Being Fruitful

26 Christmases

Paul's Graduation Video

I made this slideshow for Paul’s graduation ceremony. It was too easy to pick out pictures that had a theme for him. He has always aspired to be a hero, and almost always dressed in a costume. 

Colonial Calamities

Years ago we took the boys to The Kennedy Space Center. We followed their cries of “Wook! Wook at dis!” laughing and capturing pictures behind them. It was such a blast, we decided to go back the next year. I anticipated a repeat of the year before, but it wasn’t like that at all. Instead of “Wook, Mommy! Wook!” they said, “Oh, yeah. I remember that,” and kept on walking. 

Lesson learned: The first time is the best time. 

My favorite part of any vacation is the novelty and discovery of new things. The only thing that can compete with that is watching my children discover new things. When they cry out in joy and delight and immerse themselves in a new experience, it sends me over the top. Especially if I can get pictures or video of it all, so I can enjoy it again when I have time to slow down and take it all in.

So, I told Mike I didn’t want to repeat any vacations after that one, and he agreed. Novelty floats his boat, too. This was all great until I causually mentioned that the MOMYS (Mothers of Many Young Siblings) were taking reservations for the annual Williamsburg Retreat. I shouldn’t have brought it up at the dinner table. The children pounced on the idea and begged to go back. They waxed nostalgic about the first time we went, how wonderful, how perfect, how fun it had been. How they had made friends there and had longed for six endless years to go back, have another parkinglot picnic, and throw cheetos at the sea gulls with their old buddies. 

We caved. 

It was a good price. Really, an unbelievable deal. The MOMYS had already planned out the activities for each day, all expenses included. Our old friends who fed the sea gulls had also signed up. And, we would drive right by the house of one of my dearest friends, who would open up her home to us and feed us on both legs of the trip. Maybe this time would be just as good as the last, or even better...

The week before we left, David came home for his Spring Break, and I made appointments for him and Paul to have their wisdom teeth removed. The boys were understandably grouchy after this. David expressed disappointment that his Spring Break did not match up with the retreat and told me that he would have gotten himself a costume if he could have joined us. Paul spent an entire paycheck on a Colonial military costume. It didn't surprise anyone that he wanted a costume, he has always been into that, but we were surprised by how much he wanted it. 

He came into my room all dressed up, with his rustic mountian man shirt underneath. 

“Hmm…that shirt isn’t quite right,” I said.

“I know! I need a Colonial shirt with ruffles, but I don’t have time to get one,” he lamented.

While he was at work, I whipped up a cravat out of his great-great grandmother’s ruffled bedroom curtain. I tied it around the neck of his shirt and left it on his bed. When he found it, he was delighted.

The wisdom teeth removal depressed him, though. His face swelled up like chipmunk cheeks and he accused me of ruining his vacation, and his whole life, by scheduling this two days before we left. 

This was the only day the oral surgeon had available, and we were fortunate to get them both in. But his attitude stretched my patience a bit too much. I craned my neck, looked him in the eyes and said, “I am NOT ruining your life. I am looking out for you. You needed this done because they were impacted and would only get worse. And by scheduling this now, I have saved you from missing another week of martial arts. You will be fine by Monday.”

“I AM missing a week of martial arts,” he growled.

“You would have missed two. Vacation week, and another week to recover.”

Realization dawned in his eyes, but he did not apologize. I’m telling you, this boy has ruined at least two years of my life. 

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Only two not smiling.

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But we are smiling and did not yell at anyone…  (I have witnesses)

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...even though someone put a rubber snake in the overhead compartment where Mike keeps his sunglasses, and it attacked before we left the driveway.

So we dropped Chance at the kennel and David at college, spending the first night with Marie and her family. Everybody picked a best friend and cuddled up, except Paul, who could not talk, but he got a milkshake. 

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We did not get enough talking, because there were too many interruptions, and I suspect certain teenagers wanted to know what we were talking about. They would have nothing to worry about if they treated us right and didn’t give us so much material to discuss.

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The children slept in weird places like under the stairs and in closets, just like they do at home. I’m glad to know my children are not the only odd ones in the world. We feel more normal knowing there are others like us.

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I woke up to the sound of sizzling and found Marie’s eight year old alone in the kitchen cooking bacon with style. I felt right at home.

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Twenty of us.

This requires three packages of bacon.

We arrived in Williamsburg too late to participate in any of the activities on Sunday, but we got an early start on Monday. I had expected to begin at the Visitor’s Center and walk all the way through, like we did last time, but Mike went to the Dad’s Breakfast, then we all went on a Colonial Life tour with the MOMYS private tour guide, and this changed it all up. Paul, Victoria, and Hope wore their costumes. 

As we walked together Paul said, “No one would guess these were my work shoes…  polished with hamburger grease and tartar sauce. Sabom Nim says these shoes are weapons!”

Hope sighed, “Who cares about your shoes?”

“Hope! Haven’t you ever heard about dancing ’til midnight, then running away and leaving your shoe?” Victoria asked. “It’s what you have to do if you want to get a boyfriend.”

“Ahem,” Grace interjected, “I’m afraid that method is not very reliable.”

“Yeah, but...” Ethan laughed, “it tends to attract princes."

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Paul perked up, as I had predicted, but Grace felt tired and wanted to rest when we went into one of the Museums. Paul gallantly sat with her while we explored the gift shop and the exhibit about Colonial style hospital care. 

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It’s best not to get sick in Colonial times.

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This was the hospital, NOT the jail. Jail is worse, but not much.

On the walk back to the house, Victoria’s old fashioned shoes suddenly incapacitated her, and again, Paul gallantly rescued another ailing sister. Paul does have many admirable character qualities. 

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That evening we went to the All Together Get Together, which was the only mandatory fun for the whole week. We shared a Mexican potluck and danced. We did not expect Paul or Grace to dance, but they surprised us and danced all night. The little ones danced, then played in the yard with the other younger children. Only Jonathan refused to have fun of any kind. He is thirteen, so I think I understand. I handed him one of the cameras and told him to help me document the vacation. 

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Mike gets down with Colonial boogie.

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Hope never stopped moving.

Paul realized non skid shoes are not conducive to dancing.

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Duck Duck Goose in the yard.

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Hide and Seek with her BFFs.

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Even proper young ladies need to hang out by themselves sometimes.

The next day, our good times came to an end. I woke up with a headache and felt like throwing up. I felt so extremely nauseated that I wondered if I was pregnant, and so could not in good conscience take anything for it. Despite my protests, Mike had taken a $100 bribe to listen to a sales pitch for a time share, and it absorbed the entire morning. We did not buy a time share, and I am not pregnant, but I was not feeling well at all. 

More than anything I wanted to go back to the house or lie down on a bench right in the middle of Williamsburg, and I would have, if it would not have called attention to myself. So I sat down, looked down, and tried not to think about puking. Paul and Hope wandered off in one direction, and Mike and the others in another, while I inwardly wailed because I was missing it all and we weren’t having fun, and weren’t having fun together.

I blamed what I thought was a "bad mood" on my unmet expectations. I told myself, This is what happens when you go back to the same vacation spot. Nothing is right. I am a wimp for wanting to cry over a headache and a barfy feeling, and a spoiled brat for not being happy. 

Then the Excedrin kicked in, my headache faded somewhat, and I managed to drag myself around the rest of the day. Mike thought I was upset that we did not start at the visitor’s center and walk all the way through like we did last time, and to be fair I did tell him I thought we should have, so he took us back so we could start over and do it right. 

We walked by the gift shop and an adorable red shirt, designed to look like a Colonial military uniform, jumped out at me. This would be perfect for the little boys, since they did not have costumes, so I popped in and bought two. When I rejoined the others and pulled the shirts out of the bag they all gasped and said, “You bought red coats? We can’t wear those!” Lucky for me, they also had blue shirts, which were almost as cute. I do like red, though. (I know, I know.)

By that evening, I felt well enough to make it to the Round Robin Dinner and host a dessert. I wasn’t feeling great, but good enough to fake it, especially with people who don’t know me and can’t tell the difference. I still thought my blah feeling was due to the repeat vacation. 

After dinner, Paul joined the other teens at the pavilion and danced. He said, “I thought maybe we would dance one or two dances, then someone would bring out their phone and we would look at YouTube, but no, they kept on dancing and dancing. They really like dancing.” He came home well after midnight, but he had both his shoes. 

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The next morning Victoria awakened me with the news that she and Grace had vomited. I sent her back to bed, then shortly afterwards I heard Grace call from downstairs in a very needy tone, “Mommy! I need Mommy!” I couldn’t remember the last time Grace was needy, so I rushed downstairs to find her standing in the hall crying, “I puked all over the floor and the wall. I tried to clean it up, but when I bent over and smelled it, it made me throw up again…"

I sent her back to bed and cleaned it up, joking with Paul that I was so glad we had not eaten spaghetti the night before. Obviously, I was back to normal. But Grace had it bad. She is leary of our natural remedies for minor illnesses and usually opts to go through the entire sickness without treatment, rather than drink a nasty tasting concoction and get it over with. 

Mike took the boys to a militia drill, Grace almost passed out in the shower, Victoria got dressed to go to the Mother Daughter Tea Party, then climbed back into bed. So Hope and I went to tea alone. 

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That afternoon Victoria mustered the energy to get dressed again and wanted to explore the town with us. Grace turned toward the wall and cried, too tired to get out of bed, and missing everything. 

Paul had seen a hair extension in one of the shops and convinced us to go back for it. Made of real hair and sporting multiple long ringlets, he thought it was worth the $35. He tried it on and it matched his own hair perfectly. Sadly, it was really $235.

 “Oops,”he said. “I thought the two was the dollar sign.” So we put it back and did not get a picture. He might try growing his own hair extension for free. He has a good start already.

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Get used to disappointment, boys.

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Stay away from the hard cider. It is not the same as apple juice.

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Hope talked Mike into buying her a souvenir and we overheard someone passing us say, “That won’t get old on the trip home."

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In the Governor’s garden Victoria found a quiet bench to rest on where she would not make a spectacle of herself. We casually mentioned how badly we hoped she would get over the plague quickly this time and the doe eyed teenagers waiting for us to leave melted into the background.

Mike, on the other hand, continually looked for opportunities to make mischief. The children had to put us in the stocks for too much monkey business.

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This did not deter him at all.

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Mercy! How will I ever live this down?

By the next day, Grace had not recovered, but Victoria was almost good as new, so we joined our MOMYS tour guide at the Jamestown settlement. Paul saw Mike and I whispering before we walked into Indian territory and asked what we were talking about.

“You don’t want to know,” I told him. (It was truly none of his business.)

He huffed and walked away. A few minutes later I saw Jonathan and my heart twanged, knowing that he would not be so sweet for much longer. I gave him a long hug and whispered that I loved him so much, and that he was one of my most favorite children. Paul stomped up to us and demanded, “What did she say? Did she tell you the secret?”

“No!” Jonathan replied bewildered. “But she loves me the most."

Paul scowled. “What then? What did you say?” he demanded again.

“I was just affirming him before he gets The Puberty and thinks we are trying to ruin his life.”

“Humph,” Paul snorted, squinting and glancing at Jonathan, “She’s lying."

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Making dinner. It is going to take awhile.

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I believe you can order these rush mats from Oriental Trading Company.

Free shipping on orders over $39!

“Oh, look!” I said. "Last time we were here they had a dugout canoe. It looks like they are making another one. What a lot of work!"

“We must help them!” Victoria said, enthusiastically scraping the log with an oyster shell and bringing volunteers with her. 

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Last time the boys put on the armor and bravely protected the fort with their own muskets. This time, they tried on the armor and said cheese.

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Ethan and Hope kept asking to borrow my camera.

It IS an interesting wall.

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I was chatting with the blacksmith, who was just inside the door. I loved his cottage, but he told me it usually smelled bad and was filled with hungry men. I don’t think I’ll stay.

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I don’t remember a thing this one said.

We mosied over to the tiny ships the Jamestown settlers traveled on and marveled.

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Over 70 people traveled across the ocean in something about like this.

So cozy.

I don’t know why they weren’t BFFs by the time they landed.

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Tiny table.

Tiny berths.

I wonder what the rations were like.

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Tiny bed.

This bed belonged to the captain. 

He got it all to himself, but the room is not much bigger than the bed.

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This is amidships and you can see a coffin like structure behind the colorful sailor (who is a politically correct but historically incorrect girl). The wooden box is a bed for regular people, two at a time and is about the size of a baby crib.

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The staff (sailors) slept in these berths, two to a berth, but not at the same time. 

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Heave ho!

We had time to go back to the Art Museum and to get gas before the King’s Ball. 

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This doll house is big enough to climb into.

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This outfit is kind of what I was going for when I made Victoria’s costume. 

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At the King’s Ball.

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I borrowed a dress and felt ridiculous all night. 

Mike bought a hat and enjoyed being ridiculous.

On the morning of the last full day Jonathan greeted everyone with an epiphany, “Hey everybody! I figured out why it is so cold in Virginia! The thermostat was set to 65! I jacked it up to 80. I was so cold last night.” He shivered in his fleece jacket.

That’s right. The Floridians will fix Virginia. May it never be cold again! (Would you believe it snowed after we left? The maids must have turned the thermostat back down.)

Grace still felt puny, but she got dressed anyway. After she spent two full days in bed, we didn’t want to go to Yorktown without her. On the way there Ethan called from the back seat, “Quick, quick, somebody! Pass me a barf bag!” and he yacked neatly into it. “I threw up last night, too,” he added.

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You didn’t ask.” He shrugged and grinned.

He didn’t have much energy afterwards, so we found a bench and he lay his head in my lap and fell asleep. We hadn’t noticed it yet, but Jonathan’s health also steadily declined as the day wore on.

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Jonathan and Victoria sat listening to the tour guide for awhile, then they lay down on a bench as well. Our guide explained how General Washington attacked the Hessians the day after Christmas, when they were all hung over. “Does anyone know what a hangover is?” he asked. 

“When you hang your head?” a young homeschooled child guessed.

“It is severe dehydration,” a teen offered.

Everyone laughed. 

“Parents, will you forgive me for telling your children what a hangover is? (haha- they have to learn sometime) It’s when you stay up too late, drink too much, get severely dehydrated (nodding to the one who mentioned this), and wake up with a very bad headache and nausea.”

“Ewwww,” the good children murmured. 

“Oh... that’s what’s wrong with us,” Grace whispered weakly. “All the kids in our family have hangovers. Except Paul."

The rest of our group got up and moved on. 

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Grace lay down on another bench. 

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But Paul enjoyed himself, very much. His vacation was not ruined at all. 

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Then Jonathan propped himself halfway up on his elbow, threw up in the grass, spat, and lay down again. About this time a friend texted me to say she would be in town (in FL) on Saturday and maybe we could meet up. I texted her the pictures of sick children above, and we laughed together via text, because what else can you do?

Then another tourist group came and sat down, so we had to move into the museum. Jonathan and Ethan rested on every bench we passed. We took them to the car and drove to a certain redoubt Mike had to see. Paul had gone on a walk with his new friends, and lacking boys, Mike turned to the girls and said, “Girls! Let me take your picture next to this mortar!”

“Not yet, Daddy, we have to make it pretty first!” Hopesie said, picking dandelions and tucking them in crevices.

“C’mon!” Mike wheedled, “You can pretend you are camp followers!”

“Uh-Mike, aren’t those…prostitutes?”

Sigh. “Yeah…I guess we don’t want to pretend that…”

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Victoria sighed and said, “The only good thing about Yorktown is these nice hills.” But she had no energy to play on them. 

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Paul joined us in the car right after Ethan retched again. Mike asked,”Does anyone want lunch? Jonathan, do you feel up to sushi?”

No answer from the farthest back seats. 

Grace said, “Daddy, the people who regurgitated should not eat for six hours. It’ll just be wasted. I kinda tested it…”


“You know… science,” she explained with a shrug and a grin.

Ethan heaved into his bag.

“It sounds like he is burping,” Grace observed. 

Ethan looked up and giggled, “I’m barping. It’s both.”

Victoria sighed, “Why do we always get sick on vacation?”

Paul asked, “Daddy, do you think I can get a ride with someone so I can go dancing on the green?”

“I'm surprised boys like dancing,” Victoria said. “It’s such a girl thing. Can we Face Time Chance at the kennel?" 

(BARP from the back seats)

“We probably should all get souvenir barf bags,” she continued matter-of-factly.

Mike turned around and said, “Ethan, did you barf IN the bag? Good boy!”

“You have ‘carfing’ skills,” Grace laughed. “You know, barfing in the car.”

“Daddy, if I had two crackers, my tummy would be filled. That’s how hungry I am,” Victoria said.

Ethan came up for air. “I just want some gingerale.”

Mike went back into the museum and found a ride for Paul. When he rejoined us he waved a handful of plastic bags in the air and said, “I got souvenir barf bags for everyone. I asked the lady for a bunch of plastic bags and she gave me these little dinky ones. I said, ‘No, I need BIG bags. Big enough to barf in.’ She looked at me funny.” He couldn’t help laughing.

(If you are a big family, I know you are rolling on the floor right now, because you get it. Small families may think otherwise, but I tell you we are barf hardened. Life, like barf, goes on. And on. And on.)

Paul went off to dance with the pretty girls. We dropped Grace and the sick boys off at the house, and the rest of us went for a long walk that ended with some tea. We stopped at a garden and bought a bee skep, because I have secretly always wanted one, and it really was only $35. One of the interpreters asked Victoria and Hope to help him water the plants, because they “looked like they were dressed for the garden."

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"Tea with the girls" means cappuccino for Mike.

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Good advice, if we swap the coffee for tea.

We found Paul, caught a parade, heard Lafayette rouse the crowd, and saw some shooting.

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The band is five times the size of the army. 

If I didn’t know the end of the story, I might be concerned about priorities.

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On the evening of the last day, Hope suddenly became too sick to help pack. “But did you notice how she wasn’t too sick to run down the sidewalk to say goodbye to our friends?” Grace asked. 

Jonathan added, “Yeah, and she limped back, hahahaha!”

“Guys! Is this how you want people to treat you when you are sick?” Grace asked.

“Or faking?” I added, and we kept laughing.

We drove back to Marie’s house and Mike felt sick and went to bed early. The children ran in packs and we still didn’t really get to talk. 

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This was the one moment they weren’t actually running back and forth.

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Pete knows how to feed an army.

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Ethan threw up at Marie’s house after I went to bed. Grace woke me up to tell me and I found Marie cleaning the bathroom upstairs. 

“I got it,” she said cheerfully as she sprayed the toilet with Clorox, “I just wanted you to know about it, since he is a little one.” And we stood there in the barfy bathroom and laughed and laughed about vomit. Anything can be a party with the right people.

When we finally got home I looked around and said to Mike,“Our yard is more beautiful than anything I saw in Virginia. Why do we ever leave it?”

Paul began, “When we go back to Williamsburg next year…”

“Oh, no!” Ethan rushed from the dinner table, “I’m going to barf again!” 

The dog hunched his back and began heaving in sympathy, and we dragged him out the front door just in time to save the Turkish carpet from ruination.

Even though we loved seeing our friends, took many more lovely pictures than I have room to share here, and found something to laugh about all week, mostly keeping our sense of humor intact, I don’t ever want to do this vacation again.

March 2016

First Day At School

I spent the whole summer trying not to think about school. We ditched our usual discipline and slept in until lunch time if we could, lounged about in or near the pool, tossed our list of summer goals right after we wrote them down, and did our best to play and rest. I really needed it, and no one else complained. 

This is way out of the norm for me. Usually I get a charge out of checking things off my list. (Lists.) But I felt worn out. 

I put off our homeschool evaluations until mid-August, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when she peered over her reading glasses and asked me, “Are you ready for David to go to college?”

“No,” I said. “I have purposely not thought about it all summer.”

“Hmmm,” she said knowingly, nodding as she flipped through David’s portfolio. “Denial is a real thing.” Then she looked me in the eye, and I had to face the truth, with two weeks to get ready. 

So I went to Sam’s and bought school supplies and added redundant things from around the house to the pile of household goods David's grandma gave him. I searched our local thrift shops and found a second hand night stand, and a beautiful set of Currier and Ives plates with lithographed ships on them for $2 apiece. Instead of being thrilled, I felt deflated. The more items I checked off his college list, the closer I got to basketcase status. 

I felt like a cup filled to the brim, emotions sloshing around inside and spilling down my face at the slightest provocation. On Thursday I called my mother for advice and support, since she has been through this already. She told me to stay busy to keep my mind off my loss and also informed me that I am getting old. By Friday, I had to hide under the covers to cope, but by that time I was done shopping anyway. 

So we drove to Orlando on Saturday and to keep busy I tried to read a book, but really prayed for no rain after a solid month of rain, no traffic and a good parking spot on move in day, and minimal crowds in the residence hall. God granted every one of those requests. It didn’t rain until we drove home after dinner. We found a corner parking spot on the first floor of the parking garage, as close to the building as physically possible, and easy to maneuver the bus into. Inside the building a handful of people milled around, apparently waiting for something to do. David walked right up, got his key, and we set off down the empty hall toward his apartment. I could have prayed for bigger things than parking spaces, but I have spent years doing that. God knows.

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We met his three roommates and one set of parents. The young men are all future engineers, which should provide hours of facinating conversation. They immediately established who plans to build the targets and who will make the weapons. Then they moved on to favorite video games. 

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Since I hurt my back a week ago pulling jungle weeds out of my garden (proving that my mother is right about me getting old) I stayed upstairs with David, while Mike organized trips to the van to deliver all his earthly goods. David put his clothes away and helped me make his bed. As I fluffed up his pillows I thought this is probably the only time his bed will ever be made. 

(Doesn’t the nightstand look like it came with the room? This does give me a little thrill, after all.)

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Grace walked in and stared at the school supplies piled on his desk. Her fingers began to twitch. When David left the room to put his plates away, we couldn’t help ourselves. We pounced on the pencils and post-it notes and organized his desk in a matter of seconds. Then we simultaneously took deep cleansing breaths and admitted we might have a few OCD tendencies. But it comes in handy sometimes!

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He didn’t hold it against us, but I did aggravate him when I dragged him to Home Depot to buy light bulbs and curtains to hide his closet area and add a bit of color to the blank room. I needed his room to look like a home instead of a cell. Light bulbs he agreed are neccessities, but curtains he thought were negotiable. Not to me. Tell me this doesn’t look better and cozier.

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I had planned to hang curtains over his window, but the room was not like the one we saw on our tour and in the end, it didn’t work out. If the room had been built like the model, it would have been perfect. Mike, who knows better than to get into it with me about curtains, and who should know by now that he can’t visualize curtains, kept asking doubtful confused questions about this last week. This was during the emotional difficulties, and I finally turned to him and confessed, “Everything you say is getting on my last nerve. Can you please stop talking to me until I can get my self control and be nice?”

He said, “Uh, yes. I could tell you were annoyed...” And then he remembered something else he knows about me. “When was the last time you had something to eat?” he kindly asked. And he fed me, and that fixed my nerves. 

Again, lunch to the rescue. I gave up on the window, for now, and David gave in to the closet curtain after some Chinese food. My fortune cookie was encouraging, but I am not sure if I was the one who was supposed to get this one. 

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David complained about curtain shopping, but he was glad I found a way to hang a few family pictures on his bare walls. I wanted him to feel that we were not so far away.

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Several times, tears brimmed over and finally I patted a spot next to me on the bed and told him to come here. He let me hold him as if he was still small and he hugged me back. I told him I loved him, I was proud of him, and I knew he would do well.

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We decided an occasion such as this merited ice cream for dinner, and that made everyone happy. The little ones became so giddy that they laughed for two hours straight, all the way home.

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I was surprised to feel peaceful as we drove away. The inner wobbliness just lifted and evaporated. The next day someone commented, “That was God’s grace on you.” As we drove homeward, it began to sprinkle, and as we recognised the landscape near our town we saw a double rainbow.

The faculty advised us to give our college student some space and let him be the first to call or text. David made it easy on us, texting a picture of the Link Up party he and his roommates went to not thirty minutes after we left. We have had a steady stream of texts since then, and several more pictures. 

He is a sweet boy. Loving. And helpful.

I’m going to figure out those curtains by Thanksgiving, but the rest of us are not going to think about school until next week. I don’t think I’ll have any problem keeping myself busy.


About a week before Paul’s birthday I asked him what kind of cake he wanted.

“Um...well, cake...I like cake. It’s cake! I can’t think of a cake ever I didn’t like.”

“Well, that’s no help,” I said. “C'mon now. What is your favorite flavor?”

(His eyes rolled into the back of his head and stayed there much too long.)

“All right then. What is your favorite candy bar?” I pressed, needing just the beginnings of inspiration.


“Do you want me to surprise you?” (say yes, say yes)

“OK, sure. Surprise me. You know, I liked that one Jonathan had with the candy inside. Do that.”

“I can do that, but the outside will be a surprise…?”

He shrugs and Hopesie runs up, grabs his leg and squeals, “Tiger! Paul, you are my tiger!”

And that was the inspiration I was looking for.

Mike took half the family on a week long hike, so I made the cake in semi-secrecy. I picked a luscious looking cake from Pinterest- chocolate orange flavor with chocolate orange slices on top. The recipe called for Dutch processed cocoa and warned me NOT to use Hersheys, so I ordered that from Amazon as well as the chocolate orange candy that I know I have seen somewhere local, but for the life of me can’t remember where that was. 

Then I got the notice that the chocolate orange had shipped—from England—and should arrive three weeks after the birthday party. So I planned to search for the local source, but happily the orange arrived in the mail the day before I set out to find another one. However, it had melted on the way to Florida. Of course. 

I packed my little people in the car and began a full day of errands, searching every grocery store, including the European Specialty Grocery and Deli. No luck. We ended up at Jo-Ann Fabrics to buy supplies for another project. As we stood in line to pay, I scanned the rows of candy beside the check-out and almost shrieked in delight when I found a chocolate orange on the bottom shelf!

Instead of a tried and true recipe, I used the one on Pinterest, and I should know better. But the temptation of a new recipe is so great, and the technique was new to me, so I thought it best to follow the directions exactly rather than adapt it. I didn’t notice that the recipe had no salt in the list of ingredients, because I had a three ring circus performing at my elbow, so the cake itself was rather bland, but it looked wonderful. It looked just as beautiful as the one on Pinterest, which was a miracle in itself. 

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Tiger stripes with chocolate covered coffee beans inside.

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While I made tiger stripes, these hungry ones shaped, boiled, and baked soft pretzels with precious little supervision. 

So Paul was happy, and surprised on his seventeenth birthday, though exhausted from the hike and suffering from a cold. He didn’t feel like smiling and we are fortunate to have these two pictures, because he looked dejected in all the others. 

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 I asked him to make his tiger face for you, but he refused. 

“I am not a circus animal, and I will not perform for an audience outside of this room.” But he did smile when he said it. He knows I would use a bad picture if I had to. 

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Reading his homemade birthday cards. 

And now I have a question for mothers of teenagers. Do you look at your big prickly teenaged boys and see something like this?

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The testosterone level in this house is overwhelming, and I feel something akin to grief, missing how sweet and cuddly they used to be. I have to remind myself constantly that it was hard then too. They fought, they got into everything, and they ate everything in the house, just like today. Proof:

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I miss my little tiger.

One Down, Six to Go!

David asked us not to make a big fuss out of his graduation. He didn’t want a party or a trip, saying he already had everything he wanted, except perhaps he would let me make a special cake and his favorite meal for dinner. Only he couldn’t make up his mind what either of those might be. 

Mike and I went along with his wishes, for the most part, remembering that high school was not such a big deal to us either. It was more of a relief to be done with it, and it seems like David has been done with it for a long time. We have not ordered a diploma, only because we still haven’t named our school after eighteen years to think about it, and because we suspect it would just be a $30 piece of cardstock which would immediately go into the file cabinet. He has a transcript, of course, and has already been accepted into college, so I hope the lack of a paper diploma won’t be an issue down the road. If it is, I guess we’ll print one. 

I admit I felt relieved not to have to plan a big party, however, we decided to overrule David on two points. One was attending the Graduate Luncheon at our church (the one requiring those embarrassing senior pictures), and the other was insisting he wear a cap and gown for that event and taking many pictures. He sighed quite a lot. But he perked up when he realized he was also invited to the Graduate Breakfast before the services and would have to drive himself there in the "little hot rod,” which is what we call the car that holds only eight passengers. 

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David is wearing black and gold- the colors of a UCF Knight- in the back middle. We dressed him in that vile and suffocating cap and gown and then decorated him like a Christmas tree. The gold stole represents a straight A average, including his dual enrolled courses. The red, white and blue cord stands for almost 200 hours of community service in scouts as well as operating the cameras at church. The medallion on the black and gold ribbon was given to all the National Merit Scholars admitted to UCF.

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He enjoyed the luncheon in spite of his introverted tendencies and having to appear in public in the dreaded dude suit. 

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He felt much less enthusiastic about the hot cap and gown and railed against the cruel person who invented this punishing tradition, “Ugh! This hat is ridiculous!Whoever thought of this and WHY?"

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In an effort to get him to lighten up, I told the children to line up in age order and announced, “The name of this picture is: One Down, Only Six More To Go!” This inspired several other poses.

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Pushing David Out of the Nest

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David Drags His Siblings to College With Honors

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The Best of One Million Tries Without Photo Shopping Heads. 

At least David is smiling!

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Proud of Our First Born Who Graciously Puts Up With Us

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The lack of Pomp and Circumstance certainly saved me from many tears. Instead I felt only joy. 

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He gets his brains from his daddy.

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Congratulations, my dear one! You did it and you did it well!

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We went home to take naps, then grilled Chicken Sate in the rain, and we didn’t burn it this time! I made a Black and White Tuxedo Cake from Pinterest, with a few modifications; mainly I added more dark chocolate. Click on the picture at the bottom if you want the original recipe. 

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My cake did not look as fancy as the one on Pinterest, but we were all satisfied. 


I don’t claim to be a great photographer. I have a nice camera and I know a few things, like you need good light, you should have an uncluttered background, and not ask people to say cheese.

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I have tried to read a few photography books and I can’t get past "f-stop”. Suddenly my brain freezes just like it did whenever the algebra teacher opened her mouth and spoke gibberish. 

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Still, I decided to take David’s senior pictures myself, because how hard can this be? And I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for something I could do myself. 

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David was dismayed by the whole idea, no matter who was behind the camera, but he gamely put on the clothes I asked for and followed me into the yard for the casual pictures. 

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He was a good sport even when little brothers came out and taunted him, trying to get him to say cheese, or worse. But then it began to rain, and I told him we would put off the formal shots for another day. That’s where I lost him.

Two days later, I told him to put on his “dude suit” and get in the car. He was quiet in a huffy way. We went to a few spots in town where I hoped we would have good light, interesting backgrounds, and no crowds, but the first place was set up for a wedding, and the second was not as pretty as it looked from the road. 

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I parked at the third place and asked him to lean against this column so I could check the light. Then I said, "Please don't scowl. You have angry eyebrows and red lines on your forhead that aren’t going away even when you relax.”

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He said, “What difference does it make? You are just checking the light.” And he claims to have been under the impression for the entire photo shoot, that I dressed him up and drove him out there just to check the light, which changes moment by moment. As if I could check it today to prepare for some other day. And as if I would make him dress up and come with me for that. 

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I’m telling you, he did not get a scholarship based on common sense. 

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“Try to look pleasant,” I pleaded. 

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“I can’t. The sun is in my eyes,” he complained, even though it was cloudy. Perfect weather for picture taking. 

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The GQ shot was totally accidental. The wind blew his tie over his shoulder. Still, the ticked off eyebrows.

I kept looking for a less “sunny” spot, thinking this is my chance to get this taken care of. “How about over there by the brick wall?” I asked.

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He groaned and took a step backwards. “Not there. Someone might see me dressed like this.” Obviously, I have ruined his day, if not the whole rest of his life. 

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I tried bribery. “Hey, maybe we can go out for a treat afterwards?”

“No way. Not in these clothes.”

We aren’t having a real graduation ceremony. Just a luncheon at church with a slide show, which is why I need the pictures. 

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This is it. Just one little slideshow. And we just can’t pull it off. So instead, we are going to use the terrible pictures and just be real.

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Or grumpy. Whatever you want to call it. 

Look at all that great light! Mike says I should take him back and do it again, but I used up all my patience on that trip. I was sweet the whole time, but I don’t think I could do it twice. 

You win, David.  

Let's Eat Cake

With three birthdays on the calendar, March is a whirlwind of baking and partying at our house. Every year Victoria chortles, “March is just as fun as Christmas!"

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Sometimes we combine the three birthdays into one event. But if the children want their own cake to commemorate their special day, I feel bound to honor that. This year we decided to have individual cakes, but to open all the gifts on the first birthday of the month. We invited Grandma and our favorite “cousins”, squeezing 14 people around the dining room table. 

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Ethan asked for a Funfetti cookie dough brownie layer cake. It looked impressive, and he was delighted with it, but it was kind of gross. The cookie dough layers called for two boxes of Funfetti cake mix- something I normally would turn my nose up at- but when it is a birthday special request- I'll make almost any exception. 

It was excessively sweet, and the Funfetti cookie dough layer had a cloying artificial taste that was difficult to wash out of the mouth. If that wasn’t bad enough, I sprinkled pop rocks in with the sprinkles, but because I didn’t know any better, and because I was pressed for time on the afternoon we had the party, I did this a day in advance, and they popped about 20 hours ahead of schedule. Paul told me he wants the same icky thing on his birthday.

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We only had to relight the candles once, after the girls sitting next to him beat him to it. 

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Then they opened their gifts and the living room did look a lot like Christmas morning, without the tree. 

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We gave Ethan and Jonathan each a small raft, which they immediately inflated. 

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Then the house became unnaturally quiet and the children disappeared. They couldn’t wait to try the rafts out, even though the pool is much too cold to swim in yet. After paddling about for awhile, they came in and asked if they could put their bathing suits on, just incase they fell in. Then, of course, they fell right in, and have been using the pool ever since. 

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A week later, Victoria requested a chocolate strawberry cake. I thought I might put giant KitKats all around the edge, but she vetoed that when she saw these strawberry straw-shaped cookies I found at the Oriental market. 

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She almost had help with her candles, but managed to get to them first. You have to be quick around here. 

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On Ethan’s birthday, we told our friends who joined us, that we only wanted their company, please do not worry about gifts. They joined us again for lunch and cake on Victoria’s birthday, but couldn’t resist bringing in a pile of presents, so Christmas did come to mind again. 

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They went the extra mile when they wrapped Jonathan’s present, wrapping it in multiple boxes.

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Finally he got down to this antique puzzle box, which could have been the gift.

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When he figured out how to open it, he found a cell phone inside, which drew a puzzled expression. Jonathan later told me he thought they had given him a cell phone at the age of twelve, before two of his older siblings were allowed to have one. Then the phone rang and a disguised voice gave him a clue, 

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which led to this package, which had a Nerf gun inside. 

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We have a nine day break between Victoria’s birthday and Jonathan’s, but that didn’t mean we stopped baking and eating cake. 

My American Heritage Girls asked me to help them earn the cake decorating badge. I asked them to make the bottom layers and the icing, but I baked six 6-inch cakes. We spent an afternoon wallowing in buttercream icing, while they practiced shell borders and icing roses. Grace, who has already earned this badge, proved she had retained her skills, by whipping out several roses before scooting off to catch up on her online Latin class. She missed most of the fun, but at least she remembers what she learned last year.

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Jonathan’s birthday fell on a Friday. Unfortunately, it was the same day we had to drive to Orlando for a National Merit Scholar’s Banquet at UCF. The entire family was invited, even when I told them there are nine of us, however, Paul and Jonathan had already commited to camp with the scouts. I felt like a terrible mother, leaving Jonathan home on his twelfth birthday (they didn’t leave to camp until Saturday morning). 

Then I realized I had an extra 6 inch cake in the freezer. I mixed up some chocolate peanut butter icing, decorated the top of it with a chopped up Hershey bar and white chocolate stars leftover from another party, and left it for the boys to enjoy that evening, with the understanding that the real celebration would happen on Sunday when everyone came home. I also left them a roasted chicken and baked potatoes, but when we got home it looked like all they had eaten for dinner and breakfast the next day was cake. 

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Jonathan loved every birthday cake idea we looked at and could not make up his mind. Finally he said, “Just surprise me!” His only request was chocolate icing. So I searched Pinterest for a cake that would be surprising— in a good way. 

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The one that caught my eye was a Pinata Cake. It looks deceptively normal on the outside and can be decorated anyway you want. The surprise is all on the inside. It turned out to be huge, because it is four layers tall. I made the chocolate icing and tossed some chocolate jimmies on top. It looked boring to me, and I was afraid Jonathan would take his first look at it and think I didn’t care enough to really try. After rummaging around in the pantry, I found a box of chocolate covered coffee beans, which I popped onto the bottom of the cake, hoping that would take it up a level.

When he came home from camping, the cake was on the dining room table, and I was upstairs. I heard him slam the door, then a few seconds later, “Yes! Yes! Mommy! I love it, I love it, I LOVE IT!!!!!"

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After dinner, I handed him the serrated knife and asked him to cut it. He felt a strange resistance and looked unsure. “The filling is kind of crunchy,” I explained. 

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And then, he noticed something unexpected. When he pulled the knife back out, a pink Bottle Cap stuck to the end of it. 

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Removing the first slice of cake revealed a treasure trove of Bottle Caps, Everlasting Gobstoppers, and Jujyfruits inside. 

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I’d say I succeeded in surprising him. 

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And now most everyone else wants one, even if they just had their birthday cake. 

Mike’s birthday is next, but he has a favorite and won’t let me surprise him. 

A Hot Mess

My oven is so old, it has forgotten what ovens do. The first sign that we had trouble  around the corner was when we cooked a pizza at 450 degrees and it forgot what “off” meant. I punched the button in frustration, while the oven blasted away like a fiery furnace. Finally I tricked it by lowering the temperature to get it to simmer down and shut off.

Shortly after that, wails of disappointment accosted my ears as my little bakers cried over burned biscuits that remained gooey in the middle and quiches that never firmed up. While I had wistfully pined for a new oven since the day I met this hot mess that came with the house, and especially since the split pea soup explosion that managed to get inbetween the glass on the oven window, there was not a chance in the world that we could have a new one in the house before Hope’s sixth birthday. 

What to do?

I considered inconveniencing my neighbor or a good friend, but decided to make that Plan B, after I at least attempted to make a Rapunzel doll cake at home. I mixed up a double batch of batter from a recipe I had used before and crossed my fingers. Leaving the oven light on, I sat down with a pot of Earl Grey and watched the cakes for potential trouble. I didn’t have to wait long. 

Even though the oven thought it was at 350, the batter soon began to boil. Bubbles in the layer cakes rose to the surface, enlarged, and turned brown before bursting like hot lava. The doll’s dress, poured into a Pampered Chef Batter Bowl, expanded like a mushroom cloud. I turned the temperature down and the convection fan on. 

Long after the cakes were supposed to be done, I tentatively took the two layers out to cool. Slightly crispy on top, they finally tested done in the middle. 

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When I dared to pull out the batter bowl, I learned cake testers can lie. After cooling for perhaps ten minutes, the cauliflower sized mushroom cloud suddenly and dramtically collapsed. But Plan A still had potential. Since I had to cut a hole in the middle for Rapunzel anyway, I scooped out the goo inside, leaving a slightly overbaked shell, which I filled with whipped cream. 

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                                        Notice Rapunzel waving at 5:00.

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Loaded with whipped cream, the crispy cake softened up nicely.

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When Hope requested this cake her siblings called her out. “You just want another doll! We know! Well, don’t pull her head off like last time.”

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Sadly, Rapunzel developed a massive headache and died two days after the party.

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                                                                It was good while it lasted.                                                                                 

I tried to pop her head back on, but this is a delicate surgery, which I am not qualified to perform.

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Both cakes are the same recipe, but you can see they are a different color and they also had different textures and flavors. Odd.

Hope’s birthday was on a Monday, but we celebrated on the Saturday before so Grandma could join us. Not celebrating on a young child’s actual birthday has the advantage of curbing the Spoiled Brat Effect. Since it is not really their birthday yet, they don’t think they can get away with shirking their chores or not minding their manners. Then when it really is their birthday and they try any of that, you can always say, “Knock it off! We already had your birthday.” These advantages came to my mind once or twice,  as Hopesie pushed the boundaries, but overall she was a very happy birthday girl. 

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Grandma gave her a bike, her first. Ethan, who has always had a decided disinterest in learning to ride his hand-me-down bike, suddenly wanted to take a spin on Hope’s wheels. 

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Her other Grandma sent hot pink sparkly shoes, Hopesie’s signature color.

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We gave her a real Bible, since she has recently learned to read, and one more surprise.

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Mike secretly worked on his gift to her for several days. Everyone except Hope and Ethan knew what he was up to and kept the two of them out of the work zone. Finally Ethan asked in bewilderment, “How come everyone knows what the present is except me?” We all laughed then, because Ethan has never managed to keep a secret in his whole life. 

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When we finally unveiled the surprise, Hope floated around the corner and found an old fashioned see-saw. There were a few kinks to work out. 

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Mike had to go back and add a second board to make it strong enough for teen-aged brothers to play with their little sisters. Also, Hope and Ethan had to learn how to fall off without getting hurt. This just takes practice.

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Grace gave Hope a can of silly string, which Hopesie aggressively chased each of us around with, laughing maniacally. She blasted most of the backyard, and any family members who were slow to move.

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What goes around comes around.

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Despite the cake drama, Hope’s birthday had more ups than downs.

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Lucky for Mike, all this happened before his birthday, which is right around the corner. A perfect coconut cake is essential for his special day, and might be one reason why he barely flinched when I set aside my usual frugality and suggested we invest in a high quality oven replacement.

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We bought a double oven so we can cook twice as much at once, and keep everyone happy.


I enjoyed this Christmas season more than most, which seems odd to me, because we did less than usual. For years I have labored under the mistaken idea that more and more would be better and better. But really more and more equaled tired and more tired. 

After we decorated the tree at the end of November, Jonathan asked me, “Do we have to have school on Monday? Because, you know, it is December?” 

How I would love to take all of December off! But we still had work, school, piano, scouts, American Heritage Girls, martial arts, a child with an abcessed tooth, hot water heater and air conditioners being replaced, AND cookie exchanges, holiday parties, retirement parties, etc. 

This year I repeatedly took deep breaths and told myself, It doesn’t have to be spectacular. Simple and heartfelt is great. So we baked and decorated, but we did not get around to putting all the decorations out and I didn’t worry about it. We can do that next time. Or next, next time. 

I shopped for every single gift online, except for the stocking stuffers, which I got in one fell swoop at the Dollar Tree. I even splurged and had one gift wrapped and sent direct. I did not tie bows on every packge this time, just the ones you could see at the front of the tree. And I stayed on budget. 

We were not able to do Advent every night of the month, and we did not try to make up for it. We just lighted the candles we missed and read the devotion for that one day.


Instead of making a show stopping dessert, I made a simple cheesecake for Christmas Day, and let Jonathan make a small dessert for Christmas Eve. No creme brûlée torch needed, but he was still excited to use the ramekins Grandma gave him for Christmas last year, to make Carnival Cruise’s Warm Melting Cake. And it was delicious, small, and easy.  

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For Christmas Brunch I had homemade cinnamon rolls in the freezer (made a double batch at Thanksgiving), and Vicotria made Creamy Scrambled Eggs and Turkey Sausage Ring. We used the holiday dishes with the gold rim, and I let the children put them in the dishwasher without heat dry. They came out intact. 

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Mike and I have very generous parents, who usually fill our livingroom with gifts. It takes us all day to open them all and sometimes two days. But this year my parents sent one gift per child and Mike’s parents put all the gifts for each child in one bag per kid. Each child recieved three gifts from us. 

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They loved everything. 

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She wanted to work on her handwriting.

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He loves to shop for his siblings.

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She wants to be Rapunzel.

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He really wanted a new scout shirt after the hand-me-downs fell apart. 

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She wanted new piano music.

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Dancing in her Rapunzel dress and Christmas Penguin socks.

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Thrive vs. Survive

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Different people have different needs.

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She was concerned about her book. 

“Oh no! Now I will have to learn how to read!"

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These t-shirts were a recycled white elephant gift.

David thought it was funny.

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Paul is not laughing.

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Paul gamely tried it on for a picture, but I don’t expect to see him in it next year.

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Another stuffed rabbit.

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She has wanted a princess canopy her whole life.

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David helped install it.

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The stomp rocket is so popular, that it probably will not last long.

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Victoria is up to 150 bounces in a row. 

Hopefully making muscles and not losing weight.

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One of our favorite gifts.

Instead of being all tired out, we felt like throwing a New Year’s Eve party, and we did. 

© Being Fruitful, 2012