Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Puppy Love

Let me start with this.

I don't like dogs. 

I've had a few unfortunate experiences with dogs in my life. One centers on three nasty German Shepherds who lived two doors down from my childhood home.

One includes a neighborhood dog that bit me...and still growls whenever I see him. I think the feeling is mutual.

My brother was injured when a dog charged at him and he ran, and tripped over a spike and tore his knee open.

I don't like dogs.

Josh has been asking for a dog since he was little. I always said I wouldn't potty train a dog while potty training kids.

Then the kids were potty trained. So I used our then-upcoming adoption as an excuse. But Mali has been home for almost two years now (and the issues we're facing aren't going to be made better or worse by the presence of another pet).

But really, I don't like dogs. 

They slobber, poop in the yard, you have to walk them, they sit on the furniture, they chase you.

But OG has wanted a dog desperately for a while now and we thought it would be a good solution to a myriad of issues in our home. We tried an older dog at first (who was a wonderful dog, but didn't mesh well in our home). The girls were devastated when he needed to find a new home. So we were searching, for the right dog, the right time, the right breed, the right amount of training (housebroken at least).

And then this little guy fell into our laps.

This is Scout Balto Beuker. He's an 8-week old Husky. He has piercing blue eyes, soft cuddly baby fur and a fleur-de-lis on his forehead. He came to us through an unusual set of circumstances, visiting two other homes before settling in ours. He's just a baby, only been away from his mama for a week. 


But I don't like dogs, remember?  
In the past 5 days since he has been home, I have not had a solid night's sleep. I think that we are up, on average, 3 times a night with this one. He's nippy and rambunctious and he poops on the floor. 



But I'm pretty sure this little guy has stolen my heart. He makes me so happy. With his puppy kisses and exuberance. And the fact that he needs a mommy, to love and protect him, to give him boundaries. His enthusiasm to see me, his obvious preference of me over the kids, the way that I can understand some of the things that he needs. 

So I guess this means that I have a 5th child. 

Because, you remember, of course, that I don't like dogs. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014--A Year in Books

"A simple wind of despair will easily break them. What must we do, my friends?"
All the faces in the crowd became serious.
"We must live in the radiance of tomorrow, as our ancestors suggested in their tales.For what is yet to come tomorrow has possibilities, and we must think of it, the simplest gift of the possibility of goodness. That will be our strength, that has always been our strength."
         --Ishmael Beah, "The Radiance of Tomorrow"


I'm beginning to think that I can tell a lot about my year by the books that I read, particularly the quality of the fiction and the topic of the non fiction. And also by the type and quality of the books I started, but didn't finish.

But the quality of my fiction I can tell if I wanted to work hard to get into a good book, whether i had the wherewithal to stick with it--or if I just needed to escape in an easy read.

The topics of my non-fiction speak for themselves. There's been a lot to learn this year.

And the books I haven't finished. These titles grieve me a bit. As in, I started it, enjoyed it for a night or two, but found that it was work and easily slipped back into something easy (those were often the times that i "had" to read one of the books the kids wanted me to read). I think a goal I may start with are the books I didn't finish this year.

Also, I don't know about you, but as I set out to choose/read books, I try to vary the topics and authors and perspectives that I read. Some of my titles were chosen with that in mind. But others were chosen just because that's what looked good on the library shelves.

A few notes before I start.
(YA) means Youth Fiction--but it's still good stuff. Sometimes I read it because my kids are reading it sometimes because it's fun.
A bolded title means I really, really loved it. And if you have a chance you should too.
And for the benefit of those really out there books, I provided a brief description (mostly because that's what I put in my own notes.)

2014 in Books

  • Beautiful Fools--R. Clifton Spargo (A fictionalized account of the the last affair of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, set in Cuba, 1939)
  • Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, & lead--Brene Brown
  • A Wrinkle in Time (YA)--Madeleine L'Engle
  • A Long Walk to Water--Linda Sue Park
  • Sister of my Heart--Chitra Banerjie Divakaruni
  • Song yet Sung--James McBride ( I couldn't put this one down. Interesting voices and topic)
  • Still Alice--Lisa Genova
  • Orphan Train--Christina Baker Kline
  • State of Wonder--Ann Patchett
  • Sycamore Lane--John Grisham
  • Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend--Matthew Dicks (A book from the point of view of autistic Max's imaginary friend.)
  • Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder-Auer/Blumberg
  • The Husband's Secret--Liane Miorarty
  • Revolution (YA)--Jennifer Connelly
  • Rescuing Julia Twice--Tina Traster
  • Written in My Heart's Own Blood (#8 of the Outlander Series)--Diana Gabaldon
  • Radiance of Tomorrow--Ishmael Beah (READ THIS BOOK!)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings--Maya Angelou
  • Where'd you go, Bernadette--Maria Semple
  • The Bitter Taste of Time--Bea Gonzalez
  • The Bookseller of Kabul--Selerstaad
  • Feed Me, Love Me--Katja Rowell, MD
  • Tim Gunn: A guide to Quality, Taste, & Style 
  • Your Fathers, Where are They? Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?--Dave Eggers
  • Blink--Malcom Gladwell (Non-Fiction about how we make split second decisions)
  • The Language of Flowers--Vanessa Diffenbauch
  • The Invention of Wings--Sue Monk Kidd
  • Caleb's Crossing--Geraldine Brooks
  • Artemis Fowl (YA)--Eoinn Colfer
  • Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind--Ann B. Ross
  • The Invisible Bridge--Julie Orringer (A WWII book from a Hungarian point of view. Haunting in a different way)
  • The Light Between the Oceans--M.L. Stedman (Primarily set on a remote lighthouse island--This is a sad book)
  • Wonder (YA)--Palaccio
  • Choosing to See--Mary Beth Chapman
  • The White Princess--Phillippa Gregory
  • This is How you Lose Her--Junot Diaz
  • The House on Mango Street--Sandra Cisneros
  • Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe--Todd Wilson
  • I Saw the Angel in the Marble--Davis
The Books I started but didn't finish:

  • Guardians of Ga'hoole: The Capture (YA)--Lasky
  • The Day the World Ended at Little BigHorn--Marshall III
  • Unglued--Terkeurst
  • Sing Me To Heaven--Margaret Kim Peterson
  • A Sand County Almanac--Aldo Leopold
  • The Undertaking--Thomas Lynch
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me--Loewen
  • Flora & Uylesses (YA)--DiCamillo


So that makes my total: 39 books completed. 10 Non-fiction, 29 fiction, 4 Young Adult.
(I didn't include my repeat reads--I may be guilty of re-reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books. A Couple times)

Here's to a great year in books. Typing this list brought many remembrances. To me, that is the mark of a year well-read.

Happy New Year to you and yours.
S


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Half-finished thought...

[Full Disclaimer: I started this post on Sunday. Then I put it aside to add pictures later. And now it's Tuesday night and there are still no pictures. If I want you to ever read it, it'll just have to be the words!]

It's gotten quite bad lately. The kids have started to chastise me when I loose track of a sentence.

"Mom, what were you saying?"

I whip my head back toward my original intention, pulling my attention away from the one who stole it in the first place.

A blank look crosses my face. "Uh....I forgot."

Or I start to sweep the junk off the floor under the table. I make a nice little pile. I go to find the dustpan when someone needs me or I get distracted or something happens. And I totally forget about the sweeping and the pile of dust and food crumbs waiting in the middle of the floor. Until some child (or I) step through it and spread it everywhere again.

And that seems to be the story of this past year.

It's been the year of unfinished thoughts, projects, intentions.

As I type, there are four Christmas gifts that I cannot finish while the receivers are out of bed.

Looking on my bedside table, there are a couple books that I started, but have never finished. Not because they aren't great, but I just didn't. (Honestly, the ones I haven't finished have all been non-fiction.)

At my feet in the office, is a stack of soon-to-be discarded rough drafts of my novel, which although received so well, has stalled (and died?) in the middle of a major revision.

Throughout the year, I've started diagnosis/medication paths for children, to have them go nowhere.

I've started life changing conversations, only to not be able to have the time to finish them well.

A box of half-addressed Christmas cards sits on the dining room counter. (Consider them New Year's best wishes.)

If there has been anything that has characterized this year, it is the un-finished-ness of it. The things I haven't been able to follow through on, the things I've started, but not yet completed.

I want to think that this is a phase, that there will come a time when everything is completed, where projects and thoughts and intentions are brought to fruition. But I don't think it's going to be for a while.

So the question i have, how do I live life well in the middle of this: life unfinished, rough cut, unedited? I'm sure there is wisdom and patience to be found even in the midst of these stops & starts.

I'll go look for it in just a minute....


[If you've gotten this far, then let me wish you the merriest of Christmases, full of the traditions and events that warm your heart, the quiet moments of reflection and pondering that refuel your soul, and a reminder that our greatest gift isn't wrapped under the tree--He was born in a stable. Blessings. -S]


Friday, November 21, 2014

Foodie Fail

I spend a lot of time thinking about this blog: what's it's focus should be, what I know a lot about, what I'm passionate about.

And I think I stumbled on something: food.

I love food! It's so yummy. I like to prepare and eat it. I'm not big on presentation or pictures of food. But that's a skill I could learn right? Food blogs are a big deal: I spend a great deal of time gleaning my recipes from other food bloggers. I'm sure the world could use another one.

And I like to think about food--but not in the way that you think. Food has the power to change a life: to make one sick or make one well.

And food inequality.

And real food versus junk food.

And how the poor often don't have access to quality food.

And the difference an adequate diet has on health and learning and thriving.

The piece de resistance: how much food we waste. A recent report I heard on NPR said that our country's food waste is equal to our waste of paper and plastic combined.

This statistic has certainly borne itself in our home. Last year, as a science experiment, we kept track of our trash output for an entire week. What we found was humbling: about 40 pounds of waste (which includes the amount that we recycle). But of that total, about 1/3 was food waste. Of course, that included peels and ends and a chicken carcass. But it also included the remains of the cereal bowl, the gross remains from the fridge, the second helping of dinner that was put on a plate, but not eaten. One third!! 13(ish) pounds of wasted food. That's disgusting.

I was sickened.

So, as I thought about a blog, I thought, "I could do some stuff with food stuffs that we would generally waste. Find a useful and yummy way to prepare it, so it wasn't wasted." Wouldn't that be great?

Luckily, my wonderful neighbor often picks up bulk foods for our family. This week I got a huge bag of bananas. They were still perfect, just a bit spotty. Delicious. But I also know that there was no way that our family would finish eating them before they turned bad. There is already a significant number of bananas and mush waiting in my freezer. (Honestly, putting more in the fridge would just be my way of wasting by not wasting. I probably wouldn't use them).

Looks good going in.
Then I had an epiphany. I stumbled across a recipe for homemade banana chips. Sure, they aren't the family's favorite, but I could spruce them up, toss them in homemade granola, right?

So I heated the oven, prepared the pan, and sliced the bananas. To add a bit of 'extra.' I made a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar and sprinkled all over the banana slices.

Doesn't this sound yummy?

I let them bake for almost two hours--I wanted crispy little pieces of banana.

When I took them out, they looked...okay. Then I tasted one. It was gummy. No worries, I thought, they just need to cool. Gave them a few minutes to cool. Try again. Weird and gummy. "Well, maybe it was just that one." Try a smaller one, a bit crispier. Hopeful. Taste. Nope.

I let them sit on the counter until Eric came home. "Hmmm, those look interesting." One taste. The look on his face was confirmation. This was a food fail. Two pans (and a couple bunches of bananas) went straight into the trash. My attempt at not wasting...sigh...resulted in wasted food.

The lesson in all this: I don't think I'm going to be a food blogger. It was fun for about 10 seconds.

It was more fun and challenging and real to think about how we use food and what we waste and our part in the system. And how much we take for granted. There has to be a niche in that, right? For me and my thoughts?

But next time I have extra bananas, I'll just stick to banana bread & muffins.

I kept sampling because I hoped that maybe they would get better.
They didn't.









Friday, October 31, 2014

Maybe you've noticed,

My house has become a bit lighter in the past few weeks.

No, if you've been here, you probably wouldn't notice right away.

It's a bit vague, but I can tell, in every room that I've terrorized, I walk into it and feel calm. The cupboards close, drawers are not overstuffed, every thing has a place--a file, a basket, a drawer, a holder.

It's as though I've had an invisible hand pushing me through my house, forcing me to ask the usefulness of the things that are in it. I've been through parts of my kitchen, the entire office, the craft supplies upstairs and my sewing stuff all over. We've even started cleaning/sorting/selling/purging things from Eric's shop.

Part of this stems from the fact that we are drowning in stuff--meaningless stuff. I know this problem is not unique to our family.

But lately, I've been asking myself some tough questions: what does the stuff in my house say about me? (And since we're studying archeology and ancient history) I wonder, if we abandoned our house and someone came to study us by what was left, what would they decide? And, in the final analysis, is this really all that important?

By and large, I've been able to free myself by freeing my connection to things I thought I would need again. The couple years of Cooking Light and Eating Well magazines, the CD games that we haven't played since the kids were born, the leftover documents from our adoption.

This hasn't been an entirely cheerful process. I've come face to face with my wastefulness and my lack of follow through. Today, as I cleaned through my sewing stuff, I found a pinned and cut-out dress pattern that all of my girls are too big for. It is humbling to realize how much I have and how little I really need to be content.

But, on the plus side, I discovered stuff for two Christmas presents. One of which I can complete in a day or two--and will be the best gift for a daughter who loves to dress up.

So maybe, you might want to do this too--to be freer to live instead of tied to your stuff.

Let me tell you where I started: with this list from the becoming minimalist.com. Their main idea is that you don't have to live on nothing, you could probably make due with less: less vases, less mis-matched cups, less meds. It simply gave me permission to start, to not feel bad for having too much, and to get rid of stuff that was too much. (And no, I didn't need 10 vases--I whittled it down to the five I use most. Do I really need five? Probably not. But this is a journey and I'm at the beginning).

Next, I've also worked hard to find good places for my stuff. Just because I don't need it doesn't mean that it would be a huge help to someone else. In a few instances, the things that I am purging have been perfect for another's need. I love that: God's provision at my obedience.

Of course there are the good old standbys, Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In our area, there are about 25 non-profits that re-sell as well. Find one whose purpose you admire and go with that. Of course, you could always go the selling route: craigslist or whatever. But that created more hassle for me--so not for this clean out.

But here are some fun organizations that i have found.

Now that my kids are past the baby blanket and 10,000 stuffed animal stage, SAFE (Stuffed animals for emergencies) will clean and redistribute those items to fire & police departments, hospitals and other first responders to be given to kids in a time of crisis. There may be a chapter near you.

Old electronics waiting for recycling
In our area, the local county recycling plant accepts a huge amount of electronic material for recycling. Like old VHS and cassette tapes, VCRS, broken handhelds, old CDS, and random cords. I would much rather them be salvaged and re-used than just sit in a dump for the next 10,000 years.

This last one is one that I am a bit conflicted about. I like the idea, but it has issues. There is an organization in California, Donate your old Shoes, that accepts used shoes and redistributes them throughout the third world. It was started as a small project by a family and has grown into something bigger. On the one hand, I like this. Our shoes aren't worn out, they are just grown out of. BUT, I understand that it's not good to just give my old crap to someone in need just to make me feel better. That person has dignity and deserves respect, not my crap. In the end, it was too expensive for us to justify, but, hey, maybe it works for you.

Maybe you can help me too. I have extra office/school supplies: three-ring binders, file folders, rubber bands. They need a new home. I can't use them. (Like seriously, two full boxes of decent-shape, various-sized three-ring binders) Who needs them? Who wants them? A school? A non-profit serving the city? A church? An after-school organization?

I have to admit, I never quite finished the office. And right now it's covered in the pen stuff that Eric is selling, but even in this frenzied state, it's calmer than ever before.

And I could get used to living like that.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Room to breath

Josh--5th grade
For the first time in a very, very long time, life feels good.

It's not perfect, but good.

My bedroom has been clean for more than a week. Nary a pile has been left on the floor in that entire time.

The basement, which is usually the pit of junk and despair, has maintained a rather neat appearance for almost two weeks.

I've had moments where I thought, huh, I have nothing immediate to do right now.

What has brought about this new, most wonderful state of mind?

Two things (and you bet I'm going to tell you about them):

Katie--4th grade
1) In my homeschool, the big three are mature enough learners to not need me to hold their hand as they work through their assignments. I don't need to look over their shoulder to watch every math problem or listen to anyone sound out each agonizing word. In general, I can give assignments and help as needed (and sometimes, not at all needed, which is a new feeling altogether). Having a 5th, 4th, and 2nd grader means that I am past the most intensive, hands-on times of learning and into much more interesting and fun discussions and connections and projects that don't make me want to pull my hair out.

Also, as we planned this year, we built in significant breaks for me. I love my kids, but need a bit of space. So, every Monday they go to 'school' with a bunch of other homeschool kids and do all the fun stuff that I totally ignored (let's be honest). They build friendships, are challenged in a school setting, and round out their education in one day! Last week, OG kept speaking in Spanish to me all afternoon. And J dismantled an object today to get at the electronics of it. Life without teaching phonics is wonderful!

Olivia--2nd Grade
2) The biggest improvement (Glory, hallelujah!) is that Mali is in preschool--EVERY SINGLE DAY--from 8 until noon. She is in a great classroom with a teacher who is willing to work with us to teach and parent Mali well. And in her classroom of 15 kids, she is not the only one with brown skin, which in itself is beautiful to me. So for these four hours every day, we all get a little space from each other.

I have to admit, that as a homeschool mom, I had beautiful but naive pictures of our family cuddling on the coach reading stories--and in this way our new daughter would assimilate into our family. But the truth of the matter is this: I have a daughter from a hard and traumatic place. It is hard work to be her mom, it requires patience, diligence, and a special set of parenting skills. She needs structure, and clear order and expectations. And while I can do that in some ways, our homeschool doesn't work that way. She needs structure and order and direct teaching in order to overcome her gaps and become the best Mali she can be. And I can't provide that for her. In this way, in a new way, I've learned, it really takes a village. Although no one is going to do the hard attachment work that we are in the midst of, Mali needs all kinds of love and support, from many people.
Mali--Preschool

And don't be mistaken that just because everything is going well that we don't still struggle with sibling rivalry and attachment issues and bad attitudes and defiance, special learning challenges and anger.

But there is much more peace, calm, laughter and even, dare I say it, moments of Joy.

We have travelled a long journey in the past year and half.

And after tears, my own anger, questions, I can truly say this:

I am blessed woman.






Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We are that family. . .

But not the one you are thinking.

There is a blog that I've run across a few times that proclaims that "they are that family" but what follows is encouraging words, uplifting statements about family and faith, and cute little anecdotes about family. Sometimes a hint or two at how to do this or that task. Generally, it's an encouraging place to visit.

However, we are not that family.

Close-up
These past few weeks have been a journey into humility--not with giant sized troubles, but with nearly-constant, ever-nagging mistakes.

Like not sending your son to a soccer event in his green shirt--and he's the only one not wearing it.

Like the sloppy, wispy-haired, I-can't-do-much-better-with-that-colic bun in my ballerina's hair.

Like blowing the grocery budget every single time I shop. (Curse you, Costco!)

Like forgetting a picture of our family for the preschool classroom for two weeks. And I'm supposed to provide snacks for every day this week. The pressure is almost enough to make me crack.

Goofy on purpose
Like being about two minutes late for everything. Sometimes people are surprised when I show up on time. And even once, I had never been late and I was congratulated for not being late like the previous week.

We are that family.

The one that tries really hard, but always falls short.

Not quite ready for a picture
And this, just now, I realized that the casserole has been in the oven for a half-hour, but the heat hasn't been on for it.

A day late and a dollar short, always.

The budget is always tight, the house is always cluttered, I almost always look mean or angry or frazzled (Thanks gray hair and forehead creases).

Always ready for a picture
But oh, I want to be that family--with beautiful athletic people and gorgeous family photos that reflect the perfect life we lead. I was children who love each other and a beautiful marriage and deep, personal relationships with God (which should involve at least daily family devotions and hour long personal quiet times).

I find myself caught between my expectations of myself and the world's expectations for me. Usually, I am resilient and accepting of who I am. (My house is just going to look lived in, because we live in it. My clothes are older and worn. My kids are...kids).

But these days, it hits me in the gut and drags down my spirit. Why? Because I am trying so hard to do it right. I want my son to experience success and friendship and teamwork on a club soccer team. I want my daughter to excel in ballet, if that is where her heart leads her. I want them to learn and feel joy and love and serve and offer compassion. I want them to be the best them they can be. But the best them involves me letting go and allowing them to be chastised for the bun that falls out or not wearing the right uniform piece or not finishing their homework.

But then for a moment I stop and God whispers into my heart.

He whispers, "Peace."
These beautiful four.
They are my heart.
And perfect for me. 

Then He reminds me of something I still have difficulty fathoming. He says, "I gave exactly the family I wanted for you. I am molding everyone in your family into my image. I'm using your failures too."

And He gives me glimmers in images that make me forget the failures.
Laughter that takes away the sting.
A hug that removes the crabby.
A compassionate act or loving gesture.
A kind word.

And my eyes are opened to the fruit that is growing in all of us, even among the weeds at the Beuker house.