Friday, November 30, 2007

A Quick Break...


I'm just taking a quick break to share a picture of my brother and I. This is Joel in his new fireman's uniform.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beyond just "in love"

Every moment I could spare was spent reading just one more chapter. Although I'd seen the movie 4 times, the story came alive once more as I eagerly followed the twists and turns. The sadness and tension, joy then despair - would the resolution ever come?! Yet, as I reached the last page of "North and South" (a great book!) I didn't want it to end. Was it really over so soon? The breathtaking climax, the beautiful plea... Ahh... With a happy sigh I closed the book. All was right in the world. The couple was in love, and I just knew they'd spend their whole life together.

However, I didn't want it to end right there. Now that they knew they loved each other, what was going to come next? How would they get on as husband and wife? What was the wedding like? How did they live their daily life, and how many children did they have? If you look back on the great classics, it's amazing to see how many of them end in such a way. Finally, after so many ups and downs, the hero and heroine come to their senses. The lovely proposal, the tender embrace and - the book is done. It just seems too perfect, and you dreamily wonder how your romance will be...

What these books don't usually portray is the important next step: the marriage and the life beyond. More than just being "in love", the new life together takes commitment and perseverance. Love has to be a choice when faced with sickness, hardship, and the demands of a family.

The books make it look so easy. I know, daily life isn't so exciting; most people wouldn't want to read about daily cares or joys. Even those that do go into life after the wedding can only present one view of the story, and understandably so. So, I limit the amount of good, clean romances I read, just because they present an incomplete picture and can make me feeling longings or discontent.

As girls, we like the rosy tales of romance. We spin dreams of the day when we'll be in love, get engaged, have a fairy-tale wedding and be granted a cooing baby of our own. It's fine to dream about good things, but we must be prepared. Love will be wonderful - but there will also be hard decisions and lots of waiting involved. Being engaged will be a dream come true - but the proposal probably won't sound like it does in the movies or off the pages of a book. The wedding will be a most special day - but not everything will go according to plan. Children will be a joy and a blessing - but there will be times of sleepless nights and tantrums. Am I trying to shatter castles in the sky? No, I'm trying to be realistic. There will be times of unceasing bliss, but there will also be times of trial.

I, as much or more than you, am ever so looking forward to being a wife and mother. Sometimes my head gets lost in the clouds of "one day..." but I'm trying to prepare practically. Lord willing, our stories won't end with the first declaration of love. No, they will have just begun.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cute Conversation

My two youngest siblings, Andrew and Esther, are known to be rather goofy at times. Here is an example of an Andrew and Esther conversation.

Andrew: "Esther, do you know who made that beautiful trail through the pine grove?"

Esther: "Yeah, I did."

Andrew: "Did you really? It's really nice!"

Esther: "Yep...um, where is it?"

Sibling Spotlight: Micah Nathaniel

Micah is the second-born of our family and when I was younger I used to consider him a trial I had to put up with. But then, I wasn't the sweetest little sister at the time. If he annoyed me then I was sure to give it right back to him. I'm very ashamed of what my behavior was then, and though our relationship now is not like that, it's rather strained. We have a lot of love to work on and it's coming little by little.

Let's see, about Micah...He has always loved working on cars, tractors and anything that had a engine. He just reveled in the grease, enjoying the puzzle of taking a car apart and being able to put it back together.
In his free time, you could almost be sure to find him in the carport, sitting in the engine part of a vehicle or working on one of his tractors.
Of all the tractors he had, there is one that I distinctly remember and we called it Old Yeller. :)
It was one of the fastest tractors I ever drove (and he only let me once). =)


When we got along, we had lots of fun. Once, he had borrowed our uncle's four-wheeler and he let me ride with him on the back. Riding with Micah was fun because he went fast. ;) Anyway, it had rained and we were riding down in one of our muddy spots. It was a circle that was practically a muddy sinkhole, unless you rode fast enough not to get stuck. We kept going around and around the circle and then he made a sharp turn and...over we went into the mud.

Micah has a very fun-loving personality and enjoys a good joke or prank. He can make really goofy faces and makes laughter very infectious. Micah got married in March of last year and has a sweet wife and darling son. Amanda is very fun to be with and I'd known her for several years before they became engaged. We all took piano lessons from the same teacher, and our lessons were back and back, so we would get to see her often. She is extremely good with children and is making a wonderful mother. Their son, Patrick David, was born in February of this year. He's a precious little bundle.
Thank y'all for being patient. I know this post was a long time coming. I hope it was enjoyed.
God bless,
Miriam Rebekah


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Frontier Day 2007

We had a wonderful time at this year's Frontier Day, despite the rain. It was a great time to share with old friends and have an excuse to spend the day in old-fashioned attire!

The Lofgren ladies; we wore the dresses Anna made last year. Anna wore the big hoop and Mom wore a smaller one. We couldn't entice Jubilee into one. =) Anna's niece Danielle wore a small one, but we neglected to get a picture of her.

Boys in a treehouse.

Anna and Miriam playing their flutes with the singing.

Lovely young ladies!

Men at work (in an outside kitchen). =)

A girl group picture! It was so much fun wearing the hoops! Though Miriam's is making her look slightly fat. ;)

I'm Thankful For...

This has been a wonderful year! I never cease having something to be thankful about.

I'm thankful for... my family, the Hart/Mangum clan. We're an interesting family and the family gatherings are always rather noisy, but we have tons of fun and laughter together.

...for my parents. I wouldn't be here without them and I wouldn't be who I am without them.

...for my brothers. Though I used to think that they were necessary evils, I have since changed my opinion. :) Growing up definitely gives you a different view on things. They are great guys!

...for my sister. Though sharing a small room is sometimes hard, I'm glad that I even have a sister to share it with. Love you, Esther!

...for all the wonderful friends God has given me in the last few years, both old and young, who have helped me grow up and become more of a young lady.

...for my bosom friend, Anna. Having Anna as a friend has helped me more than I can began to tell. Anna has taught me how to sew, dance and recently helped me get a start on scrapbooking.
Anna has always been an example of maidenhood and Godly purity to me.

I'm thankful for the chance to work with all my close friends in a musical play. I've always enjoyed singing and to get the chance is a great blessing!

I'm thankful for the opportunities I have at music. Being one of my chief joys in life, I'm thankful for all I can get of it. Thanks Mother and Daddy for all my lessons!

More than anything, I'm thankful for the life that God has given me to give Him. Living is one of the greatest gifts God has given us and I thank Him for it often!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Miriam Rebekah

Truly Thankful

All throughout the Bible, we're told to be thankful for all things and give thanks in all circumstances. Though we should remember to express thankfulness all year long, Thanksgiving gives us a special time to really look back over the year and give thanks for all that God has done.

I am so blessed. To be given the family and life I've been given, to have all kinds of comfort and joys... Yet too often I forget to focus on the blessing and instead see all the stress. However, I want to focus o the abundant blessings God's given me and cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.

First and foremost, I'm thankful for God's faithfulness. As I get older and uncertainty looms, it's so comforting to know that god is faithful. He's proved it time and again; He's shown me that I don't have to fear - I need to trust. I'm thankful to my Father for choosing me and welcoming me into His family. Without Him, I couldn't face another day.

I'm so thankful for my wonderful family. I'm so blessed to be a member of the Lofgrens! Yes, we have our quirks and no, we're not perfect. However, I'm so thankful for their love and support, advice and help. Without them, I'd be a very different person. I'm so thankful for all the time I've been able to spend with them this week!

I'm thankful that I'm home educated. I'm thankful for all the flexibility and ability to learn that it's given me. All the subjects I've studied over the past 12 years have opened my mind to explore a plethora of topics. All of the books my parents gave me the freedom to read allowed me to dream big and find friends around the world and through the ages. All of the activities and lessons I've taken have enriched my lives in so many ways. And yes, I am thankful to be a senior and that this spring I'll be able to graduate and explore new possibilities.

I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to teach ballet and direct plays, using the artistic ability God's given me. My 35 students of The King's Praise Ballet have brought me so much joy as I see them open up and dance for the Lord. The excitement on their faces as they finally "get it" is priceless. My little girls in their graceful attempts to be ballerinas are precious, and my older girls with their quick learning and ability are so enjoyable to work with. I'm also thankful for the new play God gave me and is allowing me to direct this Christmas. Although it's been really rough sometimes with everything else going on, it is a joy to see everything begin to come together. I'm thankful for all the families that are investing time to bring "Mary - Chosen By God" to life.

I'm thankful for all my friends near and far. My close friends that I get to see often give me encouragement and the fellowship I need to go on. My "sisters states away" send love and encouragement my way even though our daily life is far removed from each other. I'm thankful for all of you that read Maidens of Worth. I'll probably never even meet most of you, yet you've blessed my heart through your comments and blogs. You make it worth it to keep writing.

Last but not least, I'm thankful for the simple joys of home: beautiful fall colors, long swirly skirts, cooking, making a home clean, sewing and feeling fabric run through my hands - it quiets my spirit and leaves me refreshed. I'm truly thankful for all the little moments of home. I'm thankful for the beautiful state of Alabama and my home in this valley, Wisteria Pines.

I look forward with a thankful heart to a feast with friends and family tomorrow!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Victorian Dress

For the Nutcracker my dance teacher is putting on this year, I'm playing the role of Clara's mother, Mrs. Stahlbaum. It's been a lot of extra practices and busyness, but it has been somewhat fun. Plus, I get to dress up! It was dress rehearsal last night, so I had to get all prettied up. It turns out that I'm going to have to add royal blue bows to tie in with the other Stahlbaums, but I couldn't resist sharing the pictures my dad took. It's fun to look Victorian!

View from the front. Miriam Lofgren brought the dress home from the mission barrel at her college for me to play dress-up in. Now it actually fits me, and I can put it to good use! I added the ruffle on the bottom so that it would touch the floor and I'm wearing a small hoop skirt. The lace collar was my Grandma Nordholm's, as were the earrings and pin.

Side view; Michele helped me with my hair - I twisted it up, then she curled all the hair hanging down. It was fun how it turned out, because my hair has never curled all that well. Now I know how to do my hair for special occasions!

And a view from the back; the train is really pretty.

It's nice to have a valid excuse to dress up!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sister Cooks

How many sisters can you put to work on one meal?


Evidently quite a few! Luke's Family is here until Saturday and Maria's family was here over the weekend, so I've been enjoying the time with family. Last Saturday we just had to make pasties, our traditional Lofgren favorite. With many hands working, we got 12 pasties into the oven pretty quickly! My sisters are wonderful help in the kitchen when there's a lot of people around.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sibling Snapshots: Little Harts

If you're wondering why my next sibling post is long in coming, it's because I'm having a hard time finding the right words for this certain sibling. I'm working on it, though. For now, I'm going to share a couple of pictures from many years ago.



This picture is about twelve years old. From
left to right: Miriam, Esther, Caleb and Joel.




This is one of my favorites! The things on our heads

are clover patches. We were weeding the garden

and decided to have some fun. :)

Left to right: Micah, Caleb, Miriam, and Joel.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Birthday Miriam Rebekah!


Yes, it's Miriam's birthday! Today she turns 17, so make sure you leave her a comment filled with birthday blessings!

Since it's November 17th and she's turning 17, I thought it would be fun to share 17 special things about my dear friend.

1. She's an amazing musician! She sings sweetly and plays the flute and piano astoundingly well. She's in the homeschool choir, homeschool band, and Montgomery Youth Symphony.

2. At the "old" age of almost 16, she joined my first class in teaching The King's Praise Ballet. Although she started later then most dancers, she's caught on so fast and we've already danced two duets together!


3. She's an accomplished seamstress and cook; I know that when the time comes, she'll run a house wonderfully well.
4. Miriam's a Jane Austen fan, as I am. She's read all the books she can get her hands on and watched all the versions of the movies she can find. Our favorite Pride and Prejudice is the 5-hour A & E version - we've watched it together 2-3 times and with our families more than that!
6. She's not one to be messed with. =) If you ever need to use a knife for something, she usually has one in her purse. :-)
7. She has beautiful, thick, long hair, that she's only cut short once!
8. She's a talented actress, portraying Queen Esther's friend Susan in Esther-Ordinary Faith, Mary in our double monologue, Naomi in Ruth: From Rejection to Redemption, and Mary in the upcoming Mary: Chosen By God.


9. She's a happy camper! We've been on camping trips together almost twice every year since we were 5 years old!
10. Miriam and I have been through our share of escapades. Hiking to our creek with our brothers and getting soaked through and covered with red mud is one of the those memories...
11. She and I do crazy things and ladylike things together - sometimes both at the same time!
12. Miriam has 5 brothers and 1 sister, 2 sister-in-laws, 1 niece, and 2 nephews. The Harts are a wonderful clan!
13. Miriam and I are alike yet different in personality. We compliment each other well and make great soul mates! 14. She doesn't like to talk on the phone (neither do I!) so we email each other sometimes and usually see each other 3 times a week. We always try to squeeze in more time together, however!
15. She loves coffee and dark chocolate. =)
16. For years Miriam was what you might call a "shorty". However, she got a growth spurt when she was 14 and shot up to 5' 7"
17. If I could describe Miriam, I'd say she was:
Musical
Inspiring
Real and down-to-earth
Independent in a good way
Always faithful
Maidenly

Respectful
Exciting
Best friend
Entertaining
Kind
Amazing
Heart-warming

Happy
Astounding
Radiant and pure
Truthful

Happy Birthday my bosom friend! I love you and look forward to all the years we'll have together ahead!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pleasant Perfume


While getting ready for company to come, fill your house with a glorious perfume. It's inexpensive, high-quality, long-lasting, and is guaranteed to make your house smell like a home.

Oh - and did I mention that it's edible?

Don't wait - fill your house with this delectable scent today! Making this special perfume also helps get your house nice and warm.

While we're on the subject of scents, there's a wonderful way to ensure a pleasant bedtime: hang your sheets out on the line to dry! It's free, and the delightful, fresh way they smell beats any scented laundry detergent hands down. There's just something homey about sleeping between freshly line-dried sheets.

For more frugal tips go here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sibling Snapshots: The Point

In Wetumpka, Alabama there's a place where two rivers merge into one. That place is The Point. One of our sibling traditions has been to hike down to it and take a picture.

The first really memorable hike to the Point took place in November of 2003. We'd gone to Frontier Days at Fort Toulouse and after looking at the various exhibits and reenactors, we decided it was time for a hike. We traveled away from the busy hubbub of activity and went off into the woods. There are many paths diverging and converging, but they all lead to the same place. The walk felt really long, but Miriam kept us going, singing a chant she'd made up, "The Tallapoosa and the Coosa make the Alabama..." It was a truly beautiful place! For the above picture, Jubi and I tried to look taller then Miriam, convinced that we'd grow...

We revisited The Point in March 2007, at the end of our semi-annual campout. Still together 4 years later, it felt a bit like deja-vu to be at the same place and take another picture. Jubilee and Elijah had definitely grown, but us three older girls pretty much stayed the same. I'm resigned to the fact that I'll probably be forever an inch shorter then Miriam. =)

At our recent fall camping trip, we continued the tradition of walking to the Point after everything had been packed up. Since we were there, we of course had to take another picture together!

More than a tradition or a place to take a special picture, our walks to The Point have special meaning for another reason. Our walks together have meant spending time together - as siblings.

Friday, November 09, 2007

God's Beauty in Autumn

I so enjoy seeing the changing seasons outside our home in the valley. Spring is my favorite, when all the beautiful flowers burst into bloom. However, Autumn is my second-favorite season, when the leaves change and fill the forest with an array of color. Currently, leaves of red, yellow, green and a mixture of color are making the trees a beautiful sight to see as they spin and wave and show forth God's creative splendor.

"Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for He comes , He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His truth." ~ Psalm 96:12-13

Leaves change slowly sometimes; like us, these leaves are a work in process.

"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." ~ Isaiah 55:12

A bower of beauty, put there by God for us to delight in His awesomeness!

It may be fall, but we still have some chrysanthemums cheerfully blooming outside our front door. They're like little rays of sunshine to brighten our day.

Sibling Spotlight: James Ronald Coble



Ron became my brother-in-law on December 5th, 1997. Always kind and generous, he's been a great addition to our family. After all, you can never have too many brothers (or sisters for that matter) ! Ron quickly became my friend, someone my seven-year-old self loved to play with.

Before Ron and Maria had children of their own, they used to have my siblings and I up to their house (merely 3 hours away) for special visits. I always enjoyed it whenever my turn came. Ron would take us on trips to buy our favorite cereal and special treats. He used to carry me around on his shoulders before I grew too big, and we'd often go to the pond to feed the ducks. He wasn't afraid to play with us either; together we'd chase after the big white goose he'd named "Grace" or play various games or in the tunnel playground at Chuck-E-Cheese. He's also quite an opponent to be reckoned with in card games - you'd better watch out if you're playing Rook with him!

Today Ron has 3 children of his own, and he makes a great daddy. His children love playing with him or just having him around, and he works really hard as an Aflac Insurance agent to support his family. Each time we visit or come to help out, he makes us feel very welcome, buying or making special foods. He's also gracious to loan us his family sometimes for a visit, but always misses them greatly and can't wait to get them back. =)

Ron is a wonderful musician, singing and playing the piano beautifully. He's been a church pianist or organist many times, and can play any hymn - by heart - if you only tell him the number in the Baptist hymnal. Each time he comes to our house, he fills it with beautiful melodies as he gets into the music and plays the piano. It's a great inspiration to watch and listen as he plays. Ron is also an amazing mathematician. After spending years as an accountant, he can often multiply numbers faster than you can enter them into the calculator! He's a great asset to have around when playing Stockmarket! :-)

Fun, generous, tender and kind, he makes a great brother-in-love.

I love you Ron! Thanks for being such a great brother to this family!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Recipe: Crusty Meat Braid

Are you looking for a delicious recipe to make on a cold night? I've got one for you! I enjoy Wednesdays, as I'm usually home all day and have more time to cook. Tonight, I made this recipe, and from the "umms" punctuating the air between bites, I think it was a hit. It also looked really pretty, before it got devoured!

Crusty Meat Braid
Turkey or Beef Filling (see below)
2 to 3 cups whole wheat bread or roll dough
2 TBSP finely grated cheese

Prepare filling as directed. Roll dough into a large rectangle, approximately 9 x 15 inches and 1/4 inch thick. Spread filling lengthwise down the center third of the dough. Cut dough into 1 inch strips on each side of the filling (you'll have two strips on each side). Braid dough over filling, tucking in the last strip. Place on a large, heave baking sheet (or simply roll it out and braid it on the sheet). Let raise 5 to 10 minutes. Bake in a 350* oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Pour remaining soup or sauce over top and sprinkle with cheese.

Turkey Filling
2 cups cooked and cubed turkey or chicken
1 tsp. instant minced onion
1 cup frozen peas and carrots, slightly cooked
1 4-ounce can mushrooms, drained
1 10.5-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
Salt and pepper

Mix first 4 ingredients. Add half the soup to the turkey mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the remaining soup with a few tablespoons water or milk to achieve gravy consistency, and reserve for baked bread.

Beef Filling
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables, cooked
3 TBSP taco or pizza sauce seasoning mix
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Salt and pepper

Cook ground beef and onion; drain well. Stir in mixed vegetables, seasoning mix, and 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve remaining tomato sauce for top of baked bread.

The original recipe comes from Set For Life.

Now, for a few slight changes I made. =) I made the turkey filling, as it's a great way to use up some leftover turkey we had from, yes, last Thanksgiving! I don't care for mushrooms that much, so I omitted them and used cream of chicken soup instead. I also added a tad more meat and veggies then it called for and didn't measure the cheese, but just sprinkled some on top. I've gotten to the point that I'm a bit lax on my measurements, but it hasn't hurt me - yet!

Since we were almost out of bread, I made up a batch of bread, used one loaf's worth for the meat braid and made two more loaves. It's a great way to make two things at once! The bread I make about once-a-week (my family is spoiled now - although we occasionally get store-bought bread when we're busy, it just doesn't taste as good anymore!) is a recipe the Harts shared with me. It's pretty quick and easy and delicious!

1 1/2 cups hot water
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup honey
5 tsp. instant yeast
2 TBSP wheat gluten (optional, but improves texture)
6 to 7 1/4 cups flour (I use mostly fresh-ground wheat flour, with some unbleached white to make a good consistency)
1 TBSP salt

Combine first 5 ingredients. Add yeast, gluten, and 5 cups of flour. Add the salt, then continue to mix adding the flour 1/2 cup at a time.

Knead until you think it's ready (dough will be pretty smooth and elastic and just feel right). Let rise until double (around 1 hour). After rising, form into loaves or other shapes (rolls, bread braids, etc.).

Place in a greased loaf pan. Let rise until at least double in size. (I heat the oven to 150* then turn in off, placing the pans inside the nice warm space. The loaves rise nicely, taking about 30 minutes). Bake loaves at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Makes about 3 large sized loaves.

Enjoy! Happy baking to you!

Monday, November 05, 2007

To Swing...


To Swing;
To soar through the sky,
Your legs giving you
the wings to fly.

To glide;
Onward and upward.
Exhilarated,
And free as a bird.

Pumping and leaning,
Back and forth.
Quickly swinging
To the South and North.

Feeling the rush -
The wind in your hair.
Leaving behind
Your troubles and care.

To twirl;
To go whirling around,
Turning in circles
Above the ground.

To spin;
To twist through the air,
Making revolutions
As fast as you dare.

Twisting and turning,
Feeling your best.
Facing the world
From East to West.

Feeling the thrill -
Excited and dizzy,
Forgetting your worries
While your hair becomes frizzy

To stretch to the sky,
Reaching the clouds,
Or to whirl through space,
Becoming unwound...

To swing.

~By Anna Naomi Lofgren~

Inspired by a trip to a park in Jackson, Mississippi on November 3rd, 2007. Pictures of Esther and Jubilee taken in September 2006.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sibling Spotlight: Maria Victoria


Maria was 12 when I was born. As the eldest among many girls, she certainly had her work cut out as a sister. I quickly latched onto her; she called me her baby, and to me she was like another mother.


As a little girl, I always wanted to be just like Maria. She took voice lessons and practiced at home, so I would walk around and try to sing just like my lovely older sister. She was into artsy things, and I liked the things she enjoyed. She became an accomplished artist; I took art lessons at age eight and always enjoyed drawing on scraps of paper (but never became as good as her, mostly because I didn't continue lessons!) She wrote beautiful poetry; I soon tried my hand at it, composing silly little ditties and writing longer rhyming musings as I grew. Her favorite color was pink; it soon became mine after wavering between it and purple. She always enjoyed dance and longed to take ballet, but never got to far with a teacher; I was blessed to continue dance and develop a passion for it. Now, little Sara (Maria's daughter) and Danielle (Michele's daughter) take dance as well! And as far as voice goes? I now take voice lessons and enjoy them very much!

My memories of the years before Maria's marriage are a bit hazy. I loved my big sister and the times we had together, yet I don't have very specific moments in my memory. Maria was the only one of us to graduate from a private school (though Luke and Miriam attended for a few years) and she found it helpful as an auditory learner. She had some health problems in her late teen years, quite serious at times, but as a carefree five- or six-year-old, I don't remember much more than her feeling a little sick. Only now do I realize how blessed we are that she's recovered from Bechett's.

Maria married Ron and became a Coble on December 5th, 1997. I was happy to have another brother, and soon grew to love the times they'd have me to their house for a few days - it was always bound to be a lot of fun! The really spoiled me, feeding me my favorite food, taking me to Chuck-E-Cheese and making trips to feed the ducks and chase after the big white goose. The trips to Huntsville, Alabama were, and continue to be, very special.


Maria now has beautiful children of her own: James Paul (6), Sara Rose (almost 4), and Elisabeth Maria (almost 1). The cute little ones grow so quickly, and I always enjoy the visits between us, when I can hear the sweet voices and cuddle the cuties close. I've been to her house to help out for a time after each one was born, and cared for the children other times. This practice with children has been fun and I've enjoyed learning from Maria as a mother.

Maria's always been very thoughtful and giving. I still have the letter she wrote me when I was 7 and she was leaving to go to Michigan. She knew I would miss her, so she wrote me a long letter in my journal, one I could read when I was lonely for her. Her gifts have always been uniquely suited for me, generous ones that I can really use. (Thanks again for the lovely ballet bag - I use it twice a week for my dance teaching supplies!) I enjoy talking with my big sister and she usually brings up things I hadn't noticed or seen from that perspective before. We don't always come to the same conclusions, but our talks definitely get me thinking.

Loving, enthusiastic, fun, and full of ideas, she makes a wonderful big sister and friend.

I love you Maria! Thank you for all the good ways you've shaped my life.