Conference high

The first weekend of October is always the Church’s General Conference. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my entire life, it is one of my favorite weekends of the year. It’s the ultimate life conference. I gather with those I hold most dear, my family, and we immerse ourselves in the good news of the gospel for two whole days- listening to ten hours of instruction on how to come unto Christ and live a life of greater faith. Every year it’s transformative. This year has proven no different. I’ve been riding a sort of high ever since. Perhaps it’s spurred by the Social media fast I’ve been on in response to the Prophet’s challenge. Perhaps it’s the change in perspective sparked by this talk by Joy D Jones, that has helped me parent with more consistent love, patience, and forgiveness now that I’m doing it for God, and not for my children. Surely it’s because of the increased desire I obtained to live a life more in tune with God’s will. I want to be worthy to have His spirit with me more frequently, actively guiding me, teaching me, and raising me up to a higher plane of living. When I think about all my feelings from Conference my heart brims up with joy and I just want to shout it all from the rooftops. These last two weeks I have left the “world” behind and sought for a life of greater spirituality, and it has resulted in continual bliss. The increased attention and length of my morning study of the Book of Mormon has reminded me once again of the precious truths contained therein. Too often I forget just how precious that book is. Just how much truth is contained therein. In our post-modern world, it has never been more needed!

It was wonderful to be affirmed in my current lifestyle choices by Apostle Henry B. Eyring. My choice to go all-in as a mother, teacher, and spiritual guide for my children has brought me surprising fulfillment. And hearing the Prophet and Apostles and Female Presidents of the Church speak of the importance of increased learning in the home filled my soul with sweet assurance. I am living in line with God’s will for me. I’m grateful. I’m full. I’m happy!

 

Awareness

I just had my first experience with a natural disaster. Hurricane Florence devastated much of our state, we were spared, but so many weren’t. We waited anxiously the week before, wondering the best way to prepare, pulling out flashlights, purchasing propane, washing out tubs to fill with water and checking our food reserves. We watched the weather channel incessantly, and wondered- should we leave? Curiosity made us stay, that and trust in our hilly residence. As we watched that ominous white swirl move ever closer, my innards matched its movement, twisting ever tighter. In the end, nothing much happened- for us. But scenes of the catastrophe of our neighbors have sorrowed me, moved me.

We are very open with our kids, and as is the norm we talked about the oncoming storm, even took a vote of whether to stay or go (when it looked like we’d be hit bad.) They elected to stay. They, like me, wanted the adventure of experiencing a hurricane. They thrillingly biked through our flooded street, and danced in the downpour.

But now that the storm has passed, how much of its wreckage do I share with my children. I often wonder how much of the world’s hardships to expose my children to. I’ve shown them scenes of the flooding, talked about the deaths, and we’ve tried to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have been displaced and are now homeless. As a result, my boys, whose prayers are usually- “We thank thee for clean water. (Thanks to a book about children in Africa walking all day to get water.) and “Bless us to have fun today,” have now added, “Please bless those whose homes have been destroyed by the hurricane.” They have sensed the need for their faith, the need for God’s help. I rejoice to hear my children pray for things that are meaningful. It always disturbs me that the majority of their pleas are for  “fun” days. I’m not convinced that God is interested in making our lives more “fun.” Meaningful, yes. Fun, I don’t think so. But I digress.

So if awareness incites empathy, how much exposure is best? It occurred to me tonight, as I pondered this, perhaps the reason Christ asked the crippled, sick, and lame to be brought to him was not just to heal them, but to bring awareness to the rest of the multitude of their humanity, their sameness.

Tonight I spent an hour reading essays by Mormon women. Their open vulnerable stories were heavy and disturbing. The kind you want to skim through, to spare yourself the heartache. And yet as I read their words, trusted them, believed them; instead of a break, I felt a softening and blossoming-awareness inciting empathy. I was taught as a child to not read such accounts, that it would weaken my testimony. I can see the merit in that advice. Perhaps its why I wonder how much of the world’s problems to lay before my children. Will the burden of it strip them of their childhood? Will it weigh them down with worries and cripple a healthy development?

Whenever I take that side, I am faced with the fact that God does no such thing for his children. Children are born to parents that God knows will abuse them. Children are born in countries that can’t provide for them. Why? I can’t help but wonder if my own privilege makes it difficult for me to tease out the real meaning of life. Perhaps the test is simply how will we respond to what we’re served. And going back to my original question, how much should we serve our children the struggles that are not naturally theirs? Perhaps that’s its own test? Can we extend ourselves past our own selfish existence? Are we willing to truly see the sick, lame, blind or halt, the maimed, leprous and withered, the deaf and those that are afflicted in any manner? (3 Nephi 14:7) To see them for them and not their affliction?

I’m reading “The Poisonwood Bible” right now. It’s contributed to this quandary. The book tells of a Baptist family who goes to The Congo as missionaries. They arrive self-righteously determined to bring “light” into a “dark” country. Only as trial and tribulation humble them, do they start to see the humanity and light in the people around them. To see them as humans and not just sinners. Thrown in the fire of affliction their privilege is stripped from them and they are left bare but with eyes wide open. Only then do they find the truth. Perhaps the meaning of our existence is to find truth. Truth, those experiences/thoughts/feelings that permeate our soul and change the way we interpret life and its meaning. One doesn’t need higher education, or really any formal education to come to great truth. Ease can be a barrier to finding truth, as one doesn’t sense the immediacy and need for deeper understanding. Hardship can inspire questions like “Why?” in a way that prosperity doesn’t. Just as my children are more sensitive and thoughtful in their prayers after confronting another person’s hardship, hardship- our own or others has the possibility to be the strongest means of drawing us unto God.

So why do we run from it? Why do we assume we’ve been cursed when we’re faced with it? Is it such a travesty that some children in Africa never have a childhood? Or should envy their awareness and appreciation for the essential things- life, breath, family. From the Poisonwood Bible:

“Children should never die.”

“No. But if they never did, children would not be so precious.”

“Anatole! Would you say that if your own children died?”

“Of course not. But it is true, nevertheless. Also if everyone lived to be old, then old age would not be such a treasure.”

Do we undermine our children’s ability to treasure those things of greatest import, by shielding them from the potential loss of those things? And what of ourselves, are we willing to face the heartbreak in order to find the hope?

I’m grateful.. .

I’m grateful I get to be my children’s main teacher. I love seeing the light in their eyes as they understand a new concept. I love, though I’m often frustrated by, hearing their inner thinkings and tangential wonderings. I love that we can exchange giggles, or hugs, or tickle wars as a break to a strenuous grammar lesson, or writing assignment. I love our ability to connect everything in our lives- since everything interweaves. I love how my children can reference briefly a sentence we read or a wonder we saw and I know immediately what they are talking about and can jump into the conversation with them. I love that in a way I’m rediscovering learning for myself. I’m learning how to learn, how to cultivate learning. I’ve discovered anew my love of math, I’ve marveled at the English language both for its beauty but also complexity. But mostly I’ve marveled at the capability of the child’s mind. They are astounding. I’m humbled daily by their ability to remember, understand, and connect. I’m so grateful that my children’s world revolved around each other right now. Yes, they have their separate communities, but their core group is our family, and I’m grateful that we have more sway than “they” for the time being. I’m grateful that we have the means, and I have the opportunity to stay home with my children. It is overwhelmingly frustrating at times, and yet strikingly blissful in moments sprinkled throughout the day: When Anders looks up with his little smile and sweet eyes, while he reads to me. When Chiara climbs on my back while I’m on the floor working through math with Scotland. When Scotland’s eyes light up with a new idea- always grander and less likely than the last! I’m grateful for a home from which we can easily take in the outdoors. I’m grateful for a healthy body and mind. I’m grateful for literature, poetry, and music. I’m grateful for our piano. I’m grateful for slow early mornings, and fast late mornings, for slow early afternoons. I’m grateful for the opportunity they both offer all of us to contemplate, ponder, and be just ourselves. I’m grateful for yoga. I’m grateful for time to consider my gratitude!

Side gigs

Ever since I was a senior in high school I’ve had a job. I’ve only had a full-time job once. I worked as a secretary at a loan office one summer. Otherwise, my jobs have always been part-time, or undefinable like my “job” designing and renovating the homes we’ve flipped. My main side gig has been teaching voice lessons. I love teaching. I love the interaction with my students, I love the music, and I love the person I become when I teach- more playful and funny.

I had around 15 students in Cleveland, and then only 3 in Seattle. And now in Chapel Hill, I’m trying to decide if I should teach again. Perhaps some of my hang up is I like the idea of having a “studio.” A group of students, who know of each other, have recitals together and feel some sort of group identity. In Seattle, I never had that, and it sort of embarrassed me. I didn’t feel like I could offer the sort of experience I wanted for them. (Though, thinking about it, my first voice teacher didn’t have a “studio” that I interacted with in any way. She was a university professor and I was a side student, an eager 12-year-old who’s mother talked her into taking me.) Now in a new city, I’m trying to think through the practicality of taking on new students. Our stay here could be a year, or it could be three or it could be permanent. Though, as of right now it’s looking more like a one year gig. Tom’s career will likely take us to a few different locations in the next ten years, would it be better to pick up a side gig that is more mobile, say freelance writing? Or maybe, wait for it, I don’t need to have a side gig. Maybe I can just do the Mom gig. Heck! I’m already homeschooling, isn’t that job enough? Maybe I should claim that as my “gig” and use any free time to pursue other hobbies?

Moving has given me the opportunity to assess who I am, and what defines me. I struggle to feel that spending time on hobbies, just for joy’s sake is a worthwhile use of time. I really enjoy nature journaling. It has brought me such wonder and curiosity, but every time I take fifteen minutes to do it, I feel guilty. I really enjoy reading, but it’s very hard for me to sit down and read. Its why I adore audiobooks- they allow me to “read” while also doing something “productive.” And yet, I know how productive reading is, I know the power and importance of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and learning about the experiences of another, but it’s just so hard for me to do! Sometimes I can justify it if it is a parenting book- continuing education, but a novel- it’s difficult! And so back to the side gig, part of my reason for working has always been to keep my toe in the water so that I’m ready when the time comes that I want to “go back to work.” I’ve taught voice lessons because that’s where my training lies. I love teaching voice, but I identify myself as a singer less and less with every passing year. It occurred to me that I haven’t a clue who Kjirsti Foutz will be in ten years. And if I don’t allow myself to fully immerse myself in my present passions, I will probably have no clue “what I want to do with my life” then! Often people that create vibrant fascinating careers later in life, do it naturally as an extension of something they pursued for personal interest first. Unless I allow myself time to throw myself into my present-day interests how will I ever grow those interests into something that will pull me out of bed each morning?

I’ve been surprised at the change in me as I’ve experimented upon this idea. I’ve taken along my nature journal more often and with it a field guide or two. I’ve taken pictures of leaves at the park. I’ve been more dutiful with my yoga practice, and more intentional with each poise. As I’ve allowed those buds of interest to open a bit, I’ve felt the subtle calls of expansion into work- perhaps I could create a local field guide “Trees of Homestead Park.” or maybe I should get a yoga certification, I’d love to teach a Friday Enrichment course!  I think it’s great if my desire is to share my knowledge with others, but I find it worrisome when the minute I start to see growth in an area I feel the need to capitalize it. As if making money doing it will make it worthwhile.

So this year I think I’m going to take a break from side gigs, and instead just really claim my main gig- mothering, homeschooling, and living life fully. I want to show my children the joy of adulthood. I want to so fully immerse myself in my interests that when in 10-15 years I feel the pull to work, I know just what I’d like to do.

Things

In my preparations to move I’ve been going through all our stuff. And I’ve been faced with the repetitive question- what is worth keeping? Around 60 of our stuff has been in a storage unit for two months. These are the things we’ve missed: the speakers for my computer and our TV sound system. “The Greatest Showman” just couldn’t get off the page with our TV’s meager speakers, and Dvorak doesn’t appeal to my senses coming from a mac mini’s speaker. We’ve missed our books, and our bookshelves. The first piece of furniture I moved back after we sold the house was our little bookshelf. We love books and read a lot of them. I went looking for Tom’s hiking boots and rain boots for our weekend getaway. I missed easy access to all our art and learning supplies- I packed some of it away, and I shouldn’t have it, we need it, we use it, daily. I missed my “extra shoes.” I went looking for the hammock and our picnic blanket.  But that was about it. There are things we love, and there are things that don’t add much to our lives.

Moving cross country is expensive and I’m trying to be cut throat about what we keep and what we leave. It’s made me consider what I value.  Why is the gorgeous bright and colorful plate I bought in Mexico not on my wall? I love it. It makes me happy just looking at it, and brings back a sweet memory. Well, it doesn’t match your decor scheme. Hmmm. Why am I buying new blankets when I have all these other blankets that people I love have made for me? Hmmm. I love a well dressed home. I love a stylish thoughtfully designed home. But the homes that make me pause and feel are the homes that are filled with items of meaning. I follow a couple of feeds on instagram that have homes like this. Their guitars, banjos, and violins hang on the wall- because they want easy access- they play them often. The art supplies are often the centerpiece, because why put them away when they’ll use them tomorrow? Children’s art is framed and displayed whimsically, and the whole home has a worn-out-in-love look. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my Mom about my sister Dantzel. My Mom mentioned that Dantzel  had a wise realization a few years ago:  she couldn’t afford to dress the way she’d like to, and rather than fail in her attempts she ‘d embraced a new style that she could rock without breaking the bank- grunge. Now she wears our father’s shirts, and my Mom’s worn flannels. Her natural un-styled hair, a bi-product of waking up at 5:30am for seminary, is perfectly in style. Her dusty shoes- from caring for animals on the family’s hobby farm- en pointe.

As I’ve considered what to take and what to leave, I’ve found delight in the thought of a fresh take on my home design choices. Yesterday, I sold the first pieces of new furniture I ever bought- two tufted leather chairs. They’re prone to scratching from children’s unclipped toe nails, and they tip over if children lean up against the backs as they look out the window. They’re not cozy for reading, and too slippery for building forts around. And their formality begs for their surroundings to similarly shape up and be rigid. They stage beautifully. But they aren’t chairs you really live in- just look at. Selling them was hard at first. But now with them gone, the window entirely exposed, an whole rug to play and roll around on- we’ve had more spontaneous dance parties, i’ve enjoyed the poppies, delphinium and daisies more out the window, and I’m sitting on the floor now as I type- relaxed, casual.

I guess I’m grappling with the ‘look at’ vs ‘live in’ approach to design. I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive, in fact the IG posts I mentioned above tell otherwise. But I’m beginning to understand why so many large families have some element of ‘farmhouse’ styling in their homes. A weathered wood dining room table- welcomes the dings of an impatient toddler’s fork. A rustic shelf welcomes the collection of “treasures” from a hike. More and more I want a home that welcomes my children in all their energetic creative aka rowdy messy splendor. This month I’ve seen my kids in a new light. They’re inventiveness astounds me. Their focus and drive inspires me. Their full-on embrace of each day- their determination to not waste a moment, it’s breathtaking! I want my children to always see a home as a place to romp, wrestle, sing, build and exult. I want them to fill their days with passionate pursuit, and I want our home to be a place where their creations have a place- even a place of honor.

I’m not sure our rental is going to achieve these aims, but I’m hoping a year of make-do furniture arrangements, no house projects, and two large parks nearby will open a new chapter in our lives! One filled with adventure, togetherness, and focus on truly living! 

Before and Afters of our Shoreline home

We listed our house a little over a week ago, thanks to an amazing market (from a sellers perspective) we had accepted a great offer within a few days. I took screen shots of the listing photos from when we bought the house and I thought it would be fun to show the before and afters to showcase the work we’ve done on our little abode.

We knew we wanted to buy a house when me moved to Seattle, and we figured we’d do another flip like we’d done in Cleveland. We were nervous however because the homes were at least twice as expensive in Seattle, and we heard of many people who were making offers on multiple homes. We rented our first three months in Seattle so we’d have time to look. Our price range was low, and I wanted a yard, a basement, large windows, two bedrooms and Tom wanted to be 20 minutes or less from work. By, I think, a miracle, we found our house. It had everything on our list (one of only three that did). We made and offer, it was accepted, and it was completely sans drama. We didn’t like the busy-ish road we were on, but knew that was what pushed the price down, and the quaint private backyard made up for the less than ideal front.

Updates: New front door (that I painted), I trimmed and repainted the garage door- which made it too heavy for our old garage door to open- so Tm installed a new garage door opener. Woops! We painted the foundation, and the trim. I also did a lot of landscaping- adding the burning bush and perennials in the bed in front of the picture windows and a sunny perennial bed at the edge of the lawn. We also put in a full sun garden bed (non pictured) and a raspberry patch!

We were immediately taken by the huge picture windows, vaulted ceiling, exposed brick fireplace, and exposed beam. Having done a flip before I immediately started seeing the potential- tear this wall down here, open this up there. . .

Of course the most obvious change was the wall color- which we painted twice. First with some left over paint from Cleveland (I was desperate to get rid of the dark navy.) And finally this Tapestry Beige when we finished the kitchen.

The largest project we tackled in this house was our kitchen. Literally three days after we moved in my sister and I tore down the wall between the kitchen nook and the dining area. As it was there was this awkward breakfast nook that was too small for a decent sized table, and then this small door way to a dining area that was too small for a dining room table. The floor and wall had gaping holes from where the wall had stood for years, but our table straddled it and I preferred the function to the form.

Over the first three years we lived here we slowly worked our way through our kitchen- first having a  HUGE cantilever beam installed above to support the weight of the house, and then vaulting the dining side and opening up the wall between the kitchen and living room. 

I’ve never posted about our kitchen, but it was my first large design project  and since this is my private blog I’m going to boast a bit here. Thanks to our weekend warrior renovation schedule (and since my husband only gets one weekend off a month it’s more like a mono-monthly renovation schedule) it took a LONG time to finish this space. I say thanks, because that gave me abundant time to design the space. I was grateful for the time to live and use the kitchen so I really knew what our needs were. The only reason we felt secure in putting in this nice of a kitchen was because I felt secure that it was a solid investment- given the strong real estate market. I wanted to strike a balance between what would be sellable and widely liked; and what I wanted personally. I made many many sketches of this space, tweaking here and reworking there. I knew I wanted a place for my music books to go (since there wasn’t an easy way to have them by the piano) I knew I wanted a built in desk, I wanted shelves for the shoes that crowded the walkway from the front door, and I wanted lots of pantry space. It’s fun to think about the various steps of this process. We took the washer and dryer down stairs early on- which was a huge help- moving the fridge out of the walkway really helped open things up. When we moved in, the washer and dryer were behind those accordion doors. Thankfully we had just enough space to put them in our cold storage room downstairs. Which opened up the space they were in for the fridge- a real blessing since it fit a full sized fridge without jutting out past the counter! I wanted a bar, because I grew up with one, and I love the image of kids sitting up to help prep food. Eventually this plan materialized, and I’ve completely loved it. Many people have asked me since, “Is there anything you would change about your kitchen?” And in all honesty I don’t have a good answer for them. I LOVE my kitchen! I LOVE all the pull out drawers. I love that everything has it’s place. I love the built in office area. I love that there is enough cabinetry for a drawer for art supplies, and two drawers for homeschooling books and materials. I love that all my appliances fit in drawers- and don’t have to be out on the counter. Even large appliances like a Bosch mixer, Vitamix, and instant pot! I love my built in – under the counter microwave. I love my open shelves- for their character, and for the openness they lend the kitchen. I adore our induction range. I love that we left the kitchen partially closed- you can’t see my sink of dirty dishes when you walk in the front door, and I can hide anything unsightly behind that wall when I teach.

One of the things I’m most proud of in our kitchen is the windows. I had a window guy out to give us a bid to replace them, and he said that being that they were already double-paned we’d have to upgrade with a really superior window to improve their efficacy. He suggested painting them. They are aluminum windows and they just looked old and ratty.  I’d started noticing a lot of black trimmed windows in home decor magazines and on pinterest and really liked their dramatic contrast. I was soo nervous when I first slapped on the paint, but the final results combined with trimming them in wood (they didn’t have any millwork before) is striking, and completely transformed the space. The windows no longer look old and outdated, but stylish and current. They highlighted one of the main features of our home, in my opinion, our huge windows!

It was fun to see these pictures because I’ve often felt bad about how little I’ve done on this yard. The greatest contribution has been a huge amount of pruning, tearing out, cutting down. I’ll never forget the look on my neighbor’s face then they saw me 6 months pregnant, out in the drizzling rain, standing on our heavily sloped terraced gardens tearing out salal and ivy. I’m pretty sure they thought I’d lost it. The entire first tier was covered in it, and I was determined to prepare it for a flower garden the following spring. I was also pretty proud of those huge loads of vines, branches, bushes, etc that I smashed into the bed of our truck and delivered to the dump without help. It was my first time “Securing a load” and again I’m sure I got many a snicker from passers by seeing this pregnant woman jumping up and down on this huge bed of branches to compact them down- so I could fit more! The men at the dump were equally surprised when I yanked and pulled with all my might to then dislodge the heavily compacted yard waste from the truck bed- almost falling into the pit at the dump several times!   The above pictures don’t really show the garden vignette’s I created, but at least hint at the amount of openness and light I achieved.

The yard is my domain. I still chuckle when I remember this conversation with our neighbor, John. (Please note that John is Korean and his english carries a strong accent. This conversation occurred one summer evening when I was out finishing up yard work after I’d put the kids to bed. I believe Tom was working at the hospital that night. )

J-“You work so hard! You do all the workee, I never see your husband do the workee. Your husband a fancy man? “

I tried to explain that my husband is not a “fancy man” but rather works very hard at the hospital, and that he does many of the projects inside. (He’s the electrician, plumper, carpenter,  etc.)

While our yard was small I wanted it to have a portion of the magical outdoors my childhood yard had. It took a few years before I secured the slide I had envisioned- a cast off from a playground! Both grandpa’s helped build the fort hidden up on the hill, and careful pruning allowed for a grove of rhododendron that made for the ideal climbing environment.  I hope I always remember my children swinging under our apple tree, and reading books from the hammock we hung from the plum tree. I hope I remember how’d they’d drop down to the garden and pick sun-warmed tomatoes, green beans and strawberries, or how’d they’d lie about how many raspberries they’d eaten- the red smears on their hands and faces relaying the truth. As I was mowing the lawn for the last time, I cried thinking of all the plants that had been transplants from other people’s gardens. Sister Meringer started me off with heuchera, iris, peonies, strawberries and blue bells. Sabina gave me daisies, bleeding heart, and a few I don’t know the name of, the Mitchells gave me a bag of daffodils that bright up the dismal March’s and two Allium bulbs that stretch upward like aliens right in front of our front window and give me a chuckle with their absurd placement. They gave me one patch of raspberries and another friend from Moxee gave me the others. Sue Scruggs gave me a bunch of Fuchsia. I brought cannas from Cleveland that are HUGE and stunning next to my back door. And I always cherish the little Japanese maple that my sister grafted from her own tree in her front yard! My father fortified the front bed so I could have the full sun bed I’d been pining for since we’d moved here. He put it in the week after I had Chiara, and with every shovel of dirt and loading of wood I could tell it was his way of telling me He loved me, and was proud of me and his new granddaughter. I thought of the manure the Telford’s put on our rhubarb the spring we were living in Idaho- unable to prep our garden. How I wish I could bring all these plants with me, so I could forever have those symbols of generosity and love surrounding my home.

I took pictures of the other rooms, but they weren’t included on the listing, and I’m not going to take the time to unearth them. Let’s just say there was a huge sketch of a muscled man with a machine gun on the wall of one room.

These pictures actually don’t represent the house as we lived it. Anders room is pretty true to form, it started out as the nursery until the crib was replaced by the toddler bed. What was staged as the master bedroom was Chiara’s room and our guest room. Much of the decor in the third room originally was in there. The third room had a bright green wall with thin white stripes and was decorated in blue and green for Scotland.

This room was SO fun to stage. I splurged on new bedding and pillows and it came together so sweetly. I’m so excited to let it be Chiara’s big girl room in our next house.

I love a basement. I grew up with a basement, and it’s hard for me to imagine rearing children without one. I love having a space for my kids to be wild and crazy, to leave out their intricate playmobil worlds or lego creations without it interfering with our main living space.

We made this desk (made out of a door and two book case from UW dorms, to create this office nook. Tom’s always been a fan of a BIG desk, and this fit his criteria. For a while I kept my computer down there too, but after I moved it upstairs I’ve used the other side for my sewing machine. Obviously the staging doesn’t show our typical set up down here. We never used a coffee table- preferring to leave the space open for play, and instead had that long table over near the bookcases for kids art and play. We also had two more bookcases full of books and more toys. I’ve gotta say, I’m kind of liking the limited toy set up. We cut down on our toys by probably 60% (they either got donated or put in storage). Clean up at our house is SO much easier since there are no miscellaneous toys, and everything has such a clear spot that the kids have been surprisingly adept at putting things back exactly as intended! 

We had our master bedroom in the basement. I disliked the darkness of it, but it was ideal for Tom, since he so often has to sleep during the day. (We affectionately called it our mole hole.)

Well this post is WAY too long, but I wanted to jot a few of these thoughts down for memories sake. A more sentimental memory laden post should follow this at some point, but in case it doesn’t. Here’s something!

Chiara, Age 2

Chiara had her birthday two weeks ago. We were traveling on the date, but my in-laws were kind enough to arrange a cake and candles at the rehearsal dinner and the whole group of 30 or so people sang to her (including several opera singers, so it was quite the serenade!) She smiled with muted delight and ate her chocolate cake with serious concentration. But then, as is her style, told me all about it that evening with bright eyed excitement. “Mommy! I ha’ cake an’ can’les, an’ sing  Happy Birthday Chi Chi!” Again yesterday, when we mentioned we would be opening her presents the next day- she remembered the occasion with delight.

Chiara is an incredibly verbal child, and acquires language through the habit of parroting. She often repeats what I say, or repeats the phrases of her brothers under her breath. Yesterday,  she said off hand “Forget about it! It happens!” The same day she crinkled her nose in disgust and spit out the word “Stupid!” She knows that a burb will get a laugh and will at times fake one when she’s at a table of boys; but if she does it when her mother’s in the room, she’ll say “Excuse me.” Earlier this week she started using the word “favorite.” She often talks about herself in the third person. “Dis Chi Chi fav’ite book.” She loves to label the items in her First 100 words books, and will sometimes sit down and drill herself- “Bunny, cheetah, Zeb’a, gi’aff. . .” Last night, as I was tucking her into bed she said with distress “I nee’ give brothers kiss!” She’s taking to giving kisses and delivers the sweetest most delicate little pecks.

She has an adorable run- all bubble and bounce. Her arms flap, her curls bob, and her cheeks go up and down. You can’ help but smile and want to sweep her up into your arms when she approaches you that way!

She’s become a bit more decisive about her clothing. She loves our new routine of picking out her pajamas. Will it be penguins, cupcakes, polar bears? One day she looked into her drawer as I was picking out clothes for her and said “I wan’ my star shirt.” “Okay, Chiara you can wear your star shirt.” I grabbed the shirt and a pair of jeans. She fussed and said “I wan’ my cozy pants!” and pointed to a pair of gray leggings.

As Tom and I watched her flutter around the gymnasium this afternoon, her full pastel blue dress bouncing up and down, he voiced “We’re going to turn her into too much of a girl. You dress her so cute, and I spoil her so much too.” I’ll admit I love to dress her up, and one of the few delights I have about rainy weather is the way it makes her hair curl up.

Chiara is starting to be a genuine playmate, at least with family. We played a darling game with our puppets on the airplane, and Anders and she make me lavish meals from the school’s preschool room kitchen. She loves her friend Quincy, a 12 year old neighbor who watches the kids for an hour while I teach, and often asks “Go Kinzy’s house?!”

She’s not prone to smiling at strangers, more often she’ll offer a grimace or sneer, if not turn her head and burrow it into me in some way.  If they speak to her she’ll strength her look of distrust. At home she is  confident and independent, but in public she’s an all out Momma’s girl. Though, as our time with family showed, she’s able and willing to switch that affection to anyone who promises time, attention, and love. She took full advantage of her grandfather’s attention, enjoyed long snuggle sessions with her Grandma and still asks for “Tassie”- after their many sweet interactions.

She spends many hours playing LEGOs with her brothers and has gotten quite adept at working with the small pieces. She’ll bring her creations over to me and tell me about them. This morning it was something like this: “Mommy! Airfane! It ha’ ice c’eam” (she said pointing to the one pink brick.) “And boo. . .” (pointing to the blue bricks) “and lellow. . .”

She’s taken up singing. Yesterday, as she played with play dough she sang the whole time. I recognized clips of two primary songs, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” and “Happy Family.” and often she’ll belt out her own tunes, usually with a false vibrato.

I’m always humored by the various voices she chooses; from her sweet and smiley high pitched one, to the low husky one, to the nasal strident one, to this silly one I can’t even describe.

The last two weeks she’s started to do this thing where she’ll grab my face with both hands and direct it towards hers so she can communicate her needs. This usually happens when we’re at school and I’m holding her while talking to friends. She’ll direct my face to hers and request I take her to pick out yet another handful of lego heads.

Chiara can be a tremendous helper. She’ll see me sweep and go and get the little broom and join me, or find the dust pan and bring it to me. She knows to  grab a rag and wipe up any spills she makes. She can be a tremendous picker upper, and loves to help set the table. She often helps her brothers unload the dishwasher.

She loves running, slides, her baby, shoes, milk, her Paci, her blankie, naps, books, treats, pockets, pas’a, cheerios with milk, tomatoes, cheese, her brothers, her Daddy, her Mommy, her stride bike, painting, flying in ‘airflanes,’ going to Ga’ ma’s house, Quincy, and singing. 

We love her. Oh, how we love her!

 

Little woman

I just came across this picture of Chiara, and I love it! It so succinctly portrays her strength, defiance, snark, and confidence. This little number continues to surprise me. She has desires, she makes them known, and when they are not granted she can lash out with fervor. I was thinking about her strong personality the other day and was suddenly reminded of her first act in life: she had crowned and I was only a one or two pushes away from delivering when she kicked hard- willing herself out. Moments later, after having only laid on my chest a short while, she wiggled her way to my breast and latched on- helping herself. Earlier this week, story time was getting a bit long for her tastes so she walked into her room. She got her paci and blanket from her crib and settled herself on the floor; pulling her blanket up over herself, she fell asleep. If the boys continue to do things she’s asked them not to she will look them square in the eye, and yell STOP!- her eyes bulging, her face red, and her body shaking. Someone mentioned the other day how different Chiara is from the boys, “They were always so friendly.” Chiara feels no need to extend pleasantries for pleasantries sake. Last week one of the administrators at our school stopped to comment on Chiara. “Your daughter is SO adorable. She is so confident and busy and yet, as a girl, always aware- always watching.” Last month we got a bag of hand-me-downs, Chiara was most excited about a leopard print dress. She demanded to wear it immediately. The other night, instead of the cupcake or polar bear pajamas, she chose the cheetah print. I can’t help but wonder about foreshadowing. Looking at her yesterday on “International Women’s Day” I smiled, laughed, and felt assured, that this little lady is going to do just fine!

Ward Family

Our church has recently changed some of the ways we structure our third hour meetings. Now the first meeting is spent in counsel- discussing a topic of particular meaning to the group or congregation. Last week we discussed how we can strengthen and show love to the children and youth in our ward. Reflecting on the topic I became suddenly aware of the multiplicity of people who have loved, supported, taught, nurtured, and encouraged my kids. Just that week Anders’ teacher had sent him a package in the mail with a coloring page they’d completed in class, and a small toy, and thoughtful note saying they’d missed him. Scotland’s teacher sent me a text that afternoon sharing the fun discussion they’d had in class and a picture of Scotland wearing “bug eye” glasses- in connection with their discussion that God sees all. Last Friday I went to pick up the kids from my friends house after teaching to find Chiara standing on a chair stirring eggs, as my friend made omelets. The boys ran up happy and rosy checked from their play with her daughters. I considered the people who have volunteered to sit with my boys when I need to step out with Chiara. The people who take time to talk to Scotland and Anders in the hall. I considered our bishop who knows their names and makes them feel so special. I thought about Tony who always gives them knuckle bumps and is so happy to see them. I considered Rebeccah who walked Anders to nursery for many months, while I was nursing and caring for Chiara. I thought of friends who have watched my kids, taught them preschool, and created happy welcoming places to play. Looking around the room that morning, I could name a sweet exchange with nearly everyone in the room. And it dawned on me- that’s what five years in a community will do. A sadness at leaving washed over me, a sweet sadness, a grateful sadness.

Quiet Kids? What?!

A few months ago I was enjoying a dinner of pho’ with my sister and Mom in Ballard, when I suddenly realized that there were four small children in the restaurant. It was a small place, and the fact that I was just noticing them surprised me. Why hadn’t I noticed them earlier? Because they were so quiet. They weren’t running around the restaurant, weren’t sliding under the table, and weren’t even talking loudly. Reflecting on this later I wondered, why are my children so loud? And why are they seemingly unable to conduct themselves in a restaurant or store in a polite, calm, quiet manner? Now to be fair, people have often commented on how well behaved my children are. But after a very raucous and frustrating 10 minute visit to Old Navy this afternoon, I’m wondering again: What do I need to do to teach my children to be calm and quiet in certain situations?

Do we need to do practice drills in stores- where the sole intention of the visit is to learn proper grocery store/ clothing store etiquette? I left Old Navy today SO frustrated. From the minute we walked in they were hiding under clothes racks, racing down aisles, fighting, crying you name it. Unfortunately, this isn’t a singular occurrence. We’ve had enough of these displays that I next to never go shopping with them. I’d rather do my grocery shopping at midnight than deal with the chaos that ensues when I take them. Which perhaps, is precisely the problem. Do they need more practice? As I’ve queried this over the months, I’ve come to realize that I see very few children in the grocery stores here in Seattle. And when I do see kids, I don’t remember seeing any running around as mine do. Maybe the problem is not as great as I think it is. Is my fixation just amplifying it? Maybe others’ have husbands/ or family/ or nannies they leave their kids home with. Or maybe, my children are just ill-bred! I’m beginning to wonder.

I’ll admit to lowering myself to the Santa Claus threat this afternoon. It had been a day of teasing, fighting, disobedience, screaming, whining. You know the days. Looking back they were quite calm and respectful in Joann Fabrics- granted we were looking at kids toys- so that was captivating. But at Old Navy, not so much. When we got in the car I let off a rant: “I am very frustrated! Your guys’ behavior in there was deplorable. You know, Santa Claus is watching. If. . . then. . . Threat. threat. threat.” I’m not proud of my response. Hence, this post. I’m really seeking strategies. Judging by the behavior of those calm, quiet children in the Vietnamese restaurant, it is possible for children to behave in public settings for extended periods of time. What do I need to do differently? What is the natural consequence for wrecking havoc while shopping?

All advice welcomed!