Sunday, September 29, 2013

Good Story about a Bad Trip: How Idea Camp was Almost Ruined.

Y’all know we’re travelers. And y’all know I have a heart for social justice. So of COURSE when I heard about the Idea Camp (a conference dedicated to tackling tough social issues, and geared for those involved in charity organizations and church ministries) I wanted to go.

idea campMy three favorite bloggers, Jen Hatmaker, Kristen Howerton, and Tara Livesay were all talking it up on their blogs and Tara and Kristen were slated to speak about the issues of international adoption, orphan care, and the shift in worldview that should occur when living and serving in another country/culture.

These three women have shared their personal stories of international adoption and their involvement with their children’s birth countries and cultures and what they’ve learned over the years about the nature of orphan care and the often-times skewed perception we in the First World have about impoverished people and foreign cultures.  They have been honest and raw about their own misconceptions, their learning process, and their desire to create the kind of change that provides relief, power, and dignity for the poorest people in the world.

I registered for Idea Camp almost as soon as I heard about it. YES. I’m GOING. Oh, and I registered my husband, too, much to his surprise. 

Me: I really want to go to this thing in Austin, Texas in September.

Him: Okay, we can probably work that out.

Me: Good, because I just registered the both of us.

Him: Wait, what? Were we going to talk about this?

Me: We ARE talking about it. Will you figure out the hotel and flight stuff?

Him: Hmm. What do we do with the kids?

Me: Uhhh…we’ll figure something out, we have six weeks.

You know that expression “flying by the seat of your pants” ? It’s how we roll.

Fast forward to the week of our trip.  I was SO excited! I had the kids lined up to spend the night with some friends until my mom got into town to take over the tribe. We had our itinerary and had even arranged to meet up with some college buddies, and hit a couple of highly recommended restaurants while we were in Austin.  Julio was going to get a mini-vacation, and I was going to get my do-gooder fix, and see some of my favorite writers in person, and then—there’s always that honeymoon element that comes with traveling without the kids! Woohoo!

The day before we left, the friend lined up to watch my kids told me her kids were all sick and puking. She said we were still welcome to bring our kids over, but would totally understand if we wanted to make other arrangements. She is awesome to be willing to still take our kids, but at that point, it became a bad plan for everyone. I couldn’t burden her with extra kids in the midst of illness! But now, I had less than 24 hours to make new arrangements. I called a couple of other friends who were amazingly willing to disrupt their schedules to help me out. (Love you both, you know who you are!) I also called my mom to beg her to come early, since dumping five kids at the last second on people who already have a houseful is kind of an awful thing to do. Of course, so is begging your mother to rearrange her work schedule when she is already down too many hours. I should have cancelled our trip.

But I’m a jerk. A jerk in a bind.

However, Mom and friends came through, because apparently, they like jerks.

Despite our last minute scramble, we headed out in high spirits:


Other than grumpy looks from a couple of flight attendants, our flight was uneventful. But that was the last thing that was.

We touched down in Austin at about 8 PM, and we were starving. I really wanted to try an Ethiopian restaurant that Jen Hatmaker has raved about for years.  We called them and found out they closed at 9. We spent the next fifty minutes tearing around Austin with a GPS set for Singapore, trying to find it.  (I hate you, Siri.)

We walked in to Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant with four minutes ‘til closing. The manager was not terribly excited to see us, but seated us anyway. We were bluntly told that not everything on the menu was available as they were shutting down the kitchen for the night. We were just so grateful they seated us, and our server was SO sweet (and clearly embarrassed by the manager’s displeasure) that we agreed to order whatever was available. Julio had done his homework via Trip Advisor to determine what the most popular dishes were, and (lucky us!) they were still serving the two most popular dishes. Cha-ching!

The food looked and smelled wonderful! Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten with the hands, using pieces of a flat bread called injerra to scoop up the bits of meat and sauce. We dug right in.


At the time this photo was taken, I was SO excited about this food. Now, I can barely look at the picture without wanting to hurl. In fact, talking or typing about it is almost too much for me.  About four hours after wolfing this stuff down, I got sick. And a few hours after that, Julio got sick.  It was epic. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I will tell you that it knocked me down nearly two whole days and required a trip to the local coin-op laundry when we were able to sit upright for more than an hour. And apparently, I was so out of it the first night, that when Julio tapped my arm to check on me, I threw a punch at him on the way to the bathroom. (Krav Maga for bathroom rights. I win.)

As a result of this epicurian adventure, I missed most of Idea Camp.  Julio was kind enough to drag himself out of bed and go to the conference and record the speakers for me.  He came home at lunch time and promptly passed out from exhaustion and nausea. 

Despite being so ill, I was determined to hear Kristen Howerton speak that afternoon. We stumbled to the car and drove through a hurricane (no, really---hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid had married up and dumped themselves on Austin that day) to get to Idea Camp.


Julio dropped me off at the entrance, where I literally crawled up the stairs to get to the meeting.  The place was packed and there was no place to sit. I leaned against a back wall and tried hard to make the room stop spinning..


After a few minutes like this, I noticed some people in the back row had gotten up and left. I flopped into their seats and willed myself not to spew. I could see Kristen on the front row.  I was impatient for her turn to speak…why wasn’t Kristen speaking? Two dudes were talking on stage and I just wanted them to shut up so I could listen to what Kristen had to say before it was time for me to crawl into a hole and die.

Eventually Julio joined me…after his own adventure in getting into the building with a churning stomach and dizzy head.  He flipped through the conference schedule, showed me what time it was and mouthed, “We’ve missed her.”  I think I lost the will to live.  I was cold, I was sick, I was wet, I was woozy, and I’d missed my speaker! SOB!

But, God is good, folks, because just as I was leaning over to Julio to ask him if he thought we’d be too disruptive if I started keening and barfing in the back row, Kristen was announced and she got up to speak!

Kristen’s talk was everything I was expecting it to be. She was passionate and I will detail what she and other speakers discussed in a future post.  For the sake of this post, suffice it to say that hearing Kristen made our thus far crappy experience worth it.

Following Kristen’s talk, the other Idea campers dispersed into smaller discussion groups, led by the day’s speakers.  I really, really wanted to do this, but Julio and I were in no condition to discuss anything but going back to bed. 


(What this photo belies here is the fact that immediately before and after it was taken, I was leaning against the wall of the parking garage, dry heaving and wishing all manner of ill will on Jen for her big, fat lies about the awesomeness of Ethiopian food.)

Back at the hotel, Julio and I chugged an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol and went to bed. It was all of 4:00 PM.

We slept for hours and woke up weak and surprisingly hungry. We considered ordering in, but nothing sounded good.  We were too spent to even drive across the street to the grocery store for soda crackers.  So, we staged some photos for Facebook in order to try to find some humor in our misery.


Eventually, we found the fortitude to drive a hundred yards to the HEB (Here Everything’s Better) store. It took us an hour and a half to buy a box of Saltines and a couple bottles of Gatorade. We staggered around the unfamiliar store like a couple of drunk octogenarians. I’m sure people thought we were high. (High on love, baby. Or low blood sugar.)


Crackers never tasted so good. 

It was 1 PM the next day before we joined the living, again.

We’d been so sick, we’d gone through every article of clothing we packed. This was not hard to do, as we pack light (carry-on only, peeps.) So, we went and hung out with the locals at the laundromat. Once we had some clean skivvies, and had been able to keep a meal down, we made our way back to Idea Camp, to hear Tara Livesay and her husband, Troy, speak. The Livesays live in Haiti and work with Heartline Ministries, providing prenatal and postnatal care and support for women there.  Again—their talk was everything I expected it would be.  Powerful, humble, moving.


(Troy—in white, and Tara, with the discussion facilitator. Troy had us all in tears as he talked about his love and longing for his home and friends in Haiti.)

There were a couple of other speakers as well, guys that had never been on my radar, but whose stories buried themselves in my heart and shifted my thinking. I’m still digesting what they had to say. I’ll get to it in a future post, when I’ve processed it all.

While we were sick, I kept wondering why things were happening the way they were. I had felt so strongly about attending this conference—not just because I was star-struck over my favorite bloggers, but because I really, really felt I needed to be there. I didn’t understand why I felt so compelled to be there and why I had gotten sick and was MISSING the whole thing. 

I realize now that had I been healthy and feeling like normal, I would probably not have been as touched by what I heard and learned.  There’s something about being wiped out physically that plugs you in spiritually. I’m still bugged I missed so much of the conference and completely missed the small group discussions, but the things I carried away made all the yuck worth it.

The theme of the conference was essentially about dignity and making sure that when we are helping others, we are doing it in such a way that preserves their dignity, offers respect, and keeps us humbly centered on individuals.  People are not projects, and true human care is long term. It hurts, it is messy, but it is worth the pain and ugliness to show people that they matter.


But, I’ll get to that in detail later.  Meanwhile, back in the trenches…

Now that we were feeling well enough to focus outward a little, we met up with our college buddies, Erin and Dale Offret.  We met them at Salt Lick BBQ in the town of Driftwood.  We hadn’t seen these guys in eleven years and we pretty much picked up right where we left off, talking and laughing, and joking, and quoting movies. Oh my gosh, these are OUR PEOPLE. THEY are why we were supposed to come to Austin!


It was awesome spending time with them! I couldn’t quit staring at them and we were all hugging and giggly and giddy (much like we were in college!) And the atmosphere was so, so fun. Great weather, awesome BBQ aromas, a festival vibe, live music (I could not quit watching the string bassist’s forearms!) and a huge pit barbecue!





I’m sure the food was good, but Julio and I were still a little tentative about eating. We didn’t want any repeats of the previous days!




This guy’s shirt says, “I just got licked and I’ve never been so satisfied.” We didn’t know if we should laugh or be horrified. (We laughed.)


Pecan pie a la mode! (I could only handle about three bites.  Too bad!)


Buc-ee’s gifts from Erin and Dale. (Can’t go to Texas without going to Buc-ee’s!)

Alas, the good times had to come to an end. Erin and Dale had to be up early for the children’s program at church the next day, and we had to be up early to catch our flights home.

But sleep would not find us. We were too sick the first two nights to notice or care, but our hotel room was overrun with crickets. They were crawling all over the walls, on the floor in the bathroom, scuttling from underneath the furniture. We even found one in the bed. Julio called the hotel manager, who initially blew us off. He only took us seriously when Julio caught one of the critters and carried it to the front desk.  The manager came to investigate our room, and it was clear he had the heebie jeebies, but he told us he couldn’t do anything for us, as all the other rooms were booked.



Just three of the unpaid guests in our room.  It was like a cricket frat party in there!

We decided to check out early and spend the night in the airport.  Though we were both feeling lots better, I was still pretty weak and really to the point where I didn’t care if there were bugs, ME JUST NEED SLEEP. And I wondered why on earth Julio thought sleeping on the floor in the airport with country music blaring overhead was any better than a soft bed and pillow and chirpy, crawly crickets. (Oh, and the airport turned out to have it’s fair share of crickets, too!) Facebook banter was the only thing that kept us going and from killing each other in our exhausted frustration.



We were supposed to fly to San Francisco, where we’d have an eight hour layover. We had planned to go to Alcatraz. However, after getting patted down at the security check point, we learned that our flight was oversold and the airline was looking for people to take a later flight. 

The thought of wandering around Alcatraz on zero sleep sounded like crap to me, so I suggested we take up the incentive to fly later. We ended up flying through Chicago and making about 300 bucks a piece. Our connection plane in Chicago turned out to have bad brakes so we had to de-plane and run across the terminal to get on a different plane headed for Boise.  We ended up getting home several hours earlier than anticipated.

Don’t tell my mom, but we called some friends to pick us up and begged them to let us crash at their place for a couple hours before going home.  We slept like the dead for two hours before we felt guilty enough to go back to being responsible adults and free my mother of babysitting duties.

Thus ended what was supposed to be an awesome weekend trip.  It was awful. And it was wonderful.  It was certainly memorable! I suppose there’s a metaphor for life to explore in there somewhere, but I think I just heard a cricket.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

(Home) School Lunches

Why do these children I’ve produced think they need to eat every three to four hours? I simply do not understand it.  It wears me out, having to come up with meals for these people. I share the opinion of my friend, Camille McClelland, in regards to feeding children:

“Lungfish. Did you know a lungfish can survive up to 4 years without eating? That's what I want for children. I'll trade them for humans when they grow up, because lungfish are really ugly.”


I love homeschooling my kids.  I LIKE having them around. I’m glad they don’t look like lungfish. I am committed to their getting all the nutrition they need or whatever, but I do not love feeding them. You know what I really miss about public school? Lunch ladies.

Oh, Adam Sandler. Sing it, bro.

They cook, plate the food, and clean up. And THEY do the nagging to get the little cherubs to eat the mystery meat. (Sloppy Joe, Sloppy, Sloppy Joe!)

We are gearing up for our fall schedule and I realized we will be eating a minimum of five meals a week on the go (two lunches, three dinners.)  I know many public school goers brown bag it every day and it’s no biggie, but that is a LOT of PBJs in a week. And it makes me want to crawl into a dark room and curl up into a fetal position.

However, never one to shrink from a challenge, I went to Pinterest for inspiration and ideas for a variety of healthy “on the go” meals. I found this:

lunch box 1 

And this:

phineas and ferb lunch

And this:

butterfly lunch

Is any of this even for real? I mean, I love Phineas and Ferb as much as the next person, but after a morning of travel and activity, our lunches tend to wind up looking more like this:

APTOPIX Spain Tomatina Food Fight

Cute little bento sandwiches? Color coded, patterned fruit and veggie kebabs? Yeah….no.

I need a lunch lady.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Day in the Life

Last night, I attended a board meeting for the Deseret Home School Association, our local LDS homeschool support group.  We were tossing around ideas for themes to anchor our monthly Mothers’ Meetings and one of the ideas that came up was to give homeschool moms a chance to share about a “typical” day in their lives.  I liked this idea so much, I decided to share my day with you:
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
First things first.  This was what I posted on Facebook this morning:
To moms of little children and to women who will someday have children: If you promise yourself that you will never let the kids eat sugar cereal and will only fix them nutritious, hearty REAL FOOD are deluding yourselves. ‪#‎ihatecookingbreakfast‬ ‪#‎donutshavetohavesomenutritionalvalue‬‪ #‎eatthedamnchocolatecheeriosalready‬
I really do hate making breakfast and my kids are not cereal people.  This was my first mistake.  Once upon a time, I thought in order to be a good mom, I had to provide hearty, homemade REAL food breakfasts—and so I did---until I realized how much I hate oatmeal and scrambled eggs and pancakes and waffles in the morning. They are much better later in the day—like when I’m awake enough to care. Breakfast for DINNER? No prob, let’s do it! But cooking this up in the morning, before trying to do school or run errands? That’s crazy talk.
This morning, I was willing to drive 13 miles out of my way to take the kids for donuts, JUST SO I DON”T HAVE TO COOK BREAKFAST.  The kids were thrilled. And yes, the baby is eating a bag of Fritos. On the way to get donuts.  Just. Whatever.
This past weekend, I shipped my oldest daughter, Ellen, off to Virginia to visit the cousins.  We all miss her terribly, and we’re drowning our sorrows in custard filled Krispy Kreme.
Another fun thing: Calvin is obsessed with coins—this has actually been a great hobby for him to take up, because it’s gotten him all interested in U.S. history—he now knows more about the government and the U.S. presidents than anyone else I know.  He’ll grow up to be a lawyer or a politician.  I don’t know whether to be proud or scared by that prospect…
This morning, he laid out all his coins in preparation for showing his collection at the Western Idaho Fair.
When we got back from getting donuts, the baby had tanked. Sugar coma started early for her.
Of course, she had a busy morning licking the walls prior to diving into her Breakfast of Champions.  There’s the homeschool stereotype in action.  What a weirdo.
The rest of our morning consisted of me catching up on e-mail and Facebook (don’t judge me, you do it, too.), doing laundry, playing a crappy game of The New Super Mario Brothers with the kids (because it’s summertime and why not be glued to a screen when there’s a gorgeous day outside?), and reminding them that because I bought them donuts this morning, they should at least not whine while I make them do their chores.
As an aside, when I said “typical” you must realize there is no such thing in a homeschool mother’s world.  Just thought I’d clarify that for you.
Lunch was leftover donuts. (Hey, I bought a dozen, after all.)  While I was debating whether to eat the maple glazed or the caramel chocolate pretzel concoction, the baby found a pair of scissors and customized her clothes while watching My Little Pony. I think her shirt is mocking me and my negligent parenting skills.
I decided that the scissors would be put to better use cutting coupons. Yes, I’m one of those crazy coupon ladies.  Well, actually, I’m not. In fact, I kind of suck at couponing, but I keep trying because I’m a masochist.
I had just finished organizing all the newspaper inserts when I realized we were going to be late to two things that started at the same time, but were in different places.  Calvin had a well child check up at the pediatrician in Boise and the kids all had swimming lessons in Meridian.  Since the pediatrician’s office charges 20 bucks for no-shows, I figured that’s where we ought to be.  Of course, the daily charge for swimming lessons is about four bucks a kid. So, not considering the gas I used to drive to Boise, I saved four bucks by going to the doctor’s appointment.  See how good I am at this money-saving crap?
On the way, we sneaked in some schooling.  We alternated having Calvin read us a chapter of a novel (The 39 Clues, in case you were wondering….and Calvin does the voices!) and rocking out to our favorite tunes.  On the playlist today: Jump In the Line by Harry Belafonte, Le Freak by Chic, Down Under by Men at Work, and Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics. (Classics. All of them.)
Anyway—You put four sugared up kids in an 8 by 8 exam room and hilarity ensues.  Or at least noise ensues.  I had given the kids the manners and public behavior lecture as we were walking in, but it was a case of too little, too late.  And all I did was laugh at them. Oh—and the baby was naked.  She had squirted the entire contents of a Capri Sun all over herself seconds before I got to the parking lot, so I had to strip her down.  Funnily enough, this didn’t faze the nurses or the doctor.  In fact, the nurse looked at the baby, sighed and said, “Clothing is SO overrated.” (This is why I’m willing to drive 40 minutes to go to this pediatrician.)
And Blythe loudly informed me that he forgot to put on underwear.  And he didn’t bring shoes.  He’s crunchy like that.  But, true to form, he remembered to bring an entire pirate ship with a crew of superheroes and Lego men.  At least he can entertain himself.
The doctor told me that Calvin would benefit from more fruits and veggies in his diet and fewer sweets and treats—(Calvin has an insatiable sweet tooth—I have no idea where this comes from.) So, of course, what’s the first thing we do after he gets two immunizations?
We get milkshakes.
Chocolate comes from a plant—that counts as a fruit—or is it a vegetable? And there were maraschino cherries…BAM. Doctor’s orders.  To. The. Letter.
Back home, I turned the kids loose in the back yard while I made a taco salad for dinner. It was delicious. I’d make THAT for breakfast.  (No I wouldn’t.)
To cap off my day, I left the kids with my husband and headed out to my favorite activity outside of sleep and not cooking.  I went to my Krav Maga class.  If you don’t know what it is and want a really good story about why I love it so much, click here.  If you just want to see some craptastic photos I took, stay with me.
I had just done 75 push ups and had noodle arms—but you can kind of get the idea.  My instructor and one of my classmates (in the center of the photo) are demonstrating how to get out of a headlock. We all got to practice this on each other. It was fun, despite getting smacked in the face a couple times.
Here’s a shot of the guys as they do the headlock thing. They almost look like they are buddies. I’m bugged that the picture turned out blurry, but my phone doesn’t have an “action shot” setting and they were moving pretty fast. (And I was supposed to be paying attention, not acting like the paparazzi.)  Next time, I’ll just have them pose all fakey for me after class or something.
After my class, I could NOT find my car keys. I had brought a new purse that has more pockets in it than a kindergarten teacher’s sweater vest.  I unloaded my purse, as well as my gym bag, TWICE. We checked all over at the studio and even went to peek in the truck to see if I’d locked the keys in there.  Nada.  I had to call my husband to come get me.  Of course, a few minutes after I called him, I found the stupid keys—in my purse-- and was able to call off the rescue. I am such a dork sometimes.
It’s been an eventful day…or maybe it just seems that way because I was documenting it. I dunno.  As I said before, there’s no such thing as a “typical” day in the life of a homeschooling mom…at least, not this one. 
Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Monday, June 24, 2013

School Planning Brain Dump

Every few  months, I need to write an angst ridden post about what to do for school with the kids.  So, here it is.  After this, I should be good for about six months.

I’m taking the time (summertime) to evaluate how last school year went and figure out what to do for the coming school year.  The difficult thing about homeschooling isn’t so much WHAT to teach, it’s WHEN and HOW.  If there was one thing I could drive home to folks who don’t homeschool, it’s this: homeschooling is not like public school.  No matter how you try, you cannot, cannot, CANNOT schedule your time like public school.  Believe me, I have TRIED. 

I bought a homeschool planner and filled out a week’s worth, almost to the MINUTE with a school schedule and assignments. It was beautiful.  It was even color coordinated.  I trained my kids on how to read the schedule, so at least the big kids could follow it on their own while I worked with the younger ones.  You want to know how long that schedule lasted?

An hour and a half.

After that first ninety minutes, we were already behind on assignments, and I was so stressed out I was screaming at the kids to get back on task.  Not awesome.  And I hadn’t taken into account things like the dentist appointments that I’d scheduled during math and grammar. 

I tried again the next day, but again, I was so stressed out trying to stay on schedule (with resistant kids who didn’t want to get up on time, at a generous 9 freaking o’ clock!) that we abandoned the stupid thing.  It was a matter of all or nothing, and in order not to kill anyone, I abandoned the schedule to go with nothing.  To use an art analogy, I’m more Jackson Pollack than paint-by-number.

I struggle with this.  I can accept that I’m not a meticulous, detail oriented person, but my children (some of them, anyway) need more structure to feel successful (and not drive me crazy demanding to know what we’re going to do next and when.)  I feel like I need a more measurable, results-focused plan, and I need to stick with it, but I suck at making flexible plans.  These are the times when I sink into despair and think “I can’t do this.  I’m ruining the kids. They’ll never get into college and it will be all my fault.”

I think my biggest issue is creating boundaries.  I am so easily distracted and such a bleeding heart that I will say yes to just about anything—to the detriment of schedule and plans.  I don’t want to be left out, I want to try new things, I don’t want to be bored.  I want the kids to have fun and lots of life experience.  But at the expense of academics?

My kids are very well read and articulate.  But they are behind in some of the more “technical skills” like math and science.  This stresses me out—but I HATE math and science.  I don’t want to.  I am trying to figure out how to love and be excited about math and science, but those are the subjects that killed me in school and turned me off to continuing in college. I was afraid of math and science.  I don’t want that for my kids, but I don’t have the mental fortitude to forge ahead with them.  Even the thought of making a baking soda volcano or raising butterflies from mail order caterpillars makes me want to run screaming from the room and hide in a dark closet somewhere.  Gloria is coming up on learning the times tables and I’m breathing into a paper bag over this.  I just don’t think I can do it.

And yet, I don’t want to put the kids in public school—I want to conquer this.  Do I hire a tutor? Do I join a co-op? Succumb to an online school? Do I just give up and put my precious, amazing, kids back in public school, where I won’t see them for hours and am beholden to a schedule not of my own design (including school events, homework, and the dreaded homework folder???) 

See? Angst.  It’s awful.  It makes me want to hit something. But, I’ll figure it out.  I may have to declare a moratorium on everything BUT math and science for the coming year.  I can’t imagine that will go over well, but I need to do something. 

Fortunately, I know these feelings are just part of a cycle---and it will roll around again and I’ll feel on top of the world and the kids will be doing just fine—but right now, at the low point—worried about what I’m NOT giving/providing/teaching the kids makes it hard to see what we’ve gained, what we’ve learned, and how much we’ve accomplished. Part of the cycle involves sitting at the bottom for awhile, fretting and stressing until I can’t stand it anymore, and finding inspiration and hope.  I’m not trying to wallow in a pity party, here—it’s just part of the rhythm of our lifestyle.  While I’m down here, I’ll explore my options, re-evaluate my methods, and my desires, and take the kids strengths, weaknesses, and desires into account.  We’ll figure it out.

The kids will be fine.  They’ll be successful.  They’ll get what they need.  For now, I just need to breathe into a paper bag.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Way to Go, Idaho! The Cornerstone Bistro

cornerstone black and white

For Mothers’ Day, Julio surprised me with a “chef’s table” dinner at the Cornerstone Bistro in downtown Caldwell. (Quite a drive for us, but SO VERY WORTH IT!)  The restaurant is on the second floor of an old building and is touted as “elegant rustic.” I love the description from their website:

“For the epicurean adventurer, our Chef's table is a unique dining experience focused on seasonal, regionally sourced ingredients. Unlike dining in a typical American restaurant, our guests are seated European style at a communal table. This is designed to foster exciting  conversation with new found friends, over an expertly prepared meal. Our Chef Benjamin Thorpe will be joining you to personally present each course and to discuss the inspiration behind each menu selection.”

“Elegant rustic” certainly sums up the décor and the ambience. After hiking up lumpy, carpeted stairs of an old small town building, we arrived at what appeared to be the remnants of a Mexican restaurant. There was a large stucco water fountain (empty) and the floor looked like it had been stripped to the subflooring and painted over in trendy colors. There were alcoves with clay tiles, hacienda style. The lighting was low and intimate and the tables were set with fancy placemats and mismatched flatware.  I am always amazed at people who can pull off that kind of thing—if I try to do “elegant rustic” I end up with “messy” but this place was immaculate. Once in the dining room, we were seated at one end of a table for 12.  We were the first to arrive, so it was fun to watch the other diners arrive and choose their seats. We knew no one else, but that didn’t stop us from making introductions and chatting.

Chef Ben came out and talked with us about what we’d be having for dinner. He was big, friendly, and excited to have us. (He looks all GQ in the photo, but he’s so approachable.  In fact, one gal at the table asked if she could take Chef Ben home with her. (Ben’s wife informed us that he regularly gets marriage proposals from folks who love his food.)  He talked to everyone about their preferences (there were two vegetarians and one gluten-free person) and made substitutions for them that made the rest of us wish we were vegans and allergic to wheat!  Ben told us we would not go away hungry and if we were still hungry after dessert, to let him know and he’d make sure that was solved.  He needn’t have worried.  All courses were portioned perfectly.  (Ben told us over dessert that he always makes extra and his servers love it, because if his patrons don’t eat it, they can have it!)  I was half tempted to say I was still hungry just so I could take extras home!

chef ben thorpe

The food was amazing.  Our menu:

Spring greens salad with gin vinaigrette and lime relish
Roasted pepper and tomato bisque
Seared scallop with root vegetable mousse finished with herb white wine creme
Prime rib loin with Cabernet gastrique over Pommes gratin
Cannoli limonatta

Everything tasted so light and fresh! I wish we’d taken pictures, because everything was beautifully presented.

We loved the food, the atmosphere and our servers (some teen boys in jackets, black toques, and board shorts.)


I will say that the group of folks we ate with were older, foodies, and a bit stodgy, except for the gal that sat next to me, who got more entertaining with each wine pairing.  Everyone was fascinated by Julio, which is natural, given his exotic good looks, charming hint of an accent, and his wit. 

At any rate, we loved the ambience, the food, Chef Ben and his tribe, and can’t wait to go back (only next time, we’re inviting friends, so the conversation can be as stellar as the food!)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God

gla older kids

A few years ago, my husband and I looked into adoption and in our research into international programs, discovered God’s Littlest Angels, an orphanage in the mountains above Petion-Ville in Haiti.  I spent hours on their website, reading everything there and then on their various blogs. We learned that we didn’t qualify to adopt from Haiti (because we had more than one biological child at home) but I was taken in by the passionate writing of the then NICU nurse, Susan Westwood, who served the sickest, smallest children at the orphanage itself and the surrounding areas.

Eventually, our adoption exploration ended, but I’ve kept up with the GLA blogs and followed the experiences of the staff and children.

Last year, on May 31, the orphanage saw a huge influx of extra children (21 of them!) brought over from another orphanage that had been shut down due to abuse and neglect. Reading the blog posts about the impending arrival, the actual arrival, and the initial struggles of trying to assist and settle the new children just crushed us.  The orphanage was already home to 65 children and babies—who now had their world interrupted by the new arrivals AND had to be protected from the illnesses and issues the new kids had.  GLA was in need of financial and spiritual support.

They posted pictures of each of the new children, who all looked angry at best, dead eyed at worst, and severely malnourished.  It was impossible not to be moved by the desperate state the kids were in.  (Side note: go HERE to see how far many of these kids have come in a year’s time under the care of GLA!)

Because we had followed GLA for years—had a “history” with it--via blog posts, e-mails, and photos about the kids, the staff, and the building projects, we knew it was a legitimate place to send aid.  We contacted the sponsorship coordinator and committed to sponsor a child---helping to pay for food, clothing, medication, or other needs specific to that child. The sponsorship program has been in place for years, and I wish now that we had done it years ago instead of waiting for a crisis to move us to action.

We were given the option to choose which child we wanted to sponsor—one of the new kids or one of the established ones—but we didn’t feel that was our decision to make.  How do you look at the photos of so many souls and make that kind of decision? We asked the staff at GLA to choose a child for us.  They know who needs what most.  We waited impatiently for a couple of weeks—checking our e-mail inbox several times a day, speculating which child would be chosen for us.  We started praying for our sponsor child, even though we didn’t know who it would be.  It felt like an eternity before we got the e-mail!

On June 25, 2012, our family fell in love with her:


This is Rosegaelle. She is one of the 65 “established” children at GLA.  She was there before last year’s influx of children.

She is three years old in the photo above, and she speaks Kreyol. At the time this photo was taken (last June) she had been in the orphanage for about eight months.  Her mother was extremely ill and her father couldn’t provide enough for her, so they took her to GLA and relinquished Rosegaelle for adoption.  I cannot even imagine their agony over this.

As her sponsors, we provide 30 dollars per month toward her care.  We are given a monthly update on her growth and development, including her height, weight, a photo, and any anecdotes about her that the staff have to share.  We have been asked by the GLA staff to pray for her, and often the monthly updates ask us to pray for specific needs she has.  We have taken these prayer requests very seriously.

And we don’t just pray for Rosegaelle.  We pray for the staff at GLA, the nannies, and we recently learned that Rosegaelle has been matched with an adoptive family.  (We will remain her sponsors until she is able to go home to them….which could be weeks, months, even years!)  And we pray most fervently for Rosegaelle’s birth family to find comfort, peace, and the resources they need to provide for themselves and their family so they never have to relinquish another child.

Prior to becoming involved with GLA and the sponsorship program, my knowledge about orphans was limited, my compassion for birth families minimal.  But as I have gotten involved with GLA, I have discovered a whole world of information and issues surrounding adoption, orphans, and poverty—especially as it relates to international adoption and the orphan crisis.

I used to think that orphans were kids whose parents were dead. I now understand that poverty creates orphans whose parents are still alive.

I used to think that birth families must not have really wanted their kids if they gave them up for adoption. I now know this is hardly EVER the case. 

I used to be so inspired by stories of folks heading to far off lands to build orphanages. I now know that is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb.

I used to think that poor, third world families were ignorant and irresponsible.  I now know this is untrue.

I used to think that international adoption was ALWAYS the best option for orphaned children. I now know that is only a good and realistic solution for a few, and that taking a child out of his native land, away from his native language and culture is not always in the child’s best interest. A loving family, who has only the resources to provide just the barest of essentials is better than ANY orphanage or adoptive situation.  We do not have a corner on the market of parental love and privilege does not automatically make us “better” to parent someone else’s child.

I also know that there will always be a need for safe havens for orphaned and abandoned children. God’s Littlest Angels is one of these.

This is a big, fat post about issues I have become passionate about.  I am still learning, and I want to say that I am NOT anti-adoption.  I just know that adoption is not the answer for everyone and I am passionate about dispelling the myths and prejudices surrounding adoption, poverty, and finding ways to truly help the most vulnerable people in the world.

We will likely never meet our sponsor child, Rosegaelle, nor her adoptive family, nor her birth family—but we have been so blessed to be a part of her life.  It feels unfair, because through sponsoring her, we have gained so much knowledge, so much more compassion.  People often tell me we are wonderful for sponsoring, but I think I will slug the next person who says that, because it’s SO not about us being awesome.  What we have gained spiritually and intellectually from doing this…it has opened our eyes to a whole world of need and awakened and fueled a desire to respectfully assist and listen to the most vulnerble, most needy people.  We are learning to listen to their needs and work with them and advocate FOR them, rather than swoop down and try to FIX them.

I hope in reading this, you feel moved to DO something. In fact, I’m asking you to please DO something.  Please, please consider assisting and advocating for these children and families:

God’s Littlest Angels: Child Sponsorships Click on the link to learn more about the sponsorship program, and click on the photos below to be taken to that child’s page.  GLA’s hope is to have ten sponsors for each child.  There is also a school sponsorship program through GLA, which helps poverty stricken children attend school—something only 1 in 3 Haitian children have the opportunity to do.  The school sponsorship program is currently undergoing some changes, so I’ll post the updated information as it becomes available.

AbygaelleBeatriceBeny and Chantel (Nanny) - July 2012 Take 3


CarineChristianDavidson The Older


DjenyloveErick MarkensonFaland

FedoGethro Guerson


JackyJeanRismondJohn Love

JudelineJulenord JuniorKendy

LauroreMarie ThereseMario



Osmaika and MakiPetersonRainika




YvensonChristian (ti) - February 2013Elysèe - February 2013-08