September 2018
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Dungeons & Twinimals

When I was first introduced to Roleplaying Games as a kid in the early 80s (in the form of Dungeons & Dragons), it fired my imagination like nothing else. I loved it!  The only problem was that most of my friends weren’t that into it, so I only got to really play a few times. Nevertheless, the lack of playing companions didn’t stop me from buying and poring over countless game rulebooks and adventure modules. Over the years, my collection grew and grew, encompassing Dungeons & Dragons as well as RPG systems based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Niven’s Ringworld.  I think I had mostly stopped collecting this stuff by the time I got into college, finally accepting that I simply wasn’t ever going to have other people to play with…

But fast forward 30 years or so. Janet and I got married, and eventually our girls came along. I think that from almost the very beginning, when I heard we were having twins, there may have been the spark of a thought that maybe someday when they were old enough, I could introduce them to RPG gaming and finally get to play some of these games I’d always dreamed of playing. (There’s nothing wrong with using your kids to fulfill your dreams, right?)

Well, I’m happy to say that time finally arrived a couple weeks ago. The girls are almost 9 years old now. They read just about as much as they possibly can, and they’re creative enough that they frequently write their own stories. What’s more, they’re already basically always involved in some type of role-playing game of their own… (For example, one of the games they play quite often is called The Woodchopper Children. In this game they each take on the roles of orphan siblings who live in the forest and chop lumber to sell to nearby villagers in order to support themselves. They’ve been playing it for at least a year, and it seems quite elaborate. Basically anything that they’re doing together in real life can be transformed into a scene from the lives of The Woodchopper Children. Was I this imaginative when I was a kid? Probably? I mean, I hope so!)

I figured the easiest way to introduce them to the game (and get reacquainted with it myself) would be to use a simple adventure module that was designed to be played solo. It’s basically just a “Choose Your Own Adventure” with some die rolling for combat and some randomization. Their first couple experiences with The Ghost of Lion Castle ended swiftly and tragically due to some truly horrible die rolls. But they were undeterred and eventually prevailed, and as I expected they totally loved it!

The Ghost of Lion Castle

The Ghost of Lion Castle

In fact, they loved it so much that mere minutes after completing their first adventure, they went right to work co-writing their very own sequel adventure for Janet and I to play through, complete with detailed maps of every room! Of course, it was eerily similar to the adventure they had just played, but it was so much fun to see their imaginations at work as they tag-teamed as the Game Master! A few times I made sure my character checked for very specific traps, just to give them ideas for the future. And there were plenty of times we could see them inventing creative new details on the fly — an essential quality of a good Game Master, to be sure!

One of the highlights came when we were exploring the castle brewery and encountered a Giant Beer Monster! Fortunately, I remembered that earlier in the adventure I had come across an unlabeled potion that I strongly suspected was poison — so I unstoppered the flask and hurled it right into the Giant Beer Monster, promptly killing it. Another big highlight that induced a good ten minutes of belly-aching laughter from the girls was when Janet and I were sorting through some treasure and discovered magical Elven Nose Dinglers. In case you didn’t know, an Elven Nose Dingler is a small magical item that is worn over the nose which greatly enhances a person’s ability to smell things. I wonder if a super-powerful sense of smell might actually be more of a curse than a boon when you’re adventuring in a castle dungeon filled with monsters.

I think we’re all looking forward to our next adventure together!

Carolyn’s Fantastic Cinnamon Bread

Carolyn had mentioned several times that she wanted to make cinnamon bread. I’ve never made cinnamon bread so I didn’t really think much about her suggestion. Until the day I found her going through my recipe cards. She didn’t find one (remember – I’ve never made cinnamon bread). So we asked “Mr. Google” (as my Grandpa Wright would say) and easily found many to choose from. We found one for a quick bread that had 5 stars and decided to give it a try. Carolyn found the bowls, measuring cups and utensils, and the ingredients. She read the recipe, measured and mixed. She reminded me very much of her Great Grandma Wright, whose motto is to “take a recipe (or pattern) and go FROM it.” Having never made cinnamon bread, Carolyn decided that her bread needed more cinnamon. And wouldn’t it be better with brown sugar instead of white sugar? She made her modifications, mixed it, and baked it. And it was very yummy!

Carolyn with her Fantastic Cinnamon Bread

 

 

A Lesson on Sovereignty

In November 2008, Dan and I learned we were expecting twins. Once we got past the shock (and I was very shocked!), we were really excited. All things considered, the pregnancy went quite smoothly. It’s truly amazing how a little life can grow inside you. But it’s an amazing amount of work too, and can really be a challenge for the body systems. In general, those pregnancy related side-effects tend to be even more common, and extreme, with multiples. However, other than fatigue and some discomfort and constant hunger (almost from day one) I felt pretty good throughout my pregnancy.

In May of 2009, our beautiful twin daughters were born unexpectedly at only 32 weeks – fully 8 weeks early. They weighed in at only 4 lbs each and spent 6 weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Walnut Creek before they were able to come home.

Over the years, I have known a number of other families who have experienced an extended NICU stay following the premature birth of a child. Because of my own experiences, these stories touch me deeply. They never fail to remind me of the weeks we spent traveling to Walnut Creek each day, praying for our girls to get stronger. I rejoice with those families over each step of progress, share their disappointment over each set back, and grieve with the families who don’t get to bring their baby home.

These stories touch me partly because I understand more than most some of what those families are going through. But also because it recalls to me a lesson that I learned during my own experience – God is Sovereign!

Those first few weeks after the girls were born were hard! But I know now that in a lot of ways we had it easy. While our girls weren’t fully developed, for premies they were pretty big and healthy. So while the needed some extra round-the-clock attention and help from the NICU staff in those early weeks, barring some unexpected development there was never much question that they would come home, they would “catch-up,” and they would be healthy.

Those first six weeks we were traveling back and forth to the hospital to visit our daughters each day; I was pumping breastmilk for them day and night so I was only sleeping a few hours at a stretch; and I was wildly emotional thanks to pregnancy hormones, lack of sleep, and the added stress of having to go to the hospital each day to visit my amazing daughters. I tend to be pretty stable and even-keeled. I could tell that my emotions were a roller coaster, but I was powerless – and I do like being in control. Not sure how Dan felt about my wild emotions. Either it didn’t bother him, or he had the good sense to keep it to himself.

By the time the girls were a couple weeks old, I was emotionally drained and physically exhausted. And I felt guilty. You see, I thought it was somehow my fault that that the girls had been born early. By every logical standard, this was completely ridiculous. I had experienced a delightfully simple pregnancy almost devoid of the typical difficulties women experience during pregnancy. Everything was going smoothly. The babies were healthy and growing well. Other than some discomfort from pressure on my lowest rib, I felt pretty good. In fact, the day before they were born, I had a routine appointment with my OB followed by a routine “non-stress test”. At that time, there was absolutely no indication of any problem. But just 12 hours after leaving the doctor’s office I was in labor, and another 12 hours later I was in a recovery room – the mother of twin girls born at 32 weeks plus 1 day. One evening I burst into tears and confessed to Dan that it was “my fault”. He reminded me of God’s sovereignty; that God was not surprised by the early arrival of our girls. He reminded me that even if I had made bad choices – God would still be sovereign. And it clicked for me in a way that it never had before; in a way that I still remember.  And I remember even more strongly when I walk that same path again with someone else.

God is Sovereign. He is in control. He is never surprised or caught off guard. Medically, there was no explanation for our premature delivery. But I do know I gained a deeper understanding of God. And I’ve shared my story, my testimony, with others.

The whole family

This is one of my favorite family photos.  I like it because it’s our FIRST family photo – taken when the girls were three weeks old.

Snapshots from 2016

Somehow we neglected to make any posts here during 2016! In lieu of the many thousands of words it would take to describe it all, here are a few of my favorite pictures.

Geocaching hike in Morgan Territory

Elizabeth

Big Trees!

Hiking in Las Trampas

Beautiful Girls!

Showing off their flowery birthday dresses

While on a summer vacation to the midwest, we hiked on some beautifully green forest trails!

This was a nice fountain in front of a Bed & Breakfast we stayed at in Carmi, IL.

Our other summer vacation in July was visiting the Oregon coast.

Twins at the park

Rainy day puddle jumping!

Pumpkin Patch Portrait

Carolyn and Elizabeth’s Christmas portrait

Christmas morning

Freebie

A week or two ago I was at home with the girls after school, and they got involved working on a craft together at our dining table while I zoned out playing a video game for a while. I didn’t know exactly what they were doing, but they had paper, scissors, crayons and markers, and they were getting along extremely well. In fact, they were cooperating so nicely that I called out to them a couple times to praise them for how well they were playing together. Frankly, I was slightly (and very pleasantly) surprised at how smoothly things were going with just a minimal amount of supervision from me. It was just what I needed that afternoon, and as I blasted aliens (or whatever) I was feeling very blessed.

So later, when the family gathered together at the table to have dinner, Janet and I were aghast to find literally hundreds of dark green ink marks deeply staining the wood surface of the table, covering roughly a quarter of the surface area. There is absolutely no way imaginable that they didn’t realize at some point what was happening to the table.

Just one of literally hundreds of marks covering the table...

Just one of the most glaring offenses… But seriously, there are hundreds!

They know the rules about working at the table, because we’ve had these rules for years, ever since they’ve been able to hold a crayon. They have special placemats that they are required to use anytime they are writing or coloring at the table. We remind them often, but for the most part they’ve been pretty good about it. So if there were just one or two or even five or ten ink marks on the table, I could chalk it up to youthful forgetfulness that they quickly corrected as soon as they noticed what was happening. But no… There are so many marks covering such a large portion of the table… They had to move around to different chairs at the table, and it must have taken at least 30-40 minutes to make them all. It’s just not possible that they didn’t notice that they were writing all over the table. So, in other words, they did notice, but they just didn’t care and continued damaging the table on purpose. And the whole time this was happening, I was blithely unaware and complimenting them from just 20 feet away. I should add that this table is kinda special because it was passed down to me from my Grandma. I guess maybe it’s not a particularly nice or expensive table, but it’s special to me because it came from her. This fact has also been explained to the girls in the past many times as we have encouraged them to always use the placemats.

Needless to say, Janet and I were angry and very disappointed. In fact, I felt betrayed. At some point, probably right away, they had to recognize they damage they were doing, and they just didn’t care. I had thought they were playing contentedly, and even complimented them on it, and they simply continued. My trust was badly broken. I packed up all of their craft stuff — crayons, pencils, pens, coloring pages, paper, scissors — and I put it all in a box in the hall closet, which is the place where confiscated items go when the girls lose privileges. We had a short, sullen meal together, and then pretty much immediately after that we sent them straight to bed. No stories or bedtime songs, but they each still got a hug.

The next day I was still feeling kinda pissed off, and frankly I wanted them to know it. I wanted them to understand that they had blown it big time, and this one wasn’t going to just blow over and be forgotten so easily. So as soon as they got home from school I sent them straight back to their room, with the stern admonition they had better not make a mess in there as well. I suppose partly I just didn’t want to deal with them, but I also needed to get some reading done and I wanted some peace and quiet.

The reading was for a Christian Apologetics Book Club that I’ve been doing for the past 13 years with some good friends, in which I’ve read some very interesting books (as well as a few lame ones). That day, I was just starting a new book, titled Three Free Sins. My initial thought is that it’s a stupidly provocative title, because of course sins are never free. You might not be the one who pays for them, but they certainly aren’t free. I think the author probably believes that as well, but he wants to make a point about God’s boundless grace, and I suppose the publisher thought that a stupidly provocative title would sell more books.

So anyway, there I am, sitting on my sofa 20 feet away from my green ink stained dining table, still feeling angry and hurt and maybe even a little bitter towards my darling daughters, and I’m reading the introduction and first chapter of a book about grace called Three Free Sins… The irony is totally obvious, right? But the truth is that it didn’t even occur to me, at least not right away. I was nodding in agreement at what I read, but it was sort of abstract, totally compartmentalized from the reality of the situation in my home. But some time later, just as I was about to finish the chapter, Elizabeth calls from her room, asking if she can come out to use the restroom. Yes of course, I say, the last thing I want is another mess to clean up.

Then, instead of heading straight back to her room a few minutes later when she’s done, she wanders out to the sofa where I’m reading and gently asks me, “What are you doing?”

What a ridiculous question. Why can’t she just go back to her room and leave me alone? But politely I say, “Do you see this book I’m holding? What does it look like I’m doing?”

“You’re reading.”

“Yep… And you should be getting back to your room.” She hesitates.

“What is your book called?”

BAM. The irony hits me. In the face, like a brick. “Well…  Uhhh, it’s called Three Free Sins.”

She sits on the sofa next to me and snuggles up close, like there’s nothing in the world wrong between us. “What is it about?” She sounds genuinely curious.

I can tell God has a sense of humor, and he’s laughing at me. Sigh… “Well, it’s hard to explain. I guess you could say it’s about grace…” I trail off helplessly, because I know exactly what’s coming next.

“I don’t really understand what that means.” This, coming from my daughter whose middle name is Grace. How can I explain this to her and keep feeling the angry-hurt-bitter feeling that I feel? I cannot. And when I really think about it, why would I want to?!

OK, I give up! Thank you, God, for reminding me to keep it real.

I can’t remember exactly what I said to her as I tried to explain the concepts of grace and forgiveness. I don’t know if they were golden words of wisdom or just some mumbled nonsense, but in any case I have a feeling that the whole incident was really more about teaching me than teaching her. She’ll learn about grace in time — if I model it — but I figure she’s not likely to retain much from a two minute conversation. She’s barely 6 years old, and obviously I still struggle. I just keep thinking about the way she snuggled right back into my lap… I hope that never changes. At any rate, fortunately after much scrubbing Janet was able to reduce the worst stains to faint green smudges. Whatever. This whole incident can be a freebie for the girls, and if the cost to me for an object lesson about grace is merely an ink-stained dining table, so be it.