Thursday, February 6, 2014

High School Yearbooks and Things Babies Teach Me

There was an evening soon after Carolyn was born that I happened upon my high school yearbook. I was shuffling the artifacts of my life from one cardboard box to another when I stopped to leaf through the pages of not-so-long ago. In the final pages, just before the index, was a section devoted to purchased “ads” featuring darling photos of the graduating seniors as babies with notes from loved ones proclaiming their pride over reaching this important milestone. I had read these messages and looked over the photos many times before, but this time, with my own baby sleeping soundly near, I had new eyes.
These were no longer just friends or familiar faces I had passed in the hall, sat beside in history, studied with for Algebra. As I looked at the bright eyes, the chubby cheeks, the clapped hands, the open smile – I realized these people were first someone’s baby. I realized that before they were “hot” or “funny” or “weird” or “popular” they belonged to a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle who loved them deeply. I cried over this realization. I cried standing in my laundry room over a cardboard box of dusty yearbooks partly because I had a host of hormones racing through me, but mostly because I realized that every person I had passed in the hall was someone’s baby, was a treasured soul, and I had missed it.
Now, nine years later, this all came back to me as I sat in the nursery on Sunday morning, serving alongside my Julia. She loves to help with the babies, to hold and rock them, to pat their bellies and make them laugh. Babies are pretty great, on this we both agree. But babies are not like adults, and here is where my learning starts (again).
My recent obsessive internal monologue has revolved around my own perceived awkwardness, my inability to think of something clever to say, my stern expression and take-charge approach to pretty much everything – my longing to just be gentle. Until my Sunday morning nursery experience I had thought this was, perhaps, an impossible task. But then, for the briefest moment in the nursery, I was able to observe myself with these sweet babies and I saw someone unfamiliar. With these babies I can think of countless things to discuss, simple things but never awkward or forced. I can invite them to feel welcome with a smile, I gladly give up my personal space and comfort at their expense. And what do I expect in return; spit up down my arm, a smile on occasion, a dirty diaper – it makes no difference. None.
I realized that the distance between my discomfort with nearly every human over the age of about five, and the selfless love I feel when I am with a baby has much to show me about what I expect to give and what I hope to get in return.
What if I could see every person in the way I see a baby; as a treasure, belonging to someone, if not a parent than even more so to God? What if I could abandon my need to impress or even leave any impression at all? What if it is not about me but instead about keeping my eyes open to the needs of those around me, genuinely asking about their wellbeing and listening when they reply? What if I could surrender the need for feedback and praise, and enter each conversation knowing that sometimes things go well and sometimes people, young and old alike, need something that I simply cannot give? Perhaps I could relax a little more, be gentler, and did I mention relax? 

Monday, January 20, 2014

We cross the border by foot, and Estela is always waiting for us as soon as we get the green light from immigration - she is reliable like that. It was late October, so we came with an artificial Christmas tree stuffed in a backpack, Spanish Christmas books, and seven kiddos.

The first time I came face to face with intense poverty, that is the first time I crossed into Anapra, I got sick from sobbing so hard. Therefore, I anxiously watched the kids take it all in. However, before your turn ten you seem to take the world in wonderful gulps of amazement rather than seeing need and sadness and struggle.

We went straight to the library, and were once again grateful for this little oasis of learning that God has planted in Anapra. Children trickled in, apprehensive at first. Teens asked for help with their English lessons, the little ones exchanged nervous smiles. Then Carolyn took a glue stick to some construction paper and sprinkled some dirt over it - sand art was soon being made and exchanged by the handfuls.

We took long walks to visit an elderly friend, attend mass, see the Sunday market, share in a meal, and then another. The kids went to the top of the mesa and looked down on the whole of Anapra. All the while they were in awe at the life of their new-found friends, "they get to climb mountains and play in the sand EVERY DAY!" Indeed that is the bright side of unpaved streets and desert landscape.

Our short visit ended with many hugs and promises of more visits soon. Estela's son took us all on a tour of Juarez on his bus as we headed back to the bridge. The calm streets, with the occasional jogger or bicyclist was a welcome sight after years of violence that had kept us, and so many others, away. The hope of a brighter tomorrow is indeed in the air. I pray we are a part of it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What’s Working: Green Smoothies and a MasterCard

While I may lament 2013, I cannot wallow for long. There is progress to be made…

First, Green Smoothies

An unexplainable neck pain, accompanied by numb toes, led me to the chiropractor in November. I appreciated the suggestion of my sister-in-law to try Dr. Chambers after my last chiropractor took to indoctrinating me with his opinion on a variety of topics ranging from vaccines to politics… no thanks. Dr. Chambers did the trick and was funny with only a sprinkling of opinion. Besides making my neck (and toes) good-as-new, he also made a suggestion about my breakfast habits. Where I had previously enjoyed a bowl of LIFE or instant oatmeal, he suggested a green smoothie.

Let me pause for a moment to explain something I have noticed. We all have our strengths and subjects we excelled at in school. Mine was math. Health, no. PE, oh boy. Biology and Chemistry, nope. I get the impression, from those who are gifted in the areas of nutrition and wellness, that is seems a no-brainer to “eat healthy.” In the same way I think everyone should do algebra for “fun” my wellness-aware friends suggest it is as simple as just “stop eating junk.” But when I, the admittedly struggling wellness student, seek to investigate all matters of “junk” (beyond the obvious Doritos and soda) I am immediately overwhelmed:

milk “does a body good” OR cows’ milk is food for baby cows only
plenty of whole grains OR meat and veggies only

veggies BUT only organic

So, I was grateful when Dr. Chambers said simply, “you should try green smoothies.” Essentially, START HERE. He had a handout, which matched much of what Pinterest (the zenith of knowledge) also has to say on the topic. And so I did.

Benefits: I feel full until lunch, more energy, better mood

Effort: half a green apple, two big handfuls of organic spinach, half cup of frozen blueberries, spoonful of Vitamineral Green (another sister-in-law suggestion, ground up super veggies powder), half a cup of almonds that have been soaked overnight in water, cup of orange juice or water – all blended.

And now, the MasterCard

I am the type of person who, when finding $5 in her pocket, will quickly spend it…Starbucks anyone? Is this impulsive? Absolutely. A character flaw? Sure. Reality? Yup. What does this do to my personal finances, for instance when I see the paycheck was just deposited and we have an extra bit of cash-aroo  (that, ahem, we will need in two weeks to cover that unexpected car part), enter Target! Honestly, it makes a mess. Compounded over time it is embarrassing.

I am 32 years old, have been married for almost 11 years and am mid-way through raising two daughters. I, honest to God, am just figuring out how destructive this behavior is to my financial well being. I don’t know if you read above, but math is my favorite, making this confession all the more humbling and did I mention embarrassing?

I have long suspected that the way I “think” about money is far more problematic than the actual amount I make. I have thought if I could just trick myself into thinking we have nothing, I wouldn’t be tempted to take that trip to Target. But tricking yourself is not advised, trust me, it is inherently flawed. It is akin to setting your clock ahead ten minutes in order to arrive on time, it only hones your subtraction skills.

I was encouraged pre-Christmas by the wise words of several ladies who are smart about these things. Dave Ramsey’s daughter, Rachel Cruze, is lovely to listen to and her Facebook feed is nothing but encouraging (no shame, which I appreciate). A good friend from church also prompted me with the simple restatement of the obvious, “give some, save some, and don’t spend more than you make.” For the 1,000th time I heard truth and this time it led us to a new method of banking in 2014.

Rather than keeping all of our finances in one checking/savings location, we opened a new debit account (again, Pinterest has much to say on this as well). We chose Capital One 360 MasterCard because 1) no fees, 2)no minimum, 3)interest earning, 4)easy overdraft protection, 5)great app. Into this account is deposited our monthly allowance for groceries, gas and miscellaneous expenses (clothes, eating out, gifts, etc). The remainder of our budget stays in our old account out of which bills are paid, giving is distributed, savings is managed. It’s a simplified envelope system of sorts that keeps my greedy little paws off of next month’s rent.

Benefits: Knowledge of where we are heading financially, reduced stress, guilt, and shame

Effort: Opening a new account online, calculating a family budget and allocating a reasonable amount to the new account, having grace with myself as I learn to live within these newly delineated boundaries.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 Hurt: and why 2014 will be EPIC

Let me begin with expectation and hope – after all I am a lover of numbers and 14 is my luckiest. I have always imagined the 14th of March to be the loveliest of birthdays on the calendar. And at the impressionable age of 7 (of which 14 is a multiple) I was in a local beauty pageant as Contestant #14 which I happened to win and this fact sealed the deal for me – 14 is most assuredly my luckiest number and thus 2014 is going to be epic. Please Lord, let it be so.

With this (bizarrely concocted) beacon of hope in mind, I just need to say that 2013 hurt, but not in the truly painful way of job loss or cancer, thankfully, very thankfully. In fact, upon reflection I have (don’t we always have) much to be grateful for in 2013. My children grew another year, still healthy, ever learning, ever stretching themselves and me in beautiful new ways. My friends and I witnessed the opening of a little library that was 99% God’s doing and 1% ours. My work sent me to New Orleans and my girls got to savor bignets, oh those sweet SWEET bignets. My work also landed me in India where I was treated with over-the-top hospitality, dare I say like royalty. (Speaking of, Kate and Wills and now George, ok 2013 you’ve almost redeemed yourself.) I hiked the mountains in Utah with a handsome photographer as we celebrated 10 fantastic years of marriage. I am really very blessed, a whole awful lot.

But 2013 had some painful lessons, well only one actually. The reality is that 2013 ended with a long hard look in the mirror. Nary a goal was set or achieved, a milestone met, a gesture of kindness offered to others, a friend called. I stalled out. I backslid on financial goals, significantly. I ate crap and then topped it off with a long nap. Pretty much from September on (at least, probably since Valentine’s Day if we’re real about it) I overwhelmed easily. I forgot to be grateful, but more importantly hopeful. And in that churning is where the real hurt of reality hit  - the reality that my cross-country coach in high-school tried to teach me long, long ago – that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

In hind-sight, the fact that I survived only 3 days of cross country in my entire high school career might have pointed towards 2013. I used to wheeze along very pathetically and the coach would encourage me with “Come on Katie, you can do it, Rome wasn’t built in a day!” Which, frankly, just made me want to give up because it probably took, I don’t know, like 500 years to build Rome! So… I quit.

And thus - I fear I have spent much of my adulthood in a stumble towards the daily quitting that was 2013.  The daily, weekly, monthly expectation that my real life, the one I’ve been expecting and dreaming about, is JUST about to appear. The mail will hold an unexpected check of incredible size that will pay off all debts and leave plenty for the down payment on a dream home. I will be at a healthy weight with clear skin because of all of the napping I do. I will miraculously enjoy small talk and no longer feel awkward and regretful when I leave any function at which I had to think of something to say to anyone at all. I will suddenly excel at my job so well that no Government shutdown can touch us. Enter 2013. Enter reality. Meaning, 2013 will be the year of the great realization that the life I long for does not just happen, it must be built one wheezing stride at a time, and it will take more than a day, week, month or year.

Before me in every moment is choice after choice, to build my Rome or neglectfully wait for it to be built for me, shabbily, with streets to places I didn’t want them to go. I must daily, even hourly, make the choice to invest in my children deeply, to spend and save wisely, to take good care of my one and only body, to learn and grow in my career, to listen well when people talk and to thoughtfully choose kind things to say in return. 2014 is full of opportunities and, as I’ve mentioned above, will be epic. There are no monumental vacation planned, no large milestones to celebrate. But the blueprints that have been sitting in my mind waiting expectantly to spring to reality will be laid out on the table and new roads slowly built. Please Lord, let it be so.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The seller let our realtor know that he had mowed, so we could go walk around the 10 beautiful acres. I seriously, no joke, thought it would look like 10 acres of well-manicured lawn when we pulled up, and was beyond disappointed with the rough path of long grass holding underneath all manner of wildlife (lesson learned). As we trudged over the rough (read sharp and pointy) straw-like bent grass the girls jumped when an animal made some kind of noise that they had previously only heard through an animal sounds iPad app... maybe an owl? The hot evening sun made us all glisten and I learned the second lesson, ten acres is so much. Carolyn, my nature enthusiast, was thrilled. She led the pack and identified a great place for a hide out and tree house. Julia, on the other hand, was apprehensive at first and absolutely repulsed by the end. "I HATE this land!" she screeched in tears when the second large mosquito landed on her pink arms to get some dinner. If she knew how to curse, she would have been by the time we made our way back to the car. "I am NOT a country girl! I HATE mosquitos! If we're getting land, it better not have any BUGS!"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

On cool summer nights we drive into the country on narrow two-lane roads so slowly that we get passed, which you are allowed to do in the country. We pass huge "dream homes" and tiny falling down homes. An occasional cow or sheep, or better yet horse, gets a sigh from Laura and Mary in the back of the wagon. If we come to a complete stop in front of a potential property they hop right out and scope out potential climbing trees, wondering "ok, great, we love it, can we buy it today!?!" They are mostly disappointed when we drive away, until we stop for ice cream and rock out to Mumford with the wagon sunroof open.

I had the opportunity to share a message on Children's Spirituality recently.
It's been on my heart for a while, if you'd like to listen, click HERE.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Grandpa and me at the Balloon Fiesta

When I was a little girl I lived in Albuquerque. We watched the Balloon Fiesta every fall (a tradition I would love to share with my girls someday). We played in a dusting of snow every winter and hiked the Sandia mountains in the summer - or at least that's how I remember it. We were also 800 miles from "home" in Kansas City, and since Al Gore was still in the beta phase of his marvelous interweb invention, we could only hear from family with an occasional (and expensive) long distance call or letter. A Valentine's Day box of "Someone in Kansas City Loves Me" sweatshirts arrived in February, a box of Topsy's came every Christmas, a huge shipping box of wrapped birthday gifts arrived right on time for each of us kids' birthdays, and the twice-a-year visits to and from Kansas City were treasures on the calendar.

I don't know if it was the long time away from them, or my being the oldest grandchild, but I quickly grew to absolutely adore my Grandparents, and I still do. Maybe everyone does. They probably do.

This weekend we celebrated my Grandpa's birthday. I suppose he wouldn't mind me telling you he is turning 84. {My sister thought it was still 2011 so in her world he is only turning 82.} His official birthday is Wednesday. My Grandma's birthday is Tuesday, the day before his, she would have been 81. We used to always celebrate their birthdays together, always.

This weekend we took Grandpa to a barbecue dinner to celebrate his first 84 years. I bought him a chocolate butter cream iced cake that he was mightily impressed with, so much so that he thought I had made it, which made me laugh (a lot). The great grand kids (and a few spares) gathered around to sing him happy birthday and help blow out the candles. Then he told us stories about my Grandma, their secret to 57 happy years of marriage. He told us about Kansas City before the suburbs. He told us about his parents and how they met at a walk-a-thon. Then he told us what a walk-a-thon was.

It made me smile a lot, which is really all a girl needs or wants in life. I think it made him smile, too, I hope. Which is all I really hope to do on my 84th birthday, too.
Grandma and Grandpa ca. 1951

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our bedtime routine looks a little something like this:
I tell the girls its time for bed about 100 times. I finally follow them closely up the stairs and monitor the proper placement of daytime clothes in the hamper and nighttime clothes over the sleepy heads. They {sometimes} brush teeth and climb into bed with several requests {always}. "I need some water", "Can you read THIS book!?!" "Where's TEDDY!?!" Then I read a chapter from the Little House on the Prairie series.

(we're on "On the Banks of Plum Creek" right now -
at the part where the grasshoppers destroy the crop, spoiler alert}

Brandon is then beckoned for the final good night kisses and granting of final wishes (water mostly). A prayer is said, tender hearts are reassured of anything last-minute before dreams sweep in ever so gingerly... but until then, I pin.

I lie in the dark with only my iLight to direct me to the land of a million projects and the perfect home. I plan for a chicken coop and garden, the perfect Valentines are found, then trumped by the next, I find just the thing to make Christmas 2013 epic I tell ya, and then the food - the glorious food. So yeah, I know that Pinterest can be a time-suck and overwhelming and "when will anyone do all those things anyway!?!" but seriously that's not actually the point. The fact is, for me, it is better than television, it feels productive and inspirational and communal all at once. So, I kind of love it and walk away each night with a few new ideas tucked into the cloud that I may or may not ever use but smiling, so that' good.

So, here's a few I've tried and REALLY liked. I save all the recipes I've actually made to THIS board because on a day like today when the photographer/husband/homeschooler/cook calls to ask "how we made that one thing, with the orzo, and the chicken and spinach!?" I don't want to dig back through my 5,000 pins (yes, 5,000... if I had a dollar for everything I'd pinned...)

1. Oreo Truffles - I found out why I'm not a chocolatier, so props to those guys.
2. Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin - we did this a lot in the suite life, and I also made if for my Grandpa whom I love, who consequently loved this pork
3. Lazy Saturday Breakfast - I said while preparing "I really hope this tastes good" to which Brandon reminded me "It's crescent rolls, sausage, eggs and cheese, how could it not?" Fact.
4. Cheesy pull-apart bread. The hardest part is cutting the bread, the rest is ah-mazing.
5. Crispy Edamame - healthy, easy, yummy snack we served on New Year's Eve (along with 1, 4 and 7 cause come on, it was New Year's)
6. Bacon - so pinterest did not introduce me to the wonders of bacon, but it sure taught me how to prepare it without stinking up my house for days.
8. Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Apples - I brought this for Christmas dinner and it was was a hit, plus its pretty in a rustic, Little House, sort of way. Bonus.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

You know I'm going to be an alpaca farmer, right?
Well, that's the plan, so now you're all caught up.
It's a someday plan. Like a Pinterest home, I simply dream (for now).
So in order to get smart about these things, the obvious next step after dreaming, we visited a local alpaca farmer who confirmed what I had thought - they are adorable, easy to care for, and even city folk can succeed at this business - sweet.
Alpacas are cousins to llamas (think smaller, cuter, friendlier, better teeth).
They are just the right height for an eight year old girl, and so they followed Carolyn around the entire time, she was an alpaca whisperer. Julia was timid but interested, and thus the alpaca farm holds great promise for distracting two pre-teen and then teenage daughters from spending their waking hours obsessed with boys (fingers crossed anyway)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I find resolutions to be daunting.
I prefer to select a word around which I can orient my year.
Last year was "INTENTIONAL", consequently this was also my mantra in 2010.
This year the word that I feel I need is authentic. It just keeps bouncing around in my head like an unanswered question - but an uncomfortable one from which I would like to run.
To me authenticity is vulnerable and honest and completely terrifying.
It also sounds like a lot of work.
To me this is the hard work of unearthing truth of who I am,
as opposed to creating who I think I should be.
And here's the authentic truth: that hard work makes me want to dive into a huge bag of Oreos. I will dunk them one by one in a deep glass of milk, and then what was it I was so upset about...
Or maybe I'll stick to it,
ask honest questions of those I trust,
discover who God made me to be,
live into a fuller life each and every day
because that's so much better than an Oreo dunked in milk.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Julia continues the quest for a sport that suits her best. Ice skating was not it, too wobbly and uncertain for my risk adverse girly. She has decided that perhaps tennis will fit the bill, and has been practicing with Brandon. She seemed committed enough to enroll in some lessons, so we'll see how that all works out. I'll tell you one thing, she's become one heck of a hoola-hooper so if they have a club for that, she's joining!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I had never experienced nerves for my kids like this, but never the reward either. To watch her work so hard at skating for the past two years, and then see her bravely perform in front of the arena of spectators - so freaking cool. I have only watched the video about one hundred times since Saturday... that's normal I hope?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In a tradition that has only been broken due to a brief visit to Baltimore - we have once again had a hauntingly good time at the annual Enchanted Forest Halloween Party (remember years past HERE). This year's addition of spooky games including the relay eyeball-on-spoon races, mummy wraps, witch's brew making, pumpkin painting, cookie eating contests, and feeling icky body parts. Of course the food brought its own spooky themes, and everyone had their bellies warmed with chili and hot dogs before heading to the Enchanted Forest to be... you guessed it, enchanted.
{Check out all the photos from the party and the parade HERE.}