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The Weight of it All

My heart woke me up in the middle of the night.  This summer I have heard stories of cancer that have encroached on families. The women in each story are my age; mothers of young children.

Each woman has shared their beautiful story; allowing words to speak their journey.  These words are hard to read.  I found the stories various ways–family friends, blogs recommended, facebook connections.

20140603_071114_AndroidAround 2 am, I woke up with profound sadness on my heart.  I began to pray for a woman I’ve never met, in fact, one I’ve never even commented on her blog.  Her story has pushed forward in my head and I often think of her.

20140622_123125_AndroidThere is a weight to deep sickness.  Pain of potential loss, grief of the unexpected disruption in life plans, unknowing of what the future holds.

Her words, Kara’s word on her blog Mundane Faithfulness, are rich and heavy.  They are not often easy to read but they are so very authentic.

She speaks about living in the moment.  She honestly challenges us, her readers, to invest in the at moment at hand.

All this came crashing down on me at this dark hour.  The weight of the last few weeks have challenged me.  I have found myself wondering if life will get easier.  Will a child of ours finally understand that she is loved boundlessly?  Will worries and fear of a young boy saying good bye to our dog of almost 16 years be assuaged? Will I find myself living in the moment, truly enjoying each minute rather than finding myself longing for something else easier?

20140518_154943_AndroidThe “what ifs” get bigger as I read more about other’s pain.  The regrets of each moment build in my mind until I feel like I’m going to burst.

I want to live intentionally. I don’t want a life altering illness to be my wake up call.  I don’t want to live a world of regret that I did not do enough.

My mind kept going back to the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He wept tears, angst ridden over the weight of what was ahead of him.  If I allow myself, for just a brief moment, to sink into the world of just a few people struggling with life, that burden seems mind numbing and huge.  I cannot imagine the weight of all pain, of all grief, of all hurt.

I don’t want to linger in the world of “what if” when I have the world at hand.

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A one sport family decision

When Caroline was little, we had her in many activities. Dance, art, Kindermusik, gymnastics, tumbling, and soccer.  As our firstborn, we felt we needed to expose her to everything there was.  The whole “the world is your oyster” type deal. 20140707_170914_AndroidTobin came along and the level of activities ratcheted down a notch. Two kids required more money, organization and patience. 20140713_103127_AndroidBy the time Desta came along, Matt and I realized that we were outnumbered and could not possibly maintain the plethora of activities we had when Caroline was young. 20140713_103144_AndroidWe arrived at the decision that each child could pick ONE after school activity/sport. For Caroline, soccer has become a very important part of her life.  She has made big goals and reach them.  Her discipline and drive has been a delight to watch.  With that commitment comes a lot of practice. 20140711_190214_AndroidTobin is figuring out what he wants to do–football came to a screeching halt last year after the rock met head incident.

Desta has taken to soccer and rejoined a team she was part of at 3. (At that time, she didn’t get the whole “taking the ball away from your opponents is not cause for tears on the field.”  Her season “ended early.”)

I love seeing our kids excel in sports. I enjoy watching them succeed.  BUT with that comes a pretty steep price tag for Matt and I.  Sports, even one per child, require money and time.  For me, one of the hardest parts of kids and sports is all the driving.  From around July to October, we live in the car.

Weekends are spent dividing and conquering who is taking what child to which game. I often long for the simplicity of those first years with just one child and a variety of activities.  Yes, there were many things to go to but the days were long back then. I was longing for ways to fill them.  Activities meant time together, learning new things.

These days are filled with watching from the sidelines.

These days are also filled with juggling importance of schedules.

With the third child, we’ve made concrete choices for her based on her desires, yes, but mostly based on scheduled.  Soccer will be stopping and gymnastics or swimming will be beginning. Why?  Because those sports don’t conflict with the other two kid’s games on the weekend.

It’s easy for me to feel guilty; feel as if I’m not creating the same “oyster” type scenarios that Caroline got.  Honestly, we’re not.

The yang to that ying is this; while Desta might not get everything Caroline got in terms of activities, she makes up for it in experiences because she has older siblings.  While she might not get to make as many choices of what she wants with sports, she has traveled far more than her siblings at this age–and participated in many activities Caroline and Tobin didn’t see until they were much older.

Guilt can be a paralyzing force.  It can make you run around like a chicken with your head cut off.  It can tell you “Everyone needs to be treated ‘even/stephen’”.

That’s a lie.

My kids will not have the same experiences.  Neither will they have the same/equal opportunities.  What they will have is what they were supposed to have.

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The Power of Food

I saw this t shirt on Facebook the other day. 2408triblk-w800h800z1-29704-i-like-running-food I thought, “Yep, that’s me!” I love the  amazing smells that come with food!  Generally speaking, good food smells pretty darn amazing. The smell of food can transport me right back to different times and places.

In Nigeria, we lived in Kano.  Our next door neighbors were Indian.  I remember my older sister, Shelly, and I playing with their daughter, Supena.  Her mother made the best barfi.  Barfi is a milk based candy that melts in your mouth.  Nigeria had a plethora of canned dried milk.  Turns out dried whole milk was the secret ingredient for this confection.  I’ve tried to make barfi a few times in the US and frankly, the skimmed milk ick on the canned shelves made it barely edible. barfiIn Liberia we had a fruit plantation in our backyard. I wish I had a photo of the many banana and papaya trees, pineapple plants and guava trees that surrounded our yard.  My dad would cut off the stalk of bananas and hang them in our garage.  As kids we’d go in and grab a banana when we were hungry. To this day when I pick up a banana, I have a flitting thought of those big bunches of bananas.

elwa beach(ELWA beach, where I spent 9 years.  Photo borrowed from Robin Shea McGee)

I’ve struggled with remembering things.  I think our highly transient life made me compartmentalized my memories.  Some years are black holes in my brain. For a long while, I couldn’t even tell you who my teachers were my 5th and 6th grade years of school.

I’ve been working on conscious memory recall these past 6 months or so.  It began when Desta started asking questions about Africa.  I realized that I have so many rich memories of Africa stored in my brain but needed a way to get them out.

Food has been the biggest memory trigger.  I often look up regional food online, allowing descriptions of food to prompt my mind.  I recently listened to a fascinating piece on West African food from a Southern Cook (on Splendid Table).  He traced food back from the days of slavery, tracking it to Ghana and Nigeria.

While my kids aren’t able to grow up overseas, I can still bring some of that culture and life to them. This weekend we’re making Kosai.  It’s a Nigerian bean cake we’d buy from the little boys who’d sell them on the streets.  Here’s the recipe I’m using.  Go ahead, give it a try.  Maybe the smells of this will prompt a memory in you!

kosaiKosai / Koosé / Akara (Nigerian bean cakes) 1/2 lb black-eyed peas (beans) 
2 hot chile peppers, finely chopped 
1 medium onion, finely chopped 
1 teaspoon salt 
2 eggs 
6-7 tbs water 
oil (for deep frying) 

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Rinse the beans and/or skin them by rubbing between your hands while rinsing under cold running water. Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Pour the mixture into a bowl and whisk for a good few minutes minutes to beat in air 

Heat the oil in a pan. Shape small balls of the mixture and carefully drop into the oil from a spoon you’ve quickly dipped into the frying oil first to prevent sticking. Repeat until the mixture is exhausted, re-oiling your spoon if required. Avoid overcrowding; work in batches if necessary. Fry until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper or a paper towel. Serve hot or cold with hot chile sauce. 
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Variants (in addition to the ingredients above): 

cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste) 
½ tsp fresh ginger root, peeled and minced 
Add a half cup of finely chopped leftover cooked meat 
to the batter before frying; or add a similar amount dried shrimp or prawns. 

Life is Good

Nothing like stepping in from vacation and headed into crazy.

 

20140627_155642_Android(Caroline and I before Mindy and Dan’s wedding rehearsal)

20140703_113746_Android(The kids at Mt Rushmore under Colorado’s flag.)

20140702_171847_Android(Tobin and I exploring South Dakota!)

Matt and I had the bright idea to focus on giving our kids a summer filled with things they’ve wanted to do–soccer camps, away/sleepover camp/family vacation, etc, etc.

20140704_114057_Android(My cousin, Melisa, her son and me hiking)

What we didn’t plan was:

1.  Matt would be starting his new job the day after a family wedding and a family trip to SD

2.  Half day camps halfway across town take us easy, 60 minutes round trip.

3.  Late nights equal sleeping in EXCEPT for when our kids have 7 am camp.

So each day we recreate the schedule, seeking to find some  measure of consistently in what we are doing.

Frankly, it’s been exhausting.

I’ve learned a few lessons for next summer.

1.  Eagle Lake Day Camp for Tobin and Desta period.  One camp, two kids, every day.

2.  No half day camps unless a concrete carpool plan is set in stone!

3.  Move to town.  (Ha, I jest but living closer to town is looking more and more enticing each day I fill my gas tank up!)

DSC05706(Desta and her cousins at home)

The good news in all this–we’ve been having fun.  We’ve been creating memories.  We’ve been enjoying friends.  We’ve been loving the cool evenings.

Life is good.  I’m not complaining, I’m just learning from my “mistakes.”

 

 

Family Fun!

Who knew South Dakota was so beautiful?

Mt Rushmore really is just as amazing in person as in photos.

Mt rushmoreI had no idea that South Dakota hills were as equally challenging as Colorado’s mountains.

A local’s version of a “10 Minute Hike” was closer to an hour.  BUT Devil’s Bathtub was worth it!

Devils Bathtub groupFamily is the best.  Cousins rock.

Girls talk about farting and burping way more than boys.  It was proven this weekend.

20140703_104254_AndroidFireworks and s’mores taste better when eaten with 9 other cousins.

20140703_080141_AndroidRoyal Straight Cabin served our four families perfectly.

Here’s to a great family vacation!