Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why is My Easter Posting Mostly About What I Ate?

I need you to all look, closely, at these Easter dresses. My Mom made the dress (and crazy ruffled bonnet :)) that Mary Aplin is wearing, as Pace's first Easter dress 2 years ago. Then, I smocked Pace one to match and my sweet Grandma put it together. Pace's dress is the reason that I have not read, or blogged much, or cleaned my house in the past couple of months. This was only my third smocking endeavour, and I am HORRIBLY slow. My friend Lauren and I started our dresses at the same time this year, and she completed 3 others before I got this one finished. Anyway, this was my first time to ever have my own set of matching outfits for my little girls.

Jeremiah, who normally tells me to calm down about preserving whatever little Sunday dresses the girls are wearing, has finally realized why I have acted neurotic in the past. He has been so frustrated with seeing the top of my head bent over these dresses in every spare moment the past couple of months, that he was snapping at poor Pace himself when she tried to plop down in the wet grass just before we took these pictures. When we loaded the girls in the car, he didn't even fight with me when I requested that we only buckle their chest straps, so that the dresses wouldn't wrinkle on the way to church. Beauty at all costs, right :) (We were in Dothan, Sunday traffic is very mild, and we didn't have far to go. Please don't judge too harshly.)

We had a great, long Easter weekend. Jeremiah was off Friday and Monday, so we were able to truly relax during our time in Dothan. Kendall cooked an amazing meal on Friday night (grilled pork chops, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried cornbread, and potato salad...she's only a senior in high school!), and Jeremiah got to "camp out" with his friends while I watched a movie with the sisters on Friday night. Saturday, the whole Clark clan walked to IHOP for breakfast, I took a run with Dad, and then we laid out on the Redneck Riviera--our driveway. To complete the white-trash scene for you all, I might add that Pace was running around butt-naked and playing in the water hose, and she copped a squat in the yard like it was the most natural thing in the world! That night we tried to switch back into normal people and got dressed up to go to Whitney's engagement party. We talked to lots of old friends, and I don't think they could tell how trashy we'd been a few short hours before :).
Sunday morning, the Easter bunny came to visit Pace and Mary Aplin and a sweet friend (Amy Buntin) arranged an Easter surprise outside the back door for our family. There were a dozen white roses and a Willow Tree figurine (that represented Mom) wrapped up for each of us. As I opened the card in the pre-dawn twilight and saw the the words "He is Risen!" I felt chills at the thought of how Mary and Martha must have felt as they approached the surprising sight of the empty tomb on that first Easter morning. He is risen indeed!

We had Sunday lunch and a mini-Easter Egg hunt with my extended family at Aunt Marty and Uncle Alan's. That afternoon I left a screaming Mary Aplin with poor Mrs. Linda while Jeremiah, Dr. Maddox, David Etheridge, PACE, and me took a long horseback ride around the farm. That night we had some good fellowship (and pizza!) with the Maddox's and Tommy, and completed the night by listening to Kendall's ever-entertaining love drama.
Of all these fun and relaxing activities, I have been most excited to tell you Dothan readers about what I did on Monday morning. Jeremiah and I both LOVE to go out for fun breakfast. While the chain restaurants will suffice in filling you up, what we most enjoy is the individuality and fresh food of small-business restaurants. One day we will move from Birmingham, and we'll have to say good-bye to V. Richards and Urban Standard...that's a day we've been dreading, until our discovery Monday morning. Tommy told us about a new place in historic downtown (on Foster St. in the old River Nile location) called The Bistro. It was phenomenal!

The walls are hung with over-sized black and white photos that the owners wife made in Europe. There is patio seating outside beside a fountain and surrounded by the individually shaped bricks and lopping mortar that makes old buildings so distinct. The owner himself is British and studied the culinary arts while he was growing up there. His gentle accent serves as a nice contrast to the deep-South rhetoric permeating the rest of the room. Our waitress was lovely, and made us feel like family--holding Mary Aplin and bringing Pace finger puppets and silly straws. While we waited for our food, we sipped coffee as we sampled a warm cinnamon roll, drizzled with icing. It was heavenly!

As Dad and Jeremiah talked politics and religion, I peeked my head around the side of our booth to observe our master chef preparing breakfast. He worked with deft skill, moving swiftly from one pan to the next--rolling pitas, sprinkling spices, spreading cheeses, and skimming cream off the top of a little silver pot. When the food came, I was surprised by how large the servings were at such a small price. Jeremiah had a grilled breakfast roll, filled with eggs, spinach, feta, ham, and a sun-dried tomato cream cheese spread. Dad had crepes (that can also be filled with fruit) stuffed with eggs, bacon, and cheese. I had eggs Florentine: poached eggs on a bed of butter-wilted spinach, topped with Swiss cheese and thin slices of ham (added at my request). All of our dishes were paired with home-diced potatoes, fried to a golden brown.

All of this in Dothan, Alabama and we were the ONLY people in the place!!!! I don't understand why we (Dothanites) cannot seem to support a fine-dining establishment. Its like we all (me included) say we'll just hop right over here to this convenient chain restaurant and pay 4 or 5 dollars less per plate to eat food that has been prepared somewhere like NY, shipped down here, and left in the freezer for the past few days! This restaurant I have described, The Bistro, is fabulous. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner (I am not sure what days they do serve which meal), and I cannot imagine you would not be delighted by what you discover there. I know I was.

Happy Easter!!! I have talked about food throughout this entire post and am now feeling a bit obese :)

Creating for the Creator

This weekend I had a friend ask if I would give her an opinion on some of her art work. I had never seen anything that she'd painted before, and really just didn't know what to expect. What I saw blew me away. I know pretty close to nothing about art, rarely have I been moved by it. I've had my breath taken away by its beauty, yes, just not what I would call moved to any other emotions. However, when I opened the painting above (Faith) I was moved. I felt its meaning deep inside, and it created a serene picture of Mom's battle and where I am right now all at once. It made me cry.

That experience has led me to think about art in general over the last few days. Not just art, like paintings, but art more in the sense of creating. I believe God places some ability to create in all of us. After all, we are creatures created in His image, and He is the most creative artist there will ever be. If you look at the beauty of nature: the dark Nigerian compared to the fair English, the twittering of birds or the rushing of a waterfall, the feathery jeweled hues of peacocks compared to the deep gray wrinkles and daunting mass of an elephant, a creeping clambering wisteria vine to a prim and smiling daffodil, sweet honeysuckle nectar versus the spicy jalapeno pepper...He created it ALL, and its all full of unique beauty. Edith Schaeffer, in her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking, says:

Man was created that he might create. It is not a waste of man's time to be creative. It is not a waste to pursue artistic or scientific pursuits in creativity, because this is what man was made to be able to do. He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create--...But-and this needs emphasis-a Christian, above all people, should live artistically, aesthetically, and creatively. We are supposed to be representing the Creator who is there, and whom we acknowledge to be there. It is true that all men are created in the image of God, but Christians are supposed to be conscious of that fact, and being conscious of it should recognize the importance of living artistically, aesthetically, and creatively, as creative creatures of the Creator. If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for our appreciation.

I know that I often chide myself when I want to take the time (or spend the money!) to make our home or yard beautiful. To be completely honest, I have even thought of artistic people as wasting their time. These thoughts aren't on a conscious level, but I think that our "money is power and time is money" society has jaded what God created us to be. God also created us to be productive, and I am certainly not advocating all of us laying in fields all day long looking and listening for beauty. However, on the whole I think that we need to be encouraged to think its not only OK, but a wonderful thing to do just that every once in a while. He created beauty, and it gives Him honor for us to delight in it. In the same way, he gave people the ability to create, and it honors Him for us to enjoy that as well.

I also want to say that I believe that art is not limited to painting, writing, or playing music. Some of us are gardeners, or cooks, or conversationalists, or dancers, or mathematicians, or florists, or actors, or seamstresses, or architects, or builders,... There are so many different creative strands that each allow a person the joy of taking the materials (physically or mentally) God has given them to create something beautiful by their own design. I believe that Scripture implies that we will all have jobs in Heaven, and wouldn't it make sense that God would have given these abilities, gifts that give us such joy to utilize, so that we might use them for eternal purposes in His kingdom? Just a thought.

I'm jumping around on this blog, but one sad thing I've noticed is that it is often the most artistic among us, who seem to be tragically flawed emotionally. It seems like they have to feel very deeply, in order to create truly beautiful art. This deep feeling appears to make them unable to "deal" with life's realities. That, at least, has been my thought process in the past. However, today I was thinking about these same artists and wondering how hard it would be to be a talented artist and not be able to understand the source of your own ability. Our pastor gave an illustration of a child prodigy who was a marvel with the violin. He was so great, that his peers encouraged him to play in Carnegie Hall. His teacher--his master, however, told him that he didn't believe that he was ready for that stage just yet. Ignoring the advice of his teacher, the young prodigy took the stage in front of a sold out crowd. He played beautifully, and at the end of the concert the crowd lept to their feet to give him a standing ovation. The young pupil, however, looked up at he crowd and then ran off the stage in tears. His mother grabbed his arm as he tried to push past her and asked what could possibly be wrong, "They love you," she cried, "just look at how they are cheering for you!" Her son replied, "Not all of them are cheering, LOOK!" The mother looked in the direction her son was pointing, to see that there was one member of the crowd, sitting on the front row who was still sitting with his arms crossed across his chest. It was the boy's master. The world's adulation mattered little, without the master's approval. How hard would it be to have great talent, but never hear "Well done, good and faithful servant" from the only master who mattered.

So, as spring begins, and we see Gods beauty burst on to center stage around us, I encourage all of us to take the time to really see it. And, while we're at it, appreciate each other's abilities as well.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Crafty Easter

I am just not crafty in the least! However, I always see you little crafters crafting away with your children on your blogs, and my neighbors always seem to have some craft project or other going on with their children. So, a few days ago I decided it was time to suck it up and get crafty myself. This was the best my little brain could come up with, and while it may look a little ghetto, Pace and I did have a good time making our Easter garland. For those others of you who are also non-crafty, I will say that it was an incredible teaching tool. I have tried to work with Pace on counting, colors, shapes,...and she has been pretty disinterested. Then, when I started counting the number of cotton balls to put on our bunny ears, or asking her if she wanted me to cut a circle our square for her eggs, she seemed to be learning like crazy. It made me wish I'd started the crafting long ago. So, I'm posting this blog to say, even if its ugly, get crafting!

Jeremiah turned 30!!! on March 10th, and last weekend we went to Oak Mountain to celebrate. His parents and Tommy hauled up 7 horses and Ashley smoked ribs and Boston butts. We had a great time, and embarrassingly enough these cakes are the only things I took pictures of. They are also a LARGE part of the reason I have been on a rapid weight gain program :) Mrs. Linda got them from Olexa's and they were divine.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tales from the Foxhole

I am not sure any of you will want to read this, because its going to be depressing (especially you Dad and sisters). Mainly, I've been lying in bed for the past hour, unable to sleep because there are so many little memories from the time when Mom was really sick that I am scared I'm going to forget.

Tonight, I thought I was safely drifting to dream-world,, when I suddenly saw the way Mom would hold her shoe halfway on her foot and jiggle it back and forth while she was talking. Stupid, yes, but I was trying to take a picture with my mind, hoping I wouldn't forget that little nuance, when one memory after another from her very sick time started jabbing their way into my mind, begging not to be forgotten either. So, I finally decided to come here so that I would know they would be recorded some place a little more trustworthy than my mind. Maybe then I'll be able to get some sleep.

Walking in to Mom and Dad's room to find my big, full-grown husband lying with his head half on Mom's pillow and half on her shoulder, with his arm thrown across her middle. Both of her arms were curled up around holding his. I thought, wow, she really does love him like her own son.

Mom, Dad, Taylor, John David, Jeremiah, and me all piled in their bedroom watching a movie. Mom decides she wants a supreme pizza, so Jeremiah and JD jump up to go pick one up. Then, as we're all sitting there eating, she sits up stick straight and pops her eyes open huge (they looked so much bigger because her face was so thin) and says, "Ohhh! there's grease in this isn't there!?" We all just died laughing. She looked so innocent and funny, and who doesn't realize there's grease in pizza. (She'd recently found that late-night grease gave her stomach problems, but claimed she'd forgotten)

The way Mom was always trying to look over my shoulder at Mary Aplin to catch a glimpse of her smile.

Dr. Maddox handing Mary Aplin into Mom's arms (not realizing she'd been too weak and swollen to hold her for almost a week) and Mom looking at me like, please don't take her yet. I know it must have been horribly painful to support a wriggling baby on her distended, cancer filled belly, but she just wanted to hold her so bad.

Caroline and I taking the night shift with Mom and both of us trying to hide our frustration and fear as she feebly asked if she could walk outside. She was just so weak and she might collapse on you at any minute--it made me so nervous to let her walk around but that's all she ever wanted to do. She must have sensed our impatience and she looked at me and whispered, "I'm sorry." It nearly broke my heart in pieces to see her try to apologize for wanting to go outside.

Late night, all four girls, each at an arm or leg, either massaging or tickling, trying to make her comfortable. Looking at each of their faces and thinking, God knew exactly what he was doing when He gave her four daughters. Then looking up to see a picture of Aunt Alice and Mom on the table behind Mom's head and laughingly saying, "Look Mom, all your girls are here."

Reading Streams in the Dessert and Mom's daily encouraging cards to her on the back patio with Grandma and Aunt Alice.

Dad asking Mom 20 questions at once (he was just trying to figure out how to make her comfortable) when she had just stumbled back inside from getting a blood transfusion. She cut her hand sharply at him and burst into tears. Dad threw his hands up and said he didn't know what else to do. I said, "Dad she's not mad at you. She's just so weak she doesn't know what she wants right this minute, and she's crying because she's just so worn out." Later, when she was resting in bed she whispered, "Thanks for knowing what I'm thinking, when I'm too weak to say it." and she squeezed my hand.

The way Pace instinctively knew to be gentle with her. She wanted to rest her head on Mom's leg, kiss her booboo's (where the IV had been), lay beside her on the couch, hold her hand, and bring her baby dolls and blankies. She adored her.

The last restaurant she ate at was the Waffle House :) Sometimes you just need it.

The last food she ever ate was Carolyn West's roasted red pepper soup. Most people who are so weak they can hardly open their mouth eat things like ice cream or Ensure, but not Mom.

Dad and I were having an argument and I was balling my eyes out. Mom, in an effort to make me feel better said, "Abby, you know what Dr. Edwin said to me today? He said all your girls are wonderful, but one is a jewel--cut straight from your back and that's Abby.--He was right." Then, Dad walked up and grabbed me into a hug. Mom, was bent over in pain, but she walked over and pressed the side of her face against my back and wrapped her arms around me too. That's the last time I got a hug from both of them at once. Sometimes now, when Dad hugs me, I try to remember what it felt like to feel her holding on to the other side.
(Sisters, if you are punishing yourselves and still reading I need to say two things 1-I could tell by the way Mom was holding her mouth and looking down as she said the above, that she didn't really agree with it. We all know I am definitely not "cut straight from her back", or a jewel for that matter. 2-Dr. Edwin said this after one of those question sessions where I'd fired off relentlessly. I think he was trying to find a nice way to say, your oldest daughter acts towards you about like a rabid dog defending her young. Still, it was a nice thing to hear.)

All four girls dancing and singing Sarah Bareilles, "Love Song," at the end of Mom's bed and her bouncing her head and snapping her fingers along with us as she tried to ask (over the blaring music) what the song was about.

After the Candlelight Walk, Jeremiah kept asking her if she was ready to get back in bed. She looked him in the eye and quietly whispered, "I'm ready." How poignant that those turned in to her last words, even though she was talking about getting back in bed.

The first time we thought she was about to meet Jesus, and the way it felt to see my whole family huddled around her and chokingly singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and meaning it.

Just before the Candlelight Walk Mom was in a "deep, deep sleep." We'd all been trying different things to wake her up for about an hour, when Dad came literally jogging into the room. He grabbed a "Best of Disco" CD (I still am not sure where that came from or why it was in their room) and turned up "Brick House" as loud as it would go. My sisters, always ready for a party, came running upstairs to see what was happening. Dad started dancing and reminiscing over the music about all the times they'd danced to that song, like at their prom. When she still wasn't responding much, he took her hand, looked down at it and said, "I held this hand and led you to a lot parties, and you've always loved a party. I'm not about to let you miss the biggest one of your life, when you're the guest of honor." Then his body started to shake with sobs and he lay his face down on her hand. We kept dancing until he joined back in, and he was able to lead her to that party a short time later.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Not Rice Cereal!

I need to talk to you about my little Mary Aplin. She has just taken my heart and made it her own! Before she was born, I really worried about how I was going to be able to love another child with the immensity that I love Pace. I even felt some resentment towards that little creature growing in my belly who was going to come and steal away all of Pace's attention. Even when she was a few days old, I remember crying to my Dad about how hard it was to know that Pace and my precious little days were over. The new baby--crying, feeding, pooping--basically monopolizing my attention would ruin the sweet little routine I had so come to enjoy.

It must have been hormones, because that was just CRAZY talk. Yes, our days are different now, but just like adding Pace was a glorious adjustment, M'Apples addition has been the same way. She is just so lovable with her big toothless grin, that she is always ready to bestow on any who smile her way. Even when she is getting fussy and starting to cry, she will still smile. The wonder is still there too. I want to stare at her every free moment I have. Watching her get control of her hands enough to rub her little eyes or hold and examine a toy still mesmerizes me. She LOVES to roll. When I put her down on her play mat, I can pretty much count on her being stranded somewhere on the hardwood floor five minutes later, holding herself up on her elbows and grinning up at me like, "Look what I did!"

Her favorite place to be is suspended in air by my left arm wrapped around her middle, resting against my hip bone and looking out at the world. If she can have one of my knuckles to gnaw on, then that is bliss. Some day soon she's going to gnaw my thumb off, and you'll all know what happened. I feel pretty sure that she may walk before she sits up. Her legs and body are always locked stick straight. It's truly hard to force her to bend. If her balance gets a little bit better, and the bottoms of her chubby feet get a little more flat, I'll be able to prop her up standing in the corner and go on about my chores :).

I think Mary Aplin may also be my free spirit. When Pace was a baby, I never read a book, but she just sort of fell into a schedule. All I had to do was pay attention to the times she was falling asleep or getting hungry, and she just sort of let ME in on her plan for how her routine was going to go. Not so with this little girl! Just when I think I'm getting her figured out, she'll throw a kink in things. So what if she woke up at exactly 5am 7 days in a row, she may decide to wake up at 6 for a couple of days just to change things up a bit. For those of you who don't have kids, I know you're thinking, "Big deal, she slept an extra hour!" But you can't feed and put a child back down for a nap at their "routine" 7:15 if they've only been awake an hour. The rest of the "schedule" falls out of line in suit. I really am OK with it. Who needs a schedule anyway, right M'Apples!

So the picture above was taken after Mary Aplin's 4 month check-up. I was calmly talking to Dr. Farr about how great things were going, when suddenly he said, "Well, its time to start offering her some rice cereal, and next month you can start trying baby food." I felt my heart clench and tears welled up in my eyes as I replied, "I just don't think I'm ready for that yet." I know he thought I was nuts. He started to kind of laugh and said, "Why, does that mean she's not a new baby anymore?" He nailed it! I didn't even know myself why I was about to weep until he said it, but he was right. To me, she still feels like a newborn, a baby completely dependent on me and my milk supply to sustain life. I didn't want her to have anything else but me. I actually asked him if I had to start giving her that junk. I thought he knew I was kidding, but maybe not since he went into a long lecture on his most recent readings on babies and food allergies.

Maybe its because of the whirlwind time with Mom that I feel like Mary Aplin's new-born time passed in a moment. Maybe that's just the nature of all babies...to grow too fast. All I know is that each night when I'm mixing up her rice cereal, I find myself wanting to freeze time and keep my toothless grinner right where she is.

These are pictures of Mary Aplin and Pace (respectively) at about the same age. I just wanted to show y'all how much they favor.