Monthly Archives: November 2012

Little Things Are Big Things

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Though I’m not afraid to die, I am afraid to write it down, because it sounds like the beginning of a Louie Giglio or Francis Chan sermon. You know how it begins: “The day before the freak accident with the sugar beet truck, avid runner Keri Wellman said she wasn’t afraid to die.”

I don’t WANT to die, but if it does happen (as it eventually will when I’m 119 and have finished a marathon with my great-great-grandchildren) I’m not afraid, because I am absolutely certain of where I’m going; and no offense, but it’s a lot better than anything I can find down here.

You may say, “What about your kids? Your husband? Your fluffy white dog? Don’t they need you?” Well, dear reader, my husband and kids need only God. As for my dog…he’ll fall in love with the first person who feeds him bacon.

I am not trying to diminish the tragedy of death. I’ve had people who are dear to me die, and it is not easy for those of us left behind to cope. There are empty spaces in our lives, where our closest friends used to be–it’s not a simple thing to handle. And yet, death should be something we contemplate from time to time. Not in a morbid, melancholy sort of way, but in a way that motivates us to really LIVE while we have the chance, to appreciate every single thing we’ve been given and to strive to live a life pleasing to God.

When I first embarked on this adventure called ‘parenting,’ I learned a key concept: To children, the little things ARE the big things. So, when your kid wants you to take a picture of the Khazneh he made from a hundred small planks of wood, it is important not to roll your eyes, or to murmur “Uh-huh” while you write your blog.

[INSERT INTERRUPTION HERE]

To him, this is a big thing, and so it should be to me as well. Don’t get me wrong, the kids do NOT run this household, there ARE times they have to wait before I can give them my full attention, but as a parent, I try to place value on the things they value, and I try to steer them towards things that have eternal value. It is not about the block building, it is about the mutual respect that is built by simply taking a picture of it.

The little things have enormous worth. 

Something has changed in my life lately though. Things that used to be ‘big’ seem kind of small, and small things seem kind of big.

Little things that should seem big:

My Health

I’ve had these weird medical anomalies happening, the swelling in my joints, a strange lump on my neck, and so I went in to the clinic to have them do things I can’t do myself, namely, draw blood and take pictures of the inside of my body.

The really strange thing for me (a person who acquires rare diseases by merely reading WebMd symptom checker) is that I’m not worried. Not one little bit.

I’m more concerned about helping Libby with her long division than I am any worst case health scenarios.

Travel

My husband (the most amazing man ever), is taking us on a trip this winter–to the Middle East. 

I realize that rockets are being tossed around like basketballs over there right now, but strangely, I’m not apprehensive. We will travel smart and use good judgement (and enjoy the warm weather and sunshine), but I’m not fretting over the worst case scenarios. After all, a LOT of people, including women and children, go about their daily lives in these places.

As I see it, my children are in greater danger being in the car on the B roads of Germany than they are on camels in the Wadi Musa. I’m excited for them and for us as a family to be in a culture entirely different than the supposedly ‘safe’ one in which we currently find ourselves.

*Note: We are not ignorant, nor would we make unwise choices. You might say, “Isn’t visiting the Middle East an unwise choice?” No more than driving to piano lessons or to my kids’ sports class. Trust me, we’ve seen people die, right in front of us, on that main road to town–we know the risks. Staying at home does not make you immune to danger!

Big things that should seem little:

Crossfitin German!

I’ve decided to incorporate CrossFit into my marathon training. Not only will it require me to bravely enter a CrossFit box alone, but it also will require me to use my pre-school level German. Intimidating, yes! This is a big thing for me, as I am not one to boldly go where no wobbly-tricepted woman has gone before.

My goal is to run 2 marathons in 2013, possibly 3 (if everything works out).

Kale

I found kale last week, and I can hardly explain how excited I was. Sure, I can’t seem to locate any kale now, but last week I had kale juice, made kale stew, and threw kale into everything I could. The kids loved it! It was a BIG thing!

Coffee

Because I’ve been getting up to write at 5am every day, I’ve been drinking an entire pot before anyone is awake. I decided to cut back by drinking hot tea instead. Shocker, I know, but this is a BIG deal to me.

Writing

This morning, I finished a 50,000 word novel, thereby completing the NaNoWriMo challenge. The novel isn’t completely finished yet, but I have an excellent rough draft. While this is a ‘little’ thing, it is huge to me. I think this will be my first fiction published.

On that note, my co-author, Jenn Miller, and I are putting the final touches on a print version of our book, “Bottles to Backpacks: The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel with Kids,” and though it is a self published deal, it came out very professionally and well done. It should be available on Lulu by the end of next week.

These are big things in my life–things that seem small to most people but mean a lot to me, like a favorite coffee mug that fits perfectly in my hands. (Am I the only one who buys a coffee mug based purely on its shape?)

I digress. Or do I?

What are the big things in your life that may seem little to others? Or are there little things in your life that most people think are big things? I’m curious to know. 

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Thanks A Lot

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Ours is probably the only house in this village that smells like pumpkin pie and turkey today. Like many of you, yesterday was spent cooking, running errands, cooking some more, and translating the word for ‘nutmeg’ into German.

Holidays, especially ones that are country-specific, can be difficult when you live abroad. In a few hours, everyone will pour into Grandma’s house, my aunts bringing their little lap dogs and plenty of great food.

And I won’t be there.

I am thankful for all those years I could be with my family, but I am also thankful for what I have now, at this very moment.

  • the God of the Universe, who daily gives me reasons to be thankful
  • my husband, who I love dearly

  • my kids, who make me laugh and who inspire me

  • my food processor, and the fact that I can afford to put food in it
  • my friends, who are like family to me

  • I have legs that will carry me through a marathon, if the mind is willing
  • my aches and pains, because they keep me on the right path
  • I can write words on a page that people want to read

  • my food allergies, because they force me to eat healthy(ish) whether I like it or not
  • I live in Europe, which is quite amazing when I really think about it

This list could go on and on, and I’m sure yours could too.

I could write volumes about my kids, and how absolutely amazing they are. Sometimes I look at them and think, “Where did you come from?” I know I bore them, and raised them, but they seem too good to be true for a person like me, with so many dark chapters in my backstory.

I could also rave about my friends, because I never thought that I, mid-narrative, would make friends who feel like sisters.

But I don’t want you to get the idea that my life boils down to a perfect little list of blessings.

My life does contain its share of difficult times: as much as I’d like to, I can’t simply edit them out of my life, though I can dress them up and make them look presentable.

Every marriage has issues to be worked out, every child needs correction from time to time, every parent needs consistency and patience, which are not easy things to balance. Sometimes we go through inner struggles as God seeks to refine us, and too often, these inner struggles are taken out on those around us. We get frustrated or discouraged or our feelings are hurt–these things are all part of life. And in retrospect, I AM thankful for the hard times, because they make me realize my own frailty, and my utter reliance upon God.

I have a lot to be thankful for–even the things that are not so pleasant to talk about. I’m sure the pilgrims were the same way. Theirs was not an easy journey–working eleven years in Holland to prepare for the trip, getting scammed, their money stolen, thrown in jail, persecuted by the government, having the “good” ship sink, having their friends (who probably felt like family to them) die in front of them, arriving in a frozen wasteland and having more people die, encountering a vastly different culture, and trying to walk with God through it all.

How could they NOT give in to despair during their journey? How could they go on AFTER the Thanksgiving feast was over?

Their journey, filled with toil and horrors that would send us straight to the doctor for antidepressants, forged them into a group of people who could endure in a hard, foreign land. And I am thankful they held on.

Struggles are difficult, and I wouldn’t wish hardship upon anyone, but as you make your list of thankfulness this year, ponder the bad stuff too. If you can’t even look at the hard times without falling apart, then maybe it’s time to turn to God.

He is the only one who can pick up the pieces, no matter where in this world you are.

There is hope, once the feast is over.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

For my family in the States, will someone please give Grandma a hug for me? 

Above Average Insanity: Novel Writing and Long Distance Running

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Marathon: A cross-country footrace of 26 miles, 385 yards or 42.195 kilometers that includes sweat, fatigue and a participant who doesn’t care if people call her crazy in a variety of languages.

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. A writing contest of 50,000 words, not all cohesive, completed in 30 days, that includes sweat, fatigue and a participant who doesn’t care if her words make sense in any language.

NaNoWriMo is, in essence, a marathon of writing, which is probably why it appeals to me.

As in most of my marathons, upon completion of last year’s  NaNoWriMo, I swore I would never do it again, as I opposed, in principle, the idea of writing a voluminous amount of words just for the sake of writing a lot of words. What about quality? What about grammar? What about editing? What about that half-finished novel on my desk?

Thus, when my eldest son signed himself up (he’s already nearing the 50,000 word mark, which means, clearly, he has too much free time) he challenged me to FINALLY work on this wonderful story I’ve been cutting apart and re-stitching together for the past 4 years.

I’m embarrassed when I read the old manuscript now, which I so hopefully sent out to agents. This month, I started afresh with the same main character and similar story, only it is MUCH more readable.

*Note: I apologize to any of you upon whom I foisted my first manuscript, which is a really rough, rough, rough draft bordering on random ideas for a good Middle Grade Fiction Story.

Just as there are different types of runners (sprint, distance, hurdle) so there are different types of writers. There are fast ones and slow ones. Some who wait until “inspiration” hits them, and they write madly until the story has, like a virus, run its course. Others lock themselves in a cabin somewhere until the story comes to life. Still others dutifully carve out time wherever they can find it (even if it means pre-dawn) to work on their stories.

It struck me that I had to approach NaNo with the same diligence I approach marathon training. Fortunately spring training doesn’t begin until December, so this month, I can spend my early morning hours writing, instead of running in the dark.

This month, except for Saturdays (the only day I allow sleeping in), I set the alarm for 5:00 am. When the alarm goes off, I hit the snooze button and think to myself, “My landlady is right. I am crazy.”

Then I smell the coffee coming from the kitchen thanks to the automatic timer I strategically set the night before, and I roll over thinking, “If I fail, I will never hear the end of it from my son,” and also “This is the ONLY time I have to write today.”

I get up, pull on something comfy, yet writerly, usually involving a swooping scarf and my trifocals; and my Mac and I, trailed by my fluffy white dog who wants to be fed, move to the living room for some time together.

The dog goes hungry while I write.

So far, it has been going amazingly well for me–though the dog is losing weight, but he started off pudgy, so it’s okay.

The story is pouring itself out in front of me, and I feel like this time, I have a winner. THIS is going to be my year. I know it will be difficult, and I will want to give up, but if this is my writing marathon, I know I have what it takes to see it through.

My kids, taking the NaNo challenge

Hopefully, this is not another year of bravado or wishful thinking. I may regret even thinking well of my own NaNo project, come December. But my Chief Creative Consultant and Editor (William), encourages me by questioning every detail of my writing, sometimes asking things I’d never even thought about, and occasionally grinning and laughing at my work.

I take this as a good sign.

He is by far the toughest editor I’ve ever had, and I’m certain if I ever DO make my manuscript publishable, his name will have to be somewhere on the dedication page. All of the kids will be there, because they inspire me daily, but William’s questions lead me to give the characters more depth, because he gets irritated by books (many of them, oddly, best-sellers) with flat characters.

Thus, I find myself at 5:30 am, trying to give emotional depth to creatures like dogs, rats and Pixieknobs.

We will see how the story ends in December.

So far, so good!

Himalaya China Thai German Chickpea Dish 151 or Culture Shock Curry

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Recipe of the Week

Culture Shock Curry

Every few weeks, you will see my son and I walking through downtown Würzburg.

I am alert, peeking into the yarn shop and forcing myself to swiftly move past the stores that sell running gear, while chanting, “I don’t need more running gear. I don’t need more running gear.”

My son, on the other hand, walks briskly and silently, trying not to collide into people on his way to what he calls “the perfect combination of psychological and physical torture,” known to those of us without braces as the “orthodontist.”

He will thank me someday, as he wheels me in to get my dentures.

I enjoy our outings to Würzburg. Maybe it’s because of the guy we saw with the purple mohawk and purple tights, with a purple balloon tied to his waist, carrying an old-style boom box on his shoulder; or maybe it’s the way I have to hold my breath when I go down the stairwell of the parking garage; but whatever the reason, Würzburg certainly has a more cosmopolitan ambiance than my lovely little village, where the oddest sights often include farm machinery.

As is our custom, I let my son have Pizza Hut after his orthodontist appointment, and yes, I DO realize there is some irony in this. I am a Health Nut Mom, but let me tell you, Pizza Hut is a rarity in my neck of the woods, so I indulge the young man, though it is probably clogging his arteries and contributing to a host of diseases he will have to combat in the future–but it’s his choice. [End of Mom Rant].

While I usually consume an organic nut bar and a smoothie while he eats, this time I was hungry for hot food. We still had a lot of errands to run, so I thought I might be able to find a safe-ish sort of Asian food place. I’ve gone before to the one just around the corner from Pizza Hut, known by the ambiguous name ‘China Wok.’

As I approached, a sign a little further down the alley with the interesting name “Himalaya,” caught my eye. But in case the onlooker was put off by the “Himalaya” part, they had also added “China” and “Thai,” making me briefly question the geographical integrity of the owners.

Since I am constantly on a quest for good Pad Thai here in Germany, I decided to be bold and try this place, even though it was filled with angry-looking guys drinking beer (at noon), a group of chatty girls, and a lone Asian tourist, looking very out-of-place (like us). However, I took it as a good sign that every seat was filled, though the place was no bigger than my living room, and the kitchen was right there behind the cash register, where my TV would be.

Having perused the menu intensely (and not finding a single strand of Pad Thai noodles), I decided on number 151, a Chickpea dish for vegetarians. And wow! I’m glad I did! It was an absolutely fabulous curry, and the best part is that I could watch the guy make it, and I tried to remember what he put in it–though maybe next time I’ll secretly video tape him with my iPhone.

Thus, tonight I experimented, added mushrooms plus a bit of this and that and a new favorite was born.

All through dinner, I heard (through mouthfuls of food) “Yum! This is SO good Mom!” And “Can you make this again?” And “This is better than steak! Plus it won’t kill me!”

I was so excited about the results, I felt the need to share this right away, while I could still remember what I put in it. So, inspired by a trip to the orthodontist and a quirky Himalayan Chinese Thai German restaurant, I present:

Culture Shock Curry

The Raw Materials

1 large yellow onion (thinly sliced)

2-3 cups white button mushrooms (sliced)

1 cup green onion (chopped)

2 gloves garlic (pressed)

2 tbsp ginger root (freshly grated)

4 cans of chickpeas (for a family of 6…adjust according to your family size)

2 cans unsweetened coconut milk

1 tbsp freshly ground coriander (use a mortar & pestle–it’s great AND relieves stress)

*2-3 tbsp Thailand Sunset Dream Curry Powder: Okay, so I found this at an organic market (yes, in Würzburg) so you may not have this exact spice in your area. But mine contains paprika, cumin, coriander, mustard powder, chili powder, garlic powder and something called bockshornklee, whatever that is. So experiment, if you don’t have this, I would recommend playing around with some curry powder, chili powder, red pepper and cumin until you get the spiciness that you like.

6-8 cups cooked rice (again, depending on your family size)

The Method

Set your rice cooking in a rice cooker. If you do not own a rice cooker, you should, as they are wonderful.

Rub down your cast iron wok with wok oil then heat up the puppy on med-high till it sizzles. Toss in your large onion and water sauté until onion is brown and your eyes are watering. Add the ginger, garlic and freshly ground coriander, and cook 1-2 minutes, until aromatic.

Add your mushrooms, and sauté 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms begin to soften and brown. Continue adding small doses of water to keep the stuff from welding itself to the bottom of the wok. Push the mushroom mixture to the outer ring of the wok, turn your heat to high and add the chickpeas and green onion.

Mix everything together for 4-5 minutes, then add coconut milk and remainder of curry spices.

Simmer 3-4 minutes and serve piping hot over brown rice.

Prepare to be a hero.

(One who has a minor addiction to cooking with coconut milk–it’s just SO creamy!)

Guten Appetit! 

How My Kids Drive Me Crazy While Keeping Me Sane and a Rare Political Rant

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“Wow!” exclaimed my teenage son, “I’m surprised to hear you speak intelligently about politics.”

I finished pouring my morning coffee, trying to determine if that was a compliment.

I knew what he meant, but I couldn’t help but give him a hard time about his particular choice of words. It was surprising to him to hear me speak about politics at all–particularly when I brought up some specific points that were on my mind.

I usually avoid talking about politics because I hate the way it brings out the claws, fangs and venom that people normally keep to themselves. Personally, I think it’s a waste of energy to get worried or upset about things over which you have no control. Do your duty, vote, but don’t waste a good emotion like hatred on other people’s opinions. I mean, if you used that same energy to do good works, the world would be a better place.

Which brings me to the really important issue–our house. Yes, politics affects us all, and we need to be responsible, but I’m not going to spend time tweeting on election night when the kitchen smells like birthday cake and I have presents to wrap.

My darling Libby turned 9, and there’s not a politician on earth who can steal her thunder on this day. Her voice quavered this morning, as she said ‘thank you,’ merely upon the sight of her few presents and cake.

We are downsizing here, and so I was concerned that what she did receive wouldn’t be ‘enough;’ basically that it wouldn’t be up to the standards of birthdays past. But I should’ve known better. A birthday is special because of the love that goes into it, not because of the gifts.

Libby proved this today.

Libby is the self-proclaimed “Mama-whisperer,” because she has a knack for making me feel better when I’m out of whack. The kids send her in, like a diplomat or a bomb expert, when they sense (usually from the pitch in my voice) that I’m getting ready to explode.

No kid is perfect, but my kids are each pretty great in their own unique ways. They drive me crazy at times (like William challenging me to write a novel this month, which I naturally accepted), but I can’t imagine my world without them. They keep me motivated, keep me grounded, and keep me focused on the things that are really important in life, which, and I’m sorry if this offends you, does not include politics.

I am all about helping the poor, and I feel strongly that everyone should have easy access to affordable and competent medical care. I also feel that our political system in America is off. Why are there only two parties when in other countries there are many? I mean, this election yesterday was a race between two Harvard Law School grads–since when does the general public trust lawyers?

I have a lot of friends, and many of them would be on opposite sides of any given rally.

And here is what I, standing somewhere in the middle, would say to you: use your energy, your emotion, your resources to cultivate love and compassion in your own homes first, and then use it to reach out to those less fortunate.

Don’t worry about what the government does or does not do, but start with peace in your own home.

Pray for our leaders that they will make wise choices, and don’t speculate about what “might happen,” because you soon find yourself wasting the precious here and now worrying about the future.

And with all sincerity, define in your own mind what you think is “best” for America. If your definition of “best” includes a yacht while the widow next door can’t afford medical insurance, something is wrong. If your definition of “best” means you can buy more gadgets than your neighbors, then please, rethink your life. There are greater rewards than posting shallow phrases, which do not often represent your real life, via iThingies.

‘Friend’ real people, if possible, and if you live thousands of miles away (like some of us) use technology to bring you closer to people, not to alienate them.

We sponsor four children in Kenya, and their letters sometimes break my heart because of their love and sincerity. There is a teacher strike, currently, in Kenya, so these kids, whose prospects are already limited, are outright handicapped by this strike. How can I worry about what this or that candidate might do when Magdalene, who worked so hard to move from 26th to first in her class, no longer has a teacher? 

My hope was never, and I pray WILL never be in a politician.

God appoints the rulers of this world, and there is good reason for it. Trust in that.

Because if your trust is in any single person, you will be disappointed.

That is my rant–and that is as political as I get.

For now, I have a pink, sparkly cake to nibble and a birthday girl to hug.