SUUSI 2014

SUUSI…I’m not even sure where to begin. The four of us (Kel, Paula, Chris, and I) know so many people for whom SUUSI is a no-brainer. They go, and have gone for years, even decades, and it is a summer highlight for them. We all certainly had extremely high hopes for UU Family Camp, as we called it, and it met those expectations in many ways, but it was not a run-away success for any of us.

The other adults can offer up their own stories as they choose, but SUUSI was probably most popular with me out of our family. A “Women and Writing” class was the seminar highlight of the week for me. I loved the chance to write in a loving, supportive atmosphere, and met fantastic women and learned some of their life stories. In addition, I visited with lots of people and heard life-changing stories from many of them.

More importantly, we got to spend hours with K, P, and the girls, and I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. When two adult women are crying with laughter, you know things are good. The fact that we were laughing at a floofer joke is irrelevant. It was summer camp, after all.

Sharing stories and ideas over coffee and guffaws and tears, what’s not to love about that?

The children spent from 9-noon, and from 2-4 in their age groups each day. Buster and Monkey both had 1/2 day nature trips with their groups, and enjoyed those. Buster didn’t want to go, but kept a good spirit about it.

When he got home from the trip, he had one of the winning comments of the week:

“Mom, they say you can’t buy friends, but I know that isn’t true. Want to know what you can use to buy friends?”

“Sure.”

“Cheetos.”

We sent cheetos with him for the trip home from his nature excursion, and while the other children were suffering on apple juice and granola bars, he was passing out cheetos with abandon.

Of course, this is also the child who said to me, “How can I say this so I don’t sound negative about myself…I don’t make friends, I make acquaintances.”

And truly, this doesn’t seem to bother him. He had K there, who is one of his top favorite friends in the world, although he spends so much time in his own head she still had to fend for herself much of the time.

Monkey connected with a friend in her age group, and a couple of her new friends came down and watched Minecraft videos and sang songs with her one evening, which I found charming. Monkey also enjoyed a great deal of freedom, walking back and forth from class and meals on her own, or sometimes with the Buster for company. They enjoyed that aspect of the week.

Buds took a coffee class and a class on reading topographic maps. Do with that information what you will as a way of interpreting his personality.

Yessa showed the split in her personality during this week. She never wanted to go to class, but always did great when she was there, and loved being with B, one of her bestest friends.

Seeing and visiting with lots of other UUCF’ers was another highlight of the week.

In addition, seeing and hearing about the experiences of the teens at SUUSI was also fantastic for me. I love the idea of our children having this week of being surrounded by people who share our values. That means a great deal.

I’m not sure if SUUSI will be in our regular plans. If we go again, I’ll plan to submit some presentations, and we’ll all have a better idea of the things we can do to get more fulfillment out of the week.

The one thing I know is that having Kelly and Paula and the girls across the hall was the best part of living back in the dorms. Oh, and Mango-rita is my new favorite cheap alcoholic beverage. And laughing until your stomach hurts is one of life’s best gifts.

Wrestling Snuggles.

Wrestling Snuggles.

The Buster's Class' Final Presentation

The Buster’s Class’ Final Presentation

DSCF3106

Buddies

Buddies

Mama Shark

Mama Shark

Kel's hair looks so curly!

Kel’s hair looks so curly!

My big girl still loves to snuggle.

My big girl still loves to snuggle.

Waiting for the Closing Kids' Circle

Waiting for the Closing Kids’ Circle

Cutie pashooties

Cutie pashooties

So glad she'll still hold my hand.

So glad she’ll still hold my hand.

Love

Love

Love

Love

They love living in the dorms and eating dorm food.

They love living in the dorms and eating dorm food.

DSCF3073

Getting ready to garden.

Getting ready to garden.

Let's go cause trouble!

Let’s go cause trouble!

Visiting and sharing

Visiting and sharing

Love this lady!

Love this lady!

Buddy face hugs.

Buddy face hugs.

These flowers needed dead headed, and I'm the lady for the job.

These flowers needed dead headed, and I’m the lady for the job.

Yup, that's my dad's nose.

Yup, that’s my dad’s nose.

So happy to see the twins.

So happy to see the twins.

Hello, Friend!

Hello, Friend!

The whole gang of us, minus a couple.

The whole gang of us, minus a couple.

Not sure what Buds and Monkey are doing here.

Not sure what Buds and Monkey are doing here.

Kelly’s comment below made me want to add a couple more pictures, borrowed from Paula’s FB page:

For afternoon classes, the children were "sorted" into their groups. (Harry Potter reference)

For afternoon classes, the children were “sorted” into their groups. (Harry Potter reference)

Younger kids' morning group gathering.

Younger kids’ morning group gathering.

Walking to class on the one rainy afternoon.

Walking to class on the one rainy afternoon.

Paula and I took all 13 tricks in a game of spades. This was her hand.

Paula and I took all 13 tricks in a game of spades. This was her hand.

We still got our butts handed to us by Buds and Kel.

Thanks for the extra pics, P.

S’mores

We had a S’mores’ Contest in conjunction with Family Week, and I forgot to include the pictures in that post.

I believe Poppi took the most beautiful pictures of s’mores ever taken, so they deserve a post of their own anyway.

DSC_4300

DSC_4290

DSC_4293

DSC_4295

DSC_4298

Take that Martha Stewart.

Family Week 2014

Buddie’s whole family made the effort to trek to our new hometown to spend a week with us. We hosted Nonni and Poppi and older cousins at our house on various nights, and the other sibling in town hosted the rest of the family at his home. It was a wonderful week and included the zoo, Cheekwood, a pontoon boat ride, Nashville Shores water park, Family Olympics, a birthday/anniversary celebration, the Motor Museum, an opportunity for all the children to visit and laugh and play with all the relatives.

The week was smooth and fun and very busy. We all had a great time. One of the things I love about that side of the family is that everyone plays with everyone. You’ll see random adult engaged with random child, playing a game or sharing a story.

And to my great delight, unlike last year, our youngest niece was willing to smile at me this year! Uncle Buds was not the only one accepted besides her parents! Woohoo!

The preparation for family’s arrival:

Monkey's Room Before

Monkey’s Room Before

Monkey's Room After

Monkey’s Room After

Family dinner

Family dinner

Nashville Shores

Nashville Shores

Bomb Squad Tourney

Bomb Squad Tourney

Multi-age gathering

Multi-age gathering

Picnic at Cheekwood

Picnic at Cheekwood

IMAG1415

Drawing for fun

Drawing for fun

Print-making

Print-making

All ages creating videos

All ages creating videos

Brother time

Brother time

Everybody helping everybody.

Everybody helping everybody.

IMAG1405

First nail polish, then video games...the things Nonni does for these grandkids.

First nail polish, then video games…the things Nonni does for these grandkids.

We start them young.

We start them young.

Sweet faces.

Sweet faces.

Pictures taken by Poppi:

DSC_3623_2

DSC_3828

DSC_3909

DSC_3918

DSC_4124

DSC_4137_3

DSC_4154

DSC_4163_3

DSC_4269_3

DSC_4274_3

DSC_4312

DSC_4328

DSC_4347

DSC_4355

DSC_4394

DSC_4437

DSC_4448

DSC_4455 - Version 2

DSC_4584

DSC_4625

It was a bit of a struggle, and sometimes still is, to find the time and the place for all of us to gather, but this week per year that we spend together has been a blessing and will be one of the fantastic memories of our children’s childhood.

Thanks…

I’ve heard from several of you in response to “Body Talk.”

Thanks.

Thank you for caring enough about the smaller people in my home to reach out with your honest stories of your own struggles, your own triumphs, and the understanding of the role the world plays in our self-reflection.

Thanks for your ideas and your reassurances that Buds and I are not the problem, but part of the solution.

Thanks for standing with us as we work to make the world a better place for all our children. A world where children understand what a healthy, whole, safe, loved body feels like, and that all of us have a right to that bodily integrity.

Thanks for loving your own selves and bodies as models for the young; demonstrating how freeing it is to not give a thought to someone else’s idea on what circumference your thighs should be, but instead focusing on the power within those thighs.

Finally, thanks for letting me know that someone is reading these posts. It matters to me. A lot.

So here’s a toast and a cheer for bodies short and small, large and tall, soft and hard, dimpled and smooth. May we love them all, live in them with joy, and be grateful for what they can do.

A toast to all of you.

A toast to all of you.

Body Talk

It took many years, but one of my biggest fears finally came home to roost last week. One of the children looked at me with the eyes I adore and the soul I cherish and said, “I wish I was skinny.”

It pains me too much to go into details about why I think this comment came from this child at this time, but suffice it to say my mind was sent spinning. Buds and I have spent so much time and thought working to raise emotionally strong, self-confident children. We’ve put effort into trying to keep food as a non-issue, recognizing their abilities of all types, and never comparing children-at least in front of them.

Still and all, the rest of the world doesn’t see the value of my child’s soul that I do. The world puts so much value in outward appearance. The world is designed to mold everyone into a certain type, and it takes character of a special blend of steel to stand firm against that spirit-killing mold.

My response to this child was balanced and loving: “In our family we care about power and strength.” “You are funny and clever and wonderful.” “What do you mean by ‘skinny’?” “I love who you are and how you look.”

But these are just words, and words didn’t seem to give too much comfort to this child as the tears flowed.

So I let the subject drop…hoping…praying…it would go away.

And it came up again a few days later.

“I wish I was (insert other person’s name here).”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she’s skinny.”

Another tear in my heart. Another glimpse into the little tower of torment this child is building inside.

Buds is very, very good at helping me see when I’m bringing my own baggage into a discussion about a child. So I talked with him to get his perspective on how to address this, knowing that on this topic my view is clouded.

Even with his clearer sight, Buds also is stumped. The people the child is hearing these comments from are people who love her and who wouldn’t intentionally hurt her. They are just saying what they’ve heard or seen or been told. It doesn’t help to get angry with them, though in some ways it would be a relief to scream about the faulty messages the world is sending.

So I did what I do.

I bought some books on body image. And we’ll read those and talk about them. Buds will continue wrestling and playing and demonstrating the physicality that we love as a family.

And I’ll pray and hope and pray some more that the little tiny seed that was planted won’t grow into a full-blown issue but instead will wither from lack of water, warmth, and light. If it does grow into more, we’ll seek help.

For now, the thing we can all do is make sure we are loving our own bodies and enjoying our own bodies and changing the world into a place that values the character of the soul, not the smoothness of the skin. No comments, no compliments, no “encouragement.” Just let the child be a child.

Please God, let this heal.

Vignettes

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Atlanta to bring back furniture from our business storage space there. I drove over the moving truck from home, and then hired two men to spend the day with me, hauling furniture to employee homes, then loading up everything else that had to come back over to The ‘Ville.

Donald and Angel were kind enough to spend the day with me, and it was fantastic. They were both in their twenties. Donald, unmarried with no children. Angel, married with three young children.

Buds gave me a call during the day, and after talking and laughing with him, I hung up, and since the three of us were crammed in the cab of a truck, and they had easily heard both sides of the conversation, I looked at them archly and said, “That was my boyfriend. Don’t tell my husband. No, I’m just kidding. That was my husband.”

Donald asked how long we’d been married, and if we had a good marriage. (Donald was the male version of me…let’s share our life stories after knowing each other 30 minutes.) I told him a bit of our relationship story, and how much I love and respect Buds. He then shared his desire to find someone to share his life with. “You guys make it look so easy, finding a soulmate,” he said to Angel and me.

Later, Angel was talking about his family’s desire to buy a house. Here’s what he said:

“We’d like to get some more space. We live with our three kids, plus my mom and dad, and my sister and her husband. It is a three-bedroom apartment, but more space would be nice.”

Talk about perspective from both these men.

Then, this week while the kids and I were out and about, I had the chance to visit with a woman who was celebrating her 68th wedding anniversary. Her eldest daughter is 62, her youngest is 47. She said she told her eldest daughter to stop telling people her age because it tells them too much about her mom’s age. She was a sprightly delight. I hope I get at least that many years with Buds.

On the topic of marriage and years, a man I worked with years ago just posted his wedding pictures with his partner on FB last week. They’d been together a long time, and were finally able to marry. I was so glad for him, but it brought back memories of our time at a Catholic University together. He was my boss, and his boss called me into her office one day. I don’t remember what we were visiting about, but she asked me if he was gay. I told her I didn’t know, and I didn’t. She said if he was, she couldn’t know because he could be fired.

Yup, folks, that was the classy Catholic University where I was working…

I was so happy to see his pictures and how happy he looked, and so sad to think of all those years he couldn’t be himself, honestly and lovingly. He was a fantastic boss, and a fantastic guy, and one of the few highlights from a soul-sucking place. I’m so grateful the world is evolving.

And speaking of college…a friend from college has started hospice care. She’s my age, in the final stages of cancer, with a daughter younger than Monkey. She’s been so much in my thoughts this week. I’m so grateful to have had her as a part of my college experience. She’s an amazing, inspiring woman. Life is so incredibly precious.

And those words sound so hollow when I know that in these final months…truly her final months…she’s waking up each day so grateful to see another morning. I’m going to try to keep that lesson close to my heart.

Three In One Week

Yessa just lost another yesterday on our drive from Massadoah to Roanoke. She hadn’t lost a tooth in many months, so there was some trauma about when would it fall out, would it bleed, would it feel strange, would she swallow it.

She kept worrying it until it popped out. There was some amount of blood, and my favorite comment from her was, “Mommy, it feels meaty in the space!”

Monkey lost two teeth last week, and hers is an interesting situation. She has five baby teeth that are sitting in the spots that her permanent teeth want. The permanent teeth decided they didn’t want to wait, so they’ve been growing in regardless. This gives her a little bit of a shark, multi-layered tooth look. The dentist told her she had about 3 months to wiggle those extra baby teeth out, otherwise it would be time to help them out. Monkey has been vigilant about wiggling for all she’s worth, with success on two counts so far. We’ll see if she can get the last three to surrender.

We’ve kept the tooth fairy busy.

Horseback Riding

Monkey loved the time she spent on a horse in NoVa, and since we moved, we’ve been on the lookout for lesson potential down here. We finally found the sweet spot of cost, location, and schedule, and Monkey and Yessa began lessons a couple weeks ago.

Ms. Wendy, their trainer, is patient and kind, but firm enough to support Yessa through her strong feelings of “I don’t think I can do this.” Not only did Yessa succeed, she excelled.

Both girls love their lessons, though Yessa will probably to continue to feel anxiety about going for awhile. She loves it once she’s there, but getting there can be tough. This is one of those times when it is clear that she wants to push past the nervousness, and she’s so proud when she conquers her fears. I wish it were always so clear when to support and “push,” and when to just let things fall as they may.

IMAG1363

IMAG1364

IMAG1355

IMAG1359

IMAG1351

IMAG1343

IMAG1345

IMAG1339

IMAG1347

Archery

We take our time when it comes to choosing where we want to devote energy and money for lessons. We’ve lived here nearly a year, and we’re starting to settle into a few chosen activities that we enjoy and interest us.

Archery is one of the chosen few.

Yessa and Monkey both wanted to try it out, but only our own personal Merida decided to stay with it. Monkey’s been taking lessons for several weeks now, with the 4 week hiatus while we were in Ireland, and she’s finding it interesting.

So many options for life-long skills and hobbies.

Then, a few weeks ago, no one else was at lessons, so Buster decided to give it a shot, too. I believe only Monkey will stay with it awhile longer, but I’m glad everyone gave it good aim.

IMAG1386

IMAG1381

Watermelon Cake Update

Buds and Yessa got inspired to try it again, with the proper “frosting” this time.

Yessa and Buds for the win!

IMAG1486

It is truly watermelon.

It is truly watermelon.

And after reading the first watermelon cake post, The Little Mother (Nonni) got inspired to give it a shot with Greek yogurt as the frosting and she takes the prize!

Nonni wins the internet!

Nonni wins the internet!

I would eat this over cake cake any day, time, place. I love the flowers!

Summertime, where the eatin’ is easy…