Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Fun

It has been a busy summer this year. On the one hand we have done stuff and enjoyed it but on the other hand tomorrow is August 1st and I feel like we haven't even begun to experience summer!  This weekend the weather was PERFECT. Hot but not too hot, lower humidity, sunny.  Cooler in the mornings with the dew on the grass, birds chirping. I told John as we went for a walk after dinner one evening, "this is the weather I dream about during the long winters wondering if my memories are real and if I will ever experience it again."  I love everything about summer.

So this weekend we spent some time getting in a few of our favorite summer activities and wondering how many more times we can squeeze them in.

Our first stop was Bryant Lake beach.  I just love going to the lake, laying in the hot sand and watching the waves gently lap up on the shore.  All while my daughter swims in the water making friends with every little girl who walks by her.  I think half the girls at the beach knew Isabelle's name by the time we left.  John and I like to get hot before we go in but then the heavenly feel of the cool water and floating around.  Bliss.  John gets the workout tossing Isabelle over and over.  Why haven't we dragged ourselves over sooner?!  It takes no effort and no money to drive a couple miles away and lay on a beach.  We tend to be evening beach dwellers.  I may not be darkening my skin but I love soaking up the heat and wading in the water.

The next day, having enjoyed the beach so much, John surprises me by rolling over the canoe, attaching the new license I bought this year and heaving it onto the van.  Off we go for an evening on the lake.  We canoe at Bush Lake a couple miles from our house.  It isn't very big but there are no big horse power motors allowed on it and it is totally surrounded by trees and I always feel like I am in the middle of nowhere as we paddle around going nowhere in particular.

Yes the canoe is from the 1930's but it is solid as a rock.  And weighs as much as well.

Yes we need a new life jacket for her.

Yes he is an awesome stud.

Yes I did help him carry it over to the water.

No Isabelle didn't take any pictures to prove it.

The weather continues to be beautiful this week and we still have a month of summer weather ahead of us.  What will we do next?  Summer fun in Minnesota.  You just can't beat it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Guest Writing on Adoption

Today I am a guest writer (I have always wanted to say that) on "We Are Grafted In" writing about adoption and raising an adopted child.  Go check it out!  If you are visiting from there, welcome.

In a lot of ways raising an adopted child is just like raising any child.  Same love for them, same passion to see them grow to be wonderful, productive members of society.  I have the same prayer for Isabelle to be a godly woman and I did for Jake to be a godly man.  But on the other hand it is different, because our family was created different and no matter what kind of adoption you have other people are involved in creating your family. Whether your adoption is totally open like ours or totally closed those other people are part of your child's life and your life forever.  I have found that in helping Isabelle come to terms with her adoption I had to learn to view family different.  To embrace people outside of my biological connections and allow God to define my family.

And isn't that true of so many things in life?  In order to understand them we need to let God define them.  Who I am, who I should be, what I should do.  It would be easy to just follow the accepted traditions or current societal attitudes that answer those questions but when we let God define us, answer those questions and lead us through life we experience things beyond expectations, beyond what we could have ever known.

If John and I were too afraid of birth parents and the potential challenges of raising an adopted child to adopt we would have missed raising an amazing daughter, would have missed a relationship with Sam and Lauren and little Scarlet, would have missed the love we have for them all and the opportunity to understand how much God can love us as we experience how much we love a child and her birth family as if they were part of us.

Are you letting God define you?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tossing out my lists and rediscovering routine

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do". - Leonardo da Vinci

Lately I have been thinking about action.  Taking action vs planning to take action.  In my world it is SO much more fun to plan to take action than to take action.  I sit down to make a list of cleaning tasks as if I have never cleaned my house and can't see that there is a ring around the toilet and a pile of laundry taking over my basement.  But still I will often sit down to write the list.  I love lists and believe they have value but, sometimes I am just avoiding taking action.

Years ago I was reading a Beverly Lewis book about a young Amish girl who ends up leaving her Amish roots but stays with much of the tradition by becoming Mennonite.  As she navigates the new world she learns many of her friends make lists to keep track of what they need to do so she decides to start making one.  This young girl who spent her life learning the routines of life that would tell her when to cook, clean, run errands and relax suddenly was relying on a list instead of her routines. At the end of the short story she found herself without her husband's anniversary gift because she had read her list wrong.  It ended up to be a lesson to her to trust the routines she grew up with and the way she knew to do things.  And it has stuck with me through the years.

When I was a homemaker I had a routine.  I didn't need to write a list to know when to clean the bathroom, dust, mop, make dinner, etc.  Things that happened every day or at least every week were just done.  I just did them.  When I did put them on my lists they were generally covered with the word "clean".

Then I went to work and I am realizing that what I really miss is that routine.  My house doesn't clean itself, although sometimes within my routine it began to feel that way.  I would come home from work and nobody had swept up that spilled breakfast cereal or picked up the dirty clothes on the floor.  I was overwhelmed with all that needed to be done.

So I started making lists.  When I feel overwhelmed by the number of things in my brain to do and juggle I start making lists.  Cleaning lists, parenting lists, school lists, work lists, life lists, lists, and lists.  

But lately I am wondering if maybe instead of making a list when I feel overwhelmed I might just do something.  Toss a load of laundry in, sweep the kitchen, play a game with my daughter, write a few more words, send out some writing queries, put in another hour at work, take a walk.

To be clear, you won't see my tossing out my notebooks and lists.  I love lists!  But maybe I could do with a few less lists and a little more action.

I am learning, I am willing, I am ready.  Now is the time to Do.  To take action!

Today was one of those days I felt a little overwhelmed and didn't want to take action.  And normally that leads me to sit down and make a list but instead I pushed past that desire and did what I already knew needed to be done.  And it has energized me to get up tomorrow and be really productive.

Slowly, as the weeks and months and years go by I am developing a new routine, a new schedule, a  new way of doing my life and interacting with people.  And suddenly one day my kitchen and bathrooms will seem to clean themselves once again as I slide comfortably into my new routine.  And I will add new routines as business, writing and working from home become the normal routines of my day.  And each of these has their own routine just waiting to be discovered.

This is my year of action.  I have to admit that the year of action has been much more challenging than the year of release.  I would like to go back to releasing things and not taking action.  But this is my year of action and I feel God calling it to me every time I start to back up and look like I am going to sit down.  So I keep moving forward and looking for the next action to take.  One step at a time I am doing what I know I need to do and believing that God will use it all for His glory.  ...and maybe make enough money to pay the bills while John is in school?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gardening with Melanie part...

Remember 2 years ago when I planned to do a whole big weekly garden post and then didn't do anything in the yard all summer?  Remember last summer when we planted a whole expansive garden and then it grew and returned to seed while I had a total break down over going back to work?  Well this summer I quietly cleaned up my little garden spot and planted 3 plants.  I did water them for a few days after planting them but have basically neglected them as always.  I planted one strawberry plant.  I know it will be next year before we see if there is any success with that but I thought it sounded fun.  One cucumber plant and one cherry tomato plant.  Tonight on this steamy Minnesota night John and I wandered over to the garden to see how my little plants were doing.  And look what we found!

I grew those!  They didn't exist and now they do.  Amazing.  Can you believe it?!

I know what I will be having on my salad tomorrow.
So the lesson here is...keep trying?  Keep neglecting your garden?  Choose hearty plants.  Yes I believe that is our winner.  Actually, I don't know if I told you this story before but, many years ago when Jake was about Isabelle's age we planted some cucumber seeds in a little patch of dirt next to our driveway.  After one fun day of gardening we totally forgot about them.  Then one day I notice the weeds in that patch spilling over on to the driveway and what do I find but several plump and juicy cucumbers laying on our driveway under a leafy vine that had grown from the seeds Jake had planted weeks earlier.  We were amazed and excited.  So I knew if a cucumber was wiling to develop while sitting on an asphalt driveway that it likely would survive my neglect in a lovely, deer protected garden. 

Proof my theory was correct.

Maybe my thumb isn't black after all.

Just a very, very dark green.

Like the color of my new cucumbers.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

North Shore Weekend

John's grandma used to live in Silver Bay, MN.  It is a sweet little town about an hour north of Duluth.  I wish we had visited more when she was there but unfortunately I think we were only there once during the years she and her husband, Bud, lived there.  

Bud is gone now and shortly after his death Grandma started forgetting things.  She has forgotten most things now and lives in an assisted living building with a memory care floor.

But the house is still there.  It has been empty for nearly 3 years.  John and I stayed there a couple years ago as a little anniversary weekend.  The beds aren't really very comfortable but it is a cute little house in a cute little town and we enjoyed being there.

John's mom manages things now and the house needed a new roof.  She asked John if he would be able re-roof for her.  What we thought would be a quick 2 day job on a tiny house with a simple roof turned into a 5 day project.  He realized when he arrived he would need to do a complete tear off instead of just putting on new shingles.  Add to that an entire day last for rain and 1/2 day spent replacing some rotted plywood and suddenly your 2 day project has you up in Silver Bay alone for a week.  He called a few friends hoping they would want to come up for the weekend and help and asked around town but was unable to find anyone available to help.

Isabelle and I decided to go up and keep him company for a couple days while he worked.  I wish I was more helpful construction wise because that is what he really needed but I was just not built to stand on a roof and do hard labor.  God bless him, my husband knows this about me.  However, I did help toss shingles into the dumpster once they hit the ground.  It pretty much maxed out my laborer skills but I was happy to help.  As I was saying, we went up to keep him company.

With record heat that weekend John didn't work too fast or too long.  So while Isabelle and I had to go on our morning hike alone, John was able to join us for a couple hours when we went swimming.  Once cooled off he was back on the roof for the cooler evening.

Isabelle was excited to get up on the roof.

Straddling the short distance between the house and garage.

She helped out by tossing some shingles  into the dumpster...

Right in the dumpster it landed.  Rock star.

It was an interesting weekend because with an empty house we had appliances but nothing to cook with or on so we ate all our meals out.  And although John found 12 wireless networks in range they all had passwords.  So no internet for the whole weekend.  I pushed my little computer junkie to experience life rather than simply watch it on netflix.  We took 2 hikes during the 2 days we were there.  The first one was about 2 miles and she complained virtually the entire time.  The great thing about hiking in the middle of a 4 wheeler route is that there is nothing else around.  So she when she would announce that if I didn't pick her up she would not go any further I knew I could keep walking because there was nowhere else for her to go and nobody to see me abandon her.  And sure enough that bluff lasted about 2 seconds before she realized who really had the upper hand.  The second day she actually seemed excited for the hike.  We went left instead of right the second day and stumbled upon an access to the Superior Hiking trail about a 1/4 mile from the house.  SO exciting.  Isabelle doesn't do new so the moment we started a different route and then the whole time on the superior trail she complained.  Holy smokes can that girl complain.  But I was undeterred and I know she enjoyed it.  Someday I will get her to embrace the adventures of life instead of fret over them.

After lunch we went swimming in the Baptism River.  Some friends told us about a place to swim right at the mouth to Superior.  It was literally right at the mouth.  Climb the rocks around the corner and you are in Lake Superior.  The rocky beach and and river bed were a little too much for my sensitive feet (have I ever mentioned I am high maintenance?) but all I really wanted to do was sit on the beach with my legs in the water and that is exactly what I got to do.  We ended up being there about 3 hours and toward the end Isabelle randomly announced, "This is WAY better than TV".  So apparently she had been listening to me telling her living life was better than watching it.

We got a late afternoon start home on Sunday and by the time we reached Duluth I was ready for a treat.  I got off at Canal Park and found a parking spot right in front of Caribou.  It was like a sign from God.  I got my drink and went around the corner to pick up a DQ for Isabelle.  We decided to get a meal and then I made her walk 3 blocks to the lake before I would let her sit down and eat.  TORTURE!  She had no vision for where I was taking her and complained for 3 blocks.  Of course when we arrived I couldn't get her to sit and eat!  She did quickly gulp her melting ice cream but there I was holding my purse, 2 drinks and our food bag following her around as she climbed the rocks, dipped her toes in the lake and chased the sea gulls.  I think we might still be there if it wasn't for the fact that she had to go to the bathroom.  I started directing her back toward Caribou but she actually got excited by the site of a Biff and went in.  You really have to go when a Biff sounds more exciting than a 3 block walk to indoor plumbing.  I waited till Caribou.  On the walk back we went past a shop FULL of sparkling jewelry all displayed on pink satin drapped tables.  It was almost as if a force beyond our control sucked her in.  How can you possibly resist such a thing when you are 7 years old?  I agreed to 5 minutes which was more like 10 minutes and as we walked out of the store she announced, "this was the best vacation EVER."  I had to laugh.  For all her complaining it turned out her mom knew what she was doing.

Now we are looking forward to getting up there again to enjoy all that Silver Bay and Duluth have to offer without the stress of a roofing job.  And HOPEFULLY, having discovered how much fun it can be, Isabelle won't complain the whole time.

I can hope.

The New Toilet Seat

When we bought our house it was not new, or pretty.  Besides being quite dated the previous owner had a drug and alcohol problem which led him to start but not finish several projects in the house.  So the ceramic tile in the front entry was half chopped out, some of the wall paper had been partially stripped, the previously finished basement had been gutted and then about 3 sheets of Sheetrock had been randomly nailed to the ceiling. There was a door missing on the bathroom vanity and the sink dripped. He tried to burn trash in the fireplace and there was soot marks going all the way to the ceiling. And don't even get me started on the cleanliness of the place.

But, long story short, we bought it.

Then we cleaned it, painted every wall and ceiling, re-did the hardwood floors, tiled the kitchen and bathrooms, re-finished the basement, new counters, new sinks, new light fixtures, new toilets, amen.

And we moved in to a beautiful new house.

So you can imagine my surprise when John tells me his toilet seat broke the other day.  I mean it is brand new!  We just bought it...oh, 10 years ago.

How did this happen?  How have we been here 10 years?

Did you know you are supposed to update your house every 10 years?  I mean I just re-did my house, don't you think it is fine?  I still think it looks good.  I suppose I can see that the paint could use some freshening and the floors are a bit scratched up, and the door on the cheap vanity in the bathroom keeps falling off, and the kitchen faucet leaks, the basement carpet is stained, and the toilet seat just cracked...OK I may see their point.

It isn't like you have to do a complete remodel every 10 years but, little updates which, if you do on an ongoing basis, maintain your house.  And all those things that need to be done to our house to keep it in good condition could be easily done one at a time to keep our house from getting dated. We could grab a new kitchen faucet one of these days while John still gets a builder discount.  And paint is relatively cheap.  One thing at a time.  Or one room at a time.  Some projects are bigger and some projects we make bigger.

I am dreaming that when we are ready to re-do the bathrooms that we can do a total re-structure of the main and master bathrooms.  I imagine stealing space from a closet and hallway and creating a bigger master bath with an electric outlet (which we currently don't have in that bathroom) and a second sink so I can move in there with John before Isabelle hits her teen years and I am having to schedule time with her to get into mine.  That will take some money though.  I won't be able to squeeze that out of a fuller summer paycheck.  That will have to be planned for.  Like the paint job we need to do outside the house.  For years we have been talking about how we would like to re-do the brick and maybe wrap the columns in something more modern.  However, we finally realized that the paint is chipping and we don't have the money for the big project so it is time to just slap some paint on this bad dog and move on.  It will need to be re-painted again in a few years and maybe then we can think bigger.

John is in school, Jake is headed to college, I am trying to start a business and Isabelle really wants to take some lesson or be in some sport.  Suddenly I understand how my parents still had the same gold carpet and foil wallpaper in their house long after anyone thought it was in style.  And I am impressed that they were able to occasionally paint the inside and out while we were growing up.  Some days even a can of paint feels like a challenge.

Luckily, I was so cutting edge with my green kitchen cabinets that I still occasionally see the color in home decor magazines.  Along with everything else.  But the tides are changing and I suspect in a couple more years I will wake up to discover my house is the new version of gold shag carpet and foil wallpaper.  And our kids will be wishing we would do something about it and wondering why we can't see how horrible it is.  We will just smile, look around, see the life we have lived here and tell them how much we still like it.

Until then I guess we will just focus on work, school, raising kids and putting out the little fires. Like a $5 toilet seat.

How does your house look?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reflecting on the story so far

Recently I was going through one of my notebooks and reviewing some of what I had written.  This particular notebook is the one I had with me during my lunch breaks last year as I was transitioning back to work.  It is interesting to re-enter a life that seems like it happened yesterday yet was over a year ago.  The first couple pages have notes written before my life totally changed.  And as I look at my meal plans, parenting ideas and budget notes (This journal is a life journal not just a journal journal) I think about that person who wrote them.  A different person than I am today.  It felt like a peak back in time.  I remember that woman, the homemaker, but I'm not sure I still know her.

After that begins my writings during those early weeks and months. It brings me back to those moments and those feelings and makes me so grateful for coming through to this other side.  And reading them helped me see the passage of time, the road that I have covered during this past year even in places it seems like I have been at a stand still.

One of the more interesting entries dealt with Jake's 17th birthday.  I wrote almost the exact same thing I would have written this year except with the sense of his impending adulthood and my worry about whether he would every pull it together.  This year that adulthood was upon him but still that worry about whether he would pull it together.  I had begun several drafts of what I wanted to be a blog post about what a great kid I had but ended with a prayer admitting to God that I was "struggling to see my son in the clutter of my frustration."  I knew he was great I was just having a hard time coming up with anything great to say about him.  If I had been home it would have been a very different senior year, very different college search process.  Not sure if that is good or bad but I quickly realized in the middle of this very big transition that I would not be able to micromanage his life this past year and, as I did with so many other things, I had to release Jake to God and trust Him to take care of my boy.  I am happy to report that a couple weeks into adulthood and post Eagle project we are all starting to like each other again, there is hope!

And it is interesting to watch the process of me releasing control of my life through the book.  As you see less and less notes about the details, as my goals throughout the year became shorter and more realistic and as I became more relaxed and comfortable with my new life.  Then finally getting the point where I was able to look at my life without the panic of transition and see what was working and what wasn't and prepare to make the job change

There is also lots of notes about business ideas, to do lists, lofty plans.  I think I have finally begun narrowing my focus, I am working on a web site and am really excited about it.  I have a little bit of capital and am doing something I have never done before with any of my big ideas, I am investing in them.  Not just time but money too.  It would be nice if i could launch a business for free but honestly, not possible.  And I am amazed at how much more motivated and excited I am as I take these steps and really start seeing this thing come together.  It isn't just in my head, it is coming out and looking like something!  I started a new notebook just for the web site once I figured out what I wanted to do so there are no more notes about businesses in the notebook but this is where it all started.

I still have a few more pages in this book.  I don't know what I will fill them with, what will happen next, what lists I will make, feelings I will need to express or ideas I will want to map out.  The pages look blank right now but they are really full of possibility, hope and excitement just waiting to be discovered.

This book, and all the notebooks on my shelves, represent my story, the story of my life, my journey.  The story I write one day at a time as I live my life.  The story God is writing on me as I seek Him and the path He has created for me.  Looking back and seeing His hand, seeing the process, seeing the progress helps me get excited as I march forward.  I don't know how the story ends quite yet, and I pray this story goes on for many, many more books, but I do know it is going somewhere and it is great.