Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Snow Day

Yesterday as we foggily entered the living room upon awakening, we all discovered that it had snowed again. Excitedly, Natta asked if we could all go play in the snow. Fleeting thoughts of Seth's runny nose and my own nagging headache were quickly shoved aside and I assured her that, yes, of course we could go play in it. On the table a large plastic shopping bag held the fruits of Mama Terry's recent trip to Tri-State Outfitters in the form of snowpants, gloves and hats. She had also bought the kids little bitty snowboots so we had all the clothing we needed to go out and enjoy the snow.

Natta was first. Wrestling her into socks, snowpants, mittens, coat and hat took what seemed like half an hour but was in reality about five minutes. When I finished with her, she waddled rather than walked, reminiscent of the little brother in A Christmas Story. I opened the door for her and off she went, navigating the front steps and down into glistening white cold powder.

a super cute little girl in pink coat and purple hat

Next I tackled Seth. At the best of times, he whines when we put his coat on so it was with trepidation I approached him bearing snowpants and boots. To my relief he didn't complain and at last he was bundled within an inch of his life. I threw my own boots and a ski jacket over my pajamas and we hurried outside.

A stiff breeze ruffled my hair, making me envy my children in their fleece hats. I set Seth in the snow. Barely able to move in his thick clothing, he stood unaided for a full 30 seconds before he realized that it wasn't Mommy propping him up but his snowboots. Plopping down on his little rump, he began to cry.

I stood him up again and he squinted through the nippy air at his sister who was busily throwing snow into the air.

a super cute little boy in blue fuzzy hat

Holding Seth's hands we walked around the front yard, making footprints in the freshly fallen snow. I told Natta how to make a snow angel so she busily laid in a pristine patch of white and wriggled until she had made a passable angel. I set both kids together and snapped a quick picture, Seth begging to be lifted again.

Two super cute kids sitting in the snow

Finally I sat on the front steps and held Sethie on my lap while Natta retrieved her sand truck and began hauling loads of snow around the yard. When she discovered that it did not run smoothly in the deeper snow, she drove it on the shoveled walk, pretending that it was the "road".

A super cute little pink and purple girlie with a plastic dump truck

All too soon it was time to go back in the house. Reversing the dressing process took much less time and soon we were back down to normal clothes, with the snowpants and gloves stacked in dripping piles on a chair.

One super cute little boy in the living room next to a pile of snow clothes

Sure that this was only one of many snow days, I smiled at the thought of my children in the months and years to come, building snowmen and snow forts, learning to ski and snowboard. To me, the snow has always been magical, a scenic transformation of breathtaking beauty. The roads and scraping of car windows seems a small price to pay for the glory of a glittering white countryside or the wonder of a child's first slide down an icy slope on a new Christmas sled. I sincerely hope that I do not become so jaded by life as to forget the magic of the snow. If today was any indication, my children will remind me if I ever forget!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Playing in the Snow





Restarurant style enchilada sauce

Ingredients:
# 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil or bacon drippings
# 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
# 1/3 cup flour
# 1 teaspoon ground oregano
# 1 tablespoon chili powder
# 1 small can tomato sauce
# 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, optional
# 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, optional
# 3 tablespoons brown sugar
# 3 1/2 cups water
# 3 chicken bouillon cubes
# 1 package brown gravy mix
# salt to taste

In a large saucepan heat oil and saute garlic, flour and oregano until golden. Add tomato sauce and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil and add chili powder, cayenne, brown sugar, white pepper and bouillon cubes. Stir until flour is dissolved. In remaining 3 cups cold water, stir brown gravy mix until it is dissolved. Add to saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add additional salt and chili powder if desired.

*********************************************

I have been looking for a recipe for this for a long time as cheese enchiladas are one of my favorite foods. The canned sauce is terrible, even the ones that say "restaurant style". Tonight, combining several recipes I found on the web and adapting them slightly I have come up with a sauce that tastes pretty close to what you get at restaurants, in my opinion. I'll probably keep tweaking it as I go, but so far, I'm pretty happy with it!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Mirror of Truth

Never have I been more aware of the ways in which I relate to God than when watching my daughter relate to myself. Like a mirror held in front of my heart, she has shown me a part of my relationship with my Father God that I previously ignored for the most part.

In the mornings when Natta gets out of bed, she has in her mind all of the things she needs to start her day. Since she was born she has received eight ounces of warm milk at the very beginning of her day and she not only expects it but demands it. Although I, her mother, knows what she needs and provides it every single morning, she still reminds me several times each day lest I forget or possibly not do it. I find this daily whining supremely irritating. I know what she needs. I may be a few minutes longer than she wants due to a younger brother who also has needs, but I have never, ever let her down.

This morning our pastor preached a sermon about following the will of God. Not in seeing sky-writing telling us where to move or what job to take but in being the person God wants us to be. He wants us to offer ourselves as a sacrifice and do the will of God rather than what is on our own agendas. Suddenly this point was driven home in my heart as God held the mirror of truth in front of me. The will of God for my life right now it to trust Him. That's it. I am supposed to trust Him and I have been doing a pretty poor job of it. Like my daughter I go to Him daily with panic in my voice demanding the things I need. Like her, I know He has provided these things in the past but there is a possibility that He will forget this time. I demand and remind and whine.

As a parent I am hurt by the lack of trust my daughter shows in me. I know she needs her milk and in my love I have every intention of giving it to her. I take excellent care of her every day, not only with her milk but with so many details she doesn't even know about. Yet she still approaches me with the fear that I will forget or choose not to give her what she needs. To my shame as I looked at this picture I saw my own face in the mirror. I have not been trusting God to meet my needs and the needs of my family. Because I have not seen the answer to my prayers, I immediately assume that he has forgotten or is choosing not to answer at all. I wonder if He doesn't love me or doesn't care about my life. I have always been such a control freak that trusting God when things don't follow my schedule (i.e. happen immediately) I get all stressed out.

Daily I have tried to teach my daughter to trust that I will provide for her needs. I work over and over on teaching her to ask politely, to be patient. I teach her to wait while I change Seth and fix his bottle. Then I fix her milk, the same milk I have fixed every morning. As the pastor spoke this morning, I heard my Father God's voice in my heart. Be patient. I know what you need. In fact, I know better than you do. Your job is to trust me. Stop whining and demanding and just be patient.

This morning I got one of those looks in the mirror, the one that shows your soul. I got a revelation of truth. And I realized that He is teaching me yet again to trust.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Grandpa Wally


Grandpa Wally's 87th birthday

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Squinting at the red blur that was the clock, I slipped my glasses on and watched the numbers come hazily into focus. 5:05. Ugh. I groaned and slid my feet out of my warm bed, padding down the hall. Seth was coughing and fussing. After a dose of pink medicine and a warm bottle he settled back down but I could not. For some reason my brain would not turn back off and I shivered in the dark bedroom for two more hours. At last when the fuzzy red blur morphed into 7:15 did I give up and get out of bed.

Yawning, Hubby and I got ready to go, dressing children, hunting down errant shoes and packing travel booster chairs. We drove down the quiet streets, stopping briefly at the store for bags of salad to contribute at the family gathering.

By 8:30 we were on the road. Natta was happy watching a DVD on my laptop and I had packed a bag full of toys to be doled out to Seth at half-hour intervals, as well as a spare bottle of milk. Hubby drove while, thanks to Dramamine, I avoided carsickness long enough to read a few chapters of our book aloud. Gradually the tired fuzziness in my brain subsided, due in part to a lovely Starbuck's white chocolate mocha that Hubby procured for me while in the grocery store.

The clock on the dashboard of the car read 11:47 as we arrived in Tri-Cities and found the house from memory. Having been there only once last Thanksgiving, I was impressed that we did it on the first try. The family engulfed us into its noisy warmth, showing the toys they had brought along for the kids. Hubby's four siblings, two with significant others, Hubby's parents, grandparents, a friend from China, his Aunt and cousin were all there, talking at the same time (except the Chinese guy, who looked about as overwhelmed as I felt). Our gregarious children gleefully entered right into the fun and noise. By 1:00 it was time to eat!

My Aunt-in-law (is that what you call her?) cooked a FEAST! We had deep fried turkey (I did not know there was such a thing) and brined turkey and smoked turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy. There was green salad and vinegar veggie salad and frog-eye tapioca salad and a veggie plate and a fruit plate and three kinds of rolls. We had corn cooked in cream, candied sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts with slivered almonds. There was pumpkin pie and apple pie and cherry pie made by Hubby's mother and sister from cherries picked right on their farm. WOW!

Unfortunately I had only gotten about 1/2 a serving when my baby realized it was two hours past nap time and he'd spent three hours in the car and he totally fell apart. So I wasn't tempted to pig out but didn't even get full. Oh well, I am not feeling guilty and the part I did have tasted wonderful! We sat around afterward and digested the food, talking and playing X-men video games. Natta proudly showed her violin prowess to admiring grandparents and great-grandparents, along with her sixteen-year-old uncle who has many years of violin playing under his belt. Seth napped in my arms for maybe 20 minutes then was ready to play some more. I worked successfully on keeping my eyes open so I could make sure the kids stayed out of mischief. Mindful of the long drive home, Hubby and I headed toward the door a little after 5:00. As expected, the family attempted to give us turkey sandwiches on our way out but, though I love turkey, I loathe turkey sandwiches (or turkey soup for that matter). This has always been somewhat of a sore point between me and my dad. I was glad he wasn't there to see me refuse the sandwiches yet again.

Blinking sandy-tired eyes, I drove much of the way home while hubby read and the kids took a nap. Halfway home, however, they woke up, discovering that they had been in the car immobilized by five-point harnesses over half of the waking hours that day. They both lifted up their voices and wept. Natta settled down but Seth continued for an hour and a half until we got home. By the time 8:45 rolled around and we were all in the house again, we were VERY thankful people. Isn't that what it is all about, after all, being thankful? *wink*

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sleeping Kids


It's my job

We moms earn our stripes, let me tell you! When I was little my mom used to tell me in moments of exasperation, "Because I'm the mom, that's why" or "It's my job, that's why." Later in high school when she'd complain about something she had to do, I'd snottily remind her that it was "her job" and after all of the years of telling me that, she couldn't argue.

What I didn't realize until I became a mom was that she had earned the right to say it. There are so many things that we moms do just because it's our job and because we're the mom. This morning Natta missed her potty chair by inches. Calling down the hall gleefully that her night-time diaper was dry, I entered the bathroom to discover that the diaper was probably the only thing that WAS dry. Puddles soaked the rug, spread around the floor and splashed on the wall. I cringed. This is one of the things that truly grosses me out. I loathe cleaning up potty messes. And Natta seems to be particularly adept at creating them. Ugh. I reminded myself that I'm the mom and it's my job. Once she gets into the arguing stage and I tell her "I'm the mom, that's why," I will have earned the right to say so and have all the power of years of conviction behind the statement.

Another thing I have learned is that a mess won't kill me. I've made it through so many messes I never would have wanted to tackle a few short years ago. And I'm still here, albeit somewhat green this morning. Now everything is peaceful again. The rug and jammies are in the washing machine. The floor is wiped and sanitized. Natta and Seth are bent on the new endeavor of emptying out the pantry. AAHHHH, life is good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Border Newlanders

Oddly enough, I keep my bagpipes in a gun case. It was the only thing I could find that fit. With this unusual item in my hand. I pushed through the open front door of Moscow's 1912 Center, a public building across the street from the high school. The snowy dark outside pressed into me so densely that even the glowing street lights looked feeble and I was glad to step into the haven of warmth that the building provided, although once inside, I found myself a little uneasy.

Walking into any building for the first time always feels troubling to me. Alone at night like tonight the effect was heightened until my heart was in my throat. My reasonable intellect knows there is nothing to fear. I have time to figure out where I am going. Nobody threatens my safety. But I still fear strangers and strange buildings, unfamiliar and claustrophobic. I made my way down a silent hallway, reading signs as I went, listening for sounds of other human life. One sign said "Great Room" so I chose that door. Wherever the other pipers were, they were likely to be in a large space. Confronted by a set of stairs, I hesitated, but then I saw them: two other pipers and a teacher standing on a hardwood floor in the middle of a large, high-ceilinged room. Grasping the rail, I descended the stairs to join them.

Hastily, I assembled my pipes and we were immediately set to playing Scots Wa' Hae together as it is the first tune pipers learn and it's slow, so we had some chance of all playing it at the same time. The resulting cacophony sounded more like a piece by John Cage, likely titled Symphony For Three Separate Bagpipes. Each of the nine drones present was tuned to a different version of "A" and the notes coming out of the three chanters sounded like different tunes. We had a long ways to go.

This group of three pipers was the brainchild of the Pipe Major of the Border Highlanders. We, his pupils, were at the level where we needed to begin playing together but we certainly were not ready to join the pipe band. He described that as "throwing us to the wolves". So we talked of starting a separate beginner band just for us and one of the other experienced pipers offered to teach us. Someone came up with the clever nickname of "Border Newlanders" and we became official.

Still, now that we were here having our first rehearsal, I wondered if the Newlanders would ever evolve into Highlanders or if we'd stay here in our pre-musical slime forever. We were really bad. If we'd been used in battle in Britain in the 15th century, the opposing troops would likely try to attack more fiercely in order to put us out of our misery.

The evening progressed and we worked on tuning our pipes. We tried the tune on our quiet practice chanters. We tapped our feet in rhythm. At last we played the whole thing again and noted our somewhat shaky improvement. My parters in crime, a shy, pre-teen accompanied by his watchful father and a farm woman with little confidence both seemed happy with our progress, as was I. We disbanded with strict instructions to practice during the week (with metronomes) and we solemnly put our instruments away.

I'm not sure why I call such gatherings "fun". Still, I came away with a smile on my face. To face a challenge like learning a new instrument and to do it as a team with others who share the same goal is something that I find extremely stimulating. Laughing and joking at our lack of prowess makes the process seem less like aural torture.

Promising to meet again the next week, we climbed into our respective cars. Such was the beginning of the Border Newlanders Bagpipe Band. We have nowhere to go but up!

Monday, November 19, 2007

View Out My Living Room Window

A Winter Surprise
Solveig Paulson Russell




Last night while I was sleeping
The snow came softly down
And slipped on all the shrubbery
A shining snowflake gown.

I guess that every little bush
Felt startled with surprise,
To find itself a cotton plant
On opening up its eyes.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Heater Huddling

There exists an interesting circulation phenomenon in certain people that is sometime referred to as Raynaud's Syndrome where a person's body at the least provocation goes into survival mode and pulls all of the blood to the internal organs leaving the extremities uncomfortably cold and with poor circulation. Because they are not getting proper blood flow, they aren't capable of warming up on their own, so gloves and heavy socks do absolutely no good. My husband and daughter both exhibit this phenomenon. It is so odd to compare them to me and Seth who are as happy as can be in a chilly room. If we get cold, we throw on a sweatshirt and we're fine. Not so with the other two members of our family. Since she was a tiny newborn, Natta's hands get absolutely icy for the smallest reason. After two minutes in a swimming pool, her lips are blue and she shivers uncontrollably.

It was for this reason this morning that Hubby engaged in a favorite activity of his: heater huddling. He turns on the space heater in the living room and sits as close as is safe to it for extended periods of time. He looks so cute doing this that I have to chuckle. Natta has begun doing it too as it relieves the pain of her icy hands and feet as the house gets chillier. This morning I think Hubby actually fell asleep in front of the heater. I don't blame him. Seth refused to go to bed till nearly midnight last night. Then at two, our next-door neighbors arrived loudly home from the bar, drunk as skunks, and nearly scared me out of my wits by arguing loudly with many of their drunk friends right outside our bedroom window. Both of us took a while to get back to sleep, even after the neighbors had finished their argument, slammed their 64 car doors and settled down. Then this morning someone called the phone bright and early at 8:00, unaware of the fact that it is Saturday and we had had only a few hours of sleep.

So this morning my hubby got a few minutes of well-deserved heater-huddling, although when Seth got up, he thought Daddy's elongated, blanket-covered form looked like a fun place to frolic and began crawling on top of him. My patient husband neither complained nor scolded but smiled and hugged his son. I love that man!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Strange Brew

This is a post I wrote a few days ago to put on Hubby's site, Moscow Coffee Review.

In the spirit of celebrating the coffee scene in and around Moscow, I have to note the presence of a widespread phenomenon we have all experienced at one time or another: Home Brewing. Like the backwoods whiskey stills running during the Prohibition, we have all encountered the pain and pleasure of attempting to create gourmet coffee in our own kitchens to varying degrees of success.

My husband, the keeper of this hallowed site [M.C.R.] and a self-proclaimed coffee snob would never have attempted to make coffee at home if he’d had his way. Unfortunately our budget denies him the pleasure of indulging in daily Cubano Con Leches from Bucer’s so for a while we went gung-ho on the home espresso shop.

Our first dabbling in espresso-making began the first year of our marriage when my parents gave us a three-in-one espresso machine for Christmas. At first he was thrilled with it, adjusting pull-times and fiddling with the steam-wand. But as it produced less-than-satisfactory results he began to shun it. It sat forlornly on the top of our refrigerator waiting for me to pull it down on the odd day that I needed a caffeine fix and fill the drip side with Folger’s Breakfast Blend, a guilty pleasure I generally partook in when Hubby wasn’t home to criticize my not-so-fresh pre-ground lowest-of-the-low caffeinated goodness. After a while I discovered Folger’s Singles, a tea-bag full of grounds that produced the same burst of quick caffeine without the leftover pot of coffee which I somehow could never bring myself to throw away until it actually had swirls of mold growing on the surface in some sort of bizarre petri-dish effect.

The three-in-one espresso maker was then retired to our storage shed and we moved on to the next phase of our attempts to create “good” coffee at home. You’ve probably guessed it because you probably have one sitting in the back of your coffee cupboard also: The French Press. This handy device combines boiling water with coffee grounds, sits for a minute or two then you strain out the grounds and presto! a cup of coffee exactly like the coffee I get when using my scorned Folger’s Singles. You can guess how long this device lasted. Even with a mini grinder to ensure the ingredients were as freshly ground as beans from the little chute at WinCo can be, it still lacked the verve that a precisely pulled shot from the $13,650 machine at Bucer’s possessed.

Still determined to conquer the $4 Latte, I next bought Hubby an Italian stovetop espresso maker called a Brikka. For $60, the price of fifteen Lattes, I proudly unveiled it for his birthday and enjoyed his look of incredulity. Like a kid with a new toy, he experimented with beans and fineness of grind. For $20 more he bought an Aerolatte milk foamer and some brand-name syrup. At last he made what he deemed a passable cup of coffee. I tried it and secretly preferred my Folger’s Singles, but hey, he was happy.




I’d have to conclude the in the years since then, we have reached a coffee compromise. He sneaks in a trip to Bucer’s whenever he has some spare cash so I can’t trace it in Quicken. When his funds run dry, he reluctantly pulls out the Brikka. I brew myself a cup of Folger’s and foam the milk with his Areolatte. The cupboard holds a pile of the French Press, the Italian Brikka, the little grinder, the several bottles of syrup, crusted shut, the measuring cup, the plastic sleeve of coffee-shop style cups and lids, the shaker of cocoa, the whole nutmeg with small grinder…. oh, and my box of Folger’s Singles. I should sell all the stuff on ebay and give him the proceeds to go to Bucer’s!

Photo Credit

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sealing Up the Cracks

With trepidation, I pulled out the box of rolled-up plastic and double-stick tape, determined to seal up some of the cold drafts blowing across my floor and causing Seth to have a perennially goopy nose and rasping cough. With loathing in my heart I unwrapped the clear plastic sheets. It seems that the yearly weather sealing is a slap-in-the face reminder that we live in a tin can that happens to be full of holes and not in a real house. Generally I can ignore the piles of junk on the patio and find creative ways to manage the lack of storage. But the drafts I experience living in a trailer make me crazy.

I set to work on the bathroom where the worst of the drafts are. After covering the louvered window, I tackled the bathroom cupboard. A hole, nearly a foot long and a good six inches tall, leads from the side of the cupboard into the area where the water tank stands. Not only is this area completely uninsulated but the door is bent beyond recognition and chunks of daylight stream into my lower bathroom cupboard. Gritting my teeth, I stuffed one of the dog towels into the hole and removing the shampoo bottles stored there, I sealed the entire section of the cupboard with plastic. I decided the reduced storage was worth the cessation of cold air pouring over my bare feet in the mornings.

The living room window was next, then the dining room. In there we have a bay window with two louvered sections. The 30-year-old bolts on the handles simply cannot take the strain any more and they refuse to close the window tightly. Energetically I tackled them with plastic, tape and hair dryer. As I hung the sheet of thin plastic in place, the wind blowing outside entered the window strongly enough to blow the plastic around.

As I worked, I imagined myself telling stories to my grandchildren. I grew up hearing my grandpa telling us about the Great Depression and how he walked to school uphill both ways in the snow with shoes that had orange rinds to cover the holes or something like that. It struck me now, however, that I doubt he lived in a mobile home. I'll have amazing whining stories to lay on my grandchildren when that day comes.

Now every window is covered either with a glass storm window or with shrunken-tight plastic. It's definitely better although wind is still getting in the dining room in some inexplicable way. I'm tempted to cover the entire wall containing the bay window with plastic. Maybe I should just wrap the whole trailer in Saran Wrap or Duct Tape.

After wrestling with the plastic all morning yesterday, I finally put the remainder away and set about fixing lunch, praying for God to give me a content heart. At least we have a roof. My children are safe and happy and as warm as an astronomical Avista bill can make them. As the season of Thanksgiving comes, I have a lot to be thankful for, I sternly told myself. But this was one of those times, as I looked at the shrink-wrap on my window that I had a hard time actually believing it. I feel like I have cracks in my heart too where the drafts of self-pity blow in unchecked. I wish there was some spiritual shrink-wrap around that would make me as happy and content as I am supposed to be.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Braille Embossing

Since I was in Junior High, I have had a love affair with the braille code. I find it absolutely fascinating and have been reading it and learning all of the contractions for eighteen years. This year I decided that it was time to do something with it so I am taking the correspondence courses to get certified as a braille transcriber in my spare time (!) and I just had my first lesson received and approved with no errors. Woo!

In order to print my Literary Braille Transcribing course lessons I bought an ancient mastodon of an embosser from eBay. It’s a Romeo RB-20, which I don’t think they even make any more, but hey, it punches out pages of braille so I can mail it in to my instructor. The problem is, Perky Duck, the miniature freeware program I have been using to enter braille since it has a six-key entry option, refused to acknowledge the presence of the embosser. So many roadblocks along the way have cropped up that it doesn’t surprise me at all. The embosser has no driver, the cable is a parallel-USB converter, Perky wasn’t designed for Windows Vista… the list goes on and on.

Well, today I needed to emboss another lesson. I have daydreams about hooking up the embosser and pressing “emboss” then perfect pages of braille spewing out of it. Too bad it never works that way!

Hubby insisted this morning that it would not actually be possible to print directly from Perky Duck. He was full of plans to use a text editor and dump the information directly into a printer port to make the thing work. That sounded like a lot of hassle since the rigidity of the lessons leave absolutely no leeway for formatting errors of any kind.

Four hours later, with some ideas from hubby, I made it work. YES! I printed my lesson right from Perky Duck. I am so impressed with myself. The solution actually made me chuckle a bit. I would have had an easier time if I was not sighted. The problem ended up being that Perky Duck has a hidden menu called “document menu” that is nowhere to be found on the task bar or anywhere else for that matter. Because there was no item on the task bar, Hubby and I both assumed it did not exist. Today, however, reading through the help files (which of course must be downloaded separately from the software!) it suddenly dawned on me that this is a program designed to be used with keystrokes. I’ve had this happen before when using a piece of software written by and for blind people. The visual buttons didn’t work but the keystrokes did. I looked up a keystroke I did know then began trying the ones next to it. Almost immediately the script I needed jumped out at me. It was there! I fixed the document settings, which is what Perky was whining about and refusing to emboss.

Holding my breath, I hit “emboss” and it began churning out braille as nice as you please! It did protest feebly once more by double spacing everything but I fixed that with the advanced embosser settings and the problem was solved. I think the embosser itself surrendered when I whacked it with a hammer. A certain pin with a bolt on top was bent slightly and I tapped it to straighten it out. Once this was accomplished the dots became uniformly smooth and easy to read, an important criteria for producing quality braille.

I do have to make one more note for the record and say that braille embossers seem designed to waste as much paper as possible. I find this extremely irritating at $30 per 1,000 sheets of special heavyweight braille paper. Every time you begin a new print job there is one sheet to hook into the tractor feed and one more as a banner sheet that is blank except for one tiny line of unintelligible code. For these lessons each print job is only four or five pages long so for each lesson two pages are wasted. Bad design.

Along with getting the braille certification, I have launched a website called BrailleBanshee with braille resources and stories. The internet has become a terrific sounding board for everything from disability rights issues to sharing games accessible to blind people. I have found other transcribers who are sighted but use and teach braille and like it as much as I do. In more urban areas there are transcriber groups who have significantly more resources than I do and they likely don't have to fight with a braille embosser that appears to have been manufactured during the Eisenhower administration (Hubby calls it retro). But that's the price you pay for living in the most beautiful state in the country! And now that I have triumphed over the grouchy equipment, I am set to get my certification. I doubt it will ever be a career asset as most people I have talked to expect transcribers to be volunteers, but it is something I have dreamed of doing for almost twenty years.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another Happy Birthday!!

Today my little Natalie is three! It's amazing to watch her grow. She has such a sense of humor already. Last night we had some friends over to play Scrabble. Seth was sitting in his chair and fussing to get down. I asked him, "do you want to go play in the living room with your sister?" and from the living room my daughter's voice piped up, "actually, he doesn't." We all burst out laughing, of course!

I am so blessed to have these wonderful children. I never imagined they would be like they are, so strongly their own people, especially Natta. I never imagined I would love so deeply, be driven so crazy and be filled with such wonder as a mother. I never imagined I would have a daughter so willing to set the world on fire. Watch out world! Natalie is now three!

Natalie standing by a chair

Friday, November 9, 2007

Violin Game

Armed with colored markers and a big sheet of freezer paper, Curly and I went to work. On her teacher's advice, we were creating a game to facilitate violin practicing. This has been a volatile issue in our household this week, one of the things she had decided to dig her heels in about.

So here we were, drawing a Candyland style game board and filling it up with thing like "bow hold" and "chugga-chugga choo-choo rhythm". She helped by drawing random circles and squares, colored in to match her own taste. Once the board was created we drove the train around, rolling a die and watching the train land on square after square. After a while, I needed to get back to Mommy Stuff so I left her happily running the train around the board. Wondering if the game would work for a motivational tool, I listened curiously.

To my surprise I heard distinct violin sounds emanating from the dining room where the paper was taped to the table. Not the rapid sawing that she had previously insisted on doing previously but a thoughtful attempt to do a correct rhythm. I smiled to myself. Thank God for creative and patient teachers. Not only was she back on track in her practicing but she was consciously attempting to master a skill she had refused to try only yesterday.

Learning the violin has stretched my daughter in ways I never dreamed. It has been amazing to watch her master complex skills and memorize whole songs after hearing them only once or twice. But more importantly it is teaching her self-discipline and perseverance. She has never had to tackle something this hard before and she is finding that she actually can do more than she ever thought she could. It has also forced me to examine aspects of our relationship and methods of parenting that I never really looked at before. I've been tempted to quit this week, to wash my hands of the whole idea and go back to blissful nothingness, no skills to learn, no process to go through. Instead, I have asked for help and discovered that I am not alone when things get hard. I have found support in my parents, my husband, her teachers and most of all in my own Heavenly Father who parents me even still with the utmost grace and patience.

Today as I listened to her saying her little practice rhymes, I breathed a long sigh. Afraid that I would never be able to get her interested in violin again after the mess we had on Monday, I realized that instead we have been given more grace than I ever realized. We had new chances to try, try again.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Power Struggle

My daughter has spent most of the morning in her time-out chair screaming her head off for one reason or another. She has picked this week to test the boundaries harder than she has done since she was in the throes of the Terrible Twos. This is one of those weeks when being a Mommy is something I work at, not something I breeze through. The only thing that gives me any solace is the fact that being so strong-willed will actually be an asset to her later in life. She will be able to stand up for what is right and stay strong through winds of opposition.

Natalie with a very pouty face

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

New Jeans

This post is dedicated to my friend TexasTschirgis

The other night Seth and I went shopping. Since my diet is working so well, I decided it was time to treat myself to a pair of jeans that fit after fighting with my old pair all day as they slipped and slid. Hubby was taking Natta on a "date" (it was to WalMart but hey!) to talk to her about her behavior earlier that day and to spend some time with her. So Seth and I headed out to the mall. Since my clothing budget is $0 every month I went to Ross and made a beeline to the clearance section. I chose three pairs of jeans and wandered back to the fitting rooms, only to be told that I could not take the shopping cart containing my baby into the fitting room. GREAT! So I'd either have to hold him or set him on a floor covered with dirty linoleum while I tried on pants. NO THANKS! I backed out of the fitting room area and headed back to the rack to put the jeans back away. Hmmm, one pair was sure cute. AND they were only $8.99. A steal for brand-name jeans in the latest (or almost latest) style. Thanks to the influence of my sister and texastschirgis I have been resolved to buy clothes that are more trendy and to NOT buy them at Wal-Mart. So here I was with a pair of jeans I liked and could not try on. I decided to make a bold move and buy them anyway.

Later that night after the kids were in bed I hesitantly tried them on. THEY FIT!!! Thank you Jesus! They looked great, even were a tad loose, which made me feel great! They were just right and I wore them all day yesterday. The "little too loose at the waist" part meant that they kept sliding down so I whipped out my sewing machine and took a couple of tucks in the waist. It worked and now they fit perfectly!

I feel so cute wearing them and I am so proud of myself for getting such a good deal. I remember texastschirgis writing a post not too long ago about getting some new jeans and I know exactly how she felt!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hangovers don't just come from alcohol

Today was definitely the "day after" the kids stayed with Grandma! Man, were they ever cranky! And even funnier was the news from Hubby when he came home from work. He'd had lunch with another retreat attender and that father reported trouble in his household this morning as well. Parents being away for two days combined with the time change caused a shift in the gravitational pull of the moon resulting in chaos in kid-dom in every one of our households. He assured Hubby that it was normal and that probably in households all over Moscow parents were battling recalcitrant children. We laughed, picturing red-alert lights on a mini-map of our town. It will be a happy Mommy when bedtime comes tonight!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Marriage Retreat

Elated, I climbed into the car next to my hubby after kissing my children and my mother goodbye. I had no qualms about leaving them with her. She adores them and they return the affection. We had purposely left the house several hours before we needed to in order to spend some time together. First we stopped at a coffee shop to feed Hubby's addiction then we resumed driving. Like most trips, I drove while hubby read our book aloud. Fishing in my purse, I dug out my sunglasses and donned them, pulling the car into the afternoon downtown traffic.

We reached Lewiston and I chose our first date event of the weekend: Red Lobster. By splitting a plate and declining drinks we kept the bill under $30, which surprised and delighted me. Feeling content and very full, we drove happily toward Orofino where the retreat was scheduled to begin at 7:00 in the new lodge there. Dinner had taken slightly longer than we had expected so we felt hurried, but in the relaxed mood of a weekend away from the kids, we decided not to worry about it. Hubby drove through the twilight as I read a list of "couples questions" off the sheet provided by the retreat planners.

We pulled into the hotel at 7:10 and I climbed stiffly out of the car to enter the lobby and approach the check-in desk. A message on our room paperwork said to call my mom. Panic flooded me as I thought of her in our house with the babies, wondering why she had called me. Hubby checked his cell phone and saw a message had been left just after 5, two hours ago. My stomach clutched and I impatiently watched the cell phone searching for service. It refused to find a shred of a signal, not even when set to roaming. Mentally cursing rural Idaho for its lack of technology, we hurried into our frigid hotel room where I grabbed the hotel phone and dialed Mom's cell number, ignoring the long-distance charges.

Her voice on the other end sounded harried and tired, bordering on the verge of tears. "Seth is sick. I don't know what to do." I tried to calm my stomach which was turning somersaults. She didn't know what to do? My capable mother who had raised two children to adulthood and babysat several more didn't know what to do? It must be really bad. All thoughts of the conference abandoned, I asked for details. He had thrown up, causing my tired mother to feel nauseated herself. He also had cried for several hours and was running a fever. Could I please come home?

I looked around the taupe-colored hotel room and at hubby sitting in the desk chair, listening. Come home? Drive two more hours through the dark abandoning my weekend away with my hubby? One throw-up did not sound that bad to me. Yet the panic in her voice... the exhaustion. I asked her to take his temperature and call me back. Hubby and I resolved that if his temperature was over 101 we'd head home. I wanted to hold him in my arms, to comfort him and pet his flushed cheek. My arms ached to hold my baby.

The phone rang, echoing the jangling of my nerves. Mom, her phone cutting in and out, reported that his temperature was 100.7. My heart felt torn in two. I looked around at the hotel room again, all the weeks of anticipation falling like the spray of a fountain on my soul. I searched hubby's eyes. He was looking forward to the weekend away from the kids even more than I was. Yet my baby, crying on the other end of the phone and my mother with fear in her voice that he would throw up again tugged me to jump in the car immediately and chew up the intervening miles until I was at home again holding him and taking care of him.

Hubby and I held a quick eye-conference. One throw-up and a minor fever did not constitute a crisis. The last time he'd done this he was better again in a few hours. Did I risk my mother's disappointment if I didn't come home and rescue her? Did I risk my husband's disappointment if I pulled him away from our much-anticipated getaway? Was I a bad mother for wanting to not go home to my sick baby?

Hesitantly I told her he'd be fine, that he'd feel better in a while and gave her the recipe for Pedialyte. I hung up with reluctance and feeling subdued, I followed hubby down to the conference room where we edged quietly to the back. I did not take in a word of what the speaker said, my mind straying constantly back to a lamplit living room where my gentle son needed me.

At long last the session ended and I hurried up to the room to call home. Mom assured me Seth had consumed his Pedialyte and was playing on the floor. Her voice sounded calmer, though still tired.

The butterflies in my stomach began to land instead of wildly fluttering but I still second-guessed my decision to stay. Should I have gone home? My sleep that night was troubled and when I awoke at 6:30 in the morning I could not get back to sleep but lay trying not to think about home and my baby. Instead I focused on prayer and replaying segments of our book to myself to quiet my nerves. Hubby finally woke up at 7:30 and we descended to breakfast.

The breakfast provided by the hotel was super. We split a waffle and enjoyed scrambled eggs, coffee, biscuits and gravy and muffins. We then attended two sessions, both of which were difficult for me to focus on as I kept wondering how Seth was doing. Eventually the speaker wrapped up his talk and I put away the paper on which I had been doodling. My first thought was to rush upstairs and call home, which I did. To my immense relief, I was greeted my a cheerful Mom and a good report. Seth had slept fine and was well and happy today. A flood of joy washed over me. I met Hubby's gaze with a twinkle in my eyes.

It was with a much lighter step that I walked downtown with Hubby to obtain some lunch. Dismayed, we discovered that most of the shops and restaurants were closed, for some inexplicable reason. To my knowledge, Saturday, November 3 was not a holiday but still, most of downtown was dark and silent. Like many of the couples from the retreat, we settled on a Mexican cafe that was thankfully open and ordered our usual enchiladas. After lunch, instead of another session, the planners had decided on some free time for couples to spend time together. Apparently they realized that time together away from the kids would be immensely more helpful than any teaching could possibly be, so they scheduled this time for us. Hubby and I, intending to do something fun, found ourselves up in our hotel room falling asleep on our beds. The room, devoid of a correctly working heater was the temperature of the dairy section of WinCo Foods but this did not stop us taking a several hour nap.

We woke just in time to hurry to the next session, feeling tousled. Neither of us had gotten a shower that morning as the hotel's hot water heater apparently had the capacity of two total showers in any given morning. The afternoon session and subsequent breakout time was the best of the retreat and we headed to a late dinner in our room quite enthusiastically, discussing what we had learned. Although the hotel did not have room service, we had earlier gotten some food at a mini-mart. We had the evening free for more "date time" so we cheerfully tried out the hot tub, watched Survivor: China on the internet and joined the other couples in the conference room for board games and ballroom dancing lessons.

Hubby's meager dinner had not satisfied him so we left to scour dilapidated Orofino for food that did not cost too much. We found ourselves in a dingy bowling alley where Hubby ordered and then ate the most delicious grilled BLT he had ever had in his life. Spontaneously we played a round of bowling where my weak wrists allowed me to bowl the incredible score of 49.

The next morning I succumbed to the temptation and bought a polar fleece in the hotel gift shop. I began nursing a pet conspiracy theory that the hotel actually refused to provide any form of heaters or hot water so that the guests would buy the fleece jackets in their gift shop. It worked and I snuggled down in my warm polar fleece and sat through one more session. I have to admit I listened with half my mind and wrote notes to Hubby with the other half. The speaker, although he meant well, had about as much speaking charisma as my geology professor had so it was a struggle to follow him. When his speaking was over, we all took communion together, a beautiful and symbolic finish to the weekend.

I thought back fondly of the new friends I had made and the fun I'd had with Hubby. I was so glad I had gotten to stay and that Seth was once again healthy. We stopped on the way home to buy small presents for Mom and the kids then made our way home. It was with great delight that I scooped up my baby son in my arms and hugged him close. I pulled my daughter close as well, reveling in once again being back with my children. It had been a wonderful weekend, though, and I knew I would miss the time just to be adults and have fun with new friends and with each other.

I feel so grateful that this weekend happened at all. A scholarship provided by our new church had allowed us to go in the first place. Time off from my new job had threatened to cancel it next, then the baby getting sick seemed the final straw. I am convinced that God knew how much we needed this weekend away together and though we had to fight to actually make it happen, it was very worth it. I think we can tend to make everything else the priority and our marriage suffers, but this time we took time just for us, snatching it away from children, parents, jobs and even poverty. I am so very glad we did.

Thursday, November 1, 2007