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Viewing Blog: At A Hen's Pace, Most Recent at Top
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What does a hen do all day? Nothing but walk about in endless circles, pecking at this or that--yet she is one of the most creative and productive of God's creatures.
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1. Happy Birthday, Chicklet13!

I'm late to tell the world that this beautiful girl has become a teenager!

It's hard to believe. She still seems so young, innocent and childlike, while at the same time deepening in a maturity that is beyond her years. Despite her advanced age, she still relates so well to all the younger girls at our church and to her younger brother, and she doesn't seem in a rush to grow up and get too interested in boys, fashion and makeup. 

She enjoys dressing up, though, as she is in this picture--her big sister did her hair and makeup! The occasion was a back-to-school dance that our church youth group sponsored. She was the only middle-schooler there, but since the youth group meets at our house, I'm one of the leaders, and we're short on girls, she gets to be part of it. PK's should get a few perks in life! (Pastor's Kid, for the uninitiated.)

Here's another pic from the dance--with one of her best friends!

Love the exuberance and joy captured here! Chicklet is normally a sweet, level-headed, pretty quiet girl. It's fun to see her burst out at the seams once in a while. 

Her older sister has always been a big personality, and she was SO excited to finally get a little sister when she was 10 years old. She was present at Chicklet's birth, 13 years ago! It's fun to see their relationship changing and getting closer as Chicklet gets older.

Speaking of 10-year-olds, here is Chicklet on the first day of school with Bantam10, her best bud and constant companion. --By circumstance rather than by choice, most of the time, but it's delightful to see the two of them getting along really well, most of the time.

Her first few days at middle school have gone really well. She really, really likes all her teachers--yay!-- and she's found a couple kindred spirits in her classes and at lunch, who sound like sweet, nerdy friends for our girl. Perfect! No looking back longingly at her homeschooling days for either of us--we are both enjoying this new stage. B10 is enjoying being an experienced 5th grader, with the same teacher as last year. He loved her, she loved him, I loved her approach--so all's well there!

One last photo, with B20:

It scares me how old she looks here!

Most wonderful of all, about our Chicklet, is her heart for God. She knows she has lots to learn, but she listens for God's voice, she follows the Holy Spirit's leadings, she leans on God's strength when she is tempted, and she hungers for more of the Lord's presence. You know God is working in a heart like that!

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of 12 years with this sweet daughter. 

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2. Fifty Things to Love About My 50-Year-Old Man

If I'd been smarter, I'd have seen this day coming and would have started thinking about this post before 10 a.m. on his actual birthday. But since I've been living this summer by the seat of my pants, I will now proceed to dash off 50 things about my one-and-only...before I have to leave for my yoga class! (That I cannot miss even though it's his birthday because it's been too long since my 50-year-old body has been there and I FEEL IT. Such a typical scenario. You can only do how much you can do.)

1. I am blessed beyond measure that my husband deeply loves me.

2. And God. I'm sure it's because of his love for God and God's love for him that he can find the grace to hang in there with me-at-my-worst.

3. Which he does, all the time.

4. He also seems to really like me, most of the time.

5. He likes to listen to me talk, of all things.

6. He even mostly remembers things I tell him.

7. He gives me good advice on a regular basis.

8. And loves me even when I don't take it.

9. But mostly we make a good team.

10. Even though we tend to notice the things we don't agree on, we are on the same page on so many things that it's easy to take them for granted.

11. Faith, for example. Years ago, I thought about marrying a guy who had plans for his life; God was welcome to join him. Instead, I married the guy who was committed to following wherever God led.

12. As fellow adventurers in following God, we've had six children.

13. We've followed God's leading to move to Wisconsin and help plant a church.

14. We've lived by faith on many decisions, large and small.

15. Including buying the house we live in presently, which made no sense except through the lens of faith.

16. He's been the rock when my faith wavered.

17. He's the stable one when I'm tired, weak and emotional.

18. He lets us reverse roles sometimes too.

19. He is incredibly patient.

20. He is an amazing pastor.

21. To our kids as well as to those in our small congregation.

22. He is gifted in wisdom and knowledge.

23. He is gifted in prayer.

24. He is gifted in healing.

25. He is a great speaker and storyteller.

26. Even if I have to bite my tongue sometimes to keep from correcting the inaccurate details!

27. He has a compassionate heart.

28. He oozes wisdom and compassion when he counsels others.

29. People trust this guy, and they are right to do so.

30. He is an excellent leader.

31. He always knows how to speak diplomatically in tense situations.

32. In those situations, I am always amazed at his vocabulary and word choice, which I would never in a million years be able to come up with.

33. He's always reading something interesting.

34. He always sends me interesting articles.

35. He knows what I'd be interested in.

36. And he shares things that he's interested in, just to keep me up-to-date with his latest mental projects.

37. He likes having people over, informally, and together we've developed a hospitality that God uses.

38. Somehow it feeds us instead of draining us, which I'm sure is the Lord's doing, but I have to credit my husband with launching us down that path.

39. He also led us down the Anglican path, which was way outside my comfort zone, but which I love now!

40. I love that he's an ordained Anglican priest.

41. He has such a joyful and honest way of leading a service.

42. I love that our boys all have gone through a phase where they thought they would like to become a priest too, someday. (B10 is still in it. He also would like to be bald, just like his daddy.)

43. I think he looks incredibly handsome in all his vestments.

44. And in jeans and button-down shirts, which always remind me of the college boy he was when we met.

45. That college boy used to sing to me, snatches from musicals, especially "Pretty Women."

46. I still love hearing his tenor voice.

47. I love that our kids inherited his singing abilities.

48. Did I mention that he's much, much smarter than I am?

49. And humble, too?

50. Best of all, he's loved me for 29 years!

Happy 50th, Honey! You are such a blessing to me, our family and our church, for all the reasons I've listed and here and so many more!!! May God bless you as you bless so many others!

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3. July Update

Poor, neglected blog.

Where do I begin to try to catch it up?

I think we'll go with bullet points! (A vain attempt, probably, at brevity.)

--Big news:  My father-in-law bought a house near us!! He hasn't put his old house--a townhome in IL--on the market yet, but he closed on the new house and he's been moving in stages. I've made several trips there to help him pack--but it's been hard to get much time there when you have to factor in 3 hours of roundtrip travel time. (This is why we needed him closer!!) Movers moved his heaviest furniture and books already, but we need to get his remaining belongings packed up and ready for a final rental truck--hopefully later this week!

--It's been especially hard because our schedule has been more full than it usually is in the summer. I started a ladies' Bible study on Friday mornings, which has been good! We've had great discussions about really tough questions, and I was especially encouraged by a woman who randomly asked if she could join us, although she knew none of us and had just met the woman who told her about it. She and her husband came to church the next Sunday, and already signed up for our upcoming new member's class! It seemed to confirm that it really was the Lord who put it into my heart to have the Bible study, even though not everyone I hoped would come has been able to attend, and even though I hesitated to make a regular commitment to it, especially in the summer.

--God also nudged me to start a Thursday Bible study for the kids in our church ages 10-12 (Chicklet and B10's age group). We've had a blast doing "sword drills" (a race to locate verses in our Bibles) and studying passages about prayer, encouraging the kids that their prayers make a difference and wrestling with the question of why we should pray if God already knows what He's going to do! Afterwards, moms and siblings join us and we've visited a museum, ridden the trolley and eaten at "Trolley Dogs," and been to the beach. Again, although it's been a commitment, I've felt God smiling on us all!
At the Kenosha Public Museum

Swimming in Lake Michigan!

--I also committed to a week as a camp mom at a theater camp for 11th-12th graders. B16 attended as a camper and was socially and spiritually encouraged in many ways. Last year, for this same week, he was not in a good place. Through a testimony that was shared, God opened his eyes to recognize how he was sending "leave me alone" signals to others, which contributed to his feelings of loneliness and depression. He was able to turn things around for the rest of the week last year, and it was a significant turning point for him. This year, he had such a different experience. He was able to be outgoing and social, having fun and working hard on his dances and songs, including a solo, a duet and a scene as Henry from the musical Next to Normal. He also auditioned for the talent show, which he refused to do last year, and he ended up getting awarded FIRST PLACE for his original jazz improvisation on the piano!

Photo credit: my friend Lori

--I was glad the camp was as much fun as it was--(I really had a blast, although the last time I was that sleep-deprived was when I had a newborn, and I've never taken more naps in random public places)--because I had to miss tech week with my Shakespeare friends during the week of camp. Camp was the reason I couldn't audition for the show as I'd hoped to...and the reason I ended up as assistant director of Macbeth instead! Then I got the chance to understudy and perform twice in a very cool role:  Banquo, who in our version is a woman-warrior, Macbeth's best soldier friend. Macbeth is threatened by Banquo because of the prophecy that her children will be kings, instead of Macbeth's, so he has her waylaid and murdered. Not only did I have to learn her lines and blocking, I had to learn two stage battles, fighting with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other! One is the opening battle between two armies, and the other is Banquo fighting off the hired murderers--ending with Banquo getting her throat slit. (But not before she gets out all her final lines, "O treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou mayst revenge! O slave!" That was fun to yell--with a rubber dagger poised above my throat.)

--I was only going to play the role for our two daytime outdoor shows, with no costumes or makeup. But then our regular Banquo got sick, and I ended up going on 3 times in one weekend at the theater--with full makeup (including splashes of stage blood) and in costume, which included a tiny black leather vest I found in the kids' dress-up bin. With a rust-colored tank top underneath, black skinny jeans, combat boots, and my hair in a Katniss braid, how could I not get into character?? And did I mention that Banquo appears two more times after her death, as a ghost that only Macbeth can see? What a great role! And the rich language has just been washing over me all summer...even other people's lines...such a delight!

--Somewhere in the earlier part of the summer I managed to also finally paint my kitchen/dining area. I had to wait to have someone else make repairs to the ceiling, but once that was done, I had no excuse not to settle on a color and begin. I taught myself how to cut in and frame, which was a skill worth learning, and I'm so pleased with the result! Next I really want to strip wallpaper and paint the foyer and staircase. We've been picking away at it, so it can't wait too long.

--The week before camp, we had 5 golden days with my Professor Brother and his family, who drove from southern Kansas to see us in our new house! We had fun "doing downtown"--the trolley, Mike's Chicken and Donuts, Mike Bjorn's, Simmons Library, the beach, Wine Knot, the Kemper Center, the Anderson Arts Center, the Southport Beach House and other stops! (Some of these locations were chosen for senior pictures for my oldest niece!) My 3 nieces get along so well with my younger three kids; it was wonderful to give them that time. The four of us adults thoroughly enjoyed our time together too. Looking forward to seeing them again in August, along with my parents, my Pilot Brother, and his family!

Photo credit:  Professor Brother

Chicklet12 with her doppelganger, Niece13!

Such a strong family resemblance!

And check out these two! They both got the same deep-set eyes that my dad and grandma passed on to me.
--How could I forget? We also attended the Improvapalooza, which was an all-day improv competition between 9 teams of improv'ers from IL and WI. This was B16's third year doing improv, and last year his team finished in the lower third. So what a shock it was when they made it into the final round and WON the whole competition! They had a new coach this year, a dad with a passion for improv and for these kids, and he did an incredible job coaching them not just to be funny, but to work as a team, and to establish the foundation (called CROW--character, relationship, objective, where). Their team was called "Agents of CROW."
The Agents of CROW accept their trophy, the coveted lamp! Their coach is one whose face is mostly hidden, to the right of B16
--We are super-thrilled that this same dad and his family have joined Light of Christ and he immediately felt called to offer to lead our youth group! Unbeknownst to him, several of us had been praying for a youth group leader...and praying specifically that this dad might be interested...but we weren't going to press him too soon. It was such a confirmation when he immediately expressed interest. He's already stimulated new growth and excitement in our teens!

And...I'll quit. That was two months' worth of news! I sure hope another two months doesn't fly by the way those did.

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4. School Year's End

Six days till summer vacation begins!

Every morning, B10 informs me how many days till summer vacation. He includes the weekends, so his count is different from B16's, who counts only the remaining school days. 

Chicklet isn't as excited, because for math, she'll be plugging away for quite a few more weeks. It was her choice not to push harder; but she wisely decided to focus on a manageable daily amount rather than overwhelm herself with too much information at once. (For my homeschooling friends, we're using a self-paced online program called ALEKS which has been excellent.) I'm happy that she'll be keeping her math-brain active this summer. (But I do wish she could find her grammar and map-reading workbooks that we still need to finish!)

But it's been a good school year.

You may recall that B10 is finishing up fourth grade in public school. Previously, he was homeschooled, but when we moved, we decided to try him at the elementary school in our new neighborhood, since we had heard it praised so highly. I wasn't sure I had the energy to keep him busy enough at home; he has so much energy, I had a feeling he might be more engaged in a school setting. (Incidentally, it hit me just a few weeks ago that, although all of our kids are outgoing, B10 is our only other true extrovert besides Blondechick.)

And he's had a great year. He's getting good grades; he's well-liked by his teacher and his classmates; he's motivated to learn, to behave and to treat others well. There really hasn't been a single negative thing about his experience. We are so thankful! So he'll return in the fall for fifth grade, which will be his last year there. He sometimes speaks longingly of being homeschooled, but the main draw is being able to sleep in, I'm pretty certain. He does have a little stack of workbooks that he likes to do on non-attendance days, so he can feel homeschooled again. One time he told me he wished he could go to school every other day, and be homeschooled on the other days.

Chicklet12 and I have had a sweet sixth-grade year together. One of my goals was to get her reading longer books for longer periods of time, and we definitely achieved that. Yay!! I also wanted to get her "caught up" to where she should be in math, and when she's finished with ALEKS, she will be there. Another goal was to invest time in our relationship--with teenagerhood looming in September! So we went on the cruise together. We also went out to breakfast more than a few times; we've shopped together, cooked together, prayed together, and learned together. But it wasn't all one-on-one time; we also had our classical co-op once a week, plus theater classes and rehearsals, and homeschooled friends, church friends and theater friends to fit into her social calendar!

It's been bittersweet, since we knew that it was probably going to be her last year being homeschooled. And that's the plan for 7th grade--to go to the public middle school. By all accounts, it's not a great school, but it could be worse. So this year she went there for a few months for one period, for choir, which was long enough for her to make a few friends and imagine herself going there. I wish there was a better option, but I also trust that God is in it and He'll provide for her. I can always pull her out and homeschool her if I have to! 

But God is doing something in my heart; it feels like He is gently closing the door on homeschooling, at least for a season, because He wants to direct my attention to other things. It seems crazy to send our lovely daughter to a rough school full of junior high boys--of all things!--and it seems many of the girls are just as bad. But we know other lovely girls who've done fine there, and Chicklet has an inner strength and self-possession that will serve her well and probably be strengthened in that setting.  

Meanwhile, God is opening doors in my relationships with women who want prayer, who want to be discipled, and with people who want to know more about God. Many are neighbors or people we've only met since we moved, and we've never experienced this kind of openness and opportunity before. It continues to confirm to us that our move last summer was something God was orchestrating!

Finally, B16 is finishing his sophomore year at the local high school--also a place I wasn't eager to send our kids, but in B16 it has served to strengthen him in many ways. Ironically, he gets positive reinforcement from his peers for things like being polite, dressing in a classy way (like wearing Dad's wing-tips to school with jeans), appearing to have his act together, and having good relationships with his siblings. (All examples straight from the lips of his friends!) He's had amazing opportunities with Chorale, Madrigals, Jazz Choir, theater and Solo and Ensemble. He's finding more satisfaction with a job well-done academically too. He's also been selected to be on "Link Crew" next year, which pairs mature upperclassmen with groups of freshman students, an honor and a neat responsibility. Despite all the positives, he struggles with a certain level of depression, but he's getting better at making proactive choices that help lift him up (like not procrastinating on the big project), and I am as proud of that as I am of his other accomplishments.

And that's a wrap--for this blog post, at least. B16 and B10 still have four more days of school to get through before we can say the same about this school year. Or six. Depending how you count!

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5. May Madness



What, gone already?

May was super-busy but brim-full of wonderful events and activities.

For three days, Father R and I attended a healing conference where we taught together on Listening Prayer and Forgiveness. We also ministered in prayer to many individuals, and these prayer times were powerful! God really showed up to do the work. It was a joy and privilege to partner with Him. We were so thankful that nearly a dozen from our church were able to attend.

We also spent a lot of time in prayer as a church in May. Every night, for the week between Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday, we met to intercede for our church and its call to minister in this community. We were joined one night by a Hispanic prayer warrior from another church, another night by the pastor of a black church that we are forming a relationship with, and another night 4 Guatemalans who were passing through town prayed with us. Just as the disciples waited in the Upper Room for the Holy Spirit to come, we lingered in our living room each night listening for the Lord's direction and praying for his will to be done in Kenosha and our surrounding communities. These were powerful times! We had a blessed service on Pentecost, and one family who has been attending regularly decided that day to become members. We are so thankful to God for what He is doing at Light of Christ!

B20's graduation from the Living Light School of Worship marked the end of a rich season for him. It's been a year of intensive Bible study and discipleship, as well as music theory, ear training, songwriting and other classes. It ended up being one of the most challenging, but rewarding, years of his life! What's next? For the summer, he'll be working at Starbucks (he started there a few months ago) and at another retail store. He will probably start taking college classes in the fall, but he is praying for God's direction and clear guidance as he considers his future.

In theater, after Jungle Book closed, the kids had their final Showcase for their classes. B10 sang with his voice class, Chicklet12 danced with her Project Dance Jr class, and B16 performed with his improv team. The improv team will continue to practice and perform throughout June, in preparation for the Improvapalooza, a big competition among all 11 Spotlight improv teams, which B16 is really looking forward to!

We also had Showcase for the Shakespeare class that I taught for Spotlight in Lake County. I was so proud of my students! They performed a scene from Much Ado About Nothing, with 16 kids stepping in and out to play the various roles. I am already revising and strengthening my lesson plans for the next time I teach this class, which will be in Milwaukee in the fall.

In other theater news, I was invited to be assistant director for a summer Shakespeare program at the Rhode Theater here in Kenosha. The lead director condensed two plays into abridged, one-act versions, and I will be working on the one-act of Macbeth. We held two nights of auditions this week and just published the cast list this morning. We have an excellent cast, and I'm excited to work with an experienced Shakespearean director and get to know a new group of adult and teenage actors! 

May was also filled with B10's soccer practices and games, and now baseball season has begun as well. Chicklet's homeschool PE class at Carthage College just ended, and our classical co-op ended at the end of April. B16's Chorale held their spring concert; he had one solo and he performed with the Madrigal Singers as well. He got 1's (top marks) on four out of five of his State Solo and Ensemble entries, including 1's on both his Classical and Musical Theater solos. Another big accomplishment for B16, back in April, was getting his driver's license!

Farewell, May! Maybe next time you can stay a little longer!

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6. A New Sport

Baseball season has begun. And it's a new sport to us!

B10 is really the only natural athlete in our family. All our kids have played soccer at some point and were pretty competitive, but B10 seems to be good at whatever he tries. And last summer he tried baseball, informally, at a picnic with a group of dads, who all urged me to get him into baseball.

So this year, we signed up. He couldn't make the tryouts for Little League because he was busy being a Monkey in Jungle Book, but the Boys and Girls Club has a league, and it's less competitive. Which is a good thing, since he has so little knowledge of the game.

A couple practices were rained out and we had a conflict for another one, so he only made one practice before the first game of the season. Our normally supremely confident son admitted he didn't know what he was doing yet and didn't feel ready for a game, but the coach assured me that he had a broad range of abilities on the team and B10 would be fine.

His inept parents could not find the field where the first game was played, so he arrived last--and they had run out of hats and jerseys. Mom didn't find out that pants weren't included with the uniform until a few hours before the game, but B10 assured her that sweatpants would be fine. So here he is at his first game--in sweatpants and somebody's jersey from last year (over the green t-shirt he arrived in).

I have to laugh. He's just so obviously not our firstborn.

Since we were late to the game, he only got up to bat one time. First he swung at one that hit the dirt. Then he watched another one do the same. And on the third pitch, he hit a line drive to the first baseman and was thrown out--but got an RBI when his teammate on third crossed the plate!

He didn't see much action out in right field, but he looked alert the whole time and snapped up a couple grounders that got through the infield.

I'm guessing baseball is not going to be his favorite sport, because there is so much sitting and standing around--but he'll be glad to know how to play it.

Now I need to go searching for those white baseball pants that somebody handed down to us! I just know they're in a Rubbermaid bin somewhere....

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7. All About Jungle Book

So the show we weren't even planning on doing--ended up being our favorite this year!

In fact, so few people were signed up to audition for Jungle Book that there was a lot of talk about it being canceled. A lot of kids simply weren't excited about the show. It was not the Disney version but an unimpressive homegrown effort which some of us had seen performed a few years ago. Even though we were told that the script and songs had been strengthened, it was hard to imagine that it could be improved THAT much. So a lot of regulars were simply planning a break. 

Then they announced the directing team--a group of really strong, positive, talented, encouraging and well-liked individuals--and that got everybody re-thinking. And then all these new families signed up, and what a shame it would be if the show they were signing up for was CANCELED! The re-thinking continued...and on audition day, we had enough kids signed up--although it would be a very small, very young cast.

So we weren't surprised to see Bantam16's name at the top of the cast list--he would be playing Older Mowgli, in the second act. Then Younger Mowgli's name was listed...and then Bagheera, the black panther had next-nearest-the-top billing. To our shock and delight, Chicklet12's name was listed there! What?! Further down, we found Bantam10's name with the other Monkeys--an energetic group for sure. No surprise there!

But Bagheera? Chicket? A 12-year-old? Could she pull it off? Could she convey the authority, the gravitas, the parental concern for Mowgli, the prophetic vision for his life? Especially with the obstacle of Baloo the Bear, played by an older teenage boy, always trying to get Bagheera to lighten up? 

And could she memorize all those lines?? This role was intense!

[Warning: Super-proud mommy moments ahead] 

But she did it! She totally pulled it off. She seemed years older on stage. She bossed Baloo around and earnestly exhorted the Younger Mowgli. She and the Older Mowgli had a showdown of wills in Act Two, and she and her brother argued vehemently, passionately and most convincingly. By the final performance, you could hear a new maturity in her voice. You could observe great confidence in her movements, which had an elegance and a nobility that suited a black panther. She gave a performance which was excellent in itself, but especially so because most people would never have guessed she was only 12! She was amazing.

Click to zoom in for a good look at her metallic false lashes! Photo credit:  Dave Fricke
B16 was equally as solid. Not only was he totally a good sport about wearing nothing but a red velvet diaper and a spray tan onstage, but he worked hard to identify with his character, and his analysis was even quoted in the newspaper:  "A fun thing about playing him is that he is trying to fit in somewhere: he doesn't know if he belongs in the jungle or the village. It relates to teenagers' lives as they try to fit into cliques. I get into [the singing] and I feel the emotions." And he made the audience feel the emotions too. His duet with Anjali, the village girl, was possibly the most beautiful moment of the show. Our Anjali completely lost her voice for one of our performances, so the directors asked B16 to change the pronouns and sing her verse as well as his own, and they recognized him with a Best Actor award at our strike party for his directability--the way he was able to take all their notes and implement them, even when all 4 of them threw something like that at him an hour before show time!

Photo by Papa Rooster
B10 also did us proud! I knew something was up when he came home after a couple rehearsals and announced that this was probably going to be his new favorite show. He had never changed his favorite show before--it has always been the first one he did (Aladdin)--and the reason he gave was that he LOVED his part! Then I heard from his brother and sister that he was really, really good at being a Monkey. Huh, I thought.

At the first dress rehearsal, I understood. B10, you may know, has SO. MUCH. ENERGY. And this role was perfect for him. He was over-the-top in every move he made. If the Monkeys had a step in their dance, B10 turned it in to a leap. If they spun around, he jumped high in the air as he spun. (I asked the choreographer if she cared if he was the spastic monkey of the group and she said she loved it!) These Monkey were screamers (kind of a high hooting scream that really did sound monkey-like), and he loved screaming most often and most loudly. He was constantly in movement onstage, pushing and getting pushed around, often rolling underfoot of others onstage, surprisingly never getting hurt or tripping someone. He did something new every time, always in character. He was just so much fun to watch! (And he told everyone that he had enjoyed it because "I just got to be myself!")

Photo by Papa Rooster
But there was something about this show. It just seemed God's hand was on it! Here's what I wrote on our theater group's Facebook page, on the morning of our final performance:

Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20)

Is anybody else just basking in the GENEROSITY of God today? I think a lot of us had low expectations for this show--we barely had enough people to pull it off! Remember it almost got canceled?? Then God sent us all these new families, and a great directing team, and who knew what the final product would look like, but hey, at least our kids were having fun, right?

I got to watch the show last night, and I was blown away by how good it was! I saw so many courageous choices by very young, very new actors, and by those who've never had lines or a lead before. I saw expressive and committed dancing and singing. I saw a really good story unfold, beautifully and believably. I give our directing team so much credit, but ultimately they can't take it beyond what each member of the cast is willing to put out there, and that's what took the show a step beyond what I could have imagined! Each cast member was focused and committed to every word, every step, every gesture. There was an intensity to the performance that I didn't expect with such a young and relatively inexperienced cast!*

[*Found out later that over half our cast members had never been in a Spotlight show before or had only been in one; 25% of our cast were 8- and 9-year-olds. Over half of the leads had never had a leading role before.)

I have to believe that it was God's mighty power at work within each of our kids that enabled them to push beyond their comfort zone with such courage. I believe God's power was at work to pull in all the new parents and make them part of things so readily! Thinking back to the prayers we prayed on Friday nights during rehearsals, God has answered so many of them--so generously. Why do we so often think of God as withholding? He loves to answer our prayers above and beyond what we can think to ask! Thank you, Lord!

I do wonder about the effect of our Friday night prayer times, which I felt strongly led by God to start this session. If our family isn't back in Kenosha in the fall (since I might end up on a directing team in another area), I hope and believe it will continue! There was just something special about this show, something beyond human relationships. God was at work, and I'm so excited to see what He will continue to do in Spotlight Kenosha!

Mowgli and Anjali play jumprope with the monkeys! (Photo credit:  Papa )

Indignant and upset with his sister Bagheera (Photo credit:  Papa R)
Solo time
(Photo credit:  Papa R)

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8. Cruisin' with Chicklet12!

Chicklet and I had such a special time together on our cruise!!

Here we are at O'Hare Airport at 6 a.m. on Monday morning. It was Mia's first flight!

Just a few hours later....

....we were in Miami, aboard the Norwegian Sky! Perfect for a girl who's 25% Norwegian.

Each morning, we woke up to find ourselves at a new port. The first morning it was Freeport on Grand Bahamas Island, and I believe this photo was taken in Nassau, on our second morning. 

In Freeport, we elected not to go to the beach, since it wasn't walking distance. Instead, we walked around the little shopping area near the dock. We spent $5 each; Chicklet bought a carved wooden dolphin, and I bought a straw fan. The seller stitched our names on the fan while we chatted with her and the other lady at the booth--the embroidery was included in the price! We also stopped to watch a woodcarver with an "I LOVE JESUS" t-shirt on, and we ended up talking to him for quite awhile too. He wasn't Anglican, but he reminded me of Anita, the cab driver that Papa R and I met on our cruise on Grand Turk Island--proud of his church, and his faith was obviously a big part of his life.

On the second day, at Nassau, we walked to a free beach and Chicklet made a friend there--a woman who was snorkeling in the shallow area. She gave Chicklet the snorkel pictured, because her husband wasn't using it. Besides lots of little fish to see, we found hermit crabs to play with on that beach too! 

On the third day, we went to a private island owned by the cruise line, called Grand Stirrup Cay. The snorkeling was even better there, so I rented a life-vest for Chicklet so she could go out farther safely. I would have loved to go with her, but there weren't any lockers for our stuff, including our ID's and my phone/camera. Plus snorkeling doesn't work for me because I can't get a good seal around my glasses, and if I remove my glasses, I can't see!

But there were lifeguards, and she had the life-vest, so I let her go, out of my sight, while I read Josephine Tey mysteries and soaked up the warmth of the sun. I felt a peace from the Lord that she would be fine--and she had a lovely time. 

"Mom, I saw a Dory fish! Did you know all of the Finding Nemo fish are real? I think I've seen all of them now, except for the sea turtle."

I kept urging her to join me on a lounge chair for a few minutes, but she said, "I can do that this summer. I won't be able to do this back in Wisconsin!" She snorkled for four hours that day, and two hours the day before, and never once said, "I'm bored," or "I wish I had a friend here." She was so content on the whole trip!

In the late afternoons, back on the ship, we swam in the ships's pool, sat in the hot tub, helped ourselves to soft-serve ice cream cones, and read books on our lounge chairs, enjoying the breeze. We ate our breakfasts and our first couple meals alone, but at dinner each night we went to the nice dining room and shared a table with others. At first Chicklet was hesitant about it, but she quickly discovered how interesting it was to meet people from all over the world. We met Canadians, a truck driver from NYC who had grown up in Guyana, a fun couple from Cincinnati, a talkative and lonely widower from Sevier, TN, and two twenty-something girls who had been homeschooled through high school. One had received training as a midwife in India, through Youth With a Mission, and was getting certified in the US. The other had graduated from high school with her associate's degree and had been on a number of missions trips since graduation, including a couple years in Australia. She was planning to return to college once she narrowed down what she really wanted to do--she had so many options!

We also went to the shows each night and really enjoyed the dancers, especially, since Chicklet12 has been taking a lot of dance. We discovered that there was an all-night buffet open at the outdoor eating area, so we had to visit there every night after the show, for an extra treat or two. We read in bed until about midnight each night. I stayed up a little later than C, and woke up a little earlier, without an alarm, which was lovely. In the darkness of our windowless inside cabin, we both slept super-well, but not too late!

At the public beach at Nassau

I was so grateful to God for this trip, especially that it was relaxing and uneventful. I was quite nervous about it ahead of time, with fears that we would miss our flight, or it would be cancelled, and we'd miss the boat, or Chicklet's birth certificate wouldn't be adequate ID, or we'd lose our baggage, or have our ID's stolen, or SOMETHING would happen. Then at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night, just 5 hours before we were going to leave for the airport, B10 threw up. Chicklet had been playing with him for hours that evening before bedtime, and so a new worry was added:  We'd spend the whole cruise in our stateroom, puking.

But thanks be to God, NOTHING HAPPENED!

My husband and 3 of my boys were sick for days...but Chicklet and I escaped somehow. (We both drank Airborne as soon as B10 threw up. Maybe that helped? And Papa R wouldn't let me into the bedroom, cleaning up the mess himself.)

The relief of an uneventful time was almost as carthatic as the relaxing time away!

It was just really fun and relaxing, and such a sweet time with Chicklet12. I am so, so thankful!!

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9. Holy Week, Spring Break--and a Vacation!

I keep wistfully waiting for the time when I can return to blogging more regularly!

It seems there is always some urgent big time-consuming thing. Always a good thing! For example, there was the clergy and spouse retreat, which took three days right when I needed to start thinking about Easter Vigil readings. And there was the opportunity to teach a Shakespeare class for teen theater students, which I am enjoying immensely, but required a good amount of start-up energy the week before that.

So the big urgent thing for the last couple weeks has been scrambling to pull together readers for Easter Vigil, their schedules, creative ideas for dramatic accompaniment and the folks to make that happen: a dancer, a djembe player, bell-ringers, percussion players (and instruments), musicians, music, and children to act out one of the readings. Did I mention scheduling??

This week--rehearsals for those readings! And Holy Week! We have services for Maundy Thursday, Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoon, Good Friday, Easter Vigil on Saturday and Easter Sunday. There are music rehearsals going on as well as my reading rehearsals, so our house--so close to the church now!--will be Holy Week Central. People will be providing meals and snacks for musicians and tech people at my house before each service and during the day on Friday and Saturday. One of my friends is going to hang out at my house to help set up, serve and clean up. It's going to be hectic but exciting!

(Note to self--figure out today or tomorrow what the younger kids and I are wearing for each service and do laundry or shop as needed--and buy ham! Our friends who have hosted us for Easter dinner for the last several years are going to join us this year, since the wife is recovering from surgery. My sister-in-law and I will cook together on Saturday morning, and our friends will bring sides and a dessert.)

After Holy Week, we have spring break, so it will be a recovery week...but also a week of preparation for Chicklet and me--because on the following Monday, when the boys go back to school, we are going on a cruise!

Ever since Papa R and I went on one for our 25th anniversary, I've been wanting to do another one. He hasn't been as eager, not because he didn't enjoy it, but because he's traveled so much in his working life that the thought of getting on another airplane sends him trembling into a fetal position. So he suggested I take Chicklet12. She's the perfect age and temperament--young enough to still be happy hanging out with Mom, and old enough to be companionable. Plus she's homeschooled, so it's easy for her to get away.

We are saying it's in honor of my 50th and her 13th birthdays, since it's about halfway between the two events. :)

We got a super deal through Vacations to Go (4 nights for $250 each), and airfare to Miami was only $150 each, round-trip! It was too good to pass up. Plus I am way overdue to keep a promise extracted from me by friends who love and care about me, that I would take a vacation after our extremely stressful summer last year.

So there ya go. We are going to the Bahamas in about 10 days.

And I got so busy with rehearsals and services that several days have passed since I wrote this! Easter Vigil is tonight!!!

A blessed Easter everyone!!

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10. God At Work

Last week was an exciting week in my ministry life!

From Tuesday night to Thursday noon, Father Rooster and I attended a retreat for clergy and spouses of our Midwest Anglican diocese--an annual event, but this was only our second year. And it was just as inspiring and refreshing as last year! It was wonderful to renew old friendships and former ministry partnerships, and forge new ones, especially among the growing Wisconsin contingent.

Early in the retreat, we went around the room, introducing ourselves and sharing one thing that gave us joy in our ministries. Many of the joys shared were on the other end of suffering, which was a powerful testimony to God's faithfulness. It was so encouraging to hear all that God is doing in many different Anglican settings--on college campuses, in nursing homes, in Latino congregations, among refugees and immigrants, and even at a preschool.

We had five Anglican ministers from Kenya with us too. Because our bishop and a few other delegates had visited them, and they had found it so encouraging, they sent a group to visit us, as missionaries to America! It was such a joy to receive ministry from the Provost of the Anglican cathedral in Nairobi and his wife, their children's pastor, their youth pastor and their pastor of missions and outreach. At the cathedral, they have 6,000 on a Sunday morning (3 services) and over 1200 children, 12 and under. We discovered, mutually, that we have many of the same types of ministry situations, and some that are culturally unique. But there is a ministry of refreshment that outsiders bring, who are in tune with the same vision; they experienced it when Americans came to them, and they brought it, when they came to us! That ministry included a number of prophetic words, that were so clearly from the Lord. Such encouragement!

Our Bishop spoke powerfully on our diocese's vision of "a revival of Word and sacrament, by the power of the Holy Spirit," and his wife taught on faith. She encouraged us to have a bigger vision--to ask for what we need and want to happen in ministry, but also to have our eyes on God's even bigger, grander vision which may take more time for alignment of all the moving parts. 

We also met in small groups and prayed for one another. Both Father R and I received strong confirmations of things God is calling us to personally and at Light of Christ.

Without expecting it, I received an answer to a long-standing question I have often put before the Lord:  How does my work with children's theater fit in with my calling as a pastor's wife? For years, I have felt vaguely guilty (and perhaps a little judged) that the time I spend in theater is time I ought to be giving to my church. Yet I have always felt God nudging me that direction, and (to quote Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire) I feel his pleasure when I am at the theater.

At the retreat, there was a moment when God opened my eyes, and I saw clearly that theater is my outreach ministry! It was like Clarence showing George what it would have been like in Bedford Falls if he hadn't existed. God reminded me of all the people I wouldn't even know if I hadn't started and remained involved in the Kenosha chapter of Spotlight Youth Theater. There is one child I know of who wouldn't be saved! In 18 months, I will no longer have an elementary school-aged child at home, but I had sixteen 8-12 year-olds in my Drama 1 class last session. Through those children, I meet parents and siblings as well. At rehearsals this session, I am starting a weekly prayer time for parents who want to come and pray for their kids, the directors, Spotlight, and all the brand-new families who have joined us. One of these I met through a community theater production we were in together. They are not church attenders; Spotlight is as close as they may ever get! There is a family at our church now, who arrived via Spotlight, and through Spotlight, I have connections with many other churches in town, including men and women in staff positions. I also have adult friends who are great spiritual encouragers to me. 

So I feel a new freedom to embrace theater as a place God uses me, which is totally in synch with his vision for Light of Christ! 

Finally, yesterday at our Sunday morning service we had such an amazing time of blessing and encouraging ministry, called "Signal Fires Sunday" (an image from Lord of the Rings). Even though we are small, our vision is to start new congregations, and we have one at Carthage College which just started up in September. It was such a joy to have them all at our service yesterday. Two students shared about what the Lord was doing among them, and how they were reaching out to a community of veterans, who relished their friendship and their prayer ministry. We also have a deacon (who will be ordained to the priesthood this coming Saturday) who shared his vision for a congregation to be raised up in Racine. These outposts of Light of Christ are so exciting!

The sermon was given by one of our Kenyan brothers, and during the ministry time for all the congregations, he laid hands on Father Rooster and I and prayed for our joint ministry. It was so strengthening and encouraging...and just a bit daunting. It was a big vision he laid out for us, but so much in line with what God is already bringing and strengthening us to do.

Praise be to God for allowing us to participate in His work!

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11. Percolating

I should be writing a birthday post for the February birthdays, or recapping Beauty and the Beast, the show we just finished up, or posting pictures of my house (I know, I know, some of you have been waiting!!!), plus I have videos I want to put up...--but I have too many other things I want to capture!

There are so many exciting things percolating in my life right now.

(I love that verb, but I realize it may not mean much to some who aren't familiar with a percolator. My mom still uses hers to make coffee for a crowd. I don't know much about it how it works, except that when it gets hot, it boils and bubbles and "perks" as the bubbles break against the little glass window on top. You have to let it perk for awhile while you wait for the coffee to brew. That's how I envision things happening in my life sometimes--bubbling up, heating up, requiring a little more time before they're fully brewed and ready to serve. :)

The newest thing is that I just was asked to teach a 10-week class on Shakespeare for the youth theater program we participate in! It will be Shakespeare education and appreciation as much as it is performance, and I have more ideas than thou couldst waggle a cudgel at! I'm so psyched. It's not in Kenosha; it's in Lake County, one of our sister areas. I'm excited to meet my new students!

In other teaching news, I proposed wrapping up the grammar and writing classes I've been teaching for our classical co-op. We were supposed to go seven more weeks, but we will end in just two more weeks. This feels so freeing to me! As much as Chicklet and I enjoy this group, it hasn't felt like the right fit for us for awhile now. Between the time we spend there, my prep time, and the time we spend on writing homework for MY CLASS, it takes up 2+ days out of our week. I have plans for those two days we'll be getting back!

I think the other moms are happy to get some extra time in their weeks this spring too. One said that the local middle school told her that their 8th graders will have written two 5-paragraph essays in language arts this year. Since my 4th-6th graders have been writing one every week or so, for a couple months now...I feel we are safe to wrap up writing class and spend our spring concentrating on other subjects we haven't been hitting as hard!

At church, I am excited about our healing services on Wednesday nights during Lent. I will be speaking at one of them. We are full of expectation that God is going to work powerfully through these times set aside to listen for his words of life and healing.  And Holy Week will be here before we know it, so as soon as my Shakespeare lesson plans are set, I have to channel my creativity into readers and readings for Easter Vigil.

We are also resurrecting our youth group this spring. It's a small group, mostly boys, but we're going to get them together once a month at our house for worship and prayer with their Sunday School teacher, a wonderful man they all love--and see what happens! We're asking them to lead the group in a simplified evening prayer service, with a couple songs accompanied by those who play guitar and piano. We'll start with a meal--the key to the teenage male heart, right?--and they will also warm up with improv, led by themselves (including B16, who's on a competitive improv team again this spring). We met once already. It was an extra small group, but they all participated and had fun, yet took it seriously too.

B10, B16 and Chicklet have auditions coming up on Friday, for a show that might get cancelled for low turnout. If it does, they want to audition on the same night for a show in Lake County. So that's more exciting and suspenseful than usual! On Saturday, which will be callbacks, B16 has two solos and is singing in three ensembles at Solo and Ensemble competition in Kenosha. So that will be interesting to work out if he's called back. His voice has really been developing nicely this year, and his very experienced voice teacher has been most encouraging.

I'm excited about some house projects I have finally managed to make time for...but perhaps I should put those in a post of their own.

And most exciting of all--Chicklet12 and I have vacation plans for after Easter! But I'm going to save those too. I have Shakespeare scenes to select for tomorrow night, and seven weeks of grammar to condense into two weeks. So I'm going to go give some thought to that before the day gets completely away from me...!

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12. Lent 2015

You know how sometimes you know God is speaking to you because you keep getting the same message, loud and clear? You know, first you read something that really strikes you. Then you hear the same idea in a sermon. Then you run across Scripture that seems to be saying the same thing?

So for Lent this year, I've been convicted that what I'm supposed to do is rest. I don't necessarily mean getting more physical rest or clearing my schedule...but I'm supposed to rest in the Lord.

My activistic personality has often viewed Lent as a time for cultivating discipline and good habits. Ash Wednesday can feel suspiciously like New Year's Day--a day for making resolutions of self-improvement in my spiritual life. And I won't say I haven't benefitted, some years, from embracing a new discipline.

But this year, God is giving me things to do that aren't do-ing. This morning's psalm, Psalm 37, really spoke to me with action verbs that are all about resting:

Fret not yourself...
Trust in the Lord...
befriend faithfulness...
Delight yourself in the Lord...
Commit your way to the Lord...
trust in him...
Be still before the Lord...
wait patiently for him...
fret not yourself...
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself

It's interesting that "Fret not yourself" is repeated three times in this passage! But it's not just a "stop worrying" message; we are told what to do instead. Trust, dwell, delight, commit, be still, wait patiently, "befriend faithfulness." Such an interesting phrase!! It speaks to me of this steadfast rest in the Lord that I'm feeling called to.

So this year, it's not going to be a "try-harder" Lent. Oh, I am giving something up; we always give up dessert as a family, plus my discipline will be:  Bible before Facebook! It's so easy to mindlessly browse first thing, before my brain gets in gear, but instead of opening up Facebook, I'm going to open up my BCP (Book of Common Prayer) app and listen to the lectionary readings while I'm making coffee. (Priorities!) I want to start my day by trusting, dwelling, delighting, waiting and all the rest. Pun intended, I guess. --All the rest that God wants to pour into me when I rest in him.

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13. Happy Birthdays to My Eldests

In November, Blondechick turned 22 on the 22nd--her "golden birthday." We had a party with all "gold" foods (yellow and orange) and also had a quiz on her favorite things ("Things Blondechick Thinks Are Golden").

And a week ago, our oldest turned 24! His only requests were pecan pie instead of birthday cake, and he wanted the whole family to watch "How to Train Your Dragon 2" with him. He also asked his dad to take him and B15 to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. It's the simple things!

In honor of their missed birthdays--a quick update. 

Blondechick has been working at a law firm since September, training to become a paralegal--and she absolutely loves it! Such an answer to prayer. She has been living alone, essentially, on the second floor of a friends' home, but she is about to move into a house with 4 other girls from her church--another answer to prayer! These girls not only cook and eat meals together, they pray and worship together too, so she is excited for that kind of fellowship! She remains involved with the church she began attending last year, when she was enrolled in its School of Worship. She continues to have her ups and downs, but she keeps clinging to Jesus through it all--praise God! We are thankful for how God faithfully keeps working in her life.

Bantam24 still lives at home and still works at a dollar store, usually just one day a week, where he stocks shelves from 5 AM to 10 AM. He may not be their most productive employee, but he is reliable! He sets his alarm for 3:30 AM and has never overslept. Instead of paying us rent, he contributes service at home. It is wonderful to have his help running kids around, picking up groceries, vacuuming, putting out the trash weekly and staying on top of the daily dishes. He runs daily on the treadmill and is at his lowest weight in years. He spends a lot of time gaming and editing/contributing graphic images for Halopedia and Destinypedia. He has many online friends that he games with, and he even began witnessing to one, a depressed veteran of Iraq.

We have recently applied for Social Security Income for him, since it doesn't seem like he's going to be very capable of supporting himself if something were to happen to both of us. We had a lot of testing done and it clearly supports our case. It was sad and sobering to read the report. Yet it made me so very grateful to God that B24 lives a life that is much richer than his diagnosis and abilities would indicate. He enjoys his family, and we enjoy him and his quirks so much. Even though he gets argumentative sometimes about helping, he feels needed and appreciated. (He has told others that his family really needs him--and it's the truth!) God knew what He was doing when he gave us B24 first!

The transition from having dependent children to having young adults hasn't been really smooth with these two (and we still need prayer, if you are so inclined). But God has been so faithful to walk with them and with us through these seasons.

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14. Fifty Things I'm Thankful For At Fifty

1. Birthdays. As annoying as it is to be reminded each year that one is getting older, there is a certain accomplishment in completing another year, is there not? Birthdays always cause me to reflect on the previous year and dream about the year to come. Probably because my birthday is so close to New Year's Day!

2. Truisms. "An obvious truth," such as "Older but wiser." I like truisms because sometimes it's reassuring to state the obvious. 

3. Wisdom. Time does have a way of teaching you things you can't learn without living them.

4. Truth. Last night a group of my friends spoke many affirming words to me about who I am. Many of them confirmed and repeated the same ideas, so that I had to believe it was truth. Mercifully it was not the whole truth--the same group could all have agreed on my many weaknesses--but it was wonderful that they were able to identify and water the flowers in my heart's garden. I tend to be more aware of the weeds!

5. Prayer. This group of friends also laid hands on me and prayed for me. What a gift!

6. Powerful images from the Lord. One friend gave me a beautiful picture of what God is doing in my life. He said the Lord showed him a garden that had been cultivated with many perennials, bushes and plants that take time to come to maturity. When they do, it's because of all the labor and effort that was put in during those early years when it seemed like not much was happening. In maturity, the garden is a place of rest and enjoyment.

7. Intercession. Two friends had the same prayer for me--that the petitions I had prayed in secret, the desires the Lord had yet to grant, would soon be fulfilled. Yes, Lord Jesus come!

8. Friends. We've lived in Kenosha for nearly 7 years now. I thought that the fellowship we had at our previous church and neighborhood of 16 years could never be replaced, but God has given me friends beyond what I could have asked or imagined when we first moved here!

9. Papa Rooster. I could probably finish out the remaining list with all the things I am thankful for in my husband, but let's just go with how he understands me and desires to bless and care for me. He organized and facilitated the gathering last night, and he daily speaks words of love and blessing to me. He is such a great father to our children, and pastor to our congregation. I am so blessed that he is stuck with me!

10. My children. Three of them "rose up and called me blessed," at the party last night (to quote Proverbs 31). Teenagers and those not long out of their teens are not known for being particularly appreciative of parental advice and wisdom, but my children depart from that stereotype on a pretty regular basis. I am always so blessed when they do.

11. Brevity. If I am going to get through this list, I am going to need it!

12. Heat. In these frigid temps, I am so grateful that our old house is relatively snug and draft-free, and our ancient boiler is having no problem pumping out the heat!

13. Reliable cars. They start, they run, even in negative temps. I don't take this for granted!

14. Days off of school. (I would say "snow days," but what do we call them--"windchill days"?) We had three in a row and it was fun to have B9 and B15 around.

15. Audiobooks. 

16. The stories of P.G. Wodehouse. Guaranteed to amuse and lift the spirits!

17. ALEKS online math program. 

18. The Harry Potter series. Chicklet12 is engrossed, and I love letting her read all day and calling it school! As long as she also completes her hour+ of ALEKS math.

19. Middle school choir. Chicklet is going to join the public school's 6th grade choir for the rest of the year. The choir director is fabulous, and she doesn't even care if Chicklet misses every Tuesday because of our classical co-op.

20. B15's high school choral experience. Between Madrigals, Jazz Choir and Chorale, he's learned so much and had a blast. 

21. B15's surprise solo yesterday. The Chorale had been selected months ago to sing for a choral director's conference in Appleton, WI, a 2.5 hour drive away, and the school allowed them to go even though school was cancelled. (The Fine Arts administrator made it happen, arguing that it would be like not allowing a sports team to attend a championship game!) It was a singular honor, as they were performing as an example for all the other choir directors at the conference. On the morning of, B15 was told he had been selected to sing the baritone solo in one of their numbers. He was thrilled!

22. Our trip to CA for my cousin's wedding. So happy for him and his new wife! So wonderful to visit my aunt and uncle again too. The visit was too short!

23. My brothers and sisters-in-law. Not just relatives, but friends!

24. My parents, and my father-in-law. Thankful for their good health, their love and support, and their wisdom.

25. That my children are all walking with the Lord. I may worry about circumstances in their life, but I can cling to this truth!

26. This blog. New Year's was my "blogiversary"--nine years since I started keeping this chronicle of family events and  my random observations. It's given me an outlet for writing and helped me hone my style. Thank you, all you who faithfully or occasionally read!

27. Our treadmill. It's served our family well for years. (May it last for many more!) I've recently started walking on it, about 2.5 miles a day in about 43 minutes, which is how long it takes to watch one episode of Once Upon a Time, Season 1. 

28. Netflix. It sure does help me look forward to exercising!

29. Panera. Where I am now, getting some "me time" while my kids are at...

30. Spotlight Youth Theater. So grateful for the experiences and opportunities this company has given my kids, and me. How would I ever have discovered what fun it is to teach and direct drama classes and shows? 

31. That Area Coordinator and friend who first hired me as a teacher, who thought I would be good at iit, even when I argued that I didn't have any drama experience. Thanks to her, and...

32. That director who first invited me to be on a directing team...I now have...

33. Experience! With every new class or cast I direct, I gain a little more. I'm really enjoying the Drama 1 class I'm teaching right now, and the ten-minute scene from The Phantom Tollbooth we are working on for Showcase.

34. The opportunity to use my teaching gifts at Spotlight and at our classical co-op. I really do enjoy teaching in a class setting. 

35. The other families at our co-op who go out of their way to accommodate me and Chicklet12. Our co-op is a blessing!

35. The friend who takes my daughter to CC, allowing me to come later.

36. Homeschooling. This may be my last year for awhile. It may be--still discerning this--but it may be that the Lord has other things for me to do next year. Homeschooling has been such a wonderful option for our kids, and I am grateful for all the years God has given me the grace and the opportunity to do it.

37. Educational options. We have so many choices in this area, although some (charter schools) are only available by lottery. If Chicklet were to go to school next year, I'm not yet sure where it would be.

38. The local elementary school, where B9 is thriving.

39. The high school, a rough place where B15 has found good friends and inspiring teachers. Such a gift!

40. Our church. Lots of good things happening there.

41. Our annual meeting and celebration (coming up in 2 weeks) of all that God is doing among us! I will have more to say after that. ;)

42. Visitors and newcomers. In recent months, we've added a new family that's plugging in and had other visitors who keep coming back. Every person seems sent from God. We need them; they need us!

43.  All that B19 is learning at the School of Worship. What a good experience he's having this year!

44. Blondechick22's job. She's working at a law office and basically being trained as a paralegal. She loves the job itself and the women she works with. What provision!

45. B23's job. Even though it's only 5-10 hours a week, it's enough that he can pay his student loan and give us something toward his phone/car insurance/medical expenses. In lieu of rent he gives us service hours.

46. All the ways B23 helps out--chauffeuring his brothers and sister, grocery shopping, remembering to put the trash out on Tuesday nights, and staying on top of the dishes.

47. Chicklet12 and B9's relationship. They are best friends! Neither of them has made one complaint about having to share a room since we moved in.

48. Our house. Even without the third floor being finished, we are comfortable. Even though I see projects all over (painting, wallpaper removal, windows to wash, splintered and cracked paint to remove or re-do, yardwork), the house is perfectly livable without doing any of them. For which I am grateful--though I chafe to get at them!

49. Our house as a ministry center. We have several groups meeting here weekly for prayer, Bible study and administration, along with other regular but less frequent meetings. Our old house couldn't accommodate these meetings at all--not only was it not centrally located, but the layout didn't give our family anywhere to go if a meeting was taking place in the living room. Here, doors can be closed which give privacy to those meeting, and allows our family to go about our normal routines without interrupting anything.

50. All good things. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." God is good, all the time!

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15. Annotated List of Books I Read in 2014

With routine blown to bits with our move, my book list is shorter than usual. Still a respectable list, considering--thank God for audiobooks!--but I have to point out that a lot of these are...pretty short. :)

Let's start with the children's books, shall we? 

Paddle to the Sea (Holling C. Holling)
Ah, padding my list already, I see. This was one from 2013 that I forgot about till after I published last year's list. If you live near one of the Great Lakes, you MUST find this beautifully illustrated book about a little carved wooden Indian boy in a canoe who travels from Lake Superior through each of the Great Lakes and finally out to the Atlantic Ocean. It takes a year or more, so you travel through the seasons as well as the geography of the region.

The Queen's Smuggler; The Bandit of Ashley Downs (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer series is a fictional series describing the feats of famous Christians as they might have interacted with children of their time period. For example, The Bandit of Ashley Downs is about George Muller, told from the perspective of one of the orphans who came to live in his orphanage, who saw firsthand how God provided meals and furnaces for the orphan houses, (based on actual accounts). The Queen's Smuggler tells how a young girl smuggled a copy of William Tyndale's New Testament into the hands of Anne Boleyn, hoping it will enable her to persuade King Henry VIII to release Tyndale from prison. My kids really enjoy these, especially since each chapter ends with a cliffhanger!

Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Still slowly making our way through this series. So wonderful. If you never read these as a child, treat yourself and read them now!

Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter)
This is one of those books I might never have read, but at a garage sale, I couldn't pass up a beautiful edition of it with a purple fabric cover and gilt lettering, because it was so lovely and practically free. Chicklet wanted to read it, but with its 1913 prose, it was beyond her, so it became our book to read when B9 was too tired to read another chapter of Little House. This book is due for a comeback, I think, or at least another movie remake, because it's so in step with the gratitude movement. Pollyanna continually plays "The Glad Game," in which the challenge is for one to find something to be glad about, even in difficult circumstances, and when she invites others to play the game with her, their lives are transformed! I have mostly heard of "Pollyanna" as a pejorative; the actual book paints a positive and helpful picture.

Miracle's Boys; Hush (Jacqueline Woodson)
These are YA books by a black author about black families, sensitively told and well written. I am definitely going to look for more books by this author. Miracle's Boys is about three sons, after the death of their mother, and how they handle the grief and their relationships with each other after one angry brother is released from a juvenile detention center. Hush is about a the family of a black policeman who enters the witness protection program, uprooted from family and friends, given new identities, trying to fit in in a new community. I was listening to this audiobook when everything blew up in Ferguson--apt timing. 

The Silver Chair; The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis)
Listened to these with the younger kids and B23 on road trips this year. We own the Focus on the Family Radio Drama versions, which are wonderful! The Chronicles of Narnia is another series that adults should treat themselves to. Even if you didn't miss out as a child, re-read them as an adult!

On to the grown-up books....

Of Mice and Men; East of Eden; The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
I thought I didn't like Steinbeck. Based on what? --One reading, when I was way too young--4th grade, I think?--of "The Red Pony" (which was horrible, if you were expecting a nice horse story). Oh, and I think I was made to watch a black-and-white movie version of Of Mice and Men at some point. Also very disturbing. 

But now, I am in love with Steinbeck. Wow. What a writer! It probably helps that I have listened to these as audiobooks; the readers doing the dialects accurately adds so much. (Gary Sinise reading Of Mice and Men is an incredible performance.) Although the plots are not feel-good stories, they are so deeply satisfying as life, life with all its messiness and mistakes, but still with a vibrancy that cannot be quenched while there is life. It's hard to say which is my favorite, but East of Eden was the most theologically and spiritually provoking. All these stories were so engaging, I'd make up reasons to stay in the kitchen to keep listening.

Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw)
My library had a nice edition of this play performed as an audiobook. Theologically thought-provoking, as various characters of the institutional church represent different modes of thought, and Shaw does such a masterful job of making each character full of personality--and entertaining!

Green Dolphin Street (Elizabeth Goudge)
I thought I had read this before, back when Papa Rooster and I were collecting books by this author and reading them all avidly, but I think I must only have seen the old movie. The book, of course, is better! This is one of this fine writer's best books, about two very different sisters who love the same man. He is banished to Australia, and writes for his love to join him--but accidentally asks for the wrong sister! This is the story of a difficult marriage and of a love lost and found in God (the real love becomes a nun), which spans a lifetime, as the two sisters are reunited again in their last decade of life. It takes place partly in a harborside town on a windswept, sunny island, and partly in Australia, where the white culture encroaches on the Maori way of life, with resulting unrest and violence.

They Do It With Mirrors; At Bertram's Hotel; Black Coffee (Agatha Christie)
I love Agatha Christie. Consistently good writing and intriguing plots, and the audiobooks are always read by British readers, which is always a delight to the ear. Chicklet12 has started listening to Hercule Poirot audiobooks, because she thinks he's so funny! If you're interested in getting kids started on the Dame, Black Coffee is uniquely accessible, I think. It was originally written as a stage play, so the action is quite direct and it's shorter than most of her books. It's also your archetypal poison plot. :)

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (Alexander McCall Smith)
Another in the series that began with The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. I love visiting Botswana occasionally through these gentle, lighthearted mysteries.

The Alto Wore Tweed, The Baritone Wore Chiffon, The Soprano Wore Falsettos, The Bass Wore Scales, The Treble Wore Trouble (Mark Schweizer)
These were my find of the year! Okay, my friend's find of the year. These "liturgical mysteries" are about the choir director and organist of an Episcopal church, who is also the chief detective of the 3-person police force of this small Carolina town. He also writes really bad noir mysteries in Sam Spade style, with metaphors and similes as convoluted as an octopus's arms wrapped around a squid's tentacles, just as slimy and twice as twisted, qualified with qualifiers as endless as the sea they both reside in. (Ha! Not bad for my first-ever attempt to imitate.) He writes the bad mysteries in installments, which he inserts in the choir's folders so they'll have reading material during the sermon; they are sprinkled throughout each novel for the reader's entertainment as well.

The actual mysteries aren't as intriguing as the antics of a series of priests who serve at the church, which has always been quite traditional until the rector who wants a clown mass, the one who brings in a Feng Shui consultant to rearrange the altar and other furniture and pronounce that the traditional liturgical colors are all wrong, and the one who brings with him a Hungarian dwarf to serve as verger. The request for a clown mass causes the Episcopal church in a neighboring town to request a pirate mass, which is far more successful--and humorous! ("An' on the night 'e was handed over to sufferin' and Davy Jones' locker, 'e took bread, and when 'e had beat the weevils out 'o it...") The cast of colorful characters includes Benny Dawkins, who is a world-class thurifer, with thurible-swinging signature moves like the Tallulah Bankhead, the Big Ben, the Cross Your Heart, and the very difficult Walk the Dog. You don't want to sit on the aisle if you get on his bad side, or you might find yourself knocked out cold with a Double-Inverted Reverse Swan.

In case you're from a non-censing (non-smoking) church, here's a visual:

You can see how seriously thurifers take their job!

Finally, the few, the proud, the non-fiction....

The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding With Christlike Balance (Randy Alcorn)
Another book I actually read in 2013, I think. I rarely finish non-fiction, it seems, but this one was short and so engaging. My experience with Christianity has been heavy on delivering truth to people, but how to also extend grace? This book was fabulous on how to reach out with both, and why one without the other is deadly to unbelievers and believers alike. Lots of great anecdotes probably helped me get through it.

Lives on the Boundary:  A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America's Educationally Underprepared (Mike Rose)
Why? Why out of all the great non-fiction books I have started, would I actually finish a book with a title like this? Well, it helps that I brought it along on the plane to CA, but I did have other reading material. Simply put, I couldn't put it down. The author is now an expert in education, but he came from quite the impoverished background, and barely made it into college, let alone through it. He knows about being educationally underprepared, and he works with college freshman and adult remedial learners, so he had tons of stories woven throughout this account of his own educational experience and what he's learned since. He especially critiqued how we often teach and judge writing, emphasizing grammar, punctuation and sentence structure over expression at the remedial level. He gave varied and poignant evidence that standardized tests don't really assess what students know, especially disadvantaged students. He also examined the huge leap that students have to make between high school and college, and it was interesting to hear how he tutors incoming freshman to think and write, especially students that had little opportunity in high school, forced into remedial classrooms because of language and other barriers. As a parent with 4 kids yet to begin college, I was so intrigued and inspired.

And that concludes this year's list! If you'd like to see other year-end lists, visit Semicolon's round-up of reviews!

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16. December News

My dear California uncle tells me that I must get something new up on my blog so that he doesn't have to keep looking at those candles! My apologies to any other readers who are similarly tired of waiting for a new post here. I have to admit, Advent is gone and the waiting should be over!

It's not really that I've been a slacker. It's been December!

Of course we had Christmas and related activities. Although I tried to keep spending to a bare minimum, I didn't want to deprive our kids and relatives of gifts altogether. I actually had a good time shopping sales and using $10 off coupons at Penney's and Gordman's, 30% off at Kohl's (racking up Kohl's cash too) and using points from our credit card on Amazon. Since I was out--normally, I just don't shop, or shop mainly at Goodwill or St. Vincent's for myself--I scoured every clearance rack for a few things to update my own wardrobe too. Time to retire the t-shirts and hoodies, I think. With a few inexpensive sweaters, I'm now able to wear boots (instead of gym shoes--more practical in the winter) and scarves (gifts I've been unable to wear) with my skinny jeans (score! 2 new pairs at Goodwill).

Not that anyone cares much? But it took a lot of time. And now I should be set for a few more winters! 

For the first three weeks of December, I also continued teaching and lesson-planning for the grammar and writing classes I teach at a classical homeschool co-op, and for the Drama 1 class I'm pulling together my own curriculum for. These last two weeks, it's been nice to be on vacation from teaching!

What else? We attended a Christmas choir concert and a Madrigals feast that I still want to write a post about. I am so amazed and impressed with the quality of the choir experience B15 is having at the public high school.

We had a lovely Christmas Eve service at Light of Christ. B15, Chicklet12 and I were all in the a cappella choir, so we also had a rehearsal the day before. Christmas Eve afternoon was spent cooking a meal with our friends--the ones that we lived with in between houses, earlier this summer--because after the 5:00 service, we had 33 people over for dinner! The plan kind of mushroomed beyond the initial thought, but they totally took it in stride, and we were able to include a number of folks who had traveled and were otherwise without a place to go.

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts and had brunch at home--our first Christmas in our new house--and then traveled into Chicago to spend the rest of the day with Papa Rooster's father, brother, his wife, and our niece. It's such a blessing to have family close enough to do holidays with. Wonderful memories for us all!

We had one day after Christmas to get ready to leave for my cousin's wedding in Southern California! No kids, just us. The two youngest stayed with their aunt and uncle for the first few nights, and then went to other homes they'd been invited to. The 15 and older crowd fended for themselves, and thankfully are completely trustworthy. They made plans with friends and enjoyed the downtime. It was especially nice since they're on vacation from school and regular lessons and classes.

We had a fabulous time at the wedding, particularly because my two brothers and their wives were there without kids either, and we all realized it was the first time this had ever happened! The six of us had so much fun. Without kids interrupting or meals to prepare and clean up after, we could just enjoy being together at the rehearsal dinner, the reception, breakfast, and more.

The wedding was one of those long-awaited affairs; my cousin is 45, an only child and never married. But his lovely bride was worth the wait! And what a small world it is. We discovered so many connections with her family--she used to work with Papa Rooster's cousin; her sister is friends with my cousin's wife; her twin brother lives in the same area where we lived in IL and we know many of the same people. Such a delightful family. It was a special day and a wonderful trip!

Too short, of course. But it's good to be back and have a few days of vacation left to enjoy. Hoping to not do much except write another blog post. 

Watch this space for my year-end review of the books I read this year! I promise it won't be another month. :)

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17. Come, Lord Jesus

Another Advent is here! I love this season, full of mystery, longing, hope and anticipation.

"Come, Lord Jesus!" is the cry of Advent. And there are so many ways I need Jesus to come. So many lives He needs to break into...so many situations that cry out for divine intervention. Having done what I can think of to do, having prayed the prayers I can think of to pray, often the only thing left to do is cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

And not only in the lives of others--I need the Lord to come into my life. Distractions cloud my vision, my prayers, my priorities. Advent is a season that reminds me to wake--not slumber--to watch, in the darkness, for the light. I invite God to come again into my life, to re-orient my perspective. "Come, Lord Jesus," my heart cries. "Come into every area of my heart--every darkened corner, every slumbering resolution, every helpless hope, probe every tender spot. I give you access, Lord; come." 

The Advent parable of the ten virgins always speaks to me--the five who weren't prepared and wanted to borrow oil from the five who had brought extra. May the Lord find me not trying to borrow from someone else's faith or experience, but actively engaged in listening to Him and serving Him in the unique ways He's called me. In this parable, there is also the image of waking from slumber and going in to the marriage feast--the promise of joy, the anticipation of fulfillment of all things. Yet there is mystery in this parable. We slumber in the night, as we wait, our lamps burning in expectation of that hour.

The December days may be busy, but the nights--longer and longer as we creep toward Christmas--remind me to pray for the light to break into the darkness. Come, Light of Christ.

But Advent is not all longing and expectation. Even as we pray for his coming into our lives and the lives of those we love, even as we anticipate his coming at the end of all things, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, we rejoice in the Good News:  He came! Advent brings us daily closer to Christmas and the celebration of his first coming. It's a down payment, if you will, that He will make good on his promises.

There is a longing, in Advent, for what we haven't got...for what we need, in Christ. But we can long with anticipation of our hopes being fulfilled, because there has been fulfillment. When we didn't even know our need, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, He died. While we wait in darkness and unknowing, He knows. He is Lord...He will come.

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18. Bullet Points

--The younger three kids were in a musical and I never even mentioned it here, even though B15 was cast in the leading role of Peter Pan! Chicklet played a lovely, green-haired mermaid and B9 was appropriately cast as a dirty-faced, tousle-haired Lost Boy.

--Papa Rooster got roped in (pun intended) to "flying" Peter Pan backstage, which turned out to be one of the most strenuous things he's ever done! B15 is a solid 150 pounds, and even with the magic of physics cutting that number in half, 75 pounds is a lot of weight to lift with a single rope. He destroyed a pair of good weight-lifting gloves on the first night, letting Peter Pan descend quickly a couple of times, and he had to order the kind that special forces use to slide down ropes out of helicopters. He still isn't wearing his rings yet. His fingers and forearms were so swollen that week, even though he was constantly icing them.

--He said though it was way harder than he thought it would be, he also had a lot more fun than he thought he'd have! The only sad thing was that he never could watch the show or take any photos at a dress rehearsal. I need to try and get some images from the professional photographer to do a picture post, eventually...

--On All Saints' at Light of Christ, we received 8 new members and baptized 4 children from one of the new families. It was such a wonderful morning!

--A new session of theater began this week. I'm happy to be teaching Drama 1 to a large class of 16 kids, many of them new to our program, and I'm super-excited about the script I've been working on for our final project, based on one of my favorite children's books, The Phantom Tollbooth. B15 is taking Improv, Chicklet12 was thrilled to make it into an audition-only dance class called Project Dance, Jr., and B9 is excited that in his Musical Theater class, they are doing songs from the same Hercules that I helped direct a year ago, and they are going to wear the same costumes!

--Auditions for the winter show, Beauty and the Beast, are this Friday!

--Our Classical Conversations-based co-op is going well--such a nice group of families. However, it was starting to feel like more time than it was worth for Chicklet and me, and I was considering quitting. But there is no one else who can teach the grammar and writing classes that I teach. It was a huge learning curve for me last year--the grammar, especially, is a huge amount of material to present in 45 minutes for a multi-level class, and the curriculum leaves it up to the teacher to decide how to do that. I've had to find or create my own examples, worksheets, games and more.

--They will have to figure something else out for next year, but for this year, they proposed that instead of coming for the whole day, I just come for the classes I teach in the afternoon. (And for lunch, right before that, so we can still socialize!) A friend brings Chicklet in the morning, and another mom stepped in to teach the Fine Arts class I had been teaching in the morning session. We're tried it for two weeks, and that extra morning in my week made a bigger difference than I thought it would! I am so grateful.

--This weekend I am hosting a Golden Birthday Party for Blondechick, who will be 22 on the 22nd, and a baby shower for a friend from church. My goal this week is to deal with remaining boxes and piles of stuff I've unpacked but don't know what to do with. I may end up shoving them all in the attic until next summer.

--One silver lining to not finishing the attic yet is that we can use it as an attic! A couple weekends ago, our strong young men plus a couple of their friends helped us move many boxes and some furniture out of the basement and into the attic. The basement is still a huge unorganized mess, but we're getting there.

--Finally, our decrepit garage was showing signs of not making it through the winter. A few weeks ago, the garage door stopped going all the way up, and we realized it was because one corner of the garage had sunk alarmingly and the garage door track was now at an angle. We knew from the housing inspection that the garage was in trouble--all the sills, which were laid directly on the ground instead of on cement--are rotten, and they can't just be replaced because it's impossible to get jacks underneath the garage walls because...oh, it's too involved. Everyone thought we could wait till next spring to figure it out--but apparently not! A friend who's a builder came yesterday and started work on a temporary fix to save it till next summer. It won't be as simple as just building a new garage, though, because we would not be allowed to build a new garage on the same spot--it's too close to the lot line. I'm just glad we can kick the problem a little further down the road, for now!

--Off to defer more difficulties till next summer...I've got to go select stuff to shove into an attic. ;)

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19. Yes, But How Are You?

It has been a stressful summer.

Sold a house--very emotional and grief-filled.

Lived with friends--fabulously wonderful! (More on that.)

Bought a house--also very emotional, and a decision that was--and continues to be--faith-stretching.

Trying to get settled in new house--hasn't been easy. We keep getting distracted by house projects--floors, plumbing, kitchen, have to do something about the chimney and the tin roof/balcony--and can't seem to get unpacked. Plus some rooms don't exist yet--where do we put those belongings now?

So how am I doing, really?

And the answer is...

I feel quite well, considering everything. Though I am easily overwhelmed with all there is to do, I can only do what I can do in a day, and the rest can wait till tomorrow. We have the whole church coming over for a house blessing on Sunday afternoon. We still have boxes everywhere, and piles of stuff that I don't know where to put or haven't had time to sort, but it's okay. The house can be blessed, friends can visit and rejoice with us, and I'm not hiding the fact that this is my life right now!

Although the summer's events have been emotionally draining and I am mentally and physically very tired, I am buoyed up by a strong sense of rightness about it all. So many little confirmations make me believe that God is leading us down this path. It's been a rocky, uneven path, with overgrowth that we have to stop and clear away at points, but He keeps beckoning us to keep following, even with the occasional smiling reminder that He never promised it would be an easy path, but that it would be worth it in the end. He's used so many people to confirm and encourage us.

Here's one example--the friends who invited us to live with them while we didn't have a house. It ended up to be about 7 weeks total, and those weeks exactly coincided with the wife's recovery period from a sudden and serious abdominal surgery. She wasn't allowed to drive or go to work, and as a strong extrovert, it would have been a very difficult time for her. In her own words:

Your family's presence saved me from the loneliness and false sense of uselessness that would have hit me hard during my convalescence had it just been [my husband] and me.  You also saved him from being overwhelmed by having to meet all of his wife's needs for socializing.  Although he has never complained of being overwhelmed by me, I think I could have approached the limit.  When I was home on maternity leave with [her son], I became a garrulous maniac that made store clerks run the other way - really!  God was definitely providing for everyone.

For our family, staying with this couple felt like several weeks in a vacation condo with them! They have a beautiful, large, restful home. Our kids loved their dog, their neighborhood, their jokes and their food. They both love to cook, so every day we'd make meal plans early enough for someone to pick up groceries, and then we'd all help chop, prep, bake and/or grill. The husband is a massage therapist, so we took advantage of his conveniently located office (in the next room over from our bedroom), and the wife is a psychologist, which made our mealtime conversations extra-stimulating. The two husbands began most days with morning prayer together, and the wife and I have one of those friendships where we never, ever, run out of things to talk about, so it was fabulous for us both to have so much free time at the same time. Our time there was such a gift, and the timing was a strong confirmation that we had done the right thing to sell our old house when we did.

Another huge stressor this summer has been a situation at church. It has paralleled our move in some ways--emotionally draining, filled with grief, and faith-stretching. It's been the same kind of rocky, uneven, obstacle-ridden path, but God has been continually sending us the encouragements to hang in there. People we've been praying for have started coming to church, have started asking the right questions about their relationship with God, are being transformed in huge ways! Visitors have come--and come back! There has been a new freedom in our worship and in individual expression and gifting. This Sunday, one of our disabled youths is giving the sermon!, in partnership with an elder. There have been so many encouraging things alongside the challenges.

So I am well. Exhausted, but well. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 comes to mind:  "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."

The previous verse also applies:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

It is the Lord who is sustaining me, empowering me, working through me and encouraging me!

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20. This Week's Project

So. There is a newish roof on the main part of the house, but this balcony had some issues, we knew.

First the railing came down...and yesterday the roof came up!

It's a good thing we decided to go ahead and take care of it before winter, the roofer said. It was pretty wet underneath the tin.

A big pile of rusty tin roof!

They cleaned and dried everything, then put down a new layer of fiberboard.

Then new roofing material rolled out over that, and the seams were heated and melted together.

Since the balcony was in deep shade when they finished, I thought I'd wait to get a nice sunny picture of the new roof in the morning. But it's raining! Guess we got the new roof on just in time.

The new white metal railing will be installed next week; then the roofers will come back and lay flashing around each post to make sure all is water-tight.

The roof is an extra-thick rubber membrane with gritty sand-like stones as a top layer. It's fine to walk on and put patio furniture on, and hopefully light enough in color that it won't be too hot. We'll probably get an indoor/outdoor area rug or two, next spring, plus we'll need some more chairs. Always something!

But so glad we did it now.

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21. Summer's End (Back to School)

It all starts today:  public school, our classical homeschooling co-op, the worship school and theater classes!

So here's the quick low-down for the school year.

The two oldest are not going to school, but working. B23 continues to work a couple shifts a week at a dollar store. He's not fast at unpacking boxes, but he's faithful to arrive at work at 5 a.m.! Blondechick21 just finished a summer of nannying for an attorney she knows from church, who invited her to come work part-time at her law firm this fall. She's hoping there will be enough filing and data entry to turn into a full-time position there! She's the only one not living at home; she's staying with a couple from our church who are graciously renting their second floor to her. It's a charming space, with alcoves and swing out windows, with views of lovely gardens in the neighbor's yard. If the bathroom weren't in the basement with the spiders and other creepy crawlies, it would be perfect. ;)

B19 is going to the School of Worship--the same school that Blondechick went to last year. It was such a rich year of discipleship and mentoring for her, and it seems like B19's class is going to be another great group of students. He anticipates lots of "bro time"--13 out of the 25 students are guys! He'll be in class from 8 to 3:30 daily--a big time commitment.

B15 will begin his sophomore year at the public high school. He's excited to be in Chorale this year--the school's top choir--and in Madrigals again. He took driver's ed this summer and has his permit, but  we are not sure about letting him get his license when he turns 16 in February--can't afford a sixth driver on our policy! We are hoping the two oldest can get some more hours at work and be able to start paying for their portion. Meanwhile, he has a ride to and from school with a neighbor who's a senior--a blessing that will net him several more hours of sleep a week compared to taking the bus.

Chicklet-almost-12 will be homeschooled again this year, but B9 is going to go to the local elementary school. We are in the same high school district in our new location, but it's a different elementary and middle school; the middle school has a terrible reputation, but the elementary school is outstanding, we hear. As I prayed about this year, I kept feeling a nudge from the Lord to put him there. 

It wasn't an easy decision, because I am excited about our next year with our homeschooling co-op! We were a Classical Conversations community last year, but to have more flexibility with what we do, we decided to become a co-op instead. We are still using the CC curriculum, with some modifications, but we are free to adjust the schedule, teachers and class sizes as we like. I'm especially eager to tweak the grammar and writing portion that I teach to 4th - 6th graders, to make the material more engaging, to focus on grammar usage as much or more than on memory work, and to include some more enjoyable writing assignments.

B9 has friends in the co-op too, which is the main reason why he didn't want to go to school. But I have a feeling that I'm going to be pretty distracted with house projects, at least for the fall, and I'm afraid I just won't have much patience or energy to sit with him and make sure he does his work. It's very tempting to delegate that task to someone else! Also Chicklet will get more done without him around, and she needs to have a good year, being in sixth grade, her first year of middle school. On the other hand, he will have homework, and there will be school communications and deadlines to stay on top of, and lunches to make and pay for, and all those things add up to a big chunk of time also.

I had trouble sorting out all the pros and cons, but couldn't get away from the feeling that it might just be a good thing for him to go. It will probably be more of a challenge for him than what I would be able to commit to providing this year, and I think he'll benefit from being pushed by someone other than me. A little positive peer pressure never hurt either, and he's quite social. We met his teacher and saw his classroom, and now he's pretty excited to start. We'll see how it goes!

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22. Giving

Last night, I heard an older, wiser priest say that in his ministry, he's seen two blocks to the work of the Holy Spirit:  unwillingness to forgive, and unwillingness to give.

I've thought about the need for forgiveness to clear blockages in our lives before, so my mind instantly went to his point about giving. As I held it up before the Lord, wondering if there was something He wanted to unblock there, or a ministry He wanted us to give to...I was surprised to hear Him say, "You're doing it already. It's your house."

I guess it's apparent to my readers that I've been wrestling all summer with the decision we made to buy this house, and I'm still holding it up before the Lord. I know we bought the house He indicated. I know we are exactly where He wants us; I've received confirmation after confirmation. It's just that I wouldn't have picked a house that needed this much work, especially when we're not the handy types who can do stuff ourselves. (Although Papa Rooster did actually take apart the framing around a pocket door last week to get it back on track, which was a project of several hours, and it's almost as good as new, except for the shrieking the door makes as you close it the last four inches or so. It's our early warning system, telling us when the half bath is occupied.)

I felt God asking me to view the money we're investing in this home differently, to see it as an investment in a ministry He has prepared for us. Among other things, it's a ministry of hosting and hospitality, which we've always done, no matter where we've lived. We've often had college students live with us, especially back in our Illinois home, and right now, we have a young man living in our basement. On Saturday, we ended up hosting a meeting of 16 leaders here, when our reservation on a room at the Kemper Center got bumped. It worked out so beautifully, I was amazed!

This house also seems like it's a place that ministers all by itself. The view alone soothes the soul. Every day Lake Michigan looks so different; it reminds me of the infinite creativity of God. But the house itself has a warmth and a peace that is palpable. A neighborhood teen, a friend of the young man living in our basement, visited us for the first time one night, and he said to me, "You know, your house is a warm house. I noticed it when I was here for the estate sale. It has a very warm feel to it." He's not the only one that's made similar comments, but it was interesting because he didn't know our family, and he sensed it in the house before we ever moved into it.

I have to admit that I get concerned about appearances, though. Investing in my own home doesn't look like sacrificial giving; I get to benefit by living in a spacious and beautiful place. But I would gladly have bought the tiny cottage two streets over! For my frugal personality, it's hard to spend money on myself. I can gladly write checks to missions, but to have to write a large check for a roof--just a small roof, at that!--just for maintenance; there's nothing that feels like ministry about that. The Lord also knows how much I'd prefer the security of money in the bank, not invested in a house. But He's saying, "Trust me for the future. I'm asking you to view your home as something more than a place for your family to live. This is My work, and I want you to invest freely in it. Do not fear the judgments of others. I understand how this is a sacrifice for you."

It was my idea to sell our old house and downsize, so we could more easily live on less. It was practical. It's what we needed to do, if we were going to transition to a full-time pastor's salary and have some financial security. It was an old and dear friend, a priest who visited us from another state, who challenged us, ""But did God tell you to downsize? Maybe God doesn't want you to downsize." And he was right. God asked us to do something that, for me, was even harder.

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23. Happy Birthday, Chicklet12!

So I blew right by my baby girl's birthday! She was 12 on September 6. (We celebrated on Facebook. She enjoyed all the comments!) I think I'm in denial that she's really getting that old.

B19 took this awesome photo of his little sister

She's the only one being homeschooled this year, so that's been an interesting adjustment. Personally, I have been really struggling with motivation for homeschooling. All I want to do is finish unpacking! So many boxes down the basement and out in the garage still untouched. But every day there's something more important to take care of, it seems, like laundry or lesson planning for our classical co-op or making dinner, because I foolishly bought fresh veggies and now I have to use them or lose them! 

She seems to be struggling too. She's old enough to do her lessons without me, except when she has questions; she's also old enough to have a host of other interests, like making rubber band bracelets on a loom, weaving pot holders with a different kind of loom, writing stories, and building "lockers" in her bedroom. That's the one thing she's jealous of, about B9 going to school--they have lockers in his elementary building. The one she went to for third grade, near our old house, didn't. She tried creating her own out of cardboard boxes, but they just didn't have that satisfying metal clang.

She thinks maybe she'd like to go to middle school for 7th grade next year. (They're bound to have lockers, right? :) I'm open to considering it, especially if B9 returns to school for 5th grade, which is likely. So to prepare her for that possibility, the plan is for us to "get serious" this year and have her do more and work harder than she did for elementary school. I've told her that I want her doing something school-related from the time she gets up until the time B9 returns from school. 

To get herself motivated to do her schoolwork, she's been pretending that it's her job. She gets up, puts on her "uniform" (includes a button-down white shirt and blue tie), and asks for a cup of coffee, to make it "official." Then she spreads out her books on the library table and "goes to work"! She also rode her bike to the library a few times, with her books in a backpack. I asked her if any adult has questioned her about why she's not in school, but they haven't. I guess they can see she's doing schoolwork!

I have a yard sale scheduled for next weekend, so I'm in the midst of a big push to get boxes open, "stuff" sorted out, and price everything that we can't use in this house. Once that's over, I look forward to spending more time with my delightful 6th grader. We have promised ourselves that one class she's going to take this year is Home Ec, or whatever they are calling it nowadays. She's taking a sewing class that starts up soon and I look forward to helping her with that project. We also want to do a weekly cooking class for her and a friend. 

One of my big goals for her this year is to figure out where her math gaps are and make sure she's up to speed. We signed up for ALEKS, which is amazing at doing exactly that, and she is enjoying working on math for longer than she ever has before. Another goal I have is to get her reading longer books and reading for longer periods of time, and I've been thrilled that just this week, she started The Witch of Blackbird Pond and hasn't. been. able. to. put. it. down. 

I'm so thankful that she is in no hurry to become a teenager. She tells everyone that she likes being a "tweenager." She is definitely maturing in so many ways, and can be a very grown-up conversationalist, but she is refreshingly child-like and unashamed to still play with dolls, Barbies (she makes movies with them), and other imaginary games, including "Streets of Chicago" in which she and her brother travel around the "alleys" formed by stacked boxes in the basement, pretending they are homeless orphans who have to steal play food to survive. They also play restaurant with the play food, which is a deluxe wooden set that Chicklet bought with her own money two summers ago at a garage sale. (I thought she was too old for it, but she has proved me wrong many times over!) She has such a sensitive heart toward God and others, and is quick to comfort and to please.

We all love her so much. May she continue to grow in wisdom and stature (well, not too much or too quickly...I'd like to keep her in pants that are long enough for awhile) and in favor with God and others.

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24. God's Victory

Well, I keep thinking, it's an interesting time to be us.

In the last week, we got three pieces of financial news, none of them things you'd want to hear at any time, but especially not when you've just made a big move, stepping out in faith, not knowing how God would provide. 

After the second piece of news, Papa Rooster and I looked at each other and both said the same thing:  "Gideon." It wasn't the first time that image had come to mind, as our resources had been diminished recently, first by new kitchen appliances and then by a new roof. Gideon, you remember, set out to defeat the enemy with a huge army, but God made him send men home, and then more and more men, till he was left with a fraction of his army. The reason? So that it would be clear that the victory would be God's, not attributable to the strength of men.

I'm sure Gideon, after that, wondered how exactly God expected him to defeat a huge army with just a handful of men. But it must have been clear to Gideon that God had a plan, and he would learn what it was once the battle began.

These setbacks--and one of them is a long-term adjustment--have been hugely disconcerting, raising many questions in our minds. But they have not caused us to doubt what God is doing--what we believe He showed us when He led us to this house. Not that He showed us the whole picture, but that it was the next step in what He was ultimately going to do in our family and in our church.

Like Gideon, I'm questioning how exactly He thinks we're going to be able to do this with such diminished resources...and I'm waiting to watch how He does it.

The truth is, we will be fine for awhile--but we may have to live on the money we had set aside to finish the attic (or at least to start the project with). Those plans are indefinitely on hold. It's such a disappointment, especially for Papa Rooster, whose office will have to remain in a corner of the living room (which is something of a sacrifice for the rest of us, too). But another truth is that we CAN live in the house as it is, without the third floor, and for that, we are so thankful!

I know many of you are wondering "What happened to him going full-time with the church?" Our vestry is working on that question! Circumstances are accelerating our need for income from the church. But it takes time for the wheels to turn, and we are still only a small body, with a small budget, and many members of our congregation are in difficult financial situations themselves.

I just keep asking, "How? How, God, are you going to do this?" 

It's possible, of course, that all could fail. We had friends who sold everything and moved overseas to do ministry, certain they were following God's direction, only to have that ministry fall apart. Months later, they were back in the States, starting over, reeling with questions for God. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us, right?

But I don't think it's going to end up that way. I have a peace that passes understanding-- and I'm the one who usually frets over finances. I have a strong sense that God is about to do something--something amazing--not all at once but over time, through Light of Christ. I think it's going to be such a powerful work that the Enemy is making last-ditch attempts to foil the plans of God. 

Our church has had a difficult summer. Papa Rooster has been under such an onslaught, trying to balance two jobs, two moves, teenagers, young adults, church needs and situations--and now financial worries. I can feel the stress too; my blood pressure is creeping up like it did for the first year or so after our move to Wisconsin. (My potassium is low, which could be contributing--at least I can do something about that!) 

Teresa of Avila, I am told, wrote once that she always worried about the new ministries (convents and monasteries) she established that didn't seem to have any difficulties--because they always failed. The ones that went on to be thriving works were always initially met with great opposition.

It has been encouraging to see the rise of intercessory prayer among certain individuals and groups at Light of Christ. My own prayer life has grown tremendously during this difficult season! If the Lord leads you, please pray for this work that God is raising up, that we cannot see clearly yet. We welcome your prayers for us personally too, but I believe we are just part of the bigger thing God is on the verge of doing. It will be His victory!

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25. October Eightieth Birthday!

My dad is turning 80 next week! We HAD to get together for such a momentous occasion, but finding even one day that we could all be present--in Ohio--during the school year--proved impossible. Our overlapping day ended up on a Sunday, so Father Rooster could not be present (having just taken off two Sundays in a row earlier in the month). Blondechick and Bantam19 had to leave in the mid-afternoon to be back for work and school Monday morning, but the rest of us were able to adjust our schedules to travel on Saturday and Monday--even Professor Brother and his family, all the way from Kansas!

It was a whirlwind, but it was totally worth it.

For one thing, we were able to take a first-ever photo of ALL the grandchildren! We have previous editions...but either some grandkids weren't born yet, or we were missing some of the young adults. Here they ALL are!

And here they are looking more like they normally do.

One with Grandma and Grandpa...

...and one with me, my brothers, and my parents.

On Sunday morning, we all dressed up and went to the First Baptist Church, where my family has attended for generations.

B15 can't pass a piano without trying it out. :)

Pilot Brother and his Caterer/Coffee Shop Owner wife provided all the food for lunch, snacks, dinner and of course, birthday cake!

"Johnny Q-Whistle Paperlegs" is what the hired man called my dad when he was a kid. "John Henry Dewberry Brown" was another nickname he was saddled with, by his uncle, but the first one is even more colorful, don't you think?

Dinner was a wiener roast!

While we were toasting marshmallows for s'mores, I snapped this picture of the sunset. The trees in this woods are the scenery of my childhood--the backdrop to so many of my memories.

I was pleased with all that was captured in this next photo too. This is the view from the woods behind our house, looking toward the back of the house. The lit-up room is the addition that my parents put on about 15 years ago to their 1960's ranch, in anticipation of gatherings like these. In the foreground, you can see two ropes--one is a swinging rope, the other is to the tire swing that has occupied kids and grandkids for decades on end. With its headlights shining on a car in the driveway, that's a Toro Twister driving across the yard toward the house. My brother and dad use it for all kinds of tasks around the farm, as well as giving rides to the grandkids! Finally, the light directly above the Twister is a utility pole light that comes on every evening at dusk, and has been since I was a kid catching fireflies in its glow.

We wrapped up our day by watching old 8 mm movies. Some of them were 70 years old or more! In the first one, my dad was a kid in swimming trunks playing with a garden hose. It was easy to see where the hired man got the "paperlegs" part of his moniker--Dad's legs were paper white compared to the rest of him! And my, those legs looked familiar--just like Chicklet12's, right now. He was probably her age in the movie, but several of his grandchildren got his long, lean musculature. I had not realized how much B19 resembled his grandfather and great-grandfather, either! 

It was wonderful to see relatives and friends, and also the way the farm used to be--where the fences were, and the old gas tank, and the chicken yard, and the barn without the milk house, and the farmhouse without the front porch, and cows grazing where now there are no fences, and the trees! Today it would take two people to wrap their arms around some of the trunks, but back then one person could have, easily. 

It's a neat feeling to be connected to a place so deeply. I'm so thankful that my brother and his family have relocated there, giving us ongoing reasons to keep visiting there, and Lord willing, to keep the farm going and keep it in the family. I'm thankful that his children get to grow up there, that they have the run of the place the way my brothers and I did, growing up, and that my younger kids have cousins to visit when we go there. 

And I'm thankful for my dad, and his milestone birthday, for giving this goofy bunch a reason to get together and celebrate being us!


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