Birthday Giveaway

Today is my birthday and the end of my 34th year. Some of you will remember that for birthdays our family takes turns mentioning something they are thankful for about the birthday person and giving them some sort of blessing for the new year. A few years back, I remember my father in law blessing me to have a greater capacity for thankfulness. It wasn't until he said it that that I was able to understand that I was missing gratitude in my life. It's sort of silly to think back on it, but it had never occurred to me to be intentional about gratitude.

A week later I ran into Ann Voskamp's post about her gratitude list. I don't think it was a coincidence. And so I started to make a list of my own. It's true you know, practicing gratitude changes you, and the change is good. I have the past two or three years as proof.

Today on my birthday I am giving thanks for:

  • sun glistening on rain wet grass and patio tiles
  • Aaron's gourmet omelets
  • Jellybean's sleepy smiles when he sees me
  • The way the Girl was sad that she wouldn't be able to go with her daddy to buy me a present this morning and it matters so much to her that I get it this day.
  • When Aaron makes sure to smell like my favorite things.
  • The way my kids are laughing as they play together
  • Remembering to take time to read
  • Little's face when her daddy is being silly with her
  • The "like family" friends who love so well and are so generous.
  • Sunny Saturdays lounging in the yard.
  • back yard picnic on a school day lunch break
  • The way we lingered at the dinner table last night and talked
  • Baby smell mixed with the freshness of line dried sleepers
  • Little gave me brand new favorite stuffed dog this morning. "fo your birfday mama."
  • All of you who find me here in my little corner of the internet and encourage me so.
So for my birthday I decided I want to give you a gift. In case you didn't know, Ann has now written a book called, you are going to be shocked, One Thousand Gifts.

I haven't finished it yet, I just started reading my copy this weekend, but it is essentially a guide to understanding why gratitude, and how to practice it in the real everyday of our lives.

I will be giving away one copy of this book at the end of the week. (full disclosure, I paid for it myself.)

Here's how to win. Leave me a comment telling me about something that is a blessing to you this year, or a practice that you have discovered that changed your life.

If you want a second chance you can @carrien_laughs on twitter sharing the link to here so others can have a chance to win too.

I will close comments at 12am on Friday and choose a winner at random.

Thank you all for being here and sharing the journey.

holy experience


Making a marriage last

I'm always amused by the people who say that in order to have a good marriage you need to have regular date nights, or get away together a few times a year, or sit down and have talks that analyze your relationship. It amuses me because we've never gotten away with each other since we had kids, we go on a date perhaps once a year, and the talks I tried to have were ultimately frustrating and created more problems than they solved.

It's not that these things aren't good and all. They're often pleasant, except when you are unhappy with each other, because then you are just stuck alone with nothing to distract you from the fact that you are unhappy with each other. But they are not the secret to a successful lasting marriage.

What is it that gets one couple through where 9 others go their separate ways? Why does one marriage survive the rough patches that we all hit, and another doesn't?

You want to know what it takes to make a marriage last?

Sheer bloody minded determination. *

Yes, you read that right.

Determination and a whole lot of grace.

Every relationship has it's rough patches. Many marriages that last for several decades endure years of rough patches. No relationship goes on and on without one or the other wanting to quit from time to time. People aren't perfect. They hurt each other, most of the time by accident.

This is where most marriages break up. They quit because it's hard work to stay together. It might require growing up, learning to forgive, to not hold grudges, to be less selfish. In order to make it through you have to believe that quitting is not an option and be willing to change in order to make it work.

If you are wondering why one would bother staying in a marriage at that point you perhaps have yet to reach the point in your life where you value character over comfort and I will have to write another post to explain why that's important.

But here's the other reason. You stay, you stick it out because one day, the two of you have pressed and rubbed and sharpened each other to the point that there is the joy, and love, and friendship that you went into this contract hoping for. You reach a point where it just gets better and better.

But here's the other part. Every marriage that lasts and reaches that point is a miracle, a testimony to the redemptive and graceful presence of God in each of them. For it is not on our own strength that we give grace to one and other. We make the choice, but the power to live it out comes from somewhere else.

But we do choose each and every day, and the determination in that choice is what really gets some people through the places that make everyone else quit.

Those other things, dates, getaways, flowers, in the worst case they are just techniques that people use to avoid making an actual commitment. In the best case, those are simply the result of a choice made to stay and work on it. They are not the means, but the result. If they were necessary then most marriages prior to the last 50 years or so ought to have failed. Interesting that the reverse is true, isn't it? (Ask your grandparents if they had a weekly date night or yearly romantic getaway. I bet they will tell you they found the romance in the day and life right around them or they didn't find it at all. Mine of course also go dancing once a week... now that they have the free time.)

My grandparents, in the middle, are almost to their 65th anniversary.

*I'm not ever advocating staying in a situation that is abusive where you or your children are in danger. Just to be clear, that's not what this is about.


Adventures in the Cold

Christmas day was a balmy -3C in Alberta. My aunts and uncles kept commenting on the gorgeous weather. We didn't really notice the balminess, there was snow on the ground after all. The next few days we were laid up thanks to whatever virus they picked up on the plane trip so by the time we were ready to give playing outside a try the temperature was plummeting and it was snowing again.

nothing funner to do on vacation than lay around with a fever

But we wanted to go skating. I promised to take them skating on the pond I skated on as a kid. So we bundled up and started out on a walk to the pond.

Jellybean was layered in 2 snow suits
Right after I took this photo a lady pulled up close in her van and asked if we wanted a ride somewhere instead of walking in the cold. "Wow, I"m really in Canada," I thought, "this wouldn't happen in San Diego."

"We're doing this for FUN!" I yelled back to her, "But thank-you."

We didn't quite realize how cold it was outside, even then, with a person offering rides.

We kept going as the snow started to fall around us. My legs were freezing, but my feet were toasty thanks to the boots my friend lent to me. I don't know if I've seen her since high school, but thanks to a facebook conversation she, or her husband, dropped them off at my dad's house before I got to Canada. Actually, the girl's boots, Little's coat, and all the car seats I needed arrived the same way. (Well, and my  brother who also installed all the seats in my dad's van before he picked us up at the airport. Okay, and the baby snowsuit from my sister.) It was really amazing and generous and thoughtful. Thank-you every one who helped out with our winter fun.

At last we reached the pond, there weren't many people skating.

historical house that they moved here years ago
There is a pavilion/skate shack and concession near the ponds, it was also the skate rental place.
The skate rental place closes at -25C with windchill. Guess what? The skate shack was closed. We were lucky the pavilion was still open because otherwise we would be stuck out in the cold.

Try telling 3 kids who walked 20 minutes in the cold that they don't get to go skating now. The Boy was extremely disappointed. It was when trying to console him that I noticed the white blisters on his cheeks.

When you grow up in the frozen north you spend a lot of time in school learning about frostbite and how to recognize and treat it. I've never actually seen anyone with it before. It would be my kid.

Not well versed in the ways of scarves he cleverly pulled his down when it started to get wet from his breath and exposed his wet cheeks to the bitter, bitter cold.

I was kind of glad we couldn't rent skates because I needed to thaw him out.

blurry close up of disappointed frostbitten boy

We sent Grandpa Shane back to get the van and pick us up. He got at least halfway there before realizing that the keys were in my pocket. Oops.

because a playground is a playground, no matter the weather

Tired of waiting and sufficiently thawed out, we ventured out to the nearby playground. It was very cold, but they didn't care.

We would have to try skating another day.

I live in the HOOD, yo

Let me just start by saying again how much I love this house. The layout, the space, the fenced yards with room to play, the wood floors, the details, even the paint color. The neighbors are all big Mexican families with lots of cousins and never ending music blasting from loud speakers. The nearby shops are all labeled in Spanish and there is an amazing taco stand just a block away from our house. It's like being in Mexico, only more expensive.


We started to notice pretty soon after we moved in that this may not be the most ideal neighborhood. Maybe it was the way the local sheriff's department seemed to be permanently camped out on the corner nearest us.

Or it could have been the night someone ran through our yard evading capture by the authorities, or the drive by sheriff's vehicle with that big spotlight that they shine in yards when looking for someone that I noticed on several occasions while tucking my children in for the night.

The sound of police helicopters overhead kind of clued us in as well.

Aaron says, when people ask about the neighborhood, "Yeah, it's a great, the police are here ALL THE TIME."

So apparently we landed in gang central. Nice.

Once, when I was just driving around the block I stopped short at the sight of an officer of the law staked out behind his car with a high powered rifle waving me to go a different way. That was exciting. No playing outside that day.

Just in case I hadn't already figured it out, this happened the other day to remind me.

The Boy has a toy pistol made from wood and duct tape by his uncle. The other day we were heading out and I told him to pick it up and get in the car. I didn't notice him pretend to point it at a parked car and shoot with it. But as I closed the kids door I suddenly realized that there was a sheriff standing next to me, his car stopped in the middle of the street.

"This is a pretty violent and dangerous neighborhood," he says. "I wouldn't let him play with that or point it at cars because it could lead to a situation."

Then he pointed through the tinted window where we could see him still holding the gun and it looked pretty real. "I don't even let my son carry a play gun in car any more. If you get stopped or an officer sees it, it could lead to a pretty tense situation."

So I thanked him and got in the car to drive away. But what I really wanted to say is, "Where were you when I first came here to sign my lease?"


When Dads Decorate

I remember my first Christmas in this house. I was back from University, heart still raw from the finalization of my parents divorce where a judge decided, in my absence, that neither parent was legally responsible for 17 year old me, because I was finished high school and at U of L.

I felt as though I had no home and felt even more so when my dad kept shooing all my stuff up and out of site. "The first level has to look professional, my gallery is here."

Ornaments he made from last year's Christmas cards.
I cried and yelled something incoherent about it not even feeling like Christmas here because it wasn't comfortable and wasn't home. (Go teenage hormones. I was good at drama.)

I like them.

I don't remember clearly, but my dad's response involved getting me to decorate with him for Christmas. I think he may have even put me in charge, much to my little brother's chagrin.

The tree gets bigger every year I think.

I made this little tree 15 years ago. He still has it.

It wasn't much, but it was all we had, so we set about trying to cobble together a family, and a holiday, again out of the mess that remained and the little that he had to work with.

All this time later, let's just say that Christmas isn't a sparse event any more at my dad's house, and we've managed to find our way through the hurt to being family again.


Christmas with Grandpa Shane

my dad and his front door

Trying out the cold weather gear on dad's porch.

Our first stop in Canada was my dad's house, which is over 100 years old, doubles as his art studio and gallery, located in the heart of the town I grew up in... Oh, and home to 5 boarders (my dad tends to rent rooms for cheap to people regular landlords wouldn't touch, like just out of prison, or broke) with one bathroom and no laundry facilities.

We all did Christmas morning together

And yes, he did buy them all Christmas gifts and roast them a turkey.
This creates a bit of a challenge when traveling with 4 little laundry generators in tow. Also, imagine the state of the bathroom used by 6 guys with no women around. My dad said he ran out of time to clean it before we got there. He did have time to put up Christmas lights in his room which the kids and I shared though. Priorities people, the grandchildren must first be awed.

I did scrub that tub within an inch of it's life before allowing my children to bathe in it. But I didn't use bleach, a decision I still regret as I continue to treat the case of ringworm Jellybean contracted in his diaper area during our stay there.

that's not just for the grandchildren, My dad likes trains.

it's really real mom!
That aside, the kids had a blast. Which was sort of the point.

he always wears the top hat on Christmas day to hand out gifts

he's talking to Aaron on the phone.

discovering table hockey and 2nd cousins his age all in the same day.



We are home again, and back into work and school. There are still suitcases out waiting for me to finish unpacking them, the kids have yet another cough that they picked up somewhere. Hazards of traveling I suppose. I had some stomach trouble, probably related to a day of travel with no sleep the day we got home but that has passed as well.

My husband is wonderful, my home is lovely and comfortable, the weather is amazing, my van is so much fun to drive by comparison to the winter driving in Canada.

It was a really great trip. I am so glad for the time I had to visit, however brief. It's better to be back and my heart has been cured of its wistful wishing for things that won't be. I am content with the life we have, and that is good.

The visit with my nephew and his family was really good. (Regrets and Questions) He and the Boy hit it off right away over a mutual love of Star Wars. He is so big and absolutely beautiful. It was good to see him play, interact with his sister and parents, to see how obviously well loved and cared for he is. My heart is at peace again, and the what ifs are silly in light of the solid reality of what is. Thank-you everyone who said you would be keeping him in your prayers.

I have a lot of stories to tell of our time in Canada, and lots of photos to share. So check in soon I'll be sharing them as I can grab time to do so.


Regrets and Questions

She was 19 when she drank a little too much and ended up going home with a guy she would never see again, having sex for the first time and getting pregnant. It was a week before my wedding when she finally realized what was causing her to throw up all the time and instead of planning my bachelorette I found her hugging a teddy bear in the basement fighting back tears.

She was going to keep him. In her heart she wanted him. In her heart she loved him. But she had no idea what she was doing. We promised to be there for her when he was born. We moved countries for the third time that year in order to be with her. But it was as though she was gone. She was not ready for this, emotionally, or in any other way. She was blanking out and going through the motions but her heart was absent.

We knew that she needed help. She needed to decide what she was going to do rather than let life happen to her. She needed to act in a way consistent with her heart or it didn't matter what her heart would say. "We will support you in any way you want. You can live with us if you like. We will help you tak care of this baby but you have to decide that you are going to be his mother. You have to be ready to give up everything to take care of him if need be. Can you do that? You must ask yourself and decide."

We gave her 24 hours to think and decide. (She was due in less than 3 weeks and had already had many months to think it over.)

I lay awake that night praying that she would choose her baby. Just as I had lain awake many nights since the days of my bachelorette hoping that she loved her baby at least as much as I loved him.

She did love him. When she took a long honest look at herself she realized she had some growing up to do. She loved him enough to decide to give him to someone else who was better equipped to take care of him. We all cried when she said the word adoption out loud.

We wondered if we should adopt him, pregnant as we were with our first child and inexperienced in the ways of parenting. I know it was the nights laying awake thinking of him that was partly responsible for the change of schedule on my part and getting pregnant so quickly. But those we consulted who knew about such things said it would likely cause strain on our relationship to raise her child. I decided my sister needed me more than he did, because there were people waiting for a baby, but we were the only family she had.

But it wasn't just me that he changed before he was ever born. Our whole family made a place for him in their hearts. I found out later that my brother started to make plans to buy a house and settle down to help her raise him. He told me once that he started to think for the first time about marriage and children because of her baby.

In the end he went to a lovely couple who were unable to have children of their own. We took pictures at the hospital of her handing him to them. Then we took her someplace quiet for a week and cuddled on the couch and cried as her body recovered and there was no baby to take away the ache in her.

I asked, she had 10 days to reverse her decision, if we should go get him back and raise him for her for a few years until she was ready. She said, "no".

He will be 10 next month. Every time the Boy wishes out loud that he had a brother his age to play with I wonder what he looks like, and if giving him up was the right thing to do.

Today I am going to meet him for the first time in almost a decade. the kids will meet him too. I hope my heart can bear the sight of them playing together, the air heavy with what ifs and could have beens.

I am confident that his life is a good one. He is happy and well cared for. But I can't help thinking that we are all a good deal poorer for having let him go, after letting him carve such a space in our hearts.


Snowed In

I told a shocked listener yesterday that I was hoping for snow this visit to Canada. You know, so my kids could experience it.

I got what I wanted. I forgot to specify that I would like it to not dump more than 28 cm in a single night on a weekend I intended to travel by car.

I would still be in Edmonton if it weren't for my dad catching a ride with a cousin who drove out a day early in order to catch a flight and then driving us back through absolutely horrible road conditions. They closed the highway just after we got through. We passed more than 55 cars in the ditch in 141km. Slick roads, white out conditions.

But I was going to go to Calgary today. Today it's Calgary that has the weather warnings. Of course. We are caught in between. Perhaps I should have stayed in Edmonton longer to visit. Except, the whole city was under snow so not that many people were going anywhere anyway.

So we wait for the snow to clear a little, and the wind to die down. And I remember how crazy it is to someone who lives with it half the year to wish for snow.

We have had a lot of fun though. I have many pictures to share once I get home and can upload them.
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