Funny Cake

My poor dad. His birthday always falls on the same day every year. The day right after Christmas, December 26th. The day when everyone is done celebrating. The day when any gift ideas anybody had...have already been bought and opened the day before. The day when nobody wants to bake a birthday cake because there are already so many leftover sweets, treats, and candies.

Every year, we try to go out of our way to make sure his birthday is a birthday and not just an extension of Christmas. Birthday gifts are to be wrapped in birthday paper, for example. Cards, candles and singing, required.

This year I decided to do something special. Small, but special.

On Christmas Day, my dad was telling us about a cake his mom used to make called "funny cake." He described it with fondness. It sounded sort of "funny." There was a pie crust, with cake batter baked on top. And then there was a layer of chocolate that started on the top, but during the baking process would sink to the bottom of the cake. Apparently that's how the cake got it's name, because it was "funny" the way the chocolate and cake layers would flip while baking.

Dad said maybe next year for Christmas he would make one. But I beat him to it. I got home and searched the internet for a funny cake recipe and found many. Most of them were very similar with only minor differences. I picked one that sounded the best and tweaked the recipe just a touch, based on other recipes.

The result? A not-so-pretty but oooooooh so yummy chocoholics delight.

See the chocolate layer on the bottom? It started on the top.

Dad says this is traditionally a breakfast cake, and would be dunked in coffee for a morning treat. I'm open to chocolate for breakfast any day!

Here is the recipe, if you'd like to try it for yourself! This is not my grandmother's recipe, but I hope to one day find and create hers!

Funny Cake
  • You will need 2 pie crusts (I used the Pillsbury ready-made ones)
Batter Ingredients:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Chocolate Layer Ingredients
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Pre-heat oven to 350.

TO MAKE CHOCOLATE LAYER: In a sauce pan, mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool while mixing the cake batter. This is almost as thin as water, but it thickens while baking.

TO MAKE BATTER: Cream sugar and margarine. Add the eggs until smooth. Alternately add flour and milk. To the last of the milk, add the baking powder and vanilla. Divide the batter into the 2 pie crusts. Pour the chocolate on top of the batter.

Bake about 40 minutes or until the top of the cake is a light golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Bon Apetit! And happy birthday, Daddy!


Ruby, Meet the Potty.

I could be wrong, but I'm not so sure she gets the concept yet. Especially since moments later I found tiny poopy footprints across the kitchen floor, which trailed back to a fair-sized turd in the corner. But at least she's cute!

Ruby is 14 months old, and I'm torn as to what approach to potty training I should take with her.

You see, we are still struggling with potty training Rae. She will be 3 in February, and while I can take her out in public in big girl underwear, I'm hesitant to do so. At home she does a pretty good job of using the toilet all by herself, usually with no announcement. But that's the problem - there's never an announcement. She never tells me when she has to go. If I remind her or make her stop what she's doing, she'll use the toilet. But if she's engrossed in play and I haven't reminded her, she may or may not stop what she's doing to relieve herself.

We started the potty training process with Rae when she was about 17 months old. I think that for her (I stress this, because every child is different), this was too early, and she ended up getting frustrated. She became very resistant to using the potty. Here we are, almost a year and a half later, and she does well at home and only o.k. when out and about.

For a long time, I was really distressed about Rae's progress (or lack thereof), but I realized that those feelings were selfish. They had more to do with me and my internal competition to have her potty trained by such-and-such date than with her as a developing person. I've decided to let go of my time lines and just keep working with her patiently and with encouragement.

But now comes the big question -- what should I do with Ruby? Should I try to start her early and hope she takes cues from watching Rae use the potty? Or should I wait until she's older to even attempt it? I've seen many people start potty training as early as 15 months, but I don't want it to backfire like it seems to have with Rae.

Today I let Ruby sit on the potty without a diaper, and she thought it was fun. Maybe I'll just do very little and let her give me cues as to when she wants to start trying.

I'm not looking for tips or advice or constructive criticism anymore. I don't want to know everyone's opinions on what I am doing right and wrong. I've read all the books, articles, and pamphlets. I'm done striving, and now I'm just going to go with the flow. No pun intended!

But I would appreciate your prayers!


In other news, Ruby's vocabulary is growing. Here are some words she is saying at 14 months, although truth be told, I'm probably the only one who can recognize and understand them.

Nevertheless, she can say please, thank you, all done, Dada, Mama, Uh-huh, dog, juice, fish and moo.

My babies are growing up!


"Not Me" Monday -- Updated

I don't have much this week, but you can check out MckMama's blog later in the day for more "Not Me" moments.

On Christmas Eve, I did NOT force by one-year-old's feet into a pair of boots that seemed too small and make her wear them all day, only to realize later that there were socks stuffed in the toes.

Nor did I make it to that Christmas Eve celebration remembering everything an over-prepared mother of two could possibly need (extra changes of clothes, snow gear, cups, blankets, pack-and-play, etc.)...EXCEPT the one measly gift we got for JP's parents.

And I did not wear my new Chistmas earrings with my pajamas all day simply because I wanted to wear them but had no reason to.

Oh yeah...and I didn't regift ANYTHING this year. ;) (You know who you are, just keep your mouth shut!)

**Update** My mother-in-law pointed out this one:
I did not bathe my daughters for the first time today since the day before Christmas Eve (yes, that is 5 days). And I did not have to use large quantities of adult-strength conditioner to get the tangles out of Rae's curly hair.

I hope you had a fabulous Christmas weekend. I'll post stories and pictures, soon, but I have to wait for people to email me photos because I forgot my camera to just about every event! If you have any Not Me moments to share, leave a comment!


How Many Kings

This is quite possibly my new favorite Christmas song...although I don't think anything can ever top O Holy Night.

How Many Kings
by Downhere

Follow the Star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we've projected
A child in a manger

Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in His mother's shall
Just a child, is this who we've waited for?

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?

And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts to the newborn Savior
All that we have whether costly or meek
Because we believe

Gold for His honor and frankincense for His pleasure
And Myrrh for the cross He'll suffer
Do you believe, is this what we've waited for?
(It's who we've waited for)

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?

And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only One did that for me
All for me. All for you.

Baby Jelani

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

Last night I had the remarkable and overwhelming honor to meet little Jelani Dante Brinson, Jr.I say overwhelming, because that's exactly what it was. When I held that little boy in my arms for the very first time and looked at his perfect little face and kissed his puffy little cheeks, I became completely overwhelmed. I lost it. I wept. I could hold the tears back. I was holding the last piece of Jelani that he left us. A remnant.

For those of you who do not know (since I never really did share the story here on the blog), Jelani was a dear, dear friend of ours who went missing back in April. A week later, his body was found in an Anoka pond. He was 24 and the loving father of his beautiful daughter, Zion. You can read about it here.

But before he was found -- just four days after he went missing -- his girlfriend found out she was expecting their second child. Jelani never even knew he had a son on the way.

Jelani Jr, or just JJ, was born this past weekend at a whopping 9 lbs, 8 oz. He's perfect. He's so beautiful. He looks like his daddy. I have no idea what God has in store for Zion or JJ's lives, but I know that they will be loved and supported by all of us their whole lives.


All I Want for Christmas

For the past number of years, JP and I have bowed out of exchanging Christmas gifts with our families and close friends. It's not that we don't like giving gifts or we're really selfish -- JP and I both love giving gifts. I'm a gift giver by default. Its one of my love languages. I love seeing something in a store that reminds me of someone and spontaneously buying it for no special reason. Giving for no reason is something we both try to make a habit in our lives. Who needs a special reason to tell someone they were on your mind?

Our reasons for not exchanging gifts at Christmas are threefold.

1.) It's forced. In my mind, gift giving should always be a joyful thing.

I can't tell you how many people I've heard from this year (and every year) who are so stressed out because they have to buy gifts for "x" amount of people. They get frustrated trying to think of what to give that one person who is so hard to buy for. They dread getting out in the crowds. They moan and groan over how much money they had to drop, and proclaim the recipients had better be thankful.

Truly, it goes against everything Christmas is about. God gave us Jesus joyfully, willingly, without repentance. The angels sang and rejoiced over His birth. The wise men were honored and humbled to be able to give their gifts to a baby king. There was no grumbling. No stress.

Christmas time is automatically a (happily) hectic time of year for us. With so many families in town, it's busy, busy, busy all season long traveling from even to event. We are very happy to do that. We love being with our family. But we're not going to ruin the spirit of the season by getting grumpy over all the gifts we have to buy. Our families know we love them, even if we don't buy them gifts, and like I said before, we try to be spontaneous in our gift giving throughout the year.

2.) Our Children.

Kids can get so selfish at Christmas time. No matter how much you try to teach your children that Christmas isn't about gifts or Santa, they're still going to look forward to the presents the most every year.

In the beginning we even tried to ban our parents from buying the girls Christmas (and birthday) gifts. We simply don't want that to be their focus at Christmas, and we certainly dont want them to feel they deserve gifts just because it's Christmas. We want them to associate Christmas with Jesus and spending time with our families, the greatest gifts of all.

We realized very quickly that banning gifts was a futile effort! It's just not fair to ask a grandparent to withhold from their grandchild. They love giving to them, and when they do, it carries none of the negative, stressful situations described in reason #1. So our girls still receive Christmas gifts, just not from us. And we try very hard to make sure our girls know these gifts are not expected, but always an extreme blessing.

3.) Our Finances. This is the very last, and least, reason.

Winter is the slow season in the remodeling industry, so this time of year is usually pretty tight anyhow. This year we are also closing on a new house which needs some repairs before we can move in. We see no reason to add to that by feeling like we have to buy gifts for everybody, too.

We do have one gift we've made a tradition of giving to our families, so it's not like we do nothing. And we LOVE playing the dice game, too (you know, the one where if you roll doubles, you get to pick a $5 gift from the pile, etc.).

But even if finances were no issue at all, I think we'd still skip out on gift exchanges for reasons #1 & #2.

So tell me, what do you think?

Do you get stressed out over gift giving? Do you wish you could just spend Christmas with family and not have to worry about the gift part? Or do you relish the opportunity to get out and shop? Is it your favorite part? Do you think we have gone overboard? BE HONEST! I want to know!

Leave a comment with your thoughts, OR click on the fancy new toolbar thing to the right and join the discussion in My Community.


Silent Monks Sing Hallelujah Chorus

My mom sent this to me today and I got a kick out of it!

"Not Me" Monday

Welcome to another "Not Me" Monday! Head over to MckMama's blog to read more "not me's."

This week I did NOT pair red sweatpants with a hot pink polar fleece because it was the warmest combination I could create on a cold, winter day.

I most certainly did not use my 1-year-old's toothbrush because I couldn't find mine...two days in a row (hey, at least I was brushing!).

I did not secretly thank the Good Lord that I wasn't in the room when my 2-year-old got her head stuck between two metal banisters in the middle of a Christmas service at The Quarry Community Church. (According to others, pretty much the whole church turned around to observe the commotion. Two people eventually had to use their weight to pull the bars apart and squeeze her head back through. Then, once freed and done screaming, she tried to put her head back through again!)

And as all of my faithful readers know, I did not, nor would I ever, sell out my blog for one extra entry in a contest to win Photoshop. :)

That's all I have for this week. Now it's your turn. Leave a comment letting us all know the things you didn't do this week.


Jelani Dante Brinson, Jr.

A 9 lb, 8 oz remnant.
We love you, baby Jelani, just as we loved your daddy.


I feel almost shameful selling out my blog to do something like this, but I'm too selfish. I want this.

Two bloggers who used to be at odds with each other are getting in the Christmas spirit. MckMama and Grammie Mommy are teaming up to give away Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Elements, respectively.

Oh, how I have longed for Photoshop.

I didn't tell you this before, but part of the deal JP and I made for getting a third dog was that if he was going to have a hobby, so was I. My hobby of choice? Photography. So in exchange for the dog, he is going to get me a REAL camera (none of this point and shoot stuff) and Photoshop Elements.

But lo and behold: Here are Elements and Lightroom at my fingertips for free!

And so, I'm doing it. I'll selling out. With my tail between my legs, I'm posting a blog with links to their websites so I can earn one extra entry into the contest. So sue me. These are tough times, and a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, right? :)

When MckMama posted a giveaway for an HP Touchscreen Computer, I decided against posting a blog for another entry. I didn't want to create "junk" blogs for my loyal readers.

I guess this time I'm justifying it by thinking I've now given all of you the opportunity to enter and win. (Then you can give it to me! Just kidding. Sorta. No really, I am joking. Or am I?)

You'll never know. Until you win and I hunt you down.


On another note, we made it to the Macy's 8th floor last night. It was a wonderful time spent with family, but I cannot lie -- I was very disappointed this year for one reason. (Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty big reason.)

For decades now, families have made it a holiday tradition to pack up the kids and head downtown, fighting against weather, crowds, parking, confusing skyways, and one very, very long line to walk through the Dayton's, I mean, Marshal Field's, er, oops, Macy's 8th Floor holiday display.

The charm? A new beautiful exhibit each year.

Except this year. This year they decided to just keep last year's display up. Well, they made a few changes I guess. They seemed to have shortened the display a bit, so I guess I can't say they did nothing.

Seriously? The same display? We need Dayton's back, badly.


Let the Festivities Commence!

This week marked the official commencement of Christmas activities in the Charlebois household.

It started with the annual candy making (of tempting recipes passed down from JP's mom) with my friend Sarah D.* This year went remarkably more smoothly than last year (when Sarah almost caught our house on fire. Long story. Ask me later.), with only one minor hiccup. Well, maybe not so minor.

*My apologizes for not having any pictures of this event. Sarah has some on her camera, but she hasn't sent me any yet. (hint, hint, Sarah!)

You see, I have this caramel recipe passed down from my dear mother-in-law Gail (you may know her as "G" from the comments pages) that I have yet to master, or truthfully, even get right once.

Last year they were undercooked and too soft. This year I trudged through like a good culinary soldier, braving the hot, bubbling goo; stirring continuously for an hour and a half; meticulously watching my candy thermometer; even suffering battle wounds when a hot bubble burst and flung scalding caramel goo on my arm (yes, it was as painful as it sounds).

In the end, I was so proud of myself because everything looked like it had gone by the book. Then I started cleaning up and noticed them. Four sticks of butter sitting on the counter that I forgot to include. FOUR full sticks. Forgotten. Apparently, when I doubled the recipe, I forgot to double the butter. Four sticks.

The good news is that the caramel is still delicious. It tastes the same and the texture and firmness are just right. The only downside is that they stick to the wrappers this year, a problem solved by keeping them in the refrigerator.

The other failure of the day is that JP was NOT happy that I chose not to make Nut Goodie Bars this year. Apparently they are his favorite. So tomorrow I'm heading back to the grocery to get the ingredients for those.

The next Christmas event took place last night, with a first-ever sleepover at G & Bompa's house for Rae and Ava. It was obvious that they had a BLAST. Last night they decorated the Christmas tree and got to share the big bed (mad props to G for pulling this one off!). Then this morning they decorated cookie cutouts and gingerbread houses.

Making sugar cookies (Rae's hair is out of control)

Armed with rolling pins and faithful sidekick Baby Bear
Decorating cookies
Whew! The hair has been tamed.
Decorating the Gingerbread Houses (or in Rae's case, the lawn)
We love cousie sleepovers!
Tomorrow we'll be tackling the Macy's 8th Floor Display with 6 adults and 5 kids under the age of 3 (pray for us) and maybe Holidazzle, although I'm not holding my breath on that one. My brother and his family are arriving on Saturday, too, so we are really looking forward to seeing them. Let the fun continue!


Angels Love Cookies

Today, I was trying to get a picture of Rae in her angel costume for an art project we were preparing to make. In the beginning she wanted nothing to do with it. The progression of pictures I took is hilarious to me, and I thought some of you might get a kick out of it, too.

Little Miss Grumpy Angel not wanting to have her picture taken
...pretending to be shy...
...and even giving me the evil glare.
So, like any good, *COUGHdesperateCOUGH* parent would, I offered her a cookie.
She considers her options and weighs the cost.
Finally she reaches a decision. She will accept the cookie.
What's that I detect? Happiness?
Can a single cookie really do all of this?
Sweet bliss! Sweet, crunchy, thin mint heavenly bliss!
And THAT, dear readers, is how angels are made.
Now if you'll excuse her, she has a cookie to eat.

Away in a Manger


Pray for the Duggars

Many of you may have heard -- and perhaps some of you have not heard -- that the Duggar Family (of TLC's reality show 18 Kids and Counting) welcomed their 19th child prematurely this week. Josie Brooklyn Duggar was born at only 25 weeks gestation, weighing only 1 pound, 6 ounces and is in stable condition.

It seems everybody has their opinion about this family. You either love them or think they are crazy. I personally love them. I think they are a remarkable example of successful marriage and child raising. Jim Bob and Michelle are still deeply in love, and their children are happy, well-behaved, respectful, talented, sociable, helpful, hard-working, and kind.

I can't imagine what kind of criticism this family is facing after this premature birth. People already rail on them for continuing to get pregnant "at her age," etc. What most people probably don't know is that (from what I've gathered) Josie's premature birth didn't have anything to do with Michelle's uterus being weak or anything like that. She had been hospitalized for gall stones, and those complications led to preeclampsia. But people are people, and they will form their assumptions and make their accusations however and whenever they want.

I just want to encourage everyone to pray for this amazing family and for tiny little Josie. They are a prime example of faith under fire, and I'm sure it's discouraging to have the world criticizing you. But in the end, Jim Bob & Michelle will be able to look at their beautiful family and hear "Well done, good and faithful servants." And that's the only opinion that matters.

I just hope


"Not Me" Monday

It's another "Not Me" Monday, and here are just a few things I didn't do this week. You can head over to MckMama's blog to check out other people's "Not Me's" too.

This week, I did NOT clean the toilet with Windex just because I already had it out to clean the glass.

I did NOT throw away "The Wiggles" sing along book that my daughters love (but drives me insane) because the batteries died and there was no way on God's earth I was going to replace them.

Nor did I have my 2-year-old pee into a 5 gallon bucket because we were in the workshop and there wasn't enough time to make it into the house.

And if a friend came over to visit and forgot her daughter's adorable pink knit hat at my house, I would put it in a safe place so that it wouldn't get lost until I could return it. I would never use it on a daily basis all week long because it looked adorable on my 1-year-old.

(she is adorable, though, isn't she?)

And finally, I did NOT, NOT, NOT agree to letting my husband get a THIRD dog for hunting. That would be insane. I would have more dogs than kids. No way. Never.

What didn't you do this week?


Looking for a GOOD reason

I've admitted it multiple times in the past, and I'm admitting it again. There are a good handful of days each month where I can simply find no good reason to get out of my pajamas. Yesterday was one of them. Today I could have gone for a two-day record, but I didn't want to gross people out.

It's not that I just love my pajamas so much that I never want to get out of them. They are not silky or satiny; they're not soft flannel or footie pajamas or anything special. Just some sweatpants and a hoodie.

My problem is that I just can't think of a GOOD reason to change out of them. Why should I? Why bother? I have nowhere to go. My kids don't care.

Now don't get me wrong. Most days I actually do get dressed and put myself together. It may not happen until Ruby's first nap, but I won't usually go the entire day in my PJ's. But I only do that because I feel like I have to; like it's expected of a normal, functioning person to get dressed each day. But some days, that's simply not enough. I need a really, really good reason.

I've heard all of the "reasons" why I should before, and none of them are convincing to me. The most common is that getting dressed will get me motivated for my day.

Wrong. Coffee gets me motivated for my day. My kids waking up giggly gets me motivated for my day. Getting dressed only serves to make me less comfortable than I was in my PJ's and generate more laundry for me to wash.

Getting up early to take a shower in the morning might help get me motivated for my day, but that just doesn't work. Here is what happens.

If I get up early, before the kids rouse, to shower, read, eat breakfast, and mentally prepare myself for the day, JP will inevitably be miraculously motivated to do the same thing. Once he is awake, he will begin to make his morning man noises. You know what I'm talking about. The hacking, the snorting, the de-phlegming, the brushing-the-very-back-of-your-tongue choking...it is a guarantee. These noises will unavoidably wake up the two munchkins and I'll be right back where I started, only with a half hour less sleep than I would have had if I just stayed in bed.

So no, getting dressed does not help me get motivated for my day.

I've also heard that getting dressed will make me feel better about myself and cause me to have a more positive attitude. I could see this being true -- when I was a newlywed, 10 pounds lighter, and everything I put on looked cute as a button! When I worked in the corporate world, dressing up actually did make me feel good about myself. But I'm a mom now. I don't wear cute suits, stylish shirts or even heels anymore that often. I wear jeans, long-sleeved T-shirts, sweatshirts, fleeces, tank tops -- you know, stuff that is semi-comfortable and doesn't have to be dry cleaned if my one-year-old rubs her snotty nose all over my shoulder.

So no, getting dressed doesn't actually make me feel better about myself anymore either. Maybe if I were to get off of what I affectionately refer to as the "fat lard diet" and drop those 10 pounds I'd be a little more excited to get dressed. But that hasn't happened so far.

So what, then? What's the good reason? Why should I change out of my pajamas?

I think I've come up with one reason. Just one. (Well, maybe two. Reason #2 could be for JP's sake. Staying in my PJ's is no way to get to baby #3!) But really it just comes down to one. It's a pretty big one, though.

1Cr 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or get dressed [Didn't know that was in there, did you?] or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

I guess when I stay in my pajamas all day, I'm not doing that to the glory of God. I guess I'm doing that to the glory of comfort and laziness. And I guess if I were to get dressed it would have to be to His glory, since there's really no other good reason. So I guess the next time I have an all-day slumber party, you all should hold me accountable to what I just wrote!


Not Me! Monday

I've decided to participate (from time to time) in a fun blog carnival started by one of my new favorite bloggers, MckMama. It's called "Not Me! Monday," and it goes a little something like this:

Today, I did NOT stay in my pajamas all day long, NOR did I go all day without brushing my teeth until we went to Cabela's at 6:30 pm. I most certainly did NOT actually go to Cabela's IN my pajamas (covered by my coat, of course) and wearing no bra nor underwear. That would just be trashy.

Today, I did NOT allow my 2-year-old to watch the new Christmas Dora episode more than once, and certainly not three or four times.

And I absolutely did NOT completely undress my 1-year-old at meal time simply to avoid having to find a bib to protect her shirt and lap from mac and cheese mush. And when she spilled shredded cheese all over the floor, I didn't just leave it there knowing the dogs would get it once they came inside. That's just lazy.

How about you? What didn't you do today?


Who are You?

**UPDATED** As of 8:22 am on Saturday, 31 more people have visited the blog today alone, only 2 of whom are return visitors. C'mon, people! 31 of you have visited today and I only have 3 comments? Please do leave a comment!

I recently added a stat counter to this blog to track how many hits it is getting each day. I was kind of surprised! As of 11:35 pm today, this blog has had 37 unique visitors check it today. I guess since there are only about 4 or 5 of you who comment on a regular basis, I just assumed there were only a handful more than that who even checked it!

So please, do me a favor: If you check this blog even on a semi-regular basis, please leave a comment on this post. It doesn't matter if you heard about the blog from my mother-in-law's cousin's x-boyfriends sister's friend and I don't even know who you are. I'd just like to get an idea of who is reading! Any comment will do. Let's be friends. :)

Thanks! Audra

House Update

For those of you who have been asking, we do have a house update!
We have an offer accepted and a signed purchase agreement on this house. The USDA has approved it (that's where things fell apart on the other house) and we are now only awaiting a formal inspection.
It is located in Princeton, MN. This is the very far edge of the area we were searching in, but it's not SO bad.
It sits on five acres, surrounded on three sides by majestic pines. See that little shed thing in the background? It's a playhouse!
It's a 3 bed, 2 bath, 3-level split. This photo was taken from the lofted living room space, one floor up from the kitchen and dining room.And JP's favorite part? The massive, insulated and heated pole barn with it's own separate driveway.

If everything goes through, this house will be a gift from God and a testimony to His never ending faithfulness to us, even through our mistakes. Yes, it is a hike to get there. Yes, I'll have to make a stated effort to get out of my comfortable bubble and connect with people in the community. But this is exactly the sort of place we want to raise our kids. And given the situation we were in just two short years ago, it's a blessing that we never would have thought possible.

So please keep the prayers coming that the inspection goes well and that we can close on this sucker as quickly as possible. We have to be out of our place by February 1st.

God is good, all the time.

Christmas Time is Here

This is one of the first years in a very long, long time that I felt like the world has taken too long getting to Christmas.

Usually, I'm shocked at how early the Christmas displays go up at the mall or how early the radio stations start caroling. Usually I start seeing lights go up before Halloween, and cards start arriving in the mailbox before Thanksgiving even rolls around.

But this year I found myself asking, "What's the hold-up?"

Maybe I just didn't see it. Maybe it was all around me, and I simply missed it. Point is, I DID miss it, and I wanted it to come sooner than ever. I found myself checking the mailbox, then worrying that maybe people didn't have our new address, even though we were here for Christmas LAST year. I would check the radio stations and be bummed when the carols weren't playing yet. I missed it!

But that's all in the past, now, because Christmas is upon us, and in full swing! I got our Christmas decorations up this week (Note: Yes, there are 5 stockings, but that is not a hint. We have a stocking for the dogs). I love turning the lights down at night and letting the Christmas lights sparkle in the room. I love the way Ruby notices them out of the corner of her eye and never fails to point to them, look at me, and say, "deh?" I love the way Rae asks me to tell her the story about baby Jesus over and over again.

I've gotten cards in the mail the last two days, and I've started a collage on my kitchen wall. Faces to remember and be thankful for every day. My cards are stuffed and awaiting stamps. Gifts for the family have been ordered and arrived safely. A toy nativity set was purchased to save my poor porcelain set from further abuse (worth every penny). I have cider in the fridge for sipping in the evening, and those oh-so-fattening but oh-so-good Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes that I don't allow the girls to eat. No, no. Those are for Mommy. All we need is some snow on the ground. Not a lot. Just enough to cover the browns and grays of another withering autumn.

I'm thankful for Christmas. I'm thankful that I still tear up when I explain to Rae that the same, helpless baby who lay the manger would grow up to save us all. I'm thankful that she gets it. I'm thankful that she doesn't yet associate Christmas with presents, but instead with a baby, some shepherds, some wise men. I'm thankful that my brother and his family get to come home, and that my entire family will be together again this Christmas. More than one miracle will be celebrated that day.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name

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Mom: "Rae, stop whining. That's what babies do."
Rae: "No, Mom, that's what BIG girls do."
Mom: "No, big girls use their words."
Rae: "Mom, no comprendo."



Ruby learns to eat with a fork

JP gets another pheasant. Rae gets excited.

Rae takes up photography

This one's a little better. M is for Mommy.

JP hunts at a game farm and brings home more birds.
Rae counts them. In English and Spanish.

Ruby practices her fine motor skills.

I love my life.

Letters from Chip, Part 2

Tuesday, February 25, 1941

"Dear Folks:
Just a line to let you know that the army isn't a half-bad outfit to live in. The screws are tightening down aplenty both in ground school and on the flying line, but it's still a great life, and don't anybody try to tell you different.
...These instructors are the best that can be had, and believe me, they know their business inside out. They stay right up in the front cockpit until you can fly as good, or nearly as good, as they can. I was up again today, my fourth time, and am learning more and more every day. We only fly when the sky is clear -- never fly when it's raining. We have missed about four days due to fog and murky weather so far.
...All the gang from Wisconsin really hooped it up over Wisconsin's win over Indiana last night. We follow the sports pages of the Chicago Tribune like a bunch of hawks.
Thanks loads for the prayer and the cards. The typhoid shots made every body's arm sore, but I didn't get sick at all from it. A lot of the boys did! Must close now with love, regards -- and don't worry!

February 28, 1941

"Dear Mom and Dad:
I've finally taken time out to get off a letter long overdue.
...We are settled pretty comfortably now. Dellas has the house cleaned to a sparkle, and we are entertaining on Sunday evening. I am barred from snooping around in the kitchen while Dellas fixes supper, because she is set and determined to surprise me -- every meal. Been doing a right good job too. In fact, I have been so pleased with the home cooking that I help with the dishes without being asked. I am gradually working her into the idea of buttermilk soup.
...Dellas comes to the field on the nights when I am "on alert" and we visit at the officers club together with the rest of the married officers, or go to a show.
We are very happy together. For me, especially, it has destroyed all the old lonesomeness. If only I can get her to make buttermilk soup.
Love to all,
Tuesday, March 4, 1941, 8:00 pm

"Dear Mother and Dad:
Just a few more days and I'll be soloing. I hope you won't worry, because our instructors won't let us solo until they are absolutely sure we can do it. Today we practiced landings and take-offs, which is the sign that always comes just before our solo flight. We've been working hard, all of us, and you can notice the strain on the men at the end of the day. We are busy every minute from 5:15 am to 9:45 pm, and when it's over, you're ready for bed, and no doubt about it.
Some of the more advanced students -- those who have had previous flying instruction -- soloed today. There were five of them -- and each one was shoved under a cold shower, clothes and all, which is a flying cadet tradition. After a man's first solo, he gets ducked. Then he rips the piece of white adhesive tape off the top of his helmet, to signify that he is no longer a fledgling. It's all a great ceremony, full of horseplay, and I believe the instructor gets just as much of a thrill out of it as the student does.
Mrs. Pickering sent me a copy of the Dane County News in which she printed my first letter home. If I would have known that, I might have polished it up a big. I'd rather that she didn't print any of my personal correspondence -- just makes me feel uneasy is all. I blush easily, you know. Which reminds me -- you should see my freckles. This Oklahoma sun and wind is really bringing them out in fine shape.
Must close now, and get to my studies.
Love to all, "

House Hunt Update

For those of you who haven't heard, we had an offer accepted on a house in Buffalo, MN. The offer is pending an inspection by the USDA, who has to approve any home we buy. If they approve it, we are set for a closing date of January 6, 2010. If they don't approve it, we have a back-up plan house in Monticello with an offer all prepared and ready to be submitted.
Our landlord found a new renter starting February 1st, so the clock is now ticking for us to find a place.
Please keep praying that God would open and close doors as necessary to lead us to the house where He wants us to be. We know He will!


House Hunt

For those of you who don't know, JP and I are on the house hunt again. We have been renting our current place for a year now, and our lease is up in December. We have loved living here; it is an amazing place. We are spoiled to the space we have here, and I personally have fallen in love with living in a two-story house. But at the same time, we really do not like renting. It's part of our nature to want to fix things up and improve things, but since we don't own this place, it's not worth our investment of time or money. It's very frustrating for a handyman!
One day when JP was listening to talk radio, he heard some real estate guys talking about a program through the USDA that helps people buy homes in rural areas. It sounded right up our alley, so JP called in and got some more information.
Long story short, we qualified for the program and have been approved for a loan. We are now on a USDA-appointed timeline to find a home and get an offer approved. We've been looking at houses for the past couple of weeks, and they are all starting to blur together in my head.
The only downside to this program is that they are fairly picky about the house you get. They come and inspect it themselves to make sure it is up to their standards. We would be happy getting a fixer-upper, but they don't really want us to do that for some reason.
Another downside is that because they only give us a certain amount of time to find a house, we have to exclude the short sales and foreclosures in our searches. The banks simply take too long to respond to offers. It could be months before they even look at your offer!
Anyhow, we'd appreciate your prayers as we move forward with this house hunt. We know God will lead us to the right house at the right time. It will definitely be good to own again!

Letters from Chip, Part 1

Muskogee, Oklahoma. February 14, 1941. 7:20 pm.

"Dear Folks,
Just a line to let you know I'm safe and sound and feeling great. The air down here is as clear as a bell, and believe me, we're getting plenty of it in our lungs.
...We had a great trip -- a private pullman coach all the way. We arrived last night at 1 a.m. -- or was that today? We climbed right into bed -- and a good bed, which we make-up ourselves every morning.
...We wear ordinary shoes -- the old pair I brought along and our wool socks. We have been given coveralls, a heavy sweater, and a leather sheepskin-lined jacket and cap. Our uniforms will be here in about a week. We were measured for them today.
...The food, believe it or not, is swell. Not near as good as mom's of course, but better than anything you could find in a restaurant. We are served cafeteria style and can have as many helpings per meal as we wish. I had a pint of milk for every meal and am going to stick to it.
There are about 150 men in our class and about 90 upperclassmen. Lower classmen are known as dodo birds. They estimate that 45% of our class, about 60 men, will 'wash out' during the first five weeks.
Must close now, as we have a meeting coming up in five minutes. Will write more, soon.

P.S. All flying cadets must write a letter home at least once a week or be forced to do 'gig.' (That's walking steady for one hour.)"

February 18, 1941.

"Dear Folks,
Am terribly sorry I didn't get a chance to write another letter sooner, but we've been 'on the hop' every minute here, and it just hasn't been possible. I'm working on the cadet publication here -- 'The Gosport"
[Note from Audra: forgive me if this title is incorrect; the writing is unclear] and am also writing 'propaganda' articles for various newspapers -- the last duty by order of the commanding officer.
...At the last writing, there were some 240 men here. There are about 205 now. Every day, three or five men 'wash out,' not because of scholastic requirements, but because they just can't fly good enough. There are 60 men left in the upper class out of 137. And another 25 or 30 of these will 'wash out' within the next month before they get a chance to go to Randolph.
This is the heart of the dust bowl down here, and the land is dead dry and flat as a table top. When the wind blows, it lifts a fine cloud of dust about a mile in the air and it looks like a heavy fog for the rest of the day.
...In three days we've learned to snap to attention, salute, and execute every marching movement in the books. It's a great life, and tough. Believe me, they make you toe the mark. I wish you could see the way I can make up a bed and put a locker in order. I can't believe it myself.
...Must close now to get to my studies. Will write again the first chance I get. Don't worry about me -- I'm doing great.

Letters from Chip, An Introduction

I'd like to start doing something new on this blog on occasion.
I've recently started reading a collection of letters that I am so in love with right now, I just have to share them. They were penned by a man named Carlos Bowar, or "Chip." Beginning in 1941 and ending in December 1945, they were written to friends and family back home as he trained to be, and served as, a bombardier pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He would eventually patrol the eastern coast of the U.S. and South America searching for enemy submarines, and earn various decorations for his fine work.
According to his wife's notes at the beginning of the collection,
The young 22 year old Chip was truly involved in high adventure with being admitted to the Flying Cadets. He was desperately anxious to not 'wash out.' Few people, perhaps 10 percent, had been in an aeroplane in 1941.
The great love and concern within the Bowar family is obvious. You will read of the daily inconveniences of food rationing, gasoline, clothing, housing shortages.
In Oct. 1941, the 76th Bombardment Quadron was formed at Gunter in Idaho. All personnel remained intact for two plus years. Life-time friendships were formed. They called themselves the 'bastard squadron' because in those fearful times they were on the move constantly.
And in an article in the Philgazette in December 1954:
It was not until after the war and removal of censorship restrictions, that the dangers of his missions were revealed.
What makes these letter all the more fascinating is that Chip is JP's grandfather. I never had the privilege of knowing him, but I feel like I am getting to know him through these letters. I even feel as though I have something in common with him, because he was also a journalist and talks about writing numerous articles for various papers during his time in the service.
The Bowar family as a whole were called a "champion war service family" in local papers, because all seven members of the family, including Chip's sister Maxine, served in the military in one way or another.
Chip's wife, Della Mae Bowar, or just "Grandma Dellas" to us, has given me permission to share pieces of this wonderful collection with you. Many of them have already been published in his hometown paper 60+ year ago. Chip didn't even know his sister was collecting and saving all of his letters over the years. Who knows what Chip would think if he knew his "chatty notes" were being shared on the internet more than half a century later. It was such a different time back then.
So this is his story, and mine, from January 1941 to December 1945. Another world, another time, but a wonderful life with Chip. Dellas
Chip and Dellas on their wedding day, February 14, 1942