We got kittens last week – they’re littermates, though he’s a creamsicle tabby and she’s solid black. We named them Bingley and Knightley, and I don’t know how to be productive around such distracting cuteness. Logistical details interfere, though, too…just little things, like in the morning when I’m bent over the sink with my eyes closed to wash my face, suddenly 20 tiny needles impale my left leg.

Then they start climbing.

I grab the towel and wipe my face with one hand while blindly grasping for the ascending kitten with the other hand. Four paws, five claws each, and it takes a while to get them all free…and before I’m done, Kapow! Twenty more needles on the other leg.

You can hear the conspiracy: I’ll get this leg, you get that leg; we’ll take her down together! Go! There’s a song for this kind of teamwork.

[insert “Everything is Awesome!” from The Lego Movie]

teamwork: from sibling rivalry to men and women of greatness (Copperlight Wood)

By the time I get one kitten detached and on the ground, the other one has jumped back on me and is scaling. We go several rounds of this before I escape, gasping for air, and shut the little sinners in the bathroom behind me. And I still haven’t brushed my teeth.

It’s highly virtuous to say we’ll be good, but we can’t do it all at once, and it takes a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether, before some of us even get our feet set in the right way.

– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

But then they sleep and snuggle…

teamwork: from sibling rivalry to men and women of greatness (Copperlight Wood)



and it’s just bliss. For most of us, at least.

Gus-Gus and the kittens, and then there were three…H-I-S-S-I-N-G.

Like many older siblings, he’s not sure what to make of them, or how he can defend himself against them without getting in trouble. Like many younger siblings, they are fearless, immune to intimidation, and have no sense of personal space. Gus can growl, spit, bully, and use all sorts of feline profanity and they will still approach him with wide-eyed adoration.

Hey, wanna be friends? Do you wanna play? Do you wanna build a snowman? No? Okay, maybe later! I’m going to go poop in your litterbox now, yay!!

[Everything is awesome!!]

teamwork: from sibling rivalry to men and women of greatness (Copperlight Wood)



Among kids, among kittens – this week, we’ve had enough rivalry, tattling, criticism, arguing, assumptions, scratching, snatching, hissing and spitting to make any human start using profanity, feline or otherwise.

The big ones pick on the little ones. The little ones provoke and pester the big ones. The parents wonder where we missed the mark.

A new school year is looming and we’re more aware than ever of leveraging great books and curriculum to model great behavior, and eliminating twaddle that carries any hint of “boys will be boys” or “they’re just kids” type of brain-numbing, sin-condoning messages. I need it for myself, too.

We need joy, kindness, beauty. Gritty reality needs to be balanced with truth in love.


Mind your own business. Get the plank out of your own eye. Stop picking on those who are littler than you just because you think you can. They’ve been like kittens climbing to the top of the scratching post, pulling someone down just so they can claw their way to the top.

For us, this means Ramona and Beezus and their manipulative bickering are out, and books that show kind relationships between siblings and realistic consequences are increasing – those by Edith Nesbit, Louisa May Alcott, and, well, most classics. They were written in an era that expected children to be both respectful and responsible by society at large, instead of pooh-poohed by a culture that winks at minor infractions and then gasps at teen activity that make headlines.

What is a great man who has made his mark upon history? Every time, if we think far enough, he is a man who has looked through the confusion of the moment and has seen the moral issue involved; he is a man who has refused to have his sense of justice distorted; he has listened to his conscience until conscience becomes a trumpet call to like-minded men, so that they gather about him and together, with mutual purpose and mutual aid, they make a new period in history.…

– Jane Addams, 1903 address in honor of George Washington

We’re looking for characters – in fiction and reality – that discern truth from half-truth, and make the right choice without compromise. And when they don’t – because we all miss the mark sometimes – they refuse to justify or distort their sense of justice.

Some it is genuinely innocent. Kids and kittens are shamelessly clumsy, still learning about physics and gravity, how to maneuver, negotiate, climb. They tumble off furniture, trip over each other, and forget to retract their claws sometimes. They wrestle for fun, just like the kittens – Bingley is bigger, but Knightley is faster – and usually no one gets hurt.

But they do need to learn about courtesy, safety, and obedience. It is our fervent hope that our little multi-colored littermates – not the tabby and coal-black kittens, but the Mexican-Irish-Bulgarian Americans – will gather together with mutual purpose, and grow to be men and women of greatness.

The kittens, though? They eat paper. They destroy lampshades. They climb curtains, and pant legs. And bare legs.

They hit the caps lock button on your keyboard while you’re typing on autopilot.


It’s Bingley’s favorite button, and he hits the mark every time.


cover me

A glittering day. The sun is up, but not awake yet – its light is still copper, like a red-haired child with curls sticking out every which way, rubbing his eyes. Morning came early and my hair is still damp from last night’s shower.

Three girls are up and bickering, requiring intervention at an average rate of two minutes per child, so in six minutes I’ve thrown the covers back three times. I give up and grab the coffee, and start throwing it back, instead.

cover me: resting in the waiting, when we want to hurry up and smell the roses (Copperlight Wood)

The day moves into breakfast, chores, lessons. You know how this goes – small details, a few more assignments every day, success gained in baby steps. Like the new blanket that will warm us in the fall, growing stitch by stitch – we work on it for a while, check our progress, and by golly – it doesn’t look any more finished than it did three weeks ago. It’s not nearly big enough to cover us. It’s nowhere near the size it’s supposed to be. And yet, there must be some progress, because I can see the colors changing.

The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. A seed, light as thistledown, wafted into the child’s soul, will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards.

– Charlotte Mason, Home Education

cover me: resting in the waiting, when we want to hurry up and smell the roses (Copperlight Wood)

But we are impatient. Many days it feels like we’re caught somewhere between the need to enjoy the peculiarities of this season, and the need to rush some changes so we can enjoy this time more effectively. It’s a weird uneasiness, this hurry-up-and-smell-the-roses feeling.

That afternoon, on the couch with a sunburn so radioactive that NASA is probably tracking me, I’m trying to finish the last twenty pages of this Charlotte Mason book I started reading two years ago. I’m struggling mightily with that “power of attention and will” she speaks so highly of because there are five kids outside the open window telling stories to each other, eating lunch in a fort they made from a tarp and the patio table.

Over the clink of forks on plates and rustling of leaves in trees, I hear Iree, in an overdone British accent. “Loooong agooo, before the pushmi-pullyu was extinct—”

Andrey interrupts. “What is dat? It stinks? Ewww!!”

“No, extinct. Dead. No more of them are around anymore.” I can hear someone snickering – probably Afton, that red-haired child with curls everywhere.

The wonder that Almighty God can endure so far to leave the very making of an immortal being in the hands of human parents is only matched by the wonder that human parents can accept this divine trust with hardly a thought of its significance.

– Charlotte Mason, Home Education


That night, like so many nights after the kids are in bed, we decompress and evaluate the day. Sometimes we look at the week and year ahead. We look at behavior and progress, in us and in our kids, and we wonder if the colors are changing.

We wonder if a child is ready for more freedom. We wonder if another child is ready for more responsibility. We wonder about our own faith – sometimes it feels like it’s not nearly big enough to cover us. It’s nowhere near the size it’s supposed to be.

We pray, and Vin puts it into words for me. “God, we’ve planted a lot of seed. We’re waiting…but we’re tired of looking at just dirt.”

And I remember something a friend said to me recently about attachment: The best progress is the slow progress. The best healing is the deep healing. Growth, and grief – they both process slowly.


For the wife, sister, friend, daughter, mama – for the overrun one who finds herself crouched on the bathroom floor, elbows on knees, head in hands: When we feel like we’re making bricks without straw, we run to the unruffled One who calmly used a basket of loaves and fish to feed thousands.

Never fear, whatever may happen. You are both being led. Do not try to plan. I have planned. You are the builder, not the Architect.

Go very quietly, very gently. All is for the very best for you.

God Calling, edited by A.J. Russell

cover me: resting in the waiting, when we want to hurry up and smell the roses (Copperlight Wood)

On Sunday I sat with a child who never knew how to be held by a mother – who didn’t know how to relax in affection but would only submit in stiff fear: body rigid, legs unbending. She’s been our very own push-me-pull-you as she learns about body space, gentleness, and appropriate touch. And now she leans, rests against my side during the church service – not in fierce pushing as before, but gently laying her head on my shoulder. She nestles there, hands folded, legs hanging off the chair, one sandal kicked off. Resting.

It’s only because He is big enough to cover us, all of us. We can see the colors changing. Slowly, stitch by stitch, we make the blanket that warms and shelters.

nesting, resting

We leave in three days. I’ve been longing for writing time. None of this seems real, and I thought that when I wrote it down it would feel real, and now that it’s quiet and I can write…
I just don’t know what to say.

We’ve finally gotten details sorted out. The distractions are taken care of – severe testing has come from many directions and peace has won; meals are in the freezer and projects are done; rooms are painted. We even got a new webcam for our computer so when we Skype with the kids, they won’t look like those 3-D ultrasound photos (which, by the way, are awesome for when you’re pregnant, but not so awesome when you can’t tell the difference between your red-haired children and your dark-haired children on the computer screen).

We have beds, bedding, pillows, and mattresses for Andrey and Reagan. Total strangers, dear friends, and a beloved grandma contributed everything we needed, and twice Iree has told me this: “Mom, I was sitting on Reagan’s bed, and I was almost crying because I was imagining her here with us and I can’t wait for her to come home.” 

Yep, me too. I pretty much cry at least eight times a day.

We are making little books for the kids again so they’ll each have a note from us every day. Here’s part of a note Vin wrote to Iree:

I hope you slept well. When you read this, Mom and I will probably have been traveling for hours and hours. I’m sure we’re probably about there now, and we’ll get Reagan tomorrow, and she’ll leave the orphanage forever, just like in the book A Little Princess. Isn’t it exciting!

Packing has commenced. We have Alaskan chocolates for the orphanage staff, Alaskan smoked salmon for our attorney, and a trunkload of  new underwear and socks for dozens of children who still need families. We have clothes and jammies and sunglasses for Andrey and Reagan. We have instant coffee, our European electric tea pot, and chai tea.

We’ve been so consumed with trying to arrange logistics for childcare and housesitting that it wasn’t until last night that one of us (not me) remembered that we still had no idea how we were actually going to get to the airport. (A last-minute plea on facebook yielded several great offers though, and we’ve got it covered. Phew!)

The weeks have been packed and Sabbaths have been crucial. Sundays have been mostly quiet… emotional…contemplative. There is a time for productivity, but there is also a time for the watchman to just stand guard, alert, listening, to protect his family. This is productive, too, and so necessary.

Our family will never be the same again. Just the six of us, just like this. It’s scary and sad and exciting and overwhelming and joyful. It’s real, and we’re really bringing Andrey and Reagan home, for good, forever, and I thought it would never happen, but we’re finally here. And I’m in a daze.

We have rested on the shore, we have rested on the waves, and we are resting as we risk the ocean again. We choose to rest, to cling to peace, to stand guard and listen no matter what we’re in the middle of…

…but sometimes, it’s just exhausting. ♥

oh, saturday

Saturdays are remarkable around here. It is the one day that Vince goes to work early in the morning, and I’m on duty to make breakfast for the kiddos. Roll your eyes at me, whatever – I know I’m totally blessed with this guy who makes breakfast with the kids six days a week so I can get eight hours of sleep. 

He always leaves me a note and a big cup of decaf coffee on the counter for me to wake up to after he’s left for work. This week, the coffee was still warm when I got downstairs, but after two seconds of deep consideration I put it directly into the fridge and made a pot of the real stuff with caffeine. I’d already broken up a fight between three children and cleaned two cat messes and I wasn’t taking any prisoners. Any altruistic decaffeinated endeavors would have to wait for Sunday, ’cause this mama needed the leaded stuff.

I thought I would make biscuits and eggs for breakfast. Easy. A cinch. Piece of cake.

Except that three children wanted to help me. Oh, yes.

There is flour in the bowl, capped with baking powder and salt. The yogurt goes in (this is my not-so secret ingredient for amazing biscuits). Chamberlain is standing on a chair in front of the bowl, and I turn to the sink to measure water and oil into my measuring cup.

“Tan I stir?”

“No, don’t stir. NO-” as she reaches for the spatula, “I said, DON’T stir. Wait just a sec…” Pouring olive oil. My back is turned. Filling cup with water, and from the corner of my eye I see…

Now, really, what do you think I saw? Stirring, of course. Flour, foof! Dangerously close to my knitting bowl.

“NO I SAID DON’TSTIR!!!” and I lunge for the spatula with one hand, forgetting that my other hand is still holding what had previously been a full cup of oil and water, but is now only a two-thirds full cup of oil and water, because the rest of it had spilled all over the cookbook, and now my recipe is transparent.

So, that was biscuits. Ready for eggs?

The girls want fried eggs, the boys want scrambled, so…ladies first. Iree wants to help crack the eggs. Turns out, she’s actually pretty good at it. She does two, I do one, and we fry up those eggs. No drama, no problemo.

Afton wants to help crack the eggs.

Are you already laughing? I actually have great confidence with him in the kitchen – he’s always in here helping, and he knows his way around the microwave, tea pot, and toaster (except for that toast-on-fire incident back in December when he learned that no matter how blackened you like your toast, you should never, ever, ever toast it on level 5…twice).

Anyway, he cracks an egg and it goes in, great. I crack an egg and it goes in. Not very exciting, and Saturday morning is almost in the bag. Afton gets his other egg and cracks it, but somehow this one manages to do some crazy maneuver outside the pan and settles neatly next to the flaming burner, where it quickly proceeds to turn a milky white. I think, “That’s a funny place to cook an egg,” and we turn off the heat and go through multiple towels before all the egg slime outside the pan is contained so that we can resume cooking the egg slime inside the pan. You’ve probably already guessed that I was not about to give Chamberlain a go at cracking eggs. It’s a good thing I only do this gig once a week.

Eggs are done. Biscuits are done. My first cup of (real) coffee is down the hatch and I’m ready for the next one. Chamberlain has anticipated me, though, and as I’m setting the table and coming back for silverware, I catch her in the act of retrieving my full-and-now-very-cold cup of decaf from the fridge, and it is trickling all down her hair, her tummy, and onto the floor.

The good thing is that she doesn’t wear clothes lately, and this saves on lots of laundry. She will probably out grow this by the time she’s five…at which point, hopefully she will also have outgrown dumping coffee all over her head.

At least it was the decaf.

forward progress

Sometimes you just have to decide you’re going to do it. No more putting it off, no more hemming and hawing, just go for it.

After a year of watching her younger brother ride his bike fearlessly around the yard without training wheels, Iree finally took the bull by the horns – er, handles – and showed it who’s boss. Mattie removed the wheels for her, coached her to stay on the grass in case she wiped out, and then gave her a running start because he’s an awesome big brother like that.

Two tries, and that was it. She’s off and loving it, and the little training wheels are on a shelf in the garage…at least, I hope they are…wait a second, where did Mattie put those things? Anyway, they’re waiting for the next younger brother and sister to use them. Aww…

Speaking of the next younger brother and sister, we don’t have any exciting news yet. We are waiting on some mysterious thing called an Article 5. Some person out there who knows-it-all will probably explain this to me in the comments, but here’s where I think we are:

We received provisional approval from US immigration two weeks ago, and our documents should be filed by now at the US Embassy in Spaghettia.
Then we get that Article 5 thingy (technical term),
then our documents are filed with the Bg government,
then they send our dossier to court,
the court assigns a judge,
then we get a court date,
then we have court (!!),
then we go get those kiddos a few weeks later.

It’s a little like the hokey pokey, only it’s way more confusing and there’s no tune to it.

Afton and his trusty sidekick Shelby, plastered to the bike rack. Afton assures me that this doesn’t hurt him a bit and that Shelby actually enjoys it.

Bike helmets aren’t just for biking, you know. They’re the latest in toddler fashion, especially when put on backwards. Oops.

You’d think he’d be adjusting it to go on forward, but no…

She’s also wearing his rubber boots. I think she wears at least four pairs of shoes a day that don’t belong to her. I love how her pants are all smooshed up.

You can see that the water out there is drying up little by little – we’re ready to turn fans on in the crawlspace, and the Deepest Part of the Glub-Glub-Glub is no longer being siphoned out.

Vince and Mattie were down there yesterday cleaning out the old plastic sheeting and wet insulation. They handed the stuff up to me, and I hauled it to the back yard and wrassled it (technical term) into a somewhat folded mess resembling a giant plastic burrito that would submissively fit in the back of our pickup. And, no, it didn’t kick like a mule or bite like a crocodile, but when I was done with it I looked like I’d fought in the mud and the blood and the beer, anyway.  

 I think she looks a little like a Star Wars droid here, but don’t tell her I said that.

PS – No stuffed animals were harmed in the making of this blog post.