Christmas Eve

Ten years ago tonight I was nine months pregnant. I was sore and miserable, waddling and tired. It was my first Christmas to not be at my parents' house and the house seemed so empty with only Dowlan and I (and my belly). 

It was the only year of all twelve I attended my church in Austin that I was there for candlelight service. As I stood there, holding my candle and trying to get enough air into my body to sing, I had a thought: at least I don't have to go anywhere on a donkey.

Ever ridden a donkey? It's almost exactly nothing like riding a horse. Their backs aren't wide and flat--they poke up in the middle like the roof of a house with a bony ridge that is unforgiving on your nethers with every jostle. As they gift their weight with every step, you get shifted too. 

At nine months pregnant, my nethers and I could barely handle a car ride across town. I can only imagine what it would have been like to go with no road, no gps, no tilting seat, no hotel reserved, no Sonic drink and no idea why God chose your unmarried teenaged self to give birth to the savior of the world. 

Tonight I sang at the front of a different church in a different city. It's been seven years since I was last nine months pregnant. My husband and friend dealt with overstimulated boy, hardcore cool girl and grumpy girl from the pews while I tried to not cough into the microphone. As we sang the words, "Baby Jesus, don't cry," I heard all the sweet babies in the audience crying and their mamas shushing and calming them. 

I wanted to reassure them that baby Jesus made a whole heap of racket in that stinky, drafty barn and that their baby was just fine. Just like I wanted someone to reassure me that my baby boy was just fine as he shouted out his own (unique) answers in the children's sermon and then, with gusto, circumnavigated the children singing their songs. 

I'm pretty sure that if anyone at our church has ever wondered, "Hm, now I wonder why Gretchen looks tired all the time?" that they now have their answer. Because the truth is that I am exhausted. Preparing for Christmas and surgery and travel in the same week is whelming and, on top of that, we stepped up the gift schedule by a day and I simply was not finished with the quilt I was making Dixie. After staying up quite late last night finishing and late tonight Santa-ing, I still have to pack my self for the hospital and my children for trips to see all the grandmas this week. And I am tired and sore and exhausted. 


No donkey. I don't have to go anywhere on a donkey. 

And, suddenly, the glass is more than half full. 


It's a disease, I tell you

So we got all my sewing stuff out of the playroom and this meant that the playroom had to be organized. 

This is the corner where all my sewing stuff was. All those white cabinets were along this wall:

Dixie is glad to have a gymnastics space. 

And I'm glad to have it all clean. Anyone who has seen this room before is in awe. Not done, yet.  Really looking forward to finishing off all this:

I didn't know that was a part

"You elbowed me in the PopTart."

~Melody Anne


Shrine to Temple

After another day's work;

That's the storage side. The missing drawer is having it's face re-glued. 

Here are my cutting and sewing tables. They're different heights for comfort. 

Look! See that window?

Here's what I have left to put away. Not bad, considering. 

I have also learned that Buddy Temple and I attended the same college, The University of Texas. He and his wife, a former educator and Member of the UT Board of Regents, currently reside in Lufkin, TX. He lost the May primary to Mark White, who went on to unseat incumbent Bill Clements. Buddy got 402,693 (30.54%) of the primary vote and declined a runoff primary. This was the end of his political career. 

Mark White, incidentally, was a one-termer who was not reelected due to overly conservative policies, a weak economy and poor connection with minority voters. My brother remembers him only as the 'stupid governor who banned recess' thereby making elementary school a miserable six years, two years longer than White held his gubernatorial throne. White also publicly opposed Texas A&M leaving the Big XII for the SEC, a move I refer to as 'taking our toys and leaving the playground and ruining Thanksgiving for all of The Great State of Texas for years to come.'

And a happy Thanksgiving Day to you all, even though we didn't get to beat the Aggies. 


Barn renovations

Our 82 year old farmhouse has a 30+ year old 25x20 barn in the back. It's divided into a front work section and a back storage section.  We don't know exactly what year it was built, but I do know that Buddy Temple lost his bid for Texas governor in 1982.  

This is pertinent, as his campaign signs were used as drywall. 

Is what the back section looked like last summer. 

It contains things that either don't fit in our house or don't fit us anymore. 

Or things we simply did not care enough to deal with. 

At the moment, it now looks like this:

Big brother, daddy and all. 

By the end of the weekend, it should have a window there and a real door here. 

Because we will be throwing in shelving, work tables, an A/C unit and all my sewing and craft things. 

Woo hoo!


Before pics

I'm already about 20 lbs down, but I don't really have any pics I can dig up, so here are my before pics. 

We don't really have a big mirror in our house, I figured I'd take advantage of the motel bathroom mirror while Dowlan grabs the cart. 

We are at WhoFest and our geeky selves are in heaven. 

But I digress. According to the doctor's scale, this is me at 253 lbs. My Wii Fit Balance Board, the only scale in my house currently working, says I am 261. 

Surgery got pushed back until right after Christmas. I'm relieved--it's going to take fewer sick days and make for better holidays this way 


Plan B

For quite awhile, Charlie has been on a distinct career path: he will be a firefighter and save cats from trees so he can take them home to Dixie for her to love. He will marry a Pizza Girl, so that he has  both a wife and all the  pizza he could want.  Once he has done the kitten saving thing for awhile, he will be A President (always A, never The. I keep wondering how many there will be at the same time as him.) and, when he is done with being A President, he will go to work at Burger King, as he might be tired of pizza by then and BK and Wendy's have the best chocolate milk of all the restaurants, but Wendy's doesn't have a playground. He might want to play.

He recently expanded on this plan. See, when he is A President, everyone will like him, because who could not like A President? He looked rather troubled when I told him a lot of people don't like the president, but did not let this slow him down. He added, 'When I am A President, they will put my picture on the $900 bill and then I will get to keep all those because they have my picture on them and I will use them to buy the expensive Lego sets.'

Which was a great plan, until he realized that he is 28 years from being old enough to  run for president and that year might not even be an election year.

So he worked on plan B

He was entering my music class  the other day when he asked me, "Mom, could you make me a pick axe?"

"Sure, Charlie. I'll get right on that. What's it for?" I asked with only a precursory attention.

"I am going to dig a mind in our backyard and get gold and then use that gold to get rich and then buy the really expensive Lego sets," he explains.

"Gold mining. Got it."

Undaunted by the need of the other 44 of us  in the room to begin music class, he begins  providing specs for the project. "The handle needs to be wood and tha other part metal and I need you to make me a second one in case the first one breaks while I'm in da mind," he spells out.

"We can't start a gold mine until after music class," I assert and (wrongly) assume it was dropped. On the way home from school that day, I got more details about his mining venture. 

"One problem, Charlie. There's no gold in our backyard, even if you dig really deeply."

Thinking. "Oh. Someday, can we take a vacation to a place where there is gold and dig a mind and then get rich and buy the 'spensive Lego sets?"

"We will need the landowner's permission, first."

Well, today Charlie was anguished and anxious. "You haven't started my pick axe yet, mom."

"Charlie, honey, remember  how there's no gold in our backyard? And, even if  there was, a mine  isn't a good place for a small human child," I break it to him gently. It is often hard to remember that you are a small human child. 

"I will not use the dynamite or the TNT. I will only use the pick axe. A pick axe cannot explode," he argues.

"Even without explosions, a mineshaft  is not a structurally safe tunnel and it could collapse," I reply. 

Dixie pipes  up, "In the Hunger Games, Katniss' dad dies in a mine collapse."

I add, "Yes, and we would be so sad if our sweet boy died in a mining accident."

Charlie thinks about this. "I guess if I am dead, I cannot play with Legos. I will have to think of another way to get money for tha 'spensive Lego sets. Mom, you can stop working on the pickaxe now."

Logical statement for the day: dead miners need no Legos. 


The Torch is Passed

This is a post I’ve been putting off writing for about a year now.

It’s strange finding myself to be an Actual Grown Up. As an AGU, I’m expected to do all sorts of things and know all sorts of things. In one of her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about how her ma—about how she just KNEW how to handle every situation. Someday, I hope my children are impressed by my competence.  I think I’m pretty good at a lot of things and am useful in most crises—my track record at handling adversity is not too shabby.

I take no credit for any of this. God has placed amazing people in my life who have paved the way for me. Another favorite author of mine, Lois McMaster Bujold, had a character who reflected on people who do great things. The gist is that if the people who do those great things are ordinary, flawed people and I am an ordinary, flawed person, then I have no reasonable inhibitions keeping me from also doing great things.

When I look at the people in my family who have come before me, I see a lot of great things.

In my job as a music teacher, a lot of competence in the field of being an AGU is required. Like many people, the skills I learned that enabled me to be good at my job were not learned in pursuit of my college education. Unlike most people, many of my job skills were learned in elementary school or in afterschool classes.  I have to know how to sing, dance, play instruments, act, run sound equipment, make costumes, build sets, paint backdrops and manage props in addition to knowing theory, music history, world history and cultures, math and music, science and music, art and music--it's a crazy range of skills involved. I think it’s why I’m insistent that my children learn piano, dance and theatre—to me, it is simply part of being a well-rounded, educated person.

Three of my great teachers passed away in 2012. It left me feeling that the torch was left in my hands. Mrs. Kasinger, Mrs. Ricks and Ms. Pender were no longer around to teach the next generations of actors, singers, musicians—it’s my job now. While I joke that I am paid by the Great State of Texas to sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and dance the Hokey Pokey, there’s a lot more to what I do. And if I don’t do it, no one else will. As the campus music specialist for a Title One school, I’m the only music education many of these students will get. Upper- and middle-class children will have violin lessons and ballet recitals. They will go to a children’s museum on vacation and go see a play with their family on a weekend. When they enter upper grades, they will be encouraged by their families to learn an instrument or sing in chorus at school or at church. They will spend a summer at theatre camp.

For most of the 500 kids who revolve through my door on any given day, I’m it and I’m it for six years. It’s daunting, knowing that I’m likely the only person who will ever play Beethoven for them and put an instrument in their hands. When I get them on the risers on the cafetorium stage once a year, that’s the only chance they may have to show an audience what they are capable of. Since people fear public speaking more than death, I think it is a life skill to have them know that they have a voice that is valuable in the world. If they speak, someone will listen. If they perform, someone will applaud. As an individual and as a group, they have a light to shine in the world.

Mrs. Ricks taught me how to stand up and speak. In the after-school theatre program she ran from her living room, she taught me about projecting, cues, costumes, stage right and all things dramatic. She taught me how to dig down deep and find what I didn’t know was there. In the plays we presented on the library stage, I learned how to be someone else for a little while and, in doing so, how to be a little better at being me.

Mrs. Kasinger was my beloved and adored elementary music teacher. While I may be the only student who went through her classroom who still uses riser choreography, I'm not the only one who sees the world through different eyes because of how she taught us to see it. I still use the games we played with my students. I remember her patience and creativity, as well as her smile.

Martha Pender was more than my voice teacher. I learned to swim in her back yard years before I learned to sing in her studio. She spent many holidays with our family and left me the gift that keeps on giving—two beastly cats who can’t die soon enough. Her words echo in my head from time to time.

No college music education class could compare to what they taught me. I can only hope that what I teach to my students can compare—that I teach them to love and enjoy as well as act and play and sing. That I teach them to be the person they are as well as the character they are pretending to be. That, when they become AGUs, they can do great things, too.

It is my hope that I help them find their voice in this world. I am so thankful these women helped me find mine.



Changes Afoot

One month from today, I will have gastric sleeve surgery. For those of you not familiar, this is a procedure similar to gastric bypass or lap band surgery. They surgically reduce the size of my stomach, thereby limiting my food intake. I have lost 19 lbs through diligent diet and exercise over the  last 3 years and my intention is to lose 80-100 more.

A lot of things have brought me to this point.

For those of you who have known me for a long time, you know that I have fallen into the obese category since I was about ten years old. I come from a background of women who are in great shape, if you take great to mean large and concede that round is, in fact, a shape. 

I've never been all that unhappy with my body. My size did not keep me from years and years of ballet classes in tights and leotards; recitals in short tutus. I had no shortage of dating options and never really went through any self-loathing or drastic attempts to change myself. I didn't really accept any limitations when it came to things that sensible fat girls don't do: rock climbing, swimming, roller coasters, yoga classes, home improvement, swinging at the park, chasing kids, teaching dance classes, etc.

But I'm slowing down. I can't exercise like I used to because things hurt. I fell off a ladder eight years ago and my back has never quite been the same. My knees and feet are feeling it. I know my 'normal' day is a lot bouncier and hoppier than most people's 'normal' day, but I'm starting to not quite make it to  the end of my day with energy left for my family. I'm looking at 30 more years of my job and, at this weight, it's not going to happen.

I realize I'm looking at this  surgery now or knee surgery, back surgery, foot surgery later. 

Now, schedule-wise is not a great time. Musicians should not be out of commission at Christmas time. Early next summer would be preferable. However, with sinus surgery earlier this year, I'm not far from my out-of-pocket maximum for the year and have enough left in our FSA to cover it all. So it will cost nothing out of pocket by doing it right now. And, schedule-wise, it's not too bad. It is close enough to the end of the semester that I won't be missing too much. Plus, I will have two weeks of holiday time to recover. 

Life-wise now is the time. My kids need a mom with enough energy to keep up with their lives and I need enough energy to have a life of my own. My husband could use a little left to throw his way now and then and would definitely benefit from a hot wife. Melody needs a roller coaster partner whose butt fits in the seats. Since three years of dedicated diet and what exercise I could manage have resulted in a painstakingly slow loss of 19 lbs, I need a different plan of attack. And, life-wise, I'd rather do it sooner than later. I want more years of fit.

I keep trying to imagine what I would look like  smaller and I imagine it would look like the me in my head looks. I'm sure I'm not the  only  one who weighs fifty pounds less in her imagination. It is sometimes a shock when I see myself in a  mirror and I don't look like that. And while it  would be nice to look like her, it  would be even better to feel like she feels. 

It's going to be an absolutely awful process, but I'm trying to keep the end in mind. 



Charlie: A zombie is a creature without a brain that still walks around. We think of them as humans, but any creature can have its brain eaten by zombies and become a zombie.

Except for--wait, what are those creatures that look like sea cactus, only they don't have any spines or bear any cactus fruit? They camouflage and can become any color when they wish to hde from predators?

Me: anemones?

Charlie: That is cowwect. Ana. Anana. An enomy cannot become a zombie because it does not have a brain! So how could a zombie eat its brain to also turn it into a zombie? So a zombie is a creature that used to have a brain that doesn't anymore but still walks around. 

Way to narrow your definition down to something more accurate, chuckster. 

Now that's a visual image

Charlie excels in many areas. Keeping food in his stomach is not one of them. 

We've had everything checked out. It seems to be more of a sensory issue/gag reflex than anything more serious, and it's definitely not contagious. The problem is, though, that you can't always tell when it is contagious, except by the frequency patterns. 

So each barf has this little waiting period following it in which we try to determine what is to be done about it. 

So this morning, it happens again.  Dowlan takes the girls to church while I do laundry and keep an eye on him. I appreciate it happening on a non-work day, actually, but we are hosting a weekly church small group right now, one that hasn't actually met in three weeks due I other mishaps. It's a bit important to get a plan B established early on. 

So I am texting a friend this morning. It should read: Charlie threw up this morning. 

Only I thumb blundered and it autocorrected to: Charlie threw up this Mormon. 

And I suddenly imagine this little dude holding a stack of pamphlets free-falling out of Charlie's mouth, tie askew and limbs flailing. 

And I cannot stop laughing. 


Go Cheese!

The school I teach at (and Charlie attends) feeds into a high school whose mascot is the Chiefs. Today, the Chiefettes (cheerleaders) came and cheered at a pep rally at our school. 

On the way home, Charlie had many opinions about the cheerleaders. Most specifically, he was concerned about their choice of cheese as a mascot. Here are some of his reasons:

-cheese cannot 'go' anywhere, because it has no legs. Unless a mouse was carrying it--then it could go places until it got eaten. Still, this is not quite the same as the the cheese having legs of its own
-nobody doesn't like cheese, so it is hard for the other team to be against you. Even picky eaters can like cheese. Everyone has no reason to be angry at it. 
-how do you dress up for your team? 

Even after a point of clarification, the anti-cheese-mascot logic continued. 

-it is hard to have cheese in a parade
-cheese does not care about sports
-there are different kinds of cheese, and that could get confusing

I chose to not go into the whole Wisconsin thing. 


Avocado Theology

Charlie: Holy pockamoley!
Melody: Charlie! That's inappropriate!
Mommy: 'Holy guacamole' is fine to say.
Melody: But guacamole isn't holy.
Mommy: Yes it is. It's the closest thing to God that you will ever put in your mouth.
Melody: Mommy! Why would you put God in your mouth. Are you a cannibal?
Mommy: God gave us guacamole so that we wouldn't have to put Him in our mouths. 
Melody: That's just wrong.
Mommy: Trust me. Guacamole brings us closer to God.


Opposite Day

The girls are gone to Girl Scout camp this week. When they went to camp last year, it was Friday before Charlie first mentioned the sisters, then looked puzzled and asked where they were. I consider it progress that this year it only took until Tuesday night to ask about Dixie. Melody, so far, is still not mentioned.

I took Charlie to the psych yesterday to reevaluate  his meds. For months he has had headaches, and, after ruling several other things out, we decided to see if it is med-related. She gave us the option of switching to something else right away or taking a week off meds to see if the headaches are gone. I decided to go  home with a prescription 'just in case' we couldn't go without meds for a week.

I made it until 7:56 a.m. before hitting the pharmacy this morning.

Charlie declared that it was Opposite Day and even wrote it on his calendar, except that he wrote it on the square for yesterday because yesterday is the opposite of today. Later, I found his calendar still on my bed. Asked him to put it away, to which he replied, "You have to pick it up. I'm rich and you're poor, so you work for me now!"

I followed him to the living room and repeated this to Dowlan, who shrugged and said, "He found a penny on the floor."

My van is being repaired and we are down to one car, so we  had to take Dowlan into work. Charlie decides that it is Opposite Day and so daddy has to drive Charlie to work and that he has to sit in his sister's booster instead of his carseat. I'm not entirely awake, courtesy of Dowlan bringing name Tylenol PM instead of Tylenol this morning, so I'm all  fine with him driving instead of me. On the thirty minute round-trip, Charlie makes the following rules:

Charlie can say bad words and I can not.
He can have two pieces of candy anytime I tell him he can have one piece of candy.
I have to play outside while he plays inside.
He cooks the lunch and I put the dishes in the sink.
He can give me spankings all the day long and I can't spank him even just once.
He gets to decide how to spend all the money and he will get cashback at every store.

I realize that this doesn't seem so bad, but it is impossible to replicate in this format the shrill, cackling voice, punctuated with kicks to the back of the seat, in which it was delivered. Or that I was on the highway when he unbuckled the seatbelt and began rolling down the window. Or the additional demands that I have effectively blocked from memory in an act of self-preservation.

The real tragedy? The pharmacy didn't open until 9.