Family photo 2013

Family photo 2013

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On Not Fitting in and the Darker Sides of the Force.

It's a weird thing not to fit in anywhere. 

Too liberal for the conservatives. Too conservative for the liberals. Too doubting for the Christians. Too believing for the Atheists. Too right for the left. Too left for the right. Too home educator for the public schoolers. Too charter schooled for the home educators.  Too skeptical for the inter country adopters. Too snarky to be sweet. Too sentimental to be salty. Too many questions for satisfaction. Anywhere. 

I've long felt that way - on the fringe of it all. Mostly outside, looking into places I don't really, fully belong or embrace. I'm just no longer one of those people who can completely buy in, all the way commit, pay my membership dues and proudly carry an I.D. card, proof of my undying devotion and affiliation. To anything.   

I don't know if it's good or bad. It can definitely be lonely. Where are MY people? You know, the ones in My Club. Where we drink beverages together and talk about All The Things and we actually, like, agree. Hello? Are you there? Peeps? Anyone?

Recently, I've discovered the dark, (what I thought was secret) underbelly in the homeschooling community, of which I am a part. But apparently lots of people knew about it. 

There are a whole host of first generation born and bred homeschooled kids who are now grown and speaking out against the child rearing of their youth. 

They talk about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their parents, the ultra religiously conservative fundamentalist Christian faith of their families, the way they were taught to fear the outside "secular" world, the environment of complete control in which they were raised, the respect they were required to maintain for authority, even when their authority figures repeatedly ill treated them, their lack of identity because they were never allowed a voice of their own, distinct from their dads and moms, the damaging effects of a household steeped in the absolute power of patriarchy, the happy faces they were forced to paste on so they might show themselves a living epistle for all to see, God raises children this way.


It's the complaints of the daughters of the local family I mentioned earlier, the complaints of hundreds, maybe thousands like them, who tell tales of deep love and devotion from their parents, misapplied. Parents who openly, publicly promote their lifestyle as a higher, more noble way to live and vigorously encourage others to do as they have done, to follow where God has led them because if you're truly surrendering your life and your parenting and your fertility to Him, He will lead you there also. 

It's the lifestyle that has inspired me deeply over the years with its passionately convicted couples who are willing to live far outside the box of normality for a counter cultural existence they wholeheartedly believe is pleasing to God. 

It's the lifestyle that has, when taken too far to an extreme, led to the deaths of innocent children whose parents bought heavily into the To Train up a Child ideology. 

It's the lifestyle that has produced many young adults who have grown to follow the convictions of their parents for themselves.

It's the lifestyle that has produced many young adults who have grown to see the treatment of their parents as abusive and inordinately controlling. 

It's like finding out that golden couple you spent hours envying for their sprawling, tidy homes, cars still shiny though they transport a load of children to various sporting events where each one of their offspring is awarded MVP, annual Disneyland vacations, robust 401 K plans, Facebook selfies from the beach in the summer and from the slopes of Aspen resorts in winter, and Barbie and Ken bodies because-we-only-eat-Paleo-and-drink-wine-from-sexy-glasses is getting a divorce. A DIVORCE!And their kids don't even like sports and dad has been getting it on on the sly with the super hot dental hygienist 20 years his junior and mom is addicted to Splenda packets and even Mickey Mouse himself denied them a pair of ears the last time they graced Walt's magical kingdom. 

It shakes the ground beneath you causing you to wonder if every single thing you've ever known to be Real and True is, in fact, a dastardly, deceitful lie devised to con the whole of humankind by Lucifer's slithery little serpent. 

Attention All The People: We've been duped. 

At some point, at some time, by someone. 

It feels kind of like the awakening I felt when I entered Ethiopian adoption territory and found the ethics involved in our adoption far below what I would expect of a Christian organization. Punched in the gut. Plagued ever since. 

There was this whole other portion, what I felt was mostly unseen, (unnoticed?) unwilling to be peered into and pried open for fear of living entire lives with the complicated, unanswered ethical questions that would inevitably be raised.   

What am I aligning myself with, participating in, consenting to, lauding as noble and godly and worthy of emulating?     

It's something I ask myself often anymore, as my hand dips into several chosen realms, none of which I care to be all the way part of, though I recognize bits of myself firmly rooted in each. I guess it's part of growing wiser to the ways of the world and realizing nothing is as pure as it seems from the outside looking in. There are always, always dark spots better hidden from the light of day.

It's rather sobering. 

I just don't want my life to be like that. 

I'm working to be "what you see is what you get." For reals. All the way. 

Not necessarily easy, but definitely liberating. 

Anyone with me in living honestly, flaws and foibles and imperfections hanging out all over the blessed place? I will be your people. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The lines we draw...

...all over each other's faces. 

It seems throughout all of every bit of 2014 it was impossible to go a single week without hearing The Great Legging Debate. It's not so much a debate, really. More an assortment of essays detailing Here's What You, Virtuous Christian Women, Ought to Do. For yourselves, of course. And most importantly, for heaven's sake, for all those males in the world who posess two eyeballs with which to ogle you and minds with which to recall the exquisite shape of your utterly divine quadriceps. The rubbernecking alone is enough to sound the Warning Bell of Sin! Just think of all those crooked chiropractors making a buck off the poor Christian men of America who simply can not resist their very own impulses to crank those innocent craniums atop their unwilling necks in your direction. 

Oh, my. The shame of it all.

I get it. I really do. In our house we have what I feel are some pretty stringent modesty guidelines we like to follow too. Because they fall within our level of comfort and peacefulness and self respect. Leggings just doesn't happen to be one of them. I mean, we do wear shorts in the summer. Like the kind that show an actual bare leg. Oy. The disgrace.


It reminds me so much of when I was a younger mom and every October would incite virtual internet riots over The Most Crucial Question: To trick or treat, or not to trick or treat? Which reminds me of one December when my ladies Bible group sparked a lively discussion about what all the good parents do with regard to Santa. Which reminds me of all those blog posts I read telling me I should not read Fifty Shades of Grey which only made me want to read Fifty Shades of Grey all the more because my spirit, it tends to be rebellious. Which reminds me of when we got into that huge back and forth argument over fasting. Which reminds me of when the topic of rated R movies and how much wine is too much wine was passed around as fodder capable of terminating otherwise wonderful friendships. 

Surely this is the stuff that makes God Himself throw back a pitcher of suds every time he plays Thunder Bowling. 

The funny thing is, Nov. 1st, no one aside from your dentist really cares all that much whether or not you allowed your children to participate in Halloween festivities. And Santa can come devour your milk and cookies or Santa can refrain his jolly self from your hot chimney, and it basically doesn't matter in The Big Scheme of Things. And a person can fast the days away and another person can fast not a single day and one can watch a rated R movie with a glass of wine and one can stick to G movies with a cup of scandalously hot tea and we can all still be friends. 

Personally, if you read Fifty Shades, I'm not mad at ya. And if you didn't I'm not more impressed with you.

We, dear Christians, have this tendency toward eating each other alive. For breakfast. Then for lunch. Then for snack. Appetizers. And dinner too. I have to wonder, is this the kind of thing that causes outsiders to roll their eyes and chuckle at us, laughing us followers of Jesus, off into oblivion because we are so out of touch with The Real Issues of The Day? Stuff that really does matter. Like, human decency and the ability for all people to have what they require to pursue a life of liberty. Do they think we would rather type one another a formidable list of Should Nots than spend time doing something truly radical on our Should List? I hope not.

To me, it all seems a great matter of personal conviction, best left to the person with the conviction and less to be scattered abroad for all to condemn. Remember, happy is the (wo)man who does not condemn (her)himself in the thing which (s)he allows. Where was it I read that, again? Gosh, I forget. Somewhere celestial, I bet.   

I mean, surely there are bigger fish to fry than current fashion trends which will soon be forgotten...until 20 years from now when they come back around. At which time we will be a bunch of old ladies  anyway.

Wearing polyester pants with elastic waistbands, every single last one of us...

Me in my leggings after a little walk in the snow today. The ones I also wore to Sam's to buy $456 worth of groceries. And to the liquor store for a 6 pack of beer for the man of the house and a bottle moscato for the lady. We might drink them while watching something rated R. Not that I'm judging myself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On Getting Away and Love Winning Out

Last weekend my main squeeze and I got away for a couple nights as a belated celebration for my (cough, cough) 40th birthday. Still just a pup! That's what I tell myself so I feel better. 

You've got actual, like decades ahead of you. Maybe even two of them in your right mind! Go on with your young self! 

Mostly it works. Except for when I, say, look in the mirror and I'm all, "WHERE did THIS face COME from?!" It can be rather startling. It's a lot like that moment in Still Alice when she spray paints all the mirrors in the house because they couldn't possibly be telling the truth of her essence in their reflections. Yeah. I feel you, Alice. Your pain is my pain, girlfriend.

It was a lovely time of stress free relaxation. It's amazing how unwound we can become away from the rigors of domestication. So much so that I {briefly} entertained the idea of stopping by the local dispensary for a little Colorado High. I mean, I am of age. Oh, don't yell at me. We didn't! The husband has employment to maintain! How else will all these mouths get fed? Sheesh. I'm not saying anything about what will happen when he retires...

I was relieved to learn that he and I still:
a) have something to talk about 
b) enjoy each other's company 
c) recall the sorely neglected letters R O M A N C E

Home life reentry was a teeny bit rough just as I remembered from all those other times I can count on one hand that we've gone away. Wow, these whippers can be a real handful. It's such a good thing they own every one of the strings that bind my beating heart. Otherwise I would never put in this much work or take such a ginormous number of deep, cleansing breaths while counting to 1,427. For anyone. Love you JOTSCMF! {Smoooooooch!} 

One of the most prevalent topics that came up again and again while the man and I were running amuck unencumbered like a couple of irresponsible teeny boppers was the public blog of some family acquaintance's young adult daughter. It's heartbreaking, really. She, in great detail, lays out very specifically the numerous ways her parents have ill treated herself and her many siblings. My heart is so grieved for these people. All of them. The parents who have certainly made egregious errors though they love their children passionately. The children who feel they have suffered. The children who feel as though they have not suffered. The rift between the siblings who feel they have suffered and those who feel they have not. The lack of accountability, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and genuine acceptance that must flow in both directions for peace to ensue. I've spent hours dwelling on their situation. For me, it speaks as a cautionary tale. 

It's got me thinking about how terrifically fragile familial relationships can be, how grace and mercy and freedom must be copiously granted in order for these relationships to continue to prosper and thrive. 

I know my mistakes are more than can be counted. I sincerely hope none of my children are trying. 

My greatest hope is that ours is a home where lightness is cultivated, by decision, day by day. I long for it to be a place where humility is maintained, reconciliation occurs naturally through habit, offenses are easily pardoned because we are quick to remember our own transgression, and we are strong enough to absorb the pain and the tension and the heartache that life within close proximity to a group of people is bound to generate. There is no way around it, infliction will occur. It happens around every corner. I splash on them, they splash on me, they splash on each other, we all splash our shortcomings all over everywhere sloshing the place up. It's inevitable. We burden one another with our very selves. 

It is my goal to promote an environment where love reigns enormous and undeniable and overpowering. May I lead by example, not through control, but through the most grown up illustration I can become of righting the wrongs and generously forgiving the faults and owning the consequences of all my actions. 
I've got my work cut out for me...

Friday, January 09, 2015

These happy golden years.

Too many kisses. That was my problem. It's just her face. It happens to be so incredibly enticing to me. It lures me in and draws me near and beckons me to stop whatever Important Task I am Doing for a nuzzle. Those cheeks, they are soft. Perfectly smootchable. Though barely, she's still young enough to smell yummy too. Like fresh strawberries and pink bubble gum and angel wings and fruity hair detangler, not that she cares at all for a comb.  

So when she got a cold, it was my destiny to join her in The Sick Abyss. Only somehow, my advanced age and increased maturity yielded a much more thorough ravaging of this tired body.  

But you know what I did? I took really hot bath with lots of essential oils, the show Reign on my iPad and headphones on my head. In my twice-a-year-tub because it's an occurrence usually reserved exclusively for Mother's Day and my birthday. And I did it twice, two days in a row, surpassing my annual quota before January has even properly lifted off the ground. Then I napped for two hours. Because my children are no longer babies and I can nap if I need to. Strangely enough, I feel much better. 

While I was in the tub a thought occurred to me. I really should do this more often. It's true what they say, life is short. I used to agree when they said the days are long but the years are short, but now I know that's all really a bunch of hogwash. What do they know, anyway? They've never been a trustworthy source of valuable information. It's all short. The days and the years and the life and all of it. So short. Baths are great. My new years resolution is to take more of them. 

While I'm at it, I'm going to paint that cherubic child's toenails too. She's always asking me to and off I go here and there and yon, busy, busy, busy. Puttering around doing this and that, saying "Yes, honey! I'll polish them TOMORROW! See? I put the bottle on my dresser to remind me." But she and I both realize one tomorrow will tumble into another and a week and a month will pass and the purple polish will rest, unopened, only moved to dust under it because we all know cleaning the house takes precedence over pedicures on tiny toes.

Then, I'm going to focus on a single thing at a time. Because multitasking is truly overrated and I wind up feeling like I've accomplished neither thing well. I'm going to remember to move my eyes toward theirs when they talk so they don't have to look at the side of my face and hear my mindless, "mmmhmm" quite so much. Their words fill our home and sometimes it seems like just too many for me to assimilate but the fact that they care to speak to me is a gift of grace beyond what I can fathom. I really do want to listen. Closely. So I can hear their hearts come through in their voices and know them well. Baby, you are important to me. 

Instead of engaging in life with more rigor, I'd like to focus on less. Less perfection seeking, less ideal chasing, less disappointment in expectation, less keeping up with those deeply insatiable Joneses. More relaxation, more fun, more laughter, more games, more smiling with my eyes, more nail polish and idle and deep and meaningful and spontaneous face to face conversation, more openness to whatever the day presents. More baths, if the mood strikes. More tea and more chocolate without guilt. More appreciation for the mountain views outside and the messy views inside, evidence that life abounds here. More ten second hugs and audible I love yous. More forgiving. More flexibility and freedom to prioritize engaging in this precious, fleeting moment in time we share together. My beloveds and I under one sweet roof.  

More gratitude for these happy golden years. 

Monday, January 05, 2015


I'd love to write this breathtaking post about the awe and hope and inspiration found within the calendar pages of a fresh year. I'd like to talk of beauty residing amid new beginnings and tender mercies that arise at the dawn of each burgeoning day but are most keenly experienced when one year draws to a close and another one begins. I'd like to speak of gently emerging freedom and long awaited promises unfolding around the corners of our expanding horizons as the clean month of January is ushered into our lives.

But I won't.

As I reflect on 2014 and consider what lies ahead in 2015, my sincerest, most overarching feeling is one of discouragement - at least when I think about my adopted kids. And I am always, always thinking of my adopted kids. Always.

As it turns out, the beginning of each new year calendar happens to coincide with the anniversary of their years with us - 5 in 2015. That fact does me no favors when what I really want to do is make a tidy little resolution or two and be done with it but my mind won't cooperate. Our journey thus far with these kids keeps cropping up, invading all my senses.

As I think back pre-adoption, I can't help but remember my lofty notions of the apparently noble voyage on which we were about to embark.

Little did I know how significantly it all would change me, the wounds their wounds would impose on me, the trauma their trauma would inflict on me, the way their grief and sorrow and pain and undesirable patterns of behavior wrought in the clutches of childhood survival would reverberate through our family, often ensnaring me in its grasp.

I didn't realize how different I could become, how two small people could have such a monumental impact on my every single day and night and month and hour and year for the rest of my time on this earth. I didn't understand the way I would come to bear their burdens as my own, that they would indeed become mine in their very own right. I couldn't have known the boundless will I would summon to try and try and try again to reach further, higher, faster, to get through by any means at all. I didn't fathom the toll it would take, the extraordinary patience it would require, the energy it would necessitate, the tremendous futility I would feel deep in my bones. I didn't recognize that such mourning could be derived from a perpetual lack of perceivable progress.

Dwelling on it can be a total fear-of-the-future inducing drag.

So, looking forward to the year before me, I must simply focus on what I can do.

The word that keeps coming to mind is nourish.

I can work to nourish them all, each of the children within the reach of my sphere. Physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, spiritually - nourish. With little expectation of what the results will be.

My job is to provide the best of what I have to offer, their job is to take what they need to grow. I can't make them, I can only set before them a choice to accept what is given. I've made it crystal clear to all of us that if I could do their part for them, I would. Goodness, I would. I really would. But I have to accept that I can't. And they can't do mine.

Perhaps the best thing I can do is supply nourishment and let them grow as they will.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Monday, December 29, 2014

You Just Never Know What a Day Will Bring

The uncommonly wise big grandma used to always tell me that.

As I look back on this past year, I am learning what it is to grasp her words more than I once did. The unexpected seemed to reign, dominate, obliterate in 2014, taking me more by surprise than I ever remember it doing before.

There are so many dear families that come to mind - ones who have suffered, are continuing to suffer dearly. The price they have paid for the existence we all share in this fallen realm is precious. Their cumbersome burdens are a heavy weight to bear. Their lives will never be quite the same as they were in The Blessed Before. For after a heart breaks it mends differently than it once was - with cracks and crevices and shatter lines pieced back together and patched up holes still prone to leaking at the gentlest nudge of remembrance. 

I'm sorry Mr. and Mrs...your son has ended his life...your daughter has a brain tumor...the cancer has spread...your young adult daughter has publicly denounced you...your parents have publicly slandered you...your siblings have publicly spoken out against you...your wife died in a tragic automobile accident...your baby's heart is no longer beating...your daughter died in a tragic automobile accident...

They, us, we all never knew what an ordinary day would bring in the very moment it would irrevocably turn extraordinary.

The questions inevitably arise, The Big Ones We Don't Have Satisfying Answers To and we wonder and we cry out and we raise our voices to the heavens and we ask why, why, why, why? 

The night seasons of the soul find a home, in us. 

As we mourn with friends and loved ones, as our hearts ache with acquaintances, as we shed tears for people we only know of but have not met personally, I am again and again reminded of big grandma's wealth of wisdom. 

She may not know why, but she knows how.

How to live each day to the fullest. 

How to prioritize beloved people above all else on this earth. 

How to slow down and take the time for a kitchen table conversation, a hand written letter, a note of thanks, a phone call to say, "I'm thinking of you," a hot cup of tea, an affirming word right when it's needed most, a humorous memory, a sage piece of advice, a game with a great grandchild she wouldn't dream of beating in a challenge of any kind. 

She knows how to always be certain another feels welcome, valued, loved, accepted, how to overlook a fault, even a grievous one, how to find the good and decent and desirable and esteem worthy in every single person she comes across. 

She knows how to make a fuss over each homemade token of kindness offered by the hands of a child, how to be certain you are always, every time, glad you shared portions of your time with her because she showed you the kind of person, in real life flesh and blood warmth and generosity of spirit and nurturing benevolence, you aspire to be.

She understands the precarious nature of our fragile, fleeing, temporary time on this earth and she demonstrates how to, moment by moment, soak in a simple pleasure like none I have ever known. 

She may not have much in a material sense, but she is rich with resources that reside well beyond the reaches of monetary gain. 

You can't help but love her. No one can. She teaches you how to love. And when you strip life down to its purest essence, is there anything that means more? 

I think in this world that can sometimes seem so dark, big grandma is onto something so light. 

Maybe it's all we can do to cling to it. 

Big grandma reading a blog book on Thanksgiving Day. 



Copied from facebook, written on my 40th birthday. Please, don't take me too seriously...
I deleted my birthday from my facebook account so I could see who my *real* friends are. Because Lord knows, at this age I've got no time to waste with the fake ones. The way I see it, any day now the jig will be up and I'll be called yonder and asked what the bejezus I've done with my L O N G time here on earth. I'll have to admit I wasted a fair bit of it bemoaning all that jiggles when I wiggle, fretting over what so and so thought/said/did that is of positively zero relevance to me on This Very Day, exercising futility in laboring to whip these charges of mine into people that will never publicly embarrass me, nor turn their backs on me in my Age of Dementia which now looms near, and scrubbing this then polishing that, tidying here and there and starting it all over again. What is that they say about cleaning the house while living with children? Something about snow and shoveling. I forget because tis nigh the senility once you've crested the hill.
If I had it to do over again I would have given more endorphin releasing hugs. The long kind where they know you truly mean it. I would love them all better, just exactly as they are in this very moment without hint of trying to impose change. We are all on a transformative sojourn, after all. Not a single one of them will stay as they are right now forever. My face and my hands and my huggy arms would ooze acceptance with less expectation. The more I'm okay with who I am, the more room I can allow for them to stumble and falter and error. Besides, I'm doing it right along side them. Fumbling up, doing what I shouldn't, not doing what I should. Paul and I might disagree on a few things, but we are alike in that way. I would slow down when I eat and smell the chocolate before I take a bite. I would close my eyes and breathe it in and savor the sweet creamy goodness of it the exact second I have it to enjoy. I would cut myself more slack, dance to more music and wear out all the kind words I could imagine. I know I would because as life grows a little bit shorter with each passing day, all the blurry, frivolous, and unimportant that once seemed urgent slowly fades into the periphery. It's a gift, really. The wrinkles are formed with precious perspective. It's all such a lovely, twisted, thorny and succulent adventure.
If you wished me a happy birthday, I'm putting you in my will, real friend. You can divide up my paper bead necklaces and my drawer full of stretchy yoga pants and my pages and pages of scribbled notes that are all over everywhere. Things I meant to write about but never did because I was too busy beating my kids in Monopoly. Sorry, it's all I've got to offer. My most prized possessions aren't the kind you can quantify. I'm lucky that way.


 Karin Winter Photography

Blog Archive