Friday, September 25, 2015


We ate our pumpkin french toast, warm and sweet and fresh from the crockpot. We packed up lunches and filled water bottles and went on our merry way to explore a new piece of Colorado. The aspen colors are peaking right now and the juxtaposition of bright yellow aspen to deep green evergreen tree gets me every darn time.

Tonight I read the chapter where Charlotte and Wilbur meet. Not the one where she says they'll be friends and ends on a total cliff hanger that drove my 7-year-year bonkers, but the one where Charlotte shouts her salutations and Wilbur wrestles with the idea of being friends with a kind and pretty predator. We are reading the book now because it took this long for my arachnophobic son to be okay reading a book about a spider. He hangs on every word. The silly goose stuttering her responses and the nervous Wilbur shouting for his friend and the gentle Charlotte making the first move toward friendship. Goodness, I love those quiet moments with Elliot. We prayed, working on memorizing The Lord's Prayer, and his hand grazed mine and he picked his cuticle and I just felt life and love so big in that one nothing moment. Somehow I get to be here with them doing this. All of this.

It is hard. It is obviously not walk five miles to carry putrid water home to a small hut hard. That is a hard I cannot fathom. It is obviously not flee my home country, risking my life with each passing step hard. That is a hard I don't remotely understand.

It is still hard. There is not enough of me to go around. I want to do right by them. I want to raise them to love and honor and cherish this world, to laugh gut busting laughs, to reach a hand out to a friend in need, to ask for help, to find the silly in everything, to dance when the need arises, as it is known to do, to love, to sit in their hurts and grow from them.

I guess I just want them to see all of the best and the worst this life has to offer because, good gracious, it sure is filled to the brim with both, and to celebrate the party and to hold someone's hand and wipe tears at the funeral.

And every day I hope I do more to help them down that road, than to steer them in another direction.

Today was described as "magical," "B.H.E." (translated to best hike ever for those of you that weren't in our car on the way home), and "I keep thinking I'll wake up and this will be a dream." Those are high praises and right on target.

I just feel so small here on this big earth. I stare at these trees and these mountains and these little sticky toddler hands and these growing so big kids and I try to understand my little space in all of this.

Today: hike, eat fudge, give baths, feed children and animal, correct math, take the dog out, sing all the highest notes along with the Phantom of the Opera CD, read books before bed. On paper, this is not important stuff. It means nothing.

It didn't feel like nothing. It felt like a piece of life that I want to relive over and over again.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Washing hair and nine and fourth grade

I washed Audrey's hair tonight. She is still at that stage where she prefers baths, but will take a shower if we're running late on bedtime or, in tonight's case, plumbing issues make the bathtub unusable. That's always fun. She got the water turned to the right temperature then came to find me. "Mama, could you come in in a few minutes to wash my hair?" "Certainly," I replied.

How long will she need or want this help? How many times have I told her she could do it herself so I could get something else done? For some reason, it felt important tonight. Helping her wash her hair felt like the most important place I could be. Maybe it's because she's growing up so quickly. Maybe it's because we've been talking a bit about the horrors of the world. Maybe it's because the evenings are getting dark and cool, the crickets are chirping their last chirps and the elk are bugling their fall reveille, reminding me of the eternal passage of time.

She will start fourth grade in the morning. Impossible, but true. She is nine and the math people in the world know that nine plus nine equals 18, which means she's halfway to adult. I will never have enough days with her. I will never share enough books with her. I will never hear her lovingly care for her youngest brother or play the piano just so or write a note just to tell me she loves me enough. I just won't.

This time I have with her is precious. Not perfect because neither of us are, but precious. Of all the girls in all the world, God chose me to be Audrey's mama and for that I could not possibly be more thankful.

Church. Life. Pain. Love. Action.

The sky here is an overwhelming shade of surreal blue that never ceases to fill me with wonder. Add in the majestic white clouds and I could spend days looking up at the sky, but then I'd miss the mountains. It's a tough problem to have.
photo courtesy of Evergreen Neighbors and Friends FB Page

Yesterday we went to church and it was in Agape Chapel, which is a lovely way of saying it was outside. We have an area carved into a small hill with rustic seating, rocks, a cross, and nature. Oh, and barking dogs since there is a doggie hotel very close by.

On Sunday, the sun was shining, but up here in the mountains the days start brisk. We start our day in autumn, spend our day in August, and end it back in October again. Perfection might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. The sky was doing its glorious clouds on blue magic. Asher was going back and forth between Jim and I with plenty of pitstops to sift rocks through his fingers and climb on four small boulders that were just his size for "rock hike," as he put it when he saw them. Isaac and Audrey were sitting on the bench, old enough to mostly listen and engage for the entire church service. Elliot had his head in my lap, looking up at the sky. Our pastoral intern was preaching, which is pretty obvious since it's his job, but Elliot was preaching, too. He'd whisper up to me, "mama, look at the clouds." "Mama, it looks like bobcat tracks." "Now it's the ocean's waves." I'd lean down and whisper, "I see swirling sand at the beach." He grabbed my hand and put it on his head to shield the sun. Then he put it on his chest. He fiddled with my hair.
loving on Bear
Back in the day, turning 5

My cookie helper

Celebrating 7 with nana and babu

I listened to the pastor. He asked where we'd seen God in our world that week. I looked at the beautiful boy in my lap. The one who, church clothes and all, I had stand in my dry shower so I could trim his hair less than five minutes before we headed out the door to church. I thought of the clouds passing over our heads and his awareness of them and their majesty. The way nature points to God.

I thought of all the ways that the world kicked my butt this week and all the ways that God reminded me that there is beauty and good and love. Beauty, good, and love within me and around me, from me and for me.

It's not always easy to see. Good grief, is that the understatement of the century? Syria. Tumors. Job loss. Anger. Heart disease. Disappointment. Miscarriage. Loss. ISIS. Car wrecks. Rape. That list could go on and on and all too often it is on repeat in my brain. 

But the list of beauty can go on and on, too, and we can add to that list with our words, our actions, our lives. We can look up at the sky, marvel our little place in this grand world, and make this little patch of grass better. Make one person's day brighter. 

I highly recommend reading this, but more than simply reading, may we all ACT with as much love and money and compassion as we can possibly muster up. 

Will you join me in trying to brighten up your little patch of grass and one person's day? If you have ideas on how to help with the huge issues we are facing right now, Syria and ISIS come to mind first, please share in the links below. Thanks for reading and loving and acting in love.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


I'm not going to talk about my list. My life list that is long and stress-inducing and trying to eat me up and spit me out. I have my list and you have yours and we have to erase and rearrange and ask for help and do what we have to do. I won't get into that.

I will say that I am tired. Weary. Hanging on for dear life and grasping at the life vest to keep me afloat. It's hard to say that without sounding like a big, whiney McWhiner. There's a balance. Being honest and hoping people realize they aren't alone when they feel like life's seismic wave is going to crash over them while also acknowledging that in the grand scheme o' life, my problems are puny, little, teeny tiny problems. I know they are, but they're still my problems and they can still overwhelm me.

Here's my plan for tonight. Ignore the dishes, the trashed state of everything due to the dog accidentally being left out for an entire afternoon, and the to-do list to get ready for all of my upcoming Classical Conversations stuff. Instead I am playing with my puppy, the one who was accidentally left out all aternoon and didn't go to the bathroom in the house or totally demolish anything, although I'm certain that my computer didn't send out sparks when I plugged it in until today. I am plopping a few words down here. Then when I have the pup worn out, I am going to bed.

Today's lesson, and the one I'm sharing with my kids every time I say yes when people offer to drive them to sports practices or bring them home if I need to get Asher down for his nap, is that I'm only one person and I can only do so much. Today one of Isaac's coaches offered to drive him to pitching clinic on Tuesday. I cried behind my sunglasses. Tears of gratitude. I hate that I need this help. It makes me feel useless and less than and like I can't even do the one job I have well.

(Now I know this is dumb. I never think that when other people need help or ask for help, so why should I think that about my situation? We are a strange and unpredictable breed, we humans.)

It's back to school. We all thought our summers would be relaxing and then we did those three house projects and the kids all had swim lessons and sports and robotics and the car broke down and the snakes got into the house. Or whatever really happened to make your summer whiz by and leave you by the side of the road panting in exhaustion. Now it's fall and we're hoping the routine will make life slow down a bit. But here's the kicker. I am only one person and I can only do so much. Sorry to say, the same applies to you. We have these 24 hours in these 7 days. That's it.

What life lesson are you learning? It feels like I need reminders on the same few over and over again!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

One year

One year ago we accepted an offer on our house in Minnesota.

A close friend recently asked if I was happy with our decision. I've been contemplating that question a lot, which is pretty normal when an anniversary rolls around, even if it is just a sell your house anniversary.

The easy answer is, "Yes. It was the right decision and I'm happy with it." And that is true.

But the full answer is, "Yes. It was the right decision and I'm happy with it and it is harder than I ever imagined, but I still know we are in the right place for our family." Isn't life just complicated like that?

Even though we love it here and the mountains, oh, the mountains, and the kids are settling in with sports and church stuff, it is just hard.

I am lonely and Jim is in MN a lot. A lot lot. Or MA or CA or some other state that we aren't in. I am overwhelmed and I want the friendships and security and ease of relationships that I had, but those things don't happen overnight. People here are kind. We will find our place. When I forget that truth, my kids remind me. When they forget that truth, I remind them. We need those reminders less and less with each passing month.

In Minnesota, I loved the people, but it never felt quite right. It never felt like that was it for us. Here I feel at home in my soul and I am waiting for the friendships and loving community to follow suit. That's not quite true. I am working for the friendships and the loving community. We are hosting s'more parties and ice cream socials, accepting invitations, issuing invitations, and putting ourselves out there. It isn't particularly easy, but the payoff will be grand. My friends in Minnesota taught me that friendship is a beautiful gift, that being truly me and accepting truly them is a beautiful gift. It is a gift that requires effort and nurturing, time and commitment.

I'd say it's still bittersweet, like I wrote about here. After many detours and frustrations, we are right where we are supposed to be. In many ways it is sweeter than I could have hoped. I guess that's what home feels like. But the bitter is still there, too. The missed moments of nephew birthday parties and running with my best friends, the next door neighbor with three of everything in her kitchen and family close enough to visit more often.

I look forward to what is to come. I still believe it's good stuff.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


I've got a little story and it's full of a lot of irony. Call me, Alanis Morissette. I think the world is ready for another version of Isn't It Ironic.

Sunday after church: The whole family drove to Golden to try lunch at the Sherpa House (mmmmm!!), buy new running shoes for the mama, and fix something electric at my cousin's house. That last part was Jim's deal, in case you thought I'd picked up a new hobby involving electrocuting myself and possibly starting house fires. As we drove, Jim, my husband, the guy who installs, services, and fixes power generator/switch gear for a living, said that he thought we should get a generator since we were out in the mountains and he didn't want us to be without power for too long if something happened.

I agreed, but really I didn't care because I flip the switch and the lights turn on and I assume that will almost always happen.

Then Jim nonchalantly mentioned that he talked to someone while he was working in Boston and they had an extra generator and we could have it for free. Well, cool. Free is better than paying and then Jim can hook it up and we'll be ready in case there is an emergency in the winter. Win! So, we ended the conversation with the fact that a free generator was in transit to us and would arrive sometime in the next week.

A few hours later, Jim got on an airplane and flew to Minnesota to, you guessed it, fix generators.

A few hours after that, the power went out at our house and stayed out for 25 hours. We are on a well and I don't have a smart phone so in addition to no lights, refrigeration, or oven, we were also without running water (TOILETS!!) and the grand dame of 2015, Ms. Internet herself. I was texting my husband in Minnesota to find out why we didn't have power in Colorado.

Apparently something (transformer?) blew up in a remote, mountainous area, making the fixing process rather tricky. Some drunk guy at a local restaurant regaled us with stories he'd heard of the company flying parts in, helicoptering a bulldozer down to the area, then helicoptering in a person to drive the bulldozer to the job site, fix it, and barrel his way out of the wilderness. I think the worker's name was Grizzly Adams. Or maybe MacGyver. (That last part is my little addition to his tale.)

I'm not saying he wasn't telling the truth, but I am saying I would have trusted him a bit more had he been able to stand upright without swaying. The town was ripe with gossip about causes and possible days we'd get power back and I just nodded because I couldn't ask Ms. Internet anything so they were my best sources of information.

The power went out at 10 pm. That is some scary business. Home alone with four kids and a puppy and the lights go out. I was 99% sure that someone cut the lines to do us serious bodily harm. Thankfully the 1% won. I kept expecting the lights to come back and the internet to reappear, but they didn't so I went to bed like people in days of yore.

The power didn't come back on overnight so the kids and I went to town in search of food. Every restaurant we passed was closed and one grocery store was kind of open. We stocked up on food that wouldn't go bad, fruit that could sit on the counter for a while, and water. It wasn't particularly healthy, but it would sustain us. We listened to the chit chat about power returning in two days, explosions, fires. We started talking about saving our flushes and using hand sanitizer and buying candles. We compared our minor trials and tribulations to our current family read aloud, Little House in the Big Woods, and decided even without power, we still have a pretty sweet gig.

I talked to Jim and he said that the generator would arrive on Thursday. At this point, power was expected to come back on Wednesday. Ha. Funny! Perfect timing.

We passed our day on Monday as we always do. A little school, some reading, and playing outside. Isaac was most disappointed that he couldn't use the internet to log all of his reading hours onto the Library's web page since the kids are doing a summer reading challenge. He figured that with no power they'd read even more than usual.

After dinner out with friends, the kids got ready for bed, used bottled water for teeth brushing, and, armed with a flashlight in case they needed to get to me in the night, hit the hay. I played fetch with Bear in the dark, with a few candles to keep me from peeing myself in fear. When I took him out it was so dark and quiet, interrupted only by the sound of the generators humming. Lucky ducks! Let me tell you, it is scary taking a dog out into the pitch black night holding a little flashlight and expecting a bear or cougar to attack at any moment. It's possible I have an overactive imagination. Just maybe.

Then, like our favorite Ingalls family, I went to bed because it was dark and there was nothing else to do. I did bring my cell phone flashlight up so I could read in bed, but Pa wasn't here to make me any popcorn. (Am I the only one who thought it was ridiculously cool and illicit for Ma and Pa to eat popcorn in bed? I mean, at least some of those little kernels were bound to fall onto their bed. I think this is proof I was a weird kid.)

I turned the flashlight out at about 10:15 and was woken about an hour later to the sound of my toilet refilling. Hallelujah! This was great news since we had just run out of toilets to flush that evening. I walked through the house much more confidently, turning off lights and checking toilets.

The kids woke up on Tuesday, happy to have power back. We all bathed and turned lights on when a room was dark and even used the stove. Fancy!

Now it's Wednesday night, the power's been restored for a day and our generator arrives tomorrow. By now it's pretty obvious that we won't ever lose power again, right? Or at least not until our generator breaks from years of sitting around unused and we decide not to get another one.

Irony. I tell ya.

Have you had any annoyingly ironic moments lately?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Celebrating August

It is August. Two Augusts ago, five vanWestrienens were waiting with bated breaths and one vanWestrienen was waiting with growing belly. We knew that this would be baby month. Since my due date was right in the middle of the month, we figured that if all went well, the baby would be here sometime in August. I knew it would be later than earlier because after Isaac, born at 39 weeks, my babies just kept wanting to cook longer and looonger and loooooonger.

My belly was rubbed, pictures were taken, adventures were had, silly videos were made, and stories were read to my tummy as we awaited the much anticipated arrival of our baby cuatro.

Now it's August again. Two Augusts have passed and baby cuatro is big and beautiful and hilarious and so ridiculously verbal. We called Elliot the cherry on our ice cream sundae of a family and now we know that Asher is the extra dollop of whipped cream. He is sweet and just the perfect little person for our family. His name means Happy, Fortunate, and Blessed and if you've met him you know it fits him to a t. His smile and giggle and loving personality are the sweetest. He'll also scream at the top of his lungs if he wants to ride a 9-year-old's bike and we won't let him, but such is life. And if you deny him pistachios. . . well, just consider yourself warned.

He knows the difference between Swiss, Gouda, and Muenster and is very vocal about his preference for "doooda!"

There is a saying that (hu)man(s) cannot live on bread alone, but Asher is willing to bet that he could live on watermelon alone. Unfortunately he has parents who are pretty intent on rounding out the food groups.

His facial expressions are an absolute hoot.

He is breastfeeding's biggest fan. I do believe it even trumps watermelon. Once he's finished on one side, he scoots himself over, says, "switch sides," and waits expectantly, smiling up at me just happy as can be.

When he sees the neighbor's dog outside, he says, "Suzanne. . . doberman. . . bark."

He listens in to Little House in the Big Woods and sometimes he'll grab the book later in the day and give a short synopsis. "Pa. Bear. Grandpa's house. Dance." Spot on, baby boy!

He loves being outside and is pretty sure he could do everything his big brothers and sister do, if only we would allow him to try. Biking, hiking, running, and exploring are some of his specialties.

He loves Bear and lets him know who's boss.

I tried to take a picture of a toddler and a dog. Ha! Nice try.

He loves taking baths with his big brother or sister, puts a washcloth on his tummy, and shouts, "Wear lifejacket!"

He loves going to baseball and softball games and loves to "hit da ball!"

He thinks swimming in lakes is better in theory than practice.

He loves pizza and "pizza bonfire fire pit" is even better, probably because it combines two of his loves: pizza and "outside." Here he's organizing the stone blocks for the fire pit. He is quite the helper.

He gives "bro hugs," which are one armed hugs with pats on the back, and "cuddle hugs," which are a big, deep, lingering hug. When anyone is hurt he runs to the person and gives cuddle hugs because bro hugs just won't do in that situation.

He runs from one side of the living room to the other with his hands high above his head shouting, "AMAAAAAAZING!"

When anyone says they're going anywhere, doing anything, or eating any food, Asher again throws both hands over his head and shouts, "Me? Me? Meeee?" He is not about to miss out on one single thing.

He has a calling as a Wal-Mart greeter. Anyone he sees is greeted with a hearty, "hello." During the sharing of the peace at church he walks around with arm outstretched and smile flashing, ready to shake hands and say, "hi."

We all want to press stop and keep Asher just perfectly almost two Asher. He is at such a fun age, but there is more fun, adventure, love, and discovery to come so we'll just enjoy the ride!

FYI: baby cuatro, aka Asher, Asher boy, Chooch, Choochie face, and Boo Boo, was five days past his due date, but as you can see, he was totally, absolutely, 100% worth the wait. We didn't know we needed him, just him, but we did.