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When we were getting ready to go trick-or-treating on Tuesday night, my 2-year-old son was playing with one of his sister’s Disney princess figurines. He put a finger puppet monster on her head and said, “This is her Halloween costume.”

Two year olds can be quite delightful.

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Paul dressed up as a dragon (or perhaps a crocodile), Marie was Snow White, and Spencer and I were milk and cookies. We had fun visiting my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday, then trick-or-treating with my mom in her neighborhood. Our trick-or-treating experience was short lived, however, as it was a cold night and Marie was tired out from a busy day at kindergarten. After about 10 minutes of trick-or-treating, Marie said, “I have enough candy. I’m done.” We went back to my parents’ house to let each child eat a piece of candy and then we drove home. By the time we got home at 7 pm, Paul had fallen into a deep sleep in his dragon costume. He was so tired he didn’t even wake up when we took the costume off of him and put him in bed. So much for trick-or-treating with my tiny ones!

I have been thinking this week about the origins of Halloween and what it means to us culturally today. I’ve also been thinking about the various reactions to Halloween among those who profess the Christian faith. Our pastors in Portland thought that Halloween was a great opportunity to get to know their neighbors in a fun way, so they would decorate their whole living room in a different theme each year and act out a little skit for the neighborhood kids. One year it was a Peter Pan theme, and the next it was a medieval castle. One the other end of the spectrum, I know some churchgoers who won’t allow their kids to trick-or-treat or acknowledge Halloween at all.

I came across this very thoughtful article about the origins of Halloween on a ministry website. The name “Halloween,” actually comes from All Hallows Eve (meaning Holy Evening), the night before the Christian holiday All Hallows (All Saints Day). In the 9th Century, the Pope scheduled All Saints Day to be celebrated on November 1 to coincide with (and replace) the pagan holiday of Samhain. It was common for the church to place Christian holidays at the same time is pagan holidays — for example Christmas occurs around the time of the winter solstice. Over the years, traditions from Samhain and All Hallows Eve blended together to create what we now know as Halloween.

Personally I do not like horror films, haunted houses, or things that are creepy in general. Nor do I like to feed my children candy. But I do think that Halloween is an adorable opportunity for kids to dress up and create family memories, as well as a fun way to interact with neighbors.

And then I’ve been thinking about this too — Halloween reflects a need we all have to acknowledge our shadow side. If you read my solar eclipse post, you know I’ve been contemplating the human shadow a bit lately. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our world and in our own souls. In her book Rising Strong, shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown writes about the importance of integrating light and dark into our consciousness: “Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark.” She also writes, “There’s always something foreboding about overly sweet and accommodating ways. All that niceness feels inauthentic and a little like a ticking bomb.”

We don’t have very good mechanisms for processing difficult emotions in our culture. Physical and mental illness, aging, and death, are all topics we steer away from. In the fall we are surrounded by death in the natural world. It is the time of the harvest and the dying away of the light. Halloween, with its imagery of ghosts and skeletons, is one way we acknowledge the season. And it is the one time when we as a culture face our own mortality and even poke fun at it.

P.S. What did the photographer say to the ghost?
You look boo-ti-ful!

 

 

 

 

I hadn’t been quite sure where home was for awhile. After Spencer and I got married we moved every few years to a new apartment, from Eugene to southeast Portland, to Beaverton, back to southeast Portland, and finally back to Eugene. We rented a month-to-month apartment in Portland for three years, just waiting for the next step as we continued applying to jobs that we hoped would offer more stability. Even when I was pregnant with our first child, and during the first year of her life, we continued to apply to jobs out of the area, ready to move whenever needed. We even considered an offer I received to teach 5th grade girls in Kuwait, before (wisely) rejecting the idea for logistical reasons.

I knew that we were not home, just in a sort of limbo.

As a mom, I couldn’t survive in this rootless state. I needed deep connections, support, and stability. Ultimately I decided I needed to return to the place that was foundational in my life, the city I had lived in from birth until getting married at age 22. Eugene.

I didn’t know how much I loved Eugene until we moved back. I didn’t appreciate how many places around town were integrated deeply into layers of my unconscious. Memories were everywhere. Going for a walk at the Arboretum, for example, transported me back to early childhood, when I was close friends with the daughters of the groundskeeper.

In Portland I had felt so far away from my past, having virtually no ties left to childhood other than my parents. I didn’t have siblings, and I was no longer connected to any of my childhood friends.

I didn’t realize that you could love a place, that a whole town could be your companion in the absence of friends. Eugene had been with me through so much, in a way that no human being ever had. In Eugene I had learned to walk, ride a bike, climb a tree. As a child, I spent hours in apple trees in my backyard reading books. I had climbed to the top of Spencer’s Butte countless times. I had skinned my knees on the blacktop at my grade school, and gotten covered with mud during soccer games. I had made best friends and lost them, fallen in love, graduated college, gotten married.

So it was that when we moved because I needed to escape the devastating isolation of my life as a mom in Portland – I found refuge not just in the support of my parents but in my hometown itself. I knew this town, and somehow it seemed that Eugene knew me too.

And slowly I returned to myself.

Still, it took three years before we were able to buy a house. Three more years of living in a month-to-month rental. First with one toddler, who quickly grew into a preschooler, and soon our son was added to the family. We were a family of four in an 800-square-foot apartment with a tiny concrete deck as our yard. It helped that we were near many nice parks in our southeast Eugene neighborhood. Still, I was thrilled when we began our home search last summer, and overjoyed when we signed for a house, a modest three-bedroom in a quiet southwest Eugene neighborhood, several months later.

We moved into our new house the week of my 33rd birthday. My family and I had finally found our way home.

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Spencer and I take a selfie after signing for our first house. So happy!

 

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My wedding day, almost 10 years ago. Photo credit: TJ Cameron

Spencer and I have been going to a marriage class through our church for the past couple weeks, and it has caused me to reflect on some of the ways we are different. It’s even helped me understand some differences that I wasn’t aware of before.

Take the “nothing box” for example. Our pastor said, “Some people keep their thoughts in boxes. At work, they’re in the work box. Sometimes, they’re in the nothing box. They’re just thinking about nothing.”

As Jerry said on an episode of Seinfeld, “Men are just walking around, looking around.” Spencer has told me that he has a nothing box and prefers to spend as much of his time there as he can.

In contrast, some people have all their thoughts connected and are always thinking about lots of different things. That’s me. I’m always writing a blog post in my head, thinking about any approaching deadlines, and wondering when I’ll find time to get together with that friend I’ve been wanting to see. My internal monologue can be loud and annoying. But I do try to allow myself to clear my mind and think about nothing while I’m doing something that doesn’t require concentration, like washing dishes or going for a jog.

This is not to say that all men fit into one category and all women fit into the other. Today I came across a Science article about a 2015 study showing that male and female brains don’t fit neatly into categories. (I’d love to hear from you in the comments below about where you see yourself on that spectrum of interconnected vs. more focused thinking.)

Another point of difference between myself and my husband came up when I read an article about how we experience time. I realized that I’m very focused on the future and Spencer is much more focused on the present. I’m also very scheduled and Spencer is less so.

This can be a point of conflict, but it also means we complement each other well. It’s helpful to have a planner (like me) around who is proactive, gets things done before the deadline, and has a strong vision for the future. But I can also have a hard time being spontaneous and being present in the moment.

We need to plan and prepare for the future, but the present is where we live.

My husband and my kids are good at helping me be more present in the moment. They also help lower my stress level…sometimes.

Spencer and I have other differences too — he’s really good at putting together Ikea furniture, and the visual directions leave me completely confused. I’d rather express my feelings in writing; he’d much rather talk. He likes football; I prefer ballet.

We have some important things in common – we like ethnic food, hiking, and the color blue. We like taking our kids to church every Sunday at 9 am, and we’re committed to staying out of debt. We listen to NPR, and Jim Gaffigan is our favorite comedian.

So are we really opposites? Yes and no. We can embrace our similarities while also valuing the balance that our differences bring to our life together.

How about you? Are all your thoughts connected or are you mostly focused on one thought at a time? And are you more focused on the future or the present? Scheduled or spontaneous? If you’re married, do you feel like you and your spouse are opposites? How so?

 

 

 

I was reading a post by author Sarah Thebarge a few months ago about working in a medical clinic in west Africa. It was a grueling experience. She lost more patients in one week than she’d lost in the past decade of working in the U.S. She said she felt a bit like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a boulder up a hill. Futile.

I have spent time in west Africa, too. It’s stuck with me – the open sewers, the diesel fumes, the trash piles. The leper begging on the roadside. The inability to call home because our phone could only receive incoming calls, and that only sporadically. Getting the last flight out on Ghana Air before London’s Heathrow airport grounded the plane for safety concerns.

The. Last. Flight.

It changed me to experience those things. I had entered a new country, and the world would never again be the safe, sanitary place I had known.

But there were other things too. Sitting on a tropical beach, looking up at the full moon. Tasting a fresh mango. Swimming in a warm rainstorm. Seeing the smiling faces of children.

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Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

In her post, Sarah went on to say that several commentators – Kafka and Camus – imagined Sisyphus to be happy. Happy because he was in love with the work.

I entered another new country about four years ago. A country where my body and my time are not my own. The culture shock was brutal, and this time there was no return flight home.

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He claps his hands with joy on his 10-month birthday.

Over the years I have learned to love the work of motherhood. I think that’s one of the big keys to happiness – you have to fall in love with your work, whatever it is. Sometimes this just looks like reframing our perspective, and looking for the good in our situation.

My 3-year-old can be frustrating. Here’s a typical exchange:

“Sweetie, please put your shoes on so we can go to school.”

Marie hides under her blanket. 30 seconds pass.

“Put your shoes on.”

“No.”

“Please put your shoes on!” Pause. “1, 2….3.”

Marie continues hiding under her blanket. I see that she is about to be late for school. I put her shoes on for her.

The battles over every little thing are difficult. The interrupted sleep is difficult. The constant neediness is draining. I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so now I know I’ve been battling an extra layer of fatigue plus frequent dizziness that is beyond normal.

I don’t want the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue to steal my joy. I need to remember self-care. And I need to remember that yes, motherhood really is hard work.

But I can be in love with the work.

Can you relate to doing hard work and loving it? Tell me about it in the comments below. I’m off to change a diaper…

 

 

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. This year, Easter happens to fall on my son’s 1-year-birthday.

I’ve been telling myself for awhile now that Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical calendar. This should be a hint as to what a fun person I am! Did you enjoy overeating and racking up debt during Advent? Well, I love giving up desserts in order to practice solidarity with Christ’s suffering on the cross. Cheers!

Haha. But seriously, I do observe Lent, and I enjoy the fact that it is somewhat counter-cultural. In the U.S., we live in a culture of excess. I recently read that 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, meaning they don’t have enough savings to pay their bills if their paycheck was delayed by just one week. Also, I think it’s safe to say that as a whole our society has big problems with food, alcohol, drugs, and pornography. Lent is all about practicing self-control, and that is not something that we do very well.

This season, I’m planning to focus on two things: cleaning/decluttering our apartment and organizing our finances. This means I’m going to be in a bad mood for awhile! But hopefully by the time Easter rolls around, I’ll be feeling better than before I started these projects. I’m currently reading Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money and I have Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on deck.

To help me with cleaning, I’ve started a housekeeping calendar on a whiteboard on our refrigerator. I’m trying to keep my daily expectations low, since it’s hard to get a lot done with my very active 10-month-old and preschooler around. As I write this, Marie is at preschool and Paul is pulling books and DVDs off our bookshelf. Time to move him into the pack-and-play. I actually started the housekeeping calendar last week; already I haven’t been able to keep up with the laundry schedule I created, but have done okay with the rest of it.

I also want to go through and declutter little sections of our apartment at a time. I’ve already gone through a lot of old papers and filled up several bags of recycling. I got an accordion folder and filed away important papers so that I can find them when I need them. This cuts down on clutter and stress.

My goal in this endeavor is making our apartment a nicer place to be. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be in this apartment, but I might as well make it as nice as I can while we’re here. Plus, if I declutter, it will make it easier when we do move.

For the finance part of this, my husband and I are taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University through our church. We are very blessed to not have any debt, but I want to get a better grasp on budgeting, saving, and a lens for making big financial decisions. This is especially important since we are living on just one income for now. Dave Ramsey talks about using cash envelopes for certain budget areas, like groceries and entertainment, to help prevent you from overspending. I’m planning to try this during Lent and see how it goes.

To be honest, thinking about my finances and decluttering my space fills me with anxiety, fear, and shame. It’s much harder than my usual Lenten sacrifice of forgoing ice cream. I’m reclaiming the things God has already given me.

When this season is over, I’m looking ahead to celebrating. We’ll be kicking up our heels over Easter and Paul’s first birthday, with Marie’s fourth birthday following a few weeks later. I’ll be celebrating finding beauty in the things we already have and joy in opening my eyes to the blessings around me.

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Celebrating good times on Marie’s first trip to the roller rink.

 

 

Are you observing Lent this year? What are you giving up or taking on? What’s something you’re looking forward to celebrating?

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey as a mom, it’s that I can’t do it alone. And it’s not enough just to have my husband’s help – even though I appreciate him and he is a huge support financially and emotionally.

I guess before Marie was born I really thought Spencer and I could handle it all on our own.

I’ve never been more wrong about anything.

I don’t want to spend too much time reminiscing about the details of Marie’s newborn phase. It was so much harder than I could have imagined beforehand. She was healthy, but I had breastfeeding challenges as well as a difficult physical recovery from birth. We made it through, thanks in large part to my mom and mother-in-law who frequently spent the night on weekends to help care for Marie in the night and give Spencer and I some longer stretches of sleep.

Once we made it through the newborn phase, the isolation of being a stay-at-home mom with a baby kicked in. I developed postpartum depression and anxiety, and probably even PTSD from the birth and newborn ordeal. I had nothing on my calendar anymore, and each day seemed to go on forever until my husband came home and I had someone else to talk to.

Yes, I should have sought counseling but I didn’t have health insurance and didn’t think we had the financial resources to pay for counseling out-of-pocket. But the thing that helped get me through was seeking out community. I realized I couldn’t spend so much time alone with my baby anymore, so I tried to engage with community in whatever ways were available to me. I went to:

  • library story times
  • mom & baby yoga
  • baby sign language class
  • mom writing group
  • MOPS

We moved back to my hometown so I could get more support from my family, and I found new sources of community here. We had another baby. Now, my first child is nearing age 4 and I’m still a stay-at-home mom, but I don’t feel isolated anymore. The days go by quickly. I’ve found community through my family, MOPS, church, and preschool. I’m busy chauffering Marie to preschool and play dates and working a few hours a week as a publicist for her choir.

My pastor said yesterday that community is messy, but it’s the only way. It’s so true. Relationships with other people can be challenging. We all have our sharp edges and annoying habits. When we seek community we’ll experience awkward moments, and sometimes rejection. But we’ll also find deep and meaningful relationships.

Recently I’ve had the experience of reconnecting with old friends from various stages of life – from grad school, college, high school and even elementary school. Even though several of these people I hadn’t seen for years – I still felt that we connected when we got together. Once you build a close connection with someone, you can often get it back even if you’ve been out of touch for awhile. So I think the reward of building real friendships is more than worth the possible risk of rejection. Quality friendships are priceless.

No mom is an island.

What are some ways that you’ve found community as a mom?

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If you’re a mom with young children and you’re looking for a community of other moms, consider checking out MOPS or your local chapter of Moms Club. Also, I thought that mom & baby yoga was pretty awesome.

 

 

January is the cruelest month, perhaps. The glitz and the busyness of the holiday season is over. We’ve overextended our budgets and our waistlines. Our out-of-town friends and visitors have gone back home, and now we’re realizing that keeping our New Year’s Resolutions may be harder than we thought. If we want to get in shape, we might actually have to exercise and cut back on donuts. Reality hurts sometimes.

This was the first year that Marie kind of understood what Christmas was about, which meant this was the first year we had to start lying about Santa. And even though we took Marie and Paul to meet Santa  and get their pictures taken, she didn’t seem to really buy it. I’ve assured her multiple times that Santa is real but she still seems skeptical. I made the mistake of putting a book that we already had in Paul’s stocking and Marie said – “Hey, we already had that book.” I didn’t think she would notice, but that is the trouble you run into when your child is more intelligent than you are. At almost 9 months, Paul certainly didn’t know the difference.

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Well, I think this guy makes a pretty convincing Santa, if you ask me.

Marie’s highlights of Christmas included a new bed (with a slide and a tent underneath!), a ballerina music box, an Elsa dress, and ballet classes. These were all gifts from various grandparents. Spencer and I only got her a couple of gifts, one was a fairy wand she had asked for and immediately snapped into two pieces on Christmas morning. I believe Paul’s highlight was the dump truck he got from my mom. For me the the nice part about Christmas was watching Marie have fun and also spending time with family and friends. I also enjoyed donating to Mercy Corps and talking with Marie about what that meant. She started praying for the people who would benefit from the donation.

We were so busy leading up to Christmas and during the week of Christmas and New Year’s, and now I have a little more space to reflect. As I mentioned, January can be a hard month. But I’m actually feeling renewed and hopeful, despite the fact that Paul is teething and hasn’t been letting me sleep much lately. I’m looking forward to this year, and I’m looking forward to this month.

A few things I’m excited about this month:

  • going to a Duck basketball game
  • doing my first community service project of the year with Marie
  • watching Paul learn to walk (he’s already taking a few steps)
  • taking Marie roller skating for the first time
  • taking Marie and Paul on play dates with her friends
  • watching Marie’s ballet lessons
  • finally finishing the Gregory Maguire novel Spencer got me for my birthday
  • Tuesday mornings at MOPS

And that’s just this month. Life is full of gifts. I’m so grateful.