Monday, August 31, 2009

Water-logged but lovin' it.

If I'm perfectly honest, I have a few expectations about the end of summer.

1. The mosquitoes will migrate to whatever place they go when they take a vacation from gnawing on my ankles.

2. The temperature may actually drop back into double digits. I'm a dreamer, I know.

3. Once my kids start school, I will not have to don a swimsuit until the following Spring Break, at least.

I realize expectations are not a good thing. They tend to leave you disappointed and, after last weekend, with a three-hour wedgie. I think the technical term is actually 'aquatic device misalignment'.

Every August, Mercy Street takes its mentors and their mentees to a water park to celebrate the new school year. And apparently to force me to leave my expectations at the door.

It's hands-down the kids' favorite event.

Water slides galore, lunch, and that gorgeous sunshine that stays strong in Dallas until about January when it cools off to 85.

There really is no better way to end the summer than a lazy river with a kid who looks forward to Bahama Beach all year.

High fives, all around.

Tee is our uber-comptetitive child and, after racing me down a slide several times, was incredibly discouraged that he couldn't beat my time. "Son, let me help you understand. It's not a question of skill, but of weight. If you drop a pot-bellied pig and a grasshopper at the same time, the pig's just gonna hit the pavement faster. It's a matter of physics." See, that's an example of how I'm always looking for those teachable moments but am clearly not qualified to home-school.

Here Dion is flashin' his famous grin.

Jamie was just excited because he beat me to the last bag of Hot Cheetos.

A fantastic time was had by all and escaping the heat was great! Especially since our air-conditioner decided to take a vacation last weekend and leave us with a sweltering house. That alone was worth all the effort of the swimsuit readjustment required at the end of each and every slide.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I guess I'll take the ham.

So Sadie officially started Kindergarten this morning and I was all ready to snap thousands of pictures of the whole crew in their uniforms.

Unfortunately, my offspring were not cooperating.

Tee was upset because of, um, uh, I have no idea but it was something that paralyzed the corners of him mouth and they would not turn up no matter how much I bribed/cajoled/pleaded/threatened.

Although I did not get a decent shot of all four of my kids in their uniforms,together, I did manage to get a few of Sadie who was clearly upset to be leaving me for her first day.

Clearly not. She doesn't care about me, she just cares about being in school with a pink backpack, pink lunchbox, and pink water bottle. And finally being 100% free to wear the EXACT same outfit as her sister in public.

"Please, girls, smile for mommy."

Now, I'm going out on a limb here and showing you this picture to make two points. One - the kind-of-sad-lamenting-she'll-miss-me face is totally put on for the camera's benefit. Two - it is nearly impossible for me to be out of my running clothes, dressed, with make-up by 7:15.

I ran around the rest of the day looking just like this because my baby is in school and I'm sad AND I have several hours to take care of business and didn't want to waste a moment of it with a shower.

"Ok, big smile for Momma!"

This one is totally put on, too. "Momma, take a picture where I look like I don't want you to take my picture and I'm bored."

"Ok, now I'll real-smile for you. One time. Make it good."



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First day of School, Part I

The sweet...

and the bittersweet.

New things are always a little hard for the G-man. We're praying for him A LOT today.

Sadie's official first day is tomorrow so after the flood subsides, I'll post more then.

Thank you everyone for your great, and might I add nutritious, lunch suggestions. They really were helpful and I'm sure I'll be coming back to them time and time again. Unless tuition happened to pay for a little elf who will flit into my kitchen each morning and prepare yummy lunches for my little turkeys. Yeah, I didn't think so but it a girl can dream can't she?

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's as though summer was ending.

This morning, when my alarm went off at 5:30, and after I cried and lamented the last days of summer, I got up, walked the dog, and came home to make Darius breakfast for his first day of school.

My pancakes may be misshapen, but they're often burnt, too. Luckily, with enough butter and syrup, anything can taste good and Darius has learned the fine art of feeding Scout under the table. I just pretend I don't see so we all feel good about ourselves.

Have I ever told you that I believe exaggeration and snarky comments are the key to life?

Anyway, the rest of the kids don't start school until Wednesday, Sadie Thursday, and we're gearing up for the fall. With a house full of friends, bathing suits, Slurpees, and Twisted Cheetos, today we're having our official last hurrah before summer comes to a close. Between you and me, I'm concerned they're might be an insurrection come Wednesday when we trade the bathing suits for uniforms and backpacks and the Slurpees for carrot sticks. I may not be the most nutritious mom on the block but I have a healthy fear of man and an even healthier fear of a teacher who thinks I don't know how to properly incorporate the food pyramid into a sack lunch.

Honestly, right now, I can't think of anything to make the kids besides peanut butter and jelly so, before I head to the store tomorrow morning, I would love some ideas on what ya'll send your kids for lunch. I know, I know, I can get on a bunch of recipe websites to get ideas but I'd rather hear what real people who may or may not have professional kitchens are packing for their kids! Remember, I have four lunches to make. Every morning.

And my reputation as a mother is on the line.

No pressure, but...


Friday, August 21, 2009

Capitalism does not reign in this family.

So yesterday, after a night of bowling, Tee decided to build a bowling ally in our playroom with plastic cups and a tennis ball on a lane of dvd and Wii game cases. It was pretty ingenious and, as a bonus, I found my Spitfire Grill DVD which I'd been missing all summer. Great movie if you haven't seen it.

I digress. It's a problem, I know.

Anyway, Tee decided he would charge$.05 a turn to bowl at his "Lanes of Thunder" and all the kids got in line. Mostly because they knew where my bowl of change was so they just helped themselves to fund their morning activities and line Tee's pockets at the same time. In exchange, I received 12 minutes of quiet while the kids were playing happily so I obliged them with the $2.25 they were siphoning from my stash.

At minute 12.1, Graham decided he wanted to get in on the action and built a putt-putt golf course with a cup, hot glue gun, and piece of painters tape. I'm not saying it was the most challenging course but the use of a driver instead of a putter definitely kept it interesting - and almost made helmets necessary.

Tee, seeing his profits being split with his brother, wasn't going to take this lying down. Within minutes, with pillows and a light saber, he had a javelin throw assembled alongside his bowling ally and was advertising a two-for-one special.

And faster than I could grab my camera began the weeping and gnashing of teeth..."HE'S STEALING MY BUSINESS!!!" "NO I'M NOT, I THOUGHT OF IT FIRST! YOU'RE STEALING MINE!" "I BOUGHT A MEMBERSHIP FOR $1 AND NOW I WANT MY MONEY BACK!" "NO WAY! DONE DEAL!"

And like the bad mom I am, the whole conundrum made me laugh which made the boys even more crazy. I tried to explain capitalism and the beauty of free market enterprise to no avail. We finally settled the whole thing over a chocolate covered pretzel and glass of milk.

And I made a personal note to self that a lemonade stand might not have the Norman Rockwell effect I imagine but instead could possibly lead to the end of our family as we know it.

Ya'll have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Last night our family, plus one, went bowling. Tee had been asking for a long time for a family game and we finally conceded. When I say finally, I mean it. I've been avoiding the family bowling night with Trey and any part of his family for years because, when they bowl, they mean business. When I bowl, I mean, well, not business. I slip in the shoes, drop the ball, and spend a lot of time in the gutter.

A kid who'd gone to camp, started and finished a few fights, and who's heart ultimately broke at the end of the week came over to Mercy Street yesterday to hang out with Trey. He's fifteen, with a great smile, hair-trigger temper, and a motel for a home. He came along with our family and, just between you and me, bowled worse than I did. He didn't care. He just laughed at himself, and the kids, and loved spending time with Dea and Darius who've walked in his shoes but found life beyond their circumstances. Or, more specifically, Life found them.

We laughed and high-fived and Dea won by a small margin and Trey took the loss like a man. A man who hates to lose at bowling.

At one point, the young man leaned over to me and said, "Mrs. Hill, can I live with ya'll for the rest of the summer?"

Trey, in wisdom that tempers my knee-jerk 'yesses', said no and later, drove him home. On the way, he asked again, "Mr. Trey, how long will Dea and Darius live with you?"

"I don't know, son, probably a couple more years."

"When they move out, can I move in?"

We could fill a dorm with kids who want out of their current situations. Who's parents aren't protecting them, loving them, simply parenting them. Some days, I want to build that dorm in my backyard because I want to fix it - fix them and their families and this whole community. Unfortunately, my ability to fix things is comparable to my ability to bowl and I slip and slide and drop the ball.

I found this on my friend Nicole's blog. As with most of her writing, it sang to my heart and reminded me that I'm not a repair-man and I can't fix it. I am a messy, awkward instrument in the hands of the perfectly skilled Father and in constant need of His great mercy.

"Mercy is a door. It is a portal through which we catch a glimpse of the heart of God. A gentle tug on our heartstrings draws us in. But soon we encounter brokenness so overwhelming that neither the tender-hearted nor the inventive problem-solver feel up to the task. Our solutions fall short. Pathologies are too deep, poverty too entrenched. And we descend into our own poverty, a poverty of spirit, a crisis of confidence in our own abilities to rescue. We are tempted to withdraw, to retreat to a more manageable world. Yet our hearts constrain us. Or our guilt. We feel trapped. And, like the broken, we find ourselves calling out to God for answers. When our best efforts have failed us, we are left with nothing to cling to but frail faith. In a strange twist of divine irony, those who would extend mercy discover that they themselves are in need of mercy." - Bob Lupton

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pine Cove 2009

I'm sitting here after a long, exhausting week, trying to think of how to summarize our time at Pine Cove. How to wrap it up for you in a post that would give you a picture of what it was like being there with 110 kids from Mercy Street.

Lots of these kids, who when filling out a camp application, will never reference a father, who have mom's in jail for selling crack, who have brothers in gangs, and pregnant sisters, and rarely hear words of encouragement, of life, of hope.

Our week was amazing and pretty hard. It was hard because juxtaposed with the laughter, screams, singing, dancing, and watching kids get to be kids for a week, with full bellies and full hearts, we had kids who looked for a fight at every opportunity, who saw nothing but the moment directly in front of them and who did not understand that every action merits a consequence - good or bad.

By Wednesday, Trey was toast. Along with some of the counselors and Mercy Street staff, he'd been dealing almost constantly with some boys who went from one fight to the next and were pretty consistently disrespectful to their counselors. Trey was already planning a trip back to Dallas with some boys in tow so that they wouldn't ruin camp for the rest of the kids. Then, Wednesday night, after club, one of the boys came up to him with tears streaming down his face. "Mr. Trey, I don't want to live like this any more. I don't know how to stop but I hate my life and want to change."

That started a long conversation into the night between he, Trey, and another counselor about the gospel and the freedom that comes from Christ alone.

Ironically, that same night, we got a call that Mercy Street had been broken into. Talk about feeling attacked.

The week continued with both frustrations and really tender moments. We saw lots of kids conquer their fears on the power pole and the horses, or just swim and run and play.

Trey never took any of those older boys home, even though they deserved it, mostly because either their own counselors who had run dozens of lines with them, or the Mercy Street staff advocated for them.

Come Friday night, we had a time together called "Camper Share". It's where all the campers and counselors gather together to talk about how they liked the week and what they learned. It wasn't contrived or dramatic, simply a time where a kid was handed a mic. if they wanted to talk and everyone listened.

About 3/4 of the way into the camper share, one of the older boys stood up and talked about how much he'd learned that week about his sin, and the One who came to save him from it. Then he looked up at the ceiling in a desperate attempt not to cry in front of his buddies. Instead of breaking down there, he said excuse me and left the room - clearly touched by the Lord. His friends saw it too and slowly conviction spread like wildfire. They began to repent to their counselors and to Trey, and to express their desire to live lives wholly different than what they'd been living. And several of those older boys, walking on the precipice of gang life, cried arm in arm with one another and prayed.

Over and over again that night, counselors heard kids struggle with how to live the life they'd found in West Dallas. They knew they'd be confronted daily with people and circumstances that fly in the face of what they'd learned about the Lord and the love they'd seen in action.

Honestly, it won't be easy in a community where humility and sacrificial love can be hard to come by. But our hope for these kids remains unchanged. As we get the great privilege of watching the Lord melt their hearts of stone one by one, we are also affirmed in our call to see West Dallas become a light on a hill - or, to be more specific, a light on the other side of the levee - covered in God's fingerprints.

These are some of the pictures from camp. It's a little long because I am editing challenged but the song is good so have a look and listen.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Over here, today.

We are winding down a fabulous week at Pine Cove with Mercy Street and can't wait to get home and take a shower without needing another within 30 minutes.

We've seen some amazing kids shine this week and we've had some really rough kids test our faith and our endurance.

I can't wait to tell you all about it next week.

In the mean time, I'm over here at the Dallas Morning News Briefing today with my perspective on the upcoming start of school.

Would love to hear how you're preparing to get back in the swing as well.

Thanks again for all your prayers this week, we've absolutely felt them.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


After an act of very willful disobedience yesterday, a counselor told one of our kids that his consequence was to run lines.

If you're not familiar with running lines, let me explain: on a basketball court, starting at one end, you sprint to the free-throw line and back, then to the mid-court line and back, to the opposite free-throw line, and then to the opposite end of the court and back.

They're a total beating in an air-conditioned gym. In triple-digit heat, they're grueling.

Grueling but effective and this boy was told to run 8.

He refused.

Unfortunately for him, and for the counselors, his lack of submission began an afternoon of escalating consequences. He missed going with his cabin to their activities and still owed his 8 lines.

Lots of kids we work with don't have the understanding that with every action, there is a consequence. It's something we talk about all the time.

But, what we also have is kids who, when they get mad, lose all sense of reason. Their pride draws lines in the proverbial sand and they back themselves into a corner with no foreseeable way out. And, even if they did, they don't have the tools to get there. This camper was undone, shutting down, wanting to go home.

Trey and a Senior Counselor created, for this child a way out. A way of being restored-but it wouldn't come for free.

"Son, you owe me 8 lines. I've gotta get those lines so, I don't even know if they'd agree to this but, what if I asked your cabin mates to pay part of those lines for you?"

Looking up, "Oh, I couldn't do that."

"Son, you need help. Let me ask them."

Trey went to talk to the rest of this young man's cabin and before I knew it the offender was on the court with his Senior Counselor together running those lines. Strengthened by just the idea that someone would take part of his debt for him.

Minutes later, the rest of the cabin appeared on the court and voluntarily finished a panting, but amazed, young man's lines for him without even a word of complaint.

"Debt" was satisfied through "innocent" sacrifice and a child was restored.

And another picture of the gospel was laid before these kids, before each of us - all before the call to dinner.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Saturday, August 8, 2009

On the road, again.

A week ago, we were celebrating Trey's parents 45th wedding anniversary. Trey had been out of town but came back early to be with the family for this special occasion.

And for the sushi.

Apparently, he loves all kinds of fish be they small mouth bass or yellow fin tuna on rice. He does not discriminate.

The gentleman taking this picture was, we believe, slightly inebriated. Of the six he took, this was the only one not blurry and with everyone's heads in-tact.

At dinner, Candy pulled out lots of old pictures of us through the years. It was so funny to see how much we'd changed and how young we were when we first got married.

It was also nice to confirm, once and for all, that bangs are a really unfortunate choice for my face.

Well, now, a week later, we're not preparing for a fun dinner out with family and no wild children; we're packing for camp.

We leave tomorrow, with 118 Mercy Street kids, and head back to Pine Cove for the week. It has been a much prayed for trip and we continue to pray for each child who will be coming along. It's a chance for them to be out of the city, surrounded by fun, people who love them, and zip-lines.

That last one makes my stomach hurt a little but I will once again, put my big-girl panties on, and deal with it.

Please join us in praying for our week, the kids, the counselors that are going with us and the Pine Cove Staff waiting for us in Columbus. We've had several situations this summer with kids that would break your heart and we pray that this will be a chance for them to experience camp with childlike eyes and be encouraged and strengthened in Christ.

Meanwhile, back at the homestead, Dea and Darius will be here because they've got to work, and go to school, and practice their laundry which, by the way, is going just O.K.

Darius told me laundry was his Kryptonite. I told him that smelly clothes might be his downfall with the ladies when he starts school.

Duly noted.

Staying with he boys will be Tracy who is a beloved member of Mercy Street staff. If you need something done at the facility, he's your man. He grew up in the community and loves people and the Lord above all else.

In preparation for grocery shopping for the week, I asked Trey what Tracy would like to have in the house while he's here.

"Will he cook? What does he like to eat? Anything special that he wants? What can I make him before we leave?"

Trey looked at me, put one hand on my shoulder and said, "Melissa, he's 43 years old and has been taking care of himself for a long, long time. He's been to prison - I'm pretty sure he can handle dinner."


I'll try to blog some while we're gone but if there's no internet, or no power outlets, or I'm sitting in a corner crying because they're trying to make me do the high-ropes-course, I'll see you next week!

Have a great one.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

She may be a politician in the making.

We went to the pool today with friends in an effort to, once again, escape the heat.

Or in an effort to stop the game of "Zombie Wrestling" in which my kids and their friends put sleeping bags over their heads and wrestled each other to the ground. It was an accident waiting to happen and I was walking around in a constant state of 'flinch'.

Sadie and her playmate, who is leaving tomorrow to head to the beach for a vacation, had played beautifully all day. Come the end of the afternoon, things were starting to go awry. Sadie kept trying to exclude her friend by saying that she "just wanted some alone time with her sister, Olivia".

Since they share a room together, and Sadie ends up in our bed just about every night, I got the feeling she was trying to be more exclusive than really needing to connect on a deep spiritual level with her sister.

She had also called her 'the worst sister ever' about five minutes before.

I corrected Sadie and told her she needed to apologize to her friend for being unkind and hurting her feelings.

This is how it went...

"I'm sorry I hurted your feelings, will you forgive me?"

"I forgive you."

"And I will also go to the beach with you tomorrow if you want to invite me."

Selflessness - we're still workin' on it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

HoodMama vs. Food

If we're anything in this family, we're good eaters. Perhaps not the most flattering of descriptions, but true and really, doesn't that just make you want to get to know me better...or leave this blog never to come back again?

'Good eaters?' Who says that? Especially about themselves?

I do.

My people can eat and, more than that, my people will try just about anything - especially if it comes in the form of a dive, or a hole-in-the-wall, or it's attached to a gas station.

I mean, I'm not bragging or anything, but Trey and I discovered that the tacos at Fuel City just down the road were the best in Texas long before Texas Monthly made it official.

We pride ourselves on our love of grocery store fried chicken.

The reason I'm giving you this background is that it will explain why Friday, with Trey out of town and me needing an outing with the kids, we decided to head on over to Dallas' newest hot spot...

Burguesa Burger.

Trey had been a couple of times by himself and come home raving about the great, albeit unconventional, burger he'd enjoyed.

The rest of the crew had not yet partaken and decided we'd better get on it before the whole city started lining up outside the bright orange, drive-up hut that is Burguesa Burger.

Oh, wait, they already have.

You see, just weeks after opening, Burguesa Burger was was crowned one of the "Reason's we Love Dallas" by D Magazine.

We've driven past this little hut for years heading to West Dallas. It's been a chicken and waffles place, a home-cookin' place, and finally, Burguesa Burger.

I don't care about your past, baby, just show me La Monumental, and by that, I don't mean my giant sunglasses.

La Monumental is what they're famous for so, of course, it's what we ordered. If you're gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.

Here's the menu.

Just for fun, let's translate into the King's English what all goes on this here sammich. Two beef patties, cheese, ham, a tostada, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, onions, avacado, and their salsa de especial. And all on a toasted bun with a fresh roasted jalapeno on top.

Delicioso. With fries and Mexican sodas, it was a hit all around. The kids loved it, the people sitting next to us at the outdoor picnic tables loved it, and the people standing in line waiting in the heat were happy as clams.

After lunch was over, and we'd had our third refill of soda de limon, we all went home happy, called our cardiologists, and took a nap. Friday night, we had a light dinner of Mexican food because, you know, we were taking it easy after our monumental lunch.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth.

Because I am an incredibly attentive wife and in tune with the every thought and emotion of my husband, I can always tell when Trey starts to get a little stressed and feels under the pile.

He gives me certain clues, like, "Babe, I'm feeling under the pile."

It's as if I have a sixth sense.

In an effort to try and get him out from under the pile, we did what all wives in Texas do with their husbands; we sent him fishing. I mean, really, is there a better way to refresh your soul than on a serene lake with a spinner-bait at the end of your line? I don't think so.

While he was gone, the kids and I embarked on several adventures, some of which I'll tell you about this week, some of which I may keep to myself because, well, they just weren't that exciting.

Saturday afternoon, we were invited to watch Ringling Brother's GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, said with enthusiasm and drama, from a box at the American Airlines center. Seriously, so stinkin' awesome.

Five minutes in, I came to the sad realization that my children had never been to the circus when Graham asked if the elephants were real. "What about the other animals, are they real too?"

"Ahem, yeah", said the loser mom who deprives her children of the circus every year because walking past table after table of $12 cotton candy, $11 snow-cones, and $24 spinner-light-up-things with four children could be deemed as torture in 22 states.

Apparently, the whole, "We're not buying anything so make sure you eat a good lunch", thing went totally over their heads because not thirty seconds after walking in the door, Graham told me he was 'so thirsty he might die', and Sadie was, 'hungry, mama, real hungry. Do they sell McDonald's?'

But, I said...oh forget it.

Thankfully, the suite we were in was loaded down with hot-dogs, popcorn, and Diet Coke. It's as if they knew I might need one or seven.

I have never seen my children sit, totally enraptured, for 2.5 hours. I mean, except for Sadie getting up every fifteen minutes to refill her popcorn bowl. It makes me think I might have a little more success in my day to day if I wore a long red coat, giant top-hat, and spoke in a deep baritone voice.

"C'mon boys and girls! We're off to the greatest place on earth...THE GROCERY! Aisles and aisles of wonderment and cereal, just waiting to be placed in the basket!"

It could totally work, and I'm 1/3 of the way there since we already have the top-hat. It came with the $12 cotton candy that I swore I wouldn't buy - but did anyway.

Because I'm a sucker for giggly, delighted children. That's how I roll.