Running for Her Freedom

On Saturday, my family participated in a 5K race here in Fort Collins, Colorado–all 4 of us. Mike and the boys ran; I volunteered to pass out cups of water to the runners and walkers.

Here we are, after the race, and after Garfield received the trophy for finishing 1st in his age division with a time of 23:57. {I wore leggings with my shorts because it was 64 degrees when we left our apartment a little after 6 AM.}

aruna 5k
Aruna 5K, July, Fort Collins.

Garfield also ran a 5K on Father’s Day this summer (which you can tell if you look closely at the shirt he’s wearing in this photo). This kid blows me away! He genuinely loves to run. He’s found something at which he excels, and I want to keep providing him opportunities to pursue it. We’ve discussed having him join a kids’ running club when we get home to Orlando. I want to take care, though, that we don’t inadvertently squelch the fun in the name of competition.

I ran for a few years back in my 20’s (plus that 5K I did on Easter weekend with the boys this year–only so I could give Garfield the chance to run. He’d asked to run a race, and I didn’t think he should do it by himself, at least not on his first try). I ran multiple 5K races, plus two 10Ks as well back in the day. But my best time for a 5K was 27:29, a far cry from Garfield’s best time (so far) of under 24 minutes.

run for the angels 5K
5K with the boys, April in Orlando. Yes, it’s that same one-leg-behind-the-other pose. And I promise I’m not grimacing, although it appears that way. Garfield (he’s the younger brother) ran this one in 27:04; his Father’s Day 5K time was 25:58. 

Back in the peak of my running days, I lost a toenail and also learned at a doctor’s appointment that my pulse had gotten down to only 49 beats per minute. I ran for discipline, exercise, and to enjoy pursuing–and reaching–a fitness goal. I liked what it did for me, but I did not particularly enjoy the act of running.

Garfield, however, does. He runs for delight. He finished the race this weekend and told me he was going to get back to training on Monday. And even though Woodrow does a fine job himself–his race time today was just a hair over 30 minutes; plus he beat Mike by a few seconds, which had been his goal at the outset, to “whoop” his father, as he put it–nobody in our family has a hope of keeping up with the littlest member of our family.

This makes me so happy for my child, I almost cry thinking about it. It makes me so proud of him, but more so, it thrills me to see Garfield developing into his own unique person.

And this particular race gave us more than an opportunity to get up early and run. The Aruna 5K races take place to raise funds in order to help free women from human trafficking in India through the Aruna Project. Aruna 5K events take place all over the country–and you can even organize one yourself.

The Aruna race here in Fort Collins this weekend was led by a Cru staff couple who wanted to open this opportunity up to Cru folks while out here for our U.S. staff conference. Hundreds and hundreds of Cru staff and their families ran or walked in this race, living out our faith:  All people are created as valuable, made in the image of God, and therefore caring for them (and their freedom) is vital.

Asian little girl happy with water bubble

Helping free women from sex slavery, having an outdoor experience as a family, and seeing my boys run their best:  All this fits into the dreams I had for our family before our sons were even born. Serving together, exercising together (I didn’t run today–but we’ve taken lots of bike rides and hikes this summer, too), being out in nature together…it does this mama’s heart good.

 

Happy Half-Birthday to Me

Today, July 10, is my half birthday:  halfway between age 43 and 44. Sometimes I still pause and catch myself thinking, “Oh, yeah. That’s right–I’m 43!” I see some wrinkles around my eyes and then remind myself, “It’s OK–I AM 43, after all.”

I don’t actually celebrate half birthdays, but I did get some cheerful news this past weekend that almost seemed like a half-birthday present.

easter egg candy in dish

Several years ago, when the boys and I attended a weekly afternoon program with our home-school co-op, I coached a few P.E. classes. For my work, I got paid a modest amount. During the last semester of P.E. coaching, I actually took on a total of 3 (instead of one or 2) P.E. classes, since the other home-school mom serving as a coach was experiencing difficulties with her pregnancy.

During that semester, I made extra–more than I had anticipated. Which was a thrill, because I’d been saving those funds–one dollar per student per week–for a special need. With the unexpected extra money from taking on Hannah’s P.E. classes added to what I earned from my regular classes, I was able to reach a goal sooner:  that of funding an orphan’s release from institutional living in Moldova.

lock on bridge

Moldova, listed as the poorest nation in eastern Europe, sits next door to Romania, where I lived for a year after college. Romanian is also one of Moldova’s national languages. Since Moldova abuts the eastern border of Romania, and I lived all the way across the country, I never visited Moldova. But in the past few years, I’ve read much about this small, formerly Communist nation. When I volunteered for a season with the ministry Samaritan Village (helping in a resale boutique called Transitions that supports the ministry), we watched a documentary as part of our training. From this film, called Nefarious:  Merchant of Souls, we learned that Moldova is sometimes referred to as the “engine of the sex slave trade.” Teenagers aging out of the orphan system have often been prey to those who would buy and sell them.

bike and rider

In the midst of this, a ministry called Sweet Sleep aimed to serve orphans–being part of God’s work to place the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). They worked with churches in Moldova to train believers in foster care and facilitate the transition of these orphans from institutions to families, whether as adopted children or as foster children (Many children relegated to life in Moldovan orphanages have a living parent. The reasons for this are complex and complicated and far beyond what I could describe here). Sweet Sleep’s focus on partnering with Moldovans who already love and follow Christ appealed to me. Plus, I felt the urgency inherent in orphan care in Moldova, as the country made plans to close most of their orphanages.

Here’s where the good news comes in:  I received a newsletter from Sweet Sleep this past weekend, detailing how–after 14 years of serving in Moldova–they’ve reached their goal there. Most of Moldova’s orphanages have closed, the focus in Moldova for orphan care has shifted to indigenous adoption and foster care (instead of orphanages), and the program developed by their partners (Baptist Union of Moldova and church partners in the U.S) is up and running. I explained to my sons that missionaries seek to work themselves out of a job, and that’s what’s happened here. Moldovan families are caring for needy Moldovan children; more children are growing up in families instead of in state-run institutions. And I got to play a part in that. 

love boards

One of my dreams is to polish up my Romanian skills and go visit Moldova–experiencing its culture, history, people, and beauty for myself one day. No matter a country’s woes, there’s always something magnificent to enjoy in each and every place. But even if my visit to Moldova never materializes, the good news from Sweet Sleep was still a great half-birthday gift.

 

 

The Mystery of Thistle

Once in a while growing up, I would have the inimitable privilege of getting my hands on a pack of 64 Crayola crayons. I never referred to them as “crayons,” though–in the South, we just called them “colors.” I especially appreciated having options such as gold and silver, burnt umber and cornflower blue. Although cornflower always confused me, because I spent time in gardens as a child, and I associated yellow and green with corn–not a muted shade of blue. All those colors at one’s fingertips–it made me feel rich in a way.

Cornflower wasn’t the only shade to confuse me. There was another one–thistle–that I never understood. I always liked the color, but I didn’t understand how it got its name. When I thought of thistle, I assumed it was a prickly, thorny weed. I associated it with dandelions. And yet nothing about a dandelion boasted that lavender-pink hue.

thistle
Milk thistle on a hiking trail in Fort Collins, CO.

Then I came to Colorado. To the best of my knowledge, milk thistle (like the one in the picture above) doesn’t grow in south Mississippi, where I was born and raised. So I’d never seen it until about 8 years ago, when Garfield was a baby and Woodrow, a toddler, and our family took a hike near Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins. That summer, 2009, we spent in Colorado. On the hike, while carrying Garfield in a Baby Bjorn on my chest, I spotted these plants that I’d never seen before. After looking them up, I learned that they indeed are thistles.

sunflowers and thistles
Sunflowers and thistles on the trail.

The mystery of this color’s name was solved! I now knew how one of my favorite crayons in the box of 64–remember how it came with a built-in crayon sharpener?–had gotten its name.

many thistles

Thistle is considered a weed; it may compete with crops where it grows and can disrupt pasture grazing. But it also serves bees as they gather nectar to produce honey. Thistles are also a source of nectar for several species of butterflies.  And, thistles are beautiful. Living in Colorado again this summer affords me the joy of encountering thistles all over again.

Sometimes there’s mystery in beauty, and sometimes there’s beauty in the unexpected. And even a weed can draw me into God’s beauty and cause me to marvel.

 

Wear It Well Wednesday: Striped Shirt + Scarf

The day I donned this outfit, the predicted high temp here in Fort Collins was only 68 degrees. To this Florida woman, that’s a genuinely cool temperature. When we left the apartment this morning (first to exchange a 23-pound bag of aluminum cans for cash at the recycling center), the temperature was only at 60 degrees, and Woodrow declared, “It’s like the coldest day in Orlando!” Not quite, but it was refreshing indeed.

This is not the outfit I necessarily would have selected to haul around aluminum cans that the boys (along with some parental assistance) have been collecting. But we had a few errands to run, and a birthday party later in the afternoon. So the clothes I put on this morning needed to last all day. Plus, I wore the same tank top and skirt 3 days last week, so it was time for a fresh outfit.

scarf striped shirt upper body

Let me break it down:  One of my sisters-in-law passed these jeans on to me {you’ve seen them in a WIWW post before}. The striped shirt came from the give-away table at Mike’s office. He picked it up just before we left for the summer, and I brought it along–hoping I’d have the opportunity to wear it in Colorado. Today I did! The scarf is one of our recent yard sale purchases, at only a quarter.

The neck wear is, I believe, called an infinity scarf. I wasn’t exactly sure how to arrange it on myself, so when a woman stopped me at the grocery store today to remark on how this goldenrod shade is her favorite color, I stopped her. “I don’t really know how to wear this kind of scarf. Is this right? Is this how it’s done?” I asked. She affirmed that it was and also explained another way she wore hers, although I didn’t quite follow the explanation. But I love getting compliments on cheap purchases and hand-me-down pieces!

striped shirt and scarf

And here’s a full-length shot, showing my nearly-ubiquitous cowboy boots, a gift from my parents that keeps on giving. You can’t see the hand-me-down barrette (from my mama–now that my short haircut from January is growing out, I need to have hair doo-dads to hold it back) and the hand-me-down socks inside the boots. The whole outfit:  just 25 cents, the price of the second-hand scarf.

I biked with the boys to and from the Colorado State University campus wearing this outfit today, and I give it thumbs up for bike-ability. P.S. Even my bike helmet is second-hand–an extra that my husband had years ago. But don’t expect to see a WIWW post featuring me with a helmet on my head. 

We bought a couple more scarves, each for a quarter, at the same yard sale where we got this one; maybe I’ll put together more outfits with some of those scarves soon!

 

Something New Saturday: Chocolate Sourdough Bread

I first discovered chocolate sourdough bread (also known as sourdough noir) in a novel my friend Meg gave me for my birthday this past January. I’d never heard of it until I read about it in the pages of Stones for BreadAnd I determined that I would bake it.

As the name implies, it’s bread (not cake) so it’s not as sweet as a typical dessert. The recipe included in the novel (and one that I found online) called for dried fruits as well as chocolate and baking cocoa, along with sugar. I used mixed dried berries for our loaf.

I’ve made sourdough bread for years–just the plain kind which I bake from scratch using a homemade sourdough starter. We use this bread for sandwiches, French toast, and everything in between. Even homemade croutons. I also brought my big jar of starter out here to Colorado with us–which took some amount of care, let me tell you. Sourdough noir, however, is anything but plain. It’s also a good deal more complicated in how it’s made, as compared to the regular sourdough bread that I bake by rote at this point.

sour dough noir
Finished product:  chocolate sourdough bread.

I liked the results, and the boys really enjoyed it, too–we toasted slices of it for breakfast and snacks. Smeared with some Kerrygold butter, it tasted delectable. I do plan to make it again. Next time, I’ll use semi-sweet chocolate chips, instead of a bar of dark chocolate broken into bits.

chocolate sourdough with butter

Since we’ve been in Colorado, I’ve even used my sourdough starter to make pizza dough. It was moderately successful, but I’m keen to try again–just as I am with the sourdough noir. 

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”
James Beard

Embracing with Faith our Summer Re-location

One thing I appreciate about living in Colorado:  There are no lizards. I can leave the front door of our apartment open when the weather is mild and never worry that I’ll find lizards running around the floors (or inside our shoes) later in the day. This spring–back in Orlando–I found a little lizard in our kitchen sink. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost tripped trying to avoid stepping on a lizard in our driveway or on the sidewalk. But I’ve never seen a lizard in Colorado. Also:  No fire ants. NO FIRE ANTS! Those are parts of Florida I don’t mind leaving behind for the summer.

Colorado offers beauty, adventure, outdoor fun galore. It’s also not home. It’s not the place where I do life. I do like to travel–as in, pack bags, go someplace for a visit, and then come home. {I actually like living overseas more than I enjoy travel, but there again, one puts down some roots and establishes a life if making a home in that place, wherever that place may be.} But this is more than–different than–travel. It’s packing up our house for a summer renter. It’s packing our family’s belongings to be away for over 2 months. It’s asking questions:  Do I pack the crock pot, or buy one at Goodwill when we get out there? How many dish towels should I pack? Will our tenant take care of our plants for the summer? 

frames

It’s also recognizing that we’ll be away from our church for 11 Sundays. ELEVEN. Another question:  How can we connect with people there–especially when we know hardly anybody there–if we’re not THERE? 

And it’s work. So. Much. Work. Imagine giving your entire house a spring clean to prep it for a person who’s going to pay (a modest amount) to live there, while simultaneously packing lots of boxes to be shipped out to Colorado for your family (along with suitcases and school supplies, since our home school year didn’t end until mid-June) AND continuing with normal life chores. Baking cupcakes for the Cub Scout den party and prepping for our end-of-year home-school evaluations, for instance. You know how busy the month of May can be for families, what with all the end-of-school-year functions? Yeah, like that. Plus readying my home for the house sitter AND getting all four of us packed to travel cross-country and plant ourselves in a new place for the summer–long enough to be more than a trip, but too short to consider that we’ve moved to a new home.

cupcakes with sprinkles

But here we are. End-of-year festivities and responsibilities have been fulfilled. We live in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment this summer–instead of our 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Orlando. Less housework is required, and the weather is delightful. I mean, there is NO humidity. The city of Fort Collins is a cool, interesting place to be. Our boys are making friends with other Cru kids, and the pool is just steps from our door (although the water has been far too cold for me so far). There’s a community gas grill that Mike has used multiple times already, enjoying a working grill since we actually moved our broken gas grill to our new home in 2015 and still haven’t fixed it. He’s missed grilling and is making up for that by grilling everything from corn on the cob and tomatoes to chicken and pork chops.

We’ve hiked, biked, fished, played, taken advantage of the plethora of summer yard sales out here. I got a small tape measure for a nickel–just 5 cents–that I’m using as I sew more quilt tops while we’re here.

There’s much to appreciate in this place where I’ve spent the summers of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now 2017. And even with my horrible sense of direction, I’ve lived here enough months collectively that I remember how to get many places without using GPS.

But there’s still struggle, transition–the boys have their own, and I have my own, and I must help them navigate theirs. Conducting school out here, even at a slower pace, has been really difficult. I don’t have a specific summer job to do with our ministry out here, as my husband does. I still edit ministry stories on a minimal basis, the role I fill normally with Cru. But I don’t have a niche to fill out here; my real purpose in being out here is so our family can be together for the summer while Mike serves in his summer role. That’s more struggle.

And yet, since we’re planted here for the summer, I want to bloom here for the summer. In early May, I wrote in my journal, Lord, thank you for whatever our summer holds. My desire, my hope, is to embrace by faith whatever God has for us–and for me–this summer. I want to have the heart to receive with grace what He gives.

picnic tea set

What He’s given so far (besides that crazy cheap tape measure):  On the way out to Colorado, I spoke at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad program (led by Cru’s humanitarian ministry, GAiN), a cause close to my heart. The women who attended responded with great interest in sewing Luo Pads as an ongoing project. What a treat that I got to do some public speaking–which I love but rarely get to do–and that I got to share about a ministry opportunity that meets tangible needs as an expression of God’s love. I’ve also had a chance to help a mom with a Cru conference job here who’s needed an extra hand.

luo pad chalk board

There’s more summer to come, and I’m hopeful that God will continue to give me grace to take hold of all that He ushers into my time here in Colorado. I want to remember that EVERY DAY counts. This is not a season of simply marking time until we arrive back in Orlando in early August; these are days of living by faith, living out my faith. Embracing it with faith.

 

 

 

Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.