The five objects I would save if the house was on fire...

But first, here are some pictures from Thanksgiving...
These are the turkey cupcakes I made for Brigham's class "feast"

Brigham's preschool class all dressed up as pilgrims and Indians. They even had pilgrim and Indian names- Briggie was Squanto!

My twin cousins Thomas and Charles, who remind me of Fred and George from Harry Potter- one of them dressed up in an inflatable Santa suit after Thanksgiving dinner. The boys were a little confused as to why Santa supposedly lives at the North Pole and yet has a pronounced southern accent...

Eric and Brigham changing the oil pan gasket in our car...

This was a giant gingerbread house that they had at Wild Dunes for all the kids decorate. They each got a little tray with icing and some candy to stick on. Great idea!

And here we are, earlier tonight, decorating our Christmas tree, which we cut down all by ourselves, using a combination of sawing and chopping (little Eric just really, really wanted to use an ax). Interestingly, the two states in which Eric and I were born are the number one and two producers of Christmas trees in the U.S.- Oregon (#1) and North Carolina (#2).

And that brings me to the inspiration for this post. The five objects I would save if the house caught on fire. Our Christmas stockings. There are very few domestic pursuits in which the women of my family distinguish themselves. In fact, there is exactly one: knitting. My Mom, grandmom, aunt and cousin can knit absolutely anything, and they have. But the pinnacle of knitting achievement in our family is the Christmas stocking. You're not a real member of the family until you have one. Before my Mom and Jeff got married, we used to say of her various boyfriends, "What do you think? Does he have stocking potential?".

If you're really exceptional, you even have two stockings, like me:). Actually that's because my grandmother knitted me one when I was born (which is the fifth object, not pictured), but my mom accused her of using inferior wool, which is a grave insult, and knitted me another one. And thus was born, the Bird Santa (pictured below). It's a Santa, in the shape of a bird, as you can see. My mom can do two styles of Santa, the Bird Santa and the "traditional" Santa. We all have Bird Santas- they're the coolest. My brother and Brigham both have camels on their stockings- those are pretty cool too.

So thank you, Mama, for the gift of always knowing that of all the people in the world, I have the best Christmas stocking there is, complete with the original Bird Santa and a cashmere panda! I'm sure I'll never live up to your incredible knitting prowess, but I know I've got to try, in case you ever start trying to use substandard wool ;).


Green love, tenacious curls and a pair of strumming Erics

Yesterday we packed up the kids and went to tour the Duke Smart Home, which is an experimental house that will open as a dorm/live-in lab on campus this spring. It was SO COOL! Aside from being beautiful, in a mod sort of way, every aspect of the house was intelligently designed. For example, the exterior walls are covered with fibrous cement panels that never have to be painted or maintained in any way. There are 2-3 cm gaps between the panels. Normal houses, which are built to be as water- and air-tight as possible, inevitably do let some moisture in, which then can't evaporate, and ends up causing mold and other yucky problems. In the smart home, there is a waterproof "membrane" (very sci-fi) under the panels, but because of the gaps, water that gets in evaporates easily, and you never have things growing in your walls. The roof was designed to collect rain water and store it in two huge tanks next to the house. The water is then filtered and used in the toilets and washing machine. To me, the most impressive feature wasn't even technological: a trellis on the front porch planted with grape vines. They'll produce food, and in the summer, cut down on cooling costs by shading the house. Then in the winter the leaves will fall off and let light and heat through. So smart! Anyway, the whole experience was incredibly inspiring. At the end of the tour, they handed out compact fluorescent light bulbs- and since we had our kids with us, plus Carson and McKenzie, whom we were watching while our friends were out of town, we got enough for the five recessed lights in the boys' bedroom. It's ever-so-slightly blinding when you flick the lights on in there now, but the new bulbs use one-fourth the energy of the old ones, so we feel very virtuous:). Follow this link if you're interested in learning more: www.smarthome.duke.edu.

Having four kids for three days turned out to be amazingly fun, especially since McKenzie and Carson are SUCH good, sweet kids. Carson is a koala bear- he literally just stays clamped to you all day like one of those little clip-on koalas- it's as cute as it sounds. And McKenzie was SO patient with my fixation on doing her hair. Apparently fifteen years of straightening my own hair has made me a little cocky. When her mom, Lindsay, who has beautifully straight, shiny hair right out of the shower, complained about how impossible it is to straighten McKenzie's curls, I smugly concocted a plan to present her with a perfectly stick-straight McKenzie when she got home. So the curls and I went head-to-head. I used matrix shampoo and conditioner, followed by iron-smoother and straightening serum on the girl- she probably had a full ten dollars worth of product on her head. Finally, after twenty minutes with the blow-dryer, her hair was somewhat straight. Then she shook her head for some reason, and the curls came right back!!! I never did get the chance to try a flat iron though, so I'm still holding out hope for the next time they go out of town....

Here are the kids, all clean and ready for bed- note the curls!

Post-straightening...some progress

And they're back. But she's still adorable:)

Little Eric (or "small Eric", as McKenzie calls him) turned six last week. For his birthday he asked for and got his very first guitar. True to form, Big Eric found himself incapable of buying just any guitar, and had to (with help from Grammie, of course) get a half-size Martin. When the boys are interested in something that Eric happens to love, they must not have sub-standard equipment! I only hope we can get ourselves through grad-school before he starts building them thousand-dollar bikes. In all honesty though, it's incredibly cute to watch them playing together. Even worth the anxiety of one more thing the dog must be kept from destroying. Briggie is pretty uninterested in the whole guitar thing...I see him playing a brass instrument...maybe the trumpet or the tuba...and since I've already consumed an unhealthy amount of chocolate icing while writing this post and I should really stop, I'll leave you with that adorable mental image. :)


A Scary Day

So today was Halloween. I spent the morning bouncing happily between the boys' preschool classrooms, helping with Halloween parties, taking pictures at the school costume parade and just basking in the joy that is watching your kids play and learn and interact in a setting in which you are just a visitor, free to observe. I love Halloween. It's the only holiday that's just fun- no family obligations, no pressure to travel, no spiritual component. Just candy and scary stories and costumes and epic Micheal Jackson songs. And I got to spend it with my sweet little boys. The drive home from preschool was one of those rare moments when you realize how lucky you really are.

And then I walked in the house and checked my messages. There was one saying that a close friend of ours was in the hospital- he'd been in a bicycle accident on his way to school. He was found unconscious and no one knew what had happened. I can't explain the feelings I've been swimming in all day- they range from fear and anger that the streets my own husband bikes to school each day are such a dangerous place for cyclists, to pride in the way that our group of friends rallied to help, to deep admiration for our friend and his wife, who take everything that comes their way with incredible determination and faith. We are so lucky to know them. He's home from the hospital now, and although he's pretty banged up, hopefully will not have any permanent injuries. At the end of this long, scary day, I'm so grateful for my family and friends, and that they're all, if not unscathed, safe and warm tonight.


Why'd you have to be so cute?

One year ago today the world welcomed Mustang. I don't think I've ever mentioned him on our blog before, which is strange, because he's such a huge part of our lives, but I just have to take a moment to marvel at the wonder that is our golden retriever.

Eric grew up with a golden retriever named Chip (how cute is that?), so when we decided to get a dog for Christmas last year, nothing would do but a golden. I knew there would be fur all over us, the house, and everything we owned, but I thought that would be balanced out by the fact that the dog would lick up all the edible debris on the floor, of which we generally have a lot. Somehow, we ended up with the world's only anorexic dog. He does not lick up crumbs. He sniffs them and walks away. He often takes an entire day to finish one bowl of dog food (and no, we're not over-feeding him).

Eric brought him home on Christmas Eve, after the boys were asleep, and we hid him in our room all night, bringing him out after all the other presents had been opened. I must say that most of my excitement up until that point had centered around seeing the looks on their faces when I carried him into the living room with a big red bow around his neck. That and not having any more crumbs on my floor....sigh. But basically, I thought I would tolerate a dog for the sake of my children's emotional and psychological development. So I was floored by the love I felt for him almost immediately. Is it bad to say that I never felt that way with the boys when they were born? I think I was so overwhelmed by the immense responsibilities and life changes that accompany an actual child's birth, that I was unable to just enjoy their cuteness and smallness and snuggliness. That and the fact that I felt like I'd just been hit by a bus.

But after we got Mustang, I was almost euphoric- he was so cute and soft and just plain adorable, and his life did not revolve around sucking on me! I got to hold him and play with him and cuddle with him, and not once did I ever have to wake up in the middle of the night. Yes, he peed all over the floor. Yes, he went through a stage where he would try to pee on my foot (and no, I don't want to know what that means he thinks of me). Yes, he's eaten toy cars, bottle caps, small stuffed animals, a cereal bowl and my favorite flip-flops. But I can honestly say that I would not trade him for anything. As I write this, he's lying on his back at my feet, hind legs spread wide to the world- loyal and trusting and comical, even in his sleep. I hope I get to end every day for the next fourteen years chuckling at his random sleeping positions and petting his soft head goodnight.


Tri, tri again....

"Live to swim tomorrow." That's what the race director said as she canceled the swim part of our triathlon last weekend. Pretty disappointing. But, to be honest, those waves were SCARY. We had all gone out on Friday to test out our wetsuits and practice getting through the surf, and the general consensus was, "Are you kidding me?!" What we were doing was not really called swimming, it was called trying not to die. Not worth the risk. And we did still get to do the run and bike. Eric won his age-group, and tied with our friend Paul for fifth place overall in the run. I ran and biked hard and showed the 'pedals of death' who's boss. All of our friends racing with us had a great race, even though it wasn't the race we had all trained for. And I was SO looking forward to posting pictures of me in a wetsuit:). Something tells me I'll get another shot though....as Eric and I were getting our transition spots all laid out in the pre-dawn darkness, I had one of those moments where you stop and look around and say, "Yes. This is me." It's the feeling I get when I listen to James Taylor, or eat blackberry pie, or cross over the marsh on the way to my Mom's. If at first you don't succeed...

After the race with the winner of the male 25-29 age group...

How much fun was it to walk around with my number and age written on me for three days? A LOT!

The kids wanted numbers on their arms too :)...

Big waves on race morning...

And, cruelly, this is what the ocean looked like the next day...


What do meringues, horses and bike pedals have in common?

....They can smell fear. It's true...my cousin Nan, who used to be a professional baker, told Eric one time, as he was baking a cake, that meringues are like horses, you must be fearless in handling them or you're done for. Add clipless pedals to that apt analogy. My mom was kind enough to buy me some nice bike shoes to go with my new road bike for Christmas last year. They stayed in their box in the garage until yesterday, because you need special pedals to go with them, and pedals, like all bike components (they're just little pieces of metal for heaven's sake!!) are ridiculously expensive. I finally got some low-end pedals this week, and Eric put them on my bike yesterday morning. For those who don't know, you clip your shoe into the pedal, so that you're effectively stuck to your bike, until you clip out (so why are they called clipless pedals? I don't know). Anyway, Eric warned me before I tried them out that I'd probably fall a few times. I bit it a few feet out of the driveway, skinning my knee (the boys were thrilled when I took them to school with blood running down my leg), somehow cutting my ankle and scraping the pedals, which means I can't return them which means I have to use them. AND USE THEM I WILL!!!! I fell two more times yesterday, but as I live, those pedals will not get the best of me! I will not let them smell my fear. I will conquer them, and they will make me faster. Or at least make me look a little less like a novice:). Why am I doing this triathlon again?


Tears stream...

Reading Cailean's blog today reminded me of a funny thing that happened a few weeks ago. We were in the car driving to the mountains, it was dark out, the boys were both asleep in the back seat. I had the ipod plugged into the car radio and was listening to my downer playlist. You know, the songs you listen to when you feel sad and you want to wallow in your sadness instead of trying to feel better. The song "Fix You" by Coldplay came on. Toward the end Eric noticed that Brigham was awake, and looked like he was trying really hard not to cry. We kept asking him what was wrong and he wouldn't tell us, but continued to do the mouth puckering, blinking back tears, voice cracking thing. I could tell his little heart was breaking, but I couldn't figure out why. Finally I asked him, Briggie, did the song make you cry? He nodded his head. I would never have guessed that a four-year-old could have such emotional depth....and, more importantly, such good taste in music:).


Tagged, and the return of cadet Habib

I've been tagged...

Jobs I've had:
1. Front desk person at a health club
2. Lifeguard
3. Waitress
4. Camp counselor
5. Mom

Places I've lived:
1. Durham, NC
2. North Potomac, MD
3. Seattle, WA (sniff, sniff)

Favorite Places I've traveled:
1. Egypt
2. France
3. Switzerland
4. Italy
5. Costa Rica
6. Venezuela

Places I want to visit:
1. Brazil
2. England
3. Italy and France again...can never have too much Gothic architecture or Renaissance painting.

Movies I could watch over and over again:
1. The one true movie...Pride and Prejudice:)
2. The Painted Veil
3. Dirty Dancing (can quote almost the entire movie)
4. Shag

Books I could read over and over again:
1. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
3. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer
4. Fair and Tender Ladies (Lee Smith)

Favorite shows:
1. This American Life (radio...we don't have a TV right now)
2. The Office (my friends got me hooked)
3. My So-Called Life (my old favorite from high school)

Favorite websites:
1. itunes.com
3. washingtonpost.com
4. adamhabib.com (my brother's website...check it out...it's so cool!)
5. totalimmersion.net
6. www.usatf.org/routes (America's running routes)
7. goodreads.com

Places I'd rather be right now:
1. running on the Burke-Gilman trail
2. swimming in the Cowpasture river
3. getting a massage
4. picking blackberries in Magnusen park

Favorite Foods:
1. Henry Weinhard's rootbeer
2. cream (in any form...I'd even drink it straight!)
3. Indian food
4. Cosmic Cantina burritos
5. pretzels dipped in marshmallow cream

People I tag:
1. Eryn
2. Mercedes
3. Andrea

I have learned how to work the scanner! Which means I can post these two pictures:

The other day Eric and Brigham were playing with the boy next door. This kid thinks he's pretty cool. So when he came to the door and said that the boys had told him I used to be in the Army, implying that he didn't believe them, Eric dug these pictures out of the attic. Shhhh...don't tell him it was actually just R.O.T.C! Exhibit A is a picture of me and my M-16. It was the laughing stock of the end-of-year R.O.T.C. slide show, because, as you can see, it looks for all the world like I have a big hunk of chewing tobacco in my mouth. I have no explanation for that other than to say that I've never chewed tobacco! The second picture is of my friend Erin and me the very first time we ever put on our BDU's. I can still remember the two of us giggling at ourselves hysterically along with my roomate Kelly, who took the picture. R.O.T.C. was one of those things for me where you're doing something that is SO not even close to your norm, that you end up having the time of your life. I learned how to take apart, reassemble and fire an M-16, how to properly throw a grenade, how to construct a tent out of a poncho and 550 chord, how to get across a river using a rope and two trees, how to polish boots, and I even got to ride in a Blackhawk. Had I not met Eric my sophomore year, I think I might actually have gone on to make a pretty decent officer. I gained SO much respect for those who serve in the military. And hey- I've got two sons...maybe one day my grenade launching skills will come in handy:).


Strange things going on in the shower...

I think I'm losing my mind. I have forgotten, lost and just plain messed up so many things in the last three weeks I'm afraid to get out of bed in the morning. It started when I put my cell phone on top of the car and it fell off while Eric was driving to school the next morning. I found the mangled battery half way down our street a few days later. Kind of a problem when you don't have a land line (so if you need to call me, call Eric's phone- 919 638 6216 for now). Then I lost my sunglasses and the garage door opener. Then yesterday I paid a bill from the wrong bank account and racked up hundreds of dollars in NSF fees. This morning I was supposed to pick up a handicapped lady in our ward for church and completely forgot. For the second time. To top it all off, the boys stood up during "good news" time at primary today, and proudly proclaimed what was first interpreted as "We peed on our Mom in the shower," but was then clarified, "We beat our Mom in the shower." Either way, you can imagine the reaction in a room full of three- to eight-year olds. Apparently, no one really knew what they were talking about or what to say, so the teacher just nodded and said, "how nice" and sent them back to their seats. You see, last night, in an attempt to get them into bed quickly, I told them I'd race them... if they could finish showering before me, they would win a prize. They won, and they were so proud, they wanted to share it during primary. I guess when we start getting turned down for play dates with kids in our ward, I'll know why:).

On a good note, I can now swim half a mile in the pool without stopping, which is a huge accomplishment, since I started out a few weeks ago being able to do one length. My training buddies, Lindsay and Cami are too nice to laugh at me in my bathing cap, ear plugs and nose clip (I look like ridiculousness personified-I hate water up my nose!). But I just have to vent about something...I hope they'll forgive me. Actually, I've noticed this about most of my LDS friends...they wear SHORTS over their bathing suits! Why? Why do Mormon women wear shorts in the pool!? I asked my friends and they both said they didn't like their thighs. I can certainly relate to that. My thighs and I have had a tumultuous relationship, but after much angst, we've made our peace. I just don't care anymore that my body doesn't fit the shape that society, the beauty industry and my own insecurities want it to fit. My thighs have done a lot for me over the course of my life. And when I look back on the women and girls I've admired the most, you know what? A lot of them had big thighs. So, Mormon women of the world, this challenge goes out to you: throw out your swimming shorts. Let your thighs see the light of day. Give them the respect and love they deserve.

In other news, this weekend Eric camped out with some friends for Duke bball tickets. With an RV, tons of free food, a big screen TV and a personal visit from Coach K, they didn't exactly rough it. As undergrads we had to camp in tents for weeks just to get into one game. We were merciless in our ridicule of the grad students, who "camped" for two days for season tickets, but I have to say, I liked this way much better. The wives and kids came for a BBQ on Saturday night, which was lots of fun.

If you're wondering what that white thing that Eric's holding is, it's a "machine gun" that he and the boys constructed from PVC pipe...someone please rescue me from boy-land:).

Here are some pictures from my birthday...

And some more from a Durham Bulls game we went to...


Fish Jesus and the baby Weevils...

The other day the boys were sitting at the counter eating their lunch, while I rustled around in the kitchen. Eric told me that his class fish had died, and he seemed pretty sad about it. I tried to cheer him up by telling him that the fish is in fish-heaven now. Brigham thought about this for a moment and said, "Is there a fish-Jesus there?" The mental picture of a little fish with sandals and a beard had me in fits for a good 10 minutes. The teachers bought two new fish for the class, and Eric thought up the name "Milkshake" for one, because it had a white tummy. He was really proud that the class chose his name when they voted. They're studying whales, and one of their projects was to make a fluke (which, if you didn't know, is a whale tale) out of paper and decorate it by squeezing paint on it and then folding it in half. Eric decided to name his "Creamy", because that's what the paint reminded him of. He thinks up the cutest names:).

Another funny story- I was driving the boys home from school and a song we didn't know came on the radio. I turned it way up when I saw Eric nodding his head in the back seat (because, I am a blaster of the radio), but when I heard the second bleeped out word, I had to change the station. Eric said he liked that song and asked why I changed it, so I told him that it had some bad words in it. He said, "Oh, which ones?" I said, "Words I don't want to say out loud so I'm not going to tell you." Eric accepted this, but after about 30 seconds Brigham said, "Oh come ON.....just tell us one!"

One last story...yesterday after church, the boys were in their room having quiet time, and Eric and I were in the kitchen just hanging out. I opened up a can of Irish oats and started making some to keep in the fridge for breakfasts this week. Eric started eating handfuls, leaving the opened can on the counter. I heard him say, through a mouthful of oats, "OH Katie", in a way that made me think he was about to throw up. I walked over and saw what he was looking at: a little larva-type thing was dangling from the inside edge of the can. We searched the rest of the oats and found 4 or 5 of them....yuck! Eric did some research online and thinks they're weevil larvae. He wants me to drive to the store where I bought them (which is 45 minutes away) and demand that they refund my money, plus some, or else I call the health inspector. I love his ability to be righteously indignant over oatmeal:).


"I don't look any bigger!"

That's what my little brother, Adam, said while standing in front of the mirror on the morning of his fourth birthday. Thankfully, I can say the same thing today, on my twenty-seventh ;). I have high hopes for today. Eric's planning on having some friends over and grilling tonight. We both know that this is a re-do of my disastrous first birthday of our marriage. I was already sad about turning twenty, because I wouldn't be a teenager anymore. Then Eric decided to plan a suprise party for me, and to enhance my joy and surprise by pretending to forget my birthday altogether. It ended with me having a big crying fit and him laughing hysterically and telling me about the party. I had to fake being surprised and I think my eyes were still puffy. So today, no surprises and no pretending to forget my birthday- a healing experience all around:). And I got a toy! It's a Garmin GPS watch to wear while I'm running and biking- so I won't get lost and I'll know how far I've gone and how fast. It's fun:). I'm determined to be really careful with it- I have a bad track record with small, expensive electonics that includes the unfortunate disappearance of a palm pilot and the inexplicable deaths of two ipods. Not this time!

The best part is how I found out about it. I came home from running errands on Saturday and Eric and little Eric left right away to go to a birthday party. When I walked into the kitchen and said hello to Brigham the first words out of his mouth were, "Mama, there's a watch and it's a surprise for you!" Then, a few minutes later, while we were reading a story, he looked up at me and said, "Do you want to see where we hid it?" Of couse I said yes (I may be 27, but I'm still a kid at heart), so he showed it to me. When Eric gave it to me I told him the whole story and he said that Brigham had sworn up and down that he wouldn't tell me about my present! He's a cute little liar though.

All in all, this last year of my life has been a big one for growth and change...maybe one of the biggest. So I'm adding an item to my list of things I'll never do (which includes things like, I'll never by anti-aging cream and, I'll never cry over a haircut): I'll never lament my birthday, no matter how old I get.


"If you listen without fear..."

"...you find that when he stands close to you, your life becomes a song, a praise. When he touches you, your smallest talents become gold; the most ordinary loves break your heart with their beauty."

That's from a book I just finished called Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt. I haven't been able to get this notion of death out of my head. When you hear someone, at a funeral, or in a newspaper article, talk about someone who's just died, doesn't the person who was lost always sound so amazing? I've always been a little cynical about eulogies...of course you're not going to badmouth a dead person in front of all their friends and family. But after reading this book I started to think that maybe only when death is near are we really able to see each other clearly. The only person I've ever lost or been afraid of losing was my grandfather, so I can't say that I have much experience with death. And I wonder if it's possible, without death looking over your shoulder, to see the amazing good in those around you and understand the bad for what it is- fear and ignorance, mostly. And what if we could see ourselves that way?

In other, lighter news, Eric and I are having so much fun training for our triathlon in October. The only thing that has me worried is the swim, which is a 1/2 mile in the ocean. I can run until the sun goes down, and I think I can handle myself on a bike, but I'm just not a swimmer. To be frank, my butt sinks. I have to expend so much energy just to stay on top of the water that moving forward is kind of a bonus at this point. But, that's what it's all about right? If I was already good at everything, then life would be boring. That's what I tell myself in the pool as the eighty-year-old woman in the next lane does flip turns while I cough and sputter at the end of every lap:). I did get a new speedo and goggles for my birthday (thanks K-team!), so maybe that will help. At least I'll look fast. Luckily, elementary backstroke is allowed...


Invisible Woman?

I started to read this story that came to me in an email this morning and I thought, "Wah, wah, wah...another whiny stay-at-home mom rant." I hate those....I think my job is hard enough as it is, without someone else pointing out all the low points. But then I kept reading, and was really uplifted. My all-time favorite class in college was Gothic cathedrals, and I think it's a great analogy, even if a little romanticized (I remember learning that cathedral construction was a pretty sordid process, with a lot of forced labor involved). I don't want my children to grow up and think about all the hundreds of times I folded their clothes or drove them to school or cleaned pee off the wall behind their toilet (when will they learn to aim!!??). I just want them to know that they are special and that their parents love them. That said, the day I walk into a room and am ignored because the television is on is the day I unplug the television and throw it out the window!

Also, I'm posting a "before" picture of the chair that I'm re-upholstering with my friend Lindsay. Hopefully we'll have an "after" to post soon. Happy Labor Day!

Perspective: The Invisible Woman
By Nicole Johnson

It started to happen gradually. One day, I was walking my son Jake to school. I was holding his hand, and we were about to cross the street when the crossing guard said to him, "Who is that with you, young fella?"

"Nobody," he shrugged.

"Nobody?" said the crossing guard, and I laughed. My son is only 5, but as we crossed the street I thought, "Oh, my goodness, nobody?"

I would walk into a room, and no one would notice. I would say something to my family like, "Turn the TV down, please," - and nothing would happen. Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I would stand there for a minute, and then I would say again, a little louder, "Would someone
turn the TV down?"


Just the other night, my husband and I were out at a party. We'd been there for about three hours, and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was talking to a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a break in the conversation, I whispered, "I'm ready to go when you are."

He just kept right on talking.

That's when I started to put all the pieces together. I don't think he can see me. I don't think anyone can see me. I'm invisible.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"

Obviously not! No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible.

Some days, I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?" I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?" I'm a car to order,
"Right around 5:30, please."

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude -but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She's going-- she's going-- she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England . Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip, and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this."

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe . I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: "To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

* No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.
* These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
* They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
* The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam! He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one
will ever see it."

And the workman replied, "Because God sees."

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table."

That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, "You're gonna love it there."

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices
of invisible women.


"My hallucinatory Edwards were usually better fed..."

Last night I had book group. When I saw the sea of cars parked outside my friend's apartment, I knew we were in for an interesting night. The book we read is called Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. I should say books though, because almost everyone had also read the two sequels, New Moon and Eclipse. Poor Eric is still recovering from the week I spent reading and obsessing about them to the exclusion of him, the kids and all household duties. I'm going to start calling them the crack books- you can't put them down! He actually hid Eclipse from me and wouldn't give it back until I made dinner. So, I recommend them, with the caveat that they are pretty badly written (it's the characters and plot that are so compelling) and the suggestion that you do laundry and clean the house first. In all seriousness though, I loved the underlying message that love really does conquer all.


Summertime catch-up

A summary of our summer: We kicked things off with a beach trip to Emerald Isle, NC with five other families (heretofore known as "the beach house crew"). I was apprehensive about all those kids and adults packed into one beach house, but we ended up having an incredible time and are already plotting our return. See, my problem was that I grew up going, first, to my grandparents cottage on the Outer Banks, and then to my mom's beach house in South Carolina, so to me, a beach house is of normal size- not a fun place to be with 30+ people. I had only ever glimpsed those gigantic beach rentals (what my mom lovingly refers to as "monstrosities") from the outside. Yeah. Turns out they're pretty dang nice on the inside, with more than enough room for you and however many of your closest friends you care to invite. Ours had a theater room and a pool, and was right on the beach. Briggie had his 4th birthday there.

After that, we did my mom's wedding, another trip down to her place in July, and a wonderful visit from my Dad. Then came what I will refer to as the "what-the-heck-were-we-thinking-taking-all-these-trips-so-close-together?!" period. I went with my family to the mountains of Virginia, where I spent all of my summers growing up at sleep-away camp. (Eryn- wish I had some pics of that so I could illuminate an East coast mystery for you:). As soon as I got home, Eric went to Chicago for two weeks for a course, and I turned around and went right back up to Virginia with the boys and a friend and her little girl. Then I went out to Chicago to visit Eric for the weekend. When he got home we decided we weren't travelling anywhere until Christmas, at least. Of course I already miss the beach and am trying to convince him to make one last trip while the weather's nice :).

So that was our summer. School started for Eric and the boys this week, and, I have to say, HALLELUJAH!!! I now have every morning from 9-12 free. So I'm going to start re-learning how to swim, in preparation for a triathlon we're planning on doing in October. Eric promised to stop racing and save me if I start to drown:).

More wedding pics

Here are the bride and groom...yep, a kilt and a Vietnamese wedding dress...I told you my family's nuts!

Beach wedding

So here are some pictures from my mom's wedding back in May. She and Jeff got married on the beach on Isle of Palms, SC, where they live. It was a really special weekend and we all had a great time. I made the wedding cake, with help from my cousin, Laura and our 2nd (?) cousin, Nan, who used to be a professional baker. It was touch and go for a while, but in the end it tasted great and looked pretty darn good (a little lopsided, but as my grandmother always says, that's how you know it's not store-bought!). The pictures were all taken by my brother's good friend, Suzanne.