Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Fix a Broken Week (Part II)

I woke up much too early this morning and I cried. I never cry in the morning. Do you? Well, I did. I was sure I couldn't do it all over again today. Cory was every way of amazing, as always. We whispered. We had a 2-hour delay and high hopes that the kids might sleep in a bit.

Then Silas woke up at 6:30. When he normally sleeps until 8. I think I cried a tiny bit more. It couldn't have been helped.

Then I kissed every face in the house and set to making cinnamon waffles.

I decided that I needed what I needed. God had heard my crying, He'd assured me that He had the day. But I decided I'd take my day standing up, with make-up on and a belly full of waffles.

I refused to acknowledge the tired. I refused to waste another moment worrying.

I read in Ecclesiastes, I read it out loud. There was no Big Secret Message, but I was fascinated by the idea of letting my words be few. Really? I like it. That's kind of my go-to method. But I always secretly thought it was wrong. Many nights, my prayer is something like this, "Thank you, Jesus. I love you." I've been talking to Him all throughout the day. He knows my heart. He owns it. So I let my words be few. Is that bad? Not according to chapter 5.

Tangent alert, right?

So back to my day.

I took to the outdoors whilst Ruby sang to "the grandpas and grandmas" at a nursing home with her pre-school. The boys rode their bikes through the snow and I took pictures. It fixes so many things for me, the combination of real air and a lens.

I built a castle with Silo. We shipped Calvin out, rustled Ruby up.

Then we ran errands. Three. We walked slushy in our boots in that strange winter air that feels so much warmer than it really is, the sun all streaming down.

We had Jimmy Johns just for the stinking heck of it (and because I had a BOGO.) Vito with banana peppers, Baybay. With vinegar chips and a coke.

Three businessy men complimented my "well behaved" small people on their way out. I laughed on the inside. (If they only knew of the two days that led up to our morning about town.) I took that moment for the gift that it was.

Incidentally, what do you call a woman who buys eleven boxes of berries?

I don't know, what?

Flower Patch Farmgirl, that's what.

You call her a genius. You call her $7.75...richer. You heard me.

You might also call her well-fibered. Anti-oxidant addled. Blue-toothed.

Later, I admired our wonky nativity, then I read my new favorite post of all time, by my sister-friend Heather. Check it. She pretty much says everything that needs to be said. And she nails the ending: "Perhaps we're the ones perpetually jacking this story up." It was all so true and normal and profound. I had no choice but to Facebook it.

So, I'm back in the saddle. Next time I get too mopey, remind me to grab beauty and joy by the ears and yank it my way.

I love my life, I do. Even the blurry bits.

Broken (Part I)

So, the week's been a big, fat downer.

No, that's not really even true. It's been fine mixed with some really good and too much blech. Yada Prada. Bad weeks stink.

Today, things improved by about twelve-thousand percent, in every way possible. And I want to tell you all about it. I must. tell. you.

But first, there's something on my mind and I keep asking it to just move along. It's over and I won't lose sleep over it tonight. Still, nagging the back of my noggin is the thought that I need to speak up just a little. I think it's something that I might as well address, because Dr. Phil has taught us that we can't want what we don't ask for. Or we can't own what we secretly moan. (Something obscure and rhyming. Always, always the rhyming.)

Last night I received a comment that broke my heart a bit. I believe that it is right to share the truth about things, even the things that keep me up at night and make me cry. Even the hard parts of adoption and run-of-the-mill mothering. It's dangerous to paint too glowy a picture about things that are so real and important. I've done my best to gauge my sharing with sensitivity to the fact that my children will one day come back and read what I've written. I hope when they do that they get a clear sense of how hilarious they were, how their parents colored every day with love, the no-matter-what kind.

I'm washed alive by your words of encouragement that haul me to shore just when I'm about to drown. And general commiserating is like a linking of elbows. We're in Crazyville together! I can also appreciate honest, thoughtful words of advice. But if it something personal involving anyone other than myself, please, send me an email. (Just click the "contact me" tab up at the top.) And while we're already on this awkward topic, please sign your name to your anonymous comments. I come to you with a wide-open heart, fully me, the only way I know to be. Please honor that by doing the same.

I'm sorry to bother you with all of that. Please keep being awesome. Please keep cheering me on. I'll forever do the same for you.

Back in a jif....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Gift of a Blue-Tinged Day

Yesterday ended in a semi-usual way. I hunkered down into fleecy sheets, wrapped them up around my shoulders, and lamented the day's events. I should have been sleeping. Instead, I was sorting through every shade of blue; the midnight morning, the indigo afternoon, the cornflower dark of evening. It had been a bad day.

Of course it wasn't all bad, but when blue barges through the door and flings his overstuffed junky suitcase across my heart, all of the good, it loses its color and shape. It floats away for a while.

There in the dark, my toes pressed cold against Cory, I ticked down the list. I whispered quiet about the boy who usually makes the wrong choice, who, in spite of every honest effort and the grasping of wild straws spins through his days with little regard for anyone else in the room.

Maybe everyone gets short-changed in the surviving. Maybe we'll never know the grip of loss on his heart. Maybe this is just the way it's going to be.

But think of all the progress.

That's what Cory said.

Think of where we were a year ago.

I know, I know. But shouldn't we be further?

I confessed my sins to the ceiling, unready to quit the day. I layed bare my impatient, short-tempered heart. I held doubt in my hands and I reached it out. Someone, please, take it.

Is this really a gift? This part, right here? Then why does it feel impossible some days?

Our words stretched thin, the spaces between them gathered, we lost steam.

Down the quiet hall, a little boy coughed and stirred.

I walked blind to where he was, my fingertips guiding me along the wall. I grabbed him up, tucked him under my white fleecy sheets. We tossed and turned together. The fierceness of my love for him, of His love for both of us, melted the blue away. His foot found me, his breath steadied. His hair smelled like hope. I drifted back to sleep, back to peace, back to knowing for sure that this, all of it, is a gift.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Behold, the Jello

I know everyone is ten shades past Thanksgiving by now, and that's alright. Consider yourself free to leave the office early just because you're awesome if you don't care to read on. Take the night off. I understand.

True story: Back when I worked at ERAC we were having a particularly slow day in the dead of Winter. Overhead weighed heavy on the mind of my manager, Rick. (It's all about the numbers, baby.) So he held a raffle for one of us to go home early. I won. I hightailed it back to our apartment (aptly dubbed Stabbin' Cabins), made Rice-A-Roni and a can of corn, and fully believed that the day couldn't have been improved upon.

I'm a simple girl.

The End.

But back to our weekend: Our hearts were warm, our heads were hot (read: sweaty). The internets were malfunctioning, which was actually a welcomed surprise.

(On our last day in town, Dad spent a good 25 minutes chatting with some type of a Help Desk Woman on speaker phone. He famously starts every. single. phone conversation as follows, "Hello, this is Dwight Garber, from Pleasant Hill, Ohio." Homedaddy's got some fierce hometown pride. He offers lots of extra details, like "Our modem has just been sitting here on the bottom shelf of our bookshelf, behind a pile of books...." I left the room soon after, so I can't promise that he didn't proceed to list the titles of the books.)

I love my dad.

He's entertaining. And that's not even the half of it. He tapes key episodes of Antiques Road Show for me, like the one where the lady had a jade collection worth over a million dollars and reacted by eking out a flat, slightly ghetto "D**n". He tapes local news segments that involve random people from around town whom I may or may not actually know. He tapes America's Test Kitchen and swears he's going to make the recipes one day.

I love my dad. I keep trying to get him to write a guest post for me.

Yesterday was his 60th birthday, which used to sound old but eerily no longer does.

(left to right) Keisha, Dad, Claw, Shannan

Impromptu family photo (minus my SIL Shannon) on T-giving day at my Aunt Wendelin's house.

Speaking of Aunt Wendelin, she makes the meanest cranberry salad in the history of the world.

And by "meanest", I mean Best. Ever.

She gave me a little deli container full of it to bring home with me. I do believe I shall partake forthrightly.

My family reveres jello salads with much honor and counter-space.

Have you ever had carrot salad? You should.

But have you ever had my Grandpa's revolutionary celery salad?

You should(n't). (I'm still on the fence.)

We're settled back in, ready to launch a new week and Advent and December and a whole, new, triple-batch of good and glowy things.

There are big plans in the works to make Calvin a Turkey Potpie recipe he found in my Everyday Food magazine. He found it all on his own and has strategically left it open to that page at least six times since. He's relentless, that one.

I sure hope it lives up to the hype.

So, another Thanksgiving is in the books.

What was your highlight?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Put This On Your Bucket List

I had never conceived of a Goodwill Outlet.

I confess: I'm mostly a novice when it comes to thrifting. I'm not hard-core. I don't have special gloves. I don't own a bottle of hand sanitizer. True story.

When my friend Elisha offered to take me, I was way past intrigued.

This was my Breakfast of Champions. When I met up with her she had a bottle of water and a bag of Cheez-Its waiting for me. Homegirl knows how I tick.

So yes, I was well-fortified and ready to attack. I would own those blue bins.

The Goodwill Outlet is like purgatory for home items from the early 1970s and boxless boardgames and broken glasswares. It's all the stuff that didn't cut the mustard in the everyday variety Goodwill. It's the end of the line. I swore I saw a headless Barbie with her fingers crossed.

You just line up with your cart and start digging.

You pay by the pound. $1.69, I think. Books are $0.59/lb.

Can you imagine?

I couldn't. And I was there.

Right out of the gate I found two white flower pots from Ikea. They made me immediately suspicious of the overall premise, because they totally deserved to be in a regular Goodwill. Maybe they sacrificed their own future so that a terra-cotta pot painted in a 1988 country motif might live to see another day? (I've heard the Swedes are a particularly selfless people.)

I bypassed Alphie's brother-from-another-older-1970s-mother, but totally snapped up the toy garbage truck. And just when it seemed like things couldn't get more intense, this guy wheeled out that little cart with a Boom Box - yes, a Boom Box - and blared MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This".

The air was electric.

I scanned the crowd for Elisha. I was so confused! And yet so happy! I had no choice but to sing along.

A few seconds later, MC still makin' 'em sweat and ringing' the bell and oh-ohing, a different guy wheeled out a large cart holding a NEW BLUE BIN. He danced that sucker out. He backed the junk up for a step or two. I never would have taken him for a hip swiveler, but he totally was.

The bin was covered ceremoniously with a blanket. The crowd gathered.



U can't touch this.

No really, you can't.

At least not until the bin is in place and the secret covering is removed.

And that's precisely when I decided that I wanted to work there. Part-time, but still.

All of this, on a random Wednesday. These are some people who know the meaning of life.

I never did get close enough to that new bin. I got the vapors or something. I choked.

I'll never know the treasures I missed.

The possibilities are endless.

When all was said and done, my fingertips were black and I had 5 bags of stuff. For $20.11.

Cory texted me to see if I found anything.
Me: I bought 5 bags of crap.
Cory: Good. We needed more crap.

Let me just say this: Vintage Children's animal book. In FRENCH. True, I don't know French. But it probably cost me $0.13. I dare you to say you wouldn't have done the same.

Did I buy two random Duplo blocks? Why yes, I did. Green and white, respectively.

Am I the proud new owner of a frame-worth Parcheesi game board? Hate me.

Old clipboard? Yep. Oil painting of a lone, leafless tree? Do you even need to ask??

18.6 pounds of children's books? A kid's gotta read.

It was a winner of a day, topped off by my first Vietnamese meal, which I devoured along with eight cups of tea and hot/sour soup so hot and so sour that the roof of my mouth still won't take my calls.

Just find a Goodwill Outlet and go, man. Wear your easy britches and your dancing shoes.

Because as a wise man once said, If you can't groove to this then you probably are dead.

Harsh but true. Harsh but true.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sticky Bunz for Starters

1. Do you love me? If you will, you'll make these this weekend, in my honor. You'll eat two on the first pass-through, then you'll sneak a third. They are so good. The perfect amount of goo, and crunchy in all the right places. I made mine in a borrowed bundt, but my friend Jolene said her mom used to pop the biscuits one-by-one into muffin pans. (For the recipe, click the blue "these" then click the photo.)

2. The dented van is dentless, thanks to Cory's rock-star uncle. I'm a jangled, frazzled bundle of nerves all over again. There's just something really freeing about driving a van pre-dented on three out of four sides. It takes the pressure off.

3. Sometimes love looks like piles and piles of dirty dishes. Sometimes it looks like a beautiful teenage girl in a purple plaid shirt. Sometimes it looks like the tears of a friend, shed on your behalf. Sometimes it looks like Woody Allen (don't ask.)

4. Speaking of love, tonight, Silas grabbed my face between his hands, looked me straight in the eyes, and planted a wet one on my cheek. This is only the second time in the history of the world that he's given me an unsolicited kiss. It feels parade-worthy.

5. He's also started saying throughout the day, "I like you, Mommy" and "Mommy makes me happy". Swoon.

6. Today was a flurry of parent-teacher conferences and pre-school report cards. It turns out my oldest kids share a fondness for socializing with their neighbor. But they're both working on it. They're both doing so well and we are proud. I love hearing that they're kind to everyone. (When I told Calvin I was proud of him, he said "I'm proud of you, too, Mommy." I asked him why he's proud of me. "Because you're writing a book!" Swoon.)

7. About that book: I'm closing in. To be continued.

8. We're leaving for a whirlwind trip to Ohio tomorrow evening and my agenda tomorrow mostly revolves around washing all of the sheets. It's a weird sickness. Situational cleanliness.

9. Have you forgotten about the well? Please don't forget. But just in case you have:

I'm really focusing in on the endless list of thankfuls in my heart. Water is one of them. You are another. Thank you for rallying around me in this life-giving operation. It feels really big sometimes. I wonder if I was crazy to believe that we could pull off 10k. When I set out to do this I set the goal at $4,000. Even that seemed crazy. Then I realized that $10,000 could build the whole she-bang. But what if no one gives? What if I look stupid? What if it flops? What if I fail? I heard that voice, and I typed in the zeroes with my fingers over my eyes. I hardly slept that night. I was sure I made a big mistake. The truth is, this is God's work. It's not about me or you. And yet he continues to choose to move through us. He changes our hearts and we open our eyes and find that we care more than we knew.

10. I'm so looking forward to the rest of this week. I've got one foot out the door, so ready to relax and laugh and keep counting those beads.

11. But aside from all of that, what I really want to know is, what's your position on cranberry salad? (This is not a rhetorical question.)

Monday Manifesto

This weekend was full and light, every thing a good, honest, no-frills weekend should be. I'm heading off to bed, topped-off with gratitude for the gifts that I have been given. Tonight, they include soup and blackberries and the tiny faces of my boys, cropped to an inch and glued to their tickets to the other side of the world - to us. I'm thankful for the courage I saw reflected in their baby eyes, and even the fear. I'm thankful for my girl who isn't asking the big questions yet, but one day will. For now, she's safe in what she already knows. She's loved over and over and over again, her circle bigger than she even understands. These kids journeyed to get here. They were swept up into a beginning that was not perfect, but they trust every day, right along with us, that God can take what's broken and make it lovely and right. They are living, walking, giggling proof of redemption.

So tomorrow, that gray November Monday, I'll honor the life I've been given. I'll wash and cook and read and drive. I'll string the beads, feel them cool and round in my hand, watch them catch the light. There's much living to be done.

I won't wait, no I won't wait for heaven.
Cause I believe heaven's coming my way.
While I'm alive I'll be gettin' on with living like
You're comin' my way, comin' my way
And I'll be comin' your way, comin' your way.

I can't wait to meet You in the middle
Up in the air to welcome You home
And on the way we'll be gettin' things ready cause

You're comin' my way, comin' my way
And I'll be comin' Your way, comin' Your way

O, I once was lost
And now I'm found
It's like a spark lit a fire and it won't burn out
A spark lit a fire and it won't burn out
A spark lit a fire and it won't burn out

O, it'll never burn out

-Coming My Way, The City Harmonic

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Every Which Way but New

Wouldn't it be funny if I started beginning every post with a random flower picture and a discourse about how I'm feeling every which way but loose? (Does that phrase mean something...unseemly? It suddenly seems like it might.)

Maybe from now on, we could all just assume that Shannan's a bit frizzle-dizzed. She's taken to making up new words. She's wearing a button down with sweatpants. She's got a big, huge eye zit but she remembered to put her earrings in.

I'm half here and half there, these days.

I blame Betty.

One moment, I'm feeling like I've lost my will to be silly. I believe for certain that I've somehow plunged myself straight into the depths of eternal seriousness.

Two seconds later? I'm finding the answers to life's pressing questions in the lyrics of Michael Jackson's Beat It. No one wants to be defeated, man.

I spent last night and most of today at the annual Advisory Board retreat for my church. (You can read about last year's retreat here, but DO NOT click the link if you are adverse to Chuck Norris.) I walked away from the meeting tired (on account of the bad-news mattress) and a little nauseous (on account of the rotten cole slaw and boiled, busted-up hot dogs), but mostly, I felt excited.

There's so much mystery and suspense and bite-your-nails-clean-off-ness to this life, if we'll just show up with our eyes open and our palms facing up. We can make life as boring as we want to. We can play it safe and watch the color drain straight out the bottom of our world. Or we can skydive.

I fell asleep on the bottom bunk thinking that maybe God is doing a new thing.

Then I thought, no, He's not new. He doesn't need to improve on his mission and his perfect purpose. He has no need for a grand re-opening.

Then I thought, "But what about New Thang? Am I really open to the possibility that DC Talk's theology wasn't always spot-on?"

Then I chalked it up to the foolishness of youth. (Theirs and mine.)

God's not doing a new thing or even a new thang. He's reigning sovereign and powerful and fiercer than fire. He's as rowdy as ever. And we're finally, just barely, catching on.

This is the life I choose, thank you very much. It's way, way better than being a pew potato.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday in a Nut-Shell, only Bigger

Our morning started off in its usual way, except I decided on a lark to spray on some perfume, and we had a meeting with LaCasa, the organization we'll be working with when we move to Goshen next Spring. I packed paper and crayons for the two Wilds and sprung surprise pieces of gum on them at the very last second. It mostly worked.

This move we're making feels complicated because it is complicated. It's also really simple. But here's the main thing you should know: We want to do this. We are excited. I am fighting daily with impatience, because if this was up to me, we'd go tomorrow. (You might recall how (not) good I am at waiting...) I've gotten several emails and comments lately asking me why we're doing this since it's obvious that I "don't want to". I feel bad if I've given that impression.

It's important to me to be honest in all of the upside-down and sideways feelings that I have about the whole thing. It changes by the hour. It is scary sometimes and it feels too far away. Other times, it's too close for comfort. It's almost impossible to wrap my brain around what it will be like to be there, because it's so, so different from here. In the end, we like this ride we're on. We like knowing that we don't hold the keys. We're amazed by the way Jesus has held our sweaty palms every step of the way. Pretty soon, I'll tell you the whole story. (It's kinda long.)

I used to believe that fear = doubt and doubt = don't. I don't believe that any more. I think we risk dying a slow, insulated death of mediocrity and foolishness if we run from everything we fear. I've no reason to stalk God when life is lived tucked into my comfort zone.

Of course not everyone is called to do what we are doing, but I know everyone's called to something. And my gut tells me that God often calls us to risky places; not necessarily risky in terms of imminent danger, but risky in that it's outside our norm. Risky as in the very thought gives us butterflies and births within us the deep desire to go hide under our beds like we did when we were six.

Okay, that was more than I really intended to say tonight. But now it's in print, so it must be true: I want to move. I might tell you eighty more times over the next seven months that I am scared or nervous or uncertain. Maybe whenever I say those things, I'll link back to this post, to remind us all of the simple facts. :)

After our meeting, the rest of the day was pretty regular.

(Have I mentioned how much I'm in love with Regular?)

We got a cart-load of groceries. Blackberries were fifty cents a box. $0.50 Have mercy. I bought six boxes, yes I did. The next time you see us, we may be a little blue-tinged.

Lunch was all circles, all the time, man.

(I had buffalo turkey on wheat with left-over tomato basil soup.)

I took my boots off but then my feet got cold, so I added white sport shortie-socks over my striped knee-socks. I also had leg warmers over my jeans. And I kept my down vest on and zipped. I was fa-fa-fa-freezing. And extra-fetching, I'm sure.

Siley crashed at nap-time.

I read the book that keeps on slaying me (well, one of them, there are several right now) and then I dozed for 30 minutes on the couch.

Calvin raced in after school and we had spritz cookies for snack, then we got busy with a craft. Sometimes my life just needs a crafty hour. It doesn't happen super often, but everyone's happy when it does. It helps us work the bugs out, I'm convinced.

Plus, Silas was still sleeping, so it was a win-win. Silas + Paint = Something Tragic.

(He had already drawn a rogue tramp stamp on Ruby's lower back prior to lunch. In an odd turn of events, she didn't even realize it had happened.)

(He also "scratched" her in the eye with a marker.)

(He also scribbled on the dining room wall with a marker while I was making dinner.)

(All in one day.)

(But who's keeping score?)

So, the paint.

I saw the idea on Pinterest, of course.

Mix sweetened condensed milk with food coloring.

The end.

The paint is beautiful. It's thick and shiny. Translucent.

I successfully dodged Calvin's question, "What does it taste like?" when he saw me dumping the milk into the ice cube trays. You know that child would have been licking his paint brush if he'd had the slightest clue...

And now, a memory from kindergarten: We finger painted with green pudding. Then we scraped it off the paper and ate it for snack. I would not make this stuff up, people. I remember it clear as day. It struck me as heinous, even then. But that didn't stop me from partaking. The end.

We painted until we were blue in the face and pink and orange in the hands, shirts, and, in some cases, hair.

I woke Silas up and let him join the fun, since The Fun was almost over.

Homeboy loved him some sugar-milk paint.

He dropped it in huge globs all over his paper. "I'm makin' pancakes!"

Sure you are.

It kept him occupied for a good twenty minutes and he could have gone longer. I felt bad for doubting him.

Then came dinner.

I love to cook. I love trying new recipes. But there's something about cooking in this kitchen that makes me decide over and over again to boycott complicated meals. And by complicated, I mean any meal requiring more than one bowl and one spoon.

It never lasts long, that feeling. I can't quit. I cain't.

Voila, here's dinner.

Please pardon the wonky photo. I was hungry.

Martha's version looked way prettier, dang her.
(Can't find her recipe online, but I did find it here.)

Calvin started crying when I made him eat half a tzatziki cucumber. Swear.

And for dessert?

Blackberries, of course.

What was the best Regular thing about your day?