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Saturday, December 31, 2005

2006 Reading List

We were supposed to go to Lisa’s New Year’s Eve party tonight, but I’ve been having “wellness” issues all day (the details of which I am not about to put onto a public forum). When I hesitatingly broke the news to Bruce and my mom this evening, that I didn’t feel up to going out, they sighed with relief and both said they’re not feeling so hot either.

So here I am blogging instead.

Another year has gone. Tonight will be the last time I ever write (or read) anything in 2005.

Lately, I have been back in a book-buying mode, with as many as 15 purchases and/or acquisitions of books in the last week or so. I also just submitted a lengthy list of reading requests to the library. There are currently four waiting to be picked up.

One of my interesting book moments came last week when I brought home a couple new ones from the freebie bin at the library. They are both older books, World War II era. I had never heard of either of them, and there were no dustjackets, but they looked appealing to me (i.e. the feel of the paper, the typesetting, the binding - who really knows what excites a bibliophile). When I got home I “googled” both titles, and found on Alibris that one of them, in the same exact condition as the edition I have, is worth $85. Cool. So, it’s been placed on my “antique” and autographed books shelf.

With so many books, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to read in 2006; the very top priorities. I reviewed my various book lists tonight; lists of top picks from places as varied as The Modern Library, the BBC, and my friend Virginia. One of my favorite lists is from a guy named Brian Kunde, who I think is with Harvard or some highbrow college like that. Anyway, he calls his list “The Best English-Language Fiction of the Twentieth Century.” It really is a good list. It’s got 223 books on it, of which I have read 78.

In any case, the following, in no particular order, are the books that jump out at me whenever I review my various lists and my bookshelves. I hope I get to them this next year. I own all of them but the newest Amy Tan:

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin (haven't seen the movie yet, but loved the trailer enough to want to read the book)
Don Quixote, by Cervantes (voted the best novel of all time - how could I resist a qualification like that?)
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Graham
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (can you believe I moved to Alaska without ever having read it?)
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (no idea what it's about, but it shows up on a lot of lists)
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
Until I Find You, by John Irving (I don't care how bad the reviews are, I owe Irving my love for all things literary)
Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Spook, by Mary Roach
Something by… Philip Roth (I want to get through his entire oeuvre so that I can understand what he's trying to tell me)
Something by… Henry James (I have like six of his novels, got to try at least one)
Something by… Thomas Hardy

I reserve the right to not read any of these (especially ”Don Quixote”).

I read 75 books in 2005 (pitiful), 48 of which were borrowed from the library or friends. The previous year, none of the books I read were borrowed, so this is a vast improvement. (She CAN be taught.)

In the past couple weeks I am proud to have finally read “To Kill a Mockingbird” (marvelous! – why did I wait so long?… Oh, I know, because I played Mayella Ewell in the high school play, and I’m still a bit ashamed of my close identification with the Ewell family). I also read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde this month (much different than I imagined and kind of fun).

Tonight I finished reading “No Country for Old Men,” by Cormac McCarthy. I’m not a big McCarthy fan, but since it’s gotten such good reviews, I thought I’d give it a shot. Oh my gosh! Fabulous! It starts out with a classic McCarthy feel, but alternates back and forth between third-person action and first person reflections. The ideas of the author come through clearly, and while there are a lot of sad and discouraging aspects to the story, there are also moments of heart-wrenching tenderness (i.e. when the first-person narrator, Sheriff Bell, talks about his wife, which is often). The whole book left a lump in my throat and feeling a bit of melancholy. The dialogue is smart, and the action carries a lot of momentum. This is a truly great book, both for how it is written and what it says. For those used to reading popular fiction, it will not be an easy read (the lack of punctuation can throw one off, but McCarthy never loses control of it), but it is definitely a worthwhile one. At least, understanding Spanish isn’t a prerequisite for reading this one (unlike other McCarthy novels). The language should be savored like a piece of fine dark chocolate.

Well, time to start another book. This time: “Paradise of the Blind” by Vietnamese author Duong Thu Huong. This is a book-club book. Then, after the kids get to bed, a couple of adult movies... I mean, GROWN-UP MOVIES! (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Must Love Dogs”)

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Holiday Wind-Down

Christmas is over for another year. In another week, in an effort to reclaim normalcy, we'll take down the holiday decorations, the kids will return to school, and I'll be forced out of bed well before 8am.

I am surprised, despite being well in the dreaded third-week of my monthly hormonal cycle, that I am not depressed or let down. I spent no time in fetal position today, and other than "disciplining" a very obstinate Ellie, did no yelling.

Bruce, in his effort to ever perfect the art of being all that a man should be, did the detested crib and guest-bed swap-a-roo in Evan's room that I've been begging for. He also took the three older kids and his parents to the sledding hill at Rabbit Creek Elementary School. (It might have been a nice break for me, but I folded laundry instead of playing.) When I left for work, Bruce was in the throes of pizza-making. He's a darling man, and, with admirable, everlasting hope, is attempting once again to grow a goatee. It's very cute. Like a kiwi fruit, only pokier.

It has been great fun having Bruce's parents, Bob and Barbara, with us for the holidays. They have been very gracious with us and our kids - for some time they have been unaccustomed to the inevitable chaos and viral infections of a young, large family. Fortunately for them, we have many of the items necessary for surviving a week in our house: wine, books, games, and their own room in which to close the door on the rest of us.

We have eaten well this week - I can't let company starve! I am sure I've gained a bit. With the retiring of the advent calendar for another eleven months, I am determined to regain the ground recently lost - or rather, lose the ground I've recently gained.

At the gallery tonight, I expected it to be very slow, and while I did little in the way of sales I had visitors. Floridians in Alaska for the holidays, pilots with Japan Airlines, and a mish mash of other people who wander in because they are waiting for their cabs and no one else is open.

I thought about taking Bruce on a date tonight to see "King Kong," but we'd probably have to go to the 9pm showing at the latest, which would mean getting out after midnight. Not that we haven't been staying up that late recently, but he does have to go to work tomorrow. Maybe Friday instead.

I'm going to go have some recharge time. I need it. Believe me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

It Is Finished


Let me just breathe deeply for a moment. In, out. In, out.

Our guests have left, the children are tucked, and the remaining adults are deciding how to spend the remainder of Christmas Day 2005. It is 9:15pm and Barbara has decided to hit the hay, Bob is trudging through “The Grizzly Maze” by Nick Jans, Bruce is in front of the fire with a book, and I am writing to YOU.

When I tucked Sabrina in tonight and kissed her fluorescent pink eyebrows, she told me her three favorite presents of the day: the amazing make-up kit (the ONE THING Sabrina really wanted this year) courtesy of Auntie, which was directly responsible for the pink eyebrows; her stuffed poodle-dog that Santa left in her stocking; and an Imaginext set.

I had to chuckle, because the stuffed dog was a thrift-store find, and the Imaginext was meticulously selected by older brother Jack from his personal stash of those toys. He painstakingly, and duct-tape’dly, wrapped these pieces, first sealed in a Ziploc, then taped into a Capri-Sun box, and finally secured in a Costco milk box. I’ve never seen a wrapping job its equal.

Meanwhile, Jack does not claim to play favorites with HIS new gifts, but I caught him spending hours obsessively reworking the Star Wars Legos he received from Auntie Karen, and at bedtime, he was caught shining the triceratops flashlight received from Great Aunt Karin onto the pages of the pirate book received from cousins Brendan and Patrick and their parents (Aunt Liz and Uncle Steve).

Ellie spent most of the day wearing the dress-up clothing Bruce and I had gotten for Sabrina (who at bedtime claimed to have outgrown “dress-up” stuff). Meanwhile, Ellie played aggressively with the two Polly Pocket sets received from Auntie Karen (Auntie Karen AGAIN.)

Evan loved his “doodles” the Doodle Pro received from cousin John Wesley and his parents (Uncle Doug and Aunt Kathleen), and the Aqua Doodle received from Evan’s parents (Bruce and I). He also was obsessed with HIS flashlight from Great Aunt Karin (this one, a dog). He is currently snuggled to bed under the Elmo blanket I made for him.

First thing this morning, I showed the kids the NORAD Santa tracker. I played for them the video clip of Santa flying around the Space Needle in Seattle. The girls were suitably impressed. Later, Jack, who knows the “truth” about Santa, and in fact played a key role in the stuffing of stockings just last night, said: “But I thought Santa wasn’t real.”

I smiled wickedly at him.

He further said, “But I saw him. On the computer…… HOW is that possible?”

I shrugged, leaving it to him to muddle his way to the “truth,” delighting in the crumbling of the wall of arrogance and cynicism that comes with unbelief. Believing in Santa may be nothing more than an exercising the muscle of faith and belief, but if that is true, it is a muscle which greatly needs exercising.

Our first dinner guests arrived at 1:40pm, twenty minutes early (it was the Phillipps, and the only reason they were early is because they thought we were starting at 1pm, which would, in their eyes, have made them 40 minutes late). It was a good thing too, because, when Bruce pulled the behemoth roast out of the oven to check it at 2:00pm, it was DONE –A WHOLE HOUR EARLY! No time for the Yorkshire pudding.

So we quickly tossed the salad and thawed the rolls. Bruce threw together the sour cream and miraculously-discovered horseradish. Thankfully the tables were already both set (if you know me at all, you can appreciate what a miracle this truly was.) We sent Jack next door to alert the Conners, our other guests, that soup was on. While everyone was pouring wine and finalizing other dinner details, I slapped together the gravy, and we were good to go.

The kids ate in the kitchen at the table. The adults were in the family room around the cramped, but (I’d like to hope) cozily decorated table (hand-picked spruce fronds, people – unfortunately no photographic proof, only eye-witnesses)s. We lit the scones, the gas fireplace and the tealights in the centerpiece. Conversation was lively, food was consumed, and it was good.

After a certain amount of time following dinner, the children were invited to destroy the gingerbread house so painstakingly constructed over the past five days. Destroy it they did. It made me a little sad, but how many gingerbread houses ever actually get eaten?

The Conner’s had to leave us early for another “engagement” (popular Fed-Ex family that they are). After putting down Ellie and Evan down at 6:30, most of the rest of us played our new game “Apples to Apples”, a game of comparison and association that truly creates a level playing field. Jeff Phillipps won round-one, and Jack won round-two. It was great fun.

At 8:30 the Phillipps left, and Bruce and I put Jack and Sabrina to bed. So now I have come back around to where I started… with a deep sigh of relief.

It was a great Christmas. The gifts, while plentiful, were modest. The food, while early, was ready to deliciously fill hungry tummies.

So where was Jesus in all this? I would like to think that He was here, walking amongst us: building new memories with precious family; further cementing the bonds of existing friendships; and through the joy of laughter and camaraderie, erecting a shelter of faith and hope.

So, the day is done. The gingerbread house looks like it encountered Hurricane Katrina. It is now a pile of broken pieces in a Ziploc freezer-bag. The dishes are done and put away (courtesy of Bruce and Barbara). There are still three pies left of the five I made yesterday.

What remains are (I hope) good memories for all; air warmed by candles, light, ovens, and smiles; and a pile of books with my name on it.

Peace be with you.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Dear Readers,

Have a very Merry Christmas! May your day be filled with gingerbread houses, boards games, and over-stuffed stocking! Over the last few days, I have had the privelege

of a holiday season filled with cookies dough and hot chocolate. Sledding and shoveling and snow... Due to illness, we regrettably missed our church's Christmas Eve service, but during dinner preparations we sang caroles and reflected on the beauty of the season.

May your holiday be filled with the infinite grace of God, who loves us no matter what we look like, our background, or what we do.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

This is our Christmas dinner. It didn't actually come with the watch. That is just for scale. It is one massive piece of cow. I hope we don't screw it up.

How does everyone like the new song?

Marital Strife

Now that the days are getting longer again, Bruce and I are both getting a bit giddy with the sudden increase in daylight.

We are having a debate about which we could probably use outside input.

He contends that today, the first day after the winter solstice, we are adding 7-seconds of daylight. He found this info on one of his favorite "Weather-Machine" weather websites.

I argue that we are only getting 3-seconds additional daytime, because THAT'S what the newspaper says.

Who is right?

Story Time

A thought-provoking idea was recently encountered in a book by Donald Miller, “Blue Like Jazz.” In it, Miller proposes the idea that humankind is drawn to story-telling, because the structure of stories mimics God’s design for human redemption. He suggested that an innate need for “conflict resolution” lives in each person’s heart. Through the telling of stories, whether in books, movies, art, and music, we experience examples of this process over and over again.

When I first began writing with any degree of regularity, I spent some time on the Internet researching the components to a successful short-story. The “formula,” as I discovered it, is as follows: Put a man in a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down.

With the exception of certain modern experimental novels, stories have always contained a set structure. There is the setting or background or context for the story, within which characters and circumstances are introduced. There is conflict as the story builds and tensions mount. Then there is the climax, or as is the case in a lot of novels that weave multiple storylines, multiple climaxes (no sexual innuendo intended). Then, resolution as the various plotline knots untangle themselves.

Put a man in a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down.

Don Miller’s contention is that, spiritually, human lives follow a similar pattern. During childhood, our context and background are established. Later, as we grow, we begin to learn and search for who we are in order to discover our purpose in life. For some people this is an intellectual and emotional process. For others this journey is spiritual in nature. At some point, often years and years into adulthood, we reach a decision point, or a series of decision points, that helps us make sense of all the years prior to that time, and ultimately determines our future. Then, our lives resolve. We have our ending, and the story is over.

Now, Miller’s description of this is much better than my own. I’m paraphrasing him from memory. It makes sense to me that the appeal of stories – regardless of the medium – in some way speaks to this built-in aspect of trying to understand the journey that is each individual human life. Through storytelling, we see our own lives lived out vicariously, as the characters within go on their own journeys, at times mimicking our own.

This is quite an interesting idea to me. I am, by nature, a seeker, always looking to better understand my own inner workings and my ultimate purpose in this life. Perhaps that is why I love to read: it is a mechanism in which to more clearly understand my own experiences, and “resolve” my own “conflicts.”

I never tire of stories, though most of them are essentially the same series of events told over and over and over again. It is a “nothing new under the sun” phenomenon. Man is born, he lives, he dies. What changes over time is the context in which each story is told. A character might be born in a palace in one story, and in another he is born in a field. In one story a character is a business woman trying to juggle work and family, and in another she is a pioneer fighting off murderous intruders. A character in one story might die from foul play and another from disease.

The context changes over time. For example, during the Victorian-era, obstacles to true love were often due to cultural tensions between social classes, and other external and economic factors. In the Internet age, when social hierarchies have somewhat broken down, we instead have romantic conflict that comes from within: the eccentric neuroses of the characters themselves.

All stories, as we know them, must contain conflict, inadequacies, asymmetry and unbalance, which eventually resolve in some way. Without these elements, there really isn’t much to tell; little to grab our interest; little from which to learn.

Here is what I have been pondering lately. What happens when we get to heaven? Will there be books? Will I still be able to read and write? If heaven is a place without tears, pain and death, what, exactly, will there be to write about? Surely there are trees, but if someone is going to stick me in one and throw rocks at me, then heaven is not the place I imagined it to be.

When posed this question, my writer-friend Darlene suggested that perhaps there will be books in heaven, but they won’t be written the way in which we are so familiar. She said perhaps they will all be nonfiction.

I cringed at this, since fiction books are my favorites. But then I had a thought.

The pattern of our “lives” in heaven will certainly not have the same structure as our lives on earth. Perhaps what drives us to record stories up there will be totally changed too.

You know how sometimes people say that in heaven we will finally understand everything? How maybe we will finally understand all the “why’s” and “how’s” of all the things that happened on earth the way they did? Well, maybe that’s what books will be about in heaven. Maybe there will be a book for every “why” or “how” that was ever uttered on Earth. Why did so-and-so die so young? How did this-and-that come about despite the odds?

Maybe there will finally be a record of all the ways events culminated to bring about God’s ultimate purposes. Detailed road maps of how things really happened and how beautifully orchestrated and interwoven were the events of history, from the gentlest sneeze to the biggest war. The butterfly-effect fully comprehended.

For a lot of people, reading and writing may not be their ideal picture of heaven. Maybe it will be fishing or scrapbooking instead. But for bibliophiles and writers, perhaps there will be a multitude of books and stories to choose from – to either read or write.

For those who wish it: ultimate understanding.

A man is no longer in a tree. He gathers the rocks that once were thrown at him, and understands their worth. With them, he constructs a sturdy house in which to live in the shade of the tree’s leafy boughs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Email to a Friend

My email reply to Kaylin this evening that I think adequately sums up our life at this moment (I'm too tired and lazy to "rewrite" it:


Okay, I might as well warn you right now. That Kiley [Kaylin's three-year-old daughter] of yours is drop-dead gorgeous. It's NOT just you being partial to her. I mean, I've always thought Tyler [Kaylin's eight-year-old son] dashing, but Kiley..... Ohmigod. You best lock her up now.

No worries about the body shop deal. But I am crushed about the dave-thing. If it turns out you and the kids can't come either, I'm going to demonstrate by starving myself. That said, what's the deal? Is there a hot job-prospect that won't be able to spare him? [Kaylin, her husband Dave, and the kids are scheduled to come up to Anchorage in February.]

Had a good day with the in-laws, though Barbara overextended herself making a gingerbread house and gingerbread cookies with the older kids. She and Bruce are currently playing Scrabble. Bob has done what he does best, hiding behind a book in the livingroom next to the Christmas tree and ignoring the chaos coming out of the kitchen. I am his disciple.

It's actually snowing. But by now I'm cynical. It won't last. I won't bother getting my hopes up. I might as well be in Seattle. If we don't have snow when you get here, I'm going to demonstrate by starving myself. Either that, or picket outside the National Weather Service offices.

Took Ellie and Evan to the doc today. He isn't worried about Ellie's hair loss, but we got blood-work done anyway. I'm almost sure that her follicles are stressed, and it all has something to do with having lame hair to begin with, and my half-assed efforts to groom her for preschool. Evan has a double-ear infection and a pus-y throat. No wonder he didn't want to swallow anything. Even the Doctor said, "Wow. That looks painful." Maybe THAT'S why he spent the WHOLE DAY crying. Got him on Zithromax. His fever broke tonight. Poor baby. He only started showing symptoms of this crud yesterday - this virus hit him hard and fast.

I've got the munchies, but there isn't a single salty snackfood to be had. How about a nice, crisp apple? Fuck it. (excuse my french.) [To my conservative friends who think I am so "good" that I never swear - deal with it..... And Merry Christmas.]

Have a great night. Love, Linda

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:25 )
I’m not sure how it works.

Our first two years in Anchorage, 103.1, “The Mix,” played Christmas music exclusively between Thanksgiving through Christmas.

This year, on Thanksgiving Day, without a moment’s hesitation, this is where the radio dial was turned. As expected, 103.1 helped me get in the holiday spirit while I cleaned house and prepped food to holiday songs. Outside, snow fell in soft, fluffy piles.

The whole Thanksgiving weekend, I kept the radios on and tuned to “Chris-Mix” 103.1. Then, on the following Monday, when I got in the car to take the kids to school, regular music was on. Not a Christmas song for miles.

After a couple days of trying, I shut of my radio and called it quits. I had been abandoned.

During the previous two Christmas seasons, the on-going music kept me going especially while folding laundry before sunrise and cooking dinner after sunset.
Even the cringe-worthy, highly ethno-centric, culturally insensitive ‘80’s hit, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” used to perk me up through the dark Alaska December days. But for whatever reason, Christ-Mix was dead, swallowed by some communications-industry Grinch.
I despaired.

I seriously considered calling 103.1 and complaining, or at least explaining why they had failed me. I never did. Circumstances intervened.

Imagine my delight when, upon returning home from some unmemorable errand (probably Christmas shopping), there was a message on my voicemail box from a different Anchorage radio station. It was prerecorded from 98.9, “The Magic.” They just wanted to let me know that this year they are playing Christmas music exclusively on their station.
I immediately called their main reception desk and thanked them profusely for their auto-dial machine, and for making my holidays worthwhile.

Guess where I reprogrammed all my radio dials to that day?

I don’t know why the exclusive Christmas music moved from one radio station to another this year. It’s a bit of a mystery which I suspect involves payola, contract-rights, and other kinds of non-cheery communications-industry things.

So now, every morning I turn on my radio to 98.9 and get my fill of all kinds of musical artists doing their renditions of holiday music. Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, The Chipmunks, Dean Martin, Mel Torme, Hall and Oates, and, yes, even The Osmonds (it was actually pretty good – I might check it out at iTunes) get me through laundry-folding and food-prep.

My favorite Christmas song this year is an oldie, but one I’ve never heard before. It’s called “Marshmallow World, “ by Dean Martin. Here are the lyrics:
It's a marshmallow world in the winter
When the snow comes to cover the ground
It's the time for play, it's a whipped cream day
I wait for it the whole year round.
Those are marshmallow clouds being friendly
In the arms of the evergreen trees
And the sun is red like a pumpkin head
It's shining so your nose wont freeze.
The world is your snowball, see how it grows
Thats how it goes whenever it snows
The world is your snowball just for a song
Get out and roll it along
It's a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts
Take a walk with your favorite girl
It's a sugar date, what if spring is late
In winter it's a marshmallow world

I wish I could tell you that I am living in a marshmallow-world. In Alaska, of all places, you'd think it was a sure thing. But unfortunately, for the third time this season, we have been blasted with warm air from the southeast. The temperature at this moment is 34.3 degrees F. ("Heat" is a relative term.) Normally it would be in the mid- to low twentiesj this time of year. It’s disgusting, really. The snow is not only melting, but it does so in a very messy way. In the spring, this is fine. In December, with three and a half more months of potentially snow-producing weather ahead of us, it just stinks. Because you KNOW it's going to get cold again in a couple days and the roads are going to get icy, and be N-A-S-T-Y.

I am getting under control my irrepressible conviction that the National Weather Service is out to get me. I am coming to believe that the NWS employees really can’t be getting any more pleasure from mentioning the r-word (rain) than I am. Their sluggishness at updating the forecast can only mean that they are avoiding passing on bad-news to their "patrons." They only tell it like they see it, and don’t actually make decisions about the weather. Right?

So, our world is not very “marshmallow-y” right now. No “whipped cream days” or “pumpkin head” suns. Gosh, can’t even see the moon, much less the sun. (Although the other day I did get a STUNNING view of Mc Kinley that almost sent me careening off the road and into a ditch.) The arms of the evergreen trees are pretty bare, and it sure isn’t yum-yum-yummy outside.

But at least I can hope for a white Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Have A Plan

In a valiant effort to catch up on various household chores, today I folded nine loads of laundry (that's only a week's worth), folded some gifts, did dishes, and attacked the box-pile.

Before doing so, however, I formulated a plan. Though it took some time to muddle through the details, the execution was simple. Here it is: if the box is addressed to ME it's ok to open it. If it's addressed to ANYONE ELSE it's NOT okay to open it.

Amazing what my mind can come up with if given enough time.

So, with a racing heart, I cut through packing tape, flung aside packing material and packing slips, and discovered much to my surprise all the boxes I opened were "safe".

(Round of applause, please.)

Then the mail came today. Eight new boxes. Dammit.

I sorted them according to addressee, peeked in the ones with my name on them, and whew!, "safe" again.

Then I checked email.

Three from mom-in-law, Barbara, whose arrival I was incorrect about - she'll be here Tuesday afternoon.

Email #1: A warning for Bruce not to open the packages addressed to him, but only if from L.L. Bean.

Email #2: Be aware of an additional delivery to Barbara, which, because it is from dental.com, I dearly hope isn't someone's Christmas present.

Email #3: A reminder of the packages that neither Bruce nor I can open coming from sister-in-law Karen (which Karen informed me today will be coming in six different boxes, three from Amazon.com and three from her directly.)

Isn't this fun?

(Barbara, I hope you don't mind my amusing myself and my readers with personal family correspondence. I thought it was pretty funny. You can exact revenge in a few days.)

Okay, so I now have ALL the boxes from Doug, Kathleen, and Baby John. I have ALL the ones from my mom (I think). I received something from Liz today but haven't checked yet to make sure it's all in one box. Ann's is coming, but it's in envelopes, so no wrapping required. We're almost there.

Meanwhile, the weather in south Anchorage - 32 degrees and raining. (GRRRRRRR)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Holiday Outtakes

Well, this week seems to be the storm before the calm.

Monday, I had to prepare for M.I.L.K., which involved buying all the components for our craft, including the spray-painting of 72 clothes pins. I had to work Monday night, before which I had an employee review, about which I was unnecessarily anxious, and even put on a dress for. After that, I did my devotional for M.I.L.K. during work (sorry Becky - but absolutely no one came in during that time).

On Tuesday was M.I.L.K., which was great fun and we welcomed two new attendees. In the evening I baked a double-batch of almond-butter Christmas tree cookies to be dispersed as follows: a) Cub Scouts cookie exchange, b) Jack's school Christmas party, c) Ellie's school Christmas party, and d) for our personal consumption. We, of course, ended up with all the over-done cookies. Later, I had to remember to wrap the gifts for the kids' teachers (which involved making two Christmas cards using my Stampin' Up stuff).

Today was Wednesday, and I had to get four kids and one adult groomed and out the door by 8:40am. Breaking with normal routine, I insisted that Jack and Sabrina eat school-lunch, as I didn't want to bother with pb&js this morning. Ellie's Christmas program at preschool was scheduled for 10am, so after dropping her off I ran off to the grocery to get ingredients for salsa and a bagel for breakfast. Back to school by 9:35, and got a seat behind my friend-in-the-making, Christine. Tried to keep Evan contained and failed. Bruce arrived at 10:05 and he shot lots of video and pictures of the program. We got home in good order, and I promptly made the salsa (once again, too oniony and garlicky). I put a very tired Evan down for his nap early, but, because I've fed Evan too many pinto beans the last few days, his prodigious pooping is interrupting his normal sleep patterns. So he woke up way too early (if he ever slept at all).

All the while I have been feverishly reading "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde, which is the pick for book club tonight. Finished that by 2:30pm today, and spent 40 minutes or so compiling questions and general info for the group discussion.

After picking up Jack and Sabrina today, I attempted to clean the kitchen, completely avoided making dinner, and started "To Kill A Mockingbird" while encouraging Jack to do his homework, and making a sleep-deprived Evan clean the entire downstairs.

After book club tonight things should somewhat calm down. Tomorrow I plan on addressing the large pile of boxes in the guestroom, and also basically gut the contents of the guestroom to make room for my mother- and father-in-law who are coming on Sunday. I need to squeeze in a 1200 word essay for writing group on Friday. Friday night I work. Meanwhile I will continue to wash and dry (but not fold) the multitude of laundry that NEVER stops appearing in odd places all over the house.

As I write, the kids are developing their annual Christmas play. This year, Jack's play involves goblins are trying to destroy the North Pole, so Santa's elves must come to the rescue. Jack is working very hard on "armoring" his teddy bears with paper knives and shields. The crest on the shields are an elf face flanked by two presents. Sabrina's play is about a swan who saves Christmas. Goblins try to take all the toys to give to their own kids. The swan lays a special egg and it has all the toys in the world and a new North Pole all inside it. Hmmm.

Okay, fussy kids. Two plays to watch. Got to go.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Romans 8:22-26 (The Message)

"All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birthpangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the linger we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along."

I feel something growing in me. I wait and I wonder.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Dream Big, My Darling....

Today was birthday party day. Ellie went to one in the morning, and Sabrina went to one this afternoon.

Sabrina's invitation was from one of her best friends, Abigail, who is turning five. In a vastly different party from what I normally associate with little girls, this one had a science theme. The kids did experiments, like picking up an ice cube from a glass of water using a piece of string and a little salt, mixing paint colors, and putting dry ice in juice to make "potion."

The girls were enraptured, and I got to overhear a conversation between three of the girls. Abi and Sabrina agreed they are going to be scientists when they grow up, and the third piped in that she is going to be a doctor. Abi's specialty will be oceans, and after further prompting she revealed she wants to research how the ocean puts out fires that are lit in its waters.

I shared this information with Abi's parents, who were thrilled to see an interest in science. This is a family who wants to break the myth of fairy tales only being about handsome princes.

I am probably not much help when it comes to diffusing gender stereotypes. Our gift to Abi was a pretend makeup kit.

I encourage my girls to doll themselves up, and I have been known to encourage ear-piercing, Barbies, and henna tattoos. I fear my difficulty encouraging my daughters to dream ambitiously is a result of my own inhibitions. While I have told them over and over again that they can be and do whatever they want, we still talk a lot, probably more than we should, about princesses and rock stars.

On the other hand, I can't be doing all bad, because seven-year-old Jack was wondering aloud the other day why there hasn't been a woman President yet. He was genuinely baffled. Sabrina suggested I should be President, but Ellie and Jack both agreed this is a bad idea, because then I'd never be around to take care of them. Hmmmm.

You know, I don't think I'd do well with that kind of pressure. I can barely manage my own household. Besides, I'd never get any reading done.

Elves 'R Us

One of the fun things about living apart from family during the holiday season is the gleeful anticipation of that telltale brown truck pulling into our driveway. Come home from an outing, and the first thing one does is check the front porch. Any packages today? With the advent of online stores, and the many offers for free shipping during the holiday season, shopping across state lines, or across mountain ranges and large bodies of water, becomes relatively simple.

Our first two winters in Alaska I did almost all of my shopping online. It was quick, easy, convenient. I also overspent. Not everyone had free shipping, so I had to pay that. Then, I would forget what I'd already bought or had lost track of how much I'd spent, and I'd buy just a few more things. Then, there was the wrapping conundrum. If you ship gifts directly from the merchandiser to the recipient, unless you pay an aggregious amount for them to wrap it, it arrives unwrapped. So much for surprises.

This year, breaking with two years of pseudo-tradition, I did ALL of my shopping in stores, on foot, with a cart. I brought everything home, wrapped it all, without ribbons or bows, and perhaps even as I speak, Bruce is in line at the U.S. Post Office waiting to get them shipped off.

Meanwhile, our beloved family have shopped for us, and have made us aware of the various packages coming our way. It seems all of us are feeling a bit frugal this year, because no one wants to spring for merchandiser gift-wrapping. Instead, I have been asked to be Santa's elf, and as packages come in, send them through our own household's, complimentary, gift-wrapping processor.

Now, before I go any further, because I know my beloved family are likely reading this, I want to make clear that I happily and cheerfully do this task. I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn't. I have asked others to do the same for me in times past. But this year, it has just gotten a bit more complicated. My organizational abilities are getting a bit stretched, as you are about to see.

This is what I must keep straight: okay, all packages from my parents-in-law cannot be opened - they will do so themselves when they arrive around December 18th. However, all these packages are addressed to Bruce, so I must be mindful of the return addresses, and make sure he doesn't open them thinking they are things he ordered for me. So far, one box from Amazon already arrived and is in the "Do Not Open" pile. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law, Karen, has sent one which can be opened if it has her home return address, but cannot if the return address is Amazon - that one can only be opened my my mother-in-law (Karen wisely put it to Barbara's attention). Next, the ones from my mom are coming from REI, and could be opened and wrapped by don't need to be - she can do it when she gets here on December 28th (we will be doing a separate post-holiday gift-exchange with her). Also, my brother, Doug, and his wife, Kathleen, have brought to my attention that they have had a couple boxes sent, all of which need to be opened and most of which need to be wrapped. One is from Amazon, addressed to me, and there is one family gift from my nephew John which is already wrapped. That should be fairly easy to handle. Another box is coming from Lands End, also addressed to me. The final one is coming from REI(?) and I don't know who it's addressed to. In theory, all the REI boxes should be safe. Lastly, Bruce has ordered all my Christmas gifts online, and based on the receipts that arrived in our Outlook Inbox, they are coming from Target. I assume they are addressed to him. Haven't heard from Liz yet. She's Bruce's other sister.

Is all that pretty straight-forward? It is, isn't it?

Bruce just got home and brought in our mail. In it is a box addressed to me from REI..... Need to think a moment.... Think it's a safe one.... Just opened it.... Took a peek.... Whew! Safe!

Bruce also just handed over the receipts from mailing the five big boxes at the Post Office. Ninety bucks. Ouch.

Next year I'm shipping direct and recruiting elves.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Where'd It Go?

It is the dawn of a new day. The long-awaited sun peeks out from behind swirls of grey clouds. A balmy wind quickens the branches of the birch and spruce trees. The grass emerges from beneath the receding snow. Birds flit eagerly about searching for food in the newly uncovered earth. Children converge outside, quickly fashioning from the remaining slush one last snowman.

Meanwhile, on the radio, Dean Martin sings about a "marshmallow world" while various other renditions of "Winter Wonderland" play their taunting tunes....

Wait a minute. It's not spring. It's Christmas-time!

This is a time when Alaskans depend on the gentle pink glow reflected from our annual blanket of snow to illuminate from below what does not shine down from above. But now, except for our weakly-lighted 5 1/2 hours of daytime, the world is black as pitch. The street lights and Christmas lights fade into darkness, barely illuminating anything.

This week, chinook winds from the southeast brought ridiculously warm air into the Anchorage bowl, melting the promising base layer of snow from our fair city. Residents, even those who profess to hate winter, are discouraged and crabby, cursing the mild temperatures, and pining for the days of 15 and 20 degrees.

This is what our world looked like the day after our Thanksgiving snowstorm:

Ah, it was a marvelous, magical wonderland, fit to incite envy in even the most heat-seeking of children.

THIS is what our yard looks like this afternoon:

What more can I say? A picture is worth a thousand words.

Weep for us. Weep for those who wish to visit us this winter. Weep for those who bought us snowshoes and other winter-activity-related-gear for Christmas gifts (you know who you are).

Ah, well, at least we still have 3 1/2 more months of potentially snow-producing months left in front of us. Hope springs eternal.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

You can only put off the inevitable for so long. As the self-appointed stylist for the family, it is soley my responsibility to keep my husband's and kids' heads trimmed and coiffed. It has saved us a fair amount of money over the years; money I use to keep my own locks trimmed and coiffed ($45 every ten weeks, baby!). However, I don't always feel particularly motivated to do it, nor do I always do it particularly well. (I'm remembering the attempt I once made after two glasses of wine....wince.)

Today, I could stand it no longer. The girls' bangs were hanging in their eyes, and the boys' sideburns were brushing their earlobes, and I am stone-cold sober. So, I got out the hair clippers and scissors and went to work.

Now, so far, I've only done Ellie, Evan, and Jack. Sabrina is mad I only want to do her bangs, so she's in avoidance, and Bruce isn't home yet. Plus, he takes the longest.

I thought I'd share some before and after shots. Don't you love makeovers?

This is Evan's "before":

And his "after" (isn't he just the darling-est?):

This is Jack's "before":

And his "after" (doesn't he look so intellectual wearing the scarf with the turtleneck?):

The only "after" picture I have for Ellie is of her wearing a hat, but here it is anyway. Note her unusual fashion sense:

Three down. Two to go. Excellent.

Oh wait, I just remembered I need to do the dog too. THAT would be well-worthy of before and after pictures.

To keep me accountable, here is Seamus right now:

Wish me luck.

Getting A Grip

Having somewhat recovered from a nasty bout of hormonal depression, I sit at the computer with a moderate desire to write. This is a welcome improvement.

Some of the topics I’ve been wanting to comment on lately, but haven’t had the time or energy to address, include:

-Hormonal depression
-Jack in second-grade
-Holiday blues and stress
-The melting snow
-Our Bissell dying
-Children playing musical bedrooms
-The new Harry Potter movie

Though my calendar has been relatively light the past couple of weeks, I find that even the minor-est of tasks can put me in a tailspin of stress. For example: ARC of Anchorage came by today to pick up “gently used household items” for donation. The items had to be on the curbside by 8:30am and clearly marked “ARC”. The things I was donating were already bagged and boxed. All I had to do was write “ARC” and carry them to the end of the driveway. So why was I awake from 6:15am until 7:15am agonizing from under my down comforter about whether or not I’d be able to pull it off?

Also, this morning I needed to send a bag of candy to school with Sabrina; her contribution to the class project of making gingerbread houses. I hadn’t bought anything from the store, and so was wracking my brain trying to think of what I could send.

It’s funny what tasks almost paralyze me. Even cooking dinner lately has seemed an overwhelming chore.

Things I’ve been needing to do and have either given up on or am continuing to delay:

-Taking Juneau to the vet for her annual physical exam
-Cutting everyone’s hair (including Seamus’)
-Acquiring boxes for the Christmas gifts I sending out-of-state
-Shipping the out-of-state gifts
-Figuring out what holiday school-events I’m required to attend in the kids’ respective classes
-Buying gifts for the two kid birthday parties occurring this Saturday
-Preparing for our next meeting of M.I.L.K.

Perhaps I shouldn’t beat myself up so much. I have been doing SOME stuff. I finished Christmas shopping and have wrapped everything so far. I’ve kept up with the laundry. And the dishes. I return most of my phone calls. Last week I did a bunch of cold-calling for work. We started up Care Group again so we have a gang over every Sunday night for a couple hours. I’ve done a little reading. I help the kids with homework. I talk to Bruce. I’ve cleaned bathrooms and even mopped the kitchen.

So I guess I’m not a total chump.

I think part of my problem – and I’ve alluded to this before – is that I’m kind of striding two different parenting-worlds: that of somewhat-autonomous school-age kids and that of preschoolers/toddlers. When Jack and Sabrina were Ellie and Evan’s age, I didn’t do ANYTHING. What makes me think I can do so much more with four kids? I need to cut myself some slack.

I am so sick of thinking about all this stuff all the time. Why do I do it? Why can’t I just shut off my brain and la-de-da my way through life?

I had a conversation with my friend Jeff, who is also my pastor, the other day. We covered a lot of ground, but one of the things we discussed caused me great deal of further contemplation. Jeff had asked me where I got the idea I have to be perfect all the time. At the time, I was stumped. I honestly answered that I didn’t know. Later, though, I realized I AM able to answer that question. I try to be perfect, I try to control my emotions and my environment because for so long I didn’t bother with anything. The truth is, for many, many, many years I was lazy, unmotivated, emotional, and, yes Jeff, indolent. I B.S.’d my way through life. I tried to manipulate people with emotions and tried to get by with the minimum amount of effort and commitment.

Now, I am so ashamed of having once been this way that I try to avoid it altogether. I am afraid that if I acknowledge my weaknesses to the truly extraordinary people that I am privileged to call my friends, they will not want me anymore. I want to “add value” to my relationships with others by participating in events and having people over. So I become performance-oriented, walking the tightrope and hoping that I can keep my balance so that I’m not exposed as a fraud and they will keep loving me.

Now, these motivations are sincere and genuine. I sincerely and genuinely don’t want to “bother” other people with my paltry problems. I want them to enjoy their time with me and remember it with joy rather than regret. I do not want my friends to dread every conversation with me, but to look forward to my company.

I have been blessed with a great deal materially, the most significant blessing being love of family and friends. I recognize that there are a great many people in the world who have REAL problems like disease, poverty, abuse and oppression. Why absorb the energies of my friends and family when there are others whose needs are so much greater? It would be like accepting a monetary gift from my church because I overextended my VISA by buying Ipods for the whole family.

I find myself short-tempered with the problems of others. Most everyone I know who struggles in life is very good at sucking it up and plodding forward. This seems an admirable trait. I want to be like this. Those few people I know who go on and on about their stupid “issues” irritate me after awhile. I want to slap them and tell them to “buck up” and “that’s life, get over it.” Isn’t that harsh? But it’s what I expect from myself. And I’m not convinced that I’m wrong. I recognize I may not able to fix myself all by myself, but that is where my faith comes in. I believe that God can help me address my “issues” better than another person, and that He will – He always has in the past.

Let me not squander the compassion of the dear people whose tender hearts compel them to come to the aid of others. My life is good. It is GREAT – if I am going to wrestle, let me do it with a minimum of outside intervention. I don’t want to be what I despise (but isn’t that often the case?).

Okay. So that’s my brain fart. I’m sure Jeff will find all kinds of holes in my argument and we’ll have a very interesting follow up discussion (hopefully on the kitchen floor – inside joke). That’s fine. Bring it on. I’m all for self-improvement and self-actualization and healing. But ultimately, I want to get away from taking myself so seriously. I want to quit thinking about memememe all the live-long day. It’s boring, it’s endless, it’s repetitive.

So why do I keep doing it?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

When NOT to Write

For any person visiting my blog with any regularity, it is known that I, as the writer of said blog, am NOT very regular in my writing of it.

I confess, lately all I’ve wanted to do is readreadread. I find I cannot easily both read and write in the same hormonal/creative/emotional/spiritual cycle. Right now I am all about readingreadingreading.

That said, in November I read all of THREE books. What the hell. It would have only been two, but I actually finished one last night. (“To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Connie Willis) Then I immediately started on “Saving Grandma” by Frank Schaeffer. I am about 176 pages into that one. Much better.

Last summer, I was averaging ten books per month. I am way down. I’m slipping.

So, what have I been doing while NOT reading books?

Well, last week was Thanksgiving, and THAT took up a whole day.

Jack started second grade this last Monday, so Bruce and I have been diligently re-learning the homework expectations and schedules. It has forced me to interact with my otherwise self-sufficient seven-year-old.

Speaking of which, I corresponded with Jack’s new teacher tonight to see how he’s doing. He had told me he was having a hard-ish time with division.

Division? I don’t think I learned about multiplication OR division until fourth-grade. I was starting to feel insecure, and was starting to think the chasm between first and second grade way too wide for my Sweet Baby Boy (smarty-pants or not), so I wrote Mrs. W to solicit a dose of reality.

In her reply, she indicated that Jack was referring to a math placement test that she is administering to the class, and that technically, the teaching of division doesn’t begin until third-grade. So, I needn’t worry about that. However, she did use the term “wicked smart” in the first sentence of her reply. And in the last sentence she mentioned how well the class has accepted Jack into its ranks. Aaaaah. Sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, I have a cold. And…..

I’ve been lukewarm-cold-calling previous art gallery customers to invite them to a release party we’re doing tomorrow night with our bread-and-butter artist, Charles Gause. Only once (that I know of) did I get hung-up on, or call a deceased person. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

I called at least one CEO (in Anchorage, this isn’t saying much). And countless wrong numbers. No, wait…. Let’s count them afterall! ….. Only five. Well, that’s not very countless.

Also, it snowed tonight in Seattle. The significance of this is that my long-lost friend Kinh – AKA my “snow buddy” (from our college days) – called me FROM WORK of all places to share her excitement with me. I used the opportunity to plug the many snowy pleasures to be found in Alaska, and how much I thought her CHILDREN would enjoy it up here. She didn't disagree. So, we’ll see.

I’ve got a really, nasty, lay-in-the-bathtub and blow-my-nose kind of cold. So, I really don’t want to write. But feel I must write. If I stop, all is lost. My dreams will be shattered. Especially now that I’ve almost got a handful of people thinking of me as a “WRITER.”

Well, back to “Saving Grandma”.


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