all this from deodorant

I turned 34 in January, and Stephen bought me a six-pack of deodorant.

I'd been out of deodorant for over a week and was using his Old Spice. I didn't mind, but apparently, he did.

Gifts aren't my thing. I'm crummy at giving them, and a spoilsport when receiving them. I like practical gifts that equate to a crossed off item from my to-do list; in this case, buy deodorant. It is tempting to blame this lame attitude on the busyness of motherhood, but sadly, I've been like this for years.

Soon after Stephen and I were married, his mom gave me a jumbo pack of paper towels and toilet paper as a Christmas gift. She did this as a joke, but I was overjoyed. Last year she gave me cleaning supplies, and this past Christmas she wrapped up diapers for our two-year-old son. Best. Gift. Ever.

A year-long supply of Secret deodorant was speaking my love language. I thanked Stephen, and then opened the card tucked away in the bottom of the bag. As much as I adored my deodorant, this card contained unexpected life-giving words. I froze. I reread. 

"I'm taking the kids to Columbus this weekend. You will have approximately 30 hours at home by yourself. Pour some wine, turn on Netflix, and eat any food you want without having to share with the kids!"

Come Saturday morning, I shooed the three of them out by 9. I waved good-bye from the front porch, both giddy with excitement and overwhelmed by freedom. I walked back inside ready to fulfill my first fantasy: a clean floor. I swept the kitchen and gleefully anticipated the beauty of thirty crumb-free hours.

I showered - with no interruptions - and then opened my new deodorant. I hadn't used Secret since I started buying my own deodorant. The past fourteen years have seen more Suave or whatever's-on-sale deodorant. Stephen had sprung for the deluxe; it was my birthday after all.

I lifted the lid and popped off the plastic protective shield. The smell rushed me back to my childhood bathroom. I could see my 3-inch curling iron forcing the tips of my hair outward. I could see my hot pink Caboodle bursting with Lip Smackers and an extensive Bath and Body Works collection lining the counter. I could see myself buckling the strap of my overalls, choosing from an array of chokers, and slipping into Doc Martins to complete the ensemble.

I love remembering that girl, and it is much easier to do when I am alone. I closed up the deodorant and went down to our basement. I moved a stack of heavy boxes until I found the one I wanted, tucked in the back and near the bottom. At least a dozen journals dating back to second grade were lined up like soldiers in that box. I pulled a few out. No plans? No interruptions? It seemed like the perfect time to curl up, do some reading, and hang out with that girl.


Over the past few months, I have been thinking about childhood and adulthood, and the pages of those journals brought clarity to my fragmented thoughts. Sometimes I think that girl is lost, but as I read about her day to day drama, I remembered life when I spent time doing what I enjoyed. Brilliant. There was work time and play time, and I was good at both.

But I'm not sure how those pieces of who I used to be can still fit into who I am and who I am becoming.

I used to think adulthood was about moving on and leaving behind silly pastimes of childhood. I felt foolish, even embarrassed, when I wondered what happened to all the fun. Fun? Pastimes? Grow up. I was convinced I needed to created a new mature self. It was all rather thrilling at first, embarking on independent territory, finally doing whatever it was adults did that seemed so mysterious. But after a solid decade of trying, rethinking, examining, and transforming into adulthood, I am beginning to think I've got it all wrong.

Maybe adulthood isn't about leaving behind and moving ahead.

Maybe I don't need to create a new grown-up Joy.

Maybe I need to rediscover a former self, sort through to find the best, and settle in for the long haul. That's what I'm doing right now - sorting through and settling in.

I am participating in Coffee + Crumbs' Year of Creativity, and one of our first assignments was to reflect on this question: "What were some of your favorite creative activities as a child?"

When I was younger, I loved to write. I found hours to lay on the floor and write through life. I wrote dozens of notes to all my friends to be delivered the next day at school. I filled journals and notebooks with real stuff and trivial stuff. I wrote about what it meant to love Jesus and about when each of my girlfriends got their first period. I wrote about how I wanted to be skinny and about how much I loved this boy named Dan. It all mattered.

When I was younger, I loved to dance. The dance studio and stage were my happy places, but I was equally content to pump up Janet Jackson on the 6-disc stereo system in the basement and choreograph fourteen different music videos to Rhythm Nation. I could choreograph an entire dance in my head as I lay in bed, sometimes slipping out of the covers to mark a few steps in my dark bedroom. I leapt through parking lots, tap danced while brushing my teeth, and can still bust out a rather impressive full body roll in the passenger seat of a car. My dad and brother made a rule that I couldn't dance at the dinner table, so when the rhythm hit me, I would stand up and dance next to the table. My shimmy and shake just couldn't be stopped.

When I was younger, I loved being around kids. I planned summer camps for the kids in our neighborhood. I volunteered in children's church and worked as a camp counselor. I was the babysitter who came with a bag full of fun, and if there were no real kids to entertain, I'd enlist a handful of make believe children to participate in crafts and science experiments. I dreamed of being a teacher and had the greatest classroom on the block set up in my basement, complete with a lesson plan book, math textbooks, and an overhead projector. Kids were my jam.

When I was younger, I thought a lot about food. I figured this meant I was destined to be overweight my entire life because none of my size-two friends ever seemed to think about food. I didn't know about cooking or menu planning or entertaining, but I flipped through cookbooks and magazine to dogear recipes. I rarely made any of these dishes but still loved to look.

What if these were more than just hobbies or memories from my childhood? What if God intended for me to write and dance and create and love children and, all my life?

I look around at 34, and there are surprising similarities to 16.

Yesterday, I got up early and spent an hour writing. A few hours later I taught a Zumba class that included a new salsa dance I choreographed last weekend. I took my kids to the park, and we did some crafting and Popsicle making when we got home. During their nap time, I planned lessons for a kindergarten and first grade jumpstart camp I'm teaching next week. And later in the day, I made a new recipe for dinner - citrus marinated pork tenderloin with a mint pesto.

I couldn't see how each of these passions had a place in my life during my twenties. I thought I had to let them go, particularly if they didn't lend themselves to an income. But I was wrong.

One by one, they have each found their way back to me at just the right time. I love the thought that my childhood passions are still there, woven into my soul, eager to resurface and forgive me for the years they were neglected.

All this from deodorant.

I wonder what would happened if I opened a bottle of CK1.


doing our mom thing: tapas and sangria style

It's been over a year since Stephen started talking about the collaborative work he was doing with a university in Mallorca, a small island floating off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. 

"Maybe they'll invite me to come, and we can all go to Spain," he casually mentioned.

I probably nodded, only half listening, with no expectations of such an outlandish thought coming to fruition. Stephen tends to casually mention vacations on a semi-regular basis, most of which are to destinations requiring four layovers and a six time zone adjustment. I've learned to smile, nod, and wait for the plan to collapse on its own.

I guess I figured if this university did invite him, I wouldn't have the guts to drag two toddlers along and would end up staying home. I never thought I'd actually go to Spain. Truthfully, I don't even remember agreeing to go. I think Stephen swept in during a frantic mama moment when I was just saying "Yeah, sure," to anything.

Even after the tickets were purchased, my enthusiasm remained minimal.

I didn't look at one travel book. I read nothing online. I didn't even get a pedicure. Instead, my thoughts were consumed with the hours I would be held captive in an airplane, forced to restrain a one-year-old boy whom the airline deemed a "lap child."

I suppose "thrashing, wailing, running down the aisle child" wouldn't fit on the ticket.

I'll spare you the details of the meltdowns and tears, mostly from me, and just say I wouldn't wish eleven hours on three flights with a one-year-old on my worst enemy. But indeed, we're here. We made it, and whenever I remember I have to do it again in less than a week, I drink another glass of sangria and consider the likelihood of a local school needing an English-speaking literacy coach. Might be worth investigating.


Whenever I am fortunate enough to find myself on the other side of the world, I am smacked in the face by my own smallness. Our first week in Mallorca was spent just blocks from the beach, our toes washed over by the Mediterranean Sea seven days in a row. The power of salt water far as my eyes can see reminds me that my life is such a speck on this great earth.

I need to feel like a grain of sand every so often.

Somehow the day in and day out of routine life leaves me drowning in myself - my town, my neighborhood, my home, my head, my comfort. I start thinking I'm it.  But watching a small, unfamiliar part of the world carry on its life brings me down to size.

On this trip, my eyes have been drawn to moms. There is something so grounding about seeing moms on the other side of the world doing their mom thing, especially because it looks so much like my mom thing.

We spent the morning walking around a small town filled with narrow streets, cute stores, and cafés galore. I spotted a mom walking the perimeter of a café, bouncing her fussy baby and pointing out each passing car. 

How many mothers have missed meals because we were entertaining a child who had no interest in sitting down for a leisurely lunch?

The other night we piled our two darlings into car seats that followed us nearly 5,000 miles across the Atlantic and into the backseat of a Mercedes Benz. This is what happens when the hubby is in charge of booking the rental car. We ventured into Palma, the capital city with just the right mix of urban flare, European charm, and historical beauty, including a massive 13th century Gothic cathedral overlooking the harbor. 

With the help of Google Maps, we wound our way through busy city streets and narrow cobblestone alleys to find a tapas restaurant. There was an outdoor seating area right in the midst of a busy square - two requirements when traveling with children. The meal was fantastic. Round one - quiche, meatballs, and a meaty, cheesy hot baguette. Round two - another meaty, cheesy hot baguette, bacon wrapped dates, mushrooms, and chorizo.

Our children's restaurant etiquette maxed out about the same time they devoured the last two bacon wrapped dates. Stephen hung back to pay the check, and I swept the darlings out before Andrew crawled under the table next to us, again. There was another family with three young children running circles in the plaza. Charlotte and Andrew quickly  joined, and I exchanged smiles with their mom as she sat on a bench, undoubtedly just as relieved as me for a few moments of easy entertainment - children squealing with delight, chasing one another with no hope of actually catching someone. 

It was precious. Too precious to last more than a moment. One of the girls fell, crying out in pain loud enough to catch the attention of nearby diners. She ran to her mom who responded with compassion and pulled a Band-Aid from her purse. But I could read her mom sigh. "Calm yourself. It's only a small scratch, and you're interrupting dinner for all of these people." 

How many mothers have pulled Band-Aids from our purses, comforting a screaming child while really thinking, "Oh good grief. Toughen up and quiet down."

We ended our night at a park right in the middle of the city. It was nearing 9:00, but you'd never know by the masses of children still running wild. I stood next to our stroller watching Charlotte climb and Andrew spin a steering wheel. On the bench next to me was a young mom, cradling her newborn who was swaddled tightly and still wrinkly.  The mom was pretty, wearing a black dress with small white polka dots and cinched around the waist. Her shoulder length hair was strawberry blond, and her bright red lipstick told me she surely needed a night out of the house. I couldn't help but wonder if earlier today she was losing her mind.  Did she pass the child off to dad, announce that tonight they were getting out of the house, and go take her first shower in days, perhaps weeks? I bet she actually dried her hair before pulling out that favorite lipstick with no care for where they actually went tonight.

And here she was, on a park bench, struggling to get her little one to nurse. She spoke softly in a language I didn't understand, perhaps German. I decided it couldn't be her first child; new moms aren't confident enough to nurse a newborn in a park (well, maybe in Europe they are). Sure enough, moments later, a toddler came running to her leg, followed by dad, who slipped his arm around mom, peeking down at the baby.

How many mothers have thrown on a cute dress and sassy lipstick just to sit on a park bench simply because we had to get out of that house?

I love moms. 

We're all just doing our mom thing, even here, on this tiny island I'd never heard of until a year ago. In the midst of unfamiliar, surrounded by street signs I can't read, outlets I can't use, and people eating ham and cheese sandwiches at ten in the morning, I can still see the familiarity of motherhood.

I don't understand a word you're saying to your child, but I know your purse is filled with snacks and Band-Aides.

I can't begin to guess what you make your child for lunch each day, but I know you'd love to sit in a restaurant and enjoy your entire meal without a child to entertain.

I don't know what television shows play on repeat in your house, but I know you find yourself humming cartoon theme songs while washing dishes.

I don't know the books you read each night, but I know you sneak in to watch your child sleep even when you're exhausted. 

I don't know when your child will start preschool in this country, but I know you want your child to grow to be gracious, thankful, and kind, but you're also worried what an unkind world might throw their way.

I know there are days you love doing your mom thing and days you feel like a monkey could be doing a better job than you. 

I know because I feel it - in my town, my neighborhood, my house on the other side of the world. I'm just doing my mom thing, too. But maybe I need more tapas and sangria to get me through the day.

A in Spain.jpg

she wanted the last piece of cake?

It didn't seem to matter the circumstance - the bigger piece of pizza, the last piece of cake, the Friday night movie selection, the Sunday lunch destination, or the college I wanted to attend - almost as if automatic, my mom would graciously let her preferences slip into the background saying "No thanks, you can have it" or "It doesn't matter to me, you pick."

As a child, I was blissfully unaware of the constant sacrifices my mom was making for me. It never occurred to me that she didn't want to watch Father of the Bride (again) or eat at Chili's (again), and frankly, it hadn't crossed my mind  until recently that she really would have liked that last piece of cake.


"Is there more of that cake, mom?" my daughter asked.

Just keep washing dishes and pretend you don't hear. 

"Mom. Is there cake?"

Start singing to yourself.  Put something away in the pantry.  Head to bathroom.  Anything to avoid the question.

"Mom!!!  Is there cake?"

Ugh. She's so persistent.  I'm probably not supposed to lie.

"Yep, but only one piece left."

"If I eat all da tings dat are good for my body, can I pease hab it?"

Shoot. She even said please.

Stephen and I often joke that our greatest display of sacrificial love for our children doesn't come in the form of 3 AM feedings, cleaning up puke, or playing Candy Land for the zillionth time.  It comes in the sharing of our food.  For Stephen this means handing over large wedges of blue cheese or breakfast meat.  For me, it is dessert.

I begrudgingly scooped that last piece of cake - chocolate coconut cake with buttercream frosting, mind you - onto a Minnie Mouse plate.  I opened the fridge to grab the milk, and that's when I saw it - my saving grace - a small Tupperware with leftover frosting.  There had only been a small amount of unused frosting left; I'd almost thrown it away.  Fool.  But there it was, to cheer me up as a mediocre substitute for that last piece of cake.

I was taking no chances.  As soon as Charlotte got started on her cake, I grabbed that Tupperware and a spoon and headed straight for the bathroom.  I shamelessly closed and locked the door, and enjoyed every bite of that chocolate coconut buttercream while sitting on the edge of the tub. It seems I should be embarrassed - I mean, I wasn't even eating an actually dessert, just frosting from a container - but instead, I was rather proud of myself.

I was proud of myself for sneaking away so casually, arranging the circumstances to give me at least four minutes alone with my frosting. And proud of myself for reaching a new level of motherhood, a level where shame slips away because silence and dessert are just that wonderful.  At that moment, I felt a sense of comradery with all the mothers of the world - knowing I fall in a long line of mothers who have eaten dessert in the bathroom to avoid sharing with their child.

It took three years, but I had been officially initiated into motherhood.

As I sat in the bathroom, I began thinking about my ridiculous behavior over the past few years (all in the name of motherhood, of course).  Some of it out of intense head-over-heels love; some out of sheer exhaustion, the kind where I'd offer up my kidney for five minute without a baby on my hip and a toddler on my leg. And I soon started to wonder about my own mother's ridiculous displays of love and exhaustion.

Did my mom ever eat dessert in the bathroom?

Did my mom ever sit on the floor of my room staring through the bars of my crib to watch me sleep?

Did she constantly squeeze my chubby cheeks?

Did she announce to my brother and me that she was putting herself in timeout?

Did she try to imitate my laugh or purposely get me to say words I mispronounced just to laugh at me?

Did she negotiate deals where I could watch one more episode of Daniel the Tiger (previously known as Mr. Roger's Neighborhood) but only if I promised to cuddle and not talk?

Did she skip pages in the really long, boring stories?

Wait, did she really want that last piece of cake?

Far too often I succumb to a good old-fashioned pity party, allowing pride and selfishness to shine through in all its ugly glory.  I go all crazy mom, ranting and raving about all I do for my kids - the meals I prepare, the toys I pick up, the poop and puke I wiped off myself, the sleep I don't get.

Certainly all that earns me the last piece of cake.

In my best moments, it is so easy to give, almost as if the Lord has been rewiring my gut response to willingly (perhaps even happily) give up my preferences for my children without a second thought.  But just when I start thinking too highly of myself and my sacrificial ways, I find myself hiding in the bathroom with a bowl of frosting, bitter about the cake that's probably been devoured (and not nearly appreciated as much as it should be) by a three-year-old sweet tooth.  Oh, I'm such a mess.

But Jesus tends to remind me of truth in my messiest moments, and today He is reminding me that He never stops giving His best to me; His constant, gut response is to give me the best, over and over.  He never tires of giving, and in fact, I think He finds great joy in it!

Isn't that one of the best parts of motherhood? We begin to grasp just how crazy Christ is about us, and we begin this transformation process where we find joy in giving our best, over and over.

So to all the moms who have read Brown Bear, Brown Bear no less than 53,482 times -

To all the mom who play hide-and-seek every day, pretending you can't find your child even though they hide in the same spot every dog-gone time (it was cute the first dozen times, but seriously, how are you gonna make it out in the real world with those kind of survival skills?!?!) -

To all the moms who give happily without thinking twice -

To all the moms who grit their teeth and give anyways -

To all the moms who have ever found themselves eating dessert in the bathroom because good grief, we're human and sometimes we just don't want to share!

And to my mom, who constantly said "No thanks, you can have it" or "It doesn't matter to me, you pick."

Keep doing what you're doing.

Keep allowing the grace of God to teach you what it means to love like crazy.

You have children who are watching and learning a lesson they might not realize for another thirty years.  You are showing them how head-over-heels in love Jesus is with them.

Well done, and happy Mother's Day.

P.S.  Sorry it took thirty years, Mom.  I owe you some cake. 

P.P.S.  In case you need some cake (or a bowl of frosting) this weekend,  here's the recipe from one of my favorite food blogs!

landominium life

Six years ago, Stephen and I bought out first house. Correction: our first (and oh Lord, let it be our only) landominium.Yes, that is a real thing…supposedly. It differs from the more well-known condominium in that we actually own both the home and the land on which the home is built. Think single-story retirement community, not modern high-rise looking over the city. We don’t own the land around it – that belongs to the homeowners’ association – just the land on which our home is built. The only benefit we’ve concluded is that we have the freedom to install a basement should we so choose.

Start digging, Stephen.

After living the apartment life for a number of years, Stephen and I were thrilled with our new, spacious abode. I remember sitting in our living room soon after we’d moved in listing all the “amenities” I loved about this new home. Vaulted ceilings. Walk-in closets. A washer and dryer! 2 bathrooms. White kitchen. Fireplace. Walk-in pantry. Beautifully painted walls. Cars right outside our front door rather than 3 flights down and across the parking lot. Kitchen big enough for a full out Zumba class (and there have been many of those!).

At the end of my list, I foolishly declared, “This house is perfect. I could raise four kids here!” (And no, this is not a baby announcement.)

I still adore this home and all those items on my original list. It really is a lovely little place, and at this very moment, the laminate kitchen flooring is being replaced with gorgeous tile, making me love it even more. We have hosted countless parties in this tiny place, joyfully cramming 15 people around card tables. We have moved the couches into the kitchen to make room for a dozen grad students to spread out sleeping bags for a Saved By the Bell marathon sleepover. Our second bedroom housed an international student for a semester and has also welcomed many Air BnB guests for overnight stays. Three years ago that same room was turned into a nursery, preparing this home for our growing family. We are not short on precious memories in this home.

However, since baby #2 arrived last year, we have reached, no, exceeded maximum capacity, and I fear we could burst out of this place at any moment. All too often I feel the walls of this tiny home falling in on me, and I imagine myself buried under a pile of blocks, random puzzle pieces, boxes of baby clothes, cookbooks and shoes. Why do we have so many shoes? Every so often, this claustrophobic feeling will display itself in the form of an outburst. Stephen is wise enough to sense the tone of my tirade, and if I’m on the verge of hysteria, he’ll just listen, hug me, and retreat back to our bedroom to start cleaning up his piles of clothes, most likely just looking for any excuse to get away from the crazy lady on a warpath regarding where to fit all the Christmas wrapping paper. If he senses even the slightest bit of humor in my meltdown, he’ll remind me of that fateful statement.

“You still think we can raise four kids in this house?The second bedroom can definitely fit double bunk beds.”

Oh, how I rue the day.

But even in the midst of my ranting and raving, God is gently reminding me of His truth. Lord willing, there will come a day when we don’t live in this landominium. We will have a garage for storing Christmas decorations, a yard for enjoying summer nights, and perhaps even a basement for stashing baby items so my parents can stop driving Jump-a-roos and baby swings baby and forth from Chicago.

But I have a feeling that when that day comes, I will look around that house, exhausted by all the rooms to clean and longing for the simple days of landominum life. I will miss the extra sleep I got on snowy mornings because someone shoveled my walkway, and I’ll wish I could still plug my vacuum cleaner into one outlet and clean the entire house.

Reality check.

As I type this, my children are still sleeping, the house is quiet, and a beautiful sunrise is creeping up out my window while I drink hot coffee from a cute green mug.

In this moment, it is easy to laugh about the fact that my son’s pack ‘n play was set up in the bathroom for the first 9 months of his life or that visting family has to stay in a hotel because we have no room to host them.

In this moment, I am amused by the fact that we have boxes of babies clothes stored in a friend’s basement while bikes and a baby pool are in another friend’s garage.

In this moment, I can make jokes about how Stephen is addicted to Amazon Subscribe and Save which has resulted in no less than 28 rolls of paper towels stashed in every nook of the house.

In this moment, I can easily be thankful God has given me a good sense of humor about it all.

But there are many days I am a hot mess. I see no humor in the situation, only chaos. My frustration is real, my complaining is ugly, and I am in desperate need of a good dose of God’s truth.

The truth is that none of this is mine anyways. My inner toddler wants to scream mine, mine, mine, and cry out for more, more, more. God is so patient with me. Gently reminding me that I cannot insist on ownership when it comes to stuff, but I can freely claim mine, all mine, when it comes to my Jesus.

He is all mine, and he loves me enough to discourage a death grip on what can never satisfy. I know this, but many days I forget and let the scrunched up chaos get the best of me.

It might just be one of those lessons I have to keep learning over and over.