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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rollin' on the River

Did you have a good Memorial Day weekend? I loved seeing everyone's pictures. Families, flags, pools and parties. We had the opportunity to go stay near the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina for the weekend and it was- magical.

Truly, magical.

As a family we haven't gone on many vacations together...and now that I really think about it, we've gone on exactly zero. B Daddy has taken a kid or two somewhere for a weekend and we've been to visit family, but as for actually choosing a destination for pleasure and taking all four kids, we'd never done it before.

The (beautiful) home we stayed in was just a few minutes away from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, (NOC) which is a hub for adventure geeks from all over the Southeast. The Appalachian Trail crosses over the Nantahala river there, world-class mountain bike trails are a few minutes away, and the river itself is full from May-October with paddlers of all ages and abilities.

We used to visit the area a lot pre-kid; it's where I learned to kayak and where B Daddy spent many a night camped out with buddies after boating in college. We told Britain she'd kayaked down the river once in my belly, a fact she put on repeat for the rest of the weekend, "I've already been here boys." B Daddy and I decided to start dating after a trip to a similar southern river, so the whole hiking/biking/kayaking scene holds particular sway over our hearts.

We got there early Saturday afternoon and puttered around the house until it was time for our big race. We found a family-friendly, 1 mile "Adventure Dash" that started right at the NOC, so we geared up and headed down to run. Both B Daddy and I figured that a one mile race with obstacles was completely doable for the big kids (ages 6, 4 and 3) and that our pace would be slow enough for Jude (9 months) to easily ride in the Baby Bjorn on B Daddy's chest.

I figured there would be some cargo nets and a balance beam, but was completely caught off guard by the mud pit. After a moment's hesitation over ruining my nearly-new shoes, I dove in and was able to coax the Squirt to join me. It was ridiculously fun to watch the kids participate and to help coach them through the course. There was an outright freak-out by a certain child who shall remain nameless when it came to the river crossing, but one of the course volunteers offered her (whoops) a kayak ride in place of running over the backs of the whitewater boats and so at long last, muddy, wet, and grinning ear to ear, we finished. We were dead last, but we were together and triumphant!

Sunday morning we woke up early (like 6:08am early) and planned our adventures for the day: a morning hike, lunch atop a fire tower and an afternoon of paddling at Lake Fontana. We took the scenic route to get to the start of our hike for the day (the driving alone in this area is worth the trip) and hopped on a little piece of the Appalachian Trail to reach the summit of Wesser Bald. A full hour later we had hiked a pretty steep mile and a half up the mountain ridge to enjoy 360 degrees of mountains all around us. There was a LOT of complaining on this trek. B Daddy carried two children practically the whole way up. I carried #3 for a good bit of trail. There may have been sit-ins at various points along the trail by reluctant children. We pulled out every trick we knew to keep the kids engaged and quickly realized we didn't have many tricks. Because it was hard-fought and won, our lunch at the top of that rickety old fire tower is going to be treasured in my heart for a long time coming. The trip back down the mountain was decidedly quicker, but full of an equal amount of complaining.


That afternoon we were a sight to see, trekking down to the lake. B Daddy carrying our deflatable paddleboard on his back and a pink kayak in each hand, me with a baby on one hip, a backpack on my back and a three year old's hand in mine. The children of course were collectively wailing about having to carry their own paddles and towels. Pure comedy/torture.

We have learned in 6 years of parenting to keep expectations low. If our expectation is that we will spend five minutes in the water with whining children after journeying 40 minutes to get to the water, then anything better than that is a win. Having all three big kids try out the kayaks and paddle without freaking out or tipping over was clearly an unprecedented victory. We even got to share a paddle lesson with a curious little girl who was watching our crew intensely the whole time. Maybe we made a paddler out of her!

We picked up a pizza from the restaurant that has always been our respite after a day on the river and ended our night on the porch watching the mountains disappear and talking about how we might manage to get our own piece of paradise in this neck of the woods some day.

Monday morning we were prepared to pack up and head home, but our big guy requested one more turn in the kayak, so we loaded up again and this time, headed to the river to let him see for himself what it was like to paddle against the current. We timed the trip perfectly, getting about 45 minutes of play in the tame ripples near the NOC before the dam-released river made it all the way down to our spot and the water level picked up significantly.

Even once the water rose, the kids wanted to keep paddling their little section.  I swear I saw B Daddy's heart grow three times bigger as he watched them all enjoy something that is as close to sacred as this earth gets for him. We packed up and headed home around lunchtime, intermittently talking and daydreaming on the drive south about how much we love that area. We're looking into another long weekend away before the summer slips by... and maybe this time B Daddy and I will even find a way to run the river.

Have you ever visited that area? Do you have a place that holds a similar sway over your heart? Have you shared them with your kiddos yet? 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Instagram is A Lie

My oldest turned 6 last week. I like to think I've got birthdays figured out by now. We did one BIG party when this guy turned 3 and admittedly it was a lot of fun. I like throwing parties and making the details special. But since then I've realized that those types of parties are mostly for me. For my kids, when they say they want an "Elsa" party, they mean they want to see Elsa on their cake and there should be snowflakes somewhere. So birthdays around here are decidedly simple.

Our whole family came over and we ate hamburgers and opened gifts, we sang Happy Birthday and ate cake. There were no goodie bags and no special decorations beyond a few balloons and a homemade banner we re-use for every birthday, every year.

My brother-in-law captured a shot of the kiddo's requested Wolverine cake. And I posted it on Instagram because I wanted you to know E had a birthday and it's pretty and people like to look at things that make them feel happy. But I need you to know the story behind the picture. Because life is beautiful, but people are broken. And Instagram is not real.

Last Friday morning I found myself in the kitchen with the kids, baking a simple yellow cake from a box and whipping up the store-bought chocolate frosting to smear on top of it. The birthday boy had requested an X-Men party, so my grand plan was to cut some claws out of cardboard and wrap them in aluminum foil. #thankspinterest Put those in the cake and add a Wolverine figurine on top and voila! X-Men party done.

Just as I dipped my spatula in to start frosting the cake, I heard the baby start to stir from his nap.

No big deal, I thought, this is two-minute process, I'll get this done quickly and then go get him. 

As I plopped the first blob of icing down on the bottom cake layer my middle munchkins decided they needed a closer view of the action and pulled stools up on both sides of me.

I hate it when they crowd me like this. 

Me: Guys, scooch over and give me a little space please.

Spread spread spread. Mmmmm this smells good.

Elijah: But I can't see now! And it's MY cake.

Why is there ALWAYS an argument? And Jude is really fussing now, I need to get going on this. 

Me: (calmly...I'm oh so calm) Ben, make room for Elijah please.

Oh shoot! I forgot to level these cake layers first. How is Wolverine going to stand on top of a domed cake? OK, I'll scrape off the icing, level them off and start over.  

Ben: No! I was here first.

Ugh. I can't scrape the icing off without getting it full of crumbs. I'm going to have to keep it like this.  

Eli: But you said I could help Mom...

This cake looks ridiculous. How many times have you made a layer cake before Katie? 

Eli: Britain move over, I'm coming up.

Jude is screaming. I should probably stop this now and go get him. 

All the children: jockeying for position

This is the ugliest cake I have ever made! I'm going to have to fill in that gap with something...more frosting? Just go buy a cake at the store!? Of course I'm sweating now. 

Britain "falls" dramatically to the floor.

Me: (angrily) Y'all are driving me nuts! All of you get down and go sit at the table!

All of the children in unison: wailing. Gnashing of teeth. Flailing on the floor.


Inside myself a part of me saw the screaming mother and told her to chill out and take deep breaths. Another part of me cheered her on as she ranted and raved at those ridiculous interruptions otherwise known as children.

I suppose that was the larger part of me because I raged until they were in tears.

I responded to my children's childish behavior with a temper tantrum that vastly eclipsed theirs and left them in tears. Not tears that were the product of an infantile outburst, but legitimate tears shed because their mom was screaming at them.

I thought I had birthdays all figured out. I thought I kept things low-key in order to not stress myself out. And I still freaked out at my kids in the process of making that pretty little mess of a birthday cake. I owned my childishness. I apologized to each of them. But there's no picture documenting the moment when Mom went lost her ever-loving mind over the cake. There is a pretty little picture of a cake and a cute birthday boy for all the world to see.

I wanted to remind you (and myself) today that Instagram is not real. The people you know and those you watch from afar who look pulled together and who post gorgeous pictures day after day - they are just like you and me. Heck, they ARE you and me. Normal people with insecurities and ugly moments. And (understandably) no one wants to look at a feed full of ugly moments.

It's a good reminder to me that I need to have real relationships in this world, not just cyber images of relationships. I need to hear from other mothers that what happened in the kitchen that day was normal. Not good certainly, but normal. And talking about it actually decreases the odds that it will be a pattern that continues in my life.

"But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, 
for everything that becomes visible is light." Ephesians 5:13

Are you surrounding yourself with real relationships that encourage you and hold you accountable or are you buying into the idea that everyone's life (except yours) is perfect? What can you bring into the light today in your life?

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Book Party

This past weekend I had the chance to combine two of my greatest loves: books and dessert. Oh and friends. There were friends involved too.

My childhood BFF currently lives and works with her husband and two (precious) daughters in the Ugandan village of Bundibugyo. (By the way she blogs BEAUTIFULLY. Go check out her writing, you'll be blown away.)

Last year one of their teammates' long-standing dream of opening a children's library in their community became a reality. Their library is the only one around for hours. Hours by car. Bumpy hours by car over not-the-greatest roads in the mountains. Can you imagine? There are literally 5 libraries in a 5 mile radius from my home. (And yet I still cannot return books on time...)

The library opened this past summer and it not only houses books, but provides a safe, clean place for local kids (and missionary kids) to come and learn English, learn how to read and soak up Bible lessons. Please take a minute to watch this beautiful video Alanna put together just for us!!

Books + kids = my jam, so when I heard they had a need for some specific kinds of books I wanted to run out and buy all the books. Then I stopped and thought, "wait a minute, other people are gonna want to get in on this goodness too." So I sent out an invite and started baking and crafting.

Last Friday night 30 women came over, their arms loaded up with Caldecott and Newberry award winners, informational books on oceans and animals and the weather and African folk tales galore. Oh and money. These girls brought cash and wrote some seriously significant checks. 


We ate too much dessert, drank just the right amount of champagne and generally had a good time. I'm incredibly grateful they all said yes to leaving their regular Friday night programming and donating to the cause. We gathered over 100 books and $300 to go towards the cost of getting the books to Uganda. Yep, these ladies are AWESOME.

Some of you couldn't make it the party and have already asked me and I know some of you readers are going to ask, so yes you can be involved by giving a book (or two!) if you are interested! I am collecting books for the next week and then will be shipping them all out to Uganda around the 20th of the month. Email me for my mailing address if you don't have it and you can purchase a book on Amazon and drop-ship it directly to me. How easy is that?!

Particularly requested books are:
Informational books (aka non-fiction)
Caldecott winners
Newberry award winners
Geisel medal winners
Seibert medal winners

To everyone who came to this shindig - I cannot thank you enough. Y'all are my people and I just freak out with excitement at the thought of these faces reading these books!!

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