Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

There are things in life that just don’t register, things that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t wrap your brain around them. They are. . . inconceivable. Ten years ago today, I woke up, packed up my bags and my children and drove to Winston-Salem to visit my mother for a couple of days before heading up to Delaware to spend some time with some old friends, the Wygants. In many ways, I have not been home since. By the time we got to my mom’s house, our house was on fire. There were a lot of folks in the house at the time, and everyone got out okay. God was good to all of us. (Here is my blog post about the fire not long after it happened.)

So much has changed in the past ten years that I barely recognize myself or my life. My kids are all grown, my mom is gone, and we are now living back in Texas. All of our pets that survived that fire are gone now, except for Bonnie, who was just a puppy when it happened. (And I will be forever grateful to Gaylon’s niece, Amber, for thinking to grab her out of the house when it was burning!)

In so many ways, I’d love to hit the ‘reset’ button and go back and change things. But I firmly believe that God has a purpose for everything He allows, and so I trust that His purpose was in that fire, as well. And as much as I couldn’t imagine how much our lives would change after that fateful fire in 2005, I can’t imagine, now, what things would have been like if the house had not burned down. Time truly does heal all things.

I started this post thinking perhaps I would find something meaningful or poetic to say about the fire, but nothing comes to mind. So I guess I will just share a few photos from that time. I will say this: we’ve often considered sending pictures of the old house and then the new one that Gaylon built to replace it to some place like HGTV for one of their ‘remodeling’ shows! ūüėČ

If you click on the first image, it will go into “Slideshow” mode, and then you can just click through the images.

Mom’s been gone for a month and a half now. The world is still spinning, although it seems as if it’s spinning through a fog, at least a lot of the time. Our family is still trying to find “normal”, and I imagine it will be a while before we get there. Actually, I don’t really believe we ever really will. Our world has changed forever, and we have all been forever changed, both by her life and her death. We are all different now, and there’s no going back. I firmly believe that’s as it should be.

I’ve been thinking about how I can share what this all feels like, and I am reminded of my friend, Kevin, who became a father last year. He has¬†occasionally posted the lessons he’s learned from parenthood on his Facebook page, and I think he’s discovered a brilliant way to share, in a concise manner, what he’s feeling and learning on his journey. So, I’m stealing his idea, and am going to follow suite here. In no particular order:

Lessons I’ve Learned From Grief

  1. I have an amazing capacity¬†to cry. A lot. At any given moment, and at the drop of a hat. I’m not afraid of, or ashamed to cry. I just had no idea it was possible to cry this much!
  2. Apparently, no matter how much, or how long you cry, your eyes will not start bleeding or fall out. And yes, I really have thought those might be options on more than one occasion.
  3. One can actually get sick of crying.
  4. No matter how much you cry, people will tell you should cry more. And they seem to assume that you’re not crying enough. I am a private person when it comes to showing grief. I don’t mind writing a little about it here on my blog, but I am not likely to start crying in front of people who are not very closely related to me by blood.
  5. If your mother has just died, nobody will judge you for anything you say, or think, or do. You’re expected to be crazy, and it’s completely acceptable. I don’t think this is license for inappropriate behavior, but it is an observation I’ve made.
  6. Dillard’s is a very difficult place for me to shop now. It was Mom’s favorite store, and I have many happy memories of shopping there with her. This will take time. I love Dillard’s, too, but I think I need to wait a while before I go back¬†there. (See #4)
  7. Everyone has a different idea of where I should be in this process, but they all basically fall into two camps. The first camp wants me to try to get on with my life, because they believe this activity will help me heal. The second camp believes I should curl up in bed or on the couch, and just feel what I’m feeling, and not worry about anything else. I’ve found that my reality falls pretty much between those two places. I simply cannot just lay around; there are things that actually have to be done. Like paying the bills, going to the grocery store, going to Mass. And, I would lose my mind if I just laid around. On the other hand, some days I can’t seem to wrap my mind around any sort of concrete plan, and while I usually manage to shower and dress (my family appreciates this) I accomplish nothing else. But I’m making progress, and Gaylon is displaying unprecedented patience and understanding! He keeps telling me I’m doing better, and that it’ll take time. And he holds me.¬†I have an amazing husband.
  8. People don’t know what to say to me, especially if they’ve never experienced the death of someone close to them. That’s okay. I’ve lost many loved ones, starting with my Dad’s mom, when¬†I was three years old. I’m used to death, and I’m actually grateful for that. It is, after all, the natural conclusion to life. There is nothing anyone can really say that will “fix” me. And I don’t want them to. I just appreciate folks letting me know they care, that they are thinking of me or praying for me.
  9. The coffee does not automatically make itself. The blinds do not magically open each morning and close each evening, and the plants do not water themselves. Litter boxes just keep filling up, and if we don’t gather the trash on Tuesday evenings and take it to the curb, it just keeps filling up, as well. The refrigerator does not mysteriously restock itself with creamer and eggs. Abby discovered, quite to her surprise, that the lint tray in the dryer actually has to be emptied. Every time we use the dryer. The dishwasher doesn’t empty itself every morning, either. The ‘outgoing’ mail on the piano just sits there, and doesn’t automatically deliver itself to the mailbox. And nobody cares anymore what’s for dinner. We never asked Mom to do all those things. She just did them. And more. Quietly. Invisibly. Daily.
  10. And because nobody in the world could say it better than C.S. Lewis, I’m just going to quote him: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me”, and, “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” (From “A Grief Observed”)
  11. I have found that I don’t really care for the modern concept¬†of “Celebrating” someone’s life. At least not so soon. I actually did celebrate my mother’s life while she was still alive. Right now, I’m grieving her loss, and I don’t feel like celebrating at all. I still find funny things funny, and still laugh at good jokes and funny movies. But I do not feel at all celebratory about my mother’s death, which I am unable to separate from her life at this point. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate those who are already able to ‘celebrate’ her life, and I certainly am not offended by people who embrace the concept. I’ve just realized that I don’t yet share that sentiment.
  12. Death involves a ridiculous amount of paperwork. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
  13. Elizabeth K√ľbler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” were inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. They do not necessarily apply to¬†their family and friends. So, I am relieved of the burden of trying to figure out which stage I’m in, and if I’m experiencing it properly. It doesn’t matter, really. I simply am where I am, and labeling it is unnecessary.
  14. And finally, this¬†is probably the most amazing and wonderful thing I’ve learned since Mom died. The Creator of the Universe cares deeply and personally about ME. There have been quite a few times when¬†I’ve been really depressed, or felt like I couldn’t keep going, when I would receive texts, Facebook messages, or phone calls from friends, all over the country, telling me that the Lord had put me on their heart, at that very moment, and they were praying for me. For me!! Right when I desperately needed it! One particularly difficult night, I got two texts at the exact same moment, from two different friends! I’ve always pretty much believed that God loved me, but He has been so very close to me throughout all of this, and has made sure that I know it. I have found this scripture to be so true:¬†“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” ~Psalm 34:18~

So these are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. I know there are many more lessons to learn, and that I will never fully ‘get over’ my Mother’s death. It’s a process, a journey. I really do understand and accept that. I just don’t have to enjoy¬†it.

April Westbrook 1942-2015

April Westbrook

My precious mother passed from this world to the next at 2:30 in the morning, on¬†January 2, 2015. I realize that I had promised¬†to post funeral information, but¬†somehow, that got lost in my haze. I’m sorry. Her Visitation and Rosary were held at Beck Funeral Home on January 5, from 5:00 to 7:00. Fr. Noah Carter, our dear family friend from Salisbury, North Carolina, led the service. Allen Hebert, our close¬†friend and fellow Catholic Homeschool Dad, led the rosary for us.

Fr. Noah officiated at Mom’s funeral mass the next morning, at St. William parish, at 10:00. My sweet friend, Tiffany Gallozzi, also from North Carolina, sang the Ave Maria, Mom’s favorite song, before the service began. Mom was laid to rest at Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery in Georgetown, Texas. At the end of the graveside ceremony, my precious daughter-in-law gave my mother one last gift, and sang the most beautiful song. I just cried.

Mom’s¬†grave is in the Marian Garden section of the cemetery, along the Rosary Walk, between the Glorious Mysteries of the Assumption and the Coronation. The Resurrection Cross towers gloriously overhead. Kendall and Abby chose the spot. I know Mom would have approved. ¬†Her obituary is online, and can be viewed here.

I have sat down to try and write this post several times, and never seem to get very far. Once, I actually did finish the post, but it was mysteriously deleted, and so, I must begin again. I can only assume the missing post was not meant to be. People keep asking me if I’m okay, how I’m doing. Honestly, that changes from moment to moment, from day to day. Mostly, I’m numb. Occasionally, I can’t stop crying. I’ve been doing the next thing, and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my mother is gone.

But I know I’m not grieving alone. My mother had so many friends, and so many people loved her! Sometimes it feels like the whole world is mourning with me. I cannot begin to convey¬†how humbled I am at all of the love and support we’ve received from our friends and family!¬†I have gotten countless phone calls, emails, Facebook and text messages, letters and cards. A few folks have dropped by the house, and many of our homeschool friends have brought meals. I have never felt so loved in all my life, and am honestly stunned at how many people care. And not just about my mom. They care about me. I didn’t expect that, and I truly do not have the words to express how very much it means to me.

As sudden and shocking as it all has been for all of us, even (especially?) for Mom, I know that she was not afraid of death. She told us that many times. She even said she was excited about getting to Heaven. And she told us that she felt peace. Her childlike faith in her Lord is such an inspiration to me. There was no doubt in her mind that Jesus was waiting for her. Her faith has inspired me and given me an even greater desire than ever to grow in holiness, to seek the face of God, so that when my own time comes, I will get to see my mother again. All of us feel that way. Alex has even started attending church again.

I know that it will take time to heal, and that I will never fully get over this. I mean, when Mom was admitted into the hospital on December 16th, we didn’t even know she had cancer! Sixteen days later, it was over. We barely had time to say goodbye. But we did get to say it. I know that this is a precious gift that so many people do not get. Our family was very blessed to have what brief time we did get. But we are all still in shock, and it’s not real to us yet. Its surreal. Time will help ease some of the pain, but I do know that it will never be completely gone. I don’t expect it to be.

This is not my first experience with death, or even with sudden death. My grandfather died of a stroke when I was eleven years old. He was my hero, and that was really, really awful. My grandmother died of cancer when I was twenty. But we’d been expecting it for a long, long time. She had bone cancer, and she had been slowly fading from us for so long. I missed her like crazy, and still, almost 30 years later, I sometimes¬†want to pick up the phone and call her. My dad passed away ten years ago. Also from cancer. Gaylon’s dad died earlier that same year. Again, cancer. I’ve lost aunts and uncles, and more than a few¬†friends. Losing my dear friend, Bonnie Musselwhite to cancer when she was only 43 years old was devastating! But this is different. This time I lost my lifelong best friend. The one and only person who was always there for me, no matter what.¬†I really do see her face everywhere I turn. And I suppose that’s as it should be.

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it at all. Just the idea of talking is exhausting. Sometimes, though, all I want to do is talk about her, to rehash every minute in the hospital, to cling to my last memories of her life. And I never know which it’s going to be, at any given moment. I’m grateful to the friends who keep texting me, calling me. I need that so much! I am not likely to pick up my phone and call anyone. I’m pretty sure I really wouldn’t even know what to say when they answered. So again, I am so grateful to everyone who has reached out to me, and keeps reaching out. I’m not ready to commit to any big plans. But¬†lunch or coffee, or just a brief phone conversation is perfect. If I’m not ready to talk, I won’t answer the phone. But I will call back.

So, thank you from the very bottom of my heart to all of you who have been here for us in any way, shape, or form. Thank you to those of you who are still reaching out. Words cannot express our gratitude. <3


My mom’s cancer is far more widespread than even the oncologist realized at first. When we first got to the hospital, they were telling us we had 12 – 18 months, maybe more with her. Then the biopsy results started rolling in, and we learned that she had cancer in her lungs. Stage IV. And in her adrenals. And lymphs. And esophagus. And her left hip. It seems to be a plague that has invaded her body.

But, she still wanted to try chemo and radiation. So, first they had to drain the fluid off of her lungs, so she could lay down for the procedure to put in the chemo port and then also a feeding tube, because she hasn’t been able to eat or drink anything for WEEKS. So around 11:30 on Tuesday the 23rd, she went into the procedure smiling, and we both were thinking okay, things are going to get better after this! I was told that this procedure would take about 2 hours, so I went to grab some lunch. About an hour and and fifteen minutes later, I got a phone call from a nurse, telling me the surgeon wanted to see me. I threw my lunch in the trash and made it to the Medical Tower in record time. My Uncle Steve and his wife Gretchen were able to get there right after I did, and just before the surgeon came to meet with us in the Consultation Room.

Dr. H. looked really worried as he sat down to tell us that they had had to “abort the procedure”, because to do it, they would have to lay Mom flat on her back, and as soon as they started reclining her, her oxygen level would drop to 30% in 40 seconds. He said for reference, most of us could hold our breath for a couple of minutes, and still have 100% oxygen. My heart sank. He said that the only way they’d be able to get the port and the feeding tube in would be to put her on a ventilator, but he was very afraid that she’d be on it for the rest of her life. ūüôĀ He asked us what the oncologist had told us, and I said “Twelve to eighteen months.” He said that he was concerned about the next 24 to 48 hours. I think I quit breathing at that point. I knew she would not want to be on a ventilator.

After talking to the surgeon, we went back to her room to wait. It took a really long time, and my Uncle and I began to really worry. I called all my kids and asked them to come immediately, and they did. (Alex ran out the door of the automotive shop so fast that he forgot to leave a customer’s car keys behind, and we had to send someone to return them!) When they finally brought Mom back to her room, her whole family was waiting for her. She looked so weak and disoriented! I mean, she hadn’t looked fantastic when she left for surgery, but she’d been in great spirits, smiling and alert. This was so different and disheartening. We called Hospice, and started trying to reconcile ourselves to the fact that Mom is not going home.

But we tried make¬†the best of it. After all, it’s Christmas, right?¬†My lovely and amazing daughter-in-law sang Christmas Carols to Mom. The hospital staff came in to listen to her angelic voice. Mom was delighted, even through her weakness.

I stayed with her all night, as did her friend Janet, and Gaylon. It was a super rough night. She choked and gagged for much of it. She was so weak, and having so much trouble breathing! I cried. A lot. We all cried a lot. When morning came, the oncologist came to see us, I guess for the last time. She said that the cancer is just so widespread and invasive, that there is nothing anyone could do. She said it might have been a blessing that we didn’t find it sooner, because we might have been able to try to ‘fight’ it and it would have prolonged her suffering. She recommended we watch “Christmas Vacation” and try to get some rest. (I knew I liked her. . .) Mom had a much more peaceful day, and seemed to rally a bit.

I went home for a shower. Alex texted to say that he thought we should all get together and watch the Muppet Christmas Carol in the hospital room with Nana. So we all gathered in the hospital room to watch a movie. That never came to pass, because we just got distracted, but our sweet friends, Michael and Margaret brought Holy Communion to Mom. She lit right up!  I spent the night with her, alone, and she slept most of the night, fairly peacefully. It was good.

Later that¬†night, Abby spent the night with Kendall and Lishi. Alex went over there most of the night, as well. My children, without any direction from us, got together and nurtured each other. They loved each other and clung to one another in this difficult time. Yes, a true Christmas Miracle. My silver lining in this dark and terrifying cloud. Abby set up all the Christmas stockings before she went to Kendall’s. He helped a bit. They kept some small piece of Christmas alive for all of us.

Christmas Day, I got to be alone with my mother, for what is very likely the last fully alone-time, lucid conversation I will ever have with her here on this earth. She told me she felt like she was just laying around, waiting on God. I agreed. She said she’s peaceful, and ready to go, just not ready to leave all of us. I gave her permission to leave. We talked about funeral arrangements and where she wants to be buried. We talked about how there will NOT be a viewing or an open casket. And she wants flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. Caveat: No Easter Lilies. . . Mom has always hated them. They remind her of death! No donations to the Cancer Society or anything like that. If someone is just determined to donate some money in her name, then she wants them to give money to the Capital Campaign at our church, St. William Catholic Church, in Round Rock, Texas. So. Flowers or donate to our church. No Easter Lilies. Pretty simple. We discussed how our angel, Lishi, would never make it through the Ave Maria, so we asked our friend, Tiffany, if she could come and do it. She said she’d be honored to do it.

And then I told Mom that she needed to talk to all of the kids and give them her final blessing. She thought maybe she could divid that out over two days. I told her I thought she needed to do it all yesterday. I had a feeling. She agreed, and she did it. All the kids came, and they each got private, one-on-one time with Nana. She blessed them all. It was sacred and precious.

Today she’s been very non-responsive. She can barely wake up, and can no longer talk, or even write on her notepad. I’m glad she blessed everyone yesterday, and I know she is too. Tonight, Gaylon, Kendall, Alicia, Emily and I gathered around her bed and prayed the rosary. My sister, who is not a Christian, joined us with respectful and understanding silence. Lishi sang the Magnificat in Latin, and a couple of other lovely songs before they went home. (Alex came to visit earlier in the day, so he missed the rosary).

I don’t know how many more moments I have left with my precious mother. This has all been so horrifyingly rapid, and I’m barely able to keep up with it all. I know when it’s over, I’m going to go home and sleep. For a week. And then maybe I’ll have the energy to cry. I really did think I’d have her for at least ten to fifteen more years. She thought so, too. It’s inconceivable that she’s almost gone. Yes, I believe in miracles, but it just really seems like God wants her to go home to Heaven, not to our little house in Round Rock. I don’t know why, and I’m sure it doesn’t matter. I will miss her until the day I draw my last breath, and every day I will be surrounded by the myriad things and memories that weave their way through and permeate my life, making me who I am. And yes, my world will be so empty. It already is. I understand that this crushing grief will eventually pass, but nothing will ever replace the space my mother has filled in my life, in my being. I am grateful that she¬†showed me how to be a Christian, how to love Jesus. Her faith, her steadfastness and child-like trust in Our Lord is the glue in our family, and it will be forever. We are all who we are, because of her, because of her tireless and selfless love to all of us.

I do not know when I’ll have the chance to blog again about all of this, but I will make it a point to post funeral information, when the time comes. I cannot express how much we all appreciate all of your love, prayers, texts, phone calls. We are feeling those prayers, and that is what is sustaining all of us. Thank you. <3


Hot Air BalloonAll of my friends are plunging into their new school years with enthusiasm and determination. I feel more like I’m sort of coasting over the whole scene in a hot air balloon. . . just serenely observing the chaos and energy below me. Yes, I do miss those days. So, my best advice for new homeschoolers? Savor. Every. Second. Be involved. Stop everything else, and just be there with your kids. When things get crazy or seem impossible, call me. I’ll remind you that this, too shall pass. All too quickly!

This is our last year of homeschooling! I never dreamed I would actually be here, with over 20 years of homeschool experience under my belt, and wondering what in the world I’m going to do next. Well, I have a lot of ideas. I’m going to keep plugging away at becoming a Licensed Catholic Doula. Hopefully by January I will have enough money set aside to actually start the process for becoming a Licensed midwife here in Texas. (Once I start that, I probably won’t have time to sit around and dream about what I’m going to do with my life!) I could quilt more. I could work on my book. Which means I need to brush up on my Genealogy, and maybe even finish creating that website I started working on a million years ago. I could clean my house. (Okay. . .that’s not high on my list until we have our very own home again, but I can consider it an option, anyway). I have several classes waiting for me on Craftsy that I need to work through.

But what I really want to do is savor each and every moment with Abby. While, on the one hand, I am really excited to have all this free time on my hands, I remember how fast time flew by when I still had Kendall and Alex here at home, and how much I loved those years, and I know that if I blink once and turn around twice, Abby will have moved on, as well. I don’t want to miss a thing! I am so blessed to have a tender-hearted angel of a daughter, who loves to spend time with me and enjoys so many of the same things as I do. But she’s so busy already this school year! She’s taking a full load. Honors Anatomy and Physiology, Physics, Algebra II, Honors English II, Government/Economics. To say that she’s booked would be the understatement of the year! And, she’s still going to find time to study to become a doula, too.

This will probably be our fastest year yet. I know it will fly by for me, and I’m guessing that it will be over before Abby knows it, too. I’m afraid we’re both suffering terribly from Senioritis!

Photo Credit

Well, while we did not find a “Forever Home”, we did, indeed, find a new home. I sort of feel like it’s a really nice extended stay place. It’s pretty generic on the outside, but the inside is very nice, with 9-foot ceilings and a vaulted living room. And a fireplace. I really love that I have a fireplace again! (And yes, we DO sometimes have weather cold enough to want to light a fire!)

It’s slightly smaller, but much nicer than our last place. And we all agree that the backyard

The chaos of moving

The chaos of moving

is wonderful! It’s really big, and it has. . . are you ready?. . .grass! It also has a sprinkler system, which, if we can just remember to use it at the designated times, should really be cool. There is already one raised bed, and lots of room to make one or two more, so I’ve been really fantasizing about actually planting a vegetable garden. My friend Becky says if I plant the right stuff, she’ll make the salsa. I think that’s a heckuva deal, because her salsa is out of this world!

So, while moving is very stressful, and crazy expensive, I think it’s a good thing, overall, and I’m glad it’s almost over. ¬†We still have to get Abby’s and Alex’s bicycles out of the shed at the other place, but there’s really not much left. Which is so good, because April has truly been an awful month.

Don’t get me wrong: there have been some shining moments! Easter is always a glorious celebration, and even in the most stressful times, it is comforting to celebrate that our Savior is risen! God is still in charge, and He still loves us. That’s always good news. ūüôā All of the kids joined us for Mass, and my heart always feels so full when all of my ‘babies’ join us for Mass.

This year we just didn’t get to celebrate Easter completely¬†the way we like to, by filling up a Polish Easter Basket and taking it to be blessed on Holy Saturday, like we normally do. I didn’t even get around to making the butter molds! We were still in the midst of moving and unpacking, and we just didn’t have the money to go ‘all-out’. ¬†However,¬†our friends, the Kinneys, invited us to join them for Easter Lunch, and time spent with them is always fun and lively! We had a wonderful time. ūüôā

Then, that evening, Kendall and Lishi came over to the house and we grilled chicken. ¬†So we got to spend the day with family and friends, and at the end of the day, we were all so stuffed that we swore we wouldn’t eat another bite for at least a week. (And yet, somehow, we managed to make room for more food the very next day!)

Then, last Tuesday I got to attend the first homebirth I’ve attended in roughly thirteen years! It was my first homebirth here in Texas, and, my first birth with a Catholic family. I loved walking in and hearing a musical version of the¬†Divine Mercy¬†playing. So sweet!

And tonight, our sweet priest, Fr. Alex, came over to bless our new home and join us for dinner. I was very happy to discover that all of our children (including Joe, who is our ‘adopted’ son) wanted to be present for this happy event! Our son, Alex, wanted to come and watch the Spurs game tonight, after Father left, so he came early for dinner. It was just an added perk that we won!

But, in addition to the move, there has been a lot of stress this past month. First, we fought with AT&T for over two weeks to try to get our stupid internet hooked up at the new house! Finally, we fired them, and went with DirecTV. ¬†Now if only AT&T would get that memo and quit calling, texting and emailing me trying to reschedule our “missed” appointment! Grrr. . . .

Gaylon and his crew have been working on remodeling a home for awhile now, and all of a sudden, the homeowners have gotten very weird about it, and haven’t paid us for a large amount of work that we’ve already done! So money is very scarce at the moment. And we don’t know how this issue will turn out, so that is weighing very heavily on all of us. ¬†Gaylon has had a lot of trouble sleeping, and is losing weight. ¬†There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to go into it here. Let me just say that I think there needs to be some version of “Angie’s List” that contractors, builders, doctors, etc. can go to before they work for someone to check them out and see if they are known to be scam artists, or grifters, or whatever. ¬†Everyone always worries about whether or not the professional they’ve hired to do work for them is honest, reputable, reliable, etc., but I wonder how many people realize that there are a lot of folks who¬†hire professionals like Gaylon with the sole intent of getting their house remodeled for free!

Anyway, we very much appreciate any prayers, and are believing that things are going to get a lot less stressful very, very soon!

Long, long ago, in a beautiful faraway land called North Carolina, my children used to transport me to a land of magic and fantasy every Christmas season. They took me away to a place only children can grant access to, a place full of anticipation, excitement, danger, mystery, intense beauty and great love. They took me back to 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia! And, no matter what was going on in the ‘real’ world, I was always swept away with Clara as she followed her dashing prince into the fantastic world of the Sugarplum Fairy!

How did my children manage this great feat? Alexander and Abby both studied classical ballet under the incredible Ann Dunn at the Fletcher School of Dance in Asheville, North Carolina.   Each Fall, Ann held auditions for the Nutcracker, and her students had the opportunity to learn about the audition process and to dance in a professional production at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville. So,  for the years 2003 Р2004, Alexander was Fritz, the irritating and bratty little brother. Abby performed in the 2004 production, but sadly, we have no pictures left of her time in the ballet. (They burned.) I do, however, have some of Alexander.

His favorite memory of this time, by-the-way, is of actress Andie MacDowell asking him for his autograph! Her daughter’s gymnastics class always played the part of “The Chinese”, and so Andie was always around for opening night, helping out downstairs with her daughter. We met her several times. She is very shy, and much prettier in person than she is on the screen!

The older I get, the more I find myself wishing for a time machine to take me back to those sweet times when my children were young, and things really did seem so much more simple. ¬†I guess I’m getting old and wistful. But tonight, for the first time since we have moved back to Texas, our entire family is going to the Nutcracker Ballet, and once more I know I will be transported back to those sweet and magical times. . . in Asheville and in Russia!

When we moved last year, I found some old pictures of Alex’s first year as Fritz. Some of them are not very good, but I’ve compiled a slideshow of the best ones to share with my readers.

got respect?Over the past week, I’ve had a couple of different opportunities to discuss modesty and appropriate behavior with Abby. ¬†Last weekend, she attended a dance where a girl was dancing very, very inappropriately. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. When all the teenaged guys in the room stop dancing and circle around to gape at you. . . that’s NOT a good sign! In fact, the only person in the room who wasn’t gawking at this spectacle was the girl’s mother, who seemed (predictably) oblivious to how her daughter was behaving.¬†Abby and her friends tell me this girl is only thirteen years old! At the rate she’s going, she’s going to be pregnant before she gets out of high school.

The next thing that blipped on my radar was the way one of our own homeschool girls was dressed. She was wearing very short shorts. At Mass. She is a very cute little girl, with a very cute figure. But church is not the place for that. Actually, outside of a strip club, I’m having a hard time thinking of a good place for wearing shorts that are that short.

So, as Abby and I were driving home the other evening, I thought I should take the time to thank her for being, well, her. I told her that I am so grateful that she has never been one to push the modesty envelope, and how proud I am of her for always being appropriate in her dress and behavior.

She paused, thoughtfully, and then replied “I think it’s because I have so many close friends who are male, and I respect them.”

At first, it didn’t completely sink in. But the more I thought about what she said, the more I thought about how wonderful it was! She respects¬†not only herself, but also her male friends! And, because of that, she doesn’t want to do anything that would cause scandal to herself or to them. Like dancing or dressing in a manner that might cause them to have impure thoughts or tempt them in any way.

I am ever amazed at this young lady who calls me Mom. I think I have to give big credit to her Dad and brothers on this one. They all just adore her, and are very open with her about the things they think and feel. It has clearly taught her to respect and honor not only herself, but the young men around her.

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