That caviar is a garnish! (and other things I learned from Nora Ephron)

28 June 2012

You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life. Oh, I know it doesn't feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure now. But you're not. You are marching into the unknown armed with... Nothing. Have a sandwich. 
Nora Ephron, You've Got Mail

I was just thinking last week that I should write a post on my obsession with the You’ve Got Mail apartment.

You know the one: Kathleen Kelly’s shabby chic brownstone walk-up, home to the lone reed and upright piano, walls covered in books and mementos, and open window overlooking a beautiful autumn New York City morning. I’ve laid awake at night, trying to figure out this apartment’s dimensions (Is it a studio? U-shaped? Does the kitchen lead into the bathroom?), imagining where I would put my mother’s secretary or the wall shelf my husband built me six Christmases ago.

I love that apartment. I would be happy in that apartment. I belong in that apartment, in the city, in the Autumn, with a bookshop around the corner.

So yes, I had formatted in my mind this beautiful ode to the You’ve Got Mail apartment. And then Nora Ephron died.

Nora Ephron, to quote the younguns, was a beast. She was a writer, in every sense of the word. Journalist, essayist, playwright, author and screenwriter. She nearly literally did it all. And then she started directing movies, where she created girls like me - independent, quirky, proud, loud, naïve, flawed, sensitive - and a world girls like me could inhabit.

Her genre was “romantic comedy,” but her stories were so much more than that. They were about messing up, and someone loving you anyway. They were about taking a chance, and getting let down. They were about discovering your true self, and falling all over yourself in the process. At least, these are the ones I remember.

I’m too young (yes, I get to use this phrase!) to know about Silkwood, and maybe a bit too young to really appreciate When Harry Met Sally, but I remember crying along with Annie in Sleepless in Seattle as she first heard Sam’s voice on the radio. And I remember the first birthday after we were married when my husband gifted me with a VHS of You’ve Got Mail hidden inside a brand new grey felt messenger bag.

Oh, I so wanted to be Kathleen Kelly. I even worked in a book shop (on the corner of Oak Park and Lake Street), wore black tights and black skirts, and sadly, experimented with an ill-advised short haircut.

(Side note: no one, in the history of the world, will ever have Meg Ryan’s hair in that movie. I don’t care who you are.)

But back to Nora. Her movies made me feel like it was ok to be weird. In fact, I could be weird and smart. Weird and smart and loved. Weird and smart and loved and imperfect. I could lose my temper, make a mistake, try again and conquer the world.

And now, at 33 and a mother of three and in the midst of so many life changes I can hardly stand it, I’m realizing that loving her stories doesn’t mean recreating the Meg Ryan look or working in a book shop. Loving her stories means I’m embracing my own. Loving her stories means I go forward bravely, confident in who God made me, believing that my loudness or weirdness or sensitiveness isn’t a mistake. Loving her stories means acknowledging that the world is messy and we are messy, but still, somewhere, there’s a place for us in it.

Oh, I love the You’ve Got Mail apartment, but no matter how I try to bend it, I’m not sure it’s possible for the pictures on the screen to match the dimensions in my head. Still, I’ll take solace in the world Nora Ephron created.

In her stories, it’s not about the apartment, anyway.

So what's your favourite Nora Ephron movie, character, or apartment? Tell me your Meg Ryan haircut story. I know you have one.

Results may vary (my advice on having a happy marriage)

26 June 2012

:: I hope you don't mind feet ::

So this is my advice*, on having a happy marriage, after 13 years of more happiness than not (though to be fair, some years might fit in the not category, but not many... less than a handful really... but I digress):

Say, "I love you."
Say, "I love you, too."

Don't quit.

Say, "Thank you!"
Say, "You're welcome!"

Don't quit.

Ask, "Did you remember to grind the coffee before bed?"
Say, "Yep."
Say, "Oh, thank God. And you, too, of course. I love you. Good night."

Don't quit.

Say, "I don't know how."
Say, "I know. It's ok. We'll figure this out."

Don't quit.

Say, "I'm sorry."
Say, "I forgive you."

Don't quit.

Of course, these are only the things we say, but it's the not quitting part that helps us mean it. It's what makes us get up in the morning and before we even think to brush teeth, reach over for a quick kiss and a good morning and how did you sleep? It's what binds us during the day with the don't forget and the we're out of milk! It's what closes the book, turns off the lamp, and rolls over whispering good night and i love you.

It's the not quitting that makes it stick. It means we're in it together. 

And that makes us happy.

our wedding 4

*Not a scientific study; based solely on a random sampling of two midwesterners trying to make a go of it, keep their wits about them, and still love God and each other. Results may vary. Consult your partner.


I open the door, in five

22 June 2012


It's always a risk.

Dropping him off at school, waving to teachers I only know and trust because the school seems to know and trust them. Letting her visit family, a whole week apart from me, without a mother to keep eye out. Just sending her out the front door with a ball and a wave.

I've heard of this happening, mothers who are overwhelmed by fear and anxiety for their children. They keep the door locked and the blinds closed, not willing to take the chance. Because who knows? Who knows what might happen, who might prey, how they might disapear or get hurt or...?

It's enough to make any parent, no matter how sane or prepared, go crazy.

This week the papers are filled with these stories, of coaches and counselors and teachers, lying and hurting and threatening. My stomach hurts and I look at them, imagining their cries without realizing it. Why even leave the house, I think? I want to keep them all safely tucked in nook and nest, away from the world, away from harm, away from pain.

It's futile, really. Who can live life that way? I protect them now but there will be heartbreak later, at 17 in the driveway, at 30 by the kitchen sink, at 45 in an empty house.

They long to stretch their growing legs and taste the summer breeze. So I risk it. I open the door and let them go. My eyes watch as they make their way into the wide open, praying the world will stay away just a little longer.

Five Minute Friday

Linking up with Five Minute Fridays. You should, too.

On not knowing, but believing

21 June 2012


We've got a schooling situation on our hands. As in, we have none.

Our support account says we're at 82%, which means we can see the finish line. The 90% which allows us to buy plane tickets.

We wait for God to work.

And it is summer, and the girl is ready for elementary school, and the boy is ready for Irish school, and we've not yet enrolled them in the fall. Anywhere.

I'm not sure what this means, except I feel ready. But our apartment is still full and we still have work to do. I tell people this summer and they say, "Really? So soon?" I ask myself that, too, and think "Oh, maybe... I hope so? But maybe not...?" They tell me I should enroll them anyway, better safe than sorry.

But I tell them I don't yet have peace.

Even if I were to enroll them, I don't where they would go, don't know if we'll still be in this apartment (let alone this country), don't know if we'd need to transition somewhere else to finish the fundraising.

I don't know so many things.

"In August, God will tell us," I tell them, "He always has." And this is true. When it comes to our kids and schools, He's always shown us the way. He's always put us in the right place (even when we didn't want to be there), always opened up a spot (even when they said it was full), always been patient with us (even when we haven't been patient with Him).

We have friends in a similar situation, in a similar season of life (this waiting and going). When I share these thoughts with her she looks me straight in the eyes and says, "Don't enroll them." There is no hesitation, no pause at the timing, no gasp at the numbers. She believes.

It's misty and dark outside now... a rare reprieve from the heat and sun, dampening our thirsty grass.

I believe, too.

The kinky curl tells the tale

19 June 2012


He comes up to me, takes a good long look at me.

"What are you doing?" I ask him, annoyed.
"Just checking the humidity," he says, "before I have to go outside."


95 Degrees Fahrenheit. This is the threshold - 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius to my slim European readership) - where I am forced to shave my legs. Jeans will not cut it today. Maxi skirts will only frustrate me. Shorts will have to do. And in order to go out in public and buy some groceries on a 95 degree Fahrenheit day, I know what I must do.

This is Kansas in June. (No scratch that, this is Missouri in June... I forget even my driver's license says I live on the Missouri side now.) There is no ocean or great lake here. We are severely landlocked: the cool air of mountain breezes 10 hours to the west, the warm surf of Lake Michigan 8 hours to the east, nary a sea within 1500 miles (or 2+ days' drive) in any and every direction.

As far as the eye can see, scorched and spotted grass, lazy trees, hills pushing us closer to a baking sun.


I turn and look to the mirror. My hair tells the tale of a Midwestern summer. A kinky curl peeks out at my temple.

We are all so thirsty. We are in drought. 

And my tongue is fuzzy and parched, wishing for just one moment it could taste the cool blue of the Sea.


What is it like where you are? Forest fires, severe weather, or sink hole?

Loving us all (on Father's Day)

17 June 2012

There's no way I can top what I wrote last year for Father's Day... instead I just wanted to share some images of the man I somehow had the foresight, brains and heart to choose as a partner and father. Only God could make a 19 year old see the light...


tolerating dad



He prays, hopes, and works hard for us... giving us a wild ride of a life, teaching us how to say, "Yes, Lord," and loving us all along the way.

Thank you, babe. Happy Father's Day.

The trade-off

14 June 2012

IMG_20120613_112008.jpg He says this is the trade-off.

Home from an early morning meeting, he loosens his collar, grabs the children by theirs and shoos us to the door. “We are going for a walk!” he shouts, grabbing his Bible. And I laugh, “What are you going to do with that at the park?”

You’ll see.

She runs ahead with hair flying, careful for cars, stopping always before the next street. They throw rocks for that silly turtle - “my turtle!” - they saw just the one time in the creek bed down the street.

We walk faster, uphill, and this is too much for me after a week of feeling sick and down. But the fresh air is so sweet, my dry throat doesn’t mind so much the extra panting or coughing or chewed up water bottle some toddler tried to teethe his molars on. My legs come back to life and I breathe deeper than I have for days.

The children yell – “almost there!” “I see it!” – and he grabs my hand.

“This is the trade-off,” he says, “for all the hard stuff. We get to do this, walk with our kids on a cool morning, take them to the park. This they will remember.”

He says it’s a spiritual discipline, the rest and the peace. He says he wants this for us, to be disciplined. Not to because it makes us more righteous, but because it brings us closer to Him.

We sit on the swing in the dancing shade, the girl elbow-deep in sand and the boy climbing higher. “I’m thinking I should read from the Peters,” he says.

And so he does.

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. 

I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners 
in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 
God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. 
As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

May God give you more and more grace and peace.

1 Peter 1:1-2 NLT



He calls me just now. Clocked in late to the second job, talked to by the boss. Yes, there is a trade-off, I think. I hope we land on the right side.

Actually, Lord, I just hope we land.

Writing the ugly cry

13 June 2012

I am afraid to be ugly.

Before I hit publish on anything (blog, prayer update, email), I fret and edit and reread and check my thesaurus and edit some more. So today's challenge is a stretch for me.

Write something ugly and sit with it. Let someone read it. Invite feedback. And then slowly work towards beautiful.

There are a few projects I'm working on, things this 15 Habits challenge has inspired, things I'm slightly uncomfortable with, but trying to put out there and see what happens. And a few of them are still in the ugly stage. Like an Oprah's Ugly Cry kind of a stage. 

So, I suppose, it's time to be stretched...

I'm not following along really well... I mean, it's all swimming in my head, but not yet written on paper (or typed in blogger template). So forgive me for my lack of fortitude... I'm hoping this will all eventually become something beautiful.

In two years (saved from drowning)

11 June 2012


There's nothing like a near-drowning to make you wanna teach your kid how to swim. The eldest flailing with arms barely above water as half-a-dozen family members played and splashed and paid no mind to the child gasping for breath just out of reach. It was a cousin nearby, a superhero of a girl, who noticed him and pulled him out of the depth and towards safety. And we were all scared witless.

So it was that we moved to an apartment with a pool and we taught the boy to swim. His sister, too. They were nervous at first, him moreso than her, for she is very rarely ever nervous about anything slightly dangerous. In no time at all they went from tip toes and gentle wading near the steps, to cannonballs and running jumps and searching for lost crocs at the bottom of the deep end.

And then they met the ocean. The boy no longer afraid, emboldened by courage and confidence and trust. The girl chasing waves, searching for treasure.

We see it in them, how they learn so readily and happily, growing in faith and gathering their strength. That dark day in the pool was the start - the tipping point - of our long journey from flailing towards trust. They lead the way, without knowing it, teaching us how to do it.

Two years can change everything. More than that, it can change us.


Pink Line Anniversary

10 June 2012

10 years ago today six pink lines appeared (I wanted to be sure, ok?) and our lives changed forever. What I thought was just jet lag turned out to be just a baby, and my world hasn't stopped spinning since. Hopefully - eventually - I'll get this mom thing figured out!

a weird anniversary to remember, I know... :)

The box

08 June 2012

the boxThere is a box that will not close
filled with fragile expectations
unsealed promises
straining under the burden of limitations
not yet willing
to lay in wait
For if it closes
who's to say
when it will be opened

Day 4 and I'm sharing something found in the unpublished archives of the blog
from this time last year

I am a Qualifier... wait, no...

05 June 2012

shot_1332205200604.jpg Husband and I have many conversations that start and end like this.

Me: "I wish I were a writer."
Him: "You are a writer."

Then I laugh at him, laugh at myself, qualify the truth and belittle the feeling I get when I write down something hard, something beautiful, something meant only for that lined piece of paper... because I've never really been paid for it, because I've never really held a job doing it, because I've never really succeeded at it... I'm not actually it. A writer.

For ages now, I have been typing out here what I would never say outloud to anyone, even the husband. I refer to myself as a writer in the safety of the blogger template, I can put it on my twitter bio (again, qualified by the words "ocassional" and "freelance"), but when someone asks me what I do and I try to form the words, my tongue sticks and I weigh the words in my head before saying,

"Um, I'm a mom. And sometimes I blog, you know, kinda do some writing, but I never get paid for it, so you know, mainly mom. Yeah..........." End of convo. Nice to meet you.

But I can't really say that anymore, because I write everyday.

And I did get paid for it (shortlived, but wonderful to receive an actual paycheck with the beautiful word article in the memo line).

And my full-time job is to document the lives of my children, to find breath and worth in their shoelaces and dirty faces, to remember what it felt like on an Irish December night

And I write for Matt and myself and our life on mission here and over there, telling our friends and families what our life is like and why we went in the first place and how it's all worth it.

And the fact we are still in this thing, going back and telling more stories, means we have succeeded.

And I ask tough questions of myself and of my God, things that can't be answered yet, but He hears my heart in the asking and writing it down means I'm not giving up.


Several weeks ago we were handed business cards at church. Empty business cards. We were told to write two questions: Who am I? What do I do? The idea being this:

Who we are is simple. We are in Christ. He is my life. 
What we do is just a part of that. I mother and I write.

And now, I have to stop writing and go mother because the pretzel sticks will not pick up themselves and they all huddle in front of the tv while I take just one more minute or two to write and change and delete and format and reread and edit and edit and... 

Yeah, I am a writer.


If you're a writer, you should do this, too...

My last Chicago post... maybe... at least for now.

I feel so incredibly blessed to have called three cities home: Kansas City, Chicago and Dublin. Though we only had a few child-free, carefree hours in Chicago (including, but not limited to, a radio tour with a girl named Trish, a trip on The Brown Line, and being so close to a piece of art you can see the artist's pencil etchings framing the parchment), it was more than enough time to restore this suburban-sprawled-out soul.



chicago art institute modern art wing

the brown line


I know what your thinking: "Enough with Chicago! When are you going to post your long-awaited review of Downton Abbey, Season 2?!?!"

All in good time.


How do you spend the good times, restoring your soul?

Forget laughter...

04 June 2012

...thankfulness is the best medicine.

I've returned home from Chicago, only slightly worse for wear. There was a lovely 3-year-old little boy who shared his cold with me and it hit just in time for the flight home. Despite the runny nose and scratchy throat, I came home refreshed and at peace and so thankful... with that in mind, an update on dragging my feet my journey towards 1000 gifts:


61. a sweet friend who will buy me a plane ticket
62. old friends who forget how crazy immature you used to be
63. boys who love toy cars
64. clean clothes
65. a life-long friend who will put you on a plane
66. and take you to Chicago
67. and show you art
68. and invite you into her beautiful mess


69. wise people who point me back to God
70. a daddy taking all three kids to the park
71. the smell of banana bread
72. musical chords that must've been constructed by God (matt asks: "be thou my vision?" / i say: "well, yes, but i was thinking arcade fire.")
73. God giving us a second chance and a fresh start overseas
74. a friend in ireland who says: "when you get back home..."
75. the idea of a house with a yard waiting for us
76. peace that surpasses all understanding, even when i'm tempted to question it
77. planes that land safely
78. leftovers in the fridge to feed my children
79. going on a girl date with my daughter and friends in the city
80. the dimple under her eye when she bites into a cupcake


Till We Have Faces (stays with me always)

01 June 2012


"I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." CS Lewis

I've read Pride & Prejudice no fewer than five times, The Red Tent three or four times, and this week I finished Till We Have Faces for the third time.

I first read this book in college, passed down to me by husband who took a class called "Images of Christ in the Novel." When we first met, we bonded over our mutual love of Lewis and, as he was further ahead of me in school, he would slip me obscure(-to-me) titles on the side, books beyond Narnia and mostly nonfiction.

"Here, I think you'll like this," he would say.

The Great Divorce pricked my heart, and Screwtape Letters shown a light in the darkness, the first half of Surprised by Joy I've reread half a dozen times (for the life of me I cannot get to the end of it!), and Mere Christianity I was content in him having read it, so I didn't need to. But Till We Have Faces has stayed with me, on my nightstand always, with Matt's name on the inside and his post office box number written in pencil below. It is torn and taped and I won't part with it. Ever.

This book, I don't know how to describe it. It is otherwordly and dark. It is beautiful and aching. It is confusing and so hard to grasp, that when I read it I feel like I'm trying to catch up and get a glimpse of its truth. When I get to the end and the narrative stops so short I catch my breath, I want to cry because I know there must be more. Orual will tell me the secret. But she doesn't and I go back and reread, searching for the answer. 

I wish I could put my finger on it, but I think I'm actually afraid to. The truth is that I am Orual and her sin looks to me as natual as any other. Jealousy masquerading as love. Pride masquerading as sacrifice. Self-hate masquerading as humility. And the gods, she rakes questions and accusations at them, ones I know in my heart but dare not write down or utter in prayer.
“Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words.” 
I, too, am jealous of Psyche, for she knows the secret and the answer. She is content with a god she cannot see, an otherworldly home she is destined for.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” 
The men in Orual's life, within the Kingdom and the temple, trade theories and suggestions, and I am just as torn by them as Orual is. Who to believe, who has the answer? Why the riddle, and why can I not figure it? Why is there so much mystery, why all the mysticism, where can I find the cut and dry truth?

We want black and white, when everything is shrouded in grey. And when we finally see the answer, it may be too late.
"I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"
Oh, this book. Nearly 15 years later and I'm still wrecked by it, learning from it, undone by its strange story. I'm sure I'll read it again, soon... closer to the truth, the dark beauty and mystery of love.