. I was hoping that by now, my frazzly jeans would be literally falling off. Not happening. Hey, I could use a little motivation here! What's the point in walking so many miles if I still look like a potato?! Many years ago when I was frustrated with my fitness routine (or lack thereof), a friend wisely encouraged me..."Camille, you don't have to exercise every day of the week. You only have to exercise one day - and that's today." Remembering her advice, I finished my four-hill, forty-minute hike, and checked today off. That was yesterday - Thursday, Thanksgiving. Today - Friday - is a new day. The air outside is cold now (the temperature here dropped 40 degrees in one afternoon) and the sun is shining in a bright blue sky - looks like today is a good day to go walking!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of the occasion, I am sharing a quiz passed along to me last week by a friend. Have fun!


1. What year did the Pilgrims come to America?
a.) 1116 b.) 1492 c.) 1620 d.) 1776

2. What was the religious orientation of the Pilgrims?
a.) Baptist b.) Calvinist c.) Catholic d.) Mormon

3. What nationality were the Pilgrims?
a.) English b.) French c.) Italian d.) Spanish

4. What was the original destination of the Mayflower?
a.) The Everglades b.) Hawaii c.) Massachusetts d.) Hudson River

5. How many people came over on the Mayflower?
a.) 22 b.) 72 c.) 102 d.) 502

6. How many people were left after the first winter?
a.) 10 b.) 50 c.) 100 d.) 150

7. Where were the Pilgrims living before they came to America?
a.) Canada b.) France c.) Holland d.) Spain

8. Who was the Indian who helped the Pilgrims plant corn?
a.) Pocahontas b.) Sitting Bull c.) Squanto d.) Tonto

9. Who was the governor of the Plymouth colony?
a.) William Bradford b.) Patrick Henry c.) Cotton Mather d.) Miles Standish

10. What food was NOT served at the first Thanksgiving?
a.) Beer b.) Corn c.) Pumpkin pie d.) Turkey

Check your answers and total your score (answers at bottom of post):
9-10 correct....You get an extra piece of pumpkin pie.
7-8 correct....You get the turkey leg.
5-6 correct....Take another corn-on-the-cob.
3-4 correct....You get the turkey gizzard.
1-2 correct....No beer for you this winter.
0 correct....Be prepared to be put in the stockade.

Answers: 1-c, 2-b, 3-a, 4-d, 5-c, 6-b, 7-c, 8-c, 9-a, 10-c

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Mine: A large excavation from which coal, gold, diamonds, or other minerals are excavated.

One of the consequences of being the mother of a bajillion kids is that nothing in this house belongs exclusively to me. Not my time. Not my socks. Not my Bible. Not my purse. In a pinch, not even my toothbrush.

Several months ago, I went to the closet under the stairs to retrieve "my" three-hole punch from it's designated spot on the shelf beside the tape dispenser. No hole punch. I searched every shelf in the closet. Then, every nook and cranny in the computer room. Then, the shelves and cabinets around Steve's work area. Still, no hole punch. I was perplexed - and more than a little aggravated. Why would anyone want to use my hole punch? And certainly, if someone did need the hole punch, it wouldn't be too much to ask that it be returned to its proper location, would it? Even when all the kids pitched in and helped search, we never found the hole punch. It must have gone the way of those vagrant socks that disappear after a day of laundry, leaving unmatched mates to languish in the Lonely Sock Hamper in my bedroom closet.

Last year for Christmas, Steve gave me my very own laptop. My very own - hahaha! As I plugged in this shiny new treasure, did I really think it could truly be mine? Mine, and no one else's? Long ago, the household computer - the one free for me to write on while Steve designed houses on his computer - had quickly become the general family-email, homework-research, computer-game, Grand-Central-Station computer. No doubt, my new laptop would quickly succumb to a similar fate. Except....

Except for this awesome feature: my laptop requires a password if I want to use it. For almost a year now, I have fought to keep that password secret. And, when I'm not sitting at the keyboard, I try to remember to shut the computer down and turn it off. If at all possible, I don't want to provide any opportunities for little fingers to make themselves at home here while I'm distracted elsewhere.

So far, I've held my ground pretty effectively. Except for a few English papers and college students checking Facebook on rare occasions, the computer has remained mine.

A few months ago, Steve came into the kitchen holding a jump stick (I write at the kitchen counter - my spot in the house!) "Are you on-line?"


"Can you email these drawings to Larry for me?"

I stopped typing and thought a second. "No, I'd really rather not." I don't know if I've ever said those words to Steve before. He was clearly a little taken aback by my answer. "I mean, I can send the drawings if I absolutely have to," I continued, "but, I really would rather not use my computer...if that's okay with you."

Am I taking the idea of "my computer" a bit too far? Maybe so, but it means I've been able to write more this year than in the previous 45 years put together. Besides, at any given moment, there are at least three other computers available to Steve and the kids. And so, I'm going to keep holding the line, defending my magic little password.

Come to think of it, I'm so inspired by having my very own computer that I may make a move to regain sole proprietorship of my toothbrush!

(Note: The three-hole punch quietly reappeared about three months after it went AWOL. Maybe it just needed a vacation, a little "me" time. We found it last month, sitting in its designated spot on the shelf. Very mysterious.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Today at our house, we have a teensy bit of school to check off, then it's on to pre-holiday cleaning. Hopefully, the housework will be finished by this afternoon - I need time to make a grocery list so that I can get out early tomorrow to do my shopping. Then, noon tomorrow, our first batch of relatives arrive for a shared lunch and some holiday visiting! Maybe Diane can help cook desserts for Thursday's family dinner while the kids are out playing...

One thing I love about the holidays is having a break from the routine. It's nice to rest from school/chores/work, and linger instead over a late breakfast. Or pass an hour working on a jigsaw puzzle with a relative, enjoying a leisurely chat. Or take a walk back on the farm to work off some of that turkey and dressing.

But one thing I hate about the holidays is the break from the routine. Actually, it's just the break from our "technology routine" that I dislike. Let me explain....

We have a weekly family movie night at our house. Everyone sits down together, usually on Friday evening after dinner, and watches a movie. If it's a walkie-talkie (lots of dialogue, little action), the boys bellyache a little...and then watch the movie with the rest of us anyway. I think maybe it's part of the Man Code to gripe about movies that could be tagged as "girl" movies, even if they're really fantastic films. If it's a movie with lots of explosions and flashing images and no apparent plot, we girls moan and groan a little. I mean, really, how many electronic images can a human brain actually process in a nanosecond? But we girls stick it out. It's part of the give-and-take of family life.

But during the holidays, something peculiar happens. With a little more free time on our hands, our weekly movie night has a tendency to transform into a movie marathon. When we're together with extended family, a TV is constantly flashing somewhere in the house. It's not unusual to find a pile of kids plopped on Grammy's living room floor, eyes glazed, zoned out from watching one movie after another.

Never mind movies....what about sports shows? While the kids are boobed out with the latest cheesy Disney flick, the adults struggle to have half-conversations around pre-game commentary and instant replays. Non-stop sports broadcasting is one Thanksgiving tradition I have never been able to acclimate to. Is it humanly possible to sit down and watch a football game, one football game - I mean really watch the game, beginning to end - and then turn off the TV?

And then, there are the gaming systems. PlayStation at our house is normally limited to a few hours Friday afternoon, after the week's schoolwork is completed, and Saturday afternoon, after chores. But on the holidays? Video games compete with non-stop movies for screen time. "Kids, you've been in here watching TV long enough! Turn off the movie and play a game!" No problem. Unplug a few wires here, plug in a few wires there, and they've moved on to NCAA Football or Wii Cow Racing. AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

All this to say, with relaxed routines and schedules temporarily thrown out the window, technology has a tendency to creep-creep-creep, consuming more of our time, more of our lives. The movies, the sports, the games...it is all subtle, seductive, mesmerizing, and HARD to resist.

I want to encourage you, moms and dads, if it's in your power to do so - do something radical this Thanksgiving. Help your family wake up from their electronic stupor and breathe the free air. Freeze the creep.

Monday, November 22, 2010


During corporate prayer at Grace last night, Justin encouraged us to voice things for which we were thankful. Often, he explained, our prayer turns into a litany of requests, with little time dedicated to thanking God for His good providence and many blessings. On the heels of Justin's reminder, here, in no particular order, are....

10 Things I'm Thankful for Today

1. I am thankful we have no raccoons living in our attic and that our house is not infested with fleas. (I feel another blog post coming on....)

2. I am thankful our roof doesn't leak like a sieve and our oober-efficient central heat works. Super thankful for a wood-burning fireplace - that's like icing on the cake!

3. I am thankful to live in the middle of a hay field, next door to the best neighbors in the world.

4. I am thankful for the bustle and babble of many small children in the sanctuary at Grace on Sunday mornings.

5. I am thankful for sisters in Christ who challenge me, encourage me, pray for me, weep with me, and who make me laugh. (Can someone explain to me again the difference between medicinal and biblical?)

6. I am thankful for the men and women who sacrifice their time and energy to "set the banquet table" week after week, praying over and preparing lessons to help grow and disciple the body of Christ at Grace Community Church.

7. I am thankful for a pastor who loves to study, and who then shares the fruits of his labors with the rest of us!

8. I am thankful for my amazing children, who give me so much delight and who, just by their presence, testify daily to God's covenant faithfulness.

9. I am thankful God has bounced me around the country and so orchestrated my life as to allow me the privilege and the blessing of knowing Jill and Bob, Jack and Susan, Cheryl, Jane and Dave, Katie and David, Larry and Lisa, Ken and Cindy, Shaun and Shannon, Mary, Katherine, Teresa, Donna, Jenny, Kay, Kathy, Melissa,....This list really could go on for pages. And, I am thankful that I'll have an eternity to enjoy these dear people in Glory!

10. I am thankful for strong assurances in Scripture that God is Sovereign, He is good, and He loves me very much.

Tag - Your turn! What are you thankful for today?

Friday, November 19, 2010


The first time I watched the movie Napoleon Dynamite, I couldn't decide what I wanted to do more - laugh or cry. So I did some of both.

A friend, one of those exceptional sister friends, recommended Napoleon one afternoon shortly after it came out in theaters. She was on her way with a couple of her kids to watch Napoleon for the fourth time in two weeks. "Girlfriend, you have got to see this movie!"

Months passed. Finally, we rented Napoleon Dynamite from the corner video store for family movie night. I knew nothing about the movie except that Linda had insisted I must see it - and I knew Linda was a wise woman whose advice was well worth heeding.

An hour and a half later, sitting on the sofa as the credits rolled past, I thought, "I have to have a copy of this movie." I don't own movies, people. I prefer books. Sure, as a family, we have collected an odd assortment of DVD's over the years - Christmas presents to the kids, cast-offs from the library, history lectures, etc. But, for the first time in my life, I wanted a movie, my very own copy.

Steve's reaction the first time he saw Napoleon? "That has got to be the stupidest movie I have ever seen." He thought it was a wash, a total waste of time. Too totally unrealistic and unbelievable to even be entertaining. Two thumbs down. If he thought the movie such a complete dud, why did I feel so strongly the opposite?

Why? Because Napoleon Dynamite is MY high school story. That tall, frizzy-haired, socially inept dude? I was the female version of every awkward, self-conscious, clumsy, misfit quality and all the teen angst he embodied. Pedro and Deb? They were my lab partners in science class, my study hall buddies, the kids I hung out with while we waited for our parents to pick us up each afternoon after school.

Steve thought Napoleon Dynamite was too goofy to be real. It made me cry because it was so real that it hurt. Steve thought it was too bizarre to be funny. I laughed because the movie recreated so many ridiculous scenarios I had lived myself.

Last night, Steve and I attended the opening of a local art show, complete with wine, cheese, fruit, and opportunities to socialize with the local elite. A very hoity-toity affair for a small town like Union City. I thoroughly enjoyed viewing the artwork on display - beautiful paintings, prints, photographs, pottery. For a cool $1500, I could have carried home the electric-hued Jersey cow who captured my heart as she gazed at me from underneath long, lush eyelashes. Fun evening, yes, but....

Once again, I was Napoleon. Surrounded by pencil-thin women wearing stiletto-heeled boots and long tailored coats, this frumpy Momma felt like Deb in the midst of a roomful of Summer Wheatleys. A flock of Barbies - tanned, toned, tweaked, and dyed - delicately sipped their wine, while I tried to not trip over an easel or crash into a display of hand-crafted pottery. Attendants (or were they fashion models, maybe some kind of living art display?) floated about, purring, "Let me know if I can help you with anything" - like I looked like a woman who could drop a bundle for a spattering of oil on canvas!

Yes, I definitely felt out of my element. Waaaay out of my league. Like Napoleon at the dance, searching in the speckled light of the disco ball for a friendly face, someone to reassure him that he was okay - even while chomping a mouthful of BigLeague Chew and wearing an orange leisure suit picked up at the local Goodwill store.

And now this where I get all sentimental....

In the display rooms filled with businessmen and socialites, philanthropists and patrons, there was one person whose charm, grace, beauty, and ease disarmed all my timid insecurity. "Hi, Mom!" My oldest son, one of the evening's featured artists, greeted me with a bear hug. "Come this way - I want you to see Mrs. Shaw's paintings!" He led me from room to room, describing the various artwork on display, pointing out favorite pieces, explaining unfamiliar media and techniques.

In one room, we met the generous patroness who organized the show and who was hosting the opening reception. "Mrs. Anna, this is my Mom....," Reuben began introductions. I was surprised to find that I no longer felt like Napoleon at all. No, I was Reuben's mom - and I felt like the queen of the world.

(In Steve's defense, I have to add that after 10 or 12 viewings, he has discovered at least some of the charm of Napoleon Dynamite and can now quote the movie almost as well as the rest of the family!)

Thursday, November 18, 2010


With the onset of fall weather, I had this idea of using Thursdays to post some of my family's favorite fall-ish recipes, starting with soups. However, at the request of a fan (Hi, Michael!), today's post is a recipe for pumpkin pie. As a small child, I remember my mom making this pie each year at Thanksgiving - it is dark, smooth, and spicy. This is not the wimpy whipped-topping variety preferred by those timid about pumpkin!

The recipe comes from a dear family friend who passed away last year, Mrs. Polly Lowrance. Polly made the best pumpkin pie and the best fried peach pies of anyone I've ever known - and she served both with such a sweet spirit and with lots of love.


10-inch single pie crust, unbaked (deep-dish crust)
2 cups fresh or canned pumpkin (cooked)
1/2 cup molasses
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
3 eggs
1 cup evaporated milk

Combine and mix thoroughly: pumpkin, molasses, sugar, flour, salt, orange rind, and spices. Add eggs. Beat; add milk; mix well. Pour into pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, or until firm in center. Delicious served with a dollop of whipped cream!

Notes: This makes a lot of filling - I usually have more than I need for a single pie and end up throwing some away. By making one-and-a-half recipe, I can make three 9-inch pies. This is what I usually do, because then the recipe calls for 3 c. pumpkin (1 large can) and 1 1/2 c. evaporated milk (one 12-ounce can). Of course, your family may not be able to consume three pumpkin pies in one holiday weekend!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I entered the world of blogging 2 1/2 years ago at the suggestion of a friend. She thought this would motivate me to write on a regular, on-going basis. After a bumpy start-and-stop beginning and much input from other bloggers and writers, I now enjoy sitting down to post several times a week. Yep, this definitely provides a fun forum for writing and a little motivation to take time each day to pitter at the keyboard!

If you read this blog for very long, you quickly realize that mine is not a professional Deal-i-O. It is not topic specific, eg. high-definition camera lenses, porpoise training, or the documented history of Ferris Bueller's adult life. I write about everything from being fat-and-over-40 to childhood memories, from life lessons to theology. According to the experts, I'd get waaaaay more visitors if I'd narrow my focus (think Julie-Julia). This also isn't a commercial undertaking, although I could definitely use some income. And, as hinted before, I don't get the hundreds (or even thousands) of comments that many professional bloggers reap daily.

But, after last week, I finally have something in common with The Big Boys of blogging. A notch in my blogging stick. I have my first .....ummmm, how do I put this delicately?....well, my first Rather Unpleasant Visitor.

I read about this phenomenon over a year ago, while perusing tips and advice from professional bloggers. Did you know that some high-activity sites actually keep paid staff who do nothing but screen comments to weed out spammers, inebriated commenters, and such? Of course, I didn't anticipate this would be a problem for me. I mean, this is pretty much a personal blog, a means of sharing my thoughts with friends and family. And it's written by a frumpy, middle-aged woman whose daily routine is about as exciting as dusting ceiling fans. Honestly, I can't imagine that anything written on The Hurricane Report merits the attention and weird hostility of some stranger from cyberspace.

Au contraire! One morning last week, I poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the computer to check email. What in the world is this?! My in-box was FULL of comment notifications from Blogspot. So, I toodled on over to the blog and discovered....

Some sweet stranger had effectively vomited all over my blog. Recent posts. Ancient posts. Posts about the first time I saw a black big toe, my sister's recipe for chili, and grief at the loss of a dear friend. Totally. Random. Weird. Stuff.

Unsettling? More than a little. Especially since I didn't want to leave all that debris lying around for other visitors to stumble over. It was already time to start school with the kids, and I really did NOT want to spend an entire morning cleaning up someone else's poo. Alas! What was I to do?

Thankfully, Blogspot has this wonderful feature, hitherto unbeknownst to me - spam guard. Although my email inbox was full, all these comments had actually been tagged as suspicious and sent to a spam file at the blog site for my review. Blogspot would not post them until I approved their content. Cleanup was an easy click of the delete tab. Hallelujah!

This episode got me to wondering....Should I restrict blog access to members only? Should I eliminate the comment feature? Should I close the site, turn off my computer, and hide in the closet under the stairs? And who was this person, anyway? How did they end up stumbling across my blog in the first place? And why did they feel inspired to dump garbage everywhere?

Well, another blogger used his techno-savvy to find out a little more about my new "friend" - and, after what I learned, I'm more sad for the person than angry at them. Sad, because this life can be so very, very horrible sometimes. Sad, because without Christ, all the pain and heartache of this life are just the beginning of an eternity of even worse suffering. Sad, because, if nothing else, I want visitors to this blog to know that there is hope and freedom and unfathomable delight to be found in the person of Jesus, that even the most terrible suffering can be redeemed for good - but apparently this visitor didn't get that.

Still, I pray that a seed has been planted....maybe....

And I'm still blogging.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


It came to my attention again recently that I am not the only woman on the planet who keeps a secret stash of chocolate. For me, it's Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips - mmmmmm! When I'm craving chocolate, I pop a few of these in my mouth and suck on them until they slowly melt into chocolatey goodness. Result? Chocolate craving: Satisfied. I figure nursing half-a-dozen dark chocolate chips beats eating everything in the fridge in a vain attempt to disarm an overwhelming craving.

I have a friend who keeps a bag of chocolate chips in the freezer, for those moments when the chocolate madness hits. Another friend keeps hard chocolate candies in her purse. Another stirs cocoa powder into her coffee. When I discovered Riesen chocolates, I thought the chocolate chips were history. Then I discovered that I could eat an entire bag of Riesen candies at one go. Nope, back to the chocolate chips.

I asked Steve once if he ever had overwhelming cravings for a particular food. He thought a second, then answered, "No, not really." Is this just a female thing? (Come to think of it, these chocolate cravings are pretty, um, predictable.)

Today, Dear Reader, I want to hear from you. Do you ever crave chocolate? Do you keep an emergency chocolate stash somewhere in your house? What is your chocolate fix? Take the survey at the top right of the blog (the survey will run for a week, and then I'll post results) - and send me your comments!

(Results of survey: 73% of respondents have a secret stash of chocolate somewhere in their houses. I have no way of confirming this, but I have a hunch that most of those who responded were women!)

Monday, November 15, 2010


A few weeks ago, I drove to Iowa for a visit with Emily and Dennis. (Imagine a gigantic, flashing, smiley-face emoticon right here.)

People, I am a house mouse. I am not adventurous. I do not get away from home much, almost never without a traveling companion and rarely further than 30 miles. Plus, the red car is a tad unreliable, prone to random fits of I'm-not-going-to-run-anymore-just-now. With a propensity for getting lost, gunning a car with a moody engine, I was definitely nervous about my Grand Adventure. Driving ten hours from West Tennessee to central Iowa - ALL BY MYSELF - should have made national news...no clue how the major networks missed it.

Anyway, I decided that, being an adult, I should be able to navigate the winding, poorly-marked, two-lane "short cut" from home to the nearest Mississippi River crossing. So, atlas at the ready, I buckled up and headed north. Through the dark. And the fog. Into the bogs and river bottoms lining Kentucky's western border.

Anyone who has driven this route can tell you - it is nerve-wracking. At times, the road is a narrow thread along to top of what looks like a steep levee. There are impossibly narrow bridges to cross, even before you reach the Big River. Dog-leg turns. Miles and miles of scenery like something from the movie Deliverance. A wrong turn, and you could end up composting in a swamp, lost to civilization.

Truthfully, I was not at all confident I would make it to the other side of the Mississippi. As I cruised through the Kentucky dawn, I prayed, "Lord, you are going to have to help me. I am going to get lost. Please, Lord, please help me make the right turns."

You know what God did? He posted flagmen from Cairo to Cape Girardeau. Honestly.

Winding north and west through the middle of nowhere, I came upon a series of large "Road Work Ahead" signs. An orange-vested crewman waved me to a stop, then signaled me to turn left onto...Highway 3. That's my road! I smiled in relieved surprise and waved. Thank you! I mouthed.

Drive, drive, drive....Where is my next turn?! Have I missed the bridge to Cape Girardeau? Nope. Up ahead, another flagman waved me down. I slowed and followed his hand signals - off Highway 3, onto the road to Cape Girardeau, over a massive, four-lane bridge. Civilization welcomed me on the opposite shore.

I crossed the Mississippi River. From here on, it was Interstate and four-lane divided highways. I beamed as I came off the bridge into Missouri.

And then I made a wrong turn.

God had brought me through the tricky part of the drive. Thinking I could handle it from here, I wasn't diligent in looking for road signs. And so, I took a lovely, 20-minute tour of the Southeast Missouri State University campus. I felt trapped. No matter which way I turned, even after consulting my trusty map, I could not get out of the city and back onto the highway.

Sitting at a stop sign on campus, underneath a canopy of glowing fall leaves, I prayed again. Lord, help! You are going to have to get me back to the Interstate!

A rusty, dinged-up silver Toyota sedan pulled out in front of me, its trunk tied shut with a black rubber strap. The driver appeared to be a college student - a large 20-something young man, his long black curly hair still wet from his morning shower. He did not look like a tourist, like someone out for a leisurely drive to enjoy the autumn sunshine.

That's my man! I locked sights on the fellow and stuck to him like glue. He led me straight to I-55. A few miles north of Cape Girardeau, I stopped and called Steve to let him know I had made it safely across the river and to relate my morning's adventures. "Sounds like you're on your way!" he laughed.

Hours later, I stopped at a McDonald's west of St. Louis to grab a cup of coffee. In the bathroom, a woman was changing into her uniform, about to start a shift bagging burgers. When I mentioned I was headed to Des Moines, she told me about construction along my intended travel route and redirected me to another northbound highway. The rest of the drive was a breeze. And my visit? Fantastic.

When you pray for traveling mercies for your friends or relatives, remember this - those prayers are real, and God answers them in amazing ways. Hey, He even let this house mouse feel like Tawanda for a day!

Friday, November 12, 2010


In a recent post - Time-o-Meter - I wrote about how our use of time reveals what is dear to our hearts. Something interesting happened on the heels of that post...

Sunday mornings at Grace, Brother Billy is preaching through the book of Exodus. This past Sunday, only days after the Time-o-Meter post, Brother Billy preached on Exodus 34:18-28, 35:1-3. His sermon title? Staying in Covenant Love. His emphasis? How God's redeemed must be diligent to stay in love with God. God, in His wisdom, commanded His people to gather corporately, regularly, to worship and enjoy Him. God didn't ordain the Sabbath for His own benefit...but for ours. Our loving Father knows we need physical and spiritual rest. He also knows we need a consistent, designated time to pause from our daily concerns and activities and focus as a body on delighting in and enjoying Him.

It's interesting to note that in this Exodus passage, God's people are commanded to celebrate His presence, goodness, and provision at times that seem less-than-ideal. Leave the harvest standing in the field to take time off to worship? Hasn't God ever heard the saying, "Make hay while the sun shines"? Leave our homes, farms (businesses), and crops (jobs) vulnerable and neglected, to go worship? The worship God commands clearly requires believers to demonstrate a practical faith in God's protection and provision...no easy task!

I have often read and heard it said that in order for a couple to maintain a healthy marriage, they must spend regular time together without the distractions of work, children, etc. This has to be a mutually-understood priority. Steve and I haven't always been consistent in setting aside time for just the two of us. But I do know that seasons when we reserved and guarded time for each other - even if it was just an hour every Friday evening at the local coffee shop - our marriage was sweeter and felt stronger, more stable. Date-night is like some kind of love maintenance.

As Billy exposited the passage Sunday, it occurred to me that God, in His goodness and immeasurable love for us, has Himself ordained - even commanded - weekly "dates" to maintain our covenant relationship with Him. He knows that our love quickly grows cool, that our affections are prone to wander. We would likely want to skip weekly time in worship for the pre-game show, or overtime pay, or an extra hour of sleep, unwittingly neglecting the love relationship we have with our Lord. God protects that time by making it a priority - He commands us to meet with Him.

God commands us to enter into His holy rest because He loves us and knows what is best for us. Billy asked us, "How do you rank this commandment (to observe the Sabbath) among the other nine?" Then he asked, "How does God rank it?" This is so important to God that He ranks it before Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not bear false witness,... That's how much He loves us. Incredible.

So, do we look forward to Sunday morning like a much-anticipated meeting with our beloved? (I remember as a teenager waiting for Steve to pick me up for an outting to the movies, listening anxiously for the sound of tires on gravel. The time before he arrived seemed interminable; the time together, always too brief.) Are we eager to revel in the presence of God as we gather to worship? Is this the highlight of our week?

Sunday's sermon communicated this to me: According to God's "time-o-meter," He loves His children. I pray for the grace to use every opportunity to nuture this covenant love and for the commitment to protect and defend it. I pray that in response to God's love for me, my love for Him will grow ever sweeter, ever deeper.

Tim Challies had an excellent post recently on making the most of Sunday morning - check it out here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Last fall, I began posting some of my family's favorite soup recipes. With another fall at hand, soup is frequently on the menu again. Let's see, I've posted Tortellini Vegetable Soup, Suzanne's Chili, Black Bean Soup, and Hearty Potato Soup. Well, here is yet another yummy soup recipe, one I picked up from Ashley over at her blog about a year ago. This soup is deliciously spicy and so pretty - I love the bright green of the kale.

1 pound spicy Italian sausage
1 quart water
2 14.5-ounce cans chicken broth (about 3 and 2/3 cups)
2 large red potatoes, scrubbed & cubed
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
1 cup half-&-half
salt and pepper to taste

Brown and crumble sausage. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Combine water, chicken broth, potatoes, garlic, and onion in soup pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are just tender. Add sausage and simmer for 10 minutes more. Add kale and half-&-half, and simmer until warm throughout. Delicious served with hot, crusty bread!

(Note: When I boil chicken for a casserole, chicken salad, etc., I save the broth and freeze it to use later. I use this instead of the canned broth listed above and it works great. And of course, when we make Toscana soup, we make a monster-sized pot full!)

Is this my first-ever Thursday post?!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


My November calendar is crammed commitments, appointments, and social engagements, the square "Saturday" boxes black with tiny scribbling. Just out of curiosity, I flipped pages backward in the calendar, looking for a Saturday that wasn't booked solid. Way back in early August, I finally found a Saturday with less than two scheduled events.

Some people (like my mother-in-law!) thrive on bustle and activity. Two days in a row at home with no visitors, no excursions, no party - that amounts to insufferable boredom. Me? I enjoy seeing friends, celebrations, adventures in the big wide world - but I also have to have down time. Quiet time. Time with nothing scheduled. Time to rest my body and my mind. Time for restoration.

So, back to my crazy November...piano lessons, livestock judging classes, Woodmen lodge meetings, babysitting MaryAnna, weddings, funerals, Bible studies, nursery duty, music festivals, birthdays,....Thanksgiving! If I think about everything on the calendar at once, my head might explode. Where, in the midst of so much activity, will I find any time for rest and quiet reflection?!

Tuesday afternoon, I took advantage of the sunshine and warm temperatures and enjoyed a long walk back on the farm. Forty minutes, four big hills. Only my own breathing and the crunch of fall leaves underfoot to break the soul-soothing silence.

Yesterday evening, a pause in a busy day to meet and pray with a friend. Prayers for each other, for our families, our church, our leaders. A quiet, musty, dimly-lit basement became a place of rest and restoration.

Today, before the tribe was downstairs for breakfast, I sipped an early-morning cup of coffee and continued my journey through Jeremiah. More and more, I find that quiet time in Scripture - even in sad or difficult passages - is such a tremendous comfort and blessing.

Fifteen minutes of shut-eye after lunch, while we're taking a break from schoolwork. Half an hour alone under the stars, bundled in the dark against the evening chill. A glass of wine and a crossword before bed....

Some people don't seem to need rest or solitude. I go crazy without them. Thankfully, when I'm at the end of my frazzled rope, God provides just the rest I need.

What about you, Dear Reader - How do you catch your breath in the midst of life's busy-ness?

Monday, November 8, 2010


Last week at the Kendall house, we hosted our fourth (or fifth?) annual Reformation Party. Folks from Grace Community Church in Troy, from First Presbyterian in Dyersburg, and from the general neighborhood gathered for food, fellowship, and celebration. Bill Randolph fired up his monster smoker and cooked a mountain of hotdogs and juicy, inch-thick hamburgers. Party-ers loaded the tables with baked beans, potato salad, chocolate cake, and home-baked cookies. In addition to sweet tea, lemonade, and soda, we consumed gallons of hot chocolate, spiced cider, and steaming coffee.

The boys lit off and monitored a hillbilly-sized bonfire. One fellow in attendance asked my Benjamin just what exactly was in that pile of wood to make it produce the enormous flame whipping skyward. "Wood," Ben answered. The man studied the conflagration a second, then asked, "So, what are you spraying on it out of that hose?" "Water," Ben replied. Hard to believe such a torch could be lit with only trash wood and a match!

As the evening progressed and a cool fog descended, we crammed inside the house for singing, a little silliness, and some sober reflection. Sober reflection on what? A what is a Reformation Party, anyway?

Early Christians were persecuted by those both inside and outside of the church. Some Jewish converts felt that preaching salvation by Christ alone made this faith too simple, that it somehow robbed it of the rich heritage and traditions of the Jewish faith. Yes, they believed faith in Christ was important - but they also wanted new converts to be circumcised and to observe Jewish religious laws and traditions.

Polytheistic neighbors also persecuted early Christians. The pantheon of Rome had plenty of room for another god - even this god-man called Jesus. What they couldn't tolerate, however, was the exclusivity of this new faith. Christians claimed that there was only one true God, and only one way of salvation, Christ. How dare these religious upstarts dismiss and even discredit the host of dieties embraced by so many others!

Christianity is distinct among world religions precisely because of the only's. It is these same only's and alone's that make this faith so offensive to the unbelieving heart. It is precisely at the point of the only's that our adversary seduces us and tempts us to compromise. And it is at this very point that we must be watchful over our own hearts and vigilant in proclaiming and defending the truth of the Gospel of Christ, Christ alone, to ourselves and to the world around us.

In the face of these persecutions, the Apostles preached and wrote and exhorted believers to hold fast to the truth: There is only one true and living God, and, by His sovereign grace, He saves sinners through the atoning work of Christ alone. The apostles unapologetically defended Christianity's offensive particularity, because in it was the power of the Gospel.

Throughout history, the church has been tempted to yield to the seduction of these two great errors - 1)that we must add something to the work of Christ to secure our salvation and 2)that other faiths are equally viable and should be embraced in some distorted, twisted expression of brotherly love. Of course, if the first truth - the complete, absolute, eternal efficacy of Christ's atonement - is abandoned for any kind of works-based salvation, there seems little point in fighting for the second truth. Give up "Christ alone" for the gospel-plus, and you open the door for Rome's pantheon (or our own modern-day versions) to dance right in. On the other hand, if there are more gods than one, then there must also be many ways of salvation, right?

So, back to the Reformation Party. Just over 500 years ago, God raised up a group of men to challenge the church anew to re-align its teaching and practice with the Word of God. The church had abandoned the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, for a salvation based on faith plus works. These Reformers exhorted the church to look to Scripture, the written word of God - and not to the traditions of men - as the absolute authority for matters of faith. Just like the Apostles fifteen-hundred years earlier, these men preached the Gospel...and set the world on fire.

Men are sinners. All of us. And we are perverse in our thinking. As Steve said during Wednesday night's festivities, we can believe the Gospel - and then forget it's true in just five minutes. The church, Christ's Beloved, is comprised of just such sinful folk, and even corporately we tend to forget and compromise the Gospel. Aren't you glad we have Scripture to expose our wayward tendencies, to call us back - again and again - to the truth, to the Gospel?! This objective, unchanging standard challenges us to confront error, to repent of wrong thinking, to be vigilant in reforming our thinking to the truth of God.

So what is a Reformation Party? It is a remembrance and celebration of those 16th-century Reformers who rediscovered and proclaimed the Gospel, turning the world upside down. Men who valued the Word of God so highly that they risked their lives to get it into the hands of as many men as possible. Men who sought to be reformed to the truth of the Word of God...instead of seeking a reformation of the truth.

It is a pause in the busy-ness of life to remember those great truths that define and unite and comfort and empower us as Christians. To unapologetically proclaim the offensive ONLY's - Sola gratia. Sola Christo. Sola fide. Soli Deo gloria. Sola scriptura. It is a moment to consider that, as Christians, we must resist the subtle pull to reform the truth, but must instead always strive to be reformed to the truth, the unchanging truth of God's Word.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.....but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. - Galatians 1:3-5,7-8

Friday, November 5, 2010


As a young girl, I loved horses. When I was about 16, after countless nights of praying into my pillow, my Dad got me my own horse - Hallelujah! (Actually, the horse belonged to both me and my younger sister, Suzanne. But because Suzanne didn't have much interest in livestock at the time, the mare was, for all pratical purposes, mine.)

Shortcake was payment from a cowboy for Dad's legal services. She was a small horse, the perfect size for a young girl just learning to ride. A freckled appaloosa, Shortcake looked like someone had sifted powdered sugar over the top of her brown coat. Although a bit ornery at first - either because of my own inexperience with horses or because she was unaccustomed to much attention - Shortcake soon settled into a sweet, forgiving disposition.

Each morning before school, I trudged sleepy-eyed to the barn to feed and brush my treasure and turn her out to pasture for the day. Then, first thing when I got home in the afternoon, I pulled on my boots and hiked back on the farm to round her up. Shortcake would undoubtedly be grazing in the field furthest from the house. I'd run up, hop on her bareback and bridle-less, and let out a whoop. We barreled like a tornado for the house, me lying low over Shortcake's neck, my legs clamped firmly around her sides. I felt like a wild Indian woman - just me, my horse, the rush of air past my face, thundering hooves beneath! Back at the barn, both our hearts pounding, we'd saddle up for a longer, more dignified ride along the country roads and through the fields near home.

Such good times! The best part of every day was the time I spent with Shortcake. I loved that horse, and I believed with all my girlish heart that she loved me, too. I stayed on top of my homework, kept my room picked up, checked off my chores, just so I'd be free each afternoon to ride. Time with Shortcake was precious, something I defended and labored to protect.

My Mom told me once, when I was still a young girl in love with a horse, that time was a meter that revealed my heart. Time showed me what I truly loved. "You work very hard to make sure you have time every day to ride your horse," Mom said. "The fact that you deliberately make her such a great priority shows how much you love her."

I knew Mom was right about Shortcake - that was undeniable. But Mom's words have challenged and often convicted me in the many years since. When I look at how I use my time today - what things I fight for, what things I let disappear into the black hole of over-commitment and packed schedules - what does time say about the things I truly love?

I say I like to spend time with my kids. Does my time-o-meter confirm this? Well, the needle may peg to the left on an occasional bad day, but, yes, I think the meter shows that my children truly are a priority and a delight. And for the three-plus-one no longer living under my roof, those whom I can't physically be with each day, they occupy much of my thinking and prayer time.

I love the family of God. Really? How does meeting together with the saints measure on my time-o-meter? Do I eagerly and regularly meet with others for worship, study, prayer, and fellowship? When we are not together, how much time do I spend praying for my sisters and brothers in Christ? Does my heart long to be somewhere else, besides in the company of this bunch of crazy, Christ-dependent sinners?

I love Christ. He is my very dearest Beloved. How much time do I spend each day in communion with Him? In Scripture? In prayer? In thinking on His beauty and goodness and mercy? Do I jealousy defend my time with Christ each day? Or, do I skip over Christ and get lost in the busy-ness of the day, thinking, well, after all, He'll understand. And anyway, He is sooooo forgiving. Besides, we'll have eternity together after this life - it doesn't really matter whether or not we spend time together now.

It's a rough day and I'm tired. Burned out. Used up. Lost in dark introspection. He says he loves me, but does he really?....if he did, he'd talk to me. -OR- People can be so presumptuous...how dare they impose on my time! -OR- Does anybody here even care what I think about....? -OR- Why did he have to answer so rudely, so meanly? Doesn't he know that hurt my feelings? What does the time-o-meter say about how much I love myself? Am I wallowing in idolatry of Self? Blech! (As a dear friend once put it, humorously, am I a Solar Sister? "I am the sun, and everything revolves around ME!")

Shortcake...I still smile thinking about that small, appaloosa mare. My first true love, confirmed by the time-o-meter.

Thirty years later, what do I love? What does my time-o-meter register today? How about you?

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I took off a few days last week to drive to Des Moines for a much-needed visit with Emily and Dennis. All by myself. For four days. I don't think I've done anything like that in the 26+years I've been married, in the almost 23 years I've been a Mom.

Usually, if I'm going to be out of the house for a day, or perhaps even overnight, I leave a long list of marching orders for the kids at home. School assignments, chore lists, menu plans - everything I think they'll need to keep them busy, productive, and fed until I get back. But not this time. I'd been trying to plan a visit for months, and I was beginning to realize that, if I didn't just leave, I was never going to get away. So this time, I just got in the car and drove.

One of the reasons I am not particularly fond of even short "holidays" away from home is that I dread the mountain of work that awaits me upon my return. Coming back into the nest, road weary and descending from a festival mood, it is so difficult to walk back into the house. Of course, everyone will be fine and things will have motored along alright without me - but without Mom in the harness for a few days, there will definitely be some catch up work. I have a hard enough time staying on top of household chores, etc., when I am rested and in my normal routine. After a break, when I'm off my sleep and have been imbibing a great deal of personal liberty, I have to admit I'm not always excited about stepping back into such a heavy harness!

But here is what greeted me when I pulled into the driveway Saturday evening, my bones buzzing from a 10-hour drive....

Martha was cooking dinner. Martha had made out menus and a shopping list, and she and Grammy ran to the grocery store during my absence (not only had I not made out menus, I hadn't even stocked the pantry). I unpacked my suitcase, then sat down to a hot meal of porkchops, peas, rice, and fried apples. Yum!

Without any schoolwork assigned for the four days, my kids found other ways to entertain themselves. They washed all the windows. They washed woodwork. They did laundry, dusted the house, and mopped the floors. They picked up the yard, weed-eated (is that a word?), hauled wood, and got a head-start on preparations for this week's bonfire - more on that event in a later post!

And they doled out copious smiles and hugs, along with excited chatter about the week's news and activities.

All to say, this re-entry was way easier than anticipated! And now, I am back in the harness, grateful to my six youngers for giving me a real holiday.