11 Years Old

How do I talk about 11? Every day is different. 11 is trying on different things to see if they fit you. Including things like sarcasm and insults, only lacking the skill to make it lighthearted and without a sting, as some of those you try to emulate are able to do.

One day you try on sullenness, "Do I have to?"

You torture me with the slowest. possible. way. to do everything.

Other days you try being a smartass, or a know it all, or experiment with telling me how things ought to be done. Things I've been managing quite well since before you learned to wipe your own bottom, I might add.

You are.

You are learning your power, how much of it you have, and what to do with it right now, and it is with fear and trembling that I shoulder the task of trying to guide you through it. Well, that and a great deal of impatience because, seriously? What were you thinking?

And yet, I know that these are just like outfits you are trying on, seeing which ones you like the best, that fit with who you are. Underneath, the real you is ever present and shines through. Sullenness is dropped, like the soiled rag that it is, at the flash of a dimple from your little brother and you drop all pretense and engage him in an hours worth of wild chases and monster growls and mock fights. Of course, you are usually not doing something you ought to be doing in order to play with him. But some days I let it go on for a while anyhow, to let him drag you back toward your center and help you remember who you are. The kind, careful, gentle spirited Boy that also loves to play wild, dream big, and spend all day doing it.

Last month we were at the park with some relatively new friends from our homeschool coop. You had a younger boy pinned to the ground and were mock beating him about the head with your elbows while you sat on his chest, being just as loud as one would expect you to be while doing that. His mom came up beside me and said, "It is such a blessing to have him play with my son like that. He's so tenderhearted. He's just great with the younger boys, you can tell. They beat on him and he beats them back but he's really gentle toward them at the same time and really makes sure they all play well together."

I laughed out loud. That may be the first time ever the mother of a child you were beating on thanked me for the attention you were giving to her son. Which was totally awesome. They get you, and you get them, and you've made some real friends who understand how you are made and enjoy it.

But she was right. For all your roughness, and energy, and boyness, you are very gentle, and kind and careful. You are easily hurt by the way others are not as careful as you, when your kindness to BamBam is rewarded by kicks, when someone misunderstands your intentions. These are the things that go deep for you. Because you and I both know that your intention is most often to love.

One of my favorite moments at your birthday party was during the dancing. Yes, you wanted dancing at your hobbit party, and you loved it. Little wanted to dance with you, and only you, and so for 3 songs you danced with her. You held her hands and spun her around and guided her across the dance floor while she gazed up at you adoringly, little blue fairy wings on her back. It was too dark for pictures, so I just watched and let my heart soak in the sweetness of that moment between you, hoping I'll remember it for years to come.

I do have this one of you sword fighting with her though.

If there's one thing I hope I can do for you this year it's to help you overcome your own inertia. I recognize it. It's something you get from me. You can be a force, an immovable one. You plant your feet and you won't move, not until you understand fully why you ought to do so. In itself this is a good and useful quality and it will serve you well. But it makes you slow to adapt, and that's often not good.

I have to figure out how, as the primary person teaching you, to put you in positions where you are forced to just adapt, to move quickly, to try and fail and try again because you need this. I know I did. (Moving to Thailand might be the ticket.) I also know how frustrating it was, for years, before I finally got it and learned how to adapt when needed. Good luck my son. It's quite the journey.

I love to watch you think, to come up with solutions to problems, to build and figure out things. You decided to take on high school level biology classes this year. And you love them. You learn in spite of me these days. Which is great because I've been a bit overwhelmed with many things these days.

You are the biggest help to me, especially when you take the initiative and see something you need fixing. We shall balance this in memory with the number of times you must be called back to complete one single simple assignment that you are not excited about doing. And the number of times a day that happens. But I really could not get through the day without you.

Thank you for being you, for being completely content to be you, and for the work you do to grow in character and strength.

I love you. I'm so glad you still smile at me when I hold your hand, and give me hugs goodnight, and call me your mama.

May this next year be epic!


We're having a baby in Thailand!

You guys, number 5 is on the way! This is a very big surprise. (I blame the Reese's Rainbow pages I was sobbing over in August wishing I could adopt one of those precious babies right now, an impossibility with an international move pending and all. It seems to always happen. I start dreaming of adopting and end up pregnant again. What is with that?)

I thought I had better tell you since I'm blaming early pregnancy for my erratic posting schedule, and the way I keep falling asleep when I'm trying to do things.

So, questions answered.

1. I'm due at the end of May.

2. Yes, we still plan to go to Thailand. The kids and I will go earlier than Aaron, so as to not be traveling/moving during 3rd trimester.

3. We will stay with these amazing lovely people, probably until after the baby is born. Having friends with open hearts and homes as a place to land when pregnant with 4 kids in tow in a foreign country is such a blessing I can't begin to tell you. They foster kids in Thailand, and have a big walled property where my kids will have a blast.

4. Yes they have hospitals in Thailand and babies are born there all the time without incident. This may seem silly to point out but it's often the first question people have. Also, you all know me. I caught my last baby myself. I'm praying I can talk the doctors into just giving me a room and leaving me alone to birth unless I call them. I am a crazy westerner after all.

5. The kids are excited. Except BamBam, who has no clue. But judging from the way he adores every baby he sees, I think he'll be thrilled when he's presented with a younger sibling.

6. I am tired, and hungry, and nauseated but so far not actually puking. This is a miracle in itself, even if I am lower functioning than normal.

7. My parents in-law have apparently been scheming to send Aaron's youngest brother along with me when we go, he's 17, to help me on the plane and with the kids until Aaron arrives. This is incredibly kind and I'm very grateful if it happens. My two SIL's are making similar plans to show up around the time the baby is due as well. This is also awesome since one apprenticed with my mid-wife here for a while and they've both been in Thailand before and can help navigate such things.

8. We're extending the fundraiser and iPad giveaway another month since we realized we've been trying to do this while competing for attention with an election year, facebooks new not-all-your-fans-see-all-your-posts-unless-you-pay algorhythm, and my pregnant brain trying to organize it all and the numbers are pitiful so far. So someone is going to win an iPad just in time for Christmas.

9. If you pray, I covet your prayers. I feel very old and tired to be doing this again, and the time I need to properly care for myself now is probably a good thing, but it takes time away from the hundreds of other pressing things that have to be done. I'll take all the help I can get.

That's it.

Announcement over. I'm off to finish preparations for the Boy's epic hobbit party tomorrow. Only dozens of pork pies and seed cakes to bake, as well as potato soup, bread, and mini tart shells. Also some sewing for one or 2 more hobbit costumes... This is going to be the most awesome birthday party ever. If I survive it.



Fastest, Easiest, Cape with Hood Pattern Ever

You all know I make a lot of capes for my kids to dress up in.

With the Boy's Hobbit themed birthday part coming up this Saturday I'm about to enter full costume mode again. Which caused me to remember that I keep saying I will some day post a cape making tutorial. Well, that day has come. Just in time for all you last minute costume makers out there.

However, since I am not actually sewing a cape right now you get my awesome hand drawn illustrations, which I hope are clear.

Start with a long straight piece of fabric, usually about 45 inches wide. If when you buy it there aren't any words printed on the side and they are finished that will save you a step and you won't have to hem the sides.

Hold it up to your child and decide how long you want it to be. Grab it right at the place where the neck will be and then measure about another foot along to use for the hood. You will lose about 4 inches when you do the tie at the neck so factor that in before you cut.

Now, the simplest way is this.

Step 1

Hem any unfinished edges at the bottom and sides.

Step 2

Fold the hood section down over the body part, measure 1-2 inches and sew a seam from one side of the cape to the other.

This should give you a nice little tunnel right at the neck of the cape where you can pass a ribbon through to gather it and tie it on.

But I don't like to just leave that flapping around like that so....

Step 3

Press that fold flat against the cape, you can fold it either up or down, depending on which you would like to give more length to, the hood or the cape part. Whichever way you fold it will lose length. Basically it's like a fan fold that you are now going to sew down.

Now you are going to sew right along the first fold, and pin it down to the fabric underneath. Just one more straight seam.

Got it? Now it should look like this.

Now you can take a ribbon, I like the grosgrain ribbon that you can buy at Dollar tree because it's sturdy and doesn't fray or slip around very much, and slide it through that little tunnel. Put a safety pin in one end so you have something to feel and push through with your hands. Or tie a knot. An older child can help with this part. Don't tighten the ribbon yet.

Step 4

Lay it flat and fold the whole thing in half length wise. Now sew the 2 raw edges together.

If you can, do a French seam, so the the raw edges are covered. (That really just means flip the hood inside out and sew another seam, 1/4 inch away from the fold so that all the raw edges are neatly tucked inside. If you can't, your kid won't care. Trust me.

Now it should look like this.

If you don't want a pointy hood you can round it by sewing it along the line here instead of straight across, and cut off the excess.

There is only one more thing to do. Gather the ribbon and decide you optimal tightness so that it settles nicely on your child's shoulders. Then pin the ribbon on either side so it doesn't move, and sew quickly over both places where it comes out of the tunnel thingy to hold it permanently in place. This keeps the whole cape from cinching up too tight and hanging in the middle of your child's back and choking them with the weight.

That's it, you're done. Tie that thing on and have some fun.

One of these days I'll have time to show you the reversible version of the cape, which is almost easier than this one, almost.


Be Strong and Courageous

If there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that strong isn't something you feel, strong is what you do.

I've had people accuse me of being strong all my life (when they are being kind, there have been worse things said), and I've often been offended by it because I don't feel strong, and I'm sure they are wrong, and also, I'm confused by the unexpected reactions when I sometimes just stand firm about something I care about and accidentally cause people to be affronted. I think that persistence is mistaken for strength sometimes.

When Aaron and I were engaged he once said something to me along the lines of, "I can't stand being around weak clingy women, it drives me nuts. So it's good that you are a strong women."

This led to a long impassioned argument from me, panicked that he had the wrong idea about me, where I insisted that I was not, in fact strong, he had made a mistake, and the sooner he realized that the better so he could decide to leave now if that was going to be a deal breaker or learn to accept it.  For about a month I tearfully insisted that I wasn't strong and that he was going to be disappointed if he couldn't see that, and he calmly insisted that I was strong, and that I'd eventually come to see that he was right. He even cited my ability to tell him he was wrong about me and had better leave now rather than be disappointed as evidence of strength, since it's not what a clingy woman would do.

It took probably 7 years of being married to him for me to finally agree with him that I could in fact be strong. To this day I'm not sure if I was really was strong at the beginning, and he saw that capacity, or if years of being treated as though I was strong and encouraged to act that way eventually had the desired effect of making me strong after all.

I still don't feel strong most days. I feel overwhelmed, like I can't actually do any of the things I need to do. It would be so much easier to just crawl in bed and sleep for a very long time than to keep going when I'm tired, to keep trying when I fail, and keep pushing through to try and do things that feel impossible every day.

But then, if I could do it easily would it actually require strength to do it? I can measure strength only by looking backward. It's when I notice that something that was hard before isn't hard any more that I realize I've grown stronger. I keep my head down and keep on pushing and a few years later when I look up, and life has changed I get moments every so often to do the thing I was doing before and realize it's not hard for me anymore. I've practiced, and practiced and tried and didn't quit and now I can do what I couldn't before.

Now I can calmly deal with things that would have broken me years ago.

But there's a problem with this being strong thing. You just get more and more things to do. There are always more ways to grow strong in. I still don't feel strong. Because this year I'm doing things that are way harder than what I was doing a few years ago, and those were way harder than what I was doing before that. That overwhelmed feeling never goes away.

But being strong is really simple. If you ever wanted to know how to be strong I'll tell you the secret.

Do the hard thing, that you know is good to do, but you don't want to do because it's hard.

As a mother your strength training begins when you choose to change how you eat and take those awful tasting vitamins and things when pregnant so your baby will be healthy. It continues when you wake in the middle of the night, several times, every night, because your baby needs you. You keep going, through the sleep deprived fog, still trying, still doing everything you can and one day you realize you made it, you are sleeping again and your baby is older, and healthy and safe still, and you get to enjoy that for a day or two, maybe a week, and then there's teething, or illness, or a growth spurt, or potty training and you just keep going, because it's your job to, and you're the one this little person is relying on. No one starts motherhood strong enough to parent through everything. We gain that strength a little bit at a time, day after day, just by still showing up again and again.

Now I'm trying to parent, home school, run a non-profit, move a family to Thailand, and do something with orphan care that hasn't ever been done before. Every day there is something important I failed to accomplish. Every day. That feeling that I'm failing is the one that makes me most want to hide in bed until it's all over.

So last month I got this on my arm. (My SIL is a tattoo artist.)

be strong and courageous

I wanted it right there on the arm I use every day, to do virtually everything, so it would always be in front of me, reminding me that the choice is mine.

But that's only half the story, because the verse that this is quoted from ends with a promise. "Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

Someday maybe I'll get that last part tattooed on the other arm. For now, this is enough of a reminder. I can choose to be strong and courageous, because I'm not doing any of this by myself, even if it feels like it some days.

And neither are you.


May He Bring us All Home Rejoicing

It's one thing to spend a year talking about and preparing for a giant step, like picking up your whole family and moving to Thailand to see through the self sustaining orphan care model that you are designing. It's another thing to announce the same thing to the world at large.

There's something about taking the word "maybe" out of the sentence, "We're going to Thailand next spring." that makes the whole thing finally settle in that place in my brain that wonders why I'm dreaming up an art project for the wall near the front door and saving that fabric for curtains when we're leaving in 6 months. Six months! That's coming up fast!

I need to deep clean the oven so it's easier on move out day.

I tell myself that I can finish painting the bunk beds I sanded down for the girls room because I'll be able to ask a bit more when I sell them, along with everything else, when the time comes to leave. I wonder if anyone will even want to buy our run down, old, everything breaking on it van.

The Girl has a friend who put a bug in her ear about horse camp next summer and I have to tell her it's not likely to happen. She's probably not going to be around by summer time.

But what has surprised me most of all, and shouldn't have, is the looks on the faces of dear friends when they hear our plans. Because those looks are hardly ever joyous. Not at first. It's more of a crestfallen, "Wait, you're leaving?"

This is followed by a firm effort to buck up and be positive about the whole thing. I can't say how loved that makes me feel. Or how suddenly sad it makes me to start saying goodbyes.

But you know, I think I will finish that art project. I was going to put the benediction at the end of the morning prayers from Common Prayer - A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals that we have used off and on for quite some time now during our prayer time, because I wanted it to be something my family and friends see, every time they leave our house.
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
I want it to be the sending benediction for our family as well, in the time apart from friends and loved ones, that we will return rejoicing once again.


We are your love extended.

Our family may be the ones packing our bags and getting on a plane, but we know for certain that we can't go, unless you come with us.

You are such a vital part of this adventure that without you it doesn't happen.

We don't think of this as something that just we are doing. This is something we all get to do. We ask here for the privilege of being your care, love, and drive to see the world made better extended to where the world needs it most.

When the 30 children we are caring for right now grow up and become the business leaders of their communities, bringing change and life, you get to say, "I made that happen! That community is different because I made a choice to do something about it."

These kids, right here. They are going to change the world.

When the new childcare community in Mae Sot is up and running, and women are empowered to provide for their families, extended to include the children who have no families, I want you to tell your friends that you created a childcare community in Mae Sot.

This month we're asking for money, because we really need it to make this happen. But that doesn't have to be the end. If you want to be involved in a more hands on way our door is open and we love to match your skills talents and desires with the places where they can meet the worlds greatest need.

There is so much work to be done, and you are so welcome, and so needed.

Just think what we can accomplish together.

Plus, you'll always have a place to stay in Thailand, as long as we're there. So come and visit us in the land of smiles. You are always welcome to come see the work and jump right in.
For a one time gift click below.

To commit to a regular monthly gift use this one.

And don't forget that you can win an iPad too, courtesy of PUREFORGE,for every donation of $20. You know, to make it fun.

You get to choose your color
We'll be drawing on the 1st of November.

(Want another chance to win this iPad? Post this link on twitter or facebook. Just be sure to @charisproject or tag us on facebook in your post so we can see it.)


What We Plan to Accomplish

First read this. Thailand Bound - Finally - We need your help

I've been imagining the letter I want to write at the end of next year to everyone who has been giving regular monthly support to Baan Saeng Saiwan, the orphanage that we started with in 2008..

It will say,
Thank-you for your faithful support of this orphanage over the past several years. These kids couldn't have made it without you. I am very pleased to inform you that this home is now completely self sufficient financially and no longer requires outside support. Please feel free to redirect your support to another home.
Wouldn't that be the most awesome letter ever in the history of non-profits? I think so. I'm hoping you will help us to make it a reality.

Some of you came here because a friend told you you should and you are wondering to yourself, "Why on earth should I give my hard earned cash to support a family living in Thailand for a year or two? What does that accomplish?"

Do me a favor and watch this video.

That's what we're aiming for.

Give us 2 years in Thailand and we should be able to get an orphanage that cares for more than 30 children currently to being completely self sustaining. Not only that, but each of those kids will be receiving an education in entrepreneurship and business skills so that when they become adults they will be able to start and run successful businesses that provide an income for themselves and strengthen their communities as well. We will have successfully transitioned a traditional orphanage, completely dependent on donor support to an empowered, self supporting, community building entity.

Second, we will be laying the groundwork to set up family style, long term childcare, communities that are supported through businesses that the community establishes and runs. We will be empowering impoverished communities to care for their own.

We've been working on this for 5 years now. We've not been paid for any of it. We've given it all of our extra time, energy, and money for that long. We would keep doing it for free if we could figure out how to eat and still be able to give it the hours now required.

this is not a great picture. getting us all in the same place at the same time, and clean, for one of these is not my strong suit. I think the boy is in stage makeup for Peter Pan still.

If you think that the above is a worthy goal for a family to accomplish then please consider making us and The Charis Project a central part of your regular charitable giving, as we devote our lives for the next several years to make this vision a reality.

Remember every donation of $20 gets entered into the raffle for a brand new iPad.

We will be selling everything and risking loss for our family to make this happen, fully aware of the risk that it entails. We think being able to accomplish our vision is worth the discomfort of standing so far out on a limb so fragile. We hope you will be the safety net we need underneath.

We are simply asking for the privilege of being your love extended to where the world needs it most.


Thailand Bound - FINALLY! - We Need Your Help

Long time readers might remember 4 or 5 years ago when I told you all that we had been asked to help an orphanage and refugee community in northern Thailand and that we were planning to move there in order to do so.

Latest picture of everyone at the orphanage.
Well, that didn't happen quite as quickly as we somehow thought it would. Since then we, as in, you and us together, have

-Taken care of more than 60 kids

-Trained 4 staff members to think long term and solve problems in an entrepreneurial way

-Incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit called The Charis Project with a board of directors and everything that goes along with that.

-Got a truck so the kids could get safely to school that they then began using to bring the home income by using it for a transport business as a school bus and for farmers going to market.

-Conceptualized a model for self sustaining orphan care through entrepreneurship that makes homes for children at risk financially independent and empowers communities to care for the children in need among them. Please see the video below.

-Began working to make that concept a reality in our prototype children's home Baan Saeng Saiwan

-Purchased land for the home to develop for agribusiness that now has maturing coffee trees on it as well as other agriculture products and to raise their own food on.

And finally, received a grant this year for $15,000 to develop a second child care community in Mae Sot, this time from the ground up, with business development and entrepreneurship at it's roots and as part of it's DNA. We will be empowering women especially to be the financial providers for their families and able to care for the children without families that we bring to them as well, through education, training support etc.

"How", you ask, "have we been able to do all this in our spare time, working late evenings and weekends, flying to Thailand as often as possible rather than taking vacations, AND managing all aspects of the administrative and project side of running a non-profit?"

I honestly don't know. It's kind of amazing, now I think about it.

We could keep doing it this way. The orphanage would be self sufficient in another 4-5 years, and our second prototype community would be off the ground in maybe 7-10, with the rate we're going in terms of being available to actively train and work with them.

We could wait 10 years or more before going into Nepal, Ethiopia or Latin America where we've been asked to come and train people to do the self sustaining model, because we just don't have the resources and manpower to do it any sooner. We could keep changing the world slowly, so that in 2 generations perhaps we've done something about the extreme poverty that children all over the world live in, especially those without stable families, and the factors that contribute to it.

Or, we could give up temperatures that fall below 80F, ever, and well groomed freeways, and potable water, for bamboo huts and giants bugs and raw meat graciously offered by generous hosts in order to be there full time and get this done in the next 2 years and be ready to move on with 2 working prototypes.

We prefer the second option. So does our board of directors. They voted at the beginning of this year to direct energy and funds toward making it possible for us to go in 2013.

(Also, there are enough people here in the states who are willing now to volunteer their time to keep this show on the road regarding what needs doing on this end that we can leave it in their capable hands and be on our way.)

You see, the main thing we lack is someone over there who understands well enough what it is we're trying to do and how it can be done to be able to teach our staff. It turns out that we are best equipped to teach someone how to do our idea. Who knew.

So we're going, hopefully by the end of March 2013, which is when Aaron's exit from his current job will be complete.

SO here's where you come in. We need some cash to make it happen. We have about $7500 so far in a designated fund toward "educational development in Thailand." What that really means is that our family needs enough money to survive while we're there. We'll need to rent a house, and eat and stuff, which is fairly cheap in Thailand, compared to here and maybe get something to drive around in too.

These 4 characters want to be fed every day!
(We don't intend to live at the orphanage, though we'll be there often, because the idea is to empower and help them to do stuff all by themselves, which isn't helped by us being there all the time.)

To reach our minimum threshold we need about $22,500 more. Which is just over 1000 people giving $20. That shouldn't be hard. That's you and 99 of your facebook friends, times 10. If 10 of you donated $20 and got 99 of your friends on facebook to do so also, we'd be done.

Even better, would be if half of those people decided to donate that much every month for a year or two, until we have this done. That would greatly increase our options for accelerating development.

Most people when they head out to do this sort of thing have a home community that supports them, and we do have a smallish one here that is great, but small.

Some people have churches that send them out and give them a stipend. We don't have that. The church we've been attending since we moved here hasn't had a budget for that sort of thing for several years now.

But we do have you. You guys have been our community from the very beginning. You believed in us before anyone we knew in real life came on board. Without you this literally would not have been possible.

So, hi community. We need your help again.

Also, we've had a local business here in San Diego that embodies the entrepreneurial ideals of The Charis Project called PUREFORGE donate a brand new iPad to raffle off for every donation of $20. You know, to make it fun.

You get to choose your color
 So donate $20 and get one raffle entry. Donate $40, you get 2 entries, etc . We'll be making the draw on the 1st of November. (Want another chance to win this iPad? Post this link on twitter or facebook. Just be sure to @charisproject or tag us on facebook in your post so we can see it.)

Or, if you can't spare $20 just donate $5, $1, whatever you can. We have some other prizes coming up that you will be eligible to win. Even $1 donations add up big time if enough people give, seriously.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the letter I imagine writing at the end of next year and what we plan to accomplish. 

We ask for the privilege of being your love extended.

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