Letter to my six-year-old girl

My dearest Ella girl,

You are six. Six. How do I have a six-year old already?

I treasure the way you are becoming more and more like Jesus, sweet girl.

I see it in the way you serve those around you. I saw it when, after a cranky ride home from small group when you said you were hungry, I snapped back: “I’m the one who is hungry! I haven’t eaten all day long. Quit your whining.” [Or something to that awful effect.] When we got home, you went into the kitchen all by yourself, dished up some leftovers, reheated them, and delivered them with a smile. (To a contrite and grateful mama.) Or the time a few weeks back when I got home from the dentist and went into the kitchen to get myself a snack. You asked what I was doing and I mentioned that I had missed lunch; I was getting a snack. I then headed went into my room to have a quiet time. About twenty minutes later, into my bedroom you came, plate in hand, with a sandwich. Two slices of bread (one heel; that I’d usually snub my nose at but not this time!), one piece of deli meat, and two hunks of cheese that you’d sliced by yourself. And a glass of water. (Which sort of resembled milk. I think it had a bit of both!) All because I hadn’t eaten lunch. Best sandwich I’d ever had, heel and all. And then you wrote up on the dry erase board: “Daddy i mayd a sanihc im iksiydid” [I made a sandwich. I’m excited.] Or- a few nights ago I sat down on the couch as daddy prepared to do your bedtime Bible reading nearby and sighed, “This living room never really got cleaned today.” Before I knew it, you had risen and were scurrying around the living room, cleaning up as daddy read. You seek to bless and serve, Ella. You see a need and you rise to do it. Cheerfully. May you continue to serve others in the same way Jesus did.

I see it in the way you love. You are so full of affection-- hugs and kisses and always, morning snuggles. You crawl into bed with me or onto my lap and are so cuddly in the mornings. I love that! Your arms and legs are getting so lanky nowadays, but I hope you’ll continue to be mama’s snuggly girl. (Although you did tell me the other day that you might not crawl into my lap when you’re 25!) You love so fully, dear Ella. May you continue to pour out your love for others in visible, expressive ways.

I see it in the way you obey your daddy and I. You are quick to obey. You truly want to honor us through your obedience. (And when you don’t, you have such a sweet spirit that you are immediately tearful and repentant.) May you continue to have an obedient spirit: with your daddy and I in the years to come, but most importantly, with God.

I see it in the way you can turn from a crabby or slothful spirit to the opposite, with a simple question of, “How would God want you to respond right now?” You want so much to do the right thing, and you are able to flip your attitude in order to do so. May you always be so pliable!

I see it in the way you give. You have such a generous spirit. The $10 bill: nearly all of your earthly savings, tucked lovingly into my stocking. My sweet Ella, I will always keep that $10 to remember your love for me and your generosity. I see it in your zeal to give money to Samaritan’s Purse or any other person in need. I see it in the way you talk: “Someday let’s go someplace where they don’t have mommy’s or daddy’s and we can give them food and money and help them.” May you always have such a generous spirit, my dear daughter. May you always be a cheerful giver, and desire to give ever so much more than you desire to receive.

I see it in your heart for adoption. You faithfully tell us all about your plans to adopt. (The most recent figures for your future family, I think, are ten girls: two from your tummy, the rest adopted. I do think you tossed a couple of boys in there, too. :) And you always speak of adopting at least one child from Guatemala, because that’s where your brother is from.) While I hope and pray that God will open your womb and let you experience the joys of pregnancy and breasfeeding, I also hope and pray that you will indeed adopt. May you continue to have a heart for the orphan, my sweet Ella.

I see it in your kindness. In the cards you make, in the thanks and praise you give over every meal I serve. (Even when it’s not exactly your favorite meal!) I see it in the way you love your brothers: choosing to be the peacemaker, choosing to share, or just seeking the one thing they love to play with at the time and delivering it to them. May you continue to grow in this quality of kindness, Ella Kate.

There are so many more, but these are the things that come to mind as I sit to write this year.

You are purely a delight, my Ella girl.

It is such a treat for me to watch you grow. It is my fervent prayer that you will continue to grow in the way of righteousness; that you will love God passionately and fully.

Hugs and kisses,


December notes


Someone nominated With Great Joy in the category of "Best Cyber-Buddy Blog" for the Homeschool Blog Awards.

I had to check the description of that category, and this is what I found: "A blogger that you haven't met, but you think you would enjoy meeting and hanging out with. She is a person that you would love to co-op with or live next door to."

Okay, the fact that someone read that description and then nominated this blog? Really. It is just about the nicest compliment I could get on this little blog.

I thank you. 

And the idea of meeting/hanging out with/living next door to any one of you?  How fun would that be??? 

* * *

Can you believe December is here already?  Goodness!   

We celebrated yesterday by making these.

And aside from the little mishap I got into with the interfacing, which resulted in me permanently attaching small semi-circles onto my ironing board, we enjoyed every minute of the project.  And I wanted a new ironing board anyway.  

As December 1st came upon us, so did the snow.  My favorite part about the snow, other than the way it looks as it covers the trees, is the quiet that settles with it.  When you step outside after or during a snowfall, it just seems still.  

I like that.  

Things around the blog are going to be still as well.  I plan to take a break here for the month of December, and maybe on into January, too.  I probably won't be around much to comment on your blogs, either, so I'll have a lot of catching up to do when I get back!  :)

If you think of it, will you join us in praying that we will get our foster license?  Our social worker's "it will take a couple of weeks" has turned into several weeks, with no communication from her.  

A few thoughts on this....  
1. God desires us to adopt; I know this.  
2. Satan does not want us to adopt.  He is looking to devour these kids in the foster care system.  He has them right where he wants them: abandoned, neglected, abused and without hope.  
3.  Prayer is effective!  
With these things in mind, I have resolved to be more prayerful for that one thing: that we would get our foster license.  [I'm praying we'll have it by Christmas.]  

Many blessings to each and every one of you (and your spouses and families) as you celebrate Jesus Christ this season!  


Favorite things drawing result

This was so much fun!  I think we should make this an annual thing, don't you?  I can choose a couple of new favorite things each year, and always the chocolate.  

Anyway.   Now to this year's drawing.  I can't wait to tell you who gets the gift!

41 names...  

And the name we drew?


Yay, Koe!  I'm so happy it's you!  

For the rest of you... a little about Koe:  Koe had four children (all boys?)  Their ages?  2, 4, and two 5 year-olds.  Of those four children, Koe and her husband were in the process of adopting three of them through the foster care system.  

And *then* they found out these three children had four other siblings, also in need of adoption.  And so Koe and her husband are now in the process of adopting four more children, for a grand total of eight children!!!  

Last I heard they were trying to close on a new [bigger] home to house their expanding family! Isn't that wonderful?

Koe, would you be willing to leave a comment and share an update with everyone? (Or correct me if I got the details wrong!)  I know these readers would love to hear your story!  

And in the meantime, I will find some Lindt chocolate for you (but no hazelnut!)  Please email me your address and I'll arrange to send it.  (But I know you're close and I'd love to meet you, so if you'd rather, I can deliver it in person!)

Have a wonderful weekend, all.  And thanks for participating!


Thursday night.  We are due at small group by 6:00.  Mark is leading the study.  

5:00... I am frantically trying to get dinner in the oven.  Watching the clock impatiently...Where is Mark?  

5:10... I place dinner in the oven.  It is barely in before I have to pull some out to put on the kids' plates. 

5:20... They eat while I rush around and pack up the bag, grab Bibles, notebooks, set clothes out for Mark.

5:30... Mark is still not home.  We have to leave in 15 minutes and he's not here yet.  I refill drinks, get Ella more enchiladas, get myself ready.

5:35... Mark calls.  He's on his way home.  He'll walk so we won't have to pick him up.  I get the kids cleaned up.

5:45... We're supposed to be leaving right now and Mark is still not home. 

5:50... I hear the door, run for the shower, turn it on for him.  Remind him that we need to leave.  NOW.  I help with shoes and jackets, and get a plate ready for Mark.  Out the door we go.  It's 6:04 when we get into the van.  I drive, Mark eats, the kids point out all the Christmas lights. 

6:17... We arrive at small group.  The passage is James 4.  What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don't get it.... 

In preparation for our study I'd read something by C.J. Mahaney.  He wrote: "Whenever there's conflict, there's a sinful craving that hasn't been satisfied yet."  He suggested that when you enter your next conflict, stop and ask yourself, "What do I want that I am not getting right now?"  The answer to that question will reveal what is fueling your quarrels.  We talked about that tonight at small group.  Getting to the heart of the issue; the sinful craving, and then dealing with that.

8:20... Heading home.  It is already past the kids' bedtime, *and* my parents want to come over when we get home so that they can give Ella her birthday gift, early.  I just want the kids to get some sleep.  I am already grumbly in my spirit when Ella pipes up from the back seat, where she has just finished her small-group snack: a cracker and half of a muffin,  "Mommy, I'm hungryyyy.  I want more to eat."  So Isaac chimes in: "And I'm hungry too!"  Isaias would have whined about that, too, probably, except that he was already whining about the fact that I'd taken his snack away from him for his disobedience on the way out to the van.

And me?  Well, I responded with something along the lines of [insert snapping, crabby tone here]:  "You know what?  I happen to be hungry too.  I've not eaten since lunch.  You each had a plate of enchiladas and the snack you just finished off.  I have not eaten anything.  So please stop whining about it.  If you'd like something to eat when we get home, we can figure it out then."  You know, something kind of... quarrelly.  And grumpy.  And I stew about it the whole way home.  Me and my martyr self.

We walk in the door, Mark and Isaias head to deal with the discipline issue, I dial mom's number and pass the phone to Ella so that she can tell them we're home.  And then I pull stuff off the couch so that there's actually seating when they arrive.  Grumbly me. 

And then I head into the other room to unload our stuff, and hear Ella dragging the chair across the kitchen floor and clattering around.  A few minutes later she walks towards me.  She's holding a plate with a heated enchilada.  She'd popped it into the microwave herself.  In her other hand she had a glass of iced tea.  And she had a smile on her face.  I knelt down beside her to receive her offering.  And I cried.   I was reminded then of that other verse we'd read tonight.  The sixth verse of James 4:  "But he gives us more grace."  More grace.  Unmerited favor.  Such grace, this.  God's love for me in this outstretched offering.  Before I'd even acknowledged my sin before him.  

Mahaney's question was,  What do you want that you aren't getting right now?  What I had wanted was some peace.  Mark home by 4:30, dinner in the oven on time, and a nice, unhurried meal together as a family.  And then I wanted recognition for the sacrifices I'd made for everyone.  You know, all the running around I'd done-- neglecting even a meal for myself-- to get everyone ready and out the door on time.  Oh, and I would have liked an apology from Mark, too.  Though I know he worked hard today and couldn't help the time he arrived home.  I wanted an apology anyway.  And I wanted to be able to arrive at small group early, maybe, for once.  I.  Wanted.  

And yet, with my sinful, icky self fully evident to all, most notably God, He gives grace.  It came tonight in the form of a plate of reheated enchiladas and a glass of iced tea.  

Odds and ends

1.  All of a sudden I really want to learn how to embroider.  Simply for the purpose of whipping up something like this.  Or this.  But maybe I should finish the four projects I have on knitting needles first.   Not to mention the bag I have the pattern and material for but haven't begun sewing yet.

2.  Twice, now, (here and here) I've heard about this movie.  Of course it's not playing anywhere near me.  But do follow that link and click on the "Eduardo's Story" part.  And if it's playing anywhere near *you*, go see it, would you?   

3.  This right here is Isaac's favorite thing to do.  Amy-and-family bought him the Africa puzzle for his birthday and he does it everyday, at least twice a day.  We are so getting the rest of these.  My mom bought him another one for Christmas.  I plan on getting all of them, eventually.

4.  Ella has recently begun to knit.  Really, she knits.  She is five years old and she knits.  How cute is that?!?!  She is knitting a light blue scarf for Isaias, and it's about 5 inches long so far.  But she'll just plop down on the couch and knit a row or two.  It is the cutest thing ever.  Or she'll say, "Mommy, will you knit with me?  Let's knit together."  And so we will.  And so I say for the zillionth time: I absolutely love having a daughter.  Add to that the fact that when this girl unloads the dishwasher, she ORGANIZES my drawers.  Seriously.  Those teaspoons and tablespoons are never stacked neatly unless it's Ella's chore.  Love her.

5.  We got our Christmas tree this weekend.  (!!!!!!)  It was a much calmer experience than last year's adventure.  [No tree in the shower.]  The house is all decorated.  I love turning off all the lights except the ones on the Christmas tree and snuggling up on the couch.  Pure delight.  [Especially if there's a bowl of something snacky on my lap,too.]  

6.  We recently joined Netflix.  If that's even what you do, "join".  [I'm not sure of the proper term.  Join?  Like join a gym?  Um...?]  We're trying it out right now, with the cheapest $4.99/month plan, but with our first month free. Here's what sold me on the idea: Doing this would mean that I'd never have to set foot in a video store again.  And that makes me very happy. I have come to DREAD the video store.  Really.  All those icky movie boxes creep me out.

7.  Isaac says things like, "Let's snuggle with beach other."  Instead of each other.  Beach other.  I will never ever correct this.  And because I haven't, Ella has begun saying it, too.  And that's perfectly fine with me.  

8.  I don't know if I've divulged this fact here on the blog yet, but now I will: I am the world's biggest klutz.  I could tell some pretty funny stories about the ways I impressed Mark before we began dating.  And every single one of them would involve me tripping.  Not just stumbling and tripping, mind you.  As in, falling-down-flat-on-my-face tripping.  [Mark would like to add, as he reads over my shoulder: "Or falling over backwards.  Across the coffee table."]  Yes, thankyouverymuch, honey.  [Amy, are you laughing right now?  I know you have those images firmly implanted in your mind.]  I still do this.  Daily.  Not always the tripping, but if it's not tripping it's dropping, falling, or crashing into something.
9.  I am SO making these this week with the kids.  (Aren't they cute?)

One more thing:  If you haven't entered the drawing yet, leave a comment here.  I'll be writing down each of your names and will have one of the kids draw one of them on Friday morning.  

Have a wonderful day! 

He hears and He answers

There is a framed letter that hangs on the wall in our kids' room.  Mark wrote it one summer, years ago.  It was written during a period of time when we were trying to conceive.  Those years were filled with month after long month of disappointment, intermingled with hope and prayers.  And then grief and tears and such heartache. 

It was during that season that Mark wrote this letter.  It's a long letter-- two pages worth-- so I won't type the whole of it here, but here are a few excerpts: 

I miss you, our child.  We have both hoped and dreamed for you for so long.

I want to hold you in my arms.  To touch your little hands and have you wrap them around my fingers.  To tickle your toes.  To kiss your forehead.  I hope I am never stingy with affection towards you.  I want to always kiss you, hug you, tousle your hair and wrassle with you. 

Our dear, beloved child, do you know that you are loved even before you exist?  We love you because we have always wanted you and because we want to have the privilege of watching you grow up.  If we have this place in our hearts for you already, I can only imagine how much more  we will love you as you develop and grow.  

I will be so proud to be your daddy.  I will always protect you; you can rest assured of that .  I will try to teach you everything that I have learned in this life.  With my words and with a little discipline, I will try to help you avoid the sins of your father, and I will forgive you and comfort you when you struggle and stumble. I will always love you.  

I long to watch you grow up.  Who will you be?  What will you look like?  Will you be dark and beautiful like your mommy?  Will your eyes be brown like hers or blue like mine?  What will be your favorite game?  Will you like sweets like daddy or salty snacks like mommy ? What will your little voice sound like and what will it sound like when you're mad or upset?  Will you be reserved or outgoing?  Will you join in when daddy dances silly?  Will you enjoy helping mommy with whatever household tasks she has each day?  How old will you be when you start praying before our family meals?  Will you like to curl up on my lap for a Bible story after a bath and getting into pajamas?...

I would ask who you will be when you grow up: what job you will have, who you will marry, what the world will be like then, but I don't want to think about that right now, because that means that you will leave us, emptying this house that is too empty right now.  


Next week our Ella will turn six years old.   Six.  This morning I remembered this letter Mark wrote so many summers ago, and I sit here marveling at God's incredible graciousness to us.  

He hears and He answers.  Don't ever doubt it.  

I know there are some of you who are also struggling with infertility.  Or maybe there is a prayer you have offered up to Him over and over and over and over again, and He seems silent.  He hears and He answers.

I know this to be true, although even I need to be reminded of it.  All those questions Mark asked in that letter, those who will you be questions?  We know the answers.  God has given us six years with this precious girl.  Not to mention four years with our Isaac and nearly two with our Isaias.  I am positively overwhelmed with gratitude.  He heard and He answered.  He is so good.  

The Lord is faithful to all His promises
and loving toward all he has made. 
The Lord upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down. 
The eyes of all look to you, 
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing. 

The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made. 
The Lord is near to all who call upon him, 
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; 
he hears their cry and saves them. 
The Lord watches over all who love him.
Psalm 145:13-20

Thanksgiving journal 2007

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise; 
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100: 4-5

To read more about our Thanksgiving tradition, from last year:
Our Thanksgiving journal

A few of my favorite things

Because it is Thanksgiving week...
And because I am thankful for *you*, dear readers...

..A drawing!

First ever! And I'm very excited.

I decided awhile ago that I would like to have a drawing on my blog. The question was: What should I give? The best "theme" I could come up with was to give a few of my favorite things. 

I liked the idea of sending something handmade or homemade, but most of what I make in the realm of "homemade" is food. And while I love food and would love to share food, it would be difficult to mail.  

Since I love to cook, I thought about sending you my favorite cook book. But I don't actually have a favorite. I pick and choose my recipes from all sorts of sources, not from one particular book. So that was out.  

I love to read, and considered sending you one of my favorite books, but then... what if you've already read it? Or what if you don't like the type of books that I do? That wouldn't be much fun.  

I thought of yarn, candles, or bubble bath, but decided against those.  

I briefly considered a gift card from Amazon, but that is so impersonal I immediately crossed that off the list. 

I finally settled on these two things:

The item on the left is one of the Seeds Family Worship CDs. I discovered these CDs several months ago, and we LOVE them around our house. Each song is upbeat, catchy, and straight from Scripture. I find myself reaching for these Seeds CDs often. Because I like 'em just as much as my children do. We own a lot of Scripture memory CDs, but this series is hands-down my favorite. So, for you (and your kids, if you have them)... one of these.

The second item is one of Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day products. I was introduced to Mrs. Meyer's a few months ago when I entered a contest over at Jewel's Eyes of Wonder blog. And I won! I received a package containing some of these products. And can I just say... I LOVE THEM. They just smell *good*. I have the Liquid Dish Soap by my sink and I find I always use it to wash my hands because I just love the scent so much. So for you... some lavender hand soap from Mrs. Meyers.

But I can't send a gift without some sort of food. And I think we've all already established that we like chocolate. So the third item YOU get to choose. Tell me your favorite kind of chocolate, and I'll include that in with the gift. When you enter this drawing, by leaving a comment with your name, make sure to list your favorite chocolate treat. (Tell me what kind you like and I'll do my best! Having said that, please make it semi-easy on me and don't tell me about some chocolate you want that I have to order from Belgium or something, okay?)

I'll draw a name next Friday, November 30th, and announce the winner then. If you win, you'll get the Seeds Family Worship CD, the Mrs. Meyer's hand soap, and the chocolate of your choice.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Children's Book Monday

Of the teetering stack of library books we've collected over the past few weeks, this one is my favorite:

The Little Ships
by Louise Borden

The story is set in the year of 1940, during the second World War. Half a million British and French soldiers were trapped by the Nazi troops on three sides. Their only way out was the sea. But because of shallow waters, the larger Navy and Marine vessels could not get in close enough to evacuate the soldiers.

On May 14th of 1940, the BBC made the following announcement: "The Admiralty have made an Order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30' and l00' in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned".

Borden's The Little Ships follows the story of one such smaller ship, the Lucy, a fishing vessel from Deal. The Lucy belongs to a fisherman, and Borden's story is narrated by the daughter of this fisherman. She tells us:

My brother, John, was a British soldier,
fighting in France.
Maybe he was in this trouble too.
Maybe he was trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk
and was waiting for a navy ship,
or a fishing boat like the
to bring him home.

Our young narrator tucks her hair under a cap, puts on a pair of her brother's old trousers, and sails with her father on the Lucy, eager to do her part to rescue some of the soldiers waiting in Dunkirk.

I love this book. It is one of those living books that draws you into this period in time and makes it come alive. The story itself is remarkable. Borden's note at the end of the book indicates that 861 "little ships" gathered off the beaches of Dunkirk to ferry the soldiers from the beach to the larger ships of the British Royal Navy. We pulled the globe onto our laps and found Dunkirk, and followed the route of these little ships with our fingers.

The illustrations are well done, full of boats and waves and big Navy vessels. I admit, I was a bit wary of my little ones' eyes seeing blood and dead bodies on the shore of Dunkirk. But my fears were stilled as I turned the pages. While it is clear there are wounded soldiers, the scenes are appropriate for little eyes. Your boys will love the rescue effort-- enemy planes are attacking as the rescue goes on-- but even your girls will love the story of this young girl and her father, searching amongst the faces of the soldiers for the face of the one they love so dearly.

Oh, and the result of the efforts of these little ships? Over 338,000 British and French troops were evacuated.

Track this one down at your library, and enjoy!

For more book recommendations, head on over to Elise's blog at A Path Made Straight. [Thank *you*, sweet Elise, for hosting Children's Book Mondays.] Note to readers: Elise has *great* taste in books, and she has introduced us to many of our favorites over the past several months. Happy reading!

Note: Some of the information for this book review came from this site, The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

Seafood Chowder

It's been a very long time since I posted a recipe.

Here's one of our favorites. I make this only occasionally because it's a bit more expensive than our usual fare, so it's a treat when we do have it. We had this tonight with some warm sourdough bread and it was *perfect*.

Seafood Chowder

1/4 cup butter
1/2 chopped onion
1 tsp garlic
1/4 lb shrimp
1/4 lb scallops
1 small piece of white fish

Saute above until cooked.

1/4 cup white wine
Simmer 1 minute.

1 T flour
Stir until thickened, 1-2 minutes

1 (8oz) carton heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Stir in 2 cans of canned clam chowder and 1 soup can of milk.

Simmer uncovered until ready to eat!

This is quick, easy, and delicious. The only notes I'd give you are these: Basically, anytime a recipe lists garlic as an ingredient I multiply it. We love garlic, so I used four cloves tonight. Mmm! For the fish, I buy cod. Also, If you can afford more seafood, that will just make it all the better! Just double the amounts listed.


Snacks, anyone?

Yesterday morning. Isaac, getting dressed, halfway through putting his shirt on. I walked into the room, noticing that he's just put something tiny into his mouth.

Me: "What's that?"

Isaac: "Some things are in my eye that I can eat."

I'm still laughing about it. It was just so matter-of-fact. As if he said, "God put things in the corner of my eye just so that I could have an occasional snack!"

We implemented a fabulous idea tonight

Five minutes after we'd put the kids to bed, we crept downstairs, barged into their room, and announced, for the very first time: "Get up! It's time for a Pajama Ride!!!"

One of the best ideas ever! Thank you, Renee-- for sharing your family tradition so that we can do it in our family, too!


Yesterday we headed to the store to go shopping for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. I love doing this with my kids. They find so much joy choosing gifts for a child exactly their ages. It makes it easy to shop, too-- they just choose what they like. $42 later, and with bags full of toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths, soap, notebooks, markers, pencils, activity books, barrettes, socks, toys, candy and much more, we headed home to pack up the boxes. Amy and her kids met us at the store so we were able to shop and pack up the boxes with them.

This morning the kids each made a card for their gift box, carefully spelling out "Jesus Loves You!" and coloring beautiful pictures and signing their names.

Then we prayed for the children who would receive our shoeboxes. We prayed a few things:
>That when these children received these gifts, they would also hear the gospel.
>That they would know how much God loves them and that they would choose to love Him all the days of their lives.
>That they would particularly like the gifts we chose for them. That God would deliver these three boxes to *just* the right child who would be delighted by the gifts within.

We love doing this. My kids talk about it for weeks before and after. For some reason my children are convinced their boxes are going to children in Africa, so they talk incessantly about Africa and what the child will think when they open their box. And Isaac is always a bit confused that we won't actually get to watch the child open the gift we give, so that takes a bit of explaining. But they love it. What a wonderful opportunity for our kids to think of others in the world and give a gift-- lovingly chosen, carefully packed, and earnestly prayed over.

Just so you know...

If you have a Mac and desire to upgrade to their new Leopard, you really should go ahead and back up all your files. Otherwise you might lose everything. I repeat: everything.

Ask me how I know.

I was in tears only twice today, but oh, friends: ALL MY PHOTOS. Well, all the ones I've taken in the past 3 months. But that's a LOT. That's the worst. Yes, I'm bummed about all my Word files that are also completely gone. And all the various things I've bookmarked. But the photos? Those are what I cried over.

Add to that the fact that we discovered ants in our kitchen this morning. Our home is old, so this is not our first ant sighting, but this was the first time they were so... shall we say... *prevalent* in the kitchen. [Mark tells me he found some on the kitchen counter this morning.] Being the wise man that he is, he removed those prior to me seeing them there. That might have put me completely over the edge.

And that was all before the computer issue. And the hour and a half I was on the phone with the Apple guy. Or the hour I spent at the store nearby finding out that Yes, I'm afraid everything you had on here is now completely gone.


What I was thankful for today:

-Mark had the day off. He took care of those ants. I said maybe ten times today: "I am so glad you're home and taking care of this!" In "taking care" of them, he cleaned my entire kitchen, including pulling out the oven and fridge and cleaning beneath them. (Isn't he the greatest?!)

-I lost photos of my children, but their dear sweet selves are right here before me. (Thank you, Jesus.)

-My computer is fairly new, so I only have 3 months worth of stuff on here. (Still. But I'm thankful nonetheless.)

-We've had VERY stormy weather lately, and two trees fell in our neighborhood. Neither fell on our home or property.

-I called Michelle today on the phone, and she let me bawl about my computer woes. (Thank you!)

And I'm sure there's much, much more, too, but it's time for dinner!

The bug drama

Once upon a time, in elementary or middle school, my class went to a local Chinese restaurant for lunch. The one-and-only thing I remember about that experience is this: at one point during my meal, I glanced down and witnessed a little green inch-worm crawling along one of the tines on my fork. [Tines? Well, the part of the fork you put into your mouth.] I'm sure I mentioned it to at least the person beside me, and then simply slid my plate away and sat out the rest of the meal.

Tonight we were all out running errands when we realized it was past dinnertime and we should probably stop and get something to eat. And then we have this discussion about how it should be something quick, but not fast-food. [For the most part I detest fast food. Just slightly more than I detest Chinese food, after tonight. But we haven't gotten there yet.] We settled on stopping at a nearby grocery store where they have one of those Chinese food places within the store. Quick, ready-to-eat, but not fast food.

We ordered, paid for our meal, and settled down at a nearby table to eat. Mark and I had ordered enough to share with the kids. About halfway through our meal, Isaac was putting a bite of rice up to his mouth and Mark suddenly yelled, "Isaac! Stop!" For Mark to yell anything at all it's a big deal, so we all halted to find out what was going on. Mark said, "I'm pretty sure there's a bug on that rice." Mark took Isaac's fork to take a closer look. He wasn't sure-- it was still embedded in between some sticky white rice [rice that had come from Mark's bowl] so it was hard to tell. Mark sort of shrugged and said, "I can't really tell..." so I took over the dissection. I used the fork to poke off the white rice, which left the black object in the middle of the white napkin. I rolled it over once, only to discover the wing of said bug, and we all concurred, "Yes, this is indeed a bug." A black, beetle-y looking bug with wings. About the size of a fruit fly. Ew. [I shudder]

So we looked at each other, Mark and I, as if to say,"Now what? I asked Mark, "Will you be eating the rest of that?" to which he replied, "Uh, nah.. I've sort of lost my appetite." Say no more. I scooped up the napkin and headed back to the little Chinese eatery. I waited for a moment where there were no more customers, and then I leaned forward and quietly said to the girl behind the counter, "We were about halfway through our meal when we found this bug [at this point I opened the napkin to display the bug] in our food." And then I just waited for a few seconds, expecting her to say this:

"Oh, I am *so* sorry you found that in your food."

followed by maybe this:

"What was it that you ordered? Let me get you a new one."

But instead, I got nothing but a blank stare, a slight shake of the head, and other than that: no communication whatsoever.

So I tried again, a little less bold this time: "I thought you'd like to know...."

And then she leaned forward just the slightest bit to view the bug I still held before me. She then said, "Yeah, well. It could have flown into the food either back here or over there [indicating our table], so...." (she trailed off and then just looked at me again.)

Okay, I wasn't going to argue the point with her, but PROBABLY NOT, since, you know, the bug was embedded into the rice and looked *very* dead, as opposed to the still alive but flopping around because it had just flown into your food variety.

So then I thought to myself, "Wow, maybe I'm being really petty about this. And this isn't an actual restaurant, so maybe they don't really do that kind of thing here...?" So I offered a weak, "Well, maybe you should at least check your pot of rice..." [you know, in case there was a infestation of sorts going on in the pot of rice? I know, it was a totally dumb thing to say but I was a bit befuddled at this point at her complete lack of care about this issue and was very obviously floundering.]

She just shrugged.

So I left, tossing the folded napkin in the garbage can as I walked back to our table. When I got there I muttered, "Well, that went over real well. She sure wasn't overly concerned about it." And I really planned to let it go at that point. But then I sat there looking at Mark's half-eaten entree and our kids who had been eating off of it, and I asked, "Do you think I should go talk to a manager?" Mark wasn't volunteering for that task, but he was fine if I did, so I got up, walked back over to the garbage can where I saw my folded napkin lying on top (I know, that is so gross but I did want proof that there was an actual bug), and walked over to an employee and asked where I could locate the manager.

He kindly pointed me in the right direction, and I set out to find him.

When I found the manager- Mark was his name- I introduced myself and explained the circumstance, again showing the bug [which as I now type this I think is awfully funny. There I am, traisping all over the store with this little hard black bug in a napkin, offering it up for proof. Oh boy.] Anyway. I said something to the effect of, "I really don't know what you do about this kind of thing. I know that if I were at a restaurant they would probably give me another plate, but maybe you don't do that here. I'm not sure. But I don't think my husband will be eating his remaining portion and we did pay for it... and...? Could we just maybe have another entree? Or half of one? Without the bug?" I did tell him that I'd already been to the eatery and they weren't much help. Mark-the-manager examined the bug, said, "I'm sorry you've had this experience. (There! Someone who cares! Or at least knows enough to pretend to care.) And I will talk with that girl. Here's what I'll do: I will go with you to get another entree, but first we're going to stop by this register right over here and refund you that meal." Except for when he got to the register and explained to the lady behind it what she should do, he decided, "Actually, you know what? Let's just go ahead and refund the whole order." At this point I interrupted and said, "That is very nice of you, but I am more than happy to pay for our meal. I just really would like that one entree replaced. I don't need you to refund the entire ticket. Really. That is above and beyond the call of duty." He insisted, and I thanked him profusely, [and thought he should be awarded Manager-of-the-Year] and then he walked me to the eatery. I had to take a detour over to my Mark to find out what he'd ordered, and then sent him to take meet up with the waiting manager and take over from there. I wasn't thrilled about the upcoming awkward encounter with I-Could-Care-Less Girl. So my Mark met Mark-the-manager in front of the Chinese place where the manager was speaking quietly to the girl.

Mark-the-manager told my Mark to order anything he wanted, but my Mark, having already eaten half a meal, only ordered one of the two things he'd previously ordered, whereupon the manager instructed the girl, "Make that a double portion, then." (I know, don't we just love Manager-Mark?) When I asked Mark later what the girl was doing, he said, "Rolling her eyes." Me: "What? Are you serious? Right in front of the manager?" And he said, "Well, practically. She might as well have been. She was visibly perturbed."

Mark thanked the manager, brought his meal to the table and resumed eating while I filled him in on my conversation with the manager and what he'd done (in refunding us the $22). And I kept peering over at the Chinese place to see if the girl might be glaring at our table. I didn't see her. So then I had to analyze the whole ordeal. Out loud. I just couldn't get over the fact that she was so perturbed that there was a bug in our food. I mean, what did she think? That we'd brought the bug from home and placed it into their napkin so that we could try to get ourselves a free meal? I kept asking Mark, "It's not unreasonable for me to expect our food to be bug-free, is it? I mean, we paid for the dinner. I like to think I'm paying for food-without-bugs. I don't think I was being unreasonable. So then why was that girl so upset? It really did bother me that she was so upset. And I didn't want to get her in trouble, either. I did ask Mark before we left. "Do you think I should go try to talk with her? Make sure things are okay between us?" He didn't quite think that was necessary, so we finished up and left.

And that's the end of the bug drama. But no more Chinese food for me. [Thank goodness it wasn't Thai food.]

Mark is making fun of me because this is the longest post ever. "You're still writing that same post?" And truthfully, I'm sure none of you care about the bug that was in Mark's food tonight or the ordeal that followed. And I don't even have a spiritual application for you. My mind just doesn't usually find a parallel like that.

I'm going to go watch a video with Mark now. But I do want to know one thing: What would *you* do if you found a bug in your food? (Great. Mark just said, "What would Jesus do if He found a bug in His food?) So you may answer either question. Or neither. Because you probably haven't lasted this long in the post anyway.


Pictures at the park

Every year during the month of October, we head to our favorite park. We make big piles of leaves and play! This year we even smartened up and brought a rake. And we sort of go hog-wild with the camera. Here's a peek.

Last year we got such a good shot of the kids together and individually that we got prints and gave them out to family members. This year?... Not so sure about that plan. *grin* But we had a blast and got lots of fun pictures anyway.

Simmering on my stove today...

1 satsuma orange, halved
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves, poked into the orange halves
a splash of vanilla

The whole house is fragrant with the smell.


Freshly baked

Years ago a store in town carried a candle with a scent called Freshly Baked.

I loved it.

Mark thought it was ridiculous. "Freshly baked? Freshly baked WHAT? You can't just call a candle 'Freshly baked'. I mean, is it a freshly baked pie, freshly baked bread, or.. what, exactly?"

It mattered not to me. I bought the candle and let him poke fun each time I lit it.

Freshly baked anything smells delightful to me.

This evening our house smells like bread. Two loaves, freshly baked.

I love baking bread. I keep telling Mark, "I may start baking all our bread." [He thinks that's a great idea!]

This week I'm practicing. Ella and I are going to bake two loaves again tomorrow, using another recipe. (The one you recommended, Annie!) I haven't decided yet if baking our own bread is a good idea. My *only* hesitation is that having freshly baked bread in the house means I'll eat it. Lots of it. I like homemade bread even more than I like ice cream. And that's saying a lot.

Update on Shelley

Thank you, dear readers, for praying for Mark's sister Shelley...

She had her surgery Friday afternoon, and they removed a lump the size of a fifty-cent piece, as well as five lymph nodes. Mark spoke with her last night, and while she is *very* sore and heavily medicated right now, she is recovering and hopeful that the cancer is now GONE. Her spirits are good, and they are being well taken-care of. Meals are planned out for the next several weeks, a cleaning schedule has been made: one focus area each day of the week, one volunteer to clean that area.

She will begin radiation in another month, I think.

Thanks again for your prayers!


Looking forward

It's been a few days...

How is everyone?

Can you even believe it's almost November? Which means, for us... it's nearly time for Operation Christmas Child! We did this for the first time last year and loved it. The kids and I have been talking about it for weeks and we're anxious to do some shopping and get those shoeboxes packed. For more information on Operation Christmas Child, go here.

Within the next couple of weeks we're going to be doing this again, too. I can't wait! I was looking at our Thanksgiving journal the other day and was so thankful we have this tradition. We started doing this in 2002, when Ella was just a baby. It is such a delight for us to thumb back through these pages and see God's gifts from year to year. If you're not already doing something like this, I encourage you to begin! It takes just one evening, minimal scrapbooking skills, some photos, a journal, pen, and a thankful heart. And your children will *love* the family project.

Today we went out to celebrate Aidan's birthday (Amy's oldest). He is SEVEN years old. I had the wonderful privilege of being there when this little guy came into the world, and it is such a joy to see the godly young man he's becoming. (It's those great parents of his!)

I just finished knitting my first hat! I'll post a picture as soon as I take one. I'm working up the courage to start a sweater. Not just yet, though.

"Homeschooling" would be a term you could use lightly around our house lately. We haven't done "school" for quite a few days. Mark has asked kiddingly, "What, is this like early-Fall break or something?" Yeah, pretty much. We've just been busy, what with birthdays and organizing and making meals for a friend who just had their fourth baby, leading small group (and having our house clean to host it), baking for one thing or another, laundry, colds,... you name it, we've done it. I even postponed school one day last week so that I could clean and rearrange our bedroom. (And Ella helped me, as I tried to explain to her that this was "kinda school"... you know, serving and blessing daddy this way. She completely bought that and was cleaning happily and helpfully.) I vacillate between being completely okay with this and stressing that I'm an utter failure.

One more thing...
Mark's sister Shelley is going in for surgery on Friday. She will be having a lump removed as well as some lymph nodes, and will follow up with radiation treatment. Will you join us in prayer for her, her husband, and their four children? Thank you, dear readers.

It is a gift to have such wonderful online friends, and I do love stopping by your blogs and catching up with each of you. (That is, except for Amy, who still needs a blog. Ame...?)

I got to go on a date with my husband tonight

Raise your hand if you ever babysat. I sure did. I've always thought I did a good job as a babysitter, too. I'd come over, actually PLAY with the kids (as opposed to watching TV or talking on the phone (NEVER!) or reading a book). And if there was free time when the kids were sleeping, I'd fold laundry, clean the kitchen, the living room.. whatever I could find to do. I prided myself on being *the best* babysitter. Or so I thought until tonight.

Tonight I met the Queen of all Babysitters. She put me to shame. I'll tell you about her in a minute, but... let me back up with the story, first.

The date. With my husband. It's kind of funny how this date came to be. We rarely go out, Mark and I. That's not to say that we don't do date-ish things (we eat good food, rent movies occasionally, and play lots of games just the two of us), but we don't get out much.

The big reason for that is that I don't want just anybody watching our kids. So our list of "babysitters" is short: my mom, Mark's parents, or Amy. Really, that's the list. There's no one else.

My mom is great. Every month or so on Mark's day off she'll say, "Why don't you let me take the kids for a couple of hours so you and Mark can go on a date?" Which is wonderful and I am very thankful. Usually it's during the day, as my parents often have evening engagements, so we catch lunch or something.

Mark's parents are great, and they are usually the ones who come to watch the kids when Mark and I go away for a night or two. (So, our anniversary). They love coming and we love it when they're here. The kids have a blast, Mark's dad wanders around the house and fixes things, Mark's mom does yardwork for us, they take the kids on walks twice a day, every day, and play with them. They're wonderful.

And Amy, too- is wonderful. And my kids love going to Auntie Amy's house. But she's got four kids of her own so it's rare I give her the opportunity. But there have been a few times (like when we had all those adoption classes in March), that I needed her and asked her (and she graciously said 'I'd LOVE to!') and they all did great.

Two nights ago Amy emailed me and said, "Try to find a sitter and let's all go out on Saturday night." Now, Amy is my best friend and her and Mike are our best couple-friends and we LOVE to spend time with them. But we rarely do it. I jumped at the opportunity.

But then there was whole sitter thing. Ugh. My parents are out of town for the weekend, Mark's parents don't live in town, and well, our other option was who we were going to go out with, so...????

I called Courtney. We met Courtney two years ago. Her fiance had recently moved here and was interning with my dad. Courtney lived on the other side of the country. She wanted to move here to be closer to her husband-to-be, and we had considered renting out a room to be able to make some money for our adoption. It was a win-win for both of us. We worked out the details over email, she moved in and lived with us for nearly six months. I'm proud to say we introduced them to Settlers of Catan and they became our steady "wanna-play-Settlers?" friends. They're still in town, and they are now also in our small group. I happened to know that J was out of town at the same function my parents are out of town for, so I called Courtney and asked her if she'd be willing to come watch our kids. She said, and I quote: "I'd love to!" And when I said, "Are you sure?" She said, "Are you serious? Stacy, I LOVE your kids. I'd love to come and play with them for the night." Aww... And let me just say, she scored HUGE bonus points for saying that (as opposed to the "Sure, I'm free" variety.)

I explained that it was still kind of tentative, since Mike and Amy hadn't yet found a sitter... so it might not happen but I would let her know either way. She then said, "Well, even if they can't do it, you and Mark could still go out!" Oh. Yes. Well, then. I guess we could. (I hadn't even thought of that possibility.)

Turns out, Mike and Amy couldn't find a sitter so it was just Mark and I (which is fun because I love my man and it was a treat to go out with him but we were both genuinely bummed that we didn't get to hang out with Mike and Amy.)

Courtney came early. The kids were thrilled. They love her.

We scooted out the door. We went to a Thai restaurant for dinner and then got to see The Bourne Ultimatum afterwards. Very good, both the food and the movie. I was on the edge of my seat during the movie. We'd bought some candy at the store beforehand and I did not even crack open the candy because I didn't want to be distracted with it. I didn't want to miss a second. (Note to self: I've got to read those books.)

The movie finished up around 10:00, and we hurried home. When we walked in the door, the first thing I saw was this:

She'd brought the poster board AND the paints. To make a sign for us when we were gone. I KNOW. (You all want a Courtney, don't you?)

She said the kids were great. They ate dinner, made the sign, played, she braided Ella's hair. Yep. Braided my daughter's hair! How cute is that? I wanted to crown the girl.

So. Mark and I had tried to figure out how much we were supposed to pay her for four hours of babysitting. (Remember, we don't get sitters.) The going rate when I was babysitting was about $1.50-$2.00 an hour, no matter how many kids there were. One couple consistently paid me $3.00 an hour for their two boys and I felt RICH. While I know the rates have surely gone up, I have no idea what people pay babysitters anymore. I'm a bit out of the loop.

I'm actually a little embarrassed to tell you what we decided to give her because, well, it probably wasn't enough. But I'll tell just you. At the risk of you all thinking we're total cheapskates. (Which we are, but that's beside the point.)

We gave her $20. Which she argued about (not the amount, but the idea that we were paying her) but I won, she took it, and went home.

And then I gazed at the sign some more. She brought paints, people. And then I went in to peek at the kids and saw her award-winning braid job on Ella's hair. She braids. Did you get that part? And then I noticed that the table was cleared, the dishes were done, the living room was picked up. Our kids were tucked cozily in their beds. And then I felt like a LOSER to have only paid her $20. I walked around the house saying, "She made a sign with our kids. PAINTED a sign with our kids. She brought that stuff. Made the sign FOR US. And braided Ella's HAIR. Mark! She braids. We should have paid her $50, for crying out loud. What were we THINKING?"

Mark just shrugged and said, "$20 is plenty."

*Sigh.* You and I both know that it's not. She braids better than I do. She combed the tangles out of my daughter's hair. That alone will save me twenty minutes of getting-ready-for-church time in the morning. And that cute sign will grace our mantel for weeks.

I never ever in all my years of babysitting braided hair. Or brought supplies to make a sign or project with the kids.

So much for my babysitting pride. That was all washed away in the wake of Courtney, Best Babysitter Ever.


My birthday boy

My sweet budders,

Happy Birthday to you! I can't believe you are four years old today! (Where did those four years go?)

What a *delight* it is to be your mama! I love you so very much, Isaac.

When I think of you I think of your singing. You love to sing and lead all of us in song. Your favorite songs are: In My Heart There Rings a Melody, Set Me Free (Casting Crowns), and (still)... God of Wonders. Most days I can find you standing on the couch, with a pretend microphone in hand, a book open, calling out songs and leading your sister and brother in worship. My prayer is that your love for singing will grow in you a heart of worship, and a fervant desire to praise your Maker.

I think of your chatter. All the stories you want to tell us, all the events you want to recount (and heaven forbid we interrupt you! You will set us in our place with a stern reprimand for interrupting!)

You are so endearing with your hugs and kisses. I have this moment tucked away in my mind: me, heading out to the van, turning back to wave to you kids at the window. As is customary, we all blow kisses. But that day when I looked I saw you blow a kiss and then wrap your arms tightly around yourself, to send mama a hug, too. That picture is sweet, Isaac. You are *so* dear to me.

You love to snuggle and you miss affection when you don't get it. One morning, recently, we got a late start and our morning cuddles were missed-- not much time for mama holding you. Our day was full and busy. After dinner you wanted me to hold you. At bedtime you said, "When I wake up I wanna hold you for a long time." Music to this mama's ears!

Every single time you are outside you pick a flower for me. You follow up to make sure I've cared for it, too. I do so need a stash of tiny vases for your offerings of flowers!

As I sat on the couch last week after church, you came over to me, touched my skirt, and whispered, "You look pretty today, mommy."

We have this thing, you and I... whenever we talk about how grown up you are, what a big boy you're becoming, how tall you'll be someday (daddy will hold you up higher than himself and say, "You think you'll be this big?"), and mama will pretend to be so sad: "I don't want you to be so big!" And you reassure me with this, every time: "But I'll still hold you, mama. I'll still sit on your lap." (And don't think for a second I won't hold you to your word, my son.)

You're quick to comfort me, especially when I'm sad. A couple of weeks ago I lost it, and promptly slid to the kitchen floor, weeping. You were there immediately, your hand on me, soothing me with these words: "I love you, mommy. It's okay." And then a day last week, when I had hollered at you kids in exasperation, and then sat down on the couch to say sorry... you came to me, wrapped your arms tightly around my neck, and said, "I still love you even when you're crabby." Such sweet grace. And you do, sweet boy. You love me well. Thank you. You fill this mama's heart with your sweet expressions of love.

You have a tender heart, Isaac. You are always remorseful for your sins; always quick to say you're sorry, to hug, say "I love you" and make things right. The things you get disciplined for most often are hitting and not obeying.

You are quick to pray. When we pray in the car on the way to church, you're always the first volunteer. When one of us is sick it is you who will go to them, lay hands on them, and pray for healing. I love that about you. When I need a prayer, I know I can ask you and you will pray. Right then. Oh how I hope this carries on into your life with Jesus, Isaac! May you be quick to turn to Him throughout your life, and have that easy conversation with Him that you do now.

What else? Well, you may be quick to pray and say you're sorry, but you're not quick about much else, little fella. It takes you a very long time to eat anything; you are too easily distracted. There's simply too much to think about and talk about. We work very hard with you to teach you to obey right away when we ask you to come or to do something. Or to finish something and not get completely distracted halfway through. This is especially hard for you.

You are extremely sensitive to all things scary. Scary-to-you are skeletons, especially skulls, and eyeballs (some stuffed animals, even, with big eyes, unsettle you). You have become so adept at averting your eyes, like when we walk through a store with Oct. 31st decorations. You close your eyes, tuck your head down, and simply don't look. And yes, you tremble, too. I am so thankful you are being careful with your eyes like the song we sing. (And I hope, too, that this discipline now of averting your eyes will serve you in the future for purity issues) *but* I also don't want you to be fearful, either. We have nothing to fear under the care of such a big, strong, God!

You wake in an instant, sitting up to tell something. You're a good sleeper, sleeping deeply and falling asleep quickly (and any place: in the van, in our arms at church or hymn sing (which mama LOVES)) when you're tired.

You love your daddy, and want to be like him and do everything he does. Right now as I edit this you are in the bathroom, helping daddy sand our floor. A few weeks ago daddy took you out to breakfast on his day off-- the same place he goes weekly with some guys from church. You felt so important and loved that time with just you and your daddy.

You love all things that make you "grown up" or a "man". I remember once this year we were at Costco and you watched an older boy walk over to the vending machine, put some money in, and get himself a bottle of water. You were mesmerized. You asked right away if you could get a water, too. I said no (because I didn't want to spend the money), and said something like, "Maybe when you're bigger you can do that, budders." And you repeated, "When I'm a big boy I can do that?" And then I thought better of it. I knelt down next to you and said, "Do you know what? You *are* my big boy. Let's go over there and get you a water." You were positively beaming, as if you'd just been pronounced a man. :)

You love it when a responsibility falls to you when daddy isn't here to do it. You take your role very seriously as daddy's stand-in.

You love Ella. I know the two of you will always be close. You truly are the best of friends, and I love to see you interact. You are growing to love your little brother, too. It has been a joy for daddy and I to see you turning to Isaias as your playmate more and more.

You love dinosaurs (or so you tell me, though mama thinks you're a bit wary of them). You love the Steelers, or dressing in "football" or "baseball" clothes. Outfit of choice this year for you was your Steelers Bettis jersey and your black pants with a yellow stripe down the side. I must say, I'm thankful you're outgrowing it. *grin* You stopped wearing diapers this year, too, and graduated to big-boy underwear. (WOOO HOOO!)

You are quite the puzzle maker, my boy! You seem to have a knack for finding exactly the right piece for a spot. You love books, and magazines, and anything you can get your hands on to "read". You've even pulled out the phone book a few times.

You love to play with others but you definitely like your solitude, too. Even when we play with friends or cousins, everyone else will run outside to play or off to play something in a big pack, and you will linger, find a puzzle or a book, and sit quietly to play. You play so well independently or with others. You rarely have tantrums or meltdowns. (As in, I can count them on my hand). You are very easy-going, and just tend to be so content and cheerful.

I'm afraid you've picked up my (and Ella's) lingo, because I hear you say things like, "That's so cute!" or, "Mama, I just saw the cutest grandpa walking by!" You also say things like, "I very want to go there!" Or, "I very love you, mommy!" Which is very cute. And you say every night at dinner, "This looks belicious!"

You have the best smile and you love to laugh. You have the best giggle, and we hear it often around here. You also love to be tickled.

You have quite the imagination- you're always creating stories and characters and imaginary friends. (Most notably: Migi and Donto and Jonathan Trustee.) Where you came up with those names we'll never know, but those guys were your playmates or personas for most of this year.

And now you're four.

I love you, my Isaac. And my fervant prayer for you as you grow up is that you would love Jesus more and more with each passing day.

Happy Birthday!

~Your mama

...and this (if it works)... is a typical Isaac moment around our house...

Celebrating God's goodness

I have a miserable head cold and am off to take a nap here in a couple of minutes, but why don't you head over here to congratulate this happy family, and here to congratulate this one?

God is *so* good, and I am rejoicing today!

Garden in review: Part 3

This is my final post on our garden. (I promise!) Surely I'm boring some of you by now. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

Back garden

ZUCCHINI. [2 hills, 4-6 plants per hill] There's never a short supply of zucchini. We should have thinned these plants once they got going because these always get a bit out of control. They were all ready in mid-August. I still have frozen zucchini in my freezer from last year so I didn't freeze any more this year. We gave a lot away, fried some up, and made zucchini bread a few times.
For next year: thin, get some good zucchini recipes.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH. [2 hills, 4-6 plants per hill] There's a restaurant in town that makes an amazing Butternut Squash Lasagna. Another place makes some Butternut Squash Ravioli that makes my mouth water to even think of it. I would pay serious money to get those recipes. I've tried to recreate those dishes many times in my own kitchen but can never get it quite right. This past year, though, I made a recipe with ravioli, walnuts, butternut squash, sage, and cheese (romano?), and it was *nearly* as good. We have a few growing out there now... and I'm excited to experiment more with this yummy squash.

WHITE PUMPKINS. [1 1/2 hills, 4-6 plants per hill] This gave us three white pumpkins, and I like these. They're pretty. Smaller than a normal pumpkin.

MINIATURE PUMPKINS. [2 hills, 4-6 plants per hill] These gave us a bunch of little pumpkins. Mostly orange, some yellowish. Very cute. The kids love these, as do I. They're so perfectly shaped. And great little fillers for the window box.

GOURDS. [The packet we got was a Mexican Hat Squash, we think. 2 hills, 4-6 plants per hill] These aren't my favorite. And they were very prolific, covering our back garden. But they are good fillers for decorating.
Next year: none. Too ugly.

PUMPKINS. [2 1/2 hills, 4-6 plants per hill] We got about 12 pumpkins from these hills. A couple of them are pretty big, and it's been fun having our own pumpkin patch in the back yard. The kids loved watching their progress.

This was the first time we've planted anything on the back portion of our yard. It was Mark's great idea to utilize that space for pumpkins and squash. My only complaint? Our pumpkin patch was smack dab next to the boys' dirt pile with all their Tonka trucks. Needless to say, that dirt pile was covered with pumpkin vines early on and the boys weren't able to utilize that play area. We'll figure something out for next year.

Garden in review: Part 2

Herb garden

BASIL. This was my favorite herb. I used fresh basil several times a week, and loved it. Also, I made pesto this year for the first time! (Which I plan to do more of in the future but I'd really like to get a food processor first. Chopping cups of basil leaves took a considerable amount of time when I was doing it by hand.) I found a great recipe, made some up, and then spooned it into ice cube trays to freeze them. Then I popped out the cubes and put them out into a freezer bag. I've used some of those cubes already- on homemade pizza, in pasta, and in spaghetti and pizza sauce. So good. And *so* much better than store-bought pesto.
Next year: Plant more basil. Make lots more pesto!

ITALIAN-OREGANO. I used this maybe a dozen times. It was nice to have on hand.

ROSEMARY. This plant grew beautifully (and smelled great) but I rarely use rosemary, and I think I only used it once this year.
Next year: none.

DILL. Our dill grew fine for a few weeks and then it sort of died out. I used this only once or twice.
Next year: none.

CHIVES. I used our chives a few times.
Next year: none.

THYME. I liked having fresh thyme on hand.
Next year: yes.

CILANTRO. This is the herb we would have used the MOST (next to basil) in our garden and yet... our plant was not healthy. I got one good picking from it this year for some Pico de gallo, and that's it. I had to buy cilantro several times at the grocery store and this made me crabby, since it was supposed to be growing in our garden!
Next year: more plants.

Overall, I loved having an herb garden. Aside from having to shoo the chickens out when they were in the yard, it was a good location, too. Next year I want to focus on basil and cilantro. (As many plants as we can cram in.) And add mint, italian-oregano, and thyme, too. (If there's room).

Here's our herb garden, newly planted. Unfortunately this is the one-and-only picture I have!

Garden in review: Part 1

I sort of hate to do this post at all because I really feel like a dismal failure when it comes to being a gardener, especially this year. But I want to review our garden selections and harvest each year so that we know better what to do (or what not to do, as may more often be the case) for next year. Here's what we planted, and here are my notes. And really, this is more for my record than anything else.

APPLES. [2 trees: Yellow Transparents] Oh my lands, I love our apple trees. But this is our last year for our big old apple tree. ~sob~ It's old and rotting from the base of the tree, so we're going to have to take it out. We planted a new tree, same variety, but it will take a LONG time for our younger trees to produce the kind of fruit our old tree was producing for us. Last year I made apple-pie filling with our apples, so this year I made lots of applesauce. Notes: Apple-picking time is mid-July, beginning of August.

Main garden
STRAWBERRIES. [10 plants] Mmm. These were *so* much fun for the boys to eat from. We'd raised the beds from this year to last, and that was a good thing. Less slugs that way.

RHUBARB. [2 plants] Mmm. I love this stuff. Big mistake to put these next to our tomato plants, as the tomatoes began to overtake them. We had two "pickings", one in July and another that we just recently picked. I'd love to get more of these plants.

GRAPE TOMATOES. [2 plants] One plant would be plenty, should we choose to do these again. We have had tomatoes coming out of our ears. The reason I wanted to plant these was because I wanted grape tomatoes on my salad. That didn't really EVER work out, though, considering the fact that our lettuce was done in July and our tomatoes began in August. No lettuce for all those tomatoes. (Hence, the necessity for these kind of notes.) And we don't regularly eat tomatoes, so... ??? We've been trying to use them here, and give them away, too, but many have gone to waste. *Sigh* I did wonder at some point this month if I could dry these, but never looked into it.

CARROTS. [6 short rows: 3 rows of multi-colored carrots (purples, yellows, whites, reds) for the kids, and 3 rows of regular carrots]. Every year I think I thin the carrots enough and then... they're still too scrunched as they get bigger. Also, there's a reason, we think, that the orange variety is favored: we think they're more flavorful, and they seemed to grow better.
Next year: be ruthless when it comes time to thin. Find a carrot variety that grows longer carrots. (Ours are too short, usually about 3-4 inches.)

LETTUCE. [6 heads of romaine, 6 heads of green leaf] This was our first year for planting lettuce. I *loved* having lettuce in my garden! We ate more salads this spring/summer than in previous years. We will definitely be doing this again, although I need to find out about a second planting. (I think I heard somewhere that you can replant them when they go to seed and get another crop for the fall? If anyone knows anything about this I'd love to hear it.) Notes: Our lettuce was done in mid to late July.

CABBAGE. [6 heads] First year for cabbage, too. I had all these visions of coleslaw (which I love, however I don't actually have a recipe for it). Someone besides me was obviously having their own visions of cabbage meals because nearly every head was split open and ravaged by some creature or insect (though I have no idea what). My mom was the only one (besides the pest) who ate any of our cabbage. She said it was delicious. I think we will try this again next year, but just keep a closer watch on it. And maybe do some research as to what was eating it. It wasn't slugs, I do know that. We were great about putting out the slug bait this year. A question, then, for you: 1)if you have a good coleslaw recipe, I would love it.

ONIONS. [Walla walla sweet onions. 1 long row in the back garden, 3 short rows in the herb garden] I love my onions. These are so practical and I use them in many meals. It is so handy to send one of the kids out to get an onion as I'm making a meal (or the tops, when my recipe calls for green onions). Now I just have to figure out how to store them so they'll keep for awhile. I have maybe 20-30 left.

CUCUMBERS. [3-4 plants] This was more than enough last year, but this year these didn't take so well. I'd have to ask Mark to be sure but if I remember correctly, these were getting munched on by something early on and we salvaged them and maybe that's why they didn't take. I think we got 4 or 5 good-sized cucumbers, and a handful of littler ones. But we love cucumbers, so... more plants next year. Also, I'm thinking we should move these to a different location in our garden. (This year they were along the front fence, closer to the house).

CORN. [5 full rows] Corn was the thorn in our side this year. We bought supersweet corn, and Mark ended up having to plant it three times. Finally the third planting took. Or so we thought. We got about 4 ears ALL SUMMER. Most stalks are short, and the taller stalks that have ears never got a chance to ripen. *Sigh*. This was a huge disappointment. No corn to eat, a waste of time for all that planting, and (most frustrating to me): the corn takes up the MOST space in our garden.
Next year: We're taking a break from corn.

BEANS. [3 poles, 5 plants around each pole] This was our first year to try pole beans. In the past we've done bush beans. We like bush better and will return to those next year. We completely slacked in getting our beans harvested this year. The first picking didn't give me enough to can, so I waited for the second picking. By the time we got around to picking them, they were too ripe. We picked them anyway but it took me a couple of days to get to them. When I did- most had gone bad.
Next year: Concentrate on beans, not corn. Because these two things take up the most space in our garden; Mark and I have decided to focus on one crop per year. One year we'll do beans only, the following year: corn only. (That is, if we dare try corn again.)

SUNFLOWERS. [1 row along the fence in our garden] We always plant a row of sunflowers-- just for their cheery countenances. We will keep doing this. We've never actually done anything with the seeds. Probably because the neighborhood squirrels get to them first!

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3.