Let Her…..Letter

When Rachel was born in 1991, Keith and I started a secret tradition.  Unbeknownst to our girls – I crafted a letter for them each year.  All year long, I dropped happenings, thoughts, and later blogs and Facebook posts into a single letter.  Each letter had family news at beginning, and then a specific section for each girl.  Each girl also got a tree ornament for the year, or something that could be used as a tree ornament (like key chains, American Girl grin pins, etc.).  The intent was always that the first girl to move out would get her set of letters that Christmas.  Then the jig would be up, and everyone would know about them.

Rachel got her letters and ornaments tonight.  Lois, Hannah and Julia each have a set of letters waiting, too, for when they move out and will get tree ornaments this year forward – but no more letters.  The element of surprise is (rightly) ruined now.

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Rachel’s first ornament – vintage 1991 – was a Post Office replica of a Madonna painting Keith and I had admired at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.

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I did not keep copies of the letters and had no idea what was in them.  She opened only a few tonight.  I’ll be glad when she opens them all so I can read them.  Of course, I’ll need to be invited over to do that…like maybe for dinner, hmmmmm, Rachel?!  I’ll be sure to drop my shoes ‘wherever’ and put my dirty plate near the dishwasher.

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Hannah was surprised as Rachel read Hannah’s portion of her 2000 letter:  “One night at Wendy’s I heard you making a loud slurping noise in the toilet next to mine.  In response to my ‘Hannah, what are you doing?’ question, you replied ‘I’m drinking toilet water.’  I was trying to pull up my panties with one hand and bang on your door w/the other when you sauntered out holding a Frosty cup and straw and said, ‘Freaked you out, didn’t I, Mom?’  That same evening at HEB, you lifted up my skirt and applied a package of frozen sausage to my backside after I failed to react quickly enough to your grabbing my wrist after you’d put your cold hand in the freezer.

I turned on the local Christian station to hear David Jeremiah preach one morning in December, as is my custom, but the sermon was a few minutes late.  ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ was playing.  You asked if we could turn the station; I said no, my favorite program was coming up, and it was about Jesus.  And I asked, ‘Hannah, don’t you want to learn about Jesus and be a Christian when you grow up?’  To which you sighed, rolled your eyes and replied, ‘Not if I have to listen to this music.'”

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The early letters were short and easily inserted into boxes with the ornaments.  I wrapped each with the girl’s name, and the year.

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Later letters were longer and needed to be inserted into large envelopes.  I have no idea what’s in 2004 other than it was the year David died.  One of the most bittersweet aspects of any family history is the people not there to enjoy recounting it.

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Recent years – like 2011 here – had to be spiral bound.  Rachel opened only a few tonight.  I believe years 2012 – 2015 are in binders.

I’m still a little surprised they never discovered what we were doing, and/or that none of our friends that knew told them.

So thank you, friends that kept the secret.  Tonight was fun!  Who knows….maybe I’ll write you a letter about it.

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Crazy Wonderful: Operation Christmas Child 2016

So, so many generous friends this year – I won’t hold you in suspense.

We filled 921 shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child this year!  And it’s most definitely a “we.”  You know who you are.

And let me apologize in advance for not having pictures of everyone who helped.  We were just crazy busy.
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There’s the count by age and gender, as verified by the independent auditing company of Hannah & Miriam, LTD.

Biggest change this year – thanks to Rachel moving out – I got my own Samaritan’s Purse room.

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We went from this unholy mess piled in the game room….

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….to this former bedroom featuring four rolling steel shelves, a work table and a leftover dresser.  Woot!  It’s essentially the storage room.  While packing – if we run low on an item – we go look to see what else we can use.  If you sent bags, cars, clothes, lip balm, toys, etc. – it was stored in here 

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We could actually move around in the game room (packing room.) 

We started with toddlers this year because we had some fantastic (but oddly-shaped) sippy cups taking up a lot of room.  They don’t stack.  Plus we had a wealth of toddler clothes.  So toddlers first.

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Abby and Emily filled the toddler sippy cups with candy.  At $7/box to ship, no container goes empty!  It was delightful to watch the girls try to perfect balance the number of candy pieces, flavor of candy and even the color spectrum in each sippy cup.  I would have been grabbing a handful of whatever and shoving it in.

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The girls’ mom (Amy – background), grandma (Kathy – foreground) and friend Christine spent three hours on Saturday organizing toys and removing packaging – true thankless dirt work. 

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When she left, Christine mercifully took a Suburban-full of packaging trash with her.   We literally run out of trash can room.

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Labeling lids is not really exciting, but very necessary – thanks, Mitchell! 

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Julia and I spent about five hours each one weekend labeling lids and getting boxes ready to be filled.  We had two main shoe box styles (both Sterlite 6-qt., but slightly different lids – go figure.)  The pre-labeled (age, gender, taped down) boxes and lids had to be separated.  I stored boys/girls age 5 -9  in her room, much to her delight.  “Please, Mom, fill my room with more shoe boxes and lids.”  I’m sure she said that.  I’m sure she did.

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Next load of toddler sippy cups, filled by the fabulous Kay and Keith.  The cups were so, so cute.

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Finally we started bagging candy.  Sharon, Angie and Lorraine are now ziplock zealots.
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Our youngest candy bagger – Lane, age 5 months, who brought his mom Jennifer along.  I called dibs on rocking him.  I just found his left-behind rattle; it’s a wonder we didn’t pack it.

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The secret weapon on this year’s packing:  My 19-year0old visiting niece Miriam, recently moved to Lockhart (about 75 minutes away.)   Super organized, a hard worker and young legs!  She even helped me clean up after all the packing was done.

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More “imported” help – Chandler, grandson of Judy, visiting from Georgia.  He ran boxes downstairs umpteen times.

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Fill up, Phyllis!

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550 Beanie Babies bagged and ready for boxes!  Each toddler got one, plus many of the older kids.

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for the first time in a long time – every toddler and middle child got a full-sized box of crayons, too.  Lisa  – Please thank “Uncle Charles” for that great HEB employee discount! 

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When toddlers were done, we switched to the older kids, ages 10 – 14.  Special addition this year – “Days for Girls” kits.  (The wonder that is) Amy organized a summer sewing class for girls at church with adults helping to make these 63 awesome gifts.  Thanks to everyone who donated cotton cloth!

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Playing cards, notebooks, sewing kits, lip balm – we had great stuff for older kids.

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As we “switched out the room” between ages, of course the clothes changed – though the tub labeling remained the same.

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Neighbor Jean (background) and friend Steve made a great dent in older kids’ boxes.  Speaking of Jean….she volunteers at the Veteran’s Hospital.  Any liquids given to us like shampoo or conditioner – I give them to her to take there, since Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes can’t contain liquids.  And next year – no candy or toothpaste (boo.)

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The “Word on Wednesday” class to which I’ve belonged for years came over to do “pizza and packing…”

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….but the early part of the evening morphed into the only true break in the action all week as we waited for the air conditioning repairman to finish upstairs so we could get going.  Yes, my family and friends in the north, air conditioning is a thing in South Texas in November.  Lorraine, Sharon, Angie, Alison and Kristi were good (“glowing”) sports.

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Miriam devised a new packing method.  Instead of each person walking around the room and filling  a single box, she lined up 6 or 8 at a time and each person grabbed the same number of fillers like soap’n’washrag, Matchbox car, etc. 

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Boxes packed with the big stuff upstairs came downstairs for fit’n’finish.  The fit’n’finish table is hugely important.  That’s the last quality check, plus the box is finished off with “littles” like a metal spoon, little balls, fingernail clippers, pencils, pens, erasers, pencil sharpeners, beads, candy, a toothbrush, etc.  Shout out to Paula here, who works all year on bagging cloth (shirts, socks, wash cloths, etc.) that we get.  Again – thankless dirt work.  I am the president of her fan club,  and that of her daughter….

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….Kelley, who works all year creating re-formed crayon treats for the boxes.  This year, Kelley discovered she was a most excellent rubber-band affixer.  Two per box. Kelley!

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Friends Jo and Steve drove in from Houston to do “whatever” which turns out to be a heckuva lot of packing, and a lot of lid labeling.

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Teresa came by after work (AT&T) to fit’n’finish.  I’m sure she was tired.  She does her own boxes, too.

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Pat has one of the most willing spirits I’ve ever known.  If she can help, she will help.
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Finished boxes waiting to be banded and stroked.  Note the colorful lids on some of them.  I want to find more of those next year.

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Completely finished boxes (banded and stroked) ready to head out the door, which they needed to do, because we ran out of room to walk.  Blessedly – each time the stacks got unruly, someone would come along and offer to take them to the collection center (Shearer Hills Baptist Church.)  Talk about God’s timing.

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Watch your step, Kristi!  Carrying boxes down our front steps is no fun.

 

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Christine took two loads to Shearer Hills, and unloaded one by herself.  If I had a medal, I’d give it to her.

The Last Night – Thursday, November 3

We had sooooo much packing help.  So much wonderful, enthusiastic, funny, generous packing help.  We finished Thursday night instead of Saturday morning, as has been our custom.
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Kiddos Chase, Travis, Abby, Emmy and Mabry made a great game of chucking last-minute-made candy bags into the tub. 
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The last three boxes coming down – thanks, Meredith and Amy!

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Now let’s get those last boxes out to Robbin’s van and Kathy’s SUV.  Young legs – I love young legs.  I could have plopped down in the yard and fallen over asleep, but these kiddos were racing each other.

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Five at a time – way to go, Jay!

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Pile them high, Emmy!

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The last boxes out the door…at this point, we still didn’t know how many we’d done.  We had the stroke sheet, but nobody had counted the total.  (clockwise from top left  – Mabry, Travis, Sabrina, Abby, Elizabeth, Emmy and Chase.  I rocked most of these kids in the nursery, and I can’t wait to see how they rock the world.)

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And finally…….all the boxes at the Shearer Hills collection center, ready to go to the warehouse, then onto to Dallas and then to….where?  We don’t know.  God does.  That’s what matters.  Generous friends have been donating shipping money, which is much appreciated.  Each box costs $7 to ship.

I confess Lois and I have each already bought a full shopping cart at Target (70% off Dollar Spot, plus my Red Card discount or her employee discount) for 2017 boxes.  Lisa told me wash cloths are coming my way for 2017 boxes, too.  That’s wonderful!   How many boxes will we do in 2017?  We never aim for a number.  Never.  We do as many as we’re supposed to do.

And this year, we were supposed to do 921.

If you sent stuff, if you sent shipping money, if you collected hotel soap, if you brought over leftover Halloween candy, if you packed, if you lugged boxes, if you hauled off trash – thank you!

You know who you are and you know what you did.

And it was crazy wonderful.

 

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Catching Up – 2015 Operation Christmas Child Shoe Boxes: 602, Whoo-Whoo!

Thisreminds.me had some technical hiccups last year, so I created a temporary blog to capture 2015 Operation Christmas Child joy.  But now Thisreminds.me is back in business – and my game room is piling up with donations (yeah!) so I’m transferring the blog over.

Here we go:

My regular blog “This Reminds Me” is down for a bit of maintenance.  I wanted to recount the joy and wonder of this year’s Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child journey, so this temporary outbuilding will have to suffice for awhile.

There’s no way to thank everyone involved.  You know who you are, and you know why you do what you do.  Some of the most generous people do not want to be mentioned.  Again, you know who you are.

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My friend Paula came over mid-year to help make sense out of the boxes and bags piling up in the game room.  She and her daughter Kelley do 99% of the dirt-work cloth bagging (T-shirts, wash rags, etc.) so she took a lot home when she left.   Many friends and I buy all year long (Hello Target Dollar Spot 70% off!), and dear friend Lisa in Houston is the Queen of Online Bargain Hunting, so it just piles up.  BTW – Lisa has already purchased 5,650 ziplock bags for next year!  Yes, she’s amazing.

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When Paula returns the material – miraculously, it’s all bagged and tagged by item description, age and gender – truly a godsend.

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Paula’s daughter Kelley works all year melting and re-forming crayons into beautiful new crayons and small toys for the children receiving boxes.  She’s also our #1 candy bagger.  If you have broken crayons, we’d love to have them! 

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The saint that is Amy H came over to help organize.  There are few people I would allow into our game room when it’s in this shape.  Takes experience (and a strong stomach.)  Really, it’s a horror.  Amy also cut labels, brought over other kids from church to help, stopped by with lunch and…..

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….led the charge in her Sunday School class to buy 30 deflated soccer balls and pumps for boys ages 10 – 14.  We’ve never had soccer balls before.  So cool!  You know the boys are going to love them.

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Her kiddos stuffed 300 bears into baggies one Sunday afternoon as we waded through the piles.  Lois’ and Julia’s rooms turn into staging/stuffing/holding areas.  They’re good-natured until they literally can’t walk among the clutter, but by then – we’re ready to pack.

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Toothpaste, anyone?  We try to take all of it out of packaging so save room.  Julia and Mabry filled an entire black trash bag with empty boxes.

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Eventually, we get items organized by age and gender to make packing easier.  I try to throw away all excess packaging and boxing all the way because we literally run out of trash space.

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Lots of Boy 5 – 9 clothes this year, plus some interesting puzzles for older kids.

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We had a wide variety of water bottles and small Tupperware-type containers this year, plus a few small novelty lunch boxes, each of which we filled with candy before packing in shoe box.  At $7@box shipping – nothing goes empty! 

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Sippy cups for toddlers, all candy-stuffed.  So cute!

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Hats off to Lisa, who knitted (and bagged!) hundreds of beautiful caps, and Sue, who donated many more.

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Samaritan’s Purse has told of many children able to go or return to school because they got a pencil in their shoe box.  Each of our shoe boxes had at least two or three pencils, plus a sharpener.  Many of the older kids’ boxes had mechanical pencils. 

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300 pairs of sunglasses!

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400+ individually, doubled-bagged (to keep the soap smell away from the candy) washrags and soap.  If you travel, we’d love to have your unused hotel soaps.  In their Facebook feed this year, a now-adopted Russian orphan talked about the washrag he got in a shoe box one year, “When I got a washcloth in my shoebox I actually thought it was my own personal towel! It was very special because I was the only one who could use it. It was my own personal thing — something that I didn’t have before.”  Really – if you can save some hotel soap, we can use it.

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Toy cars!  Wow, these are wonderful.  Boys of all ages love them, and they fit so nicely.  Plus toys are always our sticking point.  Whenever anyone asks, “What do you need,” my answer is very often “toys,” plus “money for candy and shipping.”  Well, if you ask – I’m going to tell you!

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Tables up, stuff under them, stuff downstairs, stuff in the hallway, pre-labeled boxes in Julia’s and Lois’ rooms (thanks to friends who came over and did nothing but label boxes) – ready to pack.

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Among our first packers – Dawn and Jill, two of Julia’s elementary school teachers (and some of the nicest people you’d ever meet.)

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The awesome “Women on Wednesday” class of which I’ve been a part for years packed 120 boxes.  Special kudos to Sharon (left) who came back Saturday and worked feverishly for five hours on her very tired feet.

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You have to love people like Sue that find stuff for the boxes all year long, then come over to pack after a very long day at work.

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Huge thanks to friend Amy K for dinner Wednesday night, and breakfast Saturday morning.  Just not having to worry with that was a much-appreciated help.

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Once the boxes were packed upstairs, young legs brought them downstairs for fit’n’finish.  Julia’s joy at one more interruption to homework was often evident.

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We piled packed – but unfinished – boxes in the dining room.

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The fit’n’finish (dining room) table – critical!  Just because a box is packed doesn’t mean it’s ready to go.  It needs little things inserted into it – a comb, a pack or two of Kelley’s crayons, maybe beads or small toys, definitely two or more small bags of candy. Plus it has to be rubber-banded, and stroke-tallied. 

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With so many people doing fit’n’finish at different times, it was just easier to write down the instructions.

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Johnnie – a fit’n’finsh master….

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Travis with dad Jay – a fit’n’finish novice.

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I took four days of vacation so folks could come over during the day.  Phyllis came over mid-day Thursday and finished dozens of boxes, plus took a huge load for later delivery to church.

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This year – knowing we were going to have an unusual number of boxes and Keith was out of town – I really had to worry about transport logistics.  I asked friends from church who helped pack to please take boxes with them.  The very first boxes to leave the house went with friend Jenae on Wednesday night.  She moved items to the back seat so we could efficiently stuff her trunk.

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Good-natured Sandra also filled her trunk and back seat, even though she was going out of town soon.

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Saturday morning crunch time.  More than 300 boxes had left the house, but we had more than 100 awaiting fit’n’finsh, plus many more to pack.  (l-r) Kelley, Angela and Paula – first on the scene, and bagging more candy.  We used $300+ worth of half-price, post-Halloween candy.

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Bart-man to the rescue for final candy packing!  He’s the Tootsie Roll King!

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The wonderful young legs carrying out boxes to cars.  Julia’s friend Emily has helped in years past, too. 

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Jim and Sherry responded to my plea to come get boxes.  It helps to have no pride (and have really good friends.)

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Done!  Friend Amy K and her daughter Heidi were incredible Saturday morning.  Amy came to help pack – took an entire carload of boxes to church – then returned with Heidi to finish, and take another carload.  Unbelievable.  No glamour here, just plain hard work.  And how many boxes did we finish?  Their hands tell the story – 6-0-2.  

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Hannah’s stroke sheet gives a little more detail.  We had more stuff for toddlers this year than in all other years combined.  We packed their boxes – and the older kids’ boxes – first so we could then make room for ages 5 – 9.    

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The funny thing was – friends took all our boxes,  We took none to church on Sunday morning!  So we just helped unload people’s cars.

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All 602 boxes are either in or one their way to processing in Dallas.  And from there -God knows.  Literally.  He knows. 

Thank you to everyone who shopped and stuffed, carried and counted, donated and delivered.

602….WHOO-WHOOOOOOOOO!

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Informe de Progresso 2015

We got our summer vacation in early – a weekend in Nueva Progresso, Mexico, where we’ve gone several times before.  Yes, we know about all the travel warnings, but (1) we’ve never had a problem there and (2) we cross early and leave by 4 p.m.  We are not looking for trouble and blessedly, it has not found us.  We had a muy bueno time!
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On the way to Progresso – I think this is the single most (or perhaps doubly most) puzzling/interesting convenience store bathroom I’ve ever visited.  Enter as strangers – leave as the most intimate of friends.

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The girls and I share a Vera Bradley obsession, as proven by our weekender bags.

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The Rio Grande river was “up,” thanks to the recent Texas rains. 

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“Mom’s taken this same picture of us forever.  Just humor her and get it over with.”  True.

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Entering Progresso – The “Arizona Restaurant Bar” always makes me think of my strict teetotaler Aunt Zum, whose given name was Arizona. 

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We saw even more dental office signs than in years past, if that’s possible.  Keith talked to a snow bird whose wife was getting $2,000 worth of dental work done.  It was priced at $20,000 in Michigan.

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We always pick up a few Z-packs as souvenirs.  For the first time – Border agents opened our bags on re-entry to the states.  And somebody behind us set off the radiation detector, so out came an agent with a portable Geiger counter.  Turns out my formerly-broken left wrist is still carrying a bit of x-ray residue.

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“Real” Ray-bans for $5?!  Si!

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Lots of pretty ceramics – wouldn’t this look beautiful in a nursery?

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Glassware styles change frequently in Progresso, but this colored bubble pattern has been out several years.  Every year, I pick up a glass, then put it back.  I would so, so love to have a set of glasses, but have nowhere to put them.  Good thing there are no colored bubble plates, because I’m not sure I could resist.  There is no such thing as too many plates.

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Solid assortment of pewter this year, and no real weirdness – no horse heads, golf clubs or Greek god profiles. 

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An 10-piece $100 pewter wedding gift like nothing you could get in San Antonio for that amount.

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I fell in love with these metallic gift bags.  I stood drooling at them until I thought of two “girl gifts” I knew I’d be buying. 

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One of our favorite stores – the Crystal Shop – will transform any of their rocks or fossils into jewelry or a paperweight. 

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Most of the knock-off purses were “MK” (Michael Kors) this year, plus the eternal Coach.  The girls really aren’t into knock-offs any longer.  They carry more Vera and Mexican craft purses….

 

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….like this pretty pastel number Hannah snapped up.

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Lois and I decided we must have this small, jewel tone pop-up Day of the Dead decoration.

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Lots more pastels in the decorative crosses.  Loved this one, but couldn’t justify buying.

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Julia and Hannah adore Kinder eggs, and they’re banned here because people don’t have the common sense not to give a toddler candy with a swallow-size toy inside.  Each bought a box of 12, and Julia’s were gone in two days.

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No adult beverages sold during election weekend.  Sigh.  So….

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……that explains our drink choices at our very favorite restaurant – Angel’s.  Every family should have a restaurant that is “theirs.”  For us, it’s Angel’s.  And we don’t have to skimp.  Prices are very reasonable – no shooting dirty looks at the girls if they order soft drinks  instead of water.  And the food – awesome!

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Queso Fundido – One of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever put in my mouth.  Bits of tender steak, peppers, onions and seasonings swimming in a wonderful cheesy broth cooked and served in a heated stone bowl.  Scoop some into a tortilla and go ahhhhhhh.   Super picky Julia discovered she liked it, and even asked for seconds.  That n-e-v-e-r happens. 

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Quite possibly the best tacos I have ever devoured.  Five tacos stuffed with bits of braised beef, avocado and white cheese with onions (grilled and chopped) and cilantro on the side, plus charro beans and Spanish rice – $8.  Hannah got a chicken dish lathered in guacamole that I “helped” her with.

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 Pedicures for everyone – but no polish for Keith.  He’s just not in touch with his feminine side.  Sorry, Caitlyn.  We’ve tried a few different places at $10@, but this place – Erica’s – was $12@, and worth every converted peso.  I kept their card because we want to make sure we come here again.  If I were rich, I’d have a pedicure every week.  A pedicure and a good book is the world’s best therapy.

Now we settle in for the long, hot summer after one really cool trip.

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