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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