Ireland: The Results of Our Grand Experiment Are In!

We’re home! All of us, all together, are lounging around the living room. I’d like to tell you we’re lovingly rehashing the trip to Europe, fondly sharing our memories and the lessons we learned.

Ireland in the fall

In reality we’re too tired to get off the couch. Audrey’s being forced to practice her trombone for 80 minutes, so we’re all suffering the consequences of her procrastination for the month of September. This afternoon Caleb did hours of math homework he didn’t get finished on the way to O’Hare, and that took several years off Eric’s and my life.

The Blue Door Restaurant in Adare, Ireland

Today makes the eleventh day I’ve been with my children nearly twenty-four hours a day. We’ve been shoved in the back of a Renault together. We sat next to each other for an eight-hour flight yesterday, after a two-hour drive to the Dublin airport. Then we rode home for another two and a half hours after landing.

I love my children, but I am here to tell you that I have experienced motherhood in its fullest the last eleven days. I can’t even imagine how my own mother feels– she traveled with us and it will probably take her weeks of therapy to recover.

This is me, drying my child's sock with a hair dryer because Irish clothes dryers-- forgive me-- don't actually dry clothes.

This is me, drying my child’s sock with a hair dryer because Irish clothes dryers– forgive me– don’t actually dry clothes.

And so help me, if that trombone makes one more honk I’m going to surely expire.

[I’m not making this up– the child just saw me roll my eyes and brought it CLOSER TO ME. She’s now playing the wretched instrument just inches from my face.]

Lord, give me strength.

BUT. We had a wonderful time. Ireland is wonderful. We saw rolling green hills dotted with grazing cattle. We climbed through medieval castles and walked historical villages. We ate wonderful food (the Irish specialize in gluten-free options!) and took our kids to all sorts of pubs.

One of the castles had dress up clothes so we could get into character. I think that’s what’s happening here.

That’s really not as alarming as it sounds. Kids are welcome in pubs in Ireland– one night the family next to us was letting their toddler greet all the new arrivals at the door. She handled her beer really well.

Just kidding. No beer for babies. Just fish and chips.

Adare, Ireland

As for our traveling experiment, it was mostly successful. I think Caleb enjoyed Ireland more than he expected. He loved the castles and villages, and he thought the food there was delicious. But Audrey missed her friends so badly that I don’t know she enjoyed the trip as much as the rest of us. By Wednesday she was Facetiming with her friends as they woke up in the morning (Ireland is five hours ahead of Kalamazoo) or just as she went to bed at night.

She survived, though.

We all survived, and I’m so glad we decided to try it. I have a lot more stories to tell and thoughts to share, but my brain is fried. Throughout the week I’ll get my neurons in order and send the kids back to blessed, blessed school.

I would like to take this moment to publicly announce my fondness for the local school district and the teachers there. Bless you all.

Until then, here’s another quote about traveling with children. I think it’s true and right, even though I’m at the tail end of my eleventh solid day with my children and that dang trombone just started up again.

If I live through this practice session, I’ll write more soon. Stay tuned!

From Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist:

Sometimes people ask me why I travel so much, and specifically why we travel with Henry so often. I think they think it’s easier to keep the kids at home, in their routines, surrounded by their stuff. It is. But we travel because it’s there. Because Capri exists and Kenya exists and Tel Aviv exists, and I want to taste every bite of it. We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that “our way” isn’t the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighborhood–they love to play, to discover, to learn. (p. 97)

We’re Off to Find the Leprechauns!

Nothing feels normal in this house. Tomorrow we drive to O’Hare airport and board a plane for Dublin. We’re all so excited we can’t think straight.

These photos were all taken on our last flight to Dublin. Irish flight attendants are AWESOME.

These photos were all taken on our last flight to Dublin. Irish flight attendants are AWESOME. “Tea? Tea? Tea?” And all the Americans blinked in polite refusal. Because NO. NO tea.

And by “we” I mean WE. All four of us are going, plus my mom.

As usual, Eric and I feel a little weird about this trip. We went to Italy a few years ago and got plenty of strange looks from friends when they learned of our plans. People seem to assume we’re either wealthy or we’re putting our vacation on the credit card, because international travel seems so… ostentatious… maybe. Certainly out of the range of normal middle class behavior in this community.

That stretch over the Atlantic feels like you're NEVER GOING TO GET BACK TO LAND. Just take me home, Sweet Jesus. Can't tale this no mo'.

That stretch over the Atlantic feels like you’re NEVER GOING TO GET BACK TO LAND. Just take me home, Sweet Jesus. Can’t take this plane no mo’.

Eric worked really hard to find the absolute best airline ticket prices, and we’re renting a house that will cost far less than a hotel room. We’ll be buying our groceries at the local store and cooking most of our own meals, and then taking inexpensive day trips around the island.

But I know that one of those inexpensive airline tickets costs as much as the monthly rent some people can barely make, and it doesn’t sit well with me. We’ve been financially blessed; I know we’re called to share our resources with those in need. And we do. But even with generosity as a top budget item, we’ve still managed to carve out some money to take the family to Ireland.

Thank goodness for the English, because Irish is not offered in rural American high schools.

Thank goodness for the English, because Irish is not offered in rural American high schools.

To do so, we’ve made budget cuts in all kinds of places. Eric’s car is almost twenty years old and his driver’s side door barely works. He climbed in and out of the passenger door all summer long. We buy the bulk of our clothes at the resale shops. Our kids aren’t involved in expensive extracurricular activities like travel hockey or dance classes.

Do you know how much money you can save when your kids’ greatest interests are going to the library and hanging out with friends??

Enough to go to Ireland, frankly.

I was all bound up in all kinds of conflicting feelings this week, but Tsh Oxenreider’s book Notes From a Blue Bike settled me back down. The Oxenreiders have literally traveled around the world with their kids. (You can read all about their story here.) In her book, she says this:

Once they’ve traveled, kids have permission to question the how and why of their surroundings, because they’ve tasted and seen that other people live differently. While may not be the most comfortable way to go through life, it’s the most honest– and this honesty opens the door to making life choices that feel right in your bones. (p. 147)

This is what I want for our kids. I want them to see beyond American life, with our huge SUVs, mammoth refrigerators, and vinyl-clad houses. I want them to taste food they didn’t know existed, meet people who speak the same language with a totally different accent, and even ride in a car on the other side of the road.

I want to encourage them to think big as they make plans for the rest of their lives.

I’ll let you know how this giant experiment goes. Eric says it’s all going to be fine, or it’ll be a disaster and I’ll have fodder for the blog for a long time. Either way, we all win! I’ll be posting from Ireland as much as the wi-fi allows, but since I’ll be blogging from my smart camera you should count on lots of pictures and not so many words.

In the mean time, I have a million things to do and not enough brain cells to get them all done. I’ll get back to you soon!


I stole this quote out of Tsh's book. I didn't actually talk to Augustine to get that wisdom directly.

I stole this quote out of Tsh’s book. I didn’t actually talk to Augustine to get that wisdom directly.

Poopsie and Beanie Go to Sunday School

Poopsie is now the official junior high Sunday school teacher at her church.

Poopsie feels quite fetching in this hat-like product.

Poopsie feels quite fetching in this hat-like product. Her Sunday school class thought it was fetching, as well.

Beanie wasn’t so sure about this, because junior high is a time when you want to appear cool and awesome-sauce, and having your mother teach your Sunday School class is probably always a total bummer.

Poopsie didn’t care. She volunteered anyway.

But the first week of class Poopsie asked the kids what they’d like to study and if there were any interesting things they’d like to learn. She said, “Think of when you have a friend stay over Saturday night. What would you like to be doing in Sunday school that a friend would enjoy?”

The students were all thinking “video games and/or polishing our nails, lady” but they are all too well brought up to actually verbalize this. Plus, Poopsie was their Sunday school teacher for many years when they were in elementary school, so they knew they’d better come up with something that seemed like they’d been paying attention in grades 1-4. Awkward stares abounded.

“What about skits?” Poopsie asked. “Would you like to act out the Bible passages?”

Eyes grew big and excited. This seemed like a ton of fun. Also, one of the students has a mother who works at the church, so she merrily led the class around the building to gather all manner of costumes and props.

Part of the gobbledegook we found.

Part of the gobbledegook we found.

Poopsie was surprised to learn her church already has a blue bird costume, a donkey costume, and a plethora of hideous hats and purses. Plus, a pair of shoes that most certainly belong to a dead man. No living person would have purchased those shoes.

But there’s no reason they won’t make a great prop for a skit about a dead man! The class is excited about the possibilities.

Poopsie thinks the hat-like product looks better on Pheenie.

Poopsie thinks the hat-like product looks better on Pheenie.

Class this morning got a little wild, honestly. Poopsie and the kids are still working out the kinks. The boys were sword fighting and the girls kept tromping off the to bathroom to see how they looked.

Ridiculous. They looked ridiculous.

Um, I added a few hats here because I wasn't sure my friends wanted their children featured on a blog. I figure the hideous costumes and some hats are good disguises.

Um, I added a few hats here because I wasn’t sure my friends wanted their children featured on a blog. I figure the hideous costumes and some hats are good disguises.

But the class had a chance to act out two different passages of Scripture. They got to think through two familiar stories in new ways, and Beanie could even remember what they learned three hours later.

It’s a good start.

The class also agreed to learn about the Church throughout the world (nothing makes you glad for your country like learning about the oppression Christians face worldwide) and heroes of the faith like George Mueller and Corrie TenBoom. The students were also excited about some service projects and mission-related fundraising they’d like to do.

Poopsie is cautiously optimistic. Junior high is a tough age. Faith often takes a backseat to being cool and fitting in. She’s hoping Sunday school will be a place where they feel loved, have fun, and broaden their understanding of the Christian faith in the world.

But most of all, Poopsie hopes these kids deepen their understanding of the One who died so they may live. May Jesus fill all the fun, ridiculous, and (marginally) educational things the class attempts.

And for that, Poopsie will need a lot of prayer.

What If Quiet Obedience Is Enough? (Maybe I could try that instead…)

Lately I find myself doing a lot of things. I plan and I work hard and I push for results.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes I just get tired and cranky and nothing changes.

“But I’m working for You, God. Why aren’t you blessing all this effort?” I whine in an upward direction.

This morning these two verses grabbed my attention:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. (Luke 3:21-22)

Jesus was quietly obedient to what He needed to do. Without fanfare, without a press release, without a PA system– he joined the crowd to be baptized with everyone else. John the Baptist protested (the other Gospels tell that part of the story), but Jesus said, “Nope. This is the way it’s gotta be, John. Baptize me.”

With that quiet obedience, heaven opened up and the Spirit descended upon Him. His Father’s voice audibly made His pleasure known.

That’s what I’m really looking for– God’s pleasure. Secure knowledge that I’m on the right track and He’s super excited about it.

So maybe all this work and frantic effort and angst should be traded in for quiet, trusting obedience. Then God can do what He needs to do.

I’ll let you know how it works out. If you try it this week, let me know how it works for you!

quiet obedience

My Advice to Brand New Brides (saving the world, one marriage at a time)

A young friend of our family just proposed to his girlfriend this weekend. They’re both in the American military, stationed in Europe, so our friend’s posts often involve mountains and lederhosen and other assorted European specialties. But recently a particular girl has started popping up in those pictures, so I was waiting for some sort of news.

On Friday morning they posted a selfie (if you have two people in the picture does it become a selfies? An ourselfie?) of the beginning of their flight to Rome. By Friday afternoon they were posting the photos of the ring as they smiled like madly-in-love fools on the streets of Rome.

So romantic.

But I sort of feel bad for the girl, just a little bit. How is she ever going to win an argument now? He’ll be able to finish every fight with this: “Do you remember that time I proposed to you in Rome?” She won’t be able to trump that. He wins.

At least, not until she has some babies. Then she can end every argument with “Yes. Do you remember how I gave birth to your children?” And there’s nothing that trumps pregnancy, labor, delivery, and nursing an infant. Not even a gorgeous engagement ring in Rome.

My first piece of advice to this bride would be to have a baby right quick so she has some ammunition during arguments.

I should probably mention that I’ve been married for almost seventeen years and so I might not be the romantic fool I was so many years ago. Melanie Shankle talks about this phenomena in her book The Antelope in the Living Room. Old Love, she calls it. Old Love is solid and loyal and beautiful, but it sleeps in socks and flannel pajamas. Old Love has long given up on New Love’s slinky nighties and batting eyelashes.

My Advice to Brand New Brides

So with Old Love firmly in mind, here are some other things I’d like to tell new brides everywhere.

  1. Be very nice to his mother. If necessary, be very nice to his mother from across the country. Listen, sometimes you’re just not going to get along with the woman who gave birth to your husband. It might be you, it might be her, it might be that both of you are crazy. Just get over it. But it’s easier to get over it if there’s a significant land mass between you.
  2.  If you have no plans to be the only one who cooks dinner or cleans the toilet for the next fifty years, make that clear up front. I love my husband so much. So, so much. And the man is not lazy, nor is he a slob. He’s tidy and (I may have already mentioned this) I love him very much. But I missed a key opportunity to spread the housework around when we were newlyweds. My love language is Acts of Service, so of course I wanted to cook the dinners and clean the toilet/tub/oven. Now, all these years later, there’s no way to tell the man to go cook his own dang dinner without sounding a wee bit mean. He has no skills and it’s all my fault. (P.S. Eric works more than fifty hours a week providing for our family, so it’s not like he’s sitting around watching golf. And I love him very much.)
  3. Try not to let yourself go. I feel like a 1950s granny for even typing that out loud, but it’s true. Time will inevitably change your body. You will get a little fluffy and saggy even if you exercise like a madwoman. But just giving up and buying muumuus in five colors is going to make your husband very, very sad. He will appreciate any effort you put into yourself, especially if it means you don’t look like a wild, misshapen hag when you’ve been married for twenty years.
  4. He is going to be very interested in “romantic physical activity” for many years, and your greatest kindness to him will be to enjoy it right along with him. You can fail at almost everything as a wife if you get this right. He can hire an accountant to handle his finances, go to restaurants for meals, and hire a maid. But hiring out sex is frowned upon universally, and affairs are no better. He’s going to want sex, and he married you to get it. Be generous and have fun.
  5. Think well of him, then speak well of him. Verbally spewing about his faults says a lot more about the grossness in our own hearts than his behavior. Jesus himself said, “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.” (Matthew 12:34-35). Well said, Jesus.
  6. When in doubt, shut up and pray. I’ve never regretted the times I’ve prayed before speaking. Here’s the thing. We can’t pray, “Lord, please show this fool what an idiot he’s being.” No, no, no. Try this instead: “Lord, please help us to show humility and love to one another. May we care for one another instead of insisting on our own way.” I promise you, in seventeen years of marriage this approach has never failed.  God has stepped in repeatedly to turn us to one another, instead of against one another.

I don’t know it all, so what advice would you give?

Let’s Not Panic–Together!

On my drive home from work yesterday my Anxiety-Meter was steadily ticking upward, but I couldn’t put my finger on the exact problem. Yes, it had been a full week of back-to-school craziness. And work had been unexpectedly full, the lawn was looking seedy, and my cousin had sent out a distressing email. Nothing in particular stood out to me, though. Nothing that would cause a cloud of worry to hang over my head and push my blood pressure up so high.

Then my phone dinged and I found an email from my agent, requesting more information and chapters for a book proposal we just submitted. Even though this is a very good thing– when an editing team asks for more information it’s always an encouraging sign– suddenly my Anxiety-Meter flipped into the freakout zone.

My brain suddenly started shouting things like, “I have friends coming for dinner tomorrow and the kids have to clean the downstairs bathroom and I have to write four blog posts and I need to email twelve teachers and HOW WILL I GET THE LAWN MOWED????”

I love how my brain stops at lawn care issues. As if the length of my grass is somehow the most pressing portion of my life.

I don’t know why I spaz out over nothing all the time, but it’s been going on so long that sometimes I’m able to derail myself before I need a sedative. Here’s what I do, just in case you’re having your own moment over there and need some suggestions.

  1. Reframe the panic. Speak to yourself firmly, and do not be afraid to speak aloud. Say, “Self, calm the heck down. You’re a nut. Get a grip. There is no danger or true emergency here, so stop acting like there is.” (If you are actually having an emergency or are in danger, skip that last comment to yourself and dial 911 directly.)Calming myself down
  2. Be thankful. Plenty of people right now are waiting for ambulances, the police, or their angry mothers. They’re having a way worse day than you. Things could be far more terrible.
  3. Remember the little boy who brought Jesus his loaves and fishes. Jesus took the paltry amount he provided and then worked a miracle on it. With His almighty intervention, things turned out just right. The little boy only did what little boys do– wandered around with a lunch pail. Jesus did what Jesus does– took care of everything else. This story has repeated itself in different forms for thousands of years. We’re all just little boys with some snacks, bringing them to Jesus. Jesus is still taking our measly provisions and making sure things turn out just right. We have to stop feeling like the world turns on our efforts–it doesn’t!reality check
  4. Repeat these steps until your blood pressure returns to normal or the sedative takes effect.

I kid, I kid. Sedatives are no joking matter, as I know from all those murder mysteries I read. The heroine is always needing a sedative and it puts her to sleep for days and days. Who has time to sleep that long?

I hope this totally useless information gave you a break from your panic, if nothing else. Thanks for reading, you dear people! I really appreciate it.

“When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6:12-13)

New Beginnings (which require me to take photographs while in danger of being struck by lightening)

As I type this thunderstorms are racing across the Upper Midwest, headed for my house. The wind is already whipping through the hot, humid, last-of summer air. When theses storms pass through they’ll usher in cooler fall weather.

It looks like the storms should hit right about the time I’m supposed to be grilling dinner. Nice timing.

fall leafI can see bright leaves poking out among the green that still covers the trees. I headed out to get a photograph for you, hoping to be faster than the lightning bolts. I was successful! Not even a little bit electrocuted.

A pile of warty pumpkins. How cute. Thank goodness we don't have to eat them.

A pile of warty pumpkins. How cute. Thank goodness we don’t have to eat them.

Our fall “harvest” is ready, too. I managed to grow about fifteen cucumbers, some zucchini and summer squash, and four tomatoes. Three striped pumpkins and ten little warty pumpkins round out our summer efforts, which goes to prove (again) that we would starve as pioneers. Of course, Ma Ingalls didn’t waste a bunch of her precious growing season by sitting around and writing books and blogging. So I guess I don’t feel too bad.

striped pumpkin

The kids started school today, I have a couple of new book projects fermenting in my brain, and we have an exciting fall vacation I’ll be telling you about soon. All this to say I’m ready. I’m ready for a new, cooler season. I’m ready for dark, rainy mornings and evenings filled with the books I didn’t have time to read this summer.

A new season is beginning for us all. Are we ready for what the Lord has planned for us? Are we ready to put away our beach towels and flip flops and get to work on new projects?

I am, and I pray you are too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I have about twenty minutes to grill dinner before the downpour begins.

These poor sunflowers are about to tip over because their heads are so fat. I bet the winds today will take them down for good.

These poor sunflowers are about to tip over because their heads are so fat. I bet the winds today will take them down for good.

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3)