Sunday, December 30, 2007

Countdown to the New Year: Meme 2

December 30, 2007

I didn't have to search far for the next New Year's Meme. Heidi from Mt. Hope Chronicles has the perfect one today: One Little Word.

What One Little Word might you choose for this coming year? I have a small collection of little stones with the word "Imagine" engraved on each one. Imagine, if you will, that you could have one stone with one word which you come to again and again in this next year. I like what Heidi says about this:

"One word for a whole year might be a stretch for me. How can I limit myself to one little word? But maybe that is the point. That one little word, when used as a focus, could be like a continuous drip of water upon a stone."

I knew instantly what my choice is for my one little word.


I find myself slipping too often into Getting Things Done---without enjoying the journey. There is tremendous joy in the simplicity of the ancient arts of keeping a house, raising children, and being a wife. Joy in being a friend and in helping and serving. Joy in being able, simply, to read a book or connect with friends over the internet. And so that is my word that I shall etch into my stone this year. It occurs to me that "enjoy" may sound selfish; but I know that joy is a thing passed quickly from one to another. And I can't think of much I'd rather spread than a joyful life.

So...what's your word for 2008? Post it in the comments or blog about it and post your link here.

(And thanks, Heidi, for this great idea!)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Countdown to the New Year: Meme 1

December 28, 2007

What better way to bid adieu to one year and welcome in a new than by a series of memes? (That was rhetorical. Please don't give me any smart-pants answers.)

So here is the first one.
1) Look back to your archives for 2007.
2) Collect the first sentence you wrote every month for the whole year. (This doesn't have to be the literal first day of the month--just the first post.)
3) Entertain us on your blog, link back here, and post a comment here with the link to your blog. (And if you're blogless, just remember the first sentence you spoke every month for the whole year and post it here.)

And here are mine:

Subtitled "How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less," this book by Terry Ryan tells the story of how Evelyn Ryan kept her family from pure poverty by submitting advertising jingles and winning contests back in the 40s and 50s.

February: At long last, a smidgen of snow--but a smidgen goes a long way to satisfy these poor Southern children who have no concept of an actual "big snow."

March: I know a lot of homeschooling families, including mine, who maintain that "flexibility" is one of the reasons they chose to homeschool.

April: It was bad enough that Laurel said to me this evening, "Who IS Rumpelstilskin, anyway?"

May: I love this week's flowers.

June: I like when friends come to my door bearing food.

July: I am back in the swing of things.

My brother Stephen and I were in college together for two years, and during that time we made many trips from New York to Tennessee and back again.

I've been slacking off again on my Project 365, so to make up for it, here are not only Weeks 34& 35, but also a special birthday edition featuring my beautiful girl.

The mountains have always held something inexpressible for me.

I am an avid proponent of Sonlight I fell in love with it the day it was introduced to me and have never looked back.

Another icon of my childhood is gone.

If you want to be extra clever, you can make your entry into a blog cloud here at Snapshirts.

Wasn't that fun? Your turn!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Birthday #2, or The Day After Christmas

December 27, 2007

Dr. H. is a good sport. Not a good enough sport that he'd go out shopping on the day after Christmas, but Dollywood sounded fun to him, and so, since we only have a few days left on our season pass, that's what we did on his birthday.

If only Jesse had gone with us instead of shopping, we could have had our Christmas card for next year already.

The Lumberjack ride. Duncan said this was "very relaxing."

That ride was too tame for Laurel, so she saved up energy for Thunderhead. She's a rollercoaster girl. "Too relaxing" rides make her fall asleep.

It was a nice day. The weather was perfect, although we weren't dressed warmly enough. (45 is awfully chilly in the South.) We opted out of Dollywood passes for the upcoming year, but we look forward to going again in a couple of years.

Back at home, though stuffed with corn dogs, we insisted that Dr. H. eat cake. (Look familiar? What person in her right mind would make two birthday cakes at Christmas?)

It's been 18 years since Dr. H. had a new backpack and his old one had grown worn. Now he is ready for a few days of solitude in the mountains. (Come to think of it, anyone who braves Dollywood on the day after Christmas needs a few days of solitude...)

And now life resumes to a semblance of normalcy. For a day, anyway, until we pack up and head to Charlotte on Saturday.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

December 26, 2007
Birthday Boy
Duncan at 1

Duncan at 7

I like my new phone, but nope, I still didn't get a Christmas present that tops this one. And he's still my baby.


By George Macdonald (1824–1905)

WHERE did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.

Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.

What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
Some of the starry spikes left in.

Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.

What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand strok’d it as I went by.

What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than any one knows.

Whence that three-corner’d smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.

Where did you get this pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear.

Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into bonds and bands.

Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs’ wings.

How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.

But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Memory: Christmas Eve, 2000

December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve, seven years ago, I remember being at Christmas Eve service at church, absolutely filled to capacity: with abundant joy, the thrill of anticipation, and apprehension. I also felt a tremendous kinship with Mary, and, like Mary, I was treasuring all these things in my heart.

And I was thinking, "I'm not really going to have this baby on Christmas Day, am I?"

I wonder why I was so opposed to having a baby on Christmas Day. It makes the day all the more special. And the picture above was actually taken on New Year's Eve, Duncan's first night home. I can still smell that sweet baby. And I'm still pondering in my heart and treasuring.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Am I Good At?

December 23, 2007

I get a kick out of Jen's postings about Noah's prayers.Tonight Duncan had a classic one:

"Dear God,
Thank you for Daddy, who can fix things like lights.
Thank you for LoLo, who gave me her night-light when she didn't want it anymore.
Thank you for Jesse, who is on the computer all day.
And thank you for Mommy, who.....

"Um, Mommy, what are YOU good at?"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Things to Do

December 22, 2007

The holidays, as in "days of rest," have at last kicked in around here. All the big events are completed. The kids are done with all performances, there are no more parties to attend or host, and no more events. Dr. H., who loves his job, actually stayed home yesterday. That was quite exciting, since we actually were still having school and he got to join in the fun. Much to his delight, Jesse was finishing up his biology, and this chapter happened to be on genetics. Saying "genetics" to Randy is like saying to me "So-and-so is thinking about homeschooling and wants to talk to you." We get all giddy and have little happy smiles on our faces. And so Randy got to help Jesse with his genetics chapter, and then he even got to grade his test for him.

In the afternoon we went to see a stunning performance of A Christmas Carol at UT's The Clarence Brown Theatre. Absolutely phenomenal. My parents went to see it a couple of weeks ago and were so impressed that they bought tickets for our whole family. Have I ever mentioned how awesome my parents are? After the play we wandered a bit on campus because we never, ever do that. Parking is a nightmare on campus, so the kids and I rarely visit Dr. H at his office. Perhaps now that Duncan is older we can manage the 22 mile straight uphill hike from the parking garage to Dr. H's building a little more often.

Back home after the play, Dr. H. fixed his amazing fettucine alfredo and chicken marsala while I read a book and dozed off. After this marvelous supper, my mother and I had tea by the Christmas tree while Dr. H. did dishes and cleaned the kitchen. These are moments when one must simply sigh with utter bliss and gratefulness.

Today will be a grueling day. Here's what's on my list:
1. Blog.
2. Reads blogs.
3. Read the newspaper.
4. Play Bogglific and Scrabble online.
5. Read my book.
6. Finish that book and start a new one.
7. Perhaps bake some more Christmas cookies. We're all out.
8. Wrap a few presents.
9. Read some more.
10. Blog some more.

I may add in a few more things, like pay attention to the kids and go for a walk. Maybe. Wrapping and baking may be all the exertion I can take.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ornament and Cookie Exchange

December 21, 2007

Last night was our support group's annual Ornament and Cookie Exchange party. Traditionally this fabulous event is hosted by Blogless Leigh. This year, however, her home was in a potential state of disrepair (i.e., plumbing issues), so I volunteered to provide the gathering spot, while she continued to play hostess. We begin with an assortment of finger foods (thanks to Caroline and Blogless Leigh for helping me out with those!) and launch into games.

Leigh is a fabulous game-finder. In the photo above, the ladies are playing a game in which you must figure out a Christmas song by a rather twisted cartoon picture. This year Leigh also took a popular game and gave it a homeschool moms' twist. She has granted me her permission to print this here, because it really is perfect for homeschoolers. In this game, participants stand in a circle(s). (We had over 20 people and so formed 2 circles.) Each circle gets a gift, and the following story is read. Whenever the words "right" or "left" are read, the participants pass the gift to the person on their left or right, depending on the word. The person who is holding the gift at the end of the story gets to keep the gift. And the story:

Christmas was coming, RIGHT away! All the homeschool moms were asking, "How much school do you have LEFT?" We all wanted to finish RIGHT now, but some of us had Biology LEFT, and algebra LEFT, and three chapters LEFT in our history book, and we couldn't stop RIGHT at the good part! Some of us LEFT our schoolwork undone, and some of us LEFT our housework undone to make cookies every afternoon! I heard one Grandpa say, "These sugar cookies are RIGHT good!" and one Dad say, "I hope you LEFT some for me!"

The homeschooled kids were asking their moms, "How much school DO we have LEFT?" All the kids were LEFT wondering, "Does making cookies and ornaments really count for school?" and all the homeschooled moms were wondering, "Is this the RIGHT thing to do or will I be LEFT with regrets?"

Most of us will tell you the RIGHT decision is LEFT up to each family. We hope this time of year you are LEFT with some sanity. May you feel like you are making the RIGHT decisions and not LEFT with any doubts. We hope you have picked all the RIGHT gifts, wrapped up with all the RIGHT tags, and have all your cards labeled with the RIGHT addresses. We hope you celebrate with the RIGHT spirit this Christmas. I guess there is nothing LEFT to say except Merry Christmas, RIGHT?

So that was lots of fun. People are always happy to win a little prize, and it's great to see the competitive natures of these normally calm moms take over as they get into Game Mode. After all the games, we have a knock-down-drag-out-fight to politely exchange ornaments. Somehow, year after year, BrownSugar falls madly in love with an ornament that gets stolen from her over and over again. I wish I could buy her all the ornaments that have been so brutally stolen from her...

And then, finally, the cookie exchange itself. Everyone brings two dozen cookies and takes two dozen home. I believe ours are all gone now. I am telling you, we are complete cookie gluttons around here. It is truly frightening to thinking about how many cookies have been consumed in this household in the past two weeks. Thank goodness Small World's maximum weight capacity is being revamped.

I sure had a fun evening. Have I mentioned how much I love having such an incredible support group? I find it so encouraging to have such a diversity of women in our group, and last night's attendance of 22 was a microcosm of our group of 220 families. We had moms who have been homeschooling for 20 years and moms who are brand new; moms who are grandmothers and moms with toddlers. We come from various parts of the country, have different educational backgrounds and cultural experiences, and go about homeschooling in many different ways. But we meet like this and feel immediate comfort and acceptance. We speak a language that is familiar and don't worry about offending or compromising. It's a good place to be.

And cookies make it even better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Making Christmas Cookies

December 19, 2007

Like most people, much of our Christmas preparation revolves around baking. I do stop to ponder occasionally--what possesses me to bake endless batches of cookies in the weeks preceding Christmas? It really makes no sense; yet I am powerless to cease this time-honored Tradition. (OK, Fiddler on the Roof fans, stop singing.)

And so while Dr. H. is busy filling out his Survivor application at work, we are once again firing up the oven for another afternoon baking extravaganza. But while the butter softens, I thought I should post some photos from our sugar cookie bake-a-thon.

We've always made sugar cookies and decorate with frosting and all kinds of sprinkles and such. (I admit to buying frosting in a can. My homemade icing always tastes like onions. Please don't try to figure that out.) Dr. H. is not a fan of frosting, so we always make a bunch of sugar-only-topped cookies for him. This is just so incredibly much fun. Here is my sugar cookie recipe. It is absolutely perfect.

Never Fail Sugar Cookies

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter (don't even think about using margarine)
3/4 c. Crisco
3 T. milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix dry ingredients as in for pie crust and cut in shortening. Add remaining ingredients. Chill for at least an hour. Roll out about 1/4 inch on a floured board and cut into shapes. Bake at 375 for about 8 minutes. Don't overbake. Cool and frost.

Aren't they beautiful? The other day we made about 4 dozen cookies and ate them all in one stinking day. We may not be SmallWorld much longer.

Well, I am an avid reader of The Pioneer Woman and last week or so she posted her Favorite Christmas Cookie recipe, so I thought I should give it a try. I pretty much adore everything on her site, so although I love my recipe, I thought the painted version of the cookie looked fun.

Painting the cookies with egg yolk and food coloring before baking was fun and different and much less messy than using frosting. But we all agreed that the taste of our traditional sugar cookie is better. And I really have a thing about frosting, so the little dabs on these cookies didn't cut it for me. Still, the process was fun and we'll likely do this again next year.

The ultimate verdict: Opa likes both versions of the Christmas Sugar Cookie. He agrees that this is one tradition that must continue. Daily. And so I'm off now to make Jam Diagonals. Dr. H. is drooling, because this is the absolute Queen of All Christmas Cookies. I might save him a couple...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Memory: Brothers

I am the last of five children in my family, and the only girl, and that's how I like things. Being the only girl and the baby of the family largely defined me as a child. As any parent who has more than one child knows, the youngest always identifies him/herself in terms of his/her older siblings. For my youngest, considering his siblings is natural and unprompted. If he has candy, he automatically divvies it up. If he is going someplace, the others are going, as well. A few times we've taken him somewhere by himself as a "treat," and he wonders the whole time what his brother and sister are doing.

But back to brothers. I have heard one of these two responses innumerable times upon sharing that I am the baby and the only girl: It's either 1) "Oh, you must have been spoiled rotten!" or 2) "Oh, that must have been terrible! They must have been so mean to you!"
My reply to #1: I always knew I was well loved.
My reply to #2: No, three-fourths of them were never mean to me. And I always knew I was well loved.

I love spending time with my brothers, even my eccentric oldest brother. I think they are funny, and nice, and generous people. Three of them are quite quirky and opinionated, and they are all full of ideas. Their minds never stop thinking up new projects, and, like me, they are often completely relaxed in the midst of a frenzy of activity. If you were to meet as a group, you would never question that we are siblings.

And so here they are:

James is 16 years older than I am. This photo was taken 15 or 20 years ago when he was living in a tepee on his orchard. I have a hard time explaining James, but here is an entry that skims the surface. When I was a child, James took me to piano lessons in his red convertible Spitfire. He did backflips in the living room and called my Mom, "Mother." He lived in our basement with his wife, and things were never easy.

This is John, about 30-35 or so years ago. I like to remember John from this time period. John was nearly 13 when I was born, so he was in his late teens before I have much of a memory of him. But I remember his long hair and how he would sing and play his guitar for hours. I loved the songs he brought home with him from college, like Loggins and Messina's "Danny's Song" and CSNY 's "Our House." He introduced me to JRR Tolkien and George McDonald and had cats named Gandalf, Bilbo, and Meriadoc. And John was always very, very funny.

I love this picture because I remember that wallpaper and Peter's glasses. I like to see evidence that things really did exist as they do in my memory. (And my mother still has that same electric skillet.) Peter is nine years older than I am, and he's probably about 12 in this picture. Peter was good and kind and thoughtful, and he has grown up to be a good and kind and thoughtful man. He is the brother who isn't quirky and highly opinionated, although his wife might disagree. (And I guess building a sauna in one's garage might be considered eccentric.) Still, it's all relative, and he's the son my mother worries about the least.

And then there is Stephen. I've blogged about him a lot: here and here and here and here just for starters. Stephen and I are just two years (and five days) apart, and so our childhood is completely intertwined. More than being the only girl of five, I was Stephen's sister. We entered our lives together, and breathed fog onto windows and drove matchbox cars on the bed and wore our yellow snow suits and red boots. We played the piano and played hide-n-seek and ate popcorn. I am not sure I could have been a happier child.

So, yeah. I like brothers. Yes, I did have imaginary sisters named Rebekah and Rachel, but they were unformed, fleeting girls. Real brothers have much more substance.

Linked up on Show Us Your Life

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dave Ramsey, Heading into Year 3

I'm two weeks past our Dave Ramsey anniversary, but I haven't had adequate time to sit and figure all of this out until now. Two years ago we started Dave Ramsey's amazing Total Money Makeover plan. You can read all about our first year, during which we paid off a whopping $11, 113 here.

Drum-roll, please. This year we paid off another $12,760. That is a two-year total of $23,873.

Well, sort of. Unfortunately, we had to incur some debt this year. Having to buy two cars in one day will do that to you. So, even though we did pay off $12,760, we actually only made progress of a little over $6000. Still, that's $6000 in the right direction. And then there was that emergency fund. Oh, we were so happy for that emergency fund this year, and we had to replenish it over and over. First there was the new refrigerator, then the $2000 transmission (you know, the transmission on that van that got totaled a week later), the new water heater, the repair work on the new van, and, finally, the oven. And what astounds me is that we had the cash to pay for all of that stuff: because Dave Ramsey showed us how.

First of all, we both read his Total Money Makeover two years ago. (Right now, just in time for Christmas, Dave is running a $10 special on every book he sells, including TMM!) Then we began the baby steps to financial freedom:
• $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund.
And during this past year, we have used that emergency fund many times (see above). For all of those things, we paid CASH (which means that we had to replenish the Emergency Fund on several occasions).
Next, we began tracking all of our expenses and created a budget a la Dave Ramsey. After tracking our expenses for a few months, we began using the envelope system for everything except for those bills we pay by mail. This has helped us with Baby Step #2:
• Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball.
Dave’s system is to pay off the smallest debts first so that you feel successful. It really does work. We have two debts slated to be paid off in the next few months, and then we can tackle the Biggie (AKA, the student loan). It may be a long time until we get to the next several steps (although we do have some college funding going for the kids):
• Three to six months of expenses in savings
• Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
• College funding for children
• Pay off home early
• Build wealth and give!

We still have a long way to go. That's what happens when you take out student loans for six years (post-graduate) and put a piano (among other things) on your credit card. The credit cards are paid off; we're whittling away now at the student loans. But we've made huge progress, and more than anything else, we have financial sense. We only use cash, and we are serious about our monthly budget.

Dave's favorite word is FREEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOMMMM, and we are tasting it. People have said to us, "How can you stand to be strapped down to a budget?" As parents, we know that kids do better with a structured life. They have freedom in knowing what is expected of them. It's the same way with finances: we feel a sense of relief knowing that this is what we have to spend--and no more.

I am so tremendously thankful for Dave's plan. Randy and I were both raised to be good stewards of our finances, but we did not really understand what this meant until it was too late. I know I shouldn't say this (Dave wouldn't approve), but I don't regret the student loans. Because of the loans, I was able to stay at home with our two little ones while Randy worked on his PhD, and I also finished my master's degree. God has given us abundant blessings through Randy's hard work and ensuing PhD. I'm sure there are things we could have done differently, but I wouldn't give up being a SAHM for anything. That said, without finding Dave Ramsey, we might have continued down a spend-more-than-you-make path for a long, long time.

I don't see the light at the end yet, but I do have faith it's there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Best Christmas Memory

December 13, 2007

I'm not much of a blog contest participant because I pretty much never win contests, but this one is so easy for me. And who knows? I could even win a $50 gift certificate. This contest by Eclectic Education calls for "your best Christmas as a parent" memory.

So here's why this is so easy: I had a baby on Christmas Day. It's one of the most common questions asked in any group as an ice-breaker: "Tell about the best Christmas present you've ever received." No one can ever top my gift, as having a baby on Christmas Day easily surpasses the shiniest bike or even Ralphie's (of "The Christmas Story") long-coveted BB gun.

I didn't really expect to have a baby on Christmas Day, even though the ultrasound clearly gave December 25 as my due date. Who ever has a baby on her due date? I should have known, though. My first was due on March 29th and born on the 27th; my second was due on August 27th and born on the 29th. It would only make sense that the one due on the 25th would actually be born on the 25th!

The baby was generous enough that morning to wait until after the older two had opened their presents. I didn't head to the hospital until noon of Christmas Day. Duncan James was born a little after 5 p.m., weighing in as plump as a Christmas turkey at 10 lbs. But not all was tidy and sweet. Duncan had aspirated meconium in utero and was whisked off by ambulance to the NICU at a different hospital, his daddy right there with him. I was left alone on Christmas Day, my precious gift struggling for breath.

I was released early the next day (Randy's birthday) and we spent the next six days in a fog of home and hospital, trusting that the Giver of all good and perfect gifts would restore ours to us. On New Year's Eve we brought our treasure home and placed him in the spot that seemed most natural: under the Christmas tree.

Duncan will be seven this Christmas Day, and, like Mary, I still "quietly treasure these things" in my heart and ponder them often. This blue-eyed boy is as generous today as he was the morning before his birth, bestowing his smile on all and bringing joy to his family's world throughout the year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The von Small Family Singers

December 12, 2007

This past Friday-Sunday was something new for us: Performance Weekend. I know many of my friends have been doing this since their little ones could fit into their first pair of tap shoes, but we entered this world for the first time this weekend--with all 3 kids.

Randy and I had to divide and conquer on Friday night. Jesse had an opportunity to play with his guitar teacher and his band, Eden's Way, at a concert up at The Vineyard in Knoxville. Jesse's only been playing for a year, and I have to say he amazes us. It's true that he has guitar-playing in his genetic pool, but still--it does a parent good to hear that love for music come through those fingers. Randy had a great time at the concert and arrived home without too much damage from all that head-banging.

And meanwhile, Laurel and I were on the other side of Knoxville for the first night of "Annie." She is part of the Southern Kids in Theatre (SKIT) first-ever Show Choir, and it has been a fabulous experience. The Show Choir opens for the show and then performs after intermission, before the second act. Like the rest of the cast, they spend great chunks of time hanging out in the Green Room. Above, she is with one of her best friends, Caitln, and her sister Emily.

And here she is performing the first "Annie" medley. (Thanks to Caitlin and Emily's dad, Lynn Freeny, for this photo!)

And here she is ready for the hip-hop "Annie" piece before intermission. There were three performances total--one Friday night and two on Saturday--and needless to say we were zoombified by midnight on Saturday when we got home. Zoombified, but gratified. It was a great experience.

One might be tempted to skip church after a weekend of late nights (not to mention I got hit with a killer cold on Saturday), but Sunday morning was Duncan's chance to be on stage. Our children's director wrote and directed a precious play, and we were awfully impressed with our Duncan and all the other kids, too. (Again, thanks to Lynn Freeny for the photo!)

It was an exhausting weekend, and I'd do it all over in a heartbeat. While my acting career was limited (one musical in high school and a one-act play in college), I spent countless night performing in concert and marching bands throughout middle and high school. Randy had a much more extensive experience with theatre in both high school and college, and for him it was pivotal. I'm glad our kids had the opportunity to perform in their various ways this weekend, and I look forward to the next events. I just hope they don't all happen on the same 36 hours again....

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Memory: Our First Christmas

December 10, 2007

Since I mortified Randy in my recent '80s Fashion Post, I thought I should humiliate myself this week. This is our very first Christmas as a married couple, and I have to ponder my outfit. I really don't understand it. In general, I am a jeans kind of girl, so I have no idea why I am wearing what appears to be some kind of stretchy knit pants. And a loud, blocky sweater to top off the outfit. I can only say that it must have been some phase I was going through at the end of 1989. Phew.

Now that we have the fashion faux pas out of the way, I'd like to point out some other classics. First, the bookshelf. My brother Stephen made that for me. Apparently he thought it would be clever to have the shelves at various angles. Indeed, it did fit our eclectic style; the problem was that we couldn't properly fit all our books on the shelves. Eventually--years and years later--Randy actually disassembled the unit and put the shelves on normally.

Next, note the NOW candle on top of the shelf. See how the "O" has a peace sign in it, for "Peace NOW'? That was a prize-winning thrift store find. It's only been in the past couple of years that the Peace Now candle finally broke beyond repair. We never did light that baby.

In my arms is our most favorite cat ever, Sebastian. She was the prettiest cat we ever had, with her green eyes and perfect calico coat. She was still pretty even after her tail caught fire. Sadly, she got hit by a car about a year after this photo was taken.

And the tree itself. Wow. I believe we got that at Big Lots for about $5, which is probably all we had in our checking account. I bought the apple ornaments, the red bows, a box of balls, and three other ornaments. We still have the bows and the three other ornaments, plus a stray apple or three. I wonder what ever happened to that tree?

Our first Christmas. I bought Randy a Kelty backpack, and he bought me a VCR. Or maybe I bought him a CD player that year; I'm sure he'll remember correctly. Randy was a student at East Tennessee State University and I, already a college graduate, had a lucrative job working at a daycare Preparatory Preschool. Like I said, we had about $5 in our checking account. But we were happy. And if we could have known where we'd be in 18 years, we'd not have believed such a life of blessings.

(And better fashion choices.)