Monday, December 22, 2008

An Early Christmas Gift

Each year, my mother and father-in-law get the kids a season pass for Christmas. Last year we did the Aquarium, and the year before that we did the zoo. This year, the kids are getting a season pass to the Museum of Nature & Science, which is located at Fair Park, home of the Texas State Fair. Unfortunately, it is also the home of the State Fair Ferris Wheel, so each time we go to the museum, I get to hear, "Can we ride the Ferris Wheel?", "Why isn't it running?", "Is it broken?", "Why does it only run during the State Fair?", "When is the State Fair?", and "But whyyyyyyy can't I just riiiiiiiide itttttt?"...I can't wait.Anyway, I had planned to wrap the pass up and put it under the tree, but today was so gray and gloomy, and the kids were just climbing the walls, so I decided maybe Grammy's gift could be given early. And now here is a photo summary of our visit: Convoluted mirror photos and people with things on their heads. Enjoy.

I like my Giant Claw Hand. And my teeny tiny waist.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For Joy

A few years ago at Christmas, I was the mother of a four year old, a two year old, and a nine month old. In the first week of December, the four year old came down with pneumonia. We lived in DC at the time, and the kids and I stayed home for the duration of her illness, away from the frigid wind and snow. She had a fever and a wicked cough for 7 days. On the 7th day, just as she was feeling better, the two year old started running a fever and having a wicked cough, and was diagnosed with pneumonia. We continued to hibernate in the house while the illness ran its course for another seven days. On the seventh day of his illness, just as I thought I was going to lose my mind from cabin fever, the baby coughed a raspy little cough and looked at me with those glassy feverish eyes. You know the ones. I immediately took the baby to the after-hours clinic and informed the on-call doctor that she had pneumonia. The doctor disagreed. I insisted on an x-ray. The x-ray showed the early stages of pneumonia. Pneumonia that stuck around for, you guessed it, seven more cough-filled days.

At that time, my husband was the worship pastor at our church, and was in the throes of his busiest season, working from early in the morning until late at night, coming home occasionally to catch up on sleep and lend a hand when he could. I missed every single Christmas party we had planned to attend, including the one that I was to host. I couldn't go to the grocery store (thankfully there was an online delivery service in our city). I basically stayed inside our house with all three children for most of the month of December.

There was a sweet sweet lady in my life at that time by the name of Mrs. Ruth. Mrs. Ruth was the first person I met at our church in DC, and while introducing herself to me, she announced that she was going to grandparent my children. I didn't know how to react to that, as no one had ever announced that to me before, and besides, my children already had grandparents, only they happened to live very far away. So I smiled and thanked her, but I wasn't sure what to think about someone who would just pledge to serve a family of strangers like that.

From then on, Mrs. Ruth took me under her wing and ministered to me. She called me almost every Tuesday and asked if she could come over and watch the kids while I ran errands. Sometimes she went with me on outings so I could have an extra pair of hands. During my pregnancy with Katie, she made sure to write down all of my doctor's appointments so she could watch the kids for me. When I went into false labor at 4 a.m, hers was the number I called, and when she got there, she informed me that she would not need the guest bed because she was going to stay up and pray for me as I went to the hospital.

When Katie was born, my parents and then my mother-in-law could each only stay for a few days before they had to return home. My husband was in the throes of Easter season at church, and couldn't take any days off work. (sound familiar?) Mrs. Ruth called me a few days after everyone had left, and asked who was helping me. When I told her I was going it alone (with a 1 week old, a 19 month old, and a 3 year old), she announced that she was on her way. That woman picked up my older two children every morning at 9, took them to her house, and delivered them back to my door at 5, just as Greg was getting home from work and my Sunday School class was delivering my dinner, every day for two weeks. I remember hugging her with glee that first day and saying, "I don't know what to do first, take a shower or take a nap!"

On Christmas Eve in the Year of Pneumonia, the baby still had a fever. I had looked forward with such anticipation to celebrating Christmas Eve at church that evening, and I was devastated that I would have to miss it. When the phone rang that afternoon, I should have known it would be her. "Make sure you're dressed," she said, "and I'll come over after I attend the early service, so you can go to the later one."

A few weeks later, we announced that we were moving to Texas, and she kept my children for four days while we flew to Dallas to look for a house. I wish I could have convinced her to move here with us.

I think I learned a lot of things from Mrs. Ruth about being a friend. I now employ her 'announcing' technique quite a bit. I used to ask my friends if there was anything I could do to help, and of course they would always answer 'no', and then I would go home and think, well, I offered, that's all I can do. But now, when I see that someone needs something, I simply inform them that I am going to do it. Are you sick? Well I'm coming over to get your kids. Don't have food in the house? I'll bring you some. Going to the doctor? Drop the baby off here on your way. It cracks me up to do that to people and watch their reactions of surprise, protestations, and then relief, much like my reactions were to many of Mrs. Ruth's declarations. The wonderful thing that I am seeing now is that my friends adopt the same tone with me when I need help, and I have learned to accept it gladly, another lesson learned from Mrs. Ruth. It's a tremendous blessing.

I don't really know what the whole point of this story was, except that my friend Joy is home with a very sick baby right now, and I just have this overwhelming desire to show up on her doorstep with food...only she lives a thousand miles away. I can only hope and pray that she has some friends that live nearby that are as pushy as me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh, Hi there. Remember me?

I used to blog here. Not so much any more, apparently.

We've been busy around here as usual what with all the virus-recovering and tree decorating and cookie baking and Christmas partying. In fact, I've got a date tonight with my husband to go to his office party, and I'm pitifully overexcited about it. I don't get out much, I guess. Later this week, I'll go to my office party, which will be lunch at a restaurant, and even more pitifully, I am THRILLED! to have LUNCH! at a RESTAURANT! with PEOPLE! and no KIDS! Woo Hoo!

In other news, I have baked about a bajillion cookies and have given almost ALL of them away, leaving very few for my poor pitiful underfed family. We made goody bags for all of the Sunday school teachers, school teachers, teacher assistants, not to mention trays for each and every party we're attending and good Lord I never want to make another cookie again as long as I live. My friend commented at our neighborhood party last night that I had been hiding my Betty Crockerness all year, and had let it all out at Christmas.

That is only partially true. I am a good cook, and I like to cook, it's just that I only like to cook when I don't HAVE to. So you know, those three times a day that my family expects to have food stuffed into their faces? No, I do not enjoy that. But I will gladly spend the day wrecking my kitchen and letting the laundry and housework pile up while I create cookie goodness.

Speaking of cookie goodness, I will now once again break my no-recipes-on-the-blog-rule and share with you the world's easiest Christmas cookies. Well, they're not cookies, but whatever.

This one was stolen off someone's blog last year that I forgot to bookmark, so if it's yours, speak up:

Get 'butter snap' pretzels (they're waffle-shaped) and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Place a Rolo candy on them and put them in the oven for 3 minutes, until melted. Take out, place another pretzel on top to make a sandwich, squish. Refrigerate. Eat. Be merry.

My four year old made these the other day. She spent a good twenty minutes unwrapping a bag of Rolos and putting them on the pretzels, and it was wonderful for me. Also, they have no name, and no one in my house could come up with one that pleased me. Give it a shot, if you like.

The next recipe is one of my mom's and people ask me for it every year. It's SO easy.

Rocky Road squares:
Melt 1 bag of chocolate chips, one can of sweetened condensed milk, and 3 tbsp butter in a pan. In a bowl, place a bag of mini marshmallows and a cup of chopped pecans (we always leave the pecans out because no one likes them but me.) Pour chocolate onto marshmallows and stir, adding 1 tsp of vanilla. Spread into wax paper lined 9 x 12 pan, refrigerate, cut into squares. Bask in the praise of everyone you know.

I'm hoping that these recipes will change your life. I don't think that's too much to hope for. The last (and only) time I shared a recipe it was for bananadillas, and the effects were far-reaching. My cousin Tracee and her friend Kelli introduced Arizona to the phenomenon, and my friend Jody fed them to her children for an after-school snack in Georgia. So, you know, that's like TWO states where they eat bananadillas now, thanks to this humble blog. I promise not to let the power go to my head.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmases Past

I was going through the photos on my computer tonight, and I found so many old Christmas photos, I just had to post a few.
2001: Sweet Baby Grace.
2003: Pay no attention to those crooked bangs.

2005 at a Christmas festival.

2007 Christmas Card

This next one has nothing to do with Christmas, in fact it was taken just an hour or two after Katie's birth. I just had to post it because of the sweetness. Just look at my husband's face. Gorgeous.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Places I'd like to visit in 2009

Something about being home for a few days with a miserably sick kid (who is a terrible patient, by the way), makes me want to plan an escape. Below are a few of my wishes for the new year, in no particular order. I limited myself to places that are reasonably doable and affordable, but let's face it, they won't all happen in one year. It would be nice, though.

1. Big Bend National Park. Drive time: 9 hours. I went there a year ago with my sister, and I can't wait for Greg and the kids to see it. There's something special about that place, it's hard to's just so beautiful that its worshipful; it's a spiritual experience. God has made unbelievable beauty there. Like I said, hard to describe.

2. Baton Rouge/New Orleans trip. Drive time: 7 hours. I'd like to see my cousins and aunt and visit with my dear friend Heather who moved out there two years ago and has been asking me to visit ever since. Of course I want to go during Mardi Gras.

3. San Antionio/Beach trip. Drive time: 7 hours. Greg and I have been talking about going to San Antonio ever since we moved here, and we haven't seen it yet. I figure we could stay a night or two in the city, then drive down to the beach and go camping at a State Park right on the water. They let you make campfires right on the beach, and I've never done that before. What do you think, Spring Break, maybe?

4. Cincinnati Trip (to see my parents' new house, of course). Drive time: 15 hours. We would likely stop over to see our dear friends in Nashville, who conveniently live halfway to my parents'. This trip should definitely be in August, because August is unbearable in Texas, and I'm hoping Ohio will have a sensible enough temperature at that time.

5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Drive time: 14 hours. Okay, this trip is much more likely to happen in 2010, but a girl can dream, right? I have never been to Colorado, and it has been a dream of mine for a while. I'm thinking we need to make this trip in the heat of summer as well, let's say July.

6. Georgia/South Carolina trip. Drive time: 15 hours. My soul needs a week by the lake at my parents' Georgia house every June. My soul needs that right now, as a matter of fact, but it's too cold for swimming. And of course I will need to drive an extra couple of hours to see my South Carolina in-laws.

7. Weekend in Charleston with my friend Becky. Drive time: too long, must fly and must go alone. Charleston is best in April or May, I think, but let's face it the seafood is good year round.

8. Camping in the mountains in Arkansas. Drive time: 6 hours. Let's do this one in the fall, shall we?

9. Houston, to see my relatives there. Drive time: 4 hours. It's really pitiful that my aunt and uncle live four hours away and I haven't been to visit them in years.

Okay, so nine vacations in twelve months seems a bit excessive, but I'm dreaming here. Is there any other place I should go? Have I forgotten your house? What places are on your list?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Greetings from the Land of Swollen Tonsils

We're hunkered down in strep throat quarantine around here, going on Day 3. Actually, the girls are feeling fine, but Tommy, poor Tommy, has such swollen tonsils that he cannot eat. It's really sad, too, because he keeps crying about being hungry. He's been given a free pass to eat as many milkshakes as he wants, so that helps, I guess.

And now for something completely unrelated:

Aren't you glad you are not this guy's neighbor? (or wife)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Don't Hate

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I have just mailed all of my Christmas cards, and that I have finished all of my Christmas shopping. All of it. The teacher gifts, the stocking stuffers, everything.

After the last few years of stressing out about trying to get child care so I could shop, trying to get everyone dressed just right for a Christmas photo and frantically sending out cards on Christmas Eve, I decided to come up with a strategy. This year, I broke my shopping up over several months; the nieces and nephews in October, and the kids and my husband in November. (I think it also helps that I don't really do any shopping for the other adults in my family, by mutual agreement.) It's easier on my budget to do it a little at a time, and it saves me the stress of having to worry about it all coming out of the account in December.

For most of my nieces and nephews, I decided to order from, and I just had their items shipped directly to them. WHY hadn't I thought of that before this year? It was so much easier than buying something, wrapping it, finding a box to fit it in, and waiting in line to ship it.

Another goal of mine was to have the Christmas cards done by Thanksgiving, and since I'm also photographing several of my friends' families, I did ours super early. I sat at work the other day and addressed all of them, and I dropped them in the mail on Monday.

Normally, I do a lot of my shopping on Black Friday (at the reasonable hour of 6 a.m after all the loons are done), but this year I didn't need to. I got it all done online. I got free shipping from just about every store, so why waste my time going there in person, right? And it is just fun, SO fun to get the packages in the mail.

There is a purpose for all of this... December is a busy month. My husband works long hours getting ready for a Christmas production at church, the kids and I have tons of activities and parties that we like to attend, and the calendar just always seems to fill up with one thing after another. This year, I'm hoping to slow that down a little bit; at least to decrease the level of activity for myself. To be done with the obligations and have time to actually enjoy this season for what it's really about. To really teach my children about the birth of Jesus, and about giving to others. To take my kids to buy presents for needy kids and not stress so much about the budget. To have time to do the sugar cookies and the gingerbread houses. To maybe, just maybe, not be so crabby and tired. And mainly, to avoid running around like a chicken with my head cut off, scouring the grocery store shelves at 11:00 on a Saturday night to try to find gifts for the Sunday School teachers.

Not that I speak from personal experience, ahem.

So anyway, that's my "Christmas strategy" for this year. I'll let you know at the end of the month if it actually worked. Ha.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Weekend in Photos

Daddy carving the turkey.
Giving Thanks

Sledding for the first time ever at the Christmas Festival. This is the most snow we have seen since we moved to Texas...and it came from a refrigerated truck.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Random Thoughts from a Scattered Brain

This week, the interior of my car has been doused with vomit and turkey broth, on separate occasions. Time to trade it in, I think.

My parents have decided to drive out here for Thanksgiving (YAY!)

Many many Southern dishes are in sitting in my fridge right now, waiting to be cooked tomorrow. Later on, I'm going to make a big pitcher of sweet tea.

My accent gets thicker when I cook for Thanksgivin', y'all. I like to say things like yonder and cornbread dressin'. And not pronounce g's. It reminds me of my Grandma.

After they leave here, my parents are driving to Cincinnati to close on their house. Their new house. In Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is not Southern, but then again neither is Texas.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We have to go back, Kate...we have to go BAAAAAACK!

I found this on the ABC website today....who's ready for January 21?

Thursday, November 20, 2008


My sweet Gracie brought home a book yesterday from school that was written for middle-school age boys. There's no bad language in the book, or even anything risque, but I told her I had concerns about her reading books that were written for older kids. Mainly, from what I saw, it deals with the theme of popularity, or more specifically, unpopularity, and has some forbidden-but-not-vulgar words like 'moron' and 'jerk'; words she has never used, but certainly not words I would encourage. The subject of popularity is unavoidable in the life of a child, but my child specifically doesn't see people in that way yet, and I guess I'm just anxious to preserve these years of innocence before the pre-teen years descend. I may be overreacting about the book; one friend of mine said it was fine.

There are quite a few words that my kids know that they are not allowed to use, but they're not mainstream vulgar words, they're words like 'stupid', 'hate', and 'butt'. I know plenty of people whose children use them, but I don't let mine.

The funny thing is, they substitute code words for them that are worse than the actual words themselves.

For instance, if I hear Katie tattling, "Oooooh, she said the S-word!", I know that she means 'stupid', but the lady in line behind me at the grocery store might automatically assume she means something worse. Same goes with "He called me the b-word!" Nice.

I'm thankful that they haven't yet latched on to the word 'fart', otherwise we might have an 'F-word' declaration in the grocery store...that's never good.

And now a completely different story that is halfway related:

Last night, in the kitchen, I was asking Tommy about school, and he reported that his friend Z had gotten in BIG trouble because he said a bad word to the teacher. He also reported that he didn't know the word, but that it started with a B and it made the teacher really mad.

I'm sure it did.

About this time, Grace piped up and declared that she knew three curse words.

Me: Really? What are they?

Her: Stupid, and idiot, and a boy at school told me one that's really bad and it starts with a 'D'. Do you know what it is, Mama?

Me: (knowingly) I think I do.

Her: Well, it doesn't make sense, because the word also means something else.

Me: Oh, yes, it's a homonym, isn't it.

Her: Well, it's just weird, because, I mean, we eat at that restaurant a lot with the same name.

Me: (searching memory for dam-related restaurant names)

Me: (coming up blank)

Her: You know, Mom, Dickey's Barbeque?

Me: Oh Good Lord.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In Which I Lower My Standards

Normally I like to throw fun birthday parties. I like to spend time planning a theme, planning games, making the crafts, doing the whole shebang. I don't spend much money on parties, but I don't mind spending my time on them to make them fun. You may remember a few of them. It's what I do. It makes up for my other shortcomings, like my inability to make an even part for pigtails.

So this weekend was the designated date for Grace's 8th birthday party, and she decreed that she wanted an overnight backyard campout with her Brownie troop. At first I was a little disappointed, because the campout thing has been done before, many times, and we even had a camping themed party two years ago, complete with a cake topped with a graham cracker tent and pretzel stick campfire with candy corn flames. Cute, right?

It was a bit of a relief that I didn't have to come up with anything, just set up the tent and feed them pizza and cake and s'mores, and leave them to their own devices. So I planned nothing. Not one thing. Didn't go to the party store, didn't think of any games, didn't even buy paper plates. This is not like me at all.

But then the day of the party came, and Gracie got sick. She has perfect timing with her viruses, and this one managed to knock her out of not only the party, but a school field trip and storybook character dress-up day at school. She was devastated, and I felt terrible for her.

Anyway, at the last possible minute on Saturday, I decided she was well enough for a party, but not well enough for a sleepover, so I called her friends and invited them over just for a regular party. A party for which I had nothing prepared.

I spent the afternoon tossing up some randomly-colored leftover streamers, baking a nondescript cake, and buying some blue nail polish at the grocery store. When the guests arrived, they did some artwork from a giant coloring book I had hidden away for a rainy day, got their nails painted, played a few improvised games, and chowed down on some junk food and cake.

That was it. No pinata, no goody bags, no commercial products whatsoever. My budget for this party was the $2 that I spent on nail polish. And they loved it. I'm like the MacGuyver of birthdays.

My photos turned out a little iffy, but here are a few:

The Coloring in the Floor.

I like this one, even though it is trippy. They were playing freeze dance, and it looks like Katie won.

Of course we did have a little scavenger hunt...for some s'more's trail mix. (Lame prize, I know.) But it provided 15 minutes of running around and screaming, essential to any good party.
Spooky turkey is a family joke that would take far too long for me to explain here.

"Aha! S'more's Trail mix! In a grocery bag! I think we've been ripped off!"
And there's my happy girl, probably wishing for two front teeth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Autumn in the Suburbs

My sister Wendy has been posting gorgeous photos on her blog from her neighborhood nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and today she asked me how the fall colors were doing down here in Texas.

Autumn doesn't really exist here in Texas, it's just a myth. The trees stay green for months and months, and then suddenly the leaves turn colors and drop all in one day. You have to be careful not to miss it.

So today I'm going to give you a tour of MY neighborhood. Katie and I are going to go to the park.
Proper headgear required.

Here is the lone surviving tree in my front yard. Notice the four or five yellow leaves. If I stand on my tippy-toes, I can see that pretty little red tree over the wall. Ooooooh. Ahhhh. Now we're going to head down the street. Don't speed!

This plum tree was bursting with color yesterday morning, but when I came back today, there were only a few leaves still clinging to the branches.

This is the soccer and baseball field next to our park. Notice the lovely yellowish-green trees and still-very-green grass. Also notice our lovely tornado siren on the left. I'll bet Wendy doesn't have one of those.

That siren has gone off only one time since I've lived here, and let me tell you that sound struck fear in my heart. I'm really glad I don't live in one of those houses right underneath it, or I might have wet my bed.

Now we have arrived at the playground. Can you see Katie?
Katie: Wanna play, Neighborhood Kid?
Neighborhood Kid: Why are you still wearing that helmet? Not cool.

Here is another random tree:And here is another random tangent: See that PVC pipe cage in the lower left corner? It's covered in chicken wire and encloses an orange tree. It drives me nuts with curiosity. I want to pound on this guy's door and ask: WHY? Why do you do this? Why don't you just go buy your oranges at Kroger and live your life, man, LIVE YOUR LIFE!

But I haven't. Yet.

So that's about all of the colors we'll probably get to see around here. Texas seemed strange to me when I first moved here, because it's really flat and the trees seem really short. I was accustomed to hills and tall pines. I love it now, though. Landmarks here are visible from miles away. I love being able to see the city skyline when I'm out and about.

The most beautiful thing about living here, by far, is the sheer volume of sky that is visible. It just surrounds me and swallows me up. I feel like I could reach out and touch it. So that's a beautiful day in my neighborhood. You should come by sometime.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Shouts out

To the man in my neighborhood who came running out with a live chainsaw when we walked up his front sidewalk: Hey there. Way to chase that princess down the street.

To another neighbor who left out three bowls on his porch with instructions to take one thing from each bowl: I don't know if I'm impressed or disturbed that one of the bowls was filled with worms. The dark lighting was a nice touch, too.

To the locksmith who showed up in an unmarked car to let me back into my house on Halloween: Thanks for being concerned about whether or not I was a robber. I was thinking the same thing about you. And after what you charged me, I'm pretty sure I was right.

To my reader in McCool Junction, Nebraska: You live in an awesomely named town, Mystery Person.

To my son's soccer coaches, who braved the formidable task of herding a bunch of kindergarteners around the field each week: Thank you. Tommy has learned so much from you. He loves the medal you gave him, and has yet to take it off.

To Tommy, who learned to ride his bike without training wheels this weekend: YAY!!!!Nice soccer medal!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Few Photos and Unsolicited Photo Advice.

I've decided to learn 'full manual' mode with my camera, meaning I'm using the 'M' on the dial and no longer using any automatic settings, and as long as the photos are taken in my back yard in the early evening, they turn out beautifully. Any other location or lighting, and it's a gamble. The other day I photographed an entire soccer game on the wrong setting, and every shot was completely blurred. Go me.

A few years ago, I checked out a book from the library on photographing your family. I don't remember the title of it, but it was something along the lines of 'Photographing your Family'. Anyway, it was written by a professional photographer who used a regular point-and-shoot camera to photograph the book, just to demonstrate that beautiful photos can be taken with an average camera, if you just know how to use it. I loved the book. There was a noticeable improvement in my photographs after I read it.

Here is the basic advice as I remember it:

* Read your manual. Try out the different settings and try to get a basic understanding for what your camera is able to do.

* Get close to your subject. Now get even closer. I'm a big fan of this one. In fact, I've noticed that the tops of my children's heads are hardly ever in a photo.

*Avoid using the auto flash at all costs. It looks harsh and washes out the colors and natural shadows of the photograph. I've mostly stopped using the flash, but it is very challenging for me to get non-blurry pictures in darker situations. Still working on that one.

*Use and pay attention to natural light. This has made the biggest difference in my photographs, probably more than any other advice. Good light is indirect light and can be found next to windows, on porches, in the shade, and most importantly just before and after sunset (or sunrise, but I wouldn't personally know about that one.)

I used to take a lot of photographs in full direct sunlight, but I learned that was a big no-no, as it makes everyone squinty and washed out. The best light in my house is on my back porch in the afternoon, when the sun is bouncing off the side wall of my house, making a nice glow just under the porch and inside the back door. That's where these came from:
The only downside of that location for me is that the back porch is also the land of broken toys and Little Tikes crap, so I really have to get in close to the kid so no one can see the clutter that is surrounding them.

*Also good advice: remove clutter from the background of your photo. This is a difficult one for me, for I live a cluttered life. For instance, I let Tommy hold my camera the other night and he took this photo of me:
Notice anything distracting? I've got to give him points for the creative angle, though.

I'm thinking about taking a community college photography class this spring, which is exactly what I said I was going to do last spring, but I chickened out. If I do end up taking it, maybe I'll do some more posts like this one. What about y'all? Got any other photo tips?

The kiddos

The kiddos

Kidney Peril Updates
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chrissyinthecarpoollane at g mail dot com.