Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jack, 5 & 100

Dear Jack,
Thirteen days ago, you turned five. I've been thinking of how far you and I have both come in that half decade. And though my words won't do it justice, I will try, in my 100th blog post, to tell you what's seeping out of my heart as I watch you grow.

When I took this picture of you above -- just two days old and getting ready to leave that awful hospital -- I wasn't happy. (Frankly, neither were you. If you weren't nursing, you weren't happy.). I didn't want to be a mom, and definitely not then, when I was only 22 and thought I knew everything.

I had my reasons for shrinking away from motherhood. And thanks to the therapy of years, a fabulous doula and a patient God, I can understand them now. Instead of feeling guilty over what was, I can rejoice over what is.

Because this is what is:

You. Hysterical, handsome, wonderful, generous, loving, mischievous you.

With your Uncle Jonny's cleft in your chin, your daddy's cowlick(s) and your Grandpa Dale's everything else, your physical beauty often leaves me speechless. I know every mother most likely feels that way, but still...who wouldn't fall for your chocolate brown eyes, loooong eyelashes (thank you, Nick) and Norman Rockwell freckles?

So sure, you're cute (or handsome, as you would correct me, because only baby girls and kittens/puppies are cute). But the essence of you goes far beyond that.

Your social butterfly tendencies mean that every kid who knows you likes you, including frilly girls who abhor Legos and mud. You can strike up a conversation with anyone, from our elderly neighbors (whom he spends time with nearly every day, by the way) to the baby in a cart at the grocery store.

You're smart, blowing my mind with your ability to dissect any object within seconds, firing a litany of questions all the while. You read, add and subtract. And while your brain tends to vanish while you're on a bike, I know it's just a different kind of education for you. Because you love to learn, plain and simple. (And thank God for first aid kits).

If Gary Chapman knew you, he would point out the obvious: your love language is words of affirmation. That is how you receive love, and that is how you give it. So yes, son, I think your tower is fantastic, and I love spending time with you. And thank you for telling me 50 times a day that I'm the best, prettiest, sweetest mommy. Please don't stop. Ever.

You're chivalrous, complimenting my outfits and holding doors for women, and you've already figured out girls love to get gifts. So when you raided my present stash last month and gave a nail polish kit to your friend Emma -- even wrapping it, for goodness' sake -- who was I to tell you no?

You're surprising. Who would have ever guessed that the little boy who loved to jump his bike, get dirty, wrestle and catch worms also loved to bake cookies, decorate and help me choose my jewelry and accessories every day?

Though you're only five, you've given me plenty of hints as to what I can expect in the future. And I like what I see.

When you tattle on your brother, you tell me that justice is important to you and always will be. (But really, give tattling a break. It's kind of getting old).

When you climb things you shouldn't, you let me know that fear will not ever stop you from trying, failing, trying again and then succeeding.

When you pray every night for our Compassion children, naming all five on two continents, you're showing me that "least of these" matter to you. When you fervently ask God to find a home for Colt, complete with a mommy, daddy and lots of toys, I know that the proverbial little guy has a firm hold in your heart, and that your faith is strong.

When you dash around the house, karate-chopping invisible bad guys, I see in you the heart of a warrior. Like all boys and men, God has gifted you with the desire to rescue.

It doesn't matter who needs help, you are ready and willing to give it within seconds. I am your princess, and you are my knight in plastic, made-in-China armor.

Jack, mission accomplished. You have rescued me just by being you, from my self-built prison of arrogance, fear and selfishness. You've shown me that being a mom truly is the best path in life for me, and I couldn't be happier.

When I tucked you in the other night, you held my face in your hands and stroked my cheek. "I love you so much, Mom," you whispered. "Thank you, son," I answered. "Have I told you that there's nothing sweeter in the world than being your mommy?"

He rolled over and smiled groggily, pointing to the ceiling. "No, Mom, there is something sweeter," he said. "God."

So I guess I have two rescuers to thank.

*Thanks so much to all my new readers for entering the Dorcas Smucker book giveaway. Rhoda from Corona, New York was the winner and should be enjoying her prize right now! Thanks to all for entering, and stick around Crystal's Cliffnotes for more giveaways in the future.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Smucker Satisfaction -- and a Giveaway!

I was never a normal child. To any of you who have known me for more than a few minutes, this fact will not come as a big shocker.

As in, my parents would take away my Reader's Digest as punishment instead of sending me to my the age of six. Yes, I was that nerdy.

But Reader's Digest wasn't the only written literature I loved. From first grade on, I fell in love with the Register-Guard, Eugene's daily newspaper. Except for the business section, I read it cover to cover every morning.

(And yes, I somehow managed to find an incredibly attractive husband. Real men dig smart girls!)

One of the treasures I soon discovered was a column called, "Letters from Harrisburg." Written by a Mennonite minister's wife, it told the adventures of raising six children in an old farmhouse in Harrisburg. Even in elementary school, I remember being shocked that the RG would publish someone who wasn't a hippie or a PETA member. It gave me hope.

So I started studying Dorcas Smucker's secrets of a good essay. And over the years, I've had plenty of chances, because she's flat-out brilliant.

That's why I was so excited to review her fourth book, Tea & Trouble Brewing. As in, she has now personally e-mailed me and sent me free books. I love my job. 

Presented as a collection of essays, TATB can be read in any random order. But random isn't a word I would use to describe Dorcas Smucker. More like deliberate, hysterical, surprising and relatable.Why do I love Dorcas' writing? Simple.

1) She reminds me of my mother. And that's the biggest compliment I could give anyone. They both have six children, three boys and three girls, some biological and some adopted. They both live in the country and love it. They both are laugh-out-loud funny, most of the time on accident and without realizing it. They both dig Leslie Sansone's walk workouts. They both run the show quietly, mostly while serving and in the background. And as my mother says, "I could never be Amish, but I think I could be Mennonite." Ding ding! Dorcas has been both!
  Future best friends? I think so!

2) Dorcas' life is nothing like mine...and exactly alike. So she is fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch and wears a head covering. Suffice it to say her childhood was slightly different than mine. But really, after reading all four of her books, I'm still shocked at how similar we are. Her world -- the Willamette Valley, the joy of raising a bummer lamb, rambunctious boys lighting things on fire, the passion to serve God, family and community -- is my world. And I think, even if those things I just mentioned aren't part of your everyday life, that you will reach a similar conclusion.

3) She's subtly hilarious. I love ridiculous humor (hence my love for both "Father of the Bride" films and "Nacho Libre"), but I also thoroughly enjoy the kind that makes you smirk, then giggle, then finally crack up. Dorcas is the latter kind of author. While watching her son Ben give a speech, for example, she was immensely proud. A normal feeling for a mother. But then: "But I still clutched Paul's [her husband] hands like I was giving birth, and when Ben got a standing ovation, I went wilder than a Mennonite mom ought to go" (from "On Truly Winning," page 31). I may or may not have spit out my cereal in appreciation upon reading that gem.

4) Her writing is impeccably genius. This isn't some random blog with a few funny stories thrown together. These pages are chock-full of carefully-crafted beginnings, middles and endings. One specific reason I love Dorcas' writing? She ALWAYS connects her final paragraph to her first in a way that perfectly ties up the package. That takes serious talent and years of work.

So what does this matter to you? Glad you asked. Just for reading this blog, YOU can win a brand-new, autographed copy of Tea & Trouble Brewing!

Simply leave a comment on this blog (NOT Facebook!) with your name saying:

1) Why you would like to win
2) Your favorite kind of tea...or trouble.

I will randomly choose a winner on Sunday morning, contact you and mail you your hot-off-the-press copy! (Winner must live in the U.S.).

If you're not the lucky winner, never fear. You  can still order a copy for yourself. Or send a $15 check to Dorcas at 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446.

Whether you're a winner or not, check out Dorcas' blog and her Facebook page. (Yes, Mennonites have Facebook pages). Happy tea-brewing!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

10 Years Ago Today, J'├ętais en France

10 year ago today, I was winging my way to France with my mom, sister-in-law Jill, Jill's mom Kathi and the rest of my International Trade and Tourism (ITT) class from CHS. Yes, our field trips were that cool.

I'm so lucky that my parents have long believed in the value of travel. My father bankrolled trips to both Europe and Africa for me in high school, which obviously isn't cheap. Yet so many life lessons and values came to me while I was hearing, seeing, tasting, touching and smelling new things on non-American soil.
I definitely learned a lot. Like French people don't believe in pickup trucks.,or even cars that can fit someone larger than a small child inside.

Funnily enough, back in 2002 I wrote in the photo album that this car was "Shelbea-sized." Times have changed. There is no way Shelbea could ever fit her long legs in this car now!
Highlights of the 10-day jaunt included:
  • Taking a night train to Nice (an excerpt from my journal: "I never want to hear the phrase "Nice is Nice" again. The French people think it's funny, but it's not.")
  • Visiting the famed Notre Dame Cathedral, with the requisite scaffolding on the side. I learned that only in movies does any building in Europe not have some form of scaffolding attached to it at all times.


  • Checking out Louis "The Sun God" XIV's digs at Versailles. Air Force One and the White House ain't got nothing on this place!

    Funny memories (oh, my poor mother). She took several years of French in school, can read it quite well and was so excited to practice in real life. So we all agreed to let her be our spokewoman in public. Our first night on the town, we headed to a non-touristy restaurant. The hostess asked, "How many?" in French, and we all looked at Mom expectantly. All she had to do was say "quatre" -- four.  
But she froze. She French froze. And then, with a white, terrified face, threw up her right hand, 4 fingers erect.  
We just about died laughing. And then laughed some more when on another night, we ordered a whole fish for each of us....and got it. Literally.

P.S. Mom, I like your hair here.
  • After 3 straight days of museum-ing (the Louvre is just not as cool as the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I don't care how uncultured that makes me sound), I was finished and needed a quiet space to sit down and think. I found one, next to a statue of a guy doing the exact same thing. How handy.

 Yep, traipsing around France and Monaco was pretty awesome. My whole life back then, when you think about it, was pretty awesome. But it was about to get a million times better.
In the middle of this trip -- of the fantastic new experiences and wonderful memories -- I felt something crazy. I missed someone, quite unexpectedly. So much so that I had to make an international call just to hear his voice.
You see, at this point, I still didn't know. I didn't realize how important this one boy would become to me someday. I didn't know we had a future together. Honestly, in early November 2002, I was just glad I had someone to pay for an occasional movie and ice cream on a Saturday night. I figured we'd date a few months and then move on.
Sometimes, it's fantastic when you're wrong.
So I called Nick in Creswell all the way from Paris. We spoke only a few minutes, and that was  that. But when I got home, I found this note in my locker (you know, back before boys and girls only communicated through the idiocy we call texting). Note the 2 o's in "soo." :-)

And that was the beginning. Reading those words in between econ with Morris and Choir with Buller, something clicked. My heart began to change. Within one month, I knew we were going to get married.
Today, life is certainly different than it was back then. I've been out of college for 6 years. I'm well on my way into an incredibly satisfying career (maybe not well-paying...but I take what I can get). I'm a military wife and mama to 3 children. And that boy who used to leave me sweet notes in my locker is now my grown-up husband of 8 years. And I'm still starry-eyed about him.

International travel can teach you so much about the world. It's exciting, fast-paced and a whirlwind.

Maybe my life isn't exactly that way today. And that's okay. Because sometimes, traveling can remind you that something (or someone) even better waits for you back home.