My role models

"Grown folk" have a tendency to underestimate the empathy, generosity, and determination of a child. We've all done it. I'm happy to report that the Miller kids (and many, many other kids in our community) are schooling the grown ups. And when I say schooling, I really mean showin' 'em how it's done.

Over the past two days, my sweet, smart Javi has amazed me. He held the flashlight while I combed through our attic for clothing donations (before power was restored), helped carry in bags and boxes at donation sites (and not just our donations, but also those of other people who came in after us), and spent hours sorting and bagging up toiletries for us to deliver to the areas in need.

When I asked him if he'd like to go to a friend's house or hang at home to get a break from the volunteer work, he begged me to let him keep helping. In fact, he asked when we were going to go clear land and remove debris. Apparently, we weren't volunteering hard enough thought we fed 70 people, got 3 pallets full of tarps delivered to distribution points, collected boxes of Easter basket supplies (for a drive we're co-running), and delivered 40 kits (with another 60 delivered by our network).

And then there's Bella, who proved her baby years are behind her. She has mostly played with other children at the different work sites and helped with light labor -- up until tonight. We spent four hours at a church that's servicing a hard-to-reach area with intense devastation and little Bella spent a good portion of that time working.

I'm talking removing toiletries from their packaging, sorting the toiletries by category, and making kits to deliver. Homegirl can bag up a mean baby or little girl kit (because you know those are the ones she insisted she make). When it was time for us to leave, she did so only on the condition that we come right back for breakfast.

All this to say: They are an inspiration to me. No bickering, no whining, and no begging. Just a ready smile and an urge to help. For our family, this is healing. We volunteer, we help, we make it happen. When we got lunch taken care of for workers and families, Javi threw his hands up and exclaimed, "I sure am glad we figured that out! Do we know who's bringing dinner?"

I couldn't be more proud.

(Please note that we will be attending a trauma/grief counseling session as a family tomorrow night. Javi and Bella seem to be working through their issues by talking about it a lot with us and our network of friends who are also helping. This is somewhat normal to them because we volunteer often as a family, but I know we all need some special mental- and emotional-health services right now.)

***To aid my town of Sanford in Lee County NC, you can make online donations to the Lee County American Red Cross via the Lee County United Way's website. Use zip code 27330. You will not be charged any fees and 100 percent of this donation goes to the local Red Cross.

***Amazing professional photographs available here and here.

***This week only, you can access our local paper -- The Sanford Herald -- online for free. They are doing an amazing job with coverage!

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From disaster ... hope

There are words and pictures. You sit across from them and feel some semblance of control. You are powerful. You can share, connect, commiserate, cry. You are safe.

And then there's driving a 15-mile circuit to get a quarter-mile down the road from your house. Dogs roaming the woods behind your house, barking throughout the night. Mountains of wood and twisted metal where buildings used to be. Piles of wood, shredded roofing, and strewn, destroyed contents of someone's life scattered across land that used to hold neighborhoods. Siding draped across power lines, foundations with no walls, a single room in a field of trash that used to be someone's life savings.

No control. Powerless.

According to the National Weather Service, the massive tornado supercell formed at the southern tip of our county at 2:53pm and then cut a three-mile wide path of devastaton across 63 miles of North Carolina. The EF-3 tornado was on the ground for more than an hour with winds at 160mph. So many people died, two of them here.

Breathless with the overwhelm of so much loss.

And yet. There's hope, here, too.

You see it in how strangers come together to help. How people have flocked to this area and its Facebook pages to donate their resources, escalate the most urgent needs, give official updates. How your eyes water when you pass the devastation but then your heart lifts up when you see so many people bent-backed and muscles flexed as they dig out the life we once had.

The Lee County NC Red Cross anticipates $100,000 in need. The volunteer networks I'm connected with and the girls I'm personally working with to coordinate updates and help would estimate a much higher number. Entire neighborhoods have been so isolated by the damage that they are just now able to alert rescue workers to their needs. We got food out today to a community that contained children who'd not had a full meal since Saturday.

Children without food for days. And yet.

My community is gracious and humble. Not a single person has complained or pondered why. We have all pitched in together and thanked the Lord for the grace we received. All of this loss and only two deaths.

--There was an elderly man in this building. He walked away unharmed.

--Inside this building worked a weekend shift. In a building behind this was a different set of workers. Both buildings are destroyed, but no one was hurt.

--In a home in this neighborhood, a father laid across his four year old son as the tornado ripped his home away. When he looked up, the only thing left was him, his child, and the foundation they were lying on. They were both unharmed.

-- Lowe's Home Improvement's was demolished by the twister. Saturday afternoons are its busiest times. And yet in an entire store full of people, no one was hurt.

-- Only one death in Lemon Springs, where impassable roads and gas leaks have kept rescue workers busy for days. Only one death in East Sanford, where children are just today getting food.

It could've been so much worse.

I know these are just words on a page and you feel in control, powerful. You are there. You are safe. I felt that way, too. This storm passed through our county in a matter of minutes. That father had no time to do anything except offer up his body as a shield, thinking to himself, "Lord if you're taking anyone, it'll be me."

Prepare yourself for disaster. Take warnings seriously. Know the safest area of your home. And then pray.

That last part is what's getting us through.

***To aid my town of Sanford in Lee County NC, you can make online donations to the Lee County American Red Cross via the Lee County United Way's website. Use zip code 27330. You will not be charged any fees and 100 percent of this donation goes to the local Red Cross.

***Amazing professional photographs available here and here.

***This week only, you can access our local paper -- The Sanford Herald -- online for free. They are doing an amazing job with coverage!

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Disaster in Sanford NC

I live in Sanford NC, a small, quaint Southern town known for bricks and golfing nestled in the heart of the state. And on Saturday, it was devastated by the worst tornado in at least 20 years.

Homes gone. Stores gone. Lives lost. The tornado cut a 10-mile path through our county, starting in the southern part and moving north through the state. The same tornado cell devastated Dunn, Raleigh, Wilson, and Clinton. In total, upward of 100 homes in our town were damaged or completely wiped out.

Thankfully, fatalities were low. Our Lowe's Home Improvement was packed with people, but the employees there got everyone to the back in the seconds before the tornado struck.

Unfortunately, two people did die in our area and countless were lifeflighted out to regional hospitals.

My home is located less than a quarter mile from the tornado's path. Bella and I were out "visitin'" as people in the South do. Bella had to use the bathroom, so we made a pit stop before heading down St. Andrews toward my mama's store for one last visit. I was standing with her in the yard remarking on the wind when a black cloud moved in, bringing hail and vicious winds. We ran inside about the time the power went out.

This happened to St. Andrews Road maybe three minutes after we stopped from going down the road:

*Video shot by our local newspaper, The Sanford Herald

Mere minutes. Seconds. Heartbeats. From driving into the path of total devastation. My breath catches and my eyes water when I think about it, but then I catch myself. My family is whole and unharmed. My home is whole and unharmed. My chickens are whole and unharmed. We have nothing to complain about.

Others were not so lucky. This is the path the tornado ripped through Lee County NC:

You can see the tornado headed toward the Sanford NC Lowe's Home Improvement (completely destroyed) in this video shot by Steven Hoag. We have dubbed him Steven "Nerves of Steel" Hoag. Watch the video, you'll see why.

Our town has already been hard hit by the economic downtown, including one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and burgeoning homeless population. One of the town's largest employers -- which also employs my Mountain Man -- sustained massive damage. We do not know whether hundreds or thousands will be jobless.

As of this moment, there are still thousands without power and many families are sleeping emergency shelters until they figure out what to do. Still more are sleeping in makeshift tents next to what used to be there homes because the looting has begun.

If it is within your ability, please consider mailing a donation to our local Red Cross office at 507 N. Steele Street, Sanford NC 27330. Checks should be made payable to Lee County NC Red Cross. The funds will put my community members in homes, rebuild several local businesses, and repair schools, homes, and other crucial structures. If you do not direct the support directly to that address, it will not be applied in our county.

If you aren't in a position to give monetary donations, please pray for my neighborhood, my community, my state as we try to recover from the destruction. Pray and then spread the word to those you know.

We need all the help we can get.

***To remain updated on the situation as it unfolds, follow SocialSanford on Facebook.

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The first step

Nothing is new under the sun,
but the urge to create remains.
Be first, be best, know all...
but I can't. You can't, either.

Instead, I'll blow the best bubbles,
bask in the first slow smile
that lights up my daughter's face,
and treasure that the world turns
without any help from my hands.

What a blessing that truth is.

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Our birthday adventure

Bella celebrated her birthday with two parties. The first one celebrated her turning four. The second? According to her, it celebrated her turning five. Of course she's five. She already turned four. Duh!

Despite its confusion, we had a grand time at her official 4th(5th) party. Despite my prior party-dreaming, we chose an "explorers" theme with a slight Dora edge (as evidenced by this party invitation):

The invitation, party colors, and pinata were all Dora-inspired. The tableware and clothes were in the same colors as on the invitation (orange, yellow, green, turquoise, pink, and purple). The pinata was a llama (of course).

But that's where the Dora stopped and "explorer" kicked in. Instead of a take-home bag, each kid received an explorer "kit" upon arrival. The kits were: canvas bag with a carabiner attached to the drawstring, bandanna, mini magnifying glass, mini flashlight, spiral bracelet with a whistle attached, mini bubbles, fruit leather, and a rainforest-themed temporary tattoo. Along with the kits, our explorers each had a telescope to decorate and use to explore the park.

But, of course, I was too busy arranging tables and applying temporary tattoos and assembling worms-in-the-dirt cupcakes to take many pictures. Here's what I have:

Turning 4(5) looks good on her.

And to sum up how we all felt after a full week of festivities (family day at the zoo and a trip to see Shrek the Musical), welcome to our Sunday:

10:30am on Sunday (after sleeping in until 9:51am -- latest in years!)

2:30pm on Sunday. After taking a 2 hour nap. Grape suckers are the best!

Just for fun, my llama-slayer partying through the ages:

1st birthday. Theme: Monkeys

2nd birthday. Theme: Bounce into Spring

3rd birthday. Theme: Kites

Yes, I think we're all a little thankful that birthdays (usually) only come once per year.

***This post is part of Wordful Wednesdays and Way Back When-esday.***

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Cluck of the Week: Nests and Noises

I had a feeling it was coming.

For a few weeks, I've noticed that the nest our favorite brown thrasher used last Spring is getting more and more cleaned up. First the leaves filling it went missing. Then the funneled base got thicker and the wind- and rain-damaged exterior looked fuller.

Guess what we found last week?

I think back to how I hated birds and have to chuckle at myself. Seeing that mama -- or maybe a brand new mama -- choose our backyard to nurture her sweet babies makes my heart swell up. Those aren't just her babies -- they're Miller babies, too.

For example, the nest happens to be in the bush right beside where our girls like to lay their eggs. Bella is the most eager egg collector in our family, but she told me that Javi should be the one collecting eggs from now on. Why? "I am a loud girl, Mama. I don't wanna scare that Mama bird away. She's gonna have our babies!"

Remember this photo? This nook is more Springy now, with hydrangeas
blooming in that bare-branch bush and the leaves replaced with bright green
moss. The hose is still thrown every which-a-way and the black bin remains.

Even the chickens do well with the mama and her babies. Of course, the noise can be ridiculous. The chickens are squawking because one's laying eggs and one can't find the other one and then the mama thrasher goes crazy that these loud ass chickens are in her private sanctuary and I'm walking out to calm everyone down.

It was so much easier (and quieter) to just hate birds!

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not as observant as I thought. That mama bird has been sitting in that nest for at least a couple weeks. Look what we discovered this afternoon:

Our count is five thrasher babies.

Since I was there, here's a shot of our fowl nook in the Spring. C'mon
hydrangeas! They grow purple and they're my favorites!

Now to keep those babies a secret from my baby. There's no way she'll resist lifting one of their sweet bodies up to nuzzle.

Happy birthweek babies!

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Learning Lessons

Our family reached a bittersweet milestone this weekend. Sweet, sassy baby Bella turned the big 0-4 at 5:56am on Sunday morning. We've already had a full week of celebrations -- a zoo trip on Sunday, a trip to see Shrek the Musical on Tuesday, and a photo session this morning. All of this plus her birthday party coming up on Saturday.

I've definitely spent time reminiscing about the big and small moments from the past four years, but there hasn't been much time to mull over what it means that my baby has no business being called a baby. Mainly that's because I've been spending my time realizing how much I have left to learn from my not-babies-anymore babies.

Take our trip to see Shrek. I should've known that Bella would develop a fever the morning of the show. Of course she would. I also should've known that if we went ahead with our plans to attend the show, she'd cry, whine, and flop around like a dying fish but refuse to actually leave the show. See? Learning. Still.

And who doesn't play the "We can watch Princess and the Pauper in the car!" during intermission when you know the child is basically a snotty, feverish zombie in tights. Technically I did play that card but the ol' Mountain Man harumphed that plan and marched us all back to our seats. I guess he was schooling me because here's my view not 15 minutes later:

But don't think 'The Singing Shrek' (as Bella likes to call it) was a flop. To the contrary, the rest of us were singing and dancing and laughing out loud. We loved it. Bella loved it when she could focus on the show and ignore that she felt like death.

Javi's ready to go see it again. Shrek and Wicked and did you know next time he'll bring his extra money for a souvenir and he bets they'll have great souvenirs for that puppet show?

Yes. My son is lining up to see Avenue Q. I'm officially giving up on the idea that I'll ever really "know" anything.

How about you? Do you ever feel like you've got this parenting thing figured out?

***This post is part of Wordful Wednesday.***

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Cluck of the Week: Weatherchicks

Spring has sprung in the South. There's pollen floating in the air, covering cars and coating throats. The mosquitos are biting and bees are buzzing -- both of which send my children screaming in panicked circles. The sun leaves our days a balmy mid-70s on average.

But the mornings are still have their crisp, cold edge. Though every child comes home in a tee shirt, they leave their homes in jackets. Some mornings are colder than others and poor Javi was having a hard time deciding when he needed a light sweater and when the morning called for a full out coat.

Until we discovered the weatherchicks.

Listen. I just can't keep the glass clean. I try, but the dirty and funk attacks
from both sides. Don't judge!

See how puffed up their bodies are? How thick their necks are? How they're a bit hunkered down? If you learn to read the signs, you'll know it's cold as hell out there. This picture was taken Saturday morning, the morning that my volunteer group put on the city's Easter egg hunt. And, as the chickens warned, it was cold and windy despite the beautiful sunshine.

Yesterday they stood long and lean as they waited, patiently, for me to show up with treats. (If by patiently, you mean tapping at the door and screeching at me.) As soon as I saw them, I went ahead and opened the windows. Whaddaya know. The breeze was light and warm. And because it was Bella's birthday, we went ahead with our plans for the zoo. Five hours later, the 80 degree temps baked us good.

Javi has now been instructed to observe the chickens -- because they are at our back door as soon as the sun rises -- to determine his clothing choices. Who needs a weatherperson?

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Party Time!

Ultimate Blog Party 2011

Though this party has been going on for years, this is my first year participating. I always did like to show up to parties fashionably late. You know, so that I can then close it down at the end of the night. That's when all the juicy stuff happens. You punctual folks are missing out.

Ehem. Yes, it's the ultimate blog party at 5 Minutes for Mom! There are prizes to be won and new bloggers to meet. If you're new, leave a comment so that I can come say hi. We can talk about adoption or ADHD but my mind is full right now with work and chickens and how having a preschooler who loves gymnastics reminds me of the heady days when she first learned to crawl and you couldn't put her down with her trying to pop right back up. (It's been some kind of night.)

And if you aren't new, then you know I'm riding a manic wave of job-changing giddiness (yes, worry has changed to irrational elation) that may come back to haunt me when I no longer have anyone to fight for a paycheck.

Anyone up for a shot? I'll take a kamikaze.

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