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Two years ago, I began a blog about my journey from couch potato to marathon runner.

Though I wanted to keep the blog purely about health, I found funny things, like my kids, kept creeping in. Because at the core, whether I’m keeping the couch warm on a daily basis or getting my Merrells routinely muddy, I’m still a mom.

I’ve come to realize that not a single component of the mother/writer/runner amalgam can be extracted without making the other elements weaker.

Looking back through my blog, it’s apparent I haven’t met all of my health goals (I can barely hold myself in plank position for 30 seconds before falling in a quivering heap, let alone do an actual push-up), but I am much healthier than I was two marathons ago.

I’m not worried about the fact that I still have many items on my “goal” list because it gives me more to strive towards. And I’m the kind of person who always needs some goal or project to keep me from the fuzzy warm blanket of lethargy.

“Auf die Dauer,” is the German equivalent of “In the Long Run,” which is especially fitting for my life as a mother/writer/runner living in Germany.

Everything we do (or fail to do) has an impact in the long run.

It is finding the importance in each of the hundreds of little daily events, which will lead to something greater. Whether it is plugging away on a languishing manuscript, taking 5 minutes to let my teenager vent, or running a few miles, each step gets me closer to the goal.

It is a new year, and I have a lot of goals: some old, some new.

While I still hold fast to the Auf die Dauer philosophy, I’ve decided to start a new blog. It will be the same me…just a different name.

Auf Gehts, Mama! will contain more about my life as a world-schooling, noveling, solar-powered, running mama, who is encouraged and motivated (often literally) by her children, and who also happens to live in an incredible (often literally) place in the world.

So join me in the new year at AufGehtsMama.com

Let’s go!

Our fingers were frozen, and our toes were frozen, but a Christkindlesmarkt just isn’t authentic unless it is bitterly cold.

Besides, you could be digging a ditch with Libby and still have fun.

Right on the heels of the Katie•Mommy Day was a Libby•Mama Day. I don’t exactly know why the girls have each chosen a different diminutive for me, but I’m just thankful neither refer to me as “mother,” which for some strange reason, conjures the image of someone who beats you with kitchen utensils.

Libby and I arrived at Rothenburg painfully early, mainly to avoid the combative parking arena; and thus we found ourselves walking around the quiet town, waiting for the market to open.

Libby is eight years-old, but she still gets excited about those colorful rides that do nothing more than go round in a circle.

As the man took the tarp from the carousal, Libby plotted which critter she would ride first. Soon, we had purchased four tokens, and Libby was on the unicorn, lifting her feet so they wouldn’t drag on the ground. She had a bit of trouble in the frog car too: with her knees nearly to her chin, she could hardly unfold and get out by herself.

When our hands were sufficiently numb, we went to our favorite restaurant, by the clock tower. The waiter lit a candle for the two of us, and we ordered coffee and hot chocolate to warm our fingers and souls.

Libby was delighted when her cocoa was served to her on a ‘silver’ platter. She said it was the first time EVER—and it makes me happy that it happened while I was with her.

We enjoyed our lunch, and she enjoyed having a captive audience. She says she wants to be a doctor someday, and if she does follow that line of work, I know she’ll be awarded the “Best Bedside Manner” prize. Libby’s charm and cheerful nature could probably heal most people without the use of medicine.

Walking through the market, we picked up a few Christmas presents for the other kids, and then we spied the nut stand. If you’ve never been to Germany, then you may not have heard about candied nuts they have here. Though they’re not laced with anything stronger than cinnamon, they are highly addictive, and should come with warning labels.

As Libby was deciding which nuts she would choose, she suddenly spied the chocolate-covered apples. We usually shy away from foods that have the potential for disaster, but in this case, as an ‘only-child’ for a day, Libby got her wish: her first chocolate covered apple E-V-E-R.

Surprisingly, it did not end up all over her face, hands, forehead, or ponytail, nor on her seat in the car.

We strolled in the shadows of the medieval walls, non-sticky hand in non-sticky hand, simply enjoying each other’s company. 

The fourth child is perhaps the luckiest, because when she comes along, parents finally figure out how fleeting and precious time really is.

It is nearly Christmas, but my best gifts have already been given to me.

WILLIAM*KATIE*NOAH*LIBBY

My mother used to tell me, “I hope when you have children, you have one JUST. LIKE. YOU!” and she didn’t seem to mean it as a compliment.

How unfair! I couldn’t help it that I was a stubborn, self-willed, independent child—it’s just how I was born, or maybe it was my parents’ fault for not raising me better. Right?

Fast forward to my second born.

She was the first little princess born to me, and subsequently she got her way a lot. She was opinionated from birth, whimsical, and when she was old enough, she loved to bend the rules in order to torment her legalistic older brother.

People who know my lovely eldest daughter can’t quite believe some of the stories about her early years, which include many temper tantrums. She was strong-willed, independent and…well…a lot like me.

I won’t say she’s just like me—her strengths, such as mathematics and music—were always my weaknesses. She bakes and cooks and sews. And every friend is a sister to her. She also has the most tender heart I’ve ever seen, and she wears it right on her sleeve.

And yet, she has a toughness about her that allows her to do things like dissect cow organs and pick up dead moles in the garden without cringing. Of all the kids in the world who want to grow up to be veterinarians, I see in her the type of person who can actually accomplish it.

Yet despite our differences, we are incredibly similar, which means my own behavior reverberates in her life.  While there are things that crop up which make me wonder, “Where did THAT come from?” there are also things I can pinpoint the origin exactly—and it’s a little too close for comfort.

The difficult part of having a child who has your temperament is that you are quicker to lose patience. It seems like it should be the opposite: that because you have felt similar things, you should be MORE patient.

But what actually happens is that because you have a good gauge of what’s going on inside that child’s head, you want to ‘encourage’ her to get over it more quickly. It’s almost as if you expect that child to have come preprogrammed with the trials you went through by fire. 

Now, I find myself looking eye-to-eye with my daughter, who also borrows my shoes. She is a young lady—beautiful inside and out, which is kind of a scary thing (especially when I catch guys looking at her–which makes me want to check for loopholes in that whole “thou shalt not kill” commandment). And I constantly have to be on guard to keep our relationship safe. It is a valuable thing.

Katie and I recently went to a Christmas market together by ourselves. It was drizzling with the kind of rain that leaves you with a chill you can’t shake. Yet, we were both cheerful—happy just to be together doing something fun. 

And sometimes the drizzly cold days make the memories warmer.

It was Katie’s year to pick out the Christmas tree. So we went through the aisles, discussing the varieties available. In the end, Katie chose a ‘surprise’ tree: meaning one that was already wrapped up (as most of them are here), so we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.

It was by far the heaviest tree I’ve ever crammed into the Honda, and I was afraid it wouldn’t quite fit. But we wedged it between the seats (bending the top branch like an uppercase ‘C’) and eventually managed to get it set up at home without breaking the tree stand. It turns out, Katie had picked the biggest, fattest tree I’ve ever seen in Franconia. It is gorgeous.

I love making these kinds of memories.  When it’s just Kate and I, I can more easily catch glimpses of the woman she will become.

Once, she was my little princess, but someday, I know I will count her as one of my very best friends.

I can already envision her texting me between appointments with her furry patients, writing: “Meet me at Starbucks!” God willing, I’ll be there, chatting with her over coffee.

The woman who marries my son Noah will have a life filled with the type of love that can (literally) knock you off your feet.

But for now, I am the lucky woman who has his heart; and I love that when we go out, he still reaches for my hand.

Noah is sweet, gregarious, smart, renowned for his giggle-fits and bad jokes (the two often go together); he is musically talented in a scary sort of way, he loves the theater and singing opera in the shower; and he is my only child who not only enjoys running with Mom but whose goal it is to run a marathon with Mom someday.

Noah and I went out together alone on Saturday. We arrived at the Christmas Market before the booths were open, so naturally, we found a coffee shop to pass the time. Noah was thrilled to have a Coke at 9:30 a.m. and vastly amused by our table, which had coffee beans under its glass top.

I wanted to capture the moment by snapping a self-portrait, and with typical Noah-flair, he wrapped his arms around my neck and planted a big, wet smooch on my cheek as the shutter clicked.

Noah does nothing halfway.

His life is either glorious or devastating. His room is either an IKEA showroom or a garbage dump. His siblings are either his best friends or his worst enemies.

There is a distinct lack of middle ground with this kid, which calls for a bit of ingenuity as a parent and diplomatic skills that could qualify me for work in an embassy somewhere.

In a sense, I am an ambassador to my children, bridging the cultural gaps between the State of Adulthood and that Independent Territory of Children.

This is not to say I have to give in to their demands, after all, I wouldn’t want to feed them Swedish Fish for lunch and Mac-n-Cheese for dinner every night. But I can value their young lives and show respect for their opinions (even when I think they’re wrong). And although I am still a work in progress, I can show them what I think adulthood should look like and admit it when I fail.

The love of my children is one of the most precious things in my life. And when you have an all-or-nothing child, the stakes become critically high.  

My Noah.

I can’t imagine this house without his infectious laughter or facing the day without his bear hugs. I am the love of his tender nine year-old life.

In my thirty-eight years, it is the best gift I could possibly have received.

His love is worth giving my all.

I was sitting next to a soft-spoken young man on the train.

He was considerate, offering me a book to read, and had that unique brand of humor that can make me laugh in almost any situation.

The conductor checked my ticket and then asked for his. He looked up at her wide-eyed—he had no ticket.

He’s my son, I explained in German, he is on my ticket.

She double-checked, and sure enough, two seats had been reserved. This is his last year of riding free on Deutschebahn.

My oldest doesn’t complain and he rarely asks for things, so when he requested a day alone together, there’s no way (aside from heart-removal surgery) I could say no.

Despite a wearying schedule and all the housework and chores and mountains I could move via the computer, my son and I took the day off.  

I do not consider it time lost but a worthy investment.

With four children in our family, being out with him alone is a rare occurrence, as one of us is usually tending the rest of the crew.

So we made the most of it: riding the train to Nuernberg, exploring the Christmas market, sipping a leisurely latte (for me) at Starbucks, and rounding out the day with lunch at a restaurant where food does not come in a box or bag.

It struck me that day just how much he has grown up, and how little time we actually have left before he’s filling out college applications.

My heart misses him already.

I have to say, however, that traveling with William now is much easier than it used to be.

I will never forget the energy (enough to power a nuclear facility), the planning (enough to design a nuclear facility), and the real-life, dripping-from-your-brow sweat (enough to build a nuclear facility with your bare hands) involved in traveling with youngsters.

During that train ride, I sat in awe of this handsome young man in the Italian leather jacket, who no longer needed Cherrie-O’s doled out one-by-one for amusement, and who could not only entertain himself by reading a battered edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but who brought an extra book—just in case his mom wanted something to read.

But before the high tide of adulthood rushes in and overtakes these placid days, I will relish each moment of his young adulthood, and savor those rich memories we have built together.

 

I have no fear about my son’s future—he will go far in life, even if I’m not there to buy his train tickets.

Fahrkarten, bitte.

Germany is foggy.

If you did not know that, then you have never lingered here long after Octoberfest.

I have become intimately aquainted with the many varieties of Franconian fog due to my early-morning jaunts into the countryside.

Running later in the day really isn’t feasible at the moment, as the daylight hours have become filled with activities, extra schoolwork, writing projects, and occasionally, cleaning the grime off things in the house. (If I could mine the deposits on my shower door, I’d be a rich woman).

The only other option, as far as running time is concerned, would be to NOT run at all, which would put my children and husband in the high risk category for emotional damage, as I would quickly burst like the button on my skinny jeans.

Which all brings me back to fog.

There is the thick, soupy fog that covers everything, making it impossible to see anything beyond the scope of the light from one’s head lamp. This blots out even the wide, dark sky, and makes you truly question your sanity, as you double-check the blinking lights on your reflective vest.

The misty fog, comprised of tiny ice crystals, makes you feel as if you’re a Gulliver, running through a snow storm of Lilliputian proportions.

There is also the fog that only becomes visible once you turn on your headlamp. At that point, you feel as if you’re in a sci-fi movie, moving at hyper speed, as bright stars (in this case, chunks of light, floating ice) rush past in white streaks.

The neatest type of fog is the kind that billows, like clouds at ground level. This kind of fog makes you feel as if you’re flying through the sky, rather than stumbling along a gravel path.

Occasionally, the clouds will part, or your head will bob out of the mist, and you can see the entire night sky stretching out all around you.

Except for the occasional gray day, the fog is mostly confined to ground level, and when it burns off later, I find myself longing for the familiar feel of the UV rays (however weak they may be) on my face.

But running in the fog has its advantages. For one thing, I always get to run as long as I like without guilt. I ran 8 miles this morning, and not even the dog, who was happily snoozing on the dirty laundry pile, noticed I was gone.

I also have the entire countryside to myself, which means I don’t have to worry about the manure trucks or gigantic harvesters, churning unbreathable things into the air.

While I do miss spying the deer, I get to experience the thrill and sudden increased heart rate when huge hawks swoop over my head.

I can also wear whatever I want, even if I look like I’m dressed for a space walk, because even if there were other humans around, it’s too dark, or foggy, to actually see any more than the lights strapped to my body.

Though it may be foggy, or cold, or dark, or all of the above, I never regret my early morning runs. In fact, they may be part of the reason I can embrace the day with a happy heart.

No regrets.

They say that to have your manuscript read by an actual human being, the first five pages need to hook the reader quicker than a pumpkin spice latte on a crisp autumn day.

While an adult may slog through an entire chapter to get to something good, kids tend to put a book back on the shelf if they’re not hooked in the first three pages. This is probably the reason that many books these days begin with the climax. Instead of a gradual buildup of story, plot, and character, the writer entices the reader with a cliffhanger, and then spends the rest of the story filling in the details.

I’ve started to see many adult novels doing this as well. It’s annoying because it used to be that I could pick up a book, begin reading, and then, to the dismay of my local library, toss it in the ‘donate’ pile if it was too dull. Unfortunately, with these newfangled climactic openings, I find myself reading duds, just to find out what happens at the beginning, or the end, rather.

I used to think it was a cheesy way to write, but now, I admit, I’m kind of hooked on the style, which is probably why my novel for NaNoWriMo this month begins with the climax.

So, I thought I would share the gimmicky, yet strangely compelling prologue of the book I’m writing about a boy who can make clouds come to life.

Enjoy!

Nimbus: Firmament

Charlie Dalton stood at the top of Mount Defiant. Stone gray clouds were stacking themselves in the sky, filling it in slab by slab. The cottony clouds were pushed out like sheep, who upon fleeing the wolf, scatter into the wilderness. 

 At his feet were the crumbling remains of a civilization that had died out long ago—so long ago, in fact, that nobody knew anything about them. There were only a few ruined pieces of what must have once been a castle. Charlie briefly wondered if those ancient people had been faced with a choice such as his. And if their final choice had brought them victory, or if it destroyed them. Could it be that they had made the wrong choice?

Cries echoed from the forest up to the barren hilltop where he stood.

They must’ve found where Liberty was hiding! he thought, his heart beating more quickly. I told her to leave when she had the chance, but she wouldn’t listen.

Or maybe, his conscience whispered, it was you who wouldn’t listen to her.

But it didn’t matter now. 

Charlie sprang forward and climbed up to the only solid remaining structure. The platform at the top of the little tower was breaking apart, like everything else, and Charlie quickly bent down and lifted the mat from the center.

“Home Sweet Home:” the mat seemed to chide him. It was ridiculous, yes, but he couldn’t think of it now. He brushed away the dust and traced his hand over the strange shape etched into the ground. A crashing came from the forest and there was a loud cry. He could hear  rapid footsteps coming up the path.

Charlie stood rigidly, tipped his head towards the sky and lifted his hands. The clouds quivered all at once, as if a great unseen wave had suddenly struck it. Then the flat stacks of clouds began to tremble, slowly at first, then more rapidly, like water simmering over a fire.

The sky was dark now. Yet through it, he could see one shape, darker than all the rest. It wasn’t the flat, cold gray of the other clouds, but it was dark, nearly purple, like a bruise on the living sky.  Charlie gasped.  A sense of dread and despair and power swept over him all at once.

The dark shape twisted itself into a long funnel, thinner than a tornado and laying horizontally just over the horizon. Suddenly, the millions of small dark clouds making up the figure seemed to pour over each other, like a pot boiling over. The shape coiled like a snake, and rose its head, as if to strike. It paused for a brief moment, though it seemed a lifetime to Charlie, and fixed its gaze on the boy.

Charlie felt sick.

Suddenly, the snakelike cloud whipped its tail, and as it rushed towards him, it seemed to grow bigger and bigger.

Charlie thought of Liberty, and her words to him—the words he didn’t want to listen to then, but seemed so significant now: “Be careful what you invite into your life, Charlie, because some things should be left alone.”

The snake was so close now he could feel the moisture from its breath. It paused before him, its mouth open in a hideous snarl.

Yes, Liberty had been right. Calling this thing into the world would be the end of them all. 

Whimsical. Sparkly. Magical. Funny. Bubbly. Beautiful. Pink.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of my youngest daughter. And on her birthday, the adjectives are amplified beyond description.

She was awake this morning (who knows how long), and when she heard the house stir, she put on a party dress and entered the birthday room. There were polka-dot packages, which matched her boldly polka-dotted dress, shiny (pink) ribbons, shiny (pink) baloons, and a cake with that magical sweetness that only ripens on a child’s birthday.

Libby brings so much joy to my life, it seems my heart can’t bear the fullness of it. Which is why it is all the more odd to recall that when she was born, I wasn’t sure if I could love her as much as I loved the other children.

Everything had been going smoothly. My mother-in-law arrived in Alaska, and twelve hours later we were on our way to the hospital. After three hours of labor, my delicate, 10 pound, meconium baby was rushed away, her lungs suctioned, and her head placed in an oxygen bubble.

When they brought her back to me 3 1/2 hours later, she didn’t seem familiar, as my other babies had. And it scared me to think that this baby in my arms would always be a stranger.

Of course I loved her. But would I love her so much that my heart would break with it?

It haunts me to think of it, but at the time, I wasn’t sure.

I know there are stories of mothers and infants clinging to life, and who are separated by medical necessity for days or weeks or months. But for me, 3 1/2 hours was long enough to make me wonder if my baby and I had missed something we could never get back.

I spent three days in my cozy hospital room, with limited visitors, nurses bringing great meals to my private room, and with plenty of time to get to know this new baby, who depended so completely on me.

By the time we walked through the door of our home, excited little kids bouncing off walls, Bushia’s home-cooked meal in the oven, with that tiny human, swallowed up by all things plush and pink, our hearts had been knit together for good.

The bonding had occurred, not as quickly as with the other three kids, but with that same familiar, unbreakable permanence.

God had a lot of women to choose from when deciding which one would have the honor of raising Libby.

I am thankful and grateful and completely humbled that out of all the mothers in the world, I am the one she calls Mama.

Happy Birthday My Darling Libby!

My plate is full of great things: Super-sized portions of field trips, a side of piano lessons, and heaps of delicious art classes, during which, Mama goes for coffee (and sometimes ice cream) with her friends.

Still, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. And to top it off, my skinny jeans are getting uncomfortable to wear (must be all that ice cream during art lessons) making it apparent I need to increase my weekly mileage. Oh yes, and I’m teaching writing seminars for the homeschool kids. And I’m going to write a novel this month. Plus there’s that little thing called homeschooling, where I’m SUPPOSED to be the teacher.

I love my life and the opportunities the kids and I have, but I wonder how I’ll get everything done.

The real problem is that for the past couple of months, most of our activities are an hour away. There’s no real solution or way around it, so I find myself spending 8 to 10 hours driving a week, and if you look closely at my kitchen floor and bathroom toilets, you’ll see the cost of the commute.

But here’s the thing: I can stay home and have a perfectly clean house, or I can provide valuable learning opportunities (and fun socialization) for my kids. There’s really no choice to be made–our lives are richer because of the activities and because of the people we get to be with while we’re doing cool things.

All of this means that in the next month, I have to be extremely dedicated to using my time wisely.

So, if you don’t see many funny quips on my Facebook page, don’t be alarmed. If I don’t answer emails right away, don’t call the Red Cross–I’m still here!

And though I will be driving way too much, I’ll also be running (before sunrise), writing (any chance I can get), living, laughing, drinking too much coffee, and loving my family.

All it takes is dedication.

But my house probably won’t pass a white glove test any time soon.

Having four kids isn’t really that hard.

Sure, the first six years are a blur of keeping little people clean, fed and safe, but by the time the oldest is eight and the youngest is out of diapers, things start becoming much easier. And that’s why I’m always caught off guard when well-meaning people give me sympathy about my motherhood status–as if by having four children, my life is somehow four times more difficult than the average woman. Yes, having four little ones IS difficult, but now that my oldest can legally babysit and everyone cleans the house, my job feels downright easy.

The challenges I face now, as a mother, are much different and more subtle. While I do have time to shower and get dressed every day (a luxury in those early years), I have to carve out time with each of my kids, to make sure we’re not growing apart. As they become more independent, it’s more important than ever that our hearts remain close.

A while ago, a friend of mine posted a question on her blog regarding the number of children a Christian family should have (biblically speaking, that is). There were many different answers to that question, and I remember feeling somewhat defensive–that a matter so personal was between the husband & wife & God only. And maybe it is, to a certain extent. I mean, certainly, we weren’t all meant to have 20 kids. Were we?

God did not design each family in exactly the same way, though as Christians, we use the same Operations Manual.

Some women are much better mothers because they work outside the home. And when I spend 30 hours or more a week marathon training, those hours out of the home help me to be more patient, kind and level-headed.

When I was a young mom, I thought my life was so full, I couldn’t add more to it without something breaking (like my sanity). But now that I will soon be the mom of two teenagers, life seems too easy. I look at my children and wish there were more of them, tearing through the house, making silly jokes, painting masterpieces.

Why did we stop with only four?

People used to tell me that the years when my children were little were the best years of my life. And I used to wonder at that, feeling acutely the exhaustion from never having a good night’s sleep, and the demoralization of rarely eating a hot meal.

A child’s first steps and first words are incredible, but I can’t honestly say those early years are the best. Each stage of life has rich rewards. Yes, the chubby little hands around your neck and sticky kisses are priceless moments, but what about the late-night laughter with your teen? Or discussing dreams and wishes as you make dinner together? And what about that magical moment when you realize you count your child as one of your best friends?

Each year is the best year of your life. Recognize it. Live it. And share it with your kids.

It’s not that hard to do.