27 October 2016

Another Day in Germany...

Another Throwback Thursday!

I guess if we have enough long layovers here, I will be able to speak collectively about my "week" in Germany.
Day 1, December 2010. Day 2, July 2015.

We went back to Mainz because we missed the Gutenberg Museum the last time around and because we also wanted to see what it looks like not covered in snow and Christmas decor.

We chose a 12 hour layover on purpose in order to make the most of the trek around the globe. Even though extra time makes the trip longer, it actually can make it better as well. Our first flight was overnight from Orlando to Frankfurt. We spent all day outside the airport, stretching our legs, seeing some sites, and staying awake. By the time the next long haul came to take us to Asia, we were ready for the flight and the kids slept great on the plane. Even if you can't afford a long stopover vacation, see if you can move flight times around so airport fever won't over take you. I would MUCH rather spend 12 hours shuffling in and out of an airport and onto a train, even with 5 little people in tow, than say, spending 4 hours in an airport trying to keep them entertained. It's not always possible, but it's always worth a try!

Because remember: It only counts if you leave the airport.

It's still lovely. (see this same square at Christmastime)

And the museum with it's ridiculously old and gorgeous Gutenberg bibles on display (along with other old books...like St. Augustine's work on the trinity!) had my history geek-o-meter in the red zone.

Plus some gelato and a cool fountain to splash in on a warm summer day after a long plane ride, is tops as far as traveling with little people goes.

Maybe next time it will be Spring or Fall! 

20 October 2016

Mainz, Germany (in a day)

Full-tilt Throwback Thursday.

December 2010 we were headed to Malaysia from Florida and our route was through Frankfurt, Germany.

These are cracking me up! Only two children and, ahem, before Anthony started running. These were also taken before we got our "big" camera. There is no "lack" however when I look at these. That was a fun day!

When travel itineraries hand you Europe, you make long layovers out of it.

We had never been to Europe so even just a few hours around the FREEZING cold streets of the lovely city of Mainz was worth it!

Other than being woefully underlayered for the chill, the public transportation was easy enough to figure out and the cheer of authentic German Christmas markets made our day out quite lovely.

This trip was actually when Anthony upped the interest on photography and video editing. He's come a long way, but here is a video we made of our last night in Florida with family and friends, our day in Germany, and landing back in Malaysia.

Going Back from Anthony Rivers on Vimeo.

30 September 2016

Five Children, One Bedroom

So... about me not ever updating the blog.

See, what had happened is that I'm so used to living here that I forget what is supposed to appeal to the outside world. What parts can and should I share?

Those are actually huge questions. So I can, and do, bury them under a pile of seven people's laundry.

Do you want to see pictures from our trip to Bali?
How bout the roti place we go to on Saturday mornings?
Do you even know what roti is? Would you care if I told you?

You get me? So. Sorry about the long pauses between posts.

Here's one I think you may find interesting:

We put all five of our children in one bedroom.

Ages 1 year through 8 years. Boys and girls. Same room.

I'm not saying it's revolutionary, but it does bring up an answer to an oft-asked question...

"How do you do it?" (I assume they mean raise 5 kids and keep my sanity)

At this point, the answer is, "Sleep is important." Its that simple.

If you can get children to sleep through the night, I'm convinced it would solve like 1000% of parenting anxieties...at least in parenting little ones.

And that's what we've got a whole lot of around here. Little people. They are fantastic and are also still young enough that seeing them sleeping in their beds is still the sweetest part of their fantasticness.

We start young at letting them learn to go back to sleep on their own. If you'd like details I can explain further if you leave a comment.

I realize there are many many deeply held beliefs about sleep. I live smack dab in the middle of a culture where kids sleeping in their own beds and not with parents or in parents' rooms is not the norm, I know the opposing views. I get told differing views.

I do not care.

Sleep is important. My sleep. Their sleep. Our sleep. Everyone's sleep.
Parenting is way easier when you get your Zzzz's. (do NOT look at the crooked pictures. It's a kids' room! Just be glad I got them to clean under their beds before taking the pictures and that we didn't zoom in on the boogers on the walls.)

For clarification, they are in the "master" bedroom in our house. We decided we didn't need the big room and that these last few years are the only chance we'd ever have if we wanted them to all share a room.

But I promise we still the masters round here.

Now on to the benefits that I wasn't expecting.

First, there's the shared responsibility of cleaning the room. They all help. Which is nice.
Then there's the extra guest bedroom that is always freed up. Also nice.

Only one air conditioner to run at night in a city with ridiculous electric prices. A plus. 

Bath time and bed time and getting ready times are a bit more contained because they're all in a central location. (I know. I want a matching rug in front of the wardrobes too. Tell that to the expensive import store that doubled the price when I went back to get the matching one!)

When we tuck them in at night they're all there together. Family prayers, reading aloud, and just being together one last time before sleep every night is a great conclusion to each day.

And lastly there has been so much sibling bonding. Mostly in the form of the older kids giving some sort of comfort to the younger ones. We've found them all in differing beds in the mornings and the reasons given are usually in the, "Birdie was scared." or "I was hot in my bed." or "Isaiah said I could sleep up there with him." Friendship and bargaining and comfort and living life together. It's quite adorable.

It's not all perfect and it won't keep forever. But I am so glad we've done it this way.

09 April 2016

Death Cake: Grandmother and a Recipe

Grandmother's living room circa 1955 and circa 2016
"I had a casserole ready for dinner and just decided to go ahead and take it over there. When I got to the house, there were no other cars there so I thought for sure, this time I had beat her to it." said Mrs. Cindy to me one Sunday morning before church started. "And when I walked in the kitchen, there was her Death Cake! Already there! He just died last night!" and she laughed. She wasn't laughing at the family who had just lost a loved one. No, she was laughing at the seeming impossible task of beating her friend, my Grandmother, Ernestine, to a grieving family's home with food.


That's actually what we all had to call her. In her thick Southern US accent she'd say, "I'll not have any of y'all be embarrassed by what you call me. I was SO embarrassed to say 'Big Mama' in front of my friends when I was younger." I never did tell her that my friends actually thought "Grandmother" was a bit odd and so her plan to save me from embarrassment didn't really come off like she had hoped.

2012 Nearly all the Great-Grands. (2 of mine were not yet born)
 But back to the Death Cake.

It's a simple recipe. One Grandmother would mix up in batches, bake and freeze. Then pop one out of the freezer and ice it whenever she needed to take a food item somewhere like a shower, church potluck, or most famously, to the home of a grieving family in our community.

It's how the Death Cake got it's name.

Like lightning that scrumptious yellow cake would show up on your doorstep in her hands. She was so consistent in this that somewhere along the line the cake got a moniker it couldn't shake. She'd make like she wanted us to stop calling it that, but I think she thought it was funny. Her act of being dedicated to those around her. Loving and coming alongside in the saddest of moments. Faithfully.
Family on her 88th Birthday. She died a few days before her 89th.

As I write this I'm confounded and proud all at once. The woman did not shy away from a grief-stricken soul. She wasn't scared. This woman who literally lived in the same small town her entire 89 years because she didn't like to travel ('cept for that one time my Granddaddy talked her into going to Hawaii) didn't blink when it came to deathbeds. And for that I'm amazed and love her all the more.

So when my sister was with her on Grandmother's own deathbed, it didn't surprise me to hear that she was ready to go. Unafraid. After a coughing fit she looked up at my sister and said, "I just wanna fly away!" She was ready to meet her Lord.


Sitting on the edge of her lifetime, looking out in hope, sure that relief was coming.

Granted, yes, she was a frail, elderly woman. But when I think about the condition of her soul, it had only grown stronger through her almost 9 decades. So many many days she put her feet in front of the other and walked through joy, and laughter and pain and loss while constantly turning to her Bible to hear from her Friend and King. So much life lived. So much proof to my watching eyes that the grandest of lives are the ones lived with hope that does not fade. Hope makes a difference and she was thankful for it.

February 2016
And I am so thankful for her. For raising my dad to be the incredible man he is. For having the kind of home that was appealing to my teenaged mom when she went for dinner while my parents were dating. My mom has told me at one point she had to ask herself if she was attracted to my dad for him or for his family. I want my family to have a dinner table like that. I want to live so faithfully that people do not hesitate to associate me with the God I claim to love. His presence evident in my life. I could go on and on (my oldest son Isaac just came in and found me crying. After I explained and told him about how Grandmother's funeral was so full that not everyone could fit inside the church and how I wanted to be like her in how much she loved people and loved Jesus...he told me his own story about a Lego invention he had built and took out to show her last year when we were in Florida and how she loved it...and now I'm REALLY crying...)

With Isaac, 2012
Instead, I'll share with you her Death Cake recipe. It's not a family secret, but it is a family treasure, and it's the kind that's best when shared.  (Sorry, international-developing-country-dwelling friends... it calls for Cool Whip, plus other canned items. I have plans to take a cooler with me on my next trip to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and get a couple containers. I'll share some Death Cake if you come stay with me!)

Recipe in Grandmother's hand. Not super neat but so familiar all the same. One Christmas I, Sharon, got a lazer tag game and my cousin Shawn got some Care Bear Roller skates. She started adding our middle names to her Christmas presents after that.
My sister and cousins nearly done frosting a (doubled) Death Cake shortly after her death last month

Pineapple Cake, Affectionately known As Death Cake

4 Eggs
1/2 Cup Crisco Oil (Vegetable Oil)
1 can mandarin oranges
1 box of Duncan Hines yellow butter cake mix (probably any yellow cake mix would work)

Mix together, pour into 2 greased cake pans, bake @ 350F/180C for 25 minutes (3 cake pans if you double the recipe)

1 Can crushed pineapples
Mix in 2 packs of vanilla instant pudding.
Mix in 1, 8oz tub of Cool Whip

26 February 2016

For the Love of 35...

It's my birthday!
It's also my super-handsome hubby's birthday. We do EVERYTHING together. (kidding, I will NOT make him coffee)

I recently finished a book called For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. My friend Bridgette gave it to me- Bridgette's name is in the back of the book AND she went to Jen's house. So Kevin Bacon rules, I'm only one removed from Jen. More about Bridgette later.  The book is an hilarious, encouraging book and I read it quickly- which are pretty much my favorite things about any book (unless it's Harry Potter. #Ravenclaw4Eva)  

Jen Hatmaker is incredibly relatable...or, at least, I relate to her.

She has several chapters in the book that sort of spurred this blogpost. One on turning 40, several on giving people a break, emphasis on loving others well, and encouragement to do well with whatever it is you do.

And y'all. I talk. A lot. Anyone who's ever met me knows this. The quieter YOU are the more keenly you've felt this given my penchant for filling in the quiet spaces across a table or in a coffee shop.

So here we are. I turn 35 today. I like to talk. And today I'm gonna talk about my friends. Because they fill me up and I want to make sure they know that.

***DISCLAIMER*** If you do not find your name in this blogpost it has nothing to do with me not loving you.*** If you want to feel love, I would encourage you to write your OWN notes and (whether you include me or not HA!) see if it doesn't make you feel like you've been dunked in a big pot of grateful soup. There's just no way to cover everyone. This was the one thing holding me back from writing this that I might hurt someone by omission. But as Jen emphasizes in her chapter on turning 40, you own you better by the time you're 40. And even though I'm 5 years shy, I just want to own these notes to the ones here. Much love to everyone else who came and by golly I hope some of you turn around and speak love to others.

This is gonna be long. But I don't even care. It's my birthday. So there.

First. Family.

Heather Ann (aka-Heathas) I just love you. I never ever get tired of being around you or all of your people. I am SO glad you and Zach went for the 4 kids thing. Makes my 5 seem like we were both prewired for crazy because instead of "And my sister has 2" I say "and my sister has 4." See? Just one off from Crazy, Level: 5.  I love that you are learning Spanish and Interior Design. Not sure why God dumped EVERY ONE of the musical genes in our pool into your DNA code, but I could never be jealous of the way you give your voice and music back to the Lord. Your heart for people and readiness to love others makes me wanna be like you (even though I'll never be as old as you. Hanging on to my gray hair and those 20months that separate us like a grandma and her pantyhose.) Speaking of old, we are gonna never need medicine when we're old and widows and live together because laughter is the best medicine. And sister, you keep me doubled over.

Mama- The older I get the more I realize I am like you. And not because of our obsession with green grass and that I talk way too much in church like you; I remain confounded that I did NOT inherit your ability to teach people. Particularly small people. So glad you're coming for a month because all 5 need tutoring. I have more blind spots than I realize (hence, a blindspot) but I like to think that I see potential in people and aren't scared of hard things or loving difficult people and I think I watched you to gain some of that fearlessness. I may like curry more than you now, but I watched you down that pumpkin soup in Trinidad because you loved those people and it made a difference. Thanks for putting up with me and for putting me in the 3rd grade class you did because you thought the teacher would appreciate my "creative messes." You and I know it made a huge difference...possibly even changing the skin color of your grandchildren...that now crawl around my creatively messy craft room. (and by "craft room" I of course mean "my house.")

  Mom- Goodness where do I start? First thank you dearly for that handsome son of yours that you managed to birth ON my birthday one year BEFORE my birthday. You truly are one of the best gift-givers ever! How can I top a husband for a birthday gift? Never. I should just quit now. It stands as the greatest. The Lord has taught me so much through our relationship and I come out grateful every time. I'm grateful to have rejoiced with you and wept with you. You could let the distance on earth keep us at a distance from your heart, but you don't and that is just huge. I forgot to thank my mom for this too, but thank you SO much for supporting our life. For seeing stopovers and 30 hour trips just to get to our front door as an adventure and not an impossibility. Its made a huge difference for us and the kids. We love you forever. Oh...and thanks in particular for those Puccio genes you passed to Ivy. That kid is ten kinds of cute running around with her Grandma's nose. 

Jennifer- I have no clue if you know that I think this about you (but, duh, it's why I'm writing this kind of stuff) but I find it absolutely incredible that just 11 months after the Lord took my little sister home to heaven, he effortlessly brought another sister into my life. Not that you are a substitute, but you and your kids are living breathing proof that God is gracious and good if we'll look to him and be thankful- even in the midst of our sorrow. I wish every time that I had more time with you. You are as easy to be around as your brother and I keep hoping that somehow that ease of personality will somehow rub off on me...no? Keep hard at it Mama. Kyle and Katie are rockin' kids and much of that is due to you and your fierce love for them. Love you seester!

Michelle- In every way you are family. You cry way too much and I ADORE that about you. You embraced my kids and never blinked. Your love for all "your kids" and every person you've pulled through your door and around your kitchen table astounds and humbles and teaches me. You may not be "blood" but we all know there are more ways to family than blood.

Martha- Every time I'm with you I am grateful that I have even a smidge of proper upbringing. You know so many things about being proper and are so smart and so wise that I keep you close, hoping all of that will become part of me by osmosis. Your girls are darling- even more so in how individually God created each of them- and I hope hope hope that the continents between us won't affect Isaac and Lizzie being the closest cousins in age or Birdie and Mary Grace being best cousin friends. Thanks for loving my cousin. I geek out when I think about how perfectly suited you are for each other. BTW- our day of Mennonite quilt shows and homemade pie might be one of my favorite memories ever. EVER.

Onto the friends- These might be shorter. We'll have to see.
I'll start on this continent (ok. dividing it by continents probably means it won't be short. I don't even care y'all!)

Angie- You are just the best. You listen and you let me decorate your house and you love my kids and you let me love your kids. "Work" relationships are some of the hardest around and for the thousandth time, I'm SO grateful that you are funny and not weird or hard to deal with. Seriously. You eat my Christmas duck and sit there for the entire length of our pedicures while it takes me that long to choose a color...and you never complain. (at least to my face) Even when my latest antics involve getting you to be a cheerleading coach with me. (It'll be fun. Promise.)

 Hayley- Your constant friendship- despite the fact that my hand phone NEVER works...(I currently can't find part of it after Ira threw it on the floor and I'm not even joking and you totally know I'm not) and you have to send me messages through fb messenger- is such a bright spot in my world. I am WAY too excited about your babies going to school with mine next year. I love that God brought you into my life from that southern tip of Africa. Your garden, your books being published, your knowledge and passion of the rules of rugby... I don't feel dumber around you because of your accomplishments, I feel grateful and inspired. Please start a horse riding club at school...though I am a farm girl, my kids have a much better chance at learning that from you. (BTW- I want to suscribe to that aloe heat gel you gave me. I'll let you know when the bottle is getting low.)

Jenny, Sherin, and Viv- Am I allowed to group you? (Yes. My blog post, my rules.) The fact that you're from 3 different continents doesn't stop me in the least from grouping you either. I love you individually, of course... but in my soul I know that the Lord brought each of us from our corners of the globe to be a part of each others' lives. I see all of your families and I think, "They give my kids a run for their money on the 'Cutest kids Ever' title." And it has everything to do with their Mamas. In your own circles you ladies are the Light of the World and Cities on Hills. Each of you has individually and collectively challenged my view of how it is we are to go about influencing the world in the name of Jesus. I don't want any of your giftings or talents -though they are enviable- I just want you, every one of you, in my world, always. I get hives when I consider the expat existence and thinking of you ladies separate from here. We say it like a broken record, but I need more coffee with y'all. I laugh so much and love so much around a table with you. (y'all should all move to my side of town...just sayin') Count on me to be the one praying for staying power. And if you move, I'm gonna bring my whole tribe with me and not even apologize for it when I stay in your homes. Love you!

Jodie- When I think of things that add color to my world, you are on my list friend. You are so kind and so laid back... and how you pair that with the deep passion I sense in you befuddles me. You've seen my behavior around a card table and still talk to me. Why? (don't answer that...don't even ask yourself that) Thank you for being a creative friend. I think we both know that I don't really care as much as I let on about the fingerpaint on my white kitchen chairs, the silly string still stuck to the outside of my house, or the millions of tiny floating styrofoam balls that litter my yard from your "Christmas gift." ... how could I lament the affects of having such a friendship as yours? I BROKE YOUR SEWING MACHINE and have kept it for like over 6 months and yet you still write me and ask about my life with all patience and gentleness. Sometimes when people stare at me carrying my black baby through the grocery store, knowing you are doing the same- in Asia- is enough to get me through the checkout line and not deck the kid who asks ridiculously inappropriate questions.
How I landed you as a friend is surely the Lord's doing and I am grateful. In your next house you can count on my help to washi-tape your walls. 

Anna- I want to be like you so much. Probably because you remind me so much of Jesus. (And you're rolling your eyes and thinking of your shortcomings right now while reading this I just know it.)  But I stand my ground. You encourage me in a dozen ways with just a facebook picture of your family. And the fact that you totally took me up on my offer to stay at my house- TWICE -with your family of (then) 5 kids means the world to me. You and yours and me and mine around one large- very very large- table is enough to give me all the feels. I want to be on the manuscript-reading-team of your book when you write it and I also want a signed copy. Come back and stay at my house ASAP. #15UnderOneRoof

April- Could I have had babies in Asia without you? No. No I couldn't. Your fierce determination to make things work and the effort and thoughtfulness you put into your parenting- and your life in general- make me up my game every time I think of it. I needed a strong friend to navigate this continent and whether or not you think it, God gave me you. Not laying eyes on you since your youngest was born doesn't even matter. You are my people and I cannot wait for you to interpret for us when we come visit you...I'm counting on you getting us a discount at the Great Wall (do you have to pay for that?) 

Shana- So. Much. Sass. I vacillate between wanting you to move to my city and keeping our in-person contact to once a year. I think my dining table would greatly benefit from you and yours sitting around it, but I know you would be able to bring your A-game with the wittiness and I just don't think I have the sustainability to keep up if it's more than once or twice a year. Why I wrote YOU to get thoughts on having "one more biological" (which meant a total of 5 kids) to the lady who says without blinking, "We've always said 6" must mean I have lost my ever-lovin'-mind. I hope George and Ivy will live long and happy together seeing as how she can attribute her existence to your advice (you are more than welcome to hang that over her head for as long as they both shall live). Thanks for your faith- it's worn off on me and I am grateful. Keep at the nit-picking, kiddo. (I mean lice. Not nagging. But you knew that)

Shazrina- Do you even know that you are one of the reasons I moved to Malaysia? Your friendship means the world to me and it has fundamentally changed my perspective on the world. I can be a "western Christian" girl AND live in a majority Muslim country AND love it. We prove all the haters wrong, ye ke? Thanks for taking me on as a friend all those years ago. Thanks for coming to see my baby in the hospital and including me in your adorable growing family AND in your extended family. Seeing the way you "grown kids" have fun together makes me excited about the years to come when my Littles get Big. Love you forever, friend.

...and making my way part way around the world....

Andie- I don't even care that I haven't seen your face in nearly 2 years. I'm determined to find property in Yarm and drink tea (possibly even warm tea) and have a great conversation with you every day if its the last thing I do. By the time we're 70 I think we could hash out the world's problems...maybe even before then? You are just something else, friend. I'm sitting here amazed at how not one woman listed so far is like another...and I think you would be similarly amazed and thankful and that's why I love you.  Stuff about little, big things that matter to life and faith and not ignoring them or undervaluing them... plus a good bit of Yanks and Brits comparisons... you opened your heart and home and family to us and it was just so easy to reciprocate. Mark your calendar for 2019... you bring the girls and Dom to Disney (you never age out of Disney, that's the brilliance of it) and I'll try not to start speaking with a British accent as we spend loads of time together. Miss you friend. You can count on me cheering you and yours on from wherever me and mine are.

...and now across the pond to 'merica....

Julia Roberts- We go back the farthest I think. I think a novel written about our small friendship would be a lovely thing to read- not super exciting necessarily, but when I step back and look at the whole of it (and we're not even done!) I see the Lord's hand keeping our hearts within range of each other and it moves me. If our one day at Disney (6 years ago, to the day!) together sans kids, and that week in Ecuador is any indication, we need to plan a joint family vacation. I'm already laughing about jokes Paul and Anthony haven't even made yet! Not having you and yours regularly around my table here is one of those things that makes me saddest if I think of it too long. So when you DO walk through my door and you have that crazy-eyed "I've-just-been-on-a-plane-for-far-too-long-somebody-get-me-a-xanax" look on your face, my world will fall together a little better then. Keep being that type of woman who people come to for help. I know it's exhausting, but it is a gift and you are getting better and wiser at it. People know you love them and they're not afraid to show their true selves to you...warts and all. I want people to know I love them like that and watching y'all lean in to people's hurt teaches me loads- plus, if/when my world ever comes crashing down, I know who I'm calling. #EntradaSinGratis

Cara Jane Hill- I think I wonder in awe at how mature you've been since the day I met you.  I can't put my finger on why I love you so much- maybe it's too many things? All I know is your soul feels old and comfortable to me, like how Grandma's pearls are meaningful and gorgeous and hold their value always- that's the image our friendship is in my mind (with a heavy side of good food and a shared appreciation of hours in a dentist's chair as children/teens/adults) and I'm surprised we only met in college because it feels longer than that. You are smart and sassy and tender and compassionate all at once. I am THRILLED about your new husband. You know this, but please, bring him to our house. (You get to share a room this time! Yesss.) I will even let you make my children pb&j's that defy the laws of physics by how much each slice can hold...and just giggle along with you knowing we're both thinking the same thing. Love you forever Beefa.

Danielle- Funny how you think you're just trying to find someone to help pay the rent and not be a psychopath in the next room... and you come out with one of the sweetest friendships ever! There was no chance we couldn't bond over that many rolls of toilet paper in our trees over a 3 year time frame. That's the trenches of friendship, I tell ya. You are one of the hardest workers I've ever known and it humbles me and makes me grateful for the chance to do what needs to be done...because that's what Danielle would do if she were here. And it's not even an issue as to if a Disney vacation is the best kind of vacation... we KNOW it is. 

Candi- (I refuse to call you Candice. I do not care how grown up you think you are.) How is it that beauty, brains, faith, and a sense of humor can be wrapped up into a package as lovely as you? What's our average in seeing each other? Once every 5.5 years? Does it change my love for you? Not a chance, friend. The thing is, I am nowhere NEAR as classy as you. And I don't even care because I am so sure of your love for me. Your ability to put your whole heart into loving who you love is why I take my place in your heart readily and give you a spot in mine. And I will never ever get over how similar your life is to the movie Legally Blonde. It only makes you more dear. Thanks for being you.

Olga, Kim, and Julia Roberts- Another group because you are yet, another group in my heart. I love you collectively as much as I love you individually. The way you use your unique individual gifts makes the lot of you my favorites. Maybe we can ask God to put our seats near each other in heaven? I keep trying to write the next sentence but I just keep laughing. There's at least a thousand thoughts about all of you and I can't put even one of them down because the next one is funnier...and we don't even live in the same time zone most of the time...heck, we don't live in the same day half the time! I don't get a lot of time with you, but it's awesome when I do. Tonight for my birthday to have you three at my table eating all my chocolate chip cookies and bringing up Nacho Libre lines at all the exact right moments would have meant everything to me. (Great. Now I'm crying. Thanks a lot.)  Please come see me. Just sayin'.

Lacy- God's grace and the way his kingdom works makes complete and total sense when I'm near you. I do not care a lick how much you can or can't remember about specific bible passages (or that it gets on your nerves that you can't remember) because you love me. And you love others. And you love the Lord. And by my reckoning, loving God and loving others is the whole kit and caboodle and you've got it down. I wish you could come and sit in front of me at our church here. We would laugh and get in trouble because this sanctuary is much smaller than Bowling Green and everyone would hear us. Just know friend, that every time I tweeze those chin hairs out in the car line in Malaysia that I am thinking of you. And most of the time I laugh....really hard...about you getting jalapeno oil on your face that one time when you had to get out of the car line. I love every moment when I see you and heaven is gonna be a BLAST, isn't it?!!

- This post is your fault, you know. (thanks for the book! Do I pretend that hand-written signed "Merry Christmas! Love Jen" in the front cover is really from her to me? Yes. Maybe I do.) I'm not sure when you found your way deep in my heart but here you are. It runs deeper than you satisfying my need for home improvement projects and letting me live vicariously through your Betsy-the-House projects. You are wise and lovely beyond your years dear. You have so much common sense. Not just with money or DIY furniture paint color choices. But with life and faith and how the two come together. This world is losing its mind and God is good to have given me you as a friend. I am hopeful with you that your family photos will be as varied as ours are... you letting God build your family helps me stand firmer on how he built mine. In general I just feel less crazy when I'm around you and how could I not love you for that? #GrayWalls4Eva

Ok. If I don't publish this thing now, it won't even register as being written on my birthday. I don't even care that I don't have a picture on this one. The images of you ladies and memories and feelings and laughter and crying and more laughter filled my mind enough as I wrote it. Thanks for making my birthday awesome- and for letting me talk your ears off through my blog.

Y'all are the best! xo-the Birthday Girl

23 January 2016


Christmas was good. As was New Year's. And now the red and green and twinkle lights in shopping malls are being replaced by red and gold and firecrackers as we move into Chinese New Year season.

**My crutch enabler pb&j maker Au Pair (like a nanny, but more French sounding) Stephanie returned as planned to the US in December. So my plan of attack for still getting things done around here mostly included making my kids step-up their helping game.

In those rare moments when I have time to have a train of thought that pushes past the next to-do items on my daily routine, I tend to think about the moment I'm in compared to the moments similar to it, that passed months (or years) ago.

"Wow, 6 months ago Ivy wasn't big enough to take her plate and cup to the sink after a meal. She looks like such a big little girl when she does it!"

I love when I see progress. I am amazed at time passing and relish that my children are growing and learning and changing. Lately I've been wondering if I need to concentrate more on things I can do to purposefully grow as well.

Cheering on a 2 year old using her chubby peanut butter covered fingers while she flushes the toilet and telling my 4 year old "You can do it!" as she concentrates on not sucking her thumb has made me wonder where I'm to go as, in just a few weeks, I finish off year 35. (As in I will turn 35. You don't count it 'til you've completed it. In most countries at least.)

Where's the progress in my life? What can I learn to do? To stop doing?

My kids? Some of its easy to see...

Like this one here now has FOUR top teeth. Including the middle ones.
When our Ira Bear smiles he doesn't show his top teeth. Hence the mom grab on the face.
He can also pull to standing and cruises around everything. (but this picture is funnier)

And this one here? (Meaning, Ivy)
Has been potty training for 24 days now and only wet the bed 4 times. We go all-out on potty training here at the Rivers household.

Mama ain't buying no more diapers. Ya gotta learn kid.  And this little girl is holding her own in the toilet game.

Was there an incident in the produce section by the bananas? Maybe.
But have the expensive imported Skittles worked wonders otherwise? Absolutely.

Anyone who is just realizing that maybe their 4 year old daughter is sensory seeking, raise your hand.
{raises hand}
It's really just with food, and maybe there's something cultural to it, but progress is being made in getting this one to use utensils when she eats. (unless its french fries, nuggets, roti, pizza, or the like).
Slow painful progress, but she's trying. (I think) (and really, I'm trying to grow my hair out. I promise I didn't not learn my lesson in 3rd grade when I got bangs cut. It's a phase I hope to soon grow past!)

If you want to see a Star Student, feast your eyes...
This one here has been "consistently excelling in all he does." And if you think for a second that a piece of paper with a star on it is on par with "My child was student of the week...." bumper stickers back in the day (do they still have those?)  Then you would be overlooking him nearly mastering the "TH" sound in speech therapy, learning to READ, trying out the butterfly stroke in swimming, cleaning his own bathroom, AND making an effort to put others first at the dinner table. (Heaven help me when everybody wants to go first!) He can also count to 100. Boom. Proud as punch, I am. And he is too. Rightly so.

Progress in droves for this one (again, not the Daddy one, though I do adore him).
Isaac has been stretching his helpful legs lately. This kid has been working on calming himself down and also on what it means to be a contributing member of his family. Do I miss Au Pair Stephanie? YES! (hello, adult conversation all day!) But the trade to teach this one how to clean his own bathroom and make the garden beds look nice by weeding them has been worth the effort. He's so proud of himself and doesn't shy away from the hard work. Also a Star Student since the new year started "for being principled with the quality of work he produces in class."

I'm grateful for all I see in those around me and I want to be encouraged by it in more than just a "that's great for them!" sort of way.

Why not me?

I'm looking intently at what will progress in my life in 2016. Yes, new challenges in motherhood count as progress. But aside from the motherhood and marriage parts, I'm asking myself, "By December, what progress will I see?"

I'm a bit slow on the whole New Year's resolution thing. But I come 'round. And as a Christian I'm trying to see what sorts of things God is doing around me or placing in my heart. Even if on the surface they don't seem like "purely religious" ventures. If the Lord has gifted or enabled me to do something, I want to receive the opportunity as being from him and then do it as unto him.

So when the occasional long quiet moment occurs the list of possibilities starts:
Try something new sewing? What if this is the year I start a big heirloom worthy project?

Go back to school? Online programs? What would I like to learn? Doctor? Social worker? Business? Teacher? (nah, probably not teacher)
More Language study? A different language? I've always wanted to learn Chinese. French sounds so fun. But maybe I need Spanish?
Start something that flows from my faith in God? Bible study? Outreach to refugees?

Add a new cooking technique? Maybe get Julia Child's French cooking book? What if in 5 years I'm like a chef or something?
Start writing a book? Adoption related? Adventure fiction? Adoption adventure fiction?
Start that Booster club at school? Bring Cheerleading to my corner of Southeast Asia?

Sure, these moments are tempered with poopy diapers, (It's now 18 months until we will be done with diapers for FOREVER. But who's counting?)  practicing spelling words, and teaching proper spoon holding instead of eating sweet potato casserole with fingers.

But I think... "If I just pick one. And really try it. I wonder...." 

Hope your 2016 is off and running! 

**child in the photo on the far left is not ours. He's a neighbor and classmate of Isaac's. Clarification in case you thought you missed something REALLY big since the last blogpost.