Saturday, December 22, 2007

Preparing for Sunday

Book of Common Prayer (page 352)
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the
truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is
faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all
unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8,9
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the
heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us with confidence draw
near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and
find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14,16 ...
Most Merciful God,
We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed;
By what we have done and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us, and forgive us,
that we may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your Name.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Winner. A Recipe. Or Two.

Word Escapees

The winner of "our" (the royal we) Word Escapees submission contest is Sara Turner. Here is her submission, very certainly one apropos to motherhood.

Dehelping (verb) To actively NOT help, or, to do the opposite of helping.

"Rather than help mommy wrap Christmas gifts, Jacob was 'dehelping' by jumping on the bed, wrinkling the paper and unraveling the ribbon."

See also dishelping or unhelping, also used regionally.

Congratulations, Sara!

A Recipe. Or Two. Or Three.

In response to my appetizer blog, a few people submitted recipes for munchies, dips, and such. However, most did it via e-mail, so I will re-print some of these delectable-sounding recipes below! Thank you for your ideas! (More FONT funniness going on in this blog. As one Redd says, "Don't blame me, I just work here.")

By the way, the table is still open for more recipes, so hit Post Comment below if you want to share any more recipes!

Wanda's Biscuit Snacks

1 tube Grand biscuits
4 ounces or more of crumbled blue cheese
1/2 stick of melted butter
"Cut each biscuit into four parts. Place all in a pan. Sprinkle with blue cheese. Pour melted butter over all. Bake 350 for 20 minutes. Sprinkle paprika and parsley over top."

Wanda's Onion Appetizer

Wanda Assures me that though this recipe sounds strange, it is very tasty.

3 cups of chopped SWEET onion
3 cups Swiss cheese
2 cups Hellman's mayonnaise
"Combine and bake in 8 inch square dish at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden brown."
Inspi (red Salsa)
Brittany's 7 Layer Dip for U2 Fanatics*

10.5 oz can bean dip (spicy)
16 oz can refried beans (can use black or brown beans)
2 T jalepeno peppers, chopped (can use fresh - can add lots more!)
10 oz shredded sharp cheddar
10 oz shredded Mont Jack
1 pack of McCormick's original taco seasoning
2 c sour cream
8 oz picante sauce (medium)
2 ripe avacados, chopped, mixed with juice of one lemon
6 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch green onions, don't have to use them all
1 small can sliced ripe black olives
"Spread bean dip and refried beans in bottom of 9 by 12 inch dish. Top with chopped jalepenos and sprinkle both cheeses on top. Combine taco seasoning and sour cream and spread on top. Seal layers with picante sauce (can stop and refrigerate now if trying to make ahead and do last layers right before serving). Then top picante sauce with avocados, romas, onions and black olives. Seal with Saran Wrap and foil if you need to wait a little while or transport. Serve with chips."

*I gave it that name to tease the lovely Brittany.

Family News: Lucy Speaks Up

The Indignities of the Season

by Lucy Chamberlin
Canine in Residence

A time of joy and merrymaking. A time of wassail and wine. A time of love and family.

But for me, a time of woe.

My story begins a few short weeks ago, when Daddy and That Woman put up, in the center of our family area, a large tree, and hung lights and dog toys all over it. Jingling toys, balls hanging from string, little merry figures clearly made for chewing. A veritable monolith of dog delights, and some edible candy canes thrown in. Then under the tree they lay more toys: colorful, rattling boxes covered in crinkly paper and ribbon.

Oh, what a joy!

And then they told me not to touch it.

But I knew they were joking, so I ate a few of the jolly toys hanging down for me and one of the presents, just a small one in a little velvet box.

Did that garner a zealous response! I was, in a manner of speaking, in the dog house. I heard Sarah say -- referring to Santa's well-known catalog of nomenclature -- "Lucy is not on the Good List."

This is only the latest in the Sad Chapter of Indignities suffered by Yours Truly in this House of Melancholy. All of the other puppies, bipeds, get to sit at the table and eat such foods as the beef, the pork, and the turkey, the eggs and b. (to steal a phrase), and the bread and fine cheeses. I eat dry kibble from a tin bowl on the floor in the corner. When I seek to join the family and contribute to the domestic communion, by resting my front paws on the kitchen table and burrowing my snout in the nearest soup bowl, I am roundly scolded and sent to the garage. I even have heard That Woman referring to me as "a maniac." A person of my careful breeding and woolly beauty!

I love dearly to eat the delicious snacks Mother Nature has provided off of the wild Southern Pecan tree in the back yard, I so enjoy the dark and moldy shells and bitter innards. (No matter that I later leave the contents of my stomach on the cream-colored shag carpet in the master bedroom, you and I know that small discomfort is well worth the crunchy delight of such dainties.) That Woman apparently doesn't agree or share my passion for pecans or my sanguine view of those gastronomic leavings, and has been keeping me from eating the pecans, going so far as to sweep them right out of my mouth. Oh, I hear her talking about it being "for your own good," but I know better. Where is the love?

Ah, my friends. I know that my lot is not a lonely one, for when we go to the dog park, we all reference the same sad story... the favoritism for the two-legged puppies, the torturous trees of untouchable delight erected in the homes at Christmas, the lack of beef.

Stay strong, Canine Companions. It is a hard lot, but....a walk?

Did she say "walk?"

Yes, yes, yes!...I love walks!...happy happy happy happy...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Poem of the Week (about Autumn)

Going for Water
Robert Frost

The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if it still ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,
Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon
That slowly danced behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused
Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new,
With laughter when she found us soon.

Each on the other a staying hand
To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
We heard, we knew we heard the brook

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls and now a silver blade.

This is why Frost is so good, lines like these:

...And in the hush we joined to make

We heard, we knew we heard the brook

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Grace and Peace: Poems and Songs for Mothers

Sweet Afton
Robert Burns

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes!
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream --
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream

Thou stock dove whose echo resounds thro' the glen,
Ye wild whisting blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear --
I charge you, disturb not my slumbering fair!...

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides!
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As gathering sweet flowerets, she stems thy clear wave!

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes!
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays!
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream --
Flow gently sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Friday Night Lights

Texas is a lot of things, and one of those things is Football.

The Frisco High School Raccoons played the North McKinney Bulldogs last night at Pizza Hut stadium, and we were there! A Friday night football game is a community event in Texas, attended by grandparents, parents, yuppies, toddlers, and various and assorted locals who have nothing to do, otherwise, with football. You get your tickets early. You put on makeup, your best jeans, and you curl your hair. You bring a wad of cash for the concessions, and you sit down for the show.

Our next door neighbor is a defensive teams coach for Frisco High School. (They have multiple coaches for their high school football team, and headsets, and a booth up high for the Head Coach!) My sweet friend, his pretty blond wife, graciously offered to take us on their guest passes. I think she just took one look at us -- pasty, bland-looking people, no lipstick or sparkle to speak of -- and knew what we needed: an introduction to the Wide World of Texas High School football.

Folks, these people know how to do football! The jumbotron registered the general delight of the crowd; the cheerleaders were sunny and spirited and did towers and jumps; the half-time show was impressive; and the Raccoons won! The marching bands were big, had amazing uniforms and marched and played excellently, accompanied by elaborate color guard routines and twirlers, and followed by the drill team, dressed up as star-spangled cowgirls in red, white, and blue. I was impressed at the wholesome show-tune routines and cute but appropriate outfits of the drill team. We had such a fun time cheering for the Raccoons and just absorbing the fun into our drab, boring un-Texan souls.

Sarah and I feel we came home with a little more sparkle and pizazz in our hearts. Maybe we'll pick up some of this good Texas spirit after all!

Surrounded by the Good Stuff

I have found a good way to introduce younger children to skilled musicians and complex music is through Bluegrass. My kids love to hear the sad tale of sweet Molly Ban as sung by Allison Krauss, or that famous Fox [who] Went Out One Chilly Night as sung by the talented and young band, Nickel Creek. Along the way they are slyly introduced to skilled guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo playing, among other instruments.

Nickel Creek is a great band for beautiful, complex instrumentals and songs that tell stories or recite poetry: fun and lively music, rollicking melodies and mournful, poignant ones as well -- great depth opens doors in the minds of little children. The Hand Song is a story of a young hero who goes to war for the love of his country. They sing a beautiful ballad with the words entirely composed of the Burns poem above.

It takes a little time and getting used to, and you do need to stay away from or downplay the despair fare that sometimes creeps into a Bluegrass song. But explain the story a bit, and you'll be surprised what the kids might pick up. Allison Krauss and Union Station's story of The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe His Corn is another favorite in our house -- a fancy way also to discuss not procrastinating. (He does and loses his crop and his girl.) These songs are full of jokes and lessons. Bob Dylan even has a great version of Froggy Went A-Courtin' out there that I have on a mix tape (CD mix from Starbucks).

I think, at least I hope, good music is like anything else...introduce them early and you sow the seeds of love for beauty and appreciation for creativity and skill.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hymns and Songs: A Mighty Fortress

A mighty fortress is our God
A bulwark never failing
Our Helper He amidst the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing

God is a mighty fortress for those who stand behind his impenetrable walls. Do not stand behind the rickety wooden fence of possessions, people, pride in your own skills and power of your own efforts.

In His grace He has shown us the place to stand, behind the mighty, unshakable stone walls that will not be compromised -- no, not even chipped or burned, never trembling in the slightest -- by the floods or arrows or cannons or even bombs of persecution, distress, tribulation, famine, nakedness, peril or sword. Not a one will pierce the mighty bulwark of our God. His everlasting love which stands around you and which is tender and strong, knowing and forgiving, and long and wide and high and deep. Ephesians 3:17-21

Pray for Chase

I would like to make an earnest plea for prayers for a little boy named Chase and his family, who are friends of mine. They are missionaries in a remote region of Africa (I have quoted them before on this site) heading back post-haste to the US to see doctors. Eight-month old Chase is demonstrating significant developmental delays that are of great concern and resemble symptoms of cerebral palsy. Chase has two older brothers, one of whom was born without thumbs and who therefore has undergone significant surgical work to his two little arms and hands.

Please intercede for this courageous and sacrificial family, for all of their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs to be met here and on the way to the US, and for Chase's condition to end up not being serious. It will take you a minute or two to pray for him, and please consider also putting him on your regular prayer lists. Please pray for God's comforting hand to be with them and to protect this little one.

Thank you!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

C.S. Lewis on Pain, Adversity

David sent me another great quote today (I am not sure of the paragraph divisions):

"If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.

Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We 'have all we want' is a terrible saying when 'all' does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St. Augustine says somewhere, 'God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full--there's nowhere for Him to put it.' Or as a friend of mine said, 'We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it's there for emergencies but he hopes he'll never have to use it.'

Now God who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call 'our own life' remains agreeable, we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make 'our own life' less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness?"

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Quotes: How Firm A Foundation

Author unknown

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Trial is designed to destroy the appetite for sin."

Our Lady of the Kitchen Table: Women and Trials

Just like all of you, from time to time I have undergone various trials, some bad ones and some not as bad.

No matter it's particular nature, all suffering is suffering, and to the sufferer it is profoundly acute. A wicked case of the stomach flu can feel like the onslaught of death sometimes, as if the Grim Reaper is leaning over your bed and gleefully poking at your innards with his sickle (perhaps while your toddlers are in the kitchen needing lunch and coloring on the walls with Sharpie markers). It will be over, yes, but only after 24 hours of acute misery and 2 days of clean-up and recovery. As a pastor friend says, to the 17 year old just rejected by his girlfriend, the pain is just as acute as it is for what we might see as greater hurts.

This is a world of pain and sin and death. For some it is their own child's anguish or death. For some it is the blow of an accusation, like punch in the belly that doesn't dissipate. For some the withering erosion of an ongoing, seemingly never-ending hardship or or sickness like cancer or chronic pain or mental illness. For some it is a besetting sin. For some it is the lifelong backdrop of a hurtful relationship that goes winding on through the years.

All of these things and more can get right at the source of where we are most vulnerable...sin or fear or just plain old human weakness and deep physical and mental fatigue.

So, in this context, here are some notes I have taken on trials. Some are quotes, some are my thoughts:

1. From John Piper: "Trial is designed to destroy the appetite for sin."

2. Trial trains my eyes on my own sin and repentance and on God's grace. Trial puts my heart and God's Nature in the cross-hairs.

Like the sight on a microscope, trial makes us look inward on our spiritual and moral fibers with humility and contrition and need. Like the sight on a telescope, trial makes us look outward at God's abundant, starry and bright, matchless grace and goodness eternal Sovereignty, and at His personal, intimate warmth and most personal living Son's sacrifice. There is safety from sin in this place.

3. Trial is Character Time: This very moment of trial is the test of my character, the summing up of where I have been and what I have learned.

What do I trust? What do I love? What do I fear? Whose opinion matters? Can I bear this without reproaching others? Do I believe that God has prepared me for this?

In the mighty power of the Holy Spirit (how else?) there is a time to stand up and be like those who have gone before, like Esther and Ruth, brave and strong and true, and dignified like the woman in Proverbs 31, with the teaching of kindness on my tongue.

4. Trial challenges me to live in The Now and The Not Yet, not The In-Between.

The Now: What practical steps do I need to take right now to handle this situation in a sensible, practical, and God-honoring way.

And as a mother and wife, I have found that trial is the time to focus keenly on managing my children and home in the best way I am able, so that the home is peaceful and the children and my husband know stability, as much as is possible. There is great release in being busy about one's work. I do not mean that we are to avoid the issue at hand, of course, but good, honest work gives the brain a space to rejuvenate and get perspective. It is also important to simplify things and remove from your list all that is not fundamental to the running of the home, or helpful to your state of mind, and to get help from others where we need.

The Not Yet: I can and must cling to and look forward to heaven and the blessed release of being with Jesus and free from sin and pain. That day will come. And as Hebrews says, "For they looked for the City which has foundations, whose Architect and Builder is the Lord."

The In-Between is verboten: every worry, concern, fear, projection, vain-imagining does not belong in the heart of the Christian woman and will undermine the peace and stability of her home for her husband and children. In this, again, the Holy Spirit must be pleaded to step in, for surely we are not able to do this alone.

5. Satan would like for a trial, however deserved or undeserved, to keep us from doing good.
But God plans for our trials to be the rich, composting fertilizer in the soil of our hearts from which springs a good crop of compassion, kindness, generosity of spirit, contrition... and the clear, strong voice of one who cannot resist singing God's praises and giving testimony to His good graces.

In this lies safety and peace: God's goodness and my repentance. And in all of this and in our failings even in this trial and flailings and wretchedness in our sorrow...forgiveness.

Corrie ten Boom wrote authoritatively of God as a great, fatherly ticket holder. He gives you the train ticket with the strength you need to get on the train of trial when it is time: He gives you the power you need to handle your adversity when the time comes that you need it. He does not give it early, and He is never late.

Christians in China who are persecuted give voice to how God gives them power and comfort to handle torture and repeated imprisonment and loss of finances and family when they need the strength to press on. A group of missionaries and their children were rounded up many years ago in China to be shot. The killers later reported in wonderment that the men and women exhorted their weeping children not to be afraid, but to look forward to being with Jesus, and they went down to their graves singing a hymn.

The Holy Spirit can minister to your children. At the place where you end, where you find your strength and wisdom gone, the Holy Spirit steps in and can minister even to your little ones in His quiet and private way, and we can lean on Him to do this.

Several Christians I know who have suffered from serious family problems and grave illnesses have given testimony to this truth, as well. This is a great hope. We can trust those who have been through the fire, and we can trust the One who made us and knows us, that we will be found faithful.

God himself, through that long-suffering prophet Isaiah, speaks the word to His people: "In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength." Isaiah 30:15

The eagles wings beat in the distance, coming to sweep you up into the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Thursday, September 27, 2007


Our Lady of the Kitchen Table: Free-Floating Female Guilt

A friend suggested I re-post this segment on it's own. Here 'tis!

Sometimes we feel guilty when we hear about something another woman is achieving or doing. Check the heart. There are two things that could be going on:

1. It is possible that my guilt is not legitimate. I feel guilty, but I shouldn't. I have made a wise choice that reflects thought, prayer, my husband's counsel, and Godly priorities. I need to move on and stop seeing myself as a faded carbon copy of other women, made to do all the same things but not as well.

2. It is possible I feel guilty and that guilt is legitimate, not necessarily because my decision is wrong, but because I have not thought out my decision carefully, and I know it deep down inside. Maybe I made a decision based on haste, selfishness, fear, or because it is "what everyone else is doing."

If you feel confronted suddenly by guilt when another woman mentions something she is doing that is effective (eg: schedule-feeding her baby, mowing her own lawn in diagonals, making her own clothes, serving as a room mother, putting down new shelf paper, home schooling, leading a Bible Study, clipping and using coupons, running 8 miles a day, using wheat germ and olive oil...whatever), take some time to re-think your decisions with an open heart and an open Bible. You may be led to the same conclusions as before, but you will have much more peace and confidence about those decisions if you are sure your decision has been made thoughtfully, with an open mind, an open Word, and your priorities and your husband's in mind.

Adversity According to Psalm 28

[Excerpt David sent me from the Piper book on Sovereignty (see Books section of blog)]

“Psalm 28 teaches you passionate, direct prayer to God. He must hear you. He will hear you. He will continue to work in you and your situation. This outcry comes from your sense of need for help (1-2). Then name your particular troubles to God (3-5). You are free to personalize with your own particulars. Often in life’s 'various trials' (James 1:2), what you face does not map exactly onto the particulars that David or Jesus faced, but the dynamic of faith is the same. Having cast your cares on him who cares for you, then voice your joy (6-7): the God-given peace that is beyond understanding. Finally, because your faith always works out into love, your personal need and joy will branch out into loving concern for others (8-9).”

Psalm 28

The Lord Is My Strength and My Shield
Of David.

Psalm 28:1 To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.

3 Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

6 Blessed be the Lord!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

8 The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hymns and Songs

How Deep the Father's Love for Us
by Stuart Townend

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This Little One Has Been in the Water

Update on our very young Chinese friend, L. L., who has had a battle with cancer and who is from a poor rural family:

We have just received word that L. L. is out of the woods, recovering well, in therapy, and his father has a decent paying job in Shangri-La (a rarity in and of itself!) Many of you have been praying for him and helping financially, and it will truly please you to know that our contact with his family, a Christian doctor, reports that "this little one has been in the water."

Sometimes I find the cryptic metaphors used to protect Chinese Christians more beautiful that the technical terms we use in the West. Oh, that we all thought of each other as "brother" and "sister," and spoke freely about God as our "Father" and "best friend."

Praise our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for "this little one has been in the water."


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sarah is Five Today

Here is a poem I wrote for our Sassafras.


There is a small girl
I know, now five.
A bouncing-horse knee-bound,
Nocturnal sprite
Who loves High Tea
Down low on the floor.
What's more,
For me to mimic friends and herself
(Twinkly elf!)
Will she grow to be
Like me?
Hide-bound to task and list?
Or heaven-bound,
Arms open to gifts like
Tea on the carpet and
Bronco-riding at bedtime?

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Vanity Fair

I have just perused this magazine. A magazine dedicated to the search for worldly delight which is full of emaciated, bloodless models who look as if they haven't had a square meal since they were 12.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Coming To America...from China

"The sun is riz,
The sun is set,
And AGAIN we iz
In Texas yet."

The "Big D" VS The "Pearl of the Orient"
David was active consulting, interviewing, and networking in the few months in between China and his new PerotSystems job. (Hard to imagine David as inactive, eh?) He did enjoy having lots of "special times" with the kids and reading Proverbs to them in the evenings...a new tradition that he has kept up this practice now that he is back at work. After 2 months on the East Coast, we headed down to Texas via Ohio and Missouri (beautiful state). Now here we are in Dallas.

Both Shanghai and Dallas are big cities, with lots of people and religious influences. But Texas seems to juxtapose itself in almost every way to China, or at least the two cities do: geographically, architecturally, culturally, religiously. We've gone from CCTV (Communist Party Television) in Chinese (Ni hao ma?) to the Telemundo! Channel (Hola! So fun to say "TELEMUNDO" with gusto! Maybe David is tired of hearing me do that.)

Dallas is a big, prosperous, sprawling, long-legged stretch-on-a-porch under a generous clear blue sky. There are lots of American-made trucks, well-kept ladies with good hair and painted toenails, and churches on every corner in this big city where everyone says the word "blessed" and the kid with 8 piercings says, "Yes, ma'am." Wide sidewalks and roads and office buildings stick out of the flat plain; manicured, grassy patches sit on the laps of big brick houses in perfect grids of neighborhoods filled with stay-at-home moms and kids on scooters. The houses are big, the hair is good, the heels are high, the diamonds are sparkling. Malls abound and include play's all sort of like a (benevolent) Truman Show or a hip 1950's. The furnished homes we visit as we house hunt are landscaped, cared-for, and full of portraits of family. It all may sound annoying to some cynics but you know, it is not annoying. Stereotypes aside, it is just seems easy, friendly, cheerful, and markedly UNcynical here.

While it was sad to leave that colorful, teeming, silk-and-dirt, concrete-and-porcelain city of Shanghai, every time we move to a new place, I find out again that the human heart in general is big enough to love a variety of places...Up to and including a crowded, noodle-eating, pressing, colorful, idol-filled Asian city and a big, wide, suburban, taco-eating, Bible Belt city.

In an amusing cultural note, in a store the other day and the clerk looked at my drivers license (still VA) and chuckled and said, "I knew you weren't from around here! Your jewelry is so discreet."

Things I Love about Being Back:
* Driving myself around (no taxis!) up high in my Honda Pilot with no cigarette smoke. Honda-mundo!
* Clean air! Breathe deeply! Ahhh! (You know it is bad in China when our expat friend calls from NYC and exclaims over the "lovely fresh air "after Beijing)
* Seeing all of our dear family, and touching base with some very special friends
* Yards and green spaces and playgrounds, oh my!
* Not having to "defend" my place in line
* Drive-thru Starbucks. Alrighty then!

Family update follows:

Local Color:
As we are eating our Easter cake, David says wryly, "Will, I am wondering why you eat your cake so much faster than you eat your breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
Will: "I get caught up with the talkin'. But cake is my favorite food, and, when I eat IT, I don't want to miss a single minute!"

Ben: "Did you notice how fast I am cleanin' up?" [Ben is the one who has struggled the most with cheerful and quick obedience in clean up time.]
Anne: "Oh yes, Ben, I did, and I am so pleased."
Ben: "I guess Jesus really changed my heart!"

Ben went on a special "guys time" with David and Will one Saturday. They returned and Ben came rushing in: "Guess what, mommy? Daddy showed us the hospital where I came out of the belly!" Sounds kind of like Jonah. (And goodness knows I felt like a whale with the 9-plus pound Ben inside me.)

Sarah is stroking my hair as we sit on the couch. A gentle, sweet mother-daughter moment. Then Sarah says softly, "Mind if I pull out these white hairs?"

Leading Cultural Indicators: Bedside Treasures
From time to time it is interested to examine one aspect of the minutiae of our lives to learn something about the big picture of "who we are." So I decided I would look at the bedside table next to each kid's bed to learn what I could about them. We have been quite transient the last few months, and are now in a temporary apartment, and so the little treasures, found and brought, that make it from place to place are usually quite special to the owner.

WILL: Lots of great stuff! ("Alright!" as Will would say. Will talks like Steve Irwin with an American accent. "How was your day, Will?" "It was GREAT, mom!" I keep expecting him to say "Crikey!") Six acorn caps, 2 silver pop gun pistols, Adventure Bible, Leap Pad with headphones, "Visual History" of space and astronauts, slip of paper with dad and mom's cell phone numbers, a Choose Your Own Adventure book, Treasure Island novel, chapstick. I surmise that this abundance reflects Will's interests -- everything! Will is a reader, a learner, a saver, a collector. He is the kind of kid who likes to fill his pockets with cool rocks he finds (and I find later in the laundry) and to save his pencils until they are nubbins. He is also a communicator, and he regales me with facts, interesting tidbits, and statistics. He likes "stuff and clutter," whether collections of things or collections of information.

BEN: Ben's bedside table is empty. His bed, though, is full of animals and old, special blankets, scattered in abandon. The bed gets "made" by pulling the blankets up in the morning right over the top of all the lumps and bumps (so the animals "stay warm" all day). He has Giant Thumper, Small Thumper, Christmas Darth Vader Dog, Benjamin Bear, Elephant Blanke [blanket], and Choo-Choo Blanke. These friends and associates corporately have gone with him all the way around the world and from house to house and really limit the amount of clothes I can fit it his suitcase! But with all the transitions it has been worth it. (Once Darth Vader Dog got left in Hong Kong, and It Was A Dark Time for Ben. The hotel found it in the laundry, and had it shipped back to us in Shanghai.) This all reflects Ben's personality and his focus on attachments and intimacy. He falls in easily and effortlessly with his peers in group settings; he treasures friendship and loyalty...and still loves to cuddle.

SARAH: Sarah's bedside table is clean and spartan. Her Children's Story Bible is laid neatly by her bed and perfectly squared off with the edge of the table! In her bed is one animal, Hannah the Pink Elephant. Sarah has asked me to keep her other stuffed animals packed, especially the small ones like Wombat, so that they are not left behind "on accident" when we move into our house. Eight cents also have been laid neatly on the bedside table. Sarah is a cautious, careful girl. She likes to have a plan and manage her things, and she is an excellent cleaner. She doesn't like surprises. She loves her animals and she cherishes her picture Bible.

So...What's on your bedside tables? What does it tell you about yourself, or your spouse and kids?

CURRENT: ...modes of employ for the Chamberlin boys, 7 and 6, include basketball at the local playground, digging up fire ant nests, and bombarding local 13-year-old girls with the "Incredibles" Super Soaker water gun from our second story apartment excellent ambush site. This latter activity is particularly rewarding: apparently teenage girls are the perfect targets as they "scream a lot even when we don't get them with the water" says Ben, in a mystified but satisfied way. Sarah, 4, is busy coloring with sidewalk chalk and working with her new bead kit. She has discovered the fully-American and springtime joy of the 7-11 Slurpee (nod to Nonna), and she is vigorously practicing her basketball dribbling and is quite good.