Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Letter

We call this year our "year of anniversaries". Every month, we played the game, "Where were we last year at this time?" and we usually recalled something hospital related. We could not have imagined that this year, Willie would be leading a great team of men, doing his job at 100 percent capacity, and actually liking it. We also could not have imagined how busy we would be. By "we", I really mean Willie. The Army has tried to make up for lost time, sending him all over the globe. 

Meanwhile, the girls keep me in a different state of suspense. Halle's outrageous personality both delights and challenges daily. Here are some of my favorite Halle quotes from this year: "Everyone take a deep breath and eat your chocolate!", (after Willie said, "correct-a-mundo"), "Not 'correct-a-mundo'! Our mundo is fine!", and, (after I heard silence and asked over my should if she was doing something naughty) "Not yet!"

Morgan is Halle's personality foil. Halle will strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger. If that stranger happens to glance Morgan's direction, Morgan may cry. But Halle informs anyone who happens to admire her sister that Morgan is not their baby. "That is my baby sister. You cannot have her. She is my mommy's baby." Seeing the shock on peoples' faces is priceless. 

We were able to travel to Oregon in May/June of this year. We had a great trip, and hit most of the relatives. Halle and I got to play with some baby lions at Bandon's Petting Zoo, and Willie and Halle petted a juvenile leopard there. Morgan just got sniffed by goats. We also caught some Cubs vs. Mariners games, and were able to attend two friends' weddings. Mostly, we just enjoyed our family. 

Willie did manage to fit in several fishing trips during the year. I don't know if you can really call these "fishing trips"; they're more like episodes from Man Vs. Wild. On one trip, he slid down a 30 foot deadfall tree and jumped into a stream to rescue a rod tube that had slipped from his pack. In another country, he rode a horse along with two other riders and herded fish into a large net. 

In all, this has been an exciting year for all of us. The next year promises more challenges, but we are more than blessed with the amazing friends we have here. Most of all, we find daily that our God is faithful and good. We hope that this year will bring you the same peace of walking with Him.

Sincerely, Willie, Kara, Halle, and Morgan

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Impressive Disasters

Whenever my husband is deployed, I undertake some sort of large project. One reason for this is to distract myself and stay busy, the other to impress the socks off my husband when he returns. That's right, I can fix toilets. Of course I can paint large areas of the house! You better believe I can take my car and have someone else fix it. The trouble is that I'm not actually a handy person, hence the last boast. However, I always think that with a little work, I could become Bob Vila.

So this deployment, I tackled the bathroom. After we got over eating peanut butter and jelly for an entire week, it seemed fine. Everything was finished except for the windows. I had taken down the mini blinds and ordered some faux wood blinds. They didn't come for two months, but it was still before Willie's arrival. I opened the first box. A small piece of plastic whizzed past my eye. "I hope that isn't important," I thought. It was. The non-returnable, steal-of-the-season blinds I had ordered were all kinds of jacked up. Now, except for some help from little elves, they will never work. I opened the second set of blinds, sure that I had made all my mistakes with the first set. I hadn't. I had measured wrong. Good thing they were such a good price, because that was the cost of yet another Bob Vila lesson.

Everything worked out. I bought some blinds at Lowes and their installation went as smoothly as the butter that Halle sneaks off the counter every time I look away. The only problem now is that the largest cockroach I have ever seen has bumbled into my bathroom.

After living in North Carolina for four years now, I have learned a few things about cockroaches. There are numerous species, the largest one being the Woolly Brown. It comes into houses when there is extreme weather outside, but it can't actually live inside for any length of time. That means that spraying for these things is pointless. They can't infest a house. But they can fly on your face. True story. It happened to me in Georgia. They can also fall out of a cabinet onto your arm and wiggle their antennae at you. That happened last year, and I let out a hearty scream. Willie yelled from across the house, "Was that really necessary?" I informed him that it WAS absolutely necessary. Obviously anything regarding cockroaches requires screaming.

So, since this type of cockroach cannot live in my bathroom, I just have to wait three days before I can vacuum the dead corpse up and use it again. That's the easiest fix I've had to deal with for the past three months.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Good Friends

Recently, a friend observed that most of my blog entries contain some reference to poop. This reminded me of an incident concerning her and the aforementioned substance, which I will now relate. Our good friends John and Sonja have saved our skins and sanity on numerous occasions. About two weeks after Willie left for a deployment, John called to check on the girls and me. Just about that time, I had realized that I was going crazy. Morgan didn't seem to need more than a half an hour of sleep a day and Halle was being two, which means exhausting.

"Hi, Kara," John greeted.
"Hi. What are you doing right now?" I asked.
"Well... we're going to a basketball game."
"Can I come?" He and Sonja arranged for us to meet and have Sonja ride up with the girls and me. As we drove through the chilly night, the heater began to do its job, and something began to make itself known. "Do you think one of the girls has a little gift for you?" Sonja asked. Well acquainted with that particular smell, I answered in the negative. We both checked our shoes and found them innocent. We passed the animal shelter. Surely, we reasoned, the shelter, while doing animals a good turn, was polluting the air.

Upon reaching our destination, we discovered that Halle had stepped in a "land mine" and had smeared it all over the back of the passenger seat. Basically, Sonja's hair had been flirting with disaster the entire drive.

All in all, the trip was a success. Baby wipes saved the day once more, and we got to hear a moving speech given by another friend, David, who was wearing a tuxedo. It is incredible that a little bit of craziness can actually save your sanity.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Running to Leaking

Last week, my toilet would not stop running. When jiggling the handle didn't work, I decided to tighten things up a bit. I got out my screwdriver, turned a couple of screws, and the toilet relaxed. "That's right!" I thought. "This is not the average housewife you're dealing with here. You can't bring me down, toilet! I am the master of disaster!" The next time I flushed the toilet, it busted. Shocked that my victory was so short-lived, I rushed to the odds-and-ends drawer to find something to stop the flood of water. I found a key (to...?) and jammed it into the toilet tank contraption. It was a good short-term fix if you didn't use the toilet.

I entered a section of Lowes I previously avoided and liked to pretend didn't exist. "Toilet parts? Those break?" They don't break unless your husband is out of the country. So I bought more than I needed, just in case, and set my jaw to doing the work. That means I ate several pieces of chocolate and watched an episode of The Closer to feel empowered. Finally, I entered the bathroom prepared for the inevitable bacteria bath. I followed the directions, pieced together the parts, dirtied my hands, and felt like a warrior princess. Actually, I felt more like the princess's slave who gets thrown into prison for screwing up her bathroom. It kept leaking.

I dug through the garbage, locating the discarded parts. I examined them to make sure that I had assembled the new parts correctly. I had. I looked on line for answers and discovered that when there are parts labeled, "Ballcock" it is nearly impossible to find responsible, serious answers. On one site, there was a warning that basically said, "If you can't post anything mature, don't post anything at all!"

I came to the conclusion that maybe it just needs a little time. After a while, it will leak, I mean work, itself out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Told You So

For Morgan’s birthday, some friends gave her a small horse on wheels. Halle loved it, so she invoked the law of “the best stuff belongs to the older sister”. This law was enacted by the first siblings, Cain and Abel, and remains popular among first-born children everywhere. This horse traveled with us to Lowes about a month ago to pick out paint. Somewhere between visiting the Garden section, paint section, and Shiny-Things-That-Catch-My-Eye section, Horse was lost. We did a thorough search for him, but turned up nothing. I told Halle that some kid probably picked it up. She was devastated.

Every day since then, Halle would ask me if we could return to Lowes and look for Horse. Every day, I would deliver the horrible news that Horse was lost forever. A sympathetic friend heard of our predicament, and so bought a duplicate and arranged a meeting with us at Lowes. She hid the horse among some plants, and informed me of its location. Halle was delighted. The first words out of her mouth were, “I told you, Mom! I knew that some kid didn’t pick it up, and I was right! Horse was hiding!”

“I told you so” is one of the most satisfying things to say and one of the most irritating to hear. When we got Monkey Cat, I warned Halle about rough handling, telling her that Monkey Cat would scratch her up if she didn’t treat her kindly. One morning, I found Halle quietly sobbing into the couch. I picked her up and saw a bleeding ear, arm, and cheek. She had hidden her wounds and sorrow to avoid hearing “I told you so”. I explained that I had warned her so that she wouldn’t have to get bit up, but that I wasn’t angry with her or triumphant.

So often we put off repentance because we are afraid of the other person’s triumphant response. What a blessing that we know from Hebrews that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, and that from Romans it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Good Bath

I think the best part of having kids is that the most unexpected things happen. For example, dunking your daughter in the toilet. It just happens. While multi-tasking is certainly a gift, there is a maximum amount of tasks that can be up-loaded on the brain. One morning, I asked Willie if he would like to join Halle and me in taking a multi-vitamin. In the middle of making breakfast, dodging the toe-eating kitten, and attending to two pre-breakfast starvation victims, I downed all three vitamins. Willie looked at me in shock. “What happened to my vitamin?” Equally surprised, I said, “Hopefully helping memory function.”

This evening, I was running the bath water when Halle told me that she had NOT had a potty accident. That means exactly what you think it means. “Where is it?” I asked. “Oh, I didn’t have an accident, but it’s somewhere downstairs.” I peeled her clothes off and lifted her to set her on the potty, while simultaneously watching Morgan to make sure that she was not going to climb into the tub. Halle missed the rim.

One can never underestimate the power of a good bath. It not only covers your own mistakes, but those of your mother as well.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Purple Paint

Several months ago, maybe even a year ago, (time flies when you're having fun) our shower head was wobbly. I thought it added personality to the house. Willie thought it needed fixed. He was, of course, right. However, my reservations were founded when he knocked two holes in two different walls. He did patch them, but these patches still needed sanded, re-filled, primed and painted. I decided to tackle this project during this deployment, even though all logic points a different direction. 

As all projects do, this has morphed into a money-making machine for Lowe's. After purchasing all of the necessary materials, I began the project and have now a new Lowe's wish list. In removing the towel hooks, I succeeded in punching two new dime-sized holes into the wall. The list was started: Putty. Next, I moved on to taping up and painting one section of the bathroom. It turns out that the paint department mixer guy thought that my walls would be better served by a light purple rather than the smoky blue I had chosen. Two gallons gazed at me from the drop cloth like a pair of googly eyes. Light purple it is.

In my mess of children and paint supplies, I smudged the trim and noticed about an hour later. Second item on the list: White trim paint. Morgan woke up from her nap. I decided to use the old Saran wrap trick over the paint pan so that it wouldn't dry out. Third item on the list: Saran wrap. What's a little dried up paint? I have two gallons. 

Studying the purple putty-patched wall, I decided that with the right accessories, it would be fine. With the right pair of shoes and the right necklace, any outfit can be redeemed, right? Maybe not all things can be redeemed by accessories, but certainly with the right amount of denial.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

sweating in October

First of all, I am pleased to report that I have successfully detected and expelled the stink. I am equally pleased to report that it was the result of excessive cleaning. Cleaning, as I always say, is lethal. Because of the many unsavory "accidents" (or "on purposes", as the case may be) that occur in my day: hairballs, food spillage, drink dumpage, potty oopsies, or dog nastiness, my Spot Bot gets a daily work out. My rugs were being shampooed so frequently that the rug pad beneath was not getting a chance to dry out. Thus, the moldy sock smell. I have banished the rugs to the garage and am considering keeping them there until my children are old enough to appreciate them.

Although, now may be the perfect time to bring the rugs out of time-out, since right now my house is so stinking hot that I'm afraid my fish tank might start boiling. Trying to conserve energy, I shut the heating and cooling off in the house, figuring the mild fall temperatures would be sufficient for our comfort. It was 87 degrees today. I have the fans blowing, the windows open, and am considering a cold shower.

Morgan was running a fever today. I could read in her eyes the questions, "Why? Why can't we have air conditioning? Can't you see I'm suffering?" I gave her some Ibu Profen and told her this is what Southern girls live with.

I don't know how much longer I can pretend to be a Southern girl.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Phantom Stink

There is a phantom stink in my house. I don’t notice until I leave my house and return, whereupon I discover that my house smells like moldy socks. I have been eliminating the usual suspects: compost bowl, trash, diaper pail, dog bed… there are so many possibilities. What with potty training, a dog, a cat, and massive drink spillage, my house is a perfect storm for stink. Halle said she thinks the culprit is the Happy Monster, who is her apparently very rank imaginary friend. That would explain why I can’t find the odor.

Yesterday, I walked outside and actually thought that the air smelled like dryer sheets because it was so fresh in comparison. The stink is driving me crazy. I don’t enjoy cleaning, but the stink is causing me to either clean or stay away from home. So after some frantic cleaning, I give up and take the girls to the park or shopping.

I was reflecting this morning on the sins of ignorance in the Old Testament. The Israelites were expected to bring guilt offerings and sin offerings and on top of both of these, offerings to acquit for their sins of ignorance. That must have been like a spiritual phantom stink – a sin that kept being committed without realizing that it’s a problem. Sort of like how a person might lose ten pounds after discovering that fried foods are unhealthy. These sins cause problems unintentionally, but that doesn’t make them innocent.

I hope I find the phantom stink soon. Otherwise, I’m going to have to throw out all my rugs and start over with ones that are not committing sins of ignorance against me. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Living in the Projects

Willie left this morning for another deployment, which makes things awkward for a few days, depressing for a few days, and then full of frenzied activity. The frenzied activity is useful not only to distract, but also to exhaust the three of us so that we can sleep at night. Sleep is illusive because when Willie leaves, a magical thing happens: when night falls, our house is transported from a peaceful, front-porch loving cul de sac and into the projects.

My dog, Madison, even feels the difference. She barks when the leaves rustle, causing the rest of us to jump and assume the worst. Last time Willie was gone, I was soaking in a bath when Madison sounded the alarm. Leaping from the sudsy liquid, I wrapped a towel around me and grabbed my pistol. I held my breath as I stood cop-style by the door, listening. It was a couple minutes before I realized the bandit was actually just stealing bird seed. Those filthy squirrels. I almost fell to my death on the slick bathwater trail.

Last deployment, Halle developed night terrors. These were certainly connected to Willie's absence, but were not quite as terrible as one might think. At the top of the stairs, she would cry out with loud sobs, "Where is my cheese? Mama, I need some cheese!" The previous night, she performed the routine with the opening line of, “I need the mama frog!” The mama frog is a bath puppet (there are two – one small and one large, hence mama and baby frogs). She had gone to bed with them and apparently had a desperate need for them at 2:30am. I told her that I wasn’t going to look for her mama frog just then, that we could find it in the morning. “Go back to bed, Halle.” She sobbed all the way back to her bed, whereupon she pronounced, “Oh! There’s the mama frog!” There have also been requests for band-aids, moving a rocking horse, going potty, and losing a band-aid.

Hopefully this time will be better. If not, there are always naps.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

dog smell

We had to drop Monkey Cat off to get spayed this morning, a fact that greatly dismayed Halle and elated her father. My only concern was that Monkey Cat would be rather hungry, since she refused her "Super Supper" cat food both yesterday and today. Perhaps the name should be changed to, "Sordid Supper", because not even the dog would touch it. Feeling the need to both satisfy the animals and clean out my fridge, I served them some leftovers. This was, of course, a rookie mistake.

We arrived home from our outing, and the first thought that entered my mind was, "Why does my house smell like dog poop?" The answer came by way of the hall. Grateful for laminate flooring, I counted my blessings: 1.) I found it before the kids did, 2.) It hadn't hit the rugs, 3.) I did have a clean refrigerator. Just then, Morgan charged forward, crawling at top speed. "NOOOOOO Morgan!" I cried, rushing the infant. But I was too late to save her from slipping and belly flopping in the mess. Just then, I noticed the rug. It didn't used to be brown.

As I cleansed the house and cranked some air freshener, I ordered Halle to use the restroom herself. I disposed of the garbage outside and came back in to find a new puddle, this one from the kid. When it rains, it pours. I cleaned the children up and washed my hands for about ten minutes. I really do have a lot to be thankful for. And my fridge is still clean.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Crazy Monkey Things

This morning, a friend asked Halle why she had named her kitten Monkey. “Oh, she just does lots of crazy monkey things,” was Halle’s nonchalant reply. “Crazy monkey things” includes breaking two vases and a bowl and using a section of the pantry as her secondary bathroom. What cat wouldn’t want two bathrooms? I know I certainly appreciate having the luxury of multiple lavatories.

The craziest monkey thing this week was not the cat’s fault; it was her mistress’s. As I was working on a project, I noticed that a rare serenity hung in the air. There is a legend attached to children and stillness: This combination is the most dangerous kind. As parents, we often long for peace. There are fleeting moments of temptation when I think, “I know this temporary quiet is the result of some sort of naughtiness. But maybe I could let her be naughty just for a few more minutes….” That is always a bad, evil, dark temptation.

I discovered Halle wielding a Sharpee on the couch. I caught her before every cushion wore black mustaches, and actually succeeded in erasing two out of three scribbles. After a personal tirade which completely wiped out any recollection of peace, Halle spent some time in solitary (which parents call “time out” to make us feel less like wardens). Then, I asked her to help me clean up her mess. I supplied a rag, which she happily trotted off with to a wall. “Why would she be going over there?” I naively asked myself.

Here I had thought that I had nipped the Sharpee incident in the bud. The couch was but Halle’s third station. The first was a small area of kitchen wall, which required four coats of paint, but probably could have used five. The second was a small area of living room wall, which now needs paint because in my scrubbing frenzy, I rubbed the green off. I have no idea what paint color the living room is.

I decided that from now on, I am only selecting paint named after food. My kitchen is “Butter” (everything tastes better when it’s cooked in butter), my upstairs bathroom, “Mint Chocolate Chip”. I should have made the living room “Lettuce” or “Brussel Sprouts” or “Pistachio”. Then, if something like this ever happens again, I can say, “Go clean up the butter!” Or, “That pistachio had better be shining when you’re through with it!” Inevitably, I would have to have a snack. The snack would probably calm me down. Win, win, win.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I heard a cross between “Merrarrr” and, “Wrrrraaaaa” this morning. This is a new noise in our house, belonging to the kitten that we chose from the Humane Society. We failed the Petfinder Questionnaire, so we were forced to choose from pets that had no other options. The email denying our application for the orange tabby explained that that kitten was used to “a quiet life” and they were concerned that two small children would not afford him the same sort of lifestyle. Monkey, the Humane Society cat, seems to be doing fine with the noise; it’s the game, “Tackle the Kitten” that she hasn’t adjusted to quite as well.

“Tackle the Kitten” is a game that Halle adapted from one that her father created: “Tackle the Beans”. “Beans” is Halle’s nickname, and the game is one that has been around since she could move and feel fear. The game is elegantly simple: place the child on the bed and then yell, “Tackle the Beans!” and leap on the bed, chasing and tackling her. Most of the time, it’s a really fun game. We have memories of tackles that took the breath out of Will and he would have to take a nap immediately afterward. It’s intense. Actually, that was during the two years when he split his time between the hospital and home. But still, it is intense.

These days, Halle and Will have more games than can be counted. Unfortunately, now that Daddy is well, the Army is trying to make up for lost time. Will left yesterday morning for a week long trip, and is probably glad to be missing the dual potty training of Monkey and Beans. Hopefully Monkey catches on faster than the child, but if she doesn’t, we can always sentence her to the out-of-doors.

I have often contemplated what I would do without my Spot-Bot, vacuum cleaner, chemicals, and washing machine. Would we have to live outdoors? How did the ancient Israelites potty train their children? I am convinced that potty training was one of the uses of the Festival of Booths. Potty training was put on hold until the festival when they lived in tents. While celebrating a time of simplicity and reliance on God’s provision, the children were introduced to underwear. During this annual festival, parents didn’t have to worry about their kids whizzing all over their furniture, bedding, and clothes. They also had everyone in dresses – man dresses, woman dresses, kid dresses – all of them can be lifted up effortlessly, rather than tugged down and soaked.

Maybe we’ll go camping when Will gets back. We can tell Halle it’s a potty training festival. As long as we’re not sharing a sleeping bag, I think it could work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Creepy things

A maintenance man’s version of good news: “Everything is working the way it’s supposed to, but… you have a couple thousand crickets living under your house”. Anything in that amount (except for money) has to be bad. Even if he had said, “You have a couple thousand butterflies”, I would be concerned. At least we got something musical.

As usual, Willie was gone. He’s always gone when cataclysmic things happen. The first time he left for a month, our jeep broke down and I found out I was pregnant. Another time, I landed in the hospital on my birthday and upon being discharged found that my jeep refused to start (yes, the jeep was a lemon). When the mice tried to run us out of our house this winter, he was deployed. The worst part of that fiasco was resetting the mouse traps. The only kind of trap the mice would even consider dying in was the old fashioned snapping-guillotine. So I would dispense of the mouse, bait the trap with peanut butter, and then promptly snap myself. My thumb will never forgive me for those months of torture. I would, of course, scream both in frustration and surprise. No wonder the mice liked them so much. They’re thrilling devices.

Halle would ask me what was wrong.

“Oh, I just snapped myself with the mouse trap.” Halle was a mouse sympathizer. Disney teaches children to be rodent sympathizers. It was difficult to teach her that there are invisible germs on them that might cause something like the bubonic plague.

“What’s the bubonic play?”

“It isn’t as fun as it sounds.”

Bacteria is an impossible concept for children. This past weekend, we went gold panning and fishing in the river. At a slow spot in the river, I sat on a rock panning for gold while Halle stirred the water with a spoon we had brought. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Making soup for the alligators,” she replied. (Alligators are as plentiful as snipes in that area.) I thought that was an excellent idea until I noticed her tasting the soup.

“Honey, you can’t drink the water. There are bugs that you can’t see that will make you sick.”

She tilted her head to one side and then smiled. I didn’t think my child would consider me an idiot until she was much older. But it was clearly a patronizing smile. I took the spoon away and told her if she couldn’t stop drinking the water, we would have to get out. I held her hand and led her out of the river. She “slipped” in the shallow water several times, causing her backside to rest on the river bottom and her head to stay just above water. At those moments, she opened her mouth and let loose her tongue, slurping up as much river bounty as possible.

There are so many things we teach children, just hoping one day they will either learn it for themselves or take our word for it. We have faith in their ability to grow and change and learn and re-learn. I wonder how often God shakes his head and thinks, “She clearly doesn’t get it. But someday she will realize that I wasn’t just telling her about invisible threats for no reason.” Oh Lord, I hope that I will indeed understand everything one day, and until that time, obey you because I trust you. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Truthful to a Fault

One thing I should lay before my courageous readers is that this blog shall be set forth with complete honesty. This isn’t something I have decided as I prepare entries, but something I cannot escape from. There was a zero lying tolerance in our home. On the surface, this appears to be a tremendous thing to walk away with. After all, three children had at least one of the Ten Commandments firmly implanted into their brains. But that quality was taken and enlarged to a comical degree.

We were the Santa spoilers. The “Christmas magic” believers hate those kids. “Why do those little brats have to ruin the enchantment? I get one season where my kids are asking someone else for stuff!” It doesn’t matter, of course, that they financially back Santa. But our family was dreaded to a greater extent. We weren’t just tactless; we hinted at conspiracy: “It’s all an illusion. There is no Santa and your parents have lied to you. What else could they be hiding?”

To this day, we have no tact. One Christmas, I purchased some boxers for my brother. He opened them and said, “Oh, thank you. I hate these.” We cannot, even for the noblest purposes, lie.

Gentleness was lost in our efforts to drive even the appearance of falsehood. “Our sheep was put to sleep last night,” a friend told some students at school one day. We had spent the evening at their house (it was lambing season, and our ewes were rooming in their barn). We knew what events had taken place, and most unfortunately, one of the ewes had had to be put down. My brother blurted out, “that sheep’s not sleeping; it’s dead!” Death was always dealt with in this manner. There was no softening of the blow for us: we were told exactly what had happened and that, probably, we would not be seeing that specific animal in heaven.

Even now, I find an almost compulsory need for precision. My husband will be telling a story and I’ll jump in with something like, “It wasn’t five o’clock. It was six.” No one cares what time such-and-such happened. But I can’t help myself.

It is frightening to know that though truth is an excellent principle, it has still has some comical side effects. What will happen if I unknowingly teach negative principles? I guess whatever happens, I will be able to face that with a truthful air.