Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Chairs

For the boys' birthdays, their big gifts from us were oversized, stuffed reading chairs...

personalized with their names.

Apparently, Evie has confiscated them. Comes of being the only girl and the youngest.

No one's going to mess with her.

The Many Faces of Evie

Evie has found a new favorite play spot, the bottom drawer of one of our file cabinets containing her diapers and wipes. It does seem oddly Evie sized, doesn't it?

Addison's Party

One week after the fact here are the pictures from Addison's 5th birthday party with the family.

Addison got a dual-edged light sabre a la Darth Mol. Can you say light sabre envy?

Addison has carried around his bird book all week, regularly consulting it and sharing the beautiful photographs. I think we have a budding ornithologist.

Addison's beloved red-tailed hawk.

The Up cake. Isn't it fun?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Five Years Ago Today

Five years ago today you made me a mother. It occurred to me that since this blog is 3 1/2 years old, and my dear, sweet Addison's birth pre-dates its existence I've never properly written about his entrance into this world.

I will never forget that day as long as I live. I had waited for it for 24 years, including 40 weeks and 5 very long days. There were moments where I never thought he'd come out. As my ankles swelled to elephant proportions, my finger girth required wearing my rings around my neck, and every movement involved pain and lumbering. I didn't know what to expect with delivery and, like most first-time moms, was filled with a certain amount of fear. I remember Trey driving me to the hospital the day of my scheduled induction. My blood pressure was creeping uncomfortably high, and they didn't want to take anymore chances. After all, you were fashionably late, like your daddy always is. On that drive, I remember big, fat, silent tears rolling down my cheeks as I stood on the threshold of this tremendous life change. Even more than the day I got married, I had this overwhelming sense that there was no going back, and I had no idea how I'd hold up to the task at hand.

The induction was fairly routine. Pitocin. Break the water. Painful contractions. Epidural. Relief. FoodTV. Conversations with my mom and sister and Trey. I progressed slowly, but so it often is with the first delivery. Somewhere mid-afternoon my epidural wore off and they gave me a top-up. Comfort again and more FoodTV. Then around dinnertime it got a little hairy.

The epidural began to wear off just as I was entering transition, and for reasons which I still do not understand today I was told I could have no more of that lovely epidural. I labored through transition without pain relief, and then pushed for two hours to get my 8 lb., 9 oz. butterball whose head is still in the 95th percentile into the daylight. Well, not exactly daylight because he was born at 10:51pm. No wonder Davis and Evie slipped out so easily.

I have never been so exhausted or elated in all my life. I remember them lifting this wriggling little person up into my arms. He was damp and warm and so alive. I remember how he smelled and the excited cries he made. And it was instant love.

Addision is the kind of child you don't forget easily. He has a passionate personality that takes in all of life with great gusto. He has high highs and low lows, which he is learning to manage. He is gentle and sweet and feels the responsibility of being the oldest. I can see it already. His mind is sharp and his memory scarily accurate.

His zest and enthusiasm for life are infectious. He wakes every day believing the world is his for discovery. He loves people and talks to everyone we meet. He is happiest when he is with "his people" and is always checking in with me about the ones he loves. He especially has a soft spot for pretty women.

Nothing beats those baby blues. From the time he was born he has had these enormous, almond-shaped, blue saucers fringed with the longest lashes I've ever seen. In fact, I remember the nurses at the hospital remarking that they'd never seen an infant with such lashes. When he sleeps, they rest on his cheeks.

I can hardly believe he is five. This fall he will go to school. Where do the years fly? Wasn't it just a few months ago that he was learning to walk, eat real food, talk, and count? I am especially proud of the way he knows his Bible stories and really understands that Jesus came to die for him. He has told me many times that he believes in Jesus and loves him. What more could a parent ask for?

Yesterday we celebrated his birthday with the family and soon I'll post all the party pictures, but in the meantime let me leave you with these two treasures. The picture above shows one of the presents he received from Nana and Papa, a framed print of the picture of his red-tailed hawk, which you can see here. His face says it all. He was very pleased.


This video shows us all singing "Happy Birthday" and Davis's attempt to steal his brother's thunder which was intercepted by a watchful mama. Happy birthday, Addison!

The Day After

I feel a bit like I've been sucker-punched. Some of you may have heard that our senior minister, Phil Ryken, is leaving our church, Tenth Presbyterian, to be the president of Wheaton College. Sadly, I don't feel that I can be completely transparent about my thoughts in this forum for a variety of reasons. My feelings on the matter are all over the place anyway and changing constantly, not exactly conducive for a coherent blog on the topic.

All I know is that today I feel a bit like you do the day after you break up with your boyfriend. You know you will get through it, but right now you feel like crap. There has been a flurry of controversy over at the Christianity Today blog this weekend as the news of Phil's new position was leaked out prematurely by an overeager blogger who did not respect Wheaton's request for confidentiality from its faculty until Phil had the opportunity to announce his departure in person on Sunday to his congregation. This necessitated a hasty email to Tenth congregants on Saturday. All of this appears to be very bad form on the part of Wheaton and especially this blogger who seemed insensitive to the fact that Wheaton's gain is our profound loss.

But what really broke my heart yesterday during Phil's announcement was the figure of two of his youngest children's shoulders sobbing as they faced the prospect of leaving the only church and home they've ever known. I know they will get through it too, but they're pain is still real. And as a mother it made my heart ache. You will see what I mean on the video.

Congregational Meeting - 2-21-2010 from Tenth Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.

As someone who has been through a very similar situation before in another church context with a minister leaving for a university position, I shudder at the memory of what happened to that congregation in the wake of the departure. It was not pretty. I pray with all my heart that Tenth is strong enough to withstand the uncertain days ahead. Power vacuums sadly can often bring out the worst in people. I ask all of you to pray fervently for our church right now. It is a beacon in our city with a nearly two century tradition of faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray that a gifted and wise leader with a passion for preaching the good news will come alongside to shepherd and guide this flock.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

When the Mighty Fall

After watching some of the Tiger Woods press statement yesterday, it was refreshing this morning to stumble upon this gem in World Magazine. If you have a moment, I strongly encourage to read this article about an amazing athlete, Albert Pujols, who stands in humble submission before his maker. Here is a man who is arguably one of the best baseball players of our day and, some contend, of all time. His Christian testimony is unmistakable and the way that he self-consciously lives his life in obedience to God exemplary. Other stars should stand up and take notice. Those with great talent who live a life seemingly separate from real consequences tend to think, as Tiger admitted, that they follow a different set of rules. Pujols's words stand in diametric contrast to such a notion and gave me chills when I read them: "It would be easy to go out and do whatever I want, but those things only satisfy the flesh for a moment. Jesus satisfies my soul forever."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Third Birthday Party

Remember the Russell cake (or Wussell, as Davis calls him)? The cake mavin extraordinaire, MaryAnn Elwell, who also made my brother's wedding cake, made this beauty. Incredible, huh? And it tasted every bit as good as it looked.

This past Sunday we celebrated Davis's third birthday with our family. Similar to his reaction at Christmas, the experience was a little overwhelming for him. You can see it in the blush of his cheeks and the absence of a smile. Davis is supremely uncomfortable in the spotlight, preferring the comfort of the known and the intimate. He is not an attention hog, which incites my own vigilance to make sure he is not overlooked. Ironically, though, traditional efforts to make him feel special often seem to have the opposite effect, and this is something I need to ponder more. How to make my shyer child feel special without all the usual hoopla. He was unsure about tearing the paper off his presents and looked down shyly while everyone sang Happy Birthday.

However, genuine, candid smiles were present. They just had to be captured quickly without much fanfare.

In fact, of all the presents he received, which he has been thoroughly enjoying this week, the one which elicited the largest grin was a fully glossy, coffee table book on the history of trucks. It was wrapped together with several other books, and he immediately said, "I want that ONE!" That's my boy!

Evie took the opportunity to show off her dancing moves.

She's turned into quite the dancing queen.

I love this photo, and yet at the same time it makes me a little sad because the baby seems to be melting away.


Davis was a little uncertain about the singing-candle-blowing-out ritual. After we were done with the anthem, he just sat there looking at the cake to a chorus of "blow out the candle!" In trying to help him, I inadvertently blew it out, which received an admonishing, "No, Mom!" I quickly re-lit the candle and he promptly and self-assuredly blew it out.

Happy number three, Davis!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Realities of Re-entry

Remember Aberdeen Women's Fellowship? Some of you are former members. Some of you are current members. Others have only heard about it through my blog. AWF was the brainchild of several ex-pat, largely university wives in Aberdeen. It started as a loose confederation of women seeking support and encouragement from one another during what is an incredibly challenging although ultimately rewarding period in our lives. It was originally called the Sew'n'Sos because it was mainly a crafting group. However, under the leadership of Rachel Green and me during our second year in Aberdeen we expanded the reach of the group and renamed it in order to focus more on service, discipleship, and fellowship. We developed an informational website for incoming families, which you can see here and sought tangible ways to reach out to new families with welcome packs full of useful information and helpful items as well as events to promote new relationships. AWF was one of the hardest things to leave behind in Aberdeen, but it makes me so proud to know that incredible women have kept it going and thriving. The group is larger and more vibrant than ever, and I know it serves a very important role in helping families acclimate and make the most of their time in Aberdeen.

One of the amazing women and an ├╝ber-talented designer who created the AWF logo and website is Allison Merrick. Under her leadership the group has launched a bi-annual newsletter called Shire featuring articles, recipes, tips, information, etc. Last year Allison asked me to write an article about what it's like to return home after living in Aberdeen, and this is the article I produced. (Click on the photo to enlarge. The rest of the pages are at the end of this post.)

The Realities of Re-entry

I always knew we'd go home one day. I never forgot I was a sojourner in a foreign land. But what I hadn't anticipated was how hard the moving home would actually be. Every ex-patriot's experience abroad is as unique as the individual. For me, Aberdeen changed my life in ways I continue to learn about every day, and what I didn't know when we decided to take the Scottish plunge was that leaving at the end meant giving away a little piece of my heart. A wise man once said, " never really knows how much one has been touched by a place until one has left it." How true! The chilly North Sea wind still blows through my soul. On clear, crisp autumn days I can close my eyes and almost imagine the whir of helicopters and the call of gulls, noises which in retrospect are no longer irritating but soothing. While I have many practical tips to help those preparing for the move home, my greatest piece of advice is to be patient with yourself during re-entry. Just like graduations, weddings, and births, the gravity of what comes later can catch us by surprise. We spend so much time preparing for the event itself and can forget about the after part, which is usually more significant and certainly more lasting.

You are different, but you don't look different
When I first moved home I felt like I needed to wear a sign that read: "I lived in Scotland for two years. I'm different now." You see, on the outside I looked exactly the same. I didn't even have a new accent, which incidentally lots of people expect you to have. But I was different. Living abroad changes you. You become a survivor. You achieve things you never thought you could. You learn to adapt and this shapes your perspective on life. I remember going to the zoo with my boys shortly after moving home and seeing a Highland Coo labeled as an endangered species. I wanted to hop up on the fence and announce to everyone standing nearby, "I just moved back from Scotland and I've seen these coos in real life. They're everywhere in Scotland. And they're beautiful and rugged and..." But that would be strange. People wouldn't understand.

When the familiar becomes unfamiliar
Life in the US is more hectic. There are more choices. You may find that what initially was so aggravating upon moving overseas, has become a part of who you are. The old way will now seem odd and definitely overwhelming. Your first trip to the grocery store will be an exercise in sensory overload. Events which at one time were commonplace will seem different and unfamiliar. These are all just signs that you have acclimated to another way of life. Soda bottles will seem short and squat. Paper towel squares will seem enormous. You'll forget which side of the car to get into, and you might even catch yourself converting from GBP to USD. Don't be surprised when saying "pants" makes you snicker or you can't remember what Americans call a buggy. You've been Scotland-ized and you didn't even know it.

So much to say and no one to talk to
When I first moved back, I wanted to talk about Aberdeen all the time to the people I was around. I can only imagine how tiresome that became. People think that living abroad is like taking an extended vacation, but it's not. It's an experience to be mulled over and discussed. You may find the only sympathetic ear is your spouse. Talk to each other. Laugh and cry and relive it all. For me, writing about it helped. My post-Aberdeen blog entries are filled with residual tidbits about that great city. You may also find your children need to talk about it too. In my case, my oldest child had a strong need to talk about Aberdeen. It went on for months and then little-by-little dropped away. This is all part of processing the past and moving on with the new.

Big girls do cry
Time will go by and you will adjust. Imperceptibly you will settle into a new routine and all will become familiar again. And then, at an unexpected moment when your guard is down, you will feel an ache so deep that nothing makes it better except talking about your experiences and shedding a few wistful tears. Reliving your memories is healthy and cathartic. It acknowledges the important role that your old home had in your life and allows you to enjoy it afresh even thousands of miles away. So go ahead. It's OK to miss it and even cry a little.

As you contemplate your exit date, my challenge to you would be to savor the days you have left. They are precious and fleeting. Your time in Scotland is something you will never forget. Tick off everything on your To Do list. Make the most of your time. Embrace the experience. And when it is time to return, know that you carry memories with you that will last your lifetime.

Tips for Moving Back

1. Keep an Inventory - One of the best decisions I ever made was to keep an inventory of every item we purchased or were given during our time in Aberdeen. I ordered it by room, and this made sorting through the contents of our home when we were ready to move back much easier.

2. Give away - Once you know what you won't be taking home with you (based on your inventory), start giving things away. Freecycle, the AWF contact list, charity shops, the NCT Sale all have eager recipients who will treasure your items. Some people choose to sell things as well. We sold some of the bigger items that we had purchased, but because we had been given so many things when we moved to Aberdeen, it only seemed right to return the generosity.

3. Keep some money in your UK bank account - You may have unexpected expenses that need to be paid in GBP and it will be much easier to do so if you have an account in the UK.

4. Ship FedEx - You might not expect it, but FedEx is quite competitive for shipping and it will take a lot less time to cross the Atlantic than Royal Mail or a pallet on a boat. As a bonus, FedEx will come collect your boxes for free. Ask for the high volume discount. We received 50% off the normal priority rate due to the number of boxes we shipped (19 total). With the discount it was actually cheaper than their economy rate.

5. Label the box contents for customs - Don't forget about customs. I foolishly packed all of our boxes before reading the paperwork and then had to guess at the contents for each one. As you pack the boxes, make a list. This will save a lot of headaches when you fill out the shipping and customs forms.

6. Call a van taxi - You shouldn't need two cabs for the airport. Just call for a van, which should cut your cab fare. Believe it or not, we were able to fit 2 adults, 2 children, one stroller, 7 suitcases, plus carry-ons and the driver into a van.

Davis in Twelve Months

In honor of my fearless warrior, 12 months of Davis. Count how many pictures involve playing or eating. That's my boy. Little time to pay attention to the camera. (You have to catch his smiles quickly and candidly.) Lots of time for life's important activities -- like playing and eating.

February 2009












January 2010


In rummaging through my photo files I came across some real goodies of Davis. In my mind he still looks like this. He's still little and vulnerable with incredibly soulful, twinkly blue eyes, whose right orb has a unique streak of brown. From his unforgettable entrance at 30 Orchard Road to his booming voice and incredible agility, my little lefty has repeatedly proven that he marches to the beat of his own drum. He walked late and talked early. A mass of contradictions, he is quietly passionate with an uncanny sense of comedic timing. His mind is like a steel trap and he longs to do things bigger and better all the time.

Although two has posed its challenges with Davis -- they don't call it terrible for nothin'-- I can feel the winds of change. He is maturing and my heart thrills at the way he repeats snippets of Bible verses, like "be ye kind one to another." God is moving in him.

He is a supremely contented little boy with the enviable ability to play happily in his own little world. I can hardly remember life without Davis, nor do I want to. Elfish smile and sparkling eyes, you are my dear little love, sweet baby D.

Birthday party pictures from Sunday to follow.