Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Juliet at nine months.


My blue-eyed, gummy-grinned girl.

You're 9 months old now. 

You get up on all fours and rock.  Then you push yourself away from your toys.  And you cry.  You're so frustrated to be going backward all the time.

Forward movement will come soon, love.

And for now, I'll keep pulling you out from under the couch.

You like to pull your sister's hair.  She is not a fan.

You're attempting to eat us out of house and home.  You plow through baby food.  It's a good thing I like to make it at home because otherwise you'd be keeping Ella's Kitchen in business single handedly.  And you love Cheerios, Mum Mums, Puffs, bits of bread, and the ends of baguettes.  So, you're following after your parents in their love of all carbs.

Just wait, babe.  There are cookies and cakes and donuts in your future. It's pretty special.  Your sister learned about macaroons in Paris last weekend.  Those are pretty amazing, too.

You love watching Caroline run amok, gnawing your toys, and pretty much anyone who smiles and talks to you.  Although you've got a special place in your heart for your parents.  We're thankful for that.  And your Mama?  Well, you still like to see her (and her... um... feeding equipment) at least once per night.  But that's okay.  I'm enjoying your winsome baby-ness and am thankful for the ability to care for you.

And those days where I all-but slam my face into a wall out of sheer exhaustion?  (You know, because getting up every night truly and deeply hits me once every 10 days or so.)  Well, on those days I'm extra thankful your dad doesn't care too much about how tidy the house is or whether or not there's hot dinner on the table.  He's always good with takeout pizza, bless him.

Your approach days with curiosity, determination, and wonder.  You played in the bath tonight.  We have crap bath toys.  But to you?  That brush I got from the maternity hospital in Ohio almost 3 years ago that I use to scrub the cradle cap away?  You sat and looked at that thing for a solid 3 minutes.  You put the bristles in your mouth and turned it over and over.  Seeing the world through your beautifully innocent and eager eyes gives me a deeper appreciation for what's good and simple and right.  Colors. Shapes.  Beauty all around.  Much to be thankful for.

You're sensitive.  You hate it when we leave you in a room alone.  If you had your way about things, you'd be constantly held, and you'd sleep in our bed every night.  That's not our particular style around here, but we still enjoy a good snuggle.  And your dad in particular absolutely loves "wearing" you in the Ergo carrier.  And you love it, too.

May God bless and keep you, Sugar Plum.

Love, Mama

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What I would like to tell my middle school self.

I'm gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware...

It's a line from I Just Can't Wait to be King from Disney's Lion King.  These days I listen to that song over and over and over.  It's my two-year-old daughter's favorite, and if I don't have it blaring from my iPhone, she'll take it upon herself to belt it out for the world to hear.

I remember when it was my favorite song, too.  It was middle school for me.  I had been invited to a sleepover with some girls that were a lot cooler than me.  And there we were, squeezed into a minivan and on our way to someone's house.  We were talking about the new movie and our favorite songs from the soundtrack.  "My favorite is Just Can't Wait to be King!" I blurted out.  "My cousins and I each sing a part."


And then, from another girl: "That song is dumb."

I still remember that feeling, sitting in a dark minivan, thankful no one could see my face.  Color rising in my cheeks and tears welling in my eyes.  I was mortified.  But more than that, I felt I should choose a different favorite Lion King song, and make excuses for my former favorite.  My taste in music simply wasn't up to scruff.

And now, a few weeks before my 30th birthday, I still think back on that and cringe.  But not because of the embarrassment I felt, although I do remember that feeling quite clearly.  But mostly because back then I didn't think my own tastes and opinions and self good enough.  So here's what I want to go back and say to that girl...

1. Hold your head high and like what you like and be the girl God created you to be.  Unkind people will say unkind things, but they usually aren't worth listening to.

And those girls in that minivan?  I haven't thought about or talked to or had any non-facebook contact with them in a decade.  Probably longer.

2. The friends that stick don't care how "cool" you are.  They don't care about your sense of fashion (or lack thereof).  Or your haircut or ugly glasses.  And certainly not your musical tastes.  

I've never been all that interested in music.  I enjoy a smattering of things, but don't have much of a passion for it otherwise.  I downloaded an Adele album a few weeks back and I'm pretty sure it's the first music I've bought in years.  And I'm fully aware that the album is a few years old.  I have no idea what artists are at the top of the charts.  Heck, I had to Google Nicki Minaj when she showed up to judge American Idol last season.  But my close friends today?  While we might share a chuckle about my musical clueless-ness, I know they couldn't care less.

3. Social politics.  Hurt feelings.  Awkward moments and hard conversations and humble pie.  They don't end when middle school (or even high school) does.  But that's a good thing. 

Friendships are hard, hard work.  At age 29, I'm still learning how to be a good friend.  Hopefully I'm better at it than I was at 13, and hopefully by age 45 I'll be a lot better.  But I'm a sinful, flawed, selfish person.  I can look back on all kinds of occasions where I wish I would have handled things differently.  And it's only by God's grace that I've been able to keep the friends I have.  And my friends?  Well, we've all got issues.  So I've learned that sometimes it takes a lot of love and believing the best and grace and humility to be friends long-term.

I also believe that hard spots in relationships are purposely and lovingly given to me by God for my own refinement.  When something is amiss between me and another person, it gives me pause to examine my words and actions.  Was I putting that person's needs before mine?  Was I treating them with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col 3:12)?  Were my words used for building people up, blessing those who might hear me (Ephesians 4:29)?  If, in my lifetime, I was only bumping into people and situations that were pleasant, how would my rough edges get filed down?  How else would I know that my words or actions might be offensive or hurtful?  And rough patches with people are also an always-needed excuse to seek God in prayer.  For peace.  For humility.  For grace.  And an extra dose of His love for another person.

4. Don't be a social climber.  Because you usually have to step on someone.  

I remember 6th grade.  I had a group of friends in school, but no one super close.  If there was a group gig going on, I'd get an invite.  But rare was the day when I'd get a call to do something one-on-one.  I remember spending an afternoon with one of the other girls in the group.  And we admitted to each other that we felt like "last resorts."  As in, I've called everyone else and they were all busy so I guess I'll hang out with you.  But - hooray - we had each other.  We could be LR's together.  And we had a great time of it.

And then she went away for a year.  Her dad's job, I think.  While she was gone I made new friends.  A cool crowd.  I even had a 7th grade "boyfriend."  We danced to Bon Jovi in my living room and shared popcorn at Mr. Holland's Opus and life was pretty good.  But then that girl came back.  And I hardly gave her the time of day.  She wasn't cool.  I was getting there.  She was still a LR but this time she didn't have a buddy.  I didn't want her to drag me down.

I've always, always regretted doing that.  I pray that God lets our paths cross again so I can apologize.

5. Make a point of being kind.  

I SO wish I could tell that middle schooler me to be kind.  As in, befriend the friendless.  Or the LR's.  Stand up to mean kids.  Be the kind of girl in that minivan who would say, "I like Just Can't Wait to be King, too" to mortified little me.  And that mean girl?  Be extra kind to her too.  Even if she hurt your feelings.  She's probably hurting, too.  Don't participate in malicious gossip.  Give of your time and money and agenda to bless another person.

True loving kindness?  The kind that sometimes requires sacrifice - or maybe even just inconvenience?  It has lasting meaning.  It matters.  Kindness shines a light for Jesus in a way that little else can.

6. God has your life in the palm of His hand.  And He has major blessings in store.

Looking back on my life, it's been so very true.  God has never left my side.  Through doubts and trials, blessings and joys, He has been faithful.  And He always will be.  He holds my hand and guides me with His counsel.  And nothing can separate me from His love.

I would definitely want middle schooler me to know that God is just as faithful when you're 29 as when you're 13.  His love is immeasurably wide and long and high and deep, and His mercy never fails.   


As I look back on this list, from the wise old age of 29, I know in my heart that God is still teaching me these lessons.  When I'm 45, I may well want to go back and tell the current me some of these same things.  It gives me pause.  What silly little things do I care WAY too much about right now?  (Lion King songs, anyone?) And what don't I care enough about?

I look up at the list right now and think, yikes, I've got a long way to go in most of these areas.

But the grace of God that carried me back then will continue to do so throughout my life.

The Lord is my Shepherd...
He restores my soul...
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:1, 3, 6

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Similar to the US, England enjoys a couple of Mondays off of work in the summertime.  So they are akin to Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Unlike the US, the days don't actual celebrate or honor anything, and they have boring names:

Early May Bank Holiday
Spring Bank Holiday (late May)
Summer Bank Holiday

But long summer weekends?  We'll take 'em! 

In early May we decided last minute to take a trip to Cornwall.  Cornwall is the county on the southwest tip of the UK, which is about a 5 hour drive from our place in London.

It's an area known for dairy farming, surfing, scenery, and little meat pies called pasties, among other things.  And it's a very popular vacation destination for the Brits.

And it's easy to see why.  We were totally impressed.

Cornwall reminded us a little bit of the Oregon coast...

Meets some Cape Cod...

And then some... Bahamas?  (We've never been there!)  Hawaii, perhaps?  Wherever the water gets amazingly bluey green and the beaches are pretty.

And then darling English farm houses.  Stone walls.  And livestock. We were quite charmed.

A few specific things we enjoyed about Cornwall...

Land's End.
This is THE southwest tip of the country.  Someone told us it was only "just okay."  We totally disagreed!

For one thing, there was a kiddie farm there where Caroline got to feed the animals.

And by "feed" I mean stuff food up their noses.

We strapped the kids on and explored the cliffs.  At that point the sun came out. 

Perfect hiking.

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It makes me smile to see "Peppa Fairy" in so many of these pictures.  Caroline's favorite companions are nothing if not well traveled.  Peppa Pig has now seen six countries.  She's very cultured indeed!

St. Michael's Mount

This is an old castle/monastary set out on it's own island.  It was given to the Benedictines by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, and actually has a twin of sorts, the better known Mont Saint-Michael in Normandy.

On low tide days you can walk to it on a little causeway.  But as we came on a high tide day/time, we took a boat.  Here's a pic from atop the hill on the island and you can see the causeway under water. 


Our favorite castle by far.  It's the mythical birth place of King Arthur.  And otherwise breathtakingly beautiful.  An old ruin set up on the cliffs.  Water and caves and rocks and stones all around.  Yes, please.

Those stairs up?  Reminded me of the ones Sam and Frodo climbed at the end of Return of the King.  Crazy steep with massive drop offs.

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Naturally, we had the kids strapped on again.  Baby wearing high five!

I also thought it would be SO cute to get Caroline a little knight costume at the gift shop.  What cute pictures, right?  Baby knight running around a medieval castle?  OMG.

Wrong.  She hated it.  Josh had to calm her down with some Cars 2 viewing. And that look on his face above?  "I blame you for this one, Jessica Brown."  HA!

Okay.  One smile.

Maybe this is obvious to you, but we're not really beachy vacationers.  We're more of a sight-seeing kind of family.  But now that we've had kids I've more fully come to appreciate a good beach.  Hours of entertainment for littles!  And Cornwall didn't disappoint in this area.  The weather in early May wasn't quite warm enough to get everyone's bathing suit out, but we still had a good time.

One of the beaches we enjoyed was like this - a little inlet between the rocks/cliffs with aqua blue water.

We actually spied it from our lunch spot (near Josh's head in the picture below) and promptly headed down to enjoy it. 

Caroline, while wading in the sea, got knocked over by a big wave.  Now like most two-year-olds, she requests kisses when she gets little bumps or bruises.  But when a big cold wave hit her?  She laid in the wet sand yelling, "kiss it!  kiss it!"  Meaning, every part of her very cold little body. Here she is dripping wet.  She spent the rest of the afternoon in a sweatshirt and diaper.

Side note: those teenagers in bikinis were crazy to be out in that water.

The other beach was a completely different feel, as it doubled as a harbor.  Right in the heart of St. Ives.

England can look like this?  We had no idea.

During high tide, all the boats come up and drop their anchors in the harbor.

And then as the day goes on, the water recedes out more and more, leaving the boats sitting on the sand.

All in all, a beautiful spot for an afternoon of play.  And with nearby ice cream shops?  Perfection.

And then the culinary delights.  Since we can hardly go for fine dining with our traveling circus, we get excited when the local specialties are more casual.

First, the Cornish Pasty.  It's big ol' pie/turnover/calzone type deal involving pie crust filled with your choice of meat + vegetables or cheese + vegetables.  Cornish tradition dictates that it has to be in a "D" or half circle shape, with crimping along the curve.  My favorite is the traditional variety, which includes steak, potatoes, onions, and "swedes" (similar to turnips).  This guy was huge and heavy and hot and fabulous.

And then... Josh's new love.

The "cream tea."  Before we left, one of my British friends recommended we try pasties and cream tea during our trip.  You can find several pasty shops around London (not to mention the U.P. of Michigan) so we were already familiar with that treat.  But a cream tea?  I thought she was talking about a drink.

Nope.  This is WAY better.  A "cream tea" is actually just local jargon for scones + strawberry jam + clotted cream.  Josh's new favorite English food.  Cornwall is known for especially good cream teas, but you can actually find them all over England.  Josh will skip normal food and instead get this to eat for any meal, any time.

And that just about wraps it up.  Cornwall, we loved you!