Just popping in to rave about the book I just finished. It was so satisfying.

The book?

A Lantern in Her Hand, written by Bess Streeter Aldrich.

From the front of the book:

Of a pioneer woman, her life on the prairie, and the cheerful courage and sturdy faith that were her companions, Bess Streeter Aldrich has written a rich and memorable novel.

Abbie Deal, brought up in a log cabin in Iowa, took the covered wagon trail to Nebraska as a young bride. There she lived in a rude shelter on the prairie, raised her young family and companioned her husband through all the heart-breaking struggles of pioneer days.

I kept interrupting Mark's own reading just to read aloud parts of this book to him. It is this passage that stands out to me as my favorite from the book:

[The following is an excerpt from pages 281-282. The young Abbie Deal we met at the beginning of the story is now old. Her granddaughter Laura asks, "What memories do you have, Grandma?"]

"I have many... my little girlhood days when Chicago was a village... the three weeks' journey from Illinois into Iowa... the fun in the Big Woods behind my sister Janet's house. I can shut my eyes and smell the dampness and the Mayflowers there. The old log school and then the new white one with green shutters... my wedding... the trip from Iowa into Nebraska... There are many memories. But I'll tell you the one I like to think of best of all. It's just a homely everyday thing, but to me it is the happiest of them all. It is evening time here in the old house and the supper is cooking and the table is set for the whole family. It hurts a mother, Laura, when the plates begin to be taken away one by one. First there are seven and then six and then five...and on down to a single plate. So I like to think of the table set for the whole family at supper time. The robins are singing in the cottonwoods and the late afternoon sun is shining across the floor. Will, your grandfather, is coming in to supper... and the children are all playing out in the yard. I can hear their voices and happy laughter. There isn't much to that memory is there? Out of a lifetime of experiences you would hardly expect that to be the one I would choose as the happiest, would you? But it is. The supper cooking... the table set for the whole family... the afternoon sun across the floor... the robins singing in the cottonwoods... the children's merry voices... Will coming in... eventide."

Yes. I imagine that someday those will be my own happiest memories. The simple, everyday moments. How I want to treasure them while they're right before me.

Ella's birthday recap

My girl is eight. Eight! Mark always takes the kids' birthdays off (because he's the greatest) so we had a whole day of celebration.

This morning her birthday banner was up, her birthday gifts wrapped and waiting, and eight balloons had been blown up and were waiting on the floor of the living room. [All the kids know to look for these things on their birthday morning.] She came into our room at 8 o'clock, having counted her balloons to be sure there were eight. :) And when everyone else woke up and joined us, we told her she could open one gift. She chose the biggest box, which contained her petticoat, which she was excited about. We had Swedish Pancakes together for breakfast~ made by daddy.

Then we let her open her other gifts.

The next gift she chose to open was her gift from Miss M, Ella's penpal. She got this box some time ago and has been anxiously waiting to open it!

[And sweet Miss M~ Ella was so, so excited about all of your gifts for her, and the lovely letter you wrote. I'm sure she'll write you all about it~ but she especially loves her "Jack". I don't think he left her side for the rest of the day, as you'll see in the pictures below!]

To let the rest of you in on what I'm talking about: Quinne is a longtime blogging friend of mine, and her daughter Miss M and my Ella are the same age and have been penpals for several months. Miss M chose this little bulldog for Ella, knowing that she loves Little House so much, and thinking that she can now have a Jack when she plays Little House! Wasn't that so thoughtful? (She will certainly be using him for her Little House scenes, of that I am sure. And I'm thinking Isaias will be mighty happy that this means he's about to get promoted to a new Little House character!)

Then she opened her final gift from us, the only thing she requested for her birthday:

(and I think she liked it!)

When Audra woke up from her morning nap we all headed to the bookstore, because another one of our birthday traditions is that our children get to choose a book on their birthday! We went to our favorite used bookstore and Ella chose her book~ which I can't remember the name of (I ended up in the van with the little girls) but the illustrator is Garth Williams, so she's definitely a girl after my own heart.

Then we came home for lunch, and then naps and quiet times while I got busy in the kitchen (after playing a quick game of Settlers with Mark!)

For dinner, Ella requested:
-meatloaf (every year!)
-mashed potatoes
-sweet potatoes
(I added some green beans~ canned from our garden, and some apples. Oh~ and sparkling apple cider, which, upon tasting- Ella pronounced as her second favorite drink, next to pink lemonade.)

After we finished dinner our family began arriving: grandpas and grandmas and uncles and aunties and cousins and whoever can attend from our extended family. Then she opened more gifts, and I'm pretty sure my mom wins the award for the best gift:

She made her a dress and an apron! (That's actually Mark's mom in the photo, because she happened to be sitting next to Ella. I don't have a photo of my mom with Ella, but I know my dad snapped a picture of the two of them.)

How cute is she?! :) I'm sure we will never see her in another outfit again~ or at least until she outgrows this one!

We served cake and ice cream (banana cake with cream cheese frosting. And Ella wanted rainbow sherbet ice cream, but we also provided a vanilla and chocolate option for the adults! :))

And then: all partied out and ready for bed:

Other highlights of Ella's birthday:
*no chores for the day! (the boys did a little extra so that she didn't have to do any of her regular work)
*a birthday call (complete with song!) first thing this morning from Auntie Stef (my sister) and family
*a birthday balloon delivered this morning from grandma
*a birthday card that came in the mail from great-grandma and great-grandpa: with eight dollars enclosed
*daddy, coming back from the store hiding a bouquet of flowers behind his back for his girl. (she had the perfect response, too: she just burrowed her head in the petals and smelled her flowers and smiled and looked like the happiest girl in the world.)
*one of Ella's dear friends, Madelyn, stopped by with her mom to bring her the gift of an American Girl book
*extra time to play with her cousin Sadie after her party tonight
*a birthday email from our dear friends who couldn't make it to her party tonight

She is well-loved, our girl. And oh, we are blessed, so blessed, to have her!

Enjoying the moment(s)

This time of year, not only are we busy preparing for Christmas, but we are also busy with birthdays.

One of the birthday traditions in our home involves making a birthday sign/banner. While our soon-to-be-birthday-girl was out of the house today (with grandma, visiting great-grandpa), we took hold of our opportunity.

Here's a little of what went on as we tried to tackle this:

Color crayons were everywhere... Audra and Adelia crawled all over and ripped the paper while I scrambled to tape the places they'd ripped and tried to keep one step ahead of them so that they wouldn't color anywhere else...

...Isaac meticulously drew his picture and carefully wrote the letters of Ella's name, in big, block letters- and was happily oblivious to the chaos around him as he did so... I was making suggestions for what Isaias could draw, but then he wanted me to draw everything for him because he's at that age where he cares that it actually looks like what he's intending to draw, so we settled on 8's and balloons... I kept trying to keep the paper smooth for drawing, which was practically a fruitless effort on my part, because Adelia kept shoving crayons beneath the paper and Audra kept sitting on top of the paper, and kicking her legs in all the excitement, thus scrunching the paper up...

...I traced the girls' hands, and Isaias', too...and I picked up crayons and kept taping and told Adelia and Isaias to please not wrestle right now and took the tape away from Adelia and thought about how I used to struggle with these birthday banners being sloppy and the lettering maybe not being perfect and the rips and the coloring right on top of the words someone has written, but my~ how I've grown in that area!... and I thought about how anxious I might have been if I had things TO DO today; how rushed and frazzled and irritable I might have been. But I wasn't, because this was all we had to do, and so I laughed and moved Audra one more time and pulled another crayon from beneath the banner and taped the rips and simply enjoyed the moment. And I thought about how good this was for all of us, just to be together with nothing to do and nowhere to go and no plans but this.