Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What a Day

You know when you have one of those days that just can't end fast enough?

The other day I subbed in a Special Ed class. These were low functioning students.

I have so much respect for the teachers and Instructional Assistants who work with these same kids day after day after day. After a couple hours I was mentally fried, and I had several hours left of my day.

In the course of one day I saw:

-One student who has down syndrome and can barely communicate (used a bit of sign language), spent at least a half an hour piling raisins into a water cup, eventually dumping the whole cup into a sink, clogging it. She also started her period and had to communicate that to the male IA.

-A set of twins who mostly yelled and roared at people. Literally. They hit themselves and took long naps on the bean bag chairs. One loved to run to the freezer, open it, and pick at the freeze-dried ice. They couldn't speak but seemed to understand and respond to instructions.

-There was a boy who couldn't be trusted to not run off so an IA had to be constantly positioned behind him in a chair. Several times he got away and more than one IA was needed to physically block him and "guide" him back to his chair.

-There was the boy who everyone seemed a little relieved to be absent, and then he showed up. He spent a chunk of time on his Ipad. Then he had tantrums that were so intense I was afraid for my safety a couple times. He pulled a drawer out of a cupboard and tried to throw it across the room. He had a pair of headphones and swung the cord around several times, nearly hitting several people. He cussed and yelled and tore up papers. He almost pushed over a table, but an IA was one step ahead of him. This kid had to be physically blocked a few times too. He also escaped out the door once. During Reading class he had a tantrum because the topic was whales. And he hates whales because they hit him in the head. This kid could communicate verbally, but he threw incredible fits.

-Then there was the kid who came back from lunch not liking the options, and went on a rampage. He pulled over a large bookshelf. He tore open cupboards above a stove, looking for food. He found a bag of marshmallows, ripped them open, and started chowing on them. The IAs just stood there, watching him, giving him space. They usually set a timer for 5 minutes while these tantrums happen, to give him time to cool down. I guess we were close to a "Room Clear," which I assumed meant he reaches a level no longer safe for the room. They didn't quite explain it, but we skirted around it after he found the marshmallows.

Did I mention there were like 5 adults for 10-15 kids, and it never felt like enough adults? When almost every kid needed such direct one on one attention, the few kids who didn't need that were basically on their own.

I have never looked at the clock so many times in a day as a substitute. I kept watching these staff in awe. Their patience and positive attitudes were impressive.

Towards the end of the day, one student refused to put his math book away, and the IAs wouldn't let him leave until he did it. (This reminded me of dealing with my own toddler in so many ways, but this kid was bigger and much, much stronger than me). At one point, three IAs were blocking the door as he tried to push his way out the door. He grabbed my arm to pull me towards him, and locked onto my sweater. It took 2 other IAs and several minutes to get this kid to let go of my sweater. It was intense.

Needless to say, I was relieved when the day was finally over. The IAs told me this was a tame day for them. Oh my word. I have no idea how they do it. One IA told me she goes home and just tries not to think about work the rest of the day. No kidding. These people do not get paid enough.

After work I headed to see our new townhouse in person, and to meet with the inspector. (We loved the townhouse, by the way! Our realtor did great checking it out for us.)

It had been a rough, tiring day.

The inspection went well, and my girls were with me as we were leaving. I piled the three into the van, backed out of the driveway, and bumped into my realtor with my van!

Not only was I tired, but now I was crying and embarrassed. Luckily, she was more than gracious and I don't think I did any actual damage to her vehicle.


As a side note, I don't know what's going to happen with education, but I know this week a bill was introduced by three Republicans which would, in effect, drastically reduce funding for students just like these ones. It's reprehensible.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

On Making Big Life Decisions from 30,000 Feet in the Air

I won't admit how many hours I've spent pouring over real estate websites, hoping and praying the market will suddenly change and become affordable in our area. We've looked at some pretty trashed, tiny places, and even many of them have been outside our budget. Our lease in our apartment ends May 4th, and we have needed a plan for what's next. We've spent hours debating where to live, what type of commute to tolerate, housing prices, and school options. At the end of the day, it always comes down to one major trump card: we are committed to the girls attending a dual-immersion (Spanish) school, and the district we are currently in has plans for dual language curriculum through high school. Most districts have a lottery and end up with a wait-list, but we got lucky and got into the program last Spring while still living in Guatemala, and our other two girls have automatic entrance as siblings into the program. It feels like the most obvious choice, but one that makes housing more difficult.

We've been discouraged by what we've seen, and had just decided that a townhouse might be a great option for us, if the right one popped up.

In the meantime, MCC (the organization we were in Guatemala with), sponsors a "Re-Entry" Retreat, in which people who have worked with MCC throughout the world and have returned back to the US and Canada spend some time together talking about the process of transitioning back to North America. We had been planning for months to attend this, and left last Thursday morning. There were people from all over Latin America, several African countries, Bangladesh and China, and two of our Guatemalan team members were there, too.
So fun to see ex-MCC Guatemalan team members!
Thursday morning, on the way to the airport, I got a notification of a townhouse that went on the market, 76 minutes earlier, to be exact. We were standing by our gate, about to board our flight.

"Michael, look at this gorgeous townhouse." I tossed my phone to him. "The biggest floor plan in the whole community...I think we should look into it. This will go super fast."

The market has been crazy and homes get multiple offers, often over the asking price, within a couple days of going on the market. We weren't going to be home until Sunday night, and I knew that this home in such great condition wouldn't last on the market for long.

I started texting my realtor, using the wi-fi on the airplane to be in touch with her and our lender. My mom was going to drive up and look at it, but then we decided to just trust our realtor with that task. She had seen enough houses with us to know what we were looking for. By mid-morning there were already back-to-back appointments lined up to view the home.

By Thursday night our realtor had seen the place and we were ready to move forward. We stayed up late Thursday night writing a letter to the Sellers to accompany our offer, which we submitted Friday afternoon. We heard on Saturday morning that they wanted one more night to review offer(s) as one of the owners was out of town and there were several showings of the home that had been scheduled before our offer and deadline came in.

10:00 AM on Sunday, we were to hear if they would accept or reject our offer. Talk about a whirlwind!
California Redwoods

In the meantime, we continued to attend sessions at this retreat, discussing and sharing with others who had lived overseas, most for several years. We also spent a couple hours in Santa Cruz, enjoying the chilly yet sunny beach.

We shared our hopes and fears of coming back to North America, of leaving our work and our relationships in the countries where we were assigned. Despite living in unique places and cultures all over the world, it was incredible to hear how similar our hopes and fears were.

There were some emotional parts of the weekend. I found myself more and more nervous to hear about this home. We've been "back home" in Oregon for about 7 months, and living in an apartment has been part of our transition, but it's been temporary. We've been amazingly blessed by how rapidly Michael's role changed at his work. We have "adjusted" in most ways to being back in the US, but this last piece, finding a home and committing for at least a few years has been hanging there, waiting.

Sunday morning, the last morning together, we were focusing on our transition back home, on letting go of painful situations that may have occurred during our service, on looking for hope in our future, on being resilient and never, ever forgetting lessons learned.

We started singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness." At some point, my phone buzzed, and I knew it was the realtor. I was pretty nervous but knew I wasn't going to check my phone until our session was over.

And these lyrics reminded me that God has provided for us in so many ways, and will continue to do that, whether this specific home is the right one for us, or something else:

Great is Thy faithfulness! 
Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Finally, the service ended, and I stepped outside, tears still in my eyes from this sense of peace and realization that God will provide, either way.

"Well," said my realtor to me on the phone. "There was one other offer submitted, but they accepted yours. Congratulations!"

I immediately started balling. The stress of the past several months of looking for housing, plus the emotional weekend of processing everything about leaving Guatemala early, returning to the US, and the relief of finding a home, all came down at once.

I told Michael during the craziness of working up our offer, as we found a coffee shop on Friday afternoon to E-sign our official offer letter from a State away without having seen the actual home (the pictures were super helpful), "We can never do simple." (I was remembering last May, signing our lease via E-sign for our current apartment by using Michael's cell phone as a hot spot, while driving through the Guatemalan hills towards Honduras. We really do these things in the most complicated manner possible, right?)

Obviously, nothing is set in stone until Closing, which won't happen until the end of April, but we are excited, thrilled, relieved, hopeful. God's timing continues to prove perfect, even comical, in our lives. Michael leaves tomorrow morning for three weeks to Africa. And the Chapman Craziness continues.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A New Year, Another Change

This time last year I made a few goals.

I wanted to train for and run a half-marathon. Check.
I wanted to try to blog every day, "unpolished." That happened for maybe half the year, and then my blogging petered out.
Read more books. I'd say I've done that, especially thanks to having access to a public library again.

A year ago I never would have imagined that a year later we'd have returned from Guatemala. That was a huge and unexpected change in 2016. One of the reasons I stopped writing here last year is that I was trying to process our move and all the changes. And I still am.

People continue to ask us about the "transition" back to the US, back to Oregon. "How does it feel to be living back in the US?" "How is the transition going?" "Are you feeling settled?"

The pat answer is usually: It's good. The transition has gone well. We miss things about Guatemala but also feel like coming back was the right decision for us as a family. Those are all true, but a bit too concise, too simple.

The longer answer is that some days we really miss Guatemala. Some days we are sad when we see parts of Guatemala already slipping from the minds of our two oldest girls. The three years and three months we spent living in Guatemala were hard but also life-changing. Crazy and intense, and Ours. We miss the people and the friends and the diversity. So many things we miss.

But honestly, most days, we have felt relief. Relieved of the stress of living in a difficult environment. Relieved of the stress of an intense job that in no way was confined to an 8-5 schedule. Relieved of the stress that the role took on our family and our girls and our marriage.

The most clear benefit of being "home" is our girls.
I am getting a priceless year with Hazel, before she starts kindergarten this Fall. I get to help at her preschool twice a month. I get to see her thrive in an environment where play is the emphasis, not learning cursive as a 4-year old.
I am getting priceless years with Ruby. I get three mornings a week just me and her. We have a special bond and I know the next couple years when her two older sisters will be in school will be priceless, too.
Ellie is in a Spanish kindergarten classroom, not as intense as her classes in Guatemala. She seems to be thriving and our girls being in a Dual Language Program will continue to guide our decisions in the coming years. It's become a priority for us and we are lucky that Oregon has so many schools with this option.

Last May, when Michael accepted the position with Medical Teams International and we made the difficult decision to leave Guatemala, there were a lot of unknowns. We found an apartment and a school with Spanish Immersion. We bought a mini-van and found some furniture. The position itself didn't feel permanent. If I'm being honest, it hasn't been the best use of Michael's skills and experience, but it was our ticket home, and his open door into a new organization (he had been with MCC for about 7 years). So we trusted and hoped that this step home was just that, one step that could hopefully be the gateway into something else.
Our First Snow in Oregon

And this week, that decision we made to trust the process, to trust that the step towards MTI and Oregon was a good one, has been affirmed. On Friday, Michael accepted another position within MTI. It's a position that will better utilize his skills and experience and education. He'll be switching from a support role in the Latin America department to being the Africa and Middle East Program Manager. It's a big switch, in both scope and responsibility, and will involve quite a bit of travel, but we are excited. I can't help but feel like this entire year, the process of trusting in each step, has culminated in this new position.

It's one of those times in our lives where I will always look back and say, yes, I believe that was God guiding us. We trusted in the process. We trusted that coming home was a good decision for our family. We trusted that Michael would eventually find a better fit. We didn't expect it to happen quite so fast, but we are so thankful.

Enjoying a hike at Multnomah Falls to celebrate our 12th anniversary
I'm so proud of Michael and ready to see what 2017 brings to our family.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finish a Half-Marathon: Check!

The more time that passes, the more there is to write about, the less motivated I am to write.

Call it some law of don't-wanna-blog or something.

Or maybe it's the fact that while writing those first two sentences my almost two-year old interrupted me twice to ask for a clothes change and a cup of milk. And all three of my children are running around the small apartment playing hide and seek and their screams are echoing in my head.

But when the few faithful readers, like my grandparents, remind me that they haven't seen an update in a while, I finally decide to click "new post" and attempt to write.

I've recently been avoiding all things political which means I've tried my hardest (and mostly failed) to not post things on facebook that are political, and tried to focus on my kids and life. I'm afraid of the small glimpses in myself of anger and frustration at this country and at the potential four years we have ahead of us with a man that would talk about women, like my three girls someday, the way he does...well, I'm going to stop myself there. I just can't.

So, instead...

My Half-Marathon! Never do I remember setting such a specific goal and completing it!

My first goal, of course, was to register for one and complete one in 2016. (I wrote about it way back on January 1st.). I'm not a long distance runner, and before this had never run more than 3-4 miles. So 13.1 sounded crazy to me!

As I'm a super literal person, I downloaded my training plan and set to work. Having a written plan really helps me, and I stuck to it! I don't think I missed a single run (maybe once?). A typical training plan involves running about 4 days a week, with some cross training that I mostly didn't do. I ran my long runs on Sundays, and for most of my training I ran the weekday runs early in the morning before Michael left for work. It was a commitment to wake up and run while it was still dark, but quickly 5 miles felt like a short run!

I couldn't have and wouldn't have done this race if my friend Lissa hadn't found the race and asked me to join her in training for it. Just knowing someone else was running and trying to balance life and kids and training was really helpful. I recommend finding someone to train alongside if you ever want to do a race.
Lissa and me at the starting line
Not only did I complete my first goal, which was to finish, but my second (and not as important) goal was to see if I could run it in under 2 hours. My final time was 1:58. I was beyond thrilled.

Race day was beautiful and the weather was cold but not freezing with no rain-perfect running weather. (Most of these pictures are from Lissa.) The race claims to be the most scenic marathon/half marathon in the US, and you can see why. It was beautiful. Yellow and orange leaves. A view of the Columbia River Gorge.

I'm proud of myself for finishing and working so hard. I have to admit I've only gone for one quick run since that day, over a month ago. I've needed a break and I've been doing some intense cardio/boxing videos. I'd like to do a half-marathon again, maybe in the Spring when the sun is out more and I don't have to train in the dark.
Lissa caught a picture of me as we passed each other near the halfway mark.
I'm now working on a different weight loss goal, as I learned soon into my training that you can't count on weight loss to happen when you are running such long distances. The body has to hang on to calories and it just didn't happen.

I'm proud of myself and was thankful that Michael was so supportive of me. He often encouraged me to get out the door on those mornings or afternoons when I didn't really feel up for a run. He and the girls cheered me on on race day, and it was fun to show the girls how setting a goal and completing it is possible and rewarding. We've been talking now at home about setting goals, and it's fun to have a good example of that. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I've started writing this post several times, but it has taken weeks to find the time and/or energy to actually finish it.

Yes, we are busy, but it feels like that's not an anomaly. The America Dream, or something?

Ellie's has been playing soccer, with practices 1-2x per week, and a game every Saturday. And Michael is the coach.

Hazel is in a co-op preschool which means I volunteer 2x/month to be at her school from 9-12, helping in her class. It's a fun chance for me to watch Hazel interact with friends. I'm also the Secretary of the Board which means, at the least, monthly board meetings.

I'm attending two different MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups. I know how hard it is to find friends, and how important Mom friends are in this stage of my life, so I knew I wanted to find ways to connect and hopefully make some friends and be encouraged. One meets once per month, the other one meets twice a month.

I'm also training for a half-marathon. My race is this weekend. I'm looking forward to the race, and also to taking a break from training. I've stayed on a training schedule virtually for 12 weeks, up until last week where I haven't done much besides my long run of 11 miles. But, I feel ready to run 13.2 on Sunday. I really never thought I'd get there!

We have been attending a church in Portland and joined a Home Group that meets every Sunday night.

In the remaining free time that I have, usually 1-2 times per week, I am working as a substitute teacher, when jobs are available. Thankfully, in the last month, I've been able to work every single day that I've been available. We are really thankful my Mom is able to help with the girls when I work. Living near family has been a significant and welcome change for us.

We've had multiple fundraisers in the first month or so of school. We've collected Box Tops, Ellie had a Fun Run at her school, I sold pies for MOPS, Ellie sold First Aid kits for her soccer team, and now we are supposed to be selling wreaths and poinsettias for Hazel's preschool. This is a new world for us!

This all means we have a full calendar. There is so much nitty gritty going on. We celebrated Ellie's 6th birthday this week. Ruby moved into a big girl bed this week, and after a couple days of staying in her bed it's been a bit of a battle.
Birthday pancakes!
Visiting Ellie's class on her birthday.
Days are long but time is flying. We've been back in the States for more than three months. We still miss Guatemala and still wonder, in moments, if we did the right thing.

I went to Ellie's teacher conference this week. Her teacher told me that Ellie is probably the best Spanish speaker in the class. She does even better than the native speakers. How? Apparently she conjugates her verbs and has a wider vocabulary. So, this was a huge encouragement that we are in a good place. I share this because, of course, I'm a super proud Mama, but also, to remind myself that our time in Guatemala has been a building block to this stage in our lives. Ellie is thriving in her Kindergarten class. Hazel is thriving in her preschool. Ruby thrives wherever we go. At church or MOPS she walks right into her little class and doesn't look back. She plays at a friend's house on the mornings I work at Hazel's school, and she walks right in there, too. She loves to sit on my lap and read books for an hour at a time. She is thriving both at home with me and around other people.
Every time I start working in the kitchen this girl pushes her stool right over so she can help.
There is so much to be thankful for. I get to have quality time with all of my girls. We still have stress in our lives, but work and home stressors have changed since we moved back to the States. And we are enjoying time as a family. Also, we're glad to be back in Oregon, despite the rain.
Happy Fall!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Summer's Over!

It's been a busy summer.

We've been back to the States for 2 1/2 months.

We've done a lot of living over the past several weeks. This is one of many reasons I haven't blogged. We are often asked about our transition process. We continue to feel settled and also miss Guatemala. It's an interesting place to be.

We were gifted with a pantry party to stock up on basics. It was a blessing to be welcomed back to Oregon in this way.
I traveled to Idaho with the girls to visit cousins and grandparents. We had a family reunion and the girls had almost two weeks straight of cousin and grandparent time. I will have to probably post more pictures of that in its own post.
The five girl cousins
An attempt to take a picture of all 7 cousins.
This was the first time all 7 have been together at the same time.
We spent time with friends "camping" in their backyard. (New summer tradition!)
We went to the Oregon coast.
We've gone to parks and the library.
We've played and relaxed and read books.
"Queen Ruby" enjoying playing with her big sisters.
Ellie is on a soccer team and Michael is the coach. That will keep us busy every Saturday this Fall.
Every day that goes by puts us one day further from life in Guatemala, and we become more entrenched with this "new normal."

Today marks a turning point. A blog-worthy one, apparently.
Ellie's First Practice Day of School
Ellie is at her first official day of Kindergarten. She had two half-days of "practice" a few weeks ago, and last week we went in for an hour to meet her teacher and she was assessed. (The assessment was fun for me to watch because the teacher did it all in Spanish. I was really proud of Ellie).

Not to be overly dramatic, except that I will be dramatic to say that this is the first day of the rest of our lives.

Grandma was here to hang out with Ruby during preschool and to see Ellie on her first day!
It was special for Daddy to come see her school too!
Yes, you bet I cried!
Today Hazel had an Open House at her preschool where I accompanied her to her school and we got to check out all the fun activities. Wednesday she starts 3 hours a day, 3 days per week.
In front of Hazel's preschool.
I have no doubt this girl is going to love all the fun to be had. She never wants to leave.
I signed up for my first half-marathon for October, which is a goal I made at the beginning of this year. I've been running and training for that. Yesterday I ran 7 miles, and it actually felt good. In fact, I felt like I could have kept going! It's amazing how our bodies can adjust and increase endurance.

Now that we're in a bit of a routine, I'm hoping to get back to writing/blogging. Happy Fall!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Getting Settled

We moved into our apartment officially last Saturday.
We feel settled. Decorations are on the wall, boxes are unpacked. We're figuring out what we got rid of 3 1/2 years ago, what we saved, what we need to replace. (We got rid of things that we didn't think would store well: wood spoons and a tea kettle, for example).
Wall decorations from Guatemala, Haiti, and Rwanda
Mostly, we've been enjoying summertime and activities here. All the free activities. (Well, not quite free. Thanks to our tax dollars we have public parks and public libraries and really nice roads to drive on to get there. I'm very aware of how great it is to have access to these.)

We've been to the library multiple times. We joined the Summer Reading Program, tracking our minutes reading. We've borrowed Spanish books and DVDs, books that have motivated Ellie to read. Shout out to public libraries. We signed up and got several coupons: free sandwiches at a local sub shop, free swimming passes and mini-golf passes. Free soccer tickets. Free books. 
Our Summer Reading Logs
We went to a free family music night, sponsored by the library, which the girls loved.

Ruby found a friend, her doppelganger with more hair.
We've been to several beautiful, green parks, with swings and slides and even a sand pit, all within a short drive or walk from our apartment.
We've enjoyed fresh Oregon peaches and blueberries and strawberries.
Blueberry Zucchini Cake with Lemon Buttercream
I made this cake last week. It's fantastic.
I've had two playdate/friend dates and both times each said friend brought me a coffee treat. It's so great to be back to where my friends appreciate the value of coffee on a person/mom's soul.
We're enjoying sunny evenings (it stays light so much later here!) and time together as a family.
Happy Summer Days to you!