Fonticulus Fides

Friday, August 29, 2003

I am afraid of suffering.

I suppose most people are, especially here in the U.S., where we have it so easy. And where our culture is geared to making everything as painless as possible. So maybe it's no surprise that I don't want to suffer. I don't want my husband to suffer. I don't want my children to suffer. I don't want youto suffer.

When I read the words of Christ as He agonized in Gethsemane, I think He also dreaded suffering. In Mark 14:34, He tells Peter, James and John that His Soul was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." And then, moments later, He fell to the ground and prayed that if it was possible, God might take his task away from him. Verse 36, He cries out, "Abba," -- the affectionate name He used for our Father -- "Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me." And yet He was obedient and willing to take the path ordained for Him.

So, I don't think it is wrong to fear suffering. Nor do I think it's wrong to avoid suffering when we can, like driving safely, choosing not to participate in a dangerous activity, maintaining our personal health, and so forth.

But once we have been given the cup of suffering, we must take it and trust in God. I learned this lesson some years ago, when my husband and I were going through the two years of infertility we were subjected to before our son was conceived. During those hard months, I wrote the following poem (I'm no poet, by the way, so please don't get worked up about any lack of iambic pentameter or whatever).

The cup He hands me is bitter
Yet I must drink my fill
For life is my own no longer
I bow unto His will

I might groan and pray for rescue
I might weep till my tears are spent
But for His sake is my body broken
I, for His Glory, am rent.

I think about those difficult years often, whenever something happens in my life that conjures up that fear of suffering again. Like that phone call I got from my doctor on Wednesday. I have every reason to hope that the situation will resolve on its own and everything is going to be fine. But on Wednesday evening, I did have a short burst of fearful tears, because I don't want to suffer. And I don't want my baby to suffer. Natural emotions, when facing the unknown.

Just in the last 24 hours, I have learned of two particular women who really are faced with suffering, not just the unknown, like me. In a comment box below, Alicia, St. Blog's resident midwife, revealed that one of her patients has a confirmed diagnosis of Trisomy-18, a genetic disorder that leaves the baby unable to survive for long outside the womb. And, in an on-line expecting club I participate in, another woman recently had an ultrasound that revealed "severe birth defects." I don't have the details on her situation, so I don't know if it's the same condition or not.

Alicia's patient is continuing her pregnancy, despite pressure to terminate. The expecting club participant I spoke of has already scheduled an abortion.

Why do some people have the strength to go on, while others do not? I believe it is that fear of suffering again. The second woman, faced with a terrible situation that is completely out of her control, has chosen an option that very likely makes her feel like she has some sense of control after all. The let's-get-it-over-with thing, but oh, so misguided. Her baby's existence in her womb, here on earth, is the only thing she is shortening by this action. Her own suffering started the day she was told her ultrasound results, and it will never end. She may journey (emotionally) to a state of acceptance, but the fact that she is losing a much-wanted child will always be true. The only difference is that she is making a choice about when and how that child will die.

Alicia's patient must feel the same way I do, when I consider the possibility of such a diagnosis in my own child. I know I would be devastated by the news, and I would be so afraid of this child going through agony. But I could not, on top of that, also choose the day and method with which the child will die. The burden would already be too great to bear. I know that the only "good" time the baby would have would be within my womb. Once born, it's a different story. I'd want to extend the goodness as long as possible. I would want time to talk to the baby, to sing to the baby, to feel the growth and development through my skin.

And honestly, I would be praying so hard for the baby to be born alive and live at least long enough to be baptized. I know there's that whole limbo concept out there, but I would find the completed baptism so much more reassuring.

Well, all this to say...there are suffering people all around us, and those of us who can, can perhaps help shoulder the burden a bit. Alicia's patient needs our prayers for strength, for courage, for comfort. So does her baby. The woman from my on-line expecting club and her child likewise need prayers -- I don't know when the procedure will be done, but I pray for a miracle anyway, that she will change her mind and preserve her child's life as long as possible.

Nothing I face compares to what these women are going through. Please be generous with your prayers for their sake, and their children's sake.


Thursday, August 28, 2003

Good stuff on the long-term effects of abortion finding their way into popular songs over at Envoy Encore.


Wednesday, August 27, 2003

This story really makes my blood boil. On the one hand, it's a tragic accident caused by well-meaning people. On the other hand, those "well-meaning" people have a twisted view of suffering, which led them to the actions that led to this child's death.

I used to belong to churches like this. They preach that suffering is the result of either sin in your life or demonic possession. Since this boy was autistic, they somehow decided that he was possessed and needed exorcism. And in the process of praying for his deliverance from evil forces, the child was delivered...from them.

The Catholic position on suffering is so much more merciful, logical and comforting. Today, I take great comfort in it for a very personal reason. When the phone rang as I was writing my last post, it was my doctor. The ultrasound detected a choroid plexus cyst (CPC).

From what I understand, the choroid plexus is the part of your brain that produces and supplies fluid around the brain and down the spinal column. A CPC is simply a pocket of fluid.

Now, most of the time, a CPC is honestly no big deal. It doesn't affect the "thinking" parts of the brain, nor does it inhibit brain development. CPCs usually go away by themselves by 26 weeks of gestation or so. Like 99% of the time. However (isn't there always a however?), CPCs have been tied to Trisomy-18. A Trisomy-18 factor is really, really difficult to bear -- the babies often die before or shortly after birth. They rarely make it to their first birthday.

I know the odds are still greatly in our favor. Immensely in our favor. There were absolutely no other markers for Trisomy-18 in our scan, nor any for Down's Syndrome. But I've had a nagging feeling all through this pregnancy that something hasn't been quite right. And Trisomy-18 has been in the back of my mind, although I've been telling myself that's just because I've happened to run across references to it a few times since becoming pregnant. And because I'm 38 and everywhere I turn, I get the "advanced maternal age" bit.

I honestly believe, though, that everything is going to be all right, regardless of what happens with my baby's CPC. God will carry us through, whether we suffer or rejoice. And I'm hanging on to that desperately as I await the next ultrasound to detect the CPC's progress, which is six long weeks away. I really, really hate the idea of waiting that long, but wait I must.

In the meantime, I intend to do a novena. I'm not exactly sure how those work, but I know that when my mother was pregnant with me, she received a horrible diagnosis, and she and my grandmother did a novena, praying that mom and I would both be kept safe, and we were. I sure wish my grandmother was still here so I could ask her about it. My mom's memory isn't too good, and she left the Church long ago, so I don't want to ask her about it.

Besides, I haven't even told her I am expecting again. I was waiting for the ultrasound, because if something was wrong, I wanted to tell my family everything at the same time.

I found this novena, and I assume you just say the daily allotment of prayers following the Rosary or something like that. Is that right?

Your prayers and tips on novenas would be greatly appreciated.


Answered Prayers (or at least, the beginning of answers...)

We got a trace of rain yesterday and the potential for more the next few days. Although the brilliant blue sky outside doesn't suggest such a thing. But thanks be to God for what we have received so far, and please, Lord, send some more.

Even better...I noted Monday that my husband's last correspondence from his biological mother indicated that she was not doing very well, and that I was praying for God to help her, soon. Well, a birthday card for him arrived in the mail yesterday, and it was simple and nice. It made me hope that she possibly has turned the corner and might actually be doing a little better with everything. He's thinking about dropping her a line in return, just to say thanks and he's sorry that things haven't been better between them. So if you would, please say a prayer for both of them.

Adoption reunions are really tough, especially in a closed adoption such as my husband's. I don't think either he or Linda could possibly have prepared themselves for the volatility that ensued. Or the difference in their purpose for the reunion, even though they talked about that extensively in written correspondence and on the phone before they met face-to-face. It's one thing for a person to guess how they will feel or what they want from a relationship before it's quite another when the relationship becomes a reality.

Phone is ringing, so I have to go...


Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Because of the current impression that I'm having another girl, and because of my husband's original idea that if we had another baby, we should name him after John the Baptist, I am working on girl names that are derived from John somehow.

I'm not having much luck. My search for girl names that mean "gift from God" (like John) came up with the usual Jean, Jane, Joan and Joanna, along with (don't laugh) Godiva, Mattia, Shawna and Vanna, and a few I can't pronounce. Searched for "baptize" or "baptizer" but came up with nothing. Anybody have any brilliant ideas out there?

It's never been easy for us to settle on an exact name for our kids before birth -- we typically take a list with us and decide after meeting the baby face to face -- but intentionally trying to work a Saint's name into it is proving to be a challenge.


Monday, August 25, 2003

Back around New Year's 1970, a fun-loving, unmarried, 20-year-old young woman named Linda realized she was pregnant.

From what I gather, she was pretty excited about the baby. She probably imagined getting married to Jim and setting up a cute little apartment halfway between his work and hers. She probably couldn't help breezing past the infant section of the downtown department stores, marvelling over all those sweet baby things.

But things didn't work out the way she thought they would. Jim dumped her, fast. Her elder sister, a nurse, scolded her and commanded her to have an abortion, which, of course, was still an illegal procedure. "I have connections," the sister said. "It can be a secret and nobody will ever have to know."

Linda didn't want a secret abortion. She wanted to have her baby. Part of her hoped that Jim would come around eventually. His own grandmother was pushing for a fast wedding. If he would just give her a chance, he'd see how happy she could make him, how wonderful their little baby would be.

Linda's mother preferred to heed her sister's advice. She wanted that baby aborted, the sooner, the better. The elder sister arranged for an appointment at a certain clinic; the mother got the money together and forced Linda to come along. Unable to stand up to her mother's strong personality, Linda obeyed, hoping and praying for a miracle.

The doctor with whom the sister had arranged the secret abortion was unexpectedly out of the office when Linda and her mother arrived. The mother told Linda to wait while she met with the replacement doctor, to make sure things were still understood.

In the waiting room, Linda could hear her mother shouting angrily at the doctor. Eventually, the discussion was over and Linda's mother stormed out and plunked herself down in a seat. The doctor smiled at Linda and motioned for her to come to the examination room, where he checked her over and made sure she was healthy and the pregnancy was progressing well.

Apparently, he had refused to do the abortion, despite Linda's mother's pleads, offers of money, threats and the like. He stood up to her, when Linda couldn't.

After the exam, Linda thanked him, noting his medical coat was embroidered, "Dr. Angel." An angel sent by God, she thought.

Back at home, Linda's mother furiously handed her a list of homes for unwed pregnant girls. "Pick one,"she seethed. "You can't stay here in that condition. And don't think your father and I are going to help you out of this jam once that child is born. You are on your own."

Linda picked one. There she lived with other young women in the same predictament, learning about nutrition, how to keep house, infant care, and more. Some of the girls planned on keeping their babies. Some planned on relinquishing their children for adoption. Linda intended to keep her baby. She was sure he was a boy, and she would name him after Jim.

A week before Linda delivered, her former roommate from the home returned with her own baby and relinquished him for adoption. "It's too hard on your own," the young mother told Linda after she signed her parental rights away. "If your parents won't help, and the guy is long gone, it's just too hard to do it. Bringing him back and giving him up is the best thing I can do for him."

Linda thought about that long and hard for the next few days. Her situation was identical to her roommate's. On Linda's brief visits home during the last six months, her mother had been cold and unloving, warning her that if she kept the baby, she'd be all on her own.

As Linda went into labor, she knew that she would have to give her baby up for adoption. Her labor wasn't terribly long or short, nor was it terribly painful or easy. She delivered a healthy 6 lb, 14 oz. son. At the hospital, she held him as much as they would let her, kissing him and crying over him and telling him she loved him, but she had to give him up. When he was two days old, she signed the relinquishment papers and asked that he be placed with a Christian couple who could not have children of their own, and made the innocent request that either the mother or the father be artistic. Linda was an artist herself, and she dreamed of her son having the same opportunities for artistic expression that she enjoyed.

The same day, a young wife who was working as a bank teller in a small town received a phone call from an adoption agency in Omaha. A baby boy had just been put up for adoption. Did she and her husband care to come up and see how they felt about him?

Did they ever! They raced to Omaha as fast as they could and immediately fell in love with the little boy wrapped in a blue blanket. The baby's attendent left them alone with him for an hour, and they took turns holding him, feeding him a bottle, and trying to master the all-important burp manuever. They knew he was theirs and they were his.

However, as a matter of policy, they were sent home to think about it overnight. They were miffed at the formality, but obeyed. The next day, they returned to Omaha in a Cadillac leant to them by the woman's father ("My first grandson is coming home in style," he had insisted), and after signing some papers and paying $500, they were a family.

And that is the story of my husband's salvation from abortion, and how he came to be adopted by my in-laws. He had what I consider an ideal childhood in many ways. They eventually adopted two more children, so he had siblings. He lived in small towns, played baseball and football, delivered newspapers, played in the school band. His parents taught him about Jesus and raised him to work hard and be responsible. It wasn't perfect, of course -- I don't know anybody who had a perfect childhood. But he turned out all right.

As for Linda, her story had a less-than-happy ending. When she was released from the hospital, she was not allowed even the smallest momento to remember her son by, not a lock of hair, a photo, anything. She went back to the home long enough to pack her bags and say goodbye to the other girls, and then she returned to her parents' house. Her mother greeted her with a pair of airline tickets to California. Linda was to take a month off with one of her best girlfriends and just lie on the beach and "forget about the whole thing."

After the "vacation," Linda was never allowed to speak of her lost child again. Consequently, she never grieved properly for the whole experience, and, judging from my husband's last correspondence from her, she contiues to suffer from the whole ordeal and seems unable to gauge her own need for healing. It seems to me that Linda has deteriorated to the point where only the power of God will rescue her, and I pray this will happen. Soon.

Linda is not alone. Many birth mothers were put through similiar experiences, stumbling through life without the support or wisdom they need to survive such a thing mentally and spiritually intact. On this week of my husband's birthday, I always pray specially for birth mothers everywhere. Such a difficult and noble thing they have done, and so many of them lost the ability to function properly when they relinquished their children. It's a hard, hard thing to live through.


Yesterday was my husband's birthday -- again, my dearest, I wish you the best of years!

This guy is truly a gift from God to me, and I am so grateful to have ended up married to a considerate, compassionate, hard-working man who is daily laying down his life for me and the kids. Please, any of you who are reading this blog of mine, if you could offer a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing over my husband, I surely would appreciate it!

I must post the story of his miraculous birth later today...


Friday, August 22, 2003

Well, we had our one-and-only ultrasound for this pregnancy yesterday afternoon. Everything looked just peachy to my untrained eyes, but I will have to wait a week or two to find out if the dr. confirms this, since the ultrasound tech can never tell you anything. But the baby looked a lot like our other babies did, and I was relieved to see some kicking and waving going on. I have only felt the slightest flutters from this baby, and only once in a great while. I didn't record movement with my son until 21 weeks, but in retrospect, I felt him earlier & just didn't know it was him. And with my daughter, I felt three quick jabs from her at 14 weeks, plus she liked to roll around in there, so I felt her a lot. But this baby has been more than quiet. Dh hopes that means we'll get a mellow baby this time. And he's right, we could use one.

I worry sometimes about how I will be able to be the AP mom I want to be with three kids, especially when the two youngest are so close together. FWIW, I worried about this the last time, too, but our daughter arrived just as Zooey was understanding the difference between boys and girls, and he wanted little to do with me back then. He would say, "Dad and I are boys, and you and the baby are girls," and happily tag along with my husband, leaving me to tend to the baby at her pace. Most of the time, anyway. There certainly have been difficult half-hours in which all three of us were crying!

The new baby will arrive about the same time Edyn turns 19 months, and I remember the year-and-a-half stage being a particularly clingy one. Already, if she sees Zooey on my lap, Edyn will show jealousy, and Zoo has alwaysbeen part of the deal for her. How will she react to a newcomer? Especially if it is during a "I need Mommy" stage?

Zooey has been a bit clingy, too, lately. I think it has something to do with starting preschool and having more responsibilities now that he is four. And maybe also because he knows a baby is on the way, and he already has an idea of how things can change a lot. I'm sure that once he gets the hang of school and the few new things we are asking him to do, he will be more comfortable about things. All I can do now is try to read his signals and give him as much extra cuddling and chatting and loving as he seems to need.

Maybe due to the ultrasound or maybe due to the fact that I've actually been able to eat relatively normal foods all week, I'm feeling quite excited about this baby for the first time. I mean, I've been happy to be blessed with another child, but now I'm excited. And where I was utterly convinced we were having a boy (even buying some things for a winter baby boy at a thrift shop last week), I'm now utterly convinced we're having another girl. Stay tuned -- if this is anything like my first pregnancy, I'll be changing my mind about that every 5-7 days.


Well, good news in Mississippi: if you happen to be a person still in the womb, you have some rights now.

The abortion-rights proponents are upset, as usual. Which really makes no sense if they are as "pro-choice" as they say they are. I mean, if it all comes down to a mother's choice in determining whether or not the being in the womb is a baby or not, then why do they care that the government allows it, too?

I thought it was really strange that the abortion-rights lobby was upset when this issue came up in the Laci/Connor/Scott Peterson case. I mean, why shouldn't the prosecuters pursue a double murder charge? Two bodies were fished out of the bay. There were two coffins at the funeral. Two headstones sit in the cemetery with two different names. The family is mourning the loss of two people. So why shouldn't there be two murder charges?


Thursday, August 21, 2003

Hooooooo boy!

Thanks to the "comments for dummies" instructions and tips sent to me by Peony Moss over at Two Sleepy Mommies, I now have a comments function! I am so happy!!!

Thanks again, Peony. You're the bomb!


Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Okay, since I haven't yet been able to get a comments system working, I begged my html-savvy buddy for help & he gave me the code for an auto e-mail link or whatever you call it. It's to the right, there, just underneath the "Blogger" logo. If you click on that, you should get a message box to pop up. I tried it & it worked for me.

I know, it's small consolation compared to comments boxes, but at least it's a bit easier to communicate. And if you would like to use it to offer some suggestions on how I could get a free comments system to work on this blog of mine, I would love that. I've only tried a couple & I couldn't figure out the instructions of one, while I couldn't get the other one to load onto the blog (probably instructions misinterpretation again). I can't afford a service, so it has to be free, and if it makes a difference, I work off a Mac G3. Thanks!


A little drought update...

Well, as of yesterday morning, we were at least 2" short on annual rainfall, and we were a couple extra inches short on top of that because of previous years of drought. Yesterday evening, right around 5 p.m., we got a series of downpours. Some parts of the city got a half-inch, others got an inch-and-a-half. Outlying areas varied wildly, from two-tenths of an inch to three inches.

One thing I didn't know before this drought hit locally is that not all rain is good rain. It actually has to come down slow and steady for several hours to soak the ground adequately. In other words, if three inches of rain is dumped on sun-baked earth all at once, a little soaks in and the rest all runs off. Which causes dangerous flash flooding.

So, although we got a little moisture last night, it's not nearly enough to make up the deficit, and even the areas that got quite a bit are no better off than they were 48 hours ago.

When I drove the kids out to the farm on Saturday, I saw a lot of corn that is brown already. Usually in September, the corn dries out in preparation for harvest. Mid-August is way too early to see that. I suppose it's possible that a bunch of farmers thought they might try to beat the drought after a rainy spring by planting 85-day corn -- if they put the corn in, say, the last week of April or first week of May, it would be drying out now so they could harvest it. But I kind of doubt 85-day corn, which is really meant for the northern parts of the plains, like North Dakota and Minnesota, would have done well at all with the high heat and dry conditions we had all through July. Most farmers here plant 112- to 120-day corn, and a drought-resistant variety would need somewhat less moisture through July, but more than we've had naturally. My guess is that irrigation got too expensive on a lot of these farms, so they stopped trying and let the crop go. Irrigation is so expensive, and there have been water restrictions in some parts of Nebraska in effort to protect the rivers from drying up.

So what does a farmer do with a failed corn crop? Well, you try to "make lemonade," so to speak. Most of them end up harvesting anyway, to see what little they get. And some of the by-products (like cobs) can be used to make plastic or whatever, so they can still sell something & try to get back the cost of the seed. If they have crop insurance, an adjuster will come out and examine the field and determine how much of a claim they can make.

My father-in-law's fields still look pretty good, because he was blessed to inherit a very good piece of ground. His great-grandfather had cattle out there, so the soil is very rich, and they are fairly close to an underground water table, which helps them survive drought. He doesn't irrigate, plants drought-resistant seed, and practices a no-till management that helps preserve ground moisture as well as nutrients (think mulch on a giant scale, plus since he doesn't turn the soil over, he doesn't lose as much moisture to evaporation). Not sure what he is expecting his corn harvest to be, but at this point, I'd estimate he'll get over 100 bushels an acre if we get enough moisture through August, when the corn kernels are supposed to be plumping up. Normal, by the way, is 210 bushels an acre or above.

Last year, he only got 14 bushels an acre in soybeans, and normal there is 45+. But the guy on the farm just south of his irrigated his beans and only got 7 bushels to the acre. The drought stunted the growth of his bean field, and his harvester couldn't reach low enough to collect all the pods. So 2/3 of his harvest was lost to the stunted growth. My father-in-law's drought-resistant beans faired a little better in the height department. This year, his beans are also very low. They only come up to my knee, and they should be mid-thigh on a person my height. He's also got some grasshopper damage out there.

If you ever read the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you probably know a bit about what grasshoppers used to do to crops out here in the Plains. They aren't near as bad, but 50 years ago, they would still fly in clouds so thick and large, they'd block out the sun until they landed on a field and ate every bit of green to be had.

When my father-in-law was a boy -- 10 or 12 years old, I think -- his family was in dire straights. Two of the six children had just gotten over a serious case of measles, with high doctor bills. His dad, Andrew, had taken out a note on the farm to buy a new tractor and mechanical plough, hoping to increase productivity and thus profit. It was against his better judgement to take out a loan, but he just couldn't keep ploughing with horses and keep up with a family of eight (esp. after one of his plough team died). Andrew's unmarried sister Daisy had paid the doctor bills herself, and the amount of debt was weighing heavily on Andrew's heart.

But the crop looked really good. There was plenty of wheat, a good field of alfalfa to cut for winter hay to feed to the cows. The garden was filled with plenty of produce, and Andrew's wife Edith was already starting to can some to get through the winter.

Edith worked part-time at the newspaper office in town (a job she held for nearly 70 years, from the age of 16 until she retired at 85 in 2002), and one day, Andrew drove her in, meaning to stop at the farm supply store and start dealing with the man there about how much he would pay down on the tractor after harvest in six weeks or so.

The farm supply man told Andrew he had been expecting him, and Andrew couldn't figure out why because he was rarely in town that time of year. But the man told him a grasshopper plague was coming, and he'd saved a bit of insecticide for Andrew, thinking for sure Andrew would want to protect that bounty crop out in his fields. Andrew hadn't known about the coming threat, because the tubes were burnt out in his radio, and he hadn't wanted to spend the money to replace them until harvest.

The insecticide was expensive, and at the rate Andrew would have to put it on, he wasn't even sure it would save all that much of the crop. Plus, he was broke. He'd have to take the insecticide on credit, and he just didn't feel good about putting the farm in more debt.

I don't know if he consulted Edith or not, but if he had, I'm sure she would have agreed with him. Andrew thanked the man and refused the insecticide.

They went home with heavy hearts and took one last look at the beautiful green wheat and the silky purple flowers of the alfalfa. Edith gathered in what produce she could from the garden and went in to fix supper.

Before they sat down with the children to eat, Andrew informed the children about the grasshoppers. "Only God can save our crop," he told them. He had everybody kneel next to their chairs, and they prayed together that God would help them.

I'm sure neither Andrew nor Edith slept that night. I know my father-in-law lay awake for hours in his bed, praying.

The grasshoppers arrived the next day, a glittering green cloud that covered the sky. Andrew and my father-in-law stood on the front porch, watching the cloud come up from the west and settle on the wheat. They didn't say anything for a long time.

Then my father-in-law spied another, darker, more threatening cloud also coming from the west. As it came closer, Andrew shuddered at the thought of what his fields would look like by the end of the day.

But the second cloud wasn't made up of grasshoppers. It was blackbirds, thousands of them. And a blackbird likes nothing better to eat than a fat, juicy grasshopper. The blackbirds settled on the wheat field too, gobbling down grasshoppers as fast as they could.

All the farms in that area suffered grasshopper damage that week, even some of the ones treated with insecticide (if it's mixed too weak, it won't do the job). And Andrew did see a big loss in wheat, compared to what he was expecting to harvest. But not near as bad as it would have been without those blackbirds. He wasn't able to pay off the tractor and plough completely, but he was able to reduce his debt at the farm store, buy seed for the following year, and pay his sister back for the doctor bill.

That night at supper, the family thanked God for protecting their crops. And 50 years later, I thank Him, too, because my father-in-law is still able to farm the same piece of land, land which has been in his family for well over 100 years.

As a parish and as a community at large, we're all still praying for drought relief over here. And that the rain will come safely. I hope you'll take a few seconds and offer up a prayer of your own. There are a lot of farmers out there who could really use the rain. Thanks.


Friday, August 15, 2003

Mass was splendid today, in numerous ways. The altar society had strung a garland of white roses around the statue of Mary off to the right, and when I got there, a crowd of folks were already up to the fourth set of Mysteries in the Rosary. I hope it wasn't inappropriate for me to join in at that point.

By the time we were done, the cathedral was packed, and ushers were asking folks to scoot in a little closer together so a few more people could sit in each pew. Then we were treated to "Ave Maria" sung by a tenor with a rather nice voice. At least, it sounded to me like he had had some professional training, which isn't all that common in my neck of the woods. In fact, everybody around me seemed to be members of the choir or something, because they all sang beautifully. And loudly.

The homily was on being clothed with righteousness, what that meant for Mary on earth and now in Heaven, and what that means for us. Very inspiring. Eucharist took so long, we repeated the five-verse "Sermon Song" hymn before everybody was served. Though Mass was running late, most folks stayed for the end, and when we closed with "Salve Regina," everybody seemed to be singing at the top of their lungs. I could actually feel the vibrations through the floor and my hymnal was quivering from the sound waves. I love that. It's so cool to be standing together with a whole bunch of like-minded people. Very comforting to me, I suppose, because for so long we felt like the proverbial fish out of water, looking for the place God wanted us to be.

I'm signing off for the weekend, mostly because the Internet is moving slow as molasses for me today (must be a lot of people who are finally back on in the East, all trying to catch up on things at once). We're helping my brother-in-law and his wife and daughter move to their new house in the country tomorrow. I just talked to the wife on the phone, and she sounds really happy and enthusiastic, which I take as a very good sign that they are getting things back on track in their marriage. Thanks to everybody who has been praying for them. I'm sure they aren't completely out of the woods just yet, but things look very favorable, and I'm so happy about that.

Also, please remember that two of St. Blog's parishoners, Jenny and Chris are being united in Holy Matrimony tomorrow! Congratulations to you two, and may God bless your marriage abundantly!


A Blessed Feast of the Assumption to one and all...

and prayers of encouragement and safety sent up on behalf of all those affected by the massive power outage in the Northeast.


Thursday, August 14, 2003

They are talking about fruit smoothies over at HMS Blog in preparation for the Feast of the Assumption. Who knew such things were to be enjoyed? I've been living on these things (with an occasional plate of nachos -- dr's orders!), trying to get a nice balance of folic acid, calcium and protein into my less-than-cooperative stomach.

Anyway, my recipe:

1 very ripe banana, frozen or not
5-6 frozen strawberries
3/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice (the kind with calcium for me)

Blend until smooth but still fairly thick and enjoy much as you would a strawberry-banana milk shake.

A Protestant pal has asked my husband to take him to the 10 p.m. Mass tonight on campus at St. Thomas Aquinas, so please pray for that to go well. Haven't been to a Feast of the Assumption Mass before, so I wonder if it will be "too heavy on the Mary stuff" for this particular fellow? But then, the Mass is the Mass, so I shouldn't think it would be anything inappropriate.

I'm going to tomorrow's noon Mass downtown at St. Mary's, our home parish. Looking forward to it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Well, I think it's safe to announce that Little E really is walking for sure now. Her confidence fluxuated all last week, but over the weekend, she really got her "feet" and started toddling to and fro, laughing hysterically every time she reached her destination point. Two nights ago, she mastered changing direction and avoiding objects on the floor (hey, with two kids, a dog and a husband who considers every inch of floor space a legitimate shoe depository, I can't keep up unless they are all asleep). Last night, I noticed she was showing some heel-to-toe action and bending her knees enough to step over objects.

I was going to say her fledgling steps parallel my own as a Catholic. Of late, I've felt much less like I'm stumbling through Mass and more capable of actually doing the "work of the people." That probably sounds strange to any of you cradle Catholics out there, but really, I've had a lot to master at Mass alone. Not to mention the rest of my life. I've just felt like such a klutz, particularly during Eucharist. Since I typically have my hands full (it takes both to carry the baby, since my hand strength is so unreliable), I almost always have to receive the Host directly on my tongue, and I'm always terrified I'll drop it or something. And there have been times the priest has had a similar look of concern on his face. At least, that's how I'm interpretting it. I'm still not 100% comfortable with that, but I'm getting there.

But as far as the baby's steps paralleling my Catholic journey, I have to admit, she's going to surpass me quickly. She'll be running soon, and I won't reach that stage for a long time. Purgatory maybe.


Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Alicia posted a link via The Curt Jester to this recent George Weigel column about hymns. Oddly enough, I just read the same column in the Southeast Nebraska Register last night.

My husband and I found it pretty funny. Especially since we have ended up attending three different local parishs on the last three Sundays (mostly due to timing -- like the Sunday we hurried to get the children ready for 9:30 Mass, but weren't able to walk out the door until 9:25, which caused us to go to the 10:00 Mass at a neighboring parish). By sheer coincidence (I think), we've managed to be subjected to "I am the Bread of Life" three weeks in a row.

Now, I haven't been exposed to many Catholic hymns yet -- they tend to do the same 25-30 in rotation at my parish, especially when the choir is off for the summer. But I have to tell you, this particular hymn has never set real well with me. Mr. Weigel suggests it is the idea of the collective voices of the parish speaking for Christ, as if we, together somehow represent Him. That could be it.

My husband the musician thinks it's just really flat piece. One tends to imagine that all hymns will reach soaring levels of praise, like the Alleluia Chorus or something, and this one doesn't really cut it.

Since we come from a charismatic background, "praise music" probably has a completely different meaning for us than it does for most Catholics. My earliest indoctrination to "Christian Music" was marked by a full band with electric guitars, bass and drums, and catchy little "worship choruses" that tended to make up for their lack of theology with memorability. I've heard accounts from people who literally felt "entranced" by the music, and I can see why. The same short, pop-song-like, chord progression and heavy beat drummed into your head 7 or 8 times in a row can do that to a person. In fact, worship choruses basically follow the same principles as the jingles you hear in TV commercials. "My bologna has a first name..." is so much like, "...and I have J-E-S-U-S here in my H-E-A-R-T..."

The oddest thing about charismatic worship is how carefully it is orchestrated to look spontaneous. My husband served on the worship team for a long time, 10 years easily, I suppose. And pretty much everything that looked like it "just happened by move of the Spirit" on Sunday was actually planned out in rehersal on Saturday. Songs were often chosen through a subjective judgement process that included ratings such as how loud the crowd sang along, how many people got up to a few objective things like, can the drummer assigned to play this week handle 6/8 time? (When all your musicians are volunteers, you can't afford to be picky about training or talent levels).

Since becoming Catholic, I think my means of evaluation of hymns and worship songs has changed a lot. I've been more interested that the songs be theologically correct for years. Now I'm less concerned about music style and delivery than I used to be. I know it was really hard for my husband at the guitar Mass we went to last Sunday, in which the instruments were neither tuned nor played very well and the folks leading the hymns were singing flat. He just has a much more trained ear than I do, so that sort of thing is really distracting for him.

After leaving that Mass, my husband began considering what would make a guitar Mass good. (It was his second -- my first -- and he said neither one of the ones he attended were done well.) I imagine that by analyzing hymns and the liturgy itself, and then applying what he knows about guitar, he could probably come up with something quite fitting for Mass. But there is always the question as to whether anyone would be interested in such a thing. We don't have guitar Mass at our parish, but several of the "younger" parishes do. And I imagine some of the more traditionally inclined find the use of a guitar inappropriate no matter what. Whereas -- correct me if I'm wrong -- the Latin Mass afficianados don't use any music per se, but stick to chant exclusively.

I have mixed feelings about the concept of a guitar Mass. On the one hand, I believe the Mass is universal, which ought to mean (I think) that it can easily be used in any cultural frame of reference without harming the content. Which means that Asian cultures that use an entirely different musical scale as we do ought to be able to chant or sing in music that sounds beautiful to their ears, the same way we in Western cultures seek hymns that sound beautiful on our own musical scale. On the other hand, I believe that Mass is timeless, which means any musical style or arrangement of instruments or even the quality of hymn-writing must be completely irrelevant.

Your thoughts welcome on this -- send them to me at sparki777(at)yahoo(dot)com and I will post accordingly (with your permission, of course).


Monday, August 11, 2003

At last -- morning sickness has abated enough for me to get in on some of the food conversations that have been going on here in St. Blog's. I haven't been able to read Erik's Rants and Recipes for a couple months, and was forced to bow out of a discussion elsewhere when Erik started chatting about making sausage from scratch. But I digress...

Since I was feeling a lot better on Saturday morning and maple syrup sounded good, I decided to make pancakes for breakfast. This is not typical fare at our house, but hey, it was Saturday, so I figured why not. I sent Dh out for syrup and threw open the cupboards.

Well, the cupboards produced only a cup and a quarter of flour, so I went through a couple cookbooks to look for an alternative recipe. Most of my cookbooks are still packed up -- I thought we were moving this month & started packing in June, but now we are staying put & I haven't had the heart to unpack yet.

Anyway, my Martha Stewart book had a recipe for "Swedish Pancakes." Being of Norwegian heritage, I was taught throughout my childhood to shun anything Swedish, but I pushed those feelings aside when I saw the description, "...eggier, lighter and slightly sweeter than regular pancakes." The recipe called for 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, a little salt, 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, and 6 tablespoons melted butter.

That just didn't sit quite right with me. First of all, how could they be sweeter when there was no sugar, and my regular recipe (out of the Mayberry RFD cookbook) call for 2 tablespoons? Second of all, that's a LOT of butter. And third of all, I thought the batter would be way too thin with those proportions, and I wasn't sure I could get through THREE raw eggs -- two might be my limit.

So, I adjusted things a bit. I mean, it's just pancakes, right? If Martha's recipe works and my Mayberry recipe works, then something in between ought to work out just fine. So, I used all my flour, three tablespoons of baking powder (knowing mine was a little less than active), salt, a tablespoon of sugar, 3/4 cup of milk, two eggs, and only 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Then I threw in a dash of vanilla, because that's always good.

The batter was really runny. I mean, it was the consistency of whole milk, not even half-and-half. Martha's must be more like water! But I forged ahead, congratulating myself on having the foresight to trim back the milk, eggs and melted butter or I would have had a real mess on my hand. I decided there must have been a typo in Martha's book.

Well, the next step was to heat a "cast iron Swedish Pancake skillet." Hmmm...didn't even know those existed. I already had my griddle heating on the stove, and I didn't have any other option for the moment, so griddle it would have to be.

It turns out that a Swedish Pancake skillet actually has round indentations to enable the pancakes to hold their shape. (They must be more like crepes than anything.) Without the skillet, my Swedish Pancakes looked like...well, Sweden. Long, irregular shapes. The batter was so light and airy, tons of air bubbles came up, giving the tops a lacy appearance.

They looked odd but tasted just fine. Zooey ate about seven of them (they aren't terribly filling because they are so thin). Dh ate a few and shrugged. Edyn likes everything at this point, so she's no judge.

The pancake experiment will continue. Dh has requested "buttermilk pancakes" next time. If you have a good recipe for those, please send it to me at sparki777(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Friday, August 08, 2003

Yowza. The computer I usually use went haywire. But I'm back on line now. I don't like this particular monitor at all, but I guess I will have to deal with it. When you get free Internet access, you don't complain about the details.

So anyway. A funny thing happened shortly before Easter, shortly before we joined the Catholic Church. My husband said to me, "If we ever have another kid, we'll have to have a boy and name him John."

I looked at him like he was nuts. I mean, at the time, Baby E was only 9 months old. And I'm just getting a little old for all this baby birthing stuff. I mean, I'll be 39 soon. I'm pushing 40.

But, he explained, one of the names we gave our oldest is Zachary, and one of the names we gave the baby is Elisabeth, and that is just like John the Baptist's parents, Zachariah and Elizabeth. So if we had a boy and named him after John the Baptist, we'd have paid tribute to the whole family.

I ha-ha-ha-ed him away and put the whole thing out of my mind. There was enough going on back then. But we're NFP folks and have been for a long time, so there's always that "Hey, it could happen" attitude between us as it is.

So then, a couple weeks after Easter, I was waiting to ovulate. And waiting and waiting and waiting. And little E started to wean, which I found discouraging and stressful, because she was only 10 months old, and I figured we'd go at least a year. And then after a long time of waiting, I started dropping everything I tried to pick up, and my husband suggested that I should probably take a pregnancy test.

(Does anybody else out there start dropping stuff when she's pregnant? My mom did, too. Our joints just get so loose. And the premature arthritis in my hands makes me clumsy anyway.)

So, as I'm sure you already figured out, the test was postive. My husband grinned from ear to ear, "Who would have thought John the Baptist had such a sense of humor?" Obviously, John the Baptist decided this was a very good idea and prayed for a namesake. And God agreed. So we think we're having a boy and working on names with "John" as part of the mix.

All this goes to show you that the Saints really do hear us. So be careful what you say. Or throw caution to the wind. Whatever suits your fancy.

Anyway, I'm 16 weeks pregnant and doing much better now that the relentless morning sickness is beginning to abate. The baby's heartbeat tested fine yesterday, and I'm only the slightest bit anemic (due to being unable to keep any meat/poultry/dairy protein and only the tiniest bit of veggie protein down). My dr. suggested I try to eat lots of nachos since I can cover the four basic food groups fairly easily and I haven't had any trouble with refried beans. And hey, that actually sounds pretty good. Why is it I can keep a little salsa down but not a piece of my husband's perfectly grilled chicken? If you can't tell by that Rx, my dr. is something of a folksy, down-to-earth, homeopathic-minded physician. She's a year younger than me, Catholic and totally trusting of the way God designed women for childbirth, which are all reasons I love her to pieces.

So...there's one other thing I want to say. I have a list here of women out in St. Blog's whom I have been praying for, because I know you all want so badly to conceive. We went through two years of infertility ourselves before conceiving our son, so I know how you might be feeling right now about my news. I remember so many times feeling a mixture of happiness for the couple who was expecting and pain/sadness/confusion at the state of my own empty womb. I really wish there was something I could do to make it all better, but all I can do is pray for you, and please know that I do. Every day. And often much more than once a day. And I never fail to ask the Blessed Mother and St. Gerard to pray for you, too. I am sorry that you aren't currently sharing this experience with me, but I pray it will be soon. Soon!


Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I thought this piece about letting one's conscious be one's guide by Frederica Matthews-Greene over at Beliefnet was very good. Also explains a bit about what happened last night in the ECUSA vote.

We were in an Evangelical Anglican church for a few years before converting to Catholicism. One of the conservative branches of the American Anglican Alliance. I wonder if there really will be a schism in the alliance? In ECUSA itself?


Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I’ve been thinking all day about what I want to blog here, and wondering if I should because I know it will be somewhat controversial. And a new Catholic such as myself probably doesn’t have any business being controversial or trying to publicly make sense of these difficult issues. People much smarter and more well-versed in Vatican teaching could probably rip my thoughts to shreds in seconds.

But I’m going to forge ahead anyway, knowing that here in St. Blog’s parish, I’m still relatively anonymous. I’m the woman standing in the corner of the foyer/lobby/narthex/whatever-you-call-it-in-a-Catholic-church with a baby on one hip and a preschooler by the hand, whom most folks barely notice. And I kind of like it that way, so don’t go telling on me to Mark Shea or anything. Deal?

Okay, so about the Vatican statement on homosexual unions…

I know that we have some homosexual folks out there in St. Blog’s, either bloggers or commentators or just readers, and at least one of them has been hit by this like a ton of bricks. I’m sure there are people who disagree with the Vatican, and some who are downright angry about this. I know some other people have the attitude of "What did you expect?" or "Hey, the Vatican has spoken, so deal with it." And I’m not sure what to say to any of them. So I’m just going to ramble a bit.

It’s a curious thing to me that anybody should be surprised that the Church’s position on same-sex marriage would be that it’s simply not possible. I mean, that’s been the position of the Church all along, and the Bible clearly states an opposition to homosexual activity. I honestly don’t know how anyone would have come to the conclusion that homosexual unions are okay with God. And I’m not at all sheltered on the homosexual lifestyle.

Throughout my life, I’ve had friends, co-workers and neighbors who are gay. In my early twenties, I played on a softball team for which I was one of three heterosexual women – all the rest were lesbians. And we were even sponsored by a gay bar, which hosted us for a round of beer after every victory. We won a lot, so I was there a lot. For a while, I even rented a room from the team captain and her live-in lesbian lover, and they hosted lots of parties for their homosexual community, so I actually knew as many gay people as straight ones in that particular town.

At the time, I had few moral standards for myself, let alone anybody else. I didn’t see anything wrong with the homosexual lifestyle, and the word "sin" was not in my vocabulary, so I wouldn’t have passed judgement on them, one way or another. It was just how different people were, in my estimation.

Some time after that, I learned that God really is real, and I became a Christian. And I was obligated to alter my views on homosexuality, to keep them in accord with what the Bible says.

Now I hear of Catholic folks who seem to be surprised that the Vatican document said what it says. And some of them find themselves forced to choose between the Church and the life they are living.

This is no small thing. I mean, nobody is asking me to move out of my house and leave my lover (husband in my case) and enter a life of celibacy. Not being asked to do those things, I probably find it all too easy to say, "Well, it would be painful, but if this is what I am being asked to do, I must obey." To me, it would be the Church telling me to exert self-control in one particular area of my life. I would hope I would simply accept that burden, understanding that self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which must mean that God would provide the grace I need to fulfill His wishes.

On the other hand, it’s been my experience that heterosexuals and homosexuals do not define their sexuality the same way. Most heterosexuals I know look at their sexuality as just another part of who they are. Whereas every single homosexual I know looks at their sexuality as the defining statement of their existence. Right or wrong, these folks are looking at the Vatican document as saying, "You can’t be who you are."

Now, if you’re not gay, think about that for a minute. Think about how you would feel if the Vatican told you that you couldn’t be you any more. Like, maybe, change your name, your wardrobe, your occupation, your family ties, your social circles, the way you work, the way you relax, the way you do everything you do. That’s the level where some people are putting this document.

This makes it a hard teaching for the Catholic homosexual community. I imagine some will leave the Church over it, and that is a painful thing to consider. I hope we are all praying that this will not happen. But more than that, like our parish priest said on Sunday, we ought not reject our homosexual brothers and sisters -- ever. And I think we must seriously consider how we can help shoulder the burden a bit.

What I mean is, as a Christian community, we often try to help folks out who have heavy burdens. Around here, if some child has cancer, there are pancake or spaghetti feeds held to help raise money for the medical bills. If somebody is killed in a tragic accident, donations are taken to help pay the funeral expenses. If somebody is out of work, he or she can turn to Catholic Social Services for practical help. And even on a more personal level, if you hear of somebody whose marriage is in trouble, like my brother-in-law’s that I blogged about, you offer to pray. I know you do – I had a number of people e-mail me and tell me they were praying for this couple, whom they only know through my little blog, and who aren’t Catholic at all. And I've seen the requests for prayers on several other blogs answered enthusiastically, every time.

The burden Catholic homosexuals is equal to any of that. Regardless of how we heterosexuals feel, that’s how they feel, and that means you just can’t say, "Struggle? What struggle?" and leave them to work through it alone. Or at least, I don’t think we should.

So here’s the thing. I’m still a newcomer in our parish and I don’t happen to know any gay parishioners there. But I pray that if there is somebody I can encourage or help in some small way, God will feel free to use me for that purpose. And those of you out in St. Blog’s who are struggling with this issue and this document, please know that I am praying for you.

Well, then. Comments still not up (sorry), but you can write me at sparki777(at)yahoo(dot) com. I cleaned out my mailbox, so there should be room for your notes. Let me know if it’s okay to post your input here. Or not.

That’s all for now.


Monday, August 04, 2003

The birthday party was a success. At least I thought so. Sticker jousting was fun, but the kids only wanted to do it once each. They were more interested in swinging the sword at the dragon pinata, which eventually was reduced to shreds of tissue paper all over the house. But not without effort. I don't know why the instructions said to use a "plastic bat" to open the thing. It was made out of cardboard! Zooey's sword hacked off the wings and the paper "fire", plus put a good slit in the tissue covering, but our oldest nephew finally had to use a hammer to make a big enough hole that I could shake the candy out on the porch floor for the kids to gather. Zooey saved the head & I've threatened to mount it like a hunting trophy. I managed to find a giant box on Saturday, cut it into something of a castle, and spray paint it red in time for the party. I have giant tubes (what they roll carpet onto) to make into turrets, but that will have to wait for next weekend. The kids enjoyed playing in that. The cake turned out fine, but the center part was a little dense. I knew my baking powder was a little past its prime, but I didn't have time to run out for more & took a chance.

Zooey got lots of great presents, including a Lord of the Rings sword that sounds like metal clanging on metal when you tap it against anything. Or jerk it in the air. Or just lay it down on the floor of the car and drive over any imperfection in the road. The batteries wore out by 6 p.m. (party was at 2 p.m.!), but luckily, I had another set and loaded it up again. My husband thanked me wryly.

Zoo also got a set of three fabulous water guns, much to his and my husband's delight. (Sort of makes up for the fresh batteries I put into the sword, doesn't it, my love?). So, the last part of the party was spent in the back yard as the kids took turns spraying each other, the house, the car, the neighbor's rose bushes, etc. and trying to shoot walnuts off the tree.

Zooey was excited and fairly gracious, managing to thank everybody for their gifts. He was happy to give all his cousins and friends capes to wear and he passed out the goody boxes with glee. I'm hoping he'll grow up more interested in giving than getting, but for now, both are fun for him.

My brother-in-law and his wife both came to the party, and while it wasn't the time for serious chatting, I couldn't help trying to look for signs of hope in them. I thought the definitely had a "We're here together" vibe and sensed no animosity between them. That gives me hope that they are still on the path of togetherness and that whatever troubles they suffer are being appropriately addressed.

I know of no marriage that hasn't gone through a time of serious trials. Blissfully happy as I am with my husband, I can think of two occasions on which one or both of us was this close to walking out the door and maybe never coming back. The issues we faced during those times were very difficult and highly charged emotionally. I clearly remember thinking, "How will we ever get through this?" both times. But even when it looks like there is no way to make it work, seems like there always is. Sometimes, you have to work like the dickens just to even see one shred of a solution.

Again, I note the helpful Retrouvaille program. If you are troubled in your marriage, please, please give it a try.


Friday, August 01, 2003

If I could make a living at it, I'd be a professional birthday party planner for kids.

Seriously, I'm more excited about Zooey's fourth birthday party on Sunday than he is. And he's pretty darn excited.

His favorite theme for most of the spring and early summer for imaginative play was dragons, castles, swords and shields. I got him a prayer card depicting St. George slaying a green dragon, and he thinks that's just the best (although somehow he decided that "When St. Hubert was a little boy, he was St. George." Some sort of need to combine his favorite saint with the exciting picture on the prayer card.).

So, we are using that castles/dragon theme for his party. We filled the dragon pinata last night, and the kids will take turns wacking at it with a toy sword and shield. All the goody "bags" are little boxes with turrets on either side to look like castles -- I've got two done and they are looking pretty good. Five more to go. Inside, we're putting a ring lollypop, two large chocolate coins, a kazoo and a bag of mini Oreo cookies, at Zooey's request. Plus whatever candy each kid gathers from the pinata. I'm usually much more restrained with candy (I tend choose granola bars and fruit juice snacks), but this time I let Zooey have more of a say.

Instead of party hats, I'm making capes out of adult-size t-shirts for all the kids. It's easy -- you just cut off the front and sleeves with pinking shears, leaving the neck, shoulders and back intact. I'm sewing an ornate button on the front center of each neck hole to look like clasp. I've been to three thrift stores to find each kid's favorite color in a shirt that is still in good shape, but I think they will all be very pleased. Every kid needs a cape.

The cake will be a castle, too. I baked the turrets in empty soup cans last night. The center will be a standard 13x9, cut in half and stacked, with a round turret on either corner, each topped with an upside-down ice cream cone for the peaks. I was going to make a drawbridge out of sugar cookie dough, but it's not worth mixing up a whole batch, so I'm just going to use chocolate frosting to "draw" it on. Zooey wants the castle to be red, but I think I'm going to try to talk him into light brown (half chocolate, half vanilla mixed together) and then frost the turret roofs in red as a compromise. Red frosting just takes sooo much food-coloring paste, and I'm never able to get the nice cherry red I'm looking for (the Wilton set of colorings I have has a magenta color that you have to mix with a little blue and a little yellow to get a decent red).

We're also going to have a go at sticker jousting. We have two stick ponies, and I envision the kids standing at opposite ends of the house and running at each other astride the ponies, trying to put a sticker on each other's shirts. Zooey and I tried this out using his foam baseball bat (a Nerf-line one with a plastic handle) to hold the sticker out (sticky side out with just a bit turned in on either side to hold it to the bat) and it worked just fine. But I haven't been able to find another foam bat yet. I'm toying with the idea of using a pool noodle, cut in half, as the two jousting rods (jousting stick? jousting lance?). I'm also having trouble coming up with appropriate knight/castle/dragon stickers. They may be stuck with smiley faces or something like that.

Siiiiiigh. I still have quite a bit of work to do, but I am looking forward to it. I want my kids to have great memories of their birthday parties, and even though we're doing a lot, it hasn't cost us very much. About $35 so far, with just a few little things left to buy, like ingredients for punch and the foam bat if I can find it. It will be around $40-$45 in the end, which isn't bad at all for a kid's party with six children and ten adults invited.