Time Passed

Most days when I look at my children, I notice the dirt on their faces, whether their hair or teeth have met with a brush, if they're clutching contraband in their closed hands (what? Christmas candy abounds!).

But today, looking at pictures taken at the "best birthday party ever!" (as Javi refers to his party), I caught a glimpse of time passed. It was this photo that did me in:


These boys ... now both solidly 11-year-old fifth graders who are ready and excited to move on to middle school in a few months. These boys ... on the cusp of manhood, using deodorant, pointing out each other's underarm hair. These boys were once these boys:


And before that they were these boys:


And then my heart clenches up. The time just dissolves between work and family and social and volunteer obligations. It just goes.

Forget the dirty faces and stolen jelly beans and go bask in your babies. You can't stop time, but you can definitely make better use of it.

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Eleven years ago, I was a graduate student who loved a baby before she saw her, who believed anything was possible, and who had the support system to make it work.

Exactly eleven years ago, a boy was born in place of that baby girl and my life went whirling down a completely unanticipated, sometimes thrilling, sometimes exhausting, sometimes terrifying path that no one can ever prepare for.

Such is parenting.

I have an eleven year old man-child who is sprouting hair under his arms (as he tells everyone he meets), can load a mean dishwasher, makes "famous" toasted cheese sandwiches, gets up to his own alarm, loves to write and illustrate detailed and complex stories, is the best kicker on his football team, and can pin a bigger boy in minutes. He's a ham and a sweetheart and a helper.

My son. I am thankful every day that he was trusted to me so many years ago.

Today is about doing all the things he loves: baking cakes and other treats for him to share with his friends later, eating pizza and playing football (with glow sticks, no less) with his friends, and spending time with his family.

We are lucky to have him, and we can't wait to find out what age 11 holds in store.

Happy birthday Javi!

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The Bell Affair

Our month of kindness has begun paying off. Sort of.

It takes Javi and Bella longer to start bickering and they're more likely to allow the other one to win verbal battles. They spot and get excited about participating in volunteer opportunities, and each have tried to literally give their friends the shirts off their backs.

But I've come to realize that the message they received last month wasn't 100 percent clear. Take, for example, the way Bella's accosted the Salvation Army bell ringer last night after we had just spent a good five minutes discussing the purpose of the donation pot each bell ringer guards.

He was innocently clanging his bell at people as they entered and exited a local store. Bella heard that ringing a mile away and became extremely enthusiastic about getting to the ringer. Once we got there, she began to painfully and obviously embarrass her mother.

It went something like this.

Bella to the bell ringer: My mama has coins! I'm gonna give 'em to you for the people and you're gonna give me that bell.

[Bella holds her hand out to me while keeping her eyes on the bell]

Me: Lady, that's not how it works. Here's some change. Drop it in the slot.

Bella: No thanks. I want the bell.

The ringer: You're a pretty girl aren't you! Let's put your money in here [motions to the slot] and then I'll give you a sucker!

Bella: I'll take the sucker, but I'm still taking the bell.

Me: Enough. Put the money in and get your sucker. I'm ready to go.

Bella: I. Want. That. Bell!

[The ringer looks at me, completely lost as to what to do.]

Me: You have two choices: You can put your money in and take the sucker, or you can put the money in and not take the sucker. You choose.

Bella: I'm not paying him if I don't get that bell.

Me: You aren't paying for anything. This is a donation and you get a sucker as a thank you.

Bella: No, I'm giving him my coins and he's giving me my bell.

Me: That's it, let's go.

[Bella jerks away and lunges at the ringer. I have to pull her off of him kicking and screaming.]

Me: We're done!

[Walking away from ringer holding Bella as she settles from thrashing back to normal behavior.]

Bella yelling to bell ringer: Fine. Keep your bell! It's not even golden like a real bell! I don't want your bell!

Me: Hush! You are being rude!

Bella still yelling to the bell ringer: Sorry for being rude about your ugly bell! Have a nice evening! Your bell is still ugly!

All that talk about good deeds and sharing what we have with those who are in need, all those hours of giving without the intention of receiving, and all those acts of service just for the sake of being kind and not for the goal of anyone doing anything to pay us back...

All of that work, and yet my daughter tries to attack the bell ringer after her refuses to sell her his bell for the three dimes and handful of pennies she offered him.

Welcome to the wonderful world of parenting!

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Cluck of the Week: Baring It All

Winter has arrived in the South, or at least in our corner of it.

While the rest of us knew to brace for frigid temps by the constant warning of morning weather predictors and the steady turning of calendar pages, my poor chicken didn't know what hit her.

Not only has she lost all her gorgeous auburn-colored feathers, but we caught her letting it all hang out -- literally -- in the tree she's chosen as her spring/summer/fall roosting spot. Fancy didn't change, but the tree sure did.

What is that big ol' hen doing in that flimsy, nearly bare tree? Anything she wants to, hardy har har.

And so, Fancy has picked up her winter habit of roosting in a bin under our deck where we've added a fresh, thick layer of bedding to help keep her warm.

Out with the summer predators, in with the winter ones. But at least she'll be warm in the surviving of them!

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Elfed Up

I fought the good fight, but we still wound up with an elf gracing our shelf.

It started on Saturday when Santa dropped in at the gingerbread house building event we hold each year for the community.

Somehow I forgot that Bella loses her ever-lovin' mind when Santa escapes without letting her see his sleigh (as has happened every year since she was born). It's hard to remember how much she loves Santa because -- even at age nearly 11 -- Javi still refuses to be near Ol' Saint Nick. But Bella? Bella is a fan of the highest order.

This year, however, in the middle of Bella's epic meltdown when Santa left (which included clawing at me to let her chase him out the door), her little friend came up with the perfect solution (for 4- and 5-year-olds). "Don't worry, Bella, I'll tell my elf Robin to tell Santa to send you an elf so you can talk to him all the time!" she exclaimed breathlessly.

That's all it took. Bella's eyes got wide and she spent the rest of our time there conferring with her buddy on this whole elf situation. When we didn't hear anything else about elves that night, we completely forgot about it.

But Bella didn't. She woke up the next morning heartbroken that Santa didn't send her an elf of her very own. Then throughout the day she kept hearing things that she just knew were elf sounds (which Javi, of course, played up). As the day wore on and no elf appeared, my Meanie Weenie seemed more and more dejected.

So what else was I gonna do? Like any wimp mom, I sped over to buy the cutest little girl elf I could find. Only they don't make little girl elves. And there were no special kits for turning a boy elf into a girl one. So I came home with your standard Elf on a Shelf and planted him on our mantle. The book went under the tree.

Like our Christmas Story stocking? My mama bought that for
the Mountain Man for my birthday. Where's the justice in that?!

The kids were all over it. Javi read the story as Bella sat beside him listening for all the fine details of this special elf deal. She went from excitement that her elf is finally here, to worry that he knew all the bad things she's already done today (which Javi enumerated), to disappointment that her elf is a boy. Luckily, the line of communication straight to Santa won out and both kids became enamored with our new addition.

After a complicated and somewhat heated naming process where the names Jingle Jangle, Jolly, Snowball, Scout, Roger, Elvin, and Tiki were ruled out, we are now the proud family of an elf named:

Murray Grace

Listen, he wouldn't be our elf if he didn't bend gender at least a little. We do have a chicken named Here's Your One Chance Fancy Don't Let Me Down, you know. (But don't be surprised if Murray Grace shows up in a skirt some day soon.)

In the meantime, I'll be sure to work the Murray Grace can hear/see you angle for all its worth.

Do you have an elf on your shelf? How's it working for you? Did you hold out as long as we did?

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Random Acts of Thanks: The End

Despite my silence, the end of November was packed full for our family, including three Thanksgivings and a parade, as well as the many ways we chose to show our gratitude throughout our community.

Though our family spends a large majority of time throughout the year performing acts of service throughout our community, I enjoyed taking some time to focus in on how being kind and sharing what we have makes us feel and how it changes how others feel.

So, despite not fitting in 30 acts, we landed in December feeling pretty good. Here's what we did accomplish:

  • Holiday decorations for tornado victims who lost theirs back in April.
  • Turkeys to local food bank to help with the holiday meal.
  • Two winter coats (which the kids handed over themselves).
  • Candy to local rehab center, which the kids selected from their Halloween haul.

    Sorting through the candy

  • Mittens and hats for a winter-weather collection drive.

    These items were given to local foster children.
Volunteered to:
  • Help serve Thanksgiving dinner for 50+ needy families.
  • Host a big fundraiser for my sister's kidney transplant fund.
  • Babysit a friend's little girl when daycare fell through.
  • Take my sister to a day of doctor appointments.
  • Take dinner to my mom at her work.

    Special meal for Grandma (bought at a
    fundraiser for Javi's school's PTO.

  • Help paint a local community building.

    The kids loved helping paint this building, even though
    they weren't allowed up on the ladders.
Paid to:
  • Purchase Christmas gifts for a child at a group home in our area.

    Javi and Bella helped pick out these gifts for a teen at a local
    group home. They also helped wrap/bag the gifts.

  • Provide three 6 families with meals (via Feeding America).

    Javi and his cousin bringing in boxes to give out.

    She didn't like "strangers" trying to move her box.

  • Provide food for Thanksgiving dinner for 50+ families.
  • Send a round of ice cream to a family dining in the same restaurant as us.
  • Sent 20 holiday cards to a local retirement community.

    Too distracted getting them done to take "after" photos.

  • Showed up at Javi's school with a tray of cookies for him to share with other students.
  • Sent in donuts for Bella to give to her preschool teachers.
  • Sent in school supply goodie bags for each child's teachers.
All in all, my kiddos learned to think about others more and began going out of their way to be kind and helpful wherever they could.

The best part is our little project has already carried over into December. Bella has asked if we can serve Christmas dinner somewhere, too, and Javi volunteered to "work" at the craft station of our recent community gingerbread houses event rather than build a house himself.

Needless to say, they make me proud. And exhausted. I'm so glad to have this post finished! Now I can go back to regular random postings. :)

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Joy Rising

My sister has been fighting a battle of wills: her's to survive, her insurer's to save money.

She's laid in my floor and cried from the crushing, overwhelming exhaustion that comes from trying to hold herself together -- the jobs, the family obligations, the fundraising, the health issues -- after hearing someone say over and over again: You're going to die anyway.

She turned over her driver's license and nearly had to say goodbye to our buddy J. She lives without telephone or Internet because every single extra dollar goes toward keeping herself alive. She is humble and grateful for what she has, and can usually find the humor in every situation.

She is the epitome of a fighter: fiercely independent, whip smart, persistent, and brave. And two days ago she got a phone call that brought her to her knees.

Just one day after finding out her insurer was bringing in an expert witness to prove that her lungs are dying so why bother with a new kidney, her team of [pro bono] lawyers found out The Powers That Be dropped their denial of her medical coverage.

My strong little sister -- my hero -- won. She took all the nastiness slung her way and she refused to give up on her right to live. She is now covered for the transplant.

Her donor is right this minute scheduling the final tests to be approved for the donation (which he couldn't do until the coverage was sorted out). She could have a sparkly new kidney ... by Christmas. [Best. Present. Ever.]

We are so incredibly blessed to have had so many people, both in our community and around the world, joining us in this fight. You sent prayers and money, you spoke out about the injustice of the insurance denial, you joined up your heart with our hearts and you fought with us and for us.

There aren't enough words to say how thankful we are, but know this: The battle may be over for Ashley, but she's just one person. There are so many others struggling under the weight of our broken health care system. You saved her. Yes, you (and you and especially you). Without this incredible force of spirit, who knows where we'd be right now.

You can't stop now. Find the Ashleys in your life and bring them to light, throw your (our) support behind those people (who feel incredibly alone, I can assure you), and continue using the power of the human spirit to prevail against those who put money first.

In the meantime, we have another $20,000 to raise. We've already moved the mountain; the rest is cake.

(And that feeling? The one you got when you found out? Oprah calls it joy rising. Now I understand why.)

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Cluck of the Week: The Passing of Time

A lot can happen in eleven days, especially when it's this life we're talking about. This life is full to bursting with obligations and work and family and friends. Good things. Things for which I'm grateful.

But the pace is hard to manage and the downtime is all about snuggling with my wee ones (or zoning out to Real Housewives of Atlanta). So there are all kinds of photos and stories about our progress in our Random Acts of Thanks project (we're on track to fit in all 30!), but instead I have the energy/time for this today:

I turned 35 yesterday. 

The big 3-5. And I was surrounded by people who love me, people like my husband who puts up with my special blend of insanity, my mother who made me the woman I am, my children who reveal to me the best parts of myself, and my sister, who never knows if she'll live another year, much less make it to 35.

I am blessed beyond measure. 

If you weren't convinced, I present to you the only proof you need:

Oh, and Fancy wants me to quit my whining. I don't have to leave the house looking like this, so I've got nothing to complain about:

Ah, nothing like a good seasonal molt to remind you that life is good.

I'll be back by Wednesday to wrap up our acts of kindness. We did some cool stuff that I can't wait to share!

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Life, Beautifully Unexpected

The past few days have been consumed by facts and figures, hard realities and unbelievable truths, and the truly amazing gift of the human spirit. And it's been totally unexpected.

My mother, sisters, and I are used to fighting for what we have. Nothing has ever been given to us. Growing up, we were a four-person family on a one-person income. Ashley was sick from birth and spent long spans of time in the hospital with our mama by her side. That left my older sister and I to learn to fend for ourselves and left my mother stretched taut (without ever having the luxury to actually snap).

We struggled, and we still struggle. My mama works several jobs and still has to scrimp and save to make her mortgage payment (on a house purchased in the 80s, so don't assume she's an irresponsible borrower) while also being able to help my sisters as much as she can. (My older sister battles a mental illness that prevents her from stable employment.)

And then there's Ashley, who's staring headlong at death. There's nothing she can eat thanks to gluten intolerance, medical diabetes, and her firm determination to avoid dialysis through an elimination diet. Her body hurts -- all over and all the time. She's constantly battling an intestinal bacteria that leaves her weak and wracked. Her face and body are constantly bloated from poor kidney function and the steroids she has to take so her body doesn't reject her transplanted lungs. This is her life, day after day after day.

My family has grown to expect the struggle. We're used to fighting for what we want and taking what we need by force if that's what it comes to. We take nothing for granted and our expectations are never high. Despite this, we believe our blessings outnumber our battles.

Ashley is sick, but her spirit is youthful and inspiring. Our family will be able to provide Ashley with a safety net when her health takes its next step downward. Ashley is dying, but she makes the choice every single day to make the most of her life. And she refuses to give up.

And her life continues to surprise us, to open our hearts and our minds in ways that we could never have anticipated. It happened when one woman chose to ask a question rather than offer a condolence. It's happening again and again as strangers reach out to help us however they can. This wildfire of generosity has one spark: Ashley.

There are more twists and turns coming up on Ashley's journey to health and I pray that she survives them. Until then, I cry and rejoice and give thanks that so many people have joined hands with us to help Ashley get the surgery that she so desperately needs. Our family is bowled over and breathless by the support we've been given.

This life, unexpected and tragic and beautiful all at the same time, is one I pray I'll always be able to share with my sister, who is my best friend.. Because of you (and you and you), that is looking more and more possible.

Thank you.

You can follow Ashley's journey here and click over to donate toward her kidney transplant. We're looking at a cost of $250,000, so every little bit is much encouraged and appreciated. Please take a few minutes to share her story via Twitter (#KidneyCutie), Facebook, and email.

And a special thank you to Michele Quick Photography for taking these gorgeous photos of Ashley free of charge. They do a magnificent job of capturing Ashley's spirit!

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Random Acts of Thanks: 6-9

Guess what. Sometimes we make really big plans and then life happens. For me, this week, life looked like a surprise 730 pages of editing plus two a slew of deadlines ... so our Random Acts of Thanks felt smaller, though I know they are still important.

I hope we'll be able to make more sweeping gestures as the month wears on.

#6. Voting.

Normally, I wouldn't consider voting an act of thanks, but this year our town had a dismal turnout. Only 7% of registered voters actually showed up at the polls -- and that's including our early voting period. When I cast my vote at 4pm, I was voter #125 at my polling place. How disappointing is that?

Every year the Mountain Man and I make it a point to take our children with us when we vote. We want them to feel involved in the political process, and we want them to understand how important it is that everyone casts their vote.

I make sure to discuss with them how women and people of color had to fight hard to gain the right of voting and that by casting our vote, we are honoring their heroism. Therefore, this year, I'm including it. We are thankful and we showed it by showing up.

#7. Gaboons!

Our buddy J has a love that matches his love of Fancy and that love is gaboons (!!!), known to everyone else as balloons. Ashley asked me if we could all vote together so we could help her with him when she went in to cast her vote.

The kids and I decided to surprise our little friend with a big bouquet of gaboons. We bought 8 mylar ones in all different prints, shoved them into the car, and drove to meet them. According to Ashley, J lost his mind as soon as we turned the corner and he laid eyes on our car. "Gaboons! Mine! My gaboons!" with lots of clapping and laughing.

I wish we could've heard him. Instead, what we saw was him charging across the parking lot at us as soon as Ashley let go of his hand. He flew over to us with a look of intense concentration. When he got to us, he didn't say hello or give us high fives. He said only, "No let go gaboons!" and made sure he clasped the string for every last one. He didn't care that they said "Get well" and "Happy birthday" and "It's a girl," he only cared that they didn't get away from him.

After he'd had some time with his gaboons, J did something that amazed us all. He gave each of us one balloon to have for our very own -- something he's never done in his life.  Talk about paying it forward!

#8. Fancy hunting.

Our next act involves J, too. Our plan had been to vote and then return home to make dinner and go about our usual weekday routine. However, J really didn't want to leave us. This kid has such a huge heart and our family takes up a lot of space in it. While he's older than Javi, he really sees Bella as his best friend and Javi as his role model.

Therefore, we couldn't let him down. We decided to forego our regular plans and have Ashley and J over for dinner and some play time. But really the only thing J wanted was to find and chase Fancy (poor girl). So, once we got home, he and Bella raced to the backyard for the ultimate game of hide and seek.

J finally spotted Fancy roosting in her "bedroom," aka a nearly bare tree in the corner of our yard. He squawked and flapped at her hoping to get her to run so he could chase her. When she ignored him, he turned his gaboon into a weapon and used to rile her up enough that she rushed off to find a safer roosting spot.

No bird has ever made a child as happy as Fancy did J at that moment!

#9. A note for no reason.

A family friend recently moved from our area to southern California. While technology like Facebook allow us to be engaged in her life, we decided to send her a little piece of NC, especially now that we're having a really beautiful fall.

So we drove around one afternoon looking for perfect locations for a fall photo shoot. Then I added some text to the photo and the kids wrong a little message on the back and we mailed it out. I hope our friend loves her little photo of "home."

***I'll check back in next Sunday to share the week's random acts of thanks. If you're doing something similar, please share your link in the comments so we can learn from you and get ideas. We're already planning a shoe box, sending special things to Romania and to soldiers in combat zones, donating to a mitten tree, and making cards for nursing home residents. We're in need of more small ideas, please!***

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Have You Heard The One About The Girl With Dud Kidneys?

When your fourth favorite person (after
the husband and the two kids)
has a just-keeps-dwindling list
of foods she can consume without
landing herself in a dialysis chair,
you learn to cook with creativity
and to make really bad jokes
that save you from the frustration
of fending off an uncertain death.

"Know why vampires run from garlic?
They're a milligram of magnesium away
from renal failure!" Get it? Right?!
"What did the new kidney say
to the old one? Urine in
my way!" That's too damn funny!

But this saving grace only works
for small children and morbid sisters.
Luckily, I have both ... for now.

Have you started your holiday shopping? Can I interest you in a tee shirt for a good cause? We're selling "Kidney Cutie" tees and sweatshirts as a mini-fundraiser for my sister's kidney transplant. They're cute and comfortable (I know because I wear one all the time).

You can click here to order one. All tees ordered from now through Dec. 20 will come with a special note from Ashley and will be delivered in time for Christmas. I can't think of a better way to honor the season than by giving someone a gift that they know is helping to save a life.

And you can keep up with my sister's progress on her Facebook page: Kidney Cutie.

Okay - one last joke: "Did you hear about the girl who just went on a very strict renal diet? There are only three things she can’t put in her mouth: a fork, a knife, and a spoon." Ba dum chh!

***This post is part of Six Word Fridays.***

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Random Acts of Thanks

The kids and I have jumped aboard the "give thanks" bandwagon, but we're doing things slightly different (because I can never let things just be easy).

Rather than say why we're thankful, we have decided to use this month to show our gratitude by giving back to our community. We'll perform a "random act of thanks" for each of the 30 days of November. I know it sounds a little high-minded, but by "our community," I really mean the people and organizations in our lives that have influenced and enhanced us.

Our giving back will happen in big ways, but also in small ways. And to keep us accountable, I'm (of course) going to share our "random acts of thanks" here each Sunday evening. Some weeks will have more acts than others because we're more cluster people than deliberate once-a-day people.

And so. Random acts of thanks for this week are:

#1. Holding the door for people at the post office.

When the kids and I talked about what it meant to show our gratitude by doing things for others, they couldn't quite grasp the concept of small things. They talked about the things they've done before (work at a soup kitchen, fill shoe boxes to send to third world countries, run a food drive for our local food pantry, etc). We had to have a much longer talk about how we can show our gratitude in little ways.

Bella's absolute favorite suggestion was holding the door for people and she is awesome at it. The only place we went this week where there were other people was the post office. Bella shot out from the pack of people all hurriedly, head down rushing toward the doors. After she hoisted the door open, she flattened herself against it and smiled at each and every person who passed through.

Strangely, many people didn't like her holding the door for them and had to be coaxed to enter the building. That's where Javi stepped in. If a person hesitated he would say, "That's my sister. She's being grateful by helping you. You should just thank her and go inside." (Yes, I have amazing children.)

Sadly I had neither phone nor camera with me to capture this goodness.

#2. Surprise childcare for an overwhelmed friend.

I had a training session on Saturday afternoon and was still really out of sorts; however, I didn't realize it until I said something snippy about the kids (several children were there, mine weren't). Then later in the session I overheard a friend say to someone else how crazy the past week had been with her husband being gone often, her job being generally stressful (she's a school administrator), and her son being a typical two year old.

And so when I got home, I mentioned to the kids that maybe we could go get B. for some play time the next day. They were all over it so we called up my friend and let her know we were whisking away the kiddo so she could have a quiet Sunday to do whatever she wants. I think she was in shock until we actually drove away with him in the back seat.

We spent our day having a picnic, tossing the football, and peeing on things. I told you he's a typical two year old!

B wasn't very happy to be with us at first (separation anxiety to the max),
but Bella got him smiling by dancing for him. Too bad there's no video!

No zoom on the phone, but this is B running to kick the ball like Javi does.

Of course I snapped a photo. Who wouldn't?

#3. Cookies for a random neighbor.

We had some big chocolate chip cookies left over from a fundraiser from my sister on Wednesday. We decided to wrap them up and leave them on our neighbor's doorstep. Bella wrote a little note and then we snuck the tin onto her porch. The kids loved the sneaking part best. :)

#4. Trash pickup in our neighborhood.

Since we were already out, we decided to spend a few minutes picking up trash along our street and the main artery into our neighborhood.

At first Javi was really grumpy about it, but then he got into and didn't want to stop. Bella was happy because she was the "bag holder," but I caught onto her soon enough and made her actually help. Then they competed against each other to see who could pick up the most trash.

Moral of the story: Even gratitude is no match for sibling rivalry.

Pointing out "his" and "hers" trash. Yeah.

She's totally pinching his butt and I told him to smile
through the pain. Poor guy!

#5. Letting the Mountain Man sleep in.

I'm adding this in because we made a conscious effort to be super quiet on Saturday morning. In our home, the dad gets to sleep in on Saturdays and the mom gets to sleep in on Sundays. Unfortunately, we are never quiet enough for MM so he always gets up grumpy (meanwhile, I could sleep through anything).

The MM says that us making an effort to be super quiet means we normally don't bother trying to be quiet. That's not the case. This Saturday, the kids didn't yell at each other and they didn't fight and no one slammed a door or screamed bloody murder. When they started getting loud, I'd remind them we were telling dad thank you by letting him sleep, and it worked.

So it totally counts. I don't care what he says!

***I'll check back in next Sunday to share the upcoming week's random acts of thanks. If you're doing something similar, please share your link in the comments so we can learn from you and get ideas. We're already planning a shoe box, sending special things to Romania and to soldiers in combat zones, and making cards for nursing home residents. We're in need of more small ideas, please!***

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16 Hours

I managed to get two hours of sleep last night. When combined with the 4-5 hours I've gotten each night since Sunday, my total amount of asleep time when I woke up this morning was approximately 16.

16 out 96 hours spent resting and restoring. 16 hours giving my brain the chance to drum up more genius.

Needless to say, when I woke up this morning, my eyes were gritty, my head was pounding, and my patience was thin. There was no joy.

This life is living me.

New rule: I will go to sleep at 11pm. If the work isn't finished, it will be done the next day. I am no good to anyone on 16 hours of sleep stretched over an entire week.

I did mark something off my life list. I recorded two commercials for my local radio station. I mean, I've recorded commercials before, but those were for my volunteer group and I did them because no one else would. The two commercials this morning were ones the station sought me out for and gave me money to record.

I'm an official voice artist. It may never happen again, but it's kinda my dream, so I'm ready to bask.

Only I'm so run down that I couldn't. All I could do was hold my seams together until the children had another adult to supervise them and then I zombie walked to my bed and allowed my self to unravel into unconsciousness.

No one even congratulated me on my achievement ... because there was no shine on me to alert them.

New rule: I have to narrow my focus so that achievements are things to celebrate and not just notches on the belt labeled work.

I woke up after an hour or so of delirium to a hot pot of potato soup (from a mix, but the water was added with love by someone who's not me) and a slice of cheese cake. I ate and felt alive for the first time in days.

Then in a flurry of texts and emails, I cancelled two speaking engagements for tonight and tomorrow. I dreamed about waking up rested tomorrow and cleaning my house and being creative and indulging in the sights, sounds, and textures of fall. I dreamed about hiking with the kids and taking pictures with my new camera.

I decided that on Sunday, I'd carve out time to get ahead on the work week because I have two seminars to teach, a support group to start, a volunteer group meeting to attend, and a parade lurking less than a month away.

And then I realized that just minutes after deconstructing my weekend, I was already elaborately constructing it right back.

New rule: I will protect my weekends, even if it means I don't "grow my brand" or I can't fully capitalize on opportunities to fundraise for my sister or I start Monday with a to-do list longer than Friday's.

I can't be everything to everyone.

I can't be the marketing maven and the homemaker and the fundraising coordinator and the wife. The roles are just words but they sum up hours of work and deep reserves of energy. I don't have enough energy to effectively embody any of those labels when I'm trying to embody all of those labels.

The good news is rain is falling in sheets so I can't feel like a slob for not taking my kids on that hike and I won't have to hustle the kids out of the house first thing in the morning for a football game and when I lay down again, the sounds of rain and wind will lull me right to sleep.

Only that early evening nap has left me wired. I read 143 blog posts in the past couple hours while the man snored beside me and the DVR hours opened up. A quick time check reveals it's 2:42am.

New rule: I'll never be able to follow all these rules. Hold me to all of them but don't judge me when I follow none of them.

And so there's nothing left to do here but lay my body down and let my brain rest and enjoy the sounds of no technology until the exhaustion wins.

Do you have rules? How do you follow them? Are you judging me?

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Costume How-To: Part 4

Bella loves music and singing. Therefore, it was no surprise to me when she fell head-over-heels in love with Gnomeo and Juliet this summer. Don't get the connection? Let me tie it together: Elton John and Lady Gaga, baby.

Bella can (and does) sing every song from Gnomeo and Juliet but the Elton/Gaga duet "Hello, Hello" is her absolute favorite. After her 15th viewing of the movie, she looked over at me and informed me she'd be "that Juliet ninja" for Halloween. I may pride myself on putting together a good costume, Ninja Juliet wasn't in the cards.

Instead, we went with a good ol' fashioned gnome. And Bella loved it.

Juliet the Gnome

Here's how we did it:
  • Must have: Red pointy hat. (A friend who can sew had some red fabric and whipped one up for us, but you could do it with a sheet of red felt. Our cost: $3)
  • Red ankle-length skirt. (I tried to find one in the stores, but couldn't. The same friend who made the hat also made a basic skirt. Our cost: $5)
  • White tee shirt. (I couldn't find a collared shirt like Juliet wears, so I settled for one we already owned that had some ruffles on the sleeves. Cost: $0)
  • Black shirt you can cut up. (Found on clearance at Wal-Mart. Cost: $1)
  • Strip of red cloth to go under the black shirt. (Found in my closet. Cost: $0)
  • White apron. (A family friend had one that she altered for Bella. Our cost: $0)
  • Black shoes. (Found in Bella's closet [after lots and lots of searching]. Cost: $0)
  • Red blush/lipstick. (Borrowed from a friend. What kind of woman doesn't own red lipstick? This kind, apparently. Cost: $0)
  • Gold embroidery thread, black sewing thread, and a needle: (Found at Wal-Mart. Cost: $2)
Optional accessories:
  • A rose like Juliet is supposed to hold.
  • A green frog for "Nurse"
  • A blue gnome to represent Gnomeo (Javi refused to participate in this.)
To create the costume:
  • The only handicrafting you have to do is turning the black shirt into Juliet's vest. I cut the sleeves at the seam and then cut a scoop neck in the front (leaving the back intact).
  • Use the gold embroidery thread to sew a box, an X inside the box, and then put little knots outside each corner of the box.
  • Use the black thread to attach a strip of red fabric (or felt) to the inside of the shirt so that it peeks out of the front.
  • If using red felt for that hat, create a cone shape and secure with a safety pin or a few stitches.
  • Dab on a little red lipstick on the child's lips and make two red circles on her cheeks. This is optional and didn't stay on very long for us.
Now all you have to do is put it all together and you have this look for just $11:

This was Bella's official costume, but she did some other dressing up around town including an overly jeweled Queen and a gnarly pirate:

And I couldn't let Halloween pass without sharing this little bit of love from Javi's third Halloween. Can you spot my big football player?

See previous costume posts here: Pippi Longstocking, Sir Javi, and Pirate.

Read more about "Costume How-To: Part 4"...