Friday, December 13, 2013

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me - a book review

How do you start a conversation after months of silence? It feels a little awkward; nevertheless, the silence breaks with a book review.

Jesus, my Father, the CIA, and Me, a memoir… of sorts by Ian Morgan Cron

This is a book about God’s mercy toward and pursuit of Mr. Ian Morgan Cron. It is about his relationship with his earthly father (a man with incredibly high highs and low lows), or attempts at relationship. But mostly it is about his relationship with his Heavenly Father.  It is filled with stories and remembrances of a life growing up, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The stories in this book will compel you to turn the page again and again until you reach the end.  Some of them are unbelievable; some funny, some hard, some gut wrenching. I love Mr. Cron’s writing. It is conversational, honest, and simple in tone, but has a depth that makes it entirely worth the read.

If you are in need of a Christmas gift for a reader in your family, I think this would be a good choice. It is both entertaining and profound. It is a book I will keep on my shelf and pull down from time to time to read and remember that God is merciful, full of grace and pursues us relentlessly.

Friday, September 20, 2013

While the children were in school...

I wanted to find a picture to go along with this quote, but then I realized, the words paint the picture well enough. Happy Weekend friends.

While the children were in school, the town seemed abnormally quiet. The quiet, by mid afternoon  would sometimes seem almost entranced.

And so I loved especially the time of day when school let out. What the will of the neighborhood had managed to pen up all day in something like order would all of a sudden burst loose and stream out both ways along the road. A rout of children would pour from the schoolhouse down into the quiet town--a cataract of motions and sounds:  voices calling, shouting, singing, laughing, teasing, arguing; boys running, dancing about, hitting each other, sometimes fighting in earnest; girls switching their dresstails and hair in mock disdain and condemnation of the behavior of the boys. And often you would hear a boy's voice chanting above the rest:  "School's out! School's out! Teacher wore my britchies out!" Or something on the order of "Hey, booger-nose!"

-Taken from Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Favorite App

If you have a smart phone and you enjoy a Starbucks every now and then, you really should have the Starbucks app on your phone. It is one of my favorites and here are a few reasons why:

Oh, but before I go there, to maximize the potential of your Starbucks app usage, you need to join Starbucks Rewards and register a Starbucks gift card. (and even better, if you do this by September 22 they will give you a free drink!!)

So back to why I love the app:

1.) I can pay for my drink with my phone. My gift card - now turned gold card - is loaded onto the app. I can reload the balance with a few button pushes (this gets dangerous) and pay for my drink with ease.

2.) Every time I buy a drink, a gold star shows up in my cup. As a gold card member (you have to earn your way to this status), I get a free drink for every 12 I purchase, plus one on my birthday (this applies to green card members too).

3.) The stars move around when I shake my phone. It's the small things people. 

4.) Every little bit, my Starbucks app offers me a code for a free song download or a free app. Just today, I scored a song from Jack Johnson's newest album. In the past I have downloaded songs from The Lumineers, Ben Harper, and the Civil Wars to name a few. I also got the Sky Guide app for free which is really cool (another favorite). 

5.) If I need to find the nearest Starbucks the app shows me the closest one.

Of all the apps I have loaded on my phone, this is my favorite. You can't beat free drinks, songs and apps. The Starbucks app is a GOOD thing.

Your turn, What is one of your favorite apps?

Monday, September 16, 2013


Over the weekend we celebrated Zak's birthday. His fifth birthday, but his first one with us. He has been talking about his birthday cake for months so to say he was a little excited would be an understatement. 

We also celebrated the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival with cupcakes instead of moon cakes. We hung lanterns in our trees and enjoyed a beautiful September evening with family. The moon festival has an element of thanksgiving in it, I have heard it called the Chinese equivalent of our American Thanksgiving holiday. 

It is one of my favorite Chinese traditions that we have attempted to make our own. I think you would agree ANY reminder to give thanks is a good thing. And while the Chinese technically thank the moon, we chose to thank the Creator of the moon instead. 

He has given us a lot to be thankful for which was abundantly clear as we celebrated a little boy and the amazing gift of family.

We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near.
    People everywhere tell of your wonderful deeds.

Psalm 75:1

Friday, September 13, 2013

Riding the Short Bus to School

Her preschool bus was a “short” bus, but that was different because every preschooler rode it. When the short bus came to get her on her first day of Kindergarten, it was another story. She was disappointed because she thought she was going to ride the “big” bus with her siblings. Her disappointment, in turn, triggered worry in me. 

We live in a culture that is way more focused on the outward stuff than the inward. I am a product of my culture. I make snap judgments of people based on their looks. Sometimes I want to become friends with someone (or not) based solely on how high I perceive their coolness factor to be. Thankfully Jesus, who is not at all like this, is teaching me to be more like him, but looking past the outward does not always come naturally. So the worries come when I think of my daughter and her very outward special need interacting with kids who are also a product of our culture.

When I look at Suhn, I see her special needs. They are hard to ignore. I am constantly reminded of them when I put on her braces; see her walking or trip over her walker. I see them, but I have no problem looking past them. She is not a SPECIAL NEEDS child; she is a CHILD with special needs. 

When her ride on the short bus first came up, I didn’t question it. My brain doesn’t work like that. I accepted the fact that she needed help on and off the bus, and that it would be more difficult for a traditional bus to cater to that need. But, when she had her first ride on the short bus, my brain started working. I questioned the decision and the potential stigma it might create.

I still question it, but the reality is it’s not about the bus. Not really. There have been times in the past when a child has made a comment about Suhn that could be hurtful. Thankfully, Suhn has been largely unaware of these types of comments, but I know the day is coming when that kind of talk or attitude will be heard and will hurt. The older she gets the more aware she will become and the more aware her peers will become. I think the start of Kindergarten and her mode of transportation made that day feel closer.

It also brought up questions. When kids see her on the playground at recess will they ignore her because she can’t keep up? She doesn’t have a lot of choice where she sits at lunch, will others seek her out or leave her alone?

We try to be proactive when the questions come. We talk to Suhn about her gift of friendliness and how she can use it. We talk about how if new-to-her kids sit by her at lunch, it is an opportunity to make a new friend and encourage her to look for kids at recess who might need a friend to play with.

Most days, it is easy to keep the worries at bay. Especially when my excited giggly girl gets off the bus telling me all about her day from the moment she lays eyes on me.

But like all moms know, those fears are still there even if they lay dormant for awhile. I don’t want her to get hurt. Especially over something like how she gets around. It’s such a little difference. 

So when the worry creeps in, I am trying to use it as a trigger to pray. To pray for kids who can look past the outward. To pray she will develop strong friendships with those who do. To pray she will use her gift of friendliness to glorify her Creator (she already does!) And to pray that if the hurt does happen, it will not tear her down but will instead build character and strength in both of us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pre-Cut Slices

About a month ago I began rummaging through Money Saving Mom's website. Not so much for the money-saving ideas THIS time, but for freezer recipes. I was motivated and ended up making and freezing breakfast burritos, waffles and banana bread. I also made up a batch of homemade baking mix (to replace the Bisquick I normally buy).

(I know that all sounds very Betty Crockerish and maybe even a little Proverbs 31ish. Don't let that one paragraph fool you. My motivation to do more is already waning - after one batch of each- a month ago- and while I would like to say I will soldier on...   we'll see. Although the finished products have come in handy, and it really doesn't take that much time... .)

Anyway, through that perusing, baking and freezing process I stumbled upon a fun little tip. One that most of you will probably think something along the lines of "really, that's your tip, so obvious."  But hey, this is my blog so I'm going to share it anyway.

The tip was this, after you make a batch of banana bread, cut it into slices and THEN freeze it. That way, when you need to, you can pull out a pre-cut frozen slice, stick it in a school lunch, and your kiddos can have a little bit of home-baked goodness for lunch. OR, you can pull out a pre-cut frozen slice, stick it in the microwave for a few seconds and YOU can have a little bit of home-baked goodness.

Revolutionary, I KNOW!

Or maybe not, but either way, it works for me. :)

And since we are on the topic of school lunches, do you have any tips/ideas? If so, PLEASE share!!

Monday, September 09, 2013


If you read my blog you know I love books. You also know I periodically write book reviews for books I've read.

At the risk of sounding abrupt (it all fits together in a minute)...

Have you heard about goodreads?

Goodreads is a social networking site for readers, book lovers, etc. It is a place where you can share the books you are reading and what you think about them. You can join book clubs and discuss books with other readers. You can follow what your friends are reading. You can get recommendations for future books to read.

It is a fun site. (at least I think so)

I periodically write book reviews on my blog. I am more consistent (and typically more concise) at writing reviews on goodreads. Brace yourself for a little self-promotion, if you enjoy my book reviews, friend me on goodreads. I typically read a variety of books ranging from kids lit (one of my favorite genres) to self-helpish type books to novels to classics. Whatever piques my interest and keeps it.

There you have it. Goodreads. Come on over and join the fun.

But, while you are here, why not leave a comment answering one of my favorite questions:

What are you reading and do you like it?

Friday, September 06, 2013

How Far Can Riches Take You?

"How Far Can Riches Take You?," the e-mail asked along with a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio as The Great Jay Gatsby.

If you have read the book, I think you would agree it gives an honest answer to that question. Even a Biblical answer. The Bible tells us that the "love of money is the root of evil." In the story of Gatsby, it certainly made people miserable, although its hard to tell if they ever realized the root cause. Daisy couldn't seem to escape from its grasp.

I think that question is one of the (many) reasons I love Fitzgerald's Gatsby. Let's face it, the lure of money is a temptation for most of us living in America's abundance. Even a glimpse of lavish wealth can make us discontent. Or at the very least curious, feeding our fascination with Hollywood and the rich and famous. A fascination that is a waste of time.

Gatsby exhibits lavish wealth of the highest order. He incites the curiosity. He has almost everything he could ever want. In the end, even extravagant riches couldn't get him what he wanted and so much appears to be wasted.

I wish I was immune to the fascination with riches. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I live with an attitude of thanksgiving for what I have. Sometimes I live in the moment taking in the lavish blessings of the life God has given me. Those are the times when peace and contentment have an easier time sticking.

But other times, I find myself wanting more. Prestige, wealth; it all looks so alluring. Its a mirage that promises it will take you far, only to lead you further and further away from the things that really mean something. In the end, the pursuit of riches for where they can take you is a waste of time and even worse, a waste of life.
"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of--"
I hesitated.
"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it...High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl...
-Taken from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Chicago Style Pizza - Homemade

I am not a gourmet cook. I like simple recipes that are relatively quick to pull together. Once I find a recipe I like, it will find its way to our meal plan with regularity. This is one of those recipes. 

It is one of my favorites for homemade pizza. Kory and I both love it. Our kids not so much, but lets face it one pizza won't cut it with our family so that is an easy work around. The other plus is that there are always leftovers for us to enjoy later!

I found this particular recipe in my Taste of Heaven cookbook. Go here to find out how you can purchase one; the purchase benefits Lifesong for Orphans, a win-win.

Here is the recipe:

1 loaf (1 lb.) frozen bread dough, thawed (I use Rhodes whole wheat and thaw it in my 9x13 pan)
1 lb bulk Italian sausage
2 c. Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced (as a non-mushroom lover I omit these)
1 sm. onion, chopped
2 t. olive oil
28 oz can diced tomatoes, drain well
3/4 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. fennel seed, crushed (I omit this too simply because I never got around to buying it)
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, grated

Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of a greased 13x9-inch pan. In a large skillet, cook sausage until no longer pink. Drain. Sprinkle over dough, then top with Mozzarella cheese. In a skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in oil until oil is tender. Stir in tomatoes, oregano, salt, fennel and garlic powder. Spoon over Mozzarella cheese; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 for 25 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Do you have a favorite homemade pizza recipe? Please share!

Monday, September 02, 2013

An Afternoon at the Big House

Last summer I had the opportunity to check an item off my bucket list, an experience I won't soon forget. This summer tickets for an item on Kory's bucket list fell into our laps at the last minute. 

So Saturday morning Kory, Simon and I found ourselves on a road trip to The Big House in Ann Arbor Michigan, home of the Michigan Wolverines.

Kory has been a Michigan football fan for as long as I have known him. It used to baffle and annoy me. As a loyal Illinois fan, Michigan was the enemy. But marriage has a way of changing a person. I went from rooting against Michigan, to being a neutral observer and somewhere in the past year or so the beginnings of Michigan fandom started to take root. 

Kory on the other hand is passionate about his Wolverines. So when he was given three tickets to opening day at the Big House, we had to go. We planned to arrive for the game an hour before it started, but crazy traffic in Gary, IN, a torrential downpour on the Michigan border and long lines at Burger King had us running into that legendary stadium just as the ball was kicking off.

I have been to my fair share of stadiums over the years. Baseball, tennis, basketball and football. I think most sports aficionados would agree there is something special about walking out into a stadium for the first time. Leaving the darkness of the stadium's underbelly, through the tunnel, spit out to take in the vista of brilliant colors of field and fans laid out before you.  

I remember the first time I went to Wrigley Field, or the first time I took in Soldier Field. Awesome experiences, but none of them came close to walking into the Big House for the first time. 

The green of the field surrounded by the masses dressed in Michigan maize and blue. The energy and atmosphere. The heat and camaraderie of over 100,000 passionate fans (and Michigan fans are among the most). It was a moment worthy of any bucket list and while it wasn't officially on mine, it should have been.

It was a great day. The weather settled right at 80 degree with a cool breeze. Michigan couldn't stop scoring and at the end of the game we were able to go down by the field to watch the players head into the locker room. 

And then it was time to head home. Over twelve hours of driving for 3 hours of experience. Bucket list items are worth a little crazy. This one was. In fact it is a trip we are hoping to repeat. 

Kory's not the only Michigan football fan in our family anymore and we have five other kids we hope someday will get to spend an afternoon at the Big House.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Nightly News

I heard a radio program the other day encouraging Christians to follow the news. They talked of the importance of knowing what is going on in our world and being able to engage in conversations with others about it. They talked about listening to or reading "the news" from a variety of perspectives, both those from a Christian worldview and those from a secular worldview.

The topic resonated with me, because quite frankly, I don't have a clue what is going on in our world. Oh, I hear murmurings about conflicts or other world happenings, but when it comes right down to it, I would have a hard time conversing with anyone about what is going on outside my neighborhood.

So I decided to start DVRing the nightly news.

I figured we could fit twenty minutes of news-watching into our typical nighttime routine, between a Parks and Rec and Jimmy Fallon.

It's been an interesting experience. Honestly, it has been gut-wrenching at times. The story of the gun-man entering a school in Georgia made me panicky (thankfully no one was hurt). The images from Egypt and Syria have been disturbing. I have teared up and felt nauseous all within the span of a few minutes. I have questioned whether this is something I really want to watch.

And then as the twenty minute broadcast moves on, I hear stories of heroism. Stories of people working together in community and by the end of the newscast I have been reminded of the good in people, along with the bad and evil.

A part of me would like to stick my head in the sand and forget that bad stuff happens. Who needs to be reminded on a nightly basis, right? But a bigger part of me wants to know, to pray and remember in the midst of ALL that happens, my God is sovereign. He sees the good, the bad and the evil and He is in control and working in the midst it.

How about you? There are so many avenues to keep up with world happenings these days. Do you and if so how? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tackling the Paper Piles

Back to School is in full swing and with it comes the MOUNTAINS of paper. And with five kiddos in elementary this year, when I say mountains, I mean it.

I don't remember for sure where I got the idea (as with most things, it is not original with me), but when Mya started school, my school binder started with her. 

This handy book sits on my desk and contains all school-related papers that I feel a need to hang on to for reference throughout the year. School calendars, Lunch Menus, Bus Routes, Class Room Policies, etc. I have a folder for each kid (labeled by room code) and when papers come home that need to be kept, this little binder gives them a place to go to. 

Another way I try to keep the paper under control, is by dealing with it immediately. While my kids inhale an after school snack, I sift through their back packs. Most of the papers go straight to the recycle bin, if I kept even a fourth our house would look like something from the show Hoarders. 

Every once in a while a picture makes it to the bulletin board or is taped to our book shelves for display. If an item has special significance or is just too cute to pitch, it goes in that child's school box. Then at the end of the year we sift through each box and determine what to keep and what to pitch. Again, it gives the paper a place to go. A place that is not my kitchen counter.

These simple systems have been instrumental in keeping the piles of paper that come with elementary kids under control. 

What are some ways you keep the paper piles under control? 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Six Months

Yesterday marked six months since Zak joined our not-so-little tribe. 

Sometimes when I look at his face I can't help but marvel at how he came to be ours. What a wonderful, amazing twist God wrote into our lives last spring when He made it abundantly clear we were to adopt again. Zak is my miracle child. 

His transition into our family has felt incredibly seamless, but even so, I have noticed in the past month or two our little boy opening up to us in new ways. While he has always allowed us to love on him and freely given us smiles, it is only recently that he has started to instigate affection. 

Last week I told him I missed him while he was at preschool and he responded with an "I missed you too." A month ago he would have just nodded with understanding. 

It's hard to put into words, but I see an increased level of connection in his eyes. I believe he is starting to realize what a forever family is, and that he truly has come home. 

Adoption is a miraculous act and I am beyond blessed to get to experience it up close and personal. It is a constant reminder of my own adoption by my Heavenly Father when I choose to see it. It has stretched me and grown me like nothing else.  It has taught me about love. And, it has brought two amazing little people into my life, a son and a daughter. Part of our family. Forever.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hello school


That was the sound of a huge sigh of relief as we settle into the new routine of school. It's been a bit of a crazy week.

Starting with curriculum night where I had to figure out how to be five places at once. Slight exaggeration. The actual number was three (5th and 2nd just happened to be scheduled at the same time), which followed the two Kindergarten classrooms I ran back and forth between.

Followed by the first day of school. Five kids, three buses, two Kindergarten open houses, one tired mama.

Six o'clock is the new wake up time and it is kicking my butt.

The start of preschool came yesterday where I put one excited four year old on yet another school bus. Which left me alone in a very quiet house.

The night before school started I felt the melancholy rushing in. Nothing reminds me of the brevity of life like the start of a new school year. Fifth Grade, Second Grade, Kindergarten, Preschool. My days of having little ones around my feet are numbered. And after ten years with little ones, it IS a change.

Ready or not, it's the beginning of a new season. Bringing with it good and bad and new. Leaving me to give thanks for the good, learn from the bad and embrace the new.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Passionate Mom

 In her book, The Passionate Mom, Susan Merrill takes an in-depth look at the story of Nehemiah through the eyes of motherhood. She calls and encourages moms to be more perceptive, patient and passionate while taking on the task of parenting well. One of the core messages of this book is a call to intentionality. It is also filled with practical stories, tips, and resources that will help any mom become more intentional.  

Overall, I learned from and was motivated by this book to take my job of motherhood more seriously, planfully, etc. 

However, sometimes when I read parenting-type books I get the feeling that if I follow a certain formula, or do specific things or pray a certain way, my kids will "turn out" just fine. This is obviously not true. Although I do not believe this is what the author believes or wants the reader to believe, at times I got that feeling while reading this book. 

But, if you can keep from falling into that kind of mindset (when reading this or any type of parenting/marriage/self-help book), this book has a lot of good information that every mom can benefit from.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Lessons from June

Once a month, a favorite blogger of mine over at Chatting at the Sky will make a list of things she has learned. Today she is doing one of those link-up thingys and I thought I'd join in.

So here you go, 5 things I've learned in June:

1. Robins will eventually give up. At least ours did. Remember that pesky couple that kept trying to take over our front porch? We battled long into May. I almost gave up, but then June came and guess what?

I won.

2. I officially have Gatsby fever. Since I heard the movie was coming out I read the book, then saw the movie (and despite what the critics said, I liked it). I may or may not have bought the over-priced-apparently-I'm-not-the-only-one-who-has-Gatsby-fever-and-the-publisher-decided-to-milk-it book and read it a second time, in two months (you know so I could underline).

I'm a fan.

3. We joined a CSA this summer. Once a week I go out and pick up our veggies from a local farmer. The variety has pushed me out of my cooking comfort zone. Kale helped me discover I can make an omelet. And Kale chips. That my kids actually ate. Beets however, are another story.

4. Sewing can be dangerous. Mya took a class this month and accidentally cut her finger open. She won the title of "first person in our family to get stitches." Three to be precise. She was brave, and I didn't faint while she got them. Success.

5. I can in fact survive a trip to the grocery store with six kids. I cannot, however, make it through a trip to the grocery store with six kids without some kind of comment or stare from the other patrons. My original strategy of avoiding a trip to the grocery store with six kids is solid and should be followed. The end.

To read more lessons, head on over to Chatting at the Sky.

Happy Weekend Friends!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sanity in the Summertime

Summer is getting away.

If my count is accurate the half way point is only a week away. This thought makes me panic and celebrate and feel guilty for the celebrate and panic again. Panic because time is going way too fast; celebrate because some days feel way too long.

According to my calendar I am nearing the end of our summer's busy season. The second half of summer should be less "going" and involve more free time (at least during the week).

It should include more things like swimming and parks and trips to the library and stuff like that.

Unless I add more things to our calendar. Down time is a very good thing. Too much down time can lead to insanity. The key is to find a healthy balance.

Part of my "summer sanity strategy" this year has been to build in down time of the separation variety. Too much togetherness can also lead to insanity. I have done this in two main ways:

one. We have mandatory "quiet time" most every weekday for an hour after lunch. This is also mandatory reading time for the big kids. Most of the kids are in separate rooms to minimize talking.  I tell them what time they can come down and for the most part they stick to it. They've become more consistent at being still with practice, or maybe the crazy eyes they see from their mother when they are not still has been enough to scare them into submission.

Either way, the quiet in the middle of a loud day is amazing.

two. One morning a week a sitter comes to our house and I leave. I rarely use this time for errands; instead I use it to exercise and do things that fill my often depleted tank, this typically takes the form of a table at Starbucks to read, or write, or stare off into space and think.

These two strategies have truly been sanity-saving. I love my kids. I love having them home in the summer. I love enjoying down time with them.

But, as previously mentioned, too much togetherness can lead to insanity, which is good for no one. A little strategic separation in our house has been a very good thing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Dinnertime Chore Wheel

I first saw this little gadget in a friend's kitchen. Two paper plates joined together to allow maximum spinage. It didn't look hard to make, I had the supplies on hand so I gave it a whirl (literally and figuratively speaking). The results have been legend...ary. 

Pictured above is our version of the dinnertime chore wheel (once Zak gets a little older he too will get to partake in the fun, maybe "empty dishwasher" will be the chore that gets added with his name).

It has worked like a charm. We spin it once a week (technically we move everyone up one chore). The chore by your name is the chore you are responsible for. It has reduced complaining. It has reduced "not fairs." It has almost eliminated, "I always have to..." It will remain a part of our dinner chore tradition for a long time to come.

Simple and effective, it works for us. Maybe it would work for you too?

Monday, June 10, 2013

3 Months

He has been home 3 months already. Crazy, it feels like he has been with us so much longer, and I mean that in the best possible way. 

His English is really starting to take off. He has been stringing words together, forming sentences. I feel like he understands most of what I say to him. 

But at the same time, he is singing and speaking in Mandarin less and I fear he is losing that part of him. 

It is both sad and amazing how quickly language can be picked up and forgotten. 

For now I have a little boy running after his big brothers saying things like,

"Get out of my way."
"Let me go."
"Give me."
"Come on."
"I am gungry" (aka hungry)

Yes, he has five siblings and Yes, he can hold his own.

He said the word "motorcycle" to Kory yesterday who wondered where he would have heard it. I have been reading Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle to the kids. As it is a chapter, non-picture type book I was assuming he probably wasn't understanding much. I think I was wrong. 

The kid is a sponge. A lovable, funny, impatient, endearing sponge, who sometimes thinks he's a bunny rabbit. But that's a post for another day. :)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Lessons from the Floss

I never used to floss my teeth. You could call me a dentist's nightmare, or dream depending on how you looked at it.

I would try. I would even buy more floss than I needed just in case the whole flossing thing caught. And maybe for a few days, before or after my dentist appointment, I would be consistent. Until the night would come when I was too tired to floss.

So I wouldn't.

I would give the same "tired" excuse night after night until I didn't think about flossing anymore. At least until another dentist appointment loomed on the horizon.

Then I would try again, for a few days.

New habits are hard to start.

As a conscientious first born, I couldn't let the flossing thing go. So I kept trying. The same way at the same time.

They say insanity is trying the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. My idea of a flossing habit was looking more and more insane.

And then Lent rolled around.

This year for Lent I gave up eating after dinner. One of my strategies for keeping Lent, became brushing my teeth while the kids were getting ready for bed. Somehow, brushing my teeth at 8 pm made flossing an easier thing to add on. It took away my "tired" excuse. It also gave me added motivation to keep my Lenten promise.

Lent has come and gone, and I have managed to stay on the flossing bandwagon. I just needed to change things up. Sometimes an old strategy needs a little tweaking (or a time change) for a new habit to catch on.

I think that could be said of a lot of things, not just learning to floss.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Summer Chores

School is out and summer is officially here. It's day 1, the motivation is high and my "summer sanity strategy" is in full swing.

Part one of my strategy involves chores. I pulled out the post-its this morning and started the lists. It's how we do things. Their lists are portable, sticky, always changing and when we happen to be out of the house for the morning, they are easy to skip. I have tried chore charts in the past, but its hard for me to be consistent. My kids love the variety of a daily, ever-changing list they can check off and I like the flexibility.

The challenge can be figuring out what to put on their lists each day.

We have a few standards:  make bed/pick-up clothes and say memory verse are daily. A few school activities (we rotate between math workbooks, writing, and reading) are always included. And at least one, sometimes two "chores" complete the daily post-it note.

The "chores" part has me racking my brain at times. I have my master list, which helps, but I am always looking for new ideas.

Here are a few things my kids will be doing this summer, I'd love to hear your "chore" ideas in the comments.

Big Kids (ages 7-10)

  • Vacuuming rooms
  • Cleaning bathrooms (I sometimes separate this into just the tub, or sinks and toilets)
  • Dusting
  • Pulling Weeds
  • Sweeping off front/back porches
  • Cleaning windows on the front/back doors
  • Cleaning/sweeping out the van
  • Sweeping out the garage
  • Emptying dishwasher
Little Kids (ages 4-5)
  • Wiping down baseboards
  • Dusting stair rails
  • Picking up 
  • Watering plants
  • Sweeping off front/back porches
  • Vacuuming rooms
  • Dusting
My expectations on the quality of work is lower for the "littles," and often involves "training" but they have to start somewhere and often surprise me at how well they do. 

Post-it note chore lists work for me and at our house indicate summer is here! 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Gift of Going Second

Another piano recital is officially under her belt. 

She was nervous this time around. One song was played by memory, the other with the book. She was afraid she would make a mistake. 

When it was over, she was all smiles. She may or may not have made a mistake, if she did they were small. She didn't have to go first and by the time her turn rolled around, others had already made small mistakes. 

"I wasn't nervous anymore when I heard others make mistakes," she said. "It made me think if I made a mistake it would be okay."

She was given a gift by those who went before her. In her book Permission to Speak Freely, Anne Jackson calls this the gift of going second

In Mya's case the gift involved the removal of the expectation to be perfect. A weighty load.

I have been given this gift too. A confession from a friend brings the realization that I am not alone in my struggle. It gives me the courage to confess and pass the gift on to others. It removes the expectation of perfection.

It is hard to go first, to be vulnerable and open yourself up to judgment. Sometimes judgment is all you receive. But sometimes, you find that you are not the only one to struggle. Sometimes by going first, you lighten the load of a fellow traveler. And if they follow your example and pass the gift on, beautiful ripples begin to appear one after the other as the gift of going second gets passed from one broken person to another.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ready, set...

Spring is giving way to summer.

Another school season is in the final stage. The excitement of a new season is building.

Summer is almost here!

In the midst of all the "lasts," plans are underway. Preparations for the long, lazy days of summer. The Internet is scoured for sidewalk chalk games and other activities to prolong the inevitable "I'm bored's" that are bound to appear.

Chores planned. Book lists made. Beach towels washed and waiting. Summer sanity strategy in place.

It's almost go time. Ready or not.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The "other" Mother

Mother's Day has come and gone, and with it this year, came a fresh awareness of the "other" mother who has forever become a part of our lives as a result of adoption.

I am, of course referring to our adopted children's birth mom(s).

If I am honest, she is not in the forefront of my mind very often. I don't think about her as much as I maybe should. Or maybe that is a silly thing to think.

I am grateful for her. Without her, I would be missing two amazing blessings. When I do think about her, I pray for her. I sometimes wonder where she is and if she wonders where her child is. I want her to know her child is loved.

But her presence also worries me. I wonder what her impact will be on her child, my child. Will she be put on a pedestal and thought of as a queen? Will her absence be a constant reminder of abandonment and loss? She has an impact, but how will it manifest itself and how do we, the adoptive parents, navigate those waters?

Our daughter has been processing more of her story. Her China mommy is being brought up more. I am thankful she feels comfortable talking about her. We have tried to be intentional in giving her "permission" to discuss her birth mom, but it brings up those questions. If I am completely honest with myself, it can feel a little threatening.

What if she dreams her China mommy into a better momma than me? What if she wishes she was there instead of here? That would hurt.

I try not to linger on the "threat." After all, it is not about me.

Instead, I try to ask questions about how she is feeling. I wonder with her about her china mommy. I pull out her "gotcha day" video to watch again. I do what I can to help her process her past and love her in the here and now.

I don't do it perfectly. I have made so many mistakes, some of them hurtful. This is not an easy process with clear cut dos and don'ts. There is another mother in our lives. Her presence makes things tricky and sometimes I don't know how to handle it.

But this I know, we are mother and daughter. It may be messy, but we are on this journey together; and we will walk it together.

My daughter has two mothers. I am the one who gets to watch her grow. I don't want to forget the one who gave her life.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Inspiration from E.B. White

Because I love this picture and his words...

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” 
― E.B. White

“A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people - people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.” 
― E.B. White

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 
― E.B. White

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” 
― E.B. White

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Love on The Office

I was/am a fan of The Office. Was because I'm really more of a Michael Scott in the office kind of fan. He made the show funny. The last few seasons have been painful and not funny. I was going to stop watching, but then they said this was the last season. And there is still Jim and Pam.

I love Jim and Pam, but even they have been lackluster as of late. They have marriage problems, Jim doesn't prank Dwight anymore, and there is no Michael.

But I kept with the show, much to Kory's dismay. I am loyal like that.

And then they went and totally surprised me. Did you see the "Paper Airplanes" episode?

Confession: The Office has brought me to tears twice (well maybe three times). The most memorable was Michael Scott's final episode. Then there was the episode where Jim and Pam finally start dating. And the third time was the end of the paper airplane episode. It aired on 4/26, but we didn't watch it until this weekend. We are a little behind.

It caught me off guard. I am not going to get into the story line because if you watched it, your with me and if you didn't you have probably stopped reading. But, to hear scripture in the form of 1 Corinthians 13 being read and then in the following episode to have Jim live that scripture out in a major sacrificial way... really cool and crazy as this sounds considering I am talking about The Office, really moving.

I love the way they portrayed the choice to love, because it is not a message you often see coming out of Hollywood. Well done writers.

Two more episodes until the series is officially over. We'll see how tonight goes, but I've got to say I am actually looking forward to it.

Although, I still miss Michael Scott.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

What do you do with Impossible Dreams?

Last summer Mya took tennis lessons and at some point during that time Suhn asked the question, "When I get older can I take tennis lessons too?"

This is a question I am not sure how to answer.

For those of you who don't know, Suhn has cerebral palsy and at this point in time needs a walker to get from place to place. Although she is making HUGE strides and has started walking around our house without her walker, she still has a ways to go before she can get around without it. Honestly, she may always need some kind of "help" to get around (whether that be a walker or crutches or something else). Time will tell.

The realist in me wants to tell her she will probably never be able to play tennis.

But at the same time, what if someday she can?

Do I quench what I think is an impossible dream or do I give what could be a false hope?

It is a question I wrestle with all the time. It is one of the hard things about having a child with a special need.

Last week at Summit 9, I received a burst of inspiration in the form of a 19 year old named George  Dennehy. George was born in Romania with no arms and adopted by a US family at the age of 1. George's mom saw that he had a gift for music and at the age of 8 signed him up for cello lessons.

Did you catch that. He has no arms and his mom signed him up for cello lessons. He learned to play with his feet.

At Summit, George played Amazing Grace for us on the guitar with his feet. I was blown away.

It brought up the question, if I had been George's mom, would I have signed my son with no arms up for cello lessons? I don't think I would have. It would have fallen into the "impossible dream" category for me. I would have encouraged him to pursue something a little more possible and I would have robbed the world of a huge blessing.

I'm sure there is still a place for the realist in me as we navigate these waters with our daughter, BUT after hearing George's story I want to be slow to say she can't.  Because, with a lot of hard work, maybe she can.

Or maybe she will start to put in the work and realize that dream, whatever it may be, is not something she wants to pursue. It will be her decision to stop.

Realistic or not, I don't want to be a dream killer. I want to be like George's mom and be willing to sign my kids up for cello lessons, even if it appears to be an impossible feat.

After all, we serve a God who delights in making impossible dreams come true and I don't want to get in the way of that.

Monday, May 06, 2013

I Won. You Can Too!

When I attend conferences, one of my favorite things to do is visit every booth in the exhibit hall and learn about all the organizations that are represented.

 Yeah, not really.

But, two years ago my sister won an iPad as the result of a little contest one of my favorite conferences, Orphan Summit put on. They provided a list of all the exhibitors and told us that if you could convince 20 exhibitors to initial your list, you could win something.

I wasn't planning on attempting this great and noble feat, but I had a 4 year old who was tired of sitting in workshops and a sister who thought she would win. Her dream was contagious.

The end result: I found myself wandering up and down the exhibit hall aisles. Aisles filled with booths from really great organizations doing amazing things all over the world to help orphans. As we walked we subtlety tried to catch exhibitors eyes and coerce them to sign our paper.

Besides learning that every single person in the orphan care community has some link to Zambia, I managed to obtain 20 sets of initials. And thus, found myself entered in a contest to win a prize.

Low and behold, they called my name. I did not win the iPad, but I did win a children's book entitled Walter's Flying Bus by Ed Strauss and Josiah Thiesen.

Walter's Flying Bus is a special book. It is the story of a boy in Uganda and his friends. They each have a dream and a special gift that turns an abandoned bus into a vehicle that delivers each one to their forever families.

Even better, this book is available as an interactive e-book that you can buy as an iPhone/iPad app for only $.99 (for a limited time).

It is amazing. Seriously, I LOVE the app and so do my kids. It is a prime example of how art can be used to inspire and change lives; and it is a great way to expose and inspire your own kids. A way to plant a seed in their hearts to care for and love on the orphaned.

To top it all off, 100% of the after-tax profits from the app sales go towards efforts helping special needs orphans around the world.

So while I may have "won" at Summit 9 this year, you can win too. And help orphans at the same time. And if you share this with your friends, they can win too!

It's a win-win-win-win-win. :)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Light and Happy Endings

I never watched the season 3 finale of Downton Abbey. I heard rumors, spoilers, of what may or may not have happened. The penultimate episode of season 3 ended on such a great note, a happy ending. I've decided that is the ending I want. 

So I didn't watch the final episode and I'm not sure if I ever will (at least until season 4 comes out). 

Call it denial. 

I'm okay with that. I want my happy ending!

Sometimes I wish I could fix the endings in real life as easily. If I stay inside, concentrate on my family, block out the rest of the world, then maybe I can pretend away the hard, painful things. If I ignore them they don't exist.

But life doesn't work that way. I only have to take one step out of my front door to find people struggling with hard things. Hurt is all around us. 

And while the hurt and pain can make the world look like an awfully dark place, it also creates a greater opportunity for the light to shine. Jesus did not hide from the painful, ugly things of the world. He walked right up to them and offered a hand. He brought light. He is light.

It is easier to ignore the pain, but as a Christ-follower, that is not what we are called to.

We are to be the light. 

I'm not always sure what this looks like in real life. What does it mean to be light? While the doing may look different in every situation, the motivation I think is the same. I think it looks like love.

Love that comes from knowing Christ and spills out of us as light. Love directed by the Holy Spirit as a prompt to bring a meal or babysit or pray. It means getting out of your comfort zone, getting your hands dirty, and hurting with those who hurt. 

The world is full of darkness. We need to let a little light shine.

This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel, no, I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Catching Spring

So. I have been thinking about the change of seasons. I don't want to miss spring this year. I want to distinguish the last winter frost from the out-of-season one, the frost of spring. I want to be there on the spot the moment the grass turns green. I always miss this radical revolution; I see it the next day from a window, the yard so suddenly green and lush I could envy Nebuchadnezzar down on all fours eating grass. This year I want to stick a net into time and say "now," as men plant flags on ice and snow and say, "here." But it occurred to me that I could no more catch spring by the tip of the tail than I could untie the apparent knot in the snakeskin; there are no edges to grasp. Both are continuous loops. 
-taken from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It's not the Best Nest, trust me.

I've read The Best Nest by P.D. Eastman hundreds of times, so I thought I knew how this whole nest-building thing worked.

The bird gets discontent with a perfectly good birdhouse and tries to find a place to build a better nest. The raccoon already lives in the tree and the foot chases them away from the shoe.

Even when they think they've found "the place" and actually build an almost perfect nest, the tolling of the bell chases them away.

The key here is the speed at which they leave the less than perfect places. They don't second guess. Instead, they accept the fact that the mailbox was not meant for them and they MOVE ON.

Apparently the robins in my neighborhood have never read The Best Nest.

I understand why they think the light by our front door would be the "perfect" nesting place. It's dry and close to a warm house. BUT, there are also people moving in and out of the door ALL the time. 

It is NOT a good place for a nest.

Every time Mr. Robin starts to build, I knock it down. In the book, this would have only had to happen once. For all their dis-contentedness  Mr. and Mrs. Bird were smart enough to know where they were not welcome. 

Mr. and Mrs. Robin, not so much. We have been duking it out for WEEKS. 

They start to build, I sweep it away. 

I have turned the light on it's side, put objects on top, and read The Best Nest to them anytime they are close enough to listen. For some reason, they DO NOT get the hint.

I'm not sure what else to do. I can, however, guarantee that I WILL win this war. 

I am committed to knocking that half-made nest down as many times as it takes.

It may sound cruel, but I really have their best interest (and mine) at heart. I WANT them to find the perfect place to roost... somewhere away from my front door. 

And when they do, we can all sing together that song made famous by Mr. Bird:
I love my house, I love my nest
In all the world this nest is best. 
Mr. and Mrs. Robin, your perfect nest is out there. PLEASE, go find it!!