This afternoon, Mercy came up to me while I stood at the sink washing dishes.  "Mommy, Liberty won't let me clean!" she tattled.

Naturally, I assumed she meant to say, "Liberty won't HELP me clean."  The two girls had been working on cleaning their bedroom all. day. long.  So I called into the other room, "Liberty, help your sister clean!"

"But Mom, I'm a goat!" she yelled back.

"Okay...be a goat who cleans," I responded.

"I AM cleaning!" she yelled back.

"She IS cleaning, Mom," Mercy still standing at my side confirmed.  I looked down at her, puzzled.  If Liberty was cleaning, then what was the tattling all about?

"Liberty won't let ME clean," Mercy reiterated.

"Oh."  Who knew that would ever be something Mercy complained about.  "Liberty!  Let your sister clean!"

"But Mo-om!  I'm a GOAT!"

"So?  Let your sister clean."

"But Mo-o-om!  I'm a goat who BUTTS!  If I see any people, I HAVE to butt them!" Liberty explained to me from her bedroom.

Mercy was nodding vigorously at my side, and my imagination quickly conjured up a picture of Mercy trying to walk into their bedroom and being butted by Liberty who was crawling around the room on her hands and knees with clothing hanging out of her mouth.  I smothered my laughter and tried to find a good solution.

"Uh, be a goat who butts everybody except Mercy."

"Okay!" Liberty happily agreed.

"Okay!" Mercy joyfully copy-catted before heading back to the goat-pen.

And now I'm a zoo-keeper.
1.  Start with a gray and dreary day, but not just any gray and dreary day.  You'll need to select one that is about the fifteenth in a long line of gray and dreary days, and it will also need to be filled with rain.  So much rain that even when it is not actually raining, the ground is still nothing but mush so that small children cannot go outside to expel any excess energy without fear of being sucked down deep into the marshlands disguised as grass.

(Mind you, this post is about three weeks late.  Currently, we've had a string of nothing but blue skies and gorgeousness, and I am SO glad!)

2. In desperation, look around your house for something, ANYTHING for your children to do.  Ask yourself, "What did I do when I was a kid?  What?!"  And then a dormant memory will yawn and stretch.  YES!  Call out to your children, "Girls!  Get your socks on!  I have a surprise for you!"  Your children will be used to fun surprises from you, so they will run to their sock basket in their bedroom with shouts of glee.

Quickly move the dining room table and chairs three feet to the right to create a long strip of floor stretching from the dining room to the kitchen just perfect for sock skating, then run to get your own socks on.

Show the girls how to get a good running start and slide all the way into the stove, then from the back of the line clap, cheer and shout advice while waiting for your next turn.  Laugh ridiculously every time your three-year-old attempts to skate because sock skating is just not her gift.



3. After ten minutes or so, remember that you have bags upon bags of children's clothing to sort through, and now would be the perfect time to drag all those bags into the living room since your children are happily occupied and having lots of fun.
4. Once all the bags are in place, your children will decide that sock skating is not all it's cracked up to be, and they want something else to do.  After running through many, many suggestions that the little whiners veto because they've already done those things in the previous fifteen gray and dreary days, you will need to tell them that they have to come up with their own fun ideas.

5. Ignore the whining that ensues and continue calmly sorting clothing into stacks of winter and summer according to size.

6. When the whining finally subsides, do not think that it might be because your children are up to no good, instead, be thankful that they must have found something fun to do on their own.

7. Realize that peace and quiet never last this long in your house and become suspicious.

8. Upon investigation, find that the entire contents of your nicely folded and organized linen closet are now being used as a dam to prevent entry or exit from the master bedroom.  Stand in silent shock as you survey the scene and wrestle with your emotions while you try to find an appropriate response.  (This is a very important step.  If you leave it out, you may not actually accomplish the losing of your mind which is the first part of our goal today.)



Eventually, determine that the mess has already been made and the linen closet is empty so stopping the activity now would be pointless.  Also, revel in the silence that is still occurring, and decide to say nothing.  Instead,  creep quietly back to your sorting job in the living room.





9.  Interrupt your sorting to break up a fight over the helium balloons from the fair yesterday.  Show your children how to balloon surf instead.


10. Acquiesce to the request to play Cooties, even though you know it will take your three year old a sweet forever to get all those tiny pieces back into the box again when the game is over.  Anything to buy more time and get your sorting job done.





11. In order to facilitate the transition from summer clothing to winter clothing, ask your children to bring everything from their bedroom closet and dump it in a big pile in the living room.


This pile is the contents of three or four plastic bags full of clothing given to us, not the pile the girls created above.


(That is not really what you requested, but this is how they will interpret your request, so you might as well just say it that way in the beginning.) 

As motivation, tell your five year old that she can get the Twister game out when her task is accomplished.


12. After an exhausting game of Twister your children will most likely want a snack to replenish their minisculey depleted energy levels.  Don't fall for this!  They do not need any more energy! 

Instead, feed your pet bunny rabbits a green pepper and the oldest carrots you can find in your refrigerator.  (But make sure your floor is clean.)

13. When your bunnies have been fed, build a fort under the dining room table, hoping that they will stay there and not make any more messes so that you can finish sorting the masses of clothing that have taken over your living room.



14. Cross off "fort under table" from your list of ideas that might keep them busy.  It does not.  Instead, get out the Play Dough Cake-Making Kit from Aunt Jane.  You know, the kit that ONLY comes out when you are at your wit's end because IT MAKES A HUGE MESS AND THE CHILDREN WAIL WHEN THEY HAVE TO CLEAN IT UP.  [And by wail, I mean: the world has come to an end; woe is me for I am undone; accompanied by great gnashing of teeth. (And that's just me!)]   

(I do not have any pictures of this fiasco because I believe it was at precisely this point in the day when my brain exploded inside my head.)

15. Forget it all!  Just plop them in front of a movie and get that sorting done already!

16. Produce a massive amount of tears when your spouse comes home from work.  Make sure you babble like a complete idiot and go into the ugly cry.  (Even though I did not get a picture of it, this is also a very important step.)

17. Breathe into a paper bag and listen from your quiet room while your spouse steps over and around the mess you've created in the living room, enforces clean up the table time with the children and makes supper.  (Because he's a hero.)

18. Venture into the living room after the children are in bed and make it look like this.  Acquire a deep sense of accomplishment.

The bags on the left are to be given away.

The stacks on the right are to go into storage bins downstairs.

Don't forget to make the dining room look beautiful also.



19. Soak in the bathtub until your fingers and toes are all wrinkly.  This is the MOST important step of all, and is very necessary if you want to get your mind back in it's rightful place.

I've been locked out of my blog for a little while.  No idea why, but I'm just glad I'm back!

I suppose this title could have been How A Mother Loses Her Blog Post.  Haha!

Anyway, I'm going to try again with another post.
If I'd thought about it long enough, I would have known.  Gray, steady showers = PJ Day.  Unfortunately, I didn't think about it.  I did, however, get to try out my new all-natural version of microwave popcorn that I pinned to Pinterest last week.  Hooray!  Of course, the health benefits of all-natural popcorn were most likely nullified by the melted butter and cinnamon and sugar with which I doused it.

The girls and I learned all about D-D-D-David the D and his d-d-d-doggy.  We traced an entire page full of D's and d's, colored a dinosaur, and cut out a capital D and turned him into a dog complete with floppy ears and a collar.  After that, we studied clouds: what they're made of, what their names are, and what the various formations indicate weather-wise.  Then we thoroughly inspected the strato nimbus clouds outside (and got really, really wet).  We read books, played Uno, tickled each other crazily, and sang "Happy Birthday" over the phone to "Aunt" Alicia.  I engaged in multiple battles of will with Liberty which I'm not so sure I won, and I broke up several fights between the girls.

With the exception of the cleaning we all did and the clothing we all wore, it came pretty close to being a PJ Day.  Only, I'm worn out, and PJ Days are supposed to be refreshing.

And besides all that, I'm in desperate need of an amazing cup of hot chocolate.  Seriously chocolatey chocolate.  But there is none in the house.

Now I'm off to cuddle up with Jeremy and hopefully get a fresh perspective for tomorrow.


The following morning, Jedidiah and I climbed into the first coach together, and I had to admit a slight part of me hoped the Green-Cloaked-Lady and her mother would join us.  Instead, Clam’s thin body poked its way into the compartment and sat on my left side.  He was followed quickly by Flam and the plainly dressed maid of Lady Silver.  The maid’s appearance in this coach surprised me greatly, since she ought to be accompanying her mistress.  Instead, she sat down next to Flam whose bodily width crammed Jedidiah into the wall of the coach.  My friend excused himself and moved across the aisle to my right side where he gained an inch or two more for his own shoulders.

Flam immediately reached across the aisle to crush my hand.  “Beauregard Sampson, sir.  Bo for short.  Noticed you at the table last night and this mornin', but never got to introduce myself.  Fine day, ain’t it!”

“Yes, it is, sir.  My name is Matthew Fitzgerald.  Nice to meet you.”

“Now, I already met Jed Simons and Nathaniel Greenwood yesterday.” Bo boomed out, “Rode in the coach all the long day, we did!  Swapped many a tale.  You met them?”

“I met Mr. Simons at the dinner table last night,” I responded, “but Mr. Greenwood and I have not gotten acquainted.”  Nathaniel reached his bony hand toward mine, and we shook much less vigorously than Bo and I had.

“Nice to meet you,” Nathaniel intoned quietly and retracted his hand.

Bo’s mouth opened in a large grin and his wide white teeth divided the thick black mustache above from the full black beard below.  His coffee breath warmed the air.  “This here’s my wife, Mrs. Cecilia Sampson.”  The plainly dressed woman nodded her head and somehow conveyed a calmly approachable friendliness along with a slight touch of regality.

I nodded in return at her and offered a polite, “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Sampson,” all the while grinning inwardly at my incorrect guess that she was Lady Silver’s maid and traveling companion.  Thinking further, I was more than a little amazed that this calm, quiet person would be married to Flamboyant Bo.  I then decided to find out how accurate my guess about Nathaniel’s occupation had been.  I turned to my left and addressed him in a tone that I hoped conveyed nothing beyond polite small-talk, “Mr. Greenwood, are you traveling on business or pleasure?”

“Neither,” he replied, and I had to listen carefully to make out his word.

“Oh?” my upward intonation invited him to fill in the blanks.

His pause made me wonder if he would, but finally he spoke again.  “My father is ill.  I hope that he is alive when I arrive home.”

“Oh.” I felt like a cad. “As do I, Mr. Greenwood.”  I said fervently, then I added, “Where is home for you?”  His clipped syllables and oddly pronounced vowels told me he was not from Alabama, although that is where our coaches had started their journey yesterday.

“Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

Bo broke in, unable, I assume, to contain himself any longer.  “Well, that’s a mighty far distance to be from home!  Cissy and I are travelin’ North as far as Indiana.  Gotta wedding to ‘tend to.  Cissy’s sister’s tyin’ the knot, ain’t that right, Cissy?”

Mrs. Sampson nodded and smiled her gentle smile at him.

“Means an awful lot to my wife to be there for her sister.  So we just said, ‘To heck’ with the plantin’ (Pardon my language, but Cissy’s used to it, and I’m sure you gentlemen don’t mind.) and took off for the weddin’.”

"I see."  While my mind caught the fact that Flam farmed, and apparently had a trusted overseer who could manage his slaves and the planting season without him, I could not picture him as a wealthy plantation owner.  His manners and clothing if nothing else indicated otherwise.  Why, I was more finely dressed, and I was an overseer myself, in a way.  I decided he must have worked his way into owning a farm, and although I like to think of myself as more advanced than this, I found myself fighting down prejudiced thoughts regarding his social status.
"Any o' y'all been fishin' in Indiana?" he addressed the three of us in the bench facing him.  It seemed like a nonsensical question.  Anyone living in Alabama was not likely to have made the three to four week journey to Indiana.  We all indicated we had not.  Bo's expressive face showed eager anticipation, and he began describing in great detail the amount and types of fish to be caught in Indiana based on a letter from apparently a rather verbose relative of his wife's.

I settled into the seat cushion as best I could, enjoying the tales spun for us by our personal travel entertainer and wondering how long his stories could hold out on this journey.
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Ugh
There is only one word to sum up this day.

Sugar.  Coma.

Oh, that's two words.

Ahem, there are only two words to sum up this day.

Tomorrow, no eating for me!
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It was a gray, rainy day today.  Gentle rain fell steadily from the lowered sky all day and made me feel calm and happy.  The girls and I accomplished several chores that have been at the bottom of the to-do list - like cleaning up the basement.  Feels good to have it all organized again...until the next time the girls go downstairs to play.

I also pulled all of the Fall/Winter clothes out of their storage bins and got them organized onto closet shelves! 

Can I get a WHOOP-WHOOP?  This has got to be the easiest seasonal transition I have ever experienced, clothing-wise.  Normally, it's a huge task that takes me weeks and weeks to complete, but this time, I just walked downstairs, picked up the tubs marked with their sizes, carried the tubs upstairs and filled their shelves.  Of course, I did NOT put away the Summer clothes yet, and I did NOT even attempt to sort through the shoes.

The shoes.  They haunt me when I'm in bed at night, and anyway, the kids' feet have grown so much that it wouldn't do me any good to get rid of the old shoes since they don't have any replacements yet.

We also got back into our school routine: reviewed Angie The A and her little sister and Bobby The B and his little brother.   I told the girls we'd learn all about Casey the C tomorrow, and when Daddy came home, Liberty jumped up and down telling him about the promised lesson on C.  Boy, does that ever make my heart happy!  The child who refused to have anything to do with the alphabet for the first four years of her life can now recognize, write and tell me what each letter says and is BEGGING for more!  I've been writing my own curriculum just to catch Liberty's interest, and it is working!

The laundry is not done.  I suppose I should work on that tomorrow.  I'm sure Jeremy is out of socks by now.

It's been a great Thursday.  I needed a day of rain to wash down the whirring in my brain from this weekend.
Sitting in church Sunday morning with my parents and siblings.  Wearing what was supposed to be funeral clothes from our suitcases.  Marveling in my heart over the fact that I wasn't wearing them to a funeral.  Or two.  The words from our hymns soaked deep into my soul, and I couldn't help grinning at the unexpected turn of events - I get to sit in church and sing praises to my Lord instead of standing beside a freshly dug grave aching?  Unbelievable.

Chad woke up yesterday.  Just opened his eyes and looked around.  Squeezed his wife's hand.  Smiled around the tube in his mouth.

(By the way, I know my sentences are not properly formed in this post or the last one, and my chronological order seems to be permanently broken.  I've even caught jumps in thought and a few "inside joke" references that must have left you guys scratching your heads as you tried to follow my meaning, but my brain isn't thinking properly formed thoughts yet.  You're getting all I have to give right now.)

My next visit to Grandpa had revealed a paler, visibly shrunken man from just the day before, and it scared me.  That's why I took that "just in case" "one last" tour of the house and yard.  It was time to leave Illinois, and I knew we didn't have the resources to travel back in case there was a funeral.  That knowledge was killing me inside, but I tried not to think about it too closely.  We stopped at a gas station to fill up before our trip back to Indiana.

Uncle Jeff called my dad's phone while we filled our tank.  News that fit perfectly with the sunshiny day!  Grandpa had woken up and felt like eating!  He was happy.  Awake!  Alive!  The day before, Mom and I had purchased potted plants and brought some pictures and statues of birds from his house to decorate his hospital room.  That's what made him want to live, I'm sure of it.  *wink*

You know what?  MY GRANDPA IS ALIVE!  MY COUSIN IS ALIVE!

I got to sing and dance in my funeral clothes!  So phooey on funerals!  Hooray!
I entered my house late that night, smiling to myself over silliness shared with girlfriends during our Girls Night Out.  Jeremy switched on his bedside lamp, and instead of the easy smile and the inquisitive, "How was your night?" that I expected from him, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up.  "Missy, I got a phone call tonight."  The tone in his voice alerted me, and the smile remnants left my face.

I hesitated, not wanting to know the answer, then asked anyway, "What do you mean?"

A flurry of phone calls later, plans made and unmade and remade, last minute errands run, I stood contemplating our suitcases.  Funeral clothes?  It seemed horrible to think about packing funeral clothes when no one had died.  My grandpa had just had emergency surgery, and my cousin was in Intensive Care on life support and in a coma - doctors saying no brain activity, but packing funeral clothes felt like declaring there was no hope.  There's ALWAYS hope! I argued to myself.  Then I sighed and acknowledged what seemed inevitable.  I folded a black skirt and a black blouse covered in lime green bubbles.  It felt too frivolous - the blouse, but all my black dresses were date night dresses, definitely not funeral dresses.

When I die, I expect people to wear party clothes.  No black, blah, boring at my funeral, please.  No depressing, drab.  Celebrate!  I've had a wonderful life, and I'm going to have an even "wonderfuller" after-this-life!  (Revelation 21:3&4)  But I didn't know what Chad would prefer at his funeral, or Grandpa at his, if that were to happen.  The reports I had been getting from my family said that Grandpa hadn't eaten anything since his surgery several days ago, and he was losing weight quickly.

I stared at the suitcases.  In a small fit of defiance, I refused to pack dresses for the girls that had any touch of black.  It seemed symbolic - to me, anyway.  Lively, colorful dresses for the next generation of our family showing that we're not beaten.  We're not done.  Maybe I was over-thinking the whole thing, but in my head...  well, you get what you pay for, I guess.

(I don't even charge a penny.)

Long drive.  Dropping things off.  Directions to the hospital from my mom.

A sign taped to the door jam at Grandpa's hospital room said, "Family, do not wake Dad if he is sleeping.  He needs his rest."  We tip-toed in.  Well, as tip-toey as six people including two rambunctious little girls can get on standard hospital tiles.  My dad sat on the porta-toilet next to Grandpa's bed working on a cross-word puzzle and joking with Grandpa who looked up at us strangely when we came in.  "Surprise!" I said happily, and the answering look on his face fit the occasion perfectly.  We all grinned at him.  Liberty and Mercy rushed to his bed, eager to bestow the cards they had been working on during most of our trip.  He was just as upbeat and complimentary as always, telling the girls they were amazing artists and if they kept working at it, they could do anything they wanted in life.  Other than seeming more frail than I remembered (which was to be expected since he'd just had surgery), I didn't see much to be worried about.


Since I'd heard about his refusal to eat, I asked what he'd been served that day.  "Is the hospital food any good, Grandpa?"  He had not eaten any, so he couldn't tell me.  A lukewarm rootbeer sat on his table, very close to full.  Our visit was short.  Less than ten minutes later, Grandpa told us he was worn out and needed to sleep. 

Driving to the next hospital.  ICU waiting room filled with family upon family upon family - all mine!  Little nieces and nephews met for the first time and jumped all over each other.  Cousins caught up on each others' adult lives.  Aunts and Uncles doled out hugs and "You look good"s, and "What a nice family you have"s. 

Grandma's been dead for sixteen years, but I still missed her presence in that waiting room.  Echoes of her smart-alecky comments and riddles and colloquialisms ricocheted in my brain as I looked at the faces of the people I love most in this world.  The one about the chickens kept toying with my memory, half hidden in the folds of my brain.  I turned to Aunt Nannette to see if she could remember it for me, but all I could remember to describe it to her was that it was about chickens, so I gave up.

Then it was our turn to see Chad.  Gloves on.  Tip-toeing into the quiet, beep-filled ICU chamber beyond the extra wide double-doors.

He didn't look like Chad.  The drawings taped to the wall from his four year old and two year old encouraged his coma-closed eyes to Come home soon, Daddy, and forced me to look away from them.  My cousin Michelle, Chad's wife, smiled as she looked up.  "Chad!  You have visitors!  Missy and Jeremy drove here all the way from Indiana to see you."  She nodded to me as she stepped away from the space next to Chad's bed and whispered, "He should be able to hear you and feel your touch."  I took her place by the bed.  Jeremy stayed outside the alcove where, barring an emergency, he would be less likely to see blood or bodily fluids that might cause him to pass out. 

I watched as a machine nearby took the blood from Chad's body and cleaned the infection out of it before piping it back in through clear tubes.  "Hi, Chad!"  I smiled at him and touched his arm.  "This is Missy."  Our one-sided conversation covered many topics as I meandered through the obscure thoughts poking here and there in my brain.  Finally, I mentioned the fact that our two girls were having a great time playing with his two kids in the waiting room.  When I left it, the four of them were pretending to be bunnies hopping all over the place, and I tried to describe the scene to him with the four kids hopping into each other in all their cuteness.  Suddenly, Chad's body flinched, and his chest began spasming.  Alarms went off on several machines, and Michelle stepped in to firmly tell him, "Stop biting down on that tube, Chad.  Calm down."  A nurse appeared and began working efficiently.  I stepped out of the way.

Jeremy whispered to me, "He reacted when you told him about his kids.  I could see the numbers on the monitor increasing when you first mentioned their names.  He definitely heard and understood you!"

Someone else got a turn after ours, and they came back with a report that he had reacted when his feet were touched!  The mood in the waiting room lifted slightly, but hope stayed out of reach.  His organs were not capable of functioning on their own.

Late that evening when poor Mercy was just too tired to take any more, we left the hospital, and I wondered how Michelle and Chad's kids were able to endure day after day of the waiting room.  All four of us crashed hard that night, then woke up early the next morning to have breakfast with Grandpa (my dad) and the girls' cousins Roman and Destiny.  Grandma and the rest of my brothers and sisters were still sleeping, except Hannah who had to work.  I still hadn't gotten to see any of my siblings but Faith who had gone to the hospital with us the night before. 

One by one, brothers and sisters began arriving in the living room, first Zach with a good, long, bone-crushing hug.  Oh, how I've missed him!  Then Pete with his awesome pink haircut.  (Suzy, you did a great job on it!)  Then Faith, brushing her wet hair.  Finally, Hannah came down after taking a shower to wash off her work.  We sat in the living room and talked and laughed together.  Then we moved to the dining room to play games.  It felt so good to be together again, and it felt even better watching my daughters roll in the dirt with their cousins and climb trees and make forts and pick apples with Hero Zach who was earning Uncle-Chuck-points.

I took some time that day to walk all over every square inch of my grandpa's property and relive memories so rich and vivid that it almost felt like they were happening again right there.  Splashing and jumping in the pool with cousins.  Begging Grandma to get in the water with her red and white gingham bathing suit.  Concocting some kind of funky sandwich with which to trick Grandpa, and then disappointed, watching him eat every bite of it with no reaction, then peeling into gales of laughter when he said with a straight face, "Tastes like you used Grey Poop-On."  Smelling the garage where we used to change into our bathing suits, and where Russell hid in the deep-freeze one time during our massive hide-and-seek game at midnight.  Standing in the bathroom remembering the time when I panicked because I couldn't get my wet suit off in time to sit on the toilet.  Walking the brick patio and remembering the rows of picnic tables filled with family, and the fire-pit that night after dark where Grandpa and Dad and all the Uncles made the best hotdogs and marshmallows I've ever tasted.  Marveling that the furniture I remember from when I was a baby is still the furniture Grandpa uses to this day.  Giggling as I inspected the gleaming wooden floors and the rides we used to take on Uncle Chuck's feet to "mop" the floors.  Gazing at the shelves and shelves of Grandma's salt and pepper shakers and remembering how I used to sit at the dining room table during breakfast time and stare at those shakers, imagining stories about the people-shaped ones.  And OH THE DELIGHT the day that Grandma let me PLAY with them if I promised, no, PROMISED to play carefully and not break any.  The fear of Grandma entered my heart so thoroughly that to this day, I am afraid to touch her salt and pepper shakers.  But oh how I love them.  And her.

I miss my grandma very much.  Oh, Grandma!

Picking the fruit from the little fruit trees, and helping Grandpa in the garden on that hot, muggy day when the corn stalks were higher than my head and still green and the air was thick with the sweet scent of ripening corn.  Mmmm.  That smell even in Indiana always takes me back to that steamy day in Grandpa's garden when my tee-shirt threatened to suffocate me, and the humidity tried to choke me.  I was up entirely too early that morning for a summer vacation, let me tell you, and Grandma decided I needed to be outside rather than reading on the couch.  That was the summer that I met Katie who lived in the house that butted up to the back edge of Grandpa's property.  Katie was somehow a distant relative on my Mom's side of the family.  I think she might have been a cousin of my cousin.  She had straight, white-blond hair and bright blue eyes, and she could swim like no one I've ever seen.  I remember some grown up telling me that Katie was a fish, and for the rest of that summer I wondered...

My memories turned to include some of my mom's side of the family because all of our Illinois visits were intertwined with both families.  I remembered the night that Grandpa Z came into the pool room to use the extra bathroom, and all us cousins were standing around playing pool.  We decided to trick him and tell him that someone was in the bathroom.  We could tell that he had to go badly, otherwise he would have waited his turn for the bathroom in the house.  He changed direction to go to another stall, and we told him that one was occupied too.  "Well, who's in there?" he growled at us.  "Uh, PJ," we answered (we didn't have anyone named PJ in our family).  He grinned at us and then slammed the stall door open shouting in a silly accent, "PJ!  Get out of the bathroom!"  For some reason that cracked all us cousins up, and for the rest of the night we told each other, "PJ!  Get out of the bathroom!"

That night, my brothers and sisters and I camped out in Grandpa K's backyard in a tent, and we told stories about PJ and his imaginary family.  Those pretend family members have been part of my brothers' and sisters's growing up years ever since, and even nowadays we occasionally refer to PJ or his family.  While I walked Grandpa K's property, I stood in the spot where the tent had been pitched, and I relived that night lying on my back on top of my sleeping bag because it was so warm and telling stories to my brothers and sisters and giggling and giggling and giggling.  I remembered the epic Cousin Hide-And-Seek game when the cousins from my mom's side of the family came over to Grandpa K's house and the cousins from my dad's side of the family all played Hide and Seek late into the night together.  Oh the wonder!  I think my Aunt Penny came to visit with my mom that night, and those two sisters always talk into the wee hours of the morning together.

As I'm typing this, memories are flooding so quickly that I cannot record them all.  That metal and vinyl forest green step-stool/chair that has been in the kitchen ever since I can remember was still there this weekend.  I laughed out loud when I saw it.  And speaking of laughing out loud, Grandpa has taped five fly-swatters together so that the swatting parts are all side-by-side.  He says it's so he doesn't miss the fly.  I sat on the couch and immediately wanted to stand because underneath the cushion Grandpa has nailed a wide, flat board in place to keep you from falling into the hollow couch.  Apparently, the innards of the couch fell apart years ago.  Every plastic butter tub that he has ever owned is still in the fridge and still in use.  Black magic markers proclaim what's inside the dish.  Only, "applesauce" is crossed out and "flour" is crossed out and "green beans" is crossed out and "mashed taters" is crossed out and "sugar" is crossed out and "black eyed peas" is crossed out until you really have no idea what is inside the tub.  You have to open every one in the fridge to find the food you're hoping for.

While we were there, I noticed a small piece of wood about three inches long and maybe a square inch thick.  I picked it up off the floor and said, "I wonder what this goes to."  Jeremy smirked.  "With Grandpa, you never know.  It might be part of the dishwasher, or the vacuum cleaner, or the air conditioner.  It could have been holding the wall up, and now the house is going to come crashing down on us.  It could be..."  By this time we were both laughing so hard he couldn't continue.  I promise you, Grandpa could have gotten credit for bazillions of inventions if only someone had been there to record what he had done to get things running again.  Gray duct tape, hangers, wood and aluminum foil.  That's about all anyone needs if Grandpa's nearby.

My heart swelled up with joy when Liberty walked through her great-grandpa's dining room and noticed that every step caused the canning jars full of food to jiggle on the shelf and make music.  I used to walk extra hard in the dining room just to hear the jars clank together, and watching my daughter get the same amount of joy out of the same action made me happier than I can describe to you.  Another thing that filled my heart with happiness was watching Liberty and Mercy play with Roman and Destiny at their own Grandma and Grandpa's house.  Watching them climb trees and pick apples and made mud-balls out of themselves, and knowing all along that they are creating the same memories that I have stored up inside of happy childhood days spent at Grandpa and Grandma's with the cousins is beyond incredible to me. 

How did I get so blessed?
My friend Alicia and I decided that on Monday we would begin reading Malachi together. Now, when I say together I really mean that she will read it in Pennsylvania and I will read it in Indiana, but we will be reading the same chapter on the same day. So yesterday was our day to start.

Since Jeremy was away, I stayed up until 2ish last night puttering around until my exhaustion forced me to my bed. It wasn't until after I had finally snuggled deep into my pillow and felt my body muscles relax into the softness of the mattress that I thought, "Oh yeah, I need to read Malachi chapter one." I considered the effort it would take to lift my arm from its comfortable position to reach the touch lamp on my headboard shelf and then to pick up my Bible from its place near the lamp. Ugh, I groaned internally, and I almost chose to sleep instead. Then I remembered my phone conversation with Alicia last week about how we keep promising ourselves and God to make reading His Word and time spent with Him a priority in our lives again.

Okay, I said in my brain with some resolve. Let's get this done. I sat up in bed, touched the lamp and opened my Bible to Malachi chapter one.

"If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the Lord Almighty. "It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my Name."

Contempt? Well, at least I know that verse doesn't apply to me.

"When you bring blind animals for sacrifice is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the Lord Almighty.

Oh.

Half asleep at two in the morning is a crippled or diseased sacrifice in my heart. God walloped me with that Truth. It stung.

"And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the Lord Almighty.

Have I read my Bible today? No? Well, I suppose I'd better get it done...

Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord.

Yeah, how many times have I vowed? I don't even have words.

"For I am a Great King," says the Lord Almighty, "and my Name is to be feared among the nations."

Hooray for my Lord! I'm choosing to bow with a heart full of worship once again.
Mercy's third birthday was this past Monday, and we celebrated on Saturday with a few of her friends. I made a Chocolate Zucchini Cake that tasted incredible (if I do say so myself), but I made the mistake of letting Jeremy know it contained zucchini...before he tasted it. In fact, I was crunched for time, and so I did something even worse. I asked him to shred the zucchini for the cake. At first he refused on the grounds that vegetables do NOT belong in desserts, and he was just looking out for the taste-buds of our guests and for my reputation as a cook. When he realized that the zucchini was not going to be an optional part of the birthday, he reluctantly began shredding, but took every opportunity while he worked to point out the many reasons why this was a bad decision. When he finished the shredding process, he attempted to convince me that he could not figure out how to measure three cups of shredded zucchini in a glass measuring cup, and I almost fell for it...until I remembered that he is a Quality Engineer, and has been minutely trained in the fine art of measuring things. When I pointed that fact out to him, he caved in, and I even detected a tiny grin lingering at the corner of his lips.

Mmhm.

You can imagine his horror when he watched me pour applesauce into the cake as well.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup all natural unsweetened applesauce
3 cups grated zucchini
1 & 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the eggs, oil and applesauce, mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips and the zucchini until they are evenly distributed. (I pushed them in with a spoon and then used the beaters on them to distribute...none of this delicate folding stuff for me!) Pour mixture into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (I found out the hard way that the chocolate chips prevent a clean knife, so don't judge the doneness completely by that method.) Cool cake completely before frosting with your favorite frosting. (We didn't use a frosting at all. The cake was that moist and delicious!)



Mercy enjoyed her cake and her friends, but life has been completely different now that she is three years old. For starters, I'm holding her to her promise that she would start pottying in the big toilet rather than in her diaper when she turned three years old. She tried to talk me out of it, but I reminded her that she made a promise, and so she's decided to honor her word. However, she has no compunction about having a bowel movement in her big girl panties. Sigh. We're still working on that. I knew I should have gotten her promise in writing.

My favorite after-effect of the birthday is that now every sentence ends with "because I'm three years old now." For example, "Mommy, I saw a bird sitting on top of that house because I'm three years old now." "Mommy, I can have a piece of candy after I eat my lunch because I'm three years old now." "Mommy, I don't have to go to bed. I can cuddle with Daddy and give him hugs instead because I'm three years old now."

My least favorite after-effect is Mercy's sudden observation skills. She notices all the things that she used to be oblivious to, like the hiding spot for my stash of chocolate chips or the two big bumps under my shirt (my breasts). "Mommy, what do you have under your shirt? Why is your tummy bumpy on the top?" She is also noticing everyone else's bodies. At Walmart today, she announced loudly, "Mommy, that lady has a BIG tummy and a BIG bottom and BIG legs." Then she added happily, "Like YOU, Mommy!"

At first, I cringed for the sake of the BIG lady behind me, but when she finished I cringed for myself. I slowly turned around expecting to see a HUGE woman, knowing from Mercy's tone of voice that the woman must weigh 7,000 pounds, but the only woman behind me seemed reasonably fit. I searched some more, and finally realized that Mercy was trying to tell me that the lady behind me was GROWN-UP (big)...like me. Mercy was trying to tell me that the lady had a nicely-curved chest area (big), a nicely rounded bottom (big) and tall legs (big).

We obviously need to work on expanding Mercy's vocabulary...or, maybe not! Can you just imagine what she would yell out in the store if I told her what the correct anatomical term is for those two big bumps at the top of my tummy?
Jeremy had just taken the girls out for their daddy/daughter date night, and I had just settled deep into my favorite ugly upholstered rocking chair (some day, I'll post of picture of it) to catch up on my blog reading before soaking in the garden tub and then taking my new library book to bed with me when the doorbell rang.

Good thing I'm not already in the tub, I thought to myself. A teen girl who I have never seen before stood on my front porch. "Hi," she greeted me cheerily but a bit nervously. "We just found a snapping turtle at the pond, and my dad said to come tell you guys so your girls could come out and see it. He said they get really excited about turtles and things like that."

Yeah, really excited is a major understatement, but I let it pass as I thanked her and explained that they were out on a date tonight. I closed the front door, and then ran to the back door to look out at the pond. Who is this person who goes out of his way to spread joy like this? The dad at the pond did not look familiar to me, but he was far away and not facing me at the time. His daughter joined them, and together they hauled a large snapper back to the pond.

You want to know something? I could share story after story of my neighbors (not just the ones next door and across the street but throughout our whole little subdivision). Stories that would make Norman Rockwell break down and cry his eyes out, but it boils down to this. THIS is why I love my neighborhood so much: We care about each other, not just in times of crisis, but also in times of fun, always looking to spread the love.
So I was driving down the road the other day, alone in the minivan, minding my own business, when a stern voice from the back calls out, "I'm warning you!"

Whaaa?

Just then I hit another bump in the road, and the voice shouted out, "Hey!" in an accusatory manner. I recognized Shrek's tinny voice that time and grinned to myself. At the next bump the plastic McDonald's toy protested again, "Hey!" My amusement grew, but it wasn't until I crossed the railroad tracks and Shrek lost his temper shouting, "Alright! Cut it out!" that I couldn't keep my giggles to myself.

I've glanced around the floor of the van a few times since then and never spotted him, but he keeps us company on all our travels, constantly warning us about our reckless driving and protesting the potholes that we insist on bumping over. He's a very safe driver, himself. I've decided he must be wedged underneath a seat somewhere in order for every slightest bump to aggravate him so, and I have no intention of removing him from his predicament.

It's hard to find good entertainment these days.
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Well, so much for my promise to blog more often. Sorry you guys! I've realized now why I wasn't blogging as often before my promise. It's because I'm BUSY! By the time I get to the end of the day, I'm exhausted, and there's still plenty of things that need to be done besides blogging. Sigh.

I almost typed "Oh, for the simple days," but I realized I don't want to go back to the time when I had lots of time to blog. It was definitely fun and carefree, but I'd much rather be making a difference and investing in friendships and getting work done while enjoying my life than just sitting around and enjoying my life.

Yesterday was mine and Jeremy's eighth wedding anniversary. Hooray for us! I keep thinking that someday I'll tell you the saga of how Jeremy and I began dating, but I'm not sure how idiotic I really want to look on this blog. If I ever do tell the story, you'll have to keep in mind that I was a very silly and immature eighteen year old and cut me some slack. Or, you can just sit back and laugh at me; either way, we'll all have fun!

We're supposed to be getting ready to leave for the library and collecting all of our overdue library books right now, but instead I'm blogging, and my daughters are fighting over a cup full of water. This is going to be a mess. I can see it now.

Huh, they decided to share it. That's a surprise.

Mercy's third birthday is the 25th, and I'm working on her birthday party plans for this weekend. Gotta run to the store for some cake ingredients. I think I'll use the second gigantic courgette to make a chocolate zucchini cake complete with chocolate chips! Mmm, my mouth can taste it already. Saturday, hurry up and get here!

Well, this post is going nowhere fast. :-) I need to get busy on a shopping list and finding those library books...and drying the spilled water off the computer's extra battery. So much for sharing.
My neighbor Meagan gave us two giant zucchini last night, and the girls and I just devoured one of them a few minutes ago because a recipe for Zucchini Parmesan popped up in my inbox from www.sparkpeople.com this morning with very convenient timing. Liberty and Mercy called our snack "Zucchini Cookies" since the slices were about the same size and shape of cookies. I thought I'd share.

Easy Zucchini Parmesan

This quick and healthy snack tastes like a gormet side-dish, but just takes minutes to prepare! And as a bonus, it's an easy way to get the kids to eat their vegetables.



INGREDIENTS
Zucchini, 1 cup, sliced
Parmesan Cheese, grated, 1 tbsp
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Original Buttery Spray, 10 sprays I skipped this ingredient, since it's not real food. We don't enjoy eating plastic. :-)
Non-stick cooking spray I used Olive Oil spray which added a trace amount of calories.

DIRECTIONS
Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, then coat with some non-stick cooking spray. Place the zucchini slices out on the pan, then spritz with them with the butter spray. Sprinkle on the parmesan cheese and then pop it in the oven. Broil for a few minutes - until the cheese starts to brown. Enjoy it while it's warm!

Make a larger batch for a delicious and healthy side dish for any meal! Your family will love it!

Number of Servings: 1

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION
Calories 51.6
Total Fat 1.6 g
Saturated Fat 1.0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.1g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.4g
Cholesterol 4mg
Sodium 128.5mg
Potassium 460.8mg
Total Carbs 7.3g
Dietary Fiber 2.5g
Sugars 3g
Protein 3.2g
Vitamin A 40.9%
Vitamin B12 1.2%
Vitamin B6 7.3%
Vitamin C 13.8%
Vitamin E 1.3%
Calcium 9.2%
Copper 7.8%
Folate 7.8%
Iron 3.8%
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