What I’m Reading

It’s an icy, wintry day here in Missouri – perfect for curling up on the couch and reading!

I’m actually working my way through a large number of books right now – this is the stack of books in which I’m currently spending my reading time.

One thing I’ve loved over the past years has been building relationships via book discussions. One Thanksgiving, our whole family read and talked about a book. Matt and I have read books together for years. And I’ve loved talking about books with friends – and it is one of the great joys of motherhood for me that my children also love reading and discussing books.

I ordered Mary Oliver’s Devotions for Christmas, and Matt and I have been reading through it together. Her poetry is challenging and inspires contemplation but is also a peaceful resting place for my soul. We’re also reading All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung, a memoir by an Asian-American adoptee, and we’re finding ourselves encouraged to think about what it means to raise our children, particularly our Asian-American daughters, well.

My mom gave Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson, to Miranda for Christmas, and the older girls and I have started reading through it together as our bedtime reading book. Already it has prompted some interesting conversations about friendship, immigration policy, and intelligence.

Madeleine CaiQun received the first five books of the Wings of Fire series from my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas, and both she and Miranda are devouring them. They love them so much that they pleaded with me to read them, too, so I’ve been spending time in the world of Pyrrhia, reading about dragons and their adventures! I’m only on book two so far (Miranda is in book four, and Madeleine CaiQun is reading book seven), but they’re an enjoyable light read. The girls are delighted to have me participating in this reading with them, and I so enjoy that they want to bond with me over our shared experience of books.

My friend Courtney and I are currently reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, a fascinating and thought-provoking story interspersed with philosophical observations. It’s been the springboard for some interesting conversations!

And though these books I’m reading with others are absorbing most of my reading time, I’m also slowly making my way through Suffering and the Heart of God, by Diane Langberg. The question of how an all-sovereign, all-good God co-exists with a world filled with tremendous suffering has long been one with which I’ve wrestled, and I’m appreciating this book’s insights, as well as its counsel on how to love those who are suffering.

I’m enjoying these books – but also looking forward to what I can dive into next! Here are a few of the books currently waiting on my bedside table – gifts from my mom and my friend Marisa and my brother David.

And if anyone else has any great book recommendations – I’d love to have them! I’m always looking for more good reading material.

I’m not really a runner. But maybe I could be?

I’ve gone through different phases in terms of my own physical health and dedication to exercise – everything from an all-out commitment not to gain weight during college and a resulting devotion to 1.5 hour daily workouts, to a healthier 3-5 times a week workout routine, to very sporadic attempts to make time to work out as the mom of four children, to a recognition and acceptance of the fact that I just was doing nothing at all.

Matt, however, has been exercising consistently since his completion of a cardiac rehab program after his heart attack. Over Christmas, while we were in Wisconsin visiting family (and thus had built-in childcare!), I went out for a couple brisk walks/runs with him, and I started thinking about maybe trying to get back in shape. I’m not in horrible shape, but I’m not physically fit, either. I’m not very strong, and I’d get winded running just a couple minutes. I’m 36 now, and it’s not going to get easier to get into good physical condition as I get older, and I want to take care of my body well. Plus, I’ve seen through these last few months of horseback riding that I actually really enjoy pushing myself and accomplishing goals.

I started thinking about running a 5K. I’ve never in my life run a race. I’m not sure whether I’ve ever run 3 miles at once, and if I have, it would have been about 18 years ago as a freshman in college. For some people, a 5K would be an easy run – but for me it would be a goal that would stretch me. I wasn’t sure that I could do it – I’m still not sure that I can. But I do a lot better with concrete, measurable goals – “work toward running a 5K” versus “get in shape.”

And so I talked to a friend about doing it with me, and we signed up to run a 5K in March. I talked to my best friend from high school – a marathon runner but also a realistic mom of three – about her recommendations, and downloaded the C25K app. And the first week of January, I started running!

Matt and I used some of the money from a painting sale he made to upgrade his Apple watch and buy one for me. I feel incredibly pretentious and elitist walking around with my expensive watch – but also, I’m enjoying the ability to track my workouts and share fitness info with Matt and my brother and sister-in-law and friends.

I got about a week into my routine of running in our neighborhood – and the next weekend we got 14 inches of snow! I was pretty sure my ability to run in 14 inches of snow (sometimes plowed, sometimes not) was negligible, so I joined a gym.

This morning I started week 3 of my C25K program (still running at the gym, due to the snow and ice on the ground, but hoping to get back to outdoor runs soon!). I’m pretty committed – but also scared. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m some sort of anomaly for whom this famous couch-to-5K program has insufficient time or recognition of my lack of physical fitness to prepare to run a 5K, and I just can’t do it? (And now, what if I tell everyone I’m going to do this and then can’t?).

My current biggest challenge – in addition to my general out-of-shape-ness – is my knees. When I started running in college, I quickly developed runner’s knee – which made sense, because I am me and lack moderation in all things, so overnight I went from never running to running 20 minutes a day every day. The couch-to-5K program is much more moderate and healthy…and yet my knees (my right knee in particular) are not appreciating it. I’ve spent some time looking up some stretches and have started stretching before and after my runs and icing my knee – but if any of you runners have advice or recommendations for me so that I can help my knee hold up through these runs, I’d appreciate it!

Assuming that I can keep my knee healthy and that I am not the one person out there for whom the couch-to-5K program will not work, I hope to be accomplishing another goal and running a 5K in about 2 months. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll actually be a runner.

Fall Family Fun

Life has been full these past few months, and I’ve gotten behind on blogging. This blog serves several purposes, one of which is a record of sorts for our family. I love to look back and see where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and where we are now, and I hope that my kids will one day enjoy these records, as well.

And to that end, there are some fun memories I’d like to make sure I document this year for us!

Naturally, I am an introverted, intellectual homebody. My idea of a perfect day would have to include some time curled up on the couch with a blanket and a mug of tea and a good book. But I’m trying to grow in being more of a fun mom, creating memories for my kids and having special outings and adventures, and this fall we had several.

We took a morning and went with some friends from church to Hickory Ridge Orchard and took a tour and visited some animals. The chickens were a bit over-enthusiastic in their pursuit of the food Atticus was carrying, and he was not pleased!

The girls took it more in stride 😊

And then we enjoyed what was definitely a highlight for us – apple picking!

Having 5 apple-pickers, we’re able to get quite a few pretty quickly, and we came home with a respectable haul, to be used to make apple pie, applesauce, apple butter, and other assorted apple items!

Another Saturday this fall, Matt had to work, so the kids and I made the drive out to Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, where our friend Courtney works training horses, to enjoy one of their Wagon Days. We saw Twister paint…

…we enjoyed some of the biggest slices of pizza we’d ever seen from a food truck there for the afternoon…

…each kiddo got to enjoy a pony ride!

The littles, in particular, were thrilled with that experience. They’ve watched their older sisters taking horseback riding lessons, and they loved getting to participate in something similar. Atticus talked all day long about how was now a horse rider, too, and FangFang now refers to the pony she rode, Pal, as her best friend.

We also enjoyed some snow cones…

…and a wagon ride…

…though Miranda was not thrilled about having to wait for the wagon ride, and her expression shows it!

We walked around and visited many of the animals at the ranch, and the chickens were a particular favorite.

Miranda made this drawing of her favorite chicken on the way home!

The next week, we took an even longer trip, this time venturing up to Wisconsin to see the China Lights. In recent years, each fall a group of artists from China have decorated Boerner Botanical Gardens with lanterns, and this year the theme was pandas. FangFang is obsessed with pandas, and we knew she would be beside herself with excitement to see the exhibit, and it was taking place around her birthday. We’d looked at our calendar to see if we could fit in a quick trip to Wisconsin to make it work, but Matt just didn’t have any free blocks of time to do it. Courtney agreed to go with us, and plans were made! The trip was almost de-railed last minute, as three of our kids came down with strep throat (everyone but Madeleine CaiQun), but we were able to get everyone on antibiotics before we left so that they wouldn’t be contagious, and though we had a bit of anxiety about it, we went ahead with the trip, and we were really glad we went. There were some hard parts – sleep wasn’t great for kids who had sore throats (or their mama) – but it was neat to see this exhibit, and I always love giving our family the opportunity to experience different aspects of Chinese culture – and we got to see my mom a bit!

The next weekend, my dad and his boyfriend and my brothers and sister-in-law all came to Columbia for a visit, and we crammed in several fun fall activities! We all went out to Peach Tree Farm, went on a hayride, saw animals, and looked at some gigantic pumpkins.

That afternoon we had some fun at home, with Atticus using my brother Danny as a jungle gym and FangFang practicing her independent standing with my sister-in-law, Sharon!

Matt led the kids in their pumpkin carving endeavors, and the results were much more impressive than if I had been involved with the process 😉

We also enjoyed some outside time – David raked leaves with the big kids, and Danny taught Miranda how to ride her bike without training wheels – a big milestone for her!

We also took in a visit to the big tree.

Close on the heels of that visit was our Halloween fun – this year we had a dinosaur, a cat, a dragon, and a panda – pretty adorable!

I hope you had a fall full of fun activities, and I’m looking forward to seeing what our next season will hold for us!

A New Activity for Me

My two older girls have been taking horseback riding lessons at Columbia Equestrian Center for almost a year and a half now. My regular readers may remember that, about six months ago, Miranda had a fall that was pretty scary for her, and we had to take some time to work through that. At that lesson, our amazing first instructor, now friend, Courtney, asked if I wanted to get up on the pony Miranda had been riding while she took a few minutes to compose herself after her fall, so I did – and, to my surprise, I found it to be both challenging and fun! Due to the pricing structure, I realized it would only cost me $15 per lesson to ride with them, so I started doing that. I needed to be there with them anyway, so I might as well ride, too!

And over the last six months, I’ve discovered that riding is more than just “fun” – though it is that, too. In so many areas of my life, I am in a role of authority. I spend a significant portion of my life teaching my kids, coaching other parents, and meeting with and listening to and offering advice to other women.

In horseback riding, I am the student. I’m not the expert. As Miranda told me one day this summer, “Mom, everyone at the barn is better than you!”

I need to be the one asking questions, needing to have someone check my saddle to make sure I’ve tacked up correctly. I need to try to weave at a trot but drop into a walk before the last pole three times in a row and have to ask Emily, our awesome current instructor, what I’m doing wrong and why that keeps happening, so she can explain it, and I can go back and try it again and fix it.

I find that I lack even the self-awareness of all the things I don’t know, and this week was a prime example. I had had only a vague idea that which saddle you use matters, but this week I rode with a close contact saddle, which I’d never done before. When Emily asked me to post without stirrups, I burst out laughing the instant I tried – it was so much harder! There would have been no better way to learn that which saddle you use really matters!

There is a sense of vulnerability inherent in being the one who doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t have the answers. I ask other people to be vulnerable all the time, and I have no right to do that if I’m not willing to sit in that place, too. I need to practice being vulnerable myself, and in learning to ride, I’m doing that. I take lessons from Emily and go ride with Courtney and try to follow their instructions and put myself in a position to learn and try to grow a little bit more each time.

Having to listen to and learn from someone else is good practice for me. It keeps me humble. I need reminders that I do not know all – or even most – of what there is to know. And those reminders carry over from horseback riding into the rest of life.

I need to practice perseverance, practice literally falling off and feeling stupid but then getting back up and trying again…and then calling Courtney to talk through it with her. I need this experience of working at something and growing and getting better but so slowly.

And over the last six months, I’ve found that I’m having a lot of fun. I enjoy riding itself. And I enjoy learning new skills and being challenged and having new experiences. This new activity has been good for me, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow through it.

(And if you’re looking for a fun activity for yourself or your kids, I’d absolutely recommend riding lessons with Emily at Columbia Equestrian Center or, in the St. Louis area, with Courtney at Longmeadow Rescue Ranch!).

The Blessing of Big Feelings

This girl – she feels everything BIG. That presents us with some significant challenges. She and I and Matt have spent years trying out and cultivating strategies to walk through them well. But also? We’ve held onto the hope that those big feelings were going to translate into big empathy and into big triumphs, and we’ve cast a vision for that as we’ve talked with her about how God made her and how she is wired.

And sometimes we see glimpses – or even more than glimpses – of that hope shining through.

This morning, her three younger siblings were experiencing some conflict, and Madeleine CaiQun was left in tears. She and Miranda disappeared upstairs, and when they came down, Madeleine CaiQun came to me for some hugs and comfort, and Miranda went into the living room to talk with the littles.

Miranda came to me a few minutes later, “Mom, MeiMei told me about how she was feeling when we were upstairs in the luminescence room. The luminescence room is kind of like club house we made on the bottom bunk in our room where we can talk about feelings. We were petting the cats up there for a few minutes. And when we came downstairs, I talked to FangFang and Atticus. They didn’t want MeiMei to play with them, because their building wasn’t big enough, so I helped them make it bigger, and they said she could play now.”

And a bit later, as our all-three-year-old-boy child was attempting to destroy all the buildings, she took the initiative to create a “scrapyard” for him, full of creations for him to knock down.

Kindness, empathy, initiative, problem-solving, creativity, peace-making, and helpfulness – all things I hope and pray for as I parent my kids, as we walk through squabble after squabble, as we talk about how we can work as a team to solve problem after problem. It’s so encouraging to me as a mother to have these moments in which I see glimpses of the fruit of that. We’ll keep pressing on, working together to grow, and hoping for more and more of these moments.