Thursday, May 31, 2012

Regret--What a Waste

There’s nothing like a college reunion to raise a slew of emotions—and for me, amidst much joy, laughter and celebration, lay the bittersweet taint of regret.
Last week, I took my daughter on our first college tour, and attended a reunion celebrating the 25thanniversary of the Northwestern University Graduate Christian Fellowship.  And while I enjoyed every bit of the whole process (other than developing some weird tendonitis on the top of my right foot from walking so much), regret inserted itself into my consciousness at various times throughout the weekend:
  • Regret that I haven’t kept up with, or invested more in friends I love
  • Regret that some of my decisions led me out of closer community
  • Regret that I didn’t invest in graduate school as well as I could have
But most of all, regret that I spent too many of my undergrad years feeling regret. I didn’t attend my dream college because my parents couldn’t afford to send me and Northwestern was the only school that gave me money.  Despite praying throughout high school that God would send me where I was supposed to go by providing financial aid (but please please please God let me go to school on the Mainland), when I got to college and life was hard, a tint of regret poisoned the pure gratitude I felt for being able to leave home and attend a top notch university.  I wasn’t fully satisfied with how God actually answered my prayer
As I walked around the campus where I spent 7 years of my life, thinking what a great education I received, all I could think was, “What a waste that I spent any energy in regret.”
Yesterday I met with my spiritual director, and talked about regret—how knowing God opened and shut doors while leading me through most of my decisions still doesn’t kill regret over opportunities lost, how knowing that I probably wouldn’t be married to Scott or mother my 3 kids or enjoy the friends I love still doesn’t keep me from regretting some of the past, how I just don’t want to waste anymore effort in regret, but don’t know how.
She said, “I think all this comes down to the question ‘Is God good?  You probably should ask him that.’”
Hmmm. . .
Today, while I walked with a friend, she said she heard that ruminating can be bad.  Ruminating on the past can lead to depression.  Ruminating on the future can lead to anxiety.  Instead, we live and work and breathe in the present.
That made sense.  Regret robs me from receiving the present moment God wants to give me, as does worry.
As the reunion tempted me to ruminate on the past (regret), and the college tours tempted me to ruminate on the future (worry about whether and where my kids will go to college), may God help me to live in the present and show me, minute by minute, that He is good.
What do you regret?  How do you move on?
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This was first posted on What She Said

Friday, May 25, 2012

Rick Riordan I Love You

Dear Rick,
Let me tell you why I’m professing love for a man not my husband in a public post.
4 years ago, a week into summer vacation, my daughter trounced into the house with the CDs for your YA novel, The Lightning Thief, which had been assigned as summer reading. Ling had already borrowed the book from the library and finished it.
“We HAVE to listen to this book–it’s SO good, even though it’s really scary.”
That became the summer of Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  Percy Jackson learns he is a demi-god, the son of Poseidon, anathema to all the monsters and evil forces from ancient Greek mythology.  Having always been the worst student in his class, he now finds his ADHD serves him well as he fights to stay alive and defend his friends in modern day New York (Olympus rests on top of the Empire State building).  The books are funny, exciting, and provide an excellent motivation to delve further into Greek mythology.

We listened to the first 4 books of the series as we drove to and from Niagara Falls and all became rabid Rick Riordan fans, all except for my husband.  Scott and I have had a little struggle around long trips ever since I discovered that books on tape are the best way to keep the kids from melting, fighting and whining.  I enjoy listening to the books as much as the kids.  Scott would prefer to invest in our marriage by carrying on adult conversations.
The nerve of the guy!  He finds it annoying when he thinks I’m listening intently to him, only to discover I’ve drifted back to Olympus.  Sorry, Rick, I don’t think my husband likes you very much.
We went into mini-mourning when the last Lightning Thief book was published,.  But then to our delight we found out that you started a new series, The Kane Chronicles, based on Egyptian mythology.  And then to our joy we learned you started yet another series based on Roman mythology.  Even better–it intersected with Camp Half-Blood, the world of The Lightning Thief.
Even muchos more better, I discovered that giving the latest copy of your book to my son, NOT my daughters, gave him immense motivation to read.  He just loved the power of having a book they so desperately wanted.
Here are some other reasons I heart you:
  • I love that I know where my son will be after each new book you write is published—sprawled somewhere immersing himself in the latest adventure.  I have to order him to read most days, but when your book shows up, there’s no need for cajoling—he’s out there reading.
  • I love that Percy Jackson has ADHD and that ADHD is a strength.
  • I love that Carter Kane is African-American and so is Walt, the super hot charm-maker with skin the color of roasted coffee beans who’s dying from an Egyptian curse.  I appreciate that you get in the head and heart of an African-American boy with an African-American father who’s tried to ensure his boy will grow up strong, resilient and respected. I love that other characters are Indian, Egyptian, Chinese, and South American. Too often, great YA writers create an entirely White world, and only when their books are made into movies do some characters become multi-ethnic.  Thanks for including heroes that can personally inspire kids from all sorts of backgrounds.
  • I love that the female characters are strong, strong, strong—Annabeth, Sadie, Piper.  These girls are brave, loving, smart and funny, and although boys are always falling in love with them, they don’t exist in the story as mere love interests.  They risk their lives for their friends, loved ones and the fate of the world.  They’re beautiful, sassy and brilliant.
  • I love your books even if some monotheists probably worry that you’re pushing pantheistic religion.  I appreciate what you wrote on your website:
The Lightning Thief explores Greek mythology in a modern setting, but it does so as a humorous work of fantasy. I’m certainly not interested in changing or contradicting anyone’s religious beliefs. Early in the book, the character Chiron makes a distinction between God, capital-G, the creator of the universe, and the Greek gods (lower-case g). Chiron says he doesn’t want to delve into the issue of God, but he has no qualms about discussing the Olympians because they are a “much smaller matter.” The gods of Olympus are archetypes. They are deeply embedded in and inseparable from Western thought. The book pays tribute to the legacy of Olympus as one of the roots of our culture.
  • I love that I want to read the books as much as the kids.  That I have to sneak the books out of their bedrooms after they go to sleep so I can have a crack.
Thank you Rick for writing.  We will keep reading.
But watch out for my husband.
This was first published on What She Read

Our First College Tour

On Saturday, my oldest child turned 16.  On Monday, she got her learner’s permit.  And yesterday, I walked with her all over my alma mater, Northwestern–our first ever college tour.  Today we look at University of Chicago.
Whew!  Time flies when you’re having (or even not having) fun.
As I’ve talked about this college trip at the end of her sophomore year, almost everyone (including my husband), says something like, “Wow, you’re starting early!”
And of course, I suspect they’re also thinking, “There goes the Tiger Mom pushing it again.”

But a couple moms with seniors or college age kids have said, “Good for you!  You can’t start too early, it’s a completely exhausting process.”
In my defense, I flew out here for a reunion and celebration of a mentor’s semi-retirement (see Best Advice I Ever Got) and decided to bring Ling because we may not have the chance to return to the Midwest.  Carpe Diem!  Seize the Day!
After one whole full day of college touring, here are some initial thoughts and questions:
  • Dang, I got a good education and didn’t appreciate it at the time.  My friend says doing college tours made her want to go back to undergrad again, just now with all her grown-up sensibility.  Me too!  If youth is wasted on the young, so is college.
  • Dang, getting into any name-brand college is a crapshoot these days.  There are 4 times as many applicants to Northwestern as when I applied.  I’ve heard so many stories of kids with straight As, good scores, and excellent extra-curricular activities not getting into top-tier schools that I’m trying to think realistically and help my daughter do so also.  Back when I applied to college, I was pretty sure I’d get into many of the 8 schools I applied to.  Today, all of those schools are considered “reach” schools, with no guarantees.
  • Dang, as a follower of Jesus, how much should I, or my child, care about name-brand colleges anyway?  This can, and I’m sure will be, it’s own full post or series of posts in the next several years.
  • Dang, even this early, she hated the pressure she felt to pretend or exaggerate her worth, even as she loved so much about the school.  I made the mistake of taking her to an info session at the School of Education and Social Policy (the school from which I received 3 degrees—I wanted to hear where it is now) which ended up feeling like an interview because we were the only ones there.  Can I say we (or she) wasn’t prepared?
  • Dang, how do I not promote the overweening message Northeast/Chinese culture preaches that her worth and future are determined by the prestige of the school she ultimately attends, but coach her to do her best? As we processed later, I said, “It’s not about faking it, it’s about letting your light shine.”  Hard for a shy girl.  But a necessary life skill, and something Jesus tells us to do.
  • Dang, I think I injured my right foot walking all day.  How’m I going to make it through the U of C tour today?
I’m sure questions about college, prestige, achievement and ambition can stir up a very lively conversation—would love to hear your comments and advice as we begin the process.
Until then, University of Chicago, here we come—Carpe Diem!
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This first appeared on What She Said

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mother's Day Gifts, or Why I Never Get What I Want

My kids all have “Gift Giving” as their language of love.

I do not.

They love birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, special treats during the week, little surprises on a shopping trip.  And as they’ve gotten older, they also like giving gifts.  So as my birthday and Mother’s Day came 2 weeks apart, “What do you want?” became an ongoing refrain.


Many eye rolls.  “No!  What do you really want?”

“I really want obedience.”

More huffs, puffs and shaking of heads, “No, what do you really really really want?”

“I really really really want obedience.  Or if you can’t give me that, cooperation, and if that’s too hard, not fighting with your siblings.”

This Mother’s Day, I sent Scott to the monastery because he really needed time away to decompress and pray.  He was reluctant to strand me with 3 kids on Mother’s Day but I said, “It’s Mother’s Day, not Wife day. It’s up to the kids whether or how to celebrate.”

At 6:30 a.m. Ren (12) plopped onto my bed and fell asleep.  I think it was his job to “guard” me.
Awakened, I decided to watch Downton Abbey on my laptop while trying to ignore the clashing of pots in the kitchen.
At 7:30, the two girls came in bearing a tray.  Kai (14), the only child who’s taken after my obsession with cooking, presented her version of Eggs Canterbury—Eggs benedict with avocado, tomato, jack cheese, turkey, and Canadian bacon.
“Sorry, we have no meat so these are vegetarian Eggs Canterbury,” she said.
Along with Eggs Canterbury sans meat, they had made my typical granola/fruit/yogurt bowl (with 3 times the amount I eat each morning), bananas in orange juice with confectioner’s sugar, and de-caf coffee.
I may not have the gifts language of love but I do have the food language of love.
Kai had not made Eggs Canterbury sans meat for anyone else, so everyone wanted bites of mine.  But they’re old enough now that they let me eat at least half of it—in years past, Ren would eat my entire breakfast.
Ling (16) gave me a homemade Mother’s Day card.  Inside she wrote:
Hey Mommerz. . .
Just wanted to let you know on your very special holiday just for you that I love you SO much!  And our family would never be able to function without what you do for us.  Cooking, cleaning, reluctantly submitting to my hugs [see The Chinese Problem with Hugs for more background}. . .all very much appreciated.  So like most other holidays that we’re supposed to be obedient for you on, we’ll probably fail again today and you’ll be sad.  Just want you to know that we all really wish we were good enough to give you that gift.
Wow.  Ling encapsulated the human moral quandary.  What the Apostle Paul mourns:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7: 14, 18-19 TNIV)
Boy do I get it.  I want to be a loving mom who never raises her voice in anger and always has the perfect natural consequence to inappropriate behavior.  I want to be a mom who doesn’t cringe when kids pounce on me.  I want to be perfect—for their sake—and I’m not.  And neither are they.
I didn’t get perfect obedience nor a huge amount of cooperation that day.  I definitely didn’t get peace between siblings.  Instead, I received the message that even if they can’t get me what I really want, because they love me, they can give me a plastic flower that opens and closes with “Happy Mother’s Day” in its petals (from Ren), Eggs Canterbury sans meat with a feast (from Kai & Ling), and a note saying how much they try.
I didn’t get what I wanted, but  I got something better.
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This first appeared on What She Said

Friday, May 11, 2012

2 Appliances that Saved My Marriage

Scott and I had a rocky relationship, oh, the first 10 years of marriage.  But the first months were the worst, and the worst of the worst was laundry day. 

Doing laundry in our Manhattan 4th floor walk-up apartment was daunting.  We had to carry the laundry down four flights, across a city block, and down into the basement of another building.  When it was done, we had to carry it all the way back up. 

Whether laundry day came weekly, bi-weekly, or even once every 3 weeks, without fail, we had a vicious, mean-to-the-bone, no holds barred fight.  Which was never about laundry. 

Our therapist suggested sending our laundry out.  The $80 bill and oversized dilapidated overalls that came with that attempt precluded that solution.

So we bought a portable washing machine—a machine that hooked up to the sink and served as an extra countertop in our kitchen. 
A much newer model than the one
we had

Amazing!  With our portable washer now churning out loads of laundry on a regular basis, we no longer fought on laundry day.  Our overheated apartment, so warm that I wore shorts all year round, enabled us to hang clean clothes on racks, and sheets and towels from hangers on door lintels, humidifying our apartment and giving it a fresh clean smell all at the same time.  It took half a day to dry everything.

The other appliance that saved us was a deep freezer.  We didn’t suffer the same level of conflict around grocery shopping, but our fridge was so weak it didn’t keep ice cream frozen.  As 2 InterVarsity staff, we also couldn’t afford to buy meat.  So we’d borrow a car and drive to the Sam’s Club in the suburbs—Scott’s parents had given us a free membership—and load up on frozen chicken breasts that we stuffed into the small deep freezer we bought with wedding money.

Our portable washing machine proved handy when we moved to Boston with newborn baby—babies create a lot of laundry.  When we moved to our own house that came with a regular washer, we gave the portable one away.  Since then we’ve gone through 2 more washers. 

Although Scott and I no longer fight on every laundry day, I’m sad to say we end up fighting with our kids because we’re disappointed with their attitudes, their folding, and their refusal to put away their clothes.  I guess laundry fighting is a generational sin we haven’t quite exorcised.

After serving us well for 17 years, our original deep freezer died and I upgraded to a larger one, which I stuff with sale meat, Chinese dumplings, Portuguese sausage I bring back from Hawaii, and leftovers.  Every year I buy an extra turkey at Thanksgiving.  Every year I don’t cook it until the following fall. 

Right now I’m trying to use up all the old frozen food, a harder task than you’d imagine because despite liking to buy meat on sale, I don’t actually cook hunks of meat that often, much to our kids’ chagrin.

So this week I took out an 8 month old 2.5 pound package of ground beef and made shepherd’s pie for the first time in about 5 years.  The kids were ecstatic.  Real American food with real beef that didn’t taste all that healthy!  They didn’t even mind the veggies I snuck inside.

As always, not the one I made, but you get the idea.
So I praise God for portable washing machines and deep freezers and marital solutions that money and technology can solve.

Shepherd’s Pie
(serves about 12, obviously halve the recipe if you’re not feeding a crowd, add or leave out whatever veggies you like)

2.5 lbs ground beef
4 onions, diced
1 lb. carrots, diced
1 lb mushrooms, chopped (I buy the pre-sliced kind and sauté 2 lbs at a time so I have them on hand for omelets, salads and sides.  If your kids don’t like mushrooms, like mine, chopping them so they blend in means they get eaten)
3 Tbs flour
1-2 tsp Thyme (or to taste)
1-2 tsp fresh Rosemary (optional)
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth (low sodium)
3 cloves garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 cups peas
2 cups corn  

Mashed Potatoes
2.5 lbs russet potatoes
Milk &  Butter

Note:  All quantities are approximate because I generally just dump until it looks right.

1.     Boil Potatoes until soft and mashable.  Add milk and butter until it’s a soft texture.  More butter tastes good, but isn't good for you. . .
2.     While potatoes are cooking, brown beef in a large skillet, drain if you want to get rid of fat, don’t drain if you want more juice. 
3.     Add onions, carrots and mushrooms (if not pre-cooked), sauté until onions are translucent
4.     Add flour, sauté a couple minutes
5.     Add thyme, Worcestershire, tomato paste and chicken broth, Saute until sauce is thickened
6.     Add peas and corn
7.     Either pour beef mixture into a casserole dish and cover with mashed potatoes, or if your skillet is large enough, just put potatoes over beef mixture in the skillet, making sure they cover all the sides to minimize bubbling over
8.     Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, broil at end if potatoes aren’t browned

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chocolate=Lies, Sex=Truth

What does it mean when you desire a hot fudge sundae more than sex with your loving, gorgeous, faithful, and servant-hearted husband?
When I was still nursing my 2nd child, I attended a women’s conference with the goal of talking to friends about nurturing my marriage while having zero sex drive.  One friend, a former missionary in Africa, said, “That’s why polygamy always made sense to me.  If one wife is nursing and has no sex drive, the husband can go to another!”
I attended the tail end of a workshop on the developmental stages of marriage just in time to hear Marilyn, a wise sage in our ministry, close in prayer and turn to leave.  Shoot, I missed it all!  And then she returned to the podium, “One more thing, if you’re not having sex regularly with your husband, your marriage is already in trouble.”
Whoa. . .

The next morning I sat with Marilyn at breakfast and said, “Wow, that was a doozy way to end your talk.”
“Kathy, I literally felt the Holy Spirit push me.  I told Him, ‘But I closed in prayer!’ but He pushed me back and said I had to speak.  Since then, I’ve been approached by about 30 women who say they’re no longer having sex in their marriages, and some haven’t for years.”
So sex drive or no sex drive, with Marilyn’s advice ringing in my head, I’ve tried to be faithful in nurturing this part of my marriage.
And sex within our committed marriage covenant has been a very good thing.  It’s good to be naked and unashamed with my husband.  Staying comfortable with one another’s body helps us stay comfortable emotionally and spiritually.  I think of sex with my husband as a spiritual discipline much like observing the Sabbath, a spiritual discipline that enables God to breathe life into our marriage.
But all that theology doesn’t change how 99.9% of the time I’d still rather eat a hot fudge sundae than have sex, just like 99.9% of the time I’d rather check email than pray.  Between peri-menopause, teenage kids, my job, his job, groceries, cooking, chauffering, etc. sex can easily feel like just another obligation and chore.
Last night, I discussed this ongoing topic with a couple girlfriends.  One said, “You do want sex!  You want to be connected with your husband, you want to feel bonded, you want your marriage to grow, you want to make him feel good.  You do want it!”
Yes, but I FEEL my hunger, even lust for chocolate on a daily, sometimes even minute to minute basis, in a way I don’t about sex with my husband.  I can spend all day thinking about what chocolate I’ll nibble.  My mother-in-law says no one should eat chocolate before lunch, and I generally follow her direction, but that doesn’t stop me from coveting chocolate-almond croissants for breakfast.
Yet as we talked, I remembered that the actual experience of chocolate often disappoints.  For all of the anticipation, Trader Joe’s sea salt and turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds can leave me hollow.  Sure they taste good, but not mind-blowingly good.  And with last swallow, that See’s dark chocolate California brittle didn’t change my life, make me happy or calm my anxiety.
“Hah!  Chocolate is the lie!” said my friend, “You want it but it doesn’t deliver!”
“And sex is the truth?”
“Yeah!  Sex bonds you with your husband, grows love, brings connection and you feel great afterwards.  Sex is the truth!”
Who knew? A new mantra for marriage and life.
Chocolate is the lie.  Sex is the truth.
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This first appeared on What She Said

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Best Advice I ever Got

“Please don’t have her ask me to start a college ministry,” I prayed as I met with my pastor Meli to talk about what I’d be doing for my senior year practicum 25 years ago.
Meli outlined the internship involving visiting the sick and dying, co-teaching two Sunday school classes, attending staff meetings and retreats and shadowing her through her day.
And I kept praying she wouldn’t ask me to start a college ministry.  I had already watched 3 attempts crash and burn, including one where she did all the teaching—and Meli was an incredible teacher.  I didn’t want to be in charge of and blamed for the 4th failure.
But sure enough, Meli said, “And as a project, you can spend 20 hours a week starting a college ministry!!!”
Super hyper bummer.
She didn’t ask me to do it alone.  She gave me a partner—Dave—an InterVarsity staff at Northwestern who had just returned from 7 years serving as Bible Study Trainer for English speaking Africa.
Dave and I began meeting regularly—when Dave remembered to meet.  He was suffering from complete reverse-culture shock being back in America.  Keeping a calendar and setting up appointments was an American habit especially difficult to regain.  I’d call, “Dave, were we supposed to meet today?”
Long pause. “Oh. . . yes. . . please forgive me.”
The times we met, Dave tried to move us forward in dreaming about church college ministry but I felt so cynical that I shot down every one of his ideas.  “That was tried before, it won’t work.”
This went on for weeks.
Finally, Dave said, “I think we just need to find one or two students to pray with us that God would start a college ministry.”
“Dave,” said I, “I KNOW the college students who attend this church—there’s not a single one that I think would be willing to do that.”
“Oh. . . but I always trust God for that.”
It was as if 10,000 arrows of conviction shot through me.  I realized I felt hopeless and unmotivated because of my deep fear of failure and my addiction to achievement.  Dave’s gentle words “Oh. . . but I always trust God for that” exhorted that it wasn’t my job to create a college ministry.  It was God’s.  And if God wanted a college ministry, He would provide the students to pray and the vision and resources to follow.  College ministry at 1st Presbyterian Church of Evanston was up to God, not me.
All day I’ve been writing about the founding of the Northwestern Graduate Christian Fellowship 25 years ago, something Dave roped me into when I stayed that fall for graduate school.  We’re throwing a reunion over Memorial Day and honoring Dave, who’s stepping down from student ministry.
With Dave, I had the privilege of starting both a college ministry at our church and a graduate student ministry at my alma mater.  Yet more important were his simple words.  They have become a cornerstone of my life and ministry ever since.  Virtually every time I get myself in trouble—worrying about how I’ll solve problems with kids, or marriage, or friends, or work, or money, or everything else about life, it’s because I’ve forgotten the first step in everything God asks me to do.  Always, I need to go back to that cafeteria table in the student center and remember:
“Oh. . .but I always trust God for that.”
Thanks Dave.
This first appeared on What She Said

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Reflections the Day after my Birthday

Yesterday I turned 47.  Here are some random thoughts that my birthday brought:

1.     There was no 2012 journal on my computer.  I thought I should reflect and pray first thing on my birthday and found no journal.  How could that be?  How could one of my most fundamental spiritual practices have fallen to the wayside to the point where I don’t even have a 2012 journal??  On reflection, I think the journal I started disappeared in my end-of-January hard drive crash.  But I didn’t notice it was gone for more 3 months???  Am pondering that.
2.     Facebook rocks!  The year before I joined Facebook, I wondered if anyone outside my family would remember my birthday.  And almost no one did because frankly, at a certain age, our focus becomes our kids’ birthdays and not our own.  The next year, the same melancholy thought came to mind but I thought, “Surely someone will say happy birthday through Facebook?”  And several someones did!  This year, at least 118 folks sent birthday greetings through Facebook.  It felt great to check my email throughout the day and see notes from friends, acquaintances, and even a few strangers.  I need to renew my efforts to return the favor!
3.     Beginning a birthday with spiritual direction rocks! Spiritual direction has been perhaps the most important and helpful spiritual practice I’ve enjoyed these last 12 years. After starting a new 2012 journal that begins on April 30th, I met with Hallie, my spiritual director for the past 8 years.  What a privilege to have someone listen to my ramblings and help me discern God’s presence in my life.  Doing it on my birthday, where together we took my spiritual temperature and talked about where I’d like to grow, and how to nurture my friendship with Jesus—priceless.  You may just want to give yourself the birthday present of regular spiritual direction if you don't already partake. 
4.     Having older kids celebrate your birthday rocks!  Sunday night I whined, “Is anyone going to make me a birthday cake?”  Kai volunteered.  I ordered a German chocolate cake because I wanted to try the recipe.  Not only did she bake me a 4 layer German chocolate cake with coconut pecan frosting, she also made Thai coconut soup for dinner.  Yum.  All 3 kids said, “Happy Birthday Mom!” with big smiles on their faces when they first laid eyes on me (at 3:15, 5, and 5:45 p.m.).  All 3 banded together to buy me an ice cream maker (a little self-interest involved there?).  I feel loved.

Years ago, when giving me a card, Scott started the tradition of penning the first letters of a phrase on the envelopes for me to guess.  This year, Scott’s was TLMPF:  To Little Miss Pretty Feet.  (The card said Happy Birthday, HONEY!  No one else could fill your shoes.  Inside flap:  The black ones.  Not the black flat ones or the black sandals or the black heels.  The black ones that kinda look like the other pair of black ones that you had before the last pair of black ones.  A very appropriate card for me—would be even more appropriate if it was about black pants.)

Ren decided to follow suit.  He made a giant card that on the inside said:  MITBASMITU.  BOA31, SISNAWBAWDWTPHHI, MIVSOLSAKARP.  WLYM

It took about 20 minutes to decode.  Here it is:

Mom is the best awesomest supercalifragilisticexpialidocious mom in the universe.  Born on April 30th, 1965 in Indiana, was destined for greatness (he forgot the IIWDFG if you’re checking), she is super natural at writing books and whoever doesn’t want to publish her has issues.  Mom is very supportive of Ling’s sports and Kai and Ren’s play.  We love you Momniss.

A good day, a very good day.