29 April 2014

A soul-friend of mine sent me a quote today, about writing and God and being confused, and how sometimes writing about God IS about being confused. One of these days she'll show up here and share her own confusing God thoughts with you, because I think you need to hear them like I needed to today... I'm confused, too. Not just about God and writing, but because I'm in flux. And this blog is in flux because I am in flux.

And my migraines have returned, with such shocking full force that I've had to step away from the computer, from the kitchen, and occasionally from the children, just to catch my breath and close my eyes and pray it passes. They tend to come when I'm distracted and anxious, when the trees are sprouting new blooms and the seasons change, when the world itself is in flux.

Soon I'll be travelling, but before that will come some more visits regarding my visa, putting me back in a state of stress I'd so rather be living beyond by now. And I've spent too much time lately wondering what I'm meant to be writing about, wondering what this blog is supposed to be about, wondering what I'm going to do with this one wild and precious life? You know, besides mothering and wife-ing and carpooling, coffee-ing and walking and befriending, worshipping and laundering and praying.

But that's what life life is. It's not on the blog, on a screen. It's in the air, even if that air is making my sinuses implode right now.

So I'm off to spend these beautiful spring days in the garden with my kids, with my sisters, celebrating family and marriage and grace. And when I come back, things around here will look different. In fact, things may not even be here.

But I'll take you with me, and we can wander together.

Five Friday Favourites

25 April 2014

I've had this post sitting in my drafts for ages; not that I couldn't come up with five things, but I've just not felt like writing. At all. But it's Friday night, the usual weekly cinema party is in full swing downstairs, and I'm surrounded by clean laundry in need of folding. Clearly now is the time.

1. I'm obsessed with neutral, organic home decor. We're in the midst of painting our kitchen white (really our only option since we are stuck with natural wood cabinets and green tile) and already I feel brighter and more at ease in our little rental. Love these images of whites, woods and simplicity.

Clockwise from top: 1 source unknown / 2 Scandinavian Kitchens / 3 Remodelista

2. Playing Uno with the big kids. Ella's at this great age where she understands - and enjoys - math, and they're both starting to figure out that playing by the rules is way more fun than cheating. :) This morning I came downstairs and found them playing side by side on the couch, laughing and helping each other and throwing cards down like Vegas sharks.

3. Easter Sunday. You've already seen the family pictures, but what I could not capture with a camera phone was the spirit of the celebration during the worship service. Our church is still relatively new to us, but on Easter morning, it felt like family.

4. Wedding invitations! Finally, after months of anticipation, the invitations to the wedding of the century came this week! We're officially one month out from my little sister's wedding and I could not BE any more excited (imagine me saying that line like Chandler Bing a/k/a "My scone. MY scone!" If you don't get that, move right along...).

5. The Mini Break. We were able to escape the bustle of suburban Dublin for a couple of days, just our little crew (plus a dog, now). We love it in Clare: sitting by the peat fire, the children in and out of the door and wandering through fields, waking up to the Atlantic, a bright purple sunset. Best part: no cell reception and no TV. Ok, maybe a movie or two on the laptop, and the kiddos brought their little mobile game devices. We're not saints, ya'll. But we were quieted, slept well, jumped on rocks and cuddled in tight. No excuses: take any chance you can and get away with the people you live with, even for a quick 48 hours. We all need a Sabbath from normal life every once in awhile.

hike/nap at Poulnabrone

rock pools, kilkee, county clare


Your turn! Hit me with five of your favourite things right now.

Saying goodbye to the Easter Dress

22 April 2014

:: 2011 ::

It's not really a big deal. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. Easter isn't about the dresses, and when you really think about it, pageantry is kind of the opposite of what happened on that desperate weekend so long ago. But still, in my formative years, when I was transitioning from awkward girl to awkward teenager, I could always count on a new Easter Dress. I have many memories of flowered skirts and white shoes, of the anticipation of the new outfit that would propel me into the fashionable orbit of Easter Girls. Ironically, princess-type frills were never my thing, but on Easter I threw those ideals out the window and embraced the glory of femininity.

:: 2008 ::

In a childhood where resources were tight, my mother still made sure to treat us to those Easter dresses. It was like Christmas in April and my sister and I always felt special, beautiful and girly, standing in front of my grandparents' house on a sunny Kansas morning. I have no idea what kind of church clothes I wore the rest of the year. I assume there were skirts and pointy shoes, maybe red bows for Christmas. But the only images that remain are of those Easter Dresses, a symbol of the celebration of resurrection, and the feeling of being pretty for my friends (and for the boys) on at least one day a year.

Ella last wore a dress for Easter in 2012. And it wasn't really a dress so much as a navy suit. She chose to forgo the flowers and the fluff, opting instead for white piping and zebra shoes. I didn't think about it so much at the time, but in the two years that have passed, it has become the norm of her identity: she is not a dress girl. She'd rather not wear skirts. She will only wear pink if there's some sort of animal on it (Christmas 2011 saw her in the "human cat dress" - thanks, H&M). And her usual Sunday attire consists of jeans and a hoodie.

:: 2012 ::

We used to fight about this. Not that I always wanted her in dresses, but we had a closet full of them. She's the only granddaughter on my side of the family, and her aunts and grandparents generously showered her with a beautiful wardrobe, a rainbow of skirts and dresses. They paid close attention to her style and personality, always careful to pick out something sporty or unique. But still those dresses hung in the closet, mostly untouched. We'd have standoffs at the bedroom door, me not wanting these gifts to go to waste, her not even willing to consider them.

I wasted so much time driving us both crazy over it. But somewhere along the way, I gave up this less-than-noble fight. For me and my strong-willed girl, there are bigger battles to wage... like school uniforms. In her Irish Catholic national school, girls wear pinafores and skirts, tights and dress shoes. Ella wears trousers, her brothers hand-me-down school jumper, black Mary Jane's. This has been a whole other ordeal for our opinionated tomboy.

But back to the Easter Dress.

:: 2007 ::

This year I gave it a passing, fleeting thought. Considered whether to take her shopping, let her pick out an outfit. In the end, we woke up on Sunday like we wake up on most Sundays. I gave her a few options, vaguely stricter guidelines for what she could wear on Easter. I knew we had already said goodbye to the Easter Dress, at least for now. I'm not going to force her into a skirt because it just doesn't matter in the least. I'm not going to make her feel wrong or uncomfortable. I am going to let her be her, within reason.

And I'm going to tell her she's beautiful, just as she is and chooses to be... on Easter, and every other day.

:: 2014 ::

Ironically, her brothers were more than happy to let me pick out what they wore. I will unashamedly dress the boys in coordinating Easter outfits as long as they let me.


What are your thoughts on the Easter dress? Did you have similar traditions growing up?

Screen-Free Sunday and other Parenting Shenanigans

13 April 2014


We've been slightly neglectful parents in that we kind of let the wee lad have the rule of the roost. He's four now and even though the terrible twos are far behind us, he's the most belligerent, the most vocal, the most opinionated and the most adorable of the lot. So rather than wage a lengthy, logical tug-of-war with this cute little menace, we allow too much leeway in the area of Wii games and videos. And we have paid a hefty price.

And, of course, it's Easter Holidays around here, which means instead of the week-long spring break we used to say was "way too short," we now endure the two-week Easter Break which is "way too long." So to keep all three from melting their brains during this hiatus from school, we start things off right with Screen-Free Sunday.

"Screen-Free Sunday" is actually code for "make Asher so upset that he cries himself to sleep and takes a good long nap and the rest of us can breathe easy and do things like clean or read or also nap until he wakes up an angelic and well-rested version of his former self." 

We sorta, kinda try to make this an actual weekly habit. Some Sundays are better than others. Some Sundays bring us sun and long walks in Phoenix Park and some Sundays bring us scattered showers and back-to-back showings of Shark Boy & Lava Girl. Today was both, but due to a manic cold infecting the younger two, and the aforementioned wailing and gnashing of teeth over our screen-free delusions, mandatory naps were had by all. Ash - who was up for several hours last night cheerfully coughing and blowing his nose - finally gave in, climbing next to me in bed. His sticky, snotty fingers pulled the quilt up over his chest, dug down deep in Daddy's pillow, and so quickly and silently fell asleep I had to check to make sure he was still breathing.

Three hours later, I pull all these arms and legs out of bed. Ash first, then Ella. Jack reads to himself in the armchair, The Horse and His Boy plays on the stereo. Matt is in the back garden victoriously organizing a new-to-us garden shed, and I open the laptop to write for the first time in weeks.

Screen-Free Sundays aren't so bad, and I have eventual long-term hopes we'll get pretty good at them. But like everything else, we wait it out and power through, until we finagle some peace on the other side.

Be Safe {a guest post from Fiona Lynne}

07 April 2014

One of my favourite things about blogging is getting to know people online whom I may never get a chance to cross paths with. Fiona is one of them and I'm always challenged and inspired by her words. I asked her if she might consider writing for my wee blog and I'm so glad she said yes. I know you'll be just as enchanted as I was.

Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

These words have become my main prayer for the child growing steadily inside me. It’s what I wish to it in prenatal yoga class when our instructor gives us a moment to send the baby a message. It’s what I pray with every twinge, every uncomfortable stretch of ligaments as it begins to demand ever more space within me.

Last month I went on retreat to the north of England for four days. In the walled garden was a labyrinth, formed from raised turf and grass, its path winding slowly towards the centre. No way to get lost. Only space to perhaps find something – a thought or prayer – that was lost.

I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth for a good five minutes before I took my first step in. Then I walked slowly, reminding myself to breath, self-conscious in case one of the other residents should wander into the garden at that moment. I walked to the middle, encouraging my mind to be still when it started to dart off in a hundred directions, pulling my thoughts back with the help of my own word – dwell, dwell, dwell. Dwell here in this moment.

I’d never have done this ten years ago, even five years ago. It might have seemed too mystical, too new-agey. I’d have said with a naive confidence that we didn’t need such tricks and games to pray. We could pray at any time.

I still believe that but now I’m older and I’m better acquainted with grief and with doubt and with heartache. And sometimes my body needs to enact what my heart has a hard time believing.

At the centre I stood and closed my eyes. I made it. I was always going to make it. There’s no wrong turn on this journey, although the double backs in the pathway at moments made me feel like I was getting further from the centre than closer. But here I stood.

I turned to walk out again, the way I’ve come. The labyrinth is a two-journey experience: in to the centre – of truth, love, grace, my own soul – and out again to the world, to the path I will keep walking now.

My hands slip down to my expanding belly as I walk. I’ve become one of those pregnant women who absentmindedly rub their stomach at awkward moments. Now as I walk along the grassy paths, my prayer repeats again: Be safe be safe be safe. And the tears start to roll as I think of the one who wasn’t meant to be mine in this lifetime.

Truthfully? I’m scared for this little one. As much as I’ve prayed against fear for the past two years, as much as I’ve embraced each day as another day toward that midsummer due date, as much as I’ve understood it wasn’t my fault. Still, I quietly beg this body of mine each morning to be a good home, a safe home for this child making itself known more each day.

It is totally surreal, this round bulging of my stomach. It feels too good to be true many days, that I will actually get to hold this child in my arms. I’ve wanted this so much that I don’t like to mention how hard it is too – how my skin is suddenly so dry it’s flaking, how my boobs have grown at least two sizes from their already-substantial start, making me feel bulky and matronly, how the ache of everything stretching can be so intense some afternoons it makes me want to curl up and weep.

But then a wild kick to the side of my belly and my heart bursts into a million happy pieces as I watch the movements vibrate across my front.

There’s no getting lost on this journey. No steps are wasted, no turns in the path are unexpected to the one who steps out ahead of me, showing me the way. What has been cannot be undone. And what will come, will come. The important thing is to learn to dwell here in the moment, in this step. And to discover in the centre of it all, unexpectedly, that I am safe. 


Fiona is from the UK and lives with her Danish husband in Luxembourg. She's fascinated by culture and people’s stories, and loves living in a community with so many different nationalities. She works for Serve the City Luxembourg, a movement of volunteers seeking to make a difference in their communities. She loves gathering people together to celebrate and collaborate, and baking is her favourite spiritual discipline. Fiona blogs at fionalynne.com and tweets @fiona_lynne.

How I don't follow social media rules, on purpose

02 April 2014

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want follows, you gotta follow. And then they follow you back. And then you follow each other.

The end.

I'm super bad at this, you guys, playing the Twitter / Facebook / [insert any other social media platform here] game. I only barely know the rules, I don't ever post at the right time, and an average of 40 people even see my posts pop up on Facebook because I won't pay Facebook to "boost" or "promote" my posts.

Clearly I am winning the game.

So here are five ways I'm not following social media rules, and why I feel pretty good about it (also known as: How Not To Grow Your Blog).

On Twitter, I don't follow to be followed. I don't have time for HootSuite or any other some such nonsense wherein I have to learn an entirely new platform just to navigate the platform I already subscribe to. I don't follow thousands of people and I don't want to, even if it means less follows, favourites or retweets of my posts.

For sanity's sake, I have a carefully culled list of 325 people, news sources, friends and organisations I want to keep up with. This keeps me invested in people and issues I'm already fond of and encourages engagement that I can keep up with and grow within. Yes, this means I *only* have 271 followers after blogging for 6 years and being on twitter for over 2 years. Oh well. I've found my tribe and I'm happy it's small. My blog may stay small because of it, but I don't want thousands of followers who don't give a crap what I have to say. And vice versa. If you're like me and you follow 10,000 people, that's probably 9,900 people you don't care about.

Follow who you want. And forget about the rest.

I tweet and use my FB page when I want to. And when I write a blog, I want to share it right then, when I'm thinking about it. Occasionally I will schedule blog posts, especially if I'm in that amazing place where I can't stop writing and want to spread out the awesomeness. When this happens, I'll go back to it that day and share the post, but don't give all that much attention to when it goes out.

Unfortunately this means that sometimes my peeps in America are asleep. Or my Irish friends are at work. But those I engage with frequently (see above) will still read and like it and are all kinds of encouraging and wonderful about it.

Write however you can, whenever you can.

I don't know, it's weird. I have this thing where I feel like I don't want to over promote myself or share too much of my writing - which is often inadvertently intimate - with my real-life friends on Facebook. And yet I'm super cool with a group of strangers reading my stuff. In fact, I want them to! But I struggle with blending these boundaries. And sometimes... well... I want to go out on a limb and really say something, and I'm afraid at how it will be taken by people who actually know me. So I either hold back in my writing, or hold back in my sharing of it within my close circle of friends and family. Case in point: last week someone close to me told me they were bothered by my "voice" on an issue. It was a surprisingly painful example of why I'm guarded in what I'm willing to write about, share and cross-post.

I'm hoping, trying, to grow in this area, to keep my voice authentic so readers AND friends will recognize and honour it. And I'm actually thinking of doing away with one or the other (delete my personal page and keep my blog page, or vice versa), but we live far away from home and our families need instant grandkid gratification.

Write what you need to, promote what you want and keep boundaries in place if you need them.

On the flip-side of under-promoting myself, I over-promote the brilliant things my family, friends and wanna-be-friends do. I'm kind of a stalker, so if there's a blog, writer or article that moves me, I will share it with you a half dozen times or so. And when people close to me curate festivals (Middle of the Map, on this weekend!) or write praise albums (The Flint Hill Fellowship, available now!) or create literary art (Conversations | Reconstructed, opens Friday!), I want to share it - a lot - with everyone. I'm hoping my overindulgence reflects poorly on me as opposed to them. I can be a little overeager.

Share what you love. More than likely, they'll return the favour.

This is the one that currently stumps me. I think The River Into Words may have run its course. I still want to blog, but wonder if I should move from being TRIW to being just Karen. If I were honest, I'd have to say this blog runs the gamut from Christian mommy blogger to expat blogger; from faith blogger to a very public Dear Diary. Do I have something else, more or different to say?

Also, I apparently have a common name, which was not available as a twitter handle, email or blog address. Do I integrate my maiden name? Take on a new identity? Or be a different name on every form of social media everywhere? I have no idea. So for now I'm staying put, even if my handle, blog, email and FB page don't match. When it's time to move on I will. Until then, the river into words will keep going.

Stake your claim on a name, but be open to how the words, ideas or questions move through you.

Oh, and bonus #6) When in doubt, always post a picture of a cute kid and an ocean. Nobody can withstand the cuteness of a kid and an ocean. Instant followers for life.


So, that's how I don't do social media well. How do you do it? Are you OK with playing by your own rules?