Category Archives: miscellaneous

The Twenty Year Secret

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Monday, March 7th, we celebrated our 20th anniversary.

Twenty years of marriage is a pretty big deal. Maybe not to my parents, who have been married over twice that long, or to my grandparents, who tied the knot more than sixty years ago, but in a time and place where divorce rates are high and fewer people are getting married than ever before, twenty years is where the “wows” begin.

Twenty years of marriage is when people start asking you the question. Later, as you hit 30 years, then 40, then 50, they will ask more frequently, and listen more closely to the answer.

The question is this: “What’s your secret?”

I know, because I asked it many times myself as a young wife, gathering up the answers and building them into a shelter to ward off the feeling that I didn’t really know what I was doing.

What is the secret to a long and happy marriage?

There are things I could tell you. Useful things. Wise things. Some morsels of enlightenment have been gifted to us along the way, shared through friendships and group discussions, handed down in the way of old quilts and apple pie recipes, with hopes that their value will be passed on when the original owners are gone. Some have been learned at swordpoint, in the heat of battle, etched into our hearts with fire and blood, the cost of the lesson engraving it more deeply than the ones that didn’t hurt as much. All of them are valuable.

For example, I could tell you to be kind to each other. Speak gently and listen well. Deliver surprise coffee. Give unrequested backrubs. Hold hands. Pay attention to each other. Be generous with your time, your body, your heart. Use your words and actions to say over and over again, “I am thinking about you. I choose you. I love you.”

I could tell you to be honest. Don’t say you’re fine when you’re not. Wounds and secrets fester in the dark, so don’t let them stay there. Don’t hide your feelings, or your text messages, or your struggles. Tell the truth in love, about big things and little ones. When trouble comes, face it head-on, and together.

I could tell you to be patient with one another. Expect occasional bad moods, foolish decisions, and painful mistakes, and decide ahead of time to let them go. Make a habit of forgiveness. Be slow to take offense. Assume the best motives, even when the words don’t come out right. Try to see things through each other’s eyes. Allow for differences of opinion; the world won’t end if you don’t agree on everything.

I could tell you to have fun together. Find things you both like to do, whether it’s mountain climbing or just Netflix on the couch, and do them. Go on dates, especially if you have kids; let them see how important you are to each other. Have lots of sex. Play board games. Go dancing. Once in a while, cross over and try each other’s favorite things. You might hate it, or you might end up playing World of Warcraft together for six years. Laugh every day. Go on adventures. Have private jokes. Carve out a space for each other that is free from worry and responsibility and kids, and go there together often.

I could tell you to commit to your marriage with all your heart. Plant your flag in the country you’re building together and refuse to be moved, no matter what armies come against you. Don’t say the D-word, even in jest. You will go through seasons of drought and years of plenty. Being “in love” comes and goes and comes again over the years, but love, the real kind, is a choice you make every day to put each other above yourselves. That kind of love can go the distance. When you know how to love like that, being “in love” is easy.

I could tell you any of these things, and it would be a good response. A helpful one.

But it wouldn’t be the true one. The things we’ve learned along the way are important, but none of them are the glue that has held us together for this long. You see, we are far from being masters of marriage. We’re still learning, just like everyone else. At one point or another, we have failed each other spectacularly in every single one of these areas. We’ve been unkind, dishonest, and impatient. We’ve hurt each other and let each other down. We’ve lost all sight of fun during dark slogs through hard times. We’ve even wavered in our commitment once or twice.

But there really is a secret. One thing that has held us together and kept our wheels on the the road, even when it’s been bumpy. One thing that will continue to pull us closer together and wrap us in joy for the next twenty or thirty or forty years, until death parts us. One thing that always brings us back to our best selves, and the promises we’ve made, and the love we share.

Here it is, the secret to a long and happy marriage:

It has God in the center of it.

That’s it. We are where we are because the Father brought us here, the Son gave His life for us, and the Spirit lives inside us. God is the one who strengthens us to stay the course. He’s the one who works in us to allow us to forgive, to be kind, and to honor our commitment. He’s the one who pulls us up off the ground and brushes the dirt out of our hair when we fall on our faces. He’s the one who teaches us how to love for real.

Because that’s how He loves.

And now you know the secret.

We’re telling everybody.

Troll Bridge

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Troll Bridge

I’m at the gaping precipice
A troll beneath my feet
He’s sniffing in my scent to
Find out if I’m good to eat
 

I long to cower back and hide
I quiver at his growl
I’ll never make it home, I think
With monsters on the prowl
 

But still I have to cross this bridge
And pass the forest deep
So, trembling, I gather
Up my courage, and I leap
 

And each step’s harder than the last
As darkness gathers round
The hissing scrape of talons
Fills the night with deadly sound
 

Before the claws can catch me, though,
Before the shadow harms
My Father’s voice calls out ahead
I crash into His arms
 

Not satisfied with waiting for
His child to find the light,
He charged into the darkness
And he found me in the night
 

We turn towards home together now
And peace fills up my soul
For when I’m with my Father…
There’s no need to fear the troll.
 

–Katrina Swaim

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back on the Blog

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*WARNING: vomit related*

Have you ever seen something in a movie or a book that was so horrific that it stayed with you for days afterward, the details emblazoned indelibly on your brain, popping up to ruin your sleep and your meals?

Well, that is what I had to face in the middle of the night last night when my 15 year old woke up with nausea and inexplicably decided to run upstairs to tell me about it instead of beelining for the bathroom. She was doing that pre-spew gagging thing when she got to my room, so I yelled, “The bathroom! Get to the bathroom!” She made it to the bathroom, but not to the toilet.

The amount of ick that came out of her defied the laws of physics. She painted the bathroom with her body weight’s worth of not just last night’s dinner, but what had to be all her meals going back to her tenth birthday. To paraphrase Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer, I think I saw a boot come out of her. She destroyed the room. And I don’t just mean the floor. The floor, the door, the rug, the toilet, the counter–nothing escaped. It was very similar to that one scene in Pitch Perfect; you know the one. Except worse, because of…

The smell! I’ll never know how I kept from adding my own stomach contents to what was already on the floor. I cursed and cried and gagged the entire time I was cleaning up, when what I really wanted to do was call down an airstrike on the whole house.

It was easily the most disgusting moment of motherhood so far, and that is saying something. I keep seeing it when I close my eyes. I keep smelling it in my imagination. I have vomit PTSD. Is there an equivalent of the Silver Star just for mothers? Because I totally earned it last night.

After I finished hosing down the entire disaster zone with Lysol and started the washer, I climbed back into bed and woke Paul up from a sound sleep just to say, “You owe me BIG TIME, mister.”

 

Thankful #6 – #12

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Today’s list of blessings is comprised entirely of websites. What an amazing time we live in, with a world of information (and misinformation) right at our fingertips. With the aid of the internet, we can be either madly clicking paragons of productivity or ravaged wastrels lounging atop a throne of empty pizza boxes in our underwear. Either way, here are some of the websites I’m thankful for:

6. WebMD. How else could I find out all the things I didn’t know were wrong with me? By the way, today I either have mild wrist swelling caused by overuse or creeping bone cancer. Could be either, according to WebMD.

7. Google. It’s the search engine whose name became synonymous with searching for things on the internet. I’ve tried a number of others, but always come back to the megalith of internet construction. Not only is it the most comprehensive and useful, but the Google doodle occasionally provides hours of entertainment.

8. I Can Has Cheezburger. Life can be brutal, man. Some days, we get knocked down so many times that staying down starts to seem like the best option. On those days, I like to fill my brain up with cute hedgehog babies in teacups and puppies wearing tiny fedoras. I like to imagine that I live in a world where my cat has something clever and pithy to say about the mess  I left in the kitchen, and where every animal, from cow to platypus, is blessed with a rapier sharp sarcastic wit. Cheezburgers for everyone!

9. Lifehacker. This too-practical-to-be-believed website has tips and tricks for everything from making your own bicycle-powered battery to optimizing your Google searches. I just recently used it to find a good (and free) language learning app. No matter what you want to do (deseed a pomegranate, interview for a job, water your plants), Lifehacker has a tip for you! Never again will I have to suffer from excess pool noodle accumulation. Thanks,  Lifehacker!

10. Wikipedia. It’s exhaustive. It’s crowd-sourced. And it’s mostly accurate. To think, my parents had to spend $300 in 1995 for an actual printed set of World Book encyclopedias. It was out of date before we received it.  And it didn’t even have an entry for the Hollywood Freeway Chickens. Well-researched accounts of roving feral chicken bands living in the urban jungles of Southern California are exactly the sort of thing I look for in a good encyclopedia.

11. Craigslist. Buy stuff. Sell stuff. Even meet people (if you’re brave/crazy), and get a chuckle out of seeing the weirdness of humanity on full display.

12. The Marriage Bed. There’s a vicious rumor going around that Christians don’t like sex. I’m pretty sure I’ve debunked that idea at length in other posts, however, if you need more convincing, check out The Marriage Bed, a website that celebrates sex in the context of Christian marriage. There are general discussion boards that are open to click through, as well as boards that address more specific interests; those can be accessed by registering on the site and opting in to the boards you’d like to read. There is also a library of articles and helpful links. Whether you’re facing challenges in your sex life or are just looking for some new ideas, The Marriage Bed is a great resource!

Thankful #1

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Over the years, I’ve made a lot of lists of my blessings. I’ve written Thanksgiving blog posts and taken on November daily Facebook challenges. I usually approach the counting of blessings in order of importance, starting with the Big Ones – God, my husband, my children, my friends, my church family, etc. This November, I am still incredibly blessed in all of those large and important ways.  I am grateful beyond words for the gifts of faith and love and life. But I’m not going to write about them.

Instead, I want to dedicate this month to being thankful for the little things. For the things that make me smile or make life easier, the things I often ignore or take for granted as I pursue great goals and dodge great crises. I’ve started to realize that there are more things to be grateful for than I will ever have time to tell. But I’m going to make a start.

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In that spirit, today I am thankful for refrigeration.

With almost no effort at all, I can walk upstairs right now and get a cold soda out of the fridge. I can cook and eat meat that I bought four days ago without worrying that it will make me and my family sick. I can stock my freezer up with Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream when it’s on sale and eat it slowly over the course of weeks, or even months (that’s theoretical, of course. Breyers mint chip never lasts more than a couple of days in our house.)

We’ve come a long way from cooling our food in springhouses to the wonder that is the Electrolux Stainless Steel French Door Refrigerator with SpillSafe Glass Shelves, Luxury-Glide Cool Zone Drawer, Humidity-Controlled Crispers, Ice Maker and IQ-Touch Controls.

Down through history, man has always yearned to knock back a cold one now and then. Thanks to modern refrigeration, it has never been easier than it is right now.

Refrigerators, you rock!

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“He was already dead, and we Schrutes use every part of the goose. The meat has a delicious smoky rich flavor. Plus, you can use the molten goose grease and save it in the refrigerator, thus saving you a trip to the store for a can of expensive goose grease.” –Dwight Schrute, on the benefits of refrigeration

Me llamo Katrina. Yo no soy una manzana.

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When asked to name one big regret I have in life, I’m pretty lucky. I don’t have a lot of terrible, life-altering mistakes to choose from. Sure, I’ve been through some things that, at the time, I would have skipped if I could, but I wouldn’t change the pattern God has woven into my life for anything, even if some of the threads were not of my choosing. No, my one big regret is actually one of mere practicality:

I regret not taking Spanish as my foreign language in high school.

Don’t mistake me; I enjoyed the French language very much. At one time, I was surprisingly proficient in it, and was even able to navigate among native speakers for a six week exchange program in Aurillac, France. My fluency has ebbed away with disuse, but I still remember the essentials. Ou est le WC? = Where is the bathroom? J’ai besoin d’aller à l’hôpital! = I need to go to the hospital! Est-ce crêpe sans gluten? = Is this crepe gluten-free? (Okay, I confess. I had to look up the French word for “gluten”. It turns out that it’s “gluten”. Who knew?) I was understandably proud of my French-speaking abilities once upon a time, especially on those very rare occasions when the villains in a spy movie we were watching would speak a smattering of French and I was able to (sort of) translate for all my friends: “If we don’t get the (something) letters within two days, the man in blue will (uh…do something) to our (something – did he say cadavre or confrère?), so hurry!”

Okay, so it wasn’t that useful.

On the other hand, there have been scores of occasions when the ability to speak Spanish would have been a real, tangible asset. I’ve met people from South America in nearly every state that I’ve lived in, and some of them have not yet learned enough English to be clearly understood. It would have been nice, for example, to be able to talk to the soft-spoken man back in Searcy who turned up at Hastings with Paul’s stolen bicycle. It took half an hour and some earnest charades for us to make him understand that the bike belonged to Paul and to find out that he had bought it from a man who “had many bicycles” that he was selling out of his truck. Fortunately, the next time we met him, to give him a hand-me-down bicycle we had lucked into, he was surrounded by bilingual friends, and communication was much easier.  I would have liked to have been able to make my homesick Nicaraguan college roommate feel more welcome, but our interactions were painfully limited by our language barrier.  And just recently, I had a sweet family come in to use our church food bank who didn’t speak any English at all. Though our smiles were there, the words were not. It took a long, awkward effort on all of our parts for me to figure out that they were looking mainly for diapers and baby food.

Time and again, I have wished to go back in time and check the little box marked “español” on my 10th grade class schedule application. Time and again, I’ve regretted the whim of fifteen year-old me, who thought French sounded more mysteriously romantic and better befitting a wannabe Baudelaire like myself.

It finally occurred to me this week that I could stop regretting… and just learn Spanish.

So that is my new project! Voy a aprender a hablar español! Sure, my brain is older now, and my language acquisition center is probably draped in cobwebs, but I don’t need to be a qualified UN translator. I just want to be able to hold a real conversation (i.e. one that doesn’t involve la biblioteca*) with people I meet. I can learn that much, right?

The first thing I did was look up Rosetta Stone. Ouch. Our budget doesn’t have a “language education” category, so that’s out. Aren’t there any free options out there? I poked around on the internet for a few days, not really finding anything useful. And then, Lifehacker did that magic trick where they featured an article that told me exactly what I needed to know.

So I’m signed up on Duolingo. I created an account and downloaded the free app for my tablet and phone (it’s available for iOS and Android platforms!) I’m already halfway through lesson one (yo soy una mujer)! Now all I need is a Spanish-speaking friend to practice on. Or a classmate. Anybody else wanna hablar español?

* Donde esta la biblioteca?

Pumpkin Pushers

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Fall is my favorite season. Like almost everyone, I love all the fall foofaraw that accompanies the breathtakingly beautiful yearly shutdown of chlorophyll production in the nation’s trees: sweaters and football and school supplies and brisk wind carrying the promise of future snow. I sigh with contentment at hearing the heater cycle on in the middle of the night. I relish kicking my sandals to the back of the closet and digging out my boots, which make a much more satisfying *crunch* on all those windswept piles of desiccated leaves. I look forward all summer to finally snuggling down with my husband into the cottony warmth of our fleece sheets, a toasty pocket of comfort in the chill of autumn night (not to mention the fun of pushing my icy toes up against Paul’s warm legs!)

Fall also brings out the pumpkin pushers. Suddenly, there is pumpkin everywhere. Friends bake fragrant pumpkin bread, pumpkin-themed Pinterest boards are passionately propagated online, pumpkin-scented candles go on sale, and, on October 1st, Dairy Queen once again offers that most delectable of frozen treats, the Pumpkin Pie Blizzard.

I am not complaining.

I love pumpkin stuff. I have had to enforce a strict once-a-week limit on my Pumpkin Pie Blizzard consumption, my Scentsy is diffusing delicious pumpkin-scented happiness through the house around the clock, and I can single-handedly make a loaf of pumpkin bread disappear in less than 24 hours.

But my pumpkin meter is maxed out, people. I don’t have room for another pumpkin-y obsession in my life. That’s why, despite all of the (well-deserved, I’m sure) hype, I have never tasted a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Even I find it hard to believe. I see the commercials; I wade through the dozens of facebook posts and Instagram pictures, admiring the artistic swirl of whipped cream sprinkled with its magical fairy dust Pumpkin Spice®. However, given the violent affections of the PSL fans I have encountered, I’m afraid that once I’ve tasted it, I will wake up to find myself pawning off Paul’s Xbox games and heartlessly hiring out my kids as day-laborers to support my habit. Starbucks is expensive, yo.

Have I made the right choice? I really don’t know. And, for now, I’m planning to keep it that way.

Any Pumpkin Spice Zombies out there who want to tell me what I’m missing?

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Joy

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When I was a kid, I thought that joy was that wonderful, effervescent feeling that bubbles up inside you and rushes through your blood on Christmas morning, or when you swing really high, or when you stand on a mountain and look out across mile after beautiful mile of green valley.

I would have described it as swelling, overflowing, intoxicating, and mine by divine right—a feeling of whimsical enjoyment that I could summon up at will, that would paint life with a fairy sparkle that would never, ever wear off.

That was a while ago.

The fairy sparkle, to be honest, comes and goes. It’s hard to effervesce when sickness strikes, or your marriage is in trouble, or you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent. At least it has been for me.

Ironically, or maybe not, I came face to face with real joy during one of the darkest times in my life. A few years ago, I entered into battle with anxiety and depression. I don’t know what flipped the switch, but I was plunged for a time into a state of acute misery. In between debilitating panic attacks that made my heart race and my hands shake, I was beset by nameless fears and a sucking darkness that made it nearly impossible to enjoy… well, anything. Children, laughter, Christmas lights, music—it all tasted like sawdust. Knocked loose from my moorings and listing badly, I lost myself—my personality, my cheerful disposition, what I had always thought of as “me”. I didn’t know what had caused it, and I certainly didn’t know how to get out of it.

I prayed almost constantly during this time, but for the first time in my life, I knew what David meant when he wrote in the Psalms begging God to stop “hiding His face”. That’s exactly what it felt like. That sense of God’s presence, that comfort in prayer, that warmth of His enfolding words—I couldn’t feel it, any of it.

And yet—even with my prayers seeming to bounce off the ceiling and fall back in my lap—I knew that He had not left me. My feelings were gone, but, despite that, my conviction that He still saw me, that He still loved me, and that my suffering was known to Him never wavered. Underneath all the pain, at the very bottom of the hole I was buried in, I found certainty. It wasn’t bubbly, or intoxicating. It was solemn, and deadly serious–a desperate lifeline in a dark and angry sea. Paul, helpless and worried about me, would comfort me by saying over and over, “This won’t last forever.” And I knew he was right. At the time, he meant to assure me that I would physically get better somehow (which, thanks to my doctor and the marvels of modern medicine, turned out to be true), but I heard it as God’s promise that suffering in this life, however incomprehensible, however long it goes on, will not last. For those who trust in Him, the light of morning will always come, even after the longest night. That is God’s promise. And I believe it.

That is my joy.

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Summer Fun List 2012

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Last year, the kids and I sat down and brainstormed a list of things we wanted to do with our summer vacation time. It was a huge success! We ended up checking off almost everything on the list and making some wonderful memories.

So, of course, we decided to do it again this year! Katie, Caleb, and I sat down at McDonalds and, over fries and bottomless root beers, came up with this, our 2012 Mega-Awesome Summer Fun List of Justice!

Skate Plaza

make a blanket fort

Lego madness

have a friend sleep over

Jamms frozen yogurt

play at the park

go to the movies (Brave, Madagascar 3)

library

Independence Point

ride bikes

make a present for Dad

visit Grandpa and Grandma Evans

make a cool video

bake cookies

geocaching

Julyamsh Powwow

Art on the Green

hike Tubbs Hill

water gun war

sew stuffed animals

paper airplane races

picnic

Bluegrass Park water spot

make-your-own-pizza day

go hiking with the Kleins

But that’s not all. This year, I wanted to take our list to the next level, so I told the kids we would also be doing some Random Acts of Kindness throughout the summer. I have a few possibilities, but I’ve been trying to narrow it down to things that the kids would enjoy doing. Things like creating drawings with encouraging messages on them and leaving them on people’s windshields at the mall, or passing out free candy bars to people waiting in line at the DMV. I’m open to suggestions, so if you have any service project or RAK ideas for kids, let me know in the comments!

I Have a Microphone, and You Don’t

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It’s the first glorious day of summer break for the kids and me. *pause to take a deep, delightful breath*

This morning, as Paul got ready for work, Caleb lamented, “I wish Dad had the summer off, too, so we could all do stuff together. It’s not fair that some people have to work in the summer. If I was President, I’d make it a law that everybody got to have summer vacation!”

I sympathized. “I know, Bubba, but if nobody worked all summer, the economy would fall apart.”

He pondered that for a moment. “What do you mean, Mom? How can it ‘fall apart’?”

And then, I came up with a brilliant analogy. “Well, you know how your circulatory system works, with your heart pumping blood where it needs to go all over your body? Well, the economy is kind of like that, but–”

“Mom, no offense, but I don’t really need a whole presentation.”

WHAT???

The child of my heart and my body is rejecting the bounty of my wisdom? Already? I thought I had at least until he was thirteen. He must be an early bloomer.

I wish I could say I just shrugged it off, but no. I am not that cool. I made him sit back down on the couch and listen to the end of my presentation (which was very inspired, if do say so myself), and I could tell by the look on his face that he was totally wowed. Speechless, really. In fact, he couldn’t even articulate how impressed he was before running off to play, possibly wondering what other nuggets of brilliance may be lying behind my mediocre motherly facade.

Don’t worry, kiddo. I’ve got plenty more metaphors where that came from. And you will get to hear them all.