Sunday, January 31, 2016


Tooth Fairy ... we're gonna need you back here, again.


Now, hopefully, his teeth will start growing in soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

paging the tooth fairy

Unlike his previous teeth, thankfully, I'm not responsible for this tooth falling out...


I love the look of excitement in his eyes ... losing teeth can be such a thrilling experience!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

disaster diverted

While William hasn't bridged from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts yet, he has selected the Boy Scout troop he wants to join ... and last weekend, they invited him on an overnight camping trip.

The forecast called for days in the 50's, nights in the 30's, and rain.  Not what any of us, Charlie especially, would consider "ideal" camping conditions ... but he's a great Dad so he and William set off camping, while the other three kids and I made plans for a cozy weekend amidst soccer games.

Charlie and William pulled out at 6:00 PM and by 8:00 PM, I'd fed the kids dinner and we were gearing up to watch a movie on Netflix.  While the movie was queueing, I decided to start a fire.


One thing I should mention is that unlike Virginia, where we had a wood burning fireplace, our fireplace in Texas is gas, which is a much easier, and much cleaner than wood (no ash or soot).

We know gas fireplaces. We had one in San Diego. But the gas fireplace at our Texas house is different.  Notice the bookshelf on the right side of the fireplace?


That bookcase was constructed by the previous owners and the access to the valve has been cut in to the wood.


The previous owners built the wall unit AROUND the access valve.


The problem, that I noticed the very first time I tried to ignite the fire, is that in order to turn on the gas, you need to reach your hand INSIDE a small hole that was cut in to the casing and access the key which is approximately 3-inches from the surface.


From Day 1, I haven't liked this configuration because if you drop the key inside the casing, there's no way to get it back out.   I've had it in mind to fix this awkward setup, but haven't done it yet. 


And yes - yes - of course it happens on Friday night, when I'm home alone with the kids, I crank on the gas line and the key falls inside the wall. So there I am with the gas ON and what I should have done is immediately ignited the gas.

But my mind was reeling with, "I DROPPED THE *%#! KEY, MUST HAVE CONTROL OF GAS..." so I ran in to the bedroom, desperately looking for another key in our bedroom fireplace. By the time I got back to the living room, the gas had been on for more than 30 seconds, and I didn't want to ignite the gas because of the accumulation, there would likely be a fire ball.  So I instead stuck the key in to the dark casing and tried to turn the gas off.

Lefty Lucy ... Righty Tighty.


I figured we'd skip a fire, the accumulated gas would dissipate, and all would be well.  We watched our movie, and went to bed.  Everything is secure ... so I think.

Saturday morning, we wake up and scramble out the door at 8:00 AM to Henry's soccer game.  I think I smell gas when I go outside, but am not entirely sure.  When we come home at 10:30 AM, so the girls can get ready for their soccer game at 11:30, I notice that there are two fire trucks parked in front of our house, and at least five firemen are walking up and down our street with monitors.

They're popping sewer lids and checking air levels.

The definite smell of gas hits me when I walk past our side yard and in to the garage, but I think it's probably off gas from our next door neighbor igniting his hot tub.  The thought flashed through my mind to have the firemen come check out our yard, but my anxiety to get to the soccer game on time, won out.

We return from the soccer game, and when we pull in to the driveway, the smell of gas hits me, again. This time it's stronger. Much more concentrated - along the side of the house.  "That's odd!" I think, as I sent Charlie a text message. "There's a strong smell of gas, not sure where it's coming from. Might be our outdoor kitchen? Fire pit? Perhaps its the neighbors?"

The kids and I take down our Christmas tree - cleanup the house - and each time I walk to our side yard to throw out trash, I'm taken aback by that smell of gas.  I'm curious, but I'm not overly alarmed, as I walk around the perimeter of our house, checking the various gas connections and can't seem to find anything out of the ordinary.

Saturday night, we watch another movie, and go to bed.

Sunday morning, I get up and take Louie for a walk.  Coming back to the house, I still smell gas and for whatever asinine reason, I'm not alarmed.  I'd like to blame my lack of concern on my recent brain surgery and obvious diminished competency.

Within a few hours, Charlie comes back home and when he goes to the backyard and pops up the saturated tents to air out, he is downright alarmed at the smell of gas.   He immediately calls the Gas Company and reports a potential leak. Within 15 minutes, we have a technician at our front door and he walks the perimeter with a gas monitor and confirms that there are hits all around the house.  He then instructs us to turn off all the gas coming in to the house.

I'm in the kitchen cleaning up from breakfast and Charlie comes in saying, "Jen, you need to turn off ALL the gas in the house."  I reassured him, "Everything IS off."

The technician is talking to Charlie from outside, and my husband yells in to the kitchen, "He says the gas meter is spinning...."  The technician then comes in to the house with his gas monitor and walks through the kitchen.  He walks over to the fireplace and opening the glass doors, yells, "THIS IS IT! TURN OFF THE GAS!!" 

Charlie fumbled his hand in to the wall unit, through the little hole, and cranked down on the key.  Then both he and the technician turned around and stared at me with bug eyes.

They both began rapid firing me with questions, "When did you say you turned that on?  Do you realize it was opened to HIGH? Which way did you turn it, when you thought you were turning it off?"  The technician looked at us and said, "This could have been very bad.  This could have been a real tragedy...." His voice trails off, as Charlie looks and me and his eyes are filling with tears.

I'd been in the kitchen, with a soapy pot in my hand, feeling very indignant.  "I turned it off!! I know that I totally turned it off! It must be broken....!"

The technician left, and as I contemplated what had happened, I barked, "That damn fireplace!  Whoever built it where you can't access the key properly ... what the hell were they thinking?"


The gas to our fireplace, had been on high, for more than FORTY HOURS, un-ignited.   If not for the draft which caused the warm air from our house to be pulled in and up through the chimney, and accumulate on the side of the house (where I smelled it), the gas would have come in to the house, displaced all oxygen, and we would have all asphyxiated; particularly if it happened at night when we were sleeping and didn't notice the odor.  Or, there might have been a catastrophic explosion ... like this one had someone ignited something like a cigarette along the side yard.

My Promise to the Universe is that I am going to rip out the entire bookcase and have a new ignition valve designed.  OR, I'm going to concrete in the entire fireplace.


By Sunday evening, a dark cloud was upon me.  On some subconscious level, I knew there was a problem as early as Saturday morning, because I had considered calling over the firemen to investigate.  My neighbor would later tell me that another fire truck came by on Saturday afternoon, and the Sheriff's car was outside of our house on Sunday morning.  By the time I went to bed, I was physically sick with the what ifs of what could have happened to me and my three children.  Monday morning, I could hardly move from the grief and sadness at the thought of 4/6 in our family being wiped out because of MY negligence.  Me and these three ...



This weekend, I am feeling better and confident that YES, we will be redesigning the fireplace.  We will be cutting out a more appropriate access point for the gas valve, and exploring a remote control system.   Charlie asked me how I didn't know that I'd turned it wide open, instead of off.   Didn't I hear the gentle, whooooosh of the gas?   Answer, no, because I'm still partially deaf following my surgery, especially low range sounds.  Didn't I remember "Righty Tighty, Lefty Lucy?" Answer, yes, of course I know that.  But I have no answer what happened Friday night except, I was flustered and tried to get it off as quickly as I could. So when we do the redesign, we will clearly add a label that reads, "OFF" with an arrow pointing to the right.


So many times in life, things happen where our life, or safety, might be compromised and we may not even realize it.  This wasn't one of those times.  This is up there as the scariest WHAT-IF moments of my entire life.  I think it's hit me so hard because I've been raised in a safety culture where ALL accidents are preventable.  And this could have been prevented, or curtailed, at so many points:
  • Had I fixed the valve sooner, the valve that I knew was a problem, I wouldn't have lost the key inside the wall, that put me in a mild panic and caused a mad dash for me to run and find another key.
  • Had I ignited the fire, anyway, I would have known it was on, and I would have properly turned the gas off before we went to bed.  It was the NOT igniting it, that got me in trouble.  
  • Had I summoned the firemen to come investigate on Saturday, they likely would have found the source.  It was like God whispering in my ear to have them come over ... and I ignored it.
  • Had I been more alarmed (why wasn't I alarmed?!) at the smell of gas on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, or any point on Sunday - I would have called the emergency response line at the Gas Department and figured it out sooner.
Isn't this life?  Things happen, so we must learn from our "near losses" and we must remain diligent. Most of all, we must listen to that little voice whispering in our ear.   Adding to my own personal list of what I "Should Have Done..." I really Should Have bought a Power Ball ticket last week when the jackpot was at astronomical proportions.

With the amazing luck I've had, I'd probably now be a billionaire.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

learning moments abound

Ever since we've been parents, Charlie and I have vacillated on having someone come in to help clean our house. For a while, we had a service come through twice a month, and then once a week. They'd mop and vacuum, scrub counters, dust, and change linens.


But I always found that I spent so much time getting ready for this housecleaning service, if I wanted to get the most out of their visit.  It wasn't like I could just let the SWAT team of maids loose and expect it would be done to my satisfaction.  I had to put things away where I wanted them to go, or run the risk that those things, including toys and important papers, would be stacked and placed in some random location.  To me, that's the hardest part ... putting things away.  Once everything is where it's supposed to go, the mopping and vacuuming and dusting is easy.

While the cost of having a service wasn't totally cost prohibitive, I felt like it was a waste of money because within a day, the house was a wreck.

What is it with boys and bathrooms?

Kids and muddy soccer cleats?

Lego parts?

The unending laundry?

Then it dawned on me.  We have six very abled bodies that live here.  So more recently, we're of the mindset that our children are old enough to clean up after themselves and help contribute to the running of a house.  A few months ago, I spent 30 minutes teaching the kids how I like to clean a bathroom, and then set them loose with small gloves, cans of Comet, a broom, mop, and toilet brush. I figure this solves two issues:

1) It teaches them the importance of cleaning up after themselves, and how to do it.  When they move out in to the world one day, it's unlikely they'll have a maid following them.

2) It helps us to stay focused during the week on the task of keeping things tidy because they'll ultimately be responsible for dealing with it.

Because this has been a particularly busy week and we haven't stayed on top of things so well, today, the kids helped do several loads of laundry. They also vacuumed their rooms.  With all the hands on deck, we were able to get the house picked up in less than two hours.  Of course they're still learning and their efforts aren't totally flawless. For example, today they learned that you don't YANK the vacuum cord plugged in upstairs, when you're standing downstairs.


On the upside, tomorrow, we get to learn how to replace an electric plug!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

winning in the game of life

We love a good family game night.


So every night during the children's winter vacation, we played games.  We played card games like Crazy 8's and Crazy Bridge, and board games like Clue, Scattergories, Sorry, and RISK.  One night, we divided in to teams and played Monopoly.  We played Monopoly a lot when we lived in Virginia ... usually when the kids had a snow day and we'd be camped inside near the fire.  Back then, the kids would substitute the official Monopoly tokens for their own tokens because a Killer Whale is much more intimidating than an old shoe.


But back then, the games didn't last very long because the kids lacked a critical component called "Strategy" and would wind up trading every dollar they have, plus their railroads and Park Place, for a monopoly on something like Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues.


Last week, we divided up so that William and Henry were one team, Charlie and Elizabeth were another, and Carolyn and I were the third.  Sadly, the rolls weren't going in the latter teams' favor and we kept landing on Community Chest and/or Chance, which would send us directly to jail, levy a tax, or require a medical co-pay.


Meanwhile, the Gods of Favor were smiling on William and Henry.


When they weren't rolling dice that would take them to an unowned property, that they would quickly purchase, they were landing on Free Parking and taking all the money that our teams had to keep paying in fines and expenses.


Within an hour, they had a monopoly on Pacific, North Carolina and Pennsylvania Avenues and were building houses.


And then hotels.   


I've watched and read too many Jane Austen works to the children because William would say in his best attempt at an British accent, "Where shall I construct my next hotel?  Pray tell, would it vex you greatly if I put one ... HERE?!"


Eventually, we'd get out of jail and within two rolls, would unavoidably land on the brothers' property.  The universe was totally conspiring against us and our little white dice.  Still, we laughed and had so much fun - because these moments are totally life and such a perfect example of how things can so often go.

"Seriously, what is wrong with these dice?? ARE THEY BROKEN?!" 


Once William and Henry had constructed "Brother Row" Charlie and Elizabeth never made a full lap around the board.  Since Charlie had been the banker, his parting gift to me upon his bankruptcy, was to unethically slip us $5K in hopes that we'd have a fighting chance.


Even with the embezzlement, it didn't matter.


What is meant to be, will be.

Note: I did wind up telling William and Henry the truth about how that stack of $500's suddenly showed up in our pile.  While it seemed like a hilarious idea at the time, I let the kids know it was really wrong and we need to be honest and lead by example.  Sometimes what might seem like a funny or good idea, turns out to be a really bad idea and you can quickly get in over your head.

And if there's one thing we know for sure, it's that we'd never want for greed or the quest for control, to overtake us such that we'd put money or possessions over people.  

While it was so easy to take ... integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.  Whether in a board game - or life - every so often, you aren't going to get the rolls that you want and there isn't much to do about it, except laugh and know when to surrender gracefully.   Everyone agreed its best to have "growth opportunities" with family because with a sincere apology, those that genuinely love us - despite our shortcomings - tend to be the most forgiving.

Me being forgiven. Again.  


Speaking of family and genuine love, this photo ...


Reminds me so much of this one, when Charlie played Monopoly with Tommy and Diana, who were only 12 and 11 at the time...


You know what they say about apples and trees.

Monday, January 04, 2016

this is why I wear elastic waist bands

Like so many people the world over, Charlie and I jotted down a few thoughts for how we were planning to make this year ... 2016 ... our best year yet.  Those thoughts included, but are not limited to:

Taking an abundance of vacations and seeing as much of our world, and the Great State of Texas, at every possible opportunity.

Seizing moments - like while dinner is cooking - to play a quick game with the children.  

Reading at least one book a month as a family.   

Handwriting more letters.  

Finding a church community.  

Being more disciplined with our time and patience. 

Being more gentle with ourselves, and others. 

Like every year, one of the big things that we're planning to do this year (and we really, really mean it this time) is get in to a GOOD exercise routine.  While we've been walking a couple miles every day, we haven't been very disciplined about going to the gym that we recently joined. And with Charlie turning 50 this year - we figured we need to change that, post haste.  And there's no time to really embrace this like the start of a new year. 

We were planning to go to the gym on Thursday to end 2015 on a high note, but when we arrived at 3 PM, we were surprised to see that they had already closed. They were closed again on Friday. Saturday and Sunday, we didn't even attempt to go because we had these amazing holiday recipes to make with food that was about to expire and ....... see the problem, here? 

Following brunch yesterday, Charlie was tidying up the kitchen when he had a wardrobe malfunction. 

With my husband's permission, I present to you Exhibit 1: The the button off of Charlie's brand new LL Bean shorts.  According to Charlie, it didn't just "fall off."  No, it came off with the velocity of a missile, when my husband bent over to tie his shoe.   Upon closer inspection, you can actually see the fracture patterns. 


Stepping back, I think it looks like a face. 


The look of a face that says....



Saturday, January 02, 2016

sweet things

First and foremost, thank you so much to everyone who has lifted up our sweet Kathryn in your thoughts and prayers.  Last night I was on the phone for a few hours with my cousin Margaret, and she indicated that at that time, Kathryn was still unconscious.

Margaret was planning to spend the night at the hospital with Lisa so she wouldn't be alone, and as she told me about the people who had been with them throughout the past 36 hours, I got so choked up thinking about how powerfully awesome families are .... and have the ability to be.

Not since this accident happened has Kathryn been alone.  While the crash happened on a deserted country road, thankfully it was witnessed and she was quickly rescued.  And since then, she has been surrounded by love from her parents, her siblings, her cousins, her congregation, her friends, and so many people she may never have the privilege to meet.

Over night, Kathryn opened one eye and responded to her mother.  And the most recent update - just a few hours ago - is that she is off the respirator, alert and coherent.

Can I get a Hallelujah?!

Considering what she has been through, it is nothing short of a miracle.  While she still has a long way to go in her recovery, I'd like to thank the power of prayer ... and the ability of a strong young body to heal.  Lisa has updated her blog, so please stay plugged in for further updates, and please continue to keep her in your prayers. They do work and are felt by the entire family.

In other news, this is how we decorate a gingerbread house at our house...


We'll need more frosting over here!

We'll also need another two weeks off from school.  The daily baking, lounging, and game playing has been insanely fun and rejuvenating.


The jury is in, and the consent is unanimous.  We're not quite ready for the holidays to be over and schedules to resume.

Friday, January 01, 2016

with all of our hearts

I've written before about my family in South Carolina.


My Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill, who have always been like a second set of parents to me.  And I've written before about my cousins Margaret and Lisa, two of Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill's five children, who are sisters to me.  Lisa is also a blogger and an amazing photographer.

While I haven't written about it before, my cousin Lisa is married to a kind and gentle man named Mark, who last year, underwent a heart transplant.  While the transplant saved Mark's life, they still are required to make three hour drives, each way, to Emory University in Atlanta, several times a month so that Mark's progress can be closely monitored.  While this situation has taken a toll on them, it has also strengthened them.  Whenever I've talked to Lisa, she emanates patience, peace, but above all - faith and gratitude.  

Mark and Lisa are an amazing couple, they are deeply in love, and over their 25+ year marriage have raised four incredible children.  Lisa has homeschooled them all, and they are such good, good kids.


There is Matthew, the oldest, who is now in college and planning to pursue graduate studies in philosophy and theology.  There is Stephen, the gentle giant, who wears a size 17 (!) shoe and has a heart bigger than his soles.  He is always there to help and do whatever he can for people, including my 82-year old mother, and 92-year old Jim.  Mark and Lisa's fourth and youngest, Mary Elizabeth, shares a birthday with my mother (July 7, hence her name, Mary!), and is a year older than Henry.  Mary Elizabeth is our daughters' pen pal, although Mary has proven to be a much more "consistent" correspondent.

This summer, during our move from Virginia to Texas, Charlie and I spent the night in South Carolina at my Aunt Grace's home and we had some time to sit and talk with Kathryn, the third of Mark and Lisa's children.  Kathryn is soft spoken and beautiful, a mirror image of her mother.


Kathryn told me how she was taking classes at the local college, and working in a restaurant as a waitress.  As I was talking with her, I was so excited for her, because to be standing on the threshold of adulthood with your whole life in front of you is awesome.

When I talked with my mother last week, she mentioned that Lisa and Kathryn had come over to cook her and Jim dinner one night (and then stayed to clean up!) and Mom said how she had asked Kathryn what she wanted to do one day.  Kathryn said she didn't know yet, and my mother asked her, "What brings you the most joy?"  Kathryn told my mother, "Biology. I love studying biology." And my mother responded, "Well then, that might be the field for you!"

Now I tell you this, and I give this small glimpse in to Mark and Lisa's family because I think it is necessary to know them, and by knowing them, you are more likely to care for them.

Yesterday morning, beautiful Kathryn was in a car accident.  She suffered severe injuries, including a head trauma that has required her to be placed in a medically induced coma and intubated.  The next 48 hours are critical. While we will not know about brain damage for several more days, she has broken bones, bruised her lung, and damaged her pancreas.

I've often heard the phrase, "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" and I'm not sure that I fully agree.  I believe life happens because of circumstances and sometimes, things occur that are way more than we can handle.    

How do you nurture and sustain that critically necessary strength of spirit to shield you in times of misfortune?  And how do you continue to have FAITH when life seems to hit you with one thing after another?  How do you continue to believe that the Universe is unfolding as it should, and God's fingerprints are on everything?

As for me, I have come to believe in the incredible power of community, gratitude, and on your knees prayer.  So today, on the first day of what I know will be a beautiful and growth-inducing new year, I am gratefully asking my communities to join me to pray for my Aunt Grace's grandchild; Lisa and Mark's daughter; Matthew and Stephen's little sister - and Mary Elizabeth's big sister.


Kathryn Grace with the beautiful face, who I pray like her incredibly strong cousin, Emily, will make a full and complete recovery.

And become the best biologist the world has ever seen.