12.29.2012

Pet Peeves

I have a serious love for the English language, more specifically grammer.  Truthfully, I am not an expert and make many, many mistakes - spelling, punctuation...  Often I sit as I type, struggling to think of a synonym - shooting for something that sounds more brilliant than the mundane word my brain can't seem to skip past.  In the last two days, though, I've been confronted with three very specific pet peeves I have and it's funny - I don't think I ever gave too much thought to just how much they bother me.  Perhaps, if I type them out here, those little ear worms will wiggle their way out of my head.  At least for now...
 
#1 - "ex-President Bush"  A friend of mine posted this on Facebook and I completely agree with her.  Reuters posted an article regarding former President Bush's recent and still on-going as far as I know, stay in the hospital.  The headline was "Ex-President Bush..."  This one actually makes me angry.  He is a FORMER President, not an "ex."  To my way of thinking, using ex in this instance seems overwhelmingly disrespectful and it saddens me that "ex" is cropping up in many places it probably shouldn't.  He held THE top office in the United States of America, as a veteran of that office, he deserves great respect.  So does the title. 
 
#2 - Referring to a person as "that."  This one may not be "technically" wrong, I should do some digging here but it is, for me, for lack of a better description, "painful" to me when I see it.  When someone says or writes something like:  "My mother, the most beautiful woman that I have ever known."  My mind goes right to the "that."  That denotes an object - usually inanimate - to me.  The sentence should read "My mother, the most beautiful woman who I have ever known."  Of course, it probably should be "whom" but my memory is fuzzy on that rule.  I only know my mother was a "who" not a "what/that" or "it/that."
 
#3 - , and.  A comma before the word and is redundant and unnecessary.  A comma denotes a pause - a shift in the tenor of the sentence.  And is a joining of two thoughts.  It also denotes a pause.  A comma before an and is also not technically incorrect I've been told.  Apparently that rule has changed since I was in school because I can still see my freshman English teacher dancing around the classroom teaching us about redundancy and how it indicates a lack of understanding in what you are actually trying to say. 
 
These issues are again not technically wrong, I don't believe but they sure feel wrong to me.  Pet peeves.  Mine.  They don't interrupt my life for too long...this post only took about 3 minutes to type.  I'll probably forget very soon each of the above infractions and where I saw them...until they crop up somewhere else, tormenting my feeble brain yet again.
 
So...what are some of your pet peeves?


12.28.2012

Music Speaks

I don't believe in coincidence.  God has intention behind everything, He is in the details.  After all...if He isn't, why does the Book of Numbers exist?  Creation had order, it was to work together.  Every time God created something, He saw that it was "good."  It wasn't until sin entered the world that everything went a bit haywire.  Even in all of that, though, God still works things together for the good of those who love Him. 
 
Today I had a conversation that involved an off-handed comment that hurt.  Cut deep.  Opened old wounds, brought old anger bubbling to the surface.  It surprised me, actually - how fast it bubbled up, how desperately I wanted to scream, punch something...hurt the person who originally caused the hurt as bad as I was hurting at that moment.  Every time I think I have put my anger aside, actually forgiven the people who caused the hurt something happens to remind me that I haven't.  Not really.  I take possession of it as soon as I'm given an opportunity and I can't believe others don't feel the same. 
 
As I was driving, I started thinking of how I was going to handle this.  It's been going on far too long and I'm exhausted by it.  I'm tired of it having any type of control over me whatsoever.  The people who did this to me really aren't worth it...It would appear the only answer I have is to cut out of my life anyone who has any dealings with said people.  That would be the easiest answer.  The quickest "solve." 
 
And then this song starts to play... 
 
"Forgiveness" (by Matthew West)
It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word…

Forgiveness
Forgiveness

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me
Forgiveness, Forgiveness
 
And as I'm driving along I realize - God isn't messing around with me.  He's been gentle, kind and nudged me in the right direction.  It's time to do as He's asked me to do.  It's time because every single day I don't forgive those who have wronged me is a day I spend spitting in His face for His amazing gift to me.
 
I don't expect to have this solved immediately.  That much I do know and I don't think this is the first time I've even posted about this issue.  It keeps coming back.... But I have to stop ignoring it.  I have to give God the respect He deserves.  I can't treat Jesus' death on the cross as something that was done only for me.  I need to drop the selfishness, the anger, the self-absorption.  It's not going to be easy, that's for sure.  There is a part of me that is very proud of how strong my feelings are.

But...I love God more than I love myself.  He deserves my whole heart, not just those bits and pieces I think He deserves.  And it's time to forgive...to dump the black pieces in my heart.  To give those to  God and let Him clean them, mold them into what He wants them to be, not continuing to hold onto them.  Beauty from ashes, I pray...  beauty from ashes.
 

12.25.2012

Christmas...

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

~Isaiah 9:6-7

AND...

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
 
 
Thus is the Bible's description of the man whose birth we celebrate today.  May He be first in your heart today and every day.  May today be a day of glorious celebration, filled with a love unlike any known.  May you & yours be blessed today and every day.
 
Blessings to you and Merry, Merry Christmas!



12.20.2012

The Deepest Pain

Like almost everyone around the world, after the evil of Friday, December 14, I have hugged my children and my husband tighter.  Things that might have been of massive importance just aren't what they were.  Our company holiday party was Friday and it was absolutely the last place on earth I wanted to be. 
My heart is shattered, I ache for every parent, every teacher, every person affected by the loss of those who were killed, shown no mercy, in Newtown, CT.  I can't imagine the evil that permeated, the feeling of darkness as that young man forced his way into that school.  The cold that had to have preceeded him and followed him
This is not the first time horror was visited upon children...
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
I've read so many - so many - views on last Friday.  People with incredible insight writing, trying to make some semblance of sense out of what happened.  Some cursing God, some enfolding themselves in His arms. 
 
To me, the murder of innocents sends me right to God's lap.  Who more than He understands evil?  Who more than He has stood up to it?  Who more than He has offered His only child to be murdered?

Oh how trivial my words feel.  I understand the pain of loss but not violent loss.  I wouldn't dream for one second to say I can understand what those parents are feeling and I do feel my words are like dust in the wind.  No matter the kindnesses offered, no matter the suredness I have in God's sovereignty, it will not return those children to their parents. 

So I have my prayers.  And in them, strength.  Because I know I don't have the words.  I know I can't offer the comfort but I know the One who can.  And will.  And does. 

How I pray those who are living this horror, today and every day, feel what I know.  I pray they are left with no doubt that God loves them, He is there for them and it makes no sense to us - He understands that - but His plan DOES make sense and in it there is nothing but perfection.

We don't get the "why" of evil.  I know I sure don't.  I don't understand why God felt it necessary for evil to enter this world and I sure don't understand why He's allowed it to continue for so long.

All I know is He does.  And I trust that, I rest in that. 



12.18.2012

Cookie Exchange - Pictures

A friend saved me!  She took a few pictures of the tables.  Believe me - this is just a small sampling of what was in my kitchen.  We were CRAZY swimming in cookies...

The Buffet - mostly decorations here but cookies were coming...

Cookies on the Table

More cookies on the table...

This was the drinks table.  Apple Pie in a Cup, Apple Bellini's
(with sparkling cider instead of wine)
and homemade hot chocolate.  Pure yum!


12.17.2012

A Glimpse Into Why I Love Where I Work

I'm not one of those people who goes gaga crazy over Hollywood "stars."  They do a job, many of them do it really well.  Some of them I watch and wonder how did they EVER get to be so popular...

This lady, though, I have always enjoyed.  Like most people I first saw her in Kindergarten Cop and thought she was hysterical.  Then, every once in a while I'll be watching something and she pops up.  Most recently she was in an episode of CSI.

What is our connection?  Her father was the General Secretary-Treasurer of the Laborers' International Union of North America from 1975 until he passed away in 1980.  He worked his way up the ranks to Secretary-Treasurer of the International Union.  He is from our Tacoma local and we are all quite proud of the work he did.  When he passed away, a scholarship fund was established in his name and since its establishment in 1981, they have given out over $383,150.00 in scholarships to those college students who meet the scholarship's eligibility requirements.

When Pamela was at our office last Friday for our annual Christmas party, she gave us another insight into her Dad and how important education was to him.  She had told me a good part of her story when she and I spent an afternoon together during the scholarship fund's golf tournament (Neither one of us golf so we were both in the clubhouse for the day.  We chatted the time away and it went quickly.).  The story she told us on Friday had to do with her grandparents and their struggle to provide for their children.  Pamela's grandfather was killed in an on-the-job accident (this was before OSHA and WISHA and explains her father's passion for on-the-job safety) leaving her grandmother to support eleven children, her father had to help with that and so college dreams for Pamela's father died with his dad.  He would come home from school, though and every day part of his homework was to share with his mother everything he learned that day.  His love for education and the dream that no one should be deprived a college education started at that kitchen table.  Everyone who knew him knew that was important to him and hence the start of the scholarship fund by several of his friends when he passed away. 

Pamela was at our party, too, to surprise me with a gift from the Board of Directors of the Scholarship Fund.  I've been doing the administrative work for the Fund for almost twenty years now.  I was thoroughly surprised but above the gift, I was flattered that she would take the time to come up here specifically to honor me with the award.  I'm not big on being the center of attention and I will tell you when the people at the party called for a speech, I just shook my head no and waved them away.  It is nice, though, to be recognized and at the same time I am just taken aback at the idea I've been here almost twenty years...  However did the time go by? 

Pamela and I again started to chat and before I knew it, I had practically monopolized her for half an hour.  We had to kind of shoo each other on to socialize with the guests.  We probably could have talked for hours again. 

A friend of mine took a picture of us with her phone.  Unfortunately it did come out quite blurry but...at least you can tell it's Pamela. 



She is one very sweet & beautiful lady.  I am so incredibly proud to be a part of the Laborers' Union, the W. Vernie Reed Memorial Scholarship Fund and all that they do and who they are. 

12.12.2012

Cookie Exchange

You know?  I often have very vivid reminders as to why this blog isn't so very exciting.  Last Sunday I had 11 women (including me) get together for a cookie exchange and did I take one single picture?

Absolutely positively not.

Let me tell you - the disappointment at this oversight is acute because I had one amazing looking kitchen.  I've been hoping someone else who took pictures would email me a few and I could use them but so far, no go.

In the hopes that I'll end up having a second post about my cookie exchange, I'll save the cookie recipes for then.  In the meantime, I will share that I had 2 "signature" drinks and homemade hot chocolate on hand for my guests.

All of those fun food shows now talk about that "signature cocktail" for your parties to save on time and money in the beverage department so I decided to give it a shot.  I had a hot and a cold option but the basic ingredient in both was apple cider.

Man oh man were they yummy...

The first is a recipe I found over four years ago and it's called Apple Pie in a Cup.  Unfortunately, I have no idea where I saw it posted so this is also one of those brief hang your head moments because I can't give credit where it is due.

I am so very sorry....  pausing for a moment....

Now - for that recipe.  It's very, very easy.  You take a mug, fill it with apple cider and add one teaspoon of Starbuck's Cinnamon Syrup.  If you didn't heat the apple cider in a pot on the stove, pop that cup in the microwave for a couple of minutes.  Then, when the cider & syrup are hot, top with whipped cream and caramel sauce.  Be liberal with both.  First sip?  A mini-slice of absolute deliciousness.  And it tastes an awful lot like a piece of apple pie, it's just missing the crust.

The second drink, the cold version, is an Apple Bellini from The Chew.  Saving myself some typing here, just follow the link.  It's worth your time, too, let me tell you and don't skip the lining of your glass with cinnamon sugar.  Divine...

Finally, homemade hot chocolate.  For that, I stumbled across this post at Tatertots and Jello.  Worth the time you have to invest, too.  It's incredible.  Amazing.  A huge hit.  I'll be making it at every exchange from here on out.

If you do a cookie exchange, I encourage you to try these for your guests.  Thank me later...




11.27.2012

The Dog

Our dog really is a sweet little guy.  As we learn more and more about him, we know we made the right choice in adopting him.  This morning A took Bandit out for his normal early AM walk.  We've discovered you really can't tire this guy out and we have to change up his scenery for him because if we don't?  He gets VERY mischievious.  In a destructive sort of way.

This morning's walk was cut a bit short, though.  Unfortunately, I ignored my alarm and so did our son so the house was running about 10 minutes behind which isn't that big of a deal unless there is a bus to catch.  So, A brought Bandit home after a very quick walk.  I don't know if they skipped any of their normal route but I do know it was faster than usual.

When they got home, A removed Bandit's pack.  He carries a pack and in it carries his "walk supplies."  The dog knows he doesn't walk without his pack and knows what it means every time the pack comes off of its hook.

So...the pack is laying on the kitchen floor because A had to rush out to do something quite quickly (say good-bye to the boy & I) and when he came back in, this is what he found:



I'm pretty sure Bandit was a tiny bit disappointed at the lost walk time this morning.  We might need to make it up to him tonight.

And what were we thinking, adopting dog so smart he can get himself dressed in the morning?!?!?!  Right...he's too stinkin' cute...


11.23.2012

Best Fall Vegetable Dish

The Chew, a TV show on ABC (in the Seattle area it's on KOMO 4 at noon, Monday-Friday) has become my company for lunch during the week.  The hosts, the recipes, the guests...all a great way to spend an hour each day.  They come up with such amazing food but if you've read this blog at all you know I'm a food dreamer, not a good cook.  I always say I'm going to try one of their recipes but up until tonight I hadn't followed through.

This last Tuesday, one of the guests on The Chew was Elizabeth Perkins.  She briefly mentioned she had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes (I believe it was 2005) and all that the diagnosis meant as far as eating changes, etc.  For the guest segment, Elizabeth chatted with Clinton Kelly and they cooked a favorite vegetable dish of Elizabeth's.  It sounded really yummy so I decided to try it tonight.  Aaron grilled steaks and I roasted vegetables and it was a MOST amazing dinner.  The steaks were grilled to perfection (no surprise there - my husband is a master at the grill) and the vegetables came out really, really good.  Not mushy, they had good flavor and a dish I was oh so very glad I tried.


Sorry for the horrible picture.  By the time I thought to take a picture, this was all that was left.  That bowl was full and there were only two of us.  Tell you how good it was?
 
I never did find the recipe officially posted on The Chew's website so I don't have a source.  A viewer posted the recipe in the comments and she didn't say where she'd found it, either.  I've re-typed it here and if anyone finds the original source of the recipe, please don't hesitate to comment.

Elizabeth Perkin's Roasted Veggie Recipe

Ingredients:
1 Medium Onion
1 Sweet Potato
1 Parsnip
2 cups Brussel Sprouts
1 Granny Smith apple
1 Pear
1 cup of tart Cherries (pitted/can use canned)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 cup of Olive Oil
1 tsp. Rosemary
2 tblsp. Balsamic Vinegar
Bearnaise Sauce (Clinton Kelly added this.  It wasn't part of Elizabeth's original, I don't believe.  I
                                                    used this recipe)

Instructions:
Chop the onion, sweet potato, parsnip, brussel sprouts, apple & pear into equal sizes, about 1/4 inch thick.  Add the vegetables & fruit to the pan with oil and begin sauteing.

After the vegetables and the fruit have been softened up (about 5 minutes, maybe a bit more), add the cherries, cinnamon, rosemary & balsamic vinegar.  Saute a few minutes longer until the flavors have blended and the vegetables & fruits are soft.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Transfer the medley into a slightly oiled casserole dish or any other dish you can cook in the oven an dput in the oven for 15 minutes or until gold brown on top.

Serve with bearnaise sauce.

Prepare for your tastebuds to dance the happy, yummy dance.  It's that good!

Enjoy!

11.22.2012

"Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid, that on the occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations."


Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!  May your have a blessed and grateful day.




11.13.2012

The Fear That Shouldn't Be

There is a 12 almost 13 year old boy living under my roof.  He's not my biological son but I've been his step-mom since he was 5.  C spends most of his free time with me and has for several years now.  My husband works some tough hours so I'm usually "it" when it comes to what he'll do with his free time, chores, even some discipline.  When I first met C, his speech was so impaired he was next to impossible to understand.  His father had been struggling for a couple of years already, working with him to help improve his speech, his temper and everything else that fathers do.  My husband is an amazing father, full of patience and wisdom and not just genuine interest in & love for his son but a genuine "like" of his son.  He thoroughly enjoys his son, every aspect of his little personality and has really enjoyed watching this child of his grow into a very fine young man.

And he is a very fine young man.

A 12 year old fine young man... 

Which, actually, means he's hitting the hormonal SPIKE years and he's not quite as fine as he was but that good, sweet, loving heart still resides in that sprouting up like crazy body of his.  By "not quite as fine as he was" I mean he's hit that point where you're fairly sure most days that he unzipped his head, took his brain out and left it in a box in his dresser.

We say things to him which he conveniently doesn't hear or forgets.  He's given a chore which he promptly turns into a game of some sort, see how long he can waste time and dilly dally around.  Not in some sort of vicious I hate my parents way just...in that 12 year old boy way.

And I'm fighting so hard to not take it personally, to remind myself that he's 12 and this is what he's going to do.  There is this unreasonable fear, though.  It's been crouched low in my mind just waiting to rear its ugly head and I've ignored it for a long time, about eight years.  Eight years since I met him and knew he was going to be a part of my life for the rest of my life. 

My older son, who will be 27 in January, hit the age of 14 and we'd had our "things" before then.  I was always a bit more than strict with him because I was a single mother.  That's the reason I gave myself, anyway.  I was it.  If I let him take over, all was lost so I put down rules and stuck to them mercilessly.  He was always such an amazing kid, too.  Definitely did "boy stuff" but never gave me an inch of worry or one sleepless night.  People would often tell me he was such a joy to be around, I had done such a great job with him and I'd tell them he was born that way - I just taught him the words (please, thank you, etc.).  That is - until he turned 14.  Then, as he was hanging out with boys I'd known for more than half of their lives, they started to get involved with drugs.  Every one of those sweet, funny, brave and somewhat goofy boys went down a road that looked inviting but ended up being scary and dark and has actually since taken a few of them to the grave. 

It was my greatest fear in the flesh.  He had stepped outside of my realm of control into a world I knew absolutely nothing about and I was scared beyond all imagination it would kill him before I could save him.  It took me MANY years - many sleepless nights, countless tears, screaming and anguish before I could admit no matter what I did, I couldn't save him.  All I had was prayer.  At first?  That seemed like absolutely nothing.  I'd prayed to God regarding serious issues, big things in my life before and He never answered the way I had hoped He would.  That made me ridiculously fearful.  What if God's plan for my son's life was for it to end while he was young and I couldn't do anything about it and by praying I made it happen sooner...  Prayer did not give me much comfort at first. 

See what I mean about unreasonable fear?  It's irrational.  It causes you to think things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever but while within its grasp makes all the logical sense you could possibly imagine.

It's debilitating.  It robs you of life, of happiness - of joy.  Why?  Because it turns your face from God's face.  It causes you to look at something other than perfection, sovereignty, power to the nth degree, love and grace and mercy that defy description.

That fear became an idol of my heart.  And here I see it worming its way back into my mind again and if I give it hold, it will worm its way into my heart.  Robbing me of my relationship with God again.  Turning my head.  Tearing my eyes away.

The devil truly is like a roaring lion...always looking to devour...

And he is tricky.  And smart.  And cunning.  And not worth giving one ounce of my attention to.  Don't mistake me - I do not underestimate him.  I do not for one second pretend he is worthless or to be completely discounted.  That's pride of another variety.

Instead, I have to remind myself repeatedly he is there, he is looking for a way in and I need to keep my eyes firmly focused on the One - the ONLY One - who can save me.  And my sons.

My oldest is not a believer and for a long time I blamed myself for that.  I still do on occasion but I have to remind myself - he is an adult.  I have told him the truth and he has to choose for himself.  I did not teach it to him as I should, when he was growing up and that's the part where I struggle.  It's more of beating myself up for not seeing the truth sooner.  I was 35 myself when I came back to Christ, he was already 17 and in a place where he barely wanted anything to do with me at all, let alone go with me to church, etc.

He has, however, long left the drugs, straightened himself out and he purchased his first home last summer.

And I continue to pray...  There IS hope.  I see answered prayer all around me and I know - God rarely works instantaneously.  He does not "perform."  He is not "fixing" us, He is changing us, growing us and that takes work - and our participation.  So long as my son refuses to see God for who He is and to accept Jesus for who He is and what He has done for us, my son will only go so far.  But prayers have been answered - my son no longer involves himself with drugs or those who use them.  He looks at his life and sees the "good" and doesn't want the bad.  For that I am extremely grateful.  And I continue to pray.

So...when that irrational fear for son #2 rears its ugly head, I have to face it.  Head on.  At the time.  And I have to remember what it is and what it can't be allowed to do.  And so I pray.  Pray.  Pray.  I pray because I know God is infinitely wiser than me, stronger than me and I'm already fighting the urge to give up.  Fighting the selfish urge that tells me this child isn't mine, he isn't my responsibility - I don't have to live this way for the next several years.

But I know that is a dark, non-truth.  He IS mine.  I CHOSE to be his step-mother.  I ASKED God for this privilege.  And I did it knowing God would be there for the entire walk and He was the only one I could trust to carry me through, to do what I need to do, am supposed to do and want to do.  I love that sweet, kind hearted boy and I'm looking forward to knowing and loving the strong, caring, godly man he will become.  The years in between are going to drive me a bit batty.  I just need to remember to keep my eyes on Him, not the batty. 

He's worth it.

11.04.2012

Sandy. A Name Not Soon Forgotten

Not sure about you but I've been glued to the news - online and on TV for the two weeks, ever since I heard the term "Hurricane Sandy" and saw what they were predicting and then ever since, viewing the devastation to my "hometown area."  Landfall in the United States was, basically, Atlantic City, NJ.  As a Jersey native, I've spent several weeks and weekends at many of those now ruined beaches.  My friends have homes there, family is there...  I have ties to the area that go to birth and my heart has been aching.

What is even more heartwrenching is to read articles, like this one, about those "forgotten" victims of Sandy.  Cuba and Haiti seem to be the hardest hit while Jamaica and the Bahamas also suffered damage but not as devastating.  Areas of the world already poor, already dealing with past hurricanes and earthquakes, all but obliterated by Sandy.
 
The video and stories of tempers flaring, emergency relief slow and insufficient...it all continues to mount up.  Then, a friend posts an article about another nor'easter expected this week bringing with it definitely not-needed rain, winds and freezing temperatures, sure to create massive misery on top of already existing misery.

My prayers continue, almost constantly.  I don't think I've prayed for anything harder than I have for the people affected by Hurricane Sandy except for my children and my mother when she was ill.  Today I posted on Facebook that I left August 31, 1989 and drove my then 3 1/2 year old son west to Washington in 4 days, put down "roots" and have felt at "home" ever since but after this storm?  I realized just how much of my heart I'd left in New Jersey.  So much of who I am now started in New Jersey.  Almost every lesson I had to learn, I had to learn the hard way and I did it there.

What is disturbing is how many people were not prepared for this storm.  How true is that for all of us, though?  Aaron & I have been saying for years this is the year we want to be prepared - make sure we have a week's worth of food on hand, water on hand, blankets, etc. and keeping our gas tanks at full all the time.  And we don't do it.  If we were to have a significant earthquake, our home would not be prepared.

And I take it further.  How prepared am I to kneel before God, with Jesus as my Advocate and give an accounting of my life.  If that "emergency" were to happen what would be the result?  These thoughts come to me when I have slacked off - slacked off in my prayer, my church attending, my Bible reading and studying.  When I have drifted away from my anchor because He certainly hasn't let go of me.  And I am humbled.  And convicted.  And I come before Him contrite and asking forgiveness.  And He always does... And my heart is overwhelmed again.

How will those people in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland and all other places affected by Sandy I haven't listed prepare now?  What will they do?  How will they look at life differently?  It's usually an overwhelming life-altering moment that gives us pause, makes us take stock, figure out what's important and move in that direction.  That's the short term.  Then, nothing happens for a while and we get that safe feeling again, let things slip, procrastinate...

Until the next nor'easter is forecasted.

How has Sandy changed me?  Besides realizing I am very proud of where I came from, where I grew up and the people who live there, I have realized that my relationship with my Creator needs me to participate more, be present in it.

Here is praying I don't slack off... again...  And even more?  Here is praying the people in New York & New Jersey recover - stronger and better prepared for the next one.  Because it's coming.
 
 


10.28.2012

Writing a Blog

A comment on one of my ovarian cancer posts surprised me the other day.  The anonymous commenter asked about writing an "established" blog like mine.  What advice do I have.
 
I still look at that comment and say "What...????"  I don't consider my blog established, not by any means, unless you mean presence online.  I've been blogging for a few years, yes but my blog isn't read by very many people at all.  Not only am I not "popular," no one even knows who I am. 
 
My blog is just my place to record my stories, my feelings, my life.  Anything I consider interesting enough to write down and want to save.  An opinion that comes to me and I feel the need to vent or express my confusion (most people who know me would be amazed at how many of those I never post - the vent is a rant and I sound far too shrewish to share it publicly!)  A recipe I tried and want to share my success... or failure.  Family things that someday my brother is going to be sitting around a fire pit and ask me to remember. 
 
That's what my blog is.  I never set out for a readership, not a permanent one, anyway.  I joined a meme here and there and then lost interest.  I entered giveaways; won a few and lost many.  I keep writing because it's for me.  I'm honored anyone wants to read what I have to say but I'm not driven by that.
 
Keep in mind everything I'm about to say is my OPINION.  I have no hard facts to back me up, I haven't interviewed anyone for this.  This is how I feel about the subject, what I say would be advice I would give myself - NOT as any kind of expert. 
 
When starting a blog, be you.  You can try a gimmick, look to be unique but after a while I would think that would become pure work.  A blog is supposed to be relaxing, I think.  It's a place to unload all that you've been carrying around in your head.  Write it down and either put it out of your mind or look at it and clarify what you've been thinking. 
 
The next advice?  Don't worry about what other people think about what you write.  Unless you ARE writing a factually based blog, what you are writing is your opinion, your experience.  Blogs have, it seems, become a little competitive and while 99% of what I've seen the men and women who write blogs are extraordinarily supportive of each other but there are those...  There are those who will be jealous if you think of something before they do or share what they share better than they do and they will try to undermine your confidence.  Ignore them.  There are those, too, who will steal your content.  Pass it off as theirs.  I've read plenty of stories of bloggers talking to lawyers to fight those who steal posts.  There have also been blogs created with elaborate "back stories" of cancer or dying children or pregnancies in trouble and the people who create those are looking for attention from "popular" bloggers.  Whatever their motivation, it's hard when the ruse is discovered.  People don't like feeling foolish and imitation is not always the best form of flattery. 
 
Although....in that same vein?  Give credit where credit is due.  My BIGGEST fault when I first started posting on my blog: I'd have found something somewhere and then couldn't remember where I found it.  I'd try it, put my own spin on it and then couldn't give credit for the original idea because I hadn't noted where I found it.  That is, simply put, rude.  I never took credit for anyone else's idea but I still felt crummy every time I did it.  So...I got smart and now I keep track of where I find things or at least I try to and link up in my posts whenever possible.  Or - I don't post the project, recipe, etc.
 
If you enter and win giveaways?  Please say thank you.  Take pictures of what you've won and post them along with links to the blog who hosted the giveaway and say thank you!!!  It's imperative that you not just take people's gifts and ignore them.  Would you let your children get away with not thanking their grandparents for birthday gifts?  No.  Then don't forget to thank those who give you something they had no obligation to offer in the first place. 
 
Always get permission for pictures.  Especially if they are of children.  I'm not a lawyer, I have no idea if it's illegal to post pictures of unidentified kids or not but...err on the side of caution.  Ask.
 
Monetize or not?  Up to you.  I don't.  Again - I am not looking to become some big popular blog.  That IS work and I do not want to be forced to share.  I want to write when I want to write and if someone wants to read it, fine but I'm not crying if I don't get a readership larger than say 10 people (my friends & family makes up 8 of those...). 
 
I could go on and on and on and on.  Most of what I've learned, though, is from reading other blogs - not just writing my own.  There are plenty of people who will talk about the importance of good pictures and I have to admit.  I do prefer reading blogs where the pictures are better, especially if there is a tutorial involved.  I'm back to my preferences - I'm not looking for a major readership so I don't go crazy over my pictures.  In fact, I'm lucky if I remember pictures and I have never written a tutorial (I don't think) so staging pictures & taking pictures of "steps" isn't something I've tried to do but I've read a few posts that indicate it's often a challenge.
 
Want to see how bloggers who have turned their blogs into business do it?  Go to my links page and click on a few of the blogs I've put on there.  Clarification:  I haven't updated that page in a LONG time so there may be a few blogs I no longer read.  I apologize ahead of time if the links don't work.
 
Finally?  Write.  Just...write.  Write what interests you.  Come up with a theme and go with it.  Decide the time you're willing to invest, research blogs online and figure out what you want to do.
 
And that, I'm sure, barely scratches the surface of writing a blog but... you asked so I didn't want to ignore you.  All the best, whoever you are, Anonymous Commenter.  And even above that?  Thank you for reading my ovarian cancer posts.  They were extraordinarily hard to write and I greatly appreciate your time in reading them and for taking the time to comment.  It's important to me, I hope you know that.
 
Hopefully this made sense.  I typed this very quickly this morning with football on the TV in the background.  I'll wrap this up by repeating myself - check out other blogs, blogs with readership, blogs that ARE the writer's livelihood.  I'm not qualified to offer anything more than a very humble opinion.  Ok...I'm originally from New Jersey.  Probably not so humble but I hope you understand what I'm saying.  Good luck & God bless!

10.23.2012

Horrors We Live With Every Day

I was born and raised in New Jersey.  We lived in a couple of sleepy, small towns before moving to a mid-sized town when I was 10.  One of the towns we lived in, Clayton, is in the news this week because of the disappearance and probable murder of a 12 year old, sweet-faced young lady named Autumn Pasquale.  This morning a body was found in a recylcing bin, near where she disappeared and it is believed to be her.

My heart sunk when I first heard the story.  Child abduction stories rarely end well it seems.  Few children are found and reunited with their parents and just by looking at the pictures of this girl, I could imagine the horrors she endured.  Where my imagination takes me is one of some experience.  Not the exact same, mind you - obviously but experience nonetheless.  I am always reminded that God must have had bigger plans for me because I think back over my childhood and I wonder how I made it to adulthood.

One friend has posted two teenagers have been arrested on suspicion of her murder, a third is being sought.  If that is true, this case is going to get uglier and sadder by the minute.

What is getting to me, though, in addition to her death, is the description of Clayton as being a small, quiet town.  People are always shocked when such things happen in such places.  My question is why?  Why are we surprised?  It is the quiet, small towns where people still let their children ride bikes to friends' houses and walk to school unaccompanied.  They think of themselves as living in safe neighborhoods, safe towns.

No - I do not advocate living in fear.  Never.  But I do advocate living in awareness.  The awareness that small towns in a small world do not equal safety.  Too many lions roam among the lambs and until the day everyone bends their knee, the lions are going to feast on lambs whenever they get a chance.  Those lions have different faces, too.  If teenagers truly are to blame for the death of this young girl, what does that say about the kids living in that town?

That brings me back to my memories and wondering why people think small towns are safe.  I always get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I hear of a child gone missing but this one actually made that sick feeling a physical reality.  This little girl rode her bike to a friend's house, probably along a route I'd ridden as a little girl.  Clayton is not a town full of fond memories for me.

It is a town riddled with arson and murder and scary experiences I've only thought about briefly through the years.  We lived on Maple Street and just on our street I can remember three distinct incidences that involved quite a bit of violence.

The first - the end of Maple St. was a dead end.  The train tracks ran right through town, right past the end of our street and on one side was an old warehouse for a furniture store (whose name I can't remember) with a field next to it running right up to the tracks.  As kids we used to play in that field.  It's where the boys would hang out to watch the trains run over their pennies...

I was in that field one day, alone.  Picking flowers.  Such beautiful wildflowers grew in that field.  I happened to look up at the warehouse and in the window I distinctly remember a man pointing a shotgun (or rifle...I was about 7 and I don't know guns) at me.  Was he debating pulling that trigger?  I don't know.  Was he thinking how stupid us kids were playing down there - especially coming alone?  I have no idea.  I just know I dropped my flowers and ran.  Ran for home so fast.  I never looked back and I never again went to that field.

The second incident involved a neighbor's brother.  Or neighbor's sister & brother-in-law.  I don't recall the exact relationship.  I know one neighbor lived two houses up from us and the brother lived at the other end of the street, past the funeral home (yes - I lived on the same street as the town's funeral home).  That brother (in-law?) stabbed his wife and then killed himself.  My parents did a pretty good job of keeping that one from us but I do remember the police and ambulance activity at the house the night in question.  And I remember only walking on the other side of the street after that...

Funny what happens to memories, isn't it?  They become fuzzy...  For some memories, that's a good thing.

Around the corner from us, an abandoned house burned to the ground.  Arson.

And shortly after that, a neighbor girl was out walking.  Probably to the store to grab some groceries (back in the day when Mom gave you $5 and you took her short list to the store for her..) and on her way home she was viciously attacked by a group of young men, teenagers all of them.  She was beaten so bad she spent many days in hospital - perforated liver or ruptured kidney or...  I don't remember but it was something like that.  She was a mass of black & blue marks on her face and body when she could come home.

While she was still in the hospital, those boys were still roaming the streets together.  One day, that neighbor girl's sister and I were leaving school (our old elementary school is now a senior home, I believe) and a group of young men surrounded me.  Michelle was smart - she ran back to the school when she saw them.  I was totally unaware they were even there until I turned to say "hey... where you going?" to Michelle's back and they circled me.  They started pushing me around, bouncing me off each other and saying that I looked like a fun one, etc.  I just kept begging "Guys... please leave me alone, guys..." And I don't know why that struck them.  I called them guys.  Not boys.  And they thought that was cool.  "Guys.  She called us guys."  They left me..and started walking away.  I just stared at their retreating backs for a few minutes, still in a bit of shock, until I realized I needed to run.  I ran for the school and Michelle and we sat outside for a while, until we figured for sure they weren't coming back.  And then walked the back way home from school...

That was the end of it, though for my parents.  Clayton was no longer the town in which they wanted to raise us.  They told us we were moving to be closer to my father's work but when I was in my 20's, my father told me the real reason they left was fear for our safety and what the town was becoming. 

We moved in June, 1978.  My sister was 9 months old and we moved to Marlton.  Shortly after we left?  Our former next door neighbors were killed when someone threw a molatov cocktail (I believe that's what they're called) onto their back porch and set their house on fire.  Rumor was that was meant for my old house - a police officer and his family had purchased our home.  The three people living in that house, Stephen, Babe & Jeffrey Crane died trying to get out the front door.  If I remember the story correctly, they had a dead bolt on their front door that used a key to lock and unlock it.  In the smoking darkness of their fire riddled home, one of them knocked the key off the top of the TV onto the floor and they couldn't find it to get out.  I don't know why they didn't break a window.  Panic?  Smoke inhalation?  I don't know.  All I remember is they found the three of them inside the front door, together.

The last thing I heard about?  My church - the Methodist Church on Delsea Drive burned to the ground.  Also arson.  The man they arrested?  The husband of the daughter of neighbors who lived directly across the street from us.  She was a bit older than me but I played with her sister a lot.

This was the late 1970's.  Unless Clayton made great strides to clean up, they had serious problems 40 years ago.  It doesn't surprise me at all that this happened. 

It just makes it more than ridiculously tragic to me.  My heart aches for this family.  Aches.  I can't imagine all that they are feeling but I think about all that happened to me and wonder why her - why not me so many years ago.  It wasn't for lack of people trying way back then.  Whatever will happen in Clayton now?  How many more changes will be made?  Who will leave?  Who will stop letting their kids ride their bikes alone...  Security shattered.  Lives altered in ways no one can fathom.  What will people do?

How do we take back our towns?  How do we protect our children while still allowing them to be kids?  When will we actually accept that we don't live in a world where a child alone is ever safe?  The days of leaving our kids in their strollers, sleeping, while we shop (my mother used to do that with me in a town not too far from Clayton) are definitely LONG gone.  But.. the days of our kids riding their bikes to their friend's house are gone, too?  How sad a society are we, really?

UPDATE:  Was just reading an article about Autumn and one of her friends quoted had the last name Doughty.  That was the name on the side of the furniture warehouse at the end of our street...  Small town.  Small world. 

10.20.2012

When Conviction Smacks You Upside the Head

As I start typing this post, it's 5:05 PM on a Saturday afternoon.  Aaron is going to be done at work in 10 minutes and heading home.  When he gets here, we'll head out to do some grocery shopping and get what we need for the upcoming week.
 
While I'm waiting, I'm winding down a bit from a very busy day.  I'm perusing a few blogs here and there and stumbled across this post.  When I finished, I rubbed my head, feeling a bit bruised because my conscience had slapped me just a little silly.  I have a host of deviations from what she was saying but I say that in some minor attempt to justify my behavior. 
 
I know better.
 
You won't find me at the outlet mall and when we head into a state that has a lower tax rate, I don't rush into all of the stores picking up the deals but...  I get online.  I will spend a Saturday dusting, doing laundry, picking up clutter and rearranging things so the house looks good and then it hits...  the "I need a rest" thought.
 
And to the computer I go.
 
One blog will talk about some wonderful recipe and it'll mention an immersion blender and I'm off to search for one that's cordless.  Someone else will talk about another gadget or they'll have been asked to review a product and I have to do a bit more digging.  Or someone will mention a great new vendor on Etsy and there I go...
 
To shop.  Even if I end up only window shopping, I can't resist looking. 
 
And it's put us in a not so great place.  Don't get me wrong - we can pay the bills.  But when we went to buy our new car, Aaron had to be on the loan with me because I have such high revolving credit that my credit score is no longer high enough to be acceptable for the lower interest rate loans.
 
Ouch.
 
And that is incredibly hard to admit here.  It's hard to admit just to myself but REALLY hard to state it publicly.  But after reading that post I think I need to.  I think I need to get serious about saying "no."  A couple of months ago I did unsubscribe to about 10 different "newsletters" and weekly store ads but I still get a few.  I think it's time to ditch them all.  Take up reading when I "need to rest" instead of sitting on the computer.
 
I need to stop.
 
Stop thinking that I can spend $20, $30, $40 on something that I know I don't need but it's "cool" or "pretty" or will make life easier and pay for itself.
 
Horse puckey.
 
Our giving is down.  And that's not ok.  Not at all.  And I need to stop making it worse.  How is this me being a good steward?  I'm not.  Every time I start down this road, I think of Luke 12:47-48 and at the end of those two verses it says "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  Truth is, I've been given MUCH.  There are so many with SO much less than me and what have I done with it?  Who have I clothed?  Who have I fed?  Who have I helped.  Yes - one or two here and there but nothing consistent.
 
And I continue to spend... 
 
I need to say no to myself.  More.  And hopefully get better at it.  Perhaps I, instead of skipping the J Crew Outlet store will get to where I skip amazon.com.  And figure out how to give more...
 
 

10.18.2012

Oh So Very Yummy Dinner

It has been a while since I've posted any kind of recipe or link to a recipe on this thing.  Last night, though, I cooked dinner following a recipe I found here.  Technically?  I didn't "find" it there, I was directed to it from here.

I thought I should be clear.

Now that I have cleared that up?  All I can say is (1) if you enjoy homemade Mexican style food and (2) if you are looking for something super quick and simple to make and (3) if you love leftovers...

Make this.

About the only change I made to my first attempt at this recipe was I left out the diced tomatoes.  My 12 year old can't stand them so I figured "ah...they're in the salsa, why extra?" and just left them out.  Didn't hurt it one bit.

Also?  Pay attention to your layers.  I was talking homework with said 12 year old and trying to get the new dog (who is, by the way, now named Bandit - no longer Joe) to remember his manners and stay out of the kitchen when food is present so I forgot the cheese in the first layer of the lasagna.  Not a deal-breaker mind you but highly disappointing if you love that ooey gooey-ness of a TON of cheese.

The biggest regret?  Not a single picture was taken in the making of said lasagna.  I really don't think about my blog too much in my everyday life...

And finally?  I know the recipe calls for you to bake it for 30-35 minutes but check it.  I only cooked it for 30 and probably could have gotten away with 25.  The cheese on top was just starting to burn when I pulled it out so we have a couple of icky spots on the top.  At about 25 minutes, I think, it would have been positive perfection.

Enjoy!!


10.02.2012

Ahhh... Joe

Posted yesterday about our new family member.  Have to admit, now that he's been with us a few days and has started to realize he's not at the shelter, he's relaxing just a little bit.  He's such an affectionate little guy.  I'm loving it.  I have to watch, though - make sure I don't do anything crazy like start spoiling him.

It's in my nature.

Today we were working on his "commands" and I am so impressed.  He knows sit, lay down, leave it, come, wait, let's go and as I found out today, shake.  We're trying a few things out here and there because we know he was well trained, we just have to unlock his little secrets.

One thing we need, though, is a new name.  As my boss so brilliantly pointed out, Joe is awfully close to "no" and well...  that just won't work.  Doesn't seem all that fair and actually seems fairly confusing.

So we're on a hunt...a hunt for a name that suits our young fella.  I sure hope we come up with one soon because otherwise, Joe is just going to stick.

Any ideas?  He is at least part Australian Cattle Dog...  we have ruled out Matey, Barbie and Outback, though...

10.01.2012

Addition to the Family

Most people who know us know we lost our beloved Max on June 16th.  He was an adopted dog, we found him at a local shelter on October 5, 2007 and let me tell you - I have never loved a dog like I loved Max.  He was gorgeous, a Rottweiler and German Shepherd mix (or at least that was what the shelter vet said) with the Rott coloring and a Sheperd face and a gorgeous, gorgeous plume tail.

Max was the type of dog I found incredibly easy to spoil.  To his detriment, I know but I literally could not help myself - once I decided I was choosing to not help myself.  He would get up with me every morning and I would make him sit for his cookie and then open his door and as soon as he finished that cookie he was off touring his kingdom.  He'd even sit on the back step so he could, as we always called it, "survey his kingdom."  He had a thick, beautiful coat of fur and the sweetest demeanor I had ever known.  Well...as long as he was dealing with people.  If he was dealing with other dogs, killing them was the only thing on his mind.  We had to keep him away from other animals, always.  He also managed to protect his home turf a few times in the years he lived with us and every neighbor knew to keep their dog away from ours.

It worked.

Then, he got sick and we had to put him down.  We were devastated.  Just...devastated.  Nothing has torn our hearts apart so deeply as having to make that decision for such an incredible friend.  I even commented it was almost harder than losing my mother and I've written several times as to how hard THAT has been.  Besides the obvious differences, though, I didn't have to decide to put my mother down.  I think THAT was the harder part between the two situations and it really didn't matter at the time that it was the absolute best decision for Max.

So - there we were.  No one barking a greeting to us, jumping in excitement as we came through the front door.  No one sauntering through the front yard with that confident assuredness that all was right with the world but he was prepared to take out anything that might want to make it "wrong."  No one tearing through his dog door to get to the squirrels outside, claws clacking across the kitchen floor...

The house was too quiet. 

That was all there was to it.  We needed a dog.  We needed a dog to keep us anchored to the house because otherwise?  It's just a place to sleep.  Don't get me wrong - we have friends over all the time, we have family over, we definitely live in our home but having a dog there while we're gone, someone to come home to?  That made it WORTH coming back home.  It meant if we were going to go out of town, it had better be worth it because if we couldn't take Max, we probably wouldn't go. 

So we started looking online.  Shelter after shelter posting pictures of available dogs.  And one would pop up and we'd "ooooh" and "aahhhh" and say "Now THAT is a good-lookin' dawg."  And after several weeks of that, we decided to visit the same shelter where we found Max.  The first week we went home empty-handed.  There were a couple of dogs we were interested in but one of them had been in a shelter his entire two years of life and had started resource guarding and he had bit a couple of the staff and volunteers at the shelter so he was ineligible for adoption.  That just breaks my heart.  If you could see this dog...  How anyone could walk by his cage and not choose him?  I did not understand...  I still don't. 

There was another one who caught my husband's eye.  He was a white Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix and we were pretty sure there was some wolf in there, too.  He. was. gorgeous.

But...like Shep, he had behavioral issues and they sent him to live at a shelter that specializes in his type of dog, acclimating him to their pack. 

Then there was Joe.  I had spotted him our first week but we spent so much time talking about the other two that we never had a chance to bring him up.  Until yesterday.  Back to N.O.A.H. we went, to see who was new and see who we might consider and no one caught our eye.  Except Joe...  And the staff up there spent about 4 hours trying to make sure we were the right family for this dog.  He has some cattle dog in him, that's pretty sure, but they listed him as a shepherd mix, too.  And he is stinkin' smart.  He's not at all furry like Max but he's whip-like strong.  His thighs are massive for a dog his size.  He's just beautiful.

And sweet.

But we're not letting that sweet fool us.  He'll run the house if we do.  We're working immediately on the ground rules and we've made all sorts of changes from Max.  Obedience classes are going to be coming up pretty quick, too.  We're not messing around. 

Look at this face....


Can you see why we have to be strict from the get-go?  I mean...how does that face not melt your heart?

How I love being a dog family...  He's not Max and that's good.  He's Joe and he's home.  I hope for a very, very long time.