Monday, March 31, 2008


Neil asked me last night when I thought I might come home. My answer remains, "I don't know." I wish I did. It would be so much easier if I had some sort of crystal ball to look into the future and see exactly what is going to happen. But we all know that it doesn't exist. Whether or not I stay depends on so much more than me. First of all, there's my dad. Then there are my kids and my mother in law. There's how much I miss my husband. I'm sure the list could go on and on. At this point, I don't feel like I can leave, and am not planning on it until at least this weekend. After that, we'll just have to see how things are going. Of course my father-in-law has threatened me within an inch of my life if I leave before he gets back in town, which should be this weekend.

For now, I'm staying put and attempting to be useful. My other dilemma stems from my cousin's wedding. It's on the 19th in Warner Robins. He's very important to me, so I really want to be there...really! But it's two and a half weeks from now, and I'm not sure how happy Neil would be with me if I came home then turned around and came back. It's not just the wedding though, my mom will be there and I'll have a chance to see my grandparents. So I'm praying that it will all work out and I can do everything.

Lastly, I'm beginning to get a little frustated that Neil hasn't heard anything back about this job in Athens. Remember my "trick or treat" blog, well, I'm starting to feel a little tricked. Granted, I realize that God doesn't do those sort of things, trick us, but that doesn't mean that I don't feel that way. It's been a week and a half since the interview and we haven't heard a thing, not even a "no." It's hard to not start doubting. But really, what am I suppose to have faith in. Am I allowed to trust God for the job? What if it's not in his plan? What if He was just testing me to see if I was actually ready and willing to stay in Maryland? To be honest, especially with all that is happening with my dad, I don't want to stay anymore, and I'm afraid that this interview thing might just throw be back on the side of discontentment. That's not what I want, but I can already feel it starting to seep in. Do you realize how much easier all these "dilemmas" would be if I lived an hour and a half away? They wouldn't even exist.

Most of my car rides back and forth to the hospital involve conversations with God. I think I've spent more time with him in the last week or so then I have in the past two months. Funny how it's in the dark times that we see our need at it's clearest. They've been good conversations, though most end in tears.

I keep going back to the summer after I graduated college. Now bare with me on this story, it's a little complicated. My BFF Jo was going to China for a year. I was working as a wilderness counselor out in Colorado. Jo was scheduled to leave for training the week before I was scheduled to come home. I don't know why, but it seemed very important to me to see Jo before she left. So I asked my boss, John, if I could leave camp a week early. Due to the fact we were understaffed that last week, he couldn't let me go. I was devastated, but I didn't give up. I prayed and asked God to move mountains and take me home in time to see her. Time passed and nothing changed. About a week and a half before she left, she called to tell me that she had a layover in Denver for about an hour and a half. John thought that this was my answer to my prayer. He even offered to take me up to Denver, but you know what, I wasn't satisfied. Something in me told me to not stop believing, and I didn't. People kept telling me to just be happy with this wonderful blessing of a few rushed moments at the airport. But I wasn't. I just kept praying that God would let me go home.

It was the Monday of the second to last week of camp. We had a group there from the inner city of Chicago. I was sitting in the cafeteria when John walked up and asked to speak with me for a moment. He seemed very serious, and I literally thought to myself, "what did I do this time?" "Hills," he said (no one knew me by my actual name), "I'm gonna have to send you home." "What?" I screeched, "Are you kidding me?" Turns out, the Dad/Teen camp scheduled for the last week had been cancelled due to both participants having to back out at the last minute. By the way, I feel really bad for the guy who had to fall off his ladder so I could see Jo, but I don't think I could have been happier. It took me a long time to realize this, but God sending me home early to see Jo had more to do with God's glory then me getting what I wanted. It wasn't just me that saw Him work in that situation. The entire staff at Eagle Lake stood in awe that day.

I almost lost my best friend that year due to some silly girl issues, but seeing what God was willing to do for us, investing in our friendship, helped both of us fight our way back to each other. When I think about "coming home" again, I can't help but remember the time that God moved mountains for me. I just pray he'll do it again, strengthening not only my faith, but Neil's, and all of those standing around us waiting to see what God is going to do.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring's a Bloomin'!

Since I've been here with dad, we've had two really good days. The day I wrote about sunny days and today. The report from the CT Scan came back this morning, and it all looks good, at least as good as it can be. The tumors are not growing and the C-Diff is gone. Dad is certainly celebrating and for good reason. I think all of us were thinking that scan might show something else going on, my dad especially, but it didn't. So, they're keeping him until Wednesday to build up his strength and energy. They've been giving him nutrients and fat via IV. Just looking at him, you can tell a difference. His color is returning, and his eyes are less puffy. All things considered, it's a great day.

I can see now why everything blooms in Spring. For those of you up north, you might not even see Spring coming, but in Augusta, GA, it's already here. When people are sick, cancer sick, the winter is their worst enemy. It's cold and they're all couped up inside where army's of germs linger waiting to attack. And when you're immune system is so fragile from chemo and cancer, it's a difficult battle to fight. With Spring comes warmth, beauty and hope. It's been a rough winter for my dad, but I'm hoping that the change in weather will help him build back up his strength and muscle tone to prepare for the next battle.

I'll write again later.

Friday, March 28, 2008


In life there is hardship, pain, and loss; it's just part of living in a fallen world, a fact of life. Though we try desperately to avoid it, we can't.

Death seems entirely surreal to me. My mind simply can't grasp the absence of life. And even though I know intellectually that my soul lives on for eternity, I can't imagine what that will be like, can you? As humans the best way to think about death is to not think about it at all, right? If we pretend it's not there, than maybe it will never find us. Then one day it starts knocking on the door of someone close to you. All of a sudden, it is hard to hide. You feel desperate, like taking that someone hostage, a standoff with the grim reaper, trying to protect them from the uncertainty of that last breath here on earth.

On my trip down here to Augusta, I could feel the fear seeping into my veins, fear of seeing my dad in a weakened state; fear that he might not have peace and assurance of his eternity, and fear of dealing with my dysfunctionally perfect family. Thankfully God has given me the grace, strength and support to do what needs to be done, to just be here with my dad, and to do it without feeling alone. My husband, who happens to be in Massateusetts this week, calls daily to check in on me and is willing to let me be here as long as I need. My mother-in-law watches the boys without complaint all day long so I can take care of dad and give my step-mom a very needed break. Mom and Becca, my sister, provide me with a much needed outlet. Pat,great friend from my college days, has stepped in to provide support and escape when need be. And friends from every era of my life call and send emails just to let me know that they're there. These are my cheerleaders, and I couldn't do this without them. I can see Jo, Angela, Jen, Clare, Katy, Michelle, and numerous other friends on the sidelines in their cute outfits and pompoms shouting, "H-O-T-T-O-G-O, Hillary Pennington is Hot-To-Go," while jumping, kicking, and raising up spirit fingers. You all need to know that I see you, I hear you, and I love you. Keep cheering because the game is not over yet, far from it.

And thank you, Jo, for your inspiring comment on my last entry. I've often thought about writing about my dad. Maybe when this is all over, I can compile these entries and publish a memoir of sorts. Who knows? I think I would have to gain some self confidence in my abilities first. You guys might enjoy it, but the bigger question is whether it would offer anyone else inspiration or comfort. And for that matter, if a publishing company would see the merit in it as well. Oh well, not dwelling on that now. It's not the time.

So I started out talking about taking my dad hostage from the grim reaper and ended up with cheerleaders. Talk about one extreme to the another. Hey, maybe I am hunkering down in a house with my family, surrounding my dad while death stands outside waiting for a moment of weakness and all of you are behind the police line in your cheerleading uniforms holding a pep rally. Dumb analogy, but it's hilarious in my mind.

Back to reality for a moment: Dad is having a CT Scan in about an hour. This should give us a better picture of what is going on. I'll fill you in when I can. He'll be in the hospital at least until Monday, as will I.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

View From a Hospital Room

I wonder what goes through an architects mind when they design a hospital complex. Do they really think it's a healing site for a sick person to look out their hospital room window and see nothing but concrete, construction, and cars? I realize their probably isn't much they could do seeing as this is a downtown area and there are about three hospitals within a stone's thow, but would it kill them to throw in a bit of scenery. My dad just asked me, "what are we looking at today?" I would have loved to have told him a small pond welcoming home the geese from their winter furlow, or a park boasting a playground filled with children enjoying the breezy Spring day. No, instead, I listed off a variety concrete structures.

You might be wondering what happened between my last post and this one that would find me sitting in my dad's hospital room watching him dose off and on. Well, yesterday was a pretty crappy day for him. I'd tell you his words exactly, but then I would have to sensor them. He went in for some fluids and to drain the fluid out of his abdomen. What should have been a two to three hours at the doctor's turned into an entire day event, and he didn't even get his fluids. Driving home with my dad and my sister, I could tell he wasn't feeling well. For the most part, he slept it off. This morning, Sherry called to tell me that they had admitted him to the hospital for extreme dehydration. So here I am, just sitting with my dad.

This is certainly not a good sign, but I can't say it's a bad one either. The hard truth is that I just don't know. But really who does? Do any of us know when the end will come for anyone? True as that is, I think it's more difficult when you can see it coming and can't do a darn thing to stop it. I feel entirely helpless, but not lacking in hope. My dad won't beat this cancer, but there is hope that he will die in peace, and maybe there is a way that God can use to me to make him more comfortable.

I'm pretty sure I'm not coming home this weekend and at this point, I'm planning on being here through next week. I continue to covet your prayers; for my dad, for myself, for Neil and the kids, for grace, peace, and strength.

Quick Side Note: Please don't be afraid to call or email. I enjoy the distraction. If I can't talk right then, it's still nice to see the missed call or voicemail. However, if you want to know what's going on with my dad, please just read the blog. It keeps me from having to tell the same story over and over again, plus I might be with him and can't really talk about him. And please, no texts. I get charged for each know me, I'd rather talk than attempt to spell things out in my phone. It takes too long.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sunny Days are Here Again

Yesterday was a good day for dad. He ate an entire cup of yogurt, two orange slices, and a bite or two of pizza. It might not sound like much to you, but for a man with no appetite, it's huge. We sat out on his deck, under the Spring sun, for about an hour. Dad smoked his pipe and read the paper, while I ate a sandwich and enjoyed the warmth and intermittent conversation. After a nice sized nap, Dad said that he might want a pizza for dinner. Of course there wasn't one in the house, so Sherry (step-mom) told me where to get the specific one he wanted. I drove down to the Fresh Market, and got the pizza. When a man as sick as my dad says he wants to eat something then he pretty much gets whatever he wants.

Dad said he wanted to go for a walk before he ate his pizza. Just for perspective: the first two days I was here, he literally slept all day long and didn't have enough energy to get out of bed, much less walk. We walked out the house, to the street and down to the Robert's house (about two house lengths). Again, probably doesn't sound far to you, but to dad, it's a million miles. When we got back, we sat out on the side porch for a little while and dad smoked his pipe.
I prepared the pizza which took much longer than I expected. By the time it was ready, what appetite he had was gone. I felt horrible, like it was my fault he couldn't eat the pizza. Technically speaking, it was, though he tried to ease my guilt.

I left shortly after 7, trying to get back to say goodnight to the boys. Owen was still up when I got there, but Blake had crashed. As nice as it is to have the freedom to care for my dad without having to worry about the boys, I still miss them. But I'm so grateful for Neil's mom who has graciously set aside her life to take care of them for me.

As the days get warmer, the future looks little brighter for Dave Foster. Winter is a cancer patient's worst enemy. You think it's easy for kids to contract things when their cooped up inside, just think what it might be like for a man without an immune system. The sun, warmth and fresh air do him good, brightening his spirits, motivating him to try harder, eat more, exercise.

So I'll take the sunny days because they give me hope. My sister is coming today to visit. It's supposed to be even warmer than yesterday (in the 70's), so let's hope it's another good day, or maybe even a great day.

For now, I've decided I'm staying until I'm not needed anymore or I outstay my welcome, which ever comes first. I don't know how long that will be. We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Progress Report

First off allow me to apologize for not keeping you all up to date. I can't believe it's been almost a week since my last post. To be honest, I attempted to blog several times but found myself at a loss for words. Right now I am sitting in a Panera Bread in Augusta, Ga killing time before I have to go pick up my dad from the doctor's office.

As you may or may not know, I left my house around 11 am on Saturday and drove to Chapel Hill, NC to stay with my friends Rodg & Ang. Rodger was kind and brave enough to volunteer to watch the boys while Ang and I got in some girl time. Major props to Rodg. Ang and I headed to downtown Chapel Hill where we sat in a small cafe/bar, had a few beers, and shed several tears. It was just the medicine my soul (and hers) needed. We talked a lot about my dad and this job thing with Neil, and her struggle settling into Chapel Hill and making friends, and even though it had been a while since our last girl time, it was as if we saw each other everyday. This is the type of friendship that surpasses proximity. I might not know what happens on a day to day basis, but that doesn't affect the connection.

I drove into Augusta on Sunday. The fact that it was Easter Sunday rarely registered to me. It was actually kind of nice. There were no Easter baskets filled with candy or eggs hiding behind the bushes, and I didn't even go to church. But that was okay with me. God was ministering to my soul all day long. From conversations with good friends to sporatic moments in the car, I feel at a place of intimacy with God. And it's been a while since I could say that with confidence. He's is sustaining me with grace and peace, and believe me, I need it.

After I dropped the boys off with Nana and Papa, I went straight to dads. When I arrived, Sherry (step-mom) and Alex (half sister) were gone and Dad was alone. Laying in his bed, only his head and neck poking out from under the covers, laid a very weak, anorexic looking man, a man beaten and battered by a relentless disease. My fears were realized in a dad is dying. He didn't look as bad as I expected after hearing my sister describe his state of being, but as he lifted his arm to eat a piece of orange, I could literally see his two arm bones and a little bit of skin. That was muscle, no fat; just skin and bones. Death is not something I have a lot of experience with...okay, not really any, and being that it is a consuming fear of mine, I literally had to plant my feet on the ground to keep myself from pivoting on one foot and escaping out the front door. I want to remember my dad as he was before the cancer...strong, stubborn, arrogant, and a little bit of a gut hanging over his pants. I'm not sure how I'll handle all of this, but I can look around and see how God has provided and prepared me for this very situation. My in-laws live in the same town, providing me with free, excellent childcare. My friend Pat lives here as well giving me an escape route. His dad died from cancer about three weeks we can relate. There are several old college friends here in Augusta that I haven't seen in 8 years, but are more than willing to hang out or hold my hand if I need it. God is our great provider, and I see that now. It's going to be difficult, probably the hardest thing I have done thus far in my life, facing my darkest fears head on, and I am so thankful that I am not alone.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. I need them and I feel them. Please feel free to stay in touch while I am gone. It's nice to know that people are thinking about you. And if you know anyone that needs some Pampered Chef, I could use a few orders to help pay for this trip. I might be gone a week, two weeks or a's just so unknown right now. I continue to covet your prayers and support, and if I'm gone beyond this week, I would really appreciate if a few of you were willing to take Neil in and make sure he gets fed. He's in Massachusetts this week, but he's coming back this weekend.

In the grace that sustains me,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Escape Route

Isn't it funny how we plan escape routes and emergency plans for natual disasters, but rarely think about them for life's crisis'? Maybe that's why people end up drowning their sorrows in a sea of Jim Beam. Lately, I feel like I've been trying to escape. Luckily I'm not looking to the bottle, though peeling myself off the cold vinyl while hugging the toilet sounds thrilling...just not my style. Instead, I've been watching reruns of fun, chick flicky like tv shows on the internet. I guess living in non-reality is better than facing my reality. But the real question is why? Why do I want to escape? And if I had planned an escape route ahead of time, would I have chosen a better one; maybe a more spiritual one?

During "Safety Week" in school, we'd talk about our family plans for emergencies; fires, tornadoes, burglars, etc... By the way, did you ever wonder why they talk to kids about developing escape routes? I guess so we'd go home and talk to our parents about it. Seriously sometimes adults can be so naive. Anyways, I remember mom detailing a plan on a few occasions. All the drills in the world though can't mimic reality, right?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stories from a Grade School Lunch Table

Take a break from lessons on thrift, and go back in my history with me for a few moments. I was sitting in Chick-Fil-A desperately trying to enjoy dinner with my family and my friend Clare. All I could think of was a book my dad had given me, well actually two, Scary Stories & More Scary Stories. They're not profound literature and they don't hold any real value to anyone other than me, and maybe my dad, but when he gave them to me & signed the inside cover, they became priceless. I was in grade school, can't tell you the specific grade, but I'm thinking it was around third when I was in Mrs. Nalley's class and was far from popular. But when my dad came to eat lunch with me, I felt like a queen for a day. He's a great story teller, and all the kids knew it. On those days, everyone wanted to sit at my table just to hear my dad tell about the days he was a cow chip inspector in south east Georgia. Now you might know what a cow chip is, but it took it me years to figure out it was dung...and even more to clue into the fact that he was joking. I didn't care though. He was there. To be honest I don't remember if it was pre or post divorce. It's one of the few times in my life that I just remember being with my dad...on my turf, when he came into my world.

One day he brought a book with him and began reading these "scary" stories. Kids flocked to hear him read. And for that day, I had the coolest dad in the world. He gave me the book before he left, signing the inside cover. Every night for weeks, maybe months, I read that book before I went to bed. A little while later, he came again and brought it's sequel, More Scary Stories. Again he gave me the book, and again he wrote in it. I still have them today.

These are the types of memories I choose to remember about my dad, the times when he seemed larger than life...the times when he was a normal dad and I was a normal daughter. I'm leaving in a few days to go down to Georgia while Neil is out of town on business. I hope to spend some time with my dad. He's not doing so well, and to be quite frank, it scares me. I don't know how long I have with him. Do you know what scares me even more than losing him to this terrible disease? Not knowing what he believes about eternity. How do you have that conversation with your dad who's clearly dying? From the time I heard he had cancer, for three years now, my prayer has been that God would heal my dad spiritually and that he would die knowing true peace, peace that could only come from a relationship with Jesus Christ. I just want him to be in peace.

Right now, I'm battling away the sadness. I simply have no answers, no guarantees, and I know he's not getting any better. Honestly, I'm afraid to see him so weak. In my mind, my dad is larger than life, like the man who made me feel larger than life for a day or two in grade school. It must be so humbling for him that people see him in this state. I spent most of my adolescence being angry and bitter that my dad left us to start a new family, a family that wanted nothing to do with us. When I became a Christian at 18, I finally found peace, (the same peace I want my dad to experience) and the ability to forgive. I chose to love for dad for who he was, with all his flaws and insensitivities, and not for who I wanted him to be. Since then, I vowed to spend as much time as I could with him, and I did. I don't have any regrets and I don't harbor any bitterness. Sure, it's been a struggle, especially after I married Neil and realized I had all these insecurities and fears.

I don't think my dad realizes the effects he has on people, mainly his children. Or maybe he does, but his pride won't let him admit it. I'm not even sure if he knows it was wrong to have affairs, to betray the woman he vowed to love until death. Maybe to him it's just part of life. I have to imagine that this very battle with death has likely caused him to think back over his life, but I can't tell you what he found or what his perspective is of it. The truth is I don't really know my dad all that well. What I do know I've gathered from what little I remember from the first 10 years of my life, which isn't much, and the pockets of time spent since. It's not much, but I do know he's a human being who can feel, and think, and act. I know he loves me, and my brother and least the best he can. I don't doubt that. I love my dad very much, and I don't want to lose him. Sometimes I wish I could just be back in that school lunch room listening to him read from a book about silly scary stories.

Couponing 101

Now clipping coupons is not just about saving money...I really like to see how much money I can save and what I can get for free. Sometimes it's like a game. A few weeks ago I was at SuperFresh where they double coupons up to $.99. Most of the other stores around here only double up to $.50. Anyways, on this particular day they were tripling coupons. I love triple coupon week. When the clerk was done scanning my 20 or so coupons and gave me my total, the guy standing behind me with his pregnant wife said, "wow, those things really add up. You saved like $30 just with coupons." I smiled, made some cutsy comment and left thinking, "it was really close to $45, but yep...they add up!" Just so you know, my grand total was only $48, so I saved about 50% off my bill just in coupons. Granted, if they hadn't been tripled, it wouldn't have been that much, but if I didn't have the coupons, I would have savednothing and my bill would have been $92. So it can make a difference.

Let's start with the basics...where to get coupons. You're best source is the sunday paper. Our neighbor is gracious enough to give us his sale inserts so we don't have to buy one, but even if I bought it, it's only like $1.50 a week...not bad when you're saving $45! You can also find coupons online at places like & Keep in mind, though, that if you print coupons off the internet, you are most likely using color ink and might be spending more to print them then you actually save, especially when they use an entire page for one coupon and add an advertisement for the product. You get that a lot on those sites. In order to print coupons, you also have to install add-ons, "coupon printers", which can be difficult to get rid of (especially I rarely print a coupon online. Besides they don't really have that many different ones than the paper. I will, however, sign up for coupons online. At, you can find a list of grocery coupons that you sign up for from the manufacturer. These are normally much higher values than the regular ones. Still, you're best bet is the Sunday paper.

Before you start clipping, it's good to know your favortite stores' coupon policies? Do they double? Up to what amount? Do they allow competitor's coupons? Do they accept online coupons (many don't)? While you're checking out the coupon policy, ask about their pricing guarantee. It's a little known fact, but most stores will give you an item for FREE if it rings up the wrong price. You have to wait until your transaction is complete, then take your receipt to customer service, but for free, it's worth it. Store misprice all the time. I get something for free almost every week, and since I use coupons, a lot of times, I actually make money. Last week, I bought a three pack of socks that were supposed to be $2.99. It was going to be a great deals anyways since I had a $1.00 off coupon and a $2.00 mail in rebate. But to sweeten the deal, they rang up $4.94! So not only did I get them for free, but I made $2.59 (- $.41 stamp). Not bad, huh? So the morale of the story is to know your store's policies.

The system! I use a 5x7 index card box with dividers for A-Z, plus ones for Expiring, Target, BJ's, CVS, and the specific grocery stores I shop. Now a lot of people ask me why I organize my coupons alphabetically instead of by category. It's much easier to find what I need when they are alphabetical. And as for the other dividers. Sometimes when you check out you'll receive register receipts that are only good at that store. I file those under the store names instead of the product. Stores like Target & CVS will allow you to combine a store coupon with a manufacturer which just sweetens the deal. I like my deals sweet just like my coffee. After you finish clipping your coupons, alphabetize them by brand name. I do have a few exceptions, cereals are filed under the company name like Kellogg's or General Mills, as well as brands like Kraft, Pillsbury & Betty Crocker. Of course you can organize your coupons however you like. I've used several systems over the years and this is by far the best for me.

People also tell me that they think coupons are a waste of time because generic brands are less expensive or because they don't find coupons for the brands they buy. I say...that may very well be true. Sometimes the generic brand is a better deal, but that's not generally the rule for me. And if you are picky about brands, I might not be able to help you anyways. Many times I'll walk out of a store with several FREE or super cheap items. I rarely pay more than a $1 for boxes of cereal. I almost never pay more than $.50 for deodorant. Toothpaste is normally free, as well as toothbrushes and taco seasoning packets.

Later I'll clue you in on the hidden secrets the stores don't want you to know about...there are a bunch! In the meantime, think about starting up a coupon collection. By the way, unless I know that I will absolutely never use a specific coupon, like for Depends or Osteoporosis meds, then I clip them all. You never know when you can use one for something free. And even if you don't use the product, you can donate it to a homeless shelter or halfway house.

Until later comes...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Basics of Thift

My good friend Emily requested that I throw out some tips on thrift. So per her request, here it goes!

Let me preface this by saying that being thrifty, or down right cheap, runs in my blood. I truly believe if I were a millionaire, I'd still have a difficult time buying something that were not on sale. The urge to save most definitely comes from my mom. When I was younger, I'm sure I complained about not getting the name brand clothes and expensive accessories. As I got older, I discovered clearance. You can still wear brand names, just happen to be one season behind. Seriously, who really pays attention.

When Neil and I first got married, there wasn't much to go around, so saving money was a necessity. My grocery budget including toiletries & dog food was around $30 a week. I stuck to it too. Now, in case you just dropped your laptop or fell out of your chair, I'll wait for you to regain your composure...Better now? It's true. We kept that budget until Owen turned 1 when I upped it to $40 a week. We're now around $50 with the addition of Blake and it doesn't include dog food or diapers. So how do I do it? It takes time & commitment, and it's not easy. But I'll tell you what, I'll lay out my secrets a little at a time and you can take them or leave them, but maybe (just maybe) you'll keep reading.

Tonight's lesson is about meal planning. Step one is to get yourself a couple of good cookbooks. They need to contain simple recipes that can be done quickly, with a few NORMAL ingredients, and that everyone will like. I personally choose "It's Good for You" & "29 Minutes to Dinner" from The Pampered Chef (shocking, huh?). Then make a list of your staple meals. You know the ones I speak of...everyone has 3-5 meals that they just know how to make (no recipe required). Please heed these instructions: do not sit down to plan meals with a pile of cookbooks & recipe clippings. It will take you a year to pick 5 meals to get you through the week. Start small and simple.

Step Two is to get a calendar. It's best to use your family or personal calendar if you already have one. I recommend planning your meals on Sunday. Before you get started, check your pantry and fridge. Make a list of staple items that you're running low or out of, like milk, bread, sugar, salt, butter, eggs, etc.... If it's a big week and you'll need to restock, then plan inexpensive meals using items you already have to cut down on cost. Now take your cookbook, list of staple meals, and your calendar and sit down at the kitchen table. Plug in any "special days" first, like Kids Night at Chick-Fil-A (I love Tuesdays), date nights, or dinner at the parents. Then choose one day for a staple meal like Spaghetti, Chili, or Tacos. Next, pick three-four original meals from your cookbook. Space them through out the week. Here's the thing about picking meals, try to choose ones that feed off eachother (no pun intended). For instance, one night I might roast a chicken. A couple days later, I'll make fajitas with the leftovers, or chicken & dumpings. This way, you can be creative with leftovers, and need less groceries. One night should be devoted to leftovers. Knowing you have a night built in for leftovers might take the stress off of a busy day, like Bible Study night or in our house, a Pampered Chef show. Make sure you cover all 7 days of the week, including the following Sunday. This is what a typical week might look like at my house:

Monday: Family Sized Baked Burrito
Tuesday: Chick-Fil-A
Wednesday: Corn Beef Brisket, Baked Potatoes, & Asparagus
Thursday: Stew with Brisket
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Tamale Verde Skillet
Sunday: Food & Fellowship at Church

Step Three: Make your grocery list! Start with your staples first, eggs, milk, bread, cereal. Now add items specific to your meals. Don't forget about lunches as well. Now I'm not exactly what you call monogomous with my recipes. To save money or cut down on waste, I might leave out an ingredient or substitute it for something else. For example, if a recipe calls for fresh parsley. Instead of spending $1.89 for the pinch of parlsley that will actually get used. I use dried parsley flakes. Now if you have a green thumb, you can grow your own for pennies. Since I kill most everything I touch (except my children, thank God), I just use the flakes. It's not exactly the same, but it will do! Just remember that unless you are baking, recipes are more like guidelines. If it calls for something obscure (which normally translates to expensive) it can normally be substituted for something else. Get in touch with your creative side.

That's just meal planning. I haven't begun to tell you how to save big bucks on what's on your grocery list, but I will. Oh, this is going to be fun! Stay tuned! Tomorrow, I'll cover coupons.

Disclaimer: My system does not work for everyone. In fact, it may only work for me. If you have a picky husband who only like specific foods or brands, I may not be able to help you at all. My hope is that you'll be able to use a few tips that might help shave even a couple dollars off your grocery bill and bring a sense of order to your already chaotic world. That would make me so happy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just So You Know

The interview went well. We should know next week sometime if Neil will move further in the process. I'll keep you updated! Thanks to all of you who have been praying a long with us and for your encouraging words. It's nice to know that no matter where we go, we're wanted!

Light & Airy Random Thoughts

As promised this blog will be light and airy...breezy! I'm staying above the surface today, so no need to have a box of tissues near by (not like you did before). So I'm sitting on my couch right now while Owen is watching the Backyardigans. I think he watches it too much. Do you why I think this? Because I get the songs stuck in my head for days on end. You know you're a mom with toddlers when you find yourself humming, singing, whistling songs from your kid's favorite shows. Now we actually like the Backyardigans. It's one of the few shows where I don't find myself rolling my eyes at the cheesiness. Still, who wants to be caught singing the theme to the Racing Day episode while standing in line at the grocery store? It certainly doesn't leave me feeling cool. Luckily, though, Owen asks for the Backyardigans and not the Doodlebops or Barney. There could be worse things you know.

I lost a pound this week. Finally, the scale is moving in the right direction. I tell ya, it has been so difficult to lose this baby weight. And I didn't even gain that much with Blake. Granted I knew that as you get older, it gets harder to shed the pounds, but I thought that meant when I was like 60, not before I'm 30. Yikes! I'm working hard, so if we do have another baby, I'm not playing the scale game with the next one. I'm weary about setting a specific goal though. The last time I hit my goal weight, I got pregnant with Blake...not sure I'm ready for that one. Double yikes! So I'm working it...hard. I even have a trainer that I pay for with Pampered Chef. It's a win-win long as I'm actually losing weight!

Speaking of Pampered Chef, I love my business, but if Neil takes this job, I think I'll leave my business behind. It might be too much to try to restart my business down there while I'm settling into a new life. It would be a difficult decision, but I'm sure Clare would be excited since I would encourage my customers to use her. Just thought I'd let you guys in on that thought process. I haven't made up my mind yet, or maybe I have! Who knows?

It's time for me to go make my shopping list for the week. I didn't do so well planning my meals last week, but I sure fooled Neil. It's fun to be creative with what you have...Neil always likes that, but it's exhausting for me to have to think that hard after a day of being a mom to two very active toddlers. So it's back to planning meals. For today, I'll slack off a little less than the spirit of light and airy. Good Day!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friends with Benefits

What are the benefits of friendship? For one, proximity, right? We all need people to be there for us, in person. But sometimes, like when you're living in a new place, that might not be possible. So, you have to take what you can get. When I first moved here, I survived on IM conversations with my best friend Jo who was living in France at the time. I thank God that she needed me as much as I needed her. Eventually God provided two women here in Maryland that I could connect with, Adria & Tara. They worked at Camp Sonshine, and they were only here for a few months, but they filled that need for proximity. God created us to be close with people. I spoke with a friend of mine yesterday who is struggling to make friends in a new place. It's exhausting putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, trying to connect. Sometimes, especially when proximity isn't possible, you need to rely on your friends who might not be that near. Isn't that why we're still friends? God places temporary people in your life, like Adria & Tara, but he also gives you permanent connections that transcend proximity. Most of my friends like that, I made in college (save one from high school). So I say to my friend who needs a friend, call me up and we'll have a cup of coffee together like old times; it'll just be over the phone. "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, but the other is gold." Proximity is a benefit of friendship, but not a necessity.

Another benefit of friendship is the ability to speak truth. This is also a right of a friend, but it has to be earned. I have very few friends that have earned this right in my life, and except for two or three, I've know them for 10+ years. It's also not easy to speak truth to your friends. Who wants to offend someone you are close to? But if you don't, then you're not benefitting anyone. I had another conversation yesterday. This conversation broke my heart. I could tell my friend was hurting, and had been for a long time. Not only does she need a friend to love her and pray for her & her husband, but she needs a friend who will speak truth to her, because no one else is doing it. She's believing so many lies that it's hard to tell what the truth is anymore. Satan is trying to destroy my friend and her husband and her marriage, and I can't let that happen. They've been through a lot in the last few years; they're battered, beaten, and scared. And worst of all, Satan has convinced them that it's God's doing; that He is cruel and doesn't care. I tried to speak truth, but this isn't one of those instances where one conversation can turn the ship around. It's going to take time and consistency, and in this case, I believe proximity would be more beneficial. So I asked her to contact someone she knew could walk through this with her. It's difficult, to say the least, when you can't be there for someone. She told me she was so desperate to see God work. I think He just did.

There are so many more benefits to frienship. I'm not sure I could contain them in one blog, or two, or even three. And there are so many different types and levels of friendship as well. For me, there's my husband, my mom and sister, my friends from long ago, and today, friends that live far away and close by. And I need and love everyone of them.

***My sister called when I was half way through this and told me that I had to stop writing such deep stuff, so I promise my next blog will be light and airy!***

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trick or Treat?

Allow me to paint a picture. It was Monday afternoon and I was watching Owen play in the kid zone at the mall, waiting to have lunch with a friend. I checked my phone, and realized I had a missed call from Neil. So being the good wife that I am, I called him back. After his usual greeting of "Hey Babe," he asked if I got his email. Now let me tell you something about my husband; he doesn't email often, so when he does, you should just assume it's going to be important. I'd been out all morning, so no email. "Honey, what's up?" "Well do you want to wait until you get home and can read the email?" Okay, clearly seven years of marriage is not long enough to know that Hillary doesn't like to wait, especially not when her husband is being vague and quite stoic. "Neil, what's going on?" Neil and I rarely call each other by our first names. It's normally Babe & Honey, so when we use first names, it's sort of like middle naming your child. So, with caution, he told me that the U.S.D.A. called and asked him to interview for a position in Athens, GA. My poor battered husband assumed I'd be angry or upset considering we are looking for houses in Maryland.

As I sat on this bench in the middle of Columbia Mall, surrounded by people, I found the grace to tell my husband how excited I was for him and how I was open to anything. At the same time, I felt the tears slowing slipping down my cheeks. I can't explain the tears; I still can't. After several days of thinking and praying, I still don't have an answer. If anything, I'm even more confused and conflicted than before. You might ask why this wasn't the most exciting news in my is after all everything I've wanted for the last 4 1/2 years. And Athens is the one place I felt like I could go and not have to entirely start over again. Then again, before we moved here, this was the last place I wanted to be. Yet here I am.

Do you believe that God sends you signs? Or do you trust feelings, not emotions, but those feelings in the pit of your gut that tells you something may or may not happen? Well, I'm not sure I do. Whether it's right or wrong, spiritual or not, I don't think I fully trust myself, my feelings, or how I might read into "signs." Of course hind sight is 20/20. I can easily look back at times in my life where the signs were there, where I could see God leading the way. But in the midst of it, I'm just sign illiterate. Or maybe I see can read them, but don't, because I fear I may be reading them wrong. I sound like I'm talking about tarot cards, which I'm not. I'm afraid to say this, but as much of a shock as it was to hear Neil say the words, I don't think I was that surprised. It's almost as if I knew it was coming, which might explain the way I responded to Neil (which, by the way, blew him out of the water)

Anyways, this interview threw a wrench into my plans. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Prov 16:9. I had finally given up. I knew Neil had two applications in for jobs in Georgia, but I'd written them off. In the last two years Neil applied for several positions all over the south, and no interviews, not a one. I just assumed these would fall to the same fate as the others. Literally, we were just waiting to hear the rejection so we could move on. In all reality, I was already moving on. I had already let go and decided that God clearly didn't want us to fly south for the winter. So I began making the most of what we had here. I gave up and not just on the search for a job and the hope of home, but I gave up the wait. I'm not saying that this is the job for him and he's definitely going to get it. I'm wondering, if anything, if this isn't God's way of telling me to not give up on him. Isn't the lesson really about contentment? Isn't it more important to be content no matter where we happen to live? That's the process we've been going through the past few months. And it's been difficult. There are pros and cons to both sides. I can honestly say I never thought I would even ponder the idea of living here. And this will never truly be "home." I don't even have the desire to grow old here, but I'm not sure I'm ready to leave yet either.

A lot of this has to do with camp. I love it. And the thought of leaving before it ever starts, breaks my heart in two, but it's not my camp. It's not even my vision. I'm just a tool that God chose to use. A few weeks ago, after a time of prayer and reflection, I went to Michelle (the Assistant Director) and asked if something were to happen and we were to move, if she would carry the torch per say. She agreed and I believe her. If we go, I know it's in good hands. And maybe my work here is done. Outside of camp, our church and our friends, and Neil's job would be the main anchors. I feel like we have one of those large scales and we're piling pros and cons onto each sides to see which one weighs more. Bottom line? In the end, Georgia always wins because it's home.

That said, I'm trying hard not to allow excitement to build. It's difficult, but I just don't want to get my hopes up for fear that it's all a big trick. This is where "trick or treat" comes in to the picture. It might be a bad analogy, but it's the first image that came to my mind. I've been waiting to go "home" for almost 5 years. Finally I'm willing to stay then this opportunity comes up, and the fear begins to rise, a fear that I'm being tricked. It's an entirely wrong view of who God is, I realize that, but that doesn't mean the fear isn't there. I have many fears and insecurities, and one of the bigger ones is that God won't actually give me what I want. It's not true, but for some reason I still believe it. And that is evidenced in my life. Did you know I have hard time praying for specific things? And when I do I lack the faith to truly trust God to do what is best. Better yet, I don't trust myself, my feelings, my emotions, my desires. "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 27:4). This is a much larger topic all together and maybe can be expanded in a later post, but it is relevant here.

A few months ago, we began to dialogue about staying in Maryland (see older post). One of the reasons behind my desire to stay was that I didn't want to go through what I did when we came here. It was a horrible, dark year for me, and even though I overcame it, it left a scar. My fear was that history would repeat itself. But we all know that fear should not motivate us, or in this case, paralyse us. Life feels like a state of limbo right now. It is an unknown, and I fear the unknown, mostly because I can't control it. I just want stability, but I'm realizing that stability doesn't come from where you live or work, but from within and where you stand with God. This process, lasting over 4 years, has brought me to place where I can look to him, ask for what I want, and be content no matter what the answer is. In the deepest part of my heart, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I wanted Neil to get the job, but if he doesn't, this place is good too. I'm finally at a place where I can say that I'm content. That's doesn't mean I'm not going to struggle, but I'm tired of fighting for control. And no matter where we are, the important thing is that we're together as a family. Lord, let me keep that perspective.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Birthdays & Babies

I remember when all my discretionary income went to bridesmaid dresses, wedding gifts, and bachelorette parties. In fact the very summer Neil and I got married we were in three other weddings. That was one expensive summer. In fact, in total I've been in 8 weddings plus my own. That is a lot of bridesmaid dresses. Okay, maybe it's not 27 (by the way...cute movie), but 8 weddings in two years put quite a stress on my newlywed bank account. That was then; this is now.

I don't know what it is about this time of year, but it seems like everyone is either having a baby or thier kid is having a birthday. Three of my friends are due with their second child within the next week or so. Three of our friend's kids are having birthday parties within the next week. I feel like I'm Christmas shopping all over again. It would be much more fun if I knew what gifts to buy. Granted I have two boys of my own, but that doesn't mean I have any idea what to buy for someone else's kid. Maybe that's why I procrastinate. In fact this morning was supposed to my last day at the gym this week, but sitting here checking my email, I remembered that we had Ryland's birthday party. It's one of those things you know is on your calendar for a specific day that seems so far off until you're sitting on your couch one morning and realize that thing is today. Yep, that was me. Needless to say there will be no trips to the gym this morning. Instead I will be heading to Target to find the perfect gift for a 4 year old boy.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a burden. We all know how much I love to shop especially when there is a deal involved. I just liked it more when it was for wedding gifts. It seems you can't go wrong with wedding gifts. After all, there is a registry. With kids, you don't know what they already have and/or what they need. And of course all those "super moms" will be there with their perfect, thought-out, creative gifts. What if mine gets the "look." You know the one I'm talking about...the "what-did-she-do? Pick-up-the-first-thing-she-saw-on-the-clearance-rack?" look. In all actuality, the look probably doesn't even exist. In fact, all the other mom's probably have a similar level of anxiety as I do. Maybe they think I have the "look" when in reality, my look says, "why-didn't-I-think-of-that?" Just a little social anxiety to release.

But if you think I have a hard time finding gifts for toddlers, just thinking about my nephew's birthday coming up on the the 19th is enough to send me into a tailspin. I have no idea what to get for a 10 year old boy. He's smart and very technologically advanced. Of course, I'll end up asking my sister what to get him, but to me, that's sort of cheating. Shouldn't I be able to figure this out? The sad part is that I only get to see him, and my nieces, about three times a year. Maybe it's time my sis and I arrange a week each year for all the kids to spend time together. My mom and my aunt did that with my cousin and I and we grew up like siblings despite the 600 mile distance. Just a thought.

Well, I am off to search for the perfect gift for a four year old boy. I hope Michelle will forgive my prorastination.

Thanks Bec for reading my blogs...see I mentioned you. maybe when I have more time, I'll do a whole expose on all thing Becca.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sending Flowers to Dad

My dad has cancer, stage four renal cancer to be exact, diagnosed almost exactly three years ago. So far he's been doing well, responding to his treatment regiment, but it's still stage four, and the odds of beating it are...well, they don't really give you odds. But my dad, he's a fighter. Currently he's lying in a cold hospital bed somewhere in the medical center in Augusta, GA. He has a bacterial infection called C-diff. I hear it's pretty serious. If I know my dad, he'd rather be out shooting at quail or fly-fishing in a far off stream. But even if he couldn't do those things, I know he'd rather be writing.

The thought occured to me today that I should have sent him flowers. That's what you do, right? When someone is in the hospital you send them flowers. But he'll probably go home tomorrow, so I guess it's too little too late. I could still send flowers to his house, and he would probably appreciate the gesture, but I think he's more like me (or I'm more like him). I don't really get flowers. It's nice to have them, but they don't last. Even when I was in the hospital after my C-section with Owen, I loved seeing them fill the room. Nothing like the beauty of blooming roses to brighten up a bland cement hospital room. But still, shortly after our arrival home, they began to wilt until it was clear their was no more life in them. Then they found their way to the trash can. It was then that I realized it wasn't so much the flowers that brightened my room, or my mood, but the people who brought them, and the sentiments behind them. It was the idea that someone out there was thinking about me.

In lieu of sending flowers, I would like to dedicate this blog to my dad, David Crawford Foster. Dad, if you're reading this, I want you to know that I am thinking about you, and I'm praying for you. Though my written word might not be as eloquent and sustaining as yours, I thought I'd give it a shot. At least it will give you something to proofread while lying in your bed.

My dad is an amazing writer. He has a way with words that I couldn't even begin to mimic. He's real, least he wants everyone to believe he is, and boy can he fool you with his no B.S. attitude on life. It takes a strong man to look his cancer straight in the eye and tell it where it can go. He's chronicled every minute. It started as an email to family and friends. He called us his wellness group. And somewhere along the line he was asked to turn his journey into a blog. You know why? Because people were inspired. One person would forward his emails to another and then another. To some it became like their crack rock, needing their next fix. To me it was a way to keep up with my dad. He's never been much for phone calls, so if I want to know what's happening on a regular basis, I had to read the emails. But for others, people that were battling cancer themselves, my dad's words provided inspiration and hope. Once he started blogging his following began to grow. I read the comments and sometimes I can't hold back the tears. From those just diagnosed expressing their heartfelt gratitude for his encouraging words to wives who've recently lost their husbands that find the strength to move on from a man struggling to make it one more year. I applaud his courage, his strength, his candidness.

A good friend of mine from college just lost his dad to cancer. I don't get to see Pat that often, but my heart broke at the news. In a way, I know he felt a bit of relief...relief that his dad no longer suffers, but I also know that death is death. Death is separation. I remember where I was when my dad told me he had renal cancer. It was March 17, 2005, and I had just found out that I was having a boy. The phone rang as I rounded the aisle at Babies R Us picking out a myriad of baby toys I didn't even know if I would need. Can you imagine getting that news while preparing for a new life? I could barely walk. Of course I didn't let on to my dad, but I was scared. One of the first things I thought about was peace. I'm a Christian, so I believe that the only true peace comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. My prayer from that day on was that my dad would find peace. Of course I want him to be healed physically, but am I selfish for wanting him to be healed spiritually, so I can spend eternity hanging out with him in heaven? I don't know what he believes about what happens next. I'm not sure I've ever been brave enough to ask. We've spoken of it on a few occasions, but mostly I felt inadequate and illprepared. What do you say to the man who knows everything? Okay, maybe not everything, but definitely more than me. He intimidates me, not on purpose, but it's true none the less.

I am a lot like my dad. He took me on my first backpacking trip and taught me how to fish. It's because of him that I chose the major that I did, Outdoor Education. I love history, not the useless info you learn in school, but the individual stories behind the useless history you learn in school. My dad could take you down a street in almost any city and tell you it's story. It's captivating. My dad uses knowledge and humor as a defense mechanism, as do I, and I'm pretty good at it too (unless you ask my husband). And somehow I developed a love for putting words down on paper. I'm not saying I'm good at it, but I do love it. It's freeing for me, a release, as I'm sure it is for my dad. I can only hope if I ever face such a nasty roadblock in life as he has that I will take it head on and kick it in the *beep*.

Dad, I know words don't equal the beauty of something tangible like a vase of roses or my very presence, but I hope you enjoy this moment dedicated entirely to you. Now go get better and stop wasting your precious energy trying to critique the many gramatical errors in this piece. I love you! Hillary

Monday, March 3, 2008

I am a Big "I"

For the last few Sundays our church has done a series on marriage. The first three weeks we actually watched Andy Stanley's IMarriage, then TJ followed up last night with a "what now" talk. I really liked it. It was good, in a worked out too hard at the gym and it hurts the next day kind of good. It's the kind of truth that is relevant where I am today. One of the things Andy pointed out is that most marriages are comprised of two big "I's" and no real "we." And that those marriages then end up in a debt/debtor relationship where everything is conditional upon the other's actions or responses. If anything, through this series, I realized that I am a BIG FAT I! So is Neil, but I have no control over him. I can only change myself. Love is a choice. I might not always like Neil, but I do always choose to love him. Okay, maybe not always, but I am committed to our marriage. The thing is that most talks I hear on marriage just tell me that I need to do better and that I still have to be the Proverbs 31 woman even if Neil isn't holding up to his side of the bargain. While it is true that how I fulfill my role as a wife should not be conditional on how he fulfills his role as a husband, I shouldn't look at my role as a command to obey, but as a reflection of God's love for me. See God designed marriage to be his tangible example of his unconditional love for us. So my love for Neil should be patient and kind, not envious or boastful, not proud, rude or self-seeking. I should keep no record of wrongs, nor delight in evil. I should rejoice in the truth, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, and always perservering. (1 cor. 13: 4-7) And not because Neil is so great at doing all these things, but because God is and he showers His love on me everyday. So why is it do hard to reflect that love, such great love?

Actually, I think our expectations are the real culprits hear. Everyone walks into a marriage with expectations whether they admit it or not. You have ideas of what your wedding night will be like, then the honeymoon. You have visions in your mind of romance, intimacy, and spiritual depth. But when reality sets in, and we realize that a real marriage doesn't exactly look like our favorite chick flick. There is a reason that most of those movies end with the beginning of a relationship, because that's when they "feel" the best. No one would want to see what came next...reality. I certainly came into my marriage with expectations, which I quickly began to load onto my husband's shoulders. I expected him to lead me spiritually, but he didn't. We've been married almost 7 years and I can say in all certainty that God is not at the center of our marriage. And to be honest that scares me, especially when I look at my two little boys. What will they say about us when they're all grown up? Will they say that they grew up in a God-fearing home? Or maybe just a church-going home? Or maybe just a moral home? Of course I want them to say God-fearing, but if nothing were to change, I am quite sure they could not say that, and if they did, it would be not be because it were true, it would be because we fudged it just enough to fool them. Yes, I came into my marriage with expectations that Neil would be the spiritual leader, the head of the household, and that he would love me like Christ loved the church laying down his life. And many times I have thrown Bible darts at Neil. You know the ones I speak of. "You should lead me...wooosh," "You should pray with me...wooossh," "You should put the toilet seat down...wooossh." And he does the same thing to me I'm sure. The more darts that are flown, the more holes there are in the marriage, the more expectations we load up on each other's shoulders. So my question is, what do I do now? We all know that listening to a sermon won't send our marriages in a different direction, at least not overnight.

Last night TJ asked us to make a commitment. On a sheet of paper he had written 4 choices; pray every day for a month, read a book, make a list of what we're looking for in a spouse (little late for that one), or practice dying to myself. I choose the last one, because I think that's the opposite of being a BIG I. Dying to myself means putting someone else first, and I think it's about time I start making Neil the priority in my life. I love being great, and I can be great at a lot of things, but I think I pretty much suck at being a wife. Now I just need to figure out what dying to myself looks like and how I practice that. How do I become great at dying to myself? I don't know the answer. Again, I probably have more questions than answers, but I trust that God has a plan for my marriage, and it includes me.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Aggressive Love

You wouldn't know by looking at this picture, but Owen is "aggressively loving" to his 9 month old brother Blake. When I was pregnant with Blake, I wondered if Owen would be jealous of the new baby. I quickly learned that this would not be a problem. He loves Blake; it just might be too much. The other day, while Jo was visiting, we're standing in the kitchen and I hear what seems to be a struggle. Jo and I round the corner into the living room just in time to see Owen riding Blake like a horse. As I'm sending Owen to time out for sitting on his baby brother, I just can't quite keep the giggles away. Most of the time Owen greets Blake by running full force across the room, arms wide open yelling "bbaaaaabyyyyy." Blake sees him coming and for a split second cackles with excitement before he's pummeled to the ground. Of course none of this bothers Blake in the least. He absolutely loves Owen. He's face lights up every time he sees him. There are a few exceptions to this rule though, like when Blake is taking a nap, Owen gets bored and goes looking for baby. Before I know it, I hear Blake screaming. I rush downstairs to find Owen sitting in the crib with the baby trying to give Blake a toy to play with. I think at this point Blake's not so happy with Owen for waking him up, but all is quickly forgiven...probably because by the end of the day Blake doesn't remember the episode.

In the car, they talk back and forth. I have no idea what they're saying because Owen is kind enough to speak in Blake's language. So to me it sounds like screaming, but I know they are carrying on a fun conversation, probably plotting against me. A couple days ago, Owen and I were getting Blake up from his nap and Owen says "Comeon Baby, Luts pay wth balls." He runs up the stairs and gets his ball shooting thingamabob, pats the floor next to him for me to set down the baby. I did, and they played peacefully for all of 24.6 seconds. It was pure peace.

Okay, switching gears a bit. Blake is now crawling...all over the place. It's always amazing to me how quickly they pick up on these new tricks. It only tooks him a day before he was crawling clear across the room, mostly to get into something he's not supposed to. Why is it that babies always go right for outlet plugs, glasses on the coffee table, or random pieces of paper? Man, if Estelle from Friends were real, she could represent him for paper eating. We'd be rich. Don't worry, I don't really let him eat paper or try not to at least.

Last story about the kids for now (and it has nothing to do with the dog): It was naptime, the tale end of it, when you expect to hear one or both of the kids begin to stir. All of sudden, Owen starts crying. I walk back to his room and open the door to find Owen lying on the bed naked from the waist down with both feet up in the air like he was getting his diaper changed. As I got closer, I could see that the bed was wet. Owen was hysterical. Now I'm not a detective, but this is my conclusion as to what happened: Owen went poo poo in his diaper, probably before he fell asleep. When he woke up, I'm assuming he was tired of a dirty diaper, so he took off his pants and diaper, got out a new diaper and attempted to put it on. Eventually I assume he needed to go pee pee, so he did...all over the bed, his clothes, and himself. It took a good 15 minutes to calm him down. Maybe this will make potty training a little easier. He's actually getting more and more interested in the whole process. He'll run into the kitchen while I'm cooking dinner and tell me that he needs to go potty. Of course he is butt naked when he comes. So we go sit on the potty. He does nothing, but wants to wipe with toilet paper, then flush the toilet and wash his hands. It won't be long now. I will overcome. Lord willing, I will overcome.

Normally It's Easy

I'm sitting here trying to find my anchor, but there just isn't anything jumping out from the depths of my gut dying to be put down on paper. I thought I'd write about my dad and his cancer, but that really just depresses me; at least right now, when he's in the hospital with a bad bacterial infection. I could talk about my 19 year old cousin who knocked up his 17 year old girlfriend, and is getting married in April in Georgia, but that just frustrates me. Then there is a myriad of rants I could go off on, but none of them seem all that pressing today. It's not that I have nothing to talk about. Really, I think I have too much to talk about and can't gather my thoughts enough to formulate any one good opinion. I thought about not writing about anything, but then what help would that be to my jumbled mind? Maybe by rambling on, my mind can somehow find a way to organize these thoughts, like spring cleaning of the mind. Most of the time, that is how I pray. I simply spill out all my thoughts and feelings and allow God is make sense of them. After all, He knows me better than I know myself. Normally, I end my time feeling refreshed and, for a moment, clear and free. Isn't it weird how our minds can often feel like a junk drawer? Now if you're like my friend Jen, you might not know what a junk drawer would look like. But I grew up with them. It's the place you put everything that doesn't have a place. I remember in my mom's old house, used to be my house when I can little, we had this drawer under the microwave that was an absolute pit. I think, buried in it's depths, was some sort of plastic drawer organizer, but you wouldn't know it by all the papers, batteries, clips, pens, old McDonalds toys, and such piled so high you had to hold them down to get the drawer to open. That's what my mind feels like lately. I guess it's time for a little spring cleaning. But how does one do that? How can you put things out of your mind? The more I try to not think about something, the more it consumes me. But there is this theory; the best way to really rid your mind of something is to just think of something else. There is a fatal flaw in this theory though. It's not really throwing anything out, it's just adding to the clutter in the drawer, piling it high, creating more of a mess. But atleast the drawer closes right? So no one can see the disaster inside?

Maybe I found a rant afterall. Junk drawers are , by very nature, vehicles we use to fool unsuspecting onlookers. When I invite someone to come over, I thoroughly clean any area I think the guest may be able to see. Where my living room, dining room, guest bath, and even Owen's room may be spotless, my bedroom may be a disaster and heaven forbid they open a drawer in the kitchen, or door on the desk. We clean up nicely when we know people are looking; judging. When I have company, I might go all day in my pajamas, hair up in a tangled ponytail, and absolutely no make up, but an hour before arrival time, I jump into the shower, freshen up, and make it look as though I am always dressed this way. Funny how, if you know me at all, I almost never wear make-up or dress up properly, but there is something different about having guests into your home. It's almost like preparing for a performance. Isn't that what life is for us...a performance. What we look like on the outside determines our place in this world. So of course, we shove all the bad stuff into our junk drawers, put on a smile and some mascara and pretend to be "real." But are we? My old boss, when interviewing me, said that one of the things he admired about me was how genuine and honest I was. I, of course, thanked him with a shy smile, while the entire time thinking, "if only he knew what went on in my mind." Sometimes I think my "realness" is more a defense mechanism than it's is a blessed gift. If I seem real and open then maybe no one will continue the search into the depths that is me. Maybe they won't look in my junk drawer and discover my fears, insecurities, or sins. I can admit that one of greatest fears, besides being in a plane crash, is being revealed for as a phony, a fraud. I wonder is anyone really knows me. I think that's what I like so much about Jesus. He already knows all my flaws and still considers me his friend. I don't know many people that would share those sentiments, none at all actually. People judge. I judge. I don't like to admit I do, and to be honest, I'd rather not, but I do. I stereotype, I gossip, I prejudge, I assume, I jump to conclusions...I'm flawed, fatally flawed. There I said it, I admitted it, but notice how I'm not specific? This is not my confessional. Luckily I don't have to go to confession or tell the world my sins, just the One who cared enough to die for them. But not only did He die, but he rose again. I think a lot of Christians miss that point all together. Jesus died, paying the ultimate price, so we could relate again to God. But he didn't stop there, he then came back to life, defeating death and sin, so that we could live eternally, or at least our souls could. Now, don't go asking me any deep theological questions about how that works. My mind could not even begin to grasp what heaven is like. But I trust it's there, and I trust there's a hell, or eternal separation from God, and I know where I want to be. So often, people think being a Christian is just about having a "get out of hell free card" so you can do whatever you want then judge everybody else who don't jump on the "heaven train." But that's not it at all. It drives me crazy, and I mean crazy, when I hear people tell stories about how they were looked down on because of what they looked like or what they had done or still do. Church isn't a place for good people to go and sing cutsy praise songs. It's a place for broken people to be healed, and we're all broken. I know I am. Church isn't a place where dogooders congregate and "pray" for all the evil people of the world, like Hillary Clinton (sorry, had to slip that in there). It's a place where we who know the truth praise the God who showers his grace and mercy on us; a God who doens't give us what we deserve, but gives us what we don't deserve. It's a place where we gather, not to judge the world, but to love those in it, where we provide shelter and safety to anyone who needs it regardless of what is in their junk drawer. The church is God's chosen vehicle to show love to the world, to shine light in darkness. Right now, I think, as a whole, we're doing a pretty crummy job. But what can be done? I'm just one person. That's no excuse is it. Time and time again, God took one person, normally one who was not so special in the world's eye, and literally changed the world. Our Great King, for example, came to this earth in swaddling clothing, humbling himself to stoop to our level. "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!" Philipians 2:5-8. Jesus didn't sit on a pedastal and judge us. He decided it would be better to love us, to serve us, and to die for us.

Wow, I went from one rant to another. I didn't even realize I was so passionate about this stuff. It always amazes me where I end up when I start writing in rambles. I even learned something myself.