Re-Entry

On September 21st, I went to Africa with a team of 6 other women, through Africa New Life Ministries, a non-profit organization. Africa New Life is an organization created by Rwandans to help the Rwandan people empower themselves through education and employment.

An overview of ANLM taken from their website:

“Since 2001, Africa New Life has shared the Gospel using two hands: the hand of compassion and the hand of evangelism. Our goal is to see lives transformed through meeting basic needs, to give hope for the future for those living in poverty in Rwanda, and to share the freedom and hope found in Christ. At the heart of our model for breaking cycles of poverty is educational sponsorship. With a high school education, or a vocational equivalent, children in Rwanda have hope for the future.”

AFNLM believes in caring for the “whole child”. While educational sponsorship is at the core of their work, they believe children need other key factors to succeed such as a growing faith, community development, and a healthy body.

Their mission statement, powerful and simple, drew me in immediately:

Africa New Life exists to transform lives and communities through preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and acts of compassion.”

Our days in Kigali were filled with activity. Being a team of women, ANLM asked if we would consider focusing our trip around spending time in relationship with women and children, offering encouragement and support. We were thrilled to have that opportunity, so on our trip we completed 15 home visits. Eleven of these visits included meeting children that are sponsored through monthly donations by various team members. The sponsorship program provides education and medical assistance. Sponsored children also attend a monthly Christian day camp and a four-day bible camp each fall. We were able to touch the sweet faces of children that we had only known on paper previously. A powerful experience that I will write about another day. The other four home visits were to women enrolled in a sewing program through ANLM’s Women’s Vocational Center. In between visits, our days were packed with a full on Rwanda experience. We attended a Christian women’s conference. We lived a day in the life of a local woman, right down to cultivating land and gathering water. We gave presentations on business skills, and health and wellness to women in sewing and cosmetology programs. We walked through a genocide memorial museum. And we spent even more time connecting with our sponsored children outside of their homes.

There is so much I want to express about my time in Africa. It will forever be one of the most important and joyful times of my life. I cannot wait to share my thoughts on education, local culture, short-term mission trips, the genocide, post genocide healing and reconciliation, worship, values, and sponsorship.  

But for today, I want to discuss re-entry. Sunday we returned from Rwanda, and we are elated to be home. But coming home brings a big bag of mixed emotions. And as someone who has always been a deep feeler, re-entering the life I left less than 2 weeks ago has been plain hard. Previous service experiences and mission trips have left me well versed on the internal struggle that occurs when you leave a life changing experience, so during the trip I began bracing myself for impact. Processing the emotions involved in re-entry is important and is an essential and necessary step for personal growth, but it is hard work.

Africa New Life Ministries scheduled a debriefing session with Pastor Fred, their executive director, for the day we left. During it, he addressed re-emersion. Looking straight at us, laughing knowingly, he said gently, “Now, when you go home…PLEASE…do not sit around your home feeling bad about what you have. Enjoy your life! Just don’t forget about us. Don’t forget what you learned. Go home and be an ambassador for Africa New Life.” This was a gift. By addressing the internal struggle he knew was imminent he normalized our feelings in advance. It made me tear up. Pastor Fred genuinely hoped we would heed his advice.

I have had a hard time heeding.

I feel disoriented. It is as if someone put a mask over my eyes, spun me around, then took the mask off and told me to walk.

Last Tuesday, while getting ready to start my day and chaperone a field trip, I noticed I was still washing off the red stain of the soil we walked on while visiting homes in Kigali. A few days ago I was delivering food to starving families and talking to people with HIV. Now I was preparing to shepherd first graders through a fire station to learn about safety. This felt bewildering. I went to the field trip in a fog.

I want to be able to share meaningful things when asked about Rwanda, but I am overwhelmed by trying to find words that properly capture joy, sadness, hope and despair all at once. Instead, out come words like “good” and “amazing”, which feel lame and weak.  

I want to accurately express to my husband how my heart broke at the exact same time that my soul was lifted. But words fall short, so I find myself staying silent…nothing depicts the whole picture, so I just don’t.

I want to hide in my house, as if I am experiencing some sort of grief, instead of rejoining the world.

When I open my stocked pantry, I feel shame and guilt. Every family we visited received a bag of maize flour, sugar, rice, beans, peanuts and salt. Enough food for a month, and they will likely attempt to stretch it much further. We have a full pantry and will probably still run to the store this week.

I want to be a different, better person. And I find myself thinking about it while staring blankly in a Starbucks line, the irony hitting me like a ton of bricks.

I wish that my children could grasp the sweet hand they were dealt.

Then I think about how my children are just like me. I slept on a bed in a mosquito net, while the families I visited that day slept on dirt.

Before we left, I wrote this on our team Facebook page:

“God has always been at work in Rwanda, and the Rwandan people are making incredible things happen for themselves, as it should be…Pray we remain humble, remembering that God has been at work in Rwanda for a very long time, using Rwandans…We will get to see His work and participate in their journey, but they have got this.”

Why is maintaining this perspective so difficult?

Why do I put this burden on myself when they have God?

I believe that God’s plan involved equipping me to help. So I will straighten myself out and mobilize. Rather than wringing my hands, I will listen to Pastor Fred’s advice and here is what I will do:

I will not focus on what I cannot fix, instead I will encourage and support the ongoing efforts of Rwanda and Africa New Life Ministries. 

Instead of standing at the sink obsessing over why I get to have water, I will smile thinking back to the day we waited for our turn at the water pump. The time spent waiting for water provided women a rare pause from constant manual labor and multitasking. If it has not rained the spout only trickles, so people wait. We witnessed how this small pause made space for community. The ladies chatted and laughed. No doubt they laughed about us… I hope they did. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Lamenting that we have easily accessible water while they do not is useless. So, I will put my resources and time towards providing accessible clean water for others. (Pssst…Living Water International)

Instead of hiding, I will rejoin my community. Rwandans value community. Rwanda’s emphasis on relational living has no doubt played a large role in their ability to move forward post genocide. My team and I will honor that by returning to our own communities. These are people who supported our dream to travel to Africa, made it possible, and then cared for our families while we were gone. These same people will be there to help us process our experience and to encourage us to apply what we have learned here.

I will appreciate my families access to education and medical care. If I mope and spin my wheels about why I get to have those things, it takes from the energy I could use to make those things accessible through sponsorship and sharing the mission of ANLM.

But all of that is a work in progress.

My heart is still grieving the imbalance in this world.  And my soul is also filled with gratitude over experiencing a beautiful new culture and country. But I know I will find a new normal. And that knowledge is in part why I am holding on tight to the tension of feeling shaken and hopeful. I want the part of me that broke to stay broken, but I know that it will heal.

I’m praying for a solid scar.

Rules! Rules! Rules!

The car door opened courtesy of tiny familiar hands that I love so much.  I arrived at the carpool line extra early excitedly waiting to get the run down.  My two little elementary school ladies stepped inside the vehicle and I began the peppering of questions.  The first day of school was officially over.  I maturely squealed, “MY GIRLS!!!!  HIIIII!!!  HOW WAS YOUR DAYYYYYY?”  

They left my house 8 hours earlier completely prepared for greatness.  They sported unstained clothing THAT I IRONED, brushed teeth, combed and styled hair, healthy lunches with handwritten notes, full water bottles, filled out mandatory forms, and they received a hug and kiss from both parents.  For some, this is the norm.  In our home, this lasts maybe five days before I start justifying the smacking of the snooze button.  I tell myself that 5 more minutes will not cause us to rush too much (lies) and that frozen pb&j’s do contain protein and thaw by lunch.  And as for the iron, well, it makes a better collector of dust most days than a releaser of wrinkles.  But on the first day, I like to give the teachers false hope that these children belong to parents that will sign all the notes all year long and read all the newsletters sent home.  I usually wait until October to begin the tour of disappointment.  

So, when the response I received from my elementary school daughter started off with an incredibly deep and dramatic inhale, along with an even longer and louder exhale, complete with eyes rolled to the tippy top of her lids, I braced myself for the response.  She said, “UGGGGHHHHH!!!!  IT WAS AWWWWFUL!!!!”  I asked her why and she immediately responded with one word, three times over, “RULES!! RULES!! RULES!!!!”

She went on to explain to me that her entire day was made up learning rules.  In her opinion, school is a place for reading, learning and tests, NOT spending days going over RULES.  At this point, I asked her to smile for my phone so I could show her daddy her thoughts on the first day.  She did not smile. I might need to work on my compassion-when-kids-are-venting button.

Not only did she learn rules in her classroom, she learned rules in the cafeteria, and there were rules on the playground, and the library was not even open yet but if it had been you can bet there would have been rules there too.  Plus they had to write about rules, read about rules, repeat the rules, and she might have even come home with a new tattoo on her back that said, “RULES.”  Fine, no physical tattoo was made but a mental one was ingrained into her soul obviously.

Honestly, I do not blame her.  And I do not blame the teachers.  Clear cut expectations are so important.  Can you even imagine if the teachers had to explain these rules to every child individually?  We would have no teachers. I do not even like asking my dogs to “sit” and “stay” more than once because…..well…..all the verbalizing is just draining. So, to me, it seems logical that the first week of school would be a time for group rule smackdowns.  How many times can one adult explain the process of dumping lunch trays?  At some point, I would not blame these teachers if they just zombie walked out of the building.  They would be blankly walking with their arms straight out, eyes bulging, and repeating in a monotone voice “please tilt your tray this way and tap it on the end of the trash can in order to dump all the food you just stirred in a circle 5,000 times and mixed with the jello and vegetable medley mush.  Then please stack it on top of the last tray that our classroom friend dumped.”  Teacher’s mental survival depends upon all our little offspring knowing what to do.  

And I don’t blame my girl either.  No one likes to sit and hear how their daily discipline is going up 1,000% after summer.  And it isn’t because she is from a generation of electronic kids that have no respect or attention span.  I’m tired of hearing that from people.  I, personally, have seen scores upon scores of kids intentionally practicing kindness in this generation.  And know what group of people plays a big role in positive character development?  TEACHERS.  But to sit and listen to this information does not mean it is enjoyable.  

I, for one, have no desire to sit and convince her to love the rules.  Let’s be honest, they really aren’t fun sometimes.  In the Old Testament, the term “law” is the translated word for the Hebrew term, Torah, or “instruction.”  The people of Israel needed guidance from God.  Humans have always needed instruction.  And instruction is good.  One way God provided it was through the Mosaic Law.   It guided people morally, socially and ceremonially by having over 600 commands that covered all aspects of life.  And it gave Israel the recipe for ways to receive blessings. My point is that laws and rules have been around FOR A LONG TIME.  And my daughter is not the first person to have that feeling of “me no likey.”

Someday, she will grow up and will not have to sit and almost suffocate from listening to adults read rules out loud.  However, I do hope teachers and this family can burn certain instructions into her brain and heart for daily living.  I want her to respect others and herself, to listen before she speaks, to be able to learn and speak truth and to love others well, to make sure her binder gets signed every time she needs to go potty….  And I hope she practices applying grace to herself and to others.  Because that’s what Christ did for us. Once God sent Jesus to this earth, Christians were no longer bound to the Mosaic Law.  And thank goodness because over 600 commands are impossible to keep.  We now have the Holy Spirit in us as believers.  And we are recipients of grace by no doing of our own.  And this is great news…..for believers, for children who hate rules, for teachers who are faithfully serving children (THANK YOU JESUS), for parents who are trying their hardest to raise their family, and possibly for dog owners that find their new pair of shoes with teeth marks all in them.

Surprise!

This morning I was on a treadmill.  I looked down to see how far I had run and I was certain there was a mistake.  My legs felt like they had sprinted to Canada and at least halfway back.  The treadmill read “2 miles.”  This means one thing.  Next time I run, I’m picking a different treadmill because that one obviously cannot count correctly.  Anyway, right about the time I checked my mileage, I got a text from my middle schooler.  She was not feeling well and this meant my plans for the day were about to take a detour. Surprise for me!

As I gladly ended my non-marathon workout early, I headed off to the school to grab my girl.  Once under the loving care of her mother, I did what all modern-day Florence Nightingale caretakers would do.  I told her we had to run a few errands before I could get her home and medicated.  Nothing like buckling in for a ride around town when your head is pounding!  Off we went to wait in line at the drive thru pharmacy.

Side note:  Why is it that I will wait 45 minutes behind three cars in a pharmacy drive thru line?  I could just as easily park my car, walk into the store, head to the front of the line (because as I’m waiting all the minutes in the car, I can see there is no line inside), get what I need and be out of there in 3 minutes.  But no, there is some mystical power that tells me to stay in the most inefficient car line ever.  However, if you do go inside, you miss the opportunity to use the magical time capsule launcher.  It exists in the far drive up lane and is your ticket to exchanging items with the store employee.  You push that button and it makes a noise like the capsule is going into space, but lands in the pharmacists hands in 3 seconds.  I swear the Flintstones would have loved that thing.

So while we were waiting, my daughter decided to pull out her lunch so she could refuel during our car wait-a-thon.  And then we started a brief conversation:

Hailey:  Mom, have I told you about the lunchtime game my friends and I play called “What’s For Lunch?”

Me:  Noooo.  Fill me in!

Hailey:  Ok, so everyday, we sit down and I say, “hey guys, who wants to guess what’s in my lunch??!!!!!”  And then we all try to guess.

Me:  Do they normally get it right?

Hailey:  Sometimes.  Some of us bring the same thing every day.  Some of us mix it up.  We always laugh about it.  I love opening up my lunch to try to guess what’s in it.

Me:  Wait.  You get excited about your lunch?  

Hailey:  OH YES!  Like on the days when you pack it, I try not to ask or look at what you put in there because then I have a SURPRISE to look forward to halfway through the day!!!  Like yesterday, I opened up the thermos container and it was ravioli and I was all “RAVIOLIIIII!!!  YESSSSSSS!!!!”

And there you have it.  My firstborn has made it to her 8th year of schooling before I learned this little nugget of information about her.  Does the unveiling of her lunch make or break her day?  No. Is her day ruined on the days where she packs her own food?  Nope.  

However, it was nice to learn a small and tangible way I can provide a lift to her day.  And it got me to thinking about other people in my life.  Are there more doses of happy I could be throwing out to my friends and family? Maybe a few simple ways I could help add a “YESSSS” to their day too? I bet so and I’m on a mission to uncover them.  As for Hailey, she’s got more secret lunch surprises coming her way.

I Blame Jon Acuff For This Post

As you might have noticed, Amanda and I have been on a blogging hiatus.  It was not intentional.  We have loved starting Sprained Funny Bone and we talk about it to each other and the future of it constantly.  We are here people!  We are here!

And when someone asks me where the blog posts have been, I go to my mental list.  And then I tell them the reasons. It goes something like this, (inhale) “Well, our summers went super fast with the kids home and all their activities and friends and Amanda moved and I worked multiple camps and it is hard to find time to sit and write and it’s also really hard to sit down and instantly focus with all the kids and distractions.” (exhale)

The above is true.  

But the above is not the whole truth.

Writing is hard.  Amanda and I always joke that in the middle of writing posts, we hit a point where we are certain it will never come together.  And, if it ends up being another piece that does not show itself as worthy to post and we have to start over, we risk the possibility of having all the marbles in our heads fall out.

Writing is personal. A few days ago, I started listening to “Finish:  Give Yourself the Gift of Done” by Jon Acuff.  It is a good read you guys.  The book discusses how starting goals is not as difficult as finishing them.  Acuff presents strategies based on research to inspire and give people tools to complete their goals.  One of the main obstacles that holds people back is not laziness, but perfectionism.  To me, the word perfectionism sounds so sweet and simple to say, but all you readers that also suffer from it know that it’s an ugly little booger.  I can easily lose the messages I want to write because of the fear of not living up to my own standards.  If I do not perfectly word articles, my brain slowly loses perspective and the desire to finish my writing.  And I’ll say this, I would rather drink a gallon of iced tea and eat pickles (gag, gag, gaggggg) than let perfectionism continue to stop me from pursuing things I love to do.

Writing is worth it.  Our hiatus was just temporary.  I remembered why this blog is important.  It is again, Jon Acuff’s fault.  Once I started listening to his book, I went to his blog.  And in one of his posts, he wrote:

“Your platform isn’t for you. It’s not yours. Your name might be on it. It might be your smiling headshot that folks see each day on your blog or your twitter profile, but the platform is not for you. It’s for other people.  Readers, friends, family members, this is why we blog.  Not to get, but to give. If you don’t share your platform, it will suffocate you.”

Amanda and I never started this blog for us.  We knew we wanted to unite people, discuss all kinds of topics, and help others.  And, you guys, you know where Amanda is right now?  She’s not in Texas. Nor is she in the United States of America. SHE IS IN RWANDA.  As in AFRICA.  She is out learning about a different culture, and serving an organization that is helping women.  And these women need others.  She is not there for herself.  I can say this because it’s true and because she’s way too humble to say that herself….but I’ll totally throw her under the bus.

And we haven’t even had the chance to share that with you all.  And so, she is going to be so excited to come home and find that I have volunteered her to tell you all about her experience and to present ways that if God is leading you, you can help too.  We are committed to highlighting other people who need help.  So we will be back with our random stories, but with opportunities for us all to grow. And we would LOVE to hear from you all too if you have served others and have a story to tell.  Because, it is time.  It is time to finish our half written articles and it is time for us to keep kicking fear and perfectionism in the face.  We hope you will continue to read along with us and to share your stories too.

Grace House

She has taught me so much in the past few months and I hope I have helped her some too.

She is trustworthy, kind, humble, and gentle in spirit.  The first day I met her, she felt the need to tell me all about herself and did not keep any secrets.  At times she talked quite fast due to her nerves and the pain attached to exposing her past, but she forced herself to trust me.  She divulged past regrets, but rested in the fact that her past had allowed her to land in a safe place.  She inquired about my life, always looking me in the eye when I spoke to show she was engaged.  She sought out my advice on handling conflict with peers because it felt uncomfortable yet unavoidable at times.  She still smiles often even though parts of her future are uncertain.  And she has asked me if I will still want to be her friend in the upcoming months.  I have assured her that I do.

About 7 months ago, I met her.  I had been feeling a tug at my heart to get involved in something outside of my “bubble” so I sent an email to an organization I had heard of through our church.  Our bubbles are funny, aren’t they?  Most of us work towards creating an environment with our families that provide safety and security.  We yearn for stability.  A place where memories are made and children have freedom without parents fearing their every move.  I wonder if, as humans, we are wired to seek these things?  I’m not sure I’ve ever run into someone who has said “hey, I’m looking for a home where I could put my family at risk.  You seen one?”

My friend that I described above?  Well, about 9 months ago, she was sitting in prison.  And she was thinking prison was going to be her home for quite some time for personal choices made which did not agree with the law.  In addition to legal violations, she was also struggling to overcome addiction.  On paper, she was not the type of person I would have ever put myself around, nor my children, because she was living a life that was so different from mine.

But God had another plan for her life.  She was told she would be given the opportunity to go to a rehab type facility, but there was no guarantee she was done serving time.  Soon after she learned this, the founders of an organization called Grace House happened to be visiting the prison and handed her an application.  

The mission of Grace House “is to give women at risk the opportunity to overcome destructive life-styles of addiction, incarceration and poverty.  We provide a protected environment, both physically and spiritually, so that women may grow and mature in their faith and be transformed by the power of God.”  The women adhere to strict routines and participate in daily bible studies.  In addition, they enhance their learning through classes and listening to speakers.  The nine month program covers a variety of topics such as addiction recovery, money management, parenting skills, healthy relationships, nutrition instruction, productive lifestyle skills, music and art, and physical fitness.  In addition, the women also volunteer and serve others in the community.  And, they are assigned a personal mentor.

This is where God intersected my story with my new friend.  I would love to tell you that going into this experience, I was confident in my ability to serve at Grace House.  When I first met with the director, I was really hoping she would recommend that I either tutor some of the women with their school work or that I would teach a class.  I preferred this because it would allow me to “help” but would also keep me somewhat distant and in my comfort zone.  She didn’t.  She asked me to be a mentor and had my specific friend in mind.  She then asked me if I had any questions or concerns.  I did.  Some I voiced and some I kept to myself.  One of my thoughts went like this, “Well, I haven’t quite been in prison before, nor struggled with addiction.  Wait that’s not true….I am a 39-year-old nail biter who probably loves Diet Coke a little too much, but I haven’t struggled with addictions that could land me in jail!  Is she even going to like me?  Will she relate to me?  Will she honestly want advice from someone who has not walked the type of path she has?”  But I decided to trust the director, and with that, I ended up busting right out of my safe little bubble.

Shortly after meeting, we discovered that she and I connect easily.  We both enjoy going to the movies together.  We also like to explore the city and visit historical sites.  We speak the language of motherhood and have found that a mother’s love transcends all divides.  I know her kids’ names and can describe their personalities and she can do the same with mine.  We are both drawn to exercise, because without this healthy outlet we both find ourselves struggling.  Also, she has learned to tolerate my weekly driving debacles due to my nonexistent sense of direction mixed with my inability to accurately follow all the GPS instructions.  Not only has it been easier than expected to spend time with her, I have thoroughly ENJOYED it.  I look forward to our weekly adventures and conversations.  I love that before we eat, she reaches out for my hand, grasps it, and prays with a genuine heart.

And so, I am rewiring my thinking about my bubble.  Yes, I want safety and security and stability.  But as a Christian, it is not my job to try to create that environment for myself nor my family.  In fact, it is impossible to have that type of control in this life because suffering and human uncertainty will always exist.  But we can be assured, that as believers, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. Paul tells us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35; 37-39, New International Version).

So if you have possibly wanted to bust out of your bubble but struggle with the “I’m not sure I will relate” or “it freaks me out” or “will I have enough time” or “what if I hate it”, I would like to encourage you.  I GET IT.  Oh, and also….DO IT.  Take your feelings of doubt and insecurity and slap them down.  Step out.  Be bold.  Be uncomfortable and courageous.  Spread the Good News of the security given to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  He provides us with the best bubble in which to live.

In one short month, she will graduate from Grace House.  And she will not be returning to prison.  Her parole officer informed her that he was impressed by the changes within her.  He recommended to the court that she not be incarcerated and the courts agreed!  I am so incredibly proud of her and I’m also in awe of the strength she has.  She recently told me that she never knew that there was a light in this world because she had always felt a darkness covering her.  But now that she’s tasted and seen the sweetness that Jesus is, she cannot wait to go home and raise her kids. She wants them to grow up knowing what it is to have hope.  Her goals are to be with her children as much as she can, go to work, read her bible, exercise and attend weekly Celebrate Recovery meetings.  Her plan is simple and focused.  Personally, I cannot wait to meet up with my new friend in the community we both belong to because she is a blessing and inspiration to me.

If you would like to learn more about or donate to Grace House, please visit http://gracehousesa.org  

My Bible

Several years ago I attended a weekend Pine Cove camp with good friends. While there, it came out that I did not own a personal Bible. Days after we left the camp they presented me with an engraved study Bible. Inside, each friend had written a personal note and highlighted their favorite verse.

 

 

 

 

Now when I stumble upon the highlighted verses, I am reminded how important community is and how often I fight against it. My pride tells me that shouldering it alone means I am strong. And that is when things tend to go very poorly for me, because it is not about strong versus weak. God created us to be in community with one another.

 

 

 

 

A spiritual community, when authentic, provides a place to share joy, hold space, and carry each other’s burdens. It is where we can quietly learn or stand up and teach. It is a safe spot for imperfect people to mess up, regroup, and try again. It should be full of messy, unconditional love.

 

 

 

 

This Bible and every other Bible serves as a powerful reminder that we can experience God’s grace and message through others and that through community we have the opportunity to experience a bit of Kingdom living right here on earth.

 

 

Brakes? You Mean the Coward Petal

Recently the Regas family took up the gauntlet and forged their way down I-35 to the Texas Hill Country where we live.  And to kick off the weekend, we adults went out to dinner to relax and catch up.  Once seated and settled in, our conversations started drifting into memories and stories.  And Amanda and my’s trip to Colorado last summer came up.  Have you ever told a funny story about someone and then it backfired?  And not backfire like “oh you didn’t hear the punchline” but backfire like “hey I was telling this story and now why are all of you acting like I’m the weird one?”  If so, I feel your pain.

Before we arrived in the mountains last summer, we informally created a mental to-do list of activities that varied from our daily routine.  And one of the items on my list was MOUNTAIN BIKING!  Who doesn’t love a bike, right?  And who wouldn’t want to put a bike on a slanted slab of earth?  This just made sense to me and had adventure written all over it.  I feel like all our faithful readers are currently on my side while reading along right now too.  Amanda was game too until we started hiking the first day.

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Amanda:  Hey Katie, remember how you said you want to go mountain biking?

Me:  YES!!!!!!  It is going to be so FUN!!!

Amanda:  Well, I’m just not sure I can do that.  In fact, I’m quite sure I’m not going to be able to do that.

Me:  WHAT?  Why?

Amanda:  Katie. You see the path we are on right now?  These bike paths are not meant for bikes. A human cannot keep two tires on this path. I have been myself my entire life. I can tell you with complete certainty what is going to happen. I am going to go off the path, tip over and roll.

Me:  NOOOO YOU WON’T.  You’ll be fine!  You’ll see!!!

Amanda:  Um, no.  Really.  And also, if I fall, I’m quite sure I’m not going to stop rolling until I get to the bottom of the mountain.

Me:  NOOOO YOU WON’T.

Amanda:  I’m just telling you, NOT HAPPENING.

Me:  That’s CRAZY.  You’ll be fine!!

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We never did ride those bikes.  I still laugh at the thought of her honestly thinking that if she fell she would roll all the way down to the base of a mountain.  And so I told this story at dinner, fully expecting both husbands to laugh along with me at silly Amanda.  Except they did not.  And one person in particular abandoned the Team Katie ship.…..my husband.  

*********************************************************************

Trey:  OH MY GOSH.  Katie is unbelievable, right?  I swear she does this every trip. Did she ever tell you about when she made ME go mountain biking?

Amanda:  NOOOOOOO!!!  WHAT??  KATIE YOU DID NOT TELL ME THIS.

Katie: *eyes start darting around, feel shift in convo coming*  Huh?

Trey:  OH YEAH!  On our 10th anniversary when we were in Colorado, she made me mountain bike.  And she had gotten way far ahead of me as we were riding down the mountain.  She finally decided to stop and wait on me.  And when I got there, she’s all, “What took you so long?  Why do you have grass stuck in your helmet?  Are your shorts ripped?  IS YOUR SHIRT RIPPED?  LET’S GO!”  And I told her, “Woman, I TRIED TO TELL YOU THAT MY BACK BRAKES FELT LIKE THEY WERE OFF.  WELL THEY ARE.  THEY DO NOT WORK, I JUST FLIPPED OVER THE HANDLEBARS!  I AM DONE RIDING BIKES!”

Katie:  *honestly, how necessary are back brakes while riding down a mountain?  Internal eye roll for Mr. Drama.*

Trey:  AND THEN, we got to the bottom of the mountain.  I tried to find a bus to take us back to the bike rental place to return that dang bike.  And Katie says, “NO WAY!  LET’S RIDE OUR BIKES BACK TO THE RENTAL PLACE!  IT ISN’T THAT FAR!”

Amanda:  Wait, were you at the part of the mountain BELOW the flags?  BECAUSE THAT IS A STRAIGHT UPHILL RIDE!

Trey:  OH YES WE WERE.

Katie:  *I feel like they might not be supporting me currently and I am not liking their party pooper attitudes.  Begin sipping water and make no eye contact.*

Trey:  IT WAS TERRIBLE. And I PAID to have the experience of flipping over my handlebars, shredding my clothes and then getting to bike straight up a mountain.

Amanda:  OH MY GOSH THAT IS AWWWFUL!!!  Have you ever noticed that she totally forces you into doing things under the premise of “it’s an adventure!!!”

Katie:  Hi G.R.  Aren’t the rolls good here?

Trey:  OH YES SHE DOES.  Last trip we were on…..our entire family was EXHAUSTED by the end of the day.  What does Katie do?  Says, “Hey guys, so if you want to just stay here, that’s fine.  BUT I AM GOING BACK OUT TO WALK AROUND DISNEYLANNNND!!!!!  WHO WANTS TO COME WITH ME????”  The kids looked at her like she was on crack.

Katie:  I did NOT force anyone to come!!!

Trey:  You are correct.  You did not.  But WHO spends an entire day out and about and then decides at 9PM that they want to squeeze in two more hours?  Even if they’re alone?

Amanda: Okay, so let me tell you another story. We went to Austin and she insisted on riding the city bikes. Which would have been fine, there are beautiful parks in Austin…but we rode them in a bike lane on South Congress, during peak bar time. In the dark. And I was in a skirt. And honestly, being in the skirt was the least of my problems. I kept screaming at her and she just kept yelling over her shoulder, “You are fine! Totally safe.”

Katie:  *but it was bikes!  Bikes are fun!  Day or night!  Fold napkin in lap.*

Trey:  OH, she ALWAYS DOES THIS!  I am JUST realizing it!

Trey and Amanda:  *slow head turns towards me*

Katie:  You guys, you’re telling me that you don’t love to do all these things all day on vacation?

Trey:  I believe the key word missing here is “moderation.”

Katie:  I USE MODERATION!!!!

Amanda:  No.  No you don’t.  I mean….it isn’t a BAD thing!  But you are now outed!!

***********************************************************************

The conversation was all in good fun and we all were laughing the entire time.  But it also got me thinking and asking questions.  Maybe we are all built with a different natural type of internal decompression mode.  Maybe some people look for new places, new experiences and a go-go-go attitude when away from their daily lives.  Maybe others crave familiarity and traditions as a way to recharge.  Maybe some like to be in control and make lots of plans while others prefer to show up and figure it out.  Maybe some are a mix.  

Do you tend to lean towards one end?  The truth is, I DO love to explore new places and be outdoors and be moving all the time.  Also, come to think of it, maybe the reason I got put in an immobilization boot for 6 weeks last spring wasn’t just my foot’s fault for giving out on me?

In my mind, a day of doing what you can normally do at home on vacation is a day that STINKS!  Vacation is for trying new things and being in new environments!  I love to end a day feeling like I DID something and have a tired body.  And this doesn’t just have to mean riding a bike…although I think it’s becoming obvious that I may have a repressed obsession with bikes.  But I love to be out and about whether on a mountain or in the ocean or at a park or visiting a museum or checking out different cities and cultures.  It feeds my soul.

My husband tends to be a person of familiarity.  But until recently, I never believed that’s what he actually WANTED to be doing.  He has repeatedly told me how he wants to go see the same places over and over again, yet I’ve interpreted it as, “Ok honey, I get it (add in a wink, wink).  You want to be boring, but secretly….I just know you want to do all the things!  And I’m just the person to help you!”  It must be so fun to be married to me.

And could it be that one set of tendencies is not better than another?  In so many areas of life, balance is key.  Exploration is important because it busts us out of our ordinary environments of home.  We get to see what small fish we are in a big world.  But familiarity provides predictability and allows our senses to relax.  The high-alert part of us gets to take a break.  All of these ways of being are critical to living a full life.   And doing a little give-and-take to honor everyone’s tendencies when we are with friends and spouses is a way of showing respect to each other.  And so, I’m going to try be more self-aware of not only my wishes, but others’ also.  And, I’m also going to work on my poker face.  Because after 16 years of marriage, my manipulative biker ways were finally exposed, which means I must figure out new plans to entice him into barreling down a mountain at breakneck speed on a bike with bad brakes. Some people just need a little encouragement. (I’m looking at you Trey and Amanda.)

Homemade Tortillas: A Magnificent Beat Down

Last week my plan to make tacos was thwarted when our pantry revealed that we existed in a house without tortillas, like a bunch of wild animals. And I thought, “You know, I always hear making tortillas is easy, healthier and better tasting.” When I found Masa mix in the cupboard  my fate was sealed. I would make my own tortillas. A decision that would elicit one of the most magnificent beat downs of my entire life.

I have a difficult time baking with a floury substance of any kind, which pretty much rules out…all baking. I follow every direction (that holds my attention) and the result can best described as “flour bread”. It is not delicious. The good news is that flour is not nutritionally sound, so my inability to cook with it is admirable and makes me a bit of an accidental health nut. I maintain my healthy low-flour lifestyle by purchasing our many bread items and only eating my friend’s tasty homemade stuff. But I do role model health to others by not cooking with flour. They’ll get it.

I mixed the masa, water and salt as instructed and of course it was too dry. So I added water. They suggested adding a teaspoon, but let’s be real. When you are thirsty does a teaspoon of water quench it? No. So why are we putting that expectation on dough? I gave it a blast from the faucet and moved on.

It was encouraging to see the tortilla instructions involved a simple five step process. Five steps = using one hand’s worth of fingers to keep track.

Although. This could explain a lot. A rather unfortunate door mishap took place when I was ten years old, leaving me to do life with 9 and ¾ fingers. Is it entirely possible that the compromised ring finger on my left hand cost me my tortillas? Yes. But, to quote every brilliant preschool teacher, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Can I play most instruments? No. But I can count to 9 and ¾ on my fingers, and that is something.

Divide the dough into 16-18 balls.

This kind of thing sends me straight into a tailspin. How can I be certain I am creating the kind of balls that will lead me to my 16-18 dough ball goal? What if I have to combine balls, or worse, separate some balls because I only made 10-12 balls? WHAT THEN? Do I go back and adjust all of them, or do I just change the last 6-8 balls? It’s too much for one person! Also: Balls.

Cover with a damp cloth to keep them soft.

This whole thing may have gone to crap, but I nailed this step. Nothing more to say. My balls were all tucked in, happily resting under a damp paper towel.
Using a tortilla press, place a ball between two sheets of plastic and clamp to form a tortilla 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

Who brings diameters into an already intense and dicey situation!? Rude. Now my geometry PTSD was all a flurry.  I was suddenly flashing back to my 10th grade Geometry parent/teacher conference as relayed to me by my mother.

Mom: What is Amanda’s current grade in Geometry? She seems stressed. 

Mr. Imming: Um. I don’t know what to say about Amanda’s grade. All she does is take notes in class. She’s listening. No one tries harder. But, you both need to prepare yourselves because… it’s not good.

Now we know that my math skills were just skewed because I count on 9 ¾ fingers.

As my personal high school geometry trauma became my focus, I failed to absorb the instruction to place the ball between two sheets of plastic. If I am being honest, it is only now while typing out the directions that I did notice this tidbit of info.  

This step also included “tortilla clamping”, which sounded rather cathartic after everything I had been through.

I used up a great deal of time stressing about the 16-18 balls and looking up “diameter”, so I could not afford to dawdle on clamping. I made the decision that “use a tortilla press” was just a phrase, and that it was best to smush the dough like hell with my hand. I suppose they presumed a person lacking a tortilla press would at least think to use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough. Hindsight being 20/20, I feel like that may have been the way to go.

So I smushed like hell. As I looked at my work I thought…it’s so weird this jagged mess will become a perfect circle when I cook it in the pan. Spoiler alert: It did not.

Heat griddle or skillet to medium-high heat, cook the tortillas flipping them every 20-30 seconds.

What the…they need to be flipped every 20-30 seconds?

**Stage 5 Clinger Alert**

Talk about needy! Goodnight! I had hungry children, dogs circling my ankles, a husband stuck at the O’Hare airport, and zero time for dough that wanted me to treat it like a vulnerable snowflake. So, I flipped sometimes. And truly, I think their calculations are off because the flipping seemed to be the harbinger of the devastating crumbling that ensued. I can forgive and forget, I just hope going forward they alter their directions to adopt the line “Flip sometimes, but not really if they are crumbly.”   

The first two tortillas did not survive, but I just figured they were preparing the pan. I do not think “pan preparing” is an actual thing, but it brought me solace. I had eighteen tortilla dough balls, so I did not stress until 8 were completely ruined and only ten remained.

And then hard truths needed to be confronted. Even though I had created the perfect host environment for dough balls by preparing a pan, statistically these 10 were not likely to survive. Here is where I ordered pizza. But I also held on, open to receiving a tortilla miracle. I talked to myself about perseverance, bravery and how these tortillas may take my life, but they will never take my freedom. I was not giving up! Ever. So, I ruined one more and yelled, “I AM OUT!” I had pizza on the way and I was not going to obsess over clean eating at the cost of my self-esteem. They say self-esteem helps you more than clean eating. I don’t actually know if they say that, but neither do you.

My older daughter came down the stairs and found me covered in masa mix and brokenness and asked, “Mom, what is happening?” I told her, “I made homemade tortillas, so we are going to eat this pizza.” She has told that story to approximately 400 people.

I know you want a happy ending to this story. And there is one because we ate pizza.

Next time I’ll teach you how to make this meatloaf. My husband had a craving. Anything involving the word “loaf” is not okay, but the heart wants what it wants, so I made it for him.

Pro tip: Do not stress over timing. The meatloaf will let you know it is ready when black smoke pours out. Simply pop it out, and enjoy.
So good.

If you enjoyed my tortilla debacle, might I suggest my Pinterest Amnesia post?  Here you go….Pinterest Amnesia

How to Grow a Giant Dog On a Simple Diet of Socks, Shoes and Underwear

One day last week was National Puppy Day. We missed it because we have puppies. You can not take your eyes off them or they chew on your iPad. So, we will celebrate now with a puppy update. 

Remember how Amanda and I convinced our husbands that getting puppies was an excellent idea?  Well, per usual, WE WERE RIGHT!!! Our husbands are #blessed.

These little munchkins are now 4 ½ months old.  And also, they aren’t munchkin sized.  Millie packed on 10 pounds last month to bump up to 24 pounds, while Phoebe weighs in at a more petite 20 pounds.   Their vets keep saying scary things like..“Yikes. Did you know she would be such a large dog?” We can not remember anymore what we thought. And since we were told they’d most likely be under 60 pounds, I’m pretty sure this means one thing.  In my family, we grow super-sized dogs no matter the predicted weight.  We are the real life family version of Clifford the Big Red Dog times two.  It’s our special gift.

Our families and friends have been noting how much these dogs favor certain celebrities and fictional characters.

And so, without further adieu, here’s what we came up with.  This little sweet thing….

…she may have been born a canine but she sure resembles a certain ursine.

Hello little Muppet!  Phoebe Fozzie Bear Regas!

And Millie has been narrowed down to two doppleganger possibilities.  Please feel free to voice your thoughts on this riveting topic.

I’m glad her paws are little….I’m sure she’s done growing…
  1. Doc from Back to the Future 
  2. A Fraggle Rock

And one more thing, just to be open and honest.  When we said these puppies have been a great decision, they have.  But let’s not confuse this with meaning “easy and perfect.”  Dull moments don’t exist.  Our couch, along with any surface that’s above her eye level, is stacked with shoes, socks, underwear that she tends to nonchalantly walk by with in her mouth.

Some people have throw pillows on the couch, we have shoes we’d like to not be devoured by the pup.
Millie’s drywall snack

Oh, and Millie tends to get carsick.  I learned this when she puked three times in the car while going to pick up kids from carpool.  And then she threw up again in the car the next day.  But I’m not sure if that was due to the motion or if the sock she ate and vomited back up onto my lap was to blame.  That was a pleasant time.   And apparently, we have a spot on our wall that looks and tastes delicious….goodbye drywall.

Thanks Mills.  Our vet is under strict instruction to look for and locate her internal obedience button and push it when she gets spayed soon.  I’m just certain there has got to be an answer for her shenanigans that don’t include me having to be trained on getting her to obey.

And The Phoebes, well she is perfect. Except that these are the glasses Amanda’s husband used to wear when he wanted to see the world. He left himself vulnerable by allowing his body to sleep and you can’t let your guard down like that. It’s fine. Amanda talks a lot and can just describe things to him. Good practice for the elderly years.

Just as humans like salty and sweet together, Phoebe’s well-developed palate enjoys combining the crunch of glasses with the smoosh of soft socks.

And so, on this Monday, SFB wishes you a happy start to your week.  May your drywall stay intact, socks stay on feet, glasses be uncrunched, and underwear not have the crotch ripped out of them. God bless.

Target Part One: My Bad Check

 

 

 

Like any sane person, I love Target.

Throughout all life’s chapters, Target has provided. Target equipped us with shelving systems and shower baskets for college. In our 20s it is where we created nonsensical wedding registries, believing marriage would require a horseshoe game and 17 candle holders. After the wedding Target was where we returned with gift cards and purchased the laundry baskets we truly needed. Perhaps most importantly, after we had babies Target provided a safe space to be with other adult humans while clutching our infants, our coffee, and the last bits of our sanity. And when those sweet babies pooped up their backs straight to their necks, we conveniently bought Kleenex for our postpartum tears and wipes for the baby’s butt.

Sadly, when it comes to Target I struggle with the dark underbelly of self-sabotage. Twice now, I have nearly ruined Target for myself entirely. Today I will share the first humiliating story.

One morning in my early 20s, I woke up to the phone ringing.  It was Target. Target was a male using an accusatory tone with me.

—————————————————

Is this Amanda?  

Yes

We need you to come down to Target as soon as possible.

Okay, why?

There is a problem with the check you wrote.

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Now, while it was true that I had a terrifying social worker’s salary, I did not bounce checks.

I was able to head to the store immediately because instead of changing and looking like a person that did not bounce checks, I opted to wear my pajama pants.  With my stomach churning, I drove to the store, obsessing over what might have happened.

After arriving, I offered up proof that I am a trustworthy rule follower with a rock solid checking account by promptly reporting to the customer service area as instructed over the phone. The customer service employee’s face perked up at my name, revealing that everyone had been talking about me. Confident this was their error, I grew irritated. I gathered my pride and glared back at them. 

Then, I felt my pride melt away when they showed me how I had signed my check.

Which looked like this:

 

 

I so enjoy that I included my middle initial. Because I don’t always rip off major retail stores, but when I do I like to be an elegant lady.

My mind reeled back to the moment I wrote the check. I recalled being heavily distracted by unabashedly judging a mother whose young children were throwing fits (several years later I had my children, who not only threw tantrums in checkout lines, they also did things like announcing the color of my underwear to cashiers). In my distraction, I signed my last name “Target.” Which Target described as being “criminal” and “uncashable.”

I looked from my check back to the satisfied eye of the Target employee and whispered, “Yes. Well. That is certainly not correct.” And then it was unanimously agreed upon that I would pay with cash before leaving the store.

You could argue the employee who accepted my check should have noticed, and that’s fine. I am the type of person who signs personal checks Amanda A. Target, so I do not get to comment on the actions of others.

My next Target debacle involves an extremely questionable accidental theft that occurred during the last year. And I can not be entirely sure about the statute of limitations, so we will just let that tale simmer a bit longer. Because you can’t live this kind of suburban mom thug life and not fear the po po.

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