We Are OK
The last few days have felt like a thousand years. We are exhausted and in shock. While we live a few miles away from the fire damage, the fire burned the neighborhoods where our children go to school and where David works. All of the 346 homes that were destroyed are in the attendance zone for David's school, Carver's (and next year Lily's) middle school, and Zinabu's elementary school. Many, many, many of our friends, teachers, and community members have lost their homes. I had to tell Carver this morning that one of his best friends found out last night that she is officially homeless. I am constantly writing texts like "How are you?" and am receiving texts like this one from my friend Lisa, "We are with friends but we know our house is gone."

It feels like too much.

My aunt and uncle are staying with us with their dog and cats. They fled the fire on Tuesday night and showed up at our house covered in ash. My friend Heidi told me the harrowing tale of seeing flames behind them as they were in bumper to bumper traffic, trying to get out of her neighborhood. Dawn told me there was so much smoke she wasn't sure what they were driving into. Others who had been packed for days and ready to evacuate wound up driving through their garage doors because the power was out and they couldn't escape their garages. It was horrific and crazy. Even the federal fire experts who are here working the command center said they have never seen a fire move like that.

The fire had been burning for days, and the smoke in the city was significant, but the flames were staying behind the one ridge that separated our neighborhoods from the fire. But on Tuesday night, the winds kicked up and everything exploded. At first all we could see was smoke. Billowing, choking smoke. But later that evening when the winds shifted and blew the smoke off the ridge, we saw the entire canyon up in flames. David and I stood in front of the television and wept.

But we are thankful. David's school is fine. Carver's school is fine. Zinabu's school is still standing. It is an epic miracle. Some of our friends still have their homes. Everyone we know is safe and accounted for.

In fact, here is a picture of Carver's school.

The fire crews are using the school for staging and planning and the field behind it for all the firemen to sleep. We are so, so thankful for them.

While my aunt and uncle wait for good news and the hope that they can return to their home in the next week, my kids are showering them with attention. It's keeping my children busy and happy. David and I have everything packed for an evacuation ourselves--should the unthinkable happen. Ash is everywhere. Everywhere. And it only takes one ember to start a new fire. So we are prepared.

We don't know what tomorrow will look like, let alone next week or month or year. But for today, we are ok.


Watching our beloved mountainside and canyons burn is horrible. The city is a cloud of ash and smoke. Carver's camp is surrounded by fire. It's just so heartbreaking. We are safe. The fire can't get to us. But many, many of our friends have been evacuated and have no clue when they will be able to return home and don't know if the fire will reach their houses. David's school is a command center for media, and Carver's school is a command center for the federal government and fire crews for staging and relief. We feel helpless and weak and trapped. Please pray for a miracle rain cloud.
The wildfire is huge. This photo shows one edge of it creeping toward a neighborhood.

The smoke is overwhelming.

This is what we see from our back porch at night. 


What We're Reading
Hooray for summer reading. I love me some mindless "beach" novels, and I always love to use the summer to read up on budgeting and household organization. (If you did not already know that I am a total geek, I pretty much just confirmed it.) Summertime is the best time for me to evaluate what's working (or not working) in our home with money, schedules, stuff, and lives. Unfortunately, when we were in Washington, D.C., a crazy storm parked itself over our neighborhood and dumped 4 inches of rain and 2 hours of hail. Our poor gutters couldn't keep up and the overflow, runoff, and groundwater went straight into our basement. It was a gigantic mess, and bless my mother's heart she was here all by herself to deal with it. In typical Murphy's Law fashion, our brand new carpet was destroyed but our worn out 15 year old furniture was just fine. Grrrrrrrr. Almost all of our neighbors had flooded basements, too. Even the ones with sump pumps. And we all get new roofs because of so much hail damage. Despite the fact that our house is a mess, it could have been worse and we feel thankful for our blessings. If only insurance would cover the water damage...

I digress. So our house is a mess. The entire downstairs is torn up, and because that is where the kids' rooms are I'm not exactly in a position to determine how things are working in that department. I still love organization books, but until our basement is restored... what's the point?

Right now, David is reading Passage To Power. He is in a league of his own for reading material.

When we were in D. C. I read drivel. It was awesome. Right now I am currently reading the Steve Jobs biography and  seriously reconsidering my iPhone. Jeesh.

Carver is reading faster than I can keep up with. He's on his 7th book this summer, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and he loves it.

Lily is finally reading a little. Together we are reading The Report Card, and I adore it. I will probably write an entire blog post about this book and my thoughts around it.

Last but not least, Zinabu. I got him hooked on some classic Beverly Cleary. Right now he's plowing through Henry and The Paper Route. It's so cute.

Some of you emailed me, wondering which book I read and referred to in my previous post. The book is called Bringing Up Geeks. I highly recommend it, knowing you can take what works for you and leave what doesn't. 

That's what's on our nightstands. How about you?


Being 13

I want to spend time blogging about being the parent of a teenager. Because I am, despite the fact that I swear to you he was just born.

To be perfectly honest, I lucked out with Carver. He is so easy-going, relaxed, happy, centered, joyful, outgoing, and sweet. I parent the best I can, but each of my children are born the way they are. Their temperaments are there, the way they like to socialize is there, and their predisposition to how they handle life is there. David and I are charged with the task to pray for our kids and lead them and help them navigate the world, and we are charged with helping them improve those parts of themselves that need improvement. Which looks totally different for each of my kids. I'm happy for Carver because he wakes up each day ready for anything. I hope he never loses that zest and spirit.

When Carver turned 12 I cried. I felt like the end of all his sweetness was right around the corner and life as we knew it was just ticking away until he became a teenager. It was around that time, though, that I read a great parenting book. (Not words you will often hear me say because I think most parenting books are a bunch of cow dung... There are some solid ones, but they are few and far between.) This book was basically about raising a child in a grow-up-too-fast kind of world. The author had stated that when the teenage years arrived for her own children, she refused to accept that they inevitable would turn into mean, snarly, disrespectful jerks who did nothing but sleep all day and eat all her food.

I agreed with her.

David and I came up with some non-negotiables for our children as they transition into young adults:

  • We are a close family and we spend time together. Just because your friends become more important to you than anything else in the whole wide world, you will still spend time with us.  
  • Family dinners happen every single night. Yes we juggle activities and David's schedule, and sometimes we are eating late and not the healthiest items... but we eat together.  
  • Door slamming and eye rolling are not okay. It does happen once in a while (from all of our kids), but David and I immediately address it. I just can't stand the thought of my kids walking away from a situation that angry and that disrespectful. I wouldn't let them do it at age 5, why would I let them do it at 14 or 16?  
  • We control the technology. My kids already hate us for this, but we are the adults and we say what they can watch, when they can watch it, and more importantly... what they can't watch. And just because everyone else's parents let them watch movies like "Kill Your Mother With A Sledgehammer" or play video games like "Mortal Assassins of All Living Things" or have an iPhone at age 7 doesn't mean that we will. Carver does not yet have a cell phone, but the time is coming when he will. He will not be allowed to have it all the time. I refuse to lose my child to a handheld device. I expect my kids to still look me in the eye and have conversations with me, not stare at their little screens and mumble at me while texting friends.  
  • When they go out in the world, they represent us. And how they act in public should be a reflection of their character, not what their peers dare them to do. Easier said than done, I know. I know!  But we are constantly talking to them about how to say no, how to stay true to themselves, and how to have bigger dreams than just following the crowd.

We are at the jumping-off point of our "teenage years," and I'm sure this sounds awfully Pollyanna to a lot of you. But going into the teenage years without some kind of plan is like going to war without first evaluating your enemy. You have to know what you're up against, what's at stake. What's at stake is our family, and this battle is certainly worth fighting for.

Having a teenager has been so incredibly fun I can hardly put it into words. The adventures we've been on together now that he's older are just priceless. Giving him more responsibility and watching him soar is so rewarding it brings tears to my eyes. And even though little by little I'm loosening my grip on his life, I am so thrilled to know that I'm helping him be the best he can be so that the world can have the very best of him when he's ready.


It's Monday
How is it already Monday? And how is it already the middle of June? Someone PLEASE tell me how that happened.

Lily and I are taking an art class this week, working with clay. It's so fun to spend that time with her, one-on-one. I need to find something to do with the boys that would be similar, but haven't yet figured out what that might be. The only problem with the middle of the afternoon art class is that it prevents us from making plans for the day. Not enough time in the morning to go somewhere before the class starts, and not enough time until dinner to go swimming (or something) after the class is over. So the boys are kinda stuck hanging out at home this week. They'll survive but they're a wee bit bored.

David is working but without kids in the building it's a much more laid back schedule. He's happy about that.  He had a fabulous Father's Day. We went for a long hike and he had fried chicken for dinner. To him, that's practically nirvana.

We are planning a trip to Minnesota to visit David's mom, and we are firming up our plans to attend the Mehaber. So if you're going to be there, let me know! I'm getting so excited.

Happy Monday.


Wordless Wednesday
Okay, okay... not quite wordless. I can't keep my mouth shut. David and Z-man in Dulles International Airport, standing under the Ethiopian Airlines sign. They were in this exact spot five years ago as Zinabu entered the United States for the first time. 


Best. Vacation. Ever.
Really. Our trip to D.C. was above and beyond anything I could have imagined. It was the perfect blend of rest and silly and history and learning. We had just come off of weeks and weeks of being sick, the busiest time of year for David, and the end of school. We had so much fun being together, and Washington D. C. is such an amazing place you just can't get enough of it. David and I are learning that our kids are really, really good travelers. I took almost 250 pictures and I've hardly even browsed through all of them, but I can give you a few highlights.

So much silliness in the car. A word to the wise: do NOT let your kids learn the fact that the skin on the back of your elbow is called your weenus. Especially on a vacation when you are a) traveling in a car or b) supposed to be showing respect for buildings or artifacts. All you will hear is "Quit touching my weenus" or "Your weenus is really stretchy" and then peals of laughter. I'm sorry if I've just ruined your opinion of my children, but I'm keeping it real.

Heading up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial is a little engraving that is not marked, is well-worn, and is not noticed by most passers-by. It is the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream" speech. Because it's not roped off and people can walk on it, it is hard to spot and hard to read. However, of all the things I saw in D.C., including  the Declaration of Independence and the flag that inspired "The Star Spangled Banner" this was the absolute highlight of my trip. Here are my three children, standing on that very spot. It reads, "I Have A Dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. The March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom. August 28, 1963." 

The most breathtaking sight. It is awe-inspiring.

David and me at Mt. Vernon, George Washington's home. 

Eating lunch in the cafeteria at the Department of Agriculture. Surprisingly awesome.

No caption necessary.

At the new MLK, Jr. memorial. A carving of him stands in the middle, and on either side is this vast circular wall, carved with several of his famous quotes.

David lined them up this way. Aren't they cute? On the National Mall--most of which was under construction. No matter when you go to D.C, something will be under construction.

Lily kept saying how thankful she was that she didn't have to cut the heads off chickens in order to eat them the way they all did "back then." Always thinking, that girl.

Michelle Obama's dress that she wore to the Inaugural Ball. It. Is. Awesomesauce.
Plus they have the jewelry she wore and her Jimmy Choos! 

Carver soooooo wants to be F.B.I.

Outside the National Archives Museum. Most of the places we went to didn't allow photos inside, so we
hammed it up on the front steps.

Colonial Williamsburg. He went on and on about how glad he is that we don't publicly humiliate our
prisoners anymore. I have no idea why that was such a big issue for him.

Atlantic Ocean. Zinabu would not get out. We literally had to drag him to the car when it was time to go.

Civil War battlefield. Because you have to do that at least once in your life. They were awfully good sports because it was 95 degrees and 150 million percent humidity.

The White House. The flag on top means the prez is in da house! 

I am incredibly grateful for our time away and for the experience of visiting such beautiful and historically important places. If anyone is planning a trip to D.C., let me know. We learned a lot and we were able to do most of it pretty cheap. The only thing we let slide was researching good places to eat. We just ran out of time. Most days we made our own breakfast and packed our own lunch, and we grabbed dinner wherever we could. And yes, my kids complained that we walked too much and looked at too much history and asked if we were almost done.... BUT, they never complained for very long, and they wore sneakers so walking didn't bother them in the least, and they made it through each museum just fine. They enjoyed most of what we saw, and what they didn't enjoy, we hope they'll come to appreciate it as they grow older.


The Zoo
We're still in Washington, D.C, loving on the nation's history and all, but I wanted to share a few photos from our trip to the zoo last week. It was one of those perfect days where we had NOTHING on the schedule, the weather was perfect, and all three kids were in a great mood. (cue angels singing) So off to the zoo we went. We did it all... and the animals were actually up and awake and playing that day. I think the only ones missed were the gorilla mama and her baby because they were sleeping.
Feeding the giraffes. Lily, of course, would not give them their lettuce until she pet them.

In the Budgie exhibit. Carver and Lily holding Popsicle sticks with seed on the ends, trying to get the birds to notice.

Lily the animal whisperer. They can't resist her.

Not an animal whisperer. He stood there for a while and not one bird paid any attention to him.

Zinabu finally gave up getting a bird on his own and just went over to where they were all flocking on Lily.

This picture rocks. Because how many times has Z done this to Lily? And even though he's smiling, he was peeved.




Get Your Grateful On 
I'm supposed to be packing right now, but why on earth would I be so organized and responsible when I could be sitting at the computer procrastinating?

There are two sites I wanted to direct your attention to, and I hope you enjoy them. First, there is the website with some of the most iconic photographs "ever taken," as they say. I don't believe you can narrow down the most important photographs ever taken to just 40, but of the 40 that were highlighted I have to admit more than a few made me cry. Hard. Go HERE to see them.

I think what amazed me the most as I viewed each picture was that I could relate with the emotions in each image. I don't have to have survived a tsunami to understand the joy of being reunited with my dog... I can feel the joy of that image, knowing the dog's owner had lost everything he owned. But they found his dog. And I didn't have to be alive during the Nazi occupation to understand the devastation of one group of people subjecting another group of people to terror and disgrace and unspeakable horrors. I identify with those pictures because the humanity in me prays for peace and understanding for all people. However, my problems pale in comparison to what many others have endured and seen in their lifetimes. I am incredibly grateful for my life, my family, my everything.

The next website I hope you will visit is HERE. This is Kim, and you will be inspired and riveted by her family and their adoption story. She and her husband hopped aboard the adoption journey and just welcomed two boys into their family. Endale, 7, and Getnet, 8. They've never had kids before. Totally skipped the baby, toddler, and kindergarten seasons of life and went straight to elementary age boys. Kim would be horrified if I painted her as some kind of hero, but I challenge you to try to feel sorry for yourself and your situation after getting to know their life stories over the past few months. It is an honor to read her blog.

And now, I really do have to pack.