Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday is for Thirty, Three and Taxes

I'm a liar.

I told you that I'd tell you Monday all about the secret get-away I planned for my husband this past weekend. And it's now Tuesday and I haven't told you and I'm still not gonna.

The best excuse I have is that it won't be a very good blog without pictures and since brilliant me brought the camera but left the SD card in the reader, we had only our phones to take pictures with and I still haven't gotten John's off of his.

So, I'm hoping to write about it tomorrow. Here's a teaser.

For dinner Friday night we went to what Travel and Leisure magazine called the "Best Restaurant in the World" in 2009. In our best estimation, it's still true for 2010!

Ok, so on to today.

For the past 30 years of my life, this date has been all about my little sister, Martha.

I remember getting to hold her for the first time, being carefully positioned on the couch with plenty of cushions. This picture shows how I must have graduated to being able to hold her on the floor.

Eventually, as most babies do, she grew from being a delicate doll to a suitable playmate.

I remember feeling a special bond with her, since we were the girls often having to face off against older and bigger brothers. We are also 2 1/2 years apart rather than the 23 months between both of the boys and me, so I felt a big responsibility to take care of her since she was sooo much younger. Over the years, we became good buddies.

(had to show off my handsome brothers, too!)

She was a willing audience perched on the top bunk for my fantastical story telling at night. Sometimes she even helped when I drew blanks on further adventures for our princesses and their flying horses. 

At some point, though, I think we became annoyed with each other (as siblings do sometimes) or just were in survival mode from being teenagers, that I don't really remember having a good relationship with her through the second decade of our lives.

I went off to college while she was starting high school. We lived in two very different worlds and we didn't have make that much time for each other.

Before I knew it she was going to prom, then marrying the guy she went to prom with, then having my first nephew and then a few more, and somewhere in the midst of that we became friends again. 

Really. Good. Friends. 

Best friends, even.

I admire her so much, and even though I'm the older one, I look up to her as a wife (of 10+ years) and a mother (of 5 amazing kids). I'm so proud of her for pursuing her education while supporting her husband through his. 

Martha always had the spring to herself, as the other three of us had fall/winter birthdays. That is until three years ago.

That's when my brother, Tim, made the best decision of his entire life to marry Victoria. It's her 30th birthday today, too, so we've got alot to celebrate!

Even though I haven't known her very long, I'm incredibly blessed by her friendship. She is somehow one of the strongest and sweetest women I know. She defines beauty inside and out. She loves my brother like he was made to need, and she puts up with the rest of our crazy family, too. She has been a vessel of grace, forgiveness and healing to almost everyone who gets to know her. She is also an amazing mother and step-mother, and I hope we can have little girls around the same time someday!

So today, I'm sitting in a pile of gratefulness for these two women (and their moms for giving them life). 

(Here with each other's youngest child!)

I also did my taxes, and I'm rather grateful for the repayment of the interest-free loan we gave the government this year.

How was your Tuesday?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stirring it up

Hi Friends.

How's your Friday going? I'm pretty excited today because I am taking my husband on a mystery get-away weekend. I'll tell you more about it on Monday.

Before I go, though, I wanted to address a recent heated discussion that sprung up because of a recent Facebook status update I wrote. Now, I know there are some blog readers who aren't my friends on Facebook, so don't worry, I'll get you up to speed.

I was really surprised at the divisiveness and disgust that was shown by some of the comments, since I really had no intention of starting a war. I mean, come on people, I think there's enough room in this beautiful world of ours for all types of opinions and approaches to this.

(Photo courtesy of briancromer.com)
Cereal Milk.

My simple question was: Cereal-milk: drink or dump?

I've learned that people have really strong feelings about this issue. Personally, I like to drink it. My husband doesn't, so I drink his too. (Don't be grossed out. We are one.) While most people who responded drink it, some people were calling the milk gross and strange tasting, while others have found a family member who likes it.

The reason I bring this up now, is to let you know, whatever you do with your cereal milk (should you choose to eat cereal with milk) is fine with me. It's a free country.

Cereal does seem to be a popular topic, every time I say something about it in my status I get lots of responses. Maybe that could've helped me in my blog reader race with my sister. Oh, but then she would've just posted pictures of her 5 cute kids eating cereal and beat me even worse!

Have a great weekend y'all!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blown Away

Today's blog is just a little tribute to my friends. You know who you are.

I have been blown away lately by the fruit of my friendships. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise to me that my friends do awesome things, because they are awesome people.

Specifically, I have been experiencing this type of sweetness:
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel. Prov 27:9

I'll be honest (aren't I usually?). I am an introvert and I have a "gift of criticism" and am way harder on myself than I am on anyone else.

The combination of these things makes it easy for me to be alone, to not let people into what I am going through, to not ask for advice, and to not have a teachable spirit. However, the teacher/artist/writer in me is more comfortable talking about life issues after I have worked through them and have a good handle on it and can communicate about it in a way that I think will encourage others.

(I also am incredibly dependent on the Holy Spirit to temper these qualities in my life and continually transform me to be more like Jesus. If any good comes from me, I know it's because of that.)

All this to say, I am bowed over with gratefulness at the wisdom and graciousness my friends have been providing me recently. In fact, if I am a tree and their response to the things I've been going through is snow, it'd probably look something like this:

Which I think is kindof beautiful. 

Well, maybe it's not the best analogy or picture of it, but in my mind it works and Donald Miller says to write for yourself, so there.

Friends, I love you and cherish you and as cheesy as it sounds, I hope I can be the kind of friend to you that you are to me.

By the way- don't ever hire me to get more traffic for your website. A few weeks ago, I was only 40 hits behind my sisters' blog, and though I started my counter several months after I started blogging and I knew I had her beat, I still felt like the numbers should prove it. So, I started a campaign to beat her to 3000 hits. I mean, I have more than double the FB friends, so this should've been no problem. Now she is at 3050 and I'm at 2691. Something went really wrong there!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Things that make you go "Awwww"

We were having dinner with a friend tonight. She lives in Birmingham and was here on business, but her husband stayed home with their little girl. She took a picture of me and John to send to him to make him jealous of who she was with, but then he did her one better. He sent her a picture of their adorable, smiling baby. We all agreed. He won.

So in that spirit, since I don't have pictures of cute kids to show you, I'll just post this because it makes me happy and we all need a little more happiness in our world.

(John's 12-year-old cousin-nephew took this picture of us at the Nat'l Harbor. Pretty good, huh?)

Care to share what's got you smiling or "Awwwing" these days? Post a link in the comments. Share the joy.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reader Love

Here in Northern Virginia, it's a beautiful day today. Almost perfect, I think. It's 71, partly cloudy with a slight breeze. So, I hope wherever you are you are out enjoying life and not spending too much time on the computer. I won't keep you for long today, just wanted to tell you that I really appreciate you reading my blog. And to those of you who comment or send me emails or notes or pull me aside at church to tell me you are reading, you make my day. I would write even if nobody read, but it sure makes it that much sweeter when I know you are reading.

Knowing you're there makes me happy and it makes me want to write better and more important things.

Ok, now get out and enjoy the sunshine. Or the snow (if you happen to be my family in Texas or Oklahoma!!). Or your couch. Whatever makes you happy.

This picture I took of some tulips I got from Wegmans makes me happy, too, so I wanted to share it with you. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Stubborn Side

This won't come as a surprise to most of you, but I have a very strong stubborn streak. I would say it borders on rebellious, but the Bible says rebellion is like witchcraft, so I'm sticking with stubborn.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this. When advised to do something, I want to do (and sometimes do) the opposite, just because I don't want to get told what to do. Funny that I picked a career in the military. Anyway...

The most recent manifestation of this was over the movie The Blind Side. As soon as it came out, everyone who knew we were foster parents told us we should go see it. Everyone. As time when on and we still hadn't seen it and more and more people told us we should, I pretty much decided I would not ever see it just because everyone said I had to. Then, after Sandra won the Best Actress award at the Oscars and her speech made me cry, "to the moms who take care of the babies and the children no matter where they come from," I thought maybe I would see it after all.

This week it was playing at one of those eat-in theaters for $1, so we went to see it with the family we have visiting. I liked it. It was a good movie. It's a beautiful story. I don't think it deserved an Oscar nomination, nor did Sandra play a role that deserved the win, but I'm still glad she got it. 

Now, please don't get mad at me for this, but I think it's a little odd that people thought we should see it because we are foster parents. I understand it, I guess. They saw this family taking in a kid off the streets and welcoming him into their family and were emotionally moved by it, much like they feel when they hear about us taking in foster kids. But to me, I'd want people who aren't foster parents to see it, because then they'd be inspired to do something similar. And to me it also wasn't a tribute to foster parents, maybe to adoption, working with the homeless, addicts or at risk kids. If anything, it highlights the failure of the foster care system in Memphis at the time to provide a safe and nurturing environment for young Michael Oher. 

I'm interested to see what the Tuohy family does now. Will this be a one-time deal for them or is the change that Michael made in their lives permanent? I'm definitely happy for any story that moves us beyond where we are comfortable and inspires us to do something for other people. That's kindof what I'm trying to do here on this blog.

The best part about going to see The Blind Side? Letting someone else win. My refusal to see it was really worth nothing, but letting the family talk me into it was worth the satisfaction they got from me enjoying it.

How about you? Do you ever do this with movies or other things people over-recommend?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

People Watching

We have family in town, which reminds me that we need to have better words for describing family members in English. For instance, there needs to be a word that covers both genders of sibling offspring. Right now all we can say is "nieces and nephews," but I want just one word that works like "siblings," to cover both because it is awkward to say "niece and nephews" or "nephews and niece," but that is what I have. Try it, the mix of singular and plural is weird. It just is.

In my family, on my mom's side, we've invented our own way of referring to multi-generational cousins. Our cousins' kids call our generation "Uncle/Aunt-cousins," so I'm Aunt-cousin Anna to them. I think there's a proper term like second-cousin once removed or something, but I like our way better.

Right now the family in town is John's cousin, her son and her mom. So I've been saying "our cousins," which is kindof true, but doesn't accurately depict who is here. Totally not what this blog is about, but there you have it.

We went to the Air and Space Museum on the national mall yesterday, and though this is probably my favorite museum, I had just been there last summer and know I will be taking my sister's family through it this summer (they haven't said they're for sure coming, but if I put it in my blog, they have to). So I chose to sit and watch people, which was by far my favorite thing of the day. Here are three stories from that time.

Tripping teenagers
One knelt down to tie his shoe in the middle of the wide, busy hall. Another teen appeared to trip over him, causing them both to sprawl in everybody's way. Some people showed concerned, but in typical DC fashion, most people just kept to themselves. As the boys were picking themselves up, I noticed a third teen directly across from them filming them on a camera phone. The other two went over to him, seemingly pleased with their stunt, and took off for another part of the museum. About 30 minutes later, they all returned and took their places, but something changed their minds and they left again. I was a little disappointed since I wanted to see if they had improved their act or would get a different reaction.

Severed foot lady
Three women sat on the bench next to me and the oldest one began to tell the others that the reason she needed to rest was that she couldn't be on her feet for very long. And the reason for that is because her right foot was severed from her leg in a car accident when she was 15. According to her, her brother had been with her at the time of the accident and picked up her foot and brought it to the hospital so they could reattach it. After that she was in a wheelchair for 2 years, and when the doctor finally told her she'd never walk again, she picked up crutches and started walking. She proceeded to talk about how much her brothers had meant to her and how they are all dead now (and told how each died). Her story was mostly terrifying and slightly depressing. I was glad for many reasons that she was able to get up and walk away!

After the severed-foot lady and her friends left, a family sat down who had a set of boy-girl twins that looked to be about 9 months old. They were so cute and I wanted to play with them, but made myself content to just watch out of the corner of my eye. I have identical twin nephews and my sister says one of the most annoying things people ask if is they're twins. I'm sure it's just an opening line because people don't know what else to ask, but with hers it's pretty obvious. This set at the museum could've been cousins or the children of friends just hanging out, so I was interested to see how long it took for someone to walk by and ask. Didn't take long! I always wonder if people who look older than me with little babies, especially multiples, had "help" with a fertility treatment, but of course, I'll never ask that!

I don't know if reading this blog makes you a double-voyeur or a voyeur squared or a second voyeur once removed, but I hope it entertained you!

Have you observed any fun or interesting stories by watching people lately? Do you have any good ideas for new family-related words? Also, don't forget that I'm starting an advice column, so ask me something you need advice about. I have one good question so far, but I need at least two, because that's how Dear Abby does it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Experimental Advice

One of my favorite things to read in the paper besides the "comics" (because they're not really funny, are they?) is the advice column. I'd love to have an advice column some day. I have plenty of opinions on what people should do with their lives or how to solve their problems. So, if you have some questions you want me to answer, send them my way. If you don't have my email address, just leave me a comment and I'll email you back. If I get enough questions, I'll do a post with my advice.

Until then, I'll give you this one for free. This is something I've been chewing on for a while and now you can let me know what you think.

It's to your advantage to be friends with the kind of person you want to be. For example, if you want to be a wife, be friends with some wives. Once you get married, you will need other married friends, especially wives, to relate to, get advice from, and spend time with. If you want to be a mom someday, be friends with moms. You don't want to find yourself with a newborn all of a sudden with a bunch of single friends who have no clue about butt paste and reflux. If you want your kids to live to see their teens, find some seasoned moms with awesome teenagers and hang out with them.  Etcetera, etcetera.

Of course I don't mean that you should only be friends with this type of person, life is made rich by a variety of relationships. But it might do you some good to take inventory of your friend list, and see if there are people in your life who can walk with you through a season they've already been through, but is yet to come for you. If not, be intentional about making some new friends. It might be work, but consider it an investment in your future.

So, what do you think? Does this advice pass the common sense test? Has this proven true for you? Is there a better way to say it? Did I leave anything out? Will you leave a comment if I keep asking questions....?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Banana Bread and Silly Sisters

Last night I decided to start racing my sister on our blog reader counts. You probably know this if you have seen my Twitter or FB pleas for help today. It's not really a fair race because I didn't put my counter on the blog until several months in and I have mine set not to count my own IP address. So anyway, she's kicking my tail, but the goal was to get more people reading. I don't know why really. It just feels good to know people are reading what we write.

(If you haven't read her blog, it's the one called 50 Sticky Fingers over in my blog list on the left there. She has 5 of the cutest kids in the world, including a set of twins, so she blogs about them with great pictures most days.)

Anyway, I have nothing much to report today, but as the title would suggest, I am really excited about the banana bread I made. I used my friend Sommer's recipe, which you can find here. This recipe is now going to be my standard, so, sorry if I've made you banana bread before this, you'll just have to get sick or have another baby to get this kind! Her recipe calls for shredded coconut or diced apples, and I went for the apples. This is the second recipe that I've used from her blog and both have been winners. Since I'm not in a blog race with her, I highly recommend you go check it out.

In case you were wondering about the baby count at our church, (which if you remember in January was 12 due through Sep/Oct) we're up to 4 as of yesterday, with #5 coming tomorrow. Thus the banana bread.

Well, if you want to help me win the race with my sister, here's what you can do:
1) Go to my actual blog instead of looking at it on Facebook (if you can) http://annasjoyblog.blogspot.com

2) Go to the Share button over there on the left and post it on FB or Twitter

3) E-mail it to all your friends and family. They'll love it. Hey, they could get a new banana bread recipe from it!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Grace for Today (and sleep for tonight)

On the third day we had Baby F, I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions.

I couldn't stop crying. Every time I picked her up, I burst into tears. Poor baby. I had flashbacks to when I started dating John.

(that doesn't sound right, but keep reading!)

Our entire relationship was long-distance until about 2 months before our wedding, so our times together seemed to be on a constant countdown to saying goodbye. I was constantly sobbing into his chest "I-hi-m no-ha-t a cri-hi-er-er-er!"("I'm not a crier" for those of you who don't speak Bawling). I'm really blessed that he actually married me, come to think of it.

With Baby F, I was back in that countdown zone. On Day 3 I was thinking about saying goodbye to her and couldn't handle it. So, I did what any grad-school educated military officer in her thirties would do.

I called my mommy.

Good thing she speaks Bawling, because a half-hour and half a box of tissue later, she was able to get a word in.

In essence, she told me, "God will give you the grace you need to go through that day. Today is not that day, so you don't have that grace. Quit trying to live in it. He has given you the grace you need for today, and that grace is to love Baby F with all your heart and give her your all. When it comes time to say goodbye, you'll be able to."

They should have an Oscar for moms, and my mom should get it. I have carried her words in my heart every day since. They echo what Jesus told his disciples in Mark 6:34:

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Check it out in The Message:
"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."

I think my mom must have been reading the Bible or something. Am I ever glad she does!&

So with that and the words from the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," I woke up today knowing that God would give me what I needed to get through taking Baby F home.

This morning I went into task-oriented mode, sorting through piles of clothes, doing laundry, packing her things, trying to cherish our last feeding and diaper changing before it was time to go, and trying to reassure my dog that she'd be my only baby soon. Before I knew it, we were in the car and on our way.

My wonderful pastors, Bill and Lisa Shuler, agreed to meet me at E's house, so I wouldn't be alone. I know John would've been there if he could but a small thing like the Atlantic Ocean got in the way, so the Shulers filled in.

I spent about 30 minutes with E, showing her how to mix the formula, going over Baby F's schedule and giving her some words of encouragement. She told me I could take Baby F to a birthday party with some of her new baby friends this weekend, which is a good sign to me that she really does intend to keep in touch. Then we prayed over them, hugged and went on our way.

I felt good. Calm. Peaceful. Happy. I felt God's pleasure for me and hope for what is to come. So, if that's what you were praying for me, thanks. Keep it up!

And the rest of today has been just the same. I did have a miniscule second of freak-out when I glanced at the car seat and couldn't remember buckling her in and then remembered she wasn't there.

I'd love to know how E did the rest of the day. Getting to know her baby, deciphering her cries and squeaks, learning that she really does need to have the clean diaper ready to go when she moves the dirty one. I'm sure she did great.

And now I get to sleep through the whole night! Can I hear an AMEN!?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This one is for the Moms

Hi everyone. I know what you're thinking.

"Shouldn't you be doing something with Baby F, since she is going home tomorrow and you need to soak up every last minute you have with her?"

So I want you to know that she is helping me write this blog. She is doing that by sleeping quietly so I can write, and that is helping.

I have been so amazed and grateful at the outpouring of support for us as we've jumped on the foster care wagon. Not only have friends brought by all the supplies we've needed, we've received meals, free baby sitting and plenty of oohs and aahs over the cuteness of the baby, which we had nothing to do with, but enjoy the compliments just the same.

I've also enjoyed getting more readers and feedback for my writing. I'm not gonna lie, it's nice to get compliments on your writing when you want to be a writer.

But there are a few things that some have said that I don't want to leave unaddressed. I seem to get it mostly from mothers, so this is for you. I hope it helps.

When you think about Baby F going home, I think you imagine what it would be like to give up your baby, the one you carried for 9 months, bought clothes for, dreamed of names for, felt kick and hickup and tried to guess the personality of. You think of spending those first mind-numbingly exhausted but elated hours, connecting with the tiny babe, feeling the fingers curl tightly around yours and marveling at the perfection of toes and ears. And then you think about handing that part of your heart over to someone else, and it's really quite unbearable for you. And this is probably about right.

But it's not what I'm going to go through.

I think you're actually empathizing more with E than you know.

On Feb 2, E's life changed with the arrival of the baby girl she had been told was a boy. She held Baby F in her arms and felt like she had been given a second chance. She could keep this one, raise her right, give her everything she needed, everything she never had. Then, that dream was shattered. Yes, it was a consequence of her own bad decisions, but it was a reality she had never prepared for. Her baby girl was taken from her arms and handed over to someone else.

Tomorrow, her dreams get reset. For the first time in 27 days, she gets to be completely in charge of her own baby. She gets to pick out her outfits, she gets to rock her to sleep, she gets to take pictures for hours if she wants. She doesn't have to worry about next time she can see her baby. She doesn't have to steal kisses as her heart gets toted off in someone else's car.

For us, what's going to happen is not shattering or dream-quenching. This reunification is exactly what we've been hoping and praying for from the moment we knew of Baby F. Yes, I love her and am attached to her and would do anything for her, and for that very reason I am going to put on my big girl panties and live that moment with joy. I am going to put this baby in her arms, pray over her, hug her and leave with my heart full, knowing God used me in all my imperfections and selfishness.

God thinks my tears are precious, so I'm not going to be ashamed of crying, but I'm not crying for the same reason E has for the past month. The reason that any of you mothers would. It's going to be hard, but it's a hard that we signed up for, one that E didn't.

So, like I said in my FB status- don't be sad for me. Rejoice and celebrate this homecoming with me. This is the whole point and I for sure am not going to miss it over a pity party!

(PS- please also don't be upset or worried if I don't answer the phone. I know you love and care for me and want to make sure I'm ok. I just don't think I'm up for saying the same thing 400 times a day! Does that make sense? Don't be mad, ok? :-))

Storm Clouds on the Horizon

(Cue the theme music: du, du, duh!)

What kind of crazy, out of their minds people get into a boat when they know a storm is on the horizon? And not only get into it, but actually set sail and intentionally set course for the middle of the storm?

Well, me and John, actually.

So here it comes. The moment we have been praying about and I've been writing about, trying to encourage my readers to join me in the pure desire to see Baby F and E restored as a family the way God intended. I don't know the exact time, but it looks like she'll go home this week.

And even though I am so, so excited that a mommy will get to know her baby, will get to kiss the ever-pudging cheeks that get cuter every minute, will get to soothe her cries and learn her favorite cuddling positions, my heart is also breaking.

I am so blessed that my relationship with E gets better every time we talk. Tonight she called to tell me about a movie she saw this weekend (the same one John and I went on a date to see, coincidentally?), to ask about Baby F's feeding/sleeping schedule and to ask if she can come to church with us (!!!). She offered her compassion to me, expressing how hard she knew it would be for us to say goodbye to Baby F and to reassure me that we could see her whenever we wanted to. I mean, who gets a birth mom like her?

God's hand has been with us through every step of this process. I know He will be with me this week. On that day when I send this baby home where she belongs, and come back to a house smelling of formula and baby wipes, with mounds of pink clothes and burp cloths to pack up, He will be there. On those nights when I wake up every 3 hours listening for a cry that's probably going to be coming from me, He will be there.

I am NOT looking forward to this storm. But if I've learned anything from the Gospels' stories of storms and Jesus, it's this:

He's in the boat with me.
He's in control. Of everything.
He hears my cries.
He'll save me from my fear and doubt.
And people will be amazed watching Him work this situation out for His glory.

If you feel you're in the boat with us, or in a boat of your own, let's hold on tight. We'll make it through this together.

(PS- thanks in advance for your prayers this week, I need every one of them!)
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