Sunday, December 23, 2012

What Wasn't In the Christmas Letter

 I like writing our family Christmas letter every year because it helps me remember what went down in the Anderson family for the last 12 months. I do it as much for me as I do for our friends and family who are far away or we just don't get to see as often as we'd like.  But this year, since I mailed our cards out,  I keep thinking of things I left out, which I wish I'd put in.

 I strive to make "The Anderson Annual Report" honest as well as hopefully amusing, and avoid straight bragging about my kids if I can help it. But some of the most defining things about my year are usually not it it. One reason: the letter is about my family, not just me. Another: there are some things you don't say in a letter to 100 people including some of your spouses co-workers. And another: sometimes the important things are too personal for your letter, but somehow appropriate for your blog.

What would a slightly more personal letter just from me look like? For some reason, now, at 4 a.m. on December 23, I feel the need to give it a try. 

This year I lost five pounds, roughly 50 hair rubber bands, about  a dozen significant receipts or coupons, and my temper (about once a week). 

I dented another fender on our car, leaving only one out of four corners of our SUV with it's bumper unscathed. 

I baked and frosted about 264 cupcakes for my children, godchildren, and best friend; and one cake shaped like a volcano for my godson. They were all pretty awesome.

I forgave someone that I had needed to forgive for a long time, with God's gracious help. And then they hurt me again. But I found forgiving them the second time was easier. 

I saw our eldest daughter struggle with what it means to make faith her own, wrestle with God in her eight-year-old way, and eventually decided to be baptized. My husband and I wept. 

I reread Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, the entire Anne of Green Gables series, and a couple other chick books I'm embarrassed I own. I need some good book recommendations.

In August, I went to the MOPS International Convention in Texas and was once again inspired to continue ministry to young  mothers. I applied to teach a workshop at next year's convention, and was warmly encouraged but not accepted. I felt -- surprisingly -- not sad the rejection but proud that I had at least tried. I may try again next year.

I made a few new friends -- mothers of kindergarteners in my daughter's class -- that I am really excited about. 

I finished a two-year term in a volunteer job at my church that I absolutely loved, and accepted a new job about which I have extremely mixed feelings. In December I realized that the job is about serving God and not about making me happy. Which didn't exactly make me happy, but gave me peace. 

I got one pretty bad haircut. I think I might still be growing it out. 

One of my best friend's lost a baby late in her pregnancy. Another got pregnant with twins. Both have affected my heart in ways I can't explain.

I learned how to pray for other women in need of healing. I myself was prayed for in this way at least three times. 

We took a week-long vacation to Utah and spent two days of it puking in my sister in law's basement. I'm still a little traumatized.

I took a 15-week Bible study about Jesus and how he relates to women. I fell in love with Jesus again. He is such a gentleman.

My husband logged about 300 extra hours of work this year, and I missed him while he was working, but was proud that he worked so hard. 

I realized I have a pretty darn good relationship with my mom. 

This year I have doubted my ability to be a good mommy, seen negative qualities of myself (and occassionally my husband's) in our children, and yearned to be able to save them from some of the psychological struggles or personality flaws that I have. 

I have also exulted over reports from their teachers that they are kind people and enthusiastic learners, and thanked God that He is helping us grow the best parts of ourselves in our children, too. 

I have felt joy, depression, frustration, satisfaction, grief, boredom and
exultation. On the whole, it was a fruitful year. I hope yours was too. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So This is Christmas

On the center of my kitchen table is a small quilted table runner I made this year. On the runner is a hurricane vase filled with vintage ornaments, and a red wooden nutcracker who is missing both his feet.

And in the runner is stuck an embroidery needle. It has been there for four days.

So this is Christmas in my house.

Though Hubby and I technically "finished" decorating over Thanksgiving weekend while the kids were on holiday in the desert with their grandparents, the crafting and projects go on, pretty much until Christmas Eve.

I stuck the needle in the runner while I was embroidering a feather stitch on my new stocking, and haven't seen fit to put it away, because -- odds are -- I shall soon need it again. (I should mention at this time that my kids no longer put foreign objects in their mouth, and that sharp objects are so much a part of their life that they know how to handle them, much as Italian vintner's children don't abuse wine.)

The nutcracker is one of many forsaken of his kind, rescued from garage sale boxes and redeemed by my husband's handiwork. Our extensive collection is being repaired one stringy synthetic beard and missing limb at a time, over a period of years. 

For a week I have been in a crafting frenzy, trying to get everything "done" so I could rest and enjoy the season. And then my eight year old said something that changed my attitude, or rather, I said something to her.

"Mom, I can't wait for Christmas to come."

And my response, gesturing widely to our decked out house, piles of unaddressed Christmas cards and mugs of cocoa was, "This is Christmas."

Christmas for me is all this chaos. Taming it is not the goal. Embracing it is. If I finish embroidering stockings and stock the fridge with cookie dough and complete all the gifts I'm sewing for my nieces and nephews, then what will I do? My favorite way to spend Christmas time is curled up on the couch with my tree lights on, a pair of scissors hanging from a ribbon around my neck, and a needle and thread in my hands.

I don't do all this stuff because I feel I have to. It's not perfectionism. I know no one will care if I buy store bought cookies and give the little ones in my life gift cards. I do it because it brings me joy. That is, when I remember to savor the scraps of fabric lying around and not believe that picking up the mess is what I really want.

Not that I don't sometimes go overboard or loose perspective. In fact, my husband and I are going to Las Vegas for a Christmas party this weekend, and for an hour or so I was thinking, "Oh no, I'm losing a whole weekend!" Of what? Wrapping, baking, sewing? Hello! I'm gaining  48 hours of sight-seeing, dancing, eating, drinking and sleeping late with my spouse! That, certainly, is Christmas too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy with What I Have Done

One night at dinner, Olivia made a departure from her usual grace. Instead of "Thank you for my family and friends, everything I have and the bunnies and birds," she said this:

"Dear God, Help my mom to be good to her kids and happy with what she's done. Amen." 

I honestly don't remember what kind of day we'd had, or what prompted this petition on my behalf. I jumped up from my chair and wrote it down immediately so I wouldn't forget a word of it. Because it's exactly what I would, or should, be praying for myself on a daily basis. 

The Hypocratic oath that doctors take begins with "First, do no harm." And pretty much every fair-to-good mother I know took the same oath the moment she looked in her baby's eyes. "I will try, dear one, not to do you any harm." And pretty much every mother I know is aware that she has done her child harm. We will pass some of our issues down to our kids, no matter what.

But in the meantime, we will also be good to them. I'm good at kisses, stories, food, band-aides, explaining the unexplainable (or attempting to), building their vocabulary, and  doing creative projects. I'm trying to be good at boundaries, modeling kind and gentle words, and teaching them to be responsible. The toughest part of being good to my kids in this second way, however, is that it doesn't immediately feel good to them. It therefore might have been a day of boundary setting that prompted Olivia's prayer.

This week I told my husband that I appreciated how hard he was working at his job and everything, but he actually liked his job whereas I hated being a housewife. Hormones may have been involved at this juncture. I don't actually hate housework. But there are elements of being a housewife that I hate.

I know I've said it before in this blog, and also dozens of times to my friends, but it's hard to be "happy with what I've done" just about every day at four thirty, because the house looks like I've done nothing.

Meanwhile, my young charges who have been kissed and fed and taught all day are often now tired and cranky and pushing every boundary I have set. The only way to be happy with what I have done in that moment is to remember I'm playing a long game and hope I come out on top in 15 years or so. And I'm tired and hungry too at 4:30 so I'm not likely to be so philosophical. 

What helps me, oddly enough, is Louisa May Alcott. Every year, I reread Little Women around the holiday season. The novel was published in 1868, but it is so full of truth that it resonates to my core. It is also simple, wholesome and good, and its heroine Marmie, is the sweetest mother possibly ever penned in fiction, based on Alcott's real-life mother. I want to be Marmie when I grow up. When I read her little lectures, I feel that my role as wife, mother and homemaker is beautiful, even transcendent. Here's one of my favorite, given after her four daughters have tried a week of all play and no work, which went horribly awry. 

"Don't you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all?"
"We do, mother, we do!" cried the girls. 
"Then let me advise you to take up your little burdens again; for though they seem heavy sometimes, they are good for us, and lighten as we learn to carry them. Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone; it keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion." 
"We'll work like bees, and love it too; see if we don't!" said Jo. 

So far, I've never delivered such an eloquent lecture, nor had it received so enthusiastically by my little women. More typical of my lectures is what happened yesterday: I tried to teach the girls to help me carry the little burden of laundry folding. They ended up putting panties over their faces like luchador masks and running around the house twirling pajama pants above their heads, eventually spilling a whole glass of water on half of the laundry and the living room rug.  

But with my mind filled with Alcott's prose which extolls feminine virtue and housewifely arts, I still feel hopeful that my attempts are at least honorable, if not yet successful. And I continue to pray that I will do good, and be happy. Amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Light Bringer

Then suddenly, Harold remembered. He remembered where his bedroom window was, when there was a moon. It was always right around the moon.
~ from Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

"Mom, the moon is following us!" cried Olivia from the back seat. A brilliant white moon was in the sky a week or so ago, and my five year old daughter watched it from the car window, certain it was racing alongside us as we drove home. I remember my eldest daughter thinking the same thing years ago. Even further back, I remember my younger brother and I believing that the moon was journeying with us. Like Harold in the classic children's book, who with his childlike perspective finds his way home by drawing his bedroom window around the moon, we had no problem thinking the moon was in the sky just for us.

I've explained to both my daughters how far away the moon actually is and the concept of perspective. But neither of them understood it, just as my brother and I didn't...and as I don't really clearly understand it either.

But clearer is the memory of being a child and accepting that God had a message in nature for me specifically. As a child, it was very easy to be thankful for the natural world, and to be pointed by it to the beauty and power of God. Olivia is very much in this stage of life and faith. The grateful graces said at our table almost always include two animal species at the end. "Thank you for the bunnies and bees...the butterflies and dolphins...the sharks and birds."

I still find that God speaks to me in beauty. But at this moment in my life, my gratitude has a shadow underneath it. I don't easily say "thank you" like a child.

My back yard is the place I go to meet with God. Over the summer, I was -- literally -- religious about getting up before my kids and sneaking out to my lounge chair with a cup of coffee and a Bible study book, which I sometimes read, and sometimes didn't. My view from that chair is very precious. I am tucked back against the fence under a canopy of a bower vine that flourishes no matter how I neglect it. Though I live in a dense condo complex in a flat, flat city, I have a huge view of sky, framed by liquid amber trees. Though I can't see the sunset because of how many houses are around me, from my "happy place" I can see the trees change color under the sunset's influence. When they are yellow and red in the fall, it's particularly breathtaking. In the morning, the sunrise breaks just behind them, and it is amazing how often my suburban sky is spectacular, an explosion of pink.

This summer, looking up in that sky, I often saw Venus, so bright it overshadowed even the sun. One morning it was so vivid, I imagined the sky was a stretched canvas, and Venus a pinprick, revealing what was actually behind the sky: brilliant light.

The ancient Greeks called the planet Venus "Phosphorus" or "Light Bringer" when it appeared before sunrise, as though it was heralding the coming of morning and Helios the god of the sun. I can see why they believed this, or pretended to. This summer, up early seeking God, I felt in my heart as though He was sending Venus to me, reminding me that He is light.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 John 1:5:

"This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and declare to you:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all."

I cling to this verse in this dark world, where God is sovereign and yet not fully enforcing his power, for how could he be when there is so much suffering among the innocent, so much injustice. Jesus came to tell us that the kingdom of God was coming...yet not yet fully here. And he showed the disciples that God was light: the embodiment of goodness and truth, and therefore to be trusted. 

If I was sitting anywhere else in my yard, I could not see Venus. Just from that one perfect vantage point from my chair does it peak over the ugly carport roof and between the trees. My child-like heart wants to say "Thank you, God for giving me this reminder of your light, sent just for me." But then my adult brain starts to analyze. Really? God ordained the construction of your condo complex so you could see a planet? Well, maybe not, but perhaps the placement of my chair? 

And then darker, and much more dangerous, my head asks the question: why would He send this light to you? The world is in darkness! God ordains a message of light to you and sends a tornado to someone else? My compassionate nature turns to a kind of codependence with the universe. No unearned gift (even from God) can come to me unless I can make the world right for everyone. 

How I long to just receive that "star of morning." How I long to enjoy the moon following me, perfectly framed by the car window. How I long to receive light and love without having to understand the way and the why it has come to me. And after all, is not the beauty of creation everywhere, and for all people? The star of Venus was not created just for me, but that doesn't mean that God is not speaking to me specifically through it.

In the Bible, God tells us to be grateful, to say thank you in all circumstances. He tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from him the Father of Heavenly Lights (James 1:7). And he tells us to be childlike, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. So in all my desire to both connect with God and make sense of the universe, is it possible that being simplistically thankful is the key to living in the light, and bringing it to others? 

It's Thanksgiving season, of course, and probably the holiday our consumer culture makes the least of, sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas. But I love it, for the reminder it brings. And I would once have said,  for the opportunity it gives me to teach gratitude to my children. But lately, they are teaching it to me. I made them a Thanksgiving wreath, with paper leaves that they were to add one day a time after writing something they were thankful for. They filled that wreath in three days, with entries like "gourds," "food to eat," "Grampy," "our house" and a few things I can't read in Olivia's kindergarten spelling. They don't ask why they have these things, or how exactly God provided them. They just say "thank you."

As I get back into my morning religious ritual in my backyard, I will add my own leaves. My view of the trees. The sunrise. Our house. My husband. Our children. The morning star. And the reminders in all of them that my God is all light and the giver of good gifts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Multiple Mirrors

I felt like she just "got" me. 
And believe me there is no greater feeling in the world than the feel of "gotten." 
~Rob Reiner, The Story of Us

When we drove into our campsite in Big Sur State Campground this August, first order of business was to stop by the site of our friends Lorene and Oceana, a mother-daughter camping team with whom we had made friends the year before. Camping is not unlike the first few weeks of dorm living in college. You get to know people well and quickly. (Having no walls and seeing each other cooking breakfast in pajamas is part of it.) 

We had kept in touch with Lorene since last summer via texting and facebook, and when she  brought her daughter down to SoCal over Christmas break, we had a great day at the beach and sushi dinner together. They had been enamoured with our "Four S'mores" sign which we hang in our campsite every year, and so I had made them one that said "The Happy Campers."

When Lorene came into our campground as we were unpacking our overloaded car, she gave me the once over. And with a penetrating and rapid assessment, she got down to the heart of how I'd been and currently was with a characteristic astuteness that I both love and am disconcerted by. In a moment, she saw that I had lost weight and was strung out psychologically. Two minutes later, I'd given her the rundown of the last three weeks of chaos, and the transition and busyness that I was planning to return to when the week in Big Sur was over. That was it. Three minutes, and Lorene knew right where I was coming from and what I needed for the next six days: rest, restoration, and adventure. 

She gets me. I love it when someone gets me. And I think Lorene would say the "getting" is mutual. 

My friend (I should say "our friend" because she gets Jeff, too) and I have different lives. I went a very traditional route: college, marriage, career, then kids. I have never lived outside of my home state of California, and I currently live in the same southern CA county I was raised in. Lorene, on the other hand, is a single mother, currently balancing work and school; she's a Zumba instructor and studying for an advanced degree in holistic health. She speaks fluent Spanish, and once spent a year living on the beach in Costa Rica with her daughter; they are currently living in Maui while she does an internship.

Our friendship, lived out intensely in two weeks over two years, has had a lot of influence on me.

Lorene observed during our week, for example, that Sophia is a very time-conscious child. While Oceana would say, "I'll meet you a little later and we'll skateboard," Sophia would try to pin her down: "In 15 minutes or 30?" Oceana, who is Sophia's age, barely knows how to tell time, while Sophia, raised by her extremely efficient and "productive" mother, likes to map out her days in 30-minute increments. Neither approach is wrong, but a fresh perspective born out of the camping experience and our relationship with the Happy Campers is... our family could perhaps use some loosening up. 

A week after we got home, I received a text from Lorene. I don't remember why she sent it, but I have thought about it dozens of times since. It said something about how much alike Olivia and I are and that she is "like your heart walking around outside of your body." I have always thought that my eldest Sophia is the child most like me (which is why we often butt heads), but Lorene observed something in our family dynamic that I hadn't seen; meditating on it for a month or so, I see the truth in what she said.  

In our beloved Big Sur, a river runs through the campground, and if you follow it upstream far enough, you come to a gorge where there is a deep pool and a high rock for jumping into the frigid water. This was the first year we made it that far up, as it requires a bit of water wading and rock climbing which we couldn't accomplish with Olivia as a toddler. All but Olivia took turns jumping from the rock this year, including Lorene and Oceana; and it was Lorene who skillfully empowered Sophia to literally take the plunge after she'd stood staring down at the water for almost 10 minutes.  

 But what I will most remember from this year's trip is an adventure Lorene and I had even further up the gorge. First, we swam a deep canyon, then picked our way up rocks and logs to where the river comes down in a series of small waterfalls. (If you look closely, you will see me under the log, above, at the beginning of our journey.) There was no final destination, no way of knowing when we had "accomplished" a goal in this part of the river. There was only the immense fun of finding new ways to get higher and higher, alternatively swimming and climbing, dunking our heads into new waterfalls, sitting atop rocks for new views. 

In the last eight years, my adventures have been of a particular kind, like navigating Disneyland with a breastfeeding cover and a diaper bag; or sleeping in tents with toddlers; or dining out with two moms and five children. All intrepid and bold endeavors, to be sure. But my life as a mom of small children, among other mothers of tiny children, is short on adventures of the rock climbing and frigid-river forging variety. And so being with Lorene, a mother of a nine year old who lives a life of adventure, is as refreshing as diving into a salty wave (another thing I hope we will do together, as both our daughters are learning to surf). I rediscover a side of myself with her that was in danger of being lost. 

Over the last few weeks, I have spoken to several mom's groups in Orange County about the importance of having a network of safe friends -- not just a single safe friend. As Bruce Willis' character in The Story of Us says (quotation above), there is not a greater feeling than the feel of "gotten." And because we are all complex beings, we need to be gotten by more than one person, I believe. No one, other than the Creator who made us, can accurately see the wholeness of who we are; it takes lots of different people to reflect back to us a true image of ourselves, and even more so to encourage us to become a fuller version of ourselves. Proverbs 24:5 says, "in multiple counselors is wisdom." I think, in multiple mirrors of many safe friends, we see a clearer picture of who we are.

So I'm grateful to Lorene, one of my favorite mirrors. See you in August, my friend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Skeleton in my Daughter's Closet

I have done something I'm deeply ashamed of. So I have decided to publish it on the Internet.

Both my daughters are home sick from school this week, which means I am home as well. And while at home, I have been rooting around in closets, finding reorganizing projects that need to be done but for which I don't have the energy. Think I may have got a touch of this virus, too.

Yesterday I was shifting some things around in the very top of my daughter's closet where I have a couple of quilt projects in no man's land: I have cut out the pieces and then basically decided they were too hard to sew together, but they are too valuable to throw away. And next to those UFOs (quilter-speak for Un-Finished Objects), is my dark secret.

At least five years ago, the Craft Coordinator of our MOPS group organized a charity project. She had the moms in our group color white squares of polyester with fabric markers. Then she asked me if I would sew them together and quilt the whole project, which was supposed to be given to a children's charity ( a foster home I think).

I never did it!

Those cheerful blocks, bearing messages like "God loves you," "Shoot for the stars" and "Jesus calmed the storm," are still unfaded from their half a decade in the dark of my daughter's closet. When I put it there, I meant to do it soon, but as time has passed, the guilt over not having done it yet has kept me from getting it down. Meanwhile there is a foster child somewhere in Orange County with no blanket because of my laziness mixed with guilty feelings. For this UFO to get to its intended destination, I will have to call my ere-long Craft Coordinator and bring to her attention the fact that I never fulfilled my promise, and ask her where this quilt is supposed to go!

Can any one else relate to this? Have you ever put something off for so long you feel like it would be an insult to even attempt it now? An apology that should have been given long ago? A thank you note that now seems way too small for the kindness that originally inspired it? Even just a birthday card you should have sent but didn't? For my part, I leave these things neglected, believing that doing the undone might call more attention to the failing in the first place. But then I think if I were the recipient of a decade-old apology or a month-late birthday card, I'd actually appreciate it. So...

I'll make you a deal, readers. I'm going to 1) Call my friend the Craft Coordinator and then 2) make the quilt. But YOU have to do something you've been putting off, and it can't just be cleaning out the junk drawer. Instead, you must rectify the sin of an undone kindness! I'll never know if you did it or not, but I trust you. For my own part, I'll post the finished picture. And all this is not to earn forgiveness for myself, because that's not how forgiveness works; however, it will make me feel better if my neglect inspires someone else to cope with theirs.

Monday, October 8, 2012

What Happens When Republicans Go Camping

Even though our annual camping trip took place at the end of August, here in the beginning of October I am still pondering my experiences. My next three blogs or so will likely be inspirations from the campground, where I had no technology to blog them in real time. 

The second night we spent in Big Sur State Campground, the usual peace of our river-side site was disturbed. A couple of campers (I'd place them at age 50 or thereabouts) were walking by with their Golden Retriever, when the Labrador puppy belonging to the single woman in the site next door came charging out toward them.

There's no other way to say it. The couple with the big Golden freaked out. They started screaming that dogs in the camp site have to be on a leash AT ALL TIMES. The single camper immediately went to get the leash but the couple kept yelling. Even as she walked up and tried to get the dog they were still yelling. The puppy had no idea what was going on and went running around in circles, so wound up by the commotion that the lady couldn't catch him. 

At this point, the single woman began dropping f-bombs, both verbally and with gestures. The rest of the campground looked on. When the man with the Golden grabbed her arm and she turned and hit him with a martial arts move (just as my kids started back from the bathroom), I decided it was time to intervene. My adrenaline was up, but I think I said something like, "Let's just stop yelling at her long enough that she can actually catch her puppy." This she did, and they walked off, shouting all the way that they would report her and she would be evicted by the next morning. 

It was getting pretty real in the Big Sur Campground. 

 Let me pause for a moment to say I fully support the California leash law, and her puppy should have been on a leash. On the other hand, her dog was half the size of the Golden Retriever and clearly not a threat to anyone. The urgency they clearly felt at restraining the animal seemed excessive to me. On the other hand, I stand against f-bombs in public. But that is not the point of my story.

About 30 minutes later I went to check on our neighbor, because no matter what infraction you have committed it is not pleasant to be publicly shouted at or to have a strange man grab you by the arm. After apologizing for swearing in front of my daughters and telling me that she has a black belt in judo, she said, "I probably shouldn't say this, but THIS is what happens when Republicans go camping. I can't WAIT to vote in November." 

I immediately walked down the road to my friend Lorene's campsite (Lorene shall have a blog dedicated to her in very near future) and told her the story. We laughed our heads off about that comment and I am still laughing. What in the world does being strict about leash laws and hot headed when confronted with a rogue puppy have to do with being a Republican? And what about being a Republican makes one ill-suited to camping? 

I asked this last question of Lorene and she started to chose her words carefully as she assured me that she thinks Jeff and I are very fine campers though we are both Republicans. This was even funnier to me, because neither of us are Republicans. But Lorene, knowing we are Christians, assumed that we were. 

I realize I am getting into a dangerous area here because this blog isn't nor shall it ever be a place where I voice political beliefs. But I shall share my belief about politics: I have no faith in party politics at all. 

I believe the political party labels we give ourselves and others cause us to make a lot of assumptions. We assume that because we know what party someone is registered under that we know all kinds of things about them that we don't actually know.  We make assumptions about their education, their wealth, their religion. We might even make assumptions about what kinds of vacations they should take and how they respond to leash law infractions. 

And I think, most importantly, we assume motives for the way they vote, and we may be totally wrong. There are a lot of people who hold what they would say are the same moral values, but also have different ideas about how government should or should not be involved in their values.

At the church I attend, the staff policy is to never make political statements or take political stances in any of our church groups or worship services. We pray for upcoming elections, and ask for God's will to be done in our nation, and specifically we mean: we pray for peace, for justice, for the end of oppression against the powerless, for the welfare of children, for the safety of the innocent in our nation and around the world.

Back to the black belt with the puppy problem: what possible way could her November ballot help to bring about rationality, peace and kindness in interpersonal relationships? I'd vote for that bill or that candidate for sure, but I haven't seen one yet.  I have little faith in government to accomplish what matters (though I do vote in every election according to my conscience and I do value this wonderful country in which we live), but at the risk of sounding like a 60s song, what I do believe in is love on the ground level. In individuals making choices in their communities that promote justice tempered with compassion, in giving a voice to the voiceless, and in protecting people who can't protect themselves. 

I see people on all sides of the political spectrum making those kids of choices in their everyday lives. Those people are welcome in the campground next to me any time. Just as long as they keep their dog on a leash.

Friday, October 5, 2012

All I Can Say Is, I Survived

I had a beautifully humbling experience yesterday. 

I was hired by a church in Tustin to speak on the subject of Safe, Sane Friends. (I call it "All My Friends Have Issues" after my blog of same name.) I thought I was speaking to their Mothers of Preschoolers group, which generally means an audience of mothers of infants and toddlers. Many are pregnant; most are sleep deprived. 

But instead, I found out when I arrived that I was actually speaking to their MOPS Next group, which meant mothers of elementary and junior-high-aged children.  (This was totally my error, by the way. They told me two months ago in an e-mail but I somehow missed the detail). So, instead of walking into a room where I feel "ahead" of the women, I am suddenly in a place to share my insights with people who ought to know more than me.

I came clean about this immediately as I opened my speech, and the women seemed appreciative of my candor, particularly when I told them that if they wanted to feel superior and more put together they should go downstairs with the baby moms. I know I was feeling more confident downstaris. I knew at the very least I had probably got more sleep than most of the women in the room and therefore had a mental edge. Plus, I didn't have any spit-up on my shirt. 

In reality, there is absolutely nothing superior about me in a room of MOPS moms. I only graduated out of the early childhood stage of mothering about a month ago. True, many of the women I'll be speaking to this fall have not hit the milestones of picking a preschool or navigating the world of drop-off play dates or getting a child to sleep in their underwear without accidents -- all of which I have done. Twice. But just because I have done those things doesn't mean I did them very well, or that I have any idea what the best way for them to do it is. 

All I can really say about early childhood mothering is that I survived. I am still married. I still love -- and even like -- my children. And I now find that I have come out the other side of the early childhood tunnel with a better sense of myself. 

It's possible that's what young mothers need most: to see someone that has come out of the whole process alive and smiling. The worst thing that ever happened when I was covered in spit-up with a screaming baby in the cart and a yelping  three year old under my arm at Target was to have an older woman say that I should savor every moment because this is the best time of my life. 

What a lot of hoo-ey that was. Parenting is steadily improving with age (check back with me when the girls turn 13). Crawling baby was more fun than sitting-there baby and walking baby was the best. Four years old was way better than three. Elementary school kids are awesome: more independent but still willing to wear t-shirts that say "My Mom is Totally Awesome."

In the strict parenting advice sense I only have two pearls of wisdom. 1) Hang in there. 2) This too shall pass (the good stages and the bad). 

On the other hand, I know God is calling me to speak to women, especially young mothers. So what do I have to share? First, that God loves them and cares deeply about their lives. But also, spiritual truths that I've learned from God's word, wise mentors, counselors, and my own experience (mistakes are great teachers). Here's my advice to moms, for what it's worth (and let's hope the first one was relevant to those beautiful elementary and junior high moms I met yesterday): 

1.Build a network of safe, sane friends by being learning how to be one, and keep those women close. Don't try to do life alone. 

2. Let go of perfectionism. No. Stronger than that! Wage war on perfectionist thinking styles. The "shoulds" and "all-or-nothing" thoughts of perfectionism  lie to you and make you feel that you are doing much worse than you are. Perfectionism keeps you from taking risks, stifles creativity, and robs you of joy. Daily! So embrace the beauty of Imperfectionsim: pursuing love and excellence without expecting perfection from yourself or others!

3. Give yourself permission to rest and refuel, preferably at your Father's feet. Ask God every day to help you choose "the one thing that is needed," as Jesus praised Mary for in the gospel of Luke. Stop working before you get bitter. 

4. Negative emotions like fear and frustration don't disqualify you from a life of faith with God, or make you a bad mother. But chronic fear, anger, anxiety and depression are indicators that something is off. Seek God. Seek counsel. Seek help. God wants you living in a land of joy and freedom, but sometimes we have to travel a desert to get to them, and in the desert, you need a guide.  

5. Don't worry if you aren't currently making a living. Concentrate on making a life. Our culture devalues women who don't earn money, but life is much more than making a paycheck. Even if you have "given up" your career to be with your babies (and you go, girl if you are able to do so),   you never know how the lessons you are learning from being a mom are going to be used in the greater world  around the next bend in the road. Stay-at-home mom status isn't necessarily a permanent state. 

And now, as I step off my soap box, I'd like to say thanks to the MOPS Next moms of Trinity Pres for your listening ears and your laughter. And thanks for showing me, as I follow in your footsteps, that you too are coming out the next stage of mothering alive!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Status: Content

I was driving around in my car alone this week when I had a sudden rush of self-awareness.

What is this odd sensation? I thought. Why, I think it's contentment.

Despite my tearful posting in August (I literally cried on my keyboard) over my youngest child going off to kindergarten, I dropped her off on the first day dry eyed (see photo at left). And then, I found myself on about Day 7 of Both Kids in School to be almost entirely adjusted to this new reality, and pretty much loving life. True, I am only alone for three hours and 20 minutes while Livie is in school. But it's five days a week! If I don't get all my errands done by myself on Monday, and I do them on Tuesday. Or Wednesday! If I don't work out today, there is tomorrow. You see my point. 

 The sensation of knowing that I will have this time to myself on a consistent basis for the next, say, 13 years is like a physical presence in my body. Or more like a physical lightening. For the first time in eight and a half years, I feel that what I have to manage on a given day is actually manageable. I wasn't even aware how unmanageable life felt before (at least not all the time). I never even let myself imagine this era: Mom with Kids in School. 

And yet. You may notice that I have blogged only once in the month since school began. What have I been doing? Here's the answer: 

*Having coffee with friends who also have kids in school, or who have adult kids.

*Taking showers and going out in public in clothes that all match, and some that have "dry clean only" labels.

* Speaking at MOPS groups (four in the last three weeks)

* Reading ( I had a cold and I lay on the couch two days in a row and FINISHED A NOVEL)

*Frivolous sewing (my god-daughter is turning one and her big day would not have been complete without a custom party hat)

* Zumba

*Gardening. My pots are filled with cheap seasonal mums.

* Counting my blessings. 

And yet again. My favorite day in the last four weeks was spent with my friend and her three children ages 11 months to four years. I gave the two eldest horsey rides and put the baby to sleep using my mad infant skills. I thought about that sleeping dumpling on my chest for the rest of the day, and probably also into the night.

Meanwhile, I said "Goodnight, baby" to my Kindergartner a week into her public school career, and she said, "I'm not a baby! You don't have any babies, anymore, Mom. We are both big girls now." Gulp. Sniff. And then I spent the next three weeks having dreams about having babies, adopting babies, being given other people's babies.

So don't let my put-together appearance  and contented air fool you. I'm not made of steel. I am mourning the end of the early childhood in my own way. But I am available for coffee dates while I mourn. And if you have a baby you need held, bring her with you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I Flunked Kindergarten

I flunked Kindergarten, so they are making me repeat it.

There goes my perfectionist nature again. I didn't flunk. In fact, on every report card, I received a "Needs Improvement" mark, which is not actually failing. But here I am, four years later, trying to improve.

What moms may not realize before their kids go to school is that when your kids go to school, so do you.

And when my first daughter went to Kindergarten, I did not do very well. On all three of her report cards, she received "Outstanding" marks in all areas but one: turning her paperwork/homework in on time. And as I was the one who devised the system of keeping her homework in the pretty oilcloth folders I made myself and kept on the kitchen shelf, but often forgot to get it back in her backpack even though she completed it on the first day it came home, the "Needs Improvement" grade was really for me.

I misplace things all the time. My own things, and the kids'. If I told you how many times I've had to ask the pediatrician for a new immunization card (and I would if I could remember), you would feel a lot better about yourself. So I wonder how in the world I can teach organization to my precious babies.

Sophia seems to have come by it genetically, from her father's side. He was voted "Most Organized" by his senior class in high school. If it were up to my genes, the kids would be in trouble; my dad loses his keys on average once a year. Once AAA came out and found them in the ignition. The next time, they found them in the front door.

But against all odds and genetic predisposition, I'm doing my best to get a higher mark in Kindergarten this time around with Olivia.  Her reading log is in a secure place on the fridge and her homework folder had gone back and forth to school four times already.

Meanwhile, my "most organized" eight year old is harassing me about getting all her paperwork filled out and sent back in a timely manner. Last week she didn't just hand me the Thursday Folder, a weekly manilla missive filled with permission slips and PTA flyers and trust me to do what had to be done. She read all of them and tried to explain them to me. Perhaps she is still upset about those "Needs Improvements" on her record. And when she had a question about when the folder was supposed to be brought back to school, she wouldn't trust my answer, and called her third grade "homework buddy." She was thwarted by the buddy's answering machine and confused by our call waiting beep at the same time, so she never got through.

Ha, I win! I may lose paperwork, but I can operate the phone. And I was right about what day to return the Thursday Folder (it was Friday). "Outstanding" mark for Mommy!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

To Pack for Camping...

This morning I opened my dryer and a redwood cone fell out. 

I thought that was awesome.

We returned last night from our annual week in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Campground, and first order of business is to wash at least eight loads of laundry, all of which is very dusty and smells of woodsmoke. Last night, I killed two spiders that came crawling out of our clothes. I can only imagine how many more were drowned in my front-load washer. 

I love this time my family spends together at the end of the summer, just the four of us, in the redwood forest of the Central Coast. It changes our whole year. It changes our family. For months I look forward to the moment when my husband has blown up my rubber raft, and I have dragged it out to the shallow river where I lay in dappled sunshine and just float, sometimes with a book and a beer, sometimes just looking up at the trees.

And it was yet again a success. I always come back wanting to hold on to the simplicity and connection to nature. Our cell phones have little reception in the canyon, and on day three our batteries gave out, so we were totally unplugged. After the initial panic, it was bliss. I want you all to try it.

Which is why I am on my computer first thing in the morning, so I can tell all my online friends what to pack for a good camp-out before I forget. 

Here's what to bring: 

a rubber raft or two
a Coleman stove-top percolator to make "camping coffee"
cash for when the grounds in the camping coffee give you indigestion, so you can drive to the lodge and buy "real" coffee
hiking boots and warm socks
water shoes
citronella candles
brie or syrah-soaked cheese from Trader Joe's, and crackers
lots of fresh fruit
beer and cold white wine (if you can find a bottle of Happy Camper California Chardonnay, that's especially appropriate)
a novel that you have read already and love. Something that makes you see nature and the world a little differently is preferable (I chose The Secret Life of Bees).
a piece of thought-provoking nonfiction so you have something stimulating to discuss with your spouse around the campfire every night (I chose The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons)
a camera
anti-gravity folding chairs, plus extra smaller camping chairs for friends you meet in the campground
classic s'more ingredients, plus Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats to change things up when you get bored

And then, here's what to bring home: 
river rocks
pine cones
a tan
chapped lips
new souvenier patches for your camoflouge camping jacket (if you happen to have one, as I do)
used books bought at thrift stores on the way home
a central coast Chardonnay to replenish the ones you drank on the trip
a new disdain for spending evenings in front of the television
a new lease on life

More thoughts inspired while drifting on the rive soon to follow. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Death by Glitter

This week, Olivia and I spent some one-on-one time crafting: just a couple of girls, a couple of dollar-bin picture frames, a bag of sequins, some tacky glue, and a cylinder of rainbow glitter. 

When our project was at 90% completion, there was a knock at the front door. By the time I got back to the kitchen, the entire 4-inch-high cylinder of glitter had been spilled. Here's what my kitchen floor looked like.

This photo doesn't do the mess justice. If you have any experience with glitter, you know that even just a tiny bit can infiltrate your home so that days later you are still finding it on your clothes, furniture, and stuck in the tiny hairs above your lip that you don't want to call a moustache but your daughters will tell you is one. 

And this was a LOT of glitter, all over the crafting table cloth, chairs and floor.  My purple Shark vacuum shot much of it into the air until I figured out the right attachment to use. This is why many mommies do not craft, but leave it to preschool teachers.

You know the expression "live by the sword, die by the sword?" Well, I live by glitter, and also die by glitter.

I have also experienced death by sequins, when, on Father's Day weekend, a ballerina skirt exploded in the wash and bedazzled the washer and dryer and lint trap with pink iridescent sequins, which then got all over our clothes. Happy Father's Day, husband. You sparkle. 

Our family also lives and dies by sewing pins. Jeff has stepped on several, and found needles sticking out of the arm of our couch (now it's leather, so I know longer use the couch as a pin cushion, so that particular danger is over). Our back yard patio is like a drunk Jackson Pollock, with water color splatters absorbed into the concrete. And I have also died many deaths (emotionally speaking) getting ground-in Play-doh out of upholstery and cracks in our kitchen table. 

The fact is, whatever we love has a downside. You can tell what someone's passion is by what pain they are willing to suffer for it (or, in my husband's case with the pins, what pain they are willing to let their families suffer for it). I met a woman at a party a few weeks ago who had arrived on her daughter's razor scooter, because though she had sustained a stress fracture in her heel the day before, she didn't want to drive her car for just a mile. That woman loves to exercise. Stress fracture? ACL tear? Well, that just comes with the territory. 

Yesterday, I went to visit a neighbor who was making her four year old son a two-tiered pirate-themed birthday cake. Her entire person was literally coated with powdered sugar, and the fondant wouldn't roll without sticking to the silicon rolling mat. Death by fondant!  Her sanity as well as her marriage was in jeopardy for a couple of hours (her husband said today at the party, "Can you taste the slight hint of bitterness in this cake?") But come next child's birthday, they will both go gung-ho again, and turn the house upside down doing a Minnie Mouse themed-party for their daughter. Why? Because they love it! We shall be very good friends with these neighbors.

I often lament all the scrappy messes I am picking up in this house, but they are mostly my fault. I have created a culture of creativity here, and small pieces of paper, thread, glue and other hard-to-clean substances are the price I'm willing to pay, if I think about it. 

I'm also often irritated that there are vases of dead flowers throughout  my house, but, again, it's my own fault. I just love flowers, and I'm too busy sweeping up glitter to dump them out before their dead. They are not a testament to my lazy housekeeping so much as my commitment to creativity. 

Just before I left for Texas, I was emptying a vase of expired blooms, and I found a Jedi master drowned in the bottom. Apparently, the girls had been launching their Star Wars toys down the stairs, and Yoda fell through our open staircase and into a vase full of geraniums on the bookshelf underneath.

I'm always telling the girls not to do this with their action figures, because they are bound to get lost in the crevices under our stairs. When I told Livie I had found her Yoda, she was unrepentant. She said something like, "Well, sometimes that happens when you're having fun." What's one dead Jedi master in the course of a whole hour of gleefully tossing toys down the stairs? 

I see your point, small daughter. Now, watch out as you walk through the kitchen. Mommy's been sewing, and she may have dropped some pins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Freak Out and Throw Stuff

If somehow you have missed out on the bizarre pop culture trend that has brought this image to every major retailer near you and just about everyone elses Pinterest page, let me illuminate you.

"Keep Calm and Carry On," was the stiff-upper-lip motto of the British -- particularly Londoners -- during World War II, when they were in constant threat of German bombs. Even before the Olympics in London, this slogan and sign caught on. Target carries a line of paper products that says "Keep Calm and Birthday On" in hot pink. On Etsy, you can buy a sign that says "Keep Calm and Expecto Patronum" (for all you Harry Potter fans).

And just this last weekend, at the MOPS International Convention in Grapevine, Texas, the MOPS staff were wearing shirts that said "Keep Calm and Mother On."

A noble sentiment. I really wish I were calmer. I wish I were more even tempered. I wish my spirit was more settled, that my brain moved slower, that my anxiety -- spiritual and otherwise -- was less.

Before I left for the convention, as I blogged in "A Mother or an Entourage," I was feeling overwhelmed by the preparations needed to leave my children. But even more than that, I was besieged by spiritual anxiety, which I can't write about when it is currently affecting me. The details are not important at this moment (I'll get to them in months to come, I'm sure), but I was struggling with God. His love for the world felt far off to me; I couldn't quite believe in it. And I was mad about this, because what I really  wanted to do was go to this leadership convention with a full heart, ready to worship, learn, and have fun. I didn't want to attend seminars on encouraging other young mothers when I didn't feel encouraged myself. I didn't want to be battling my rebelious heart and my anxious brain the whole time.

I told this to my pastor Shelly, both before I left for the trip, and I was crying to her in the lunch lobby outside the workshop from which I was playing hooky.

"Look around you, Amanda," Shelly said. "Do you see all these women crying?" She was right. Throughout the long weekend, there were pockets of women with their arms around each other, praying and crying as they fought their own demons, internal or external. Many of the leaders were in pain. But they were leading anyway.

The night before I got on the plane, I was considering not going. This was perfectionist thinking, friends, the kind I have sworn, in writing and in front of live audiences, to put an end to. But old habits die hard.

Do you ever think this way?

If I can't worship with a whole heart, I won't worship. 
If I can't lead without making a mistake, I won't lead.
If I can't know the answer to all my questions, I'll just stop asking any.
If I can't feel the peace of Christ at all times, it must not be real.  

My primary mental problem, is that when I experience doubt, fear, or anxiety, especially about God himself, I tend to want to go into my laundry room (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively), shut the door and try to figure it our by myself. I don't feel I should approach God until I'm totally sure what I think about him. I don't want to tell any of my Christian friends what is going on.

This is not a good idea. If I find it hard to understand the heart of God when I'm seeking his presence, how could I possibly do better when I'm consciously hiding from him and his people?

The final speaker at the MOPS seminar was Kay Warren, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. She spoke primarily about shame. In order to have real community with other women, she said, we have to allow them to see the things about us for which we feel ashamed. God is not afraid of our dark places. As God's followers, we need to boldly enter the dark places of others and shine light into them. Sometimes that means crying together. Sometimes, it means shouting. Sometimes it even means shouting at God. Ironically, this honesty about our shame leads to connection and hope.

I was in Paper Source yesterday (one of my favorite places) making a return of excess black envelopes. The woman in front of me was buying half a dozen greeting cards, and I saw this one as it was being scanned.

I left the counter immediately and got one for myself, which cost me all my store credit plus one dollar and 15 cents. On the way home, I thought of so many people I could send it to, and by sending it to them, I would have been showing them compassion in the best way I could think of. "Your situation/relationship/life/illness is tough right now," I would have been saying. "Go ahead and freak out if you want to. I will listen. And when you're done, we'll see if we can't find some hope in this situation."

Fact is, I can't afford to send this card to everyone I would like to send it to. So I am blogging it to all of you instead, and hopefully not violating too many copyright laws to do so. Then I am saving it for myself.  It is currently on the bulletin board in my laundry room, the place I go to freak out.

And every time I have gone in there in the last 24 hours, I have felt that perhaps God is sending this card to me.

"Go ahead and freak out, Amanda," he might be saying. "I can take it. Read Lamentations. Read the Psalms. My people have been bringing their woes, complaints and confusion to me for thousands of years and yours are no worse than theirs. I am not offended. I will give you answers at the right time. And forget trying to hide from me in the laundry room. I'm in here, too."

Today, I read Psalm 139, verses 7 through 12.

Where can I go from your Spirit? 
Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
even there your hand will guide me, 
your right hand will hold me fast. 
If I say, "Surely the darkness [in my laundry room] will hide me
and the light become night around me," 
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day, 
for darkness is as light to you. 

Whatever you're doing right now...keeping calm and carrying on...or freaking out and throwing things...God is with you. He's not afraid of your doubt, anger or fear. And he loves you. So don't even bother trying to hide.

Scraps of Soul, Live!

If you like reading Scraps of Soul, perhaps you'd like to hear
my thoughts in person? 

As my kids go off to school in September, I'm finally able to answer God's call and the desire of my heart to encourage other women and young mothers as they seek to live lives of...

 Imperfectionism: pursuing love and excellence without expecting perfection from ourselves or others! 

If you or someone you know has a group looking for fun and relevant speakers, send them my way. Below is a synopsis of my favorite topics.

Put Away Perfect:
Replacing Perfectionist Thinking with God’s Perfect Will
This talk is designed to help women live with realistic expectations of themselves and their relationships, by changing the way they think. (Romans 12:2) Perfectionism is a very common root of anxiety, depression and dissatisfaction, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in the way we expect: in a high achieving “perfect” body and a Martha Stewart home. Perfectionism is actually a way of thinking that can also cause procrastination and the destroy our ability to take risks and be creative. Having the skills to recognize when you are thinking like a perfectionist can give you more freedom and joy. I focus on perfectionism in our mothering, friendships and even our faith. This is a great topic for both seekers and mature believers.

All My Friends Have Issues:
Real Thoughts on Real Friendships with Real Women
Based in part on my blog of same name, this is a great topic to tie in this year's MOPS International theme on Taking the Plunge: Risk. Real. Relationships. In it I talk about the "enemies" of authentic friendships (competition and comparison, perfectionism, unwillingness to be vulnerable), and "friends" of authentic friendships (honesty, mutual encouragement, and the willingness to learn from one another's differences).

What Can Post Partum Depression Do for You?
Having experienced PPD personally and found that God used this experience to profoundly change the way I saw life and His love for humanity, I weave facts about risk factors and symptoms of depression and anxiety with my own story. Other groups have found this talk relevant for a number of their women, as it helps them know how to help friends with this experience, as well as themselves. I also speak about the concept that negative emotions like fear and frustration don't disqualify us from a life of faith with God. This message is also filled with humor about the conflicting emotions we experience as women; it is ultimately a message filled with hope. Wanna know what I think the Bible means when it calls women the weaker sex? Book me to find out!

Mary Vs. Martha: Choosing the Better Part
My unique take on the Mary/Martha story examines the strengths of both these women's personality types. Leaning in the Martha direction myself, I hate the simplistic interpretation of this story: work=bad and sitting at Jesus feet=good. The essence of this story, from my perspective, is that Martha saw a “should” where Mary saw a choice, and, as Jesus said, Mary chose the better part. In order to live a life of joy and freedom, without bitterness, we have to learn to judge situations rightly and know when to work and when to rest and refuel. This talk is informed by the book "Boundaries" by Cloud and Townsend, which I recently taught in a six-week course for MOPS moms at Mariners Church in Irvine.

An Amateur Woman:
Making a Life instead of Just a Living
When God called me out of the working world, I found it first devastating and then ultimately liberating. I also found that it was not permanent. In the last six years of being an at-home mom, which I refer to as my Amateur Era, I've discovered that the definitions of amateur, (1) one who pursues an interest for love, and (2) an unskilled person, both apply to me as a woman, wife, mother, leader, and follower of God. An Amateur Woman accepts not her unskilled status! But instead, pursues her passions, dreams and God given talents because she both loves others and is deeply loved by God. This is a message of hope and encouragement to women of all ages, but especially to young moms who feel they've lost their identity when they had babies.

I have been involved in the MOPS group at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA  for eight years, for the last two as the Coordinator of our Friday group. I am now serving as liaison between our Women’s Ministry and our two MOPS groups, which meet weekly and serve over 200 women, as well serving as a Bible teacher and shepherd to our steering teams.

I love the unique opportunity MOPS has to meet the needs of all kinds of women in all stages of their faith in our communities. At Mariners, we find moms come to us because we know they need something -- friends? wisdom? sanity? – and find that what they truly need is the love of God in their lives.

As a speaker, my goal is be relevant, grace-extending and challenging. And I promise, I can make your ladies laugh. I believe we all learn better when we're laughing.

A former magazine editor and current blogger, I am the at-home mother of two daughters (kindergarten and third grade) and have been married to my college sweetheart for 13 years. I am also a quilter, reader, fledgling surfer, renegade gardener, passionate friend, and baker of ambitious but flawed birthday cakes.

Amanda Anderson
Speaker, Blogger, MOPS Leader