## Saturday, December 29, 2007

People ask me all the time what I read and how I find good books. The answer is that I read anything recommended to me by friends and family. I also read anything that sounds interesting or has a catchy title...and sometimes they aren't that good, but of course I finish them anyway because that's just me. (For the record the only book that I have started and not finished is "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. I'm determined to get to it someday though.) So here is the list for the year so far. Check back, as I'll add to it as I finish a book.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: This is a really good book about the German occupation of France. The backstory of the author is really what makes it good though. She was a Jew living in France during WWII and she actually wrote the book while in hiding. I won't tell you what happens to her but the previous sentence pretty much lets you know that it isn't good. Anyway, her daughters found the notes for the book years later and had it published. At the end they also published letters that she and her husband wrote as their lives unravelled. Very, very interesting...and disturbing, really.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell: OK, this one is hilarious but not for everyone. She has kind of a potty mouth, slams Republicans a lot, and doesn't believe in God or any kind of afterlife. That said, she is a brilliant writer that will make you laugh out loud. The book is about her attempts to pull herself out of a funk by cooking all 527 recipes in Julia Childs first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one calendar year. The weird things she makes, and eats, and the trials she has in the meantime are absolutely hilarious. She also starts a blog about the whole experience and ends up with some creepy blog stalkers. Funny, funny, funny!

Cuando Era Puertorriqueno by Esmerelda Santiago: (Si no puedes leer este descripcion en Espanol no podrias leer el libro tampoco. Por eso, lo he escrito en Espanol.) Es un libro sobre la vida de una chica con siete hermanos en Puerto Rico en los anos 50. Sus padres se pelean mucho y ella es la mayor, entonces tiene que cuidar a tus hermanitos mucho. Eventuamente se mudan a Nueva York donde ella tiene que aprender una lengua nueva y una nueva vida sin su papa. Lo lei para practicar mi espanol y aumentar mi vocabulario pero fue muy interesante a la misma vez.

The Killing Hour by Lisa Gardner: Typical story about the police looking for a serial killer and following all of the clues. Two detectives fall in love, yadda, yadda, yadda. Pretty good and suspenseful if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo: I read the Spanish version but there is an English version now so I'll go ahead and give you a synopsis in English. Basically it is the story of a simple Andalucian shepherd that goes off in search of a hidden treasure in Egypt and his triumphs and trials along the way. This book claims to be a fable right on the cover and it definitely is. It is all about listening to your heart and following your dreams. It is a love story and an adventure story too. It gets a little mystical in a few places but still a good book. Very short and easy reading.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger: This is an awesome book! I totally recommend it. The writing is absolutely spectacular and the story is great as well. It is about a family in crisis in the 1960's. When the oldest son kills intruders in their home and then runs away from the law the rest of the family, Jeremiah Land and his two younger children, set out across the west in their Airstream trailer to find him before the FBI can. It is an adventure story mixed with a love story mixed with a western. It is a very touching and poignant look at family life. I really loved this book!

Nineteen Minutes
by Jodi Picoult: This book is a little disturbing, especially if you are a public school educator but it was very thought provoking too. The novel is about a fictional school shooting and the 10 years of bullying by other students that precipitated it. It is presented not only from the point of view of the victims, but also the law enforcement professinals, lawyers and the perpetrator. The overall theme is that the shooter is child too; someone who is loved and loves in return, someone that was once a sweet baby and has a family and a life that is worth living...despite his horrific actions. I really came away from this book with a deeper sense of sorrow for the criminals and their families in these circumstances. They deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions, namely life in prison or execution, but they also deserve the love of Jesus Christ and his followers. (These are my views of the book. The Christian angle was not actually presented in the book.)

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year

The Husband
by Dean Koontz: This is a thriller about a landscaper, who for no discernible reason, has to raise 2 million dollars in order to ransom his kidnapped wife all while keeping the authorities out of the picture. The problem is he doesn't have even close to that much money and he has been framed for 3 murders along the way. There are a few twists and turns that will keep you on your toes. It's a good read.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan: This book made me scream (mentally), "How could this have happened in America in the 20th century!!!!" The novel is all about race relations in rural Mississippi immediately after World War II. Black men who fought in the war and experienced racial freedom and equality for the first time in their lives while in Europe (not from other American soldier, mind you, but from the european people), returned to their homes and farms only to be treated like disease carrying criminals barely worthy of the humid air they breathe as they slave away in the cotton fields. The story covers other themes, like agriculture, family relationships, and inter-racial friendships and marriages. It was very well written from the point of view of several different characters in the book. It was disturbing, but it helps to know that things did eventually change...at least for the most part.

The Zookeeper's Wife
by Diane Ackerman: I thought this was a novel before I read it....but it is actually a biography of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, the directors of the Warsaw Zoo, before, during and after World War II. A Christian (actually Jan is an atheist) the stuggle to save their zoo and animals from destruction. Unable to do so, they turn their zoo into a center for Underground activities and hide hundreds of Jews doomed to death under Nazi rule. I learned a lot about Nazi philosophy and their interest in genetics, human and animal, and experimentation to create a master race of both human beings and animals. Ackerman got her information for the book from Antonina's memoirs and numerous radio and print interviews the couple later gave about their wartime activities, as well as several verbal eye witness accounts...including the story straight from the mouth of their son. It is an excellent book chock full of information and touching stories.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: I really liked this book. It was set in the south in the late 60s and centers around the life of an 11 year old white girl and her black nanny. (What is it with me and these racially charged books?) When her nanny is arrested for spitting on a white man's shoes while on her way to register to vote, the little girl breaks her out of jail and runs away with her. They end up living with 3 black spinster women. The complicated relationships in the story make it a real page turner. (The spinsters raise bees and sell honey for a living so there is a lot of interesting bee information in the book too.)

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver: This book was recommended to me by several people, but I really didn't enjoy it all that much. The story follows 3 people in rural Appalachia (here I am down south again), a 40 something divorcee, a 70 something widower and his pesky neighbor, and a 30 something recently widowed women. The relationships each of these people has throughout the story and the way they all tie to together was nice and pretty interesting but I found the rest of the book to be rather preachy. The characters were against pesticides, herbicides, and hunting just to name a few. They commonly railed against other characters that would dare to kill a moth, Japanese beetle, poke weed or coyote. I didn't necessarily disagree with some of the views presented by the author, I just got tired of reading about them over and over again. I didn't think that this book was half as good as the other Kingsolver book I've read, The Poisonwood Bible.

I Heard That Song Before
by Mary Higgins Clark: This is a typical MHC book. Part love story, part murder mystery. It was good and had a little twist that was unexpected. Worked well as light reading between other heavier books. I will say that the title bothers me a little. Shouldn't it be "I've Heard That Song Before"?

The Taking
by Dean Koontz: For the record I'm not that in to science fiction, but I generally do like Koontz's books. They are a little out there sometimes but they always have nice stories interwoven with the alien sub plots. I especially enjoy his books about Odd Thomas. (Odd sees dead people.) But this one (The Taking) I did not like at all. It was just too out there. Aliens were taking over the world and killing everyone in sight...but wait, it was really just God remaking the earth....oh, I should have known. Now I've just spoiled the ending for you, but that's OK since you shouldn't read the book anyway.

Simple Genius
by David Baldacci: This is a political/action thriller set in a think tank and a secret CIA base in Virginia. There were several twists and turns along the way and it was an intriguing plot involving code breaking and super computers. It was a fairly simple read except for the computer and Enigma code descriptions which I just had to skim so that my little non-mathematical brain wouldn't fry. I didn't enjoy it as much as I have some of Baldacci's other books but it was still very good.

The Testament
by John Grisham: This was actually an audio book that Brian and I listened to on our vacation. It was just as good as all of Grisham's other work and had the same great relationships between characters and legal suspense that you would expect. The story centers around the will of a multi-billionaire and the heirs (including an African missionary) that are fighting for their inheritance. There is a religious undertone to part of the story that is handled very well and makes a really good point. The ending is a little shocking but it is a great book overall.

The Lake House
by James Patterson: Do NOT read this book. It started out OK, but steadily became more and more graphic and nasty. I do NOT recommend it.

A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving: This is a good book that is destined to become a classic that will be assigned to American Lit. students for ages to come...if it isn't already. I read it because several people from People Reading listed it as their favorite book. I wouldn't say it is my favorite of all time (I have no idea what that would be) but it was very good. It is about John and his "strange" little friend, Owen, growing up in a small New Hampshire town...all the while believing he is destined for greatness. There is some very poignant writing about parent/child, mother/daughter, mother/son and friend/friend relationships. The Vietnam war is also a major theme of the book and becomes the backdrop for the second half of the novel. There was soooo much symbolism mixed in to this book that I'm sure I only caught half of it. I'd love to discuss the book with someone smarter than me (and that shouldn't be hard to find). If you read this book let me know.

The Plain Truth by Jodi Piccoult: This is the second Piccoult book I've read and I didn't like it as much as I did the first one. The Plain Truth is about an infant murder on an Amish farm and the subsequent trial. It basically raises questions about the average American legal system being adequate to understand and judge a person who has never been a part of the society that stands in judgement of her. How can a jury of your peers be made up of people that don't have the first thing in common with you and don't understand how you think? It was interesting, but it didn't hit as close to home as 19 Minutes did though...maybe that's why I didn't like it quite as much.

Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: I read the Spanish version of this book but there is also an English version and I think it may be made in to a movie also. The book is basically a love story set in the Carribbean in the 40s? It is about a man and woman who were in love and then went their separate ways and married other people...only to meet again as elderly people after their spouses died. It was a very touching and beautiful novel.

The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck: Well, this is not a feel good book. I'll spare you the suspense and tell you right now that there is no happy ending (a bizarre and twisted ending, yes, but happy, no). I still liked the book for what it taught me about history and the human spirit. I also loved the writing style and the use of that bumpkin dialect. But man, it was a downer! The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the hope that something good would happen to this poor family on the next page. Nope. Never happened. So, if you don't mind depressing books and are interested in the history of the United States in the late 1930s then you should read it. If you don't like death, starvation, oppression and abuse then you should skip this one.

Cane River
by Lalita Tademy: This is one of those random books I picked up out of the library stacks because the cover was interesting. The jacket description seemed intriguing too, so I took it home. It was a good choice. Basically, Mrs. Tademy gave up her high powered Silicon Valley job in order to travel back to Louisiana and research her family history. She uncovered generations of strong slave women who kept their families together through all kinds of hardships. She then took all of the factual information and embellished it a little to form a really good novel written in three sections, each through the eyes of a different generation of woman. She provides quotes and copies of the actual documents she found along the way. I really enjoyed this book set in rural French speaking Louisiana in the mid 1800s through the mid 1900s.

So Brave, Young and Handsome
by Leif Enger: I posted an entire book discussion on this novel. It was excellent! (The novel, not the discussion) You can read all about it, in great detail by following the So Brave, Young and Handsome labels on the sidebar.

The Broker by John Grisham: It was Grisham so of course it was good, but it wasn't his typical novel. I can't quite put my finger on it but it was less "lawyer" and more "spy". It was also shorter and seemed to be less detail oriented (probably because Grisham knows a lot less about being a spy than he does about being a lawyer). It was fast paced and very interesting. The main character is in "the witness protection program", for lack of a better term and has to learn Italian very quickly. He takes intensive language lessons daily, which was fun for me. I learned a lot of italian while reading the book. In typical Grisham fashion the good guys become the bad guys and vice versa, so that in the end you are rooting for the opposite side from the one you started out with. I liked it and I recommend it.

America America by Ethan Canin: I really enjoyed this book. It is the story of how one teenaged boy is unknowingly caught up in political intrigue as he works as errand boy and driver for a senator that is running for president in the 70s. The story is told by the boy himself, now a man and a local newspaper editor. As he looks back on the events surrounding the campaign he can now see the part he played in all that happened. The story jumps back and forth in time a lot but it is very easy to follow and a real page turner. I highly recommend this book.

The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe: This was a good book overall. It follows 3 generations of women through post World War II England and the problems that they face and pass on to their children. I suppose it was slighly depressing, but I still thought the story was well written. My only problem with this book was that the main character turns out to be gay. There is nothing graphic in the novel, just several allusions to the difficulties of her lifestyle in 1950s England. If you can overlook those referencees it is a good book.

Bonus: Here are some other books I recommend...even though I didn't technically read them "this" year.

Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

## Tuesday, December 18, 2007

### Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Grove's!

Wishing you all lots of J-O-Y this season and throughout the new year.
Brian, Crystal, Ryker, Cainan and Kinley

## Monday, December 17, 2007

### Out, Fido!

Our Associate Minister, John, was surprised to see a dog in the church one day last week. He could just see the tip of it's tail bobbing along as it ran between the pews. As he walked down the center aisle to catch the pesky canine he was shocked to find that it wasn't a dog at all. It was just Kinley. It was the tip of her rather tall and fluffy pony tail that he had seen going between the pews.

### In Loving Memory

Grandpa,

I love you so much. I love your sense of humor and all of your crazy stories. Thank you for loving me and taking care of me so often when I was little, and even now that I'm big. Thank you for teaching me to drive a tractor, prime a pump and back out of a driveway the "right" way so as to put less wear on my tires. Thank you for all of the Oreo's, Hostess Pies and popcorn we ate together over the years. Thank you for reading the Christmas story to us every Christmas Eve. Thank you for loving my kids and being proud of them. Thank you for taking them to the pond to watch the muskrats swim and to the barn to feed the cows. But most of all, thank you for my Dad and for raising him to be the Christian man that he is so that I can be the Christian woman I need to be for my kids. Your legacy of love and faithfulness goes on. I'm so happy for you, but I'll miss you a lot.

See you soon,

Crystal

## Saturday, December 15, 2007

### Thank Goodness for Pink-Eye

The school nurse sent Ryker home yesterday with pink-eye. It is probably one of the best things that could have happened this week. We (all 5 of us) have been at the church until 9:30 or 10 pm every night this week preparing for the Christmas musical. I am directing it and Brian is building the set and playing in the pit band. All of us are totally exhausted. Because we go up there immediately after school and don't get home until after bedtime Ryker and Cainan haven't had any time to play together. Cainan has been in tears every night because he hasn't gotten to play with Ryker enough. (Of course they have been playing at church with all of their friends whose parents are also in the musical...but apparently that doesn't count.) So when we heard that Ryker had to spend a whole day at home with us we were really excited. He was feeling fine, except for one puffy eye, so we spent the day playing and cleaning the house so that we can get our Christmas tree. The boys had a really good time together and Kinley enjoyed having her biggest brother around too. I got soooo much accomplished since I could count on Ryker to keep Kinley away from the woodstove and small objects while I worked. It was just the break we needed to keep us going through all of the performances this weekend.

## Friday, December 14, 2007

### Hail to the Chief!

Apparently our trip to Mt. Rushmore this summer really had an impact on the kids. The following conversations took place in our house this week.

#1)
Ryker: OK, let’s play. I’ll be George Washington.

Cainan: No, I want to be George Washington.

R: Well, I called it first!

C: Fine! Then I’ll be Teddy Roosevelt.

R: Here's your moustache. (places imaginary moustache on Cainan’s upper lip).

#2)
Ryker: What’s the guy’s name that shot Abraham Lincoln?

Mom: John Wilkes Booth.

R: Is that the same guy that shot Martin Luther King Jr.?

M: No.

R: Who shot MLK Jr.?

M: Ummmmm. I can’t remember. John Henkley Jr.? No, that was that guy that shot Reagan. I don’t know.

R: I guess I’ll have to ask Daddy. He’ll know. Maybe it was the same guy.

M: No, it couldn’t be the same guy. MLK Jr. was shot in like 1967 and Abraham Lincoln was shot 100 years before that.

Cainan: Yep. Then they stuffed him in those rocks.

## Tuesday, December 11, 2007

### Angel Tree

We have an Angel Tree in the foyer of our church. Last Sunday Ryker and Cainan asked what it was and why there were toys piled all around it. I told them that it was for people to give toys to kids that don't have any.

Then this Sunday Ryker asked, "Why do those angels say "Girl, 7" and stuff like that on them?" I said, "Well if you get one that says 'Boy, 7' that means you buy a gift for a boy that is seven years old and doesn't have any toys." Then Cainan had to start in with the 20 questions, of course. Does the seven year old have a house? A couch? A light? I assured him that he probably had a home but just not very many toys.

Monday morning we were in at the church and Kinley and Cainan were playing around while I did some painting on the set for my Christmas program. Suddenly Cainan came running up and said, "Kinley is out there playing with that seven-year-old-boy-that-doesn't-have-any-presents-for-Christmas' toy!"

## Monday, December 10, 2007

### The Word of the Day

*Nougatocity \nu-gat-a-si-tE\ (noun): A heightened, yet fleeting, state of accomplishment that makes you realize how unbelievably unmotivated you normally are.

*The definition presented here may not express the views of Merriam Webster, or any other dictionary for that matter, because it came off of a Snickers wrapper.

### Serve God, Save the Planet

I just read a great book by J. Michael Sleeth entitled Serve God, Save the Planet. Sleeth is by all definitions an environmentalist. However, he is well aware that that title brings certain negative connotations with it. He prefers to use the terms “Creation Care” and “Earth Stewardship” when describing his work and his passion. For some of us, myself included, the fact that the Democrats and Hollywood are for environmentalism makes me want to be against it. But after reading this book and looking at what the Bible has to say about it I have a different perspective. Let me give you a little background.

Dr. Sleeth was a successful emergency room doctor when he became convicted about certain environmental issues. He was a Christian and had been recycling, etc. for all of his adult life, but as he examined his life he realized just how little he had really been doing. He was living in a 5,000 square foot home with a 3 car garage filled with SUVs, a lawn tractor and a boat. He was taking out 3 large garbage cans full of trash every week and consuming tons of energy a day with a clothes washer and dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, etc. As he and his family began to focus on God’s will for them and for the earth they decided to make a change…a BIG change.

The Sleeth’s now live in a house that is exactly the size of their old garage. They no longer own a clothes dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, or motor driven lawnmower. They drive small hybrid cars and bicycles. They eat only locally grown organic foods and turned their entire backyard into their own garden where they grow and preserve as much of their own food as they can. They recycle and/or compost everything. They now take out one Wal-Mart sized bag of trash every 3 weeks. He no longer works in the ER, but travels around the country speaking about Creation Care and starting Christian environmental groups on college campuses. He is also an author and travels as a doctor on humanitarian missions around the world.

His book is excellent and really gave me a lot of food for thought. I won’t go through everything here but I’ll give you some of the highlights. The book asks the questions:

“How can I live a more godly, equitable, and meaningful life? How can I help people today and in the future? How can I be less materialistic? How can I live a more charitable life? What would happen if I led a slower-paced existence? How can I become a better steward of nature?”

Here are his answers (kind of):

On Materialism:

• “The earth was designed to sustain every generation’s needs, not to be plundered in an attempt to meet one generation’s wants.”
• “The consumer lifestyle demands an enormous amount of work, worry, strife, and struggle by instilling a deep sense of longing and discontent. If all of us were suddenly happy with our homes, for instance, how many decorating magazines could be sold, etc.?”
• “At the end of a materially rich day, consumerism says, ‘Buy more’. At the end of a spiritually rich life God says, ‘Well done by good and faithful servant.’”
• “It is not our spiritual longings but our material desires that keep us from a right relationship with God. (Rev. 18:13)”
• “How much time have I spent admiring what God has wrought, and how much time am I spending admiring my possessions?”
• “We buy things for many reasons: to cheer ourselves up, out of guilt, to reassure ourselves of our worth, because we cannot discipline our children or ourselves, and to try to make our lives more meaningful, easier, or interesting.”
• “Simplifying means having less, wanting less, being satisfied with what you have or less than what you have. It does not mean boredom.”
• “Spiritual concerns have filled the void left by material ones.”
• “Each time we divest ourselves of possessions, we have fewer earthly things that bind us. This lack of attachment to things, brings us priceless freedom and allows us to hear His call.”
• “When I worry about what the world thinks, I disconnect from the power of heaven.”

Wow! This section really spoke to me. I have been struggling with this lately, especially with the kids. They have a sense of entitlement that scares me and their begging for things and discontent with the thousands of things they have is awful. I really started examining what we are doing that has promoted this kind of behavior and mind-set.
Christmas has been especially hard for me. Not because I want things that I don’t need but because I don’t want anything and I don’t want to get anything for anyone. To think about spending hundreds of dollars on things that are totally and completely uneccessary is about to make me sick. Of course there are thousands of things that I want but there is absolutely nothing that I need. Food is about the only thing that I actually need and Brian and I are blessed to be able to provide that for ourselves. Of course I want to buy things for people because I love them and I want to show them how much I appreciate them and value them in my life. I just wish there were another way to do it. One thing I have promised myself is that I won’t try to push these views on anyone else or refuse gifts that are given to us, etc. But we are definitely paring down our Christmas shopping. We have spent money that we don’t have on Christmas every year since we have been married. This year we don’t have any more money and we have more people to buy for, so common sense says, “Buy less.” That is what we are doing, but it is hard not to get things for people that they really want and we know they will enjoy. Anyway, it is a step in the right direction.

On Creation Care:

• “God created the world to sustain all living creatures, and in turn to sustain humanity.”
• “Being pro-stewardship is not a case of valuing forests more than people; rather it means valuing human possessions less, and God’s world more.”
• “God created the earth, and if we do not respect the earth and all of its creatures, we disrespect God.”
• “We say that trees exist to make oxygen, or to give shade, or to be made into paper, and we assign them no further mystery. In other words, nature has purpose and value only insofar as it fulfills our material needs. The Bible says the tree is there to glorify God and to give God pleasure.”

Creation Care also includes caring about other people and future generations. The people who live by subsitence farming in Africa or South America are doing nothing to harm the environment and have no means to protect the environment either. The damage that we do effects them, but when we work to protect our environment and heal it we are helping and protecting them too. God cares equally about all people and so should we. The fact that we cannot see them and will never meet them should make no difference. Unborn generations deserve a healthy planet just as much as we do.

On Energy Use:

• “Our generation consumes five times more energy than our grandparents’.”
• “When people’s live become dependent on a substance we call it an addiction.”

Dr. Sleeth says that our dependence on oil is an addiction. How else can you explain the Christian’s eagerness to monetarily support a government that forbids religious freedom, declares the world to be flat, sees democracy as a capital crime, and oppresses women. Every man, woman and child in America today is sending about $700 a year to just such a government. We are so addicted to oil that we don’t care where it comes from our how we get it, we just know we have to have it. On Helplessness: • “In one respect, it is consoling to believe that the problems of the world are too big for us as individuals. If they are too big or too complex for us to solve, we are relieved of any responsibility. Powerlessness can be comforting.” • James 4:17, “Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” • “As the 30 million evangelical Christians—and all those who consider themselves people of faith—grow in their understanding that God holds us accountable for care of his creation, we will begin to see positive changes on an unprecedented scale.” We’ll never see our need for change if we compare ourselves to people who behave more selfishly than we do. But if we compare ourselves to a family in Haiti who makes$540 a year and eats only two meals a day and has one bicycle for transportation than we realize just how selfish we really are.

The End Result:

Brian and I are discussing the changes that we need to make in our home. Changes that will promote spirituality over materialism, help to keep the world God created for us healthy and clean, and give us more time to spend together worshipping God and serving Him. They aren’t going to be easy. Christmas is just one step we are making toward change. There are many more steps to come, and harder battles to fight, like the TV battle (Dr. Sleeth calls TV “mental junk food that separates us from the Creator”), but we will cross those bridges when we get to them.

If this article has peaked your interest in Earth Stewardship you can find Dr. Sleeth’s book Serve God, Save the Planet on Zondervan.com. He also gives several practical tips on how to reduce your energy usage, recycle, simplify your life etc. He also supplies a worksheet that will allow you to estimate the energy usage (in gallons)

## Tuesday, November 27, 2007

### What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Here is a slide show of our summer vacation. Sorry it took so long to get on here. We went to South Dakota with my parents. We stayed in Custer State Park but visited The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and Devil's Tower too. We saw lots of wildlife in the park and did quite a bit of hiking. The kids had a great time camping with Grandad and Granny. We had a great vacation in one of our favorite spots. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

(If you put your cursor on the picture a caption should pop up.)

### "Van"-ity

Vanity. Well, you certainly can't have any when you are driving around in a humongous 15 year old conversion van. Our Trailblazer is in the shop getting a new front bumber, right front quarter panel, paint and racing stripe decal due to the aforementioned mall incident so we had to borrow one of Mom and Dad's extra vehicles. They have held on to our old van just for such circumstances and to use on vacations etc. I can't say that it has been fun driving that bohemoth around but it certainly has brought back memories.

It reminds me of all of the trips we have taken in it (and our other brown van, the two have merged in my memory). We always had it stocked with lots of games, music and audio books and there was always a cooler stuck between the seats. I remember laying on the couch and chatting/singing/ giggling with Deena and Amber or Tia and Stacy as we cruised for miles in route to the next campsite. I remember Eric and Brian playing Super Nintendo Mario on the little 7 inch TV in the dark on the way to the Current River. I remember setting the tables up in the back and playing cards by map light for hours with Brian, Jill and Eric while Mom and Dad (both sans desperately needed glasses) tried in vain to read the road signs and maps that would get us to our next campsite at around midnight that night. I remember the night Dad almost crashed it into a herd of cattle late at night in Kansas in search of yet another illusive campground. I remember it breaking down on Mom and Jill and I as we went shopping for the food for Eric and Kari's rehearsal dinner. I remember climbing in and out of it at the ski slopes in Winter Park and Dad wrestling around in the engine to get the air filter off so that it could handle the altitude a little better. As a matter of fact the last time it ferried us around on a vacation Dad spent at least one evening at our campsite in Mesa Verde, Colorado wrestling around in the engine to fix something. That van has taken us all over the United States. It has hauled wedding dresses and lumber, exersaucers and ladders. I can't even count the number of times that I have drawn the shades so that I could change clothes in the back on the way to some function or another and I think most of us have slept in it overnight at one time or another. It has been a very usefull vehicle.

The kids love it. They think there is nothing cooler than having a couch in your car...espcially one that you can turn in to a bed any time you get tired. They love to sit back there. Cainan announced yesterday that he plans to drive a van himself when he gets old enough. He is really impressed by it's size. He keeps pointing out that our whole family could ride in it and still have room for his cousin Callah, too. Of course, it has the exact same seating capacity (if you go by number of seatbelts) as our Trailblazer but it's got us beat on floor space. Ryker and Cainan like to "surf" in the middle aisle as we drive up our long lane. They also like to be thrown up out of their seats as we go over the speed bumps in front of the school. They think its fun that the map lights flash on and off when we hit a bump and they are so impressed that it has both cup holders and trashcans (ashtrays) for everyone. They're a little disappointed that the TV bit the dust a long time ago but they don't mind that the van rattles and squeaks and the rear speakers just static.

Me neither. It's been nice being back in the old van. My sister and I should have given it a name. I wonder why we didn't? It sounds like something goofy we would do...probably while on a long trip to Utah or somewhere after Dad had banned singing and before we started playing Skip-Bo.

### Out of My Mind

You know how your mind works quicker than you can imagine? It seems like sometimes in a split second you can have hundreds of thoughts whiz by, grab the one you want and then voice it with almost no effort at all. When asked a question by a familiar looking stranger you can scroll through hundreds of faces in your mind, determine the person's first name, where you know them from and the answer to the question plus an interesting comment all in about the time it takes to blink. (On a good day, that is.) Anyway, I recently had one of those experiences where my mind was whirling through possibilities in the blink of an eye.

I met my sister at the Mills Mall for a day of shopping. When we finished I loaded up the packages and the kids and drove home. I then unloaded the kids, talked to Brian for a little bit and then went back out to get the packages. When I stepped into the driveway I was shocked to see that the passenger side of my car had a dent in it. On further inspection I noticed that there was white paint smeared in the dent and the front bumper was cracked down the middle and hanging down almost to the ground on the passenger side of the vehicle.

My first thought was, "Who came in our driveway and hit our car???!!!" Then, "Oh no, did I hit someone and I don't remember it?" And finally, "Somebody hit my car while it was parked at the mall and I didn't even notice!!" Unless I am having out of body experiences the latter must be true, but the funny thing is that I had all of those thoughts in about the span of time it takes for me to type a single "e". How is it that I can run through unlikely scenarios at the speed of light but it took me 5 minutes this morning to figure out if "possible" has one "s" in Spanish and in English or just in Spanish? Then Cainan asked me how many days until Christmas and it took me another 3 minutes to calculate that after wondering whether November had 30 or 31 days.
Maybe it is one of those things that doesn't work if you are really trying, maybe it has to be...what is the word, you know, it is kind of like spontaneous, but it is describing your muscles and stuff...oh yeah, involuntary.

Harry Potter

Zoo Keeper

Monkey

## Thursday, October 25, 2007

### Haunted House

I often complain to Brian that since Ryker started school I don’t feel like I have much time with him. It is especially rare to have time alone with him, without Cainan or Kinley. It is hard to go from being together all 12 waking hours to just being together for the last 4 waking hours. I do his reading assignments with him and his piano practice but that is about all we have time for between church responsibilities and his playing with Cainan. Brian tries to find ways for us to be together. He’ll send us to the store alone or on a special errand, which is really nice. But his most recent idea was that I should take Ryker to the local Jaycee’s Haunted House.

I was not fond of the idea. I don’t particularily like haunted houses, especially not when I am supposed to be the big brave adult in the situation. If I have Brian with me and I can be the one that is scared and clinging to him with my eyes closed they aren’t that bad. Brian assured me that since it was just the measly Jaycee’s it couldn’t be too scary. It would be fun. So I wasn’t going to mention the idea to Ryker and just let it drop. No such luck. Brian told Ryker about it and he was so excited. He really wanted to go. So last Saturday night we headed out there. Brian called us on the way and was teasing Ryker about being too scared to eat supper when we got home. To which Ryker’s response was, “Bring it on!”

It was a little bit chilly and we had to stand in line for 30 or 45 minutes outside. Apparently they were only taking in 2-3 people at a time so the line was moving very slowly. We struck up a conversation with the people behind us. It was a man and his 13 or 14 year old son. They were irritated about the slow moving line so I told them that they could go in with us if they wanted to. They agreed. So finally we went into the pitch black fortress; Ryker first, then me, then the boy and then the man. The guide asked Ryker to hold on to her arm as she led us through the maze of cardboard box walls. It all started out harmlessly enough. We walked through rooms with dead bodies lying on slabs and saw prisoners in an insane asylum moaning. But then it started to get a little scary.

Thank goodness for the man behind us. Scary people started coming out of dark corners and chasing our group, but the man in back caught most of that and Ryker and I didn’t really see it. Then we came to a very narrow passage and the guide told us to be sure and stay to the right. I, in all my wisdom, scooted as far to the left of the passage as I could. I was not about to let someone grab my feet. My mistake. A chainsaw started up right beside my ear and blew my hair into a giant tangled mess as I screamed and practically trampled my son in my attempts to get away. It was at this pointed that Ryker started saying that he didn’t like it and wanted to get out. I tried to laugh it all off and make fun of the guys in dorky costumes, but I don’t think it worked very well. I even pointed out the fact that our guide had made two cell phone calls and yelled out things like ‘Hey Dave, it’s 8:30!’ as she led us through the maze. Ryker just continued to hold tight to the guide’s arm with one hand and cover his ears with his shoulder and his other hand. I don’t know if he kept his eyes opened or closed.

Well, to make a long story short we walked through a graveyard** and some kind of alien hospital room where a zombie tried to get our blood (which interestingly was the part that terrified Ryker the most). At the very end we had to crawl through a tunnel about the size of a refrigerator box laying on its side. Of course it had a couple of corners in it that you couldn’t see around and Ryker made me go first. I went, but I knew that something was going to be waiting for me around that first corner. Sure enough some kind of zombie guy came crawling toward us. I tried to back up but the guys behind me were staying firm. The undead man retreated so I continued to inch my way forward through the tunnel until the guy behind me said, “Hey, you’re leaving your boy behind.” Apparently, in fright Ryker had crawled backwards past both of those guys and was still cowering in the tunnel. I couldn’t turn around in there so the three of us coaxed him into crawling forward up to where I was.

We finally made it out into the fresh night air and Ryker said, “I am never doing that again! Why did Daddy make us do that?” I was thinking the same thing. The night ended OK because they also had a fun house that was shaped like a pirate ship. We went through that and Ryker felt a little better after laughing at himself in the silly mirrors. Brian felt really bad when we got home and told him what happened, but now he tries to put a positive spin on it and say that Ryker and I built priceless memories that night, blah, blah, blah. I guess it is one experience that we will always share and hopefully never repeat.

So in retribution I publish the following picture for all of the cyber world to see.

**On a side note I was once again reminded of how old I am, even in the midst of a haunted house. When we walked through the graveyard the guide told us to make a conga line and hold on to the waist of the person in front of us so that we wouldn’t wander off the path and step into any graves. I heard the 13 year old boy behind me whisper, “You do it Dad.”

### Spelling Words

Every Thursday in 2nd grade there is a spelling test. There are 10 regular words (i.e. wore, shore, short, learn, bare, care, corn) and 6 bonus words (i.e. different, president, leaned, promise). We study every Thursday morning as we eat breakfast and it has obviously paid off because at the end of the first quarter Ryker had 103% in Spelling. But that is just the score for the words he was tested over. Ryker studies a slightly different set of spelling words than the rest of the kids in the class.

For some reason Cainan loves the whole idea of spelling, so he challenges Ryker with his own special spelling list. We have to take turns quizzing Ryker. I give him the words off of the list and Cainan gives him whatever comes to mind, usually objects he sees around the house. So, Ryker can also spell candle, doorknob, light bulb (or light bob as Cainan says), iced tea, cereal, stop sign, milk, Honey Combs and stove. If Cainan ever comes up with something that Ryker has no idea how to spell, like refrigerator, Ryker usually suggests an alternate word, like tree. Cainan usually goes along with that. Of course Cainan has no idea if he gets the words right or not but he sure loves the testing process and Ryker gets a little extra brain workout. It’s a win win situation.

## Monday, October 15, 2007

### Tone Deaf

I am not a good singer. The only difference between me and those people that everyone laughs at in the first few episodes of American Idol is that I know I’m not a good singer and they don’t. I know my limitations. I can carry a tune and blend in with a choir without causing the audience to run in terror, but a soloist I am not. (I do feel compelled to point out that I was selected as a soloist for one song when I traveled with a choir after my senior year of high school. We toured Panama for three weeks and I sang my solo numerous times. I will admit that I was most likely chosen because I was the best Spanish speaker, not the best soprano.)

Anyway, I have always tried to avoid singing when anyone else will hear me. When my kids were born I never sang to them in the hospital or even at home unless it was just the two of us in a dark room. I don’t sing along to the radio if other adults are in the car, and if I want to tell someone about a cool song I have heard I just quote the lyrics like a poem instead of trying to sing the melody. (I even sit on the front row at church so no one is subjected to my voice in their ear during worship.) So really, my kids are the only ones that know what my real singing voice sounds like. They’ve never seemed to mind and often they sing along with me. We belt out tunes from WIBI or a VeggieTales CD in the car. We sing along with the theme songs to our favorite TV shows and as Ryker practices the piano we join in verbally.

A few days ago as we were traveling to Salem I was singing along to one of my favorite songs on WIBI when Cainan piped up from the backseat. He said, “That sounds just like that fish on Uncle Tom’s wall, the one that sings when you push the button.” Confused, I said, “What does?” He matter-of-factly replied, “Your singing.” Now, as I’ve previously stated, I am well aware that I am not a great singer, but I find being compared to Billy the Big Mouth Bass a tad insulting!

## Wednesday, October 3, 2007

### Just Joking

I can remember coming home from school and telling my dad this great new joke I had just heard. His response was always same, “Oh, Crystal, they were telling that joke when I was in (fill-in-the-grade).” Of course it was true. Kids have been telling the same versions of the same old jokes for decades now. And, as things always do, these jokes have come full circle. Tonight Ryker wanted to tell me two jokes he just learned. The first one wasn’t really a joke unless you had actually seen the picture where the little boy is looking at a baseball bat when he says, “I didn’t know bats could fly.” Once Ryker explained this to me I gave the mandatory chuckle and said, “Well, did you ever see a housefly?” He said, “No, why?” I had to explain that my joke was referring to the insect not the building, at which point he gave the mandatory chuckle and proceeded to tell his second joke.
R: I bet I can make you say the word ‘brown’.
C: OK.
R: What are the colors of the flag?
C: Red, white and blue.
R: I told you I could make you say blue.
(I realize that most of you reading this, except maybe Jill, sorry, have already guessed the punch line and remaining dialogue, but I did not. I simply assumed that he had the joke messed up…not that he isn’t a great joke teller as you can see from the previous example.)
C: No you didn’t.
R: Yes I did.
C: You said you would make me say brown.
R: (fits of laughter)
C: Oh, I get it. (fits of laughter) That was a good one!!
The sad part is that they probably were telling that joke 25 years ago (yikes!) when I was in 2nd grade and I probably fell for it then too.

## Tuesday, October 2, 2007

### Kinley's Hair

I never thought that I would be disappointed that one of my kids didn’t inherit my cowlick. Both the boys have it and Ryker’s is especially large and unruly, but Kinley doesn’t seem to have even the slightest sign of it. Her hair lays flat down on her head and, now that I am growing out her bangs, right in her eyes. If only she had a little cowlick just to part her bangs and hold them up out of her eyes. Since my genes haven’t helped her out any and Kinley now knows how to take out barrettes and headbands, I have resorted to “the Pebbles”, you know that pony tail right on top of the head that sticks straight up in the air. I leave out the bone, but otherwise it looks just like it. Not that I’m complaining. I’ve been waiting a long time to have a little girl whose hair I could fix, so I’m actually in hog heaven. Oh well, at least that cowlick is one less thing she’ll be able to complain about as she does her hair throughout her teenage years.

## Thursday, September 27, 2007

### Ahoy, Mateys!

We went outside of the box for Cainan’s birthday this year, but only just a little bit. Every year so far he has had a pool party at Granny’s house for his birthday but this year he wanted to have a pirate party so I thought that the beach was a more appropriate setting. We met everyone at the beach at Lake Carlyle where we grilled hot dogs, swam, and hunted for buried treasure. It was a really fun day.
Granny and Grandad got Cainan a treasure chest full of all the latest accessories for the stylish pirate and he sported his new look for the remainder of that day and the next, including Ryker’s ball game that night where the concessionaire said, “One piece of gum for the pirate!” He was so cute and he had an absolutely fabulous time playing pirates with all of his cousins. Success!!

## Friday, September 21, 2007

### Cainan on Seasons

Hey, Mommy? What comes after summer? (Fall) Oh good. That's my favorite one! (Why?) Because that's when I get to ride on the combine with Grandad.

### Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby!

Kinley turned one on July 24th. We celebrated jointly with Cainan at the beach at the lake over the weekend, but on her actual birthday we gave her her very own special little birthday cake. At first she wouldn’t touch it, she would just lean down and try to lick or bite off pieces of the icing. After she realized how delicious it was she really started to dig into it and by the end she had thoroughly smeared herself with icing.

She got quite a few clothes and some new toys, but as far as we can tell her two favorite presents have been her shopping cart and her yellow CareBear. She is such a girly girl (thank goodness). She loves to drive around her shopping cart then take the bear out and give him a kiss and put him back in and continue on her way.

It is hard to believe that my baby is one year old already. It seems like just yesterday that she was born (in an un-air conditioned hospital with no anesthesia and no doctor after only 17mins. of labor). This first year has been unbelievably fun with her and we all enjoy having a little girl around sooooo much.

## Thursday, September 20, 2007

### I'm Baaaaack!

Wow, I didn't realize that it has been almot 2 months since I have posted anything. August was a really busy month and September has just kind of been slipping away from me. I promise details and pictures on our vacation and the kid's birthday parties soon. Sorry to all of you who have been checking here and finding nothing new for the past two months.

### 1957?

Last Monday was a normal day in most ways. Ryker and Brian went to school and Cainan, Kinley and I played a little, cleaned house a little, and napped a little. Then Brian brought Ryker home and went back in to teach one of his night classes. That is when things got strange. An hour later I was busy cooking supper. I had a pot roast with potatoes and carrots in the crockpot and homemade yeast rolls in the oven. Kinley was toddling around the kitchen and living room playing quietly and babbling to herself. The boys were in the backyard sword fighting with sticks with the neighbor kids and the sun was setting behind the trees. It was like we were suddenly transported back in time 50 years. I was even wearing an apron, for heaven’s sake. (No pearls or heels though.) It struck me that everything was so perfect and simple. Soon my hardworking husband would walk though the door with his briefcase (I had my doubts that the dog would bring him his slippers, but you never know) and we would all sit down to a lovely meal together and talk about our day. But have no fear, ten minutes later it was clear that it was all just a fantasy. After 4 or 5 times of removing Kinley from the DVD player where she was pushing buttons, the boys running upstairs to get lightsabers and Jedi robes to use in their fights, and answering 3 telemarketer calls it was pretty obvious we were rooted securely in the 21st century. But for just a moment I knew what it must have felt like for my Grandmas to look out their windows on a late summer afternoon a long time ago.

### If You Give a Baby a Patty

We have a set of 4 round cork coasters that sit on our end tables in the living room. We occasionally use them for their designated purpose but more often than not they are missing because the boys are using them. The coasters are usually playing the vital role of Crabby Patties. The boys love to get spatulas out of the kitchen, use the ottoman as a grill, and cook their patties. They flip them and serve them up while quoting lines from their favorite SpongeBob episodes. Recently I realized that Kinley is getting in on the act too. I was busy in the office when I heard Cainan yelling, “She’s got the patties, she’s got the patties.” I ran in to the living room to find Kinley taking a big bite (literally) out of the cork coaster and smiling like she had just cured cancer. He did cook it and serve it to her so what did he expect?

This summer the kids got the game Cranium Kadoo and they just love it. It is a really fun kid version of the original Cranium. One of their favorite parts of the game is using the modeling clay to make objects that the other person must guess. The last time we played Cainan drew the Sculptorades card and I read the clue aloud to him, “baseball”. (Ok, I admit it actually said “baseball cap” but I didn’t think he could make that.) So we started the timer and I whispered to Cainan that he should roll the clay into a ball. The problem was that the clay was so hard (it was a hand-me-down game) that he could barely mold it. Finally he got it into a ball and held it out to show Ryker. Of course there are any number of things that can be represented by a slightly irregular sphere of hard purple modeling clay so Ryker didn’t even come close to guessing that it was a baseball. I told Cainan he would have to act out what you do with a baseball to give Ryker an extra clue. From approx. 20 inches away he rares back and throws the “baseball” as hard as he can. It hits Ryker right between the eyes and he falls back onto the floor. I was too busy laughing to make sure that he was OK, but he soon sat back up and rubbing his head made his guess, “Goliath?”

## Saturday, July 28, 2007

### What's In a Name?

Everything!!

Tonight Cainan asked Brian to read "Walk, Rabbit, Walk" to him for his bedtime story. He loves that one because it was one of Brian's favorites when he was a little boy. Cainan then reminded Brian that he was a little boy a long time ago. Brian agreed and Cainan turned to me. He said, "You were a little boy just a short time ago." "Actually I was a little girl a very short time ago," I replied. He then asked, "What did we name you when you were a little girl?" I reminded him that Grandad and Granny named me 'Crystal'. As he gave me my good night hug he said, "They named you Crystal but now your name is Mommy."

### The Wedding

Brian and I have been attending First Christian Church in Greenville since 1995, but we just went to our first wedding there. When we moved there all of the friends we made were already married so we weren’t really ever invited to any weddings. Now though, Brian’s students and kids that we have watched grow up are starting to get married so we are getting invited to a few. We enjoyed the wedding and are very happy for Corey and Alaina. During the ceremony Cainan turned to me and said, “Do you think you’ll ever get married, Mommy?” I explained that I had gotten married a long time ago before he was born. That satisfied him and he went back to playing in the pew.

But that really isn’t the story I’m telling today. You see we have had a very hectic time recently and I did not have a gift for the happy couple. I sent Brian out to Value City between the wedding and reception to pick up something. We usually get all newlyweds a set of lawn chairs…I don’t know why, they’re just useful. Anyway, Brian comes back and tells me that Value City didn’t have any lawn chairs so he got them a lamp. Yes, you read correctly…a lamp. He then goes on to describe it as “silver with 3 white globes coming out of the top”. By this point it was too late to worry about it so I just let it go. Then he tells me that he bought some wrapping paper for it because they didn’t have any gift bags big enough. We were already in the reception and I was on my way to Saturday night service to run the power point so I found some tape and scissors for him and he went out to the car to wrap it. (FYI: Brian is a horrible wrapper.) I pretty much forgot about it after that until a few hours later when I was unloading the car and found the roll of wrapping paper. This is a small sample:
He claims it was in the ‘wedding section’. So Corey and Alaina, this is my apology to you. Sorry that we got you some sort of crazy lamp wrapped in poodle paper by a science nerd. Please take it back!!!!

### Ryker, on age

One day as he was trying to change the batteries in one of his toys Ryker said, “Do you think I’m old enough to use a screwdriver now?” When I replied affirmatively he said, “Wow, seven is a great age…even though it is an odd number. On my birthday I’ll be eight and you know what that means don’t you? NO MORE CARSEAT!!”

### Nuts and Seeds

My boys do not like nuts, never have, probably because their father doesn’t like nuts…except for pecans, which he says don’t count. So I was surprised that they were all excited about going to the restaurant where their Aunt Alyssa works. She had been telling them about all of the free peanuts and that you can just throw the shells on the floor. They couldn’t wait to go. They’ve never eaten a peanut in their lives so I wasn’t sure what the attraction was, but oh well. Once we got to our table I suddenly understood. Cainan grabbed a whole handful of peanuts from the bucket and threw them back over his shoulder. They clattered to the floor, scattering everywhere, and landed on the diners behind us. When I jumped up to scold him he said, “But Alyssa said you can throw them on the floor!”

Sunflower seeds were another new one for Cainan. He had never tried them before but when his little friend, Daniel, had some at the baseball game Cainan decided to give them a shot. Next thing I know Daniel’s mom is laughing and trying to explain to Cainan that he is supposed to spit the hulls out. He was chewing them up, swallowing them whole…and enjoying them very much.

## Tuesday, July 3, 2007

### A Momentous Occasion

We moved into our house on March 1, 2002. Since that time we have been finishing little bits and pieces that we didn’t have time to do before with moved in. Alas, there are still a lot of things that need to be done, but we never seem to make time to do them and we are beginning not to care. That’s dangerous. But every once in a while we get so fed up with it that we spring in to action and work like crazy to get something done. (Well, let me rephrase that…every once in a while I get so fed up with it)

Anyway, just such an event occurred recently. I just couldn’t stand our garage any more. It was cluttered and dirty and smelly and, since we have never put in the sidewalks to the front or back doors, it is the only way for people to enter our house. I started cleaning and Brian soon joined in. It took us three full days but we finally accomplished something that had never been done in the history of this house…

We got both cars in the garage at the same time!!! Not to mention the bikes, toys, lawn mower, two garden tillers, and one kid sized John Deere Gator.

It was truly a momentous occasion that we had to document…because it may not last.

### Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

We have always recycled aluminum cans. But the past two years in school Ryker has learned a lot about recycling and is very interested in it. So now it is his job to collect the cans from the kitchen, crush them, and store them until we can take them to the recycling center. He then gets the money for the cans. Once my grandpa got wind of this he started giving him all of his cans too and then Aunt Susan and Uncle David joined in. Needless to say he has been making a pretty penny considering that they pay 65 cents for every pound of aluminum.

Cainan has become jealous of Ryker’s new found cash cow ($12.90 at the last drop off). So when we were cleaning out the garage we found 4 old batteries that needed to be disposed of. Brian told Cainan he could help him take them to the recycling center and then keep the money. Cainan was thrilled. Unfortunately they only pay 4 cents a pound for lead so Cainan only came home with$4.00. He didn’t seem to mind at all. Later that night when he had graciously shared part of his treat with Ryker, he yelled out, “Happy straw for the rich man!”

### A Dog's Life

Ryker and Cainan are the kings of make believe. They can play with a rock and two sticks and be totally happy (until they start bickering with each other over which stick gets to win the sword fight, that is.) They play a variety of make believe scenarios but one they continually come back to is being dogs. Every time they play Ryker is a dog named “Scout” and Cainan is his faithful companion “Bitty Dog”. They chase each other around on all fours and wrestle around in their dog house (a rickety contraption of blankets draped over chairs which Kinley continually knocks down). They speak only in barks, woofs, and yips but kindly translate into English for each other.

Sometimes one of them will be a human, “the petter”, while the other one is the dog. Of course, on these occasions the dog must wear a leash. The dog puts the loop end of the real dog leash around his arm (thankfully both of their heads are too big to get it around their necks or I’m sure they would) while the petter holds onto the clip end. Recently Ryker was taking Bitty Dog for a walk. As they started across the living room Ryker commanded Bitty Dog to stop and he ran into the other room to get something. When he returned he had the end of a gray plastic Indian tomahawk in his mouth. When we asked him what he was doing he said, in his best British accent, “I forgot my pipe. Come Bitty Dog.”

Apparently they had just watched “101 Dalmatians” and were reenacting the scene where Roger takes Pongo to the park. I forgot that cartoon characters used to smoke.

### Jesus Fingers

While we are on the subject of make believe….

While folding laundry recently I heard Ryker and Cainan playing harmoniously in my bedroom. Since it was such a rare occasion, no fighting, whining, or tattling yet, I listened closely. I could tell that they were playing with their pirate ships because they kept calling each other “Cap” and “Matey” and yelling at various others to “Walk the plank!” But then I heard something that didn’t seem to fit. Cainan said, “Pretend my fingers are Jesus.” Of course, I had to go investigate. I found that the pirate ship was going over a water fall and the Jesus fingers were walking across the water to save them. They do listen in Sunday School after all.

### Big Girl

Brian and I both just love this picture of Kinley. She is so cute sitting up on that little rocking chair all by herself with her hair all laying down…for once. She looks so grown up, though. I can’t believe she is almost one year old already.

### What's Right with the World

In mid-June I attended the Arts Conference at Willow Creek in Barrington (suburban Chicago), IL. The theme for the event was “Hallelujah, What’s Right with the World.” It was an amazing experience. Envisioning a church service that takes place in that kind of atmosphere was difficult at first, but once I realized how well organized they were and how friendly, knowledgeable and helpful the volunteers were it was easy to see how they can accomplish such a large undertaking several times a week. (The picture above is a view of their stage in their sanctuary. Remind anyone of home? Didn’t think so.)

I learned so much! Not only did I get to hear speakers like Donald Miller and Erwan McManus, but I also went to 4 different sessions taught by the head drama director from Willow Creek. I came away with a lot of good ideas for how to form, maintain, and minister to my core drama group and a lot more confidence to audition and direct the members of the group in order to insure that our performances are as high quality as possible. The main thing I came away with was the idea that “drama asks the question that the sermon will answer”. Drama should be a vehicle to prepare the congregation for the message they are about to hear. I’m excited to start working with my drama group again and try to implement some of my new ideas.

It was also really interesting to see some samples of worship sets from other churches. I saw a multicultural presentation of dance (including break dancing), song, spoken word, rap, drama, and saxophone solo from a church in L.A. Very interesting! Not something we will ever use in Greenville, but interesting. The film festival was also a highlight. To see what churches are doing with video editing, etc. was truly amazing. We really got inspired to start making some of our own videos. We are starting next week with a Sunday School promo that involves people diving into a swimming pool fully clothed. We’ll see how it goes.

Overall it was a great time of fellowship with my team, good food, and lots and lots of information. It was definitely one of the things that is right with the world.

## Monday, June 11, 2007

### Celebration

We are all celebrating around here because Ryker was saved on May 19th and baptized on May 27th. Lots of our family was there with us to share in the special event. It was a great day! We are so proud of Ryker and his decision to follow Christ.

### Close Encounters

On his way to the neighbor's house to deliver an egg, Ryker came upon a deer. It was about 20 feet from him at the edge of the woods at the back of the yard. Ryker was so excited. He had to tell everyone he saw about it over the next few days. He even wanted to reenact the encounter for me. So we started off across the back yard. He positioned me where he was standing and he walked over to where the deer had been. Suddenly he jumped up and started high stepping it across the yard yelling, "Snake. Snake. Snake!" Pretending to be brave and fearless I suggested we go look at it. Neither one of the kids or the dog took me up on it but I marched over to take a look. It was a really big black snake and Ryker had practically been standing right on it. I said, "Wow. That is a big one. No wonder it scared you." Ryker replied, "Yeah, I"m still shaking. I feel just like a kid herpetolgist."

## Wednesday, May 9, 2007

### Time Warp

I was recently transported 3 years into the past. I heard Ryker’s little 3 year old voice say, “Mommy, she’s ‘bodering’ me. She’s trying to get my trains!” When I turned to look of course it wasn’t Ryker whining at me. There was Cainan trying to play with his Thomas trains on the couch and Kinley grabbing and slobbering on every one within reach. It was so funny to hear history repeating itself and even mispronouncing “bothering” the same way. I laughed and grabbed the camera. Ever since Kinley started crawling and pulling up it has been a challenge for Cainan to keep his toys out of her reach. Some days he is feeling benevolent but he usually tries the old bait and switch and gets his things back, although thoroughly soaked. Cainan was finally getting paid back for all of the havoc he wreaked on Ryker. Fortunately for Kinley she won’t ever experience the same thing, not having any younger siblings, but I’m sure the dog will chew up enough of her stuff that she’ll get a taste of it anyway.

### Up and Down

We have had a treadmill for 4 years. We’ve used it off an on throughout that time but we started using it seriously, almost nightly, last October. I have never really liked it…mostly because I can walk nearly as far on it as I can outdoors. My outdoor route through town is 3 miles and I do it in just under an hour. But inside on the treadmill I can only make it a mile before I am totally pooped and have to stop. The reason for this big discrepancy is the incline.

Our treadmill has the incline feature which allows us to increase the difficulty of our walks. Unfortunately the mechanism required to perform this task is located under the front of the machine and therefore makes it always at somewhat of an incline. So I am continually walking uphill. It is so irritating not to be able to walk on a flat surface. But I have been pushing the crazy down button for four years now and it won’t get any flatter.

That is until a couple of weeks ago…
Brian was walking one night when he suddenly jumped off and told me to get on. I complied and was shocked to find that the walking surface was totally flat!! “How did you do that”, I asked, “I’ve been pushing that stupid down arrow forever and it has never worked.” He replied, “Did you ever try pushing the up arrow?” That’s right. Down is up and up is down, apparently.

It seems that I was right about the mechanism under the front of the machine causing the incline, but the manufacturers anticipated this and therefore engineered the back of the machine to adjust up and down to change the incline of the walking surface to the desired level. So the “UP” button doesn’t increase the incline (as anyone with half a brain would suspect) but rather it raises the back of the machine to make it more level with the front.
So now I can top my outdoor walking pace because I’ve got a nice level surface and there are no uneven sidewalks or zooming cars to watch out for.

So the bad news is it took us 4 years to figure out how to work our treadmill. The good news is that we’ve been walking at the maximum incline the whole time…because I just couldn’t give up on that “DOWN” button. Was this clearly spelled out in the Owner’s Manual? Probably. But hey, we wouldn’t have these killer calves if we would have read the directions, now would we?

## Tuesday, April 24, 2007

### The End of War and Peace

Well it is officially over. I finally finished all 1146 pages of War and Peace. If you've been reading this blog for a while you know why I read it...to counteract the effects of "mommy brain". I think it really accomplished my goal. I enjoyed the book a lot and would recommend it to anyone who has three months to devote to reading one book. Actually, now that it is over I kind of miss it. In those times during the day when I just have to sit down for a few minutes because my back is hurting I automatically think, "I'll just read a little and see what Natasha and Marya are doing", but they are finished doing everything Tolstoy had for them to do so they have gone. It isn't like I don't have any other books to read. I've had two in queue for a month or more now. But there is still so much to digest and think about from War and Peace that I don't want to cloud my mind with other story lines just yet.

I had heard that War and Peace really wasn't a novel in the strictest sense but I didn't really understand what that meant. After reading it I can see that while there are fictional characters with typical struggles involving life, love, and loss, the book is also a history of Russia, particularly the period from 1799 to 1813. On top of that Tolstoy also uses his book to expound on his views of historians and their continual misrepresentation of actual fact based on their biased presuppositions. For example he says,

" The combination of causes of phenomena is beyond the grasp of the human intellect. But the impulse to seek causes is innate in the soul of man. And the human intellect, with no inkling of the immense variety and complexity of circumstances conditioning a phenomenon, any one of which may be separately conceived of as the cause of it, snatches at the first and most easily understood approximation, and says here is the cause."

He is referring to the historian's tendency to attribute military successes, defeats and all movements in general to the commands of the genius in charge...in this case Napoleon, when in fact the whole course of human events, guided by the will of God, have determined that these events will happen and the desires of one man have very little effect on the turn of events at all. He sites examples over and over again of how the army never reached their assigned places or didn't execute the ordered commands and yet won the battle. He sites that the retreat of the Russians deeper into the Russian countryside was seen as a series of horrible losses at the hands of the French...and yet it was the one move that lead to the eventual defeat of Napoleon and loss of hundreds of thousands of his troops. For when the French, winning battle after battle pursued the fleeing Russians month after month they were ensuring the fact that they would be trapped in Russia that winter with no provisions and therefore destined for defeat and great loss of life. Did Napoleon, in his infinite wisdom, plan to have his troops abandoned in the frozen wasteland of a Russian winter? Did Tsar Alexander order his generals to lose all battles and retreat before the French into the heart of Russian where the opposition could be frozen to death instead of shot with a musket? No, but the whole course of events, actually the individual actions of every man in each army and even each peasant at home, contributed to the ultimate result.

Tolstoy does a lot of teaching about historical perspective but he also delves into the subject of spirituality quite often in the book...especially through the character "Pierre". Pierre is a Russian Count that ends up as a prisoner of war with the French as they attempt to escape Russia in the winter of 1812. Pierre was clearly the seeker in the book and it was very satisfying when he found what he had been searching for. Of course it occurred, as it very often does in our own lives, only after he had experienced great suffering. Tolstoy described his enlightenment in this way.

"He had learned that just as there is no position in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so too there is no position in which he need be unhappy and in bondage. He had found out that there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom, and that that limit is very soon reached..."

"He [Pierre] had armed himself with the telescope of intellect, and gazed far away into the distance, where that petty, everyday world, hidden in the mists of distance, had seemed to him great and infinite, simply because it was not clearly seen. Now he had learnt to see the great, the eternal, and the infinite in everything....to revel in its contemplation, he flung aside the telescope through which he had hitherto been gazing over men's heads, and looked joyfully at the ever-changing, ever grand, unfathomable, and infinite life around him."

I find that so true. We arm ourselves with intelligence and so called wisdom and begin searching for meaning and significance and purpose in great and mysterious things when in reality the eternal and infinite is in front of us everyday in our children, in nature, in us. But it is just too simple to look only past our own noses and so we pick up the telescope again and keep searching. Pierre also learned a valuable lesson about love while he was imprisoned...one that I am still working on myself.

"Pierre's madness showed itself in his not waiting, as in old days, for those personal grounds, which he had called good qualities in people, in order to love them; but as love was brimming over in his heart he loved men without cause, and so never failed to discover incontestable reasons that made them worth loving."

I wish I could do that.

Tolstoy also uses actual historical fact to give insight into human nature and it's flaws. As the war ended the Russian general in charge, Kutuzov, could not convince the other generals, or the Tsar, that is was pointless to continue to pursue and fight a retreating, starving, freezing, French army. They were so excited to be expelling Napoleon from their borders that they couldn't resist the urge to stab him in the back as he ran away. They couldn't see that their men would also be killed in the needless skirmishes and would be subjected to marching through, and sleeping in, the same horrible freezing conditions that the French soldiers were experiencing. I really liked the reason's Tolstoy gave for Kutuzov's ineffectuality (Is that a word? Spell check says it isn't...but you get my drift).

"And everything he [Kutuzov] said--for instance, that they must wait for provisions, or that the men had no boots--all was so simple; while everything they proposed was so complicated and so clever, that it was obvious to them that he was stupid and in his dotage, while they were military officers of genius, without authority to take the lead."

It's back to the telescope again. The more complicated and intricate a plan or strategy the more genius it must be. The simple and straightforward approach obviously shows a lack of creativity and deep thinking. Once again I am guilty of the same thoughts myself occasionally. The grander the plan the more I enjoy it...despite it's flaws and unnecessary hardships.

Well, I won't review the entire book for you but it was a very good read and I do recommend it. It will definitely make you think. It really gave me a desire to learn more about the historic topics covered (not enough to research them or anything but enough to watch a History Channel special about them). It also gave me some new spiritual perspectives, which I wasn't expecting at all. I end with one of the simplest, and yet truest, statements of the book.

"For us, with the rule of right and wrong given us by Christ , there is nothing for which we have no standard. And there is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth."

And that, my friends, is the end!