The Eve Tree

Rachel Devenish Ford and I traveled in overlapping circles for a few years before we actually met. I knew who she was long before she knew me, I think. She has a kind of presence, a look, a quiet, graceful way of moving through a crowd that makes you stop and watch her, just because.

That of course will embarrass her to read because she's quite shy and introverted and often wishes she was invisible. She will probably flatly deny that she is graceful, but she is one of the most graceful women I know all the way through. She is also the reason Aaron and I found ourselves all alone in the middle of the desert within a week of meeting each other.
You can tell by the way she writes how carefully she observes people. She knew, before I did really, that it was important for Aaron and I to have some time together for a while.

Yesterday I read her debut novel, The Eve Tree, in a single sitting because I couldn't put it down.

It is about Molly and Jack, and their grown children, Molly's mother Catherine, and her mother. It's about how we get tied to a place where we birth and are birthed and how it forms us. It's about mothers and daughters and how mothers shape who we are and yet can't shape who we are at the same time. It's about blame and responsibility and finding peace. Oh, and there is a fire in there too, threatening to burn everything to the ground.

This cover art is perfect I think.

Somewhere in the middle of this book I wondered if anyone who didn't already love Rae with such devotion would respond to the book the same way as I was, because every word and every line oozes with her personality. A few pages later I realized it didn't matter. If you don't already know and love Rae you will by the time you finish her book, at least the part of her that you now know through her characters.

What strikes me most is how I fell in love with her characters. They are deeply flawed, broken, and hurting, often irritating. If I knew some of them in real life I would probably be impatient with them. But Rae shows their humanity with such compassion and love that I see them through her lens of grace, and the beauty strength and resilience that are just as possible. I couldn't help but love them all the same way Rae loves, and the way she has always shown me that God loves, unconditionally.

I care about Molly and her breaking, even though she's often foolish. I want her to be whole, just as Jack does.

I see myself in Catherine, and in the ways I relate to my own daughter who is cut from such different cloth from me. I'm enchanted by the way she writes a male character with such a sure hand, never missing a note, the tone so consistent and believable.

I had the urge to get out a highlighter and just color lines that I especially liked, turns of phrase and descriptions that the writer part of my brain kept noting as particularly skillful even while the reader in me was simply swept along by it.

The description of of a little girl heaping flowers around her dying father's pillow undid me, and the way she needed to make space for her mother on the bed.

I sobbed through the last 3 chapters at least.

Molly's journey is one that I think a lot of women from our generation have taken, or need to take and this story is true in so many ways that it points the way toward healing for all of us. It is a masterfully told story, unfolding slowly, layer by layer, working down to the rawest and deepest parts and drawing the reader in almost imperceptibly until they are caught, surprised by how much they care.

I have a few books that I hold onto and read again year, after year, after year. The Eve Tree is going on my bookshelf next to them. I already want to start at the beginning again.

The Eve Tree is available in print for $14.99 on at amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Eve-Tree-Rachel-Devenish-Ford/dp/0615477836

To get it as an E-book at the special release price of of $4.99 go here.

To read her blog go here.

To find her on facebook go here.


Team Work

There was once this time, when I decided to do this thing, I knew it was a really important special thing but no one understood or seemed to care that I was doing it. It went on to be to be one of the most critical and formative years of my young adult life, and I met my husband that year, so I'm glad I chose to do it anyway, in spite of how much of a struggle it seemed to be to do so.

If you wonder what exactly I mean by struggle I'll just sum up three ways, the pastor of the church I went to thought I was silly and self indulgent and was the exact opposite of supportive and made me feel small and stupid with his words. (In his defense I probably was silly and self indulgent, but I considered his criticism to be an obstacle.)

The second two ways involved a guy we trusted stealing all our money and being turned away at the border for 2 whole days.

That story is only one example of several times when I have been disappointed by the lack of support from the people around me when I try something.

While that isn't always the case it has happened often enough to breed in me a touch of cynicism, a loner sort of devil may care "I'm doing this and you can't stop me" sort of attitude. I've gotten used to being the only person carrying my flag in my one girl parade down the center of the street, waiting for the folks to rally that never came. In some ways that a good thing, but not always.

So imagine my surprise when last week an idea that I, and a few others, have worked really hard on developing to the point where we were ready to share that idea with others and when we did and they all took it seriously. It's embarrassing to admit, but I was really surprised.

You can work really hard on something while keeping your expectations super low in order to not have your heart broken when it doesn't work out. I know this, because I do it all the time.

So I am pleasantly surprised by all this, and really happy. It's like that time a few years back when I told all of you about The Charis Project and you responded with cash. It was just surreal. You thanked me for the chance to be a part of it, and for the chance to do something! You, thanked me! That part was unexpected. I never imagined that people would say thank-you to me when I asked them to give money.

That's just not what people do right?

Last Thursday, when we got to the end of our presentation, there were people asking how much they needed to make a check out for. Blow my mind!

These past few weeks have been a blessing, in the form of people like Leanne who actually do stuff, and then do some more and do it really well, and Emily who is pulling up the slack for me on all the little details I haven't had time for and William who is using his considerable expertise to put together something really cool, and Doug who uses his gift of knowing and connecting people to make all this happen and my MIL and brother and sisters in law who gathered for pizza and a mass collate and binding of 100 presentation booklets and entertaining the kidlets. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's really great to be part of a team for a change. It's a bit of a learning curve this, learning to work with others, but it's so cool compared to going it alone.
So here's a big Multitude Monday thank-you to everyone who is part of this community, this team. I'm learning, at last, how truly valuable that is.

Also on my thank-you list for the week.

You guys, for being my online community.

Megan, for lending me clothing to wear, again!

The Girl for taking it upon herself to start getting her baby brother changed and dressed in the morning. She's 7.

My kids who last Tuesday pitched in and made peanut butter and honey sandwiches for dinner while I tried to meet a deadline.

Ashley, for coming early on Thursday, cleaning the kitchen, tidying the kids room and then taking them off to Beema's house early so I could have the morning to get ready and prepare.

Alex and Levi for being the best uncles ever.

Ana, for unswerving kindness.

Milly for holding the baby and walking him to sleep, even though she missed most of the presentation as a result.

Karen for proofreading and notes.

and Jellybean for reminding me to smile every day.


Forums, Presentations, Syndication, oh my!

Today I am getting dressed up, in borrowed clothes, because I don't really own any office appropriate wear anymore, at least, not that fits, and go tell a crowd of people at a thing called an Entrepreneur Forum about what we have done here.

Ok, maybe not a crowd, but 100 or so feels like a crowd to me. Facebook causes says it's more like a group. Fine, group.

But I'm off to tell them about The Charis Project. (Check out the website upgrade I've been working on.) I will tell them all about you, about what you did here, the way you helped all these years and have cared for all these kids. I will tell them the story of how a bunch of people I've never met banded together to create a community that has sustained more than 30 kids, keeping them safe and healthy and in school for almost 3 years now.

Even though Aaron and I are the ones up there talking to them, we wouldn't be anywhere at all without you, and neither would those kids.

So thank-you, from the bottom of my heart. It's our baby's big day. Hopefully you will inspire others to help and move us closer to the dream of making orphanages self-sustaining and a better place for kids to be. I hope this will be the turning point.

Also, today is the first time ever that a post of mine has been syndicated by blogher. Please go over and read it there and comment because that makes me look good. :) Here's the link. Home is Shifting

I was syndicated on BlogHer.com


Finding our life

"Mama, what do you want to do with me that's fun!"

I look around at the breakfast dishes still on the table, the laundry I need to hang to dry, the floor that needs to be swept, again, so the crawling baby doesn't find anything to choke on, and the laptop, where a whole lot more work is waiting. I can't remember the last time I did something fun with her, just with her, just because.

I think of mixing school into the mix. "I will read to you!" I announce. I read out loud all the time, but rarely the books she finds interesting. I'll read her one that she chooses.

"But I want to do a puzzle or color," she says.

I agree and go to relocate the baby and use the bathroom and when I come out she has it all set up. An ottoman is pulled up to an end table and a coloring book is laid out. "Sit here mama," she pats the tiny space beside her, "I will hand you crayons."

We color 2 pictures, hers a baby tiger and mine rainbows and stars. The Girl gets in on the action to, she knows the order of colors in the rainbow better than I now and helps me color them, blending yellows and greens.

Three heads bend over paper and crayons and Little is pleased with herself. I realize again that this is why I'm doing all those other things.

"Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

This rings true for mothers to. We will find our life, our real worth living life, when we are willing to let go of the things we are trying to save; our sanity, our dignity, a clean house, a sense of self and a  purpose past nurturing these short people in our care. This is our purpose. It's the treasure we give up other things to find, these moments with these people where presence is love.

What are you trying to save that's keeping you from your real life?


When Seasons Change...

Their longs limbs no longer fit into the tiny clothes I pack up into bins, give away. The tiny newborn sizes give way to sturdy legs and chubby 9 month old thighs.

Those give way to 9 year old limbs, long and strong and full of self importance, the good kind, the confidence that he can accomplish what he sets out to accomplish. I'm not keeping baby clothes anymore but passing them on as soon as they become too small.

But still I keep the Girl's clothes, watching as hemlines and jeans creep up higher and higher, putting them away for the little sister who, all to soon, is losing the baby fat that dimples at her wrist and lengthening her legs, all the while keeping her torso the same.

It goes too fast, this season. The older ones point poignant reminders at the younger of how fleeting this all is, how quickly bodies and minds fill up and expand and move on. I snuggle the baby close, hold him tight against the waves of time, even as I let go of the too small sleepers. I will pretend to eat the back of his neck and make him giggle and try as much as I can to stay right now, because I finally understand that I can't get now back again once it's gone. Not ever. Some seasons only come once.

7 quick takes

Look at that, another whole week has gone by and I haven't posted at all. Not that I haven't had several ideas for posts or even started writing some, only to find they require more attention than I have time to give. This week has gone so fast. Yesterday I looked at Aaron and asked, is it really Thursday tomorrow? What happened to the week? Time does that to you when you're trying to meet a deadline I suppose.

And I missed the memes I sometimes do that fill in the spaces, 1000 gifts and pretty happy funny real. So, lucky you, you get a Friday mishmash of both of those all smashed into 7 quick takes. I know, you're thrilled. I promise, I'll write again when I'm finished creating projections for future milestones for implementing microfinance as a form of income and community transformation in a self-sustaining orphanage model. (hint: I'm not really sure what order these need to go in. Hoping to look knowledgeable and on top of things enough to attract an adviser who can help turn ideas into concrete plans. I'm waiting to hear back from the team on this one.)

Ok, enough of the never ending presentation prep.

1. On Friday at Aaron's parents house his mom was holding the baby near the kitchen sink. She turned it on suddenly and he burst out laughing. So she did it again, turned it on, and turned it off again right away, and he busted out giggling again. So she did it again, and again... each time he laughed. Soon we were all laughing and gradually, one at a time, the whole family gathered in the kitchen to watch him laugh so hard he was sagging, drunk looking by the time he stopped. You can bet that made it into the #1000gifts journal.

2. It rained 2 days this week and so Aaron couldn't work. It was awesome having him home, the kids loved it, and I loved having someone to talk to and help me with work. He got stuff from almost but not quite ever done to all the way done while he was home. It was awesome.

3. One of the things we got done this week was updating our guidestar profile. It's like our baby is all growed up and a real live entity.

4. I'm thinking about writing a post on how morality is just too small a goal for our children. Think about it. If we only focus on avoiding bad behavior but never give them a story big and exciting enough to inspire them to good behavior then we're setting them up to fail. For example. What's better, telling boys to avert their eyes to avoid being tempted by women dressed immodestly, by whatever standard we determine that, or telling them that each woman they see is their sister and it's their job to defend them, their honor, their dignity, and their lives? I think that if they are busy doing the second that first won't be much of a problem for them.

5. Aaron's sister Haven has been writing songs for a long time but just recently she started playing public concerts. Her last gig was at a coffee shop near the beach, and early enough that we could take the kids along to go and see her. It was like a huge reunion, friends we have known for ages and ages, all gathered in to crowd the place out. I'm hoping she'll let me shoot video of her playing one of the songs so I have it. It's a bit of an ear worm and I've been humming it all week.

boy in his bouncer watching his auntie sing

6. While at the concert I looked across the room to see Aaron's youngest sister, who just turned 18 this month holding her camera with the big lenses for the Girl to see and shoot through. It was a totally sweet moment, it would have made a good picture too. Also, I loved having all the people around who wanted to hold the baby, He loved the attention, I love the rest it gave my arms. The boy is heavy now, and squirmy.

7. He's figured out how to swing when he's bouncing, and even in our very wide doorframe he can get himself over to the sides now. Tonight he looked like a parachutist, gripping a strap in each hand and taking a run at it before leaving the floor and swinging out and back again. He started to slow down again and then dropped off, a little bit at a time, until he was passed out hanging in the bouncer, head rolled back. He looked a lot like the guy who drank to much at the frat party, only cuter, and he already had a diaper on in case of accidents.

There you go, more random for your reading pleasure. I hope you will forgive me for not writing actual stories rather than snippets. Soon... I hope. I figure if I just keep showing pictures of that adorable face you'll be satisfied for now.


Random and Cute

I changed a poopy diaper this morning, cloth so I had to scrub it out afterwards, and this afternoon I still smell poo somehow, even after washing my hands 100 times or more.

I've been working on this presentation still, all week long. It's getting closer, it's much better, but it's still not done. We've got less than 2 weeks to get it ready now. I have to have the stuff for the printer finalized today.

I'm making some sort of desert to take to dinner tonight at my mil's. I think I shall just pick up ice cream and cones on the way and call it done.

The Girl on the other hand is showing me pictures of elaborate desserts in gourmet cookbooks and wants to make one of those. Her favorite the one where you blow up balloons and dip them in melted chocolate. When the chocolate hardens again you pop the balloon and you have solid chocolate bowls to put stuff in. I doubt we're going to pull that off in the next hour and a half. Especially since we don't have any more chocolate in the house. (How did such a travesty even occur? Oh right, I may have been stress eating a bit this week.)

So in lieu of a real post, you get this random collection of thoughts. But, A dear friend just posted a bunch of pictures she took at Aaron's birthday party 2 weeks ago, so I'm stealing them to put up here so you can see too. Observe the sweetness.

Playing with his boy

I'm going to be working most of the weekend so let me live vicariously. What are you doing this weekend?


Bio of a SAHM

So I've been really, really busy the past week or so. So busy in fact that I spent most of mother's day glued to the computer trying to finish a presentation for review while Aaron took the kids to his mother's house. That actually sort of happened by accident and involved the threat to Little that if she didn't swallow her parasite medication, poor girl has worms, she would have to stay home with mommy until she did rather than go to Beema's house. At the last minute she finished, gagged, ran out the door and they all took off leaving me... with time to work, which was sorely needed. Happy mother's day to me.

But the presentation is starting to come together. It's all for something called a Quarterly Entrepreneur Forum, which a guy on our board invented and put together, where we invite a bunch of successful entrepreneurs to a networking type of meeting, and then tell them about our idea to create a self-sustaining orphanage model using entrepreneurship and various adaptable business models such that orphanages can support themselves by running businesses that employ the entire community and the children learn, by growing up in such an environment the principles of business management. That way as adults they can support themselves through business. (website revisions with more detail coming soon.)

So my bit is to present the history of The Charis Project thus far and show cute slides of the kids. I can do that. But last night during our planning meeting, my friend Karen, who very graciously lent her considerable skills to help us make the presentation better, suggested that we put bios of all the people presenting at the back of the executive summary to lend some credibility to our presentation.

It's a good idea. There are a lot of cool people on our board and cooperating with this; like William, who played the best chess player in the world when he was 15 and it took 4 hours for the guy to beat him. He launches web and e-commerce companies in his sleep. Doug, who it seems at least once a year a company that he consulted for goes from private to the Forbes top 100 list. And I'll give you a hint, they are closer to the top of the list than the bottom. Then there is the guy who founded Opportunity International, that really famous micro-finance non-profit. There is a lawyer who represents huge businesses.... even Karen got her degree at Yale... It's amazing to me how smart these people all are, not mention the cool things they have done

Then there's me. I have to put in a presenters bio too. So I've been thinking about what my bio would say by comparison... you know, all my great achievements and the like.

Carrien Blue dropped out of a BA program. She made the grievous mistake of taking the advice of a guidance counselor who didn't even know her and talked her out of any sort of academic post secondary pursuits based on the fact the her grades in music were higher. Though she had A's in everything and was in the honors program. So she applied for and won a bunch of scholarships and went off to learn how to be an opera singer and a concert pianist. She was the first person in her faculty to be approved as a double major, on two instruments.
She was unable to make herself care enough about music to devote her life to it, when there were so many other important things to do besides entertain people. Knowing she was headed for a lifetime of hanging out with musicians all the time and already somewhat turned off by the way her profs started to  clumsily hit on her after they consumed a glass or two of champagne following concerts, she had a bit of a crisis and quit, determined to figure out what she really wanted to do, and who she really was.
(She used to be good at music, but it's been a decade since she really practiced, so she's not sure if she is anymore.)
She had a number of experiences and relationships, not romantic, that were very educational. She spent a year traveling with a group in a sort of bohemian mission type of existence. She learned a LOT about herself and others. She was going to go to Nepal and work in an orphanage there, but there was this guy, and he had a great smile and he loved her. So she married him instead.
They made plans to move to Thailand and work in the Bangkok slums with drug addicts and trafficking victims. But then she got pregnant and he decided to do a master's degree in Canada instead.
While he was in school Carrien was being a mother. Which was really the most worth doing thing she has tried and the most worth noting. But, at home taking care of 2 little kids she chafed. It was difficult to take care of them knowing what she knew about all the kids out there who didn't have anyone to take care of them. She wanted to do something for more kids than her own. But eventually she learned to embrace her role, and stopped worrying about doing something else.
Years went by. The guy she married was also having trouble finding a way to help people rather than just work to support his own family. They both had it in their hearts to be of real service and help to the world beyond their own family. 
One day they heard about the refugee communities in Thailand and the kids that needed help. Her husband traveled to Thailand and came back trying to figure out how to be of help to those kids and their communities.
So, in an effort to serve her husband, who still had to work full time, and the children in Thailand, Carrien somehow founded a non-profit, even though she hates paperwork.
She had the idea that the orphanage could be self-sustaining by growing their own food. It was he husband, and others who took it to a really cool level and thought of the business idea. (Actually, the people taking care of the kids had the same kinds of ideas so really, it was a colabarative effort.)
Now she is the CFO and Secretary of The Charis Project, and she's doing something to help kids beyond her family, but she's really hoping that this meeting will generate enough interest that someone else will take over her job so she can go back to being a stay at home, homeschooling mom of, now, 4 children. Though if that happens she will probably have to learn how to do it in Thailand.
Her areas of expertise include, breastfeeding and de-boning a chicken simultaneously, getting kids to swallow medicine that they don't like, telling stories, and singing songs in as boring a way as possible so that kids fall asleep. She's also pretty good at making grilled cheese sandwiches, and manages to get dinner on the table most nights. She can tune out the sound of loud children to get a bit of work done and she considers herself an expert in making babies laugh. Once in a while something she writes gets published.

I know, I'm totally impressive. Those business types don't know what they're in for.


We Were Sisters

I promised in this post last week, where I was waxing rhapsodic about the multitude of expressions of faith in God, to tell you a story sometime. Not a day later I heard about the Rally to Restore Unity, which is fun and clever, not to mention needed, and has it's own hashtag. #restoreunity So it seemed a good time to tell my story.

Here it is.

My accompanist in college was named George. When you are a voice major a good accompanist is a very important thing to have. George was very good. We spent a lot of time rehearsing. We didn't really hang out socially, but we were friends.

George was married to a sweet girl and they had a little baby boy. George was also Mormon.

Cut to a year later, word spread, somehow as it does, through the college, "George has stomach cancer. He only has a few weeks to live. If you want to say good bye, go to the hospital now."

They hadn't told anyone he had cancer, they were trying alternative treatments, it hadn't worked. Now the end was near.

Now, I grew up praying for sick people to get better. You can doubt my sanity all you want, but some of them actually did. Lots of them didn't. I once watched as a girl with a severely sprained and casted ankle, in the space of about 3 minutes went from terribly swollen to the cast being so loose it was falling off and she could jump on it.

See, that there, already there are people from other Christian traditions who are backing up mentally because that's just weird. And they're right, it is weird. But so was Jesus. I mean, the guy raised people from the dead and healed them and stuff and told his disciples to keep on doing it after he left. I grew up believing that was still our job.

Anyway, there was no way I wasn't going to pray for my friend George to get well. If you've seen it work even once, you aren't going to not try that option when a friend is at death's door. At least, I wasn't.

But he was Mormon, so I was super nervous, because I didn't want to offend him and I didn't know if he would let me. Also, what if it didn't work? I mean, it might not, and then what?

So I took myself down to the hospital and there was a crowd of rowdy music majors hanging out in his room chatting, so I waited. They left. It was just George, and his wife, who's name I forget now, sadly, and me. I was just mustering the courage to ask him if I could pray for him when the door opened again and a lady from their church walked in.

She sat on the foot of his hospital bed and looked at the two of them. "I just had to tell you something. I was praying today, and I don't know why he chose me, but I just know," here she paused to push past tears, "I just KNOW that God loves me. I don't know why he would give me a gift like that, to just know and feel it but I do, and I want to share it with you."

Well, that rocked my little Christian world.

I recognized her. Or rather, I recognized the spirit in her. It was the same spirit that was in me. We were sisters, and I knew it.

So I asked then if I we could pray for George.

"You be the voice Carrien", he said, and stretched his long arms and huge pianist hands to either side of his bed as we all joined hands. It wasn't a great prayer, but it was sincere.

"Father, you say that by your stripes we are healed, so I ask you to heal George. I want him to be here to watch his little boy grow up. I know you can if you choose, so I'm asking, just in case."

That woman, who's name I never learned just stared at me. I could see it, the way her eyes widened and her gaze narrowed straight on me. She was looking for something to say, but I knew what she was feeling. "You are a very special person," she said, over and over again, "You are a very special person."

I think she recognized me too. We were sisters.

But she was Mormon and I think they believe crazy things. Look who's talking.

But we were sisters.

That day undid me. I could never dismiss another's faith again, as I had so glibly in the past, because, they might be sisters, or brothers. God didn't seem to need them to agree with me in order to speak to them and tell them he loves them, in a way that they know, deep down, that it's true.

Later when I met my father in law I became familiar with a saying of his in his book Authority to Heal and it rang true from my experience. "God seems to be willing to transmit on any antenna we put up."

If God isn't picky, who am I to be?

And with that, I offer my rally to restore unity sign.

Go check out the rally page. They're also raising donations for Charity: water.


Arachnid Invasion

I think there is a black widow living under the passenger set of my van. I don't know for sure because I've never seen it. (If I had it would be a squished spider.) But the webs I pull aside are thick and strong and exactly like a widow web. It could be a brown widow, which doesn't seem to inject as much venom when it bites, so it's safer, or black. Whatever it is, yesterday it's eggs hatched.

We were running to get to the orthodontist, and we were late, so I only half listened to the kids tell me about the spider that blew away when they opened the car door. "Good," I thought, "It's gone."

Driving down the freeway at 70 miles and hour is not a good time to notice dozens of tiny little spiders stringing webs above you head, just so you know. I squashed at least 20 before we got out of the carhalf that were crawling on me. The Girl has 2 bites on her, but no neurological reaction, so I think we're safe. (I'm totally gonna win mother of the year.)

I didn't think to buy any bug spray, we were in such a rush yesterday, so today I expect the van to be festooned with arachnid finery. I'm tempted to just leave them all in there to eat each other and then kill the lone survivor. But it will probably just hide under the seat again and then I'll be back at square one. Also, I need to go to the post office in a few hours.

Guess who's going to be squishing spiders again in the near future?
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