Some of my most formative moments unfolded on my parents’ porch.
As a girl, a perfect summer day was not complete without a long, lazy afternoon curled up in the white wicker rocking chair as I read away the hours. Nancy Drew took me on adventures. The Babysitters Club inspired an entrepreneurial spirit. As a teenager, I slogged through the newspaper until — after months of reading and building background knowledge — I could finally talk somewhat intelligently about current events.
When we got the referral to adopt my youngest sister on a cold December day, my middle sister and I stampeded out to the porch barefoot, screaming the news at the top of our lungs to the neighbors (the closest of whom lived a quarter mile away), “We’re going to get a sister!”
I shared secrets with my best friend and broke up with at least one sort-of boyfriend sitting on the front porch steps. It has seen flirting and tears.
Two weeks before Chris’ and my wedding, my dad (or maybe it was my mom…) decided that, with all the family coming into town for the big day, the porch’s cracked paint simply had to go. I volunteered to take care of the job, but after days of scraping peeling gray paint for hours on end, I called in the reinforcements. What started out as a solo project became a family affair with plenty of teasing and laughter that I treasured when Chris and I moved away.
Yes, a porch is a special place. It’s a place to get comfortable. To sit. To relax. To watch as the neighborhood moseys along. To simply be.
This spring has been unseasonably warm in the PNW, so I’ve already taken it upon myself to spruce up our porch. The exterior of our house has a farmhouse style, so I wanted the front porch to have a laid-back, rural feel to it.
The “planter” on the ground is actually an old chicken feeder. I wish I knew where the base was, but alas, it has disappeared. It would have made for excellent drainage.
I found this metal drawer at a local barn sale. It still has a paper hand-written label for “Hex Bolts” on the front of it! I made the pillow out of a table cloth. Yes, I was channeling my inner Maria VonTrapp. Wait. Those were curtains. Whatever. I actually used these pillows inside before my interior decor became a bit more neutral. Outdoors suits them!
It’s not my parents’ porch, but I suspect it will be the origin of many more extraordinary moments in the years to come.
Although I love telling a good story, I am rarely one to blab on about myself. However, there are a lot of new people around the blog (welcome!), so I think an introduction is apropos.
Even if you know me or you’ve been around for awhile, stick around! You might just find out something new.
I drove a tractor at a raspberry farm during the summer to pay my way through college. Like most agricultural workers, I worked more hours than I was off during peak season. I spent days getting a tan (which we didn’t care led to wrinkles and melanoma in those days!) and listening to books on CD. I will always remember driving out of a row of berries one evening as the sun set. Fog was starting to descend on the farm, wisping its fingers through the sea of berry plants, and the sunset reflected orange and purple over the snow left on the mountain in the distance. At that moment, there was no place in the world more beautiful, more peaceful, more perfect than the cab of my New Holland, chugging its way through the rows at one mile an hour. Your food comes from places (and people!) like this!
2. I am a voracious reader. I love funny books — Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennisand Where’d you Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semplemake my shortlist of favorites. My favorite modern authors are Richard Russo and Amy Tan. If you’ve read either of them, you’ll know that this is a weird paring. They could not be more different. I’m thinking about starting a book review page on my blog. What do you think? Good idea?
3. I am an introvert who has adapted to an extrovert’s world. I require hours of solitude after school to reboot. A good weekend to me is one where I have caught up on sleep, read, and gone for a long walk alone. Big crowds of people tend to freak me out.
4. I would like to write a children’s book someday.
5. I act — at least in community theatre. I started acting as a kid. It develops creativity, discipline, work ethic, and people skills! I’m constantly inspired by the people I meet doing theatre. However, being an introvert, I can’t jump from show to show like many actors I know. I need time to get my bearings.
6. I genuinely like classical music. It’s what I listen to when I write. I especially like Debussy. Classic rock (The Beatles, The Eagles, etc.) is my projects-in-the-garage music.
7. I raised pigs as a kid. Yep. I even bottle-fed one of the runt piglets. I was practically Fern. As a 6th grader, I got up at 6am every morning to feed them and muck their pen before school. It’s my own personal version of “I used to walk 4 miles to school uphill both ways.” I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!
8. My favorite candy is black licorice.
9. I grew up in a 100 year old farmhouse that was in a constant state of remodel. My room was the former master bedroom, and it had an amazing view of the mountains. Before my parents remodeled that room, there was a big chunk of glass missing from the window. I would stuff an old sock into the hole to keep out winter’s chill. Occasionally, frost formed on the inside.
10. The feeling of falling terrifies me, so I am no fun at an amusement park. However, I will hold your phone while you go on the Spinning Wheel of Death and Destruction Mountain of Doom or whatever cruel and unusual punishment the park has to offer. It’s the least I can do as you plummet, invert, and spin your way to puke heaven!
It already seems to be the word of 2016: social media is abuzz with people declaring their New Year’s Resolution is to “simplify.”
The cynic in me hates buzz words. The teacher in me does too. I can imagine my red pen scrawling across my Facebook feed: What does simplify mean, exactly? Simplify? How?
Out of curiosity and a dash of nerdiness, I looked up the word and discovered that according to my buddy Merriam Webster, it means “to reduce to bare essentials.”
I immediately thought of reducing belongings to the bare essentials, but for the most part, my stuff isn’t that important to me. I don’t have an overabundance of things. No stuffed-to-the-gills closet, no overflowing-with-gadget kitchen drawers.
So, it’s not necessarily physical “bare essentials” I’m trying to simplify. It’s my time.
The problem is that my life is so cluttered with legitimately good activities that it can be difficult to determine the “bare essentials” from the superfluous.
My former pastor (former because we moved out of state and he passed this past November), used remind the congregation that time on earth is finite, so saying “yes” to something is saying “no” to something else. You can’t spend the same time twice.
As someone who has a hard time saying no, this concept was (and is) rather freeing to me. If I say “yes” to being on that committee, I might have to say “no” to quality time with a friend or to my personal solitude, both of which are vital to me. No matter how good an activity is, there is a cost-benefit in terms of time. I have to subtract to add.
So, I’m using that idea to simplify my life. Last night, I made a list of things that are important to me — things I want to say “yes” to more often in 2016. The list was daunting: reading, spending time with family and friends, volunteering, creating, exercising, traveling, blogging, praying. I already do most of those things (Okay, not exercising, but my post-Christmas body is telling me it’s time to start!) to varying degrees, but too often, I let the clutter of life squeeze them out rather than guarding them fiercely.
I say “yes” to less important things, which ends up being a passive “no” to the things that really matter to me.
To create margin for all these “yeses” to occur, I put things on the “no” list too: social media, TV, grading essays at home, joining committees at school, acting (for a brief hiatus). It’s not that I’m never going to do the things on the “no” list. On the contrary, sometimes a couple of mindless hours of TV is the ultimate downtime (Hello, NFL playoffs!). I’m just making a more concerted effort to stop checking Instagram every five minutes, to avoid bringing work home, to pass when I could audition for a show that isn’t interesting to me, to say “no” in an effort to protect the bare essentials.
Last year at this time, I read an incredibly depressing article about a Yiwu, the city in China that manufactures 60% of the world’s Christmas decorations. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what exactly made the article so depressing: the volume of products produced, the images of red-glitter-stained workers, the guilt I felt as an American consumer, or the fact that the Chinese workers interviewed had little more than a vague understanding of the Christmas holiday.
(Are you still reading? I feel like that paragraph was pretty heavy-hitting for this time of year. This will get more uplifting, I promise!)
To say that it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in the consumer aspect of Christmas is an understatement. It takes nearly Herculean strength to resist it. I want to share with you one way our extended family has attempted to counteract that tendency and how it has changed my outlook on gifting.
Three years ago, my mother-in-law came up with a crazy idea: she suggested that the family (which consists of my husband and his three siblings and their significant others, two nieces, one nephew, my M.I.L., her husband, me, and a partridge in a pear tree) buy nothing new for each other for Christmas. Instead, she suggested we make, rehome, or buy gifts from thrift stores.
At first, I was skeptical. Very skeptical. Very, very skeptical.
Could we make gifts that people would actually like? Was it even possible to find cool gifts at thrift stores? Would we all go home with useless junk that would just go back to the thrift store the next day?
Despite these misgivings, the rest of the family and I agreed, dubbing the experiment “Goodwill Christmas.” The first year was an adventure: some gifts, like the vintage bookbag my sister-in-law found for my husband, were a huge hit. Others were silly, inside jokes, or just fun. Very few were duds. We savored the opening of gifts, laughing, oohing, and aahing over each present. After the first year, we decided that gifts could be handmade by us, thrifted, purchased from an antique store, or handmade by an artisan. Basically, if a gift was going to be purchased, the purchase needed to benefit a charity, small business, or individual.
Since then, something incredible has happened: we all give more purposefully, more lovingly, more thoughtfully to one another. It’s not about going to the mall at 6pm on Thanksgiving night or 6am on Black Friday to get a screaming deal on another scarf or pair of earrings that will be worn for a month or two and then lost or discarded. Instead, we pay attention to each other’s hobbies and interests, picking up or making a gift here and there throughout the year. Rather than trying to “outgive” each other in terms of money spent, we outdo each other in thoughtfulness (and sometimes humor!).
Equally important, I have developed a healthier attitude towards both receiving and giving. Previously, when I opened gifts, I had an expectation or idea of what people had gotten me for Christmas. If I didn’t like a gift, I added it to my mental list of things to return the next day. Gifts were transactional: you get me what I want and I’ll get you what you want. Since implementing Goodwill Christmas, I have no expectations about what I will receive. I do know that the physical objects are not the point. The point is the thought, the care, the feeling of being known that gift represents.
On the flip side, I used to get insecure about gift-giving. I worried if it looked like I spent too much or too little, if the gift I picked out was the exact item on the person’s wish list, if I should include a gift receipt. Now, I relish the creative process of making gifts, even simple gifts, that my family members will appreciate. I enjoy finding interesting second-hand items for them. There are no returns. No one cares how much (or how little) the gift costs. It’s truly the thought that counts.
“So,” you might ask, “What do you do with all the money you save by making or thrifting your Christmas gifts?” Great question! Every Christmas, Chris and I donate that money to a charitable organization. One year, we gave to Heifer International. Another year, we gave to Families of Hope Adoption Fund. Last year, our church small group adopted a needy family and bought gifts and a Christmas dinner for them. This year, on the heels of experiencing our nieces’ birth at 29 weeks, we’re giving to an organization that makes blankets for NICU patients.
You see, like the Grinch realized, “Maybe Christmas … doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.”
Will you share your traditions that bless others during this season? Let’s start a wave of generosity and kindness to celebrate advent and Christmas!
There are some things at which I excel. Saying “thank you” is not one of them. It’s not that I take others for granted exactly. It’s more that the tyranny of the urgent takes over, pushing me to cross the next item off my to-do list, rather than stopping to express gratitude. When I do say thank you, I often worry that my feeble words sound flat – or worse – insincere.
I’ve always loved Thanksgiving and the encouragement to slow down and be grateful. However, I often find myself being thankful for things: a roof over my head, food and clothing, health, my job. When I realize how thankful I am for a person in my life, I rarely take the initiative to communicate my gratitude even though I know stopping to say “thank you” would probably mean a lot to the recipient.
This November, I’m issuing myself a challenge: instead of just thinking about being thankful for the people in my life, I am going to write one thank you note per day. Some of the notes will go to people who have had a profound impact on my life: teachers, coaches, mentors. Some will be for friends and colleagues. As the month progresses, I’ll be keeping a log of the notes and sharing some anecdotes on Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #grateful4you.
I’m only two notes in, so it’s not too late to join me! Who are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Don’t keep it in! Grab a stack of thank you notes and start telling him or her!
Copyright Best Coast Living, 2015. May not be reproduced without permission of the author.
Last week, a woman I follow on Instagram lamented that after a move to the Pacific Northwest about a year ago, she has had trouble making friends, citing “the Seattle freeze” as the cause of her increasing feeling of isolation. People from far and wide jumped to provide support and advice. Some swore that the PNW is the least friendly place in the country. Others cited long-lasting friendships as evidence that Northwest is perfectly genial. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.
I asked a friend of mine, a sociology professor and PNW transplant, if their concerns were (in my highly scientific, technical verbage) “a real thing.” After kindly reminding me that what people perceive as friendliness is a purely social construct and that she hadn’t personally experienced “the Seattle freeze,” she confirmed that — yes — the PNW’s brand of social interaction is not typically perceived as friendly.
I felt my metaphorical hackles rise. Not friendly? Seriously? Then, I remembered that when we moved to Arizona, I was taken aback with people’s neighborly attitude. People started chitchatty conversations (that, as an introvert, kind of creeped me out) in grocery store lines. My colleagues got together after work for happy hour most Fridays. People opened their homes – dirty laundry and all – to others like it was nothing.
That got me thinking: maybe by the rest of the country’s standards, Northwesterners aren’t the world’s most outwardly friendly people; however, maybe we’re just a little misunderstood. As my friend pointed out, “friendly” is a social construct and maybe our way of expressing benevolence is a bit different from the legendary hospitality of the South or the neighborliness of the Midwest.
Maybe we do life a little differently.
So, this is in celebration of you, misunderstood Northwesterner. Friendly or not, this is what we do.
We care more about issues than stuff.
Life isn’t about the newest Louis Vuitton bag or the biggest house on the block or designer jeans with perfectly imperfect distressing in all the right places. A lot of people give lip service to this idea, but Northwesterners believe this on a fundamental level. We’re concerned with saving the environment, saving arts in education, saving people from cancer, saving fish from drowning — whatever the cause, you will find a passionate Northwesterner who believes in it.
Here’s the crazy part: we do more than take out our checkbooks to resolve those issues. We recycle and compost. We drive hybrids. We shop local. We volunteer at the animal shelter and The Boys & Girls Club and the YWCA and the food bank. In fact, according to volunteeringinamerica.gov (a totally legit government agency…seriously, check it out), citizens of Idaho, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon volunteer more hours per capita than any other states except Utah.
That’s right. Take that, Tennessee.
Wait a minute. That wasn’t very friendly.
I encourage you to examine your priorities and try to perform better next time. I believe in you, Tennessee. You can live up to your nickname. You WILL live up to your nickname.
We live and let live.
This might be the crux of the Northwest attitude. We’re are famously laissez-faire, which might play into our reputation as unfriendly. We don’t tend to get overly involved with other people’s lives without permission. We’re not going to police you into being like us or judge you if you’re not.
If you’re used to having your neighbors pop by with an unsolicited casserole or your friends informing you that “on Wednesdays, wewear pink,” our laid-back attitude might come across as uncaring. It’s not.
Truth is, we just want you to be you … and let us be us.
If you want to traipse through life with one pant leg rolled up so that it doesn’t get caught in the chain on your morning bike commute, fine. If you want to drink your coffee out of a recycled pickle jar, we won’t bat an eye. If you want to have a goat living in your dining room, by all means, let a goat live in your dining room.
We all have quirks, foibles, hang-ups. You can’t whitewash them away. No amount of “pull-yourself-together-and-be-a-lady” will eradicate or mediate them. Northwesterners embrace quirks. After all, this is a place of welcome, and if you can’t do that, you can just get out.
Oops. Unfriendly again.
This is a place of welcome, and if you are unable to be welcoming to others, you are welcome to reside elsewhere.
With us, what you see is what you get.
Northwesterners are refreshingly straightforward. We don’t wear makeup to go to the gym. We don’t have a complicated set of unspoken rules governing our social hierarchy. We don’t talk nicely to your face and then “bless your heart” sarcastically behind your back. In Trump-ese (Am I allowed to quote him for comic effect?), “We don’t have time for that nonsense.” Duh, we’re too busy volunteering!
Seriously, though, I think our collective straightforwardness may be off-putting to some. Northwesterners don’t engage in a lot of small talk to provide social lubrication. We cut to the chase. We get intense quickly.
The upshot of all of that is that you can be assured that if a Northwesterner is nice to you, he or she wants to be friends. There’s no need to analyze motives or dig for drama. There’s a reason The Real Housewives of Seattle doesn’t exist. Episodes would consist of rather quiet afternoons at the coffee shop, where friends talk earnestly about protecting farmland from development, followed by a quick trip to the farmer’s market to procure a bundle of organic kale. Worst. Television. Ever.
With all of this said, misunderstood Northwesterner, can’t we do all of these things AND smile at strangers more often? Can’t we do all of this AND open our homes to our colleagues? Can’t we do all of this AND bring the occasional lactose-free, gluten-free, vegan casserole to a neighbor?
I think so.
Copyright Best Coast Living, 2015. May not be reproduced without permission of author.
Last Monday was my adoption day, which got me thinking about what adoption means to me. I’ve been trying to write a blog post about my family and adoption for a week now, but I’ve only been able to write in short spurts because it keeps making my cry. If you know me well, you know that I don’t cry very often, so that should tell you that you may also need some tissues by the end of this blog post too. I’ll give you a second to go and get them.
There was never a dramatic moment in my life in which my mom and dad sat me down and surprised me with the news that I am adopted, like you see in cheesy Lifetime movies. Adoption was not something to hide like a stain on the carpet of a beautiful life. It was something to celebrate. It was a badge of pride.
Still, it’s strange to me that something that is so normal and integral to the fabric of my (and my family’s) existence is so foreign in our seemingly progressive society. I’ve always felt the need to explain, to speak up for adoptive families and adoptees alike, to defend our legitimacy. You see, there are a lot of people who think they know something about adoption, and that “thing” they know is often something negative, something small — a distorted image through a dirty window. But, they’re wrong.
Here’s reality at both its best and its most challenging:
Adoption is complex.
Like the tiger who nurses a piglet or the goat and horse who play together all day, adoption can’t be explained by simple biology. It defies conventional reason that a person would willingly — excitedly, passionately — take in and rear someone else’s offspring as his or her own. Many people can’t look past the old adage that blood is thicker than water, but they’ve missed a fundamental truth that every adoptive family, blended family, and non-traditional family knows: families aren’t built on biology. Families are built on love.
However, adoption introduces a web of incredibly complex relationships: parent-child, adopted sibling-adopted sibling, adopted sibling-biological sibling, child-birth parent, child-birth parent, adoptive parent-birth parent. The permutations are endless.
Each relationship is gossamer-fragile and constantly under scrutiny from both the outside world and from within. When my birthmom and I first started getting to know each other, we didn’t know how to introduce each other to our friends and acquaintances. Friend? Mother? Daughter? Birthmother? Finally, we decided that for better or worse, we were going to be straightforward.
Still, second-guessing is second nature. Have you crossed a boundary? Said too much? Not said enough? Navigating these relationships is walking through mine-field of potentially hurt feelings and insecurities. I worried about my parents’ and siblings’ feelings when I met my birthmom for the first time. I worried about my birthfamily’s feelings when they came out to the West Coast for my wedding. When my wedding photographer didn’t get a single picture of me with my entire family together, despite specific instructions, I was crushed.
But (and what a redemptive but this is!), this confusing web of relationships can also be breathtakingly beautiful.
There is a Chinese proverb talks about an invisible thread connecting those who are destined to meet. God ties this thread between us — parent, birthparent, child, sibling — and it is up to us to bravely weave it into a tapestry reflective of our intentional love for each other.
I’ll never forget my little sister’s adoption day: we had received her referral picture several months prior, and I had studied her fuzzy shock of black hair, her tiny button nose, and her sweet rosebud lips for hours. On the day of her arrival, we stood impatiently just outside of airport customs with another family who was also waiting for their daughter to arrive from Korea. When the social workers started walking towards us in the airport with two chubby babies bundled almost to the point of anonymity in all their worldly possessions, I felt the unmistakable tug of that invisible thread. I pointed to Anna and announced, “That’s her!”
“Are you sure?” My mom asked.
“Of course. I think I’d know my own sister.”
Under a microscope, adoption may be confusing, but — adopted or not — sisters are sisters.
Adoption is gutsy.
At its core, adoption is a fundamentally optimistic, incredibly gutsy proposition. My birthmom was 15 when she got pregnant with me. Put yourself in her shoes. Imagine the stares in the hallway at school, the snide remarks whispered in the grocery store check-out line, the constant feeling of judgment. She could have taken an easier way out, but she stubbornly — defiantly — believed in the goodness of strangers and a better life for me. She bravely risked reputation and comfort to bring me into the world. Her gutsy optimism didn’t stop there: once I was born, she had to undergo the separation and grieving process. I had been part of her for 9 months, and then I wasn’t. I’m lucky. I don’t remember that transition. Subjecting oneself knowingly to something that painful has to be the very definition of courage.
On the other side of the coin, adoptive parents bravely step out in faith that somehow potentially incongruent pieces will create a harmonious family portrait. They battle ever-increasing red tape, mountains of paperwork, and significant financial sacrifice — and that’s only to get their children home. Once that monumental feat is accomplished, there is the matter of familial assimilation and potential psychological trauma. In many cases, they don’t know their child’s medical history. They inherit behavior challenges: separation anxiety, failure to thrive, PTSD. They inherit genetic dispositions fundamentally different from their own.
But we forge on. Despite obstacles, we bravely choose to be family. My siblings and parents and I are vastly different from each other in temperament, interests, and looks. We choose to connect ourselves to each other, despite inherent differences. We throw our challenges, our brokenness, our love into the fire, knowing that by faith, persistence, and bravery, love tested by fire produces a bond that can withstand the fiercest pressure. It’s no wonder that some of the strongest and most resilient families I know are adoptive families.
Adoption is not less legitimate.
Adoptive families may look different, with our mosaic of different colored faces. We may not share the same nose or eyes or laugh or interests. That doesn’t diminish the legitimacy of our family. Unfortunately, although most people might agree with that intellectually, but bear with me for a moment.
How many times have you heard a joke made at the expense of an adopted kid? You might not even notice them any more because they’re so pervasive. The old “I-don’t-belong-in-this-family; I must be adopted” shtick has been a plot line for many a TV sitcom and movie. Remarks about a person being just the “adoptive parents” of a child diminishes the parent-child relationship. Adoptive parents are parents. Period. Adopted children are children. Period.
I think these underhanded jokes stem from the old myth out that adopted kids aren’t wanted. Really? Then, explain to me the emotional and financial sacrifice, both on the part of a birthparent and the part of a parent. Explain to me the months — even years — spent waiting for paperwork to clear and visas to be approved. Explain to me the tears in a mother’s eyes when the judge finally decrees that the child she loves is finally legally hers.
Make no mistake: we’re the most wanted people alive.
But, still there are more. There are thousands upon thousands of children waiting for forever families in our foster care system, as well as millions of orphans around the world. There’s no sugarcoating it: adoption is hard work for everyone involved, but it is so, so, so worth it.
To all my family — both adoptive and biological — I love you more than my stumbling words can say.
Copyright Best Coast Living, 2015. May not be reproduced without permission of author.