Nailed It

Since the public schools went back today, I decided to follow suit and [finally] get back to our daily routine.  I confess to being hopelessly behind.  I know, I know.  Same story, different year.  Only this year, it's beyond behind.  It's embarrassing.  Despite my declaration of authenticity for 2017, I will give no further details other than to say we embarked on our January schooling with a sense of panic and dread.

One positive thing is that we are all consistently behind together.  {Think we can make up four months of work in the last five months of the year?!  Don't answer that.}

After a late breakfast of honey buns (a stellar start to the day I know) and about an hour of reading time, I sternly informed my children we were going to have our history discussion.  Then they would each complete a math lesson before we ate lunch.  "AND, don't dare ask me what we're having for lunch!" I warned them.  I'm not sure why, but the constant inquisition as to what we're having for our next meal makes me want to throw things.  To prevent that from happening, I beat them to the punch with a preemptive prohibition.  Opening our history book to read aloud, I told them we were finally moving on from the Civil War (where we parked for a long time, on purpose, because, well, there are a million fascinating things to park on). Today's discussion would be about the war between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, happening about the same time that the Civil War ended in the United States.

We read and talked about how Lopez's Paraguayan army had some good ideas about attacking with their fast, agile river fleet against Brazil's slower maneuvering ocean fleet, how the Paraguayan army eventually got pushed back up the river and the whole country became land-locked and eventually cut off from supplies and faced starvation.  We discussed how it was risky for Lopez to attack other countries, particularly large, powerful ones and especially considering his own people were so disunited to begin with.  We talked about the social classes within the Latin countries, how they were made up of three main people groups; native South Americans, former African slaves, and Creoles.

Me:  What's a Creole?
(blank stares)
Me:  We talked about this in our last history book.  Remember when the Spanish came and conquered most of South America?
(still staring, small glimmer of something familiar in their eyes)
Abby:  So that's why most people in South America speak Spanish?
Me:  Yes.  So what's a Creole?
(blank stares)
Abby: (venturing a hesitant guess)  A Korean War Hero?


Me:  No, a creole is someone of Spanish decent, a spanish colonist born in South America.  We'll just keep going.

We continued the discussion about how cholera decimated the Paraguayan troops.

Sarah:  What's that?
Me:  It was basically an intestinal worm that made you very sick.  And it was highly contagious.  Now we have antibiotics that can kill the bacteria, but back then they did not.  It caused you to become sick and get weaker and weaker until you died.  But we don't have to worry about that here and now.

Then we discussed whether Lopez was a patriotic hero for Paraguay or an insane dictator drunk on power.

In closing I asked each kid to tell me one thing they learned today.

Sarah:  I learned that worms eat your intestines.
Abby:  I learned that most people in South America speak Spanish.
Ben:  I learned that God doesn't always smite dictators by saying (dramatic God voice), "Fire and ash will rain down upon thee!"
Me: (my turn to blank stare)  Interesting.  Okay, move on to math.
Ben:  So (smug smile), what's for lunch?

Ordinarily, my instinctual anger would have reared it's ugly head.

Today, I laughed.

Maybe it's not perfect, but this is us.  #Authenticity


The Year of Authenticity

Instead of a resolution or set of resolutions that I will invariably quit before I even sollow the trend of selecting a word or theme for 2017.  I batted around a few ideas, "Others" being the main contender, before deciding on "Authenticity."  I hesitated to land on this one because I'm afraid it won't stretch me to improve.  I'm afraid it will encourage me to be content with my flaws and dysfunction instead of challenging me to overcome them.  Ultimately, I decided that's no different than what I'm doing now, and by being "authentic" I'm at the very least admitting that I have these flaws at all, and maybe some public accountability will help me change.  Or maybe, what I consider to be a flaw isn't one at all and hashing it out with friends will help me to embrace it.  (Wishful thinking.)

I think I'm just tired.  Of pretending to be everything other people think I am.  I'm tired of pretenses.  Let's just be honest here.

To kick off the Year of Authenticity I decided to come right out and confess some things.  This will paint a picture of Who Jennie Is at the beginning of this adventure.  

This is me.  In bullet points.
  • I have trouble getting started with most tasks because I overthink them and anticipate every possible problem.  Also, having 6 kids pretty much guarantees that whatever I set out to do will have to be accomplished in 15 minutes increments of time, a lifestyle I have not yet embraced or accepted.
  • My inclination is to react instead of listen and respond.  I spend a lot of time unnecessarily angry.
  • I am genuinely content to stay home ALL THE TIME.  That said, my greatest adventures and best memories are from the times I venture out of the home and my figurative comfort zone.  So maybe, just maybe, I need to be a little braver.
  • My home is mostly chaotic all of the time.  It's not all kids screaming and running around, just stuff and actual dirt everywhere.  I feel like I can't keep up and live in fear of someone just popping in and seeing how gross our living conditions are at any given moment.
  • I have no idea how to wear makeup.
  • I feel like the first 30 seconds of this video every time I wake up.  To quote Garth Brooks, I'm much too young to feel this *#$! old.
  • I care too much about just about everything.
  • I tend to hyper-focus on unimportant details.
  • I genuinely want to and seek to ease the burdens of others, but feel paralyzed by thinking what I plan to do isn't "big enough" or "helpful enough" or simply not knowing what to do.
  • I am very guarded about letting others help to ease my burdens.  I hate asking for or accepting help.
  • Having 6 children has forced me to change in ways I never expected.  I prefer who I am now over who I used to be, but my brain hasn't caught up to the fact that I am no longer a Type-A perfectionist.
  • I rely a little too heavily on comfort food.  And comfort coffee.
  • I rely a little too heavily on myself.  Trust in the with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
  • I have a passion for missional living.  For me, this means figuring out a way to show love to my family, our friends, my neighbors, and even strangers whose paths I believed I was ordained to cross. 
  • My inner voice is ceaselessly negative.  Despite the fact that I feel totally comfortable encouraging others, I am an expert at discouraging myself.
  • I'm terrible at receiving compliments.  
  • I think my kids are awesome, but I also know they're all sinners.  And they're learning from one of the best sinners in town (me).
  • I prefer to blend into the background.  I despise being the center of attention.  God's funny joke is that he gave me six kids.  You can't lurk around with a family our size.  Because, you know, we bring the party wherever we go.  
So there you have it.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  It's all true. 

 What is the point of all of this? I guess I'm just laying my cards on the table. In the spirit of authenticity. Maybe I'm looking for validation in the form of a "Hey me too!" But if I don't get one of those that is fine also.

I read a timely quip from the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Love Does, just this morning.  
Don't let who you are keep you from who you're becoming. ~Bob Goff 
Here's to a New Year embracing who I'm becoming in spite of who I am.

The Noise, Noise, Noise, Noise

I don't know if this blog adequately portrays my life.  I paint pictures of sunshine and roses, but there are some big, dark, cumulonimbus clouds and painful thorns as well.

I try, very hard, to find the treasures in the little things, in each of my kids' personalities, in their successes, in the lessons from our failures.  But, sometimes, things just aren't okay.

I don't know if it's an early-onset of seasonal affective disorder, or what, but I have been cranky lately.  I'm extra snippy, overly sensitive, and easily provoked.  For those of you who have been wondering, Anger is my de facto ruling emotion of late.

Some days just aren't okay.

I feel a little overwhelmed.  Not just by the normal managing-the-household, homeschooling duties, but from a run-of-the-mill life perspective.  ALL OF THE THINGS are stressing me out.  I want to fix everything.  I feel helpless to do anything.  I don't know how to feel or think about most things.  I spend too much time reading the opinions of others and weighing them against my own thoughts and feelings.  "Is that what I think?" I wonder.  "That doesn't seem right."

I think this is my natural tendency as an introvert.  I pool all of my resources and try to figure life out inside my already crowded brain.  And it's not crowded with important stuff.  It's crowded with things like the random location I saw Noah tuck Abby's Bible Quizzing book and how many and what kind of donuts each child likes and an internal debate about whether or not I can actually go the alleged 60 miles to empty it reads on my gas gauge.  And don't forget to move the wet clothes to the dryer.  Then actually start the dryer. When you add the NON-STOP opinions of a world that freely gives their opinions to that mess, it's utter chaos.

It's when I turn into the Grinch.  All the noise. Oh the noise.

I think this is why I'm broken. There's too much noise. I'm spending so much time reading and considering the words of others that I'm neglecting spending any time reading and considering the Word. I'm seeing the world through my feelings when I know full well the heart is deceitful above all things. I'm hoping to fix things and control things with my own feeble abilities instead of trusting in God, that same one who, you know, created the entire universe.

When I look around, I see nothing but mayhem.  When I look to God, I find peace and comfort.  Why do I bother with anything else?  Because I'm human.  It's what we do.

Maybe not a great thing to admit, but I'm adopting the prayer of the father of the epileptic boy.
"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
It's my own lack of trust that prevents me from experiencing the fullness of a life with Jesus.  But I think that I might be on to something.  I'm done with the noise.  If you need me, I'll be listening for that still, small voice.

(But seriously, if you need me, call/text/email/stop by/send me a letter.  I'm still here for you.  Even if I seem crazy.)

No Filter.

Those family portraits with the perfect hair and matchy-matchy outfits?  We know it took 100 takes to get the one you posted on Facebook that you casually referred to as a "snapshot."  Because otherwise it would look like, say, this one: 

Like with one kid pouting because we didn't let her hold the baby, one kid acting absolutely insane because she's so tired but past the point of getting a nap sporting hair that's doing who-knows-what, one cranky toddler who sat still for 10 solid seconds but protested loudly the whole time, one baby who desperately wants her mama, and two big kids who basically rock (at least in this particular shot). 

I think that's why this is one of my favorites of late.  Because this is real life.  Personalities galore.  No filter.  Unedited.  Authentic.  My herd.  

Maybe it's weird to pick a word on October 14th, but I'm doing it.  My word for the limited remainder of 2016 is Authentic.

I can feel the burden of expectations lifting right off my shoulders.  I'm free to be me.  We're free to be us.  It's a lesson I want my very unique children to learn much sooner than their slow mother. 
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.  It's about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen. ~Brene Brown

South of the Rio Grande

Sometimes we go on little adventures.

My favorite adventure recently was at the tail end of a six-week cross-continental trek, way at the bottom of the country.  We landed at a hotel in Fort Stockton, Texas the night before with three sick kids.  The bottom three children were all vomiting, and while that was sad and awful for them, I selfishly worried that our biggest, most exciting adventure was not going to happen the next day if they didn't get better.  In a hurry.  We fixed chicken and rice in the hotel room, did some much-needed laundry, called it an early night, and prayed for speedy recoveries.

The next morning we loaded up the van for our trek south to Big Bend National Park and, what I anxiously anticipated, Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

After a quick stop at the Visitor's Center in the park for a stamp in our kids' national park passport book, we wasted no time getting to the border crossing.  I loaded up our bookbags with water bottles, sunglasses, diapers, wipes, and a few spare clothes (because, you know, all of the vomiting the day prior).  When we checked inside at the building, the ranger gave us a quick rundown of what we could expect when we go down to the river to cross, what's in the town, and what the weather was like (15 degrees hotter across the river for some unknown reason).  Given that the day was sunny and hot, the ranger looked at our less than tan skin and recommended hats for everyone in the party.  (We're embarrassingly pale.)

We planned to spend enough time in Boquillas to eat lunch, look around, and grab a souvenir or two.  We walked the path down to the river.  As we cleared the vegetation on the U.S. side of the river, we saw a man in a flat-bottomed boat shove off from the Mexico side to meet us.

We were a little concerned because no one in our 8-person party speaks a word of Spanish, but that didn't matter.  The Boquillas residents were well-versed in English, and we were easily able to communicate.  For a fee, we opted to hop in the boat rather than wade across the deep river (which is a viable option for some).  The boat operator insisted that we all get in together and he quickly and ably rowed us across.  (Kudos, that was no small load.)  On the other side, we had the option of riding a burro, riding a horse, riding a pickup truck, or walking.  The first 3 incur a fee.  It's free to walk.  Given the fact that it was hot as Hades (even for these GA folks) and we felt like we were there on borrowed time, we opted for the pickup.  Once again, the driver insisted that we could all ride together, inside the truck, so we packed in - 4 (including the driver) in the front, 5 in the back.  I read somewhere that the National Park on the Mexican side of the river requires that a guide stay with all visitors, so even if you decline their services, they kind of shadow you while you are in the town.  Our guide, Esteban, rode in the back of the truck.  As we bumped along the dried-up creekbed in the pickup, I noted the "social roads" that the park ranger had warned about, places off the beaten path where locals tried selling their wares without permission.  When we reached the town, Esteban escorted us into the Mexican customs office where we told them our intentions and received a temporary visa for the day.  Note: This was the only air conditioned location in Boquillas.

Esteban lobbied hard for us to go to Boquillas Restaurant at the end of the road, but we opted for the closer (more famous) Falcon's Restaurant.  Jose Falcon opened the restaurant in 1973 at the height of tourism in Boquillas.  It used to be no big deal for anyone to cross the river back and forth between Mexico and the U.S.  The events of September 11th changed everything.  When the border was closed, the town of Boquillas was cut off.  The nearest Mexican town is hours away via terrible roads.  The U.S. crossing was their lifeblood. 
The events of September 11, 2001, destroyed Boquillas del Carmen's traditional way of life. In May 2002, the border crossing from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas was closed indefinitely. As of October 2006, only 19 families of around 90 to 100 residents remained in Boquillas. Most of the town's residents had been forced to move away by the closure of the tourist crossing and destruction of the town's traditional economy.
On January 7, 2011, the US National Park Service announced plans to reopen the crossing using a ferry and a passport control center planned to open in the spring of 2012.  After multiple delays, the new Boquillas Port of Entry was finally officially opened on 10 April 2013. -from Wikipedia
Today, the daughter of Jose Falcon operates her father's restaurant in his memory (he died in 2000). We enjoyed chips with salsa, pickled jalapenos, and cheese dip.  The kids enjoyed their typical chicken & cheese quesadillas, I order beef tacos, and Sam got green chili chicken enchiladas.  The highlight for everyone on the hot day was the refreshing Mexican Coca-Cola (and Fanta) with real sugar.  The meal was fantastic, and the people won us over with their sincere gratitude for our patronage. 

(Random funny of the day:  Leah smuggled the yellow toy from our doctor kit into Mexico.  For some unknown reason.)

After lunch we walked down the staircase to get a better look at the river (okay, lies, we were hunting a geocache which is not easy to do with Esteban looking over your shoulder, but we did get it!). 

There is a gorgeous gazebo overlooking the river with a view of the mountains.  We were sweating too much to really enjoy it.  According to Esteban, the weather was not unusual for the end of September, which made me feel even more love for the ever-hot residents of Boquillas.

Full family shot courtesy of, you guessed it, Esteban.  (He was precious.)

We did a little shopping in the curio shop, where each child picked up a token to remember Mexico by and then we went on our sweaty but merry way. After we turned our visa back in at the customs office, we tipped our guide who had radioed back to the pickup truck who was waiting to take us back to the "international ferry."  He politely offered us some steeply discounted, homemade trinkets, and how could we refuse?  We left with a bracelet for each kid and a super-cool wire scorpion.  As we handed the money over, I almost wanted to cry.  He was so unbelievably grateful.  As we loaded into the truck, he shouted, "Goodbye, nice family!  Please come back and see us!"

I just kept praying that Hannah, who was strapped into the Ergo on me, would not throw up in the sweet driver's truck.

When we reached U.S. soil, we had to check back in at the border crossing.  This time, we presented our passports via a scanner to a remote border patrol officer in El Paso to whom we communicated via phonecall.  I'm sure I looked like a noob, but we were allowed to re-enter without any hiccups.  Our day in Mexico was complete.

It was awesome.  Worth every effort.  And every penny.  The residents of Boquillas were sincerely grateful for our visit and showed the greatest hospitality.  I want to go back and buy up all of their trinkets.  And give them hugs.  Maybe when it's not 100 degrees.

And that...just barely scratched the surface of the treasures at Big Bend.
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