When your daily activities are in concert with your highest priorities, you have a credible claim to inner peace. – Hyrum Smith


11/9/17

Just sick enough

I pressed the snooze button on my alarm this morning at 5:45 and closed my eyes again.  It was too late, though.  The list of responsibilities had already begun scrolling across my closed lids.  At 6 swung my legs out of bed and began to record the ever-growing to-do list in the notes on my phone.

In the midst of packing lunches, finding coats that aren't "too puffy," combing hair into a "half pony, okay mom?", fixing breakfast, and finding shoes, a little blond haired boy wandered into the kitchen then turned and headed for the couch.  I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief...one less breakfast I had to make.  I wasn't even going to make him wear shoes for the big kid morning drop off.  Just toss a fluffy blanket over the car seat, and voila!  We were on our way.

Only, we weren't.  The moment the garage door open I heard gasps and squeals.  "Mommy!  Mommy!  It snowed!!!!"  They ran across the driveway to the grass where frozen dew had turned the ground silver.  For children who spent the last three winters living near the equator, this remarkable phenomenon was just as exciting as snow, even when I explained it was merely frost.  We took a moment to bask in the newness, crunching it under our feet.

Then the drama began.  Eldest timekeeper hurried littles along.  "Get in the van.  We'll be late."  Half-pony girl disappeared inside to find a different, warmer coat.  "Come on!" we called.  "Coming!" came the faint reply...

"Come on!" a bit louder.  Huffing and puffing and swinging backpack wildly, she threw herself tearfully in the van.  "Why is everyone yelling at me?"  Crying, fighting, yelling for 2 of the 3-block drive to school.  Sigh.  Tears dried by the time the doors open.  Quick kisses.  Then quiet in the van again.

*Cough*  Oh, yes.  That cough that kept him awake two nights ago and home from school yesterday. That blond head peeking out from under the fluffy blanket.  "Mommy?" he croaked, "Can we snuggle on the big couch when we get home?"

Yes!  Yes, to snuggles.  We had a good hour before we'd need to leave for preschool.  As I settled in next to him on the couch and covered us with a blanket, I began mentally shifting my to-do's.

This couch by the window is our special place.  It's the place where the world slows down a bit.  A place for cuddles in the morning, books in the afternoon, and prayers at night.  It's a place for feet up on the old coffee table, warm, fuzzy throw blankets, and sipping hot cocoa.  It's where our whispers float up to the ceiling as we search for birds in the branches outside and where our belly laughs fill the room when we all try to escape daddy's tickles.  It's my favorite spot in the whole house.

"Let's look for birds," Caleb whispered, turning toward the window.
"Okay," I whispered back, cupping his tiny, round, warm cheek in my hand.  He nuzzled closer, and I could feel his warmth.  Too warm.  A quick check with the thermometer confirmed my suspicions.  A note to the preschool teacher, a note to my morning meeting coordinator, and we settled in again.

Luckily, he is just sick enough.  Not scary, call the doctor or rush to the hospital sick.  Just sick enough to stay home.  Just sick enough to want to snuggle.  Just sick enough to sit still for an entire cartoon, commercials and all.  Just sick enough to make me slow down and whisper and search for birds and cuddle.

So thank you, Lord, for giving us those unexpected gifts.  Those just sick enough days.

10/16/17

Never Lost


Dear Jack,

Just like Caleb, your birthday post is months late.  Don't be fooled, son.  Just because you are a middle child, you will never (and I mean ever) be lost in the middle.  

There is something about you, little man.  Something special.  I wish I could put my finger on it, but then again maybe I don't.  Maybe I don't want to crack the code of what makes you so magical.  The way you look at the world is simply different from others.

Just the other day we were walking past a neighbor's dead yard.  Flanked by lush, green yards on both sides, it stuck out like a sore thumb.  Every blade of grass was brown. 'The people who live there are really lucky!" you exclaimed.  "Why?" we asked, confused.  "Well, now they know exactly where their yard ends and where the other neighbors' begin."  Your positivity is inspiring.

You are also tenacious.  You are the only one in the family who chose to continue your Chinese education.  You go to the Kentucky Chinese School every Sunday.  I love to hear you speak Mandarin.  You may not know it now, but this is an investment that I believe will serve you well in the future.

You make friends easily, but you still enjoy playing on your own.  You are extremely creative, making worlds and games and rules all your own.  There is never a dull moment with you around!

You've done so well with the transition back to the States.  I know you miss your best buddy, Jack Mac.  I know you miss our neighborhood and the pool and your old school.  I'm so proud of how you've managed to stay our sweet, positive Jack, through it all.  

I can't wait to see what adventures are in store for you this year, dear.  I love you to the moon and back.  Happy 6th birthday, sweet boy (a lot late).

Love,
Mommy

My baby is 4

Dear Caleb,

Did you know that one of Mommy's favorite songs is The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell?  She sings about how quickly time flies and children grow.  It brings me to tears every single time I hear it.  Just like that book: Love You Forever.  Pretty much anything that has to do with growth and change makes me a blubbering mess.  And now that list includes you.

I'm happy to report that the tears I cry are no longer tears of frustration with your larger than life attitude.  No, these days, I cry over my baby not being a baby anymore.  You really are a big boy now.  I mean, you don't even need my help in the bathroom anymore.  What??  Guess it really is time for that puppy.

I think it's actually a great thing it's taken me an extra few months to write your birthday post.  You've blossomed while we waited for the computer desk to arrive.  As we watched moving boxes slowly dwindle, and seen you walk into your preschool class for the first time, we've seen a beautiful change in you.  In just a few short months you've gone from punching temper tantrums to actually using feeling words to express frustration.  You are so kind and loving.  I am showered with kisses instead of being told, "Mommy, today is not a kissing day."

I can honestly say, you are a joy to be around.  We've had some difficult times this year.  I don't know how much of it was an international move and how much was just a natural progression from grumpy toddler into fun little boy.  Whatever it was, I'll take it.

I want to give you a snapshot of your four year old self...You have what Maddie would call "fluffy" white blond hair.  Your huge blue eyes draw adoring smiles from strangers.  You are still a little thumb sucker.  You refer to your button down shirt as your "handsome" shirt, striking a pose and smiling coyly each time you wear it.  You think bathroom humor is the funniest.  You love your ABC's, your grandparents, dogs, and sugar.  You want to be a "minja" [ninja].  You cling to us like a spider monkey when we pick you up, pressing your cheek hard against ours.  You have mommy's heart.

I am so excited to see what this next year holds for you, Caleb.  You will learn so much in school.  You will begin to make friends.  You may even learn to ride a bike.  Who knows?!  The world is your oyster, and I'm lucky enough to be sitting in the boat beside you.

I wish you a belated happiest birthday ever, little man!

Love,
Mommy



6/11/17

Long Gone

Happy birthday, Parker.  I know your birthday is long gone.  The streamers have been torn down for ages.  Not a cupcake sprinkle remains.  The thank you notes have been written (but not sent because that part is on me, and clearly, I'm a bit behind).  So why have I not written your annual birthday post?  Is it because we are in the midst of planning an international move?  Is it because we spent every day of the first official week of summer break at VBS?  Is it because I forgot?

Nope.  None of those.  It's because I'd rather be a momma ostrich, sticking her head in the sands of time.  The same sand that seems to be slipping through my fingers.  Suddenly I see a man-child in front of me with thicker arms, a head that nearly reaches my shoulders, and a sometimes serious expression on his beautiful face.  Where is that itty-bitty baby whose little feet refused to stay stuffed in their impossibly tiny socks?

On your birthday, we were driving somewhere, and I thanked you for making me a mom.  Maddie laughed and said, "But mom, you've been a mom for 34 years."  [We're just gonna go on letting her believe I'm 5 years younger, k?]  "No," I replied, "I've only been a mom for 10 years."

"So you're only ten years old?" the kids giggled.

"I guess you could say that.  I'm only ten mom years old...That's why I make so many mistakes.  I'm still trying to figure it out."

No one laughed.  Looking in the rearview mirror, I could see the wheels turning.  What was meant to be a joke was in reality, truth.  I do still make so many mistakes.  Sometimes I give bad advice.  I lash out when I'm angry or stressed.  I complain.  Some days I use guilt trips to get my way.  I am, in many ways, still a child.

And you?  You love me.  You wrap your big boy arms around me, and squeeze me tight.  Just a tilt of my chin and I can kiss the top of your head.  When I ask for forgiveness, you immediately extend grace.  At 10 years old, you have more EQ than some folks will have in a lifetime.  You are tender-hearted, compassionate, funny, serious, generous, and forgiving.  You love spending time with family, hanging out with friends, collecting Fidget Spinners, building Legos, coordinating Nerf wars, riding your bike, and playing video games.

Sometimes you seem to be trying to find your place in this world.  It's hard to tell what's "normal" when you've moved around so much and when you are trying to compare yourself with kids from all over the globe.  While it breaks my heart to see you struggle at all, I know God has a perfect plan for you.  I'm really happy for you about your decision to get baptized.  It's just one step in following in the footsteps of Jesus.  I trust that if you continue to follow Him, He will make your path straight.

I love you like crazy, kid.  Thank you, again, for making me a mom.

Love, Momma

2/8/17

New Zealand December 2016

I know, I know.  I was going to get all caught up on our travels...in order.  Yeah, so much for that.  I've decided I'll write what I want when I want so it won't feel like such a chore.  And today, I want to write about New Zealand.

Have I mentioned that I've decided to become a sheep farmer and relocate there forever?  Why?  Well, it's simple really.  Because New Zealand is freakin' awesome!

The weather, the people, the parks, the wide open spaces, the food.  You name it, they have it!!!  Well, except for big cities.  However, after having lived in big cities for awhile now, I can tell you, they are kind of overrated.  

Oh, New Zealand!  You are my current infatuation.  I can't think of you without smiling.  Aaron did such an amazing job of planning this trip, there was really no way we couldn't love it.  First, he rented a huge, new camper van (from a company called Maui, in case you are planning your own trip).  They promise your van will be 2 years old or newer.  With the amount of time we spent in there and the amount of funk generated by 6 pairs of feet, that's kind of an important detail.

But let me back up a bit.  New Zealand is an island nation (with larger northern and southern main islands and various other smaller islands) located southeast of Australia in the Pacific Ocean.  In November of 2016, a huge earthquake rocked the east coast of the South Island.  Therefore, our trip was confined mostly to the west coast.  Aaron booked sites for most nights and created an itinerary that allowed us to see some amazing sights.

I knew we were in for a treat when we stepped out of the airport.  HUGE skies, mountains, puffy white clouds, crisp air.  Wow!  





We spent our first night in Queenstown at the Hotel St Moritz.  There was a giant Christmas tree in the lobby, glistening with candy canes and a hot apple cider dispenser next to the large, stone fireplace.  Stirring cider with candy canes, the kids waited patiently while Aaron checked us in.  



We deposited our bags in the rooms and walked all around town, exploring.  Though it was considered summer in the region, and the locals were sporting short sleeves, we were dressed for fall (and quite comfortable) as we walked along the shores of Lake Wakatipu.  We ate great food, found the smoothest lattes on the planet (at Mrs. Ferg's Gelateria), window-shopped, and just enjoyed breathing in the cool, clean air.  It was so refreshing to look up and see sky. Not skyscrapers, but actual, blue sky.  Ahhh.



We spent a few wonderful days in Queenstown, collecting our camper van, 


navigating parking lots in a vehicle the size of a dinosaur, gathering groceries, speeding around the lake and Kawarau and Shotover Rivers in the KJet Boat (53 mph and 360 degree spins), 


eating delicious food, 


riding the gondola up the mountainside, 





and speeding back down on the Skyline Luge.  


In short, we had a ball.  

Then it was time to hit the road.  Praise God Aaron was willing to drive because the camper van was a beast.  It was sooo big, and the roads leaving town were narrow and winding.  And right next to a cliff.  Yikes!  I spent the first few hours simply praying for our survival. 

But it wasn't long before Aaron's shoulders relaxed, the roads straightened a bit, and we all settled into our new home for the next few weeks.  



We brought games and books and toys.  We hung the stockings in the windows.  We turned our little table over, tucked it into a corner, and jammed our tiny tree into the post hole.  We learned to secure everything.  We put away all screens and began to relax.  (We did allow a few movies on the few rides that lasted more than 3 hours.)





First stop: Te Anau.  It was a small town by another gorgeous lake named...you guessed it: Lake Te Anau.  The RV park was nearly a mile from town.  A bit of a hike in the drizzle, but eventually it let up, and we found a fantastic playground.  Before heading back to the van, we popped in a used book store and loaded up.  

66



Next stop: Milford Sound.  Getting there was quite an adventure.  The rugged countryside with colorful pastures, towering, rocky mountains, and waterfalls was something to behold.  The tunnel to enter the fiordland was frightening.  I felt like we were heading for the center of the earth.  






But we emerged on the other side, unscathed.  Milford was tiny but spectacular.  We found the RV park and began exploring.  We imagined fairies living in hollow trees, threw rocks into gushing creeks, and ate our first dinner in the van.


The next day we took a cruise around Milford Sound.  Did you know it's not technically a sound because it wasn't carved by a river?  Milford Sound was cut by a glacier and therefore is actually a fiord.  Whatever you call it, it's gorgeous!  

Sunbathing seals, giant rocks covered in velvety green brush rising steeply from the water, sparkling waterfalls (that we were lucky enough to ride underneath, catching the water and drinking it!).  We loved it!










Soon we were on the road again.  We headed to Cromwell and enjoyed some "freedom camping" where the RV could just pull off the main road and park for the evening.  No electricity or facilities, just beautiful views of Lake Dunstan.  Cromwell was a gem!  Fresh fruit everywhere!  We went cherry picking with the kids, ate fresh fruit ice-cream, strolled through English-style gardens, and bought loads of produce.











Next stop: Wanaka - easily one of our very favorite locations in New Zealand.  Wonderful coffee and chocolates (at Patagonia chocolates), a huge, sparkling lake whose views were protected by the vast Pembroke Park, a campground with a fantastic kids' area, great food (at Federal Diner, Charlie Brown food truck, and Burrito Craft food truck), the fun and funky Puzzling World with its giant, adult-sized maze, and a charming little town center.  This is the place we stopped for Christmas.  Parker was able to set up the tent Grammy gave him for Christmas.  The kids set a "trap" for small animals drawing ants and birds and many excited squeals, as they watched it from the windows, well past bedtime.  
RV park playground

Puzzling World

 PW Slanted Room

PW plasma machine
PW Optical Illusions
PW Maze


Lake Wanaka

Federal Diner

The ever-important animal trap

On Christmas day, we found Santa had left small presents in our stockings: books, small stuffed animals, and chocolates.  We showered, dressed and drove to church.  Unfortunately, we only made it for the last five minutes (since the website hadn't been updated to reflect the earlier start time for the holiday service).  The church members were lovely and welcoming, and the kids gushed about it being the best service ever, their mouths stuffed with candy from the hospitality tray as we exited.  The best laid plans...




The next day I discovered I had strep throat.  I walked to the clinic, and Aaron entertained the kids.  A few hours later we gathered the medicine at the pharmacy and were on our way again.   Next stop: the Blue Pools of Makarora.  

This place looked like it had been photoshopped.  How was it possible to have Caribbean blue pools in the middle of New Zealand?  Pure glacier water, I suppose.  The kids were thrilled we allowed them to tromp through the chilly water.  It was breathtaking.  






We continued on to a place called Fox Glacier.  We were lucky to snag the last open spot in the RV park, right next to a restaurant sporting a giant Big Foot statue.  After dinner there, we were told to take a short hike down the main road, follow the signs for the turn off, and see the glow worms in the forest.  While the directions sounded vague, we decided to give it a shot.  It was magical!!!  The kids were scared initially, as it was quite dark in the forest.  We didn't have to wander far into the woods before they came alive.  Tiny glowing dots lit the undersides of logs and the insides of hollow trees - a true fairy wonderland!  Sadly, it was impossible to capture them on film.  

The next day we headed for Hokitika.  It was very wet and not a good day for the beach, so we decided to head on to Punakaki.  There we had a lunch of local fish and chips and pancakes at the charming Pancake Rocks Cafe.  Right across the street we took a short hike to see the beautiful pancake rocks and blow holes.  Since there were no spots at the RV camps and the freedom camping options weren't appealing, we decided to head back to Hokitika.  And man, I'm so glad we did!  As we drove along the coast, the skies cleared, and we decided to pull off the road and enjoy the beach.  The ocean was foamy and fun, and the kids couldn't believe we actually allowed them to play in the "bubbles." According to Parker, it was "the best pit stop ever."   We found a brand new RV park near Hokitika, secured our spot, and headed to the beach to enjoy the sunset.  

 Rainy Hokitika

Pancake Rocks Cafe, Punakaki

Pancake Rocks

 Blow hole





"Best pit stop ever"



Sunset in Hokitika

The next day we took an inland scenic route toward Mt. Cook, reaching Timaru by evening.  We secured our spot in a crowded RV park (where many of the residents appeared to be permanent) and took off again to head downtown.  We ate at gorgeous old bank building that was converted into a place called Speight's Ale House.  After dinner we headed to the pier to search for the rare "little blue penguins."  We were able to park next to the pier where they emerge from the rocks every evening around 9.  We stood in the rain, waiting and waiting.  The kids finally gave up, and stayed in the RV.  Aaron and I were lucky enough to spot a number of them in the dark and hear them chattering to each other.  They were adorable!  

Spright's Ale House

Spicy fish tacos!

Stock photo of little blue penguins...couldn't get a good shot at night

The following morning we popped into Coffee Culture to get our fix before hitting the road again.  Off to Mt. Cook to make another favorite memory - a glacier flight.  This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.  Our family piled into a prop plane fitted with giant skis and took to the skies.  God blessed us with fantastic weather, and we were able to actually land on the glacier!  We threw snowballs, made snow angels, and had a ball!  On the return flight we saw stunning views of the mountains and glaciers.  What a trip!

















On the road back to Wanaka, we saw one of the most beautiful lookouts we'd encountered thus far.  We pulled off, headed down the hillside, and played in the water.






When we arrived in Wanaka, we quickly realized most RV parks were fully booked since it was so close to the new year.  We found a park on the lake but not so near to downtown.  Snagging the very last powered site, we booked it for two nights.  We spent relaxing hours at the beach (where the water was too cold for swimming but just right for playing), we drove into Wanaka to play at the park, and we watched the Lord of the Rings (trying to recognize filming locations).  

As we were leaving the area, heading toward Arrowtown, we stopped at the Wanaka Lavender Farm.  It was so lovely!  There were alpacas, rows and rows of lavender, and a neat gift shop selling honey and lavender-scented everything.  We bought some things and even ate lavender ice-cream.





Arrowtown was another hidden gem.  The main street was tiny and quaint.  We found a great restaurant (Provisions of Arrowtown Cafe) tucked into an old home that served great coffee and amazing sticky buns.  Painted metal tables, wooden benches, flower gardens galore, and blocks and books for the kids.  I loved the place!  We stayed in an RV camp that evening and headed toward Queenstown the next day.  





Jack's eyes match the table.



Thanks to the holiday, there was no room at the inn for the Rausch clan.  We decided to do freedom camping for our final night.  The views were fantastic, but the sand flies were fierce.  We hunkered down in our mobile home, thanking God for an amazing trip, beautiful scenery, and the chance to spend so much quality time together.







On our last day, we had breakfast at Halo (awesome breakfast food, right next to an old church) and spent the day at the field next to the Queenstown Memorial Centre, throwing frisbees, climbing trees, and watching four ducklings chase after their mother.  All too soon, our trip was over. What a blessing to vacation in this magical place!

 Hot cocoa at Halo








Hope to see you again soon, New Zealand!