Friday, April 11, 2014

what else have we been missing?

We've lived here for almost four years, and this past weekend, we traveled to the magnificent Great Falls for the very first time.

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It's impossible to believe this is essentially in our backyard and we've never known about it.

Note to self: Strive to increase awareness of surroundings and get out of the house a bit more often. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

this is my definition of awesome

This past weekend, the temperature for the first time all year, was warm enough that the kids escaped outside and sat on the front stoop, reading a pile of books. Charlie was at a lacrosse game with William, and looking through the window of a quiet house, this is the scene that met my eyes... Carolyn, our voracious reader, reading a story aloud to her sister who struggles with reading.

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Moments later, Henry - our fledgling kindergarten reader - took a break from his raucous Davy Crockett lacrosse playing and drew close to his sisters so he could hear the story, too.

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Once the story was over and her siblings pleaded for her to read it again, Carolyn happily obliged.

At least twice.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

charlie's pet peeve

My husband and I will be celebrating 20-years of wedded bliss this coming August.  For the most part, we hardly argue and when we do - it's almost always over something that Charlie does to annoy me.  Things like ... buying too much of something when he goes to the store (e.g., cashews - what family of six needs five pounds of cashews?!) Or forgetting to distribute fresh fruit for lunch or snacks and then having to throw it away because it starts to rot.  In contrast, Charlie rarely takes fault with anything I ever do and will never request that I do more of this - or less of that.

Until. 

Until such time I pull our fire ring to the front yard, light a raging bonfire consisting of tree branches that have fallen around our yard, and hand our children hotdogs on sticks.  I'll cheerfully call out to our offspring, "Here y'all go ... now listen to your mama and run along to fix yo'self some dinner!"

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My husband is horrified and each time I do it, he'll say, "I don't understand why you do this? Don't you realize we look like absolute hicks cooking hotdogs in the front yard?"

This afternoon, as we were out cooking in the yard, our neighbors stopped by and during the course of conversation, said something along the lines of "keeping it classy!" Charlie shot me a look that said, "SEE!!! I TOLD YOU!!!!"

The fact that I don't see the hick-factor at all, makes me think perhaps I am one.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

and thus it begins

While I was away on a business trip to Puerto Rico this week ...

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Charlie was at home, on solo parent duty, with the four children and no oven.  Between shuffling the children to running clubs, lacrosse practice, and scouts ... and volunteering in the classroom of all four kids ... he also entertained his Uncle Bobby who was in the area for a few days.  And for reasons unbeknownst to me, he decided the time was ripe to take on the task of demolishing the children's bathroom.

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In the midst of his demolition activities, he broke a water line and had to turn off the main until a plumber could come make the repairs (36 hours later).  He said that if given the option of being without water or electricity for a day and a half, he unquestionably would opt for no electricity.

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He asked me, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to have NO WATER and FOUR CHILDREN?"  Thankfully, no ... I have no idea how difficult that scenario is.

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He also discovered that the subfloor was rotten and will require replacement ... and the cast iron bathtub, which weighed 350 pounds, required removal by three men who were once football linebackers.

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Despite all the activity he had happening, he said one of the the most unnerving things to happen to him this week, was to find this scrap of paper in his daughter's backpack.

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Thank goodness it's blank.

Monday, March 31, 2014

march (ing) through the new testament

Charlie and I have been hosting a Small Group at our home for the past two months. Every Sunday night, from 6 until 8, four other families - with ten children across them - come to our home for fellowship.  With five couples and 14 kids running around, it's a great time.

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When we first started our sessions, we had a pamphlet to work through that the church had provided as part of a "starter package."  And fortuitously, once we wrapped up our 'starter package', the church gave us the assignment of reading The New Testament which coincided with the start of Lent. The goal is that we will have finished our reading by Easter.  That translates to approximately 18 pages of reading, five days a week. Provided you actually do your reading five days a week.

Unfortunately for me, instead of reading the Bible everyday, I got totally hooked on Jane Austen (esque) movies. After I'd watched Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Bridget Jones' Diary (including The Edge of Reason), and the six series BBC version of Pride & Prejudice three times (once by myself, once with Charlie, and once with the kids), it dawned on me I really should give up Colin Firth / Mr. Darcy for Lent.  Before I do, I must say ... Pride & Prejudice ... if you have six hours, is the BEST MOVIE EVER. Especially the third time you watch it in less than two weeks.

While I've never read the Bible cover to cover, I've certainly tried. Years ago, I started the Old Testament and made it to Leviticus and then had to stop with all the slaughtering and blood and sacrifice. I've also skimmed through the New Testament and am familiar with all of the parables.   And what I didn't pick up from reading the actual Bible, I picked up from reading our Children's Bible which is much more my speed.

The pictures really help. 

So we've got this assignment that we're supposed to be reading the New Testament (this is the version we're reading) and when our group met last night, we should have already read  through page 206 (Ephesians).   As for me, I was still hung up on the introductory chapter trying to decipher the map of Israel in the First Century.  Charlie, however, who felt like he was totally behind the game and very much dislikes feeling like he's behind the game, had read AHEAD of where we were supposed to have read, and was quoting Bible passages like a scholar and correcting people from our small group who honestly, know a lot more about this than we do.  

I was trying so hard not to crack up, because cracking up at someone else during Bible Study seems so wrong, especially since he'd just scrambled to read the information that day.  

Anyway.  Today, I had to fly to Puerto Rico (again) and I thought this would be a great opportunity to get caught up on my reading.  By the time my flight from Washington had landed in Miami, I'd read Philemon (that was easy, it's only 1.5 pages), Philippians, 1 Timothy, and Titus.  We then had a mechanical difficulty which resulted in a three hour delay that included a plane change, followed by a 2.5-hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Instead of feeling vexed (that's a Pride & Prejudice term), I seized the opportunity to read so that by the time we landed, I'd read 2 Timothy, Matthew, Luke and Acts and am now only 50 pages behind my group!

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I probably could have read more, but I was taking my time and reading passages 2, 3 or 4 times to ensure I understood what had been written. I also kept flipping back to my Israel in the First Century Map to envision where all of this was happening.  There was a lot of highlighting and questions written in the margins.  I did wonder if it's sacrilegious to write in the margins of a Bible, but decided I'm not going to dwell on that, too much. Although I don't want any one to think that I'm practicing my righteousness in front of others (Matthew 6:1).  Honestly, I'm just trying to understand the story!

This was one of my favorite passages, written in Paul's letter to Timothy, to which I totally took heed: Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and frequent illnesses. 

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It was only 10 AM, so I opted instead for champagne.

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Along with my chocolate chip cookie.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

too many holes to count

This morning I attended the funeral of my friend and colleague.

The meager obituary that appeared online didn't capture that my friend was born in Africa and possessed a very quiet and kind demeanor, and absolute love of the outdoors and sports. The first time I ever spoke to him, was the day after I ran / hobbled through my first marathon in 2009.  I was living in California and he was living in Virginia and during the course of our call, I told him that I'd just completed a marathon the day prior. Truth be told, I was partially expecting that he'd be amazed at my athleticism because how many people do we know in our every day life that run marathons?!

Instead, he asked how it went? When I told him I didn't think I'd ever be able to walk again, he told me that the best cure for the stiffness from a marathon, is to go out and take a run. While he was extremely humble and did not boast about his own accomplishments, I would later learn from others, he had not only run marathons, but also ultra-marathons ... those races that are greater than a traditional marathon distance and often encroach on 50 or more miles. I listened to what he had to say about recovery, but in recognizing that I was not in the same league as my colleague, decided my cure was to take Tylenol, sit in the hot tub, and vow never to run a marathon again.

The obituary in the paper also didn't mention that my friend leaves behind three beautiful children aged 2, 4 and 8. When we met on a business trip in California, he relayed the recent story about rescuing his (at the time) one and only child from Maryland.  Since he was a successful attorney, it shocked me that the nanny he had carefully screened, prior to hiring, had the gall to take his infant daughter across state lines and embark on a shoplifting spree.  When security stopped her in the mall, she had a baby carriage stuffed full of stolen items that were carefully tucked in the lower basket and around the sleeping child. After she was taken in to custody, he got the call that his baby was at the police station. Once I'd heard the story, I immediately phoned my husband and said, "Remember that nanny we were talking about hiring for the children? FORGET IT."  

Today, I'm heartbroken that he's gone. I'm heartbroken that my friend, who shared my sense of claustrophobia and would always park outside beneath the lovely trees at our office, instead of in the bowels of the parking garage beneath the building, will never walk in to the office with me, again.  I'm heartbroken for his mother and father, and siblings, and sweet children who undoubtedly feel his loss most profoundly of all.  I'm heartbroken that circumstances in his young life were so grave, that he felt like there were no other options - than to leave it.  I'm heartbroken that the people in his life didn't recognize the signs of his desperation.

Today, I'm angry at his choice to leave this world and his children without a father, and his parents without a son.  I'm angry at the circumstances and relationships, that I can't even pretend to comprehend, that led to this decision.  I'm angry at myself that I'm judging people that I don't even know and even if I did, I have no right to judge.

Today, I'm confused because there's a lot that isn't being talked about regarding how my 38-year old colleague died.  There's a stigma that comes with it, that people don't want to openly discuss because it seems so incomprehensible.  But on the heels of the seventh suicide that has occurred in the past two years at our local high school, I think it's critical to talk about it.

Today, I recognize it's critical to be extremely cognizant of our actions and words, and be kinder than necessary to those around us, because everyone is fighting their own battle. Charlie recently shared this video with me and it struck me how so many of us are waging internal battles, that are simply not visible to the naked eye. Especially the naked eye that's always in a frenzied rush (i.e., most of us).



We really need to be kinder to ourselves, too. How easy and acceptable it is in our culture to push ourselves so hard, as we try to live up to standards that aren't feasible or sustainable in any kind of physically or emotionally healthful way.  I've come to believe that it's just a matter of circumstances.  We might fiercely claim that we'd never do something to harm ourselves. But if the circumstances of our lives were perhaps slightly different, we might be faced with a sense of hopelessness and despair that we consider simply unlivable, especially when fueled by depression. So instead of taking a different path on the hike of life, we decide that we don't want to hike anymore.

In the past twenty years, suicide rates have climbed almost 30% and have surpassed car accidents as the #1 cause of death. This is the second person from my life that has been lost to this epidemic and I wonder if either of these people realized just how much they are loved, and how sorely they will be missed?  Today at my friend's funeral service, it was standing room only.  Several of his family members from South Africa were in attendance, and I so hope that they were able to grasp how many of us were impacted by the gift of his gentle existence, and are now devastated by his loss.

There's that one scene in the movie, "It's A Wonderful Life" where angel-to-be Clarence Odbody, after showing George Bailey what the world would be like without him says, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"   

The obituary didn't mention that there are so many holes left by my friend's passing.

And as I sit here on this perpetually rainy Saturday, it feels as if the skies are weeping, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

RIP General Electric P*7 Automatic Cleaning Oven

This afternoon when I came home from the office, Henry rushed me and begged that I make him a batch of banana muffins.  There are a lot of things I can easily turn down, but I can never turn down an opportunity to bake with the children.  So there we were, measuring and mixing and stirring and putting batches of muffins in to the oven, when I noticed that the heating element was on fire.

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I wasn't immediately alarmed, because I know that heating elements burn sometimes. Especially when something falls on them. But when I removed the muffins and saw that there was nothing on the element and it was actually sparking with flames, I realized there might be a more significant issue at play.  So I turned the oven off and closed the door, thinking that would do the trick.

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Alas, a few minutes later, when I looked back in the oven, it was still sparking and the fiery heat was very slowly moving it's way along the length of the element.

Huh. "Charlie? Something looks as though it might be amiss here..." I said to my husband.

We both looked at the element that was sparking and popping like a welder's torch, and burning brightly like magnesium from chemistry lab.  I poured some baking soda on it, which just made a mess.  Then I poured some water on it, which just made more of a mess.  I would have just left it alone, except I was slightly worried that if the flame continued to migrate and reach the junction at the back of the oven, we may have an electrical fire.  We thought this would be a great opportunity to show the children how to use a fire extinguisher, so we pulled out our little 1-pounder and Charlie pointed it toward the oven.

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Quick show of hands if you've ever used a fire extinguisher?

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We hadn't ever used a fire extinguisher before, so we were quite surprised at the ABSOLUTE MESS that a fire extinguisher makes.  When a cloud of fire suppressant material immediately engulfed the kitchen, and drifted throughout the entire house,  Charlie started hacking and ran around opening all the windows before darting outside in to the 25 degree air yelling for the children to follow him.

RUN AWAY! 

RUN AWAY! 

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I peeked in to the oven and the glow of the still hotly burning element reflected off the suppressant.  The fire extinguisher had done absolutely nothing. Except make a mess.

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So I called the non-emergency fire department line and asked what should we do?

They suggested we turn off the power breaker (of course!) and unplug the oven, which wasn't an immediate option since it's a wall mounted version and connected in the back.  Lo, once Charlie turned off the power, the flame died out and we immediately set to work cleaning up the mess.

It wasn't long before there was a reporter and camera crew on the scene ...

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They were trying to cover the story of what exactly had happened?

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Charlie was interviewed and as he relayed the harrowing experience, he explained the FEAR and CONCERN he felt regarding the welfare of his children and family.

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He described the super human strength that was required to pull the pin on the fire extinguisher and wield it so expertly.  Most men would have a difficult time picking up the extinguisher and knowing what to do, let alone calmly and swiftly swinging in to action, as he had done.

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He went on to explain that he was a remarkable model of poise and grace.

He has lovely feet and he smells good, too.

And his hair? Why, he's like a Greek God!

(Oh dear Elizabeth, if you think he's embarrassing you now ... just you wait.) 

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Our reporter wrapped up her story on the nearly 50-year old oven that will now require replacement. The question remains whether this will be a simple replacement, or whether it's replacement will result in the full demolition and reconstruction of an entirely new kitchen.  Regardless of what happens, I doubt our new appliance will boast the handy cooking guide that I've come to rely upon with our GE P*7 Automatic Oven Cleaning variety.

I must remember...  Two Crust Pie 400-425.  Two Crust Pie 400-425!

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In the meantime, our reporter moved outside to cover the weather.

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Although April is less than a week away, we had our umpteenth snowstorm yesterday. By all accounts, northern Virginia hath definitely frozen over.