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She would take a bag of M&Ms and dump it into a jar of peanut butter and proceed to eat directly out of the jar with a spoon. “It’s one of the benefits of being single,” she once told me.

My Aunt Kathy didn’t have an easy life. Having been diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age, struggling with seizures, and short term memory loss, she still (stubbornly, some would say) learned to use the email (if not the internet) and took a plane to Germany to see us–twice, when most people were scared of terrorists or natural disasters.

She was brave, kind, and always had a bit of wisdom that could re-direct you in a heartbeat. When she was diagnosed with cancer nearly 2 years ago, it didn’t seem fair, somehow–that this woman, who had already gone through so much, should have to battle cancer too. 

She fought it in her typical, brave way, mostly with a cheerful outlook and positive attitude.

Aunt Kathy held me as a baby, played with me as a child, went to my high school plays, and became one of my very best friends as an adult.

She taught me how to bake bread, and vehemently studied gluten-free options for me, and through trial and much (laughable) error, we came up with a loaf that did NOT resemble a brick.

She showed the girls how to finish a quilt, played Scrabble with William and trains with Noah. Aunt Kathy taught Katie the “real” way to play Monopoly (with no mercy), and she was even seen dressing Polly Pockets with Libby.

Aunt Kathy was great at listening, loving, and having fun. She was witty, caring, and always ready to give a hug or take a walk or play a board game.

Even in the middle of winter, she took the kids outside for 20 minutes a day, whether the sun was shining or not. We called her our own “Mary Poppins,” because of the way she tactfully and cheerfully handled each of us. She made our family better.

Last night, her battle was over, and she went Home to be with God.

I know her pain and troubles are finished forever, but I will miss her every day, until I take my last breath.

I don’t know if we will play board games in heaven, and I don’t know if God has peanut butter or M&Ms on hand, but I do know as tough as this loss is, Aunt Kathy & I will never have to say goodbye again.

 

 Playing cards with Katie

Kathy’s first visit to Germany: Holding (a smaller) Noah at the Toy Museum, Rothenburg

A carriage ride at Rothenburg.

Holiday Baking with Libby

Our Mary Poppins in the Baby Pool at Palm Beach, near Nurnberg.

Taking Nanny duty seriously at the Christmas Market in Nurnberg.

We taught her how to play the Wii. Sometimes she won…

…and sometimes she lost. But she always had fun!

A Quilt Lesson

Kathy and I at Neuschwanstein, where we would periodically burst into songs from the Sound of Music

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Because I’m a mom, I often find myself feeling guilty for doing something so self-indulgent as marathon training. I know that running helps to relieve stress, boosts my energy, and makes me an all-around better mother, but still…guilt likes to creep in.

While letting the kids bike with me on runs is okay, it’s really not ideal for me.

I do enjoy spending the time with the kids, hearing their observations about nature, and how red my face is, and how drippy my hair looks, but the white space I find on my solo runs is good for my soul.

How much do I give them? And how much do I give myself (without guilt)?

I think I’ve found a compromise. It began with a new old bike and my bad knees.

I found a bright pink bicycle for Libby at the Junk Shop, and she wanted to take it for a spin. I had a run to do, but I wanted to try doing a warm-up, followed by stretching. So, off we went together, over the hill and through the fields for 2 miles.

It was blistering hot that afternoon, but with only a few uphill boosts from Mom, Libby did the entire 2 miles. I did my stretching at home, and then set off again.

My knees did not hurt at all during the next 8 miles.

This is a big deal, since normally, my knees start complaining after 6 miles.

It was so terribly hot that not only did I drink all the water from my hydration pack, but I unsealed the bladder in order to dump the water stuck in the corners on my head.

I was unsuccessful, as the clear rubber bladder looked as if it had been shrink wrapped. Fortunately, I had brought apple slices with me and was able to shove enough handfuls in my mouth to make it home without collapsing.

It was a terrible, brutal, horrible, hateful run. EXCEPT, my knees didn’t hurt, and my little girl got to be a part of it; two facts which made the day a success.

It was such a success, this idea of actually warming up and stretching, that I tried it with the other kids.

William ran my short run with me (the entire two miles). He kept up, ran ahead, jumped in circles, ran with his arms down by his sides, and monologued the entire way (a little breathlessly). I beat him, by the way (but not by much). I still have better endurance:)

Noah ran an entire mile with me, happily chatting. I ran slowly, for the benefit of this almost 9 year-old, until he smiled up at me and said, “Okay, I’m going to run now,” at which point he left me in his dust. He promises to run a marathon with me when he’s old enough.

Katie cheerfully and quietly biked 2 miles with me as the sun was rising and the rain clouds were moving in. She was content simply being with me–something that both puzzles and humbles me.

I love my kids, and I love running.

Now it seems I can enjoy both, no guilt required.

The wooden characters with their brightly painted faces, dangled from coiled springs and bobbed up and down as they twirled on the miniature merry-go-round.

The display caught many an eye, and not only the ones three feet off the ground. Retirees, tourists, and even a few English-speaking temporary residents paused to watch the cheery characters–a lovely memento for any child–a wooden toy made in Germany.

The price ranged from 12,95 to 15,95 Euro.

If I were to purchase two, it would be well over the amount I donate to Compassion International per month, to help one child who lives in poverty.

As I walked past the gorgeous, hand-crafted German toys (read: wooden), and the heaps and piles and bins of glittering toys not made of wood, and most certainly not made in Germany, I had to pause and fight the urge to cry.

It’s not due (entirely) to hormone swings or to the fact that my kids have outgrown most of the toys in that shop, but it was the sudden and poignant realization that this was an entire store, one of millions across the world, dedicated purely to the entertainment of children–some children.

Consider an eight year-old girl in Kenya named Magdalene.

She is one of seven children in her family and is blessed to have a mom and a dad who love her enough to send her to a Child Development Center, where she can receive food, medication (if needed), and an education.

The letters she writes to me contain so much joy, it’s almost difficult for me (being the Pampered American Princess I am) to fathom.

Shoes.
A dress.
Sweets.
Cooking fat.

That is what Magdalene received for Christmas, for less than the price of two dangly toys.

When I told my kids what she had received, they asked, “Was she happy with that?” As if Magdalene had been somehow cheated.

Yes, Magdalene was very happy with her gifts. She wrote to thank me and said that I am a blessing from God–me: a person who is not doing nearly enough, who squanders time as if it’s a renewable resource, and who purchases funny dangly toys without giving it a second thought.

I often think about Magdalene.

When my kids are studying, I wonder if she has access to a book that day. When my kids are eating, I wonder if she’s had a good meal. When my kids are bouncing on the trampoline or riding their bikes, I wonder if she even has time to play.

Standing in the middle of that bright, happy toy store, I felt incredibly sad.

What am I teaching my children? And why is it so difficult to break out of the materialistic mindset? Am I raising my kids to be givers or consumers?

There’s nothing wrong with toys.

But I wonder how much, or how little, we really need to be happy.

I am not the blessing from God, Magdalene is.

That little girl in Kenya is helping me redefine the word “happy.”

I know that many families in the US are struggling to make ends meet. But if you find that you would like to help your children broaden their perspectives a bit, consider making a donation (either a one-time donation or regularly) to children in poverty.
It won’t merely change the lives of children in far-off places, but it will change yours as well.
Two recommended charities:

Compassion International

or

World Vision