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.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Almost Full Moon reflections

Last night we walked home from Audrey's end-of-season softball party. Her coach lives on our road so it was a nice, little commute for us. One in a wagon, one on ripstick, one on bike, another walking. We made our way up the road. We stopped to ooh and aah the 12 point elk grazing in one of the yards. Then I looked up and saw the moon as it crept up over the mountain, showing itself in all of its beauty. Oh, was it ever marvelous. I pointed it out to the kids and we took some pictures that, of course, don't do it even one iota of justice. It changed a bit with every step we took as our perspectives changed.
Sir Elk hanging out in the neighbor's yard
It's so hard to see in this junky cell phone picture since the flash brightened the sky,
but that wee orb is the glorious moon coming up to say howdy.
I came home and got kids situated in bed and checked out facebook and at least three friends either posted pictures or mentioned the beauty of the moon. Four people in four cities in three states in two time zones remarking about the spectacular display of natural beauty going on outside our doors.

That got me thinking.

We are all on this earth, gazing up at this same sky. We are all on this little planet during this same little blip of time. We share this amazing, little home. I find that absolutely remarkable.

Every  night I am looking up at the same sky, marveling the same creation, sharing many of the same exultations and worries as people all across the world.

Yet we argue and whine, gossip and backstab, compare and covet. And, if I'm honest, that's just me on a regular Tuesday. On a grander scale, we war and rape, destroy and disregard. We do not live our lives as though we are tiny specks breathing the same air inhabiting the same tiny space.

Maybe that's why I love the uninterrupted night sky. Maybe that's why I have found my heart's delight living in the mountains. Maybe that's why I can gaze at the ocean for hours, watching the waves meet the sand. All of those things, those great, expansive, glorious things, remind me of my place here.

I am only passing through here. The world was here long before me and will continue long after I am gone. Therefore I am compelled to use my time here wisely. To love. To take chances. To fail and then take the chances again. To treat people well. To give grace and receive grace.
I fail. In fact, I fail a lot. In fact, I fail a lot every single day. I am a work in progress, working towards being the living expression of God's kindness. Can you imagine if we all did that? Can you imagine if we all lived like neighbors gazing at the same remarkable sky?

Today I'm working on that. I'm working on being the living expression of God's love to everyone I come across. Again, if I'm honest, it's a lot easier to act this way to the acquaintances and friends and strangers.

To day in and day out act this way to my husband and kids is more difficult. We are sharing this same space, sinning these same sins, pushing these same buttons, holding these same grudges. So I work and pray and pray and work and repeat the word "grace" to myself over and over.

Let's live in harmony with the people with whom we share a bathroom, the people with whom we carpool, the people with whom disagree on pretty much all levels. Let's rejoice when others rejoice and weep when others weep. It's not easy. It's just right. It's just the first step in filling this world up with love. Today, let's look up and look out to better remember our place in this vastness and to better appreciate the people sharing this same, crazy ride.

Check out tonight's full moon. Share pictures if you snap a really pretty one. Wishing you a lovely weekend, full of love and grace.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Just 10

I am training for a marathon. That's 26.2 miles. Whew. It's hard. My longest run so far is 16 miles. I have had wonderful, inspiring runs where I felt I could run forever and ridiculously tough runs where I questioned all of it. I am doing it for the best cause I can think of. I am doing it to honor the beautiful and much too short life of my friend, Jenna. I'm raising money for pancreatic cancer action network so they can continue research to end the brutal, horrific disease that took her life at 40 years old. (If you're interested in donating, click here. Any amount is welcomed and appreciated.)

This week was a cut back week. That means that last weekend I did two runs and then a long run of 16 miles, but this week I did two runs and the long run was 10 miles. This allows our bodies to adapt to longer distances, gives us some mental space to breathe, and gives our bodies a rest. I thought about that on my 10 mile run. The chance to rest. Jenna did not have a chance to rest. Once she got her diagnosis it was doctor's visits, chemo, hospital stays, trips with family, lunch dates with friends, moments with her husband and sons, just soaking each other up. There were grand moments of joy and love and peace, certainly, but there was no cut back week for her. I can't express how much I hate that. I can say that no matter how hard cancer tried, it could not steal her joy, her spirit, her love of life. Suck it, cancer!
Three kiddos, a baby cuatro in the belly, Jenna, and me at her Jenna's Fight Club 5k
Those thoughts were running through my head as I got ready for my training run on Saturday. My mom and her husband graciously offered to watch our kids that day so we could do some work around the house. (side note: if money and time grew on trees this house would be divine. As it is, it's home sweet home. Home without trim, with terrible wall textures, woodpecker holes in the siding that have grown thanks to swallows who make nests in our walls, etc., etc., etc. Thankfully, the view really IS divine and the 2 acres suit us beautifully and the floor plan is great and it's full of potential. Just no money or time trees. Thus ends my side note.) I met my mom to swap cars, since Lord knows I wasn't going to move that many carseats/booster seats. We stopped in the parking lot and Isaac asked how long I was running today.

"Just 10."

He giggled. "Ten is a lot to me."

I shook my head. Why did I say that? "You're right. Ten is a lot of miles to run."

I do that a lot. I bet you do, too.

"Just 10."

"I just stay home with my kids."

Someone compliments you on your outfit. You don't say thanks. "I've had it forever. It was on sale."

Someone says you look great. You don't say thanks. "Ugh. I really need to lose a few pounds and I just found another gray hair yesterday."

Do you do that?

"Just this." "Only that."

Ten miles is a lot of miles to most people. Parenting is important stuff. When I give a compliment I am sincere and I should assume the same when they are directed my way.

We are not just this or only that. We are created with purpose. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are made in the image of God.

We mess up every day. All of them. Monday through Friday, plus weekends. Multiple times. Because we're humans.

But I did not run "just 10" and I don't "just stay home with my kids." I'm not just anything and neither are you. I am 100% me and you are 100% you. We're going to wake up and love and laugh and fall on our faces, perhaps both literally and figuratively. We're going to raise our voices when we should hug, hold a grudge when we should forgive, roll our eyes when we should apologize.

Gosh, I wish I didn't. I wish I were perfect. Like that person on Facebook who I swear always does her hair and make up and never shouts at her kids and always gets along with her husband and is going on ANOTHER vacation. Seriously. How is that her life? Come on!

Well, it isn't her life. It's a piece of her life.

Life, real life, all of it, is ugly. Beautiful. Brutal. Glorious. We're going to celebrate grandiose victories and endure the deepest depths of grief. If we're really lucky we'll have people surrounding us to hold our hands and wipe our snot, pick us up when we are weary and love us no matter what.

And those people love us because we are who we are. 100% us.

Life's too short. We all say it. We have to live it. We have to live it before we get the bad news from the doctor or before the car crash or before the marriage crumbles.

Let's stop apologizing for ourselves or minimizing our accomplishments.

Let's shine. Not to draw attention to ourselves, but to brighten the lives of the people around us.

Let's live boldly. Kindly. Lovingly. Purposefully. Beautifully. Brightly. 100%.

It's Monday. Instead of being in a Monday funk, let's all do one thing to brighten someone else's day. What will you do? Share in the comments if you'd like.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Boys playing baseball in the front yard.
Girls making birds' nests from mud and leaves, grass and pine needles.
Toddler following everyone around, waiting for his chance to get in on the action.
Trimming trees.
Mowing grass.
Girls switch to making fairy gardens out of moss.
Sun kissed noses.
Screen door banging open and shut as kids come in and out, in and out.
Sandal tan lines.
Lazy mornings, pjs, piles of books.
A raw spot in the yard for the pitcher's mound, rubbed bare from hours of ball each day.
Neighborhood bike rides.
Late breakfasts and late dinners with ice cream in between.
Girl reading her book on the front porch.
Bare feet in freshly mowed grass.
Watermelon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Dirt in the bottom of the bathtub.
Evenings spent at the ball field.
Hikes and wildflowers.
Swim lessons.
Breeze through window.
Family read alouds at all hours of the day and night.
Exploring new spaces.
Fire pits.
Getting to know new puppies.
Getting gnawed on by new puppies.
Loving new puppies.
Farmer's Markets.
Sloppy Colorado peaches, juice dripping everywhere.
Aspen's bright green leaves.

Summer, apparently, is not for blogging. Oops.
beautiful photo, not taken by yours truly

What does summer mean to you?