Thursday, September 30, 2010

It goes both ways

Well friends, it did indeed happen.  This past Saturday was the day that I caught Mary and Kaitlyn's tummy flu.

Instead of a much-longed-for weekend day of getting things done and being productive, I spent it on the couch, alternating between fighting tooth-and-nail not to be sick, and being sick.

This after several days of cleaning up after a sweet, sick baby--laundry, more laundry, multiple baths per day. 

And THAT after looking after Kaitlyn when SHE had come down with it.


Being a mother has its perks, and its challenges, and I'm learning that sometimes the challenges are perks too.

I count it a great privilege, for example, to care for my little ones when they're sick.  (It really helps that they're so cute!)  I really try to play it up--they get to have a cozy blanket and pillow to rest on the couch, we cuddle, sometimes there is Jello and usually various videos to watch.  (Sometimes on Mommy's bed).  Siblings rally around and express their sympathies.  If a child has to stay home from church, brothers and sisters return bearing treats from that morning's food table.  Cups overflowing with animal crackers and fresh fruit and usually a bagel with too much cream cheese that they ever so carefully smeared on after the service. 

It is so, so, soooo sweet.

Ministering to the sick is something that God cares about and that Jesus clearly did.  Most churches today devote some portion of resources to this act.  I've never given it too much thought, I suppose.  But this is something we moms do on a regular basis.  In our own homes.  And as I think more about it, there is something so incredibly precious about ministering to our little ones through making them comfortable when they're sick.  Really we're serving Jesus.

But there is more.

It dawned on me on Saturday evening, as a dirt-smudge-faced Kaitlyn came over to me (fresh from climbing trees in the backyard), instructed me to sit up, and placed a pillow behind me so I could rest against it, that my children minister to ME when I'M sick, too.  It goes both ways.  Anna offered to read to me earlier in the day, Yosef brought me crackers, and I get lots of "are you feeling better, Mommy?"s.  Sometimes it's as simple as a child rubbing my back asking if I'm okay.

I've never asked for any of these things.  And I'm not a dramatic sick person (nobody ever believes me at the hospital when I say I'm in labor--until they check me and find out I'm in transition.  :)  And I did the kidney stone thing twice without making a big to-do).  But my kids are amazingly empathic and love on me so.very.well. when I'm not 100%.

The fact is that God uses them to bless me beyond measure and they always seem to know when I need encouragement.  My default is to feel anxious when I get sick, because I can tangibly feel the weight of responsibility that raising five kids brings.  Meals to prep, clothes to wash, diapers to change, kisses and hugs to dole out.  On more than one occasion I have wondered, "How am I EVER going to get through this day with five kids and a flu/sinus infection/kidney stone/mono?"  People, upon hearing the number of children we have, will sometimes ask how I manage when I'm sick.  (It's probably one of the questions I get asked the most, actually.  Which makes sense.  It's a daunting thought.)

My answer has usually always been, "By God's grace", or something equally vague that downplays any and all merit on my part.  Because, trust me, I'm generally down for the count when I'm not feeling well.  I don't have a Type A personality, I'm not a high-energy person anyway, so when germs come to call, I pretty much just try and rest.

But I'm seeing that a more specific answer to that question involves the countless ways my children and husband minister to me in sickness.

Instead of my kids being a burden when I'm not doing well, their smiles and love bring so.much.gladness. to my heart.  Yes I still have to nurse Mary, but her big sister Anna is always so happy to bring her to me.  I'm still on for parenting, but my kids play happily or watch videos for hours.

Why am I so surprised by any of this?

It's just God making His grace known to me through my family.

That's what He does.

I remember back in the days when we had just three small children, but they were all ages 2 and under.  Probably our most challenging phase of parenting.  Harder than having five kids ages 6 and under.  Much harder.  Especially when you factor in the major adjustment period of an adoption.

And in those days, my husband commuted over an hour EACH WAY to work.

He rode in a van pool so there was no flexibility in terms of leaving for work a little later, running home at lunch, putting in a half-day.

Plenty of people are doing this, especially in California, and we made it work.  He had a pretty positive attitude about it, until it really did just get to be too much.

And then we moved to Denver.  :)

But I saw God's abundant grace in those days too.

He always met me.  Always.

Somewhere along the way though we pick up this idea that family is generally a good thing unless WE'RE the mom. 

Then family is about responsibility and work and "how am I going to get through this day?"

Which, yes, I do ask myself anytime I'm not functioning on all cylinders (or even sometimes when I am!)

But I want to start remembering that, yes, while I DO have five whole children to look after even when I'm not feeling up to it...I also have five whole children to love me and encourage me when I'm not feeling up to it.

Five little ones making me laugh and making my heart melt.

Love it.

So I'm going to challenge myself to start thinking about things this way,  Jesus ministering to me through my kids.  Because it goes both ways.

****And I feel the need to give a huge shout-out to Kevin who, on this particular day I got sick, took over all parenting and household tasks, including meal prep, baths, the boys' haircuts (!), the list goes on.  I think I need to schedule my sick days on weekends more often!  :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

First full day of school, in pictures

Yosef, Anna and Biniam on their first full-day of their homeschool program!

If you couldn't tell, I had three VERY excited kids this year.

They couldn't wait to set off for school with their backpacks and lunch boxes.

They were THRILLED.

I was really excited for them, too.

And it marked a new chapter in Yosef and Biniam's lives: THEY STARTED KINDERGARTEN. 

How did this happen???  How is it possible that the two sweet little boys who I remember meeting for the first time in an Ethiopian orphanage are going off to school?!  This is simply unfathomable to me.  I still can't fully wrap my mind around the idea that my sons are in school now.  When I do drop-offs, THREE kids are piling out of the van to find their classroom, instead of just one.  I give THREE kids a kiss and hug goodbye, I pack THREE lunches the night before and stuff THREE backpacks with snacks and water bottles as we head out to the car.  (Eventually of course my kids will be packing their own lunches, but boy am I glad that as a homeschooling mom, I only have to do all this ONE TIME A WEEK, instead of FIVE.  Good grief, it's a lot of work getting kids all ready and out the door.)

Anna, my big First-Grader.

I am truly in awe of how much my sweet first-born has grown and matured in the past year.  It's amazing.  I still remember her starting Kindergarten one year ago, shy and unsure but of course super excited, too.  Now she pretty much owns the place--or at least she thinks she does.  :)  When I picked her up after school on her first day, the very first thing out of her mouth was that she made a new friend.  There are more girls in her class this year and she is getting to know all of them.

Yosef, the proud Kindergartner.

This kid has been excited about starting school ever since Anna began last year.  Couldn't wait to get a backpack, school supplies, and set off for a new adventure.  And, he's loving it so far.  I think he's still learning the ropes a little bit, but he's having a lot of fun and I think it's going to be a good first year for him!

Biniam, the enthusiastic Kindergartner.

Just like his brother, Biniam has been eagerly anticipating school and all of its trappings this whole past year.  He's making friends, has a "best friend" in his class, and is also still figuring stuff out.  All the while having a fabulous time, of course.

All three of the kids have PE together at the end of the day.


And if you didn't know my boys, and you saw them at'd never know that they're related.  Or even know each other.

They don't hang out together.

Or sit near each other.

Or have lunch at the same table.


With personalities like night-and-day, it makes sense that they'd want to carve out their own respective, independent niches at school.  But for some reason, it still amuses me to no end.

"Biniam," I'll ask, "did you sit near Yosef at lunch today?"
"No," he'll reply.

"Yosef, did you play with Biniam at school today?"


Ha, ha.

Such is life with twins, I suppose.

At any rate, I really do think the kids are going to have a wonderful year.  Today is Field Day, and tomorrow I'm attending a puppet show that Anna's class is putting on.  So fun!

This school has turned out to be one of my favorite pieces of our life as homeschoolers.  We truly get to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

So yay for a new school year!  I love new beginnings and am so proud of my kiddos!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kids and chores

This is a subject I'm always interested in.

I enjoy hearing how other families manage their weekly workload and involve their kids in the process.

I really believe in giving children household responsibilities.

And my kids hear me say on a regular basis that being part a family means helping out to make things run smoothly.  They know that Mommy and Daddy have lots of things they need to do--and are happy to do--for our family, but that they need to help out, too.

Right now we don't really use chore charts, or assign specific jobs to specific kids.  My kids know that they are in charge of picking up after themselves (toys, books, clothes, school stuff), taking their dishes to the counter at the end of a meal, loading their own laundry into the washing machine and moving it to the dryer, and putting it away.  They also help out with various other things that the two littlest kids can't do yet--ie, doing and putting away THEIR laundry etc.  They help bring the groceries in after a Costco/Target/Safeway run.

Lately I've been talking--a LOT--about doing things with a GLAD HEART.  I'd noticed that my children had developed some negative attitudes towards chores and I realized that it's simply not enough to just do the job, it should be done as unto the Lord.  Nobody really LIKES doing work, once the novelty wears off anyway.  But it has to get done, and we have seven people in our house, so it REALLY has to get done.  :)

Surprisingly, all of my annoying "Jesus wants us to do our work with a glad heart" talk has actually made a difference!  My kids have been surprisingly receptive to the idea.  If I ask them to do a job, and the whining starts, I remind them and they generally respond by cleaning up the attitude.

The most difficult aspect of chores these days, interestingly, is the picking up after themselves piece.  My kids will occasionally draaaagggggg it out, go soooooo is maddening.  They know that they won't receive lunch or dinner until everything is tidied up, but sometimes even that isn't a huge motivator.

To help at least a little with this issue, I recently went through gave away a whole bunch to the ARC.  We just have way too many.  And the kids were HORRIBLE about keeping stuff organized.  So after donating a few big bag-fulls to the thrift store, I instituted a bit of a more formal organizational system.  And they're sticking to it!  Matchbox cars in one bin, a bin for Polly Pockets and My Little Pony, a place for Little People etc.  Up until this point I just wasn't overly vigilant about how they kept their things because it would have been a NIGHTMARE.  Trust me, I tried, but they just couldn't seem to keep stuff together.  It was a battle I opted no to fight, for my own personal sanity's sake.  Now though they're definitely capable and it makes this mama very, very happy.  

Another method I have used in the past when toy pick-up isn't going so well (and that I need to implement more often) is the divide-and-conquer technique.  Instead of telling all of the kids "go clean up the school room, playroom and your bedrooms before lunch", I'll assign Anna to one room, Biniam to another, and Yosef to another.  (Kaitlyn fills in wherever, and Mary is still exempt.  :) )  This seems to help...they seem to go faster when they're seperated this way. 

I'm also getting to a point where I am thinking about training the older three kids to do some more substantial chores--bathrooms, for example.  I clean our bathrooms once a week (generally either on Monday or Tuesday) and I actually don't really mind this job so much.  I have a system and it goes quickly.  And I'm reticent to pass the torch because I want the job DONE WELL, so we'll see.  But as far as capabilities go, my kids are more than capable of at least cleaning the toilets.  So maybe we'll start there.

Eventually I foresee having chore charts and specific things assigned to specific children, including bathrooms, sweeping/mopping, wiping down the table, emptying/loading the dishwasher, mowing the lawn...ahhhh, yes, that will be NICE.

I'm NOT, however, sure how we'll handle allowance down the road.  Nobody gets one right now, and I don't know how I feel about the whole thing.  Not to mention, with five kids, that could add up real quick.  I do want to teach my kids about financial stewardship and about the yuckiness of both hoarding and gleefully spending their money (both ultimately can have their root in greed).  I want them to learn about the pitfalls of consumerism and that a life simply lived is filled with joy and contentment, and offers a less obscure view of the important stuff.  But I don't know yet about how we'll do that, or the role allowance might play.

In the meantime though we'll continue working on keeping things picked up with a cheerful, glad heart.  More is at stake here than simply jobs being completed.  My children are learning about maintaining a home, caring for one another, and about doing everything--even the mundane, un-fun stuff--for Jesus.  I'm still learning how to do this and I have a feeling it'll be a long time before I feel proficient at it.  I probably never will.

There is a beautiful fulfillment found in completing tasks and keeping a home. 

It's not always fun but oh, how I love a clean, orderly house.

Merely one, of many, benefits of kids doing chores!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Field trip: Berry Patch Farms

Have I mentioned I love homeschooling?

Well, I do.  For many, many reasons.  Which I will probably blather on about here for as long as we are homeschoolers.

One of the best parts of homeschooling is getting to do things as a family, incorporating all the kids into activities regardless of their age.  Field trips for example can be a family affair that include my three-year-old and baby.  Not only is this super convenient, but I have a philosophical issue with age segregation and its general effect on families and sibling dynamics.  A really great book is Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.  So, so good.  (And the book itself is not a homeschooling or religious book--it's written by two psychiatrists.)

We are part of a homeschool group and recently went on a field trip to a berry farm.  We met up for a picnic lunch, then took a hayride out to the fields to pick (and eat) raspberries, then went and listened to a presentation on honeybees, then visited the little store where I bought fresh (as in, still warm!) roasted green chiles, and all the farm fresh makings for salsa.  Which I made the other day and it is SO YUMMY!  I used the chiles in a chille relleno type dish that was super good too.

The kids of course loved the farm.  Well, except for the part where they got all's a long story...but let's just say that my six year old had a complete meltdown because she sunk in the mud and got stuck and her shoes (as were mine, and Kaitlyn's, and Yosef's, and Biniam's) were a complete disaster.  As frustrating and annoying as it is to have your first grade daughter shrieking and crying, I could honestly relate.  I felt like doing the same thing. 

Because we are such city people.  We really are.  I honestly don't mind if my kids get dirty or whatever, but NOT muddy like they were without a pair of proper boots.

But still it was great.  Kaitlyn loved it and got to hang out with her "best friend", Addie--when she wasn't busy picking a slew of unripe raspberries.  Mary didn't love it quite as much, and cried for a good portion of the time we were in the field.  Oh well.

Not too shabby when your school for the day is hanging out at a farm picking berries and learning about bees, I'd say.  We got home tired and dirty and so excited about our adventures.  And I'm already looking forward to the pumpkin patch trip next month!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Taking it easy

Well after yesterday's flurry of activity with a sick baby in tow, we are STAYING HOME today.  Being lazy.  I'm still in my pjs at 10:30 am (okay this is not unusual for me on any given day, but whatever) and I think we'll spend the day doing some fun read-alouds for homeschool.

Mary's still sick--while she had a good day yesterday (lots of napping and in a mostly happy mood), I was up with her again at 2 am this morning...changing her crib sheet, washing her off etc.  She IS in good spirits, though, chewing on my flip flops crawling around and babbling and laughing at her siblings.

Having a sick kid or two doesn't really stress me out TOO terribly much--I'm used to it, really, and I genuinely LIKE being home--but a baby with a stomach virus results in a lot of laundry and late-night cleaning, and every time I nurse her I say a prayer she'll keep it down.  Not to mention I'm constantly paranoid that I'LL catch it.  (Which, let's face it, I probably will.  But it's worth cuddling sweet Mary Lu Lu.)

And alllllll of this is why I'm so extra thankful that some girlfriends and I have a dinner out planned for tonight.  It could not have come at a better time.  I'll be able to leave Mary home (where she will probably just sleep and be loved on by the rest of the family) and enjoy dinner and drinks with good friends.  I shall take a shower and put on clean clothes (that don't smell like I've been taking care of a sick baby) and feel rejuvenated.

I don't need a lot of time away from my kiddos.  Really.  I honestly don't need a ton of "me time" in that sense--I feel like my evenings, after the kids go to bed (so from 7:30 pm on), belong to me and that is plenty.  My kids are with me all day, every day, but for a lot (most?) of that time they are playing/working/reading/??? independently.  Sometimes my house is really quiet.


After my unfortunate bout with kidney stones, and now two sick kids (and many loads of laundry and Clorox wipes used) within a week, I'm ready for an evening out.  There is sure to be good conversation, lots of laughter, and much empathy to go around--the four of us have nineteen kids between usFour, four, five (that's me!) and six.  But tonight it'll just be us moms.  Rather exciting I'd say!

So I'm counting down the hours until my friends pick me up and we head off into the sunset--er, to the restaurant.  I know by the time I get back home I'll be so, so anxious to check on my sleeping babe, and I love that.  It's as it should be, I think.

Okay, so today's gameplan, in review: stay in pjs for as  Read good books.  Bathe sick baby.  Eventually take shower and put on fresh clothes and go out to eat with fabulous friends.  Come home to wonderful husband and cute under-the-weather-baby who I will have wondered about the whole time I was gone.

Not such a bad day.  I rather like taking it easy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Life in the margins

This morning when I went to get my sweet baby up for a busy day...
taking big kids to school, coffee with friends, lunch duty at the big kids' school, and a Costco trip before picking the big kids back up...

I discovered Mary had thrown up. 

All over her crib, and her just-bathed-last-night self.

The clock read 7:30.  We needed to leave by 7:45. 

It's probably no surprise (especially if you know us!) that I don't leave much of a my-baby-might-throw-up cushion in our mornings.  We generally have JUST enough time to get ready, eat some breakfast, and get out the door in time to show up five minutes late to wherever it is we're going.  :)

I live in the itty bitty margins of life's page.  With minimal room to spare.

Not really because I LIKE teetering on the edge, or because I ENJOY showing up places embarrassingly late.  I don't.  But I have five children, and this whole parenting thing is a delicate balancing act of priorities and bare necessities and sanity preservation.  "I could NEVER have five kids aged six an under", people tell me.  Wellllllll, you probably COULD--but you'd have to let some stuff go.  Inch closer to the edge.  And be okay with that.  I rarely entertain, sometimes we go days without going anywhere, and when I'm sick the kids watch Disney movies in rapid succession.

And, when the baby gets sick, I throw her in the tub, throw her soiled laundry in the washing machine, give her some Tylenol, grab some old towels for the car-ride, and pray she doesn't get sick again.  As my four other kids scramble to get in the car.

Small margins.

I will tell you that we still made it to school ON TIME, vomit-free, enjoyed coffee with friends and now we are off to do lunch-duty.  So far, so good. 

But as any mama knows, that could change.  We mamas who live in the itty bitty margins of life especially know that.  And maybe I don't need big margins. 

Because God meets me in this cluttered, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants space. 

And I'm learning to be okay with that.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A big thumbs-up to Elitch Gardens

Each of my bigger kids (Anna, Yosef, Biniam and Kaitlyn) participated in the library program through the Denver Public Library this summer.  Anna read her books independently, and we read to the not-yet-independently-reading kiddos.

There are different prizes along the way, and one of them is a general admission ticket to Elitch Gardens, an amusement park + a water park here in Denver.

Oh, the excitement.

The kids were SO THRILLED and looked forward to going alllllll summer long.  Finally, we skipped out on church one Sunday and hit up the park.  I have to admit that I was a little nervous about the day.  Spending all day ANYwhere can be a challenge with a baby, but at an amusement/water park?  Yikes. 

But I have to say that we had SO MUCH FUN!  Anna and Yosef were tall enough to ride some of the more adult, scary rides (I took them on that huge sea dragon thingy, where I Yosef clung on for dear life and Anna almost threw up, but I'd call it a success anyway.)

The water park was great too--such a refreshing way to break up the day and spend some of the warmer hours.  And cuddle with this sweet little bug.

We ended up staying until CLOSING TIME.  9 pm.  SO not what I expected we'd do, but Kevin and I were having so much fun and the kids were, too.

Honestly it occurred to me that we so rarely have a day of pure FUN.  We are usually either doing stuff around the house, working on our house, or attending events or things at other peoples' houses.  It felt good to get out and just PLAY for an entire day.  Just us.  Mary did great, and it worked well to sneak in bring our own food--less expensive and more relaxing and healthy that way.

I'm already excited for next summer, hoping the library offers this again.  It's the only way our family will ever visit that type of place, because the cost is outrageous and we have a lot of peeps to buy tickets for.  AND, I feel terribly unfulfilled because the bumper cars broke before I could see my four kids on them. 

I would have paid to see that.  Really.  It would have been hilarious.

And the following story surely loses a lot in translation, but I have to share it anyway.  You see, the highlight of the day involved this jerky roller coaster.  After each lap the ride operator stopped the ride and kids could either give a thumbs-up (wanting to stay on) or a thumbs-down (wanting to get off.) 

First lap of the day and Kaitlyn was crying and giving a thumbs-down, so she huffily climbed off the ride.

As did my sons, who weren't such fans either.  Yosef apparently smacked his head.  Note that instead of consoling him, I photographed him.  Hehe.

Thrill-seeker Anna (she gets this from her dad, NOT from me) was giving a huge thumbs-up and a huge grin.  As expected.  She LOVES roller coasters and crazy rides.  She's nuts.  (Note that by the third lap, only she and one other kid remained on the ride.)

Well, later that night we revisited the Cactus Coaster.  Told our other kids to give it another try, that they might like it.  Encouraged them to give a big ol' thumbs-up to the operator as they came around.  Kaitlyn took some convincing, to get her back on that ride...she did NOT want to go...but eventually, she cautiously climbed on.  Gave a real serious thumbs up as she waited for the ride to begin, when we asked what she was supposed to do.  You know, when the ride stopped and the operator asked.

Yet as the coaster took off, whipping around the track, our Kaitlyn, serious as could be with her usual furrowed brow and dark expression...KEPT HER THUMB UP.  THE.EN.TI.RE.TIME.  Bumping and jerking and getting whiplashed around the loop, there was Kaitlyn.  Concentrating ever-so-hard on keeping that thumb up.

Kevin and I were HYSTERICAL.  Doubled over laughing.  Tears streaming down our faces.  We literally couldn't breathe.

Each time the ride came to a rocky halt, and the operator asked and looked for thumbs that were up, Kaitlyn's was, of course, up.  Because she'd been doing everything in her power to keep it up the whole time.  Must not have realized that it was only necessary when the ride stopped.

Oh man.  How I wish we hadn't run out of video tape or that our digital camera battery hadn't died by that point.

But even so, I don't think we'll ever forget the look of sheer terror/determination/concentration on our little girl's face.

When Kaitlyn means business, she means business.  This we know.  We've always known.

So, yes, Elitch Gardens was a huge hit.  Looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A million and one things to do

That's how I'm feeling right now. 

Last night it was 9 pm before I felt like I could sit back and breathe.

My day yesterday was spent cleaning my house, homeschooling my kids, doing laundry, and blogging.

Today will involve a trip to Costco, some baking, and more work around the house.  Our Community Group meets tonight--although I won't be here for it, because I'll be attending a homeschool group meeting with this friend and this friend and some other friends.  (What, you don't join groups based on whether or not you have good friends in the group?  That must just be me.  :) )  I'm sorry to miss our church small group, but I'm excited to meet up with some great homeschooling mamas for our first meeting of the year.  I'll be bringing along some shortbread cookies (that I plan to bake).  And Mary Lucille.  :)

In other news, we just inherited a second laptop from someone and Kevin and I have been playing this game online, Minesweeper Flags.  (Through MSN Live Messenger.  You open a conversation window with your contact, and then you can invite them to play the game.)
This game makes me FURIOUS.  Last night I was irate.  Ticked off.
Because I can't win for the life of me.  Up until two days ago I was doing great.  Now, not so much.  Kevin keeps beating me.
And I'm telling you, the luck is stacked against me.  I click and it seems I always choose wrong.  Or I open up a huge block of squares and Kevin gets all the flags.

Ahem.  Anyway.  I feel as I have a million and one things to do, I'm a bit overwhelmed, and oh, how I hate that feeling!  I'm honestly not even sure exactly where it's coming from.  I'll get done what needs to get done, and leave the rest for another day, right?

Maybe deep down I'm really just agitated about my inability to crush Kevin at Minesweeper Flags.  Perhaps this also explains my general grumpiness.  Hmmmmm.  (It could also however be explained by the various hormones involved in breastfeeding.  I had Hot Tamales and Junior Mints for lunch, my friends.  Enough said.)

People often jokingly say things to me like, "In all your free time...", as if I really am regularly running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  All on account of having five kids.  The truth is, I DO have quite a bit of free time.  Really.  But today, I will be that chicken.  Doing grocery shopping, scrubbing counters, preparing meals, barking orders at my kids.  Finding time to take a shower and put on some makeup and some presentable/clean clothes.  For the homeschool meeting.  But it will be well worth it because I will go and see my friends, stuff my face with yummy food, and feel all footloose and fancy free because Kevin will have the four oldest kids.  (When you have five children, you don't think of taking your eleventh-month-old daughter along as something that slows you down.  You feel free as a bird.)

I actually don't mind the occasional hustle and bustle, but I DON'T like feeling overwhelmed.

OR losing at Minesweeper Flags.

Those things make me grouchy.

What DOESN'T make me grouchy though are my Hot Tamales and Junior Mints freshly mopped floors and clean bathrooms.

Oh how I love a clean house.

So I'm going to focus on what I've done already, not on what I have left to do.

And also not on the fact that an orange crayon went through the washer AND dryer two nights ago.

I'm just gonna pretend that DIDN'T happen.

Which I guess means I have a million and TWO things to do!

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Bible + a giveaway I want to tell you about!

A month or two ago, while browsing the book section at the ARC, I happened upon some childrens' Bibles.  Pristine condition.  Looked as if they'd never been touched, much less read.  None of them cost more than $2.

It suddenly occurred to me that this would be a great thing to buy for each of my kids, to keep on hand until they are able to read (so far I have one reader, Anna, but hopefully soon I'll have more!).  I envisioned them being a special gift.  It's God's Word, afterall!

Last month also happened to be Anna's first communion.  That's when I decided her Bible (which I'd picked up on a subsequent ARC trip, and hidden on a shelf in my closet, waiting for the perfect occasion) would be the perfect First Communion gift!  Symbolic of her unique relationship with Jesus. 

Our church had such a sweet ceremony for the children receiving their first communion.  (Thanks Kevin for coming up with the initial idea!  :) )

So, when she got up that Sunday morning, I had a gift bag waiting for her at her seat at the breakfast table.  And she was soooooo excited to discover that it contained her very first big girl Bible!  (It's the Young Women of Faith Bible, NIV translation, and the recommended age is 8-12.) 

My thinking in all of this is to help my children grow in their faith.  They all believe in Jesus, and in their need for Him.  They believe He is God's son.  They know they are sinful.  As for me, I really want them to embrace God's call on their lives and to follow after Him wholeheartedly.  Faith is not a private affair; it's communal and ought to involve every aspect of our very lives.  We attend church each Sunday where we worship God through liturgy and sacrament.  Then we host and lead a small group study each Tuesday night in our home.  We have family Bible time (sadly sans Kevin since he's usually already left for work) over the morning oatmeal, using this fabulous Bible that we have gone through so many times over the past three years, and occasionally work through catechism questions too.  It's good.  Faith isn't meant to exist in a vacuum. 

But I also want my children to realize that spiritual formation involves personal time spent pursuing God, too.  Personal time in prayer and worship and studying the Bible.  Thus, the gifting of a big kid Bible.  Giving my children the tools to learn more about who God is and where we fit into God's story.  An attempt to make it something special, to show that we should give thanks that we have access to this compilation of precious, ancient writings.

{I was also able to pick up a pack of girly, fun ruled-paper journals at Costco (three for $9.99!)--I'm going to set Anna  up with one of those too, I think, to keep with her Bible. So she can journal, jot down prayer requests, or draw a picture.  Her handwriting is still coming along, but she can get by I think--especially if I include a cute pen with it.  :) }

My childrens' faith is something that is so very important to me.  It's something I take very seriously.  I often think about what I want to impart to them, as I also reflect upon my own upbringing in a non-denominational, conservative country church.  While I wouldn't choose that church for myself today, I have incredibly fond memories of my childhood there: singing old hymns, learning about Amy Carmichael in Sunday School class, and memorizing Bible verses.  And oh how I loved visiting with friends before and after the service.  Good times.  Lots of community.  Experiencing the love of Christ.

And in addition to that community and relationship building, church also somehow helped nurture my own private faith system, which is still alive and well today.  It's all related somehow, and I'm not sure which comes first, or if one even has to come first.  If I'm following after God and trusting and obeying Him, then I can better contribute to my faith community.  If I'm involved in my faith community, then that will help bolster my private spiritual life.

It works both ways, and I want my sweet little kiddos to experience that.  We have a lot of community in our busy home, but I also want to encourage personal relationship building with God too.  Thus the gifting of a Bible to each child when he/she is able to read it.  I may continue the tradition of doing it the day they receive their first communion--it was really special and hopefully something my daughter will always remember!

Eventually I'd love to see some individual Bible time worked into everyone's schedule each day, or at least a few times per week.  As part of our homeschool day.  Raising men and women of God, passionate about Jesus and His work in the world and in their lives, is our ultimate goal here anyway!

AND, on a related note, head over to the least complicated to enter a drawing for a Seeds Family Worship CD!  I think my kids would love, love, love to have one of these.  I have to admit that I am not very proactive about scripture memorization in our home, but I do think this would make it a lot of fun!  (My friend Jennifer always finds the best stuff.  She has introduced me to Hoong's Chinese food, the ARC, yummy maltballs from Sprouts...the list goes on.  So if she says this is a great CD, I know it is definitely worth owning!!!)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Football widow

Well it's that glorious time of year again.  Football season. 

Yuck.  :)
I despise any and all televised sports.  Especially football.  But really it's all sports.  Why anyone would want to invest HOURS upon HOURS of their weekend watching people chase a ball around is beyond me. 

If only everyone in my household felt the same.  :)

But it just so happens that I share my home and my life with someone who does rather enjoy watching sports.  Said person also enjoys fantasy sports.  Multiple teams, various sports.  Eesh.

So begins the season of coming home from church, eating lunch...and finding random stuff to do.  :)  Sometimes I go to Target, or do some grocery shopping, or go to the thrift store.  Sometimes I read a book.  Or blog.  One thing I DON'T do is watch football.  Not only do I not enjoy it, but I feel like I'm participating in a silent protest or something.

I feel like I'm saying, "This is a waste of time.  And I for one will not be fooled into taking part."

Hee, hee.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

Deep down I don't really begrudge Kevin the rabid sports-watching and crazed fantasy-sports-team-managing.  (Or at least not TOO much.  Sometimes I get real grumpy about it.  Not gonna lie.)  He really doesn't have any (other) majorly time-consuming hobbies, we spend a lot of time together, and he's so incredibly helpful all the time around the house.  He'll take all five kids without batting an eye if I need to go somewhere etc.  (We don't call it babysitting, we call it parenting.  I have this thing about people referring to a dad watching HIS CHILD as "babysitting."  Another post for another day, perhaps?  But, in a nutshell, if it's your kid, you're not babysitting.  You're being a dad to the child YOU conceived.  But I digress...for now.)

I'm guessing there are some other ladies out there who suddenly have one additional full day a week free.  How do YOU spend those lonngggggggg Sunday afternoons?

Today I'd planned to go thrifting.  But Kaitlyn was up vomiting last night and so I'm pretty exhausted today.  And I don't know if Kevin would be up for babysitting a three year old with the stomach flu.

Hahaha.  I crack myself up.

Well here's hoping that your day is football and kid-vomit free...and if it's not, that you tell me, so I know I'm not alone!  :)

Happy Sunday!

***Kevin may or may not have asked me to add the following disclaimers:

--He generally records the games and speeds through them much faster than if he were watching them live.
--He doesn't watch football on Saturdays, or on Monday nights.  Just Sundays.
--Due to the fast-forward feature on the VCR, this amounts to three and a half hours per Sunday.  Personally I think it's more than that.  He disagrees.  I think I'm right.  Whatever.
--He claims I spend more time on Facebook per week than he does on fantasy sports.  Again, I disagree.

I think we may need to have a discussion... 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Homeschooling: a few weeks in

If you're a homeschooler, maybe you can relate to the following scenario:

{You think through all sorts of curriculums, imagine how the year will go, plan out said year, the year actually beGINS...and a good 40% of your ideas go out the window.}

So far things are going quite well.  Yosef and Biniam LOVE homeschool, and they love their once-a-week Kindergarten class through the public school system too.  They are such happy, eager students.  Yay!

Anna is also loving homeschool again, as well as her First Grade schedule through the public school.  She's having a blast, building lots of confidence, etc.

The Story of the World (we're doing Ancient History this year, so Volume I) is turning out to be a big hit.  The kids beg to do History and get pretty indignant about it if I say, "not today."  We're checking out lots of library books that correspond with what we're studying, and the kids are intrigued.  We've done some mapwork and coloring pages from the activity guide too.

Literature is something I always hope is a priority in our home.  We just finished Little House in the Big Woods and are now on to L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Many times after or during dinner Kevin or I (or a visiting grandparent!) will read a chapter or two...or three.  The kids are always begging for more.

One insight I've had about something that needs tweaking is that Biniam's fine motor skills are just not quite at a place where the math curriculum I chose is going to work out.  (Good thing it was free!)  Singapore Math requires a bit of number writing, and on top of that, I'm not that impressed with it in general.  I don't feel like it's really equipping them with good thinking skills, the way that Saxon Math (which includes lots of manipulatives, and that I used with Anna) did.  SO, I've decided to go back to that curriculum and do it with both boys (though I'll have them do the workbooks they already started just for fun sometimes.)  I made the decision to switch in the first place just to try something new, and I thought the boys would enjoy the workbook aspect.  Apparently sometimes it's best to stick with the tried-and-true! 

I honestly haven't done much formal reading instruction with Yosef and Biniam yet this year.  I finally got the book from the library that I want to use, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  We've done a little in this book in the past (I checked it out over the summer for awhile) and the boys seemed to respond well to it.  I think it will work for them.  (I tried The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading but it wasn't a great fit.  Very systematic in its approach and my boys just weren't getting it.)  Getting a child reading is really, really important to me.  That being said...and this is where some of my unschooling-ish tendencies come out...not all kids are ready to read fluently at age five.  Maybe you can work super, super hard to push them to do it, but certain skills may just not be clicking yet.  Perhaps some children, developmentally, are more ready at age seven, or eight.  And that's okay.  One benefit of homeschooling is allowing your child to develop and learn at his or her own pace.  Reading should be enjoyable and fun, not a drudgery, and there's no law that says that every child needs to be able to read by age six.

Another thing to throw in the mix is the fact that Biniam has ADHD, which does affect his learning.  His brain works so quickly that reading instruction can prove tricky.  Yosef has occasional issues with auditory processing and as a result has a difficult time memorizing things etc.  But both of my sons are extremely bright, and LOVE learning, and have such natural curiosity, that I'm not overly concerned.  I think we'll just need to make sure we find the right methods, and give them time, and be patient.  (Plus, I think academic acheivement is given way too much priority in our society.  But that's another topic for another time.)   

So as we try to find our groove for the year, I'm envisioning a lot of history and read-alouds, time spent with each of my sons cozied up on the couch working on reading, and just having a lot of fun.  (Anna works independently on math for now, asking for help here and there if she's stuck.  Which is kind of rare.  She will probably be way better at math than I ever was.)  Things feel low-key and laid back, just how I like it.  The kids are learning and loving school and we even just took a field trip to a farm to pick berries and learn about bees.  There's lots of time to play and do things around the house.  A great year up ahead for sure! 

And of course, the ultimate thing we hope to instill in our children is a love for Jesus and a love for others.  That's kind of the whole point, right?  Loving God and loving others.  That can unfortunately get lost in the shuffle of daily life, and so we hope to get into some good rhythms and routines--reading the Bible over breakfast, encouraging the kids to have alone time with God (more on this later), and Anna is now participating in a Wednesday night GEMS club right across the street from us (more on that later too.)

I'll keep you all posted on any other changes we make or tweaking we do.  Homeschooling is really just like anything else with parenting--you sort of learn as you go, and make adjustments as necessary.  And, we love it!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Depressing title, I know.  :)

But to be honest, over the past several years I've done a lot of thinking about suffering.  Up until six years ago or so, I hadn't considered it much at all.  My life had been pretty good, and I'm a glass-half-full kinda person anyway.  So if something WASN'T going well, I dealt with it.  I moved on.

The first really, truly tragic thing to befall me in this life was the miscarriage of our baby in 2004.  I was devastated.  For the first time in my twenty three years I had so very many questions and literally no answers.  Questions like, why would God create life only to take it away a mere seven or eight weeks later?  Why couldn't God have prevented this?  Why did I become pregnant (while nursing my six month old no less) simply in order to lose the baby later?  Those are heavy things to think about.  At the end of the day, our baby was gone and we were left picking up the pieces.

And when we brought home our sons in early 2006, we were introduced to an entirely new side of suffering.  There are things we saw in Africa that I'll never forget.  Suffering there is in-your-face, raw, real.  You read about that stuff in books and magazines, and maybe you say a prayer or feel sad, but to see it in changes you.  A whole new set of questions for God began swimming around in my mind: why are they hungry while I am not?  Why do these children have no parents?  Why is an entire continent struggling?  Why does nothing seem to make it all go away?

Then, as many of you know, I lost another baby on New Year's Eve 2008.  So very sad.  Such feelings of hopelessness and what-do-we-do-now and having to come home from our vacation knowing that the last time I was in my house, I was happily expecting a baby.  A difficult homecoming, to be sure.

Each of those things could be included in a summary of my own personal suffering.  Certainly there are other difficulties here and there (kidney stones, anyone?), but most of my ponderings can be viewed against that backdrop.  And I have a mostly charmed life, I think, especially compared to many.  I am happy, I am filled with joy, and I am optimistic.

Lately however I feel like so many around me are hurting.  Friends just lost their very first baby to miscarriage.  Two seperate dear friends each just lost a parent within the last week.  I have friends with children who are chronically ill, extended family members battling cancer and depression and some in broken relationships.  Two family friends were just recently diagnosed with cancer.  It's gotten to the point where it feels like bad news is EV.ER.Y.WHERE.  My heart hurts for each of these dear people and I have shed tears over many of these situations.

And here's the thing.  I've been a Christian my entire life.  Literally.  I cannot remember a day when I did not know the love of Jesus or when I did not believe God was working in my life.  Even amidst the ups and downs of my spiritual journey (how emergent of me), I knew deep down that God was there.  I knew the Bible stories and I prayed and I trusted, more or less.  Yet ever since 2004 I've been hungry (and downright curious) for answers about suffering.  There are so many different paradigms and theologies that people use to explain the whole phenomenon.  Many of them ring hollow.  Most of them are pretty interesting.  If nothing else, we all seem to intuitively understand that suffering is part of the universal human experience and that it matters to God.

I read a fantastic book last year that I've blogged about before.  There is a bit of controversy when it comes to Mother Teresa (I know, right--drama over an Albanian nun?!), especially in Reformed Protestant circles (where people may or may not want to discredit her life and her work for theological reasons), but whatever.  What I've taken away from her, and other similar, writings, is that there is mystery in suffering.  And somehow we can identify with Jesus when we are hurting, and we can offer Him our very selves in those moments.  It's almost like a discipline.  I don't think God likes seeing us hurt or seeing us wrestle through hard times in this life.  At all.  And yet in some ways maybe the ability to suffer is a small gift, a glimpse into God's all-loving, all-good heart.  We see in those moments how broken our lives are, how inconsequential so much of our world is, and we long for something far better.  We feel just a small twinge of what perhaps Jesus felt as He laid down His life so that none would perish.

To be honest, I have not enjoyed suffering through hard times myself, and I have also not enjoyed seeing loved ones hurting.  I want to fix things and of course I can't.  Recently I've been feeling as if "real life" is chock full of sadness and I don't like it, yet at the same the same time I am compelled.

I am compelled because I believe there is redemption in suffering.  I am compelled because I know that I am living, and living means hurting.  I am compelled to take risks and follow after Jesus, even if it means going into deep waters, because He's all that matters, the only thing that lasts.  I find myself drawing courage through suffering--both through my personal limited experience with it and through others' that I see around me.  It's hard to describe, but I think God will speak to us in our suffering if only we will  listen.

None of this is to say that we should ever get used to suffering.  It feels unnatural, even though it is pervasive and common.  But like anything else, I pray that God will redeem it and use it in my life.  I'll probably always be exploring the concept of suffering, and not because I'm morbid, but because I think there is a lot there to digest and process.  I wasn't really raised with a solid approach to understanding suffering, so it's something I'm genuinely curious about.  Each of us endures it one way or another.  We will all suffer.  I don't want to make easy peasy, "safe" life decisions to avoid the potential for suffering.  It'll happen.  Better to live well, love deeply, and give everything up to the Lord and live a good story.

On a personal note (time for the cheesy "life application" segment of this blogpost), this is something I've thought a bit about during this adoption process.  Being open to adopting children with medical needs means being open to some unique parenting challenges.  We certainly can't foresee the future, we can't know what interventions or therapies our future children will need.  I don't know how attachment will progress, how they will receive our current children, or what will happen, what stigmas we will face.  I.don't.know.  But I'm not backing away.  Through much prayer and discussion and discernment, we have concluded that God has equipped us and our family for this task, this journey.  It will be challenging.  It will be hard.  Transition usually is.  BUT, I know God will be working in the midst of it, and that there is hope. 

In suffering. 

Perhaps especially in suffering.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Well I am officially a fifty-five year old man.

Why, you ask?

Because, my friends, I have kidney stones!!!!


(Do people admit things like this on blogs?  Because I do, apparently.)

Last Friday I was certain I had a UTI, and I called my doctor, who in turn phoned in a prescription for an antiobiotic.

Which didn't really make the symptoms go away.

Then Monday morning I woke up in such extreme lower back pain that I could barely walk.  I HATE being a wimp so I just gritted my teeth, took a shower, got my kids ready for the day, and we set off to drop off my in-laws, who'd been visiting, at the bus stop.  I had plans to go immediately from there to a friend's home for my church moms group.  The first meeting of the year.

But as I was driving away from the bus stop, doubled over in pain and wondering what on EARTH was wrong with me, I realized that there was no WAY I could make it to moms group.  I called Kevin (who was at work) on the cell phone, promptly burst into tears, and told him something was really wrong with me and that I was just going straight home.  During our conversation he mentioned that maybe I had a kidney stone.  And told me he was on his way home to take me to the doctor.

Now being that I am most definitely NOT a fifty five year old male, I thought the whole kidney stone thing seemed pretty far-fetched.  But sure enough, all the symptoms added up.  And because my doctor couldn't see me until late that afternoon, we made the decision to just have Kevin take me to the ER.  (There's a great Seventh Day Adventist hospital right down the street from us.)  I didn't want to wait all day, I was afraid that if this WASN'T a kidney stone, it could be something far more sinister (ectopic pregnancy?  kidney infection?), and let's be honest: I wanted pain meds.

After many hours in the hospital (sooooo frustrating), some blood draws, a urine sample and a CAT scan (but no pain meds, because the pain began subsiding shortly after I got there), it was confirmed that I did, indeed, apparently pass a kidney stone.  What in the world??!!  The lab results showed that NO, I did NOT have a UTI, and those symptoms I'd been having were because of the kidney stones.  Awesome.  The doctor said they didn't SEE any more stones in there, so hopefully I was done...

Yesterday I woke up feeling fine and took my kids with our homeschool group to a farm to pick berries and learn about bees.  A great day overall, minus Mary screaming and crying in the raspberry field, Yosef peeing his pants in the port-a-potty, and Anna having a melt-down after getting stuck in a bunch of mud.  But really, we had a great time.  The kidney stone issue had been resolved.

UNTIL 5:30 AM TODAY.  When I suddenly woke up.  "Why am I awake?" I wondered.  Until I realized that my lower back was in pain.  My left side hurt in an all-too-familiar way.  Yep, it was happening again.  This time though I was prepared.

And not because I'd filled my prescription for narcotic and anti-nausea meds.  That would have been too simple.  (I was feeling better once I left the hospital on Monday afternoon, and I didn't want to buy stuff I wasn't going to use.  So the prescription orders were sitting in my living room.)

But I was prepared for what lay ahead.  I did lots of deep breathing.  Some pacing.  Laying on my back and looking out at the sliver of blue sky I could see outside my window, using that as a focal point.  I told myself that the worst of the pain ought to be over by 9 am or so, based on Monday's timetable.

Around 7:30 am I suddenly had to hobble run to the bathroom and throw up.  Fantastic.
That's how Kevin found me, when he got up for the day.  Crouched in front of the toilet.  I'm such a classy gal.

And that's right, folks, I didn't wake my husband up.  I'm very much like a cat when I'm in pain.  I don't want to be touched, spoken to, or looked at.  I did want to tell him it was happening again, but I also wanted him to get his sleep.  So my reasoning was partly selfish, partly selfless. 

Of course he felt horrible when he found out it happened again, and ran to the pharmacy to fill my prescriptions ($10 each, and a small price to pay for relief).  Neither of which I've taken, though, because I must have passed the second set of stones, since I don't feel like dying anymore.  AND, I'm still breastfeeding Mary Lu, and if I can avoid either a) having to pump and dispose of the milk or b) drugging up my eleventh-month-old, I'll do it. 

I have to tell you that passing a kidney stone is SO INCREDIBLY PAINFUL.  It reminds me a little of childbirth, and a little of a migraine (but instead of the pain being in your head, it's in your lower back and side.)  I totally used my mind-over-matter and breathing techniques I use during labor.  Sadly though, unlike at the end of childbirth, I have no cute little newborn to kiss and hold once the pain subsides.   Nothing to show for it except for apparently some itty-bitty sand-like particles that, while formerly in my kidney, are now in the toilet.  (None of which I have seen.  I feel a little gypped.  You'd think that something capable of making you feel like someone is repeatedly stabbing a knife into your lower back would really be something to look at.)

So here's my word of advice to all of you: DRINK LOTS OF WATER.  Lots and lots of water.  All the time.  I do a semi-decent job when it comes to water consumption, but I'm not overly consistent with it and there is room for improvement.  Plus, I live in a really dry climate, which contributes to the likelihood of getting kidney stones.  Soda doesn't help either, although I actually haven't had much soda lately, and I definitely drink FAR more water than soda.

They say 5% of women experience a kidney stone at some point in their life.

Lucky me.

To the other 95% of you: count your lucky stars.  Enjoy your carefree days of walking upright and not having to call on what you remember of Lamaze breathing techniques in the wee hours of the morning, while the rest of your household is sleeping cozily in their beds.

As for the rest of us, well, we can be glad I suppose that we women are tough as nails and can birth eight-pound babies and, yes, pass microscopic kidney stones too.  All pain-med-free if need be. 

But now that I have a prescription narcotic sitting happily in my bathroom cupboard, I may not be able to take one for the team if this happens again.  It might just be too tempting as I'm pacing and breathing and mentally transporting myself to a peaceful sandy beach.

For now though the worst of the pain seems to be over.

And I think I need a nap.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Two of my favorite things

Mary Lu and Oreos.

There is a story behind this picture.

We were at the annual Ethiopian adoptive families picnic several weeks ago.
A sweet little friend of ours offered to keep her eye on Mary Lu while I went and got myself some dessert (not too far away--I could still see Mary from where I was.)

When I returned, this was how I found Mary.

Attempting to devour an Oreo.

Because apparently our friend had decided that Mary needed a cookie, too.

And I must be "that mom", because instead of immediately taking the cookie away, I grabbed my camera to take some pictures.

The funny thing is, this same sweet friend of ours was plying all of my kids with cookies all afternoon long.  After she'd doled them all out, she'd go back for another handful.  When we were leaving, she made sure to hand out a bunch more.  For the road.  SO AWESOME.  Junk food really ought to be standard issue for kids in the summertime, don't you think?

I'm fairly certain that Mary Lu is our youngest to have indulged in an Oreo.  She seemed to like it.  Which is no surprise, because I really like them too!

Thursday, September 09, 2010


My three oldest are off at their one-day-a-week public school program.  Which means I only have my two youngest with me at home today.

I've never had just two kids before.  Ever.

And I need to tell you, having only TWO KIDS at home is CRAZY!

Crazy as in:
super quiet, laid back, I-could-get-used-to-this crazy.

All I need is a Pina Colada with a little umbrella.

The minute we hit the door after dropping off the bigger kids, Kaitlyn ran downstairs to play.  Mary began attacking a pile of baby toys.  Kevin's parents are in town and at one point they took the two girls for a walk, and it was just ME in my house!  Just plain nuts, I tell you.

I can already tell that Thursdays around here are going to be niiiiiiiiiiice.

And that I need to add Pina Colada mix and rum to my shopping list.


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