Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lemon Sunshine

            I picked up a pen to write what I was thankful for on a paper leaf.  It was the first Thanksgiving that my adopted daughters were there with me, instead of sitting in a foster home in Congo.  I no longer felt that old ache of absence as I quickly wrote down “My family”, but there was a new hurt.  My mom had left us earlier that year, just six weeks shy of meeting her granddaughters.  My youngest brother, the red-headed caboose of eight children, had also knelt across the altar from his strawberry-blonde bride two days ago, with his seven siblings and teary-eyed dad watching. 2016 had worn itself out with milestones.  None of us desired to make any more, so this was a happy but subdued day.
            After the turkey was eaten, we sat in the back yard on hammocks and lawn chairs enjoying the crisp North Carolina air.  We had brought our white husky-lab puppy, Lemon, because she was the great unifier in our still somewhat shaky family circle.   She chased Ava, her doggy cousin, and both children and adults stopped to watch how their first meeting would develop.  Lemon’s puppy enthusiasm was always two degrees too much. She lunged at Ava’s face, her head tucked slightly, her mouth open and then shut, her paws bouncing.  When Ava tired of running back and forth, Lemon plopped on her belly, her legs splayed to each side like a roasting turkey.  With her head tilted back and her eyes squinting, we all recognized her smiling and smiled in return.  She was adored and knew it.
            Lemon started to throw up the next day.  Then came the diarrhea and with it that smell. It had filled my nose as a ten-year-old and had taken my dog.  A trip to the vet confirmed what my nose knew.  Lemon had Parvo.  She might die. 
            My mom-guilt was overwhelming.  I had forced my four biological children to wait to get a dog until their adopted sisters came home, never knowing that a one-year pause would turn into three torturous years.  Now, just a few months in, the baby we had attached our aching hearts to might not make it because I had procrastinated getting her booster shot.  I had taken her on a walk that had exposed her to this treacherous disease.  I had let danger back into our lives when we thought we had finally escaped it.  Wrapped up in the knot in my chest was a fear that this was just one more thing in my life that wasn’t going to go how I hoped it would go.  This was one more thing that was supposed to serve as some sort of lesson to make us stronger.
            I didn’t want to be stronger.  I just wanted a break.
            We clung to each other and whispered about the very real possibility that the pet hospital might call each evening with an update that would throw our family back into turmoil.  My son walked into my room four days in, shaking and crying, saying, “What if she dies? What if Lemon DIES?” 
            I took him in my arms and guided him back to bed.  As I laid my face down next to his wet freckled cheek, I uttered the strongest prayer I could.  I knew though, from the past few years, that sometimes prayers weren’t answered the way you wanted.  Sometimes the answer was simply an admonition to stay strong.  Sometimes you asked the same question over and over again until you wondered if you would recognize an answer even if you got one. With all of these thoughts loaded onto my prayer, I squeezed him tight and told him to try to sleep.
            Back in my dark bedroom, my husband’s phone rang.  The vet gently told him that Lemon’s fever was dangerously high and there was a good chance she wouldn’t make it through the night.  I fell to my knees once more, bawling and begging.  This time, an answer came clearly.
            “Lemon will live.  Tell your kids.”
            My body relaxed. My mind became clear.  I walked back to my son, took his quaking body in my arms, and spoke confidently,
            “I prayed.  The Spirit told me that she is going to live. She is going to be okay.  She is going to be okay.”
            “Are you sure?” he asked, looking straight into my eyes.
            “Completely.” I was able to answer back. I visited each child, relaying the same message and where it came from.
            I felt relief, but not surprise, when the vet called in the morning and said in a shocked voice that Lemon had turned around.  Two days later when we went to bring Lemon home, her whimpering cries of relief and delight sounded through the hospital.
            Now Lemon crawls up onto the bed next to me every night, stretching her long legs, eyes locked onto mine as she asks for some goodnight snuggles.  As I fold my body next to hers, her satisfied sighs match my feelings of comfort. She is Noah’s rainbow – a reminder that sunshine does come after the rain. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Who I Want to Be

In my Gospel Library app (the app I use for reading and marking my scriptures, seminary lessons, and other church-related materials), I have created a tag entitled "Who I Want to Be".  Whenever I find a scripture or quote that inspires me to be more than I am and to aspire to be the woman I picture my Heavenly Mother being, I mark it with this tag.  

2 Nephi 4:33
O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness

When I read this phrase, I picture myself peaceful and happy, wearing a swirling silky white robe.  It is white and bright because it is free from the stresses of the world. I am able to move freely in this robe, and wearing it is a constant reminder of that flowing freeness - of the neverending possibilities of my life.  It is in unconcerned with what is on trend and beautiful because it reflects the love of the giver.  My Father gave me this robe to protect me and it does.  I am careful not let the grimy dirt from the roads I walk on stain the hems.  When I spill on it, I ask my brother to wash it clean again and He does.  It can always be as bright as the day I received it.

This is who I want to be:

A woman whose concern is not on looking good for the world, but being good.
A women who embraces the commandments her Father in heaven gave her because she knows that they will make her stronger and happier.
A woman who is comfortable in her skin, every moment of every day, because she knows who she is and whose she is.
A woman who sees the eternal potential she possesses if she doesn't give her freedom up.
A woman who knows that there is power in purity.
A woman who remembers that there is someone who loved her enough to suffer all her sorrows for her. She doesn't trample on that remembrance but holds it in her heart every day.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Keepin' It Real Wednesday

Last Wednesday I went to ballet class.   I held my chest and chin up with my ballerina gaze, waltzing and pirouetting until my calves ached and my back was drenched with sweat.  For an hour and a half I was grace and determination

I went home, put the harness on Lemon, and walked her down our trail.  I left my phone at home and basked in the dark shadows and bright sunshine of the leaveless trees.  For half an hour I was strength and serenity

When we got home, Lemon napped at my feet as I cooked and did laundry.  My Mindy Gledhill station sang out from Pandora as I cooked Masaman for school lunches the next day and chow mein and spring rolls for dinner.   The clock counted the minutes until my kids would step off the bus. Everything would be ready - clothes in drawers, food on the table, mom happy to see them. For three hours I was energy and confidence

Fifteen minutes before their bus was set to arrive, a realization jolted through me.

The four youngest were not taking the bus today.  I had reminded them and sent two of their teachers notes telling them they would be car riders......

So that we could get to a music class, which started in fifteen minutes and was half an hour away......
.....AND I should have been at the school half an hour ago to pick them up - the school that was twenty minutes away.
For the rest of the night I was panic and shame.

And there is a possibility that I might be writing this Keepin' It Real Wednesday as a reminder to myself that they are car riders today

In addition to the three reminders on my phone

and the alarm that Colin set up on Alexa.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Something to Read

Every year (for the last four or five years) for Christmas we give our kids and each other four gifts.  I am sure you have seen the idea:
Something you want
Something you need
Something to wear
Something to read

The books are one of my favorite things to pick out.  I love to try to find a book that Colin has never read or possibly even heard about - he is a voracious reader but the kids around him are usually reading the typical books like Hunger Games and Divergent.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy books like that too, but there is just a lot more out there.  I thought I would share what I got everyone this year.

  • Colin, who is 13, almost 14.

Colin has really enjoyed When You Reach Me and Liar and Spy by this same author, so when this book came out, with good reviews, I was excited to get it for him. It was a hit with him. It does involve some teenager situations, but in a cautionary way and I thought he could handle it. 

I went out on a limb and bought this book for Colin based on the accolades it has received.  Colin is pretty open to trying new books and will usually give them a good chance before giving up on them - he has learned from experience that even if a book doesn't appeal to you right away it might be incredible.  He really enjoyed this one.  When I asked him if he thought it would be a good book to read aloud to his brothers, he said he didn't think so.  He said he wasn't sure if they would get it.

So, I loved this book.  I opened it up and drooled over the creativity and itched to get my hands on it.  Colin was very impressed when he saw it......getting him to use it, however, is like pulling teeth.  He doesn't like to sit and write anything while he is reading.  He is reading the Book of Mormon on his own and we are reading it as a family and I have given him the option of using it for either one.  He really doesn't.  He said he will use it next year when he reads for seminary.  We'll see. Maybe I will just snag it for myself. 

  • Gabe. who is 11, and not as much of a reader.  He loves reading when he gets into a series - he went on a huge Harry Potter and Percy Jackson kick.  But he just doesn't give new books as much of a chance as Colin and would rather spend his time doing other things.

Gabe hasn't started this book yet.  I just started last night as our next read-aloud book at bedtime.

I was afraid Gabe wouldn't give this a chance because it is told in a "blend of poetry and prose" but he says it is really good.  I don't think he has finished it yet though. I like this author - if you have never tried her out, I highly suggest you do!

Gabe has a great sense of humor so I think this title drew him in.  I am not sure if he has finished it, but during Family Home Evening he mentioned things he read in it, so...yay!

  • Oliver, who is 8.  He did not really get into reading until the beginning of 2nd grade, and books like these ones helped with that.

Oliver loved the other books in this series, so this was a no brainer.  It does has a different author than the first three, and has received mixed reviews. Oliver read it very quickly and enjoyed it.

This is by the same author as the first three Jedi Academy books.  It has great reviews and I thought Oliver would like it.  He did.

This is a very cool book and although Oliver doesn't really read it on his own, I have decided to use it for Family Home Evening*.  It has 52 family night lessons and activities and I have decided to just keep it simple so we are doing ALL of them this year.  I supplement the plans with coloring sheets for the girls to do while we talk, but so far it is working great!  I am more successful with FHE and family scripture study when there is less prep work involved on my end.

  • Elysée.  She is 7, still learning English, and learning to read.  

If you have ever heard of the BOB books, these are like those. I like this set because there is a sleeve for each book.  There is also a parent guide, with a sticker to book in each book as they learn to read it themselves. Elysée was very excited to receive these books - she can't wait to read - and she has already passed off the first book.

Elysée loves this book, I love this book, we all love this book.  I would highly recommend it!

  • Carina, age 5.  Carina is still learning how to read but loves to be read to.

Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Carina got the first two books in this series last year for Christmas and loves them.  After she dressed up as the Princess in Black for book day at school and Shannon Hale herself commented on the picture, her love only grew.  She has been asking for these books for awhile so it was an easy pick!

The heroes of the Book of Mormon. This one covers Nephi through Alma.  Just like the girl hero one, we love it.  The kids ask me to read it to them.  Not only does it cover the people, it explains doctrine. 

  • Simone, age 5.  Simone is also still learning English and has not really grasped early learning skills yet.  She loves to be read to though.

Simone loves any time I will spend with her in these books. 

Simone loves the pages in The Friend where you find the hidden object.  This book has proven to be a little more difficult.  You need a basic understand of what you are looking for - "The Three Witnesses", "A book in an arch" to be able to find things.  Some of this is over Simone's head. I think the book would have been a little more successful for all ages if there was a one central character to find on each page (like the Where's Waldo books), and then supplemental stories and characters to go with it. It is a fun book, though. I don't regret buying it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


We didn't get the 4-8" of snow that we expected,

 but we did

bundle up and play
a lot

watch the snow fall from the window

 a little

smile and laugh

make sushi
fried in wonton wrappers

watch Kung Fu Panda 3

"help" "clean" the church

end the evening at Red Robin
gift card + bday burger= yum

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

Dear Friends and Family,

What a year!  It has truly been one of our most eventful and emotional years as a family and we are grateful for the support we have had from you through it all.

Chad is still working with Bank of America, and we were beyond grateful for their generous paternity leave and for his supportive colleagues.  He was able to take the entire summer off when Elysée and Simone joined our family.  Having him there by my side for our incredibly intense bonding period was a blessing that I will never forget.  Chad’s humor, patience, and energy continually lifts everyone in the family.  He also teaches early morning seminary with me (a scripture study class for high schoolers, at 5:55 in the morning!) and he coached Gabe’s soccer team in the fall.

I am in the thick of motherhood and loving it.  It can be overwhelming to care for six kids with varying difficulties and challenges, but it keeps me (relatively) humble and prayerful.  With all the kids in school during the day, I have found how much I truly don’t mind being alone.  I am taking a weekly church class as well as a ballet class.  My flexibility may be shot after 17 years off, but I still have “beautiful feet” (my teacher said so!).  I have greatly enjoyed my 2016 goal of attending the temple once a month.  The hardest part of my year was the death of my wonderful mother.  While it is hard to be without her, I am relieved for her that her long battle with Primary Progressive Aphasia is over and that I will see her again in the next life, whole and healed.  

Colin is in 8th grade.  He is still learning Mandarin, as well as Spanish.  I love hearing him play the piano and his musicality is also being developed through his handbells class at school.  He was the goalie for his soccer team in the fall, a sport he greatly missed the year before.  Right now Colin is busy with rehearsals for his school’s spring production of The Lion King - he is Simba!  When he isn’t busy singing “Hakuna Matata” and doing homework, he is the perfect blend of compassionate older brother and surly, sleepy teenager.

Gabe is in 5th grade and still learning Mandarin.  His love for sports only grows every year (although the Panthers sure aren’t helping it out this year).  He played midfield on his soccer team in the fall and assisted and scored goal after goal.  His piano playing is growing by leaps and bounds and he is also advancing quickly in the recorder at school.  His goal is to finish all the requirements for music class so that he can move onto the next instrument - the ukulele.  Gabe’s subtle sense of humor and calm nature have a way of placating his younger sisters, but he is still a typical middle brother with the ability to push all the buttons that “need” pushing.

Oliver is in the 3rd grade.  He turned 8 at the end of summer, which brought about two exciting events.  The first was his baptism as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The second was his birthday gift - an adorable white Lab-husky puppy that we brought home with us from Spokane.  Her name is Lemon Sugar and she is a joy to the whole family.  Oliver loves taking her on walks and playing rough with her. They are a good pair - endless amounts of energy. Oliver also played soccer in the fall.  His favorite place to be is at home with his family, and he was the happiest boy in the world during the summer when he got a break from Mandarin.

Elysée is 7 years old.  Since she had very little schooling in the Congo and has a fall birthday, we decided to start her in kindergarten here.  She and Carina are in the same French immersion class, and her teacher tells me that Elysée is always watching out for her.  She is the perfect student - attentive and persistent, with a great advantage of already speaking French.  She played soccer this fall, where her long stride paid off with many a breakaway goal.  Elysée loves drawing, writing, and singing.  As you can imagine, it isn’t easy for for a little girl like her to leave the life she knew behind, learn a new language, and become a member of a new family, but she has amazed us with her desire to adjust and help the people around her.

Carina started kindergarten this year and if you thought her little voice was cute before, you should hear her speak French!  She could not love her sisters more.  They play from the minute they finish their homework until they are laying in their beds and told to shush over and over again.  Carina has embraced learning and, combined with her efforts to always please the adults in her life, she is an excellent student.  She loves to sing and wows us with her memorization of any and all songs - from The Living Christ to Stressed Out.  She also played soccer this year and enthusiastically ran her short little legs up and down the field.  

Simone is also 5 and in kindergarten.  She is in the other French class and her teacher tells me she is smart, persistent, very social, and….pretty darn stubborn. Of course, we knew all this. Simone loves to make the people around her laugh, and her dimples are amazing.  She was a force on the soccer field - a powerful runner with a powerful kick.  She approaches everything she does with strength and determination - whether it is riding or bike or standing up to her big brothers.

As this year closes, we are thankful for the lessons it brought, and happy it is ending on a high note.  At the end of the month we will take Simone and Elysée to the Columbia, South Carolina temple to be “sealed” to us - a ceremony that signifies our desire to be with them eternally and be the best family we can for them.  We are so grateful for this privilege ,and above all, grateful to our Savior whose atonement makes everything possible.  If you see light and beauty in our lives, please know it all comes from Him!  Merry Christmas!

With love,

Our beautiful pictures were taken by Amber McDowell Photography
As a part of
Thank Amber - these photos are so cherished!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Keepin' It Real Wednesday

The other day I was taking the kids to school in the morning.  When they hopped out, some stuff fell out too and had to be picked up and put back in by one of the kids.  Have you ever had that happen?  Like we aren't conspicuous enough, with six kids dashing out, while I wave my arms in a circle saying "Go go go!" like a chubby drill sergeant in a dress and barefeet.*  Today when I dropped my kids off, the teacher in carpool, remarked, "Wow.  It's like a clown car.  They just keep coming."

So, I decided to clean my van out, to try to deflect a little of the embarrassment (at least the mivi-van related embarrassment.)  This was the pile of stuff that was in the van but didn't belong there, after the trash was thrown away. Amazing, I know.  I would like to highlight a few of these items. Besides the library book in the front, which has cost me at least $20 in twenty-five cents a day late fees (so worth it for the random facts Oliver can now spout when he is supposed to be doing "more important things" like homework or finding a pair of socks for school), there are a number of note-worthy items.

Note the title, and then note the teeth marks on the bottom right corner.  Lemon Sugar does not approve.

See these comforters?  They were left at my Dad's house in JUNE during a cousin sleepover.  They were just retrieved last week.  What have Gabe and Oliver been using for blankets in the meantime? I dunno, dirty towels or something.  Who knows. 

And one of my favorites.  An RC car that has been broken for YEARS.  The perfect toy to bring in the van. 

Not noted:
Dozens of markers and broken pencils
Every scrap of paper used at church
Church shoes
Amazon packages that were supposed to be returned
A neck pillow that was brought for relief on a strenuous 2 hr drive across the border to Virginia 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Safi and Sifa come home!

June 8, 2016.  After over three years of waiting, we finally went to the airport to greet our daughters Sifa and Safi.  

A day of the greatest joy imaginable but also fear and anxiety. I look at these pictures and I see it all and I grieve for Safi and Sifa.  It is a very hard thing for a five and six year old to leave the only life they know and join a already-made family who doesn't even speak their language.  Can you imagine asking your child to do that? It is heartbreaking, and you can see it on their faces in these pictures. 

 I debated in my mind for a long time about whether to invite other people to the airport.  I knew it would be overwhelming for the girls no matter what, so I decided to go for it.  I wanted them to be able to look back on these pictures and see a tiny portion of the people who prayed for them and celebrated with us.

I  felt like I was going to pass-out or throw-up at this point.I had to keep reminding myself to breathe.  I felt so happy they were home but so sad for them and so scared about helping them through it. Add in three years of off-the-chart stress and the lingering sadness of my mom's death six weeks before this, and my body was a mess.

Oh, Sifa.  I can barely recognize you here.  I am so glad we know each other better now. You tried to put those gold shoes on last week and could not for the life of you squeeze into them.

Coming home to find our home had been secretly decorated buoyed me up more than I could ever describe.  I knew it had been done by some women who had prayed long and hard for us.

It was a day none of us will ever forget.  We talk about it often with Simone and Safi.  They laugh at how much Sifa (Simone) hated me then. I am glad we are were we are and I know time will only bond us closer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Am I Going to Tell My Kids Today?

I went to bed at 9 pm last night.  I woke up to Trump's victory and dozens of my friends asking,

"What am I going to tell my kids today?"

I understand.  Besides my feelings about Trump, which are probably pretty similar to those who are asking that question, I understand the looming and sometimes overwhelming sense of responsibility that parents everywhere feel about raising kids.

One day in late summer I felt that responsibility pressing down on my heart like an anvil.  I have six kids. Six.  My mind is like a constant loop of CONCERN. It plays their unique challenges through it, over and over, one after another.  It is never ending - my concern for them and their individual success, whatever that maybe look like.

And that constant loop very often brings on the thought,

"You will never be enough."

It's true.  I will fail them.  I will lose my temper. I have be selfish and inconsiderate and a bad example.

This realization, on this summer day, when I felt that they deserved better than me, was met by this scripture.  It brought me more hope than any parenting book or Mother's Day card ever could.

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

I will never be enough, but our Savior always will be.  Was I trying to fill them up with me and my love more than Him and His love?  It was a humbling thought and one I needed to allow me to change the way I parent.

It also brought to mind another scripture that became meaningful to me during Mitt Romney's attempt at presidency.  I remember being so disturbed by a poll that confirmed what I had been faced with my whole life: an overwhelming amount of people still don't consider me, because I am LDS, to be a Christian.  Shortly after I read that poll I read this scripture:

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

....and I had to ask myself....... do I do that?  Talk of, rejoice in, preach of and turn my children to Christ?

I knew then that the best thing I could do to give my kids stability and a rock-solid future was point them towards Jesus Christ.  He is the one person who is a sure foundation for them.  Their parents, teachers, leaders, and friends will all fail them in life at one point or another, but He never will.

If you aren't a Christian (and are somehow still reading this), can you stop for a minute and imagine what it would actually mean if all of this is true? If there really was this amazing being, with intelligence far beyond our comprehension, who created this earth and everything on it.  Who set a perfect example of how we should treat each other in order for everyone to have eternal happiness.  Who spread that knowledge through commandments that are laughed at now.  What if this man died for all of us, even those who killed Him?  Wow. And He rose and is coming again! Wouldn't that bring you incredible joy coupled with humility?

If you are Christian, doesn't that bring you incredible joy coupled with humility?

So what will I tell my kids?  I will recommit to the decisions I made that summer day. I will keep working on memorizing The Living Christ with them.  I will sing them songs about Christ.  I will read them scriptures during breakfast.  I will pray with them.  I will keep taking them to three hours of church every Sunday.  I will teach them to keep trying to be like Christ, no matter how many times they fail, and to turn to Him when they do.  I will teach them to make covenants with Him, because His power is greater than Trump's or Clinton's and amazingly, we can have access to it through those covenants!

When the whirlwinds come (and they will!), I don't want them hanging onto me, I want them hanging onto HIM.

Today, and tomorrow, and the eternities are bright.  Not because of me, or Trump, but because of their Savior and Redeemer.

That is what I will tell my kids today.