This week in Uganda

30 January 2014

Follow the Compassion Bloggers in Uganda
A little public service announcement regarding my friends at Compassion. This is the week a small group of bloggers have trekked to Uganda to tell the stories of the children who are directly impacted by the work of Compassion International. These are children living in poverty, some orphaned and some recovering from traumatic events, some living with parents or siblings or friends of friends. These are the children sponsored by people like you and me, who are fed, go to school, receive health care and spiritual support from the very community they live in. 

This is incarnation right here, friends. A little bit of Jesus right here on earth, dwelling in the smiles and homes and dirt roads of Africa.

I hope you'll take a moment to visit one of the bloggers writing about the trip. This isn't just tourism charity, a drop in the bucket to show they care. This is accountability and responsibility, to put faces and stories and hearts to distant names. They take this seriously and they are reporting back what they find. Some things hard, some things beautiful, some things strange. These children could be mine, or yours, but because of Compassion we can choose to take part, support, pray for, love a child we would never otherwise meet.

Consider joining me and an amazing tribe of international friends in sponsoring a child in Uganda (like our Daphin) through Compassion. And if you do, leave a comment and tell me about it. Or maybe you already do through another organisation. I would LOVE to hear that story, too.

Follow the Uganda '14 bloggers on Twitter or Facebook 

Is that my Diet Coke?

25 January 2014

We have a running gag in our family. It's usually no laughing matter to make light of addictions, but we just can't help it.

My mother is known for her wit, her warmth and her strength. She's also known for her Diet Coke. Every day, at least once, if she spots you with an open container, she'll ask, "Is that my Diet Coke?" Nine times out of ten, it is. She'll open one before bedtime, take a sip and set it aside for morning. You, being that amazing homemaker that you are (ahem) will think it's rubbish and head for the kitchen. Mom will stop you before you hit the sink. It's still good, she'll say. "I just need a hit of Diet Coke."

At dinners, in shops, whenever we spot a can of the good stuff anywhere, "Is that my Diet Coke?"

I wish I could say I don't also lay hold of this addiction. Like my mother before me, I love Diet Coke. It is the best. Probably once a day I find myself thinking, "This would be so much tastier with an iced cold Diet Coke." That is fact. And if you disagree you are lying. Because it's wonderful. And as of today, I'm three weeks off it.

This all happened against my will. People (formerly known as friends) kept posting terrible lies on Facebook. About how it's bad for you. About how you're slowly killing yourself with an internationally banned substance. About how all this time you thought you were being healthy and giving yourself an amazingly tasty zero calorie treat when you were instead slowly filling your veins with toxic chemicals. Whatever. Fear-mongers.

So why was I forced to did we give it up?

Well, we weren't really sleeping well.

And sometimes I'd feel all crampy and my joints hurt.

And maybe I was dehydrated.

And the frequent migraines were a bit worrisome.

And Matt stopped buying it.

So... yeah. We gave up diet soda. And despite a couple-day detox where I was jonesin' hardcore for the good stuff (irritability, shakiness, headaches), it's been mostly good. I haven't really missed it (except when we have pizza, or Mexican food, or popcorn) and instead of having 4-5 migraines a week, I've only had one in the last month. I'm sleeping better, drinking more water and surprisingly drinking less coffee (I still need my caffeine, people!). The only obvious downside? My sweet tooth isn't getting its usual fix. I may be indulging in one too many biscuits (cookies) throughout the day. Not exactly a zero-cal treat. So I obviously still have some work to do.

But mostly, I'm happy. Pathetic, but happy. Diet Coke sadly reminded me of home, of going out for Mexican with my sisters, of my mom in a haze in the mornings. I'm loving saving €10/week, but I'm uncovering latent emotional needs my habit seemingly met. Custard Cremes are decidedly cheaper than a Diet Coke but ruining my waistline does nothing for my homesickness.

And fine, so maybe there's real full-calorie Classic Coke in my fridge. So sue me! Last night was pizza, ok? Sugar is better than aspartame, right?


Actually, don't sue me, DC. I love you. And my mom is drinking enough of you for the both of us.

Sort it all out

21 January 2014

There's so much yelling upstairs and I'm just letting them do it, the clock blaring 8:39pm. I'll give them and myself five more minutes to sort it all out. Our evenings are sometimes like this, when Matt is working and the three wee ones and me are so tired it all comes out in screeches and hollers. I'm hoping by refraining this one time, by allowing them to stomp and sort, by staying out of their way and keeping my impatience all tucked in, the hollers will die down a bit. They'll all retreat. This is wishful thinking, I know, but I don't think they need me. Not yet, anyway.

We took Jack to the US Embassy to renew his passport. It snuck up on me; five years go by so fast. We've made this trek a half dozen times, including one ill-fated trip including vomit and resulting in a 4-day hospital stay for Ella at the age of 3. Pneumonia came the year we had Ash. We loaded them into a double stroller and commuter train to get his "Birth Abroad" certificate and the passed out girl didn't even seem to stir us as we were so intently focused on the new baby. Looking back now we're ashamed and dumfounded. How could we not know she was so sick?

But today it was just the three of us, Matt and me and Jack playing hooky. We did the bureaucracy dance and filled out the forms, we paid the fee and ran around getting new passport photos taken. We came back and a man in a fit swore at the employees and stormed out enraged. It didn't go how he wanted today, and he let them all know it. It's hard to protect the ears of the 10 year old when the f-word is thrown in his face.

The guard was kind and the American employee flustered. Matt was good to talk with Jack, to ask him what we should do when things don't go our way. A teachable moment. I cringe to think of all the times I didn't react so well to similar circumstances, though I don't remember causing (much of) a public scene. I do remember crying, hiding under covers, picking fights, pacing the floors, thinking all hope was lost. Today things took so long and I knew the pictures were wrong, I could barely sit still. I bounced my knee up and down violently, anxiety swirling. I kept pulling at Matt, telling him where I thought we'd messed up, how we'd need new photos, how this wouldn't get sorted today at all, how we had to get new visas in a month and didn't they all know this already?! He silently chastised me with calm and cool cucumber-ness, making me all the more unsettled. But it got done, everything sorted. Another thing we do, wait for, pray on.

Sometimes it goes our way, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I holler, sometimes I don't.

Tomorrow night and next week and next month we'll do it all again. Bedtime routines and stealing of toys. Immigration and another passport. Five years on now and it's Asher's turn soon. Ella is stronger than she's ever been. We live in Dublin and love our work.

It's all a part of life and it'll all get sorted out.

Stealing from friends : books to re-read

20 January 2014

My (virtual) friend Leigh got a brilliant idea from her friend Anne to choose some of her favourite books to re-read in 2014. This got my mind whirring as I have a handful of books I absolutely come back to time and time again, and even more I'd like to give another go. Last year - and with Leigh's great What I'm Into monthly link-ups - I devoted more time to reading (and reviewing) and I'd love to continue this trend indefinitely.

With that in mind, I'm stealing Leigh's borrowing of Anne's idea and offering five books I regularly re-read and five more I hope to re-read this year.

Till We Have Faces :: I've already outed myself as a perpetual re-reader of CS Lewis' final novel. Each reading brings fresh perspective and hidden insights of this strange and dark retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

The End of the Affair :: I first read this book in college and was equal parts enchanted and tormented by the love affair between Bendrix and Sarah (often thought to have been based on Graham Greene's own love affair). Their story is tragic and her faith is a mystery, but still I come back to it.

The Red Tent :: Almost outpacing Till We Have Faces as the book I've re-read most, Anita Diamant's fictionalized account of the biblical story of Dinah (Jacob's only daughter) brings a rich, ancient narrative to the plight of women in the early days of Israel and an intense depiction of brother- and sisterhood among this nomadic tribe. Dinah is an unforgettable heroine.

Pride & Prejudice :: Yes, of course, isn't it obvious? Such a cliche to be a modern woman admiring Lizzy and in love with Darcy who re-reads this book every chance she gets. I literally can't bypass any copy of P&P I see in a storefront. I buy them all. And read.

Jane Eyre :: I've only read this twice, but this year may see its reprisal! Jane is honest, pure and strong. And her verbal sparrings with Mr Rochester a pleasure to read.

And this year? This year I want to re-read...

Mansfield Park or Persuasion :: I read these two Austen books long ago, but would love to give one another go!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe :: Another long ago read and my first foray (like so many others) into the work of Lewis. I'd love to read the story of Aslan again through the eyes of my own children.

To Kill a Mockingbird :: I read this book in high school, loving it then, but never touching it again. Matt shocked me to no end when he revealed he had never read it, so I'll bring it back around and force-feed it to him.

The Great Gatsby :: However, I did manage to convince Matt to read Gatsby (his first time) and then we finally watched the Leo-starring remake. It's a short book, but packs a punch.

The Waste Land and other poems :: My mentor in college gave me T. S. Eliot's collection of poems as a graduation gift and I've already starting diving back into it.

So those are some of my lofty aspirations for reading in 2014, not to mention so many other books on my to-read list. Will I actually read them all? Probably not. But I may as well try. ;)

How about you? Is there a book you just can't help but re-read?

We will help each other, I think

14 January 2014


I haven't written all day, all week. And really, I don't actually want to do it now. I want to watch Sherlock instead. I want to curl up with some tea and good, long show. I want to sink in the bath, warmth spreading from my toes to my forehead. I want to lie in bed and listen for rain.

I don't really want to write, but I figure that means the one thing I should be doing right now is writing.

Things are not bad here at all. It's a bit cold, which is nothing to complain about in itself, as it's still a good 30 degrees warmer than most of our friends and family have it back home. The air is damp and our back garden is a clouded swamp in want of sunshine. Our house backs up to the north so in these winter months the sun never rises on the little hydrangea, never peeks into the playbarn. And even though our days are quickly getting longer - eight whole hours now of daylight - dusk brings such a bristle of cold, so quickly, I find it hard to manage another five hours till bedtime.

And really, if it weren't for the dumb car not starting, things would be great. Near perfect.

But last night it doesn't start. On the coldest day, when we need groceries. We could get all mad and angsty about it if it weren't just so frustratingly silly. A car, only fixed - again - last week. And it won't start. And this time it's not my fault! So we do that thing that we must do when there is no family nearby. We reach out for help.

It's probably one of my least favourite things to do: asking for help, trading favours. I like to be independent and, if I were to be totally honest here, a bit lonely. I like to place myself just out of arm's reach of the person closest to me. I want to be able to duck out of a near-hug at any moment. I like the shadows, the fringes. To me, it's safe there, a place I can twirl for ages and if I fall, no one gets hurt.

But, you know, the kids gotta eat. And get to school. And as much as I like to consider myself alone-ish (truly, how can one be totally alone with four other people - AND A DOG - attached to them?), God has made it so clear that He has chosen for me to not be alone. At least not this time, in this season. Maybe it's a part of my one word last year, this making of home, inviting people in. Or maybe it's the build-up for my word this year, to try. To give it a go and see what happens.

Whatever it is, I'm overwhelmed and stunned. I'm grateful and bewildered. We've got a person, or two or three looking out for us. The same as before when I played Roundabout Russian Roulette. No fingers lost their tips this time, no need for panic. We know who to go to. How to ask. We can embrace it and glory in it, oh friend, will you help?

And they will. And I will. We will help each other, I think.

So today the car is still missing. In this damp January air, a year after coming back, a friend carts me and my crew around. The children make it to school on time and I start my day in her car with my coffee and a few good laughs. Matt and I walk the dog to collect the wee lad, share a bag of crisps and a Dr Pepper. It feels like celebration, like communion: Matt and I and Cocoa sharing these small gifts. Knowing we are looked after, we are loved, so happy to love in return.

You know I'll return this favour, anytime, I say to her as she drops off myself and the final two pieces of our family puzzle. She laughs at me and I forget what she said.

We will do this tomorrow. More friends to the rescue. I try to be annoyed at the circumstance, at the fuel pump that threw a wrench in my day. But I'm not. We are blessed with people. People over things, community. Something worthy of writing about.

Linking up with Heather of the EO and Just Write

Five Friday Favourites

10 January 2014

Last weekend we had some pretty wild storms, even waking once in the night to a loud, crashing thunder boom! Like good Kansans that we are, when it storms, we go a-chasin'. So this edition of Five Friday Favourites is brought to you by our Sunday family field trip.

Storm Christine

Irish Sea cost of North Bull Island

Storm Christine

Storm Christine

Storm Christine

The eczema report of 2014

08 January 2014

It's that time of year again, the wintry mix of dry and itchy skin, red rashes, cracked hands and lotion experimentation. Blessedly, it's been one of the better years for the two of us, Ella and me. We're still using some of the meds and ointments she got last Spring and my hands haven't started bleeding yet. Bonus! But still we cope the uncomfortable scratchiness of nearly everything, do the moisturization dance twice a day, and I'm having to find creative ways to keep everything off my neck, where my outbreak is worst.

I can't really believe it's taken this long to come to the realisation that what E and I have is an actual chronic illness, having given up hope that it will ever really go away and trying to find ways to just deal with it. It's a never-ending quest to find products that keep us functioning and don't make it worse. Very few things ever really improve our symptoms, but there are a few lotions, moisturizers, soaps and such that make living with eczema slightly better.

Here's what's in our proverbial medicine cabinet (we actually don't have a medicine cabinet, but that sounds better than "littering our night-stands and every other bedroom surface").

  • Hydrocortisone, over the counter (use sparingly, can thin skin)
  • Curel (variety of lotions, particularly for hands and intense moisture)
  • Eucerin (travel size hand & face moisturizer goes a long way)
  • Aquaphor (This is so expensive here, we have family bring or send us some. But we usually use it to seal in the hydrocortisone ointment after application.)
  • Aveeno (Aveeno products did not work on E as a baby, but now seem to ease some of the itchy symptoms. Particularly like the oatmeal colloidal bath and other soap products.)
  • Cetaphil (also insanely expensive here; right now using the everyday skin cleanser and sensitive skin repair cleanser.)
  • Dove (just the plain ole beauty bar; bonus: makes your house smell like your grandma's)
  • Zyrtec (I don't know how much this helps, but figure as an antihistamine, it can't hurt.)
  • Bendadryl (doesn't help eczema, but helps E sleep when she's at her itchiest)

One of the worst things about eczema (you know, apart from the endless, painful scratching and unsightly sores) is that what works for one may not work for another. We've tried literally everything - including going dairy free, which was tough on our girl who already has some nut allergies and food/skin sensitivities we stay clear of. And while these products haven't healed E or me, we both feel a little better knowing it's not getting much worse. Our main goal is just to make it through winter with skin intact.

Only three more months to go.

As always, with my stellar medical advice: don't take my word for it. Consult your doctor. Or herbalist. Or mother-in-law. Do you have an eczema problem? What's given you some relief?

OH! Today's the last day to vote for my short story over at The Iron Writer. I'm hoping to place a respectable 2nd. And if you've ever even toyed with the idea of fiction, this is a great, safe place to try it out. Go for it!

My one word cop-out for 2014

03 January 2014

This is gonna be one great big cop-out, but here it is, anyway. My "one word" for 2014. Are you ready for it? Really? Ok.


Yep, that's it. Not create, not breathe, not peace, not joy, not give... just try.

I like this little word. It's a hope word. But it's also an It's Totally OK to Fail at This word. It gives me permission to do something new and it allows me to mess it all up. It says that maybe this will be the thing, you know? The thing you were meant to do.

And it also says better luck next time.

It says stop not doing it, just start. And it requires just a little bit of effort. Not get up at 5am and write 500 words everyday before sunrise effort. Just, like, maybe try going to bed early tonight. Try more cumin in the chicken tacos. Try on this dress.

Try something new, something forgotten, something hoped for, something impossible.

Just try.

Actually this year each member of our family has chosen a word. Asher chose tortellini, which is probably the most inspired of anyone's one word ever. Jack chose explore, Ella - love, and Matt is keeping the peace. We'll see how the patchwork of family dynamics in these five big and small words work for us this year. No matter what the outcome, I foresee a little more pasta in our future. Or, at least, I'll try for it.

Do you do the one word thing? Or any other 2014 resolutions, hopes, dreams? You can totally steal my word if you want. Check out OneWord365 for more details. (Also linking up with Velvet Ashes)

Having another go at fiction

02 January 2014

I'm pleased to look back at the last year and see a few new things, ideas, places and practices I tried on for size. Going back to creative writing and dabbling in fiction was one of them. I don't know if I'll actually ever focus on writing fiction, but it's been good exercise, a fun diversion and a brilliant avenue for meeting and engaging with new friends.

And since I somehow won the last flash-fiction contest I partook in, I got bumped to the tournament. Hope you'll pop over here and read a bit, and don't forget to vote for your favourite (poll at the bottom of the page)!

It’s not what you think. 
You want it to be clean cut, right versus wrong. You want to pick a side and you want the winner to be you. But there are no winners here. The labels we too easily conform to have no bearing here. You can say, “He’s too conservative, she’s totally liberal” all you want, but the value – the truth – is weightier than any one stereotype. 
They didn’t mean for it to happen. You should know that first. 
Keep reading...

Did you try anything new last year? How did it go?