Saturday, December 24, 2011

Big. Best. Babies.

During big and memorable times of year, like say, the holidays, it's easy for me to get caught up in stressing about doing something bigger or doing something better.

God does huge stuff.  But when He sent Jesus, he showed up as a baby.  A teeny, tiny baby, born into one family.  In one little village, in one little corner of the world, touching just the neighbors, friends and strangers that happened by.  That's big?!

God does the best stuff.  But He knows that we don't.  Maybe that's why He gives us babies, children, little opportunities for redemption.  One child taken too soon, two to redeem and replace.  A little child, a new opportunity for grandparents and parents to love better or love like they weren't.  Little ones with so many needs that if you blow it once, a chance for redemption is probably just seconds away.

My little ones, they are straight from God, precious gifts, and a visible reminder of the little Child of God sent so many, many years ago.  Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Getting what I don't deserve

What if this is God’s message? Not a message that starts by pounding you over the head with guilt, but a message that catches you when you least deserve it and pours out love to win you? Maybe it’s obvious to the rest of you, but I didn’t grow up hearing that message, and the possibility of it has been eating at me for months now.

Two months of my salary was taken, and we were fuming. It was a small offense, I came to realize later, compared to losing all your belongings, having your body or mind taken from you, losing a child. But still, these words hit my previously “enemy-less” world with a thud.

"If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. Live generously.” (Jesus, Mt. 5:41-42)

If my wallet was stolen, I’d hardly think to chase the offender and hand him my husband’s wallet too. But it would mess with his mind for sure, and probably mine too. Jesus and his Father do this sort of thing over and over. There is justice, but there is way more grace. I never noticed, I never understood. I started to, and after a few months I sent a big flower bouquet instead of a lawyer.

I glimpse this again as John and I marked 10 years of marriage and again as we live near extended family for the first time. You blow me away when you do my dishes in spite of me snapping at you. You come to my house and clean up my messes, even though all I do at your house is make messes. We see each other’s crap because we see each other every day and there is no glossing over it. We are sometimes even hurt by it, and we either let the resentment and irritation build or give an unmerited double helping of love instead.

Every time I receive love instead of what I deserve, it stops me in my tracks, makes me consider grace and mercy, and points me to a loving God. When I give one person what they don’t deserve, I start seeing everyone around me a little differently, start being gentler with them.

My lost $2000 is pocket change. Being forgiven 70x7 times by you, more notable. Forgiving a murderer? Giving them a second chance?!? This stuff starts to shake me up. It’s radical. It’s different. I want to know more about the God that would inspire this insanity, the God who catches our attention by giving us what we don’t deserve, the God who tells us to give others what they don’t deserve.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I need you...

It's easy to wish that we could be there for each other more often, lived closer, were the best friend that got the call. At least for me...

But by definition "best" sort of implies one top dog, and if we were all each others best friends, well, it just wouldn't work out. Growing a little older, sending Christmas cards to the trail of states we've left behind, I'm appreciating more and more the tapestry of people that make my life happen, that make my life happy. I need each and every one of you, and I hope you'll stick around for a good many years.

I need you so that I have friends to stay with when I visit Fargo. Or Lincoln. Or Grand Rapids.

I need you to cheer me up when you smile and say a kind word as I parade my family around the grocery store.

I need you to talk about not going to church, so that years later I have a companion when I'm going to church less.

I need you to go out for drinks in the backyard or downtown suburbia, even if we just met, so we feel less lonely.

I need you to hold a family sing-a-long every year so that when I move back to town, I'm enveloped with a sense of my own family belonging to a larger one.

I need you to pick my daughter up from school so that I can go to work.

I need you to send me a birthday card every single year.

I need you to need me.

I need you to be an old friend so that whenever we meet up again, I don't have to explain my entire family history.

I need you to compete against in a friendly game. It's not everyone's cup of tea, you know!

I need you to be dependably by my side every single day.

I need you to have issues. So I know that my screaming child or depressed day or mistake are normal. And we can lift each other up with understanding when need be.

I need you to give me a big hug.

I need you to chat with while walking up or down the hill to school every day.

Now that I've started, this list could really go on for a very long time. So if I've missed you in these first few thoughts, don't even start to think that I don't need you.

Because I absolutely do.

Christmas splurge?

Live happens in neatly packaged (stressful!) semesters around here. One just ended, so I'm going to see if I can in indulge in putting a few of my scattered thoughts to "paper" here this break...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day 23 (+30): Oh yes, did I forget to tell you???

Orange County, California

We made it! From sea (Atlantic) to shining sea (Pacific) and into our very own house, ever so close to where I grew up... Keeping plenty busy with settling in, moving in, working at home and across town, all that good stuff. Here we are at Huntington Beach a couple of days after we arrived, completing the whole "coast-to-coast" thing.

(As usual, we were indebted to the strangers who not only took our picture but made silly faces to get our kids to smile, and to the parents back at home who would have beds, laundry, and food waiting when we got home.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 20: And the greatest of these is...

Idaho Falls, Idaho

Lots of notable moments in the last few days (along with the usual multitude of ones I'd rather forget!). Crossed 4000 miles on this crazy journey of ours. Ticked off our 48th continental state today (Idaho) - all but Louisiana we've done together and with Abby. Saw our 51st license plate (New Mexico). Visited Yellowstone National Park. Three more days until we cross into California and call it a summer!

So yes, back to Yellowstone and our hobby of visiting national parks. We've wanted to do Yellowstone for years and have ended up missing it because it is in a lonely corner of Wyoming. Well, this was the year.

First, we actually stopped at a rest area inside of the little known Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Amazing views of the Badlands just off the interstate, hands down the best rest area EVER. We followed the Yellowstone River about 500 miles from there through Montana and into Yellowstone National Park, intrigued by the fact that Lewis and Clark took the same route a couple hundred years ago. (And we think it's hard to get here!) We only had a couple of days, but Yellowstone wasn't quite all we hoped. Cool thermal features, great scenery, but more built up and touristy than anything we've ever experienced, and chasing twins on boardwalks over scalding springs while dodging tourists sitting on the boardwalks to have their pictures taken kind of sucked. Not clamoring to go back any time too soon.

But then, the greatest of our mini national park tour was Grand Teton National Park today. It was just a morning drive and brief hike around a lake at the foot of Grand Teton itself, but somehow it was much more to our liking. No bustling villages and mammoth tour buses, just friendly rangers and hikers and a simply amazing backdrop.

It's surprising what you find on the journey sometimes, eh?

What's your favorite national or state park? (Not that we have another road trip planned anytime soon, but you know, sometimes it's good to keep a running list of ideas ;-).)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 16: Way up north

Fargo, North Dakota

Keep wanting to post, but planning for our last big push through Yellowstone and California, dealing with a flat tire, and mostly a great week with friends and family in their homes are taking up my time. Anyway, we're just about through all 48 states, with North Dakota being #46. Just had to post from here for the randomness of it - catching up with old friends from Florida way up north here. (Yes Karla, if we're old, you're almost old ;-)).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 11: Going and coming

Champaign, Illinois

We're back in of our most recent "home" towns, spending days with generous friends who share their basement, food, and laundry room with us. After a 24 hour-long blip into Canada (Niagara Falls), a year-long blip away from this city, and a years-long blip from Michigan relatives, we're reminded of the sweetness of the familiar. It takes guts or sometimes just circumstances to yank us out of the familiar, but there's something about leaving that later lets us come back with a new sense of awe and appreciation. It's good to get away, so I stop and notice things like...

Restaurant names and prices that are American.

Extended family that understands being over 6-6 and shares your career path and looks like you. (OK, that one is John's - I know nothing about being 6-6!)

Friends, both parents and kids, that you can pick right up with every time you meet. Watching your friends' kids grow up and being able to play with them. As one of the girls prayed, "thank you God for friends that you know really love you."

Prairie clouds and rainbows that fill up the entire sky, from the ground up, and flat land to look across for miles in every direction. Peace and quiet.

A room shared with no small children, a late and lazy morning, a quiet afternoon.

The strangest thing about all of these things - I haven't grabbed my camera to capture any of them. For all the thousands of snapshots that I take, somehow it just feels most fitting be in the moment in the best of times.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 7 - Rules to live by?

Syracuse, New York

We've spent the last couple of days weaving our way through the mountains of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Everything is vibrant and green this time of year, and New Englanders definitely know how to do summer right - the Main Streets, flowers, and American flags in between postcard mountain views are pretty cool. If, that is, we had time to appreciate the fact that we were crawling along at 25 mph on the slowest going road trip days we've ever had.

Which is the nice way of saying that yesterday, after 360 miles and 6 hours, we were a nice mix of burnt out, frustrated, angry and other nice things like that. (I once read that couples that stay together are the one who camp together, because camping tends to involve learning to survive serious spurts of misery. If camping isn't your thing, might I suggest multi-day road trips with little kids?)

At the end of the day, there were two things that I want to remember.

1. Eat at McDonald's more often. We pulled into one for a quick dinner, and ended up eating in because White River Junction, Vermont apparently turns into a parking lot at 5 p.m. Turned out that there was a family with a 5 year old + 2-year-old triplet boys and another mom with a 2 year old plus 3 month-old-twins there also, all in our little corner. I've never felt so comfortable with my four rowdy kids, and so aware of how much ALL parents of little ones need to feel completely happy with feeding their kids easy, unhealthy food on a semi-regular basis.

2. Shamelessly sit in a desk chair on the front motel sidewalk with my husband more often. Carving out a little chill time apart from the kids is critical, and mid-trip it's either out front with the bikers or perched on the toilet and tub while the four of them slowly fall asleep. Neither one may be classy, but either one works to have hard conversations like - "when you said you were sick of this damn road trip and it was time to put me and the boys on a plane, did you mean it?" I hate how easy it is to get mad at each other, and it's always hard to talk through it. I don't know how people manage it for 50 years, but we did go to bed back on the same page and still friends. (Tonight, the hashing it out happened at the playground, and then we perched on the toilet/tub in peace later. There is no other way to do relationships that one hard day at a time, is there?!)

In between eating junk food with my kids and ranting lovingly with my husband, I will continue to survive on the kind or at least funny words of others too (and try to spread some of my own). The kind words of strangers do not cease to amaze and encourage me along the way - as simple as "you'll make it, and you have a beautiful family" or here, "you go ahead in line". Or my absolute favorite line ever in reaction to the twins from a girl at the playground - "Oh, they're twins? I have a twin in Antarctica." I was left speechless.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 4: Maine-ly miscellaneous

Bar Harbor, Maine

In which I recollect the excitement thus far… (To see what the heck we are doing in Maine and where we are going, see here.)

Day 1 – On which Danny decides to kick off the fun by waking up at 5:15 AM. On which John goes out to load up our last few bags, only to discover that I left the interior lights on last night and the battery is dead. This is a wretched way to begin a 4500 mile road trip. Somehow, he managed to not verbalize or even act on all that rage, causing me to be hopelessly in love with him again. Once on the road, the ease of travel is amazingly better than last year’s trip, namely the fact that bottles and breastpumps a la car are no where to be found. Chasing toddlers at rest stops is kind of treacherous, but I’ll take it.

Our kids are growing up with a keen gratitude for the little things in life (or very middle class taste). They think our Connecticut Hojo room that night is amazing and spacious, despite the various off smells that are thick in the room and hallways. Add a rotisserie chicken and $1.25 generic orange sherbet for dinner (Abby professes her love for the poor little dead chicken about 20x), and a supercool post-dinner playground trip, and they could not be happier. Even I swoon a bit over the cheap mattresses, which beat the air mattresses in our empty house from the past two nights. Never felt better to have a bed and a bistro table so close by!

Day 2 – On which we loath the green-dotted scenic routes in the atlas and Google Maps for saying it was a short drive and me for insisting we take the scenic route instead of the interstate. It was not any more scenic than I-95 and took an hour longer than expected. The boys stated in no uncertain terms that it was one more hour than their little butts could handle, and when they scream, we agree in misery.

However, we made it to Maine, a new state for all six of us, and ate lunch with a view of the ocean. We were serenaded with storefront signs introducing us to all things Maine-ly Motors and Maine-ly Ice Cream and Maine-ly Lobsters. Purple lupine along the road were beautiful, and the hotel at the end of the day was lovely too. If our empty house made Hojo seem palatial the night before, this next place is divine. A view of the bay/islands/ocean, towels thick enough to call fluffy, a continental breakfast with a toaster too, and only the smell of bleach to greet us.

Day 3 – On which John declares that he will never travel off season again, due to the fact that off season apparently equals weather that probably sucks. The prices are better, but after our water view disappeared into a hazy white mist from ground to sky and the temps hover around 50, and we put on every layer we have to go hike in the rain, we are a bit jaded. That said, it was the longest hike we’ve ever done with all the kids (3.2 whopping miles) and dubbed by Rachel to be “the most awesome place” she’d ever been. (Until Abby asked – “even better than Disneyland?” – and she conceded that Disney would come first.) We decide to extend our stay an extra day to chase the sunshine that they say is coming.

Day 4 – On which I started to have no complaints, until I find out for myself that our hotel internet is slower than what I had in the 90s and I have recollected all these things twice now! Speaking of twice, twins are twice as nice, but one will inevitably fuss and hurry you through your morning, even if they are carried at will, have ocean vistas in every direction, and a lovely sandy beach complete with edible goldfish to wrap it all up. Fortunately, their smiles and cheeks are irresistibly cute, and all is forgiven. Finally saw the quintessential rocky Maine coast complete with a few lobster boats and enough sun to make a shiny spot in the clouds – absolutely beautiful, and no rain today!!!

Oh yes, traveling with babies does have another upside. Nap time. It means each parent gets either a few hours to chill in a quiet room, or a few hours to hang out solo with the girls. Either way, you make out great. Can I also say that if someone came to my room and emptied the trash and made the beds and wiped the counters, I could almost get used to living in 200 sq. feet forever?!

Day 4: On the road again...

Bar Harbor, Maine

I'm re-surfacing from the craziness of life to try and journal another summer road trip... Our lives are in the midst of another big transition - a new job for the beloved Professor to whom I am married is taking us from my newly beloved East coast and back to the very neighborhood in which I grew up on the West coast. Long stories, but after months and months of knowing and planning, we left Baltimore four days ago, and are trekking across the country slowly with bits of vacation, friends, and family scattered throughout.

It's a move that was initially kind of shocking, even though we knew it was a slim possibility even before we arrived in Maryland last summer. In fact, the thought of moving back "home" felt a bit like a mega-letdown after I fled CA so many years ago! However, the job was offered, the timing seems good (especially for a fledgling prof and his full nest of school-age children), we will have the help of family near by, and so here we go!

Amidst all of the planning and spending of the move, I'm coming to grips with the fact that stuff is, well, just stuff. Giving away stuff, finding a new place to live (always full of give-and-take), worrying about the accounting of it all. Stuff is just stuff, money is just money. It's all going to be gone someday anyway, so why waste TOO much time stressing about it, eh? My natural inclination to do just the opposite of that, but maybe I'm growing a bit older and wiser by year.

Oh, and then besides stuff there are the people. If there is one thing that is on my mind as we said goodbye to a few dear friends in Maryland and started a few weeks of living in a van plus 200 sq. ft of nightly living space (which I have an odd affection for most days), it's that the people are really the ones that get you through, and that you can't live without, and that you will be living with and needing forever! Again, a bit against my natural independent instincts, but maybe I'm learning...

Anyhow, now that I've explained how we aren't in Baltimore anymore, I can move on to journaling the adventures here and there along our trip and then "on living in the OC".

Friday, April 8, 2011

Physically impossible

He was 70 or 80-something, slouched in the passenger seat in front of the car and staring straight ahead. He was there when I slowly mobilized my three younger kids into the grocery store yesterday, and still there when we rolled through the parking lot twenty minutes later, four gallons of milk and three loaves of bread heavier. How could you leave him in the car for so long?

And then I realized - maybe it's physically impossible for her to take him in, yet also impossible to leave him home alone. Maybe it was walking through the grocery store teeming with the over 70 set, many in pairs, many barely able to walk, that made me think twice. Maybe its my current almost-physically-impossible state of taking 1.5 year old twins out that helped compassion flicker.

Without a stroller, I literally can't go safely go anywhere with them, and they're almost more than I can hold all at once. If I want to shop for any more than will fit under the stroller (read: most any grocery trip or Target trip), it involves a delicate (BUMBLING!) push-stroller-pull-cart thing. Never mind extra-curricular outings like the park, zoo, museum, library, public restroom. They're all either a major project or major physical impossibility or safety hazard. Poor me.

But what if the person in my care was an elderly spouse, who couldn't be pushed in a stroller, even if I had the strength? Or a special needs kid far over the age of 1, whom I might barely push-pull around and but would also feel like such a spectacle? Especially if my kid decided to have a meltdown mid-trip. Or just a chronically sick parent or child? You can't leave them home alone. So how would I buy milk, go for a walk, buy clothes, go do almost anything we call "fun"? For these caretakers, it is pretty much physically impossible. (And their caring goes on for years.) I don't know, I never thought about it before.

God, give me a heart to see, love, and help those who have the difficult task of taking care of others.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I never get tired of this...

The first, biggest, brightest flowers of spring, basking in the morning sunshine. Almost proof that perfect is actually possible?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Risk, marriage, and Phil Mickelson

This week, I read a little article about Phil Mickelson (the golfer) and his family in the literary bastion Parade magazine that comes in the weekly paper. It was surprisingly touching. He's notoriously good at golf, but also notoriously willing to take risks on the golf course. Ironically, one of the most willing-to-risk-it guys in pro golf has one of the more stable off-course lives, with the same caddy, manager, and wife in the 20 years since college. As the author of the story said, "Maybe Mickelson can handle that unpredictability because he's so predictable off the course." His caddy recalls a time he blew a lead to lose a tournament, "His mind set was, 'It's time to move on. I know my wife loves me, I know my kids love me, I can't wait to tee it up next time.'" And Phil himself says, "My family has reduced the effect of my career on my self-esteem. When I'm with them, they make me feel special regardless of how I play."

Maybe it's working with college students, maybe it's that all of our siblings are 20/30-something and unmarried, but I sometimes feel a bit out of it for being "tied down" in marriage for nearly 10 years, unable to easily pitch to them all why I'd actually recommend it, even at a young-ish age. This little article kind of helped me put a finger on a few of the benefits of committing forever. What if taking the plunge and getting married isn't the death of fun and freedom? What if committing for the long haul in one area actually gives you MORE freedom in lots of other areas?

What if marriage is less about the danger of assuming the risks inside marriage - can we stand each others flaws forever? can we find jobs in the same city? can we stay in love? can we forgive?

And more about emboldening us to take on more risks outside marriage because we can count on having a committed partner by our side - what if going back to grad school doesn't work out? what if the new friends don't like me? what if I regret moving? what if I get laid off? what if my service idea bombs? what if ____ goes horribly wrong?

What if marriage isn't a liability, but rather an asset to build that frees us up to take on some risky challenges and opens doors for some really great stuff?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Intensely simple

It's easy for me to complain when life gets intense. "Intense" comes in many different ways: work commitments, lots of kids to care for, a serious illness, debts, moves, (name your own intense situation!). Now, we don't have all of those going on right now, but plenty to make life feel kind of intense sometimes.

In our current season of living intensely, I'm noticing this pleasant, lingering side effect - intensity makes my life simpler.

It's counter-intuitive, that life being "busy" and "hard" makes it simple, but it seems that it is true. Here's my anecdotal evidence...

When I make my to-do list each morning, it's an easy, thoughtless process. Cook dinner, take the trash out, shower, run, grade papers. And all time in between will be spent immersed in my family, students, or strangers along the way. Fairly simple.

When the boys are awake, I play with all the kids. As hard as possible. Much less meandering to the computer or a magazine or the kitchen. (Except for right now, as I'm blogging - ha!) Precious few minutes mean playing hard.

If I'm fortunate enough to be home at the same time as John, it's got to be mostly quality time - no time for distance or disagreements. And it's (usually) not too hard to avoid those, since I'm just so happy that we are together.

When I'm working on "school" work, there are few distractions allowed. Must. Get. Through. This. Stack. Before the boys wake up!

When I long for friends, it's quite simple - take whoever drops into your life. Family and friends who temporarily move in with you. The neighbor who comes up the hill. The friend who insists that you go to coffee together. Don't stress about seeking out more or doing more, there simply isn't time now.

When I feel like cooking something more than frozen soup or spaghetti, I don't. A little dish-washing plus a little play time are far more valuable to the family right now.

This intense simplicity blankets nearly every area of my life right now - not just marriage, kids, and work, but also church, spending, recreation, involvement at the kids' schools or at work, and on and on. Strangely, in spite of the occasional exhaustion, the intense simplicity is mostly refreshing!

So with just enough time and energy left to complain OR be thankful, I guess there is one more fairly simple choice...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I'm puzzled

One way to describe life is as a journey. I think mine is a bit more like a puzzle - the 1000 piece puzzle spread all over the bar in my basement, to be exact. One small difference, my life doesn't come with a picture on the box!

I haven't done a puzzle with more than 100 pieces and at least one Care Bear or princess on it for about 15 years now. But when you get one for Christmas and then make the mistake of opening it and find a high spot to do it on, you slowly get sucked in.

I forgot how doing a big puzzle works, until this little refresher. My dedicated puzzle-doing family raised me to diligently sort out the edges, put them together, and work from there.

But ten whopping years or so into my adult life, I do my puzzles (and my life) a little differently. Figuring out the nice neat edges holds no appeal and provides no big picture. In the enormous pile of 1000 pieces dumped in front of me, no one piece is very meaningful or fitting AT ALL.

So instead I just start with the obvious. The biggest hot air balloon with the most unique colors. The artist's signature. I find the pieces and put them together, two at a time. I quickly despair, and text my sister and tell her I'm probably going to give up now and save it for her to fix in a few weeks. I kind of do life this way. College, OK, choose one, and figure out my major as I go. Another obvious step, marry that great guy I met. And have some kids. Finish grad school. Do whatever seems most obvious. After putting a few pieces together, I actually cheer up a little. I gain a teeny bit of perspective of what this thing might look like, and motivation to work a little more on each balloon.

Then it gets more complicated. What about that big pile of yellow pieces I've sorted out? Shoot, five of the balloons are yellow. Look a little closer, and I can see details that help me figure out where each one goes. Or even two or three at a time!

And that mess off to the side? The other 800 pieces?! Little by little, as I rustle through them, a certain shape or color combination jumps out at me now. Something about staring at, eating with, vacationing by, reading up on that family of mine, that career, that hobby for so long builds recognition. Yes, we would love that house! No, that definitely would not be his kind of birthday present. I start to distinguish between the different shades of yellow on each balloon without even trying. Here and there, a chunk of pieces connects to another. Even a couple of edge pieces get connected. It's actually kind of exciting (yes, a puzzle?!). I think it's kind of like being an entire decade or so into my adult life.

So once the six main balloons have begun to take shape, what's left to get excited about in the puzzle? Ohhh, the connections of course - I love the ones where five or six pieces suddenly connect two chunks together. Suddenly you get an even bigger picture. And the details - the little people and fences in between the big bright spots. Maybe a reflection, big or small, or a balloon I didn't even notice initially. And the edges. Maybe I'll get to them, or maybe I won't (my sister even said she'd do them for me). It kind of amazes me how finding the shapes, matching the colors, noticing the details is getting more interesting and more fun (and occassionally even easier) by leaps and bounds on this thing.

If the progress in my puzzle is really anything like growing up and growing older, I think I like it a lot.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Little facts from Baltimore...

Useful/less things I’m learning here in Baltimore...

The Civil War was also fought in the Mediterranean Sea by ships like this one that we explored in our Inner Harbor. Huh?! Also, I think it would be really cool and really challenging to cook good meals for 100+ people in the kitchen we saw on the submarine on that same trip downtown.

There is a difference between a plantation and a factory, a la 1800. Five minutes away is a factory where the plants and livestock were raised to feed the slaves at the ironworks in the late 1700s, early 1800s. A factory grows what it needs for the workers, a plantation grows more to sell. This house is bigger than Mt. Vernon and Monticello, and also a whole lot closer to us and free.

Maryland was neutral during the Civil War, as I learned from a Civil Warm re-enactor here. But the southern part of the state favored the south, and the northern, the north. Neutrality was good for the government in DC, and also for a skinny state stuck in the middle.

B&O Railroad stands for Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. One of the first railroads in the country, started in the 1830s. And the first rail cars looked more like stagecoaches on wheels. The people on top would often get hit by flying embers.

Big school districts are kind of obnoxious about their red tape. And heat, rain, or one quarter inch of snow will close schools for at least a few hours in Baltimore.

Maryland’s flag is the only state flag with a coat of arms in it. Kinda funky looking, but kind of cool.

Cardinals are much more common than orioles here. Am I in Illinois still?!

Watching the sun rise over the ocean is fairly blinding compared to watching it set over the ocean.

The Appalachian mountains are actually more beautiful and vast than I expected, even to me (CA mountain snob) and John (CO mountain snob).

You can go up inside the Washington monument in D.C. (I haven’t yet though). There’s also an older monument to Washington here in Baltimore.

Cool stuff, eh?

a quick look back...

December flew by, the first half spent busier than ever with new friends here, and the second half busier than ever with a house full of John's family. Both wonderful! John, his brothers and Dad, and the girls spent New Year's Eve day in Washington DC, leaving me to the first quiet and solitude I can remember during the entire year. Here's what the silence brought to mind, as I thought back over a remarkable month, fall, and year. An epically long post with 31 things I'm thankful for. Enjoy :). (Cutting and pasting has messed with my format, but I'm just going to pretend I don't notice!)

1. Silence for the first time in weeks to collect my thoughts. Ahhh, peace and quiet.

2. 2. A big, big house with lots and lots of room. Plus a big, big yard. For hosting lots of family.

3. 3. Stomach stuffed full from a skillet breakfast that IHOP would die for.

4. 4. Silence in the house. Sleeping babies.

5. 5. Abby’s giant sparkling eyes and toothless smile that cheer me up. Always willing to help with a smile, especially with her baby brothers.

6. 6. Rachel’s LOUD belly laughs and hollers that help us take life up a notch every day. Long blond hair and legs growing longer every day. And reading!

7. 7. Baskets of clean laundry folded on the floor.

8. 8. Being at peace with the messes that I can see in every direction in my house.

9. 9. The furnace clicking on.

10. 10. Bigger paychecks, so balancing the bills and savings is less pressing and less depressing, especially in winter.

11. 11. Danny and Jimmy, strong and healthy enough to climb up almost everything, to bang pans loudly, and to make a serious addition to my grocery bills.

12. 12. The babies making each other laugh.

13. 13. John on the floor with 4 kids climbing happily all over him. Bringing home (bigger!) paychecks. Listening to me. Moving me around the country. Throwing me on the bed any chance he gets.

14. 14. Brothers-in-law to make us laugh louder and more often.

15. 15. Mother-in-law visiting peacefully and doling out love and presents to all. Free dates!

16. 16. Father-in-law hanging around. Having random discussions about religion or politics or whatever that are easy and interesting.

17. 17. Skyping with my own extended family, all of them, for a glimmer of my own family over the holidays.

18. 18. Boys sleeping through the night. Enough energy for me to run a bit again, cook a little, play a little.

19. 19. Views of the hills and so many trees out my window.

20. 20. Touring new things around the area. Time in Baltimore/on the east coast to explore.

21. 21. Dates with John to the doughnut shop and Panera.

22. 22. Not a thought given to work for two weeks.

23. 23. Girls having fun with their relatives.

24. 24. Ticking clocks, humming refrigerator, passing traffic. Sounds that were strange 5 months ago and are now “home”.

25. 25. Friends waiting to call up after the holidays. No one was waiting 5 months ago.

26. 26. A little bit of sun peeking through the clouds. Zero snow on my sidewalks.

27. 27. An impromptu visit with friends from far away.

28. 28. A husband, children, and in-laws that give me such a sense of belonging and family. And eat the food that I make them.

29. 29. A refrigerator, cabinets, and kitchen permanently bursting with food.

30. 30. Thought-provoking and civil discussions about nihilism and religion. Bible stories told a little bit differently that keep me thinking.

31. 31. The end of this year. Babies turning 1, exploring and loving Baltimore, moving to Maryland with jobs, a summer with Dad and Leslie in California, 7000 miles, John graduating, house selling, Danielle helping, money in the bank, Abby thriving at a new school, Rachel learning to read...