Happy Hanukkah!

Christmas just wouldn't be the same without playing a round or two of my kids new favorite game: Dreidel. (Don't laugh, there is actually a Major League Dreidel. This is a very competitive game!)

Seriously, it's fun. Of course, I end up having to spin for three of the kids but they don't care so long as they get their M&Ms.....

Why Dreidel you ask? Well, Madeline learned all about Judaism in school last week and one of the parents gave out Dreidels. How cool is that? So, what else are you to do with a Dreidel but PLAY!

The yarmulke just seemed appropriate somehow.

Look at that concentration: he's going for the win here.

Doh! That symbol means nun: you win nothing, you lose nothing. Kinda like playing Dreidel, with M&Ms. 

Whether you are Jewish, simply share a religion that started as such, or none of the above, 
Happy Hanukkah!


This Year's Tree

It was part of my family's tradition to get a real Christmas Tree every December (living beachside in FL, it was the only time we really got to miss the forest because of the tree, or is it, smell the tree from the forest....) And so, every year Kurt and I and the kids get a real tree. And although, here in the upper mid-west, there are tree farms all over the place where you can cut down your own, this year we decided just to go to one of the many local tree lots, like sane people do, and pick out a pre-cut beauty, saving us time, gas money, muscle soreness, bickering.....you get my drift.

So, we packed up the kids last weekend and headed to the Boy Scout Troop lot down the street. It was the coldest day so far of this season (of course) and the wind chill was just a wee bit BRUTAL. That said, we decided it was best if Solomon stayed in the truck. Madeline volunteered to keep him company (smart kid) and the rest of us braved the cold to look at the trees. Lily and Liam ran through the trees screaming out that they had found the one with every tree they saw.... most of which looked very similar to the tree we had the year Kurt tried to drive it into the garage. And worse than the trees they were picking were the prices. Really....you can't charge the same price (almost $100) for a 6 ft tree that has huge "holes" in it, as you do the 7 ft trees that are only a little lopsided.  They were overpriced to say the least and after a short while, Kurt made his way back into the truck to wait for us to get the hint that we were not buying the tree there. After avoiding eye contact with the few disappointed scouts that had been standing around and shoving the kids back in the car, we were on our way to the local plant nursery, Bachmans.

Bachmans is not the cheapest place on the planet to say the least. But they don't disappoint (unless you count that butternut squash surprise last summer as a disappointment, which I certainly don't!) We were in their greenhouse where they had rows of highly priced beautiful trees. Hot apple cider. No wind chill. It was perfect. And after just a few minutes, we found this enormous, 9+ foot tree that everyone agreed we had to have. (Sorry 3rd world countries, no flock of chickens and a milking cow from us this year!)

Now, we haven't had a tree this big since the year it fell over the night before my Christmas Party and our wonderful neighbor had to come rescue me by helping Kurt get it back up and tied to the walls.

 (Do you see a trend here?) 

We have always said we would consider it again if we ever got a bigger stand (the one we have *claims* it can hold a tree up to 10 feet but we believe it's max is really closer to 7, and it's a little shady even at that) but those things are obnoxiously pricey. So up until this year we have done the sane, more frugal thing, and bought a normal sized tree; one that doesn't require a ladder to decorate nor invisible hanging wire.

At any rate, in no time at all, we were sporting a tree on the top of our truck that was too big to be netted and inside our truck, a brand new gazillion pound stand, clearly capable of squashing a persons intestines as well as breaking the bank while holding a gigantic Christmas Tree.

So, next came the lights. You may remember from last year that we had to buy all new lights after failing to check them all before putting them up. 900 LEDs later and we were set. Unlike last year, we tried all the strands to make sure they worked this time (they did) and started putting them on the tree. When the last strand was up, here is what the tree looked like:

Apparently this tree is like twice as big as last years.....

So, out I went to purchase more lights. And I wasn't the only one. In over 6 local stores, there was only one box left (two if you count the display strand I purchased, much to the clerks chagrin.) So off I went, 30 minutes away, to buy 10 more boxes of lights in a different town. And in case you are wondering, the store brand LEDs and Philips brand ARE NOT THE SAME COLOR WHITE.

After mixing and matching the two brands, we decided it was in our best interest to take off the original lights and go with the more natural looking ones.

We'll get this down eventually. I just know it.

Our final destination, phew....

And so stood our tree for a week while the kids waited patiently for me to get the decorations from the garage. I got them out yesterday and told the kids to go ahead and get started while I put Solomonster down for bedtime. When I got back ten minutes later, there were no kids in sight. Instead, here is what I found:

An incredibly decorated tree (for 4 rugrats) and an enormous mess. 
The Culprits

In case I don't get back on the blog during this beautiful, exciting, joyous, crazy week.....

Merry Christmas To You All!

And to all, a good light....hee hee hee.


The Importance of Competence

I will not claim to be the most competent person that has ever existed....a far cry from it in oh so many ways. However, if there is one place where I struggle to extend grace and forgiveness, it is when dealing with people who don't take their jobs serious enough to do it well, or at least half-competently so that it doesn't infringe on others. I realize sometimes people are just not that bright and perhaps mediocre performance IS their best, and in those cases, where I have not been graceful, patient or forgiving in my encounters, I am truly sorry. However.....

Rewind back to last week: I made an appointment for a follow-up ultrasound to make sure the fatty tumor I've been sporting up top is as benign as they say it is. I am pretty confident it is nothing to fret over but figured I ought to at least follow-up to be sure. So, last week I made the appointment for this Wednesday, the only day I have with enough free time for such an appointment. To avoid any mishaps in date-setting (like I have recently experienced), I asked TWICE during the conversation for the date and time so that I could add it to both my calendars. I then sent an email to Kurt to check his availability to babysit and when he said he was already booked, I immediately found a friend to take Solomonkey for me. As luck would have it, the friend who was going to watch him became suddenly unavailable when her family came down with the stomach bug. I scrambled to find another willing friend and then sat back, breathing easy.....

....Until later last night when I got a call from the hospital pre-registration. Apparently, even though I did not have to pre-register for the initial appointment, they wanted to do so for this one. I willingly obliged, thinking it would cut some time from the actual appointment and speed up the check-in process. (Oh, what rose colored glasses!)

My conversation went something like this:

Registrar: "What is your last name?"
Me: "Wolf."
Registrar: "Spelled like it sounds?"
Me: "Yes, like the animal."


Registrar: "First name?"
Me: "Karen, with a K."
Registrar: "What's your birthdate?"
Me: "Five...Thirty-One...Seventy-seven."
Registrar: "Um, have you been here before?"
Me: "Well, this is a follow-up appointment. Oh, and I delivered two babies there."

She begins naming off street addresses that are not mine.

Me: "Wow, you have that many Karen Wolfs in there?"
Registrar: "Hmmmm, that's Wolf,  W-O-L-F-E, right?"
Me: "No, there is no 'E' on the end." (No biggie, I think. In the almost 12 years I have lived with this name, only a handful of registrars get it right....apparently the spelling of the animal was never a priority in school.....at least she didn't spell it W-U-F-F like has happened on more than one occasion.)

She offers up more addresses I do not recognize.

Registrar: "What's your birthdate again?"
Me: "5-31-77."
Registrar: "And you don't live at (insert random address)?"
Me: "Nope."
Registrar: "Ok, so Wolf, no 'e', and 5-41-77."
Me (now banging the phone against my head and about to call over my 5-year old to ask her how many days are in the LONGEST month of the year because I am pretty sure, unless they recently changed things, there are no months with FORTY-ONE DAYS!): "No, it's May, Thirty-First."
Registrar: "Oh, Wolf, no e, May, First." 

I cover the mouthpiece (just in case) and let out the loudest silent scream possible.....my new mantra: We all make mistakes. We all make mistakes. We all make mistakes.

Me: "No. It. Is. The. THIRTY-FIRST." (We all make mistakes.....)


Registrar: "Oh, here it is. You have an appointment on Thursday, right?"
Me (now holding back belligerence through gritted teeth and squinted eyes): "No, it should be tomorrow." I double check my wall calendar and pull up my Google calendar to be sure.
Registrar: "You live at (insert correct address), correct?"
Me (now practicing my yoga breathing: Inhale): "Yes." (Exhaaaaaaaaale)
Registrar: "I show you have an appointment Thursday, not tomorrow. Let me verify your social...."

At which point I went and bought a therapist because I didn't think a glass of wine was going to cut it!

But then, all those little frustrations in life are totally worth it, when I am given sweet pictures like Lily's latest self-portrait:

Which is amazingly accurate for a five year old (and perhaps those working in the scheduling department at the hospital system....)

Have a great day!


Sunday's Reminder: Where is grace?

Today's post was written a week or so ago after one of life's tougher days. And as I look around the current state of our home (in disarray from a fun-filled weekend of flurried activity that took place after a week stuck inside with an uninvited guest....darn stomach bug...) and I see the fruit flies we are apparently breeding in our fresh evergreen centerpiece (really bugs?) I realize this story is not too far from our present. 


Today has been an overwhelming sort of day. We awoke to a freezing house (our brand new, less than 4 month-old furnace had apparently called it quits) and, moving slowly in that frozen state, we were late getting out the door for the bus stop. When I got home, I stuck Solomon in the highchair to eat a belated breakfast while waiting for the furnace repair man when all of a sudden, I remembered I had a conference at Liam's school starting IN 5 MINUTES. I hurried the three of us out the door, to the school, over the new layer of ice in the parking lot, arrived at the classroom 10 minutes late, got through the conference and rushed back to our frozen home in hopes I hadn't missed the repair guy. Still slightly bundled as we sat in front of the only electric room heater we own, a feeling of defeat overcame me as I looked around: the house was a wreck from yesterday's room rearranging and there were two humungous boxes from the table/chair sets we bought with no place to go but in the way. Even the cat was miserable....he joined us in front of the heater and just sat there, staring.

Granted, Solomon might have been happier had he not had Liam's finger in his eyeball....

The repairman arrived and discovered our circuit board was fried due to water damage coming from an unknown source which they later identified as from the water softener, (a problem not covered under warranty, of course). After half a day replacing parts and rewiring our humidifier, our house finally warmed up. After he left, I still had to get to the grocery store, another conference, my mom's group at church (which, I decided was first on the chopping block and skipped!) and had yet to discover the nice ball of poop sitting in the middle of our floor....I'd like to blame it on the cat but I am fairly certain it was a child.....I'm just not sure how it got there....I'm not sure I want to know either! 

I found a moment to run on my treadmill at some point in the chaos and I ran across this passage out of Jeremiah in a book I am reading: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord. Jeremiah 29:13-14

After the run, I went back to reread the passage in my Bible since it is a personal favorite (and comforting one at that): "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you."

And I thought, did I bother calling on God today? Was He listening? If I had been seeking Him, where would I have found Him? 

And I realized that yes, we were running late in the morning but that the bus had been held up by another child and waited a little longer than usual, allowing time for my kids to get on. I then was late to the conference but it was filled with good news about Liam's progress in school and how well he is doing despite his developmental delays. The furnace problem, though an annoyance to be sure, was a good reminder of those less fortunate who are always out in the cold because they have no place to call home. And at the end of the work, the repairman gave us a pass and covered it anyway even though he didn't have to. Although I was late (again) getting to my kids at the bus stop in the afternoon, it was only because I had another glowing conference about Liam and his progress and than ran into a beloved teacher who wanted to share joyful news about her own son in Europe (while filling our tummies with M&M's in the meanwhile). And when I finally got to the bus stop, another parent had patiently waited with my kids so that the bus would leave them for me: a true act of kindness.  

While I still don't know where the turd came from, (some things are better left a mystery) I realize there was so much goodness in the craziness. I am reminded just how easy it is to focus on the negatives while failing to see where our lives are drenched in grace. (Seriously, when was the last time you got the front parking spot at the grocery store during lunchtime!?! I so needed that.) 

Anyway, I pray that you find warmth and strength for your soul this week in the love that is God; that the spirit beckons you, leading you to seek out those places where your life touches grace and brings hope to your future and boundless joy to your days.

Don't forget to seek Him out, don't forget to call.....He is listening!

"I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord.... Jeremiah 29:11-14


The Encourager

Some people are just natural encouragers. Take little Liam for instance. Yes, you may know he is full of joy and happiness but he is also a little bundle of enthusiasm and encouragement.

This morning, we were going to his speech appointment where he was going to be finishing up some testing to see if he still qualifies for services (a blessing to be sure!) We decided we would stop by the local coffee shop to pick up a special coffee for his pathologist as a Happy Thanksgiving gift. I missed the turn.

"Oh shoot!" I exclaimed.

"What, Mom?! What?" Liam said, almost worried.

"I screwed up my driving and missed the turn," I told him.

"It O.K., Mom," he said. "Try again! Try again, Mom!"

"Liam, you're awesome," I told him.

Then again, if someone were constantly telling me I was awesome after half the things I said and did, I might very well be super encouraging to others, too!

Have a Fantastic Thanksgiving!


The Differences

Thought I had forgotten about you, didn't ya?! No such luck! We have just been super busy.

It occurred to me recently that although everyone thinks Madeline and Lily look a bit like twins, they are really very different kids. I don't know if it is because unlike the people-pleasing Madeline, Lily has already gotten in trouble this year for lashing out at other students (twice in one day....apparently they did SOMETHING to deserve having their work scribbled on by my daughter and then having their scissors snagged away) or if it is just the different types of things that they are "into" these days but no matter, they are each very much their own person. And I think it can be best accentuated by their art.

Let me use Aidan as the control sample. Notice his works of art: planned, skilled, structured. He is the kid who, when told to do his best work, executes every last stroke of his pen, pencil, or paintbrush with precision, putting each line meticulously in its place, making his mother panic in the painstakingly slow process of everything he does. But, the finished work is often worth the head contusions from banging the wall wait:
Aidan and Mom with Leroy (1st grade)

The Tiger (oil based pastels, 1st grade)
Under the Sea (2nd Grade)
The Horse (3rd Grade)
Black and White Sandile (from Pokemon, a few weeks ago)
Untitled (Last Weekend)

Then there is Madeline's art: simplistic, cute, happy, calm, relaxed.

The Honeybee (Preschool)

The Pig (Preschool)
Madeline and Kurt (Summer between Kindergarten and 1st)
Self-Portrait: Princess Madeline (Summer between Kindergarten and 1st)
Plain Bunny (1st grade)

Bandit Bunny (1st grade)
Self Portrait (Last Weekend...and almost true to size!) 

And then there is Lily. I think her frenetic art speaks for itself (as well as her inner being!):

Lily's Bunnies (perhaps on drugs or after selling their souls to the devil or both....)
Christmas Trees (gone wild!)
Person Unknown (but it sure as heck looks like the Muppet character  Beaker!)

Mom (Actually, this one is about right....I often feel just. like. that!)

The Sun (Smiling down on the Incredibly Gigantic Lady who wears the sun on her bosom and 5 monsters on her skirt with hair that puts even Rapunzel to shame! Oh wait, I think this was supposed to be me as well....)

Aidan Practicing Snare (drawn while he was performing for us this morning)

Have a happy week!


Seven Years Ago Today, Continued

It had been a rough few months. In the midst of the excitement over being pregnant with our second child, there was the scare of an ultrasound which had pointed to possible problems: a blob-like mass on the placenta, cysts in both sides of the brain; and a blood test that showed elevated risk. There had been worry from family and friends, lack of understanding from health care providers who told us we "couldn't make an informed decision without having an amnio" and similar feelings from those around us. We had cried in the fear of the unknown yet held tight to a hope that reassured us that no matter the outcome, all would be well.

The moment of peace that descended on us when we were told we were only faced with potential Down Syndrome, not something else more devastating or fatal, is like nothing we can describe. But after all that fear and worry and stress, we were left with the peace that can only come with great surrender.

In those last few weeks, we studied Down Syndrome and we spoke to parents and families who had been affected by it. We tried to stick one foot in that door, just in case, and in the privacy of our home we tossed around our thoughts and feelings and retained our hope as we prayed our silent prayers: prayers of acceptance, of faith, and of surrender.

When she entered this world, we saw a squishy, healthy baby that had come quickly and efficiently to us. It was late at night and the nurses showered her with praise as they prepared us for her first night in this world. Yet one questioned remained: Did she have that extra chromosome?

You'd think we would have known instantly. We had done this before, certainly our parental instincts would kick in and overwhelm us one way or another. But truth be told, she was like most newborns, slanted eyes, a squashed face, a little swollen, beautiful and perfect. We had given her her name and she was ours.

But the first thing everyone wanted to know when we called with our joyous news was: Is she ok?

And we told them, yes, she is okay, one way or another. And the nurses reassured us that she was healthy but that they couldn't tell us anything more than that. They couldn't determine whether she had that extra something or not. We'd have to wait until morning.

Seven years ago today, morning came and it didn't matter really what the doctor had to say because the thing is, when you have a baby, your heart grows a little larger and beats a little stronger and the only thing that matters is that all encompassing love that is big enough to sustain life, whatever it may offer. And babies, well, they are gifts and like any heavenly gift, we don't get to pick out the details. And like most gifts, babies do nothing to deserve our love, they simply exist and we simply swell in their existence.

It's one of the few glimpses we get into the heart of God.

The doctor came in early and I could almost sense the stifling of a great chuckle when we asked him about her chromosomes. She had the typical amount he assured us. Yet what we felt was not some collective sigh of relief but the simple acknowledgement of grace: a grace that had allowed us to find peace in the midst of the unknown and assurance in our total surrender. And in that moment, we inhaled what was and exhaled what could have been knowing that either way, we had been given an incredible gift of love.



Words Can Never Hurt Me....Usually...

Sometimes I only catch the end of the conversation but sometimes that is all I need to hear.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me," Madeline chanted to her siblings who apparently had said something less than kind.

"Yuh-huh," Lily said, scooting her chair away from the table.

"No, they can't," Madeline replied.

"Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi...." Lily said, right in her face.

"OOOOOW, Lily!" Madeline screamed.

"See, told you so," Lily said.

"LILY, your words did NOT hurt me. You punched me, that's what hurt!" Madeline insisted.

"Hey Mom, do we have a really big dictionary?" Aidan asked.

"Aidan, you are not hitting your sister with a dictionary," I told him.

"Ah, come on!" he exclaimed.

Really, we are in fact trying to teach them kindness but it seems to be oh, so hard sometimes.  As a matter of fact, sometimes it seems like we are actually just a comic strip waiting to happen.

Have a great week!


Happy Halloween!

Today is the happiest of Halloweens. You see, today is October 31 which means IT IS FINISHED! The 31 days of posting has come to an end and I just have to say, YIPPEEEEE! (You are probably feeling the same.)

Might I just point out that in the last 31 days you have actually been privy to 33 posts. (Hey, I never said they would be GOOD posts....this was all about quantity, not quality....apparently I learned NOTHING from our little mini-series!)

But, it was a good lesson in perseverance for me and now it is time for a break.

So, on that note, I just have to tell you about a conversation I overheard today.

Aidan: "Madeline, you are being an e-d-i-e-t right now."

Madeline: "What does that spell?"

Aidan: "Well, duh. It spells idiot."

Hee hee, I don't even need to make THAT funny.

Happy Halloween!


Just for a Day

Just for a day: 
I chose to stay home. It was then that I was able to create a home worth staying in.
I chose to be still, unmoving. It was then that I was moved.
The baby is asleep. My instincts tell me to be quiet. To let him sleep. To KEEP HIM ASLEEP. But, to be quiet, I must slow down. To be quiet, I have to be still. In that stillness, I can hear tiny whisperings stirring. (No I am not schizo but thanks for wondering!)

While I am actively being quiet, it occurs to me: We create too much excess noise. Most of us do anyway. We fill time up, moving from place to place, activity to activity, one piece of technology to the next; one noise to another. Our lives are full. And in that fullness, they are noisy.

But God spoke to Hagar near a spring in the desert, when she was all by herself. God spoke to Abraham when he was sitting, still and alone, in front of his tent. God spoke to Jacob in his dream and then again in a wrestling match, in the middle of the night, in the middle of silence. God spoke to Joseph in his dreams and again in the aloneness of prison; to Israel in the visions of night; to Moses while he was by himself. And then, in a most dramatic display, Got spoke to Elijah. He called him into His presence and sent a wind storm, and an earthquake, and a fire. But God was not in those. God came in a tiny whisper.

And the story line reveals itself over and over: God spoke to Samuel in the silence of rest and solitude, while alone in the temple; to the prophet Nathan, in the night; to Solomon in a dream and to Daniel in visions and during prayer.

Time and again, God speaks. In the silence. In the solitude. In the stillness.

Fast forward in time and we see God speaking (sometimes directly, sometimes through angels and in other ways) to Zechariah while he was alone burning incense in the temple, to Joseph in a dream, to Mary through an angel while she was alone, to Cleopas and his friend while they walked, and stood still, and broke bread; to Mary Magdalene as she wept alone in the tomb, to Saul on the road while he was blinded by the light, practically forced into silence so that he might listen and again to him (as Paul) in the night; to Ananias and Cornelius in visions, and to Peter on a roof while praying. The story unfolds and we are shown that we occasionally need to be still. We occasionally need to shut off all the noise invading our lives and be silent. Because God might be trying to speak.

"For God is not a God of chaos (or confusion, or disorder), but of peace." --1 Corinthians 14:33

And to hear Him, perhaps we need to practice stillness. And simply be quiet. Maybe then, in our stillness, we will be moved. Maybe then, order and peace will follow.

Profile of a Runner

There are all kinds of people out there and plenty of categories to fit them in. You might be a doctor and a parent. You might be a teacher, volunteer fireman and a swimmer. You might be into yoga or spinning or weight training. Or all of the above. And then there are the runners.

Now, many people call themselves runners. And by all means, it is a huge spectrum of people. But for some, it is more than just the way they get exercise. It is a way of life. I can't say that I fit into that category 100%, (it's closer to 99%) but for some, running is like eating. You can only go so long without it. Today's race made me realize just how insane some of us really are. (My guess is I will write that exact same sentence when I get home from the Polar Dash 10k on Jan. 1, brrrrrr....but I am getting ahead of myself.)

A few weeks back, my friend asked if I wanted to run the 10-mile Monster Dash with her. While the entry fee was almost enough to dissuade me (I think I paid $75) the gear alone was almost worth it. So I sucked it up and registered under the condition that we would run sporting some sort of costumes. After all, it is a costume run. (I wore a pumpkin hat and antennae, she wore devil horns.....so much for costumes but hey, it wasn't nothing!)

Anyway, my friend is a pretty solid 9- to 9:30-minute mile runner and we run together once every week or two assuming I only have one kid to push in a jogger. At any rate, she wanted to line up at the 10- minute pace and then play catch up. But as some of you know, I can be a wee bit, um, competitive. I argued we should line up at the 9-minute pace and assume we would do better given that it is an especially fast course. (Lots of downhill, woo hoo!)

We compromised and lined up near the 9:30 pacer. We were surrounded by all sorts of people dressed in all sorts of crazy costumes. It would be an easy place to sit and judge but rest assured, you can never tell what kind of runner someone might be by their costume. :)

Anyway, my goal was simply to run with my friend the ENTIRE RACE. After all, she was the one who invited me and it's always nice to have someone to chat with over long distances. That was my goal....but some of you know me and well, there is this little problem.

If you are not competitive then you may not fully understand the rest of the story.

Right before the race began, the espresso kicked in and I remembered why having given birth to 5 children put my bladder at a slight disadvantage in these things. But, there was no time to take care of that. The front runners left and we soon realized we were being held back in the second wave of runners (already this was just about enough to KILL ME! I mean, how can we catch up if we can't start when the race starts!) But then, the the rope fell and off we went.

So, I start chatting away, blah blah blah. My friend answers my questions briefly but for the most part just kept quiet. (Think of the old Spike and Chester cartoons, only, she's tiny.)

At first, it seemed like we were keeping a good pace and I felt like I could easily just stick with her and be happy. But as time went by, she started telling me she wasn't feeling great today. And then a woman in a wedding dress passed us.....oh, not the woman in the wedding dress?! Really?!

And then, it seemed like we were getting passed more and more frequently. And that's when the competitive devil inside started rearing its ugly HUGE head. Let me break here for a second and just say that it's not like I am ultra-competitive. (Stop laughing Kurt and friends.) I do realize that not everything in life is a competition. There is no prize to be won for taking the quickest shower, let's say, or having the most kids (although we've got a pretty good start on that one in many circles, don't ya think? Just kidding...) But, when it comes to athletics, well, I'll admit I might tend to be a wee bit over the edge.

So the rest of the run went something like this (insert voice in head):

"Oh wow, is that person wearing a banana costume? I bet that is hard to run in. But look at that?! She's passing us."

"Man, I didn't know dogs were allowed on this course....sucks to get passed by a dog. Argh! It passed us, too!"

"Wait, is that chick pregnant?"

And then the real kicker: "Hey look Karen, that guy looks like he must be around 80. Oh, and look, HE'S PASSING YOU! Good job there, kiddo."

So, we are passing mile 6 at this point and my friend stops for water. I started running backwards to keep an eye on her and that is when competitive self thinks, 'If I am running backwards and keeping up just fine, I probably need to just bolt.'

My friend catches back up (and I turn back around) and I tell her that at the 5k mark I plan on taking off to run my personal 5k time. She says that's great, she isn't feeling really well anyhow and feels bad for holding me back. And then, God bless her, she says, "Why don't you go on ahead now." We have about 3.5 miles left at this point. I half-apologize and then off I frantically go, trying to get ahead of all those people I *know* I should be able to beat.

Pretty soon, I have passed the old guy (phew), and another old guy (that admittedly I had to work a little harder to catch), the banana girl, the guy wearing the "running for beer" t-shirt (surely I can't let THAT guy beat me...or that one, or THAT one!), the wedding dress lady, the dog and its owner, the chick whose sign on her back read: "I'm slow, but you're still behind me!" (Eat my glitter, chickie!) And so on and so forth. Then, I overhear one of the pacers tell someone he has 9.3 miles on his watch (really, they make watches that give you distance?! Awesome!) and so I think, 'Well, shoot, I might as well keep running fast now, there's not even a mile left!' And then up ahead, I see another little girl (what, are you 12?) and then, oh no, an old(er) lady wearing a tutu and another older lady in a tutu and holy smokes, that guy is HUGE! HE. CAN. NOT. BEAT. ME! (I never said I was a PC runner....)

And by the end I was in a full out sprint trying to finish before one more person....and then another, and another.....because you know, what kind of race is it if you aren't trying to beat the people in front of you?! (Plus, they were giving out free beer at the end....and I still had to go potty....but whatever.)

For those of you who are not runners, no, I didn't win. That is the beauty of it. Unless you are an elite racer, there is ALWAYS someone ahead of you to chase down. You can ALWAYS do better. And I imagine, even the runners who win these things are thinking that they "could've done better if....." because that is how we they think.

After playing a serious round of chase at the end, I ran the ten miles in one hour and twenty-three minutes. Since it has been years since I did any real distance racing, that's a decent baseline going forward. (And by going forward I mean I'm already registered for a 5k, 10k, two half marathons and a full marathon for 2012....yes, yes I am....darn pre-race-running-expo offering discounted rates for the 5-race series!....hee hee hee.) What can I say? As my husband recently told me about hunting, I'm hooked! But then, I already knew that!


The Monster Dash

Yesterday, Solomon and I headed into downtown St. Paul to pick up my chip and bib for the 10 mile race I am running today with a friend. I was surprised by the looks we were getting. Surely people have seen babies downtown before, I thought. I started feeling a bit awkward. I mean, usually the reaction to the baby is all giggly and sweet, not snooty and rude. Usually the laughing is with us, not at us.

Then it occurred to me that maybe the issue was that I still had on the antennae I was wearing when I dropped the kids off at school.

Hee hee....Come on people, lighten up! This is a COSTUME RUN!

I left the doodle-bug headband on the rest of the day to spite the seriousness. They functioned as glittery upside down exclamations of "IN YOUR FACE!" It was totally worth it.

Wish us luck!

(Something tells me that the full coffee mug full of espresso with a side of bacon and candy pumpkins was NOT the best pre-race meal.....hmmmm.....)


Our Voices

One thing this blogging challenge has done to me is it has made me very aware of my own voice. And I have to admit, sometimes I wish I had a different voice. No, I don't wish I had a different voice-box or that the actual sound that comes out of my mouth were any different. But, in the craft of writing, I sometimes find myself wishing for a different voice. Silly, I know. But....

There are a few bloggers I follow. (I am fairly picky since reading could easily consume all of my time.) I can pretty much sort them into four categories, with a bit of overlap here and there.

These categories are: Inspirational, Humorous, Practical, and Friends. And I am often struck by their unique voices.

At times, I find myself moved by an inspirational blogger. Their voice reaches those deep places inside  my soul that stay hidden from the outside world. They stir me, sometimes pushing me forward into places I would not have considered going without them. I feel forever changed when I read their posts. And often I stop at the end and think, "Wow, I wish I wrote like that. I wish I moved people like that."

And then I will read something so funny I laugh out loud to the point of hysteria, tears rolling down my cheeks, unable to move but in fits. (Sometimes it is even meant to be funny.) And I think, "Wow, I wish I wrote like that. I wish I had that kind of wit to paralyze people with laughter."

At other moments, I find myself so eager to try a bit of practical advice. It's like the blogger is looking into my life and telling me what I need to know right at that exact moment to keep things in order or to get me back on track. And once again I find myself thinking, "Wow, I wish I had enough insight to have written that. I wish I had helped someone else like that."

And then I read the writings of my friends. And while I am thankful to share in their lives, I think, "Wow, I am so blessed to have such creative friends. I wish I created or wrote like that." (If not just because they have managed to figure out how to get paid for doing what they love to do! Go figure!)

And then I go back and read some archived posts from this Chicken blog. I become critical and have to stop myself from going back and changing every last word, from trying to make it sound like someone else. As I sit there, one of my kids inevitably comes crawling into my lap. (What can I say, they are opportunistic children and if the lap is available, well, they have to be quick on the draw!) And while holding them, I remember that this blog is a special place, not because of the voice in it, but because it has them in it. ("It's not about me....it's not about me....it's not about me.....ok, mostly it's not about me....") And their simple gesture reminds me that I was given my voice and the desire to write for a reason. And that by creating this blog with my unique voice my children will one day know that I was truly present in their lives and it will show them how I wanted to hold onto every. last. moment. together. How I wanted to store away these memories in a safe place so that I would always know where to find them. (I also wanted to stop the clock and just be here in this place with them forever but apparently we don't always get what we want! Drats!)

And because it is my voice telling their stories, our stories, and not some random writer, maybe one day they will begin to know me a little more fully. And I'd like to think that that is a good thing. (So long as it isn't used as fuel by their therapists, of course!)

So, here's to all our individual voices: May we embrace our unique inner voice, knowing that each one bursts with the potential for spreading truth and goodness, adding its own flavor and beauty to this world, just the way it is! May our voices be our offering of love, and of grace. (Even if it contains a hint of gracefulness, like a chicken!)


Must be in the Blood

Today Liam and I were sorting animal cards. We had three piles:
1. Animals we see in the Neighborhood
2. Animals we see at the Farm
3. Animals we see at the Zoo

He did pretty well until we got to the alligator. I held up the card, "What's this?"

"An ALLIGATOR!" he exclaimed.

"Where does the alligator go?"

"In the neighbowhoo," he said.

"Well, maybe if we lived in Florida," I told him. "But let's put this guy in the zoo."

A few cards later, we came upon a Giant Tortoise.

"What's this?" I asked.

"An Alligator!" he said. Oooh, so close.

"Way to use caution buddy, but no, this is a tortoise." Really, he was one aggressive looking fellow right there. If you are three. And don't know he only moves like once a year. They do have similar coloring anyway.

A few cards later he put the bears and monkeys in our neighborhood, too. (Must be confused with the neighbors!)

The very last card was a hippopotamus with his mouth opened wide.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Another alligator!" he said excitedly.

"Close enough!" (Hey, better safe than sorry!)



...to the beat.

Now that I have finally figured out how to upload my phone videos, I figure the "right thing" for me to do is to share a few. (Yes, I am shirking my commitment to writing today!)

This first video features Aidan on the drums and Solomon, also on the drums (well you know, he has to hold on to them to do his bopping!) Enjoy!


B.Y.O.B.: It's Over (the Mini-Series)

Bring Your Own Blessing

Here's me: "Blah, blah, blah, blah blah, organization, blah, blah, right thing(s), blah, blah, prioritizing, blah blah, too many good things, blah, blah, blah, not enough time, blah, blah, blah, where's the beef, blah blah..."

Here's you: 

"Wake me up when it's nap time will ya?" (Surely she'll be done jabbering by then!)

You can blame my friend for telling me I should cut my posts into sections and post them over a span of several days, so that they are not as long and it doesn't take an entire lunchtime to get through them. She would be right of course IF I COULD STOP MYSELF FROM WRITING TOO MANY WORDS! And why I chose to do an entire series dedicated to something I am MISERABLE at is beyond me. I am just glad it is over. I am feeling blessed that we got through it and can go back to random, scattered thoughts and stories from which I hope to find plenty of humor. Phew. Thanks for your endurance and unwavering support. (Hey, one can hope, right? Hello? Helllooooo? Anyone still there?)

Hee hee hee.

Have a fantastic day! 


Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 5, The End....Actually, It's Just The Beginning!

We spent the morning a few days back having Liam assessed for Physical Therapy. Sure he is making progress but we had this incident a couple weeks ago. You see, he was at swim lessons and at the very end of the class, they had the three little preschoolers line up on the side of the pool and told them to jump in the water (to be caught by the instructor). Liam went first. The problem? Liam can't jump yet. But he doesn't fully realize it. So instead of jumping he just kind of stepped off the pool deck, forcing the teenage instructor to lunge forward to grab him and as he went in he whacked the back of his head on the concrete deck. It was not pretty. No blood but a decent chicken goose egg and plenty of tears and a slightly shocked instructor. (Apparently most kids can jump, who knew....) At any rate, I told the story to his speech pathologist who set him up to be assessed by a PT. Sure enough, he qualifies. His skills are "scattered," the PT told me. He can do some things really well, some things need refining (did you know that they expect a certain running form from three year olds? Sheesh, I thought legs and arms flailing in different directions WAS their form!) and of course, the lack of jumping is far from typical. It was hard for me not to say, "Oh what a relief! He is fairly normal after all." I mean really. Most of us are pretty darn good at some things, average at others and pretty clueless at the rest. That's just a fact of life. You take the good, you take the bad, you take the.....oh wait, wrong thing.

Anyway, the thing about PT is that you don't just do it quickly and get it over with. It is a process. You take baby steps. It takes time. Patience. Follow through. And it has to become a priority for it to be successful. Like exercising. Or finishing that sewing project. Or meal planning.

Deciding to do the right thing(s) is not something that you do one day and so you did it and you are done. It is something you decide to do in every waking moment. It is lifelong and for some of us who are used to going with the flow and taking life as it hits us, it can be life changing.

So where does all of this talk on prioritizing and doing the right things leave us speed demons of the world whose natural inclinations are to add all sorts of random good things to fill our already crazy lives while possibly sacrificing some of the more important things? Well, duh, it means we have to choose the right good things to do at breakneck speed and make sure to do them in the right order, rapido, rapido! Andele! Andele! Just kidding.

It means slowing down long enough to be mindful in the prioritizing: Liam really does need Physical Therapy so that his lack of jumping isn't hazardous. Where does that go in order of importance to me? Above exercise? Above meal planning? Definitely before swim lessons that require him to jump into the water! And while we're at it, I really do need to stay on top of the laundry or else I will have twelve overwhelming loads staring me in the face and my kids will be sent home from school because they aren't wearing pants. Maybe that is where we begin: we decide to take on one thing and stay on top of it and when that becomes routine, we pick the next thing....baby steps.

The prioritizing means we also have to set aside a few minutes to actually sit on a chair ever so often (not just at the evening meal, I know, novel idea...) to map out our daily routines and activities so that we can keep things straight; putting the first things first (first jumping, then jump-roping, then pole vaulting), saying no to the excess and then filling our time with that which is meaningful and intentional. And who knows, maybe that time spent planning and organizing will become enjoyable; a time to renew the spirit, a time to refresh the soul. A time for quiet. And stillness. And peace. Maybe it will become afternoon tea. Care to join me?

(Maybe we could take a nice long run afterwards.....at a really fast pace.....before cramming in a few thousand squats, dips, lunges and push-ups......before rushing off to the next thing!)

Hey, what can I say? It's a work in progress!


Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 4 (Almost Done)

A friend of mine used to guard her time as if she had taken an oath to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  She was so good at saying no and limiting the activities of her family that at times it got frustrating to the rest of us. Then we moved out to CA and having a clean slate, I, too, tried to guard my family's time and schedule, filling it with less but more meaningful things. And as they get older, that combat seems to be getting more fierce. I am no longer just a gatekeeper, deciding what will go on our calendar and what won't. Instead, I have had to become a soldier on the front lines fighting back all those "good" things and "good" intentions and "good" activities from overtaking every free moment we have. And still, it sometimes feels like a losing battle. There is so much "good" to be done, so many "good" things to do. But is it always the right thing?

Ask yourself: Are there things you need to put on hold while you do the right things for this season of your life? Does your health need more attention? Do you have a relationship that needs mending? A household that needs you more present and involved? Financial struggles needing your undivided efforts? Work that just needs to get done so that you can focus on your dreams and loftier goals? So that you might help more or serve more or, heck, even play more without the weight of the world on your shoulders....Are you running daily marathons when a short but well-planned 5K would suffice?

Seriously, think about it. It would be good of us to foster baby animals for the Humane Society. I'd love it, the kids would love it, the Humane Society desperately needs it. But would that just add undue stress and burden on an already chaotic household, possibly causing my husband to put his head through a window which we would then have to repair AFTER he was discharged from the mental ward? Probably. Then is it the right thing for our family to take on presently? Probably not. Maybe you aren't fostering animals, and instead, like me you are hiding behind the things that really have to get done, and some that you really just want to do (a-hem, blog). Are those the right things for right now or just good things you justify doing in one way or another? Are you avoiding some of the more important stuff?

Don't get me wrong: I am not talking about cutting out all hobbies and other leisure activities. Quite the contrary. Not only are they important but your well-being depends on them. We have to have a healthy dose of fillers to balance things out! But if you are losing sleep at night fretting over whether you missed something on your calendar which is bursting at the seams; or if your health is suffering because you simply aren't making time for it; or if your family is starving for some wholesome, healthy food, it might be time to make hard choices and do some weeding. Don't think of it as abandoning the animals, think of it as opening the door for someone else to take on a "good" thing (while you shut it as quickly as you can behind you to restore sanity to your home!)

***Disclosure: I was trying to do so many things while writing today's segment that I somehow deleted the entire thing and had to REWRITE. EVERY. LAST. WORD.....Grrrrr. I am just sure it was much better the first time! Hee hee *Blush*


Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 3

Aidan had a little issue recently with turning in his homework. As we sorted through his backpack, pulling out an entire army of origami paper frogs (thanks be to the substitute teacher with paper folding skills who thought it was a great idea to teach THAT to a bunch of 3rd graders!) Kurt commented that I was going to have to learn to be more organized so that I could help Aidan learn organization skills as well..... Sigh. It's true. (Gosh darn it!) Try as I might, and as much as I love organization, (really, those closet and home catalogs are glorious!) it just doesn't come naturally to me. I have "loftier ideas" floating through my head, visions and dreams (of unattainable grandeur) to put into action. Who has time for the practical, the tangible, the planning, coordinating, and formulating of good structures, systems and routines? I can't even keep a running blog theme straight, much less the many details of life! For some reason, I continue to choose disorganization over the careful planning of our days. I continue to cram it all in instead of choosing to let go of the superfluous stuff, the stuff cluttering our time and getting in the way of solid family building. I choose to stray from simplicity and dwell too often in chaos. (Sometimes that is just chasing a dirt-eating 9 month old of course!)

But.....isn't there always that but? But as Mr. Covey said, there is no substitute for doing the right things. Notice he didn't say "doing the good things" for there are many, many good things to choose from; many things we think we "should" do simply because of their goodness and because we can. But just because they are good things and just because we might be able to fit them in "real quick" doesn't make them the right things for us to do at that time. We could do them, but at what expense? And simply speeding things up, well, you saw the results in my plates and knives! There is no excuse to cover up the blatant error of going through life quickly but unintentionally. Swiftly but inefficiently. Rapidly but recklessly. Filled to the brim, but with the wrong, good things.

What good things do you justify doing when in reality they may be out of place right now? Are there areas of your life you neglect but then fill with acts of goodness to validate your choices? Is your schedule so full you seem to lack direction or focus? Does anyone suffer because of it? Are you suffering in some way because you are doing the things you want to do (cough, cough, blogging, sputter, sputter, cough!) and avoiding the things you need to do (hack, sputter, meal-planning/cleaning/insert-other-important-things-here, cough)?

We have all been there. At some point, we all miss the boat (because we were running late trying to to fit in two more little random things, or simply forgot altogether, again!) At some point, we all take on too much, bite off more than we can chew. That's life. It's part of the learning. The question is, are you stuck there? 


Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 2

A friend and I were discussing priorities recently. I told her I'd like help with a sewing project, among other things; she said she'd like help fitting exercise into her routine. Whereas she already puts feeding her family good, wholesome, well-planned-out meals at the top of her priority list, I justify putting personal exercise at the top of mine, rationalizing it with thoughts like, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" and exercise makes me happy....and keeps me healthy and energetic and fit, which in turn makes Kurt happy and it gives me the stamina to keep up with five monsters kids.....But still, I have to admit, it does seem a wee bit selfish if you are on the outside looking in. I am pretty sure healthy meals for the seven of us should come first! (Especially over random sewing projects!)

I am envious of my friend's ability to sit down and plan out her meals for the entire week or month. And I am not talking just dinner. She has breakfasts and lunches mapped out as well. And they're wholesome, heathy, "from scratch" meals every morning, noon and night! Her organization skills so surpass my meager efforts, it's downright humbling. When I sit down to try to "plan" a week's worth of meals, I get stuck on the logistics, bogged down by the details. I start to drown in the panic of having to stick with a plan in the first place. My mind starts tricking me with the "what ifs" (what if I want to be spontaneous, what if I get a craving for something else, what if I fall off the wagon, what if the store is out of asparagus on day 3, what if I choose the wrong thing, what if.....Argh!) And because I am afraid of stumbling (or maybe because I am too busy or preoccupied to think about it) I give up the process altogether. Great role-modeling, huh?

As our discussion continued, we spoke about how we all prioritize our lives by our own choosing. While she finds it essential in her day-to-day life to have that meal plan, my workout schedule is actually of utmost importance. Without exercise, I start getting jittery and then grouchy and impatient and then downright unpleasant. It starts to interfere with my relationships: with myself, with my family, even with the food I choose to eat. Seriously. Exercise is way up on top of my list for a reason and it isn't just vanity! But in order for it to be there, I have to make choices about what won't be there. And that's where things get a little screwy sometimes because my instincts (hyped up on a dose of society) are yelling from the sidelines that I can do it all if I just move faster, dig deeper, give it my everything. That when another family needs a music teacher I can somehow find more time in the day to fit them in. That when another volunteer position opens, when the church needs something, when a friend is struggling, I can be the one to show up. And so I should.


Really, this rationale is just crazy. No one can do it all. Working faster is not always the answer. (Just take another look at our dinner plates!) No one can fix everything nor be everything to everyone and if we try, we put our own lives out of balance. Add more students? Sure, at the risk of neglecting my own kids. Fill another position at church or in the community? Even God would probably frown down on that one currently. Making hard choices? Becoming more intentional? Now we're talking!

Do you ever find things getting out of balance? Do you try to do it all? Is prioritizing difficult, mainly because you forgot how to say no? Do you move from one thing to the next at the speed of light? Are things getting jumbled and broken? (Maybe that brokenness isn't in your plates and knives. Maybe it is hiding in your relationships. Maybe it shows up in clutter or disorganization. Maybe it rears its face in a chronic health issue that needs addressing.....in weight gain, stress, depression, loneliness, dependency, forgetfulness. The list is never ending....)

Doing the right thing(s) involves making hard choices. Choices that say, "Yes, I could do that; yes, I could help; yes, I could but no, I can't do that right now without sacrificing something of importance." 

Think about it, what are you sacrificing right now? And for what?

(Ok, I just have to stop here and say, I do know a handful of people whose lives seem so perfectly balanced that they really don't need to read on. But, then again, sometimes these things creep up on us when we least expect it. Maybe we all need a good reminder!)


Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 1

"Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things." --Steven Covey

Oh why, Mr. Covey, why? Why do you challenge us so?

How many of us fill our lives with more and more and more, doing everything as quickly as we can just so that we can get on with the next thing? I know I fall into this category more often than I'd like to admit. I mean, in the last fifteen minutes I swept and mopped the floor (while dragging a towel with one foot in order to dry it at the same time), changed and fed the baby, put him to sleep while the other kids "helped mop," transferred the laundry into the dryer, got the three middle kids ready for bed, said their prayers, set out their school clothes, went back up to quiet them down (twice) then tidied their bathroom, and all the while I have been back and forth writing this blog. Sound familiar? Well, I don't know about you, but I need to take some recovery time just thinking about it!

And in that hurried pace, while we do get a lot done, we often fail to prioritize correctly. We often find that things don't go as smoothly as they could because we do the wrong things, or at least, we do things in the wrong order. If we don't take time to pause and think (asking what the end goal is and what needs to get done right now in order to get there) and plan out a path (perhaps getting input from our significant others when our brains boycott the efforts....and in my case getting that input before I realize I need it!), then we frantically go through the day, often making a mess of things and getting frustrated that we have so much to clean up or correct or replace (again) afterwards.

Is this quick pace of life worth it? Does it really get the results we want?

(If you are answering "well duh, no" maybe you'd like to write tomorrow's post....hee hee, just kidding! But I hope you will check in again tomorrow to see where we are going with this.)