Thursday, January 31, 2013


Today you're thirty-three.
That's thirty years older than you were when you broke your collar bone, twenty-five years older than you were when your youngest brother was born, nineteen years older than you were when you started high school, and eleven years older than you were when you got married.
That's a lot of years.

By now I thought you'd be doing great things.
Michael Jackson would have released thrilled when he was nine years younger.  Paul McCartney would have already left The Beatles five years ago.  Jesus was your age when he died.'s time to stop feeling sorry for yourself.  Time to stop feeling sad that your right knee hurts when you sit on the ground, or that you can't jump up and down without feeling like you're going to pee your pants.  So you're not jet-setting around the world and photographing for National Geographic like you told your senior seminar class you would in college.  Stop whining.  Your life is great exactly how it is.

It's time to open what I've gotten you.  Now don't go looking for wrapping paper.  I've got three kids and no income...there will be no wrapping paper.  Sit down.  Close your eyes.  Accept your gifts.

First...The gift of letting go.  You don't know where you're going to be, or what you're going to do in six months.  Let it go.  It will work out.  It will be exactly what you are supposed to be doing.  It will be exactly where you are supposed to be living.  Let it go.  Let go of it.  Release.  It's no longer yours.

Second...The gift of idleness.  For goodness sake, but idle.  Take a nap.  Watch a movie.  Stop being a spaz.  Guess what, no one wants to hang out with a spaz.  Put on your stretchy pants, fuzzy socks and get your idle on like it's the last chance to idle in your entire life.  You think your kids are keeping you from this gift?  Three letters - DVD.  Done.  A little Disney on a school night never killed anyone.

Third...The gift of forgetting.  It's so easy for you to dwell on things and to hold a secret grudge.  If I've ever met anyone that can hold onto things as long as you, I haven't known it.  Guess who gets an ulcer when you hold a secret grudge?  I can tell you that it's not the person you're holding the grudge against.  Today I want you to take those things that are weighing on your heart...the things this week that made you mad, or hurt, or insecure.  I want you to put them in your hand, squeeze it shut as tight as you can until those things ooze out from between your fingers.  Then I want you to go wash your hands and watch everything disappear down the drain.  What was it you were forgetting?  Ahhh... that was a test.  I hope you passed.

Fourth...The gift of being sad.  You're sad sometimes.  Be sad.  Don't try to hide it until it turns into something really ugly like bitterness or animosity.  I know you hate your "ugly cry."  I promise your "ugly jerk-face" is much worse.

Fifth...The gift of sticking up for your kids.  I can see you hate bragging about your kids because you don't want to be "that parent."  Because they are an extension of yourself, you blow off their goodness, like you would blow off your own when you're talking to others.  Their goodness is not your goodness.  Stop acting like it isn't awesome.  Start sticking up for them like you really want to.  I give you permission to celebrate their awesomeness without following it with some humbling remark.  They aren't you.  You are allowed to celebrate them and remember how amazing they are - even if it is just between you and their father. Even if it's just in your own mind.

Sixth, and perhaps the most important, most expensive, and most difficult for me to give to you...the gift of imperfection.  Be imperfect.  Suck at things.  Laugh at yourself.  Mess up and then say you're sorry.  Admit defeat.  Celebrate mistakes.  Stop expecting so much perfection out of everyone else because they're just as imperfect as you.  Relish it.   

Happy Birthday Kid.  Here's to 33 more.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I believe in peace.  If I didn't, I wouldn't have moved my family over here to work at a center that was built to promote peace and bridge divides.  For no monetary compensation.  To be fair, if they would have had to pay me to come over here and work, they probably would have done more research and realized that growing up in farmland Ohio, in a middle class home I actually know very little about the peace process aside from my parents telling me that I had to apologize for ripping the flesh off my brother's face when he did something to piss me off, like change the television station without asking. (I was an angry teenager, weren't you?)

I am a passive pacifist.   I basically made that phrase up, but it means that I despise war and think it is terrible, don't agree with any form of killing or debilitating other nations, but I do absolutely nothing about it.  Well, I do watch made-for-Hollywood movies about massive violent genocides and then go into a depressive state for days afterwards, but I wouldn't call that "active" pacifism.

I also struggle with pacifism in my mind.  I grew up with a good life - no doubt, a life made possible by the wars that proceeded me, and by the giant missiles and guns that make my country so powerful and scary to other countries.  My life was peaceful because my country was rich (even with an enormous debt).  I always had so much to eat.  I was told about those poor children in Africa who were starving because of war, but they were a distant movie playing in the background.

So I struggle with this.  I want genocide and civil wars to end, and I want us to end them, but I want my country to stop going into all of these places with their guns.  I want to live a good life of freedom and luxury, but I don't want people (including our members of military) to lose their lives for it.  How can I claim to be a staunch pacifist when I find myself admiring the people who are willing to go to those wars and free those people - by whatever means necessary?  How can I sit in my warm comfy house, in my cozy pajamas that cost me next-to-nothing to buy, eating the food that runs plentiful from my fridge, typing on my laptop (probably made by a person poorer than me) and talk about plans to end wars, disengage bombs and put down the guns?

I can't.

So if you want to turn this off now, I don't blame you.

But here's one idea I've had from my safe and cozy bed which doesn't have bombs wizzing overhead or the fear of a knock on my door at night.  To be honest, it's probably a lame idea by a girl that doesn't know any better.  But hear me out.

People usually begin fighting because they are oppressed.  They are oppressed because someone is oppressing them.  They are angry, hurt, and really ticked off.

What if we started before the wars began?  What if we helped the oppressed when they couldn't help themselves?  What is our country's leaders, or the UN leaders, or you and me...what if we did something before the machetes and guns came out?

This is easy for me to write about because at this stage I don't have to do anything except for move my fingers over the keyboard.  It scares me to act.  It scares me to take initiative.

But more than that it scares me that I'm going to move home in July and forget this feeling.  I will start in to my 9-5 job (that doesn't yet exist) and will get caught up in raising my kids, cooking dinner, and decorating my house.

But this is a reminder to myself that it doesn't have to be big.  It can be so-so-small.  The oppressed are everywhere, and my definition of oppression can be of my own making.  I don't have to travel to Syria or Northern Ireland to find someone to help that needs it.

I can start small.  It can be simple.

Because sometimes a simple thing can end a war that hasn't yet started. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Once Upon a Hammam...


(in Islamic countries) a communal bathhouse, usually with separate baths for men and women.
Origin:  (< Turkish haman ) < Arabic ḥammām

In Morocco people of all ages go to their local hammam once a week and spend a few hours getting steamed and going through a very deep cleaning ritual.  I sat in the courtyard with a pink binder in my lap wondering what I had just signed up for.  She had me at "spa experience."  It didn't matter that I had no idea what to expect, or what it would be like.  In my mind I pictured a marriage between a steam room and some mud, mixed with some spa-like magic. 

What I quickly found out it really was, was an opportunity to have another person literally scrub me down with what can only be described as a brillo pad in a very warm and damp room while I just sat there...naked.  I spent the first 5 minutes being super mature and suppressing giggles at my obvious nudity and the fact that the other woman in the room seemed to not notice.  Very soon after that I finally allowed myself to relax and try to enjoy it.  This either sounds very very uncomfortable, or like the makings of a spiritual awakening...

I probably wouldn't write a blog post about it if it was just very very uncomfortable.

So let me tell you about  my spriritual awakening on a warm Morocco afternoon:

I'd like you to think of your favorite ceramic casserole dish.  Maybe you got it as a wedding gift, or maybe you bought it from a local artists while you were visiting Europe.  Maybe an artist you knew made it.  However you got it, you find it precious yet sturdy.  It's not delicate like china, but you would never give it to your four year old to store his toy cars in under the bed.

You use it all the time.  You give it to other people to borrow for special occasions.  It is your go-to dish in times of emergency, and it asks nothing in return.  Together you make the perfect pair.  You come up with the recipes, the dish sees it through. The dish doesn't mind being used, but after every baking experience you toss it in the dishwasher, leaving it to fend for itself.

After a year of baking amazing dishes you notice it has food residue burned onto it's shiny sturdy glazed finish.  It's not as shiny and beautiful as it once was.  Different ingredients have burned and formed a black film in places.  Putting it through the dishwasher everytime hasn't completely cleared it of former residue.

So you get out your brillo pad and you scrub.

You scrub HARD because the dish is sturdy and faithful.  But when you turn it over in the sink you are gentle, knowing that the wrong kind of blow with anything hard can shatter it into a million pieces.  You have no idea the job you've taken on, or the beauty you had forgotten lies underneath until you see layers and layers of stuff fall off of the dish and onto the floor. 

Then the dish begins to silently cry.

Okay, so I'm the dish (for those of you who still haven't had their morning coffee).

I watched as layers of dead skin fell off me.  Extra skin I didn't know I had, or could spare for that matter.

I watched as layers of myself that had been used and abused just washed down the drain.

I watched as parts of this last few years peeled away from me and I could see for the first time how they were clinging to me.

I watched as the resentment I had built up on my exterior fell away and revealed the beauty I remembered had once been underneath.

I watched as parts of me I didn't know were expendable fell to the ground.

I watched as my armor washed away.

I didn't have a chance to say a proper goodbye; but a "good riddance" slipped out from between my lips when no one was watching.

Friday, January 18, 2013


East Belfast (copyright: Pacemaker)
One of my favorite words in the English language is Passion.
You've heard me say it before.  It's the stuff that burns a fire in a someone's heart and keeps them going.  I believe it is what makes life worth living.

But passion by itself is futile. It's when you mix that magical word with things like hatred, revenge, and hurt that it transforms into something so frightening.  When I turn on the radio and hear the news, both local and international, I hear minute-by-minute what passion is doing, the trouble it is causing.

It's so hard for me to understand how the same word that can make babies, open eccentric budding businesses, bring two lovers into an intense affair, create family units filled with unconditional love and acceptance, fill an artist with creative inspiration, pull a student overseas to study, and drive a young man to begin outreach to the homeless in his city - that SAME THING can wage wars on entire civilizations.
It can make us hate our neighbor.
It can drive us to disregard the children and former friends we are hurting.
It can hurt a society so badly that it seems irreparable.

Luckily one of my other favorite words is Hope.

Recent news in Northern Ireland: only one tiny place on this planet recently affected by passion.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thirteen Things for 2013

A friend of mine asked me if I had any New Year's Resolutions and my easy response was "no."  I actually haven't made formal resolutions.....well, ever really.  I'm such a wanna-be anarchist when it comes to weird things that society expects of me.  Those things include, but are not limited to: losing weight to fit into jeans, doing something just because someone with unsolicited advice told me I should, and New Year's Resolutions.  My friend went on to tell me hers and I found myself a little jealous of these challenges she was setting up for herself.
But I still can't make myself call them resolutions.
So here are 13 ways I'm challenging myself for 2013.
(Don't even bother pointing out that they closely resemble resolutions, because it's my blog and I'll call them what I want.)
  1. Tighter hugs.  I refuse to give any more limp lifeless hugs.  I've met two very small people in the last year that give fiercely tight take-your-breath-away hugs, and they make me feel fantastic afterwards.  I want to do that.
  2. Listening.  It is so easy for me to hear someone complain about something I'm connected with, and to get defensive before they even have the chance to get it all out - even if it is something I can't help or change.  Instead, I'm going to start listening and taking a step back from all that.  I'm learning that really that a person sometimes just needs to be heard and shown a little empathy, even when they know it is out of your control.
  3. I'm going to move back to the U.S. and find a fantastic job that allows me to be home for my children when they need me most.  It will also allow me to be cheerful and energetic in my downtime. On top of all that, it will be rewarding and soul-giving, while making enough moolah to pay off my black hole of college debt.  I'm certain such a job exists.  My challenge is to find it and take it.
  4. I'm going to watch cartoons with my kids.  I usually spend the entire time they're watching on my computer, ipod, or reading a book.  When something happens they look at me to laugh with them, and I'm instantly caught in the act.  I challenge myself to watch at least a half hour of cartoons everyday.
  5. I'm going to try my hand at embroidery. Knitting was a bust.  But I believe embroidery is where it's at for me in 2013.  I've seen some really awesome stuff out there from other people, and I think if I got good enough I could incorporate it with my photography. 
  6. I will throw all of my electronic, social-media driven devices down a very big cliff.  Okay, maybe I'll just limit my usage to them to when my kids are either sleeping or at school.  I don't want my kids to only remember the top of my head staring down onto a miniature screen - which is the track I'm currently on.
  7. I will floss every every-other night.
  8. I will hug my husband, willingly and with great gusto at least once every day (see #1).
  9. I will bake one new thing a week, starting with my new cookbook from a friend.  This week - Apple pie.  That's fancy, complicated-with-two-kinds-of-apples, apple pie to you.
  10. I will not post braggy/boastful posts on Facebook about my perfect kids.  Oh wait...I don't do that.  I will not get annoyed when other parents post braggy/boastful posts on Facebook about their perfect kids.  Nor will I allow myself to compare my children to the ones in their braggy/boastful posts.
  11. I will not apologize for my kids before they've even done anything wrong.
  12. I will have better manners in 2013.  In fact, I will have such over-the-top good manners that my kids will somehow absorb these awesome manners and become the epitome of Emily Post - preschool edition.
  13. I will play more.  I will turn my work into play.  I will turn chores into play.  I will turn my downtime into play instead of more work. I will learn to have more fun.

If I could sum up 2013 with one word, that word would be:

(Think in life, not to be married.)
 Challenge Accepted.
What is one of your "challenges for 2013"?  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dear Liam,

Dear Liam.
Talkative, funny, sneaky little Liam.  As I type this you sit next to me on the table, hiding my pens, and notepads and telling me that they are "gone forever." How I dread the days when I can no longer just smile at you, and squeeze you tiny little cheeks until a smile pops up onto your face. 

You just turned three.  I'm not telling you because you don't know.  You know alright.  I'm just putting it in writing because I myself find it so hard to believe.  Perhaps I never thought you'd actually reach such an old age.  You made such a great two-year-old, the perfect balance of independence and reaching out for help.  When you look at me I know with all my heart that you trust me.  You believe in me more than Mike the Knight or Octonauts.  I don't know if anyone in the history of ever has believed in me so much.  It terrifies me.
When you whisper my name in the middle of the night; your hot breath in my face I can't get mad.  I can't even tell you to go back to bed.  I guess I'm also terrified of those days ending - of the day approaching when you'll no longer need me.
Three feels a little closer to that.
The problem right now is that you know you're cute.  You know that you can flash anyone a smile and forgiveness and laughter will pour out of them.  I hope you can always be so charming, but don't use it to manipulate others.

There is so much about your three year old self that I hope you keep forever...
I hope you always sing loud.
I hope you always stand by your opinions.
I hope you remain strong-willed.
I hope you always try new things.
I hope you never hold back your excitement.
I hope you always ask questions.
I hope you can continue to believe in me.
And I hope that you know your mama has loved you every day of your life.
I'll love you forever,
Your mom

Friday, January 4, 2013

Doing December.

Why didn't anyone tell me that December was almost over?  I hold you all responsible.  And myself.  I hold myself responsible.
December got away from me.  I usually love the holiday season, but this year it simply got away from me.  I have no excuse.  Actually, I have a lot of excuses, and they're all so valid that I don't even feel like I have to share them.

It was a month of ups and downs - extreme contentment, followed by happiness, but preceded by sadness. I don't really know how else to explain it.  I don't feel like I really got a moment to sit down, breath and enjoy it until January 1st.  Which, you don't need to be a mathematician to realize, is no longer December.   It came, and just as quickly went.

So in a tidy chronological nutshell - a recap....

My little Liam turned 3.  THREE!  More on that later.

In less shocking news, Ollie reached his 4 month mark.  I wish I could rattle off a list of brilliant things he's done, but he mostly just sucked on his hands a lot and giggled. 

My energetic and slightly unpredictable Miles was in his first ever Christmas program.  I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.  My first glimpse of him was by surprise during a young girl's solo when his tiny little head popped out from between the curtains to look at the audience.  The crowd loved it. My second glimpse was also a surprise when he walked up to the microphone all big-boy like and said a line I didn't even know he had.  Unfortunately it was in Gaelic, so I didn't understand it, but from what I can gather, it had to do with a spider. Like I mentioned, I was surprised, but a proud, tear-filled, pathetic mama surprised.

Like last year, I got to plan and organize a big Christmas event for the center that invited people from all over the community to come and enjoy an entire day of wonderful things for free.  As the center director said, "They could come with nothing, and leave with so much."  It was rewarding.  And exhausting.  And time consuming.  And in the end - worth it.

The following weekend I went away on one last fling with my dear friend Kathleen, and hopefully the first of many more adventures with my other dear friend Aileen.  It was a fabulous way to say goodbye to KC.  We saw "Rock of Ages", which was better than I ever imagined it would be after falling in love with the movie six months ago. (If you are going to make fun of it for someone who cares that eighties rock music and spandex isn't cool anymore.)

Liam also had a Christmas program for school, but it was much smaller and all of the kids wore their pajamas.  Liam has been singing the songs in nonstop for weeks, so it didn't surprise me at all when he sat out on "stage" with all his friends and just stared blankly into the crowd, singing nothing, and occasionally playing with the little boy behind him.

I said goodbye to two more people in my life that I have grown to love dearly.  I wish them the best, but even more I wish they'd be in the office to greet me, laugh with me, and make me procrastinate even more on Monday.

The next day we left for Marrakesh, Morocco to meet my parents, youngest brother Isaac, and my sister-in-law Rachel.  I'll just say this - there is a lot to love about Morocco.  And if anyone needs a good Riad recommendation - I've got one.  I think saying goodbye to the staff was way harder than it should have been.  Seeing my family was great, and being warm was even greater.

On a 24 hour layover in London Dustin and I celebrated 10 years of marriage.  Between the bustle of traveling back and the relief of returning from a long trip, we nearly forgot.  But we celebrated it in style with a bottle of wine, some delicious food, and all of our babies sleeping within 10 feet of us in the same room.  Like a friend of mine said, 10 years isn't for pansies.  

Then we came home and celebrated Christmas as a family.  We wore our pajamas all day, watched movies, had a shepherd's supper, opened some presents, and celebrated Jesus' birthday.

And that takes us to January.  Did you all know January was coming and just didn't tell me? You sly dogs.