weekend.

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We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter here in Columbia, which is perfect for the various projects we have going on.

And we have a LOT going on. This may be a good time to tell you that we’ve found a home for our church, Columbia Pres! We just signed a long-term lease on a building in the Cottontown neighborhood of downtown. It’s right in-between where we live and where CPC currently meets on Main St.

We’re so excited about our new space! It’s in a really fun area, and a coffee shop is about to open next door! We start major renovations in the next few weeks and hope to be in the facility in several months. I’m so happy for David and our associate pastor, John, because after nearly four years, they’ll finally have offices in the same building where we gather for worship.

All of that to say, here are our three projects, all happening in the next 4-6 months:

  1. A house addition
  2. A church renovation
  3. A chicken coop

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David said to his friends, “I’m not sure which of those three projects will be my undoing first.” Ha ha. The chicken coop being the joke, sort of.

This is a very happy season for our family, but a stressful one too. Actually come to think of it, we haven’t been in a non-stressful season since starting the church. But I’m guessing you are all in your own stressful seasons too, right?

That’s just life.

I heard a great podcast interview with Sally Clarkson where she said, “Do yourself a favor and stop waiting for life to not be hard. Life is always hard. Parenthood is always hard. When you accept this reality, you can begin the work of learning contentment.”

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I’ve been pondering that a lot and it’s surprisingly helpful. I’m not sitting here waiting for our addition to be finished and CPC to be in our new building (and the chicken coop to be finished). Because those things will be wonderful, but then I’m guessing our family will be facing new challenges.

What God wants is to give me grace for right now. For today.

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This is waaay easier said than lived out, for me at least.

Yes, we have some idyllic photos of baby chicks running around the yard and this amazing chicken coop that David designed and is building from scratch, but the truth is we get tired and cranky and selfish. The coop project turned out to be way bigger than either of us expected. We fought this weekend about how to spend our time (I’ll let you guess who didn’t want to spend it painting a chicken coop). David can be too driven and I can be too selfish.

Both of us have realized of late how easy it is to take one another for granted when life is stressful.

We’re pouring all we can into work and the kids and the house. And I don’t know why but it’s all too easy to take it all out on the person who’s the very closest to you — who should be your safe place and biggest cheerleader when life is crazy. It’s easy to let resentment creep in, to start keeping score and blaming one another.

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We’re fumbling our way along, but I think the biggest key we’ve found is repentance. Lots and lots of it. It’s hard to stop, to look your spouse in the eye, and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” And it’s even harder to shut your mouth and listen to them tell you how they feel, how you’re treating them and how much it hurts. It’s hard not to give excuses for your behavior, to act like a victim.

But we’re practicing this simple act, and we’re also trying to pay attention to one another.

To give kisses hello and good-bye. To stop and look one another in the eyes. To say, “Thank you for washing the dishes tonight.” We work hard and talk out our disagreements and usually end up meeting somewhere in the middle, which is probably the best place to be.

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We left all the addition noise and craziness and went for a long family hike at the Congaree swamp Friday. My parents came and helped paint Saturday afternoon, and David’s parents cooked us dinner.

Yesterday afternoon turned out to be a very sweet balance of resting and then getting outside in that beautiful sunshine and doing a project together.

And I guess that’s what Sally Clarkson was saying. Life is hard now. Life will be hard in six months. What matters is today. How am I trusting Jesus to show me what’s most important in just this hour? How am I giving thanks for the gifts in my life, instead of focusing on the negative, instead of waiting for the next season?

How am I loving the people around me well and making them feel special? How am I giving up my rights and dying to myself? How am I pursuing fun and joy and laughter? Today?

Happy Monday!



the condition: week one.

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Two expressions that we use a lot around here these days are:

“The condition” (addition)

and

“The instruction!” (construction, coined by Noah and always said with an exclamation mark, as in, “The instruction is digging!!!” or “Those little boys left their instruction at our house!!!”)

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Here’s our house on Day One.

After we posted that the addition had started, lots of people said, “Wait, you didn’t mention that this was finally happening!”

The truth is, we didn’t know it was finally happening until Monday morning at 8:00 am, when the crew arrived.

Last fall-ish, we thought we’d finally found a builder, and scheduled him to start the first of the year, only to have him lose touch for a couple of months. We figured we were back to square one.

So this winter, David scurried and found two more builders and they came to give us quotes. During this entire time (and truly for the last two and a half years), he checked Zillow house listings daily, emailing me some every now and then.

Then suddenly our original contractor got back in touch with us within the last couple of weeks, invited us to come check out a home addition he was finishing up in the Forest Acres neighborhood (which we loved!), and began talking details. He came out to give us a final quote. All of which seemed promising. But after wearying of the rollercoaster of House Addition Waiting, we sure weren’t holding our breath.

The truth is, until Monday at 8:00 we didn’t know for sure what we were going to do. Stay or move. Addition or no addition.

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But when our builder, Scott, knocked on the door Monday morning while we were scrambling to get ready for Classical Conversations, building permit in hand, and asked me to move our van out of the driveway, I had the most amazing feeling of relief and happiness. I couldn’t stop grinning all day long.

So really, this story isn’t so much about a home addition, as it is about figuring out that this is exactly where we’re supposed to be.

We looked at so many big and beautiful homes over the past couple years — ever since we decided to adopt — quite a few that are way more sophisticated and historic than ours (and some really lousy ones too). I lost my temper many a time over our teensy one bathroom and small kitchen and us tripping all over one another here.

But the truth is, we didn’t want to move. None of us.

Last month David and I looked at one another and said, “What the heck, let’s just stay. Let’s never move. Even if it’s cramped. Even if Judah and Amelie share a bedroom forever. Let’s pretend we’re Tiny House owners.”

Because when it comes down to it, this is the first house we’ve ever purchased. It’s affordable. It’s the home God gave us after the heart-break of leaving India. This was our refuge when we started a church, the place we welcomed our two sons, and ate chili with CPC New Members. We love our neighbors. We love that we can walk to the grandparents’ house. It seems that after just three-and-half years we’re so neck-deep-rooted in memories that it felt like losing a part of ourselves to sell it, even for something bigger and better.

So we decided not to.

The very next week, David went out and bought eight chicks, and has spent the weekends since working on building them a coop.

I think we held out so long on chickens because we just.didn’t.know.

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And suddenly, out of the blue, here is Scott, arriving each morning with a bright smile, his crew friendly and hard-working, our boys enamored with the fact that a construction zone has plopped itself right outside our window.

And the happiness just washes over me like waves.

We don’t have to move.

We know exactly where we’re supposed to be.

When it rained on Wednesday, my sister-in-law texted and said, “I’m so sorry the work is being delayed!” But you know what? I couldn’t care less.

It’s started! And that’s enough for me.

I really think if we’d been doing this a year ago, I’d be impatient over every little thing. Now I’m just grateful.

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And now a few details.

As you can see from the pictures, the addition is coming off the front left as you face our house, turning it from a rectangle into an “L” shape. From the inside, the window where the boys are standing will become a doorway into a tiny hall, take a right and there’s the bathroom, walk-in closet, and master bedroom in succession. It will be about 450 sq. ft. total.

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Judah and Amie exclaimed over the yellow Port-a-John that arrived the other day, and Gabe asked, “Mommy, is this our new bathroom?”

One of our favorite things about living here is that our neighbors are pretty awesome. My friend says we’re on the “wrong side of the Earlewood tracks,” meaning our neighborhood is next to some really nice neighborhoods but isn’t so fancy itself.

But you know what I love about that? No Homeowners Association. No neighbors chiding us for not landscaping our front yard sooner (judging from the way it looks now I’m pretty happy we waited). No one cares about the noise (at least not yet, fingers crossed), and my friend across the street invited the crew to use their second driveway if needed.

Our next door neighbor said awhile back, “You can do anything you want to your house, as long as you don’t move!”

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This week the crew moved the gravel driveway, cleared the front bed of azaleas (which we’re attempting to replant elsewhere), removed the brick, measured and dug the footers, had a footer inspection, and today the concrete was poured.

If you’re wondering how invasive the project is, well, you can see that outside our house is mass chaos. But thankfully because it’s an addition rather than a renovation, very little of it will affect our living space. We have a couple of sheets draped in the corner of our bedroom because of the dust. Eventually they will need to seal up a window in our current room (Amie’s future bedroom!), and cut the door.

For now, it’s mostly just noisy.

We’re going to plug away at our normal routine as usual, and escape when we need to. David took the day off work today, and we all went to breakfast at the Wired Goat cafe, then for a five-mile hike at Congaree National Park. We can’t do that every week, but today it was amazing. The woods were delightfully quiet after the construction.

Now they’re finished for the holiday weekend, and David is out back happily working on his chicken coop.

Scott estimated the project to take about three months from start to finish.

It’s hard to believe by summer it might be finished!

We are all so very, very thankful. Waiting was not easy. But it seems that it’s made the whole process all the sweeter.

Happy Friday!

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five things on friday.

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1. We’re recovering from two weeks of sickness. Not the flu, thankfully, but a bad virus that we all passed around and just lingered until I finally took the kids to the doctor on Tuesday. Turns out the three oldest had sinus infections and Noah had a double-ear infection. Poor things! It was kind of miserable, because I caught it on the front end, got better for a few days, then caught it again from someone else.

Thankfully I’m healthy again, and after a few days of antibiotics the kids are much more like themselves too, although let me tell you what, dispensing different doses of antibiotics twice a day for four children is not for the faint of heart.

Now we’re all more than ready to resume our normal routines next week. I consider myself a homebody but this bout of illness made even me stir-crazy!

2. Judah and Amelie finished their first swim competition season on a great note. They worked hard and overcame some fears and their last meet at the end of January was the smoothest yet. Still a little nerve-wracking, but no tears. More smiles and more thumbs-up to their cheering section in the stands. They’re both great swimmers and I love seeing them gain some confidence.

Before the meet, David said to Judah: “You know what buddy, after your very first race when you messed up and were embarrassed and wanted to quit? You know how you came back and swam again and finished the whole meet? Well, that was the proudest I’ve ever been of you.”

Later Judah said, “When Dad says stuff like that to me, I feel like I can do anything.”

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3. All eight of our chickies are alive and growing and as cute as they can possibly be. It turns out I’m a very happy chick-owner; and I’m more surprised about that than anyone.

I put off getting animals because I thought they’ve be a nuisance; one more chore that falls to Mom. But first of all: Amie adores her girls and, along with David, does most of the feeding and watering. Of course I think it makes a big difference that they’re outdoor pets. I just cannot imagine owning an indoor pet with all these kids.

But also, I care about them a whole lot more than I expected. I love their bright, curious eyes and how they each look just a little bit different. I like that some are feisty and wild and some like to be held. I even liked scrubbing their Tupperware bin home in the sunshine on Wednesday, and then making it all cozy again with a layer of pine shavings. I try to take time every single day to walk down to the basement and hold them and talk to them and freshen up their water.

It’s simply impossible to be in a bad mood when holding a baby chick.

4. Which brings me to my next point. This morning some fun plans we had were canceled and the kids were very disappointed. We had to talk through a couple of their reactions, but Judah came back said later, “You know what, Mom, after I heard the news I went to my room to build Legos because I knew it would make me feel more calm.”

And so that launched a discussion about things we can choose to do when we’re feeling angry or frustrated to help us calm down, rather than lose our temper. I was amazed that each of the three oldest had something that they knew right away makes them feel better.

Judah: “jump on the trampoline or build Legos,” Amie: “curl up with my stuffed animals, visit the chicks”, Gabe: “build a puzzle.” We all told Noah his calming activity is to go outside and dig for bugs (and when available, fire pits are a close second). Mom: “go for a walk, hold the chickies, go to the library.”

It was such a sweet, rambling conversations, one of those that made me think, Wow, my kids are actually becoming my friends.

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5. I’m making it a goal to learn names of native South Carolina trees and shrubs. My mom and Linda are a fount of information, and when I walk with them I ask them to tell me names of things. It feels very overwhelming to begin, so I’ve decided to focus just on what’s in bloom. Then I try to write what I learned in my bullet journal so I can practice on my run or when I’m driving.

Here’s what I learned to identify (and what’s blooming!) this week:

Forsythia

Camellia

Tulip poplar

Loropetalum

Nandina

What’s blooming where you live?

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Happy Friday!



steve and linda’s sunroom.

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One of my favorite features of David’s parents’ house is their little side sunroom. They’ve worked hard to make it a bright, inspiring space in the last several months, and I wanted to show it to you!

I always enjoy getting inspiration from other people and want to know how they find furniture and other decorative items, especially on a budget.

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The two metal chairs have been in Linda’s family for years, and she found the wood glider at an antique store in town.

The chairs were green and looking a little worn, and the glider was pink. All the furniture got freshened up with a couple of coats of cream paint, which makes it look clean and cohesive.

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Don’t you adore the white footrest too!?

The indoor/outdoor throw pillows from Wal-Mart provide a pop of color, and the plant stand was a thrift shop find in Dewey Beach, Delaware years ago.

I’m very partial to the plant (Alocasia) with its big glossy leaves.

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The rug is from Lowe’s, and Linda found that charming mirror at Tuesday Morning, which to me is the perfect focal point of the room. I feel like if you can find one item with lots of character, everything kind of comes together around it.

Linda’s stroke of genius was that she had a vision for a great mirror but didn’t actually find it until the end!

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The vintage pie safe cupboard tucked back in the corner was a roadside find, and blue watering can is from a local nursery

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Steve brought in the knotty log scrap from the backyard, and naturally it needed a stuffed chipmunk (this is Noah’s favorite part of the sunroom).

Don’t you just want to go sit there with a cup of tea?

Great job, Steve and Linda!

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winter bookshelf for the kids (and kids-at-heart).

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Friends!! I’m so sorry this took me forever, clearly I overestimated my ability to hammer it out really quick.

I hope it’s worth the wait.

I had so much fun writing this post. Children’s books are an unending source of delight to me, and the most amazing thing is how many wonderful books I’m discovering these days that I never knew existed. I read middle grade and young adult fiction to myself for fun (books my kids may not be ready for yet), but when I find a new picture or children’s book title I like to wait to discover it with them for the first time.

C.S. Lewis said that the mark of a good children’s book is that grown-ups enjoy it too, and I whole-heartedly agree with him.

This may be controversial, but I’ll just go ahead and say it: I let my kids check character books out of the library (like Tinker Bell, Star Wars, Lego Ninjago), but I don’t read them aloud to them. They can look at the pictures, ask a sibling to read it to them, or wait ’til they can read it themselves. By now they know the rule and now don’t even ask me to anymore.

I want to spend the energy I have reading really good, well-written books to my kiddos, but I also want reading to be delightful and fun for all of us.

So because of that, I also don’t give my kids a hard time if they don’t love a book that I love. Like, for some reason, they just haven’t been fans of Robert McCloskey’s picture books, like Make Way For Ducklings, which are on every classic children’s book list I’ve ever seen. But what can I do? I try introduce lots of great books to them, and give them space to form their own opinions. If they don’t like something I’ve been known to wait several months or a year and just try it again.

My current favorite sources for kids’ book ideas are Read-Aloud Revival and Sonlight (full credit to Sonlight for helping me discover most of the chapter books on today’s list).

Here we go!

Picture books

When it comes to picture books, I’ll typically settle on an author we like and work my way through their books, getting a couple at a time. Often this involves typing the author’s name into Google to see what all they’ve written, then requesting books from the library, but sometimes I’ll just find the author at the library and flip through titles there.

The following are tried-and-true authors that ALL my kids enjoy (and me too!); they are books we have read and reread and reread again.

I’d also like to point out that this list could provide gift ideas if you want it to (see how versatile it is!?). If we’re invited to a child’s birthday party I ALWAYS give books. They’re fun for baby showers too! I still remember books that people gave us when Judah was born. Do the recipient a favor, pretty please, and write the date and a message inside. It’s such a fun treat for them to discover when they learn to read for themselves.

Sandra Boynton

Thank you to our family: Pat, Cathy, and Annie for getting us hooked on Sandra Boynton when Judah was a toddler! These are family favorite board books and all these years later, we own most of them and still read them together. Blue Hat, Green Hat is the book that all four kids delightedly learned to “read” first, and it’s their favorite. We’ve also completely memorized Pajama Time! and Hey! Wake Up! Please just do yourself a favor and read them all.

 

Mo Willems

If you are down and need a pick-me-up, look no further than Elephant and Piggie. Their friendship reminds us that life is sweet and should not be taken too seriously, and that laughter is the best medicine. We own several of them but also always have one in our stack out from the library. They’re Gabe’s current favorites, and I tell him that Waiting Is Not Easy is the book we read over and over to comfort ourselves when we were waiting for him and Noah to come into our lives. It still makes me cry to this day (and is a great gift for any adoptive parent).

The Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems is a little lesser known but just as brilliant as Elephant and Piggie. These three books are ones the grown-ups especially love.

Finally, City Dog, Country Frog, is a hidden Mo Willems gem in my opinion. It’s a little more serious than his other books, but a beautiful, touching story.

 

Shirley Hughes

I stumbled upon Shirley Hughes on a website once, and couldn’t believe we’d never heard of this lovely English author! You’ll enjoy her artwork just as much as her writing. We’ve almost completely worked our way through her books, and there’s lots of them (don’t you just love prolific authors?). Start with the Alfie and Annie Rose series. The Tales of Trotter Street  series is a favorite of ours too.

 

Jonathan Bean

I discovered Jonathan Bean on a Read-Aloud Revival podcast episode and love, love his books and illustrations. I’ve been buying them over time because they’re the kind of books I want to share with my grandkids one day. His stories Building Our House and This Is My Home, This Is My School, are from his childhood (he includes family photographs in the back!). It’s so fun for our kids to have a picture book that’s about a homeschooling family. We love Big Snow and At Night too.

 

Jane O’Connor

These are hands-down Amie’s favorite books. She never gets tired of them, and heads straight for the Fancy Nancy books when we arrive at the library. I enjoy them because Nancy is, well, fancy, and her mom is plain, and somehow they find ways to meet in the middle. Sounds like another mother-daughter relationship I know of!

 

Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Wells is so fun! Yoko is story about a cat who brings sushi to school for lunch, and her classmates’ response. We have Noisy Nora in our stack now, and the Max books are sweet too.

 

Kevin Henkes

Our favorite is A Weekend With Wendell. We also love Owen, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I’ve never met a Kevin Henkes book I didn’t enjoy! But they check out like hot potatoes in our library, so I usually have to get online and request them.

 

Henry and Pawl and the Round Yellow Ball, Mary GrandPre, Tom Casmer

This isn’t a series but is a sweet story of a boy who wants to be an artist. It was given to us when Judah was born and has been a favorite for a long time (Which delightful person gave this to us!? How I wish I could remember. If it was you, please speak up! See, there’s a good reason for you to write a note in the books you gift). I think I read it twice a day to Judah for a good long stretch. It has the added delight for him now of being written by the illustrator of the Harry Potter series.

 

Jaqueline Woodson

Jaqueline Woodson’s children’s books are thoughtful and compassionate.  Her stories touch on race, poverty, incarceration, and foster care in age-appropriate ways. I first found this book after our adoption and it helped me understand what my boys were feeling just a little better.

 

Chapter books

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

This is aching yet heart-warming story about a young boy with a facial deformity named August, and his transition from being homeschooled to attending middle school. It’s a beautiful example of the power of story to take us outside ourselves and allow us to walk in other people’s shoes. I don’t typically like books written from multiple points of view, but the effect was powerful in this case. Everyone can find themselves in the pages of this novel, which I’d say is for older elementary students or middle schoolers (and high schoolers! and grown ups!). I plan to have my kids read it in fourth or fifth grade, and I look forward to discussing it with them.

 

The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson

This story about a homeless family and the stranger they meet takes place in Paris, and my kids immediately recognized the illustrator from the Little House on the Prairie books. I could see in their eyes that it was the first time poverty became personal to them, and we enjoyed this sweet story and also had lots to talk about.

 

Here’s a Penny, Carolyn Haywood

The adventures and misadventures of a young, adopted boy named Penny, set in the 1940’s. We thoroughly enjoyed this story (especially the ending), and it’s sequel.

 

The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin was a favorite from my childhood; last month my mom gave me the beautifully illustrated copy we’ve had in our family for years, and it was our December school read aloud. This is a fantastic, fast-paced story for both boys and girls; even Gabe, who’s known to get bored of chapter books, was swept up (because I mean: goblins!!!).

 

The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

This is a book for every young girl’s bookshelf. It’s about poverty and gossip and cliques. I want to reread it with Amie as she grows up.

 

Adventures with Waffles, Maria Parr

This was a bedtime read for Judah, Amie, and me this winter. Set in Norway, it’s about best friends Trille and Lena, who find themselves in one catastrophe after another. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and also had me choked up a couple of times. Judah loved it so much he chose to talk about it in a school presentation.

 

In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson

It made me so happy that my kids enjoy this series as much as I did as a little girl. In some ways reminiscent of the Little House books, it’s full of funny stories of a girl growing up on a farm.

 

No Children, No Pets, Marion Holland

Judah, Amie, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a single mom and her kids who inherit a ramshackle hotel in Florida.

 

Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph Moody

We just finished this true story about a family who moves to a cattle ranch in the early 1900’s for our kid’s book club. Our kids have gotten hours of imaginative play ideas from it. A couple warnings: it has a sad ending, and there’s some “cowboy language” you’ll want to skip over, but other than that it was just about perfect. Little Britches is a whole series, and Judah’s just now starting the second book, Man of the Family. I want to read it too!

 

Finally, if you’re looking for more chapter books, especially for boys, here are:

Judah’s recommendations (age 9)

Captain Nobody, Dean Pitchford

Homer Price, Robert McCloskey

The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

The Wingfeather Saga series, Andrew Peterson

 

I already have enough picture books/authors for another post, so I’ll write you another in awhile (with my track record, better plan on it being a long while). In the meantime, you know I always love recommendations!

Even if you don’t have kids, may I suggest making time for children’s books? Go sit yourself in the kids’ section of the library and pull a few off the shelf. The great ones never, ever fail to move me and lift my spirits.

Happy reading!

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a birthday post.

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Hi friends!

Yesterday was my 35th birthday! Can you believe it!? It feels like a sort of milestone. I’m halfway to 70!

I’m really not one to be sentimental about my kids getting older (I love older kids!), but yesterday I had a sort of earth-shaking revelation: I’m 35. Judah is 9 1/2. That means I’ve lived exactly one half of the life I have with him at home, before he spreads his wings and flies away.

A few moments of heart-thumping panic, and then I moved on.

Here’s to seizing the next nine years with my boy and choosing not to be consumed by guilt!

Here’s to having lived one-third of my life married to David!

Here’s to barrelling full ahead to 40!

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I always like to know how people enjoy celebrating their birthdays, so I’ve decided to tell you how I celebrated mine.

The kids and I made an executive decision this year that everyone gets their birthday off school, including Mom. So I planned the school calendar accordingly.

I know it’s not possible for everyone, but if you get the chance, it’s fun to take the day off on your birthday!

David offered to pick up breakfast treats from a bakery, but I knew in the end we’d all prefer cinnamon rolls, so I whipped up a batch Monday afternoon.

I planned to sleep in, but popped awake at 6:30 and was happy for a chance to sit with a cup of coffee and my Bible before the kids woke up.

At breakfast time, we gathered for cinnamon rolls, and I got to open my cards and gifts.

David and the kids gave me Little Dorrit in hardcover and dark chocolate, a garlic press, and a gift card to the Nickelodeon theater downtown to see La La Land (David’s love for me does not quite extend to musicals, but he’s more than happy to send me with my mom).

I got birthday money from family, which I’ll use for books and to go shoe-shopping with my brother tomorrow. Hooray!

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This year each of the kids made me something special:

“A picture of Daddy on the trampoline” from Gabe

A “light saber” from Noah

Two friendship bracelets and a card from Amie

A bookmark for my new book from Judah that says “Julia for President”

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Even better than those sweet gifts is the shower of cuddles and hugs I got all morning from my two littlest boys, who weren’t doling those out so freely this time last year.

After breakfast, David and I needed to sit and have a conversation about our school path in the fall, because if you can believe it, open enrollment practically everywhere is now.

Like a total nerd, I made a huge pros/cons list in my bullet journal, and after processing it all, we unanimously agreed to keep on the exact same path for next year: Classical Conversations homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes me tired, but it is a good, worth-it kind of tired. I’m so thankful for all well it still suits all four kiddos.

It’s good to have that decision behind us, pay next year’s deposit, and move on with life!

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We played a few rounds of our current favorite game: Rat-A-Tat-Cat, and then David headed in to work. The little kids went outside and Judah and I settled in for a game of Battleship, sharing a box of Kleenex.

Several of us have a virus this week, so I was thankful for this very lazy morning at home, and turned on Sid the Science Kid for an hour before lunch so I could sit in the sunlight on the back porch with my new book.

It’s no fun being sick on your birthday, but here’s what is fun: a 70-degree day, eight growing chickies in our basement, and the two rows of onions David planted this week.

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The other sad part of the day was Noah’s 4-year-old doctor well visit at 3:30. We dropped Gabe and Amelie at Mum-Mum’s and headed to our pediatrician in West Columbia (Judah came along for moral support). We love our doctor, but if you’ve had a four-year-old, you know that this particular check-up is just the worst because: a finger prick and four shots.

I fortified myself beforehand by stopping at the Starbucks drive-through for a tall Cascara latte (have you tried it? It is divine).

Speaking of dessert, we have a tradition of stopping for a mini milkshake from Sonic after shots, which I remind my kids of beforehand, but Noah was still a little sad. My three older kids would’ve been crying from start to finish of the check-up, but he was very mature in his sorrow, just hung his head and looked depressed in a very 12-year-old way. The wailing started when the shots started though.

Poor buddy. Does anyone else get choked up when their kids get shots?

But we did it!

A trip to the Prize Box and a milkshake was very comforting.

That was my last four-year-old check up.

Sweet Noah is in the 19th percentile for height and the 6th for weight: the little guy of the family. We think he’s pretty darn cute!!

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We had plans to go out for sushi to this wonderful hole-in-the-wall place downtown that makes tiny California rolls for kids, but since several of us are sick, we’ll save it for another time.

My parents stopped by after work with homemade chicken noodle soup (made-from-scratch noodles!!!), and it felt good to just hole up all evening and go to bed early. I think you become quite boring when you’re 35.

David and I watched the first episode of the BBC show Sherlock, and enjoyed it but probably won’t continue with the series. I can’t explain why, it’s just the way we are. The only series we’ve ever completely finished is The Wire, and we came pretty close with The Office but fizzled out, and that was years ago. If you’re wondering about me, here are the series I’ve finished: Parks and Rec (two times at least), Parenthood, and Call the Midwife.

Anyway.

I’m excited about Little Dorrit!

Word to the wise: if you’re going to tackle a big long classic novel, try to find a nice hardcover edition. It sounds shallow I know, but it truly changes everything. And I love having my very own copy to underline!

I loved this birthday: thanks to everyone for loving me and making me feel special.

It’s good to be alive!

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our additions.

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Notice I said additions, not addition. I don’t have house addition news quite yet, but we got a few other additions in the meantime.

Eight, to be exact.

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David has been wanting chickens literally since the summer we moved back from India. That’s when he developed an enthusiasm for having a backyard homestead. He decided bee-keeping may be a bit ambitious, but built our garden the month we bought our house (number one priority). The time hasn’t been quite right for chickens (number two priority).

Thankfully David’s parents, Steve and Linda, moved from Pennsylvania into our neighborhood two years ago and got chickens soon after. We lived vicariously through them for awhile, got to help out with the chores, and loved being out in their “living back yard.”

The chickens provided a source of endless entertainment for our three youngest, animal-loving kids, especially Amie. The chickens were Mum-Mum’s girls, but I think they were also her girls.

Last and best of all, we got free eggs, and they were delicious.

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Steve and Linda decided to give away their chickens for a few reasons this winter, and we were all disappointed, but Amie cried and cried.

In the weeks since, we’ve been surprised by how much we really miss having them around, and we miss their eggs.

It seems the time is finally right.

And so here we are, today, with eight two-day old chicks, who will live in our basement for a few weeks until they’re old enough to move to a coop (which David will build). We are all enamored.

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Everyone will get to name one when they’re older and we figure out their gender (any roosters have to go away because of the city regulations). We will all learn how to help take care of them. I can’t wait to teach them to eat slugs, which are prolific in our yard in warm weather. Ugh.

Amie told us, “This is the best day in my whole universe. I’m begging God not to let any of them die. Can I sleep with them tonight?”

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P.S. I know I’m running late, but I’m just about finished with my children’s bookshelf post! Happy Friday!!



winter bookshelf.

(photo credit)

Thank you, dear readers, for the all the book suggestions you’ve passed along since my last post. I always love new ideas and can’t wait to begin checking them out!

You know what, I promised you a Winter Bookshelf post, and then realized I felt largely unenthusiastic about recent novels. Never have I returned so many books to the library unfinished. Barbara Kingsolver says that she gives a book 20 pages, and if it hasn’t hooked her, she puts it aside. Life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. To be honest, I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading backing through Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

If you read my fiction recommendations in the past, you may have noticed a general theme of unhappy endings. I realized when friends ask me for a light, fictional book to read, I often wrinkle my brow in thought to find something (most common recommendations for that genre are the Mitford books and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society).

Truthfully, I don’t read fiction for happy endings, but instead for the way the writing makes me feel. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good, satisfying ending (spoiler alert: that’s part of why A Gentleman in Moscow was my favorite novel last year), but I don’t like to sacrifice good writing and character development for an ending tied up with a bow.

At the same time, I’ve put several books aside recently because of how utterly un-redemptive they are, and how self-centered and small-minded the characters are. “Reality” does not always always equal “dysfunction.” Honestly, I find a lot of recent fiction off-putting. Good motivation to return to the classics this year.

It’s hard to strike that balance, isn’t it? Hats off to writers of fiction who manage it.

Here’s a handful of books that I have enjoyed lately, and on Tuesday, some book recommendations for the kids.

 

The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines

I smiled throughout this book, because Chip and Joanna’s writing voices sound exactly like their Fixer Upper voices. I’ve discovered that when reading non-fiction, what I want most of all is simply to hear someone’s story, and Joanna and Chip shared theirs — complete with strengths and weaknesses — in a very honest, humorous way, that had me cheering for them. David enjoyed reading about their variety of entrepreneurial ventures. A disappointment for me was the depiction of Christian faith, perhaps unintentionally, as shallow and capitalistic; little more than a baptized-balance sheet. Sometimes walking with God means blessing in business, sometimes it doesn’t.

 

The House at Riverton, Kate Morton

I’ve now read all of Kate Morton’s novels, and I enjoy them immensely. Here’s a perfect example of why I read books: though they all have a mysterious, melancholy tone, I just love the feel of her stories and her characters. I especially love her historical settings (England, around the time of World War 1 or World War II). After you’ve read a couple, they become a bit predictable, but I still find them engrossing and fun (warning: they’re really hard to put down). If you’re only going to read one of hers, my favorite by far is The Secret Keeper.

 

Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace, Sarah Mackenzie

I got this book with a Christmas Amazon gift card, and it’s now my single favorite book to recommend for homeschoolers. Maybe it’s just where I’m at in my journey; maybe it’s because Sarah Mackenzie has a bunch of kids herself, but her book was balm to my very soul right before we launched into a new semester of school. Blessedly short and to the point, it encapsulates the vision I have for our homeschool, and is full of practical, day-to-day encouragement. I plan to read it every year.

 

Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Towards Sanctification, Cindy Rollins

If Teaching From Rest is the top homeschooling book I’d recommend, this one’s a close second, although it’s not a how-to so much as one woman’s story: a woman who happens to have nine kids. Also a Christmas gift (admittedly picked out for myself), I devoured this memoir in a couple of days, and then starting right back at the beginning.

Cindy Rollins is a new hero to me because she embodies the kind of writing I want to do. The Author’s Note and Prologue alone are worth the price of the book. She’s well-read and smart, and yet tells her story with down-to-earth grace, honesty, and wry humor. You close the book with the impression of her as a flesh-and-blood human who makes plenty of mistakes and is still learning to find joy in her journey. My mom enjoyed this memoir very much too, which speaks to Cindy Rollins’ ability to connect with mothers in all different stages of life.

 

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett

I’m continuing to work my way through Ann Patchett’s fiction, and have just two novels left: Run and Taft. Bel Canto is unlike any novel I have read. A houseful of wealthy, powerful people from all over the world are taken hostage at a dinner party in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country.

Contrary to the initial plot-line suggests, this is actually a very slow-moving book, which gives you the panicked, monotonous, crawling-time feeling of being cooped up in a rambling mansion without hope of escape. It’s character and setting-driven. For a time in the middle I struggled to finish it, but I pressed on, trusting Patchett’s story-telling ability, and I’m so glad I did.

 

Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf

I can’t remember where I discovered this quiet book. I sat and read it in one evening and ached with the painful beauty of two lonely elderly people who try to find a life together. It’s not a happy book, but it is an insightful, well-crafted one.

 

Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted, Shannan Martin

I’ve had my eye on Shannan’s book since it was released and was excited to use Christmas money to finally get it. I enjoy reading her blog from time to time. She and her husband gave up their dream farmhouse in the country for a house in the city. Through a series of circumstances, they exchanged two well-paying careers for a job as a local prison chaplain and a life as a stay-at-home mom. They have four children, all adopted, one a 20-something ex-convict. This was a sweet, redemptive book to read after the blow of Evicted.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the pain and the needs in our country. I was touched and challenged by this one family’s story of finding freedom through serving, and I only wish this book contained more of the details. It’s told in snatches, in a bit of a non-linear, topical way, with Shannan’s thoughts on life and faith woven in.

I do love her emphasis on relationships, in their messiness and joy, as the doorway to real change, rather than simply doing a good deed to check a box. My favorite quote: “This is the way of community, where we all have something to offer and we all have something we lack.”

Thanks, friends!

On Tuesday I’ll be back with some children’s book recommendations!

 

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a new way to spend tuesday afternoons.

On Tuesdays at 1:00, my mother-in-law, Linda, comes over to sit with my kids. She reads or works while they have their afternoon room time until 3:00, then walks them two streets over to her house to play until 5:00.

Tuesday afternoons are one of God’s gifts to me in this season. For the past six months I have exercised, gone to counseling appointments, scheduled my trip to the dentist, and run errands in a blessedly quiet van.

My counselor is so great that she works herself out of a job; currently I’m seeing her once a month, which leaves many Tuesdays wide open. I guess ideally I would use those afternoons to write, but like I shared with you, recent attempts to do this have me sitting in Starbucks, drinking tea and staring blankly at my computer screen. Or even worse, browsing Pinterest and Apartment Therapy for two hours.

So this month I’m trying something different.

This week, before Linda arrived, Amelie and I scrambled to load up my purse with a stack of white paper, kids’ scissors, and scraps of dollar store stickers, then when she got here, we set out to visit our friends.

If we drive downtown south down Huger Street, we can hang a right on Taylor and find ourselves in West Columbia. Just eight minutes or so from our house, before you hit the string of restaurants and Lexington hospital on Sunset Blvd, tucked into a side street, is an apartment complex.

Our new friends from Afghanistan live there. God plopped them into our lives, literally out of the blue, last month. A friend at church spends a lot of time with refugees, and met a couple of families. One family was looking for an English conversation partner for the mom/wife, and the other some after-school tutoring for their sons.

David passed along the email and asked, “Should we meet them?” And I said “Yes!”

You may remember my New Year’s resolution of making friends with people different from me.

I had that growing feeling inside of me but looked around at my daily life and said, “Lord, can you help me with this? I don’t know where to start.”

And so David responded to our friend, and one of the Afghani families immediately invited us for dinner. All six of us.

This did not surprise us one bit. In our time spent in other countries, we’ve been enveloped by the goodness of cultures far more hospitable than our own. It has soaked into our very bones and changed us from the inside out.

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So Amelie and I pulled up to Shafiqa’s apartment on Tuesday and knocked on the sliding glass door and kicked off our flip flops as she opened it wide, beaming. She pulled us into big hugs and urged us inside. Her four-year-old daughter Ranna hopped around with glee and laced orange-coated fingers with ours to come see the big pail of cheese puffs she’d gotten into.

Shafiqa is expecting her fourth child this spring. She stays home with Ranna during the day while her husband goes to work and her two elementary-aged sons take the bus to and from school. And so her life is motherhood and laundry and cooking and boisterous children, just like mine.

Her apartment has no furniture, save a small TV stand in the corner, and a little round kitchen table. There are low cushions on the floor against the wall, which enchanted all of my children when we went over for the first time. What delighted the kids even more was the big vinyl tablecloth Shafiqa spread on the floor at dinner time, which we all gathered around, sitting cross-legged.

The plan is for me to visit Shafiqa most Tuesday afternoons for an hour and a half or so to practice her English. I text to make sure it’s good for her (it always is) or to let her know if I can’t come. Her English is limited, so I’m gathering ideas on the fly of what she wants to learn and what to focus on first. I neurotically pull out my bullet journal to record ideas, which makes her laugh.

I’m  discovering that she is an ardent student. This week we sat on the floor together and worked on English phrases (basic greetings) and some vocabulary for an hour. It’s slow going, mostly because we can’t understand one another. I downloaded an English-Pashtu app on my phone and attempted to translate sentences for her. That’s when I learned that she can’t actually read Pashtu.

She told me that in Afghanistan she was not allowed to go to school. She told me, in short words and mostly with hand motions, what the Taliban does to girls in her village who try to attend school, how glad she was to leave, to bring her children to a land where they can read and write and be free.

And then I had to somehow turn and explain to curious Amelie what all of this means.

Suddenly I understood everything, and said, “Shafiqa! Do you want to learn to read English?” and she said, “Yes!”

I said, “And then if you learn to read you can drive!” and she said, “Yes, yes!”

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You know what? There are a lot of things I can’t do, but I can teach someone to read!

Not only can I do that thing, but I enjoy doing it!

Now it’s crystal-clear in my mind. We will read and we will speak.

Mostly, I think, we will become friends. I can’t wait for next week.

You know what my seven-year-old was doing this whole time? Entertaining Ranna, making crafts with stickers, chatting, asking Shafiqa how to write her name in Pashtu. My beautiful girl, who not two hours before was sitting, crying over letters and numbers that get mixed up and turned around in her head, was just beaming and happy.

After our lesson, Shafiqa jumped up and served us fresh-made Pakoras with mint chutney. She loves that we lived in Bangalore, loved seeing photos of me in a sari and salweer kameez. Shafiqa learned Hindi by watching Bollywood movies. Her mother has spent time in India, and Shafiqa wears Indian clothing, with a simple scarf over her hair. Much like the Muslims in our Bangalore neighborhood.

She knows that I love Indian food, and so she makes it for me when I come over. Amelie, who cut her teeth on spicy masala dosa and sambar dal, gobbles it up too. She says, “Mom, I remember this Indian food!”

Too soon, the boys traipse in from school and ask in perfect English where my other kids are, why I didn’t bring them over, when they can come play at my house. We chat and Amie and I pack up and say our good-byes and promise to come next week. Then we run our errands together: Wal-Mart for an air-conditioning filter, and Grease Monkey for an oil change, with a quick, necessary stop at Dunkin’ Donuts of course. We have fun together, just the two of us.

You know that I’ve been in a bit of a tired slump lately.

I thought that what I needed was more alone time, but when I had those hours I didn’t always use them well. Sure I’d go for a run, but I’d also sit staring blankly at Starbucks, or drive to Target and Michael’s craft store to spend money I don’t need to spend. I’d coming home from my afternoons out tired and listless, not wanting to face my family and my chores.

Suddenly, like a light bulb, I realize that I don’t need more alone time.

What I need is to find the thing God wants me to do, something which will make me come alive, and do it.

In the past few months, my counselor has talked a lot to me about motivation.

She said, “Julie, commitments and relationships aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. What you need to start asking yourself is, ‘What is my motivation for doing this thing — or seeing this person?'”

We get ourselves into trouble by doing good things with bad motivation: because we feel guilty, maybe, or to impress people, or simply because we feel like we “should” do it. She asked, “How many of those things do have in your life right now? What needs to change?”

Sometimes we can have a great motivation, but it’s just plain bad timing. In this season, at least.

In another season, it may be the perfect thing.

And so, that is the long and short of how I came to spend Tuesday afternoons sitting on the carpet with my friend Shafiqa using exaggerated hand motions and short phrases and laughing a lot, and leaving her apartment with a spring in my step.

Now I want to bring one or two of my kids every single time. She adores them, and the feeling is mutual. I want so badly for them to find the joy I’ve found in making friends with people who are different from us; even if we live right here in Columbia, South Carolina, rather than in overseas. They are already doing it.

Maybe I don’t need to escape my children on Tuesdays so much as find something I’m passionate about, and bring them along.

And of course wonderful Linda says to me, “No matter how long it takes, drop them off at my place and go for your run at the end of the afternoon: I’ll just let them dig in the dirt a little longer.”

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