Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Revealed

Remember my college friend, Veronica? She saved Christmas for me last year. She is elevating it again this year. Go here, here (not entirely epiphany related but meaningful nonetheless), here, here, and here. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Holiday Pictorial (How's that for a catchy, creative title?)

Remember our Norweigan Christmas tree from last year? This year, due to my aversion to both the dead and the fake (and, apparently, the pretty and festive), I bought it an Austrian friend.

Perhaps someday when he is 60 feet tall and 25 feet wide, he'll forget he started out his little tree life in such a demeaning way; choked with strands of hot lights, burdened by a bunch of really cheap ornaments, and being smothered by a spare sheet. But I doubt it.

Next, I'd like to give a shout out to all of the Dads out there who spent their entire day doing this. Every picture I have of Jeff from yesterday is a variation on this theme.

Probably because it takes a very long time to dewire toys like this.

These two have been here all week entertaining their grandchildren. Portrait of my Dad below by Griffin. I think he captured his true essence.

Believe you me, it's been a gift that keeps on giving when these are the children who need to be entertained. They can't stand to be with or without one another.

(As an aside, Jeff took the boys to get their hair cut this week. He claims he gave the exact same set of instuructions to the two people doing the trimming, "Use a #2 guard and blend in the top." Behold, the big reveal. One of them has a buzz cut in the dead of winter.)
These three came over yesterday to share in the festivities as well.

On the right is Mammaw, of Mammaw fame.

And Larry who I could not entice to come over and hang up my Christmas lights this year. He did, however, bring over his circular saw so we could chop the bottom off the door to the loo (the bathroom renovation continues). You have to love an in-law that brings power tool rather than veggie plate to a Christmas party. Now there is a guy who knows what is truly important.

Lastly, Christmas cookies...made a day late. We hope your holidays were as fun and family-filled as ours!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This is What a Lapsed Vocalist Does With Their Free Time

Behold, the culmination of my last 13 Sunday mornings. Perhaps now I'll have time to go out and get a Christmas tree.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Brady Matthew Bustrum

Behold, Brady Matthew Bustrum has arrived and made his way successfully home. Because he is an adopted child, his homecoming feels almost as miraculous as his birth.

Kevin and Brady. Brady will probably end up calling his Dad, "Pops". Or not.

Brady and his mom. Don't you just love how a baby's face gets all squished up when they sleep on you? I started lactating when I saw this picture and I'm totally not kidding. Don't anyone tell my husband.

Sweet Mother of Pearl, I just may have to bring the uterus out of retirement. I don't think I can take it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Have Never Seen Her Smile

Jeff, Carter, and I hadn’t lived in our house for very long before we discovered that we were living across the street from a registered sex offender. At first I found it very disconcerting. Carter was under a year old when we moved in and I was acutely concerned for his safety. I spent hours online searching court documents trying to figure out what the exact offense was in order to determine how protective I should be of my precious firstborn. In the meantime, we watched him, his wife, and their three elementary age children through our front window as they played in the cul-de-sac. Truth be told, I was troubled that he even had children.

It wasn’t long before they had a baby, and soon he and Carter began to play together in the cul-de-sac. Jeff made contact with them first. I note that only because if frequency of opportunity is considered, it should have been me. But I was content to sit behind my closed door and silently pass judgment.

A tentative relationship based on a shared cul-de-sac and a lot of Little Tikes vehicles eventually began, and very quickly thereafter we came to know why he is in the registry. She was 14 when they met and began seeing one another. He was 21 and already the father of a 3-year old son, and 1-year old daughter. At 14 she became their de facto mother, and by 17 she was pregnant with their 1st child. They were married shortly after she graduated from high school.

As far as the safety of my own young family was concerned, I felt better about the situation having been granted these details. Their relationship had not only lasted a decade, but he had a thriving small business, and they seemed fairly stable (with the exception of occasional police visits which we assumed had to do with his prior record). As both of our families grew, we spent more and more time together in the cul-de-sac watching them play. Their 2nd son is sandwiched between Carter and Griffin. Peyton is next in line and they had a 3rd child late last fall. I wouldn’t say a friendship has grown, but certainly the familiarity has. This year, Carter started riding the bus to and from kindergarten. Their 10 year old son (who has always been so tolerant of the three little boys who want to follow him everywhere) rides with him and looks out for him on the bus. When Carter gets home from school each afternoon, their 4-year old is at our front door in minutes wanting to play. Thankfully, the play-set has been a huge hit. Our lingering discomfort with the three of them playing around their house was a primary motivator for that investment. We wanted to draw the all the neighborhood kids to our house – to an environment we knew we could keep safe.

Over the last two years, things have steadily started to break down at the house across the street. Last year the police were called 3 times on assault charges. This year, they’ve been called 5 times. Sometimes the other neighbors fill us in on the details, sometimes she fills us in. Invariably, she is always the victim.

In October, she was attacked by four teenagers while her mother-in-law stood by. Their weapon of choice was a wrench. Her 16-year old son tried to help her, but he was sorely outnumbered. She eventually escaped and ran to a neighbor’s house and begged them to call the police. This was the one incident I know of in which her husband was not her abuser. Her de facto daughter and friends were.

On Friday night around 7:00pm, I left with Griffin to do a few errands. There were two police cars parked at their house. When we returned an hour later, there were six cars and two of those had almost run us over in their haste to get on the scene. The neighbors in the surrounding streets were all outside watching the action. Apparently, there had been a domestic dispute at their house involving a hand gun. The police had chased down, caught, and subdued the individual with the firearm, but he had managed to ditch the piece before they caught him. They were all outside in the dark with flashlights looking for the missing gun.

It’s a curious thing. I am able to feel an astonishing range of emotion on any moment of any day for Africa’s orphans thousands of miles away. Emotion that motivates me to dream up extraordinary measures to try to remedy circumstances so dismal they almost cannot be described with words. But for 5-years, I have shut my eyes and heart to the dire needs right in my own neighborhood. I have hid my light under a bushel of mammoth proportions. What causes me to be so selectively compassionate, so exclusive with my love, I do not know. But on Friday night it was hard to decide if the crime that had been committed across the street was more despicable or if that award should go to me for my callousness.

I carefully maneuvered my van around the law enforcement obstacle course, into the cul-de-sac and up into our garage. I knew that there was no excuse for the fact that I had not harnessed the power of God earlier in my relationship with them, and decided there was no time like the present to inject my peaceful, hope-filled self into a situation overflowing with evil.

I passed Griffin off to Jeff and told him that I was going across the street to get the kids out of the house. If nothing else, our home could and should be a place of refuge. I walked to the nearest inhabited police car only to find our neighbor handcuffed in the back seat. Since they were his kids I was about to start making decisions for, I thought it only right that I inform him of what I was about to do. Handcuffed or not, the guy has always been cordial to us and he was, per usual, very polite. I went to their house, retrieved the two youngest and told their obviously battered mom I expected her to come over as well after the cops left. Jeff and I then spent the next several hours trying to care for an exhausted infant and entertain an anxious preschooler until their traumatized mother arrived to spend the night. It felt right.

Our neighbor may not be a sexual offender in the manner that immediately comes to mind (i.e. rape or incest), but the resulting effect on his wife has been the same as if he had. Physically, she is 27-years old. Psychologically, she has the decimated ego and decision making skills of the 14-year old she left behind. She lives in fear and will do anything to avoid facing the anger of even her own young children, some of which are already beginning to exhibit a tendency toward violence. She has a drinking problem (let’s call it a “coping mechanism” to be fair), a nicotine habit, has never worked or been self-sustaining, and owns nothing in her name. It is readily apparent that the very idea of having to find a way to support herself and her young children is far more intimidating than dropping the charges against her husband and allowing the escalating cycle of abuse to continue.

My pitiful psychology degree expired in my head years ago, and I have no personal or practical experience with domestic violence. I have even less experience with firearms and if I could register as a pacifist I’d do it tomorrow. I’ve decided, however, that relatability in this instance is perhaps not the point. Compassion is the point. Love is the point. Being willing to wholly engage in order to help someone transform their life and the lives of their children is the point. The question that plagues me now is whether or not I am too late.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When We're Not Talking About Obama...

We're debating paint colors. Soft white, beigy white, medium brown, blue? Should I try to accent the dark mirrors/vanities, or should I try to accent the tile/travertine? It's a quandry.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two Transformers and a Doll

Happy Almost Halloween from...

Optimus Prime,


and Raggedy Ann. Hey, her brothers tried to convince her to be Arcee, but she wasn't having it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wrestling with Manna

Last night Carter and I read Exodus 16 before he went to bed. I know what you're thinking, "Seriously? You read 36 verses to a 5-year old?" I did not. I read a whopping total of 11 sentences from his children's Bible that so impacted me that I had to sit down tonight and try to mentally sort through it. Which just goes to show, you should never underestimate the power of the Word of God in any form. Even a highly condensed form.

Here is the passage we read in all of its abbreviated glory:

The whole community told Moses they weren't happy. "In Egypt we ate all the food we wanted. But you have brought us out to this desert to die of hunger."

The LORD said, "I have heard the people talking about how unhappy they are. Tell them, 'When the sun goes down, you will eat meat. In the morning you will be filled with bread.' "

That evening quail came and covered the camp. In the morning thin flakes appeared on the desert floor. Moses said, "It's the bread the LORD has given you to eat." The people called the bread manna. They ate manna for 40 years until they reached the border of Canaan.

Jeff and I have some friends that are missionaries in Sudan. This was their blog post last Monday. This was their blog post on Friday. I had an impossible time reading through either of them without feeling compelled to try to find a way to help. Should I send baby formula, baby clothes or money? Bethany responded to me by saying (among other things) that they wanted to make sure they started something they could sustain.

Right. About that issue of sustainability. I'm in complete agreement, but last night I was also angry to the point of distraction. I serve a God who supplied fresh bread six days of the week for 40 whole years to the Israelites. He clearly gets the concept of sustainability. My question is why help the whining Israelites and not the dying Sudanese? Baby Amana and baby Rahab are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg in Yabus. What stops God from seeing their desperation and coating the entire country in manna?

My combined sense of helplessness and uselessness continued into this morning. Thankfully, as we drove to Lowes to pick up some supplies for a class I'm teaching tomorrow, the haze began to clear. 2000 years ago, God did not have another entire continent full of people fully able to acknowledge the problem and choose some element of self-sacrifice in order to meet the need. It was He, and He alone that had to come up with a sustainable feeding program.

It seems also that the hands that are outstretched to embrace and provide for the orphaned and destitute matter. The Israelites had full comprehension of God and had a relatively interactive experience with Him. Compassion wasn't a requirement to convince them that He cared. But we live in 2008 and 1 John 4:7-12 seems crystal clear that there is no other way.

For the last decade, Jeff and I have felt very much at peace with the decision not to return to Africa. It has been a difficult decision at times because to some degree you feel like you sold out. You choose to embrace comfort, materialism, and accessibility, over ministry and/or helping people who simply cannot help themselves. That said, we have never felt out of the center of God's will. We have been abundantly blessed to be in a place financially where we have been able to enable others who did make the decision to return. Giving has always been a high priority for us, but writing a check is no longer feeling like contribution enough. I know money is useful, but because I'm not personally motivated by it, it almost feels like I've missed the true point of sacrificial giving. And if I should get the point, could my circle of influence be larger? Could my impact on the world be greater?

I was going to try to end this on an upbeat note, but I just don't have it in me. I will say this one last thing: I think it's no accident that I received the 2008 SIM Gift Catalog in the mail today. I couldn't help but notice for the price of my new Italian ceramic and travertine tiled shower a deux, that I could have fed 40 orphan children in Malawi for 8 years.

I wonder if those 40 kids would have considered that a sustainable feeding program?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Building an Indoor Pool

This is our bathroom as of this morning. What's a month or two, or possibly thirteen, without use of your master bathroom? Sometimes I actually forget we have master bathroom...until I went in yesterday and spotted the pool that we ditched the garden tub for. If this doesn't eventually turn into a slammin' shower, I'm holding all 15 of you who voted for it accountable.

Optimists that we are, we expect the pace of the remodel to pick up from here. Famous last words, I know.

Red-Necked For a Night

Back in August, my parents gave Jeff tickets to the Dollar General 300 for his birthday. I don't know about the rest of you, but anytime someone wants to give us an experience rather than more stuff for our birthdays, we are all about it. For one thing, we don't get out much. For another thing, we already own way too much stuff. It's a problem we should probably be seeking some sort of therapy for.


On Friday night, Jeff and I loaded up the boys sans ear plugs and headed out to Lowes Motor Speedway. That was a mistake. We definitely should have brought ear plugs because 43 cars going 200+ miles an hour around a track is much, much louder than watching a race on TV would lead you to believe. Fortunately, the family sitting next to us was sympathetic to our plight and passed down a pair for Griffin.

Thank you Kasey Kahne fans for saving the night. We're sorry Kyle Busch had to win. But he dominated the field, really, he did. Even we race virgins could see that.
The field? Is that what you call a fleet of race cars? Or are too many hours spent watching the Golf Channel starting to take effect?

Carter was significantly less bothered by the noise because he was transfixed by the gourmet fare served at the track. The race started at 8:00pm, so we had eaten a light dinner prior to heading out. That didn't stop him from consuming a hot dog, a Sprite, nachos, a Coke, popcorn, and a slurpy. He basically ate his way through the evening. I'm not even sure he knew there was a race going on or that we were there for any other purpose than to sample the various and sundry delicacies of the track. All this to say, Carter's compliments to the chef. Manna itself could not have made a better impression.

I am regretful that I did not capture Carter's gastronomical excursion on film, but I was focusing on the actual race.

This is the first lap with everyone following the pace car - which is not entirely unlike what we did in our minivan last year, but without the screaming fans. You'll note the blue Citi car in the bottom left hand corner. Feel free to BOO each time he passes. We don't like Citibank. They made our lives miserable last week.

And this is the same group of cars flying off of the turn we were sitting on. Sorry it's not as sharp as the above picture. Somewhere between 70 mph and 200 mph, my trusty Nikon exhibits some limitations. As luck would have it, my children cannot yet run 70 mph so this does not often prove to be a problem.
This is where the cars pit during a rain break, or to get tires, or to get gas, or to get other bits and pieces I know nothing about.

On a sunny day, it's also a great place to feed your month-old infant. What can I say? I'm a big proponent of feeding on demand and if that means I have to shamelessly expose myself at a gas pump at the local speed track, so be it. There's really no explanation for the camoflauge pants. Perhaps I was planning on going hunting immediately after. Or maybe, just maybe, they were the only thing in my closet that fit. Let's assume the latter to be true since I do remember those pants to be supremely comfortable.

While I was shocking the overwhelmingly male population at the track that day two short years ago, 3-year old Carter and 2-year old Griffin were checking out the Cars exhibit.

(Who has kids this close together? Something about it just doesn't seem right, though I'm sure it will make perfect sense when they are all in college at the same time.)

The whole evening really was spectacularly fantastic. Jeff, the good parent, started making moves to leave around 10:30pm, but I insisted we stay until 11:00pm because I was so into it. There is just something about seeing the rush of cars flying at you around the turn, the acrid smell of the exhaust, the screeching of tires, and the promise of wrecks that kept me mesmerized. I'm actually contemplating a trip to the Wal-marts (grrr) to get some real ear muffs for future races. Yes, a little bit of red has finally invaded my Yankee self. I'm not proud, I'd just like to get on NASCAR's mailing list.

This last picture is for the Gisberts. In case you guys ever get tired of the "magnificent ocean" at Bolsa Chica, you might want to consider inside the track of Lowes Motor Speedway for a family vacation. I can promise plenty of RV hookups, Carolina BBQ, deafening noise for hours upon end, and no sleep whatsoever. Also, I can guarantee that the track as well, as your neighbors, will be well lit. Come on, it will be fun. We might even be convinced to rent a trailer and park next to you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Food Pyramid of a 5-Year Old

Carter has been eating one meal a week in the cafeteria at school. This was what was on the menu last Friday for him to pick from:

Nachos with Meat & Cheese
Nachos with Cheese
Fish on a Bun with/without Coleslaw
Chef Salad

Refried or Pinto Beans
Mashed Potatoes
Fresh Pear
Shredded Lettuce with Diced Tomatoes
Celery Sticks & Carobites
Trail Mix
Tossed Salad
Congealed Fruit

My son, who when I pack his lunch sometimes gets TWO vegetables, selected the items in red and washed them all down with an ice cold chocolate milk.

Another $1.75 well spent.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Character Sketch for the 21st Century

I interrupt my usual shallow programming to bring you this brilliant moment of selflessness.

Resolve to carry someone today.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Carter Makes A Second Withdrawal

I can only trust that the Tooth Fairy's investments have not been negatively impacted by the lagging economy in quite the same way that Carter's parents' have. Surely TF's incredibly competent CFP advised that she not only diversify, but that she keep enough in cash to pay down our entire nation of 5-year olds. Right?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Today is the Last Day to Make Your Vote Count!

If you haven't voted for or against our pressing bathroom remodel issue. Scroll down and go for it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

To Bathe or Not to Bathe? That is the Question.

Let's see what's been happening at Chez Freshour since we got back from vacation shall we?

Hey, here's our now tidewater blue master bedroom.

Lest any of you think I'm an overachiever, which would be impossible if you have read this blog for any length of time, you'll note the ongoing absence of window treatments. But not to worry because now we have a really big mirror in front of the window which will surely buy me some time since no one in the world wants to come and take if off our our hands.

Case in point. The last bathroom mirror we took down came from the kids' bathroom - see it over there on the left?

This is what the bathroom looks like now (below). I realize the color scheme is not for the faint of heart. But I adore it. There are surfboards on the shower curtain that remind me of (sniff, sniff) California.

Habitat for Humanity was delighted to take the old cabinets and vanity when we remodeled, but the mirror? Not so much. This spring, my brother, Kevin, and I finally ended up smashing it up into a million tiny pieces and trashing it. But come now. There must be a better idea for disposing of these things. Suggestions, anyone? Please try to keep in mind that I am not crafty.

Anyhoo. Back to this second window mistreatment mirror...

This is what our master bathroom looked like when we moved in. For the last 5-years not much has changed. It has, however, been messier. Much messier.

Now, however, it looks like this...

and this (One of us still thinks it's a swell idea to try to use the shower. Hint: it's not me.)...
and this as well.

Conveniently bringing me to the issue of this ridiculous garden tub. I'd like to rip it out and put in a massive mac-Daddy shower for (ahem) two. You know, a fixture that would actually get some air time rather than just wasting space. Then I could rip out the old shower and put in some functional cabinetry, because despite the fact that we have an enormous master bathroom, we have literally no storage to speak of. We actually store all of our bath towels in the hall closet across from the kids' bathroom. Which, as you can well imagine, is REALLY convenient if you happen to forget to retrieve one before you get into the shower. I'm not saying that's ever happened 100's of times because I always plan ahead. But still. At some point, should not practicality weigh out?

Keeping in mind that blogging is supposed to be interactive, and in honor of the fact that the presidential election is right around the corner, I thought this would be a great opportunity to take a survey on our remodel and give you all some voting practice at the same time. You will find it in the sidebar to your right. Please note that I have taken no liberties in assuming which direction you will side. Just like I have no idea how you will vote in the fall. I do, however, assume a direct correlation between the two polls might be made. I will keep the survey open through Wednesday, September 3rd 10:00pm EST when we have to make a final decision on the matter. And remember, your vote counts. Sort of. For now, I'm off to peruse tile.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Few Things I Learned Today

  1. Strep throat is far more painful than that wuss bronchitis.
  2. It is also something they can diagnose and treat at the CVS Minute Clinic vs. a lifetime spent in the waiting room of your internist. I'm actually considering switching my primary care physican to Nurse L'Anita, because I value efficiency over education when it comes to medical care and Nurse L'Anita does not waste her breath.

  3. If Nurse L'Anita asks if you want a prescription for Lidocaine there are a few things you might want to be aware of.
  • Despite her description of the fresh minty mouthwash, the Lidocaine of which she speaks has the consistency and taste of Elmers glue.
  • If, based upon her strong recommendation, you are desperate enough to try to gargle with it anyway, it will make your entire mouth numb for hours.
  • With numb lips, no basset hound in the country will have anything on you. Except that they will know they are drooling. You won't.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Anyone Have an Old Slide Projector? Because I Could, In Fact, Make This Even More Boring.

While in the Smokies, we stay in a great little chalet. I'd tell you the name of it, but I'm afraid you all might rush to the rental agency and we wouldn't get our sacred week next summer.

And, seriously, if I don't get the opportunity to turn down a soak in this jacuzzi tub each year, I simply don't know what I would do with myself. It's the many mirrors, people. I know they really light the fire for the less inhibited among us, but for the rest of us it's like submerging yourself in a pool of insecurity. Also, if you must know, we attempted it last year only to discover that the tub itself requires more hot water to perform than the hot water heater is capable of delivering. Fortunately, there is a second hot tub outside on the lower deck that calls my name on a regular basis. I would have taken a picture of it so you could compare and contrast, but, well, I was in it and couldn't hold onto my camera and glass of wine towel at the same time. You may all thank me later for my photographic oversight of this minor detail.

The upper deck has its charms as well.

It's a great place to cool off with a cold seltzer on a hot afternoon.

Or for sitting around watching your dad grill brats for dinner. It's even great for throwing things off of - like your most cherished green golf ball. Which sadly, is the same color as everything else you see when you look off the deck.
Thank goodness you have the kind of dad who understands the preciousness of this particular golf ball and is willing to brave the poison ivy to go find it for you.

He's also the type of guy that takes you on the alpine slide at Ober Gatlinburg.

Uncle Patrick takes your brother.


Your dad definitely enjoys the ride down the mountain.

You like it a lot more when it's over.

Your brother, however, is totally feeling it.
The best thing about Ober Gatlinburg? This aerial tram you get to take to get up there.

Kindergarten Calls

Today was Carter's first day of Kindergarten.

It was Griffin's and Peyton's second day of Preschool.

It was their mother's first day of life without a diaper bag. Until she adjusts to this, she is keeping the stuff that was in her diaper bag in this big stainless steel mixing bowl. Don't be surprised if you see it sitting next to her on the pew this Sunday. It's working better than any purse she's ever owned.