March 7, 2014

that time I deleted the Facebook app from my phone

Posted in God, life at 10:53 pm by alison

Wednesday morning I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

I’d been contemplating doing so for a while and was pretty sure it would be a good idea, but I kept putting it off. The thought had popped into my head that Lent was approaching, and if I didn’t think of something else to give up for Lent prior to its commencement, I could always delete the Facebook app then. That thought was followed pretty quickly by the thought that I should probably think about it more (perhaps try to come up with something else?!), but I remember nothing more from that train of thought – I suspect one of the small people with whom I live and spend every waking moment may have interrupted it at that point :)

So without my giving the matter much more thought, Lent arrived on Wednesday morning, and I decided to take a chance and delete the app.

The two things that stood out to me as about the Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter, during my childhood were: (1) the priest at our Episcopalian church wore purple vestments, and I loved that – so much richer, more beautiful than the standard green; and (2) some of my friends – primarily those raised in the Catholic tradition – had to choose something to give up for Lent. I was glad I didn’t have to do that.

And here I am, years later, committed to a phone-sans-Facebook for the next 37 days.

I don’t feel bound by the traditional practice of giving up something for Lent. But 12+ years into this journey of faith to which I’ve committed myself, living a life of being pulled in multiple directions each day and finding it easy to become distracted from what is truly important, I take comfort in the rhythms of spiritual life in which hundreds and thousands of saints have walked before me. I want to live in light of the reality that Easter Sunday is the climax of the year, the triumph of Life over death, the celebration of Christ’s victory in all and over all…and I want to acknowledge that in more than just planning a menu and outfits for the day itself. I want to be consciously anticipating that day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and His restoration of the opportunity for us to draw near to God Himself. Honoring the tradition of Lent is one way in which I can do that.

And in my small step toward Him, I am already seeing blessing.

I am less distracted, more present throughout the days with my girls. I am praying more throughout the day. And I am seeing myself more clearly. The first day, I was purely grateful for the blessing of that increased presence with what I was really doing. But yesterday and today? I crave the ability to pull up Facebook on my phone. After I turn off the alarm on my phone that wakes me in the morning, I instinctively reach my finger toward where the Facebook app used to be, and I am annoyed that I cannot scroll through my news feed before I get out of bed or interact with my family. When did a stream of brief updates from several hundred of my closest “friends” become more important than my husband and children? The girls and I return from our marathon morning of grocery shopping, and I find myself, from the bathroom, refereeing their impassioned argument over who would get to use the bench from their toy piano first (no, neither wanted to play with the toy piano, just the bench; yes, we own other actual toys), and I am itching to spend 5 minutes looking at Facebook. That sense of relational connection that comes without any corresponding expectation is so alluring. Since when do I prioritize relational comfortability over the opportunity to help my girls see themselves and their character and take advantage of these opportunities to learn and grow? In all of that, I am reminded of my need for a Savior, of my need for Good Friday and Easter. I look forward to the blessing of these coming weeks and to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and His triumph over sin and death and evil.

March 2, 2014

Snow (Ice) Day / Homemade Pizza Day!

Posted in family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 10:21 pm by alison

Our little Madeleine CaiQun loves pizza. She even requested it as her birthday meal last year. Unfortunately that attempt to go pseudo-homemade (with store-bought crust and ingredients but assembly at home) was not particularly appetizing. We’ll occasionally pick up a frozen pizza at the grocery store, but it’s very rare that we go out for pizza or order it to have here, so our poor child has primarily done without it for these last months. However, last weekend a friend gave me a pizza stone, and that combined with the realization that pizza dough had to be pretty simple to make in my bread machine (which is seriously one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – thank you again, Danny and Sharon!) was motivation enough for me to ask around and get some recipes and make an attempt at real homemade pizza.

The girls and I picked up some ingredients this week, and today seemed like the perfect day to give it a try. The combination of freezing rain overnight and a thin layer of snow thereafter meant that our church gathering for this morning was canceled. Unlike Wisconsin, where I was born and raised, Missouri possesses a lack of sufficient resources and an utter inability to cope with winter weather, so everything just shuts down. We really didn’t mind a day at home, though :)

We rolled out the dough…

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…and added some of our favorite toppings.

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And once it was finished…

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…we put it into the oven to bake.

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And of course, once it was done in the oven, we got to enjoy eating it together!

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It was definitely a success! I see many more homemade pizzas of different varieties in our future.

Days like today are a blessing. This is the stuff of life. We have grand moments of births and adoptions and other excitement, and those are amazing, but most of life is what happens in the day-to-day. Who we are in those moments is who we really are. How I spend the hours of my days at home, how I interact with my husband and kids – those choices and experiences are key. I’m thankful for days like today that are low-key and full of shared experiences with Matt and the girls.

March 1, 2014

Mama said there’ll be days like this…

Posted in family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 9:05 pm by alison

You may remember that I shared earlier this year that 2014 did not get off to the most auspicious start for us. That trend has, unfortunately, largely continued, though thankfully with nothing serious! Our area of the country seems to have been hard hit by stomach bugs this year, and my poor little Miranda girl attracts them like a magnet. She’s gone down a couple times, and I also had one pretty yucky day. Everyone except me has a cold right now, and with multiple little girls who have yet to learn such social graces as moving away from Mommy’s face if you’re about to explode in a coughing fit, it will be nothing short of miraculous if my body does not succumb, as well! However, the kicker – literally – is this: Matt had been wearing a large walking boot on his sprained ankle for several weeks, taking it off only at bedtime and leaving it near the bed to put on again in the morning. One night he got up to use the bathroom and accidentally kicked the boot…thereby breaking his toe! I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried :)

But the ankle – and the toe – are now healing well, and we are hopeful that we’re approaching the end of cold and flu season, and hopefully we’ll be fully recovered from all of our ailments soon :)

In the meantime, we’re making good use of these stay-at-home, cold-weather days. I’ve been reflecting recently on the blessing that our hours at home have been over the last year, as we’ve been growing together as a family of four. One day this week, I was working in the kitchen and listening to the sounds of my girls playing together in the other room, and as I listened, I knew I needed to wash my hands and grab my phone and go in there and attempt to capture the moment. They had combined blocks and kitchen toys and our chess set and to make up their own little game and were playing together beautifully.

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It’s obviously not the greatest picture, compositionally, but if you look past that, you can see my two girls, strangers to one another just over a year ago, immersed in a world they created for themselves, interacting together and enjoying their play. To this mommy’s eyes, it’s a beautiful sight! And in the midst of a week of runny noses, coughing fits, sleep deprivation for everyone, and some general crabbiness, I was reminded to stop and be thankful. What a blessing these days are – and not just when they’re going well. The hard moments, the moments of weariness and frustration, are stretching each of us, giving us opportunities to grow in grace and patience and understanding, and I’m so thankful for those. Working through those times is the way we get to the sweet times. But it’s such an encouragement to have these moments, too, getting to see evidence of the growth and transformation and hearts being knit together and love being shared.

February 18, 2014

One Year Ago Today…

Posted in adoption, family, God, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 11:21 pm by alison

One year ago today, we were in China, receiving our precious daughter, little Madeleine CaiQun. What a year it has been! I honestly have few words to describe it other than amazing. Looking back at her growth and transformation over the past year is an awesome privilege.

Look at this baby who joined our family a year ago!

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A year ago, at 2, she couldn’t walk in a straight line through the length of our hotel corridor, and she could run no more than a few steps at a time. She could put on shoes by herself but had no idea how to do a puzzle. She babbled a bit, and the director of her orphanage said she had a few Mandarin words, but she didn’t say anything our guides could recognize as actual words. She couldn’t sit through reading an entire book, unless it had actions to go along with it. She was tiny – nowhere near any growth curve for her age. In every way she seemed much more like a 15-month-old than a 2-year-old.

And now here we are, a year later. My girl has caught up like a rock star.

She runs. She jumps. She plays. She is a master at puzzles.

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She has thousands of English words, and I long ago stopped counting the length of her sentences – we’ve progressed to full-blown narratives. We read multiple books a day, every day, and she loves it.

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I’ve even started doing some workbook school stuff with her, much to her delight!

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I also took her in to see her pediatrician last week for a growth check, and she is officially on a growth curve – the 7th percentile! As I looked at her growth trajectory with her doctor, I vacillated between wanting to burst into tears and wanting to throw a party. She’s healthy. Here was an objective measure of her triumph, of our triumph. This girl who, a year ago, seemed like a mere baby in every respect, is now growing, learning, and developing. She’s beautiful and brilliant.

And God has granted us the weighty but ever so beautiful privilege of parenting this child. It is amazing – absolutely one of the biggest blessings of our lives. Adoption rocks.

Adding CaiQun to our family was a catalyst for transformation in her but also for transformation in the rest of us.

It was in China that Miranda became a big sister.

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But in these months home, she has truly stepped up into that role. She has realized in a whole new way that the world does not revolve around her, and she has a sweet built-in playmate and best friend. The girls have so incredibly much fun together, and they are learning some of the best things in life – kindness, helpfulness, love, and forgiveness – from one another.

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Her presence in our lives has forced Matt and me to re-evaluate our priorities and commitments, and we are in a better place and are better people for that. We’re more flexible and more fun. She brings so much laughter and joy to our lives.

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What a blessing she is to our entire family!

And we have all bonded together so well. We’ve worked at it, but it has been a pretty seamless process for all of us, and that’s been beautiful. CaiQun’s current personal narrative of her adoption story – obviously only partially based in the exact truth – is, “When I lived in China and I was in a hotel, I woke up in the bed, and I called out, ‘Mommy, mommy!’ Then Mommy and Daddy and jie jie got onto the airplane and came to China to get me!” We do talk about the details of how everything really unfolded, but I love that the central element of how she sees her story is that she called for her mommy, and her family responded and came to get her.

Matt and I are so thankful to have had this year as a family of four, and we are so thankful that our little Madeleine CaiQun is part of our family. And of course we’ve been celebrating today :)

The girls and I made cupcakes…

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…and Matt made Chinese dumplings!

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And then we all enjoyed them together :)

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Gotta love those blue cupcakes with pink frosting…MCQ’s choice, of course :)

It has been a good day, all in celebration of a great year :)

Matt is also extending the celebration by offering a number of his artworks at a significant discount, all priced in multiples of 18, at his etsy shop, so if any of you are interested in celebrating with us and obtaining some low-cost artwork, feel free to check it out :)

February 13, 2014

Art and Theology (as expressed by a 3-year-old)

Posted in family, God, life, Miranda Grace at 10:04 pm by alison

Life has been full these days! I’ll have some more updates coming soon, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you some thoughts on art and theology from Miranda Grace, age 3.5.

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“I made one huge flower to show how Jesus built the earth. I’m writing up to heaven with my picture. It’s a prayer. Mei mei, do you see how I made a big flower to show how Jesus made the earth? Do you see this one big flower bush? It’s not dead, because it’s green, and it wants to see how Jesus built the earth…” – Miranda Grace, age 3.5

February 1, 2014

Green Eggs and Ham

Posted in family, life, Miranda Grace at 10:43 pm by alison

We are a family of readers, and both of my girls are often creatures of habit in terms of the books they choose for us to read. One of their recent favorites, Miranda’s in particular, is Green Eggs and Ham. It was, therefore, not especially surprising that when I asked the girls one day if there were any meals they’d like for us to have soon, Miranda announced, without a moment’s hesitation, “Green eggs and ham!”

I don’t think I’m innately a super fun mom – I don’t do Pinterest, I routinely have to explain to nurses offering a choice of stickers that my girls have no idea who any of those characters are, and we’re much more likely to spend our Friday nights at local art shows than at any child-centered event. However, I figured if Miranda wanted green eggs and ham, that I could do :)

The girls helped me scramble some green eggs, and into the pan they went!

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We rounded out the meal with a bit of homemade bread, carrots, and pineapple and dug in!

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Unfortunately, the verdict was not especially positive. “I do not like them, Sam I am!”

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But we had fun giving it a try :)

January 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Posted in adoption, family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 7:10 pm by alison

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year celebration for the year of the horse!

When we decided to adopt a child from China, we committed to incorporating the rich culture of China into our lives, and one way in which we want to do that is for our family to celebrate Chinese New Year. As the girls get older, we hope to make our celebrations somewhat more culturally significant, but for now, we’ll stick with what the girls are really able to get into at their current ages.

Matt filled some red envelopes with new stickers and some money for each of the girls, and delight abounded :)

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Then we went out to our favorite local Chinese restaurant to enjoy some egg rolls, dumplings, and noodles – reminiscent of our time in China!

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Here’s Miranda rockin’ the chopsticks :)

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Matt and CaiQun were both intensely excited about the dumplings!

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But at heart, our Henan girl is a noodle-lover :)

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Happy New Year!

January 27, 2014

on marriage

Posted in family, life at 6:10 pm by alison

I read this blog post today, and it really resonated with me. She writes to both men and women, all in this vein,

“Ladies, before you were Mommy, you were his. Men, before you were Daddy, you were hers. Remember this. Hold on to this. Keep these words precious to you.”

One theme in Matt’s and my conversations over these past couple weeks has our collective gratitude for this precious time in our marriage. We have 2 kids but only 2. The cessation of nap times in our house means that, by and large, our girls are tucked into bed before 8:00 each night, leaving us with hours of time to ourselves before we need to sleep. And we’re saying no to a lot of things – a lot of very good things. Our ministry involvement is much more limited than it used to be – Matt is no longer an elder, and I no longer do much ministry outside of our family. We’re focusing on fewer relationships and aiming for depth instead of casting a wide net for breadth. We don’t attend every event at which it would be possible for us to be present; sometimes our physical presence would benefit no one. We’re not in the middle of an adoption process. There are absolutely things I miss about those stages in which we lived our lives differently. BUT – and this is a huge but – it was not always working, not well at least. And to a large degree, we are truly seeing that clearly only now, as additional distance has followed those months of transition. Technically, everything was fine, and nothing was really wrong, per se.

But now? Now that there’s space for it? Now we’re experiencing some sort of marriage revival. I don’t even know that we can call it a return to the first days of our marriage, as we spent only 2 months living in the same city after our wedding before Matt took off for grad school while I stayed behind for another 6 months to finish up my undergraduate degree, and we saw each other only on weekends. But whatever this is, it’s good :) We’re back to reading books together. We can text back and forth during his breaks from teaching. There are still parenting dilemmas and still rough days, but he’s with me in the parenting dilemmas. When I text him with a question or a problem or just to vent, I’m not one of many – I’m the one, and I need that. I need to know it. The other day after a rough morning and some (probably disproportionate) discouragement on my part, the doorbell rang a few minutes after he had departed for work, and there were flowers and a sweet card waiting for me on the front porch.

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We’re having more date nights, whether they entail going out for dinner (for which Matt actually got in touch with one of my friends and arranged childcare for us without my involvement one night this past weekend!) or just some time set aside for us to hang out on the couch together after the girls are in bed. We’re laughing together more. I find myself again looking forward to his return from work at the end of the day, not just so he can be another pair of hands in parenting, but so that I can see him again. The other night I actually noticed that he smelled nice. Our conversations are better – not just about logistics and how we can attempt to coordinate our schedules for the week but conversations with real depth and connection.

And in the midst of it, in the midst of all these changes in the context in which we’re living out our relationship and the changes in the choices we’re making and the ways we’re relating to each other, I find myself more in love with this man than ever and having more energy to love and care for our kiddos. At the end of the day, it’s not ten minutes of I-haven’t-been-alone-all-day-I-just-need-to-hear-myself-think time that I’m craving. I just want to fall into the arms of this guy again.

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Ten years into this thing called marriage, and I’d say it’s pretty amazing :)

January 25, 2014

Christmas 2013 – Time with Family

Posted in family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 10:35 pm by alison

I expect it goes without saying that a big reason we packed up and headed to Wisconsin for Christmas was to spend time with family. With all of our extended family living hours away, we don’t get to see anyone as much as we would like, so we take what time we can get, and we all enjoyed the time we had :)

There was time to read…

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…and time to make art.

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The girls also got to play outside in the snow with my mom and Matt and my brother David while the rest of us were in Green Bay, and they were delighted.

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I of course love seeing my girls enjoy themselves any time, but it was especially heart-warming to see that CaiQun had so much fun in the snow, since last year she’d loved looking at it through the window but had been pretty frightened of actually being in it. What a difference almost-a-year makes :)

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The girls and I and my dad made cut-out Christmas cookies – our family’s big Christmas tradition :)

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And later in the week we frosted them. Both of my girls continue to be completely enamored with Danny’s girlfriend Sharon, who was willing to help Miranda frost cookies while I teamed up with Madeleine CaiQun.

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We also got to see a lot of our extended family while we were in Wisconsin! I, unfortunately, didn’t take many pictures while we were at the party. One of my favorite parts of the evening, though, was that my Uncle Tom brought some old slides he had that had been passed down from my grandparents (here’s a photo of one of the slides of the two of them).

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I’ve been reading a series of novels lately whose main characters are young Catholic couples in the 1940s and 1950s – around the same time my grandparents would have been young adults – and that’s made me wonder more about what their lives were really like. I wish I’d had more time to know them as an adult. My grandmother passed away when I was 11 and my grandfather when I was in my early twenties, but reflecting on what I know of their lives now, I think they must have been remarkable people. For one thing, they had five children in six years – whew! And they were people of strong convictions and character – my Uncle Tom tells a story of going to Mass in the years after Vatican II, and the parish had a newer, younger and more liberal priest, who came down from the pulpit and was addressing the congregation more informally, and people started to stand up and object, and my grandfather stood up to say that he supported the priest. It’s nice to get opportunities like this to see photos and hear stories from my dad and his siblings about their lives and their parents’ lives.

Our celebrations on Christmas morning were also a success :)

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The girls received some stickers from my dad and ran around sticking them on everyone and everything through the entire gift-opening process :)

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One present of which both girls were quite jealous was the bathrobe that Sharon got for Danny, so a couple days after Christmas, some of us were at the mall, and Sharon bought these bathrobes for the girls, which they love. CaiQun still asks me regularly if she can wear her bathrobe over her clothes for the day.

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And even as our visit wound down, there was more time for reading and playing.

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Miranda even made up her own game – with my mom’s assistance – in which she would “feed the fish” by spooning water from a tupperware container in one side of the sink over to the drain on the other side of the sink (the fish were presumably in the drain). She was obsessed with it for days and thrilled that my mom would let her do it for half an hour (or more) at a time! I think that’s what grandmas are for :)

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Overall, it was a great trip filled with great time with family :)

January 19, 2014

Packers Game 2013!

Posted in family, life at 9:20 pm by alison

While in Wisconsin around Christmas time, I had the opportunity to go to my first ever pro football game, a home game for the Packers at Lambeau Field, no less. Others of my family, including Matt, have gone before, but their trips were generally during times that I was pregnant or nursing or, for some other reason, really was not able to join them. This time, though, Matt and my mom were around and willing to keep the girls, and my dad and brother Danny and his girlfriend Sharon were interested in going to the game – or at least willing to go in order to humor me, since I’d never gone. We debated – we knew it would likely be a bitterly cold day, and we knew Matt Flynn would probably be playing instead of Aaron Rodgers – but in the end we decided to make the trip.

I tried on layers at home before we left for Wisconsin to see what all I should pack to wear to the game.

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Then my mom provided more layers, as well as some hand-warmers, when we got to Wisconsin.

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There was a bit of a snow storm from Saturday evening through Sunday morning. None of us were sure how big the storm would be, so we had planned to leave at 9:00 a.m. for the 3:00 p.m. game. My dad was actually out Saturday night and saw that the snow was coming down pretty hard and thought perhaps we should leave right away to get on the road before it got worse, so he called Danny around 2:00 a.m. to ask if we wanted to leave then. Fortunately for all of us, I think, Danny didn’t hear his phone ring, and we just left the next morning as planned.

Once we arrived in Green Bay, we had a quick lunch, picked up our tickets, and then parked and bundled up. We walked around the area surrounding Lambeau field. Here are Danny and Sharon and I in front of the Packers’ practice field.

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And here my dad and I are standing with the statue of Vince Lombardi in front of Lambeau Field.

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We had pretty good tickets. We decided that if we were going to go and spend all the money required just for basic attendance, we might as well spend just a little bit more to get decent seats, so we were in row 18 around the 15 yard line.

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As the game went on, it began to snow!

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It was definitely cold, but really, with all our layers, it didn’t bother us all that much. Sharon and I wore 4 pairs of pants in addition to snow pants :) My feet were the only part of me that really got cold…my boots, which have always been sufficiently warm and waterproof in the past, were not fully waterproof and totally warm when subjected to the test of standing in slush for hours on end. As the designated driver for our trip home, I was worried I’d need to stop and buy new shoes just to drive home at all comfortably, but once we got walking again, my toes started warm up, and I was fine :)

In the end, the Packers lost, but we were in the game the whole time, even without Aaron Rodgers. And regardless, really it was a great experience. Actually being at the game offered an entirely different perspective than watching it on television, and it was fun to get to be there in person and experience it all with my family. I’m really glad I got the opportunity to go. Thanks for the great Christmas present, Dad!

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