Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What's in a name

"Your people will be my people and your God my God." ~ Ruth 1:16

Growing up I wasn't fond of my middle name. Truth be told, I hated it.  I went to elementary school in the 80's, well before Biblical names became trendy. Also, my brother was fond of equating the name with the sound of a dog barking, or the sound of throwing up.  Or the sound of a dog throwing up.

Starting somewhere around fifth-grade until high school graduation, I denied having a middle name at all.

My birth certificate contradicted me.

It clearly states that my name is Kristen Ruth Walker.

I come from a family of strong, stubborn, passionate women and Ruth Huddleston is no exception. 

She raised six kids one of whom she had to bury far too young, something a mother should never have to do. 

She was thankful for what the Lord blessed her with, even during those times when it seemed she had very little to be thankful for. 

She could fry anything and she did. 

When you came to her house, you never left hungry and God help you if you wore your hat at the dinner table. 

She loved Jesus and would tell you so unashamedly and frequently. 

She loved her family. And there were a lot of them to love. She loved them even when they hurt each other, and even when they hurt her. 

When you argued with her, you should probably prepare to be wrong, even when you were pretty sure you were right. 

She prayed for people she knew and for people she would never meet this side of heaven. She believed God would answer. Every time.  

Grandma Ruth went home to be with Jesus today. 


I couldn’t be more proud to share her name.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What if our New Year's resolutions didn't suck?

On Sunday night our community group got met for the first time in 2014. As most people tend to do when congregating for the first time since the ball dropped, our conversation turned to goals and resolutions for the upcoming 365days -- make that 353.

Our group is made up of married couples ranging in age from mid-20's to mid-50's. Some have kids, some don't. Some have been married for decades, some only months. So you would think our New Year's resolutions would be as varied as the people in the room.

But they weren't.

Everyone said they needed to eat better, exercise more, and lose weight.

Before you start throwing statistics at me that 99% of the country is obese and 97% of us need to eat less bacon and exercise more, let me just stop you right there and agree. Healthy eating is a good thing. Exercising is a good thing.  Bacon is a good thing and no amount of research is going to change my mind on that.

Photo Courtesy of  Laurel Fan
But hear me out.  In addition to Sunday night's meeting, I've hung out with no less than four other women since the New Year started (yeah, I have friends!  Okay, mostly they are relatives,) who have said exactly the same thing.  They need to lose weight.

And I'm right there with them.  In fact, I have a line of supplements on my counter right now that I started for that exact purpose.  And I can tell myself it is because my cholesterol is creeping higher than I'd like, but if I'm honest it is because my thighs are creeping wider than I'd like.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to lose some weight.  Nothing at all.  Nothing wrong with looking in the mirror and saying, "Dang, that's one sexy woman!"  But here's the thing, sitting in that community group on Sunday and hanging out with my family and friends these last couple of weeks,  all I have seen are a group of incredibly beautiful women.  The irony being that the only woman I ever see that I think needs to lose weight is me.  And I'd bet that every other woman in the room feels exactly the same way.

I have a nine year old daughter. Somehow she got a recessive gene for long skinny legs, so right now I have to cinch her pants as tight as I can.  But someday she might hit an awkward stage where she hates her body. Who knows, she might hate being tall and skinny (imagine that!). How can I possibly tell her she should love her body no matter what when she constantly hears me telling myself how much I hate mine?  

I think maybe our New Year's resolution to lose weight doesn't suck because we are eating rice cakes while everyone else is eating brownies.

I think it sucks because we are trying to lose weight to feel good about ourselves when what we really want to resolve is to feel good about ourselves no matter how much we weigh.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Waiting to be a Texan

Although I was born in Montana, I guess you can say I'm a second generation Texan.  My dad was born in Lorraine, Texas, which according to Wikipedia has a population of 656, but according to my memory of a drive through we did one family vacation I recall having a population of closer to 85.

This year marks the first birthday I've celebrated more years in The Lone Star State than I celebrated in Big Sky Country, which in my estimation makes me as close to a Texan as I'm likely to get. When people ask me how I got to Texas from Montana I tell them I came here to go to college.

When they ask me why I stayed, the answer is simple; When you marry a Texan, there is a pretty good chance you are going to stay right here in Texas.

I'm not complaining.  Texas has been good to me.  But it truly is like no other place on earth, and that's exactly how Texans like it.  I come from a state that has a lot of pride, and a city with even more. But Texas.  Well, it takes pride of ownership to a level that is, well, completely Texan.

Here are a few things this Montana girl has learned in the last 18 years.
  • Friday Night Lights is no joke.  Texans love few things as much as high school football.  Until you experience your first Friday night game where literally two entire towns are crammed into the stadium cheering on their teams, you can't fully appreciate what this means. When I say everyone, I mean everyone, from babies who were born earlier that morning to 93 year old men who played on that same high school field seven decades ago, to the band, the cheerleaders, even the kids who couldn't care less about football but are there because if you live in a small town, there is literally no place else for them to go.  There is a reason they keep making movies, television series, and writing songs about it.  It is that good.

  • We make you pledge to be here.  As of this moment, I know of no other state that makes you pledge allegiance to their state flag after pledging allegiance to the US flag. This really messes up kids who move here from other states, but not nearly as bad as it messes up adults.  I love sitting in public meetings where adults have to say the Texas pledge. Many lifelong Texans forget the words (partially because the legislature changed it in 2007), but for transplants, it is like asking them What Does the Fox Say? (Yep, I stand by that reference).

  • The flag can, and does, go anywhere.  While we might make you pledge allegiance to the State flag, it certainly doesn't mean we revere it.  However, I will say this, Texans sure do love their flag.  This is evidenced by the fact it appears on pretty much everything. And I do mean everything. Purses, earrings, garage doors, shower curtains, koozies, underwear. Now, maybe I am wrong and there are a bunch of people walking around with the Iowa state flag on their unmentionables, but to in my estimation, Texas is unique in its love and complete and utter disrespect for its flag.  Fun fact: Texas is also the only state that has written into law that its flag can fly at the same height as the United States flag.  Just another fun way we like to tell the US Government that they are not the boss of us.

  • Everyone has an opinion about A&M. Love them or hate them, Aggies are as engrained in Texas culture as Dairy Queen.  For my Montana friends who are reading this, many Texans feel about Aggies like we feel about North Dakotans (note: Texans do not understand why North Dakotans are stupid. If visiting me, replace "ND" with "Aggie" in all jokes).  After 18 years, I am slowly starting to come around to the idea that A&M may be a legitimate university and not, in fact, a cult like I have long believed.  However, this belief is questioned every time someone "whoops" at a funeral, wears their class ring over their wedding ring, or cancels class because a dog barks. Actually, I'm okay with that last one.
  • You can chicken fry anything. Before I lived in Texas I mistakenly believed that the only thing that could be chicken fried was chicken.  This is not true.  It turns out anything can be chicken fried.  Steak, pork, eggplant, even chicken.  Yes, I know. Other states would probably just call that "fried chicken."  Nope.  It is "chicken friend chicken."  It is a completely different dish! I personally don't do a lot of chicken frying because in my house it generally ends up with all the windows open, smoke alarms blaring, and pizza delivery. However, I have learned that in a capable Texans hands anything that starts with the words "chicken fried" is smothered in white gravy and completely delicious.  Bonus points if it is somewhere on a blue plate special.

  • Texas is freaking huge. This doesn't seem like a big revelation, but this is coming from a girl who grew up driving across the state of Montana for fun and frequently drove across Wyoming, which is not only a large land wise, but includes some sort of space-time vacuum that turns minutes into hours and hours into decades.  So for me to say that I get bored driving across Texas is actually a big deal.  That is because you can drive 15 continuous hours and still be in the state. In the middle of the state.  With like 8 more hours until you see a border.  It is ridiculous. Also, although my husband swears there are pretty parts somewhere in the state, the scenery is not great. I do enjoy the fact they put the population on the city limit signs.

  • People are genuinely nice. Texas is full of genuinely nice people. My best friend Kathy visited me a few years ago and we took the kids to a park near my house.  A dad was there with his kids and we started chatting.  Turned out he graduated from the same high school as my husband just a few years apart.  We sat and talked while the kids played.  When he left my Kathy looked at me and said, "Do you know him?"  I told her I had never seen him before.  She explained that living outside of Detroit for so long she had gotten used to being wary of people. Kathy her family ended up moving to Texas a couple months ago and she has said more than once that she is still getting used to how friendly people are here.  It's true, Texans are just good people.

  • Don't mess with Texas is more than a catch phrase. It is a way of life. People might make fun of Texans for their boots and the cowboy hats, or their sports franchises or politicians, but the thing about Texans is that they wear those things as a badge of honor. The Texas drawl, and yes sir and no ma'am, the high school football, and homecoming mums, big hair, Texas flag welcome mat,  belt buckles, and cowboy boots with tuxedos, those are the things that make Texas Texas. Because being Texan is about being proud of who you are and where you come from, no matter what anyone else thinks. 
Because if you're really a Texan, you never ask anyone else what they think anyway.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Waiting for kindergarten


This morning I did what thousands of parents across the country did.  I dropped my baby off at kindergarten.  My baby.  The little boy that I am positive I brought home from the hospital only a moment ago and only minutes ago was rocking to sleep in his little footie pajamas. Today I packed him a lunch, watched as he hung his dinosaur backpack in his locker while I choked back a tear, (okay sobs) as I left him in the care of another woman.

This isn't the first time I've dropped one of my babies at kindergarten.  Our daughter started fourth-grade today, and to tell you the truth, seeing her with the kids she started school with five years ago, some of who are as tall as me, broke my heart almost as much.

But there is something about the day you take your last baby to kindergarten that is a unique kind of heartache.  

Because he is our youngest, sending Ryan to kindergarten feels like a chapter in our lives has ended. Like he needs me just a little bit less now.

Except that couldn't be less true.

Our kids' school is amazing. Their teachers are amazing.

But, their job is to teach my kids reading and math. Their job is to teach my kids English and science. Their teachers' job is to cultivate their love of learning by helping them explore art and music and technology and leading them as they run and jump in PE and check out books in the library.

Their teachers' job is not to be their parents.

That is still my job.

And yet, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. from Monday - Friday, in addition to teaching reading, and history, and foreign languages, and band and choir, and art, and algebra, and biology, and government and special education, and economics, thousands of teachers across the country will teach students how to be kind and generous.  They will teach them how to work together. They will help teach them how to make good choices. How to listen. How to follow rules. They will help them understand the consequences of not following rules.

They will comfort them when they get hurt.  Or when someone hurts them. They will protect them.

I know there are people who may not believe this, but thousands of teachers have been praying for their students all summer and will continue to pray for them all year.

But as parents, we can't check out once school starts. We can't let teachers take the burden, not only of teaching our kids, but of raising them as well.  I am so thankful for dedicated educators who value character as much as knowledge. But that doesn't abate me of my responsibility.  With everything our kids have to navigate these days from extra-curricular activities, to bullying and social media, I can't imagine a time in history when it has ever been more important to be plugged to our kids' lives.

Understanding the heartache that comes with sending your baby to kindergarten, people begin asking you if you are okay about six months before the first day of school.  With that in mind, I've been collecting advice from moms and dads that I think are doing an outstanding job of raising great kids (including my parents, who I must say raised two pretty awesome kids).

Here is a collection of some of the best advice I've heard for staying involved in your kids' lives:
  • Talk about stuff. 
    • Ask open ended questions, especially with older kids. Don't give up if you get a one word answer. Start with kids' favorites like, "Who did you sit with at lunch?" or "What did you play at recess?" 
    • Talk about anything and everything when they are young.  Let them know that nothing is off the table. Talking about crushes on boys when they are 8 will make it more likely they won't keep things from you when they are 16.
    • Take any opportunity to use teachable moments. Watching a movie where the main character treats his best friend badly, use that moment to ask your kids how that made his friend feel or if there has ever been a time when someone in his class made him feel like that.  
  • Do homework with your kids. 
    • Even just a few minutes a day shows interest.
  • Volunteer! 
    • Check your campus/school district website for opportunities. If your kids are at an age where they are embarrassed of mom and dad find opportunities to volunteer in different areas of the school (making copies in the office, shelving books in the library).
  • Sit down and eat.
    • With busy after school schedules, try to make at least one night a week where sitting down to eat dinner isn't optional.  Even if you just order pizza, have everyone sit around the table and catch up. Having a "no technology at the table*" rule helps establish that this time is a priority for everyone.  *This rule goes for mom and dad too!
  • Know your kids' friends, both real and virtual.
    • With the constant onslaught of social media sites it is hard to keep up, but knowing which sites your kids are on, and who their friends are is key. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you are following your kids and your kids' friends. Check here for the Five Golden Rules of Keeping Kids Safe Online (it is from the UK, but still good information). 
  • Keep an open house. 
    • Invite your kids' friends over and make your house the kind of place kids (and teens) want to hang out.  Your house doesn't need to be fancy.  In fact, sometimes being kid-friendly means just the opposite. It means it's the kind of place where being loud and spilling on the carpet or breaking something isn't cause for alarm. 
What are your best tips for staying involved during the school year?  Whether you are starting school or have a few more years to snuggle in footie pajamas, I hope your year is blessed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Toasting with Water - What really matters.

It seems like television has been overrun with reality TV.  Whether it is dropping people on a remote island, celebrity dancing competitions, toddlers acting like they rule the world or parents acting like toddlers, people can't seem to get enough of watching the glory and the misery of others.

But more often than not there seems to be a lack of reality in reality TV.

Take for instance those reality wedding shows.

You know, like when you see one wedding where and one thing after another goes wrong. For instance, The Singer shows up at the rehearsal and has learned the wrong song and The Maid of Honor and Best Man, who have had an on again off again relationship are currently off again and are barely speaking. And then the night before the wedding The Groom's fun-loving but slightly crazy Mexican Cousin shows up and takes Him and The Best Man out to some 75 Year Old Hippie's apartment where they drink rum and listen to old jazz LP's to 4 a.m.

On the wedding day the Sound Guy doesn't show up and all of the sound equipment is locked up and all of the wedding music is pre-recorded until he walks in dramatically two minutes before the wedding is supposed to start and The Minister, who is also The Father of the Bride, sends him running  to the balcony with the CD of Pachelbel's Canon while The Brother of the Bride, who is supposed to walk The Bride down the aisle, is tap dancing outside the bride's room in an effort to stop crying because The Photographer, who was also two hours late, is yelling at him because his eyes are completely bloodshot and ruining all of the photos.  During the ceremony, the unity candle refuses to light and takes nearly the entire song, which has now become a duet to hide the fact The Singer just learned it six hours ago. Somewhere in the back of the church The Bride's Uncle (hailing from West Monroe, LA before Duck Dynasty made it cool) is in his overalls on camera saying, "A Catholic boy is marrying a Pentecostal girl in a Baptist church.  There's gonna be a rumble."

Fast forward to the reception where The Band is over two hours late and has also locked up the sound system, thereby denying the use of any music or microphones and leaving the room in dead silence until a group takes to the dance floor with an acoustic version of the chicken dance. The champagne runs out long before The Couple's toast, so they opt to toast with punch.  No punch.  So they toast with water directly from the water fountain in the hotel hallwayThe Photographer has an emergency and has to leave to go pick up his son so the couple has to move up their first dance. Before The Band arrives.  Their Bridesmaid sings a stunningly beautiful rendition of From this Moment. Acapella. As she hits the last note, The Band walks in.  The Best Man, whose on again off again love affair with whiskey is currently on, is sufficiently drunk by the time of the toast and the words "The Groom's Mom grabbed my a**" somehow make it into the toast. The Father of the Bride dances his first dance. Ever.  In. His. Life. When the Father/Daughter dance comes on.  The Bride has chosen "My Girl."  They walk on the dance floor.  The Band instead plays the Longest Mexican Waltz known to man.  It lasts at least 27 minutes. At some point all of The Groom's Aunts begin stuffing dollars in the Father of the Groom's pants, who has taken a turn singing with The Band (one of whose leaders happens to be the aforementioned Fun-Loving but Slightly Crazy Mexican Cousin).

At some this particular wedding becomes so bizarre, so unrealistic, I turn to my husband and say, "Reality TV is so scripted,"  at which point he would normally look up from Twitter where he would be checking the Rangers score, agree with me and go back to Twitter.

However, since this is our wedding video, he looks up for a little longer. And smiles.

Fourteen years ago today, Richie and I experienced what I can only say was a complete and utter disaster of a wedding.  I hardly cannot think of one thing that didn't go wrong.

Well, I can think of one thing.

I married the right person. 

As I look back on the last fourteen years I can say our lives have been a lot like our wedding.  We have made a lot of plans and had a lot of grand ideas about what our lives, our jobs, our homes, and our kids were going to look like.  And like our wedding, very rarely have things turned out exactly like we have planned.  But like our wedding, most of the things that don't turn out like we plan don't really don't matter in the long run.

Some days we toast with champagne and some days we toast with water straight from the tap. In plastic cups. With a sick kid. Watching Nacho Libre. On our anniversary. 

But we are in it together.

And I can honestly say, I wouldn't change a thing.  About our wedding or our life.  Because when you choose the right person it doesn't matter what song you're dancing to, just as long as you keep dancing.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Waiting for the Grass to Grow


Growing up, I made a lot of assumptions about my dad.

Our house sat on a corner lot with a yard large enough for a baseball diamond in the back yard, a volleyball court on the side, and a basketball court in the driveway. We also had the metal death trap swing set - you remember the ones that your parents didn't set in concrete so the legs came out of the ground and you swung with giant rusty screws just waiting to jab someone's leg as they ran by. We also had a trampoline (no safety net), a tether-ball pole, a concrete slab where a playhouse briefly stood, a wood pile, and a deck under which we stored a largish swimming pool used one summer, a wagon, a few hoses, and several sprinklers.

With all of these options, you would think my brother and I would never lack for things to occupy our time. And the truth is, we never did.  But we rarely occupied our time playing sports, flying kites, or swinging.  It was more likely you would find us and four or five of the neighborhood kids digging a hole to China (wrapped in tin foil so we didn't burn once we reached the center of the Earth of course).  On another day we might host the Olympics, using screwdrivers as javelins and broom handles as foils.  

We took things apart, buried them, lit them on fire, broke them, lost them, and crashed them. Very rarely did we use anything for its intended purpose and never once did we fill in a hole.

Our childhood left my dad's yard full of holes, his tools broken or buried in the yard, and his cars wrecked more than once.

It wasn't until I visited my parents' house with my own kids that I noticed my dad's was the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood.  The sand volleyball court was now covered in lush grass.  Flowers grew where the dog used to run, and the newly re-furbished deck overlooked a backyard free of holes where my kids ran barefoot from sunrise til sunset.

I always assumed my dad just didn't care what his yard looked like.

But the truth is, he loved his yard. He just loved us more.

Now that I'm a parent I look back and see similar sacrifices my dad made for my brother and me. Whether it was playing with, breaking, and losing the tools from the most organized garage you have ever seen, the hours he spent untangling our fishing lines while never once getting to cast his line, or letting us sunflower seeds in the car he just finished cleaning, everything my dad did told us that we were more important to him than cars or tools or grass.

Now retired, my dad is a full-time grandpa, or Pops as we call him.  Today I watched as the ice cream cones he made his five grand kids dripped down their chins, onto their legs, and somehow into my son's hair.

They were sweaty, sticky, covered in sand, and in heaven.

 Because their Pops cared more if they were happy then if they were clean.

And I hope my kids assume that I do too.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Waiting for the Senior Slam

I'm old.

This is not a realization I've come to lightly, nor am I looking for a groundswell of comments hellbent on convincing me I am still in my prime.  I am not elderly.  I'm not even a senior citizen, although I'm not going to lie, I wouldn't mind being able to order that Senior Slam at Denny's every now and then. And I know the saying goes that you are only as old as you feel. But I don't just feel old. Everything from my DVR to my refrigerator confirms that the youth in my rear view mirror is farther than it appears.

Here are a few examples:

  • All shorts and skirts are too short.  This is true for kids, teenagers, 20 somethings, and especially everything in my closet. 
  • You can often hear me say, "This morning on The Today Show . . . "  I haven't started calling it The Today Program yet.  I think that happens when I get my AARP card.
  • If I miss the early showing of a movie, not only do I refuse to wait for the late showing, I simply opt to wait for the movie to come out on Redbox.
  • Weather is a main topic of conversation.  
  • I no longer worry about not being taken seriously in my career due to my youthful appearance.  
  • Dying my hair is no longer just for fun.
  • I can name approximately one out of every ten songs on a rock, alternative, or pop radio station.    This is generally because that is the same ratio of retro songs played by those stations.
  • I frequently use phrases like, "You're sitting to close to the t.v.," "You'll poke your eye out," and "Because I said so," with no irony.
  • Being carded has gone from an insult to a complement.
  • My Cosmo magazine with headlines like, 30 Ways to Please Your Man, has been replaced with a Food Network magazine with headlines like 30 Ways to Cook Chicken.
  • I carry Tums in my purse to eat after meals that are too spicy, too greasy, have too much dairy, come from fast food restaurants, are eaten too late at night, are too big, or sometimes just contain food.  If I'm with a 20 something crowd, I pretend the Tums are gum and chew them for a few minutes.  If I'm with a 30 something crowd, I hand them out like candy.
  • Every cosmetic I own has the words "anti-aging" or "wrinkle" in it.  Sadly, I also still have products with the words "acne" in them.  This is the work of a cruel God.
I'm not complaining. 

Being old has its advantages.  My car insurance is less expensive, my husband is legally bound to wake up with me every morning, and I am much wiser than I was a decade ago.  

I look at my life, my husband,  my kids, and even my thighs, and to be perfectly honest, I love being 36. Tums and all.