Summer Reading Adventures

Currently, we have an embarrassment of riches checked out from the local library. I tallied them up, and we have 25 children’s books checked out! Some are graphic novels/chapter books for Henry to practice his reading aloud, but the majority are gorgeous picture books I have been hoarding (but know I’ll have to let them go eventually). Isn’t it funny how fantastic books become part of your self? I think my kids are starting to grasp that, especially when they ask for certain ones to be read over and over and over and over again. Since summer vacation is rapidly approaching (last day of school is in less than one week – EEP!), I thought I’d share current books my kids are loving, and then do periodic updates this summer.

I’d love it if you shared ones your kids can’t put down. I’m always on the hunt for beautiful, thoughtful, silly, and empowering books for my littles. I hope you enjoy our picks, in alphabetical order by author’s last name:

Rot, the Cutest in the World! by Ben Clanton

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña

The Library Dragon & Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, both by Carmen Agra Deedy

When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland

Africville by Shauntay Grant

The Bad Seed & The Good Egg, both by Jory John

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

My Heart by Corinna Luyken

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh

Because by Mo Willems

Sometimes I Want To Not Care

I have a secret. Sometimes I want to not care about things happening in our world today. It would be easier. I’d have more time for fun. I could be frivolous at will. Maybe I would live in the moment more easily than I do now. Certainly, it would be a relief to live in a bubble free from deep thoughts and anything unpleasant that didn’t directly affect me. Society’s problems would not disappear, but it wouldn’t matter because as a member of the white population in the United States I’m super privileged.

But this indifference to others is not me. I hope for a more peaceful world, and understand that I need to actively participate to create change in it. I care beyond what’s happening in my immediate world.

I care so much it makes me cry tears of rage and sorrow when yet another white male perpetrates a school shooting and kids are killed in the line of fire or while protecting their classmates. The papers call the murdered ones heroes, but that’s not the right word – martyrs would be better. We don’t have to continue our complicity and keep allowing our children to be murdered in mass shootings. We can change the laws by providing better access to (and quality of) mental health care and limiting gun rights in the name of public safety. The Florida legislature’s response (besides its usual thoughts and prayers) to all this of arming teachers – it will not help. Kids deserve and need to feel safe and protected at school. If their teachers are carrying, they are inherently unsafe. Guns do not belong in classrooms with students.

Another facet of education that I wish I didn’t care about is the world of high-stakes testing. My kids aren’t old enough for the FSA, and the incredible pressure that comes along with it. I feel anxious for their future selves because I know how terrible it feels to bomb a single test that determines whether you get to move on to the next grade (or get into a top tier law school). I am a mediocre test taker when only given one shot to prove myself. I may know the material backwards and forwards, but my anxiety causes me to freeze up, misread questions, and panic. And I’m an adult. Now think about how kids feel when faced with the FSA.

We fail our students when we submit them to testing that is designed in the name of education reform but is truly created to destroy the great equalizer that is public education. Tests are rigged so a certain percentage of students fail, which allows the government to label schools as failing. Parents rightfully become upset and begin looking for a way out through vouchers and for-profit charter schools that are publicly funded with our tax dollars (siphoning off money from public school systems) but with less (or no) public oversight. I have family and friends who send their kids to these programs because they view the public schools as broken. They aren’t wrong. They want what’s best for their children. We all do. But as a collective society, if some kids are slipping through the cracks it is our duty to look out for them and lift them back up.

The current inequity in our public schools is astounding, but it can be fixed. Rozella Haydée White’s new book, Love Big: The Power or Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World, contains a roadmap for seeking peace through moving toward justice. She “define[s] justice as equitable access to resources that provide people with the ability and agency to create a life of meaning. Working toward justice requires dismantling any system, ideology, or institution that promotes inequity….Justice becomes a reality when we recognize that we need one another. When we become justice seekers and peace bearers we recognize that our lives are inextricably linked. What one person does, thinks, or even believes affects another.”

“What if we practiced the belief that we belong to one another daily?”~Rozella Haydée White

As I read her words, it clicked that I have been actively working through this philosophy of peace and justice through my membership with FAST. Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly involved with its youth suspensions and arrests committee where we have researched and learned that if restorative justice practices (RP) are properly implemented in our schools, students and teachers succeed. Behavior issues are handled with student accountability and compassion, giving kids a toolbox to deal with the big emotions they feel on the daily. This in turn allows teachers to spend more time teaching the material and keeps kids in the classroom versus being removed, suspended, or arrested for disciplinary issues. Teacher retention rates in schools using RP methods are higher (but we still need to pay them what they are worth, an entirely different battle).

Changing the culture in public education is difficult, but I truly believe RP is the real game changer into creating an inclusive culture where all students feel heard and wanted as assets in their classrooms. Because I truly believe this transformation needs to happen, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone and feel uncomfortable. With FAST, I flew to Louisville to learn about RP from a school district that is effectively implementing the initiative. Earlier this year, I spoke directly to school board members not only at meetings but also in front of a crowd of 2500+. This scared me because I’m uncomfortable speaking in public…not only the everyone’s eyes on me part but also my need to deliver my message perfectly using the correct words with the proper gestures and presence. I want to convince people this matters, and I know my discomfort is nothing compared to what kids face at school. So I woman up, lean in, and demand change to make the system more equitable.

I’m not an expert in any of this. I’m a parent who believes that public schools offer the best chance for all kids to become the people they are meant to be. I care, and I want others to take responsibility in creating change, too. Don’t you?

Forget January, Bring On February!

If you haven’t seen this picture circulating around the internet yet, here it is:

At first, I laughed about it, but then the more I thought about it, the more I felt it’s totally true for me. January felt like an entire YEAR rolled into a single month. What’s up with that?!?

January was rough with waiting for my melanoma to be removed. It’s hard waiting for treatment for weeks after a cancer diagnosis knowing there’s nothing I could be doing to stop its growth. Except for surgery. Thank goodness only surgery was required to treat it, because stopping all normal activities for two weeks was definitely difficult.

Not being able to pick up and hold my 2 and a half year old, who is a supremely cuddly little, was torture for both of us. He quickly figured out I couldn’t keep up with him so he threw down some of his most epic flops and temper tantrums to date. The worst occurred at the library where he sprinted away while I was checking out books, climbed the stairs and almost made it inside an elevator to head downstairs that way. That kid is FAST! And I can usually hang but not this January.

I also couldn’t work out beyond walking at a leisurely pace. If you know me, you know that drove me bonkers! I’m at the gym 5-6 days a week normally taking various classes for my mental health. It helps decrease my anxiety and is my time to not focus on anything else in my life but myself (and mostly my breathing, because dang I take some challenging classes!) And walking at a 20-minute mike pace could not compete.

But January is over and done with, thank God!

My surgery went better than I imagined (because of course my brain occasionally went to worst possible scenario of extreme pain, permanent disfigurement, and/or death). Although exhaustion took over post-surgery thanks to the anesthesia, I never really had pain. My scar looks great so far, especially because it’s only been 3 weeks. My melanoma genetic testing came back in the lowest possible category, and my two basal cells have been removed.

I’m cancer-free! We’re settling back into our regular routines. February is looking lovely with Bad Kid Christmas only 2 weeks away!! And I’m working on my five-year plan, trying to figure out my place in this world. Everything’s coming up Sunshine, and I’m ready for it!

On Kindred Spirits and People Who Give a Shit

If you’ve been friends with me for a good length of time, you probably know of my love of Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I discovered her series when I was in elementary school, and subsequently found the gorgeous Canadian miniseries of the same name at our local Albertson’s where VHS rentals were 99 cents on Wednesdays. I spent good portions of my childhood renting and rewatching the movie (and its sequel) until I knew it by heart. I desperately wanted to be Anne, and create adventures with my own bosom friends. And I did.

I also went through a period of time when I didn’t feel like anyone I met was a kindred spirit; I had friendships, but no shared connection of acceptance of self. Maybe because I didn’t know who I was becoming. Maybe because girls are jerks to each other when they want to be thought of as cool. Maybe because my best friend had moved away. I don’t know.

Today, I have a couple handfuls of friends who are my people, my kindred spirits. You know, the people who rejoice in your joys and cry with you in your sorrows. Friends who fly down to spend the weekend with you before surgery so you will be distracted from obsessively thinking about it and friends who use their day off to help with your kids when you can’t easily handle your normal routine. Friends who offer and bring meals. Friends who give epic hugs. Friends who call to catch up because they can’t be here in person (although I wish they could) and I sometimes don’t pick up the phone because I hate it but I listen to their voicemail over and over and feel loved. I feel so very loved.

It’s just as Anne taught me – kindred spirits exist in droves; even when we are far apart, we are still together, and that hasn’t changed and won’t change over time.

  • “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
  • “True friends are always together in spirit.”
  • “Kindred spirits alone do not change with the changing years.”

Then there’s whole other group of awesome people who have been impactful in supporting me, and I’m affectionately referring to them as people who give a shit. Please don’t be offended by my cursing or by not including you in my kindred spirit category, but I’m so thankful for you, too. You all unexpectedly showed up and have kept showing up and checking in with me.

On social media we seem further apart yet more aware of the inner workings of each other’s lives. We tend not to have conversations in person because texting or messaging is so easily available, or we just read up on someone’s life via their Facebook page and count that as checking in. That’s not what you all have done.

You are sending prayers, good vibes, positive thoughts – whatever faith you practice or don’t practice doesn’t matter – your affirmations and solidarity lift me up.

Some of you are cancer survivors, and I had no idea. Thank you for telling me about you. Your shared stories fill me with hope that the cancer will stay gone now that it has been removed.

What I’m trying to say is thank you family, friends, and everyone who has shown up. I’m feeling much better and more at peace with the whole thing (despite being swollen, tired, and in some pain), and that’s because of you. Thank you.

Merry Christmas! I’m Totally (Not Really) Fine!

Today is the shortest day of the year and the longest night. So I thought it would be fitting to write a blog post that is all over the place and full of my rambling feelings. Because nothing says Merry Christmas like being in an emotionally precarious state when you have to keep it together so your family can have the best Christmas ever! Isn’t that how parents feel about Christmas every year? Matt Damon and the cast of SNL seem to agree.

Something I didn’t include in our Christmas cards this year even though it’s pretty significant change to our lives is that just after Thanksgiving I found out I have melanoma. Merry Christmas! I have cancer! It puts a damper on people’s holiday cheer so I left it out. Even though I can’t stop thinking about it.

I have cancer.

Skin cancer. And I’m only 36.

I’m angry. And terrified. And upset. I’m short with my kids who don’t know what’s going on with me. I cry at nothing. And then pretend I’m fine.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

Maybe if I say it enough times I’ll trick myself into actually being okay. Sometimes I actually feel mostly fine. And I’m not even faking.

Just kidding. I’m not fucking okay. Thanks for asking.

I’ve continued my normal routines like a boss. I’ve gone though various events and fun times this holiday season, and had fun. Really. I promise I did. I can compartmentalize and ignore the voice in my head shouting “I HAVE CANCER” without ruining everyone’s party. I’m fine. I’m drained. I feel loved.

I feel so very loved. Really, I have the best family and friends. I could go into their amazingness in excruciating detail, but it would get embarrassing…that’s how awesome my people are. I’m keeping their love and support to myself because I need it all. Sorry not sorry.

Meeting with the plastic surgeon definitely helped me feel more at ease with the situation. My melanoma was caught early and should be easily removed. It is on my hairline so it’s in the best possible spot for removal with minimal scarring. It will be like a mini-face lift on one side.

I feel extremely fortunate that my cancer can be cut out and that its removal should be the end of the cancer in my body. I won’t have to have chemo or radiation or anything like that. But part of me is terrified it will return. Because I’m more likely to have another one now that I’ve had one already.

I’m especially scared because my FIL has been dealing with melanoma for 9 years now. I’ve seen him cut up again and again, watched him deal with experimental therapies that harmed his body as much as they helped, and observed him not being himself as he received treatments.

January 10th I say peace out to my melanoma. I hope and pray it’s for good. Although if for some reason it’s not, I’m going to fight. Besides, if the Notorious RBG can come out swinging against Round 3 of cancer, I can certainly do likewise (although I can only hope to match her intense exercise regimen).

On Women, Truth-Telling, and Hope

I feel like I’m being told that women don’t matter. We can be believable in our statements but at the end of the day men can set that belief aside and totally disregard fact in order to protect and honor themselves.

Our bodies must be regulated.

By men.

Men’s bodies are not similarly regulated and in fact are enhanced by performance equipping drugs.

Our pain is not believed. Our statements are not trusted. If a man causes a woman pain and suffering the burden is placed on her to deal with it. The man often has no repercussions.

Judge Kavanaugh’s job interview for the Supreme Court should be terminated and his nomination rescinded. There are plenty of other jurists out there who don’t have these types of allegations against them. Pick any of them. I’d prefer a female Justice, but at the very least I want a truth-teller.

This election season, I just want to watch the whole thing burn.

But I can’t.

Because part of me still hopes for a better United States. Especially because of my two young sons. I want them to be kind and know limitations when someone says stop or no. But they’re figuring it out at an early age, so I’m hopeful.

White men, you better have outstanding credentials when running for elected office because I’m just not sure I can vote for you. I’m ready for women to run the world, for our ideas and policies to create change. We can do it. I’m voting for you. I’m ready for people of color, people who are LGBTQI+, refugees, and all people who feel like second-class citizens in this great nation to rise up and be honored. I support you and your ability to lead when hope seems dark. I’m rooting for and voting for you.

I’ve read through the Beatitudes several times today looking for clarity. I’ll continue meditating and working through them many more times in search of some kind of answer. I don’t know why I feel like an answer exists, and it can be found in part by reading Matthew 5, but I feel an urge to keep searching. I feel the need to be blessed and at peace. I’m seeking…

Meal Planning for My Sanity

If you follow my Instagram (@lwalbolt) or my Facebook, I’ve been posting weekly pictures of our dinner menu since just before Henry began kindergarten. It’s been helpful for me to plan out our dinners for grocery shopping purposes and to give an advance look at our evening plans that may interrupt family dinner time. I feel calmer about the whole dinner process, especially because my house becomes crazytown between 5 and 7 pm (the time when I make dinner).

If your house goes bonkers in the evening like mine does (I continuously ask myself, “Is it bedtime yet?”), maybe my process for meal planning can help you find some peace in the actual cooking of dinner.

First, I compiled a list of all our favorite recipes with accompanying website locations since I had them saved in multiple places (including the abyss that is my Pinterest account). I divided the list by meat (chicken, pork, beef) and vegetarian meals. That way I can do a variety of foods and not just eat delicious pasta every night.

Next, I look at our schedule to see when Keith and I have evening meetings, family fun times, or gym classes, and I make easy, quick meals on those nights. I know I never feel like cooking on Sundays (church drains all of us as a clergy family) so we either do leftovers or pizza (Publix has excellent dough in the bakery which makes for easy assembly). Since Monday is Keith’s day off, I produce a more elaborate meal with leftovers so he has food to take for lunch during the week. I also alternate the type of grains we eat so everyone gets their favorite. Finally, I got an Instant Pot over the summer so I’ve been making something in there once a week.

Sometimes the kids are not here for eating my new creations. “I hate broccoli,” exclaims Elliot, and “It’s too spicy” are two statements I often hear. So I always make sure there is something on their plates they love (like applesauce), and they are required to try (occasionally with tears) all parts of dinner. But there’s usually leftover macaroni and cheese in the fridge that I heat up once they try it, if they’re still so so hungry.

Most importantly, I allow myself grace when I don’t feel like making whatever dinner I have planned (no real reason required). Chicken nuggets and fries plus salad (just kidding – chicken nuggets and tots are a totally fine dinner) is something we eat on the regular, and never gets old. Assuming the ingredients haven’t gotten disgusting, I just move the meal I didn’t make to next week’s menu. So if you see a meal on my menu two weeks in a row (or more), it’s probably because we had a lazy night (or maybe we really liked it).

Currently, we are trying to eat more vegetarian meals so I’m only planning meat a couple times a week. I’ve been scouring my favorite websites (Six Sisters Stuff, Damn Delicious, Budget Bytes, and Pioneer Woman) for new recipes, because I like to do 1-2 new to us recipes each week. It keeps me from getting bored in the kitchen, and some of them turn out to be hits. Only a couple of times have we had to order pizza because dinner was inedible. So I consider myself a self-taught cooking success! Now if I could find some trained animals to do the dishes afterwards that would be ideal.

Speaking Without Thinking, My Christian Freedom of Speech Fail

Earlier this week I spoke unkindly about someone close to me, and they directly heard me say the words (I didn’t know they were on speakerphone). I spoke the truth, but I would never have made the statement if I knew they were listening.

Clearly, the lesson of Ephesians 4 that Keith preached on a few weeks ago did NOT sink in. He stated that although the First Amendment grants us the freedom of speech by law, as Christians, we live by a superseding set of principles. These tenets are explained by Verses 25-32, and require us to ask ourselves three questions before speaking:

  1. Is it true?

  2. Is it necessary?

  3. Is it kind?

If the statement I’m about to make fails one of these prongs, then I shouldn’t respond. My statement failed parts two and three – it was unhelpful and unkind. Yet still I spoke. Why?

To make a joke.

To mutually complain.

To be mean.

So it probably serves me right to have the person I spoke about actually hear what I said. But I love this person, too. And I feel terrible about hurting them. And I hate having people I love angry with me.

The words I spoke have consequences. The person I spoke about tends to hold grudges – I’m talking about decades-long grudges. That’s their prerogative. But I plan to call today and apologize for my hurtful words, and ask for forgiveness.*

And moving forward, I can work towards thinking about the three questions before speaking. When I’m angry and ask myself, ‘Is it true?,’ I can attend to my anger. Not with silence or violence, but with truth through looking at the root of my anger.

Next, I can ask, ‘Is it necessary?’ Am I helping the other person? Just like the thief being given a new purpose in verses 28-29, how can I use my power through my words to build up?

Finally, I can ask, ‘Is it kind?’ This will be the hardest because I find myself drawn to negative thoughts and harsh statements. It is incredibly easy for them to slip out of my mouth and judge. I judge others so much and find myself full of rage these days with our governmental leaders, people who support them, and people who fundamentally disagree with the way I believe people should be treated.

But there’s hope because I’m a work in progress. I’ve been marked by God through grace. Not by anything I have done, not because I’m a good person, but because He/She has identified me as His/Hers. And I strive to live up to that call of holy unity by being kind and forgiving others, including forgiving myself when I harshly speak without thinking. That’s my Christian freedom.

*Please pray for me today as I call my loved one to ask for their forgiveness. I desperately need courage because (1) I hate making phone calls and (2) This person intimidates me even when they aren’t mad at me. Thank you.

Henry is Five (way back in May)

Henry turned five in May – he’s a whole hand old now! And since he starts Kindergarten on Monday (tomorrow, eep!), I figured I needed to add in his fifth birthday adventures to the blog before I do his first day of school post.

At his five-year checkup he had excellent vision, weighed 44 lbs (68th percentile or so), and stood 43.5 inches tall (62nd percentile maybe). It’s been a while since the appointment so I don’t remember the exact percentiles. He’s super healthy and energetic for life.

He runs like the wind, dances crazily, wrestles Elliot, and jumps and tumbles on everything. He’s reading short books; we do hooked on phonics lessons daily, but he’s reading “real” books, too. It’s pretty amazing. He considers himself an artist who takes coloring completely seriously. He also draws, traces, and creates 3D art projects with his Oma. He builds complex Legos all by himself, with occasional outbursts that he can’t do it and needs help. But by the time I get to him to help he has already finished and moved on to the next step.

He feels emotions deeply so if someone is sad he is usually the first to comfort them. He gets angry like the Hulk and it takes a while for him to settle down from his anger. No one can help him with it (in fact, we make it worse when we help), so he’s trying different strategies to calm himself. He continues to love people and makes friends easily. It’s pretty impossible not to have a fun time when Henry’s around.

We celebrated his birthday with Elliot’s at Lake Seminole Park with family and friends. Henry had 6 or so friends come, and Elliot had 2 or 3. Plus, we had both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the oh so important cousins – Grayson and Finley – come to the party. The LEGO themed (of course) bash was a smash, at least the chili pepper piñata was totally smashed after all the kids had multiple turns. The kids ran like maniacs on the playground and ate their weight in delicious goodies. We opened presents at home so there could be more playtime. It was a totally awesome party!

The Yearly Birthday Survey:

How old are you? Five.

What is your favorite color? Turquoise and Purple.

What do you want to be when you grow up? A ninja.

What is your favorite animal? Manatees and monkeys.

What is your favorite food? Chicken and scrambled eggs.

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Blueberry muffin.

What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or scrambled eggs.

What is your favorite thing to eat for dinner? Mac and cheese.

What is your favorite thing to drink? Apple juice

Who is your best friend? Samuel.

What is your favorite toy? The toys I like are actually Legos.

What is your favorite TV show? LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy

What is your favorite movie? LEGO Ninjago

What is your favorite book? Chewie and the Porgs.

What is your favorite thing to do? Play Legos and with Porgie.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family? Going to splash pads.

What is your favorite holiday? Christmas and Halloween.

What is your favorite thing to wear? My Sonic shirt!

Independence Day with the Littles

Our holiday has been pretty poppin’:

  • We went to the YMCA today, decked out in our red, white, and blue, and I practiced yoga this morning.
  • We swam with Uncle Brent and friends during our regularly scheduled naptime resulting in too-late naps for everyone except Keith.
  • We ate hot dogs, tater tots, and applesauce for dinner.
  • We threw poppers on the ground, making tiny explosions with the force of our throws.
  • We lit sparklers, creating designs in the air.
  • We ate popsicles because it’s July in Florida and it’s too dang hot even with the evening’s (relatively) cool breeze.
  • I heard the fireworks outside celebrating our Nation’s birthday, and watched my boys’ smiles as they glimpsed them over the treetops. They raced Keith to see the smaller ones in our neighborhood, first on bikes and later on foot. Amazement shined brighter on their faces than the fireworks themselves.

We lived our best lives of freedom and happiness today, yet when I think about life, liberty, and happiness* in the United States today, I come up short. How can I reconcile the conflict in my head that comes with having a pretty great day with my family while knowing many people living in the United States do not have these guaranteed freedoms?

I can’t right now. Not with families forcibly separated from their children by our government. Not with the criminal justice system imposing harsher sentences on those with darker skin tones. Not with public education being attacked by our leaders under the guise of test scores and grades. Not with the people in power continuing their destruction of health care protections, including preexisting conditions. And on and on it goes.

I’m trying not to let the political actions of our government get me down. I’m a dreamer and a fighter. So I’m combining my hope for a better world with personal action by making my resistance known. Because as the ELCA’s Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton emphatically stayed at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, “God’s resistance is love…And [I am] God’s resistance.” *Footnote for anyone who wants to reread my favorite part of the Declaration of Independence, as written by Thomas Jefferson.“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”