Friday, August 8, 2014

The REAL first post

And now it's time for the awkward first blog post.
Me and my biggest girl

Hi.  I'm Joy.  And this is my blog.  

You're probably looking at the sidebar, saying to yourself, "Wait, there are a dozen or so posts already!"  And you're right!  There are!  BUT, this is the first real one.

I've been blogging at Caspara for the past five years, and, well, it was time for a change.  But I didn't want to give it all up, so I've brought over (what I think are) the best posts from it.  

So what's this blog about?  Okay, on the surface, it's going to sound super narcissistic.  It's about... Joy. 

But no.  Trust me.  It's about more than just me. 

I used to hate the fact that I was named Joy.  It wasn't a particularly "cool" name.  In fact, where I was born, it was usually a name for a boy (something my parents learned a couple years after naming me).  It was really short, too, squished between my sisters "Jenny" and "Jackie" when my parents were introducing us.  Kids in middle school (ah, lovely middle school!) would get all sarcastic and say, "Why's your name Joy?  Were your parents, like, really happy to have you or something?"  Uh, yeah.  I guess.  

Then, as an adult, it seemed like the name "Joy" came with a certain level of expectation, like I was supposed to always be happy and therefore nice all. the. time.

But as I get older, I'm kind of okay with it.  I kind of like it.  And Joy is not just a name I'm okay with, it's something I've come to really value.  I've learned that Joy isn't about being super happy and bubbly all the time, but having a strong, consistent undercurrent of positivity.  

So why the name of this blog?  Last year, I first thought about starting a new blog, and I asked my kids, "But what would I name it?"  Jayna, my eldest, said, "Hmmm... how about Jumbled Up Joy?"  And right away, I thought, Yeah, that's it.  Then the more I thought about it, the more perfect it seemed.  I've always despised categorization and felt claustrophobic when I tried to think of those "one-word descriptions" of myself.  

And more than that, my life is a lot of things -- motherhood, writing, travel, etc. -- and they're all jumbled up, but they're all part of me and my quest, my fight (sometimes) for Joy.

So here I am, finally, starting my new blog.  Jumbled Up Joy is about all the things that make up my life -- food, clothes, travel, books, my home, my faith -- and my journey to find Joy.  There'll be recipes, essays, and recommendations here.  I might even try vlogging!  (Might.)  (We'll see.)

But I hope you'll join me and follow along!  We can start a conversation about Joy, and what it means to you, and hopefully we'll all learn some things along the way!

The Not-So-Great Balancing Act

{Previously published on my old blog in August, 2009}

Good news -- I did not have to wrestle Lilly at all to get her down for her nap! Hurray!

Bad news -- Lilly barely slept for an hour.

Good news -- I talked to a dear friend today.

Bad news -- She had some. It made my heart hurt for her.

Good news -- I vacuumed the entire house and still got got the kids to the pool just after 3:00!!

Bad news -- The pool was closed (inexplicably) till 3:30.

Good news -- Two of my three children happily settled for the playground, while my third (eldest) hung out in the spray park.

Bad news -- The heat index was over 100 today. I felt like I was roasting.

Good news -- We had fun once the pool opened, but had to leave at 4:20. Fine with me, fine with Jayna, fine with Lilly (!!!!)... but Skyler, roll-with-the-punches, Cool Cat Skyler?? It was not fine with her. Major meltdown. Lilly then started to meltdown too, till I reminded her that when she throws a fit at the pool, she does not get to press the buttons (the ones designed for people in wheelchairs that open doors automatically. She lives for this mission, I sometimes think.). More good news: this actually worked, and she quieted down.

Bad news -- Older two decided they want to try out for swim team, which meant we'd be back at six. Mad scramble on my part to throw together dinner while thinking, "Should we really do this?"

Good news -- Matt agreed to watch Lilly while I chauffeured the older two back to the Y.

Bad news -- Guy who was supposed to supervise try-outs was nowhere to be found. I spent twenty minutes roasting again in the sauna-like indoor pool area before someone else decided she could do it instead.

Good news -- Skyler made it all the way across the pool doing a version of the freestyle that made me chest-puffingly proud. (some of you may remember last summer's -- and even earlier this summer -- "OH MY GOSH, is she drowning?!" "free" style).

Bad news -- The try-outs lady came up to me clipboard in hand, shaking her head. "She's just not ready yet, I'm afraid."

Good news -- Jayna did three strokes very well, and Try-outs Lady announced she could see no problem with her being on the swim team.

Bad news -- Swim team meets four nights a week, 6:30-7:30. I'm just not one of those people who schedules things four nights a week. I actually (dare I say this?) think it's inherently wrong, or rather detrimental, to do something four nights a week. I tell my kids they can do things twice a week. I think things like family dinners are more crucial to their development than anything they might do with that time. I'd probably have less of a problem doing something four times a week if it were, say, right after school. But at dinner time??? Anyway, I'll save that diatribe for another posting.

Good news -- Jayna would have to give up dance, at least some of it, if she were to practice swim four nights a week, and she really doesn't want to do that.

Bad news -- She still wanted to talk about how exciting it was for her. Skyler, though -- always exuberant, beautifully grinning Skyler -- walked silently in the front door and up the stairs and wouldn't come down at all. Until I told her for the fifth time I'd scooped some of her favorite ice-cream and started singing her a goofy song. Meanwhile, I told Jayna she could talk about her feelings when Skyler's disappointment had eased a little (as I'm sure it will) with time.

More bad new -- this hurt Jayna's feelings.

Good news -- Somehow or other, everyone was more or less on the road to recovery by the time I got them all tucked in, read to, prayed with, kissed, and asleep. And as I read this, I realize that by some miracle I've managed to end with "good news". That makes it a good day... right?

In Her Shoes

{Previously published on my old blog in March 2012}

Under the fluorescent lights of a shoe store this past weekend, I had a moment of realization: I wear the same shoe size as Jayna now. As one friend puts it, my shoe wardrobe just doubled.

As this dawned on me, I pointed out a pair of very cute purple shoes. "How about these?"

She made a face. "They're purple." Disgust dripped from every word, like I was asking her to wear horns to school.

"I like purple."

"Yeah me too. On my shirt." She scanned the shelves. "I like brown," she said, "and black."

"But colors are fun!"

"Yeah. But everything goes with brown and black. And I don't have to think hard about whether my outfit goes with my shoes."

It was hard not to smile. This is exactly how I was at twelve. In fact, this is exactly how I was for a very long time. It's only been in recent years that I started wearing, say, red shoes again.

I've never felt like I missed out on anything important by having her just weeks before I turned twenty-one. But being that close in age to my eldest daughter, I've watched every single step of the way with a vivid recollection of exactly how I felt at whatever age she was. Four and all the world was a stage, just waiting, breathless. Seven and believing in fairies and magic even when she ought to know better because the thought made her heart dance. Nine, learning and hating the words "Life isn't fair." Twelve and -- dear Lord, are we at twelve already? The best and worst of times. The age where childhood begins to disappear and in fits and spurts everything else begins. I've been there, sweetheart.

Just around the corner from my twelve, I faced some of the hardest, loneliest years of my life. I think of the giants she has to face, and it almost takes my breath away.

And then I think of the moments of incredible grace. About a week after Matt left, I sat on my bed, crying as I nursed Wyatt. Things seemed so bleak just then. I was tired and as I thought of all the uncertainties in our lives, it seemed like too much. Jayna came in asking me where something was and stopped short when she saw my tears.

"What's wrong?" she asked. I tried to say "nothing" but when she sat down beside me, a Kleenex in her outstretched hand, everything came spilling out. And for the first time, she sat and listened not as my little girl, but as another woman would, as a friend.

I realized this the moment I stopped to take a breath, and she said, "I'm sorry." It was the first time those words weren't used as an apology from her, but as sympathy from someone coming along beside me.

So I pray into those moments when she doesn't know I'm looking and I see the fear or uncertainty or loneliness. I hope she knows. I've been there, sweetheart. I've been there.

To Granddad, Fifteen Years Later

{Previously published on my old blog in January 2013}

I'm the middle-sized one in the wheelbarrow
I just couldn’t stop smiling.  It was finally about to happen: ten days in Paris with my husband!  We’d been married for just six months, but years of dreaming, talking, saving, and planning had finally brought us to that moment in the San Francisco airport.  I turned to my grandfather, who had driven us there to see us off. 

“Bye, Granddad!” I said, kissing his grooved cheek.  “I love you!  Thanks for the ride!”

But he pulled back and put his hands on my shoulders, his face very serious.  “Wait,” he said, “I just have one thing I want to tell you, so listen carefully.”


“Something bad is going to happen on this trip, I guarantee it.”  Seeing the fear that must have flickered across my face, he added, “I don’t know, maybe your bags will get lost or you’ll miss a train.  But remember,” he took a deep breath, and spoke very deliberately, “no matter what happens, when it’s all over, you’ll have a good story to tell.”  

Then his face broke into the warm smile I loved, and his blue eyes twinkled behind thick glasses.  He squeezed my shoulders.  “I love you too.  Now go have fun!”
My smile returned, and I said, “Got it!” as I walked, hand in my Matt’s, toward our gate.   I turned around one last time and waved.  “Au revoir!”  Granddad stood there with a smile, waving back.
There was a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach as the plane took off and Granddad’s words lingered.  What would go wrong?  But as soon as we got to Paris, all my nervousness disappeared.  Everything seemed perfect.  Sure, we got a little lost in the Louvre, but all of it – sunset at the Eiffel Tower, warm baguettes and cheese, intriguing gardens behind wrought iron gates, and cozy cafes – was like a happy dream.

Until the midnight phone call.  It was my mom, and her voice sounded tense and restrained as she said the words.  “Granddad had a heart attack.”

I was confused.  People survived heart attacks all the time.  Why was she calling me at midnight to tell me this?  “Oh… But he’s okay now, right?”

I could hear a pause, and her voice was thick as she said, “No, sweetheart.  He died.”

The return trip was a blur.  One of my closest friends, my mentor, was gone.  But as I listened to the countless stories at his funeral – about times when almost everything had gone wrong – and the laughter that fairly shook the walls of the crowded church, I began to understand his last words to me. 

So Granddad, as I write this, fifteen years after the last day I saw your smile, I hope you know just how grateful I am for your benediction. The days since that one have been filled with countless journeys.  We’ve been to Thailand, Bangladesh, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, England, and Portugal, as well as most of the continental United States.  We’ve lived in Spain for three years and went back to Paris, this time with two young daughters who took pony rides around the Eiffel Tower.  And then we added two more kids to our brood.  We’ve had moments of intense frustration, or heartache and despair, and learned to smile – even laugh! – in spite of it. 

Every day I live gives me a chance to learn more about what you said.  I’m working on it slowly and steadily.  When we see each other again, you’d better be ready to listen.  Because I'm going to have some good stories for you!
With my mother and grandparents, on one of our trips thirty-something years ago

For the Birds

{Previously published on my old blog from August 2013}

When we first moved here, and particularly into this house, I was so excited about the indoor-outdoor lifestyle that Hawaii offers.  We half-live in the pool or at the beach, and spend most of many days in our swimsuits.  We eat outside every night.  It's great.

But lately, I've been feeling a little more... exclusive.  Like, "Indoors stays indoors," and "Outdoors stays outdoors."  And here's why.

A couple weeks ago, we were walking to our car after church when all of a sudden, Lilly gasped and said to Matt, "Daddy, you've got a cockroach on you!  It's on your back!!!"  Matt summarily did a very entertaining jig and song that I believe was called, "Get It Off Me!  Get It Off Me!" But I examined his back and found nothing.  Besides, cockroaches usually come out in the evenings or early mornings, and this was lunchtime.  Not really "cockroach time."

So we went to get lunch at a Panda Express in a nearby mall, and because of a parking error, had to walk through most of the mall to get to it.  A good thirty or forty minutes later, we got back to the car.  I was in the driver's seat as Matt climbed in, when (and this all happened very fast, faster than I can convey in writing) he said, "Oh my gosh!  There is a cockroach!" and flicked it off his back onto the floor at my feet!!  (THANKS A LOT, HONEY!!!)  Well, fortunately, I have a Ph. D. in cockroach extermination and I reflexively stomped that sucker so that it was well and truly dead in a fraction of a second.

But Matt was having a bit of an internal crisis, wondering why a cockroach would want to hitch a ride on him in the middle of the day, and we all felt a little traumatized.

Then, a couple days later, Lilly went out onto our carport to play Barbies.  Now, I realize that sentence probably doesn't make much sense because I haven't yet shown you pictures of our house, and I do promise to very soon.  But basically, we have this Barbie mansion or something that the girls got for a song at a garage sale, plus a couple shelves they converted into doll houses -- and we have nowhere to put them inside.  So Matt, super genius that he is, made a little U-shaped Barbie city on the the carport, and she takes her Barbies (and all those millions of shoes, clothes, and accessories) out there and plays for hours.

So that morning, she was out on the carport, and I was inside getting Wyatt dressed when I heard her screaming.  It was the kind of scream that you would make if your arm was stuck in a bear trap.  My blood ran cold, and I ran outside, leaving Wyatt with a t-shirt halfway over his head.  There I found my daughter on the inside of the U, healthy and whole and not bear-trapped exactly.  Except that at the opening to the U, there was a very healthy and whole lizard staring her down.  I think he may have wanted to play Barbies, but I'm not sure.  I kind of laughed at this point, and tapped the lizard's tail with my toe and it went running off.

"Silly Lilly," I said, "you don't need to be scared of a little lizard."

Friends.  Let me share a word of good, sound, free advice.  Never laugh at your child's terror of a lizard unless you are totally cool with them strolling into your house with their little U-haul packed, planning to stay awhile.  Because that is precisely what happened not even two hours later.

The door between our family room and lanai was open.  I had been telling the kids they needed to keep the door closed because I didn't want any more myna birds coming in and having diarrhea all over the floor.  So I was half-stomping over to the door to close it when I saw it.  A lizard staring me down.  A huge lizard, that is.  How big, you ask?  Well, just slightly smaller than this.
Source: Comicvine

I am not cool about lizards being in the house.  I am trying to be comfortable with geckos, but these are big ol' ugly chameleons.  I have no appreciation for their sharing my home at all.

So what followed was about 20 minutes of screaming (the kids some, me a lot).  Because these things jump, you guys.  They jump and run and jump again.  And it is just terrifying.  I finally managed to trap her under a big plastic salad bowl.  This was my first error.  I should have gone for a smaller bowl.  Because then I had to find a really big thing to slide under, and all I could find was this laminated book Skyler had made in third grade.  By this time we were almost as far as we could have been from the door, and as I was carrying out my bowl-book contraption out, I noticed there was a gap.  A gap plenty big enough for a lizard to crawl through.  Again, I can't write to convey how fast all this happened, so let's put it into slow motion.

Me -- noticing gap between book and bowl: "Oooohhhhh nooooooooo!!!" (starts running for the door)
Lizard -- also noticing gap between book and bowl: "Oooooooohhhhh yyyyyeeeeessssss!!!!!!"  (also starts running -- for the gap.)
Lizard -- free of bowl, leaps onto ME!!!!!!
Me -- "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!" (best approximation of scream of terror)  (scarred for life) 
Lizard -- leaps onto floor
Me -- races to open other door, stomps floor, encouraging lizard to leave.  
Lizard -- finally, at long last, after blood, sweat and screams, decides to leave.

So yes, I was mentally scarred.  And then God decided that wasn't enough yet.  

Because Sunday I was sitting at the desk composing an e-mail to my dad (who is overseas right now so only e-mail communication), when the biggest pigeon ever suddenly appears right beside me.  I started to hyperventilate as I went through my myna bird PTSD yet again.  I yelled, "MATT!!!!  HELP ME!!!!!  THERE'S A GIANT PIGEON IN THE HOUSE!!!!!!" and as I said this, the wretched creature, I'm not even kidding, flew right for my head!!!!!  

I covered my head and screamed, "HEEEEELLLLLLP  MEEEEEEEE!!!!!!"  You guys.  It was SO scary.  Just almost like this scene from The Birds.
Photo: mptvimages
 I finally managed to get to the other room while Matt (who was out in the pool) (and probably the one who had left the lanai door open) took the screens off the windows.  I wielded a broom ninja-style and chased the pigeon to one of the windows before it could rip my eyeballs out with its fearsome talons.

But anyway, all this to say, forget the indoor-outdoor lifestyle.  Give me a totally bug-lizard-bird-free home.  A fortress of peace and security.  

And also, thank God there are no snakes in Hawaii.

A Slow Learner

{Previously published on my old blog in December 2011}

I say the same thing a lot.  Like if you knew how many times a week I have to say, "Don't eat your boogers," you'd be shocked.  Then again, if you're a mom, you probably aren't.  In fact, maybe you know how I feel when I say there's a rather overpowering sense of deja vu in my life.  "Put your laundry away."  "Don't pick on your sister."  "Finish your homework."  "Did you flush?"  "Did you wash your hands?"  "Did you flush?" "Why do I have to keep saying this?" ("Did you flush?")  

The other day was Picture Day at the girls' dance studio.  I did Skyler's hair and make-up (and let me just say, hair-doing is not my forte), made sure she had new, hole-free tights, was not only on time but early(!!!!), when she came down the stairs and said, "I can only find one ballet shoe."

At this point, I just wanted to bang my head against the wall.  Because... THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME!!!  Matter of fact, most performances she's in involve Skyler having some issue with her shoes.  One year, she announced -- on the day of her dress rehearsal -- that her tap shoes were the wrong color.  In December, when I was in crazy, trying-to-keep-my-head-above-water mode, she was performing two dances from The Nutcracker at our town's Breakfast With Santa, show time 8 a.m. the day after Lilly's birthday party.  I'd just sighed with relief because the party had gone smoothly and easily, followed by a nice evening of watching Home Alone and eating popcorn, and (stupidly thinking maybe I had it all under control for once), I'd happened to ask if she had everything ready for her performance the next day.  

"Yeah," she said, "except not the black ballet shoes."

"Black ballet shoes?"  I repeated.

"Yeah, I don't have black ballet shoes.  I told the studio you had some for me."

I will grant that this wasn't entirely as far-fetched as it might have sounded because Jayna had needed black ballet shoes for a recital a couple years ago, so we had them at some point.  

I'll save you the details, but imagine moments of insane ripping through the Rubbermaid boxes in the garage trying to find those shoes, finding one and being just encouraged enough to keep frantically going through them as Wyatt screamed to be nursed and I froze my tushy off... and then I had a lightbulb moment where I realized that she did have a pair of old ballet shoes that still fit and I did happen to have a can of black spray paint (*for a project I still haven't gotten to), and some stinky spraying later, she had a pair of black ballet shoes in time for the performance.

BUT.  That's not the end of the story!  After wearing the stinky shoes for that performance, the studio gave her black shoes, and then ten minutes before dropping her off for the first performance (!!!!!!!!!), she announced she couldn't find them.  Picture more frantic tearing through the house (and tearing my hair out) before coming to believe she'd left them in the changing room at the dress rehearsal.  I almost cried in relief when she looked there and held them up for me to see.

Anyway.  That should give you a pretty good idea why my blood pressure shot up to 200 over 110 (or thereabouts) upon her announcement of this missing shoe.  She was "pretty sure" she'd left it at the studio, but I chewed her out as we drove, saying that if you walk into a place with two shoes on two feet, and you still have two feet when you walk out, you really should walk out with two shoes as well, and I was going to have to figure out a way to adhere the ballet shoes to her person until after the recital, etc., etc. 

But then I looked in the rearview mirror and saw huge tears welling in her eyes and knew I really needed to shut up.  Because a voice in the back of my head was saying, "Yeah, good thing you never lose your keys..."  After a few deep breaths, I apologized... my own heart started aching, even as I prayed that her shoes really were where she thought they were.    

And they were.

But here's the thing.  This week I've realized how slow I am to learn.  How many times God has to teach me the same lesson.  How each time I nod and think, "Okay, I got it this time," only to face it anew possibly the very next day.

I can know what's right -- whether it's how to talk to my kids, or how to manage my time, or why to have a good attitude even when the going's tough -- and yet it's almost like I have to learn that lesson fresh every day for the new circumstance that's challenging my thinking.  Every single day is a new chance for me to... well, putting it nicely, receive grace.  And if I'm so desperately receiving, gulping it down like a person who's been wandering through the desert takes a drink of water, then I sure as heck need to be ready to extend it to others.  

And it shouldn't take tears in someone's eyes to make me realize that.

Of course, it will probably take a few thousand more times to really, truly learn that.

Home is Where...

{Previously published on my old blog}

Did you know today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day? {Edited to add this was May 10, 2013}  I didn't either until I was reminded on Facebook.  And since I'm smack in the middle of yet another crazy-hectic-whatever move courtesy of the ol' USN, I thought I'd pull out this essay I wrote for our squadron spouses' newsletter a couple years ago.  The feelings that prompted me to write this are stronger than ever now.  Love ya, military spouses!

Home Is Where…
Joy Nicholas {originally written in August 2011}

            You look at the shiny key in your hand, the one that opens the door to yet another house.  How many is it now?  You’ve lost count. 
You remember an essay contest in eighth grade, where the theme was to complete the phrase, “Home is where…”  At the time, you didn’t know what to say, and though you are older and supposedly wiser, you sure as heck don’t know now.  Back then, you made up some cutesy pat answer, but it didn’t win the contest anyway. 
You sigh and open the front door, and the kids immediately start crashing around the house, exploring the rooms and looking for hiding places in the new closets.
            “Home is where…” 
The phrase hangs in the empty room that will soon be overflowing with boxes to unpack.  Home is where… what?  Where the heart is?  Something about that just doesn’t ring true.   In the past decade or so, there have been dozens of times when it felt like your heart was nowhere near you, certainly not within the walls that enclosed you.  Sometimes it was on a plane somewhere, flying through the dark night away from you, or stationed on another continent for months, or on a ship in the middle of the ocean.  Or when your grandmother died or your dad was sick or your sister lost a baby, but you couldn’t be there, your heart couldn’t have felt further away.
            And what about those little signs so many have hung in their houses? “Home is where the Navy sends us.”  Again, it seems too trite to be true.  What about the times, months after moving, when you came into your house at the end of a long day, and your kids asked, “When will this feel like home?”  And you mustered a laugh and told them, “When we have to move again.”  Or the times (like yesterday) they asked, “When can we stop moving?” 
            The coming days bring the flurry of unpacking boxes and “settling” in, taking account of what made it through yet another move (hooray!) and what didn’t.  You make a new set of routines, find new favorite places to eat… and, after nights of indigestion, the places that should be avoided at all costs.
 You go through various stages of culture shock that come with a new place:
“I love the food here!” then, “Is that pick-up actually towing that car with an extension cord?!” then, “Ugh.  I hate the traffic here!  And the weather!  And the people!!  They are so weird!” then,  “This… just might… be okay.” 
  You celebrate victories and disappointments with your kids: “Yay!  You made a friend!” sometimes followed by, “Annnnd, that one's a psycho.” 
  You pray and try to trust that all this crazy moving isn’t scarring your kids for life.  The next day you pray that you’re saving enough to pay for all the years of therapy ahead – your own included.
But in the midst of it all, there are moments of clarity and gratitude, where you know that thanks to being a military spouse, you’ve become part of something… well, silly though it might sound, precious.  If you reach out in desperation, someone will be there to pull you up.  Through teary phone calls, social faux pas, Bunco nights, play dates, dinners out, girls’ nights in, and countless belly laughs, you have grown a group of friends so close that you’re being completely honest when you refer to them as family.  These are the people that understand best the heartache you feel when your spouse is gone, and the levels of happiness when he returns, as well as the reality of adjusting to being together again.  They know your kids better than many of your blood relations do; they remember when you went into labor and have actually been there, with you, to celebrate birthdays since.  The tides of military life might pull you apart from each other – even for years at a time – but when they draw you together again, you pick right up where you left off.
 So maybe you don’t know how to finish the sentence “Home is where…”  Maybe it will take you the rest of your life to figure it out.  But at least you can rest assured that you’re not alone.  You’re a military spouse, for once and for always, and that means you can reach out even in the dark and confusing times, and know there will be a hand to hold.

5 Favorites: Best Chapter Books for Kids

{Previously published on my old blog last fall}

Well, I guess you could say I have books on the brain this week.  Because when I was thinking about doing a Five Favorites post, linked up to Hallie, I just had to write a post about my favorite books we read last year. 

Please, though, if you don't have kids, keep on reading.  There are some great books for any age that I've listed here.

Okay... Let me back up a little first.  

A few years ago, I was feeling like I had read all the good books out there to my kids.  I'd gone through the Little House series (at least twice), the classic Winnie-the-Pooh's, the Anne books, the Ramona books, all the old, original Nancy Drew's (well, at least as many as we could take before her getting knocked on the head and dragged into the trunk of a car EVERY. FLIPPIN'. TIME. made us too crazy), The Penderwicks series, and many, many more.  

Whenever I browsed the many libraries we went to, I just about wanted to poke my eyes out after seeing the books being offered up in the "Teen/ Young Adult" section.  They were all cheap, cheesy, serials like those I read growing up and consequently felt inadequate about.  Or books about gratuitous and casual sex, drugs, murders, and super scary doomsday books, etc.  (No wonder so many of our teens are depressed! To quote Gru, from Despicable Me: "They call this literature?!?!")

Now, I'm not sitting here to preach.  I guess if that really floats your boat and doesn't emotionally or spiritually affect you at all, keep reading!  But I'm here to tell you this, and I hope it is taken to heart: There is so much more good stuff out there to read!!!

I started reading to Jayna when she was a baby -- oh, the fond memories of reading Cat in the Hat to her at bedtime when she was thirteen months old and we had just moved to Pensacola.  (She grew up so fast!!  : :SOB!!: :)  Over time, we started reading chapter books, and pre-bedtime reading became an almost sacred time for all of us.  

Reading, in general, is a huge part of our lives.  It's what we do on long road trips (like this or this one), in doctors' offices and emergency rooms, and I so encourage you to do the same with your kids!  I remember reading to my kids in one doctor's office and having a little crowd of children put their Nintendo DS's or coloring books down and coming around to listen.  And my heart nearly burst with pride the other day when Wyatt walked up to me, plopped a book in my lap and said, "READ!!"  

(Since then, he always brings me Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and says, "READ TRUCKTH!!!")
Anyway, without further ado, I give you: Five Favorite books for Kids.  At least out of what we read last year.  (And this is assuming you've gone through the list I mentioned above, too.)  (And if you don't read aloud yet, start with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder or Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary or the like... tonight!!!  It will be one of the best things you do!!)

1.  Rascal by Sterling North.
  This book is just a classic.  A very animal-friendly boy adopts (or kidnaps, it's debatable) a raccoon.  It's beautifully written, sweet, and thought-provoking.  You will not regret reading it!  

2.  My Heart Lies South by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.
Consider this a travel or intercultural memoir that is totally appropriate for your teen/ preteen.  The downside is, you'll be hard-pressed to find one written more recently that is nearly as good.  Written over fifty years ago, it's the story of de Trevino's courtship and marriage to her Mexican husband.  It tells of quaint, touching, and equally hilarious customs in provincial Mexico.  I read this to preview it for Jayna's homeschool last year, and I absolutely loved it!  Then she read it and loved it just as much!  I have to admit that I didn't read this aloud, and since it addresses marriage, birth and child-rearing, and death (just a little), you might want to have only older children read it alone.  You may also just want to call it a grown-up book and read it with your book club if you're reading this and you don't have kids!  I'm not kidding -- it's so, so great!! An fascinating and entertaining read, and an excellent conversation starter! 

Okay, I just "discovered" Richard Peck's books last year, and I LOVED them.  We all did.  They're mostly hilarious, but don't skip over being gently meaningful (without ever being preachy).  Grandma Dowdel made us laugh so much... and also tear up a little.  If you have not read these books before, check them out.  They're wonderful!

4.  Cheaper By the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.
Okay, don't even try to tell me, "Yeah, I saw that movie."  No, no, no!!  While I'm a big Steve Martin fan, his movie of the same title destroyed this story, bearing almost no semblance to the book, and I'm not sure I can forgive him.  This book is absolutely hilarious.  We laughed until our sides hurt and huge tears rolled down our faces.  I think this is actually the one book we can all agree on being a favorite.  It is just that good.  And again, I recommend reading it even if you don't have kids.  It's written at an adult level that will definitely keep you interested!  Read it -- ASAP!!  

5.  Little Britches by Ralph Moody.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I'll say again that even if you don't have kids, you should read this book.  I had a hard time picking my fifth favorite for this post because we read a lot of great books last year, but Little Britches tells of a time when the westward expansion was dwindling -- but certainly not over.  A family moves to Colorado to a ranch with hopes of a better life and faces tough realities.  This is the only one of Moody's books that we read, but I plan to read others... because I want to know more about the story.  I know I only got my toes wet in this story -- and it's a great one.

I'm passionate about reading, and extremely passionate about what I read to my kids.  Do you have any books that you'd recommend?  If so, please comment and let me know!

5 Favorites: Cookbook Mania

{Previously published on my old blog in fall 2013}

Made in Hawaii apron... with tonight's dinner
The night before last we had a crazy downpour.  Rain blew almost all the way across out bedroom.  The storm didn't last long, but all day yesterday, there were clouds and breezes, and even though the thermometer didn't register a cooler temperature, without the sun beating relentlessly down on the roof, our house felt great.

So great, in fact, that I did something I haven't done in a while. In my free time,I broke out the cookbooks and meandered through them.  Lately, in our solar oven-house, I've tried to use recipes that require minimal cooking, or that I know so well I can create them without having to check the cookbook all the time.  But yesterday, with it feeling... well, as fallish as it probably will here... I was in the mood to cook -- even (brace yourself!) bake!

So it got me thinking about my favorite cookbooks. I've acquired quite a collection of them through the years, but before our move, I whittled down to (mostly) just the ones I truly love.

And here they are.

1. Forks Over Knives by Del Stroufe.  If you asked me what single cookbook I would recommend for a plant-based diet, this would be it.  There is so much information in addition to the plethora of recipes from soup to nuts, so to speak.  And the recipes are absolutely delicious!  I haven't gotten through them all (it would take a while), but we have a number of favorites -- for instance, the mushroom stroganoff (I made it even though I was missing some of the ingredients and it was still SO YUMMY!), the cauliflower cream sauce, the eggplant and chickpea pilaf.

2.  Quick-Fix Vegan by Robin Robertson.  Okay, she had me at "quick-fix," because anything I can make quickly and easily speaks to me.  But more than that, she is not only fine with improvisation but also encourages it(which I do a lot of) and she doesn't have a lot of weird ingredients.  She even allows some pre-made ingredients which I try not to lean too heavily on.  I also like the way the index is laid out.  I know, I'm weird like that.

But the bottom line is, there are so many delicious recipes here, as well!  My family's favorites are the ratatouille (the first time I made it, Matt declared it to be the best thing I'd ever cooked), the Indian shepherd's pie (seriously... so good!!!), and the Tuscan Vegetable Tart.  When Matt's family was visiting us last December for The Nutcracker, I made a bunch of recipes from this.  My mother-in-law said that she thought she could eat vegan if I were cooking for her.  That is probably the best cooking compliment I've ever received.  However, for better or worse, I owe it to this cookbook.

3.  Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow-Cooker, also by Robin Robertson.  Robertson is probably my favorite all-round vegan/ vegetarian cookbook author, for the reasons listed above.  Those same principals that I love about Quick-Fix are applied here to the slow-cooker, and that's what makes it so much better, in my opinion, than Vegan Slow Cooking which requires lots of pre-slow-cooker cooking and harder-to-find ingredients.  I feel like Robertson just "gets" me and the way I like to cook.

4.  The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook by Cathe Olson.  This is probably the most undervalued vegetarian cookbook, but I think it's because of the name and very "Earth Mama" cover.  It kind of pigeon-holes itself.  So unfortunate, let me tell you, because it's full of tons of great information not just for pregnant women, but for people interested in raising their kids on a plant-based diet.  When I first declared myself vegetarian twenty years ago (you know, before all my babies), I had so many people tell me "that will have to change if you ever want to have a child."  Well... it didn't.  In fact, when I saw a dietitian during my pregnancy with Jayna (at the request of my doctor), she applauded the way I ate.  I know that I owe the health of my children to the grace of God, but I definitely don't think that my eating caused them any harm.

The recipes are also delicious.  There are some great vegan "meatless-loafs" plus lots of healthy, wholesome snacks (and let's face it, kids and their mamas, eat a lot of snacks), but I think our favorite is the Vegan Pad See Eaw.  Bottom line: if you are looking for healthy ways to eat vegetarian/ vegan as a family, this is a great book.  In fact, I hope they rename this book and re-release it with a less goofy-looking cover, because it's great.  Lots of wholesome yumminess inside.

5.  The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay S. Nixon.  I got hooked on Nixon's recipes after trying her Hippy Loaf.  Matt, who describes himself as Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo when it comes to being vegetarian, loves it so, so much!  You'll find that and many others in here.  My only gripe with her is that most of her recipes serve four at the most.  Bummer when you have a family of six very hungry mouths.  I know I can double the recipes... but it's just a bit annoying.

Anyway, thanks to Hallie at Moxie Wife for hosting another Five Favorites!  Happy (healthy!!) eating, y'all!!

Happy Birthday to...

{Previously published on my old blog in July 2012}


Our anniversary was a couple weeks ago.  (If I look like I'm twelve in the above picture, it's because I almost was... okay, almost nineteen, but still).  

Our wedding was... a whole lot of work.  A lot of stress.  A big headache (literally).  We both have to fight back shudders when we think about it.  We wanted it to be very small and intimate -- maybe a getaway wedding -- but got talked into doing something bigger.  I wanted to wear a simple white dress, but got talked into a bigger, poufier, never-to-be-worn-again satin number that I spent way too much money on.  We got married at the church my uncle pastored in Lake Tahoe, and since we were trying to do everything as inexpensively as possible, I can guarantee that no one talked about how beautiful our flowers were.  My cousin's then-girlfriend cut the cake for us, and some of our guests didn't even get a piece.  I was running around the day before trying to do everything, forgetting to eat and not giving myself time to adjust to the altitude, so I had a monster headache that caused me to throw up for the first time in seven years after our rehearsal dinner.  It was still pounding through the ceremony and reception the next day.

Yeah.  Not exactly fun.  

But here's the thing.  I think people put way too much emphasis on the wedding.  Yeah, it's definitely supposed to be a celebration.  But if things go wrong or stressful or whatever, if the day isn't exactly what you wanted to be, it's not an omen for the marriage.  So often when I see a beautiful wedding now, one where the flowers are something to write home about, I wonder if the couple has any idea what they're getting into.  I've seen plenty of gorgeous weddings end in divorce or at least unhappy marriages.

The things I think we did right?  We got each other.  We said, "I take you for all that you are, and all that you're going to be."  That's a good thing to say when you're eighteen and twenty-two.  We said, "For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for rich or for poorer..." and acted on it (i.e., it was "for poorer" when we got married!)  We said, "As long as we both shall live."  (even if sometimes, to quote Ruth Graham, we thought, "'Divorce?  Never.  Murder?  Yes.'")  We dedicated our lives and marriage to God.  And even though it wasn't the small, intimate affair we'd wanted, we were surrounded by the blessing of our family.  My granddad, who officiated part of it, died the following January, and I'm so glad he was there.    

We've had our share of struggles and tears, and I know there will be more. (There is still a "debate" that rages over the worst movie we've ever seen together.)  We have moments of staring at the other in disbelief, thinking (sometimes saying), "I married that crazy person??!!"  But we practice the difficult art of saying sorry, of begging forgiveness, then more importantly, of giving and receiving it.  We learn to let go of our frustrations and reach for each other, while clinging to God.  

So our wedding wasn't great.  But I liken it very much to a birth.  Having given birth four times without an epidural, I can tell you that it's HARD. (!!!)  It's messy.  It should scare you a little.  It doesn't always go as planned.  At the end of it, though, you have a beautiful child in your arms.  Our wedding gave "birth" to us.  We need tending and nurturing as we grow, just as children do.  And hopefully, prayerfully, someday, those who can remember the wedding will say, "It's wasn't the most spectacular.  But the marriage... now that was really something."  

Best. Idea. Ever.

{Previously published on my old blog November 2011}

Today I've got a story for you, and I really, really like this story.

There was a guy with big blue eyes and sandy brown hair and a great smile. And there was a girl, who thought she was pretty average -- average height, weight, brown hair and eyes, with what could be called a "familiar" face. Everyone thought she looked like someone else, sometimes the girl next door (literally) and sometimes, if she was lucky, someone famous.

I guess you could say the story starts thirty-something years ago, but this part of it was seventeen years ago today. The girl and the guy had met at church the previous summer. She thought he knew -- since everyone else seemed to -- that she had a ridiculous crush on him, the kind that would never be requited since he was 3 1/2 years older than her. He was in college already, for Pete's sake, and she was cramming her junior and senior years of high school into one year so that she could graduate early and leave High School Hell behind her forever.

They would talk for hours whenever they were together, as the rest of the people around them seemed to disappear. He would call her or she would call him, and they'd talk until her mom got on the phone and said in a very perturbed voice (because her family lived in the Dark Ages and didn't have call-waiting), "Joy. Get. Off. The. Phone. NOW."

A couple times, he suggested they "go out sometime," but she knew that was a college guy's way of humoring a high school girl's crush. So she tried to keep her voice casual and say, "Yeah, that'd be nice... Maybe we could go to Safari's and get coffee or something." She pretended to be interested in other guys, but always remembered what she told her big sister the night she had met him: "If I don't marry him, I want to marry someone exactly like him."

It was such a silly thing to say, and she knew it, but there was always this tiny little spark of hope in her heart -- even when her sister came back from college youth group one night and announced that she was sure he was interested in someone else. But in October of that year, they started talking more frequently -- several times a week even -- and finally, around the middle of November, she had an idea.  A great idea. Maybe even, the best idea. It took a couple more days, but she finally worked up the courage to ask him.

"You know," she said, trying to keep the nervousness out of her voice, "I'm driving up to Davis tomorrow [about an hour from the town they lived in] to pick up my sister for the weekend. Mom's kind of scared for me to drive that far alone [not entirely a lie, since she had just gotten her license three months before], so I was wondering if you might want to come with me."

She bit her lip and waited for his answer, which came much more quickly and easily than she'd ever hoped -- "Sure!"

The next day she drove her parents' Chrysler New Yorker to his house. He was standing in front of it wearing jeans and a button-down shirt under his leather jacket. Her heart was pounding. She smiled and waved and as she stopped, he climbed in. Her favorite alternative-rock station was playing, and she said, "You can change the station if you want." But she hadn't expected him to say, "Okay," and switch to country. Goodness -- COUNTRY?!?! Still, she really, really liked him and knew it was either kick him out of the car right then, or... give (*gulp*) even country music a chance for the sake of... maybe not love... yet... but potential for it.

She took a deep breath and put the car into "drive." Because she knew that no one could make her laugh like he did. Because every time they talked, she didn't want to stop talking, but thought of more questions for him, or more she wanted to say. Because when he smiled at her, she felt like she had found her way home.

How I Met Their Father

{Previously published on my old blog July 2013}

For as long as I can remember, there were four words that were just about enough to send me into a panic attack.  No one else seemed to have a problem with them, and that almost made it worse for me.  But they formed a question which, for me, there was just no easy answer.

"Where are you from?"

But gosh, how do you answer that when you're born to American parents, in Bangladesh, you spend your formative years mostly with the Australians who work with your parents and the Bengalis all around you, you move to Thailand at age 11, then go to boarding school in Malaysia?  And in between all that you travel to twenty-something countries?  I still have no idea.

At fifteen, though, I just wanted to be normal.  And when I started trying to explain my complicated and rather abnormal answer to that question, people would either glaze over and tune out or act like I'd grown a second head.  I remember one girl nodding, all smug, and saying, "I knew there was something weird about you."

Gee.  Thanks.

So I never felt like I belonged.  After moving to California when I was fourteen, a move that was supposed to stabilize my life, I felt more lost than ever.  I wasn't just your average white girl from Suburbia, even if I mostly looked that way.

I had a few friends at church -- because there I didn't have to just fit in with kids my age.  Somehow the older girls had less hang-ups about my peculiar past.  So it was there that I fit in -- at least a little.  The summer I turned fifteen, one of these older friends would not stop talking about this guy Matt Nicholas.   Matt had just graduated from high school.  Matt was taking her out to a movie that night.  Every other sentence out of her mouth was about him.  (And here's where I feel a little bad about how this is going to make me look, but...)  She had a thing for him.  Big time.

Finally, one Wednesday night we were sitting on the grass eating dinner (because our church had a Wednesday night dinner) and I said, "So who is this Matt Nicholas guy?"

She smiled, her hazel eyes twinkling a little and cheeks flushed.  "If he's here tonight, I'll point him out to you."

A few minutes later, this guy with sandy brown curls and blue eyes walked around the corner of the building.

"There he is," she said in a low voice.  "That's Matt."  I looked at him, and you know how there are those scenes in movies where the hot guy walks past in slow motion, and there's a golden light shining on him as if from heaven itself?  It was exactly like that.

"Matt!" she called out, waving and standing up.  She ran over to him, and they started talking earnestly.  And my heart, after having a short conniption fit, sank down cold into my stomach.  Because there was no way -- just NO way at all -- he would ever fall in love with me.

So the year went on, my sophomore year of high school.  My freshman year had been bad, but my sophomore year was almost tied for awfulness.  Every day I got out of the family car, after begging the whole way not to have to go to school, and prayed hard that something good would happen.

It didn't.

Well, not until the end of March, anyway, when I finally got my braces off.  I'd had them 3 1/2 years!!! My teeth felt so new and perfect, and I literally smiled that whole cheek-aching day.  It was a Wednesday, and that evening, I went with my big sister Jenny to the church youth group.  I hadn't really gone since the night my friend pointed out that cute guy she had a crush on, but I didn't have anything else going on, and I figured, Why not?

It was cold and rainy, and the meeting room for the youth group was crowded with junior highers, high schoolers, and college-age kids.  And then, way across the large room, I saw him -- that guy my friend liked so much.  He was just so darn cute, his curls a little wet from the rain.  He was looking down, but all of a sudden looked up -- right at me!  And I -- well, I was in such a great mood with my "new" pearly whites -- I smiled.  He looked confused for a second, like he couldn't place me.  But then -- oh, were my eyes playing tricks on me?! -- he smiled right back.  A big, honest smile.  I kept looking at him because I was feeling strangely bold, and we just smiled at each other, and for a few blissful moments, it was like we had this secret just the two of us knew.

But then I looked away, and later walked out of that room without talking to him.  The magic of that moment was lost in the sludge of horrible that was that school year.  And so it went for two months.  I started going out with this one guy with very little personality who used way too much hair product, just to kill time.  That guy Matt?  Who knew what he was up to.  It didn't matter because he would never be interested in me.

Then Mr. Hair Gel and I broke up (painlessly), and once again, the night before Jenny's high school graduation, I found myself back at the Wednesday night service at our church.  I was secretly hoping Matt would be there again, just to make the evening a little more interesting.  I could just look at him, and that would be enough, but if he smiled at me again... oh my goodness.  It would, like, make my week.  Even more than school getting out for summer the next day -- and that was really saying something.

He was there!  Oh my gosh, he was there!  I smiled, more shyly this time, and he smiled back!!!  Amazing!!!  So I was in a great mood as we walked out to the parking lot, my sister and I, talking to some friends.  Then I saw him come out of the building.  My heart started going crazy again, and my mind tried to tell it to shut up and settle down.  He was walking toward me!!!  HE WAS WALKING TOWARD ME!!!!!!!  AND SMILING!!!!!!!

"Hi," I said and at the exact same moment, he said, "Hi" to me.  Then he said the world's best pick-up line ever: "Nice shoes."

Friends.  Let me assure you.  They weren't nice shoes.  This was 1994, in that weird, grungy time, and I was wearing these terrible yellow-ish brown construction-worker-chic boots.  They were hideous.  But I totally thought I was rocking them, and his comment just about made me swoon.

"Thanks,"I said, as casually as possible, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.  "I'm Joy."  I stuck out my hand.

"I'm Matt," he said, and I was thinking, I know, I know!!!  I know who you are and you're so cute, but you're never going to go out with me!!!  "So..."  And then he said those cursed four words, the words that I hated ever so much, "Where are you from?"

Ugh.  Here it went.  My second head was about to appear.

"Well," I sucked in a deep breath and said, "it's kinda complicated, but I was born in Bangladesh."

"Oh, really?" he said.  And without missing a beat, he went, "I was conceived in Guam."

I think at this point, one of the people standing in the group snorted and rolled her eyes, like it was the stupidest thing she had ever heard.  And I guess it was a little awkward, you know, bringing up his parents' baby-making in the third thing he'd ever said to me.  But I laughed and said, "Wow.  No one has ever said that before!" and all I could think was, He doesn't think I'm weird!!  He's still talking to me!!

We talked for maybe an hour, maybe longer, there in the parking lot, as the group around us dwindled.  But we didn't notice because it might as well have been just the two of us.  We talked about everything -- how I was going to Australia in a few weeks to spend most of the summer, how he was worried for me (he was worried for me!!!) because funnel web spiders live there, how he had only been to Mexico on a mission trip but wanted to travel more, and on and on and on.

Finally, the sun was setting, and Jenny said we really had to go.  I said, "Nice to meet you.  I hope we talk some more sometime," and he said, "Me too."

I don't know if there's such a thing as a "soulmate."  But what I do know is, I sat down in the car with a strange ache in my heart, like I was leaving home, a place where I belonged completely, and it was not just okay, but rather great to be me and all the craziness that I was.  I had at least a thousand more things I wanted to say to him, and I wasn't sure I'd ever get the chance to -- what if that evening had all been a silly fluke?  Like Cinderella at the ball.

Jenny and I rolled the windows down and let the cool evening breeze of the the San Joaquin Delta blow on our faces.  And I said -- though I knew I sounded crazy, "If I can't marry Matt Nicholas, I better find someone just like him."

True Love's Kiss

{Previously published on my old blog December 2012}
"The course of true love never did run smooth." -- Shakespeare

My first kiss was in kindergarten, my rebellious days.  The teacher had stepped out of the classroom to use the bathroom, and I stood on my desk and pulled James, the boy I alternately loved and hated, onto the desk with me.  He feigned some resistance.

"Kiss me, James," I declared.  "Kiss me right now." He tried not to, but eventually gave me a quick peck on the lips.  I sat down triumphantly, just in time to not be caught by the teacher.  It wasn't love, though.  Turned out he was just a frog.

And I'd kissed a few frogs by that cold December night some eleven years later.  Not literally frogs, of course, and definitely not awful human beings.  Just guys that were definitely Not The One -- that I'd kissed, to be honest, just for the sake of saying I had.  Only one kiss had ranked as Really Nice, but it was, as Bon Jovi once sang, "a first kiss good-bye," and that good-bye was of my own choosing.

Ever since our first date, though I wasn't sure I could really call it that, Matt and I had been spending at least some part of almost every day together.  Sometimes we'd go for walks together, sometimes to a movie, but often, we just sat somewhere and talked for hours.  On our second "date," he had wrapped his arms around me before I got into my car, and I swore to myself that I'd never forget the light fragrance of soap as I leaned against his warm shoulder.  A couple weeks later, he was with some friends when I drove over to his house, and in front of them all, he (very purposefully, I thought) took my hand, and said, "See you later, guys.  We're going out."  He used the word "we" and held my hand.  This had to mean something... didn't it?

What new and confusing territory for me.  He was, after all, a college guy -- soooo mature and just humoring my silly crush.  I'd only ever gone out with guys my age, and there was always a certain procedure: glances exchanged, followed by purposeful glances with smiles, followed by messages being sent either via notes or friends that we "like-liked" each other and wanted to "go out," followed by a distinct yes or no, followed by a new set of protocol that was involved in calling each other "boyfriend and girlfriend."

That spring, things had been a little different.  There was a frog I kissed, and then he asked if we wanted to go out and I said yes, and we spent time together that I didn't enjoyed much, and then... he dumped me.  Very nicely, of course, in the driveway of my parents' house, as he promised that we'd "still be friends."

Yeah, right.  No thanks.

And the "relationships" I'd had since then were also mildly confusing -- "going out" as in actually going somewhere, but not necessarily being boyfriend/ girlfriend.  But this was entirely new -- head-spinning, heart-pounding, palm-sweating territory where I really wanted to get it all just right, but I didn't even know what that was.

We'd sit together on the weekend evenings, talking in his car that was parked in front of my house, and our heads leaning closer and closer together... I'd admire that gentle slope at the corner of his eyes, his long lashes, his lips.  My breath would catch in my throat and I'd think, "This is it, he's going to kiss me."  And then... nothing.  Just... nothing.

"Does he like me?!?!" I cried to my friend Heather at lunch.  "I don't get it!  Everything seems just right, but he doesn't kiss me."

She shrugged.  "Maybe he just wants to be friends."

Ugh.  Friends.  I didn't want to be friends.

School ended, and it was my sister's birthday, six days before Christmas.  But she had her own plans, and that night I went out with Matt.  We saw a movie and had a great time, and he walked me to my parents' door as he always did.  He hugged me, like he always did, and then, just like that, his lips were on mine.  He was kissing me!!!  He was finally, really, truly, yes, kissing me!!!

And I...  I thought, He's kissing me and I'm just standing here.  And for reasons I still don't understand, I did the dorkiest thing ever.  I clamped my lips shut in a tight line, pulled my head back, spun around and said, "Well, good night!" before going inside.

I closed the front door and leaned my back against it, my heart beating wildly.  My parents were already in bed, just down the hall, but I still jumped up and down -- as quietly as I could.  He kissed me, he kissed me!!!  It's my sister's birthday, but I got the best present ever!!! Matt kissed me!!!!  And then I remembered... I just slammed the door on his face.

I looked through the peephole, but he was gone.  I might never see him again.  We might not even be friends.  I am an idiot!!!!!

I slinked off to bed and somehow fell asleep.  The next morning, I got up and poked around the house, wondering if I should call him, or if he would call me.  If I called him, he might hang up on me.  He had every reason to.  What was I thinking?!

But finally I punched the numbers on the phone, and after two rings, he picked up.  "Hey!" he said, in a voice that was a million times nicer than I'd expected it to be.

"Hey," I said.  "So... I've got some errands to run and some Christmas shopping to finish, and I was just wondering if you want to come with me."  I said all that in about two seconds flat, then sharply inhaled again, waiting.

"Yeah, sure!  That sounds great!"

I cheered silently.

It was a wonderful, magical day -- insignificant in most ways, except that I was with him.  That night we went out to dinner and then to the movie theater and saw Dumb and Dumber and laughed until we cried.  He walked me to my door again, and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much all day.

"I'm going down to my mom's tomorrow, you know.  For Christmas," he said, and I nodded.  "And I just want you to know, these past few weeks have been... the best.  You are... really, really special to me."  I kept smiling and nodding.  Finally, oh-so-eloquently, I said, "You too... to me.  You're special."  And I'm an idiot!

He hugged me and I tried to make the moment last as long as I could without it being awkward.  Then he turned with a wave and walked down the sidewalk.  I waved too.  The night had been just perfect.  Only one thing would make it better...

"Hey!" I heard my voice, but I had no idea what I was doing.  He stopped and turned with a half-smile, as if he knew what I was going to say.  "Hey... ummm... remember what you did last night?"  He nodded silently and was still smiling.  He might say no, might leave me standing there looking like the idiot I surely was, but for some reason, I had to say it.  "Want to try that again?"

He didn't say anything, but strode toward me quickly, and then, just like that, gave me the world's most perfect kiss.  Honestly.  Angels sang.  There were fireworks -- and confetti and rose petals -- somewhere, I'm sure.  But even if not, and it was just him and me on a cold and foggy night in December, standing on the steps of my parents' very ordinary house, there has never been a kiss to match it.  Then he walked down the steps and I floated inside...

Sometimes when I look around and wonder how on earth I got here -- this home full of crazy laughter  and tears and dancing and screaming and dogs that think they can sing and messes that seem far too deep -- I remember that kiss.  Because it was the first time I realized that true love is not about things always being perfect, but rather about trying again -- even if it means you're going to look like a fool -- until you get it.  Just.  Right.