Of pumpkins and leaves and sharks . . .

The splendor of fall . . .

Brandon's first "U-Pick" pumpkin experience . . . looks like he figured it out!

I have a continuing love affair with fall.  I really love everything about it, except the shortening days.  I love the tastes.  All things pumpkin and apple and cranberry—yum!  I love the smells.  Cinnamon-infused apple pies baking, leaves burning, candle-lit pumpkins slowly cooking, soups simmering, caramel apples.  I love the sights.  Dressed up New England homes with fall decor producing fabulous curb appeal, leaves changing colors daily, late afternoon "plugged in" vibrant trees being backlit by the setting sun, creative displays made with most things natural. I love fall weather.  Warm enough to be out comfortably but chilly enough to wear sweaters, perfect for biking, hiking, or just taking a stroll.  

These are just a few of the reasons we've delighted in hanging out in New England these past couple of weeks.  Due to an international conference being postponed, we have had the rare privilege of actually being home two weekends in a row and we've tried to make the most of it.  Now, how we define "most of it" is vastly different for Paul than it is for me.  My imagination is immediately filled with visions of a clean and purged attic, decluttering and ordering each room of our house; making batches of jam; cleaning pantries and freezers by cooking up or throwing out.  My heart races just considering the options.

Paul?  Not so much.  “Make the most of it” for him would be: Relax.  Recreate.  wRite.  And so we divided and conquered, each lending support to the other when needed.

And we got a lot done.  The final draft of our book on marriage is coming to completion after hours and hours of reworking, rewriting, and incorporating input from others.  We're excited about this hopefully helpful tool, which we anticipate being available in the next couple of months.

And our house has less stuff and more appeal.  Many bags to Goodwill later, we're both enjoying our home more.   It makes me feel better to be in spaces more organized and simplified.  And when Mama's happy . . .  :)

This unusual spate of at-home days has been punctuated by some highlights, besides the magnificence of fall.  

One highlight was going to Gillette Stadium with our dear friend Kara Mankins and watching the Patriots play well against the Broncos.  Great game.  Great time.  Our study with the Patriot couples has been exciting, with between 22 and 32 coming each week.  We've had some great interaction on God's prescription for love and we're so thankful for the potential of this ongoing study.  The women's study using Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas is also going well, with 18 women out most weeks.  If you haven't gotten this book yet, you should.  It's very provocative.

At Gillette with Kelly, Case, and Kara, happy after a great win over the Broncos.

The Pats women's study says farewell to Margaret Austin and Adam, as her husband gets the nod from Carolina.  We all hated to see Margaret and Thomas go.  :(

The next highlight began with an email from Derek and  Julie asking if we could find housing for a Sicilian neurosurgeon who was coming to Boston to do a fellowship at Brigham and Women's Hospital and to work with Dr. Benjamin Warf at Children's Hospital.  She had trained at the Mbale CURE Hospital under Dr. John Mugamba, who had been trained by Dr. Warf when he was the lead neurosurgeon at CURE Mbale.  We invited her to stay with us for her six-week stint in the states, and she arrived the 14th of October.  Dr. Vita Stagno has been with us for just over two weeks now and we're having a delightful time with her.  Her age (29) and her size (tiny) all seem to make her an unlikely candidate for a neurosurgeon, but in four months, she will complete her training and begin looking for a job.  We've loved talking with her about relationships, faith, life in America, life in Sicily—and are so thankful the Lord has brought our paths together.  It just feels like we have a daughter back in our midst.

Vita is enjoying her American experience at the hospital and in our kitchen. 

One of the highlights would hardly qualify as a "head-liner," except to this grandma, her daughter, and her grandson.  This will be entered in our memory banks as "The day God sent a shark from heaven."  As the story goes, Kari decided to acknowledge Brandon's current fascination with sharks by dressing him as one for Halloween.  She saw the costume at the online site of a beloved and frequented store, but the cost ($25.00) was more than she could justify for such a purchase.  The shark was only available at the online site, and not being carried in the store.  I told her not to worry; I could either make one (as I had years earlier for one of her pals) or hopefully find it for less than $25.00.  Several days later, I went into the Nashua branch of the store, and immediately moved towards the display of costumes all their stores were carrying.  And there, hanging in front of all the racks of the standard costumes, was one shark.  Adrenaline now pumping, I reached for the lone shark to check its size, and yes, it was a 2-3 —just the size we needed.  The sign above the costumes announced "25% off all costumes", but there was no price on the shark.  I quickly made my way to the young, 20-something-year-old cashier and asked her to check the price.  I told her it looked like it said $10, but I wasn't sure.  Smiling at me with a "your eyes aren't as sharp as they once were" look, she read the tag and said, "That actually says “S10,” which is the stock number."  :)  Of course.  But then, she scanned it and said, "You're not going to believe this, but it's scanning $1.41!"  I quickly said, "Well, before you find out that's a mistake, would you sell it to me?"  :)  She said, "That's really what it says, so it's yours for $1.41."

Now I know that's a really "small" thing, and as the world goes, it ranks in the lower percentile of importance, but for us, it was a potent reminder that God is in the details of life.  He is personally involved with us.  He cares enough about us . . . to send a shark from heaven.  

The shark costume was sent to California the next day and was a huge hit with Brandon.  

We did renew our close relationship with Logan airport on Oct 19 when we flew to Rome, GA, to speak at Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church. Nate and Jeannie King were again our hosts and it was a gift to all of us to be together.  How we love this precious family!   And their church family, which is always so warm and embracing.  We also consulted with Kings and several other couples about family ministries in other contexts Friday night and all day Monday. and that's always energizing to us.

Senior pastor Dr. Philip May and his wife, Delayne, and 4/6th of the King family grab a moment at the end of the Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church service.

Sunday night we had the privilege of speaking on relationships to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at University of Georgia.  We LOVED that.  It was so encouraging to chat with several couples who are committed to being in God-honoring relationships and to get a sense of how God is using FCA at that great school.  It was also a treat to have dinner with Jill Perry, the FCA director at UGA, who is also a close friend of our Lisa's, and quickly becoming a close friend of ours.  She's a great lady.  

The remnant of the FCA gathering at UGA.

We've just returned from speaking on Long Island this past weekend.  The Church on the Sound and Christ Church teamed up to host a marriage conference all day Saturday (Oct. 27), and we felt it was a day well-spent.  Great people—with a great vision for building in to marriages—put the event together and we were just so energized by being with them.  Several of the attendees were engaged to be married and were so grateful for teaching that will helpfully get them off on the right foot.  We spent Sunday reconnecting with longtime CBS camper-grown-into-staffer Chelsea Paskvan in Manhattan, and were able to see "Mary Poppins" on Broadway before “getting out of dodge” before Hurricane Sandy hit.

We're now safely snuggled in our home as the storm rages outside, taking with it the last vestiges of fall and a whole lot more.  How thankful we are for a God who cares about beautiful fall colors and great marriages, and who sends friends from Sicily and sharks from heaven.

Loving the feel of those slimy pumpkin seeds...

The finished carved pumpkins, by Brandon and Grandpa Dan.

Yes, we know this is indoctrination . . . and we make no apologies.  Next blog, he'll be a shark.