Happy Birthday To ME!

I am 32 today. It's been the 31st for 9 minutes or so. There are many busy things going on to celebrate. The gratitude post may not be up until Sunday.

We just finished up with the top layer of glaze on the Mint Chocolate Truffle Cake and if the finger licks are any indication everyone eating it tomorrow will be very happy, and then comatose from chocolate poisoning. But it will be worth it.

And then we have to go to the Genius Husband's grandparent's to eat dinner and more cake, and to swim in their hot tub and pool. Well, the kids plan to. I think it will be too cold for swimming, and I'm not the hot tub type, or something.

Then, on Sunday, my SIL is going to baby sit my children, and the GH and I are going out on a real live date!!! Dinner and a movie, a grownup restaurant and a grownup movie. The last time we went on a date was in April, to give you an idea of the momentousness of this occasion. (Is too a word.) The GH works in the construction field, which is somewhat seasonal in nature, and for the past 3 years he's not had any work in January. Which means my birthday is always the economy version. This year has been good, which is ironic considering the economy. So this year we are actually going to go out and celebrate. Hooray.

I can't even think this year of anything I want for gifts, it's always really hard for me to think of things. (Though I really miss that perfect pair of linen pants that I bought on clearance for $4 that went missing in that stolen load of laundry a few months ago.)

Facebook causes has this really nifty thing where on your birthday you can ask friends and family to donate to the cause of your choice, one dollar for each year. So this year I asked everyone to donate $32 to the charis project, and the response has been really amazing so far. I've already passed my fund raising goal. Now I'm dreaming of doubling it. So if y'all wanted to, you could go here and help me celebrate my birthday.


Check In, Not Out

The Girl just took me out for tea for my birthday. It was my idea because I could see she needed some one on one mommy time, and it was every bit as cute as it sounds. We walked about 4 miles round trip to a little coffee shop downtown that she's been desperate to go inside of since the day the new owner stood on the side walks and handed them free smoothie samples to promote his grand opening. The Genius Husband secretly slipped her a ten dollar bill to carry in her purse so she could pay when we got there and surprise me. The employees just about died of a cuteness overdose. I drank my tea and she her impossibly neon looking watermelon smoothie with boba concoction and we played snakes and ladders because it was the only kid game there that still had all the pieces.

I lost track of how many times during the hour long walk there, and the other hour returning, holding hands the whole way, that she said, "Mama, I really like being with you."

It's so simple really, to make her happy. She just needs to be with me, and she just needs me to really be there with her, instead of somewhere else in my head.

I won't candy coat this. Staying at home all day with small children can be mind-numbingly dull. This is why mother's check out. We can be at home with our kids, even making sure they have food and clothing and aren't painting themselves head to toe with peanut butter, but we're not really there. We are watching television, or talking on the phone, or surfing the internet, or thinking bitterly of all the time we once had to just take off and get a Starbucks and read a book without interruption, or composing sonnets and and blog posts in our head. The transition to mother is a difficult one. We think that if we could just get a break now and then it would make it easier to deal with.

But it doesn't have to be dull, being present with our children. And in that sentence I have revealed the secret factor, that of being present.

Children and their constant needs are an irritation... when we're trying to do something else. Imagine you worked in a daycare and children kept coming up to you and asking you to help them play with puzzles, or tie their shoes, or wanted to show you the picture they just drew. Would you find this irritating behavior? Probably not, because it's your job to be there with the children in your care. So why do mothers so often respond with annoyance to the exact same thing? Because our minds are somewhere else, because we are trying to get other things done.

"But I do have other things to get done," you argue. "There are toilets to clean, dinners to fix, laundry to fold and screaming babies to nurse and hold, I can't spend all day smiling at my children and listening to them as they babble about nonsensical things."

Of course you can't.

Or can you? Can you make your children part of the process? Can you get creative? Can you slow down enough to make space for them in the busy things that you need to do?

  • My 2 year old loves to stand on a stool and tear lettuce leaves for salad while I make dinner.
  • My 5 year old can fold clothes, and she enjoys it if she's doing it with me.
  • My 7 year old loves to help entertain the little girls by reading to or playing with them.
These are just a couple of ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

"But it is dull, dull, dull, to be all day without another adult to talk to." Yes, it is, if that's the way you look at it.
  • You are also getting to know your children as individuals.
  • You are building the foundations of a life long relationship.
  • You are watching a little person discover and learn.
  • You are remembering just how fascinating water really is, the way it feels and looks, just by watching your toddlers fascination with it as you play with it.
  • You are constantly being reminded of how full of endless wonders this life we are given truly is.

That's anything but dull.

To be present with our children makes them happier and makes our home more peaceful, as one would expect. But the truth is, it also makes mothers happier and more peaceful as well. When was the last time you really looked at and listened to that child who is always on your last nerve? I find it only takes a couple of minutes of truly paying attention to make me fall in love with them all over again, and remember that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else other than right here, right now, listening to them tell me they like being with me for the 20 time in a row.


Best thing I saw this week.

I just adore this commercial. I can't stop laughing when I see it.

And yet it's sweet too, and makes me wish I were pregnant again.

What do you think? Am I suffering from raging hormones, or do you like it too?


Constant State of Flux

I keep saying that we're going to move to Thailand this year. Am I boring you yet?

Well, we are, just not yet. I just extended our lease again, this time until the end of May, and that in itself may not be enough time.

There are a few things that need to be done first. And I don't mean packing, though, oh my goodness, there is much packing in my future.

Nah, there's the issue of this children's home that still doesn't have enough money to run in the black yet every month. We send them every penny donated, but every month those kids, they keep eating, and drinking water, and going to school. And those things cost more money, every month. So we are setting up a child sponsorship program for them so that their situation becomes stable. (More on that when it's ready.)

That's the first thing that needs to happen.

Then there is the deal with incorporating as a non-profit, appointing a board of directors, getting 501(c)3 status and...Hey, I saw that. I just saw your eyes glaze over. Yeah you, the one who hasn't had her morning coffee yet. Yes it's boring. Anyway, it's necessary work to ensure the long term success of our little venture. Already things have reached the point when we are stepping out on our own and becoming a real life grown-up organization rather than the subsidiary of an already existing one. Who knew?

And so I once again adjust to a different timetable. I will unpack the summer clothing here instead of there. I am taking a good look around, once again with an eye for more long term maintenance rather than a packing mentality. (The dusting, you wouldn't believe the dusting.) I won't be giving away my piano just yet.

It's enough to drive a control freak like myself insane. And yet, I realize that this interval is a blessing. The more prepared we are when we go the better, and it gives us more time with the people we love here, even though there are people we love there that we long to see as well.

I've been pulling away, slowly rolling up my roots, tucking them away and getting ready to put them down in new soil, and now I find myself stretching them out again, looking around, and realizing that I will never really uproot myself from this place, these people, no matter how far I go. They will always be in my heart, just as the people from every place I've ever been are. Creating distance will not soften the parting, only fill it with regret.

My life is a constant journey from one thing I can't control to another that I can control even less. I realize now that none of what has happened so far this past year has been simply the fruit of my own effort. While I have done my best to be faithful with what there is in front of me to do, I am learning to rest in the realization that all of this life is a miracle, all of it beyond my control, and I'm finally at peace with that.

Listen to me, I sound like such a grown up. How did that happen?


1000 Gifts-Week 13

Little carefully setting blocks in a row and saying."Yay!" to herself every time she finishes.

The fond smile of the man I love when he looks at me.

Children dancing among grown ups. Totally unselfconscious. Enjoying themselves completely.

The sight of the Girl running around hand in hand with a little boy who has claimed her as his friend for the evening.

The kind of friends who welcome you into their home and make you feel it is your home as well.

Knowing and liking my neighbors, well enough to borrow a crock pot from some of them, or a cup of sugar.

Girls twirling in dresses, faces alight and filled with pleasure to see fond parents watching them.

The way all of my children scream "DADDY!" and come running as soon as the Genius Husband walks in the door.

Little girls playing dress up.

The Boy turning everything he says into an improvised song.

Frere Jacque over and over and over again from the Girl as she memorizes the words. Slightly off key but so enthusiastic.

A quiet moment in the midst of a party when the GH drew me aside just to sit near him for a while and look at the stars.

The gratitude community is here.


7 Quick Takes

1. I am elbow deep in making baked beans for more than 80 people. They keep expanding and I keep borrowing the neighbor's crock pots to contain it all. 6 lbs of beans is a lot of beans y'all. Just sayin'.

2. I am also trying to finally finish making the girls their birthday dresses. Yes, I'm a month behind. I figured they could wear them to the wedding we're attending this weekend. And then I would have a deadline again, which I need to actually get them done.

3.Not my sister's wedding. She's in Canada. I'm not going to hers because: she only set the date last month, the price of travel, (I won't go without Little, she's not ready), no one to watch my other children while I'm gone, etc. The timing works out for everyone except me, and I couldn't even promise I would make it any time so...for those who asked that's why I'm not going.

4.I bought a jump rope today. The past 4 months or so of learning how to be an administrator for a non-profit, and a web designer have not been good to my body. I've been a lot less active. I figure I can skip right outside the front door while keeping an eye on things for 15 minutes a day. And perhaps my thighs will stop growing.

5. I'm thinking of wearing my grad dress to the wedding on Saturday. (We don't have prom in Canada, we have Graduation.) Would that be wrong? See, it's a formal wear, afternoon garden party. The dress in question is a knee length but more formal style of dress, it might be in style again, and, most miraculously, it still fits me. I can't decide.

6. I keep thinking I should check in on my elderly neighbor. It's been 3 weeks or more since I've seen him. I wonder if he's ok. I keep thinking this but so far haven't acted on it. So you can all ask me tomorrow if I did or not and maybe that will get me to find the time to go over. (Never mind, I just checked. They're fine.)

7. My kids really love this sight. It keeps the Girl occupied while I'm teaching the Boy, and he's been motivated to finish up quick so he can have a turn. There's only one problem. Mommy wants her computer back! HT to MerchantShips and Rocks in My Dryer.

For more quick takes go to Conversion Diary.


For My Sister

My sister is getting married this week, and it was just her birthday, and I'm missing her, wishing I could be there to celebrate with her. She will always be my little sister, the one I so fiercely want to protect from everything that could hurt her. It's an instinct that has become a source of conflict for us the past few years as she wishes I could just let go, and let her live her life and make her choices, with the same detachment that I can give to other people. She wants me to stop trying to protect her. It's really hard to do, but I've been trying to let go.

I keep thinking about what kind of things I would say to her if I were there on her wedding day. What kind of toast I would make if I got to make one? What I will say to both of them, the brother in law I barely know, and the sister I have loved my whole life? They are from such different backgrounds, cultures, and faiths. And while I can see how exciting it is for them to think about the adventure it will be to live together, my big sister heart can also see the difficulties, the possible pitfalls, beyond what couples with fewer initial difference have to deal with. I worry, because that's what big sisters do.

Yet I know this. I know he respects her enough to be honest with her. He loves her enough to stick with her when she isn't sure. He is wise enough to help her grow as a person and to be patient with her. And since these are the only things I know for sure, I am choosing hope and trust and support for the two of them as they start this life together.

So sis, if I were there with you on Saturday, this is what I would say to both of you.

I wish you joy. With my whole heart I wish you joy. With my whole heart I will be there to support you both no matter what. Even if it's from a million miles away.

I pray you have the courage to love when retreating in anger and hurt would be so much easier.

I pray you have the steadfastness to stick by your commitment to each other even when you would rather not.

I pray you have the strength to support each other with gladness.

I pray you can smile at each other at least once a day and mean it.

I pray you will be filled with the kind of love that gives sacrificially, that does not seek it's own end. I pray you will be connected to the Source of all love, and know that your true strength to love is not in each other, or yourselves, but in the source Himself.

ps. In case you didn't hear, I love you. :) And I'm sorry that instead of coming to your wedding I'm writing this lame ass post instead.

A post afterall-Martin Luther King Jr. Day

It was thanks to people like him, who had the courage to act on their convictions, to stand up for what is right, no matter the consequences, who sacrificed everything they had for the hope of something better, it's thanks to them that the faces of my children register nothing but confusion when I explain to them that 50 years ago in this country they would not have been allowed to play with at least half of their friends. They would not have lived in the same places, they would not have shared toys, food, and water bottles. (Sometimes, when I'm not looking.)

They don't understand why the two friends whose marriage we are celebrating next weekend would not have been allowed to marry. They are baffled by the thought that people would hate another so much because of their skin color that they would kill them.

We should never take such things for granted I thought. We should always remember the sacrifice of those brave men and women who changed things.

And yet, because of them my children do take it for granted, which, in a way, is as it always should have been in the first place.

I hope they will be inspired to have the courage of their own convictions, and right other wrongs that they see in the world around them.
photo from nikoretro

In lieu of an actual post today I'll send you over to Wedded Bliss where I am talking about married sex, or the lack thereof.

The photo above was originally included in that post but my editors vetoed it, after laughing their butts off they assured me. Just in case someone was offended. Have I just offended you all? Or given you a good laugh?

Wait, I just offended my dad for sure. Sorry dad.


1000 Gifts-Week 12

Some friends of ours had a baby just a few weeks ago. He was born 3 weeks early and had a hole in his left lung. By the time he was a few hours old he had tubes in his chest to relieve the pressure on his chest cavity, an oxygen tube down his throat and wires sticking out of him everywhere. Thankfully, we have one of the best NICU wards in the country nearby and he was transferred there the first day.
He is now home with his family. The tubes are all gone, he's breathing on his own, the danger has passed. I can't begin to describe how thankful I am that it turned out his way. Which is only a portion of how his parents must feel.

It occurs to me, belatedly, to be thankful that Little was so very healthy when she was born, also 3 weeks early. I just took for granted how strong she was, how perfect. But now I give thanks that she was as she was, and not put through such trauma.

And the list of things, smaller, but no less worthy of rejoicing over goes on.

An e-mail from a dear friend, full of love and faith and hope.

The Genius Husband loves me. He knows me, all my quirks and weaknesses, and he still smiles that smile at me that makes my heart flutter, the one that tells me he likes me. That another person can know me and still like is is a little bit of a wonder to me. I still can't fully comprehend that idea that God knows me better, and loves me even more.

Time to just be with the Girl this week, and enjoy her.

My children still want me to be part of their day, their activities. They are always calling, "Look mom, look at what I can do, what I did." Too soon, they won't want me like that anymore. I"m trying to enjoy it instead of brush them off.

Every night when I tuck him in the Boy kisses me on both cheeks, then my forehead, and then each hand. And then he holds my head in a death grip and does it again, and again, and again until I tickle him to make him stop.

The way Little says, "Yeayuzsh!" (That's yes for those who don't speak Little) Very seriously, and with great significance when asked a question.

The gratitude community is here.


Time to look in the mirror

I actually started writing this yesterday and didn't finish. This morning the GH woke up and made us all breakfast, since Fridays are his day off.

This morning at 6 am I woke to the sound of a little voice yelling, "Mommy, I peed my bed." I don't know if there is a worse way to wake up besides, "Mommy, I just vomited all over myself." Or, "Mommy, I can't breath, call an ambulance now." That last one they aren't really talking by the way, just making terrible suffocating noises.

So I changed bedding, ran a bath and found new PJ's. The GH meanwhile woke up a started getting ready for work. (Yes, he gets up before anyone else is even awake and sneaks quietly out of the house to go to work every morning. Yes he is awesome.) While I was standing next to the bathtub turning off the water he decided to relieve himself in the toilet right behind me. As I was saying, "Great, there will be spray all over my pants now." I got a drop on my foot. (I no longer have any illusions about the spatter radius of a spray of urine. They may be pointing in the direction of the toilet, but there will be minute amounts of pee scattered at least 2 feet in all directions.) Tired, cranky, and already dealing with enough pee thank-you very much I whipped him in the face with a towel before stalking out of the bathroom to wash my foot off. He just laughed at me, which is what he usually does when I get really angry.

It was a stellar way to start the day.

Fortunately children went back to sleep so I went back to bed as well but as I was trying to drift off again I kept thinking about Lena's comment on my post last week. She said, and I paraphrase, "Anything done without love is a worthless action." And that is a great thing to keep in mind as I go through my day. Stabbing in all the appropriate places when I am not in fact loving when I do something.

And that got me thinking about The Shack. Which I just read, and it was actually pretty good. But one of the themes in there, and again I paraphrase, was that the point is relationships. Relationships, not power structures.

And that got me thinking about my time living with 5 other girls, sleeping on a church floor near the beach and feeding homeless people for a year. It was HARD. We didn't even know each other when we started on this journey. But we were all looking for an authentic experience, to actually live out our faith in some small way. For 3 months we struggled. We had so many hang ups.

We didn't trust each other. We were each afraid that the others wouldn't like us. We couldn't ever get anything done because no one wanted to give up whatever power they imagined they had in order to reach an agreement. We were rebellious, frightened, resentful, and the tension between us all was palpable. When I first saw an episode of survivor after that I couldn't help laughing thinking it wasn't that dissimilar to our experience.

One night it came to a head, I don't remember why. We were just really upset about something. And the person who had been sort of mentoring us through this from afar suggested that we choose a leader, or that we allow a leader to be chosen for us. But none of us wanted that. Now, it was mostly because we didn't like the idea of being led, or needing to submit to someone in charge. But we didn't pick a leader, we continued to try and hash through things as a group.

And that's when something remarkable started to happen. Because instead submitting to one person's leadership, as is the normal way to get things done in our culture, we found ourselves needing to submit to each other. We would struggle, with tears often, over the many verses that say things like,

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Eph. 4:31-32

Or this one,

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
do not {merely} look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Phillipians 2:3-4
The tears were because not only did we know that we weren't behaving this way toward each other, something this attempt to live together had highlighted, we knew that it wasn't even possible for us to feel and behave this way toward each other on our own strength.

And this is where the miracle happened. The more we struggled, and tried, and prayed for help, the more we started to love each other. I distinctly remember looking at one of them right in the moment when she confessed that she had screwed up, in a really big way, and feeling nothing but proud of her and full of love. She was the one who most got on my nerves at the beginning. I started to genuinely try to find, when someone had offended me, any way in which I had been wrong as well so that I could apologize.

We started to function together as a team. We naturally made way for the strengths of each other when those strengths were what was needed in a given moment. There was no jockeying for position or a chance to speak, because we were none of us trying to put ourselves forward, rather looking for chances to recognize someone else's strengths.

It was one of the most remarkable, transforming years of my life. When I went home after that year I felt as though I was missing my arms and legs. I felt extremely lonely in the few years following, so used had I become to having them with me all the time. Before that year I preferred to be alone.

I know it sounds a bit utopic when I describe it, and it was far from perfect, we still bickered a lot, but the way we dealt with it was very different, we genuinely loved each other.

I left that year knowing with certainty that any two people could learn to love each other if they were just willing to take the time to try, and to let God help them.

I've had difficulty ever since articulating what it was that made that year so unique. Until this morning. I think a large part of it had to do with the fact that for the first time in my life, relationships were more important than power. We each let go of our own right to power or influence, and it was frightening, and found that the other side of it was something much more significant and right.

This morning I lay there thinking about that year, those friends, and realized that I've gotten lazy. I'm no longer consciously trying to consider others more important than myself. I'm very important, dontchaknow? And it shows. I think back over several interactions this past year, with people I've known a long time and I see myself leaving a wake of hurt feelings and unkindness in my path. Not intentionally, you understand, but just because I was more focused upon myself than the person in front of me. Too absorbed in my own stuff to notice the other's reaction.

While I continue to be sensitive to the opportunity to form new friendships and relationships, the people in my life the longest, the people I am used to, I have treated the worst. I have taken them for granted. My thought has not been to serve them, but how they can serve me, what they owe me. And that accounts for everything that has passed between us.

So as I lay there, now yesterday morning, I realized that this year is a good time to once again struggle with those verses, to bring them close to my own heart as mirrors and allow them to show me what is really there. And then, with help, choose, not only to act that way, but to allow myself to be changed within until that is once again my consistent reality.


For those of you who miss the sun

Little peeled off her sundress and took off running.

So I chased her of course, camera in hand.

For you who are trapped in snow.


I hope you like rice pudding

Today the Genius Husband arrived home just as I was loading up all of the kids to head out to the store. I needed quarters ASAP to keep pee soaked bedding from marinating long enough to get that impossible to get rid of ammonia smell. It was also half an hour before dinnertime.

The joyous Boy opted to stay home with daddy while the "girls" all headed out to the store. Can I just digress for a moment and comment on how peaceful it is to have all girls along on a shopping trip instead of the mix I normally have? Or maybe it was just the difference between two and three. I often feel my shoulders hunched somewhere around my ears by the end of these trips. Usually because the more there are, the more mischief they can get into. Or maybe it's because the Boy is just so very loud. The time at the grocery store was so peaceful that I decided to go next door to Big Lot's too. Which was also peaceful, but time consuming and we had been gone an hour by the time we got home.

"No problem", I figured. I had asked the GH to make rice while we were gone, and he is good at rice. As the pickiest rice eater in our family he also is the most accomplished at cooking it. Or so I thought. Ahem. (My plan was to chop up an onion, carmelize it, add garlic, panch poran seasoning, kaffir lime leaves, lemon juice, chick peas and salt to the mix and serve it with the rice. In case you were wondering.)

Seconds after we got in the door my neighbor arrived, thinking we were finished with dinner. Earlier in the day i told her to come over whenever so we could hem some of her pants. We chatted a few minutes while I went into the kitchen to start cooking. There in a pot, soaking, was enough rice for at least three meals, possibly more. I was going to drain it and just use the amount I normally make, saving the rest for another day, but the GH decided to use our big stock pot and make it all at once while I continued to talk about pants with my neighbor. "It'll keep," he said.

Well, we don't know if I turned it down too soon or if the pot was too big and didn't hold the heat, or it wasn't a tight enough lid, but we have a gigantic pot of half mushy, half crunchy, rice.

And that is why I currently have baking in my oven the largest rice pudding you have ever seen. We will be eating rice pudding for weeks. Assuming that it actually worked and it isn't half crunchy rice pudding. In which case we just threw eggs milk sugar and raisins after bad rice.

Maybe you should be glad you don't live near me. You don't have to worry about me force feeding you rice pudding for the next few weeks.

On Mommy Blogging

I've started to notice something the past little while as I read blogs. And I'm not sure how to say this, so I'll just start like this.

When I started blogging I had no thoughts beyond, "Oh that looks like fun, a chance to practice writing every day and maybe even some people will read it." And then I discovered, well, the blogosphere, in particular, mommy bloggers. When I found myself pregnant and virtually housebound a month or two later I turned to the computer for a chance for social connection. I laughed at the stories people told of their mistakes, fascinated by the ability to spin a bad day into a humorous tale. I commiserated when others shared their difficulties. I identified with those who felt overwhelmed. I felt less alone. Here were people who knew what it feels like to be a mom, a woman, and they are writing about it with skill and intelligence. I was totally hooked.

My blog became, largely, a place to express my angst, to process through my depression, the place where I let it all hang out. Remarkably, there were people who read, commiserated, and offered comments that helped me to feel less alone. I will be forever grateful to those women who took the time to notice, and care. Writing and reading carried me through one of the more difficult times of my life.

At first I was drawn to the bloggers whose voice was similar to mine. But gradually I started noticing other people, other women, most a great deal more mature than I, and I started to listen to their voices too. And I started to change. Seriously.

Sadly, some of my favorites are gone now, or I would point you there. Others are in my side bar. Essentially, reading them caused me to adjust my attitude. Instead of complaining about how difficult it was to be at home with children they were instead treasuring the moments that they had with them. Instead of waxing sarcastic about their spouse they were appreciative. While these women were not the only influence, their writing has influenced me, has changed me for the better, and by listening to their voices I have grown a up, a little.

What I have also noticed in the past few months is that I have little patience to read the types of blogs that I started out liking. Even those with a big readership that are skillfully written. Now it sounds a lot like whining, and I realize with a wince that I too was once a whiner on this blog albeit a less clever one.

I am not talking about women who have the courage to be vulnerable and transparent, and let people in to the difficult places in their lives as they write, by the way. I am talking about the people who seem to only have one track, and it's always complaining. Or those whose entire humor stems from sarcasm.

And yet, at the same time, I know that it was the people who were compassionate with me and my whining that helped me to move past it, to mature. So I too will try to be compassionate. I continue to be grateful for the circumstances and people who brought me through to a place with much more joy than where I was.

As I have been thinking this week about why I blog, what I want to do with this blog, those women whose voices influenced me keep coming to mind. I want to be like them. I also want this blog to be like my home is, the place where all the women in the neighborhood stop by to hang out. They don't mind the way my floor is littered with toys just before lunch, and they aren't looking for anyone other than a friend to chat with for a while, but my house is almost always open and we talk while our children play, about the mundane and the profound and everything in between. It's a place where people feel welcome.

I want this space to be a place where people feel welcome, feel free to be real and vulnerable, to share sorrows as well as triumphs, and also a place that helps us to take joy in the moments we are given, to see them as gifts rather than burdens. I want to be a blogger who encourages and inspires rather than simply commiserates.

Does that make sense?


Just for Fun

Remember when I said my little brother is a stunt guy? Oh, you don't?

My little brother is a stunt guy. That's him last year pretending to can himself on the door of a car.

Isn't that awesome?

Or do you have to be a big sister to appreciate it? :)


1000 Gifts Friday-Week 11

Sometimes I find myself wondering around in a bitter funk. It's characterized by the question, "Why bother?" and usually is sparked by how quickly things are undone, how much energy it takes to push myself and my family toward routines and habits that are healthy and productive, and how tired I am. I feel like just quitting.

I start to wonder, "What's wrong here? Why am I feeling this way?" Often the past week or two, on the heels of that question is the realization that I haven't taken the time for gratitude. I haven't been writing the gifts that each day brings as they come. And the result is that I start to whine and complain a lot, and resent the people around me.

Last night was one such night. I have been trying pretty hard this week to get us back in a routine now that the holiday is over. I have been pushing recalcitrant children through the mornings and lessons. I have been pushing myself to sleep at a decent hour and to get my work done during the days instead of at night. I haven't been writing in my journal each night.

Thursday after I headed to bed feeling pretty good about the state of the house and what I had accomplished, I realized it was after midnight. And then Little woke up several times in the night and woke early the next day. The Genius Husband was still home because he needed to repair his car. His brother and friend were over to help him. By 8 am my tiny living room was littered with the residue of three guys. And then my BIL stayed all morning, sprawled on my floor using his laptop. And then all of my in-laws dropped by just as I was starting the Boy on his last lesson of the morning. Then my BIL left, but left all his stuff laying around here, it's still here actually. I managed to get the Boy through the rest of school that afternoon, cook dinner, get them to bed in time to read, pushing us all to catch up on the day.

I emerged from the bedroom to learn that my BIL was back and spending the night, which I normally don't mind. But then the GH tripped over a bucket of Lego and asked, aren't you supposed to take this away if they don't pick it up before bed? He was probably just thinking about his brother having a tidy place to sleep but it set something off inside of me. This hot angry weight started to settle in my chest.

I realized that I hadn't made time for tidying, that there were toys every where, that I should take them away to be consistent. But I hadn't even given them the time to clean up. Suddenly it was just too much. I threw a private little pity party in my head while I picked up toys and chose to confiscate those I clearly remembered telling them to put away, but not the rest. I was angry at not being asked if I minded the guests, even though I most often don't. I was angry at myself for forgetting clean up. I was angry at my husband for being critical, however mildly. I was done with trying. I heard in his question an indictment, a rehearsal of all my failures and felt defensive and ashamed all at once. I went on this way for two hours or so as I ran through my evening routine and got ready for bed.

You can imagine the state I was in by the time I laid down. Little woke just as I was creeping under the covers. As I lay there and nursed her back to sleep, more out of habit than anything else, I flung my arm in the GHs' direction. Our arms met in the middle. He, wakened by the crying, was reaching out with a soothing gesture of his own.

And then he sleepily continued to fondle my arm as I lay there waiting for Little to go back to sleep. Hot invisible tears poured out of me as I once again felt sorry for myself, felt burdened by his affection, by what I knew he was hoping would come. "If it's not one thing it's another. I get to bed on time only to have my husband keep me awake. I can't do it. Why am I trying? There is no point."

I lay there rehearsing my self absorbed lament, while one of the GH's catch phrases played loud in my head. "Your system is perfectly designed to get the result you are getting." As he continued to tickled my inner arms with his fingertips, waiting as well for Little to fall asleep, I continued to battle in my mind. I ran over all the possibilities. How could I change things? What was I doing wrong? Why was I failing at everything I was trying? Shame and doubt flooded over me. I remembered the time this week when I yelled at everyone, all tired and cranky. The tears kept coming as I went over my lists, all the things I wanted to do but hadn't, all the things that seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. POOR ME.

The litany of things eventually ran itself down and slowly, splashing into my thoughts like little clear drops of water came memories of good things. I wasn't consciously trying to change my train of thought, I was in full on self indulgent mode. But they came nonetheless, my children, the children in Thailand, my husband loves me...

Little by little I broke. Tears came hotter, the little ball of anger in my chest began to loosen and ease, and I remembered the phrase that came to mind the moment I was able to say yes to the GH with my whole heart. I had been so afraid of tying my life to another. I was afraid of being trapped, of missing out. I had operated until that point by keeping my options as open as possible and avoiding making too many decisions. "In the end, all that will matter is how well you loved God, and loved others." And with that thought I was finally free to say yes with my whole heart to this man who wanted to join his life to mine.

There it was again? What did I really want to be good at? Keeping house, enforcing rules, creating order, routines, or loving people, when it's a choice between the two?

So I let the anger and frustration go, soak it's way with the hot tears into the pillow, even though I didn't have anything figured out yet. Knowing that it was better to have these people in my life and the frustration that they bring than to not have them at all. And finally I was able to turn from the now sleeping toddler toward the wide awake husband and, with my whole heart, once again say yes to him.

That was my lesson in gratitude this week.

The gratitude community is here.


7 Quick Takes

1.) I read this post at Fried Okra this week and it caused me to wonder, "Why do I blog exactly?" "What is it that I am trying to say?" Can anyone tell me?


I suspect, after some thought, that it's to make friends, to build relationships and form connections with other people out there.

But it made me think.

I'm looking forward to the rest of her posts on this.

2.)I miss knitting. I gave away all of my knitting supplies in November because I figured there wouldn't be much point to knitting living in Thailand. I mean, it's way too hot for that right? And now everywhere I look I see people knitting and my fingers itch to pick up needles and make something fun and I wish I still had some around.

3.) If I had something to knit I could use it to procrastinate some more from all the sewing that I have piled up. It's to the point where I try and remember how it was I found time to sew in the past and I just can't. When did I do all that sewing? How did I squeeze time out of my day for it? Of course,'m trying to get more sleep these days, so I guess that's the answer. When you are trying not to stay up until 2am every night anymore it's harder to find time to do things. But knitting is the kind of thing that can be done while doing something else, in the car, talking to children and neighbors, etc. It keeps me from feeling restless.

4.)I have another post up over at Blissfully Wed today. Click over to read about yet another thing husbands wish their wives wouldn't do.

5.)I just read this article today. Thanks Veronica for sending it to me. It's one of the things that comes up as we set out to improve the lives of children and refugee communities in a third world country. People ask if we are a Christian organization. I suppose we are, in the sense that we are Christians and are motivated by who we are to do the things we do and many of the people we work with are the same. We believe that love and care for each other, and forgiveness of enemies are a better way to respond to the crisis surrounding Burma than arms and vengeance. So far I haven't seen that kind of thing accomplished without faith in God to empower it.

6.)I was asked recently how I got here. And by here I think the questioner was referring to the point where I am ready to move to a 3rd world country and try to help the people who are already there trying to help the poorest of the poor and the least of these, minority displaced children who have no parents. The truth is it was a pretty natural progression and therefore might be encouraging to other people who feel a pull in the same direction. I feel a series coming on. Anyone else interested, or would it just be me indulging a bit of navel gazing?

7.)I was not recently inducted into a secret society which does not exist and therefore does not have the express purpose of changing the world for the better by telling stories that change for the better the stories that people tell themselves about the world. There is nothing to say about such an event because such an event would never happen. Because such an organization does not exist.

The mundane, the philosophical, and the purely fictional, what else would you expect from a 7 quick takes post?

Be sure to go to Conversion Diary to read everyone else.



This is for my dad

My dad has found my blog at long last. He still doesn't even have an email address, but he has found my blog. The last time he phoned me he started in, "You haven't put up a picture of the Boy in his suit yet. I thought you said you would put one up for me." Sheesh, one week they don't even realize you have a blog, the next, they are demanding specific content. :)

Once there was a boy who didn't care what he wore. He was always in cut offs and dirty pants and ran around shirtless and barefoot, playing around in the grass. Then his mother made him dress up for a wedding once. And she put on him a little blue vest that his uncle wore to her wedding when he was a little Boy. He called it his "Wedding clothes" and wore it without a shirt and with cutoffs and ran around blasting people.

Perhaps it was the advent of sisters and their pretty clothes, but gradually the Boy started taking an interest in what he wore. One day he appeared outside his bedroom blue vest on underneath a long sleeved dress shirt. "I'm pretending it's a suit jacket" he explained. "Because, you know, sometimes grownup men wear a suit jacket over their vest like this."

A few weeks later he was heard lamenting, "Mommy, I wish I had a suit jacket."

Mommy could hardly believe her ears and figured that she had better take advantage of this phenomenon before it disappeared. The Boy's grandpa heard the story and wanted to be the benefactor. So the birthday money from Grandpa was used to buy the black pinstripe suit from Walmart, on clearance of course, and a shirt, tie and shoes.

The boy set forth proudly in his news duds to a Christmas Eve party where he planned to regal the guests with his first ever live solo. Except, there were many people, and he didn't know all of them, and so at the last minute he chose not to do it. Stage fright or not, he looked good.

The next morning was Christmas and he awoke an once again put on his suit for, "I know it's Jesus's birthday mommy so I wanted to wear it for that."

He has been very careful not to play in it like in his other clothes and keeps it clean and neat. He hangs it up when he takes it off and has even stopped wiping his face on his shoulder or his shirt while wearing it.

He next wore it to Beema's house for a family dinner and planned to sing again for the great grandparents. But there were still too many people. Eventually he insisted that all who were to listen hide in the school room so no one else would look, and there, holding mommy's hand, he finally overcame his stage fright enough to sing. But the video of that is dim, and sideways.

However, as reluctant as he has proved to sing in front of actual real live people, he was thrilled at the idea of doing it on a video for grandpa and everyone else to see.

So here, without further ado, is the Boy, in his suit, singing for his grandpa to see.

The Boy Sings from Carrien Leith on Vimeo.

And of course I can't just video him and not have the other want to join in. SO here is some more singing from everyone else, and some silliness.

Everybody from Carrien Leith on Vimeo.


The odd things I find to be thankful for.

I can't begin to count the number of times I have whined and moaned about the fact that we have coin laundry. It's expensive, it's inconvenient, it's upsetting when people steal my clothes from the washer. When children pee their beds I have to wait to do laundry until a.) the laundry room opens in the morning b.) I am dressed and the children are dressed and c.) I am able to be around for a full two hours to vigilantly supervise my clothing and make sure it's safe. I tend to whine a lot.

And don't get me started about the mail, and having to walk over to get it, or the distance I need to walk to the dumpster to take out the trash.

And there's the bit where our apartment is small and the play area for the kids is public and requires extra vigilance and we need to deal with irritating people from time to time and safeguard our children from people who apparently have no natural sense of healthy boundaries.

If I had my druthers, our house would be larger, detached, have a private fenced yard, and a laundry room off of the kitchen. But then last Thursday night would have never happened.

See, the thing about living where we do is that I am forced to interact with people.

There is an elderly gentleman who has lived here as long as we have almost. (I'll call him Bill.) I see him occasionally in the laundry room and we chat. He waves and say hi almost every single day as he walks past us to collect his mail and grins at the assortment of children playing in front of our apartment. I finally learned his name and met his wife this summer at a rare community event hosted by the staff here.

I have made friends with another woman, Margarita, because I always saw her walking outside with her baby past my house. From a large family in Chile, she is lonely here in the US with her husband and little girl. She stops by almost every day to say hi and talk for a while. She has become a good friend.

Our next door neighbors, from India have become friends by virtue of the sheer closeness of our front doors. It's more awkward to not talk when we're both outside enjoying the sun than to make conversation.

None of these relationships may have happened if I were in my ideal house with the laundry room and private yard. This week I saw the elderly gentleman in the laundry room again. This time with oxygen connected to his nose. We discussed New Year's plans and said farewell and a crazy plan started to hatch itself at the back of my mind.

My grandmother used to always have us all over to the farm for turkey dinner on New Year's Day. And I had a giant turkey in the freezer... So I loaded up Little on my hip and walked over to the elderly couple's apartment.

"Do you have plans for tomorrow?"

"Well now, there's the parade on TV, and the football games, but not really other than that."

I grinned. "Well, I wouldn't want to cut into your football watching at all, but I wondered if you would both like to join us for turkey dinner."

"That's very kind of you, what should we bring..."

After that I had one more stop. I jogged up the steps to Margarita's apartment and knocked. But she wasn't there. Instead she was in her customary spot on the hill outside my door, waiting for me to get back. "Do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow?" She's over for dinner at least once a week these days. Her husband is a chef and always works late. I wondered if she would be tired of my cooking yet.

She agreed, and offered to bring dessert, and I set out to try and fit a 20 pound turkey into my roasting pan for the next day.

It was a lovely evening. We all enjoyed ourselves. And my friend who has continued to lament our imminent departure met some kind, lonely, grandchild starved neighbors and I hope they will be friends after we are gone.

But the best part of all was when Bill and his wife were getting ready to walk home and I expressed regret that I hadn't issued an invitation years sooner. He got that look on his face that old men get when they're trying not to choke up and said, "You will never know what it means to us that you invited us tonight. Thank-you so very much."

And I suddenly found myself inexpressibly grateful for the inconveniences of shared laundry rooms and distant mailboxes because without them I am certain I would have never even noticed such lovely people living so close by, nor had the chance to become friends with them.


1000 Gifts Friday-Week 10

It's 9:42 on a Friday night and the house is silent. The Boy and Girl have gone with the GH to Beema's house for the evening. Little is asleep. And I am once again reflecting on the past week and the many gifts it contained. And I am thankful.

Sometimes I think that my gratitude lists must be very boring for others to read. They consist of the countless dull everyday moments that I get to enjoy with my family. I feel redundant but I am sincerely grateful for every single one of them. I try not to take any of it for granted.

  • Making cookies with the Girl and her friend.
  • Sitting outside in the brief sunlight with the GH talking to the neighbors as the kids tear around.
  • Talking to my mom on the phone. (Remember when it cost an arm and a leg to make an international call? Now I have a $5/month flat rate and I call all the time without giving it a thought.)
  • Walking to the store with Little, her babbling the whole way, and pointing at everything she knows the word for as we went.
  • The GH hugging me from behind in the kitchen while Little looked on, jealous at first but then bossing us around. "Kiss daddy, kiss!"
  • Fog that settles over us after dark, making everything familiar look enchanted.
  • Warm tea.
  • A husband who seems to get more attractive as the years go by.
  • Yells of excitement from the gang of boys that play by our house every afternoon.
  • New friends, a bittersweet pleasure now as we continue to form relationships with people even though we will be leaving this place in the near future.
  • The kind of friends who will accept a last minute dinner invitation with pleasure, show up with dessert and wine and won't care if the place is a little untidy.
  • Did I mention my 5 year old Girl yet?
  • The smell of turkey broth permeating the house.
  • The quiet of an evening alone.
  • The candle lit face of my children as we spent time together this holiday just talking, and being a little silly.
  • Playing peanut butter and jelly for the fourth time today.
  • The moment in the evening when I am nursing Little and her body finally relaxes completely and she gives a little sigh and falls asleep. (And her little nails stop compulsively digging a hole through my belly button.)

These are the small threads that wind through my days, my life, and together make something beautiful.

When I was young I wanted excitement, adventure, something different and grand. Joy is hard to find amidst discontent. The older I get the more I realize that the most joy filled moments are often the simplest and most humble as well.

The gratitude community is here.
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