Saturday, April 18, 2015

Never stop learning, even on “spring break!”

My three oldest kids sing with Cantus Youth Choirs, a phenomenal community choir that serves the Treasure Valley of Idaho, and this year, they got to go on tour to Anaheim, California. The Cantus tours are always a blast and this one was no exception.  Julio tagged along with the kids on a couple of them before and since this year’s tour included Disneyland, we decided we’d ALL tag along and turn it into a family vacation.

We packed up and left a few days ahead of the Cantus tour buses, so we could squeeze in some extra time in California and see some friends and family.  We threw the kids in the mini-van and drove to Anaheim in a single day. Yes, we are insane.

Prior to the trip, Julio had told me about a TED talk by Navi Radjou about the concept of jugaad—a Hindi word for creative problem solving within extreme limitations, and how the corporate world in the West can benefit from this principle of doing more and creative things with less. After watching the talk myself, I really wanted to buy Mr. Radjou’s book.  It arrived the day before we left, so I brought it along and read it aloud to Julio as we went.  It’s funny how when something is on your mind, you find it everywhere. 


As we were reading this book, we had a couple of opportunities to come up with some jugaad of our own—first, the sun was glaring down into the car, making Neenie very hot and uncomfortable. We used a blanket pinched between the car head rests (and later, a different blanket pinched between the windows and doors) to make a sunshade. Jugaad!


Then, the rubber gasket for the windshield came loose on the driver’s side and started flapping.  Julio tried first to fix it with electrical tape, but the tape was no match for flying down the freeway.  Since we were in the middle of nowhere, Julio had to roll down the window and hold the windshield in place until we could find somewhere to stop and fix the stupid thing.  Since it was coming onto evening and we were only halfway to California, Julio stopped in at a truck stop and bought some yellow duct tape. It held!  Jugaad!

20150321_191949  20150321_193100

Our first couple of days in California involved a trip to the beach and a day at Knott’s Berry Farm.  The kids and I had never been and Julio had told us it was full of roller coasters, but I wondered how much fun it would be for the little kids because they were too small for most of the rides.  I was kind of grumpy about going at first, because I was afraid I’d get stuck having to sit with the little ones all the time while Julio and the big kids got to go have fun on all the crazy rides. I’m so immature and selfish, I know. But, of course, Julio had already scouted the place and made sure we did a lot of swapping kid duties—and it turns out KBF has some fun rides for the smaller set, too. So everyone got their roller coaster fix!


We expected the place to be packed, as it is “spring break season” but the crowds were thin—enabling us to go on our favorite roller coasters again and again.



This was Neenie’s first time at the beach.



The kids had a ton of fun splashing around and playing in the sand. We brought most of the sand from this beach home in our clothes.





Thursday, February 26, 2015

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…*

I love my little punks. They have just (re)discovered the literary drollery of Lemony Snicket’s  A Series of Unfortunate Events. Calvin has even taken to reading it aloud to his siblings in his best Tim Curry impersonation. This makes story time SO much more interesting. The series follows the misadventures of the kind, pleasant looking, wealthy, but terribly unlucky Baudelaire orphans and their evil uncle, Count Olaf, who tries to steal their fortune. It’s absurd and witty, and in my case, beverage-snorting funny.

It always amazes me how quickly and deeply we are affected by what we read—thanks to ASoUE, we have acquired a corn snake, which we named Montgomery Montgomery, after the Baudelaire’s Uncle Monty in “The Reptile Room.”


Monty is the most low maintenance critter in our entire household and for this, I love him. He eats once a week. Granted, he eats a mouse that has to be defrosted and warmed to room temperature, then wiggled in front of him so he knows it’s feeding time, but that’s why I had children—to make them do such repugnant tasks.

Thanks also to “The Reptile Room,” there has been a resurgence of Dinovember. I admit, during the ACTUAL Dinovember, I had more fun than the kids staging the dinosaurs’ escapades, but now the kids are into it---and well---the dinos are getting into some pretty shady dealings:


These are not the sauropods you’re looking for.



The dinos’ illegal casino was shut down within hours of opening.


dino school

The dinos attempt to rehabilitate through education.


After a few days of dinosaur mayhem, we decided to make a trip to the Boise Aquarium, to see—more reptiles? There are a surprising number of them at the aquarium.




We also managed to crash a preschool field trip---inadvertently disrupting a puppet show about fish and sharks while oohing and ahhing over real, live fish and sharks.  Oops. 




After a couple hours at the aquarium, I was starting to crave sushi, but the kids vetoed that idea, so we settled on burgers and fries at Red Robin, which is probably my favorite place to not have to cook. Because BOTTOMLESS FRIES.


Our server wanted to know what was up with the Viking helmet. When Blythe explained that it was Thursday, the poor guy just didn’t seem to understand. Everyone knows that Thursdays are Viking Days. Unless it’s Wednesday, which is also Viking Day. As is every other Saturday, unless Blythe forgets, in which case, both Sunday and Monday are Viking Days.

A highlight of each homeschooling week is the library’s “Fun with Science” class. I have no idea what goes on during these events—because when I go to the library, everything around me drops away except for the shelves and shelves and shelves of glorious books. The kids must fend for themselves. Fortunately, they are cute and have mastered that inquisitive, hopeful puppy dog look that librarians can’t resist, no matter how obnoxious the kids are.  LIFE SKILLZ.


The kids tell me the theme for the class was “All About Air.” They made bubble sculptures.




Has anyone figured out how to make square bubbles? Winking smile

Who knew that Lemony Snicket books could inspire such a week of learning and fun?

*The title for this post was inspired by the following quote from ASoUE Book 2: The Reptile Room:

“It is now necessary for me to use the rather hackneyed phrase "meanwhile, back at the ranch." The word "hackneyed" here means "used by so many writers that by the time Lemony Snicket uses it, it is a tiresome cliche." "Meanwhile, back at the ranch" is a phrase used to link what is going on in one part of the story to what is going on in another part of the story, and it has nothing to do with cows or horses or with any people who work in rural areas where ranches are, or even with ranch dressing, which is creamy and put on salads.”

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Taking a Gypsy Term

One of the most beautiful things about homeschooling in Idaho is the utter freedom we have to do whatever we want. This semester, we are taking a free-wheeling, figuring things out as we go along approach.

I call this semester a “gypsy term” because we’re kind of just going where the road takes us, picking things up and learning along the way.  It’s a much looser approach than we’ve previously taken. It’s a little scary--but thrilling, too.

gypsy reading

I told my older kids, who were extremely sad to leave the wonderful co-op we’ve been privileged to attend for the last three years, that they could think of think of this semester as a “study abroad” experience.  My one and only goal is to be out in the world---in the community—and experience all it has to offer.


Here’s what we did this past week:

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my husband and I had seen the movie Selma over the weekend.  We were blown away by the story and the testament of the struggle of black Americans during the Civil Rights movement. The movie is intense. It is gritty and heartbreaking and hopeful and TRUE. We took our older two kids to see it on Monday in the hope that it would spark some talk about that era in American history and its parallels to the attitudes today about civil rights and race issues.  We are typically very guarded in the movies and TV we let the kids watch—and the tension and violence in the film was a strain on our kids—they are still processing what they saw—but it is a beautiful thing to hear them ask questions, to want to delve deeper into Doctor King’s life and times, and to reflect on issues of race, equality, and social change.


We had learned over the weekend that President Obama would be in Boise to speak at BSU in the middle of the week. His speech would be open to the public, but tickets would be required to gain entry to the speaking venue. So, after the movie, we gathered the entire family and went to BSU to stand in line for tickets to the President’s speech.  We had seen news reports that morning that BSU faculty and students had first rights to the free tickets and that the line to get tickets had been spotty—not surprising in a solid red state, I suppose, so we figured the same would hold true for the general ticket line.  We were wrong.  We stood in line for about an hour, and the line wrapped halfway around the BSU campus.



I was surprised that there were so many people in line for tickets, given the vitriolic responses online to the announcement that President Obama would be in town.  Though standing in line was not the most exciting way to spend an afternoon, it was enlightening to see the different people who came. People of all political persuasions were in line—and despite whatever people’s personal opinions and beliefs were, everyone was amiable.

Tuesday, we were feeling kind of under the weather—the flu had been going around our family and while we were mostly recovered by Sunday, the afternoon out in the cold, waiting in line for tickets to the President’s speech put us under.  We needed a recovery day and stayed home. We declared it “Documentary Day” and spent the day cruising Netflix for educational shows. (I am part of a Homeschooling with Netflix group on Facebook—which is totally awesome—what a great resource to supplement learning!) We watched everything from Leap Frog Math Adventures to the Moon to Inside the Lego Corporation to Pets with Jobs. There were some others we watched, but I think I dozed off.

Wednesday, Julio and the big kids got up early and headed out to stand in line for the President’s speech.  We learned that the venue could seat 2500 but that over 5000 tickets had been distributed---it would be standing room only for at least half the ticket holders!  The little kids and I went to our new informal homeschool co-op---a once weekly, laid-back affair.  We learned about St. Francis of Assisi.

I had intended to meet up with Julio and the big kids and attend the President’s speech, but it didn’t work out—and it’s probably a good thing.  Julio and the big kids stood in line from 10 AM until noon, and then once inside the venue, found standing room only, right next to where the local press cameras were set up.  The speech wasn’t scheduled to start until 3:00.  No matter how patriotic we are, I knew the little kids wouldn’t have been able to manage doing NOTHING for that long.  Bags and purses weren’t allowed through security, so bringing entertainment and snacks for the little kids would have been impossible.

So, with that last minute change in plan, I took the kids shopping.  Blythe just started Cub Scouts and I was recruited to be a Cub Scout leader and we both needed uniforms. (I have been hounded by the local Cub Master to get myself a uniform and after a long and valiant battle, finally succumbed and bought the ugly thing---but I refuse to wear it. Tra la la la!) and Gloria needed fabric for a pillow case she was going to make that afternoon with her Activity Days group.

While I was busy buying pink heart-strewn fabric and hideous scouting uniforms, Calvin was being interviewed by the local news about being present for President Obama’s speech.

Calvin on TV

The rest of the week shaped up pretty well—we plundered the library, as we do every week. We have long since given up on tote bags to pack the books home and now bring in the heavy artillery. Yes, that is rolling luggage you see there.


We also stumbled into a weekly science class held at the library, of which I had been previously unaware. The kids made dry ice cannons. Score!  Calvin now wants to make a larger one out of a garbage can.



We finished out our week with LOTS of reading.


I also thought it would be fun to have each kid start an art journal—as a way to explore different art media. We spent a good chunk of an afternoon painting.


Finally, the kids started learning how to program computers this week. We saw a deal on a learning website for a single board computer kit and snatched one up.  It arrived this week and Calvin and Gloria have spent some time with it—learning how to make computer animations and create games.  Calvin is currently creating a math game to help the little kids with their math facts.  I don’t know who is more excited about it—Calvin or Julio!

Raspberry Pi

This is my first real foray into unstructured “unschooling” and I have to admit, I am terribly nervous about it.  I decided to write this post to document what all we did this week not to toot my horn, but more than anything to see if we really were accomplishing anything.  I’ve always had this idea that “unschooling” meant “not educating” but after going through the projects and pictures and experiences we’ve had this past week (and over the last month) I’d say we’re learning a LOT! Hmmm…I could get used to this Gypsy Term thing…

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dear Newbie Homeschooling Me

Dear Newbie Homeschooling Me,

Don’t freak out. I’m you, seven seasons into this homeschooling gig.  I have come from your future to tell you a few things.


First, homeschooling is NOTHING like you think it’s going to be.  Oh, sure, it’s 2009, and you’re forcing your tiny kids that you JUST pulled out of third and first grade to watch the historical inauguration of the first black president of the United States---and you have all these high ideals and expectations about what they should be getting out of it, and how you’re going to start each day with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, a spiritually enriching devotional, hearty breakfast, and then whip through five or six academic courses before lunch (which will be carefully planned, entirely nutritious, and maybe even served in a bento box, for variety!) You have a VISION. You have a PLAN!

Well, babe, four months in, you’re going to abandon that vision, because out of all the days, your vision was seriously impaired. Your plan happened ZERO TIMES, no matter how hard you tried, and you are going to be so frustrated and full of self-doubt that you want to just give up.


Except, you won’t. 

You’ll realize that trying to muscle your two school aged kids and your two itty-bitties into a public school-style routine at home is not only stupid, but impossible.  Schools are institutions.  They run like institutions, as they should. But your HOME is not an institution.  It should be run like a home.  The kids have already learned tons of things from you, naturally, organically.  It can be that way with academics, too.

I know you don’t believe me now—but give it a couple of years.  You’ll try variations of the public school routine—each one less like public school—as you find what works for you.  Right now, you’re all concerned about finding the right math curriculum and language arts curriculum.  You’re reading A Well Trained Mind and A Thomas Jefferson Education and you’re all on fire about HOW TO MAKE IT WORK so the kids are learning and outpacing their public school counterparts.  You are determined to show people, yourself included, that homeschooling is WAYYYYY superior to public school. Your standards are so impossibly high you can’t even sleep. You are worried about EVERYTHING. You HAVE to get it RIGHT!

Well, listen close, babe---the RIGHT way to homeschool changes as you go along.  Kids have this uncanny insistence on doing things like growing and maturing, and having preferences and strengths and weaknesses.  And so do you. You’re going to make mistakes. The kids are going to make mistakes.  But, we’re a resilient bunch, and we keep trying and we find what works. And when it quits working, we find something else that works.  The resources available to you are limitless and infinite in variety.

There is no one golden road to homeschooling success.  What works for one kid may not work so well for another.  What works one year, or for two years in a row, may be worn out and dead the next year.  The people in your family like variety, they like to shake things up every now and then. They are kind of funny that way.  There is no such thing as autopilot in learning.


You’ll start thinking more about educational philosophies instead of curriculum. You’ll start talking to veteran homeschoolers and really LISTENING to their experiences. You’ll cry on people’s shoulders, and borrow their ideas. You’ll clunk and rattle along and you’ll get involved with a great, supportive community. You’ll worry less about socialization as you find community and get out in the world and interact with anyone and everyone. You’ll gain confidence and so will the kids. You’ll make friends, and your kids will make friends. Your universe will expand so much and so fast you won’t believe it.

You’ll learn to love being around your kids. You’ll learn to really like being around them for hours and hours and hours every day. You’re giving me the side eye on that one.  I get it—the older two are bickering at your feet and the toddler is whining for Cheetos, and the baby just took his diaper off and smeared poop across his crib.  You will have sucky, sucky days sometimes, but I promise, the good ones will outnumber the bad, and you WILL find that these little people that you are raising and teaching are a lot of fun, MOST of the time. That said, you’ll also learn that you’ll need regularly scheduled breaks from them. And they’ll need breaks from you, too. You can be a real pain in the arse sometimes. Go put yourself in time out. At a restaurant. With friends. And something chocolate.  Take the breaks. INSIST on the breaks.  Your husband and children will thank you for it. And stop being cagey with Krav Maga and go fall in love with it RIGHT NOW.  (Seriously. Don’t wait on this one.)


Over time, you’ll discover that the kids are doing fine—they are learning in their own ways and at their own pace.  They will astound you with what they learn, their self-motivation, and their intense drive to create their own educational path. They will delve into courses of study you can’t even fathom for them, and you will be awed by their abilities and their talents and interests.  You’ll wonder how the heck such amazing, interesting, talented people came from little ol’ you. Of course, you’ll always have twinges of doubt, especially when your kids won’t practice the piano or forget that 7 x 6 = 42 or would rather read Calvin and Hobbes and draw Manga than listen to you read Moby Dick. You’ll squirm when your kids commit some social faux pas and some moron blames it on homeschooling, because no public schooled kid EVER did or said anything awkward or inappropriate or didn’t respond appropriately in every social situation.

You are soooo tense and fearful and humorless, 2009-Newbie-Homeschooling Me.  I want to hug you and give you a big happy, triumphant smooch, but I know right now you’re really only open to a pat on the shoulder and a nudge forward. There, there, babe. It’s going to be awesome.

Most of all, I want to tell you that you will learn SO MUCH STUFF about SO MUCH STUFF.  YOUR education is just beginning and there’s no end in sight to what you’ll learn and you will thank God for it every single day. Homeschooling will provide you with an unequaled opportunity to set the tone for learning and discovery for yourself and your family in EVERY ASPECT of life. You’ll blow your own mind with the challenges you take on, the direction you steer your life.  You’ll learn that life isn’t just something to endure and to react to. You’ll learn to hurtle yourself right into it---to laugh and explore and share---to charge into the hard things--to take on impossible challenges--because don’t you tell me what I can’t do!

Babe, it’s going to be epic. 

Love, Me…You…Us


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Insisting that “good kids should go to school to be a light and example to others” is ignorant and insulting to homeschoolers.

…which is probably not what you intended.  Nevertheless…

Despite the uptick in homeschooling in its various forms over the last couple of decades, there are still some myths and stereotypes that just won’t die.  I used to get a little hyper about all of them, but over the years, I’ve developed a thick skin and mostly tune them out... But, the myth that homeschoolers aren’t contributing positively to society by being out in it like the public schoolers are, and the implied judgment that homeschooling is morally inferior to public schooling makes my blood boil.

The idea that homeschooled children can’t possibly be/aren’t good examples and “lights unto the world” is based in the mistaken ideas that homeschoolers don’t ever leave their homes or get involved with the larger community. This simply isn’t true, but few public schoolers know this.. They just don’t have any idea what the homeschoolers are doing or where they are doing it, because they are AT SCHOOL. They assume that because the word “homeschool” has the word “home” in it, that HOME is where the homeschoolers are 24/7.This is as erroneous as assuming public schoolers are ALWAYS IN PUBLIC. But I digress…

Many homeschoolers will immediately defend their lifestyle by saying that before the kids can go out into the world to be a positive influence, their character must have been built and trained at home---and that you shouldn’t throw your children to the wolves, so to speak, while they are still in their tender, moral-development years.

This counter-argument is beside the point, AND insulting to the public schoolers, because you CAN send your kids to public school and they can be a positive influence to those around them. Absolutely. But homeschoolers can be and ARE every bit as much a “light unto the world” as their public schooled counterparts.  Just because a homeschooled student isn’t siting in a classroom with 25 other age-mates doesn’t mean they are not influencing those around them.

When they are home, for whatever amount of time, they are influencing and being influenced by their parents, siblings, and others who are at home with them.  When they are at the store, the gas station, at a community class, a co-op, at church---they are influencing and being influenced.  Their moral light shines just as much in these places as a good kid sitting in public school.

And, who decides who is worthy to be “shined” on? Who determines whether a homeschooled child’s forgiving a sibling, visiting an elderly friend, smiling at the store clerk, or playing with the neighbor kids isn’t as much a light as a public schooled child standing up to a bully, refraining from cheating on a test, or respecting teachers and custodians?

Are we not ALL in need of kindness and compassion and light?  Some who appear to be full of light are hiding anguish of the deepest darkness.  We really have no idea who we truly influence and how we may impact someone’s life, in whatever timeframe and to whatever depth. To assume that a good kid interacting in a public classroom has more positive influence on the world than a homeschooled student interacting with the librarian, or writing a senator, or chatting up the new kid at church, or working in the community garden with refugees, or volunteering at the animal shelter, or performing for veterans at the VA Home, is myopic and narrow-minded.

My homeschooled children’s social sphere may be different than that of public school kids, but that does not mean it is LESS THAN.  Their capacity and opportunities to be loving to the unloved, a joy to the saddened, a friend to the lonely, or compassionate to the anguished are just as great and just as valuable as any other’s. So let’s quit with the argument that it is morally superior to send your kid to public school.

No matter where you are or who you’re with, you will never lack opportunities to show compassion and light.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2014: What Doesn’t Kill You…better start running.

Every year, starting around Thanksgiving, I get antsy for the new year.  I mean, I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, but when I’m standing in my kitchen, basting the turkey and wondering about the sicko who invented green bean casserole, I begin dreaming of January--when we’re past the holiday rush and repenting our goodie consumption (mea culpa!), pinning Fitspo and organizational tips on Pinterest. La-dee-da!

I love starting a New Year—and couldn’t wait to jump into 2014. I loved how others around me were excited, too. We were making plans to take 2014 by storm! The world is OUT THERE, and WE’RE RUNNING TO MEET IT!

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people every day who inspire me through their examples to be kinder, more forgiving, more perseverant, more helpful, thoughtful, and more full of wonder.  They remind me not to take myself too seriously. I love my amazing people and I am so grateful they are in my life.

We had plans. We were excited. We were READY to embrace the new!

But 2014 hit. HARD.

It’s barely March, and already, so many of my people have been piled up with profound losses and heartbreaks.  Nearly every day for the last two months, I learned of devastating things affecting friends and family. This is so not awesome. There are so many hard things. These things were not part of our plans!

I just want to scream and rage and pitch a fit at the unfair suckiness of it all.

I want to help, but in many cases, the only thing I can do is listen, pray, and cry with my hurting loved ones.

It solves nothing. But I hope it helps.

I firmly believe in a loving God, who wants us to return to Him. I firmly believe we have a Savior---Jesus Christ—who suffered and died for each and every person on Earth. I believe Jesus rose from the dead and lives again, so we can, too.  I believe we’re here---living our lives—to learn about the nature and purpose of God.  And part of that learning process involves dealing with pain and sorrow:

Learning to have faith when everything is falling apart.

Learning to forgive when we have been cut down and wounded.

Learning to find joy amidst the pain.

Learning to rely on God, who is perfect, and on each other, who are not.

Often, these are really craptastic lessons to have to learn. And not part of our plans! But I have faith that they are worth learning and that some day it will all make sense. Everything will be made right and whole…even if it’s not RIGHT NOW, dammit.

I don’t have solutions. But I offer my prayers, my tears, and my love. We are in this together—with enough arms and shoulders to carry each others’ burdens and lighten them.  In the midst of so much suffering, I have seen spectacular examples of grace and forgiveness. I have shared in the (dark) humor that keeps us laughing instead of crying. I have seen faith and love carry people across the country and into each others’ hearts.  I have seen prayers answered and hope born.

Together, my loves, we’ve got this.

2014, you got us down—this round. But we’re coming up swinging, and we’re gonna win.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Good Story about a Bad Trip: How Idea Camp was Almost Ruined.

Y’all know we’re travelers. And y’all know I have a heart for social justice. So of COURSE when I heard about the Idea Camp (a conference dedicated to tackling tough social issues, and geared for those involved in charity organizations and church ministries) I wanted to go.

idea campMy three favorite bloggers, Jen Hatmaker, Kristen Howerton, and Tara Livesay were all talking it up on their blogs and Tara and Kristen were slated to speak about the issues of international adoption, orphan care, and the shift in worldview that should occur when living and serving in another country/culture.

These three women have shared their personal stories of international adoption and their involvement with their children’s birth countries and cultures and what they’ve learned over the years about the nature of orphan care and the often-times skewed perception we in the First World have about impoverished people and foreign cultures.  They have been honest and raw about their own misconceptions, their learning process, and their desire to create the kind of change that provides relief, power, and dignity for the poorest people in the world.

I registered for Idea Camp almost as soon as I heard about it. YES. I’m GOING. Oh, and I registered my husband, too, much to his surprise. 

Me: I really want to go to this thing in Austin, Texas in September.

Him: Okay, we can probably work that out.

Me: Good, because I just registered the both of us.

Him: Wait, what? Were we going to talk about this?

Me: We ARE talking about it. Will you figure out the hotel and flight stuff?

Him: Hmm. What do we do with the kids?

Me: Uhhh…we’ll figure something out, we have six weeks.

You know that expression “flying by the seat of your pants” ? It’s how we roll.

Fast forward to the week of our trip.  I was SO excited! I had the kids lined up to spend the night with some friends until my mom got into town to take over the tribe. We had our itinerary and had even arranged to meet up with some college buddies, and hit a couple of highly recommended restaurants while we were in Austin.  Julio was going to get a mini-vacation, and I was going to get my do-gooder fix, and see some of my favorite writers in person, and then—there’s always that honeymoon element that comes with traveling without the kids! Woohoo!

The day before we left, the friend lined up to watch my kids told me her kids were all sick and puking. She said we were still welcome to bring our kids over, but would totally understand if we wanted to make other arrangements. She is awesome to be willing to still take our kids, but at that point, it became a bad plan for everyone. I couldn’t burden her with extra kids in the midst of illness! But now, I had less than 24 hours to make new arrangements. I called a couple of other friends who were amazingly willing to disrupt their schedules to help me out. (Love you both, you know who you are!) I also called my mom to beg her to come early, since dumping five kids at the last second on people who already have a houseful is kind of an awful thing to do. Of course, so is begging your mother to rearrange her work schedule when she is already down too many hours. I should have cancelled our trip.

But I’m a jerk. A jerk in a bind.

However, Mom and friends came through, because apparently, they like jerks.

Despite our last minute scramble, we headed out in high spirits:


Other than grumpy looks from a couple of flight attendants, our flight was uneventful. But that was the last thing that was.

We touched down in Austin at about 8 PM, and we were starving. I really wanted to try an Ethiopian restaurant that Jen Hatmaker has raved about for years.  We called them and found out they closed at 9. We spent the next fifty minutes tearing around Austin with a GPS set for Singapore, trying to find it.  (I hate you, Siri.)

We walked in to Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant with four minutes ‘til closing. The manager was not terribly excited to see us, but seated us anyway. We were bluntly told that not everything on the menu was available as they were shutting down the kitchen for the night. We were just so grateful they seated us, and our server was SO sweet (and clearly embarrassed by the manager’s displeasure) that we agreed to order whatever was available. Julio had done his homework via Trip Advisor to determine what the most popular dishes were, and (lucky us!) they were still serving the two most popular dishes. Cha-ching!

The food looked and smelled wonderful! Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten with the hands, using pieces of a flat bread called injerra to scoop up the bits of meat and sauce. We dug right in.


At the time this photo was taken, I was SO excited about this food. Now, I can barely look at the picture without wanting to hurl. In fact, talking or typing about it is almost too much for me.  About four hours after wolfing this stuff down, I got sick. And a few hours after that, Julio got sick.  It was epic. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I will tell you that it knocked me down nearly two whole days and required a trip to the local coin-op laundry when we were able to sit upright for more than an hour. And apparently, I was so out of it the first night, that when Julio tapped my arm to check on me, I threw a punch at him on the way to the bathroom. (Krav Maga for bathroom rights. I win.)

As a result of this epicurian adventure, I missed most of Idea Camp.  Julio was kind enough to drag himself out of bed and go to the conference and record the speakers for me.  He came home at lunch time and promptly passed out from exhaustion and nausea. 

Despite being so ill, I was determined to hear Kristen Howerton speak that afternoon. We stumbled to the car and drove through a hurricane (no, really---hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid had married up and dumped themselves on Austin that day) to get to Idea Camp.


Julio dropped me off at the entrance, where I literally crawled up the stairs to get to the meeting.  The place was packed and there was no place to sit. I leaned against a back wall and tried hard to make the room stop spinning..


After a few minutes like this, I noticed some people in the back row had gotten up and left. I flopped into their seats and willed myself not to spew. I could see Kristen on the front row.  I was impatient for her turn to speak…why wasn’t Kristen speaking? Two dudes were talking on stage and I just wanted them to shut up so I could listen to what Kristen had to say before it was time for me to crawl into a hole and die.

Eventually Julio joined me…after his own adventure in getting into the building with a churning stomach and dizzy head.  He flipped through the conference schedule, showed me what time it was and mouthed, “We’ve missed her.”  I think I lost the will to live.  I was cold, I was sick, I was wet, I was woozy, and I’d missed my speaker! SOB!

But, God is good, folks, because just as I was leaning over to Julio to ask him if he thought we’d be too disruptive if I started keening and barfing in the back row, Kristen was announced and she got up to speak!

Kristen’s talk was everything I was expecting it to be. She was passionate and I will detail what she and other speakers discussed in a future post.  For the sake of this post, suffice it to say that hearing Kristen made our thus far crappy experience worth it.

Following Kristen’s talk, the other Idea campers dispersed into smaller discussion groups, led by the day’s speakers.  I really, really wanted to do this, but Julio and I were in no condition to discuss anything but going back to bed. 


(What this photo belies here is the fact that immediately before and after it was taken, I was leaning against the wall of the parking garage, dry heaving and wishing all manner of ill will on Jen for her big, fat lies about the awesomeness of Ethiopian food.)

Back at the hotel, Julio and I chugged an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol and went to bed. It was all of 4:00 PM.

We slept for hours and woke up weak and surprisingly hungry. We considered ordering in, but nothing sounded good.  We were too spent to even drive across the street to the grocery store for soda crackers.  So, we staged some photos for Facebook in order to try to find some humor in our misery.


Eventually, we found the fortitude to drive a hundred yards to the HEB (Here Everything’s Better) store. It took us an hour and a half to buy a box of Saltines and a couple bottles of Gatorade. We staggered around the unfamiliar store like a couple of drunk octogenarians. I’m sure people thought we were high. (High on love, baby. Or low blood sugar.)


Crackers never tasted so good. 

It was 1 PM the next day before we joined the living, again.

We’d been so sick, we’d gone through every article of clothing we packed. This was not hard to do, as we pack light (carry-on only, peeps.) So, we went and hung out with the locals at the laundromat. Once we had some clean skivvies, and had been able to keep a meal down, we made our way back to Idea Camp, to hear Tara Livesay and her husband, Troy, speak. The Livesays live in Haiti and work with Heartline Ministries, providing prenatal and postnatal care and support for women there.  Again—their talk was everything I expected it would be.  Powerful, humble, moving.


(Troy—in white, and Tara, with the discussion facilitator. Troy had us all in tears as he talked about his love and longing for his home and friends in Haiti.)

There were a couple of other speakers as well, guys that had never been on my radar, but whose stories buried themselves in my heart and shifted my thinking. I’m still digesting what they had to say. I’ll get to it in a future post, when I’ve processed it all.

While we were sick, I kept wondering why things were happening the way they were. I had felt so strongly about attending this conference—not just because I was star-struck over my favorite bloggers, but because I really, really felt I needed to be there. I didn’t understand why I felt so compelled to be there and why I had gotten sick and was MISSING the whole thing. 

I realize now that had I been healthy and feeling like normal, I would probably not have been as touched by what I heard and learned.  There’s something about being wiped out physically that plugs you in spiritually. I’m still bugged I missed so much of the conference and completely missed the small group discussions, but the things I carried away made all the yuck worth it.

The theme of the conference was essentially about dignity and making sure that when we are helping others, we are doing it in such a way that preserves their dignity, offers respect, and keeps us humbly centered on individuals.  People are not projects, and true human care is long term. It hurts, it is messy, but it is worth the pain and ugliness to show people that they matter.


But, I’ll get to that in detail later.  Meanwhile, back in the trenches…

Now that we were feeling well enough to focus outward a little, we met up with our college buddies, Erin and Dale Offret.  We met them at Salt Lick BBQ in the town of Driftwood.  We hadn’t seen these guys in eleven years and we pretty much picked up right where we left off, talking and laughing, and joking, and quoting movies. Oh my gosh, these are OUR PEOPLE. THEY are why we were supposed to come to Austin!


It was awesome spending time with them! I couldn’t quit staring at them and we were all hugging and giggly and giddy (much like we were in college!) And the atmosphere was so, so fun. Great weather, awesome BBQ aromas, a festival vibe, live music (I could not quit watching the string bassist’s forearms!) and a huge pit barbecue!





I’m sure the food was good, but Julio and I were still a little tentative about eating. We didn’t want any repeats of the previous days!




This guy’s shirt says, “I just got licked and I’ve never been so satisfied.” We didn’t know if we should laugh or be horrified. (We laughed.)


Pecan pie a la mode! (I could only handle about three bites.  Too bad!)


Buc-ee’s gifts from Erin and Dale. (Can’t go to Texas without going to Buc-ee’s!)

Alas, the good times had to come to an end. Erin and Dale had to be up early for the children’s program at church the next day, and we had to be up early to catch our flights home.

But sleep would not find us. We were too sick the first two nights to notice or care, but our hotel room was overrun with crickets. They were crawling all over the walls, on the floor in the bathroom, scuttling from underneath the furniture. We even found one in the bed. Julio called the hotel manager, who initially blew us off. He only took us seriously when Julio caught one of the critters and carried it to the front desk.  The manager came to investigate our room, and it was clear he had the heebie jeebies, but he told us he couldn’t do anything for us, as all the other rooms were booked.



Just three of the unpaid guests in our room.  It was like a cricket frat party in there!

We decided to check out early and spend the night in the airport.  Though we were both feeling lots better, I was still pretty weak and really to the point where I didn’t care if there were bugs, ME JUST NEED SLEEP. And I wondered why on earth Julio thought sleeping on the floor in the airport with country music blaring overhead was any better than a soft bed and pillow and chirpy, crawly crickets. (Oh, and the airport turned out to have it’s fair share of crickets, too!) Facebook banter was the only thing that kept us going and from killing each other in our exhausted frustration.



We were supposed to fly to San Francisco, where we’d have an eight hour layover. We had planned to go to Alcatraz. However, after getting patted down at the security check point, we learned that our flight was oversold and the airline was looking for people to take a later flight. 

The thought of wandering around Alcatraz on zero sleep sounded like crap to me, so I suggested we take up the incentive to fly later. We ended up flying through Chicago and making about 300 bucks a piece. Our connection plane in Chicago turned out to have bad brakes so we had to de-plane and run across the terminal to get on a different plane headed for Boise.  We ended up getting home several hours earlier than anticipated.

Don’t tell my mom, but we called some friends to pick us up and begged them to let us crash at their place for a couple hours before going home.  We slept like the dead for two hours before we felt guilty enough to go back to being responsible adults and free my mother of babysitting duties.

Thus ended what was supposed to be an awesome weekend trip.  It was awful. And it was wonderful.  It was certainly memorable! I suppose there’s a metaphor for life to explore in there somewhere, but I think I just heard a cricket.