Decking the Halls

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Preparing for Christmas

When I was small, Christmas was larger than life, looming luminously over half the year with a splendor so exquisite that it almost hurt.

But as I grew, Christmas seemed to stay the same. Just like my first bicycle, so large in my memory and so small standing at my feet, what had seemed so huge and magnificent never appeared to be quite as I remembered.

Christmas was still grand and wonderful, but I suppose I began to get used to it.

And now at last I have children of my own who are eagerly anticipating Christmas. It's not my first Christmas as a mother, or even my first Christmas with children old enough to understand, but it is the first Christmas where they're old enough to anticipate. This afternoon I was feeling very daunted, thinking that now I'm the one who has to make Christmas happen, and I'm just not quite sure if I'm capable of putting together a Christmas worthy of their anticipation.

But then, as I buckled down to the task of getting the house clean enough to be worthy of Christmas, I threw on some Christmas music. And it was Christmas.

And I realized that I don't have to make it Christmas after all. Christmas is real, and more resplendent and glorious than I ever could have imagined. All that is needful is with the help of baubles and lights and gingerbread, to make it small enough that a child's heart can contain the bliss.


Mysteries of the Heart

I would have brushed it off as a bunch of bunk if I hadn't seen the link over at Scriptorium Daily. And maybe it still is a little fringe-y. Certainly not without its controversy. Still, it's really interesting.

You see, sometimes heart transplant patients undergo pretty significant personality changes. Which isn't really all that surprising, since a heart transplant is a rather huge event in a person's life. Near death experience followed by a newfound physical vigor--well, it'd be surprising if it didn't effect some sort of change in a person's soul.

Still, some of those changes are downright freakish... and consistent with the donor's characteristics. Thus the hypothesis that maybe--just maybe--the brain isn't the only place where we store thoughts, feelings and memories.

The implications are astonishingly profound, and so of course there's a lot of scepticism. Strangely enough, however, it was the SkepDic article that convinced me to take the idea seriously.

You see, according to the SkepDic, all the silliness is traceable back to Aristotle. We have all these absurd notions associating the heart with love and emotion because Aristotle wrongly postulated that the heart was the location of all our thoughts and feelings, while the brain was simply a fan to keep the heart nicely ventilated. Or something like that. I'm really not quite sure. Aristotle wrote plenty enough that's still important in it's own right, that I haven't exactly gotten around to reading those portions of his work that have been completely outdone by his followers. I'm just glad he started asking good questions, and glad others came along and found likelier answers.

So Aristotle thought that the heart was where it was all at, and the brain was just a pump to cool the heart. Modern medicine thinks that everything happens in the brain, and the heart is just a pump to feed the brain.

Come to think of it, it all sounds rather the same, and come to think of it, the poets have never believed either one. Poetry and experience have always told us that the head is the seat of rationality, the heart the seat of emotion, the intestines the seat of courage and fear. And I seem to recall the liver and the kidneys coming into play somewhere, but I never took it remotely seriously, because of course nowadays everyone knows that it all comes down to brain waves.

Not that I ever believed that we were reducible to brain waves. But I guess I always thought that our souls were connected to our brains, and our brains were connected to our bodies, and that the my experience of my body was something of an illusion, everything being mediated by my brain. But come to think of it, in the intermingling of soul-ish activities, I always experience ideas as trickling down into practice, and emotions welling up into my conscious thought.

What if my soul permeates the whole of my body?

This changes everything.


At a dragonfly's pace

This weekend, I learned from an extremely reliable source--a string cheese wrapper--that the life of a typical dragonfly spans 24 hours.

And I wonder... does the dragonfly realize just how short his life is?

Or is a day nearly so short to him as it is to us? Is that day, in fact, a lifetime to him?

And is our life really significantly longer?

Maybe 80 years isn't much time at all, except at a dragonfly's pace.



Today could have been a very bad day. We were flying on the busiest travel day of the year, which also turned out to be the foggiest day in several years. And so it was that our quick little Portland/Seattle commuter flight turned into quite a "clouds of the northwest" tour, as the pilot circled the airport in hopes that it would clear up, and then headed over across the mountains to some tiny airport that wasn't fogged out. I don't remember the name of the place, but I do believe it was about as close to the middle of nowhere as an airport can be. Amazingly enough, this refuge from the fog actually was the final destination of one of the passengers, so it turned out beautifully for her. For us, though, it meant that by the time we made it to Seattle, our connecting flight to Houston had left several hours ago, and suddenly we were a party of five on standby on the busiest travel day of the year.

Today could have been a very bad day--but it wasn't. Today, on this busiest, craziest, most stressful airport day of the year, every airport employee we encountered went above and beyond to make sure everything went smoothly. From the lady at check-in who stepped right in and took care of the carseats, to the lady who rearranged the seating on the flight we squeezed onto, so that we weren't split up to badly, to the wonderful shuttle driver.

Today was a long day, a full day, but thanks to these wonderful people, it was a good day.

And I'm thankful.


Home again, home again, jiggety jig

But they don't want to get on the planes this time around.



It's an absolute madhouse.

But oh, the bliss of knowing that our progeny are only responsible for 3/5 of the toddler-related chaos.

Parenting loves company.


Happy Thanksgiving

Praise be to the Father who has provided for us so abundantly, tables heavy laden with good food, warm shelter from the crisp winter air, and dear friends and family with whom to enjoy these blessings!

Hope your day was warm and wonderful and full of scrumptious turkey.



We would have gotten a direct flight, had one been available.

All things being equal, we probably would have avoided trying to navigate a plane change with three toddlers.

But oh, it made for a wonderful day for the wuggies. Instead of just riding on one plane--treat enough!--they got to go on TWO planes. A great big jumbo jet and a tiny little prop plane that we even got to board from outside.

Oh the bliss, the ecstatic joy on those dear little faces.

You know what? Destination all aside (and oh, everyone is having a grand old time!) I think that was actually a perfectly grand way to spend a day.

But now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for bed.


Singing as we wind our way through the grocery store...

"Three bottles of car on the wall, three bottles of car--take one down, pass it around, three bottles of car!"


Sufficient to the day is the laundry thereof

Which makes packing... complicated.

Time to load up that washing machine.



We were in the parking lot this afternoon when September gave a delighted little giggle. "A birdie! It's a birdie!"

This prompted her affectionate father to remark that surely our little girl was destined to grow up into an avid bird watcher.

At which point Isaiah (being very eager for his lunch) burst out saying "Wugger's gonna be a hot-dog watcher.


This afternoon, I we experienced a very odd tantrum.

Isaiah greatly objected to our plans for the afternoon, which would not have been so very strange, had our plans been less vague.

But I never expected to hear such a distraught little voice earnestly crying "No! I don't want to have fun! I don't want to have fun!"


Faerie Stories

"Makin' maple candy, Mama?"

"No, I'm making a sourdough starter. Even though you can't see them, there are all sorts of little animals all around us, smaller than mosquitos or ants..."

"And a man?"

"Much, much smaller than a man. And we're going to try to catch some. And then they'll eat some of the flour, and they'll blow bubbles in the dough so it will be nice and puffy when we make bread."

Sometimes the strangest fairy tales of all are the ones really believe.

Bob the Builder Shoes

A few months ago, I went shoe-shopping with September, and her sweet little heart was set on Bob the Builder shoes.

And so I dutifully scoured the little girls shoe aisle for Bob the Builder shoes.

Not surprisingly, I didn't find any. There may very well have been lots of Bob the Builder shoes just a few feet over in the little boys shoe aisle, but I wasn't about to open up that can of worms. Much as Tembo wanted Bob the Builder shoes, I wanted her to have something at least a little bit girly.

I was just about to sadly announce that they didn't have any Bob the Builder shoes, and wouldn't she like to try on this nice pair of T-straps, when Tembo gave a little cry of delight and discovery. She'd found them.

Bob the Builder shoes.

That's what we call them, and she's very proud of them indeed. They're Bob the Builder shoes, and don't you dare suggest otherwise.


Christmas Wish

Over breakfast, Meepo was telling me that he wants Scrooge to bring him a new back yard for Christmas.

One with ducks, and bears. And no lions, just monkeys.


Works for Me Wednesday: Practice Makes Perfect

We're working hard on manners here in Wuggyville. For some time now, the wuggies have been saying the "magic word" ...when prompted. Oh, they would make the sweetest, most polite little requests, cute enough to melt your heart, but only after I would remind them that Mama doesn't listen to whining.

It had me stumped for a long time. Teaching them to say "please" and "thank you" was a piece of cake. Teaching them to do it the first time was another story altogether.

Anyway, I've got it figured out now, and it's oh-so-simple. They just need practice, that's all. Lots and lots of practice. If they ask me nicely the first time, then I answer them right away. If not, then it's time to practice, practice, practice. If they ask nicely the first time, then I'm quite satisfied with sweetly polite toddler-talk, but if I have to prompt them, then it has to be word perfect, and repeated several times. This can take a while. When you're only two years old, sometimes your "Mama, may I please" gets sort of tangled up with your "have a cup of milk," and it takes a while to get it all sorted out. SoI was originally thinking of this as a deterrent-- they would have an incentive to do it right the first time so as to avoid the drill, and get straight to the cup of milk or whatnot. But they actually love it. At this age they love nothing more than memorization, so it's a fun game for them. What's more, they really do want to know how to communicate their needs properly, and they're eager little learners.

Three days in, and I'm noticing a marked difference already.

Works for me!

And oh, there are very few things in life that are sweeter than the sound of your little son saying, "Mama, may I please have some snuggles."



Houston is a strange sort of place, and we're still strangers. But the strange thing is, everyone else is something of a stranger, too. Not just to us, but to the place itself.

It was bittersweet leaving our dear community in Los Angeles, but we knew it was inevitable. Even if we hadn't left, people were leaving all around us, and many more would soon go too. It was only a matter of time. The very nature of our community was transient. A stage of life on the way to something else.

And that is precisely how Houston, as a city, feels. It's not really home to anyone. Nobody lives here because they want to live in Houston, they live here because Hewlitt-Packard is here, and NASA, and the oil companies. And because Hewlitt-Packard, and NASA, and the oil companies pay enough to send their children to nice private schools.

There are lots of reasons to live in Houston, but Houston itself doesn't seem to be one of them.

It's a weird contrast to Los Angeles. Lost Angeles (I'll let the typo remain) is the promised land and hell all rolled into one. Some love it, some hate it, but it's always one or the other, and usually both. Los Angeles may induce apathy, but never toward itself.

Houston, on the other hand... well, I suppose it makes sense. There's a certain sort of person who dreams of living in the big city, and there's a certain sort of person who dreams of living in Texas. Houston, being both, is satisfactory to neither.

So folks settle for Houston, and make the best of it. The city feels remarkably calm and clean compared to Los Angeles. I hear such horrible things about the inner city, but where's the graffiti? Houston just isn't nearly so rough around the edges, and it feels a little soulless by comparison. Soul-less... but very pleasant and attractive.

Strangely, the one place in the city that looks most loved, most truly home to its residents, is the artsy-hippie community nestled in the notorious fifth ward. But that place is well loved precisely because of it's transient gypsy happy-wanderer feel. They may stay for the rest of their lives, but even so they're really just passing through.

It's just like all the rest of Houston, just a little more explicit, that's all. The rest of the city approaches with a much different aesthetic, but in the end, everybody's just passing through, and making the best of the time they spend in Houston.

And I think that's okay.

Because whether we're thinking about it or not, we're all just wandering wayfarers on this earth.

And I think it might be a little bit easier to live lightly in a place that knows its place.


Bragging Rights

My lowly little blog is google's top-ranking page on alphabetical excuses.

Come to think of it, I'm not quite sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.


Who has seen the wind?

Leaves have been swirling down all day, and as we walked to the park this afternoon, the treetops swayed gently.

"Look, there's fans in the trees!"

And I wonder... did the wind hold more mystery for those who grew up before central AC?


Only at Big! Lots!

Big! Lots! is a wonderfully absurd place. It's where the almost-good-ideas-but-not-quite end up. Decorative knick-knacks that are almost decorative, but not quite decorative for anyone to buy full price. And orange and white socks, that are perfectly fine and wonderful except for the fact that I never would have picked them out specifically. And I guess nobody else would have either, because there they are at Big! Lots! There are all sorts of things at Big! Lots!, and the inventory is perpetually fluctuating, but the number one item seems to be bottles of olive oil with an assortment of herbs, fruit rinds, and dried vegetables. My guess is that it's probably just an art form that's particularly easy to imitate with no understanding whatsoever. Who knows. I have absolutely no knowledge of the art of olive oil flower arrangements, but I figure there must be a lot of near misses, since Big! Lots! is full of them. And near misses is what Big! Lots! does best.

I've found a lot of really great stuff at Big! Lots! Sometimes I know full well what's wrong with an item, and that the flaw is something I can live with. In those cases I'm thrilled to be pieces to be getting such a bargain. But there isn't necessarily anything wrong with any given item, and that's what gives me a little anxiety. You see, sometimes I really actually like something I find at Big! Lots! And it could very well be that this particular item was simply part of a liquidation, and is every bit as wonderful as it seems. Or it could be that I'm totally missing something.

Sometimes it becomes quite clear after I've purchased the item. The DVD player that was such a great bargain? No fast forward or rewind. And no returns on electronics. Oops.

The carpet steamer, on the other hand, has served me well for going on two years, and has been absolutely indispensable on more occasions than I care to recount. What was it doing at Big! Lots! for $20? I guess I'll never know, but it seems fairly clear that it was through no fault of its own.

Other items just remain an open question. Does it mean that I have horrendous taste if I really love those $2 wall sconces? But I never worry about it too much, because if I have horrendous taste in wall sconces, so be it, and if I'm going to inadvertantly purchase ugly sconces, I'd rather waste $2 than $30. But I'm actually pretty confident in my assessment of them, so I think I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, as I was in the checkout line this afternoon with my very normal broom (at least I think it's normal) and my (hopefully) normal washcloths, I found myself examining the construction of the checkout lanes. I had a lot of time to examine it carefully, because Halloween is already over, and folks are starting to get a little frantic about their Christmas shopping. As the signs in the toy department say, "you can never buy too much at Big! Lots!"

The checkout lanes were constructed out of what I assume must be particle board, covered in formica. Quite typical and normal.

Now most of the time, formica is either in a solid color, or printed so as to look like some posher substance, such as actual wood, or perhaps granite or marble.

But at Big! Lots! complete and total honesty reigned. The formica was printed so as to appear to be...

Particle board.

Only at Big! Lots! Only at Big! Lots!


Pray without ceasing

As I stepped onto the treadmill this afternoon, I realized to my dismay that I'd forgotten to bring a book. I'd started the strengthening phase of my chiropractic treatment, and while I found most of the exercises to be challenging and enjoyable, 8 minutes of a moderately brisk walking gait on the treadmill was horrendously dull.

So I thought I'd redeem the time saying the Jesus prayer.

But just like every time I try to think about something, I ended up thinking about the nature of thought, layered right on top of what I was trying to think. And every time I would try to pull the entirety of my thoughts back to the prayer, I would start thinking about the process of thought, and how weird it is to have layers of thought, and how do you pull your thoughts onto one thing anyway?

And then it all made sense. I'd never quite understood how we could possibly "pray without ceasing." Did that mean that we shouldn't do anything else? Or do we somehow have to train ourselves to always be multi-tasking, always praying while we're talking or thinking or doing at the same time.

But there on the treadmill, thinking these thoughts as I tried to drag my full attention back to my whispered prayer, I realized that I don't need to train myself in some sophisticated mental skill to be able to do that. There is often a subtext running underneath my intentional thoughts. Thoughts about who I am and what I'm doing and what my purpose is. It's never been an issue of training myself to do that, rather, I'm constantly struggling to get myself to shut up. The thoughts I don't think about are seldom edifying.

But maybe I don't need to silence the subtext after all. Maybe this is the very capacity with which I can pray without ceasing. Maybe prayer without ceasing doesn't involve training myself to somehow obtain a bizarre new mental skill, but rather involves filling up with truth all the mental space currently devoted to telling myself lies, or worse yet, truths devoid of proper focus.

The Way of the Pilgrim is making a whole lot more sense to me now.

I think I finally see, too, why this particular prayer is so often used for breath prayer. It quickly establishes the proper focus of everything--Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God--and then establishes who I am in relation to Him--have mercy on me, a sinner. And really, that's what I need to know to keep my bearings. And for all its clarity and simplicity, it's something that I really do need to hear about 7 times a minute.



This afternoon the wuggies and I did a fun little exercise designed to develop memory skills, or some such thing. Much along the lines of the standard baby shower game, I showed them a platter with four objects. Then I told them to close their eyes while I removed one of the objects. When they opened their eyes again, they had to tell me which object was missing.

In the end, Nathan did answer correctly once, but Isaiah was only interested in finding other objects that ought to go on the platter. September meanwhile, repeated everything I said, with lots of cheering sprinkled in. If they didn't quite understand it, however, they more than made up for it with enthusiasm, and when my game was over, they each created their own spinoffs.

Isaiah arranged a number of toys on the platter, and asked me to come talk about them.

And Nathan told me to close my eyes, while he went to his room to bring out a surprise.

I did. I shouldn't have, but I did. It was just for a few seconds, but I closed my eyes.

And so did he, apparently, because the next thing I knew, he had walked right into his brother. At least, I think that's what happened. My eyes were shut.

At any rate, Isaiah appeared to be uninjured, but Nathan had a bloody nose. I was scared silly, but after just a few minutes of gentle pressure to the bridge of his nose, the bleeding stopped.

At this point, Nathan leaned back in my arms, and looked mournfully up at me.

"I've got no more blood. It's all gone."

If his rambunctious behavior for the rest of the day is any indication, there is still plenty of blood flowing around him, right where it's supposed to be. All's well that ends well.

But it's going to be a very long time before I bring up any games involving the closing of the eyes.

Except for bedtime. And come to think of it, I'm quite looking forward to that one after today.


Initiative and Independence

I'm not quite sure whether to be proud of my little son for blowing his nose all by himself, and meticulously wiping down the piano without even being asked...

or to chide him sternly for using the same tissue for both tasks.


One of the many delights of motherhood is rediscovering everything. Centrifugal force! Gravity! Color! Words!

This evening over dinner, Nathan was waxing poetical about his milk. How good it makes him feel, how comforting it is ("it hold holds me"), and how white it is.

Orange juice was Isaiah's beverage of choice, and being equally pleased with the contents of his cup, he felt the need to chime in with his own description.

"My orange juice is r... My orange juice is ye...."

Realization spread over his face like the glow of sunrise. "My orange juice is orange! Orange orange juice."

And so it is that tonight I am wondering once again...

Which came first, the color or the fruit?


In which September's continuing obsession with her piggie becomes ever more evident

I want to write a story about Grandma and Grandpa and piggie. Piggie in the water. Grandpa and Grandma saw... what did they see?

Wanna tost it.

Sunday School, from Nathan's perspective.

I play toys in Sunday School, and the Bible story. They teach me about the Bible story, and Jesus. Mom and Daddy went to Bible story. Mom and Daddy went to church.

I want to post it now so Gramma and Grampa can see it.


Feel and Learn

I can't believe they expect me to pay extra for diapers that are less absorbent, less comfortable for my precious little ones.

It's a stroke of marketing genius worthy of Tom himself.

And the truly awful thing is, I'm actually buying it.

Please pass the whitewash.



"Choco milk, pease?"

"You can have some chocolate milk as soon as I'm done putting the dishes away."

"I want chocolate milk now!"

"Hold your horses, sweetie."

"But I don't want to hold my horses. I want to hold my chocolate milk."


Story about the W, brought to you by Wuggidy

The W.

That's a W.

Letters and more letters. Two W's.

Another Tembo Tale

Penguins in the water. Piggies in the water. Yeah. Water!

Meepo's first book report

All the Book.

Charlotte's Web goes to the fair, and the spider.
The man puts water on the pig.
The man puts food to the pig.
That's it.



I will not obsess about houses.
I will not obsess about houses.
I will not obsess about houses.
I will not obsess about houses.
I will not obsess about houses.

Suburbia? Urban condo? Urban neighborhood? Country?

We're pretty committed to settling down in the Houston area, but that leaves us with a lot of choices. Choices that make a pretty big difference in what sort of family we will be, and choices that need to be made sometime in the next year, before our rental lease is up.

But maybe we don't have to choose. This week we found the house of our dreams, suburban and urban and country all rolled into one. It faces away from the street, has a severe mildew problem, and there is exactly 6 feet of vertical space between floor and ceiling on the lower level, etc, etc, etc... other than that, it's perfect.

Build a house? Buy a house? Fix a house?

I'm getting rather dizzy.

I hear my grandmother's voice through all this, and one of the songs she would always teach us at her Good News Clubs. "One step at a time, only one step at a time. That is the way the Lord will lead us, one step at a time...."

And if there's a straightforward one-step-at-a-time path through the tangled mass of real estate decisions, really, everything else must be remarkably simple.

I do believe I'm on my way to become quite sensible.

If I can just stop obsessing about houses, that is.