It's summertime, and that means our routines are looking a bit different than normal...
I get up at 6:00 and make some 'tea' (hot water, freshly squeezed lemon juice, freshly grated ginger, and cayenne pepper - oddly enough, it's a concoction I really enjoy).
And then I try to get in some quiet time with my Bible and a devotional. (Right now, the ladies in the A Year in the Making workshop I'm teaching are reading Savor: Living Abundantly Where you are, As you Are - it's a really gorgeous, fabric covered book and it feels like a really good way to start the day.)
I let the dogs out (but this guy has to stay on a chain because he tends to follow his nose wherever it goes).
Miss Yans and Coley usually sleep in.
But not Courtney Lee - she's volunteering three days a week down at the Noah's Ark summer program (where Annie used to go to school), and is usually up by 7:00, doing her chores and getting ready.
I'm trying to keep my office door shut until 11:30 a.m. so I can write (for my current workshop) and am encouraging to get the kids (actually, it's just a problem with the girls) to not knock on my door before then, so I can work without interruption (and honestly, they're old enough to not need to knock on my door every 10 minutes), but I think I'm going to have to get stricter about enforcing it.
I tried to set us all up for success this summer by making a chore list...
A list of things they could grab for breakfast and snacks while I'm working, and a promise to make them all lunch at 11:30...
And the guidelines for screen time as well...
Can't say that it's going perfectly, but the older I get, the more I realize that perfection is a moving, unrealistic, joy-robbing target, so I'm just shooting for progress instead.
Hope your summer is off to a good start and sorry I haven't been around much - I'm hoping to work on that!
Annie has been crazy about animals since she was little - crazy about them in a way that is unlike any kid I've ever been around.
We've got a 'family' dog, named Shelby already (she's almost 11), but Annie's biggest desire in life has always been to have her own dog.
We got her a pup when Josh deployed to Afghanistan back in 2011, but as some of you know already, that turned out sadly and badly, and made me totally gun-shy about getting another.
About a year and a half ago though, Annie fell in love with Boston Terriers. So she started doing research on them, printing out photos of them to decorate her room with, learning Terrier trivia, and leaving printouts on my desk with statistics about how dog owners have fewer health problems and longer life expectancies than non-dog owners. And when she found out that Boston Terriers were often referred to as 'gentlemen' because of their tuxedo-like coats, she decided to name her (future) pup, 'Gent'...'Gent Dixon' to be exact.
So she changed the sign on her door (which already listed her name, Charlie the fish's name, and Deedle the rat's name) to include Gent the (future) dog.
And then she decided she would start saving her money to prove to me just how serious she was.
And in lieu of birthday and Christmas presents, she asked for dog supplies.
And weekly (if not daily), she asked when she could start making plans to get him.
Eventually (once I was confident her commitment wasn't going to waver), I decided to talk to Josh Downs about it, and then shared the good news to Annie, that she could get a pup this summer since she would have three months to spend with it before heading back to school.
And then we put our names in at a few local shelters (in case they got any Boston Terriers in) and put our name on a waiting list with a local breeder as well.
Fast forward several months and Annie started becoming increasingly allergic to her rat, Deedle (aka Rat Fink), which is a big deal because:
1. Within seconds of picking him up, she turns into a sneezy, itchy, watery mess and anytime his nails scratch her, she has a painful inflammatory reaction.
1. Feel like a bad mom for letting her keep him, knowing that her response to him is affecting her health.
2. Feel like a bad mom for making her get rid of him, knowing that it would totally traumatize her.
Is there anything sharper than the double-edged, bad-mom sword?
So one morning a couple of weeks back when I spotted Annie itching and sneezing after kissing Deedle (aka rubbing noses), I asked her if she would ever consider finding a new home for him. That sent her into immediate tears, and a repeat inquiry about why God would make her allergic to animals, knowing that they were the very thing that was most important to her in life (her current life ambitions all center around owning her own dog rescue).
That same morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I got online to do some pet allergy research and sat at my desk crying after reading that Boston Terriers made the top five list of allergy-inducing dog breeds.
I know tears sound a little dramatic in this situation, but after a year and a half of trying to get a diagnosis for Annie's stomach problems and all the worries that came along with that, after watching her cry over and over again as she realized her allergic response to Deedle was getting worse and worse, and after considering that her allergies might actually affect her dreams for her future, I couldn't help but cry for her.
So I called Josh (who listened intently, and then reminded me that I was nearing that time of the month that always heightened my emotions).
And then I called Annie's doctor (who wanted to become a veterinarian, but couldn't because of her own allergies) and asked if she had any recommendations for dogs that weren't likely to cause an allergic response in Annie.
And then I spent the better part of my day emotionally and frantically researching Coton de Tulear's, Havanese, Bedlington Terriers, Wheaton Terriers, and other equally-out-of-our-price-range dogs and contacting every breeder in a 400-mile radius, trying desperately to find anyone who might be having puppies in time for Annie to get one (as promised) this summer.
And by the time I needed to leave to pick Annie up from school, I hadn't found a pup and I hadn't accomplished anything other than giving myself a stomach ache.
When she got in the car, I immediately told her twe needed to talk, and proceeded to tell her (while both of us cried) that I couldn't get her a Boston Terrier because of her allergies, but that I had spent the entire day looking at other dog breeds she might be able to get and that I would continue looking until I figured out a solution that would allow her to have a dog. And then I suggested we go and get some french fries (one of the only foods she can eat at restaurants because of her food allergies) at Debbie's Diner (who might just make the best hand-cut fries in the whole wide world) while doing image searches on Google of the dog breeds suggested by her doctor).
While driving to Debbie's, we decided to pray (with my eyes open for safety of course) that God would erase the mental picture Annie and I both had in our heads about what this dog should look like, and that He would open our hearts and open our minds to His plan instead.
And after we had finished praying and Annie said, "You know what mom? I feel better already." I realized that I felt good for the first time all day too.
So we sat at Debbie's eating fries and looking at photos of non-allergy-evoking dog breeds, and when it was time to go, Annie asked, "Could we stop by the Humane Society since it's just down the road?" (we like to visit there just for fun) and so we did....but it was closed. So she asked if we could go to SoHumane (we like to visit there too) and so we did...and it was open.
We walked in, said hello, inquired about the dog breeds Annie's doctor had suggested (and were quickly told how unlikely it was for them to ever get those breeds in), washed our hands with disinfectant, and made our way to the small dog section (because we've found that Shelby, our family dog tends to get along with smaller dogs, but almost always picks a fight with big dogs) where we walked down the isle, right past all of the yapping and barking dogs, and straight to a kennel where a little, white, curly-haired fellow name, Marty was sitting and waiting for us (quietly and with his tail wagging).
In retrospect, it's funny because normally, we stop at the first kennel, and then the second, and then the third - all in order until we reach the last one, but on this day, we skipped the first three or four kennels and walked directly to Marty.
Within minutes, we had asked someone if we could take Marty out to visit with him and as he sat on Annie's lap, licking and loving her, I texted Annie's doctor (who wants Annie to have a dog so bad that she invited me to text her if I had any dog-related questions) to see if poodles (the shelters best guess was that Marty was a poodle-mix, but that no one wanted him because unlike most poodles, he didn't have a pointy nose and he still had his tail) were likely to provoke Annie's allergies.
Her doctor responded seconds later, saying that because poodles have hair rather than fur, that they were less likely to cause allergies, but that there was no way to know for sure unless Annie played with him for at least 30-minutes, while he licked her (which he was already happily doing), scratched her with his nails, and rubbed his face against hers while I watched for symptoms.
Half an hour later, Annie was still symptom-free, and begging to take Marty home.
There were still two more things to consider though:
1. My husband's opinion.
2. Shelby, our old pup's opinion.
So we put a hold on Marty since the shelter was getting ready to close and told them we'd come back the next morning with my husband's permission and Shelby in tow.
As we started to pull out of the shelter's driveway, a woman who worked at the shelter (turns out she is the manager) approached my window and said, "I overheard your daughter saying she had saved up over $200 for a dog by doing chores, getting good grades, and dog-sitting. Would you guys mind coming back inside, because I have something for you?"
When we got inside, she handed a bronze key to Annie with the shelter's logo on it and said, "Even if you don't get Marty, I just want you to know that in all the years I've worked here, I've only met one other kid who saved enough money to buy a dog themselves and I want you to know that you are the kind of person who plays a 'key' role in saving animals and in giving a dog like Marty a real life."
She also went on to tell us that Marty was brought to their shelter on a 'Saving Train' because he was scheduled to be euthanized in California and that when they got him, his hair was so matted and so long he couldn't walk correctly (his legs were matted to his body). No one knew anything else about him other than the assumption that he was about three years old, that he had suffered a lot of neglect, and that after his arrival, he hid in his kennel because he was so scared, but that after a couple of weeks, his winsome, joyful, easy-going personality started shining through.
Annie was thankful, but oddly quiet, and once we got in the car, she started sobbing. Surprised by her response, I started probing a bit to figure out what was going on and listened to her while she said, "I didn't want to cry in front of all those people, but my whole life, I've wanted to be the kind of person who saved animals, but I never thought anyone saw that in me."
On the way home, Annie asked if it would be ok to rename Marty (considering her dad and Shelby approved our bringing him home). As we talked, Annie decided she didn't feel right about naming him Gent, and I suggested that she name him something that was meaningful to her.
Eventually, we settled on 'Keyton' so it would remind Annie of the key she had been given.
That night, we talked to Josh and he agreed to Keyton's adoption.
And the next morning, we took Shelby to the shelter and she agreed to Keyton's adoption too.
And we signed a bunch of papers.
And we learned that the staff had talked amongst themselves the night before and decided:
1. They wanted to lower the adoption fee from $225 (that expense came from neutering, micro-chipping him, and all of his vet bills) to $180 so Annie would still have money left over for dog food and supplies.
2. They were willing to waive their normal rule (that volunteers had to be 13) in order for Annie to be able to start working at the shelter this summer (something she's been wanting to do for a long time now).
And then we waited while the staff prepared Ketyon and all of his paperwork for adoption.
Those are photos of dogs that have been adopted from their shelter over the years.
And that's a sweet (but yappy) puppy who needs adopting and insisted on Annie's attention while waiting for Keyton.
And that's the key Annie was given the night before (and the purse Annie has been using to save her dog-money in, which a friend/past student got for Annie last year - thanks for that Misty!)
That's Yans paying for her pup.
And that's Keyton going home with us.
He lost his winsome, joyful, easy-going personality during his first week home with us though.
He wouldn't eat, he coughed, threw-up and/or dry-heaved at least a dozen times a day, and he just laid in his bed, shaking and quietly whimpering.
But then his personality came back and his coughing and throwing up went away (after a trip to the vet and bottle of antibiotics to treat kennel cough).
And now, he's laying happily and contently right next to me as I type this.
Ironically, there is only one dog breed I have historically disliked and that is poodles (it all stems from jealousy over my sister getting a wolf/German Shepherd mix named Lobo when we were kids, and after years of being promised my own dog, my mom tried to stick me with a poodle named Pierre that she wanted to use as a breeding stud. I didn't fall for her trick though.)
And white dogs that have those rust stains under their eyes and mouths gross me out too.
And yet today, I find myself totally in love with a white, poodle-mix, with rust stains under his eyes (and really bad breath).
In fact, Annie has requested that I start petting him less frequently because she doesn't want us to bond so much.
I also find myself presented once again with what seems to be an on-going theme in my life - that I need to let go of the pictures I have in my own head about what I think things should look like, because those mental pictures just keep proving time and time again to be nothing more than obstacles I am placing in my own path.
It's kind of embarrassing that I keep tripping on them.
But I do.
Maybe it's just repeated lessons (sometimes in the form of white poodles with rust stains under their eyes) that God uses to remind forgetful people like me me of how much better His plans and His timing are than our own.
1. I took my camera to Cole and Courtney's track meet the other day, but didn't get any shots other than this one of Yans, because my teenagers started complaining.
2. My teenagers are killing me.
3. Cole & Courtney both qualified for the district meet, so that's where they'll be most of the day today along with Josh Downs (who volunteered to assistant coach again this year).
4. Yans decided to wash the statue in her fish tank this morning before school (her Grandma and Grandpa Russell got her a Beta for Christmas) only to find that she hadn't rinsed the soap off well enough before putting it back in the tank and her Beta was swimming in bubbles.
5. The kids were late for school this morning (my track record is a good one though - this was the first time they were late all year) on account of me trying to catch a Beta fish without a net (Annie lost it) in a tank full of bubbles, with a crying fish owner by my side, and Courtney hollering up the stairs, "The neighbors found a baby bird and don't want their cat to eat it, so they want to know if we can put it in our back yard!"
6. When I got back from dropping the kids off (late) at school this morning, I started grating some ginger for my tea only to realize I was grating it into the fish tank (which I had just finished refilling) instead of my coffee cup.
7. I'm not joking about #6.
8. I'm dealing with some intermittent sleep problems again (which might have something to do with #6).
9. Josh planted a new maple tree (I killed the last one) in the front yard for me while I was sleeping on Saturday night, which means I woke up on Mothers' Day to a new tree that he is responsible for watering (since clearly, I can't be trusted with the life of another maple).
10. I thought it would be a fun idea to give the students in my new class (A Year in the Making) 13 gifts (one for each month of the workshop), but didn't really take into consideration how much time it would take to find, sort, prepare, and wrap 13 gifts for 60 students (that's 780 gifts if you were wondering). Note to self: Some ideas should just stay in your head.
11. When I was talking to my sister about one of the gifts I'm sewing for my students ('sewing' is a bit of a stretch since what I am capable of doing with a sewing machine hardly qualifies as 'sewing'), and laughing about what a ridiculous idea it was to think I could sew 60 gifts, she responded with a, "That sounds like a typical Kaaaaaaaaaren-Idea to me!"
12. In my defense, some of my ideas are good ones (and my sister knows it.)
13. When helping prepare some of those 780 gifts, Cole and Annie both voiced complaints about the wages I pay, so they're no longer on the payroll.
14. Courtney Lee didn't complain about the hourly rate though, so she's the only kid in this house who currently has the privilege of earning $6.00 an hour for folding boxes, cutting tags, removing stickers, etc.
15. Annie got a dog, and everyone in this house is in love with him (more on that later).
16. I've got presents to wrap, so I'd better cut this list short.
We hoped to spend Day Four of our Spring Break trip working in New Meadows, but alas, we couldn't find any work to do (we had a promising lead, but it didn't pan out).
So we packed up the truck and headed down the road just a bit.
Josh had talked with the owner of a nearby fishing resort the week prior, so we stopped there to see if they had any cabins available (they did) and if they knew of anyone who needed some work (they did).
You'd think that finding work on our Spring Break trip would be easy, but it's not.
People are usually skeptical when we tell them what we're doing - they think we want money, they think there's a catch, or they think we have ulterior motives.
In fact, shortly after we arrived and talked to the owners of the fishing resort about finding work, one of them said, "I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop." and when we assured him that there was no other shoe, he asked, "So do you guys take this traveling circus on the road all year long?"
After convincing them that we just just enjoyed meeting new people and teaching our kids the value of community service, they put Josh on the phone with someone who knew a widow in town, named Jessie who needed some yard work.
Yard work is our specialty.
And we come with our own rakes, shovels, hoes, and laborers.
(Semi) hard working laborers.
And funny laborers.
Once the yard work was ton, it was time to nourish the laborers.
And then it was time to entertain the laborers.
Turns out this was the same hot springs pool my grandparents had taken me to when I was ten years old.
There used to be a diving board right there.
And I spent an entire day jumping off of it (in a turquoise one piece with a yellow stripe across the top) thirty-two summers ago.
And then it was time to go.
But not before grabbing a few snacks.
Wasting hard earned money on quarter machines.
And playing pool.
And then we got settled in back at the cabins where I read, Josh barbecued, and the laborers befriended a family with extra smoore-making supplies.
And then we ate dinner (BBQ chicken, salad, and pineapple).
And forced the teenagers to play spoons with us.
Don't let that smile fool you - she pouted through every round because she didn't want to play, but finally started smiling when she knew she was about to win.
And then (because forcing teenagers to do anything they don't want to do is so much fun), everyone (myself included) went to bed with a crappy attitude (which resulted in Josh and I getting into our first argument of the trip).
Yesterday, I overhead one of my kids lying and manipulating someone just to get what they wanted. I had one of my kids talk rudely to me in front of their friends at school. I had another tell me all the reasons why they can't do the right thing in a situation where they know the right thing to do.
And I talked (yelled) at one of my kids in a way that still has me reeling from it even this morning.
Seriously, who is that woman and why does she yell like that?
They're not to blame for my yelling though.
That's on me.
They don't cause me to yell - that 'yeller' is already inside of me, just waiting for an opportunity to come out. And that makes it a 'me' problem, not a 'them' problem.
I can't count the number of times I've prayed that God would change my heart so I never yelled again.
I can't count the number of times I've locked myself in the bathroom and turned on the fan (so I couldn't hear my kids) in order to prevent myself from yelling.
I can't count the number of times I've gone to my husband, asking him to handle a situation so I didn't start yelling.
I can't count the number of times I've sought council from wise women about what they do to prevent themselves from yelling.
I can't count the number of times I've laid in bed at night crying because of my yelling.
I can't count the number of times I've been thankful for the morning, feeling like it was a new beginning that hadn't yet been soiled by my yelling.
Sometimes, weeks go by and I don't yell.
Other times, I feel like I'm walking in a mine field, and any misstep is going to cause me to explode.
I don't really blow on account of mistakes because I make plenty of mistakes myself. And I don't typically blow on account of kids acting like kids because I can handle kids.
I blow it when there are lies though. I blow when there is disrespect. And I blow when it's the exact same problem day after day after day without any visible attempt to change or to do the right thing.
I don't write this proudly.
I do write it in fear of judgment though.
I've been around people who no longer have kids in the house and forget just how hard it is. In fact, I'm one of those people. I was just talking to Ross (my oldest, who is 23) the other day and said, "You never did the things these kids are doing!" to which he replied, "Oh mom, you romanticize everything! I did all of those things you've mentioned. You just forget."
And I've been around people who are patient and soft-spoken by nature, so yelling isn't something they've ever had to battle. I've never been patient or soft-spoken though, and I come from a long line of yellers (yellers I love), which makes it a hard, ongoing battle for me.
It's just so dang easy to judge a struggle you've never struggled with.
I'm quick to apologize though.
I'm also quick to point out my flaws and the fact that I hope my kids will remember my good attributes enough to adopt them in their own lives, and my bad attributes enough to steer clear of them.
And I'm quick to forgive.
If you ask any of my kids to list their favorite things about me, 'quick to forgive' will always make the list.
Do something wrong, but then come to me, apologize with sincerity and hug me, and it's as if nothing ever happened in my book.
I was talking to Josh on the phone yesterday about a struggle I was having with one of the kids, and he said, "Maybe that's why our kids keep doing what they're doing - because they know you'll always forgive them and act as if nothing even happened. Maybe you need to not forgive them so quickly in this situation so they can see what it's like in the real world where there isn't so much forgiveness."
He called back a few hours later to recant on that advice though and said, "It our job to love and forgive them the way Jesus does, not the way the world does."
And I believe that's the truth.
I also believe that the more I focus on myself and how I'm feeling (how frustrated I am with their grades, how much they've hurt my feelings, how little they seem to notice the non-stop hours I put in as a mom, how sad I am about their choices, how mad I am about the perpetual mess, how exhausted I am from keeping it all going, etc.) the more I yell.
Anytime I take my focus off of myself though, I start to feel the yoke of my yelling begin to lighten.
One of the problems is that by our very nature, we think constantly of ourselves. (Seriously, try NOT to think about yourself for a day and you'll agree.)
And society only fuels that problem with non-stop talk of SELF-worth, SELF-love, SELF-truth, SELF-knowledge, SELF-esteem, SELF-ies, etc.
I think all that talk of 'self' just leads us to be SELF-absorbed, SELF-centered, and SELF-ish.
All the research says that the problem most of us suffer from is low SELF-esteem, but whether we have high SELF-esteem or low SELF-esteem, they both stem from the exact same problem of thinking about ourSELF too much.
At least that's the problem in my house...everyone (including me) tends to think about themSELF more than they think about anyone else.
The other problem though is that that only way to quit thinking of ourSELF is to set our sights on something better than ourSELF (Jesus, love, grace, joy, giving-back, forgiveness, the generational impact of our families, the community impact of our generosity, etc.).
When I look at it in that light, it seems so clear that mySELF sucks.
MySELF sucks the life, the joy, and the meaning right out of me. It sucks my emotions dry. It sucks my energy dry. It sucks my potential dry. And it sucks all of my relationships dry as well.
So I have to quit allowing mySELF to suck those things dry, and have to start refilling them with something better...