Molly and I smuggled popsicles to my Grandma at the nursing home again tonight. I carried my cooler in, and we found her dozing in her wheelchair. As soon as we entered the room, Molly requested her popsicle. They had held up pretty well, despite being left in the car while we shopped with an outside temperature over 100 degrees. Molly laughed a hearty, loud laugh while I offered bites to Grandma by touching the wet popsicle to her lips. Grandma's roommate sat stoically in front of her TV. Molly decided that Grandma needed to hold her (Grandma's) bear, and she retrieved it for her. I pried open Grandma's hand (she doesn't voluntarily open her hand to take objects anymore) and put the bear's neck in it. As we were finishing our treats, one of the resident wanderers found her way into the room and shut the door behind her. She nonchalantly made her way to one of the beds and curled up on it. I suggested to Molly that we sing. Not timid around my current audience, I sang "If You're Happy and You Know It" and "Be Thou My Vision". As we sit, Molly asks me when Grandma is going to wake up. Since she has awakened prior to eating the popsicle, I ask Molly if she means when is Grandma going to talk and walk again. I tell her that will happen in heaven. She smiles and seems to happily accept this tidbit of truth. I prayed for Grandma, and in addition to my typical prayers of protection and God's presence, I, following the advice of our pastor to pray boldly, asked that miraculously Grandma would be healed of her dementia. I employed all of the faith I could muster and actually believed that God might just answer my prayer on the spot. Midway through the prayer, I opened an eye to see if anything was happening. Nope. I finished praying with a nevertheless grateful heart that God is in control no matter what. I pick up Molly, show her family pictures on the wall, and ask who each person is. Like usual, she shows a particular preference for my youngest cousin, Sarah, who is a lovely vocalist and appears very princess-like as she performs. We hug Grandma. During all of this, Molly is very go-with-the-flow. Nothing seems weird to her, and she loudly tells Grandma good-bye and reminds me to tell Grandma we love her.
My favorite type of books are memoirs. I love real-life stories from the author's perspective. Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting my Daughter by Jennifer Grant was my recent selection from booksneeze.com, a book review program through which I receive a free copy in exchange for my honest review.
The author allows the readers to follow the journey of adopting her daughter Mia from Guatemala. Grant and her husband already had three children when they set out to find the daughter that God wanted them to adopt. She warmly tells the history of her family pre-adoption. She seems like an easy-going, loving mother who cherishes the crazy moments of motherhood. The reader then follows her through the process of adopting Mia. Her tale is interesting, but not particularly gripping or emotional like other adoption memoirs I've read. Some of my favorite parts of the book were tales of Mia's adjusting to her new family. It was neat to get to know this little girl and her personality. I also was challenged by the needs of orphans world-wide as Grant shared statistics and anecdotes.
The story is shared chronologically with occasional flashbacks. Sometimes the author will launch into a long, detailed history of an event that seems out-of-place. At the end she ties it in, but it seems a little awkward. The author seems easy to relate to, and I enjoyed her personality as it was revealed in her writing. Overall, this was a pleasant, but not thrilling, read.
I'd been looking forward for my free copy of Thunder Dog by Michael Hingson to arrive. I received it in exchange for my honest review as part of booksneeze.com. It lived up to my expectations. While the storyline and ending of the book were fairly predictable (being based on such a newsworthy day on our history), I valued the opportunity to relive some of the memories and triumphs as Hingson, who happens to be blind, told of his escape from one of the WTC towers on September 11. He was accompanied by his guide dog, Roselle. In tandem, with humor, perseverence, great wisdom, and faith, they trekked to safety.
The book does a lot to educate the reader on the experience of being blind in our society. I also learned a lot about the training and responsibilities of a guide dog as well as the special bond that is formed with the owner. The author has a warm and positive personality, and I found him to be very endearing as I read. His determination to accomplish great things (a MS in Physics, successful business career, public speaker) without considering his blindness a handicap is inspiring.
Tragedies inspire curiosity. This book helps satisfy my curiosity of what it was really like to be on the 78th floor of the North Tower when the plane hit and what occurred in the following minutes and hours.
As I sat on the patio and finished the book, I heard military jets racing by. In part of Hingson's story, he tells of stopping at a Vietnamese restaurant for some respite during his long journey home. While there, military jets were heard flying overhead. Someone announced that it was the Air Force on patrol. He writes, "The entire restaurant bursts into applause. For the first time in hours, I feel safe." This made a personal connection to me because a month before my dad died, he was with me in my yard, and we watched some jets nearby. He told me, "I love that sound. It makes me feel safe."
Molly created this outfit from three skirts while putting away laundry. She does apparel changes every couple of hours alternating between nightgowns, swimsuits, princess dresses, leotards and tutus, and the practical play clothes that I bribe her to put on. A couple days ago, I showed her two outfits I selected for her to wear that day. She responded, "None of those is right for a masked ball." Alrighty then!
The next 10 days are forecasted to be at least 100 degrees for the high. This is how we stay cool, the sprinkler in a pool beneath an umbrella!
These are three titles I've been reading lately. I really enjoyed all three. Unleashed, Release the Untamed Faith Within, by Erwin Raphael McManus was provided to me by Thomas Nelson publishers in return for my honest review. I greatly enjoyed this book. The author writes with a conversational, very readable style. He insists that Jesus followed a Barbarian, uncivilized life of faith. He urges us to pick up our cross and follow Him and not to take the easy, wide path. McManus' writing is very motivating to me, and I find that it challenges me to be more authentic in my walk with Christ and to take risks as I follow Him. He urges us to live together in community, "We fight violence with peace, hatred with love, and oppression with servanthood. While never violating our uniqueness, we move together, united in heart and soul. Our greatness in unleashed in the context of community. When we move together, God is most perfectly revealed in us."
Isn't that something you want to sign up for? I know I sure do! Please pray for me as I seek to live with unleashed faith!
The last day of our trip, we pulled out of the hotel parking lot at 7:22am. I was eager to get home. It's not that I was especially tired of traveling, but I was looking forward to the remainder of our summer at home. We passed into Oklahoma and relished sights of rolling tree-covered hills as I knew that soon our scenery would be mostly ranch land with sun-shriveled trees. Houses and businesses are rarities in eastern Oklahoma, so when Molly told me she had to go to the bathroom, I envisioned a road-side pit-stop. Sure enough, the next exit we encountered had only a sign indicating that a state park was 11 miles away. I found a place to pull off and let Molly do her business on the side of the road. We continued driving and turned southwest toward Texas at Checotah, home of Carrie Underwood. The next couple hundred miles took us through tiny towns and wide-open spaces. We drove over the huge Eufaula Lake. The next time Molly needed to use the restroom, we were nearing a small town with only two sit-down locally owned restaurants and two gas stations. I chose a gas station that unfortunately had an inoperable women's room and a less than tidy men's room. We used it, but I wouldn't let Molly touch anything. The rest of our trip was uneventful, and Molly snuck in a sound nap.
We woke up bright and early when we heard our tenting neighbors stirring. It got hot very quickly or at least it felt so as I packed up with tent. Molly loves to help with the poles and undoing the clips holding the tent to the poles. We visited the jumping pillow one last time and headed out to the fish hatchery near the Table Rock Dam. We saw holding areas with trout in various stages of growth. Molly had lots of fun feeding them, especially the smaller ones. After driving across the dam we headed to AR in search of the Buffalo River.
A favorite childhood memory is a morning swim in the Buffalo River where my parents' had pulled of the road for a pit stop. Before this trip, I googled the Buffalo River to find its location, which is in Northern Arkansas. I had a rough idea of where it was located, but no good driving directions. We stopped at the very accomodating AR welcome center. Two very sweet gentlemen supplied us with maps, driving directions, recommended points to stop, crayons, Arkansas coloring book and a sucker. Pleased, we continued our drive which soon took us down a two lane road with minimal traffic.
The Buffalo River is protected by the National Park Service and was the first to be declared a National River. We pulled off the road at the first crossing of the river we saw behind a National Park service office. There was a picnic area, bathrooms, and a view that was familiar to me. I think we may have found the same spot I visited with my family 25 or so years prior. We had a very relaxing time playing and a cross-cultural experience talking to some locals. One man we talked with described jumping off of the 80 ft tall bluffs on the opposite side when the river was higher. That is one of my memories- watching others jump- not doing it myself!
Our swim must have exhausted Molly because after we left, and I drove down a very long side road to a campground and river access, she wasn't interested in checking out the river again. Soon after, she was asleep. I was a little disappointed to miss out on some swimming holes that I knew were coming up along our route, but I was thankful for what we'd already experienced.
Now the nice gentlemen at the Welcome Center did not advise making sure I had an adequate supply of gasoline before following our river-seeking route. I didn't realize just how many tens of miles we'd be driving on winding mountain roads through the Ozarks with no cell service and rarely a place of business. I was nervous, but not nervous enough to attempt to buy gas at a little family run deal without electronic gas pumps where I'm sure there was no Pay at the Pump with a sleeping girl in my backseat.
Our gas supply proved to be sufficient, and I enjoyed the drive. It was a good thing Molly slept because it would have been our first opportunity to test whether she is prone to carsickness. I regret not turning back to buy a gallon of blackberries for $10 after we passed a roadside sign (we would have only had to travel with them one more day).
We saw some tornado-damaged areas. One was called Ozone, AR. Just south of the town (it was one of the few towns on the map that had a post office. In one, the only place of business was a church.) there were lots of downed trees in a ravine in the mountains. It was the weirdest sight. I never imagine tornados striking mountainous areas. I saw a lot of damage also passing through Clarksville, where I also found the kind of gas station that I'm familiar with.
Molly awoke as we made it back to the freeway after several hours on a two lane road. I always knew that my dad liked to take the scenic route, but I'm amazed at how remote the Buffalo River was from the beaten path and wonder at how he ended up there a few decades back.
We checked into our clean, comfortable hotel, decided that the pool was too cold and opted for a hot bath, and splurged at Chili's with a giftcard. One of the highlights of the day and quite possibly the best purchase was a car wash and vacuuming of the interior (the second of the trip). We returned to our hotel, watched church online and colored. It was a beautiful day.
St Louis is an amazingly family-friendly city with a lot a free activities suitable for the whole family, like tours of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. We did the tour which is something I'm sure I'm forbidden to write about on the internet, being a high school teacher. It was amazingly clean, and I learned a lot about the science involved in producing a lager as well as a lot of interesting history about the company. My least favorite part was the two full-sized samples of free beer at the end. It was Molly's favorite because there was a soda fountain for the kids. The bar manager took a liking to her and brought us extra pretzels, a key chain and little papers for her to color on. He winked and told me that if there was anything else we needed to let him know. I took that to mean that I could have a third, fourth, and fifth sample if I so desired. I'm sure my mom is glad that there are kind people looking out for us wherever we go.
We found a playground to explore for awhile and then had lunch in the Hill. The Hill is St Louis' little Italy. I ordered a local favorite, the Special, at Amaghetti's deli. There was walk-up ordering in their quaint courtyard adjacent to the restaurant.
We didn't have time for these free St Louis attractions, but hope to visit them in the future: Grant's Farm, Purina Farms, the zoo, science center, art museum, and sculpture park.
We drove on to Branson as storm clouds rolled in from the west. We didn't encounter much severe weather, but I couldn't help but think about the Joplin tornado as we drove closer and closer to the devastated area.
We arrived at our campground, set up our tent in the heat and went to check out the jumping pillow and pool. Again, Molly was a super-sleeper in the tent.
We were in four states today. Today was primarily a travel day. Molly slept as we crossed the Mississippi, and I spent twenty minutes organizing and cleaning the car parked in front of the hotel while she dozed. I drove my friends crazy the previous night trying to find a hotel in St Louis. The other accomodations for our return trip were pretty easy to make, but it was very difficult to find much of anything less than $100/night, even in the surrounding towns. I ended up purchasing a room through hotwire.com at the Holiday Inn Select downtown. It ended up being a very nice hotel with a few drawbacks. There was no free breakfast, and we had to pay for parking. The front desk staff members were highly impersonal, and our hallway smelled of smoke. The location, room, and pool were excellent though. We had a relaxing time in the pool (most of the other guests were going to the Cardinals game and the hotel was quiet) and ordered St Louis style pizza to our room from a local favorite. The pizza has a very thin, crackerlike crust with a mixture of three types of cheese. It gets our mark of approval!
We started the day off with a visit to the Toledo zoo with Uncle Tim and our friends Cindy and Vaughn. The first few exhibits that we saw had different animals than those at our zoo: wolves, polar bears and seals. The zoo also had a lot of interactive play area s and displays. There was also a baby elephant that was just a few weeks old!
We then drove to Kettering, OH to visit good friends. Tricia has a cooking blog which you can read here. She made us a terrific dinner of marinated steak topped with mango salsa, twice baked potatoes with broccoli and grape salad with candied walnuts. Of course, it was all fantastic. Their kids are adorable, and Molly enjoyed playing with them.
Help, I need a thesaurus! Upon rereading, I noticed I used the word yummy to describe all three meals of this day!
This was a super-fun day! We said good-bye to the kids and headed for a quick visit with Aunt Donna. She had coffee for us and some yummy goodies. Big T met us there; besides wanting to see Aunt Donna, I think he somehow foreknew that she would have Hostess cupcakes.
We then went to visit with our long-term next-door neighbors, Carole and Bill. Molly had a great time running around with their granddaughter, feeding a horse, seeing a baby peacock, and picking mulberries from the tree. They fed us a yummy lunch and then we went to Calder dairy. We loved going to this farm for ice cream growing up, and it is even better now.
Seeing my dad's old barn brought a twinge of sadness and a swelling of heart. I remember his peaceful presence as he labored there. I also stalked my childhood home for a few moments as I parked on the street and recalled the decades I spent in the house that built me.
We headed to Uncle Tim's house while Molly got another car nap. We had some yummy burgers before he went with us to our hotel. He had a free night to use up before the end of the month, and he bestowed it upon us. Unfortunately the night ended somewhat roughly and thanks to us, I warned him that his diamond level reward status with Marriott might be in jeopardy. Not really. I don't have time for the whole story here, but here's a short synopsis: markers. down comforter. screaming. 10:20 pm.
Molly spent the whole day hanging out with her second cousins. They are very sweet kids, and she had a blast with them. We went to a t-ball game, beef jerky store- to prepare for my visit to Tim’s house, and an old-fashioned drive in A&W in Dexter, MI. It was a super-fun and relaxing day.
This was the view down the country road where I've been taking my morning runs. We had a relaxing day and had delicious hamburgers and mudpie courtesy of Traci, Papere's daughter.
Another afternoon nap was on tap for Molly while we drove to my Uncle Matt and Aunt Ilene's. They were up for spoiling Molly as we went out for dinner, to the park and for ice cream. It was so nice going to sleep with an open window and waking up with sun coming through the leaves and hearing the squaking red winged black birds wake me up.
On this visit, we only have two of Molly's great-grandmas to visit since Grandma Agnes went to heaven. We visited GG Kelly and Grandma Cook today. Of course, Aunt Mary was a highlight, too! We had to have some Topopo salad at El Azteco. I drove around campus while Molly napped. Our day ended with our third Michigan campfire complete with s'mores.