Monday, December 31, 2007

The end of another year and yesterday's Voice of Christmas

There is so much stuff I want to write about in today's blog, but I'm going to save it for another time....a wrap-up of our Christmas "vacation" (I never got as sick as the rest of my fam, but I definitely wasn't well towards the end...and poor Susi and a triple bout with that tummy monster!), the hilarious conversation between Luke and Susanna yesterday afternoon about the Christmas story, more Watkins news, etc., but that can wait a few days.

Yesterday's Voice of Christmas at church was one of the Magi. Ron Whiddon did a superb job telling of "his" travels and dispelling many of the myths (not being at the manger). I'm not sure what last Sunday's was about, since we were gone, but I'm guessing it was probably Joseph, since "Zecchariah," "Elisabeth," and "Mary" all had their turn. I was told that the shepherds added their voice at the Christmas Eve services. Although some may not agree, I've really enjoyed the dramatic edge to "hearing" the "first hand" experiences of some of the people involved in the Christmas story. Of course, it is nothing compared to what really happened over 2000 years ago.

Today is the end of yet another year. Since Tony and I have been married, each year that has passed seemed to bring so much new life to our extended families -- babies being born, weddings happening, eleven in our immediate families, even more if you include our cousins -- with an occasional time to say goodbye to a loved one as they went home to be with Jesus. A cousin, an aunt, the toddler-child of some friends.

This year, however, was different. There was only one birth that I'm aware of in our extended families. I was struck at how much "loss" there was. It seems so many of the Christmas letters and notes we received mentioned how one or more loved ones of all ages passed away during 2007. Friends losing parents, siblings, children sometimes to age, sometimes to disease, sometimes to an unbelievable event such as my former boss' teenage son collapsing and dying of heat stroke. They are missed in ways that cannot be explained; there is sorrow knowing they aren't here any more, but wow! They got to spend Christmas WITH the Christ-Child this year! Seeing Him not as that tiny little Baby, but as their personal Savior, their co-heir to God! The eyes filled with love, the scarred hands, feet, and side, the wonderful Lamb that was slain so that we -- I! -- could spend eternity with Triune God!

It doesn't take away the emptiness of not having these dear loved ones nearby, but it does help me rejoice in knowing they are no longer suffering from illness, missing other loved ones that had gone on before. They are no longer here in this fallen world; they are singing praises to Almighty God, circling His throne, and rejoicing as more and more sinners claim the shed blood of Jesus, as more and more believers join them as earthly bodies give way to inevitable death. One day, I'll be with them. I pray that you will, too.

I miss my grandparents; I miss the faces that are no longer worshipping at our church here in Park Rapids; I know many of you ache for loved ones that you can no longer talk to whenever you want to...and I pray that you will be comforted through your loss.

This year also brought continued change with the farm and market -- the responsibilities Tony and I have continue to grow as his parents are turning more and more things over completely to us. It is overwhelming at times, especially as we are raising two young and ACTIVE children during this time, but God gives us the strength and patience needed to get through each day...often only enough, other times even more.

Luke and Susanna continue to cause us both to laugh and me to scream at times, but it is overall such a delight to see them experience so many things first hand. I love especially just listening to their conversations or hearing them break into song. Yesterday they serenaded a full-house at West 40 (local restaurant) with "I'm so happy, so very happy! I have the love of Jesus in my heart!"

My love for my husband continues to grow -- his patience with me and the children amazes me. His love for us, the way he cares for each of us, the times he surprises me with cleaning the kitchen, the countless diapers he changes for Susanna (even the stinky ones!), running around chasing after Luke to help get rid of Luke's ever increasing energy -- even when he's so tired. The things he does to take care of our family. He's the second greatest gift God has given me!

Tonight (he doesn't know this yet), we're going to TRY and get the kids to bed early and have a mini-feast of fondue (beef & chicken, cheese & veggies, and CHOCOLATE with fruit), crab salad, and bubbly. Don't try to call. We won't answer the phone. Hopefully he'll stay awake past 10:00.... (we were up late last night watching "Amazing Grace"). If not, more chocolate for me, yippee!

Thank You, God, for another year of memories. Thank You for the hope of a future yet to come. Thank You for sending Christ. Thank You for a time to reflect on the past.

May each of you have a glorious and blessed new year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another one succumbs....

Well, today we added Susanna to the list of sickies in our family. Thankfully, Luke seems fully recovered and is back to his non-stop all-boy action. He continues to make me tired just looking at him...but I'm thankful for him!

During a late lunch, Susanna had her tummy troubles. I'd suspected she wasn't feeling well as she was terribly whiny this morning and felt quite warm. She also wanted only to be held. However, once everything was done and she took a nap, she seemed to be her happy cheerful self again. We limited her supper, though, although she did put away quite a bit of Watkins chicken broth with brown rice!

As for me, my tummy was a bit grumbly the past few days, but I, too, seem to be on the mend as does Tony, thank God!

Other than that, we had a wonderful "Jesus' birthday." Luke and Susanna came in our room today, and after being reminded that it was Jesus' birthday, they sang then Luke left the room to go and talk with Jesus. He told us last night he couldn't wait for Jesus' birthday because Jesus was going to come and they could talk together! Well, after a few minutes of us hearing him chattering away in the next room, he came to inform us that "I talked to Jesus and He told me thank you. And He is 6." Okay.

His prayer last night was equally precious as he prayed and thanked God for the day, then asked for another Buzz Lightyear for Grandma's house because he needs one more there (there are already 3 or 4), so please poke a finger through heaven and send down another Buzz Lightyear. And thank you!

It was a fun time visiting and playing with "the Ohio cousins" today while I caught up some with my brother and sister-in-law. We missed having my youngest brother with us, though. Ron and Tammy invited a friend of theirs from church, Ron Jon (not sure of exact spelling) who moved here from Bangladesh 17 years ago. He was raised in a Buddhist family and became curious upon meeting Christians at the university he attended here...and soon had a hunger only Christ could satisfy. A wonderful Christian man. It was a pleasure having him join our family today. A friend of my parents' also stopped by this evening, a man from their church who is also a new Christian.

We had a wonderful time caroling at a local nursing home today. I don't know who enjoyed it or the residents or the employees! They especially loved the children, hearing them sing. I was impressed that even my shy Susi who was under the weather made it a point of telling everyone she saw "Merry Christmas!"

We hope and pray yours was, too.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Travel Trials and Joys

Merry Christmas from Ohio! We decided shortly after Thanksgiving to travel to Ohio for Christmas this year. It wasn't an easy's hard traveling 1000 miles each way with a 2- and a 3-year old, but my last living grandparent was recently diagnosed with throat cancer at age 92, and Grandma decided that, given her age and knowing where she was going after death, she didn't want to have any treatment. So, we decided to make the trek southeast and spend Christmas with my side of the family this year.

Given gas prices and some vehicle problems, we decided to drive my Saturn, a small 4-door sedan (did I mention it was small??). Oh, it's amazing what all we fit in to that car, even before we squeezed ourselves inside! I have a couple photos of how crowded the back seat was with the kids! And poor Tony with his long legs! But praise God the kids traveled well, keeping busy with all the fun things packed into their back packs....stickers, coloring books, snacks, and more! There were many times I wasn't even sure if they were in the car!

Friday night, we stopped at a "resident hotel" in Elgin, IL. It gave us a chance to get out, relax, not deal with Friday night/holiday weekend rush hour thru Chicago! Plus, my brother Tim comped us the room with his hotel points, so that was an added blessing. We settled in, ate supper, then the kids started running around releasing all the pent up energy they had. At one point, Luke jumped on an unsuspecting Tony, causing Tony to rear back and Luke to go tumbling off his back. On the way down, his head was bonked, resulting in tears and a HUGE egg on the back of his head. We kept an eye on him, but within a few minutes he was running around like the point where we had a call from the hotel manager...the folks in the room below us were complaining about the thumps! By then, it was time to settle down for the night, so we pulled out the sofa, got the kids settled down, and they were out in no time. Tony and I joined them in dreamland from the other room shortly after.

Mothers have extra-sensitive hearing and a sixth sense when something is wrong. At about 2:45 a.m. I heard a noise that no mother wants to hear, especially in the middle of the night hundreds of miles from home. Rushing in to the other room, Luke was sitting up in bed in the middle of his second heave. Poor little guy. Tony came to help and took him to the bathroom to get him washed up and changed while I put Susanna in our room and started taking off the sheets, checking stuffed animals (only Susanna's baby got splattered, and only a wee bit, thank God!). During this time, we were again checking Luke's pupils, asking him questions to see if he was addled, checking his walk, reflexes, etc. Was this a result of finding all the snacks in his back pack and downing half of them when Mama was unaware? The bump on the head? Did another child go to AWANA Wednesday night with the flu and infect a bunch of unsuspecting children? Was he developing travel sickness? A combination of the above? Thankfully, our insurance company has a 24-hour on-call nurse, so I called to see if we should get Luke checked out. Sure enough, she thought we should, so Luke and I started on our next adventure. Thankfully again, the hospital was only 5 minutes away.

We got to the ER and they said it would be just a matter of minutes....however, as they were taking our info, an ambulance came in, so our wait was longer. About 90 minutes later, we finally went back to a very kid-friendly room where he was checked out again with a recommendation of a CT scan. That took another long wait as yet another emergency came in with a very bad head trauma. Thankfully, again!, it came back clear, but he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. He had several bouts of heaves, and they gave him some medication to deal with the nausea and relax the stomach muscles. We ended up filling the prescription they sent with us after getting to Ohio and having him get sick again.

Luke loved the doctor. He was a younger African American man with little braids all over his head. Luke thought that was hilarious! The second time he came in, to tell us the result of the CT scan, he asked Luke if he wanted to touch his hair. Amidst giggles, Luke said yes...then started laughing even more while telling him his hair was very "fuzzy."

We did arrive at Papa and Grandma's house in time for supper Saturday night, and I am again thankful that the kids travelled so well! Susi was fussy about the last 30 minutes, but she assured me she did NOT want us to turn around and go home!

We enjoyed a fun afternoon and evening yesterday with my brother's family (wife and seven children), opening gifts, feasting on steak and potatoes and countless Christmas cookies, and just watching the kids go wild. However, illness struck again...

Climbing into bed after getting everyone settled for the night, I noticed Tony was moaning. He had chills and a fever, aches and a very yucky tummy. (Luke didn't have a fever, chills, or aches.) After tending to him, I settled down with the kids on the floor of their room. Today Tony stayed "home" in bed while the rest of us went to visit my grandma with some additional visitors joining us (cousin Martha and her gang, Uncle Ralph, Aunt Carole, Aunt Sarika, and Uncle Neil). By the time we got back to my parents', Tony was among the living again although he is not quite 100%.

All in all, we've been enjoying ourselves, and we have many unforgettable memories of our 2007 trip before it's even over! Please pray that Tony and Luke continue to be completely healed and Susanna and I don't have a turn in this episode of events!

Tomorrow will be a quiet Christmas day as Ron's family again joins us, along with two family friends (quiet? 9 kids?). We'll be caroling at a local nursing home and enjoying a ham dinner. Wednesday will see us at my uncle's home in Akron with my dad's side of the family (guaranteed it will NOT be quiet!), and Thursday I'm having a Watkins party before we head back to Park Rapids with another stop in Elgin (I hope the hotel welcomes us back!).

I trust and pray each of you have a wonderful Christmas day! Please jot a comment and tell me how you celebrated Jesus' birthday!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Smart Kid!

Okay, I'm partial, I'm the Mama, but still, I have one smart kid! Last night on the way to AWANA, Luke (as usual) was telling me how much he loves me. (awwww, doesn't that sound sweet and sappy? It gets even more so....)

We usually banter back and forth "I love you more." "No, I love YOU more!" and so on. Well, before we could even start that last night, Luke told me, "I love you, Mama. I love you even more. I love you the mostest!" Thinking I'd try and get thru to him that you cannot surpass the love of someone who carried you for nine months while you played hockey, basketball, football, and practiced gymnastics, then puts up with all kinds of stuff 24-hours a day all without complaining (okay, SOMETIMES without complaining!), I asked him, "Luke, who cooks your food?" "Daddies and mamas." "Luke, who makes sure you have clean clothes?" "Daddies and mamas." "And who gives you hugs and kisses whenever you're scared?" "Daddies and mamas." "Okay, Luke, who do you think loves you the most?"

Without missing a beat, "God!"

Well, I was going to try and write about our Christmas program Sunday night but haven't had time. Maybe tonight. Maybe not.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Voices of Christmas

Yesterday's featured "Voice of Christmas" was none other than Elisabeth, mother of John. What a wonderful reminder of continuing to have faith when everything seems so hopeless!

We also had our tiny tot and "big kids" Christmas programs last night. They went wonderful. Well...except you know how there is always one kid that stands out during the singing? Well, this one kid decided to sing every note LOUD and staccato. Yeah. That kid was mine. Too bad our video battery died right when Tony started taping the tiny tots! I'm trying to find someone else who taped so I can get it before we leave for Ohio.....and there was also one kid who didn't want to be up there, stayed for part of the time, ran to her father, went back up, then ran into her Sunday School teacher's arms for the rest of the program. You guessed it. Also my child. But they said their parts and sang their songs again when we got home!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love this time of year. I think I wrote about that a few blogs ago, but it's just a fun time for me. It is just as busy for me, perhaps even busier, than during the summer, but in a much different way. Summertime brings nonstop action, between all the "regular" mom and housewife things (does laundry EVER get caught up??? I'm in the middle of seven loads right now as I type...), and all the things that come with the market and the farm -- scheduling, ordering, working, filling in for employees that can't come in at the last minute (unless I'm already working), paying farm bills, doing paychecks, keeping up with monthly tax reporting, totaling out the day's receipts and getting deposits ready between 3-5 times a week, etc.

However, once the Market is closed, my busy-ness (did I spell that right? I'd think grammatically it should be "business," but then that would be a completely different word....) shifts. During the summer, there is no time to keep up with recording checks for our personal or for the farm account, no time for reconciling accounts, etc. I start concentrating on the paperwork side of things -- updating inventory totals, doing more Quicken and Quickbook entering than I ever cared to do, and trying to reconcile everything, make sure it's all catagorized right, tweak our budgets, frantically going through piled up "don't have to deal with this now" paperwork to make sure there isn't anything in there that really should have been dealt with weeks (months?) before. Okay, so I don't really enjoy this part of the busy-ness either, but it is fun to see the bottom line. Did we stay on budget? Did we actually make a profit the past year? Okay, maybe "fun" is the wrong word to use ... the "bottom line" usually isn't something I really want to see.

But something else starts for me first in September and then in October, usually snowballing right after Thanksgiving, and then letting up somewhere mid-to-late December. AWANA starts the Wednesday after school resumes. I'm currently the overall club secretary, something I started transitioning to last year, and it gets crazy at times, but I love that I can work with not only the (usually) adorable children, but also the dozens of AWANA volunteers and the parents of the clubbers. I'll write more about AWANA another posti is already getting long!

The first Sunday in October is the start of our Christmas program practice for the first thru sixth graders. This is my fifth program I directed at Faith Baptist, and I continue to be honored to lead it but even more importantly blessed by working with the 25-50 children that are a part of the program (and the 3-4 adults that help). The first year, we had less than 30 children in the program, but these past couple years, the numbers have been pretty close to four dozen kids. It's a far cry from the 6-12 kids that comprised the Christmas programs I've directed in the six or seven years before moving to Minnesota (although looking back, I'm amazed at how versital those 6-12 kids were, singing songs and solos and doing multiple parts). The end result is always the same -- a show of our glory to God, our thanksgiving to Him for giving us His Son, a celebration of the birth of the most wonderful Gift of all! More about this year's Christmas program another time....(for those of you locally, it will be Sunday, December 16, starting with piano recitals at 5:30 p.m., at Faith Baptist...hope to see you there!).

One of the things I love doing for the Christmas program kids, for my husband and kids, for my brothers and parents and in-laws, for a few close friends, and for me, is baking dozens and dozens, okay, hundreds of Christmas cookies. Literally. Each child gets a bag of assorted cookies from me as a thanks for doing their best, and I try to get cookies to most family members. Spritz, snickerdoodles, thumbprints, decorated sugar cookies, pastel wafers, candy cane cookies, Russian teacakes, pecan tarts, bon bon cookies, peppermint wafers, gingerbread teddy bears, cardamon cookies, and I don't even remember what else. All I know is I have a blast doing it, even though it takes up so much time. But I go crazy in the kitchen baking cookies for about three weeks of each year and have so much joy giving away most everything made! This year, I've had a few little helpers...(don't worry, I make sure their hands are washed each time they drift to their mouth and/or nose....)

Then comes wrapping Christmas presents -- again, I love to give things and have so much fun throughout the year picking things up on sale that I know someone else will really enjoy (although I'm trying to stay much closer to the budget...but I did make Tony do a "gifts given" catagory in our budget this year!).

There is time spent helping my kids learn their (short) lines for the Tiny Tot Christmas program, going over the two songs they sing, but it is such a joy to see and hear them! Practice yesterday was so fun. Susanna was fine until she'd see me then she'd start crying (it took me back to her infant days) -- but she never did say her line or sing with the other kids. Luke, on the other hand, rattled off his line, and during the singing he was that one child who sings louder than anyone...but thankfully on key and with all the right words! Right now, while Susanna is napping, Luke is serenading her with Christmas carols (even though he is supposed to be napping, too!). They ask all the time for Christmas music at nap time and bed time.

It's also busy (and hard!) picking out gifts for each of the children in the Christmas program. I have a budget of $1 per child, and it's hard picking out things they'll enjoy that won't break before they get home -- once that order comes in, then it's sorting things out, packing them up for each child, and getting cookies sorted for each one, too.

There is the time spent on putting up the Christmas trees and decorating them. But those sparkly lights are so beautiful!

Last night, my husband and I had a date night, first time in a long time. After a good supper at an authentic German restaurant in down town Park Rapids, we went to one of the local churches that was hosting the annual Park Rapids Classic Chorale Christmas presentation. This is an amazingly gifted group of men and ladies in the region, about 50 or so, led by an outstanding conductor/composer. They sang more than a dozen Christmas songs...almost all "religious" Christmas, well, except for this odd song called "Little Tree." The program featured several traditional Christmas carols as well as some of the newer Christmas songs like "Mary, Did You Know" by Mark Lowry and "Welcome to our World" by Chris Rice. As with every year, they also sang a beautiful rendition of Handel's "Messiah" and ended with a rousing version of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." This group of singers is incredible. They perform locally twice a year, and in 2005 they had a concert tour of Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. This coming May, they'll be doing a concert tour in Italy, including performances in Florence, St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome! Who knew so many talented voices lived in this area? (My father-in-law used to be part of the chorale but enjoys just listening now.) And while Erich Knapp is a fine conductor, he did give all credit for everything coming together so well to Faith Baptist's own organist, Jane Wolff! (she's the pianist and trianglist, or whatever the person who plays the triangle is called.)

I've still not even started on our Christmas letter. Isn't it funny how when you're younger, you don't really appreciate Christmas letters sent from others, but as you (and your relatives and friends) get older, you can't wait to get their Christmas letters and see what all has happened in the past year? At least, that's the way it is for Tony and me. It's incredible seeing all these loved ones who I remember as children who now have children of their own. We love getting photos with the Christmas cards and/or letters, and we tape all the photos up on our main door downstairs. They stay up year round so we can be reminded "face to face" of our loved ones. It's sad having to take them down each year...but it's also exciting to see the photos being replaced with the same faces...a year older.
Even more, I love spending time with family....whether it is my own husband and children, family on my side, or my in-laws (depending on where we spend Christmas). To enjoy the time with them during such a special time of year is something I really cherish. Last year, Tony's sister Carla and her family were able to come home from Uganda for Christmas. Dwight was also here from Guatemala, and all of Paul's family was able to be here, too, including his son Andrew who will be spending his Christmas in Iraq this year. This year, we'll be traveling to Ohio, something we hadn't really planned to do, to spend time around Christmas with some of my family, and especially with my last remaining Grandma who was recently diagnosed with throat cancer. I can't wait to see her again, and I also can't wait to have another holiday get-together with several of my California relatives who moved to Ohio within the past year or more! Ah, that promises to be a fun and lively time! I also hope to be able to spend time with relatives on my mom's side of the family, especially the cousins I spent so much time with growing up.

I think during November and most of December I get to bed even later than during the summer, just trying to get everything done, but in all honesty, there isn't anything I'd want to cut back on or cut out. I love and enjoy so much all the many different things that "must" be done before Christmas (and the Christmas program) arrives.

We don't open presents on Christmas -- instead, taking a wonderful idea from my sister-in-law, we have a birthday party for Jesus and concentrate on celebrating Him, complete with birthday cake and all. Last year was the first year my kids started helping "decorate" the cake (or, in last year's case, star-shaped cupcakes with the help of their cousins). This year, we'll be spending a few hours at a nursing home in Ohio bringing Christmas to the residents there as we sing and tell about Christ's birth.

But you know what else? Even though you may be wondering, my focus really is on glorifying God throughout all this (well, except maybe struggling through all the financial stuff). There is so much that leads up to Christmas each year....but there was only one event throughout history that really lead up to Christmas. The announcement to a young virgin that she was choosen to be the mother to a tiny Baby Who would one day save the world. The uncomfortable journey of a very pregnant young lady on a donkey, of all things!, to a city far from home where her Child would be born not in a nice warm comfortable hospital but in a smelly stable, laid in a manger filled with hay. The angels glorifying God, announcing that precious birth, scaring those shepherds probably close to death, but can you even begin to imagine it? Wow! I cannot wait to hear that angel chorus, with me singing right along, GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST!

And imagine...all my preparations to make each Christmas so special to those around me is nothing compared to the preparations Jesus is making for me up in heaven. The birthday celebration that is so exciting to prepare for down here on earth is nothing compared to the celebration we'll have one day in the presence of Christ and the Father.

Now...back to the many things I should be getting done (like that Christmas letter....and more Christmas cookies....) while I listen to Christmas songs, yippee!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cute and Funny Things My Kids Say and Do

Every mom (and most dads) can tell you funny things about their are some of mine.

Sunday, as Tony was combing Luke's hair in to some semblance of order (which was totally destroyed after removing his hat at church), I was brushing Susanna's. They looked at each other, smiled, and Luke asked Susi, "Where have you been all of my life?"

This morning as the kids stumbled downstairs and climbed into bed, Luke snuggled himself down and said, "This is the life. I love this world!"

And some of the things that crack me up the most....."Susanna, did you hit Luke (or touch ___ fill in the blank with anything she isn't supposed to play with)?" "Um, actually, oh, yeah!" "Luke, did you pick up your toys yet?" "Mama, you are so lovely. You are so beautiful. You are the most wonderful Mama in the world! I love you so much!" "Great, Luke, I love you, too. Now pick up your toys."

Going to and coming home from AWANA are some of my favorite times. Luke loves AWANA and chatters nonstop, usually about how very excited he is, about how he wants to be a Cubbie leader when he grows up, about how Crystal is always sad at AWANA (unless she isn't there) and about anything else he deems important and newsworthy. One the way home, he tells me all about what he learned, what games he played, and how much he loves his Cubbie leaders ("especially the one in the yellow shirt because when everyone gets noisy, she starts counting and when she counts that means BE QUIET!"). He also tells me over and over again how wonderful I am, how lovely I am, how beautiful I am, and how I am his very best friend, along with Daddy and Susanna and Ruby and Laura and Tyler and Clinton and Uncle Mark and......of course, I like the stuff he says about me best.

Luke also has this habit of just staring at me or Tony for the longest time, often without blinking, before giving us a huge smile and saying "I love you so much!" It makes me wonder what is going on in that brain....(well, I often wonder what is going on in that brain!).

Saturday evening during supper, we decided to watch Wheel of Fortune which comes on at 6:30 here (remember, our prime time starts at 7:00!). However, instead of Pat and Vanna coming on, we instead saw two very old singing sensations from the 50s or 60s or some time before I was even born. Infommercial for TimeLife's "Romantic Songs Through the Ages." Well, partially because we were both too lazy to get up and turn off the tv and partially because it was actually pretty interesting, we left the infommercial on and listened to a half hour plug of romantic songs from the 30s through the 70s. There are so many comments I can make here, but this blog is about "cute and funny things my kids say and do." They were intrigued. They were enthralled. They were mesmerized by the one line music samples of the Romantic Songs Through the Ages. I laughed, asking Susanna if she liked the music. "It is BEAUTIFUL, Mama!" "Yes," chimed in Luke, "it is beautiful!" Well, as you can tell from the above paragraphs, he often tells me I'm beautiful, so I decided to have a little fun with him. "As beautiful as me, Luke?" "Oh, yes!" was the shocking answer! But...after a few seconds he looked at me, smiled and said, "But you are more lovelier, Mama, much more lovelier." Honestly, we've never been to Ireland, let alone near the Blarney Stone.... He did get two helpings of chocolate pudding that night.

It's late. I'm tired. And there's a whole new day of cute and funny things my kids will say and do tomorrow.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Voices of Christmas

Yesterday at church, we had our third "Voice of Christmas" -- Mary. Audra Hill, a stay-at-home mom who also home schools and is even busier than me with outside activities, played the part of Mary to the hilt. From the moment she walked out carrying a woven basket, dressed in blue with a white head scarf, Susanna sat up taking notice. "Mama, is that MARY? I want to go see Baby Jesus!" During the ten or so minute recitation, Susanna sat enthralled, nothing breaking her attention (except for the oft repeated comment or demand, depending on her tone of voice, "I want to go see Baby Jesus!"). Even Luke managed to sit still the entire time, listening to Mary tell of the angel's visit, her humble unbelief at being chosen (me, a lowely Nazarine!) to be the mother of the promised Messiah, and what it meant to her life afterwards. Pastor Marty again followed it up with a wonderful sermon on Mary and how it changed her life forever. I really wish you could each hear this fantastic Christmas series, both the "Voices of Christmas" and the message that follows each one. I can't even begin to describe what an impact they are having. It makes me eagerly anticipate who will be "featured" next week....although we will miss the one on the Sunday before Christmas (we're going to Ohio!).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Through the eyes of a child (or two)

I love Christmas and just about everything about it. Not just the reason we have Christmas, celebrating the birth of the Christ-Child, but lights, music, trees, giving presents, tv specials, you name it! I even love the look of all that snow on the pine trees outside (although I much prefer to be in doors enjoying the view with a cup of hot cocoa, preferably made with Ghiradelli's dark chocolate mix). When I lived in South Florida and Southern California, I didn't miss living in the cold, snowy weather at all, but something wasn't quite right about see Santa images on water skis, laying on the beach, etc., or seeing all the beautiful Christmas decorations, the nativity scenes, the trees, without snow around...although, if you do go back in history, it is commonly believed that Christ was not born in the winter and that Christmas was put on the Christian calendar to coincide with a pagen holiday, but it isn't my intention to get into the whole history of why Christmas is December 25.....regardless, I am thankful that there is a day set aside to celebrate Jesus' birthday, no matter how commercialized it has become.


"Christmas" started for us this year the week of Thanksgiving. I had Tony drag down the big tree one day before he left to work on the farm, and the kids and I worked on bringing down the many decorations. Now, you have to understand that I am pretty picky about making sure the lights are spread as evenly around the tree as possible (well, not so much in the back where people can't see them), that the bulbs are scattered in a balanced way throughout the tree, that tinsel is strung "just right," and the many ornaments that continue to grow in number each year are put so they can catch the Christmas tree lights and glitter and gleam and shine!

Well, this year I had "helpers." They were good and patient about allowing me to put up the lights all by myself, but the moment I started on the Christmas bulbs, there were two sets of little hands eager to do whatever I'd let them...and even more, if they could get away with it. After the fifth or sixth bulb went up, neither were content any more to just hand me the bulbs (and it was working so well!), they had to put them up by themselves. They were again patient as I hung the tinsel...but then the ornaments came out of their boxes. And the hands once again were out-stretched. Suffice it to say, on our big Christmas tree, there are bulbs hanging in groups of two and three (all very low, of course!), Christmas ornaments hanging dripping off the lower branches (although the more delicate and treasured ones are hung quite high out of reach of little fingers), and...truthfully, it is a beautiful tree.

Since our big tree is upstairs, and we tend to do most of our "living" downstairs in the winter (heating bills and all, given our huge living room and no door to close it off), we have a smaller tree downstairs. This tree tends to be a more fun tree with more of the kid-style ornaments...we have a nativity scene comprising of about eight different ornaments, some Dr. Seuss and Fisher-Price ornaments hanging along side the shepherds and wise men, and the ornaments the kids get each year (an inexpensive ornament of something that reminds me of their personality at the time and a Hallmark collectable ornament, too). There is also a huge, glittery cow ornament compliments of my sister-in-law from a few years back (five points for anyone who can guess which sister-in-law!). This is the tree where we hang candy canes and all kinds of other things that collect at Christmas time...pretty bows and ribbons, package decorations, you name it. Well, needless to say, the kids love both trees.

The day after the first tree went up, we heard the kids when they woke up that morning...."Susanna, let's go see if Christmas is still here." "Okay, Luke, let's go." "Look, look, Christmas IS still here!" Okay, we have been reviewing that Christmas is Jesus' birthday, and that we are just making things pretty with decorations to celebrate His birthday... But it's still a delight looking at their faces, seeing their fingers reach out to touch and play with ornaments, the joy and happiness reflected on their faces each time the trees are lit up.

The other night, we watched Rudolf on TV. Well, Tony and the kids did....I slipped upstairs to do some computer work while the kids were occupied elsewhere. I came down half-way through and went into the kitchen only to have Luke come running after me..."Mama, Mama, turn it off! It's scary!" Yep, one of the scenes with the abominable snowman. So as I went in to turn off the TV, he started screaming, "No, no, leave it on!" Yeah, that bad scary guy was gone. A few minutes later, though.... We did make it through the whole show, although I really wish I'd been video taping Susanna's face with her many expressions. The abominable snowman would come on and she'd grimace and snuggle in tighter to Daddy's lap; she'd laugh at some of Rudolf's antics, and towards the end when Yukon Jack fell over the large cliff, tears rolled down her face and she was heart-broken. Of course, within a few minutes, smiles and laughter mingled with the tears and she giggled with happiness when he once again appeared. And when Santa stopped at the Island for Misfit Toys to pick up all the rejected toys, she was delighted.

We have an advent calendar (shoot, we forgot to do it yesterday!) that has little doors to open each day, adding different characters and animals to a manger scene. The kids love day one opens a door while the other pulls out the surprise, the next day it's reversed. Today they'll each get to open a door and pull out the surprise....

Christmas music plays during the day and in the kids' room as they fall asleep. Susanna's favorite song is "Jingling bells, jingling bells, jingling bells" which she'll repeat over and over and over. They both love the two songs they'll be singing in the tiny tot Christmas program on December 16, and they both have their lines down quite well...although Susanna still slips and says "We are the shepherds that watched him sleep" rather than "we are the sheep...." After all, who wants to be a sheep when you can be a shepherd? Luke knows his and rattles it off without hesitation "We are the angels that came in great light and brought the good news to the shepherds that night!"

Susanna has started to play again with a stuffed baby doll she received when she was about six months old. She didn't really have a lot of use for it until now, but "Mama's Little Darling," complete with pink dress and blonde hair tied up in a ribbon, is her own "Baby Jesus" and needs to be within eye sight most of the day. Sing "Away in a Manger" and she'll quickly get Baby Jesus to lay on your lap or in your arms.

As much as I love Christmas and all the things that come with celebrating Christ's birth, there is nothing more special that seeing Christmas through the eyes of my little ones. It is refreshing, delightful, and makes me love celebrating Jesus' birthday even more!

Have a wonderful time in this Advent Season. In all the hustle and bustle, don't forget what it's all about.

P.S. Those perfectly stringed lights on both the upstairs and downstairs tree? Well, the first string on both trees died within a week of being put up! How in the world do you replace a string of lights when everything is decorated already? And how can you put a new string up without taking everything down????? Thanks, God, for reminding me that it isn't about how perfect the decorations are!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

In case you were wondering....

Today's "Voice of Christmas" at Faith Baptist was Zechariah. Dave Overly did a great job as "Zechariah." Eagerly anticipating the next voice......

Friday, November 30, 2007

O! Susanna!

Something wonderful happened on February 15, 2005. I went in to the hospital with my 5th or 6th case of false labor, and my doctor once again sent me home with instructions to come back at 7:00 a.m. so they could induce me and end my pregnancy suffering once and for all. Instead of obeying him, I went home and then commanded Tony to take me back to the hospital about 90 minutes later. My ever-frugal and insurance-minded husband tried talking me in to waiting another 4.5 hours so it would be after midnight and we wouldn't be stuck with a full day's charge for the 3.5 remaining hours of February 15. I was pretty insistent, though, and assured him that if he wouldn't take me, he'd be delivering his second child any moment. For those of you who know Tony, you know he is a creature of the law, obeying all commandments (usually...we won't talk about two specific instances in Menagha since we've been married...). He usually drives about 5 miles below the posted speed limit. But not that night! I was so proud of my husband as he was tearing down the darkened streets of Park Rapids going what seemed to be 80 mph. I egged him on, telling him if any cop tried to stop him, they could just follow him to the hospital and he could deal with them there while I dealt with the pretty much non-stop labor pains. Thankfully, that's not a situation he had to deal with...and it was a situation that I got to deal with (the labor--for me--not the cop).

He dropped me off at the ER entrance while he parked and I waddled in, commanding the first person I saw, "Get me up to maternity RIGHT NOW, this baby is coming!" They did have time to call my doctor (again, at my insistence...they were going to wait and try to find the hospital doctor to check me out first...I told them they better call MY doctor and they better call him NOW -- I wonder how many nurses have to deal with patients like me? But...I was right). Doc Fredell arrived 20 minutes later, and he told me it was just a short matter of time. I remember, not too long after he arrived, that he told me, "don't push, it isn't time yet," as I was sobbing, "I'm sorry, I can't help it!" and felt that terrible pain finally cease as a baby cried and my doctor called out, "It's a girl!" Tony told me later he thought Dr. Fredell was going to drop her...the doc wasn't ready, apparently from what he told me I really shouldn't have had her quite that soon, but there was no stopping our Susanna! (My doctor told me later he highly doubted I'd make it through the night before delivering, but he didn't expect me back so soon...but was waiting for the hospital to call about my being back in and ready to deliver.)

Susanna has been a little whirlwind ever since. She loves to spin, to go full-force, to be on the move (unless a Quigley's Village video is on or Cinderella, either of which will stop her and hold her attention for the entire time it's playing). She is a sweet pea, a living doll, a joy and delight, and a strong-willed child who, thankfully, has a tender heart.

Like her brother, Susanna had the type of jaundice that comes from certain blood types, especially when different from the mother, where nursing initially increases the billiruben, which was really hard on me emotionally...knowing that the nourishment I was giving her was raising her levels the first several days while going through the horrid swings of hormone fluctuation (that only another woman who has given birth can truly understand), getting to go home from the hospital with her only to go back in with her the next day was not very good for my sanity. However, it was easier to understand and live through, since I'd gone through it not much more than a year before with her big brother.

From the time Susanna has been able to show any kind of preference to anything, she has always favored pink, dresses, frilly things, dolls, and anything pertaining to the stereotype of little girls. But she also loves tractors, farming, and almost everything that boys enjoy, too. She loves to draw and I'm amazed at the tiny circles and little detail she deliberately does, especially given that she is only two (and started doing this before her second birthday). I've found life is much easier if I give her a crayon or pencil than when I have to discipline her for taking pens and markers from wherever she can find them. She's learned not to write on walls (hand spankings and having to scrub her art work aren't very fun), and she has finally learned to ask if she can write on something before actually doing it.

She loves music (usually) and for the last six or so months, she's taken to humming as she goes throughout her day. She'll also make up songs or sing others that she knows, but she actually stays on key and has a slight vibrato to her songs and humming. Nothing deliberate, just natural...and beautiful. And while she'll sometimes tell others to "stop singing! No music!" she'll often tell Luke to sing "Banjo on my knee," a song she's heard since the first time Grandpa Carter first saw her.

Susanna loves Disney Princesses, but especially Snow White, Belle, and her beloved Cinderella. She often insists she IS Cinderella, but she is falling in love with Barbie, too, no matter how much we tried to discourage this. One of the girls from church babysat this summer, and Susanna immediately took to her, something that is pretty unusual, until it dawned on me that pretty, blond Katherine looks very much like a teen-age live Barbie doll. When she is around other children, they almost always flock to her and immediately start taking care of her, babying her, etc. She soaks it all in, as if it is her due to have a royal court waiting on her every whim.

One of the roughest things I've had to deal with regarding Susanna is that for almost the first six months of her life there would be times she'd look at me and immediately start crying. So when she did the same thing upon seeing her doting Papa and a few other family friends, I assured them she did the same to ME...and I was responsible for just about every aspect of her life at that point. We also went through the jealous stage where she would cry and scream any time Tony and I would show affection to each other. That was HER daddy, and no other female was allowed to go NEAR him!

When we came home from the hospital, there was a very curious little boy who wanted to see what this thing was that Mama kept close by. I worried that there would be jealousy, that he wouldn't take to her very well, but it was all for naught. He was and remains quite fascinated with her. I'm not sure who has more influence over the other, but I know that it just makes my heart sing when I see them coming down the stairs or walking at church or home or anywhere hand in hand, without anyone telling them to. They are very protective of each other, but they are definitely siblings, too! There are fights and arguments that I need to break up every so often, but when I remind them that by hitting the other or by saying unkind things it hurts the other, that causes the offending party to really stop and think...and almost always cease what he or she was doing. I love hearing Luke tell her, "Susanna, I love you. You're my favorite girl."
My Susanna is a bright girl, and I crack up at some of the things she comes up with. Luke has always been up to the challenge of trying new and difficult words. With Susanna, I'll ask "can you say harmonica?" And she'll just reply, "no." I'll try pointing and asking, "What's this?" Luke will come up with his usual pronunciation of "harmogiga" while she responds with "Music." Any difficult word you get her to say, she'll think of a synonym in place of the tongue-twisting word. Just amazing.

And this little girl is sneaky and at times very devious, unlike her brother who cannot lie even if knowing the truth with get him in deep trouble. However, Susanna is learning the painful way that telling a lie is not the best option. Then there was this morning....she didn't want to finish her cereal that Daddy gave her, although she was more than happy to eat the pears. However, as I was cleaning up, I encouraged her to eat "three more bites, because you're almost three!" "Two, Mama, only two!" Thinking I could out-smart her, I told her, "Okay, only two and then one more." Her mathematician brother piped in, "But Mama, that would be three!" Thanks, Luke. But it was a good comprise, and I was pretty gleeful and sure of myself when she agreed "okay, only two then one more!" So I was even more surprised when a few minutes later she asked, "May I be excused please? Look at my bowl, Mama!" She had her cereal bowl and her pear bowl neatly stacked, empty, with her spoon atop them." I asked, "where is your food?" And she proudly announced, "in my tummy! I did it, Mama! I ate it!" I gave her a big hug and kiss, high five, and excused her from the table as I took her bowls over to the sink and went to put them in the dishwasher and empty bowl on the top, and a bowl with milk and cereal still in it right below the empty bowl. Hm. "Susanna!" "What, Mama?" "Come here, Susanna, and tell me what this is." A horrified look on her face as if saying "good grief, what IS that???" then her matter-of-fact reply: "Um. Oh! That's just cereal, Mama! Bye-bye." Huh. Lil bugger!

She is one stubborn girl, and motivation does not work with her. Forget the stickers or treats or anything when it comes to potty training. If she wants to go in the potty, she will. If not, she won't. And there are many times I'll tell her to go do potty only to have her sit for a few minutes before hopping up and shouting, I DID IT! However, I've learned that the quickest way to find out if she REALLY did potty is by saying, "Luke, go look in the potty." If she continues on her merry way, it's a guarantee there is something in the potty, but more often than not, it's a race of children over to the potty, usually with one showing a bare butt and screaming, "NOOOOOO!!!!!!" as she pushes her brother out of the way to sit down before he can look in.

She is pure girl and happiest when she is wearing a dress. If I give her a choice between dresses, I can expect to have to wait for quite awhile while she decides which one. "ummmm, that one. No, that one! No, wait, that one." She loves to put on play jewelry (most of which is stored away now), and she'll often insist on "putting on make up" before leaving the house (and is quite happyand satisfied just brushing a make up brush or pad along her cheek). She will also inform you that she is BEAUTIFUL (I booteeful!), but I'm thankful that she really doesn't know what the word means. And I can also assure you as beautiful as she truly is, she is even more so inside where it counts. And yet, she also comes up with the funniest, silliest faces you'd ever imagine. Although Tony doesn't like it, I call her my little "Jim Carey" as her face is just as rubbery as his with all the ways she can contort it.
And that girl is just like her Mama....she enjoys her food, but she's picky about what she eats (but not as picky as many other kids). She's also hilarious in that she doesn't like to have dirty hands, but she won't hesitate to get right in the dirt and "help" on the farm or with my flowers. She also melted my heart (again) one afternoon a few months back when I laid down beside her on the floor and asked, "Susanna, what would YOU like to do with Mama today?" She looked at me quite seriously then told me, "Bake in the kitchen, Mama, with you." So we made cupcakes.

It's been about three weeks since this has started, but something triggered Susanna to start referring to herself and Luke as "the little ones." It's adorable, and the only thing I can think of that has precipitated this is the line from Jesus Loves Me "little ones to Him belong..." We were talking about Christmas one day, and I asked them "who is excited about Christmas?" to which there was a loud chorus of "MEEEEE!" from two short people in our home. I then asked, "who knows why Christmas is special?" Now, they know, but I didn't know if they'd put Christmas together with the celebration of Christ's birth yet. There was silence, then a little high-pitched voice firmly stated, "Mama, the little ones don't know." That phrase has popped up several times in the past few weeks, and it brings a smile to my face each time.

Susanna...she is our princess, she has her daddy and brother and Papa wrapped firmly around her little finger. I don't know who has more pain....Susanna when disciplined by Daddy, or Daddy when having to discipline Susanna. And that little sweetheart gets away with alot when it comes to her Daddy. And I understand more now why I got away with so much when it came to my Daddy, too....
She brings joy to the lives of everyone in this household and many others who come in contact with her. Ah, Susanna! How we really love you!

(there are more photos of Susanna down below in "Out of the mouth of Babes")

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday afternoon reflections

Once again, this isn't a vey recent photo...but it is a picture of Luke and Susanna dressed and ready for church.

It's another lazy Sunday afternoon; the kids are napping...well, at least one is while the other chatters to himself and sings "Lord's Army," "The B-I-E-L-E" (no, that's not a typo, that's what he's singing), and "Happy Birthday" (someone must have had a birthday in Sunday School today!). Tony also had a great the kids room while they were out of bed and playing games (until he was alerted that something wasn't quite right...), and I, too, was snoozing away until the phone rang.

Check out the following link (I hope it works!). It is today's BC comic strip and hits close to home for me.

We had a great sermon today (like each Sunday). We're starting in to the Christmas season, and this year's theme appears to be "Voices of Christmas." Last year, we had different families come up front before the start of the service and light Advent candles as they related what each candle symbolized, both in order and color (first candle is purple/royalty, the Candle of Hope and Light -Romans 15:12-13. Second is purple, the candle of preparation or Bethlehem candle -Luke 3:4-6. The third is pink, the candle of joy -Luke 2:7-15. The fourth is again purple, the candle of love -John 3:16-17, and the fifth is white, the Christ Candle -John 1:29 & John 3:1-8.) It was fantastic!

This year, as we finished up the opening songs, prayers, congregational greeting, and offering, one of the young men stood up front (okay, this is aging me....Eric isn't THAT young, he's in his early 30s, but that to me is now young!) and started talking. Luke, who wasn't really paying attention (and very rarely does, partially because he's 3), whipped around when he heard "I am Gabriel!" It was a great, um, what's the word I'm looking for? Not really narration, but he spoke as if he were the Angel Gabriel and told about his three great announcements regarding the first Christmas. It was wonderfully done, very informative, humor mixed in, and it kept everyone's attention (well, not Luke's FULL attention, but for most of it!). Pastor Marty continued the theme by preaching on Gabriel's message to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph (at least I'm assuming he continued with Joseph....Susi had a messy diaper, so I missed the last 7 or 8 minutes). If you're interested in listening, here's the link to our church's website, specifically the sermons -- you'll have to scroll to the bottom of the page (and as of 3:45 on Sunday afternoon it wasn't posted yet), but there are also some other great messages that you can listen to. (Marty just finished a lengthy series on Man and his money -- which was followed by a short series on Legacy of Faith. A couple other sermons I found really interesting was the message by Paul Jorgensen, a missionary to Austria, and the latest message by Pastor Ken Polley given last Sunday -- Disciplines of a Godly Mother by Pastor Marty was also a great series.) I can't wait to hear what Christmas voice will be next!

I'm thankful for our church. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first moved here. I'd always attended small (under 100 members) churches, and here I moved to a small town and attended one of the largest churches -- at the time there were probably about 450 - 500 regular attendees (today I believe there are more than 600 that attend each week). Yes, I know, for some of you even that is small. But I have come to dearly love this church family and love the different ways I can know them and serve both God and them through AWANA, Christmas programs, Fun Food and Fellowship, and other things. I've been blessed to be able to get to know people of all ages, from the kids (usually 1st thru 6th grade) through Christmas programs and AWANA to the parents (through the same ministries) to families and couples of all ages through FFF, and many of the older couples, especially the ladies, through my in-laws.

Today, however, we are saying goodbye to another of the older members of our church family, Barb Chaney, who passed on to a better place this past Wednesday (last year, we had another sweet lady go home to heaven the day before Thanksgiving, Marian Theriault...greatly loved and greatly missed, and just a month or so ago, we had to say goodbye to another dear one, Bessie Amundson).

I'm thankful that we have solid Biblical teaching and sound leaders, from the pastors to the deacons to the trustees to the teachers and all the many people that make up the committees such as finance, nursery, Christian Education, etc. And I'm thankful that friction and church politics are not allowed to influence our church. God has given us a wise pastoral and leadership staff that does its best to stop things like that before they even start and members that for the most part don't want to let things like that even get a start in our congregation.

I love that we have five or six choices each quarter for adult Sunday School classes, except when there are five or six classes that I want to take at the same time! We finished the fall quarter today, wrapping up our adult Search for Significance class -- wonderful! Of course, that meant that I missed the class on the book of Matthew taught by a very brilliant man who blends together historical events and writings along with the Bible so people can see what was going on in the world at that time, what some of the world beliefs were, things that people faced at that time. His two-quarter series on the book of Isaiah was fascinating! (plus, he's British, so he's got that cool accent to listen to! -- and a hilariously dry sense of humor where you never know what to expect, like the time he casually threw in to the conversation about his mother being in the insane asylum and being pretty sure that he and his siblings helped put her there.... or how his son refused to let some knife-wielding gang members rob him of his money because he knew he'd be in deeper trouble with his mother if he came home without that money!). And right now I'm torn between what class to take starting next Sunday -- the second half of the Matthew class (same teacher I was talking about), the class on Revelation, taught by a pastor/highway patrol man (another fascinating and very learned teacher), a class taught by good friends of ours about biblical teaching on personal finance, or the ladies class on recognizing Spiritual warfare (a Kay Arthur series, I believe). I don't think the men's class is for me "Measure of a Man" for one very obvious reason....

I'm also very thankful for the stewardship of our church. We are expanding in both building and church membership. The biggest commitment our church made for the expansion is that we would not go into debt for any reason. We build as we have the funds. In not even two years, the Family Life Center is almost complete. You can see it and read about it on our church website (given above).

Well, the kids are awake (okay, Susanna woke up), Tony is down working at the farm, and it's time to get these two little ones away from the many distractions in our room.

Have a happy, lazy Sunday afternoon yourself!

Friday, November 23, 2007


First of all, these photos are NOT from this Thanksgiving....they are from last year. Read on and you'll understand....
I trust and pray each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving; a time of relaxing, spending time with family and/or friends, and reflecting on the many blessings God has given to each of us. My cousin Liz (check out her blog, linked on this page) does a great job of listing three things she's grateful for each day on her blog. From the unexpected to the things we often take for granted to some really great sounding foods, just looking at the things she lists helps me remember to be thankful in and for all things.

It was a hard thing for me to do this Thanksgiving though. Since Tony and I have been married, and even the year before, we have spent Thanksgiving in Iowa (except for the first year we were married when we went to Ohio to visit my family instead) with his brother Paul and sister-in-law Lori. I love spending time with Paul and Lori, whether it is in Iowa at Thanksgiving or here in Minnesota. I greatly treasure my friendship with Lori, especially. And Paul, like Tony, tends to be on the quiet side, but his contributions to conversations and on email are something I truly appreciate and anticipate, along with the wisdom Lori also shares.

This year we had planned an extended trip down "south." We'd planned to head down to Omaha first, spending the night in neighboring Council Bluffs, stopping in at the Bass Pro Shop there (my brother Tim works for Bass Pro and is always getting us all kinds of goodies -- we usually stop at Cabela's, a rival store, since it's on the way to Iowa, but this year was going to be all Bass Pro!), which just HAPPENED to have a class on creating fly fishing lures (and Tony LOVES fly fishing, an activity he has not found time to do since we've been married), and then taking Luke and Susanna to the Omaha Zoo. Years back, a group of Carter relatives headed over to the zoo on Thanksgiving, and Tony still talks about what a great zoo it is. After a busy Wednesday at the zoo, we'd take the 1.5-2 hour drive over to Paul and Lori's, spend the night, visit with them, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving, as usual. Tony's cousin and his family would drive over from Omaha, there'd be laughter, fun, a football game outside with Billy's rapidly growing boys, wonderful food (mostly prepared by Lori, pies by Chris), visiting, and as the day would wind down, board games inside. Time spent with the Thanksgiving history book that Barbara Rainey wrote, seeing what's on TV, Thanksgiving songs led by Paul (since Dad Carter wasn't plannng on making the trip this year), talking about what we're thankful for, all the stuff that so many people do on Thanksgiving.

Well, Tony's trip to the hospital last week changed all that. An unexpected two days out of commission set everything back, and we reached the hard decision that we needed to stay home in Park Rapids this year. I didn't understand why I was so glum Saturday afternoon and on through Sunday and Monday morning until it hit me.

To me, Thanksgiving isn't just a day to remember to give thanks. I do that every day. I am so thankful for even the things I usually take for granted. My Grandpa and Grandma always replied "I'm thankful" when asked how they were. Luke and Susanna always say "thank you" for just about everything, even when they pray when someone is sick ("Dear God, thank You for my owie, and thank You that You will make it all better....).

Thanksgiving, for me, is more about family. Not just my family consisting of my wonderful husband and children, but extended family. Not just my parents-in-law, whom I am truly blessed to have living so close to us (TRULY blessed!), but extended family from both sides of my marriage now -- Tony's family and mine. Those that we don't see often. Those that we see only once or twice a year. Those that I haven't seen since we were married....and some since even before then. Those that are able to join the rest of the gang every so often, like Dad Carter's sister Gloria and her husband Ken (Billy's parents), like Andrew who spent Thanksgiving this year in Iraq. Granted, none of those "extra" blessings were able to join the group at Paul and Lori's this year, but still, us not being able to be there was really disappointing.

Growing up, we spent so much time with family. We lived about an hour away from most of the relatives on my mom's side and several on my dad's side (although quite a few of his siblings lived in California while I was growing up). We spent time with cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles at least two or three times a month, I think. Many of my cousins were my best friends. As we all grew up and started going our separate ways, we still lived within reasonable driving distance to each other, or at least when we were still single, we were able to spend more time with each other. Now, almost all of my cousins are married and have families of their own, like me. We keep in touch with occasional emails and phone calls, and are even able to occasionally connect if we're all in Ohio at the same time (which isn't often). Trips to Ohio now are even more special since two of my dad's sisters moved back, and I'm able to spend time with them after getting to know them so much better from when we all lived in California.

However, this year has been a year of difficult changes for me regarding family. Two of my three grandparents passed away, and my last remaining grandma was very recently diagnosed with throat cancer. They have all lived long (in their 90s) wonderful lives, loving God and passing on that love to their children and grandchildren, but it's sad saying goodbye and knowing there will be another goodbye, whether from the cancer or just from the results of old age (but there will also be a "forever hello!" sometime in the future, praise God). When someone has always been there and no longer is, it's difficult to even think about. One of my cousins moved to Indonesia with his family to work as language translators. There have been several serious bouts with illness, disease, and trauma throughout my extended family, and even closer to home with Tony last week. Tony and I have also been unbelievably busy with the farm and the market this year, and we haven't been able to get away for our 2-3 day family break, which we try to do each September or October. I was REALLY looking forward to getting away from everything here, uninterupted time with my husband and children, just having a break, but most of all visiting with relatives who are also dear friends.

After spending quite a bit of time in tears ("Mama, why are your eyes dribbling?"), talking with Tony, talking with God, and truly examining my heart, I realize even more how important family is to me. If you're family, you're important (okay, if you're "just" a friend, you're still important to me!). Life changes as we get older, and it isn't always easy to accept. However, we are still linked as family, and if you have also given your life to Christ, we are even more importantly part of God's family.

I felt a bit guilty as I was having my little melt down. My sister-in-law had a big birthday this year (on Thanksgiving! Happy birthday Carla!)...and she's half a world away from her family (other than her husband and children...). One of my favorite cousins hasn't spent a Thanksgiving in the States for who knows how long since she lives in Paraguay (Kar, when's the last time you had turkey and all the trimmings?) with her husband and boys. Another dear cousin spent his Thanksgiving even further away in Indonesia (do they have turkey there, Rog?) with his wife and boys...and another was up north in Canada, like the last several years, with her husband and boys. To top it off, those three cousins are from the same family...when's the last time their parents had all their children home for Thanksgiving...or Christmas? My nephew is far away from all family as he serves our country in Iraq and probably didn't even have time to think about Thanksgiving.

Why am I so sad? God blessed me with a new family five years ago when Tony proposed. The two of us grew to four, and I am thankful and blessed we were able to spend yesterday together, as we spend each day together. We were able to have a wonderful dinner at Tony's parents', and while Jon and Julia were unable to join in the festivities as their children were sick, we had a relaxing day with family (but no board games, bummer!).

I love my family, whether I grew up with you or whether I joined your family five years ago. I love spending time with you. I missed that this year, but please know I treasure the times we're able to spend together...and always will.

Thank You, God, for family and friends, even when I can't be with them all. (and for those of you reading this, please post a comment and tell me about your Thanksgiving!)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pumpkin Party Music

You'll be treated to some down home music when you come on out to Carter's! (you can tell how good it is by the look on my father-in-law's face! -- actually, I think he does enjoy it....) So...whatcha waiting for? Scroll on down the next few blogs, check out the fun we have, and make your travel plans for next year!

Pumpkin Party Fun

Here are some shots of some of the activities at the pumpkin parties...the crow shoot, the giant pumpkin boats, bow and arrows, etc.

More pumpkin party photos

Here are some more shots....hope you enjoy them!

Pumpkin Party Pictures

Awhile back, I mentioned having a bunch of cool pumpkin party photos I wanted to share with everyone but wasn't able to because I couldn't download from our new (to us) digital camera. Well, I finally got the photos on disk, so enjoy the glimpses of what life is like for us every Saturday in October.....and plan on joining us next year!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Update on Tony

Thanks, all, for your prayers and notes. Tony came home from the hospital Friday afternoon after lots of tests; not all results are in, but those that are show great results! The kids were quite excited to see him when they woke up from their naps (even though we'd been in to visit earlier that day).

So many things to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Tony

Hi all -- I have another prayer request for you; this one even closer to home.

Tony is at the hospital right now, just admitted to ICU from the ER. Yesterday his heart started doing funny things (and I wasn't even in eye sight!), but he neglected to let anyone know until this morning when he informed me he thought he should go to the clinic. Upon calling the clinic, they told him he should go directly to the hospital due to his symptoms (irregular heart beat, lasting more than 24 hours). He told me this has happened twice before when he was in his 20s; both times they could find nothing wrong, so he didn't say anything figuring it would work itself out.

The hospital informed him if he'd have come in right away, they could have given him some medication to see if that would regulate the rhythm, but since he waited so long, there was a danger of clotting and they'd have to give him blood thinner first. He spent about 3 hours in the ER before they finally got him up to a room and opted to put him in ICU because things involved the heart. By the time he got in his room, he was quite hungry and his heart rhythm seems to have regulated, praise God! He thinks they won't let him leave today, though.

We were able to spend a bit of time with him in the ER before the kids got to squirrelly. I was surprised they weren't phased by seeing Daddy hooked up to all kinds of monitors and with an IV in him. Susanna's greatest concern was why the doctor took his clothes and made him naked (waist up); Luke was more concerned with getting back to the lobby to play with all the toys. I pray God will help me to remain calm so that the concern I do have isn't transmitted to the kids.

Right now it appears as if everything is back to normal. They are doing some blood work for Lyme's disease, mainly because he had a deer tick attached in mid-October and want to rule out that possibility.

I'll let you all know more as I know.
Thanks for your prayers.